Monday, January 31, 2011

Well Fuck Me

A Matt Steinglass post that doesn't leave FLG crying at the idiocy and even directly mentions time horizons. He writes:
In the long run, if Tunisia's authoritarian dictatorship is replaced by a more open and democratic government, and if something similar happens in Egypt, that will probably lead to greater stability and security for everyone. Unfortunately, this is one of those long runs in which many of us are dead. In the short term, riots and protests in Egypt, and the anticipation that they could lead to the fall of one or more Middle Eastern regimes, lead to [stock market turmoil.

[...]

Obviously, we should all be warily celebrating the possible fall of the Mubarak regime, not bemoaning it. Not because it will lead to any near-term benefits for us, but because it stands a chance of making Egyptians freer.

[...]

That doesn't mean that such freedom will be in the interests of the United States, in the near term or really in any term we can envision. We should be cheered when other nations start to "find their voice", not because it is in our interests, but despite the fact that it may not be.

Again, there are time horizons differences here. For example, FLG can envision a future where democratic governance does, in fact, coincide with the United States' long-term interests. But those are nitpick points.

Quote of the day

Telegraph:
South Africa's governing party has pronounced that eating sushi off the body of a model in a bikini is politically incorrect.

Not only politically incorrect, but also "defamatory," "insensitive," "undermining of woman's integrity," and FLG's personal favorite "antirevolutionary." Would it have been okay if the models had been wearing Che t-shirts?

Academic Performance Continued

Anti-Climacus linked to this interview that ties in with FLG's point this morning.

So the problem is, faculty would like you, and I’m no different, faculty would like you to validate their pathetic lives by taking their classes very, very seriously. But you’re not going to get a job taking classes. You’re going to try to get a job as an independent researcher who has their own ideas who is able to make his or her own ideas clear to someone in writing, and the sooner you start being able to do that, the sooner you will start to make that transition. So I’ve noticed that in the second or third year of graduate school there is something approaching an inversion where the people who were the real stars in the first or second year, who managed to make the faculty smile and pat them on the head and say, “Good student! Here’s a biscuit!” are the ones who after their second or third year are thinking, “You know, I’m going to take more classes” where the other people, and frankly I was one of the other people, were thinking “you know classes are sort of boring I’m going to try and write some stuff on my own”, those are the ones who end up succeeding. So the stars the first or second year, a lot of them don’t finish their thesis and they don’t get a job. So be a good cheer. If you feel like an oddball, if you’re someone who’s working on research and taking the classes, yes, getting through the classes, that’s fine. But you’re not going to get a job taking classes; you’re going to get a job doing research. Start working on writing, start working on your dissertation as soon as you can.

Now, maybe the ones who switch to research aren't all supercreative, but they're better off than the ones who are getting the biscuits.

Coding

FLG was thinking this morning that he has no idea how people make it through their lives without knowing how to read and write computer code. Well, that's hyperbole. He knows plenty of people leading perfectly fine lives without knowing how to code, but he finds knowing that skill so useful.

Still, FLG found it funny that Lifehacker recently had a learn to code weekend.

Speaking of which, FLG has a pet peeve when it comes to coding. Surprise, right? In computer programs, there are things called functions. They are very much like mathematical functions. The basic gist is that you feed the function input and it will return some output. The area of a circle is an easy example.

Here's some C++ code, which FLG actually hasn't written in a long while, for a function that calculates the area of a circle:

float circle_area(float radius)
{
const float PI = 3.14159;
area = radius * radius * PI;
return area;
}

You'd call it with something like this:
answer = circle_area(3);


Answer would then equal 3 * 3 * 3.14159, or 28.27 something.

Now, you could actually simplify the code by raising the radius to a power with something like this:
float circle_area(float radius)
{
const float PI = 3.14159;
area = pow(radius, 2) * PI;
return area;
}

FLG knows what you're thinking. What's your pet peeve in all this?

Well, see how those curly braces are on separate lines and clearly demarcate what's contained within the function? That's how people traditionally do all sorts of things in C++. So, for another example, an if statement.

if (x > 0)
{
Do something here.
}
else
{
Do something else.
}

Nice, clear, easily understood. What's the problem then? Jackasses is what. For some reason, in other languages that borrowed syntax from C/C++, and FLG is thinking of PHP here, the convention is this:
circle_area($radius) {
$PI = 3.14159;
$area = $radius * $radius * $PI;
return $area;
}

if (x > 0) {
do something here.
}
else {
do something else.
}

That's all kinds of fucked up and confusing. Plus, these jackasses have decided to bring their silliness to other languages.

Wait, FLG. You went through all that just to complain about the formatting of a curly brace? Yes, yes, FLG did.

A Conversation

FLG: Lagardère vend ses magazines internationaux à Hearst? What the fuck does that mean?

FLG: Well, if the minister of finance is selling them, then maybe the state owns them?

FLG: This doesn't make any sense at all.

FLG: Wait a second! Let's read that again. It says Lagardère, not Lagarde. What a dumbfuck you are.

Nietzsche

A while back, FLG mentioned that he need to read more Nietzsche. He'd only read excerpts, and given the influence Nietzsche has had FLG felt he should read more. Well, FLG has been reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra and he can't shake the feeling that it's the ravings of a madman. Now, FLG knows Nietzsche used a madmand to say "God is Dead," but FLG just can't get his head around how fucked up this shit is.

Look, FLG is very good at reading authors sympathetically. He sits down, willing to accept their point of view. Sure, it's harder with people whom FLG disagrees. But he can read many authors with whom he has passionate disagreements sympathetically. Usually, he just needs to find one piece that makes sense and he can climb on-board. But Nietzsche? He's nuts. His entire way of looking at the world seems not just different, but mad. That madness is probably appealing to some, FLG surmises. They probably see the world itself as mad, like Nietzsche does, and find liberation in his madness. But FLG just can't get on-board. It's all the ravings of a lunatic as far as FLG is concerned, and he wonders why people devote so much attention to Nietzsche. Sure, he was the first to proclaim God is Dead, and insofar as that's true or appealing to people, FLG understands why Nietzsche would spark some sort of fascination. But FLG simply chalks it up to sometimes even crazy people say interesting or true things. Nothing more.

FLG will continue reading, but it's tough going.

Academic Performance

Miss Self-Important writes:
Look people, it is important to do well in school, both for short term ends like getting a job and for long-term goods like happiness, understanding, and self-knowledge. Pushing your children to master the middle school math curriculum when they would rather get C's is not a form of cruelty or an impossibility--middle school math is not that hard and far more children can master it than currently do. I know you all know of dozens of people (including yourselves) who are geniuses despite their indifferent academic records, but you and those people would not be less brilliant if they'd also done well in 10-grade geometry. It is easy enough for kids like me, who quite liked school, to decide at age eight that they're good enough at reading and writing, so don't really need to also be good at math and to promptly stop trying for the next 10 years. This was a mistake. Yes, things have so far turned out fine despite this mistake, but it was no less a mistake. It is as important to understand mathematics as it is to understand any of the other constitutive structures of our society (language, literature, history, etc). It's too bad that I constitutionally suck at math, yes, but I could've sucked somewhat less if I hadn't simply given up in grade school. Whether the suckage differential would've been significant in any way, I don't know, but at the very least, it would not have hurt to try. Childhood is long and its petty injustices are easily forgotten, so a few more math problems would hardly have made a dent.

FLG doesn't disagree with the main point of Miss Self-Important's argument -- that maybe parents ought to just force kids to work toward mastering difficult skills even if they are somewhat arbitrary and the kids don't like them at the time because many things become more enjoyable once you've mastered them. FLG learned this lesson with skiing. It takes several miserable trips before it becomes fun, but once you get over that hump it's a blast.

What FLG does have an issue with is this:
Look people, it is important to do well in school, both for short term ends like getting a job and for long-term goods like happiness, understanding, and self-knowledge. [...] I know you all know of dozens of people (including yourselves) who are geniuses despite their indifferent academic records, but you and those people would not be less brilliant if they'd also done well in 10-grade geometry.

There are several issues. All things being equal it's better to do well in school than not. If you want to climb the existing hierarchy, then by all means do well in school. And by existing hierarchy, FLG means everything from scaling The Ivory Tower to professions like Law, Medicine, Banking, Managemenr Consulting, etc, etc. Good grades are a prerequisite for successful careers in these industries.

FLG thinks the reason for this is two-fold. First, it demonstrates some successful combination of intellectual horsepower and work ethic. No problem there. Yet, secondly, and FLG wishes he could express this more accurately, it also demonstrates a deference to established authority. A hesitance to rock the boat, if you will. The Ancient expressed how to get an A thusly: "I figure out what the teacher wants and give it to him."

