Friday, April 30, 2010

Inspirations

MSI posts this video, which FLG guesses he missed the first time he read the post:


And now FLG is inspired to read Sein und Zeit, but in English because he doesn't have a Big Fucking Dictionary. Also, FLG thinks the first problem with the video is the idea about reading Derrida for three years.

FLG Is Intrigued

...but this coat.

One More Reason To Hate Twitter

Le Monde:
C'est une révolution dans la révolution : le président du Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, l'homme qui monopolise les ondes de la radio et de la télévision des heures entières, vient d'ouvrir un compte sur Twitter.

Translation:
It's the revolution within the revolution : the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the man who monopolizes the radio and television waves for hours on end, just opened a Twitter account.

The author also asks an important question:
Qui aurait imaginé Chavez en 140 signes ?

Who would've imagined Chavez in 140 characters or less? Not FLG.

Correspondence

An email asked FLG, given how he's seemingly always currently listening to something, what his favorite song is.

It's tough. Probably a tie between these two:




But these are also very, very high:
















And Roxanne with which FLG is always compelled to sing along. Also, FLG feels like he's forgetting something obscure, but high on the list.

Quote of the day

Daniel and Smith: (PDF)
Although faculty at the leading doctoral programs in international relations might reject any of the founding books in the discipline as dissertations today, we think these works retain a tangible value because they offer more insight than predictive power. Perhaps because of this difference in orientation, statesmen read and continue to learn from the classic works and often eschew the products of today’s academy. We might understand these earlier works simply as a kind of valuable mental training that orients students of politics rather than an effort claiming to define the best course of action.

About Bondholders And Greece

I can't remember where I read it, but somebody recently wrote something to the effect of:
Investors, fearing that Greece won't repay its debts, have driven up Greece's borrowing costs, which paradoxically eliminates the chances of investors getting paid back on existing debt.

I really wish I could find who wrote it because it relies on a stupid assumption, one that Marxists make too often about Capitalists, that the pool of investors is undifferentiated. If you lent money to Greece two years ago, then that means jack shit when Greece comes asking to borrow money from me.

Returning to the parenthetical phrase two sentences ago, Marxists usually assume that the Capitalists are always the Capitalists and they are always out to get the workers. Consequently, they use their capital, with the help of banking interests, to control production. However, if you read Rajan and Zinagles' book, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists: Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity, which I was happy to see Reihan recently mention as one of his favorite books, they have a different take. There are incumbents and challengers. Freer financial markets prevent cozy relationships and capture, and allows new firms to emerge and flourish. Terms like bondholders, investors, and especially capitalists distort by oversimplifying and overgeneralizing.

No Excess Words

FLG mentioned this in the comments on Three White Leopards, but wants to emphasize this point.

Emily Hale writes:
Great paper title: "Mill Advocates for Freedom of Thought and Action in Order to Achieve Human Progress, Which Results in the Most Effective Government."

As you know, FLG hates "in order to":
Better than Great paper title: "Mill Advocates for Freedom of Thought and Action to Achieve Human Progress, Which Results in the Most Effective Government."

But then we can also get rid of for:
Better than Better than Great paper title: "Mill Advocates Freedom of Thought and Action to Achieve Human Progress, Which Results in the Most Effective Government."

We could probably whittle that down even more, but then FLG'd would start changing words. Once he gets into that it's more a question of personal taste. Omitting unnecessary words isn't.

This Made FLG Laugh

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Alright, FLG Might Have To Simply Start Ignoring The Posts

But Rufus is going on about Socrates and Plato again. Now, FLG has read pretty much everything Plato ever wrote. And much of it more than once. So he gets a bit testy when people start reading it, drawing incorrect conclusions, and then applying it to current politics.

FLG knows his theory about Plato's Republic being entirely an allegory for the just ordering of the soul and nothing to do with an actual polis is in the minority, but this just seems flatout contradictory:
A few points here. First, politics is no laughing matter to Socrates: an orator who leads us to false knowledge isn’t just screwing with us; he’s fostering disproportionate desires in us that are damaging to our soul. Ultimately, all true knowledge leads towards the highest knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, a good Leader actually makes us better people by cultivating in us the quality of self-control that allows us to choose good, and thus saves our souls. Not even the most gung ho Obama or Palin supporter would claim something like that!

Secondly, Socrates is not a believer in democracy. The good Leader is an Expert- who has the ability to rule over us as he sees fit, without our consent. The mass of people, according to Socrates, will generally support an Orator, actually a Panderer, who satisfies their desires. Indeed, a pandering Orator seems akin to a Tyrant here, and the suggestion is that democracy leads naturally to tyranny. Instead, Socrates wants something like a spiritual elite to lead us with an eye to our well-being, whether we like it or not.

Lemmegetdisstraight. A good Leader cultivates self-control, but rules over us as he sees fit without our consent? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU FUCKING TALKING ABOUT?!

Also, I'm sure Rufus' post is somehow contradictory to a point regarding the individual versus self I made about the Republic years ago, but I'm too apoplectic right now to think it through.

A Conversation

Coworker #1: Do you think I should go over my boss's head?

FLG: He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself.

Coworker #2: I don't know what FLG is talking about, but I would do it.

FLG: Ah, we have our Lady MacBeth to challenge his manhood.....Don't look at me like that. For fuck's sake, you two did go to fucking school, right? Act I, Scene vii? Fucking forget it. And don't bring this shit to me anymore.

Coworker #1: Don't be such a pretentious bastard.

FLG: But it fit so well!

FLG is currently listening to



He's on an opera kick.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to



Although, to answer the obvious question, FLG is not turning 40.

A Bit More On Immigration And Arizona

Robbo writes:
Jaysus, FLG.

Which fellahs on the Right, apart from the most wingnut Libertarians, equates liberty with "anything goes"?

Law & Order has to be a gimme.

I'm not arguing that anything goes, nor am I arguing that people interested in Liberty are either. The issue here is that the treatment is worse than the disease. I say treatment and not the usual cure, because this isn't a cure.

The root cause is economic in nature. Consequently, if you want to tackle the problem, then you either have to tackle the demand, in which case you go after people who hired illegal immigrants, or you regulate the supply, which means allowing temporary workers and enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Trying to tackle it through expanding police powers will lead us down the same ugly and ineffective path that the War on Drugs has.

To that end, I think Hilarious Bookbinder is probably correct when he writes:
FLG, I think your mistake on this one is thinking that a generic conservative cares more about liberty than 'law and order,' which apparently means letting police officers do whatever the hell they want. My guess is that authority, control and order are all more important than liberty.

So, I guess my question now, if we assume there is a trade off between Liberty and Law & Order and that conservatives are more L&O, then can generic conservatives rightfully cloak themselves in the rhetoric of Liberty?

Fuck Tone

There's all sorts of tut-tutting about the tone of the political debate. To some extent FLG agrees, but really it doesn't particularly matter to him. Then there's the whole Epistemic Closure debate, which gets closer to the mark, but he thinks still misses it.

The thing for FLG is this:

Don't assume that the other side is morally inferior, evil, stupid, ignorant, ill-informed, or otherwise deficient. All political parties and movements have people in them who are any number of those things. What FLG aspires to do, although he doesn't always live up to it, is to find the most compelling argument on the other side, and at least mention it if not address it fully. FLG doesn't really care if people actually hold the idea because they happen to be stupid or racist or ignorant or evil. It's about addressing what you view as the best case for the other side. Find a logic that you can see a reasonable person using to justify the position. The tone with which you attack that case can be completely fucking rude. FLG doesn't really care about that. Far better to be an asshole when addressing the best case than to be polite attacking a strawman. FLG's complaint about some radio talk show hosts is that they are both impolite and attacking strawmen.

