30 September 2008

The Immanent Grove grows in Liverpool

What is learned in the Immanent Grove is not much talked about elsewhere. It is said that no spells are worked there, and yet the place itself is an enchantment. Sometimes the trees of that Grove are seen, and sometimes they are not seen, and they are not always in the same place... It is said that the trees of the Grove themselves are wise. The novices, the townsfolk, the farmers consider that the Grove moves about in a mystifying manner. But in this they are mistaken, for the grove does not move. Its roots are the roots of being. It is all the rest that moves.

— Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

(Higher resolution video can be found on the Rocketboom site.)

I'd like to see the same type of thing, but with the trees on tracks so they could translate as well as rotate, and have the whole thing modulated by some strange attractor function so they're never in the same configuration twice.

PS The previous Rocketboom episode on beards is also worth a watch.

Philip Pullman: Please stop preaching

Philip Pullman on the pointless menace of censorship

"My basic objection to religion is not that it isn't true; I like plenty of things that aren't true. It's that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good."
No. Please see Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, then revise and resubmit.

I just finished reading Pullman's The Amber Spyglass yesterday and while I quite enjoyed it, he is just so very wrong about the uniqueness of religiously inspired actions. There is no discernible difference between the motivations and behaviors of a fervent believer no matter the type of their creed: religious, nationalist, socialist, etc. It just doesn't matter.

(Via Bng Bng.)

PS: I know this isn't really a scathing critique, since the character of Asriel was supposed to be slightly mistaken and imperfect, but it struck me that the "Republic of Heaven" he established was still an autocracy, and was described clearly as being nothing but a gigantic military-industrial fortress/factory. I know this paved the way for Will & Lyra's more metaphorical "Republic," but no one ever pointed out that Asriel was trying to fight for freedom and love by establishing a military dictatorship. Maybe I'm expecting too much nuance out of a children's book, but it's the kind of one-sidedness indicative of Pullman's views. He never would allow Church figures to establish that kind of dictatorship of the proletariat and let is pass without comment.

26 September 2008

Reading List

Offered without comment, this reading list from The Distributed Republic on current financial matters and this survey from Reason of free market economists, including Bryan Caplan and Mike Munger.

My editorial contribution is to append this piece by Michael Lewis, and this very short but valuable insight from Coyote Blog.

And now I'm off to Grand Rapids for some wedding-based festivities. See you on the other side.

25 September 2008

Greed: You're doing it wrong.

Julian Sanchez points out another example of heads-I'm-right-tails-you're-wrong economics:
The Root of All Evil

I’m bemused at the way we’re perpetually told the fundamental cause of the ongoing meltdown is Wall Street “greed,” as though that somehow counted as an explanation. How, pray, would we describe it if mortgage lenders had rejected many more applications from lower-income folks, on the grounds that they were poor risks? Well, greed, of course.
Some people are going to be critical of banks and businessmen no matter the circumstances. I'd venture that this has been true since, oh, Cosimo de' Medici, and will continue to be true at least as long as Naomi Klein's DNA does laps in the gene pool.

Sanchez continues:
Pretty much whatever they did, they’d be doing because they expected it to maximize their profit; the issue is their judgement, not their motives. Or put another way: The problem isn’t that people were greedy, it’s that they weren’t very good at being greedy.

24 September 2008

McCain to suspend campaigning and get back to work

McCain seeks to delay debate so that he and Obama can go back to DC and discuss bailout plans with other leaders.

On the one hand, I would generally prefer that Congress only be in session 2 months a year (preferably July and February, because I think they are the most miserable times to be in DC), and so I find it hard to advocate congress sticking around to clean up this mess. As a default rule I prefer congress not trying to fix things to congress trying to fix things.

On the other hand, there's some serious legislating about to happen, and the idea that our elected leaders are gallivanting about the country trying to secure offices, perhaps higher offices, instead of doing their jobs is a bit galling. It's distasteful in the way taking time off work before a big deadline to go job hunting is.

On the gripping hand McCain has never indicated before that he's willing to sacrifice campaigning for actually doing his constitutional duties, so I have to think this is 100% naked political stunt designed to send the message that he cares more about the plight of the economy than the other guy.

On cellphones and poorly calibrated morality

Here's Doug Rushkoff concluding his review of the new Google Android phone.
While I doubt Google will suddenly push ads on the unsuspecting T-Mobile subscriber, I could foresee a Google future in which people get cheaper phone plans for giving Google's advertisers access to their screens. This could subject those without sufficient funds to buy their way out of marketing to an entirely different communications experience than everyone else.
Or this could allow those without sufficient funds to buy access to a smart phone at all. Because you know what would be "an entirely different communications experience than everyone else?" Not having a smart phone of any kind because you can't afford one. Does it occur to Rushkoff that access to an internet-capable phone, even fettered with ads, might be a drastic improvement to some people's lives? Would it be so horrible if Doug Rushkoff's life got better by [the utility of an ad-free phone] and everyone else's was improved by [the utility of an ad-supported phone]? Is that Pareto improvement really that bad? Does everyone's gain has to be equal to his for it to be an acceptable change to society?

This is reasoning is indicative of the egocentric bourgeois morality of many contemporary liberals. They assume the base state is whatever life they lead, and think that everyone who does not have that standard of living has been deprived of something. They have fancy, ad-free smart phones, and anyone who does not get to have a fancy, ad-free smart phone is being oppressed by some nefarious telecommunications monopoly. They have a nice, safe, 40 hour/week job with health benefits and vacations, and so textile workers toiling in harsh conditions must have been denied what is rightfully theirs. They have access to credit cards and mortgages, and so someone going to a payday lender is the victim of predatory lending.

I subscribe to a very different wold view, in which we each start with a clean slate and build up from there. Where they see someone being subjected to advertising, I see someone who would have had no smart phone in the first place. Where they see an exploited sweat shop worker, I see an industrial laborer who would otherwise be working in the fields under even worse conditions. Where they see a victimized sub-subprime borrower, I see someone with no creditworthiness who has at least managed to avoid the even worse alternatives of pawn shops, loan sharks and not getting the money they need at all.

Just because someone's choice may not be good enough for you doesn't mean it isn't an improvement for them. And while it would be nice if everyone's life could be as good as ours, in the meantime we most stop worrying about upgrades which take the less fortunate only part way towards that goal.

From the "Oceana has always been at war with East Asia" files

Ben Smith's Blog: McCain and the platform

Not that anyone pays attention to party platforms, least of all McCain, but a reader spots this rather unambiguous section of the platform just passed by the GOP:
We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself.
That was passed only 22 days ago. My how things change.

(Via David Wiegel, who suggests that you "laugh so you don't cry.")

PS As pitiful as this bailout business is, I'm reminded of the aphorism that crops up whenever non-interventionists get confronted with the "What would you do about Hitler?" gambit: When consequences are bad enough, everyone's a consequentialist. The very most generous interpretation of the speed with which the GOP has thrown free-market philosophy overboard is that there is little room for ideological purity when you're facing a 25% contraction of a national economy. The less generous interpretation is that they're largely opportunistic swine who never really cared about free markets in the first place, but found the language a convenient way to dupe the rubes voters. My suspicion is that many GOP congressmen lie closer to the former, but Bush lies closer to the latter because he does not grok the thought behind free-market thinking well enough to support it on an intellectual level.

In relation to the previous post's assertion that Washington is full of mediocre minds, I don't think either of our current candidates really grok the theory behind capitalism either, nor do I believe Clinton or Gore or Dole or Kerry did. I have no idea if Bush 41 did, I don't remember his Presidency well and have no reason to read up on in after the fact. My suspicion is that Reagan had a pretty solid understanding of capitalism because the speeches he wrote and delivered for GE required him to spend some time contemplating what it was he was talking about.

(For purposes of this discussion, let "a solid understanding of the theory behind free markets" mean "could hold a solid book club/seminar discussion about something like The Constitution of Liberty." I think, for instance, that Bill Clinton may have been able to tell you quite aptly how some bit of deregulation would affect some types of people, and tell you even more accurately how those people would or could be made to perceive it affecting them, but that he would be more or less boring discussing Hayek.)

