Saturday, December 20, 2008

Adulterated tastes

I prefer wine red and dry, vodka straight, steak almost bleeding with barely  any salt and pepper, beer dark and strong, coffee with no cream or sugar,  and oatmeal without any added flavors. These are merely personal preferences and there's nothing significant about anyone else disagreeing, but sometimes I wonder what the varying motivations are.

  1. Fusion can be good. Having a latte just isn't the same as drinking coffee and then milk.
  2. Some mixes are overtly functional. Mixed drinks become more popular during prohibition as a method for masking low quality liquor, and to this day college students can drink cheap alcohol thanks to coke and orange juice. Bloody Marys are a lot easier to hold down the morning after than even high quality vodka, plus they're a healthier breakfast!  Low-quality coffee, at an office or gas station (but hopefully not in a coffee drinker's own kitchen),   purchased merely for the caffiene can be improved by adding cream or sugar.
  3. Signalling something about oneself in a way that isn't pleasant for its own sake may be facilitated by something along the lines of the previous point. Somebody with no particular interest in steak, may still want to order a steak because of the connotations that go along with it. Cooking it and covering it with steak sauce until the flavor and texture distinct to the steak are lost removes all of the potential downside. Due to some cultural taboos relating to drugs, even legal ones, someone with a caffiene addiction who doesn't enjoy the taste of coffee may continue to consume it and mask its taste, rather than take caffiene pills. 
This line of inquiry isn't limited to foods and beverages, those are just the easiest groups to write about. 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What I have been reading

After reading All on Fire  and The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement I have become more interested in how ideas are disseminated. To that end, I have begun rereading Bloom's translation of The Republic. Just the preface reminds me that I want to reread The Closing of the American Mind, as well as Paradoxes of Education in a Republic. Maybe I'll be able to figure out something about the nature of blogging while I'm at it.

To anybody lucky enough to have lived in the south, I recommend a subscription to Southern Cultures. Every issue is distinct, enjoyable, and informative. The latest issue is about native americans. Among other things, the first essay deals with the absence of native americans from most perspectives on the south. 

I'm participating in this book bomb for The Founders' Second Ammendment. However, this is only a coincidence; I'm buying the book today because I have just now found out about it. Generally speaking I don't care to participate in this sort of gimmick. That mild caveat aside, I do hope that this book will offer me new ideas regarding the civic virtue of good citizens having proficiency with firearms. My investment of time and money has to be justified to myself somehow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

To all a Good Night!

I'm sure it'll be resolved by the time I wake up, but this is the best news CNN could have given me on my way to bed. No link, no article, this is just the headline.
Auto bailout dies in Senate after compromise talks fail

Monday, December 8, 2008

Liberal Arts education, and AI

This journal article about Great Books sparked a conversation about the value of the Western canon to higher education which found me alone on the defense, and most of the elite college grads sitting around the lunch table unfamiliar with the concept.

We had some commentary about the value of cultural context, specialization, and vocational studies. In hindsight, I think the question got bogged down with assumptions about both universities and students. 
  1. Universities currently offer all sorts of classes, and students should be taking those classes because at some margin they are all worthwhile (even an otherwise bad class with few students will become attractive for some students who are particularly benefited by direct interaction with professors). So it's hard to make a case for one class versus another.
  2. The students were represented by anecdotes, or by vague assumptions about what young people want to study.
These are my alternatives, which I only came up with after the fact, for facilitating the discussion about the study of a canon as part of a liberal arts education.
  1. Regardless of the varying levels of merit across current curriculums, this question is about designing a new university by allocating resources to a new set of departments(if any), professors, and courses. Covering everything, even if it is desirable for an undergraduate institution, is not a valid or relevant solution. 
  2. There's something peculiarly difficult about discussing what people ought to be studying. It makes things easier, for me anyway, to think about artificial intelligence instead. Let's say somebody else had built an AI, and I was trying to train it to be able to engage in conversation on a wide range of topics, hold gainful employment (while telecommuting, of course), and in general be able to interact successfully with the world. My resources for teaching the AI would be limited by its design to a few hundred hours of lectures, a few hundred books, periodic questions to guide study of the material, and feedback about how well the AI was able to apply knowledge when tested. Information for the AI would be selected according to how efficiently it maximized the objectives. To the extent that the canon is related to itself, studying parts of it will increase the payoff of studying other parts of it. What is Dante without his cultural and historical context? Likewise, to the extent that the canon has developed as a part of Western Civilization, being familiar with it will facilitate interactions with political, religious, and intellectual phenomenons such as democracy, monotheism, and the scientific method, respectively. Merely developing critical reasoning by studying Mayan basket weaving, or feminist literary theory, even at the doctoral level, will fail to have the same payoffs. While there may be some value to studying any random topic, value is not maximized by randomness given time constraints which only allow a tiny fraction of human knowledge to be studied.
There's an element of critical mass involved. Anything's worth studying if everybody woth socializing and doing business with is also interested in it. However, lacking an alternative, even a neglected canon serves this purpose.

