Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Fine Christian Man

Shorter Ross Douthat: I am so concerned about the welfare of poor white people that I want to take away their legal protections and benefits if they are disabled.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Brief Discussion About Climate Change

If this keeps up, The Atlantic is going to have to put McArdle behind a pay wall. She's too much fun to be given away for free.

Daniel Shore:2. All the carbon we're burning used to be in the atmosphere. Yet the planet supported life. Indeed, the oil we're burning comes from the compressed, decayed bodies of . . . phytoplankton. This suggests that some number of phytoplankton should be able to survive high concentrations of the stuff.

Isn't this a silly piece of reasoning? It's true that all that carbon used to be in the atmosphere - but not ALL AT ONCE. It was absorbed at low levels of concentration over millions of years and compressed by phytoplankton. Your argument is sort of like saying that drinking 12 liters of vodka shouldn't kill you, because you've had that much to drink over the last 5 years of your life.

As for the rest of the post, meh.

McMegan: Carbon concentrations in the jurassic were what, 4-5 times higher than they are today? To a first approximation, it was all in the atmosphere.

tinisoli: No, it wasn't.

McMegan: Sorry? Is this incorrect?

tinisoli: Relevance of that paper?

anirprof: It's not incorrect but it doesn't say what you are claiming.

That CO2 concentrations were 5x higher in the past isn't the same as saying that all the carbon currently contained in hydrocarbons in the crust were in the air then.

McMegan: Given that the 100 year projections involve carbon concentrations below 1,000 ppm, the statement that "all the stuff we're burning was in the atmosphere" is correct. Was every hydrocarbon in the ground in the atmosphere? Probably not. But every hydrocarbon in the ground is not recoverable, so that's not a very interesting question.

tinisoli: Why don't you just clarify what you meant and then we'll see if it actually meant what you're nor pretending it did?

McMegan: I wasn't unclear. You and Anirprof decided that I must have meant something else, and proceeded to argue furiously against something I didn't say.

The estimated reserve life of the major oil reserves clocks in at under 150 years. By then, we'll have figured out something else, or the economy will collapse anyway, and we won't need to worry about greenhouse gasses.

anirprof: Plus about four other commenters above and below this point who read it the same way, so I wouldn't be so quick to assert there was nothing wrong with the phrasing. Given what you say you were trying to communicate, TakuanSoho's comment below suggests a phrasing that makes a lot more sense than the original.

: In my experience, there are a number of issues where people stop reading about halfway through, and start arguing with the opponent in their head. This is one of them.

Brian Despain: That's one of the best quotes you have ever had Megan. This thread is great evidence for that. [Teacher's pet.]

downpuppy: And like all Megan quotes, makes more sense when you realize it's about Megan. Nobody is claiming that global warming is a threat to all life on earth, so Megan writes a post to say that everybody who claims that global warming will end life on earth is a doodyhead.

By writing it really badly & throwing in some rubbish about CO2, she gets 3 more posts to respond to people who haven't noticed that she really hasn't said anything worth reading.

double win!

Norman Rogers: Does the opponent in your head make you set fires and laugh at inappropriate moments?

Syz: Shorter Megan: After my arguments have been thoroughly debunked, I like to switch to ad hominem attacks. Also too, Zosima is a snot-nosed know-nothing brat and I really should get around to banning him cause he keeps embarrassing me with his mastery of 9th grade math.

And Now A Brief Message From Our Sponsor

And so it begins.

Mrs. Peter Suderman writes an article that, in its carefully mendacious way, attempts to minimize concern about global climate change. Mr. Peter Suderman writes for Reason magazine. Reason is funded by the Reason Foundation. The president of the foundation is David Nott, a former petroleum engineer for Shell. It is or was funded by such organizations as the Claude R. Lambe Foundation (Koch oil and gas, refining, funds Cato, Heritage, CEI, Freedomworks, Mr. McArdle's ex-employer, and many others), the Serle Family Trust (pharmacuticals, donates to biomedical research), Castle Rock Foundation (Coors, also funds Heritage Foundation), Sarah Scaife Foundation (Gulf Oil, also funds AEI, Heritage, Cato and Hoover Institution), and Roe Foundation (building supply, deeply involved in Heritage Foundation, also funds Freedomworks, Cato, Family Research Council). Other funding came from Exxon and tobacco companies.

No doubt Megan McArdle is perfectly sincere in her beliefs regarding climate change. We all know that she would never form her opinions without factual support or understanding of the underlying science. But the actual content of her post will have to wait until we have more time--unless someone beats us to it first.

ADDED: In the comments, McArdle patiently explains the science to scientists who misunderstand her because "people stop reading about halfway through, and start arguing with the opponent in their head." Also, McArdle tells us peak oil is moot since we have 150 years of oil left.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Guts And Glory

It's Day 7 in the Countdown To Doom, and Megan McArdle is still plugging away at her devastating critique of Elizabeth Warren. (We shudder to think of the ammunition McArdle is amassing to be released in a fireball of factual destruction.) In the meantime, McArdle manages to make time to discuss if Medicaid kills more people than it helps. Lesser minds might automatically react with disdain. How can it possibly be worse to get medical attention than not get medical attention? Megan McArdle is glad you asked, and is happy to clear up the confusion for us.

But before we start, we would like to congratulate McArdle for expanding her base of knowledge and pool of sources and resources. McArdle approvingly quotes National Review On-Line and discusses the article's pros and cons, and links to a climate change denier for another, who says things like, "I understand that this is exactly what the Left is shooting for - an environment where the competent have no advantage over the incompetent." She also linked to Red State a while back, and of course links to her friends at Reason. Not everyone who wishes to remain respectable would do that.

We wish to congratulate her for being more accepting of new or less fashionable sources than most in the media. Of course, television dips from this well often, putting your Michelle Malkins and your Eric Ericsons on the payroll, but nobody respects any of them anyway. The Atlantic is different, and it is extremely tolerant of McArdle to link to partisan political think tanks and organizations and oil-and-gas-fueled climate change denialist magazines. Some might say that McArdle is devaluing the brand by linking to "disreputable" sources, but David G. Bradley obviously disagrees. You don't rake in that corporate cash by being picky!

Back to McArdle's post. McArdle acknowledges that some might think getting health care is better than not getting health care. Perhaps Medicaid has problems because the poor suffer from generally poorer health than the more wealthy, McArdle admits, and she has heard that Medicaid's prenatal care and maintenance care has helped many people. But when faced with evidence one should take extra care, because you never know.

That said, I take seriously [Avik] Roy's warning not to reject the notion that Medicaid might be worse than no insurance simply because it violates our "common sense" intuition. Policy history is full of "common sense" policies that didn't work, and our intuition that Medicaid must be better than nothing is not obligated to actually be correct.

Take war. Common sense tells you that wars waste money, time, lives, and infrastructure, and damage the human soul. But just because common sense tells us war is terrible, that does not mean that common sense has to be right. War might be good, because just think of all the people who might have been killed by long, lingering deaths instead. War ended that future pain with one big boom! Common sense was wrong, and this poor suffering soul was relieved of his lingering death!

Everything I know about Medicaid confirms that it is a terrible program on many levels, with a dysfunctional payment system and a byzantine bureaucracy, and procedures that vary wildly from one state to the next. While I assume it is probably better than having no insurance, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's not much better. And whether or not you think it is actually killing people who would be better off with no insurance at all, there's no question that it could be massively improved. [emphasis added]

As we can all plainly see, common sense and facts must be questioned when they conflict with assumptions. McArdle already knows that Medicaid is so bad that nothing could fix it and no health care at all would be better than its ministrations. She already assumes that any benefit is negligible, and even if it isn't, what does it matter when there is so much room for improvement? It's much better to go with one's assumptions than facts because assumptions are what you know in your gut to be true, and facts are just what other people tell you is true.