Elitism and GPA

I've said it before and I'll say it again: charges of elitism (especially during campaign season) are almost always myopic and erroneous. I don't think you can simultaneously argue that Obama is elitist and McCain is just folks. But this, while amusing, falls short of a good explanation:
I think I finally realized why McCain and Bush, while attending elite universities like Obama did, are “normal guys” while Obama is “uppity” and “elite.” He did well at his prestigious universities, whereas they, basically, sucked. I don’t know why this clear difference didn’t hit me until today.
At the risk of taking this quip too seriously, allow me to offer the following counter examples:
  1. John Kerry, labeled as elitist during 2004 elections — GPA at Yale actually 1% lower than Bush's. (Doesn't Kerry looks a little like Stephen Fry in that photo? Weird.)
  2. Al Gore, labeled as elitist during 2000 elections — grades "bear a close resemblance to the corresponding Yale marks" of Bush, according to the Washington Post.
  3. Teddy Kennedy, pretty much a canonical example of an elitist politician — suspended from Harvard for academic malfeasance twice.
Alternative hypotheses: (not mutually exclusive)
  1. Perception of elitism is completely arbitrary and unfounded.
  2. Perception of elitism has factual basis, but it is entirely unrelated to academic performance.
  3. Perception of elitism is based more on comportment than substance.
  4. Perception of elitism is manufactured by nefarious Republican operatives.
  5. Perception of elitism is correlated with a perception of support for widespread central planning.
[Ancillary observation: Washington is a cesspit of mediocrity.]

I like #5 because it encompasses most modern liberals (who are more often perceived as elitist and are usually vocally supportive of planning) as well as the few government figures on the right who are often commonly seen as elitist: banking types like Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke. In light of recent events I must include them as gung-ho for planning, though I might not have a year ago. Right or wrong, prudent or rash, willingly or reluctantly, they are all set to start pulling levers and flipping switches and having the nation respond to their fiddling and meddling and mucking about. Even when our central bankers didn't aggressively support planning (in the far, deep, distant past of 2007) critics used scary sounding words like "fiat money" and "fractional reserve banking" to make it seem like bankers were standing at the helm of the good ship US Economy steering things for their own purposes.

23 September 2008

More underage ND athletes caught drinking.

South Bend Tribune: ND’s Yeatman may face 2 other charges in underage drinking raid

Hrrrrrrrr. JV behavior.

This explains why we can't seem to break a long run or get linemen outside to set the corners: if you can't outrun the SBPD, how are you going to outrun the MSU defense?

Notre Dame athletes: stop getting caught.

South Bend police: go handle real crimes.

Update: This was a party at 702 Colfax. I managed to drink at that very house a number of times that I will loosely describe as "very many" without getting caught once. Me — 1; ND Athletes — 0. Deal with that.

Robert Shiller: very smart but mildly insulting

I have a bone to pick with last week's EconTalk featuring Robert Shiller. Overall it was quite good,* but at one point Shiller said something along the lines of "Well Russ, you and I both know the danger of doing lots of multivariate regressions and coming up with statistically significant but meaningless results. It's called data mining."

No. No, no, no. No. Data mining is an academic discipline. It's just machine learning applied to large data sets. Can it's techniques be misapplied? Sure, but the same is true of statistics (which is really what Shiller is complaining about), and econometrics, and psychology and medicine, and pretty much every other field. I might as well say "You and I know the danger of writing up baseless justifications for massive bank bailouts. It's called economics." I'd be just as wrong as the otherwise very bright Robert Shiller, and no less insulting by distilling an entire subject down to one misapplication.

I'm tired of people bad-mouthing data mining without any indication that they begin to grok it. And it's especially disappointing coming from Shiller since he more or less made his name assembling a large dataset. He should be all about data mining.

* In light of the fact that it was recorded some weeks ago, it was very good. It was a little odd hearing them discuss bubbles in housing markets without any mention of the bailouts of Fannie et al. Nothing to be done about that. Apparently there is a forthcoming episode which I am eagerly anticipating (next week's?) with Arnold Kling featuring discussion of the bailouts. Stay tuned.

PS See also these two previous EconTalk installments related to data mining, with David Weinberger and Ian Ayres. If I correctly remember Roberts' complaints in his postscript to the Ayres episode they were accurate but pertained more to the applications of statistical and data mining techniques, especially to social science data, rather than to problems with the techniques themselves.

Sven of Orkney says "Hands off my Skull Splitter!"

Well, I'm guessing that's what Sven would say if he found out that some uptight nannyists are trying to mess with Skull Splitter ale because they do not appreciate the finer things in life and also hate fun. (I'm also extrapolating just a bit on motives. They allege that the name encourages violence and the 8.5% ABV is too potent for the common man to handle.) And if they refused to lay off his delicious ale, which, if I may add, is sublimely perfect on a winter night with a bit of stew, he would send his ravaging Orcadian hordes after you and cut off your head. Let's see you commission studies and file complaints to deal with that, you pantywaisted prigs.

Skull Spliter's namesake is a decidedly less fictitious Viking named Thorfinn Hausakluif, or Thorfinn the Skull Splitter, who ruled Orkney around the end of the 1st millennium. Reflect on the idea that the world was once such a place that "Skull Splitter" was a totally normal nickname for a head of state.

While you ponder that I encourage you to provision a good supply of Skull Splitter. It really is a top-notch beer and it earns a hearty endorsement from your humble blogger. If you're in DC and would like to sample some before laying in your own stores then the Brickskeller has it available.

(Via Jacob Grier » Save the Skull Splitter)

PS How gorgeous is this cover to Northlanders #1, by Massimo Carnivale? No, don't answer that because I already know. It is very gorgeous.

19 September 2008

Further Biden Thought

I said a while back that one of my principle complaints with national service plans is that they encourage the notion that everything that is good flows through the government. Nothing can truly help the disadvantaged/the community/America unless it has an official seal of approval. A couple of people told me they thought I was being hyperbolic. I wasn't.

Biden's "paying more taxes == patriotism" shtick is evidence of this.
Of those who would pay more [taxes], he said: "It's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut."
The idea that Americans may "be a part of the deal" without funneling their efforts through Washington doesn't cross his mind. If he really wants higher-income Americans to help out, why doesn't he suggest they engage in entrepreneurship, or contribute to charities, or fund basic financial and economic education programs? Apparently none of these efforts are "patriotic"* enough for him. He prefers that the money be given to him and his cohorts so that they may distribute it according to their abiding and overarching wisdom and grace.

* A word I am deeply skeptical of because it has become almost entirely untethered to its referent. I am not suspicious of the concept of patriotism, but the use of the word patriotism is usually verbal chaff covering up something less palatable.

How much civilization can I get for $19.23?

Here's Bainbridge on Biden's idiotic "all good Americans pay extra taxes" comments
Of course, we all know (or should) that US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes told his last law clerk that:
Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.
What few remember, however, is the response of Holmes’ law clerk:
I’ve got about as much civilized society as I can afford.
I’m with Hand and Holmes’ clerk on this one.

I've got to disagree with Holmes' premise here. Taxes aren't the price we pay for civilization, they're the price we pay for being insufficiently civilized. They're the price we pay for being incapable of organizing ourselves peacefully. They're the price we pay to make others restrain us when our own self restraint is inadequate. They're the price we pay to have someone force us to be civil when we do not trust each other to willingly behave civilly. Taxes are a sign of failure, not a measure of success. Government is not the cause of civilization but a poor substitute for it.

18 September 2008

Lady Liberty Speaks English

Will Wilkinson presents a chart of some data from the Cato/Fraser Economic Freedom report. Here's the top ten:

What jumps out at me is that English is an/the official language of 8 of these 10 nations. It seems to support the idea that Britain and America have been the fount of world economic freedom. It's also good news to a potential expat like me with an abysmal ability to learn foreign languages.

Keep in mind when considering this study that it concerned specifically economic freedoms ("personal choice, voluntary exchange, and open markets," according to Cato), which are but "a component of freedom broadly understood." Wilkinson chides the US for warrantless wiretapping and TSA airport rules. While both are far less than desirable, neither is a component of economic freedom.

Update: The Distributed Republic has a good point about how we judge freedom in America, arguing that filing a tax return (ie giving the IRS the information on a 1040, not paying the income taxes per se) is a greater intrusion than wiretapping.

