Friday, July 31, 2009


"The lifeboat has been a place where lots are drawn to decide who will eat and who will be eaten. In 1884, three survivors of the shipwrecked Mignonette were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. They had killed and eaten the midshipman who was with them on the life raft. They were accused, Avramescu says, not because they ate their colleague (there being no law against cannibalism), or even because they murdered him, but because ‘they failed to draw lots to decide on the victim. Instead of doing so, they killed the weakest of their number.’"

That is just so practical of the magistrate. Ruled very much with justice in mind, if you ask me.


Blog posts are like Pringles.

New Hobsbawm Joint


Glenn Greenwald Speaking Portuguese


Screw Faux News

I hope to God this isn't true.

Quintuple Meta?

Done, and done.

Think tank, schmink tank

They should change the name from "think" tank to "rhetoric" tank. It's not as catchy, but they do a lot more rhetorical contortions than mental gymnastics, in my humble opinion.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009


Making it harder to join the tribe, and then make aliyah. Idiots.

The stupid!

It burns! Part II.

The stupid!

It burns!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


It's difficult to know what you can trust from CounterPunch sometimes, but this is very interesting, and if true, another example of the capture of regulation by large corporations.


"The basic error of modern macro-economics is the belief that the economy is simply the sum of microeconomic decisions of rational agents. But the economy is more than that. The interactions of these decisions create collective movements that are not visible at the micro level."

h/t Mark Thoma


What none of the people who criticize these crazy wing nuts have pointed out is that no white president would ever face this kind of scrutiny about his eligibility to be president. White dudes have a natural right to be president, but alien others like Barack Obama are automatically suspicious. Would anyone find any of this remotely believable if President Obama were white, and had an Anglo-Saxon name? I fucking doubt it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I'm Reading

"What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be."

--The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood


If you want to read something truly inane from Slate, I suggest you look here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Robert Samuelson

Is another ignoramus whose position as a person of sense and perspicacity is overblown in proportion to the size of his mustache.

P.S. I have no idea if that makes sense, but it sure felt great writing it.

Mark Sanford

Hey, Mark Sanford? Go fuck yourself, you fucking tool.

(btw, I think I got this from Mark Thoma, but I forget. Anyway, I didn't find it on my own.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Running Diary of Me Reading a David Brooks Column

David Brooks and I have a special relationship. We both went to the same university, we're both of Jewish heritage, and we like to think of ourselves as intellectuals. Unfortunately, I think David Brooks is the worst kind of public intellectual: given to sweeping generalizations not backed up by any empiricial evidence, and a generally muddy philosophical approach to understanding society. It's a wonder to me that anyone pays any attention to anything he says. That's also true about me, but I don't get paid six figures to write a column twice a week that probably reaches millions of people.

Anyway, I occasionally feel the need to vent while reading David Brooks's columns, because they are usually insipid. Usually I just complain to friends, but in the future, when I read a particularly vapid Brooks column, I'm going to provide a running diary of my thoughts as I read it, much like Bill Simmons does for various sporting events. My comment will be in italics. So here's my first attempt.

Op-Ed Columnist

No Size Fits All

If you visit a four-year college, you can predict what sort of student you are going to bump into. If you visit a community college, you have no idea. You might see an immigrant kid hoping eventually to get a Ph.D., or another kid who messed up in high school and is looking for a second chance. You might meet a 35-year-old former meth addict trying to get some job training or a 50-year-old taking classes for fun.

Because Brooks knows so much about community colleges, University of Chicago grad that he is.

These students may not realize it, but they’re tackling some of the country’s biggest problems. Over the past 35 years, college completion rates have been flat. Income growth has stagnated. America has squandered its human capital advantage. Students at these places are on self-directed missions to reverse that, one person at a time.

So noble, these community college students! Seriously, I think getting a college degree is great and all that, but lets not get carried away. Sheesh. Also, Brooks seems to want to tie the stragnation of income growth to the stagnation of growth in those who complete college. This is a favorite idea of conservative economists, that its largely a matter of training that is responsible for income inequality. This idea has been thoroughly refuted by Krugman in his book, The Return of Depression Economics.

Community college enrollment has been increasing at more than three times the rate of four-year colleges. This year, in the middle of the recession, many schools are seeing enrollment surges of 10 percent to 15 percent. And the investment seems to pay off. According to one study, students who earn a certificate experience a 15 percent increase in earnings. Students earning an associate degree registered an 11 percent gain.

Compared to what? Ugh, this is the kind of shit that drives me mad. Also, how does it compare to those who earn college degrees?

