Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

The FLGs went to the Falls Church memorial parade. However, FLG's thoughts turned to Hawaii for some reason:
The first photo is of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. The second is from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, more commonly referred to as the Punchbowl.  Perhaps it is juxtaposition of the solemnity with the surrounding beauty, but whatever the reason both places deeply move FLG whenever he visits them, maybe even more so than Arlington Cemetery.

FLG Cannot Help Himself

Every time Rufus offers up one of his Plato posts, FLG, out of some sick, morbid curiosity, reads the fucking thing. This time it's Phaedo.

We know that Rufus is plenty off-base when he writes the following:
Stepping from the Crito to the Phaedo dialogue, Plato moves onto more solid ground by switching the discussion to the soul; here, we might not agree with Socrates’s ideas about existence beyond death, but it is much clearer why his beliefs have led him to welcome dying as the soul’s release from the body.

What makes this off-base is that Plato, or Socrates if you prefer but it's hard to know where one begins and the other ends ultimately, is first, foremost, and primarily concerned about the Good. Consequently, when he is discussing human beings he is concerned about the soul. Why the soul? Because, as is explained in this dialogue, it's eternal, which means akin to the Forms, which means closer to the Good.

Rufus sums up the dialogue thusly, which FLG has no problems with:
The dialogue records Phaedo’s reminiscences of Socrates in jail, cheerfully awaiting death as a release from the body, which he calls the true aim of philosophy.

Ah, but then Rufus concludes with the following two paragraphs:
At some points, Socrates sounds like Siddhartha Gautama, proposing that we overcome the delusions caused by our perceptions and desires. We heard the same among the pre-Socratics; maybe this is typical philosophical boilerplate. Nevertheless, the Buddha himself proposed a third way, a present-minded and embodied awareness that is neither voluptuousness nor asceticism. Socrates, on the other hand, goes from a somewhat Buddhist indifference to physical desires to outright rejection of being in the body. This stance seems unworkable- taken too far and we’re indifferent to anything on earth. Most traditions have mendicants who go to these extremes. I still remember the ‘wise man’ in Louis Malle’s documentary Calcutta who had remained standing for seven years, heaven knows why.

Besides, plenty of wisdom comes to us through the senses. I have learned more on certain solitary walks than by reading any book of philosophy. Belief in the soul is one thing; but until death, existence means existence in the body, and life lived in rejection of the body would be spiritually enervating as well. As for what comes after death, we’ll find out soon enough (although, if I had a choice, I would be willing to take someone else’s word on it.)

FLG has several problems with this. First, let's not take the Platonism-Buddhism thing too far. Second, Rufus, who has been reading Plato but clearly doesn't understand him, muddles the body versus mind distinction. Again, Plato is concerned about the Good. The Good as represented by the Forms. The Soul is like the Form of the individual, if that makes sense. It bridges the two worlds of the material and the eternal. It's timeless, but particular. Plato, or Socrates, explains in The Republic that our reason ought to dominate our will and appetites. If you read the book as primarily a political treatise, as most people do and Rufus did, then you vastly underestimate the importance of this for Plato's philosophy.

Allow FLG to bring in a description of the Soul from Phaedrus:
Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in a figure. And let the figure be composite-a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods are all of them noble and of noble descent, but those of other races are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him.

For Socrates, death is an opportunity to get rid of that ignoble horse, which is the offspring of our bodily appetites and passions.

Notice how Socrates describes the body in similar terms, "trouble" as the chariot above:
For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking.

All that being said, FLG has arrived at two conclusions regarding Rufus' Plato blogging. Either, as FLG has hinted above, Rufus is incapable of comprehending Plato's philosophy, which seems so very, very clear and lucid to FLG. Or FLG is intellectually hubristic to the point of fucking insanity and sees absolute clarity where none exists. FLG sometimes wonders if Rufus is even reading the same thing FLG is reading. In any case, FLG wishes Rufus would stop blogging about Plato. FLG cannot take much more of this.

FLG is currently listening to

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Conversation

Mrs. FLG: What sound does a bird make?

Miss FLG: Tweet. Tweet.

Mrs. FLG: What sound does a lion make?

Miss FLG: Rah!

Mrs. FLG: Good girl. How about a cow?


Mrs. FLG: What sound does a cow make, Miss FLG?


Mrs. FLG: FLG!

FLG: Yes?

Mrs. FLG: Can you moo?

FLG: What? Why?

Mrs. FLG: You moo much better than me. Our little girl doesn't know what sound a cow makes.

FLG: Oh, we haven't been working on cow noises.

Mrs. FLG: What have you been working on?

FLG: Cool stuff. Like a lion.

Miss FLG: Rah.

FLG: An elephant.

Miss FLG: Pmmmff

Mrs. FLG: Pretty cool.

FLG: Best is yet to come. Miss FLG, what does Darth Vader do?

Miss FLG takes several deep breaths.

FLG: Alright! That's my girl! Fist bump!

Miss FLG: Alright!

Mrs. FLG: Oh, Sweet Jesus.

Mexican Pirates?

In the past month, crews of outlaws in a small armada of banged-up skiffs and high-powered bass boats launched from the Mexican shore have ambushed bass anglers from the Texas side innocently casting their plastic worms over favorite spots. The buccaneers have struck in Mexican waters but within sight of the Texas shore.

Be on the lookout for characters who look like this:

Anti-Euro Bias

Quatremer argues that anti-Euro bias leads Anglo-Saxon papers to print the least rumor about the currency and points to the FT's running of a story about the Chinese central bank reexamining its euro holdings as evidence.

There's this interesting bias that FLG sees with people who are deeply interested and involved in politics, and that's that they see everything through a political lens. So, every action is taken for or against some political principle. It severely distorts their analysis of events and often leads them down drastically counterproductive paths.

An alternative theory, one that as somebody who thinks about economic as well as political motivations, is that the euro area is in the news, people are worried about it, and printing any story will increase sales. No inherent political bias. Just chasing profits.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It Takes A Lot To Offend FLG

...but this did it:
There used to be a video here, but it kept fucking autoplaying so I deleted it. Go here.

Quote of the day

Le Monde:
Mais les Français n'ont toujours pas fait leur révolution copernicienne et continuent à penser, par un eurocentrisme désuet, que l'économie mondiale tourne autour du Vieux Continent. Et que la planète tout entière admire son modèle.

But the French never had their Copernican revolution and continue to think, by an obsolete Eurocentricsm, that the world economy revolves around the Old Continent. And that the entire planet admires its [economic] model.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Please Permit Me One More Post On The Topic Of Lost

Despite Withywindle's objection to the Platonic tradition's low opinion of the poets, it seems to FLG that most of the people who liked the Lost ending liked it because it tugged at their heart strings. Please see this comment over at Amber's place:
Did any of the above commenters watch Lost, beginning to end? Because I think if you polled people who did, 80% loved the ending. There are a lot of people trumpeting their sophistication by hating it, but I found it to be the most moving television or film experience I've never had.

The Money Multiplier

Yesterday, Mrs. P linked to this article stating that the money supply is shrinking, but it was all Greek to her.

I'll explain this very simply. There this thing called the money multiplier. It works like this:

When you deposit money in a bank it's credited to your account. You put in $100, and you have $100. But the bank then lends out some portion of that money to somebody else. Let's say they lend out $75. It's not like they deduct that from your account, but somebody else has $75. So, the bank created money. That's how the fractional reserve banking system works.

The name fractional reserve comes from the idea that the bank needs to keep some fraction of the money they take in as reserves in case people want that money. In this case, the bank kept 1/4 of the money.

Well, the money multiplier works like this (it's a relatively complicated piece of math, so just trust me) you take the reserve requirement and inverse it. So, if you have a reserve requirement of 1/4, as the example above has, then any new money added to the system is multiplied by 4 when it runs through the banking system. If you only had to keep $20 of the $100, or 1/5, then the multiplier effect would be 5.

