Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, May 29, 2009


Your Megan McArdle Moment for the day:
HL Mencken once defined Fundamentalism as "the terrible, pervasive fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun".

First, the period should be before the quotation mark. I understand that the British don't punctuate the same way we do, but we are not in Britain and The Atlantic is not a British magazine. I guess this is like her use of "chaps"--a feeble attempt to sound British and therefore more elite than she really is. Thank god she's not actually British, or we'd have to listen to a fake Royal accent too.

Second, the quote is inaccurate. She could take the four seconds I took to look it up, but I guess that would be above and beyond the call of duty.
If you don't believe [prejudice against minorities exists], ask yourself why repeated studies show that resumes with identifiably black names get fewer interview offers than identical white resumes. Being identifiably black hurts your chances worse than having a felony conviction. Even if you want to argue that an identifiably black name is a socio-economic marker for a certain kind of parenting, an argument I find pretty dubious, are you really willing to argue that black kids should be permanently barred from employment because their parents have dubious taste in names?

I'd think twice before I said people named, oh, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates, have parents with "dubious taste in names."
Making race, or racial politics, the central complaint [regarding Sonia Sotomayor], makes it seem like your biggest policy priority is making sure that not one minority in the land gets anything they don't deserve. But hey, we all get things we don't deserve. I'll go further: almost all of us get something we don't deserve as a result of our race, including white people. Perhaps even especially white people.

"Perhaps"? That's quite generous of her, to say that perhaps it's to one's advantage to be one of the majority. Indeed, the entire post is generous to minorities, saying that it's quite possible that some people actually do experience prejudice. It's very nice to see McArdle appreciate the difficulties of being a minority, especially after she has stated that she just doesn't see enough evidence that they suffer from economic discrimination. But we know McArdle is the practical type, and realizes that when people of a certain political ideology have alienated approximately 80% of the country, it might be to their advantage to complain a little less about all the unfair perks given to minorities in our society.

American Exceptionalism

Digby discusses Obama's refusal to release Abu Ghraib photos.
The administration needs to realize that it can't avoid this issue even if it wants to and it's not useful to try to finesse it or kick the issue down the road. There are simply too many lies under the bridge --- it's impossible to take the government at its word. If sexual assaults beyond those which we already know about and saw evidence of (and which were prosecuted) happened,then it will come out. The only question is whether it will be a drip, drip,drip of toxic revelations and speculations that will continue to poison this country and its relationship to the world or whether it will be an official,transparent accounting of what happened. Either way, there's no running away from it.

They aren't running away from it, they are presenting an alternative official accounting so people can choose whom to believe. It's muddying the waters so they can continue to believe that American don't torture and rape. We do and we always have. And we won't stop until we admit it.

"I Want To Believe"

Megan McArdle vlogs with Glen Reynolds and some woman from the Heritage Foundation while on vacation in North Carolina.* (Wasn't she telling us that she had to cut back on spending a little while ago? Oh, never mind, that's her business.) UnFortunately there is a technical problem, and all we hear from McArdle is that Medicare has problems so National Health won't work, and the government should reduce spending. We know McArdle knows that austerity is how the depression of the '30s became the Depression and we are the only advanced Western nation without National Health, but never mind that as well.

The Big Picture quotes an article on Bill Clinton.

Then there are the derivatives. There, Clinton pleads guilty. Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, opposed regulation of derivatives as they came to the fore in the 1990s, and Clinton agreed. “They argued that nobody’s going to buy these derivatives, we’ll do it without transparency, they’ll get the information they need,” he recalled. “And it turned out to be just wrong; it just wasn’t true.” He said others share blame, including credit-rating agencies that underestimated the risk. But he accepts responsibility as well.

McArdle keeps saying that one man can't ruin the system, but if one man doesn't believe in safeguards for ideological reasons, he can sure help a lot of other people ruin the system. How long can people deny reality? Forever, I guess.

Case in point: one Mr. John Dugan.

Given the role that big banks played in bringing on the financial crisis
and global recession, and the trillions of taxpayer dollars mobilized to prevent
their collapse, there haven't been many people outside these beleaguered
institutions willing to speak up for them.

Until now. For it seems the too-big-to-fail crowd has found an unapologetic
advocate in John Dugan, the comptroller of the currency and the very regulator
whose job it was to prevent the banks from getting into this much trouble in the
first place.


"Our message is not to cut back on commercial real estate loans," Dugan
assured the New York Bankers Association in April 2006. "Instead it is this: You
can have concentrations in commercial real estate loans, but only if you have
the risk management and capital you need to address the increased risk."

This is the exactly the kind of regulatory mumbo-jumbo that got us into
this mess. Instead of setting strict limits and standards for bank behavior --
and enforcing them, if necessary, with public cease-and-desist orders --
regulators bought into the fantasy that there was no amount of risk that
couldn't be dealt with simply by having more capital or better "risk
management." Only later did they learn that no amount of capital, no hedging
strategy and no risk manager could withstand the collapse that was brought on by
the orgy of risky activity going on right under their noses.

Even today, Dugan remains in denial about his agency's role in the
financial debacle. He was skeptical about the bank stress tests and disclosure
of the results. He continues to celebrate the fact that national banks have had
fewer failures than banks regulated by other agencies, as if Citigroup and
Wachovia and Bank of America are somehow great success stories. And he seems to
have forgotten that, even after the crisis hit, he continued to push for
international rules that would allow big banks to hold less capital and take on
more leverage.

Given this history, there's no mystery why John Dugan is still running
interference for big banks he is supposed to regulate. The mystery is why he is
still comptroller of the currency.

It amazes me at this late date that people like McArdle want to play Renfield to the banks' Count Dracula, but some people aren't happy unless they worship power and authority and debase themselves propping up the blood-sucking leeches.

*h/t to Anonymous in the FMM comments.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paying The Piper

A while ago Seymour Hersch said that he had seen photos of the abuse at Abu Ghraib and it was much worse than was being described at that time. Now that "much worse" is out, at least in part. It is perfectly obvious that if people were abusing the prisoners in sexual ways (the lightsticks, the humiliation), they were most certainly sexually abusing the prisoners as well. Any attempts to deny physical evidence will just be pathetically self-serving, so the right will probably waver between trying to ignore it and trying to forget it . But the rest of the world is not made of Americans accustomed to forgiving themselves and giving themselves the benefit of the doubt.

I don't believe in forgiveness and repentance anyway. It leaves too much damage behind, damage people would rather ignore. It's easy to focus on God's joyful gift of convenient amnesia and absolution of guilt. It's a lot harder to clean up the mess you made and deal with the consequences. Sure, we didn't torture anyone--we didn't even vote for someone who ordered torture. But we benefited from these actions, at least for a while. And now, after hundreds of years of making other people pay for our mistakes, we are finally starting to feel the effects as well. I only hope we are half as strong as we think we are.

You've Got To Be Kidding

I just have a minute, but I have to say WTF? Megan McArdle is using as a source now? And articles that quote RedState? And this is acceptable professional behavior to her?

What a joke she is. "Gee, those auto bankruptcies I said had to happen have affected Republicans!! Oh noes, it must be an Obama plot! Oh my goodness this doesn't look good for Obama and those liberal haters! Oh, if we only had Mr. Bush and Mr. Greenspan back to tell us how to survive these rough times that they had absolutely nothing to do with!

Mercy me, whatever shall we do? I know! Let's go out for drinks! Oh, rats, I can't afford that anymore because of Obama!"

