Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roma

The Times:
The accepted view is that the Gypsies left areas in northwest India about 1,000 years ago and headed westwards, passing though Persia and Armenia and arriving in the Balkans in the 14th century. From there many continued farther west. There are account books from Holyrood House in 1529 that mention payments to Gypsies dancing for King James V of Scotland.


When I was a kid I always thought of Gypsy life as some sort of romantic traveling fair, but the reality is much bleaker.

Oil and Exchange Rates Continued

Here are two stories from today on that RSS feed I mentioned earlier.

Oil plunges 2% to under $70
Dollar rises on lower consumer confidence


Higher dollar, lower oil.

No Shit Sherlock: Hotness Edition

MSNBC:
Thin and seductive, that's what men find attractive in women. But the ladies are less in agreement over what makes for a hot guy, new research finds.


They needed to research this? I figured this out in middle school.

Quote Of The Day

Jimi Izrael:
I can’t think of anyone less qualified than Sharpton to be a Jackson family representative. Maybe bin Laden?


The entire Jackson family is a fucking train wreck and Rev. Al and Rev. Jesse "No Relation to Michael" Jackson, of course, show up like two dingleberries on the ass end of anything where lots of cameras and black people, but especially cameras, will be.

Hear That Whistling?

It's the steam coming out of Arethusa's ears.

Plea Of the Day

Anti-Climacus:
But really, what bothers me more than anything else is the way modern philosophy, especially Locke, is discussed. One might be left with the impression that social planners have used the Second Treatise as a handbook in their ceaseless campaign to undermine traditional marriage, among other ills. Political theorists often complain about the habit of philosophers to quickly go from a text to a "position:" i.e. the move from "Locke" to a "Lockean" conception, which, though they vary only by two letters, are tremendously different things. They complain because it's poor intellectual history to assume that anyone who takes up a thinker has understood the nuances of their thought (or, goodness, read the text); almost everyone in the debate assumes Locke is Nozick's Locke, or one very similar; this is not unlike assuming that Plato is Popper's Plato--an interesting contribution in its own right, but a bad reading of the underlying text.

So this is a plea I launch into the blogosphere, certain to be ignored, but nevertheless requesting two things: when debating about the thought of some important, canonical political theorist, it would be immensely helpful to see the text--or at least have it cited--which is the source of the commentary being given. Second, someone has to be willing to play contrarian pretty consistently--just to keep things honest.


This is good advice and when FLG isn't too lazy and has texts readily available, which is frequently because much is already on the internet, FLG tries to quote the relevant texts. If you search Fear and Loathing in Georgetown for Locke or Plato the relevant text is almost always quoted. Oh, and you'll never catch FLG referring to thinkers he hasn't read.

But as a blogger FLG must protest that it would take much longer to find a copy of Locke's Scheme of Methods for the Employment of the Poor, then find a relevant passage, and then make an argument based on that passage that we should scrap welfare and institute a conscription-to-work program than to simply assert that Locke would be in favor of replacing welfare with military service.

Somebody's Stealing FLG's Ideas

Pirate Hunting is all FLG.

Social Nitwitting

Here

FLG Doesn't Understand The Appeal of Marilyn Manson

...as far as he can tell the shtick is to look like a fucking freak and to make shitty covers of otherwise fine songs.

Here are some that really offend FLG:
Personal Jesus
Iron Man
Five to One
Sweet Dreams
Come Together


This one probably pisses off Alan:
The KKK Took My Baby Away

FLG is currently listening to

Oil and Exchange Rates

FLG remains convinced that one of the largest influences on the price of oil is the relative strength of the dollar. He ran a quick and dirty regression a while back and found that dollar fluctuations account for 77.55%.

So, he always finds his CNNMoney world business RSS feed funny. It proves over and over that this is the case. FLG has selected the headlines that apply, and they are in reverse chronological order. Top being most recent.


Dollar falls on Chinese rhetoric
Oil rises on Nigeria, stock gains
Oil tumbles more than $1

Dollar slides as stocks stabilize
Oil prices creep toward $70

Dollar rises on euro weakness
Oil falls below $67

Dollar and yen slide
Oil settles below $70

Dollar slides against euro
Oil rises on recovery hopes

What's funny is that most of these are posted back-to-back. They just happen to be in the wrong order. Maybe the oil coverage is a bit faster than the currency coverage, but rarely does the story mention dollar fluctuations as the primary cause. Sometimes there are other causes, like an attack on a Nigerian oil field, but day-to-day oil prices are chiefly caused by the fluctuations of the dollar on the world market. Dollar down, oil up. Dollar up, oil down. You can see it from the headlines above if you just reverse the oil-currency ordering.

How To Complete Mindfuck A Child

...don't tell anybody, including them, if they are a boy or a girl.

It's just sad that the parents are such fucking wackjobs that they believe gender is socially-constructed. Don't get me wrong, I think large parts of it are, but that doesn't mean that all of it is. And therein lies the false appeal of social constructivism -- that if we just talked and acted completely different then the world would be completely different. It won't. A material reality still exists that cannot be talked, habituated, or rationalized away. Plus, since gender is elemental to being it is just fucking wrong to keep it from a kid.

HT: Amber

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chip Fucker

This isn't object sex exactly, but it's good to know that the barter system and the oldest profession are both still alive and well.

A woman pleaded no contest last week to prostitution charges, accused of agreeing to be paid for services with a box of chips by a man who said he was a Frito-Lay employee.

Great Moments In Film

The next in the continuing series of FLG's Great Moments In Film is the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The three Indiana Jones films* contain numerous iconic moments, but the opening scene from Raiders is the best of them all. It sets up the tone, pace, drama, character, basically all three movies in the first ten minutes or so. By far one of the best opening scenes in film, and still one of FLG's favorites.





* Yes, only three films. And Temple of Doom should count its lucky stars that I like the idea of keeping the trilogy together.

FLG's Stumped

FLG usually has no trouble understanding financial and economic articles, but a recent post by Buttonwood makes little sense to him:
Marshall also produced a nice formula for risk (R) where R=L2+C3. The "L"s in the formula stand for leverage and liquidity and the "C"s for concentration, correlation and complexity. So a portfolio with illiquid assets, high leverage, concentrated, correlated and complex portfolios will be very risky. That may not sound like rocket science but the formula escaped those who took leveraged positions in morgtage-backed securities in 2006.


FLG gets the explanation, but can't for the life of him figure out how the formula works is even really useful. It seems like writing a formula for the sake of writing a formula.

Let's look at the L. Would a highly liquid asset result in a high L value? If so, then the formula makes no fucking sense. That would increase the risk value when highly liquid assets lower risk. The C part is fine. It's really that the L value of an illiquid asset would result in a low value.

Anyway, FLG figures that the beta of a portfolio already comprises much of the C value, so he'd just replace that with a beta. All in all, FLG thinks he's over thinking this whole thing when the point of the exercise is simple.

Don't keep all your eggs in one basket and be able to get to your eggs as quickly as possible.

I'm Going To Live Forever



Apparently, one movie and a TV series weren't enough. Now, we need a remake with Roc and Frasier.*


* The FLGs saw Kelsey Grammer at the Dean & Deluca in Georgetown a few years back. FLG felt really bad for him because everybody was pestering him and he just wanted some fucking bacon.

