Monday, November 30, 2009

Quote of the year

ShitMyDadSays:
It's never the right time to have kids, but it's always the right time for screwing. God's not a dumbshit. He knows how it works.

FLG is currently is listening to



This Ain't How An Asipiring Economic Rival That I'd Worry About Acts

It sounds an awful lot like the universities over there are simply diploma mills if you are important enough:
Graduate enrollment in PhD programs has grown by some 23.4% annually since 1982. In comparison, the average annual growth rate for students enrolling in master's degrees during the same period was 15%. By the end of 2007, China had awarded 240,000 doctorate degrees.

Demand for doctorate degrees has grown as the authorities in Beijing often base promotion decisions purely on a candidate's educational background.

Observers say that Chinese officials obtaining dubious doctorate degrees not only wastes scarce education resources, it has also triggered a crisis of confidence in the education system, undermining genuine PhDs gained in China. Yet some Chinese universities say they need to meet officials' wishes if they want to ensure their financial survival.

H/T

FLG is currently listening to





Cool Christmas

Last year, my beloved Mrs. FLG bought me this awesome album for Christmas:
Frank Sinatra Christmas Collection

Now, I'm thinking about picking up this one as well:
Christmas with the Rat Pack

FLG is currently listening to

The Pink Wars

A while back I linked to a post, I think it was on Feministing, about how the pink is for girls and blue is for boys setup was arbitrary. To which I responded, so what if it's arbitrary?*

Then I read this complaint about pink toys in the UK:
There may be worse things to worry about, but I feel this colour apartheid is one of the things that sets children on two separate railway tracks. One leads to higher pay, and higher status and one doesn't.

Right...wearing pink leads to lower pay. I see. They've taken to boycotting a store that sells pink toys:
However, she points out that ELC sells pink toy washing machines, pink cash registers, and even pink globes.

Listen, if you want to argue that giving girls washing machines and stoves and other domestic things to play with somehow inhibits their career aspirations, then I'll listen to you. I can sorta see some sense in that, but I have to say that I think people vastly overestimate the long-term effects of this stuff.

"Why on earth do girls need to have a globe in pink?" said Mr Mayo. "Does it ultimately lead to the 15 per cent pay gap suffered by women further down the line?. That's far too simplistic, but I feel gender roles are becoming polarised far too early on."

He adds that before World War II pink was more usually associated with boys, while blue – traditionally the colour of the Virgin Mary – was linked with girls.

I'll even grant that a pink globe is fucking stupid. But doesn't the last sentence completely undermine their entire point? It's not like women were leading fantastic careers when they were clad in blue before WWII. Sure, they had massive institutional and cultural obstacles, but surely girls in blue could've easily overcome these simple notions as long as they weren't wearing pink. Pink is like fucking kryptonite to career aspirations.

This is akin to another one of my pet peeves, which is constantly changing the terms for things. For example, crippled became handicap became physically challenged and who knows what it is now. Each time the argument is that the previous word had a negative connotation, which is possibly true. However, it has a negative connotation not because of the word, but because being crippled, handicapped, or physically challenged can suck. Changing the name doesn't change that fact. Same goes for the midget, dwarf, little person distinction. Nevertheless, it's not that big a deal to change things if the words make people feel bad. So, when push comes to shove I understand, but it's ultimately futile.

Then again, the nigger, negro, black, then African-American transition I understand. Well, not necessarily the black to African-American transition, but mostly because the second term is so much more unwieldy. But consigning terms like nigger to the trash heap of history makes perfect sense. It contains so many negative connotations from its historical usage. But again, it's not really the word that was the problem, but how African-Americans were treated and their status within society. Ridding acceptable discourse of the word was a necessary and relatively simple step in the long march toward equality.

Getting back to the pink thing after my long digression. It's not that pink is the problem. It could be tartan that is associated with girls and we'd still have a problem. Again, I'm willing to grant that societal pressures and expectations as represented by toys play a role in development and that these may have far-reaching implications for the young girls who play with them, but the color ain't the problem. The problem is the societal expectations.

Then again, I can't say that I feel there's a massive problem with pay and status disparity. Not that I'm a woman to understand the supposed oppression first hand, but it is certainly possible that women are not as personally motivated by status and money as men are regardless of what color their toys are.

I think one could tell a evolutionary biology story about how men value looks and women value wealth and status in their partners, which if true would explain a permanent disparity in income and status as well as focus on beauty. But what is natural isn't necessarily Good. So, let's leave that aside and assume the discrepancy between income and status between men and women is entirely Nurture. Do we really want to tell half of our population that they ought to stop wearing pink and instead be more greedy and power-hungry?

----------------------------------------
* I find arbitrary an undeservedly maligned term. Sometimes arbitrary simply gets stuff done. If the consequences of that getting stuff done are minimal, then I'd rather have somebody just make a fucking decision and get moving.

Uh Oh

In his belief that the United States Chamber of Commerce was taking rights, particularly property rights for granted, Locke attempted to affect social change with his argument. -- Link

One Russian communist, George Kennan, stated the benefits of communism. -- Link

If I was forced to choose which is worse, the second one would win by a nose.

I never made mistakes this big, but I may have mentioned that GEC once handed back a paper of mine he had graded on which he included several paragraphs of notes on how I used too much passive voice entirely in passive voice. Coincidentally, it happened to be a paper on John Locke.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

FLG Couldn't Have Said It Better

Lexington giving a presentation on why America might not be in decline:


FLG still can't get over how people insist that because America isn't perfect that some other nation will inevitably surpass her. Yes, we have problems with our K-12 education, health care, the list goes on, but America has a lot of things going for it. In particular, a near monopoly on the world's best universities, which in turn brings many of the world's best students, which in turn brings many of the smartest and hardest working people in the world to our shores. Actually, it's that constant worry about being surpassed that probably keeps our nation great in the end.

Or, in the immortal words of Team America: World Police -- America, Fuck Yeah!

Plaid

I'd love this suit, but not for $2400. Although, they seem to hint in red that I can get two suits for 2399. Wonder if I could add this one on.

Vernors

FLG picked up a six-pack of Vernors. He's been able to find it lately at the Giant right down the street. He likes it a lot, but is still trying to determine what exactly is barrel aged for 3 years because it ain't the high fructose corn syrup.

Somewhere Along The Way

Political correctness changed sitting Indian-style to crisscross applesauce. FLG was not informed, nor was his opinion sought.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Force Is Strong With This One

The FLGs visited The Christmas Attic in Old Town today. FLG so wanted to buy this Darth Vader nutcracker. But purchased a pirate tree ornament instead, which is cool, but not as cool. Not by a parsec.

FLG is

...PABB. He can't help it. He only has unique and interesting thoughts about once a quarter. He has banal and uninteresting thoughts all the time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Conor Caulfield

Conor has some points in his response to Helen, but I still can't get over the naive and childish (or, if you prefer, idealistic) Holden Caufield-esque railing against phonies that I've unfortunately only recently come to realize inundates his writing.

