Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dear Robbo:

This gives new meaning to A Unicorn In Every Garage.


Dear faithfulreader:

I don't know if you are a spambot or a real person, but I did enjoy the link to this that you sent me.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caption Contest

"The only boob around here bigger than Michelle's is Joe Biden."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Joe Biden Is A Blowhard And Moron

Joe Biden said this to the WSJ:
The reality is the Russians are where they are. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.

Nobody really disagrees with this. Dan Drezner writes:
If Biden was just shooting the breeze off the record, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with anything in the quotes.

Ah, but Drezner continues:
The word "stupid" has been thrown around a lot this week, but I think it applies pretty well to Biden's language.

Andrew Sullivan goes even further:
The sad truth is: Biden cannot shut up. But his job as veep requires him to shut up. Dan is right: on the merits, Biden isn't wrong here. Just completely unprofessional and unable to maintain the discipline to perform his job without constantly undermining his boss. I'd say someone needs to tell him to shut up. But it hasn't worked for the last thirty years of his bloviation. So why would it work now?

I've been steadfast in my opinion that Biden is a fucking idiot. That's not so much my concern. The problem arises because Biden wants to show everybody how fucking smart he is. He's got an intelligence Napoleon complex. Part of me thinks it's because he went to good, but not great schools -- University of Delaware and then Syracuse for his JD. So, to compensate he states what is obvious to everybody who looks at an issue or crazy shit that nobody thinks is a good idea, smiles, and a tingle of look how-much-fucking-smarter-I-am-than-you-rubes goes up his thigh. It's the odd amalgam of misplaced intellectual hubris that overcompensates for his deeper feelings of intellectual insecurity that is the most disconcerting. It results in a vice president compelled to say stupid shit despite all pressure for him to shut the fuck up.

Ancient Greek Warfare

FLG caught a show narrated by Walter Cronkite and featuring Victor Davis Hanson, on the evolution of Ancient Greek Warfare, specifically the phalanx, until Alexander. Judging by Hanson's apparently age, the show must've been produced in the early- to mid-1990s. FLG didn't catch the name. Anyway, if any of you run across it, it's worth a looksie.

FLG hates writing in cursive

...and it can't die soon enough.

When FLG was a wee lad he always thought that cursive was a plot by girls with the female elementary teachers to get back at the boys for being better at kickball and dodgeball. You know, gross, as opposed to fine, motor skills. Do any guys like writing in cursive? It's like sitting to pee.

A Bit On Positive Rights And Health Care

I've mentioned before that I distrust positive rights. I won't go into the whole argument again, but positive rights -- a right to be provided with something -- necessitates an organization or institution, almost always the government, to provide it to you.

Americans have a right to an education, and the government provides it. Poorly, according to most assessments, I might add. But there's a limit to this right. Nobody has a government secured right to attend Harvard, for example.

Likewise for housing. The government works to offer housing assistance and affordable housing because, while people don't necessarily have a right to housing, homelessness is a problem. But like the Harvard education example people don't have a right to a beachfront mansion.

What gets lost in the health care debate is a similar thing. When we talk about rationing, what we are talking about is not giving everybody Ivy League medical care. But unlike education, which isn't typically a life and death issue, medical care is. The government simply can't afford to give everybody Harvard-esque medical care, but 1) nobody wants to admit it and 2) becomes involved in tricky moral issues when deciding who should have the care.

Now, either way, whether the government does something or nothing is a moral issue. The absence of government intervention in cases of medical needs is seen by many as a moral failure. So, you end up with government involvement either way. Yet, the fundamental issue of unequal access to care will remain unresolved.

The rich will still be able to pay for the best care. The government won't be able to for the all the poor who need it. The middle class will probably see care remain the same, but pay more for it.

If the above happens, we'll be probably end up squeezing the middle class to provide increased access to routine care for the poor. From an economic and moral perspective, this could be a good deal. The spread of increased access to health care, especially preventative care, to the vast majority of the population should logically make the country healthier at less cost per person. Now, I say at less cost per person, but that's relative to most poor being treated when they reach acute stages. And it's still on a per person basis, not in absolute dollars, which nobody in their right mind thinks will go down.

So, where's that leave FLG? Well, I think there is an argument that a benign social planner could without a doubt design a more efficient and effective health care system than we currently have. I, however, have little confidence that the Democratic congress can do so. Nor do I believe that vested interests won't put up a huge fight. Moreover, I can only describe President Obama's attitude as insouciant from a policy perspective. He can't rightfully believe that the reform he and the congress are crafting will increase health, choice, and at no cost. Or if there is cost, only on those greedy rich people. It's just unbelievable. No, the motivating factor for Obama and the Democratic congress is ideological. Oh, sure, they're motivated by the morality of increasing coverage, but my perception is that it's been buried in the ideology. It's a matter of -- we must do something, anything about health care.

And I think that something, anything will be roughly equal in benefit, but more costly than the status quo. It certainly won't be the budgetary and medical alchemy claimed by President Obama.

Anyway, long story short, the basic outlook from me seems to be there's huge pressure on Obama and the Dems to get reform through. The nature and cost of this reform is largely irrelevant to them as long as the approach universal coverage. Dealing with the costs created and the other uncomfortable truths, in that ancient and timeless political maneuver, kicked down the road.

FLG is currently listening to

In Case You Didn't Know: Women Edition

Red wine gets the blood flowing in women's nether-regions.

Women, but not men, are getting progressively hotter.

Intermittent Blogging

If everything goes according to plan, then the FLGs will close on a house today. Moving and internet connection issues will probably reduce blogging over the next week or so.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


An irate reader writes:
Your economic analysis of fair trade is deeply flawed. You make no mention of the price elasticity of demand when analyzing the returns to producers.

I'll spare you the rest, but did want to address this.

For those of you who didn't take econ 101 the price elasticity of demand is a measure of how much less of a good people buy when a price goes up, or conversely more when the price falls. Perfect elasticity means that you raise the price a penny your sales drop to zero. Perfectly inelastic and you can raise the price to infinity and your sales don't change.

Fair trade, by its very nature, applies almost exclusively to products with very elastic prices. If the prices were inelastic, then nobody would have to artificially inflate them. More technically, agriculture is almost as close to perfect competition as anything in reality gets, and a perfectly competitive market has perfectly elastic prices. So, your argument about the elasticity of demand is really irrelevant to the issue.

The Gates Thing

I'm conflicted about the Gates thing. I wasn't there, but my gut tells me this is what happened:
  • Neighbor calls the police because she see two guys breaking into the house next door. They are black and tells the police because it's a relevant description.
  • Police arrive, tell Gates that they have a report of two black guys breaking into the house. Can they see some ID?
  • Gates, hearing that "two black guys" broke into the house, i.e. he fits the description, thinks this wouldn't have happened if he were white. Neighbor probably wouldn't have called the police on two white guys and the cops might not have asked for ID of a white guy. He gets agitated.
  • Cop, just trying to do his job, gets agitated by Gates' agitation. Reacts poorly and arrests Gates.
Conclusion: Two people reacted poorly to the situation. The police officer, barring some physical threat to himself, should've turned and walked out the door as soon as he ascertained it was Gates' house, and therefore in all probability acted the most poorly of the two.

