Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Conversation

The FLGs went to The Dairy Godmother a week or so ago.  There's always a line, but there was an especially long one that day because they were also serving brats.  Anyway, as we got in line, a man and then another couple queued up behind us almost immediately.  And they started making small talk. 

Man in the Couple (MiC): Kinda long line.

Man Right Behind FLG (MRBF):  They're serving brats tonight.

MiC:  Excellent.  I love this neighborhood.  Do you live around here?

MRBF:  Not too far.  Always come for the brats though.  How 'bout you?  From around here?

MiC:  Not originally. 

MRBF:  Oh, where you from?


MiC: New York.

Woman in Couple (WiC): Outside New York. Connecticut.

MRBF:  Really?  I'm from Long Island originally.  What brought you down here?

MiC:  Work.  It's a long story, but we started a non-profit. 

MRBF: That's great.  What's the focus?

MiC: We focus on ensuring that public funds for children aren't cut.

MRBF: So, really, more of a lobbying group?

MiC:  No, we're non-profit.

MRBF:  But you're not raising money and doing things directly to help children?

MiC:  No, not exactly. 

WiC: But there's so much money in this country.  There's no reason children should have to be without.

MRBF:  I don't know that I'd say there is so much money.  The government doesn't have unlimited resources.

WiC:  But if the government bought one less tank and instead focus it on children's education or health, then that'd make a big difference.

MRBF:  Not as much as you'd think.  Abrams tank costs something like $6 mil.  The Department of Education's budget is like $60 billion or something.  That wouldn't make a huge dent.  Plus, it's not so easy.  There are contracts and jobs on the line. 

WiC:  It would be easy if people did the right thing.

MRBF:  I dunno.  I worked as a staffer for the finance committee and it's not as easy as you'd think.  And it's not just lobbyists and campaign contributions. There are a whole bunch of various issues.  As I said, there are jobs on the line.  It's not so easy to convince a senator from a state that'd lose tank producing jobs is the right thing to do in this tough economic climate.  Even if it is for children.

MiC:  Oh, you worked for the Finance Committee?  What side of the aisle were you on?

MRBF:  I worked for the committee itself, so neither.  But when I did work for Senators directly, they were Republicans.

 WiC turns and storms off.

MRBF:  Did I say something?

MiC:  She gets upset about politics.

MRBF:  That's why I retired a few years ago. To get away from it all and try not to talk about it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Conversation

FLG's Coworker:  The big man is pissed.  I think I might get canned.

FLG:  Why?  What happened?

Coworker:  Not sure.  Got called into his office and he tore me a new one.  For the stupidest of reasons on top of it.  I've never seen him so worked up.

FLG:  I think he's having trouble on the homefront.   Same thing happened to me the other day.  What'd you say to him?

Coworker:  Nothing.  Mostly just took it. 

FLG:  Oh, I wouldn't be worried about getting fired then.

Coworker:  Really? What'd you say?

FLG:  Let me put it this way, after he launched into me the nicest sentence  I uttered questioned his mother's honor.

Coworker:  Is that the ruckus I heard when you were in there? What happened?

FLG:  When he's being unreasonable, or most bosses for that matter, the best strategy is to escalate the confrontation as soon and as fast as possible.

Coworker:  Wow, that's risky.  You risk of getting fired immediately.

FLG:  I'm not so sure about that.  Look at it this way.  The boss is being unreasonable to begin with.  If you escalate on top of their every escalation, then pretty quick you both are at a point where they  have to either back down or fire you.

Coworker:  Exactly...he can fire you for insubordination.

FLG:  Wait.  He can't.  Insubordination is the intentional refusal to obey a lawful order.  I didn't refuse to do anything.  So, that's out.  Moreover, he'd have to get that passed HR.  He can't tell them he was berating me.   At least, it would be tricky.  There's potential harassment counter-charges.

Coworker:  A dangerous game.

FLG:  But an efficient and effective one.  In any case, if either of us are holding Aces and Eights, then it's me.

Big Man walks up.  

Big Man:  Hey, FLG.  How's it goin' today?

FLG:  Fine.

Big Man:  Could you please take a look at that contract that just came in?

FLG:  Sure.

Big Man: Thanks.

Big Man walks away.

FLG:  Efficient and effective.

Coworker:  Aces and eights?

FLG: Google it.
--------------------------------------------------------
PS.  Anybody hiring?

A Conversation

Miss FLG is sitting in her high chair eating dinner.

Miss FLG:  What's that daddy?

FLG: That's a painting of New Orleans.

Miss FLG:  I go there?

FLG:  Actually, your mother and I were talking about bringing you to Jazzfest this year, but it's not going to workout.  Maybe next year.

Miss FLG: I go there?

FLG:  Yes, one day.  We'll go to Jazzfest and listen to music.

Miss FLG:  I dance.

FLG:  And there's great food.

Miss FLG:  I eat.

Mrs. FLG from the next room:  What about Show your tits?! 

FLG:  Oh, be quiet!

Miss FLG:  I ready to go.

She kicks her feet up.

Miss FLG: I need my shoes.

Correspondence

FLG received an email that made a few points, which he will summarize as:
  1. It's weird for somebody who likes Sinatra and opera to like hip-hop. (Is it really?)
  2. FLG only likes East Coast hip-hop.  (not strictly true.)
  3. FLG is a poser who doesn't know anything about hip-hop. (Not sure how to respond to this one.)
FLG will just ignore the first point.  He likes Sinatra, opera, and hip-hop.  If that's weird, then it's weird.  No problem for FLG.

FLG argued a while back that The Chronic had the most mainstream impact of any hip-hop album ever. He still loves that album.  So, FLG doesn't only like East Coast.  However, he prefers East Coast hip-hop.  Generally speaking, FLG thinks that most of the regional hip-hop scenes, besides East Coast, are mostly about delivery and not lyrics.  For example, Snoop's lyrics are almost incidental to his slow, lazy delivery.  Don't get him wrong, FLG loves Snoop.  But the lyrical content and word play aren't the primary focus.  Same thing holds for Southern and Midwestern hip-hop.

But if you look to East Coast rap, especially since the mid-90s, it's been very much lyrically focused, which FLG likes.  Perhaps it's because of all the fucking disputes, most notably between Nas and Jay-Z, but nevertheless, FLG likes that.

As to the third point, poser seems to indicate that to like hip-hop requires that FLG take it on as some sort of overriding identity.  That he must engross himself in all things hip-hop and embrace the lifestyle or culture or some shit.  Fuck that noise.  If FLG likes a song, then he likes a song.  End of story.  Chill out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not Sure Why

...but FLG has always been fond of RZA's portion of Triumph and it popped in his head for no reason just now:
March of the wooden soldiers, C-cypher punks couldn't hold us
A thousand men rushing in, not one nigga was sober
Perpendicular to the square, we stand bold like Flare
Escape from your Dragon's Lair, in particular
My beats travel like a vortex, through your spine
To the top of your cerebral cortex
Make you feel like you bust a nut from raw sex
Enter through your right ventricle clog up your bloodstream
Art terminal, like Grand Central Station
Program fat baselines, on Novation
Getting drunk like a fuck I'm duckin five-year probation

Starts at the 3:23 mark:

FLG is currently listening to

Random Commuter Observation

FLG is turning the tables on Robbo and stealing one of his post titles.

On the way into work today, FLG saw a car, a BMW as a matter of fact, with a vanity plate that read ROSEBUD. He almost crashed the car because he was laughing so hard at the idea that it might as well have read Marion Davies’s clitoris.

Time Horizons: Back To Cognition Edition

Not too long ago FLG referenced Jonathan Haidt's theory about the five foundations of morality and FLG wrote:


Today, FLG was reading Will Wilkinson's thought on this topic. Wilkinson writes:
Among Haidt’s most provocative findings is that American liberals and conservative differ systematically in the calibration of their moral equalizers. Liberals have harm and fairness (Haidt calls these the “individualizing foundations”) pushed way up and in-group, authority, and purity (the “binding foundations”) pushed way down. In contrast, conservatives have all the slides pushed up, though their individualizing settings are not set as high as are liberals’.
Haidt has tended to characterize conservative morality, resting on as it does on all five moral foundations, as more complex or in some sense full-bodied than liberal morality, which rests almost entirely on just the two individualizing foundations.

Will contrasts this with another theory:
Wright and Baril argue, drawing on an array of evidence that conservatives are more averse to threat, instability, and uncertainty, that a sense of threat tends to activate the binding foundations, producing more conservative moralities. In the absence of a sense of threat, or when exhausted from the effort of keeping our conservative moral emotions inflamed, we default to the relatively effortless liberal, individualizing foundations.

