Saturday, February 28, 2009

Every time I see the name Jon Favreau

...I think of the guy from Swingers, not Obama's speechwriter who is dating a Maxim chick.

Hoplite And Polis

AE over at Rethinking Security posts a video of Donald Kagan discussing the connection between the Polis and the Hoplite Phalanx, which is session number six in Kagan's Yale Open Course Introduction to Ancient Greek History. I'm up to the eighth session on Sparta.

Kagan makes very important point in the first few minutes of the Sparta class:
Everything now in history that bears on the Western World and its relations with some other world is part of a great political assault by those people who are eager to pull down anything that seems to be admirable or special or positive about the West and to say it really was bad or to say it wasn't so terrific or it didn't exist.

In Pirate News

What the fuck was Pink thinking?

Joe and Sarah sittin' in a tree

I am embarrassed by the continuing 15 minutes of fame the conservative movement has afforded Joe the Plumber. It's the worst type of anti-intellectual populism.

Speaking of which, conservatives need to realize something about Sarah Palin. I understand their infatuation with her. However, during the 2008 election she was woefully ignorant of basic facts that I expect an educated, involved citizen to know off-hand, forget somebody who would be next in line to the presidency of the oldest president ever sworn for his first term.

Yes, the media portrayed her as stupid, which she almost certainly isn't. But she actually didn't know stuff that she should have. For example, she couldn't say which newspapers she reads or name a supreme court case with which she disagreed. I can answer those questions easily. Furthermore, her answers in the debate left huge doubts in my mind. If she decides to run again the first thing she will have to do to get me to take her at all seriously is prove that she knows the equivalent of an educated, involved citizen. It ain't a terribly high bar. It wasn't simply a media conspiracy.

Government and The People

Many people mistakenly assume that the government and the people are one and the same. They are not. The government is an institution that derives its power from the people, but is entirely and necessarily separate and in some ways antagonistic to the people. So, when the government does something in the people's name remember it is not the people actually doing it, but the government.

Some will argue that the government is the people's representative, which is true, and therefore it represents the will of the people by definition, which is false. Although the government derives its power from the people and we vote to select our leaders, the voting process is a very inaccurate method of expressing the people's will. We vote for a candidate who has countless positions on issues. For example, few people who voted for Obama in the last election agreed with every one of his policy proposals.

Here is where some will say that lobbying your representatives through letter writing, etc allows you to more accurately express your will, which is true, and therefore some of the problems expressed above can be mitigate, which is partially true. However, the real question your representative is asking when they get a letter or phone call is -- how many votes with this cost/gain me in the next election?

So, while our republic is the best designed government on Earth, let's be honest that the institution of government is at best an imperfect representative of the people and at worst outright hostile to them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Trust In Markets

City Journal:
While it’s true, as the president says, that America’s stock of physical and human capital remains undiminished, something important was indeed destroyed last year: trust.

As trust declines, so does Americans’ willingness to invest their money in the financial system. Our data show that trust in the stock market affects people’s intention to buy stocks, even after accounting for expectations of future stock-market performance. Similarly, a person’s trust in banks predicts the likelihood that he will make a run on his bank in a moment of crisis: 25 percent of those who don’t trust banks withdrew their deposits and stored them as cash last fall, compared with only 3 percent of those who said they still trusted the banks. Thus, trust in financial institutions is a key factor for the smooth functioning of capital markets and, by extension, the economy. Changes in trust matter.


For all intents and purposes trust and fear are opposites in financial and economic terms. What this is saying is that people are scared. However, I disagree with the article's villain:
But the main cause of the drop in trust is people’s beliefs about the type of government intervention during the crisis.


This is Stop-When-You-Get-To-It logic.

I'd imagine...wait..let's all imagine a zombie apocalypse. Now, imagine a poll of the survivors was taken. How many people would say the government's response was the problem? Probably all because there was a fucking zombie apocalypse that wasn't stopped. So, one could argue that the proximate responsibility and blame rested with the government to stop the zombie apocalypse because stopping shit like that is their thing. Yet, the root cause obviously rests with whomever created the retrovirus that launched the zombie apocalypse, which as we all know was some evil corporation that was trying to create an army of super soldiers. In case you are lost, blaming the trust problem on the government is like blaming the government for a zombie apocalypse that it didn't create. Sure, it didn't stop it, but it didn't create it either. Therefore, it's dumb, stupid Stop-When-You-Get-To-It logic to say that since the government didn't stop the crisis that made everybody afraid the government's response is entirely the reason everybody is afraid.

Increasing College Completion Rate

Warning: This flowed free association style and I haven't edited for coherence or clarity.

Obama:
by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.


This is kinda bogus phrasing. I think most people upon hearing the speech thought he meant that the United States would begin graduating the highest percentage of the population from college of any nation on Earth. It actually shouldn't be that hard to become the nation with the highest percentage of living college graduates because we are only second now because the Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation were highly-educated. The concern is the current graduation rate, which is lower than many developed nations. (Sorry, I'm too lazy to look up the actual numbers right now but trust me on this one.)

Anyway, Obama and the Democrats primarily blame financial difficulty, which given the rising cost of higher ed I can understand. Sometimes, but not as often, they blame inadequate academic preparation, which I generally agree with as well since our public K-12 sucks. However, and I think this goes back to the long-term versus short-term focus thing, Democrats seem to miss the forest through the trees.

First, no serious person can argue that the suckiness of our K-12 system is at least partially due to the Democrats' beloved teachers unions. Throwing more money at the public schools has been tried, and has failed. Second, providing more and more affordable loans and funding to students seems to have only helped keep tuition rising at a rate higher than inflation. Schools raise tuition. Politicians fund new programs or raise the limits to meet the raised tuition. Schools raise tuition again. The fundamental issue is the demand for college seems to continually outstrip supply, but why is that?

Well, society says that everybody must have a college degree or they are considered a failure. That's not exactly true, but you know what I mean. But let's be honest. Not everybody is smart enough to get a college degree, and this is necessarily the case. If everybody was capable of getting a college degree, then it wouldn't be much of an accomplishment and it would have very little prestige and value. So, we get back to the equality versus excellence argument we had a bit ago.

Where is FLG going with all this? He's not sure anymore. However, his big problem with society's focus on college education is that everybody assumes it is an unmitigated good. Everybody wants to go. Government subsidizes the hell out of it. Schools keep raising prices. Grades keep inflating, which implies it's getting easier and therefore less valuable as an intellectual product. Yet, nobody stops to ask whether this is all worth it. Sure, you have your column here or there saying a college degree is overrated, but generally everybody plays along.

A quality four-year liberal arts education is an expensive product to produce. Furthermore, it can only be truly consumed and appreciated by a portion of the population. And the worst part is that so many for financial or academic reasons incur a huge cost attempting to achieve something they may never be able to achieve, and that ultimately may not even be in their long-run interest.

I still say a three-year degree with one year of liberal arts and two of vocational training would be the best thing for 80% of current college students. It would be cheaper on their part and easier for new for-profit institutions to start up programs, which would, one hopes, keep costs down.

Abolishing The Mortgage Interest Deduction

Welcome to the fucking club! FLG's got dibs on the spot by the fireplace because he's been here a lot longer than you have.

Math and Wall Street

Alpheus links to this article, which argues that David X. Li's Gaussian copula function was what caused the financial collapse. In the comments of Alpheus' post, I wrote:
My theory is the MBAs who are in charge on Wall St lack the math skills to truly understand. They have no idea what a copula is, and even if they did they certainly don't have the capability to dissect what that copula actually represents. Just as many people use email everyday, and think "this works great," but have no idea how it works, same goes for MBA and all these financial models.

