Thursday, September 30, 2010

FLG Doesn't Understand

...why the Economist hired Matt Steinglas. He's so focused on the present and proximate, that his analysis is invariably God awful. In fact, I've never read something by him that I didn't think could be intellectually eviscerated by a drunken baboon, as long as their frame of analysis included something more than 15 minutes in the future. On economic questions everything he writes subtracts for the sum of human knowledge. But, as Matt Ygelsias points out, even on other issues Steinglass' overemphasis on the proximate and present renders his analysis completely ridiculous.

Does anybody at The Economist actually read his stuff? If so, has that person thought of replacing him with a monkey and a bottle of bourbon? It'd be a vast improvement.

Philosophical Rat Holes

There's been an on-going conversation about Rorty over at A&J. And to some extent here as well. One of the videos I watched used the example of a bridge, so I'll bastardize it a little to illustrate my issue not only with Rorty, but a bunch of other modern philosophers.

Let's imagine a philosopher considering the Brooklyn Bridge. He'd describe its parts, then drill down in some long argument until he got to the most basic, subatomic level. He'd then argue that we don't actually know the position of the quarks or whatever, we just predict them. Moreover, we don't actually know what matter consists of. Consequently, we cannot know that the bridge itself exists.

He'd then, depending on his particular view, argue either that we are simply relying upon sense information to determine the existence of the bridge, but senses are fallible. So, we don't actually know the bridge that the bridge exists.

Since we can't know for sure, all we can do is see if other people agree. If they agree, then there's less likelihood that our senses are failing. But then we have to communicate to each other that we believe a bridge exists. That's apparently the key point -- communication of our varying levels of belief or level of doubt. But then we need to focus on how we communicate that level of belief, which is through language.

Somebody called it a bridge. That word has massive power because if reality is only what we agree upon and language is how we communicate with each other, then our language defines reality. So, we have to investigate, to the most fundamental level, how language defines our reality.

All the while, thousands of people commute everyday over the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan and not a single one questions its existence as True. Likewise, Pi (3.14) isn't something that some human invented. Sure, somebody ascribed a Greek letter to it, but the relationship between the diameter of a circle and its circumference has nothing at all to do with the words we use to describe it.

Look, don't believe in a Platonic Good or God or whatever. Fine. But what the fuck is wrong with philosophy that they get so far away from life as experienced by regular human beings? I mean, there is a thing called the Brooklyn Bridge. It exists. Everybody knows it exists. There's no doubt. Not close to zero. Zero.

Don't get me wrong. I get it when a first semester freshman thinks "Whoa" when they first read Derrida, Rorty, or whomever. (I'd put Nietzsche in here, but he's actually got some meaningful and relevant points to make.) It's the first part of disproving The Big Assumption. Maybe my life isn't representative of the entire human condition. Maybe it represents nothing. Ok. But then they've painted themselves into a corner with their logic. You can't build anything back up when you know absolutely nothing for certain and you are too cowardly to assume anything true because somebody will come by, like Nelson Munce, kick the assumption out from under you, and yell "Ah Ha!"

The Big Assumption: 2010 Election Edition

FLG thinks, because of The Big Assumption, that everybody thinks, in their heart of hearts, that they are the median voter, which basically means that the winning strategy would be to appeal to them.

For example, here's E.J. Dionne going on and on about how the Democrats have alienated liberals -- i.e. him.

Here's David Broder saying the Democrats have alienated the middle, by which he basically means himself even if he has data.

The median voter, at least in national elections, is, of course, FLG, who has voted for the winning president every time he's voted.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Online Course

FLG has decided to "take" this Yale Online Course on Milton. The first lecture was tough though because of the focus on power, which FLG always associates with Foucault. And so, FLG is sitting there wondering the whole fucking time what Foucault would have made of John Milton.

Quote of the day

Socrates by way of Plato:
I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed.

Was thinking about this today, after the Rorty stuff yesterday, and it occurred to me that this buttressed my theory about The Republic being first and foremost about the soul.

Political Theory

FLG was wondering today about political theory. He has several readers with graduate education and degrees in political theory/political philosophy, including GEC. But they never comment on the political theory posts. (Except Mrs. Self-Important, of course.)

Is that because they agree or because it would take too long to explain why I am wrong?

Dear Washington Post:

Stop trying to customize my experience at the site. For the last few days, I've been getting a window with what my Facebook friends think and share about articles. Frankly, I find it freaky that you can access my Facebook friends and generally I don't give a shit what they have to say on these matters. Today, I get some PostLocal formatted site. I figured out that I needed to go and update my homepage to "National News" and disable "Your Network News" to turn off the Facebook shit. But you know what? I shouldn't've had to do this.

Who is in charge of this stuff over there? Do you have a hard-on for the "social media/web 2.0" bullshit? Build a "community" in the straightforward way -- comments.

I get that everybody thinks this is cool, new stuff, but it's really fucking annoying. And this ain't some Luddite talkin'. I have a blog for crissakes.

So, pretty please, with a cherry on top, stop fucking around and just give me the damn news.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rorty, Socrates, and Nietzsche

Withywindle posted something on Rorty today. FLG has never read Rorty, but from what he's heard, isn't really all that interested in reading him. But FLG thought that wasn't fair. Perhaps he ought to give Rorty a chance. So, he found this video on YouTube. If you jump to the 8:35 mark, Rorty talks about how modern intellectuals are more aligned with the the ideas of Nietzsche, self-creation, rather than Socratic self-discovery. That pretty much does it. FLG will get around to reading Rorty after about 500 other thinkers.

UPDATE: Here's his dissing Plato and Christianity, in an argument that sounds very much like Comte to FLG. On the other hand, he is arguing in favor of a long time horizon. So, I can't completely hate him.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

FLG asked a question in marketing class that was, as you might have guessed, informed by Plato. The professor said he wasn't sure of what philosophy said on the question, and instead pointed me toward Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

FLG felt immediate revulsion. At first glance, it appears very Platonic. It's teleological. It gets toward being versus becoming. And the top part, self-actualization, seems a lot like human flourishing. But the problem, as FLG sees it, is that the end goal seems pretty damn self involved, which Plato would object to.

Anybody familiar with this framework? Have any thoughts on it?

Facts And Values

FLG had a post not too long ago, or maybe it was a comment over at A&J, about how facts and values cannot be separated. Or rather, one can separate them, but whenever you draw a conclusion using facts you are unavoidably applying values. So, if you are going swimming and I tell you to bring a towel, then I am implicitly saying that being dry is better than being wet.

Likewise, let's assume the science proves that the climate is warming. That doesn't imply any course of action whatsoever. To draw some conclusion, we need to do something about it or not, involves the application of value to the equation.

Today, Bruce Schneier links to a paper that says people ignore facts and instead tend to "form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values."

opponents of a scientific consensus often try to claim to be opposing it on scientific, rather than cultural grounds. "Public debates rarely feature open resistance to science," they note, "the parties to such disputes are much more likely to advance diametrically opposed claims about what the scientific evidence really shows." To get there, those doing the arguing must ultimately be selective about what evidence and experts they accept—­they listen to, and remember, those who tell them what they want to hear. "The cultural cognition thesis predicts that individuals will more readily recall instances of experts taking the position that is consistent with their cultural predisposition than ones taking positions inconsistent with it," the paper suggests.

FLG has a problem with this. It's mostly a problem with people's failure to understand the role science plays. It isn't some super source of authority for everything under the Sun. It's a means to determine things about the material world. And it's pretty damn good at it. The issue is that scientific fact contains no meaning. Whether the solar system is geocentric or heliocentric isn't meaningful. Meaning applies to people. We could live our lives perfectly happy believing that the solar system is geocentric.

FLG's point here is this. Science has a process for determining fact. Or removing doubt, if you want to be specific about it. We need to ensure that process is working. However, if the real issue, most of the time, is whether the facts are true or not, but they are meaningful.

Monday, September 27, 2010

FLG is currently listening to

Pumpkin Shortage My Ass

They're building boats out of the damn things in Germany.

Everybody Has Heard Of French Kissing

Well, the French version of inflation is way cooler than ours.

Time Horizons: Populism Edition

Lisa Kramer over at LOG links to this article, by William Hogeland, on the tension between liberalism and populism. Unsurprisingly, FLG turns to his theory of time horizons and finds that everybody is missing the big picture. Hogeland tries to say one focuses on the future while the other focuses on the past, a distinction that many have tried to make, but is ultimately wrong. It's not past versus future. It's present versus past and future.