The idea for reasoning about learning by imagining artificial intelligence was derived from Overcoming Bias.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Survey Says

A national poll suggests that six in 10 Americans oppose using taxpayer money to help the ailing major U.S. auto companies.

I am fully confident the bailout will pass anyway, just as the financial bailout did.

However, seeing these surveys gives me some faint hope that Rahm "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste" Emanuel, Hank Paulson, Barney "I think we have to recognize the reality that we don't have a choice now of debating whether this is a good or a bad thing" Frank, and their ilk will not be allowed to keep glorifying themseles until they bring our polity to a catastrophic end.

To be clear, Congress should not necessarily vote the way surveys indicate. Our government is not a direct democracy, and rightly so. Rather, I'm plesantly shocked that the majority of Americans oppose bailing out their auto makers. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

I miss Tanta

Tanta, a co-blogger at Calculated Risk, died Sunday. The internet will be a poorer place without her. There will be many times in the future, I'm sure, when I'll want to have her perspective. I can only hope I've been able to adopt her mode of thinking well enough to help me make sense of the world.

After leaving her job due to illness, Tanta took up blogging. I'm grateful for everything she taught me about the mortgage industry, and I'm grateful for how entertaining she made it. Even though she used a pseudonym and wrote about arcane financial details, her literary ability allowed her personality and morality to come through to her readers. She had a special insight about, and knack for, this new medium of blogging, and she'll be remembered for it. 

Tanta's comment, following her own post about reverse mortgages, hurt me in a good way.
My employer could get me to sign off on some megamillion dollar trade that risked taking the bank down with my head up and my shoulders squared. The next day I'd be backed into the corner of my cubicle, brandishing a red pen, crying out that those bastards could have my labor, they could have my dignity, they could have my soul, but they weren't taking my active voice. I dangle modifiers for no one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people

This analyzer has me pegged. I'm curious about the algorithm. Does it only consider diction? Other blogs I read receive a wide variety of results, so it isn't just randomly picking one of the nerdy personality types. Atticus, post more and we'll confuse it!

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Linked by Tyler Cowen.

Friday, November 28, 2008

House and the Drug War

Thanks to my Thanksgiving vacation, I caught a couple episodes of House during a day-long marathon. There was a lot of focus on a plot line involving House's use of painkillers and some cop's attempt to stop him.

It's good for popular culture to bring up the issue of law enforcement meddling in medical decisions. The cop's character was portrayed too favorably to rile up anybody not already morally outraged by the concept of doctors or patients being punished because some drugs are taboo, but at least the issue is brought to the attention of viewers.

If only Cindy McCain's money and John's political connections could protect everybody who has to treat their pain with medication.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Drug Warrior is Dead, another Victim Likely Going to Jail

Police knew Robert Korbe fought with officers before, but they didn't consider him heavily armed.

So federal agents and local police officers weren't wearing full SWAT tactical gear when they broke down the door of Korbe's Indiana Township home early Wednesday to arrest him on drug trafficking charges.

Here's a crazy idea: If somebody is not considered dangerous enough for home invaders to put on a full GI Joe costume, neither Federal agents nor local police officers should initiate violence by breaking into their house in the wee hours of the morning! Of course, if the suspect is actually considered that dangerous, any non-suicidal agent will try to figure out how to avoid a confrontation.

Generally speaking most people would agree that it's a bad idea for cops to attack families at home during the night. Something about the drug war turns people into retards.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Civic literacy: In the land of one-eyed men, the blind man is king.

