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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now wouldn't you have rather spent all that money on jobs?

To the Koch Brothers, and all the other corporate interest that poured in hundreds of millions into an election, that, turned into an electoral rout:  wouldn't you have rather kept your money?  Maybe spent it on your businesses?  Maybe bought a new yacht?  Maybe given your employees raises, so they can go out and spend their money buying more of YOUR products?

Honestly, it's the most troubling thing about the Post Citizens United World.  I bet nearly a billion dollars was raised and spent by both candidates (all candidates really) this election season.  That's a bailout or five.

What a waste.

But... thanks to the American people for doing the right thing...again.

Go Bama Go!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Joe Biden cleaned the floor with Paul Ryan

Amen brother.  Eloquent, articulate, a fighter with actual facts.

Stop smirking Joe, you don't need to, when you're serious, you blow our minds.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Republican Convention-- A Poem in Free Verse

To MITT ROMNEY, a poem for you.

Yes yes, you love your five boys, and your wife's awesome at making children. 

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes, yes, everyone hates Obama, Obama hates America, and while we're at it Americans.

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, everyone loves small business, everyone wants a job.

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, you saved a few companies, and Obama hates success

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, let's put aside divisivness and recriminations

Who wrote this speech anyway?

Ok bored now, I turn off.

Marco Rubio, Confuses the Republican Convention

So Marco Rubio is clearly the VP that Romney should have picked.  His speech was excellent.  And...except for a few words, could have been spoken at the Democratic convention.

I do not believe in American Exceptionalism.  Therein lay the seeds of fascism.  There are no exceptional peoples or nations.  There are just people, and just nations.

But Marco's speech was truly great.  Not its ideas, not its points, just its eloquence and style.  And about as Republican as a Bill Clinton.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cage Match: Bill or Coins - NPR PlanetMoney

On April 20, NPR did a podcast on whether or not the U.S. should switch from dollar bills, to dollar coins.

I don't have an opinion on this, I think whatever saves the government the most money ought to win.  However, of the arguments discussed, the last one, which made the journalists opt in favor of the dollar bill, seemed to be based on some specious logic.

Let's recap.

Arguments For the Coin
--Coin lasts longer, fewer printings, cost savings
--Easier to use in dispensing machines.
--Most western nations use them

Arguments For the Bill
--Cheaper, more coins need to be made.
--Seniorage, (government makes money off currency not in circulation, but ends up hurting consumer, as a sort of "tax" on earnings)
--The Coin Jar.

You'll note first of all, that both sides say they're cheaper.  Dollar bills are more expensive to produce, but, the "Coin Jar Effect" means that they will have to manufacture more coins to keep currency circulating since coins get saved in people's pockets and are ultimately transfered to jars where they are never used.

It seems to me that almost all of the points in favor of the bill depend upon this idea of "The Coin Jar" where money goes to die.

But it simply isn't true.  It stays there until the jar fills up, then it gets used.  Or it gets used everyweek in laundomats.  Or you bring your change to the bank in rolled collections and get dollars.  My wife and I do all of these things routinely. Growing up, I knew families that stored coins in upended water jars, the kind that Tina Fey has such difficulty lifting, and they would empty it out after a few years or so and take a vacation.  It isn't a tax at all, its a savings vehicle!

Anyway, I don't really care about coins versus bills, I just thought it wasn't a thoughtful argument and ought to be corrected.

Monday, July 30, 2012

EconTalk: Burkhauser on the Middle Class

So, again, late to the blog party as usual, but my comment today is on Econtalk's, April 9th, interview with Richard Burkhauser.  In it, Burkhauser refutes what us RavingLeftatics have been claiming for over a decade, about how the middle class is shrinking.

So Burkhauser's argument is simple.  It's not that Piketty and Saez were wrong, its just they measured the data differently than we did.  This was a highly technical podcast, and I won't pretend I understood everything I heard.  The way Piketty collected his data was to look at the figures and divide it by what they call the "tax unit" that is, the primary filer, adding his dependents, and/or including the income of a spouse.  Burkhauser instead, uses a number of person per household.  So Piketty's 1-3% growth, recalculated, is 15%.