Withywindle objected to President Obama's comments on the matter, and while I didn't find anything particularly objectionable about Obama's comments he has a responsibility as president not to weigh in on things like this before all the facts are in, the president nevertheless made a good point about race relations here:
And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be.
Let's say for the sake of argument that Gates was acting like a complete asshole because of my reasoning above, namely that the neighbors wouldn't have called the police if two white people were breaking into the house and the cops wouldn't have been so concerned finding a white guy in the house. Perhaps it's wrong, but maybe it's right. I'd like to think that the neighbor would call the police regardless, but even a well-meaning, enlightened liberal may react differently to two white versus two black men forcing their way into a house. (In fact, I'd even argue that a liberal despite their vociferous denials would have a larger difference in the reactions to the two events.) So, let's say Gates was right about that.

Further, let's say that Gates is right about the cops not asking a white guy for ID to prove it's his house. This would require a more serious bias on the part of the cop than the neighbor reacting differently because cops have procedures while the neighbor probably just reacted on instinct. Again, let's say that the cop is biased and the neighbor is a subconcious racist, which I think is about the worst case scenario here. Then what?

The neighbor called the police because two guys looked like they were breaking into the house next door. The police came by to investigate and asked the guy who was in the house to prove he owned the house. That's it. That's a farsight from racial oppression. But on the other hand, Gates' response, some frustation and anger, is understandable. I'd be pissed if the cops came by to ask why I am in my own house.

Then again what if race wasn't involved at all. Gates was in point of fact breaking into a door. The cops came to investigate a break-in. The issue then would be that Gates, as Obama alludes to above, was supicious about racial motivations when there wasn't any at all.

And I think that's what upsets me about the Left, including the media, is that anytime two parties of are different races they assume that race must play a factor without any supporting evidence, which is why I argued above that a Liberal would react with more difference between two different sets of people forcing a door open next door. Then again, the same Leftie may conciously say that there are two African-Americans forcing their way into a house, but I should counter my inherent racism by not calling the police. So, who knows? Maybe I'm full of shit.

Nevertheless, I can kinda see both sides on this thing, and why both sides were probably wrong. An unfortunate indicident all around. However, Gates declaration that he wants to study the discrepencies in the criminal justice system because a cop checked whether somebody was breaking into his house seems a bit of a matyr syndrome to me.

Williams On The Ricci Case

FLG doesn't always agree with Juan Williams, but likes him. Today, however, Williams pissed FLG off. He writes:
[People on the Right] pretend that the nation is already so transformed that a colorblind America is a reality and that affirmative action is superfluous, so much so that white employees in a city fire department -- an arena long dominated by Irish and Italian Americans -- need help from the Supreme Court to get a promotion.

The firefighters in question only needed help from the Supreme Court to get a promotion because they were wrongly denied a promotion based upon the results of a test designed in advance specifically for the purpose of determining advancement was nullified based solely on racial criteria. They weren't asking for a leg up. They were asking that the results of a test, which was apparently designed to be as objective and as balanced as possible, were used.

Williams' premise is that affirmative action is now dead. But that's not exactly what's going on here. If Affirmative Action was originally designed a finger on the scale to even historical discrimination, then Affirmative Action isn't dead. What is dead, hopefully, is not a finger on the scale, but throwing out the scale entirely when it doesn't give ideologically acceptable results. And good riddance to that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Proof Of What FLG Already Knew

Michigan Democrats don't know shit about economics. You don't raise the minimum wage when you have high unemployment.

Edward Vernon

It's little known that Mount Vernon was named for Admiral Edward Vernon and that apparently Vernon accidentally solved the British Navy's scurvy problem by adding lime juice to the rum, which was called grog by the sailors because that was Vernon's nickname. And thus we have the word grog meaning alcohol.

Quote of the day

when men start talking literature, they have only one thing on their mind.

I found that hilarious, but unfortunately I find the premise of the article lamentable. A lecherous, unfaithful 72-year old man, whose partners include an 18-year old, is not to be admired or commended, even with a wink and a nod. Furthermore, the justification is pretty much Cheryl's African Savanna Theory, which is nauseating.

I don't deny that men and women are biologically different in this regard. In fact, I've argued that we are in no uncertain terms. Nevertheless, an important part of what makes us human is our ability to control our appetites and base urges.


Bacon-yy. Gives a whole new meaning to the words smoked meat.


Objective Journalism

Matt Yglesias links approvingly to this excerpt from Justin Fox:
The same goes for Matt Taibbi and his already legendary Goldman Sachs rant. If all financial journalists shared Taibbi’s disregard for fairness and his juvenile glee in name-calling, financial journalism would be unbearable. But since most financial journalists try so hard to be fair that they often miss the truth, and write with such sobriety as to be unreadable, Taibbi offers a welcome change of pace and point of view.

Fear and Loathing in Georgetown would be neglect if he failed to mention that Hunter S. Thompson made the same point 15 years ago, far more colorfully and succinctly:
Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point.

Longtime readers will remember that Fear and Loathing in Georgetown has maintained a contempt for the supposed objective fairness pretension of professional journalism since this blog's inception. A contempt that reached its zenith with this post by GEC.

An American Education In French

Le Figaro has an article explaining American education, specfically charter schools, to the French, and I found this passage of interest:
Je me suis souvent demandé, au cours de ce voyage, ce qui rendait les Américains aussi optimistes, polis, et respectueux les uns envers les autres, même en période de récession économique. J'ai trouvé. L'an prochain, ma fille quittera le système scolaire français pour entrer dans une école américaine. Je sais qu'elle n'apprendra pas autant de choses que dans nos lycées, mais en sortant de sa scolarité, elle sera préparée à une vie sociale harmonieuse et à travailler en équipe. Elle ne sera pas une aigrie, car ses professeurs l'auront investie d'une singulière confiance en elle-même.

I often wondered, in the course of this voyage, what made the Americans so optimistic, polite, and respectful towards one another, even in period of economic recession. I found it. Next year, my daughter will leave the French school system and enter an American one. I know that she will not learn as many things as in our schools, but in leaving, she will be prepared for a harmonious social life and to work in team. She will not be bitter, because her teachers will have invested in her a singular confidence in herself.

Gold Versus Equities

As somebody who has been contemplating buying gold, this post by Buttonwood is interesting.

a long-term investor would surely conclude from this chart that equities look relatively undervalued.

I just don't know though. If Bernanke et al screw up the monetary tightening, and given the scale this is probably likely, I'd expect inflation to spike at some point, which leads me to be somewhat bullish on gold over the short- to medium-term.

Last Day Of School Moscow sure does look fun.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quote of the day

Adam Elkus:
Morgenthau was never a "scientific" realist and thus his work is but a curious oddity to statistics-obsessed American international relations academics.

Random Round-up

FLG thought the Screen on the Green had been canceled, but apparently they got it together.

FLG wants a BAE Valanx, but dislikes this part of their marketing:
Just as the phalanx protected the ancient Greek soldiers, the Valanx will help shield what’s inside – the service members defending America.

It's no phalanx. I don't see sarrissas five rows deep.

Foreign Phrases

A reader sends along this BBC web page that has useful foreign phrases in a bunch of languages.

Mrs. FLG Sends Along

This video of Bruce Campbell before, well, before he made the B-list:

An Article Awash With Good Quotes

family groups claimed exposed nipples would scare children.

Scare? Really?

French academics and historians have spent the early summer months pondering the sociological meaning of the demise of France's once-favourite piece of beachwear, the "monokini" – the bottom half of a bikini with no top.

French academics are even more useless than many American ones.

A poll found 24% of women were perturbed by toplessness on beaches, while 57% said it was OK in a garden.

Is a garden okay because Eve went topless in one?

French media insist that it tends to be the over 60s – women involved in the initial women's lib struggle - who dispense with tops.

Over 60s? Nobody wants to see that.

Previous topless commando raids on public pools have seen police intervene to stop them.

Going commando while topless doesn't leave much to the imagination.

