Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Know What Else Bugs FLG

Reihan wrote an article in Forbes on financial reform that basically says what FLG has been writing in this space for months, but with quotes from so-called expert economists.

Big banks have been helped out by the government and have an unfair advantage. (Although Reihan doesn't mention how this makes the recent big bonuses so annoying.) Then explains the Volker Rule, or as FLG likes to call it the return to Glass-Steagall, but again doesn't give a compelling justification for it. Although, Reihan does mention a book in favor of it that FLG might pick up in the vain hope that it finally contains a strong argument.

Then, Reihan goes on to ask whether the Volker rule could work or would even be beneficial. Finally, he talks about capital requirements and a proposal by Hart and Zingales, which does sound intriguing and was something that FLG had thought about a few weeks ago.

Why does this bug FLG? To be frank, it bugs FLG because he has already been over this stuff. Seriously, FLG likes Reihan's commentary and all, but what the fuck are these so-called pundits and experts doing? FLG comes up with this shit in about ten seconds, types it up in about 1-2 minutes, and done.

Sure, economists and other experts need to write papers and books. That's what they do. FLG, however, has become increasingly convinced that a student who paid attention in intro macro and micro probably knows 70% of what a PhD in econ knows that's useful. Somebody who paid attention in intermediate micro and macro probably knows 90% of what's useful for policy that a PhD in econ knows.

Shit. With what FLG learned in intro and intermediate econs, plus international trade and finance, and international financial markets, he's thought of about 95% of what's coming out as policy prescriptions. Those PhDs know more math, but it sure isn't translating into any policies that a good student of intro econ couldn't figure out.

Then we get to the journalists. Again, what the fuck are they doing? Sure, their requirements for sourcing and fact checking are probably a tad higher, but FLG just cranks this shit out. Normally weeks or months before it's hitting most papers.

So, again, what's bugging FLG?

Simple. It scares the shit out of him that he feels like he knows about as much as the so-called experts on these issues. Maybe the theories and policies are just getting dumbed down by economists explaining them to journalists and then by the journalists explaining to the people, but it sure seems like FLG is roughly on par with the experts in ability to think about these things, and let him tell you something -- he's no expert.

News Flash: Frank Rich Bugs The Shit Out Of FLG

FLG is catching up on his reading and learns that Frank Rich smears the Tea Party movement and everybody opposed to the health care bill as racist lunatics.

FLG is actually bugged by this on two fronts. First, Rich is a fucking asshole who doesn't really ever offer anything approaching intelligent thought, but instead offers up intellectual diarrhea that denigrates any and all opposition to his preferred political policies as morally repugnant. Second, it would be much harder for him to do this if people on the right didn't actually go down the crazy train route when discussing the bill. FLG was even forced to invoke Goodwin's Law over at Athens & Jerusalem.

Does it matter that Rich offered up a misleading piece? Nah, not really. He's a partisan hack and would've anyway. But for fuck's sake the Right didn't have to make it so easy for him. Fish in a barrel style.

There are non-crazy, non-racist reasons to be against the health care reform recently passed. Also, it would help, FLG thinks, if the non-crazy, non-racists didn't use hyperbole and crazy language.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WTF?

William Brafford writes:
But if I can end on a weakly Poulosian point, the political pressures to make kids good at math usually comes out of a view of math as a collection of techniques that will help them become awesome scientists or engineers. Or hedge fund quants, I guess.

Poulosian point?

In fairness to Poulos, the link does go to one of his more coherent posts and one that FLG also agrees with (which leads him to his next point), but come on...FLG has been on this issue for years. If anything it's a fucking FLGian point. Frankly, Poulos' contribution to the topic can suck FLG's right nut.

Object Sex Antiques

Two antique dildos at auction. Funniest part about the whole thing for FLG -- "they were probably French." But of course they are.

And to answer the obvious question.  No, FLG was not overseas buying antique sex toys.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: What are you two watching?

FLG: Huh?

Mrs. FLG: What are you watching with our daughter?

FLG: Oh. CNBC.

Mrs. FLG: Why, pray tell?

FLG: Are you kidding? Our girl is going to be able to price interest rate swaps and S&P 500 futures contracts in her sleep.

Mrs. FLG: She can't even count to 10 yet.

FLG: Oh don't worry 'bout that. Mental osmosis is a powerful thing.

Incomunicado

FLG will be incomunicado for the next few days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Suggestions

Dance writes:
While we are critiquing how you run your blog, why not edit the text above the comment box to specify that you do not need a URL to use the Name/URL box, URL can be left blank. All these Anonymous people adding manual sigs seems like something that could be improved.

Text has been changed to:

FLG wants Fear and Loathing in Georgetown to feel like an intellectual food fight. Therefore, he discourages commenters from posting anonymously. Instead, please click the Name/URL radio button, not Anonymous, and make up a pseudonym.

It's mostly dave.s. and Mrs. P who do this though, and I feel compelled to grandfather them in.

Glass-Steagall Again

So, I'm watching this buffoon of a senator. He's got an MBA from Wharton and teaches a class on something about this stuff at Duke Law and the case for reinstating Glass-Steagall still doesn't make any sense.

At one point he says, back when I was in grad school, a million years ago, separating commercial and investment banks was an article of faith. Well, that's relevant to today how exactly? The financial and technological world has changed dramatically. Moreover, there are tons of universal banks in this world. Been around a long time too.

Then we get this:
The top 5 American banks are engaged in over 80% of all over-the-counter derivatives trades. "We never designed commercial banks to be involved in anything like OTC derivatives," he says. "We should get them out of that business."

Of course the big banks engaged in 80% of the derivatives trades. They're sophisticated enough to do it and they are market makers.

On the commercial banks in the derivatives business, that's not neccesarily a bad thing. It allows them to offload currency and interest rate risk. However, in fairness, perhaps OTC derivatives, which are private contracts negotiated between two parties, may present more difficulty to bank regulators in analyzing them than a standardized derivative traded on an exchange.

It worries me a great deal that these morons are the ones dealing with this regulation. And even more worrying is that this guy has just the type of bio that I'd want a lawmaker designing this type of regulation to have and he still doesn't seem to get it.

The politicians who are worried about this stuff seem to think, this stuff is complicated and it makes my head hurt so let's just go back to what things used to be like. But you can't go back you fucking idiots. And even if we could I'm not entirely sure that it would be a good idea. I know that and I'm just some asshole in my underwear in front of a computer screen.

Suggestions

Okay, so some good suggestions are finally rolling in.

In regards to this one from The Ancient:
In which FLG attempts to explain his taste in music.

My taste in music is impeccable. What else is there to explain?

The Pretension Of Faux Intellectualism In The Blogosphere

If there's one thing that bugs FLG about the blogosphere more than any other, then it has to be the faux intellectualism of some bloggers. Yes, certain members of the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, FLG is looking at you, but fear not; you are far from alone.

Listen, FLG failed out of college. When he finally graduated it wasn't with honors or anything. He's failed to be accepted to any of the numerous graduate programs to which he's applied. And even outside of formal education FLG isn't particularly well-read. All told, he's a pretty piss poor intellectual specimen.

Yet, he reads stuff time and again that is flat out wrong or stupid and even he can tell right away. Not stupid as in FLG doesn't agree with this point-of-view, but downright illogical or completely off-base. And then...to top it off...there's the I'm-writing-about-serious-stuff-such-as-politics-economics-public-policy-or-the-canon-like-a-serious-intellectual-person tone.

That's when FLG really starts to get pissed. Being wrong. Okay. Everybody's wrong sometimes. FLG less so than others, but we can't all be him now can we? Just don't be pretentious about it. Odds are you are a fucking jackass in your living room in front of a computer screen.

UPDATE: If you remember, this was FLG's primary complaint about Culture11 as well.

One Movie FLG Will Not Be Seeing

...on general principle. It just doesn't need to be made.

Layout Update

Per dave.s.' suggestion, I've added a recent comments listing.

Hypothetical Question

I read this debate about the constitutionality of the insurance mandate with interest.