This is interesting, but I’m not sold on the idea that the liberal setting on the moral equalizer is the default–that we are, as their title says, “all liberals at heart.” What it sounds to me Wright and Baril are saying is that the liberal setting is the one we tend toward when our defenses are down. That is, liberal morality is the morality of comfortable security.

FLG must admit that this perplexed him upon first reading. FLG's intuition would be that threat, instability, and uncertain would prompt more short-term, empirical focus. Basically, bad stuff is happening right now, can't worry about the future or theories. Have to deal with what is happening RIGHT NOW. And since his time horizons theory says that liberals are more short-term and empirically oriented and conservatives relatively long-term and theoretically oriented, this seems contrary to his theory.

Will sums up like this:
In other words, as the threat of economic insecurity and its concomitant zero-sum conflict over resources recedes with the rise of material prosperity, the defensive binding foundations also recede, leaving the rising generation with a moral equalizer on which in-group, authority, and purity have never been turned up, making fairness and harm relatively more salient. Now, toss in Inglehart’s Maslovianism. As our material needs are met, higher-order needs of consciousness become more pressing. So, at the point in development in which a generation is struck by the “postmaterialist” impulse to seek meaning through moral activity, it finds itself with a historically relatively liberal morality preoccupied with distributive fairness, the reduction of suffering (and, I think, autonomy). In the quest for meaning-making, postmaterialist generations latch onto and refine these moral sensibilities, further raising their salience relative to the binding foundations. Haidt’s “great narrowing” follows from the “great cushioning” of rising prosperity. Of course, as soon as, say, a recession hits, the defensive binding foundations kick in a bit, and a bunch of us buy bald-eagle t-shirts and get mad at about immigrants stealing our jobs.

Again, zero-sum conflict over resources, .i.e short-term focus, is associated with the conservative moral foundations.

Look, FLG might be fighting vainly to keep his theory intact, but FLG thinks that last sentence of Will's is, while a bit overwrought, key. In fact, it reminded FLG of Aesop's fable about the ants and grasshopper. That seems the long view to FLG, the insight that there will always be a winter where resources are scarce. Better to take some precautions for that now.

Moreover, human beings will always have infinite wants and finite resources. So, to some extent, the idea that there can always be plenty for all time is a bit of an illusion. Sure, our productive capacity might be sufficient to produce some basic amount of necessities for all human beings at some point in time, but then invariably our definition of what is a necessity expands. Such that it is questionable whether, over the long run, we can satisify everything defined as a need even with certain and continuous economic expansion greater than population growth.

But FLG must admit, as he did above, that he might just be trying to rationalize his theory in light of these arguments.

Obama's Speech As Seen Through FLG's Time Horizons Theory

FLG watched Obama's speech last night. As far as FLG can tell, Obama presented two justifications for intervening in Libya.

First, there was going to be a horrible massacre. This is the standard, clear, strong short-time horizon case for intervention that many people find appealing. Bad things are happening or are going to happen very shortly; we must intervene to stop it. The medium-to-long-term goals or potential consequences of the intervention are ignored.

Second, that allowing Qaddafi to put down the revolution using force and violence sets a bad precedent for subsequent revolutions. Given that several regimes have decided not to use force, at least on a large scale, have failed. Letting Qaddafi succeed in crushing opposition using force, particularly when there's also the Tienanmen Square precedent, would only encourage other despots to do the same. This, obviously, is the longer term case.

But here's the problem with that longer term case. If FLG was a despot, the lesson he would learn is that if he was violently putting down a revolution, then the West and the US when led by Obama will only get involved if my country is within easy flying distance of Western Europe.

The precedent being set is not that the West won't tolerate brutal suppression of revolution at all, but only when it is convenient. Therefore, the long-term case is pretty fucking weak if you ask FLG. The short-term case does make sense. There's still an argument that even if we won't get involved in every brutalization of a people by their government, then at least we can do the relatively easy ones. But it really deflates Obama's soaring rhetoric about principles over interests.

DC Statehood

FLG would like to take the opportunity presented by this NYTimes Op-Ed to reiterate his own plan for the District of Columbia.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Quote of the day

Like, OMG!
Adult professionals and students were least likely to want to hire, perceived the applicant as less professional, and were less likely to recommend the interviewee for hiring if the interviewee overused the word “like” compared to “uh” or control.

Response To A Response To A Response

Anti-Climacus takes aim at Withywindle's comment over at Phoebe's place.

FLG thinks there is some merit to the 50-100 year timeframe, even if it is arbitrary.

While FLG agrees that there are those who would use it to wall off post-modernist texts, for him at least, what makes a book great is that it says something powerful about the human condition that is applicable across time, place, and culture. Analyzing something new is very much like looking at a painting when you're too close. Oftentimes, you get a fuzzy and unclear image.

This isn't to say that new works don't say something timeless and universal about the human condition, some of them most certainly do, but sometimes it's difficult to ascertain what is powerful in that time and place and what is timeless and universal.

Friday, March 25, 2011

FLG is currently listening to



Screw Tuesday...this Friday is just as bad.

The Tarantino Thing

FLG read this post by Emily Hale with horror. She writes:
I can't recommend [Pulp Fiction] at all.

FLG thinks Pulp Fiction is a fantastic movie, but that's not where the horror arose. No, it was what followed:
Most interesting was the story telling--the overlapping stories of six or so main characters would pick up at random points, sometimes way in the past, sometimes at a moment that we'd already seen from a different perspective in the film. And there was this perpetual feeling of pointlessness--that the director was giving us a small vignettes that would never make any sense--small chunks of life that were nothing more than that.

FLG wanted to object, but then realized he couldn't. Was that it? Was Pulp Fiction pointless? Indeed, what is the point of any of Tarantino's movies?

Then FLG began thinking. James Cameron's major running theme is man's technological hubris. David Lynch's is that the tragic poet is an illusionist, at least according to FLG. What is Tarantino's?

So, FLG started mulling this over and realized something. Tarantino, like Hitchcock, uses MacGuffins, a plot device to get the ball rolling but then is discarded. In Pulp Fiction, it's the contents of the case. In Reservoir Dogs, the diamonds. FLG hasn't watched Jackie Brown in a while, but it's probably the drugs.

And then there's the multilinear storytelling, which further undermines the story. FLG means, you get the story started with a disposable plot device, and then you chop up the story into itty-bitty pieces leaving not much left. So, the story isn't the point at all.

Obviously, and FLG should've thought of this immediately, it's about characters. Unique, over-the-top characters with colorful backgrounds. (Kinda like FLG.) Oh, and FLG can't forget the fantastic dialogue that Tarantino writes. Oh, great dialogue and violence. Can't forget the violence.

Violence, right. Okay, now FLG is getting it, he thought to himself. Going back to Hitchcock, at least FLG thinks it was Hitchcock, he said if I show you two men sitting in a restaurant booth talking about the weather outside, then the audience is bored. If I first show you a ticking briefcase under the table, then the audience will be hung on their every word, even if it's just about the weather.

And then some notable Tarantino scenes started running through FLG's mind. The scene in True Romance between Chistopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. Tim Roth and his girlfriend talking about robbing liquor stores before deciding to rob the diner. Jules and Vincent talking about hamburgers with Brett before they kill him. The Wolf takes the time to say "Pretty please with sugar on top" to placate Vincent when they are talking about how to clean up a dead body. Mister Blonde bantering with the cop he captured while holding a knife. That scene in Inglourious Basterds where Christopher Waltz is talking with the farmer hiding the Jews. Or the scene where Brad Pitt is talking with the capture German soldier and threatening to unleash the Bear Jew. And then it hit FLG.

Tarantino's theme is on highlighting the instantaneous connections between people. The moment. Nothing more. For example, Jules and Brett had a connection about hamburgers even though one was going to die a few minutes later. Same with Walken and Hopper.

Well, that and redemption. Lots of redemption themes in Tarantino movies. But that's less important than the instantaneous interactions, connections, and relationships between people. It's not so much that life is pointless, but that it's a series of moments between people that are, FLG doesn't know the best word, autonomous or discrete from one another. It's about savoring the moment you have with the people around you because, well, they might kill you the next second.

So, FLG understands Emily's comment about the perpetual feeling of pointlessness. And she was correct. Tarantino is giving us "chunks of life that were nothing more than that." But she's thinking nothing more than that for the characters or the story. FLG feels like Tarantino is using those small chunks of life to make larger statements about the human condition. (Insert Plato's critique of the poets here.)

