Sunday, September 30, 2012

McCain-Palin, Obama, and Romney: Considering the Working-Class Vote

I have been somewhat critical of Republicans in the early history of this blog, so it may seem natural that I am an Obama voter.

Actually, however, I voted for McCain in 2008, despite my low estimation of his conservative principles, and my long-hold disgust with his tendency toward geopolitical war-mongering with Russia and other allies.


My vote, counted in a state with little chance of a Republican victory, was cast out of a desire to express solidarity with Palin and her broader constituency (outlined nicely in an Ape Man at Ethereal Land post, himself a member of working class rural America albeit one with an extensive knowledge of Spinoza). Indeed, I felt nothing but contempt for bigoted lynching of Palin’s personal life and depiction of her as too stupid for office (as a disclosure I have significant family connections with Alaska).

As Palin’s national career has progressed, it has become clear that she is not a great candidate for political leadership, probably because she seems to prefer a normal life to one in pursuit of power. However, I am continually distraught by the classist assumption that if one comes from a rural, non-rich background, or lacks an elite pedigree or talks in a way deviating from classic or upper-class American normalcy (more Minnesotan than Alaskan in Palin’s case), than one is unfit for office. Indeed, Palin, far from the dunce portrayed by the drama major Tina Fey, has a talent for speech delivery matching or exceeding that of Obama.

The reaction of a certain strand of American life to Palin, omnipresent in the media but not the public writ large or even Blue States, who have their fair share of non-educated working class whites, revealed that hate-fueled class discrimination against the white rural working-class is alive and well in 21st century America, so much so that someone identifying with this class will be painted as a troglodyte. A popular Facebook group of the time, populated with clueless high-school and college students without any leadership experience, stated “I [the member] have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin.” This clearly begs the unarticulated questions: What does that mean about Obama’s limited international experience – is he to be instructed by the bumbling Biden? What about Clinton’s foreign policy record before the presidency? Is no governor qualified for the presidency? I was most distraught about the episode because it revealed that our elites’ fantasy is to transform American democracy into a mirror of rigid European class hierarchy, in which only the intelligentsia is allowed to be considered for power.

However, in opposite to the disillusioned 2008 Obama supporter, I am probably going to vote for the incumbent this time around, despite the rather dismal economic track record of the past four years.


Romney has clearly been an elite since birth, and doesn’t even have the sense to mask it with a false persona like George W. Bush did. He made his fortune in the most blue-blood, insider of all American industries, the indefensible private-equity cabal. It seems he has nothing but contempt for the white, working poor who indeed make up much of the 47% he derides. If you get into policy specifics – difficult as he is so vague it is hard to pin him down – it seems that, like Obama, he derives his views from a cadre of elite academic advisors that are, if possible, even more misguided than their liberal counterparts. One only has to read Glen Hubbard’s partner blog – Romney’s key economic advisor -- to see pure deficit hysteria in action: I fear for the country if these men take Geither’s seat at the table, and I am no fan of Geither.

In contrast, Obama has an interesting relationship with the white, working poor, as Ape-Man notes, in that it is rare for someone with a Harvard degree to attempt to see more than irrational stupidity as driving conservative values among the white-working class (see What’s the Matter with Kansas for this). His famous “guns and religion” quote, if examined closely in context, was actually an attempt to prompt Bay area elitists to sympathize with the rural, white poor voter whose economic condition has been decimated by the fall of US manufacturing. Indeed, where the San Francisco audience he was speaking to likely saw (and sees) rural white Ohio voters as hopeless rubes swindled by Republicans, Obama correctly identifies the lack of economic help from either party that causes them to choose values as an election decision criteria. Indeed, I think the following paragraphs from his defense of this quote are worth quoting at length:

“But I will never walk away from the larger point that I was trying to make. For the last several decades, people in small towns and cities and rural areas all across this country have seen globalization change the rules of the game on them. When I began my career as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, I saw what happens when the local steel mill shuts its doors and moves overseas. You don't just lose the jobs in the mill, you start losing jobs and businesses throughout the community. The streets are emptier. The schools suffer.

I saw it during my campaign for the Senate in Illinois when I'd talk to union guys who had worked at the local Maytag plant for twenty, thirty years before being laid off at fifty-five years old when it picked up and moved to Mexico; and they had no idea what they're going to do without the paycheck or the pension that they counted on. One man didn't even know if he'd be able to afford the liver transplant his son needed now that his health care was gone.

I've heard these stories almost every day during this campaign, whether it was in Iowa or Ohio or Pennsylvania. And the people I've met have also told me that every year, in every election, politicians come to their towns, and they tell them what they want to hear, and they make big promises, and then they go back to Washington when the campaign's over, and nothing changes. There's no plan to address the downside of globalization. We don't do anything about the skyrocketing cost of health care or college or those disappearing pensions. Instead of fighting to replace jobs that aren't coming back, Washington ends up fighting over the latest distraction of the week.

And after years and years and years of this, a lot of people in this country have become cynical about what government can do to improve their lives. They are angry and frustrated with their leaders for not listening to them; for not fighting for them; for not always telling them the truth. And yes, they are bitter about that.”

Here, Obama identifies what’s lost in utility-maximization arguments in support of free-trade: a job or employer in a community can produce much greater psychological value than even raising absolute levels of consumption (seen in endless bundles of cheap, purposeless goods and services available at Wal-mart, affordable even for those on unemployment or inadequately employed.) We nearly all may be richer in real terms in America thanks to globalization, but, as Obama emphasizes, communities and personal experience nonetheless can degrade significantly without employment (and mass unemployment since 2008 has only heightened this critique).

So what did Obama do to confront the Great Recession, which has further decimated rural income, job numbers, and migration to the city? Did he change the Washington equation? Not as far as I can see. In 2009, he imported Summers and Geither as his economic team, who promptly increased the bailout of Wall St. covertly, further enriching insiders through the PPIP ( – after all, we must save the banks to save the economy! They have done little to nothing that I am aware of to counteract globalization, and their central legislation was a mostly useless stimulus package that targeted income through slow, shovel-ready projects to government insiders while giving a pittance of support to indebted working-class families.

Now, you could argue that the Affordable Care Act is Obama’s one contribution to working-class America, with its expansion of Medicaid and provision of premium subsidies to lower income workers. If you take a look at it though, the touted subsidies will still not be very high for what are really fairly low income brackets.

Say for example I am a single adult earning $30,000 in income annually in a medium cost region. My premium will be $6,978 of which the government will cover $4470; the remaining total will still eat up ~8.4% of annual income. To put this in perspective, if my salary was $200,000 this would be an almost $17,000 single coverage premium in terms of equivalent percent of income.

Moreover, the provisions to combat medical inflation among private plans are mild at best, more likely toothless and fanciful in practice as they rely on curbing the 30% of wasted medical care spending perhaps proved by the Dartmouth (but with considerable questions). While 30% may be wasted, I do not see anything in the ACA to transform American healthcare to a well-oiled machine through use of HMO like Accountable Care Organizations alone. I only see medical inflation cooling if continual income falling prompts less health spending.