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin and Gateway Pundit are on the case as well! Now we'll find out the truth about Obama's Secret Plot!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Megan McArdle is going on "vacation." That'll give me time to work on The League of Extraordinary Bloggers: The Cruise To Nowhere.

Phew. I needed the break.

Less Analyzed Megan

I should do a longish, well-thought out piece on the McArdle latest, but I'm (still) busy so I'll do a shorter.

Shorter Megan McArdle: It's not Greenspan's fault.

Encapsulated Megan McArdle:

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a well-respected journalist who doesn't cover
financial matters. She was pushing me for the culprit behind this mess,
and was unsatisfied when I pointed out that there were a lot of good reasons to
make most of these bad decisions. Ultimately she cried in frustration,
"but somebody must have done it!" This is how we approach the
problem: we want villains, guilt, punishment. But when systems fail,
they usually fail systemically. If one person, even Alan Greenspan, could
bring down the entire edifice, then we'd be in massive trouble, so we should be
grateful that it isn't the case.

Reasoning by anecdote, anonymous sources, strawman opponent spouting illogical and easily refutable opposition, strawman expressing emotional immaturity and limited reasoning, projection of one's own ideas on everyone else, meaningless catch-phrase, and finally a negation that depends on total ignorance of actual events.

Brava, McArdle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ross Douthat Is A Sexist Moron

Ross Douthat does what Ross Douthat does--tell women to keep their legs closed because they do not have his permission to have sex. The rest of his words are just blabber.

Way to go, The New York Times. That's quite the little thinker you have there. Was the guy who spies on women sunbathing in the park not available?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Busy, Back Soon

Heh, this isn't the first time Megan McArdle has scampered off on "vacation" after setting off a firestorm. I'd link but today is busy, so I'll hunt for those instances later. McArdle shouldn't worry. The right is full of people who love to discuss minutia instead of the larger, uglier picture: Our ruling class has gutted our economy, and Republicans and their enablers cheered them on the entire time. People like Megan McArdle want you to be angry at Andrews so you will not be angry with them.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Not So Fast

Before some of us get too carried away with the joy of trashing one's fellow creatures, perhaps we should remember two things: The middle class has barely begun to feel the effects of the recession, and it is in some people's best interest to steer middle class people's anger towards each other instead of the wealthy.

Most of us have had or will have money difficulties at some time of our life and hesitate to judge others' problems without mercy. Also, it is a given that thanks to Wall Street's gluttony, many of us will be much poorer than before, and the road downhill might be very rocky. I prefer to follow the words of wisdom of Megan McArdle, who reminded us that America's financial system was the best in the world when foolish people started talking about regulating it.

One of the topics that I write about with some frequency is bankruptcy. And
as with the current financial crisis, what's amazing about bankruptcy is how
many people are willing to spend how many hours debating whose fault it all was.
Were the people who borrowed the money irresponsible, or were they taken
advantage of by unscrupulous lenders? Do the people who backed the reform want
to help credit card companies rape innocent consumers, or did the people who
opposed it want to help deadbeats shrug off debts for the fripperies they
acquired? The main object in all of this seems to be to get the mob good and mad
so that we can pick up a stick and whack whatever villain we've

Almost no one ever steps forward and says, you know, hey, it might not
actually be anyone's fault. Sometimes, bad things just happen. And at any rate,
who cares?

It's surprising how often everyone in the debate over bankruptcy loses
sight of a simple fact: bankruptcy is the legal recognition of the fact that a
person or corporation cannot meet their obligations. It doesn't matter whether
they spent the money on worthy education or a stupid attempt to corner the Pez
market, or a giant-flat screen television; whatever they spent it on, it's
spent, and their current income is not enough to pay it off. Nor is it relevant
that they might not have borrowed the money if they'd been smarter or better
read, or whatever; the did borrow the money, and spent it, and now they owe it.
I'm not talking about fraud here, clearly; any borrower who lied about their
finances, or lender who misrepresented the terms, deserves whatever they get.
Just normal kinds of stupidity, venality, and unlucky accident.

That's nearly the opposite of what McArdle is advocating now, and further proof that McArdle's goal is to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. If she can advocate forgiveness one minute (as she does in this excerpt and her first post on Andrews) and then start digging up dirt on his wife a day or two later, one starts to wonder about McArdle's motives as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The World We Have Made

Well, now we know what it will take to get Megan McArdle to do research.
No decent person wants to parade their spouse's financial trouble in front of the world.

So McArdle will do it for him.
Patty Barreiro, Andrews' wife, has declared bankruptcy twice. The second time was while they were married, a detail that didn't make it into either the book or the excerpt that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Digging up dirt on the wife of a financial reporter that McArdle said was brave to discuss his financial problem? Why would McArdle do such a thing?
[...T]his is material information that changes the tenor of his story.

Yes, it does. For at first the story was about, well, Megan.
I'm glad that Andrews is saying this because we could all use an object lesson. Trying to live as if we aren't, well, writers, can be disastrous--indeed often is, except that the disasters are carefully hidden by people terrified of seeming to drop out of the middle class.

But McArdle's commenters aren't a very tolerant bunch. They fall all over each other criticizing every decision Andrews made, collectively deciding that he should have ran a credit check on his girlfriends before marrying them, and then lived in a modest suburb in Jersey where he should grow his own vegetables and tell his wife to homeschool the children. Or be sent to debtors' prison.

McArdle's concerns change, and she puts her thinking cap back on.
So this weekend, I read the book from which the New York Times article I blogged about on Friday was excerpted. I feel a little differently now, though not enough to take back anything I wrote.

Andrews spends a lot of time defending not feeling bad, because after all, the banks shouldn't have lent him money. This is true, they shouldn't, and anyone who did should be profusely apologizing to their shareholders. But when you read the book, what you discover is that while the book is ostensibly about our Great National Borrowing Binge, for Andrews, the debt is really a sideshow. He couldn't afford to get married. At all.

[yip yip]

Other people may have been led down the primrose path, borrowing more than they can afford. But Andrews married more than he could afford. Unless he's willing to repudiate the marriage, he hasn't much moral stance to repudiate the debt.

Unless you repudiate your marriage, sir, your debts will not be forgiven. What is more important, your family or your credit score? Heh, just kidding, we know which McArdle would choose.

McArdle's commenters go to work again and decide that his wife is a spoiled cow for not going back to work the minute the kids went to school. As a stay at home mother I take umbrage at the notion that we do not work, but let's face it, we're talking about people who discuss in great detail and with great seriousness whether African Americans are an inferior race because they're black or because they're lazy, so I'll consider the source and forget it.

But McArdle is intrigued by this new train of thought, and runs away with it.
At the end of his book's harrowing account of mortgage mistakes and credit card crises, Edmund Andrews writes: "While our misadventure had certainly been more extreme than those of many other Americans, our situation was not all that unusual." And indeed the book reads like the story of an American Everyman, easily sucked in to the alluring world of easy credit as he struggled to blend a new family. The terrifying implication is that it could happen to you--to anyone who leads with their heart and not their head.

But en route to that moral, it turns out the story has been tidied up a little. Patty Barreiro, Andrews' wife, has declared bankruptcy twice. The second time was while they were married, a detail that didn't make it into either the book or the excerpt that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

It was the little woman's fault! Or maybe little women's! Not the banks'!
Serial bankruptcy is not a creation of the current credit crisis, and it doesn't just happen to anyone, particularly anyone with a six figure salary.

Which is the important point. It's not the fault of the banks. Which are free of fault.

