Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, July 31, 2009

Flashback Megan: Dieting

Here's a blast from the past: Megan tells us dieting works, at least for superior body types like hers.

Lose! Weight! Fast!

More diet advice from CalPundit.

The Jane Galt diet plan is similarly simple: cut the sweets back to once a week (and that includes cakes masquerading as muffins and cookies pretending to be granola/energy bars), and have some green vegetable matter at every meal. Eat the greens first. Stop eating as soon as your stomach feels full, which will probably be well before you stop being hungry. And if you really want to turbocharge it, why, give up meat, of course. But don't go on some stupid diet, because you'll just gain it all back, and more besides. The most important diet advice ever is this: don't go on any diet plan that you can't live with for the rest of your life.

On the other hand, as one of my friends once said, I hit the Pick 6 in the genetic lottery on that front. I've been overweight once in my life since adolescence, and that was when I was at the WTC site eating sugar absolutely non-stop. The weight came off as soon as I cut out the sugar. So what the hell do I know?

It's amazing how money removes all doubt.

McArdle knows that if she continue to preach for no government intervention in business and especially health care she'll keep her job. What an idiotic Kabuki dance. McArdle must declare that people can't lose weight because the government is trying to encourage the obese to lose weight and McArdle is currently being paid to discourage any government involvement in health care that would benefit people instead of corporations. So she dredges up a law professor's book on dieting as proof that people can't lose weight, a patently absurd declaration, conflating bad fad diets with proper nutrition and exercise to make her point.

Since most people (around 60%) are authoritarian, they have an extremely difficult time imagining that our 'elite" often are stupid, say stupid things, or don't believe what they say. I see it all the time--someone quotes McArdle expressing disbelief that someone so learned and intelligent could make such simple mistakes, as if such acts were an aberration instead of the norm. They can't believe that incompetent person could rise to power or even importance, even after the last eight years of Brownies and Rumsfelds and Bushes. And it doesn't help that The Atlantic twists the arms of its writers to praise each other. I seriously doubt Sullivan even read her health care article before recommending it. Although since Sullivan is another example of the Peter Principle in action, I shouldn't take anything for granted.

Since a great deal of the business writing on The Atlantic is now being done by other people, I wonder if McArdle is the equivalent of the blond anchors on tv, there to be the public face only, while the people with ability do the actual work. It would explain why The Atlantic ignores her frequent and professionally humiliating mistakes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Be Careful Out There

How Megan McArdle responds to valid, fact-based criticism: she mocks it.
A typical dialogue on diet goes something like this:
Expert: We don't have any known way to make obese people thin except gastric bypass surgery, which has a 2% mortality rate by itself.

Thin person: But I am very thin!

That's about 50% of the conversation in the comments to the Paul Campos interview. It's about as useful as the following exchange:
Expert: We don't have any known way to make short people tall, except for extreme surgeries and hormone injections.

Megan: But I am 6'2"

This is followed by a long line of straw men, tilting listlessly in fields reeking of rotting stubble, their fixed, painted grins staring balefully at nothing. McArdle bats her mighty enemies around for a while and finally plants her lance in the ground and declares victory.

Why is McArdle creating arguments instead of addressing arguments? When your ideas are not sound you can't defend them, so you create arguments that you can defend. McArdle starts off with a faulty premise--people can't lose weight--and must use faulty arguments to defend it.
Fat tissue makes people want to eat--it sends out for takeout. And hunger is a signal on par with thirst or pain. You can ignore it, if you have sufficient willpower. But just as most people can't withstand torture (a minority can), most people can't ignore the constant demand from their body for food.


If when eating a normal 2,000-2,500 calorie diet, you do not spend significant amounts of your day fixating on food--fantasizing about it, binging, hiding it, strategizing how to procure it--you do not have anything interesting to say to someone who is struggling with obesity. You do not have better willpower than they do. You do not "care about myself" more. You are not more "serious about a healthy lifestyle" because you took off the eight pounds you gained at Christmas. You are no more qualified to lecture the obese on how to lose weight than I am qualified to lecture my short friends on how to become tall. You just have a different environmental and genetic legacy than they do. You're not superior. You're just somewhat thinner.

To put it another way: I have NEVER had a BMI above the normal range. How much more awesome am I than you? 30%? After all, you have to work at it. My willpower is apparently 100% natural.

In other words, if you disagree with McArdle you are acknowledging that she is moral superior. However, if you agree with McArdle you are acknowledging that she is genetically superior. It's funny how that works out.

So according to McArdle, it's impossible to lose weight because people can't control their appetites, ever. People just don't lose weight. Ever. There are enough reasonable points in McArdle's posts to make it easy to forget this main point--a Libertarian law professor says the government is too intrusive regarding nutrition, because it wants to control fat people using shame. This fits all of McArdle's preconceptions and vanities so she accepts it wholeheartedly.

McArdle has made the same point before:
This partakes of a mental model of obesity that casts it as a matter of simply making good choices from the available basket. Choose the salad, you stay thin; choose the steak, you get fat. That model is popularized by diet books and nutritionists, who are in the business of telling you what choices to make. The logical conclusion is that the reason the poor are obese is that they are either making bad choices, or their basket of choices is too restricted to allow them to choose low-calorie foods.

This model is being upended by research on appetite and metabolism. People's bodies have a set point that they very much want to maintain; if you push their bodies below the set point, their appetite will increase until it is nearly unbearable. A few superhuman people can withstand it, but hunger is an evolutionary response of the same order as pain: unless you're superhuman, you cannot overcome it with willpower.

There you go. Natural selection means you will become unbearably hungry if you cut your caloric intake and evolution will drive you to make it up with a Krispy Kreme later. Which makes this seem rather odd:
Over the last few months, I have virtually totally lost my sweet tooth. This also happened to my mother when she was in her thirties, and I could never understand it--how could you not want dessert? Now, suddenly, I'm just not interested. I'm not revolted, or anything; I'd just rather fill up on dinner.

Something that didn't happen to my mother is that I'm also losing my taste for processed carbohydrates; I've virtually stopped eating bread, and pasta and rice are falling farther and farther down the menu.

Of course, I should be thrilled--my body is naturally demanding one of those healthy diets I keep reading about. Except . . . there's something a trifle sad about never even wanting what used to be the best part of the meal.

As Joyce Davenport said on Hill Street Blues back in the day, "Some of us change. Others mutate."

Jonah Goldberg: I, Stupid

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Because we can't control asteroids, we can't control human response to climate change. (Via)

Quotes from a non-expert: 1

Wrong Interpretation of Book Jonah Read: 1

Pop Culture References: 1

Stolen Jokes: 1

Insults Against Liberals Disguised As Jokes: 7

Jaw Dropping Stupidity: God, yes.

Lapse into Fantasy Based on Wishful Thinking: 1

Al Gore Mention: 2


Think Progress reports that the White House pressured Congress to remove the Don't Ask Don't Tell amendment, which would have weakened the policy. This was very predictable; Obama is a religious authoritarian and will not be in sympathy with gays. Just as Obama won't tell white society that they still oppress Blacks. Or disavow American Exceptionalism. Or pull out of the Middle East. Or a lot of other things. It's important to acknowledge this and there is no reason not to--voting for McCain wasn't an option. If we acknowledged that Obama is largely conservative we would understand that it is necessary and appropriate to pressure him to go further left.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pay My Bills, Sucker

I just don't understand. We know Megan McArdle believes that people should pay their own way. She's a libertarian. She believes in personal responsibility. She's stated that being without health care made her more against national health, not less. She doesn't believe the young should have to pay for older people's care. And yet, when she went to Vietnam and Cambodia on business, she refused to pay for her own health care, going to a free clinic instead.
I just made an appointment with one of those free-for-all clinics where you can get into see a doctor immediately, so long as you aren't picky about which doctor. This is all part of my frantic attempt to ready myself for Vietnam: antimalarial meds, ho!