I have a couple of thoughts on this.  Burkhauser makes a good point, in that a lot of young couples live together before marriage.  And so, there income is joint, and should be counted as such.  However, both he and Russ got a few things essentially (to my perspective) wrong.

Economies of scale are a grand thing.  But going from a one person household to a two person, or three person household does not a scale make.  Maybe its anecdotal, but when I moved in with my wife, she told me and I didn't believe her, "If you think this is going to save money, you're wrong." As she is with so many things.  She was right and I was wrong.

One person living by themselves is basically in subsistence mode.  They can skip meals, they can use pizza boxes for tables, they can have a whole box of blueberries for dinner.  They can do what they want, and that in and of itself, makes the calculus that backs the conclusion of this paper fundamentally wrong.

Now, maybe, (I didn't read the paper) but maybe there is an intermediary cited, another paper by this author, or another that says, "here is statistical evidence that families in economies of scale do on the whole spend less money."

But without that, the central mechanism for this conclusion to be true fails.  At some point, couples that live together are usually planning on making a life together.  At that point, their personal economies shift completely.  They "nest," they acquire things jointly, they start building joint resources, maybe they go in on health insurance together getting domestically partnered. And suddenly, they're spending more than they would before.  They're taking vacations together, they're visiting each other's family, they're buying food for two instead of skipping a meal because they had a big lunch.

Another thing I think both Roberts and Burkhauser misapprehend is that Burkhauser blithely states that "more and more people are living together," which is driving costs down.  Even assuming that living together is driving down costs, which clearly I don't, then maybe people are moving in together because they're cost of living is going down, not up.  That is the case for most of Europe, children live with their parents well into their thirties.  And they do so because housing is damned expensive, and there aren't enough jobs!

Last, what Roberts and Burkhauser ignore, and it seems likely that Piketty and Saez do as well (simply because as economists they are measuring just a few points of data) they ignore completely rising individual and household debt.  Given the recent crisis this seems like a grave omission.  But in all fairness, the papers are very explicit in what they do cover.  It's just disingenous to claim things are all rosy for the middle class when in fact most of us will probably never climb out of personal debt.

And then, he adds the value of health insurance.  This gets a little technical, and I don't really understand why.  Health insurance is a benefit, granted, but its one we pay for, and its not income.  If anything, its a tax on our earnings.  But clearly, his estimates rise from 23%, there was an intermediary step after 15% (government transfers, social security, unemployment, etc.) now all the way to 36%.  Why, the American middle class must have it better than ever! Frankly, health insurance isn't a privilege, its an entitlement.  In a civilized, fully functioning democracy, we should all have access to the best care.  Now, we shouldn't have coverage to get cosmetic surgery certainly, unless of course of a disfigurement, but basic medical needs are a critical issue in this country.

But why, on God's Greenish Earth, government transfers?  So, I can see where it might be useful: my parents are retirees.  The income they have is prinicipally from social security, and their remaining investments.  That money should be tracked.  And they are solidly in the middle class (not because of social security, but because of their investments), but this is not a statement of progress.  Most of the people who receive these benefits, must be in the waning years of their lives, tracking their data, isn't tracking a progressing movement at all.  When we measure income, we do not do so in a vacuum, we do so because there is a concern that there is a certain inequity or dearth in the workplace.  That is what we are looking to find out.  So adding all these other data points is simply making the picture more cloudly.

I should also note that Burkhauser graduated from the University of Chicago economics program, so we already know he has to be anti-Keynsian (though, in fairness, that is just an assumption!) One last point I'd like to make on Burkhauser is that in October of 2005, he was a panelist at a Bush economics forum event, and said the following, summing up his comments:

"The economy is fundamentally sound and if the current economic downturn is similar to those in the 1980s and 1990s, and I believe it is, we will soon be back on the path of economic growth."

Riiiight.  Maybe if Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual had moved in together things would have been rosy for everyone.
Burkhauser closes with a very interesting comment.  That he is in favor of the 50 years of government transfers.  His work essentially proves that government programs work--and yet, the very act of his acknowledgement makes it obvious that there is something wrong with our economy as it is.  If the only way median middle class income is "ok" is through additional government transfers and healthcare, than people are clearly not making enough money from their jobs.  And those "non-payment" benefits, health insurance, life insurance, in no way increase our life-styles.  They just keep us from sliding into poverty.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jim Ross, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart

On Monday, both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert came down kind of hard on poor Jim Ross of ABC News. 