I think Helen's point, though I don't want to put words in her mouth, is that there are worse things than selling out and, in fact, this has been part of politics since the dawn of history. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with politics. There are gradations of selling out and also worse things than taking a PR or lobbying job to pay the bills because there's a new baby at home. Reality sometimes trumps idealistic, romantic notions. That's politics.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scenes From Three Whole Foods

FLG went to two Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca in search of uncooked andouille for his favorite stuffing. (But FLG omits the bell peppers. No Trinity here.) All of them had fully cooked andouille, which doesn't help when you're trying to render the fucking fat so that the onion and celery can soak up that pork goodness. Finally, he went to the only store he's been able to find it the last few years -- the Whole Foods in Old Town. They're open tomorrow if you are in the area and don't have your shit together in the stuffing department.

NB: Yes, FLG knows that stuffing not in the bird is technically called dressing, but that's a distinction he's not willing to recognize.

Quote of the day

Tom Barnett:
Containment is not particularly required when you're talking an idiot of this caliber.

In Honor OF Thanksgiving



Don't let Mrs. FLG see or she'll never let me do it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Something I Need To Think About Later

David Foster:
While information technology had led to the creation of many very-high-skill jobs, it has also resulted in de-skilling of many other jobs. Is the average skill level in a large chain retailer higher or lower than the average skill level in the aggregate of small local businesses that it replaced? It’s hard to say. Many knowledge-intensive functions which were previously done locally are now centralized and/or automated: the number of people who understand how to manage inventory and re-ordered is probably considerably fewer than it was with the thousands of local stores. On the other hand, the large chain offers many very-high-skilled jobs…mathematical studies of distribution strategies, for example…which did not exist in the small-independent-retailer world.

Dear Readers:

Anybody read this book: Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity by Cuomo? Apparently, it discusses the definition of techne in classical Athens, which may be relevant to FLG's paper. And Hellenistic military technology, which isn't relevant, but sparks his interest. He hopes it talks about fucking war elephants.

-FLG

FLG Is Glad Helen Rittelmeyer Doesn't Read This Blog

..because I fear she'd find a way to tear it to shreds like she just did to ladyblogs, which I have to say I completely agree with.

H/T

FLG is currently listening to

Obama's Spine Of Steel

NYTimes:
In honoring Zimbabwe’s tenacious women protesters at the White House on Monday, President Obama gave his sharpest critique yet of President Robert Mugabe, the octogenarian who has ruled the southern African country with repressive zeal since 1980. Mr. Obama bluntly referred to him as a dictator.

Take that! You very, very bad man!

The press must fear that the Obama as panty-waisted sissy boy narrative is gaining some traction and they are trying to dispel it. That or reporters from the NYTimes are even bigger panty-waisted sissies and they think calling somebody a dictator, who by all fucking accounts, is, in point of fact, a dictator from the safety of the White House is blunt or courageous.

FLG is currently listening to

More On Leisure And Technology

Withywindle makes a related point to my paper on Leisure in regards to the global warming fiasco:
here the ever-increasing speed of communication begins to undermine the progress of science, as the ability for scientists to build upon one another's progress becomes the ability to communicate before the experiment is completed; hence transforming multiple experiments and peer review into one, coordinated experiment - with all the flaws that follow.

This is really the crux of the issue for me. Does technology, and communications technology in particular, undermine contemplation?

If you asked me three or four years ago, I would've said, "Whatever. Technology is a tool. Humans use it how they will. If they aren't pensive it's because they aren't pensive. Don't matter that they have email."

But after watching the effect that blackberries have on people I'm not so sure. There's no way that the people who are huddled over their blackberries on the subway, at lunch, or on the street are doing anything more than getting an email and responding with the first thing that comes into their head. Now, the vast majority of email doesn't require much thought to respond, but that's exactly my point. When communication gets faster and cheaper it becomes commodified. There's no reason to devote much time to a seemingly inexhaustible resource.

But that's an illusion. On the other end of all those emails are people who are firing off emails in response whose time is also limited. And yet in a very important way we aren't interacting with people. We are wrestling with a disembodied queue of tasks known as our inbox. We are trying to keep it from drowning us.

But to return to the question of commdification and contemplation. Andrew Sullivan's piece on blogging from last year makes my point:
This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism. It is accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers, and linked via hypertext to continuously multiplying references and sources. Unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory. The consequences of this for the act of writing are still sinking in.

Blogging isn't the well-defined, logical structure we are accustomed to in print. Printing costs money. Consequently, determining what deserved to be printed and what didn't led to editing, which in turn, demanded a structure and format to organize and analyze the information. This allowed us to more easily digest the information.

Now, I, along with millions of others, post first drafts and half-thoughts with little to no organization. (This post is a prime example.) How can we possibly filter through the information?

That very question led me to another form of technology -- the RSS feed reader. It helped at first, but now I have so many feeds that I'm somewhat overwhelmed again.

Technology has helps us create and gather more and more data. It even helps us sort it. But it doesn't help us determine its meaning to us as human beings. And so we are left not with a firehose of information, but a deluge of shit coming at us that we have to go through.

Sorry for making you sit through all that if you read this far, but I'm trying to think out my paper and writing it out helps.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trilogy



He's right. There is only one Trilogy. (And one Thrillogy, which doesn't need a fourth installment.)

Also, while I'm on the topic of Smith, this anecdote about Tim Burton made me laugh:


Ditto this one about Prince:

The Rumors Of FLG's Hippiness Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

...and they oddly remind FLG of a scene with Jason Alexander in the movie The Last Supper. Unfortunately, all I could find was the trailer, which only includes half of the interchange. "I've never met anybody who is anti-Earth." Alexander responds, "Oh, I'm not anti-Earth. I'm pro-Earthling."

Childish And Naive

Conor Friedersdorf sounds extremely childish, a feeling which I never got from him before, in this bloggingheads, but never more so than during this segment. He seems offended that politics as it is actually conducted doesn't conform to some sort of naive, romantic view he has.

Correspondence

Mr. Perry:
After reading one of your posts about possibly purchasing some music by Dave Matthews, I was highly disturbed. Perhaps I’m just clinging to my own personal preconceived notions but I’d like to think that you wouldn’t go in for that kind of Hippie Rock.

Quote of the day

Buttonwood:
It is rather counter-intuitive that many investors, who are fervent believers in the free market system and resentful of "big government" in America, tend to have great faith in the ability of Chinese communists to manage their economy.