I am solemnly informed that this is not the right way to get medical care; I should have a primary care physician who really knows my case well. But this does not actually describe any primary care physician I have ever had, who was reading off the chart just like a perfect stranger would have. Not only did my physicians clearly recall nothing about me; in many cases, I had to remind them of the details of my chart. So can any of my readers tell me what actual good having a single primary care physician, rather than just any old doctor at a walk-in clinic, makes?

Yes, that certainly sounds like she went to a free clinic to me. It's not a pay-per-visit clinic; McArdle states it's free. She could have paid--she was going on business, not on vacation. She planned to spend money having clothing especially made for her. She went shopping. She was being paid to travel and had enough money to pay for a doctor, but she didn't.

What does McArdle think about other people who do what she does?

To wit: should we expect families to sell assets in order to qualify for benefits? On the one hand, Medicaid's ludicrous rules keep disabled people in crippling poverty. On the other hand many people, including me, don't want to pay for the health care of someone so that they can stay in their Park Avenue mansion. At some point, it is reasonable to expect people to liquidate assets in order to pay for expenses, rather than expecting society to pick up the tab. But I'm not sure what point is reasonable.

I don't think this is particularly interesting as it applies to S-Chip; frankly, I doubt there are enough low-income families with children and sizeable assets to make it even worth debating the issue. But it is a very important question regarding Medicaid, because of all the elderly people who shelter significant assets in order to get Medicaid to pay for their nursing home care.

In the case of a spouse, this seems (usually) legitimate, again with the Park Avenue mansion exception: I don't care how long you've lived there, if you're squatting on five or ten million worth of real estate, you should sell it and pay for your spouse's nursing home, rather than asking the payroll clerks and bank tellers of the world to lend a helping hand. But normally, I don't think it's reasonable to demand that anyone make themselves homeless in order to qualify their spouse for a nursing home.

But that isn't the only reason people shelter assets; often they're doing it so that they can leave something to their children. This doesn't strike me as at all reasonable. You have a right to have society pay for your nursing home care if you are destitute and will otherwise suffer and die. You do not have a right to have society pay for your nursing home care so that you can leave the house and some financial assets to the kids. Aside from its rather repulsive moral logic, it's regressive; the people who benefit are upper-middle-class kids who have already benefitted quite a lot from their fortuitous choice of parents.

The taxpayer paid for McArdle's vaccinations, saving her a couple hundred dollars, which go a very long way in Vietnam and Cambodia. Think of all the silk dresses you can buy for that money. McArdle did.

Bleg:A number of people have recommended getting tailored clothes while in Vietnam. Does anyone have a recommendation for a specific tailor in Hanoi?
Hmm, that's kind of contradictory. And hypocritical. Am I sure McArdle is against paying for others' health care?

Now, healthcare is a special case, because unlike most of the other "basic goods" we think everyone should have, the costs can vary widely from person to person. But there are ways to deal with this--alter the income transfer for different diseases, and then let people decide how to spend the money. Maybe some of them will spend their healthcare money on a fabulous car and let their diabetes fester. This violates a lot of intuitions: the intuition that we only want to help people have medical care, not fabulous cars; the intuition that we have to protect people from themselves by ensuring that they spend the money on what they need, not what they want.

As a radical anti-paternalist, you can imagine I don't have much patience with the latter argument. Who am I to say that your life is not better with a sports car and five years to live? And to the former argument, I point out that in fact, you'll probably end up giving the wastrels less money if they do fritter it away. Because once you've actually provided people a minimum income that is adequate to take care of their basic needs, there's no moral reason not to turn away those who decline insurance from the emergency rooms. Giving people more choices also means allowing them to live with the consequences of those choices.
McArdle didn't live with the consequences of her choices, however. That's for the little people. She chose to spend her money on clothes or eating out or something else, not on health care, and left the tax-payer to pick up the bill.

A commenter responds to my last post thus:
People don't have a right to money from society simply because they have gotten sick.

I disagree. Now what?
Well, obviously, at some level we're just going to have to agree to disagree. But it raises some interesting questions. Why do you disagree? If we should give money to sick people regardless of need, is it because being sick sucks and we're giving people bonus payments for having sucky things happen to them? If that's the case, why don't we give people bonus payments for, say, being really ugly, or being severely socially awkward, both of which seem at least arguably worse than, say, having chronic asthma.

Also, if they deserve money just for being sick, why give them the money in the form of healthcare? Wouldn't a cash transfer be even better? Then the people who wanted to be treated could spend the money on healthcare, and other people could spend the money on something they valued even more than healthcare. It seems like a Pareto improvement in net happiness over a simple single-payer system. Finally, if they deserve money just for being sick, why don't we peg the money to the suffering the disease causes, rather than the cost of treating the disease? Inquiring minds want to know.

So McArdle took the money and the free health care. Rules are for the little people. In the interest of fairness, I have to contemplate the possibility that I misinterpreted due to a lack of full knowledge of McArdle's circumstances. It's possible she did have health insurance and paid for her health care (or her employer did), or paid cash. McArdle might just be the world's crappiest writer instead of a hypocrite. (But then why would she call it a free clinic instead of just a clinic?) I will be happy to post a full correction if necessary.

It Never Had A Chance

Matt Taibbi states the obvious:
The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done. It doesn’t matter that it’s an urgent national calamity, that it is plainly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 8 that our system could not possibly be worse and needs to be fixed very soon, and that, moreover, the only people opposing a real reform bill are a pitifully small number of executives in the insurance industry who stand to lose the chance for a fifth summer house if this thing passes.

It won’t get done, because that’s not the way our government works. Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I think they’re doing a lousy job even of that. I lauded Roddick for playing out the string with heart, and giving a good show. But these Democrats aren’t even pretending to give a shit, not really. I mean, they’re not even willing to give up their vacations.

The elite never intended to pay for our health care. Corporations are eliminating retiree health care and eventually will eliminate all health care if the recession lingers long enough. What will people do--get other jobs, in a jobless recovery?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Price

Oh, man. First the wedding, now health care. Megan McArdle explains herself:
Basically, for me, it all boils down to public choice theory. Once we've got a comprehensive national health care plan, what are the government's incentives? I think they're bad, for the same reason the TSA is bad. I'm afraid that instead of Security Theater, we'll get Health Care Theater, where the government goes to elaborate lengths to convince us that we're getting the best possible health care, without actually providing it.

McArdle goes on to criticize British National Health, without informing us why we would be obliged to copy its flaws. She states it will destroy drug innovation because private drug firms develop government NIH employees' theories into actual treatments. She does not tell us why the government can't do this as well. Since they don't do it they can't do it, McArdle says. It's an excuse for the elite to gain more control over the masses, she warns, a laughably dishonest and shamefully fear-mongering argument from someone who calls herself one of the elite.

But the most interesting part of the post--by far--is her peculiar statement about herself.
At this juncture in the conversation, someone almost always breaks in and says, "Why don't you tell that to an uninsured person?" I have. Specifically, I told it to me. I was uninsured for more than two years after grad school, with an autoimmune disease and asthma. I was, if anything, even more militant than I am now about government takeover of insurance.