Albeit, it was a sloppy, amateurish mistake, though no one, including Mr. Ross seems to have told us how they found out it wasn't true.  I mean, that's a sort of important fact, did Mr. Holmes call up ABC and say what the heck or did the Colorado Tea Party call up and say, what the heck?

Why is that important?  Well--people who have openly associated with the Tea Party, have gone to political rallies, packing heat.  While Ross (and conceivably the whole news team) were at fault for allowing this flub to get on the air, it wouldn't in any way, shape or form, be an illogical leap to assume someone's political beliefs might impinge on their actions, however sick they may be.  And the Tea Party, if anything at all, is pro-freedom on a very small subset of rights that only people on the far right care about (again, see my post of earlier today, Guns, Gods and Gays).

Regardless--watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert lambaste Ross for an exceedingly common newsroom mistake, made me a little angry.

I'm frankly getting a little bit sick of the narrative that criticizing both the left and the right, somehow demonstrates fair and balanced commentary or reporting.  I feel like Jon Stewart, who was harsher than Colbert, probably set that one up for his buddy Bill O'Reilly. So that he can, at a later date, whine to him, but look at me, I did this, and Bill, in his melodious, deep voice, can say "Oh that's all right Jon, you're one of the good ones."

Both Stewart and Colbert's bits took up (combined) about 18 minutes of their respective 44 minutes of television.  You guys like to pretend about your truthiness and your values, but there is only one story tonight, and everyn ight until the firestorm goes away.  Why is there such poor gun control in this country?  No humor in this subject?  Clearly not, I've already posted some of The Onion's jibes.  And I've seen about a dozen jokes on facebook today about what cheeses are banned, and what guns are allowed, what requirements are mandatory for the acquisition of an automobile, and how easy it is to acquire guns in certain states.  To be fair, Jon's bit on this was pretty funny, but harping on Ross's flub draws away from the important aspect of this tragedy.  Which, I'm beginning to think, isn't the needless slaughter (that as Arthur Miller would say in his essay on tragedy, is just pathetic--his term, not mine) the tragedy is that we are doomed to repeat these senseless acts because we will not ever control guns in this country.

The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.

And that is political.  And that is partisan.  And that Mr. Stewart, Mr. Colbert, is why you're wrong.

Jason Alexander and The Onion--Gun Control

I have little to say on the topic of the Colorado massacre.  Except a few things:  The Onion says it best, there is a weird, almost hopeless ennui I think we're all feeling here.  One more massacre.  One more candelight vigil, one more media circus.  That's odd, isn't it?  It's like we have resigned ourselves, that we THE PEOPLE, can do nothing about it.

On another related topic.  Wolf Blitzer ought to resign.  The man has become a symbol for hopeless journalism, media sycophantry, and the utter uselessness of the 24-hour news cycle.

The rage of a Raving Leftatic, Jason Alexander.

The terrible ennui of a despondent liberal population., as always, from The Onion.

I share the trepidation of media elites in condemning Democrats for not taking a more progressive stance.  This is an election year.  And guns, god, and gays are the cries of not just the far right, but the vast middle.  I, frankly do not know what to do.  Save to advocate for gun control through agencies like The Brady Center.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eugene White on Bank Regulations

So this post isn't really about Eugene White, though his paper on bank regulations sounds extremely interesting.  This post is more about our friend Russ Roberts at Econ Talk. As usual, I'd like to say that I have a great deal of respect for Russ, and unlike many economists and jerks (I'm looking at you Freakonomics) he is always willing to listen to opposing view points, and he very rarely goes on pejorative or mocking jaunts about those with whom his beliefs clash.

However, he proposed a very interesting rationale, which you've probably heard, about the reason for the Financial Crisis.  Namely that it was the moral hazard that created the risk.  That regulation, and regulations creating the FDIC in particular and requiring capital limits, etc., that spurred the banks to take risks with money that they might not have done had the market been allowed full freedom.

