Saturday, October 30, 2010

Genius!

Who knew that something so mindblowing as Dracula fighting a Kung Fu master existed:


This is one of those things that in hindsight is so freakin' obviously an awesome idea that you knock yourself unconscious with a forehead smack.

H/T

Tip Of The Bowler

FLG must admit that he is impressed that LOG added him to their blogroll despite the incessant stream of shit that flows their way from these parts.

Housing And Leverage

A while back, FLG decided that leverage was what we needed to tackle to mitigate future financial crises.  And by a while back, FLG means the Fall of '08.  And FLG repeated it numerous times, including this post in January of this year.  Everything else, besides focusing on leverage, is just people beating their own personal hobby horses or their financial and economic ignorance coming to the fore. 

(Don't get FLG wrong. He's not saying that limiting and regulating leverage is easy or that he knows how to do it, but that should be the core concern. This other stuff about consumer protection and even Glass-Steagall address leverage indirectly, but also distract from the core issue.)

Today, Matt Yglesias asks an interesting question -- Is Housing Inherently Bubbly? However, he asks this riffing of a part of a post by Mike Konczal, the Rortybomb guy:
In my personal opinion, in the same way middle-class people turned amateur stock analysts was the sign of a tech bubble, or middle-class people turned amateur realtors was the sign of a housing bubble, middle-class people turned amateur credit risk analysts and credit channel intermediaries was the surest sign of a credit bubble.

FLG calls this the shoeshine rule from when Joe Kennedy got out of the market before the '29 crash, but Matt takes it up like this:
Adam Ozimek calls this the Beware of Amateurs rule. It strikes me as a particular problem with real estate. Most of the time the vast majority of stock trading is being done by professionals. And you can imagine a world in which average middle class people all wise up and have their money in index funds or we revive defined benefit pensions or the like. But housing, as currently done in the United States, is more or less necessarily a market of amateur investors.

He then describes the housing market like this:
you’re looking at tons and tons and tons of amateurs making highly leveraged investments. It strikes me as an inherently dicey situation.

FLG gets Matt's desire to see the problem as amateurism. Amateurism can be defined as the lack of expertise. And faith in expertise undergirds a lot of Matt's political preferences. But the truth is that for every loan to amateur investors, there's at least one person paid by a bank on the other side. Given that this person is paid by a bank to do this, then presumably they are supposed to be an expert.

Now, there are a variety of problems with this story. And FLG is sympathetic to the idea that large numbers of amateurs getting involved in a market means it is a bubble. In fact, as soon as FLG see a late-nite infomercial on how to make money in something he assumes it's probably a good idea to start shorting it. But the issue, what ultimately causes all the adverse consequences, is leverage.

Without leverage people invest money they already have in things like tulip bulbs. If they loose that money, yes, it sucks. But it isn't usually bankruptcy causing. The systematic issue arises when people borrow a whole bunch of money to buy tulip bulbs.

Again, almost all financial crises start in real estate markets. Some, like the Asian financial crisis, began in commercial real estate markets, which somewhat undermines the amateur theory. The systematic problem is leverage. Everything else is a distraction.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Roasts

The Ancient referenced Dean Martin Roasts in a comment over at A&J:
Best case scenario: Speaker Boehner lets loose his inner Dean Martin and re-establishes the tradition of Celebrity Roasts.

Do you really think Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan is up to playing Don Rickles?

Well, the other day, FLG sat down and watched the Bob Saget Comedy Central roast. It was no Dean Martin Roast, but Cloris Leachman show'd 'em how it was done.

If the Republicans need an insult comic, then FLG'll start training now.  Maybe he'll have to start roasting other bloggers.

Toto, I've A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Any More

NATO

So, Georgetown's Dan Nexon, or at least FLG assumes that's the Dan Nexon who writes over at Duck of Minerva, has a post up critiquing Stephen Walt's assessment that NATO is irrelevant. (By the by, FLG became aware of Nexon when FLG was in GU's bookstore and saw a book called Harry Potter And International Relations and thought to himself, sweet merciful crap, how many bong hits does it take to go down that road?)

Walt even had a debate in one of his classes, the premise of which made FLG's heart sing, Resolved: This House Believes NATO Should be Disbanded.

Nexon addresses three specific points -- Afghanistan, defense cuts, and Turkish foreign policy -- but FLG finds the larger debate more interesting.

Nexon summarizes Walt's position thusly:
realists have been proclaiming the death of NATO since at least the end of the Cold War. Their fundamental reasoning lies in an understanding of alliances as balancing coalitions; with the passing of the Soviet threat, NATO's purpose disappeared. Since then, NATO has searched for a rationale: policeman of Europe's turbulent frontiers (e.g., the Balkans), democratic security community, global rapid reaction force, etc. Realists are predisposed to view each of these purposes with suspicion anyway, and every piece of evidence that they're fraying provides, for realists, another nail in NATO's coffin.

Nexon then explains his view of why this is ultimately wrong:
realists lack adequate appreciation for the ways in which political and social ties--including alliances--texture international relations. They see international politics as patterned by "anarchy" and "the distribution of power." All the rest is merely "process." But it should be obvious that NATO profoundly structures Eurasian political and military relations, and will still do so even if its ability to act collectively further declines. Whether or not one agrees with my assessment of how NATO structures Russia's strategic opportunities, it strikes me as difficult to argue that NATO's impact on western Eurasia has no significance for the future of East Asian security relations. At the very least, it does so not only by shaping the political, military, and economic environment confronting Moscow, but also that of policymakers in Washington, DC.

Perhaps, then, it would be most accurate to say that whether the future includes "live NATO" or "Zombie NATO," NATO will hardly be irrelevant to global politics.

FLG won't reiterate his arguments against NATO.
Instead, he'll simply say:
NATO delenda est.

Song Lyrics

FLG, as part of a nonsensical non sequitur, referred to himself as "the lyrical Jesse James." Nobody got the reference. FLG can't blame them.

Ask About Inflation In France And You Go To Jail

Apparently, asking Rachida Dati about inflation lands in jail:
Frenchman locked up for asking Rachida Dati for 'an inflation'

But one must remember that Dati has trouble telling the difference between inflation and fellatio.

Then again, Carla Bruni thinks Dati wanted to inflate M. Le President.

And you know, FLG was just thinking about this, there's a trade-off in economics between unemployment and inflation. If that trade-off was, as apparently it is in France, between unemployment and fellatio, then it would be a much easier choice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a statement that 400,00 jobs were created and 15 million blowjobs were given last month. That's a 15% increase. Polls indicate men remain strongly in favor of inflationary policies despite warnings from economists that it may spiral out of control.

Halloween And Pink

So, a while back, Dance and FLG had a back and forth on the subject of pink and little girls.

Today, FLG found this article by a feminist who basically rationalizes away her opposition to the whole princess thing when it comes to her daughter:
More broadly, you never know how kids are going to relate to the princess — and the girlyverse in general; maybe they’re not as immediately brainwashable as we think.

FLG completely agrees. He remembers being a kid and hearing people on TV say that kids don't understand something and consequently parents shouldn't expose kids under age 10, say, to said thing. But then FLG would think to himself, wait, I'm under 10 and I understand this perfectly. We're not idiots, you know. We understand somethings are make-believe and some are real. But then again, FLG must admit that this rationalization is a big step in the right direction. Unlike most feminists, FLG doesn't have a worldview that demands or encompasses a tabula rasa outlook. Even hinting that the world is not entirely Nuture and we are not living in some entirely socially constructed world against which most people are drastically unaware and against which the enlighten must battle is the first step on the path to sanity.