Brewers and Baptists

Jacob Grier: Coffee, Cocktails, Commentary, and Conjuring » Brewers behaving badly

Jason Kuznicki catches this story about microbrewers in California lobbying against a bill that would raise the value limit on the swag given away by beer companies from 25 cents to 5 dollars. They’re afraid that allowing Budweiser to give away more valuable stuff will eat into their sales:
“We don’t think California should give big companies the ability to grab even more of the market share, (when) they have most of the market anyway,” said Kellie Jacobs, president of Stockton’s Valley Brew, saying most microbreweries can’t afford to give away 25-cent items, let alone $5 swag.
Wah wah, cry me a river of IPA. If brewer’s can’t make beer good enough to overcome the appeal of macrobrewed yellow fizzy water and five dollar trinkets I don’t have any sympathy for them.
There's a limit in California on how much beer companies can give away for free? Way to protect those consumers, CA. God forbid they get free trinkets and baubles. Californians must be one beer brand-themed knick-knack away from utter ale addiction. If Californians are so easily swayed by swag then we better prohibit politicians from giving away bumper stickers and buttons and t-shirts during election season. Wouldn't want the weak-minded citizenry to be swayed by give-aways, now would we?

"Wah wah, cry me a river of IPA." Well said. Cue up Lucero's "Drink Till We're Gone."
'till then we'll drink it's weight
in cheap beer and wine
we can drink just as fast
as the river is strong
and we'll drink 'till we're gone


Does anyone else think that "American International Group" is a vaguely paradoxical name for a company? Kind of straddling both bases there, right?

It sound like one of those front companies that spies* put on their business cards in order to remain nondescript.

* Where we understand "spies" to mean "James Bond"

I will interpret everything that happens as further evidence you should vote for me.

Noah Millman runs down our POTUS and VP candidates' reactions to the Hindenberging of the financial sector:
Obama: We’re in this mess because the fundamentals are bad, and the fundamentals are bad because the Republicans have been ignoring ordinary working people and their needs. Most of what I think we should do is not particularly germane, and what is germane I don’t want to explain in too much detail because I’m worried I might get it wrong. I’m sticking to my platform.

McCain: We’re in this mess because a bunch of Wall Street hot shots got us into it, but they won’t dare to pull that stuff when I’m in the White House, because I survived five years in a POW camp. Do I look like the kind of guy who hangs around with a bunch of Wall Street sissies who buy their shirts at Thomas Pink? Not on your tintype girlie-girl.
These sound pretty accurate to me. The VPs' opinions are also outlined, although I've not paid attention to what either of them have had to say because one has little enough experience that she doesn't understand this any better than I do, and the other has experience of exactly the sort that I'm disinclined to trust anything he has to say about this anyway.

Where's Hari Seldon when you need him?

It's a little disconcerting to be cranking through Isaac Asimov's Foundation series now, where every plot point concerns a crisis. It's several hundred pages of people bandying the word "crisis" about in every permutation they can think of. Just seeing the word "crisis" that many times in my fiction does not make for a reassuring counterpoint to seeing it in my news feeds. I'm beginning to expect Hober Mallow is going to be appointed to chair the Fed and establish rule by a cabal of Merchant Princes any day now.

17 September 2008

Does David Freddoso intentionally drop babies on their heads?

So there's brouhaha aplenty about David Freddoso's new book, The Case Against Barack Obama. I haven't read it, as I make it a point not to buy hardbound books if avoidable, and also not to pay good money for political reporting that I can mostly get elsewhere for free. That disclosure aside, it's looking like the Obama campaign is being hugely over-aggresive in their counterattack:
"The author of the latest anti-Barack hit book is appearing on WGN Radio in the Chicagoland market tonight, and your help is urgently needed to make sure his baseless lies don't gain credibility," an e-mail sent Monday evening to Obama supporters reads.

"David Freddoso has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering," the message said. "And WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama -- on the public airwaves."
This is, to use someone else's words, a dishonest smear. I really want to fisk some of the more aggressive reprisals aimed at Freddoso, but reading them is just too discouraging. The first one I looked at (on HuffPo) was making the exact same errors it claimed Freddoso did within two paragraphs. Freddoso has always struck me as a man of character and substance; "hate mongering" isn't in his repertoire. His most recent work is, by most non-Obama-campaign accounts, the only critique of Obama that doesn't wallow in lunatic conspiracy theories. It's telling that it's the one that's received the most backlash from Team Changitude.

The more absurd conspiracy theories regarding Obama, and to a lesser extent McCain, drive me crazy. Conspiracy theories usually drive me crazy, but you don't need some bizarre birth certificate scam to become convinced that either one of these guys shouldn't be President.* That's what we have books like McCain: The Myth of a Maverick and now The Case Against Barack Obama for.

Freddoso, by the way, is an ND alum and son of ND Philosophy prof Alfred Freddoso. My only contact with the senior Freddoso was when I was requesting permission to take Formal Logic, a philo majors-only course. The good professor was more than a little bewildered that an undergrad would want to take logic if they didn't absolutely have to — apparently the department needed to strongly twist the arms of their own students to get them to sign up for it and had no experience with outsiders wanting in.

* Does anyone else remember that ridiculous meme that circulated in 2000 that McCain couldn't be president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone? That was almost as lame as all this "he's a Hawaiian-Indonesian-Kenyan-Abyssinian-Zulu whose real birth certificate is carved on a limestone obelisk deep in the jungles of far-away Mu" nonsense.

In other ND/political-punditry crossover news, the Irish dealt Michigan and Alex Massie a stinging defeat last weekend. Deal with that. Massie advocates flying the Red Hand of Ulster by ND opponents, and wonders if any Irish fans would get the joke. I'm all for it, as long as he doesn't mind me playing "Rifles of the IRA" and "God Save Ireland" and "Come Out Ye Black and Tans" at tailgates, which I have been known to do until one of my friends notices and switches the stereo back to Van Halen. (Shane, I'm looking at you.)

Back in the Saddle

After dealing with various moving-related hiccups, loss of internet service by RCN, and the obstinant refusal of my new Airport Extreme to function in anything resembling an appropriate manner, I return. In my absence the financial sector has failed to unscrew itself, David Foster Wallace is still dead, and no one has stripped Notre Dame or the Patriots of any of their combined four by-the-grace-of-God wins. Go figure.

Further DFW material

KCRW's Politics of Culture podcast did a very good episode this week about DFW. Michael Silverblatt related one Wallace quote that the purpose of literature is to "disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." Previous KCRW interviews with Wallace are also available.

Here's DFW's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon. I love that the audience obviously wasn't paying enough attention (or is echoing standard campus opinions uncritically) and ends up applauding after an example of what not to do. Also, it was kind of eery hearing him comment about suicide.

3QuarksDaily has video and transcript of Wallace on Charlie Rose in '97. I haven't watched this yet, but it might be of interest.

Finally, John Hodgman points out that Wallace, a consummate master of the footnote, produced perhaps the world's most pithy footnote, which consisted entirely of a single exclamation point. This bests my previous favorite footnote,* produced by Chuck Klosterman, by 66%, since it consisted of three such punctuation marks. (I could have sworn it was in his essay on The McLaughlin Group, but it isn't showing up in the online version.)

* What, you don't have a favorite footnote?

15 September 2008

The Death of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace committed suicide Friday night at the age of 46. This is clearly a shame, as suicide always is.

I still haven't managed to push more than 100 pages into Infinite Jest despite two serious attempts. This happens routinely with me even with my favorite authors, and should not be taken as a criticism of DFW's writing in any way. I can highly recommend the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. The latter has a piece of extreme contemporary interest regarding John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, entitled "Up, Simba."* Also included is a piece about radio talk show host John Ziegler, entitled "Host." That's also strongly recommended reading, if only because DFW takes his penchants for footnotes to the logical extreme. (Well, the extreme that can be supported by paper-based media anyway, lacking as it does the hyperlink.) Wallace gives up on asterisks and other typographical marks as too puny to support the weight of his branching narrative, and designates his footnotes with a crisscrossing set of arrows to inline text boxes, often with footnotes having footnotes begetting footnotes of their own down unto several generations. I couldn't get enough of it. Besides the footnotes he so liberally festooned upon his pages, my other favorite bit of DFW stylistic flair was the device used in the Brief Interviews With Hideous Men stories, in which the answers to questions are presented but the questions are left unspoken. It reminded me of Ballard mixed with Lem. And let me not fail to praise any novelist who also writes about the history of mathematics (Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity).

Here's three items from The American Scene about David Foster Wallace, from Reihan Salam, Matt Feeney and Alan Jacobs. Here's io9, and here's 3 quarks daily with a tangential bit about DFW's footnotes.