Basically, the argument in favor, as I mentioned before, is that health care is a economic activity and congress has power to regulate economic activity under the commerce clause. Ergo, they can demand people buy insurance.

As a matter of constitutional law, there are two relevant questions in assessing whether Congress's mandate of health insurance fits within the scope of its commerce power. First, is Congress regulating economic activity?

[...]

The second question is whether the activity has a substantial effect on interstate commerce.


But if that's true, then it follows that they have the power to force us to buy anything they deem fit. Need a stimulus? Why have government spend money? Instead, each household needs to buy a new car this year or pay a penalty.

I admit that buying a car doesn't have the same importance as health care. Moreover, it doesn't have the same knock-on effects to other people if somebody doesn't own a car like health care does. So, politically speaking, it is highly unlikely that congress would do so, but that it still stands that under the logic used by many people to justify the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate congress has the power to do so.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Something FLG Was Thinking About Today

I'd far rather debate somebody whose entire argument is the Bible says so than somebody who views their position as self-evident. If somebody says they are for or against something because the bible says so, well there's a text and body of thought to which one can turn. If somebody asserts that something is a self-evident right, and that's that, then there's no real room for maneuver there. Moreover, too often the failure to recognize the self-evident right shuts off all debate and the accusations begin because failure to see the self-evident right is somehow a character or moral flaw.

Granted, the benefits of having a text to turn toward come with the constraint of the content of the text itself, but I vastly prefer that to the alternative.

Dear Readers:

What a shit job you did providing suggestions. (No offense Withy.)

What the fuck do you think this place is? Do you think you can just show up and fresh, innovative blogging will materialize out of thin air? Okay, tired, repetitive blog posts, but they don't think up and write themselves people. The whole thing makes my brain hurt.

Sincerely,
FLG

A Conversation

Coworker: I've always wanted a nom de plume.

FLG: Funny, me too. Why don't you make one up right now?

Coworker: Can I all of a sudden decide to have one?

FLG: Sure. Start signing your incoherent letters to your congressman with "The Great Gazoo."

Coworker: I'm not Harvey Korman.

FLG: Fair enough. Just choose one and be done with it.

Coworker: Is it really that simple?

FLG: Actually, I'm pretty sure it is. Perhaps one day I'll choose a nom de plume myself. Although now that I think about it...it does seem a bit silly.

FLG is currently listening to

Ressemblances Revisited

FLG thought Ben Stiller looked like Bob Dylan. Via Mrs. FLG, he learns other people think he looks like a 70s porn star or staring in Cats.

Oh Please God, Make It Stop

FLG previously mentioned his queasiness with Rufus F's blogging of the canon.

Today, however, FLG can take it no more. Rufus writes:
it’s hard to see what Oedipus might have done wrong; Apollo just has it out for him.

AND

In this case, the son is punished for the sins of the father by bloodline curse. Lineage is destiny.

To a disturbing degree though. Here, blood not only damns Oedipus; it seems to deny him agency.

Now, full disclosure, FLG hasn't read the play for a couple of years, but from what he remembers Rufus' entire post is, for lack of a better description, dumb.

The point of the story is this:
We are subject to the whims of fate. Trying to fight or avoid fate only makes the matter worse. For example, trying to avoid killing your father results in you fucking your mother, killing her, and then in madness blinding yourself.

Agency, innocence, unjust punishment are modern concerns. Or at least the extent to which Rufus is concerned about them and the nature of his concerns are thoroughly modern.

To put it simply -- The ancients didn't think life was fair. Examining Oedipus with an eye toward fairness is ridiculous.

Blogroll

FLG has added Dennis the Peasant to his blogroll. FLG first learned of Dennis when dave.s. linked to him in the comments the other day.

Long story short, Dennis is the type of blogger that FLG wishes he could be, but unfortunately lacks the requisite conviction to realize the dream.

Questions For The Professorial-type Readers Of This Blog

I raised a question over at Flavia's place the other day that has been bugging me.

To what extent do you demand that your undergraduate students accept the normative assumptions of your discipline? I'm less concerned if you demand that majors accept the normative assumptions because I assume they do willingly. Otherwise, one wonders why they chose their major. So, the question really is do you demand intro students accept the normative assumptions of your discipline? If so, have you considered whether this adversely affects their development as a student and human being?

Comment Moderation

I'd like to apologize to Seth Goldin for not posting his comment earlier.

I only have comment moderation on posts older than a day or two to eliminate spam. Since 99% of older comments are spam I usually just ignore the moderation. Generally speaking, if you, and by you I mean anybody, comment on an older post and want it published, then you might want to fire me off an email.


Also, in response to Seth's question about where I got the quotation, it was from another post on that website. Upon reading my comments again that was unclear and I forgot to link to the post containing it. I apologize. If I get some time today, then I'll try to find the source of the quotation in question.

Radical Parenting

The FLGs were watching a special on Discovery Health about radical parenting. There's a list of some of the types here. Some parents keep in constant physical contact with their children until the age of 2 or 3. Some unschool their kids out of concern of the rigidity imposed upon them in education.

As FLG was watching this he felt bad for the kids. FLG is sure these parents mean well, and each of these parenting strategies makes sense, like everything, in moderation. Parents should hug their children AND parents should let children go free. Ultimately, FLG thinks these parents are overcompensating for their own personal hangups, regrets and what they view as their own deficiencies and there's a big risk that their kids will be warped because of it.

Here's an anecdote:
When I was a kid I had a classmate over to play. My mother decided that we should make chocolate. Not make chocolate per se, but she would melt it, then we'd pour it in molds, put it in the freezer, and in an hour or so we would have candies that we'd made.

During the pouring, a bit fell and my friend swooped down like a condor and licked it up directly from the floor. I didn't know the phrase at the time, but my reaction can be best described as WTF?! Turns out his parents didn't let him have any candy or chocolate. In hindsight, I'm sure this posed a dilemma for my mother, but I think there's an Aristotelian lesson in that little boy who licked chocolate off the floor. There's a nature that we can't overcome. Trying to completely suppress our appetites or force virtue in extremis, rather than moderate and encourage them, leads to disaster.

I have no idea what became of that boy. In fact, I don't remember having a playdate with him ever again. Probably the fallout from Chocolategate. Perhaps he's thriving. Maybe the incident led to a re-evaluation of their parenting strategy. Somehow I doubt both.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FLG Thinks Silvio Berlusconi Is An Unmitigated Disaster Of A Human Being

However, FLG must admit that his taste in women is pretty fucking good. He's apparently arranged for this lady to run for office:



According to Wikipedia, she lists Mara Carfagna as her political role model. If successful in the election, then she might just unseat Ms. Carfagna from the title of world's hottest politician.

In case you are interested, the Telegraph has a photo gallery of women associated with Berlusconi.

UPDATE: Wikipedia says she was elected, but the details are confusing.

Les phrases hypothétiques

A few minutes ago, FLG, like an idiot, decided to refresh his knowledge of les phrases hypothétiques*, and he blames Phoebe.



--------------
* He always screws up with futur antérieur for some unknown reason.

Ressemblances

FLG watched the Sunday Morning Show this weekend, including a story about Ben Stiller.

Anybody else think he is starting to look like Bob Dylan?

FLG is currently listening to

Rhetorical Effectiveness

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how I found conservative rhetoric about an impending socialist tyranny problematic.

I think Mrs. P's comment here may have the same problem:
Oh and the feminists have overplayed their hand. Now that they've gotten taxpayers to fund abortion, taxpayers can demand abortion clinics be subject to the same regulations that hospitals are.

No more tossing babies in the garbage cans...

Oh, and the government can tax even more the money abortion clinics make
off the selling of baby parts.

Now, I understand the theological, philosophical, and moral arguments behind these statements. Life begins at conception. Therefore, personhood begins as conception. Consequently, abortion and destroying the embryos from artificial insemination are murder of innocent children, which is obviously morally abhorrent. When the material from the former life is sold and used in medical procedures, this is even more despicable. All of this is easily understood, if you accept the assumption or, depending on your position, recognize the truth that personhood begins at conception. That's not really the issue.

