Thursday, June 30, 2011

Liberal Education

As you all know, and are probably tired of hearing, FLG has a few pet theories. The first to appear on this blog was The Big Assumption:
The experiences that constitute my individual life are representative of the entire human condition.

FLG's thoughts on liberal education revolve around first disproving this assumption during freshman year:
The method for disproving this assumption is straight-forward. The student is exposed to ideas, feelings, beliefs, and experiences via literature, philosophy, art, and history, which are so foreign to their own life that they are forced to question the Big Assumption.

Afterward:
The student is in a vulnerable stage at this point. The fundamental assumption that has provided order and meaning to their life has been disproven.

And then, hopefully, during sophomore year a beyond:
the failure of the Big Assumption leads to the never-ending search for the universal in the human condition. Oddly enough, the second step in a liberal education is exactly the same as the first. The student examines ideas, feelings, beliefs, and experiences via literature, philosophy, art, and history, which are so foreign to their own life that they can find what is universally present in the human condition. This is the ultimate goal of a liberal education. I believe the difficulty in recognizing this goal is that both the first and second step are superficially the same activities.

What does this have to do with anything? Glad you asked.

Here's Paul Krugman:
I was at that stage, a college sophomore or thereabouts, when you’re searching around, looking for belief systems. I think it’s actually a point when you’re quite vulnerable, because you are looking for someone who is going to offer you all the answers. Some people turn to religious orthodoxy, other people turn to Ayn Rand. One of my favourite lines – and I haven’t been able to find out who came up with it – is that “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs.”

Then I read Hume’s Enquiry, this wonderful, humane book saying that nobody has all the answers. What we know is what we have evidence for. We do the best we can, but anybody who claims to be able to deduce or have revelation about The Truth – with both Ts capitalised – is wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The only reasonable way to approach life is with an attitude of humane scepticism. I felt that a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders when I read that book.

Books FLG Just Downloaded To His Kindle

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Don Quixote

The Three Musketeers

Oedipus Trilogy

"De Bello Gallico" and Other Commentaries

The Problems of Philosophy

Ethica

The History of Rome

A Dance with Dragons

And the pièce de résistance:
La piraterie dans l'antiquité

That's 11 books for a grand total of $15. Or more accurately, 10 for free, 1 for $15.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time Horizons And Uncertainty

Withywindle has a post up, which in a roundabout sort of way questions whether an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure:
It's a disease peculiarly liberal & technocratic, although not exclusively (note some of the examples), to seek to spend money on a variety of preventions, always sure that we will save money in the long run. And maybe we might, but the up-front costs are too much--there's an infinity of things to ensure against, and we'll go broke if we try; to speak nothing of not having any money to invest in technological innovation and/or pleasant consumer doo-dads. And the optimum strategy is to half-prepare--to have a C grade for maintenance of our transportation infrastructure--to have a bridge collapse every now and then, and then spend a bit more money on the other bridges once we see by dreadful example where the maintenance really needs work.

And, oh yes, that means the price will be paid in lost lives, in a gruesome little lottery. But the country will be better off in the long run--including longer lives and more lives, from the extra resources--by paying that price.

FLG is uncomfortable with that last part. If we consider this as part of risk management, then the upper limit on the amount of money we spend on any sort of prevention should be the probability of a event X the impact (in dollars). So, if, for example, we have $100,000 and we think there's a 10% chance somebody will try and steal it, then the most we should spend on protecting it, say buying a safe, is $10,000. Pretty straightforward. Calculations of this sort obviously become much trickier once loss of human life is involved, and FLG isn't quite comfortable with Witywindle's rather blasé stance.

What all this prompted in FLG's mind, given his risk management approach, is the broader topic of uncertainty. The commonly accepted story is that liberals are more comfortable with uncertainty. But when FLG looks at what Withywindle is writing, he's clearly comfortable with uncertainty. Conversely, when you look at the flagship liberal economic policies, (social security, publicly-funded health care, how unions negotiate contract on seniority, etc), aren't they about eliminating long run economic and financial uncertainty? Isn't it liberals who are more likely to say that the stock market is too risky?

FLG thinks his time horizons theory explains some of this discrepancy. The uncertainty that psychologists are talking about having measured in experiments is largely social in nature. And since it's social in nature and we're talking about measurement in a lab setting, it's inherently short-term. Even to the extent that the article FLG linked to is talking about the size of various parts of the brain responsible for weighing uncertainty and fear, he contends that even that is more about instantaneous emotional response, rather than longer term orientation. But he certainly could be wrong there.

There's an interesting divide here now besides FLG's normal short versus long run time horizons. There's the economic and financial versus social. So, okay, conservatives are more comfortable with economic and financial uncertainty, but what about social uncertainty? Here, FLG admits the liberals seem far more comfortable. To take but one example that happens to be in the news -- same-sex marriage. Conservatives are far more uncertain and concerned about the long-term effects of this type of change over generations.

As FLG has argued previously, he thinks this boils down to time horizons as well. Conservatives, a few crazies aside, were worried that the moment same-sex marriage becomes legal that it would result in pandemonium. It's about making a major change to an institution fundamental to the continuance of society. FLG, who most of his conservative readership would describe as overly sanguine, isn't too concerned. But he can see the argument.

Most of the liberals who argue for same-sex marriage and those whom FLG knows personally always couch it in the present. Bill and Bob want to get married. That's unfair. They have a right to do this. They're relationship isn't hurting anybody. Even if they got married, it isn't hurting anybody else's marriage. They, by and large, are completely oblivious to the longer term concerns of many conservatives and too often blow off all objections as bigotry born of religion.

FLG does find the argument that allowing same-sex marriage is conservative in that it promotes monogamy and stability, both of which are conservative goals, compelling. This is longer run analysis than simply Betty and Becky want to get married and that's that. They aren't hurting anybody, so it must be fine without any consideration about what sort of knock on effects over time this type of change have beyond the wishes of the people who get married. So, even in this social uncertainty arena, FLG still think time horizons is the primary driver.

Monday, June 27, 2011

An Email Conversation

Paraphrasing...
----------

Prof:

I have a question about the grade on my econ memo. Writing 250-500 words on economics and finance is something that I do, a lot, and I felt like I was pretty good at it. Can you give me some idea what you were looking for?

Thanks,
FLG

-----------------
FLG,

Thanks for writing. I really liked the overall approach of contrasting the short versus long run, and it allowed you to highlight some of the more important issues. In general, I was looking for more analysis.

I hope that helps.

Prof.

----------------
Prof:

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean by analysis. I thought that was what I gave you, but it's a broad term. Could you explain further?

Thanks,
FLG

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

FLG,

You covered a lot of ground. You mentioned and explained supply, demand, and pricing, both in the short and long run, but you then transitioned to an explanation of the competitor firms' pricing decisions using game theory and included an political-economic explanation of the implications of an exogenous tax break. While that was great, I was looking for a more thorough analysis of the first part, supply, demand, elasticity and pricing. For example, you could have included a graph to illustrate what you explained. Those who earned the highest grades included a certain amount of quantitative analysis.

I hope that helps.

Prof.

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

Prof:

Okay, I get the graph part. I didn't think one was necessary given the nature of the assignment, but that's fair.

I'm confused by the quantitative part. You gave us a four paragraph newspaper article with almost no numbers. How were we supposed to include quant analysis?

Thanks,
FLG

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

FLG,

While the newspaper didn't provide hard numbers, you could've made some assumptions to arrive at a supply and demand curve.

I hope that helps. If you have any more questions, then come by office hours.

Prof.

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

Prof.

Oh, thanks. I'm clear now. I'll walk through everything step-by-step and if I don't have enough information for something, for instance, the marginal productivity of labor, then I'll just make it up to prove to you that I can go through the motions.

Thanks for clearing it up, but I probably should've known better in the first place.

Thanks,
FLG

Word Of The Day

pulchritudinous

The word is entirely new to FLG.

He came across it when he saw this article in Le Monde and then began searching for follow-up info on English language websites and found this write up:
It cited one of her Chinese male acquaintances as describing her as “anything but pulchritudinous.”

It strikes FLG as one of those random, archaic words that only people who have formally studied English as a second language would use. (Or extreme pedants.)