Leisure Versus Free Time

I'm writing a paper on technology's impact on the leisure versus free time distinction where leisure is somewhat akin to contemplation and free time is more about amusement. It's a distinction that Aristotle addresses in Politics (although in my edition it's translated as 'play' instead of amusement):
nature herself, as has been often said, requires that we should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well; for, as I must repeat once again, the first principle of all action is leisure. Both are required, but leisure is better than occupation and is its end; and therefore the question must be asked, what ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life. But if this is inconceivable, and amusement is needed more amid serious occupations than at other times (for he who is hard at work has need of relaxation, and amusement gives relaxation, whereas occupation is always accompanied with exertion and effort), we should introduce amusements only at suitable times, and they should be our medicines, for the emotion which they create in the soul is a relaxation, and from the pleasure we obtain rest. But leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment of life, which are experienced, not by the busy man, but by those who have leisure. For he who is occupied has in view some end which he has not attained; but happiness is an end, since all men deem it to be accompanied with pleasure and not with pain. This pleasure, however, is regarded differently by different persons, and varies according to the habit of individuals; the pleasure of the best man is the best, and springs from the noblest sources. It is clear then that there are branches of learning and education which we must study merely with a view to leisure spent in intellectual activity, and these are to be valued for their own sake; whereas those kinds of knowledge which are useful in business are to be deemed necessary, and exist for the sake of other things. And therefore our fathers admitted music into education, not on the ground either of its necessity or utility, for it is not necessary, nor indeed useful in the same manner as reading and writing, which are useful in money-making, in the management of a household, in the acquisition of knowledge and in political life, nor like drawing, useful for a more correct judgment of the works of artists, nor again like gymnastic, which gives health and strength; for neither of these is to be gained from music. There remains, then, the use of music for intellectual enjoyment in leisure; which is in fact evidently the reason of its introduction, this being one of the ways in which it is thought that a freeman should pass his leisure

Part of what strikes me is the technology of the written word as sort of a proxy for the existence or lack of leisure. Basically, when one writes in stone (literally) one is more thoughtful about what they are writing. Then there is a spectrum from expensive papyrus, hand copied and illuminated manuscripts, to the printed word, typewriters, word processors, emails, instant messages, and finally twitter, where 140 characters seems entirely opposed to serious contemplation and results in banal, but perhaps amusing, thought.

That's just a tiny point, but I thought people might be interested. Another angle I will consider is if tech even creates additional free time, and if so if it's conducive to leisure. For Aristotle, a small sliver could engage in leisure on the backs of laborers and slaves. For Marx it was a similar thing, but technology offered a way, if the economics and politics were changed, to provide everybody leisure. "do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner" to overcome alienation.

However, I'm trying to figure out if I even need to incorporate music, which seems to undermine my understanding as contemplation. Although, I guess people contemplate music. I'm vexed.

Thanks For Not Mentioning Global Economy

NYTimes:
President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.

No explicit mention of competing in a global economy, which is nice for a change. Perhaps they want students to pursue science and technology for their own personal fulfillment rather than some foolish understanding of how the global economy works, but I doubt it. That "to compete in the global economy" lurks just beneath the surface.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

FLG is currently listening to









Don't ask.

Hypothetical Music Purchases

FLG thinks he's mentioned how he wants these three very expensive Sinatra box sets. (Yes, that's despite already having something like 1-2 gigs of Sinatra in his iTunes already.)

Since he won't be buying those anytime soon, FLG is thinking about getting this 8 disc set, which has nothing at all to do with Sinatra.

Gulen Movement

FLG saw that Chris Hayes and Reihan had a bloggingheads in which they talked about the Gülen Movement. Perhaps it's because he wrote a research paper on the topic that he finds Reihan's ignorance on the subject surprising and feels that Hayes somewhat misunderstands the group. Although, FLG ought not expect everybody to have read both Gülen's writings and that of Said Nursî. Nevertheless, FLG has mentioned the group several times on this blog and he recommends that those concerned with how Islam can more fully reconcile itself with modernity to investigate it further.

Quote of the day

Flavia:
I spent almost 24 hours walking around muttering "fucking theatre people" under my breath

FLG Thinks Frank Rich Is A Huge Hack

But even FLG was surprised by this description:
the Hitler-fixated “tea party” movement

The Hitler shit was done by Lyndon LaRouche supporters. FLG guesses he shouldn't be shocked by Rich's laziness, stupidity, or willful misleading, but he is. There's stuff to criticize in the tea party movement, but Hitler worship ain't one of them. Although, FLG can see how it fits into the I'm-enlightened-the-opposition-is-backwards-and-evil self-conception within Frank Rich's puny little brain.

Subjectivity In Grading

Phoebe recently posted about objectivity in grading:
There is a rather widespread idea amongst college students - and I remember this from college myself - that a good grade on even an undeniably quantitative assignment means 'the teacher likes me', whereas a bad grade is assumed the result of a teacher extracting cathartic revenge on a student who parts her hair on the wrong side or has otherwise unintentionally offended her instructor. Now having done a bit of grading at this point, I'm well aware how very untrue this assumption is - grading is necessary for providing feedback and all that, but is the least interesting aspect of teaching, falling well behind lesson-planning and giving a class. Objectivity in grading is not only the right thing to do, but the default.

I never really worried about whether teachers liked me or not affecting my grades. But what I do doubt is whether grading is truly objective.

For example, if I were in Dance's class and turned in a paper about how abolition was simply a function of vast economic and technological changes that replaced energy provided by man and beast with inanimate sources of energy, then I'm going to have to produce far more evidence than somebody who simply attributes it to the abolition movement and Abraham Lincoln. Now, my thesis is more sweeping and less direct, so more evidence is required. But to the extent that Dance personally agrees with a thesis I assume it must influence her view of how compelling the evidence is and consequently the strength of the argument itself.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Dance views European colonialism as deeply flawed, perhaps outright immoral. If two students submit papers, one praising colonialism and one decrying it, then doesn't the one who disagrees with her have an uphill battle to even get to the same point where she would find the evidence and argument equally compelling?

I choose Dance largely because I feel I owe her a thorough and detailed examination of the economic and technological changes across countries that support my conclusion on abolition, but I'm always too lazy to gather the data and all that. But this isn't her failing. It's a human failing. If I submitted a paper arguing in favor of the Palestinians' Right of Return to Withywindle, then I'm going to be held to a higher standard than somebody who argues the opposite.

I'm not saying that simply because nobody can be perfectly objective that professors shouldn't try, but I guess what I'm wondering is how a professor deals with that? Do they take their own biases into account? Do they downplay the actual content and persuasiveness of the argument in favor of more objective things related to the execution, such as grammar, organization, correct use of citations, etc?

I'll say this. It wasn't hard for me to know where professors' sympathies rested, and it is my perception that my papers that adhered to their sympathies got better grades than ones that did not. And this wasn't an isolated incident, but across the board. It wasn't a huge difference. Perhaps a A- instead of an A. Or B+ instead of an A-. However, the worst offenders were history professors. Every history paper I wrote at Georgetown that didn't adhere to the professor's ideology got a B. Every one that did got an A or A-. I have to say that might be why I am so skeptical of the academic discipline of history.

KISS Principle

Matt Yglesias:
The whole thing where members of congress criticize bills for being too long is ridiculous. It just makes no sense whatsoever on its face.

Apparently, Matt has never heard of or completely dismisses the KISS principle. If he did, then, it does make sense on its face.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FLG Doesn't Tweet

..but if he did:
Wish I had a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Computers And Education

I'm reading Neil Postman's Technopoly, written in 1992, and this passage struck me:
In introducing the personal computer to the classroom, we shall be breaking a four-hundred-year-old truce between the gregariousness and openness fostered by orality and the introspection and isolation fostered by the written word...Will the widespread use of computers in the classroom defeat once and for all the claims of communal speech? Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?