But if you don't, then the babykilling rhetoric appears hyperbolic at best and unhinged at worst. Given that the people who accept the tenets outlined above are almost by definition NOT the people you are trying to convince, then one must confront the possibility that the babykilling rhetoric actually alienates those whom you are trying to get on your side. If that's true, then there is a very good possibility that the babykilling rhetoric, while perhaps personally therapeutic, is actually counterproductive to the cause.

Now, the entire issue revolves around the basic determination of when personhood begins. It's difficult to use reason and logic to change these fundamental determinations of conscience. It's kind of a knowing shit from Shinola type of thing. Using babykilling language is a bit like saying "this is shit and that's shinola. No, you don't understand, this is shit and that's shinola. You're still not getting this. I'm rubbing your face in the shit now! See how stinky and gross it is!" When that happens it stops being about shit and Shinola and more about the person who is shoving another person's face in something that's gross.

Top Ten Things FLG Would Visit With A Time Machine

In no particular order:
1) The trial of Socrates
2) Battle of Thermopylae
3) Alexander crossing the Hellespont
4) Crucifixion of Christ
5) Wright Brothers' flight
6) Lincoln-Douglas debates
7) Jazz Age Paris
8) Signing of the U.S. Constitution
9) Assassination of Julius Caesar
10) Columbus' discovery of the new world

Honorable mentions:
Zheng He's fleet embarking. Trinity nuclear test. Renaissance Florence. California Gold Rush. O.K. Corral. Travel the Silk Road. Stonehenge in 2000 BC or something. Queen Victoria's Jubilee I'm sure there are others...

Quote of the day

WaPo:
I found it offensive that some people in yesterday's march waved the flags of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador while demanding rights and privileges from this country.

I concur wholeheartedly. People should be proud of their heritage, but when you are marching for rights and privileges from the United States of America keep the foreign flags at home.

Liberal Economists' Denial About Social Security

Paul Krugman pulls this from time to time, but today it's Dean Baker:
Serious newspapers don't pull down ghosts from the sky to present their views to readers. However, in an article discussing the implications of the health care plan, the NYT told readers:"many have come to believe that the system [Social Security] must change or go broke, the battle Mr. Bush fought and lost in 2005."

Of course people who are familiar with the finances of the system don't believe such things. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the program can pay all scheduled benefits through the year 2044 with no changes whatsoever. Even after this date it could still pay more than 75 percent of projected benefits long into the future (a level far higher than current benefits) even if no changes were ever made.


This is true only because social security is holding special treasury bonds. Bonds that the federal government must pay back from the normal revenues. Baker addresses this in another post today, he writes:
That is what can be concluded from its decision to call the Treasury bonds held by the Social Security trust fund "IOUs."

This is not the normal term applied to government bonds in the New York Times or anywhere else. This is a pejorative term that has the effect of undermining the credibility of the trust fund. That is the sort of comment that is usually reserved for its opinion pages.

The article also wrongly tells readers that: "By 2016, Social Security will begin paying more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes, according to the annual report of government trustees." Actually, Social Security is currently paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. This fact has no special relevance for the program since it has already accumulated more than $2.5 trillion in government bonds to cover future projected shortfall. Opponents of Social Security have long sought to hype the date when benefits would exceed annual tax collections in order to promote the sense of crisis.

Okay, let me break this down one last time. Social Security Trust Fund has $2.5 trillion in bonds. It got these by taking in more money than it paid out. While it was taking in more money than it paid out it bought special government bonds. In other words, Social security loaned the extra money it took in to the government's general fund, which was promptly spent.

Now, if you look at social security in isolation, then there's no huge problem. They've got bonds that the federal government is legally obligated to pay back. The problem is when you look at the whole. The federal government has to pay $2.5 trillion to social security. That puts a big dent in the ability of the government to do other things.

So, yes. It's true that if you just look at social security, then everything looks fine on paper. The problem is that here in reality the government is going to have trouble coming up with $2.5 trillion.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Correspondence

Alan writes:
While I was in the Gulf for the Iraq war and eligible under my contract to retire, a majority of Americans decided to hold me in place through our Commander-in-Chief in a program called "Stop Loss." Many others were held beyond the end of their contracts--after they no longer owed us anything.

And, of course, all of us register through the Selective Service in case our lives are needed in service to our country. This is a follow-on to the draft that required Americans to don a uniform and risk their lives because a majority of their fellow citizens thought we needed to fight a war. Many Americans died through this process.

With that history, those precedents, I find it both laughable and very insulting to suggest that Americans cannot be told to buy health insurance rather than leaving the cost of their emergency care to their fellow taxpayers.

If you seriously think that there is a continuity between selective and military service and a health insurance mandate, then I'm completely flabbergasted. The differences are many and significant, so much so that the comparison is completely ridiculous.

Alexander Gerschenkron

He may be influential, but he's a horrible writer.

Kinda Proving The Point

NYTimes:
At the top level of math abilities, where boys are overrepresented, the report found that the gender gap is rapidly shrinking. Among mathematically precocious youth — sixth and seventh graders who score more than 700 on the math SAT — 30 years ago boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1, but only about 3 to 1 now.

“That’s not biology at play, it doesn’t change so fast,” Ms. Hill said.

Another hypothesis:
The test has gotten easier, or more people know how to game it, and consequently more children are scoring over 700. From this chart it appears the average math score has indeed risen over the last 30 years or so. Presumably, more are also scoring over 700. Larry Summers' theory was that there are more boys in the tails of the distribution, that is to say the high and low ends. While women have similar math skills on average, they have a smaller variance around the mean. If we shift the distributions, toward the higher end, then it is entirely possible that women "catch up" without actually catching up.

Basically, what I am saying is that getting over the 700 barrier has gotten easier and that because of the statistical distributions it would shift the proportion of females-to-males.

Note: When you are writing a piece about how women don't suck at math and the problem is bias, try to make sure your statistical analysis is tight.

This, however, is a pretty good point:
Even if male math geniuses outnumbered female geniuses 3 to 1, Dr. Hopkins said, it would be reasonable to expect one female math professor for every three male professors at places like Harvard and M.I.T. “But in fact, Harvard just tenured its first female, after 375 years,” said Dr. Hopkins, who, famously, walked out of the room after Mr. Summers made his controversial remarks.

It certainly proves there has been historical bias over the previous four centuries, which is something I think nobody would dispute.

Then there's this:
The university women’s report cited research showing that girls’ performance suffers from any suggestion that they do poorly at math.

Isn't this the fragile feminine psyche defense?

If you asked my straight up whether I think there is bias in math and science, then I'd say straight up - yes. But when the statistical analysis is iffy I get pissed off.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Miss FLG will not get away with any bullshit about girls don't do math. She's learning calculus even if it kills her.

Empires Series

FLG is doing his best to make it through the PBS Empires series on Netflix streaming. Most recently, he watched Martin Luther. The full video can be found here.

Is FLG the only one who finds placing Martin Luther under the category of empire odd?  It's not that there can't be Protestant empires.  There have been.  It's just the idea that Protestantism is an empire that seems odd given its very individualistic and anti-hierarchical theological and philosophical nature.  Or maybe FLG misunderstands.

Anyway, current state of progress on the series:

  • The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization
  • Napoleon
  • Islam: Empire of Faith
  • Queen Victoria's Empire
  • The Roman Empire in the First Century
  • Egypt's Golden Empire
  • Peter & Paul and the Christian Revolution
  • Martin Luther
  • Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire
  • The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance

FLG Wonders

Matt Yglesias dismisses questions about the constitutionality with one swipe -- the commerce clause. The overly broad interpretation of the commerce clause does bug FLG, but he's willing to concede that most of the bill is kosher under the common judicial interpretation of the clause.

