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.

 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.

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


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.

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