Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time To Dust Off That Romney Body Pillow

When you lose K-Lo, who never met a baseless, illogical belief that she didn't embrace from the bottom of her gullible heart, you know you're no longer considered serious candidate material.

As buzz reignites that Sarah Palin might enter the race, it’s worth listening to what the former vice presidential candidate has said repeatedly: It’s still relatively early. She may simply be discerning her most constructive role in politics and culture as we move toward 2012 and beyond. She’s a woman of talent and experience, with a following and the ability to get people talking. She has a power. Her key question is how to use it for the most good.

Her latest book, "America By Heart, got less attention than her first one," "Going Rogue," because it didn’t have the benefit of being a much-anticipated insider look at a guarded public figure. But it was a bestseller and she used it to shine a light on good people doing good things. Maybe she will do that as a candidate. Maybe she will continue to do that on Fox News or maybe she transitions into a different kind of Oprah.

Stick a knife in her. Palin's done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking Part 3

When life hands you lemons, just make shit up. Image from these wankers.

Chapter IV The Immovable Movers

“A simple rule in dealing with those who are hard to get along with is to remember that this person is striving to assert his superiority; and you must deal with him from that point of view”
Alfred Adler

Earlier in our story we learned that the world was divided into two groups, the superior and the inferior. The superior group, which is very small, is made up of extremely intelligent men and women who live only to triumph over others. The second group is the lice, the looters and moochers, who live only to drag down the Ubermensch as they are jealous of the latter's ability and vitality. Tragically the lice are winning; they are too numerous to fight and too tiny to step on.

Her work was all [Dagny} had or wanted. But there were times, like tonight, when she felt that sudden, peculiar emptiness, which was not emptiness, but silence, not despair, but immobility, as if nothing within her were destroyed, but everything stood still. Then she felt the wish to find a moment's joy outside, the wish to be held as a passive spectator by some work or sight of greatness.

Dagny is an inhuman creation. She bears no resemblance whatsoever to a real person who feels the full gamut of human emotions and forms connections with other people. She loathes everyone and everything about her world. As Dagny walks home from her day at the office she is overcome with disgust at the taste and achievements of everything she sees. She spends the entire walk figuratively telling the world to get off her lawn, the losers. She hates modern music, "a long screech without shape, as of cloth and flesh being torn at random." She hates modern books which attack businessmen for their greed, modern movies with their conventional sexual morality, and everyone who reads those books, goes to those movies, or visits decadent modern nightclubs.

What had she hoped to find?--she thought, walking on. These were the things men lived by, the forms of their spirit, of their culture, of their enjoyment. She had seen nothing anywhere, not for many years.

The past is always a better place in AS, just as Rand's childhood was a better time, of servants and lessons and comfort, and, if not love, at least a sense of belonging. Protected by her parents' wealth, revolution and war and starvation were distant things. But they could not protect her forever and as she grew to adulthood life became harsh and uncertain. Rand, smart and stubborn and prickly, whose opinions once formed were formed forever, fixed on the masses, the common man, as the source of life's suffering. They were inferior and jealous, just like cold, mistrustful, serious little Alisa's schoolmates and playmates. All they all wanted to make her suffer, as she had suffered at the hands of Russian revolutionaries.

Dagny finally reaches her apartment, a nearly empty penthouse. She sates her need for greatness by listening to Richard Halley's last work. He is the only composer Dagny likes, and, of course, the only one worthy of appreciation.

It was his forth Concerto, the last work he had written. The crash of its opening chords swept the sights of the streets away from her mind. The Concerto was a great cry of rebellion. It was a "No" flung at some vast process of torture, a denial of suffering, a denial that held the agony of the struggle to break free. The sounds were like a voice saying: There is no necessity for pain--why, then, is the worst pain reserved for those who will not accept its necessity?--we who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?...The sounds of torture became defiance, the statement of agony became a hymn to a distant vision for whose sake anything was worth enduring, even this. It was the song of rebellion--and of a desperate quest.

"We who hold the love and the secret of joy." Dagny's a special little snowflake, who alone appreciates that which is good in the world. Everyone else but a few Ubermensch--bad. Dagny and and the few people she considers equals--good.

Is it any wonder that 14-year-olds adore this book? The struggle to break free from the oppression of family and the fantasy of the perfect life after freedom is achieved, the certainty that they and they alone understand human feelings and needs, and the self-pity that accompanies the hormonal agonies of suffering they feel they are forced to endure. Throw in a a clique of back-stabbing girls or a vampire and you've got every teen show on the CW.

Rand expositions that Halley had been ignored by the dull masses until he reached middle age, at which time the dull masses suddenly recognized his genius--the "man who could give to sounds a greater eloquence than they had ever carried." His first great work of art was a retelling of the myth of Phaeton.

[Halley] had changed the ancient Greek myth to his own purpose and meaning: Phaethon, the young son of Helios, who stole his father's chariot and, in ambitious audacity, attempted to drive the sun across the sky, did not perish, as he perished in the myth; in Halley's opera, Phaethon succeeded.

Of course he did. In our fantasies and daydreams we always come out on top. Phaeton was not strong enough to control the sun chariot, but try telling that to a 14-year-old.

Phaethon: Dad, can I drive the chariot today? You let Aeetes drive the chariot when he was my age.

Helios: Sorry, son, Aeetes was a lot stronger than you. You'll have to wait another year.

Phaethon: That's not fair! You always loved Aeetes more than me! I know I could do it!

Helios: Not until you're 18.

Phaeton: That is so lame! And it's not like I have anything else to do. Everyone else goes to Crete and Mycenae during vacation and we never go anywhere!

Helios: All right! You can drive the chariot, but only if you're careful and you don't go too fast.

Phaeton: Great! Don't worry, I'll be successful because I have the audacity to strive for greatness. As the child of a great man, I'm sure to be great too. What could go wrong?

Phaeton's ambition and audacity were more important than silly things like ability, strength and training. He dared to reach for greatness and such heroic characters deserve recognition for their specialness. People who were born to greatness like Rand deserve credit just for seeing their own unlimited potential. Reality is too boring, too small for such giants. A mediocre career as a screenwriter and novelist, hampered by a tendency to have her characters spout political philosophy instead of dialogue, wasn't enough for Rand. She had to recognized and lauded for her intellect, as she was is childhood, and if her reality wouldn't recognize her greatness then by golly Rand would create one that did.

During this time Rand wrote Red Pawn, in which a heroic woman infiltrated a Russian prison camp to save her husband. Both the bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her and the camp commander sacrificed himself so she could be free. In The Night Of January 16, an independent young woman who refuses to bow down to society's pressure to conform to its morality is put on trial for murder. Both a bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her. We The Living was the story of a young woman's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk suffering at the hands of the Communists while trying to become an engineer and keep her ideals alive. Both the bad guy and the good guy fall in love with her.

Making yourself the hero of your stories isn't necessarily bad. In the hands of a good writer it won't make very much difference to the reader. In the hands of a bad writer, however, the wish fulfillment overtakes the story:

Note that self-insertion isn't automatically bad. After all, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a hero in your favorite show — provided that you remember to insert your flaws as well as your fantasies. After all, not everybody loves and adores you in real life, so they're not all going to love and adore you in a fanfic, either. Play it this way, and even if somebody does notice that you've just written an Author Avatar, they probably won't mind too much. Self-insertion, complete with flaws and realistic reactions from everyone involved, is just as good a way to make a new OC as any other. What was originally a self-insert can even adapt and evolve into a genuine Original Character.

Even hooking up with your dream character can be acceptable provided they do so realistically..... The trouble is that a new writer doesn't think about that. They think only about ways in which their Author Avatar can be perfect, can within minutes hook up with the sexiest character available, cure their faults, force their beliefs on others, and ninja-kick their way to being the hero, rather than working on a realistic way they can enter the plot.

While Dagny's soul is crying out in pain, stabbed to the core by the looters-n-moochers who are trying to destroy her, her brother James is busy with his own looting and mooching. After a tryst (sordid and unemotional) with his girlfriend (unattractive, bitchy and badly dressed), James gets the bad news that the San Sebastian Mines and his railroad line were nationalized by Mexico. He joins the Board at a hasty meeting and takes credit for Dagny's foresight, then meets with her to joyfully break the news that the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule has passed.

The Rule collectivizes the railroad industry and Rand describes it in loving detail. Railroads would be forced to provide service to unprofitable areas and eliminate new competition in overbuilt areas. Dagny is enraged by this interference in the free market, because in a Rand fantasy the railroads did not need government laws, powers and funds to join major business centers and the only bad monopoly is a government monopoly. James is thrilled; that'll teach his know-it-all sister, and punish her for her competence! Dagny tries to reason with her competition in the West, Dan Conway, the owner of the Phoenix-Durango line, but he's been broken by the looters-n-moochers. Dagny says:

If the rest of them can survive only by destroying us, then why should we wish them to survive? Nothing can make self-immolation proper. Nothing can give the the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can't be punished for being good. One can't be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we'd better start slaughtering one another, because there isn't any right in the world!