Via Photon Courier, FLG finds this passage:
I wonder if that’s really good for America, though. To become educated is a marvelous thing; to have the opportunity to study is a privilege too many take for granted. But have we become a society that places too much weight on the attainment of a diploma, which sometimes indicates nothing more than an ability to keep to a schedule and follow a syllabus, and underappreciates the ability to wonder, to strike out on an individual path, and to learn on one’s own? When did non-conformists become so unromantic and undervalued?

FLG doesn't want to oversell this point, but getting good grades does require the acceptance, or if not the acceptance the acquiescence, of the student to the existing hierarchy, whether that be the teacher, classroom, school, academic discipline. Now, obviously, this isn't necessarily problematic. Hierarchies and structures are necessary, and FLG would be the last person to suggest that existing hierarchies or traditions don't deserve respect.

But FLG does worry about the habituation of top students toward proceeding down a path that's lain out for them. They don't want to rock the boat, only please. Now, sure, this is probably an age old lamentation and FLG doesn't think all students who get good grades are thoughtless lemmings, but there's some truth to it too. A lot of truth to it, FLG would say.

Let's imagine the successful establishment child:
They do well in high school, taking AP or IB classes. They get into a good school, preferably Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. From there, they study hard and again do well. (Insert FLG's argument above.) They go to law school or medical school, where the same process continues. Or they probably go into I-Banking or management consulting.

Here's the thing though. Do i-Banks and management consultants really want these kids because they are so fucking smart? Most people seem to think so, but really these jobs aren't rocket science. Oh, sure there's the quants in i-Banks that are doing very complicated math, but by and large being an i-Banker isn't about being smart. It's about working long hours and not rocking the boat. To FLG, at least, these kids are getting hired not so much because they are smart (Not that they want dumb people, but a large swath of college educated population could easily master the job of being an i-banker or management consultant), but they've demonstrated that they will accept an existing hierarchy and expect to be rewarded for it. They will play by the rules. FLG isn't exactly sure if corporate law firms hire along the same lines, but it's probably not an insignificant portion.

Again, this lack of creativity and independent thinking is an old refrain. And FLG doesn't want to overemphasize it. He has certainly seen people who get good grades who embody those other traits, but good grades isn't solely about hard work and intelligence. It is also about acceptance and acquiescence at some level. At an individual level, as far as individual success goes, it's probably beneficial to signal your willingness to accept the existing rules. Existing structures provide a clear path to success. But there's something very disconcerting to FLG about the apparent ramp up in pushing children along that path. Does that acceptance, acquiescence, willingness to obey as Miss Self-Important put it, habituate children in a way that perhaps even if it benefits them personally, inhibits the creativity in our society.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quote of the day

KATE BETTS:
But more than any first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, she also captures our attention with her fashion.

FLG feels like he's been in some sort of fashion commentary nightmare ever since the Obamas moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Can't we all just admit her fashion sense is terrible and move on? No need to dwell on it, but let's not lie about it either.

Euphemistically Speaking

FLG was listening to NPR last night and heard this story about a row at Medgar Evers College. This made FLG laugh out loud:
ROSE: College officials point out that none of the center's staff are on the faculty at Medgar Evers College. They've also raised questions about the credentials of co-founder Divine Pryor, who got his Ph.D. from an unaccredited distance learning company. But Divine Pryor defends his degree. He says it's college administrators who are being dishonest.

Dr. PRYOR: This is about an administration who does not support a progressive, a social and criminal justice agenda.

FLG did a bit more research and Mr. Pryor claims to hold two degrees from Suffield University according to this bio. A quick check of the website, and yep, it's a diploma mill.

A another quick Google search brought this humdinger of a quote:
Online Suffield University program coordinator Joel Silver said that "it is a great résumé enhancer; however, if you are looking to use this degree in order to teach in the public school district, this might not be right for you."

So, apparently, the guy is running some sort of political outfit under the auspices of the university that is staffed by former prisoners and he got his degrees from a diploma mill? FLG is shocked, shocked that administrators of a public university would have issues with this flim flam job.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

While he doesn't do it very often, there's nothing like a click over to People of Wal-Mart to brighten FLG's day. Today, FLG stumbled upon the comments about this image from a Wal-Mart parking lot.

A small selection of FLG's favorites, if you ignore the political flame war, which is funny in its own way:
heard that the baptists won’t have sex standing up…don’t want anyone to think they’re dancing…

Well, whatever floats his boat, but I don’t see how this guy sucking d*ck is going to have any effect on abortion.

I didn’t know that Bill Clinton lived in Iowa.

I just ask my man for a pearl necklace. Those never go out of style.

Information Entropy And The Stock Market II

Recently, FLG wrote:
FLG had never thought about the efficient market hypothesis the same way, but it really does come back to information entropy. Expected information is priced in. This doesn't mean the prices are correct or right. They are simple the product of interaction among the best educated guesses of a large group of people about what the present discounted value of future cash flows are. The sum all the expectations about the future. Information that would change the price is highly entropic and by definition unexpected.

Here's Buttonwood today:
I don't recall anyone (including your blogger) predicting that the market might be vulnerable to riots in Egypt. Yet that's why the market seems to be falling today, as investors fret that the Middle East might get embroiled in war again. [...]

Anyway, it's a timely reminder of the impossibility of stockmarket forecasting. My view tends to be that you look at long-term measures (like the cyclically-adjusted ratio or the dividend yield) and figure out that when valuations are high, future returns are likely to be low. You don't know when the bad news will come, or in what form - pyramids or profits - but you figure something will happen to disturb the rosy consensus. Back when I was on the FT's Lex column in 1990, we were bearish and looked wrong until the market plunged when Saddam invaded Kuwait. Go figure.

IPOs And Other Finance

Matt Yglesias comments on this Felix Salmon quote:
the total number of listed companies, which has been falling steadily for a decade, will continue to fall for the foreseeable future.

FLG went to the article itself and found the entire passage:
My feeling is that there’s so much money flowing into the private markets these days, in the form of VC funds and super-angels, that tech companies have almost no need to tap the IPO markets any more. They make sense for things like banks and car makers, but in general the total number of listed companies, which has been falling steadily for a decade, will continue to fall for the foreseeable future. I tried to get that data once, and failed — does anybody have a graph of the total number of companies listed on the NYSE and the Nasdaq over time? The era of the public company has not yet come to an end, but it certainly feels as though it’s well past its peak.

A few of things stuck out for FLG here. First thing is the decade timeframe. Ten years ago was 2000, when as you'll all remember, when the dot com bubble crashed and with it the IPO fever. So, to say that it has been falling steadily without saying that's from a peak is misleading. Second, the word "steadily" implies this is some sort of clear, secular trend, but if you look the data, then it's not so clear. IPOs dropped after 2000, then picked up until about 2008, when, as you'll all remember, we had a financial crisis. Lastly, neither mention Sarbox at all, which had to have some effect.

Another question is whether Salmon's analysis is correct, surprise surprise, insofar as time horizons are concerned. FLG firmly believes the secret sauce of Silicon Valley is the America's financial system. VC funds typically have a 3-7, let's say 5, year investment horizon. What this means is that they invest in a company, and then look for an exit. A successful exit is usually 1) to be acquired by another company or 2) IPO. Given the current state of the world, low interest rates and lots of cash on corporate balance sheets, it's no surprise that there's no need to tap IPO markets right now. FLG doesn't disagree, but this situation is far from a secular trend. And it doesn't say anything about the long-term future of IPOs. Eventually, the cost of capital will tilt back into equity's favor.

This also struck FLG; Matt writes:
There’s always been something somewhat illogical about organizing the economy around publicly traded firms (I think Keynes said that investment decisions shouldn’t be the byproduct of a casino) and innovations like high-frequency trading and ETFs tend to heighten the contradictions

On one hand, FLG gets this. It's the typically left wing skepticism of capital markets. But on the other hand, the only alternative, leaving aside nationalization and outright socialism, to publicly traded firms is an even more unequal distribution where a few families control all the capital and it's impossible for a small investor to get in. FLG always assumed, and this might have been him projecting his assumption onto others, that people on the Left would welcome the opportunity for the hoi polloi to acquire equity stakes. But now that he thinks about it, the Left has been and is on the other side of that in almost every case he can think of.

Quote of the day

Andrew Stevens on Opera:
There's Wagner, Mozart, and Gilbert and Sullivan. The rest are just bad dramas about prostitutes dying of consumption with the occasional pretty song.