I actually wrote an article, which I think the editor decided sucked because I haven't heard back, but its general premise is that Wall St Masters of the Universe were so habituated to investing in vehicles and using financial models they didn't understand the financial crash and Madoff fiasco were inevitable. Since nobody knew what the heck was going on Madoff took advantage and because these misunderstood financial instruments spread so fast a catastrophic collapse was bound to happen.

So, long way of saying that I'm not sure corporatism is the problem.


David, another commenter, wrote in response:
Nicholas Taleb, in his books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, explains some of the problems with the statistical techniques which have been used for risk evaluation. (The first is better, IMNSHO, even though the second has a cooler title)

MBAs with a concentration in finance do in fact get considerable exposure to the (supposed) mathematics of risk. It would have been good if more of them got exposure to simulated systems with multiple feedback loops, thereby gaining more of an intuitive sense as to just how quickly things can go wrong and how inadequate simple statistical models are for understanding them.


First, I would argue that a full calculus and calculus-based statistics sequence is needed to truly comprehend these models. This would mean the following classes:
Calculus I
Calculus II
Multivariable Calculus
Linear Algebra
Ordinary Differential Equations
Statistics
Econometrics
Probability Theory
I'd feel even better if a year of Real Analysis was included.

The average B-School requires Calc I. That's it. It is impossible to teach the math required to truly comprehend these models to an incoming MBA Finance major who only took Calc I five to nine years earlier. I am all for showing them how badly simulated systems with multiple feedback loops can go if only to scare the shit out of them about how much they do not understand. Remember, I am generally pro-fear in the financial markets.

As the article states:
Li's trajectory is typical of the quant era, which began in the mid-1980s. Academia could never compete with the enormous salaries that banks and hedge funds were offering. At the same time, legions of math and physics PhDs were required to create, price, and arbitrage Wall Street's ever more complex investment structures.


What this is saying is that the people who design these models and financial instruments have taken the classes I listed above and probably more. While they might be able to explain the gist of what the model does to a smart person with an MBA in finance that MBA does not ultimately understand all of nuances associated with the model. Add to this the speed with which the information technology driven markets can spread a new vehicle or model, and you have a perpetual recipe for disaster.

The real problem isn't Li's model, subprime loans, CDOs, or credit default swaps. The real problem is that the MBAs who run the banks don't have enough mathematical education, and may ultimately not be smart enough to understand the nuances and potential dangers posed by complex financial models and products created by the quants in the abstract, and perhaps nobody can know what the possible results will be when those products are shot around the world by automated systems.

And in that case I completely concur with the last paragraph of David's comment:
I think one of the roots of the problem is an overemphasis on theory vs experience. Crusty old loan officers with IQs of 115 would not likely have fallen into the traps that were fallen into by quants with IQs of 150 and MBAs with IQs of 130. It is far easier to analyze a concrete case ("is mr smith a safe risk for this loan") than an abstraction like a CDO with 3 tranches.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hardship Does Not Lead To Virtue

The Hoya:
The news is dire and the pain is real. But there is hope, if we seize the opportunity of this moment to go back to basics. Now is the time to free ourselves from the hold that material possessions have on us.


It is a consistent hope throughout history that times of economic hardship will inspire actual virtue, and at best it only creates the illusion of virtue. The desire for material things doesn't subside with the resources to acquire them. Humans have infinite wants and finite resources always.

But this was written by a Jesuit, and I want them to hope for us to better ourselves.

Keep Liberal Arts Around

NYTimes:
With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care. Some of the staunchest humanities advocates, however, admit that they have failed to make their case effectively.


Wrong, and I've said so before:
Whenever you hear somebody saying something like, "We need to strengthen our science and math curriculum to compete and innovate in the 21 century economy," recognize that the person saying these things thinks that they are sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and intelligent, but they are actually idiots.

It's the liberal arts that provide insight into what's important to people. This in turn provides insight into how technology can be useful to people, not cool technology for technology's sake.

Some More On Time

Alan, you wrote over at A&J:
We ARE moving into the future. Failing to take that into consideration and to realize that changing circumstances demand changes in philosophy and policy is, well, backward-looking.


This misses and important point an one that I think you and Abstractart overlook.

All human history has one constant -- human beings. Time may move on, but human are always there. I won't speak for Alpheus and Withywindle, but I will say I firmly believe that a human nature exists and that it isn't particularly malleable. Therefore, while time may pass humans remain relatively constant. So, lessons gleaned from Alexander the Great's or Augustus' decisions are still directly applicable today. Many traditions setup millennia ago still have relevance because they involved human beings. So, time may pass, but I say that doesn't matter as much as you think it does.

The particulars and nuances of every situation are important, but just because they change doesn't mean everything changes. We are still primarily concerned with human activity and interaction, whether at the individual or state level, and today's human beings are largely the same as human beings always have been.

Rather than cluttering up A&J's comments

Alan writes:
Withy - please recall that very early on, this was a debate between the time orientation of atheist liberals and religious conservatives. Given that "utopian" has been employed as a near-pejorative against alleged liberal short-term focus at the expense of long-term objectives (counter-intuitive), the religious conservative goal of reaching a later utopia merits inclusion. I agree that the term distracts from the debate, hence the short note that the term is not distinguishing. I hope it is dropped.


The difference between belief that we can create a utopia in this world and the belief that the next world is a utopia is non-trivial and distinguishing.

This debate also focused on use of force. In this, I argued that there is little evidence in our history that distinguishes the short- or long-term considerations of liberal or conservative executives. Indeed, while our domestic policy swings back and forth, our international policy, including our use of force, is predominantly conservative without evident regard for long-term advantages. (Would Kuwaitis, Iraqi Shiites, Kurds, and we have been better off if we did not reverse Saddam's grab? Did anyone ask this question?) That is, we shape the environment to make it "safe" for our tradition--Democracy--to continue unchanged.


First, our international policy is predominately conservative precisely because it is serious business that requires a long-term focus. That our policy has been and remains conservative is evidence that conservatives are focused on the long-term because their ideas have stood the test of time. Realism has a far longer track record than liberal multilateral institution building, for example. Now, obviously, since conservatives gravitate towards things that have worked in the past their ideas will have a longer track record. However, for things like foreign policy, of course we are going to try to go with what worked before. We don't have the luxury for flights of Utopian fancy. Second, "That is, we shape the environment to make it "safe" for our tradition--Democracy--to continue unchanged." But don't we all agree that democracy is in the long-term best interests of everybody on the planet? Sure, we may disagree about strategies or timetables to bring that about, but I think we all agree it is best. So, isn't a continuing policy of making the world safe for democracy as a long-term strategy and that you acknowledge our international policy is conservative both demonstrations of my point that conservatives are more long-term focused?

Liberal actions, say interventions to preserve or establish human rights, always takes second-place in every President's consideration, regardless of party or political bent, but all Presidents engage in this, too. Therefore, the original time argument made by FLG remains unproven in my mind.


Interventions to preserve or establish human rights are by their nature short-term thinking. The basic logic is that something bad, a violation of human rights, is happening right now. If we have the power to stop it, then we must. However, this at best provides a brief respite and temporary mitigation of the problem. Human rights won't be truly safe until all parties value human rights, which isn't going to happen simply because people with guns show up and tell them they should. People need to decide to respect human rights on their own. Oh sure, while the intervention is on-going they may respect them because troops are there, but again that's not a long-term solution. Likewise, most cases for intervention seem compelling when viewed in the isolation created by short-term thinking. Of course we should intervene in country X because we easily have the ability to do so. However, this misses the fact that if we decide to intervene in every case in the long-run we wouldn't be able to intervene in any case because our power and resources would be diminished or spread thin.

