Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GOP Fuck Up

FLG was reading Eugene Robinson today. FLG knows where Eugene Robinson stands, so he takes this all with a grain of salt, but he is concerned.

Sarah Palin needs to stop pretending to run for president. She ain't gonna win. Or more precisely, if she wins the nomination, then the GOP throws FLG's currently anti-Obama vote back to Obama.

FLG needs to look into this more:
[Pawlenty] charged, for example, that Obama has been too timid in committing U.S. forces to military action in Libya.

Because if that's the case, then there's another person who just lost FLG's vote. That sentiment is either grandstanding by calling Obama soft or the product of idiotic national security thinking. The correct answer is that the US doesn't have any strategic interests in Libya and it has always been the Europeans who are and should be driving this.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, pretty much confirmed that she’s about to declare her candidacy.

Yawn.

Newt Gingrich is still in the race

For fuck's sake, why?

This bleak panorama boosts the chances of Mitt Romney, who has to be considered the clear front-runner.

In the past, FLG has called Romney the Plastic Presidential Superhero. He's just a little too polished and he clearly wants the job too bad. Not that they all aren't egomaniac crazy people. In any case, right now, FLG is in the Romney camp. He's the only one who FLG thinks can beat Obama.

BTW, Romney seems to fly in the face of FLG's theory that ambitious and successful politicians have daddy issues, which usually include either absenteeism or abuse. Apparently, Romney idolized his father.

Stream of Consciousness Thoughts On Cabinet Secretaries

Withywindle writes:
what the heck is it that our Cabinet heads do? And why do politicians want to become Cabinet heads, since you never get to be President? What is the satisfaction that Kathleen Sibelius (say) gets out of leaving the Kansas governor's mansion to become head of the HHS? I presume it's rational, but it's a bit opaque from my perch outside the Beltway.

FLG has been pondering this. There's two ways of thinking about this. First, there's the good intentions motivations. For example, Sibelius believes she could do more good for more people by being a cabinet head than governor of a relatively small state. (Which if true, and FLG thinks perhaps likely, then it just goes to show the extent to which power has shifted from states to Washington when overseeing a small portion of the federal bureaucracy is perceived as more important than being governor.) Likewise, there's the "I have a patriotic duty to serve when the President asks."

Second, there are the selfish or self-oriented rationales. The most obvious rationale, at least in FLG's opinion, is that a politician was going to lose their next election or they hit a term limit. In that case, it might be better to spend a couple of years as a cabinet head while trying to figure out the next move. Maybe they are looking to get out of politics, and think that becoming a cabinet head is more like figurehead, which it certainly can be if the occupier would like it to be, and will take it relatively easy for two or three years before retiring. But that's not terribly compelling. Why not just retire? Perhaps governors from small states believe that being in Washington gives them more access to the inside the beltway crowd, so as to position them better for higher office. FLG doesn't think this makes sense though. Governors, in general, get plenty of access if they need it. At least FLG would imagine. Moreover, governors seem to have the inside lane when it comes to presidential runs anyway. Lastly, there's the become a cabinet head to fill-in some resume hole. For example, in preparation for a presidential run, a Senator might want to become a cabinet head to temper accusations that they've never run anything or a governor might want to try to strengthen some topical or subject matter weakness. Of the two, FLG thinks the senator wanting executive experience makes some sense. A senator who served on some relevant committee becoming cabinet head is entirely understandable. They have some subject matter expertise, hopefully, and are probably passionate about the issue. Taking a cabinet job just makes sense. The governor story is less plausible. Usually, as FLG mentioned just a sentence or two before, becoming cabinet head means some knowledge of the topic. One doesn't usually have the opportunity to overcome a major weakness in foreign affairs by become Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. A governor might be able to weasel their way into becoming Secretary of the Interior or something, but that'll mean bupkis in a presidential run.

So, in conclusion, FLG thinks most self-interested reasons don't make sense. Some stupid self-interested people might try to leverage a cabinet position toward higher office, but it doesn't make much sense. The only reason FLG can see is if the person really cares about the relevant issue. Or maybe to buy some time for planning if the person's future political path is uncertain.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is Political Science Actually Science?

PM, over at The Duck, objects to Tom Coburn's desire stop the National Science Foundation from funding projects in the disciplines of "business administration, economics, geography, political science, sociology, international relations, and communication" on the grounds that they aren't, well, science. PM raises some good points, then acknowledges that Coburn's position is probably closer to the average Joe's.

FLG had a couple half-formed thoughts on this.

First, FLG's visceral hatred for Auguste Comte combined with a deep skepticism of empiricism makes it difficult for him to call anything other than physical science by the name science. Don't get FLG wrong. FLG majored in economics and took several PhD-level political science courses just for the hell of it, including a comparative one with all kinds of regressions, so don't think he doesn't understand empiricism. What he worries about is that we can't measure, at least very easily, what is meaningful to people. Instead, we measure what's easy, or at least relatively easier, to measure. And then since social scientists base there experiments and projects around these, non or less meaningful metrics, their research is concomitantly less meaningful.

Second, FLG generally generally objects to government funding of research anyway. He can get behind an argument that pure science, without any foreseeable near or medium run technological application, might benefit from some government funding. Medical research, a la NIH, is hard to argue with. But social science? Nah, not so much. Not that people shouldn't engage in it, but we don't necessarily need public funds to support it. Although, to be honest, we don't really need public funds to do any of it. The medical research, all things considered, FLG really can't argue to defund. (But that's primarily based upon a variety of normative assumptions that FLG thinks we all, or at least the vast, vast majority of us, hold; namely, that, in general, it is better to healthy than ill and be alive than dead.) But social science? It's a kind of science, insofar as it poses hypotheses and tests them, but it's nowhere near as objective as natural and physical sciences.

On The Lost Finale

Both Jacob T. Levy and Anti-Climacus have tried to forget the Lost finale ever happened.

FLG has gone one step further. He has vowed never to knowingly watch any television show, movie, summer stock, you name it with which J.J. Abrams is affiliated even the slightest.

Again, all the Lost finale had to do was explain that the island existed as a bet between Jacob and the Man in Black regarding human nature. The Man in Black believed that all men were corrupt and evil at the core, Jacob was trying to disprove that. They wouldn't have even had to explain every detail of all the supernatural stuff. Just explain why the island existed and that the people's experiences there matter. End of story.

Anyway, apparently, this isn't the first time J.J. Abrams couldn't close the deal, nor will it be the last. In that way he's a lot like a stripper who is very good at getting clients into the champagne room. A lot of anticipation. No payoff.

So, fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice...

Memorial Day

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blow-up Burglar

Telegraph:
A burglar who has twice broken into an adult shop to have sex with blow-up dolls is being sought by police.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Correspondence

William Brafford writes:
Here's some ammo for your war against Maryland drivers.

Only Hawaii and DC drivers are worse at knowing traffic rules.

