Sunday, May 31, 2009

Victory!

FLG finally defended his desktop from all scenarios.

He's trying not to become addicted to this one with wizards or some shit.

126 Weeks

Roger Ebert:
In the late months of 2008, while the economic storm was gathering, Steven Soderbergh made a film about buying and selling. "The Girlfriend Experience" follows a high-priced escort named Chelsea as she interacts with clients, many of them regulars, all of them wealthy. It stars Sasha Grey, 21, who in real life has made more than 150 porn films. This is her second film role that doesn't involve explicit hard-core sex.


If she started at 18 and she's now 21, that's three years. There are 52 weeks in a year. So, that's 156 weeks. According to wikipedia, her birthday is March 14th, so let's tack on 8 more weeks and we arrive at 164. I'm gonna assume there are certain weeks during the month when female pornstars can't work. So, let's subtract one quarter of the weeks. That's 123 weeks to make 150 hardcore films. Am I the only one who finds that astonishing?

Transsiberian

The FLGs watched the first half of Transsiberian a few months ago, but we never watched the rest. It sat there on the counter, like too many of our Netflix movies do, waiting to be watched. Finally, yesterday, we decided that we need to finish it. We did. At the end, Mrs. FLG says, "I almost wished we didn't finish it because it ended well in my mind."

New Word

I had no idea this word existed -- encopresis.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The End Game Is Unclear, But Good For Niall Ferguson

He writes:
It is a brave or foolhardy man who picks a fight with Mr Krugman, the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Yet a cat may look at a king, and sometimes a historian can challenge an economist.

Of course, Mr Krugman knew what I meant. “The only thing that might drive up interest rates,” he acknowledged during our debate, “is that people may grow dubious about the financial solvency of governments.” Might? May? The fact is that people – not least the Chinese government – are already distinctly dubious. They understand that US fiscal policy implies big purchases of government bonds by the Fed this year, since neither foreign nor private domestic purchases will suffice to fund the deficit. This policy is known as printing money and it is what many governments tried in the 1970s, with inflationary consequences you do not need to be a historian to recall.

Maybe There Is Something To The Concerns About Inflation Being Overstated

Buttonwood:
As a result, Rosenberg is far more optimistic than I am about the Treasury bond market, seeing it as massively oversold. He also points out, given that the US is in deflation, that real yields are very high. I can understand his reasoning for domestic investors. For foreign investors, however, the worse the data appear, the bigger the budget deficit will get, the more the Fed will have to indulge in quantitative easing, and the further the dollar will fall. But it is hard to argue against Mr Rosenberg's record.


Again, I think this really is a time horizon thing. During the next, I dunno, 6-24 months deflation is probably the big worry, and the Fed will be quantitatively easing away. Once it stops though I worry that inflation will take off like a rocket without warning.

The scary thing is that nobody really knows. This situation is so atypical that nobody is very sure what can or should be done.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Correspondence

Knowing exactly how to get me fired up, GEC writes:
Have you seen this one?


From the link:
The air force insists that all ground controllers for UAVs be officers, as well as conventional pilots (of manned aircraft). All the other services use non-pilot NCOs to fly the UAVs. Most air force pilots would rather fly a manned aircraft, instead of sitting on the ground sending commands to a UAV.


Idiots.

At the start of World War II, the army air force (there was no separate air force yet) and navy both had enlisted pilots. These men were NCOs ("flying sergeants") selected for their flying potential and trained to be pilots. Not leaders of pilots, but professional pilots of fighters, bombers and whatnot. Officers trained as pilots would also fly, but in addition they would provide the leadership for the sergeant pilots in the air and on the ground. As the Army Air Corps changed into the mighty Army Air Force (2.4 million troops and 80,000 aircraft at its peak), its capable and persuasive commander (General Hap Arnold), insisted that all pilots be officers.


It's that fucking fighter jock culture that will be their demise. A return to the Army Air Corps is the only answer.

North Korea

Le Monde:
Qu'on le veuille ou non, la RPDC dispose de capacités nucléaires. Elle constitue moins une menace d'agression nucléaire, qui serait suicidaire pour elle, qu'un risque de prolifération dans la région. Ce qui paraît négociable, c'est un nouvel arrêt de ses programmes, dûment vérifié, et des engagements de non-prolifération horizontale. Dans le cadre, non pas d'une négociation focalisée sur la dénucléarisation unilatérale de la RPDC, mais d'un accord de stabilisation de la péninsule passant par un traité de paix avec les Etats-Unis. Un accord auquel l'administration Clinton était sur le point de parvenir en 2000. Mais, cette fois, la RPDC, dotée de capacités nucléaires qu'elle n'avait pas à l'époque, a placé la barre plus haut.


Translation:
Whether one might want it or not, North Korea has nuclear capabilities. It constitutes less of a menace of nuclear aggression, which would be suicidal, than a risk of proliferation in the region. What appears negotiable, is a new stoppage of its programs, duly verified, and engagement in horizontal non-proliferation. In this framework, it's not a negotiation focused on the unilateral denuclearization of North Korea, but a stabilization accord for the peninsula based on a peace treaty with the United States. An accord that the Clinton Administration was almost at the point of making in 2000. But, this time, North Korea, strengthened by nuclear capabilities that it didn't at that time, has placed the bar higher.


First, I'm not sure what horizontal non-proliferation is. Second, the way to deal with regional proliferation is simple. The six-party talks involve three recognized nuclear powers (the US, China, and Russia) so it's not like nukes haven't been in the region. The American nuclear umbrella already protects Japan and South Korea. Those would be the only two countries threatened that don't currently have nukes. So, if we can make convincing guarantees to our allies the normal domino of countries getting nukes in a arms race won't happen. North Korea selling its nuclear technology can be dealt with through other channels and the occasional strike on Syrian reactors. For now, I'd say that we tell the North Koreans that if a nuclear weapon of theirs leaves North Korean territory whether on a missile, rocket, ship, submarine, car, truck, or donkey it will be considered a nuclear attack on the United States of America and we will retaliate with the full force of our nuclear arsenal.

Alan has said that we should tell the North Koreans that we can tolerate a nuclear North Korea or the current regime, but not both simultaneously. That approach makes sense to me in theory, but are we ready to start a war with a country that has a gazillion artillery shells pointed at Seoul? In fact, I'm far less concerned about their nukes than the artillery. I guess it really comes down to whether we think North Korea will eventually start hostilities either way. That's something I'm willing to entertain. The people are starving and the regime is limping along. One day and without warning it might just begin to collapse and since Dr. Evil in the Members Only jacket is such a wackjob he might just want to take as many people with him as he can when that happens. So, maybe we should tell North Korea that we can tolerate their regime or a nuclear North Korea, but not both and if need be take action if only to do it at a time of our choosing. But that's a bit too bellicose even for FLG.

FLG is currently listening to

Newsmedia Wackiness

ABCNews:
After four years researching for the documentary, Azam told "Good Morning America" that oral sex is as common as kissing for teens


Sure.

In the documentary, "Oral Sex Is the New Goodnight Kiss," girls as young as 11 years old talk about having sex, going to sex parties and -- in some extreme situations -- crossing into prostitution by exchanging sexual favors for money, clothes or even homework and then still arriving home in time for dinner with the family.


Uh huh.

This is complete bullshit. I'm not disputing that these cases may be true, but if you spend four years looking for something you'll eventually find it.

