Monday, December 30, 2013

Quotes of the day

FLG thought this was worth highlighting given the recent China air defense zone kerfuffle from page 107 of Special Providence:
No other principle has played such a major role in our diplomatic history; infringing on our freedom to travel by sea and air remains the fastest way for foreign powers to start a war with the United States.


Also, FLG was intrigued by the alleged reversal of FLG's Time Horizons Theory in this quote from Stiglitz:
In practice, the right’s narrow focus on incentives has proved inimical to long-term thinking and so rife with opportunities for greed that it was bound to promote distrust, both in society and within companies. Bank managers and corporate executives search out creative accounting devices to make their enterprises look good in the short run, even if their long-run prospects are compromised.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Eyes, My Ears

FLG and Mrs. FLG are watching What We Wasted Our Year On.

FLG:  What does the fox say?  What are they talking about?

Mrs. FLG:  Oh my god!  You haven't heard it?  You need to see it on YouTube.

FLG grabs his iPad.

FLG:  Okay, here it is.  Weird.

A hideous ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding starts coming out of the computer. 

FLG:  Make it stop!  My ears, my eyes. This is fucking horrible.

Mrs. FLG laughing uncontrollably:  You have to watch the whole thing.

FLG:  No, I don't.  I want to unsee that.

Quote of the day II

Peter Wehner:
[T]he president is a chronic whiner, a habitual complainer and excuse-maker. He relied on blame shifting for his entire first term, and I suspect it’s not merely a tactic for Obama. It is how he’s been conditioned, how he views the world and his place in it. He believes deep in his bones that every setback he encounters is due to outside forces. And so he has laid the blame for his failures on his predecessor, the congressional GOP, the Tea Party, conservative talk radio hosts, millionaires and billionaires, Wall Street, Japanese tsunamis, the Arab Spring, Fox News, and more. Those excuses no longer work–and because they don’t, one of the main political arrows has been removed from the Obama quiver.

Quote of the day

Daniel Miller:
What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request.
FLG has been sure this would be the case for years.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

FLG is currently listening to





Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Couple Of Quotes

that FLG noted today

The Wire:
A new study has found that as much as 80 percent of the raw scientific data collected by researchers in the early 1990s is gone forever, mostly because no one knows where to find it.

 Buttonwood:
 A nation that gets rich by buying and selling houses is rather like the mythical island which prospered when each house took in its neighbours' washing. By the same token, nations don't get rich by buying back shares.
Bonus:

Ken Brown explains China’s financial system—with some help from claymation.

Which lends support to FLG's theory that all explanations can be made clearer through claymation, even his beloved Plato.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On Sale

FLG is keeping an eye on the Mr. Porter sale site for Charvet ties.  In previous years, they've gone lower after Christmans, so he's waiting it out.  Although, often his favorites are sold out while he waits.   So, he's a bit torn, but still holding firm.  (The Emma Willis ties are also very, very tempting, in particular, this cashmere one and this circle print one.)

While acknowledging that FLG's taste in ties is on the expensive side, the idea of paying almost a thousand dollars, on sale mind you, for a scarf makes him a bit nauseous.

And he hasn't bought it yet, but at $30 the pocket square with a pin up girl is pretty tempting.  Can't do the cufflinks though.

The Georgetown schoolboy scarf is on sale at J Press, as is the needlepoint Jolly Roger wallet that FLG will never buy.

Not on sale, or even in stock, but still pretty cool, is this map pocket square.

FLG Keeps Coming Back To Tocqueville

Elitism is distasteful to the citizens of democratic societies, but disguising it is a luxury we can no longer afford. We still need universities, but we need them to be, as in most periods of history, the domain of a relatively small group of people. Young people who are eager and intellectually capable should be encouraged to get a serious liberal arts education, and rewarded with opportunities that justify the investment. Those who are not should be directed to more targeted educational pathways that will enable them to find decent employment with a minimum of debt. Everyone should enjoy the fruits of a serious liberal arts education, but some may need to enjoy them less directly than others.

FLG keeps going back to that one passage in Tocqueville almost every time he reads something about higher ed, whether that's lamenting the downfall of liberal education or the impact online education will have:
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.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Quote of the day

Charles Murray:
Seen dispassionately, getting a traditional liberal education over four years is an odd way to enjoy spending one’s time. Not many people enjoy reading for hour after hour, day after day, no matter what the material may be. To enjoy reading On Liberty and its ilk—and if you’re going to absorb such material, you must in some sense enjoy the process—is downright peculiar. To be willing to spend many more hours writing papers and answers to exam questions about that material approaches masochism.
FLG wonders what it says to go beyond that and blog about these things.

Courage And Charm

FLG will inartfully summarize this post by Emily Hale that she is concerned about genderizing courage as masculine.  FLG had two knee jerk reactions.

 First, testosterone is a male hormone and estrogen is a female one, but both men and women have each.   The question is the appropriate balance.  If we say moderation in all things, then it would mean a different balance between the two in men and women.  FLG thinks a similar approach applies with masculine versus feminine virtues.

But as Emily notes there is always the question of context :
Considering courage in the context of virtue, of course, means that Aristotle isn't referring to having courage in any situation, but rather having it in the appropriate amount in the appropriate situation.

For example, while physical bravery is typically associated with the masculine, a mother defending her offspring even against impossible odds is a cliche.

Second, FLG immediately thought of how this article lamenting the decline of male charm hits the same notes, but from the opposite starting point.
There is no getting around the basic womanliness of charm. One of the three most important virtues in a man, according to Christopher Hitchens—among the very few charming men I’ve known—is the ability to think like a woman. (The other two are courage, moral and physical, and a sense of the absurd.)

Special Providence

FLG is reading Special Providence by Walter Russell Mead (whose blog, Via Media, you can find on the blogroll).  It's a great read .  FLG is disappointed that he hadn't read it earlier and even more disappointed that none of his professors at the SFS assigned it.  Although, maybe if FLG had taken a course on American Diplomatic History it would have been.  Although although, that a course on American Diplomatic History isn't required does say something in and of itself.