Some of this has come true and some of it not, but it's fascinating, to me at least, how much the Internet, and in particular the social aspects of the so-called Web 2.0, adds an additional wrinkle. Blogging is writing, but it's not isolated. Well, if nobody reads your blog or comments it is, but it seems different.

Hey Asshole, I Need A Fucking Unicorn

Bob Herbert:
We need a revitalized industrial policy, including the creation of whole new industries, if American families are to prosper in the coming decades. If there is any sense of urgency about this in the hearts and minds of our corporate and government leaders, I’ve missed it.

You think the government and corporations can just go to the industry store and pick one up? Industries develop because somebody creates a new class of products that people want. If corporations knew of a new product that people wanted, then they'd already be fucking making it and we wouldn't have the problem in the first place.

There's a temptation among economically mush-headed buffoons like Hebert and Harold Meyerson to create jobs through government programs, but the government doesn't create shit. It creates jobs by distorting and destroying the economy. To use my favorite example, it could break a large number of windows in America to create jobs making and installing windows, but we'd all be worse off for it even if we're creating jobs.

Sad thing is people like Herbert, who described the last half-century's economic policies as wrongheaded in the column, is calling for something like that because for him it's all about jobs. More jobs. Better paying jobs. It's classic make work bias. And it pisses me off that people like Harold Meyerson and Bob Herbert who have no clue about economics write so often about how terrible economic policies are. Yes, there are economic winners and losers and I do commend them for reminding us of the losers, but their economic prescriptions are ignorant, naive, and often simply asinine. They might as well argue that government should issue unicorns.

Astonishing

Withywindle pointed me to this fascinating piece that, if true, exposes an astonishing conspiracy among global warming scientists.

The most astonishingiest of the astonishing is this quote:
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate

Now, FLG is not a person who demands that empirical validation of everything. He thinks it often distorts the debate to what can be easily measured, but, and this is a big but, science is empirical. And more importantly temperature isn't all that difficult to measure. You use thermometers. We've got loads of them.

I guess my point here is the above quote is hugely unscientific. What is is saying is that I believe the Earth is warming currently, but there is no empirical evidence of that. Scientists aren't supposed to do that. It's not like there is a lack of evidence because they don't have data and they need to gather it. That would be an entirely different issue. We've been gathering loads of temperature data to prove global warming, but apparently it's not currently showing it.

Anyway, I think global warming scientists are in a tough spot with this. If it all turns out to be true

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Right To Privacy

Recently, both Withywindle and Christine questioned the constitutional right to privacy. FLG has always thought that the Fourth Amendment articulates what is a de facto right to privacy when seen in light of the circumstances in the 18th century:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

He'll have to read more on the thoughts of the people at the time, but he always assumed that they were creating a right to privacy even if that's not precisely what they were calling it. FLG finds the process of determining how we apply these protections to new technology fascinating.

On the other hand, he thinks the idea that abortion was justified on the basis of a right to privacy is pretty damn weak. If a wife murders her husband in her own house, then nobody is going to say she has a right to privacy that protects her from prosecution. And therein lies the rub with the privacy justification. It assumes that the fetus isn't a person, which is an argument I'm at least willing to hear out, but that's the crucial issue. Not privacy.

A Blackhole Of Time-Wasting FLG Style

Cutthroat Capitalism: The Somali Pirate Game

FLG is currently listening to



I love the song, but I think I could drive from Georgetown to Manhattan before song ended.

FLG is currently listening to

Bill Flanigen

Bill Flanigen has a new blog.

Many of you are probably saying, "Who?" Well, he blogged over at The GW Patriot, which I enjoy. And he was apparently an intern at Reason, which I also enjoy but didn't know until now that he had been over there.

Anyway, go take a look at his blog.

Endor? Ha, Go F#$% Yourself



H/T

Quick Round Up

Charlemagne has some on-point analysis of the EU leadership decisions. It is really a pity.

Thierry Henry committed an intentional handball in the French-Ireland World Cup qualifying match. Video here. It's sparked a media firestorm with people calling it the Hand of God, Hand of Gaul, and some pun about the Eiffel Tower that I forget.

This interview (mp3) with the author of Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, Karen Ho, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota, has some interesting insights into the culture of Wall Street. She, like so many others, says we should bring back Glass-Steagall, for which I still await a compelling justification. What disappointed me with Ms. Ho's assertion is that I felt there might be a reasonable justification behind it, but none was forthcoming.

The OECD thinks we'll have faster employment recovery than Europe, but part of that is that we've had a faster rise in unemployment in the first place. Europe doesn't have as violent swings in unemployment for a variety of structural reasons. These keep employment at a relatively constant, but somewhat socially problematic level.

I might download the Google Chrome OS virtual machine to see what the heck they're doing because I'm just not sure what their point is.

Strategy Page:
Algeria is threatening to sue France in the International Court of Justice over how France administered Algeria during 130 years of colonial rule (that ended in the 1960s). This could be interesting, because the main reason for France taking control of Algeria was the inability, or unwillingness, of Algerian governments to control the criminal groups, including pirates, who had been preying, for centuries, on European shipping, and civilians living on the coast.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Classes At Georgetown

From the Georgetown Classics Dept course descriptions:
270. Apuleius. We will read the *Golden Ass* of Apuleius, the funniest, sexiest, holiest, weirdest novel of antiquity. Students are not required to convert to Isis-worship during the course nor will they be given extra credit for doing so, but the challenge of figuring out when Apuleius is serious and just what he's serious about will be adventure enough. Requires advanced Latin, detective skills, and a sense of humor.

Classicists are a bit off. Yes, Alpheus and Arethusa, you heard me.

FLG is currently listening to

A Thought

FLG was in line for a coffee at Dean & Deluca today when he randomly had a thought about Hobbes. He hasn't read Hobbes in a while, but he's not going to read Leviathan again to disprove this thought:
If Hobbes views humans as pleasure-seeking/pain-fleeing machines. And further that our biggest fear is that we suffer a violent death at the hands of other human beings, which then serves as one of our primary motivations. Then doesn't this imply some sort of resistance to coercion that undermines his conclusion that the Leviathan is the best form of government?

I have this sinking feeling that I'm missing something tremendously obvious here because one simply doesn't unravel Hobbes while waiting in line at a pretentious coffee shop.

A Conversation

I thought this was interesting and I don't think there's anything terribly problematic contained below, but I did post this without checking with the parties involved, well, one party, first. So, I ask forgiveness in advance.

Prof. Deneen: I'm sure you loved my article in The Hoya today.

FLG: I actually haven't had a chance to read it. What's it about?

Prof. Deneen: The economics department. Well, actually, economics in general. I'm attacking Homo Economicus, the rational utility maximizer. And I argue that a more holistic view of economics should be offered at Georgetown, perhaps even one informed by its Catholic tradition. I included a great quote from Paul Krugman. “The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty — clad in impressive-looking mathematics — for truth.”

FLG: There's something to that. Economists have largely become applied mathematicians. That's given us some very powerful and useful tools, but it reminds me of a story.

In one of my macroeconomics classed, the professor, a newly minted Georgetown PhD, said to the class, "We talk about the Social Planner, but what is wrong with the concept of the Social Planner in reality?" I responded, "Well, Hayak argued that the Planner simply wouldn't have enough information to adequately run an economy."