Short-term versus Long-term Analysis

No doubt y'all are probably tired of me pointing out my theory about liberals being biased toward the short-term and conservatives toward the long-term, but I found a great example of this yesterday from, who else?, Matt Yglesias:
a bailout “of Greece” would largely be a bailout of Greece’s creditors, you’d be giving Greece money that Greece would use to pay people who own Greek bonds. Obviously that’s win-win for both the bondholders and for Greek people, but it’s actually the bondholders who have more at stake. A roughly parallel situation existed with the AIG bailout, which was less a bailout of AIG than it was of institutions to whom AIG owed money and who failed to do due diligence on AIG’s financial situation.

A similar thing could be said for bailing out people in upside down mortgages. The people who really win are the banks that lent them the money. Well, yes, they do win. But in the long run so do the people who don't have to go through bankruptcy or default on their mortgage. Ah, but bailing out homeowners would create a short-term benefit, which is that those people would be able to stay in their homes. Greece isn't going to go anywhere, they'll just have trouble borrowing in the future, contagion might spill over to the rest of the PIGS, and the Euro may fall apart.

I guess my point here is that the short-term economic interest framework of analysis commonly used by many progressives to understand the world has serious problems. It's funny to me because the short-term greed they denounce in the economic world, i.e. on Wall Street, so vociferously, they pretty much apply to the political world. For example, there's that whole meme about people clinging to their religion and guns and consequently voting against their economic interests by going Republican. Well, that's basically saying that if people were more short-term greedy when they were in the voting booth, then they'd vote Democrat.

There are compelling moral cases that buttress many progressive goals, at least in my opinion, but the limited scope of analysis, i.e. short-term, when it comes to what is actually occurring or will occur when trying to accomplish those goals is where progressives go wrong in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Liberty and The Arizona Law

FLG does find it disconcerting that people on the Right who fashion themselves as being on the side of Liberty think that a law allowing police officers to ask for identification for nothing other than reasonable suspicion of being illegal, and that we should just sit back and let the court determine what's reasonable, is just peachy keen. Yes, FLG is looking at you Mr. Will.

Quote of the day II

Lexington:
trying to secure the border before you address immigration reform is like trying to stop dust flying into your vacuum cleaner without turning off the suction.

Correspondence

Dance writes (with heavy editing by FLG so read the whole thing if you are going to address Dance's comment):
Actually, my central problem is that your Fed-blgs-only! argument is nonsense, and I wish you'd stop spouting it and produce an argument that really engages with the concerns people are expressing.

I do not think the Tea Party is a mass of militia members, and while I think they are misguided overall, I have some sympathy for some of their concerns. I do think there is a legit risk that the violent extremists might use the Tea Party to hide themselves or to build their network, and that avoiding suspicion this way might enable them to execute more actual violence in the US than AQ, regardless of what is planned.

My second concern with the Tea Party is that they will encourage the sort of laws that we have seen in Arizona. Again, you can have similiar concerns with the environmental movement, but I find legalizing racial/class profiling by the police far more problematic than a city ticketing people for not separating out their recyclables, as they might give parking tickets.

All good points and I don't really disagree. The issue with the Tea Party then is political. It's their agenda. That's fine. My issue is that the focus on the risk of the Tea Party producing violent extremists or allowing extremist to organize is that I think that idea is being used to discredit the whole movement, by various commenters to whom I've previously linked (see Part III below) and even to some extent by lines ever more unclear, instead of engaging with the ideas of the movement.

Also, could you add the links back to the previous posts in this conversation, please? I'm a historian and missing citations make me twitch.

I apologize. I'm a lazy blogger, but I'm certainly not trying to pull one over on anybody. Here are the previous threads, part I, part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

UPDATE:
I didn't address the point about only Fed buildings versus Al-Qaeda. My point is that Al-Qaeda is a much bigger threat because it would nuke a whole city if it could while homegrown nutjobs are very unlikely to do so.

Derivatives

Matt Yglesias has a post about derivatives that actually doesn't make FLG want to stab his own eyes out. In short, he's explaining how derivatives aren't all "bets."

Matt writes:
Consider Norway. Norway is a nice little country that gets to be extra-special nice since it has all this oil wealth. At the current price of oil, Norway’s in great shape. If oil gets more expensive, Norway will be in even better shape. If oil gets cheaper, Norway will be in worse shape. Norway is, in other words, “long” oil in a big way. But if you were a prudent investor, rather than a small country, you almost certainly wouldn’t deliberately choose to invest as heavily in oil as Norway has. Norway is so deep into oil by an accident of geography, not a deliberate choice. So it might well be in Norway’s interest to invest heavily in instruments that pay off if the price of oil declines.

Okay, so Norway could use derivatives to hedge against a fall in the price of oil and all that. Good.


On the flipside, an airline might want to make the reverse bet. Anyone who’s already made large fixed investments in creating an airline is, in effect, “short” oil just as any country that happens to be located on top of oil is de facto “long” oil. So if the airline wants to mitigate its risk, it will want to “bet” that the price of oil will go up. Which is to say that it wants to ensure that if profitability declines due to higher oil prices, that you’ll be compensated via derivatives.

Ok, airlines have a legitimate need as well.

Matt then goes wrong here methinks:
Now for regulatory purposes, you can draw whatever kind of distinction you want between these kind of activities and more properly “speculative” ones. But the distinction isn’t going to be very conceptually rigorous. You could be assembling a portfolio of bonds (speculating, that is) and decide you want to use derivatives to even out the risks involved in your different positions—hedge the riskier positions to make them less risky, in other words. Now you’re hedging. But the reason you’re hedging is that you’re speculating. But the real reason you’re hedging is that just like airlines and Norway you face an uncertain world and are trying to manipulate your exposure to it in different ways. On the one hand, I think it’s unproductive to try to stigmatize some sub-set of this activity as “speculative.” On the other hand, I think it’s equally unproductive to try to carve-out some valorized exemption to the general regulatory framework.

It's not so much wrong, but asking the wrong question. Matt seems to be saying that there's good derivatives use, hedging, and bad derivatives use, betting. For him the distinction seems to be something along the lines of the Marxist distinction between real economic activity and finance. Norway and the airlines are actually pumping oil and burning it. Real things. A speculator is doing something epiphenomenal. Consequently, Matt would like to regulate along these lines if possible.

FLG thinks this misses a larger point. The more and more FLG thinks about financial crises something keeps coming up -- the issue is leverage. Period. Norway is exposed to oil price fluctuations, but isn't really leveraged. It actually has the oil. If Norway began heavily borrowing against future revenues from the oil, then it would be leveraged and the problems arise.

Rather than trying to divine the intentions of everybody engaging in a derivatives transaction, it's far better just to limit the ability to take on leverage. For example, by requiring the use of a clearinghouse with collateral requirements. That way you don't have to valorize anything.

The Tea Party And Violence Thing

Dance has been pretty vocal regarding her concerns about The Tea Party and my take on domestic terrorism. Her criticisms are well-taken.

But I guess my point here is this:
Dance has a problem with the politics of The Tea Party. Consequently, she overestimates the threat of the violence. I'm probably not being very clear here and that's because it's muddled a bit in my head, but let me put it this way.

Most people abhor violence. Yet, we have, certainly not sympathy, but perhaps understanding of violence motivated by what we agree with.

So, an environmentalist is less concerned about the ELF than people who aren't environmentalists.

Pro-life people are less concerned about murders of abortion doctors.

People who think the Tea Party is correct are less concerned about violence.

My point here is not that this makes it correct, but that perhaps we all have a bias on these things. Perhaps my relatively sanguine position about the possibility and consequences of domestic terrorism spurred on by Tea Parties is part of a bias that says the complaints of the Tea Party have some merit even if they're very poorly articulated. Likewise, possibly Dance, whom I believe to be turned off by much of the Tea Party's agenda, overestimates the threat.