So in some ways the law only codifies and extends what will likely be an increasing private insurance healthcare burden on lower-wage American workers. The key flaw underlying flaw in the ACA is that it was explicitly crafted to be “budget neutral” over a ten year stretch thanks to an antiquated, gold-standard notions of government solvency. Unfortunately, now that Robert’s decision has opened up the door for states to decide whether to expand Medicaid to poor childless adults, we will likely see a truly unfortunate system in which childless adults in some states who earn under 133% of the federal poverty line will not qualify for any healthcare support while those 133-400% will.

Thus, despite trying to understand poor white America, Obama has done little to help them, aside from “Obamcare” which promises mixed results, although I suppose it is a game-changer in ways both good and bad. However, where Obama has only paid lip-service to deficit reduction, Romeny’s economic team seems fully bought into a reducing deficits, increasing prosperity mindset, so I think he is likely to be more harmful for the economy if elected, even if does not have the legislative support to repeal Obamacare, “reform” Medicare, or other plans. (Interestingly, he also seems lack no temerity in exploiting Obamacare antipathy among the public, strange given his pioneering efforts in Massachusetts. I suppose this calls his character into question.)

In the end, I will likely vote for Obama after snubbing him in the historic 2008 election. I sometimes wonder if he ever gives thoughts to fielding heterodox policy prescriptions in search of a solution to solve our mass unemployment problem, magnified in the youth and minority constitutes who make up much of his constituency. Or perhaps his presidential stature has removed him completely from the problem at hand. It will be interesting to see what happens to his first-term caution if he wins lame-duck status.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why would Qatar, a monarchy, hope to drive an autocratic regime change in Syria? And why might the US agree with a Muslim Brotherhood ME?

Unfortunately, reading The New York Times will leave you clueless. Fortunately, Pepe Escobar has an excellent column at  The Asia Times explaining the various actors motivations.

As for the US and its position in the great game, it would be comic how democratic Iraq has served to solidify the Shiite axis with Syria and Iran we now identify as enemy number one if so many lives weren't lost in the process. Until we call for regime change in similarly autocratic Saudia Arabia or Qatar, of course, our attempts to paint support of Syrian rebels as supporting idealist democrats continues to be laughable.

An Economic Manifesto: On the right path.

So you have to sift through painstaking tributes to monetary policy's supposed powers in "normal times" -- which are, of course, not times when one wishes to actually stimulate the economy -- but this manifesto at least correctly identifies the rise in private rather than public debt as the source of the crisis. Worth reading.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Sept 26 -- Stanislav Petroy Day -- Asking Once More: Why is Putin the Enemy?

One of the eternal questions of our times: Why do Republicans [and Democrats like the NYTimes!*] view Putin as the Enemy?

Drudge links to this article on why Putin likes Obama increasingly in favor of the Putin. Hint: perhaps it is because he does not mindlessly pick fights with a leading geo-political power and important source of oil with whom we have little point of a strategic conflict (no less than our number 1 foe according to Romney!)

Commentators, of course, attack Obama for spineless socialism in not "sticking up to Putin" (who is doing what to thwart us, exactly?). Interestingly, the word communism gets thrown around, though no one elucidates how Putin fits that particular epithet. 

So here we are -- on the anniversary of Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov day -- i.e. the day we almost ended but for one man's rational instinct -- and Obama is being accused of being soft on Russia for no apparent reason. 


*There is a great exhile piece on the absurd Western coverage of the Georgia-instigated Russia-conflict, and their mindless effort to document non-existant Russian atrocities. McCain, of course, issues a statement that, if were in office, could prompt nuclear alert against any NATO country.

All you need to know about Romney: Budget Neutral Edition

Democrats have been hammering Romney on the point that is tax plan -- reducing marginal income tax rates, and making up the losses in revenue by closing loop-holes and deductions, in order to make the whole thing budget neutral -- as it will raise taxes on the middle as the lost revenue form upper-class tax cuts must come from someone's lost deduction. So now, according to Slate, Romney's campaign is essentially acknowledging reality by admitting they simply won't slash tax-rates as much. Yeglisias presents two alternative scenarios:

 "In Version 1, we do the full rate cuts and have no decrease in government revenues because we make up the difference with higher taxes on the middle class. This is the least politically palatable but the best long-term growth policy. In Version 2, we do what Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would do and slash tax rates mostly without offsets. The result is a big increase in the budget deficit, which I think is the best short-term growth policy"

Got that? We increase the middle class tax burden -- at a time of middle class deleveraging, no less -- but decrease the upper-class tax burden, all the spur the broader American public to work harder! (perhaps my defense of Yeglisias came too soon). He supports the first plan apparently due to the incentive structure of marginal income taxes vs. deductibles. But, here, Yeglisias is laughably over-thinking himself. If incenting people to be productive is so good, why not just tax less and have a very large budget deficit? What will happen -- hyperinflation? If he thinks, he should specify. Also, to use his framework, the marginal extra dollar is worth more for those with a lower networth, complicating the picture. Not to beat a deadhorse -- but did I mention that it is middle-class deleveraging that is driving the balance sheet recession in the first place -- and Yeglias apparently wants to increase their tax burden, therby extending the horrible ordeal! Amazing.

On a related note, I recently heard an amusing anecdote about health IT stimulus funds being paused for nearly two years as appropriate software was being written and packaged to meet the lofty requirements of the ARRA, finally trickling out sometime in 2011. This just goes to show you: Krugman is wrong, higher G is too slow (and accumulates to government contractors, not exactly known for their efficiency, despite the mysterious appeal of "shovel ready projects"). Meanwhile wage-earners continue to see their savings depleted by taxes, with Medicare set to increase thanks to Obama's misguided ACA advisors (we must protect the solvency of Medicare!). I am not even going to venture into the Medicare debate, in which both parties are advocating rationing -- what you get when medical inflation increases faster than proposed Medicare inflation, a virtual certainty -- due to what appears to be a confused belief that Medicare is set to loose solvency....

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sandra Tsing Loh's Atlantic Article "The Weaker Sex"

Sandra Tsing Low has an article in Atlantic that seems to be enraging the online men's rights movement. See the comments for her haranguing.

In the article, she paints a picture of female achievement and male inadequacy, in which the female partner in a traditional marriage, no longer dependent on the male's income stream, prompts divorce. The old traditional breadwinner is thus jettisoned in favor of Mr. Feelings (perhaps Mr. Young and Good-Looking too?).

Beneath the facade of humor, however, it is a pretty distressing picture of aging, apparently wealthy, women without partners.

Low here, of course, is an exception: she has a new boyfriend, a strange pairing of an adolescence romantic roles with menopause life-stage as she acknowledges. But, she fails to mention the romantic prospects of her similarly divorced sisterhood (aside from the still-married woman enraged at her lazy husband).

Overall, I think Low's perspective is warped by her exceptional personal experience. Consider the evidence:

- She is in her 50's but looks much, much younger, if her picture can be trusted.
- She has a B.S. in Physics from Caltech, which she fails to mention. Relatedly, she ignores the huge gender gap in STEM bachelors and graduate degrees among her female compatriots, particularly in engineering.
- Loh seems to have pursued a graduate degree in creative writing despite her technical background. Furthermore, she seems to have achieved considerable success in the creative world of LA -- a rarity, as a steady supply of LA waitresses will tell you -- to the point where she seems to think $650,000 is a normal yearly salary in any city, and that $275/hour therapy is a normal, not outrageous, service purchase.