The Complete Pussification Of A Once Mighty Nation And Empire Is Almost Complete

Non-pointy knives

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The State Of Our Culture

Telegraph:
The King of Pop and one of Charlie's Angels have died, but what people really want to know - according to Google search statistics - is who Mark Sanford, the governor of Califorina, was visiting in Argentina.


First, would it be any better if two celebrities topped Google searching? No, but that's normal anyway. "Lindsay Lohan without panties" will always beat out "the situation in Afgahnistan," and it probably always has.

Second, can you believe they misspelled California?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Penguin Game

FLG has always loved the Tux Racing Games. It's just a stupid penguin sliding down a hill, but fun as all get out. Plus, it's free and available for most computer platforms.

Public Option Revisited

FLG the other day:
Unlike private companies the government has the power to subsidize its health care public option plan. Put simply: It takes tax dollars and plows them into the plan. A private company can't compete with that. In fact, a lot of government inefficiency could be covered up with some creative government accounting.

If the public plan is never subsidized, then I don't see anything wrong with it. It's just a publicly offered plan, and it probably won't be terribly competitive. But it won't stay unsubsidized. Funds are fungible and it will get subsidized either directly or indirectly. I really fear that this is a backdoor way of getting everybody on a public plan.


Greg Mankiw:
An important question about any public provider of health insurance is whether it would have access to taxpayer funds. If not, the public plan would have to stand on its own financially, as private plans do, covering all expenses with premiums from those who signed up for it.

But if such a plan were desirable and feasible, nothing would stop someone from setting it up right now. In essence, a public plan without taxpayer support would be yet another nonprofit company offering health insurance. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

In practice, however, if a public option is available, it will probably enjoy taxpayer subsidies. Indeed, even if the initial legislation rejected them, such subsidies would be hard to avoid in the long run.


And FLG isn't even an economics professor at Harvard. This stuff really isn't rocket science.

Brad Pitt's Best Scene To Date

Royal Pains

FLG has been watching Royal Pains. He recognized the actor who played Boris, but couldn't place him until right now. Anyway, it's Campbell Scott. This then reminded FLG of Rodger Dodger, a movie Scott was in. Here's one of FLG's favorite scenes from the movie.

Scott was also in The Spanish Prisoner:


Relatively obscure movie, but it has one of my favorite movie lines ever. Ricky Jay, after a long night of drinking, says, "A thief snuck in through my mouth and stole my brain." Or something like that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

No Matter How Many Times You Repeat It, It's Still Not Fucking True

MSNMoney:
But perhaps the biggest mistake of the Clinton years regarding Wall Street and the one that rings loudest today was the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which effectively had split investment banking and brokerages from commercial banks.

In the years leading up to the repeal, Wall Street had been grumbling that the law had become an anachronism. Financial technology was sophisticated. We were so much smarter than they were back in 1929 that there was no way a financial-services conglomerate could pose a threat to the system, Wall Street experts said. Besides, they argued, it was a good idea for banks to handle customers' investments and savings as a hedge in the bad times.

The Clinton administration effectively had its hand forced by the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group in 1998. The creation of Citigroup (C, news, msgs) required a lot of chutzpah by its CEO, Sandy Weill, because it was effectively prohibited under Glass-Steagall.

Enter the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which not only allowed Citigroup to exist but also eliminated key barriers between bankers, who were supposed to limit risks, and investment bankers, who were supposed to take them.

The biggest argument critics have against bringing back Glass-Steagall is that it would be too chaotic. Whole companies would have to be cleaved. Relationships would have to be unwound.

Well, back in 1933, the law effectively split J.P. Morgan, the bank, from what would become Morgan Stanley, the brokerage. Both seem to have come through the disruption fairly well.


This is just bullshit. I mean, yes, most of it is factually accurate in its specifics, but the analysis does not make sense. The banks worst hit by the crisis -- Lehman and Bear Stearns -- were stand-alone, meaning allowed under Glass-Steagall, investment banks. Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act allowed commercial banks, ie Bank of America, to buy the investment banks, Merrill Lynch for example, which helped MITIGATE the crisis.

What pisses me off about this is so many idiots rattle off the words -- Glass-Steagall -- with such a sense of self-satisfied pretension about their own sophisticated understanding of the financial world that I can hear their jowls shaking like an overweight patrician's. Glass-Steagall has become the whipping boy for deregulation, I am still waiting for somebody to make an even somewhat compelling case how its repeal is at all responsible for the financial crisis. It helped, not hurt, you asshats.

Anti-Submarine Warfare

Strategy Page:
Colombia has outlawed the construction, and use, of the semi-submersible boats used to smuggle much of the cocaine coming into North America. For those caught building these boats, it's twelve years in prison. For those caught using these boats, it's fourteen years. The U.S. estimates that Colombian cocaine smugglers have developed semi-submersible boats that are so successful at evading detection, that they are carrying most of the cocaine being moved north. Several years of effort by the U.S. Navy to improve detection methods, have not had much success.


The U.S. Navy can't detect submarines made with duct tape? No wonder the Chinese can sneak up on them. We're fucking lucky the Red Fleet is a thing of the past.

FLG is currently listening to

Thursday, June 25, 2009

About International Trade and Safety Nets

E.D. Kain has a piece over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen that is just the type of thing that saddens me. It's filled with so many errors, which many intelligent people make. He should read this piece by Paul Krugman.

He's rightfully concerned about the inevitable pain caused by the transitions international trade forces on economies. At the end of the post he poses some questions:
Do we make the U.S. a better nation to do business in by lowering corporate taxes as some suggest? Can lower taxes make us more competitive, or do low labor costs trump even that?


The taxes issue is I think is a distraction from the more important points, so I'm going to leave that alone. The labor costs issue is a big thing though.

People get paid based on how productive they are. A worker's productivity is the result of a complex interaction of many factors. Higher-educated workers are typically higher skilled and therefore more productive. Furthermore, the worker's access to capital is important. This includes both physical capital at the job, as well as at a broader level the available transportation infrastructure. American workers are more productive than workers in developing countries for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.

An analogy I like to use is about digging holes. Perhaps it takes 10,000 people one day to dig the hole with spoons. It takes 100 people one day to dig it with shovels. And finally it takes 1 person one day to dig it with a bulldozer. The value of the work is that a hole is dug. So, the issue is whether it costs less to pay a bunch of people to dig it with spoons or less people with shovels or 1 person with a bulldozer. It's not simply about labor costs, but the productivity of the worker. Typically, what happens is that the person with access to the most capital, in this case the bulldozer, can gets paid more because that one person is more productive.

This analogy, like any, can be problematic, but I think it gets the general point across. Comparing labor costs in the United States to labor costs in the developing world is not comparing apples to apples. They've got spoon or shovels and we have bulldozers.

Does the government play some role in developing new technologies that we can build here and export, thus providing new jobs or is this too much interference?


This always sounds appealing, even to me. But the issue is that we'd want the government to invest in technologies that will be successful, not duds. Well, if the technology is likely to be successful, then in all but a few cases the government would simply be pushing out private investment, which I'm not sure why anybody would want to do. Alternatively, the government-funded technology could become mandatory through regulation or something to ensure success and recoup the development costs. This will make the technology appear successful, but it might not be the best alternative. And all told, either would be less efficient. It will either invest in things that private investment would anyway or pick winners.

And isn’t this a case for high investment in education and in broadening education to include public trade school options for high school students? In other words, as we move toward free trade and thus inevitably let some major industries die off, do we play any sort of role in providing for those displaced by this transition?