"Who?" said the professor.

"F.A. Hayek."

"I don't know them, but you're correct. It's about lack of information."

Prof. Deneen: They don't even know the history of their discipline.

FLG: Sadly, it's too often about equations.

I still think there's a lot in favor of keeping economics as a empirical, scientific endeavor to study what is. You start bringing in oughts and it gets messy. Better to have tools to determine with some degree of precision or probability what effects oughts will have than to integrate moral and ethical dimensions into the tools themselves.

But for goodness' sake I do expect Econ PhDs to know Hayek. And even be familiar with Aristotle's conception of economics, which in turn influenced Aquinas, among others, and in turn the doctrine of the Church today. As Deneen rightly pointed out to me once, Smith, Ricardo, etc were political philosophers.

Correspondence

I think your nuts.

I write in the third person under a pseudonym about topics which I know almost nothing about. Of course I'm nuts.

Also, you meant "you're," but I'm sympathetic to the problems posed by homonyms homophones.

School Performance

This article illustrate one of the problems with the educational system here in the United States:
Over the last three years, high schools that received the lowest marks from the city have been the ones with the highest percentages of poor, black and Hispanic students, despite an evaluation system that was meant to equalize differences among student bodies, according to an analysis by The New York Times of school grades released this week.

Read that again.

The problem, as described in this article, is not that poor black and Hispanic students are doing poorly. It's that the evaluation system for schools doesn't take into account that poor black and Hispanic students do poorly and subsequently compensate for it.

It reminds me of this quotation:
“When schools are labeled as underachieving, I don’t see what it serves other than just to call them out,” Azer said. “When the town hears ‘underperforming,’ the average person thinks these students are underperforming.”

This is pernicious and what President Bush rightfully called the bigotry of low expectations.

The argument, as far as I can tell, in favor of this type of stuff is two fold. First, it makes the teachers and administrators in those schools look bad. They correctly argue that they have a tougher job than their counterparts in wealthier, whiter and Asianer schools. Second, that it makes the students feel bad and stupid, which will further discourage them academically.

Both of these are flawed. On the first point, I don't really give a shit if the teachers and administrators look bad. Shame is a very powerful motivator to get the school up to snuff. On the second point, it's simply wrong to lower the bar for minority and poorer students. Yes, they often have more to overcome because of their background, but that's unfortunately the fact of the matter. We should provide more educational resources to them, but it still won't change the facts on the ground. They'll have to work harder than other kids their own age. Lowering the sights so as not to hurt their or their teachers' feelings is not going to help them catch up.

Again, like the math issue, this shit would create the illusion of equality by exacerbating actual inequality and it pisses me the fuck off.

More on Techne

Miss Self-Important writes:
"Abstract technical knowledge"? Is that like how I totally know how to change a flat tire in theory, but require people with actual knowledge to rescue me in practice?


That seems to be how he's using it.  Or rather knowledge that one can pass to another about how to do stuff as compared with knowledge that must be gained by experience.  I'm actually not very happy with his distinction or explanation, and Kenney has used it in other papers on terrorism.  Seems to be a go-to in his bag of intellectual tricks or he's really obsessed with it.  My guess actually, is that he's writing for the government and many of the government weenies are impressed with Greek words and think he must know what he's talking about because he's using these esoteric terms.  But it seems that simply saying theoretical learning versus experiential learning would be far simpler.  Nevertheless, his paper does offer some insights.

Yet, I'm far more interested in, and perhaps by consequence come across more often,  the distinction between techne, which in this case means something akin to "mechanical and practical arts" or "craft and craftsmanship", and poiesis, which in this case means "art," but is better understood as some metaphysical level of creation, in that the beauty of poetry is a metaphysical creation.  However, this distinction isn't terribly useful in the context of terrorism because, as I've been saying, it's a fundamentally materialist endeavor.

Then again, maybe my understanding of Techne is off.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Techne

Techne is one of those words that I think are incredibly useful as a concept if we all know and agree what it means, but it too often requires some sort of explanation of what exactly the person using it does mean. Case in point (PDF):
These assumptions beg an important, yet understudied, question: how do terrorists actually acquire the information and expertise they need to carry out acts of political violence? The answer, this study shows, depends on the type of knowledge being acquired. Abstract technical knowledge, or techne, lends itself to codification in knowledge-based artifacts and can be readily taught through formal instruction. While techne is important to terrorists, it is not their only, or even their most important, source of knowledge. Terrorists also rely on experiential knowledge and cunning intelligence, in a word mētis, to develop the practical expertise that allows them to perform violent acts in local settings. Mētis helps account for the resilience of “Islamist terrorism” since the war on terror began seven years ago.

Quote of the day II

Allen Buchanan:
so far human reproduction has been sexual, that is, has involved the uniting of a sperm and an egg. That statement, though true (virgin births aside) would by itself give us no reason whatsoever to oppose asexual reproduction, including cloning.

Finance Reform And Consumer Protection

I'm for some financial reform, but the consumer protection aspect concerns me. Not that I'm in favor of consumers getting screwed, but that the idea for the financial consumer protection agency was largely started with a Harvard Business Review article written by Amelia Tyagi who I have decided uses an entirely different and patently inferior logic and reason than I do.

She was on NPR's Marketplace the other night and I was so distracted by the logic used that I almost crashed my car. Here are some samples:
And then the industry was deregulated, and all bets were off. No longer did banks make their profits from reasonably priced loans to people who were able to pay. Instead, pre-approved credit card offers flooded the mailbox of every man, woman, and child. Opening a checking account became free, while bounced check fees skyrocketed.

Wait. So, people get checking accounts for free as long as they don't write checks for money they don't have, and this is a problem? People paying for checking accounts, but being able to write checks for more money than they actually is what we want? Do the correct thing = free. Do the stupid or wrong thing = cost. This is bad? Sounds like good incentives to me. Hey, I've overdrafted before and the fees do suck, but, shockingly, I didn't find this some huge injustice imposed upon me by an evil bank. It was a stupid mistake on my part.

She continues:
For most banks the real profits now come from late fees, balloon payments, default interest rates, and a host of other tricks and traps. In other words, making a profit has become an exercise in misdirection and misinformation. Sneaky has become the norm.

And later:
But is an over-the-limit fee really an innovation, or just a cheap trick designed to fool customers into believing a product costs one price when the majority of customers actually pay far more?

Apparently, the word "sneaky" means two entirely different things to me and Amelia Tyagi. The credit card company tells me the day I have to pay every month on the bill they send me. It's pretty consistent actually. And they send me letters when they change my credit limit. As long as I do those things, well, default interest rates, late fees, and over-the-limit fees don't apply.

I'm uncomfortable with some aspect of the credit card and banking industry. I don't like them raising rates when somebody's late on another account and some of the ways they calculate interest concern me. I find the pre-approved offers annoying, but not unscrupulous.

Offering free checking while charging overdraft fees doesn't seem like some dastardly trick. Charging people who don't pay on-time higher interest rates seems entirely prudent. The alternative is that we go back to paying for checking accounts so that the inattentive or stupid can have less consequences for their inattentiveness and stupidity. That's certainly not progress and is the primary reason why I am skeptical of the finance consumer protection agency.