Dear Friends Of Fear And Loathing In Georgetown:

FLG has been super busy as of late and isn't keeping up with his blog reading as well as he has previously, and is just getting flaky. This has led to a bunch of oversights, some of which FLG really feels bad about.

First, FLG missed this awesome idea from Robbo until this morning.

Next, he missed this, also from Robbo, which hits very close to home what with a little girl in Castle FLG and all.

FLG can't believe he missed this earlier:
Let us begin with the scandal involving King Carl Gustav XVI of Sweden and strip clubs.

And lastly FLG feels terrible for asking Flavia how newlywed bliss was before she has even tied the knot. He thinks he was conflating Flavia buying a house and being engaged with the information that Phoebe was getting married. This is the type of thing that FLG is usually very good at keeping straight.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mmm....Beer

FLG was utterly captivated by this article. Studying fermented beverages? What a great job.

Not really relevant to the main thrust of the story, but of particular interest to FLG, was Phoenician purple dye, which is mentioned as an aside. Apparently, the process for making it was relatively salt intensive because it even got a mention in Salt: A World History.

New York Same-Sex Marriage Law

Noah Millma writes:
The history so far of same-sex marriage in the United States consists mostly (though not exclusively) of courts ordering legislatures to pass equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and plebiscites decreeing that no such rights shall be extended. Neither is the way representative democracy is supposed to work, because neither the courts nor the people themselves adequately combine deliberation with accountability.

So I am especially gratified that legislators in my home state were manly enough to do their job and secure for New York’s citizens the equal rights and privileges they concluded the citizenry deserved, rather than punt to the courts or to the people themselves.

New York is a breath of fresh air on the same-sex marriage front for FLG. As he has said, he's in favor of it, but he's against courts finding a right to it with, in FLG's opinion, questionable logic and out of thin air. He disagrees with Millman on the public referrenda. If the courts in FLG's state ordered gay marriage to be legal or made legal, then he would, despite his support for gay marriage, vote against that ruling in any subsequent "plebiscites decreeing that no such rights shall be extended." FLG hates courts as agents of social change, as he's said before, sure, it's expeditious, but it has the huge downside of lacking democratic legitimacy.

So, he's glad to finally see it happen the right way. Hopefully, other states will follow suit.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

President's Afghan Speech

Is FLG the only one who immediately thinks of Beetlejuice every time the president says Taliban? Jump to 2:15 and listen for a minute or so.

For the rest of the speech, FLG couldn't get this out of his head:


Taliban, tally me bananas...
Daylight come and me wanna go home...

FLG feels it's wrong on some fundamental level, but can never get it out of his head whenever the president speaks on the topic.

FLG is currently listening to



FLG was also listening to this, which always has the unfortunate side-effect of reminding him this.

UPDATE: BTW, this also seems to be the perfect post to mention that he heard the theme song from A View to a Kill, the James Bond film, and happens to be by Duran Duran, while shopping in Trader Joe's and found it hilarious.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foreign Language Requirements

The Ancient and Arethusa made some comments about Obama's second language knowledge and whether he had to have acquired a second language as a requirement for graduation from Columbia. The Ancient posted a link to Columbia's foreign language requirement as detailed in the bulletin.

The first way to satisfy the requirement is:
Satisfactory completion of the second term of an intermediate language sequence.

Somewhere, in the back of FLG's mind, he remembers that this is the generally accepted standard at most schools, including Georgetown College. But he forgot this because the School of Foreign Service's standard is much more rigorous, which makes sense given the school's purpose and name:
As a requirement for graduation, all students must fulfill the School of Foreign Service language proficiency requirement. The proficiency requirement certifies that students have command of a modern language other than English at the university or professional level.

Recently a change was made, and this level can be met during study abroad by passing a semester of courses conducted in a foreign language. When FLG did it, he had to take a test:
A two-member board, in larger departments selected at random from among the teaching faculty, examines each student individually. The proficiency examination measures:

reading comprehension
audio-lingual mastery
communicative competency
general knowledge of the cultural area in which the language is spoken

Each examination entails:

a reading comprehension component in which the student is given 15 minutes alone to read an article from a current weekly public affairs or news magazine without the aid of a dictionary;
a 20-minute oral component in which the student is asked by the examining board (a) to summarize the article briefly and answer questions relating to it and (b) to respond to a number of questions on the culture and civilization of the linguistic area as covered within the advanced coursework.

These examinations are separate from final course examinations.

As you can probably imagine, getting to this level of proficiency takes a while:
A student may take the proficiency examination after completing one course beyond Advanced II or Third Level II in the language, or received permission from the language department for an exception.

FLG, for example, took eight semesters of French. The students who took it throughout high school, of course, didn't have to do that. But that's a far sight from just getting a B in the second semester of Intermediate Spanish and being done.

History Of Rome Update

FLG is still listening to The History of Rome podcast. He's arrived at the First Triumvirate, and this brings up a subject near and dear to FLG's heart -- yes, pirates. You see, Pompey cleared the Mediterranean of pirates in three months and Caesar was captured by pirates. He was held for ransom, during which time he told the pirates 1) that he was worth more than they were asking for and 2) upon release he'd get a fleet and fucking crucify them. Sure enough, that's precisely what he did.

Now, the podcast claims that Caesar was on the way to Rhodes at the time of his capture, but FLG doesn't remember that being the case. In any case, it makes the story more interesting for FLG because Rhodes figures prominently in the Ancient piracy.

Rhodes remained independent throughout Alexander's conquest and even from the successor empires. Each had some interest in keeping Rhodes independent and probably just as important Rhodes was circumspect in its actions always wary of drawing the ire of the much stronger empires.

It wasn't all that difficult because Rhodes was primarily concerned with trade. Since it's an island, even more specifically, concerned with maritime trade. Pirates sort of gunk up the works when it comes to maritime trade. Thus, Rhodes was very interested in keeping the piratical menace at bay. So, Rhodes, out of both self-interest and in no small measure to ingratiate itself to the wider Mediterranean world, took up the mantle of the Hellenistic world's chief anti-piracy police.

But see, here's where things get complicated and for FLG even more fascinating. Rhodes housed one of the three slave markets of the Hellenistic world, and arguably the premier market of the lot. Given that pirates were probably the most consistent source of slave supply, some people didn't or couldn't pay the ransom, this creates a strange dynamic, one which FLG still doesn't fully understand and probably never will. Throughout history people have been capable of cognitive dissonance when there's money to be made, but there's still the question in FLG's mind about how this worked in practice.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

French Expression

FLG had never before encountered this phrase before today:
couper l'herbe sous le pied de quelq'un

Which from the context:
Cette décision, qui effacera le surge, c'est-à-dire l'augmentation des troupes décidée par la Maison Blanche en 2009, devrait lui permettre, espère-t-il, de couper l'herbe sous le pied de ses adversaires lorsqu'il entamera le combat pour sa réélection.

Rough translation:
This decision, which will erase the surge, which is to say the additional troops decided by the White House in 2009, should allow him [Obama], he hopes, to couper l'herbe sous le pied de his adversaries while he begins his re-election bid.

So, from the context and literal translation, FLG assumes it is the French equivalent of "pulling the rug out from under somebody." Maybe he should Google it.

Chinese Banking System

FLG read this article on the Chinese financial system by Howard Davies with much interest.

Apparently, the Chinese have recapitalized the banking system. That alone wouldn't impress FLG much. The Chinese have done that before to limited success over time. Of more interest is that apparently the Chinese have had success in reigning in the percentage of non-performing loans. "NPLs amount to little more than 1% of assets," down from 10%.

But here's the best paragraph of all:
Of course, challenges remain. Even in China there is no magic potion that can revive a loan to a defunct exporter. And China’s big banks have lent large sums, willingly or otherwise, to local governments for infrastructure projects – many of them of dubious economic value. There is an ever-present risk that the property market might one day collapse, though banks would emerge in better shape than have banks in the US and the UK, because much speculative investment has been funded with cash, or with only modest leverage.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, FLG will have a deep suspicion of the Chinese banking system, regardless of any metrics that may improve, until the politics get out of it. It's simply to easy for local governments and state owned enterprises to get accomodative loans. Second, it's all about leverage baby, leverage.