And what are you going to believe, your gut instincts or your lying eyes?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Poor Will Be With Us Always

Megan McArdle reads that credit card laws favor the rich over the poor, but is unimpressed.

To be sure, the current system benefits the wealthy most. But that is broadly true of many business models; shall we outlaw Costco because the poor cannot afford lavish pantries and large chest freezers in which to store their warehouse-club bounty?

McArdle also thinks that affirmative action is unnecessary because the poor rarely go to Harvard anyway.

This is not to make fun of liberals or conservatives who think that more poor kids ought to go to Harvard; that would indeed be nice. But the fact remains that very few kids are going to go to Harvard, no matter how you play around with their admissions formula.

You could read the entire thing, but then you would be encouraging The Atlantic to continue their own affirmative action policy of hiring the incompetent.

ARMed, Yet Out Of Bullets

Another Cookie of Gratitude goes to IrvineRenter, who analyzes Megan McArdle's post on 30-year fixed rate mortgages so we don't have to. (Via commenter Mordo at Fire Megan McArdle.)

Another Ignorant and Misguided Attack on the 30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage
The 30-year fixed rate mortgage provides a reasonable balance between affordability and buying power. Historically, it has been associated with stable housing markets. Despite these facts, some foolishly want to see it replaced with adjustable-rate mortgages.

I recently wrote the post Government Bureaucrat Recommends Against 30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages. The author of that article wrote a scathing and dismissive rant against the 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and he provided no rational arguments for his opposition to its widespread use. I thought it was a one-off written by a crank who had too much coffee that day. Apparently he has company.

I am prone to write stinging rebukes to poorly written garbage on the web, but when I call someone out, I will devote the post to building a factual argument as to why they are wrong. I never ask anyone to just take my word for it because I am some kind of expert. Authority comes from the presentation of data in a compelling argument. Mindless rants don't make authors an authority, it makes them lunatics.

The source article for today's post is horrible. I don't know if the writer is a lunatic, but she certainly is very wrong about her reasons for opposing the 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

IrvineRenter goes on to explain the drawbacks of adjustable rate mortgages, which we have amply seen in the last couple of years. He or she does a good job of identifying all the methods McArdle uses to sway her audience in lieu of facts and reason.

It is rare that I find an article that annoys me as much as that one. I don't mind that people promote their agendas. I do it. I just prefer it when people do so with rational arguments based on facts and data. The piece of crap this woman wrote reads like something from a tawdry political blog. Many of the best articles I have read on the web have come from the Atlantic. This isn't one of them.

Countdown To Doom: Day 6

The nation is perched on the edge of its seat as we approach Day 6 of the Countdown To Doom, the day Megan McArdle will demolish Elizabeth Warren's claims of scholarship for once and for all.

On a fateful day nearly a week ago, Megan McArdle revealed her diabolical plan to unleash such a devastating critique of Elizabeth Warren that McArdle would destroy for all time any plans Warren had for wrapping her ideological tentacles around the innocent, wide-eyed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Part 1 of her attack, Considering Elizabeth Warren, The Scholar, revealed that Warren was using what McArdle considered to be bad data, and that Warren's ideological dishonesty made her deliberately obscure important facts that would discredit her theories. This theory was quickly picked up and spread--but not fast enough!

This devastating post should have created a wave of distrust that would have drowned Warren in righteous fury, but sadly that did not occur. An angry mob of frothing ideologues went on the attack, maliciously and venomously pointing out that McArdle did not prove her statements. They said that she was the only one foolish enough to make this easily disprovable claim, her claims were refuted by the very evidence she used to support them, she used faulty logic, and she mislead by omitting data. But they'll get their comeuppance, oh yes they will! Any day now!

We will count down the days until McArdle unleashes Part 2, eagerly awaiting McArdle's detailed, fact-based, impeccably argued assessment of Warren's work and the twisty inner working of her tricksy mind. McArdle said on Day 4:
As I’m going to write in the next few days, the thing I don’t like about Warren is that she’s sloppy with data, and also that her mistrust manifests itself in paternalism. It’s one thing to think consumers would be better off without certain kinds of credit; it’s another thing to be positively certain that you’ll be making them better off by making such credit unprofitable.

How will Warren manage to worm her way out of such inexorable opposition? Grab some popcorn and a soda, put up your feet, and tune in to The Atlantic to see!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Failing Upwards

Megan McArdle tweets:

I'll be on Kudlow around 7:10 defending letting the Bush tax cuts expire.
3 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Defending the expiration of Bush's tax cuts? But she famously defended keeping the tax cuts since they only amounted to $25/person (wrong), it wasn't legal anyway (wrong), and would force the wealthy to Go Galt (laughable).

It's nice to know, however, that if you are wildly and consistently wrong, you will be rewarded with career-boosting appearances on television.

David Brooks Is Very, Very Concerned

No cookie for you.

David Brooks sneakily and cleverly* pretends to be a liberal so he can suggest conservative talking points.

I was a liberal Democrat when I was young. I used to wear a green Army jacket with political buttons on it — for Hubert Humphrey, Birch Bayh, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. I even wore that jacket in my high school yearbook photo.

It’s a magic green jacket. I can put it on today and, suddenly, my mind shifts back to the left. I start thinking like a Democrat, feeling a strange accompanying hunger for brown rice.

When I put on that magic jacket today, I feel beleaguered but kind of satisfied. I feel beleaguered because the political winds are blowing so ferociously against “my” party. But I feel satisfied because the Democrats have overseen a bunch of programs that, while unappreciated now, are probably going to do a lot of good in the long run.

We do detect some hot air, but as Brooks gives no proof or even examples of the dangers Democrats are facing, we're not too concerned about it.

For example, everybody now hates the bank bailouts and the stress tests. But, the fact is, these are some of the most successful programs in recent memory.

Liberals wanted Main Street stimulus, not Wall Street bank bailouts. Which Brooks deliberately conflates.

They stabilized the financial system without costing much money. The auto bailout was criticized at the time, but it’s looking pretty good now that General Motors is recovering.

But the magic jacket-wearing me is nervous about the next few years. I’m afraid my party is going to get stuck in the same old debates that we always lose. First, we’re going to have the same old tax debate. We’re going to not extend the Bush tax cuts on the rich. The Republicans will blast us for killing growth and raising taxes as they did in 2000 and 2004.

If liberals are afraid to run against the Republicans' record of disastrous financial governance and starvation taxation, they deserve to lose.

Then we’ll get stuck in the same old spending debate. We’ll point to high unemployment and propose spending programs too small to make much difference. The Republicans will blast us for bankrupting the country with ineffective programs, and the voters are so distrustful of government these days that they’ll side with the Republicans on that one, too.

If the Republicans want to run on getting rid of Social Security and refusing to extend unemployment, then by all means they should do so. In fact, we insist.


So I sit there in my magic green jacket and I wonder: What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe? Then I remember President Obama’s vow to move us beyond the stale old debates. Maybe he couldn’t really do that in the first phase of his presidency when he was busy responding to the economic crisis, but perhaps he can do it now in the second phase.

Let me guess--he should enact conservative policies.

Not much is going to get passed in the next two years anyway, but the president could lay the groundwork for a whopping second-term agenda: tax simplification, entitlement reform, a new wave of regional innovation clusters, a new wave of marriage-friendly tax policies.

In other words, tax cuts, gut Social Security and Medicare, tax cuts, and tax cuts.


Eventually, I see a party breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again, and I start feeling good about the future. Then I take off the magic green jacket and return to my old center-right self. A chill sweeps over me: Gosh, what if the Democrats really did change in that way?