All told, the threat of terrorism is pretty fucking low. And history shows that the tactic isn't terribly effective as a political tool anyway. So, I think our opinions about the ends of the violence cannot help but influence our perception of the potential for violence and its impact.

This isn't to say that I have any sympathy for McVeigh or the IRS bomber or ELF or any of these wackjobs. It's just that when I think of the Tea Party's agenda, I don't immediately think wackjob. I think, hey, they're like my somewhat misguided conservative co-worker. He's not going to blow anything up. Yet, when I think of Greenpeace, I think of wackjobs. (Not so much for some other environmental and conservation groups, but definitely Greenpeace.) And so I see how they could progress to violence like ELF. They all ought to be caught, tried, and punished. I just see less consequences from one than the other.

I feel like this is making less and less sense, but here's the gist. Terrorism is a very low risk and isn't particularly effective as a political tool. We naturally have a greater fear of both the possibility and effectiveness of violence used for political ends that we don't agree with, but the possibility of it being effective is damn near nil.

The issue really is the agenda, not the violence. I think the focus on the violence somewhat a way of self-justification that the other side is filled with irrational nutjobs.

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Buttonwood:
The future shape of financial reform is important but stopping German banks from buying synthetic CDOs is not the biggest issue.

Correspondence

FLG has had an influx of new readers because of the link from Matt. Along with the comments on the post, FLG has also received numerous emails on the subject of how it is hypocritical that he called somebody a smug fuckwad while referring to himself in the third person, which is terribly pretentious.

Dear new readers:

FLG is aware of this contradiction and has made mention of it on countless occasions previously. Since you are new here, he doesn't reasonably expect you to have known that. However, please understand that, like a Bruce Campbell movie, FLG is in on the joke.

Thank you for your understanding,
FLG

Scary

FLG was curious about what the PhD reading list for political-economy subfield at Georgetown was like. He checked it out and discovered that he'd completed the vast majority of it. This is scary because FLG feels like he knows pretty much nothing on the topic. Sure, he knows stuff. But he sure couldn't teach a class on it or anything.

A Bit More On Safety Nets And Immigration

Yesterday, FLG argued that immigration and generous social safety nets cannot exist simultaneously because:
if you put out a big sign that says, Wealth Redistribution Here, the people who show up will be more interested in having wealth redistributed to them than our current situation where we have a big sign that says, Opportunity To Work Hard And Get Wealthy Here. Now, a reasonable argument can be made that our current sign is false advertising, but changing the sign to the other one wouldn't be an improvement.

Ryan Avent says it's not so much the adverse selection problem, a fancy way of saying what FLG said above, but political issues:
The easiest interpretation of Mr Krugman's statement concerns the politics.
Basically, strong social safety nets are difficult to establish and maintain in highly diverse societies, because there will be opposition redistribution, real or perceived, from one group to another. We just had an excellent example of this, when the recent health care overhaul was nearly derailed over the issue of whether or not undocumented immigrants would be covered. The more it appears that one group (class, race, ethnicity) is paying to support another group, the more intense will be the opposition to extensions of the social safety net.

Put bluntly -- the political problem argument rests on the assumptions that we're racists. Sad thing about that -- looking at the data when it comes to things like this, well, it seems people are racist when it comes to social safety nets for people who aren't like them.

However, I took Krugman's argument to be one of adverse selection. That it was simply economically infeasible even if people weren't averse to redistribution to other groups.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immigration And Domestic Terrorism

Dance approvingly cites a quotation from lines ever more unclear:
The point here is that we do not have a long history of homegrown terrorists that are immigrants or that aren’t Christian. This is not the case in Britain: where the devastating 7/7 attacks were carried out by British Muslims, all but one born in Yorkshire, the other born in Jamaica, raised in Yorkshire; and where pockets of disaffected Muslim youth are becoming increasing concerns.

This is what we do better than Europe. We welcome immigration, our national myths are about immigration. But now it seems we’re willing to give up our one advantage and cast suspicion on anybody who doesn’t look American, whatever that means.

FLG is in complete agreement with the second paragraph and is concerned by the Arizona situation. However, he believes that the concerns of lines ever more unclear and others gloss over an important distinction -- there's two types of immigration: legal and illegal. In fact, the naturalized citizens and those aspiring to be that FLG knows are the most vocal opponents of illegal immigration he knows. They spend lots of money and time trying to work the system the correct way. While FLG is very sympathetic to the idea that this Arizona law is problematic, he also would like to make sure we all understand that being against illegal immigration isn't the same as being against immigration generally.

And on the homegrown terrorism point, FLG would like to point out that we don't have a long history of homegrown terrorism period. So, the non-immigrant, Christian point isn't all that applicable.

lines ever more unclear also writes:
Terry Gross did an interview last week with cyberterrorism expert Richard Clarke, who at the very end argued that one of our most serious threats right now is the rise of homegrown violent extremism (militias, Timothy McVeigh-types) emboldened by Republican and conservative elected officials who either “egg them on” or refuse to take a strong stand against them. Here’s the link. I’m with him, I think it’s appalling.

FLG will simply repeat what he wrote previously because we need to keep this all in context:
Listen, what McVeigh did was a horrible mass murder in which hundreds of people, including children, died. There's no excusing that. A similar thing applies to the guy who flew into the IRS building. But the average American has almost nothing to fear from them or their imitators. Their enemy is the Federal government, not the people. This doesn't make it right because it certainly isn't. It's immoral murder. Nevertheless, it makes them far less a threat to the average person on the street than al-Qaeda. Sure, that doesn't help if you work for the Feds or in a Federal building, but it just doesn't make sense within the ideology of the homegrown terrorists to attack the average American. It does for al-Qaeda.

FLG does agree wholeheartedly with overall sentiment in this statement:
Prime example: the very tepid opposition to the crowds who called black Congressman John Lewis and Barney Frank the n-word and the f-word and the person who spat on black Congressman Emanuel Cleaver. The consensus was “we don’t support what they did, but the Democrats aren’t listening.” No, that’s just not good enough. In this country, we do not spit on elected officials and we do not hurl racist and homophobic epithets at elected officials with impunity.

It's pretty fucking appalling.

And yes, FLG has heard that there's supposedly no proof and that there's a reward for proof that hasn't been claimed, but FLG has always thought John Lewis was a stand-up guy. If he says it happened, then that's enough for FLG.

And apologies to lines ever more unclear for blindsiding her with this post.

Age As Proxy For Risk

A while back Andrew Stevens seemed somewhat perplexed with using age as a proxy for risk when investing. Every once and a while this pops back into FLG's head, and he's always confused.

FLG assumes that there's some sort of mathematical function that takes years until retirement and years 'til end of expected life span as inputs and can produce some optimal strategy that maximizes expected returns while minimizing risk (which is presumably represented as the variance of the portfolio). It's probably a complicated piece of stats, algebra, and calc, but seems possible.

Doesn't that make age the primary independent variable?

PS. On a completely unrelated topic, Andrew, how's the baby?

Great Post

Charlemagne has a great post in which he looks at differing views toward markets in the wake of sovereign debt problems in Europe:
I think this goes to the heart of an interesting question: can markets lay claim to being legitimate decision-makers?

A few months back FLG looked at something like this when Quatremer argued that John Paulson and Goldman Sachs were attacking the Euro and Greece. But you should go read Charlemagne's post.

Subprime Nation

If you really want to understand the housing boom/bust and to a lesser extent the financial crisis and their implications for economic and financial power, then FLG cannot recommend this book strongly enough:
Subprime Nation: American Power, Global Capital, and the Housing Bubble

It's a bit technical, but it's damn good.