Obviously, both have their merits. To take the example of Darfur, there was a very compelling case to intervene militarily. Unfortunately, I think that the window for intervention has largely passed because humpty-dumpty has already fallen off the wall, but be that as it may the moral case to stop the injustice shouldn't be dismissed as liberal heart-bleeding out of hand. People were dying, being raped, expelled from their homes. In short, grave injustice was occurring.

While making the case against intervening seems heartless and cruel when people are being killed, it is not altogether wrong. The long-term case is basically: Tribal and religious conflict has been present since the dawn of time. Yes, we have the power to stop this one, but we don't have the power to stop them all. The deciding factor needs to be how close to our national interests this conflict is. So, the Balkans, which had the potentinal to spill into the rest of Europe, was definitely in America's national interest. A war in central Africa where the United States has no real economic or political interests is less so.

Now, I've heard the case made that any human rights violations anywhere are a threat to the long-term interests of the United States because human rights are in the long-term interest of the United States. Therefore, stopping any and all human rights violations is in the United States' long-term interest. Again, this is shirt-term analysis masquerading as a long-term solution. Intervening everywhere to stop human rights abuses would create the illusion that people everywhere respect human rights, when they don't. Furthermore, as I said above, the West cannot reasonable keep enough troops in enough places to even stop all the human rights abuses by governments if it wished.

You keep insisting that this is some sort of either/or. That I am saying that liberals only think short-term and conservatives only think long-term. I'm not saying that. I am saying that liberals are primarily motivated by fixing present injustice and less concerned about possible future problems caused by their policies. Conservatives in contrast are more concerned about future problems caused by resolving present injustice.

Oh No, Not That Word Again

NYTimes:
Administration officials said Mr. Obama would propose to reduce the value of itemized tax deductions for everyone in the top income tax bracket, 35 percent, and many of those in the 33 percent bracket — roughly speaking, starting at $250,000 in annual income for a married couple.

Under existing law, the tax benefit of itemizing deductions rises with a taxpayer’s marginal tax bracket (the bracket that applies to the last dollar of income). For example, $10,000 in itemized deductions reduces tax liability by $3,500 for someone in the 35 percent bracket.

Mr. Obama would allow a saving of only $2,800 — as if the person were in the 28 percent bracket.

The White House says it is unfair for high-income people to get a bigger tax break than middle-income people for claiming the same deductions or making the same charitable contributions.


I would argue that the real cause of the unfairness is that people face different marginal tax rates in the first place and that under a flat tax everybody would get the exact same savings from tax deductions, but I won't because I loathe the word unfair.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Swiss Banking Update

CNN:
A Swiss court Friday blocked Switzerland's largest bank from turning over account information to the U.S. government under an agreement reached earlier this week in which the bank, UBS, admitted it had helped U.S. taxpayers hide money from U.S. tax authorities.

"The customer data may not be given out," he said, "to protect the interests of the customers."


Well, it's obviously not in the customers' interest to hand the information over regardless of whether they are avoiding taxes or not. I'm actually shocked by all this because if the Swiss get rid of their gold standard financial privacy, then what advantage do they have as a banking sector? Perhaps that the nation hasn't been invaded in centuries, but nobody expects London or New York to be invaded anytime soon either. Then again a terrorist attack on London or NYC is certainly within the realm of possibility. Nevertheless, the Swiss conceding on this issue is tantamount to the Swiss conceding their banking sector.

FLG is currently listening to

Yglesias on NATO

Yglesias:
don’t think anyone would characterize China or Russia as countries that “don’t believe they need defending” and Europe commits substantially more funds. Meanwhile, much as you could use Europe’s alleged unwillingness to defend itself as a reason to withdraw from our NATO commitments, the reasoning works equally well the other way around—if Europe is as well-defended as I say, then why do we need to help defend them? But if the argument works equally well either way, then it also works equally poorly. At the end of the day, the issue of the advisability of our multilateral defense relationships doesn’t hinge on this issue. I would say that the partnerships are valuable, well-worth maintaining, and that ultimately it makes more sense to see the existence of the partnerships as a reason that we could afford to be more restrained in our defense spending rather than as something that we ought to eliminate in the name of restraint.


Matt's really making the point here that it is not that Europe doesn't spend money on defense, but that the US spends too much. As evidence he compares Europe's defense spending ($289 bil) to China's ($122 bil) and Russia's ($70 billion). However, this misses a hugely important point.

The correct way to measure the importance a country places on defense is how it prioritizes it relative to other choices. Therefore, percentage of GDP is the correct way to compare defense spending between countries. Since Europe's GDP is vastly larger than Russia's or China's the European defense spending figures look downright paltry. And, as I have said over and over again, that is because of NATO.

Yglesias' analysis, that European spending is higher than Russia's or China's and therefore the United States should lower spending and rely upon our alliance with Europe, begins with a fatal flaw. Relying on nations for our defense that don't themselves place a high value on defense is a dumb idea.

KeePass Update

FLG has been using KeePass to store his online passwords for about two months now, and loves it.

Before he couldn't remember what username he had everywhere and if his password was not the normal password he always used on the Internet he had tons of trouble. Now, he just copies and pastes his username and password. Plus, he always copies the password, meaning he doesn't have to type, thus reducing the risk of keyloggers and it doesn't matter that they are crazy random combinations like NGOFY19Wd1{lUQ_;T,[(Bb8Lqi[]Vtd. Nobody is going to guess that. And since every site now has a unique password if a hacker gets one password they aren't getting any of the others. All told, FLG'd say it's easier and definitely more secure.

The only problem is that he has to sync the KeePass database between his work and home, which isn't that big a deal but is a drawback. When FLG travels he will have to remember to bring KeePass portable on a USB drive with him. Otherwise he won't be able to access his bank account information, which he frequently does while on vacation.

Home Owner Responsbility

I was going to write something up in response to Matt Yglesias' take on home owner responsibility yesterday:
There really is plenty of blame to go around here. But I just don’t see how more than a tiny fraction of it could possible adhere to our electrician or teacher or secretary who’s decided, basically, that the financial services professionals and government regulators know what they’re doing. Now could she have known better? Sure. She could have been reading Dean Baker and Paul Krugman and others. The idea that this lending was all being undertaken on a false premise that a nationwide housing bust was impossible wasn’t a highly guarded secret. I was, for example, familiar with the chart above and with the analysis suggesting that a bust was, in fact, likely. And I believed that analysis. But at the same time, I write about U.S. public policy debates for a living. If there’s a dissident line of thinking that, despite its general unpopularity, is popular among left-of-center economists—well, that’s the kind of thing I know a lot about. But our nurse? Why would she know?


But Megan McArdle wrote my response for me.

Also, I think Matt has become noticeably more liberal. Could it be that moving his blog to ThinkProgress? He's certainly not in an echo chamber because he reads lots of conservative bloggers. Maybe it's the excitement of the Obama Administration and the tangible possibility of a liberal Renaissance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Great Column

I was late reading David Brooks' column today, but it's the best he's written in a long while.

These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.


The logic by which I arrived at this conclusion was one of the first things I wrote on this blog.

However, I object again to his use of the word decimated -- "urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods." I don't think he meant that precisely 1/10th of neighborhoods were wiped out. I'll have to write him a stern email.

The Big Assumption

Ygelsias articulates something similar:
I think everyone understands the human phenomenon whereby we mistaken deem our own personal experiences to be more typical than they are. People who attended selective colleges tend to talk as if they don’t realize that the majority of the minority of Americans who go to college at all go to unselective institutions. People who earn a lot of money overestimate the number of people who earn that much money. And poor people tend to underestimate how rich the really rich people are. It’s easy to see how this happens and totally forgivable.