That's great, but just because McArdle wants to go without insurance unless someone else is paying for it doesn't mean everyone else feels comfortable doing the same. For eight years we asked how people can support policies that actually harm them. Here in this post we can see how. Ignore the fact that we are the only major industrialized nation without national health care, that we spend twice what others spend on health care, that the lack of health care kills 100,000 people a year in the US, that McArdle herself needed national health care. Just ignore it. Dismiss the connections your employer has to drug companies. Ignore them too. Decide that the issue is an academic matter, a public choice theory, and not a policy that can actually help people. Ignore your critics as well. They don't understand you and say mean things. Ignore it all, because the only thing that counts is being on the right side, the side with money, the side with power.

Megan McArdle didn't go to one of the most expensive prep schools in the country to be left behind with the riff-raff, and don't you forget it. And she doesn't care who gets hurt by her efforts to belong, even if one of those people is herself.

Man Fires Self: "I'm Too Ugly To Own My Own Stores"

Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel and noted serial sexual harasser, fired himself this week for not meeting his own attractiveness requirements. As one store manager reported, "Our company holds weekly conference calls that every store manager world/nation wide are required to tune into. We discuss sales, which stores need displays, which items are doing well, etc.

"Summer is supposed to be a great sales season for AA. Needless to say, with the state of the economy, sales haven't been going so well. Dov usually gets on the conference calls and talks to people, but one week, he went on a huge tirade and made stores that weren't doing well send in group photos. Why, you ask? He made store managers across the country take group photos of their employees so that he could personally judge people based on looks. He is tightening the AA 'aesthetic,' and anyone that he deems not good-looking enough to work there, is encouraged to be fired."

Unfortunately for Charney, a few days later Charney saw himself in a shiny elevator wall and flew into a rage. Said an assistant who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation, "It was sad. I felt bad for him. He started screaming that everyone was against him and nobody cared if he was happy, and then he saw his reflection and fired himself on the spot. He said his hair was untidy and his glasses and moustache looked like refugees from a 70's porn movie, and not in a good way. Then he gave himself two weeks notice and told himself to clear out his desk."

Mr. Charney was unable to contacted for this story. He is rumored to have checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic For The Terminally Unattractive.

h/t LOLFed, which also provided thematic inspiration

Be Careful What You Wish For

Most unwisely, Megan McArdle has decided to justify her decision to marry to the world at large. McArdle has found a happy medium in wedding blogging. She has evidently decided to skip an examination of the wedding industry, which would take work and numbers and stuff, and merely satisfy herself by talking about talking about economics. And herself.

McArdle starts by stating she believes in marriage. She expects it to make her happier and more fulfilled, despite the tax hit she might suffer. She can't think of a reason to stay single except for the sake of "contrariness"--being different for its own sake. Not that she needs to marry, she hastens to add. She has nothing to prove to anybody, being above the moral and legal laws conservative followers are required to inflict on each other.

And yet, she will marry anyway. If she has so little drive to marry, why the drive to marry? What reason does she give?

It would be much harder to do many of the things we want and intend to do, for
and with each other, without that useless little piece of paper.

Like what? You can rent houses, hold jobs, and almost everything else if you're cohabiting. It's true that you would not have legal rights regarding your partner if some tragedy were to occur. If your boyfriend were hospitalized you wouldn't have any rights regarding his care. But McArdle calls the rights that piece of heterosexual paper endows "useless." Why won't she mention the obvious reason, the one given by so many homosexual couples who want to be able to care for sick partners? Why won't she discuss health care--god knows she's been yapping about it endlessly; surely it's on her mind?

Suderman just received an 11-month Koch fellowship at McArdle's former employer, Reason. Based on a quick look at other Reason intern jobs, it appears that interns are paid a stipend only--no benefits. No health insurance. If Suderman wants to be covered, in case he is shot while bar-hopping or hit while riding a bike, he has to marry someone with heath insurance or buy ruinously expensive policies on his own.

Decisions to marry are based on love, but decisions on when to marry are often based on more practical reasons. If McArdle doesn't care one way or the other, something tipped the scales and there's a very good chance that health insurance was a factor, as it is for every uninsured person in the US.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No Birth Control For You

Shorter Ross Douthat: I tried to have some sort of intercourse about Iraq but the Left was like a chunky Reese Witherspoon, masticating on Colin Powell's UN presentation and spilling its breasts out of its protests. I wanted to surge into Iraq but the Left wanted a premature withdrawal. If we withdraw, Iraq will swell into violence and give birth to a Middle Eastern abomination, one that even the Left can't abort.

Shorter Megan McArdle

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Bloggers: The NRO Cruise: Voyage to Nowhere

In a Secret Location, a Meeting of Diabolical Minds takes place. It is the League of Extraordinary Bloggers, each a hero (or a heroine or a Coulter) in his (or hers, or Coulter's) own sphere. They are:

Col. Glenn Reynolds—famous defender of guns, wherever they are needed to fight the Brown Menace.

Michelle Malkin—a creature of the night, with an insatiable thirst for blood under her modest, cheerleader-clad fa├žade.

Jonah Goldberg—A barefoot man-boy with cheek, famous for being so lazy he got his research assistant to paint his fence.

Megan McArdle--a woman of mystery, of disguise, of charm, which hides an unscrupulous and greedy heart.

Ann Althouse—A respectable professor who digs deep into the evil aspects of her psyche when she drink an experimental potion know as “Merlot.”

Part I: The Adventure Begins
Part II: A Fresh Face
Part III: And The Band Played On
Part IV: Strange Bedfellows

Part V: The NRO Cruise: Voyage to Nowhere

Reynolds: Is everybody here? Where the hell is Goldberg?

Malkin: He's in the bar, running his mouth off in front of his adoring fans. I haven't seen so many pink-cheeked piglets since the kids watched Charlotte's Web. Did you know spiders eat their mates? We have so much to learn from the animal world.

McArdle: God, those NRO-nicks are freaking me out. "Oh, Miss McArdle, you're so tall and pretty. Miss McArdle, should I sell my Citi shares? Miss McArdle, your engagement broke my heart."

Goldberg: What ho, chaps! What's our mission?

McArdle: They were all just devastated about my engagement. To Peter Suderman.

Althouse: Why, what a coincidence. I recently got---

Goldberg: That's our mission? You need help dragging him to the altar and sitting on him until you walk down the aisle?

Reynolds: Shut up, Goldberg. The Foundation has called us together to consult with the party's leading intellectuals and formulate new ideas that will return us to our rightful place in society.

McArdle: Isn't anybody going to congratulate me on my engagement?

Althouse: Just this summer I, too--

Goldberg: The Federation? Hot damn! At last! And they said I was crazy for buying a Starfleet uniform on the internet. I'm going to be first in line at the Academy and then I'll get some big guy to beat up everyone else and all the girls will want me.

Malkin: Foundation, not Federation, doofus. The tiny group of multi-millionaires and billionaires that fund conservative causes. You know, the people who sign the paycheck of the people who sign the paychecks of the people who sign the paychecks of the people who sign our paychecks.

McArdle: Suddenly I feel very tingly. Also, did I mention that I just got engaged?

Malkin: So what?

McArdle: I don't think you understand the importance of my wedding. As the world's tallest female economics blogger, my every move is watched and admired. It's a big responsibility.

Althouse: Me too!! Getting married!!

McArdle: Ann, dear, it's not all about you.

Reynolds: Shut up, all of you! We're here to get new ideas to restore us to or rightful supremacy! Now mingle with the guests and listen to the National Review speakers and report back to me at 0200 hours in the Starlight Cocktail Lounge on the Pool Deck.

Goldberg: Why do we have to walk all over the ship and talk to other people? I know exactly how the country should be run--the libertarian way.

McArdle: You're so right, Jonah. Conservatives had their chance and they failed. Liberals had their chance and they failed. Now it's our turn to fail.

Reynolds: Concentrate, people. Here are your assignments: Goldberg, you take the smoker. Malkin, take K-Lo's lecture.