Stop Projecting

FLG has got no problem with Michelle Obama. In fact, he finds the entire family endearing in a wholesome, all-American sorta way. But he just can't stomach the repeated assertions that Michelle is some sort of fashion-forward icon with great taste. She simply isn't and doesn't.

Look, he doesn't want people to rag on her for this. He'd rather everybody simply stopped commenting on Michelle's appearance. (All first ladies, for that matter.) But the whole Michelle Obama is a fashion icon needs to stop. FLG can tell this is untrue because he has eyes. Again, she seems like an intelligent, nice lady. No need to bring this stuff up. But what explains this cognitive dissonance among so many in the media?

FLG's pet theory is that the ladies in the left-leaning media, and by that he basically means almost all women working in mainstream media, are projecting their own desires onto Michelle. If they were first lady, then they'd like to be seen as a fashion icon. Consequently, they want Michelle to be a fashion icon. They want it so bad that they are willing to overlook that her fashion sense is questionable at best and downright horrible at worst. There's no other way to explain it.

FLG is currently listening to



He was inspired by this post.

Want To Defend This?

FLG commented on this over at A&J, but do any left-leaning readers of this blog want to defend this statement?:
Racism isn’t just about thinking someone is unequal to you which I don’t think is actually where much of the right wing wants to see itself. It’s also about promoting legislation that perpetuates or exacerbates legacy inequalities, even if inadvertently.

This seems to argue that if a person doesn't prioritize not perpetuating or exacerbating legacy inequalities above all else when weighing legislation, regardless of whatever other reasons a person might have, then that person is a racist.

Moreover, this seems to be a self-issued carte blanche to denounce anybody who disagrees with the author's preferred policy choices as racist, regardless of their actual reasons. (And in light of FLG's Time Horizons theory, this would probably mean even if the perpetuation or exacerbation is short-term, but ameliorated in the long run.)

FLG recognizes that he may have his own cognitive biases in this and might not be reading this passage sympathetically. So, he asks his more left-leaning readers if they have a defense, or to put a less negative connotation on this, an explanation of this statement.

Dangerous, Dangerous Thinking

Felix Salmon:
I moderated a panel on financial innovation yesterday, about which more when I get the video. But there was a lot of talk of leverage, which is the hidden turbo-charger in a lot of financial innovations, from credit default swaps to structured investment vehicles. And there was a general consensus that if you want to create prosperity and jobs, then leverage is in principle a good thing: more debt means more growth which means more prosperity. For a prime example, see this post from Gregory White, who reckons that whenever household debt is going down rather than up, “the economy will stink.”

[...]

The challenge I put to the panel yesterday was to come up with an innovation which produces more growth with less leverage

That last sentence almost makes FLG want to take back everything bad FLG has ever said about Felix.

Let's get back to econ 101. There are two things individuals can do with their income: spend it or save it. At the most basic level, this is a choice between consuming now or in the future. But then you have to think about what saving is. Inevitably, saving is giving your money to somebody else in return for money later. What do they do with that money? Well, people don't often borrow money unless they have something they want to spend it.

So, you then have a saver and a borrower. A key factor, perhaps the key factor, that determines how much to save/borrow is the interest rate. Higher interest rates encourage savings and discourage borrowing. Lower interest rates discourage savings and encourage borrowing.

Theoretically, the way in which saving and borrowing (which you can consider the entire financial system) contributes to economic growth is by redistributing capital to its most effective purposes. The easiest way to think about this is that as long as a business owner expects to generate a higher return than the interest rate it costs to borrow the money, then they'll keep borrowing money and keep contributing to economic growth. That's in theory and it sounds great.

In practice, we have a couple of problems. First, it's not always that smooth. There are times when that borrower who expected to get a return higher than the interest rate doesn't. Most of the time, this is due to poor decisions or bad luck or whathaveyou, and it may be catastrophic for the borrower, but the banks price some of this in. Less frequently, however, a systematic problem arises because it's not just one or two borrowers who made bad decisions, but a large amount of people whose projected returns are less than the interest rate. Then it puts the entire system at risk. That's more or less what happened during the housing crisis. Second, borrowing has the effect of pulling consumption forward. For example, if I borrow $100,000 today to be paid back over twenty years, then I spend $100,000. As FLG mentioned before, given that FLG is borrowing this money presumably he wants to spend it. Likewise, the person lending me the $100,000 doesn't want to consume right now. So, all things being equal, lending FLG should increase GDP over what it would have been because FLG is spending the money. However, FLG then has a stream of payments moving forward that he has to pay back and will not be using for consumption. If FLG makes a greater return than the interest rate and spends that gain on consumption (let's not get into him saving to keep it simple), then he will, on net, increase GDP over the time. If he doesn't then, we've got problems. But all of that is assuming domestic borrowing and lending. What happens if we introduce foreign borrowing?

Let's say China lends the US $1 trillion. The US then spends it. This increases the American GDP in that year. But the US then has to pay back that money and each of those payments is money that cannot be used for consumption in subsequent years. And, unlike in the domestic case, where those payments go back to other Americans who were saving to consume in the future, and all things being equal will contribute that money right back to GDP, spent Chinese savings do not. And so the US is indeed shifting consumption forward at the expense of future consumption. To the extent that that money isn't used for consumption, but rather for investment opportunities, i.e. Americans are better at finding things to do with money and so the American economy and financial system does some sort of arbitrage to take the money of Chinese savers who want 3% return and give it to Americans who can make 8 or 10% on that money, then it's all well and good. To the extent that those investments don't pan out, we'll, then we're fucked moving forward.

All that is to say that, yes, hypothetically leverage moves money to those who can use money most effectively and so, in principle, it's a good thing. But like all things, there's too much of a good thing and principles don't always hold in practice.

Romney's French

FLG had no idea Romney spoke French. Or maybe he did but utterly forgot. In either case, he does agree with this assessment:
Mr Romney combines a thick American accent with a robotic delivery

What She Said

Readers may remember that about six months ago, FLG argued that women care more about what others people think of them than men and that this makes them more unhappy. The basic problem is that "basing your personal happiness on the approval, admiration, or acceptance of other people is a futile task" and women seem to do that more. Moreover, that the typical response is a juvenile inflating the self-esteem balloon exercise.

It looks like Isabel Archer is on a similar wavelength:
The orthodox feminist response to pieces like Grose's is usually to say that women ought to strive for "self-acceptance" at whatever weight they are at. This is sort of true, but also sort of wrong. What ought to be feminists' goal should be something like a mental mini-version of Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own. I've struggled with how to put this as this post languishes in Save as Draft form, but the broad idea is that there ought to be mental space away from the need to please men. The self-acceptance people remind me too much of the dreadful middle school workshops on body image where we had to stand around and recite affirmations like "I love the body the way I am." It sounded craven, ridiculous, and redolent of fundamentalist religious cults that sensible adults were generally urging me not to join. No, what I want for young girls like my high school friend is something like the ability to shut off the repeated voice saying "You ought to be burning calories!" in favor of a voice saying "Yes, but one has to do work now." By the grace of work, by the knowledge that work is important, the burning calories voice then yields to the work voice. And only in doing so does one ever attain the kind of incandescence that Woolf prized. There's no self-acceptance in her vision of incandescence; one becomes a vessel of something else in Woolf's vision, and the self sort of fades away entirely. Modern feminists would do better to cast their arguments about body image anxieties in terms of "These worries are a distraction from the pursuit of incandescence," rather than to focus on the goofy cult rituals about "self-acceptance."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Imagine That You Are An Idiot

...who gets high and drunk, then - you know how in the cartoons characters will step on rake and get hit the face? - well, you do that. Over and over. Next, you decide to have your brain removed, blended into a smoothie as a protein supplement, and fed to hyenas. After all that, you sat down to rank order the best Pixar movies. You still would do better than this list.

FLG won't go through the problems with the order film by film. Instead, he'll highlight two issues. First, WALL-E is far and away the worst Pixar movie. To have it ranked first is almost laughable. FLG is fairly certain that in some states just thinking this is enough to have a person legally committed. Second, Toy Story 2 is easily the best Pixar movie, and indeed one of the few sequels in the history of film better than the original.* For this reason, FLG is open to the idea that Toy Story could be ranked number one. Open to it, but it's still wrong.