Anyway, changing topics slightly, today is Halloween at school for Miss FLG. Miss FLG loves Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Absolutely loves her. So, Mrs. FLG and I figured we should dress her up like Belle. Her grandmother even bought her a costume. Well, Mrs. FLG and I thought about it and decided that if she asks to be a princess for Halloween when she is older, then no problem. But until then we aren't going to force it on her. So, she's going to be Dorothy. (She's got the dress, little red sequined slippers, and even a basket with Toto in it. Adorable.) So, as much as FLG thinks a lot of this is overblown, and he has almost no time for people who think that children are infinitely malleable and rather stupid little creatures, he does worry about forcing the shit on his little girl.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

FLG is currently listening to

Career Advice

So, a wanna go to law school and wanna get a PhD in English videos have been making the rounds.  FLG found them both funny, but since he has no desire to get a PhD in English and very little desire to go to law school they weren't  really applicable to him.  But this one about getting a PhD in Political Science is more so:

It's Always That Way

FLG wrote a post yesterday that he deleted because he wasn't quite happy with it. It's rare that he deletes a post, and he almost always regrets it. Some of you with RSS feeds probably still saw it, but he's going to repeat it here. The main point FLG wanted to get at is that blaming the difficulties Demcorats are having on the incoherent preferences of the public is bullshit. People always want stuff and don't want to pay for it. The most important job of leaders is to bridge that divide somehow. That the administration and its apologists are using this as an excuse indicates that they lack wisdom, courage, and leadership qualities.

Anyway, FLG went a little off topic in the post, which is why he deleted it. But he regrets having done it. So, here it is:
Liberals, looking for some reason to explain their electoral fate and opposition to their policy achievements, turn, as they are wont to do, given their short-term time horizons and concomitant blindness to how they are applying values to facts, have begun to argue, as they did when Jimmy Carter was in office, that the country is ungovernable and its the people's fault. The president, as you all know, made these point rather inelegantly recently.

Well, today, over at LOG, we have guest author E.C. Gach.

He writes:
Allowing some settling of the dust, I think it makes sense to split the difference and say, yes, on the one hand, such statements were ridiculously foolhardy of the President to make. They were “tone deaf,” as the political chatter loves to report. They were elitist, snobbish, and so on. But after admitting that point, how much less accurate does that make them? Yes, the remarks were widely unpopular and considered both hurtful and tactless. But what does that mean for their accuracy or relevance?

Good line of inquiry here.

Still, no matter where you land on the question of the anxiety/rationality relationship we can still explore the sentiment being expressed, however crudely, by the President.

Alright. Agreed.

Now why would anyone think that there are large swathes of the American public who are confused/inconsistent with regard to their beliefs?

Lay it on me.

For one, many people feel that public education is going down the tubes, but many are increasingly satisfied with their school (public or private).

FLG will admit this is confusing. It's probably a combination of wishful thinking, lack of data in where schools sit relatively, and they actually know and like the people working in their local school, which distorts their analysis away from truly a objective stance. But okay, point taken.

Congress has horrible approval ratings, but most people like their Congress person. Plus, most Americans feel that it’s individual members of Congress that are the problem rather than our political system as a whole. Congress is broken, but the system is fine, it’s the individuals who are broken, but not my individual.

FLG took a class not too long ago on congressional politics, and this has always been the case. Consequently, this isn't about fear or whatever that occurring right now. Therefore, has fuck all to do with Obama's point. Thinking about it some more, FLG wonders whether the previous point about local schools holds historically and has shit to do with this as well.

Many people feel that Social Security will not be there for them when they retire and are worried about it, but equal majorities both do not want to raise tax revenue to pay for it, or cut benefits to make it solvent.

FLG isn't sure this is entirely confused. I'm writing off social security, but FLG doesn't want to raise taxes or cut benefits. I don't want to raise taxes because that would inevitably cut into what FLG is able to save for retirement. (Yes, yes, retirement savings are pre-tax, but the overall tax burden will affect how much I can put away.) On the other hand, cutting benefits would be unethical because people who are near retirement have been counting on those.

I would add that most people want government spending to decrease, but don’t want individual government programs cut. Most people liked stimulus, now dislike it, but wanted unemployment insurance to continue, but didn’t want government deficits to go up, but don’t want other non-discretionary spending cut.

My question is: how do you square this convoluted and seemingly irreconcilable circle?

But more broadly speaking on this point -- FLG wants a Ferrari, but doesn't want to pay for it. Human beings are just like that. We have always been like that. The idea that there are the inconsistencies and incoherence in human wants and desires makes no sense as an explanation for the Democrats' or the President's current trouble. In fact, a key task of leadership is to somehow reconcile these ultimately irreconcilable desires.

FLG has come to realize that he was wrong to vote for our current president. Not simply because FLG thinks his policies are wrong. FLG had a good idea that he'd disagree with many of the president's policies. It's that the president, while he possesses vast amounts of knowledge, possesses very little wisdom.

And FLG is also beginning to question his character. Not that he's evil or a liar. But that he seems so convinced of his own capabilities, intelligence, and good sense that any opposition is not only wrong, but irrational. Moreover, that when confronted with this supposedly irrational opposition at the ballot box, he throws up his hands and says, "Well, they're irrational. People are scared. People act stupid when they're scared."

Well, you know what Mr. President, you thought that the problem was that you weren't tough enough. If you and Pelosi could just get stuff through, show your resolve and toughness, then everything would come up roses. Well, instead of pretending you have balls and a spine, why don't you actually grow a set and confront what it probably your worst nightmare -- that you are wrong. Not only wrong, but drastically wrong. If you confront that possibility and decide that you are still correct, then actually grow a set and FUCKING LEAD. This "Wah, the people are irrational." "Wah, people are scared." "Wah, the Republicans are lying." Makes you sound like a fucking pussy.

You know what? You're the President of the United States of America. That office has the ability to draw all the press coverage you want. Don't whine to me about propaganda or lack of understanding among the unwashed masses.

The people always want free lunches. They've wanted free lunches since politics began. Blaming that for an electoral defeat is idiotic.

BTW, you lost my vote for 2012. Well, unless Palin runs against you.

Dear Readers:

FLG thinks he's mentioned this before, but if you are ever in doubt about how to interpret one of his posts, then imagine FLG roughly like how Denis Leary is from the 1:00 mark until the end of this video. (NSFW) That should give you a damn good approximation of the intended tone.

Sincerely,
FLG

The Irony

...of a liberal calling the American people near-sighted.

Some guy, named David Berman, whom FLG assumes is liberal, objects to a recent David Brooks column:
Bailouts are unpopular — especially with those who don’t know the difference between the short-term problem of the banking crisis and the long-term problem of deficits (nearsighted), and those who don’t know that most of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, is being paid back (ill informed).

Bailout are unpopular for a variety of reasons, but you, being a liberal and by virtue of your entire outlook are short-term focused, probably only see the short-term one -- that people are objecting to the inherent unfairness of fat cats being bailed out. But those fat cats are paying it back, so little harm done.

Well, we conservatives, who do actually see the long-term are not only worried about the deficit, but also this thing called moral hazard. Jackass.

Health care is unpopular — especially among those who don’t know that much of the reform hasn’t taken effect yet (nearsighted), and those who think it’s socialism (ill informed).

I know most of it hasn't gone into effect, and you know what, it's still unpopular with me. Moreover, it's not necessarily that this particular bill, .i.e. the short-term, is socialism, but the concern is that this bill leads on a path, both by expanding the government's role in health care but also by the problems that this bill itself will create, that will lead us to more toward socialism in the long-term. Dumbfuck.

And financial regulation is unpopular, especially with those who don’t remember it was deregulation that caused the crisis (nearsighted, even in hindsight), and those who still believe markets are rational (spectacularly ill informed).

Oh, really? It's simply deregulation that caused the crisis? I see. Well, that's interesting because the elimination of Glass-Steagall, which every dumbass, smug, and economic know-nothing on the left wants to reinstate, actually helped stabilize the system by allowing companies like Bank of America, a commercial bank, to buy Merrill Lynch, an investment bank.

In short, the Democratic and Republican narratives of this election are in complete agreement — Americans are indeed nearsighted and ill informed, just as Republicans wanted them to be, and their blindness and ignorance will indeed inform their votes.