Nevertheless, he's not quite sure that an mandate forcing individuals to buy a private product is an open and shut case to be dismissed with a wave of the hand holding the commerce clause. Doesn't mean it's necessarily a problem either. FLG doesn't know enough about the issues involved. Maybe there's precedent, but it strikes him as a bright line.

A Good Question

Yglesias writes:
why does a former Senator’s [John Edwards] scandalous affair attract more attention than John Ensign’s less-salacious but more-illegal conduct?

Matt seems to see this as some inherent media bias when the difference is completely clear to FLG:
1) Edwards wife has cancer.
2) There is a baby involved.
3) The most important difference to FLG -- Edwards had the balls to straight out lie to the American people when he was running for president. (Yes, Clinton lied too. Yes, it's a personal matter. It's still a major character flaw and I certainly don't want to go through another Monica thing in my lifetime.)
4) And the most important reason for the coverage disparity -- the media, for any number of reasons, passed on the story and was scooped by the National Enquirer. The media is overcovering it to compensate for their initial fuck up when they believed Edwards' bullshit.

Weaselly Language

Ta-Nehisi Coates, as part of a a post on ACORN, offers this excerpt from an independent review:
The serious management challenges detailed in our report are the fault of ACORN's founder and a cadre of leaders who, in their drive for growth, failed to commit the organization to the basic, appropriate standards of governance and accountability. As a result, ACORN not only fell short of living its principles but also left itself vulnerable to public embarrassment. This hidden camera controversy is an apt example.

While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers. Instead, the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN's longstanding management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures, and a lack of on-site supervision.

I'm fine with the first paragraph, but that second one is weaselly. Let's look at in more detail.

While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional,

Agreed.

...we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff

Right, no illegal conduct intentionally. They just gave advice on how to engage in illegal activities without knowing whether or not said advice was illegal.

in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.

Right. So, the defense is that ACORN employees didn't actually do anything to help the videographers setup a brothel and smuggle in underage girls to work in it; they just gave advice? Charming.

Instead, the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN's longstanding management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures, and a lack of on-site supervision.

Okay. People walk in to your office and claim to want to setup a brothel with underage girls they are going to smuggle into the country illegally. What kind of idiot needs needs training, procedures, or supervision to tell them this ain't kosher?

The gist I get from the report, when you strip away the formality, is this: While the higher ups were focusing on growth (and embezzling money), they didn't realize that many of the lower, local-level employees are stupid and untrustworthy.

Health Care

I'm actually pretty impressed by health care reform on two counts. First, as I said before, Pelosi isn't all that impressive beyond being an excellent parliamentary apparatchik, but she's accomplished something that puts her high in the running for all-time best parliamentary apparatchik. Second, they knew this was going to cost them their majority and did it anyway. Perhaps they reckoned that because of the economy they were going to lose either way and might as well do something "historic," but it's still impressive because each individual member had to make a decision on this. It's politically stupid, but impressive.

So, we are left with 1) a bill that I'm pretty confident is going to cost a bunch more than the Dems are claiming. 2) Partisanship will only increase. Although, I'm not sure that even if it gets worse that will matter politically or procedurally. Things are pretty bad right now on that score considering that this passed on the backs of Democrats alone. 3) People have seen the sausage being made and wish they hadn't. Approval of congress is at an all-time low. On a related note, I think it was stupid of Obama to say "This is what change looks like" because it looks pretty fucking ugly in a lot of parts. 4) The Democrats have definitely lost my vote for 2010 and, unless they run Palin or something, in 2012 as well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Losing Vote

Am I the only one who thinks it was stupid for the house leadership to call for a vote on today when they didn't have the votes? I realize the vote hasn't actually gone forward, but it would be politically idiotic to hold today when you didn't know for sure you had the votes.

They ain't gonna hold a losing vote. Yet, they said they were going to have a vote. If they don't have 216, then it seems foolish to say there would be a vote on Sunday. Then again, wasn't this supposed to have been wrapped up by Christmas or something anyway. What's one more deadline?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Correspondence

A reader asks two questions:
Thank you for explaining the impossible trinity and China. How does it work in Europe with the euro?

From the perspective of an individual country, like France of Germany, they have a fixed exchange rate with each other which is the euro. They therefore had to cede something else. Since the purpose of the EU is to allow goods and services, as well as capital to move freely, it ain't an open capital account. What they did sacrifice is independent monetary policy. There is a European Central Bank that sets policy for the eurozone. To us, looking from the outside, it appears that they have an independent monetary policy, but they only do at the union level, not individual country level.

You've expressed some skepticism about the health care plan. What would your ideal plan be?

It's a very complicated issue with a lot of moving pieces, but the key problem is that the costs don't come into play when the decision to do a medical procedure is made. For example, when I take Miss FLG to the doctor, I don't balk when the doctors says that they are going to run a strep throat test even though they are pretty sure she doesn't have strep throat. It just costs my copay either way. If I was paying myself, then whether that test cost $20 or $120 would play a factor. This would probably even concern the doctors then. Indeed, if I was paying out of pocket, then I'd probably care what Miss FLG's doctors charged for routine visits compared to other doctors or whether they recommended more treatment than average, but I don't because my copay is the same no matter what.

So, I'm in favor of tax-free health savings accounts, like an IRA or something, that would allow people to save money for paying routine health costs. Ideally, we'd have some sort of subsidy for low income people so that they can get preventive care and take care of things before they hit the emergency room.

Now, nobody can reasonably save enough money to deal with serious medical problems and the required treatment. There's an adverse selection problem (i.e. preexisting conditions, etc) that make this problematic to deal with through market mechanisms. Therefore, I'd be okay with even a single payer government system kicking in at some point to deal with things like this. Basically, it would be a government run system with a huge deductible that would come out of personal savings.

So, routine stuff paid for using health savings accounts under individual control and catastrophic coverage that could even be government run. The devil is, as always, in the details: Where does the coverage kick in? At what amount? What is then catastrophic? How do we control costs associated with what the government is insuring?

FLG Was Pretty Surprised

that the comments at Feministing directly contradicted the post. I've seen some where they debate rather esoteric points in the posts, but normally it seems to me like it's one big "You go girl" session.

It's fine if you believe health care is a right, but if that is the sum total of your argument, then you aren't doing yourself any favors. You really ought to describe from whence that right derives. Too often I hear, "health care is a right" when it means "I think it's really, really important and I'm using the word 'right' because rights are really, really important." It warms my heart to see the commenters over there to really ask why it's a right and question whether it is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

FLG is currently listening to

And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten cock

Not quite a golden calf, but funnier:
Each spring, the old and young alike come here to see an enormous wooden penis carried through the streets, to eat penis shaped sweets, and to make a penis-spirited wish to god.



Crazy fucking Japanese. Oh, and yes, I'm counting this as object sex.

PS. FLG knows the Romans had similar shit.

Before Anybody Asks

Just as FLG was not invited to the Treasury Department, nor was he invited to this.

FLG's Continuing Defense Of Latin

FLG would like to thank the Georgetown University Grilling Society for posting its creed in Latin:
Sub arboribus quae campo Georgeopolitani stant, Societas Torrens, Universitatis Georgiopolitani per amicitia vinculaque facta in illa igni quo coquimus mores humanorum affirmare intendat

Correspondence

A reader writes:
Would you explain how the impossible trinity comes into play in current US-China relations?

It's actually relatively simple at the macrolevel.

To recap, the impossible trinity states that a country cannot have the following simultaneously:
A fixed exchange rate
An open capital account
An independent monetary policy

The US has the following:
A floating exchange rate
A open capital account
An independent monetary policy

China has decided to have the following:
A fixed exchange rate
An closed capital account
An more-or-less independent monetary policy

The decisions for these things are political, but also driven to some extent by underlying economic factors. The US is the most developed nation in the world with deep capital markets and the reserve currency. We can deal with the fluctuation that comes from a floating exchange rate and an open capital market. The US is so big that billion dollar shifts aren't really felt.