Almost every page has a passage worth highlighting, but here are a couple that FLG liked:
A democracy can, so to speak, easily have too many drinks and then pay a sordid call on a prostitute; it is much harder for a democracy to maintain a cultivated mistress in a fashionable apartment.   Unfortunately it is precisely this latter attitude of stylish and accomplished amorality that has historically worked well for diplomats.
In contrast to the common conception that the American people are ignorant of history, he points to our reverence of the founding documents as near sacred.  What FLG likes here is the concision of the prose:
We do not generally ask whether these documents are adequate for our purposes; the Bill of Rights and the Declaration judge us, we do not judge them. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jesuit Education

FLG was rereading The Prince the other day and stopped at the mention of Girolamo Savonarola.  He wondered how many people would know the name, the Bonfire of the Vanities, and the events with Pico della Mirandola?

And then he realized that FLG knew a lot of Dominicans throughout history because, at least in his experience that at Georgetown, the Dominicans are portrayed as not quite bad guys, as they are still Catholics, but as the Jesuits' foils.  Or perhaps just a misguided portion of the Church.

At the top of the list of bad Dominicans is Tomás de Torquemada.  Savonarola isn't portrayed particularly well. FLG remembers Oliviero Carafa being criticized.  Then there are Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger and their witch hunting - literally.  On the other hand, FLG will say that Bartolomé de las Casas comes out okay.

He was wondering if the this portrayal of the Dominicans is common in Jesuit education or if was just a Georgetown thing.  In any case, FLG is thankful for having at least a passing knowledge of them.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Current Reading List

FLG's current reading list has been stale for several years.   He just culled the books he actually made it through over the years.

Currently, actually currently not just on his current reading list, he is reading Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War, which has been trying to find a copy of for a while.  Some damned professor at Georgetown had basically checked the library's copy out indefinitely and FLG was too lazy to do the interlibrary loan.  But he was excited to have finally found a copy just yesterday.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Something More

MSI writes:
Ok, so there is the objection to the "all philosophy is either Plato or Aristotle" thesis. It sank my ship too during exams.

FLG isn't disagreeing.  He concedes the point.  It's more that, once the question is asked, it's so obvious an objection that he doesn't fully trust it.  Machiavelli was clearly aware of Plato and Aristotle.  Consequently, FLG finds it highly unlikely that they wouldn't have had an influence on his thinking and one more so than the other.  There has to be some thread of it there somewhere.

FLG is sure that sounds contradictory  -- he concedes the point, but is convinced that there's some thread of it there somewhere.   It's more that the Plato versus Aristotle debate did not end with Machiavelli.  And he was aware of Plato and Aristotle and was at least partially influenced by the latter.  So, the question for FLG is how did Machiavelli steer the Plato versus Aristotle debate subsequently?

Now, that he thinks about it, he'll also have to reread some Bacon.  He explicitly mentions Aristotle and was undoubtedly influenced by Machiavelli.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dollhouses

Miss FLG Maior asked for a dollhouse for Christmas.  FLG noticed they had some cute looking dollhouses at Pottery Barn Kids.  Like a lot of stuff at Pottery Barn, nice but a touch expensive.   In any case, it's not so much the price that threw FLG off, but the name -- the Westport dollhouse.  In case you are wondering, there is a Westport schoolhouse, Westport market, and even a Westport chicken coop.  Oddly, though, no Westport Playhouse.

Cute stuff, but doesn't Pottery Barn know about "playing Westport?"  Are they in on the joke?  In either case, there will be no playing Westport in the FLGs' house.  It's a cape cod even.

If FLG had seen the Danbury dollhouse before he purchased something, then he maybe would've gotten that.  But that just makes him think of a mall.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Plato, Aristotle, & Machiavelli

FLG has been thinking more about this.  He has some basic thoughts, but nothing coherent yet.

It's interesting that all three come from periods of warring city-states.  Makes FLG think of The Third Man.

The most important thing, FLG believes, is Machiavelli's rejection of a teleology.  To be honest, it makes it almost impossible to put him in either Plato's or Aristotle's camp based on this alone.

As far as FLG is concerned, about the only thing Machiavelli and Plato have in common is the idea that one ruler is best for maintaining order.  (Although, regular readers will remember that FLG views the philosopher king, and indeed the entire structure of the Republic, far less literally than most people, more as a way to illustrate the correct ordering of an individual soul than the structuring of an actual republic.)

Aristotle and Machiavelli are far more in agreement in their approaches, both of which FLG would characterize as more bottom up, observational, and even empirical.  The big issue, again, is Aristotle's teleological thinking versus Machiavelli's non-teleological.  Aristotle without the teleology, very well might be Machiavelli, but on the other hand Aristotle without the teleology is nonsensical as well, like the Bible without God.

All of this is pretty obvious so far.  What FLG is thinking about is whether Aristotle's teleology is essential to his conception of the spoudaios.  The question is whether the spoudaios is "excellent/good" or "serious" or whether we are talking about the man or the citizen.

FLG was mulling over some paragraphs:
Whether the virtue of a good man and a good citizen is the same or not. But, before entering on this discussion, we must certainly first obtain some general notion of the virtue of the citizen. Like the sailor, the citizen is a member of a community. Now, sailors have different functions, for one of them is a rower, another a pilot, and a third a look-out man, a fourth is described by some similar term; and while the precise definition of each individual's virtue applies exclusively to him, there is, at the same time, a common definition applicable to them all. For they have all of them a common object, which is safety in navigation. Similarly, one citizen differs from another, but the salvation of the community is the common business of them all. This community is the constitution; the virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member. If, then, there are many forms of government, it is evident that there is not one single virtue of the good citizen which is perfect virtue. But we say that the good man is he who has one single virtue which is perfect virtue. Hence it is evident that the good citizen need not of necessity possess the virtue which makes a good man. 
Since there are many forms of government there must be many varieties of citizen and especially of citizens who are subjects; so that under some governments the mechanic and the laborer will be citizens, but not in others, as, for example, in aristocracy or the so-called government of the best (if there be such an one), in which honors are given according to virtue and merit; for no man can practice virtue who is living the life of a mechanic or laborer. In oligarchies the qualification for office is high, and therefore no laborer can ever be a citizen; but a mechanic may, for an actual majority of them are rich. At Thebes there was a law that no man could hold office who had not retired from business for ten years. But in many states the law goes to the length of admitting aliens; for in some democracies a man is a citizen though his mother only be a citizen; and a similar principle is applied to illegitimate children; the law is relaxed when there is a dearth of population. But when the number of citizens increases, first the children of a male or a female slave are excluded; then those whose mothers only are citizens; and at last the right of citizenship is confined to those whose fathers and mothers are both citizens.  
As to the question whether the virtue of the good man is the same as that of the good citizen, the considerations already adduced prove that in some states the good man and the good citizen are the same, and in others different. When they are the same it is not every citizen who is a good man, but only the statesman and those who have or may have, alone or in conjunction with others, the conduct of public affairs. 