Fantastic. Well, I'm certainly glad that the supposedly far-sighted, well-informed people like you are going to lose this election because you are neither. You can't possibly break out of your strong valuing of the short-term and steep discounting of the long run because you don't even realize that your doing it.

Quote of the day

Jon Western:
We should be able to discuss and address the current problems and weaknesses of math and science education in the United States without the constant drum beat of power transitions and interstate competition -- especially when the analytic claims are so dubious.

Hosanna!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FLG Would Like To Throw His Support Behind

...the final serial comma.

Quote of the day

Strategy Page:
The Chinese have had a hard time building reliable nuclear subs, but they are determined to acquire the needed skills. You do that by doing it, and eating your mistakes. U.S. intelligence experts believe that China is building a class of five Type 94s.

Mixed Bag

Tom Friedman writes about the same report on American global competitiveness that an editorial FLG lambasted yesterday also referenced. So, FLG thought he should read the report.

There's a lot correct in the report, but let's be honest, it's written by the National Academy of Sciences, and in particular largely by science and engineering professors, so of course they're going to call for more funding for science education and research. That's not to say they're wrong, but that we need to take a cautious approach to their conclusions.

A few factoids they think are relevant are anything but:
72nd in the density of mobile telephony subscriptions.

And the relative number of subscriptions matters why? It's not like there's a dearth of cell phones in this country.

The legendary Bell Laboratories is now owned by a French company.

Right. That legendary status hasn't been as great lately.

The world’s largest airport is now in China.

Who cares? They have a gazillion people, of course they need a big airport. To be honest, the focus on airports be people who travel to China is mind-boggling to FLG. Yes, LaGuardia, JFK, LAX, O'Hare are old. But so what? You can get on a plane and travel anywhere you want. Denver has a relatively new airport, which is nice, but you still get on the same planes and go so many places. It's the travel that matters, not how nice or big the airport is.

Manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is now lower than when the first personal computer was built in 1975.

This is a natural part of the cycle. High technology products that require highly skilled labor eventually becomes something closer to commodities as time goes by. In fact, much computer manufacturing is pretty much a commodity trap, which is why Apple couldn't resist switching to the Intel platform a few years ago to save money. Being in computer manufacturing sound high tech, and is to some extent, but does anybody really think that it is in America's interest to be in some price war with Taiwanese computer memory producers?

During a recent period during which two high-rise buildings were constructed in Los Angeles, over 5,000 were built in Shanghai.

And this is a relevant metric of economic competitiveness why exactly? People don't build high-rises in LA because there are fucking earthquakes you dumbfucks! But more profoundly, FLG doesn't understand what construction in two cities of a certain type of building over a "recent period" has to do with long-term growth. Call him crazy.

Sixty-nine percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.

FLG doesn't have a degree or certificate in mathematics, but he could teach algebra I. It ain't rocket science.

Ninety-three percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught the physical sciences by a teacher without a degree or certificate in the physical sciences.

Again, FLG could lead a dissection of a cow eye or pig heart. Plus, he can explain what osmosis is, what the noble gases are, etc. Middle school science doesn't require a degree in science.

Forty-nine percent of United States adults do not know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

If you've ever been to Vegas, then this statistic doesn't surprise you. It's nutty, but not surprising. But FLG was wondering, what exactly does this have to do with economic competitiveness? 99.999999999% of jobs could be done perfectly well by somebody who thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth every three months. It simply isn't relevant to economic competitiveness in the least. Perhaps it's symbolic of something about the population, like there's a whole bunch of dumbasses out there, but FLG cannot blame the school systems for people not knowing something like this. It's just too fucking basic.

The total annual federal investment in research in mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering is now equal to the increase in United States healthcare costs every nine weeks.

Again, look who is writing this damn thing. But FLG would ask, beyond basic science, why exactly does the federal government have an incentive to fund research? The beauty of science in the Internet Age is that if a discovery is made pretty much anywhere, then everybody knows about it right quick. Consequently, people in the United States can use the knowledge gleaned from research subsidized by the Europeans and make an economically viable product. FLG isn't sure that we always need to do research here, at least insofar as economic competitiveness goes.

Bethlehem Steel marked its 100th birthday by declaring bankruptcy.

Somebody please tell me how this is at all relevant to American economic competitiveness moving forward.

China’s real annual GDP growth over the past thirty years has been 10 percent.

That's because they're going through a one-time structural shift from an agriculture economy to an industrial/post-industrial one. China and the United States are at completely different points on the development curve. Consequently, China's slope is steeper and their growth will naturally be higher. Y'all are some dumbfucks despite having so many fancy-pants degrees.

For the next 5-7 years the United States, due to budget limitations, will only be able to send astronauts to the Space Station by purchasing rides on Russian rockets.

FLG is little Johnny Space Geek, so this does chafe. But really, does this have much to do with economic competitiveness in the long-term? FLG doubts it.

When MIT put its course materials on the worldwide web, over half of the users were outside the United States.

When you remove the location and cost barriers of course the distribution of users will be more representative of the world population as a whole. Or at least the English speaking portion. Then again, I don't want to fly in a plane designed by some jackass who read the lecture notes from an MIT Fluid Dynamics course on the website.

FLG could go on, but it's just too painful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

FLG Thought He'd Seen It All

...but then he heard and saw this.

Going Back To The Liberal Arts Drives Real Growth Point

...that FLG is always harping on, and of which Steve Jobs is the ultimate example, Reihan has a post up on Jobs and John Sculley. Reihan highlights one reason John Sculley says Jobs is a great innovator:
3. No focus groups — “Steve said: ‘How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.’ He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap. ”

FLG thinks this exemplifies why a liberal arts degree is more important than an engineering degree. Liberal arts is primarily about learning what is meaningful to people. Engineering school isn't. In many ways, and FLG the former engineering student would know, it is contemptuous of what is meaningful to actual people.

For evidence, look at the user interface of an open source application. It's an afterthought at best. How to solve the problem in an elegant, efficient manner is what comes first.

Jobs, who FLG will be the first to admit is some sort of savant when it comes to knowing what people want, intuitively understands what is meaningful to people in a way that no liberal arts education will ever be able to reproduce. But the glimmer of what's important, the ability to understand science and technology and transform it into a solution that is meaningful to people is not something that engineers by virtue of their nature and education are very good at. It's more a task for liberal arts majors.

Microsoft would get a bunch of people together, describe the feature of the product, and then have a focus group. They'd run some sort of conjoint analysis, and arrive at a product. They do this because they are, and the company culture reflects, a bunch of geeks who have very little intuitive understanding of human beings. They kind of get business because many are data driven, but human beings? Not so much.

Apple, on the other hand, gets human beings. Not to say that they don't have focus groups or use metrics. But there's an intuitive sense of what people technology products will be meaningful to people that flows from Steve Jobs and affects the culture of the company.

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Mike Tyson (around the 1:15 mark):
It must've been a prostitute I'd had sex with because I had contracted gonorrhea. Either a prostitute or else a very filthy young lady, I can't even remember. I was burning like a Good Humor in July.

Just to be clear, even though this probably doesn't need to be pointed out, the guy doesn't know if he had sex with a prostitute, but if he didn't, then the young lady who gave him gonorrhea was very filthy.

A Conversation

FLG: The comma goes before the conjunction.

Coworker: It is.

FLG: Look right there. You put the comma after "but."

Coworker: That's correct.

FLG: You're the communications person?

Coworker getting agitated: Yes.

FLG: Okay, go check your Strunk & White. Compound sentences are probably discussed somewhere in the first five pages or so. After that send me the corrected version, and I'll read it over.

FLG is currently listening to

Is FLG The Only One

...who finds an Italian mayor banning miniskirts funny, given that Mara Carfagna is a member of the cabinet?

Here We Go Again

Longtime readers will know that FLG questions the whole "we need to encourage our children to study math and science so that we can compete in the global economy" bullshit. Today, we have this piece in the NYTimes, which makes FLG want to bludgeon whoever wrote it.

The National Academies, the country’s leading advisory group on science and technology, warned in 2005 that unless the United States improved the quality of math and science education, at all levels, it would continue to lose economic ground to foreign competitors.