* I've just learned this was republished as a stand-alone book called McCain's Promise earlier this year.

PS. Note the Wikipedia entry on Infinite Jest points out that the book is set in 2008 or 2009. I can only respond thus:
Don't worry, darlin'
No baby, don't you fret
We're livin' in the future
And none of this has happened yet

14 September 2008

The Ghost of Red Auerbach is Mightily Angry

Jacob Grier » Not a war on smokers?

They passed a new measure this week to ban smoking in businesses of any kind, including tobacco shops. Nor can smokers be told to step outside. A cavalier response in the Boston winter under any circumstances, even that cold comfort will be taken away under the law. Outdoor patios will be forced to go smokefree as well. Denny Crane will always have his grand balcony, but we lesser mortals will have no place left to gather in Beantown.

This measure goes beyond any plausible justification of improving the public health to attempting to stamp out an unpopular lifestyle. This is a direct assault on the property rights and freedom of association of smokers, who are now being told that their hobby is uniquely unworthy of legal protection. And this is exactly where we defenders of property rights warned we were headed when less restrictive smoking bans became en vogue.

I wish I had more to say but I'm in the middle of moving, so I'll leave it at that.

12 September 2008

Vote #1 Dad for Senator!

Bryan Caplan: In Praise of Corny Canadian Politicians:

It's a lot better for the world if politicians compete for "World's Best Dad" than if they compete for "World's Fiercest Protectionist" or "World's Biggest Scourge of Big Oil." As long as the median voter wants bad policies, politicians do the world a favor when they avoid the subject of policy altogether.
I ran a successful high school student government campaign based around the fact that I didn't kick puppies and appreciated the finer things in life, like a properly toasted slice of bread.* I wouldn't mind seeing some national-level candidates try that strategy out. Any would-be politicians are welcome to contact me if they would like to avail themselves of my campaign consulting services, although I can tell you right now that step one of the SB7 strategy is to relentlessly court the steampunk voters. Nothing says "put me in charge" and "I can deliver results" like lots of pocket watches and goggles.**

* In retrospect my election may have had more to do with the fact that I didn't exhibit open contempt for everyone not in my own social group, which sounds typical and civilized but proved to be a distressingly rare quality in my snooty suburban enclave. And besides, all the outward manifestations of my campaign were focused on treatment of domesticated animals and my opinions of baked goods.

** In all seriousness, I might be on to something here, at least in terms of adopting some of the supposed philosophy of steampunk if not the aesthetic trappings. You're embracing technology and looking to the future, but appreciate the past and respect tradition. You aren't afraid to do things differently and buck trends, but you still esteem the conservative, Victorian ethos which forms the foundation. You look at the world rationally but creatively, assessing challenges and forging solutions that no one else has anticipated. You value sophistication and style, but aren't afraid to get your hands dirty and apply some elbow grease. You're a gentleman, an intellectual, a worker, a fixer, a creator.

SDSU pass protection quantified

The Blue-Gray Sky

One of the complaints we talked about after the game: with the Aztecs throwing so much (59 passes attempted), how come we didn't ring up more sacks? Where indeed was the vaunted 'Tenuta Effect?'

One hypothesis: knowing that the heat was on, QB Ryan Lindley was coached to get rid of the ball, at all costs. And that he did. Our old buddy Bill actually grabbed his stopwatch and timed the release on Lindley's passes in the first quarter. It went like this (measured in quarter-seconds): 2, 2, 2.5, 2.75, 2, 1.75, 1.75, 2, 1.75, 1.75, 1.75, 1.75, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3 (rolled out), 2.5, 2, 1.75, 2, 2.25, 1.75, 2, 1.75, 1.5.

The average is 2 seconds per throw if you throw out one high and low.
This is a not only great amateur sports analysis, but a very good point. When I was a lineman our rule of thumb was that there was no excuse in heaven or earth for giving up a sack in 2 seconds and under, but if a QB couldn't get rid of the ball in 4 seconds any hits he took were his responsibility. (This never stopped a coach from chewing us out when we gave up a sack after 4.5 seconds of protection, but their hearts weren't really in it. I think these tongue lashings had more to do with protecting fragile quarterback egos than really thinking we deserved a good dressing down.) I'll also add that San Diego State's RB Brandon Sullivan did a great job of pass protection, so while we're going to go up against tougher O-Lines in the future, I don't think we'll see much better pass protection from the backfield. I'm not saying that we'll garner any more sacks against the Wolverines, but last week doesn't really give one any evidence on which to draw conclusions about our pass rush.

11 September 2008

In which I disagree with M McArdle again

... even though I think she would probably, mildly agree with my criticism:
Megan McArdle - The hypocrisy of Democratic politicians

What is intolerable to me is when parents who have exercised school choice for themselves then oppose it for everyone else. Of course, Obama has little choice; the teacher's unions have far too firm a grip on the Democratic party for any of their politicians to buck its wishes.
McArdle claims here that the only option for a Democratic politician (from a bad school district, at least) is to take a hypocritical position in order to get elected. There is another option: risk not getting elected and don't be hypocritical. Let's all stop assuming that climbing to the heights of power is an unalterable life goal, a requirement that simply can not be jettisoned no matter what other virtues it may conflict with. What we're dealing with here is the choice between a lie that may harm millions of children and getting a promotion. And we're supposed to believe that people have no choice but to lie in order to secure the new job.

I imagine McArdle was just bowing to convenience by leaving out the unspoken "little choice if he wants to be elected," but it's the fact that that condition is never challenged that bothers me. Being disciplined about explicitly including that conditional forces people to consider the idea that hey, maybe we don't want this guy, or the other guy, or anyone else who makes these trade-offs, to be elected.

Other that that perhaps convenient but nonetheless inaccurate characterization on her part, I believe McArdle is more or less correct about school choice. The rest of the post is recommended reading.
Vouchers, Democrats say, are no substitute for fixing the schools. This would be true if anyone had anything other than nice-sounding phrases with which to fix them. Giving money to failing urban school districts is like giving money to failing third-world economies; the entrenched interests siphon it off for their own uses. Teacher salaries go up, janitorial pensions get fatter, more administrators are hired. But the kids don't get any smarter.

Obama's plan to fix the schools: more money. More money for teachers, more teachers, more after school programs. Absent are any specifics about what the new teachers will do that is any different from what the current teachers are doing that isn't working.
In a very Sex Pistols way, this reminds me of the Warden's comment on prison funding in The Shawshank Redemption: it's only ever approved for more walls, more bars and more guards. McArdle continues,
John McCain doesn't either, but at least he's planning to shake up the educational architecture that gets worse every year.
I'll believe it when I see it. Cue Nick Gillespie:
Lots of luck to the kids entering K-12 schools. Prediction for school kids: Very little will change due to policy set at the federal level during your time spent there. Prediction for taxpayers: You will be paying more in federal taxes for education during the next four years, regardless of who is elected.

* Let it be known that this criticism applies to far more than just politicians lying about school choice.

Minimum wage earners also can not afford prime porterhouse steaks.

ATTACKERMAN » Just got paid and we still was broke:

There is not a single city or county in the US where a full time worker earning the minimum wage could afford even a 1 bedroom apartment.
So live in an efficiency, like your humble narrator. Or get a roommate. Half of a two bedroom rent is cheaper than one bedroom all to yourself.

Note also that the study in question arbitrarily assumes that you spend no more than 30% of wages on rent. I spend closer to 50% and still manage to keep the pantry stocked, my dog cared for, and take frequent, though short, vacations.

Also, consider that 21.6% of minimum wage earners are 19 and under, and often don't need to rent an apartment anyway. Another 25.5% are between 20 and 24 (inclusive). Americans in that age range routinely stuff themselves into conditions far more cramped than studio apartments and come out none the worse for wear. We call them college students in dorms. The world does not owe you your very own one bedroom apartment, especially if you're under 25.

Finally, I must point out the provenance of the study, which was generated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which is dedicated to lobbying for more lower cost housing. Make of that what you will.

(Via DCeiver.)