Monday, December 9, 2013

Quote of the day

Arthur Brooks:
Asking whether public policy grads have made a dent in the budget crisis “is like sending 75 Jesuits to China and complaining that the country isn’t Christian.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Plato, Aristotle, & Machiavelli

MSI writes:
I made a similar claim in my general exams and was given the question, "And would you say that Machiavelli was an Aristotelian or a Platonist?" What would you say?

FLG's knee jerk reaction is that since he believes Machiavelli is the root of modern science and empiricism, Machiavelli would most definitely be an Aristotelian.  BUT...FLG vaguely remembers Machiavelli drawing a sharp distinction between himself and Aristotle on some issue.  Although, he could be remembering that.  In either case, FLG needs to think about this more.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Plato Versus Aristotle

Years ago, FLG made the point that all of political theory is just a rehash of Plato versus Aristotle.

Tonight, he saw this book at Barnes & Noble:
Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World, 2002) boils Western philosophy and culture down to two competing notions: the idealism of Plato and the empiricism of Aristotle. Plato, says Herman, asks, “How do you want your world to be?”; Aristotle, on the other hand, asks, “How do you fit into the world that already exists?”
FLG'll need to download the Kindle edition. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

FLG Hasn't Been Reading Blogs A Lot Lately

But Matt Yglesias is still a know-it-all who just so happens to not know very much.

He says the US has too many banks.  How does he define too many?  Doesn't really say.  In fact, the number of banks has fallen to 6,891 today from 14,482 in 1984.

But he makes three points:

  1. They are poorly managed
  2. They can't be regulated
  3. They can't compete

He makes his first point by arguing, basically, that if the people with degrees from HBS and Wharton can't run the Wall Street banks, then the people at these little banks must be even worse.  He then says that since these small banks are funded by FDIC deposits this creates a problem because nobody has an incentive to pay attention to what's going on.  The glaring omission here is that smaller banks are simpler operations.  They take deposits and make loans.  They operate very much as if Glass-Steagall had never been repealed.

His second point is basically the high overhead costs associated with regulation is a real problem for small banks and politically we are sensitive to that.  Matt argues this is because we are perversely committed to these small banks.  FLG thinks this illustrates one of his big issues with regulation generally -- it acts as a barrier to entry and benefits large, incumbent firms whose own bureaucrats can speak the government bureaucratic language.  The effect of regulation, especially after regulatory capture, is to protect the status quo power dynamics of the players in the industry.

The last point, that they can't compete, FLG is somewhat sympathetic to.   There are economies of scale to banking, but he's seen differing views on how much matters in research literature.  There is certainly a lower cost of funds in the market for the too-big-too-fail banks, which has been empirical verified.  But since these smaller banks are getting most of their funds from deposits and they stay within that limit, he's not sure it matters.

The only way FLG can make any sense of what Matt is arguing is if he began a thought experiment of the ideal bank size to comply with all sorts of regulations Matt might come up with.    The sweet spot for that would be just big enough not to be too big too fail, which is pretty pretty much the "US Bankcorps and PNCs and Fifth Thirds and BancWests of America" he likes.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

FLG Still Thinks NATO Should Be Disbanded

Since he's been writing about his time horizons theory again, FLG might as well mention that he still thinks NATO ought to be disbanded.  Quick recap for those of you unfamiliar:  FLG contends that NATO's rasion d'etre since the Berlin Wall fell, November 10, 1989, almost a quarter century ago. Ever since its bureaucracy and its supporters have been thrashing about trying to find a new motivating reason.

The assumption, and FLG does mean assumption because its almost never explicitly articulated, that the alliance won the Cold War (therefore it was successful) and contains the world's most powerful militaries of democracies, so its continuing existence must be good.  This piece from June is representative of the type sympathetic to NATO.  FLG will jump right to the conclusion:
We must urgently redefine what NATO can do realistically, both militarily and politically, to ensure that NATO will be institutionally relevant in the future. 
 The mental model people seem to use is that NATO is like an aircraft carrier.  It can launch airstrikes, provide natural disaster assistance, and project power by its mere presence.  FLG, however, views it more like a pair of pizza shears when we are all out of pizza.  Good for the purpose it was designed, but not much else. To be clear, it's not a question of whether the constituent militaries lost their capabilities, but that without the existential threat of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact there's no political focus and never will be.

You see the borderline delusional thinking prevalent with NATO supporters in the piece that FLG quoted from earlier.  At the beginning, we have this:
Hi, my name is NATO and I have a defense spending and political leadership problem.
 Okay, FLG is on-board.  He thinks, however, let's put the damn alliance out of its misery.  Supporters instead offer this:
Step Four: Despite the difficulties, stay positive. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
Holy fuck!  Maybe we could solve the alliance's problem by booking it on Oprah.

NATO Delenda Est.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Obama, Ideology, And Time Horizons

FLG read this with some interest:
The president said something recently that I believe was interesting and underreported.‎ At a Democratic campaign fundraiser, the president said he was “not a particularly ideological person.” Assuming he meant it, that was a remarkable thing to say, given that Republicans think of him as a classic liberal ideologue. How did so many get the wrong idea? The president doesn’t see an ideological bent in his actions; he sees himself doing what needs to be done without any ideological motivation.
This is a self-conception that FLG, probably unsurprisingly, attributes to time horizons.  Here's what FLG wrote a few years ago about Ezra Klein's claim that Republican preference for smaller government is  counter-balanced by a preference for larger government, not broadly, only where it makes sense.

