Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Two Word Combination That Drives FLG Batshit Nuts

Climate Security

Damn Social Scientists

FLG is always baffled by the very common argument that the authors' social science work is necessary because the existing literature doesn't present theories that explain all empirical results across time and space. Yet, then they themselves proceed to present a theory that doesn't explain all empirical results across time and space.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Correspondence

This will be the last post on the topic of gay marriage on this blog for a long while, but I've received a couple of emails arguing that I claimed victory over Alan on a technicality and not a substantive position.

Generally speaking, if one argues that A does not lead to B (i.e. there isn't a slippery slope) repeatedly, but then shifts to "what's wrong with B anyway?" they've lost the slippery slope argument. If A does not lead to B, then you don't need to discuss B. Once you ask what's wrong with B, then it's not just what's wrong with B that is at stake, but also what might be wrong with C, D, E, and F, plus all the combinations thereof.

To illustrate this point with respect to gay marriage particularly I will make what I view as the strongest case against gay marriage. Even though, as I have mentioned over and over, I am in favor of allowing gay marriage. I do this because unlike too many people, who just feel their positions and then cherry pick facts and reasoning to support it, I endeavor, even if I am not always successful, to be intellectually honest and rigorous and consider all sides. So, let's start from the beginning.

Marriage has throughout Western history been a covenant (a pledge of mind, body and soul) between a man and a woman for the implicit and often explicit purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children. Since the creation and rearing of the next generation is so crucially important to the continuing survival of society it has bestowed those who commit to the institution of marriage various privileges.

I'd like to anticipate some objections to the above paragraph.
* Today, people enter into marriage for reasons other than children (taxes, love, etc). Therefore, we ought not limit it to sexual couples that can produce children.

That is a true enough point. However, under the above logic they are in some sense abusing the system in an effort to reap the privileges of marriage without undertaking the reason for them. That some heterosexual couples can take advantage of the system doesn't mean we should open it up to additional couples to take advantage of the system.

* Even historically, people entered in to marriage for purposes other than children, such as consolidating power between kingdoms.

Yes, again, people entered into it for other reasons, but there was even in those cases strong pressure to create heirs.

* Marriage may be a covenant, but as far as the state is concerned it is a contract. Therefore, we should make the contract part of it open to gay couples as well.

A good point. But again if it is simply a contract, like any other, than there is no reason to simply limit it to a couple. Three or more people can enter into a contract as well.

* Under your logic, then we ought not allow sterile heterosexual couples either.

This point I think is a very good one. However, there is a huge difference between not allowing sterile or post-menopausal couples to marry and gay marriage. When two gay people get married it is biologically a priori knowledge that it impossible for them to conceive. With a heterosexual couple you would have to invade their medical privacy. Even a 90 year-old lady, who almost certainly post-menopausal, the state would need to medically examine her to be 100% sure. Not so with a homosexual couple. We all know right off the bat without any invasion of privacy.

Now, getting back to the slippery slope point. Let's restate the definition of marriage from above:
a covenant (a pledge of mind, body and soul) between a man and a woman for the implicit and often explicit purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children.

If we allow gay marriage, then we need to change the man and a woman language to two people. However, once we've done that we need to get rid of the "purpose of providing a stable and nurturing environment for producing and raising children." If it's no longer about raising children, then there is no reason whatsoever not to allow incestuous couples.

So, we now are at a point where we have a covenant between heterosexual couples or gay couples (even incestuous ones). Now, the covenant part makes it more difficult to allow polygamy. How do you pledge your mind, body, and soul to two people? How do you hold two people above ALL others? It just doesn't make sense. And I think this is what Alan was trying to get at with his difference between a couple and polygamy being fundamentally different.

But there is a deeper problem. For us to go from man and woman to any two people being allowed, well, we need a valid rationale. A reason, as it were, that dictates we need to make this change. I've yet to see a reason that necessitates that we go from man and woman to any couple that doesn't undermine the covenant aspect of marriage.

If you use my logic that the state shouldn't be involved the in the affairs of consenting adults, then you've transitioned into the realm of contract, not covenant, and so the logic doesn't prevent polygamy.

If you say that discriminating against gays in this case is wrong because marriage is a contract like any other, then you've again shifted it from covenant to contract and underscored the slippery slope argument.

Lastly, getting back to Alan's question about what is wrong with polygamy and why I claimed victory...he asked the wrong question. If gay marriage doesn't lead to polygamy, then we can just focus on the consequences of gay marriage. If you ask what's wrong with polygamy, then you admit that gay marriage leads to polygamy in asking the question. If gay marriage leads to polygamy, then what else does it lead to? If it leads to more things, then focusing on each marginal change in isolation overlooks interactions.

So, in the worst case scenario, using the logic I've laid out above, allowing gay marriage opens the door to polygamous, homosexual, incestuous marriages. Frankly, I have no fucking clue what that type thing would do to the society and I don't think anybody does. Perhaps it's unlikely to happen because people find it icky. But do we want icky feeling to be the only guide to what happens in society? I think not.

And all that frankly is why I'm uncomfortable, although oddly steadfast, with my own stance that gay marriage ought to be legal.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Bit More On The Gulen Movement

I mentioned this in the comments, but really wanted to emphasize this.

If the American right writes off the Gulen movement, then it would be a massive strategic mistake.

It isn't perfect. It's secretive, I think, because it sprung from such a militantly secularist environment and indeed Gulen himself got kicked out of the country in lives in New Jersey or something now. Calling it a cult grossly misstates the situation.

My fear is that large strains of the American right have simply decided that everything touched by Islam is corrupt. Since FGM is an Islamic movement, then it must be corrupt as well. This is a huge mistake. Again, for my money, the FGM offers the best way forward to reconcile modernity and Islam.

Gulen Movement

FLG has long maintained that the Fethullah Gülen Movement (FGM) offers a model for reconciling Islam and modernity.

Today, Reihan posts that there is an emerging consensus on the right that the FGM is dangerous. He links to an article in Foreign Policy by Soner Cagaptay that calls the FMG "an ultraconservative political faction."

Prima facie, this sounds like an alliance between American conservatives who are frightened or concerned or what-have-you about Islam and making common cause with a Turkish secularist (although I don't know if he is) concerned about the influence of a religious movement in his country. But it is quite possible that Mr. Cagaptay is correct and I've misunderstood the FGM. His article, however, particularly the part about the FGM being ultraconservative, strikes me as full-throated hyperbole that makes me wonder if he doth protest too much.

BTW, if anybody would like to read up on the Gulen Movement, then email me. I can send you some stuff.

Gun Rights

I found this letter on gun rights somewhat compelling. Basic gist is this. Gay guy wants the right to carry a gun in DC because displaying his handgun has scared off would-be gay bashers on several occasions.

The letter author responds thusly:
Yet I wonder what Mr. Palmer will do if his new lawsuit succeeds, and it gives violent gay-bashers, too, the right to legally carry loaded handguns in the streets. The next time Mr. Palmer is walking with a male companion down a dark street in a dodgy neighborhood, will his attackers simply shoot both of them on sight, rather than attempting the more cumbersome route of assaulting them with fists or feet?

This sounds like a plausible retort, but for this to work you have to make a whole host of assumptions. First, that the law actually prevents his attackers from having access to guns. If somebody wanted to go around shooting gay guys, then I seriously doubt that access to guns is a problem. Second, that the transition from assault to murder is something you crossover without any compunction. Both are acts of violence, but there's a big different beating somebody up and killing them. Maybe the sadistic fucks like the visceral nature of beating even more.

Outlawing guns disproportionately affects law-abiding citizens. If Mr. Palmer follows the law, then he's vulnerable. The people he's worried about, his would-be attackers, are already, by definition, not concerned about the law. The are intent on committing assault. If they aren't worried about the law against assault, then presumably they aren't too worried about lesser crimes, like illegal possession of a handgun. Therefore, legalizing handguns in DC makes almost no difference to the threat that Mr. Palmer faces, but provides him much greater additional protection.