These matters are , of course, very complicated, and we both are guilty of oversimplifying to make a point.  However, I think Robert's worldview in this is very much compromised by his stance on overall social policy.

1)  First of all, it is always convienent to argue about what might have been, I know, I've done it myself.  But without evidence, such arguments are at best, merely speculative.  It is simply impossible to know what moral hazard may have done before the fact.

Quickly, let's redefine moral hazard:  Moral hazard is the theory that by insuring banks against their risks, and "bailing them out" when they become insolvent, you inure them to future risk and exacerbate the problem.  And further, that this cycle is self perpetuating, relying on the government as a backstop to all financial risk.

2) Academics and business types tend to forget something critical.  A government has a moral obligation to protect its people.  FDIC insurance, as allowed for the individual, is to insure them against destitition.  There is no risk posed by Moral Hazard that isn't worth it for that reason alone.  Academics and business types, love to talk about how failure is necessary for the system to work. I disagree. Quite simply, total loss is not required for a system to learn.  Fear alone is a learning tool, enough to galvanize and secure. Total loss on the otherhand, does little else but disenfranchise.  And a people that is disenfranchised are a people that can quickly resort to violence, and the sorts of moral exigencies that are a clear result of fear and violence.

3) As to the moral hazard of the banks.  Love him or hate'im, when Paulsen let Lehman fail, he destroyed moral hazard for the banks.  People forget about that.  Most of Lehman forget about that.  Most of the former Lehman Brothers employees are now at Barclay's, other banks, or in private equity and hedge funds.  I'd guess that there isn't a single one that isn't employed now, saving some of the support staff.  So its easy to forget just how scary that time was.  There is no moral hazard, there is no blanket policy of forgiveness.  If the system can withstand it, the regulators will always discharge what they cannot sustain.

4) Regarding banking institutions taking on high risk because they believe the government will bail them out.  I see two flaws.  First of all, prior to 2008 there was a fairly limited pool of evidence that such a thing would occur.  Though the government did help out in the SnL crisis, the monies used to bail out the system came in large part from other banks.  Lehman, was not a contributing member to that bail out, so there was some justice (and refutation of moral hazard) in its not being saved. Second of all, academics and business people (and I should stress that I mean economists and financiers largely) tend to forget that economic crisis are based largely on the collective actions of human beings.  And that human beings have a poor perception of long-term risk and long-term gain, and at worst, are completely irrational.

And it is for that reason that I hold to the hypothesis that the financial crisis was caused by a mixture of:
--Underfunded regulators
--Understaffed regulators
--Complicit regulators
--Lack of Proper Regulation
--Short Term Gain over possible risks by bankers
--Greed (unwillingness to wind down when it became transparently clear that a meltdown would occur)
--Poor record keeping
--Intentional racial targeting (again for short-term gain)
--Inappropriate compensation for bankers
--Lies and obfuscation intended to keep the investing public in the dark as long as possible

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Southern Gentleman

I don't know Sara Robinson, and the futurists I've met over the years have been self aggrandizing idiots.  But...I rather liked this piece on    It more or less says exactly what Philip Agre's seminal work "What is Conservativism and What is Wrong with It?" says.  Namely that conservatism has nothing to do with the size of government, or individual liberty, the moral majority or any of that other claptrap.  It's about the preservation of an old world aristocracy.

Here are two excerpts from Robinson's piece for your Fourth of July reading pleasure:

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.

When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Motley Fool Money, Fool Me Once March 16 Podcast

So ever since I started business school, I've been looking for a good business podcast that doesn't focus on fluff, but on real companies, real events, real prices.  I thought I found it with Motley Fool Money, there isn't the madness of some of the MSNBC shows, and there's less of the bias on Fox Business (which isn't nearly what Fox News is, but still swings obviously right).

Regardless, in general I enjoy the podcast.  As usual, I'm behind in my podcasts, I'm just now listening to the March 16th podcast.  In it they discuss the New York Times Op Ed written by Greg Smith, a former executive of the company.  In it, Smith lambastes the company for not serving its clients, and for a general turn in the business, saying, among other things "I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work."