It is unclear how an average woman acquires such a high-paying "foundation job" as her friend holds -- doing what, one wants to ask. My instinct is that Loh has spent so many years around high functioning, high IQ and, in the adult world, wealthy and successful SoCal people from Caltech onward, that she is considerably out-of-touch with the reduced economic prospects of the flood of new female graduates she predicts will readily jettison laggard males. She may want to peruse the "we are the 99% tumblr" to see the stories of some of these fellow female degree-holding young women (a sample follows, the first woman I found, but many, many more exist):

"I am a 24 year old college graduate. I have a B.A. in English. After 5 years of work to better myself, I am now working 40-50 hours a week making barely more than I did when I graduated from high school 6 years ago. I work 2 jobs and can’t afford to move out of my parents house even with a roommate. I have $33,000+ to pay in student loans. (I’m barely paying the interest.) I can’t find a full time job because I have no experience…no one will hire me so I can gain some! I’m stressed out and depressed. I feel trapped. The American Dream is dead for my generation. I AM THE 99%!!!

Somehow I cant see her casually casting off a male partner who earns a decent salary, but what do I know of female psychology?

Loh ends her article -- which, though I have been somewhat mean to, is in reality an honest and well written picture of wealthy female psychology -- by advising men to learn "dancing skills" -- that is, focus on becoming attractive for personal qualities rather than financial support, in order to win over American women (PUAs would say become more "alpha").

The tacit assumption here, however, is that American men will still want these egotistical American women. While Loh is in a relationship, what does she really think that her likely similarly-aged friends  have to offer high value men -- other than possibly wealth to support a loafer's lifestyle? Several times in the article she brings up evolutionary psychology -- e.g. to explain why we love babies (somewhat weirdly, in fact) -- so surely is familiar with the reproductive value of a post-menopausal woman.

If the America Loh predicts comes to pass, and women reject American men in mass, I hope they will not busy themselves competing for American women with fickle standards, but rather look to countries where the promise of a median American income is still a dream worth pursuing to import their brides.

- lydgate


*Middlemarch readers can perhaps see Loh's disillusionment with men in the psychology of Rosamond. The category system reminds me most most of Austen, however, with the bumbler, card, and nobleman all competing for Elizabeth's confused affections. 

SAT Score Decline: Evidence of Declining Schools?

National SAT scores decline; commentators across the country lament -- our schools are failing us!

However, the pundit class is once again victim to sample size bias distorting their view as this is the natural, expected result of the increase in the numer of borderline college matriculants taking the test. 

Once more, the SAT at least wants to be an aptitude test, not a knowledge test, so using to gauge school performance is misguided.

 I have taken both the old, post-re-centering but pre-writing SAT and new, 2400 SAT and will report that it is definitely not a test designed to test what you learn in high school. Only limited high school mathematics comes up and where Algebra II occurs, it is only basic. The reading test tests reading and vocabulary in context i.e. nothing you might pick up in a competent English class. The best practice is reading dense English prose. The Writing section seems to test for having an "ear" for language, also developed best by reading. That said, it is not really used by colleges, I believe, for good reason. If I were training a student to maximize their Reading/Writing score I would probably hand them the collected works of John Updike and a dictionary and have them devout a summer to it... As for math, the most difficult questions have trickery and encourage problem solving techniques i.e. they are not certainly not testing whether the student has mastered trignometry but rather what their visual problem solving aptitude might be. And, on that, unfortunately half the students will always be below the 50th percentile.

Moral Reasoning about Football

As a failed football coach, there is one thing I know about football: it is a moral game.

You realize that moral reification by first, knowing how to run the football. 

Only if you know how to run the football, then can you think about knowing how to pass the football.

Now eventually, you can achieve ever higher planes of enlightened football-nirvana such as rushing the passer.

But first you have to know how to run the football. 

Now what if you can't trust the refs to call a fair game?

Then you can't learn how to run the football!

Enlightenment lost.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Good Institutions as the Foundation of Growth

Good institutions generate prosperity, right?

For the broader theory, see the new prominently displayed Robinson-Acemoglu treatise available in any Barns and Nobles across the world.  While I haven't even opened the new book, I am familiar with a few Acemoglu and associaties papers in which they regress various rule of law measures -- some of them quite creative -- and find a positive relationship with economic growth.

This then leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that former British colonies with English common law out-perform in terms of GDP growth, which then leads to neo-colonial efforts like Romers, which then inevitably end badly. So, now that Romer's charter city-plan of course has seemingly descended into  into violence and squabbling,  many are lambasting economics again and concluding that Central America is an ungovernable wasteland.

I take a different view

What if, empirically speaking, a non-democratic system produced greater collective wealth and growth than the one Romer advocates? Would he still advocate it?

Economists identifying property rights and personal freedom as the driver of growth are missing the point.  Following an excellent Chieften of Seir Essay (on the financial crisis, written in the summer of 2008) the United States colonialists did not rebel to set up a system of democratic governance and personal liberty because they thought it would get them rich, they set up a democratic government because they considered it a morally superior system worth fighting for. Likewise, their appeal to the common man was not promises material wealth, but a moral one.

So Romer is peddling the wrong message by promising the Hondurans riches if they all buy in to free governance. The collective may generate the most wealth if everyone buys in and respects property rights, but there is always the possibility for amassing greater personal wealth through an un-democratic, non-law-abiding system: compare the value of China's political spoils vs. America's. Wealth cannot underly rule-of-law in a society.

Unfortunately, Romer et al.'s incessant focus on economic growth is only symptomatic of America's transition to valuing its political system most highly for its wealth-creating efficiency rather than its moral superiority -- a misplaced dream which will only end badly.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Classic Youtube Comments: Part 2

damn i aint kno camels was that big

The Problem with Using Test-Scores as Performance Assessment Metrics

I've been hearing a lot about Education Reform plans lately, most recently with the Chicago strike in which teachers are objecting to using test scores as a performance metric. 

In general, the conservative view seems to feel that it is fair and proper to use test scores to award teacher compensation. I am not expert enough to say what the liberal view is, though they increasingly seem to be blaming "the schools" (see Waiting for Superman).

I think that using test scores as performance assessments for public school teachers is myopic, unless highly effective risk adjustment measures are employed i.e. ones that acknowledge reality of differenees in student starting points.

 To explain why, I thought I would examine my old Middle School (grades 6-8), which now appears to only serve grades 7 and 8.  When I was there, the school clearly had problems and the achievement gap was a source of constant debate. A glance at its performance report suggests these problems have only intensified. The test score data is available here, stratified by gender, ethnicity, grade, and free/reduced lunch status: although some of the data seems to not be displaying correctly.

The site is tough to navigate so I won't get into the specifics: most of what you need to know can be found in the first couple pages of this school improvement plan. From the plan:

- "There has been an overall decline in the performance of all students in 
Grade 8 with a variance of 5% points from 2005 to 2008." 
- "There is a 25% point gap in problem solving which is a decline from past years" (i.e. mathematics scores have decreased by that amount (I think?))