I thought there was room enough there for both of us.... Still, if I found that there wasn't, I would have fought you, and if I could make my road better than yours, I'd have broken you and not given a damn about what happened to you. But this---Dan, I don't think I want to look at our Rio Norte Line now. I.... Oh, God, Dan, I don't want to be a looter!"

Rand was a Fundamentalist. Like Ross Douthat, clutching his Bible in wild-eyed panic to defend himself from the invisible hordes who want to snatch it from his pudgy, soft white hands, Rand divided the world into The Chosen and the Gay-Eat-Gay Rulers Evil Barbarian Hordes. Rand witnessed the rise and fall of revolutions and the convulsive violence of the struggle for power and learned the exact opposite of what a normal, feeling person would learn. In Dr. Zhivago, the author shows that the revolution ruined lives and caused a tremendous amount of human suffering; in AS, the socialist revolution ruins machinery and makes the trains run late. Rand's father lost his business so the most important thing in the AS world is owning businesses, running them the way one wants to, and keeping all the profits. If Rand's father were a poet she probably would have created a pale, cliched, badly written copy of Dr. Zhivago, in which all of the world's unappreciated poets rise up and slaughter the modernists.

Fortunately for Dagny's tenuous sanity, the next person who walks through her office door is The Colorado Kid, Ellis Wyatt.

The man who entered was a stranger. He was young, tall and something about him suggested violence, though she could not say what it was, because the first trait one grasped about him was a quality of self-control that seemed almost arrogant. He had dark eyes, disheveled hair, and his clothes were expensive, but worn as if he did not care of notice what he wore.

"Ellis Wyatt," he said in self-introduction.

She leaped to her feet, involuntarily. She understood why nobody had or could have stopped him in the outer office.

Wyatt thinks Dagny agrees with the Dog-Eat-Dog Rule and coolly tells her that she must do a good job transporting his oil across the country or he'll destroy her. Dagny is mortified that he believes she is a looter, or perhaps a moocher, but she is also elated to find another UUbermensch.

She wanted to tell him of the years she had spent looking for men such as he to work with; she wanted to tell him that his enemies were hers, that she was fighting the same battle; she wanted to cry to him: I'm not one of them! But she knew that she could not do it. She bore the responsibility for Taggart Transcontinental and for everything done in its name; she had no right to justify herself now.

I'm not one of them. I'm special. Yet Dagny actually does something to back up that little cry of superiority; she accepts responsibility for her actions. Fundamentalist worshippers always pick and choose which beliefs they will follow, abandoning ones they don't find emotionally satisfying and emphasizing the ones that make them feel special, so we are accustomed to seeing Libertarians ignore this very important aspect of Randian greatness. Nothing is ever anybody's fault, things just happen for systemic reasons and assigning blame and punishing the elite for their illegalities is just looking backwards instead of forwards. Dagny would have bitch-slapped your typical Koch-fed Reason Libertarian into next week for daring to make excuses about economic failure. Excuses are a sign of weakness and the mewling weak must be eliminated before they drag everyone down into the dirt with them. The only exception is the very few members of the rabble who worship the Ubermensch, who achieve a little bit of greatness by recognizing Rand's Dagny's greatness.

Dagny now has nine months to build the Rio Norte Line to Wyatt's oil fields in Colorado. She meets with Hank Reardon in his offices and he agrees to provide the Reardon Metal rails in time, for a hefty profit. He and Dagny work out the deals of the contract, which passes for flirting with them.

His smile had a discernible quality now. It was enjoyment. "You always play it open, don't you," he asked.

"I've never noticed you doing otherwise."

"I thought I was the only one who could afford to."

"I'm not broke, in that sense, Hank.

"I think I"m going to break you some day--in that sense."


"I've always wanted to"

"Don't you have enough cowards around you?"

"That's why I'd enjoy trying it--because you're the only exception."

Yeah, that's not creepy at all. Both Wyatt and Reardon have an air of violence about them, as did Grandpa Nate Taggart; Rand equates strength with violence and sees nothing wrong with committing violence in the name of Greatness. This was most famously demonstrated by her admiration for a pathetic little serial killer.

The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand's beliefs is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation -- Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street -- on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," she wrote, gushing that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'"

This echoes almost word for word Rand's later description of her character Howard Roarke, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: "He was born without the ability to consider others." (The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' favorite book -- he even requires his clerks to read it.)

Reardon tells Dagny that they'll just have to "pick up the slack" for all the incompetent people in the world and work harder to compensate for the lice's stupidity and weakness. "People like Jim Taggart just clutter up the world," Reardon tell Dagny. They forget all about the rest of the world as they discuss replacing everything made of steel with the miracle metal Reardon developed through brains, skill and endless experimentation, which is either half as light as steel or even lighter; Rand is not consistent. Ships made of Reardon Metal will never sink; a torpedo will not dent one. A mile of chicken wire will cost pennies and last hundreds of years. Kitchen pots will be sold at the dime store and last generations. Dagny's trains will go from 20 mph to 250 mph.

But Reardon can't shake off his feeling that there is something wrong with him, since everyone else says so. He only cares for material things, not "spiritual goals or qualities." Dagny can't understand his "feelings" and is alarmed by what appears to be an expression of guilt, but she knows in her heart they they are two minds who think as one, and that's all she needs to know. Reardon tells her, "Dagny, whatever we are, it's we who move the world and it's we who'll pull it through." Nobody else matters because as long as they are doing great things they are great people.

This was reality, she thought, this sense of clear outlines, of purpose, of lightness, of hope. This was the way she had expected to live--she had wanted to spend no hour and take no action that would mean less than this.

The real world doesn't exist, and doesn't deserve to exist. The world of ordinary people, alternately flawed and wise, kind and thoughtless, caring and uninvolved--is too mundane, to boring, too--human. And people are too human too. They have needs, which just drag you down from your quest for greatness. They demand emotional responses like concern and love, warmth, interest, openness, which you are unable to understand and which make you uneasy, knowing that you are missing out on something undefinable, something out of reach and eternally enigmatic. You can do a math problem or answer a history question or speak five languages, but the language of mankind is forever beyond your reach, and in your loneliness and confusion and resentment you close your heart to your fellow man. You tell yourself that everyone else is just a stupidhead anyway and you don't want their friendship or love or attention. And one day they'll be sorry because you'll be the most important person in the whole world and everyone will recognize your Greatness and when you are gone and they have to try to survive without you they'll be sorry then, and all you'll do is laugh, laugh, laugh.

Stupid people. Who needs them anyway?

Bending Over

If you ever wondered if there was a bottom to the well of Megan McArdle's support for bankers, even IMF bankers accused of rape with a small mountain of evidence against them, the answer is no.

Don't get me wrong; rich guys get away with stuff they shouldn't. But that's not the whole story. There are grey areas where we all know what's going on, but we can't prove it. When I was working on a pretty big network overhaul at a mutual fund firm--doing the kind of work that at the time was almost never done by women--there was an executive with a very, very deep desk that he had pushed against the wall. Somehow, when I went in there to work on his computer, he was always there--and his computer was always pushed to the far edge of the extremely crowded desk, forcing me to essentially bend over his desk in order to do anything. (Naturally, he never offered me his chair.) Creeptastic.

I knew what he was doing, and I'm pretty sure that he knew I knew it. But what was I supposed to say: "Don't put your computer there?" There was no good way for anyone in his firm or mine to have that conversation. Eventually I delegated most of the work in his office to a male colleague, and his computer moved (back, I assume) to the middle of the desk.

Even fifteen years later, I don't really have a better solution. My company was not exactly a bastion of feminist sentiment, but even if it had been, how could we prove that he hadn't put the computer there because he liked the distant perspective it gave him on his stock portfolio?

You could cast this as just another abuse of power by a rich guy. And to be sure, it probably would have been easier to get one of the mailroom guys to behave himself--but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have said anything in that case either, because it does no good to make enemies at any level of the firm when you're a consultant. On the other hand, if he'd been grabbing me, there were people in management there who I know would have tried to address his behavior.

Ultimately, as unpleasant as it was, I think it is better to be in a system where we give people the benefit of the doubt than one where any action that could have the slightest sexual connotation is presumptively harassment. Yes, it lets creeps get away with a lot. But it also means that the rest of us can put our computers where we want them--and don't get kicked out of hotels because we forgot to bolt the door.