Levels Of Analysis

FLG finds moralizing do-gooders terribly annoying.  Today on BBC's financial news they had a debate between a Fair Trade supporter and a development economist. 

FLG has voiced opposition to Fair Trade pretty much since this blog began.  Moralizing do-gooders, whether on the Left or Right but FLG'd say more often on the Left, almost invariably advocate policies that are counter-productive to their goals.  The problem is usually static versus dynamic analysis, which is why the Lefties have the bigger problem.  They're by nature more concerned with the immediate and direct.

Fair Trade sounds great if your concern is the present circumstances of specific farmers.  You arrange for the farmers to be paid more for their produce.  They make more money and the world is a better place. But is it?

Raising the price of the crop has many effects.  Sure, the farmers who benefit from the higher prices are happy.  But economics tells us that higher prices mean less people buy the product and farmers increase their production of the crop.  And the artificially increased price faces downward pressure. 

The wikipedia article on price floors states:
This is commonly seen in agriculture. Often the government wishes to maintain high prices of agricultural goods to keep a large number of farmers working. To limit the surplus, however, government will often pay some farmers not to plant crops, this can be known as a subsidy check.

Fair Trade likely has similar effects, but instead of the government forcing people not to plant, the benefits of Fair Trade accrue to a select group of farmers while preventing others from entering the market or pushing them out altogether.  Furthermore, by increasing the returns to agriculture it dissuades the enterpreneurial members of the developing nation from getting into more productive economic activities.  Put simply the help by do-gooders, while appearing to help, in all probability probably hurts.

The same can be said of sweat shops.  Yes, they seem horrible.  But they are not unlike the working conditions experienced in the developed world while it was industrializing.  Also, unless the workers are forced into working in the factories or irrational, then the factories are their best economic option. It is likely that a moralizing do-gooder trying to get a sweatshop shutdown will force the female employees into a worse option, perhaps prostitution.  The basic premise of economics is that individuals on average make the best of the choices available to them.  It is very likely that working in a sweatshop is the best available option for the employees.

Now, FLG isn't a heartless bastard, and he feels for the employees of a sweatshop as much as the next person. But demanding better labor standards, while it seems like the correct thing to do to moralizing do-gooder in all of us, may make things worse off.  Let's say that nobody gets laid off, and it even helps the workers currently employed in the factory.  The campaigners for better labor standards in the developing world would call this a success.  But, again, it may not be.

If the increased costs prevent the factory from modernizing to become more productive and creating new jobs, then the citizens of the country will be worse off.  To put it bluntly -- forcing increased labor standards may keep more women in prostitution for longer than would otherwise happen for want of other economic opportunity.

The main point is that efforts to help a specific group of people may indeed help them in the short- but not long-run, but at very possibly at the cost of other unseen needy people.

And so FLG returns to his skepticism of Alan's idea that the world gets better because people with a clear moral vision work to make it better.  There is a very strong case to be made that societies get more moral as they get richer and the preferred policies of the moralizers turn out not to be clear-headed, but in fact counterproductive.  Once you start looking at indirect and dynamic effects, the effects of their polices become less do-goody.  We get richer and consequently more moral despite not because of them. 

On the other hand, FLG is also a big believer in the Great Man theory of history, which directly conflicts with his economic explanation above.  He's comfortable with this paradox and leaves it to his readers to reconcile it for themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FLG Couldn't Help Thinking Today

...about how right South Park is that voting is always a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

Alice Trailer

Mrs. FLG sends me:

FLG Brings You Today's News Yesterday Again

Fear and greed.

Those are the emotions that rule the markets, and changes in stock prices simply reflect the swing of the pendulum between the two extremes.

FLG has been screaming this for years now. Thank goodness some people are finally listening. Pity it's too little too late.

What astonishes FLG is how little so-called pundits, columnists, and experts actually know about finance and economics. Your humble blogger knows little-to-nothing and he's an order of magnitude ahead of much of the punditocracy and financial press.

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

FLG is currently listening to

IR Annoyance

Matt Yglesias points out that NPR covered IR theorists looking at Rap Feuds. Two things on this. First, this is pretty much gimmicky bullshit. Second, this paragraph bothered FLG:
Some of the greatest minds in national security have turned their attention to a classic problem: When there is one dominant power, the rest of the world tries to challenge it. That's what happened to Britain in the 19th century and to the United States today. The same thing is happening in the world of rap.

Is the world challenging the United States? Really? I don't particularly think so. At the very least the idea is open to debate, and yet NPR states it as if they were saying the Sun rises in the east.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Changes Here At Fear And Loathing In Georgetown

Many of you may not be aware, but giving you hard-hitting economic, foreign affairs, pirate, robot, and object sex reporting day in and day out costs money and these are tough economic times. Rather than switching to a subscription model, FLG is happy to announce that Fear and Loathing in Georgetown will now be brought to you by the Vince Lombardi service area on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Fear and Loathing in Georgetown and the Vince Lombardi service area are natural partners in this endeavor. FLG has seen many people wearing eye patches there. He's relatively certain that there's a thriving sex with inanimate objects underground. Plus, it's the last or first, depending on your direction, place that somebody else will pump your gas for you. Lastly, the meadowlands are perfect for dumping bodies after a late night mob hit.

FLG knows this will be a successful partnership for the NJ Turnpike, himself, and most importantly Fear and Loathing in Georgetown's readers.

Quote of the day month

The Times:
“It doesn’t get much better than partying with Michael Bolton,” he assures me.

I couldn't help but think of Office Space. And you'll never believe who said it either.

FLG Was Browsing Netflix

...and came across Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge.

The description reads:
Adult film vixen Jesse Jane stars in this epic swashbuckler that follows the further adventures of lusty Capt. Reynolds (Evan Stone) after he discovers that his nemesis, the dread pirate Stagnetti, has returned from the dead. As Reynolds and his sexy crew hunt down the evil buccaneer, they confront dragons, skeletons and sea monsters -- and still manage some time in the sack. Joone directs this high-budget, special effects-laden erotic romp.

FLG's favorite review:
This was horrible. How does anyone think that taking an adult film and cutting out the adult scenes would make a good movie? This was like watching a r rated film on tv.

Overextending And Smackdowns

David Brooks:
Every new majority overinterprets its mandate.

As I wrote in October:
If Obama and the Democratic congress push for every inch of their agenda as forcefully as their partisans want, then the Republicans might well be back in control of congress in 2010.

At this rate I am fully expecting a 1994-esque smackdown of the Obama Administration.

Paul Krugman Is Either One Stupid Economist Or Disingenious

And I don't think he's stupid.

He writes:
Any time you have a market, there’s some opportunity for speculation. Even if the good being traded isn’t storable, there may be a futures market, so you can bet on the future price. If the good is storable, the spot price may be moved by the futures market, since high futures prices may provide an incentive for stockpiling.

For example, the fact that wheat is traded means that there’s also a wheat futures market; and because wheat can be stored, futures prices affect spot prices.

So, should fear of speculation lead us to ban trading in wheat? Nobody would say that. Yes, sometimes speculators will get it wrong — but the advantages of having a wheat market vastly overshadow the possible harm that may sometimes come from speculation.

Now substitute “emission permits” for wheat. It’s exactly the same story. Why should you address it any differently? Yet as Joe Romm tells us, Sen. ByronDorgan — who I suspect kind of favors allowing the market in wheat to operate — warns against cap and trade because it would offer too many opportunities to the “Wall Street crowd.” And that same line is, unfortunately, being echoed by a number of progressives.

I'll tell you exactly why you should address it differently.