Don't get FLG wrong. He thinks math and science education are important, but not for the purposes of economic competition. Liberal arts provides insight into what is relevant to people.

In a 2009 survey, nearly a third of this country’s manufacturing companies reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers.

Of fucking course they say that. But what's important is what's missing from that sentence. This country’s manufacturing companies reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers...at the salaries they want to pay. FLG believes it was David Foster who pointed out the big secret of engineering, that companies would rather hire young, inexperienced engineers at lower salaries and dump the more experienced guys of a certain age. It's not so much that there aren't skilled people out there, but that companies want them cheap. Encouraging everybody to get into engineering and math, increases their supply of labor. Of course they want to get that subsidized by the government, rather than say increasing salaries, which would provide even more encouragement for people to get into the field than tinkering with curriculum and such.

Too often, science curriculums are grinding and unimaginative, which may help explain why more than half of all college science majors quit the discipline before they earn their degrees. The science establishment has long viewed a high abandonment rate as part of a natural winnowing.

FLG always hates this we need to make it exciting and relevant bullshit, whether it's childhood booklists or college science. Better that people who really love chemistry tough it out then try to make it cool. Mr. Wizard was great and all, but let's not make it the model for higher education.

Congress has an important role to play. It can start by embracing the academies’ call to attract as many as 10,000 qualified math and science teachers annually to the profession. One sound way to do that — while also increasing the number of minority scientists — is to expand funding for programs that support high-caliber math and science students in college in return for their commitment to teach in needy districts.

And this is where FLG really lost it. WHO THE FUCK CARES WHAT COLOR THE PHYSICIST'S, CHEMIST'S, OR BIOLOGIST'S SKIN IS?! Science is supposed to be objective, .i.e colorblind. Why does everything have to be a fucking social engineering project? Wah, we need more women engineers. Wah, we need more African-American scientists.

If there's discrimination, then that's a problem. But introducing the idea that we must encourage some sort of color balance in the people who chose certain disciplines out of nowhere and with no justification other than some sort vague sense that we need to balance outcomes in everything as a goal makes little sense. Especially when the argument is "we need to do this for the bullshit reason that it's going to stimulate the economy, which by the way our CEOs who have a vested interest in agreeing with this agree with. Oh, and by the way, let's just throw in that we also need to encourage African-Americans because science is a good thing and we want to encourage good things among African-Americans because we're a bunch of paternalistic Upper West Side fuckwads."

Did the person or persons who wrote this editorial really think they were offering insight? Were they drunk? Perhaps they'd been hit by a subway car on the way to work.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Does Netflix Think FLG Is A Pretentious Fuckwad Or Something?

Apparently, FLG's taste preferences created the following two rows of recommendations:
Critically-acclaimed Dark Foreign Movies
Visually-striking Cerebral Dramas

Well, screw you, Netflix! FLG ain't Peter Bogdanovich. He's gonna queue up Zombie Strippers next.

Défenestrations

According to this article in Le Figaro, twelve people, including a baby, jumped or were thrown out a window in France because they thought Satan was in their apartment. Sky News has more details and is in English.

Apparently the people were from Angola, but FLG has to wonder what type of thought process, if this is true, leads to a person's first reaction to finding somebody in their apartment whom they didn't expect to be there to be "It's the devil!" Wouldn't, I dunno, a normal, human intruder be far more likely?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Breaking News

Drug lab found in Georgetown dorm.

Imagine A World In Which

...James Poulos writes a three act play, which he demands be performed only once, on Halloween, in the Hollywood Bowl, about Superman fighting vampires, entitled "Thus Sucked Zarathustra."

Only then can you get an inkling of how disturbing FLG's dream was last night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It All Goes Back To Plato

David Foster links to this post which begins by discussing Hegel.

... to have thrown your whole soul into a vision of beauty, that is passion. To have passion for a woman is, then, not to have some physical longing alone; that belongs to mere appetites, which rank much lower on his scale of mind. Rather, what you have is a longing for an idea of what the woman would be if she were as perfect as you wish her to be.

Well, and she is not; so is this not a lie? And are you not betraying her, if you will not take her as she is rather than demanding some perfection no one can possess?





But this question goes back to Plato at least. Here's part of Phaedrus:
After this [reveling in beauty, which FLG might call lust, the lovers'] happiness depends upon their self-control; if the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail, then they pass their life here in happiness and harmony-masters of themselves and orderly-enslaving the vicious and emancipating the virtuous elements of the soul; and when the end comes, they are light and winged for flight, having conquered in one of the three heavenly or truly Olympian victories; nor can human discipline or divine inspiration confer any greater blessing on man than this.

But for Plato, what's important is that the desire for Beauty is the soul remembering what the Form of Beauty looks like, and isn't as negative as mere appetite. Our appetites are ordered toward the Good in important ways.

Dear Michael Gerson:

You write:
[The] view [that America is a Christian nation] is comforting to some -- as comforting as a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. It is consistent with populist movements before it. But it is flawed nonetheless. America is not a Christian country and has never been, for historical, theological and philosophic reasons.

You then proceed to refer only to the government. For example, you write:
America was not founded as a Christian nation precisely because America's Founders were informed by a Jewish and Christian understanding of human nature. Since humans are autonomous moral beings created in God's image, freedom of conscience is essential to their dignity. At least where the federal government was concerned, the Founders asserted that citizens should be subject to God and their conscience, not to the state.

Now, in fairness, you frame your article as a response to Christine O'Donnell's obviously confused and limited understanding of the United States Constitution. But two things.

First, being a Christian nation doesn't mean the government has to be explicitly Christian. Nations have institutions, traditions, norms, and values beyond just the government. Second, as FLG likes to assert time and again, even if our government isn't explicitly Christian, many decisions, as you point out, were made by Christians, specifically Protestant Christians, who held a variety of assumptions about human nature and the world that derived from their faith. Specifically, since Luther rejected the Catholic hierarchy and replaced it with the nuclear family as the basis for the church, many decisions were made around the assumption of the nuclear family as the rock upon which society stands.

I'm not saying that Christine O'Donnell or the Tea Partiers have this type of understanding of a Christian nation, but equating the nation and the government is intellectually lazy.

Sincerely,
FLG

Quote of the day

John Maynard Keynes:
I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

FLG's emphasis. The Ancient pointed out this essay to FLG in the comments. In any case, FLG keeps telling you, this time horizons thing has got some merit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Correspondence

FLG received an email accusing him of being "mean-spirited." Does he come off that way? He doesn't think he's mean-spirited.

It's A Winning Strategy



Who thinks their rent is too low?

Freedom

As much as FLG hates to admit it, but Ned Resnikoff has an interesting post over at LOG. He writes:
Since I came out of the gate making such a big deal out of the left’s dearth of articulated first principles, I suppose I should probably suggest one or two. Freedom sounds like a good place to start. I have to admit, I’m a little alarmed by how much we’ve allowed the Tea Party to monopolize the language of liberty and tyranny, especially given the peculiar ways in which they’ve employed it.

But before we get there, we need a workable definition of liberty/freedom. I tend to think of it as an array of options or possibilities, with greater freedom meaning more options, and less freedom meaning fewer. Tyranny isn’t just negative freedom, but a particularly extreme and unjust limit put on one’s freedom.

FLG tried to address this over a year ago, when he wrote:
The ultimate goal of Marxism, in its purest, Platonic form, is Leisure. Leisure in this case means the ability to pursue one's goals free from constraints. Those constraints could be cultural, economic, or political. Which explains the animus with which the intellectuals mentioned in the essay hate the bourgeois virtues, capitalism, and the American political system.

The nexus of economic statism and cultural libertarianism is not some odd pairing derived from unique circumstances, but a direct product of the end goal of Marxism. Economic statism is the preferred policy because it offers the false hope of spreading the wealth in a way that liberates the entire population from economic constraints in pursuing their goals. This is particularly appealing to people like artists and intellectuals whose activities are not relatively highly valued by capitalism. Cultural libertarianism removes the societal and cultural boundaries that repress and constrain the intellectuals and artists.