BTW, sure, District drivers are pretty bad too, but nowhere near as bad as Maryland drivers. FLG thinks the District's low score was because the poor illiterate bastards couldn't read the damn questions. But they can still drive. There's no way they suck at driving more than people with Maryland tags. No way, Jose.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Subjunctive

Every once and a while, FLG is astonished by well-educated people who don't use the subjunctive mood when expressing a possibility or action that hasn't yet occurred in the dependent clause.

That description is far more formal than what normally goes through FLG's head, which is something like this:
FLG: Why'd they write "was" there? It should be "were."

FLG: Why "were?"

FLG: It sounds better. "Was" sounds wrong.

Not Object Sex, But Still Weird

Smoking Gun:
a Florida man was arrested last Thursday by the FBI after he allegedly “masturbated to the point of ejaculation” while traveling on a United Airlines flight en route to Colorado.

Money quote:
[He] got some on the seat

Say it with me...ewwww!

Quote of the day

Heard on the street in Georgetown:
This project has been running longer than The Mousetrap.

FLG guffawed.

Chesterton and Burke

Isabel Archer tries to draw a distinction between Chesterton and Burke. FLG hasn't read Chesterton, but notes this passage:
The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

Isabel then writes:
the long Chesterton quote did make me think of countless arguments that I've gotten into with Burkean conservatives on gay marriage. There, they usually seem to be arguing that even if I think I understand the general history of marriage as an institution -- how it arose, what purposes it was supposed to serve, and what purposes may no longer be served, I can't possibly. It is just too darn hard. And we are all supposed to sort of sit back and let organic historical forces take their courses, which I imagine functioning sort of like tidal waves or hurricanes. Except that that has never seemed to me to be quite right, because historical forces are nothing more than the aggregate of millions of individual decisions, which are volitional acts. And one does have control over one's volitional acts -- one tiny particle of the hurricane -- even if no one does not have control of the entire hurricane.

While FLG may not have read Chesterton, he has read Burke.

Many people, even some so-called Burkean conservatives, think Burke basically just means this:
A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views.

But that's not the whole story.

He also wrote:
A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.

And:
Your constitution, it is true, whilst you were out of possession, suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls and in all the foundations of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. Your constitution was suspended before it was perfected, but you had the elements of a constitution very nearly as good as could be wished. In your old states you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination and all that opposition of interests; you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe. These opposed and conflicting interests which you considered as so great a blemish in your old and in our present constitution interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions. They render deliberation a matter, not of choice, but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation; they produce temperaments preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations, and rendering all the headlong exertions of arbitrary power, in the few or in the many, for ever impracticable.

FLG's emphasis, obviously. So, Burke clearly thought of change as happening through the dialectic of opposing of interests. Thus, FLG doesn't think that Chesterton is a soft Burkean, but rather a Burkean. At least the quotation cited seems to imply. Both seek, it seems to FLG, to "render deliberation a matter, not of choice, but of necessity."

Whether the actual Burkean conservatives she is arguing with are indeed Burkean, well, that's another question entirely.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Risk Taking And Party Affliation

Matt Yglesias links to a paper that examined brain functions during risk taking and correlated it with political party affiliation:
Amygdala activations, associated with externally directed reactions to risk, are stronger in Republicans, while insula activations, associated with internally directed reactions to affective perceptions, are stronger in Democrats. These results suggest an internal vs. external difference in evaluative process that illuminates and resolves a discrepancy in the existing literature.

FLG isn't quite sure yet how this jibes with his Time Horizons Theory (C), but this passage catch his eye because he thinks it explains the paper better than the excerpt above:
Thus, it appears in our experiment that Republican participants, when making a risky choice, are predominantly externally oriented, reacting to the fear-related processes with a tangible potential external consequence. In comparison, risky decisions made by Democratic participants appear to be associated with monitoring how the selection of a risky response might feel internally.

A Conversation

Miss FLG comes running into the room.

Miss FLG: Daddy, Daddy! Look at me! I'm a pirate!

FLG: That's great, sweetie!

Miss FLG: Arrr, lady!

FLG: What did you just say?

Miss FLG: I'm a pirate! Arrr, lady!

FLG: Matey! Arrr, Matey!

Miss FLG: Arrr, lady!

FLG: Matey!

Miss FLG: I go tell Mommy I'm a pirate.

FLG yelling after her: Remember, Arrr, Matey!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stock Valuation

Every time FLG has had to value a stock for some sort of class project, he's always come away from the exercise with a renewed amount of skepticism about the entire endeavor. FLG's attempts are always founded upon a variety of WAGS. Consequently, he fears that the professionals are merely producing SWAGs.

FLG does know some equity analysts. They do have insight into various industries. So, maybe it's not entirely SWAGs. But on the other hand they also tend to latch onto the one or two metrics for that industry and fall into the industry groupthink, which is another problem.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

FLG Trifecta

FLG saw these Pirate's Gold cigars on an auction site, and decided he could not not buy 20 of them for less than $20.

So, there you have two things FLG likes -- pirates and cigars. What's the third, you ask? Well, you can't see it from the pictures on the web, but the label has six coins, three on each side of the pirate image. One immediately caught FLG's eye. It's a profile of a man with a ringlets of hair and horns. Horns? Yes, horns. As in this cigar combined pirates AND a Zeus Ammon depiction of Alexander the Great.

Friday, May 20, 2011

If Any Of You Ever Hear

...of a serial killer who pulls people off their bicycles and beats them to death with his bare hands for riding like fucking assholes and then have the audacity to yell at people driving cars in the greater DC area, then you shouldn't think FLG was the prime suspect. No, never FLG.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

FLG's Academic Navel Gazing

FLG isn't a great student. He thinks he's smart enough. Not that he's the smartest person in any room, but possess the raw intellectual horsepower necessary for even demanding fields. Why then is he a poor student?

First, and most obviously, it's not just about smarts. Being talented in one area may reduce the amount of effort one has to put in, but,= in general to be great at something you have to be talented and put in a lot of effort. FLG, unfortunately, is lazy.

Second, he's also easily distracted.

Third, in some sick sort of rationalization, he dismisses things he isn't particularly interested in as irrelevant. (However, FLG would like to submit that most of the time he's correct on this. There are people who mull over all sorts of irrelevant things. Then again, it could be the rationalization talking.)

This translates into lackluster grades in all but subjects of the utmost interest to FLG. Unfortunately, FLG is far too old to change any of this now. Not that any of this is important anyway.

Quote of the day

Via Lexington:
There will almost surely be a surplus of college graduates on the market for at least the next decade. Such a glut will have serious effects on the economy, on national policy and on the future of higher education ... Harvard economist Richard Freeman and MIT professor J. Herbert Hollomon have been studying the college market for the past several years. "We have arrived at a point where a growing number of people may be destined to remain unemployed - or, by implication, over-educated," they conclude. In the long run, this may mean "the virtual end of education as a means of upward mobility in society." For the first time in American history, they warn, large numbers of young people may deliberately choose to become less well educated than their parents.