Time Horizons: Broccoli

Tim Kowal writes:
Koppelman argues the “Broccoli Objection,” as he calls it, is just not slippery enough to be a slippery slope. I’m not convinced. First, Koppelman is not coming toe-to-toe with the nature of the objection. The “slippery” element of a slippery slope argument is not a function of likelihood, but rather of the availability of non-arbitrary distinctions. If there is no principled distinction between allowing the government to do something we like and doing something we don’t like, we ought to be skeptical. Slippery slope argument are thus helpful as extrapolation exercises because they help us see what might be coming around the bend if we keep pushing ahead on political rather than legal principles.

But Koppelman isn’t troubled by this because, as he explains, it’s just not likely we’d ever reach the bottom of the slope. Again, I’m not convinced. The federal government might not try to force broccoli on us now, but it’s not conceptually inapposite to a centralized healthcare regime. Precisely the contrary, in fact. Thus, the Individual Mandate is not like the income tax amendment since, as Koppelman admits, a 100% income tax would “wreck[] the economy.” It’s not merely practically unlikely, then—it’s practically impossible. A broccoli mandate, on the other hand, is currently merely politically improbable. Given the administrative demands and practical goals of the new healthcare regime, however, it would be downright prudent if all Americans gorged on broccoli. Moreover, American’s reluctance toward government involvement in healthcare seems to be slowly waning. Thus, it’s hard to take Koppelman seriously that the political likelihood of something like a “broccoli mandate” couldn’t tack sharply northward in the not very distant future.

FLG would like to posit that time horizons are a key distinction here. Koppelman's are shorter than Kowal's, and so "not very distant future" means entirely different things to the both of them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spinsters

Phoebe has a post up that continues an on-going theme over at her blog about marriage and female age. In this latest post, she contrasts too common narratives used to explain why women of a certain age aren't married -- Miss Pickies, Waity Katies. As the names imply, Miss Pickies, as younger, more attractive women, were too picky and dumped marriageable men; Waity Katies, in contrast, waited too long for marriage phobic men to pop the question.

What always strikes FLG about women who are worried about getting married isn't what the decisions they made in the past, didn't settle or waited too long or whatever, but the issues they have now. The women FLG knows who want desperately to get married would be so much better off if they devoted the time spent lamenting past decisions towards asking questions about their current situation. Sure, their past actions might give clues into what issues they have, but invariably FLG hears some tale of woe regarding some stupid decision(s) they made years ago.

Look, there's additional societal pressure on women to get married that's not there so much for men. There's the additional biological pressures, if we consider that marriage is often an important step toward children. FLG gets that. However, almost without exception the issue isn't decisions made in the past, but dealing issues affecting them right now, regardless of whether they are Miss Pickies or Waity Katies, that would be most fruitful.

First and foremost, why do they want to get married so bad? Maybe they have very clear and awesome reasons. Maybe they don't. Far better to ask why they feel the way they do now than to fret over decisions and "mistakes" long since made and with the tint nostalgia. Again, however, FLG thinks the most effective, if most difficult to implement solution, would be not to care about society's expectations.

Pop Internationalism

Withywindle pointed out to FLG that the SOTU address was almost entirely about something like this:
We need a new economic paradigm, because today America is part of a truly global economy. To maintain its standard of living, America now has to learn to compete in an ever tougher world marketplace. That's why high productivity and product quality have become essential. We need to move the American economy into the high-value sectors that will generate jobs for the future. And the only way we can be competitive in the new global economy is if we forge a new partnership between government and business.

FLG knows what you are thinking, FLG is playing some sort of trick. Where's that quote from?

Paul Krugman, and he explained why it's all bullshit probably like two decades ago. Yet, the same shit keeps coming up again and again. When the leader of our country rambles on about this shit for...how long was the speech again?...FLG weeps for the future.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Abortion and Slavery

This Ta-Nehisi Coates post about the parallels/differences between slavery and abortion sparked at least two responses.

FLG, however, has stopped listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates on this point since this passage. It displays such a lack of the clearheaded thinking he usually displays that FLG cannot help but think TNC is simply illogical on this point:
I think people who equate the fight miss that crucial distinction. I think that's why they're more likely to invoke John Brown than, say, Nat Turner--it clouds the analogy. That said even in accepting John Brown as a stand-in for to pro-life vigilantes, you must also say that pro-life vigilantes generally don't have armed embryos raiding with them. There is no embryo equivalent to Mackandal in Haiti, the Maroons in Jamaica, the multi-racial Seminoles of Florida, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, David Walker etc.

TNC provides this list and lists it as a distinction. The thing is the examples he provides are almost exclusively former slaves. Well, okay, that's fine. The anti-slavery movement included former slaves. Makes perfect sense. Some of them were militantly opposed to slavery. Again, makes sense.

He then says that there are no embryos in the pro-life movement. Okay. But not a great point. Because if you think of it, for oh, I dunno, TEN FUCKING SECONDS, you realize that everybody, and FLG means every single person in the pro-life movement, is a former embryo. So, the supposed superiority of the inclusion of former slaves in the anti-slavery movement then becomes a bit daft.

Now, to be clear, this isn't to say that FLG agrees with the analogy between slavery and abortion. At the abstract, high level, however, FLG understands the parallels. The question isn't whether those parallels exist so much as to whether they are relevant. TNC seems to want to argue not that they aren't relevant, but that they don't exist, which, at least in FLG's opinion, seems to require a sort of willful blindness. But even if FLG grants TNC the benefit of the doubt and says, what he really means is that the parallels aren't relevant, he's still not marshaling evidence that makes much sense to FLG.

PS. This might be one of those cases where FLG's extended time horizons theory comes into play. People on the right, who are concerned about the long-term and are somewhat concomitantly also more drawn to theory and rationality see parallels easily; whereas people on the left, who are more short-term and are somewhat concomitantly also more drawn empiricism and specific examples find a lot of differences. FLG would suggest that the real point of agreement/disagreement ought to be around the relevance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dear Mrs. FLG:

We should look into this.

Sincerely,
FLG

Colorado Beers

FLG loves him some Colorado beer ever since he lived in Boulder. So, he's happy to hear this brews news. But this is still his favorite beer that he can actually buy in a bottle.

FLG knows what you are saying. The qualifier "that he can actually buy in a bottle" implies that FLG's all-time favorite beer he can't get in a a bottle. That's correct. However, after too long, apparently people in Denver at least can at least get it in cans. Lucky bastards. FLG'd take that because Rail Yard Ale is some fucking good beer.

Times Horizons: Cradle To Grave Edition

Tim Kowal quotes Edward Bellamy in a post about public sector unions:
“No man any more has any care for the morrow, either for himself or his children, for the nation guarantees the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the cradle to the grave.”

No care for the morrow...?

FLG keeps tellin' you, this time horizon thing has got legs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quote of the day II

FLG found this book review via UD:
What sinks Wright’s little boat is exactly such vacuous and clumsy statements coupled, as they are, to a relentless faux precision of definitions, diagrams, and graphs.

Sounds almost exactly like FLG's problem with pretty much everything Laura Sjoberg writes.

Quote of the day

Ross Douthat:
the knowledge that Lind’s prescription for “Star Wars” helped produce three of the most disappointing science-fiction blockbusters ever made should be reason enough to reject his prescription for America without a second thought.

Insufficient Aggregate Demand

Paul Krugman writes:
What is true is that some of the spending that created demand for those goods and services [between 2000-2007] was debt-financed, and those debtors can’t continue to spend the way they did. But that doesn’t say that the capacity has somehow ceased to exist; it only says that if we want to keep the capacity in use, someone else has to spend instead. In other words, past growth wasn’t an illusion, or a fraud; but we need policies to sustain aggregate demand.

Now, a diagnosis of insufficient aggregate demand immediately makes FLG think of Keynes. But that quote also made FLG think, although he isn't quite sure why, of this passage from Brother Karl:
For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

In the spirit of FLG's appreciation of the comic value of rather pointless conversations, he must admit that he has listened to this tape of LBJ buying pants approximately thirty times and it's still just as funny as the first time.

h/t

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quote of the day

Ross Douthat:
And this is what’s so problematic, to my mind, about much of the Palin coverage: The media often acts as though they’re covering her because her conservative fan base is so large (hence the endless talk about her 2012 prospects), when they’re really covering her because so many liberals are eager to hear about, read about and then freak about whatever that awful, terrifying woman is up to now.

FLG knows almost nobody for whom Palin is the first choice for president in 2012. Or many really that Palin is on their list at all.

The Other Last Refuge Of Scoundrels

Apparently, Keith Olbermann abruptly quit his show, which FLG must admit does disappoint him. FLG find Olbermann hilarious. But then FLG read this:
NBC’s management had been close to firing Mr. Olbermann on previous occasions, most recently in November after he revealed that he had made donations to several Democratic candidates in 2010...The top MSNBC executive, Phil Griffin, said the donations had violated NBC News standards and ordered Mr. Olbermann suspended. His fans responded with a petition to reinstate him that attracted over 250,000 signatures. Mr. Olbermann returned two days later. In his response he said the rules on donations had been “inconsistently applied.”