Entrepreneurship

Matt Yglesias links to a study by the Kaufman Foundation and excerpts this passage, also his emphasis:
The financial sector, which includes lending, stock brokerage, complex securities and insurance, among many other services, derives enormous profits from collateralized debt obligations. These new products require such sophisticated engineering that the industry now focuses its recruiting on new master’s- and doctoral-level graduates of science, engineering, math and physics, and pays them starting wages that are five times or more what they would have earned had they remained in their own fields.

“Because these new hires are often the very individuals who otherwise would have comprised the most robust pool of prospective founders of high-growth companies, the financial services industry’s steady rise has had a cannibalizing effect on entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy,” said Paul Kedrosky, Kauffman Foundation senior fellow and one of the paper’s authors. “Excessive financialization exacerbated and distorted the flow of capital in the economy, potentially suppressing entrepreneurship by drawing away entrepreneurial talent.”

Unfortunately, the link Matt provided didn't seem to be working when FLG clicked on it, but FLG is extremely skeptical.  The argument here is that engineering graduates have the technical skills to found technology start-ups.  Banks sucked up some of this talent, thus depleting this pool.  Thus, banks are evil fuckers.

FLG sees a couple of problems.  First, it's not like banks hoovered up every engineering and math graduate over the last 10-20 years.  Only a small portion of math, science, and engineering majors went into banking.  Second, FLG saw an interview with Matt Damon once, it might have been on Inside the Actors' Studio, where he said that whenever somebody asks him if they should be an actor, he always says "No."  Not because he's trying to be mean, but because you'll only be successful if you really want it.  And if you really want it, then it doesn't matter what he says anyway.  FLG thinks this is sort of like entrepreneurship.  Every successful entrepreneur FLG has ever heard of was driven to found a business. Often they fell in love with some idea they had.  Or maybe they like the idea of building a business from scratch.  Whatever that drive was, like Damon's theory about being an actor, it didn't matter if somebody said "No."  FLG thinks, in this light, the banks hiring quants a bit of a red herring.  The people who want a steady paycheck would be drawn to Wall Street.  The people who have a great business idea?  Not so much.  The Kaufman study assumes all engineering and math grads, since they have technical skills, are potential entrepreneurs.  But in reality, they're not.  The ones who want to found their own company aren't going to be swayed.

But FLG, be honest, this has to have some effect.  Okay.  FLG agrees.  At the margin, this may sway some people.  But think of it this way.  If you have some business idea that you think is worth billions, then making hundreds of thousands or millions isn't necessarily appealing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nato Delenda Est

Regular readers will know that FLG hates NATO. Hates it with all his being because its and anachronistic organization whose raison d'etre disappeared along with the Warsaw Pact.

Most people seem to think of NATO that since the alliance won the Cold War it is therefore useful to keep around. It's not. The alliance didn't win the Cold War. Or at least the institution that is NATO didn't really win it. The West won it. NATO just happened to be a vehicle to help make that happen. It's not really useful anymore.

But, FLG, if it was a vehicle for the West to take action in the Cold War, then surely it can be a vehicle in the future. FLG disagrees. The existential threat of the USSR focused minds. All the West was focused on countering that threat. Now that the threat is gone, and its been 20 years mind you, NATO doesn't have a core mission and keeps thrashing around trying to find one. No USSR, no threat, no focus, no real alliance. Just a bickering club and irrelevant bureaucracy.

Again, some say, well, that's true. But what's the big deal of keeping it around. No harm.

Well, NATO is dangerous, in FLG's opinion. First, it let's the Europeans free ride. Knowing that they have the US as an explicit guarantor of their security has to have some deleterious effect on their security spending commitments. Second, to the extent that people want to keep the alliance around, for whatever fuck all reason they can come up with or simply unthinkingly, then there is pressure to commit forces where the United States has no business doing it.

For example, see this passage excerpted by Ross Douthat from Adam Garfinkle:
The French and British know in their heart of hearts that we cannot let them fail miserably at this, or that’s what they suppose. I suppose they’re right.

What this means is that the President may before very long be forced to make the most excruciating decision of his life: to send American soldiers into harm’s way to save the Western alliance—even from an operation that is not explicitly a NATO mission!—in a contingency that has no strategic rationale to begin with; or not, leaving the alliance in ruins and Qaddafi bursting with plans to exact revenge.

Nato delenda est.

Correspondence

A reader requested via email that FLG check out this Matt Yglesias post in which he is arguing that the analogy that national fiscal policy is like a household is fallacious.

At the outset, FLG must say he agrees that the household analogy is somewhat problematic. Ideally, government should run a balanced budget over the business cycle, which would result in the government running surpluses in good times and deficits in bad ones. The household analogy usually runs contrary to this when it comes to the running deficits part in bad times. The household story, in bad times, is all about belt tightening and tough choices.

Matt's analysis is almost correct enough to sound convincing. He writes:
A household typically measures its wealth in terms of money. So many assets and so many liabilities. And it doesn’t just do this as an accounting convention. An influx of extra dollars into your bank account is a real increase in your wealth.

[...]

The United States of America also uses dollars as a unit of account for tallying up assets and liabilities, but the wealth of the United States is properly measured not by how many dollars there are but by what real production we’re engaged in and what real stock of assets we possess. We have the I-95 and the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and the Hollywood movie studios and Yale University and the casinos of the Las Vegas strip and the Mayo Clinic and fertile farmland and many detached single-family homes. Unlike a household, if we as a country want more dollars, we can just print more dollars. But also unlike a household, if we as a country want more stuff we actually have to make more stuff not just obtain more currency. This means that to say we’re “broke” or “running out of money” is nonsense. The relevant issue is are we running out of productive capacity? If we try to boost demand faster than we can produce, we’ll end up with inflation. But if our level of demand is well below our potential for production, then we’ll get richer (have more stuff, more production) merely by increasing our demand to something closer to our potential.

Much of these statments is correct individually, but when put together starts to fall apart.

First, he's drawing a distinction between real and nominal. He says what matters for nations is their real productive capacity. That we measure GDP in dollars is merely an accounting issue. Okay. However, he also tries to says that, for a household, "[a]n influx of extra dollars into your bank account is a real increase in your wealth." Well, that's not strictly true. It's only a real increase if the influx of dollars is greater as a percentage of your existing nominal wealth than the inflation rate. If you had $100, put in $1 and inflation is 2%, then you are actually worse off in real terms. To the extent that Matt is arguing that most people think in nominal rather than real value, he's probably correct. But FLG'd argue that's because inflation has been more or less under control as of late. If inflation became an issue, people would pay more attention to real rather than nominal value. Nevertheless, one really ought to deal only in real or only in nominal.

Matt's second point is that household wealth is more a question of net worth rather than income, whereas the wealth of nations is about output -- GDP. Fine. No problem there.

So, where exactly is the issue with Matt's analysis? Well, the post is really about debt and there are types of problems with debt -- liquidity and solvency. Liquidity problems happen when the borrower is good for the loan, .i.e they would be able to pay back the rest of the loan, but there's an issue right now with getting the money together for a payment. Solvency problems arise when the borrower is no longer good for the loan.

Matt argues that since governments can print money, it's not possible for them to have a liquidity problem. So, no need to worry about all this debt nonsense. No liquidity crisis, then no solvency crisis.

Trouble is that creditors are greedy fuckers who like to get paid back in real returns, not nominal ones. Printing money to pay back creditors may work for a little bit, but once debtors realize that you're paying them back with inflation, well, they tend to object.

Moreover, Matt's statement that "[t]he relevant issue is are we running out of productive capacity?" is true. And he's not entirely incorrect with the subsequent analysis. But he completely ignores a couple of things. First, there is a government debt. And we ought to assume that over the long run it has to be repaid with real interest. Moreover, there is a national productive capacity, but in reality we cannot tax all of it. So, asking merely about the real productive capacity is great, but the way in which he is approaching it is sophistic.

Basically, Matt's trying to argue not to worry about the man behind the debt curtain with a plausible, but ultimately incorrect argument. It's important to think in real terms and vis-a-vis GDP when it comes to nations. However, let's not think that because a country with its own currency cannot have a liquidity crisis that it cannot have a solvency crisis.

What does all this mean? All things being equal, a government should be able to run a deficit equal to its GDP's real growth rate forever. That's a sustainable deficit. Anything more than that is unsustainable.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quote of the day

The Cigarette Smoking Blog is back

The Microsoft Strategy

Andrew Stevens writes:
Just to clarify, it seems to be FLG's opinion that once Gates set up the initial operating system agreement that Microsoft was going to enjoy a monopoly forever and ever, amen, without any effort on their part. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Internet did take Gates a bit by surprise, but that was his first misstep (other than the stupid paper clip) in fifteen years and he didn't make many afterward either. He has, in fact, a remarkable track record in keeping on top of a rapidly changing field.