Liberals, always desiring to be rational, empirical, and scientific, naturally focus on what can be easily measured. This necessarily means limiting one's focus. For example, when conservatives worried/worry about death panels because of health reform, Ezra points out that the bill in question doesn't contain anything like them. That's an empirical, fact-based statement. But it also doesn't address the real issue, which is that health care reform will require cost controls and those cost controls presumably will fall on those who account for the most costs, which means people toward the end of life, which means death panels. It's not about the specifics of the health care bill, but the incentives it sets up. The road where it leads in the long run.
 and
My point here is that despite the pretensions of those who would use government of they're being rational, scientific, and most importantly practical, they in fact hold an ideological position that policy makers can gather enough information and use it effectively enough that unintended consequences are mitigated. And to do that one must necessarily limit the scope of their analysis, for practical reasons, to the near term. 
It's a question of Bastiat's seen and unseen consequences:
In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them
 When you start trying to foresee the the longer term effects of a policy the certainty of any policy position, especially with something as complicated as health care, becomes far less certain.  But here's the thing, what you often here in response to concerns about longer term effect from these so-called practical, non-ideological people is one deep skepticism or outright hostility.   It is unavoidable that the precision with which we can predict the effects of a policy diminishes with the longer the time horizon of the analysis becomes.  For the non-ideological, practical liberal this lack of certainty and precision of effects far off in the future means they can be dismissed.

The concern about death panels was dismissed as fear mongering or lying.  The practical, non-ideological response was that there were no death panels in the law.  But that isn't exactly the point the critics were making.  The issue is that the trajectory of the health law and the stated goal of cost control through increased government involvement in the health sector logically leads to something like death panels.  That it does not exist in the law, as an empirical fact, is almost irrelevant.  

To these practical, non-ideological thinkers, however, concerns about long-term consequences, which are not empirically verifiable in the present, is misguided at best, often viewed as irrational, and at worst view as downright immoral.

So, Obama is downright blind to his ideology because his entire way of thinking is rooted in an empirical, short-term analysis.  Long-term concerns are almost inherently non-empirical (because how can you empirically measure concerns about the distant future), and so are dismissed as self-evidently irrational.   Thus, he is non-ideological because he reaches the only conclusion dictated by the demonstrably empirical facts and the an analysis limited to the short-term effects of his policies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Time Horizons and Leisure

Last night, FLG read Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (PDF) for bazillionth time.  The juxtaposition of the time horizons still fascinates him.

At the outset, more or less, Keynes writes:
My purpose in this essay, however, is not to examine the present or the near future, but to disembarrass myself of short views and take wings into the future. What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a  hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?
So, he's taking a long view, and, in fact, proceeds to look back at basically all of known history very quickly. FLG will fast forward to:
The modern age opened; I think, with the accumulation of capital which began in the sixteenth century
And looking forward to the year 2030 he thinks we will have solved the problem of how to produce enough to satisfy our basic wants as a race:
I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not-if we look into the future-the permanent problem of the human race. 
And then a little later:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.
He then goes on to criticize the long time horizons that come with and are necessary for the accumulation of capital:
purposiveness means that we are more concerned with the remote future results of our actions than with their own quality or their immediate effects on our own environment. The “purposive” man is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.
For Keynes this is view is not misguided or problematic, but downright immoral, even if they are necessary to get to the economic land of milk and honey he envisions.  Once there, however, this view must be discarded.
I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue-that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of  usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk  most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour  and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of  taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin. 

Here's what so fascinating to FLG.  

First, the juxtaposition between the long time horizon of his analysis, which spans back thousands of years and projects into the future a century with his view of an individual's time horizon.  For the individual, a long time horizon investing for the future is semi-criminal.  Someone who "give the least thought for the morrow" is the ideal.    

Second, that piece is arguably the most concise and coherent expression of the view what FLG considers to be the end goal of liberalism, since at least Marx, which is a misunderstood form of Aristotelian Leisure.  (Besides that one link, FLG wrote a lot about Leisure back then).   This is an entirely present and motivating force even today.  Nancy Pelosi was just one person to make the following argument during and after the healthcare bill passage "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or, eh, a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance"  

FLG would argue the end goal of liberalism is one in which people can be an artist or photographer or a writer with worrying about any material things.  Health care is but one piece, a large piece, of the broader vision.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Politics and the English Language

FLG read these sentences by Charles Blow:
Change is hard and often messy, and a movement and a messenger — the progressive cause and this president — whose whole identities are about change will always be linked to any discomfort that change brings. 
Every policy change — particularly large ones — will have winners and losers. For now, the Republicans will keep highlighting the losers. Democrats must keep highlighting the winners, while reminding people that data points are not the data set. In the end, this health care law will be judged by its overall effects on the population and the economy, which I wager will be a net positive.

While undoubtedly unfair and hyperbolic on his part, but in the context of the Obamacare debate as well as filabuster change, FLG was immediately reminded of this passage in Orwell's Politics and the English Language:
‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

Obviously, the Democrats aren't Stalinists and the curtailment of political opposition in the current case is limited to progressive politicians and media talking heads whining about obstruction and changing parliamentary rules.  Losing one's current health care plan is so different in scope from execution and imprisonment that they are materially different, but there is a slight connection in that they only differ along the need to break a few eggs to make an omelette attitude by how bad the egg break is.

Although, FLG will say, given his focus on time horizons, he is sympathetic to Blow's take that let's look at the longer-term impacts of the law, not what's happening at the beginning.  It just so happens that FLG thinks they'll be a net negative.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sightings

FLG saw Roy Williams walking down Pennsylvania Ave.  In case you are wondering, FLG did not see Oprah or William Jefferson Clinton (F'68)   A few minutes later, he did see Chuck Todd though, in almost the exact same spot he saw Tom Ridge a few weeks ago.

Updated the list.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Conversation In Futility

Miss FLG Maior:  Daddy, can we have a lemonade stand?

FLG:  Sure, but not until it gets warm again.

Miss FLG Maior:  In the summer?

FLG:  Right.

Miss FLG Maior:  I'm going to charge five cents for the lemonade.

FLG:  That seems a little low.  You might want to charge a bit more.  How about fifty cents?

Miss FLG Maior:  BUT DADDY, that's what Lucy charges Charlie Brown!


FLG:  Well, sweetie, that show is from a long time ago.  Five cents isn't what is used to be.

Miss FLG Maior:  But it's five cents!

FLG:  Yes, but there's this thing called inflation.

Miss FLG Maior:  What's inflation?

FLG:  After a time, money isn't worth what it used to be.

Miss FLG Maior:  But mummies last a really long time.

FLG:  Not mummies, money.

Miss FLG Maior:  I thought you said mummies!

FLG:  No, money isn't worth what is used to be.