--------------------
* Other sequels better than the original: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Godfather Part II, and Aliens

No, Not That Again

FLG's father-in-law sent him a link to this analysis by Bill Gross. Gross is a smart guy, but FLG stopped reading about three paragraphs in. Why? Because that damn "we need to invest in math and science education to compete in a global economy" trope popped up:
Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

That put a huge black cloud over the credibility of any subsequent analysis, so FLG stopped reading.

Time Horizons

FLG knows he's beaten this horse well and truly dead, but he found another clear example in favor of his time horizons theory (that political leanings aren't caused by values, as most people understand it, but rather at the core it's largely a product of the relative emphasis of present versus future in each individual's time horizon. Or, to put it another way, each individual's personal discount rate).

Here's Greg Mankiw:
I am also skeptical that across-the-board tax cuts increase tax revenue (although, unlike Paul, I think that tax cuts do generate a significant dynamic effects and therefore are not as costly as static estimates suggest).

FLG'll translate this into normal English:
I doubt cutting taxes raises government revenue, although, unlike Paul, I think they create long run benefits and therefore think they are not as bad as short-term estimates suggest.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reader Poll

FLG has decided needs to make a career change soon. Any suggestions from the readers about what they think he'd be good at? If so, then click the comments button and fire away.

Undergraduate Business Education

FLG has long been against undergraduate business education. Doing an MBA only reinforces that stance. Business education isn't conducive to disproving The Big Assumption Thus, it's not conducive to providing a liberal education, not merely as historically understood, but insofar as the term liberal arts means what a free citizen ought to know and understand. Consequently, FLG was not in the least bit surprised by this article about the sad state of undergraduate business education.

There are several underlying reasons why FLG thinks business education isn't good for educating citizens, but he'll address them later.

Another explanation [for the poor performance of business students] is the heavy prevalence of group assignments in business courses: the more time students spent studying in groups, the weaker their gains in the kinds of skills the C.L.A. measures.

FLG has mentioned before on his blog that he hates group work. (He views breaking up into groups during class sessions as possible the biggest waste of time imaginable, but that's a separate issue.) He's heard the reasons for group work.

"You'll be in groups in the work world." Yep. Ya will. But there are two important differences between school and work groups. First, when somebody is working on a project in the work world they have a reasonable expectation that they'll have to work with that person in the future and everybody has longer-term interests involved. They'll probably need each other at some point. So, it isn't a good strategy to slack off. In school, you're thrown together for a semester or a quarter or even for one project. After that, it's on to the next group. No continuing interest not to slack off. Second, if a group member in the work world is screwing up or slacking off, it's possible to escalate it to their boss. In school, you can bring it to the professor's attention, but they're often hesitant to get involved.

Then there's the "some people learn better in groups argument." Students will learn from each other, or so the theory goes. FLG has never bought into this theory. He's just never learned that much from his fellow students. Most of the time, if any of the students has some expertise, then it plays out like this:
the groups that functioned most smoothly were often the ones where the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis.

Towards the end of the article, it starts to get into what FLG objects to in business education:
it is a “travesty” to offer vocational fields like finance or marketing to 18-year-olds. Instead, he supports a humanistic, multidisciplinary model of management education

Focusing on vocational fields is short-sighted. You can, as FLG is doing, always go back and do an MBA or even take some classes in a technical or vocational field later. You only get one chance to do an undergraduate education. FLG thinks that's why this holds:
On average nationally, business students enter the work force with higher starting salaries than humanities and social science majors. By mid-career, however, some of those liberal arts majors, including political science and philosophy majors, have closed the gap.

Generally speaking, a college educated person will have opportunities to pickup technical and business knowledge. Businesses send people to training for these things all the time. It is far less likely that a business is going to pay for a course in humanities. The philosophy major can reasonably go get an MBA to add specific business skills to their liberal arts education. A business major doesn't have the opportunity to rectify their lack of a liberal arts education, at least through formal schooling.

FLG's objection to undergraduate business education is roughly two-fold. First, it's not conducive to investigating normative issues. Sure, there's ethics components, but in general the assumption in American business schools is one of profit maximization. FLG doesn't have an issue with businesses maximizing profits. That's all well and good. He does have an issue with a citizenry, specifically the supposedly educated citizenry, having received an education that was almost entirely built upon that largely unexamined assumption.

But even if you assume that education is merely to prepare for work, skill-based education FLG believes is the preferred term of late, then what do employers want? Great question, which the article addresses:
And what about employers? What do they want?

According to national surveys, they want to hire 22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors. Most Ivy League universities and elite liberal arts colleges, in fact, don’t even offer undergraduate business majors.

Look, FLG isn't sure that an English major is at some huge advantage over a business major when finding a job right out of school. But, on average, FLG thinks the English major has better potential over the course of their career. For the first five maybe ten years of a person's career technical skill matters, but they matter less afterwards. Then it becomes more about, broadly speaking, dealing with people.

Let's take a hypothetical finance major. Maybe they work in a finance department or even for a big bank. At first, they're crunching numbers. But ten to fifteen years later they're not crunching numbers anymore. They're managing people and running a department or division. At that point, the hardcore finance skills aren't terribly important. They just need to know enough to find flaws in the numbers; to be able to call bullshit on what is given to them. Their job has shifted to become more about communication and understanding people with all the myriad motivations. That is where the humanities and liberal arts major flourishes.

Oh, sure, business majors take organizational behavior and management communication, but FLG's experience with these courses is that they try to codify, thorough social science-ish processes, what is inherently tacit. And, at least in FLG's experience, this tacit knowledge is best learned from a liberal arts education.

UPDATE: FLG did want to mention that the title of the article is The Default Major. This does highlight the self-selection issue. To a large extent, those students who view college on purely financial return grounds are going to major in business because it gives the most bang for the buck in terms of immediate returns. So, as you expand access to higher education, this situation is only going to get larger.

Capital And Leverage

FLG has been going on and on about how leverage is the real issue when it comes to systematic financial risk and everything else is a distraction. So, he read this paragraph with glee:
Capital matters. Let me put that another way. The current fight over additional capital requirements for the banking industry, eye-glazing though it is, also happens to be the most important reform moment since the financial crisis broke out three years ago. More important than the wrangling over Dodd-Frank. More important than the ongoing effort to regulate derivatives. More important even than the jousting over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

FLG would just like to add that it's not just a little more important than those things it's orders of magnitude more important.

FLG's Aerospace Geekiness

FLG was intrigued by this idea:
Plans are to be unveiled on Monday for a "hypersonic" jet that flies twice the speed of Concorde on biofuel made from seaweed

It's not the seaweed that's most fascinating to FLG. It's that the proposed plane will have ramjet engines. The trouble with ramjets is that they don't really work until you're already going almost Mach 1. So, somehow the plane needs to get up to that speed first, which means another set of engines. In this particular case, EADS is proposing using a set of turbofan engines, those are the normal kind, and a set of rocket engines.

Having two sets of engines, turbofans and ramjet, to get the plane up to speed and then ramjets to really accelerate to hypersonic speed? Okay, FLG can see that, but it does seem complicated and expensive to maintain.

Having three sets, including rocket engines? You're getting into Wile E. Coyote territory. Why don't they put freakin' laser beams on it?

FLG has a hard time believe this design will get anywhere near prototype, let alone actually fly passengers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quote of the day II

This passage popped into FLG's head today as he was thinking about NATO, multinational organizations, international law, and other such things that he has no business thinking about:
a mere decree is worthless without a willingness on your part to put your resolutions into practice. If decrees could automatically compel you to do your duty, or could accomplish the objects for which they were proposed, you would not have passed such an array of them with little or no result, and Philip would not have had such a long career of insolent triumph. Long ago, if decrees counted for anything, he would have suffered for his sins.

Quote of the day

Don't use profanity on the train, "especially those people who went to Harvard or Yale or are from Westport."

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, he, he, he, he. From Westport. Ha, ha, ha. That cracks FLG up.