The supply of wheat is determined by a bunch of factors -- number of acres planted, weather that year, etc...if you'll permit me I'd call these natural occurring factors. That is to say the supply of wheat is determined naturally. Emission permits will be allocated according to government whim. Made up, if you will. Unnaturally.

So, while there can be speculation in both markets there is vastly greater room for hanky-panky in the emissions market. It would be much easier for Mister Moneybaggs to speculate on the supply of emission permits and then to lobby the government to act according to his speculation than it would be for him to lobby farmers to destroy their wheat or to control the weather.

Remember, despite all the talk of a market the cap-and-trade emission permits market will be one that is based on artificially created, government mandated scarcity. In fact, the entire market is due to the misallocations of the permits in the first place, which is one of the reasons that a carbon tax is a far better choice in fighting global warming.

FLG is currently listening to

Mario Lanza:

And Stevie Ray covering Stevie:

Quote of the day

But he missed. And we're all going to die.

Just To Be Clear, The Robots We Are Building Will Not Eat Dead Bodies

US scientists have been forced to deny that the military robots they are working on will feed on the dead bodies of humans.

Instead, they will keep us in a state of suspended animation for use as energy while our minds are occupied by a virtual reality world.

China In Africa

FLG will have to put China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa on his list of books to read.

L'anti-américanisme Suisse

They're just upset that we didn't bring a cuckoo clock.


Cell Phones And Driving

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

FLG hates people who drive while talking on the cell phone. Everytime he sees somebody driving like they're drunk in the middle of the day -- on the cell phone. Somebody doing 20 mph lower than the speed limit in the left lane -- on the cell phone. Turning down the wrong way of a one way street and almost killing FLG -- talking on the cell phone.

Many people to whom I mention this say the following: Right. Exactly. But not me. Listen, you all suck at talking on the phone.

Talking on the phone is completely different from listening to the radio. The first is interactive -- a back and forth conversation -- the latter is passive. Furthermore, you don't hold a damn thing to you ear, which both occupies on hand with something that is not driving, but also limits the speed and range of your visual scanning.

FLG is all in favor of hands free device requirements for drivers. He believes this is a good compromise between safety and the complete douchebaggery many cell phone drivers are now committing.

In the interests of full disclosure, FLG would be perfectly happy if all cell phones disappeared. He believes they are used for silly purposes and people talk too loudly on them. Call Aunt Mildred when you get home, like a normal person, not while FLG is standing behind you at the checkout line. Yes, sometimes they save lives and are very convenient, but FLG would prefer a higher per minute price on cell phone time. Make it a $5 a minute, and you keep the life-saving intact while eliminating the annoying douchebaggery. Well, one can dream...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thank Goodness For The Dept Of Education

FLG received this today:
Starting in 2010, the US Department of Education will be requiring significant changes in the way educational institutions collect and report race/ethnicity data. Accordingly, on July 19, 2009, LSAC changed the race/ethnicity designation in your LSAC account.

Your previously reported ethnicity, Caucasian/White, has been changed to the subcategory Other Caucasian/White under the category Caucasian/White.

FLG obviously objects to the change of his ethnicity to Other Caucasian/White. Who the fuck does LSAC think they are to have the ability to determine his ethnicity? Also, what the fuck does Other Caucasian/White even mean? Actually, forget FLG asked.


Dear FLG:

I got your stimulus Czech right here.

Bob in TN

Dear Bob:

Punny. Very punny.


Quote of the day

Robert Samuelson:
Here, as elsewhere, there's a gap between Obama's high-minded rhetoric and his performance. In February, Obama denounced "politics as usual" in constructing the stimulus. But that's what we got, and Obama likes the result.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

$1,191,200 slice a two pound ham? Did they say shovel-ready or fork-ready? And I'm still waiting for my A&J stimulus check.


What Is It About Palin?

Why are so many on the Right so blinded about Palin?

Yes, she's pretty. Yes, she's a social and economic conservative. Yes, she's gotten a raw deal from the press. But...

She is jaw-droppingly uninformed about major policy issues. (No, her cap-n-trade op-ed doesn't change my mind.) It's not that she's stupid or a hick or that she doesn't have an Ivy League background. It's that she can't name what newspapers she read. That she can't name a Supreme Court case besides Roe v. Wade that she disagrees with . That she can't hold her own in a debate. (No, she never held her own. She just didn't sound like a total fucking moron, which exceeded the media's expectations.) That she can't finish her term as governor. That when she announced she wasn't going to be fulfilling her term as governor she sounds like a babbling buffoon.

Her defenders accuse Palin's critics of elitism. This is partly true. Many in the intellirati look down on those without fancy degrees. And then they say that these elitists are unAmerican because only a small fraction of the people would be fit to serve by their standards. But that's sophistry.

The founders never intended nor believed that any Tom, Dick, or Harrietta off the street was equal to the task of the presidency. That's not the America I want to live in either. No, it's an America where anybody, if they study hard and work hard, has a chance to put themselves up for consideration of the American people to be their leader. That some Americans, like myself, deem some level of knowledge of politics, history, economics, law, and international relations necessary for the job and found Gov. Palin deficient in many areas is not always elitism.

John McCain's entire appeal was that he was the experienced maverick. But his maverickness was that of a fighter pilot -- somebody who takes calculated gambles in pursuit of their goals. Palin's maverickness embodies not calculated gambles, but instead the I have no idea what's going on here and have neither the time nor inclination to find out so I'll just shoot in the dark maverickness.

For me it's not that Palin is stupid. I don't believe she is. It's the complete lack of interest she seems to have in preparation or study required to serve in high office. If her resignation press conference is any indication, then her most intense preparation is getting her mascara on. She was baffling.

Now, I know some of you are saying, but Obama wasn't prepared either. Two things. First, Obama is completely unrelated to Palin's fitness. Sure, each voter had to make a choice between two tickets, but I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about how Palin was and is completely unequipped for high office, and unless something drastic changes will probably remain so forever. Second, while I disagree with a lot the Obama Administration is doing, and find myself both regretting more and more everyday and by consequence regretting my vote for him more and more everyday, I have no doubt that he possesses far more interest in and knowledge of policy questions than Palin. On that point I actually think that Obama and his advisers are too smart for their own good, and are making hubristic mistakes. Nevertheless, Palin as VP would have been super scary to me.

And that's the last on Palin on this blog unless she makes another run for national office.

FLG Fallacious?

Andrew Stevens writes:
FLG believes there is objective truth and fact. However, he questions humanity's ability to know it. Much like a fractal, the closer we examine it, the more complex it gets. Yes, we can know things. There can be facts. But these facts are useless devoid of context. This context involves rhetoric. Science pursues facts and knowledge, but since it cannot move forward without context it necessarily must be a form of rhetoric or use rhetoric.

I need some explication of this. You question humanity's ability to know objective truth and fact, but then say that we can know things and there are facts. Your second sentence here appears to contradict your fourth and fifth sentences. The contextual stuff is all rather obvious and nobody disagrees with it. Facts, in and of themselves, cannot recommend a course of action. Only moral philosophy can do that.

However, if you question humanity's ability to know, I'm going to argue that you are committing the infallibilist fallacy. Infallibility is a completely inappropriate epistemological standard and one should not be confused and equate the concepts of knowledge and certainty with the concept of infallibility. Stop making this mistake and the whole problem turns out to be a pseudo-problem.

To illustrate the point allow me the use of a story.

Let's say two people, who are completely unaware of our modern world, walk into a room that contains only a lamp. The lamp is controlled using a switch by the door. For convenience sake, let's call them Arthur and Merlin.