FLG's opinion is that once Gates setup the initial operating system agreement, then it set the foundation for a monopoly for a really long time. Everything Microsoft has done outside of that is to pour money into endeavors trying to catch up with other people.

Microsoft has MS-DOS in 1981. If FLG remembers correctly, it licensed MS-DOS to IBM that same year.

In 1983, Apple releases the Lisa, the first PC with a graphical user interface, but really hits its stride in 1984 with the Macintosh. Microsoft doesn't produce a competitive GUI interface until Windows 3.0 in 1990. And FLG might argue that it was really with 3.1 in 1992.

Right about the time, in 1993, the University of Illinois released the first web browser, Mosaic. The very next year Marc Andreessen, who wrote Mosaic, started a company called Netscape, which would create the first widely-accepted web browser.

So, in the early-90s Microsoft is just catching up in the GUI space and as FLG mentioned previously Bill Gates is going around talking about home libraries of CD-ROMs containing tons of information, Netscape is taking off.

What happens? Microsoft acquires SpyGlass, another company affiliated with the University of Illinois Mosaic project, and starts pouring money into the development of Internet Explorer. Eventually, as Microsoft poured enough money into IE, Netscape couldn't keep up.

Smart business? Absolutely. Did it take a genius? No. It took a lot of resources and the ability to leverage the operating system monopoly.

This saga repeats itself over and over. MacIntosh->Windows, Netscape->IE, Lotus 123->Excel, Wordperfect->Word, Sybase->MS SQL, Java->C sharp, iPod->Zune, Yahoo->MSN, Google->Bing, PlayStation->XBOX. FLG could go on and on. Some successful, some failures.

But even the successes aren't due to some great insight by Bill Gates. Bill Gates, and the entire Microsoft strategy, has always been to take the monopoly rents they earn and pour them into development of a competing product. Now, in many cases (Windows, IE, Office, MSSQL, etc) this can be a very successful strategy. But it doesn't take some fantastic managerial insight. Given enough resources, you should be able to do anything. Given the amount of resources Microsoft pours into these projects, all of them should have been successful.

Just to be clear here, this isn't about copying. Apple copies as well. Steve Jobs saw the first GUI operating system at Xerox PARC. The iPod wasn't the first mp3 player. It's that as far as FLG can tell nobody at Microsoft has no unique capabilities. They just deploy massive amounts of resources at the problem. Again, this can be a successful strategy. But it doesn't make Bill Gates some sort of corporate strategy genius. In fact, FLG sees Gates as almost always behind the curve and the times when it has tried to be ahead of the curve (to name just to examples, Windows CE/Windows Moble and tablet PCs) it has failed pretty miserably.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Very Quickly

FLG is too busy to respond to this comment by Andrew Stevens right now. But he will.

FLG is too busy because he is plugging away on his HP 12c trying to get some homework done, which reminded him that a surprising number of people have offered negative comments about his financial calculator. It follows along one of three lines. First, use Excel. (FLG does, but for many things he finds the calculator faster.) Second, the TI BA II is cheaper. (Okay, great. FLG already has the HP 12c. So going out to buy another calculator would be a waste of money.) Third, the notation is awful. (FLG thinks this is the primary complaint people really have. They think Reverse Polish notation is a hassle to learn. Well, FLG's father taught him how to use the damn thing and RPN when he was a wee lad and he's perfectly happy with it. To be completely honest, FLG catches a thick tone of insecurity coming from many of these commenters. It's just a calculator people.)

Normative Science

Most people know that Bacon wrote the goal of science was "the relief of man's estate." Much like Tocqueville, however, FLG thinks Bacon is one of those thinkers whom more people quote than read.

Well, your humble blogger has read Bacon, and he was pondering the entire passage from whence that came:

But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or furthest end of knowledge. For men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason to the benefit and use of men: as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state, for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground, for strife and contention; or a shop, for profit or sale; and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate. But this is that which will indeed dignify and exalt knowledge, if contemplation and action may be more nearly and straitly conjoined and united together than they have been: a conjunction like unto that of the two highest planets, Saturn, the planet of rest and contemplation; and Jupiter, the planet of civil society and action, howbeit, I do not mean, when I speak of use and action, that end before-mentioned of the applying of knowledge to lucre and profession; for I am not ignorant how much that diverteth and interrupteth the prosecution and advancement of knowledge, like unto the golden ball thrown before Atalanta, which, while she goeth aside and stoopeth to take up, the race is hindered,


“Declinat cursus, aurumque volubile tollit.” {1}


Neither is my meaning, as was spoken of Socrates, to call philosophy down from heaven to converse upon the earth - that is, to leave natural philosophy aside, and to apply knowledge only to manners and policy. But as both heaven and earth do conspire and contribute to the use and benefit of man, so the end ought to be, from both philosophies to separate and reject vain speculations, and whatsoever is empty and void, and to preserve and augment whatsoever is solid and fruitful; that knowledge may not be as a courtesan, for pleasure and vanity only, or as a bond-woman, to acquire and gain to her master’s use; but as a spouse, for generation, fruit, and comfort.

FLG won't offer a full analysis, but a few of quick, superficial thoughts that he's probably written before:
  1. There's this paradox whereby Bacon is trying to overturn the stature of Aristotle as The Philosopher, but simultaneously is drawing upon an explicitly religious and in particular a Christian view toward monetary acquisition, the initial seeds of which can probably be traced back directly to Book I of Aristotle's Politics.
  2. Not to press this into a genetic fallacy, but even at the commencement the scientific project was normative.  It's not about knowledge for knowledge's sake.  It's not about new knowledge for riches or glory.  It's the acquisition of knowledge for the conquest of the material world for the purpose of relieving man's physical suffering.
  3. To return to the Bacon Aristotle connection, Bacon's idea of cojoining contemplation and action sounds a lot like Aristotle's conception of a  spoudaios.

Poor Journalism

An opening sentence from the NYTimes:
An American-led military campaign to destroy Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s air defenses and establish a no-fly zone over Libya has nearly accomplished its initial objectives, and the United States is moving swiftly to hand command to allies in Europe, American officials said, but fighting continued on Tuesday and an American warplane was reported to have crashed..

Several problems. First, as far as FLG has heard, the campaign isn't "American-led." Second, the headline reads "U.S.-Led Assault Nears Goal in Libya," but the passage above says initial objectives. If the initial objectives are, as the sentence implies, "to destroy Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s air defenses and establish a no-fly zone over Libya," then FLG is sure that can be accomplished. But to what end exactly? Third, why are there two periods? This is the NYTimes FLG is reading, not some blog, right?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quote of the day

WWTDD:
The reason that some people think Hollywood only cares about money is because Hollywood only cares about money, and so with that in mind, CBS President Les Moonves is reportedly trying to find a way to get Charlie Sheen back to work on Two and a Half Men, despite the fact that he’s an unstable and violent lunatic.

FLG Is Glad

...that he didn't publish the draft he was working on about Libya because the content was exactly the same as Jim Manzi's post, but less elegantly expressed.

Best just to link to that one.

It's Liberal Arts, Stupid

One of FLG's long running themes has been that the cliche "We need to strengthen our science and math curriculum to compete and innovate in the 21 century economy" is a bunch of bullshit. It's the liberal arts that matters. As proof, FLG often turns to Steve Jobs and Apple as the prime example, as he did in the link provided above.

Well, today the NYTimes highlights differing advice on education from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Gates said:
in the past it felt fine to just say, 'OK, we’re over all going to be generous with this sector,' ” he continued. “But in this era, to break down and really say, ‘What are the categories that help fill jobs and drive that state economy in the future?’ -- you’ll find that it’s not across the board in terms of everything that the state subsidizes in higher education.

And here's a recent statement from Jobs:
It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough — it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

FLG will be clear here. He owns a few iPods, but not much else from Apple. He certainly isn't an Apple fanboy. All his machines run Windows and Office. Well, he does have a linux server at home, but besides that it's all Microsoft. But a few things.

First, a businessman's opinions on these issues need to be taken with a grain of salt. Almost invariably, they recommend policies that would bring down their companies own labor costs.

Second, FLG isn't all that impressed with Bill Gates as a strategic thinker. Yes, the man is the richest person in the world, but almost all of that goes back to the operating system monopoly setup back in 1981-82. That was a stroke of genius, FLG agrees, but everything since that has been pretty much ugh. Not that it matters that much, since there's the monopoly rents to draw from, but overall Gates reputation as some sort of business visionary is vastly overrated. Well, maybe not overrated, because that it's hard to overstate the impact of the initial IBM licensing agreement, but FLG doesn't look to Gates for much insight. Shit, to name just one example, right before the Internet broke big into the public consciousness, Gates was going on and on about how people would have huge libraries of CD-ROMs to access data. We all get things wrong, especially if it comes to a fast-changing industry like computers, but that's not the only example of Gates' missteps by a long shot. Moreover, Gates' attitude pervades the entire Microsoft culture. The company's marketing is atrocious. When its executives go to other companies they make implausibly stupid decisions that happen to go along with the Microsoft line.