Now, that's not quite fair because FLG is conflating Ned Resnikoff with Marxism, which isn't right. But the core belief, that the end goal should be to maximize choices, and particularly with a view to maximizing choices in the present, even if they reduce choices over the long-term, which the policies to maximize choices contingent on wealth distribution in the present tend to do. And moreover that the consequences of freedom are largely examined only in the material world. So poverty and violence are considered, but freedom that results in less tangible consequences, such as the self-degradation of the individual, and those related to the internal life of human beings, are never or only partially considered.

And To Continue

...on the theme in my previous post.

This is precisely why FLG doesn't believe those concerned about global warming are actually focused on the long-term. They value things that exist today in nature greater than future human beings. In the same way liberals value the freedom of the mother over the rights of the fetus. The present human being is more valuable than the future human being. So, if you mesh this altogether, and take it to the extreme, then it is worse to cut down a tree than to have an abortion. The tree exists; the fetus is only a potential human being. And if you are talking about preventing the existence of human beings far off in the future via less drastic means, .i.e. prior to conception, then it's a no-brainer. Cutting down the tree is way worse.

-------

By the by, FLG is pro-choice and he doesn't fully believe the argument presented above, but there is some real truth to it.

Malthusian Illusions

Earlier this month, FLG wrote about environmentalist morality. Today, over at Duck of Minvera, is a post on overpopulation that addresses the issue differently:
It is interesting that Coole, a critical theorist in the continental tradition, should be asking why the population question remains a taboo. Materiality, vital matter, the non-human and post-human futures have all been on the critical theory agenda recently, in IR and more broadly. People are not the only things that matter. This scholarly focus parallels public-political claims for ‘sustainability’ in which the maintenance of ecosystems are considered more pressing than the continuation of humanity and certainly more pressing than economic growth. Might it be that a new strategic narrative will be formed and brought to bear on policy, a ‘smaller, better humanity’ narrative? Population projection statistics are ambiguous and can easily be used to support Malthusian stories. And Coole’s project may unpick the factual and normative discourses that silence talk of the population question, so that the better-smaller narrative -- if that is what is being formulated -- can be heard.

Emphasis FLG's.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dear Anti-Climacus:

I've been thinking about your post some more and realized that we are both using the word "right," but we have no defintion. Since you did your disseration on the topic, I assume you have one.

Sincerely,
FLG

Dear Facebook:

I don't know the details of your "People You May Know" algorithm, but believe me Snooki is a major error. I mean, Snooki? Seriously?

Sincerely,
FLG

FLG is currently listening to

Some crazy French language playlist he made a while back. Here are two selections:


Quote of the day

Telegraph:
Homer Simpson 'is a true Catholic'

Rights, Postive And Negative

Anti-Climacus responds to yours truly with a post that FLG will have to think about.

Especially this part:
It is commonly argued that one cannot maintain the positive/negative right distinction because negative rights usually have a positive component. For example, the right to physical integrity of the person cannot simply be the right to not have other people beat me up when I walk down the street. If that right were purely negative, I could have no certain enjoyment of it; enjoyment requires the positive action of (forming) a police force. This, of course, presupposes a government that will provide goods of some kind, but that's hardly a radical assumption given the world as it is.

But...off the top of FLG's head, he's not sure that the existence of a police force provides certain enjoyment of anything. People get their asses kicked and murdered and whathaveyou everyday. But he does see the point in a sort of Lockean sense -- that we have rights and to secure them conveniently, we submit to a government. However, FLG isn't sure that's what is meant, and he'll keep thinking about it.

Sweet Merciful Crap!

Ned Resnikoff, who along with Dylan Matthews and Jamelle Bouie, tried to blow FLG up, is now blogging at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

To be honest though, the addition of Resnikoff will have nothing to do with the inevitable time when FLG deletes the League from his blogroll and Google Reader. It will be that damn Rufus F blogging FLG's beloved Plato like he's high on crack and just been hit in the head by sledgehammer.

Falsifiability Is Overrated

Judith Lichtenberg, a philosophy professor at Georgetown, has a piece over NYTimes.coma that asks "Is Pure Altruism Possible?" The core point is whether people do good deeds for the sake of doing good or out of their own self-interest to get a sense of satisfaction from their good deeds.

She writes:
The doctor who gives up a comfortable life to care for AIDS patients in a remote place does what she wants to do, and therefore gets satisfaction from what only appears to be self-sacrifice. So, it seems, altruism is simply self-interest of a subtle kind.

This makes sense to FLG, but then again he majored in economics. She then attacks this theory thusly:
The impossibility of disproving egoism may sound like a virtue of the theory, but, as philosophers of science know, it’s really a fatal drawback. A theory that purports to tell us something about the world, as egoism does, should be falsifiable. Not false, of course, but capable of being tested and thus proved false. If every state of affairs is compatible with egoism, then egoism doesn’t tell us anything distinctive about how things are.

FLG has heard this many times. A theory is only good if it's falsifiable. "Poppycock," says FLG. That's true if you are talking about the material world. We can, to paraphrase Bacon, reveal the secrets of nature under vexations, but it's more difficult to do that with human behavior. Sure, we can vex people, but not in the same way as physical phenomena. The reasons for why we do anything are not easily separated and examined. Since we need to make broad assumptions for the purposes of policy, then we might as well make it on the assumption that people do what's in their interest, with interest rather broadly defined.

And ultimately it seems Prof. Lichtenberg has nothing else to offer us.  It boils down to what appears to be a deep-seated desire on her part to live in a world where pure altruism exists:
People who act in these ways believe that they ought to help others, but they also want to help, because doing so affirms who they are and want to be and the kind of world they want to exist. As Prof. Neera Badhwar has argued, their identity is tied up with their values, thus tying self-interest and altruism together. The correlation between doing good and feeling good is not inevitable— inevitability lands us again with that empty, unfalsifiable egoism — but it is more than incidental.

Unsurprisingly, FLG finds the best way to understand this entire concept is through Plato. We live in the world of becoming, not being. Therefore, pure altruism doesn't exist, only imperfect representations of the Form of Altruism, which is enough for FLG.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

FLG Laughed



Who is this Cato writing all these letters?, FLG wonders as well.

H/T

Quote of the day II

Barrett Brown:
The problem with going over to National Review’s blog The Corner for quick material, as I did last night, is that one tends to run across at least two or three other things that also need addressing. Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez will inevitably be responsible for one of these things

FLG has a theory about clowns that he thinks explains K-Lo. FLG maintains that nobody likes clowns. Most people in fact think they're pretty creepy. But everybody assumes everybody else likes clowns. How clowns escaped the fate of mimes, whom everybody except the French hate, FLG does not know.

Likewise, if you ask any particular person what they think of K-lo, they'll say she's the conservative village idiot, but they seem to think other people think she has intelligent things to say or they paper over her idiocy with the claim that she's our idiot.

Well, FLG thinks it's time for this to end. It's time to stand up and say, "Clowns are creepy and K-Lo is an idiot! We will suffer them no longer! Off to France, where they will be imprisoned in a mime Bastille!"

It's Not Complicated, But It Isn't Pretty Either

FLG really likes Adam Elkus' blog, Rethinking Security. FLG is pretty impressed by the amount of dedication to the entire field of security that Adam has. Perhaps it's one of those labor of love things. Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life.

FLG finds the topic interesting as well, but he can't muster up the motivation to delve really deep into things like counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy. Ultimately, it comes down to killing the bad guys. In counterterrorism you try to keep a low profile and kill some bad guys. Case studies, such as Sri Lanka and Chechnya, seem to show that effective counterinsurgency is pretty much the same thing, killing bad guys, but that you also end up killing innocents in the process.