"I think there's very much trading for relationship favors, almost like 'you need to do this [to] stay in this relationship,'" one girl told "Good Morning America."

"There's a lot of social pressure," said another. "Especially because of our age, a lot of girls want to be in a relationship and they're willing to do anything."


That I agree with. A lot of girls have sex with their boyfriends because they're afraid to lose them. Having sex with a boyfriend, while concerning for parents, is a whole different thing than blowing seven guys you met five minutes earlier, stripping, or prostitution.

Let's not get ourselves all crazylike.

Quote of the day

Greg Mankiw:
A moral and political philosophy is not like a smorgasbord, where you get to pick and choose the offerings you like and leave the others behind without explanation. It is more like your mother telling you to clean everything on your plate. If you are a Utilitarian redistributionist, the height tax is like that awful tasting vegetable your mother served up because it is good for you. No matter how hard you might wish it wasn't there sitting on your plate, it just won't go away.

FLG is currently listening to

Glass-Steagall

Bill Clinton:
On the Glass-Steagall, I’ve really thought about that because No. 1, nonbank banking was already a major part of American life at that time. Letting banks take investment positions I don’t think had much to do with this meltdown. And the more diversified institutions in general were better able to handle what happened.


No shit. I've maintained throughout that people who were complaining about the repeal of Glass-Steagall were uninformed, unthinking morons. Repealling Glass-Steagall had nothing at all to do with the collapse and in point of fact helped the stabilize the system.

What did I write before? Oh, here it is:
And I still can't believe people are blaming the repeal of Glass-Steagall. I've addressed it before, but it, contrary to idiot opinions, helped the financial system. Bank of America couldn't have purchased Merrill Lynch if Glass-Steagall was in place. Think deregulation went too far? Okay. Fine. Probably did. But you don't strengthen your case by pointing to the repeal of Glass-Steagall as the problem. In fact, I begin to question your judgment entirely.


HT: Matt Ygelsias

On Messiahs

Tom Barnett:
It's always interesting to me that whenever Christians or Jews cite the Bible, it's considered deep and meaningful: remember the lesson of so-and-so. And we have our beliefs, to include the rather fantastic notion of God's return to the planet. When exactly? A fudgey notion at best. But we believe and consider these attributions to be quite sacred and thus suitable for people of great faith and understanding. But when we are confronted by very similar concepts in other faiths, they typically strike us as bizarre (You celebrate what? You expect THAT guy to suddenly show up again on earth and usher in some new era? Are you nuts!!)


I had a similar thought the other day when I was driving home. Pat Robertson was on Hannity and was going on and on about how Ahmadinejad is a Shi'a who believes in the Mahdi. Robertson didn't go into this, but more precisely Ahmadinejad is a Twelver, a name which comes from the Mahdi being the Twelfth Imam.

The basic gist of the idea is that the Twelfth Imam disappeared in the 800-900s. I forget when exactly. He is in hiding and will return with Jesus to act as his right hand man to fix the world.

When Robertson called Ahmadinejad's belief in the return of the Madhi crazy and that it leads him to dangerous conclusions (I'm paraphrasing here) I couldn't help but think, "You fucking idiotic motherfucker!" (Wrong. I know, but I couldn't help it.) I've watched his show and heard him speak and his support for Israel (you know, the reason why he is so concerned about Iran) is directly related to his belief in the prophesies of the Bible. I'd say that believing that a messiah or two messiahs will return and that our policies on Earth should be directed toward precipitating that end is dangerous on both sides.

Now, I will admit that the policies that Roberston's faith leads him to are ones that I much prefer in comparison to the ones that Ahmadinejad's leads him to, but maybe Robertson shouldn't call other people crazy because they believe a person will come from the sky to make the world right when he believes THE SAME THING!

Paul Krugman Is Smart...

but far too sanguine about the medium- to long-term risk of inflation.

Cyberwarfare Continued

NYTimes:
It is a recognition that the United States already has a growing number of computer weapons in its arsenal and must prepare strategies for their use — as a deterrent or alongside conventional weapons — in a wide variety of possible future conflicts.


Emphasis FLG's.

Specifically, we need to develop a framework for deciding to use traditional military force in response to an electronic attack. If anybody needs help on this, my email is on the right.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baby Pirate Ready To Pounce

Why?

E.D Kain writes:
it doesn’t matter how horrific they are…Obama needs to release the photos, even if they do show pictures of the rape of detainees. Indeed, that makes it all the more necessary.


I'm not clear why the photos must be released. Police departments often don't release crime scene images because they are graphic and their release serves no purpose in the pursuit of justice. What purpose would the release serve? Will it help bring justice to the victims? Will it enlighten the American public that bad shit happened at Abu Ghraib?

Moreover, I think it would be a negative on the international front as it would reignite anti-American sentiment and provide needless propaganda images to our enemies.

Burris Tape

After listening to this tape Burris should resign. The entire conversation is about Rob Blago wanting Burris to pay for the senate seat and Burris is concerned about how he can pay for the senate seat without paying for the senate seat.

What do you mean "What If?"

Buttonwood:
As already mentioned, however, bond yields have moved higher not lower. So the Fed may well be tempted to increase its purchases to try to drive yields down again. But, what if one reason for higher yields is that investors fear this "monetising" of the fiscal deficit on the grounds that it will eventually lead to high inflation? Further use of QE might only drive yields even higher.


Of course investors fear this monetising will lead to high inflation. It's basically the same thing as running printing presses to pay for the government's deficit, which until recently most people thought only fiscally irresponsible Banana Republics did.

Quote of the day

Tyler Cowen:
Beware when non-marginal moralizing becomes so prevalent in the case for a piece of legislation.

How Not To Convince FLG

Alan writes:
I am hardly alone. The NY Times editorial board echoed my comments...


You might as well have written:
I am hardly alone. The crazy guy on the bus who smells like poo echoed my comments...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Judicial Round-Up

I'm happy that the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8. As I said in a lengthy previous debate, which I don't wish to revisit, this is not because I'm anti-gay marriage. But because power rests with the people and the people voted on the proposition to amend the constitution. Therefore, the proposition is more legitimate in a democratic sense than any supreme court ruling. Furthermore, the power to amend the constitution is a direct check on judicial power and overreach. In fact, a judicial ruling prompted Prop 8. If the supreme court had ruled Prop 8 illegitimate, then it would have been a much larger loss for democracy than the expedient gain for gay rights. The people would have lost a power that should be all rights be reserved to them -- amending to constitution in a way to correct what the people believe to be an incorrect interpretation of the existing constitution by the court. If Prop 8 is overturned it should be overturned by a popular election because it was enacted by popular election, and as I said before all institutions of government derive their power from the people. So, no institution should have the ability to overrule the people in a properly held referendum. (The legal nitpicking over the scope of the proposition was totally off-base.)

In other news, as far as I can tell Sotomayor appears to be a qualified candidate for the United States Supreme Court. She wouldn't be my choice, but elections have consequences. I've long maintained that the president has the discretion to nominate any qualified judge he sees fit. The advice and consent clause is to eliminate cronysim, nepotism, incompetents, and complete nutjobs, none of which seem to apply to Sotomayor.