Yes, Democrats, untold power and success lie just beyond your grasp! All you need to do is become a conservative, and your inevitable success will be your ticket to political dominance!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Supplemental Reading

Because most of Megan McArdle's distrust of Elizabeth Warren comes from Warren's bankruptcy study and because I will be out most of the day, here are links to my assessment of McArdle's earlier posts on that study. Note that in the comments it becomes clear that McArdle either confuses or conflates percentage of bankruptcies with number of bankruptcies. It's really quite remarkable.

From June, 2009: Hacks and Hacks II: The Overreaction.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Think We're Going To Need A Bigger Cookie Jar

Tom Levenson has an elegant description of Megan McArdle's latest attempt to turn Elizabeth Warren into a pinata for the right to bash.
To do so she tries to impugn both the quality and integrity of Warren’s scholarship, and she does so by a mix of her usual tricks — among them simple falsehoods;** highly redacted descriptions of what Warren and her (never mentioned) colleagues actually said;*** and descriptions of Warren’s work that are inflammatory — and clearly wrong, in ways she seems to hope no one will bother to check.****

You can see the footnotes for quick examples of these sins. Here, I’ll confine myself to pointing out that in this post you find McArdle doing the respectable-society version of the same approach to argument that Andy Breitbart has just showed us can have such potent effect.

To see what I mean, you have to follow through two steps: how McArdle constructs her picture of a feckless, partisan and dishonest Warren — and then how she generalizes from it.

And indeed, when we google "megan mcardle elizabeth warren" we see that the right is jumping on the "feckless, partisan and dishonest" message that McArdle is pushing. The first thing we see is The Atlantic Wire post ("what everybody's thinking") that states:
First off, The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has studied Warren's scholarship and finds it deeply lacking in academic rigor. In one instance, McArdle argues that Warren inflated the number of household bankruptcies caused by medical expenses in order to justify universal health care. Warren analyzes society's ills in a way that suggests there is "no possible solution outside of a more left-wing government," McArdle writes. That doesn't lend itself to being a good agency head[...].

Their counterweight to their seconding of McArdle:
On the pro-side, is Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel who says Warren's wit and colloquial demeanor make her the perfect candidate[...].

"Colloquial manner" versus dishonest and biased. We wonder which version the right will pick up. From The Corner, who often quote McArdle:
The Atlantic Stacks the Deck [Ramesh Ponnuru]
Its website reviews the debate over whether Elizabeth Warren should head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. On the con side it cites Megan McArdle, who "has studied Warren's scholarship and finds it deeply lacking in academic rigor." On the pro side there's Katrina vanden Heuvel, "who says Warren's wit and colloquial demeanor make her the perfect candidate." I'm inclined to side with McArdle, but boy is this not a fair fight.

Of course Business Insider and Instapundit link, as they always do. Joe Weisenthal:

Elizabeth Warren's Medical Bankruptcy Study Gets Demolished
Meanwhile, Meghan McArdle is writing a long, two-part post on Warren's career as a scholar and Harvard. McArdle takes a dim view of her research.

Read more:

Heh. Note he misspells her first name. The link leads to this:
TARP watchdog Elizabeth Warren has played an important role in fighting abuses of the federal handout, but the knock on her is that she's too much of an ideological activist, and that she's in over her head in the role.

As we all know, whenever we are told what everyone else is thinking, those thoughts invariably are talking points that the right wants to disseminate.
Warren is a bankruptcy lawyer and Harvard professor, with a particular interest in how the financial system hurts the "little guy."

That's fine, and it's not a bad thing to look at how the maze of insurance and mortgages and all that stuff look to the person signing their name on the dotted line -- where they're getting confused, etc. That being said, a professor's work should strive towards some kind of dispassionate "truth", whatever that means.

And it seems in her latest work -- a study claiming that medical costs now account for a stunning 70% of bankruptcies, up from 50% last time she looked -- is just pure nonsense.

Megan McArdle (who you may know from dropping the hammer on Edmund Andrews) rips it to shreds, noting that what Warren ignores it that bankruptcies on the whole have come down (significantly) over the last 6 years, and then 70% of the new number would still be 50% of the old number, so even medical-related bankruptcies have been coming down.

Now, some might defend Warren and say, that, well if her numbers are correct, it still shows that medical costs are the dominant contributors to bankruptcy, even if they've fallen along with the total number of filings. That may be so, but it's not actually saying that much. Because the problem she's trying to address is bankruptcy -- the issue is the devastating financial impact from medical bills (not the same thing). The latter is definitely concerning. Bankruptcy is symptom. But by taking misleading bankruptcy numbers, she can overstate how bad the medical bills situation is.

McArdle also did a followup post here, which is worth reading, emphasizing just how significant the question is, particularly coming from the person who's also playing such an important role in the bailout.

The Washington Post political economy blog pairs someone from the Peterson "Institute" and McArdle with Robert Shiller and someone from The American Prospect, as if they all were on the same level.

The Wall Street Journal says in an article on Warren:
For those and other comments, Ms. Warren has drawn the ire of Wall Street commentators including the Atlantic's Megan McArdle and former bank analyst Tom Brown. The most-often repeated criticism is that her background, as a bankruptcy law professor with a focus on consumers, doesn't qualify her to comment broadly on banking.

Ms. Warren has made so many enemies inside and outside the Beltway, it makes one wonder if anyone is listening at all.

Economics of Contempt links to McArdle and states that they are glad Warren is being criticized. The Volokh Conspiracy also links and quotes McArdle's statement that Warren's data is dishonest, as do various small right-wing blogs. The talking point will be spread until the big media jump on it, and the conventional wisdom will be that Warren is shoddy and dishonest.

And McArdle will cash another paycheck, her rich reward for doing her part to destroy a political enemy and deprive herself and us of a tiny bit of leverage against overwhelming corporate control.

TBogg adds to the smackdown.

UPDATE: McArdle responds to Levenson, with typical erudition and grace.

Tee-hee! Some idiot snipped out a portion of my post in order to accuse me of--selectively reading someone else's work.
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

You almost feel sorry for her until you realize that she'd cheerfully garrote you and leave you by the side of the road if Jamie Dimon asked her to.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

You're On Your Own

In this, the best of all possible world, the Land of the Free Market and the Home of the Brave Libertarian, every problem is merely an opportunity for the savvy businessperson or consumer. We don't need regulations because when a person or business produces a bad product, everyone will not buy it and the business will be forced to improve quality. Equilibrium will be maintained and we are free of the regulations that just mess up the orderly ebb and flow between consumer and producer. Let's ask Megan McArdle what she thinks about regulation.

For instance, should the financial industry have been better regulated to prevent the housing bubble?
When I try to get people to specify, beyond those four rather anodyne [regulation] suggestions, we should do, there's a lot of hemming and hawing. Even the left-wing think tankers sort of look at their shoes and whisper "We need a better regulator". At which point even the left-wing journalists in the audience start asking "Where are we going to find regulators who understand this better than the guys at Goldman Sachs--and are willing to work for, say, a GS-13 salary?" The only people who confidently state that they have a surefire master plan to fix the problem are, not to put too fine a point on it, morons with very limited understanding of financial markets. These people generally start by talking about how the Bear Stearns crisis can really be traced back to the repeal of Glass-Steagall, then almost immediately reveal that they know nothing of Glass-Steagall other than its name.

I have tried all sorts of ways to ask these questions. Nor am I engaged in "libertarian gotcha"; though the game is hours of fun, I am not actually against better or even more regulation of investment banks*. I just want to know what sort of regulation we are going to have; I am against doing something for the sake of doing something.


But the fundamental question that no one ever answers is simply "How will the regulatory agency be any smarter than the banks?" The political process and existing regulatory infrastructure did about as well at anticipating and preventing the current problems as the banking system did. As I say above, this question usually gets asked by liberal journalists. And its usually answered by an honest and intelligent liberal policy wonk forthrightly saying, in essence, "I have no idea."