However, he doesn't go as far as I do. To return to our short-term versus long-term focus, implicit in Yglesias' post is that we only assume that our experiences are typical of other people alive today. I think the real problem arises when a person assumes the experiences that constitute their individual life are representative of the entire human condition -- The Big Assumption. It has profound political and social consequences.

In Case You Didn't Know Files: Awesomeness

FLG spent most of his day demanding things to be awesome.

Correspondence

Mrs. P took time out of her holiday schedule to send me this link that shows how fucking stupid and what massive tools the NYU protesters are. They should be kicked out of school on the general principle that NYU shouldn't confer degrees on dumbasses.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Dear Robbo:

You are not following the shoeshine rule. Big Mistake!

Sincerely,
FLG

More on Short-Term Focus

Jeffrey Sachs writes:
President Barack Obama’s economic team is now calling for an unprecedented stimulus of large budget deficits and zero interest rates to counteract the recession. These policies may work in the short term but they threaten to produce still greater crises within a few years.

We need to avoid reckless short-term swings in policy. Massive deficits and zero interest rates might temporarily perk up spending but at the risk of a collapsing currency, loss of confidence in the government and growing anxieties about the government’s ability to pay its debts. That outcome could frustrate rather than speed the recovery of private consumption and investment.


Emphasis mine.

HT: Greg Mankiw

Correspondence

A reader writes:
Will you be blogging at CPAC?


FLG looks around to see if the reader had actually addressed the email to somebody looking over FLG's shoulder. Because there's no way somebody would think FLG would be blogging at CPAC -- is there? FLG doesn't do those sorts of things. First, FLG blogs in his underwear, which nobody wants to see. Second, FLG has a job that he has to go to on those days. Third, FLG is not a conservative student, activist, or policymaker. Fourth, FLG does not walk around saying, "Hello, my name is FLG and I'm a conservative blogger." That causes too much commotion. "FLG who? What?" they always ask, and FLG launches into a swear-filled tirade. It's not pretty.

Dear Women

Next time the man in your life says he didn't see whatever it was that you are convinced he must have seen and didn't pick up, take out, put away, please realize that he really didn't see it. Our minds were focused on navigating between two points and most visual stimuli unrelated to that task or potential dangers, such as a potential sabertooth tiger under the couch, was completely ignored.

Sincerely,
FLG

Always Glad To See That My Readers Are Way Smarter Than Me

Alpheus on liberals, conservatives, and time horizons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: What's that crazy French crap you were listening to?

FLG: Jacques Brel isn't crap, and he was Belgian. He's very influential actually. For instance, David Bowie redid one of his songs:




Mrs. FLG: Big whoop!

Goings on at Georgetown

A TOCQUEVILLE FORUM LECTURE:

Small is Still Beautiful:
Economics as if Families Mattered



Joseph Pearce
Ave Maria University

Joseph Pearce seeks to revive the ideas that human-scale environment and economy are desirable and that small is still beautiful. He sets out to remind us that there is a more sane and sustainable vision for humanity—despite the continued centralization of power in large government and economic structures.


Cyber Threats

This paper from Chatham House makes a very good point, and articulates very well a complex relationship that fascinates me:
The transformation of the Internet from an elite research network to a mass communications medium has altered the global cyber-threat equation dramatically. The global ICT system can be exploited by a variety of illegitimate users and can even be used as a tool in state-level aggression. These activities can be organised along a spectrum running from individual action (e.g. hacking), to the behaviour of non-state actors and groups (i.e. criminals and terrorists), to plans orchestrated by governments. But it is important to note that these diverse users of the Internet do not fall into discrete camps, and least of all into a simple hierarchy of threats. Hacking, for example, can have uses in very serious organised crime; organised criminality can be linked to international terrorism; and terrorism can be used a tool of state aggression.


I would argue that The transformation of the Internet from an elite research network to a mass communications medium has altered the global threat, not only the cyber-threat, equation dramatically.

The Bizarre Depths Of FLG's Mind

Both Miss Self-Important and Anti-Climacus have Jacob T. Levy on their blogrolls. Whenever I visit his blog I inevitably think two things:
1) What's the T stand for? Trustworthy?
2) Smoked meat sounds really good. That's right smoked meat.

FLG is currently listening to

Alan, you're not getting this

You write:
Liberals are also properly called progressives. Their view is long-term by definition. Conservatives are for maintaining tradition. That is often in conflict with long-term views and is inherently backward-looking. It is not that they have a long-term view that things will work out. They more often just resist change.

Realists, who recognize that international adventures often lead to unintended consequences that should lead us to eschew foreign entanglements, have liberal and conservative members. You claim it for conservatives (Republicans), but Truman versus Eisenhower on Operation Ajax is also part of our history. More in keeping with US foreign policy perhaps, is the idea that we can make a difference (for good or ill) in world affairs--that we can act now to improve the future.


The basic conservative idea, at least if we take the Burkiean view, is that society is a pact between generations. That we in the here and now have a responsibility to protect the traditions and gifts that the prior generations passed down to us. Likewise, we have a duty to pass on society in better shape, or at least as good, to the future generations. Taking the past into consideration is by definition a long-term view. Omitting the past and only focusing on long-term future considerations is a less robust, I'd even argue deficient, outlook.

I'm not claiming Realism only for Republicans. It can be the result of long-term and short-term thinking. For example, conservative realists usually don't want to fight because they want to conserve power for future use. Liberal realists usually don't want to fight because the possibility of death and destruction is not worth the benefits. Conservative realism is about fighting a future war and liberal realism is a milder form of pacificism.


However, the neoconservative outlook is also long-term focused. Their primary contention is that using force today and losing X lives will save some number much larger than X lives tomorrow.

The flaw with Bush's thinking, and the neoconservatives', is not that he or they are evil or stupid. Let's go back to your Hezbollah issue. The thinking was that if Israel could wipe out Hezbollah once and for all, then a few hundred deaths would be worth it BECAUSE hundreds perhaps thousands more would not die at Hezbollah's hands in the future. This is not an unreasonable moral argument.

However, while it is reasonable in each marginal case, it is not reasonable in the aggregate. For example, if Hezbollah is wiped out, then it holds. But if the thing repeats over and over and each time the overwhelming force is justified based upon saving future lives that never materialize, then the whole thing unravels.

Where you went wrong, and what was and is so frustrating to me is that your argument betrays the very flaws I am talking about -- hundreds dead in response to a couple of soldiers is immoral. Short-term analysis. Yes, it appears immoral to kill hundreds in response to a couple of deaths, but only if the possible future lives saved are not included.

Too many progressives do not make the case against the possibility of future lives saved. They simple focus on the injustice of the present situation and then conclude that anybody who does not recognize the obvious moral superiority of their position to be morally deficient. When, in point of fact, they are not recognizing another reasonable case, which leads me to believe that 1) the idea of future lives saved is either not readily apparent to them or 2) future lives saved are deemed not as important as lives saved today.

More On Differing Time Values

Last time I wrote about how the differing time values conservatives and liberals have affect their stands on domestic policy issues. But then I wondered how does this theory work in international affairs.

The higher weight liberals place on the present leads them to want to stop people from fighting and dying as soon as possible. People not fighting and people not dying today is always preferable to people fighting and dying today. From this comes the focus on diplomacy, multilateralism, etc. Likewise, the present dislocations and pain created by free trade cause liberals to object to free trade even though free trade produces huge economic benefits over the long-term.