Third, while studying liberal arts as a path to a technology career will most likely put you into onto the starving blogger or web developer path rather than Steve Jobs, at least initially, it is also provides you an insight into what is meaningful to people. Again, this is something that science and engineering education seriously lacks, and the reason that user interface design is generally so poor in open source products and at place run by engineering geeks.

So, FLG's advice is this -- study liberal arts. Bill Gates' insights are vastly overrated. He was a one-shot genius. Although, what a one-shot. Far better to listen to Steve Jobs, who is a hype machine as well, but has churned out countless awesome products over the years.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shorter Writing

FLG is all in favor of clarity and brevity in writing, but this goes too far:
My ideal composition class would include assignments like “Write coherent and original comments for five YouTube videos, quickly telling us why surprised kittens or unconventional wedding dances resonate with millions,” and “Write Amazon reviews, including a bit of summary, insight and analysis, for three canonical works we read this semester (points off for gratuitous modern argot and emoticons).”

Also, FLG learned to write five paragraph essays in 8th or 9th grade at the latest. So, it worries him that this professor is teaching that to college freshman. FLG sure hopes the professor means refining the execution of students' five paragraph essays rather than introducing the format.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FLG is currently listening to



FLG has heard this song probably a 100 times, and he always chuckles when B.B. says "...and she could be jivin' too."

FLG Isn't Quite Sure

why somebody sent him a link to this job opening. For starters, FLG doesn't live in Baltimore.

A Quarter Of A Century Later

FLG knows that it's almost exactly 25 years later and the circumstances are vastly different, but he still can't help finding the idea that French jets are going to attack Libya anything but ironic given that France denied American jets access to its airspace back in 1986.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Note To Self

If Serendipity 3 ever opens in Georgetown, then keep Miss FLG away from the Gummi Penises.

Signs That FLG Might Be Losing It

He was waiting to order lunch and out of nowhere a passage by Auguste Comte popped into his head and FLG almost swore out loud.

Is Our Liberals Learning?

Liberty At Stake writes in the comments:
The truly dangerous characteristic of Liberal ideologues is their inability to learn empirical lessons from the PAST. To wit; New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, CRA, Housing Bubble, Banking bailouts, Porkulus progression.

Massive top down government spending (hammer) and unfunded mandates (nail) are the only tools they have in their tool kit.

FLG doesn't think that's quite fair. If you look at somebody like Cass Sunstein (although some may question whether he's a liberal) and the Nudge idea, then there's at least a countersink or something besides the hammer and nail in the toolkit.

Risk Perceptions

Via Matt Ygelsias, FLG found this site and in particular this paper. Since FLG's time horizons theory is so interwined with risk perceptions, he found the article fascinating. The authors, Dan M. Kahan and Donald Braman, write:
Our theory of cultural cognition synthesizes these two bodies of research and generalizes them. We propose that the various mechanisms of belief formation identified by contemporary social psychology are likely to generate risk perceptions skewed along cultural lines in the manner posited by Douglas and Wildavsky. But we see nothing distinctive about attitudes toward environmental protection in this regard. Criminal laws, economic regulation, and public health policies all regulate activities that are ripe with culturally infused social meanings. The same mechanisms of belief formation—from cognitive dissonance avoidance to affect to biased assimilation to group polarization—should thus induce individuals to conform their beliefs about the empirical efficacy of such policies to their cultural evaluations. As a result, seemingly empirical debates over all manner of public policy will be guided by the invisible hands of conflicting cultural worldviews: hierarchic and egalitarian, individualistic and solidaristic.

That's interesting and all, but FLG still thinks that time horizons is a more useful tool for trying to bridge these gaps. Not because it's more accurate, but because it minimizes normative claims. Sure, most people have an initial reaction that being short-term focused is somehow bad, but FLG thinks one can make strong arguments why being short-term focus in many cases is entirely justified. When it comes to hierachical/egalitarian, individualist/solidarisitc, there's less common ground. At least FLG thinks so. You either are or are not hierachical. It's not something that can be reasonably debated. Or rather, FLG thinks there'd be less progress over that debate rather than trying to balance short versus long run costs and benefits.

(Or, perhaps, to be completely honest, it might be that FLG merely likes the time horizons theory because in it the more liberal position, short-term, as he mentioned above, has a more negative connotation; whereas in the Kahan & Braman matrix the more conservative positions have a more negative connotation. FLG can't rule that out.)

But this bugs FLG:
Public disagreement about the consequences of law is not just a puzzle to be explained but a problem to be solved. The prospects for enlightened democratic decisionmaking obviously depend on some reliable mechanism for resolving such disputes and resolving them accurately. Because such disagreements turn on empirical claims that admit of scientific investigation, the conventional prescription is the pursuit and dissemination of scientifically sound information.

The hope that democracy can be enlightened in such a straightforward manner, however, turns out to be an idle one. Like most heuristics, cultural cognition is also a bias. By virtue of the power that cultural cognition exerts over belief formation, public dispute can be expected to persist on questions like the deterrent effect of capital punishment, the danger posed by global warming, the utility or futility of gun control, and the like, even after the truth of the matter has been conclusively established.

Imagine—very counterfactually—that all citizens are perfect Bayesians. That is, whenever they are apprised of reliable information, they readily update their prior factual beliefs in a manner that appropriately integrates this new information with all existing information at their disposal. Even under these circumstances, conclusive discovery of the truth is no guarantee that citizens will converge on true beliefs about the consequences of contested public policies. For while Bayesianism tells individuals what to do with relevant and reliable information, it doesn’t tell them when they should regard information as relevant and reliable. Individuals can be expected to give dispositive empirical information the weight that it is due in a rational-decisionmaking calculus only if they recognize sound information when they see it.

[...]

But second and more important, any special resistance scientists might have to the biasing effect of cultural cognition is beside the point. The issue is whether the discovery and dissemination of empirically sound information can, on its own, be expected to protect democratic policymaking from the distorting effect of culturally polarized beliefs among citizens and their representatives.

Why does this bug FLG? Well, FLG objects to claim implicit in this train of thought that empirical fact can lead to truth. Facts are devoid of meaning. Only humans can interpret the relevance, and more importantly the meaning of facts.

As FLG has written a gazillion times, empirical facts can be true or false. Fine. No problem there. Even if sometimes it's difficult to ascertain the truth or falsehood of some presumably empirically verifiable claim. But once you then go from a fact to a policy recommendation, then you are always ascribing value.

To return to FLG's favorite example:
Water is wet is true by definition. It's almost tautological. But if you take that fact and tell somebody who is going swimming to bring a towel, then you are also saying that being dry is better than being wet.

Consequently, FLG doesn't see the idea that empirical fact alone should be some sort of irrefutable decider of public policy. In fact, the very idea makes FLG shudder.

Before anybody thinks FLG is some sort of kook. He's not saying empirical fact is irrelevant or worthless. It's crucial. And confirmation bias is a massive problem. But empiricism, by itself, is entirely worthless. FLG guesses if we all as a society permanently agreed how our society should be ordered in great detail, then it could be a mere empirical question. If we all agree that being dry is better than being wet, then obviously recommendations to bring a towel are entirely uncontroversial.

Quote of the day

Jason Whitlock:
“Hoya Paranoia” is the story that deserves celebration and should serve as a teaching tool.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

FLG is currently listening to

MBA Learin'

FLG was actually pretty solid on finance, statistics, and quantitative subjects before starting his MBA.  An undergrad degree in international economics with a focus in international finance will do that for you. 

However, FLG's knowledge of things like marketing and corporate strategy was rudimentary at best.  

As the first year of the program is coming to a close, FLG has reached a very definite conclusion that management skill is vastly overrated.  Either the economics of the industry you are in are generally favorable or they're not.  This leads to an important sub-conclusion -- if management wants to grow the business, then they can integrate vertically or geographically, but diversified conglomerates are for the birds.  If investors want diversification, then let them do that through equity stakes not do it for them.

There's an agency problem here.  Most management types want to make some mark.  If company has already grown geographically and integrated vertically to the extent possible, then management should just milk the fuck out of it.  Not sneakily.  Just say, this business is mature and going to become a cash machine and we'll be paying good dividends.  But that's not what managers want to say or do.  They want to be cool.