Roger Cohen Has Just Lost

What Little Credibility He Had With FLG

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Checkmate

Alan writes:
What would be your objection to legalizing same-sex and multi-partner marriages at the same time? What unacceptable harm do you imagine will occur?

And so I win the argument.

The implication here is that there is a slippery slope from gay marriage to polygamy, but that the slippery slope doesn't matter.

Quote of the day II

Michael Gerson:
President Obama, as usual, was fluent, professorial and occasionally prickly. Some are impressed by the president’s informed, academic manner...All the students -- I mean elected legislators -- were informed if their arguments were “legitimate” or not. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was arrogantly instructed that the “election’s over.”

I was actually surprised by Obama's tone. I've never seen him so condescending as the parts of the summit that I watched.

FLG Was Wondering

What was the video where Heavy D wore a lime green raincoat? And Google gave him the answer:


It didn't age well.

Radio Podcast

Photon Courier links to this article about Mike O'Meara switching to podcasting after getting axed from his radio gig.

FLG used to listen to the old Don & Mike Show in the early 00s. Somewhere along the way, Don began to grate on FLG. The turning point was probably when Don got in a fight with Leah Remini, who had been a friend of their show and even invited the guys on King of Queens. Sometime after that they switched their broadcast time to lunch or something, and eventually FLG stopped listening. A few years later, FLG heard that Don's wife died tragically and suddenly and eventually left the show.

Well, FLG never tuned back in. However, a few weeks ago, he saw Mike O'Meara show on iTunes. He immediately subscribed thinking it was a downloadable version of the old radio show, which indeed it is but without the radio part, but FLG had no idea when he started listening to WJFK had switched to sports radio. (Although, he always thought the station was going to have trouble once Howard switched to sat radio.)

All that is just to say that FLG hopes the podcast makes it.

The Wrong Debate On The Stimulus

The other day, I mentioned that the question of whether the stimulus worked is stupid. Of course, it worked. When you spend money you are going to stimulate the economy.

The real issue is cost effectiveness. The stimulus cost $787 billion. The administration claims that it will have saved 3.5 million jobs in total. So, by the administration's own numbers that is $224,857.14 per job saved.*

Not exactly what I'd call success.

--------------------------------
* The straight division isn't exactly fair because the stimulus included other things, but then I'd argue it wasn't actually a stimulus to save jobs but an excuse to enact liberal spending priorities.

Quote of the day

Buttonwood:
Nero...just lacked a good economist and a PR man to put his case better.

The Greek East

Last night, FLG was going to watch Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance on Netflix streaming. But then decided that he ought to watch The Dark Ages, which was also in his queue, beforehand.

They made a point of referring to Justinian as ruler of the "Greek East." FLG was confused by this because he always thought Heraclius officially Hellenized the Byzantine Empire. FLG understands that the culture of the people can be Hellenistic while the government works in Latin. Kinda like how, almost in reverse, the Ptolemies were Hellenized, but the bulk of the population were Egyptian.

But that makes FLG wonder why the Romans were so effective in propagating their Latinized culture in the West, but not at replacing Greek culture in the East. Was it just that the West was a bunch of ragtag strongmen while the Diadochi and the Greek culture in their kingdoms, while weaker than their zenith, were still formidable? FLG's understanding of the Ptolemies, as articulated above, seems to undermine this.

You Know What's Funny

In this whole debate with Alan, FLG WANTS Alan to provide him with a rationale that allows gay marriage, but not polygamy. FLG's problem is that he has to make an arbitrary distinction with no justification to get his desired outcome. Alan just doesn't appear to have the solution despite thinking he does.

The Last Post Unless Alan Can Actually Address The Relevant Issue

This is the last time I am going to say this because you really are going down your own rathole.

My logic is this:
The state ought not involve itself in the activities of consenting adults. Therefore, gay marriage should be legal.

The problem:
3 or more people are consenting adults. Therefore, polygamy should be legal.

Your logic seems to be this:
Not allowing gay marriage is discriminatory against gays. Therefore, gay marriage should be legal.

The problem:
Only allowing two people discriminates against would be polygamists. Therefore, polygamy ought to be legal.

In either case, what we are talking about is rights. Mine is that people ought to be free to pursue their happiness. For you, the emphasis is on equal protection under the law. When the justification is rights, I completely reject the idea that changing legal forms and perhaps more complicated division of assets are sufficient barriers. We impose costs and create legal complexity all the time in the name of equal rights. Therefore, I find this distinction completely without merit.

The only argument that I can see that justifies gay marriage, but not polygamy is the determination is made by what there is democratic support for. But in that case there is not right to gay marriage and it could be rescinded at anytime based upon the political winds. Moreover, judicial rulings stating that gays have a right to marry are without merit because a judge is in no position to determine what there is or is not democratic support for. That would have to be left to legislatures or a referendum. But then my question would be upon what basis out the public support gay marriage? And we are back to the issue above.

Shirely You Can Be Serious

FLG wrote:
Basically, your argument is that we have qualifications for licenses. If a gay person or a straight person meet the qualification for a deer hunting license, then if we deny one but not the other on this basis alone it is discrimination. Ergo, gay marriage should be allowed.

However, if we change deer license to license to marry a partner of a the opposite sex and elk license to license to marry a member of the same sex, then maybe the objection makes more sense.

I'd like an elk license.

We don't offer those. You can have a deer license.

Deer don't tickle my fancy. I really want an elk license.

Sorry, don't offer those.

That's discrimination. If I want to hunt elk, then I damn well should be able to.

The question then becomes why somebody ought to be able to hunt elk, not really a question of discrimination. And then what justification can be offered to allow elk, but not wild boar (polygamy or incestous). I can come up with one why not house pets (children or animals).


Alan writes:
The objective of hetero- and homo-sexual marriages are both to hunt deer. They are after precisely the same thing. We refuse because the clothing they wear (their appearance) is unusual, not because their quarry is different. As you have pointed out, gay men and women are not refused entry into the marriage contract. In most states, however, they are refused the opportunity to choose their hunting partner. Andrew is right that this is little different than Loving vs. Virginia.

No, no, no, no, no. I'm going to put this straight up. You want to portray the CHANGE from an opposite sex partner only to either opposite or same sex partner as no change. And yet the change from partner to partners as a MASSIVE change.

They are both changes. Indeed, polygamists could say they are being discriminated against and that they should get to marry whom they love as well. And, this point is somewhat important, the legalization of gay marriage opens the door. If we say that you can only be married to a partner of the opposite sex, then it precludes polygamy if we treat it at a 3-way contract.

Likewise, with heterosexual marriage only, we can plausibly argue that potential reproduction is at least a part of the decision making guiding the marriage contract. Allowing gay marriage negates this. Which can open up the door to incestuous marriage.

You then say this:
A judge's ruling that a state must grant same-sex partners marriage licenses causes no difficulties for the state. Inheritance, tax, custody, visitation, and other laws tied to marriage are unaffected.

Are judges only to take into account the narrow consequences of some ruling on state legal apparatus?

Alright, I'm going to say this the last time. Your logic is tortured and based on incorrect assumptions. For your argument to work, you need to say that marriage isn't changing at all when homosexual marriage is introduced, but that it is a massive change when polygamy is introduced, which for people who, I don't know, have fucking thoughts, is a tough pill to swallow.

If you want to say that the change to gay marriage is simply immaterial, but a change to polygamy is, then I return to why? Saying that it makes divorce messier is totally not carrying the water.

UPDATE: I'm seriously and empathetically (sympathetically?) trying to get Alan's argument.

The argument seems to be this:
Marriage used to be restricted to two people of the opposite sex of the same race. We removed the "of the same race" part because it was discriminatory. Now, we ought to remove "of the opposite sex" for the same reason.