However, it is important to note that the mild decline in overall mathematics scores (and stagnant Language Arts scores) mask the deep stratification gender and economic criteria. The racial/economic achievement gap is striking, with the major change being declining White student scores: 

For Language Arts

"However, there is still a 26% point gap compared to White students over the course of five years in LA's. In the areas of reading comprehension and writing process, the achievement gap has dropped from 34-38% to 22% in the past five years, only because White student achievement has dropped 
10% over that time period.   No systematic improvement is evident."
-  "While the achievement gap of Hispanic students as compared to White students 
has declined between 8-10% points, it is mostly due to the decline in 
White student achievement levels."
-"The gap between Free & Reduced Lunch students compared to Paid 
Lunch students shows no reduction and is around 25% - 30% points in 
all three areas of Language Arts.  Only 51-54% of Free & Reduced 
Lunch students master the three LA assessments compared to 77-79% 
for Paid Lunch students."

For Mathematics, the story is basically the same:

"The achievement gap in mathematics continues to be around 20-27% 
points for Black students compared to White students. Our Hispanic and 
Free/Reduced lunch subgroups have approximately the same percentage 
point achievement gap for the years 2005-2008."  


Clearly, things are regressing rather than improving for Fall Creek Valley Middle School, although the decline is fairly modest in overall score averages. Most strikingly, the achievement gap shows no signs of improving. 

How do we improve this, then? Can teachers be incented to improve these scores by tying compensation to performance? Personally, I think this a highly myopic response to a broader social movement. The true source of Fall Creek's test performance decline is the rapid demographic changes Lawrence is facing, a classic white flight movement. From the report:
"There has been a dramatic change in demographics at our school over the past 
12 years. . .White students have declined as a percent of total school population from 76.9% 
in 1996 to 41.4% in 2008.  Black student population has increased as a 
percentage from 19.4% to 44.4% during the same period.  Multi-racial student 
population has increased from 0.3% to 6.7% during the same period and 
Hispanic students have increased from 1.3% to 6.4% during the same period. 
Free and Reduced Lunch students have increased from 14.3% in 1996-97 to 
42.3% in 2007-08 The percentage of free and reduced lunch students had 
increased to over 48% during the 2008-09 school year [Lydgate -- i.e. three times the 1997 free/reduced lunch percent]"

Thus, Fall Creek Valley teachers are fighting an up-hill demographic value as the percentage of high-risk minority/low-income students in their class increase every year, resulting in the decline in overall achievement rates and a persistant achievement gap. 

In fact, the focus on changes in school rate is completely misguided. Lawrence is simply housing a higher percentage of poor performing Indiana students, while more high performing students are shifting to outer metro area schools. I am skeptical that any real overall changes are being observed, itself hard to quantify likely due to changes to the test. 

Indeed, you cannot compare the task Fall Creek teachers face to their counter-parts in the nearby suburbs of Hamilton County: their job might as have a completely different title. Where market rewards for performance may produce some quality in a free-market business environment (a debate for another post, perhaps), public services are different in that they cannot turn away high-risk students as a private school might. While teacher benefits and unions may be flawed, performance assessment is not a reasonable answer unless extremely effective risk-adjustment techniques are employed, something I am highly doubtful will quantify the true separation in starting-point between a suburban and urban/urbanizing public school environment. 

Education reformers are looking for a magic bullet that solves student performance and achieves public sector savings (Superman, if you will). In this regard, they will only be continually disappointed.

- Lydgate 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012: Revival of the Pop Single?

“We Are Young,” “Call Me Maybe" and “Somebody That I Used To Know,” -- All apparently number 1 singles this year, according to this AV Club feature.

Now, I was living under a rock, culturally, for most of 2012, so the only one of these I was aware of vaguely was "Call Me Maybe" only because I heard of the tendency to produce parody/fun-sing along videos. So I decided to listen/watch to the Youtube videos for these songs.

1. "We are Young" by fun

It appears to be an funish pop song, from some white guys called "fun" -- novel! Maybe not a "I Want To Hold Your Hand" type achievement, but certainly a welcome development on America's airwaves. Youth's superiority complex articulated.

2. "Call Me Maybe" -- Number 1 single, but more importantly 265,967,547 YouTube videos and counting.

So what do we have here? I was pretty floored -- some filler setting the stage for a triumphant chorus depicting a coy romantic overture paired with that production -- I think it's the strings that do the heavy lifting here. Is it just me or does anyone else see a connection with the ur-female pop song --"Be My Baby" by the Ronettes (no less than Brian Wilson's obsession) -- in that it depicts a romantic overture from the female perspective?

3. Gotye "Somebody That I Used To Know" -- a staggering 320,000,000 + views.

Now this is weird -- a slow-burn break-up song with the strange, arty video that sounds more Elliott Smith than anything common on the pop-charts over the last few years. Also features the female perspective from "Kimbra." Australian. This was the number 1 song in America??? Very interesting. The hook is pretty pop.

All in all, it seems the internet is driving a come-back of sorts for adult (ie not pre-teen) white pop music. We will see if this sticks. Unlike A.V. Club, I don't really see much narrative per se in any of these songs. Compare any of them to the development of "Be My Baby" (or even Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me") and it us pretty much non-existant, and that is hardly a story-song.

So, where does that leave music made by black people ? A glance at the Billboard charts sees only the least respected rapper of recent memory, Flo Ridda, is in the top ten. Kanye and company are regulated to 12 (for "Clique"), behind Gangman Style(!) for now at least.

As for "Clique," it truly is a great, slithery beat from Hit-Boy (I think he's the producer) -- but it's not pop at all and therefore doesn't sound very zeitgeist. Also, only Jay-Z shows the ability to flow adroitly on it, saying nothing of note but sounding amazing ("Yeah I'm talking" anchoring every line.) This has always been his secret calling card, allowing his collaborations with Timbaland to his the stars. Big Sean says some stupid lines (Kanye can't find a better weed-carrier than this?) while Kanye, naturally, reaches for critics' plaudits by overstuffing his lines with stupid references to awkward effect. Of course, pop-critics identify his verse as best. I don't see this making a big cultural dent.

In what seems like a long time ago, i.e. the early 2000s, rappers did actually appear in pop-love songs (see Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" for example.) Discerning rappers hoping to remain paid might want to investigate reviving this lost art.

Gangman Style vs. Horsedick.mpeg

So the above dance from Korean star PSY seems to be taken over YouTube and hence the world ("Gangman Style"). I think I saw someone doing it on the Metro last week.

Watching the video I couldn't help but be reminded of a character from Miss March, a little seen 2009 Playboy-inspired comedy that borders on becoming an (unintentional?) absurdist masterpiece. 

Anyways, it features a rap-star named Horsedick.mpeg who dances in a somewhat more suggestive manner to a song whose title I won't repeat (very NSFW). This video doesn't capture the full glory of the song but i'll post it anyway as it was the best I could find:

Now, I don't think there was any meme plagiarism here, but rather it is an example of cross-cultural convergent meme evolution (the US meme proving much less successful it seems).

The Magnificent Ambersons: Indianapolis's Novel

Reading the always interesting Armond White's take on the latest Sight and Sound greatest films poll, I was struck by his reference to the fact that "For years, it’s been quietly accepted that Welles’ follow-up film The Magnificent Ambersons was richer, more complex than Kane (and Ambersons’ profundity makes Vertigo seem piddling)." While I have never seen the film, I suppose I should, as I consider its source material an excellent novel. 

Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Amberson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918. The short author biography in my copy seems to imply Tarkington was a highly popular figure in his day, author of serials Broadway plays, and novels. If true, the evidence of this book suggests it was for good reason, for it is the definitive Indianapolis novel. However, I have heard the film mentioned far more often than the novel.  

Tarkington's narrative skillfully portrays the social upending of the Industrial Age on the pre-manufacturing old society of the Midwest. It focuses on the deterioration of a leading old-money Midwestern family, and where the town's economic development leaves them in the end.

Throughout,  Tarkington interweaves economic usurpation with romantic conflict involving two generations. The young Amberson prince George's romance with Lucy is dashed due to the potential reunion of their parents once George's father has died. Lucy's father -- newly rich from the automobile manufacturing destroying the social order of the Amberson's status -- attempts to marry George's mother. George comes between them, dashing the chance for both his and his mother's romantic fulfillment.

As this drama plays out, the family inevitable declines in worth as well, hastened by poor investing decisions.  There is a passage in which one Amberson gets caught up in a disastrous investment scheme that eventually destroys their savings which is a perfect rendering of the psychology bubble economics. 

The culminating image is shocking: the once aristocratic George is left as a regular factory worker who on Sundays wanders aimlessly the now unrecognizable, grimy industrial city he once traversed in a horse-and-buggy.   

Perhaps its fortunate that Detroit, not Indianapolis, won out on the auto-manufacturing boom (not a foregone conclusion in 1918) so that we would not experience the full brunt of the decline of that era.

Lake Baikal, "The Pearl of Siberia"

Apparently the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia seems like a magnificent setting.

Perhaps one day I can travel to Irkusk and see for myself.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple vs. Pharma: The Value of Toys vs. Medicine

The IPhone 5 is out, and thus we are continually reminded of the triumph of Apple.

 Indeed, their market cap, revenue and profit are staggering. It dwarfs anything found on this list, the world's most profitable pharmaceutical companies. (a traditionally highly profitable and despised industry).

And yet, although I appreciate and own Apple products, the Jobs hagiography would we rather live in a world without his gifts or Dr. Herbet Boyer's? (it is somewhat unfair to single out Jobs; I am growing sick more of the general extolling of the tech entrepreneur as the best lifepath)

Instead, I find myself asking why do people not obsess over the research and development efforts that go into making products like Diovan? Gleevac? Synthetic insulin? I have yet to find an alternative with the popularity of asymco. Instead, it seems most Americans wish to clamp down on pharmaceutical profits.

 If you follow the industry, many Wall St. analysts are calling for large companies like Pfizer to spin off whole divisions while outsourcing these roles abroad in order raise cash for stock buy-backs (I wish I were kidding).

Does the US really want to destroy its domestic pharmaceutical industry, a prestige sector for so long? It certainly seems like it sometimes.

In the battle of drugs versus new toys, I for one would prefer to see the US lead the world in the former rather than the latter.

Thus, you can tell me that Apple's market capitalization is greater than 4 times that of Novartis and thus it is more valuable, but I wouldn't believe you.

Choose your own answer.

My favorite 10 albums from the 2000s, when it was the 2000s, in the order I discovered them (limit one per artist)

As I attempt to document hazy recollections of my youth. . .

--- haze--- haze --- haze -- BRITTANY-- NELLY -- haze

1. Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights (first "indie" ablum)
2. The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
3. Radiohead Hail to the Thief (first one I owned)
4. Arcade Fire Funeral (still exhilarating)
5. Broken Social Scene You Forgot it in the People
5. Kanye The College Dropout 
7. Spoon Gimme Fiction
8. Clipse We Got it for Cheap Volume II
9. The Hold Steady Separation Sunday
10. The Strokes Room on Fire (I came around late)

-- age ---

- in the Year of Our Lord 2011, I caught Dan Bejar-fever and now I have to fit Streethawk: A Seduction in there somewhere (or others)
- a lot of these were crystalline debuts followed by subsequently disappointing careers (Arcade Fire, Interpol, The Strokes, increasingly The Hold Steady)
- Everyone knows about Radiohead's stellar 2000's run, but you have to put Spoon up there too.
- You could make a compelling argument for The Blueprint, The Fix, Stankonia, Madvillainy, Be, or even the Marshall Mathers LP, but I didn't really connect with any of these at the time except Eminem, and had mostly soured on him by 2005 anyways. Weird to see him re-emerge as a self-help coach. Rap had a weak decade; Nas didn't release anything at all (or so we should pretend).  
- I'm probably blanking on something. I think Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade was a major thing in my life at some point (one of those Canadian singers who can't sing).

Obama, W. Bush and Presidents that are "Comfortable in their Own Skin"

Is the most important presidential quality now appearing "comfortable in their own skin?"* as we are so often told Obama is and Romney clearly isn't (I wouldn't say he looks uncomfortable, more stilted).

Perhaps not in an older time, but in the age of video and web coverage, it certainly seems so. Or at least pundits keep incessantly mentioning it.

In Bill Simmons pod-cast with Jimmy Kimmel, reminiscing about their encounter with the President, both men remark about how "there is just something about [Obama] when you meet him -- he's just cool." They then compare this quality to Bill Clinton, a famed extrovert fueled by interpersonal connection.

Lost in this discussion, however, is the fact that, despite his reputation as a dim-witted bumbler, there is a reason George W. Bush defeated Gore despite the remarkable economic run of the Clinton years: he was a remarkably interpersonally gifted politician in his time as well.

His limited vocabulary and elocution skills were part of his routine rather than a flaw. I would bet that stumbling in dry policy discourse was endearing to more voters in Ohio and Florida rather than repellant. Indeed, he consistently dominated the poll question: Would you want to have a beer with this candidate? (despite his privileged East-Coast background undermining his Texas persona). Indeed, in the debates of 2000 and 2004, where Gore sounded like conceited and Kerry dry and robotic, Bush always came across as friendly and well-meaning.

 I know someone who met W. briefly, as Presidents are required to host myriad visting groups every year. He reported that he completely dominated the fairly inconsequential room socially, cracking jokes and slyly playing up his stupid persona. He had a definite swagger of the kind documented obsessively by the PUA community, only it was natural. He leaned back.

Which brings us to Obama and his reported swagger.

Sailer and others, even the New York Times, have well-documented how the President is in some ways more Coolidge than Clinton: naturally introverted.

Numerous sources report he is not one to work a room or reach out to constituents, and until recently preferred to the lone smoke-break to just about anything.

Sailer has speculated that he has mild manic-depressive cycle. More tellingly, I think, is his documentation of the changes in Obama's oratory style, as he increasingly embraced a black identity as his political career progressed.

 One possibility: Obama is an introvert who studied the behaviors of natural leaders and learned to fake it, able now to conjure up the effortless personal cool needed in video-interviews, but, crucially, someone who still retreats back into his introverted self for energy recharges.