Some might say that Wall Street doesn't want to hear it either.  That they expect consistent and continuing growth.  FLG isn't so sure.  Microsoft, to take one example, wastes so much money getting into new businesses looking for growth that FLG thinks shareholders would be better off just milking Windows and Office and call it a day.

FLG is currently listening to



Yes, FLG is listening to Rick Springfield.  Like to see William Brafford talk trash about FLG's taste in music now. 

You Don't Agree Because You Have Differing Time Horizons

FLG noticed this post, another from Bleeding Heart Libertarians, as a shared item over at Notes From Babel, which asks "Why We Don't Agree?" And by "we" the author means bleeding heart libertarians and progressives.

The author argues that since the goals are the same, then presumably the question is merely an empirical one as to what the best course of action is. The author attributes the disagreement in the face of an empirical question to the symbolic nature of political positions. Progressive stand by policies that symbolize social justice while actually undermining it.

The author then sums up thusly:
I do not know how to get around this problem, but, for whatever is worth, I find symbolic behavior morally objectionable, because the speaker cares about the values he expresses more than about those persons he says he wants to help.

Unsurprisingly, FLG thinks there's an easy way to get around this and it's time horizons. Take this example:
Supporting the minimum wage is an act that stands for a value such as concern for the poor.

Now, FLG isn't arguing in support of minimum wage increases or any other progressive economic policy prescription.  But why must it be symbolic? 


Supporting the minimum wage isn't necessarily about donning some symbolic affectation.  The simple, direct, proximate, static result of a a minimum wage increase is a raise for the lowest paid people.  The idea that this comes at the loss of jobs, whether they be existing or potential jobs, comes only in the future.  If a person is either ignorant of the potential future costs of the minimum wage increase or values the present at the expense of the future, then they can justify their support of the policy without it being about symbolism.

BTW, for those of you who have been following the evolution of FLG's time horizons theory, you know that he argues that liberals have short-time horizons and that this is related to their being more empirical.  Conversely, conservatives have longer time horizons and are consequently more theoretical. 

However, FLG would like to add to this the power versus authority dynamic.   Liberals are concerned with power, which is often an instantaneous and fleeting thing that can shift from moment to moment. Conservatives are more concerned with authority, which takes longer to develop and acquire.  Plus, when compared there's a tangible, maybe even quantifiable aspect to power.  Authority is more vague and harder to gauge precisely.

Some Idle Thoughts

Well, not so idle now that FLG is writing about them.

Lately, blogging has been relatively light because FLG has been busy. Blogging will probably continue to be light, not so much because FLG is busy, although he does have a bunch of stuff to do, but because he doesn't really feel like he has anything worth blogging about up there in the old noodle. In fact, FLG fears he's becoming a bit curmudgeonly and bitter of late. Not something he likes.

Speaking of which, FLG has seen an odd increase in readers. There's no simple explanation, some link, that's generated a bunch of traffic. That got FLG wondering how long it takes the average new reader to arrive at the conclusion that FLG is batshit nuts. Over-under is 90 seconds.

Time Horizons

Tim Kowal points FLG to this post over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that illustrates precisely what FLG has been harping about with his Time Horizons theory.

Imagine there are two nearly identical societies, Fairnessland and ParetoSuperiorland. Imagine both are some form of liberal society, and both equally protect citizens' political and civil liberties.

...

However, imagine that because ParetoSuperiorland allows more inequality, it has faster growth. (I'm not here claiming that allowing inequality really does cause growth. So no need to argue with me about that.) Fairnessland has an annual growth rate of 2%, with each class's income growing equally quickly. Suppose, however, that ParetoSuperiorland has a faster growth rate.

You can click the link to see the exact numbers, but not surprisingly even the poor are better off with the higher growth rate despite the inequality after 100 years.

What's interesting to FLG is a particular commenter over there named TheOtherChuckD who seems entirely incapable of seeing anything other than what he would like to see:
You made an argument by rigging the rules of your model. The absurd timeframe, positing stagnation and leaving out all other concerns (like income mobility), all serve to lead readers by the hand to a set of conclusions.

It's a common libertarian strawman: would you rather be poor in a poor but equal country or a rich but unequal country? Would you rather be poor in 2011 or rich in 1911? Arguments like these rest on the built-in assumption that inequality powers growth and safety nets hamper it.

It's worth referencing an earlier BHL post: would you still be a libertarian if the assumptions you've made about the positive economic effects of libertarianism were wrong?

A far more interesting question would involve taking your thumb off of the scale.

Assume ParetoSuperiorland had the same growth rate as Fairnessland, but high inequality. However, citizens had a far better chance of moving from the bottom decile to the top. Fairnessland has greater income inequality but people in the bottom decile rarely if ever become rich.

Any answer would really have to grapple with issues of the kind of society we want and the tradeoffs we make, instead of just encouraging readers to reach for the bigger pie.

I know it's not the question you're asking, but at least it can be asked without stacking the deck to such an extent.

The entire point of the post is to say, look, imagine there is a trade-off between inequality and growth. (And to be honest that's not entirely unreasonable over a long period of time where incentives and rewards kick in, but anyway...) Here's how that would play out. Now, how should we deal with this?

What is most baffling to FLG is that assertion by TheOtherChuckD that the timeframe, a century, is absurd given that the question at hand is how a society should organize itself, not in minute detail mind you, but very broad brush.

Quote of the day II

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

Quote of the day

Stanley Fish:
What gives someone the high moral ground is that he or she is right, not that he or she is fair.

Amen, brother!

----------------------------------------------------
There's also this quote that may be interesting to Tim Kowal:
Of course, valuing process over substance is the essence of liberalism

Looks Like

...Cheryl is blogging again after some weird shift whereby people are selling real estate over her old domain name.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Russian bomb squad called in

...They found a vibrator.

FLG Would Like To Clear Something Up

GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo64 was and remains the best video game ever. All other opinions are misguided, misinformed, or just plain wrong.

Weekend Round-Up

The FLGs watched a Piers Morgan with Kid Rock:


FLG really liked his attitude. Unlike some other people who think that cool people are totally fucked up and insecure, FLG thinks it's pretty cool to say, "Here I am. If you have a problem with that, then fuck you." But that alone isn't a good thing. It needs to be moderated or the person ends up becoming a misanthropic, self-involved asshole. Kid Rock seems to have done well there too. Instead of living in the Hollywood hills, he still lives in Michigan and said that the only opinions that matter to him are those of the people in his community. That's the right attitude. It's refreshing to see somebody as seemingly self-aware as Kid Rock with no regrets.

FLG believes, using his own little pop psychology, most people who are famous are deeply insecure and crave fame to compensate. It's really nice to see somebody who appears to be correctly oriented.

(Then again, what does FLG know? For years he thought Christina Aguilera had her shit together and Brittney Spears was going to go down in a blaze of glory.)

Also, the FLGs went into Georgetown this weekend. This leads to a few things.

First, as we were driving over the Key Bridge, Miss FLG thought that Healy Hall at Georgetown was Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Speaking of which, although Miss FLG loves Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She loves the movie Sleeping Beauty. FLG has to admit that it's a pretty damn good movie. Perhaps it's just that FLG likes the mid-century aesthetic, but the dialogue is fantastic. It's clever, sometimes dark, and often in verse. Plus, FLG thinks Maleficent might just be the best Disney villain. Speaking of which, apparently there's a Maleficent movie in planning stages to tell the story from her point-of-view a la Wicked.

Second, the FLGs visited the Georgetown Candy Bar, which was a tad disappointing.

Lastly, the FLGs visited Sprinkles. The latest cupcake shop in DC and the third in Georgetown alone. Well, that's not quite right. There's Georgetown Cupcake, of DC Cupcake fame, Sprinkles, and Baked & Wired is a coffeeshop/bakery that happens to sell cupcakes. Oddly, of all of them, Georgetown Cupcake's are the most overrated and it always has a tremendously long line. Baked & Wired's cupcakes are so much better and there is hardly ever a wait. Well, FLG discovered this weekend that Sprinkles has the best cupcakes of any of them, but he worries that in a few weeks the line will just as bad as Georgetown Cupcake.

FLG Has A Different Explanation

Tim Kowal objects to this passage by Matt Yglesias:
Politicians don’t understand that the voters don’t care about the deficit because the voters themselves don’t understand that they don’t care about the deficit. . . .

But they don’t. Public understanding of fiscal policy is hazy, inaccurate, and dominated by fallacious analogies between a national government and a household. What’s more, voters believe that deficits are primarily driven by wasteful government spending. So when a recession strikes the deficit spikes, and people complain. The smart thing for a politician to do under the circumstances is ignore the voters, do what you can to fix the economy, and recognize that in the end the economy drives public opinion.

Tim goes on to explain this by saying that left-leaning economists have tried to portray economic policy as beyond the mental reach of the public.