The thing that should be staring Alan in the face is why then wouldn't we change "two people" for the exact same reason? That it complicates divorces seems downright silly. Their rights are being violated! What is a bit of legal complication in the face of injustice?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Quick Round-Up

First:
Almost as if on cue, considering I wrote about biological determinants of male preference for younger women, I saw the following news item on the TV last night:
The study published by the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University in Scotland found that women have lost 90 percent of their eggs by the time they are 30 years old, and only have about 3 percent remaining by the time they are 40.

That sounds awful high though.

Second:
FLG was told he writes too well today. Can somebody write too well?


Third:
American troops in Vietnam were nearly six times as likely to get killed than those in Afghanistan.

Lastly, for Maximum Leader, his beloved Venice may be saved by salad dressing.

FLG Agrees With Every Word

...of this Michael Gerson article.

Restating The Issue

Alan, despite many protestations to the contrary and much pretzel-like logic, does not have an answer to the question posed by Bill and I. Since he seems confused on the point, I am going to spell it out clearly.

There are several rationales for not allowing gay marriage. Namely, the status quo is the status quo, which possesses its own justification. But also that it doesn't seem to have democratic support currently and marriage plays an important role in society's reproduction. You get the point.

The rationale that is often used to justify allowing gay marriage goes something like this: If consenting adults of the same sex want to enter into a marriage contract, then the government really has no right to stop them.

Now, under this rationale I can easily say why relaxing marriage to include gay marriage wouldn't include marrying goats or children. They aren't adult human beings who can consent.

However, I cannot find a reason under this rationale to allow gay marriage, but not allow polygamy and incestuous marriage. If they are consenting adults, then the government still has no right to get involved.

Alan's proposed distinction between polygamy and gay marriage leaves much to be desired and is ultimately inconsistent:
We do NOT have a multi-partner marriage contract in this nation because no state has added it to its social contract. There is no constituency for it as far as I can determine--no married partners clamoring to add a third person to their contract, no group of three persons asking that they all be permitted to enter into marriage.

So, to summarize, his argument is that polygamy wouldn't be allowed for two reasons. No states currently have it AND nobody is asking for it. The first part of the explanation is just odd. Only a few years ago the status quo was that there were no states that had added gay marriage to the social contract. Yet, that didn't stop Alan from supporting gay marriage (I'm assuming). So, that isn't really a good rationale. Second, just because nobody is asking for it isn't a rationale. It's just a statement of the current political environment. And even more importantly doesn't speak to where the right for gay marriage comes from.

If it's a matter of what the current political environment will support and what people ask for, then there is no implicit right being violated. The political majority can simply decide just as easily not to allow gay marriage or even repeal it after it has been granted. So this is fundamentally unsatisfactory as a rationale for a right to gay marriage.

Alan still hasn't resolved the problem despite spilling much virtual ink. And ultimately I think he acknowledges this when he writes:
I cannot rule out that a state may, in the future, decide to add [polygamy] to its social contract.

But again, is this simply the product of democratic, majority rule legality? If so, then saying that some right to gay marriage is being violated by the current democratic, majority rule definition marriage loses a lot of its punch. Furthermore, if it is a matter of the definition of the social contract and not rights per se, then court rulings finding the right to gay marriage are somewhat odd. Presumably, the social contract would have to be democratically redefined absent an inalienable constitutional right to gay marriage.

Personally, I'm willing to bite the bullet and just say that we ought not get involved in affairs of consenting adults and then in the same breath say that we ought not allow incestuous or polygamous marriages arbitrarily. Alan seems to think he has a bright line between the two, but doesn't. And when asked about the lack of a bright line, distracts the conversation away by saying nobody wants to cross it right now.

If They're Too Stupid

I've been thinking about my post the other day on finance and freedom. I wrote then:
the outrage [against credit card companies] only makes sense if you figure the American people are idiots. These are legal contracts. Not to take this too far, but if American people can't understand their credit card, then is the average American too stupid to enter into any contract?

Since, I've been thinking about this more generally. There are a wide range of issues where the basic working premise is that the American public is ill-equipped to understand the issues at hand. Many lament the transition toward more individually directed retirement plans because people don't have the expertise. Therefore, we ought to create government regulated plans. People are getting fat. So, we ought to ban or tax certain foods. These are just two realms of life where this strain of reasoning exists. The policy prescriptions in each is often to take away the complex and complicated choices from individuals and through government intervention or regulation to give it to experts. Panels of financial planners and economists would help design national retirement plans or the rules under which plans ought to exist. Panels of doctors and public health experts would sift through the data on what foods are bad for us and what medical procedures are not cost effective and make the difficult and complex decisions for us.

And this all makes some sense. The American public in survey after survey is astonishingly ignorant of many financial and medical facts. But there's an exception to this shift toward experts.

Survey after survey and study after study demonstrate that the American public is largely ignorant of the details of public policy and often basic facts like the three branches of government. Yet, the response is always more voter education. Nobody says, maybe the people are too stupid to vote. Perhaps we ought to lessen our get out the vote drives.

Further, if we shift the complex decisions to technical experts working in or for government, and then the check on this is elections for candidates who articulate public policy recommendations that are just as complicated have we gotten anywhere? To put it simply -- if the American public is too stupid to plan their own retirements' or health care or whathaveyou, then what makes them qualified to determine the better public policy that would do it for them in an election?

Another factor involved is the difficulty in even expressing a policy preference in an election. A vote for a candidate is a vote for a collection of policies, not all of which the voter agrees with.

Accordingly, there is no better way to make me think you are a fucking idiot that to repeat a trope like this:
But, as a lawyer friend, Manuel Wally, put it to me, “When it comes to health it makes sense to involve government, which is accountable to the people, rather than corporations, which are accountable to shareholders.”

This is one of those things that, while simple and true, is almost completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. As usual, I will explain by analogy.

Wal-mart is a corporation motivated by profit maximization. If they institute a policy change that I do not like, then it is very easy for me to shop at Target. Then the policy doesn't apply to me at all and my problem is solved. Quickly and cheaply.

If, however, I have an issue with a city or state ordinance or policy, then I'm pretty much shit out of luck unless I want to move out of the city or state. If I have a problem with the DMV, same deal.

As I mentioned above, my displeasure at some policy cannot clearly be communicated in a vote. Sure, I could write letters and lobby my representatives, but that takes time and effort. It's nowhere near as easy as switching from Wal-Mart to Target.

Now, I will admit that the distinction is not always as clear. Sometimes Wal-Mart is the only store within driving distance. (But store policies are usually national and would be impacted by competition elsewhere.) Sometimes the ability to change which company you are a customer of is constrained.

As Timothy Burke pointed out in a comment a few months ago:
I think this is my big disagreement with libertarians in general, namely, the proposition that the power to coerce resides solely with the state. It may make a difference that the state names everyone as a citizen (or a subject) at birth, that if there is any contract, it is the theoretical 'social contract' that precedes an individual's relationship with a state. You can change citizenship potentially (just like you can not be a customer or not work in a job) but it's very hard in the contemporary global interstate system to be without citizenship (whereas at least notionally you can opt out of market relations almost entirely.)

[...]

Whatever the paper differences, in practice, whether a bureaucrat mediating my access to health care is an agent of the federal government or an agent of a large insurance corporation doesn't make that much of a real difference. In either case, that's a person remote from my life who is making decisions that have a huge impact on my life, and my ability to seek redress for those decisions is relatively limited in either case. Being a customer or a citizen amounts to the same thing in this case, because in either instance, I have very few, possibly no, alternatives to living with that relationship and hoping it will work in my favor.