In contrast, the longer-term focus of conservatives leads to different conclusions. People not fighting and not dying today is not always preferable to people fighting and dying. Sometimes it is preferable that people fight and die today to prevent larger amounts of fighting and death tomorrow. From this comes the preemptive and preventative war, unilateral focus, etc.

Again, I'm not saying that this is a pure dichotomy, but rather that liberals are relatively more focused on the short-term and conservatives the long-term.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

60 Minutes Round-Up

Personally, I'm in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18.

During the Basra piece, I liked when the Army guy, I forget his name and rank, said that historians will view Basra as the turning point in Iraq. Mostly, because it proves how right I was at the time:
In this sense, if the Iraqis are successful in defeating his forces in Basra we may be on the road to peace in Iraq. However, if they are successful in fighting off the central government it won't be good. Either way this battle had to begin at some point, and I am glad the Iraqi forces are doing it. Actually, the only really hope is that Iraqi forces do defeat him.


What I find interesting is that when the newsmedia was reporting a loss in Basra I wrote:
The cause of democracy and stability in Iraq may be lost. I predict historians will point to the battle of Basra in 2008 as the inflection point.


Thank goodness the Iraqi forces did eventually prevail.

Alan's analysis doesn't seem to stand the test of time as well:
The fundamental questions the Coalition forces have to answer is this. Are the Iraqis fighting with the occupying forces true Iraqi patriots, or are forces like al-Sadr's JAM, fighting to drive the occupying forces from their land, the true Iraqi patriots? How do the Iraqis see themselves and their efforts?

Index Funds

NYTimes:
Basic stock market index funds generally aspire to nothing more than matching the returns of a market benchmark. So in a miserable year for stocks, index funds may not look very appealing. But it turns out that, after fees and taxes, it is the extremely rare actively managed fund or hedge fund that does better than a simple index fund.


I'm a big believer in index funds. First, to beat the market I have to know something more than the market does. I usually don't, so I just buy S&P 500 index funds. Second, for an actively managed fund to beat my return they would have to know a lot more than the market all the time. They don't, so I just buy S&P 500 index funds.

Actually, I buy S&P 500 index funds for domestic equities, but I do buy a larger portion of international equities than most people. However, that's only because most people have a home bias, meaning they invest more in their home country than they should.

Honestly, I don't understand why anybody would want to bother with anything besides passive index funds. I don't have time to study individual funds and stocks. Even if I had the time that's not something I want to do. And even if I had the time and wanted to do it, there's still no guarantee that I would beat the market. So, I just buy S&P 500 index funds or the ETF. The easiest way to get international exposure through ETFs is this one. And, as I said before, I'm buying because everybody else thinks the market is a bad place to put money.

FLG does not have any dirty hippie hostages in his basement

He would never do something like that.

Dear MTV:

Either play some music, as in Music Television, or change your name to BRATtv, which obviously stands for Bullshit Reality Ass and Tits Television.

Sincerely,
FLG

University Museums

This article feting university museums reminded me of how awesome the Peabody Museum of Natural History is, or at least used to be. I haven't been there in probably two decades.

Not So Fast

Strategy Page:
For the moment, the Somali pirates have been shut down. Since the EU (European Union) patrol effort began six weeks ago, no ships have been taken. Over thirty warships and patrol aircraft are involved, along with over a dozen Yemeni patrol boats that monitor the Yemen coast, and share information with the international anti-piracy patrol.


BBC:
Pirates in the Gulf of Aden have seized a Greek-owned cargo ship.

l'OTAN

Here's an Op-Ed that I am way too lazy to translate by the former prime minister of France, Alain Juppé, saying a debate on NATO is necessary.

Misleading Statistics Department

Matt Yglesias linked to this post over at Feministing, which I had stopped reading because it pissed me off so much, about the Hook-Up Culture:
The truth is, 95% of Americans have premarital sex, and this has been true for decades. Even for women who were born in the 1940s, nine out of ten had sex before marriage.


This statistic has almost no relevance to the Hook-Up Culture argument. Imagine two women. The first is a virgin until she has sex with her fiance and the second is a woman who has drunken sex with a different partner every night. Both would be included in the 95%. However, the concern is not really about the former, but the latter.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Laptop

FLG is giving serious consideration to buying a new laptop.

A Bit More On Greed And Fear

I saw Alan last night, and he said that Greed was the problem in the financial crisis and, if I remember correctly, "Greed is always the problem." He certainly didn't mean that greed was the root cause of all problems, but certainly many and all financial problems. However, I want to reiterate that while it may feel good to blame greed. That it evokes some sort of self-satisfaction. It is ultimately like blaming the Sun for global warming. It's always there producing what it produces. We cannot change it. Fear is the lever that can be controlled, not Greed.

PS. I'm sure you are sick of hearing about Greed and Fear, but I keep reading things that aren't getting it. Supposedly smart people misunderstanding what is occurring in the markets. People who are supposed to be fixing the markets. So, I will continue to harp on it.

Giving Me The Raspberry

Here's Miss FLG giving me the raspberry when I tell her that I sent Mrs. FLG to Elizabeth Arden for the day.

Before Getting Rid Of Your Computer

Download Darik's Boot And Nuke. Burn it to a CD. Put it in your computer. Turn off your computer. Turn your computer back on. Type autonuke when the screen comes up. Wait until it says it's done. Your computer is now safe to dispose of. Otherwise, people could read everything you had on your computer.

Lifehacker actually had a whole post on this issue recently.

I think you meant people's

WSJ:
California is in a French-like bind: unable to afford a welfare-type state, and unable to overhaul it. "The people say they want all these programs, then there's nothing they want to pay for," says Hector De La Torre, a Democratic assemblyman. "The schizophrenia in the legislature reflects the peoples'."


The people of California is singular. Therefore, "The schizophrenia in the legislature reflects the people's."

VA Smoking Ban

This ought to cheer up Alan.

Bank Secrecy

BBC:
The decision by Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS, to hand over details of a few hundred US clients to the US authorities has shocked the Swiss banking community, and led many to the conclusion that the days of Swiss banking secrecy are now numbered.


Many people here in the States, both on the Left and Right of the political spectrum, would be happy to see banking secrecy killed off. The Left largely because they fear fat cats hiding money offshore to evade taxes. The Right because they want to use money trails to catch terrorists, drug dealers, and other baddies. I, however, will mourn the loss of bank secrecy.

The United States and other developed nations, especially the Europeans, have been pressuring, through the OECD and FATF, what they call tax havens to end their financial secrecy laws. Germany has been especially concerned about their citizens hiding money in Switzerland. The United States has pestering the island nations in the Caribbean.

There are valid reasons to desire financial privacy. Most people don't want their bank account balance known by strangers. This opens people up to all sorts of complications. If a person is wealthy, then it becomes even more important to keep the details of their accounts private out of fear that they may become targets of kidnapping, ransom, or blackmail.

If you are going to tax income generated from dividends and interest, then the government may need to verify that information. However, we need to acknowledge that this is a violation of people's financial privacy. The benefits of this violation may be larger than the costs, but it is a violation nonetheless. We like to think that our information is safe with the government. That there are laws and procedures in place to protect our privacy. However, the numerous times of IRS employees have been caught checking out people's tax records demonstrate rules and procedures can be violated. And while the IRS punishes and prosecutes may of these employees when they are caught that cannot reverse the violation of people's privacy. The only way to ensure that people's financial privacy is not violated is by not making the information available in the first place. And this is where various financial laws meant to stop crime are a problem.