First, Hogeland asks probably the key question of our political era: "Why, liberals wonder, don’t populists vote their economic interest?" Well, FLG and his time horizons theory says that liberals focus on the present so much as to largely ignore the past and especially the future, are actually asking this question, but don't know it: "Why, liberals wonder, don’t populists vote their [short-term] economic interest?"

Second, again using FLG's time horizon's theory, and something else becomes more clear -- conspiracy theories. Liberal history rests largely material, economic explanations, which is probably most exemplified in Marxist history. As FLG has said before, this is a static analysis of each point in history rather than a continuous one that allows for change. When in point of fact most of the wealthy people today aren't, as far as FLG can tell, directly descended from the Robber Barons. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, may have come from the middle or upper-middle class, but certainly weren't super-rich. Populists, in contrast, focus on millennium long conspiracies with aliens and the pope (and let's be honest we know who is really at the bottom of all these -- the Jews). Now, these are completely nuts. But they also represent a longer term way of thinking about the world. It's poorly done, but it's not present oriented.

Anyway, almost as if Lisa was trying to prove my point, writes this at the end:
Overall, I’m not sure if [the tension between liberalism and populism] matters. So what if liberals and populists don’t think much of each other? Wilson might’ve thought Bryan was a radical rube, but it was during the Wilson administration that many of Bryan’s hardest fought battles were won (progressive income tax, prohibition, women’s suffrage, direct election of Senators, etc…). In historical terms, it matters little that the two men had reason to distrust each other. Maybe liberals and populists should give up on trying to understand each other and just settle for forming the sort of tense coalition on the Left that has marked the “three-legged stool” of the Republican tent for the last four decades.

Do you see how this is present oriented? Short-term focused? Who cares if the two parties have completely different orientations? As long as we can work on things together NOW, then we can ignore the long run differences. Spoken like the epitome of a liberal according to FLG's time horizon theory.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dear Conservatives:

The lady who called out Obama is/was a supporter, and as far as I can tell is mad at him from the Left. Now, I get any anger at Obama is good anger at Obama from the perspective of the elections, but calling attention to this lady ain't gonna get you very far.


PS. Yes, this is directed at you, Withywindle.

PPS. To the talk radio caller this afternoon who said that there are only three types of people who voted for Obama - those who don't understand America, those who hate America, and those who are insane - go fuck yourself.

FLG voted for Obama, and is none of those. FLG is sure he knows way more about your conception of real America, including the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Federalist Papers, than you do. He certainly doesn't hate America. Perhaps the jury is out on crazy, but he doesn't spit venom on national radio. So, that makes FLG saner than you, fuckwad.

FLG Calls Bullshit


FLG played A LOT of video games, and he always read. Sure, he failed out of college because of skiing and MarioKart, but he always read.

FLG Turns To Plato Again

From a City Journal article on Ben Franklin:
From the time of Montesquieu, analysts of commercial republicanism and capitalism have worried that material acquisition requires bourgeois virtues, such as thrift and self-reliance, which the affluence they produce then undermines.

Well, the basic idea goes back to Plato:
young men of the governing class [in an oligarchy], are habituated to lead a life of luxury and idleness both of body and mind; they do nothing, and are incapable of resisting either pleasure or pain.

Friday, September 24, 2010

FLG's Facade

FLG isn't as smart in real life as he probably seems to readers of this blog. Not that he knows whether he appears smart to readers of this blog, but he is certainly not as smart in real life. As he's said before, it's Wikipedia, Google, bubble gum and duct tape that hold any facade of erudition together.

In real life, he can maintain the illusion if you don't press too hard. He'll follow the old Jesuit adage of "when it doubt draw a distinction." Usually it will be in regards to some well-trodden concept (leisure versus free time/knowledge versus wisdom) and he'll appear somewhat intelligent to casual observers. But it's all an artifice.*

All that said, it only took him about a minute and a half to get the concept of a confidence interval the first time he saw it. How people could, after an hour, still be asking questions on the topic boggles his mind. Just plug the fucking numbers into the fucking formula!

* Why the artifice?, you ask. Vanity.


Mrs. Self-Important emails FLG:
I also don't know what it means to claim that the Republic is entirely about the soul--does it mean that it's not at all about politics or philosophy or justice, as everyone since its composition, including Plato's students, thought it was?

The primary question of the book is "What is Justice?" A major part of Plato/Socrates' answer is that Justice is manifested in the relationships and interactions among and between people. Most people, including Aristotle, read the book and focus on the Just City, as if the political arrangements were what would manifest Justice. FLG contends that this is a misreading of the book. Justice is manifested in in the relationships and interactions among and between people, but it truly exists in the souls of the people interacting. Therefore, the book is about how to correctly order the soul to manifest Justice in interactions with other people.

The political arrangements in the Republic wouldn't work, and Plato/Socrates admit as much. They are not meant to be taken as literal prescriptions for a republic.

The book is about justice, as explained above, philosophy, because that's the highest calling of the human soul and indeed the only way one correctly orders their soul, and politics, but largely in the ancient understanding of living in a polis rather than the more limited connotation we have now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts On Tom

Lexington writes in regards to the Tea Party's focus on the text of the founding documents:
None of this is to say that the modern state is not bloated or over-mighty. There is assuredly a case to be made for reducing its size and ambitions and giving greater responsibilities to individuals. But this is a case that needs to be made and remade from first principles in every political generation, not just by consulting a text put on paper in a bygone age.

Sure sounds a lot like ""that the earth belongs to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it."

FLG has been thinking about Jefferson a lot since he visited Monticello.   FLG has always admired the man, even if he's a hypocritical enigma. However, this last time, as FLG's mother-in-law said that she very much admired Jefferson, FLG himself couldn't help but reflect on how Jefferson's philosophy is so at odds with FLG's time horizon theory. Not just the quote above, but also a revolution every twenty years. Paine's Eternal Now. And all that.

Talk Like A Grad Student Day

Somewhere in the comments, Mrs. P suggested that FLG launch Talk-like-a-grad-student day. See as FLG has been a grad student, MBA doesn't count, he thought it best to ask GEC. Well, GEC is on some sort of stimulant fueled bender, but he did offer one suggestion. Anyway, here goes.

First, some quick, simple phrases to get you ready:
  • I don't believe you. -> What empirical support is there for your claim?
  • You're an idiot and evil. -> Your conclusion is based upon flawed normative assumptions and raises troublesome policy implications.
  • You're wrong. --> I wonder if you have considered all the possible permutations of the evidence?

BTW, you might be a grad student've ever felt "modern" was not
specific enough and changed it to "contemporary."

If you are feeling really adventurous, then pick an Ancient Greek word. Not anything special, mind you. Something mundane might be even better. Say "weaving" or "pottery." Then use it as shorthand for some sort of amorphous concept that you only half define, but is as tangentially related to the word you choose as possible.

For example, if you choose "weaving," then you'd basically use the Greek word to describe everything that binds things together. But not in the most straightforward use of the word, like glue or staples, but things like marriages, cultural institutions, maybe even manners. It can even be used to describe to link ether and the use of conjunctions in language. It doesn't matter. You just jump around from topic to topic repeating the Greek word for "weaving," as if it were self-explanatory what it means, but your using in some nebulous conceptual way that nobody will understand. Best part is that nobody's going to call you on it. Either they'll just nod stupidly or, if they think they're sophisticated, ask whether Hegel's or Heidegger's understanding of the word is most applicable to your conception.


Arethusa writes in response to my complete lack of interest in scientifically proving that the Red Sea could've parted:
If Heinrich Schliemann had had your attitude, directed in his case towards Homer, classical archaeology would never have developed and Troy and Mycenae would never have been unveiled as soon as they were.

I don't think it's a question of faith. It's a question of how much the Bible is an historical record as well as a religious one. And an answer to that question would be really useful.

I've been thinking about this. I was almost convinced. However, if one would like to determine if the Bible was an accurate historical record, then confirming other more historically relevant facts would probably be more useful. So, try to confirm that Jews were in Egypt and then left from archeological digs or whatever. Does it matter, from a historical perspective, whether they left on rafts, boats, or through a parted Red Sea? Finding Troy is different than finding a scientific explanation for a miracle.

Government Is Like The Marines: Concorde Edition

FLG routinely argues that government is like the Marines. You want something done relatively quickly, with little concern for efficiency, an it's largely a question of applying sufficient resources rather than inventing new technology, then government is your answer. Things that come to mind are disaster relief and, of course as my simile implies, defense.