He makes a good point. When your timeframe is short, i.e. you need a medical procedure now, and your ability to change providers is longer in duration or otherwise constrained (i.e. you need to change jobs, lobby human resources to change providers, or limited by existing conditions), then the benefits of private providers are lessened. Both private and government bureaucrats have power over you. However, I'd argue that human resources departments do review the service that their employees are getting from their insurers, and if the insurer sucks they'd change eventually. I'll agree that's cold comfort to somebody who needs a procedure now and is being denied. But I'm not sure that I agree that the nature of the coercion of a government bureaucrat and a insurance bureaucrat are the same then, at least over the long term.

Let me just sum up by saying that there are legitimate reasons, such as pooling risk and market failure, that do make government programs appealing. So, I'm not arguing that government programs have no legitimate basis. I'm simply addressing two common arguments for them -- that the issues are too hard for people to understand and that the government being responsible to the people, in theory, makes it more responsive to the people's preferences.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gay Marriage

Bill Flanigen has a damn good post on gay marriage that raises two points I think often get overlooked. Although I have brought both up before.

First, he references Seth Goldin who writes:
Of course, that sexual preference is not a choice should be completely irrelevant anyway, politically. It is completely illegitimate to attempt to use the force of the state to prohibit any kind of consensual sexual behavior between adults.

It's not really about outlawing wanting to have sex with members of the same sex, but about outlawing the actual activity of having sex with a member of the same sex. But even then we've, thank goodness, gotten passed the idea of outlawing it. The important point is about the activity, not the source of the desire to engage in the activity.

To use an extreme example, just because a psychotic killer is naturally inclined to kill and eat people doesn't make it okay. Likewise, even if it is natural, the morality and legality of homosexual sex is a separate issue, to which naturality may bring something to the discussion but isn't the "it's natural; case closed" thing many people would like it to be.

Second, Bill writes:
liberals tend not to appreciate the consequences of making marriage a more "flexible" institution (consequences that opponents of gay marriage are fond of repeating, ad nauseam, in exaggerated forms). I'm talking mostly about polygamy, and how the liberal framework that I endorse is at a total loss to prevent it. After all, if gender is as irrelevant as race, why not number? If the only criteria for marriage is the mutual consent of adults, why limit it only to two adults? Perhaps I'm just revealing my own ignorance, but I have yet to see a serious attempt by a gay-marriage advocate to refute this point.

FLG Is Astonished By The Ignorance About Economics From People With Economics PhDs

FLG doesn't have a PhD in Economics, but he is as astonished as Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong that people with PhDs in Economics don't understand how a fiscal stimulus works.

Stan Collender explains it very simply, just like when I learned about it in Macro 101:
The goal of economic stimulus is to create activity that wouldn't otherwise occur at that time. Your statement would have been correct if the economy had been operating at close to full employment and capacity. But it wasn't. Businesses weren't spending, consumers weren't spending, and monetary policy adjustments were not doing much to change that behavior.

So the federal government used borrowed funds[...], that is, it got funds from those who were not spending the money and then spent it or gave it to others with a tax cut (about 40 percent of the stimulus was tax cuts) to create that activity.

There are ways and reasons to criticize the stimulus, but saying that it just moves money is not really one of them.

If Any Of FLG's Readers Know Helen Rittelmeyer

...can they inquire into the schizophrenic nature of her blog?

Today, I was thinking to myself. Self, The Cigarette Smoking Blog RSS feed hasn't been updated recently. I wonder if there is a problem. I went to the blog itself and see that it's set private. This has happened several times before. I find it strange, but assume there must be some reasonable explanation.

Thanks,
FLG

Get Your Shit Together

This made FLG laugh. The initial email sounds like an undergrad, not an MBA student.

HT: UD

IMF and Capital Controls

A recent IMF report, FLG reads them so that you don't have to, relaxes the institution's stance toward capital controls, but only slightly. In the IMF's view, captial controls may be justified "if the economy is operating near potential, if the level of reserves is adequate, if the exchange rate is not undervalued, and if the flows are likely to be transitory." That's a lot of "if's."

Plus, the IMF is concerned about the effects on other countries:
Widespread adoption of controls by EMEs [Emerging Market Economies] could exacerbate global imbalances and slow other needed reforms—a critical concern at present, when sustained global recovery hinges on a rebalancing of global demand and the sources of growth in individual countries. In addition, controls imposed by some countries may lead other countries to adopt them also: widespread adoption of controls could have a chilling longer-term impact on financial integration and globalization, with significant output and welfare losses. Multilateral dimensions clearly need to be taken into account in assessing the merits of controls at the individual country level.

Apparently, capital controls have gone from always bad, in the IMFs view, to almost always bad.

A Somewhat Simple Explanation

Amber links to this very thorough analysis of the preference for younger women by men on online dating sites.

Yet, what is missing from the analysis is a very obvious point -- fertility. Ignoring that female fertility wanes and male fertility, generally speaking, does not in the male preference for younger women seems a gross, if perhaps uncomfortable, oversight.

It is addressed in the comments; however, the topic obviously strikes a nerve:
Just what guys are looking for: a nice fertile woman they can knock up? You must be some of the dippy 20 somethings mentioned above. Especially illogical given that women’s fertility does not actually decrease until long after their supposed attractiveness wanes. This article actually suggests the opposite of what you goofballs are claiming: Men pursue women who are youngest even when women who are just as biologically suitable are available.

I think this commenter glosses over absolute for relative. Sure, women can have children long after the peak of physical attractiveness, especially given modern medicine, but relative fertility does decline. Moreover, the current state of fertility does not really matter all that much. The biological imperatives were formed long in the past when it may have been shorter. Nevertheless, relative fertility does decline.

Okay, cattiness aside, that evolutionary imperative stuff is nonsense. Not only are human beings the least motivated by instinct of any animal, but reproductive research shows that men’s suitability for procreating may be more affected by age than women’s. That is, men continually produce sperm and their ability to produce quality sperm declines with age. Women, by contrast, have all the eggs they will ever have at the time they come to reproductive maturity, all the quality of cells produced at the height of their ability. Since women who have children late in life tend to do so with men of a similar age, the higher incidence of lower quality zygotes is not necessarily attributable to the woman. The huge amount of money going into infertility research should have some nice, unintended side effects.

This is just nutters. First, the sex drive is an evolutionary imperative. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here. Second, men father children into their 70s and 80s. Women don't.

This phenomenon is social and economic, people. The Greeks invented science but they still thought that the woman determined the sex of the child. After thousands of years, some of you still haven’t woken up!

Asserting that it is social and economic is true in part. Asserting that it is entirely social and economic is simply stupid. We are talking about an activity intimately involved in the biological process of reproduction. To assert that there are no biological imperatives involved defies common sense and most people's experience. I mean, the urge to have sex ain't exactly higher order reason. The commenter has, after thousands of years, apparently deluded herself.

Now, I must say, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I'm not saying relative declining female fertility with age has sole explanatory power. There are economic issues and social constructions. My point is just that it's the elephant in the room and all the complicated logic and non sequiturs people want to throw at it ain't gonna make it go away.

On Rhetoric And The Balanced Budget Amendment

Yesterday, I was listening to Sean Hannity, which is not something I often do lately. In fact, I really haven't listened to him since the election of Obama. Indeed, I haven't listened to much conservative radio since the election. It's just too unhinged for me.

Obama is not a Marxist. We are not on the cusp of some socialist revolution. The closest we can to true socialism was under FDR, and I think that's the historical high tide. Now, that doesn't mean I don't have serious reservations about some of his policies. What happened with the auto companies is particularly galling. As the Lexington put it, Obama "brazenly favoured unions" in those bailouts. But favoring unions, while something a socialist might do, isn't necessarily socialist. Finally on this point, I just won't assert worse motives to Obama. If he says he wants to fix health care, I'm going to assume he has the best intentions at heart. It's not because he wants the ever more power over the citizenry of this country. This doesn't mean the path to hell isn't littered with best intentions. Just that I'm going to assume them on the part of the Administration.