I can imagine that we will end up living in a world of violence and poverty, but I can't imagine wanting to end that way so my enemies will get what's coming to them. Nor can I imagine worshipping the architects of our destruction.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Less Spiritual Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: I have completely bought into the corporation-based point of view, to the point that I see a threat to my credit as worse than a threat to my life. I cannot even imagine a world based on human dignity, and instead crouch fearfully in a world based on how much money people can make off of me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Double Standards

I can't see the purpose of this Megan McArdle post on California's money problems.

So what about California? A reader asks. Ummm, that's a tough
one. No, wait, it's not: California is completely, totally,
irreparably hosed. And not a little garden hose. More like this.

[yappity yap yap]

California will go bankrupt, muni and state debt will spike, the federal
government will backstop humanitarian programs and very possibly all state and
local debt, and eventually, California will figure out whether it wants higher
taxes or lower spending. But we will not actually make the world a better
place by enabling the lunatics in Sacramento to pretend they can have

That was simple. California will go bankrupt and bad thing will happen. It didn't take much thought to come to that conclusion and she's ignoring Proposition 13, which bypasses the state legislature in setting tax rates. But that was before her time and therefore she wasn't able to read about it in the Economist or Financial Times, so she might not know about it. It's just another forgettable, vaguely inaccurate anti-government post from McArdle.

But I don't think McArdle would be as happy to see New York suffer the same fate; she advocated bailing out Wall Street at least in part because, she said, it is an essential source of revenue for the state of New York. California, which decreased the power of its government and lowered its taxes, something that ought to thrill McArdle's little libertarian heart, deserves to suffer, yet New York should be bailed out by the entire country.

Megan McArdle with a double standard--one for her and the things she cares about, another for everyone else. I simply can't believe my eyes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ross Douthat Is A Gullible Hack

The movie version of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is out, and Ross Douthat can't control his loathing for the entire enterprise. The mass market paperback thriller and summer Tom Hanks vehicle, which have made millions of dollars, exist to push an agenda, says Douthat, practically vibrating with indignation.
Brown is explicit about this mission. He isn’t a serious novelist, but he’s a deadly serious writer: His thrilling plots, he’s said, are there to make the books’ didacticism go down easy, so that readers don’t realize till the end “how much they are learning along the way.” He’s working in the same genre as Harlan Coben and James Patterson, but his real competitors are ideologues like Ayn Rand, and spiritual gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. He’s writing thrillers, but he’s selling a theology.


In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have
the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one
of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for
21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither
swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized
“religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.


They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional
religion’s dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who’s too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they’re making or how many times they’ve been married.

These are Dan Brown’s kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination
with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who’s a thoroughly modern sort of messiah — sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

Douthat's proof of this attempt to take Christianity away from him and give it to the immoral masses is an interview with Brown that reveals his purported "didacticism."

Q: You've written novels about a classified intelligence agency and an
ultra-secretive brotherhood. Are secrets something that interest you?

Secrets interest us all, I think. For me, writing about clandestine material
keeps me engaged in the project. Because a novel can take upwards of a year to
write, I need to be constantly learning as I write, or I lose interest.
Researching and writing about secretive topics helps remind me how fun it is to
"spy" into unseen worlds, and it motivates me to try to give the reader that
same experience. Lots of people wrote me after Digital Fortress amazed that the
National Security Agency is for real. I've already started getting similar mail
from Angels & Demons--people shocked to learn about the Illuminati
brotherhood, antimatter technology, or the inner workings of the Vatican
election. My goal is always to make the character's and plot be so engaging that
readers don't realize how much they are learning along the way.


[A]: I imagine some controversy is unavoidable, yes, although it's
important to remember that Angels & Demons is primarily a thriller--a chase
and a love story. It's certainly not an anti-Catholic book. It's not even a
religious book.

Brown explicitly states that the book delves into arcane Vatican matters to get the reader's interest. Most mystery and thriller writers do the same thing. The most entertaining mysteries teach you something new, or immerse you into a new world for a couple of brief hours. The mystery alone is usually not enough; it takes entertaining settings and characters as well. Brown's schtick is the Vatican, and there really should not be any confusion between a beach novel and religious dogma. Douthat manages to dredge up an unbelievable amount of indignation over a couple of popular novels.

Brown’s message has been called anti-Catholic, but that’s only part of the
story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church’s past constitutes a greatest
hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)

The “secret” history of Christendom that unspools in “The Da Vinci Code” is
false from start to finish. The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far weirder than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.

For millions of readers, Brown’s novels have helped smooth over the
tension between ancient Christianity and modern American faith. But the tension
endures. You can have Jesus or Dan Brown. But you can’t have both.

Douthat should unclench his fingers from around his Bible; nobody's trying to take Jesus away from him. Or trying to deny "Catholicism’s truth claims." They're making a buck and probably increasing Vatican tourist revenues. But Douthat feels "targeted" and "demonized," and calls Brown anti-Catholic twice. He grossly overreacts, defending his Faith from the scourge of popular fiction and summer blockbusters. How dare anyone say that his religion is not the one true religion?

I'm having a hard time seeing why Douthat is in the Times. The Villagers usually prefer their that moral scolding is a little more entertaining, a little more secular. Sex scandals or Democratic witch-hunts, not fundamentalist rants against heathen Hollywood. That's what Big Hollywoood is for, and I fail to see why the Times would use the imploding world of wingnut welfare journalism as a business plan.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Problem? What Problem?

Megan McArdle points us to a New York Times article that says mortgage brokers went from refusing loans to minorities to steering them into sub-prime loans, even when they were qualified for better ones. Oddly, McArdle came to a different conclusion.

The New York Times suggests that the problem is the mortgage brokers; immigrants
and African Americans don't trust banks for a variety of reasons. And they did
trust mortgage brokers who were members of their communities, and steered them
to expensive loans that earned fat commissions.

I don't say that this
isn't the problem--I'm sure it's a least some part of it. But there's a problem
with this sort of analysis. There are a number of different metrics that go into
loan quality, and therefore what a buyer should pay for their loan:

Expenses, especially outstanding debt

Loan-to-value ratio
Most of the studies I've seen
indicating that minorities are steered into pricier loans look at just one, or
at most two, of these factors. But they all matter, particularly the size of the

This isn't the first time McArdle has brought up this subject; it's at least the third. "It is not plausible to argue that the banks knew the loans would go bad . . . and nonetheless jammed billions of them into their portfolios, McArdle sniffed in December 2007, in response to "Nobel-prize-winning economist Gary Becker"'s assertion. "So far I've seen little evidence that, taking these things into account, banks are discriminating against minority borrowers," she insisted after a New York Times article about loan discrimination in January 2008. And in July 2008 she still didn't see a problem after another blogger discussed a similar credit bias situation.

If the companies were statistically discriminating against African Americans,
giving them worse loan terms than they really qualify for, they should be paying
off those loans at higher rates than whites.
They're not. Most of the aggregate research I've seen fails to reject the null
hypothesis that there is no discrimination in loan markets, which means that if
there is discrimination, it is not catching huge numbers of people who are more
likely than their loan terms would suggest to pay their bills on time. Just to
be clear, we're not talking about research that says that blacks who get a
higher interest rate don't pay off at the same rate as whites who get a lower
one--you can't blame the default rate on the higher interest rate. We're talking
about the fact that minorities do not outperform their own loan class. If loan
companies really were discriminating, issuing sub-prime mortgages and car loans
to credit-worthy minorities should be a license to print money.