And yet funding lags. Most people in government, think tanks and the news media didn’t go to community college, and they don’t send their children to them. It’s a blind spot in their consciousness. As a result, four-year colleges receive three times as much federal money per student as community colleges. According to a Brookings Institution report, federal spending for community colleges fell six percent between 2002 and 2005, while spending on four-year colleges increased.

Erm...pointing to the totals spent at the various institutions seems like the wrong way to approach this. We should be looking at the percentage of the total costs per student that the federal dollars are paying for. Community college is much, much cheaper than going to a four year university. I'm not saying I know for sure there isn't a problem here, but I am saying that David Brooks's evidence is misleading.

Which is why what President Obama announced this week is so important. He announced a $12 billion plan to produce 5 million more community college grads by 2020.

If the plan were just $12 billion for buildings and student aid, it wouldn’t be worth getting excited about. The money devoted to new construction amounts to about $2 million per campus. With new facilities costing in the tens of millions, that’s not a big deal.

Nor is increased student aid fundamentally important. I’ve had this discussion with my liberal friends a thousand times, and I have come to accept that they will never wrap their minds around the truth: lack of student aid is not the major reason students drop out of college. They drop out because they are academically unprepared or emotionally disengaged or because they lack self-discipline or because bad things are happening at home.

Evidence please? He said, she said, it's my column, so I am right. And if students are unprepared, isn't that a problem for high schools, not community colleges?

Affordability is way down the list. You can increase student aid a ton and you still won’t have a huge effect on college completion.

What’s important about the Obama initiative is that it doesn’t throw money at the problem. It ties money to reform and has the potential — the potential — to spur a wave of innovation.

People who work at community colleges deserve all the love we can give them, since they get so little prestige day to day. But the fact is many community colleges do a poor job of getting students through. About half drop out before getting a degree.

Most schools have poor accountability systems and inadequately track student outcomes. They have little information about what works. They have trouble engaging students on campus. Many remedial classes (60 percent of students need them) are a joke, often because expectations are too low.

Again, should it be the community college's job to deal with remedial students? Isn't this a problem that has earlier roots? I mean, 60% need remedial work? That's a systemic problem, but it's origin is not in the community college.

The Obama initiative is designed to go right at these deeper problems. It sets up a significant innovation fund, which, if administered properly, could set in motion a spiral of change. It has specific provisions for remedial education, outcome tracking and online education. It links public sector training with specific private sector employers.

YES! If you pay for innovation, you will get innovation! It's a can't fail!

Real reform takes advantage of community colleges’ most elemental feature. These colleges educate students with wildly divergent interests, goals and abilities. They host students with radically different learning styles, many of whom have floundered in traditional classrooms.

Therefore, successful reform has to blow up the standard model. You can’t measure progress by how many hours a student spends with her butt in a classroom chair. You have to incorporate online tutoring, as the military does. You have to experiment with programs like Digital Bridge Academy that are tailored to individual learning styles. You have to track student outcomes, as the Lumina Foundation is doing. You have to build in accountability measures for teachers and administrators.

Maybe this proposal, too, will be captured by the interest groups. But its key architects, Rahm Emanuel in the White House and Representative George Miller, have created a program that is intelligently designed and boldly presented.

Maybe it will be captured by interest groups? How is this not a throw away line? What the fuck interest groups is he talking about? This is just red meat. "Interest groups always ruin everything!" Reader nods in agreement. What the fuck?

It’s a reminder that the Obama administration can produce hope and change — when the White House is the engine of policy creation and not the caboose.

I guess this is a shot or something at the Obama administration, but it's not clear what for. Health care? Who the hell knows. Whatever the deal is, I'm all for more focus on community colleges and higher education (seeing as I plan on working in higher education at some point), but I'm not sure the benefits of such an increased focus are those that Brooks points to.


This is ridiculous oligopolistic behavior, and should absolutely not be allowed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Roger Cohen

Whenever I see a headline that reads "Roger Cohen: The meaning of life," I cannot help but shudder.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today's WTF moment

Comes from David Brook's column:

"Her father died when she was 9, leaving one such gap. (It is amazing how many people who suffer parental loss between the ages of 9 and 13 go on to become astounding high achievers.)."