Classic Make Work Bias

Alan, like many people, continuously falls into the make work bias trap:
If forklift and truck drivers who worked for the Big 3 find work on infrastructure projects, and the increased wealth that results convinces a grocery chain to invest in a new store or stores, where none exist today according to the information Mrs. P provides, that grocery chain will need...say it with me..."forklift and truck drivers!" It will also require several other people with skills that were required at the Big 3 and the infrastructure projects. These people with jobs there will buy some groceries and maybe go see a movie, and so on. This is the intent of the stimulus package and all the very many stimulus packages that have gone before.


This is the classic make work bias and incorrect logic people use. First, unemployment benefits and retraining will have the exact same short-term effect of putting money into the local economy. Teachers and trainers will have to be paid. Books bought. Daycare providers employed. Etc. Etc. However, no business grocery stores are going to make larger investments in neighborhoods or cities without future growth potential. One-time or short-term stimulus will be seen exactly as that. Training provides for that future growth.

The idea that simply getting money circulating, priming the pump, is appealing, but it won't help in an area that has no long-term growth potential because its workers lack marketable skills. Priming the pump only works if there is a pump to prime. No skills, no pump.

Think of a hypothetical autoworker who can weld or your example of a truck driver. Let's say we employ them for one year building a bridge. Great. They have work for one year. At the end of that year they are still an unemployed truck driver or former autoworker.

Yet, if instead of paying them to work you gave them marketable skills, then they can become a nurse or x-ray technician or computer support specialist at the end of that year or two. Whatever. But they will have skills that are in demand.

Baghdad is germane because it, along with the Big 3's troubles, shows that more than a lack of skills determines unemployment rates.


You want to assert that war causes economic disruption to the local economy? Point conceded. However, it has no bearing on this issue.

The Big 3's troubles aren't in point of fact the issue. The issue is that the Big 3 failing means that the skills people have, auto making skills, are now longer in demand. Moreover, the Big 3, Detroit, Michigan and every other party involved has known that this was coming for a while. Or at least they should have. Detroit, Michigan and the citizenry have not equipped themselves to deal with the very obvious consequences of American automobile manufacturing's decline. Put simply: If the area had acquired skills other than simply automaking it would be in much, much better shape. The issue is skills.

All other things being equal, a city with 14 percent unemployment will have more skilled workers out of work than a city with 4 percent unemployment.


Not necessarily. A one industry city whose industry is dying would probably have 14 percent unemployment and many of the workers wouldn't be skilled. For example, a person could be the world's best widget maker, but if nobody wants to buy widgets anymore, then they don't have a marketable skill.

Unemployment does run out. Then we support the long-term unemployed with welfare and other social support, and eventually in some cases, incarceration. In any event, we pay.


And in many, many more cases people find jobs in other areas. But, again, job training is the answer here.

And no, I did not argue for preserving skills that will no longer be required. Nowhere will you find that suggestion in my remarks.


I never said that. I'm saying your solution of paying people to do stuff for the sake of giving them a job does nothing for their skill set. An unemployed autoworker after they drove a truck on a infrastructure project is still an unemployed autoworker after the project is completed rather than somebody with a skill valued in the marketplace.

As regards building infrastructure during downturns, yes it creates local jobs that prime the pump, but they are also long-term investments in capital stock purchased when the prices are cheap. They aren't simply jobs programs for the sake of creating jobs.

France And Abu Dhabi

I'm not quite sure why, but Abu Dhabi has a huge crush on France. First, they import the Louvre. Then, the Sorbonne.

Now, a military base:


Personally, I think a French presence in the region is a huge benefit to US interests in the region.

Me John. Big Tree.

Infrastructure Investment

Alan writes as part of a dispute in the comments with Mrs. P:
Indeed, providing those long-term unemployed an occupation and a paycheck will mean you no longer have to support them directly with your tax dollars (i.e. welfare). That benefit does not accrue from providing redundant opportunities and continuing to ignore infrastructure problems in lower-income areas.


This was in response to a video in Robert Reich argued that stimulus shouldn't go only to professionals and white construction workers, but also spread around to minorities. Mrs. P argues that we should hire the best construction workers regardless, and Alan seems to be saying that we should hire the long-term unemployed.

Alan's argument, I believe, is that these long-term unemployed just need a break. If we give them a job, then they'll be able to get more jobs later and will contribute to society. This is questionable economic logic.

First, I think it's safe to assume that people who are perpetually unemployed lack skills. If they had skills, then they'd probably be hired somewhere already. I'd rather have competent, skilled engineers, technicians and construction workers building our infrastructure. It will last longer and ultimately cost less that way. Second, part of the benefit from economic stimulus during downturns is that you can get quality workers relatively cheaply. Therefore, you're building your infrastructure for the long run during times when it costs less. Third, and this is the most important point, is that Alan's theory presumes that these long-term unemployed have just had a run of bad luck. If they'd just get a break, then everything would be fine. The issue, however, is not just luck, but also a lack of skills. The most economically efficient way to address the skills issue to subsidize training to learn skills. Paying somebody who doesn't have the skills to do a job to do a job so they can have a job where they will learn skills is inefficient and bad policy.

In conclusion, pay competent, skilled people to build our infrastructure while they're cheap. Subsidize training in marketable skills for the long-term unemployed. Unemployment can happen to anybody. It's just bad luck. Long-term, perpetual unemployment is more than simply bad luck. There's an underlying problem that needs to be solved. Paying to simply "make work" ain't the solution.

FLG thinks

Pyrrhus of Epirus might have something to say about the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. If military actions commence, then any way you slice it North Korea is obliterated and over one hundred thousand South Koreans die.

Quote of the day

A North Korean newspaper:
The U.S. sanctions policy toward North Korea is like striking a rock with a rotten egg.


Odd simile. I wonder if it sounds better in Korean.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Robbo Asks

Can anyone recommend a good biography of Robert Clive?

Current Reading Update

Finished Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Now reading Dearly Devoted Dexter

Quote of the day

David Brooks:
These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II.

Robert Reich

Mrs. FLG was watching Oprah the other day and Robert Reich was on. The more I learn about economics and the more I hear him talk the less intelligent he sounds. In fact, I've become deeply suspicious of all so-called public/economic policy experts who hold law degrees. (Robert Reich's a Yale JD.)

There's something about law training that undermines good economic thinking. My theory: Law trains you in a kind of zero sum game. One party wins, the other loses. Economics is fundamentally based on mutual benefit, not zero sum. Furthermore, most lawyers are fucking terrible at math. They read, write, and talk for a living. You can't really understand economics without math.

To return to Reich on the math point, he quotes a lot of statistics, but his economic analysis of those statistics is shoddy and amounts to silly cliches and standard political tropes. Lastly, he is one of the worst proponents of the bullshit "to compete in an international economy" arguments, which longtime readers should know I hate. Speaking of which, Greg Mankiw linked to a piece by Paul Krugman that rips the international competitiveness logic apart.

In short, don't listen to lawyers on economics and in particular definitely don't listen to Robert Reich.

None Of Whom Were FLG

Telegraph:
Seventeen British men stood trial dressed in nun's habits on the Greek island of Crete for flashing their bottoms in public

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Urban Design

A few years back, I was watching a hearing on a new development in Bethesda. The development has been completed, but the presenter made some interesting points about urban, mixed use development.

His company, I forget the name, did a thorough analysis of successful urban retail/restaurant streets in an attempt to determine what they had in common. They plotted something like 400 different data points. What they came up with was pretty straight forward.