So, in light of the current situation where politicians and policy makers, as well as bank executives, are fretting about the solvency of banks and argue that they need to keep higher reserves and people are afraid to borrow and lend, it makes perfect fucking sense why the amount of money is shrinking so fast. You keep a higher proportion in reserve and the multiplier goes down. In fact, in my intro macroecon class, my professor said that policymakers are usually very hesitant to mess with reserve requirements precisely because a small change has such profound impacts.

Ah, The French National Pastime

Protests yesterday about a plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 or 63 by 2020.

Speaking of which, I heard something on a BBC podcast I listen to that went something very much like this:
The Greek crisis tells us that the European social model is in serious jeopardy. We're going to have to work more and have less vacations, like the United States. It isn't a pretty picture.

FLG Had Never Heard This Before

...but he likes the metaphor -- inflation is like ketchup.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quote of the day II

Andrew Stevens writing in the comments over at Arethusa's Fountain:
Everybody knows that the best Star Trek movie is Wrath of Khan. None of the others are even close, certainly not Abrams' or any of the Next Gen films.

Any other conclusion indicates two dimensional thinking.

Trust No One

...with your retirement that is. Or at least FLG has always preferred that he control his own retirement funds. Consequently, he's prefers private social security accounts and defined contribution plans.

People in favor of social security and defined benefit pensions often raise the specter of market volatility. "The market goes up and down. Therefore, it's better to have a guaranteed income stream in retirement."

FLG thinks this misses the point on two counts. First, defined pensions are putting their money in the market. So, ultimately there is market risk at the ultra-macro-level. Second, the investment decisions are out of your hands, which FLG was reminded of the other day when listening to the radio.

When sex abuse lawsuits pushed the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del., into bankruptcy, Maria Carpitella got some bad news. Through bankruptcy filings, she and other retirees and lay employees of the diocese learned their pension plan was severely underfunded and isn't protected like corporate pension plans.

And, truth be told, even the corporate plans, which do have protection, often pay out a lot less once they are turned over to the PBGC.

The simple truth for FLG is this. He'd rather have money now for his retirement that is his and he can control rather than a promise to be paid decades from now. Many people see guarantees as a way to flee scary market risk, but they don't realize they are accepting another form of risk in return.

Now, in complete fairness, there is an economic case to be made that a institution can absorb volatility better than an individual and presumably hire experts in investing to manage the portfolio. But that's in a ideal world, and FLG feels much better seeing the money in his own account where he doesn't have to trust anybody else will make good on their promises several decades from now.

FLG Always Thought

Dennis the Peasant is too hard on Matt Yglesias, but this is some stupid, idiotic, moronic, fucking dumbass writing on economics:
You can’t talk China and the economy without talking about the exchange rate issue. And thinking about it has got me pondering some questions. For example, insofar as the Chinese want to insist on pegging their currency why do they have to do it in this way? My understanding is that the peg doesn’t just operate automatically. It needs to be defended with a combination of capital controls and active measures. Specifically, the Chinese government spends a ton of money every year buying up U.S. financial assets. But couldn’t they just buy something else? They could order planes from Boeing and sink them into the ocean—that would accomplish everything the Chinese want to accomplish, but also create jobs.

If you stop and think for, I dunno, a fucking millisecond it should come to you why China would rather buy a bond that pays interest, even small amounts of interest, and can be sold in a very liquid market rather than wasting the money by sinking goods they just purchased in the ocean. I realize this is a contrived example that's meant to be somewhat silly, but come on.

Are we sure Matt graduated from Harvard? I've never doubted it before now, but this must be very high in the rankings of stupidest things ever said by a Harvard grad.

Clever French Bastards

Headline about Venus Williams' latest outfit at the French Open -- Une Venus callipyge, which as you all know is a reference to FLG's favorite theme in Hellenistic Art.

Multinational Corporation Taxes

FLG thought this podcast (MP3) presented a pretty good overview of the tax situation and policy decisions that need to be made regarding multinational corporate taxes.

Something FLG Has Never Understood

Why is Paris, of Troy not France, also known as Alexander?

Quote of the day

New York Fed (PDF):
taking five economics courses is associated with an eight percent decrease in the likelihood of joining the Democratic party and more than a 10 percent higher chance of joining the Republican party.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beaker Habanera

FLG is currently listening to

He's actually not listening to this particular version, nor this artist, but it's the closest he could find on YouTube:

It's actually the rhythm that fascinates FLG on this one. It's a waltz, but it's not a normal waltz.

Way More Efficient

Parliamentary voting in Russia is so much more efficient than our convoluted reconciliation process.


Even FLG Is Shocked

...By This Story.

Plato And Lost: FLG's Last Word On The Subject

I was walking the dog and the reason that I felt so angry about the Lost finale hit me like a ton of bricks. I actually feel much better about the whole thing now that I understand it. When Lost began I thought that a television show that names its characters Christian Shepard and John Locke must have something meaningful to say about good and evil and human nature at the core of the show. Then you add in the island and its mysteries, and I assumed it was an allegory or something. Who knew? Not me, but I was hooked. Then the hatch reminded me of Plato's allegory of the cave and my assumption felt justified. As the plot developed, I kept going under that assumption.

Megan McArdle represents, I think, most people who liked the last episode:
Megan McArdle:
Because Lost was good at character, we actually got attached to these people, and the last scene highlights how tragically brief their life was. Sure, they're all together, but most of them barely were in real life--and the contrast is all the more effective because in the end, we don't really understand what the purpose of all this was. If there was any at all.

And of course, that throws us also against the tragedy of our own lives. We are none of us immune, but we start life with the illusion of it--as Hazlitt said, "To be young is to be as one of the immortal gods". I'd say that we spend the rest of our lives fighting to maintain that illusion, in the face of a ruthless universe. It's little wonder that despite the show's many flaws, I spent the last fifteen minutes with my arms wrapped tightly around my fiance, and my tears flowing freely. But then, I'm a sentimentalist at heart.

And then yesterday I received a forwarded email that is supposedly from somebody who worked on the show:
Sideways world is where it gets really cool in terms of theology and metaphysical discussion (for me at least -- because I love history/religion theories and loved all the talks in the writer's room about it). Basically what the show is proposing is that we're all linked to certain people during our lives. Call them soulmates (though it's not exactly the best word). But these people we're linked to are with us duing "the most important moments of our lives" as Christian said. These are the people we move through the universe with from lifetime to lifetime. It's loosely based in Hinduisim with large doses of western religion thrown into the mix.


For those that wonder -- the original ending started the moment Jack walked into the church and touches the casket to Jack closing his eyes as the other plane flies away. That was always JJ's ending. And they kept it.

I guess I always expected something better than new age, Oprah-esque mumbo jumbo. And the execution of that final point was just hamhanded. They tacked on an entirely new storyline that felt disjointed and weird. But let's ignore that.

I've read a lot of philosophy and theology. I've read John Locke, David Hume, St. Augustine, Aquinas, etc. I expected far more from a show that had the audacity to chose some of these for the names of its characters. I expected good theology or philosophy from such a show. I wasn't looking for Truth or even something I agreed with philosophically or theologically. But something fascinating and nuanced. And then, on the walk today, I realized that Plato was correct in Book X of the Republic:
The best of us, as I conceive, when we listen to a passage of Homer, or one of the tragedians, in which he represents some pitiful hero who is drawling out his sorrows in a long oration, or weeping, and smiting his breast --the best of us, you know, delight in giving way to sympathy, and are in raptures at the excellence of the poet who stirs our feelings most.

The poets play on our emotions, but have no comprehension of Truth. They deal in illusion to create emotion. For me, that's the key. And it also explains Megan McArdle's story above. I was naive to expect something meaningful or even thoughtful from a TV show. And the more I think about it, the more I've read in philosophy and theology, the more juvenile various dramatic approaches to these subjects seem. Perhaps if I had watched Babylon 5 or Lost or one of these shows when I was a teenager, then I'd have marveled at the profundity of the message. And I remember having that feeling sometimes after watching movies back then. Now, it just pisses me off instead. But the realization of why I'm pissed off makes me feel much, much better.