What does "inconsistently applied" mean in this context? Not that Olbermann didn't break the rules, but other people did it too. Fuck patriotism. That defense is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Ricky Gervais Show

Regular readers know how much FLG enjoys little snippets of often pointless conversation. They would likewise be correct to assume FLG loves The Ricky Gervais Show, which he just discovered. For those of you who don't know, the show consists entirely of animation of conversations between Gervais and two friends. One of his friends, Karl, is a fucking comedic genius. For example, here he is explaining why he didn't want to be an organ donor with his eyes:


What almost made FLG crash his car yesterday was this mp3 in which Karl complains he is unfairly maligned because of thoughts his brain has.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fascinating Data

FLG found the table in this Le Monde article about youth views of the future pretty fascinating.

Apparently, 81% of American youths believe their future is promising, but only 37% believe that the future of the United States is. This same type of discrepancy seems to hold for a variety of countries; well, except China where 10% more of the youth are positive about the country than their own future.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dear Alpheus:

You deleted a comment by Phoebe? What the fuck?

Abstractart. Toast. FLG can see them. But Phoebe?

It's your blog, and you can obviously do what you want, but FLG can't ever imagine deleting a Phoebe comment.

Sincerely,
FLG

Value Of Liberal Arts

This NYTimes article is about a liberal arts MBA that will be offered by Brown and IE in Spain. And as much as FLG is in favor of liberal arts education, he cannot think the idea is anything but idiotic.

FLG doesn't see how a proper liberal arts education can be included as part of vocational training. Sure, they can expand the scope to talk about business and society and whathaveyou, but that's not a liberal arts education -- it'll be glorified Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) courses. And FLG hates CSR because it too often takes on the form of a technocratic, bureaucratic wet dream Utopia where doing well and doing good exist hand and hand. Now, to be clear, FLG doesn't think this is impossible. He thinks it's very possible. The issue is that FLG, as a shareholder, doesn't want his agents, the management of his companies, to substitute their moral and ethical values for his own. Unless management can make a compelling case how the CSR activity is in the direct economic interest of the company, then return the damn money you'd spend on philanthropic enterprises back to the shareholders and let them decide.

But FLG digresses. Two things stuck out in the article. First, this quote from Martha Nussbaum:
Among her own favorite tools for stretching student imaginations are Plato’s dialogues.

“They’re so important in teaching the skills of analysis and argument and critical thinking,” Ms. Nussbaum said. “Plato was the most brilliant dramatizer of the life of an argument there has ever been.”

Bravo!

And then there's this:
Among those cheering the new venture from the sidelines will be Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto. Although he heads one of IE’s competitors, Mr. Martin has long been an advocate of bringing liberal arts values into the business school classroom and the corporate boardroom. He is also a vocal critic of the current vogue among educational policy makers to emphasize science, technology, engineering and medicine — the so-called STEM subjects — at the expense of the humanities.

“I have a real worry about STEM-obsessed policies,” Mr. Martin said. “There is a view that if we don’t copy what India and China are doing, they’ll overrun us. We will look back on this as the era where we in the West got scared and flinched.”

For Mr. Martin, a more sophisticated understanding of the underlying issues is no luxury. “The biggest problem in the business world is the limits of representation — for example, hedge fund managers who think their equations describe the economy,” he said.

So true, so true.

This inspired an ugh however:
“Aspiring accountants, financiers or M.B.A.’s who are exposed to Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ (1949) will be better equipped to understand employees,” Mr. Lister wrote.

FLG has read two Miller plays, the two everybody has read Salesman and Crucible, and he finds both of them tremendously overrated, but neither more so than Salesman. This is probably because FLG cannot see Willy as anything other than a whiny little twit. So, maybe it does help MBAs understand their future whiny little twit employees.

Marketplace Lastnight

FLG was happy to hear this little pep talk for America from David Frum. Not cuz FLG needed pepping up, but because all this domestic despair and China worship is surely overstated.

Also, FLG might have to buy this book about long-term economic problems.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Texting

FLG has long maintained a strong stance against texting. To quote The Hangover, "it's gay." Beyond the complete fuckwits who text while driving, there's also the idiots who who are walking around tapping those tiny little keys on those itsy-bitsy keyboards like a rat trying to hit the bar that dispenses the food pellets during a medically-induced epileptic fit.

Well, all that said, FLG's level of schadenfreude reached its zenith upon watching this video.

Where's Nelson Muntz when you need him? Ah-Ha!

A Conversation

FLG: Good morning, good morning.

Coworker: Help! How do you do it?

FLG: I forgot to remember to forget.

Coworker: I need you.

FLG: I'll be on my way. It won't be long. Searchin'

Coworker: Slow down. Wait.

FLG: Tip of my tongue. Something.

Coworker: No reply?

FLG: You know what to do. I'm so tired.

Coworker: Yesterday? I feel fine. Glad all over.

FLG: It's been a hard day's night.

Indian coworker: What are you two talking about?

FLG: All together now...In the town where I was born...

FLG & Coworker singing in unison: Lived a man who sailed to sea...

Indian coworker: What? Are? You? Two? Talking? About?

China And Green Technology

FLG read this discussion about China's lead in green tech over at the NYTimes. People keep falling into the same trap FLG always sees. Here's Robert E. Scott, a senior international economist at the Economic Policy Institute:
The U.S. cannot compete in clean energy and other green technology industries without fundamental changes in our support for these industries and our approach to trade.

Take solar cells, for example, whose production is capital intensive. Evergreen Solar, which had received $43 million in state subsidies for a solar panel factory in Massachusetts that opened in 2008, has announced plans to close that factory and move to China. Chinese banks offered Evergreen financing for two-thirds of the cost of their new plant at rates “as low as 4.8 percent” with no principal payments or interest payments due until the end of the loan in 2015.

Cheap labor is beside the point. U.S. clean energy loan guarantees can’t compete with the Chinese loan subsidies.

What does FLG mean by trap? Well, Alexander Gerschenkron explained pretty compellingly why China would be ahead in a technology like solar panels back in 1962.

Click on the link if you want to read the full passage, but Gerschenkron's argument basically begins with the Industrial Revolution in England with textile mills. Looms weren't terribly capital intensive and so the Industrial Revolution there could happen, let's say, organically, by which FLG means private firms and individuals could acquire the requisite capital. Gerschenkron contrasts this with steel production, which has two important differences with textiles. First, it's far more capital intensive. Second, it's technological development was faster.

This means that steel plant would be far superior than the previous one, which was good, but also required a great deal of capital, which was problematic; however, this presented a great opportunity for countries looking to "catch up" in terms of development. FLG always uses the "think of the government like the Marines" mode of analysis for government involvement. If you want a lot of resources deployed for a short period of time and you aren't going to worry too much about how efficiently they are deployed, then government might just be the best solution to the problem. Well, that's pretty much the situation that these catch countries had. They could use their state to pool the country's resources toward a new steel industry in their country, then they could almost certainly become the most effective steel producer in the world. Pool resources quickly, and the efficiency derived from the technological advantage overwhelmed any inefficiencies in capital deployment or operations. Well, until the next country came along and built a newer steel plant.

What does this have to do with China and solar panels? Well, solar panels production is capital intensive and rapidly developing. Therefore, it makes sense China would be out the US in this market.

Scott concludes his piece thusly:
The U.S. needs new strategies to recapture the lead in production and use of solar cells, windmills and other clean energy technologies. If we fail, 10 years from now we may be just as reliant on China for renewable energy technology as we are on imported oil today.

FLG scratched his head at this. It's just stupid. Oil is a natural resource that we can't reproduce. Solar panels are a product. If the Chinese cut us off, then we can make them here or buy them from any other country that produces them. Sure, if China gets some sort of massive economies of scale and becomes a natural monopoly in the production of solar panels, then it may be problematic. It will probably cost more to produce them here at home, but it's not like they can stop us from making the damn things. Moreover, it's entirely possible, a la Gerschenkron, that the countries further down the development curve will see the opportunity to invest in capital intensive, rapidly advancing technology, and so we won't be reliant upon China.

Joan Fitzgerald, a professor at Northeastern, writes (and FLG must be honest there is no class of policy commentators that he consistently thinks are misguided or idiots than people with sociology degrees):
To compete globally in these industries, American policy needs to support innovation that is tied to a manufacturing agenda. The recently approved provisions that require the Pentagon to buy only solar panels made in the U.S. are a step in the right direction. But they have to be accompanied by considerably more investment in research — as much as $5 billion a year.