Miss FLG Maior:  But it's five cents.  Five is five.

FLG:  Yeah, but it doesn't quite work that way.

Miss FLG Maior:  You aren't making sense, Daddy.

FLG:  You sound like Aristotle.

Miss FLG Maior:  Who is that?

FLG:  Nevermind.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Time Horizons Across Classes

FLG thought this was an interesting piece of data:
[P]eople differ in one crucial way. “The marginal propensity to consume,” according to the paper, “is substantially larger for low-wealth than for high-wealth households.” Rich people behave like the hyperrational agent. They plan for the future. They save during a stimulus, thinking about the taxes to come. And they can borrow during a fiscal contraction.
Poor people are what economists call “borrowing constrained.” They tend to have more needs than are being met, so when money arrives, they spend it. When the government stops spending and credit is hard to come by, the mythical everyman, like the rich person, continues to spend. But most real people don’t have access to credit, and they hunker down. Carroll’s findings have been confirmed by other academics in the last two years who looked at Italian and U.S. data.

FLG has a question about the causality implied above.  Isn't it just as reasonable to argue that people who plan for the future would build wealth and thus be rich.  As in being rich doesn't cause somebody to have a lower marginal propensity to consume, but rather having a lower marginal propensity to consume (.i.e the person saves more) makes them rich?

FLG gets how if you look at the different populations at a point in time - here are rich people, here are poor people, that at that moment the issue is borrowing constraints, but what led up to it is the question.

STEM versus Liberal Arts

FLG liked this passage in the WaPo:
That is why the humanities and social sciences are an essential part of undergraduate education. Most successful careers, including in technology and engineering, do not result simply from technical knowledge. They require leadership skills, social and emotional intelligence, cultural understanding, a capacity for strategic decision-making and a global perspective.

Years ago, FLG went further and argued innovation comes from liberal arts, not technology.  He still holds that view.

FLG the Expert

FLG was in an advanced finance and banking training course a couple of weeks ago when he realized something that feels weird-- he's an expert on the international financial system and banking.

It's not that he knows everything. Who does?   But he was in that course with people whom he considers to be experts on banking and finance and FLG was totally up to speed and able to predict where the conversation was going to go next.  Moreover, FLG realized during the Coursera course he recently took on internationalization of the renminbi that he knew probably 90% of the content.  The new stuff was rather esoteric, for example, how offshore renminbi settlement works in Hong Kong.

FLG first decided to learn about the international financial system about ten years ago, and the idea of becoming an expert was never in his mind.  But he went back counted how many university courses related to international finance, banking, and trade he's taken over those years, and it's more than 20.   (This count omits general economics courses.)  He's read dozens of books and countless articles on the topic.

This realization is a shock.  He was even half toying with the idea of studying for another degree in a few years, either part-time or online, tailored specifically on the international financial system, under the assumption that he had more to learn about the international financial system.  But now he realizes he probably knows about as much as any university courses are going to teach him.  The only place he could learn more would be to do a PhD, and even then he thinks he would only earn more mathematically advanced theory of what he more or less already knows.

#Duh

Did nobody at JPM think, um, hey, if we solicit comments on Twitter, it's going to be a fiasco?

More broadly, however, FLG has been in too many meetings where somebody, usually an executive type or super-excited-pr-person, asserts that the organization has be to on social media.  When pressed further for their justification --- it seems cool.  When pressed further for their plan --- let's post some shit and see what sticks.  FLG is sure there are some smart social media strategists out there somewhere, but he's only see snake oil salesmen and posers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Time Horizons and Writing

RCP:

My research on Civil War writing leads me to one conclusion. If you are literate today, it does not mean you can write -- not even close to it in many cases. But if you were literate in 1863, even if you could not spell, you often could write descriptively and meaningfully.

In the century and a half since, we have evolved from word to image creatures, devaluing the power of the written word and turning ourselves into a species of short gazers, focused on the emotions of the moment rather than the contemplative thoughts about consequences and meaning of our actions. Many everyday writers in the mid-19th century were far more contemplative, far more likely to contextualize the long-term meaning of their actions. They meticulously observed and carefully described because, although photography was the hot new medium during the Civil War, words remained the dominant way of communicating thought, memory, aspiration, hope.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Quote of the day

National Journal: 
America and the rest of the world should be less concerned about a rising China than about a sputtering—or even a crashing—China that could someday turn the world economy's greatest growth center into a global albatross.

FLG thinks the quote overstates it, but as long-time readers know he has been far more skeptical of the inexorable rise of China and even more skeptical of this translating into post-American period where China is more influential worldwide.  Two things lead him to this skepticism.  First, everybody so convinced of the Chinese economy has basically been projecting forward linearly, but long run economic development at the country scale looks more like a logarithmic function, not linear.  FLG believes, based ultimately on a WAG, China is in or approaching the part of the curve that implies less growth.  Second, China is going to grow old before it gets rich and is seeing so many new internal problems that whatever new wealth they generate will be primarily directed toward domestic, not foreign, issues.   Sure, they'll be able to build aircraft carriers and project a bit more power in the region, but worldwide superpower they will not be in FLG's lifetime.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Couple Quick Notes

First, it was Dora and Swiper.  Then, Mickey and Tinkerbell.  This year, Superman and Batman:


Also, while on the way to work, FLG was behind a car whose license plate frame read "I'd rather be driving a fleshlight."  He wishes he took a picture.

On a related note, while FLG was searching the web to see if he could find a picture of said the license plate frame, he learned that there is a shower mount for the fleshlight.  Object sex, the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sightings

On Saturday evening, FLG was standing near the salad bar at the Old Town Alexandria Whole Foods when he noticed that somebody was decked out head-to-toe in Auburn gear.   About half a second later, he realized that it was Robert Gibbs.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Time Horizons: Climate Edition

Climate change is, as far as FLG is concerned, the only outlier in his time horizons theory, which is why he found this article fascinating.

Volker Rule

Bloomberg:
Gensler and Stein say they are concerned that the latest draft of the [Volcker] rule wouldn’t prevent another episode like last year’s “London Whale” trades at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) that cost the bank more than $6.2 billion in losses, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations aren’t public.

FLG has said it before, the Volcker rule sounds great in theory or to a lawyer, but is basically impossible to implement in reality.  No regulator is going to be able to tell the difference between hedging and risk taking.   The only way to really implement it would be to forbid depository institutions from using derivatives at all, which, FLG would argue, make the system more, not less, risky.