As much as FLG admires those people trying to square the circle, it seems that the rules of war haven't really changed. Winning means killing the enemy. If you are unable or unwilling to kill the enemy for whatever reason, including concerns about innocent life in the process of prosecuting the war, then you simply can't win and probably shouldn't fight in the first place. No amount of social science and technical prowess will ever change that.

And FLG Thought O'Donnell Was Crazy

Crazy person suing for $994 trillion and running for congress. You have to see the video.

Oh, and by the way people in DC, this is why you are taxed without representation. In most places being a crackhead pretty much kills your chances of winning an election, but not in DC.

Quote of the day

Demosthenes by Plutarch:
He was meagre and sickly from the first, and hence had his nickname of Batalus given him, it is said, by the boys, in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play. Others speak of Batalus as a writer of wanton verses and drinking songs. And it would seem that some part of the body, not decent to be named, was at that time called batalus by the Athenians.

And people say bullying is some sort of modern epidemic. That type of shit goes back thousands of years.

Correspondence

FLG received an email today that, basically, asks how he learned to argue. If indeed FLG is a super-awesome arguer, which he doubts, then it was by following Aristotle's advice:
For the orator to produce conviction three qualities are necessary; for, independently of demonstrations, the things which induce belief are three in number. These qualities are good sense, virtue, and goodwill; for speakers are wrong both in what they say and in the advice they give, because they lack either all three or one of them. For either through want of sense they form incorrect opinions, or, if their opinions are correct, through viciousness they do not say what they think, or, if they are sensible and good, they lack goodwill; wherefore it may happen that they do not give the best advice, although they know what it is. These qualities are all that are necessary, so that the speaker who appears to possess all three will necessarily convince his hearers.

Good sense, virtue, and goodwill. That's FLG in a nutshell. Well, and pirates...and swearing...and object sex...and crazy theories that he repeats continuously...but the kernel is good sense, virtue, and goodwill. Well, maybe just sense, and thinking about being virtuous, and hoping to proceed with goodwill. Ah, whatever. Listen to Aristotle.

Trivium

FLG had a couple of posts on basic composition not too far back. Today, Prof. Mondo addresses the issue.

Time Horizons: Obama Edition

Michael Gerson picks up on a quotation of Obama:
"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now," he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, "and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared."

The root of this is pretty simple -- Obama is a liberal and so he has short time horizons. Sure, he thinks he's making good choices for the long run with political consequences in the short-term, but his entire way of seeing the world is short run and largely static.

Indeed, this quote is entire emblematic of short-term-ism. He beleives that facts and science imply conclusions, as if there were no values involved. And he is so blind to valuing the future that any concerns not about the present and tangible state of the world are irrational.

Gerson explains it this way:
The calculation of risk and a preference for proven practices are the conservative contributions to the survival of the species. Whatever neuroscience may explain about political behavior, it does not mean that the fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.

But look at all the memes going around in the lefty blogosphere to explain the upcoming defeat -- the Republicans are lying, there's all sorts of soft money, the Tea Party is racist, people are scared. What do these all share? They all exist entirely in the present. Republicans are lying right now. Soft money is flowing in right now. The Tea Party is racist right now. People are scared. Scared about what? Their economic circumstances right now.

But what if people are scared right now about where the country is heading? Where these beloved Democratic policies will lead us? FLG realizes that liberals believe that health reform is good. Or at least it's a slight improvement. They've been repeating the mantra that once people understand it, then they'll like it. But what if that's wrong, as FLG believes it is?

Conservatives wanted Social Security private accounts, but the people balked. It wasn't just Democratic propaganda or money or whatever. It's that the people don't seem to want private accounts. FLG thinks they're wrong, but that's not what matters. Democrats would be wise to take a page from the Republicans on this one and recognize that maybe the people don't like what they are selling. And rather than simply looking for proximate causes, they ought to look at legitimate fears about longer term trends. Maybe opposition to your policies isn't because people are stupid, confused, or being lied to. Maybe they don't like what you are doing.

The problem is that liberals would have to contemplate the long run as a dynamic system, which is difficult for them because of their worldview.

Green Jobs

Bob Herbert:
With his sky-high approval ratings and the economy hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, a bold and creative employment initiative, tied to long-term investments in infrastructure and green energy, was the issue that President Obama could — and should — have used to trump Republican obstructionism.

FLG knows he's written this before, but it bears repeating -- green jobs are akin to creating jobs by breaking windows. It is the legislative equivalent of breaking existing technology, and results in a destruction of wealth.

This doesn't mean that we might not be better off overall for it because we are currently pricing in the negative externalities caused by emitting carbon (although I doubt that too), but we certainly won't be better off in economic terms because of them. FLG really wishes people would stop saying things like this. Then again, he's got zero hope for Bob Herbert on this issue.

Monday, October 18, 2010

FLG Is Slightly Disappointed

FLG was on a Rawls kick, and he tried to counter it with what is basically a consequentialist argument. The easier way would've been to simply play the Nozick card.

Diane Ellis, over at Ricochet, treads over the same territory and does precisely that, but without mentioning either Rawls or Nozick. And to end the piece, she writes:
A system of morality that considers the theft of a neighbor's property as righteous behavior should be rejected on its face.

Really, Diane? Really?

This relies upon the assumption that taxation is equivalent to theft, which isn't entirely insane but isn't exactly an uncontroversial stance either. Consequently, it doesn't reach the on its face must be rejected territory.

Don't get me wrong, FLG is all against the soak the rich strategy for a variety of reasons, but dismissing it out of hand as some sort of crazy idea with no real rebuttal beyond it's theft isn't a very effective style of debate.

Is this the level of argument common over at Ricochet? In that case, FLG ain't been missin' much.

FLG is currently listening to

Linguistic Assumptions

FLG has mentioned this before, but he's tempted to just start assuming his readers know French and post long passages untranslated.

There Are Two Possibilities

First, FLG has, through the immense power of his mental acuity, landed upon a handful of basic questions about life and politics such that everybody else is discussing the intellectual version of wainscoting while he's dealing with the foundation. Things like The Big Assumption, Time Horizons, the difficulty of determining cause and effect in multiple feedback systems, i.e. a human society, and so forth, and humanity is simply waiting for him to rectify all of these into a Political Theory of Everything.

Second, FLG is becoming increasingly self-absorbed to the point where he is a complete egomaniac with serious delusions of grandeur and massive amounts of intellectual narcissism who everywhere sees nails for his handful of hammers.

Whither Wither Humanities?

Some thoughts over at NYTimes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Child Of The Corn

Miss FLG discovered she likes corn mazes a great deal:

But she wasn't so sure about the way out:

What The Fuck?

So, somebody landed on Fear and Loathing in Georgetown because of the following search:
"helen rittelmeyer c-span"

FLG thought to himself, "Helen Rittelmeyer was on C-Span?" And so, he conducted the same search only to discover that she not only was on C-Span, but the panel was at Georgetown University.

FLG Translation Service: Morality Of The State Edition

Jacob Levy responds to Sandy Levinson on his blog. FLG likes the response, but it's put in a tad too much academic verbiage. Here's FLG's translation:
Levinson asks:

PBS reports that the cost of rescuing the 33 trapped Chilean miners was $10-20 million. A third apparently came from private donations, with the rest from a mix of the state-owned copper company in charge of the effort and the government of Chile itself. Every American law student is told that there is, in the United States, no "duty to rescue." It is, of course, just such a notion of "good Samaritanism" that is the foundation of the welfare state, in which haves see their funds redistributed to have-nots lest the latter end up starving or freezing on the streets or watching their houses burn down because they can't afford to pay the user fee to the local fire department....

I've done a quick check of recent entries to the Volokh Conspiracy, which I take it is the leading collection of libertarians in the legal academy, and I notice that none of them saw the rescue as worthy of comment. Might it be too threatening for, say, David Bernstein, who announced his forthcoming talk to the Federalist Society (with a comment to follow by Jack Balkin) on his new book that attempts to rehabilitate Lochner, to admit that at least sometimes there is a role for the "rescuing state," which, almost by definition, must take from those who have in order to provide for those who don't? Or is there an ostensible "public purpose" in rescuing miners that doesn't cover, say, supplying medical care to children or food or shelter, among other things, to hungry infants or persons at the other end of the life cycle who, say, saw their savings wiped out by an economic collapse?