Appendix: The NLIHC numbers state you need 3.4 minimum wage earners, working 40 hours a week, and each spending 30% of their income on housing, to rent a two bedroom in Maryland, where I live. (Or this is what their conclusions say; I didn't check their figures.) Call this 3.4*.30 = 1.02 minimum wage incomes. If you put one occupant in each of the two bedrooms, each would need to spend 51% of their wages on rent. As I said, I spend about 50% of my wages on rent, and could spend much less if I did not have a dog or choose to live exceedingly close to work. Conclusion: nothing is wrong with this situation.

There will be no 'battle fatigue' at this Christmas party

dispatches from TJICistan » Blog Archive » nation of victims
NEW YORK - New data from a public health registry that tracks health effects of 9/11 suggest that up to 70,000 people developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the terror attacks.
All I want for Christmas is Patton, dressed in red and white, to slide down the chimney and start slapping the !@#% out of these babies.
That's just a fantastic image. General George Santa Patton.

A fun Patton fact: The shell-shocked soldier Patton slapped and ordered out of a hospital was one Charles H. Kuhl, resident of South Bend, Indiana. So that's (mildly) neat.

10 September 2008

PG County's Finest

I missed this last week: Internal Investigation: Slaughter of Mayor's Dogs During Botched Drug Raid Justified


Note that neither Mayor Calvo, nor his mother-in-law, the only two civilians in the house, were interviewed before a conclusion was reached. Interviewing witnesses. How quaint.
But, [PG County Sheriff Michael Jackson] said, the investigation has concluded "the guys did what they were supposed to do."

"They had a legitimate court order to be there," he said.
That's some fine reasoning. You develop the hypothesis that someone is smuggling marijuana through Fedex. You're not only spectacularly wrong about the suspect's guilt, but you're unaware that he's the mayor. Your SWAT team breaks down the door in the middle of the night, maybe with a no-knock warrant, maybe without one (police reports differ). They shoot the family pets as they flee. But because it was all pre-approved by a court order, issued based on incorrect premises, everything is A-OK. That's apparently "what they were supposed to do."

This is me being glad I'm moving out of Prince George's County in a week.

09 September 2008

Stallman Joke!

On last week's Stack Overflow podcast, Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood were discussing Richard Stallman:
Jeff: He's a colorful guy, isn't he?
Joel: Yeah, red I believe is the color.

Fannie and Freddie part 3

Another notable excerpt from that NY Times story previously mentioned:
A second camp consists of Democratic lawmakers who have long defended the companies against efforts to rein them in, and see them as a way to achieve the goal of providing more affordable housing.

This camp includes prominent lawmakers who lead committees with jurisdiction over Fannie and Freddie, including Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Dodd has received $133,900 from Fannie and Freddie, more than any other congressman. Must be a coincidence that he wants to put things right back the way they were. (FYI, the next three top recipients were J Kerry, B Obama and H Clinton. B Frank received only $40K, ranking 16th, which only shows that Frank is your go-to-guy for bribery on a budget.)

The next paragraph is also a doozie:

While no lawmaker has yet offered a specific proposal on how to reshape the companies, [Dodd and Frank's] camp in general favors restoring them to health and then returning them to the way they were before they went into conservatorship, but with safeguards to prevent another crisis.
Let me see if I've got this straight. Congress utterly failed to provide proper control the first time around, but this time they're going to get it right. They're going to put everything back just the way it was, and expect that things won't fall apart again. Do they not see that they're one step behind? The previous safeguards they came up with didn't work, so they'll think up some new ones that may prevent something that already happened. Because this time Congress will fix everything!!

Further GSE/Social Security comparison

David Harsanyi — Risk for Thee but Not for Me

Isn't it ironic that government bars a citizen from risking his own Social Security funds because it's too chancy yet uses your money to bail out companies that have engaged in the very behavior government supposedly is safeguarding us from?

And really, what's riskier than letting Washington handle your money?
Harsanyi seems to be forgetting that our Washingtonian overlords are the wisest and fairest of princes, embodying all the best aspects of Solomon, Washington and Kennedy (rest their souls), who wish only to shepherd us through times of distress, shielding and succoring us defenseless citizens from the malevolent forces of "Real Life," so that we may each grow to be unique and delicate blossoms of joy, with blissful songs forever on our lips, and our brows free from the acrid sweat of labor and toil. Verily these erudite emirs, sagacious sultans and righteous regents seek nothing more than to ensure that we each prosper and live a life full of love and harmony and non-fattening yet still delicious ice cream treats. If only we would defer more fully, with all our hearts and minds, to the Beltway Barons, then there might be a chicken in every pot, a diploma on every wall, a balm for every wound and a village for every child. Adorable woodland creatures would help us with our cleaning and laundry every morning while we whistle delightful folk tunes, and we could spend our afternoons in a joyous haze of Latin dancing, quilting, and lengthy but amicably debates about the back catalog of the Rolling Stones. Life would be long and glorious, the streets would be paved with (sustainably mined) gold, American industry would reign supreme, we'd all have 11 months of vacation, and all of our children would be smart and pretty and the best players on the team.


Fannie and Freddie and Social Secuity

Here's Arnold Kling, commenting on this NY Times story:
In the House, Mr. Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, criticized the administration’s attempt to shrink the companies. He staunchly defended the companies’ ability to channel some of their profits from conventional mortgage financing to subsidize the construction of affordable rental housing and lower borrowing costs for low-income home buyers.
I'm sure that Congressman Frank is aware that we have an agency, called the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), that serves the function of providing subsidized loans to borrowers who cannot obtain mortgages in the private market. We have other programs that subsidize the construction of homes.

In the United States, we have a huge inventory of unoccupied homes. We have trillions of dollars of mortgage debt. We need a government-sponsored enterprises to encourage more homebuilding and more debt about as much as we need a government enterprise to stimulate teenagers to want more sex.
Braney Frank, true to form, is part of the problem. The GSEs were able to get themselves into this position in large part because they were beyond reproach, either to Congress or the public. Whenever Congress wanted to meddle in their affairs they got to claim to be private enterprises and demanded independence, but when their businesses practices were questioned they claimed to be acting on a government mandate to increase home ownership and affordable housing,* and so demanded exemption from the same standards as other private corporations.

Social Security operates in exactly the same way, and with largely the same effects. When you critique its effectiveness as a retirement plan because it offers such atrocious rates of return — rates that no private plan would ever be able to legally justify — to most beneficiaries (where benefit is defined very loosely) then its proponents defend it by claiming that it's really a welfare plan. But when you critique it's legitimacy as a wealth redistribution plan for offering payments to the wealthy then its proponents claim that it isn't welfare but a retirement savings plan. (And when you critique it as a Ponzi scheme they say you must hate old people and want them to die cold and alone, but that's another matter all together.) Social Security has carved itself a nice, easily defended rhetorical position,** but it's one that will doom it to failure in the same way as Fannie and Freddie unless one of those two crutch arguments it leans on is kicked out from under it.

* Affordable housing is another one of those meaningless terms littering the current political discussion like Solo cups after a frat party. Please forgive my use of a phrase so ill defined.

** Easily defended if you don't mind deploying contradictory arguments simultaneously that is.

What is this "we" business, kemo sabe?

Megan McArdle — Housing: put it down

Liberals are blaming the banks, and conservatives the government, for the push into no money down housing purchases. But the fact is, we're all at fault. Everyone in the country--buyers, sellers, financial advisors, bankers, regulators--became convinced that owning a home was a surefire ticket to wealth, and that therefore everyone could and should buy one. Now we're surprised that we've gotten into exactly the same trouble as everyone else who thinks they've got a way to make money without working.
I strenuously disagree that "we are all at fault." I know people who purchased property responsibly, borrowed responsibly and and generally behaved as a rational human beings endowed with reason and restraint. They are not responsible. I know other people (myself included*) that refrained from getting on the house bandwagon when everything seemed too good to be true, because they are rational human beings endowed with reason and restraint. Neither are they responsible. Both groups are now partially on the hook. So to everyone who decided to buy a house they couldn't afford, and everyone who enabled and encouraged them to do so: F--- You. You got us into this mess, and now everyone else is picking up the pieces you all left behind because you thought you couldn't lose. F--- you two times.

* Friends who know me and are wondering when I had the opportunity to purchase property — rest assured there are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what have you's. And that's cool. That's cool. You know.

Are you doomed to repeat history if you already are repeating history?

... or at that point are you just doomed?