You ought to attend some happy hours. It might help you land a job blogging. Wouldn't you like to blog for the Economist? Networking is your best shot. I'd be at all the happy hours if I were you.

There are several problems here, but I'll mention two. First, I'm an antisocial jerk who opposes "networking." (Yes, those are sarcastic quotation marks.) Second, I fear that I'd be miserable if I blogged for a living. It's kinda like blackjack. I love going to Vegas and playing blackjack, but I'd hate being a professional gambler who has to scratch out a living playing blackjack 8 hours a day.

Another Example in the Growing List of Time Horizons and Politics

Harold Meyerson:
Of all the gaps between elite and mass opinion in America today, perhaps the greatest is this: The elites don't really believe we're still in recession. Or maybe, they just don't care.

How else to explain the continual harping on the deficit by editorialists, centrist think tanks and the like when the nation is still enmeshed in the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s? How else to understand the growing opposition to the jobs bills Congress is set to vote on this week, particularly when nobody has identified any future engine of American economic growth save countercyclical public investment?

If you'll allow me to present a stylized version of this debate. The short-term concern is jobs. The long-term concern is the deficit. For Harold Meyerson, who as far as I can tell is legitimately a socialist, the short-term weighs so heavily that any focus on the longer term is unfathomable.

In my opinion, reasonable people can disagree about how much to value the short-term versus the long-term. So, while Meyerson's focus on the short-term is radical, it isn't prima facie idiotic.

What is idiotic is the last sentence. Meyerson seems to see no hope of future economic growth without countercyclical government spending. First, the logic internal to this statement is fucking incomprehensible. If there's nothing to drive economic growth besides government spending, then where the fuck is the business cycle, which notably includes periods of growth, going to come from? Just to be 100% clear, what his statement is saying is this incoherent point -- there's no hope for growth, or at least nobody has identified where growth will come from, so the government needs to spend when there's no growth, but there's no hope of growth, so the government will just have to spend and spend. Spend and spend until when? Nobody knows. This makes no sense either logically or economically. Second, if your only plan is to have the government spend money to create jobs until whenever, but you have no idea when or why non-government stimulated economic growth will kick in, then people are right to worry about the deficit. Meyerson's plan is, quite simply, to keep running up the deficit until something happens. What, when? Where's the economic growth to pay off the debt that has been run up going to come from? Who knows? Certainly not him because he couldn't put together an economic plan if his life depended on it. In fairness, I guess spending more and more money forever is an economic plan, but it's not really a good one.

Again, there's a balance between the short and long run. Long-term concerns about the deficit need to be weighed against short-term concerns regarding people being out of work. I get that. I think most of us get that. What bugs me so much about Meyerson is his concerns about the short-term are so great that he thinks worrying about the long-term is some sort of moral failing. Moreover, we had more than one stimulus. The most recent of which, according to the White House's numbers, cost $224,857.14 per job saved. Does Meyerson really think that's the best way to create jobs? And even if we assume it's the only way to create jobs, then does that make it a good idea?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For Some Reason

I thought of this scene from Firefly today:

Compression and Tension

FLG often mentions his stint as an engineering student. Well, today he walked by some workers lowering concrete cylinders into the street. For what purpose he wasn't sure.

However, it did remind him that while concrete is very good at dealing with compression it's pretty bad at tension. This means that concrete is a great material for pillars, but terrible for the spans connecting those pillars. The solution to this problem is often to place reinforcing steel bars (rebar) in the concrete. The steel then takes the tension forces and the concrete deals with compression.

Even more interesting, at least to FLG, is how the Romans dealt with the poor way stone and concrete deal with tension -- the arch. The arch is really two different semicircles that are falling into each other. This transforms the tension into compression and voila, no more problems with using stone and concrete.

A Conversation

FLG needed to run over to Georgetown's campus today. So, during his lunch break, he walked over there.

FLG: FLG, that guy looks just like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

FLG: You know, FLG, you're right. Wait...he's talking to that other guy over there and he has an accent. Might just be him.

FLG: Make a note to check if he's at Georgetown today. If he is, then what do you think is here for?

FLG: Probably arguing in favor of permitting sharia courts.

Sure enough, it was him.

Funny Lines From Recent Emails

Mrs. FLG:
I'm trying to hang tough. you know, like NKOTB

speaking as a right-wing nutcase...

A Conversation

Coworker: I'm worried about this presentation I have to give tomorrow.

FLG: Oh, don't worry. Just razzle dazzle 'em. Long as you keep 'em way off balance, how can they spot you've got no talent?

Coworker: What? No talent?

FLG: Jazz hands?

Coworker: Uh, thanks.

FLG: Not a Bob Fosse fan, I guess.

FLG Doesn't Know Them

Every once and a while FLG gets weird inquires about what other bloggers are like or asking to intervene with some blogger because they haven't returned an email or something. FLG doesn't know any of the bloggers who do this for a living. In fact, he's only met a handful of bloggers in real-life: Miss Self-Important, The Maximum Leader, and Robbo. If you throw in maybe half a dozen more people, then you've probably got all the bloggers who have even heard of this site.

It's not like bloggers over at the Atlantic or something are going to be like "Oh, wow! I got an email from FLG. I just love Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. Oh, FLG wants me to email this guy back? I'll get right on it then."

Seriously, there are like a dozen people who read this blog. Half of them are insane. FLG doesn't get invited to supersecret blogger happy hours here in Georgetown where he drinks beer with Andrew Sullivan, Megan McArdle, and Reihan. In fact, the word Georgetown in the title is the only reason why FLG can even partially explain why he gets these emails.

Trust him, FLG isn't connected. He's just an asshole blogger in his underwear.

Time Horizons And Politics...Again

Miss Self-Important writes:
Well, this is an incentive to write a good dissertation.

To save you the time right now, the link is to a David Brooks column about Yuval Levin's disseration -- "The Great Law of Change" -- which Brooks calls "superb." (Incidentally, Mr. Levin, if you happen to stumble across this, I'd appreciate it if you could email a copy to the address listed to the right.)

Anyway, FLG thinks he mentioned this before, but Yuval Levin came to the class he took with Prof. Deneen to talk about Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy It was readily apparent that Yuval Levin is way smarter than FLG.

But then FLG reads this in the David Brooks column:
As Levin shows, Paine believed that societies exist in an “eternal now.” That something has existed for ages tells us nothing about its value. The past is dead and the living should use their powers of analysis to sweep away existing arrangements when necessary, and begin the world anew. He even suggested that laws should expire after 30 years so each new generation could begin again.


Burke, a participant in the British Enlightenment, had a different vision of change. He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.

This sounds an awful lot like FLG's theory that the fundamental difference between political persuasions is the individual's time horizon, or discount rate if you prefer. And, in point of fact, FLG did get much of this theory from reading Burke. As you can see, however, where FLG gets merely a small inkling of an idea, apparently Levin had already had this thought years ago and developed it fully into a superb disseration. That's something FLG simply doesn't have the intellectual capacity to do. Anyway, FLG will see if he can rustle up a copy of the thing and read it.

Last Thing On Lost

Arethusa writes:
C'mon! The ending they used was obviously one of the few viable possibilities way back in Season 2, and clearly intervening seasons did not change things much.

They actually developed the mythology in such a way that it offered much better possibilities. For example, and I don't know how much you know about the show since season 2, but the island had been controlled by a man named Jacob for thousands of years and he had a longstanding bet about human nature with his brother, the smoke monster.

Rather than having a, they all find happiness and overcome their demons in the afterlife before moving on, it could've just been that the island is a place where deeply flawed people are pulled by Jacob to prove his brother wrong about human nature. That one person needed to redeem themselves and Jacob won the bet.