Anyway, with this in mind, I find the fevered rhetoric on talk radio extremely cynical and a bit unhinged. I realize they are entertainers who are trying to get ratings, not responsible political leaders, but it's pretty odd.

Conor Friedersdorf has a post today about the impeding tyrrany rhetoric of the Right. I think he makes a damn good point here:
I find it preposterous that anyone believes the United States is on the cusp of impending tyranny itself, or that President Obama is uniquely bad on this metric, or methodically preparing to seize dictatorial power, or that his actions as president are somehow so radical as to be irreversible. Indeed I couldn’t believe that my more animated GOP correspondents believed these things to be true either, even when they seemed to state as much. So I followed up with some of them, pressing them about what exactly they believed, and did additional reporting among other conservative citizens as well, hoping to understand the gap separating the rhetoric they use from whatever their actual beliefs turn out to be.

[...]

On further questioning, you’ll find one guy means he’s upset that the president might seek a tax hike, while another is literally worried that he’s building secret prisons to house American patriots. The former invocation of tyranny is by far more common, and it doesn’t strike the people who use it as imprecise because they marinate in a political culture of hyper-adversarial cable news, Barnes and Noble bestsellers with hyperbolic titles, and talk radio hosts who cast the political battles between American conservatives and liberals as an epic battle between liberty and tyranny. As the volume of political rhetoric gets turned up, folks eventually lose perspective, and having listened to their very loud stereo for hours, it doesn’t occur to them that on talking to folks outside the room they seem to be shouting. Pin these folks down on their actual beliefs, concerns or objections, however, and often as not they are basically reasonable people whose opinions are no more or less grounded in fact than anyone else.

I think that pretty much describes the situation. Tax increases have become tyranny. Listen, I'm as staunch an opponent of taxes as a person can get; however, when any tax increase is considered tyranny you sound, frankly, fucking wacked.

Obama's a Democrat. Of course he wants to raise taxes. In a Democrat's mind, when drawing these things up on paper or on the campaign trail, it will always be on the rich, but when fiscal reality hits the infinite policy wants of all politicians, but especially Democrat politicians, necessitate that the middle class will face higher taxes if the politician in question is anything near responsible. That's pretty much what voting for a Democrat means. The language of impending tyranny, while therapeutic, is seriously off-putting. The country voted for this guy.

On a completely different topic, Newt Gingrich was on Hannity's show during the time I was listening. He argued that the Republicans should push for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Frankly, I think that idea is asinine. Ideally, the government should balance the budget over the business cycle, not in any single year. I'll be the first to admit that the tendency is to argue that deficits are needed during times of trouble and when the good times come, and the government should be repaying debt or socking away money under the mattress, the question always becomes "how should we spend the surplus?" But the idea that we ought to constitutionally constrain the government such that the ideal policy is unobtainable seems fucking stupid.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Does Mark-to-Market Make A Liquidity Crisis A Solvency Crisis?

The Economist (PDF):
The other brutal lesson of the crisis concerns  the way liquidity can affect solvency. In a world of mark-to-market  accounting, a small price movement on a large, illiquid portfolio  can  quickly  turn  into  crippling paper losses that  eat  into capital. Highly rated  but  hard to shift   debt  instruments can finish you before losses on the underlying loans  have  even  begun  to  hurt your  cash flows.

I remember hearing about this during the crisis, but forgot about it. Basically, the problem is that if you have to account for paper losses of assets, even if you have no intention of selling and they are still paying you returns, then the accounting rules may force you to sell the asset thereby turning a paper loss into a real one.

Finance and Freedom

The other day I was watching Elizabeth Warren on Real Time with Bill Maher. She made a big deal about how credit cards cost Americans something like $137 billion. (I forget the exact number.) She included everything that gives revenue to credit card companies in that figure: interest, late fees, annual fees, etc. Bill became outraged at the injustice piled onto the American people and Warren nodded approvingly.

What came to my mind was the following: First, $137 billion, while a lot of money, is approximately 1% of our economy. I'm not losing sleep over that amount when credit cards facilitate all types of transactions. Second, I might grant the charge that late fees are a tad high for my tastes. But then again I pay on-time, so maybe that is the right amount. On the other issues, I must object. It's not like credit cards don't tell you the interest they are charging. You know if there is an annual fee when you sign up.

My point here is that the outrage only makes sense if you figure the American people are idiots. These are legal contracts. Not to take this too far, but if American people can't understand their credit card, then is the average American too stupid to enter into any contract?

So, that made me wonder if the American public is too stupid to enter into credit contracts. I couldn't find anything empirical for the United States (although I'm sure it exists because I've seen data before), but I did find this report from the FSA over in the UK that clearly finds that some people really are financially illiterate:
When asked to read the final balance from a bank statement, 91% were able to do so. 7% of those who use a current account got this wrong.

My guess is that the 7% of people with a checking account, but can't read the balance are probably making lots of stupid financial decisions. Therefore, don't we need a Consumer Protection Agency?

Personally, I very much appreciate and enjoy the many and large access to finance that is available to me. It offers me many opportunities. If a consumer agency were to appear I bet my financial life, on balance, would be worse off because of it.

Right now, the credit card companies are largely making money of people who do the wrong things. Keep balances. Pay late. Etc. A consumer protection agency that seeks to change these things will almost inevitably force the companies to shift fees and raise interest on me.

Also, the consumer protection agency will inevitably restrict my freedom. For example, perhaps I need to take a payday loan for some reason. Yet, if they take some hypothetical stance capping interest rates or banning them altogether, then I won't be able to do so. Yes, there are some people who will get into trouble with payday loans or whatever, but freedom also means the freedom to make the wrong decision.

And the freedom to make the wrong decision is gradually being reduced across the country by do-gooders. Banning smoking. Fighting obesity. The simple fact is that in a free society people have the freedom to make decisions others deem poor. Even when faced with calorie counts. It grates me when people who "know better" try to influence people's personal decisions. See also motorcycle helmet and seatbelt laws.

Now, sometimes our decisions have relevant public consequences. Returning to finance, we bailed out banks, private companies, who were doing stupid shit. Failure to save for retirement has public consequences because our society has decided that our elderly deserve some level of dignity and ought not be forced out of want to eat catfood. Likewise, various political decisions have been made regarding health care that make the consequences of obesity or not wearing a seat belt at least partly a public issue.

The basic takeaway from this is that freedom means the freedom to fuck up. Whenever we decide to use the power of government ensure that something won't happen (whether it's banks won't fail, retirees won't be penniless, or banning payday loans) you restrict freedom. Sometimes these have benefits that we as a society are willing to relinquish our freedom for additional security of not starving in old age or a having financial apocalypse, but even nice and cuddly policies that protect people from predatory companies restrict freedom. It's not just intelligence laws or police powers that trade freedom for security. Something to keep in mind.

Well, with that in mind, and getting back to my original point, the financial problems of the last few years have given ammunition to zealots, like Elizabeth Warren, to regulate finance in places that had nothing to do with the problem. For example, credit cards didn't cause the financial crisis. So, saying they are going along after the collapse as if it were business as usual is a ridiculous statement. What upsets me so much about Elizabeth Warren is her self-righteous crusade, supposedly on my behalf, against banks only makes sense if she and I both agree that I'm a fucking moron.

You May Not Know

...but Fear and Loathing in Georgetown is huge in Canada. And to our friends in the north, whom I love and adore, I say, 5-3 baby!

Honestly, I'm fucking as shocked as you are. You have the better team. Shit. Everybody on your team is captain of an NHL team. There can be only one answer to the riddle of why the US won -- America is the greatest nation on fucking Earth.

A Small Point

Paul Krugman asks:
Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?

Whenever I hear that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are popular and in the same breadth that they are running out of money I always marvel. Of course programs that provide more benefits than they require in taxes are popular. It's the free lunch perception.