A successful urban retail/mixed use street has buildings 2-4 stories high, comfortable but relatively narrow sidewalks*, and rows of trees along the street edge of the sidewalk. That's pretty much it.

Surprisingly, demographic data played very little part. Once you got to a certain number of people in the area and a certain median income, both of which were surprisingly low, it didn't really matter too much.

Another thing that surprised me is that the availability of parking was almost indirectly correlated with the success of a urban retail street. More parking almost meant less successful.

The company had a theory that sewed the whole thing together. First, 2-4 stories was high enough to demarcate the space, provide enough square footage for shops and restaurants, but didn't block the sun too much or loom over the street. Second, the trees between the sidewalk and the street provided shade, greenery, and a created a comforting barrier between the people and the moving cars. Third, the small sidewalks created an atmosphere or buzz. It seems like cool things are going on because you have to keep avoiding people. Lastly, less parking means it's harder to find parking in the first place. So, when you do find parking you decide to stay longer. It's not an in and out type thing. You window shop, grab a bite, and stroll a bit.

Anyway, his company invests in location that meet the above criteria or can be made into the above criteria. Specifically, they invested in downtown Bethesda:


















They also invested in Washington Street in South Norwalk, Connecticut:















Interestingly, Main Street in Westport, Connecticut fits the above criteria as well:














So does the new stuff near DC in Clarendon:

















Ditto for Rodeo Drive:















Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado:
















Much of Georgetown is like that too. The list goes on and on. I just happened to pick some I'm familiar with, but in fact, most old-time mainstreets were designed accordingly. It's weird how got away from something that works so well only to rediscover it again.

* The presenter had a precise foot measurement. I think it was 8-10 feet or something.

Patio Garden Update

Previously on FLG:
So, this weekend the FLGs traveled to the garden center and bought several plants, including sweet basil, Thai basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, grape tomatoes, strawberries, and jalapeno peppers.


Everything is doing great with the exception of the oregano. A local bird's girlfriend must really like oregano because we swoops in, grabs a twig, and then flies proudly back to her. I'm glad he's getting some nookie, but he's obliterated our oregano plant that was heretofore flourishing. I just hope she doesn't like strawberries because they are progressing nicely.

Housing Prices

FLG has been a little lax on the posting lately because the FLGs are in the market for a home and, as many of you know, it can be a very time consuming process. Housing prices here in the DC area have come down from their peak, but they've flattened out and started to inch up a tinsy bit. Notice that I don't say bottomed out.

As recent months have shown, people have irrational ideas about home values. First, real estate is more tangible than something like a stock or bond. Therefore, it seems like a safer investment. When, in truth, you are using a large amount of leverage to buy a relatively illiquid asset. That's not exact the safest type of investment plan. Second, people are emotionally attached to their homes and value them higher than anybody else. When the FLGs view a house it's just a house, but it's home to the person who lives there. A home comes with all kinds of emotional attachments that distort a home owners view of the value of their home. Recently, as home prices rocketed up, this wasn't such a big deal. But in more typical and even tighter times this becomes an issue. Third, and this is one of my concerns moving forward, people determine how much house they can afford by whether or not they can maintain the monthly payment.

Almost whatever purchases you think of in our current culture most people decide based upon whether or not they can make the monthly payment not the overall cost. Cell phones are subsidized by higher monthly payments because the cost can be spread over a two year contract almost imperceptibly. It's only a couple of dollars more per month. People decide if they can afford a car based on the payments. And, as I mentioned earlier, people decide how much house to buy largely based on payments.

A much better way to determine how much house you can afford is based upon income multiples. The sweet spot is approximately three times your income. Buy four times and it starts to get tight. It's not just about monthly payments, which of course these multiple do affect, but also flexibility. Since you're limiting your leverage, your exposure is lower. You can probably eat a 10% fall in your home price if the house only cost 3x your income when you bought it. Sure, it will be unpleasant, and you might even have to cough up money to sell your house, but you aren't stuck. Moreover, you have an easier time making payments if some misfortune falls upon you. So, you'll have less pressure to sell in the first place.

The $100,000 question: Is FLG abiding by his own advice? Sorta. The prices here in DC are still a bit high in his opinion, and we are holding our max to 3.5 x income. He thinks that's better than the 5-7x many people go for.

Oh, getting back to my earlier point about prices flattening, but not bottoming. I fear that we are going to have another housing collapse in 4-5 years. The bottom we are in is false, if it's even a bottom at all. Interest rates are super low and there's an $8,000 tax credit. Eventually, when all this stimulus and fiscal loosening gains real traction inflation will take off in earnest. When that happens interest rates will rise. How high? I think into the double digit range. That in turn will raise the potential monthly payments of new potential homebuyers. Since people can only afford X payment and more of X payment will be interest, then they will able to afford less house for the same payment. And the housing market will fall.

The only hope, as I see it, is that people are currently saving, and they'll presumably be able to bring more cash to the closing table.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Anthony Bourdain Is Awesome

FLG's a huge fan.

FLG is currently listening to

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ancient Economics

What does it say about me that I want this book?

Actor-Professors

First, Robocop. Now, Wyatt from Weird Science.

Cyberwar Continued

Readers will know that cyberwarfare is a particular interest of FLG's.

Strategy Page:
Last week, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, noted that American leaders cannot rule out using "real world" military force (e.g., air strikes and ground attacks) against an enemy who attacks and disrupts critical cyber networks.


A denial of service (DOS) attack may very well require a military response if it is large enough and sustained long enough. We really need to think about what type of traditional military responses we should have to major computer attacks.

In other cyberwar related news, a "senior management consultant" (yes, those are sarcastic air quotes) was concerned about a supposedly super-secure Chinese Operating System, named Kylin.:
China created Kylin, their own hardened server operating system and began to convert their systems back in 2007. This action also made our offensive cyber capabilities ineffective against them given the cyber weapons were designed to be used against Linux, UNIX and Windows


Turns out that Kylin is FreeBSD, a free, open source, UNIX-like operating system that is a solid operating system, but isn't something to be worried about:
Prior to this, the Kylin operating system - which is funded by the National 863 High-Tech Program - was found to have plagiarized from the FreeBSD5.3. An anonymous internet user, who goes by the handle name “Dancefire”, pointed out similarities between the two systems reached 99.45 percent.”


A system is only as secure as what is running on it and all software has bugs that can be exploited.. An OpenBSD server running the default configuration isn't going to get hacked because it isn't doing anything particularly useful. The problems arise when you start running applications and communicating with other systems.

That said, I'd have much greater trust in exposing an OpenBSD or hardened Security-Enhanced Linux server to the internet than a Windows server, but it isn't a huge deal because you can launch a denial of service attack against any server or device connected to the internet.

FLG is currently listening to

Fucking Robot Killers

io9:
As soon as we have convincing(ish) androids and gynoids, we'll create pleasure-droids. And soon after that, those sex-machines will use their super-powerful thigh muscles to try and kill us.

Correspondence

FLG,

I'm a future Hoya who would like some tips for the Map of the Modern World exam?


Dear Future Hoya:

First, be able to identify every country in the world on a map with no names. You can largely ignore Western Europe and North America, but everything else, including all the island nations in the Caribbean and Pacific, is fair game. Second, know the year of independence and former colonial power, if any, of every country. This is easier than it sounds because all the former USSR countries have the same year. Ditto for most of the former French colonies in Africa. Third, read up on international treaties like the Law of the Seas.