She'd sell out every female in the world to get a better seat at her masters' table. She knows what it's like to be vulnerable to power and she doesn't care, as long as she eventually gets that power for herself. Roseanne Barr, in an article in New York magazine, said:

My breakdown deepened around the fourth episode, when I confronted the wardrobe master about the Sears, Roebuck outfits that made me look like a show pony rather than a working-class mom. I wanted vintage plaid shirts, T-shirts, and jeans, not purple stretch pants with green-and-blue smocks. She bought everything but what I requested, so I wore my own clothes to work, thinking she was just absent-minded. I was still clueless about the extent of the subterfuge.

Eventually she told me that she had been told by one of Matt’s producers�his chief mouthpiece��not to listen to what Roseanne wants to wear.� This producer was a woman, a type I became acquainted with at the beginning of my stand-up career in Denver. I cared little for them: blonds in high heels who were so anxious to reach the professional level of the men they worshipped, fawned over, served, built up, and flattered that they would stab other women in the back. They are the ultimate weapon used by men against actual feminists who try to work in media, and they are never friends to other women, you can trust me on that.

I grabbed a pair of wardrobe scissors and ran up to the big house to confront the producer. (The �big house� was what I called the writers’ building. I rarely went there, since it was disgusting. Within minutes, one of the writers would crack a stinky-pussy joke that would make me want to murder them. Male writers have zero interest in being nice to women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever promoted to the rank of �writer,� even though they do all the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the credit. Those are the women who deserve the utmost respect.) I walked into this woman’s office, held the scissors up to show her I meant business, and said, �Bitch, do you want me to cut you?� We stood there for a second or two, just so I could make sure she was receptive to my POV. I asked why she had told the wardrobe master to not listen to me, and she said, �Because we do not like the way you choose to portray this character.� I said, �This is no fucking character! This is my show, and I created it�not Matt, and not Carsey-Werner, and not ABC. You watch me. I will win this battle if I have to kill every last white bitch in high heels around here.�

There comes a point when a person is no longer the victim of their upbringing, when they willingly embrace the damage done to them to experience the wicked glee of hurting others in turn. They don't want to change, to ease the pain, to connect to the human race. They want to hurt and smash and destroy. They want to see others suffer and most especially they want to be the ones who will be gloating over the remains of those unlucky enough to get in the way.

Here there be monsters.

We would slit your throat for an airline upgrade.


Atlas Shrugged Part 3 Coming Soon

Yes, it gets worse.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Image from here.

Let's discuss a post that Megan McArdle didn't write. McArdle didn't write about her CNN appearance opposite Matt Taibbi, a man who is dead to her because he does her job better than she ever even imagined doing it. Her Taibbi Voodoo Doll must have gone through a workout that night, for McArdle's humiliation spread far and wide in the business press and her owners must be wondering if putting her on tv is going to benefit or harm them. No doubt her future appearances will be carefully vetted to ensure she is not challenged in public again; perhaps Larry Kudlow will have her on as they both seem to experience a deeply satisfying, tingling thrill at the thought of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

McArdle made her usual arguments--nobody can know anything ever and nobody is responsible for anything ever. To make these arguments she has to lie, and it is immensely gratifying to see someone call her out to her face.

Lie #1: Goldman Sachs sold assets that they knew were toxic to clients; in fact, they also made a bet that those assets would fail. McArdle said that it was legal to do this.

MCARDLE: Well, I think the fair argument is these investments are incredibly complicated and it's very hard to know what happened. But the fact is that we generally assume that an institutional investor, like a pension fund or a hedge fund has the intelligence, the know-how and the motivation to figure out what's going on in the other side. So we don't offer them the same protections as we offer ordinary investors.

VELSHI: That's not true anymore, right? I mean, now I think we've probably learned that it seems they don't --

TAIBBI: If I could jump in there, Ali. There's definitely a legal standard that requires an investment bank like Goldman Sachs to disclose adverse elements of the deal, like for instance, they had a $2 billion short position against --

VELSHI: Let's spell that out, you're saying that they had a legal obligation to tell somebody they were selling an investment to they had a $2 billion bet against that investment?

TAIBBI: Absolutely.

MCARDLE: If I could jump in here --

TAIBBI: Goldman actually in that deal even said affirmatively that their interests were aligned with the client because they had a $6 million stake in that same deal. But they didn't disclose they had a $2 billion bet against the deal.

VELSHI: Megan?

MCARDLE: Look, inherently someone who is selling you an asset is going short that asset, right? They aren't owning it anymore and you presume that there is a reason for that. Markets are made by people betting one way or the other and what you have to do --

VELSHI: I'm not sure that makes sense for an investment firm, though.

The sheer gall it took to make these arguments is impressive, in a perverse way. When a company sells a product you don't assume that they are selling it because it was defective and they want to get rid of it. Do you buy a car with the assumption that the factory wanted to got rid of it because it was a dud? The argument is insultingly feeble.

Lie #2:Selling toxic assets was okay because the clients knew the assets were bad.

MCARDLE: What we have to do is disclose. It's perfectly legal for a dealership to sell me a car I'm not going to like or that's too expensive for me. It's not legal for them to sell me a car that's not what they represented it as.

And we set certain legal minimum standards and that's what happened here. At least, John Losera and all the devils who are here argues that he actually has gone through these documents and says that a lot of these things were disclosed. That in fact Goldman laid out in very lengthy detail all of the ways in which this could go wrong. I haven't read the disclosure documents personally.

Of course not. It would cut into her drinking time.

McArdle depends on the fact that her audience usually doesn't know enough about the subject to contradict her and her colleagues are extraordinarily reluctant to accuse a nice, polite, white, upper-class woman who is backed by an entire wingnut welfare industry of being a liar.

TAIBBI: I have.

Oh, snap! Which brings us to Lie #3.

MCARDLE: There are two competing versions of the story.

There is the truth and there are the lies, but that's not the same thing as two competing versions, is it?

VELSHI: Matt, you've read them?

TAIBBI: Well, I've read all the documents in this report and I've also talked to some of the principals in this entire story. I definitely know some of the client that is Goldman was talking about were completely blindsided by the fact that, for instance.

They were buying assets out of Goldman's own book when they were told that Goldman was buying these assets off the street. They definitely did not make key disclosures that they were legally obligated to make.

Lie #4:We are hunting down poor, innocent Goldman, Sachs because we just want to blame someone--anyone--for the sorry state of our economy.

MCARDLE:...But here's the thing. I think there is a real desire to have a sense of closure on this, a desire to track down a villain, figure out who did this to us.

And I think that really underweight the power of human stupidity and poor system design. It can produce terrible results even without anyone doing --

The bald-faced smarminess of this lie sets off Taibbi:

TAIBBI: You're not ashamed to do the job that you do. How you were not ashamed to apologize for these billionaires who ripped off ordinary people. I can't believe that --

McArdle, of course, has no shame, or sold it off long ago, along with her soul and her firstborn. Lie #5:

MCARDLE: There weren't ordinary people. A hedge fund is not an ordinary --

TAIBBI: How about this? They ripped off a billion dollar from Morgan Stanley, which then in turn took a $10 billion bailout from the taxpayer ergo they ripped us off. How do you answer that?

MCARDLE: How do I answer that? I think that, you know, in fact, they do deals with big banks. There are questions about how we should have done those bailouts.

Lie #6:

{MCARDLE, CONT.} But the fact is it's not Goldman Sachs' responsibility to make sure that Morgan Stanley makes money. More than it's the Atlantic's responsibility to make sure that Rolling Stone makes money.

TAIBBI: I don't know how that makes sense on any planet in any universe. That is just insane.

The denial of reality is insane, but it is also very profitable.

Lie #7:

MCARDLE: Well, you know, I think that it's very morally satisfying to try to track down people who did things to us. But I think in the end, justice wants to make a case that Goldman didn't just do something that we don't like.

They want to make a case that Goldman did something that was actually illegal at the time when they did and that's a lot harder standard to meet. In fact like in the aftermath of this crisis, what you get is a lot of cases brought that fail

Eliot Spitzer didn't make his cases. A lot of Rudy Giuliani's cases ultimately fell apart. Even some of the Enron stuff has been falling apart. And so it's actually a lot more difficult to track down --

That's nearly a lie a minute. I'm very impressed. When The Atlantic finds a younger, cuter econoblogger McArdle will have a very fine career ahead of her as a PR flack for the nuclear industry or some foreign dictator.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can Hardly Wait

Busy etc. but I will get to this as soon as I can.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where Charity And Love Prevail

Because "those little bastards" was giving people the wrong impression.

She's quite the font of Christian charity, isn't she?