Quick Round Up

FLG received an email about this event, and immediately thought of Phoebe.

Despite protestations to the contrary, FLG doesn't think society is under any pressing need to determine if we will permit robot-human relationships right now. He always, and probably unfairly, dismisses these calls for contemplating robot and machine rights and whatever as the half-crazed and possibly marijuana-induced ravings of SciFi junkies. We'll probably need to confront the issue at some point, but we've got a long way to go. One thing that does concern FLG is that it seems the Japanese are at the vanguard of integrating robots and technology into their romantic life. God forbid that wacked out culture sets some sort of precedent for the rest of the world.

Does anybody else think Éric Besson referencing Miller's Crossing is odd?

Goldman Sachs asks for forgiveness for its role in the financial crisis and commits funds to small business.

FLG demands that everybody, including the Danes, pronounce the capital of Denmark -- Co-pen-HAH-gen. Not, Heaven forfend, Co-pen-HEY-gen.

"establishing a purpose and an agenda for the twenty-first century [has supposedly been] the way forward for [NATO]" for nigh two decades and yet we've seen bupkis. Can we please just put the fucking anachronistic organization out of its misery?

Completely agree with everything Scott H. Payne writes about Alice in Chains here.

Dear Tom Friedman:

You are so smart and clever, but in the middle of your constant quest to condense important and complicated topics into catchphrases you might have missed something. You write:
They believe the world is going to face a mass plague, like the Black Death, that will wipe out 2.5 billion people sometime between now and 2050. They believe it is much better for America that the world be dependent on oil for energy — a commodity largely controlled by countries that hate us and can only go up in price as demand increases — rather than on clean power technologies that are controlled by us and only go down in price as demand increases. And, finally, they believe that people in the developing world are very happy being poor — just give them a little running water and electricity and they’ll be fine. They’ll never want to live like us.

Yes, the opponents of any tax on carbon to stimulate alternatives to oil must believe all these things because that is the only way their arguments make any sense.

Apparently, the idea that it might be better to be richer to make it easier to mitigate the consequences of global warming than to make policy decisions that would make us poorer and might not even be effective in fighting the actual warming completely slipped passed you. I'm on your side, but you might want to think about things more before you call people crazy.

Sincerely,
FLG

Quote of the day

Andrew Stevens:
I honestly don't have very much that is interesting to say

Understatement of the decade, and perhaps the century (thus far).

Also, Andrew when you write:
I'm not the best conservative.

It seems like you should've written:
I'm not the best Republican.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some More Quotes From The Bostrom Piece

See the previous post for the link.


If one rejects nature as a general criterion of the good, as most thoughtful people nowadays do, one can of course still acknowledge that particular ways of modifying human nature would be debasing. Not all change is progress.

Had Mother Nature been a real parent, she would have been in jail for child abuse and murder.

One example of how contemporary technology can change important aspects of someone’s identity is sex reassignment. The experiences of transsexuals show that Western culture still has work to do in becoming more accepting of diversity.

On the last point, I consider myself pretty accepting (although some may disagree), but I just can't get past the icky, unnatural feeling I have toward transsexuals. I'm sure I could rationalize it some way, but that would be dishonest. It's a visceral, not a rational reaction that I have.

Quote of the day

Nick Bostrom:
The horrors of nature in general and of our own nature in particular are so well documented that it is astonishing that somebody as distinguished as Leon Kass should still in this day and age be tempted to rely on the natural as a guide to what is desirable or normatively right. We should be grateful that our ancestors were not swept away by the Kassian sentiment, or we would still be picking lice off each other’s backs.

That last line is great, but Bostrom also seems to be rebutting a strawman version of Kass rather than his actual arguments.

Cold Hookers

Alpheus was only recently exposed to the horrible, horrible monstrosity known as snuggies.

Well, the snuggie people have finally answered the question that has been on everybody's mind: When are they going to make one that looks a little more stylish for people who like looking like an idiot in style? And the answer, mercifully, is now. And the most fascinating part is that apparently people who like looking like an idiot in style prefer the favored patterns of street hookers and trailer trash whores -- leopard and zebra prints. Which, when you think about it, does make sense in a sick way:

FLG Likes Johhny Depp And Pirates

...but there's no need for a fourth movie. The first was good. The following two were barely tolerable.

This Still Makes FLG Laugh Ten Years After He First Saw It

More On Math Pedagogy

I was thinking some more about the math article that I posted about yesterday.
As Alan Schoenfeld, the lead author of the high school standards in the 1989 NCTM report, put it, “the traditional curriculum was a vehicle for . . . the perpetuation of privilege.” The new approach would change all that.

...

The progressive educators...support “integrated” approaches to teaching math—that is, teaching topics from all areas of mathematics every year, regardless of logical sequence and student mastery of each step—and they downplay basic arithmetic skills and practice, encouraging kids to use calculators from kindergarten on.

These two passages stuck out in my mind because if undermining the perpetuation of privilege was their goal, then it seems that it might have backfired in a big way.

Something changed in my elementary school math curriculum between the time when I was there and when my brother went through four years later. Sounds like this progressive curriculum stuff had kicked in. The teacher sent home a not with my brother that he need a calculator. My mother called the teacher and said he wouldn't be getting a calculator until he had memorized his multiplication tables at the earliest. I remember distinctly when my mother, who was not one to lose her cool, almost yelled, "What do you mean you aren't making the students learn their multiplication tables by heart anymore?!"

This began what the article describes as the "Math Wars" in our school. My parents along many others launched into a tizzy and got the curriculum changed so that the children needed to know their multiplication tables as well as some other things that I can't remember right now. Maybe long division was reinstated. Not sure. But I am positive about the multiplication tables. Years later, I heard the calculator only crowd won out.

That's not the reason that I suspect this progressive curriculum thing backfired. The reason is the socio-economic make-up of the group of parents who went into school to complain. It was the doctors and lawyers and engineers and bankers. You know, the upper and upper middle class types. And this wasn't really about their kids either. My mother was adamant that my brother was going to learn those multiplication tables. If the school wasn't going to teach them you could rest assured she was going to do it herself. Or if things got too bad he'd be put in private school. Ditto for the rest of the parents who complained. This wasn't necessarily about their kids learning the multiplication tables, but for the benefit of the kids whose parents didn't have the time or knowledge to complain.* And also for their own kids in the future because lack of multiplication tables belied a weakening in the curriculum broadly.

And that's where I think this thing backfires. If Miss FLG isn't taught the multiplication tables at school, then I'll sure as hell teach her. If I don't think she knows how to add, subtract, multiple, and divide fractions, then I'll sure as hell teach her. Same for long division, algebra, geometry, and calculus. Dumbing down the curriculum may undermine so-called privilege within the classroom, but exacerbates it in the real world. It doesn't help the kid whose parents dropped out of high school keep up with my kid. It just creates the illusion of it while making the discrepancy worse.