Disappointed

FLG is a tad disappointed that none of the comments he received, on the post to which Matt linked, really addressed the substance of the post. Well, that's not true, one tried to, but it was off-base. FLG guesses he can't be too disappointed because he did use the word fuckwad and it is the blogosphere, but he's still is a bit.

More On Matt

In a previous post, I wrote that Matt has a huge blindspot when looking at what he calls the Very Big Picture.

Then, he writes this:
I don’t understand why Paul Krugman thinks immigration makes a social safety net impossible; I hope he’ll address this in more detail.

Krugman writes:
open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.

That was the primary point of my prior post. Social safety nets undermine the incentive to work, which in turn undermines the incentive to create wealth. It'd be great if we all could engage in Aristotelian leisure and never had to work, but there are material realities that make this impossible or at least improbable from ever occurring.

Currently, the US benefits from immigration on the productivity side, at least according to a study I cited in the comments of that other post, but the OECD in general does not. One possible explanation, and one I'm partial to, is that generous social safety nets both appeal to the less productive and the requisite taxation systems discourage the productive from immigrating.

My point here is that progressive policies to redistribute wealth discourage people from creating it. And if you put out a big sign that says, Wealth Redistribution Here, the people who show up will be more interested in having wealth redistributed to them than our current situation where we have a big sign that says, Opportunity To Work Hard And Get Wealthy Here. Now, a reasonable argument can be made that our current sign is false advertising, but changing the sign to the other one wouldn't be an improvement.

Quote of the day

Le Monde:
Alors, taxer les banques ? Oui. Mais les idées les plus intéressantes sont aussi les plus difficiles à mettre en oeuvre.

Translation:
Then, to tax the banks? Yes. But the most interesting ideas are also most difficult to implement.

That's an important part that goes missing in the talk of bank and financial taxation and regulation, and I've said it before -- you are trying to tax people whose job it is to transform wealth from one form to another. Tax one form, poof, it becomes another.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't try, but that a lot of people have this idea that we know what needs to be done and all that's missing is the political courage. Not quite true. There are proposals, but I haven't seen any without major flaws.

And then there's the whole Let's-reinstate-Glass-Steagall meme that drives me nuts because it doesn't make any sense if you think about the financial markets today. Does anybody with a brain really think an institutional arrangement from 1932 is the best way to deal with finance in the 21st century? Prima facie it seems unlikely. Nevertheless, I'm open to the idea. I'm just waiting for somebody to make a compelling case. Most people who use the words Glass-Steagall also seem to lack an understanding of the current financial system.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Correspondence

Le Duc Violet writes:
How about you write this post again with a clear idea of what you want people to "get out of it" and see if that works? Because this iteration leaves everyone scratching their heads as to what it is precisely you are trying to say.

Aside from the fact you are jealous of Matt Yglesias's clarity & large following.

FLG must say that Le Duc Violet's first comment was a very insightful highlighting of a typo in the post, and so he approaches this with some skepticism.

On the point of being jealous of Yglesias' large following, FLG respectfully laughs. He has no aspirations for a large following and is completely happy with however many people read his blog.

On the clarity point, FLG respectfully suggests that Matt isn't exactly a paragon of lucidity, but he is better than most bloggers.

On the clarity of the post in question, FLG thinks it's pretty damn clear.

If the process for determining if and how wealth is redistributed is sufficiently legitimate, which for FLG means sufficiently democratic, then he can accept it. The issue he has here is that Matt portrays the redistribution and subsequent consumption as the only sensible alternative.

And then this seems pretty clear to FLG:
So, for Matt, there seems to be a point where a country is wealthy enough that it ought to enjoy that wealth. This ought to be done as a society through political means. That's all well and good, but his so-called very big picture has a huge blind spot. Namely, that redistributing wealth, regardless of the awesomeness of the purpose, undermines private property. Undermining private property discourages people from creating more private property, i.e. more wealth. Given that population increases, either through reproduction or as Matt wants, through immigration to rich countries, we need to keep wealth increasing at least the rate of population growth just to keep even. If the redistribution retards that growth sufficiently, then his agenda undermines itself. Indeed, "social insurance, and efforts to improve public health all aiming at allowing people to live more and more of their time outside the bonds of commercial work," may hurt "productivity growth."

All told, it seems all very understandable. However, FLG is open to the possibility that it isn't. Or alternatively that Le Duc Violet is simply being contrary or isn't being a reasonably sympathetic reader.

FLG Is Currently Listening To

Not All Debt Is Created Equal

FLG is reading this book:
Subprime Nation: American Power, Global Capital, and the Housing Bubble

The author makes a point that FLG'd never really considered -- yes, the US owes the world an ever increasing amount of money, but oddly over the past twenty or so years we've paid less out in returns than we've received. The author argues that this is a result of US power, not weakness.

To simplify -- we take in money from abroad and it goes into low interest T-bills. We then recycle the money through the system and buy back foreign equity and corporate bonds. So even though we are more in debt to the rest of the world than they are to us, our payments on that debt to the world are actually smaller than they pay us. The big thing, according to this argument, is not the debt, but whether other countries take the dollars we've shipped them and instead of investing in T-bills shift to buying equities in sovereign wealth funds.

Correspondence

Flavia writes:
Personally, I've never looked at a novel I thought sucked. . . analyzed it, and come away with greater appreciation.

I more or less agree with this statement, and there's plenty of literature (pretty much all of the Romantic poets, for example), that I just can't like no matter how much I'm bound to admire its artistry, etc. But if you're already reading a work you don't like, talking about it in formal terms at least gives you something to say and do--and something more productive than, "I don't like this."

I mean, I didn't like high school physics. But I had to learn it.

I understand that you (and Ta-Nehisi) are arguing that badly-taught or simply irrelevant-seeming classes may turn students off something they'd otherwise like, and that in the case of English this might mean alienating students from reading--and that physics, by contrast, isn't something that most people can take on as a hobby or pastime.

But I'm not sure they're so different, or that the teaching of English should defer to student tastes or preferences any more than the teaching of physics. Literature does exist to give people pleasure. But literature classes exist to make students more sophisticated readers and analyzers of literature as art, craft, and culture.

People often assume that because reading is a pleasurable activity (for many), then so should analyzing literature be. But most things that are pleasurable are not things we study in school, because we assume that pleasure to be intuitively obvious: we don't study baseball, in part because people like it all on their own. Similarly, we don't believe we have to teach people how to enjoy the experience of reading a gripping novel.

Not everyone who likes reading will find analyzing literature pleasurable, and that's fine. Not everyone who appreciates the existence of gravity will find studying physics pleasurable, either.

I've never been a teacher, but I have this idea that most teachers hope to inspire at least one student with a love of their discipline. I guess I'd always assumed that English teachers would be happy to instill their students with a love of literature.

Twittered

Matt was nice enough to Twitter a link to FLG's post. He's gotten some good and not so good responses. Here are some of FLG's favorites so far:

I'd say referring to oneself in the 3rd person, using a cutesy pseudonym, turned into an acronym, and twice in 1 sentence, is the very essence of smug fuckwaddery.

Anonymous believes there is no need for personal attacks when your ideas are sound. Anonymous thinks name calling leaves you looking like a fuckwad.

And to this one:
Could so-called private property exist without the protection of the State? The answer is no.

Read John Locke, not the Lost Smoke Monster one.


-------------------------

Before I get any comments on this, I know the verb is to Tweet. I just hate that word.

FLG Likes Talking About The Very Big Picture

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember that FLG believes the ultimate goal of Marxism is an form of misunderstood Aristotelian Leisure.