This whole thing is a fucking fool's errand.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Getting Fat

A few months ago, FLG watched the video below.  It shocked him because it was 1) contrary to what he thought/been told and 2) seemed so compelling.  (FLG is posting a condensed version, but longer versions are all over YouTube.)



FLG had a couple of questions.  First, what about Asians?  Don't Asian diets have a high rice component?  Second, how could the medical establishment have been so far off?

Turns out Asian diets are lower in sugar, which may be a catalyst for all carbohydrates becoming problematic.  Also, Asians have lower BMIs, but higher body fat percentages.  So, their level of leanness might be overstated in the data.

As far as the medical establishment being so far off, the best explanation is a donut.   Basically, if you see that people who eat more donuts have heart attacks and you are looking for a casual dietary factor, it could either be the fat or the carbs.  Back in the 50s, the fat hypothesis caught on and the carb hypothesis was ignored.

But there is a larger issue.  FLG remembers sitting in his econometrics class when the professor, in a bit of a digression, said that a lot of medical research has problems with the statistical analysis, particularly omitted variable bias.  But there is even a larger issue with correlation not equaling causation.  One example that comes to mind is the claim that flossing prevents heart disease.  FLG has seen several attempts to explain a causal link, but the most likely explanation, at least in FLG's opinion, is that people who floss are fundamentally different than non-flossers.  To use a Smithian term, they are more prudent.

As similar thing applies to donuts.  Maybe it's not the fat or the carbs, per se, but that people who eat lots of donuts are less concerned about their health than people who don't eat as many.  This creates a whole host of potential omitted variable problems

As FLG started looking at some of these studies himself, it became clear that Taubes was correct.  A lot of public health recommendations are based on very constrained or inconclusive findings extrapolated to far larger recommendations based upon assumptions and an overly precautionary stance by health experts, who seemed rather oblivious to potential unintended consequences.   It also turns out that recent clinical trials seem to support the claim that carb restriction appears to be the most effective.

This led FLG to reduce his sugar, flour, rice, and potato intake about a month or so ago, and sure enough he's been losing weight pretty steadily.  He still eats pizza and has beer on the weekends though.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Two Quick Notes

First, did anybody else find Sanjay Gupta's decision to turn an interview, ostensibly about how improvements in cardiac technology over the years have benefited Dick Cheney, into a pestering hit piece?  It was bizarre.

Second, FLG found this article listing the 21 inanimate objects that Miley Cyrus has violated, which he posts without further comment.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Data Pet Peeve & Words To Live By

One of FLG's biggest frustrations with the world is when people with high-level decision making authority, think corporate executives or government policy makers, believe that any data, even bad data, is better than no data.  He is doubly frustrated, and to be completely honest becomes damn near apoplectic, when they get blinded by statistical techniques.  Look, if you run a regression against a data set that either 1) doesn't actually measure what you care about or 2) is just a generally shitty data set all around, then the results of that regression are at least equally suspect.    Let's try not to lock onto those parameter estimates as being precise and accurate when making decisions.  Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

FLG also has a long-standing rule of thumb that the more meaningful the data the more costly it is to gather.   Consequently, people often end up using less meaningful, but easier to gather data for the sake of using data because any data is better than no data.   To be fair, even bad or imperfect data can provide something, but there is something about people, especially decision makers, who are otherwise intelligent completely losing sight of the inherent weakness of the underlying data and incorrectly assuming a false precision of the resulting analysis, as if the particular number was somehow magic.

Anyway, thinking of this rule of thumb led FLG to begin listing out some broad guidelines, often cribbed from famous quotes, he tries to live his life by. FLG has even added a couple from The Black Swan, which express rules he's had for a while, but more elegantly:
Better to be broadly right than precisely wrong.
Never run for trains.
Always wear a pocket square.
Always be polite to waiters / waitresses.
Always say 'Please' and 'Thank You.'
Hold the door for people.
If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.
Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Try never to hurt anyone's feelings unintentionally.
If you don't make yourself laugh, then who will?

He's sure there are more, but that's it for now...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Platonic Form Of Lunch

FLG went down today to the Port of Piraeus, that he might eat some lunch. Glaucon the son of Ariston was nowhere to be found.

Seriously, how could FLG not stop in when he sees a place named Piraeus?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Time Horizons

For those of you wondering, FLG does still maintain that the relative importance a person gives to the future versus the present is what determines their political views.  Consequently, this blog post by a visiting Georgetown professor is right up his alley, even if the writer is quite obviously on the other side of the political spectrum from FLG.

Higher Ed

FLG read this article about higher ed with interest.  There's lots that FLG agrees with.  He is on-board with concerns about using graduates' earnings to determine the quality of a college degree because, as that article states, "Setting students up for immediate careers and giving them the intellectual tools that will serve them best over a lifetime aren’t necessarily one and the same."   In fact, if FLG were ruler of the world, then he'd seriously consider eliminating all undergraduate business schools.  (He's conflicted on undergraduate engineering schools.  On one hand, he wishes engineering schools had more liberal arts requirements.  On the other hand, he wants the people designing our bridges, buildings, and planes to have the knowledge necessary to do it well and that means a lot of technical course requirements.)

But Whoa, Nelly! here:
"The notion is, let’s transform higher education into job training,” Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale, told me disapprovingly. That sort of sentiment, he said, was detectable in President Obama’s recent remark that it might be wise to shorten law school from three years to two.

Um, uh, FLG might be confused, but law school is a professional school, which wikipedia defines as "a graduate school level institution that prepares students for careers in specific fields."   Sounds pretty much like job training to FLG.  Granted, it's very high-level job training, but fundamentally job training.

FLG must admit that he considers law schools a special case, for the worse.   Medical schools teach future doctors.  Dental schools future dentists.   Law schools often operate under the conceit that they don't train future lawyers so much as teach students how to think.  An advanced, glorified continuation of undergrad for really smart students, which to some extent is true, but FLG also believes the model would fail if it were for the self-selection of students.   Take the entering class at any top law school, lock them in a room for three years, and when they come out they'd still be successful in most any field that requires thinking.  But if it were about just training future lawyers, which is what it really should be, FLG seriously doubts three years would be required.