China, on the other hand, along with many other developing nations, decide to close the capital account (i.e. regulate what money comes in and out of the country) and peg the exchange rate. As impressive as China's growth has been, her financial system couldn't deal with tens of billions of dollar swings. I wrote more-or-less independent monetary policy because the Chinese have to sterilize all the money that comes into the country.

Personally, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with the way China has chosen to go about this. It's a legitimate political decision and given their stage of development when they chose to do it, it made sense. However, it may be that at this point they need to shift towards a more flexible regime for their own economy's sake as well as the rest of the world.

But that is problematic. First, as I mentioned above, their banking system sucks. A weak banking system is extremely vulnerable. Second, the Chinese government, in the aftermath of communist failure, bases it legitimacy on technocratic ability. Shifting to a flexible regime is fraught with peril. Indeed, if done poorly could be an existential threat. Nevertheless, it seems that China realizes this cannot continue forever. Indeed, they let the currency "float" and appreciate since 2005.

I have little patience for American politicians grandstanding about China's "manipulation." Moreover, I have little patience for Krugman's argument that because we are in a liquidity trap right now that the problem is China's system. I'll concede that it is a problem right now. Indeed, I'll concede it may have negative consequences in general, but you shouldn't change from a closed to open system on a dime based on present circumstances. These are medium to long-term decisions on how to manage an economy in the international economic environment. It's entirely imprudent and somewhat stupid to say to the Chinese, "Hey, we know you've had a long-term policy, but it's hurting us especially bad in these highly unusual economic times. Therefore, you are bad and need to risk destabilizing your entire economy and possibly toppling your political regime over the next few years when we still have domestic monetary options available."

The take away here is that from FLG's perspective the international spat is silly. As with most things in the international economic arena, the biggest determinant of your country's economic growth is still domestic economic policy and to the extent that international forces play a role their potential impact is also the subject of domestic political decisions about how to deal with the impossible trinity.

In general, if you are talking about "to competing in the global economy" you are already on the wrong path. Education policy shouldn't be driven by the desire to compete in the global economy. It should be for domestic political reasons. Likewise, economic policy shouldn't be to compete in the global economy, but focused primarily on the domestic economic circumstances. Worrying about competing leads us to zero sum thinking, which leads to protectionism, which makes us worse off.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

FLG Is So No Happy

...about this. Screwed up my bracket.

Quote of the day II

Lexington:
Not even Mrs Pelosi's closest allies would claim that she is a great orator. What she is good at is twisting arms and counting votes.

This has always been my take on Pelosi. She's not a deep thinker, but she sure can twist arms.

Her response of "Are you serious? Are you serious?" when somebody asked her if a health care mandate was constitutional seems to betray a complete lack of pensiveness on her part. Say what you want about Newt Gingrich, but he'd at least have an answer to that question off the top of his head. It may have been slightly crazy, but it would've been an answer. I'm not terribly confident that Speaker Pelosi gives much thought at all to the constitution. In particular with health care it seems that her thinking is: Health care is good. Therefore, anything done to expand health care must be constitutional. Regardless, I think she knows political jujitsu and how to count. Beyond that I just don't find her that impressive.

Investment, huh?

I'm always annoyed when people refer to any government spending that has positive externalities as investment. In some cases, infrastructure comes to mind, I can accept it. Oftentimes, I think it's somewhat disingenuous way of referring to increased government spending.

Case in point from yesterday's Marketplace:
The spirit of the nutrition standards [for school lunches] was, you know, we want to use this public investment to serve our children healthy meals.

Now, I understand the economic logic supporting the use of the word "investment." Kids who eat healthy do better in school. Kids who do better in school have a higher likelihood of being contributing and productive members of society when they're adults. Likewise, I understand the similar logic underlying other social spending, like investments in health care, education, whathaveyou. What's the problem then?

Three problems actually. First, the people who advocate for increased "investment" in various social services aren't primarily motivated by economic returns years from now. It's about providing health care or education or whathaveyou right now. Kids are starving. People are sick. Etc. Second, and this partially relates the first, if kids are starving do you really want your argument to be, "Look, to increase the chances of economic growth a decade or more from now we should feed this starving kid"? The decision of whether or not to feed a kid is not a narrowly economic one.* Third, and related to the second, basing the decision to feed kids when they are in elementary school on economic returns, then leads to a cost-benefit maximization. We'd have to discount the future economic returns from feeding kids and compare it to other alternatives for spending that money and how it would maximize future returns. In short, you start to go down a dehumanizing econometric path that nobody wants.

So, if you are in favor of social spending, then by all means point out that it has positive externalities, but please don't call it an investment. If you want to call plant and equipment (building a bridge, school, or a new hospital) investment, then fine, but the idea that social spending, driven primarily by concern for people not economic returns, is called investment bugs the shit out of me. It's about it being the right thing to do. If that right thing has economic benefits, then bonus, but that isn't the reason to do it.


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* When you start to look at a particular policy, then it becomes murkier. What's our proxy for hungry? Is it household income? If household income, then what level? What are the unintended consequences? Etc.

Quote of the day

MSNBC:
Without humor to soften his acute observations, Franken's naked sarcasm, short fuse and sense of showmanship ran amok, leading to public blowups with Republicans, private grievances among Democrats and attacks on senior Obama administration officials.

Pure Rationality

A post on this blog affiliated with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford linked to one of my posts on The Big Assumption as part of an argument that our life experience shouldn't influence our decision-making. Unfortunately, I can't find the post anymore.

The gist of the argument was that the author was upset that older people often claim that a younger person's attitude may change with age. Long story short, the author's objection was that reason is reason regardless of how old we are. Therefore, opinions ought not change.

I like to think that the author deleted the post because this is self-evidently stupid. The rigid adherence to empiricism, scientism, and rationality leads to tons of very odd ideas, including that your life isn't one coherent experience, but a series of "mind-moments:"
It is incoherent to talk about a "you" which stretches through time. Instead, we should think of a series of similar mind-moments.

The author of this second post then explains how the child him and his present self are actually, for all intents and purposes, two completely separate people. For people seemingly so concerned about being strictly rational, they're fucking nuts.

Income Tax Distortions

Most economists, and also conservative talk radio hosts, will tell you that raising income tax adversely affects how much people work.  In economics, this is called the labor-leisure decision.  The response FLG often heard from liberals was that most people can't just not work, so the effects ought to be minimal.  He always thought this was a pretty compelling response.  However, he also figured that this meant only that the distortions manifested in other, more subtle, ways.

Until today, FLG had never seen an empirical study on this topic.  The St. Louis Fed has a paper (PDF) on what they call the wage-amenity decision.  (Perhaps this is a common nomeclature in the economics literature, but as he just mentioned FLG has never seen this before.)

Taxes can affect occupational choice by distorting the return to monetary wages relative to non-taxable amenities. In this paper, we study the effect of tax changes on wage-amenity decisions where amenities are defined in a broad and agnostic manner. Non-taxable amenities of a job include both observable characteristics such as health insurance provision and unobservable characteristics such as stress and workplace environment. We introduce a two-step estimation procedure and use compensating differentials as the summary statistic of the nontaxable amenities associated with a job. We believe that this methodology offers a fruitful means of characterizing the amenity decision faced by workers and can be extended to other contexts where occupational choice or non-taxable amenities play a significant role.

We find that when the net-of-tax rate increases, workers move to higher wage jobs, implicitly sacrificing non-taxable amenities. We estimate a statistically significant compensated elasticity of 0.05, suggesting that a 10% increase in the marginal net-of-tax rate leads workers to choose an occupation with a 0.5% higher wage. In related work, Powell (2009b) focuses on the tax elasticity of labor income and reports a mean elasticity of 0.5. Our paper, then, suggests that the wage-amenity tradeoff accounts for 10% of the overall labor tax distortion. While our estimated elasticity is modest, it is possible that the true long-term distortion is larger than this elasticity suggests.
What does that all mean?  Increase taxes and people choose to work in jobs that have tax free benefits, like better health insurance or more flexible work hours.  Their statistical analysis implies that if we lower the taxes people face by 10%, then they will search for even higher wages, but the effect appears to be pretty small.  Yet, they have reason to believe that this effect could be larger over the long-term.