What a mess. "Most of the aggregate research." "Reject the null hypothesis." "Sub-prime mortgages to minorities should be a license to print money." "There's a problem with this sort of analysis." "Most of the studies I've seen indicating that minorities are steered into pricier loans look at just one, or at most two, of these factors. But they all matter, particularly the size of the loan." Weasel words, free of fact and analysis. McArdle doesn't refute facts, she hen-pecks at the methods used to gather information. That way she doesn't actually have to prove anything, she just casts enough aspersions on the data to confuse the issue. When source after source after source after source brings up a problem, dismissing it out of hand begins to look like bigotry and callous indifference instead of honest disagreement.

She was corrected then and she might be corrected again, but facts don't matter. In the Free Market Fantasyland in McArdle's head, a company will never do anything short-sighted or underhanded because the Free Market Fairy will punish it. Reality is unimportant--the fantasy must live on.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Assumptions

Well, that was interesting. Megan is having problems using her new inhaler. Since Megan has problems doing anything of a practical nature I'm not too surprised, but I'm afraid I have assumptions as well; I assume that Megan is using the inhaler wrong. I assume she is stupid, so I assume she has done a stupid thing. But my assumption might be wrong. Shame on me! It seems there's a possibility that the drug companies put a new, less effective inhaler on the market just to make more money. A drug company, harming people to make a buck! How can that be?

I thought Megan said corporations have the competition of the marketplace to monitor them and keep them from committing harmful acts? That drug companies charge high prices because of all the research and development they do? When it seems that they might just be jacking with people's health and well-being to make a fast buck. I don't know if this is true without more research (which I won't do), but I will try to keep an open mind in the future, and remember that just because a person is blindly ideological, tongue-baths the rich, doesn't really understand her field, and is too lazy to research, it doesn't mean she's never right.

Friday, May 15, 2009

From Persuasion by Jane Austen

Such were Elizabeth Elliot's sentiments and sensations; such the cares
to alloy, the agitations to vary, the sameness and the elegance,
the prosperity and the nothingness of her scene of life;
such the feelings to give interest to a long, uneventful residence
in one country circle, to fill the vacancies which there were no habits
of utility abroad, no talents or accomplishments for home, to occupy.

But now, another occupation and solicitude of mind was beginning to be
added to these. Her father was growing distressed for money.
She knew, that when he now took up the Baronetage, it was to drive
the heavy bills of his tradespeople, and the unwelcome hints of
Mr Shepherd, his agent, from his thoughts. The Kellynch property was good,
but not equal to Sir Walter's apprehension of the state required
in its possessor. While Lady Elliot lived, there had been method,
moderation, and economy, which had just kept him within his income;
but with her had died all such right-mindedness, and from that period
he had been constantly exceeding it. It had not been possible
for him to spend less; he had done nothing but what Sir Walter Elliot
was imperiously called on to do; but blameless as he was, he was
not only growing dreadfully in debt, but was hearing of it so often,
that it became vain to attempt concealing it longer, even partially,
from his daughter. He had given her some hints of it the last spring
in town; he had gone so far even as to say, "Can we retrench?
Does it occur to you that there is any one article in which
we can retrench?" and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first
ardour of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done,
and had finally proposed these two branches of economy, to cut off
some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new furnishing
the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added
the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne,
as had been the usual yearly custom. But these measures,
however good in themselves, were insufficient for the real extent
of the evil, the whole of which Sir Walter found himself obliged
to confess to her soon afterwards. Elizabeth had nothing to propose
of deeper efficacy. She felt herself ill-used and unfortunate,
as did her father; and they were neither of them able to devise
any means of lessening their expenses without compromising their dignity,
or relinquishing their comforts in a way not to be borne.

There was only a small part of his estate that Sir Walter could dispose of;
but had every acre been alienable, it would have made no difference.
He had condescended to mortgage as far as he had the power,
but he would never condescend to sell. No; he would never disgrace
his name so far. The Kellynch estate should be transmitted whole
and entire, as he had received it.

Their two confidential friends, Mr Shepherd, who lived in
the neighbouring market town, and Lady Russell, were called to advise them;
and both father and daughter seemed to expect that something should be
struck out by one or the other to remove their embarrassments
and reduce their expenditure, without involving the loss of
any indulgence of taste or pride.

I Told You So

A good, Christian woman would applaud Megan McArdle's post about the hardships of being a writer, especially in the age of recession. Fortunately I am only one of those things.

Point the first: I told you so. I told you you'd suffer from this disaster, which you and your fellow elite wanna-bes cheered on. Good. Now maybe you'll learn to be less callous towards those in genuine need, though I doubt it.

Point the second: You are being paid to write, making you one of the most fortunate creatures on the planet. I write or read research material every day for free. Stop whining and man up and thank your parents for buying you an education that purchased admiration and respect and jobs.

Point the third: If you are so shallow and insecure that you must live up to someone else's spending, too bad. Learn to go without like all the poor people whom you blame for all their own problems. Hey, maybe if you were a better person you'd be richer!

You call your credit score a sign of a life well-lived. You have no idea. You are not going to enjoy this depression, and I told you that as well.


My thanks to Ken Houghton, who pointed out this post of Megan McArdle's.

McArdle posts that the government is inferior to the free market because the free market is checked by "countervailing market discipline" and the government is not. Her reasons are not very persuasive and are based on her assumption that the government is always worse than free market capitalism, as Larry Kudlow would say. Because of this assumption, McArdle misreads and misinterprets the information she used to give an example of government malfeasance in action.

Government power can perpetuate a bad paradigm. I'm currently reading a book called Cure Unknown by a science journalist who believes she and her family are suffering from chronic Lyme disease. I don't know if Chronic Lyme Disease
exists, or is a figment of the imaginations of people with some unspecified
systemic or psychological problem. But some of the things she's angry about ring
true to me because they sound a lot like other episodes from the history of science.

The spirochete that causes Lyme is hard to detect, so treatment
guidelines focus on the "bullseye rash", not because there's any particular
reason to think it must follow infection by the borrelia bacterium, but because
it's easy to diagnose, and . . . it's part of the diagnostic criteria. Everyone
who has "real" Lyme disease has the rash, because the definition of "real" Lyme
disease is having a rash. This, of course, makes it hard to test the theory that
the spirochete might cause symptoms other than a rash.

[yap yap]

[Pam] Weintraub makes a compelling case that these sorts of
hard-and-fast diagnostic rules [at the CDC] have, at the very least, left some
indisputable cases of Lyme undiagnosed, including that of Weintraub's son. The
CDC has turned this into a major problem, since of course most physicians do not
pour through the journals themselves; they glance at the CDC criteria, which are
quite restrictive. It's pretty clear that scientists who have a lot vested in
the current model of Lyme (their careers, possible malpractice accusations),
have at least for now won the debate. It's not quite so clear that they should
have. And the government imprimatur has done a lot to seal the fate of the
dissidents. This is all standard stuff to anyone who's read The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions
. But those revolutions happen because there are
multiple possible centers of power. The government has the ability to
potentially shut the revolutionary centers down.

As I say, I am in favor of doing the research. But the dangers of this sort of government sanction are not quite so far off and imaginary as Matthew Yglesias and Hilzoy seem to think. I don't think conservatives have done a very good job of articulating those dangers (and don't get me started on the pharmaceutical industry!) But I still think they're worth keeping in mind.