Who then is the real Obama -- is he gifted/cursed with the irrational self-confidence of a "natural leader." Or is it all a charade -- the supposed over-competitiveness not a manifestation of his Michael Jordan like testosterone-fueled drive, but really a ploy to mask a suppressed cerebralism, even self-doubt one might expect from the author of Dreams from My Father. Or was that all an act for his intelligentsia audience, obscuring a man who has sought ever more power every step of the way?

Perhaps we won't know until his inevitable record-breaking memoir gives us yet more opaque material to sift through.

Consider, however, how this question influences his thinking on the Iran-Israel question. Where W. Bush would likely have an unshakeable trust in his gut instinct, I am not sure how Obama approaches the question. Or Romney for that matter, whose thinking and motivation for seeking power is similar;y a mystery.

Unfortunately, I feel Obama's record implies he will just do whatever his Kennedy School trained advisors tell him to do, for which reason we should all be afraid. Indeed, he has shown little interest that I can see in deviating from the liberal ivy league consensus -- pace his revival of Laurence Summers -- with disastrous consequences for our economy.

You never know, though: sometimes Presidents are forced to define themselves at crucial moments no one sees coming when we truly get to see the cut of their jib.


*I remember reading a David Foster Wallace essay, supposedly on the strangeness of this phrase, that in reality communicated the strange, miserable existence of Wallace himself, who seemed to me the polar opposite of a Clinton or W. Bush. It was as if the author could not imagine holding a calm large-group social interaction or mild performance without being beset by crippling self-consciousness (indeed he saw such calm as abnormal, if I recall). Perhaps his annoying footnoting habit resulted from this crippling self-consciousness -- that is, it is a product of his need to constantly clarify or modify his attempts at communicating with the outside world. I never read any of his fiction, but I of this essay immediately when revelations of his long-term depression came to light following his suicide.

Youtube Comment: Hall of Fame Series

Ich Liebe Bach jedesmal wenn ich Die 9 Symphony höre zerschmilst mein Herz <3

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thoughts on Indiana

I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana for most of my youth, up in till the age of 18 when I left for the east-coast.
Unlike most of my friends and acquaintances in Indiana, however, my family was not from the area, nor did I have any extended familial roots there. Most of the people in my circle had seemingly been there for generations, so my perspective was somewhat different. In general, I found the community friendly, but somewhat insular to outsiders.
The demographic make-up of Indianapolis seemed to be comprised mainly of Protestant Christian and whites, or Protestant Christian blacks, with some Catholic pockets as well. As with most areas of the country, the Hispanic population is increasing steadily.
Although a member of the Union during the Civil War, Indiana borders the Mason-Dixon Line and has a somewhat confused relationship with the South. Southern Indiana is very hilly and rural and almost looks and feels as if it could be a part of the greater South, despite the cold winters. In contrast, Northern Indiana is clearly Mid-Western and fits with its Northern neighbors, although it is marginalized in this capacity, serving as somewhat of an extension of cheap real estate for bordering Chicago and Michigan municipalities.
Indianapolis, a planned capital, is located at exactly the center of the state rather than on Lake Michigan or the Ohio River as would have been a more natural position. It thus straddles this north-south divide. Overall, I would place the city in the Northern domain: it feels fairly akin to what one might find in Michigan, although the cornfields that surround the city for miles lend life there a rural hue.
As a core Mid-Western state, Indiana has somewhat of an inferiority complex amongst its compatriots. In terms of national importance among Mid-Western states, it likely only exceeds Iowa (one can debate Wisconsin), the former of which plays an integral role in Presidential elections nominations. Michigan defeated Indiana in the auto-manufacturing war of the early 20th century and, despite its problems, continues to assert economic dominance over Indiana. Ohio has Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati -- multiple major cities to Indiana’s one. Illinois has Chicago, which uses North-West Indiana as a repository for disgusting manufacturing (try driving through Gary, IN with the windows down this century). IN residents from this area nonetheless will tell you they are from Chicago.
Make no mistake, Indianapolis is self-conscious of its reputation as part of “Indiana no-place.” I can see why.  East-Coast residents in my experience demonstrated little to no geographic or cultural knowledge of or in interest in Indiana, and were mostly bemused that someone would come from there.
However, this inferiority complex results in some nasty behavior: Indianans enjoy expressing misguided disdain over the supposed backwards habits of poverty-stricken neighboring Kentukians.
More broadly problematic, the intergenerational residency creates somewhat of an insular culture resulting in certain career paths (business or very local law), interests (college basketball) and values (Protestant Christianity/conservatism) becoming community myopic fixations such that deviating from them can earn you the title of “weird.” I suppose every area has similar problems, however (for Boston, it would be unwarranted elitism) and this could also be a product of my school-driven particular social circle.
Re-visiting Indianapolis, I am reminded of Orwell’s observation on country life in England in Homage to Catalonia: it can be hard to imagine that a world of strife, pain and action exists somewhere far beyond these rows of house that stretch out before you as far as the eye can see.
More pressingly, it is a place where you drive to get anywhere, a merciless tax on your time to counteract the lower cost of living. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Future Posting on Stephen Chow, the King of Comedy

Lest my readers think my interest in Hong Kong cinema was limited to respected auteurs like Wong Kar Wai, in the future I hope to craft a series of post on the cultural phenomenon of Stephen Chow.

Howvever, first I will have to acquire some of his films, as its been years since I've seen the ones ones I have in mind (Chinese Odyssey; King of Comedy; Justice, My Foot ).

Stay tuned.

Kendrick Lamar's Swimming Pool (Drank) is a Great Song

When I first heard a Kendrick Lamar song, his voice irritated me a lot.

But that has abated as I strive to decipher his lyrics.

In "Swimming Pools (Drank)" he delivers a perceptive exegesis on what motivates peoples' all too often over-shooting on drinking.

Ironically, this song seems to be in mild rotation at the bar and club circuit in D.C. already, so I'm guessing his national profile is rising.

"Some people like the way it feels
Some people wanna kill their sorrows
Some people wanna fit in with the popular
That was my problem"

As for me, I haven't been drunk in years.

- lydgate

On Mathew Yglesias, Slate's Financial Journalist

Back in the dark ages of 2004, early blogger Mathew Yglesias seemed to be reviled by everyone populat in the still nascent political blogosphere.  Conservative war-bloggers like Allah Pundit, liberals on Daily Kos, and everyone in between seemed to have it in for him. In fact, Andrew Sullivan, then supposedly a conservative, even adopted a derogatory “Ygelias award” – an action indicative of Sullivan’s future devolution.
Not knowing any better, I reflexively adopted this pervasive Ygelias disdain -- which reach its most disturbing pinnacle  in the near-celebration that met his report of being assaulted while walking home in D.C. -- while reading him maybe once a year.
Fast forward two presidential terms, and I now discover Ygelias has become a surprisingly competent financial columnist for Slate.
Consider the evidence, drawn mostly from very recent work:

  •    He seems to have a solid understanding of fiat money. (here)
  •   He recognizes that because debt is denombinanated nominally, it affects behavior, erasing the veil of money.  
  •  He repeatedly draws attention to the on the real crisis of our times – long-term, mass unemployment (multiple pieces)
  •  He asks how to fix our unemployment debacle, focusing mostly on restoring aggregate demand. Lately, he seems to have dipped into the misguided uproar over nominal GDP targeting, but then again, who hasn’t? Overall, he seems most interested in demand restoration through fiscal policy -- pace, his comments on Obama’s speech for example: what other liberal columnists correctly identifies the absence of demand restoration as a means to lower unemployment in the President’s vision?
  •  He has written two books, the second of which appears to detail how the absurd run-up in real estate values and rent in big cities like D.C. -- where prices haven't fallen -- hurts the young.
All in all, given the current state of economic understanding, I think Yeglias is one of the best financial journalists out there, perhaps because his degree is in philosophy rather than economics.