Merlin, out of curiosity, flips the switch and the lamp comes on. He then flips it back, and the lamp shuts off. A few more switches back and forth happen before Arthur says, "Hey, what's happening?" Merlin responds, "I believe this switch controls the light." Arthur tries himself and they both agree that the switch controls the light. They now know switch->light. But that arrow represents an unknown mechanism that is itself another question -- How does the switch control the light?

This is where rhetoric and context come into play. Perhaps Merlin argues that lightning must be involved and Artur argues that the switch tells leprechauns to build a tiny fire in the bulb. To test the theory, they open the switch and see no leprechauns. They both agree once they have both been shocked that it's lightning. So now they know switch->lightning->light.

But, you see, that has created two new questions. How does flipping the switch cause the electricity to flow AND how does the electricity make light? You can see that each arrow is a question that is answered using rhetoric. That is to say that each arrow is answered with a story or argument. If we fast forward, then Merlin and Arthur may have arrived at something like:
switch->completes circuit->electrons flow->tungsten heats up->emits light->electricity flows back to source or whatever. The point is that more and more questions are being asked with each arrow.

Now, at this point, Arthur and Merlin know a lot of facts, and the unknowns are becoming smaller and smaller in scope. Their story is becoming more fact based. More accurate, you might say. If they were writing a novel, then the details that they might not know are things like the length of the shoelaces of some minor character. Things that most people would say don't matter.

But...what if the main character at some point has to swing to safety from a window using the minor character's shoelaces. Then a detail that small is of great significance. Furthermore, the story that Merlin and Arthur are telling only applies to the single light switch they are looking at. They know nothing about other switches. I realize I'm mixing metaphors here what with Merlin and Arthur and then them writing a novel, but I think it gets the point across.

Modern science relies on rhetoric and narrative to fill in the blanks, i.e. the arrows. As they learn more facts it becomes a more detailed, rich, and most importantly true, story. But what if the overarching story itself, even if it includes all the facts known, leads scientists in the wrong direction? For example, it took a while for heliocentric astronomy to replace geocentric astronomy. There are probably similar narratives, albeit at a different level or scale, that exist in science today. What if the idea of the wave-particle duality, or whatever, leads scientists off track in the pursuit of more fundamental questions?

Furthermore, the inconsistencies between various scientific disciplines that prevent the discovery of a grand unified theory and the existence of various fundamental physical constants leads me to believe that the stories told are incorrect at some level. The inability to derive a constant from some law or formula means a big hole is missing in our understanding.

I believe there are facts and we know some of them. There is a truth, but we are forever condemned to only know some of it. The way the human mind works, through cause and effect, precludes us from fully understanding it. Each fact we learn creates two new questions.

Maybe I'm committing a fallacy, but I don't think so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ya Don't Say?

Even as Democratic leaders and the White House insisted that the nation was closer than ever to landmark changes in the health care system, they faced basic questions about whether some of their proposals might do more harm than good.

And yet they proceed...

One can only hope, and it's a small hope, that the conference to merge the senate and house bills improves the damn thing. However, it's just as likely to make it even more of a monstrosity.

Friday, July 17, 2009

FLG's Two-Cents On Objective Truth

FLG mentioned earlier how he was interested in the dispute over at A&J about objective truth and rhetoric, and felt compelled to add his two cents.

FLG described why he's a conservative in one of his first posts. It begins with the assertion that the totality of human knowledge was discovered via the principle of cause and effect:
Science, despite terminology such as double blind study, is simply a rigorous method for isolating and perfectly correlating a cause A with an effect B. If we assume that A is the only possible cause and it results in effect B every time, then we say we have proved it. An important point, which I will return to later, is that A causes B through an unknown mechanism. Proving that A causes B never reveals this mechanism.

Wait, you say, I know one or many mechanisms for causes and effects. No, you don't. Let's use an arrow to represent the unknown mechanism. Therefore, A causes B would be A->B. I guarantee that any explanation that you can come up with for a mechanism is actually: A->C->B

Now, you are referencing two causes and effects. A->C and C->B. You have introduced two unknown mechanisms. I don't believe that this is a function of how I defined cause and effect, but rather a result of how the human mind works.

Before science, the determination of cause and effect was unsystematic, but it still yielded positive results. Humans controlled fire, invented agriculture, built roads, designed boats, etc. But this cause and effect goes beyond technology.

FLG believes there is objective truth and fact. However, he questions humanity's ability to know it. Much like a fractal, the closer we examine it, the more complex it gets. Yes, we can know things. There can be facts. But these facts are useless devoid of context. This context involves rhetoric. Science pursues facts and knowledge, but since it cannot move forward without context it necessarily must be a form of rhetoric or use rhetoric.

That said, I disagree with Withywindle's contention that because we can never know any and all of objective truth that we are left solely with rhetoric and by extension love. FLG guesses you can say he sees both sides, but believes that science is the best method for pursing the objective truth of material reality.

Fiscal Multipliers

In economics, multipliers are basically the idea that when I buy something the person from whom I buy then uses that money to buy something from somebody else, and so forth until the effect of the initial purchase by me has been diminished. Kinda think of it like a rock thrown into a pond. The number and size of the ripples is like the multiplier.

Anyway, Paul Krugman is taking a very technical look at the multipliers from government stimulus using some rather inaccessible language. I think this is due in part because the models don't really support his policy preferences, but much of this boils down to whether people factor in higher taxes in the future to pay for current government spending. He writes:

Bear in mind that all these models assume perfectly rational, perfectly informed consumers engaged in optimal forward-lookin behavior. Economists are in vast disagreement about the right model to use — but consumers are assumed to know the true model, and base their spending decisions on that knowledge. Um, I think we have a problem here.

And for what it’s worth, my sense is that the empirical literature on consumption behavior casts doubt on the underlying model of long-run intertemporal maximization: consumer spending is much more responsive to short-term fluctuations in income than it “should” be. If so, a bigger multiplier would be appropriate.
What I really think is that consumers rely on rough rules of thumb, which leads in the short run to something much more like a Keynesian consumption function than is currently fashionable to admit.

He's basically saying that people don't factor in higher future taxes that will be used to pay for higher current spending, and that therefore people won't change their behavior all that much in response, and therefore government stimulus is like super-duper awesome.


An American, Dustin Britton, used a chainsaw to fight off an attack by a mountain lion while he was camping with his family in Wyoming.

Who's laughing now?


This paragraph in a City Journal review of Kenan Malik's book, From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy concerns FLG:
The merit of Malik’s book is that it seeks the answer in modern conditions. Even in Islamic countries, fundamentalists are not medieval throwbacks, however they may see themselves. They derive their ideas, even if they do not acknowledge it, at least as much from Lenin, Gramsci, and Mao as from Mohammed. They claim to want to return to seventh-century Arabia, but this is no more realistic or sincere than the wish of Victorian admirers of the Gothic to return to the Middle Ages.

It's not the paragraph, but the sentiment. Yes, we can and should bring modern social and political science to the task of understanding Islamic fundamentalism. However, the social, economic, and political conditions are so different in Britain from those in Saudi Arabia from those in Afghanistan that FLG's convinced there is something inherent to Islamic theology. In fact, this passage from Maududi's Political Theory in Islam immediately sprung to mind:
With certain people it has become a sort of fashion to somehow identify Islam with one or the other system of life in vogue at the time. So at this time also there are people who say that Islam is a democracy, and by this they mean to imply that there is no difference between Islam and the democracy as in vogue in the West. Some others suggests that Communism is but the latest and revised version of Islam and it is in the fitness of things that Muslims imitate the Communist experiment in Soviet Russia. Still others whisper that Islam has elements of dictatorship in it and we should revive the cult of "obedience to the Amir" (the leader). All these people, in their misinformed and misguided zeal to serve what they hold to be the cause of Islam, are always at great pains to prove Islam contains within itself the elements of all types of contemporary social and political thought and action. Most of the people who indulge in this prattle have no clear idea of the Islamic way of life.