Yes. We need to offer support and retraining. The beauty of free trade is that the gains from trade can create a Pareto optimal outcome, which basically means that we can afford to pay for transition assistance from the gains from trade and everybody will be better off than they were under protection. The problems with this are entirely political, not economic.

The political argument goes -- Look, trade benefits some people, but hurts others. Yet, the gains from trade are so beneficial that we don't want to give them up. We can redistribute some of the benefits the winners get in the form of retraining and safety nets to help keep political support for free trade healthy.

However, I don't know that investing in education, especially high school trade education, should be in response to international trade. In fact, what we should focus on is our own productivity as a nation, in general, and leave the "to compete in a global economy" shenanigans aside.

And in the mean time, do we strengthen our own hand by implementing some form of protection – as many of our neighbors overseas and south of the border are almost guaranteed to do?


No, no, no. In international economics there are two types of countries -- large and small. Large means that a country's tariff policies can affect the world price of a good, small means they can't. Countries south of the border, generally speaking, are small countries. If they resort to protectionism they are only hurting themselves. A large country could impose a tariff and extract some terms of trade gain, but I think I may be getting too technical here. Long story short -- even if other countries go protectionist we shouldn't.

And finally, what about the trade deficit? It keeps growing and there is no end in sight….


The trade deficit is an interesting thing. There are two things -- the current account (the trade deficit) and the capital account (capital flows). They have to be in balance. It's an identity. So, there is another way you can think of this.

The idea would be that the capital flows, you know all those dollars the Chinese collect and loan back to us, are a sign of confidence in our economy. Now, I think this argument is a bit of a stretch, but there's something to it. The US is a deep, wide, diversified economy that has good growth prospects. Nevertheless, the deficit would have to stop if capital inflows stopped.

And, as it happens, E.D. is actually wrong about it growing with no end in sight. I downloaded this excel spreadsheet from the BEA and very quickly and dirtily created a graph to illustrate:

FLG is currently listening to

FLG Is Shocked He Missed This

It's a few months old, but still hilarious. Ah, the Czechs.

Sacre Bleu!

FLG is uncomfortable with the economic thinking in Sarkozy's speech to the joint Congress from the other day.

I've taken the liberty of roughly translating some of it:
Since the end of the Cold war, globalization seemed to impose on everybody the idea that there was only one way to follow, that there was one possible model, that there was only one logic. The crisis demonstrated this was a dead end, and we are now forced to find replacements. I said it, a few days ago, at the conference of the International Labor Organization: Finally, there are two types of globalization. One that privileges external growth, each seeking by all the means to take jobs and other markets. Or one that privileges internal growth, i.e. a development model in which everybody produces more and consumes more and contributes to the development of all. The first globalization pushes the extreme logic of competitiveness at all costs while resorting to dumping, with aggressive marketing policies, the crushing of the purchasing power and the standard of living. The second is based on the increase of productivity, the rise in the standard of living, improvement of the well-being. First is conflict. Second is co-operative. The first opposes economic progress and the social progress. The second on the contrary binds one to the other.


Who is his economic adviser? Naomi Klein?

Quote of the Day II

One of Britain's most historic cities, Canterbury, has been told it is sufficiently gay

Thank goodness.

Speaking of which

FLG is going to add two reading lists to his goal of completing the Georgetown political theory reading list. The diplomatic and military history lists from Boston College's Phd program:

Military History:
Musket Age; Napoleonic & American Revolutionary Wars
Stephen Brumwell. Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas.
Owen Connelly. Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns.
Rory Muir. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon.
Ray Raphael. A People’s History of the American Revolution.
Late Nineteenth Century; U.S. Civil War
Winfried Baumgart. The Crimean War, 1853–1856.
Paddy Griffith. Battle Tactics of the Civil War.
Gerald F. Linderman. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War.
James M. McPherson. What They Fought For.
James M. McPherson. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam.
Diana Preston. The Boxer Rebellion.
Charles Royster. The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans.
Denis & Peggy Warner. The Tide at Sunrise: A History of the Russo-Japanese War.
World War I; Interwar
Peter N. Carroll. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War.
Paddy Griffith. Battle Tactics of the Western Front.
Hubert C. Johnson. Breakthrough! Tactics, Technology, and the Search for Victory on the Western Front.
Jennifer D. Keene. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America.
World War II
Rick Atkinson. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943.
Omer Bartov. The Eastern Front, 1941–45: German Troops and the Barbarization of Warfare.
David French. Raising Churchill’s Army.
David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House. The Battle of Kursk.
John Keegan. The Second World War.
Jon Latimer. Alamein.
Geoffrey P. Megargee. Inside Hitler’s High Command.
R.H.S. Stolfi. Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted.
Robert Sterling Rush. Hell in Hürtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regiment.
Vietnam, Middle East
Dunnigan and Bay. From Shield to Storm: High-Tech Weapons, Military Strategy, and Coalition Warfare in the Persian Gulf.
James William Gibson. The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam.
Michael B. Oren. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
Neil Sheehan. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.
Alex Vernon. The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War.
Global Military History; Economics & Technology; Postwar
David Andrew Graff and Robin Higham. A Military History of China.
Robert Harkavy and Stephanie G. Neuman. Warfare and the Third World.
Maurice Pearton. Diplomacy, War and Technology since 1870.
Martin Middlebrook. The Falklands War, 1982.
Air Power
Stephen Ambrose. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany.
Adam A. Claasen. Hitler’s Northern War: The Luftwaffe’s Ill-Fated Campaign.
James S. Corum. The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918–1940.
Max Hastings. Bomber Command.
Ivan Rendall. Rolling Thunder.
Mark K. Wells. Courage and Air Warfare: The Allied Aircrew Experience in the Second World War.
Sea Power; Intelligence, Psywar
James Cable. The Political Influence of Naval Force in History.
Robert Buderi. The Invention That Changed the World.
Allison Gilmore. You Can’t Fight Tanks With Bayonets: Psychological Warfare against the Japanese Army.
John Keegan. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda.
Timothy P. Mulligan. Neither Sharks Nor Wolves: The Men of Nazi Germany’s U-Boat Arm, 1939–1945.
Ronald H. Spector. At War, at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century.
American Way of War?
Max Boot. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.
Thomas C. Leonard. Above the Battle: War-Making in America from Appomattox to Versailles.
Edward N. Luttwak. Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.
Russell F. Weigley. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy.
Social & Cultural History; Combat Experience
Michael C.C. Adams. Echoes of War: A Thousand Years of Military History in Popular Culture.
Christopher Coker. Waging War Without Warriors? The Changing Culture of Military Conflict.
John Ellis. The Social History of the Machine Gun.
George P. Fletcher. Romantics at War: Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism.
J. Glenn Gray. The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle.
Mark Grimsley & Clifford J. Rogers. Civilians in the Path of War.
Victor Davis Hanson. Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.
Peter S. Kindsvatter. American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.
John A. Lynn. Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.
Lawrence H. Suid. Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film.
Wallace Terry. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans.
Patrick Wright. Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine.
Theory & Practice
Philip Bobbitt. The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History.
Robert M. Citino. The Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe.
Jonathan M. House. Combined Arms Warfare in the Twentieth Century.
Shimon Naveh. In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory.
Robert H. Scales. Firepower in Limited War.
Martin L. Van Creveld. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton.
Generalship
Josiah Bunting III. Ulysses S. Grant.
Otto Preston Chaney. Zhukov.
Carlo D’Este. Patton: A Genius for War.
Michael Fellman. The Making of Robert E. Lee.
J.F.C. Fuller. Grant & Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship.
Heinz Guderian. Achtung—Panzer!
Stanley P. Hirshson. General Patton: A Soldier’s Life.
F.W. von Mellenthin. Panzer Battles.
Vo Nguyen Giap. Dien Bien Phu.
John Pimlott. Rommel and His Art of War, by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
Historiography
Peter Karsten. “The ‘New’ American Military History: A Map of the Territory, Explored and Unexplored.” (1984).
John Whiteclay Chambers. “The New Military History: Myth and Reality.” (1991).
Peter Paret. “The New Military History.” (1991).
Cristina Borreguero Beltran. “Nuevas Perspectivas para la Historia Militar.” (1994).
Jeremy Black. “Determinisms and Other Issues.” (2004)