FLG's translation:
The state saved the Chilean miners. Libertarians didn't complain because it's the straight-forward moral position to save the miners. What makes saving miners any different from providing health care? Therefore, libertarianism is bankrupt and long live the welfare state!

Levy responds, and FLG will take this piece by piece:
I propose to treat the state as a morally contingent form of social organization that is nonetheless pervasive in the world we inhabit and in any world we can reasonably imagine in the medium-term future.

Look, Sandy. The state is simply what we've got. That doesn't make it some sort of moral superagent.

If we do so, one consequence is that we should view state officials as wielding a great deal of power in our social world that is probably not justified all the way down. States did not come about by individualist contractualist consent; they are not the institutional form of morally foundational nations; religious, hereditary, and customary forms of legitimation may remain sociologically credible in some places but are surely not morally well-grounded accounts of the justifications for the organized use of violence. Yet states are such well-entrenched features of the political landscape that, if can constrains ought at all, we are probably not morally obligated to abolish the state form in favor of some other form of political organization or in favor of anarchy of any description. We must morally make the best of them, making do with what we have.

In fact, if you think about it for a while, the state isn't justified on any moral basis. Its basis is violence. No terribly moral, that. It's just a pretty convenient way of organizing as a group of people.

In a world filled with states, officeholders and officials should view themselves as having political responsibility as analyzed by Weber, which is much like [David] Miller’s remedial responsibility. They wield power that is not morally legitimated by its origins; the power exists because of morally neutral historical and social accidents. What remains is moral responsibility for what is done with the power.

The state is basically amoral. It's the actions of the state that are moral or not.

State officials then confront a world in which their authority gives them unusual power over outcomes. In a world full of drowning children, they are unusually likely to have access to life preservers. As Miller stresses, it is important not to view the world as always only made up of drowning children; we must also be able to see ourselves as partly responsible for the creation of our circumstances, our social worlds, and our outcomes. But even with that caveat in mind, there are drowning children enough to go around. Miller draws on Virginia Held’s (1970) famous argument that a random collection of individuals can be held morally responsible, to suggest that if they can, surely more substantial collectives like nations can be. But Held’s “random collection” shouldn’t be passed by so quickly; it is a serviceable shorthand for the reality of fellow-citizenship in a modern state, who make up a random collection of individuals who happen to be socially organized in a particular, contingent but powerful, way.

State officials have a lot of power. Because they have this power to solve things, we immediately jump to them. But maybe the people closest to the problem have the power to solve it too.

The state’s first duty, the prevention of interpersonal violence, follows more or less straightforwardly from the kind of social organization that the state is: the agency that is able to claim and enforce a local monopoly on the legitimate initiation of force. Not all forms of political organization have been like that, and the responsibilities of officeholders under them differed accordingly. But the ability to prevent private violence is constitutive of the modern state, which just for that reason acquires a responsibility to do so in accordance with the background moral rights of persons to be free from violence. Similarly, it acquires a responsibility to protect against theft and against aggression from outside its boundaries. It has displaced all other possible protectors; it has both the greatest ability and (due to its own actions) the only ability to defend against force; and so it bears the responsibility to do so.

Sometimes we don't want the people closest to solve the problem. Particularly if it involves violence. So, we turn to the state to deal with violence.

Orthodox libertarianism would hold that this first responsibility (understood to include the prevention of private theft, not only personal violence) also more or less exhausts the state’s responsibilities. But the creation of the social technology that can protect against internal and external violence—for example, the creation of a professional body of armed men trained for coordinated action and a financial apparatus that can support that body—means that there is a significant concentration of physical and fiscal power on hand. And there may well be an overprovision of that power, since an underprovision is irresponsible and generates political pressure for state actors to fulfill their duties, and “just right” provision at the level that would keep police and armed forces working at precisely their whole capacity would be an astronomically unlikely coincidence. Then, unavoidably, the slack in the system provides the state and state actors with situations in which they have a unique capacity to prevent or mitigate harms and suffering. The police force created to prevent crimes also has the ability to respond to car crashes. The public fisc created to fund an army also has the ability to feed the starving. I am sure that there is no morally decent way to insist that the police officer refuse in principle to aid people in danger even if the danger wasn’t caused by crime, even though that means that the taxpayers will be involuntarily funding some use of the officer’s time that is not connected to rights-protection, even if the resulting situation is a violation of the best understanding of taxpayers’ property rights. Nor will it just be a matter of the personal benevolence of the police officer who wants to be free to prevent non-criminal harms while on the clock. If capacity and proximity can generate outcome-responsibility, then it can be the officer’s responsibility to act—and, accordingly, the responsibility of the state of which the officer is an agent.

Giving people authority to use violence gives them a lot of power. Sometimes we want them to use this power to do other things unrelated to stopping and preventing violence.

Once the public fisc can prevent non-criminal harms indirectly, by paying its personnel to do so, it is a difficult distinction to maintain that it may not prevent them directly, by, e.g., feeding the hungry. Indeed, the distinction is probably an impossible one, and so all non-autocracies will end by being in the business of distribution (Dahl 1993). Once states are distributing benefits—and even physical protection is a benefit about which distributive decisions are made, as is perfectly evident when looking at the geographic unevenness of police protection in all countries—they face moral constraints about how and to whom they should be distributed. That is, there are problems of political redistributive justice, even if redistribution is not in itself demanded by justice.

Once you cross the line from merely dealing with violence, it becomes messy. And it's certainly no longer a function of moral rightness, but mere politics.

I do not suppose that these brief remarks will persuade my fellow libertarians that they ought to abandon their views on redistributive spending. But perhaps they will agree that the police officer on duty has a responsibility (and not just the responsibility borne by any natural person) to aid the drowning child, even though doing so is a drain on taxpayer resources that is not for the sake of the prevention of interpersonal rights-violations, even though doing so provides a kind of subsidized in-kind insurance against misfortunes that are not injustices. The subsidy is not itself a demand of libertarian justice but of public responsibility conditional on the fact of public power; but once the subsidy exists, it is constrained by concerns about justice. A state could not justifiably intentionally deploy police differentially according to the race of the children likely to be at risk of drowning.

Look, let's not kid ourselves. We live in a imperfect world. The best apparatus we have to deal with violence, and consequently protect our rights -- The State -- by its mere existence and nature shifts us away from justice toward what is politically desired. Consequently, the pro-welfare state people need to chill out and maybe libertarians should stop whining about everything the state does that isn't specifically related to justice.

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

In case anybody's wondering, FLG's distinction between the two (health care provision and rescuing miners) goes back to his Marine Corps analogy. If it's about getting as many resources as needed to some particular location to do something we know pretty much already know how to do in a particular time with relatively little concern about cost, then government might be the answer. If you want to provide some sort of service effectively on an open ended basis, then probably not.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Correspondence

FLG got a couple of emails from people about Rawls. Apparently, Ned Resnikoff found the only other time FLG can remember even referencing Rawls recently and tweeted it, which happened to be when FLG criticized his piece. FLG really isn't too interested in continuing this whole thing, but he would like to clarify.

Both of Bouie's and Resnikoff's arguments are premised upon something like this:
Our wealth today is primarily determined by our wealth yesterday. Our wealth yesterday is primarily determined by our wealth the day before. And so on...until you get to childhood and birth. And this is pretty much the key point. Our wealth today is, according to this argument, primarily determined by the wealth and genetics of our parents. Thus, our wealth today wasn't earned. Consequently, we don't really have any claim of deserving it.

Broadly speaking, this is the argument Rawls makes and Resnikoff explicitly mentions this in his piece. FLG actually thinks Rawls has a more sophisticated take on this than either Resnikoff's and Bouie's stances. But that's getting off-topic.