That said, this article, which rebuts the accusation that rebuttal to “QE3 will hurt savers” misses the forest for the trees. Yeglias only attempts to prove that QE is not inflationary, even though he seems to think it expands the money supply (I think? this seems like a contradiction.) In fact, reserves are not money, so it is not inflationary at all. However, while it is true that QE3 likely won’t hurt savers by provoking excess inflation, and I agree that is the general conservative argument, you cannot say it does not intend to hurt savers. The point is to reduce interests rates. 

And, for savers, per Mosler, interest payments are income. Therefore, if successful, QE3 intends to reduce savers’ interest income as we have seen occur.

Still, it seems like Yeglias is genuinely grappling with the issues in a way most financial journalists fail to, and I credit him for that.

What should we do about Medicaid?

Is switching the program to one that gives a block grant to states, as Paul Ryan suggests -- which would allow them the leeway to then govern benefits and eligibility levels -- and then tie the grant increase amount to the general inflation rather than medical inflation rate, an appropriate answer?
Moreover, is this a necessary step to avoid fiscal apocalypse
This post analyzes our options, using an MMT-inspired framework that accepts a consolidated Fed/Treasury world-view. 
First, an overview of the problem.
Growth in total Medicaid spending (state and federal) has dramatically outpaced not only the general inflation rate, but also the 4% or so average medical inflation rate over the past decade (Kaiser suggests Medicaid spending has grown about 6% a year).  
Unsurprisingly, as Medicaid is a countercyclical program for which enrollment and thus spending increases as income falls, this trend seems to be accelerating due the Great Recession. 

In 2010, total Medicaid spending was .389 trillion or about 2.7% of overall GDP. Without drastic reform, that percent will continue to increase even before considering the effects of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. While perhaps blunted by the Supreme Court’s decision that forcing states to expand Medicaid is coercion, this change is still likely to further increase spending with the federal government picking up most of the tab.
Through a proper understanding of Modern Monetary Theory, however, we know, however, that the federal government is not at risk of being bankrupted by Medicaid spending, as it is a currency issuer. Instead, the real risk is to federal government deficit from Medicaid spending is that it will accelerate to the point that it drives unacceptable levels of inflation. 

This is definitely a risk in the long term, and for that reason, once a sufficient enrollment threshold is met  (i.e. perhaps the point where there are few uninsured ineligibles and the pro-cyclical effects of rising income promotes disenrollment in favor of private plans), I would recommend tying benefits levels to medical inflation to avoid rationing of new medical technologies. But, in the present economic environment, I see no reason for the federal government to worry about Medicaid driving inflation in the short term -- instead, it is a potential source of stimulus.
So, everything seems fine?
While bankruptcy is not a fear at the federal level, the opposite is true for states.
Like a household, they must tax in order to generate funding for their portion of Medicaid programs. Once more, this is required spending amount that increases when revenues decrease during recessions. Thus, in the current system, states are forced to make draconian cuts to balance a budget because  growing Medicaid spending is eating up an ever greater percent of decreasing revenues.  In this way, the state Medicaid obligation contains a pro-cyclical force promoting public sector job losses – exactly what we don’t want to happen!
Under a block grant tied to inflation, states very well could reduce Medicaid spending but they would do this by likely restricting eligibility or benefits for poor residents. This solution thus results in a deplorable loss of coverage for children, families and poor people in general. Also significant is the fact that  it removes an important counter-cyclical automatic stabilizer fighting unemployment.
The correct response seems obvious enough: the federal government should cover less than 100% of Medicaid but not much less than that -- that is, enough to keep some skin for states in the game without compromising their overall budget in any real way. Thus, federal Medicaid obligations will immediately exceed 2.5% or so of GDP. In the long run, measures will have to be put in place to control the inflationary bias of this program. In the short run, the focus should be, however, on its simulative effect.
In a broader sense, it makes more sense to me at least for our government – if it is not going to provide universal healthcare -- to be in business of providing children and families’ healthcare at least, instead of the elderly as pediatric healthcare is cheaper and a produces more years of healthy future workers per dollar. Sadly, it is exactly this population that will face medical rationing if current policy suggestions go into effect.

Unless we overcome the collective delusion that we have no funds to pay for healthcare entitlements, it will be our children rather than our grandchildren who suffer.

Bombing Iran: Amputating the Arm to Save the Body

Has as, David Goldman, or Spengler, argues the time to let Israel bomb Iran finally arrived?

After years of predicting an Israeli or US strike against Iran using the powers of logic, Goldman seems exhausted. Wearily, he notes that the US establishment is perhaps at its most resistant to bombing Iran at this point,  as both the government and the public is infinitely wary of the perpetual Middle Eastern quagmire we have found ourselves in in first Iraq and now Afghanistan.

Indeed, as Goldman details, an Israeli unilateral strike on Iran would produce untold short term pain:It would further radicalize the Middle East democracy movement, probably to a point of no return. It would unleash holly hell in Lebanon. It would the price of gas through the roof.

Understandably, Americans seem to see bombing Iran as more useless, avoidable war mongering. Sailer advances essentially this position, arguing that hostility toward Iran is a product of misplaced Israeli patriotism/agression combined with deep pockets: he seems sick of war waged seemingly for Israel's benefit alone.

And yet, I think that Sailer's view is naive.

Israel backers may be nationalistic, but, as Chieften of Seir pointed out in his essay "On the Fear of Matches" years ago, when the game they play involves a nuclear arsenal, nationalistic passions assert a  higher claim to US attention, particularly when both players likely lack a second strike capability. College football this is not.

If Israel went on full nuclear alert during the first gulf war, I am guessing any credible Iranian nuclear threat will produce a similar response. And therefore I do not think Israel can reasonably be expected to hesitate in any potential stand-off, unless their second-strike capability is dramatically improved.

 More likely, they will attempt to delay the Iranian by striking first, with or without US consent. The US will then be forced to destroy Iranian capabilities through air attacks, exactly what we don't want to do.

So, where does that leave us? Ironically, it seems that the Bush doctrine of preemption -- discredited by S.  Hussein's lack of WMD's -- seems perhaps finally an appropriate response for minimizing the chance of long-run pain. While both future scenarios seem bleek, one involves a nuclear strike (likely Israel on Iran first), so I am guessing that is the worst option.

Thus, contra Sailer, this may be national game, but it the rules are more akin to Battle Royale than Oregon vs. Oklahoma State.

The question on everyone's mind: What will Obama tell Netanyaho in the coming months, as the issue is inevitably pressed?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moral Reasoning about Sports

Back in the day, long before the word blog was ever invented, I used to teach a class called Moral Reasoning about Sports.