Top Lawyer Is Selected As U.S. Mulls Google Suit

Do these people never learn? All through the 70's and into the 80's regulators had their undies in a bunch about IBM's supposed monopoly. Then IBM was eclipsed by Microsoft, and so regulators spent most of the 90's rending their garments over how monopolistic Redmond was supposed to be. Now Google has Microsoft on the ropes, and the same people are gnashing their teeth about Mountain View's possible monopoly. And I guarantee you, a decade from now, someone will have surpassed Google and the DOJ will be unleashing the dogs on whoever the new guys are.

All three of these companies rose to prominence by besting their competitors, and all three of them were (or will be) driven back to the margins by someone else out-competing them. The antitrust goons could have pretended IBM and MSFT didn't exist, and they still would have been preempted by the competition. The same is true of GOOG.

This spurious antitrust crusading is especially galling in technology cases, because the forces which knock off the current king of the hill not only move faster than the current champion can keep pace with, but they leave the DOJ in the dust. The latter of two big antitrust cases against IBM (US v IBM) took 14 years (!!), concluding in 1983. MS-DOS was released in '81, at which point IBM's fate was more or less sealed. US v Microsoft was filed in May of '98, just four months before Google was incorporated, and did not conclude until June '04, just two months before Google's stratospheric IPO. In that six year period, who do you think did more to benefit consumers and curb Microsoft's dominance, the legal eagles of Justice Department, or a bunch of geeks in Mountain View?

08 September 2008

Well this just made the NFL season 100% less interesting for me

ESPN - Patriots' Brady to undergo surgery, miss remainder of season

Money and Politics: A Two Way Street

Russ Roberts captures why I think efforts like McCain-Feingold are ignorant and self-serving:
There are two ways to reduce the connection between politicians and money. One is to reduce the role of money. The other is to reduce the role of politicians. I choose the latter. I contend that reducing the role of money of politics in order to make politics more honest is like trying to make airplanes safer by reducing the role of gravity.
Politicians are essentially in the business of influencing people. It is inconceivable to me that people will not in turn try to influence them. Whether this comes through campaign contributions, or golf trips, or steak dinners, or cushy jobs for spouses, or special treatment of children, or the promise of future consulting jobs is of no concern. As long as the governors can influence the people, the people will try to influence right back. Ignore one half of that cycle at your own peril.

Mankiw on FM & FM

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Thoughts on the GSE Takeover:
3. The problem is far from over, as the future of these institutions and a large segment of the financial system is still to be determined. The worrisome part is that this future will be determined by a political system that both created the GSEs and failed to provide sufficient oversight, even when many economists suggested reform was needed. To believe that the Congress will do a good job of it would be the triumph of hope over experience.
No matter what the mess of the day is, we consistently look to the same people that got us into it to clean it up.

Situations like this will crop up again and again as long as we let Congress and the President have a say in what the "correct" level of homeownership is. (No one claims aloud to know the correct level, but when you spout rhetoric and enact policies to boost homeownership you are saying that the current level is below the correct level, and by extension, you have some preternatural knowledge of the correct level.)

This is isomorphic to the problem of politicians knowing how much health care Americans need, or how much workplace safety, or vacation time, or short-term high-risk credit, or higher education. If Washington wasn't in the business of subsidizing, or taxing, or regulating these activities (or some combination thereof) then we wouldn't need to pull our collective hair out worrying about whether we have too much, or not enough, or enough but not spread around correctly, or just a little too much but not of flavors everyone will enjoy. And we wouldn't all have to sink or swim on the basis of the wisdom of people like Charlie Rangel.

Update: Russ Roberts offers insight

One of the most depressing things about the current situation is that people will try and find different ways to "fix" the mortgage market when it was the very attempt to "fix" it that brought us to where we are today. The government should get out of the mortgage market. Let individual institutions arise that intermediate between home owners and sellers. Let those that do it well thrive. Let those that do it badly bear the costs and disappear.

It reminds me of social security. We don't have a retirement crisis. We have a social security crisis. We have a problem created by a set of government institutions.

Charlie Rangel: Fraud, Idiot, Congressman

The Agitator » Blog Archive » Lemme See If I Have This Right…

…the chair of the House Committee that writes our tax laws didn’t know that he’d been given an interest-free loan for a luxury Caribbean Villa, didn’t know that he was getting taxable income off of rentals from said villa, and didn’t know that he had a duty to report and disclose and report the $75,000 in income from said rentals that apparently slipped his notice?
Not only should Rangel be run out of DC on a rail, we should recognize this as further evidence that we do not need a legislature completely stacked with lawyers. 180 Representatives and 58 Senators have JDs. For comparison, only 26 senators have worked in private industry. I've always thought the argument that lawyers are uniquely suited to writing legislation because they are used to reading legislation to be bullshit, and this is just one more example. Here's Rangel, with his shiny JD, and his chairmanship of Ways and Means, and his excuse for not reporting $75,000 in income is that the landlord didn't send him a letter reminding him to do so. I'm blown away by the aptitude of such an astute legal mind.

And while I'm knocking Charlie Rangel, let me bring up this astoundingly dumb idea of his:
[Rangel] has also argued that reinstating the draft is a way to make the military more representative of the American public at large. "A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while most priv­ileged Americans are underrepresented or absent."
As if this was any different when the draft was actually in effect. (*Hrrrm* Texas Air National Guard.) How clueless does one have to be to think that the privileged haven't, didn't and won't get out of military service?

The Tears of Sad Hippies: Crying Never Solved Anything Edition

06 September 2008


Shoulder to shoulder,
Chanting her golden name,
Burn high your fires,
And sing along for Notre Dame.
My first attempt at liveblogging. (Well, running commentary anyway.) Let's see how this works.

Here's a good depth chart for the Irish.

NB: I just realized the very first Google image search result for Irish guard is none other than my old roommate, Mr J.A. Harris, CPA. (Observe ---->)

I know, I know, he's a handsome beast, isn't he? Sorry ladies, as of two weeks ago today Mr Harris is off the market.

1st Quarter

1st ND possession: 3 and out. Boo. Two good runs by Allen. What was Clausen thinking throwing into that cluster on third and three? There must have been 4 bodies in 2 square yards of field?

Good heads up plays so far from the D, like the deflections and blitzes.

9:59 remaining: (2nd possession) Another strong, north-south run by Allen. Fine catch by Grimes, good awareness.

7:57: Ballsy call by SD St for that shovel pass in the end zone.

6:53: Not bringing a very good rush now. One-on-one we're not breaking away from blockers.

5:36: Sloppy, Crum. Sloppy penalty.

5:27: SD St'd 20th snap is their first rush and we ate it up for a loss of 1.

4:10: Crum's 2nd penalty, for roughing the passer. Again, sloppy -- he was very late. Lack of discipline.

3:51 (ND 3rd possession begins): Grimes and Clausen got lucky on the pass interference call. The grab didn't slow him down, and Grimes was well covered.

3:24: Good waggle, nice roll out by Clausen and good catch by freshman TE Rudolf. Tight ends are highly undervalued in college.

2:16: Fine jumping catch by Kamara off a pass by Clausen with good finesse into coverage.

1:43: Allen does better running straight ahead, especially since our line doesn't have the agility to get out quickly on pulls for outside runs.

1:00: Hrrrrrrr. Poor pick up on that blitz, forcing a long field goal attempt, missed.

2nd Quarter — Still tied 0-0

14:47: Good D on 3rd and 1, nice aggressive swarming to the ball.

13:55: Indeed, Clausen's arm looks stronger than it did last year or in the Spring game

13:14: Holding on a downfield block by Grimes to nullify at 17 yard Hughes run. Someone teach these receivers to keep their hands inside at all times.

12:45: Best screen pass I've seen us run in years. Note that they actually got blockers out front and threw the ball over the line of scrimmage.

10:30: Good pass to Hughes out of the backfield. And did the sideline reporter just claim Weis has adopted a kinder, gentler demeanor? I'll believe it when I see it.

9:16: ARRRRGGGGG!!! Two hands, Hughes! Hold onto the ball!

[Never mind -- Hughes' knee looks down. But still, you're going into a goal line scrum like that with the ball in one hand? Come on.]

[Never mind again -- they blew the video review and are letting the fumble stand. Fist.]

8:45: Good tip by Williams and coverage by McNeil.

8:25: How do you let them run that same shovel pass when they're backed up against their own goal line twice? The first time was a good call, and I can't expect us to defend the center screen in a spot like that. But twice?

7:05 (4th ND posssession): Clausen still can't sell the draw.