On Government Being Like The Marines

FLG often says that government is like the Marines. If you want something specific, concrete done in a specified period of time that doesn't require lots of new innovation, but does require the marshaling and coordination of lots of resources with little concern about cost, then government might just be the answer. That's when FLG usually turns to wars, disaster relief, and the moon shot as great examples.

Today, Lexington writes:
Kennedy was not especially interested in space, and said as much in private. But after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit he believed it to be vital for America to take on and beat the Soviets at something very hard. The moon fitted this need like a glove. Planting a man on its surface required no big technological innovations, says Mr Logsdon, “just very expensive mastery over nature using the scientific and technological knowledge available in 1961”.

He then continues:
The Apollo programme, which was summoned into being in order to demonstrate the superiority of the free-market system, succeeded by mobilising vast public resources within a centralised bureaucracy under government direction. In other words, it mimicked aspects of the very command economy it was designed to repudiate.

[...]

That may be why subsequent efforts to transfer the same fixity of purpose to broader spheres of peacetime endeavour have fallen short. If we can send a man to the moon, people ask, why can’t we [fill in the blank]? Lyndon Johnson tried to build a “great society”, but America is better at aeronautical engineering than social engineering. Mr Obama, pointing to competition from China, invokes a new “Sputnik moment” to justify bigger public investment in technology and infrastructure. It should not be a surprise that his appeals have gone unheeded. Putting a man on the moon was a brilliant achievement. But in some ways it was peculiarly un-American

Project like the Great Society aren't clear and concrete goals, nor are they of limited duration. Put simply, if you told the Marines, "Here, we're going to give you a massive amount of money, go to Mars in the next ten years," then most of us can see a squad of Space Marines traipsing about on the red planet pretty easily. On the other hand, tell them to fix American society, and FLG thinks he wouldn't be alone in laughing at the absurdity of the idea.

Amy Chua And Book VIII Revisited

Amber and MSI already commented on this article, but if you strip aside the frustration of not getting laid part, FLG thinks there's still something to his theory that problem (or not-problem, depending on your perspective) of the Asian child-rearing strategy is that it is about "creating an artificial micro-polis of intense necessity to pass on the virtues of Oligarchy amidst a Democracy."

Those Oligarchic virtues work well within the household and formal academic environment. They might even work well within the lower ranks of the corporate environment, but eventually the strategy fails because we don't live in a Oligarchy or Timocracy*. We live in a Democracy.

The key passage in the article for FLG was this one:
For the intonation exercise, students repeat the phrase “I do what I want” with a variety of different moods.

“Say it like you’re happy!” Jones shouts. (“I do what I want.”) Say it like you’re sad! (“I do what I want.” The intonation utterly unchanged.) Like you’re sad! (“I … do what I want.”) Say it like you’ve just won $5 million! (“I do what I want.”)

If that's not somebody trying to train people in being Democrats*, then FLG doesn't know what is.

More fascinating, perhaps, is this passage:
Rather than strive to make himself acceptable to the world, Huang has chosen to buy his way back in, on his own terms. “What I’ve learned is that America is about money, and if you can make your culture commodifiable, then you’re relevant,” he says. “I don’t believe anybody agrees with what I say or supports what I do because they truly want to love Asian people. They like my fucking pork buns, and I don’t get it twisted.”

Here, you'd think that Huang is arguing that America is a Oligarchy, what with the comment that "American is about money." But the answer here is a bit more complicated than that. Huang quit being a lawyer to open a restaurant, "precisely the fate his parents wanted their son to avoid." So, he rejected the expectations of those whom FLG would assume matter to Huang most, his parents. Consequently, this is more Democratic than Oligarchic. But then he also, in some sense, is trying to conform to what he perceives as society's expectations of him and is focusing on money. So, there's still that lingering Timocratic/Oligarchic soul. Very interesting.

Finally, here's the author of the article:
Unlike Mao, I was not a poor, first-­generation immigrant. I finished school alienated both from Asian culture (which, in my hometown, was barely visible) and the manners and mores of my white peers. But like Mao, I wanted to be an individual. I had refused both cultures as an act of self-­assertion.

Say it with me, DEMOCRATIC.

-----

Again, in the Platonic sense.

A Couple Of Related Thoughts

Most of you will know that FLG has been ardently anti-Twitter for as long as Twitter has been around. Well, yesterday, Bill Keller wrote:
Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from . . . from . . . wait, what was I saying?

My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect.

On the other hand, FLG doesn't agree with this:
I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, and I don’t think I’m a Luddite. I edit a newspaper that has embraced new media with creative, prizewinning gusto. I get that the Web reaches and engages a vast, global audience, that it invites participation and facilitates — up to a point — newsgathering.

FLG thinks the Web facilitates newgathering immensely. And in particular, as much as FLG hates to admit it, Twitter probably facilitates it most. Or rather will facilitate it most.

Look, being an economics major, FLG is the last person to think that information can be easily gathered, ordered, prioritized, and analyzed. Instead of doing that, at least in free markets, we rely upon countless people making countless decisions with their countless little bits of information, which is then consolidated into a tremendously powerful metric known as price.

Why should economic information be any different than other information? If we consider that consequential knowledge is extremely diffuse in nature, then price mechanisms and many-to-many technologies, like Twitter, are the best ways to gather information. (See OBL death story.) FLG just doesn't think anybody has found a way to aggregate Twitter data into a price mechanism though.

On the other hand, as somebody superawesome wrote over a year ago:
Communication technology has become more powerful, but its increasing power is almost indirectly proportional to its conduciveness to contemplation. Although blogs are not limited technologically to short length, unlike Twitter or text messages, both Crystal and Sullivan use words like ‘ephemeral’ and ‘impermanent’ to describe the content distributed via these new communication media. The speed and volume of communication renders each individual message correspondingly less meaningful. The communication provided by these technologies is therefore less conducive to contemplation and leisure than printed books. Indeed, it is comical to think of a scholar putting down his books to retire in contemplation with his cell phone or Twitter account.

Postman articulates the fundamental problem technology presents:
Technology increases the available supply of information. As the supply is increased, control mechanisms are strained. Additional control mechanisms are needed to cope with new information. When additional control mechanisms are themselves technical, they in turn further increase the supply of information. When the supply of information is no longer controllable, a general breakdown in psychic tranquility and social purpose occurs. Without defenses, people have no way of finding meaning in their experiences, lose their capacity to remember, and have difficult imagining reasonable futures.

Communication technology deluges individuals with information and data. Each technological development increases the amount and speed of data and information, but also provides less context for how that data relates to human beings. Moreover, the flood of information dehumanizes communication. People interact more with a disembodied and seemingly never-ending queue of tasks represented by their email inbox, Blackberry, or voicemail, and with less of a sense that people are sending them those messages.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Intelligibility

FLG stumbled upon this video of an interview of Hayek by Bork and noticed a couple of noteworthy things. First, there's the somewhat anachronistic line of questioning by Bork about how intellectuals, including academic economists, are reflexively pro-regulation. Second, Hayek's response, which is fascinating to FLG, at least in light of FLG's Time Horizons Theory(TM) and the corollary about empiricism.