Malkin: She didn't show up.

Althouse: Really? That's not like Kathryn Jean. She's usually so responsible.

McArdle: It's not like she has anything better to do.

Goldberg: Or anybody.

(Both snicker.)

Reynolds: Forget K-Lo. Cover Rich Lowry instead.

Malkin: (hopefully) Cover or smother?

Reynolds: Just get the ideas first, okay?

Malkin: (sighs) Whatever.

Althouse: What about me, Glenn?

Reynolds: You'll cover Katie O'Beirne.

Althouse: I don't know, Glenn, she's kind of scary.

Reynolds: Tell you what, Ann. Why don't you go to the bar first and ask the bartender to give you a nice glass of Merlot? It'll settle your nerves.

Althouse: Why, that's a great idea, Glenn. I think I'll do just that. Be right back!

Reynolds: Okay, McArdle, you---what the hell?

The Bloggers walk closer to the ship's railing and see metal grappling hooks attached to pink nylon rope fly through the air and grip the railing tight. Female voices rise from over the side of the cruise ship and very soon several young women clamber over the railing. They are dressed in voluminous short skirts and blousy white tops, and dangle cutlasses at their slender waists.

Goldberg: Is this a dream? Am I awake? Pinch me, please!

Malkin stabs him in the arm with a stiletto.

Goldberg: Oww! What is your problem? I said pinch, not stab.

Malkin: I just had my nails done.

Reynolds: Quiet, everyone, I think I hear their leader.

(Disembodied Female Voice): Shove harder, girls! You can do it if you believe enough! Heave!

(Disembodied Girls' Voices): Ho!

Goldberg: No.

Reynolds: It can't be.

(Disembodied Voice): For the Love Of Mittens, heave!

Malkin: But it is.

Everyone: K-Lo.

K-Lo pulls herself over the railing and falls to the deck. Several Pirate Lasses help her to her feet and straighten her tricorn hat.

K-Lo: Guess what, everyone! I'm a pirate! A Pirate For God!

Althouse: Hi, K-Lo! Why are you wearing a pirate costume?

K-Lo: I'm glad you asked, Ann. I've been hired by a secret group of SuperChristians called The Family to take over this ship and declare that the United States of America is now the United States of God. (sings) My country tis of Thee God, Sweet land of God's Mystery, Of Thee I sing. Land of the Goooood's Pride, Land of God's Countryside, From all God's Mountainsides, Let Gooooooood ring!

Althouse: That's funny, that doesn't sound like the anthem that I learned.

K-Lo: I'm here to establish a theocracy, with the Pope as king. And pope. It's a two-for-one, which will save a lot of money in these difficult economic times. And the best part is that we're in international waters so I'm not breaking any laws. Father Benedictine will be so proud of me!

Althouse: And who are these lovely young ladies?

First Pirate Lass: We're here to fulfill our service requirements to graduate from our school, Stigmata High.

Second Pirate Lass: She told us that we were going to be missionaries in the Philippines.

Third Pirate Lass: I told you that the Philippines already is Catholic. All you had to do was google, but nobody ever listens to me.

First Pirate Lass: I thought it would look good on my transcript and I'd get a tan. Father Stevens gives references to people who can get butts in the pews, not people who can climb ropes and swing swords.

Reynolds: K-Lo, the Republican party is the party of ideas, not the party of Jesus freaks. You guys lost a long time ago and you never even noticed.

K-Lo: I think Mr. William F. Buckley, devoted Catholic, would beg to differ. It's the party of Catholic ideas, just you wait and see.

Goldberg: You mean Judeo-Christian ideas, dummy. With the Judeo coming first.

Reynolds: Don't be stupid, Goldberg. This is a Christian nation and don't you forget it. (turns to K-Lo) Forget it, K-Lo. No theocracy. You lost, we won, end of story.

K-Lo: Oh yeah, Glenn? We'll see about that. Girls, attack!

The Pirate Lasses draw their cutlasses and rush towards the Extraordinary Bloggers. Malkin pulls back a little fist and drives it straight into the First Pirate Lass's nose.

First Pirate Lass: Owww! I can't believe how mean you are! I just spent a fortune on this nose. It's the Jennifer Aniston!

Malkin: And now it's the Rocky Balboa.

Second Pirate Lass: Who?

Reyonlds: (yelling) Get out now , and take this crazy woman with you or I'll heave her carcass overboard myself.

Third Pirate Lass: You don't have to be so rude. We're not your servants, you know.

The Pirate Lasses drag K-Lo to the railing.

K-Lo: You're making a terrible mistake, Glenn. I'll pray for you and your poor endangered immortal soul. Say you'll pray too, Glenn. Promise me you'll pray!

The Pirate Lasses attach a rope to K-Lo, tip her over the edge and lower her down the side of the ship. The Bloggers can hear the faint words of The Lord's Prayer float upwards.

McArdle: I need a drink.

Althouse: Don't we all.

Reynolds: Okay, let's regroup at the bar. I've had enough for one day.

Malkin: Buck up, Reynolds. At least you conquered the Phantom Menace and the galaxy is safe for another light year.

Reynolds: Stop trying to cheer me up.

Malkin: It could be worse, Glenn. You could be K-Lo.

Reynolds brightens and follows Malkin inside to the bar.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wedding Belle

Hear the mellow wedding bells, Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Megan McArdle can't resist talking about herself, especially if she can make herself look elite in the process. Therefore it was utterly predictable that she would be utterly incapable of not blogging about her wedding to up-and-coming astroturfer P. Suderman. She probably has a faint inkling that it will not reflect well on her professionalism, but her desire to stroke her ego is far too strong.
I know I said I wasn't going to blog about wedding planning. It turns out that this was a lie. The economics of the thing are just fascinating.

First rule: there are no awesome bargains, particularly in DC. If you want to save money on the catering, you have to rent a venue . . . and the venues price accordingly. No one in DC has a back yard which serves as reasonable competition for a wedding, and hello, price inflation!

(Why are you getting married in that pricey hellhole, I hear you cry. My hometown is Manhattan. Peter's hometown is on Florida's Emerald Coast. These are not noticeable price improvements, particularly when you factor in travel to, like, meet vendors and taste the food. Now, if one of us had been born in Topeka, we could have a slammin' hometown wedding on a thin budget, but there you are.)

Remember when Megan whined that she couldn't find Louis Vuitton luggage on sale? Heh, that was funny. So close to being elite, yet unable to fit in because she is too poor to be one of them. And petulant because a market that depends on its image of exclusivity and fine, expensive quality won't knock down their prices just for her benefit. She sees no relation at all to what she preaches as a libertarian and what she actually experiences in real life--the marketplace at work, trying to get as much money out of the customer as it can.
Second rule: transparency is not at a premium in the industry. They strenuously try to hide their prices from you until you they can get you into the shop and strenuously imply that a wedding without 4,000 calla lilies won't make you feel really married.

Since Peter and I are a) journalists and b) in agreement with each other and our families that we are not going to spend any sum that might reasonably function as the downpayment on a house, I don't want to waste time talking to vendors who cannot deliver on our budget. So especially in the case of caterers, if you don't have a menu--with prices--on your website, you don't get a call from us.

Doesn't it occur to McArdle that the catering companies left off prices because they don't want her business, or the business of anyone looking to get out of there cheap? McArdle knows that a high-end caterer will cost a great deal of money for good reason, and expecting a high-end caterer to advertise to a lower-end market is illogical and bad business.
I am wondering whether this is leading to greater transparency--and thus price competition--in the industry.