Indeed. It's much better to do nothing and experience a global housing bubble than risk enacting a bad regulation. Everything is too hard and nobody ever knows.
What we need, fundamentally, is not simply stricter regulation or less greedy bankers. What we need is better economic theory of how these things play out, so that the regulators have better tools to assess and prevent systemic risk. But that's not how we're thinking right now. What we're looking for is not better tools, but someone to blame.

Shame on us, thinking that better regulation will help us when what we really need is better theoretical thinking. Especially when regulation doesn't work anyway.
I think systemic resolution is important, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on systemic risk. But Tyler is probably right that we cannot get the financial regulation we want until we decide what we want: low inflation, low interest rates, and broad credit availability; or low risk and low profits in the banking sector.

I'm also generally skeptical that we're going to achieve the implied goal of making sure that financial crises never happen. If anyone, including congressmen or regulators, had believed that there was a reasonable risk of the financial crisis we just experienced, it never would have happened. That's what you have to fight, not some perceived imperfections in the regulatory structure.

And for god's sake, leave poor Alan Greenspan alone. Just because he encouraged everyone to take out bad loans doesn't mean he encouraged everyone to take out bad loans.
Gramm/Greenspan haters from the left: If regulation is so impotent that a single rule change, or even two, can leave the system vulnerable to this kind of collapse--indeed, make it worse with other rules that are still there--then why the hell do we bother regulating? If your regulators need to get it right 100% of the time, we might as well pack it in now, because there is no system on earth that can guarantee no one will ever be wrong. If one guy can leave us in a position where the regulatory system makes things worse rather than better, we may well be better off without the regulatory regime.

Paul Krugman disagrees.
Most of what Alan Greenspan said at last week's conference in his honor made very good sense. But his words of wisdom come too late. He's like a man who suggests leaving the barn door ajar, and then - after the horse is gone - delivers a lecture on the importance of keeping your animals properly locked up.

Regular readers know that I have never forgiven the Federal Reserve chairman for his role in creating today's budget deficit. In 2001 Mr. Greenspan, a stern fiscal taskmaster during the Clinton years, gave decisive support to the Bush administration's irresponsible tax cuts, urging Congress to reduce the federal government's revenue so that it wouldn't pay off its debt too quickly.

Since then, federal debt has soared. But as far as I can tell, Mr. Greenspan has never admitted that he gave Congress bad advice. He has, however, gone back to lecturing us about the evils of deficits.

Now, it seems, he's playing a similar game with regard to the housing bubble.

At the conference, Mr. Greenspan didn't say in plain English that house prices are way out of line. But he never says things in plain English.

What he did say, after emphasizing the recent economic importance of rising house prices, was that "this vast increase in the market value of asset claims is in part the indirect result of investors accepting lower compensation for risk. Such an increase in market value is too often viewed by market participants as structural and permanent." And he warned that "history has not dealt kindly with the aftermath of protracted periods of low-risk premiums." I believe that translates as "Beware the bursting bubble."

But as recently as last October Mr. Greenspan dismissed talk of a housing bubble: "While local economies may experience significant speculative price imbalances, a national severe price distortion seems most unlikely."

Wait, it gets worse. These days Mr. Greenspan expresses concern about the financial risks created by "the prevalence of interest-only loans and the introduction of more-exotic forms of adjustable-rate mortgages." But last year he encouraged families to take on those very risks, touting the advantages of adjustable-rate mortgages and declaring that "American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage."

If Mr. Greenspan had said two years ago what he's saying now, people might have borrowed less and bought more wisely. But he didn't, and now it's too late. There are signs that the housing market either has peaked already or soon will. And it will be up to Mr. Greenspan's successor to manage the bubble's aftermath.

Why are we reviewing McArdle's attitudes towards regulation? Well, it seems that the happy couple is having a bit of trouble with their rented house.
Lawyers out there: what are your legal rights the third time the plumbing breaks and floods the house?
about 4 hours ago via TweetDeck

@elfrankenstino Rent, and it's a row house
about 3 hours ago via TweetDeck

@earldean71 What is constructive eviction and why is it dangerous?
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

earldean71 I'm curious more than practically interested
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

(Her correspondent tells her that it is being unable to live in a rental because of substandard living conditions that have the same result as eviction--one is unable to live in the place one rented, but judges don't buy it unless you have actually been driven from the house.)
@earldean71 Well, technically we have been, since we are afraid to use the plumbing, but I'm not looking for anything that involves bailiffs
about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

No, technically McArdle is still living in the house. So technically she hasn't been driven from the house. When you don't bother with facts, the truth is whatever you choose to believe. A judge will disagree, but they're just party poopers who don't understand that the elite get to make up their own facts.

I called a lawyer friend, and he explained the legal options and came up with an answer. His response:
They're fucked.

The landlord is not breaking the law. McArdle can't break the lease either. She will have to find another way to get the landlord to do the right thing. The Washington Post, in an article about DC renters' rights, says:
The District of Columbia Housing Code (DCHC) is enforced by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Housing Regulation Administration (HRA)."

DCRA publishes the "Tenant's Guide to Safe and Decent Housing." This 30-page booklet summarizes the Rental Housing Act of 1985, and Chapter 14 of the DC Municipal Regulations (DCMR), which cover the city's laws and regulations for rent-controlled apartments."

So ultimately McArdle is dependent on a consumer protection agency, which is pretty funny because she is currently trying to ruin the reputation of Elizabeth Warren, who is trying to create a financial consumer protection agency and is being considered to head that agency. For McArdle, the idea of siding with consumers over bankers is the worst sort of heresy, so we devoutly hope that McArdle isn't forced to give up all her most cherished ideas and seek redress with an agency that should have never been created in the first place, according to her ideology.

More on McArdle and Warren later. It's almost beyond belief that McArdle would depend on her debunked criticisms of Warren, which are full of inaccurate statistics and ideological bias, to state that Warren can't be trusted because her work is full of inaccurate statistics and ideological bias, but self-knowledge is not exactly a characteristics of the willfully blind authoritarian follower.


Packing up the valuables and refugeeing to Petworth for the duration
about 1 hour ago via TweetDeck

She will insist on using that word, no matter how stupid it makes her look.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Keeping The Little People In Line: How Authoritarians Maintain Dominance

Professional Submissive Rod Dreher wrote that Truth is information disseminated by the authoritarian leadership and whole-heartedly accepted by the authoritarian followers. Authority, like power, is given. One way to maintain authoritarian control is to use appeals to authority to slap down dissent, which can undermine authority if it is not eliminated. Let's watch Megan McArdle, our favorite authoritarian leader wannabe, attempt to maintain her authority in the face of criticism.

The back story: (feel free to skip if you are up to date)

Zosima, let me see if I can put this kindly. Or frankly, let me not. Your obnoxious student crap is getting incredibly old. In fact, it was old when I was ten, because I come from a family of academics, and you're not even very good at it.

Knock it off and talk like an adult rather than like an anxious freshman who hopes that he can use arrogance as a substitute for manners and insight, or get off the board. You never had any realistic hope of intimidating me into conceding to your superior intellect, because as I mentioned, I come from a family of academics who are actually intellectually intimidating. But any hope you had was long ago squandered in our various interactions, where you have demonstrated a tediously mechanical grasp of talking points you've heard elsewhere, an imperfect familiarity with your intermediate coursework, and what seems like some sort of nascent personality disorder.

I've no doubt that you are charming and erudite in person, with many friends who respect your intellect and your deft wit. But for some reason, that is not shining through here. You haven't violated any explicit rule of the board except one, which is that you are annoying the hell out of me, and contributing nothing to the discussion. If this continues, I will ban you.

If you were better at contempt and sarcasm, I might let you stay, but I'm afraid it's just not your metier. You might experiment with respectful interaction, which is always welcome.