Hayek says:
The resistance against being guided by something that is unintelligible to them is, I think, quite understandable in an intellectual. Go back to the origin of it all. Descartes, of course, explicitly argued that we should not believe anything that we did not understand. But his followers immediately applied it that we should not accept any rules which we did not understand. And the intellectual has a very strong feeling that what is not comprehensible must be nonsense. And to him the rules that he is required to obey are unintelligible, and therefore nonsense. He defines rational almost as intelligible and anything that is not intelligible to him is automatically irrational and he is opposed to it.


He then continues:
Yes, but that dislike [of free markets thinking by intellectuals], I think, is due to it being unintelligible to them. They want to make it intelligible, translucent to them. Nothing can be good unless it is demonstrated to you that in the particular case it achieves a good object. And that of course is impossible. You can only understand the structure as the principle of it, but you couldn't possibly demonstrate that in the particular event, the particular change has a purpose because it is always connected with the system as a whole. You can only understand in principle, but not in detail. So, I would give them the benefit of the doubt at least. In most instances, it's a deeply ingrained intellectual attitude which forces them to disapprove of something that seems to them unintelligible and to prefer something which is visibly directed towards a good purpose.

Sahara Is Closing

Apparently, The Sahara is closing.

Surprise, surprise, this reminds FLG of a conversation.

FLG and his college buddies are in the Sahara. He's playing $1 blackjack.

FLG's friend: Let's go over to a roulette table.

FLG: Fine. I'm not happy with this even money on blackjack bullshit.

FLG's friend: Alright, let's play some roulette. Wait. On second thought, let's go to another table.

FLG: Why? This one's open and it's just us.

FLG's friend: There's a stain.

FLG: Huh?

FLG's friend: Look. At. The. Table.

FLG: Oh, I see. Yeah, it's a stain. So what?

FLG's friend: Look at it. It's a splotchy, white stain.

FLG: You can't be serious? You think some guy blew his load on a roulette table in the middle of a casino?

FLG's friend: That looks like a cum stain to me.

FLG: Oh, come on...croupier, what's up with the stain?

Croupier: I've been told it's a tonic water stain.

FLG: I thought tonic water takes out stains.

Croupier: I thought that was fishy too.

FLG: Alright, next table.

Croupier whispering: Good choice.

Sex With Cars

Telegraph:
He says that his most intense sexual experience was "making love" to the helicopter from 1980s TV hit Airwolf.

FLG knows what you are thinking...this guy's head would explode if he ever got access to KITT's tailpipe.

Quote of the day

From a post on the reaction by French intellectuals to the DSK affair:
I have always been puzzled by the academic world's reverence for the French intelligentsia. Michel Foucault was a colossal bore—and a bore, moreover, who encouraged the practice of seeing history exclusively in terms of the exploitation of an ever-multiplying band of victims even as living standards rose to unprecedented levels. Louis Althusser was a wife-killing buffoon. Pierre Bourdieu laboured the obvious. Jacques Lacan produced incomprehensible bilge. (France has produced its share of greats, of course, most notably Raymond Aron, but they are routinely ignored).

Yet Foucault et al look like giants compared with the current crop of intellectuals, if the commentary on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair is anything to go by.

Schumpter even addresses the column FLG referred to previously.

DSK Encore Une Fois

So, The Ancient has been posting all sorts of links about the DSK fiasco, but this one took the cake. Luis de Miranda, whom FLG is not familiar with, is arguing that DSK is to be admired as some sort of dialectic between chaos and order, reason and appetites manifested in a man.

Here's the craziest part:
je crois que DSK a deux raisons de se réjouir aujourd’hui, et nous avec lui : la première est que son passage à l’acte du Sofitel est un refus de l’avenir tout tracé que la plupart lui prédisaient. En cela, l’assaut de l’ouvrière de chambre est un geste fou de libération totale, presque une œuvre d’art, en ce que le geste lui permet aussi, au passage, de révéler qu’il n’a jamais été de gauche.

La seconde raison de se réjouir, c’est que ce suicide prouve, in fine, que la raison a triomphé de l’animal. L’étincelle spirituelle qui germe au fond de DSK a voulu nous éviter un président calligulien. Cet événement new-yorkais est un sacrifice, un renoncement à une surpuissance annoncée, un don à l’intérêt général français. En cela, DSK, tu es héroïque.

FLG's attempt at translation:
I believe that DSK has two reasons to be glad today, and us with him: first is that what happened at Sofitel is a rejection of a future many had mapped out for him. In that, the attack on the maid is an insane gesture of total release, almost a work of art, in that the gesture also allows him to reveal that he was never of the left.

The second reason to be delighted, is that this suicide proves, in the end*, that reason triumphed over the animal [within him]. The spiritual spark which germinates at the bottom of DSK wanted to avoid giving us a Calligulian president. This New York event is a sacrifice, a renouncement of an preordained power, a gift in the general interest of France. In that, DSK, you are heroic.


------
* took the liberty of translating the Latin as well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Final Jeopardy

Last night the Final Jeopardy clue was (from FLG's memory):
From the Latin for free this two-word term refers to the old belief of what a free man should be taught

One person got it wrong, which boggled FLG's mind, but even before that he was beside himself with rage at the idea that liberal arts is an old idea. Passe, even.

Quote of the day

Scott Vincent:
As highly-diversified strategies gain assets, inefficiencies become more prevalent because share prices are increasingly driven by factors other than fundamentals. Individual investors, seeking to exploit these inefficiencies and outperform indexes, should invest in several concentrated funds with strong track records. Managers of these funds have proven themselves adept at turning inefficiencies into strong returns for their investors, and persistence data demonstrates that past performance can indicate which managers are likely to continue to outperform. Concentrated fund returns may exhibit more volatility than indexes, but we now have proof that over the long-term, good judgment will be rewarded.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quote of the day

Johnson:
Most professions (including journalism) have insider language that has a social value for its users. Lawyers, consultants, athletes and others are no different. But anyone dealing with the public (especially when giving them bad news like a ground stop) is well advised to put aside the jargon. It makes you look not professional, but aloof and clueless about what your customers are going through.

FLG believes that the social value of jargon is overstated. While some jargon is useful in consolidating a complex idea into a simple shorthand, it is too often a linguistic secret handshake among the initiated, which FLG doesn't think is all that useful except insofar as demonstrating initiate status. That being said, using jargon when communicating with the general public is a terrible idea, for all the reasons Johnson explains.

FLG Likes Raghu Rajan

..., but:
A well-functioning education system is the most effective way to help equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to boost incomes and compete in a globalized economy.

Ugh! FLG's emphasis by the way.

Wait A Second

FLG doesn't know how many of you are watching Game of Thrones on HBO, but he is and there's a spoiler coming up in the post. He has also been reading the books, almost up-to-date.

Anyway, FLG was shocked by Renly and Ser Loras being gay. That's not in the books. Not even hinted at in the books, as far as FLG has read. Given other events, it seems like this would've already been broached in the books if it was.