Obviously not. The prices aren't there, are they? So not putting prices on menus is not leading to greater transparency. Was she drunk on tiny samples of wine when she wrote this?
I suspect that it's probably just segmenting the market. High end caterers who don't want to listen to Peter and I whine that we really can't afford to pay one squillion dollars a head even if it is hand-picked Argentinian moss in the garnish, will continue to rely on word of mouth and the society pages. The ones who cater to a more, er, thrifty audience, will put up packages and prices . . . and probably see their margins competed downward.

It's "Peter and me," sweetie. It's something most English majors manage to master during school. "I" when the subject, "me" when the object.* Just leave out the "Peter" and you'll see. "Caterers don't want to listen to me whine." Not "Caterers don't want to listen to I whine." Having heard McArdle's nasal drawl on bloggingheads, I'm quite sure she's correct on that point, at least. And let's just ignore "competed downward" altogether.
Which is rough. Most brides feel that the caterer must be raking it in . . . $100 a head for a few itty-bitty hors d'oeuvres and a piece of steak? But my mother was a caterer for a while, and once you've factored in things like staff, insurance, inventory, spoilage, downtime, and so forth, those margins start to look pitifully thin.

So by not advertising [prices], caterers will be forced into transparency except they won't because they are doing what they must. That was a fascinating excuse to blog about your wedding economic discussion.
All that said, the one thing I actually have bought so far, the wedding dress, turned out to be a joy. I read all the horror stories about bridal salons, and the way they thwart competition and exploit you at every turn for "extras" like fittings, alterations, and ironing the dress. Labels (illegally) scissored out of dresses and photos forbidden so you can't comparison shop. Industry mags that tell them how to manipulate you into a sale. No one allowed to look at the dresses, which have to be pulled by a "consultant" to insure that you don't spy one cheaper than your budget that you might like.

Then while I was at my family reuinion in western New York, I stopped in at this shop, which is run by my first cousin once removed. It's friendly rather than fancy. The racks are open, the dresses are reasonably priced, and all the alterations are included. I tried on half the dresses in the store, and bought the one that Janice picked out--which was one of the mid-priced dresses. I slept on the purchase with no hassle.

I have no idea whether this experience is typical, but I'm not quite as suspicious of wedding vendors as I was a few weeks ago. I suspect this may cost me somewhere down the road . . .

McArdle wonders if everyone who goes to bridal shops where their cousin works have pleasant experiences and don't feel like they're being ripped off. By their cousin. This pleasant experience has made her less distrustful of vendors, although she just wrote a post complaining about her distrust of wedding vendors. But this rumination did allow her to advertise her cousin's shop in the "pages" of The Atlantic, which has high traffic. I just hope she received a good discount on her wedding dress in return for the endorsement. I'd be ashamed of a libertarian who gave away something for free.

*The blog I linked to has a very good explanation why people do this: "Somehow "I" appeals more to the common man and sounds superior to the mundane "me".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Very Special Comment

I don't normally pull comments out of Megan McArdle's posts but I think talent should be recognized and promoted. Mr. Brandon Berg has some things to say about organ sales. Take it away, Berg:
Why shouldn't wealth be a factor? I'm getting pretty tired of leftists who, having failed to win public support for radical wealth redistribution, are now trying to render the entire concept of wealth meaningless through an endless list of things they think rich people shouldn't be able to buy. By and large, rich people* are rich because they've contributed a lot more to society than they've taken back. If they want to call in those favors in the form of kidneys to save or dramatically improve the quality of their lives, more power to them.

"Call in favors in the form of kidneys."

I still can't believe it.

"Call in favors in the form of kidneys."

These people think they deserve to be taken seriously, that they are capable of making decisions for other people despite their complete and utter lack of moral compass and humanity. And yet they see fellow human beings as something to be consumed by the elite, since the rich are worth more than the poor anyway.

But wait, there's more.
Insurance would cover the donor fee, so anyone with insurance could afford a kidney transplant. Yeah, some people don't have insurance, but they're not getting kidney transplants anyway because they can't afford the procedure, either.

That's a nice bit of wishful thinking. "In my world, insurance companies, who are eager to pay six figures an organ for very sick people's health care, will pay for the organ sale." What about the poor, since organ sales are ostensibly for their benefit? Well, they are shit out of luck. In Berg's "classical liberal" scenario the poor can sell their organs but they can't buy any if they get sick themselves. Not that he cares.

Berg has a brilliant blogging career ahead of him. If he doesn't have a wingnut sponsor already he should definitely shoot an email to all the major astroturf foundations offering his services. It's a philosophical crime to offer all this insight for free when he could be paid to advocate the harvesting of organs for the elite's benefit.

Concern Troll Is Concerned

Less Well-Bred Megan: Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!

Oh, what the hell.

I was already pretty skeptical that this [Obama press conference] was going to do much good. Outside of elections and wars, it's hard to get people to watch a presidential address at the best of times. Late July is not the best of times. You don't want to counterprogram a wonkathon when people can flip to "So You Think You Can Dance" or wander outside to drink in the summer evening. Maybe it will move the poll numbers, but frankly, I'd be surprised.

So I think the left-wing pundits worrying about the performance are missing the point. The performance was, in fact, not all that good, especially by the high standards Obama set during the campaign. But I'll be shocked if the overnights beat Law and Order reruns. More than one journalist of my acquaintance skipped the thing. If a press conference falls in the summer doldrums, and nobody watches it, does it really matter?

She's been babbling endlessly in her manly battle against health care. It's all too repetitive and boring to discuss, and the details don't matter anyway because they are not presented in good faith. Let's leave McArdle to wander around the bars of DC, drinking cocktails with fellow journalists and the chaps from the office, their shrill laughter piercing the night. There may be a recession on but corporations are still willing to pay for good press, and money is how libertarians measure happiness.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh, Give Me A Break

Now Megan McArdle is just being stupid.

In a recession, the problem most people and organizations face is too little money. But clearly, that's not the case with the ACLU, which apparently has ample time and money to sue to prevent a charter school from unconstitutionally promoting Islam. In a way, this is very good to hear, because it makes it easy to direct my giving to organizations with more urgent needs. On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with the leadership at the ACLU? In theory, for all I know, it unconstitutionally promotes religion. In practice, what important freedoms are being violated? The establishment clause was supposed to prevent a minority from being oppressed by a majority, not to prevent a minority from oppressing itself. I admire a huge amount of the work that the ACLU does on issues like habeas corpus and wiretapping. Why, then, do they so often seem intent on turning the organization into the highbrow edition of Stuff White People Like?

Justice Hugo Black:
No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.

She can't read the wikipedia entry to double check?

Of course not.

And she admired the ACLU's work on wiretapping and habeas corpus so much she voted for Bush a second time.

This is our "elite."

We're doomed.

Dark Hearts and Bloody Money

It was bad enough that Megan McArdle was incapable of thinking through her recommendation for the sale of organs and seeing its potential harm to the poor and desperate. To make everything worse, now she compounds her thoughtlessness with smug, snide disrespect as well. Here is the entire post:
The National Kidney Foundation's argument against paying organ donors:
The National Kidney Foundation opposes compensation on the grounds that it would "cheapen the gift"--that it may be an "affront" to those who have already donated. ("The argument that paying organ donors is 'an affront' to unpaid donors is disgusting," Virginia Postrel, who donated a kidney to her acquaintance Sally Satel, wrote on her website. "Are unpaid donors giving organs to save lives or just to make themselves feel morally superior?")

Conservatives seem to worry a great deal about others feeling morally superior. I can understand people worrying that they should donate organs as well, in death if not in life, but a lifetime of parents inducing guilt in their children for their supposed sinful natures has unhappy effects on people. People who have been raised to believe that they are morally superior by virtue of birth have other problems.
Having volunteered for Habitat Humanity several times in college, I am personally offended by the existence of Toll Brothers. Also, I've worked in a soup kitchen, so I'm suing Friendly's for defamation. As for hotels, as the former employee of an organization that provides homeless shelters, I can only say: have you no shame, sirs? At long last, have you no shame?