If you do all of those, then you have a fair chance of passing the exemption exam.

Sincerely,
FLG

Eminem, Elvis, and The Beastie Boys

Matt Zeitlin:
Has Eminem sullied his legacy with his recent stuff? Yes, of course he has. But I think it’s still important to remember just how important he was — and still is.


This immediately made me think of Elvis. A comparison that Eminem himself draws.

SHADY'S BACK:
I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley,
To do Black Music so selfishly
And use it to get myself wealthy


Young, thin, cool Elvis lasted long enough and had enough impact for almost everybody to overlook those last few years. Elvis put his pants on, just like the rest of us, one leg at a time, but once his pants were on he made gold records. Plus, he made movie after movie. Sure, some are of questionable quality. But the man was a cultural tsunami.

Eminem, on the other hand, is a great rapper, but is not the cultural force Elvis was. So, I think Matt overstates things here:
And I think that’s why we have to recognize his amazing three album run as one of the most culturally significant moments in recent history. Has there been anyone else who sold as many albums as he did with so much self-consciousness and such obvious vulnerability? His best songs were about his tortured relationship with his wife, his issues with his mom and an obsessed fan who was something of a doppelganger for himself. When Jay-Z raps about himself, it’s him saying he’s the greatest, when Eminem does, it’s about his incredible dysfunction.


I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that I think one album, The Chronic, by itself, had more cultural impact than Eminem's entire career, especially as far as mainstreaming hip-hop goes. Furthermore, if we are talking about white rappers' cultural footprint, then the Beastie Boys' impact dwarfs Eminem even if the latter's technique is superior. Yet, if we are talking about impact on the genre of hip-hop, then perhaps Eminem's vulnerability is a huge deal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm Confused

Paul Krugman:
One objection — the claim that carbon taxes are better than cap and trade — is, in my view, just wrong. In principle, emission taxes and tradable emission permits are equally effective at limiting pollution. In practice, cap and trade has some major advantages, especially for achieving effective international cooperation.


First, in principle emission taxes and tradable emissions permits are equally effective. In practice, cap and trade has major disadvantages such as giving away permits for free, which in turns leads to economically inefficient things like favoring certain groups and industries as well as cronyism. The international cooperation issue is not an economic issue, but a political one. One that I'm not sure Krugman analyzes correctly:

Not to put too fine a point on it, think about how hard it would be to verify whether China was really implementing a promise to tax carbon emissions, as opposed to letting factory owners with the right connections off the hook. By contrast, it would be fairly easy to determine whether China was holding its total emissions below agreed-upon levels.


I think this might be a distinction without a difference. Either way what exactly do we do if China doesn't abide? Say pretty please? Therefore, we are relying on China to do the right thing either way. If we see more pollution than agreed we can ask the Chinese to raise their carbon tax.

The primary issue for me with the cap and trade system is that it is theoretically as efficient as a tax, but in reality is more complicated and therefore more subject to gaming. Complaints that either can be gamed, which I've seen on some liberal blogs, are off-base. It's like saying somebody may possibly cheat in a basketball game is the same as setting up the rules in a way that encourages the cheating.

Cap and trade's only real benefit over carbon tax is political. It obscures the costs and creates rent seeking for resources which politicians will dole out. I'd be amenable to a cap and trade with a full auction of permits, but it won't happen and I'd much, much prefer a straight tax on carbon.


Sorry to keep harping and repeating myself on this issue, but many economically savvy lefties, like Krugman, are being, while not disingenuous, a tad breezy with the truth in the name of political expediency.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Smack

Strategy Page:
UAVs are nothing new. Guided missiles are UAVs that are used only once, and these were developed during World War II (nearly 70 years ago).


That smack you heard was the sound of FLG's hand hitting his forehead as an obvious fact was explained that he completely missed.

A Conversation

FLG singing poorly: You are the egg man, I am the Walrus.

Miss FLG: Wah!

FLG: What? You wanna be the Walrus?

Miss FLG: He he.

FLG: Listen. Being the Walrus is a lot of responsibility. You aren't even old enough to sit in an emergency exit row. I don't think you can handle being the Walrus.

Miss FLG: Wah!

FLG: Alright, alright. You can be the Walrus.

Miss FLG: He he.

Mrs. FLG walks in.

Mrs. FLG: What's going on in here?

FLG: Our little girl is demanding to be the Walrus.

Mrs. FLG: She's not a walrus. She's a little monkey.

FLG: Not A Walrus. The Walrus. Huge difference.

Mrs. FLG: Why would she want to be the Walrus?

FLG: Everybody wants to be the Walrus.

Mrs. FLG: Not me. What's the big deal about being the Walrus?

FLG: Perks. Huge perks. And you get the answer to the Paul is Dead question.

Mrs. FLG: Whatever. She doesn't want to be a Walrus.

Miss FLG: Waaaaaaah!

FLG: Told you.

FLG is currently listening to

Hold On There, Robert Stacy!

R.S. McCain:
MoDo is no Ross Douthat -- the boy is twenty-freaking-nine! -- and therefore she should know better than to stick a paragraph of unknown provenance into her column. I said when this was first reported that the mysterious "friend" who gave her that paragraph was probably her editorial assistant. If my hunch is right, the assistant should be fired.


The columnist is ultimately responsible for what is published under their name. Firing the assistant, who is probably even younger than Douthat and makes much less than either, is manifestly wrong.

Kewl!

I want one, but I have no idea what I would use it for.



H/T

In Case You Didn't Know: Two Pervs Edition

According to Le Figaro, Woody Allen is upset about American Apparel using his image in an ad campaign:
Woody Allen avait ainsi accusé American Apparel...d'avoir une «image sordide».»Les publicités que j'ai vues étaient sexuellement choquantes, stupides et infantiles», avait déjà déclaré le réalisateur dans une déposition en décembre.


Translation:
Woody Allen has accused American Apparel...of having a “sordid image”. ” "The advertisements that I saw were sexually shocking, stupid and infantile”, the director declared in a December deposition.

American Apparel does have sleazy ads and is run by a sleazeball, but a perv like Woody Allen saying so is just too rich.

Quote of the day

Robert Samuelson:
From 2010 to 2019, Obama projects annual deficits totaling $7.1 trillion; that's atop the $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009. By 2019, the ratio of publicly held federal debt to gross domestic product (GDP, or the economy) would reach 70 percent, up from 41 percent in 2008. That would be the highest since 1950 (80 percent). The Congressional Budget Office, using less optimistic economic forecasts, raises these estimates. The 2010-19 deficits would total $9.3 trillion; the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2019 would be 82 percent.


These numbers 1) are much, much larger than anything Bush did 2) go well beyond what is justified to combat the current crisis and 3) will ruin this country. The scariest things is that budget estimates are always on the low side.

Coming Soon To A Fire Swamp Near You

Telegraph:
Rats across Britain are evolving a resistance to poison that makes them almost impossible to kill, scientists have warned.


Yes, yes, but are they of unusual size, Buttercup?

Monday, May 18, 2009

As A Sinatra Fan...

I vociferously object to Jamie Foxx playing Ol' Blue Eyes because, well, um, in case you didn't notice, he's black. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for diversity, etc. I've got nothing against African-Americans. I'm all for more African-American roles for leading men and women, but there's just something wrong with the idea of a black guy playing Francis Albert Sinatra. Because, well, um, in case you didn't notice, he was white.