That's not to say that stuff in the books necessarily precludes a homosexual relationship between Renly and the Knight of Flowers, but where the fuck did this entire idea come from?

FLG is currently listening to



Felt like a little CCR this morning.

DSK

FLG was surprised, but not shocked by the allegations against DSK.

To be completely honest, FLG shouldn't even have been surprised, as this video The Ancient sent along explains (in French):

DSK accusé d'agression sexuelle by Confiteor

Buttonwood made an interesting point about things other than the crime:
Just note that the New York Times states that he was staying in a $3,000 a night suite and was taking a first class flight to Paris. This is the IMF, the body that imposes austerity on indebted countries and is funded by global taxpayers. And this was the likely leading socialist candidate for the French presidency.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MBAs Aren't Good Enough At Math

FLG read this paragraph by Felix Salmon:
Back in 1933, when Ferdinand Pecora uncovered huge scandals on Wall Street, they were easy for all Americans to understand, and easy to protect against. This time around, Wall Street’s activities are incomprehensible not only to the lay person but even to senior bankers: a big part of the reason why the crisis was so big and so bad is precisely that people like Stan O’Neal and Bob Rubin failed at their job of understanding the risks their banks were taking. They were knavishly foolish, but still more fools than knaves — which means that it’s extremely hard to make a strong case in front of a jury that what they did was criminal.

And thought to himself, "I think I wrote something similar earlier." Sure enough, FLG had, and on the exact same topic referring to the exact same issue:
The real problem isn't Li's model, subprime loans, CDOs, or credit default swaps. The real problem is that the MBAs who run the banks don't have enough mathematical education, and may ultimately not be smart enough to understand the nuances and potential dangers posed by complex financial models and products created by the quants in the abstract, and perhaps nobody can know what the possible results will be when those products are shot around the world by automated systems.

Speaking of which, here's a conversation from earlier today:
Mrs. FLG: It'll be good when you're done with the Masters.

FLG: Uh, well, um, I'm toying with the idea of getting another one.

Mrs. FLG: Ugh. I figured something like this was coming. In what exactly?

FLG: Uh, financial mathematics.

Mrs. FLG: Why?

FLG: Well, I really want to understand Itō calculus and Brownian motion.

Mrs. FLG: Why?

FLG: Because I don't now.

Friday, May 13, 2011

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Duck of Minerva:
I do not like [political] theory. They make you read a lot of old and long books. Also, I've heard the professors never give you an A in theory. I'd rather take American Politics.

Random Thoughts

FLG can't believe blogger was down for as long as it was.

FLG has decided that his knowledge of literature is seriously lacking.
He decided this based upon the criteria that he always uses, number of Jeopardy questions to which he responds:
"Who the fuck knows that?"

FLG was a World Market the other day and picked up a bag of potato chips by Zapp's. He was familar with Zapp's from several trips to New Orleans. Anyway, FLG was immediately attracted to the name, VooDoo Gumbo. Say it aloud like you are some sort of VooDoo practioner. It's really fun. Voo-Doo-Gum-Bow. Unfortunately, it seems they've shortened the name to simply "VooDoo," which nowhere near as fun to say.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Clarification

One would probably expect that FLG, as founder and sole known member of the Reihan Salam Anti-saccharine Society, would object to this sentence:
Cheryl Miller of AEI has written a fascinating new report on the limited capacity of ROTC programs in New York city, and she makes the case for expanding and revamping ROTC in keeping with the evolution of the post-secondary student population.

But, quite to the contrary, FLG likes Cheryl and thinks the report is rather good.

A Quick Look Into FLG's Dark, Twisted Mind

FLG came across a couple of articles today during his morning reading.

First, Gail Collins:
Today, let’s take a look at the privatization craze and the conviction that there is nothing about molding young minds that can’t be improved by the profit motive.

Then, there was this article, "Good Intentions Versus Good Policies."

And in both cases, FLG said, outloud mind you, "You were saying something about best intentions. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished? Well, allow me to retort."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grading

Prof Mondo writes:
Also, at least on the undergrad level, I don’t know anyone (regardless of field) who does a true forced curve distribution
.

All of FLG's economics courses were graded thusly:
Final grades will be given on a curve as required by the Georgetown Economics Department. Approximately 25% of the class will receive A/A-, 50% will receive B+/B/B-/C+ and the rest will receive C and lower. The median grade will be a B.

Which isn't a true curve in the sense that C is average, but it sure did put a dent in FLG's GPA.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Globalization Oversold?

FLG has long been saying that when somebody uses "to compete in a global economy" as a justification it's a time for skepticism. Most frequently, FLG questions when pundits and politicians argue in favor of "more math and science education to compete in a global economy," but that's just the most common example.

Anyway, Schumpeter, over at The Economist, had a good article that questions a lot of the common wisdom when it comes to globalization:
Only 2% of students are at universities outside their home countries; and only 3% of people live outside their country of birth. Only 7% of rice is traded across borders. Only 7% of directors of S&P 500 companies are foreigners—and, according to a study a few years ago, less than 1% of all American companies have any foreign operations. Exports are equivalent to only 20% of global GDP. Some of the most vital arteries of globalisation are badly clogged: air travel is restricted by bilateral treaties and ocean shipping is dominated by cartels.

FLG is sympathetic to those who think globalization is changing everything. He was once one of them. He didn't study International Economics at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service because he thought globalization was a bunch of baloney. But what he came away from that training with was a much more grounded and nuanced view of what globalization means and what is actually happening. So, he is happy to see somebody giving a good, thorough look at the common wisdom.

That being said, Schumpeter's analysis or perhaps more to the point Pankaj Ghemawat's, to whom Schumpeter is referring, is missing something critical. People don't have to cross borders for there to be cross-border effects.

For example, one key insight of the Heckscher-Ohlin model is the factor price equalization theorem. Factor price equalization is what it sounds like. If two countries trade in goods, then the price of the input factors will equal out. This, put simply, means if you trade, then wages will tend to equalize with the countries you trade with even if there is no labor mobility between the countries. (All things being equal of course, which in practice they aren't, and Americans have a whole host of advantages that make them more productive than most workers elsewhere. Consequently, they'll have a wage premium for the foreseeable future. At least according to FLG, but there are some doubters.)

FLG's guess is that 20% of world GDP being exports is large enough to have an attendant and proportionally larger impact on factor prices. That's an empirical question, but FLG is too lazy to look to see if there have been studies.

A Conversation

FLG and a couple of classmates are meeting with a professor.

Professor: Where are you from, originally?

Classmate: Africa.

Professor: Which country?

Classmate tells him.

Professor: Interesting, that reminds me of a story.

When I lived in France, I knew this interesting fellow. Very affable. Spoke three languages that I knew of, probably more than that. Always dashing here and there, including your country. Somewhat mysterious.

One day, we were sitting in a cafe, Left Bank, St.-Germain-des-Pres. After several glasses wine, I asked what exactly he did for a living. He said, "Illegal arms dealer" as one might say they are an insurance salesman.