Such as snide, shameful disrespect and disregard for the humanity and vulnerability of the poor. Our elite and their enablers may sometimes have a crises of conscience, but in general their denial is too strong to overcome because they utterly depend on their perceived superiority for their self-esteem. Bob Altemeyer says of these people, whom he calls social dominators: [pdf]
If you stare deeply into the souls of social dominators, they believe “equality” is a sucker word. Only fools believe in it, they say. And if people took equality seriously, if society did try to provide equal opportunity for all, and if the playing field really were made level so that bootstraps could be pulled up and multitudes of lives bettered, the social dominator knows he would get less. And he very much dislikes that notion. He says so.

What we have here is a woman who sees no reason why she should not be able to buy your kidney. Why shouldn't parts of other people be for sale? She might want it, might need it, and who are you to deny her what she wants? Someone desperate and desperately unimportant to the elite. A poor person who needs money for a child's operation, to keep a house, to gamble on his own business. A piece of goods in the marketplace, a cog in the machine, a chess piece to be moved and disposed of at will. That's what we are to the elite, and their pathetic, sniveling wanna-be enablers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stop, Thief!

I'll get to the more serious stuff later, but this Megan McArdle post is too good to ignore.
Well, my fourth bike was stolen this morning, out of our backyard, which has a seven foot stockade fence around it.


I laugh not because theft is funny, but because I know what has happened before, and I know what will happen next. McArdle helped the elites that own our government and financial system to steal the money she invested, money she planned to use to buy a house. She is currently doing anything within her power to ensure she will not have government health care. She will, when the time comes, do everything in her power to eradicate social security and Medicare. But getting her bike stolen--that's just the last straw!

The second thing I know is that her commenters will blame the victim. Since like calls to like, that attitude is what probably what attracted them to McArdle's blog in the first place. McArdle won't respond to criticisms of her work but she will respond to people who criticize her, when she does something foolish or without thinking it through. That hurts her pride in her intellect and is the only thing that pierces her thick layer of self-satisfaction.

Maybe I can put this in a way McArdle would understand. McArdle, during the theft of your investments bike you took money from the thieves to obfuscate and persuade everyone that their bikes were not being stolen. After everyone noticed their bikes were gone, you said that the thieves had to steal the bike or we'd all suffer when the thieves couldn't make money by stealing and selling bikes. Finally, you recommended that we give the thieves more money because they won't get the full purchase price when they sell the bikes. Except it was thousands of dollars, not a bike, that you lost, as well as your dreams for the future of your family.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ross Douthat Is A Racist Moron Again

Ross Douthat tells us that affirmative action is now longer necessary because minorities can be successful and will soon be the majority anyway. He does not notice that if he keeps his mouth shut eventually he and his fellow whites will be eligible for what he constantly refers to as special treatment and unearned opportunities. Considering the intellectual depth Douthat is passing on to his offspring, they will need all the help they can get. He also does not notice that he is shilling for corporations who do not want to help the poor rise out of poverty.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Structual Problems

It is, no doubt, an extraordinary coincidence, but Megan McArdle seems to constantly find structural problems that cannot be solved. For example, we must eliminate social security because of its structural problems.
The supporters of the system are right that Social Security is not quite the catastrophe that conservatives claim--but they're wrong when they aver that the system doesn't have deep structural problems. It does, and those problems are going to become big political problems over the next decade.

And unions have a structural problem.
I know that my liberal friends and readers think of me as a union basher who just can't stand the thought of workers claiming a bigger share of the pie. I'm actually not particularly anti-union, and to the extent that I do have problems with unions, it is not because they seek higher wages and benefits for their members. Rather, it is because they introduce serious structural rigidities into the economy. Witness the problems that Delta is having merging with Northwest because they can't get the pilots--who are all in the same union--to agree on a seniority structure.

So does the media.
Of course, I would have to turn in my MSM Secret Decoder Ring if I did not follow up my criticism of Glenn Greenwald's take on "What's Wrong With the Media" with . . . my own take on "What's Wrong With the Media". Caveat Emptor.
Some of my current readers will no doubt be surprised to hear that I actually share Glenn Greenwald's frustration with the "Obama: Hot or Not?" coverage the often dominates campaign news cycles. I just disagree with his diagnosis of the underlying causes. Mr Greenwald locates the problem in a corrupt journalistic culture that wants to protect itself and the powerful by denying readers vital information. I think the problem is a side effect of powerful structural changes in the marketplace.

And the reason conservatives don't flock to academia is not because a preference for other areas of work and life--it's because of structural problems.
Is academia serious about diversity?. . . asks Greg Mankiw. It's hard to come to the conclusion that the answer is "Yes". Faced with overwhelming evidence that there is a massive, massive underrepresentation of conservatives at the elite level, almost none of them even considers, in passing, that there might be some sort of structural problem. No, clearly the reason that conservatives don't make it into the academy is that . . . they're inferior.
It's not as if we're talking about a severe shortage of fly-fishers either. One would think that a committment to diversity would start with a committment to diversity of thought. But then, having thoughts that disagree with the thoughts that academics have probably means there's something wrong with you, doesn't it?
Don't get me wrong: I don't think there's any sort of conspiracy against conservatives in the academy. I think, rather, that a combination of more subtle factors erects a wall that it's harder for conservatives to climb over. Unless they are really, really brilliant, academics, like everyone else, need personal connections to help them up the academic ladder, from recommendations to mentors to advisors. Those personal connections are always much easier to make with people you agree with. Nor would I discount the possibility that, just as women's work can be subtly dismissed because we know women aren't as bright as men, academics who think that conservatives are stupid would factor that into their assessment of someone's intelligence--and then factor that assessment into their assessment of someone's work. And of course, one's ideas are to some extent socially constructed; simply by virtue of the arguments and information we hear, even if there is no social pressure to conform, being surrounded by a political culture will tend to drag our ideas in their direction.

Skipped over and didn't read it? I don't blame you. There's lots more, anyway. Here is just one mention of the structural problems that McArdle says created the current banking problems. Here is another attempt to blame the system, not the actors who cheated, maneuvered, lied and stole. It's an easy dodge that avoids assigning responsibility and holding others to account, thereby ensuring that our elite continue their superior lives without any interference from what McArdle would call the peanut gallery.

Friday, July 17, 2009


At the deepest level, we make decisions based on our self-worth. If we feel good about ourselves we will make decisions that we hope will continue the trend. If we feel bad about ourselves we will try to alleviate those negative feelings in some way. This is a very general statement, but it has very specific effects.

If our parents were extremely negative, fear-inducing or abusive, we grow up with very negative feelings about ourselves. Nobody can live that way, and everybody attempts to feel better about himself or herself, in both negative and positive ways. One way of dealing with negative feelings is through identification with a group that brings out positive feelings. If you are a part of this group--which must be a superior group to compensate for your feelings of inferiority--you can assume its virtues for yourself.

When your football team wins, you feel proud. When a member of your religion distinguishes himself, you feel good about yourself. When your presidential candidate wins, you rejoice at this nation-wide stamp of approval of your political opinions. Our ideologies are tribal, our politics are tribal, our churches are tribal, and most of all, we belong to that first tribe of family, who taught us to borrow self-respect when we have none of our own.

To be part of a tribe is constant work, because tribes define themselves by shared practices and kinship and thus must define those who don't share kinship as The Other, the not-us, the threat to the homogeneity of shared thought. Thoughts (and therefore decisions) are not based on fact, reason and logic, they are based on how well the authoritarian adheres to tribal rules and practices.