A friend said, but the whole point is that the characters could not cannot overcome these things in life. It had to be in the afterlife. To which FLG replied, if that's your theory than you can go fuck yourself. The special, mystical, magical nature of the island was a central theme. A place that provides an opportunity to redeem yourself, a second chance if you will, was hinted at in the fucking pilot when Locke walked. Tacking on some they're dead stuff didn't make sense, and moreover a perfectly logical and foreshadowed, yet profound solution presented itself.

That's what I think pisses me off most. It's not like wrapping it up should've been hard. Not, I mean tying off every thread of story ever, but answers to the main question -- what is the island? Instead, the island was a MacGuffin that was never discarded. Or discarded far too late.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Quote of the day II

Arrrgh! Pirates rule you dumb hipster MF-ers


Unlike Dennis the Peasant, FLG has long appreciated Matt Zeitlin's take on the world. He doesn't agree on many things, but at least Matt presents reasoning and rationale that FLG can understand.

Today, however, FLG is confused:
So what does Hunt think is driving the higher exit rates for women?

I find that the gap between the female and male exit rates from a field is strongly positively related to the share of men who studied the field. Figure 1 shows that the relationship is fairly linear, and that if engineering fields have the highest female excess exits, it is because they have the highest share of men. The share of men is also sufficient to explain the excess female exits for pay and promotion reasons
Basically, fields with lots of men in them are those that women are most likely to exit. This isn’t an earth-shaking result, but it seems like in a lot of casual conversation about topics like this, even smart people are very prone to putting forward explanations that rely on speculative generalizations about the specific nature of a field they don’t know a ton about*. It could just be that there is a positive feedback loop for the amount of women in a field. And since it’s unlikely that there’s a deep, good reason for engineering and the sciences to be male dominated, there should be an explicit effort to just get women into science and engineering and for them to stay.

So, apparently, as far as FLG can tell, the argument is that the reason men are dominant in engineering is simple inertia. Men historically dominated the field, and women haven't been able to gain foothold enough to create a critical mass of women engineers. Therefore, we ought to encourage women to get into science and engineering.

But FLG wonders why? Why does the gender make up of engineering and science matter? What's the deep, good reason to have the gender ratio of the engineers and scientists match the gender ratio of the public? Is there some sort of unexplored scientific knowledge that we would receive from more women scientists and engineers? What is the social benefit of that scientific and engineering knowledge? Can we attain these benefits in some other way? For example, if you argue that some field of study is underdeveloped, I dunno say breast cancer, because of the gender bias of the researchers, can't we simply provide incentives to study it rather than engage in some social experiment that might affect science and engineering writ large? And if you don't think that shifting the gender ratio of scientists will change science at all, then why are we doing it?

FLG guess his point here is that if you assume away any biological differences, a rather strong assumption in FLG's opinion, and attribute all of the male dominance in these positions to some sort of path dependency, then you need to spell out what the benefit will be beyond simply women will be scientists. There is certainly an argument that any culture that forces half the human population out early might not be fully using the best available people. FLG, however, worries that "an explicit effort to just get women into science and engineering and for them to stay" may just as easily result in a dilution of scientific talent. If the goal is to improve the talent level of scientists and engineers generally, then fine. If the goal is to get more women into science and engineering, then it is very possible that focus on getting women into science will translate into policies that are antithetical to the goal of improving scientific output.

Yes, it's the same concern people have about affirmative action generally. The difference for FLG is that one, racial affirmative action, was and is about righting historical inequities. He isn't so sure that the case of women not succeeding in science and engineering clears so high a bar. Nor can FLG see some large social benefit from it like he can with racial affirmative action or, more to the point for FLG, socioeconomic affirmative action.


This video has been watched 301 times, at least as FLG is posting this, and his guess is that 250 had no fucking clue what the guy is saying:

If you strip away all the jargon and buzzwords, what he is saying would take 15 seconds -- when you don't keep data on your own computer anymore, say as an individual you use GMail or upload your data to Amazon, then then the first step in securing your data is to know that what you are really concerned about is securing your data. Really, quite frankly, it's 4:25 of stating the bloody obvious but with jargony buzzwords. He's not wrong, just jargony buzzwordy.

You are probably saying to yourself, Self, what the fuck does this have to do with FLG's normal blogging themes? Well, it goes back to FLG's fascination with language and communication. This guy makes a living, probably a pretty good one, telling people the obvious.

This saddens FLG for two reasons. First, it means common sense isn't very common. Second, it's often beneficial to cloud your very simple insight in buzzwords than to state it simply. For example, he refers to the idea that what people care about on their computers is the data as "information centricity." Why can't we all just use simple, plain English?

FLG Needs To Stop Torturing Himself

...or alternatively Rufus F. is a perfect storm of bloggery annoyance to FLG.

In his most recent post, he uses French phrases, such as "la patrie de l’amour." FLG mentioned recently how this bothers the ever loving shit out of him. Moreover, it further confirms Rufus is a intellectual poser who uses what he intends to be sophisticated language, but which is truly and simply pretentious.

Then he shifts to this:
Opponents of same sex marriage sound stupid when they bring up bestial marriage because animals cannot agree to legal contracts such as the marriage contract. But, given that we generally see marriage as an agreement between adults who love each other, what arguments are left against either same sex marriage or group marriage, which incidentally is quite familiar in the Scriptures and nearly all religious traditions? If Joseph Smith wants to marry three women, or Tilda Swinton wants to form a family with two men, what case can we make against it, aside from “You can’t really love two other people”, which certainly hasn’t stopped anyone thus far? So part of the discomfort here could be due to our awareness of how lame our case against group marriage, and non-monogamy in general, is at this point, amounting to, “Well, I couldn’t do it. It’s pretty weird, am I right?”

Would anyone like to propose a stronger argument for or against polygamy?

FLG attempted to address this topic previously because the logic above is precisely where the gay marriage slippery slope argument is valid, not to bestiality. FLG still maintains that marriage is not a contract but a covenant (a pledge of mind, body, and soul), which cannot be to two people.

FLG is currently listening to

Quote of the day

Fareed Zakaria:
The most significant effect of the Greek crisis might be to enshrine the dollar's reserve role for another generation -- a role that brings with it huge benefits to the United States.

Lost Finale

So, let FLG get this straight. The writers of Lost decide to devote half of the season to a reality created by the Losties to find each other after they'd died?

On the face of it, this sounds questionable, but FLG can see a few scenarios where this would work. However, the key point in that, then, is to show how they all died eventually. Yet, if FLG remembers correctly Hugo, Ben, Desmond, Richard, Miles, Lapidus, Sawyer, Claire and Kate are still alive when Jack dies.

Also, FLG isn't quite sure what the point or message of them creating their own world to be together after death is. Throughout the season, FLG thought it was something about fate going on. Whether they were on or off the island, they still were destined to find one another. But if they created the world to find one another, then that's not fate. It's will.

Then there's the issue with lack of foreshadowing. In hindsight, FLG sees a couple points where the characters were sorta, kinda talking as if they subconsciously knew they were dead. But these sorts of things only work when there was some sort of foreshadowing a la the Sixth Sense. Now, you may respond that Lost had tons of mysteries, the hatch, the numbers, the polar bears, the smoke monster, etc, that weren't foreshadowed. Fine. But when you decide to take half the final season and spend it telling a story after all the characters are dead, then you need to foreshadow a bit better.

Lastly, the biggest problem with the after death storyline is that it took away precious time from more fully developing the tale on the island. FLG thinks the writers are in love with the various characters in the ensemble. They're great characters, so he gets that. But they seemed to have missed or forgotten that the island is a character as well. A pretty important one at that. Perhaps this last point is only because the they're dead storyline fell so flat. If it was successful, then maybe FLG wouldn't have minded so much.