K-Lo Go Emo

The long, slow journey to the St. Vitus Mental Ward continues.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Morgan Stanley Yglesias

Poor Matthew Yglesias was mugged, that's just awful. Still, what can one do? Adding more police would be a subsidy to pedestrians and encourage moral hazard. There will be a flood of upwardly mobile people moving into the neighborhood and the markets will lose equilibrium. Although if people like the Sudermans and Yglesias don't gentrify the neighborhood the inhabitants won't have anyone to thank for pricing them out of their neighborhood and putting in hipster pubs.

Yglesias is no McSuderman, even though he does seem to view all the world as his sandbox. He does not think carefully about the consequences of his little suggestions but at least he does think. Yet like all Villagers, old or young, he is perfectly comfortable associating with repulsive people. A little charm, a lot of money, a helping hand now and again, that's all they require, and then taking Koch and Bradley money to shaft the poor is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps one is above doing such things one's self, but one sure would go the the dinners, beach vacations and weddings of those who do.

You put aside your successful career to have and raise a child, you sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into nannies, lessons, summer camp, private school, university, graduate school. You raise a child to be a leader, a thinker, and then what do they do? Sell out their integrity for a seat at the Algonquin Round Table Of Fail, in which the mediocre sons and daughters of the rich ape their betters. You get Jonah Goldberg, red-faced with gobbling cognac and reeking of cigars. Or Megan McArdle on CNN, rolling her eyes with contempt as she informs the world that Goldman, Sachs isn't the bad guy here, it's the system, which took advantage of its naive, foolish Masters of the Universe.

ADDED: Shorter Megan McArdle: I have finally found one thing I want to spend taxpayer money on--personal protection.

If this had happened to anyone else, McArdle would have told them they they went into the purchase with their eyes open, knowing the neighborhood, and got a much cheaper house in return for decreased security. So why should she care about their problem when they are reaping the monetary advantage?

Power Couple

It's so sweet when husbands support their wives' business endeavors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Sometimes we think there is no justice in the world. There are no gods and goddesses, no system of divine judgement, reward and punishment, and therefor no heaven or hell. We forget that people make their own hell and must live in it every moment of their lives. Let's watch Megan McArdle twist herself into knots as she tries to justify her decisions without accepting any responsibility for her actions.

Case in point:

In April, 2010, McArdle was eager to buy a home but couldn't find an affordable one.

We've been dipping our toes into the DC housing market recently, but after this weekend, I think I'm just about ready to give up. Anything that comes on the market at a decent price is snapped up almost immediately--by my count, mean time from listing to contract is under seven days..... This should be a golden time for buyers with decent credit, stable incomes, and modest requirement for neighborhood safety. But there's almost no inventory, and what there is, can't be sold.

It's not totally unreasonable to think that prices will go up in DC, eventually; huge swathes of Northwest and incresingly [sic], Northeast are gentrifying at a pace faster than anything I've ever seen--and before I moved here, I was a lifelong New Yorker. But even here, that shadow inventory means it's not going to happen for a few years.

Nationwide, we're probably looking at a long period over which house prices don't fall, but they don't really rise much, either, and the market sorts itself out by letting inflation eat away the nominal value of peoples' outstanding mortgages. And over here on Florida Avenue NW, we're probably looking at a few more years crammed into an oddly-laid-out one-bedroom-plus den flip house.

In August, 2010, McArdle informed the world that she was going to buy a house "on the cusp of a double-dip recession" because she could pay less on a mortgage than rent and she had no plans on moving away from DC. She also told herself that the rush to buy before the homeowner's tax credit expired was over:

6. Interest rates are low, and housing is in a post tax-credit doldrums. If you have the down payment, it's a pretty decent time to buy a house in DC.

So she did.

So the McArdle-Suderman household are about to become householders. We're in the process of buying our own little 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath slice of heaven....

She expected DC housing to appreciate but said that it was okay if it didn't; she didn't think of the house as an investment.

Step One: Why buy a house?

I have spent enough time reporting on the financial crisis to have made very sure that the answer to this was not "Because renting is just throwing your money away!" All calculations, mental and otherwise, were based on an assumption of no house price appreciation. I actually expect that the house we're buying will probably appreciate in value, as it's on the border of one of DC's hottest "emerging" neighborhoods. But one never knows what is going to happen, and any house that is a stupid purchase unless the value is going to rise at a steady clip, is a stupid purchase. We figure that as long as the thing doesn't lose too much value, we're okay.

The plumbing had broken on her rental and she wanted to take advantage of the tax credit like everyone else.

7) The house had to work, financially, without the tax deduction Given that we do freelance, we already itemize, so we're glad to take the home-interest deduction. But we were not interested in a "stretch" that was only really feasible with a big tax deduction; we wanted a payment that was the same as, or less than, the rent we were already paying.

Just because McArdle doesn't like government assistance doesn't mean she'll turn it down; for example, see her student loans, mortgage deduction, and employer-provided, government-subsidized health care. She wanted that house and the tax credit so she ignored the fact that everyone else wanted the tax credit as well. But there was trouble in paradise. Prices on desirable DC property didn't go down as much as McArdle wanted. She decided to blame the homeowner's tax credit. What else could she blame? It wasn't her fault that she couldn't have both the tax credit and lower house prices. It was the government's, for danging tax credits in front of people who were impatiently waiting for housing prices to go down enough so that elite young(ish) journalists can buy socially enviable housing.

While I haven't compiled scientific data to back me up, my experience in going through the listings is that the housing tax credit grossly distorted the market. Almost anyone who wanted to buy, or sell, in the next twelve months, hastened to put their property on the market before April 30th. The market still clears--the few houses that are priced where the market wants to buy get snapped up immediately. But there are precious few of these. Most of the market, at least in the neighborhoods where we can afford to live, is the stuff that's hard to sell-- beautiful fixer-uppers that require more capital than we have, and overpriced places that won't appraise for where they're listed.

As always, McArdle forms a theory based on ideology and wishful thinking and then blames the government when reality doesn't mesh with her fantasy life. For it turns out that Megan McArdle was (gasp!) wrong and the housing market has not bottomed. House prices started going down. Not that she cared, mind you!

Since we bought our new house, we've had to confront the possibility that we've already lost money. Over at our sister publication, I explore why that doesn't bother us:

Although I may spend odd moments cruising through the listings to see what neighboring houses have sold for, my husband and I agree on one thing: "Who cares? We're not going to sell," he said the last time I told him about a comparable house that sold for less than ours.

We didn't buy our house for an investment; that's what our investments are for. Our house is to live in. We bought mostly because we wanted to commit to a place, and to make it over to suit us exactly. Landlords get testy when you rip out walls and replace the stove; besides, who wants to spend money installing custom blackout curtains only to have the place sold out from under you?

She didn't care at all!

The housing market still isn't clearing. In my neighborhood, almost nothing is coming on the market even though we're well into spring, and half of what does appear is either utterly decrepit, or wildly overpriced, or both. People are not selling unless they absolutely have to. Nor are people buying. I think the value of our house has dropped, but I can't be sure because nothing's moving on the market.

[yip yip]

Where does it end? By historical standards, prices should have bottomed by now. But we had the first-time-homebuyer's tax credit, which temporarily buoyed prices by moving a lot of demand forward. Given that, I'd say we have at least another year for the price collapse to run.

As I wrote earlier, this doesn't particularly bother me.

Nope, watching her house become less valuable doesn't bother her in the least.

Words to strike terror in the heart of any homeowner: "And Now House Prices Will Now Drop Another 20%".

[yap yap]

Given that we just bought a house a few months ago, I'm sure this post will inspire a couple of readers to ask whether we regret that decision. The answer is that no, we don't, for several reasons.... 2. Washington DC is a slightly weird market, because government employment is stable, and government activity has been increasing. The ratio of rental prices to home prices isn't particularly high, and has actually fallen somewhat over the last year. Meanwhile, the population of the city has now increased for the first time in 50 years. Our neighborhood, which has had few services, is now gaining crucial commerce like restaurants and grocery stores nearby, which should help support prices.

3. We're in it for the long term. We expect to own this house for longer than the seven-year average; for us, even in a worst-case scenario, eventually inflation will erase at least some of our equity losses. If we stay in the house as long as we hope, ultimately we'll have locked in a housing cost that will end up being well below the current market. We won't have bought at the bottom, of course--but the universe is too complicated for me to think that I can reliably buy anything at the bottom.

You know, for someone who doesn't care, McArdle sure does worry a lot about losing money on her house.

Many economists have been saying we would have a second drop; one look at McArdle's chart shows why. Prices rose astronomically during the bubble and it's a long way down to normal levels. McArdle knew this.