That's funny, because I was thinking the argument you're making sound like that annoying kid from the freshman macro class. They're almost completely non-specific(except for the ones you got wrong). That kid is finally coming to realization that economics is imperfect, but doesn't really understand why, or understand the ways by which we would measure how wrong.

p.s. It sounds like I hurt your feelings, if you look back through our comment history, you dish the ad hominem out as much or more than you take it. (Your previous post being an excellent example) But you're perfectly within your rights to restrict who speaks on your blog. I would think it hypocritical, but then, I wouldn't be surprised either.

I might add that I generally find your posts irritating, as well. What frustrates me is that in the world of internet blogging you have a plethora of excellent resources, and excellent options for arguments, but the arguments you choose are so mind-numbingly banal, that they make me want to bang my head against the wall. Nothing is certain in this world especially in research, and 75% of the points you make boil down to a restatement of this claim. I criticize, because I hope that eventually you'll stop scratching the surface; realize that lack of certainty is not a reason to change anything. But you're right, I can't see that I've made any difference.

Let's look at McArdle's response in detail, to pick out the methods she uses to impose dominance to maintain authority when she has not earned it by virtue of education, self-improvement, or achievement.
Ooooooh, snap!

More-in-sorrow-than-in-anger requires making some point I find at least tangentially interesting.

As brad says, the Lady of the Manor has spoken. The little people are here for her amusement, or she would not bother with them at all.
On a serious note, don't worry that you hurt my feelings. Mosquitos don't need to hurt my feelings to piss me off.

Slap-down number 2: you're nothing compared to me--a nuisance, an insect.
I don't like nasty internet invective.

When somebody else uses it. Only Authoritarian Leaders can use invective to keep the followers in line; when followers use invective it is insolent and shows a lack of humility.
And not because I'm not good at it. Invective is fun, but entirely counterproductive, which is why I deploy it only with people who a) use it liberally themselves and b) have ignored myriad previous warning shots across the bow.

Invective is very productive, which is why McArdle doesn't want it used against her and why she routinely uses it against others.
Contempt is only a good arguing tool if the person you're arguing with wants your respect.

Wrong again. By showing contempt instead of respect, you are refusing to acknowledge the authority of the object of contempt.
And, respectfully, you haven't earned mine, so I don't really care about yours.

To earn McArdle's respect, a person must be either an acceptable Authority of higher rank or a person of lower rank who does not criticize or challenge--that is, question the authority of--McArdle.
Only the very young, the very stupid, or the very insecure are impressed by the condescension of random others, and alas, I am no longer any of those things.

Since McArdle routinely uses condescension, as she does in these passages, she is showing her hand by making this statement. She deliberately insults people to put them in their place and thereby maintain authority.
Had you attempted straight argument, stripped of the attempt to project a superiority you didn't work for, you might have won that respect; there are a lot of liberals whose opinions I do care for.

So much projection, so little time. McArdle will not attempt straight arguments because she fudges the facts to win arguments. She attempts to project an air of superiority by repeatedly telling others she knows more than they. She named her blog Asymmetrical Information, for god's sake--she knows what she's talking about and you don't. And her respect must be earned while she demands that everyone else automatically respect her authority.
You are very welcome to attempt to be one of those liberals; or you can go away. But the very next time you express the merest sliver of contempt for me, or anyone else on this thread, I'll ban you.

Dissent must be banned because it threatens authority. If people start to question authority, authority is destroyed.
Note to others, ideologically sympatico or not: this is one of my periodic housecleanings. Be nice to one another. Both liberals and conservatives have fallen prey to my axe before, and I'm ready to start swinging again. You know I love each and every one of you, but that doesn't mean we can all live in the same house.

She says she loves them yet she demands absolute obedience and insults them frequently. She's going to be one hell of a mother.

Zosima responds:
FYI, the substantive arguments are above, you've pretty much dropped those. Your stated preferences and self-aggrandizing descriptions aside, you demonstrate a revealed preference for content free invective both through the posts you choose to respond to, the relative length of those posts, and your tendency to escalate ad hominem battles rather than defuse them.

p.s. I could care less about your respect. I see mistakes and I correct them. I learned a while ago that it helps to direct your attention to the more consequential arguments if I give you a little prod.

McArdle later says, in response to someone else:
Zosima has been substituting condescension on a near-daily basis for substance since HCR and I've finally had enough.

Correcting mistakes is condescension--that doesn't even make sense in an authoritarian framework. Correcting mistakes is a simple matter of fact, but this is McArdle's authority on the line and she must call it something else to hide her factual mistakes or lies and maintain her manufactured air of authority.
ADDED: McArdle has erased her post. It's not the first time and no doubt will not be the last. (Thanks, brad.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Hunting Of The Snark Cookie Of Gratitude: Let's Hear It For The Commenters!

Megan McArdle's Commenters, these cookies are for you!

Megan McArdle sees someone suggest that Bush's tax cuts for the rich should be eliminated and the money used for better purposes, and she decides that it just wouldn't make any difference. McArdle's problems with the argument:
Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post has asked what we might be able to do for the economy if we repealed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and spent the money on something else. The result is a nice post full of graphs, but the answer seems to be "not much"--the very best estimate is that we get about $75 billion in added economic activity, or about $25 for every person in the country.

The first two commenters correct her math. "Or $250, whatever," says the first. The second: "Using current census data, I get $244 per person, but yes let's call it $250, Megan was off by a factor of 10." McArdle and math are two ships that pass in the night, never to have contact. Fortunately her commenters are available to do her long division for her.

That, mind you, requires some pretty big assumptions.

For starters, it assumes that the rather optimistic estimates of Mark Zandi about the size of the stimulus multiplier are correct. Estimating stimulus multipliers is incredibly difficult when you try to do it at the macro level (how much spending equals how much extra GDP), and even more difficult when you try to figure out whether food stamps are better than a jobs program--the examples are fewer, and the amounts are smaller, making it hard to pick up direct effects.

Commenter zosina:
So after the bad math and bad macro we're left with....multipliers are hard to estimate. Not incorrect, but the estimates we have are not pulled out of thin air, but based on a lot of empirical research, soooo, I'm not feeling it is a very strong objection, especially in light of the fact that she doesn't assert any reasons why we should expect that they're wrong. This like Megan noting that designing skyscrapers is hard. True, but unless she has a reason why there is a problem with the design for this particular skyscraper, the fact that it is hard isn't a reason not to build it.

It also assumes that any measured increase in GDP measures some improvement in human welfare. It is trivially true that if you increase one component of a measured variable, that variable will get bigger. It's much harder to know that any particular increase in GDP represents a real change in human welfare, or merely moving chess pieces around the board.

It's the old "it's too hard to understand" trick, as Maxwell Smart might say.

Commenter zosina:
This is true, but utterly banal and irrelevant. Almost all discussions in policy, including many that Megan has involved herself in, use GDP as an imperfect metric of welfare. This isn't perfect, but there are many good reasons for believing GDP is a pretty good metric of welfare. For example, Okun's law, which is actually an extremely well supported conjecture that GDP and unemployment are negatively correlated.

This is my favorite part. McArdle:
Too, this basically assumes that there are no dynamic supply-side effects from the tax increase. And it assumes that the multiplier from a tax cut is the same as the lost GDP from a tax increase, which is not necessarily the case--where you start matters. In this case, we're starting in the middle of a recession, when people may find a tax increase more worrying, because they're already feeling more financially insecure. To be sure, that worry might push them to work harder, or to hunker down and do as little as possible. But there's no reason to think that it's somehow steady state through good times and bad.

In a time when income inequality has soared, McArdle wants to tell us the rich are so worried about income insecurity that they would not spend money if their taxes are raised.

Inflation adjusted percentage increase in mean after-tax household income between 1979 and 2005.