Megan McArdle, defender of the indefensible, is rising through the ranks to the top of the right's intellectual ladder by defending Goldman Sachs, bankers, and income inequality. True, it's a short ladder that even Jonah Goldberg could heave himself up, but she's still accomplished a great deal in conservative circles. The bad thing about tribalism is that quality isn't a requirement for advancement and you end up dominated by hacks. When your back bench consists of the McArdle/Goldberg mutual admiration society, I'm guessing that the party of Standing Athwart History Yelling Stop isn't gong to be going anywhere for a while.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alternate Universe Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: No, I've never heard of spell check. Why do you ask? -or- No, I'm not obsessed with body image. Why do you ask? -or perhaps--The government will pry your Twinkie(TM) out of your cold, dead hands.

We'll get national health care when enough people have lost their jobs and finally realize how the rest of America lives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Via Roy Edroso, I see Rod Dreher is indulging in his favorite apocalyptic fantasies again. Civilization will rot because men like to look at bare breasts. First, Rod relates a visit from an angel of the Lord in the disguise of a high school teacher warning him of mankind's nasty, dirty sinfulness.
He said he worked in a counselor's role there as well, and routinely dealt with students who were seriously messed up by their porn habits. For example, he said, he believed that many of the guys he worked with had no idea how to relate to women in a healthy way; the power of pornography, working consciously and subconsciously, caused the men to have badly distorted views of women, views that stunted and even paralyzed the men emotionally.

So do boarding schools. The men I've met who have the least realistic and appropriate views of women went to all-male schools.
My wife brought up the story of a handsome, popular Southern Baptist pastor in Dallas who, back in the 1980s, confessed to being the serial rapist who terrorized an apartment complex here. Porn helped make him who he was. After our conversation, I went into the Dallas Morning News online archives, and researched this guy, Greg Goben. He really was a Southern Baptist golden boy, from the time of his youth. Here's an excerpt from the 1988 news story reporting his guilty plea: [etc]

It sounds to me like this all-male group of football players is what corrupted poor Goben. Let's ban football--for oh so many reasons.
You probably heard about serial rapist and killer Ted Bundy's jailhouse confession to Dr. James Dobson (who is a psychologist -- many people don't know that) about the role pornography had in shaping the monster he became.

Bundy's childhood was deeply messed up. He found out his sister was really his mother in high school. He felt alienated and attracted to violent sex from an early age. Porn didn't create this monster, some person or persons did in his childhood. Dreher doesn't know this because for him, blind belief and prejudice is infinitely superior to fact.
We live in a pornified culture. So how do we raise sane, healthy children in this cesspool? What do you think? I haven't thought much about it at all, as a father. I never had any interest in porn, absent looking at a few dirty magazines as an adolescent. It creeps me out. When I was in college, neither I nor most of my close friends were religious, but none of us used porn -- or if any of them did, they kept their habits a secret, because they understood it to be shameful.

"None of them used porn"--what an interesting (and revealing) way to refer to looking at porn. I suspect Dreher is really thinking about masturbation. After all, he's worried about what porn will lead to, not about just looking at porn. Dreher's attitude towards sex is full of fear and distaste and masturbation has a special place in the goldly's hearts as directly forbidden by their god.
Now, there's no shame in it in our culture. This teacher's stories made me think that I need to figure out how to plant seeds in the souls of my children now, to grow within them a sane sense of personal purity and respect for the human body -- both their own and those of others -- that cause them to turn away from porn when it is presented to them, and to stay away from people who use it. Because in this vile Late-Roman culture in which we live, there's no way to avoid it. As long as personal computers and the Internet exist, the temptation will always be there.

"Personal purity." Pure, clean, white. Not sweaty, messy and in many shades, not bone and flesh and fluid. Yeah, that's not unrealistic at all. That's not going to mess with your head at all--being told that your human instincts and needs are foul and sinful and must be denied.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Megan McArdle worries that she will have to put her wedding together herself because fancy weddings are now too expensive.

Megan Mcardle states people ought to be able to sell body parts.

The solution presents itself.

In For A Penny, In For A Pound

Now that Megan McArdle has defended Wall Street in general and Goldman Sachs in particular, she has moved on to defending corporations. Like one of the capitalist cuties on CNBC, she's always ready to protect the rich from the poor and defend corporate greed and wanton destruction. Evidently not having any nuclear meltdowns, refinery explosions or poisonous gas clouds to excuse away, McArdle settles for a plea to relieve corporations of their onerous taxes. We will have to take this line by line. I apologize.
The corporate income tax may be the stupidest tax we have.

If a student of mine wrote that I would send it back and tell them that "stupid" is too vague and too general, and he or she must rewrite the sentence.
At 35 percent, America’s levy on corporate income is one of the highest in the developed world.

In 2007, about 2.5 million companies prepared lengthy returns at great expense, yet the tax generated only about 15 percent of total federal tax revenue.

Irrelevant to the question of how "stupid" the tax is. But, in retrospect, I now see that this sentence introduces the topic to the audience. And the topic is that it is expensive for corporations to have their taxes done. I would also send this paper back so the student could add information about why a corporate tax is a bad idea. I would write in the margins in red (I taught a while ago) "What is the effect of tax? How does it hurt corporations? Why was it put into place? Who does it help?"
The tax on corporate profits discourages capital formation, targets shareholders regardless of their wealth, and fuels frantic, and costly, business efforts to dodge it.

I guess this is the support for her topic sentence although it doesn't actually discuss anything specifically . Almost any expense could discourage capital formation or fuel efforts to dodge paying it. And taxes do have a bad habit of targeting everyone, to varying degrees. Freedom isn't free, you know.

Among experts who study its effects, support for the tax is at best sort of sheepish.

Give me names and quotes, otherwise it's just something McArdle made up.
Yet as taxes go, it is relatively popular.

Proof? Numbers? Polls? Studies?

Thank god that paragraph's finally over.Can you take my word for it that the rest is as stupid as the first paragraph? It is just complaints that paying taxes cost money and people want to avoid paying taxes. In the last paragraph McArdle finally gets around to proposing solutions.
Democrats are looking at ways to lower the rate and “close loopholes” so that more corporate revenue, particularly profits earned abroad, gets hit by the tax. But Uncle Sam could collect at least as much revenue in a more progressive and less distorting manner by eliminating the thing entirely, and raising taxes on capital-gains and dividend income (which were previously kept low to ease the negative impact of “double taxation”—taxing corporate profits first as corporate income, and then again as shareholder income). That might not provide the moral thrill of demanding that corporations cough up their “fair share.” But with so many real advantages, it’s an idea that both left and right ought to be able to get behind.

The solution is to eliminate the tax on corporate profits and raise taxes on individual shareholders and individual stock and bond holders. Shift all the corporate taxes to the individual. Incredible, considering the circumstances.

Note also the assumption that the other side wants corporations to pay taxes out of moral righteousness. Business really can do no wrong in her eyes, no matter how much she equivocates. It's one of the strangest things I've ever seen, and I live in Texas.

Monday, July 13, 2009

You Have To Be Kidding Me

Shorter Megan McArdle: Barry Ritholtz is wrong and I am right. Goldman Sachs accidentally made billions of dollars out of stupidity. It's not their fault that the rest of the economy collapsed; it's the system's fault.

When, oh, when, will someone tell McArdle that the banks just aren't that into her, no matter how much she defends them? She's starting to sound like an abused spouse.