DIPLOMATIC HISTORY:
Federal
Robert L. Beisner. From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865–1900.
Drew R. McCoy. The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America.
Thomas J. McCormick. China Market: America’s Quest for Informal Empire, 1893–1901.
Walter LaFeber. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860–1898.
Bradford Perkins. The Creation of a Republican Empire, 1776–1865.
Empire: McKinley, TR
Robert E. Hannigan. The New World Power.
Walter LaFeber. The American Search for Opportunity, 1865–1913.
Latin America, Caribbean
Kristin L. Hoganson. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars
Lester D. Langley and Thomas Schoonover. The Banana Men.
Louis A. Pérez. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy.
Mary A. Renda. Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism.
Emily S. Rosenberg. Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900–1930.
Cyrus Veeser. A World Safe for Capitalism: Dollar Diplomacy and America’s Rise to Global Power.
World War I: Wilson
Frederick S. Calhoun. Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy.
Meirion and Susie Harries. The Last Days of Innocence: America at War.
N. Gordon Levin. Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America’s Response to War and Revolution.
John A. Thompson. Reformers and War: American Progressive Publicists and the First World War.
1930s, World War II: FDR
Steven Casey. Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War Against Nazi Germany.
Warren I. Cohen. Empire Without Tears: America’s Foreign Relations, 1921–1933.
Robert Dallek. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy.
Robert A. Divine. The Illusion of Neutrality.
Justus D. Doenecke and John E. Wilz. From Isolation to War.
Justus D. Doenecke. Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention.
John W. Dower. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.
Barbara Reardon Farnham. Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis: A Study of Political Decision-Making.
Irwin F. Gellman. Secret Affairs: FDR, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles.
Waldo Heinrichs. Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II.
John Lamberton Harper. American Visions of Europe: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George F. Kennan, and Dean G. Acheson.
Akira Iriye. The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific.
Akira Iriye. The Globalizing of America.
Warren F. Kimball. Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War.
Warren F. Kimball. The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman.
David Reynolds. From Munich to Pearl Harbor.
William R. Scott. The Son’s of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War.
Michael S. Sherry. The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon.
Anders Stephanson. Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy.
Spain
Willard L. Beaulac. Franco: Silent Ally in World War II.
Douglas Little. Malevolent Neutrality: The United States, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War.
F. Jay Taylor. The United States and the Spanish Civil War.
Richard P. Traina. American Diplomacy and the Spanish Civil War.
Cold War: Truman
Warren I. Cohen. America in the Age of Soviet Power, 1945–1991.
Arnold A. Offner. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945–1953.
John Lewis Gaddis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.
Michael J. Hogan. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945–1954.
David Mayers. The Ambassadors and America’s Soviet Policy.
Stephen W. Twing. Myths, Models, and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Cultural Shaping of Three Cold Warriors.
Middle East
Majid Khadduri and Edmund Ghareeb. War in the Gulf, 1990–91: The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and its Implications.
Douglas Little. American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945.
Melani McAlister. Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945–2000.
Asia
T. Christopher Jespersen. American Images of China, 1931–1949.
Christina Klein. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961.
Andrew J. Rotter. Comrades at Odds: The United States and India, 1947–1964.
William Stueck. Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History.
Vietnam
Philip E. Catton. Diem’s Final Failure: Prelude to America’s War in Vietnam.
Andreas W. Daum, Lloyd C. Gardner, and Wilfried Mausbach. America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives.
James T. Fisher. Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927–1961.
Gunter Lewy. America in Vietnam.
Tai Sung An. The Vietnam War.
1980s: Reagan
Andrew J. Bacevich. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy.
Warren I. Cohen. The Asian American Century.
Frances Fitzgerald. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War.
Thomas J. McCormick. America’s Half-Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After.
Ideology, Theory
H.W. Brands. What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy.
Michael J. Hogan & Thomas G. Paterson. Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations.
Michael H. Hunt. Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy.
Emily S. Rosenberg. Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890–1945.
Robert Strausz-Hupé. Democracy and American Foreign Policy: Reflections on the Legacy of Alexis de Tocqueville.
Political Science, Public Opinion
David Campbell. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity.
Robert C. Hilderbrand. Power and the People.
Ralph B. Levering. American Opinion and the Russian Alliance.
Robert J. Myers. U. S. Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century: The Relevance of Realism.
Miroslav Nincic. Democracy and Foreign Policy: The Fallacy of Political Realism.
Richard Sobel. The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy Since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus.

An Educated Person

FLG doesn't feel particularly well-educated. This is probably because he has set the bar for what he believes an educated person is a tad bit high. Roughly speaking it is the following:

Knowledge of the following languages:
  • Greek
  • Latin
  • One or more modern foreign languages. (Preference given to French and German.)
Knowledge of the following fields, by which FLG means completion of the core of a PhD reading list on the subject:
  • Political Theory
  • International Relations
  • Philosophy
  • English History
  • European History
  • American History
  • Theology
  • Classics
  • English Literature
  • European Literature
  • American Literature

Completion of the following coursework:
  • Macro and Micro Econ
  • Math through Calculus I and a course in Statistics
  • A world geography course

And finally:
  • Knowledge of science such that the educated individual can analyze the immediate and near-term impact of scientific advances and discoveries on society reasonably.

Some Things FLG Forgot About Maryland

FLG very seldom ventures into Maryland because everybody there drives like a fucking idiot. Yesterday, however, he made his way over there, and he was reminded of a few things. First, he'd forgotten how nice the homes are on Connecticut Avenue up in Chevy Chase. Second, he'd forgotten how fucking small the lanes are on all the roads. Third, he'd forgotten how fucking bad the traffic is when going toward the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area during rush hour.

Quote Of The Day

Withywindle:
Stacy McCain and Conor Friedersdorf need to set up a reading circle with a heavy diet of Adam Smith and other members of the British Enlightenment, so that they can recollect the juncture points of the free market and the virtuous society.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dear Mrs. FLG:

I'm sorry, but I have to put this on our netflix queue:


Love,
FLG

FLG Also Didn't Know

...that Monica Bellucci is married to Vincent Cassel and speaks French.



Just FYI FLG discovered this because he was interested in the trailer for Ne Te Retourne Pas:

Misty Caverns

BBC:
Nasa's Cassini spacecraft has obtained strong evidence that Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus retains liquid water.

Scientists envisage misty caverns just below the tiger stripes where some of the water vaporises free of sodium and some of it becomes frozen into the small grains detected by Cassini.