This is the survey on civic literacy currently in the news. 
Among the 2,508 respondents, 164 say they have been elected to a government office at least once. This sub-sample of officeholders yields a startling result: elected officials score lower than the general public. Those who have held elective office earn an average score of 44% on the civic literacy test, which is five percentage points lower than the average score of 49% for those who have never been elected.

I correctly answered 33 out of 33, but I wasn't certain about a few of my answers so maybe some luck was involved.

Personal Statement for law schools

I'm applying to law schools, and so I have to write a personal statement. To keep this post succinct, I won't reproduce my statement verbatim. Here are some of the ideas I'm considering:

  • I have no profound commentary on Kafka's parable "Before the Law", or The Trial in general, but I am haunted by them. Maybe I should tell the admissions office that I'm a paranoid Jew.
  • All of the schools I'm considering cover law and economics. Based on my shallow understanding of the academic discipline, it matches my intuition well and I look forward to learning more about it. I don't know what I could do with this.
  • One of my favorite books is Restoring the Lost Constitution by Randy Barnett. His understanding of the Constitution's presumption of liberty is clear and morally compelling. What will the admissions office think if I discuss Barnett's influence on myself? I could think of one or two schools where I hope the impact would be positive, but I worry this might be a strike against me at some elite law schools.
  • A lot of the female law students and lawyers I've seen are hotties, and I want to meet more of them. Again, probably a strike against me. I also have a thing for nurses, but I can understand why healthcare workers would be motivated to take good care of their bodies. What can explain the hot lawyer phenomenon?
  • I want to go to law school because, as the Don once said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." (Sun-tzu has him beat by a few years) Another strike against me.
  • I would enjoy the reading, contemplation, and discussion of the law that I would get to experience at law school. I don't know how to tie this in to actually being a lawyer.
  • I like money.
  • Atticus Finch is my hero

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Don't bring that shit into my house.

This will be the first of many inebriated posts.

In his reply to my post below, Atticus makes a few errors:

1) It's great that you "respect the fact that he's shown a willingness to adjust his strategy." I guess I do too. However, if an abusive husband stops beating his wife, that's a great step, but the husband should still be condemned, not praised. Well, maybe that's a bad example for me to make. Nevermind.

As bitter and jaded as I am, I'm not ready to praise a politician who made a historically awful decision merely on account of subsequent corrections.

2) I'm not sure what debate you're referring to, but the core of my post was not about "what extent (if at all) the government should intervene in the free market." 

To be petty about it, the mortgage backed securities market was never free market, because Federal housing policy is fucked. To be clear, government transferring wealth from the masses to the elite isn't the free market, it's bad government. Fannie and Freddie were Government Sponsored Entities and everybody saw their securities as being implicitly backed by the government, and we've seen that promise come to fruition. Taking for granted that douchebags want the federal government to subsidize home ownership over unpatriotic forms of shelter such as apartments: why does the tax code create an incentive to have more mortgage debt, instead of subsidizing home ownership directly? 

Substantially, my post was not about the extent of government intervention. For all of its potential flaws, bank recapitalization is at least plausible.  I'm not confident that the current schemes are going to do any good, but I'm not sure they won't. Paulson's plan, on the other hand,  was explicitly dumb. It could have been $700,000,000 instead of $700,000,000,000. It would still have been dumb.  With the lower sum he might deserve to go to a higher circle of hell, but it's still a circle of hell.

3) While politics isn't about policy, Paulson's plan doesn't even deserve that explanation. The gas tax holiday was retarded policy, but at least the clique vying for the popularity contest was every American who drove a car. Paulson's bailout was for his tiny circle of Wall Street frat brothers. It was not packaged to be popular with voters. McCain and Hillary pandered to voters with the gas tax rubbish. Paulson rammed his excrement through with intimidation. If anything, concerns about the "troubled minds of consumers" are another angle for attacking Paulson, not defending him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garrison to Paulson: "When I am king, you will be first against the wall."