Most unfortunately, McArdle did not read the book carefully and took away from the events in the book what she wanted to take. Because of her assumptions and prejudices, McArdle makes several embarrassing mistakes.

McArdle assumes the government will make errors that are never corrected and lazily followed without thought.

Science isn't always cut and dried, but government reports are supposed to
produce answers. There's a danger the bureaucrats will be more definite than the
science calls for. This is a risk in the private sector, too, but private sector
errors of this sort are rarely as powerful as government errors of the same
kind. Once the government establishes a standard of care, private companies will
probably follow, even if they are wrong, because it's:

Easier than doing their own analysis
A lot easier than getting sued
Possibly cheaper than the more effective treatment.

Because of these assumptions, McArdle thinks the CDC's rigid standards hinder the diagnosis of Lyme disease.
[Pam] Weintraub makes a compelling case that these sorts of hard-and-fast
diagnostic rules [at the CDC] have, at the very least, left some indisputable
cases of Lyme undiagnosed, including that of Weintraub's son. The CDC has turned
this into a major problem, since of course most physicians do not pour through
the journals themselves; they glance at the CDC criteria, which are quite

But McArdle also assumes that, to put it into terms McArdle would understand, protesters are fools interfering with the natural order of the free market. So McArdle suspects all interest groups as well, a fancier way of hating the dirty hippies who want equality and have no respect for their betters.
Government agencies are much more vulnerable to interest group pressure than private companies. Researchers will come under tremendous pressure to say that
things work when they don't--not just from big, bad Pharma companies, but from
patients who do not want their insurance company to cut off access to the
treatment. And see above: a government report saying snake oil might work has
more impact than a dozen private company reports saying the same.

This disdain leads her to say several very unfortunate things.
I don't know if Chronic Lyme Disease exists, or is a figment of the imaginations of people with some unspecified systemic or psychological problem. But some of the things she's angry about ring true to me because they sound a lot like other episodes from the history of science.

[from comments, to Weintraub herself] [...S]ometimes disease advocates are right--but as you undoubtedly also know, sometimes they're crazy. Indeed, sometimes they are both crazy and right.

Stupid, callous, and unkind. But McArdle isn't evil, she's ideological. She doesn't think beyond her comfortable, self-flattering assumptions. She doesn't think about the people who suffer for her ideals. She writes her little posts and flits off, to the next pet peeve or favorite concept. Oddly, they all end up supportive of those in power.

In the comments we see how far afield McArdle's prejudices have taken her. Ms. Weintraub, with some agitation, attempts to correct McArdle's mistakes. She tells McArdle that her son did not have Chronic Lyme disease and the issue was "that the FIGHT over chronic Lyme disease has caused doctors in the community to pull back from diagnosing even classic Lyme disease, creating a large population of late stage patients who are harder to treat." McArdle completely missed this point. Ms. Weintraub also says:

I am not an advocate. I am a very longtime national science journalist and senior editor at Discover Magazine, and tried to present a balanced view in my book even while relating my own experience for full and honest disclosure.

I have traveled around the country interviewing mainstream scientists not involved in the political fight over Lyme but working with the organism and its pathogenesis at the lab bench at major academic institutions. The interviews with these scientists are in the book.

They have given me a very different view than that put forth by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

I hope we are not at the point where a journalist must either spout the chapter and verse of a single but powerful body or be called an advocate.

McArdle's response is insultingly dismissive:

I'm sorry if I sounded like I was dismissing you; I'm not. First of all, sometimes disease advocates are right--but as you undoubtedly also know, sometimes they're crazy. Indeed, sometimes they are both crazy and right.

But more broadly, I've read one book on the topic, yours. I'm sure we all have had the experience of reading a powerful book, being completely persuaded--then reading another book arguing the opposite, and being completely persuaded by that. I know it's frustrating for you--I've felt the same way many times--but I can't jump to the conclusion you're right without reading other works on the topic. As I say, you're persuasive. And what you describe is certainly behavior that has been described of doctors in other contexts--Semmelweiss, the 48 human chromosomes.

There are a lot of very important discussions to be had regarding the many facets of the health care system in the US. Thanks to McArdle's ideological blindness, this is not one of them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Get Well Soon

I'm worried about Megan McArdle. She is flooding us with output which is a good thing, especially in an era of lay-offs, but her tone is very troubled. Medicare is bankrupting us, the economy will only get worse, (a new refrain for her) exercise is useless, bartering for goods is increasing, social security is dying, governments are useless. (More about that last post later.) She has a kind word for bankruptcy laws, but otherwise it's all doom-and-gloom under President Obama. Perhaps watching the journalism business contract at the same time Republican economic policies are undercutting the economy is wearing on her nerves.

Less Healthy Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: Screw the environment and the rest of you, I want my aerosol inhaler.

Bonus Giggle:
My asthma is terrible, and I'm stuck with one of the new inhalers, which is about as effective as waving one of those magnetic copper bracelets you buy off late night tv in front of my chest.

I often shop late at night in front of Megan's chest.

Second Bonus Giggle:
At 7:30 this morning, far earlier than I normally leave my house, I was outside in flip-flops and my pajama shorts, moving my car.

Either McArdle's a bad writer or her chest is too much exposed. First tv shoppers, now all of DC? Where is your shame, girl??

"We're Special"

Poor, krazy Katheryn Jean Lopez says aloud what everyone else is thinking but is too canny to actually emphesize.
Rush Limbaugh has been bringing the message of freedom and American exceptionalism to Americans for over 20 years now, most weekdays, for three hours a day. He deserves a little thanks. And he certainly deserves to be listened to before attacked by natural allies.

For twenty years, the people left behind by the rest of the country have been absorbing Rush's messages that Americans are better than everyone else, which means that everyone else is inferior to us. Whatever we do is the right and moral thing to do, and everyone else, no matter what they do, is less right and less moral. By now the vast majority of people in the country assume that American are superior, both as a people and as a nation. If they weren't told this by Rush they were told this by their parents, by their schoolbooks, by their political leaders, and by their religious leaders. We have the arrogance to routinely demand that God bless America, and have little doubt but that he does. It doesn't occur to most us that our government actually committed acts that resulted in consequences favorable to us. We simply assume that we deserve our special status.

President Obama believes in American exceptionalism as well.
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

It's sad to see someone brag about our "core set of values" when the entire world plainly sees us destroy economies and murder fellow human beings to achieve and maintain this global domination. Obama has stymied attempts to punish those who ordered torture, probably because he does not want to examine what we have done. His stated reason is that the photos will inflame anti-Americanism and put our troops in danger. I think that ship has already sailed, but I don't believe in American exceptionalism. The White House:
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said release of photos from the cases would merely "provide, in some ways, a sensationalistic portion of that investigation."

Obama said later, "I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib."

Still, he said he had made it newly clear: "Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated."

The effort to keep the photos from becoming public represented a sharp reversal from Obama's repeated pledges for open government, and in particular from his promise to be forthcoming with information that courts have ruled should be publicly available.

Obama had to go against all of his inherent, superior core values to go back on his word to his supporters. Perhaps he really wants to protect the men he's left in a war zone. Perhaps his admitted belief in American goodness and superiority won't be challenged by photos of Americans torturing their prisoners. But perhaps it will, and he doesn't want to take that chance.

Juan Cole gives Obama the benefit of the doubt, but knows the attempt at denial is futile.
If this consideration did drive the reversal of position, I think it is unfortunate. The US is more likely to get past the mistakes it made 5 years ago if it comes clean and seeks reconciliation than if it goes on trying to cover up the past even though everyone knows what happened.