The Orwellian-named Banking Secrecy Act in fact required that banks spy on their customers and report suspicious activities to the government, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN. This was originally meant to fight organized crime. The rules were updated and expanded during the 1980's to fight the War on Drugs. Then title III of the PATRIOT Act broadened these laws and powers even more.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that these are worthy goals. That fighting organized crime, drug dealing, and terrorism may be worth a little encroachment on privacy. And I agree. However, the current implementation is that that all suspicious activities that the banks report to FinCEN are available for download by a whole host of government agencies without a warrant. This means that any politically motivated DA can look up anybody's supposedly suspicious transactions without going to a judge to argue that there is reasonable cause to subpoena records. We have a system that justifies the increased invasion of privacy with claims of fighting crime and terrorism, but then lumps all suspicious transactions into one big pot and gives those away to government agencies without judicial review of each case.

This is where people usually say, "FLG, I have nothing to hide. I don't do anything suspicious financial activities." First of all, it's the bank's call, not yours, regarding what is suspicious and they aren't allowed to tell you that they've reported you. Second, if you have nothing to hide would you be okay with the cops having the right to come into your house and inspect it at will with now warrant? I don't think so. Don't you think that people can learn almost as much about your lifestyle from looking at your credit card and bank statements as rummaging through your house? If so, then isn't your double-standard, one for your home and one for your bank account, stupid? I think it is.

I'm also against the IRS demanding lists of Americans with offshore credit cards. Don't these Americans have a right to privacy. I understand that it would be difficult to catch people who are hiding money offshore, and perhaps that's a compelling case to be made. Of course the IRS went to a San Francisco judge to get that ruling. Nevertheless, at least a judge did rule on it, but I still disagree. So, given all this intrusion into people's financial lives I can understand why people would seek out bank secrecy as a matter of principle.

In fact, I can understand how people would say this is fucking bullshit and I no longer want to be an American citizen. They should be able to do so without paying an exit tax on their wealth and income. To tell you the truth it pisses me off that a country that broke its political ties with the English crown over taxation issues doesn't allow its citizens to do the same without imposing penalties. If a billionaire thinks taxes in the United States are too high and wishes to renounce the rights and privileges of an American citizen, then don't let the door hit you the way out. Taxation is a political issue like any other, and differences over the levels of taxation are as valid a reason for dissolving ties as any other.

Fear In The Markets

MSNBC:
"We have not reached high enough levels of fear in the options market to suggest that this test of the lows is going to be successful," Arbeter said.


How should we view this quote? Well, fear was low during the last bull market. Too low in fact. Then the market got spooked and overreacted with fear. That's what we are seeing now. This guy is arguing that we need to see high enough levels of fear that so many people are selling that somebody's greed tell them, "Hey! Wake up! This is a risk, but with prices this low you could make a fortune." Once those people start buying, the market will start going back up.

It's funny because it's similar to the shoeshine rule. Once the average American thinks the market will keep falling for the foreseeable future, which is almost where we are at now, (also known as high-levels of fear) then it means the market will turn around.

By the way, I'm buying stocks big-time because of the shoeshine rule. Everybody is out of the market. In fact, the other day I heard Sean Hannity going on and on about how he isn't putting money in the market. Well, that tells FLG it is time to buy.

Economic Sanctions

I didn't watch this NYTimes bloggingheads about whether more sanctions would be effective in preventing further progress in Iran's nuclear program.

Instead, Robert Pape's paper, "Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work," popped into my head:

More on Liberals, Conservatives, and Time Values

Alan writes:
Is a politician who argues that we improve the quality of our schools and increase higher education opportunities so that we have more engineers and doctors a liberal with a short-term focus? The issue usually belongs to the Democrats.


I'm going to add two words to the sentence. "Is a politician who argues that we improve the quality of our schools and increase higher education opportunities TODAY so that we have more engineers and doctors TOMORROW a liberal with a short-term focus?"

I'm not saying that liberals don't make long-term arguments in favor of their positions. What I am saying is the present reality, the supposed lack of educational opportunities, is the primary factor in a liberal arriving at that position. Of course a liberal will make a long-term argument in favor of their position if there is a long-term argument in favor of their position to be made. But my point is that they arrive at their position because of present realities, and want to fix present realities. It is the lack of educational opportunities today, not the engineers and doctors tomorrow that are the liberal's primary concern. (Also, I disagree that encouraging more engineers or doctors would be beneficial, but that's a whole 'nother thing.)

Atheists who want to preserve the environment are gaining new allies--evangelicals.


I wouldn't overstate the number of evangelicals jumping on the environmental bandwagon. However, think of it like this. If one agrees that the age of the Earth is 4.5 billion years and that over that 4.5 billion years its temperature has fluctuated, then it becomes harder to argue in favor of combating climate change. How do we determine the optimal temperature? Is it the temperature before the Industrial Revolution? Is it the one that is most conducive to human habitation? This is where the liberal short-term focus comes into play. The present reality, or perhaps the recent past, is assumed optimal and must be protected.

To address the evangelical situation I would say that if one rejects 4.5 billion years and believes that the world has generally existed in its present form since it was created by God 5,000 years ago, then under those assumptions the long-term outlook becomes one of protecting the current climate. The current climate is optimal because God created it that way and humans are screwing it up.

Republicans and Democrats argue over energy policy, but they consistently agree on one thing--it is in the long-term interests of the nation that we end our dependence on foreign energy sources. These people seem to range widely from liberal to conservative ends of the spectrum.


They both arrive at the same conclusion, but for different reasons. Liberals are more concerned that dependence on foreign oil constrains their actions today. It is unreasonable to get off foreign oil in the short-term, so they need a long-term solution to their problem in the short-term. I would argue that conservatives are more concerned about the long-term geostrategic implications of foreign oil. Fighting a war without oil because the Middle East becomes unfriendly, etc. Certainly liberals are concerned about the long-term problems, and conservatives frustrated by the constraints it imposes in the short-term. But it's a matter of where the primary concerns are.

Republicans are often properly responsible for calling attention to the Social Security and Medicare problems that are quickly advancing. However, Republican administrations have not tackled budget deficits or the public debt we carry. That is not a healthy long-term policy.


I'm not going to defend budget deficits and public debt increases under Republican administrations. Politicians and political parties aren't Platonic forms of liberal and conservative. However, one could argue that the deficits are part of a long-term "Starve the beast" strategy.

Finally, a query that is sure to offend. Which category contains Jesus? Turning water into wine and dividing bread and fishes both seem like instant gratification efforts--liberal, in your construct--as opposed to long-term solutions like planting vineyards or wheat or letting the market respond to demand, for example. Jesus did a great deal to improve the situation in the here and now while promising a better future in a different kingdom. Atheists who step in to stop a stoning or heal someone are certainly acting short-term, but they share that interest with Christian conservatives. Jesus was a revolutionary. He was not interested in taking it slow. Ask the money changers.


Both liberals and conservatives want to claim Jesus as their own, and both have cases. However, he was the Son of God and as such possessed far more wisdom and knowledge than any human. Furthermore, the arrival of the messiah is revolutionary by its very nature. To take Jesus destroying the Temple as evidence that people themselves should be revolutionaries is dubious. He didn't say that people should overthrow the existing order. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s" ain't the words of a revolutionary. He offered lessons on how people should live holy lives, but he didn't say that people should presume to take the actions he took in the Temple. At least I don't remember anything about that in the Bible.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chocolates

Every Christmas I buy Mrs. FLG Christopher Norman Chocolates. They are the best ever, and that includes the chocolatiers in Paris. Anyway, for Valentine's Day I bought her the Spice Box, and she loves it.

A Thought About Equality Through Rules And Laws

I'm sure other people have thought about this before and I probably have read something on this topic before, but a recent George Pal comment got me thinking:
Once you have a list of what constitutes improper or dangerous you no longer need adults, only functioning apparatchiks.