That said, many of the whities listed are pretty weak too -- George Clooney (Can't pull it off), Leonardo di Caprio (I like him, but a bit too girlie. Not way too girlie, but too girlie nonetheless), Harry Connick Jr. (Perhaps. He's got the singing chops, but the acting is a bit questionable), Johnny Depp (I'm as big a Depp fan as they come. The man can play anything, but Sinatra? I. Just. Don't. Know.) and Justin Timberlake (Ha. Ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha...thump...FLG falls on the floor...ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.)

FLG is currently listening to

Continuing The Beatles theme...

FLG is currently listening to

Networks and Anti-Trust

NYTimes:
The new antitrust leadership, legal experts say, is likely to scrutinize networks — technology platforms that become so dominant that everyone feels the need to plug into them. The advantages to the companies that control such networks snowball as they attract more users, advertisers or software developers.


Networks are an interesting thing. The marginal cost of adding a new node to the network is close to zero, but the benefits of adding that user are greater than zero. A network with 100 people is far less valuable than a network with 100 million people. In some cases society has pretty much acknowledged that a monopoly works best for these types of arrangements, especially with physical networks. Most power, local telephone, and cable companies are pretty much regulated monopolies. It's not economically justifiable to build two competing power grids in a town.

Recently, there has been some introduction of competition. Several municipalities and states have mandates that the dominant, legacy cable companies allow competitors to piggy-back on their network. This introduces competition, but also removes much of the incentive to invest in the construction or improvement of the network.

But as new technologies emerge the cable, telephone, and power companies will be increasing able to offer similar services over their own networks. Phone and cable companies both offering television. Power companies are toying with technologies to offer data over the power lines. It's going to be interesting.

In hindsight, I'd say the Microsoft windows network became much less important with the advent of the internet. The internet explorer anti-trust battle was a bit premature. Sure, they killed Netscape, but there are dozens of browsers out there now even if IE has the largest market share. It is less and less important which platform you are running in this internet age -- with one exception. I'd argue the Microsoft Office monopoly is a huge network.

As we share data across platforms, we are still left sharing that data in Excel and Word documents. Yes, there's competitors that can read and write those formats, but never as well as the actual applications.

So where does Google fit in? Google is dominant, but you'd have a hard time convincing me that another company can't overtake it. I mean just 10 years ago nobody had heard of Google. Everybody was using Yahoo or whatever. Now, look where Yahoo is. 10 years from now Google might be toast.

Yet, Google knows this and continues to innovate. They keep offering newer and better free products every month. I see no reason to kill the goose that keeps laying the golden eggs.

The problem with the Microsoft monopoly, economically and technologically speaking, was that they stopped innovating. Internet Explorer stayed much the same from the time Netscape died until Firefox, Netscape's open source grandchild, gained a foothold. Shit. Microsoft didn't even add tabbed browsing for fuck's sake until relatively recently. Office keeps getting worse, more and more features with more and more clutter.

All this is to say that physical networks and logical networks are different beasts. Physical networks are expensive to build and replace. Logical networks, like Google, are expensive to build and maintain, but the barrier to creating a replacement network is much, much lower than physical networks. So, I'd rather the Obama administration leave well enough alone for now.

Quote of the day

BBC:
Love Land was to have included displays of giant genitalia, naked bodies and an exhibition on the history of sex.

Good Eats

If you are ever in the Denver area and wondering where to eat, then a trip out to The Fort would be a good idea. Mrs. FLG was a huge fan of the peanut butter stuffed jalapenos.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Weddings

Both the FLGs and GEC will be out of town attending weddings.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fudgie the Whale! That's Right! Fudgie the Whale!

For Robbo:






China Predictions

I've said it over and over again that people have a huge tendency to predict linearly. This is a major factor in the world's infatuation with China. It has over a billion people and is growing at an astonishing rate. Today the NYTimes has an article by Prof. Roubini of NYU warning that the renminbi may well be the reserve currency of the this century. Based on the idea that the pound was supreme during the British Empire, only to be replaced by the US dollar after WWII permanently ended Great Britain's reign.

There are two primary factors that lead me to believe that China is not the future superpower in the way that people are predicting. First, the rapid growth in China is largely part of a one-time shift.

To quote Paul Krugman's Foreign Affairs article entitled The Myth of Asia's Miracle:
The newly industrializing countries of Asia, like the Soviet Union of the 1950s, have achieved rapid growth in large part through an astonishing mobilization of resources. Once one accounts for the role of rapidly growing inputs in these countries' growth, one finds little left to explain. Asian growth, like that of the Soviet Union in its high-growth era, seems to be driven by extraordinary growth in inputs like labor and capital than by gains in efficiency.


What this means in layman's terms is that you get a huge boost in economic numbers by shifting people from farming to working in factories. But eventually everybody is working in factories and what seemed like a rocket up the economic ladder burns out.

Krugman makes another very good point about China:
Even a modest slowing in China's growth will change the geopolitical outlook substantially. The World Bank estimates that the Chinese economy is currently about 40 percent as large as that of the United States. Suppose that the U.S. economy continues to grow at 2.5 percent each year. If China can continue to grow at 10 percent annually, by the year 2010 its economy will be a third larger than ours. But if Chinese growth is only a more realistic 7 percent, Its GDP Will be only 82 percent of that of the United States. There will still be a substantial shift of the world's economic center of gravity, but it will be far less drastic than many people now imagine.


So, my first point was that the economic projections most people hold in their minds about China's grwoth are misinformed, but even then China will still be an economic power. This is where my second point comes in. Just as China gets rich it will get old. In fact, it will get old before it gets rich.

If you look at this chart, you'll see that China is rapidly aging. In fact, right about now the 20-49 population has peaked, and the 50+ population has started taking off. By 2030, a year when some expect China to have reached Western levels of GDP per capita, the 50+ population overtakes the 20-49 cohort.

So what?, you say. Well, rapidly growing economics and great powers aren't build on aging populations. Furthermore, unlike here in the West, there isn't a large government safety net for the elderly in China. Like most Asian countries, the children are expected to help care for their elderly parents. That's all well and good, but when there's been a one-child policy in effect you have a smaller generation supporting a much larger older generation. And as we know from our own social security woes that doesn't work too well.

I'm not saying China won't be an important and powerful player in the geopolitical arena. Far too many people, however, are projecting linearly based upon current economic growth when that's not a very good idea. And the numbers the Chinese government puts out can't really be trusted anyway. Yet, even if China is a geopolitical and economic power it will largely be a inward looking power. It has too many domestic issues to become a true global superpower in the way many are concerned about. I have no illusions that China will maintain a huge influence in Asian regional affairs, but we aren't looking at a new Soviet Union.

It will be less a young, revolutionary Bolshevik and more an old, stodgy man.

Trip Down Memory Lane





H/T

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dear Alan_Howe:

I understand why you would want to run for office under an assumed name.












Sincerely,
FLG

Criticising Israel Is Not Anti-Semitic

R.S. McCain titles a post "Pope walks out after Muslim cleric goes on anti-Jew rant during 'interfaith dialogue". In fairness, I didn't read the full article, but the excerpt in the post does not in fact mention anything about Jews:
Chief Islamic Judge of the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Tamimi, launched a poisonous verbal attack at Israel at a Monday night gathering attended by Pope Benedict XVI. . . .Taking the podium after the pope without being on the original list of speakers scheduled for the evening, Tamimi, speaking at length in Arabic, accused Israel of murdering women and children in Gaza and making Palestinians refugees, and declared Jerusalem the eternal Palestinian capital. Following the diatribe and before the meeting was officially over, the pope exited the premises. Army Radio reported that the pope shook Tamimi's hand before walking out.