One of the reasons Republicans have an approval rating of 21% is because "Dick" Cheney is making it very, very difficult to deny reality. Republicans want to feel proud of their country and party but can't as long as it openly commits immoral acts so blatant that even the right can't deny anymore.
When will we hear from those in my party who give a damn about their country and about the party of Lincoln?

When will someone of stature tell Dick Cheney that enough is enough? Go home. Spend your 70 million. Luxuriate in your Eastern Shore mansion. Shoot quail with your friends--and your friends.

Stay out of our way as we try to repair the extensive damage you've done--to the country and to its Republican Party.

Let us believe we are exceptional once again. Let us feel superior. We need it. We have to believe we're better than everyone else. We have to believe that God is on America's side. We have to believe our parents when they say Americans are different from everyone else, chosen ones like the Children of Israel. Otherwise we're just ordinary people, just like everyone else, and can suffer the vicissitudes of fate like everyone else. We're too afraid to give up our security blanket of superiority. We depend on it to survive and without it we'd have to stop, reexamine our actions, and act on our new knowledge. We have too much to lose to do that--our wealth, our relative safety, our ego. So we grab everything we can get, kill them before they kill us, and never look behind the surface of the facade of superiority we've built.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Less Statistical Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: Going on Social Security is such a positive experience that people can't wait to quit their jobs and live on whatever is left of their savings and their SS riches.

Retirements cannot lengthen indefinitely without massive gains to productivity, or increases in the supply of younger workers; the math doesn't work.

Why do I doubt the veracity of this statement? Maybe because hell will freeze over before McArdle posts links or data to back up her statements.


Shorter Richard Cohen: Just because Cheney lied about war and silenced his critics doesn't mean that we shouldn't listen to him lie about war and try to silence his critics. That would be unfair.

Shorter Kathryn Jean Lopez: Telling teen girls about their bodies and sexual feelings will turn them into sluts.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Evidently AEI isn't the only one suffering in the free market.

Anyway, why did I think it was awful? For starters, the hotel is under renovation, so the traditional pre-dinner reception in the courtyard was gone this year. This meant that everyone had to congregate indoors which turned the place into a steam bath. Also, neither The Weekly Standard nor NR had a reception this year, which was too bad.

You know you're in rough times when the free drinks dry up.

Poor Jonah Goldberg, forced to watch the Left at play while sober. It must have been hell.

Quick Link

A fascinating interview with a hedge fund manager. (Via) One good part:

The thing is that nobody has enough brain power to question every assumption, to think about every single facet of an investment. There are certain things you need to take for granted. And people would take for granted the idea that, "OK, something that Moody's rates triple-A must be money-good, so I'm going to worry about the other things I'm investing in, but when it comes time to say, ‘Where am I going to put my cash?,' I'll just leave it in triple-A commercial paper, I don't have time to think about everything." It could be the case that, yeah, the power's going to fail in my office, and maybe the water supply is going to fail, and I should plan for that, but you only have so much brain power, so you think about what you think are the relevant factors, the factors that are likely to change. But often some of those assumptions that you make are wrong.

n+1: So the Moody's ratings were like the water running...

HFM: Exactly. Triple-A is triple-A. But there were people who made a ton of money in the sub-prime crisis because they looked at the collateral that underlay a lot of these CDOs [collateralized debt obligations] and commercial paper programs that were highly rated and they said, "Wait a second. What's underlying this are loans that have been made to people who really shouldn't own houses—they're not financially prepared to own houses. The underwriting standards are materially worse than they've been in previous years; the amount of construction that's going on in particular markets is just totally out of proportion with the sort of household formation that's going on; the rating agencies are kind of asleep at the switch, they're not changing their assumptions and therefore, OK, notwithstanding something may be rated triple-A, I can come up with what I think is a realistic scenario where those securities are impaired." And pricing on triple-A CDO paper was very, very rich. Spreads were very, very tight, and these guys said, "You know what? These assumptions that triple-A is money-good, or the assumptions that underlay Moody's ratings..."

n+1: Money-good?

HFM: In other words, if you buy a bond, you're going to get back your principle. It's money-good. You're going to get a hundred cents on the dollar back.

But in reality this was wrong, and people were able to short triple-A securities very cheaply. They weren't paying a lot to be short and they made huge money on triple-A securities and triple-A CDO paper that now trades at fifty cents on the dollar. I mean that is like the water's not running today, right? The sun didn't rise. But if you were trained in finance, you probably are more likely to take for granted that, "The rating agencies have a very sound process, credit analysis, the same process that I've been trained in, all the assumptions that I use are kind of the same as the assumptions they use." In the same fashion, if you assess the attractiveness of a trade based on historical data from a time when people weren't really actively doing that trade, and then suddenly everybody's doing that trade, the behavior of the trade will be different. And if you're trained the same way as everybody else, in general you're all going to behave the same. And when everyone behaves the same, that makes trades a lot riskier: everybody's buying at the same time, you get bubbles, everybody's selling at the same time, you get crashes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dear Megan

Dearest Megan,

If you start pushing school vouchers again I will clean your clock with the facts you are omitting. You will look like the clueless shill that you are, and by the time I'm done you'll be wishing you avoided this conversation. This will take up a tremendous amount of my time to do the research*, and I am not being paid to work 16-hour days like you are. So I will be very cranky.

Hugs and Kisses,


*Ask your friends what that word means.

P.S. Don't forget that you first got my attention by attacking teachers. How many posts have I written just for that reason? Hundreds. But go ahead, make me angry. Again.

I Just Don't See It

A commenter mentions to Megan McArdle that a Wall Street Journal article is very similar to her post on the same subject. That's true; McArdle often riffs on others' work instead of developing her own theories, but one must be fair. The WSJ author writes that Canadian banks benefited from staying out of sub-prime mortgages, heavy leveraging, and securities, and Megan doesn't. She has supported the creation of these securities and poo-poohed any major sub-prime crises. So really, the articles aren't that alike after all.

McArdle and the article's author also have very different writing styles. Mrs. Kravis:

Advocates of increased regulation of U.S. financial markets have concluded that more stringent rules governing leverage and capital ratios account for Canada's impressive performance. They champion such measures here. In a Toronto speech earlier this year about reforming the U.S. banking system, former Fed chairman and Obama administration adviser Paul Volcker said the model he is considering "looks more like the Canadian system than it does the American system."

Nevertheless, Canadian banks operate in a very different context. Copying the Canadian banking system in this country, without understanding how its banking and housing sectors operate, would be a mistake.

Miss McArdle:

I don't find "they were more tightly regulated" a plausible explanation.
When you dig down, most of those explanations seem short on the actual
regulations that accomplished this marvelous feat, or even an extraordinary risk
management system, and long on glowering regulators putting the fear of God into
snivelling bankers through sheer force of moral righteousness. But more
importantly, the banking crisis seems to be hitting almost every other country
very hard even though they have very different bank regulators.

The difference is night and day.

We Need An Authority

Like most conservatives, Jonah Goldberg is authoritarian. He believes in following the strongest leader and obeying him. He doesn't bother thinking beyond obedience; if the boss says jump, he starts writing how high everyone should jump. So naturally he thinks that if conservatives could just come up with a good, popular leader, they would win elections.
Gone are the days when a great but uncharismatic president like Calvin Coolidge could get elected because he promised to do as little as possible. (“Perhaps,” he observed, “one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.”)