There are still a million questions out there about the island. Where'd the temple come from? Why decide to introduce Dogon and Lenin seemingly out of nowhere? What's the connection to the Tunisian desert? Who built the big Egyptian statue? Just to name a select few off the top of FLG's head. To the extent that many of these answers don't involve characters who had already been introduced and the audience cares about, then it doesn't make much sense to explore them too far or at all. FLG was, unlike some crazies on the Internet, immediately ok with the explanation about the light. It's just the light. It's the source. It's a mystery and magical and sacred. Fine. Answers like that are perfectly acceptable. It would've probably been better to spend some more time thinking, writing, and exploring the island with the existing cast of characters to the extent possible.

All in all, FLG thinks the last five minutes of the finale pretty much ruined half the last season. It was still a great ride, and maybe that's the point, but the last season could've been a hell of a lot better, especially considering that they'd known this was coming for so long. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the finale was awesome for about the first two hours.

Friday, May 21, 2010

WTF Is Wrong With The World?

So, let FLG get this straight. The Georgetown Barnes & Noble has no, zero, nada copies of St. Augustine's The City of God, but plenty South Park and Philosophy: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating in stock?

Plato and Democracy

FLG doesn't know why he continues to read Rufus' posts on the canon. And he has no idea why he continues to read the ones on Plato. Most recently, he blogged Crito, one of FLG's favorites.

First, he writes:
An interesting point here is that Socrates agrees wholeheartedly with Crito about the bulk of “ordinary people”, grousing that they have no power to make people wise (and thus good). In the next section, he tells Crito not to worry about the popular opinion because one should always prefer expert opinion to majority opinion, especially in matters of the soul. Let’s take this as the typical Platonic argument against democracy- under the popular regime, the soul is not improved and the few good people are killed. Again, Plato is not a believer in democracy. So why in the world does Socrates accept the ruling of these brutish “ordinary people” and insist on staying in prison?

Let's step back for a second. Socrates was not an Athenian and chose to live there. So, doesn't his choosing to live there, and that's a big point in the dialogue, mean that Socrates and Plato are, in some at least practical sense, believers in democracy?

I won't bother to continue with much of the rest because it will just piss me off even more. The issue is this: Rufus brings modern sensibilities to his interpretation of Plato. These sensibilities blind him to a more nuanced, and in my mind, more correct understanding. He understands Plato largely as an authoritarian. Plato's deeper meaning is ignored as Rufus' democratic soul recoils in horror at the first whiff of that authoritarianism.

Make no mistake: Plato is not opposed to the Laws- the Republic suggests he’d like a lot more of them. But his authoritarian impulse is tied to his faith that, if the right experts made enough of the right laws, without the interference of the mob, the average person could be made better. This is, incidentally, the faith of many authoritarians. I prefer to think that the real Socrates would have thought it was nonsense.

Rufus analyzed the Polity-Soul parallel when he was blogging the Republic, but its consequences didn't fully sink in. Again, I've read the Republic four or five times. The first time you say, oh sure, there's this parallel between the two. But ultimately it only makes sense if the real focus is on the correct ordering of the soul.

From Emile:
Do you wish to get an idea of public education? Read Plato's Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.

A digression: Apparently, even many scholars are confused about this stuff. In a note about the above quotation at the Columbia site that I linked to, it says:
Rousseau read Plato avidly and copied down numerous passages from the Republic. Given the social and political milieu in which Emile is to be educated, however, the "education of nature" that Rousseau describes will be diametrically opposite to the very "public" education laid out in the Republic.

God fucking dammit! Rousseau is saying that the whole fucking thing is an allegory for education of the fucking soul! It's times like this that FLG thinks he dumb, but most people, including apparently noted scholars, are fucking village idiots.

Plato's so-called authoritarianism should largely be understood as your reason dominating your will and appetites within your own soul. This isn't to say that there aren't aspects of Plato's actual political prescriptions that aren't what we'd call authoritarian, but Rufus just isn't getting this shit. He's reading superficially and with a lack of pensiveness.

Quote of the day

The incident brings to light an unpleasant truth: the Naval Academy, where I have been a professor for 23 years, has lost its way. The same is true of the other service academies. They are a net loss to the taxpayers who finance them, as well as a huge disappointment to their students, who come expecting reality to match reputation. They need to be fixed or abolished.

I don't often think much about the service academies when I'm thinking about higher education, but perhaps I ought to more often.

America Isn't Japan

Paul Krugman writes about how America has 10% unemployment, and tries to cajole his readers into the idea that the government to do something otherwise we might end up with a lost decade like the Japanese.

I've mentioned this time and again, but Japan has a corporatist economy, which is not dissimilar from European nations do. This creates what economists call labor rigidities that, when combined with sticky wages, exacerbate deflationary cycles.

Let me put it this way -- when your labor force and wages are governed by union contracts negotiated every several years and layoffs of largely prohibited by the contract or the law or cultural expectations, then it is very difficult to adapt to shocks. In the short-term, 10% unemployment is very painful and that pain falls largely upon a specific segment of the population, the unemployed, but this flexibility allows the US to adapt to changing economic circumstances faster.

And that is where the irony lies for me. The managed economy model of Europe and Japan provide more stability and predictability at the cost of growth. But when big shocks come, and growth is really what's needed, they are predictably slow to recover. The US accepts higher uncertainty for, over higher long-term growth, often lower long-term unemployment compared to many managed economy countries, and faster recovery. But when the economy sours, the US does experience a lot more pain more quickly than those managed countries.

So, getting back to the point, Krugman ought to know that we aren't as susceptible to the problems that plagued Japan because our economy isn't arranged in the same way. Now, if he wanted to make the case that the short-term pain felt by the 10% unemployed is way too high and consequently that the government ought to do something, anything, to get them back to work, then that is a reasonable argument. But I just don't see America becoming Japan.

I'd usually offer some caveat that Krugman knows more about economics than I do, which he certainly does, but he's also been extremely partisan and politically motivated in his columns over the last few years. So much so that I question his ethos. You know, in the Aristotelian rhetoric sense of the word.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Euro As Political Tool

Excellent op-ed in the NYTimes today about the politics of the Euro. The guys is a management consultant of some type, but nevertheless is taking the right approach and is a vast improvement over asking economics PhDs who are good at math, but terrible at politics.

This Boggles FLG's Mind

South Korea accused North Korea Thursday of firing a torpedo that sank a naval warship in March, killing 46 sailors in the country's worst military disaster since the Korean War.

South Korea said it would take "firm" measures against its impoverished and reclusive neighbor, which furiously responded that it was ready for war if Seoul or its allies imposed sanctions.


Japan ruled out the resumption of nuclear disarmament talks by five regional powers and the North, and said Washington shared its view that such negotiations — aimed at aiding Pyongyang in return for a promise to drop its nuclear arms — were unthinkable.

It's that last paragraph that most boggles FLG's mind. The five regional powers are the ones who want disarmament, so is ruling them out really punishing North Korea? Now, FLG isn't saying that we should give them goodies after acting like assholes, but who really loses when we stop negotiating NK's disarmament? They're still a two-bit nuclear power.

FLG has, and has had for a while, half a mind just to advocate the preemptive nuclear annihilation of North Korea. It would solve all this bullshit with the regime and resolve in advance and permanently the horribly painful reintegration of North Korean people after the regime collapses. Plus, and probably most importantly, it would scare the shit out of other countries thinking about getting the bomb. FLG realizes that sacrificing the lives of millions of innocent North Koreans and the radiological damage are massive negatives, not to mention the huge blow to America's reputation in the world, but Iran and everybody else would certainly think twice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Does That Need A Link?

FLG devotes an inordinate amount of thought about whether to link to an explanation or not. Often he chooses not to link. Perhaps he expects a lot of his readers.