6:02: INT after Kamara deflects the ball up. Regrettable, but not a bad pass. Still, if it hits your hands you can catch it, right?

5:49: The announcers are right -- the SD St RBs are picking up the blitzes very well. This time to enable a 43 yd completion down inside our 1. Blown coverage also. Of course the producers won't show me a wide enough view to see who or why. I'm sick of TV coverage looking like highlight films. Give me the occasional wide angle so I can see more than the ball carrier.

5:32: TD San Diego State, though it should have been a false start. [SD St leads 7-0]

5:25: (5th ND possession) Good return by Tate. He's got good feet, good balance.

5:18: Good outside run by Allen, but we still can't get blockers outside to set the corner. That play won't be there against teams with bigger OLBs.

4:05: Those passes to the line of scrimmage with no blocking are not screen passes. I have no idea why we run them because they never result in any YACs. I don't see any other team running that play with the regularity that we do.

3:19: Good pressure with an great delayed blitz by Crum netting him a sack. Delayed blitzes show that we're adapting to their ability to pick up the rush with RBs. Lack of adaptibility was a huge weakness last year, though mostly on offense. This is a good sign.

2:54: (6th ND possession) Great 22 yard punt return by Allen, staying on his feet through 4 attempted tackes. That was better than probably all of his returns last year. Add a personal foul on the kicking team to put us on the 12 yd line.

2:49: Had a good screen pass set up, but the timing wasn't there. The line needed to hold those blocks another second.

2:25: Jesus, Clausen had forever to hit that pass, but lead it too much. Should have been 6. [Update: sideline reporter says Tate ran the wrong route, so spread the blame around a bit.]

2:03: Fumbled snap on the FG attempt. Clean snap but the holder (Maust) just dropped it. That's some JV shit.

1:42: Quick rush by Neal off the outside. Well done, forces the punt.

1:35: Blocked punt!! Hoo-ah. Excellent play by Sergio Brown. Minute and a half left, with one time out and the ball on the 21.

1:31: (7th ND possession) Clausen had soooo much time and no one got open.

1:20: WTF with these throws to the line of scrimmage? Piss poor play call puts us at 3rd and 12.

1:15: Touchdown Irish! Good pass to Floyd in the end zone. I like the call to go to the end zone on 3rd and long. Good job by Allen picking up the blitz. [Tied 7-7]

Halftime thoughts:

Good play by the special teams. The O-line has looked pretty strong. Still making too many mistakes, putting ourselves in a lot of tough 3rd downs. Allen and Hughes are averaging 3.5 and 4.5 yds/carry, which is solid but could be better. Clausen is 11 of 21 for 121 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Good, but nothing too exciting there. His arm does look much stronger than last year though. The DBs have had some good coverage, but also blown a couple. Our receivers have made decent catches, but have not been able to separate from coverage reliably. We look okay. I think these stats look better than the first two or three games of last year combined. No sacks so far, and a fair helping of 1st downs. On the other hand we really beating up on these guys. When you're favored by 22, barely being tied at halftime is pretty poor.

3rd Quarter — Tied 7-7

14:45: (8th ND possession) No one is setting those corners or opening up gaps for cut backs in those outside runs. And then we follow with another pseudo-screen pass. Poor.

13:36: Clausen had some time but got happy feet. Another 3 and out.

13:10: Oh the D-Line was all over that screen pass -- good reads. Kerry Neal picks up the INT.

13:02: (9th ND possession) Unreal. First play of the possession, from the opponents 17, we go to the end )zone. Clausen puts up a sloppy throw to a well-covered Kamara, and gives up the interception. Poor.

11:19: Offsides on our punt return squad to give SD St a first down. Sloppy. That's the 3rd 1st down we've given them off of penalties.

8:31: Hrrrrrrrr. Sergio Brown got beat badly for a SD St touchdown. Extra point clanks off the upright. [SD St leads 13-7]

7:38: (10th ND possession) Great off-tackle run by Allen for 16 yards, then he gets crushed and gives up the ball for a fumble. Allen is still on the ground, looks like his noggin got smacked pretty bad.

5:23: Good series by the defense.

5:03: (11th possession) Good catch by Tate, but a risky throw into coverage by Clausen

4:41: Noticeably strong push by the line on an Allen carry. On the next play a run blitz hammers Hughes for a loss or six or so. Forced to punt again.

3:42: We're tackling too high. Fundamentals are missing.

4th Quarter — San Diego leads 13-7

11:55: SD State fumbles into the end zone on a hit by McCarthy. Recovered by the Irish for a touch back. Slightly lucky break, but it was a forced error, so I'll take it.

10:40: (12th possession) Clausen been throwing bullets (especially to Tate) but into pretty tough coverage. He looks good, but I'm worried that this won't work as well against a team with better DBs, or if he gets a little rattled. You start to miss those passes by a foot and you're looking at a lot of potential interceptions.

9:43: Beautiful pass to Tate for the TD down the side line. Well executed all around. [Irish lead 14-13]

8:02 (13th possession) We're playing with more urgency and hustle now. It's about time. ... And then Eric Olsen gets caught holding. Amateurs.

7:23: Tate looked inbounds on that play. not a horrible call, but probably not right either.

6:21: Tate way down the sideline, makes a great leaping catch but traps in on the ground. He's looking like a stud today. A pass interference call away from the play gives us a 1st down.

4:25: More good hustle by Hughes. Good leg drive to pick up a couple extra yards after being hit. I'm really liking him and Allen.

2:08: Touchdown to Grimes on the flag route. Very nicely done. [Irish lead 21-13]

1:47: Some good pass rushing this series. Nice hit by Ryan there coming off the end. And now Brown has another deflected pass.

Well, decent play over all. I'm not brimming with confidence for the rest of the season, but we do look somewhat improved from last year. The O-Line looked a lot better (no sacks -- first time since 2005!), as did Clausen. A lot of the mistakes look like first-game-of-the-season stuff, so I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll improve. We need to cut down on the turnovers. Special teams excuted very well. I would feel a lot worse about this performance if I didn't see Michigan and BC both struggle mightily today. Overall, B-.

05 September 2008

Noam Chomsky, Augustine and Sam Walton

Via Jesse Walker, here's Roderick T Long on Chomsky's "Augustinian Anarchism."

Chomsky's position is that the State should be abolished, but not until someone can wrest control of it and use it's powers to first undercut or eliminate the power of corporations. I think this is entirely silly but don't feel like explaining why, in part because Long has done such a good job already. So I'm going to call Chomsky's position the Isildur Error and leave why as an exercise to the (geeky) reader.

One thing Long hits on, which I think is an axiom of a lot of people skeptical or opposed to free markets, is the belief that governments are more responsive to the citizenry than are businesses. Long explains why this is is false, including a good metaphor from David Friedman. I think this idea is very common amongst a certain segment of the ideological spectrum, and I have a theory as to why.

One of the reasons leftists like Chomsky think corporations are unaccountable is because they have very different ideas as to what the results of that accountability should be. If I'm dissatisfied with, say Walmart, I don't do business with them.* From my point of view this makes them perfectly accountable to me — I don't bother them, they don't bother me, life goes on.** If enough people share my beliefs enough to cease trading with Walmart then Walmart begins to suffer, and maybe if I'm angry enough with the employees and/or shareholders, that makes me happy.

But the Chomskyites don't merely want to sever their personal ties with Walmart. At some level they want Walmart to cease to be. They do not want to live in a world in which they must coexist with such supposedly monstrous multinational corporations. They want Walmart driven out of the marketplace the way Nixon was driven out of the White House. Because their own personal, peaceful action of not doing business with a company does not accomplish their goals they think the company must not be responding at all. As fervently as they may desire the end of Walmart or ExxonMobil or Microsoft these companies keep humming along, seemingly oblivious to the animus being directed at them. (Seemingly to the observer who doesn't read the business section, anyway.) When the result you're looking for is complete capitulation almost every change a business can make will look stubborn and unresponsive.

Meanwhile elected officials are constantly preening for the masses, tacking back and forth trying to catch as much support as they can at all times. Even though their actual policies (or the effects of their policies) may never change they appear to be responding constantly to our desires.