This ignores the incredibly low tax rate for the rich, the actual amount of money the very rich have, their use of tax shelters, and basic human nature. The rich are not checking their on-line bank account every day to see if they can afford a new Prada bag. They have more than enough money to spend and probably will not cut back their hours running global companies because mean Mr. Obama raises their tax rate.
This is why conservative leaders want to put Reagan on Mount Rushmore.

This entire argument is silly. As if we'll just hand out $250 dollars to every person in the country. What a ridiculous idea from Megan and [other commenter].

These tax cuts (along with other Bush policies like medicare part D and unfunded war) have been the primary contributors to the debt over the last decade, along with the lagging business and poor growth.

The idea that if wealthy people have slightly less wealth they'll dramatically affect jobs or the economy is just silly. How can 3,500,000 people possibly move a consumer economy of $14 trillion in any appreciable way?

Unless your assertion is that they regularly engage in orgies of spending, specifically because of these tax cuts and the moment they are repealed they will come to their senses and stop buying stuff? Maybe they'll realize they don't need all those helpful staffmembers and servants and unemployment will go up? They'll stop investing and stuff their mattresses?

My experience is that the wealthy don't spend much money at all - that's why they got there and continue to be there. I think your theory is crap.

Back to McArdle:
Finally, it seems to assume that we could repeal the Bush tax cuts this year. We can't. As far as I know, you can't tax peoples' income retroactively, a legal nicety that considerably frustrated Congress in dealing with the AIG bonuses. By the time Congress actually got around to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, they'd be getting ready to repeal themselves. It would be a pointless waste of legislative energy this late in the game.

Congress can change the rules for any taxable year which has not yet ended without causing any Constitutional problems. Basically they have until, depending on how you count, April 15 (assuming they don't change the filing date before then) of the next year to change the rules for the previous year. An argument could be made that they really only have until December 31st - though I know they've changed rules in the taxpayer's favor after that but before April 15 - but in either event they can change anything for year when the final tax due is not yet determinate.

What I remember from previous mid-year tax increases (IANAL and IANACPA) is that Congress can, and has, increased taxes mid year and it has been effective as of the start of the year. (A quick wikipedia search on ex post facto laws shows that this goes back to Calder vs. Bull in 1798!)

Especially when you think that the cheery estimate is a gain of $75 billion, which sounds like a lot in terms of my income, but is, in terms of our national income, the equivalent of one extra pizza party per person. I like pizza and all, but I think we have bigger issues to worry about right now.

Let's see: (1) you got the amount wrong by a factor of 10 (which weren't so bad if you didn't make such a big deal of that amount, but you did, with 'one pizza party per person' and all); (2) you were wrong on Congress' ability to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the current year; (3) even if you'd been right about that, FY 2011 (starting Oct. 1) stimulus such as Matthews proposes could be funded by repealing the Bush tax cuts effective 10/1/2010, which is in the future; (4) there are going to be no 'dynamic supply-side effects' of a tax increase, on top of the usual multiplier, in a world where we've got far more available goods, services, and labor than people are able to purchase - i.e. the supply side is already full to bursting; (5) it would be hard to make up a hypothetical route of the economic multiplier effect that *didn't* improve human welfare - and since while there are exceptions, increased GDP generally correlates with increased human welfare, the onus is on you to show how it wouldn't, in this case; and (6) sure, the amount's still not huge, but dammit, those of us on Matthews' side of this debate would LIKE a much bigger additional stimulus; his point was that, failing that, doing a little bit is better than doing nothing, and if paying for it is the hangup, here's one way to get a little bit of stimulus while actually paying for it at the same time.

How did McArdle take all the corrections? I'm glad you asked. Like this:
You're [zosima] wrong about [supply-side effect], since Matthews is discussing repeal now, not future opportunity cost, and no, it doesn't model the dynamic supply side effects, which don't necessarily take place in the same time frame as the stimulus. It is absolutely true that we have to used measured GDP, but the point is hardly trivial, and matters more depending on context. In this context, it's not clear, for example, that increasing measured GDP is decreasing unemployment or by how much, since it is, as you know doubt know, a lagging indicator.

But thanks for playing, and there will be some lovely parting gifts.

And this:
Zosima, let me see if I can put this kindly. Or frankly, let me not. Your obnoxious student crap is getting incredibly old. In fact, it was old when I was ten, because I come from a family of academics, and you're not even very good at it.

Knock it off and talk like an adult rather than like an anxious freshman who hopes that he can use arrogance as a substitute for manners and insight, or get off the board. You never had any realistic hope of intimidating me into conceding to your superior intellect, because as I mentioned, I come from a family of academics who are actually intellectually intimidating. But any hope you had was long ago squandered in our various interactions, where you have demonstrated a tediously mechanical grasp of talking points you've heard elsewhere, an imperfect familiarity with your intermediate coursework, and what seems like some sort of nascent personality disorder.

I've no doubt that you are charming and erudite in person, with many friends who respect your intellect and your deft wit. But for some reason, that is not shining through here. You haven't violated any explicit rule of the board except one, which is that you are annoying the hell out of me, and contributing nothing to the discussion. If this continues, I will ban you.

If you were better at contempt and sarcasm, I might let you stay, but I'm afraid it's just not your metier. You might experiment with respectful interaction, which is always welcome.

(She's 37, by the way, not 17, despite all appearances.) You see, because McArdle was raised by a family of intellectuals (her daddy was a lobbyist, her mother was a real estate agent and caterer whose family were dairy farmers), she also became intellectual by osmosis. She didn't need to study or learn, she just soaked up that elite knowledge by growing up with smart people. Which is why all children of intellectuals are intellectuals as well, and why the elite is so very very smarter than the rest of us.

Although we grew up in a family of smart-asses, so maybe there's something to that theory after all.

ADDED: Atrios notes McArdle's mad math skillz, as does Avedon Carol. Aimai adds her comment to McArdle's post, which we will reprint for posterity since it will probably irritate McArdle.


Hm, lets see if the site lets me post. Can I ask whether this long, incoherent and off point attack by Megan on poster zosina is, in fact, by Megan? I mean, look--for one thing the "Megan" in this post claims to be the child of academics when the real Megan, as far as I know, is the child of a former public employee turned lobbyist and a realtor. Second of all the real Megan presumably grasps that "being the child of academics" doesn't actually amount to an argument. No, really it doesn't. Actually, and for real, I'm the child of a Nobel Prize winner and for kicks I'll add I'm a third generation Harvardite. So what? This really, really, really, never comes up in academic arguments which are actually won and lost not by some kind of bizarre blood test but by concrete arguments. The "you are tedious and lack charm" argument is also one that I have yet to see adduced in a respectable discussion. Certainly, on the basis of the evidence from this thread, its hard to tell which of the two of you, the "megan" poster and the zosina poster is the younger. If I didn't know that the real Megan is 37 I'd have had to award this avatar the palm for most juvenile approach to intellectual discussion. Finally, I have yet to see the imaginary comments "Megan" refute any of Zosina's points. If this thread "Megan" isn't the real Megan I think the real Megan might want to step in and clean up the comments by deleting her. But if she is the real Megan I think the Atlantic might want to step in and jerk the blog entirely. This is a positively craptacular piece of incoherent special pleading on Megan's part, from the first post to the comment thread. Really, its shameful. And you don't have to be the "child of academics" to know that.


Actually, it would explain a lot if McArdle's posts were the product of a teenage performance artist. McArdle finally does refute zosina's points, with a predictable lack of success.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Religion And Authority

Rod Dreher, "an intellectually serious and culturally engaged Christian," discusses authoritarianism. Or, as he puts it, Truth.

The question of authenticity depends on authority. A friend and I last night were talking about authority and the Catholic Church, and he made the important point that authority only has meaning if it has been accepted by the people.