The U.S. also needs national standards to create more demand for renewable energy, and to require that producers of this energy be based in the U.S. This may violate archaic norms of “free trade” but the reality is that virtually all of our competitors use state policy to create innovation and capture manufacturing advantage. If we disdain these strategies out of some idealized notion of free trade, we leave our future dependent on the whims of other nations’ strategic industrial policies.

Fitzgerald never articulates why we need to compete globally in these industries. Well, she points to the closure of a solar panel plant in Massachusetts where 800 people lost their jobs, but a compelling case for national industrial policy that does not make.

Truth be told, there's nothing about this whole green jobs thing that makes sense to FLG. Many of the policies are like breaking windows to stimulate growth.

Don't get FLG wrong, he gets we need to do something about climate change argument. And he understands that many of the people on the political left would like to see some sort of green energy utopia where if we could just direct sufficient resources to green tech, then we'd solve that problem plus create "good jobs" and solve that perpetually articulated problem -- we'd make stuff. It's precisely that Utopian vision that makes FLG so uncomfortable. The redirection of resources to make this verdant employment utopia isn't costless. Plus, and FLG would like to point this out for the billionth time, there's no great thing to "making stuff." Carpenters and factory workers make stuff; lawyers and doctors don't. They provide services. Nothing against carpenters and factory workers, but most people, if asked, would rather be a lawyer or doctor. Or rather they'd rather have the lifestyle and income of a lawyer or doctor. Therefore, let's think about what we're saying when we say we want to make stuff. We're saying that rather than being accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc, etc, we'd rather our countries future be carpenters, plumbers, and painters.

Wait a second, FLG. What about architects and engineers? Architects and engineers don't make stuff. They design stuff. Well, FLG guesses you could say they "make" plans, but they don't make stuff. They design it.

FLG feels like he's getting off-point here, so he'll just wrap up, but just realize these green tech people don't make much sense from a long-term economic perspective. It's literally crazy talk.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reality TV

FLG thinks he's mentioned before that the show that started the whole reality TV phenomenon is still the best. Perhaps some of you think that he's referring to The Real World. No, no, no. Modern reality television, at least here in the US, traces its roots back to COPS.

COPS is one of the only shows that no matter what mood FLG is in, no matter if he's seen the episode before he'll sit down and watch it. He never tires of shoeless, shirtless, toothless, drunk spinnin' tall tales about how some random guy threw the loaded, stolen gun in the rear driver's side window and then ran away.

Well, somebody realized that you could get most of the genius of COPS without sending a film crew out to jump over fences by simply setting up shop in a Las Vegas jail. One the FLGs watched had a guy in the drunk tank who was so shit faced he fell off the bench and a lady who was pissed the cops touched her weave. Then there's the chair they strap the jackass into. Plus, you get crazy shit like people trying to have sex in the jail bathroom.

COPS is still the best, but Las Vegas Jailhouse is fantastic.

Correspondence

A point of clarification...
When you wrote "Is Rufus drinking bottle after bottle of Bartles & James through his nose while enjoying a speedball and acid suppository?" did you mean he'd done a speedball and used an acid suppository or did the suppository also contain cocaine and heroine?

Great question and FLG apologizes for the ambiguity. FLG's query is whether Rufus shoved heroine, cocaine, and acid up his ass before blogging. Oh, and of course, the wine coolers through the nose.

Super-Awesomeness!

Law and the Multiverse linked to Fear and Loathing in Georgetown.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Can Reading Cause So Much Anguish?

Right, FLG is reading Rufus.

He writes:
There is something about most arguments for atheism that has always struck me as strange (in a way I’m not sure I can articulate fully): namely that they tend to try to undermine religious belief by offering alternative explanations for the external world; when what’s important for believers seems, to me, to be what happens internally.

And then:
Here’s why I think this poses a problem for most atheists- if we don’t believe in Gods and metaphysics, our adherence to moral rules seems a bit neurotic. Most of us, atheists or believers, don’t follow Lucretius’s advice to have sex with whoever we can, for example, because we think it’s the “wrong” thing to do. But, denial of bodily pleasure, no matter how much sense it might make in practice, doesn’t really seem to have a lot of justification in atheism. Ethics, of course, don’t generally rely on God in the same way as morality; but it’s hard not to wonder if most of the things we all do in order to live upstanding lives, in the absence of belief, don’t amount to the neurotic vestiges of faith. Libertinage is one of those words that, to rip off Ellin Mackay’s great line, “has a place in the elderly mind” among “other vague words that have a sinister significance and no precise definition.” But many of the actual libertines made exactly this argument: if you think there’s no God, why should you restrain from drinking, screwing, and violating social norms? More heretical, do atheists have an obligation to libertinage, in order to be logically coherent? Are non-believers who insist on “doing the right thing”, in some sense, lying to themselves?

I know I’m verging on Aleiester Crowley territory here, and I’m not meaning to. I live an upstanding and proper life, although I’ve yet to hear back from any Divinities. But I’ve never been able to decide if that’s not intellectually dishonest of me. A Catholic friend used to say, if he was an atheist, he’d be doing all sorts of sinful things. Lucretius seems to agree- at least in terms of sex. But, of course, the vast majority if atheists don’t behave that way. They behave like good Christians, in spite of their disbeliefs.

FLG is starting to think that Rufus is the intellectual version of Wile E. Coyote. He's chasing something that he wants so bad, but can't figure out, and so he goes to the ACME supply shop, in this case the Western canon, duct tapes rockets to his roller stakes, and gets all fucking blownz up.

First, as to the claim of Rufus' upstanding and proper life. FLG hasn't met many people who revel in depravity. Well, he knew some, but they only reveled in it for a short time. A point which FLG'll return to later. But nevertheless...don't most people think their life is an upstanding and proper life even when they may not be? In fact, FLG knows a bunch of people who would say that Rufus' non-mongomous marriage isn't upstanding and proper.

Second, "do atheists have an obligation to libertinage, in order to be logically coherent?" Seriously, dude? What kind of fucked up idiotic logic is that? A whole host of, I dunno, off-the-cuff explanations for why a atheist wouldn't have to be a libertine come to mind. Most obvious, to people whose blog posts don't make others' eyes bleed from the pain of blatant illogic, is that history has demonstrated that whoring, drinking, and other libertine activities leads to a life shortened by venereal disease, cirrhosis, overdose, and other not nice stuff. If one is an atheist, then one believes that this world is the only world, their current existence in their particular physical body is their only possible existence, then, I dunno, YOU JUST MIGHT WANT TO EXTEND THAT EXISTENCE! Holy fuck! Is that so hard to figure out?

Is Rufus drinking bottle after bottle of Bartles & Jaymes through his nose while enjoying a speedball and acid suppository?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Too Saucy For The Blogroll

FLG laughed at this:
Also, not for inclusion in our blogroll, but you should all go and check out Fear and Loathing in Georgetown, as well as The Other McCain. Why? Because they're good people, have good blogs, and, most importantly, because I said so. So do it! DO IT NOW!

What's the problem, Tim? Too much swearing? Pirates? Object sex? Speaking of which, FLG always gets along famously with Australians and this reminded him of a funny story.

There was this Australian foreign exchange student that FLG knew. Some of the guy's friends from Australia had flown in for a few days and they were at a party.

FLG: Jesus, you guys can certainly drink a lot. I thought us Irish were bad.

Exchange student: Hey, FLG here thinks we drink more than the Irish.

Exchange student's friend: Of course we do, mate. We could die at any minute. In Australia, everything is poisonous -- spiders, snakes. Then there's the crocs. I had a friend, got bit on the ass by a poisonous spider while on the toilet.

FLG: That's terrible.

Exchange student's friend: Oh, not so terrible really. He didn't get a full dose of the venom. Just paralyzed his lower body for an hour or so. We only found him because he was screaming.

FLG: From the horrible pain?

Exchange student's friend: No, he couldn't feel a thing. His beer was empty.

Information Entropy And The Efficient Market Hypothesis

Greg Mankiw posted an interview with Burt Malkiel about A Random Walk Down Wall Street and the efficient market hypothesis.

In it Malkiel says, "True News is random, and what you mean by random is something unpredictable...Don't think you can predict the short-term ups and downs of the market. It's essentially unpredictable, not capricious, but unpredictable because True News is unpredictable."

Those couple sentences immediately reminded FLG of a podcast he heard and commented on back in July. In that podcast, the person who wrote the book, Douglas W. Hubbard, was astonished that people are always measuring the wrong things. The metrics they use don't give them much value, and the things that they aren't measuring would. FLG responded that this isn't because people are stupid, but it all goes back to Claude Shannon's entropy calculation, which FLG summarized thusly:
Basically, the idea is that the less expected an event, the more information it contains.

The more you measure something, the more you can predict it. Therefore, it contains less information. The first time you create and measure some new metric, it contains a ton of new information, but the 1,000 time it contains far less.