The moon shot is also an interesting case. Yes, new technologies were developed, but generally speaking people, particularly German scientists, knew how to get to the moon. You build a big rocket. We already knew how to build a rocket. So, generally speaking, it was a matter of applying sufficient resources to get it all done. And we did it. National pride, got some rocks, etc, etc. Pretty soon though, we realized we basically accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We realized it was too expensive and too risky to justify continuing, but we still wanted to go to space and people relied on the program for jobs. And so we had plans for a shuttle.

But before FLG gets to the shuttle, he'd like to talk about Concorde. He was just watching a special on its development while on the treadmill. Much like the moon shot, the idea of a supersonic passenger jet wasn't so much new technology, we already had supersonic fighter jets, but a matter of scale. A question of applying sufficient resources to the problem. And so, the governments of Britain and France stepped up. It was supposed to cost $200 million, but ended up costing $2 billion to develop, but they got it created. And like the moon shot, it was a point of national pride and also a jobs program. Problem was, the program didn't make economic sense. Boeing designed a competitor, but realized the numbers didn't add up. They'd sunk a bunch of money into it, but knew to cut the losses and ended up making the 747, a much more economically successful airplane.

This isn't to say that the aircraft wasn't ahead of its time. It was. And, like the moon shot, this application of resources, even if it was inefficient, did break new ground. The problem was, unlike the moon shot, the goal of Concorde was to become an ongoing business concern. It wasn't a program with a fixed goal and a relatively short time horizon. National pride and jobs got tied up, and the two governments wasted a ton of money keeping the damn program going.

This brings me to the space shuttle. It's more akin to the Concorde than the moon shot. It was intended to provide on-going space service over a long period of time. There was no fixed goal to accomplish. It never really generated the cost savings that were expected. (The accidents, while tragic, are part of the inherent danger of space travel, and not something I'd blame on the shuttle program itself.) But jobs and national pride were involved, and so the program continued.

FLG is little Johnny Space Geek and even attended Space Camp - Twice. So, he's actually sympathetic to the entire space program. However, he just wanted to illustrate his point about the government being like the Marines. Give them a difficult, but clear and achievable goal that requires lots of resources and they can do it. Task them with providing an economically viable product or service over the long run, don't expect too much.


Dean Baker, with whom FLG almost always disagrees but does so with knowledge that Mr. Baker understands the underlying economics, gets a little crazy today:
The Washington Post told readers that President Obama's health care plan leaves drug prices to the market. This is not true.The plan leaves in place government issued patent monopolies that raise prices by many times above their competitive market price.

Fair enough point, FLG guesses. But this is one of those places where pretty much everybody agrees that the market price would be too low to support innovation. Those who innovate need to recoup their investment and make a profit. Consequently, you issue them a monopoly for a limited time through a patent. Not exactly bleeding edge economic theory. It's pretty much common sense. The Founders, for example, wrote this power into the Constitution. It's right there in Section 8, which gives congress the power:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

FLG isn't exactly sure what Baker's point is. Because the government issues patents it interferes with the market? Okay. So, in for an penny, in for a pound? Go ahead and set prices?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What FLG Is Learning

Apparently, marketing managers will do an extensive academic literature review to determine, and FLG quotes, "frequency of sexual activity was higher on weekends than weekdays and typically occurred at night."  

FLG feels stupider just reading this.


MSI writes:
Well, but we already have at least four books modeled on or inspired by the Republic (not to mention all the scifi lit)--Cicero's De Republica, the City of God, Utopia, and Emile. And Aristotle wrote dialogues, though these are lost. Clearly those must have taken a great deal from Plato. Why not skip the derivatives and deal only with the original unless either each derivative is doing something different with the template or you have an interest in historical shifts in the rhetorical presentation of the same ideas?

It's still not yet clear to me what the similarity between Plato and Rousseau was that is distinct from things discussed by other philosophers: human being vs citizen? The best education? The best city? The place of philosophy? All of these things have been discussed by nearly every great thinker and all of them have recognized the tension between the political and the philosophical. It's not even clear to me that Plato and Rousseau agreed on the answers--Plato saw much more hope I think for philosophy to remain within the city even if it would never be harmonious with the city's ends and always pose a serious potential threat. Rousseau saw society as subsuming the politics of the city, celebrating a degraded kind of philosophy, and rendering it less habitable for true philosophy (whatever that is, but presumably whatever Rousseau thought he was doing). The education of Emile creates neither a man for politics nor a man for society, and only very contingently a man for himself. Politics in Rousseau is a mostly lost cause--a preserve of idealistic fools and conniving tyrants (unless you think the Social Contract is intended as a sincere template for political life). In Plato, it's not the highest life, but neither is it the worst, since there remains a possibility for practical wisdom in politics even where perfect philosophical justice can't be instantiated.

First, I'm not saying that any book that is based upon the Republic is the same as the Republic. Or that they have nothing to offer. My point is that they don't truly understand the Republic. FLG'll let Allan Bloom, a real Straussian, defend the pairing:
Finally, in terms of my own experience of these last twenty-five years, after the Republic I translated Rousseau's Emile, the greatest modem book on education. Rousseau was one of the great readers of Plato, and from my time on that work I gained an even greater respect for the Republic. Emile is its natural companion, and Rousseau proved his greatness by entering the lists in worthy combat with it. He shows that Plato articulated first and best all the problems, and he himself differs only with respect to some of
the solutions. If one takes the two books together, one has the basic training necessary for the educational wars.

This is more than Emile is a derivative work. Bloom doesn't go as far as FLG as to say that Rousseau is Plato and the books are the same, but he does call Rousseau one of the greatest readers of Plato.

Moreover, FLG's point is that the Republic is about the soul. Unlike the other works you mention, Emile recognizes that. It's not the creation of some Republic or Utopia in Speech. It's the formation of the soul. Soulcraft as statecraft, if you will.

Second, and a rather minor point in the whole thing you argue above, but FLG associates practical wisdom in politics most with Aristotle, not Plato. Are you sure that you're not conflating them?

PS.  In reality, I've never read either of these books.  I'm gleaning all this shit from Wikipedia and Google.

There Are Days today, when FLG contemplates the possibility of becoming a Republican think tank shill and riding the conservative money train all the way to the bank.

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: The dog threw up all over her bed today.

FLG: She's been eating grass and then throwing up outside. Didn't the adoption agency say something about that?

Mrs. FLG: It might be on the sheet they gave us. It's on the fridge.

FLG goes to the kitchen and returns.

FLG: Says feed them pumpkin to help with upset stomach. Didn't you just buy like four cans of pumpkin?

Mrs. FLG: Yes, because there's a pumpkin shortage.

FLG: Pumpkin shortage? Okay, but you have four cans.

Mrs. FLG: I bought four cans because there's a shortage.

FLG: And thus exacerbating the shortage. Anyway, we only need to use one.

Mrs. FLG: If it will make her feel better, but only one. There's a shortage.

FLG: What are you going to use them for anyway?

Mrs. FLG: Pies, bread, whatever.

FLG: Four cans? We can always get more.

Mrs. FLG: You're not understanding. Short-age.

Why Not Spoons?

Matt Yglesias writes in defense of inefficient stimulus:
This highlights one of the main problematic aspects of fiscal stimulus in general. When the economy is functioning healthily, you increase prosperity by finding more labor-efficient ways of doing things. Voicemail, cell phones, and email mean you don’t need as much administrative support staff to run an organization so the people formerly employed filling out little message cards go do something else with their time and overall production increases. But when your problem is an economy wracked by idleness and excess capacity and you’re trying to put people to work, this logic is turned on its head. The correct way to dig the foundation for a new building is to use a lot of machines. But if you’re merely trying to maximize employment to stabilize the economy, it’d be better to just rely on a huge number of guys with shovels.

Why not spoons?

Again, returning to long-term versus short-term time horizons, it makes almost no long run economic sense to go into debt to pay people to do things that are so inefficient.

And FLG wonders, if you keep worrying simply about current employment to the extent that efficiency becomes irrelevant, then wouldn't this impact the stimulus multiplier? If so, then doesn't that undermine the entire case for stimulus?

FLG guess there could be a high marginal propensity to consume among the people whom you are employing to dig with spoons, and so their spending may increase the multiplier, but would it be bigger than efficiency loss of digging with spoons instead of bulldozers? FLG seriously doubts it.