Takeways here:

  1. Concerns about measuring college effectiveness based on salaries is a concern.
  2. Law school is job training.
  3. Professors are a deeply interested party whose opinions should be taken accordingly.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

More Coursera

FLG signed up for Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity.    He's making good use of his Metro riding time to watch and read the materials for these Coursera courses.  FLG wishes there were an easier way to get them downloaded onto his phone.  He hasn't found a good app for that yet.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Made FLG's Day

This did.

And, The Ancient, FLG assumes that you knew about this immediately and didn't let him know.

Collar

In this case, FLG is referring to finance, not menswear.

FLG read an article recommending that people concerned about the looming debt issue use a collar to hedge.  FLG has never really understood the point of a collar.  He's sure there's some circumstance when it would make sense, but he's never thought of one.

For those of you who don't know what a collar is, here's a stylized example.
Imagine you own $100,000 worth of a stock.  Let's say 1,000 shares that cost $100 per share.  You are worried about it falling.  You need to get somebody else to agree that come hell or high water, they'll buy your shares at some price, let's say $90.  So, you buy a put option.  In this example, you buy the option to sell your stock for $90 at anytime during the next three months.  This is the floor of how much you can lose.  It's very much like insurance.  And like an insurance policy, it costs money.  You need to pay the insurance premium.  Where do you get the money?

This is where the collar part comes in.  You don't want to pay the insurance premium out of pocket.  Instead, you sell, to somebody completely different, the right to buy your 1,000 shares at $110 at anytime during the next three months.   And let's say this selling of the right to buy your shares at $110 brings in exactly the same amount of money as it costs to get somebody else to agree to buy your shares for $90 at anytime during the next three months.

A shocking number of people think of this having paid out no money to hedge the downside risk.  No matter what happens, you'll never lose more than $10,000.  But you also traded the upside, as in you'll never make more than $10,000 either.   So, for the next three months you are collared between a $10,000 loss and a $10,000 gain.

Here's what FLG does not get.  When would you want to do this?

If you think the stock is going up, then why limit your upside to $10,000 and why hedge the downside?
If you think the stock is going down, then isn't it better just to sell the stock, get out now, and have $100,000 rather than $90,000?
If simply don't know what it is going to do over the next three months, but want to hold it long-term, then FLG asks why you'd even worry about the next 90 days at all?  Just hold it for the long-term.  Why hedge short-term volatility?
If you want to get out within 90 days, but don't know what's going to happen.  Then, again, just get out now.

FLG can't see a reason to collar any single position.  He could see, maybe, where if you had, say 100 different stocks and knew that you'd have to exit some positions in the next three months, but didn't know which ones in advance, that you might hedge against short-term volatility across the entire portfolio.  Might make sense.

One other argument FLG has heard, is that you might want to make a bet on a stock, but that it's very speculative.  It could swing really up or really down.  You might win or lose big, so you collar to manage the risk.   Here's the thing though.  You could do the exact same thing by making a smaller bet.  Instead of $100,000, do $10,000 or $1,000.  Why put in a large bet, but then collar it?

FLG still doesn't get the collar thing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Suit Buttons

Every single day FLG sees somebody whose bottom suit button is fastened.  If you're in your late teens or early twenties, then FLG'll give you a pass.  But when you are in your 50s there's no excuse.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Discourses On Livy

Out of the blue on the metro today, FLG decided that he'd feel a bit better about the Ted Cruz wing of the party if they had read the first few chapters of Book III of Discourses on Livy.  FLG is on his phone, so you'll need to find the link on your own. But in order, titles paraphrased:
It is necessary to return a republic to its principles
It is sometimes wise to feign madness
Newly acquired liberty required the deaths of the sons of Brutus

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Haberdasheral Question

FLG peruses Mr. Porter about once a month.  This is primarily because of his weakness for Charvet ties. Not that FLG buys a tie each month, but he does look.

Now, FLG fully realizes that a price north of $200 for a tie is downright crazy for some people.  Here's the thing though, while not all of them are to FLG's taste, the vast majority of Charvet ties are aesthetically pleasing.  Likewise, if he won the lottery, then he'd be buying a bunch of Loro Piana stuff.  And these George Cleverley and John Lobb shoes cost a fucking fortune, but are fucking gorgeous.  In these cases, FLG can understand asking whether the stuff is worth the price, but it's all classy, nice stuff.

But a lot of this high-end designer shit, FLG just does not get:
$1,100 for moonboot looking sneakers?
$600 baggy sweatpants?
$1000 boots that look like they've been dipped in acid?
$2300 for boots that FLG can't even describe?
$765 T-shirt with a picture of a dog on it?
$330 for one with a lobster?

Who buys this shit?  Rappers and rockstars?  FLG really wants to know who is willing and able to pay for these things.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Are You Asking Them?

FLG saw an article yesterday that said that a poll of economists put the changes of failing to reach a debt ceiling agreement before default at some low percentage.  He forgets the number exactly.

And there's a reason he forgot the number.   A potential default would have financial and economic consequences, but the process for reaching an agreement on the debt ceiling is a political one.  In what world are economists experts on the intricacies of current political issues and wrangling?   Who the fuck cares what economists think on that point?  Might as well have asked movie theater attendants or heart surgeons or professional gamblers.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sightings

FLG is pretty sure, almost positive, that he saw Yuval Levin waiting for his food at the Shake Shack in Dupont today.

FLG also saw Ross Douthat at BlackFinn not too long ago.

In both cases, FLG said nothing.  A lesson taught to him by Paul Newman.




Current Reading

While it's been on his current reading list for years, FLG is finally just getting around to reading, rather than just skimming, The Black Swan.  He wishes he'd done so earlier.

Only issue FLG has so far is that Taleb has a serious hate on for Plato, whom he sets up as the antithesis of empiricism.  As regular readers will probably remember, FLG has a somewhat unorthodox reading of and a special place in his heart for Plato.  Oddly, at least in FLG's eyes, is that Taleb has some complimentary things to say about Cicero, who FLG would argue was strongly influenced by Plato.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Conversation

FLG's coworker:  That was a good meeting.

FLG:  Sure, great guy.

Coworker:  I really liked the part where he explained why his group was being formed.

FLG:  He did?

Coworker:  Yes, at the very beginning.

FLG:  Oh, I must have missed that part.  I was trying to reconcile myself with his suit jacket being two sizes too big.