Matt Yglesias decides to look at what he calls The Very Big Picture and writes:
if you look at how life in the developed countries has changed from 1930 to 2010 what you see is that people spend more and more time in school, more and more time retired, and more and more time on vacation. In other words, people are step-by-step liberating themselves not from market capitalism as a means of obtaining consumer goods but from wage slavery in the worker-capitalism relationship.

The liberation he refers to in the last sentence becomes clearer when he continues:
And you can see that the basic architecture of this trend is fiercely and passionately contested. When I was in Finland, where they have quite a mild right-wing, the thing that the conservative politician I spoke to seem really exercised about was the idea that Finnish kids are spending too much time in university. Too many students in college! Too many of them getting master’s degrees! Sometimes people would even take time off from their studies to travel! Here in the United States a huge swathe of the pundit class seems to deem it outrageous that the Social Security retirement age hasn’t increased as rapidly as average life expectancy. Don’t people know that they were put on this planet to work for a living! How dare we, as a society, take some of our increased productivity in the form of an increased measure of liberation from our employers rather than more material possessions? The public, sensibly, doesn’t see it that way. When life expectance grows faster than the retirement age, humanity is making progress.

FLG hates almost everything about this paragraph and the liberation angle from the previous one.

Economists talk of the Labor-Leisure decision. (FLG has issues with calling all non-work leisure, but he'll leave that be for now.) After deciding whether to work or not comes the Consumption-Savings decision. Which means, putting it all in plain English, people first decide whether to work or not, and then decide whether to save or spend their money. Conservatives don't have a problem with somebody who has made enough money to retire early doing so or getting degree after degree or traveling. What they have issue with, and what Matt is talking about here are individuals spending other people's wealth (publicly funded higher ed, Social Security, etc).

If the process for determining if and how wealth is redistributed is sufficiently legitimate, which for FLG means sufficiently democratic, then he can accept it. The issue he has here is that Matt portrays the redistribution and subsequent consumption as the only sensible alternative.

Matt then writes:
Meanwhile, of course, for many people around the world the big story of life in 2010 isn’t the promise of transcending capitalism but the promise of adopting it and thereby escaping what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life.” Lenin took left-wing thinking about economic development down a decades-long detour of bad ideas and horrific violence. But what’s happening in China today looks, from a number of points of view, an awful lot like the original dawning of the industrial revolution in northwestern Europe and that, in and of itself, is an enormous progressive change compared to what was happening before.

So that’s the agenda I have to offer. For rich countries—productivity growth, social insurance, and efforts to improve public health all aiming at allowing people to live more and more of their time outside the bonds of commercial work. For poor countries—capitalism, to get the process of prosperity and social betterment rolling. At the interface between the two—a generous and humane approach to migration issues so that people can have the freedom to escape bad situations, and a trade regime that aims at facilitating the exchange of goods rather than coercing poor countries into adopting the preferred policies of rich world companies. And for all of us, an overhaul of energy systems so the world doesn’t boil and we all get to keep enjoying our prosperity.

So, for Matt, there seems to be a point where a country is wealthy enough that it ought to enjoy that wealth. This ought to be done as a society through political means. That's all well and good, but his so-called very big picture has a huge blind spot. Namely, that redistributing wealth, regardless of the awesomeness of the purpose, undermines private property. Undermining private property discourages people from creating more private property, i.e. more wealth. Given that population increases, either through reproduction or as Matt wants, through immigration to rich countries, we need to keep wealth increasing at least the rate of population growth just to keep even. If the redistribution retards that growth sufficiently, then his agenda undermines itself. Indeed, "social insurance, and efforts to improve public health all aiming at allowing people to live more and more of their time outside the bonds of commercial work," may hurt "productivity growth."

FLG's point here is that for being a smart person trying to think about the "very big picture" Matt Yglesias comes off as the smug fuckwad that FLG has increasingly noticed that he is. A democratically agreed upon societal compromise between labor-leisure and savings-consumption is possible. Maybe even Matt's preferred policy is that outcome But to portray one's own preferences as the only sensible response is fucking asinine and reeks of a small mind.

FLG Isn't Particularly Well-Read, Intelligent, Or Educated

But FLG does know that when Rufus wrote this:
Euripides[ in "The Bacchae"], I think, is saying that no human society can survive by reason alone. Without a passionate and ecstatic experience of life as beings tied to the cosmos and the natural world, however fleeting it is, our social lives become hollow routines that even we don’t believe in. We need myth. And yet, without the tethering restrictions of rational thought to connect us to the ground, our society, and our bodies, we find ourselves capable of doing anything, with all that implies.

...he was poorly rearticulating a common theme in the Western tradition. One probably used most famously by Nietzsche.

Film Viewing

The FLGs watched Crazy Heart, and both liked it a great deal.



FLG started watching Our Man in Havana. He's 28 minutes along and hasn't been that impressed so far:

Literature in High School

I go back and forth on high school English, and Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up nicely:
I hated Macbeth in eleventh grade, because someone tried to teach it to me like a rule-book. I loved it in twelfth grade because it wasn't really taught to me at all. Someone basically handed it to me for class, and said let's talk about. There was no pressure to understand "technique," but after I got the beauty of the thing, I was all about technique.

I go back and forth on high school English literature assignments because I think they're are several competing goals. First, to provide a base of common cultural reference. In this case, assigning great works of literature is much like telling the kids to eat broccoli. They taste bad, but are good for you. Second, great works of literature usually illuminate some universal thing in the human condition and may help students understand their lives better. Lust, love, fear, paranoia, obsession, etc. This, however, doesn't really help a 16 year-old. They just don't have the life experience to adequately appreciate great books written by adults about important human things. Maybe they can understand it to a point or certain specific works, but not fully and not even all of them can get that far. Third, the assignments serve simply as an object to teach literary analysis. In this case, what is assigned isn't all that important as long as you can identify the theme, character, etc. Great novels provide a broader topic to discuss these things than mediocre works. And then there's the analysis of verse, like Shakespeare and poetry, which is even more detailed. Lastly, there's the we need to teach kids how to write and English class makes the most sense angle. Consequently, they write about literature because of the class topic, but it doesn't really matter what the literature is. It's all about putting an argument into words.

These are all worthwhile goals. I just fear that many students, myself included, are turned off by the formal, antiseptic approach to literature common in high school classes, and then add to that how we are forcing students to read these works when they cannot fully comprehend them, and it may poison the well of literature for the rest of their lives.

A great novel possesses a certain mystique, mystery, and magic. It consists simply of words on paper, but you empathize with the characters. You relate to them and the situation that they find themselves in. If the author is good, then you finish the book with some emotional reaction and a question about how you personally would react in those circumstances. For example, the finale of A Tale of Two Cities is over the top, at least in my opinion, but who doesn't admire Sydney Carton's bravery? Rejoice at his redemption? And perhaps most importantly, ask if they would do the same in his position?

An astute reader then wonders, much like after a magician's trick, how did the author pull it off? And then proceeds to examine the plot, setting, character, theme, foreshadowing, pacing, conflict, etc. But they saw the magic first. Forcing a student to dissect a novel they haven't seen the magic in is simply torture. Personally, I've never looked at a novel I thought sucked, Catcher in the Rye comes to mind, analyzed it, and come away with greater appreciation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Little Bit More On The Issue

I think the term "epistemic closure" is overly complicated, and perhaps not even entirely accurate.

The issue for me is this:
On the Right, the people with the biggest megaphones are people who reflexively attack the Left. For them the Left is motivated by power to control people's lives. If the Left advocates a policy with a consequence that the government's power is expanded, then that must be the ultimate goal because people on the Left are evil statists. Full Stop.

Their entire strategy of argument is based around assuming the worst of their interlocutors and then asserting the ulterior motives at every turn. When confronted by a reasoned argument by somebody on the same side, Manzi, their primary means of arguing -- asserting ulterior motives and bad faith on the other side -- fell apart. And so they adapted that bankrupt style of argument into a lack of manners and perhaps a lack of character.