What does FLG's explanation mean in practical terms?  Yes, liberals who argue that raising income taxes won't drive most people to stop working, which seems to be common sense, is correct.  BUT those people will choose jobs that pay less in wages with non-taxable benefits.  This isn't to say that an investment banker is going to give up his job and work at an NGO at a fraction of his former wage just because his taxes went up, but it does suggest that income taxes do distort in ways other than the simple choice of whether to work or not.

Current Reading Update

FLG read Barry Eichengreen's Globalizing Capital this week.  It's a very good history of the international monetary system. 


What frustrates FLG is that he reads these things, but already knows most of the story.  So, reading consists of skimming for new insights.  He fears he's doomed to this from now on, but he longs for the day when he could pickup a book like this and learn something new on every page.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

English At The EU

I found this lament that English is the de facto universal language at the EU simultaneously funny and compelling. On one hand, people have to decide on a common language. It just doesn't make sense and is frankly impractical to have everybody master two or three foreign languages. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to native speakers of other languages that settling on a common language other than their own is problematic for them.

Oddly, this brings me to game theory. There's a game theory game called battle of the sexes. I'll just paste the premise from the Wikipedia article:
Imagine a couple that agreed to meet this evening, but cannot recall if they will be attending the opera or a football match. The husband would most of all like to go to the football game. The wife would like to go to the opera. Both would prefer to go to the same place rather than different ones.

Unlike the Prisoner's Dilemma, from which most people can readily foresee application to the political or economic realm, the battle of the sexes situations occur at times when we cannot imagine that the parties wouldn't come to an agreement, some international postal standard, for example.

Well, my professor brought up this one:
The nature of international air travel is such that you need a common language to transmit instructions to the pilots arriving from across the world. It happens to be English, for a variety of historical reasons, but you have to assume the French raised a huge fit at some point because, well, they're French. Now, they're better off having a standard language than not having one. So, they acquiesced. But you know they'd have preferred it be French.

Something FLG Can't Believe He Said Outloud Today


John Locke isn't really John Locke. He's a smoke monster.

Suggestions

Since FLG hasn't asked for blog topic suggestions in a long while and the previous attempt was so successful, FLG is opening this comment section up to, you guessed it, blog topic suggestions.

Disagreeing With FLG

FLG does not receive much contradiction in the comments (except from Alan, of course). He was wondering why that is.

Several explanations came to mind:
1) Self-selection of the readership such that most readers who read FLG largely agree with him.
2) People don't bother to disagree with unimportant, pseudonymous bloggers who swear and refer to themselves in the third person.
3) People fear FLG's prodigious intellectual resources. You don't want to bring a knife to a gun fight, now do ya?

A Fascinating Question

From Tyler Cowen:
How long the Roman Empire would have had to last to generate an Industrial Revolution?

FLG Knows He Probably Shouldn't Find This Funny

...but he does.

From the Telegraph:
The 28 year-old attempted to strike the female officer on the head [with his dick]

This is terribly embarrassing, offensive, and demeaning for all parties, but FLG can't get passed how hilarious the mental imagery is.

Correspondence

Dance, who FLG always assumes at some point will say to herself "This guy's a fucking nutjob" and stop reading, writes:
I will say that as a history professor, I don't strongly enforce things at the sentence level. Similarly, I've heard composition profs say that their job is not defined as teaching grammar.

Fair enough. I'm not arguing that a history prof should correct every sentence. I do, however, think comp profs should correct writing at the sentence level.

I dedicate much more attention to the organization and treatment of ideas at the paragraph level, which I think is more important. When I do focus on grammar, it's in the direction of ensuring that grammar supports the rhetoric (eg, don't bury your main idea in a subordinate clause). Line-editing is FAR too time-consuming to do on every paper, although when I get a good example that I can rewrite, I share it with the entire class.

Again, I agree. The important part is the communication, not necessarily whether a student splits an infinitive.

That said, most of my students can put together fairly comprehensible, roughly grammatical, sentences before I get them. Except for consistently using the wrong preposition, which they have managed to infect me with. However, passive voice is not ungrammatical (and I flag pedantry on student papers like mad, with a special shorthand for "not wrong but not helping").

Passive voice does affect readability. I also prefer adverbs to precede the verb they modify and a whole host of other things, including the elimination of "in order to" and "the fact that" in 95% of cases, but I certainly don't expect a history prof to look for these in every paper they grade. The important part is the argument about history. On the other hand, I don't think it's too much to ask for a comp prof to go over grammar and style at the sentence level.

A Bit More Because I Just Can't Get Enough

Mrs. P offers this:
When do Democrats think the Constitution matters?
By: Michael Barone
Senior Political Analyst
03/17/10 9:57 AM EDT

Connecticut-based blogger Ironman asks the question and provides the answer. Not when it comes to passing a bill in Congress. But when you arrest a foreigner not legally in the United States who tries to blow up an airliner.

I'm willing to concede that this "deem and pass" nonsense is constitutional and legal, but not everything that is constitutional or legal is good or even a good idea.

Alan Part Three

Alan writes:
What is the non-arbitrary definition of "major bills"?

Nancy Pelosi:
the most important bill most of us will ever pass

I think that qualifies as a major bill.

Alan Continued

He writes:
You argue that Democrats have a greater responsibility to defer to the people than Republicans. That does seem to be the practice. Republicans are, with the filibuster especially, resisting majority rule. Unfortunately the alternative is minority rule--an outrage.

First, your definition of minority rule in this case is only indirectly related to the will of the people. You are talking about minority versus majority of Senators.

The people? Only 36% think the bill is a good idea. In fairness, the polls says that 46% are in favor of passing the bill while 45% are against, but 46% ain't exactly a majority of the people. Democrats are trying to pass this in spite of a lack of public support. Indeed, if they choose this path of deem and pass, then it will be to get cover from public outrage.

Again, both the House and Senate have passed Health Care reform bills with majority votes, and both chambers will hold majority votes to reconcile the differences between the bills--all in accordance with the chambers' rules.

Accordance with chamber rules isn't the issue. Pointing to the letter of procedure and then distorting all out of the spirit is fucking wrong. You just shouldn't pass a bill that you've been pushing for a year through gimmicks.

Your assertion, shared by others in the minority, that the Democrats should abide by an ill-defined higher standard rather than work within the rules, is arbitrary and in the event, hypocritical.

It is not arbitrary. Major bills that have been the subject of much debate that still have widespread opposition should not be rammed through via parliamentary shenanigans. It is undemocratic.

On the hypocrisy point, I was against getting rid of the filibuster when Republicans were in charge and I don't remember Republicans ramming a bill through with that they called the most important piece of legislation in a generation without voting for it. And if the Republicans try some shit like this when they regain power, then I'll be voting third party the rest of my life. So you can take your hypocrisy charge and shove it.

Quote of the day

Flavia:
But the average Protestant--and I mean the average, church-going Protestant, someone who claims his religion as an important part of his identity--does not appear to be reading the Bible himself. He relies upon other people to tell him what the Good Book "says," and from what I can tell, many if not most nondenominational church services don't even present the text of the Bible in any systematic or thorough way. These days, ironically, a Catholic who attends church every Sunday is likelier to know the Bible than many Protestants who do the same.

That leaves the Bible in a strange limbo: continually touted as the Word of God, but removed from the intellectual and spiritual traditions that made meaning out of it.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


And especially for Sir Basil who apparently is too busy to blog or read blogs:

Correspondence

Alan writes:
"Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings..."

That may be so, but that doesn't make it right.

And quotes from the Christian Science Monitor:
"The procedure of one vote to both adopt a resolution and concur on a Senate amendment to a bill has been around since 1933. In March 1996, Republicans used a similar procedure to pass a controversial measure to raise the national debt limit"

There is a sizable difference in raising the debt ceiling, which arguably had to be done to keep the government functioning, and passing a bill that has been the primary legislative discussion and the focus of most of the administration's attention for a year. But more importantly, if you've done a full court press on something, and then have to resort to trickery (and you incidentally call yourself Democrats but don't actually vote on things), well, you have a huge problem.