All told, FLG thinks Matt's short time horizon makes almost no longer term sense.

File This In The FLG Doesn't Understand Who Cares Folder

New computer simulations have shown how the parting of the Red Sea, as described in the Bible, could have been a phenomenon caused by strong winds.

Okay, so strong winds could've caused it. And God could've caused the strong winds. Where are we now?

FLG doesn't understand the point of scientifically investigating whether things in the Bible could have occurred or not. Either you have faith, which makes science irrelevant, or you don't, which means science can't prove the important points of the Bible anyway.

It reminds me of Phaedrus. Socrates says:
I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about the locality; according to another version of the story she was taken from Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has once begun, he must go on and rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged steeds flow in apace, and numberless other inconceivable and portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up a great deal of time. Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. And therefore I bid farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me.

Quote of the day II

400 grand? To get JWoww out of her clothes? What does a bottle of Patron cost, like, 40 dollars? I think Playboy is over thinking this. Give me 50 dollars, I’ll get your naked pictures, a blowjob, and 10 dollars change.

Quote of the day

“People have this image of librarians as though we’re not like regular people, but we really are,” said Caroline Parr, the Youth Services coordinator at the Rappahannock Regional Library. “We don’t usually dance on the tables, but after hours, who really knows?”

Time Horizons: Philosopher Edition

Matt Yglesias links to a book by one of his former professors. FLG, interested, researches further. Discovers this passage on Wikipedia:
his views on the efficacy of organizations such as UNICEF and OXFAM are notable for their duality: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organizations provide while on the other hand he points out the long-term futility of such intervention. His focus is, instead, on the long-term political and economic development of nations according to the Western capitalist/ democratic model, an approach that relies on continued growth in the “marketplace” that is the capital-driven modern world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FLG's Is Confused

FLG's contention is:
Plato's Republic and Rousseau's Emile are the same book, but told from different vantage points.

Then Withywindle starts in with charges of Straussianism, which MSI seconds:
I agree with the charge of extreme straussianism here--philosophizing as activity always generates the same ideas, all great books say the same thing, etc. So why ever read more than one? To learn historical minutia about the various milieus of European society?

Uh, people. I said the two books are the same, but from different perspectives. And I did say that Rousseau might as well be Plato popped into the French enlightenment. I'm not quite sure how this went to ALL philosophers are the same and ALL their books are the same. I believe there's a fallacy of composition occurring here.

More On Plato And Rousseau

Since MSI and The Ancient questioned FLG's assertion that Rousseau is basically Plato plopped into the French Enlightenment, FLG feels that he must articulate this indisputable truth more thoroughly.

First, let's address Rousseau's self-description as a Citizen of Geneva. FLG doesn't think he means Geneva. Yes, he was a citizen of Geneva before being banished. But his Dedication to the Republic of Geneva, while nominally to the people of the real Geneva, isn't about the actual Geneva, but instead more along the lines of Plato's Just City. It's a place only partially realized in the world of becoming and which Rousseau articulates as Geneva, the Just City lost to him. Consequently, when he writes Citizen of Geneva, he is stating a fact, his having been born in Geneva, but the more important meaning is that his soul is well-ordered and therefore he is a citizen of the Just City wherever he goes, and the name he gives to that city is Geneva.

Second, Rousseau, like Plato's Socrates, unable to live in the Just City which in point of fact is pretty much impossible, chose to live in a city not dissimilar from the role of Athens in its time - Paris.

Third, Rousseau, like Plato, was concerned with the Good above and beyond what is practical. In the preface to Emile he writes:
Propose what is feasible, they repeatedly tell me. It is as if I were being told to propose what people are doing already, or at least to propose some good which mixes well with the existing wrongs. Such a project is in certain ways much more unrealistic than my own, for in that mix the good is spoiled and the bad is not improved. I would rather follow exactly the established method than adopt a better method halfway. There would be fewer contradictions in man, for man cannot aim at the same time at two opposite goals. Fathers and mothers, what is feasible is what you are willing to do. Must I answer for your will?

In any kind of project, there are two things to consider: first, the absolute goodness of the project; second, the facility of its execution.

This is very different from the Aristotelian conception of focusing on Nature and Moderation.

Lastly, and most importantly, let's get to Republic and Emile. From Book One:
From these necessarily opposite aims come two contrary forms of education -- one is public and common, the other individual and domestic.

Do you wish to get an idea of public education? Read Plato's Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.

When people wish to go back to a land of fantasies they cite Plato's institutions. But had Lycurgus put forth his system only in writing, I would have found it to be far more impracticable than Plato's. Plato sought only to purify man's heart, whereas Lycurgus denatured it.

Public institutions do not and cannot exist, for where there is no longer a homeland there can no longer be citizens. These two words, homeland and citizen, ought to be erased from modern languages. I know very well the reason for this but I do not want to discuss it here; it has nothing to do with my subject.

Let's take these in order. There's public education and domestic education. Straightforward so far.

Plato's Republic is a book on education. Politics? Not so much.

The institutions articulated by Plato are a way to go back to the land of fantasies, which FLG takes to mean they are largely fantasies themselves. Again, as FLG says over and over, Plato's Republic is about the soul. The rest is just allegory. Indeed, Rousseau puts it much better when he writes "Plato sought only to purify man's heart." His soul, therefore, was the primary focus. And likewise for Rousseau with Emile.

Now, Rousseau's thoughts about public institutions is key for FLG. Basically, you've got Plato let's create a Just City in Speech to explain how a soul can be rightly-ordered. Rousseau, tossed out of Geneva, his Just City, and likewise lamenting the fall of Rome and Sparta, says "Here's how to rightly order a soul even if the society around the person lacks virtue." But here's the thing, neither can actually work in practice. You cannot reorder a city of existing, unjust men into a Just City. Nor can you raised a Just Man in an unjust city. Both Plato's and Rousseau's approach is to articulate what would be required to do so, and in both case one must come away with the conclusion that it cannot be done. Then, if it cannot be done, then what do they mean? What they mean is what FLG has said.

Ah, "But FLG," you say. "Many, many people have taken these men literally." "Imbeciles!," FLG replies. "Look where taking these two men literally got those people."

Aristotle you can read literally. He means what he says. He generally uses anecdote where Plato used metaphor and allegory. Just as we are not literally in a cave looking at shadows, nor could a Just City be created, as Socrates admits in the dialogue.

Plato knew this was a problem. See Phaedrus:
I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "FLG, he's talking about all writing. Aristotle's writing is just as open to maltreatment and abuse as Plato's." Perhaps, but perhaps not. Again, Plato was trying to articulate a world ordered toward the Good that is only accessible through Reason. Aristotle was concerned about Nature. Nature that could be observed, measured, quantified, and collected. That's less open to misinterpretation, but perhaps less True as well.

Well, FLG probably hasn't swayed any minds and he doesn't have time to write a academic paper with footnotes. So, this is all he's got right now.

PS. If any of you are interested about this Republic as being about the soul only theory, then you really need to go read Book IX. If you read it assuming that the State is merely an allegory and the real, true focus is on the soul, then reading about the tyrant's soul should illuminate it. Seriously, set aside the intricacies of the guardians and their educations and philosopher-kings, and just assume the entire thing is about the soul, hold your reservations until the end, and read Book IX.

Monday, September 20, 2010

FLG's Irrational Fear

FLG has an irrational fear of snakes slithering out of the toilet. This didn't make him feel any better.

From The Comments

This was in the comments, but FLG is going to pop it onto the main page in case any of you are interested:

Miss Self-Important said...
I agree that Rousseau is, taken by himself, an interesting and complex contrast to some of the doctrines of Enlightenment enthusiasts like Condorcet, though I'm not sure why you think he's Platonic.

Also, given the negative contemporary connotations of "intellectual," I think it's only a moniker that is actively sought and appropriated by blowhards.

FLG said...
A bunch of've read Emile and the Republic. They're basically the same book, but in reverse. Plato deals with the City. Rousseau the individual.

There's an bunch of stuff in the first discourse too. I can't remember it all off hand, but he says Peter the Great was merely a great imitator, which seems like something Plato would say. Moreover, there's also a veneration of Sparta running throughout the entire discourse that is very Platonic in nature.

Dear Flavia:

Did you see this?


Orwell's Rules

FLG was thinking today about Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." His rules for writing are so simple:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. 
There's this example in the essay that always strikes FLG:
Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

Most of the time FLG figures muddled writing is the result of muddled thinking, but purposefully muddled writing to hide lucid thinking is always a possibility.