Worse: "What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym. "

Another "Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail."
It's a great Op-Ed and you should read it.  But I won't post more of it here.  However, I was shocked, and angered to hear three of the podcast commentators responses to this piece.  I should say, I don't know who the hosts are, and they have a roving band of commentators each week.  Ok, so the host starts out by asking what each thought of the letter.

The first guy says, paraphrasing, "I sort of thought it was unprofessional.  I mean, if you're there and you're unhappy, that's fine.  Quit.  But don't tar the company on your way out."

And the second guy says, again paraphrasing, "Yeah, I agree, but I mean, as an investor in Goldman Sachs, and as someone whose recommended it before, they've been around for years, what kind of business model would they have if they were screwing clients all the time?"
 Guy 3:  "A month from now we won't remember this guy's name."


Answer to First Guy:  Whistleblowing is an incredibly courageous, and rare act.  There are virtually no protections, and in fact, U.S. Whistleblower laws purposely eskews meaningful protections.  Not only did this Greg Smith ruin any career of he might have in finance going forward, he also exposed himself to litigation that could cost him millions of dollars.  Go blow out your ear First Guy.  If you've ever been as courageous in any part of your life, let me know and I'll retract this statement, but as it stands:  Whether Greg Smith was right or wrong, you must be an idiot if you think this guy did this for any reason other than having great courage.

Answer to Guy Two:  Not only are you incredibly naive.  You've also just blocked out all the facts, real black and white, cold hearted facts about what caused the Great Recession!  This selfsame day, March 16, NPRs PlanetMoney did a podcast about Angelo Mozillo, and the fraud at Countrywide Financial.  As this litigation consumed an entire year of my life--I can tell you--those guys were crooks. The story interviews the executive who was brought in to run a companywide survey on internal satisfaction.  And her report was purposely rewritten, and completely censored so that no one would ever hear the truth.  Which isn't to say that they didn't know the truth.  But Board Minutes are the first things securities lawyers ask for, and so they're much harder to hide than some powerpoint presentation in a company thirty-thousand employees strong.  Countrywide Financial was screwing its investors, its employees, its clients, and the rest of the goddamn planet, and they were hailed as one of the giants of the financial world. It's this sort of naivete which dooms us to repeat this same thing over and over again.  Just three months ago people were hailing Jamie Dimon as a banking expert who avoided the crisis, and created a profitable extremely safe brand.  And then boom a 2 billion dollar loss that could be as high as 13 billion! Seriously Guy Two, where do you get off saying this crap?

Answer to Guy Three:  I don't even know your name.  But here is his:  Greg Smith, Greg Smith, Greg Smith.  Frankly Guy Three is right.  But his utter contempt shows him for what he is: blissfully ignorant, and thus, part of the problem.

Lastly, I'd like to say that Goldman Sachs is nothing to me.  And I to them.  I will never make the kind of money, or have the kind of money that will require someone like me to use their services.  So I am so completely beyond their notice as to be laughable.  That said, for their part in electing Barack Obama in 2008, I'm grateful.  If they go Romney this year, then all bets are off.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jon Stewart Misses the Point--Bloomberg Pot v Soda

So for the past two programs Jon Stewart has waxed unfunnily regarding Bloomberg's proposal about reducing the fine for the amount of pot an individual can carry.

Let me state from the outset, I'm normally a fan of The Daily Show.

But this time, I think he's missed the point.  Before I get to the salient point, let me introduce one peripheral point I think he makes eloquently.  The amount of pot chosen to be legal is stupidly high.  It's enough to deal. A full ounce.

Ok.  Now Jon, let's talk.  You're a savvy New Yorker, so you've probably been reading the Voice, and The New York Times, so you know that the NYPD has been stopping and frisking black people intentionally.  Forcing them to disclose whether or not they have illegal substances on them, and then arresting them when they expose it.  Then bam!  They go to jail.  That simple, Jon.

So--this isn't about soda, it isn't about pot, this is about inequality, and its about racism.  No one should go to jail for having a personal use amount of illegal substances on them.