Coworker:  That distracted you?

FLG:  Yeah, I kept thinking of David Byrne.  He wore those huge suits.  Made his head look shrunken.  You know, Cary Grant used the same principle, although far less exaggerated, to balance out his rather large head.

Coworker:  I never knew he had a large head.

FLG:  Exactly.  But if you look closely at his jackets, his head is a bit large and the shoulders are a little extended.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

Democracy in America (Matt Steinglass?):
A credible threat to carry out any unacceptable action—to put LSD in the water supply, to bring back "Lost" for an eighth season—would work just as well.
Look, FLG normally objects to everything Matt Steinglass writes on general principle, but damn is he right about an eight season of Lost.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Courses

FLG is doing Coursera again.

He likes watching the videos, but isn't too keen on the quiz and work aspect.  Since he's not getting a grade or credit, he's not really into having to do assignments.  Obviously, if he'd done more of the assigned work in his financial engineering course, then he'd probably have an even better grasp.  But, again, since he's not going for grade or to be a financial engineer, no big deal.  He picked up a goodly amount.

That said, when FLG heard in the first lecture (in a pre-course preparatory week, mind you), that he, apparently, already should know how to do all sorts of stochastic algebra in discrete time, and so the professor's goal was merely to shift to continuous time, he figures he might want to put a bit more effort in to this Asset Pricing course.

He is thinking that he might be better off dropping that one and focus more on Mathematical Methods for Quantitative Finance.  And then tackle Asset Pricing.  Although, it probably wouldn't help a ton.

FLG has also signed up for The Role of the Renminbi in the International Monetary System, which looks way less intense but is still a fascinating topic.

He's also signed up for Was Alexander Great?, which starts in January.  Seriously, how could he not sign up for that one? 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Apologies And A Quick Round-Up

FLG apologizes for not mentioning international talk like a pirate day yesterday.

To be honest, he's been a bit busy with his new job and the Misses FLGs, and blogging (and reading blogs for that matter) have taken a bit of a back seat.  Nevertheless, here are a few things:

1) FLG has noticed that he doesn't really need background info or footnotes as much as he did before when reading about ancient history.  For example, while rereading Cicero recently, when he refers to the philosopher, FLG knew from context it was Plato.  Didn't need the footnote.  Likewise, at a couple of points in Gibbon, FLG knew he was referring to Phillip II of Macedon and Alexander as clear as day.   He thinks this means that he's finally getting to the point where he'd always wanted to be, at least vis-a-vis knowledge of the ancients.

2) Look, FLG knows the people over at Wonkblog have some serious Obama love on, but holy fucking shit this was too much:
The more positive spin [for Obama's massive fucking mistakes on Syria and also letting Larry Summer twist in the wind] is that Obama is avoiding a common second-term trap. One problem with the rules around the presidency is that two-term presidents can quickly lose touch with the voters, as they don't have the threat of reelection forcing them to consider public opinion. Obama, however, is choosing, unusually, to create space for public opinion (as channeled through Congress) to enter the process, and he's actually redirecting policy because of it. That's not a lack of leadership. It's change we can believe in.

3) FLG was talking with a former customs agent the other day.  In response to the question, "what was the weirdest thing you caught somebody smuggling into the country?" the former agent said, completely unprompted by FLG mind you, "Hands down...a bunch of pictures a guy had of people having sex with inanimate objects."    "Really?" FLG asked.  "Seems like there'd be way weirder things than that. And is that even ilegal?"   "Oh, there were more disgusting images, videos, etc.  At some level, you just can't help but be revolted by people with tons of images of people shitting on each other.  They're sick fucks and you try to unsee it.  The inanimate objects stuff wasn't revolting, really, more like -- that's fucking weird --what the fuck is wrong with you?    I don't think we charged him with anything, just shook our heads in disbelief."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

American Exceptionalism

Peggy Noonan:
[America is exceptional because it].. is a nation formed not by brute, grunting tribes come together over the fire to consolidate their power and expand their land base, but by people who came from many places. They coalesced around not blood lines but ideals, and they defined, delineated and won their political rights in accordance with ground-breaking Western and Enlightenment thought. That was something new in history, and quite exceptional. We fought a war to win our freedom, won it against the early odds, understood we owed much to God, and moved forward as a people attempting to be worthy of what he'd given us. We had been obliged, and had obligations

Quote of the day

Mark Steyn:

In the Obama era, to modify Teddy Roosevelt, America chatters unceasingly and carries an unbelievably small stick.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Made FLG Chuckle

Friday, September 6, 2013

Protesting

Something people who don't live in Washington might not know is that pretty much every day there is a protest in front of the White House.  They have loud speakers and address there grievances to President Obama, even if everybody knows he's out of the country at the time.  Not to mention that, even if he was there, the Oval Office is on the other side of the building entirely.

If these people got press coverage, then FLG'd understand.  But they never do.  It's not news if it happens every single day.  Instead, it's a therapeutic activity for the participants.  To be completely honest, FLG pretty much feels that way about almost all protesting, but it is especially clear when the person to whom one is trying to address their grievances has no chance of hearing.

If FLG were a dictator he'd keep this in mind.  Let people protest.  If it happens everyday, then the news doesn't cover it, so no real political harm done.  And as far as FLG can tell from the endless stream protesters in front of the White House (or the incessant protests in Paris for that matter) for a lot of people getting outside with a placard and yelling for a few hours about whatever it is that they are upset about is sufficient.  They said their piece and go home.  No subversive plotting.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jawdroppingly Incompetent

FLG is shocked by the President's incompetence and ham-handed handling of the Syria situation.  Look, FLG gets that this is a tricky situation, what with many of the rebels being the worst of two evils, but that's what happen in foreign affairs.  So, not really an excuse.   

It just looks so bad when the POTUS draws a red line and then when one institution after another backs away from supporting him, he goes to the institution that he himself as called dysfunctional for approval.  As a supporter of checks and balances in the Constitution, FLG is happy about this, but you engage Congress way earlier if you want to engage them in foreign policy.  Moreover, it should be part of the overall foreign policy strategy, not some one-off where, after all the prettier girls have said they don't want to dance you ask the homely girl in the corner.

As far as FLG is concerned, Obama is now a lame duck.  Certainly in foreign policy, but perhaps even in domestic affairs as well.
 
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