HT to UD.

Potemkin Alliance Continued

Richard Haass writes:
If NATO didn’t exist today, would anyone feel compelled to create it? The honest, if awkward, answer is no.

He lists a plethora of reasons why NATO is no longer relevant, but then arbitrarily stops before reaching the logical conclusion that follows from his argument:
None of this justifies a call for NATO’s abolition. The alliance still includes members whose forces help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East.

Uh, okay, look, FLG isn't a Rhodes Scholar with a a PhD from Oxford, but he did take a logic course and has, you know, umm, like, I dunno, thoughts. If somebody can tell be how this makes sense...wait, let FLG reorder the sentences first:
Some members of NATO have forces that help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East. Therefore, we shouldn't abolish NATO.

Something doesn't follow. There's a ??? in between those two sentences.

Some members of NATO have forces that help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East. ??? Therefore, we shouldn't abolish NATO.

What exactly is that ??? Haass doesn't say. Do you know why? Because all the ones FLG can think of sound preposterous.

Here's the strongest potential argument:
Some members of NATO have forces that help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East. No NATO and they wouldn't. Therefore, we shouldn't abolish NATO.

But this is idiotic. For this to work, you'd have to argue that these activities are not in these member nation's national interests and they are just doing them because of their duty to the alliance. Since FLG has been arguing that NATO was merely the vessel through which strategic interests in the Cold War manifested, he obviously thinks that argument is bullshit. But he doubts anybody really believes that argument. And indeed Richard Haass explicitly argues against it in the piece:
With the Cold War and the Soviet threat a distant memory, there is little political willingness, on a country-by-country basis, to provide adequate public funds to the military. (Britain and France, which each spend more than 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense, are two of the exceptions here.) Even where a willingness to intervene with military force exists, such as in Afghanistan, where upward of 35,000 European troops are deployed, there are severe constraints. Some governments, such as Germany, have historically limited their participation in combat operations, while the cultural acceptance of casualties is fading in many European nations.

Where FLG thinks Haass goes wrong is to focus on the macro-level. Sure, Europe is spending less and less willing to tolerate casualties on a macro-level. FLG will concede that. However, that's not the issue. The issue is that the alliance members have diverging strategic interests. Or perhaps more accurately they have differing perceptions of their strategic interests.

But what else could conceivably fill that ??? Something more credible maybe:
Some members of NATO have forces that help police parts of Europe and who could contribute to stability in the Middle East. NATO makes them more effective at doing these things. Therefore, we shouldn't abolish NATO.

This may be true. These members may be more effective in the alliance. For example, the current Libya operation shows just how much the Europeans need US help to mount a campaign about as close as you can get and still technically be projecting force intercontinentally. This is a good deal for the United States why exactly? Right, it's not.

US policymakers have a huge blind spot when it comes to NATO. FLG sees four common mistakes. First, the policymakers involved winning the Cold War have a deep emotional, nostalgic attachment to NATO. Second, many people incorrectly attributing the winning the Cold War to NATO. Third, some US policymakers have a deep desire to share the costs of being the world's cop with Europe. Lastly, there are a bunch of people with a huge multinational institutions fetish.

FLG has written this before and will write this again. NATO didn't win the Cold War. Its members did, not the institution. The institution was a vessel.

Cold Warriors who remember working closely and effectively with allies need to understand that the presence of an existential threat focuses the mind. All could agree that the USSR was a problem. That focus died when the USSR did. No amount of 5-year plans, studies, or whining is going to bring it back. NATO didn't win the Cold War; its members did.

The "I want to share costs" policymakers need to realize that this only makes sense if everybody in the alliance wants to be global cop, and it's quite obvious nobody else is. Therefore, these policymakers need to realize that the alliance, in this type of case, actually makes it more difficult for the US. Europeans, realizing they can free ride on US power projection capabilities, invest less in military capabilities than they would without the alliance. To be honest, FLG doesn't think it would make a major difference. Europe isn't going to develop a global power projection capability, but FLG does think that if NATO had ended in 1992, like it should have, then France and the UK could have run the Libya operation by themselves without American help.

FLG thinks the biggest obstacle to doing the smart thing and getting rid of NATO are the multinational institutional fetish people. They need NATO. Almost every other multinational institution has huge problems. But then there's NATO. The military alliance that won the Cold War without firing a shot. Again, the members' strategic interests were aligned and NATO was merely a vessel, but don't tell these fetishists this. NATO is their one perceived success. FLG would argue the history of NATO shows just the opposite, the complete ineffectiveness of institutions in the presence of non-aligned interests, but what does FLG know?

Potemkin Alliance

Or so writes George Will.

Or, as FLG says, NATO delenda est.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

FLG Didn't Update His Google Reader

...to account for Tim Kowal's move to his sub-blog over at LOG. Anyway, FLG went back and read some of Tim's older posts. Guess what? One in particular, of course, calls out for FLG's Time Horizons Theory.

Tim posted this passage by Kevin Drum, whom, in complete honesty, FLG considers a fucking moron:
to the extent that you really do believe that cognitive abilities are (a) important, and (b) strongly biologically determined, shouldn’t you also believe that the poor are more unlucky than anything else, and haven’t done anything to deserve hunger, lousy housing, poor medical care, or crappy educations? If genetic luck plays a big role in making us who we are, then support for income redistribution from the rich to the poor is almost a logical necessity for anyone with a moral sense more highly developed than a five-year-old’s.

Tim then responds that conservatives question our ability to ameliorate unfairness beyond human caused injuries. FLG, not surprisingly, thinks the difference derives from time horizons. Liberals see current unfairness and want to redress this through instantaneous redistribution. Conservatives look at the same thing and say, look there's unfairness, but in the long run it is better for society if we encourage everybody to be as productive as they can, even if the potential levels of productivity vary. Redistributing income discourages people from being as productive as possible, and this has adverse long-term consequences for overall output.

There are a variety of comments, with the liberals analyzing the issue based on short-term assumptions, for example:
There was a day when Conservatives feared the poor, for they were likely to revolt. Poverty afflicts a society like frostbite: once the extremities freeze, the rest of the body is endangered by infection. It seems wiser, on a cost basis, to prevent crime than punish it, prevent illness than treat it, put a suture on a paper cut before it suppurates and goes septic.

Again, crises necessarily shorten time horizons. So, assuming a constant and persistent crisis stance will result in short time horizons. For example, if you have frostbite, then you aren't really concerned about your 401k. You're concerned about getting your frostbite dealt with. RIGHT NOW! Short time horizon.

Rufus F, bane of FLG's existence when writing about the canon, offers:
This might just be a subset of Blaise’s point about a cost analysis of these problems and maybe should go under that comment. But, for me, I’m not sure that larger questions of “rights” or “justice” enter so strongly into the consideration of the social safety net; it’s a more a question of the social order and how to keep it. I understand that society can only do so much to redress these grievances, but you can also go too far the other way- remove so much of the social safety net that the average person feels the society isn’t worth investing in and then they won’t. So, ugly as it might be, for myself, it’s usually just a craven question of, “If this assistance program is removed, will people be throwing garbage cans through windows?” If so, forget the larger argument.

Again, I openly admit this is a craven way of looking at it, but I’m a bit wary of these liberal brain/conservative brain discussions. In Canada, we have plenty of Conservatives who discuss this issue in exactly the same way. It’s probably why there’s more consensus here about social assistance programs: liberals can see them as promoting justice and conservatives can see them as promoting stability.

Look at the way Rufus is analyzing this. Remove the social safety net, then there's a risk that people will throw up their hands and revolt. Well, that's a potential short-term risk. It ignores the potential that without a social safety net people will save and invest to provide for themselves. Do we have an example to support this? As a matter of fact, we do. Pretty much everybody agrees that the lack of a social safety net in China is a major contributor to the sky high savings rate in China. Almost every proposal to shift the Chinese economy to consumption includes a recommendation to enact a social safety net.

FLG ain't suggesting the US eliminate its social safety net. But FLG does object to the portrayal by several commenters, including Rufus, that an objective cost-benefit analysis clearly and unequivocally supports a social safety net. Their cost-benefit analyses were short-term based. Which is fine, but FLG doesn't think the commenters who offered them were even aware of this limitation at all.