And this is the big problem for me. Maybe Levin et al are correct and many liberal pols are motivated toward power for power's sake and use any excuse anybody puts in front of them to justify that power grab. But simply asserting that point and then getting back to that point as the conclusion through self-referential, circular logic isn't helping anybody. And in fact if this stuff is all the conservative guy in the office is using at the water cooler to convince his coworkers or neighbors or whatever, then I weep for the future of the conservative movement.

Sure, it's red meat for the choir, to mix metaphors. But there's no need for strawmen and to assume bad faith on the part of liberals to win the day. Conservatives have nothing to fear from the best liberal arguments in almost all cases because conservative ideas are simply better.

Are these talk show hosts too stupid or too scared to confront the best liberal arguments? Or do they think their audience is too stupid to understand? Or maybe they think the audience will find it boring, in which case and the one I think makes the most sense, Manzi saying Levin is a mere entertainer hits straight home.

Now, conservative ideas being better doesn't mean that cutting taxes and deregulation, which is what the these nincompoops and the political lackeys who seem to rely upon them believe is the entire preferable extent of conservative policy, is always the answer. And perhaps that's where I find this most upsetting. This Us-vs.-Them, never give an inch because the other side is evil, bullshit constrains potential conservative policies in a way that is deeply unhelpful to the nation and ultimately to the long-term health of the movement.

And I guess I'm back at epistemic closure and will leave this alone.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mrs. P On The Levin-Manzi Issue

 She writes:
Alright, because of last week's fight between conservatives -John Podhoretz and David Goldman with Jody Bottum and Michael Ledeen running interference- then the fight 2 weeks before between David Frum and his employers who were paying him a 100 grand to work, not blog about himself, then Frum's wife coming out again and attacking Sarah Palin as if we already didn't completely understand the Frums totally hate Palin, then there's the takeover of the financial sector by our government which is all in a day's work for O, I just have been on autopilot. I missed this latest street urchin fight. This one seems to be following O's maxim, if you bring a knife, we'll bring a gun. Manzi brought a gun to a street fight and he's shot himself in the foot. Let's see how, shall we?


Manzi didn't bring a knife to a gunfight.  He brought a gun to a nuthouse and the residents complained his shirt was too brightly colored.


I did not even know of Jim Manzi was until you mentioned in this space in the last 10 days. Have since learned he was at MIT and that explains why he was never on my radar. I just read what he wrote at NRO that started the streetfight, and frankly, do not even understand why he wrote it. He must have had issues in his private life and wanted to vent. This paragraph -the final one- is most telling:

"There are many reasons to write a book. One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them. If the point of Liberty and Tyranny was to sell a lot of copies, it was obviously an excellent book. Further, despite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure."

This is where conservatives -for the most part- are different than libs. Conservatives do get angry, very angry, at a breach in civility. Think of D'nesh D'souza and you start to understand what I'm talking about. His rudeness has flushed out Victor Davis Hansen. D'Souza now sits at Pat Buchannan's table at the Republican National conventions. Manzi's words are a classic breach in civility. It's obnoxious.
I haven't read Levin's book, but have listened to his radio show.  If the issue here is civility, then Levin loses.  He's a total asshole to people who disagree with him on the radio show.  If Levin were correct on the merits, then perhaps the tone wouldn't be so much of a problem.  BUT...Levin's global warming argument is mistaken at best and downright misleading and irrational at worst.  Nevertheless, the civility point is silly given Levin's conduct, but even still Manzi's tone isn't all that uncivil.

Ask yourself, how many people of the 17+ million who bought Mark Levin's book view Levin as a global science expert? The title of the book is what? Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. Where is the claim of global science expert in that?
I might accept that, but it is incumbent upon even a non-expert who writes a book that argues the otherside is evil, power hungry crazies to actually debate the best arguments of the other side. Not setup strawmen, tear them down, and then assert the other side consists of evil, power hungry crazies.  Maybe they're are some in there, but that doesn't make all people who acknowledge or are concerned about global warming crazy.


Manzi is from MIT and so he should have more expertise at global warming however, I've done the math and he was at MIT when my uncle was the assistant director of admissions and so Manzi may not be as bright as you think...but let's accept that Manzi was actually qualified to get into MIT. Yes, no doubt the guy knows more than Levin on global warming science. Alright. Does that make Manzi more of an expert than Levin on Liberty and Tyranny, which is the book's topic?
Manzi, as far as I know, majored in Math and did research on his own after college to look at the global warming debate.  If Levin wanted to write an entire chapter on the topic, then maybe he should've done the same and perhaps confronted the best arguments of the global warming side.

Now yell at me all you like and tell me that Levin wrote a chapter on global warming where he *only* used the science that fit the premise of his book. Alright, fair enough. I agree based on reading Manzi's complaint. According to Manzi Levin did this. I have not read Levin's rebuttal because I don't care to. All I will add is how is this tactic different than most authors use? Think global wamrming expert and billionaire, Algore. If we are going to destroy Levin over it, then go after everyone, including Obama. O used to the same tactic to push through healthcare. There was a whole lot of ignoring of science, economics, facts and plain old constitutional facts with that government takeover. That willful ignorance will have a lot more effect on each American's daily life that Mark Levin's *flawed* chapter on global warming *science". Or is it man-made global warming *science*? The difference is people are free to buy or reject what Mark is selling. They are not free with Obamacare so that may just make it, dare I say it? tyrannical...which takes us back to Levin's book.
This is a damn good point.  People do cherry pick data to support their conclusions.  That still doesn't make it right.  The common political argument of, look the Dems do it, or look the Republicans do it, is childish finger pointing.  Also, there's cherry picking and then there's willful ignorance of strong evidence to the contrary.

However, where the other side goes wrong we should point them out. And in point of fact, Manzi took down Paul Krugman not too long ago.


I do love how the American Scene characterized the NRO criticism of Manzi as "savage" and linked this as a prime example of savagery:

"Re: Liberty and Tyranny and Epistemic Closure [Andy McCarthy]
There will be more to say about this, and I imagine I won't be the only one to discuss it when time allows. But for now I would just observe that Jim Manzi's post on Mark Levin's widely acclaimed book is beneath him. No one minds a good debate, but Jim's gratuitously nasty tone — "awful," "Trilateral Commission," "wingnuttery," etc. — is just breathtaking. I've read a number of Jim's articles and posts over the years, including more than a few involving exchanges with other writers. He has always struck me as a model of civility, especially in his disagreements with the Left. Why pick Mark for the Pearl Harbor treatment?"

That is savage???? Hell no wonder young men are waxing themselves. They're a bunch of girls. McCarthy, who most days drives me nuts but I like him enough takes issue with Manzi's tone. Back to breach of the civility. But let's continue, shall we?
It wasn't all that savage.  I agree.  I think the point for the people at The American Scene is not so much the tone, but the epistemic closure. When confronted with facts and a well-reasoned argument by a climate change policy skeptic, they point to incivility rather than confront how utterly misleading the content of the book is.

Another savage attack on Manzi by NRO:

"Re: Liberty and Tyranny [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
I love debate, as people here know, but to treat Mark Levin as a mere "entertainer" who was just looking for a bestseller is to not know Mark Levin or have taken his book seriously. Besides being entertaining, he's been a laborer on policy, legal, and political battles that have made substantive differences in the battle to preserve liberty from tyranny. There is heart and soul and years of experience in his book — and a heck of a lot more than cut-and-paste Google searching (!). He's heard a lot worse and can handle his own battles, but as one who has followed Mark's career, I found Jim's tone deeply disappointing. Especially at a time when Liberty actually is endangered and Mark Levin is not to blame."

frankly FLG, you and I and others who comment here have been far more personally savage to K-J-Lo than she is being to Manzi. It is a gross to characterize this as "savage". If Ann Coulter had weighed in well then yes, we would have gotten savage.
What is objectionable here is the idea that Liberty is endangered by Obama & Co and presumably this means that we must ignore the damage to Truth and Reason stuff like Levin's book is doing.   When, at least according to me, Liberty cannot exist without Truth and Reason.