FLG doesn't have all the answers, or even any answer. His point is only that many in the West who are trying to understand Islamic terrorism through social and political science are making assumptions of which they may be unaware and that result in an unrecognized myopia in examining the problem.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Taylor The Impaler

In an unusual defense against war crimes charges, former Liberian President Charles Taylor told judges Thursday that he saw nothing wrong with displaying the skulls of slain enemy soldiers at roadblocks.

Evil fucker.

The Modern Food Movement Needs To Learn About Kosher Foods

Phoebe rightfully tees off on some asshat who thinks eating raw pork is a good idea:
First, we need to get past the notion that food-borne illness is unique to modern times and to processed foods, industrial agriculture, etc. People have been saying, 'Must've been something I ate' since the dawn of time.

It's FLG's long-standing contention that kosher food laws were the result of people living in a fucking desert without refrigeration and knowledge of microbes determining what foods got people sick. Shit. Even thousands of years ago people knew raw pork was a bad idea.

In Case You Didn't Know: Tyre

FLG was shocked to discover one of his co-workers, who also happens to be a Georgetown alumnus, was unfamiliar with Alexander's Siege of Tyre. Now, FLG realizes he knows a tinsy bit more about Alexander than most people, but come on, isn't this common knowledge?

The City of Tyre was an island that had never before been captured. It was, and still is, located at a strategic point on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. Alexander asked them nicely to surrender. They refused. So, he built a mole out to the island, huge towers to protect the moles while under construction, and coordinated his naval forces to arrive on the other side when the mole was completed. He captured the city, destroyed much of it, and sold its inhabitants into slavery. Harsh by modern standards, but nevertheless an impressive feat by any standard.


FLG has a serious hankerin' for some beignets and cafe au laits,

hand grenades to go,


a muffaletta,

a hurricane,

and jazz.

And there's never a bad time for Elvis:

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day II

George Pal writes in response to the first Quote of the day today:
Like “friendly brunette” isn’t a siren alarm! Everyone knows it’s dumb blondes who are friendly and red heads crazy. Safest bet is a sun streaked auburn haired dame that’ll buy the drinks at a bar.

Fuck Your Social Networking

FLG finds the love affair with social networking fucking annoying. You wanna do social networking, then fine. But please, for fuck's sake, stop adding social networking features to otherwise fine applications. Case in point Google Reader. This showed up today:

FLG doesn't want it and didn't ask for it. You geeks out there in Silicon Valley can circle-jerk yourselves silly with your social networking, but stop fucking everybody else's shit up.

Looks like FLG isn't alone. Some new threads in the Google Reader help include:
  • Turn off the "like count"
  • Hide the "x people liked this"?
  • Please remove this facebook-copying 'like' button!
  • I love Google Reader but how in the world do I turn off the Like feature? I didn't ask for it and neither can I find a way to opt out of it. HELP, it's annoying the living daylights out of me!

Let FLG read his news and blogs in isolated peace. Thank you.

Odd French Thinking

The Indian Prime Minister was in Paris for Bastille Day, and an Op-Ed in Le Monde argues that France should play the India card to prevent the emergence of a bipolar Sino-American world.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this idea.

Objective Truth

There's a spellbinding, at least to FLG, discussion going on in the comments over at A&J. Basic gist -- Withywindle questions our ability as individual human beings to know objective truth because we must rely upon other human beings to obtain knowledge. Therefore, all knowledge is hopelessly entwined with rhetoric. Therefore, we must rely upon love. Alpheus and Arethusa strenuously object.

Quote of the day

Waking up in hospital with clonidine poisoning and penis trauma, all the victims could remember was a friendly brunette who gave them drinks.

Demography Is Destiny?

FLG found this paper, entitled The Cost of Low Fertility in Europe, by David Bloom and his co-authors David Canning, Günther Fink, and Jocelyn Finlay fascinating:
In this paper we have explored the effect of fertility on income per capita in the short and long run. In the short run, a decline in the fertility rate unambiguously increases income per capita as youth dependency falls and the working-age share increases. As we have shown in the theoretical framework presented in section 2 of this paper, the relationship between fertility and age structure in steady-state is more complex in the long run. Although it is true that very high fertility levels have a negative effect on output per capita through low working-age shares, the positive effects of lowering fertility only exist up to the rate at which working-age share is maximized; any fertility decline below this maximizing rate lowers the working-age share in equilibrium and may induce a reduction in output per capita. In high-fertility countries such as Zambia, the message is clear: lower fertility will increase income per capita. For low-fertility European countries, the implications of fertility decline are more complex: lower fertility will increase income per capita in the short run, but decrease it in the long run. This poses a policy conundrum for European policymakers.

Translation to layman's terms:
In this paper we have explored the effect of fertility on income per capita in the short and long run. In the short run, less babies definitely increases income per capita because fewer children means a greater percentage of the total population is working. As we've shown in this paper (look how smart we are), over the long run the issue is more complex. While it's true that in countries where a smaller percentage of the population is working more babies do lower economic output per worker, having less babies makes things better only up to a point. In countries where people screw like rabbits without contraception, like Zambia, less babies will improve economic circumstances. But in European countries, where nobody is having babies, things look better in the short-run, but produce a world of hurt in the long-run.


Dear Matthew Yglesias:

In a recent post, you write:
Unfortunately, conservative economists and conservative politicians have been extremely effective at making the American political system extraordinarily tax averse.

Perhaps they didn't teach you this at Dalton or Harvard, but the American Revolution began over tax issues. It's not some mysterious and nefarious plot by conservatives to dupe Americans into tax aversion, but rather a fundamental part of the American collective psyche. It's a problem that American progressives will always have to contend with in their evil attempts to drive the country off a cliff misguided attempts to tinker with economic outcomes.


Blair For President

Le Monde:
Londres soutient Tony Blair pour le poste de président de l'UE

London supports Tony Blair for the position of president of the EU

Hague knew the story over a year ago:

UPDATE from Charlemagne:
No, Tony Blair has not launched an EU presidential bid...I am told that senior British officials believed, to quote one source, that Lady Kinnock "fucked up" in the way she phrased this, and that makes sense to me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

FLG is currently listening to

Bread and Doughnuts

The FLGs watched a new episode of Anthony Bourdain where he was in Chile. Mrs. FLG wants to go there now. Two of FLG's favorite clips are below. The doughnut freaks in Portland and, man, do the French know how to bake:

Protestant Self-Identification

As a self-professed heretic, FLG found this question over at Ferule & Fescue interesting:
This here's a question for my Renaissance peeps (and scholars of religion and lit or religious history more generally):

How common is the term "Protestant," when applied to the people we now call Protestants, by the people we now call Protestants?

My sense has been that "Christian" (or something similarly broad and/or vague, like "our church") is usually preferred, and that "Protestant" is more often used by Catholic polemicists than by actual Protestants--but that's just my sense, and although there's been a lot of scholarship challenging "Anglican" and "Puritan" as meaningful descriptive labels, I can't remember reading anything similar about "Protestant."