Four years on, why is the housing market still falling? The obvious culprit is the homebuyer's tax credit. Even as it was enacted, a lot of people were complaining that gimmicks like this (and the Cash for Clunkers program) weren't providing useful stimulus; instead, they were distorting the market by pulling demand forward from future years.

As a couple of commenters note, McArdle is being deeply dishonest here. Nobody expected the tax credit to solve the housing problem, they just hoped it would slow down the housing market enough to keep it from going into free fall. The tax credit's effect was, as McArdle's chart plainly shows, quite small.

This chart was created by Steve Barry and appeared, as McArdle noted, at The Big Picture. McArdle did not note the tax credit blip as Barry Ritholtz did, since that information was on a need-to-know basis and McArdle decided you did not need to know.

That seems to be even truer than most people expected. In DC, this actually caused an uptick in prices, because the buyers were concentrated into a pretty short time frame. A lot of the properties coming on to the market were short sales and foreclosures, which take a very long time to close. That meant that a lot of people were getting into bidding wars over the relatively small number of properties available. The bidding war was frantic enough to cost them money--but not to clear the short sales, which were often more than $100,000 underwater. I myself got caught by the tail end of it--because the comps that we were using were inflated by the tax credit, we probably overpaid for our house.

McArdle was the helpless victim of government perfidy! She chose to take advantage of the evil, price-inflating tax credit. Nobody held a gun to her head and told her to sign the contract.

In most other places, the tax credit was simply keeping prices from falling too much further. But the mechanism was ultimately the same: we crowded a larger number of buyers into the market without enough time for supply to really respond, because too many of the houses that needed to be sold were encumbered by underwater mortgages.

After the credit, it all collapsed again. There were a few months of confusion, because it took a while for prices to adjust to the new reality: supply was higher, but all the buyers were gone. Almost everyone who had intended to buy in the next few years had moved their purchase forward in order to get the tax credit.

Or they could have waited for the expected double dip in housing prices. McArdle took a gamble that the tax credit was larger than any dip in housing price and lost. She could have waited but didn't want to. She made a choice but instead of accepting responsibility for her decision she blamed the government instead.

The tax credit was no doubt a fine thing for people who managed to sell their homes in that narrow window. But of course, there are parallel losses--the people who have lost jobs, or gotten transferred, or gotten a divorce, in the intervening year, and need to sell their houses, and face a market with virtually no buyers. It's hard to argue that the program improved much. I mean, you could posit that it somehow allowed us a more orderly transition, but we still have a large backlog of foreclosures, and judging from the recent declines, we simply moved moved some of the pain into the future. We didn't actually make the process less painful.

Damn you, Government Menace, for forcing McArdle to take advantage of your tax break and for not solving the housing crises at the same time!

As this graph from Barry Ritholtz shows, house prices are still well above their historical levels. The government cannot legislate that imbalance away. You don't have to be a "Work the rot out" liquidationist of the Andrew Mellon school to think that eventually, prices have to fall to market clearing levels, and that slowing the process down might not improve it much.

In conclusion, governments are incompetent and we all should just get rid of those troublesome rules, regulations and entitlements as the Koches are always telling us to do.

Monday, May 9, 2011

In Brief

Shorter Megan McArdle: The Consumer Credit Videothon

I lasted for eight endless minutes of McArdle talking about herself. It's possible she managed to solve the mysteries of the universe in the other seventy minutes but it isn't worth the mental anguish to find out.

Shorter Too: GM Makes A Big Profit: Time To Celebrate?

You know what you won't read at McArdle's site? "Big Banks Make A Big Profit And Give Themselves Big Bonuses: Time To Celebrate?"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking Part 2

Chapter III The Top And The Bottom

"It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." Abraham Maslow

In her review of Atlas Shrugged, Megan McGalt said:

The movie left out the things that could have made it gripping: the aesthetic that deftly mixes comic books, film noir, and WPA murals; the reverance [sic] for genius and innovation; the stories that dramatize pure principle. These things are barely name checked, much less used. The best stories--like the nationalization of the San Sebastian mines, or the attempt by the 20th Century Motor Company to run its business along the lines of the communist motto "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need"--are compressed into two lines, explained ineptly.

McArdle must have thoroughly enjoyed Chapter II, which goes from James Taggart's meeting with the top businessmen in New York to Dagny Taggart's conversation with a lowly news vendor in the lobby of her office building, which is Rand's version of the proverbial bus passenger whose views echo the writer's perfectly. Taggart meets with his friends in a skyscraper bar, which is ugly and nonsensical (it is built to resemble a cellar) because everything the Bad Guys do is ugly and nonsensical. It is extremely unlikely that a popular bar would have a ceiling so low one actually has to stoop to walk under it, but Rand does not feel constrained by everyone else's reality since she is making up one of her own.

James's meeting with a small group of like-minded industrialists is a scene we have seen described a hundred times before, as libertarians put finger to temple and imagine what liberals do together in one of their secret socialist cabal meetings. Evidently they band together to create new laws that pretend to be about fairness but actually are passed to squash competition. As Megan McGalt described:

Well, I dare the [regulation] defenders to tell me why casket sales need to be tightly regulated. You don't even necessarily legally need a casket to get buried in, according to the folks I talked to at the Institute for Justice, which is helping a group of Louisiana monks defend their casket-making business from the predations of industry insiders. The construction of a box is not one of those complicated things that only licensed professionals can master. And even if it were, it's not like the occupant is going to be hurt by a badly-constructed casket.

The regulatory board, naturally, "has nine members, eight of whom are funeral industry professionals". And the explanations of why the monks should not be able to sell caskets are embarrassingly bad; the best the Journal could come up with, apparently, is this: [snipped quote]

The real story, of course, is that caskets are a huge margin business for funeral homes. You can see why--it's easier to mark up a fancy box than to put an enormous price tag on preparing the body, which could cause an emotional freak-out on the part of the family. It's hard to maintain those kinds of margins in the era of the internet, especially since caskets are the very definition of a commodity business--there's just not much differentiation in styling or quality in a wooden box.

So funeral directors are doing their best to protect their business. I don't really blame them. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us should cooperate by enabling ridiculous licensing schemes.

See? Regulation exists to squash competition, just like Ayn Rand said. McGalt does not discuss, for instance, how the regulation of polluters like Koch Industries would also squash competition, but we suspect that it would lead to the end of competition in the toilet paper market and therefore the Koches should be able to pollute at will. After all, the poisoned people can always stop buying Koch products and Koch will be forced by Free Market Equilibrium to change its more lethal practices--as long as government regulation doesn't spoil the whole thing, of course.

Rand's Bad Guys do whatever Rand needs them to do, regardless of logic or reality. Nobody is accountable to stockholders and everyone sits around weakly, just waiting for their businesses to eventually fail. The industrialists do take some action to preserve their markets; they band together to to eliminate Reardon, who is buying up failing business he needs for the production of Reardon Metal. But they ignore the activity in Colorado, although it seems that every bit of machinery Dagny sees was made there. They are more concerned with helping Mexico become a successful socialist country, because when you are writing a How I Became The Most Important Woman In The World fantasy, you can contort your characters so they are socialists and monopoly capitalist simultaneously.

James Taggart asks Orren Boyle, owner of Associated Steel, if Mexico will nationalize the San San Sebastian mine, the only privately owned mine left in the country. Boyle made his money by getting huge government loans; all the Bad Guys made money through inheritance and favors, all the Good Guys made money through talent and hard work and mental toughness, even if they inherited great wealth. Because Boyle is weak he is also stupid; he says the mines won't be privatized. He tells James that Dagny has put her worst trains on the Taggart railroad line to the San Sebastian Mine and they all agree that nobody can do anything anyway, but James promises to himself that Dagny will pay, oh yes she will.

Throughout the conversation a weak, sycophantic, despised man sits at the table; he is James' lobbyist in Washington. We pause to take note that Megan McGalt's father was a lobbyist for New York construction firms, something that she stopped mentioning a long time ago, preferring to call him an academic instead. In Rand's world, lobbyists are nasty little men who are hired by the Good Guys because the latter are forced by an increasingly socialist government to protect themselves. Our Ubermensch accept the necessity of such men but despise them and everything they stand for, which is supposed to convince us that Dagny and Reardon are pure and uncompromising in every way while they are enjoying the advantages lobbying gives them.

In Grandpa Taggart's day there were other ways of dealing with Senators and their legalistic shenanigans; Nat Taggart murdered a state legislator who planned to revoke Taggart's charter for personal profit and threw down the stairs a government official who offered him a loan. But he was a Good Guy, living up to his Galtian potential, so that was okay. Rand has no problem with murdering the weak, or simply the unlucky, as long as one is achieving greatness, a characteristic she held in common with communists, the people she hated most in the world.