Something FLG Never Understood

...was how human domesticated animals. It always bugged FLG. He just never bought that some human took a wild boar or wolf or whathaveyou and made it nice. Put simply -- while FLG agrees Nature and Nurture play a role, he never understood how humans could have overcome Nature with Nurture so completely, especially given that we haven't had any more success in this arena in several thousand years.

Well, FLG was at the dentist a few weeks ago and there was a magazine article about how an experiment to domesticate foxes has been going on for decades in Russia. This article contained a theory that made sense to FLG.

If certain individual wolves or boars were, through random genetic variation, either interested in or not as afraid of humans, then they might have found the areas around human settlements a good place to find food. These individual animals that were attracted to human settlements procreate and the offspring are even more attracted to humans. Over time, you have a different animal that is domesticated. Dogs instead of wolves. Pigs instead of boars. This makes much more sense to FLG than some ancient farmer imposed his will to domesticate wild beasts (but we haven't been able to since) theory.

FLG's Second Favorite Tocqueville Passage Again

Matthew Cameron:
Instead of trying to reengineer the purpose of college toward providing kids with job skills, it might be time to consider more efficient ways to provide those job skills. As Tierney points out, large lecture classes offer little beyond what students can obtain in community colleges or online courses. Therefore, individuals who want to forgo the non-skills oriented liberal arts component of higher education should be encouraged to opt for those more affordable alternatives. This will both free up resources at traditional universities and will reduce the financial pressures put on students seeking to improve their credentials. In the latter case, it could enable those students to become more engaged with their studies since they no longer will have to work 30-hour-per-week jobs just to pay their way through school.

One relatively small point FLG would like to make is that he knew far, far more students working "30-hour-per-week jobs just to pay their way through school" at the community college he attended than the flagship state school or Georgetown. Sure, there were a handful at those two schools doing it, but they were in no way representative. Now, FLG's experience isn't data, but he finds it hard to believe that there is a huge potential to free up resources at traditional universities by shifting people with full-time jobs out. Perhaps the proposal is to offer skills-oriented BAs at community colleges so that students never have to transfer to a traditional university, which may be a viable possibility.

More broadly, however, FLG would like to take the opportunity, as he does frequently, to highlight that people are simply reiterating what Tocqueville wrote:
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.


Having just posted the above, FLG realized he never posts the paragraph that precedes the above, which is actually sorta funny because he thinks that the preceding paragraph is more interesting. One question, if you've read the above paragraph in isolation, is: why exactly is it in the interest of individuals and security of the commonwealth that people study business, economics, computer science, engineering, etc? Here, Tocqueville's answer is fascinating:
It is important that this point should be clearly understood. A particular study may be useful to the literature of a people without being appropriate to its social and political wants. If men were to persist in teaching nothing but the literature of the dead languages in a community where everyone is habitually led to make vehement exertions to augment or to maintain his fortune, the result would be a very polished, but a very dangerous set of citizens. For as their social and political condition would give them every day a sense of wants, which their education would never teach them to supply, they would perturb the state, in the name of the Greeks and Romans, instead of enriching it by their productive industry.

Simply replace "in the name of the Greeks and Romans" with "Economic and Social Justice," and FLG believes Tocqueville's argument has been appropriately updated.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quote of the day

WaPo:
having sex at 85 miles per hour while drunk on a freeway is willful and wanton negligence

Nothing Really To Say Here

...FLG just found this an insightful point:
In the wake of the financial crisis, governments round the world pulled out all the stops, adding targeted stimulus measures on top of the "automatic stabilisers" (lower tax revenues, higher benefit payments) that usually kick in. This shock'n'awe approach was designed to head off the possibility of a second Great depression. But it makes it more difficult to get back to normal. Any government that is concerned about its long-term fiscal position may not want to balance its budget today but will want to bring down the deficit to a more usual level, say 2-3% of GDP. But the effect of this reasonable-sounding approach is to impart a hefty fiscal tightening and inspire a lot of political opposition.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

NATO Debate

The NYTimes decide to host an online discussion about the future of NATO, and guess what, nobody has any idea why it's still around.

Josef Joffe, the most pro-NATO of the bunch, writes:
NATO is such a nice thing to have. After all, it is the longest-lived alliance in history. But it now comes with a warning: Use sparingly and only in combination with the United States.

Is NATO such a nice thing to have? FLG knows people believe this, but only because it won the Cold War. Again, the presence of an existential threat focused minds and aligned interests. That threat gone, NATO has no raison d'etre. Period. FLG still can't get over the number of people, supposedly learned, intelligent people, who confuse the alignment of interests in the face of an existential threat with the mere vessel that those interests through which this interests were expressed. They reverse the causality. NATO didn't win the Cold War. It was the commitment of the alliance members. Now that that shared commitment it gone, the institution, far from being something that can be repurposed to do super-awesome things in the international arena, needs to be disbanded.

Then we have Kori Schake of the Hoover Insitution, who doesn't say it, but basically considers NATO dead, but adds a word of caution:
The U.S. should be cautious as we further reduce our involvement in Europe that we continue to help those countries willing to do hard work that also benefits us. We should take an activist role behind the scenes to set them up for success, even as we shift our political and military cooperation programs to countries that may shoulder more of the burden with us.

Good point, says FLG.

Then we have the future dean of American University's School of International Service and an author of the study that rendered FLG apoplectic a few days ago, James Goldgeier, who writes:
Meanwhile, for NATO to have any future, the alliance will have to develop greater capacity to respond to global threats like terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction arising from outside of Europe and North America that affect our common security. To do so, it will need democratic partners from other regions — Australia, Japan and South Korea — that can add to NATO’s capabilities. An institution that remains purely trans-Atlantic in character will be neither relevant nor sufficiently capable in the face of 21st century challenges.

Let's put this in perspective. FLG argues that in the absence of an existential threat the NATO allies lack a shared and focused set of aligned interests. And FLG would further argue that basically everything that has happened over the previous two decades supports that argument. Oh, sure. Maybe NATO has some successes, but the exceptions, or perhaps more accurately one exception, don't disprove the rule.

And now, to save the institution, justified on the almost circular logic that we have to save the institution to save the institution, Goldgeier proposes that NATO needs a newer, broader mission?

NO. IT. DOES. NOT. This will exacerbate the problem of having a bunch of countries in an alliance with no narrowly-focused, aligned interests. The result will be an unwieldy, ineffectual mess.

Up next, Alexis Crow at Chatham House, who unlike the rest of these commentators makes an fascinating observation:
In the post-cold war world, NATO’s operations in theaters like Kosovo and Afghanistan (and the inability to secure clear strategic victories in these campaigns) have revealed NATO’s existential crisis: If the alliance cannot carry out clear military or political success, then why does it continue to exist?

Part of the problem lies in the contrasting American and European views of NATO’s raison d’être. For the most part, American statesmen have tended to see NATO as a collective defense community built on Western values, ideally harboring the ability to carry out operations across the globe to secure these values -- in essence, a "global NATO." As such, the alliance provides the U.S. with the political cover to embark on operations as a legitimate partner rather than a unilateral actor.

But Europeans, who pride themselves on being pacific and post-modern, would like to see NATO as a collective security community, one that "comes home" from ambitious nation-building projects abroad, and addresses softer, non-traditional security challenges like Arctic security or cyberdefense.

While this is a very astute observation, it ignores the larger picture, which FLG has focused on. Namely, the members don't have narrowly-focused and aligned interests. Ultimately, that's what drives this divergence in views towards NATO. The European view is simply a non-starter for Americans. And while FLG understands, at least conceptually, the argument for NATO from the American viewpoint, at least as expressed above, he also thinks this is short-sighted.

You want an alliance that can share burden of protecting Western values across the globe? Great. FLG'd like a Ferrari and a private jet. Ain't gonna happen. In fact, if what Americans want is European armies capable of projecting power around the globe, then FLG would argue that the existence NATO undermines this goal. Look at it this way, if you are in an alliance with the most powerful military this planet has ever seen, then why the hell would you spend more on defense? Right, you wouldn't. However, if that alliance fell apart, well, you might just spend more on defense. Thus, you'd have better European armed forces. Sure, they might not always go along with you on global adventures, but they aren't now. Alliance or no alliance, they only go along when they feel their interests are at stake. Therefore, better to close up the alliance, encourage stronger European militaries through lack of explicit security guarantees, and cooperate on conflicts where shared interests dictate.