Jon makes the interesting point that "no one can get second hand carbonation." This argument, though funny, doesn't hold water.  While its true, that on the face of things, the physical damange that pot smoking can cause, will cause it with whomever is in its presence.  But that's not what the law says.  It's about carrying, not about use--this is a curb to the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD.  However, the collateral damage that obesity has caused on this nation's healthcare system is estimated to be 7,000 per person for the morbidly obese.  Given that soaring medical costs are far more likely to bankrupt this nation than the worst "socialist" spendthrifts in the entire country... well I'd say that's something that hurts all of us Jon.

Friday, March 30, 2012

To God, from the Ravingleftatic

Dear God,

Please melt Justice Scalia's frozen dead, acorn size heart.  Just this once even.  Just this once.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Econtalk: David Owen's Conundrum

So I took a two year hiatus from Econtalk.  But I'm back.  There's a lot at Econtalk that I think is pure milarky--not the data or the econ terms.  It's the editorializing that they do between the two.

Anyway.  I'm back.  For the podcast, go here.  And for David Owen's book, Conundrum, go here.

There wasn't much in this podcast that was news to me.  Maybe its because I live in New York City, maybe its because all of my friends are scientists, I don't know.  But there were a few things that bothered me.

First of all, the conceit of the book is simple.  There are unintended consequences to even the best efforts at conservation and efficiency.  Russ Roberts is a professor, and he deals with a lot of students, who maybe aren't that sophisticated.  So it can be forgiven that he holds up Owen's work as an example of how making fuel efficient cars, and seeking renewable forms of energy can have harmful consequences to the environment that they strive to protect.

However, I know better.  And all of my friends know better.  Again, with the caveat that my friends are scientists and politicians...

And the rub is this, we know there are unintended consequences.  The move to ethenol has euthanized the entire fishing population of the Mississipi River.  We know this stuff.  Windmills kill migratory bird populations and have harmful effects on bat colonies.  New popularity of natural sugars like honey have virtually made the honeybee extinct.  We got it.  More fuel efficient cars make people more inclined to drive more and make up the difference.  Well, duh.

But you've missed the point if you think that's a reason to stop trying, to stop innovating, and to stop efforts at conserving.  Russ Roberts makes the point in his podcast, towards the end, where he's saying, (paraphrased) "it doesn't matter if everyone in the world picked up their garbage and drove less, it still wouldn't be enough to fix the problem."  I hear that in Republican think all the time.  "Sure, you can tax the rich all you want, but its still not going to plug the whole in the deficit."

Well, you've all missed the point.  Every.  Little.  Bit.  Counts.  And if the one hundred water bottles that I didn't drink last year aren't in a landfill right now, or in the middle of the atlantic ocean, then that's a big deal.  And that's something to be proud of.  As I've quoted in the past, "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."  The work goes on.

Owen's larger point of course, is that it's consumption that drives the consumer binging that so plagues the landfills.  And sure, he's right.  But there's a fix to that too.  Education.  The reason for education isn't just to fill the seats at factories, or law offices across the country.  It's to engender good morals, good tastes, good scientific knowledge and reasoning skills, and to realize that great pleasure can be derived from very modest means.

One last point.  Owens spends quite a bit of time talking about how New York is the greenest city in America.  Yup.  We knew that.  Russ Roberts snarkily said (paraphrased) "and its not because of the raised conciousness," and Owens replies, "no, it's because of the subway system!"  Again, thanks for the snark buddy, but we knew that too.

I have a fantasy where in the future, most humans dwell in megapolises with flying, multi-level, public transit systems.  And outside of those gigantic geodesic domes?  Supporting farmsteads and factories, using recycled air, and funneling waste products into pits that recycle and reuse 100% of it, piping the materials back into those same farms and factories.  And even further, just at the horizon and extending hundreds of miles to the next megapolis?  Untouched wildlife, rainforest and desert, ice capped mountains, and oceans teaming with life.