Lastly, and regardless of your opinion on this issue, mine is that this is downright underhanded and anti-Democratic and the Democrats will lose my vote forever if they pull this shit.

BTW, on the filibuster, I'm glad the Republicans didn't get rid of it and I hope the Dems don't either, but that wouldn't provoke as much ire from me as trying to shield yourself from the consequences of a vote.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Writing Skills

FLG is horrified by the average level of writing skill on display in this country. He isn't perfect. He makes plenty of mistakes on this blog between/among your/you're, they're/there/their, it's/its, and other homophones. Oftentimes, he cringes when he reads a hastily published post. Nevertheless, he knows how to craft a grammatically correct sentence.

The same cannot be said for countless millions of people in this country. Don't even get FLG started on his coworkers or, heaven forbid, people who write federal documents.* Those pale in comparison to the Superintendent of Detroit Schools who recently wrote:
If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.

Unfortunately, this lack of facility with the English language is too common among school administrators, as this recent article by a high school teacher makes clear:
Nothing shows how downright phony the game is than the Ed.D.s — the Doctors of Education. I have seen administrators who have had trouble writing clear letters home to parents and who murdered the English language in public go about brandishing their degrees and insisting on being called “Doctor.”

FLG's question is this:
How do people graduate from college without the ability to write a clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentence? Doesn't anybody fail them for turning in an indecipherable mess of a paper? Perhaps an even better question is how do people get accepted into a college without the ability to write a clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentence?

As has been said before on this blog, GEC returned a paper to FLG on which he pointed out every use of passive voice in red, along with half a page of comments describing all of the problems with using passive voice itself written entirely in passive voice. Yet, college graduates can't correctly place the commas around a parenthetical clause or use a semicolon? I call shenanigans!


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* It's more a style thing, but their writing still sucks.

Quote of the day

[Health care reform] deserves the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that was used for Cobra health coverage for the unemployed and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts

You tell 'em, President Obama. Apparently, Speaker Pelosi didn't get the memo though.

Seriously though, say what you want about the merits of health care, if you have to pass the bill without voting on it, then something is deeply wrong with your strategy.

In Case You Were Wondering

Yes, FLG is training Miss FLG in the mysteries of MarioKart.

The Geek Mind

James Poulos:
The Cloud problem is itself merely a symptom of Gelernter’s insistence on seeing the internet as a single, universal System — driven, as I suggested at Pomocon, by a captivation with the vast possibilities unleashed by treating the internet as a System. This element of geek psychology is a serious problem — less because the field of human possibilities can and should be dramatically reduced, and more because I detect, paradoxically, a failure of the imagination among geeks who gravitate with such pubescent enthusiasm to technological unitarian universalism. I’m profoundly unconvinced that the possibility-maximizing framework is, and must be, the unitary and universalist one.

The desire for a single answer, or universal unitarian system, is a direct product of the education of an engineer or computer programmer. Engineering or programming education habituates the recipient toward determinism. A determinism that is often devoid of relevance to the people who will be using the technology the geeks develop. This is why FLG is so vociferously against the we-need-more-math-and-science-to-compete-in-the-global-economy bullshit.

As he is wont to mention, FLG, unlike most other bloggers or even political pundits, did two years of engineering education. Unless you've gone through that and then done a liberal arts core it is difficult adequately convey the differences. Due to both self-selection and formation, engineers have little understanding of what is meaningful to people or even people themselves. The vast majority of other people aren't deterministic, for example, and this causes unbelievable problems for software developers.

What's the point in all this? Well, Mr. Poulos approaches the question like he has been trained to do, and presumably in a manner that interests him, which is to say as a political scientist and lawyer. Now, I understand this language. Well, to some extent and Mr. Poulos in particular a good bit less. But the juxtaposition of Poulos' analysis with the deeply distorted view of human beings that the typical engineer possesses and the resulting and rather rudimentary political thinking that results is discomforting. To put it more simply -- Poulos has an understanding of people and how they interact with one another and, more importantly, the consequences thereof. Now, you or I may disagree with his assumptions or resulting conclusions, but for an engineer you may as well be speaking Greek.

An example that FLG thinks explains some of this is science fiction. The vast majority of science fiction attempts to illuminate some aspect of politics or culture. Indeed, FLG would argue that science fiction is for all intents and purposes the grammar and language geeks use to talk about things that are meaningful to people -- politics, religion, etc. There are some outliers that we all know, but if you look at any random SciFi work the understanding of politics, culture, religion, or economics is extremely rudimentary and often just plain odd.

On a related note, whenever FLG hears from people like Tom Friedman that the leaders in China are all engineers who then presumably understand technology, and in particular his current favorite type of technology -- green, as if this is preferable to the fucking lawyers in charge here FLG always snickers. Engineers may be good at getting stuff done over in China when its all about just getting stuff built with little concern for the human costs. But as China gets richer those engineers are going to be royally fucked. It's already starting to happen. People are getting wealthy enough in some pockets that things other than construction and economic growth matter more. Having a government of lawyers sucks, but it's far better than being governed by engineers who focus on efficiency. Eventually, engineering efficiency applied to government will result in the efficient overcoming of political obstacles -- killing people. Or they will have to abdicate.

Anyway, all this is to say that people shouldn't trust our futures to engineers. They're good at making things, but somebody else needs to guide them not the other way around.

The Impossible Trinity

FLG described the impossible trinity to a co-worker who was completely flabbergasted that things like this were impossible.

The basic premise is that you cannot have the three following things simultaneously:
A fixed exchange rate
An open capital account
An independent monetary policy

Ideally, we'd probably like to have all three, but it just ain't gonna happen.

When WTF Isn't Sufficient

WaPo:
After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it.

Emphasis mine. WHAT THE FUCK?

What kind of self-delusional shit is involved when a leader of the Democratic party tries to pass a controversial piece of legislation WITHOUT A VOTE?

Sure, I understand the ends justify the means and all that. Using reconciliation is kinda shady, but if the Democrats think that using a parliamentary trick that passes this legislation without a vote won't cause them long-term problems and, perhaps even more importantly, isn't contrary to their self-described Democratic values, then they're seriously mistaken.

Let me be clear: If this happens, then the Democrats are dead to FLG. He will never vote for another one of them again -- ever.

FLG Wonders

FLG knows to whom David Brooks was referring here:
To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us.

The first sentence of the next paragraph gives it away completely:
To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral sentiments.

The answer is Adam Smith and his work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. FLG felt a small tinge of self-satisfaction in making that connection, but he almost immediately asked himself why he felt it? Does it help him in any way to understand that article better? Not particularly. Does it make him feel superior to the unwashed masses for whom the reference by Brooks went uncomprehended? Perhaps, but that's pretty shitty and not very FLG-esque. Plus, as FLG just pointed out, having read The Theory of Moral Sentiments doesn't provide any tangible benefit when reading the article. Brooks summarizes nicely and then moves on to develop his argument.

So, FLG felt superior for a moment before checkity-checking himself, before he wrecked himself. Also, while I'm on the Walken theme, him reading Lady Gaga's Poker Face is fucking hilarious:

Odd Catch Phrase

FLG always finds TD Bank's catchphrase -- America's Most Convenient Bank -- odd.

Why? you ask.

TD stands for Toronto Dominion, as in it's a Canadian bank.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sherman Act of 1890

FLG was just reading something that referred to the Sherman Act of 1890 and silver purchases. This was a surprise to FLG who thought the Sherman Act of 1890 only contained antitrust provisions.

Turns out there are two Sherman Acts of 1890:
Sherman Antitrust Act
Sherman Silver Purchase Act

That confused the shit out of FLG for a spell.

Quote of the day

DCist:
A straight-faced federal employee: "The precursor activity to phase two is phase one."

After reading Federal guidlines, standards, and sundry other documents statements like this are completely understandable.