Big whoop, you say. Well, FLG has two reasons for posting this. First, he's a space geek. Second, he can't help but think that Misty Caverns would make a fantastic porn star name.

FLG's Surprised

...that nobody responded to his contention that "al-Qaeda are Übermenschen willing a world that will prove that Allah is not dead."

Is that because...
1) it was obvious and everyone agrees?
2) it is so obviously off-base and nobody has the heart to tell FLG?
3) what the fuck are Übermenschen?

FLG is currently listening to

Peru Has Submarines?

FLG had no idea.

He thought they just had cute little bears:

Grand Strategy Response

Adam Elkus offers a thoughtful response to my post over at RedTeamJournal.com.

As A Formerly Aspiring Novelist...

I was fascinated by this piece by John Scalzi that Megan McArdle mentioned on why new novelists tend to be in their 30s, which is older than new people in other creative fields like music.

One thing that's missing from Scalzi's explanation, and I think it's the most important reason for why novelist are older, is precisely what makes novels so great -- they reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters. Since it takes time for human beings to truly understand the thoughts and motivations of other human beings it makes sense that novelists would have to be older.

The typical song is about angst, lust, longing, etc. You know, teenage emotions. So, of course, a teenager or 20-something can write a song about them. The depth, scope, and nuance required to write a novel necessitates somebody who has had more life experience.

This also largely explains why many great authors have been and are so emotionally troubled. They've experienced and examined both the best and worst of the human condition and have a need to express it as a bit of catharsis. Now, I'm sure this sounds like Freudian psychobabble and I guess it is, but I think it's a compelling explanation.

Wafer Schmafer



Take That Transubstantiation. They've got 'Nilla wafers.

H/T

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

There's No Grand Enemy. Hence No Grand Strategy.

I'm a big fan of Adam Elkus' blog, Rethinking Security. In a recent post, he points to an article he penned at redteamjournal.com, which was inspired by this post by a Marine captain blogging under the name Smitten Eagle.

Smitten Eagle examines the lack of a US Grand Strategy since the fall of the USSR. He then goes on to examine this vacuum in terms of memes, an idea put forward by Richard Dawkins and which FLG finds a tad bit annoying.* Smitten Eagle then discusses Tom Barnett's grand strategy as a meme. Despite the meme stuff, FLG finds SE's analysis of Barnett's work pretty on point.

This brings me to Adam Elkus. He writes:
In this understanding, grand strategy is not so much a grand plan but a shared understanding and overall guiding concept that is transmitted laterally to elites and then down the ranks. SE argues that “[s]ince the breakup of the Soviet Union, American grand strategy has defied meme. Various concepts–globalization, black swans, Y2K, [counterinsurgency], etc., have managed to spread among elites, but there has been very little coherence among these concepts.” SE is right, but it’s also important to point out that since the end of the Cold War, we have seen hundreds of eminent foreign policy theorists and military officers offer their own overarching grand strategic concepts. Many of them have written breezy, irreverent pop-academic tomes that seem almost tailor-made for memetic production. So why hasn’t a memetic competitor to Containment arrived?


The simple answer is the the United States lacks even a close military competitor, and forget an existential military threat. al-Qaeda is, from a strategic perspective, a minor nuisance.

If and when China rises as a military competitor, which is still several decades off, then we'll have a commonly accepted grand strategy because we will have to. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. This talk of how grand strategy is formed and why it hasn't formed seems like intellectual parlor games of little to no consequence.

As FLG's said before, NATO worked because the allies' collective minds were focused by the existential threat of the Warsaw Pact. Without it, NATO is a complete waste of time and should be abolished. It has no raison d'etre.

Likewise, we don't need a grand strategy right now and so we don't have one. Now, it would be nice to have one because then we could proceed in some sort of rational manner. However, we have the luxury of being so superior militarily to every other country in the world that the lack of a grand strategy is something we can afford.

FLG really likes Rethinking Security and he's going to start reading Smitten Eagle, but this talk of memes needs to stop. It's intellectual babble almost only for intellectual babble's sake.

* Memes are too amorphous of an idea and ultimately not a very useful construct for discussing anything. In point of fact, FLG thinks the idea of a meme is a cheap rip-off of the Hegelian Dialectic.

Correspondence

Bob in TN writes:

FLG,

You wrote:
Even more oddly, Al-Qaeda is a thoroughly modern response in its incarnation.


I don't think you mean that they use computer, email, and the Internet to communicate because of your skepticism of the impact of Twitter in Iran.


Dear Bob:

The use of modern technology is a factor, but not what I was referring to. If I had to summarize my theory about the politics of al-Qaeda in one sentence it would be this:

al-Qaeda are Übermenschen willing a world that will prove that Allah is not dead.

This is blatantly self-contradictory, but so is al-Qaeda political theology.

The Public Option

Matt Yglesias posts an transcript excerpt from today's Obama press conference where he is responding to concerns that a public option in the health care marketplace would put private insurers out of business. Obama says:
Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.


Unlike private companies the government has the power to subsidize its health care public option plan. Put simply: It takes tax dollars and plows them into the plan. A private company can't compete with that. In fact, a lot of government inefficiency could be covered up with some creative government accounting.

If the public plan is never subsidized, then I don't see anything wrong with it. It's just a publicly offered plan, and it probably won't be terribly competitive. But it won't stay unsubsidized. Funds are fungible and it will get subsidized either directly or indirectly. I really fear that this is a backdoor way of getting everybody on a public plan.

This health care reform thing is really starting to scare me. I'm certainly no fan of our current system, but it's looking more and more like Obama is going to try to get some reform through and hugely downplaying the costs and punting them down the road. In short, he's looking more and more like a cynical politician and less like the leveling with the American people president he said he wanted to be.

From executive power to a whole host of other issues he acting just like every other president. I'm sure he and his staff and his supporters can find ways to rationalize his actions in some ends justify the means way -- we're getting health care through, who cares if we tell a few fibs and move forward under unreasonably optimistic assumptions? Didn't I say we're getting health care reform through? The issue for Obama and the Administration is that they are doing this with too many issues. Eventually that patina or aura or whatever he has right now is going to wear off. He really needs to choose his battles.

Perhaps health care is the battle he choose because it was a campaign promise, but he might have already spent his wad so to speak.

My Comment Over At PP

I tried to leave this comment over at PP and figured I should repost it:
Sharia is not in and of itself a concern. Many of its tenets are perfectly reasonable. Granted there are some parts that are a bit concerning, but so are there parts of Christianity that are concerning.

My concerns, such as they are, arise largely from the feeling of inferiority in the Arab world, due in no small part to post-colonial political and economic systems, combined with the complete unwillingness of the leaders in that region to shift from autocracy.

Oddly, the issues we have with Islamic Terrorists are in very important aspects a bastardization of Islam endued with the idea, which arises from Western Modernity's whole-hearted embrace of the Scientific Revolution, that the material world is more important than the hereafter because it's all we can see, touch, and measure. And in this light the economic and political humiliation of Muslim countries demonstrates God's displeasure with the umma. Even more oddly, Al-Qaeda is a thoroughly modern response in its incarnation.

Anyway, I think I'm off topic, but my point here is that sharia per se is not the problem but some specific problematic interpretations of it. Therefore, if the charities involved are linked with terrorism, then we need to deal with it. However, all believers should be extremely careful of pushing church and state issues through the courts, even if this religion in question is Islam, because precedents set toward separating Islam and the US Government can just as easily apply to Christianity or Judaism and the US Government.