FLG had never thought about the efficient market hypothesis the same way, but it really does come back to information entropy. Expected information is priced in. This doesn't mean the prices are correct or right. They are simple the product of interaction among the best educated guesses of a large group of people about what the present discounted value of future cash flows are. The sum all the expectations about the future. Information that would change the price is highly entropic and by definition unexpected.

Interesting...to FLG at least.

Looks Like FLG Has Got Himself A New Project

Making one of these:


H/T

Friday, January 14, 2011

FLG Will Double Space Until He Dies

...if you have a problem with that, then replace all ". " with ". " and shut the fuck up.

Mrs. Self-Important brought this up a while back. Today, Anti-Climacus and Megan McArdle chimed in.

Sarah Palin Is Bugs Bunny?

Crackie, over at PP, writes:
Sarah Palin is like Bugs Bunny to the media's Elmer Fudd.

Look, regardless of the specifics of recent events, Sarah Palin needs to, for the good of the conservative movement, find a nice quiet cabin in Alaska where she and Todd can grow old together far, far away from any cameras. Or computers for that matter.

Actually, and as Crackie mentions, Twitter is about the extent of Palin's talent as far as FLG can tell. Then again, let's be honest that's not a very high bar. Sweet merciful crap, Kim Kardashian is way better with Twitter at getting her, um, points across.

Time Horizons: Brooklyn Currency Edition

Megan McArdle offers a passage by Matt Yglesias:
Here’s a random paragraph from Paul Krugman’s opus on the Euro:
I think of this as the Iceland-Brooklyn issue. Iceland, with only 320,000 people, has its own currency — and that fact has given it valuable room for maneuver. So why isn’t Brooklyn, with roughly eight times Iceland’s population, an even better candidate for an independent currency? The answer is that Brooklyn, located as it is in the middle of metro New York rather than in the middle of the Atlantic, has an economy deeply enmeshed with those of neighboring boroughs. And Brooklyn residents would pay a large price if they had to change currencies every time they did business in Manhattan or Queens.
I guess I wonder how inconvenient this would really be in 2010 as opposed to 1970. Individuals wouldn’t, after all, really need to “change currencies” every time they went to Manhattan. You could buy things with your credit or debit card, and if you only had Brooklyn Bucks in your pocket, American dollars are only an ATM visit away. I think the real issue here isn’t so much that it would be too inconvenient as that it wouldn’t be inconvenient enough—getting US dollars and dollar-denominated financial assets would be so simple that US dollars would circulate widely in Brooklyn and Brooklyn Bucks would wind up being marginalized.

Megan responds:
Eh, the currency exchange problem is pretty big, as long as you're forward looking. Ordinary people who don't operate businesses, and travel mostly for pleasure, don't tend to think about this so much. For us, the major problem with operating in different currency zones is the hassle of changing money. But for anyone who enters into contracts, currencies are a major problem. After all, what happens if the exchange rate changes?

Matt's analysis is always so thoroughly rooted in the present and short-term that looking to the long-term consequences or benefits that he invariably failed to even consider is the fastest way to go back to the very stable conclusion that the man is a jackass.

Gun Ban Around Members Of Congress?

FLG understands the renewed focus of gun control advocates after the Arizona shooting, but this astonished him:
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said in a telephone interview that since he proposed a bill this week that would outlaw having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress, his office had received “100 calls an hour from people who think I am trying to take away their Second Amendment rights.”

People who are planning on shooting members of Congress, which is already a crime, aren't going to be dissuaded by yet another law. So, the idea that it would have any effect at all is ridiculous.

Look, FLG believes in pretty strong second amendment rights. He doesn't go as far as the NRA, but nevertheless it's stuff like this that makes FLG think many of those who endeavor to control guns aren't exactly thinking things through logically.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gatsby

Like almost everybody, FLG is horrified by the idea of Baz Luhrmann adapting The Great Gatsby. 3D? Seriously? (Although, FLG does like Luhrmann's other work, especially Moulin Rouge.) But that's not even the point of this here post.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:
As in so many of the books I love, I found the plot in ‘Gatsby’ to almost be beside the point. Whenever I see it translated to cinema, the film-maker inevitably crafts a story of doomed romance between Daisy and Gatsby. It’s obviously true that Gatsby holds some sort of flame for Daisy, but what makes the book run (for me) is the ambiguity of that flame. Does he really love her? Or is she just another possession signaling the climb up? I always felt that last point—the climb up—was much more important than the romance. What I remember about Gatsby is the unread books. His alleged love for Daisy barely registers for me.

Ross Douthat, commenting on Coates, writes:
I agree

Like all great books, this is obviously open to interpretation, and FLG vehemently disagrees. As FLG wrote in April:
FLG has always found the obsession by English teachers with The Great Gatsby and the American Dream odd. Sure, that's there. But FLG has always found the topic that is most interesting is the extremes to which men will go for the women they love. This appears throughout all of Fitzgerald's books that FLG has read -- This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and Tender is the Night. (Although, FLG hasn't read This Side of Paradise in a long while.)

FLG's thoughts on why so many people, obviously not just English teachers, are focused on the American Dream, the climb up, as TNC puts it, is that this social commentary aspect is more, I dunno, serious. The Jay/Daisy love story is that age old boy meets girl story. And it has little to say about society, per se.

And FLG thinks, conversely, that's why he finds the Jay/Daisy story so much more interesting. The American Dream thread is relatively interesting, but is very uniquely American. On the other hand, boy meets girl has become a cliche because it is so timeless and universal. Boy meets girl is relevant in all times and places. And the good ones reveal something timeless and universal about that dynamic. Moreover, since FLG thinks that there's this particularly Fitzegeraldian take on Boy meets Girl -- the extremes to which men will go (or sometimes won't) for the women they love -- which runs right through Fitzgerald's oeuvre, that is ultimately the more important theme.

And to be completely honest, if you really pressed FLG and he didn't feel very charitable at that moment, he'd say that the people who focus on the American Dream theme as the more important one are wannabe sophisticates. They dismiss the love story, as FLG explained above, because it's a mere love story, when the author is saying SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT SOCIETY. When Fitzgerald's true literary genius is taking something ordinary, Boy Meets Girl, and turning it into something extraordinary.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Marginal Utility

Matt Yglesias points to an interesting hypothetical offered by Kevin Drum:
Suppose that you lead a comfortable middle-class life. Let's say that you're in your 30s, married, two children, and you make $100,000 per year. I offer you a fair coin flip with the following possible outcomes:

* Heads: You will be stripped of most of your assets and will earn $30,000 per year for the rest of your life. That's all you get, and neither friends nor family can top it up for you.
* Tails: You will earn $1 million per year for the rest of your life.

Would you take me up on my offer to flip the coin?

Long story short, most people would stick with the $100k and not flip. Drum explains it thusly:
We intuit, correctly I think, that life at the bottom of the working class is pretty damn tough, while life at the tippy top is more exciting, but perhaps not fundamentally different from life in the upper middle class.

Matt then uses this to emphasize a point he's been making for a while now -- the law of decreasing marginal utility applies to consumption. If true, then this means:
a dollar is a dollar the marginal utility associated with an additional dollar of consumption declines pretty sharply. This matters for politics in two important ways. One is that tippy-top inequality—the tendency of the top 0.01 percent to pull away from the rest of the 98th percentile—is perhaps important in political economy terms, but perhaps not so significant in terms of overall human welfare. The other point is that redistribution of consumption opportunities from the rich to the poor is an extremely effective means of enhancing overall human welfare.

What progressives like Matt and Kevin miss here is the assumptions they're making.

Two stick out. First, it's a static analysis. You're increasing welfare at that moment, it doesn't speak to maximizing overall welfare in the long run. Redistribution policies that maximize welfare at time t=0, might very well reduce future values of welfare.

To be honest, they're are only two things you can do with a dollar. You can spend it (.i.e. consume) or you can save it (.i.e. consume in the future.) By focusing on the utility of consumption, they are almost by definition focusing on the short-term.

Second, they that everybody is concerned or should be concerned about consumption, when FLG would argue that many of the wealthiest people are people who founded and grew companies. For example, somebody like Bill Gates isn't so concerned about the next dollar insofar as consumption is concerned, but to maintain control of his company he had to keep a certain percentage of his company's stock, which in turn grew. In this case, FLG would argue the diminishing utility of consumption doesn't matter.

Now, in fairness, capital gains taxes, such as Gates would face, aren't applicable until the gains are realized. And this wouldn't apply to the bete noire of the progressives -- greedy bankers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Evil Insanity Of Lyndon LaRouche

Here.