On FLG's Non-Intellectualness

FLG gets labeled an intellectual from time to time. He tries to shun this label. Not that it's bad, but because he doesn't feel that it fits. Now, FLG did just post an excerpt from Adam Ferguson, which means he 1) had to have read Adam Ferguson, 2) read somebody who read Adam Ferguson, or 3) spends too much time on Wikipedia.

But he didn't offer any analysis of the passage. Most of the time he doesn't. He simply throws passages up there and let's you figure out what it means. Often he has no idea what they mean, and they probably don't support the point he is trying to make anyway.

Contrast this to super-brainiac intellectual, Mrs. Self-Important:
Some contemporary historians [and FLG], finding Dwight's style too inflammatory and his politics too reactionary for their tastes, have dismissed his argument against infidelity as mere Federalist opportunism, or as evidence of a fundamentalist impulse to turn New England into a Puritan theocracy. But Dwight’s sermons are a testament to the winding complexity and—-to modern eyes-—contradiction of Calvinist theological and political commitments in the early republic, which could not be classified either on the left or the right, even after their opposition to the French Revolution. Dwight’s sermons draw on a distinctly Calvinist logic of opposition the Revolution--one that is forward-looking, reformist, and ultimately millenarian--and illuminate the distance between European reaction to the Revolution, and the strangely un-reactionary resistance of American Puritans.

Well. Enough of that.

But I did want to address a point raised by MSI in that post:
I know that everyone and his brother will jump down my throat now to insist that the French Revolution was not Rousseau's fault, and Rousseau would even have condemned it and if only people had read Rousseau more carefully and reflected on it better and blah blah... I agree that all this is true and good, except that it hardly stopped anyone from misreading Rousseau and cutting off heads.

FLG submits that the best way to understand Rousseau is to think of him as Plato plopped down into France during the Enlightenment. He believes he's suggested this before. (Again, notice without any real argument for why. Just throwing shit out there all unintellectual-like.)

What's interesting to FLG, again he's just dumping shit out to the ethers, is the parallel between the misinterpretation of Rousseau and part of how MSI describes her hatred for Plato's Republic:
I think in part it has to do with my failure to understand what the Republic contributed to our political tradition since no subsequent political thinkers were able to agree on its meaning, and some of the most important ones, when they gloss Plato in their own work, do so in such unsubtle and unsophisticated ways that it sounds like excerpts of undergrad papers. B. Franky, for example, took from Plato the idea that eristic is an excellent form of argumentation, then later, when he realized that it made him no friends, concluded that metaphysics was too indeterminate to worry about at all. As far as Greek philosophers go, Aristotle's imprint on Western political thought is much clearer.

FLG just hopes that MSI doesn't all of a sudden "get" Plato and start lopping off heads. And this fear, unlike Dwight's paranoia, isn't too off-base. There's this picture of MSI at age 2 or something holding up massive sticks trying to conquer the world.

Quote of the day

Yesterday's Tom Friedman column, one in a continuing series on the super-awesomeness of China, reminded me of this passage by Adam Ferguson:
When we suppose government to have bestowed a degree of tranquillity, which we sometimes hope to reap from it, as the best of its fruits, and public affairs to proceed, in the several departments of legislation and execution, with the least possible interruption to commerce and lucrative arts; such a state, like that of China, by throwing affairs into separate offices, where conduct consists in detail, and in the observance of forms, by superseding all the exertions of a great or a liberal mind, is more akin to despotism than we are apt to imagine.

Whether oppression, injustice, and cruelty, are the only evils which attend on despotical government, may be considered apart. In the mean time it is sufficient to observe, that liberty is never in greater danger than it is when we measure national felicity by the blessings which a prince may bestow, or by the mere tranquillity which may attend on equitable administration. The sovereign may dazzle with his heroic qualities; he may protect his subjects in the enjoyment of every animal advantage or pleasure: but the benefits arising from liberty are of a different sort; they are not the fruits of a virtue, and of a goodness, which operate in the breast of one man, but the communication of virtue itself to many; and such a distribution of functions in civil society, as gives to numbers the exercises and occupations which pertain to their nature.

The best constitutions of government are attended with inconvenience; and the exercise of liberty may, on many occasions, give rise to complaints. When we are intent on reforming abuses, the abuses of freedom may lead us to incroach on the subject from which they are supposed to arise. Despotism itself has certain advantages, or at least, in time of civility and moderation, may proceed with so little offence, as to give no public alarm. These circumstances may lead mankind, in the very spirit of reformation, or by mere inattention, to apply or to admit of dangerous innovations in the state of their policy.

That's from 1767, mind you. FLG really needs to study the Scottish Enlightenment further.

Accuracy Versus Validity

FLG heard an interview with an author not too long ago, and he made a point about accuracy versus validity. To oversimplify -- there's a fundamental tension between making a test repeatable, objective, and accurate versus it testing what we want it to.

The author provided IQ tests as a prime example. They are repeatable, objective, and accurate in that your IQ doesn't change all that much over your lifetime. However, it's not a particularly useful predictor of your future.

To make a valid test it often needs to be subjectively graded and less repeatable. FLG couldn't help but think of that interview when he read this article with recommendations for changing standardized testing in schools.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shame On FLG

...for not mentioning earlier that today is talk like a pirate day.

He wanted to have something up over at Patum Peperium, but he never got around to it. So, here's last year's post instead.


FLG has been trying to stay away from the whole Christine O'Donnell fiasco. She's an idiot.

Surprised she dabbled in withccraft? Why? She's an idiot.

Surprised that she wouldn't like to the Nazis to protect Anne Frank hiding upstairs? Why? She's an idiot with idiotic moral reasoning.

Surprised about whatever comes next? Why? She's an idiot.

Many on the right are quick to say that there is a double standard. For example, Joe Biden is also an idiot. Okay. Joe Biden is an idiot. BUT, and this is a big fucking BUT, why does the Republican have to nominate idiots?

Here's a fucking crazy idea. Let's, while most of the voting public seems to be pissed at the Democrats, nominate competent, sane people of at least mediocre intelligence. Is that too fucking much to ask for? Look, they don't even have to be great candidates. Just plain vanilla, non-idiotic ones.

If China's So Great, Then Why Don't You Move There?

Tom Friedman springs wood for China again today, but does anybody besides FLG see this point, which is supposed to be a major tally in China's favor, as anything but:
“There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.”

First, as FLG has been arguing for years, engineers are largely incapable of dealing with the vagaries of political life. Perhaps they work well within a system that seems stable, like communism, but inevitably they're going to mismanage themselves into a disaster. FLG doesn't like the types of solutions engineers and scientists would come up with to deal with a political disaster. Conversely, there's a reason lawyers are mostly in charge democracies. Sure, they suck, but they thrive in the gray areas, which is just what a democracy needs.

Second, the entire point of science is to question hypotheses and by extension data. So, not only are they engineers and scientists, but apparently bad ones at that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quote of the day

Maximum Leader:
If 50 Muslims somewhere in rural Wahziristan decided to burn Bibles, wrapped in American Flags while throwing apple pies off a cliff; your Maximum Leader would hardly think it was newsworthy. Furthermore he would not assume that those 50 Muslims were speaking on behalf of a billion Muslims around the world. Call him crazy (He’s crazy!) but he doesn’t think that way.

Timmy Dwight And The Romish Hierarchy

Mrs. Self-Important does, like, actual research and demonstrates her superior intellect contra FLG's claim that Timothy Dwight was a paranoid nutjob.

Got Some Splainin' To Do

Withywindle vociferously objects to the Phoenix/Affleck stunt that FLG called awesome.

Withy writes:
This whole Andy Kaufmann schtick, lets do strange and horrible things, and make believe they're real, is part of it. Sacha Cohen and his Borat stuff. I think it first really struck me when I read about some Amherst students who removed all the silverware from the dining hall and said it was art. I think it was then that I first thought: "You should be beaten up, and we should call that art too. And you should keep on getting beaten up until you stop doing it."

First, in defense of Andy Kaufman, I still find that Mighty Mouse sketch fucking hilarious upon the 3 millionth viewing. And I still don't know exactly what to make of this or intergender wrestling, but I do find them funny as shit. Second, I find Borat totally offensive.

How do I reconcile these two positions? Simple. Andy Kaufman's jokes, if you'll permit me the use of that word, were at the expense of actors and the media. The Borat jokes are at the expense of ordinary people.