I also meant to add that the idea of returning to an earlier, purer time, the stated goal of al-Qaeda, is a very Western way of framing revolution, as my reading of Law and Revolution has stressed.

ASCII Star Wars

This has been out there for years, but FLG still finds it fascinating.

Bring up a command prompt or terminal window (you know how to do that don't you?) and type:
telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl

Give it at least 2 minutes.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

The UN and Korean War

I meant to respond to this in the comments, but I thought it might be worth its own post. Alan writes:
I agree that it might be challenging to view how the past sixty years might have turned out without the United Nations, but we can speculate, certainly. For example, the whole of the Korean peninsula likely would be living under Kim Jong Il's rule today. The U.N. is not without successes.


Yes, the US and her allies fought in the Korean War under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution 84, but that resolution only passed because the USSR and People's Republic of China weren't present. Hardly the multinational community of nations coming together to resolve their differences peacefully through negotiation.

Time Magazine reported at the time:
Britain's Sir Gladwyn Jebb and France's Jean Chauvel introduced a joint Anglo-French resolution that welcomed "the prompt and vigorous support" which the world had given U.N.'s earlier Korea actions; they urged "a unified command under the United States," and asked the U.S. "to designate the commander of such forces."


World support...yada....yada...yada...United States has to get the shit done. So, you want to thank somebody for only half the Korean pennisula being a shithole, then thank Uncle Sam and the US of Motherfuckin' A. Not weenies on East 46th St.

More On The UN

Alan writes:
Sticking with the Darfur issue, Bush labelled the events there "genocide." Andrew Natsios addresses the issue in today's Washington Post ("Obama, Adrift on Sudan"). Natsios, who quit working on Sudan issues as he was making the only real progress toward peace in the history of the conflict, shows "genocide" was not and is not the right term to address the violence in Sudan, including Darfur.

At AU in the fall of 2006, I asked professors and students (in vain) to tell me what the rebels in Darfur wanted. They attacked government outposts in early 2003, starting a conflict because they thought they were not receiving enough attention from the central government. They received lots of attention after that. Peace negotiations brought together various rebel groups, but never all, and revealed that they had no agreed objectives. How then, would the central government satisfy them?

All that said, while Bush insisted that genocide was occurring, he never intervened. Indeed, it is impossible to claim he did more than the U.N. So, while the U.N. is a favored punching bag, especially when it does not do what we want, we have to take our own inaction into account as well. Right now, Natsios makes clear no action is urgently needed.

And one aside: Besides the U.S., the ICRC and the U.N. are the only entities doing anything to support displaced populations in western Pakistan while the government there attacks Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in South Waziristan. This is the closest we have come to capturing or killing bin Laden since we lost him at Tora Bora. The effort can only continue if the Pakistani people continue to support their government. The U.N. is helping preserve that support. Who benefits more from this than we? More on this in two essays at myspace.com/occdis.


First, what Bush or Bush did or did not do, or more correctly the United States does or does not do, is completely and entirely irrelevant to the efficacy of the United Nations.

According to the UN Charter:
The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.


It has flat out failed in pursuit of these objectives for 60 years. It is a corrupt, incompetent, and ineffectual organization. The argument that you make above, that the member states drive the agenda of the United Nations, is both true and right. I for one certainly don't want to hand over any sliver of sovereignty to an organization like the United Nations. Furthermore, if the sovereignty of its members is an obstacle to its success, then let's just call the whole thing an expensive, wasteful sham and be done with it. If we can't have an effective UN without turning over sovereignty, and we rightfully won't turn over sovereignty to a entirely screwed up institution, then let's just put it out of its misery.

The UN is not a convenient punching bag because it does not do what we want. It's rightfully derided for its inability to accomplish its central mission -- to make the world a more peaceful place. I see no evidence that the existence of the United Nations has ever made the world more peaceful. Even its vaunted "Blue Helmets" do not impose peace, but enter when invited by both sides. Furthermore, when the shit does hit the fan they usually withdraw or fail to act.

To make my contention explicit and concise -- the best thing the UN can point to in pursuit of its central mission, the Blue Helmeted Peacekeepers, are in fact largely superfluous and amount to silly window dressing of the so-called international community's meaningless and ultimately counter-productive efforts to end hostilities as soon as possible. This preference for stopping the fighting now, even if the underlying factors that led to conflict in the first place have not been resolved and will probably lead to increased political pressure that will lead to worse subsequent fighting, all the while lauding itself for the efforts is what most offends me about the UN.

In conclusion, and to repeat, what the United States does or does not do should be irrelevant to the success of the United Nations in pursuit of peace. Now, in reality it's always the United States that has to do the heavy lifting on the part of freedom, democracy, and justice, sometimes, as in the Balkans and Bosnia, without UN approval. So, let's just admit that reality and hope the United States is rightfully guided in its policies and that the United Nations was a nice figment that was worth a shot, but ultimately the Wilsonian Dream was just that -- a pipe dream.

In Defense Of Derivatives

There's been a lot of complaining about the loosy-goosy nature of derivatives, but they are very useful tools. For example, let's look at interest rate swaps.

Let's say I make a loan with a variable interest rate, but a couple of years later I'm afraid interest rates are going to fall. Well, I can buy an interest rate swap that turns my variable rate loan into a fixed rate loan. The person selling the derivative, the counterparty, is in effect exchanging a fixed rate for a variable rate. We are swapping the nature of our loans from variable->fixed and from fixed->variable. Hence the name interest rate swap.

Now, it's pretty easy to see the usefulness of this. A bank with lots of fixed-rate loans on its books may want to take on some variable rate loans. Without interest rate swaps the bank would have to sell the actual loans. But with interest rate swaps it's far simpler.

Moreover, a company can combine a currency swap and an interest rate swap to change a variable rate loan denominated in a Yen to a fixed rate loan denominated in dollars. The ability to do this cheaply and efficiently lowers the cost and risk of lending and borrowing across currencies, thus facilitating international trade and investment.

Can these instruments be used by speculators? Absolutely. But so can tulip bulbs. That doesn't mean they are somehow bad.

FLG is partial to the recommendation that derivatives be traded on financial exchanges where the terms would be standardized and some collateral would be collected to protect against counterparty risk. The main drawback is that standardized terms prevent the derivative from being precisely tailored to the needs of a company. For example, say a company wants to lock-in fixed payments in dollars from a variable Euro loan for the next five months. If the standard contracts only come in 1, 3, and 6 month terms, then the company would have to buy less (3 months) or more (6 months) hedging than they need.

Personally, I think that type of rigidity is acceptable in the name of stability. Banks could simply work their lending around the standard swap terms or build the additional risk or hedge cost into the terms of the loan. All in all, standards are helpful when markets get into the trillions. How are regulators even supposed to comprehend how a market of trillions of dollars of individually tailored instruments will react? They simply can't.

Monday, June 22, 2009

UN Votes To Continue Watching Closely And Doing Nothing

NYTimes:
The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Thursday to continue its close scrutiny of the situation in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan against the wishes of the African country and its allies on the 47-member body. The decision effectively continues the post of the United Nations special rapporteur on Sudan that was created in 1993.


How can anybody take the UN seriously?

It is misguided, ineffectual, incompetent, toothless, and run by know-nothings, idiots, hacks, idealistic fools, has-been's and never-were's.