On a related note, FLG was watching a basketball game over the weekend when the color guy said, and FLG shits you not, "if they're going to win, then they need to score some more points." I've heard some dumbass color guy comments before, but none as fucking stupid as that one.

A Story On The Financial Crisis

...that doesn't make me want to vomit. In fact, I agree with almost everything Michael Lewis said here.

Also, who knew he was married to Tabitha Soren? Not FLG.

Spokespeople

FLG has had friends with stuttering problems. Some of them had severe ones. So, he's not making fun. But if you have a stuttering problem, then you ought to think of hiring a spokesperson.

FLG Doesn't Like to Discriminate Based On Where People Went To Law School

But after the Monica Goodling incident and now trying to another alumnae trying to get Thomas Jefferson written out, at least in part, of the history curriculum, I'm becoming more and more biased into assuming that graduates of Regent Law School are simultaneously fervent ideologues and dumbfucks.

Correspondence

In response to a couple of emails questioning my approving reference to Paul Krugman's column today:

No, I don't agree with the main point of Krugman's column about how the supposed undervaluing of the Chinese currency is the root of all our economic problems. My point is that I think he is correct that the Chinese owning trillions in US Treasuries is not something to lose a ton of sleep over.

FLG Had Never Thought Of This Before

Buttonwood:
While the argument for investing in the equity benchmark has a lot of merit (low cost, the difficulty in finding an outperforming manager), the case for using bond benchmarks is deeply flawed.

FLG isn't about to sell his Lehman Barclays Aggregate bond fund, but he'd never thought through the fundamental differences between equity and bond indexes.

China And American Debt

Alan recently mentioned his deep concerns about Chinese purchases of Treasuries.

Here's Paul Krugman today:
What you have to ask is, What would happen if China tried to sell a large share of its U.S. assets? Would interest rates soar? Short-term U.S. interest rates wouldn’t change: they’re being kept near zero by the Fed, which won’t raise rates until the unemployment rate comes down. Long-term rates might rise slightly, but they’re mainly determined by market expectations of future short-term rates. Also, the Fed could offset any interest-rate impact of a Chinese pullback by expanding its own purchases of long-term bonds.

It’s true that if China dumped its U.S. assets the value of the dollar would fall against other major currencies, such as the euro. But that would be a good thing for the United States, since it would make our goods more competitive and reduce our trade deficit. On the other hand, it would be a bad thing for China, which would suffer large losses on its dollar holdings. In short, right now America has China over a barrel, not the other way around.

So we have no reason to fear China.

I think Krugman is a bit too nonchalant about the medium- to long-term impact of this shift, but it does disprove the idea that Chinese owning our debt is some sort of catastrophe.

Actually, I understand why people think this way. Individuals often hate debt and debt payments. But sovereign debt isn't quite the same. For starters, sovereign debt is sovereign and a country can ultimately and legally tell their creditors to shove it. Moreover, countries have additional tools available to them. Krugman makes mention of one of them above, which is to say, simply, that if the Chinese stop buying our debt, then the government, through the Fed, can simply print new money to finance the debt. Long-term it will spur inflation, but it can work over the short run.

Economics of Music Videos

Conor's post about a Lady Gaga video prompted a question for FLG -- what exactly are the economics of creating a big-time music video nowadays?

In the 80s, the economics were clear. You made a cool video and MTV played it a gazillion times. Even if you spent millions it all made sense. Today, MTV doesn't even have fucking VJs and doesn't play videos. It's all reality all the time.

FLG's thesis is that The Real World killed the video star. The first Real World was released in 1992 and its success began the transition from the channel once know as Music Television to the monstrosity we have today.

The golden age of music videos, as far as FLG is concerned, begins in 1982 with Thriller. To say that it raised the bar for music videos is a massive understatement. In FLG's mind it has yet to be surpassed and since the golden age is over its place at the pinnacle is secure.

The end of the golden age was arguably 1994. That year Sabotage, Closer, Loser, Basket Case, Mr. Jones, Interstate Love Song, Vasoline, and FLG's personal favorite at the time even now, Crazy were released.

Now, this isn't to say that all of these videos are necessarily in the same realm as Thriller, although a couple probably are, but all are iconic. After 1994 there are a couple scattered here and there, but FLG'd argue that the quality begins to fall.

In 1996 or 1997, there was a temporary renaissance in hip-hop videos with The Rain, Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, Mo Money, Mo Problems, Triumph, the two California Love videos and a few others. FLG's theory on this is that even though MTV had lowered its rotation of music videos by then, BET was playing them and picked up some slack.

Now, between the cost pressures of Internet downloading and the lack of video play on TV it just doesn't make sense to spend a bunch of money on music videos. At least, it doesn't make sense to FLG anymore.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

FLG Hates Jargon

And Bill Flanigen gives us some doozies:
What do "repping" and "sophomore frame" and "sophomore session" and "wonderful hold" and "cume" and "distribs" and "counterprogram" and "four quadrant movie" mean?

Here is the quotation in question:
In its second weekend, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland didn’t continue to pay out in hearts—rather spades, as the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration drank up an estimated $62 million at 3,728 tea parties, repping the best sophomore frame ever for a film playing prior to summer. After posting a record first weekend for a non-sequel, Alice had a wonderful hold, slipping 47% with a theater average of $16,631 and a running 10-day domestic cume of $208.6 million.

Four distribs attempted to counterprogram against the Disney title this weekend based on the misguided notion that Alice was strictly family fare. However, rather than nipping away at Alice’s audience, Alice sliced off theirs.

“This is the quintessential four quadrant movie, playing to adults at one time of day, families at matinees as well as couples,” gloated Disney distribution president Chuck Viane. “The word of mouth on this film is sensational around world and it’s not often for a blockbuster film to decline 47% in its second weekend.” Alice’s charm extends around the world, as Disney foresees a worldwide cume of $430 million Monday morning.

The previous second weekend frame record for a pre-summer release belongs to Mel Gibson’s R-rated biblical epic The Passion of the Christ which generated $53.2 million in 2004. Among all films, Avatar holds the all-time record for a sophomore session with $75.6 million.

I'm pretty sure:
sophomore frame/session = the second week, and in particular the second weekend.

wonderful hold = that the audience level didn't drop off too much.

cume = cumulative.

distribs = movie distributors.

counterprogram = other movies released to compete with this movie.

four quadrant movie = it appeals to all audiences.

FLG figures that Bill knew all those, but that really is some impressive jargon. FLG happens to be a movie insider, and so is able to easily let you all in on the secret.

A Missing Goal of Education?

NYTimes:
The [proposed national] standards, based on intensive research, reflect what students must know to succeed at college and to find good jobs in the 21st century

Conspicuously absent in this editorial, although I don't know if it is in the standards, is the idea that education has a broader purpose of educating people for citizenship and personal flourishing. Instead and unfortunately, it's always toward the end of either more education or economic returns. The former is almost always justified on the basis of accentuating the latter and so it's always about money.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quote of the day II

Daily Mail:
Buzz Lightyear was first on the moon, say one in ten schoolchildren

Quote of the day

City Journal:
first priority must be to avoid reducing people to mere devices. The best way to do that is to believe that the gadgets I can provide are inert tools and are only useful because people have the magical ability to communicate meaning through them.

I agree completely, but the excerpt is from a review of a book. A book from which I appear to have vastly differing conclusions on technology's impact.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Correspondence

A reader writes:
I read there was a Treasury Department blogger meeting this week. Were you invited?

Uh, no. FLG doesn't get invited to things like that. First, he swears a lot. Second, he isn't really a financial markets or economics blogger. Second, how can he blog on those topics when he can't even count? Third, Treasury Department officials would be well-advised to stay away from FLG. He may ask questions like:
"Are you full of shit or just dumb as a box of rocks?"
"Is that bigger than a million-gazillion dollars?"
"You don't really believe that do you?"
"Can you please point me in the direction of the rumored free beer?"

But if the United States Treasury ever did ask FLG, then he'd attend entirely out of a sense of duty to his beloved readers.
 
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