Dagny always felt she was destined for greatness, unlike the rest of the world, which was destined for the dirt where they could more easily be trodden upon by the elite.

Dagny Taggart was nine years old when she decided that she would run Taggart Transcontinental Railroad some day. She state it to herself when she stood alone between the rails, looking at the two straight lines of steel that went off into the distance and met in a single point. What she felt was an arrogant pleasure at the way the track cut through the woods; it did not belong in the midst of ancient trees, among green branches that hung down to meet green brush and the lonely spears of wild flowers-but there it was. The two steel lines were brilliant in the sun, and the black ties were like the rungs of a ladder which she had to climb.

It was not a sudden decision, but only the final seal of words upon something she had known long ago. In unspoken understanding, as if bound by a vow it had never been necessary to take, she and Eddie Willers had given themselves to the railroad from the first conscious days of their childhood.

I can imagine Dagny's childhood was a little different from most girls'.

Maid: Miss Dagny, it's time for your bath.

Dagny Taggart, aged 4: You fool, do you think a moocher like you can tell me what to do? One day I shall rule this nation while you and your progeny will sink back into the muck from which you came. And I can't wait until I make it happen!

Maid: That's it, Missy. No more cookies before bedtime. The sugar makes you cross.

Dagny: Curse your weak, redistributionist soul!

This small child, this little girl, thinks of nothing but conquest over the entire world. Ordinarily a child with this attitude would be accompanied by either Rod Serling or a male nurse carrying a tranquilizer gun, but poor, misunderstood Dagny's only companion is her pet dog, Eddie Willers.

She felt a bored indifference toward the immediate world around her, toward other children and adults alike. She took it as a regrettable accident, to be borne patiently for a while, that she happened to be imprisoned among people who were dull. She had caught a glimpse of another world and she knew that it existed somewhere, the world that had created trains, bridges, telegraph wires and signal lights winking in the night. She had to wait, she thought, and grow up to that world.

As we mentioned before, Rand gritted her teeth throughout childhood and waited impatiently for the agony to be over. She felt that the only quality worth having was intelligence and that everyone else, from her classmates to the adults in her mother's social and intellectual circles, were stupid and therefore without any worth at all.

Implicit in Alice's reminiscences about her childhood is the fact that, from her parents and from the other adults she encountered, love and admiration were purchased by the qualities of her mind. When her mother paraded her before the relatives, it was because Alice's bright lucidity inspired their admiration; when her father smiled at her during his visits to the nursery at the end of the day, it was because she had told him of some activity--a game she had invented, a picture in a children's book she had built a story around--that demonstrated the quickness of her mind. Alice learned well the lesson contained in the reactions she received....But she placed on intelligence what can only be termed a moral value; intelligence and virtue were to become inextricably linked in her mind and her emotions; where she saw no unusual intelligence--not the capacity for dedicated productive work that she believed to be its consequences-she saw no value that meant anything to her in personal terms.

A child who is not loved has great difficulty loving others. Many children attempt to mold themselves into something that will gain that love, but others will try to mold the world instead. They will spend their lives trying to create a world which mirrors the one inside, demanding that everyone else acknowledge that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong, wrong, wrong.

[Dagny] never tried to explain why she liked the railroad. Whatever it was that others felt, she knew that this was one emotion for which they had no equivalent and no response. She felt the same emotion in school, in classes of mathematics, the only lesson she liked. She felt the excitement of solving problems, the insolent delight of taking up a challenge and disposing of it without effort, the eagerness to meet another, harder test. She felt, at the same time, a growing respect for the adversary, for a science that was so clean, so strict, so luminously rational. Studying mathematics, she felt, quite simply and at once: "How great that men have done this" and "How wonderful that I'm so good at it." It was the joy of admiration and of one's own ability, growing together. Her feeling for the railroad was the same: worship of the skill that had gone to make it, of the ingenuity of someone's clean, reasoning mind, worship with a secret smile that said she would know how to make it better some day.She hung around the tracks and the roundhouses like a humble student, but the humility had a touch of future pride, a pride to be earned.

"You're unbearably conceited," was one of the two sentences she heard throughout her childhood, even though she never spoke of her own ability. The other sentence was "You're selfish." She asked what was meant, but never received an answer. She looked at the adults, wondering how they could imagine that she would feel guilt from an undefined accusation.

Who is calling Dagny selfish and conceited? Knowing Rand's childhood, we suspect she is referring to Dagny's mother, who is utterly absent from the story, at least so far. In the end Rand has her revenge against mothers who don't appreciate their superior offspring; Reardon's mother is a harpy and Dagny's is simply non-existent. Dagny raised herself, it seems, and did a mighty fine job of it if she does say so herself. She didn't need help growing up just as she doesn't need her teachers in math, and obviously the other subjects didn't matter. Dagny boot-straps her way into running the railroad by asking her father for a job, which "amused and a little curious," he gives her. She works as a railroad operator, which the internets tells us is a person who "report[s] trains to the Dispatcher, copie[s] train orders, and delivers clearances and order[s] to the crews." Dagny works at night so she can go to engineering school, which she also starts at 16. Wisely, the other rail men do not protest or inhibit the career of the daughter of the railroad's owner, but Rand asserts that Dagny's rise was due solely to everyone else's incompetence.

Dagny's rise among the men who operated Taggart Transcontinental was swift and uncontested. She took positions of responsibility because there was no one else to take them. There were a few rare men of talent around her, but they were becoming rarer every year. Her superiors, who held the authority, seemed afraid to exercise it, and they spent their time avoiding decisions, so she told people what to do and they did it. At every step of her rise, she did the work long before she was granted the title. It was like advancing through empty rooms. Nobody opposed her, yet nobody approved of her progress.

Nobody stopped her because Daddy would have fired them, but in Rand World the moochers do not act because they are weak, not out of self-preservation. They do not try to protect their jobs when the boss's daughter starts usurping their power because they are afraid to make decisions, yet they were hired by her father's company and worked for him for years. For someone enamored of capitalist success, Rand seems to know very little about how companies are run and seems to care even less. Ubermensch must succeed effortlessly to prove their superiority so they do, no matter how nonsensical the story becomes.

Of course James starts in public relations at age 21, because he is a loser who just wants to schmooze with Washington power brokers. And of course the Board of Directors elected him president of the company, because Dagny only suffers from sexism when the story demands it. Mostly Dagny suffers from the stupidity and mediocrity of the rest of the world.

It was only in the first few years that she felt herself screaming silently, at times, for a glimpse of human ability, a single glimpse of clean, hard, radiant competence. She had fits of tortured longing for a friend or an enemy with a mind better than her own. But the longing passed. She had a job to do. She did not have time to feel pain; not often

Ordinarily a childhood like Dagny's would lead a fictional character into a short but glorious career as a Supervillain, but Dagny is not lucky enough to have a Superman to her Lex Luthor.

The adversary she found herself forced to fight was not worth matching or beating; it was not a superior ability which she would have found honor in challenging; it was ineptitude--a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything, or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way.

Nobody has anything to teach teenage Dagny; she knows everything and has already achieved perfection of character and morality. Everyone else is a stupidhead and stands in her way. She has no friends or boyfriends, doesn't go to movies or dances or dinner parties, doesn't travel for pleasure, doesn't like or love anyone. She is utterly cut off from humanity and instead of yearning for a human connection, she yearns to find someone who is exactly like herself, except better, of course, or they would just be another loser. Because that is how people are judged in Rand's world: first by intelligence, then by usefulness. Dagny's old boyfriend Francisco d'Anconia, who captured Dagny's attention by being intelligent and successful, disappointed her by also being useless and thus was rejected, not achieving the rank of Ubermensch.

After meeting with James and discussing her sabotage of the Taggart Mexican line, Dagny stops off in the lobby to talk with the news vendor and indulge in her only activity unrelated to the railroad, buying and smoking cigarettes. Dagny and her news vendor agree that men just aren't men anymore, they are weak and frightened creatures. The vendor is special somehow; his business has failed and his family and friends are gone, but these signs of inferiority mean nothing compared to his ability to recognize the superiority of his betters.

Dagny liked to stop at his newsstand on her way out. He seemed to be part of the Taggart Terminal, like an old watchdog too feeble to protect it, but reassuring by the loyalty of his presence. He like to see her coming, because it amused him to think that he alone knew the importance of the young woman in a sports coat and a slanting hat, who came hurrying anonymously through the crowd.

As always, the biggest sign of a person's superiority in Atlas Shrugged is that they recognize the worth of a poor, suffering, unappreciated, hard-working Galtian who just wants to do a good job but is surrounded by weaklings and idiots. But before too long Dagny will find what she is looking for--a person as unemotional, selfish, arrogant and alienated as herself.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ayn Rand Social Club

She told them not to help looters and moochers but they insisted on donating to orphanages anyway.