Wrong, But Funny








About Counter-Cyclical Government Spending

Matt Yglesias writes:
Substantively, the public’s concerns [about budget deficits] don’t really make sense, as deficit-reduction amidst a severe recession will only make the recession more severe.


Matt's statement is absolutely true. However, and I think this is where the public's concerns are not unfounded, what we are talking about here is counter-cyclical government spending. When the economy starts faltering, government picks up the slack by deficit spending. That's all well and good, but there's another half to the cycle. The part where the economy does well. During that part the government is supposed to run a surplus. Theoretically, a benign and wise social planner with perfect information would manage government budgets such that they balance over the course of a business cycle.

Back in real life we don't have a benign social planner with perfect information. We have pork-loving, log-rolling politicians who know next to nothing about economics and various interests competing for government cheese. The public, rightfully in my opinion, is concerned about deficits because they question the willingness of the government to pay back the loans during the good times. Planned surpluses get spent regardless of who is in power.

Under these assumptions, it may make more sense to risk a worse economy in the short- to medium-term rather than building up long-term debt to ameliorate present and near-term circumstances. Don't get me wrong. I think some counter-cyclical spending was needed in this current downturn. However, the sheer scale of the dollars already spent even before all the hopey-changey* domestic policy ideas the Obamaniacs are cooking up scares the fucking shit out of me. The public's fears do in fact make sense if they are more concerned about the long-run than the present.

* Stole that from dave.s.

Speech Versus Reality

FLG was listening to the BBC Global News podcast this morning, as he often does. Today's episode contained an interview with a UN official discussing the UN's work on "Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Peace Negotiations".

The media statement reads:
For women in today’s civil wars, often the war is not over when it is over. Sexual violence has become a method of fighting in modern war, with devastating impact on women and their communities. Failure to address sexual violence in the peace processes, to treat it as a war crime and prosecute it means that it spills over into peace time, with countries like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo currently seeing an epidemic of rape. Addressing sexual violence in peace processes is a way of signaling that sexual violence is unacceptable in the post-conflict era. Yet it has been absent from peace accords for a number of reasons, not least because so few women participate in peace talks. In 2008, the UN Security Council acknowledged the use of sexual violence in conflict as a deliberate tactic of war. The challenges of addressing this issue in peace processes will be discussed at the Colloquium of high-level mediators, experts, and peace activists. The meeting is timed to contribute to discussions on the upcoming Secretary-General’s Report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1820.


First, "Sexual violence has become a method of fighting in modern war?" How about always been a part of war? Read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, and maybe even Polybius.

Second, even the BBC interviewer called bullshit on this focus. Yes, we all agree rape is a terrible thing. It's already illegal before, during and after the conflict. The issue is that the regions in which these conflicts occur are largely lawless to begin with and almost entirely lawless during conflicts. It's easy to decry rape and sexual violence in speech, but there's not much that can actually be done. And by actually done I mean not at a conference table in Manhattan or Geneva. That's decrying in speech. I mean actually getting something done about this would require strengthening the governments' institutions, such as courts, police, and military.

Third, considering the above this statement makes no sense at all:
In ceasefires, sexual violence has not in the past been monitored effectively or treated as an act that would breach the ceasefire.


I'm willing to bet there are few circumstances where, regardless of on-going sexual violence, women would be better off upon the resumption of hostilities. Perhaps the perpetrators will be preoccupied fighting instead of raping, but I still find it highly unlikely that their material circumstances would improve much by being in a war zone. I guess I understand the motivation, namely that sexual violence and rape are important and should be considered part of the ceasefire terms like other important things. In this light, it's kinda like the push to include all sorts of unrelated issues (environmental, demographics, etc) in the realm of security. And like those movements, this is led by well-meaning but ultimately naive individuals whose ideas will both undermine security and produce results often counter-productive to their goals.

So, yes. Let's condemn in the strongest terms sexual violence and rape at all times not just during war as unacceptable, but be extremely careful about pushing policies to mitigate sexual violence that increase violence generally over the long-term.

The solution is to strengthen government institutions generally. Civilization, which is at the bare minimum a collective agreement not to resort to violence, benefits everybody, but women in particular.

FLG Is Ahead Of The Curve Again

I wrote over a year ago:
I believe there is a reason that Islamic terrorists are predominately engineers. It is because engineers view the world through a specific lens that view everything as a problem to be solved along some strict guidelines or formula. I don't want our country filled with engineers. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with engineering per se. I was an engineering student myself. I would prefer more liberal arts students, not engineers.

Liberal arts helps to prepare a citizen and person. Engineering prepares a problem solving machine. Problems need to be solved, no doubt. But sometimes people should ask two questions: 1) Should the problem be solved? 2) Is the most efficient way of solving the problem the best for society in the long-term?

A typical engineer will answer Yes to both before the questions are asked. I don't like that


New Scientist:
We found that engineers are three to four times as likely as other graduates to be present among the members of violent Islamic groups in the Muslim world since the 1970s.

A lot of piecemeal evidence suggests that characteristics such as greater intolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like clockwork, and dislike of democratic politics which involves compromise, are more common among engineers.

Quote of the day

This passage from the introduction of Law and Revolution has been rattling around in my brain:
As a historical culture, a civilization, the West is to be distinguished not only from the East but also from "pre-Western" cultures to which it "returned" in various periods of "renaissance." Such returns and revivals are characteristics of the West. They are not to be confused with the models on which they drew for inspiration. "Israel," "Greece," and "Rome" became spiritual ancestors of the West not primarily by process of survival or succession but primarily by a process of adoption: the West adopted them as ancestors. Moreover, it adopted them selectively -- different parts at different times. Cotton Mather was no Hebrew. Erasmus was no Greek. The Roman lawyers of the University of Bologna were no Romans.


I viscerally disagree with this statement, but I've been unable to find a real flaw with it. The best response I can come up with is that even if we emphasize some parts of our past over others for social, political, or aesthetic reasons our past is still our past. If one emphasizes Great-Great-Great-Great-Etc-Grandpa John who came over on the Mayflower over Crazy Uncle Bobby the Ex Con, it doesn't mean that either was chosen as an ancestor. They simply were ancestors.

But that's an weak response. To the extent that the family generates a myth around John and does not around Bobby one continues to exist and one dies. The myth or narrative takes on a life of its own, and the family does, in a very important sense, choose its ancestors. Perhaps the same can be said, as is said above, of civilizations. But I don't like it.

UPDATE:
Anti-Climacus writes:
The family-resemblance argument is difficult to sustain if only because of the very different shape European intellectual life had between, oh, 400 and 1300. There is almost no Aristotle until the end of that period (the bishop of Paris did ban the teaching of Aristotle twice); only one Platonic dialogue in wide circulation; no Greek drama to speak of (Petrarch, if I remember, assembles the dialogues we have today); no work with Biblical texts in the original; and law itself tends to be commentaries on commentaries (or glosses) of Roman law rather than the law itself.

Awesome Alice

I have a feeling this will be awesome, and also frightening to little kids.

HT: Mrs. FLG

Sunday, June 21, 2009

FLG's Been Harping On This

MSNBC:
In the murky world of computer espionage, the United States faces hard choices on how to retaliate when government or privately owned networks come under cyber attack, senior military and intelligence officials said Tuesday.


We need to get our head around this soon.

Dear Mr. President:

The Dairy Godmother, as I've mentioned previously, is really good, and it was already crowded enough. Thanks for the inevitable bigger crowds.