Now, astute readers will point out that Social Security has a trust fund that was built up, and therefore the program has actually paid out less than it took in for many years and it was still popular. Ah, but those people paying in also expected money back in return. Yet, there isn't really enough to pay the boomers. And, even worse, since the supposed social security trust fund lent the money to the government, which spent it, you end up with even more of a free lunch perception because not only are promised benefits higher than the taxes allocated toward them, but also the additional money went into government spending.

I guess my point here is that running up the credit card is fun and popular. It's when the bill comes due that the problem arises. That the programs are popular is not terribly surprising because the costs appear far lower than the benefits. However, this is not to say that the programs themselves are not worthwhile or popular on the merits. I just think that when Democrats and liberals mention the popularity of those programs and therefore we need to solve the fiscal problems they might want to think that perhaps part of the popularity is due to the fiscal problems. If the actual economic costs were made clear perhaps they wouldn't be as popular. My guess is that even correcting for that, they'd still enjoy majority support.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

FLG Gives Little Thought To Post-Modernist Literature

...but Matt Zeitlin addresses one of FLG's pet peeves:
A recurring — and somewhat frustrating — trope in a lot of popular and middlebrow writing about literature is the constant identification of “postmodern” devices and techniques in old or canonical works of literature.

[...]

Non-linear narratives simply aren’t that strange and the fact that they were able to be used in works whose purpose was to justify state-building (Beowulf, the Aeneid) only goes to show how non-transgressive they are. The stuff that happens in, say, Gravity’s Rainbow is genuinely confusing in a way that Gabriel’s recounting of the war in heaven in Paradise Lost* is not.

Current Reading Update

Actually, this will be for future, not current, reading. FLG caught an interview with Michael Mauboussin (mp3) recently. His discussion of how decisions are made, especially one part about how if a system is static and linear people eventually take a more intuitive approach toward it, sounded very interesting. (FLG is even more interested in the cases were people assume static systems and linearity when they aren't true.) Plus, Mauboussin is a Hoya. So, he's got that going for him. FLG will be ordering the book shortly.

Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition

UPDATE: FLG found a link to this article, which probably formed the basis for the book, on his website.

He makes explicit mention of something FLG has harped on numerous times:
I must concede that my occupation — active money management — may be one of the best examples of the illusion of control in the professional world. Researchers have shown that, in aggregate, money managers who actively build portfolios deliver returns that are lower than the market indices over time, a finding that every investment firm acknowledges. The reason is pretty straightforward: Markets are highly competitive, and money managers charge fees that diminish returns. The same is true for individuals. Even though doing a lot of research into what to buy and sell may give you confidence, over time the costs you incur make it likely that your portfolio returns will fail to keep up with someone who parked money in a garden-variety index fund and forgot about it.

Worst Editorial FLG Has Read In A While

As far as FLG can tell, the NYTimes offers absolutely no evidence, reason, or logic for their stance opposing Starbucks' decision to allow people to openly carry guns where there are open carry laws besides an implicit "guns are scary" assumption. FLG doesn't often agree with New York Times editorial stances, but at least they usually take the time to offer some sort of evidence or rationale for their position.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FLG Gets Confused

...by articles like this one, entitled "Retirement? Good luck with that."

In particular, passages like this bother FLG:
The recent market crash is a sharp reminder of what can go wrong. Sure, the S&P 500's ($INX) almost 35% rebound since March is good news, but it's not enough to make savers whole. From its peak in October 2007 through last March, the S&P 500 lost almost 49%.

Shave 49% off a $100,000 investment and you'll need a 96% gain just to get back to even. Younger savers can overcome that hit with time, but it's a lot tougher for people close to retirement and nigh impossible for retirees forced to pull money out to live on just as the market swoons.

The stock market is risky and even more precisely because of the logic articulated in the second paragraph people close to retirement or in retirement should have less money in stocks. Young savers, however, can safely assume the additional risk.

Perhaps FLG knows more about economics, finance, and investment than the average person, but the basic concept of investing for retirement takes about fifteen seconds to explain. Now, some of the details of how much to invest exactly and things are more complicated, but the asset allocation concepts required for the average 401k or other retirement account ain't rocket science and articles like this do nobody any favors.

Goldman Sachs Versus The Euro

Quatremer:
je vous annonçais que la Grèce était victime d’attaques Goldman-sachs spéculatives de la part d’une grande banque d’affaires américaine et de « hedge funds »

[...]

Je peux donc vous confirmer que, selon des sources concordantes, Goldman Sachs et le fonds spéculatif dirigé par John Paulson seraient les deux principaux acteurs des attaques contre la Grèce et l’euro.

Rough translation:
I announced to you that Greece was victim of speculative attacks by Goldman Sachs and hedge funds.

[...]

I can therefore confirm that, according to several sources, Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund directed by John Paulson would be the two principal actors attacking Greece and the euro.

The post goes on to detail some shady sounding arrangements that Goldman Sachs is involved in, such as it is also advising the Greek government. Nevertheless, and I've mentioned this before, I always find blaming the bankers somewhat stupid.

The root of the problem, the reason that there is room for an attack in the first place, is that serious problems exist in Greece. This isn't some coordinated attack on Greece for ideological or political reasons. Greece fucked itself. Blaming the bankers is blaming the messenger.

Yet, Greece isn't the only time this narrative comes up. Whatever the crisis, there's the narrative of the powerful, rich bankers picking on either supposedly less powerful and innocent developing nations or Left of center governments who are ideologically opposed to evil capitalists.

Almost always, as it is in this case, the reason for the speculation is that the governments in question undertook questionable policies. In fairness, much of the contagion in the Asian financial crisis in the 90s was probably largely unwarranted, but the bankers don't pick countries for political purposes and then strong arm them.

If there's one place where I agree with the critics is that I assume bankers are greedy. They are out to make money. Therefore, they aren't going to short a currency without some reason. There has to be some fundamental economic weakness already existing and these fundamental economic weaknesses are almost without exception caused by poor, and oftentimes irresponsible, domestic policies.

Placing blame on the bankers does make sense to me from a political and psychological perspective. First, I think the critics feel attacked because they are invested in political policies that led to the problem. Within their own mind the policies can't really be wrong. Second, many of the people are, as I just mentioned, political. They don't really understand economics. So, they project their political understanding and motivations onto other actors. Therefore, bankers must be making a political statement.

Granted, Goldman Sachs is on multiple sides of a lot of transactions and I think it does demand some more scrutiny. But, again, Greece fucked itself. Don't blame the messengers.

Now, this is rather silly, paranoid stuff in my opinion. But the combination of committed political ideology with a lack of economic understanding has, for my money, caused more suffering than any other in human history. And this isn't a modern problem, but goes all they way back to Rome and probably earlier.

Quote of the day

The Economist:
It is not so much that America is ungovernable, as that Mr Obama has done a lousy job of winning over Republicans and independents to the causes he favours.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Conversation

Early 2007, First Official Obama Presidential Campaign Meeting

Barack Obama: Okay, look. We're going to be running for president. It will be a long, tough job. But we need to have a good theme. Any ideas?

David Axelrod: How about "I'm not a Clinton?"

BO: Nah. We need something more positive. I can't use my teleprompter's powers with "I'm not a Clinton." We need something about trying to fix the mess Bush created.

Guy on the couch: How about "Can we fix it? Yes we can."

David Axelrod: Are you high again?

Guy on the couch: Totally. Wanna smoke?

Offers Axelrod a honeybear bong.

BO: That's great! Maybe pot does help with creativity.

Guy on the couch: Nah. I sat on the remote control when I was coming back from a munchie run for a bag of Cheetos. The channel changed and the Bob the Builder theme was on.

A Bit More On NATO

So, I noticed that Dr. Albright is Chair of the Group of Experts on the new NATO Strategic Concept, something I glossed over the first time.