Of course, wait, I've just given grounds to Russ Robert's real fear.  The tyranny of the left.  He's mentioned this in a few podcasts since I've been back, this oblique fear (paraphrased) "yeah, I guess we could live in a sort of tyranny, where environmentalists have all sorts of regulations.  I think they would (dramatic pause) do other things too. (insert: like rape all your babies)"  Yeah.  Cause there have been so many of us.  I mean, I guess they might cite Stalin, but Stalin was a political opportunist and a butcher, not an idealogue or even a polemist.  And it would be really atrocious if people like George Zimmerman wouldn't be allowed to procure guns, and join vigilante groups, in states that enforce rules like "stand your ground."  Seriously Russ, at worst, I think you're looking at less games like Doom 3-D and Grand Theft Auto 18.  Maybe more female empowered pornography.

After this diatribe, Russ then makes a very reasonable point:  Well, maybe we should get used to the idea that we are a consumerist society and try to come up with ways to cope with that.  Uh.  Wait.  Seriously.  Seriously?  WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT?!

Russ, no one wants to take away your lexis and force you to eat grass fed, locally raised beef.  We're all taking a stab at making things better, we're all working on it in our own way, at our own pace.  Maybe that's not enough to save the world, but its a better start than some people can even conceive of. I saw on a talk show the other day, and a woman proudly attested to the fact that she only drinks bottled water.  Said she goes through four cases of it a month.  Are there really people like that anymore?  I thought that was a hangover of the nineties!  That's what we're talking about Russ.  Helping that girl to realize the damage that she herself has caused, and hoping that she takes positive action, that really won't cost her a hell of a lot, will save her time, money, and will save us a whole lot of trash.

The podcast was crappy.  And I blame that on Russ Roberts.  He wasted a lot of time on these political sort of specious arguments and not enough on the details I usually tune in for.  I would have loved to hear more about how locavore isn't always efficient or desirable.  On the webpage they cite an article called "The Locavore's Dilemma: Why Pineapples Should Not Be Grown in North Dakota." That makes sense and confirms a whole lot of things I've thought about before.  But a read of the first 500 words of that article shows already that it isn't an article about economics, as much as it is a crybaby libertarian griping about the media.  Seriously, not a single number until about 1200 words in, and then--the number isn't even a statistic, it's a hypothetical.

Let me explain it to you again Libertarians.  You may hate us and find us annoying, think we're a freakin' broken record, repeating the same thing over again, but---we're not forcing you to do anything.  And to the extent that we can influence policy--that's called Democracy.  That's how the process works, and given the number of corporate dollars in it, its amazing we get anything accomplished at all.

Even the most extreme locavores I know, recognize that there are certain things that they want to eat that the local economy just doesn't produce.  They either skip it altogether, improvise with something else, or, wait for it...make an exception!  Just because you think in black and white, doesn't mean that we have to.  As to reforming the economy to make the improbable to the impossible happen where it oughtn't, that's not what locavorism is about.

Finally, Roberts absurdly states, that even if global warming is true (which he doesn't believe, his exact words are "I'm agnostic to the science") we should be spending our time and dollars on thinking of ways not to prevent it, but to deal with it as it progresses.  Again.

Wow, the resource bucket must be pretty shallow if we can't work on both problems at once.  Way to use your gray matter there Russ.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where are the Normal Christians - Mary E. Williams

So, I would have posted this on, but in order to comment you have to connect your social networking profile, or pay them.  Since I am unwilling to do either, I am left without a voice on my favorite e-publication.

Anyway, Mary Elizabeth Williams, whose writing I typically quite enjoy wrote a piece this morning that sort of bothers me.  My better half speaks often of a persecution complex often seen amongst the fringe.  I didn't see it on the left, but I see it now.  The gist of the article is that Mary E. Williams is pissed that "the news every night" makes Christians look to be a part of the Lunatic fringe.

Tell that to an Atheist buddy.  Go ahead.  The fact is that fundamentalist religions are an easy target, but every political debate, every political speech, appearance, or pundit ends his time with "God bless America," or some rehash of the same principle.  There is very little discourse in this country that isn't saturated, either overtly or subtly with god-loving Christian themes.  Every speech that Obama makes is positively flush with justifications about being a faithful Christian.  And whether or not he is, he has to talk that way because Amercan politics absolutely demands it.  On the other hand, Jews are very private about their faith, and you're not invited.  So you don't hear all that much pontificating on the subject.  Get us started about profanity, and promiscuity and you'll get an earful.