That is far more true than people realize. Power is given, not taken. We tell ourselves that the powerful control us but they do so only with our permission. If we revolted as other nations did when their living conditions became intolerable, we could take back control and the elite would be in their graves.

What we see among many, many Catholics today is a rejection of traditional Catholic teaching about authority, and the installment of the subjective individual as one's own Magisterium.

The reason conservatives hate the 1960s is because people of different sexes or races or ethnicity refused to accept white males' description of and opinion about them. They rejected the absolute authority of the white male and his proclamations of what everyone should and should not believe. White males said that everyone else was stupid, lazy and slutty, and without them, white Christian males, the entire world would collapse. Any visible signs of this rejection drives them into a fury, such as overt homosexuality, women in pants, men with long hair, or successful Black and Hispanic men and women.

These are the times we live in: the essence of modernity, or at least one essence of modernity, is the radical exaltation of the Self.

You hear that, people? If you don't obey White Males, you are elevating yourself over White Males, and that's very bad. Bad, bad, selfish woman or dark-skinned man, to think that you know what is right instead of your White Male Authority. And since God is a White Male Authority, you're even going against God! Who is White! And Male!

Yet my friend is certainly correct: authority, even external authority, means nothing if it is not inwardly appropriated, and furthermore, if that inward appropriation is not shared by others.

This just knocks my fucking socks off. Dreher realizes, dimly, that the people in power impose their version of reality upon others, and that his and their authority means nothing if they can't brainwash people into accepting it and have an entire society constantly reinforcing it.

A revealed, dogmatic religion like Roman Catholicism will have a very difficult time in conditions of modernity, precisely because we are all conditioned to think in terms of the Self as the final arbiter of truth.

Poor, poor Catholic Church. How it suffers because women look at the Church's teachings about the role of women in society and decide that they will follow their own heart and make their own plans, instead of thinking and feeling and doing only what they are told is okay for women to think, feel or do. And let's not even get started on the gays. You see, if you think for yourself you are rejecting the authority of White Males, from God on down to that guy at the convenience store who orders you to smile because he doesn't like to see a pretty young woman with a frown on her face because women should look pleasant and biddable at all times.

To exist in proper relationship with the Truth, I believe, requires passionate inward appropriation of external, objective realities.

In other words, to know if something is true, you must go to the authority and they will tell you what is true. Whatever they say is your Truth. To determine the truth for yourself is selfish, wrong, and immoral, because only the God-backed Authority can do that. And you and everyone else must embrace this Truth with all your heart, or people will question the absolute authority of the Absolute Authority.

The key point is faith that there is a such thing as religious truth independent of my own subjective judgment. If people don't believe that, I don't see how a religion like Christianity is sustainable over the long term, at least not in any meaningful sense.

Since you have no way of knowing if your Authority is correct or not, you must have Perfect Faith that they are correct. The more faith you show, the more obedience you show to your Authority. The crazier your beliefs, the more faith you show.

And we wonder why our country is in so much trouble. We obey our Wall Street Elites and can't believe that they were stupid and dishonest. It must be the fault of the brown-skinned Community Reinvestment Act, since White Male Authority can't be wrong. We cheer our military and give them whatever they want, all our money and our sons and husbands, yet we lose wars anyway. It can't be that our White Male Authority betrayed us to sell guns and grab oil-rich countries. It must be the fault of those brown, immoral Arabs. And what happened to America's jobs? It can't be that the White Male authority is trying to ground down wages to third-world level. It must be the fault of women and illegal brown people for taking jobs away from white men. Authority is always right. Authoritarian followers are always right as long as they are obedient. And everyone else is a threat to the social order, because if even one small child points out the Authority has no clothes, all of Western Civilization will crumble.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Poor Victim Contemplates His Fate

Shorter Ross Douthat: Why should poor minorities get scholarships when poor whites, the salt of the earth and the defenders of our faith, do not?

Douthat wants to claim that cultural bigotry is keeping the poor out of the aristocracy. It's not income inequality, the result of out-of-control and unregulated capitalism. It's not the end of the American Dream of rising to a higher class. It's the university admissions offices, who are liberal and hate the poor and patriotic.

Ross Douthat Eats Breakfast:

Hmm, what do I feel like eating today? I could have oatmeal. That's conservatives. Good, hearty, heavy, oatmeal. But I hate oatmeal. I want French Toast. But that's French, and I hate the French because they envy us for our masculinity. No French Toast. Maybe doughnuts. That'll show the Nanny-staters. Lots of fatty doughnuts. But doughnuts are eaten by cops and cops are lower class. Maybe I could eat a cruller. That's higher class. What's more elite, a bear claw or a cruller? But the doughnut shop has doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles and that's gay and anything gay makes me extremely uncomfortable and gives me flashbacks of those times at my summer camp for young gentlemen of good family. I'll have eggs and toast. That's safe. Pastry is a liberal plot to corrupt American masculinity anyway.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

White On White

Kathryn Jean Lopez twitters:

"john tesh will join me live this hour." best news i've heard on msnbc in a long time.
about 23 hours ago via web

And after that she had a white bread and mayonnaise sandwich and some vanilla pudding and read Chicken Soup For The Bland Soul.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Well, slap my ass and call me Susan. Megan McArdle links to Glenn Greenwald, because he criticizes a Democrat. I guess she doesn't think he's a sock-puppet ninny who uses too many words--now.

The Esteemable David Brooks

Brooks in paradise

Let's face it, David Brooks isn't very bright. However he has a fine grasp of the obvious, if the obvious is conservative conventional wisdom, and it's taken him far. But when you substitute popular misconceptions for evidence and wisdom, you're going to end up saying stuff that's just stupid.

Let us enter, you and I, into the moral universe of the modern narcissist.

Immediately Brooks is in trouble, for he is using a word with an actual definition, and Brooks only fares well when he can make up his own words.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy."[1]

The narcissist is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness.


The etiology of this disorder is unknown, according to Groopman and Cooper. However, they list the following factors identified by various researchers as possibilities.[4]

An oversensitive temperament at birth
Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem
Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents
Severe emotional abuse in childhood
Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for poor behaviors in childhood

These characteristics were explained by Alice Miller. A sensitive child who feels deeply, a gifted child in Miller's words, who is given love and attention only when he satisfies his parents' emotional needs will grow up twisted and unable to love. Brooks, because he is ignorant, slurs neediness into vanity. Narcissism doesn't mean you think you are the greatest thing on earth. It means you constantly seek the attention and love you did not get in childhood by obsessing about yourself and what others think about you. You must constantly be praised and envied because you were never given attention and love for who you actually are, you only got them if you acted in ways that pleased other people. It is the opposite of excessive self-esteem and vanity.

The exploitative, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, disregard for others, and constant need for attention inherent in NPD adversely affect interpersonal relationships.

And it also affect everything else about a person; their religious, political, social and even trivial entertainment views.

Some narcissistic traits are common and a normal developmental phase. When these traits are compounded by a failure of the interpersonal environment and continue into adulthood, they may intensify to the point where NPD is diagnosed.[5] Some psychotherapists believe that the etiology of the disorder is, in Freudian terms, the result of fixation to early childhood development.[6] If a child does not receive sufficient recognition for their talents during about ages 3–7 they will never mature and continue to be in the narcissistic early development stage. It has been suggested[6] that NPD may be exacerbated by the onset of aging and the physical, mental, and occupational restrictions it imposes as can most personality traits.

Brooks acknowledges this definition, but, without making the slightest attempt to corroborate his claims, states that the definition is now considered wrong. By David Brooks, at least.

The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself.

There used to be theories that deep down narcissists feel unworthy, but recent research doesn’t support this. Instead, it seems, the narcissist’s self-directed passion is deep and sincere.

His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.

And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force.