Sincerely,
FLG

Current Reading Update

Adding:
Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition
From Russia with Love

Nothing's Changed, Holden Caufield Was Always A Whiny Little Bitch

NYTimes:
Young readers now see the protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” as a whining preppy, not as a virtuous outcast.


Now? FLG's always felt this way.

Some critics say that if Holden is less popular these days, the fault lies with our own impatience with the idea of a lifelong quest for identity and meaning that Holden represents.


Uh, no. If there's anything it's that the Boomers felt constricted and constrained by the culture of the 1950's (represented by the Preppiness) and that they wanted to do something different (Holden's whining bitchiness) and now, almost half a century later the Baby Boom generation is still a bunch of whiny bitches. Like demanding more and more retirement benefits such as prescription drugs, to their failure to deal with the easily foreseen problems of their retirement.

The problem is that kids these days aren't deep down whiny fucking bitches. Instead, they're on the surface whiny fucking bitches who are totally devoid of the experience of failure.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Quote of the day

Bagehot:
This is classic lefty/Brown thinking: compassionate towards groups; moral in an abstract, aggregate sense; but insensitive or oblivious when it comes to actual flesh-and-blood individuals.

People on the right, of course, sometimes suffer from the opposite complaint: good manners towards individuals, but indifference towards aggregate outcomes.

WTF Is Wrong With Academia?

Cultural cliteracy? Seriously?

H/T?

FLG Found This Hillarious

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tinsy Bit More On Free Will

Withywindle objected to my previous post.

He writes:
But no. God doesn't have to intervene all the time; he has set the world in motion at the beginning of time, omniscient and omnipotent, and foreseen and fore-ordained everything that will happen in time, including his own miraculous interventions. (Which are, however, largely unnecessary since his his providence can bring about all events as he wills without the need of intervention; he intervenes directly to make himself manifest, not as necessary to bring about any event. The question, then, is why God fore-ordains from the beginning of time that bad things happen to good people. (Assuming we can at all reliably call them good.) Most to the point, why does he fore-ordain their damnation when they have done good works all their life? For which answer, read John Calvin, Beza, and other Calvinist divines.


My response in the comments was insufficient.

Augustine, whom I admire greatly, believed that God knew all the choices that people would make, thereby keeping God's omniscience intact. I'm comfortable with this.

On the other hand, Calvin's idea of predestination, while it does not specifically bar free will in the manner many people think, discounts its importance almost entirely. The basic gist that while we can make choices we are so flawed that our choices are by nature entirely flawed and therefore everything is already predestined anyway. We aren't compelled, but we are damned or saved from the beginning. At least, that's how I understand it. I'm far less comfortable with this.

Index Funds Revisited

Buttonwood:
It is easy to assume that the argument for index funds depends on markets being efficient; it doesn't. The case for index funds simply depends on a truism; that the performance of the average investor must be based on the performance of the market before costs. Some managers will beat the market, but can we identify them in advance? If we cannot, then we are likely to pay 1-2% a year in expenses for nothing.


Again, invest in index funds. Can't stress that enough.

NATO Can Suck My BALTOPS

Danger Room:
There’s a massive, U.S. Navy-led exercise taking place on the Baltic, this week, involving 11 European nations plus the U.S. — but, notably, not Russia. Despite participating in previous incarnations of the annual BALTOPS war game, Moscow is sitting out, this year. And depending on who you ask, Russia is even the target of the 12-day training event, which is hosted by Sweden and includes Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania. “Another provocation against Russia,” one Russian tabloid calls BALTOPS 2009.


Am I the only one immature enough to find BALTOPS a funny name? Say it. BALL-TOPS. As in, my BALTOPS itch. Stop busting my BALTOPS.

Fucking NATO.

80-20 Rule

I think I've mentioned the 80-20 rule before here on this blog. The basic gist is that most human endeavors require only 20% of the time, labor, money and other resources to get it 80% finished. The last 20% of the project consumes the other 80%.

For example, the first draft of a book takes roughly 20% of the time, but is 80% finished. The re-writing (the last 20% of the project) takes four times as long.

Another example could be a house. Getting a house set to meet basic minimum standards for shelter (framing, siding, roof, etc) takes about 20% of the time and resources, but the last touches (crown molding, wood floors, cabinents, etc) consumes 4 times as much time, money and labor.

Anyway, FLG uses this rule of thumb to analyze public policy and to plan projects. For example, in the health care debate, before seeing any statistics, FLG is willing to be that around 80% of the people who see a health care provider consume approximately 20% of the cost. The other 20% of the people have more serious conditions (cancer, serious trauma, etc) and require the other 80% of the costs. Therefore, FLG is extremely concerned about a single payer system leading to rationing because only 20% of the people probably consume 80% of our health care dollars, some of whom it might not make sense to treat in narrowly economic terms.

I'm not saying the rule should replace actually quantitative data, but if you don't have access to it for whatever reason, the 80-20 rule turns out to be a reasonable guesstimate in many, many scenarios.

Ayatollah Raoul Duke

I can't believe Khamenei is using the Raoul Duke defense from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
There was every reason to believe I was heading for trouble, that I'd pushed my luck a bit far. I'd abused every rule Vegas lived by—burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help. The only hope now, I felt, was the possibility that we'd gone to such excess, with our gig, that nobody in a position to bring the hammer down on us could possibly believe it . . . When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it in heavy. Don't waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanors. Go straight for the jugular. Get right into felonies. The mentality of Las Vegas is so grossly atavistic that a really massive crime often slips by unrecognized.


CNN:
"Eleven million votes difference? Sometimes there's a margin of 100,000, 200,000, or 1 million maximum. Then one can doubt maybe there has been some rigging or manipulation or irregularities," Khamenei said.

"But there's a difference of 11 million votes. How can vote rigging happen?" he asked.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

UN Fucks Things Up And Wastes Money? No Way!

MSNBC:
After $196 billion, no proof U.N. programs help
Some programs may actually hurt health care by disrupting local services

Clinton

RFI:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fractured her right elbow in a fall while on her way to the White House on Wednesday. Her chief of staff said Clinton was taken to George Washington University Hospital before returning home.


Must've been dodging snipers.

I Like RS McCain

...but his attacks on Conor Friedersdorf are going too far.

First, I largely agree with Conor's contention that Mark Levin builds up and takes down liberal strawmen on his show. This does a disservice to liberal arguments, which I don't really care too much about, but also conservatives. Levin's listeners are ill-equipped to debate any person who can make any argument stronger than a strawman in defense of a liberal position.

Second, and I understand the "Get off my lawn, you pesky, know-nothing kids" routine. Shit. I'm starting to get that way now too. But he goes too far here:
Why is it that none of these "dissident" conservatives can be bothered to read Hayek or Mises? Why do they never seem to take any interest in the basic questions of political economy and limited government? Why must they seek out this conservatism that, they assert, transcends mere politics -- a conservatism of "temperament," as Conor calls it?


Fuck if I know if I'm a dissident conservative, but I've read The Road to Serfdom, Human Action, The Wealth of Nations, On Liberty and so forth. So, the "kids these days" response both doesn't resonate with nor apply to me. Furthermore, there is something to the idea of conservatism as temperament. I mean, isn't that what standing-athwart-history-yelling-stop more or less is? A temperament?

Anyway, this is all to say that FLG and RS McCain are on the same side here, but he should go a little easier on Conor.
 
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