Lawrence S. Kaplan, who teaches the Military History of NATO course at Georgetown that FLG thought of taking, writes:
The implosion of the Soviet empire inevitably strained the transatlantic alliance. Europe’s failure in the 1990s to cope with the breakup of Yugoslavia and negative European reactions to American unilateralism over Iraq in 2003 could have ended the alliance. Yet no member has withdrawn from NATO despite the provocations.

No matter how frayed the relations are, both the United States and Western Europe have recognized the benefits two generations have given them. There is no substitute for NATO that might deal more successfully with the many challenges confronting the world today.

FLG has a couple of responses. First, as they say on Wall Street, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Just because nobody has dropped out in the last 20 years, doesn't mean they won't in the future. In fact, FLG thinks Gates made a great point when he argued that his generation had an emotional attachment to NATO that future leaders won't have. Second, the argument that we've got no substitute isn't much of an argument. NATO, frankly, has shown itself completely incapable of dealing with the challenges confronting the world today. To the extent that people cling, emotionally and irrationally, to the hopes that NATO won the Cold War (again, an incorrect attribution of causality) and therefore it will be able to do all sorts of other cool things, the continuing existence of NATO is not only an distraction but a obstacle to addressing challenges.

NATO delenda est.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Never Got The Memo

The FLGs are, well truth be told Mrs. FLG really, trying to plan a trip to Williamsburg over the summer. FLG discovered, much to his disappointment, that the Big Bad Wolf has closed. He doesn't know what it is with Busch Gardens that they close perfectly good roller coasters. For whatever reason, roughness supposedly, they shutdown the super-awesome Drachen Fire only a few years after unveiling it.

Alexander Statue

...is causing an international stir.

FLG's default position is to be in favor of all statues of Alexander.

Educational Equality And Opportunity Revisited

FLG found this article interesting given his recent post about Phoebe's proposal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

While FLG Is On The Subject Of Monologues

...he couldn't help but post this:

FLG Was Thinking Some More

...about his recent plagiarism post and through some crazy free association binge in his mind arrived at Welles' monologue on Chartres in F for Fake:

People Don't Care About Plagiarism

FLG begs to differ with these thoughts about blog ethics:
Journalistic codes of conduct don't seem to apply. Certainly some academic standards do. For example, a blogger who plagiarized would certainly be ostracized quite quickly, but presumably the punishment would come more through social shaming and reader boycotts than any explicit sanctions against the writer. So do bloggers have a code of conduct? Should they have a code of conduct?

FLG assumes this author is an academic because she's blogging over at Duck of Minerva, the authors of which he believes are all academics. Consequently, FLG thinks The Big Assumption is at work here and an academic is assuming their experience is representative when, quite frankly, it's not.

FLG thinks he may have mentioned this before, but normal people don't really care about plagiarism. Managers and executives just want the information presented and an easily digested format that highlights the main points and makes a recommendation. If an entire paragraph comes from some other source and sans attribution, well, nobody will care. The important part is that it informs some decision they have to make. The only times FLG has ever been asked about sources was regards to data and statistics.

Plagiarism matters to academics and journalists because the end is not some decision. Instead, the words are, in a very real way, the end, the product. So, it makes sense that they would be concerned and develop norms surrounding plagiarism. Likewise, it is entirely appropriate that plagiarism is taken as a serious infraction in academic environments, even if the students never plan on becoming academics or journalists. (Although, FLG wishes the same rule applied to big name professors as well. Yes, Harvard Law, FLG is talking about you.)

But while the blogosphere has academic and journalistic sub-spheres, let's call them neighborhoods, that hold and enforce the norms from the real world, there are other neighborhoods where nobody will give a second thought to plagiarism.

FLG believes that non-academic, non-journalistic people object, if they object at all, not so much to plagiarism, but to the general hypocrisy of failing to live up to a standards of a community the plagiarist chose to join.

Green Jobs Again

FLG has written it before, is going to write it again, and will almost certainly write it in the future -- these so-called green jobs are like breaking windows to create jobs for carpenters and glaziers.

Unsurprisingly, FLG was screaming at the radio when he heard this report on Marketplace:
Running for office, Obama vowed to create five million green energy jobs within a decade.

[...]

Eventually, green technologies promise to generate lots of new jobs. The question is whether that'll be soon enough for Obama to save his own.

Look, this is all pretty simple. You can create jobs by having the government order all lightbulbs be replaced with newer, supposedly better lightbulbs. But this comes at the cost of destroying the value of all the existing older, supposedly crappier lightbulbs. It has the same economic effect as if the government came into your house and broke every lightbulb. It's pretty clear that the country would not be better off it that happened.

"But wait a second FLG," you say, "they aren't mandating that everybody replace their lightbulbs. You'll just have to replace them when you are ready with something new, with some incentives and whathave you thrown in."

Okay, so the argument is that it's a good idea for the government to pay FLG to break his perfectly good lightbulbs himself?

"But aren't we creating jobs?" you ask. Well, that's probably not the case either. Sure, let's say for argument's sake, that a million jobs get created making new lightbulbs and electric cars. What then happens to the jobs making incandescent and regular cars? That's right. They go away. Moreover, FLG would argue that, all things being equal, making these new green products are probably more capital than labor intensive. Thus, on net, jobs are probably lost.

But isn't that what happens with every technological innovation? Didn't he buggy whip makers go out of business when automobiles arrived? Yes, yes they did. However, that was the result of people freely choosing what they believed to be a better product. An improvement, if you will. This improvement, from incandescent to other forms of lightbulb or gasoline to electric cars, isn't being driven by people freely choosing one over the other, but mandates. This isn't to say that automobile consumption wasn't or isn't subsidized in various ways, but that it was less so, at least initially. When people freely choose, then FLG is more likely to believe that there is benefits from change. When change is mandated by the government, FLG has to wonder why exactly is must be mandated. Maybe there's a collective action problem. Maybe it's simply not an improvement.

Look, FLG is in favor of carbon pricing. He thinks internalizing the costs of emitting carbon makes sense. People will freely choose the best way to minimize carbon while maximizing their utility. This will minimize the social cost of pollution. But FLG is deeply skeptical that the country will be better off economically, as in output, because of it. And it's sure as shit not going to create net jobs. Oh, it'll create jobs if you say these people are producing things the fulfill this mandate, but that's an idiotic way to go about looking at the benefits. It omits what wealth or jobs may have been destroyed by the change.

Again, to return to an analogy FLG mentioned before, the government could hire a bunch of people (awesome), to create demand for green lightbulbs (awesome), which would result in a bunch of people being hired to make and sell green lightbulbs (awesome), at the cost of having people enter everybody's homes and smash all the lightbulbs (not so awesome) and putting all the people who make non-green lightbulbs out of work (not so awesome).

So, when FLG hears "Eventually, green technologies promise to generate lots of new jobs," his immediate response is "Go fuck yourself."

FLG Likes Christopher Hitchens

But using the description sadistic North African intellectual to describe Saint Augustine is a bit too much.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Battles BC

Last night, before Game of Thrones, FLG caught the tail end of the "Caesar: Super Siege" episode of Battles BC, which you probably guessed was about the Battle of Alesia. Overall, it was pretty good, but the 300-esque graphic novel atheistic is jarring in the context of interviewing classics professors.

Power, Authority, and Ratings

FLG watched part of This Film Is Not Yet Rated. What struck FLG is how his Time Horizons theory applied even here. Going by the liberal, short run/conservative, long run framework, the movie is astonishingly liberal. FLG's mind was almost blown, in fact.