Discussions like this always bring FLG back to thinking about the ways in which the differing definitions of a witch and differing concerns about witchcraft appeared within each tradition:
Witchcraft was used as an effective tool to protect society. The Protestants used witchcraft as a way to reinforce fear of Catholicism and encourage strong families. Catholics used witchcraft as a way to demonize and eliminate Protestants.

Not that this has anything at all to do with Flavia's question.

Update: I added to the quotation for clarity's sake.

Defense News Round-Up

FLG doesn't quite know what to make of this post, reprinted here in its entirety:
July 15, 2009: American and European efforts to get peace negotiations going between the Palestinians and Israel, seem to be ignoring what Palestinian officials say in Arab language media. TV interviews are the most compelling examples of this. When Fatah officials are asked about these negotiations, some of them are quite frank. Just as maps of the area, used in schools and the media, show no Israel, only Palestine, the officials explain that the peace negotiations are just a means towards an end. For Fatah, as well as the more outspoken (in English) Hamas, the ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel. Any peace deal is considered as a pause, so that the Arabs can build up their strength for the final battle.

In the West, more people, especially in Europe, are agreeing with the Palestinians. Officially, though, Western leaders believe that a peace deal will eventually change the minds of Palestinians.

Couldn't they have at least included a specific quote or something to back up this position?

al-Qaeda in the Maghreb is threatening revenge for the killing of Uighurs.

North Korean beer commercials are fucking weird.

Danger Room examines why US Cybersecurity sucks and blames it on bullshit, ineptitude, and complexity.

Apparently, it's harder for the CIA to put together hit squads than previously thought.

Global Labor Force

Jim Manzi writes:
As globalization continues inexorably (in practical terms, this has very little to do with McDonald’s in France, and almost everything to do with the economic rise of Asia), U.S. income inequality is a demonstration that many – probably most – Americans don’t have the capabilities required to maintain anything like their current standard of living in competition with a global labor force. Does Will think this is accurate, and if so, is it a problem?

As many of you know, FLG is always wary when somebody brings up "to compete in the global economy." This is a bit too close for FLG's comfort.

However, there is such a thing as the Factor Price Equalization Theorem. Here's part of the wikipedia entry:

Factor price equalization is an economic theory, which states that the relative prices for two identical factors of production in the same market will eventually equal each other because of competition. The price for each single factor need not become equal, but relative factors will. Whichever factor receives the lowest price before two countries integrate economically and effectively become one market will therefore tend to become more expensive relative to other factors in the economy, while those with the highest price will tend to become cheaper.

An often-cited example of factor price equalization is wages. When two countries enter a free trade agreement, wages for identical jobs in both countries tend to approach each other. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, for instance, unskilled labor wages gradually fell in the United States, at the same time as they gradually rose in Mexico. The same force has applied more recently to the various countries of the European Union.

The result was first proven mathematically as an outcome of the Heckscher-Ohlin model assumptions.

The important thing to note is that American labor is not identical to Mexican labor or Chinese labor or whatever for a variety of reasons, including the amount of infrastructure, capital (both physical and human), network effects, etc. It's a question of productivity determining income. The average American worker is more in competition with other American workers than workers in any other country. And if they are in competition with workers from other countries, then it's France, Britain, and Germany. And the rest of the global labor force, the cheap, but less productive portion, also makes available cheap goods at WalMart.

Regardless, we need to leave aside this competing in a global economy stuff, and just focus on what is economically beneficial for the United States of America. Absolute, not relative welfare.

Eyes Wide Sins

The whole group were dressed in these great costumes and it looked exactly like something out of Eyes Wide Shut.

"But then one of the organisers announced: 'The moment has come. The spell has begun' and everyone began kissing and having sex.

He immediately sent two 19-year-old waitresses home and the party continued unabated until the bar closed at 3am and the guests retired to their rooms.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More On Three Year Degrees

Arethusa was nice enough to include links to some articles about three year degrees in the comments section. This point is questionable methinks:
The problem with the other proposal—awarding a degree for only three years of learning — is that three is 25 percent less than four, and so three-year degrees will be worth 25 percent less than four-year degrees in the job market, and so people won’t want them.* The question of transition to graduate and professional school also goes on the table.

I'm not so sure the job market will really care. Majors usually occur during the last two years of undergraduate education and typically require one the equivalent of one full year of course hours.

What I'm talking about here is basically cutting out sophomore year. Students still take English 101, a history course, a philosophy course, etc. I'm proposing precisely the elimination of courses unrelated to the student's proposed career. If they only take American History until 1865 and not the follow up course will potential employers really care? I don't think so.

Even More On Meritocracy

Withywindle writes:
FLG: When you say "emotional deformation," you make it sound odd,
inhuman, deranged, needing explanation. But the meritocrat is only one
version of the ambitious man. It may be an unpleasant personality, but
it's a quite normal one. Indeed, the whole Madisonian project, checks
and balances, assumes that ambition is normal, just in need of proper
channeling. It's not just that the meritocrat is ambitious, but the
sort of ambition, or the lack of countervailing education in virtue,
that's a problem.

Okay. So, as I understand it the issue is simply ambition wrongly understood. I guess I could buy into that if we consider that raw ambition used to be considered something vulgar and yet today it is not only accepted but often encouraged in our youth.

But I'm talking about more than just ambition. There's the whole love versus hate as motivation. I'd argue that plain old greed (the love of money) and ambition (the love of power and status) are what Madison was harnessing. However, I'm arguing that today's meritocrat is motivated not by love of anything, but the exact opposite -- hate.

Maybe it's just semantics or I'm framing it in a way that creates a distinction with no difference, but it's that anger, hatred, and lack of love that motivates the meritocrat. An emotional deformation that is both the cause of and reinforced by a fundamentally disordered soul.

I'd also add that motivations based on hate are more detrimental to the soul than ones based on love. So, revenge far worse than greed. But that's a whole 'nother line of argument.

Higher Ed Policy

This video from Reason goes too far for FLG's taste:

Part of the problem is that FLG thinks Charles Murray goes too far, but FLG's written about that before and believes a 3-year degree is part of the solution. But there are two other problems here.

First, too many people look at education the way they look or looked at home ownership. Namely, that it's an unmitigated good that both promotes good citizenship and economic growth. There's feedback, but this gets the homeownership causality wrong. Responsible, good citizens buy home. Giving somebody a home doesn't make them responsible. Giving somebody a hand who has been saving to get a down payment together can be helpful, but at some point the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the policies are, as we've seen, putting people in homes who didn't save a dime.

Likewise, history has shown that college graduates are more likely to be economically successful and good citizens. Therefore, the logic goes more education means more good citizens and economic growth. FLG won't dispute that education as the ability to mold mind and character. A good education can produce a good citizen. But we cannot entirely isolate education alone.

Second problem is that college graduates, especially before WWII but even today, are smarter than the average population. Furthermore, they have connections and other social capital. Put simply -- a smart kid born in New Canaan, Connecticut would probably be successful with or without a college degree.

The point here is that each of us is born with an endowment of both natural intellectual talent and social capital and connections given to us by our parents. In the intellectual part, assuming at least some of it is innate, then we can't really do anything about it. The social capital can be compensated through certain policies, and FLG'd argue that's why Dale and Krueger found the greatest benefits in attending elite universities went to those from disadvantaged backgrounds:

Finally, we find that the returns to school characteristics such as average SAT score or tuition are greatest for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. School admissions and financial aid policies that have as a goal attracting qualified students from more disadvantaged family backgrounds may raise national income, as these students appear to benefit most from attending a more elite

So, yes. FLG agrees that sending some smart, poor kid from the backwoods of Mississippi to Harvard will help even out the playing field and increase economic overall economic output. Especially if they take the spot of some bumble-headed legacy. That student will build personal connections to the wealthy and powerful, and future wealthy and powerful, that would otherwise be closed to them. But FLG is far less sanguine about the returns, both economic and non-economic, of cramming some kid of mediocre intelligence into a 500 person lecture hall history class at SW Mississippi State A&M Tech in which they have no interest.