Well, this new strategic concept is supposed to be the "most open and inclusive process in the history of the alliance," and in proper democratic, technocratic, feel-good modern political bullshit theater it has its own website.

It seems that everybody is moving forward under the assumption that NATO must continue to exist because NATO won the Cold War and therefore it must be GOOD. Unfortunate.

Most disheartening is the public forum.

There are people talking nonsense, like only the UN possessing legitimacy when right-thinking people recognize that it has none whatsoever:
I’ve got a question about NATO’s role in the modern international security system.
Is there any coincidence and/or intersection of authority in NATO’s sphere of actions if to remember about UN, the only global organization with 192 members which has the right to fight with today’s challenges using quite different legal methods?

People worried about perceptions, such as frightening Russia and pissing off Muslim countries:
Does NATO take enough account of the perception by others, on its policies and actions?

For instance, NATO’s expansion Eastwards may be perceived by Russia as (potentially) aggressive,
and its ever close partnership with Israel may be seen by Moslem-countries and -groups, as offensive.

It's the most powerful military alliance in history. I think it should be demolished because it serves no useful purpose, but who gives a shit if it is perceived as scary? It is the most powerful military alliance in history, not the fucking Boy Scouts. Quite frankly, what are Russia or Muslim countries going to do about it?

This comment especially annoyed me because of the unnecessary use of jargon:
It would seem that the current NATO/OTAN operations environment would present the need to not just insert forces along a spectrum of future conflict, but posture military capability to respond to the high and low ends of the legacy spectrum, a complex hybrid situation, or an irregular conflict.

This would require NATO/OTAN declared military forces postured to produce desired effects with precision and a degree of flexibility that would tax the present military and political planning framework. It would also require planning capabilities that can work with member nations to integrate forces not on call as needed to produce the needed effects. Some environments may require a degree of civic and private integration, beyond the present capability to coordinate with governments and NGOs.

Would NATO/OTAN strategic concept require a more enduring full-time bureaucracy and operations capability?

How should this function be postured and based to present a NATO/OTAN solution to the policy and military operations elements?

It would seem that decision makers would need not just member options, but options which are NATO/OTAN options. (This would also include developing and sustaining the required alliance infrastructure.) What can be done to create and sustain a more alliance-centric vantage point?

For those of you who don't read security/military jargon, this says:
NATO might have to fight big wars and small wars with tanks and shit against national armies while other times use commandos to fight insurgents.

Doing all this is hard. Plus, you might have to coordinate with the private sector and do-gooder NGOs.

Does NATO need to have a bigger bureaucracy and their own troops to do this?

How should you sell a bigger NATO bureaucracy with its own troops politically?

NATO should be able to fight on its own in some capacity. How would we do this?

After translating it, I realize he probably used jargon to hide the stupidity of his idea. Despite the utter uselessness of NATO since the 1989-1991 era, he wants to expand it in a way that undermines the national sovereignty of the member countries by creating a supernational military.

Then there are EU-philes who are under the delusion that NATO and a strong EU foreign policy are compatible:
We need a strong Europe to have a strong NATO. This is not impossible, but will not occur automatic. More EU visibility at NATO and more NATO visibility at EU instituions can be one of the ways how to do it.

This video depresses me deeply because it has become clear, as if it wasn't already clear to me, that NATO has a whole level of diplomatic puke types, both military and non-military, who seem to sit around and circle jerk each other ad nauseam about various micro-technical details of the alliance's operations, when if they'd get their heads out of their asses would realize that there is absolutely no reason for the alliance to exist.

Lastly, what is this shit?
Istanbul Youth Forum calls for greater NATO focus on education and public diplomacy

It's a military alliance, not Schoolteachers Without Borders.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

The Internet: Undermining My Faith In Humanity One Day At A Time



On one hand, I'm tempted to feel bad because he's a kid. On the other, he made a video and posted it on the Internet. Plus, he thought only ten people were using Google. Isn't that a dead give away that you have no clue what you are talking about?

The Failure Of Engagement

It's become pretty clear that Obama's policy of engagement with Iran hasn't borne any fruit, which means it has been about as effective as Bush's policy. And perhaps even worse because the Iranians, as far as I can tell, have become even more belligerent. But I'm not sure that's a result of the change in policy.

Anyway, I think we can safely say that the insidious theory popular among naive morons that American foreign policy is the root of all problems in the international arena has been disproven. The Iranians, from what I can tell, were offered an honest attempt at some sort of reconciliation by the Obama Administration and they thrust it aside.

(Certainly, the domestic political situation has affected the calculus in some ways, but engagement was never going to work and unsurprisingly didn't.)

Random Thoughts On The Winter Olympics

FLG much enjoys the Winter Olympics over its summer counterpart. He thinks that winter athletes have to be braver because of the speeds and consequent risk involved. And since bravery is a virtue that FLG admires he prefers winter Olympians.

The Olympic gold medal FLG would most like to have won, by far, is Men's Downhill. The Olympic gold medal he thinks he would've had the best chance of winning given his physical abilities -- curling. Biathlon is probably the coolest sport. To posses the ability to perform the most rigorous cardiovascular sport on Earth and then calm your body enough to shoot is impressive. FLG would never have the guts to ski jump. It's just too fucking high. The luge is pretty damn cool too, but those skeleton luge people are just insane. He doesn't understand the appeal of double luge at all. Hockey is FLG's favorite team sport to watch of any Olympic event, winter or summer. Lastly, FLG prefers long track speed skating to short track. He admits that short track is probably more interesting as a television viewer, but any sport where some asshole can take out another racer and lose them a medal is kinda bullshit. Lastly lastly, FLG is amazed by how much better than everybody else Shaun White appears to be.

Cocknmouth Close?

This list is pretty damn funny.

Update: I'm surprised they left out Tickle Cock Bridge.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NATO Delenda Est

FLG was forwarded the following email notice. He wishes he could go just to inquire what the raison d'etre, strategic mission, or whatever some such shenanigans the head of NATO thinks justifies its continued existence beyond all usefulness and reason.
Georgetown University
and
The Center for a New American Security 
(CNAS)

invite you to attend a lecture by

His Excellency Anders Fogh Rasmussen
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General


with

The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State and 
Chair of the Group of Experts on the new NATO Strategic Concept


"NATO - Delivering Real Security in an Age of Uncertainty"

Monday, February 22, 2010
1:00 p.m. - Gaston Hall

Quote of the day

Economist:
Most [Chinese] banks are not explicitly run by the government, but regulators attend board meetings and senior management often includes a person with the title “head of discipline”, who represents the Communist Party.

Head of discipline?

Note To Pretentious Grad Students

There are several ways to say "the owl of Minerva only flies at dusk" that are both more accessible to people and less pretentious. Find one of those ways.

Note To Self

References to the Leontief paradox are both obscure and almost always require an explanation of the Heckscher–Ohlin theorem, which in turn almost always requires explanation of the Heckscher–Ohlin model. Best to avoid the topic altogether.

FLG's Theory

Phoebe asks:
Every Fashion Week, the questions gets asked. Every week, even: The models, why are they so thin? So young? What's driving this? When will someone help the poor girls?

FLG's long-held theory is that the world of fashion is dominated by straight women and gay men, neither of whom possess an innate desire for women. Unconstrained, or FLG would argue unguided, by biology they fixate on what they assume to be sexually appealing and then exaggerate it into the realm of the grotesque. So, the appeal of young, physically fit women becomes distorted into damn near prepubescent and underweight girls.

FLG has no evidence to support this theory, but that does nothing to undermine his faith in it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Conversation

A little blur goes by.

FLG: Did I just see Miss FLG run by with no shirt on?

Mrs. FLG: Yes.

FLG: It's winter, which means it's cold. What on Earth is she doing without her shirt on?

Mrs. FLG: Looking for beads. It is Fat Tuesday.