Frightening

This op-ed is simply frightening to FLG. Well, not the op-ed, but that somebody would think that way. It is almost the perfect example of the road to Hell being paved with the good intentions.

BTW, it also exemplifies the assumption by people on the left that FLG finds so frustrating, namely that individuals are incapable or too stupid to manage their own lives.

Covers

FLG was surprised by this cover of a Jacques Brel song, Au Suivant:


Why surprised? Well, the remake seems an odd juxtaposition with the lyrics, which are about a 20 year-old soldier losing his virginity at a brothel run like an assembly line with constant calls for "Next!"

Here's the original with English subtitles.

Quote of the day

Miss Self-Important:
I read Treasure Island in grade school and wasn't that much more excited by pirates than by dragons.


What? What?!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quote of the day II

Badass of the Week:
This guy was allegedly so shit-your-pants scary that, according to Plutarch he once thwarted an attempt on his life just by getting pissed-the-fuck-off and yelling at the assassin until the guy lost heart and ran for it like a punk bitch.

Quote of the day

International Political Economy Zone:
It makes me wonder what the point of academia is when Joseph Stiglitz repeats anti-globalization fallacies and Barry Eichengreen doesn't know who the world's largest exporter is.

Recipe For Producing Anti-Social Jerks

Both Miss Self-Important and Phoebe analyzed this article in the Wall Street Journal; yet, neither of them commented on what FLG takes away from this article -- Chinese parenting produces a lot of socially awkward, insufferable fuckwads. Sure, maybe they get into Yale Law at a higher rate, but they're also obnoxious at a higher rate.

And it's right there in the article. No playdates. No sleepovers. Less likely to be on sports teams. Instead, academic drills and violin.

Look, FLG will be the first to admit that the US approach places too much emphasis on fun approach. These newfangled math curricula that make math all mushy are bullshit. The way to learn math is simple -- you keep doing problems until you get it. Some people are good at math and can get it in less problems; others will take longer. It's not fun, but that's how it is done. So, FLG isn't dismissing the so-called Chinese way entirely.

It's just that he's met a lot of people who've been brought up in the Chinese way, and he hated almost every one of them on a personal level. Yes, they're good at performing in academic context, but when it comes to the workplace or group activities they're the worst sort. Maybe that's anecdotal and part of FLG's personal biases, but FLG thinks a B+ kid who isn't a A-level asshole is a far better goal for parenting. This zealous focus on tangible metrics of child performance, grades, then colleges, then certain prestigious professions produces fucked up adults.

Phoebe draws parallels between the Jewish approach to academics, but FLG doesn't know one Jew whose parents didn't allow sleepovers or playdates. Not allowing those is a seriously demented approach to parenting.

PS. Please note that FLG thinks this self-esteem focus by "Western" parents produces a lot of insufferable whiners, but he doesn't find that as grating. Maybe it's just cultural or racial bias working however.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Follow Up

Dance writes:
I'm not familiar with what LaRouche's says, so:

quoting some places where LaRouche has advocated political violence, metaphorically or explicitly, would make your post a stronger rebuttal.

He's a paranoid nutcase cult leader with views from the Far Left and Far Right.

Here's an old article about LaRouche that contains the following passages:
Members went on a "war footing," another ex-member said, with many quitting their jobs and essentially cutting off relations with nonmembers.

Some LaRouche associates were trained in the use of guns, knives and other weapons at a "counterterrorism" school in Powder Springs, Ga., according to former members and other sources. The school was operated by Mitchell WerBell III, a former guerrilla operative for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and an international arms dealer with whom LaRouche grew close.

I'm not saying this shooter was trained by LaRouche, but his rhetoric is filled with seriously paranoid stuff.

Correspondence

Dance writes:
Political fellowship with LaRouche doesn't exclude the possibility that the overheated rhetoric of violence by mainstream politicians shaped Loughner's method and targets.

And then provided a link to this article:
To call Jared Lee Loughner a Tea Partier is not a credible claim. But the culture of political intimidation that surrounds Democratic politicians is reinforced by more than a few Tea Party-identified leaders. It is not enough for leading Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner and John McCain, the senior Arizona senator and former presidential candidate, to denounce the attack on Giffords, Roll, and 17 other Arizona citizens, six of whom died, including a little girl. They must call on media figures like Beck, political leaders such as Palin, and figures such as Pratt and Broun, to end the gruesome rhetoric. After all, words do have consequences.


The New York Times today also has an article that implicitly implicates the Tea Party, but does maintain the facade of objectivity.

Look, FLG has long held that the Obama is a Socialist/Communist meme on the Right is gross hyperbole that makes Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, etc sound idiotic. But the worst stuff that has been pinned on the Tea Party (Obama with the Hitler mustache, for example) came from LaRouchies. Yet, the media didn't bother to look deeper into it. Then, there's this shooter, who again as far as FLG can tell, sounds like a LaRouche acolyte.

FLG isn't going to defend the overheated rhetoric. However, the media would be doing everybody a huge favor if it didn't use this opportunity to raise questions about the Tea Party and violence, for the gazillionth time, and actually look at who influenced this guy. It's not the Tea Party, but LaRouche. Let's put the focus on how fucked up and evil he and his organization are. Not the Tea Party.

It's really sad that as of right now if you do a search for Arizona shooter and LaRouche, Fear and Loathing in Georgetown is at the top. Is FLG smarter than everybody else in the media? He figured it out after about 5 minutes.

Conclusion Jumping

FLG sees that many on the Left, Paul Krugman, a guy interviewed on the news, hints from newscasters about their thoughts on the subject, etc, immediately pointed toward overheated rhetoric on the Right as complicit in this Arizona shooting. This is blatant confirmation bias. And ultimately just dumb.

FLG, on the other hand, saw a specific, unexpected fact about the shooter, he mentioned Meno as one of his favorite books, and then extrapolated, albeit pretty strongly, to the shooter was influenced by Lyndon LaRouche.

Well, as FLG has continued reading, he has found additional evidence for his theory. FLG wrote yesterday:
If it turns out that the guy is also worried about new world orders, currencies, etc, then blame Lyndon LaRouche.

And here's E.D. Kain:
Laughner isn’t a right-winger or a left-winger, and there’s not much coherent about his motivations. He appears to want to create a new currency, a new religion, and thinks that the government is controlling us through grammar.

What really pisses FLG off about this meme about overheated rhetoric is that the Obama is Hitler stuff got pinned on "the Right" when, again, it was fucking Lyndon LaRouche.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arizona Shooting

FLG hasn't been paying a lot of attention to the story today. He was busy, but he is trying to catch up.

Anyway, FLG read over at A&J that the guy apparently has Meno on his favorite book list. That means he was probably a LaRouchie. LaRouche makes a big point about how to double the square, which is in Meno.

It's just one of those philosophy things that first semester freshman find so profound, and so LaRouche uses it.

If it turns out that the guy is also worried about new world orders, currencies, etc, then blame Lyndon LaRouche.

Quote of the day II

dave.s.:
The dust-buster equivalent in UK has a suction fan blade only about four inches in from the end of the nozzle. As a result, there have been a number of, well, decapitations.

Is The Problem Supply Or Demand?

Read this post with an eye toward time horizons.

Quote of the day

Kathleen Parker:
That some teachers and librarians find Twain offensive is regrettable. But let's be clear: These facts are an indictment of teachers and librarians who should find another line of work, not that Twain needs fixin'.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Big Assumption

William links to an insightful article by a philosophy student at Notre Dame. It parallels a lot of what FLG wrote on liberal education a few years ago.

In fact, this sounds a lot like what FLG calls The Big Assumption and The Studies Assumption:
One has to be careful here, because some attempts to get students to relate to literature devolve into invitations to simply identify with the characters they read about. John Fleming, who taught literature at Princeton, made fun of this way of reading: “Oh, Hamlet is just like me — because, like, I can’t decide what to major in, either.”

Time Horizons And The US Consitution

FLG doesn't want to push this too far, but Mark Thompson responded to a comment by LarryM over at LOG that brought me back to those damn Time Horizons again. Here's the comment:
What’s the positive symbolic value [of reading the Constitution], anyway? …Does anyone think that we’re REALLY going to get there by a better understanding of the limits of constitutional government?…

Let me expand upon this a bit. Three points:

(1) In the abstract, the only way to have a small government nation over a long period of time is to have a populace who believes in small government. A narrow constitution is secondary to this goal, not primary – i.e., it can prevent the passions of the moment from expanding government, and it can reduce the ratchet effect of such expansions becoming precedents for further action. But no constitution, in the long run, can prevent the majority from imposing their will – if that will is for big government, ultimately that will prevail.