FLG's disagreement with Resinkoff and Bouie revolves primarily around the extent of their material determinism. Yes, FLG will concede that the wealth of your parents plays a role in your wealth as an adult. But it's not a perfect correlation. Some kids screw up and some overcome odds. Why is a complicated question, but the staunch material determinism is off-base.

Let's say that your wealth today is primarily determined by your wealth yesterday and so on and so forth. That doesn't mean it's some linear function from the previous days over which a person's choices have no impact. If a person, just to offer a simple and easy example, chooses to save money one day, even a little bit, then compounding interest will increase their wealth exponentially over the years. That decision to be thrifty is part of what FLG'll call the bourgeois virtues. A tiny decision that on the margins, if you are looking at each and every day as a function of the previous, wouldn't show up. Thrift is but one case.

Why FLG sees this same mistake applied to all sorts of things in Jamelle's writing. For example, and FLG is too lazy to find the post, Jamelle attacked Nick Kristof for having the gall to suggest that poor people in Africa would be better off if they'd stop spending so much money on hookers and booze and applied that toward their kids education. Jamelle's response was that these people don't spend money on these things at any greater a rate than the average person. Their problem is simply that they are poor. FLG remembers not being totally convinced of the data, but even if we grant it, then it still doesn't make sense. Okay. It's unfair that poor people in Africa don't have the additional income to blow on hookers and booze like middle class Americans. But perhaps those circumstances dictate that they ought spend less on it as a proportion of income so that they can not be as poor at some point in the future. In other words, thinking about the long run rather than the instantaneous, proximate, and material explanation.

And this is where the objection comes in to Rawls comes in. Yes, initial endowments matter. But so do choices. If you've got a shitty initial endowment, yes it's unfair. But the idea that the unfairness of the initial endowments renders all subsequent choices irrelevant is interesting as a thought experiment, but entirely devoid of how things must and do work in reality.

And with that, FLG will move on.

In Case You Didn't Know

The French national pasttime is still as popular as ever.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Can You Get Convicted Of Attempted Murder Through Philosophy?

Jamelle, Dylan Matthews, and Ned Resnikoff are trying to render FLG apoplectic in the hopes that he hemorrhages out:
If [FLG] gets this incensed by *Rawls*, we should send him some Jerry Cohen and see if he explodes.

Shit. This post alone, the mere mention of Cohen, gave FLG a nose bleed.

--------------------------------
UPDATE: I just realized that Cohen, in fact, died of a stroke. I didn't intend to make light of that. Just that Jamelle et al were trying to blow me up.

Time Horizons: Jamelle Bouie Edition

Andrew Sullivan asks:
Jamelle Bouie questions my choice of words. Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich - but, of course by no means all of them - earned it the hard way?
FLG is familar with Mr. Bouie because he wrote almost universally awful stuff at the League of Ordinary Gentleman.   Unsurprisingly, FLG blames this on time horizons.

For Mr. Bouie, people are poor because of the material, proximate, and ultimately instantaneous cause that they lack money.  A more sympathetic reading would come to the conclusion that it's the same flaw that a bad reading of Rawls has.   The long run, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist.  Consequently, non-material things that have only a marginal effect on any particular economic transaction, but produce a large aggregate effect over a long period of time are dismissed entirely.

Taxing people like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus very highly also creates less incentive for entrepreneurs to create the next Google.  (Likewise, so does financial regulation, but that's a longer and more complicated story.)   And let's even say, for the sake of argument, that the creators of the next Google are Upper-Middle class kids from elite schools, say Stanford, who didn't deserve the great cultural and intellectual endowments they were given according to some Rawlsian moral framework.   Isn't it better to have Google even with the inequality?

 Now, obviously some innovation will occur regardless, but FLG is of the mind it's better to have more innovation rather than less, but that this must be balanced against inequality.  But nevertheless, we are still left with Jamelle massive fucking blindspot to anything beyond the proximate and material.  In fact, FLG isn't quite sure why anybody even pays any attention to him at all.   The way in which he interprets the world is entirely asinine.    Don't get me wrong, he's got a couple kernels of insight.  But the only useful things FLG has ever gleaned from his writing were possible when taking Jamelle's entire way of viewing the world as some sort of hypothetical thought experiment.

Quote of the day

UD:
What sort of person, reeling with nausea from prose beyond anything George Orwell savaged in Politics and the English Language, would say Now this is exactly what I want to write in my book. In fact, I think I’ll lift verbatim a bunch of his beautiful phrases

Yeah, FLG would agree that Foucault is about the last person he'd rip off verbatim. Well, maybe Heidegger would be the last, but good ol' Michel is right up there.

Oh Boy

The first minute of this video is talking about Creationism versus Evolution in the schools. It's nutty, but let's leave it aside for now.

Apparently, according to Christine O'Donnell, raising taxes, at all, and not eliminating the death tax are tenets of Marxism.

Now, some of you are probably saying to yourself, better a stupid, crazy lady who for all the wrong reasons and according to ridiculous logic steadfastly fights for lower taxes (and you can throw in stuff flowing from her Catholic faith here too, but I have little faith that her theological understanding is any better) than a Democrat pretty much in line with Obama. Well, FLG disagrees.

The lady is 1) crazy, 2) a liar, 3) stupid, 4) entirely too self-involved and 5) provides fodder for those who believe conservatives are idiots. Conservatives, rather than rallying behind her, need to stand up and say this lady is a egotistical moron who doesn't know shit from Shinola and we disavow her in the most strident terms. Every time she talks she embarrasses herself so badly that FLG almost cringes for her, but instead he's just too worried about the damage she's doing to the conservative cause.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Following Up On The Last Post

This comment over at Anti-Climacus struck me:
My international law professor said something similar on our first day of class: just because a rule of international law is violated doesn't mean the rule doesn't exist. His analogy was, just because people steal doesn't mean domestic laws prohibiting theft aren't real or meaningful, so why should we believe that just because people violate international law - and don't always get caught - the law isn't "real?" The same applies to human rights; in fact, we often think about their existence solely *because* they are being violated.

I've made a similar argument with Alan. Saying that rights aren't merely the product of a social contract, but that there was and is a Right to Speech that has been to greater or lesser extents infringed upon by various political arrangements. So, why do I object to international human rights?

I think it comes back to positive versus negative rights. The Right to Speech can exist in the absence of any government. The Right to Healthcare or Employment or any other similar things that are proposed as Human Rights lately presuppose a government to provide them. When you add in the supposed universal and international nature of these ever expanding and amorphous rights, it's just too much for me to stomach.

I don't know if this distinction is made on solid philosophical or logical grounds, but that's how I'm rationalizing it right now.

Something Just Occured To FLG

There are a lot of bloggers out there who focus on the details of contemporary culture. Pop culture. Media. Political culture. Etc. Etc.

There are a bunch of hacks around who do this. There are non-hacks too. Back when FLG was still trying to figure it out, he came to the conclusion that James Poulos' entire postmodern conservatism seems to be based around some sort of collective psychology manifested through culture in some weird way that never made sense to FLG. Eventually, FLG gave up trying. In an entirely different but paradoxically similar way, Mrs. Self-Important also writes about culture, but in a manner that FLG has long been somewhat envious.

But then FLG realized something. FLG believes in, well, let's not get too deep or specific here, but just call it a form of the Platonic Good or God or some metaphysical truth. This makes the vicissitudes of contemporary culture relatively less important, and ultimately less interesting to FLG. Consequently, that's probably why Poulos' conservatism became less interesting to FLG as time went by.

So, this made him wonder. He gets why people on the left would be very interested in these things. To put it simply -- all we have is social constuction. But what about the conservatives?

Does Poulos believe in God or a Platonic Good? If so, then why postmodern conservatism? Because that's what's practical for a believer in a sea of non-believers?

Likewise, what drives Mrs. Self-Important's conservatism? FLG isn't saying that culture and social issues aren't important, but he senses a lack of, he doesn't know how to say it exactly, orientation toward something permanent.

Or maybe FLG is completely fucking insane and these things have nothing to do with each other.
 
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