We need to be clear about something here. While perhaps it is true that many people who criticize the policies of the State of Israel are antisemitic, it is not the case that all people who criticize the policies of the State of Israel are antisemitic.

The State of Israel is a Jewish state, but it does not represent Judaism. Nor do opinions of the policies of the State of Israel reflect at all upon a person's opinion of Judaism or Jews. Now, granted, I understand that somebody who hates Jews is likely to hate the State of Israel and therefore they would also hate the policies of the State of Israel. However, the logic does not necessarily hold in reverse and too often the defenders of Israeli policies resort to pushing that logic in reverse to dismiss critics.

All that said, the judge in question probably is a raging anti-Semite...

Auction News

Telegraph:
A New York auction house is selling a collection of what it claims are centuries-old torture instruments.

The 252 items include gruesome instruments such as a tongue clamp, a chair covered in spikes and an iron glove that Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's Auctions, said was used to "burn the flesh of your hand."

"These are devices created to cause pain ... very diabolical devices," he said


Despite the bad economy experts are expecting a vigorous auction thanks to Dick Cheney's expressed interest.

Hehe.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
[Obama's] projected deficits for the rest of his possibly presidency are higher than the "runaway" deficits that plagued most of the Bush administration--and after the first few years, that's not stimulus, that's ordinary spending outstripping revenue.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quote of the day

Richard H. Kohn:
Another factor is the role the United States has assumed for itself as the world’s lone superpower—the guarantor of regional and global stability, champion of human rights, individual liberty, market capitalism, and political democracy, even though promoting those values may simultaneously undermine the nation’s security.

More On Free Speech In Britain

Michael Savage was banned, but I just remembered that this video was produced in Britain.

FLG is currently listening to

Motherlover

In Honor Of Basil's Return

Sherlock Holmes movie update:
But the film is described more as a buddy film or “Bromance” than an all out action film, which might come as a shock to some.


I don't like the sound of this, but the photos look cool.

Mundane Piracy

NYTimes:
Abshir Boyah, a towering, notorious Somali pirate boss who admits to hijacking more than 25 ships and to being a member of a secretive pirate council called “The Corporation,” says he’s ready to cut a deal.


The Corporation? That's nowhere near as cool a name as The Brethren and Boyah's got nothing on the Andron the Archpirate, Black Bart, or Edward "Blackbeard" Teach.

A Conversation

A long, long time ago.

FLG's Father: What do you say to the nice lady?

Lil' FLG: Thank yoooou.

They continue walking.

Lil' FLG: Dad, why do you always make us say "please" and "thank you?"

FLG's Father: Because it's the polite thing to do. It's about manners.

Lil' FLG: But why?

FLG's Father stopped walking and leaned down. He had that look where I knew he was going to say something really important.

FLG's Father: FLG, as we go through life we play a lot of different roles in society. Sometimes mothers and fathers. Sometimes brothers and sisters. Sometimes lawyers, doctors, butchers, bakers, waitresses, garbage men...

Lil' FLG: And Astronauts!

FLG's Father: Yes, and astronauts. But what do they all have in common?

Lil' FLG thinks hard, but can think of nothing all those people have in common.

FLG's Father: What they all have in common is that they are people, each worthy of the respect and courtesy due another human being. When you say "please" and "thank you" or hold the door for someone, you are telling that person that they are more than just their job or role. You are saying, each time and in a small way, you are a person who deserves my respect. It doesn't matter if they are washing the floors or the richest man in the world. Each is a person. Do you understand?

Lil' FLG: Yes, Dad.

FLG's Father: Good. Because without that respect this whole world is going to go to shit.

Lil' FLG: You just swore!

FLG's Father: I guess I did. Don't tell your mother.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shocking Study Findings

Telegraph:
Women only really hear properly when they are gossiping or eavesdropping on other people's conversations, according to new research.


Researchers concluded that this is definite proof that women hear properly in two situations more than men do.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Carbon Tax Versus Cap-and-Trade

Ryan Avent:
Cap-and-trade can be structured to behave almost exactly like a carbon tax, it has some advantages over a carbon tax, and in basically all the ways that matter it is every bit as good as a carbon tax.


Basically, cap-and-trade could work the same as a carbon tax with an efficient auction and secondary market, but it also has far more opportunity for being screwed up. The permits create incentives for rent seeking, corruption, and goodies to favorites. Also, it shifts the discussion away from costs almost entirely. It asserts a maximum pollution limit without regard to cost. We can't know the economic cost because, as so many proponents of this policy who don't really understand the value of markets like to point out, the cost of carbon will be determined by auctions and secondary markets. But the market is only determining the cost derived from the artificial scarcity created by government caps, not some naturally occurring equilibrium.

Determining the price of carbon in the market is a bug, not a feature of cap-and-trade. To conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis we need to know the cost of carbon in advance, which we won't be able to do until the permits are already in place. (In fairness, with a carbon tax we won't know the exact benefit of the tax, but I'd argue that would be easier to estimate accurately than the cost of cap-and-trade.)

Even the idea that investment banks will create derivatives and whatever other innovative products they develop to trade these permits shouldn't be considered a benefit of cap-and-trade. They are only to resolve the initial misallocation of permits anyway. If the initial allocation worked perfectly, then nobody would need trade.

In theory the best possible outcome of cap-and-trade is the same as a correctly chosen carbon tax, but in reality cap-and-trade will be far more open to shenanigans. The basic argument is the KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid. A carbon tax is simple to understand and implement. Therefore, it is a better solution. Furthermore, the supposed benefits from the more complicated solution, cap-and-trade, are actually bugs and not features.

A Conversation

Alan:
Government is an expression of society. I am a member of American society--an American citizen, not British. I have no call or standing to change British law. It would by hypocritical if I took issue with a British law and did not regarding the same law in France. It is not a bit hypocritical to have different responses to laws in another country and laws in mine. I am part of the expression here. Of course, any law that prohibits an atheist from running for office is unconstitutional. I certainly would have an issue with it, and I would expect you to have one as well as a matter of principle.


Mrs. P:
Government is an expression?

Alan:
Of society. Yes. Of course. For the entire history of governments--all governments at all times. What else would they be?

FLG:
Governments are an institution which has legitimate authority over some physical territory. Like all human institutions they can exist in a multitude of fashions, including an empire. An empire, almost by definition, is the imposition of a form of government by one society onto other societies. An empire is no more an expression of the societies it governs than an asteroid hitting them.

Perhaps the Roman Empire was an expression of the society in Rome and the British Empire was an expression of Britain, but it is simple poppycock to assert that they were expressions of the lands they conquered.

Despite the typical The People Vs. Somebody construction of prosecutions brought by the government, the government is not in point of fact the people. It is an institution separate from the people whose intended purpose is to provide security and order. Ideally, a democratic government is an expression of its society, but I'm not sure how you contend government is always an expression. Modern Zimbawawe certainly isn't. Nor North Korea.

Not The F-word Again

FLG has never disagreed with Noah Millman more:
“Fairness” is a bedrock principle for a healthy society; a society that abandons any pretense at treating members fairly won’t be a society at all for very long.