Jane McGalt is at it again, stroking her audience with sweet, sweet Randian words of self-pity and greed. For the longest time we who snark could not understand why Miss McArdle chose the financial industry as the object of her worship. It wasn't until we began mocking and therefore reading Atlas Shrugged (Part II coming soon!) that everything became clear.

Like every other "under-appreciated" and overpraised young child of privilege, Miss McArdle read Atlas Shrugged at an impressionable age and the life and times and personality of one Miss Dagny Taggart imprinted upon her soul like that of a baby duck and his mother, if the baby duck were a resentful teenager and the mother duck a Russian harridan with little writing talent. While McArdle was growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, CEOs and Wall Street were the most celebrated "industries" of her little world. Naturally when she became a Randian, McGalt chose to work with the captains of industry, leaders of men, superior in birth, education, and success--the elite of Wall Street. Megan McArdle became Jane Galt, a producer in a world of moochers and looters, an Ubermensch among inferior public school rabble, a natural leader of men and women into a new age of innovation and success. Sadly, working on Wall Street did not lead to personal success, no doubt because lesser men dragged her down into failure with their envy and inability to make the trains run on time.

But the Jane McGalts of the world do not let a little thing like failure keep them from their goal of worshipping businessmen and financial industry innovation. McArdle's relentless networking obvious superiority as a blogger and thinker led to worshipping businessmen and financial industry innovation as a journalist, thus proving that nothing can keep an Ubermensch from achieving his or her goal. But despite her success, McArdle is still plagued with the whining and carping of lesser beings, who want everything to be faaaaaair and think people should help the looters and moochers instead of despising them for their weaknesses. What can journalists who also happen to be people of quality do in the face of such constant, debilitating negativity dragging them down to the masses' inferior level? They can attack other bloggers!

In Should We Redistribute Grades Like We Do Income?, McArdle responds to Xpostfactiod's critique of Robin Hanson's post about taxation. The discussion is foolish; Hanson states taxation is income redistribution, ignoring everything that taxation pays for so he can call college students hypocrites for being for taxation and against "grade redistribution." Xpostfactoid's Andrew Sprung argues that "tax[es] of one kind or another is the price of admission to any human community" and earning grades is not the same as taxation. McArdle responds in (what is for her) exhaustive detail complete with logical fallacies, saying society has no more right to take money from people than it does to take away grades from students, and Sprung has not proven that it does. Sprung goes on to explain social utility to McArdle, although he acknowledges, " I think that charge boils down to the fact that I accept the society's collective right to make its own rules by democratic means, and she does not."

McArldle's post ends with this passage:

But the poor quality of the arguments for difference does not bode well. They suggest that most of us just want to redistribute income because, well, we wanna . . . not because we have any particularly good reason. Which was Robin's point in the first place.

Helping others is a privilege. Paying our way is a duty and responsibility. To Randian princesses, taxation is theft, redistribution of her money to inferior people who were too weak, stupid and lazy to get a good education and job.

But McArdle is just one of many people who enjoy talking themselves out of basic human decency; here Ramesh Ponnuru tells us that Jesus really didn't mean it when he said turn the other cheek; we Americans have a get-out-of-hell-free card because God loves us best--or whatever reason is floating and bobbing around in that snow globe he calls a head.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Strawman vs. Krugman

We really don't need another post stating that Megan McArdle set up a strawman and knocked it down again because she couldn't stand to see praise of Paul Krugman. (A study of pundit predictions demonstrated that almost all of Krugman's predictions during a one year time period were correct.) While I admire single-minded persecution of a target, she's just embarrassing herself.

But there was a very interesting passage in the paper McArdle purported to refute.

While initially investigating whether higher levels of education and experience correspond to higher predictive accuracy, [Philip] Tetlock ultimately concluded that cognitive style was the most important influence on prediction accuracy. Using the framework derived from Isaiah Berlin’s essay The Hedgehog and the Fox that “hedgehogs know one big thing; foxes know many things, (Berlin, 3)” Tetlock separated experts into two groups with competing cognitive approaches to prediction and found “the hedgehog-fox dimension did what none of the other traits did: distinguish more accurate forecasters from less accurate ones in both economics and politics” (Begley, 45).

According to Tetlock, there are clear differences between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs “know one big thing” and “apply that one thing everywhere,” express “supreme confidence in their forecasts, dismiss opposing views and are drawn to top-down arguments deduced from that Big Idea”; they “seek certainty and closure, dismiss information that undercuts their preconceptions and embrace evidence that reinforces them” (Begley, 45). Foxes “consider competing views, make bottom-up inductive arguments from an array of facts, doubt the power of Big Ideas” and “are cognitively flexible, modest and open to self-criticism” (Begley, 45). Ultimately, “what experts think matters far less than how they think: their cognitive style” (Begley, 45). Tetlock found that foxes outperform hedgehogs in prediction accuracy in virtually all fields, across all time periods, and across the various levels of expertise.

Expert Political Judgment also considers two types of general skepticism found in theoretical literature about prognostication. Tetlock mentions both radical skepticism, which is the belief that nobody knows anything, and ontological skepticism, the idea that the nature of the world is unpredictable. Both are ideas well illustrated by Rick Perlstein, a contributor to The Nation. Perlstein’s disbelief in and distaste for prognosticators stems from a blend of radical and ontological skepticism. Perlstein’s article “Pundits Who Predict the Future are Always Wrong” goes so far as to “call punditry a sin” (Perlstein, 12). Perlstein dismisses forecasting because of ontological skepticism, alleging “history does not repeat itself, nor does it unfold in cycles” (Perlstein, 13). Not
only does Perlstein claim “there’s nothing you can really know about the future at all,” he warns that “to pretend therwise is an insult to democracy” (Perlstein). Appealing to radical skepticism and criticizing conventional wisdom, Perlstein concludes that political prognostication “blinds us to the only actual, ineluctable reality--that no one knows what the future holds” (Perlstein, 11).

As I outlined here, McArdle analyzes based on ideology, not facts, and therefore is often wrong since her ideology is often wrong. McArdle frequently states that everything is too hard and nobody can know anything ever, which is not a surprising attitude in someone who accepts facts that fit her preconceived notions and dismisses facts that do not. How can you insist you are always right when the lying facts show you are not? How can anyone trust anything?? If the facts are right than the ideology is wrong, and the ideology cannot be wrong. For most people, their ideology is based on their emotional needs and to deny their ideology is to deny them--their value and values, their feelings and thoughts.

McArdle's commenters smell blood in the water and are exceptionally rude to the young study author who responds with civility in the comments. Neither they nor McArdle care as much about accuracy as they care about destroying anything that mars their perfect ideology, their perfect fantasy world.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Net Benefits

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

We will avert our eyes from Megan McArdle's post on birth control, since it is merely a defense of pharmaceutical companies which have been accused of blood libel--that they are more concerned about profit than innovation. Professions of Faith are dull, especially when they are dedicated to the health care industry.

And we will ignore the twitter frenzy McArdle set off by musing about a quote on twitter mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King. Hundreds of commenters have either mistakenly attacked McArdle or have informed her about the history of the misquote. All McArdle wanted to do was point out (incorrectly) that someone else--someone not Megan McArdle--might very well be a liar and she, for one, can't possibly imagine what drives some people to lie because she, Megan McArdle, is most certainly not a liar, no matter what they say on the internet.

Instead, let's look at McArdle's opinion of the execution of Osama Bin Laden. Since she was a war-blogger during the run-up to our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, surely she is rejoicing that the US finally achieved her goal. She fought for invasion, voted for Bush twice, laughed at the idea of police assaulting anti-war protesters she believed would become violent, and repeatedly told her audience of her horror and anger after the events of 9/11. Surely she was able to feel something when she finally got what she wanted?

They say that revenge is a dish that's best served cold. We've been waiting a long time for this particular dish to cool, and now that I've eaten it, I'm surprised to find that it's pretty tasteless and unsatisfying.

Evidently not.

McArdle doesn't feel the emotions she expected to feel because her support of Republican war-mongering wasn't just about her fear of bin Laden, it was also about her need to identify with the winners. She is conservative, conservatives controlled the government, so everything Bush did was smart, a sign of strength, a winning move. McArdle belonged to the team of the top dogs, the guys with the guns who were not afraid to use them, and the last thing she wanted to do was question whether or not Daddy could make everything all better.

Then--From September 13, 2002:

I'm beginning to think that someone in the White House is very, very smart.