FLG has been reading Matt for a long time now, and he chalks this quote up to a combination of Matt's a liberal, which means he has short time horizons, he's also assuming that everybody else is like him on this score, suffering from The Big Assumption, and then, to top it off, he's drowning in the worst type of liberal condescension. The exact type from which stereotypes are made.

Oh, sure. He'll point to poll data that supports the hazy, inaccurate, and fallacious analogies. But to tell you the truth, while FLG believes much of that can be explained, as he has said before, by people having infinite wants and little conception that even the government has finite resources. But to tell you the complete truth, whether the people are 100% correct or whether their analogies are 100% accurate isn't really relevant.

Matt is trying the divide, which is uncomfortable for him, between his time horizons and the relatively longer time horizons of the American people.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Big East Champion

UConn Huskies.

FLG loves the sound of it.

But wait. FLG. Aren't. You? A Hoya.

Yes, yes, he is.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

FLG Knows, FLG Knows

...sure, everybody makes mistakes, but it's only news when Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann say astonishingly stupid shit because they're conservatives.

It's not because they're a little soft in the facts and information department. Never. Not them. It's a liberal media/misogyny/lizard aliens conspiracy.

Oh, and FLG knows, Joe Biden is a dumbshit too. He most certainly is, but two dumbshits, or in this case three, don't make a genius.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Question FLG's Asked Himself Many Times

For those of you who don't live in the DC area, there's a mall called Georgetown Park Mall that's unsurprisingly located in Georgetown. It's got a pretty prime location, running an entire block from Wisconsin and M street, arguably the heart of Georgetown.

Now, the stores that open directly to M street are busy, but the interior of the mall is almost always deserted. Even during Christmas it's pretty dead. Consequently, FLG always asks himself "How the heck do the stores not directly on M Street stay in business?"

So, FLG thinks that putting in a Target or SoHo actually does make sense.

Another interesting note...well, interesting to FLG at least. Is that the ownership of the property is in dispute between Herbert S. Miller and Anthony Lanier. Why is that interesting? Because FLG has a long-standing, personal beef with Herb Miller, such that FLG shakes his fist angrily every time he passes Miller's Georgetown house. But it's not enough to make FLG's list of nemeses or anything.

A Conversation

FLG: What do you think his problem is?

Classmate #1: No idea.

Classmate #2: It's that Yale thing.

FLG: No, you don't mean THAT Yale thing.

Classmate #2: Oh, I mean THAT Yale thing.

Classmate #1: What Yale thing?

FLG: Oh, come on. I thought everybody knew about That Yale Thing.

Time Horizons; Democracy Edition

Raghu Rajan argues that democracies are particularly vulnerable to pursuing policies that create and exacerbate moral hazard.

Put simply, in times of crisis, the public focuses on fixing the problem at hand at the cost of creating long-term problems.

Morever, the public does not have a long memory, a long time horizon, or an appetite for detail.

Correspondence

To respond to a couple of email inquiries.

No, FLG has not been on a Charlie Sheen-eque bender. He's just been busy.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Correspondence

A clarification:
At the risk of involving myself in some sort of fight that I don't know anything about, my original blog was "Heretical Ideas", which started in October, 2001 and ran through the summer of 2010. I'm simply going with a little brand continuity....

Fat Tuesday!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Infomation Overload

A while back, FLG posted his crappy research paper in which he wrote:
Communication technology has become more powerful, but its increasing power is almost indirectly proportional to its conduciveness to contemplation

So, he read this article in Newsweek about the link between information technology and decision-making with some interest. Trouble is, this is more than a wee bit overstated:
Maybe you consulted scores of travel websites to pick a vacation spot—only to be so overwhelmed with information that you opted for a staycation. Maybe you were this close to choosing a college, when suddenly older friends swamped your inbox with all the reasons to go somewhere else—which made you completely forget why you’d chosen the other school. Maybe you had the Date From Hell after being so inundated with information on “matches” that you chose at random. If so, then you are a victim of info-paralysis.

Who seriously gets so overwhelmed looking at vacation information that they end up staying home?

Perhaps FLG is abnormally comfortable making decisions in the face of ambiguity. Once he has a few data points, he's fine moving forward and has little regret even if subsequent information reveals the decision was suboptimal. And just to be clear, FLG doesn't feel like he's rushing. He just thinks that the law of diminishing returns kicks in really quickly with information. For every decision, there really are 2-3 key metrics. Once you have a good sense of those everything else is pretty much noise.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

FLG Still A Motherfucking Genius

Look, FLG has been talking about this time horizons thing for a long while now. As sort of corollary to that, you'll no doubt remember, is the theory versus empirical divide. Well, the other day, Christina Romer had a column in the NYTimes:
The real division is not about the acceptable level of inflation, but about its causes, and the dispute is limiting the Fed’s aid to the economic recovery. The debate is between what I would describe as empiricists and theorists.

[...]

The fight over quantitative easing is about the costs. The empiricists say the policy won’t cause inflation because the economy remains so weak. The theorists argue that a small gain in growth could come at the price of a rapid rise in inflation. Although the Survey of Professional Forecasters, conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, shows virtually no change in long-run inflation expectations since the start of the program, the theorists hold fast to their concerns.

Perverse Incentives

Reihan writes:
So what do we make of the thesis that organized labor's power and influence is a critical resource for all working class individuals in a given society, rather than for those affiliated with organized labor? I'd suggest that we can't really draw any final conclusions, but that the evidence looks somewhat less strong in light of the Canadian example.

Moreover, there is another way to look at pro-regulation activism on the part of organized labor. Just as firms like Wal-Mart are less inclined to resist increases in the minimum wage than small firms, organized labor has a keen interest in raising rivals' costs. By mandating family leave, etc., for all firms, unionized firms insulate themselves from firms that would otherwise undercut them with more flexible practices.

This is something that FLG has always found rather interesting. All things being equal, union shops are going to have higher labor costs than non-union shops. To the extent that unions want to mitigate that differential, and, if FLG is being charitable, unions probably believe all workers should have the same rights and privileges as they do, then they'll agitate for getting their benefits not just in contract with employers, but also enshrined into law. That way, everybody has the benefits and there's no cost differential between union and non-union firms.

The thing that FLG finds interesting is that the more successful unions are at this strategy, the less unions are needed. If the protections are regulatory or legal rather then what's the point of paying dues?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pirate Ship Bedroom

Both Mrs. P and Arethusa sent along a link to this pirate ship bedroom as an idea for Miss FLG. Fuck that noise. You're looking at FLG's plan for the next master suite.

Just a wee bit of booze and a carefully worded contract ought to seal the deal with Mrs. FLG.

Friday, March 4, 2011

FLG Feels Ripped Off

FLG just noticed that one of the associated blogs over at LOG is called A Practical Heretic. Let's get something straight, FLG was the original blogging heretic and don't you forget it.

Do you think the League would give FLG a sub-blog over there on which they'd let him talk shit about pretty much every word written on the main blog? Oh, wait. He'd have nothing left to blog about over here.

MBA Writing Skills

As FLG mentioned not to long ago, or maybe he didn't but thought he did, employers are complaining about the writing skills of MBAs.

FLG doesn't doubt that MBAs are terrible writers. Written business communication is consistently awful. Exacerbating the problems is that top MBA schools select largely based upon quantitative skills.

Given that he has a blog, FLG writes more than most people. Moreover, the craft of writing is important and interesting to him. So, he doesn't expect people to pay as much attention to the written word as he does, but jeez. His MBA classmates are pretty bad. Oddly though, the military people are all pretty good considering how bad the Death by Powerpoint problem is in DoD.

I contend that students don’t need more writing courses, they need writing skills to have a more prominent role in the qualitative courses that they already take.

FLG actually laughed out loud when he read that. Last semester, FLG called his professor asking about his grade. It wasn't bad; he just wanted to know what the top students did differently from FLG.

"More analysis," came the answer.

"More analysis? To be entirely honest, I didn't think I had that much descriptive filler."

"By analysis, for example, I mean more charts and graphs."

"Huh? So...um...uh...just to be clear...you're saying that my grade would've been better if, instead of explaining in words, I'd included more pictures?"

Hip Hop Feuds

FLG was thinking today, not sure why, about hip hop feuds, and that led him to trying to think of the best hip hop feud dis tracks. Here are FLG's Top 3:
3) Canibus - 2nd Round Knockout
2) Ice Cube - No Vaseline
1) Nas - Ether


BTW, none are safe for work. But then again almost nothing on this blog is work safe.

This Just In!

Ezra Klein and Jason Kuznicki have discovered that, despite the existence of finite resources, people have infinite wants. Thus, their responses to poll questions about policy priorities are oftentimes incoherent.