His business probably didn't do your country or its people any favors, but very fascinating man.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quick Response To Emily Hale

First, Godfather Part III did complete the Michael arc, but Coppola's daughter was such a bad actress it brought down the entire film. And as much as FLG like Andy Garcia generally, his character was annoying. Plus, FLG thinks Godfather Part III was the inflection point in Pacino's career where he went from phenomenal actor to just playing a caricature of himself that he created. This was in full effect by Scent of a Woman two years later.

Second, about Georgetown Day. FLG had to run to campus on Georgetown Day and saw countless students stumbling around drunk. Emily was frustrated:
Let's just say yesterday was the first time I've led a discussion with drunk people in it (it was Georgetown Day).

FLG is of two minds on this. He is no stranger to showing up to class drunk. In fact, he took a data structures final completely shitfaced. (Yes, he failed the test. In case you are wondering though, the primary reason he failed out of the University of Colorado was skiing, not drinking.) So, he feels somewhat hypocritical saying...

Now, as somebody older and wiser, he finds this all terribly unbecoming. It's all very immature and a waste of great opportunity to learn some more, and hopefully tie the course up, at the end of the semester.

But to be completely frank here, FLG thinks the fault lies primarily with the administration. Georgetown Day should be the first day AFTER classes and before reading days for finals.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's All About Leverage

FLG has been saying for a good while now that if we are concerned about reducing the risk of another financial crisis, as opposed to justifying whatever political hobbyhorse we have, then the focus should pretty much begin and end with regulating leverage.

This probably means, to point out but two examples, on the household side, greater downpayment requirements on mortgages and, on the banking side, a clearinghouse/exchange for derivatives. FLG listened to a podcast the other day (here is the mp3) in which the interviewer suggested that $3-5 trillion in collateral would be required to get the derivatives market somewhere near safe.

Those are the kinds of discussions we should be having.

Foreign Affairs Ain't Tiddliwinks

Withy's post expressing shock, shock at the revelation that Pakistan has been playing a double game for years reminded FLG of something that's been annoying him.

Seems like every journalist of late, and especially BBC reporters but that may just be a result of what FLG is listening to and watching, feel they must ask every interviewee whether they think Pakistan knew where OBL was and whether this will hurt the alliance with the US? These are stupid questions.

The US knew Pakistan knew where OBL was. And even if they didn't know everybody knew they could know in about 15 minutes. So, whether they knew or didn't is a semantic question and not one of plausible deniability. Everybody, with a fucking brain, knew Pakistan knew.

Given that everybody knew Pakistan knew, this won't change much. Sure, there's some people grumbling on Capitol Hill, but FLG, rather than appreciating their righteous indignation, thinks less of those figures. They were either woefully naive previously or grandstanding now. Neither is very reassuring of their ability to direct foreign affairs.

When it comes to foreign affairs, we expect our leaders to act in ways that wouldn't be tolerated in domestic affairs. Hypocrisy, truth-stretching, and sometimes outright lying, are necessary to further the interests of the nation. Our leaders and Pakistan's leaders both did what was in their nation's interests. Plain and simple.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Correspondence

Hilarious Bookbinder writes:
I don't believe the real problem is grammar, spelling and punctuation, but something more along the lines of how to put together a convincing argument. The average student hasn't learned anything more complex than a five-paragraph essay. The ability to identify and employ the appropriate variations on that form is important for introductory-level work. Most freshmen are not up to the task (there was a kid in my own freshman English composition class who produced a seven-page paper of five paragraphs. reasonably smart guy, but clearly didn't 'get it').

Advanced work requires the sort of things I mentioned in the post--having read the work and thought about it and being able to say something that demonstrates a beyond-surface grasp of the material. That constitutes a reasonable standard for an 'A' paper, but you would be shocked by how many students cannot sustain that effort over five or ten pages. I'm not sure I would have believed it myself until I started grading.

Oh, well, in that case, count FLG among those with "little skill in English composition."

Things FLG Hates -- Scare Quotes

Particularly annoying example:
The claim that "justice" has been served [killing Bin Laden] is particularly murky. That is because "justice" can mean a number of things.

To Obama and much of the American public it apparently means an eye for an eye.

To human rights lawyers, it involves following procedural rules in meting out punishment, which explains the focus on the legality of the killings.

But to advocates and scholars of post-conflict justice, "justice" has a broader, sociological and empirically measurable meaning: the phenomenon of holding perpetrators accountable for crimes in the eyes of their victims. This concept has a normative package of ideas associated with it as well: accountability should be exercised not only consistent with the rule of law, but in a manner that promotes a human rights culture, minimizes or deters future atrocities, and promotes reconciliation and inter-group understanding.

Look, FLG would far rather discuss Justice than Fairness. He's said so on many occasions. Moreover, given that loves Plato, FLG is the last person who'd say What is Justice? isn't one of the most important questions we can ask. The issue here is this -- Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer and overall evil fucker. His death is Justice. No quotes.

A Conversation

In the comments, Jason asked about FLG's sighting of Paul Newman. FLG searched unsuccessfully through the Official Fear and Loathing in Georgetown Archives for the text of the conversation and realized that he might never have posted it. So, here goes.

There used to be a Boston Chicken in Westport, CT in one of the shopping centers at the corner of Compo and Post Roads. FLG was waiting patiently in line when somebody walked up behind him. More out of instinct than anything, FLG turned around, looked at the person, and then turned to face forward again. After a second or so, his brain processed the information that the man who got in line behind him looked exactly like Paul Newman. Naturally, FLG turned around again.

Paul Newman: Hi.

FLG: Oh, sorry for the double take. Hello.

Paul Newman: Don't worry. Happens all the time.

FLG: Well, I wouldn't have expected to run into you here. I mean, you have your own food and all.

Paul Newman responds straight-faced without missing a beat: Sure, but Joanne loves the chicken and is sick of eating fucking popcorn.

FLG through massive amounts of laughter: I'd imagine.

An Incoherent Mess Of A Post

There are a about a dozen passages from authors that infringe on FLG's thought process on political matters. He won't list them all, but there are two from Tocqueville that FLG likes to post at every possible opportunity and will do so now. First:
Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated; whereas that obedience which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions only exhibits servitude at certain intervals and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men. It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.

I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations that have introduced freedom into their political constitution at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they notice did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body.

It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.

Second:
It is important to make an accurate distinction between slavery itself and its consequences. The immediate evils produced by slavery were very nearly the same in antiquity as they are among the moderns, but the consequences of these evils were different. The slave among the ancients belonged to the same race as his master, and was often the superior of the two in education and intelligence. Freedom was the only distinction between them; and when freedom was conferred, they were easily confounded together. The ancients, then, had a very simple means of ridding themselves of slavery and its consequences: that of enfranchisement; and they succeeded as soon as they adopted this measure generally. Not but that in ancient states the vestiges of servitude subsisted for some time after servitude itself was abolished. There is a natural prejudice that prompts men to despise whoever has been their inferior long after he has become their equal; and the real inequality that is produced by fortune or by law is always succeeded by an imaginary inequality that is implanted in the manners of the people. But among the ancients this secondary consequence of slavery had a natural limit; for the freedman bore so entire a resemblance to those born free that it soon became impossible to distinguish him from them.