As FLG has argued before the secret of America's economic success is liberal arts. So, he doesn't want to shift people into narrowly vocational two-year programs for the sake of easily quantifiable cost-benefit analysis. The benefits of liberal arts both to the individual and to society will never be fully encapsulated in any cost benefit measure. Nevertheless, I think two years of liberal arts is one too many for the vast majority of students.

The extra year is expensive, and most students, wrongly but understandably, look as college as a means to a job. A ticket punch. Hopefully, it clicks with some that education should be more than narrowly vocational, but for many it won't. Let's not waste their time and money.

To conclude this rambling post, the BA isn't something intended for mass consumption. Furthermore, the supposed economic and citizenship benefits are overstated. We need to keep the rigorous liberal arts BA in place for those that can hack it intellectually. And instead of dumbing down the existing BA for everybody we need to create a more cost effective and vocational degree for those that aren't BA material while keeping some liberal arts in place.

A four year, liberal arts BA isn't for everybody and we've well exceeded the number of people pursuing them who should be. Let's leave four year BAs to the more elite private schools and flagship state universities. Others should save money and time by pursuing a three year BA-lite. The trouble is how to transition without stamping poor or stupid man's BA on the BA-lite. Perhaps it's unavoidable.

More On Meritocracy

Conor Friedersdorf:
What strikes me, all these years later, about my lousy but better-than-average high school education is how useful it proved in preparing me for college and the job market. Absent exceptional teachers, an academically competitive high school basically teaches the young how to game the system lots of people call the American meritocracy. It is difficult to describe this skill set precisely, though it certainly includes things like earning good grades in classes you know little if anything about, learning to game standardized tests and exams, employing writerly tricks to obscure the fact that you know nothing of substance about the topic of your five page paper, and understanding which teachers aren't desirous of substance insomuch as they want an ability to fake it on pages where the margins and font are diligently set to their specifications.

It's that superficiality combined with objective factors like margin specification that are a huge part of the problem.

Le jour de la prise de la Bastille

The Meritocrat's Disordered Soul

Robert Stacy McCain wrote a provocative piece on meritocracy the other day and this part interested me:
Not every kid who scores well on standardized tests decides to orient his life toward graduating at the top of his high school class and attending an elite university. Those who elect to follow that treadmill of "gifted" programs and honors classes, who grind for an all-A average and organize their extra-curricular activities with an eye toward how it will look on their applications to Harvard, can be said to differ from other children (including children of equal or greater intelligence) in terms of temperament.

It was primarily the temperament issue that piqued my interest. What is it about the temperament?

McCain continues:
Our public education system, after all, is not operated by geniuses. As The Bell Curve points out, education majors are, on average, the stupidest category of college graduates.

An education system dominated by such mental mediocrities inevitably tends to reward the compliant, the obedient, the natural-born conformists with an appetite for regimentation. A few years spent covering the education beat, combined with my own experiences as a public-school student, convinced me that many of our brightest students are essentially "lost" by the system because of this factor.

That last part is my primary issue with investment bankers. They're plodders. The students most draw to it are the obedient, conformist, and regimented. There's a reason why many military officers get MBAs after completing their service. Ask any West Pointer or Naval Academy graduate who isn't interested in a military career what they'll do after their tour, and it is almost invariably get an MBA and get into investment banking. I'm getting off-topic though...

Withywindle then brought education and the passions into the discussion of the meritocracy:
This all tangentially related to Robert Stacy McCain's post a few days ago on meritocracy, where he talks about the obnoxious temperament of the meritocrats. (And by-the-by raises as a corollary the idea that meritocracy would be far more tolerable if the meritocrats were less full of themselves.) "Temperament," I think, is another way of talking about character and passions. One critique of the meritocrats is that they are not judged by the education of their passions - all facts, no virtue. Another would be that they have the wrong passions knocked into them - a passion for "social justice" and the like, which seems to be an updated version of Lady Bountiful self-importance, but at least has the saving grace of being a passion, and one that aims to be unselfish. Anyway, I think you can fold in the meritocracy debate into the education of the passions debate.

I'd like to argue that the obnoxiousness of meritocrats is unavoidable as it is part of the deformation of the meritocrat's soul.

In June, the Atlantic ran a story about a Harvard study that has been following more than 200 Harvard men since the 1930s. It's a great piece, and you should read the whole thing, but I'd like to focus on the accompanying video. At about the three minute mark is when it starts to get good. I've transcribed the important parts below.

You can put yourself in positions where positive emotions are likely. You can pick up gardening. What you are trying to do is make the poor little plants grow, not win prizes at the horticulture show. As soon as gardening becomes doing it for me, then you get third prize and the best garden club in town doesn’t invite you and your life sucks.

Something to prove

Probably most of the famous men were striving for a reason. They were trying to prove something. A dramatic example of someone who wasn’t in the study was Eugene O’Neill. His head master thought that he would end up in the electric chair. Yet when all was said and done he won a Nobel Prize. The people where everything went right needed less to be artists, needed less to be business tycoons. They weren’t going to be President of the United States, but they were going to be good at what they did.

Meritocracy needs objective measures of success and, well, merit. So, you need to have gardening shows. But you also, and more importantly by necessity, start to keep score using bank account sizes and prestige of position. Getting into Harvard is better than getting into Yale is better than getting in Princeton is better than getting into Stanford is better than...and so forth. Likewise, it's better to be mayor than a nobody. It's better to be governor than mayor. Better to be senator than representative. Best to be president. Of course they're obnoxious because they are motivated specifically by being better than other people at things. Their entire self-hood is defined by that outlook.

This distorts the soul. All the important things in life, the ones that bring true happiness, cannot truly be measured. Cannot be compared. For example, nobody can measure how much I love my wife and daughter or how much they love me in return.

Yet, that's not particularly relevant to a meritocrat because they can't prove the love in their marriage is better, more pure, or stronger. Sure, they can create the outward, superficial appearance of a perfect relationship if they feel that will prove something to other people, but that isn't what's actually important.

And that brings me to the second point made in the video above. That the most successful people have something to prove. Either a parent died or left or somebody ridiculed them or whatever. As David Brooks wrote today, "It is amazing how many people who suffer parental loss between the ages of 9 and 13 go on to become astounding high achievers." If you really boil down the motivation here it's what? Anger. Hate.

Speaking of David Brooks, what got lost in his discussion of the Republican Senator thigh touching was his analysis of politicians:
They're all emotional freaks of one sort or another...a lot them have spent so much time needing people's love, and yet they're shooting upwards their whole life. They're not that great in normal human relationships...they're lonely.

And there you have it. Emotionally broken people driven to prove something to somebody else or everybody else using a system of objective, superficial criteria that can never provide true happiness because that's not at the end of some table of figures or a prestigious resume. And the scary thing is that the people most successful in the system are often the most broken. It originates often some seminal event(s) in their life, usually parental influence, and the system only exacerbates it by further warping their soul.

Now, I have no better idea than meritocracy. Perhaps, like representative democracy, it's the best choice from a set of bad choices. Furthermore, one could make the argument that the drive inherent in these disordered souls creates personal pain for them, but benefits for society in the form of their hard work. Perhaps. But we need to be cognizant of the nature of the disorder within the souls of those who rise to the top of the meritocracy.
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