I think this same desire to crush the enemy is evident among a large part of the Christian right. They aren't satisfied not having pornography in their homes, they don't want pornography to exist at all. Ditto prostitution, and for some, homosexuality. The same goes for anti-drug crusaders on both the left and right. There are millions of people out there who are not content to not smoke weed themselves, because they don't want me to smoke it either. Similarly there are many who are not satisfied not shopping at Walmart, because they don't want me to shop there either. Until they can somehow stop Walmart and I from doing business together they'll continue to look at Walmart as stifling their desires. And just like almost everyone else born since 1945 does when they can't get what they want on their own, they'll turn to the State and demand that it be given to them.

* Disclaimer: I'm not familiar with how Chomsky feels about Walmart particularly. Frankly, while I respect the theory of universal grammar, I can't bring myself to read hardly any of Chomsky's political writing. (I may not respect universal grammar enough to actually be convinced it's true, but it is a good theory, and it at least started out as an elegant one to boot, so I'll give him some credit.) I'm just using Walmart because it's often held up as a prime exemplar of the destructive forces of capitalism by fellow travelers.

** I am aware that various externalities may complicate the matter somewhat; suffice it to say that I think these complications are largely surmountable and please recognize that I am in no mood to get bogged down in details at this point.

Guess what didn't happen at Notre Dame yesterday?

The Dillon Pep Rally.

Read here to find out more details at a blog run by three recent Dillon alumni. The official word is that Dillon's rector, Paul Doyle, decided that the men of Dillon wouldn't be ready to host it on time, and so it was summarily canceled last Sunday night. There seems to be no actual evidence that they were unprepared as everything was proceeding apace, with the script complete and guest speakers already booked. Apparently Doyle has allowed much less prepared productions to proceed in years past. Further belying this obviously bullshit excuse is the fact that it was outright canceled rather than postponed. As the author of the above postdelicately and eloquently puts it this story is "logic conveniently propped up without much explanation in order to mask somebody else's agenda."

From what I know of Fr Doyle he's a nice man and well respected, but a real go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. Not much of a desire to question the status quo or to challenge perceived wisdom. The author above shows more deference to Doyle. I would expect no less, since you don't serve as a rector's RA if you don't already respect him. (Unless you are really strapped for cash, and even then you need to pretend like you respect them.) From my point of view no one who praises Tracy Coyne has an overabundance of good sense, so I'm seriously disinclined to trust Doyle's judgement.
What we find very troubling is how the decision was dropped on the Men of Dillon without warning and with absolute finality, despite offers from our fellow Dillonites to perform their due diligence in order to pull the rally off on another weekend.
That should not be surprising. Almost every decision I saw made at Notre Dame on this type of matter was made without prior discussion and with absolute finality. Anyone who's attended a Kangaroo trial with Res Life should realize this. The letters announcing your punishment have already been printed up before your hearing begins.
It appears to us that this is another in a long chain of actions taken by ResLife and Student Activities to reign in and dumb-down things that once made Notre Dame special, lest anybody find it offensive or uncomfortable.
That is the obvious conclusion, and the correct one.

However the author and commenters put too much emphasis, I believe, on the administration's desire to reign in these activities so as not to offend anyone. I think a parallel, and more powerful, motivation is that they do not want any activity that is not directly under their aegis. There is a desire for control in the administration that outstrips the need to minimize liability. ResLife and Student Activities are run like any petty bureaucratic domain: every required seal of approval makes the administrator's domain just a tad bit bigger, and so nothing must allowed without explicit authorization and control.

If Notre Dame has seen the last of the Dillon Pep Rally then it has taken another step in the direction of blandness and mediocrity, a road its administrators have been unwittingly marching it down for the last several years. You can not squash these sorts of irreverent and exuberant events and expect enthusiasm not to suffer.

(Via Blue-Gray Sky)

No, Hodgman. No.

John Hodgman swings and misses again on the community organizer issue:
IN ANY CASE, I did feel the need to highlight this comment, from a supposed "JOHN D", on a recent Ben Smith post.

"Jesus was a community organizer."
The fact that a community organizes around a person does not make that person a community organizer. If it did that would make Joss Whedon and Diego Maradona and John Lennon and Benito Mussolini all Hall of Fame community organizers.

Even putting that aside the entire point of a community organizer is to coordinate some effect on the political landscape. Jesus studiously avoided political entanglements. He didn't round up the prominent citizens of Nazareth and set up a lunch meeting with Herod to discuss reforms in the Temple money lending practices. He was about as far away from community organizer as you can be without becoming a hermit. (Which he sort of was for a short while, so he was even less of a community organizer.)

04 September 2008

(Sort of) Embracing a Culture War

From the very funny, but regrettably Obama-enraptured John Hodgman:

FORGET ISSUES, if those elitist "community organizers" win, they're going to tax our babies!

(Yes, he always uses capitals like that in a sort of semi-ironic, I-know-this-isn't-kosher-on-the-Internet-but-I-wish-I-was- typesetting-this-for-a-19th-Century-broadsheet way.)

Agreed, 99% of the accusations of "elitism" totally miss the mark. I could completely do without that cropping up in my political debates. Charges of elitism are usually leveled at either those that embrace a (sometimes genuine though often affected) specific sort of refined cosmopolitan taste, or those with money.* Neither group is actually coincident with the elite. People need to stop using it as a generic dirty word and find other, more precisely defined criticisms to make. I'm sure there are plenty.

I guess I shouldn't hope people flying into a tizzy about elitism are about to go away since this has been going on for a while. I have a hazy memory of a story about Reagan taking some reporters horseback riding at his ranch. As he emerged, attired for a morning of riding, one of his aides forced him to go back into the house and change into blue jeans and cowboy boots. The jodhpurs he always rode in, and had dressed in that day, were going to look elitist. The press was expecting a cowboy ready to ride the fences, not someone in [sneer] European-style breeches.

Now, this is not related to Hodgman's post in particular, but it's one of about 70 examples I've seen in the last 24 hours of people decrying "culture war." I am sick and tired of people throwing that phrase around willy nilly. Does it have some legitimate meaning? Sure. But 99% of the time it's used by people whenever discussion of culture enters the political debate.

Culture is the result of a shared outlook on life and the world, and that outlook in turn is the result of something approaching a governing philosophy. That political battle lines are drawn over culture should be expected since culture is just a short hand way of arguing about the paradigms we use to interpret the world. Deism, Hobbesianism, Capitalism, Humanism, Evangelicalism and all the other -isms coalesce into our culture, and they are all worthy topics of political struggle. If that undercurrent of world view (combined with the sometimes regrettable specifics of our electoral system) happens to draw people into two discrete camps who define themselves as much by who they aren't as who they are, then so be it.

Granted, debate should rarely focus on the more purely aesthetic manifestations of culture, but culture itself is foundational. Mr Hodgman wants us to "focus on the issues," but more often than not issues can not be separated from culture.

As far as the culture war goes, I don't need people claiming that they represent the "real America." And I'm not interested in hearing about the Starbucks crowd versus the Dunkin' Donuts crowd. I don't really care what my politicians tastes are in hot, caffeinated beverages because the way they like their coffee doesn't say anything about them. But I also do not think it prudent to remove people's eating and drinking habits from discussion entirely. Joining the locavore movement says a lot about the value one places on the environment and what one know about economics, as well as how rational one is and whether one is more swayed by emotional or scientific arguments. (Ditto people's consumption of cloned meat and their opinions about biotech.) That's a piece of culture that I'm perfectly willing to include in the culture war. Generally I don't care what kind of pants my politicians wear, or cars they drive, or beer they drink. But if they only buy Wrangler jeans, drive Fords, and (formerly) drank Budweiser because they wanted to buy American, then I know a lot about where they stand on nationalism and free trade and probably immigration as well.

As the the content of Mr Hodgman's post in particular I have two comments.
  1. Excessive deficit spending and our current Ponzi-esque entitlement programs are taxes on babies. (Well, they are guarantees of future taxes on those who are currently babies, not actually "baby taxes," but close enough.) Both parties seem to support this to an alarming degree.

  2. Community organizer is a bullshit job, no matter how many reverse scare quotes he uses. It's essentially municipal-level reverse-lobbying, in which you try to maneuver a couple dozen neighborhood leaders into supporting your cause instead of working on one whale. Community organizers and lobbyists are just power-politic hustlers trying to leverage other people into doing things for them.

* And by the way, the modern Right's very own contemporary Cato, William F Buckley, fell into both categories. You won't see any Republican conventioneers decrying National Review for its elitism.