Then there's this one from Machiavelli, which FLG thinks is the very seed of the modern age:
Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less.

I compare her to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defences and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. So it happens with fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.

Prior to this, authors were, the best way to put it, accepting of the natural world. Nature was an force to be respected, not toyed with. But the passage above changed all that. Eventually, the mitigation of effects of natural phenomena articulated above was adapted by Bacon into the scientific method thusly:
For even as in the business of life a man's disposition and the secret workings of his mind and affections are better discovered when he is in trouble than at other times, so likewise the secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under the vexations of art than when they go their own way.

Likewise and shortly after, Hobbes took this idea and applied it to politics. People needed a Leviathan to resist the force of political floods and the power to fight Fortune.

Anyway, not so long ago, a far lesser thinker wrote about trying to regulate markets:
And so liberal politics, of which FLG would argue Machiavelli is the fount but that's another post entirely, is concerned only with managing the effects. But to continue Machiavelli's analogy, FLG thinks at some point those canals will overflow and the defences be overrun. Yet, the people who built the canals will say how great the canals are and the people will, after several years of no floods, make decisions based upon those floods not happening any more. Until such time that the dam that held back the waters breaks, and the flood is worse then ever.

Which brings FLG to what prompted this whole post. It's not only the material world or markets, but also international relations. Felix Salmon linked to this article by Nassim Taleb and Mark Blythe about the desire for security, a false security, that leads US foreign policy to support dictators:
Seeking to restrict variability seems to be good policy (who does not prefer stability to chaos?), so it is with very good intentions that policymakers unwittingly increase the risk of major blowups. And it is the same misperception of the properties of natural systems that led to both the economic crisis of 2007-8 and the current turmoil in the Arab world. The policy implications are identical: to make systems robust, all risks must be visible and out in the open — fluctuat nec mergitur (it fluctuates but does not sink) goes the Latin saying.

Just as a robust economic system is one that encourages early failures (the concepts of “fail small” and “fail fast”), the U.S. government should stop supporting dictatorial regimes for the sake of pseudostability and instead allow political noise to rise to the surface. Making an economy robust in the face of business swings requires allowing risk to be visible; the same is true in politics.

Student Writing

Arethusa's post reminded FLG that he wanted to comment on this post from Anti-Climacus:
As someone who has taught multiple writing-intensive courses, I am sympathetic to the idea that the average college student at an elite university has little skill in English composition.

As a below average student from an elite university, FLG takes umbrage at this statement. FLG likes to think he possesses a reasonable degree of competency in English composition. Although, FLG will readily admit his complete inability to sustain coherent analysis and argument for, oh, more than two minutes or two paragraphs.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Political Relevance Of Everything Being Socially Constructed

Stanley Fish has a fascinating argument in two parts that it is politically irrelevant.

FLG thinks the everything-is-socially-constructed theory is silly. Sure, there is definitely social construction. No doubt about it. But as in the Nature v. Nurture debate, neither extreme is correct. The truth lies somewhere in between. To say that there is social construction is one thing. To say that everything is a social construction is silliness.

But FLG grates at Fish's argument because it, at least as FLG reads it, is that deontological arguments aren't politically effective, only consequentialist ones are.

So what is it that you should do if you think some state of affairs is terribly wrong? Sean Pidgeon has the answer: “Pull out those rhetorical skills and argue.” He uses feminism as his example. “Feminists should not … say that patriarchy is social constructed,” as if saying so was a step toward dislodging it. Instead, “Feminists should come out and say patriarchy is wrong” and then say why by pointing to harmful, demeaning practices. Jonprof generalizes the point: “Only political action by those … thought to be non-entities will establish them as needing to be acknowledged and dealt with.”

Whether deonotological or consequentialist arguments are more effective politically is probably an empirical question, and in complete honesty in our modern world it's probably true, but FLG wishes it weren't so. But that probably goes to prove Fish's point.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sightings

DC is a funny place. A celebrity sighting in NYC, LA, or elsewhere, usually means a film and television actor*. Here in Georgetown FLG sees political and news-type people.

Just off the top of his head, FLG remembers seeing David Frum stuck in traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, David Gregory driving like an asshole on M Street**, he was pretty sure he saw Katty Kay Christmas shopping, and then there was the infamous Stephanopoulos in the Five Guys incident.

FLG only mentions this because he saw DC's Mayor For Life leaving Paolo's this afternoon. Unfortunately, Barry didn't do anything crazy.

Update: Forgot about a couple of people. FLG also saw Kenny Mayne one time. And both FLG and Mrs. FLG saw Kelsey Grammer at Dean and Deluca.

---
* FLG thinks he may have written about the conversation he had with Paul Newman in a Boston Chicken in Westport on this blog.

** Oddly, my coworker had almost the exact same response in both of those conversations.


Updated 10/18/2011: Saw George Will. Need to add Archbishop of Canterbury.

Updated 02/06/2012: Almost got run over by Madeleine Albright.

Updated 03/21/2012: FLG is 50-50 that he saw Simon Johnson.

Updated 04/11/2013: Saw Bob Woodward.

Update 07/05/2013: Saw Olivier Blanchard.

Update 10/02/2013: Saw Yuval Levin (also saw Ross Douthat separately a week or so before)

Update 10/28/2013: Saw Robert Gibbs at Old Town Whole Foods

Update 11/20/2013 Saw Roy Williams and Chuck Todd (also saw Tom Ridge separately a week or so before)

Update 01/30/2014: Believe Al Hunt was on the DCA-LGA shuttle flight / Later that day saw Mitt and Ann Romney at the Carnegie Deli

Update 07/12/2014: Ezra Klein at Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream

Update 10/29/2014:  Saw David Boies.


Economist Round-Up

FLG was reading last week's Economist and found these three articles fascinating:
Singapore's as a rising financial center

Apparently, pirates need some amount of order.

Undergraduate fees in the UK are catching up with the US

US prosecutors trying to fight online poker companies

FLG actually is most annoyed by that one. He could abide by moralizing about the evils of gambling if gambling weren't so prevalent pretty much everywhere. And more to the point if the gambling the state ran didn't have the worst odds.

A Couple Of Thoughts

First, Photon Courier linked to this post, which asks "How Are Your Economic Theories Affected by the Way You Grew Up?," that FLG thought was interesting.

FLG remains steadfast in his belief that it's all about time horizons or, put another way, how much you value the future.

Second, an idea popped into FLG's head the other day while walking the dog. He was pondering Phaedrus -- is it possible that the invention of writing was a bad thing?

In that dialogue, Socrates says:
At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

There's a lot that can be said about this passage, but FLG has, given his rather simple mind, a simplistic take. The primary utility of writing is that it allows people to express ideas across time and space. But perhaps what is most meaningful to people is being in a certain time and place with other people. More specifically, perhaps what is most meaningful to people is expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a certain time and place with other people. Why? Because the full meaning of their thoughts, feelings, and ideas cannot be expressed explicitly in words. Body language, facial reactions, the tone and cadence of speech, the back and forth of a conversation are required to express meaning fully. Thus, writing creates the illusion that we can fully express ideas across time and space.