Brooks parrots the words but obviously doesn't understand their implication. Someone secure in his self-belief to the point of "deep and sincere" grandiosity isn't threatened by criticism. Someone with doubts is.

Mel Gibson seems to fit the narcissist model to an eerie degree. The recordings that purport to show him unloading on his ex-lover, Oksana Grigorieva, make for painful listening, and are only worthy of attention because these days it pays to be a student of excessive self-esteem, if only to understand the world around.

Gibson's father is a radically fundamentalist Catholic, Holocaust denier, and all-around extremist. (We are very fortunate to have Arthur Silber's thoughts on Hutton Gibson, a textbook example of parental abuse warping his son's outlook.) He said, "The greatest benefit anyone can have is to be a Catholic. You have the lifelong satisfaction of being right," and obviously has spent his entire life telling everyone else that they are wrong and he is right.

Gibson is an outspoken critic of the modern post-conciliar Catholic Church and is a proponent of various conspiracy theories. He disseminates his views in a quarterly newsletter called The War is Now! and has self-published three collections of these periodicals: Is the Pope Catholic?, The Enemy is Here!, and The Enemy is Still Here![6][19]

Gibson believes that the Second Vatican Council introduced explicitly heretical and forbidden doctrines into the Catholic Church in order to destroy it from within.[citation needed] He also holds that every pope elected since John XXIII, inclusively, has been an anti-pope or illegitimate claimant to the papacy.[citation needed] This doctrine is called "Sedevacantism", from the radices Sede ("See") and vacante ("vacant"), and affirms that from 1958 until the present the Holy See is being occupied by invalidly elected, imposter "popes".[citation needed]


At the January 2004 We The People conference, Gibson advocated that the states secede from the Federal government of the United States and that the United States public debt be abolished.[21]

Gibson garnered widespread outrage when remarks questioning how the Nazis could have disposed of six million bodies during the Holocaust were printed in a March 2003 New York Times Magazine article.

[snip]"The entire catastrophe was manufactured, said Hutton, as part of an arrangement between Hitler and 'financiers' to move Jews out of Germany. Hitler 'had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs,' he said".

Gibson was further quoted as saying the Second Vatican Council was "a Masonic plot backed by the Jews"[2] and that the September 11, 2001 attacks were perpetrated by remote control: "Hutton flatly rejected that Al Qaeda hijackers had anything to do with the attacks. 'Anybody can put out a passenger list,' he said".


In the early 1990s, Gibson and Tom Costello hosted a video called Catholics, Where Has Our Church Gone?[26] which is critical of the changes made to the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council and espouses the Siri Thesis that in 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, the man originally elected pope was not Angelo Roncalli, but another cardinal, "probably Cardinal Siri of Genoa" (a staunch conservative candidate and first papabile).


Gibson endorsed Ron Paul for President in the 2008 United States Presidential Election.[29] In January 2010, he made an appearance on the far-right-wing radio show, The Political Cesspool, to promote his views.[30]

The man who reveled in always being right brainwashed his son into hating Jews, women, blacks and himself. But Brooks has a different, imaginary interpretation.

[T]he sad fact is that Gibson is not alone. There can’t be many people at once who live in a celebrity environment so perfectly designed to inflate self-love. Even so, a surprising number of people share the trait. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health suggested that 6.2 percent of Americans had suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, along with 9.4 percent of people in their 20s.

In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.

That doesn’t make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.

Authoritarian leaders do not want people to have self-esteem. It makes it much, much harder to manipulate and control them. Instead of merely pushing their buttons, you have to use facts and logic to persuade people, and that's a tiny problem when you are trying to convince them that we need to drill for oil offshore or neglect our infrastructure or invade other countries. Authoritarian followers are horrified at the idea of self-esteem because their leaders tell them it is bad, and they are terrified of being rejected for holding opinions that displease their leaders/God/parents, which all run into the same Disapproving Authority that must be feared and obeyed. The last thing in the world David Brooks will approve of is self-esteem.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teacher For A Day

Megan McArdle loves her some teachers, as long as they are the elite.

Teach for America Attracts an Elite
Jul 13 2010, 12:22 PM ET Comment

I'd argue that in an ideal world, teaching needy kids would be a higher status, more sought-after job than corporate law. And apparently, we really do live in the best of all possible worlds.

That's lovely, but how long do they teach?

In the past much of the organization's efforts have been tightly focused on recruitment, but are now shifting to boost the retention rate. Teach For America also reports that 34% of alumni teach at their placement schools for a third year. Many others go on to teach elsewhere, especially at KIPP charter schools and other schools founded by Teach For America alumni. Still others train for administrative positions, and Teach For America now reports that 63% of its alumni are working or studying in education.[9]

Sixty-six percent abandon the school that hired them to bring their specialness to the poor and struggling masses. They find easier jobs elsewhere or move up the ladder into administration. Some seem to have the attitude of corporate CEOs, who treat each job as an opportunity for personal advancement instead of dedicating their career to running an organization well.

Teacher Turnover and Attrition Rates are High [pdf]

The facts about the teacher retention problem speak for themselves. Turnover forteachers is significantly higher than for other occupations (see Figure 1).1Based on analysis of the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics for the1999-2000 school year, it is estimated that almost a third of America’s teachers leave the field sometime during their first three years of teaching, and almost half leave after five years (see Figure 2).2In many low-income communities and rural areas, the rates of attrition are even higher (see Figure 3). The attrition rate for those who enter through some “alternative” pathways can be as high as 60 percent.3

As a result of high attrition rates, despite their best efforts to recruit new teachers,many of our schools wind up with a net loss each year. In 1999, for example, our schools hired 232,000 teachers who had not been teaching the year before (i.e., new teachers hired who were not simply moving from one school to another). But the schools lost more than 287,000 teachers who left for other occupations that year—55,000 more than they hired (see Table 1a). When we see reports about how many teachers need to be hired this fall, we should be asking instead: “How many teachers left last spring? And why?”

As we explore the numbers and the accompanying figures, it is important to recognize that the teacher retention problem crosses all communities and all sectors of education (see Figure 3). Teacher attrition is highest in low-income communities, and in private schools, but suburban schools and affluent neighborhoods are not immune.

The retention problem plays itself out, to a greater or lesser extent, in every state.In Texas, which is one of the more dramatic cases, the problem was the focus of a recent report, which revealed that of the over 63,000 teaching positions in the state that needed to be filled in the 1998-99 school year, most of the openings (about 46,600, or 74percent) were due to teachers leaving the profession prior to retirement. In comparison,11,000 (17 percent) of these vacancies resulted from teacher retirements, in approximately 5,700 (9 percent) of these positions were created to accommodate increasing student enrollment. Crucially, many of the teachers who left the profession had not been teaching for very long. Between 1993 and 1996 as many as nineteen percent of the state’s new teachers left the profession after their first year.

I saw a lot of those one-year teachers. Many were unwilling or unable to take the constant insults meted out in schools, from condescending administrators, defensive parents and disturbed children. Their insulting paycheck is the last straw. Schools need dedicated principals who will involve his or her students' parents in the school as much as humanly possible. They need well-paid teachers who will stay in the jobs and improve their skills. It takes years to become a good teacher and disciplinarian. And they need a community that doesn't call them stupid, overpaid, lazy teat-suckers so the schools can be sold off to private corporations.
(Edited after posting, even more than usual)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cheap Shot

Ann Althouse:

Drunk, stoned, old, stupid... you know, this may be why I enjoy listening to Rush Limbaugh.

She doesn't mean what she seems to mean, but who could pass up that quote? I'm only human.

A Suggestion

If I were the advice-giving sort, which I usually am not, I'd advise Ta-Nehisi Coates to start explaining who the Black Panthers were. The right is conflating them with the hate group the New Black Panthers, and his father's reputation will be trashed if everyone lets them get away with this.