 On the first day, I would pass out the article coach Gundy refers to in the video below. I then asked for response from the new students. Finally, I played the YouTube video for all to see:

Usually, I wouldn't make it through the video without bawling like a new born babe. But the point was expressed all the same.

The first rule of moral reasoning:

1). never go after a kid.

So when I first learned of the Giants-Bucs kneel-down controversy, I asked myself: Is anyone going after a kid here?

No. These are grown men playing a grown man's game.


On to the second rule:

2.) you play to win the game.

If Eli fumbled the kneel-down snap and the Bucs were left standing watching like a bunch of pansies, is that playing to win the game?

Hell no!

Save the classy pleasantries for after the final whistle blows!

In the game of football, you play every single snap to win the game.

Therefore I agree with Coach Schiano and his decision to play to win the game. 

- professor emirates lydgate

Wong Kar Wai's First Film, As Tears Go By: A Western Review

As Tears Go By is Wong Kar Wai's first movie, and his inexperience shows in its formulaic plot construction and all too predictable climatic resolution. However, the director’s flair for employing inventive camerawork and successfully integrating music into emotionally critical scenes is clearly present in developmental form at the onset of his career. This is reason enough alone=to recommend the film (it is available through Netflix streaming).

For the uninitiated, the Hong Kong triad romance picture appears to be a popular cultural archetype. A subset of the triad film genre -- a pervasive Hong Kong cinematic plot -- the tragic intersection of love and triad-life is perhaps best expressed in A Moment of Romance (also starring Andy Lau). Of course, I am not a cultural authority here. However, the concept of romantic love doomed by the male protagonist’s external commitments is clearly universal.

As Tears Go By reflects this division of its protagonists external commitments to friend and lover  in its neat division of its narrative. After the introductory sequence in which Lau separates from a past flame and meets his  cousin, his scenes going forward fit into one of two categories: either Andy Lau is building his romantic relationship with his cousin (yes, you read that right), played by Maggie Cheung, or he is futilely trying to save his spark-plug triad brother Fly, played by Jackie Cheung, from self-destruction. While the narrative attempts to 
build the mystery of which commitment will ultimately rule Lau's behavior, viewers familiar with gangster film tropes of any culture know well in advance what the final scene holds in store. 

The gap in quality between the two narratives – the slow-cooking romance, anchored by Cheung’s demure seduction, is beautiful while Fly’s descent into self-immolation is mostly boring – reminds me of Henry James’s assessment of George Eliot’s similarly divided Daniel Deronda: one wishes that only the better half existed.

And yet, Fly’s folly, tedious as it may be, is essential to the romantic narrative. After all, if there was nothing to provoke the separation of our lovers, would we not miss observing Cheung's exquisite slow motion tearing up (a scene later repeated with Zhang Ziyi in 2046)?

It should be noted As Tears Go By appears to be best known for a somewhat bizarre, extended kiss scene (The Kiss, if you will)  between Lau and Cheung in a phone-booth as “Take My Breath Way” from Top Gun plays, non-ironically, for which I will attempt to mount a defense.

The scene certainly flirts precariously with schmaltz, or rather is schmaltz, but succeeds anyway. In context, the subversion of audience expectations (receding the scene, Cheung appears to choose a doctor over Lau) coupled with the sudden explosion of passion is thrilling rather than groan inducing. While Wai would go on to produce more fully developed artistic expressions, nothing in his later work that I've seen exceeds the slight of hand, followed by release of the above scene.

- lydgate

What should Republicans Learn from [Romney's Loss]?

Another blogger recently posed the above question. My response:

I am breaking with most commentator here who are obsessed with racial politics. While important, the Republicans are ignoring a substantive opportunity to attack Democrats on the issues, which, despite popular opinion, can be important.

 The Republicans need to develop a novel platform attacking the Bush/Obama Washington centrist consensus with respect to 1.) fiscal policy and 2.) the foreign policy of Bush/Obama.

 With respect to fiscal policy, Republicans continually get stuck on lower taxes for the rich, and lower taxes on investment. These taxes cuts are targeted at high savers and therefore are the least stimulative taxe cuts. Voters intuitively know this and scoff at "trickle down economics," deservedly so.

Instead, The Republicans should press the message that wage-earners  are over taxed in this country and that they are the party that will deliver you more of your take-home pay for every single pay check. This amount should be substantial, and it should not be off-set by spending cuts.

To get there, you have to admit that higher G doesn't crowd out private investment and that, as Reagen proved, deficits don't matter (except for inflation risk -- a real potential issue). Only then will Republicans have something to offer the wage earning electorate.

On foreign policy, which most voters don't seem to care about -- but still -- Republicans should criticize  Obama's reckless interventions in Libya/Egypt/Syria as idealistic grandstanding that will as a harbinger of future danger, instability, and, crucially, painful US-led interventions. Instead, Republicans compete to denounce Obama for not supporting rebels enough -- truly mind-blowing. I don't think a single Republican denounced the assassination of Gaddafi.

Another potential area of Republican innovation is reviving economic mercantilism with respect to jobs on US soil. As we are all aware, Apple and other major companies contract with Chinese companies to build products on Chinese soil etc. etc. Yet, neither party seriously questions the assumed dictum from Heaven that free trade is beneficial. Republicans could build serious popular support for government instituted trade regulations to support jobs on US soil (something the masses tend to prefer but economists hate). Again, I have not seen any evidence that Republicans are even open to this.  

- lydgate

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bronte Capital on Chinese Kleptocracy

For those of you who have read Bronte Capital over the years as I have, the egregiousness of a new Chinese Reverse Merger Fraud no longer even registers.

For anyone interested, John Hempton has a long series of posts on the Carlyle-and-company bid for Focus Media, asking whether the company is genuine, fake or a mixture (with only fakery representing a bad investment for the PE bidders).  Interestingly, the commentators on the latest post have begun to speculate on whether Carlyle and the other bidders know the company is fake (after all, could the most politically well-connected PE firm in the world really be duped so brazenly) and are merely using the big to gain political favor with the Chinese political elite.

Hempton layes out his essential thesis -- that China, due to its astronomical growth-rate and its prevention of earning a decent return on savings -- is kleptocracy of a scale never before seen in human history -- here.

While I'm unsure that Hempton's argument that dampening inflation will promote revolution is sound -- with spoils flowing around so freely, won't a self-interested peasant attempt to climb his way up rather than upheave the system -- his description of the rampant looting of State-Owned companies is an important message to disseminate to Western observers who, perhaps impressed by annual growth rates that would make Obama or Romney envious, might look East to invest. We wouldn't want you to become  the next John Paulson with respect to Sino-Forest.

While the world has perhaps never seen seen a kleptocracy of quite this scale before, the basic model is surely familiar to Russians, Indians, Medieval European peasants, even Romans -- history repeats itself -- the substantive American Middle Class appears to be an aberration, eroding even in our own country as the 1% steadily accumulate a greater and greater share of the wealth.

It will fascinating to see if China can eventually develop Western rule-of-law to go along with rule-of-the-dollar. Until that day, China is surely the land where fortune can be made or lost -- but, be careful, no matter how clever you may be, when there is no one to appeal to the that the game is rigged, you might just loose all the same.