Again:
The desire for fairness is a therapeutic response for the individual invoking it.

It is a completely relativistic term. There is no absolute fairness, only what makes people feel negatively is not fair and what makes people feel good is fair. I loathe the word fair.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dear Alpheus and Arethusa:

I find your discipline's infatuation with reception to be a nod toward relativism that offends me*. Sure, I'll grant that Alexander, to pick a topic I know something about, has been interpreted in different ways. Moreover, these different interpretations are somewhat reflective of the time in which they occurred. For example, during the 19th century British scholars commonly assumed Alexander's goal was the noble Hellenization of the East. Now, he's often viewed as some sort of multiculturalist through his fusion policies or a megalomaniac conqueror from the West trampling on people of color, depending on the person's point-of-view.

You are probably saying to yourselves right now, "Selves, didn't FLG acknowledge that our understanding is based upon our reception?" No, but you'll have to work out the logic that resolves the contradictions inherent in the previous paragraph your damn selves.

There's a truth out there about Alexander's life, goals, temperament, desire to be deified, etc, etc that can be discerned from the evidence that is separate from any particular reader or culture. It's permanent and universal, but hidden.**

Sincerely,
FLG

PS. Historians, consider yourselves on fucking notice, too. Assume my ire about reception applies thrice-folded to history.


* Not to mention encouraging the use of first person in scholarly articles.

** And only FLG seems to know it.

Correspondence

Do you wanna go here for dinner sometime?

Mrs. FLG


Mrs. FLG:

Yes.

-FLG

Yes, It Is The Unions

E.D. Kain:
But my point earlier and again now is that teachers unions are not the underlying problem with our educational system. Teacher shortages still lie at the heart of this, along with the lack of really talented, enthusiastic new teachers entering the field. This is certainly not because of the unions.


I disagree. The union-negotiated payscales based on time-served and bullshit box-checking credentialing are very much part of the reason that really talented, enthusiastic new teachers do not enter the field. Who wants to go into a profession where working hard isn't rewarded? Oh, sure. There's the feeling of a job well-done, but that really talented, enthusiastic new teacher will make as much money as every other teacher hired that year, even the ones who phone it in.

So, unions are at least in part responsible for the sad state of affairs insomuch as they have a penchant for predictable, equally applied payscales.

Savage Banned In Britain

Lexington:
Britain's joke of a Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has banned Michael Savage, an American talk radio host, from entering the country.

Work Incentives and Education Reform

FLG's synopsis of the employer/employee relationship:
An employer wants to pay an employee just enough money so that he doesn't quit. An employee, on the other hand, wants to work just hard enough so that they don't get fired.

That's a very cynical way of looking at employment arrangements, and it to some extent it oversimplifies the motivations of the two parties. People will work hard out of a sense of duty. Companies will pay their workers more than the bare minimum for a variety of reasons. Yet, FLG's synopsis is largely accurate.

Why is FLG bringing this up? Well, much virtual ink has been spilled recently over how to reform K-12 education at both The American Scene and The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

The arguments cover a lot of ground and FLG doesn't have the time or energy to rewrite what has already been written when it has already been written better than he could. However, he'd like to talk about this in the context of my employer/employee relationship theory.

The current job protections that teachers possess distorts the normal employee/employer relationship. If an employee only wants to put in the minimum effort required not to get fired and they can't get fired, then you do the math.

Now, some of you may be saying that people work out of a sense of duty, honor, or personal satisfaction. True. But if we knew how to harness those forces toward effective work incentives communism would probably work. Hoping that people will work for reasons other than money, while true in many particular cases, is not a reasonable assumption upon which to build effective policy.

You can't ignore the draw that a job with almost iron-clad protections is to somebody who doesn't want to work hard or realizes that their skills are subpar. According to FLG's view, the higher the job protections and the longer those protections are in place, the more lazy and incompetent people will be draw to those jobs. Furthermore, since the government faces no competition there is no acute pressure to improve quality of services. And so the process continues largely without resistance.

Most opponents of loosening teacher job protections, when faced with the simple, yet powerful logic above, begin to shift ground. Frequently, they will concede some of the above, but say that most teachers are trying hard against overwhelming odds. The dismal failure of our schools shows that they clearly aren't trying hard enough. Regardless of other circumstances the K-12 educational system is so bad in parts of this country that common sense dictates poor teachers have to be at least part of the problem.

Then they present the canard that it's hard to quantify teaching effectiveness. Lots, lots of jobs are hard to quantify. That's why bosses try their best to quantify what they can and then also, OMG, use their subjective, qualitative opinion regarding the value of each employee's contribution. The idea that principals can't do the same is ludicrous. Sure, some principals may be unreasonable or misjudge their teachers effectiveness or whatever, but that goes for ALL bosses. Moreover, the job of a principal is to run a good school. If they don't, then they should be fired as well.

The basic crux of the matter is that the job protections and the rigid pay scale for time served and credentials that amount to simple box checking (10 hours of professional development? Check. MA in Education? Check.) simultaneously scares off ambitious, talented people and attracts mediocre, plod-along types. It also creates a culture in which energetic young people become burned out and frustrated, and they either leave the field or succumb to the system.

Many of you are probably objecting with specific teachers or people you know who are in education for reasons other than the money and are trying their best despite all odds. Mrs. FLG happens to be a teacher who works her butt off. So, FLG concedes the point. Nevertheless, there are two factors at work here. First, despite the idealized image of a selfless, underpaid, unappreciated teacher working for their students there are a lot of shit teachers out there who we can't get rid of. Second, even bigger than that problem is the people who avoid education because of the plod-along, box-checking culture that government bureaucracies with strong job protections create.

Perhaps the idea of vouchers creating a thriving, dynamic, heterogeneous systems of innovative K-12 schools is a bit of a fantasy*, but FLG can tell you that for many children in the public school system the status quo is a nightmare. FLG'd rather be chasing dreams with hope for at least some improvement rather than protecting the status quo using specious arguments based upon the idea that the alternatives are less than 100% perfect.

* FLG doesn't really worry that vouchers wouldn't work. Government subsidized financial aid as well as private and public educational institutions competing for students are what we have at the college level. This strongly suggests to FLG that th question isn't whether vouchers would make our K-12 the envy of the world, but how we would contain costs.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Idle Question

Amazon Spam:
We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Rio Bravo have also purchased TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: John Wayne Westerns (The Cowboys / Fort Apache / Rio Bravo / The Searchers) on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: John Wayne Westerns (The Cowboys / Fort Apache / Rio Bravo / The Searchers) is now available.


So, you deduced from my movie purchases that I might like a movie set that contains the movie I've already purchased? Brilliant. Fucking brilliant.

FLG is currently listening to



Radiohead -- Creep

FLG is currently listening to



Alice in Chains -- Rooster

Miss FLG A Few Days Ago

FLG is currently listening to



For Mrs. FLG, who can't see the videos at her work: The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated

Lincoln's DNA

is going to be analyzed, according to Le Monde.

The article says 3 of his 4 sons died young. DNA may shed light on this and his possible chronic depression.

My guess is the government is creating an American Serpentor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: Dom Deluise died.

FLG: Really? That's sad. Is Paul Prudhomme still alive?

Mrs. FLG: I think so. Why?

FLG: Because I've always been convinced they're the same person.



 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.