But Goldberg doesn't really want a government that does little or nothing.
I would love it if the GOP dedicated itself to cutting government by two-thirds, leaving only a minimal social safety net, a big honking military, and a few other bells and whistles for promoting the general welfare. My ideal ticket in 2008 would have been Cheney-Gramm. That’s right, Dick Cheney and Phil Gramm: two old white guys who would crush our enemies and liberate our economy while shouting, “You kids get off my lawn!” at the filthy hippies who would inevitably accumulate outside the White House like so much bathroom fungus.

If only we had Dick Cheney designing our military strategy, and Phil Gramm designing our economic strategy. Except we did, and it brought us to this sorry-yet-happily-conservative-free state. Reality doesn't matter to an authoritarian, however. Maintaining the illusion of a protective Daddy who takes care of you is what really counts.
Liberals bristled at — but didn’t really deny — the suggestion that voters preferred Bush because they’d rather “have a beer with him.” What they fail to fully appreciate is that many voters preferred Obama because they’d rather have a chardonnay with him than with that cranky John McCain. Obama’s winning personality and a widespread yearning for ill-defined “change” were probably more essential to Obama’s victory than his campaign proposals.

Liberals are less authoritarian than conservatives because less authoritarian people are more attracted to liberalism than they are the stratified and closed world of conservatism. Goldberg's method of dealing with disagreement is to write "I know you are but what am I," and this is just another example. Obama won because the Bush Team sent the economy into the crapper. Period. It took a major financial meltdown to overcome the popular Republican platform of telling people their taxes will be cut and that they are superior to the rest of humanity.
So what does this mean for conservatives? Well, it doesn’t mean that we should stop debating ideas. But it also probably means that we won’t have a chance to implement those ideas until the GOP finds a winning salesman or vessel for them, and that person doesn’t seem to exist right now. Again, I’m speaking to my fears, not my hopes.

Again, Goldberg ignores the past eight years in which conservative ideas finally were able to run their natural course without any governmental mitigation. He also ignores the fact that popular Bush became unpopular Bush due to the failure of his policies. It's not the policies, it's the person, he says, so all they need is a new authority to follow and they'll be winners once again.

Watching the right blame Obama for our economic troubles is a surreal experience, but reality doesn't go away just because you ignore it. Republicans will find some other drooling moron with money and a familiar name and immediately hold him up as a paragon, just like they did with Bush. The only question is if there will be anyone left in Jonah's camp when they do.

Authoritarian Parenting


I'm sure the usual cynics will harangue me for being a silly old fool as usual for not recognizing what a torturing society this is long before now. And I would have to admit there's a kernel of truth in the fact that this is not something I probably wanted to know. However, this current debate has made it impossible to ignore any longer: the United States of America tortures its own children. It tortures prisoners. It tortures average citizens whom any policeman believes is failing to smartly comply with his orders and it tortures suspected terrorists. We just call it (in true Orwellian fashion) "Tough Love."

If we could stop abusing our children we could save the world.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Truth Hurts

McArdle--We don't care what you think you know about Glenn Greenwald. You have proof of sock-puppetry, besides his admission that a friend of his (boyfriend?) posted repeated praise of him without telling his connection to Greenwald? If not, drop dead.

You keep your mouth shut when it comes to answering his fact-based criticisms of you, except by making the most passive-aggressive, glancing responses possible. But you don't mind a little dig here, a little libel there. You don't have the brains, courage, or self-respect to challenge him openly, so you throw a little red meat to your more slimy commenters, in the hopes that they'll chew on it for a while and fling a lot of blood around.

[pejorative removed-she's not worth it]

Progressive Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Gas Chambers To Pogroms

This Megan McArdle post has been dissected already, but I just can't pass it by altogether. There's just so much wrongness that I'll have to skim through it quickly. Tempus fugit, as Megan would no doubt say.

Megan quotes Joshua Kurlantzick's article on democracy and capitalism in Thailand. He points out that an elite few prospered, so the poor demanded their elected leaders alleviate the gross income disparity. People are always afraid of those they have wronged so the middle class elite feared such alliances.

Megan is drawn to this article enough to write about it, and interprets it through the elite-colored glasses. The Progressives, she says, "was a backlash against the corrupt hoi polloi."

Rent-seeking populists, backroom-dealing political machines--these were both inimical to classical liberalism, and also the voice of minority-majorities, who used favorable local demographics against members of the national elite.

McArdle makes no mention of the enormously important reformist aspect of the Progressive movement. It's a dishonest attempt to withhold information to make her point, and is one of the many reasons she is called a right-wing hack.

Think of some of the signal accomplisments of the Progressives: Planned Parenthood. Immigration restrictions. Civil service reform. Massive campaigns against the corruption of the urban machines. "Mental hygeine". Spot a trend?

And here is further proof of the deep, deep devotion McArdle bears towards the intellectual scholarship of one Jonah Goldberg, who believes that Progressives were all Mengelesque eugenicists. She means for us to spot a trend of racial/social/political purification by those Nazi Progressives. She's far too delicate to get her hands dirty--that's what the Corner is for--but she's willing to push Goldberg's ideas as long as she can maintain plausible deniability. So reform is really genocide, the most graceless and ungracious explanation possible for the actions of Americans who were trying to live by the supposed ideals of their nation and faith. Yes, many Progressives played with the new scientific knowledge like it was an ant farm, but that doesn't make corrupt the Progressive desire help the less fortunate and increase representation in government.

And then it gets worse.

The poor benefit from the capitalist system, probably more than the rich--compare Pharoah to Bill Gates, then compare a standard Egyptian peasant around 2000 BC to, say, a minimum wage worker in America. But if you don't have the social capital to make it to the top, at any given time, it may look like it pays off to undermine or overthrow the system. Naturally, the middle class, which preserves the system, will be averse to any system that gives them the power to do so.

The poor benefit from democracy more than the rich. They are able to alleviate the misery of their condition by trying to improve equality, in the land of equality and opportunity.(/sarcasm) The poor initially benefitted from science as much as or more than the rich. The rich could flee to the hills during the Black Death and hire physicians and nurses. They could eat healthy food and travel to healthy climates. But science helped heal poor and rich alike. The poor could finally afford some medical attention. Finally, the poor here benefit from being born in one of the richest countries of the world. But the poor don't benefit from capitalism more than the rich, since capitalism merely means that property is privately owned, which might be a problem for the poor, who tend to be without property and other assets. And the funny thing about capitalism is that those with the property tend to be a little, well, forgetful of those without.

Beneath the confusion and bad writing, the theme finally becomes clear. The middle class don't feel solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised. They don't really want to help them, they want to eliminate them. And the poor want to eliminate the elite middle class right back. Thus is always was, thus it ever shall be. So the elite left and intellectual left are really missing the boat on the true situation here, where there is a place for everyone and everyone sits firmly in his place. That's the fundamental truth of conservatism, which wants an elite to kowtow to and a peasantry to kick. And it's also the fundamental truth of libertarianism, with its "I-got-mine-Jack, screw-you" philosophy.

Because this is Megan McArdle, she cannot resist further inflaming class warfare, her only way of looking at those who are not exactly like her.

And if you're sitting there, feeling all superior to those benighted bourgeois, consider all the things you want to take out of the hands of ordinary Americans because otherwise those amoral toads will do the wrong thing. Gay marriage. Or prayer in school. Immigration. Trade. I've no doubt that you have some very compelling reason that these things are entirely different from support for the rule of law or a standard liberal economic order. The point is, no one's really comfortable with letting the majority set all the standards.