(2) In the contemporary U.S., constitutionalism is, on a purely PRACTICAL basis, not a serious adjunct to smaller government. You have to convince the people. …

(3) Parenthetically… reading the constitution as a libertarian document is a mistake. Read textually, it provides a more cirumscribed role for government, and likely the founders would be surprised at the size and extent of 21st century government. But the libertarian position was the articles of confederation.

All things being equal, at any point in time, the Constitution, which is merely words on paper, is less important than the will of the people. If a vast majority of the people want something, then the Constitution will be amended or as seems to be the case more recently ignored. Well, not ignored, but reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances, which for FLG means ignored.

But here's the thing. Over the long run, FLG things having a written Constitution does matter. We aren't arguing over abstract principles, but actual words. Even if there is a whole bunch of jurisprudence based upon the seven words "To regulate Commerce...among the several States" we are still arguing about the meaning of seven specific words. This grounds the debate at least a little bit. And Mark is correct to say that in many cases the text is absolute and specific, particularly in the Bill of Rights.

So, yes, FLG agrees that the important thing is to convince the people, which is why FLG hates the strategy of using the judicial system to press for new rights. Far better to convince the people because the right will be on stronger ground over the long run, than to have it created by judicial fiat, even if that is more expeditious.

But it is incorrect to dismiss the Constitution as irrelevant. Those words mean something, even if we cannot always agree on what precisely that meaning is. It's important that there's not simply an abstract right to free speech, but an absolute and specific prohibition that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Having words down on paper, specific words, helps over the even longer run than just convincing the people.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Only Jews?

This passage written by Brad DeLong and highlighted by Felix Salmon did strike FLG:
I would say that you want to draw your White House staff from successful managers--people who have had lots of experience bossing other people and who have done very well at it--and that there are only three groups of successful managers who are Democrats: Hollywood studio executives and their ilk, people who have made careers in government and academia, and executives who have worked for traditionally-Jewish investment banks. If you want managers in a Democratic administration, that's where they have to come from. And I don't think you want to throw out a third of your potential talent pool at the very start.

The portion in which DeLong mentioned traditionally-Jewish investment banks made FLG think. Studio executives? Jews. Democrats with careers in government and academia? Mostly Jews.

Forget the three pools to draw from. Is the only pool of successful managers the Democrats have to draw from consist entirely of Jews?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but for a party that prides itself on diversity, something seems, well, not kosher with the arrangement.

It's not that FLG was unaware of the strong affinity between Jews and the Democratic Party, but he never really thought that was the entire available talent pool for Democratic administrations.

Quote of the day

Are there multiple power settings on this vacuum?
Yeah, there's high and there's low, and both of them will rip your dick off.

Time Horizons

FLG has mentioned before that a sort of parallel to his time horizons theory is that liberals are more empirical and conservatives more rationalist. Today, E.J. Dionne says that the new congress is focusing too much on abstractions and principles and not enough on particulars. Tangentially, this also is a critique about focusing on the long-term instead of the short.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Correspondence

Jeff writes:
One of the more telling phrases in the excerpt you cite is "strategic cultures." It's a term I'd never heard before, but now that I've Googled it, I see that it's an academic sub-field with its own body of literature. (Although how it's distinct from "the roots of foreign policy" eludes me.)

This reference to "strategic cultures" says two things to me: First, it's meant as a signal to in-the-know readers that yes, the person writing this stuff is aware that such a field exists. She's flashing her Marriott card to show she's properly credentialed to chow down on pigs-in-blankets in the concierge lounge. Second, it's meant to intimidate readers who don't know the term into thinking they can't have an opinion unless they've mastered, or pretended to master, the latest literature in an impossibly vast field.

Someone who churns out this stuff can't simply say "I don't know" and leave it at that, because doing so would cede power. This sort of writing isn't meant to illuminate or instruct; it's meant to control, even monopolize, the terms of a debate.

That also explains a great deal about why she is so adamant about being referred to as Dr. FLG always figured it was an appeal to authority that, when combined with overwhelming verbosity, hide that her arguments make no sense and when they do make sense lead nowhere.

Say what you want about FLG. He's not a PhD. And maybe he's an idiot. Maybe he's a jerk. But he expresses his thoughts clearly and intelligibly. And he doesn't put every word relevant to discussion in quotations to denote some sort of unavoidable ambiguity to all of human language.

FLG is currently listening to

Un-Masculinist Military

FLG wrote yesterday that he'd like to respond to some of the things in this post about the de-masculinized military. He still doesn't have as much time as he'd like, but he'll give it a shot.

Charli Carpenter posits three points:
But “de-masculinizing the military” it’s also about at least three other things that are happening, if at all, much more slowly: a) balancing the esteem we pay to military service with the esteem we pay to traditionally feminized roles such as child-rearing b) making the same effort to gender-integrate traditionally feminized roles as we do to gender-integrate traditionally masculinized roles c) changing the relationship between the military and civilian sectors in security operations to be more collaborative and less hierarchical.

On the first point, FLG thinks that sounds great insofar as balancing the relative importance placed upon roles traditionally associated with femininity, but is more about wishful thinking. Why? It's pretty simple. You don't risk your life for the sake of your nation when rearing children or caring for elders. (Childbirth may have historically been risking one's life, but most of us don't consider that today in America.) Therefore, there's never going to the same emphasis placed upon the two roles. Why is choosing to risk one's life important? Look, Plato couldn't even fully describe courage and bravery, so it's beyond FLG; however, most of us intuitively understand that caring for elders, while noble, isn't as dangerous or courageous as soldiering.

Now, you could say that this valuing of risking one's life is a social construction. FLG would say, look, it's pretty universal and definitely goes back to the dawn of Western civilization, as his link to Plato demonstrates. A social constructivist might respond that this is precisely the point. These values are deeply ingrained into our culture. To which FLG will say, good luck trying to change something like that. Moreover, making a change to such a deeply held value is bound to have a ton of consequences beyond the military because its not like that particular value can be isolated and eliminated or changed. So, again, it's wishful thinking.

The second point is fine as far as it goes, but isn't as important in the scheme of things without the first. The third is already happening; however, as a practical matter, FLG would prefer a model more along Tom Barnett's -- have a combat force and a peace force. Military combat operations have been successfully conducted by young men for millenia. Coordinating with civilian populations takes more maturity and more skills.

Then, FLG went into the comments. Sjoberg's writing is still gobbledygook. What that fuck does this mean?
actually, my answer to the TRIP survey article about women in Politics and Gender talks a lot about this sort of thing, if you didn't want to read the early feminist books. What a "military" is was constructed by men, for men, in service of how men were interested in solving problems (and sometimes making them), and in a way that glorifies masculinity. Therefore there is nothing "specifically military" "before considering gender issues" - and thinking about gender/being gender inclusive/even being sex inclusive requires a rethinking of (if not a redefinition of) what "specifically military" is - methodologically, on this, I like Sandra Harding's Is Science Multicultural? which gives a whole lot of good ideas on the "how" and a lot of examples from the hard sciences about how to do inclusive rethinking/"strong objectivity."

There's no way this muddled writing doesn't imply muddled thinking.

On another point, however, she is much clearer:
[...] its not "our" military - because it certainly isn't mine. Its relationship with me, if it exists, is paternalistic, involuntary, and against my wishes - it has values I don't espouse, offers me "protection" I don't feel protected by (and in fact often feel threatened by), and fights wars I would do anything to prevent.

Another commenter:
You are confusing the military with the political leadership. The military is just the weapon. How and when it gets used is not decided by the military.

She continues:
I didn't "confuse" anything - I simply made an argument about military change that also required political change, in response to your (political) argument that the military is "ours" and "too much is at stake" in changing/risking it - I was arguing that it is not mine, and that I see little if anything at stake in changing it/do not see a worse outcome than the oneI see right here. Also, my feeling threatened not protected by the military is in part a political issue (e.g., the wars that are made by the military as a result of political decisions) but also in part a military operational issue (e.g., the ways that the military trains is soldiers that ...if unintentionally...encourage aggression and sexual violence). In sum, your argument that the military is the last mace "we" should be "eager to advance our society" as a part of a cost/benefit analysis is uncompelling to me because I see the costs/benefits differently, and because that sort of logic bites the critique I made in the original post about the military as a privileged location of citizenship which is based on and entrenches militarized masculinity/ies.

Of course the military encourages aggression. It's purpose is to fight wars, which are by definition based upon aggression. It also encourages honor and discipline to try to counteract the negative consequences of aggression.

Again, what's missing here is a simple fact. The military has a privileged location of citizenship because the members of our armed forces have pledged to risk and, if necessary, give their lives for the rest of us. Whether or how we should fight wars or what values the military culture inculcates are legitimate concerns, but FLG isn't terribly interested in them as part of this conversation. At the end of the day, the military will always enjoy a privileged status because they risk their lives. Period.
 
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