The silverware from the dining hall cannot be called art by anybody with a brain because it's just stupid and, again, at the expense of ordinary people. Now, if they'd arranged to steal the silverware from a state dinner, then we might be talking about art. Mostly because it would be at the expense of somebody powerful, hard to accomplish, and funny as shit. At least to FLG.

Sorry, forgot to explain the important part. I feel that the Phoenix/Affleck prank was on the media and celebrity propaganda machine, which I abhor. So, I find the whole idea very funny. Plus, there was a high level of commitment and risk involved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dear Mrs. Self-Important:

Withywindle says:
Post on your blog!

If you do, then might I suggest you finally post on Timothy Dwight already.

All the best with the newly-wedded bliss, autumn classes, etc.


Hellenistic Kevlar

Via Robbo, FLG learns of this awesomeness:
A Kevlar-like armor might have helped Alexander the Great...

The Idea Of A University

Dance objects to this piece by Roger Scruton on The University these days. Scruton compares our current educational institutions to Newman's ideal and finds the former wanting. Dance focused on this passage in particular:
The middle-class father, preparing to meet tuition fees of $40,000 or more, and board and lodging on top of that, will naturally dwell on all the ways in which this represents a good investment. But when his daughter emerges three or four years later with a degree in Women’s Studies, the main outward sign of which is a well-honed grievance against men in general and the last one in particular, he is likely to question the wisdom of throwing away a third of a million dollars on such an outcome. Finding that his daughter’s ignorance of the classics is as great on leaving university as it was on entering it, that she has graduated from her teenage pop idols only to immerse herself in more “advanced” forms of rock and heavy metal, and that her attitude to career, marriage, childbearing, and all the other things that he had hoped for her is entirely negative, such a father is sure to regret the use of his money

Now, FLG has a bunch of problems here. First, as was indicated in a post earlier today, a middle-class father is pretty fucking unlikely to be disappointed that his daughter is ignorant of the classics. The most likely objection to his daughter's decision to major in Women's Studies would be, "What kind of job are you going to get with that?" Not "you'll never read Aeschylus!" Second, as somebody who was in school relatively recently, the idea that the faculty is a bunch of commie brain-washers licking their chops at the next crop of impressionable undergraduates is, well, fucking crazy talk. This isn't to say that there aren't crazy ideologues, nor argue that most professors are on the Left. There are and they are. But the vast, vast majority are into free and open inquiry. Sure, they probably recognize the flaws in a conservative argument faster than with ones they agree (and FLG has mentioned he believes this hurt his grades slightly but Miss Self-Important never saw that at all so take that all for what it is, FLG's opinion), but these aren't intellectual gypsies trying to take your children away.

So, to stop rambling, FLG agrees that there is a slight basis for the conservative critiques, but the arguments they put forth are closer to hyperbole than reality. FLG's attended three different colleges and only once has he encountered out and out bias. And the primary example he can name pretty much everybody knows is off his rocker.


FLG is a bit off, but finds this whole thing awesome:
“It’s a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career,” Mr. Affleck said. He was speaking of Mr. Phoenix’s two-year portrayal of himself — on screen and off — as a bearded, drug-addled aspiring rap star, who, as Mr. Affleck tells it, put his professional life on the line to star in a bit of “gonzo filmmaking” modeled on the reality-bending journalism of Hunter S. Thompson.


a wily subterfuge


Ambition And Education

Dr. Deneen writes:
Today, the greatest source of motivation – at least that which I see in young students who are, indeed, motivated – comes from the same get-rich-quick assumptions as their parents, which comes from all of the above-named sources but one. Friedman equates “curiosity” and “ambition,” but I would submit that long before our young are able to develop a healthy sense of curiosity – that “wonder” from which the human impulse to know and discover arises, according to Aristotle – adults of “the Greatest Generation” make sure that the primary motivation is “ambition,” but only insofar as one’s efforts are undertaken in order to ensure outsized rewards in return for the markers of achievement (i.e., credentialing). Our motivation is to be “Number One” so that we can continue to have prosperity bought on the cheap. However – as we are rapidly discovering – this is not a long-term business plan.

Nobody, including Dr. Deneen, will be surprised to learn that FLG agrees with much of the sentiment, but does have some disagreements with a few points.

FLG totally agrees that the students Dr. Deneen interacts with at Georgetown are largely motivated by ambition toward achieving measurable and quantifiable goals (degree from Georgetown, lots of money, perhaps a Senate seat, etc) and he does believe the Greatest Generation was the one that started all this. They in turn passed it onto the Boomers, who in turn passed it onto Generation X and the Millenials.

Here's the thing. The Greatest Generation, through the G.I. Bill, was the start of the massification of higher education. Prior to this, and FLG is drawing a lot on the portrayal in This Side of Paradise, which is at Princeton and fiction but nevertheless broadly holds, that college was far more limited to the upper crust. People who were already credentialed by virtue of their last names.

Perhaps FLG's point is best described thusly: The Greatest Generation was the first to experience democratized higher education. Unlike its previous and more aristocratic nature, the democratized university was going to be about getting ahead. About the practical over the intellectual.

Tocqueville said as much:
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.

All who aspire to literary excellence in democratic nations ought frequently to refresh themselves at the springs of ancient literature; there is no more wholesome medicine for the mind. Not that I hold the literary productions of the ancients to be irreproachable, but I think that they have some special merits, admirably calculated to counterbalance our peculiar defects. They are a prop on the side on which we are in most danger of falling.

Now, one could be curious about the scientific, commercial, and industrial. Individuals can really study and learn the intricacies of the field, but by and large people simply want practical knowledge that they can put to immediate use for their own profit. FLG laments this, but it appears unavoidable in a democratic society.

Quote of the day

Paper Bullets:
Plato, you are clearly brilliant, but you give me a headache. So there.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Title

Resolved: If FLG ever writes a book, regardless of the topic, then it will be entitled Fucking.


Via Tyler Cowen, FLG learns of a paper from Cato arguing that financial market clearinghouses are inefficient. FLG, like Tyler, doesn't find the argument all that compelling. Indeed, FLG believes that managing leverage is really the only game in town when it comes to real financial reform. Consequently, FLG, again agreeing with Tyler, sees only one serious problem:
I would think the main argument against mandated clearinghouses for CDS is simply the hair-trigger, discrete, non-smooth nature of default-linked payoffs, and whether any centralized intermediary has the predictive power to handle that and to demand sufficient collateral.

To translate what Tyler is saying into English:
Most of the time a clearinghouse will run smoothly, but when the shit hits the fan it happens fast and all at once. Therefore, it will be difficult for them to figure how much collateral they need to require from traders to have enough money when the shit does hit the fan.

Quote of the day II

this case means dozens of people at LAX let someone get on a commercial flight to New York City, two days after the anniversary of 9/11, wearing handcuffs, chains and a wig to disguise her looks.

Thoughtless Dogmatic Adherence

FLG has an SSH server at his house. He's mention this before. Anyway, he read this page, SSH Password Authentication: Threats and Countermeasures with much interest because, well, he doesn't want his ssh server hacked. He was extremely disappointed with this paragraph:
The default TCP port used by SSH is 22. It is understandable therefore that practically all anonymous SSH brute force attempts are only targeting TCP port 22. While we do not generally consider running the service on an alternative port a reliable measure to enhance SSH password authentication security long-term, it can offer some limited protection. We consider this a short term hack and ideally a site with a sound security posture would not need to change this option.

Read that again, if you need to. Practically all anonymous SSH brute force attempts are only targeting TCP port 22, BUT they don't consider running SSH on another port a reliable measure of protection. This, put simply, is fucking poppycock.

FLG is pretty sure he knows what happened. A bunch of long-haired, fat fucks got together in a room with a case of Mounatin Dew. After somebody mentioned he didn't see any attempts on the server he is running on some port other than 22, another guy who looks and sounds like the Comic Book Store guy from The Simpsons said, "That's security through obscurity, which is no security at all." Most of the time, that's true, but it's wrong here.

Yes, it is security through obscurity. And if somebody is deliberately trying to target my server, then moving SSH to another port would delay them precisely the amount of time it takes to run an Nmap scan. But these brute force attacks aren't directed at me specifically. So, I'm safe.

Now, these brute force people could easily write a script that runs a port scan, looks for SSH running on another port, and then tries to brute force. But that takes time. Time that is precious. There are a gazillion devices on the Internet. Scanning everyone of them because some people may have moved SSH to another port just doesn't hold when doing a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis.