Anyway, via Alpheus, FLG found this post in which a link explaining Abbasids is provided. FLG clicked on the link assuming this must be some obscure reference of which he knows nothing. But no. It was a link to the wikipedia page for the Abbasid Caliphate. That isn't exactly some footnote in history.

Well, anyway, FLG will assume that you know the following without having to link:
As well as all the successors to Alexander and corresponding dynasties, particularly the two that FLG finds himself most often referring -- the Seleucids and Ptolemaic Egypt.
There are too many Chinese Dynasties, but the Xia, Han, Yuan, Ming, and Qing FLG considers common knowledge.

There are others, but FLG is getting bored listing them and is also fearing this is a very douchey post.

Quick Roundup

I haven't had time to post too much today. Not that I really have any new and innovative thoughts, but that's never stopped me before. In any case, here's a quick roundup.

Holy Fucking Surgery, Batman

This post by Buttonwood pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter referred to in the post.

I kept envisioning this movie scene during a PowerPoint presentation today and consequently couldn't stop snickering.

This post by Mary Beard about a trip to the Louvre to check out some Hellenistic art, including the ever popular hermaphrodite and Crouching Aphrodite, reminded me of my favorite theme in Hellenistic art -- Venus Kallipygos.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Anglo-Saxon Versus European Capitalism

This article in Le Monde tries to argue that Anglo-Saxon capitalism is no better than European capitalism. Or at least there's no proof of it. The author refers to a 2007 paper that examined compared ownership diffusion in the United States and other countries and found no difference. FLG is skeptical, but will need to read the paper. However, we have loads of data, like several decades of relatively lagging grwoth, that implies continental and blockholding systems aren't as effective as Anglo-saxon economies. They'd like to believe their touchy-feely corporatist system with its kumbaya terminology, like social partners, is more effective, but it simply isn't.

Econ PhDs Are About As Qualified To Talk About The Future Of The Euro astrologers.

FLG is sick and tired of people looking to economists to explains the issues surrounding the euro. The euro is a political tool. Greece's problems are, at root, political in nature. Sure, they're facing severe economic constraints, but those were precipitated by decades of poor fiscal management by Greek politicians.

This New Yorker piece spells it out pretty plainly:
The European Union did eventually come through with a rescue package for Greece and other beleaguered members, like Portugal, but the markets didn’t calm down, rallying on Monday only to nosedive again at the end of the week. The fact is, this kind of volatility isn’t going away, because we now live in an environment dominated by what economists call “political risk”—the uncertainty that businesses face as a result of government actions. Of course, government actions always affect the economy, but usually in an undramatic way: an interest-rate cut here, a new regulation there. The economic downturn and the debt crisis have given us instead a world where governments are among the most important players in markets—injecting money into economies on a colossal scale and routinely propping up, or even nationalizing, troubled companies.


Political risk is hard to manage because so much comes down to the personal choices of policymakers, whether prime ministers or heads of central banks. And those choices aren’t always going to be economically rational...

Listen, FLG has a degree in international economics. So, he understands and appreciates what the discipline has to offer. But big-time economists seem to have bought into their own hype. Case in point, Greg Mankiw has listed what a bunch of notable economists think about the euro. Frankly, FLG, as he implied above, thinks they are almost entirely unqualified to talk about the future of the euro. It's entirely political.

In fairness, Barry Eichengreen, one of the links Mankiw provided, does acknowledge this point:
Those forecasting the demise of the euro were wrong because they misunderstood the politics. The euro is the symbol of the European project. Jacques Delors, one of its architects, once called the single currency “the jewel in Europe’s crown.” Abandoning it would be tantamount to declaring the entire European integration project a failure.

Now, it does appear that the elites in Europe are prepared to doubledown. And maybe economists can point out the economic constraints that politicians must make their decisions within. But ultimately the decision is a political one and economists would be mere technicians in help to identify how to move forward. Right now, the economists should largely shut up and let's here from the political scientists and politicians.

Being a big-time, smart economist doesn't make you qualified to talk about everything that even tangentially relates to economics. FLG, are you saying that the euro is only tangentially related to economics? Yes, especially right now.

Wait a second! FLG, what qualifies you to talk about the future of the euro? Absolutely nothing, but FLG doesn't get published in the WSJ as some sort of expert on the topic. This is political right now, and we should be looking to the political scientists and political analysts.

Financial Legislation

Pete Davis raised some quandries in financial regulation. Specifically, it's hard to separate the "good guys" from the "bad guys."

As FLG has mentioned before, but he thinks all these dance around the primary issue -- leverage. Let's not worry about assigning and enforcing moral values, which is fraught with all kinds of the problems, and simply worry about the amount of leverage in the system. That is the systematic risk. Whether this guy buys a swap for a good or bad purpose is largely irrelevant. Or, more to the point, the cost of agreeing upon good and bad and then subsequently enforcing that determination in individual trades is in all likelihood far higher than the social benefit it would be meant to ensure. Better to just limit the overall risk.

The one exception, as far as FLG can see, is consumer protection. Although, he fears the extent of the so-called protection some experts think consumers need or want is fucking nuts. But the relative lack of information and sophistication between retail consumers and firms in the financial sector is enough to worry this blogger.

Powerpoint Suckage

FLG is a true believer in the 6 x 6 PowerPoint rule.

If you are using bullet points, then limit yourself to six bullet points with no more than six words per point. Bullet points with long, full sentences are annoying.

The only exception would be if you are providing some specific quotation. A common example is if you are referring to some specific text from a law or regulation. Then again, if the quotation is important enough to cite in full odds are you should devote an entire slide to it.

In general, the vast majority of PowerPoint presentations FLG has to sit through are not simply atrocious, but aesthetically offensive.

Monday, May 17, 2010


is still funny to FLG

Taking My Own Advice

In the previous post, I originally wrote "au sujet de l'hyperpuissance américaine." Because that's what came into my mind. Snooty Parisian accent and all. However, a few days ago I was just complaining to myself that I hate it when writers use two languages. Offering an except and its translation is fine, but when authors include foreign phrases, even French ones that I can read without problem, it bothers the shit out of me. So, I went back and changed it to English.

Be Careful What You Wish For

It looks like the French, always so worried about the American Hyperpower, have woken up to the reality of what a multipolar world actually means. No need to translate.

As If FLG Needed To Present More Evidence

...that Japanese culture is completely fucking bonkers and they love fucking robots:

Roundabout Way To Get To The Point

FLG read this post by TNC that says a new Muppet Movie is in the works. TNC linked to this article, which excerpted a blog that is apparently down:
"The Great Muppet Movie of All Time" is no "Great Muppet Caper" — 'Caper' being to the first Muppets film, what "The Empire Strikes Back" is to "Star Wars

FLG will tell you exactly what went wrong with that movie in two words -- this asshole. A person whom FLG thinks he might have to place on his nemesis list. There's not a single film that he didn't make worse. Oh sure, he's in some good movies, but ask yourself if they'd be better with somebody else in his role? If your answer is no, then check yourself into a mental hospital.

Piratical Sign Grammar

FLG was perusing the Interwebz for pirate signs, when he came across this one. It reads:
Shit Happen's

Is FLG to believe that there is a pirate with the last name, Happen, and first name, Shit, whose skull and crossbones this is?

The City So Nice They Named It Twice

FLG hasn't really been following the New York is too culturally significant debate. Mostly because he's sworn off reading Conor, who started the whole thing.

But Phoebe decided to weigh in. She examines several aspects of the anti-NYC dynamic. First, is the extent to which NY = Jew. There's definitely some of that, but FLG isn't so sure that NY = Jew is the only reason. Then, there's the idea that it is a city consisting of "socialites, celebrities, investment bankers, and other not-so-relatable demographics." FLG isn't so sure this explains it either.