What got me thinking is the improper versus proper behavior list. Dangerous is a problem too, as evidenced by the constant drive to band anything that any study says might cause harm in 0.0000001% of the population, but that is another post altogether.

What I'm interested in is the nexxus between our society becoming more legalistic and the demand for equality that lead to insane policies on the part of institutions. What I am saying here is we create a law or rule to prohibit some behavior X. However, like all rules and laws there are valid reasons why there may be an exception to that rule or law. Laws and rules cannot possibly cover all potential circumstances in which they apply. So, we have a judicial system to take the law and apply it to each individual case.

In a reasonable society, institutions and individuals would address each case individually according to some preset guideline while taking into consideration extenuating circumstances and the parties involved would reach some compromise or solution taking those into account. Too often of late it seems that fears of potential lawsuits containing accusations of preferential or unequal treatment create the incentive to enforce hard and fast rules, which while equal do nobody any favors.

In this sense the litigiousness of our society is self-reinforcing. Institutions, afraid of being sued, create and enforce rules with no eye toward context. This stand of everybody equally treated regardless of circumstance pushes the role of making exception and compromise to the courts. Ironically, this causes the people subject to these hard and fast rules to sue on the basis that they are being unfairly treated because no account of the circumstances has been made. So, the institutions' and individuals' fears of being sued prompt them to create more inviolable rules, which lead to more lawsuits. When a little common sense would save everybody a lot of time and money, and put some evil lawyers out of work.

Like A Mentally Ill Hobbit

Guardian:
In recent days North Korea has warned that it is "preparing for war" with the South.


North Korea is like so sort of sick joke. Let's evacuate Seoul in the middle of the night so that people are out of range of the artillery, and then bomb the glorious leader's palaces into the stone age?

Language Extinction

Telegraph:
nearly 2,500 languages out of 6,000 in the world that Unesco said are in danger of becoming extinct or have recently disappeared


*shrug*

Who gives a shit? Particularly who gives a shit if the language lacks writing. The value of language is its ability to communicate ideas and feelings. No written language and only a dozen or so speakers left, and I say who cares if it goes? Keeping languages around just for the sake of keeping them around is stupid.

From the what the fuck is wrong with Germans?! files

Telegraph:
A German couple snatched a 10-year-old girl and buried her in sealed box after getting the idea for the kidnap from a Clint Eastwood movie, a court heard.


What the fuck is wrong with Germans?

Bad Passwords

If any of your passwords are listed here, then you should change them immediately. Afterward, you should smack yourself across the face for being a moron.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to





For Alpheus

Dear James Poulos:

I only mean the best when I write, nobody understands what the fuck you are saying most of the time. Oh, sure. They probably nod knowingly. However, that's just because they are too intellectually insecure to tell you that your references are not only obscure, but obtuse. This post is a glaring example. This paragraph in particular sounds like blather:

One of the great blindspots in American thought today, especially among those with liberaltarian sympathies, obscures the way in which only a naturally tiny portion — made all the tinier by what’s happening to the Western economy — of healthy, tech-rich people will wind up being masters of fortune. Most of the people who enjoy the basic liberal standard of material well-being will not be ‘masters’ of anything — neither their fates nor those of their country nor those of the world at large. Their mastery will be a hall-of-mirrors mastery over their lifestyle choices. Many citizens with all the Hegelian comforts and Houellebecquian peccadillos will simply lose their nerve amid the chaos of a shockingly retrograde future. The battle between liberaltarians and their enemies is part of a larger cultural conflict in the West, with liberaltarians unhappy to consider how seriously limited is the portion of any society that can thrive in an environment of sweeping cultural or lifestyle freedom.


Okay, I've read Hegel and parts of Extension du domaine de la lutte, but those references add very little to your argument while probably confusing half of your readers.

Basically, your point, if I may summarize, is:
Things are going to get shittier, but people in the West will be distracted by shiny things and the illusion of freedom and power within their personal lives. There. That's it. Stop trying to be cute and just write something people can actually understand.

Sincerely,
FLG

PS I realize it's easy to dismiss good ol' FLG as an immature buffoon who swears a lot and talks about pirates, but trust me on this one.

Lessons Learned

What lesson does UBS handing over the names of Americans who moved money offshore offer?

Simple. Don't use a bank that has any operations in the United States.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last Thing On Lullabies

Sleepytime Tunes: Johnny Cash Lullaby

Bad-fucking-ass!

The Kindle

I don't get the appeal.

Bad Mortgage Crisis Analysis and Liberals Versus Conservatives

Some idiot from ACORN was on the BBC Global News podcast this morning railing against the evil, greedy banks who granted people loans they couldn't afford. Are you kidding me? Are you telling me the borrower has no responsibility in the deal? People have a responsibility not to borrow more than they can afford. In fact, the borrower probably knows better than the lender what they can afford.

Now, I understand the motivation to keep people in their homes. However, nobody has a right to own a home they can't afford. Lowering the price of the home by revaluing the principal on a loan to keep somebody in a home they couldn't afford will have long-lasting effects on the mortgage market going forward. And this thought led me to another thought about the liberal mindset.

As I mentioned previously, liberals and conservatives place different values on time. Liberals want stuff done now. They have a short-run focus. The argument is usually framed that justice cannot be delayed one more day. "The fierce urgency of now" The more expedient the resolution to injustice the better. So, if that means judges rule something unjust and that fixes it today, so much the better. If that means redistributing wealth to ameliorate inequality today, so much the better. The more important thing is the ends, not the means.

Conservatives, in comparison, are more concerned about the long-term. Judges rulings are by their nature less democratic than legislative processes. They also place the power to sweeping changes to society in the hands of a very few, very select, very elite members of society who have all been educated in law, which does not make them wise as to everything in society. In fact, the math skills of the average lawyer are so atrocious that I cringe at the idea of them ruling on anything involving numbers. But anyway...let me continue. Then there are the redistribution effects. Redistribution for the sake of ameliorating economic issues in the short-term has the effect of retarding long-term economic growth due to the distortions caused by taxation and the perverse incentives of getting money for nothing. These are the things that conservatives are concerned about. Furthermore, conservatives also believe that giving money to poor people is, at least in part, treating a symptom and not a cause. Some people, but certainly not all, are poor because they have made and continue to make poor decisions. They may make these decisions for a variety of reasons: upbringing, addiction, mental illness, etc. However, giving them money to improve their material conditions won't always fix the underlying cause of their poverty, and in many cases the precedent of receiving money or services for free will make the situation worse.

Obviously, it's a balance between eliminating suffering in the short-run and creating the conditions for a better world in the future. But then I began to wonder what the impact of faith is on the equation. Let's take two hypothetical examples, and I'll admit they are a bit contrived:

The Atheist Liberal and the Religious Conservative.

Under the metaphysical assumptions and first principles of the Religious Conservative there is a faith, perhaps even optimism, that all the crappiness in this world is temporary and transient as the next world, the permanent and real world, is perfect. Let's not worry about perfecting this world as fast as possible because it ain't gonna happen. Let's take it nice and easy and figure out the best way to organize our society over the long-haul. Then there's the Atheist Liberal from whom the only world is this one and the only truth is that which is demonstrably true. And the only thing demonstrably true at any given time is the present circumstances. Therefore, the present material circumstances of people are the most important thing. These differences lead to differing values in perspective of time.

What's funny is that both sides attribute the worst possible motives and understanding to each other. So, liberals like to believe that conservatives are somehow heartless because conservatives don't value the amelioration of present material circumstances as much as liberals do. Conversely, conservatives think liberals are stupid and naive because they value the mitigation of current suffering over the possible long-term repercussions of the policy decisions taken to facilitate that mitigation. I am not innocent of this failing, as I called the ACORN guy an idiot at the beginning of this post. However, in my defense, there are liberals who are in fact idiots, and that guy is obviously a card carrying member of that group, along with Maxine Waters. Likewise, there are heartless cocksucker conservatives.