If you aren't protecting 30 billion in gold, then you don't need to worry that you don't have Ft. Knox. You just have to be more secure than the house next door. In this case, switching to another port does that.

This isn't to say that FLG didn't take other precautions. He has a strong password, has limited access to SSH so that it can only be done from his work, and a variety of other things. But to tell you the truth, switching to another port is all that was needed to stop ALL the brute force attacks on his machine. He's checked the logs and has never seen a single one since he moved from port 22.

FLG really wishes people would think instead of just repeating mindless tropes.

Differing Time Horizons, But Similar Values

Via ED Kain, FLG finds this post by Scott Sumner in which he describes a new index of good governance that he devised. Apparently, smaller countries have an easier time of it.

So, first to the time horizons. Scott, who describes himself as "a right-wing liberal," "thinks incentives matter more than progressives believe they do." Which put simply means he's more concerned about the long-term, or alternatively and conversely progressives have a higher discount rate. Again, FLG has worn this ground pretty smooth by now.

Scott then continues:
So why has the US been so successful? Because good governance isn’t everything; it turns out small government also helps a lot. The early studies of the supply-side effects of high taxes (Lindsey, Feldstein, etc) showed the effect was powerful. Revisionist studies by Slemrod, Saez, Goolsbee, etc, suggested the effects were rather small. But I didn’t find the methodology of either group of studies to be at all convincing, as they measure immediate effects, whereas the important effects probably occur very gradually.

Again, Scott's saying he cares about the long-term and the studies only looked at the short run. Fine. That's all pretty clear. But then there's this:
In my view the left/right debate is this country is so vicious because we are debating second best policies in a policy-making regime that is profoundly dysfunctional. Thus Matt Yglesias and I probably disagree strongly about extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but we both favor a simple progressive consumption tax as the ideal. I see these small countries with good governance as models that point the way forward, past our stale ideological debates. The question is whether we will pay attention to the lessons they are providing.

So, up until this point, everything made sense. The more conservative person was more concerned about the long-term; the people on the left primarily concerned about the present. You know, basically aligning with my theory that a person's discount rate is the primary determinant of their political positions. But then Scott is saying he and Matt Yglesias disagree on most things, but only the second best alternatives. This posed a quandary. How could this be?

Well, first of all, the reason FLG reads Matt is because he does apply economic thinking. Yes, he values the present more than the future, but that's what makes him a progressive. But if it isn't differing time horizons, then what is it that these two men agree upon? And viola. There it was. They both agree on a primary goal that is materialistic, in the philosophical sense, not the colloquial meaning. That the most important thing is to maximize material well-being. Or more to the point, that the goal of public policy ought to be to maximize material well-being. For Yglesias, the progressive who is primarily concerned about the present, maximization of well-being often means redistribution. For Sumner, the right-wing liberal, that means maximization of economic growth over the long-term. But both ultimately agree on that fundamental point. Indeed, most of us, in this post-enlightenment, scientific, and very materialistic age, do agree on that fundamental point.

So, there's a point of agreement. However, FLG still thinks that their differing discount rates will cause all sorts of problems when it comes to any variety of different policies. There's no post-ideological age of good governance on the horizon.

UPDATE: I wanted to highlight this part from Sumner's post, but forgot:
A. What values should government policies embody?

B. What policies effectively deliver those values?

C. When there is a dispute about which policies work best, how should the dispute be resolved?

The first question is moral, and the answer I give is “utilitarianism.” Unlike 99% of people in the humanities, I regard utilitarianism as a radically egalitarian value system—where people put the best interest of society ahead of their own narrow self-interest. The second question is scientific, and my answer is ‘economistic’ policies, those that are implemented by people cognizant of the (counter-intuitive) way taxes and regulations often distort decision-making. The sort of fiscal regime you get if 100 Martin Feldsteins sat down and designed a country on a pad of paper. In other words—Singapore. The third question is political, and my answer is democracy. And I don’t mean just having elections; I mean a system where the people actually govern. Where every school is a separate school district. Where taxes must be approved by referenda. Where every decision is made at the lowest feasible level of government.

I believe the utilitarianism Sumner proposed is largely materialistic in nature because it makes it more easily quantifiable. Or perhaps because it is easily quantifiable, he leans toward utilitarianism. Doesn't matter really matter though. Most of us probably do base our preferred government policy on material factors.

Quote of the day

Jimmy Carter:
DURING my recent travels to North Korea and China, I received clear, strong signals that Pyongyang wants to restart negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty with the United States and South Korea and on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

He's an astonishingly dumb man for a person with a degree in nuclear engineering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Platonic Business

So, FLG is reading about "customer value proposition" and one thing has become tremendously clear -- lots of academic business literature is written by people who didn't read Plato. They've built these complicated systematic approaches, but if you want to find out what is meaningful to people, then you must start with their relations with other people. Once you figure out how your product is involved with the interactions between people, then you are onto something.

Indeed, customer relationships are supposedly the key in marketing. Funny thing is relationships are pretty much key in life. Man is, by nature, a political animal. Yes, yes, FLG knows that's Aristotle. But there's a reason that Plato started with the Just City in his attempt to articulate Justice. It allowed him to examine the relationships between people, which is where you should start in marketing as well.

Shit. FLG might just have to write a book on Platonic Business Strategy. He's seen worse and these people really need some help.

Biblical Marriage

FLG has a lot of problems with this post over at DoubleX, most of which will be ignored, but this claim seems questionable:
Marriage in the Bible was almost always polygamous.

Abraham, Jacob, David, and, from skimming Genesis quickly FLG got, Lamech, but is that "almost always?" Maybe there are a bunch more and FLG is just ignorant of his Bible. Nevertheless, mere counting of polygamous couples ignores a key aspect of all this. Aren't Adam and Eve the most important union/marriage/whatever they were of the entire Western tradition? And if you believe it literally the world?

Time Horizons: Health Care Smackdown

FLG keeps telling you (maybe he's boring the shit out of you on this topic but it's his fucking blog and he'll cry if he wants to, cry if he wants to...) that if you read with an eye toward time horizons everything becomes much, much clearer.

Anyway, Avik Roy takes on Matt Steinglass, whose time horizon is all of about five seconds and whose analysis is consequently dreadful:
very few observers on either the Right or the Left would agree with Steinglass' outlandish assertion that Obamacare "is an entirely private-insurer, free-market-based reform." Ezra Klein and other liberals describe the law as a "huge progressive victory" precisely because it moves us further away from a free market for health care (not that we had much of one to begin with).

Why do they say this? Because in the long run scheme of things, this is a big shift toward government control and it sets the stage for more of the same.

Avik continues:
And then to "death panels." This has indeed been a sore spot on the Left. I can understand why; most liberals sincerely believe that their policies will make the world a better place (and that their opponents seek the opposite). Hence, to them, it is preposterous that they are seeking to kill Granny by instituting an Independent Payment Advisory Board and/or end-of-life counseling.

On this question, the controversy is not about facts, but about predictions.

A Conversation

Coworker: We need the data.

FLG: Wait, why do you need that data?

Coworker: Because we need to make a decision. You can't make a good decision without data.

FLG: Okay, but the data you are asking me for isn't relevant to your decision. Even if you have it, it won't help you.

Coworker: Of course it will help. We will be able to analyze it and then make a decision.

FLG: Uh, this is kinda like you are trying to make a decision about obesity and the relevant data is weight, but you are asking me for height because you know I generated that already.

Coworker: It will be relevant. We'll assume the taller people weigh more.

FLG: Okay, but that doesn't mean they're obese. Wait, forget this. You already have access to the data I generated. It's in a different format on here.

Coworker: But I was hoping that since you generated the data that you could give me the analysis.

FLG: No way...the data is clearly useless to your decision. You either have no idea what you are doing or just want to be able to point to data, any data, to justify your arbitrary and capricious decisions when the data has no bearing beyond the very superficial on the decisions, but you know I generated some data and any data is good enough. I'm not going to waste my time to analyze data for you that you don't need and won't use beyond superficial appearances to create a facade of empirical support.

Coworker: I'll ask somebody in my group to analyze the data.

FLG: Fine. Waste their time.

Tier 2?

“There is a high level of interest only from the Tier 2 institutions to do things in a serious manner,” said M. Anandakrishnan, chairman of one of the branches of the government-financed Indian Institute of Technology, or IIT. Some of the names in this category are the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Virginia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

GT and VA Tech? Ok, tier 2. Don't know enough about Schulich. But Carnegie Mellon isn't a place I consider second tier.