-------
* Don't get me wrong, all the parents preferred not to have to spend time teaching themselves what they rightfully thought the schools should be.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Math Pedagogy

I found this article about the influence of progressive social goals in math curriculum fascinating. At some level though I think, or rather hope, that the influence of political and social goals on math curriculum is overstated. Isn't math pretty much math? Doesn't everybody pretty much learn adding fractions, multiplying polynomials, or taking a derivative by watching the teacher and then doing example after example until it's been drummed into their head? It's simply hard and often boring work. Even if there is some sort of gender or racial component, seems to me this would manifest as the student requiring more practice, but not some fundamentally different type of work.

I do have some issues with the piece. First, I'm tempted to read the sources to which the author refers because I just can't believe it's that bad. I have heard the argument that most people won't use algebra, so why make the poor kids go through the trouble of learning it and feeling stupid? I have little time for that argument because it's so patronizing, but I can't imagine entire curricula designed around a similar notion. Second, as you know, I hate it when the rationale for better education, particularly in science and math, is "to compete in a global economy." We need to offer our children rigorous science and math education because it's integral to proper education and instills many worthwhile traits.

Security And Choices

Bruce Schneier:
Security is never black and white. If someone asks, "for best security, should I do A or B?" the answer almost invariably is both. But security is always a trade-off. Often it's impossible to do both A and B -- there's no time to do both, it's too expensive to do both, or whatever -- and you have to choose. In that case, you look at A and B and you make you best choice. But it's almost always more secure to do both.

He's writing about whether antivirus application are dead, but this point is true about everything from computer security to home security to international security. Is it better to run a firewall or antivirus? It's better to run both. Is it better to install an alarm in your home or buy a safe? It's better to do both. Is it better to buy a new aircraft carrier or a five stealth bombers? It's better to do both.

In the counter-terrorism field there's a debate whether it's better to invest more in capabilities of first responders or the military. Democrats largely like the first responder solution because EMTs, firefighters, and police aren't mean and nasty and they can benefit the community even in the absence of an attack. Plus, they're union members. Republicans have largely take the increased military capabilities stance because it's better to fight them over there than here. Better to stop the attacks than responding to one already completed. Not surprisingly, because if there is one thing Democrats and the recent Republicans can agree on is spending money, the government's response has been to do both.

But we don't live in a world of limitless resources. We often have to make a choice between cost and security. Trying to get the most bang for our buck and accepting that we can't fully secure anything, especially when highly motivated nutjobs have it in their sites.

Now, this probably all seems very obvious, but security debates often happen in a vacuum. For example, will the missile defense system make us more safe? Yes or no. Well, maybe it's not simply a question of whether it makes us safer. Maybe it's a question of whether the money allocated toward it could be used in a different way that makes us safer still.

FLG is currently listening to

China And Trade Imbalances

This morning, I saw that Paul Krugman has a column up today about the deleterious effects of China's policy of pegging its currency to the dollar. I also watched an interview on BCC World News with an Oxford professor who says that China views itself as the emerging power and the United States as declining. A sentiment echoed by numerous China watchers in several interviews I've seen recently.

In particular, the Chinese feel that their more heavy-handed approach to managing their economy has been vindicated and will be happy to stop hearing lectures on the need to reform their banking sector from their American counterparts. The American banking systems has problems, but this narrative, while it makes the Chinese happy, isn't exactly accurate.

The Chinese banking system has massive, structural problems. There are so many that it's difficult to know where to begin, but primarily the problem is that they are government controlled. Yes, many of our banks are as well, but this is (hopefully) a temporary and drastic measure taken to avert crisis, not a long-standing policy of government control. This state control in China has led the banks into subsidizing other government companies with loans that will never be paid off. And since reporting and statistics in China are so poor I'm not even sure the Chinese know how bad they are in the shit. As I believe I've written before, this lack of a proper banking sector, along with almost all the Chinese economic policies, contributed to our banking crisis.

The Chinese government, its ideological basis having been discredited, has decided to base its legitimacy on its ability to deliver order and economic growth. It has decided to do this in the same way many of its neighbors have done -- export driven growth. It exports goods and gets foreign currency in return. For our purposes, we'll call the foreign currency dollars.

If it had a normal banking system and given its economic growth rate, these dollars would be sold and the proceeds injected into the domestic banking system. This would raise the value of the Chinese currency in relation to the dollar, and encourage and facilitate domestic investment and consumption. This would mitigate the trade imbalance and help China develop faster.

Instead, the Chinese encourage exports, but then require the dollars be surrender to the government. The government exchanges those for Renminbi, which it then has to turn around and sterilize. The dollars flood back into the US, in the form of Treasury bonds and other investments, and the US banking system is, in effect, acting as the de facto banking system for the Chinese as well.

At first glance, this doesn't sound like much of a problem for the US. London made a ton of money doing the Eurodollar banking for the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. But it seems as if there was too much money chasing too few opportunities here in the US. Logically speaking, the investment should be the other way around. Americans should be investing in rapidly growing economies like China's.

This isn't to say that the US was some innocent victim of the Chinese economic policies. Our bankers were happy to use the money. Our citizens were happy to buy houses and cars with the money at low interest rates. Our government was happy to spend without paying for it.

What I am saying is:
First, the Chinese still have huge problems with their banking system and economic policies. Problems that are, as Krugman explains at the currency level, responsible for exacerbating global imbalances.

Second, government involvement in the economy can paper over a lot of things. What seems like a controlled, predictable economic growth can unravel very quickly. I think of it much like a dam. It can control the flow of water day-to-day, but pressure builds up. When it breaks it breaks big-time.

Third, the gloating of Chinese leaders, even if it's subdued, augurs poorly for the China. If China has often had one thing going for it, besides its population, its the idea that China has leaders who were long run thinkers. Think Mao saying it was too early to tell the impact of the French Revolution. The idea that we've reached some inflection or intersection point where China is surpassing the United States is presumptuous in the extreme. The current turmoil in the American economic system, and by extension in the political system as well, is temporary. It seems to me the Chinese are reading too much into this and making questionable assumptions about the future based on current conditions.

This is a consequence, I would argue, of their complete lack of ideological foundations. With communism dead, they are left with pursuing legitimacy based upon technocratic ability to deliver material progress, which is a largely an empirical, technical pursuit. Ordering their ends toward empirical, technical pursuits necessarily shortens their time horizons to what they can measure and reasonably predict. This switch from long-term to short-term will be the reason for their inevitable downfall.

Some of you are probably saying that American leaders are often short-sighted. Ah, but there is a massive difference. The American political and economic systems are inherently flexible and practical. It often doesn't seem like it, but when push comes to shove it works. China has no such inherent flexibility. Perhaps there's a capable or strong leader in charge when a crisis comes and they get through that one. But eventually there will be a crisis when the leadership screws up. Once it screws up its legitimacy is done. The United States legitimizes its leadership every few years. We might try everything else first, but we wind up doing the right thing.

Current Reading Update

Per The Ancient's recommendation:
Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War

But if that's the second best, what's the best book on American banking?