The only reason he thinks this is amazing is his prejudiced belief that only persons from intact nuclear families can succeed. Also, this is another example of how books makes assertions without backing them up with any empirical evidence. We don't care what your individual experience tells you. There are facts to be had about this kind of thing!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Social Insurance

It has often occurred to me that the combination of social insurance and business is fundamentally distasteful. The purpose of buying a social insurance policy, especially in the form of health insurance, is to protect oneself from risk: risk of natural disasters, risk of theft, risk of early death, or risk of catastrophic health problems. A business, on the other hand, is largely concerned with extracting the largest amount of profit from its customers as possible, because its fiduciary duty is to increase the value of the company for its shareholders (or just regular owners, depending on what the structure of the business is). An insurance company takes advantage of the uncertainty inherent in our lives in order to make money. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. You could argue that non-lethal self-defense weapon makers do the same thing. Where they differ is that the business model of a successful insurer consists in doing everything they can to deny your insurance claims. In order to extract as much profit as possible, they must limit their outlays, and the best way to do that is through careful pre-screening, or denial of insurance claims. Insurances companies make money by denying you the peace of mind you thought you'd purchased.

I think it is this fact that explains why people hate their insurance companies. They know the insurance companies answer to two different masters. On the one hand, they are there to protect you. On the other hand, they exist to make their shareholders money, which they can only do by denying high risk persons insurance. The profit motive harmfully interferes with the insurance company doing its best by the customer. It would be one thing if the interests of the two sides were equally balanced, but there's no reason to think that they are. The people who run insurance companies, their CEOs, get their jobs because they are good at making money, not because they are good at offering great coverage for customers. They have to do that, in so far as they don't want to go out of business, but with the monopolistic stranglehold that most companies have in various regions, they can afford to pay more attention to their bottom lines. That's why the insurance companies are so terrified of a public option for health care. I won't pretend to know the numbers on comparative performance between government administered and private health insure, but the public option has at least two enormous conceptual benefits: no profit motive, and increased competition. The government is not trying to make money from providing health insurance. The government does not serve two masters, the insured, and their shareholders. While a public plan must make sure it stays solvent, it isn't concerned with making money for its shareholders. Its sole mission is to provide health insurance to those it insures.

I said that increased competition is a "conceptual" benefit, but really, it might as well be empirically confirmed. Vast swathes of the country are covered by one or two insurers, leading to a typically monopolistic situation. Providing a public plan, which can compete on cost because it isn't trying to make money, will force insurance companies to amend their practices. This will lead to more of the money paid into the companies being disbursed to those it insures.

One can see why the insurance companies are terrified. Their long reign of extracting profit due to their insecurities of their customers would be directly challenged. The moral of the story is that the government is the correct vehicle for social insurance. We can talk about what kinds of things people absolutely need to be protected from, but it seems prima facie clear to me that the ravages of disease is one of those things.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barbara Ehrenreich

The second in her continuing series on how the recession is impacting those who have always been on the margins of prosperity. People forget how tenuous ones financial stability can be, and many do not have any margin for error. Recessions strike these kinds of folks the hardest, and there is very little in the way of support for them, outside their own familial and communal networks.

Your New York Times Ombudsman

Hard at work, in the times of the decline of newspapers, assuring the readership that the wedding announcements in the Times have ceased to be a venue merely for the fabulously wealthy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What I'm Reading

"Believe blindly everything they tell you at the (Ecclesiastical) Academy. Bear in mind that there are people who will make a careful note of your slightest objection; they will forgive you a little amorous intrigue if it is done in the proper way, but not a doubt."

--The Charterhouse of Parma

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


He might be a crazy man, and a self-promoter, and I still don't understand his synthesis of Lacanian psychoanalysis with Hegelian Marxism, but I think he is in some ways a great aphorist, in the manner of Montaigne and Nietzsche (who probably would not appreciate the comparison). How does one combine Hegelianism and pithy aphorisms in the same person? What curious dialetical process of sublation could overcome the gap between these antipodes? Truly a mystery.

What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?

UPDATE: He actually froths a little at the mouth at the end.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I'm Reading

"These are the questions that had been going through Tereza's head since she was a child. Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answers is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limits of human possibilities, describes the boundaries of human existence."

--The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Monday, July 6, 2009

More re: Douthat's odd sympathy for Sarah Palin

From The Edge of the American West.

Ross Douthat is an idiot


"All of this had something to do with ordinary partisan politics. But it had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class.

Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true.

But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don’t even think about it."

Uh...what about our boy Barack Hussein Obama? You know, the guy who actually won? The guy with an immigrant father? And a working class mother? You know, just maybe?

I think Douthat's sympathy with Palin has something to do with the fact that his columns have been almost universally panned as inane and incoherent. Which of these characteristics do you think he and she share?

Suck it, Douthat.