Battling Sunday Talk Shows

FLG was flipping between Meet the Press with David Axelrod and Fareed Zakaria GPS with Peter Orzag on Sunday.

The contrast couldn't be any starker. On one hand, you have political spin and David Gregory trying to go for the gotcha interview. On the other hand, you had a reasonable, rational, albeit wonky discussion. And it highlighted to FLG, who used to be a regular MTP watcher, why he never bothers to turn it on anymore. The point at which FLG turned off MTP for good on Sunday was when David Axelrod argued that a bill was bipartisan, and therefore good, because a couple of Republicans supported it.

Uncertain Future

Matt Yglesias writes:
I’d be fascinated to hear Otellini [, CEO of Intel], describe to me the past era in which firms knew exactly what their health care, energy, and tax costs were going to be. This was a time in which the future trajectory of oil prices was entirely predictable, and it was clear that congress would never again alter the tax code. A time when general macroeconomic conditions were not subject to any vagaries of fortune. A magical time.

FLG chalks this up to two things. First, Matt is a progressive and, according to FLG's theory of time horizons, discounts the future at a much higher rate than conservatives. Second, he's talking about some sort of binary certain-uncertain, which may be because of the previous point FLG just made (discounting the future so steeply lowers the impact of fluctuations), but also could be for pure polemical effect.

Anyway, the future is always uncertain. Sure. However, there is a large probability of exogenous shocks created by government policy in these areas. This isn't to say that exogenous shocks aren't possible at any time in any area, but when you know there's a high probability of them, then it makes sense to let the dust settle before making long-term plans.

Design Changes

Arethusa's changes to her blog inspired FLG to take a shot at redesigning Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. Here's one possibility. FLG thinks it looks pretty cool, but wonders how functional it would be.

Quotes of the day

This Jason Kuznicki post has some doozies:
The median voter theorem may not be in the front of Christine O’Donnell’s mind, or of Sarah Palin’s — neither shows much evidence of having considered it


The center is solidly pro-masturbation.

Which makes the title of the post - The Pull to the Center - even funnier.

Oh Boy

FLG listens to Marketplace on NPR most days. One of his least favorite parts is when they go to letters. Here's a particular example why:
We talk about budget deficits and trade gaps on this broadcast all the time, but our story last week on a trillion dollar gap in pension funds left many of you fuming. Local, state and federal governments are grappling with how to pay out on what're called defined benefit plans, even though tax revenues are down and the economy is too.

Ellen Knopf from Greenwich Village, New York City doesn't see a problem, provided people are smart.

Ellen Knopf: There is no problem with defined benefit plans unless the state or employer puts pension money in risky investments or in the stock market. A prudent investor may still make a profit.

Oh, sweet fucking crap. This is fucktarded.

It's not just about making a fucking profit. It's about making a return that also is larger than inflation. Putting a bunch of money in Treasury bonds or CDs just ain't gonna work. Well, FLG guesses you could technically put all the money in supersafe treasuries, but then you'd have to lower the expected returns on the pension fund. This would mean current employees would have to contribute a ton more each paycheck and the employer would have to throw a bunch more money into the pot to pay older workers. Not very reasonable. In fairness, one does have to be wary of employers who didn't contribute enough to the funds themselves trying to make it up by shifting the portfolio toward more risky assets. But all told, the idea that the problem with pension funds is that they are invested in the stock market might be the single stupidest financial analysis FLG has ever heard. It's not just about making a profit. There's a minimum acceptable value for that profit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fuck Me.

Shit. This isn't good.

Blogging Discourteously

Via The Dish, FLG learns that Freddie has stopped blogging:
I am incapable of writing on the Internet without becoming an asshole. This fact has asserted itself to me again and again. And while I believe the blogosphere is a narrow-minded and vulgar space, there is no excuse for my own vulgarity, my own lack of compassion, my own failure. I have tried reform; I have tried rededication; I have tried genre and tonal shifts. Sooner or later I revert to my hands, this keyboard, and my anger.

I bet if you do a search for Freddie on this blog, then you'd find all sorts not nice things I've written about him. One in particular comes to mind, where I imagined him saying "I have to go wallow in my own personal somewhat contradictory combination of self-importance and self-loathing, but "Hell is other people." And guess what? His sign-off post still kinda gives me that vibe.

The Abstract Engineer refers to Freddie as "obviously brilliant," which is an adjective that I don't use lightly and certainly wouldn't use to describe anything that Freddie wrote.

Now, you are probably asking why I'm kicking a man while he's down? What's the deal with that? Well, it goes back to this anger thing. Ultimately, the vast majority of blogging is a bunch of self-important people sitting around in their underwear giving their opinion, and you know what they say about those.

I don't get angry about shit on the blogosphere. (In fact, it reminds me of that xkcd cartoon about somebody being wrong on the Internet.) Sure, sometimes I use hyperbolic language for dramatic effect, but I'm never angry that Freddie has some thought that I think is incredibly idiotic. He's just another fucking asshole in his pajamas in front of a computer.

That leads me to something that actually does piss me off both online and in real life, which is taking yourself too seriously, and Freddie sure as hell does that. Case in point is the 20 minute or something video of him talking about the books he has on his bookshelf that I can't find a link to right now. Seriously, just unplug and you don't have to write cloying prose like "My opinions have become pallbearers to my imagination, and that's poverty." It's not poverty. It's overly sappy, feeling sorry for yourself because you take yourself to seriously bullshit.

Anyway, I just wanted to put that out there. Maybe I'm an asshole for it. Fine. But, again, I'm just some asshole in his underwear or pajamas. What the fuck does my opinion, even if it's that Freddie is an overly dramatic, self-important, self-loathing, muddled-thinking blogger, ultimately matter? It doesn't.

Then why write it, I hear you asking? Well, I needed something to write about. Doesn't it prove his point about the blogosphere being a vulgar space? Perhaps, but the world is a vulgar place. Suck it up.

Discourteous a word too seldom used. Normally, FLG prefers the simplest word to express a meaning. In this case, that's probably "rude." However, discourteous is far superior aesthetically. Plus, it always makes him think of "Greensleeves."

FLG's Astonishing Ignorance

In the comments, The Ancient wrote:
Paris vaut bien une messe.

FLG said to himself, huh? Paris is well worth a mass? What the fuck does that mean? Apparently, Henry IV said it before converting to Catholicism.

Metro Video

First, there was the Arlingon Rap. Now, he takes on the Metro and even mentions pirates.

Do All Bloggers Get Book Review Solicitations?

FLG has been getting tons of solicitations to do book reviews. Nothing in them looks at all personalized, so FLG assumes it's just a blast to email addresses harvested off of blogger.

If it's anything else, then very weird. This is the least influential blog on the planet.

Quote of the day

ED Kain:
So, after a good deal of pushback and a good deal of thoughtful commentary on my war posts, I think I’ll have to take a step back from my plunder/defense/folly theory of war

God bless him.

FLG is currently listening to

Time Horizons: Tax Cuts Edition

Matt Yglesias addresses tax cuts as stimulus in a way that appeals to FLG -- long time horizons:
Every time you earn a dollar that you don’t spend on consumption goods, you’re saving a dollar. If you just let those dollars pile up in your sock drawer, nothing happens. But assuming you do something with it—even just leaving it in a checking account—then the financial system turns that dollar of saving into a dollar of investment. And those investments can drive long-term economic growth by increasing society’s ability to produce goods and services. Lower-income people have a higher marginal propensity to consume, so there’s a case to be made that a regressive tax cut will do more to boost long-term growth.

FLG isn't quite sure about Matt's final conclusion/assertion:
Long story short, there are circumstances in which a debt-financed tax cut aimed at the low end can boost growth and there are circumstances in which an offset tax cut aimed at the rich can boost growth, but the debt-financed tax cut for the rich that is the hallmark of post-Reagan conservatism is just an exercise in upward redistribution of wealth.

Matt's argument is that if you borrow money to increase savings, then they cancel each other out. FLG gets that, but he's not so sure that they do in practice. In autarky, FLG agrees, but if you borrow internationally, then FLG thinks it might work to stimulate long-term growth because in a sense you are importing savings at Treasury rates and your country is still getting investment that it can benefit from. Probably by more than the Treasury rate interest.

Although, FLG'd have to think about it more. These things get tricky and he may be forgeting an identity somewhere that disproves this.
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