Now, writing, which FLG will admit is fundamental not only to this blog's existence but also the entirety Western Civilization, has a lot going for it. The question FLG is raising is this -- What if all that is a distraction from meaningful lives? What if all our history, knowledge, and technology creates an illusion that we can find meaning in things other than sharing our thoughts and feelings with those who are in the same time and place. What if other times and places don't matter all that much?

FLG realizes this probably sounds more like Prof. Deneen or somebody else over at Front Porch Republic, and in fact FLG did have to read Phaedrus in Deneen's class. If you are going to go to the core of it, what first made the sort of deracinated, community-less existence they are so concerned about possible is writing. The question really is whether giving up all the advances of modernity, most importantly the greater health outcomes and longer lifespans, are worth the increase in meaning, assuming one agrees with the premise that meaning derives almost exclusively from being in the same time and place with other human beings.

Anyway, FLG is fully in favor of writing. It's not like the jury is out for him, but he thought he had an interesting argument with himself while walking the dog and wanted to share.

Quote of the day

Felix Salmon:
I’m evolving away from my preference for cap-and-trade over a carbon tax, since a cap-and-trade system is certain to get gamed by special interests.

Welcome to the club. FLG has written it before and will write it again -- the most efficient possible outcome under a cap-and-trade scheme, an efficient auction and very low trading costs for permits, is the same as a carbon tax. A straight up tax is far simpler to understand, more difficult to game, and directly affects price (P) rather than quantity (Q). So, the cost to the economy is more transparent as well.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Would The Romans Do?

FLG was just thinking about the decision to bury OBL at sea. It makes perfect sense and all, but it made FLG wonder.

If the Romans had to deal with OBL would they have:
1) killed him on the spot like the United States did?
2) captured and then crucified him?
3) captured and then sewn him into a sack with a snake, dog, and cock before throwing him in the ocean?

Quote of the day

Remember when FLG posted a quote from IPEZ about how America is such a terrible place for children? Okay.

Today, IPEZ offers this:
If skilled (read: smarter-than-average) migration under H-1B is a useful barometer for the attractiveness of living in America a decade into the twenty-first century, consider it a big "NO." I hope Gary Becker, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, can understand what the supply and demand curves imply here for his far-fetched ideas. Framed properly, it's a matter of paying migrants to come and work in America (land of the bankrupt) given their ever-dwindling appetite for doing so. As the title of this post says, smarter migrants agree America stinks by simply not going there. Face it: nobody's beating a path to America's door.

In case you are wondering why FLG reads that blog, he likes the political-economic analysis of Asia the blog offers. And to be honest, FLG is, like many people, a bit defensive regarding criticism of their country. However, he also thinks, from reading a bunch of Emmanuel's posts, that there's a reflexive anti-Americanism there, tinged with the usual jealousy, fear, admiration, etc. That being said, it's always good to get an outside perspective.

In regards to the specific post in question, FLG has two issues with the analysis. First, an empirical issue -- it omits any mention of what's going on with other countries. If immigration has shifted somewhere else, EU, China, etc then that's one thing. If immigration in general has dropped off a cliff, then that's something different. Pointing out that immigration to America has dropped when it has dropped similarly everywhere is misleading. Given the unemployment rate in the US, a drop in immigration seems entirely reasonable.

A quick Google search led to this OECD report, which seems to support FLG's issue:
There are already ample signs of a fall in labour migration in virtually all
OECD countries due to a significant decline in international recruitment
by employers.

[...]

In the United States, for example, the number of H-1B visas issued (the main
employment-related temporary visa) declined by 16% between 2007 and
2008, from 154 000 to 129 000. In addition, in 2009, for the first time in many
years, the 65 000 cap for H-1B visas was not reached immediately. In Spain,
new entries under the employer-nominated system (Régimen general) fell
from more than 200 000 in 2007 to 137 000 in 2008. Australia also witnessed
a decline in temporary skilled migration, with a 11% drop in applications in
February 2009 compared to a year earlier.

Declining trends are even more noticeable within the European freemovement
area, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In the first
quarter 2009 approved initial applicants to the Workers Registration Scheme
in the United Kingdom were down 54% (from 46 600 to 21 300) compared
with the corresponding quarter of 2008. Similarly, latest statistics available
for Ireland show that fewer than 9 000 people from the 12 new EU member
states were granted Personal Public Service Numbers between January and
March, a 57% fall on the same period last year.

Consequently, the IPEZ post seems a bit like scoring anti-US points rather than a thoughtful look at immigration into the US.

Second, even though the economic circumstances inevitably play a part in immigration decisions, we Americans like to believe that there are other reasons to immigrate here. Given that the United States has successfully integrated wave after wave of immigrants from around the world, FLG wouldn't bet against the US in an immigration competition. Looking at short-term, year to year fluctuations isn't very illuminating about the long-term future.

A Conversation

The FLGs are in a toy store.

Miss FLG: Daddy! Daddy!

FLG: Yes, sweetheart? What is it?

Miss FLG: Pirate, Daddy!

FLG: Sweetie, that's not a pirate. That's an illustrated African-American history book. The man on the cover's name is Frederick Douglass.

FLG's First And Probably Last Cigar Review

About two months ago, FLG mentioned how he had been searching for non-Cohiba Robusto cigars that he enjoys and could smoke legally in the United States.

He keeps trying new ones, but seems to return these two:

Padron 2000

It's usually about $4.50 in the stores around FLG. It's a nice 30 minute smoke.

Oliva Serie V Double Robusto

This one is somewhere in the $6-7 range, but it's fantastic. FLG has always been attracted to the Cohibas because they are smooth. There's not any harshness like you can get in some other cigars. Review after review mentioned the smoothness of the Oilva Serie V. So, FLG bought one. It is definitely smooth, but it also packs quite a punch. More than the Cohiba. That punch means FLG takes longer to smoke 'em. He needs a good hour or so to enjoy these. He likes them so much though that FLG bought a box. Cannot recommend them highly enough.

Final Note: FLG also discovered a couple other things during this process. First, he likes fuller bodied cigars. He gets, annoyed is probably the best word, with the milder ones. Also, FLG likes Nicaraguan cigars apparently, as both of the above cigars are made of entirely Nicaraguan tobacco.

FLG Doesn't Ever Remember A Day That He Woke Up

...to such unexpected, but welcome news. FLG hopes all the souls of those who died on that terrible day have found some peace, if they hadn't already.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fact for the day

Telegraph:
Left handed people are affected by fear far more than those who are right handed, new research has revealed.

The researchers attribute this to different ways the two halves of the brain process fear. FLG, on the other hand, thinks that lefties subconsciously know that the ink smudges on their hands make them stick out for the heard. Thus, the lioness will target them first. Let's be honest, we all know that it goes back to the savanna.
 
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