September 20, Paulson unleashes his plan upon the world. Highlights:
  1. Buying Mortgage Backed Securities from Paulson's Wall Street chums. Nobody wanted to buy this crap once the music stopped playing. The only way for financial firms to offload it after they had lost the game was for taxpayers to foot the bill.
  2. Contracting with financial institutions to manage the transfer of wealth. Treasury hadn't hired enough people with Wall Street experience to do the operation in house. The difficultly of setting up the necessary bureaucracy belies any legitimate sense of urgency. Since this solution would take so long to implement, its flaws cannot be excused on the grounds that something had to be done immedietely.
  3. "The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time." I believe this was contradicted in subsequent reports. There's a frightening difference between being able to buy $700,000,000,000 worth of MBS and then returning the proceeds back to the Treasury, and being able to buy and sell MBS until the entire credit line has dried up.
  4. "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
Between the demand for 700 billion dollars and the claim of absolute power, this was some scary shit. There was a lot of support for this bill based on the notion that Paulson must have some reason for making such an urgent and dramatic request.

October 14, Paulson announces a voluntary capital purchase program

November 12
Finally he gets it.

November 17 Either things aren't as bad as Paulson promised, or he finally realized that as an employee, if he doesn't know what to do with his employers money, he should stop asking for more. "The Bush administration told congressional aides it won't ask lawmakers to release $350 billion remaining as part of the $700 billion U.S. financial- rescue package."

"Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has been criticized by lawmakers for shifting the focus of the program to inject capital directly into financial institutions. His initial proposal presented to Congress called for buying troubled assets from the firms."

Paulson seems to have gone out of his way to stand out from all of the other villains culpable for this crisis. As corrupt and flawed as Fannie, Freddie, Frank, and friends are, I generally have some idea of how systematic problems encourage otherwise decent human beings to make odious decisions. Paulson is a mystery.

Edit: I am impressed by this speech by Thaddeus McCotter, who voted against Paulson's bailout. Kudos.
So you're not a Paulson fan. Can't say I am either. I do respect the fact that he's shown a willingness to adjust his strategy when it's apparent such action is necessary.

The core of this debate is to what extent (if at all) the government should intervene in the free market system to absorb the harmful social effects of an "adjustment" in the economy. I recognize McCotter's argument that the free market system is not broken. I also recognize that I haven't heard a (serious) call for the end of capitalism.

The impetus to pass the bailout package is more politics than policy, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. To illustrate my point- how terrible an idea was the gas tax "holiday" plan proposed by Hillary Clinton and John McCain back in May? Even the heightened insanity of partisan politics couldn't force Washington to take that idea seriously. But Bryan Caplan, an associate professor of economics at George Mason, wrote an interesting op-ed that explained why it wasn't as terrible an idea as everyone thought. Sure, it's bad policy, but the appearance of a government that's trying can yield greater positive effects in terms of consumer confidence than a sound policy. (Of course, George Mason can still suck my balls for ruining my bracket in 2006. I guess another recent ill-advised policy is God's way of telling them to fuck off.)

Good government isn't always defined by good policy. Though the best policy option in turbulent times may be to be patient and ride things out as the market works, the choice won't ease the troubled minds of consumers or investors. Bankrolling a compulsive gambler won't solve his problems, but helping him pay off his debts while he seeks treatment for addiction covers the short and the long-term.

So chill the fuck out.

Enough finance. Stupid Garrison.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Introduction, yo

Hello, I'm the co-founder of Pretty Girl With Scissors.

This blog will explore the framework Atticus and I have developed for understanding the world, from political affairs to misogyny.

Generally, I reject collectives (political, cultural, etc) in favor of individuals. The common wisdom seems to be to defer to the judgement of those with authority, possibly derived from many generations of the losers of power struggles being weeded out of the human tribe. I hold them to a higher moral and intellectual standard, and as such, I am prone to critizing them.

I love puppies.

Blah, blah, blah, blah. That's my translation of the above.

This is Atticus. This is our blog. This is the thesis: to cut through the spin of the mainstream Zionist blogosphere media conglomerate international consortium and discover the real truth of the most important issues of the day.

We express different opinions from different perspectives, but the goal remains the same. We want to be right, something many people sacrifice to win. I'd rather Puppy McHitabitch, my esteemed colleague, set me straight than to continue living with a flawed idea of how something works.

What's my perspective? I'm a liberal douchebag. You'll get used to it- I have.