PC Misses The Point

George Pal may have been right that adults have lost common sense when it comes to a whole host of issues involving political correctness. A new musical about Al Jolson will not have any scenes in black face. How can you even tell the story without it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Few Incomplete Thoughts On Unions

I've been trying to figure out what it is that bothers me so about unions. I've said for a while that I don't like the ossifying effect on the labor market, the pay scales based on seniority rather than an individual's productivity, and the various rules and laws that say I have to join the union to work in union shops, etc. But those are avoidable. Just don't work in a union and it doesn't affect me personally.

However, what I find so objectionable is the underlying Marxist premise that the workers are in some sort of zero sum conflict with the capitalists as represented by their bourgeois proxy tools -- management. (Save me the union as partner with management. We all know it's bullshit.)

There are two possible ways that I can think of to view employer-employee relations. First, an adversarial relationship in which each is trying to screw the other side. In this formulation, the employer, especially if it is a large corporation, clearly has more power than any individual employee. Therefore, the only hope for the employees is to band together to pool their power and influence. Second, the employer and each individual employee voluntarily reach a mutually beneficial arrangement where both are better off afterward than they were beforehand. So, the employee gets a salary and the employer makes a profit on the labor and capital.

Now, the first does have some merit. I always say that people only work hard enough not to get fired and only get paid enough not to quit. It sums up an important dynamic, but it's not strictly true. Furthermore, both parties have the ability to exit the situation, excluding long-term contracts, if circumstances change and it is no longer mutually beneficial. So, I don't really see the need for unions unless, as I have said before, it is a company town and there are no other reasonable alternatives to working for one company. In that case, the company have a monospony in the labor market and it may be better to create monopoly to counteract it.

Regardless, I find the idea that public sector unions are almost all that remains of the American labor movement to be completely ridiculous. As I said earlier, the purpose of unions is to pool resources to fight against management in a zero sum negotiation framework. However, the public sector unions are organized to extort, and I do believe strikes are legalized extortion, who? Oh, right, the taxpayer.

Damn you people, VOTE!

Rooked is behind in the polls, and I just won't stand for it. We are going full on Chicago-style here. I want a major "bring out your dead" vote drive C.S. Perry.

Women And Their Projects

Last night, I had a dream about race car driving, and this post by Miss Self-Important popped into my head:
How is this possible? Never having been male, I find it difficult to penetrate the male psyche and do not often try. But I have seen women behave this way before. My roommate is not the first male I have encountered whom women apparently see as an epic improvement project--the diamond in the rough who, with a little tender prodding (and sex) from a patient woman, can be weaned away from his pathetic neediness and shaped into a great man. And the woman, in turn, having reclaimed him from the wilds, will have the honor of being his partner. I suppose all women attempt to improve and civilize their men to some degree, which is understandable enough if they're starting from a decent level of pre-existing civilization--like they know to sleep in a bed, but not to make it in the morning, or they know how to cook, but only spaghetti. But these spectacularly doomed efforts at domesticating mountain gorillas are of a different caliber, I think.


What does this have to do with race car driving? Well, I remember watching something about how chicks dig race car drivers. This isn't disputed. However, why do they like race car drivers? According to what I was watching, women like risk takers. Apparently, something about the willingness to take risks subconsciously implies that the potential male mate would also be willing to risk their life to protect their wife and family. Who knows if it's true? But let's say it is anyway...

The funny thing is that once the women nab themselves these risk takers they want unnecessary risk taking to cease. Race car driving is dangerous, and not something most women would want their husbands to be doing for a career. (Add high speed boats to the list as well.) It's kinda ironic that an activity that attracts women is something they want stopped when a couple. So, that made me wonder whether all women are attracted qualities in potential partners that they do not want in actual partners?

To paraphrase MSI: Never having been female, I find it difficult to penetrate the female psyche and do not often try. But I do know that women have more expectations about...uh...almost everything... than men. So, I'm wondering if the attractiveness of traits in potential partners that they don't want in actual partners and their inexhaustible expectations about every minute detail of every aspect of a relationship combine to form a huge cosmic joke?

In Which FLG Does An Impression Of GEC

NYTimes:
“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”


More On Lingo

Schneier on Security posted this abstract from an academic paper that is trying so hard to sound important and intelligent that it obscures the point:
Abstract

In densely populated urban areas WiFi routers form a tightly interconnected proximity network that can be exploited as a substrate for the spreading of malware able to launch massive fraudulent attacks. In this article, we consider several scenarios for the deployment of malware that spreads over the wireless channel of major urban areas in the US. We develop an epidemiological model that takes into consideration prevalent security flaws on these routers. The spread of such a contagion is simulated on real-world data for georeferenced wireless routers. We uncover a major weakness of WiFi networks in that most of the simulated scenarios show tens of thousands of routers infected in as little as 2 weeks, with the majority of the infections occurring in the first 24–48 h. We indicate possible containment and prevention measures and provide computational estimates for the rate of encrypted routers that would stop the spreading of the epidemics by placing the system below the percolation threshold.


Translation:

Wireless routers are packed in so tight in cities that writers of computer virii and other nefarious programs may be able to use them as a way to cause massive attacks. In this article, we consider several scenarios of how this may occur. We simulated the spread of computer virii using data gathered about the real-world locations of wireless routers. The simulations show tens of thousands of routers infected in as little as 2 weeks, with the majority of the infections occurring in the first 24–48 h. This is a major weakness of WiFi networks. We recommend ways to prevent this, and provide an educated guess at the percentage of encrypted routers, which are vaccinated if you will, that would stop the spreading of the epidemics.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I think most people's eyes glaze over at the first paragraph, but can understand my translation. If so, then why write using lingo? Sometimes, I admit, it is unavoidable, but a good writer can express themselves using simple, easy to understand language.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dear Alan:

I can't believe I forgot to ask you if you also contend that any lullaby by the Ramones is better than any other lullaby?

-FLG

PS. No more rock lullaby shit.

Dear C.S. Perry

Ask. And you shall receive.


That's right baby! All Stones all the fucking time!

Sincerely,
FLG

PS. They also make Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC (That's right Mrs. FLG. Lullaby version of "You Shook Me All Night Long.")

Dear George Pal:

I didn't read all of your back-and-forth with Mrs. P and Alan, and apologize in advance if I misread this or you answered my questions elsewhere, but you wrote:
Geopolitical segregation means keeping those who do not share the fundamental Western values of a country out of said country. I would hope that no more Muslims be let in the country. I also admitted that those already here posed a vexing problem, the solution being assimilation on their part, not on ours. Failing to assimilate, politically and culturally, I would have no problem sending them back from whence they came.


Are you saying that Islam and Western values are irreconcilable? Isn't Freedom of Religion a fundamental Western value? If so, then how is excluding Muslims in the defense of Western values not a destruction of Western values? Or are you arguing a similar point to Locke regarding Atheists:
Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated.


That even an open society must be closed to some, namely those who want a closed society?

And does geopolitical separation also mean economic separation? Is such a thing even possible? To be explicit: We need oil. Oil is in the Middle East. Muslims are in the Middle East. Therefore, we need to deal with Muslim politically to get oil. Consequently, isn't geopolitical separation impossible?

Sincerely,
FLG

Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Big Assumption

I'm only part way into Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, but there are overlaps and conflicts with my Big Assumption theory that I will spell out later. That is if I remember...
 
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