But forget about that, the editor of NR has weighed in (like Jody Bottum had to) and he makes some excellent points as good editors should:

Re: A Long Reply [Rich Lowry]
Jonah, those are good points. I suspect three weeks from now the debate over "epistemic closure" will seem even more precious and overwrought than it does now. One last thing on the Manzi v. Levin business: The "epistemic closure" school says the kerfuffle proves there are things you can't say on NRO. But Manzi said a supposedly unsayable thing and Levin (and especially Andy McCarthy, who is always happy to hop into a foxhole with a friend) hit back and Manzi was free to reply however he wanted, which he did (engaging Andy at length and letting people judge his critique and Mark's response on the merits). This is called having a blog where people are free to disagree. As far as the merits of the global warming exchange, I'm at a disadvantage not having read Mark's chapter, but let me say this: 1) As a general matter, I've come to trust Jim's analysis on global warming over the years; 2) I'm sure that Mark nails where the other side is coming from on the issue, and that his skepticism about "the consensus" is even more justified than when he wrote about it a year-and-a-half ago"

"I'm sure that Mark nails where the other side is coming from on the issue,"

That is a succinct description of the topic of Mark's book, which is why 17+ million people bought it. After learning yesterday that Cap n'Trade will now regulate all the wood burning stoves in America - all of them - Mark is right on the money about statists and using global warming to accrue more power.
But now we have to assume ill-intentions on the part of the Left.  When there are smart, informed people who actually are concerned about global warming in and of itself and not as part of some sinister plot to accrue power to the government.  Indeed, the vast majority of people concerned about global warming I'd say are in that category.

Will Cap-N-Trade and regulation increase the power of the state?  Absolutely, and we should keep that in mind.  However, because that is a consequence does not mean we ought to attribute that as the primary and ultimate goal of everybody concerned about global warming or those who propose policy to combat it.  Certainly, I will agree that there are people who want to increase the power of government and cynically use environmental concerns as a justification, but that doesn't mean all do.  Moreover, what if global warming is real,the consequences will be disastrous, and we can fix it?  Ought we not simply because it will increase the power of government?  Maybe in this case government is the only solution to a problem and it can be fixed.


A global warming expert like Manzi ought to be thankful the truth about the power grab is getting out.

Mrs. P 

Manzi ought to be thankful that Levin's intellectual bankruptcy is so readily apparent.

Friday, April 23, 2010

FLG Didn't Think Matt Ygelsias Could Piss Him Off

...even more than he did in the previous post, but FLG was wrong.


Matt offers up this doozy:
One piece of commentary I’ve heard around the Goldman fraud suit is that somehow Goldman can’t be guilty because the folks they allegedly ripped off were “sophisticated investors.” I’m not a lawyer, but like Tim Fernholz I can’t make heads or tails of what kind of legal doctrine this is supposed to be. Suppose I get shot and killed in New Orleans—is the shooter allowed to argue in court that as a sophisticated consumer of FBI crime data I should have known better than to walk around the city that had 63.6 killings per 100,000 residents in 2008?

Or consider another angle. One thing I’ve heard from low-income unbanked people is that they don’t want a bank account because they don’t trust the bank with their money. By contrast I, as a sophisticated investor, understand that there’s deposit insurance and a variety of other legal protections that ensure I’ll get my money back. A bank can’t break the law, steal my money, and then say because I was “sophisticated” it’s okay to lie to me. Sophisticated people are familiar with the law and rely on it when making decisions.

Let's deal with ludicrous shooting analogy.  Typically, being shot is not a choice on the part of the victim.  Whereas, the parties in this case willingly purchased securities.  The second point is again silly because Yglesias isn't a sophisticated investor because, quite simply, he knows shit all about finance.  It's only his intellectual hubris that allows him to even say some shit like that.  Perhaps in comparison to an unbanked person he's sophisticated, but he's not in any absolute sense.

A better analogy are the disclaimers about not trying these stunts at home or going to a professional fireworks show instead of lighting them off in your backyard.  It's a question of expertise.

Put simply -- the people who Goldman supposedly took advantage of get paid on the basis of their expertise at picking investments.  If they get suckered, then they're incompetent buffoons.  It's their fucking jobs not to get screwed.  The laws for financial regulation largely revolve around two things -- people not screwing grandma out of money and keeping big firms, who are sophisticated, from taking on too much risk.

My point here is that a lot of this push for reform, as I've said before, is predicated on people being stupid.  They're too stupid to know the difference between fixed and flexible rate mortgages.  Too stupid to read their credit card statements.  Too stupid to pay them on time.  In general, just too stupid.  This makes sense when we are talking about the general public -- people whose jobs aren't finance.  Well, when you are a banker who is paid very well to pick investments, you have to think they're stupid as well for them to get scammed and then you are calling them incompetent.  And then the issue is really there professional incompetence rather than legal issues.

And finally, the idiot and sadly a Georgetown alum I believe, Tim Fernholz, that Yglesias linked to in his post, sums up with this:
If even the most advanced firms are being taken for a ride, we should wonder what Goldman must be doing to regular folks.
Oh really?  Goldman doesn't have regular folk customers to take advantage of, fuckwad.  If they're screwing regular folks, then it's through intermediaries.  Intermediaries who are not only paid but have a fiduciary responsibility to their customers not to let them get screwed.  Since it's clear you don't know jack shit about how finance works, maybe you ought to keep your ill-informed musings on the subject to yourself.

Fuck, I'm pissed off today.

Go Fuck Yourself, You Smug Fuckwad

Matt Yglesias writes:
Then Jim Manzi read Mark Levin’s book, focused his attention on its climate section, and discovered that Levin is a crank, liar, and/or know-nothing. The result? Manzi is savagely and hypocritically attacked by the staff of National Review. Because, after all, the crankery and the know-nothingness is the essence of conservative politics.

Bolding is FLG's.

This type of shit sets FLG the fuck off.  How about he turns it around?

Condescending assholery by elitist know-it-alls with Ivy League educations and a copious amount of intellectual hubris is the essence of liberal politics.

Are there cranks and know-nothings on the conservative side of the aisle?  Yes, but it isn't the essence of it and anybody with a Harvard education should fucking know better. Unless, of course, they are a smug douchebag.

One Can Only Hope

...that the Right Wing echo chamber that is currently attacking a perfectly reasonable Jim Manzi collapses like a black hole from the intellectual denseness and complete lack of introspection. They're beyond embarrassing themselves now and have proceeded to unintentional self-parody.

No Shit Sherlock: Health Care Edition

MSNBC:
President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law will increase the nation's health care tab instead of bringing costs down, government economic forecasters concluded Thursday in a sobering assessment of the sweeping legislation.

Anybody with half a brain knew that already. Perhaps why they used the word sobering because only drunk people thought it would control cost.

Center For Plain Language

Longtime readers of this blog know that FLG hates jargon, buzzwords, and wordy writing. Last night, FLG was listening to Marketplace on NPR and heard this story about the Center for Plain Language.

FLG feels compelled to donate; it's a worthy cause.

Quote of the day

Megan McArdle:
In the continuing saga of the most recent conservative "epistemic closure" spat, [Mark Levin] describes Jim Manzi as a "global warming zealot."  This is a little like describing Christopher Hitchens as an apologist for the Catholic Church.