The big thing in the NYC versus the rest of the country struggle is Wall Street. New York is for many in middle America the embodiment of big corporations. And not just big corporations, but the one's whose CEOs and financiers are making decisions far off in Manhattan. Decisions that affect people's livelihod and, rightly or wrongly, those people think are stupid. Now, to the extent that Wall Street means banks and banks mean Jews or to the extent that concerns about the nexxus of wealth and power often coincide with Antisemitism, FLG concedes there may be a NY = Jew thing going on.

FLG guesses his point here is this: FLG loves NYC. Maybe in the anti-NYC bias there are cultural, racial, political, and other prejudices at work. Nevertheless, New York City wouldn't be what it is today without Wall Street and finance. Wall Street and finance generate concerns and anxiety about wealth and power, but also generate lots of other media and cultural things that only extend New York's cultural influence. Where other cities have fallen, particularly blue collar cities, New York is still the city that never sleeps. All influence that NYC holds over the rest of the country is directly or indirectly due to Wall Street and finance.

Leisure, Philosophy, And FLG's Happiness Theory

As FLG keeps telling you the diminution of the word leisure to mere free time leaves many blind how foundational it is to our civilization. To the extent that it has been diminished in our minds, FLG contends our civilization has correspondingly. Does he really mean that? No, but it sounds very contentious, doesn't it?

FLG saw this on the NYTimes page today:
As Alfred North Whitehead said, philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Let me risk adding a footnote by looking at Plato’s provocative definition of the philosopher that appears in the middle of his dialogue, “Theaetetus,” in a passage that some scholars consider a “digression.” But far from being a footnote to a digression, I think this moment in Plato tells us something hugely important about what a philosopher is and what philosophy does.


Theodorus, Socrates’ interlocutor, introduces the “digression” with the words, “Aren’t we at leisure, Socrates?” The latter’s response is interesting. He says, “It appears we are.” As we know, in philosophy appearances can be deceptive. But the basic contrast here is that between the lawyer, who has no time, or for whom time is money, and the philosopher, who takes time. The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity.

Pushing this a little further, we might say that to philosophize is to take your time, even when you have no time, when time is constantly pressing at our backs. The busy readers of The New York Times will doubtless understand this sentiment. It is our hope that some of them will make the time to read The Stone. As Wittgenstein says, “This is how philosophers should salute each other: ‘Take your time.’ ”. Indeed, it might tell you something about the nature of philosophical dialogue to confess that my attention was recently drawn to this passage from Theaetetus in leisurely discussions with a doctoral student at the New School, Charles Snyder.

Socrates says that those in the constant press of business, like lawyers, policy-makers, mortgage brokers and hedge fund managers, become ”bent and stunted” and they are compelled “to do crooked things. The pettifogger is undoubtedly successful, wealthy and extraordinarily honey-tongued, but, Socrates adds, “small in his soul and shrewd and a shyster.” The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her otherworldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly.

This ties in with FLG's theory about happiness, which is that basically the less you rely on others to make you happy the happier you will be. This doesn't mean be an emotional island, not care about people, horribly introverted, or rude. It just means define happiness for yourself and to the extent possible in ways that are within your control. And this includes most importantly not defining yourself by society's expectations. Everybody can always be thinner, prettier, smarter, richer, etc. Best just to set your sights on what you want to do, what really matters to you, and then try your best to get it done. If that goal is to try to prove something to somebody, your parents, society, your spouse, whomever, then you really need to think things through. You just don't have the time to live your life for somebody else. So, to conclude this Oprahesque rant that began with Plato, three millenia of philosophy tells us that the secret to happiness is to take time for yourself and seriously engage with what you enjoy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quote of the day

Life on the Mississsippi, Mark Twain:
now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Europe The Bicycle

So, remember when FLG said that allowing the euro to fail would mean the end of the European Project? Well, the pro-EU elites in Europe have already begun pressing forward.

Le Monde:
L'Europe, c'est comme la bicyclette : si elle n'avance pas, elle tombe

That's actually a pretty famous line. Europe, it's like a bicycle; if it isn't moving forward, then it falls.

They keep pressing. In fact, in response to the crisis the European elites have doubled-down on their anti-democratic, hideous project. From the same article:
Si les seize Etats membres de l'eurozone veulent vraiment une union monétaire, a martelé José Manuel Barroso, ils "doivent avoir le courage" de mettre en place une union économique, donc de renforcer la coordination de leurs politiques budgétaires. M. Barroso a donc proposé qu'ils soumettent leurs avant-projets de budget à la Commission européenne avant de les présenter à leurs Parlements nationaux.

If the sixteen eurozone members truly want a monetary union, hammered José Manuel Barroso [the European Commission president], they "must have the courage" to put in place an economic union to reinforce the coordination of their budget policies. Mr. Barroso therefore proposed that they submit their budget projections to the European Commission before presenting them to their national parliaments.

Now, some, like FLG saw Paul Wolfowitz just now, argue that this is the same people with the same proposals they always have to every crisis. To some extent that's true. But FLG smells fear. They're petrified that the whole project will simply fall apart. Shit. There are rumors France threatened to leave the euro if Germany didn't buck up. Then again, if Germany didn't, then it would make sense just to call the whole thing a day and move on.

FLG's Enchanted Tiki Room

The basement of FLG Castle is finished. By which he means not recently completed, but that it includes living space. One half is an in-law suite type thing. Bedroom and bathroom. The other half is FLG's Boom Boom Room. Some may call it a man-cave. FLG doesn't like that nomenclature. Nevertheless, it's got a big screen plasma, surround sound, and a bar.

Getting to the point...Withywindle's mention of the Fraternal Order of Moai prompted FLG to write this post. You see, FLG design idea for the room is shooting for somewhere between tasteful, tropical colors and furniture pieces in a sophisticated, yet understated ensemble, like you'd find at a high end hotel in Hawaii, and full-blown 1950's Tiki kitsch (depicted here in lego).

Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "Self, FLG has just set himself up an aircraft carrier to land on. The spectrum of possibilities between upscale Maui hotel and a 1950s backyard Tiki Extravaganza is infinite." Yes, but to span these two worlds properly necessitates perfect balance on a razor's edge and requires exquisite taste and impeccable judgment. FLG has neither of these.

So, let's forget all about FLG's Boom Boom Room and sing along with the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room. Welcome to our tropical hideway...

FLG Is A Very Busy And Important Man

So when he emails you, then you'd better hop the fuck to. FLG is pretty sure that Sir Basil Seal, international man of mystery, owes FLG an email from months ago. Although, he doesn't remember what the email is about or anything. Nevertheless, this is just to set proper expectations about responses to FLG's correspondence.

On an entirely unrelated note, FLG would like to tell, admittedly very belatedly, Maximum Leader that he would love one of his many copies of the bible and we still need to see something at the AFI theatre, but FLG doesn't really see anything that exciting on the calender there right now. He'll keep looking. Also, to dave.s., who emailed almost a week ago, FLG will be in touch about the sandbox. He is thinking about renting a pickup sometime soon to get mulch, so he'll probably try to swing by that day.

FLG is currently listening

Financial Innovation

Matt Yglesias writes:
So the question for people who worry about stifling financial innovation in the past, the question is what problem are you hoping more innovation might solve? “Interest rates on mortgages are much higher on the west coast than on the east coast” reflected a concrete problem with the then-extant financial markets.

He was riffing off Ryan Avent, who writes:
if we can't quantify the extent to which there are net benefits to innovation, then it's hard to see that this argument is based on anything other than blind faith.

Now, I realize that both these are trying to examine a key point in the argument against financial regulation generally, which is to say it stifles innovation. I think Ryan's motivations are more pure than Matt's, which is to say I think Matt has largely become a partisan hack since moving his blog over to Think Progress. Ryan, I think, is just asking a question for the purposes of cost-benefit analysis. To quantify it.

But here's the problem -- we don't know what benefits future innovations will bring. To put it in terms most people can more easily understand. In 1970 or 1980 or even 1990, the idea that something like an iPod could exist was entirely science fiction. Same for the Internet and all sorts of technological innovations. That's kind of the entire point of innovation; it's entirely new. Consequently, trying to determine some quantification for the benefits of it is impossible. We can't discuss the benefits of something nobody's ever thought of yet.