Stay tuned for other news throughout the day. FLG has heard rumors that we are on the verge of other major breakthroughs in human knowledge. A scientist in Italy may have proven that the sky is blue. One from Hawaii may announce that water is wet. And the Vatican may finally end years of speculation and declare that the pope is, in fact, Catholic.

Topics FLG Hasn't Blogged About Before Day Whatever

FLG doesn't think he's ever mentioned beyond a few random comments that he likes cigars. He had his first cigar, real cigar, back in high school. FLG was at a friend's home before a prom. The friend's parents owned a successful import-export company. The father ushered us into his library, opened up a cabinet humidor, and pulled out a box of Cohiba Robustos. The ones from Cuba, not the Dominican Republic. Anyway, it was a fantastic cigar and Cohiba Robusto is still, to this day, FLG's favorite cigar hands down.

This left FLG with two problems over the following 10-15 years. First, premium cigars are kind of expensive. Second, the one cigar he knew he liked was illegal. So, FLG would smoke Cohibas when he was overseas, and would smoke cigars from time-to-time when a friend had them, hoping he'd find another one he liked.

This brings us to last summer. The FLGs went overseas. FLG smoked a Cohiba and decided that when he got back he'd buy a humidor and figure out what cigars he liked that he could buy in the States. He did, but it was towards the end of the summer and FLG only smokes outside. So, he didn't get many cigars in. Not that FLG smokes that many anyway. At most he wants to smoke one or two a week. Smoking a cigar outside is a big time commitment.

Since it's been, you know, winter here and everything and given that FLG smokes outside he didn't smoke a cigar for months. A couple of weeks ago, it was nice weather. FLG went out with a glass of red wine and a cigar. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, he went out last week when it was too cold, he got uncomfortable, rushed his cigar because he didn't just want to end it, and got sick. Dumbass.

Speaking of red wine though, FLG kinda sees cigars like that. Red wine or a cigar both have a wide range, they can either be fantastic or utterly unpalatable. Likewise, they both bring out unbelievable levels of pretentious faux sophistication. As part of his research to find cigars that he likes and are legal to buy, FLG began looking at cigar reviews and discovered that the interwebs is filled with video reviews of cigars. Almost all of them are dripping with the pretentious faux sophistication FLG just mentioned. FLG actually found that the old-timers have little patience with this stuff. FLG has seen a bunch of videos where they say almost the same thing "Cigars don't taste like pepper, leather, caramel, or cinnamon. They taste like cigars and they are either good or bad." Which FLG is a sentiment that FLG is very sympathetic. But on the other hand, cigars do offer a wide range of experiences and it can be useful to have some sort of explanation about what that experience is like.

Which leads FLG to Cigar Obsession. Good site. He describes the cigars without seeming pretentious. Explains that he has a certain type of taste he likes. All well and good. Until today. Today, he reviewed a Tom Tom GPS device. This type of stuff bugs FLG. Review cigars? Ok. Humidors? Fine. Humidification systems for humidors? No problem. Cigar cutters? FLG is with you. GPS devices? Uh, no. Might as well be reviewing corsets or fast food restaurants.

To be honest, FLG is going to overlook this minor sellout because he likes the reviews over at Cigar Obsession, but this is the thing; even though Fear and Loathing in Georgetown is either "the most influential blog you've never heard of" or "the least influential blog you've ever heard of" he must've got on a email list somehow because he gets press releases and propositions to pimp random products all the time. He ignores them. It's all too shady for him. Maybe if he were trying to make a go of blogging full-time, he'd change his mind. He cannot say for sure.

What FLG? You, the guy who swears worse than a sailor and has an object sex category, have some sort of blogging code of ethics? Yes, yes FLG does. This doesn't mean he thinks people who review products are evil or anything, but he is a bit suspect. But FLG, it seems like the Cigar Obsession guy gets most of his cigars sent to him for free to review, what's the difference? The difference is the relevance. Look, reviewers get free stuff and loaners to review. That's fine. We all can't be like Consumer Reports. If you are reviewing cigars, then accepting things related to cigars to review is fine with FLG. If your reviews begin to suffer or become tainted, then your reputation as a reviewer will dwindle. It's when bloggers shift into reviewing absolutely anything that comes their way that bugs FLG because he begins to question their judgment.

Protestant Nation

Riffing off of something Withywindle wrote:
This whole 1950s idealization relates to marriage, and I recollect that Puritan New England had one of the highest rates of marriage recorded for any society, anywhere--a figure somewhere above 95% comes to mind, possibly close to 99%. It's possible that the idealization of marriage in America is, among other things, an inheritance from the Puritan past.

Despite saying he'd blog about new things, FLG has decided to take this opportunity to repeat his assertion that the United States is not a Christian nation, but specifically a Protestant nation. By which he means that the assumptions of Protestant Christianity run deep in our culture, society, and laws.

FLG repeats himself, but Luther needed to find a new structure around which he could organize his new church. He was suspicious of the central authority of the Roman hierarchy, and instead choose to decentralize and base the church on the smallest unit of organization -- the family. This idea, the idea that we should base our policies around families, as opposed to something like the Estates-General, is deeply rooted in many of the Anglo-Saxon nations, but especially in the United States, where our particular history, particularly the self-selection of people who would cross an ocean and risk it all, including and especially the Puritans, further emphasized the idea that a well-ordered society is based upon the family.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

FLG Knows He Said

...that he'd try to post about topics he'd never written about before, but he'd just like to point out a little thing you might have noticed him reference before that appear prominently in in this Ross Douthat column -- TIME HORIZONS!

Random Selections

Nadezhda pointed FLG to this post, from which FLG has selected several quotations that support his own crackpot theories.

In regards to Felix Salmon's bullshit theory that the IPO is in some sort of terminal and permanent decline:
We have just been through six years when almost any company that could be purchased by private equity and was potentially worth purchasing by private equity has been purchased by private equity. With the exception of about eighteen months, PE firms could issue lots of low yield debt to buy the assets. I am an equity manager - and in searching for good assets private equity firms are my competition. I dislike them for it. (Never have so many Harvard MBAs been concentrated on so many small cap stocks...)

Private equity funds are also the biggest competitors to other private equity funds. All this competition means that private equity shops are doing worse and worse deals. Its got to the point where PE funds buy fake companies (see Carlyle with China Forestry and I suspect others).

In regards to Andrew question about my lack of small cap stock in my 401k:
If you were to buy a diversified pile of American large caps and sit back in a decade you would probably be OK - indeed better than OK. But small caps - the area on which my expertise would normally be most productively targeted - are frighteningly expensive - and the market is riddled with stock-promotes and outright frauds.

Before wrapping up, FLG would like to address a couple of things.

First, FLG is, in general, seriously disappointed by economic and finance bloggers and journalists. Many of them are merely conduits that transcribe so-called experts for the layperson, which is to say they try to be translators, which so far as that goes they're okay, FLG guesses. Where they get into big trouble is when they are providing the analysis and opinion, you know, the supposedly value added stuff. There they are often way out of their element. Seriously, do these people actually know anything about the topics they are reporting upon or they just winging it?

That brings FLG to Salmon. According to wikipedia, he worked for Nouriel Roubini and won an award for "insightful use of statistics as a tool to understanding the world of business and economics." Which all kind of makes sense to FLG. Salmon is good at finding and presenting data in statistical format. It's his analysis of that data that's so often off, at least in FLG's opinion. But then, if he worked for Dr. Doom, then maybe that makes sense as well. Although, FLG doesn't find Roubini's analysis anywhere near as lamentable as Salmon's. Maybe Roubini is simply smarter.

FLG thinks that he could do a far better job of providing analysis than the vast majority of economic and especially financial reporters, if he does say so himself, including Salmon. There are so few that even come to mind who have any sort of thorough understanding of finance. FLG has to read bloggers in the industry or academic professors to get any sort of useful analysis. It's pretty sad.

Oh, and the people who work in finance, often seem to have questionable ideas about macrolevel economic policy questions. So, they ain't perfect either.

Oh, but just to clarify, FLG thinks he could do a better job, but there's a major problem. He's far too lazy. That's why he's a shit employee, student, blogger, and would be, in reality, a shit economic or financial journalist. Which means he really couldn't do a better job.

Second, in regards to the quotation that indicates American large caps will outperform other investments over the next decade or so. This seems to validate FLG's focus on large caps, although he actually tries to spread it around the world so in truth is probably underweight American large caps in comparison to many other Americans who like all investors seem to have a Home Bias, but in reality this is more along the even a broken clock is right twice a day thing. Not some sort of financial savvy on FLG's part.
 
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