That's just ugly. And wrong, of course. McArdle frequently attributes her own attitudes and bigotries to others, which makes her moral lectures especially galling. I want to see the quote from a respectable left writer who calls people amoral toads because they mistakenly think their God wants them to hate others or pray in public constantly. I also want the proof that the left wants to abstain from the rule of law to gain more legal rights for others. It's nonsensical babble.

Corrected for clarity.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wishin' and Hopin'

Reading Megan McArdle's commenters is getting sickening. So much willful self-delusion and malice is just nauseating. Not that I have anything against malice, but the level of denial and wishful thinking is painful to see, and makes me deeply depressed about our future. When the economy worsens a lot of people are going to get very ugly. I had my doubts about this--who is more self-satisfied and inert than the typical American?--but there is a world of confusion, pain and anger underneath all that Cheetos dust, and it might finally be starting to simmer.

So let's look at some stupid.
James Surowiecki has a very interesting column arguing that this bubble was different because unlike the earlier banking booms, there was no point to the wild spending. The bubble didn't bring us railroads and electrification; it brought us . . . houses. Lots and lots and lots of houses.

I'm of two minds on this.

No, McArdle is of zero minds on this. She is not thinking this through.

What does she mean by banking booms? A banking boom is not a bubble. According to Ronald R.King, Vernon L. Smith, Mark V. van Boening in "The Robustness of Bubbles and Crashes in Experimental Stock Markets" (via wikipedia), the definition of an economic bubble is “trade in high volumes at prices that are considerably at variance with intrinsic values.” The point of a bubble is that there isn't a valid reason for the price increases.

On the one hand, I think that this is an interesting point.

Why? An explanation would be nice. Also essential for reading comprehension.
On the other hand, of course, the bubble in the 1920s was not limited to electric stocks, or even stocks. Lots of money was wasted on railroads, Florida real estate, mining concerns, and many other unrelated phenomena. And if you look at the history of the 1920s, you see the same thing we see in the 1998-2008 era: markets awash in too much money.

Which means that what we have is a credit boom. Credit was too easy to get and everyone got drunk on it, seeing it as the road to quick wealth. The credit to start the dot.coms, the credit to buy houses and malls and office parks.

So I wonder if there isn't a sort of post-hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning to these "explanations" of the previous booms and busts.

Which explanations are you talking about? Surowiecki says that there's no upside to our most recent bubble. You say maybe, maybe not. You're not discussing the reasons for booms and busts. This is utterly irrelevant.

A market bubbling over with too much credit will end up plowing a lot of money into some technology or industry which ends up being really, really important twenty years later. (The electric revolution continued, surprisingly rapidly, in the 1930s).

And here we have the typical faulty, fairy-tale reasoning of the ideological and self-delusional. Simply stating that something must happen does not mean that it did or will. McArdle doesn't even try to pull something out of her ass as an example. "Some" technology or industry--which? She sounds like the delusional fools who thought that we would win in Iraq because of our "will." Perhaps some new technology or industry will pop up, but anything as sweeping and important as electricity will be funded no matter if we have bubbles or not. In fact it seems the government had a lot to do with the spread of electricity, just like it did with roads and utilities and airplanes. Orville and Wilbur Wright got their first major funding from the US government signal corps, for instance. Even if this new technology is funded, the money stolen by Wall Street is gone forever, the wealth based on debt vanished like the chimera it was, and there is currently absolutely nothing big enough to replace the hole that the housing bubble left when it burst. Which was Surowiecki's point.

All McArdle is trying to do is the same thing she has been doing for a year--try to mitigate and shift blame for the economic disaster from McArdle's fellow ideologues and greedy Wall Street bastards to the powerless. Hey, maybe something good will come out of this disaster after all, like electricity! I can just see the links she'll get from the brain trust at National Review, who use her work to prop up their hatreds and fears in respectable, educated clothing. McArdle's parents paid $38,000 a year for her to grow up into a Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg's parents must be thanking God right now that they never bothered to do anything more expensive than legacy him into journalism school at a girls' college.

We look back and interpret the bubble as having been "about" that technology. But at the time, when it's not obvious what the big winner is going to be, it just looks like a giant mess.

Fear not, little libertarians and right-wingers! Sure, everything looks bad now but sometime in the future for reasons unknown and assuming giant, magical gains in technology, we'll be just fine.

Sure, we may all be dead by then, but at least McArdle won't have to listen to dirty hippy socialists complaining about the New Depression.

UPDATE: (crossposted from Fire Megan McArdle comments):Oh, I finally get it... The only explanation is that she's trying to say that this wasn't a housing bubble, it was too much money in the system. (Her stupid Greenspan-derived theory that too much Asian savings created the bubble, not low interest rates and slice and dice mortgages.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Taking A Sick Day

I leave you with Megan McArdle's latest opus, a snide tirade that shows little understanding of the big picture: economic disaster.

But this is the person who listened to Warren Buffet say, "“There’s no signs of any real bounce at all in anything to do with housing, retailing, all that sort of thing,” and then wrote about a marriage proposal, executive compensation, and journalists losing jobs. Topics that obviously appealed to her personally, yet don't really constitute economic journalism. How much did it cost to send McArdle on this junket?

Instead of babbling about a market bottom, McArdle should have been listening to people like Buffet and looking at this.

A real look at the shareholder's meeting is here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Material Possessions Are A Girl's Best Friend

Let's catch up with Megan McArdle:

I just wanted to post a huge picture of a wedding ring.

By the way, some of McArdle's commenters are very ugly towards other people. She should do something about that, but I guess when you are forced to have 16-hour days the little things get lost under the crushing weight of the work load.

Fortunately she does have time to look at wedding ring photos, however. Although she might be advised to look at these rather than these.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Do Cocktail Parties Count As Work?

Megan McArdle gives us the benefit of her experience, education and wisdom while reporting from the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders' meeting.
...[A]s you may remember, Buffett recently took a high-profile stake in Goldman Sachs.


An investment in Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo is a bet that, first, the world economy won't really collapse, and second, the government won't get mad and take your money. There's no reason to believe that Warren Buffett, or anyone else, has any good way to assess the probability of those beliefs.

Buffett makes his money by buying low and selling high. He's patient and long-lived. If he bought Goldman Sachs he believes it is currently priced low and will in time be high. It's not very intelligent to look at data, draw the inevitable conclusion, and then state the opposite of what it tells you. You have to assume that Buffett suddenly abandoned a life-time practice and utterly ignored the revolving door between the government and Goldman Sachs. If anyone will come out of the New Depression successfully it will be Goldman Sachs.

It would be nice if McArdle ratcheted down the snooze factor in her work. I'm thrilled she's enjoying Chrysler's bankruptcy so much, but there are other interesting things going on as well.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Less Tall Megan

Shorter Megan: Poor, innocent Chrysler was badly run by the UAW.

(Is this era of being robbed by the upper class over yet? Can we get to the pitchforks now?)

Shorter Megan II: Bankers, who are the smartest, best educated, hardest working people in the room, are hapless victims of the economic crises that we somehow happen to have found ourselves in.

Shorter, III: Universal health care is bad because we don't have enough doctors to help everyone. And if it's free, everyone will misuse the system. I know this because I am an Oracle of the Gods, or because it's what I would do.

Less Short Shorter, IV:

Maxine Waters is crazy to ask banks why they are increasing credit card fees and cutting credit limits when they are getting bailout funds!

[Megan] My bank is raising my credit card fees and I bet they'll want more bailout money too!