A fair criticism, and one that Matt makes pretty explicitly, is what problems are there in the financial markets that we actually need to solve? Haven't we solved most of the big problems already; therefore, aren't we taking on risk for less and less benefit? But isn't it pretty common that most people never thought that there was a need for an invention before it was invented. So, it's not really blind faith, as Ryan argues, but an assumption based on historical evidence that human beings find better and better ways of doing things over time. That there's inevitable progress in all fields of human endeavor. Ironic that a self-proclaimed progressive, like Matt, would doubt the potential for progress.


FLG asked Prof. Deneen to mail his paper back to him. FLG'd meant to get over there to his office sometime this semester, but it just didn't work out.

Now, FLG was aware of many flaws in his paper relating to execution and the structure of the argument. Not so much aware, but unhappy with many parts of hem.

Well, Prof. Deneen tore asunder a goodly portion of the paper with one fell swoop when he referred me to this:*
if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves. Here, however, another distinction must be drawn; the instruments commonly so called are instruments of production, whilst a possession is an instrument of action. The shuttle, for example, is not only of use; but something else is made by it, whereas of a garment or of a bed there is only the use. Further, as production and action are different in kind, and both require instruments, the instruments which they employ must likewise differ in kind. But life is action and not production, and therefore the slave is the minister of action. Again, a possession is spoken of as a part is spoken of; for the part is not only a part of something else, but wholly belongs to it; and this is also true of a possession. The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.

Fuck, FLG said upon reading that passage again. This certainly calls into question the argument FLG made that the physical and material means of production, either through slavery or through machinery such that most people have free time, was an important distinction in Aristotle's eyes vis-a-vis leisure. FLG isn't sure that it undermines the implicit argument he made that technology in some ways becomes the master. But if that's the case then it shouldn't have been an implicit argument. It should've been the central one.

Times like this are what make FLG happy he's not in grad school. He knows he's not that smart, but he hates feeling really stupid. Not that he thinks that was Prof. Deneen's intention at all, but FLG feels that way nevertheless. FLG is pretty confident that, for him, political theory is one of those torturous things that a person is very interested in, yet awful at doing or understanding.


* Like how I put those two cliched phrases (tore asunder and one fell swoop) together? Me too.

Good Questions

Mark Thompson:
how do you enforce this proposed law in a way that meaningfully reduces the risk from the rare whacko who wants to shoot up an airport? In other words, how does this bill actually reduce the threat to which it is responding?

If this bill were to pass, I am quite certain that the average gun-owner, in the overwhelming majority of cases, would take pains to comply with it. But would we really expect any of those rare whack-jobs who want to shoot up an airport (or are even capable of it) to obey this law? I am quite certain that the penalty for violating this law will be substantially less than the penalty for murder or attempted murder, and definitely less than the penalty for terrorism.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Women And Technology

Women, in particular, benefited from access to communication technology and devices, said the report, partly because they often have a more "central" role in family life and social networks.

That's one way to put it. Another way would be that women like to gab for the sake of gabbing, even if they are talking about the most banal shit in the, like, most annoying, like, tone of voice at the supermarket, completely unaware that FLG has an overwhelming desire to fucking throttle them into silence.

To be fair, it's not just women. Men use technology for stupid shit too. Communication technology has simply facilitated more and more bullshit. It's just that women, on average, seem to enjoy/partake of it more than men. Or perhaps FLG, as a man, finds male-to-male communication about stuff less annoying, but even if that's true he doubts men talk on the cell phone more than women. Especially if you take out work communication.

Just Sayin'

You don't view softcore porn on the senate floor during an abortion debate.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Words FLG Likes

He may have mentioned this before, but every time he hears this song FLG tries to remind himself to use the word gossamer more often.


I received an email from somebody asking for advice from successful bloggers with starting a blog. Since I know nothing about successful blogging myself and was somewhat curious what the recommendations for successful blogging were, I googled it. Broadly speaking, there seem to be two. First, post a lot. FLG, check. Second, have a niche. Huh? Niche? That must be where I've gone wrong.

I will say, if I do say so myself, that one of my relative strengths is the ability to understand the nexxus of economics and politics. For instance, many economics types look at the euro and discuss debt ratios, the financial market's reaction, the effect on interest rates, get the idea, but they are totally out of their element in politics. Many people who understand and think politics view the markets as some sort of overlord that is telling Greece what to do. A point which they either reluctantly accept or angrily denounce. I understand the economic and political issues, the political-economy if you will, well, at least to some extent, and try to make some sense of it all. I don't think that's my niche really. Just something I think I'm better than most at doing. I only mention it because it is so astonishing to me recently how poorly equipped many people are, even ones who are supposedly experts in economics or politics, when thinking about these issues.

Anyway, if you want to be a successful blogger, then I'd ask somebody else.


Ok, so close readers of this blog will remember that there's an economic trilemma when it comes to international economics. A country cannot simultaneously have an independent monetary policy, open capital accounts, and a fixed exchange rate.

Not too long ago, FLG was reading Global Capital and National Governments by Layna Mosley and in it she references the Rodrik trilemma. FLG understood that there was some sort of political irreconcilability with globalization, but couldn't understand exactly how that all worked or what its implications were from the explanation Mosley provided. He reckoned Mosley assumed it was common knowledge among her target audience and consequently glossed over it. Anyway, FLG made note of the reference and filed it away to read later.

Well, today Greg Mankiw links to an article by Dani Rodrik that explains it better:
economic globalization, political democracy, and the nation-state are mutually irreconcilable. We can have at most two at one time. Democracy is compatible with national sovereignty only if we restrict globalization. If we push for globalization while retaining the nation-state, we must jettison democracy. And if we want democracy along with globalization, we must shove the nation-state aside and strive for greater international governance.

Personally, FLG is far more sanguine. Unlike the economic trilemma, which will crumble quickly do it its inherent instability, a political trilemma seems overstated. Even if there is a trade-off between these three things, politics can negotiate that sort of thing.

If you have an open capital account then you must choose between a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy. Trying to have both will fail instantaneously. With a political trilemma, you can have a little less globalization and a little more democracy and sovereignty. It's not an absolute choice.

The political trilemma seems more about choosing among infinite points in some three dimensional, albeit constrained, space; whereas the economic trilemma is about choosing two out of three. All that said, FLG still needs to go read the original piece in which Rodrik described his theory.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quote of the day

At first blush, a Saturday morning cartoon show involving two scheming laboratory mice would not have much relevance to strategy.

Educational Coherence, Pure Reason, and Habermas

Stanley Fish posted this like a month ago, but it dovetails nicely with the educational coherence point FLG made:
What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is “unenlightened about itself” in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. “Postmetaphysical thinking,” Habermas contends, “cannot cope on its own with the defeatism concerning reason which we encounter today both in the postmodern radicalization of the ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ and in the naturalism founded on a naïve faith in science.”


The liberal citizen is taught that he is the possessor of rights and that the state exists to protect those rights, chief among which is his right to choose. The content of what he chooses — the direction in which he points his life — is a matter of indifference to the state which guarantees his right to go there just as it guarantees the corresponding rights of his neighbors (“different strokes for different folks”). Enlightenment rational morality, Habermas concludes, “is aimed at the insight of individuals, and does not foster any impulse toward solidarity, that is, toward morally guided collective action.”

FLG's point isn't so profound as Habermas' or Deneen's are. He's not that smart or thoughtful. He'd just like some coherence so that students will understand how the sophisticated construction of worldviews from metaphysical (or epistemological or ontological, if you prefer) assumptions works, rather than the current plethora of approaches offered by different departments. He realizes that this is fraught with its own problems and dangers, but this is his blog and he gets to throw shit out there.
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