HT: The Ancient.

Not So Quick Comment Response Round-Up

Flavia writes:
My friend, I own a fedora, a homburg, AND a Panama hat (as well as, yes: a few hats actually made for laydeez).

I wear the fedora with the most regularity. Got lots of compliments when I lived in Harlem.

That is pretty damn badass, and I would've never guessed that about you. Do you have a Cloche?

Dance writes, as part of our discussion about the Tea Party:
Wait, what's the difference?

an incoherent mess of policies = loons

informed by potentially dangerous passions = violent

I mean, I can see that there may be a difference, but that just seems like the usual simplification of news today. I wonder if you aren't hearing something that the commentators (and you're one of my main sources of political news, so I'm really not sure who you are referring to) aren't quite saying.


I was more thinking of clips from news channels where people like Frank Rich and Eugene Robinson are focusing on the potential for violence among Tea Party members far more than the content of TP's message. I found two articles though that somewhat highlight what I'm talking about.

Frank Rich's column:
How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn't recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn't need Joe Biden's adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program.

From Robinson's column:
On Thursday, tea party leaders around the country issued statements strongly denouncing threats or violence against members of Congress or anyone else. A number of the leaders said there was no proof that the perpetrators were members of tea party organizations.

But this strikes me, and probably will strike others, as disingenuous. The tea party movement is fueled by rhetoric that echoes the paranoid ravings of the most extreme right-wing nutcases

Here's the issue I have. People like Rich and Robinson look at the Tea Party movement and are horrified by their ideas. Moreover, they cannot understand how somebody could be so pissed about health care reform. Ergo, these people must be crazy. However, in the articles they don't really confront the Tea Party's ideas, they just point toward their fears of potential for violence and that apparently removes the need to address the Tea Party's concerns. QED. Well, that's not an argument. And simply painting them as irrational, violent nutjobs, while it may be therapeutic for Rich and Robinson, is not really a decent assessment.

I'll admit, as I have earlier, that the Tea Party is an incoherent mess of policies. And yes, there probably are some nutjobs in the organization, in the same way that there are nutjobs in the environmental movement or, the one that pisses me off the most, the anti-globalization movement. However, the fundamental reason for their anger is the expansion of government. That's a discussion I believe Rich and Robinson don't want to have. Far better, from their perspectives to paint people with that opinion as wingnuts.

I've mention on several occasions my discomfort with the heated rhetoric because I think it turns off independents and moderates. I also don't think the members of the Tea Party are exactly public policy wonks. And I, like you, have concerns about the immigration rhetoric. BUT...the issue about the size and scope of government is a legitimate topic and they're correct, in my opinion at least, to highlight it, even they do so in a ham-fisted manner.

All that said, your point about simplification of the news is well-taken.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In One Of FLG's More Self-Important And Silly Moments

...he played out a chain of events in his head today.

One of the League of Ordinary Gentlemen lands on Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. Which one, you ask? Doesn't matter, but not Freddie.

OG #1: What is this FLG guy's deal? He refers to himself in the 3rd person, calls us stupid and ill-educated, and swears an awful lot. I wonder if anybody else noticed him. Let me email the rest of the League.

OG #2: I have no idea who he is, but he sure swears a lot, calls us dumb, and what's the deal with the 3rd person stuff? And what's up with the sex with inanimate objects and pirates? Weird for a grown man.

OG #3: Right.

OG #4: Who?

OG #5: I realized he's a nonsensical blowhard months ago. Where have you guys been?

William Brafford to himself: I'm gonna keep my head down on this one.

Freddie: I have to go wallow in my own personal somewhat contradictory combination of self-importance and self-loathing, but "Hell is other people."

FLG's Permanently Delayed Purchase

Has FLG mentioned that he's always wanted to buy a Fedora, Homburg, or Trilby (mostly the Fedora though), but never gets around to it? He's just afraid of pulling the trigger on a fashion accessory that's more than $100, but he never stops longing for a cool hat.

Once he buys one, however, next up is a Panama Hat.

A Conversation

Coworker: Now that health care has passed people like it. That's how these things always are.

FLG: Uh, Gallup says half the people still think it was a bad idea.

Coworker: I don't believe that's true.

FLG: "the easiest thing in the world is self-deceit; for every man
believes what he wishes, though the reality is often different."

Coworker: Is that a quote from somebody?

FLG: Yes, Demosthenes. It's from the Third Olynthiac.

Coworker: Never heard of him or the Third Olympics. Is he a European athlete or something?

FLG: No. He lived in ancient Athens and was a great orator who argued forcefully against Alexander and his father, Phillip II....ah, forget it. We'll see about that people liking health care thing in November.

FLG is currently listening to



...because it's stuck in his fucking head.

FLG is currently listening to



...in honor of Mrs. FLG.

Correspondence

Dance writes:
I meant violence against the individual vs violence against the collective. I do nothing lately but quote Ta-Nehisi Coates, and two of his recent posts pointed out that a white supremacist endorsing slavery killed Lincoln and saddled the country with Andrew Johnson, and Arizona is working on a law for cops to check citizenship of people who seem [look?] like they might be illegal immigrants. Those are the types of violence that might make me more afraid of the Tea Party than al-Qaeda---I am more worried about what the TP and similar factions might create in this country in the name of saving it, than what AQ might do to attack it.

Okay, I can understand this. However, I think that the focus on violence is misplaced then. The issue is with what the TP stands for, which is to say that this isn't a fear of the Tea Party's possible penchant for violence, but their politics generally. The fear is that they may be successful period, not necessarily through violence, as the reference to the Arizona law points out.

In this case, and perhaps I'm mistaking the point you're trying to make, then the focus by liberal commentators on the violence aspect seems like a red herring designed to discredit the Tea Party without confronting what they stand for directly. So, instead of arguing how the Tea Party represents an incoherent mess of policies informed by potentially dangerous passions and reasoning, it's easier and perhaps more satisfying to simply paint them as violent loons.

I apologize in advance if I misread your point...

Clearing Out My Things To Blog About List

Apparently, China is trying to pop a a housing bubble of its own.

There's this deleted scene from Pulp Fiction where Mia Wallace interviews Vincent, and I've decided to answer the questions from the interview. Why? I have no fucking clue.

Are you a Beatles person or Elvis person?
Elvis. However, if you asked me whether I was a Sinatra or Elvis person, then Ol' Blue Eyes wins.

Brady Bunch or Partridge Family?
Partridge Family

On Rich Man, Poor Man, who did you like more Peter Strauss or Nick Nolte?
Never saw it.

What's your favorite way to say thanks in a foreign language?
Merci beaucoup.

In conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?
Listen.

If you were Archie, who would you fuck first Betty or Veronica?
Betty.

What's the takeaway from my answers? Nothing except that I'm a lot like a hitman who doesn't exist.

Why Is Anybody Even The Least Surprised?

FLG has long been annoyed with Levin for offering liberal strawmen arguments to take down, which he mentioned when Conor began the big row over it.

Is anybody really shocked that K-Lo and the gang over at NROnline circled the wagons and began name calling when confronted with a real argument?

FLG isn't. Does anybody read The Corner and say to themselves, "self, they're really out there trying to come up with fresh, new ideas. No way K-Lo is a thoughtless partisan hack."

FLG can see the response coming: Well, I didn't think they'd respond to criticism of being hacks by being hacks. Ah, but what led you to believe that they are anything but hacks? What made you think that they have any thoughts besides regurgitating conservative tropes and attacking liberals?

Perhaps a good portion of the writers at The Corner are people whose drinking of party Kool-Aid is indirectly proportional to their intelligence.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FLG is currently listening to




...in honor of the weather here in your nation's captial.
 
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