One hopes it's the president of course, though I've heard strong minority voices for Condi Rice, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. Whoever it is, I think they've confirmed my belief that the Administration has managed this crisis like a virtuoso.

I never took very seriously the complaints that Bush was flailing, because my years of watching politics have convinced me that there is some sort of natural law decreeing that every administration policy will provoke an equal number of equally vehement voices for, and against it. Especially in a war, when the demands of national security mean that the people running the war have a lot more information than the people trying to tell them how to run it. That's not to say that their decisions are necessarily right. But it means that I am unmoved by complaints that "I don't understand where he's going with all this". Thank God. A military strategy where everyone and their brother in law can chart the moves in advance is not one that I find reassuring.

The first time I suspected Bush was smarter than he looks (well, actually, it was the second time. But I can't remember what the first one was) was when he announced the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. It seemed to me that rather than displaying panic, it was a master stroke, politically speaking. He didn't say anything until the Democrats had enough rope to hang themselves -- and then he pulled the trigger. They were left without anything to say.

This looks similar to me. The Clinton team would have been out there, aggressively putting over the spin. The Bush administration was silent until everyone had decided that the complaint they were going to hang their hopes on was the abominable unilateral bent of the US. They let everyone talk themselves out and then they delivered this.

The UN performance was brilliant in so many ways. First of all, even before the speech, the obvious push for invasion forced Europe to stop pushing to ease the sanctions and let Saddaam build whatever weapons he wants as long as he buys French equipment and pays the Russians what he owes them. It brought us to a position of strength in negotiation. Whether or not you want the US to invade, it's pretty clear that the credible threat of invasion is the only thing making Saddaam offer to submit to inspections, or making Europe actually argue for uncompromising inspections. Second of all, now that it is clear that the US is going, it is fairly clear to me that Europe is indeed going to jump on the bandwagon so that their governments don't end up looking totally irrelevant. And third of all, most brilliantly, it was a "Put up or shut up" to the multilateralists.

Saddaam is in violation of about a hundred UN resolutions. And not fluffy resolutions either. Resolutions about things like stockpiling ABC weapons.

The UN can endorse the US invasion, and lose an opportunity to aggrandize its power and appease the small countries who would like to see the US brought low.

Or it can fail to endorse the invasion, and admit that its resolutions have no force. Should this occur, I don't think it's alarmist to say that we could look for the US to pull out of the UN in the not so distant future, the UN having proved itself not only anti-American, but irrelevent to boot.

I think they're going to endorse the invasion. I think they will make Saddaam an offer he can't accept -- really, truly, disarm (in which case I think Saddaam knows he would be dead in six months) or the US gets the green light. And then I think they will -- reluctantly, painfully, resentfully -- give lip service to the American cause.

Flailing? I think the Bush administration has more discipline than we've seen in the White House for a long time.

And who could argue with that logic, especially in retrospect? Sure, she got everything wrong but no doubt it felt great to tell herself that her liberal friends were all wrong and she was right, so there.


I knew a fair number of people who died on 9/11. I don't want to overdramatize that--few of them were people I knew at all well, and none of them were really close. It's just that I grew up in New York and I did a lot of consulting work in the towers. So naturally, I knew some of the people who died. The loss of so many lives at once was still a tragedy so terrible that I had a hard time grasping the extent of it. I could see them so clearly in my mind--the people, the buildings, the terrible salad stand in the concourse--that it was hard to actually believe they were gone. The mental images seemed much more vivid and believable than the smoking rubble at ground zero--even though I was by then working next to that smoking rubble, doing administrative tasks for one of the disaster recovery companies. The rubble was too surreal, too much like a disaster movie.

For months I would walk around the site trying to grasp the enormity of what had happened. I was waiting for that movie moment when it all comes crashing over you, and you are overwhelmed by the sudden awareness of everything that has been lost. It never happened. The site grew to look less like a disaster area, and more like a construction site. I got wrapped up in the day-to-day problems of the slurry wall and the new PATH tunnel. Eventually, I accepted that the death of so many people is too big to be comprehended, or even effectively mourned.

A great many people were able to mourn those death, as well as the deaths of our soldiers and the many thousands of Iraqis we killed. Like many people, McArdle sought something outside of herself after 9/11 that she was missing within--a sense of purpose, a feeling of belonging, a catharsis that would ease inner turmoil.

I was, however, filled with a terrible rage. I wanted Zacarias Moussaoui to get the electric chair, even though I'm against the death penalty.

She's against the death penalty except when she want to put someone to death. Just like she's against war deaths except when she wants to go to war.

I wanted vengeance, justice, and an end to terrorism. I think I wanted them in that order. I would have been exulted if Osama Bin Laden had been shot by American troops.

Ten years later, I feel none of the righteous joy that I expected. It mostly just fills me with grief for all the deaths between then and now that should never have happened.

See, here's the thing. You don't get to tell us how the deaths of so many people fill you with grief when you wanted to go to war, when you knew those death would certainly occur, and most especially of all when you wrote a post declaring the number of corpses that were piling up wasn't nearly as big as everyone said it was. It's rather difficult to believe in that grief when it was clear that going to war was a bloodless exercise for McArdle, a theoretical choice, in which the value of human life was not a major consideration.

Then: From April 2, 2003:

Something that a lot of people have trouble grasping is that you have to trade off one type of error for another; there is no perfect balance. And in the case of war, although most of us have an emotional conviction that of course one is better -- pro-war people who feel that any mistakes are worth it if it increases our security, anti-war people who feel that pre-emptive war is of course always wrong -- there's no logical necessity to prefer one over the other.

[yap yap yap]

We will not correctly judge the need for every conflict -- only history can do that, and only that over long years. But we should recognize that we are making a tradeoff. Coming away from the all-positive (imperialist occupation of the entire world) and all-negative (isolationist or pacifist) extremes, there is going to be some tradeoff. If we try to strike early, before things become very dangerous, we will invade some countries where it is unnecessary or counterproductive. If we wait until the threat is more certain, we will have fewer conflicts, but they will be bigger and more destructive.

I understand that this isn't the only consideration in discussing the war; I'll no doubt get angry emails saying I'm missing the point entirely. But I do think it's an important framework in which to think about it, although not the only one. Because by looking at it this way we can recognize that people who disagree with us are making tradeoffs between a set of imperfect choices. And that we're all just guessing about whether this will be a net benefit or negative in the long run. I'm guessing, you're guessing, and so's the guy you hate at work with the simplistic arguments. We're all guessing. If we recognize that, maybe we don't need to pound each other to death as if there were some certain and blindingly obvious outcome that the other person is willfully ignoring.

"A net benefit in the long run." Yeah, we can see the grief flowing like water.


I'm glad we've taken a terrorist out of circulation, of course. But maybe because I'm older, and mortality seems all too depressingly real, I find it hard to celebrate anyone's death--no, not even Bin Laden's. The families of the victims deserved some satisfaction, of course, and a certainly hope they got it. But these days, all of humanity seems so fragile to me, the universes of our minds so easily destroyed. No matter how much Team Death deserves to win, I find it hard to cheer when the Grim Reaper does his victory dance in the end zone.

It's like reading Stephanie Meyers--just painful.

I would feel more celebratory if this, like Hitler's death, meant the end of a long and bloody war. But what has it ended? The people who died on 9/11 are still exactly as dead; they have lost 3,520 days that should have been lived, and tomorrow, they will lose day 3,521. And it's hard to assess the deterrent effect of tracking someone down and killing them ten years after they attack you: did we make an example, or a martyr?

Don't get me wrong: I do not think killing Bin Laden was morally or even tactically wrong. I just think it's profoundly unsatisfying. We won't recover any of the things that he took from us, or even the things we took from ourselves, like the ability to travel around the country without being treated like a potential terrorist. Destroying Osama did not unmake him, which is what I really wanted. He may be dead, but we're still living with him.

You mean there's no way to undo what has been done, bring the dead back to life, bring back the juvenile illusion of safety and superiority? And thousands of people had to die for this realization to hit?

When Megan McArdle wanted to support drug and health insurance companies, she told us that some people might die now but thousands will be saved in her imaginary future. Her ideology said so; governments can't do anything right, governments are coercive, and government regulation of health insurance would kill millions of people. She did the same thing with war, deciding that liberal warnings were wrong and conservative urgings were right because she believes conservatives are strong and therefore right and liberals are weak and therefore wrong, a very Randian assessment. McArdle might think that she feels grief for the people who have died since we invaded Iraq but when it counted she dismissed the deaths that would occur. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who is willing to sacrifice others to get what she wants.

However since McArdle has decided to share her feelings with the world, perhaps she should personally tell the children of the dead that while she grieves for them she feels strangely empty now that she's had her revenge. They'll appreciate that, as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.