The fact is Mary Elizabeth Williams has mostly leftist friends.  I imagine she lives in New York or D.C. and as such, she is one of the few people she knows who is an outspoken progressive, and also devoutly Catholic.  But this isn't beyond the pale.  I mean, the Kennedys were a Catholic family, and to this day, the Kennedy name is enshrined in leftist politics.

She's a bit miffed that people like Santorum give the church a bad name, not to mention child molesters and the authorities that shield them.  But Williams' faith is not Catholic in the more conservative sense.  Frankly, I think Santorum actually is a lot more true to the tenets of the faith.  Look, if you wanted reform, it's not like you don't have a plethora of options.

That said--there is a cultural aspect to religion that we don't talk much about.  I associate as a Jew, even though, by any meaningful definition, I'm not one.  It's perfectly acceptable to associate as a Catholic, if that's how you were raised.  But to wail about perceived injustices based on those who are actually practicing the faith, well-it seems like you may have missed the point.

Of course, I like and respect the writer, so I'm not trying to start anything.  And as a piece, if her attempt is to turn the dialog to what Catholics can do to rehab their image, that's perfectly fine.  However, the piece is long, and rambling, and it isn't entirely clear what she's on about.  Particularly given that the opening paragraph is a whiny rant about being tarred and feathered for belonging to the faith of kooks like Santorum.  But Santorum isn't a kook!  That's the thing!  He's a bread and butter, believing Catholic!

She goes on to complain about atheism rallies and their condescension, which I totally agree with.  Atheists don't need a congregation.  If you're going it alone, then...go it alone. She also talks about how she learned about evolution in Catholic school.  Again, I admit I speak from ignorance, but this must be a very progressive form of Catholicism.  At some point, I think cultural adherence to a faith is wrong footed.  There are three, maybe four branches of Judaism, and each branch except for Reform Jews completely disavows the other branches.  But with Christianity there are some 25 major brands to choose from! 

At anyrate, this was all to say, I don't think Christians are persecuted.  Not by the American media.  Too bad, so sad.

She closes on a very interesting point, maybe the actual point of her article.  She depends on religion for hope. Quoting another of the faithful "'Without hope, what I see around me is all there is. I can’t move forward steadily and with resolve without my faith.'"

Mary, I'm sorry that you don't see any hope without your faith.  I just don't see it that way.  The whole point of humanism is hope.  A hope and belief in the power of what human beings can do for each other, every day.  Without help or hindrance from any external force, and to quote from The Grapes of Wrath, "Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus?  Maybe, I figgered, maybe it’s all men and women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit -- the human sperit -- the whole shebang."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cynthia Nixon - Gay Was Her Choice

I thought this was a great piece that Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory wrote about.

I have long argued that the idea of sexuality being forced by biology is arguing from a position of weakness, ultimately a much weaker argument than that of natural human rights.

But Marta Meana, says it best:

"Marta Meana, a clinical psychologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who has researched sexual fluidity, believes “it is a devil’s bargain to argue for acceptance on the basis of biology,” she explains. “The ‘I can’t help it’ argument retains the idea that something is amiss. The truly progressive stance is that all people should be treated with respect, dignity and equality regardless of the mechanisms that led them to prefer having consensual sex with one group over another, at any point in time.”"

Think about it if someone who was black, plaintively made that argument to a racist.  It would sound ridiculous, moreover, it would cede the high ground to the racist who could then argue, "Well, so you admit it.  Then you truly must be a lower human being who is generally deserving of less."

So let me borrow from Ms. Meana and rephrase.  The strongest liberal argument has always been:  "The truly progressive stance is that all people should be treated with respect, dignity and equality, regardless, of race, religion, sexual preference, or socio-economic position."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Biggest Batshits are Winning!

What's more exciting than a primary day!  Check out the New York Times for a by the minute accounting of the Iowa caucuses.

And the results are in!  Iowa is officially nuts!  Paul and Santorum (the dissolve the Fed guy, and the Racist, homophobic, biggot!)

Of course, its still too early to count.  I expect Romney will take it. 

Krugman Explains Debt

Just a quick post.  Paul Krugman explains what I've attempted on many verbose occasions to explain as well.  Why concern about the deficit is a red herring.  Read it here.