A conservative, more focused on the long-term, would focus on the complete and utter lack of authority the MPAA has. Instead, the movie focuses on the arbitrary, secretive, and multifaceted nature of the power the organization has, which is interesting but ultimately less powerful of an argument. Then again, maybe the power is what is more interesting insofar as driving a film, but FLG remains convinced that the lack of authority is the MPAA's Achilles' heel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Equal Opportunity

Phoebe writes:
Basically, I was struck by part of a comment at Flavia's, re: college admissions: "[T]he true test is not if you can do pretty well with every advantage but if you can do even decently having to fight through obstacles the more privileged can't imagine." Struck, that is, by the idea of there being a "true test," and how this relates to "holistic" admissions, as well as the insistence we have in America (in some parts of the country, that is) with matching students up with colleges that match their unique personalities. Struck also with how this contrasts with Isabel Archer's response, in which she asks, "Isn't it simpler and far more attractive to just have admissions officers focus on [...] picking people who will be good college students?" It strikes me that the way to expand opportunity and reward those who do well in college would be to have everyone just go to a nearby public university, one with as close to open admissions and free tuition as possible, and - in the European manner, sniffs this grad student from her Paris dorm room - allow that a certain (large?) percentage of the matriculating class won't graduate. Sure, kids from upper-class families would probably be better-represented among the "pass" contingent, but there wouldn't be the same initial barriers to getting in, namely the near-need for wealthy and-or with-it parents. There should be a way of expanding opportunity that doesn't involve intricate moral judgements of who has overcome precisely how much suffering - this in part because some types of suffering are neither financial nor racial, and are the kinds of things students might prefer not to - or not think to - put in their application packages.

FLG is a tad disappointed with this proposal from Phoebe. Following the open access, have people flunk out model, has several massive drawbacks, first and foremost among them that the quality of the education suffers.

Sure, in the French system anybody with a baccalauréat can enroll in their local university. But let's be completely honest, France has complicated, but broadly two-tiered system wherein promising and ambitious students attend grandes ecoles, like Sciences Po, ENS, and X, all of which are highly-selective.

In fact, the whole thing reminds FLG of the Economist's Anglo-EU translation guide, which states that "Il faut trouver une solution pragmatique" should be translated as "Warning: I am about to propose a highly complex, theoretical, legalistic and unworkable way forward."

Trip To The Cinema

The FLGs went to see Midnight in Paris last night. FLG really liked it. Great sense of whimsy, and FLG likes whimsy.

Something You Probably Wouldn't Have Guessed About FLG

He has some experience and skill with a pastry bag.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Correspondence

A reader sent FLG a note that they had pulled out their Panama hat for the summer, since you all know how much FLG is into hats, but then said they were afraid the fucking hipsters would start wearing them and ruin everything. FLG thinks we're all worried about that, so he wanted to share his foolproof plan to distract them from the Panama hat with all of you.

Step 1) Buy a bunch of pith helmets.
Step 2) Find hipsters wearing Che t-shirts.
Step 3) Explain how "ironic" it would be to juxtapose the symbol, supposedly, of righteous rebellion with the symbol of colonial oppression.
Step 4) ???
Step 5) Profit!

Yeah, FLG Is Still Sticking With His Time Horizons Theory

Elias Isquith writes:
I’m of the mind that the “rational” basis for much of our politics is arrived at ex-post facto and that the most influential parts of our decision to self-identify as left-wing, right-wing or moderate are subjective and social. By social, I mean to say that they’re determined by the values we’ve come to hold most dear, and that our ordering these values is a process largely comprised of experience and emotion. And, yes, it’s very tribal.

For example, I’m swayed by arguments that favor Keynesian policies for a struggling economy in which aggregate demand is low. But I didn’t come to that conclusion through some scientific estimation of the various schools of economic thought. I came to that point because people in my tribe — people who seem to privilege the values of fairness and equality as I do — have signaled that, in specific contexts and for our chosen ends, Keynes’s ideas work best.

Result: of course running a deficit when demand is low is the right thing for the government to do. Duh!

Maybe you’re somehow built from different stuff than I, and all of your political beliefs exist relatively divorced from your subjective, emotional identity. But unless you’ve got some lizard blood in there, I doubt it. We have our feelings, and find the facts later. And that’s where elites are useful, because they (or their interns) take the time and do the work to gather up all the intellectual window-dressing to bolster these deeply-felt beliefs.

FLG still says it's the individual's time horizons, or discount rate if you prefer, that drive this stuff. Now, of course, somebody on the liberal side the equation, who values the short-term much more than the future, is going to think it's the product of some sort of emotional and experiential process. That's the kind of reacting to the present, empirical type of thing they'd think.

That being said, FLG does agree that intellectuals do provide rational, logical arguments for each side's beliefs. FLG just doesn't think that these derive from some dark corner of the mind where values that have been formed by experience and emotion reside. It's from the person's time horizon. More concerned about the longer-term, more conservative.

It's interesting to FLG, however, that the word values comes up. Because when somebody from the left-wing first encounters FLG's theory, they usually respond with "No, it's differing fundamental values." (And of course the left-wing values are superior.) But then as you start progressing and engaging, what you get down to, as FLG has found time and time again, is these so-called values really boil down to valuing the short-term over the long-term, especially in the economic sphere.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Good To Know

Johnson:
fottuto means "screwed" as in "fucked"

Does It Matter?

FLG mentioned how he is listening to a Roman history podcast. Since he going in chronological order, much of the history at this point, Romulus and Remus, the Seven Kings of Rome, the final war with Veii, is a mixture of myth and history. Well, the podcaster keeps trying to bring in what archaeological records have found. This is one of those things that just doesn't matter to FLG.

So, Livy says some war lasted ten years, but the archeological record says it's closer to 6-7. FLG just can't be bothered to care.

FLG actually got into an argument with a classic professor about the importance of fact in the Alexander histories. Trying to ascertain where fact ended and the legend began was of great importance to this professor. FLG could never understand why. Who cares whether it was snakes or crows that led Alexander to Siwah. Maybe he had an awesome guide or sheer dumb luck prevailed. How is that meaningful or relevant?

Maybe the classics and history professors who read this blog have a different take, but FLG is less concerned about what actually happened, especially when we have no way of knowing, rather than what the story or history means. Perhaps it's emblematic of some sort of virtue or vice or whatever.

And it's not just ancient history. FLG couldn't possibly care less whether Anthony McAuliffe actually, in point of fact, responded "Nuts" or not. He probably did, but that's not the God Damn point.

Hold Up

E J Dionne writes:
Weiner’s congressional colleagues are reluctant to defend him because they accepted his denial and feel badly burned.

FLG apologizes, but he has a hard time believing this line of thought. Weiner argued that his twitter account was possibly hacked. Okay. But wouldn't deny that the picture was of him. That was always fishy. It's almost as bad as the Cops episode FLG saw recently where the guy caught with drugs his pockets claimed that the pants he was wearing weren't his.

The only possible way that made sense if he wasn't lying was if somebody hacked into his account, happened to find lewd pictures that Weiner did knowingly have stored there, and then the hacker decided to send them to some coed. But that doesn't make any sense at all. Why have lewd pictures stored on your twitter account if not to send them to somebody? FLG guesses he could've argued that he was sending them to his wife, but let's be honest -- it's fishy.

So, spare me the congressional colleagues feel burned because they believed his initial lies. Nobody believed that bullshit story. They're reluctant to defend him because this things radioactive. A story about a guy sending pictures of his penis over the Internet whose name is Weiner ain't gonna be forgot quickly.

Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! Amen!

WaPo:
In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members’ penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support.

What astonishes FLG, well not really astonishes since we are talking about a policymaker who are, in general, better at seeing trees than forests, is that Gates thinks this path to demise can be reverse. Oh, sure, technically, "members of NATO - individually and collectively - have it well within their means to halt and reverse these trends and instead produce a very different future." But without a eminent, existential threat there's little possibility that they will.

Look, FLG understands that the Cold War generation has an "emotional and historical attachment," but those aren't rational reasons. It probably seems odd, hypocritical even, for FLG to call for a Cartesian analysis using the cold light of reason to look at a institution passed down to us by history. But NATO isn't some ancient political institutions whose origins and purposes are lost to us. It was a specific response to a specific threat during a specific period in history. It isn't some crucial organ holding the international order together. Perhaps it was at one time, but it metastasized into an entity that needs to be excised from the international security order.

NATO delenda est.
 
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