And something I've been meaning to read for a few months now:
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

Sunday, November 15, 2009

China And The Dollar

FT:
China has “far more control over the price of the dollar than the US”

I'm not entirely convinced, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Inflation And Its Consequences

Inflation is a somewhat complicated issue. However, one thing is clear -- it hurts creditors and helps debtors. Since poor people and the federal government are on the debtors side the equation it's no surprise that progressives like Matt Yglesias and Paul Krugman would be on the side of inflating our way out of our current economic situation.

Not that this invalidates the policy by itself, but does make me skeptical.

Modern Piracy

A Chatham House report on piracy:
Piratical acts and acts akin to piracy do not need the ‘terrorism’ label to be seen as grave crimes worthy of an international response. Some actions of the pirate will be caught by the international counter-terrorism instruments but piracy is not terrorism as such and does not need to be treated as such.

Agreed.

It is an unfortunate fact that 50-60% of captured pirates have been released by the navies which captured them. This illustrates the challenges of providing a feasible system of prosecution of the pirates.

Is there a lack of political will to ensure that pirates or suspected pirates are brought to justice?

Yes.

The next issue is one of willingness to prosecute. There is a perception that many countries in the West are not prepared themselves to mount prosecutions and are even divesting themselves of the power. This may be from fear that pirates, after finishing a prison sentence, would apply for asylum, or otherwise.

Asylum? For pirates? Are we serious? Yes, yes. I know. They're driven by desperation to piracy, but they're still fucking pirates.

Home Ownership Investment Logic

An article in the WaPo dispels some common myths about home ownership. Yet, it neglected to mention something that I think is tremendously important:
1. Housing is a great long-term investment.

Historically, the value of owner-occupied homes has risen at a fairly low rate, one that pales in comparison with the performance of stocks and bonds. Between 1975 and 2008, the price for houses of comparable quality and size appreciated an average of about 1 percent per year. You would have earned well over 2 percent per year had you invested in Treasury bills over the same period. And you would have earned even more on riskier investments: Moody's corporate bond index rose an average of 6 percent per year between 1975 and 2008, while the S&P 500 stock index rose an average of 8 percent per year. Most of the return from owning your home comes not in financial gains but in the benefits you enjoy by living there.

Because homes are the one investment that most people take huge amounts of leverage in, they appear to be great investments because of the total amount of money that can be made. It's also why many financial crises start in the real estate sector. I always find it odd that commentators never say, "Look, you are borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy something. Something that can increase value or, as we've seen recently fall, as well. Even though houses seem like safe investments because they are more tangible than something more ersatz like stocks doesn't mean they are actually safe."

I think that perception -- the tangibility of houses -- led people who got burned in the dot com bubble to pursue the housing bubble. But it's important to remember that assets are still assets and all can go up and down in value. Even something as staid as a fixed rate government bond is subject to price fluctuations.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No Shit Sherlock: Pot Edition

Study finds pot may ease stress.

If only they'd have read the breakthrough study conducted by NIH and reported in The Onion many years back, "Marijuana Linked to Sitting Around and Getting High."

Come In Pot, This Is Kettle

Andrew Sullivan:
I've heard it before from a source very close to her - a source who also told me that Palin was obsessed with this blog for much of the campaign

Hmmm...I remember somebody being completely obsessed with Palin during the campaign. Wonder who that was?

A First

A Charles Blow column that doesn't render FLG apoplectic.
The party that wins the White House generally loses Congressional seats in the midterm, but this Democratic-controlled government has particular issues.

FLG completely agrees with the first clause because he believes Americans have a preference for divided government. He also agrees with the second clause, but not for all the reasons Blow cites. Blow's conclusion is that the Democrats haven't enacted enough of their agenda and they are beset by obstacles that make them unpopular. FLG says the agenda is unpopular and the obstacles are in their way largely because of that unpopularity. However, FLG will say that the Republicans are reflexively obstructionist in a way that's unhelpful.

Quote of the day

Umberto Eco:
I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia. People have their preferences.

Apparently, the morality of those preferences is of little concern at present.

H/T

FLG's A Tad Bit Concerned

FLG just watched a Bloomberg interview with Alan Krueger. In it he was asked whether he's concerned about cyclical or structural unemployment. He responded that the president wants to tackle both.

A quick refresher on types of unemployment:
  • Seasonal - This is ski lift operators getting laid off in the summer or lifeguards in the winter. Not so big a deal.
  • Frictional - People switching jobs and normal search time for a new job. People and firms don't have perfect information so they have to look at job postings, resumes, and interview and those take time.
  • Cyclical - As the name implies, jobs lost due to a downturn in the business cycle.
  • Structural - When creative destruction permanently destroys jobs.

The government being concerned about cyclical employment and enacting stimulus programs to build infrastructure and other things makes sense. I'm more concerned about them tackling structural unemployment. If by this they mean job retraining and things, then I'd be okay. But Krueger was talking about how the president wants to build a firm foundation for growth, which is problematic.

It's problematic because if people knew what came next in our economy, then we'd be out of the recession already. When politicians talk about these things currently, it's usually something about "green jobs" and "green technology." That's all well and good, but that's political not economic.

The thing here is that the market invests in technology it thinks will grow the economy automatically. Investors see growth opportunities and take a stake in the companies. When the government gets involved it therefore does one of two things -- either pushes out private funds or invests in technology with little prospect for growth. Neither of these is very appealing, which is to say that I seriously question the very idea that the government can build a "sustainable basis for future growth." It's a deeply flawed idea that is only held by alternately hubristic or ignorant people.

To be completely fair, there are some isolated economic things that the government can do to spur future growth, but it should be part of fighting cyclical unemployment, like building infrastructure.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In Case You Didn't Know: Kumar Edition

Am I the only person who didn't know Kumar works in the White House?

From Wikipedia:
On April 8, 2009, it was announced that he would join the Obama White House as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Living Consitution Versus Originalist

The discussion with Dance and Andrew reminded me of a discussion I saw with Justices Breyer and Scalia a while back. I found of video of one, but not the one I saw. I would note that I think the labels of activist versus originalist are a bit slanted against Breyer, but the video has their own words.



As can probably be guessed, I agree with Scalia's judicial understanding. Notably, however, I don't agree with what I think are most likely his personal opinions on abortion, same sex marriage, etc.

To the extent that I would vote in a referendum to overturn a judicially mandate in favor of gay marriage, it would be to rebuke the judges for what I believe to be their incorrect understanding on their role, not the consequences of that vote. The means are as important, or perhaps sometimes even more important, than the ends.

Quick Round Up

FLG was busy today and didn't have time for his usual blogging. Here's a quick round up of half thoughts, visceral reactions, and bullshit from today.

Other people agree with something FLG has long maintained -- Twitter sucks.

FLG wants to tear this Roger Cohen column to shreds, but he's not sure why.

Buttonwood offers an interesting theory that China is saving more than the West because of the lack of public retirement programs and seems to imply that our problem is that Social Security creates a moral hazard problem that leads us to undersave. Yet, the government ain't saving either and we're fucking nuts.

A region in Spain is funding a masturbation campaign with the slogan "Pleasure is in your own hands." Say what you want, that's great marketing.

It's scares the shit out of me that more Republicans would seriously consider voting for Sarah Palin for president than ones who think she is qualified.
 
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