FLG: I am so not happy about this.

Mrs. FLG: Think how you'll feel when she's 18 and on Bourbon.

FLG: The street or the liquor?

Mrs. FLG shrugs: Either. Both.

FLG: Fuck.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Quote of the day II

MSN:
Jessica Alba has vowed never to strip off on screen -- because her Catholic upbringing has left her too scared to show off her body.

FLG Confused By Berkeley Economists

FLG thought he remembered that Barry Eichengreen did an influential empirical analysis asking whether the GATT/WTO led to freer trade. And found, surprisingly, that did not. However, it turns out that it was another Berkeley economist, Andrew K. Rose, who wrote Do WTO members have more liberal trade policy?

Quote of the day

James Fallows:
China has many more problems than most Americans can imagine, and its power is much less impressive up close.

Alpha & Beta

If you read and listen to financial news enough two terms will come up -- alpha and beta. These are Greek, literally and metaphorically, to most people. The definitions on offer don't help much. Here is what Investopedia says about Alpha:
A measure of performance on a risk-adjusted basis. Alpha takes the volatility (price risk) of a mutual fund and compares its risk-adjusted performance to a benchmark index. The excess return of the fund relative to the return of the benchmark index is a fund's alpha.

And Beta:
A measure of the volatility, or systematic risk, of a security or a portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole. Beta is used in the capital asset pricing model (CAPM), a model that calculates the expected return of an asset based on its beta and expected market returns.

What does that all mean? Well, if you really want to boil it down it's kinda like this: alpha is skill and beta is luck.

That's not exactly it, but it's close enough that if you swapped skill for alpha and luck for beta when you are reading financial news, then it wouldn't be too far off.

For example, Megan McArdle wrote this not too long ago:
The fees are hardly the worst part; more worrying is that many public pension funds and other public trusts are assuming risks they don't necessarily understand. They think they're gaining alpha--higher expected value on their investments. But often they're confusing alpha with beta, which is to say they're getting higher returns not because they're making good investments, but because they're taking on more risks.

I don't think I need to convince many people that high-risk, high-return investments are a bad way for public pensions to try to deal with their massive unfunded liabilities.

I'll replace alpha and beta and I think it makes more sense to most people:
The fees are hardly the worst part; more worrying is that many public pension funds and other public trusts are assuming risks they don't necessarily understand. They think they're gaining skill--higher expected value on their investments. But often they're confusing skill with luck, which is to say they're getting higher returns not because they're making good investments, but because they're taking on more risks.

I don't think I need to convince many people that high-risk, high-return investments are a bad way for public pensions to try to deal with their massive unfunded liabilities.

Sorry if any of you thought this was condescending. As you know, FLG hates jargon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's Always Republican Propaganda

NYTimes:
Americans have certainly been spooked by all of the Republican hype about government takeovers.

Let's see. The Obama Administration took over, for all intents and purposes, two of the Big Three automakers. The government owns AIG. There are plans to involve the government ever more in health care. Silly me for falling for Republican hype.

I'm always astonished by the Left's apparently sincerely and deeply-held belief that much of the criticism of their preferred policies is simply due to incredibly effective Republican propaganda, whether that be about the health care debate, the role of government in daily life, or Matt Yglesias's repeated insistence about Americans' tax aversion.

You won't hear me defending everything that every conservative says about Democratic policies. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and even Michael Steele say some stupid and disingenuous shit. But focusing on outrageous statements, particularly outrageous statements by people in the entertainment business, glosses over some real problems.

The Obama administration has stated aims of becoming involved or furthering the existing involvement of government in many areas. The merits of each of these proposals can be debated, but to dismiss this as simple hype is stupid. Furthermore, we ought to engage in a macro-level debate about the role of government. Oftentimes, if we look at each isolated proposal, then we'll miss the forest through the trees.

This really isn't a post that endeavors to engage in that debate. Just merely rebuking the either stupid or willfully ignorant statement, repeated so often that it's a cliche, that Republican propaganda is to blame.

Friday, February 12, 2010

America May Not Be Next After Greece

...but Niall Ferguson is worried.

FLG thinks this is one of those times when being a historian is a weakness. Yes, this may be a problem in the future, if we keep going on like this with our deficits. But FLG believes we have plenty of time to stave it off -- like a decade. Then again, he never thought he'd seen Lehman collapse so fast.

Charlie Foxtrot

...pretty much sums up the AM and PM commutes in Washington.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alienation

NYTimes:
China is alienating not only the United States but also France, Britain and Germany by resisting tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran.

A high-level Chinese government meeting.

Chinese Government Official #1: We need to do something or we risk alienating France and Germany.

Rest of the meeting erupts into laughter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Independents Are Not Progessives

The current narrative among progressives for why independents are deserting Obama seems to be that independents are frustrated by the lack of progress that the president has made thus far.

This makes perfect sense only if you think moderates are actually progressives. And if you are a progressive, then this kinda makes sense. Don't we all think, deep down, that we are the median voter?

Let me do the progressive movement a favor -- moderates are not progressives. They, unlike you, are not frustrated by the lack of progress. They are simultaneously frustrated by the lack of any progress on almost every issue, but also scared shitless of the huge deficits and the increasing percentage of the economy controlled explicitly or implicitly by the government. The progressive narrative, that moderates are frustrated by the lack of accomplishments thus far by the administration, and consequently the president should double down with more government action despite, or perhaps because of Republican resistance, is the path to electoral ruin.

This happens every time. The side that wins think they have a mandate to do everything they said during the campaign, when in reality people didn't vote for everything the candidate said. As he mentioned in August:
It is true that Obama has a mandate. One of every politician's most crucial jobs, and one very relevant to their re-election, is to interpret that mandate. A strong case can be made that the mandate includes health care reform because it was such a large part of the campaign. However, I think that Democrats overestimate the size of the health care mandate because health care was an even bigger part of the Democratic primary process.

Now that many initiatives have stalled the true believers think that the solution to the impasse is more of what they believe. Put simply -- insufficient ideological purity is the problem. More forceful action toward more pure ideological goals will solve the problem.

It won't. It will just shift power to the other party. The obstacles in the way of progressive goals aren't simply narrow special interests. Those special interests indirectly, albeit oftentimes distortedly, represent legitimate interests that are opposed with real democratic power and votes behind them.

The Democrats aren't the only ones that do this. Conservative talk of RINOs is the same thing on the Right. And the failure of the so-called permanent Republican majority is due to the same thing that is going to undermine Democratic power.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Finance Reading

FLG found this presentation (PDF) via Rortybomb, which FLG found via Dave at LOG.

Page 7 has a decent graphic explanation of what FLG thinks Barney Frank was mumbling about a few days ago.


FYI. VaR is Value at Risk. Basically, what this graph is saying is that "appropriately staffed and resourced" regulators could make an acceptable, if somewhat arbitrary, decision about where value at risk becomes too high and then require higher capital requirements.

FLG's skeptical because it falls to the "more resources" complaint, which, as he has already written many times, including today, is the domain of losers. However, in this case, he happens to agree regulators are understaffed and resourced. However, however, banks will always be better staffed and resourced. So, he's not entirely sure that a regulator can ever posses enough talent to adequately regulate the banks.

Been There. Done That.

Riffing off of Bill Flanigen's post about this piece. Am I really supposed to be worried that "If things continue as it appears they will, the next two decades will see the CNSA emerge as the global leader in manned spaceflight, likely achieving their goal of reaching the moon sometime between 2020 and 2025?"

Solemmegitdisstraight? If China accomplishes what the United States did HALF A CENTURY EARLIER!, then I'm supposed to be worried that CNSA will be a "global leader?" What kind logic is that?

Sometimes I wish I was an idiot. It would be so much easier then. I wouldn't worry that the people who are supposed to be smart are so fucking stupid.
 
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