I think we can safely say that McArdle finally has jumped the shark. She was able to obfuscate while the con game was still running, but those day are gone. Only the scapegoating remains, and may I remind McArdle who has the money and power and who doesn't? Who would David G. Bradley get rid of under public pressure--his sponsors, or his embarrassing employee?

Just A Coincidence

In a bizarre coincidence, Megan McArdle is writing about how innovation in health care will suffer if we reform health care at the same time the Manhattan Institute is publishing a paper saying Obama will hurt health care innovation. So what is this Manhattan Institute?

Benjamin Zycher, Senior Fellow at Manhattan Institute's Center for Medical Progress,
opposes allowing the federal government to negotiate prices in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, and argues that patients and their doctors should make their own decisions to choose drugs like Vioxx, rather than having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decide on the basis of "bureaucratized ... scientific study."[9] The Manhattan Instititute issued a report by Frank Lichtenberg, a business professor at Columbia University, on the adverse effects of drug price negotiating in the Veterans Administration. Lichtenberg said that the VA National Formulary excludes many new drugs. Only 38% of drugs approved in the 1990s and 19% of the
drugs approved since 2000 are on the formulary. He also argues that the life expectancy of veterans "may have declined" as a result.[10]

Funding sources
The Manhattan Institute received $19,470,416 in grants from 1985-2005, from foundations such as the Koch Family Foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc., the Lynde and
Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations, and the Smith Richardson
Foundation. [11] The Manhattan Institute does not disclose its corporate funding, but the Capital Research Center listed its contributors as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exxon Mobil, Chase Manhattan, Cigna, Sprint, Reliant Energy, Lincoln Financial Group Foundation, and Merill Lynch. [12]

Another funding source is the Searle Freedom Trust.

By the time he died on October 30, at the age of 81, [Daniel] Searle had become one of the largest donors to AEI in its history — and certainly the biggest in the organization’s last 20 years, during its period of preeminence.Searle died on a bird-shooting trip in Scotland. “He was an old-fashioned tough guy,” says Christopher DeMuth, the president of AEI. “He went out in just the style he had lived. Whatever he did, he did all the way.”His achievement as a donor to AEI would be enough to secure a meaningful legacy in philanthropy and public policy—but Searle’s bequest is far from complete. He leaves behind not only a record of generosity to AEI and like-minded groups, but also a foundation currently worth more than $100 million. Before long, the benefactor of Searle Freedom Trust will be spoken of in the same breath as the three great brand names of right-leaning philanthropy: Olin, Bradley, and Scaife. “His love of a free society will live on for many years to come,” says Gideon Searle, one of his sons and the new chairman of Searle Freedom Trust.
Dan Searle was born in Evanston, Ill., on May 6, 1926. He went to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, and then Yale University and Harvard Business School, finally graduating in 1952. He spent his entire business career at G.D. Searle and Company, a pharmaceutical firm started by his family. He rose to become its president in 1966, CEO in 1970, and finally chairman of the board in 1977—a position he kept until 1985, when the company was sold. Its best-known products included Dramamine, Metamucil, NutraSweet, and Enovid, the first oral contraceptive. As chairman, Searle’s most important decision probably involved the hiring of a new CEO who had just left the Ford administration. Donald Rumsfeld strengthened the company and developed a reputation for leadership that made him an attractive choice for a future president who needed a defense secretary.

I love the irony of a right-wing philanthropist making his money off of birth control, then using that money to fund people who fight against birth control education.

The Searle foundation also funds the Federalist society, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, AEI, and the Reason Foundation, which provided an internship to McArdle's fiance.

Bristol-Myers Squibb. G. D. Searle and Company pharmaceutical firm. That's who is funding the think tanks that are fighting national health care. Astra Zeneca sponsors Atlantic get-togethers, and Bradley made his money selling information to the health care industry.

And his minions also hired a hack who fights the little people on behalf of multi-millionaires and their corporations. They don't even have to tell her to do it. McArdle leaps eagerly to support her masters; the world's tallest lap dog.

Blog Note

Megan McArdle has, unsurprisingly, gone a little too far with her latest post on Matt Taibbi, which is less an attack on his work and more an attack on his competence. Since The Atlantic has seldom or never bothered to rein in her incompetence, she does not recognize the proper boundaries of professionalism and good taste. I have delayed refuting it because I was devoutly hoping someone else would, and now I see Taibbi will answer McArdle when he has more time. (Phew!)

Barry Ritholtz also responds regarding McArdle's ridiculous statement that since there was no one villain, nobody was to blame.

ADDED: And of course the great Glenn Greenwald regarding Goldman Sachs, and McArdle in passing.

ADDED (2): MonkeyBusinessBlog analyzes McArdle's "takedown" as well. Part 1. Part 2.

A Public Prayer

While Ross Douthat is weeping over Teh Holy Fetus, the sickening fruits of the right's beloved war are available, via the trophy photos our soldiers took of their crimes. God bless our Facebook Generation, who thoughtfully chronicle their every move and mail their photographic evidence to their friends and family. The word "forever" never pops into their little minds, as they go from taking their shirts off for each other to ordering Iraqi women to do the same. I can hear the cheers of "Show us your tits!", just like at home, except for the automatic weapons. Well, maybe they have those at home too.

In wars people become brutalized and brutalize others. And not all of them die, of course. Some come home, our beloved heroes home at last, with all that expensive training and all these readily available American guns. They tortured and raped and murdered and now they're coming back home to your neighborhood, where everyone has forgotten about Iraq and there are no jobs and not enough social services.

Why did we invade Iraq, again? Why was the left called traitors for denouncing the American invasion of a foreign country? Why did we spend so much money, kill and displace so many people, destroy an ancient civilization that could have given us so much information about our common past? Let's ask the eminence grise of conservative intellectual thought, the best-selling author and enormously influential thinker, the frequent guest of Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg.

So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I've ever heard, by the way).
All of you on the right who voted for Bush: You have no ideas. Your advice is useless. You were wrong, over and over and over. We are ashamed of you and of ourselves, but mostly you. Shut up and go away.

Thanks But No Thanks

Shorter Ross Douthat: Obey the Pope.

Somewhat Shorter Me: He's not my pope and I don't care what he says. When I am no longer a second class citizen in his eyes I'll read his work and think about it, just like I would for anyone else. Until then I cannot take seriously the agenda of anyone like Ross Douthat, who states that my uterus is on loan from his god and therefore he can tell me what to do with it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Process of Denial

We on the left often ask how conservatives could possible manage to lie to themselves so often, so easily, and so completely. They utterly ignore facts and logic to assert, over and over, that they are right and everyone else is wrong. It's baffling and maddening, and despite all the theories that help explain the phenomenon, it's still hard to recognize and counteract. However I ran across a few instance in the writings of our favorite example of conservative dysfunction, Megan McArdle.

Here's one example, coincidentally from an earlier post attacking Matt Taibbi, whom she insultingly calls one of the peanut gallery:
This brings me to a pet peeve that has been increasingly irritating me as the crisis wears on: people with little or no understanding of markets confidently opining on the causes of the crisis.

Here we can see the mechanics of the denial of reality at work. She assumes her knowledge of the financial system is better than that of anyone who is not a member of her elite group. From McArdle's latest Taibbi attack:

He seems to deliberately eschew understanding his subjects, because only corrupt, pointy-headed financial journalists who have been co-opted by the system do that. And Matt Taibbi is here to save you from those pointy headed elites.

The authoritarian McArdle, unsurprisingly, believes what the elites tell her. Because of her elite education she considers herself one of the elites, even though she was only worked in the financial system for a relatively brief time. But her heart most certainly is allied with them, and during the bank bailout she supported her heroes unstintingly. Another interesting thing here is that by most standards Taibbi (the son of a television reporter) is elite, infinitely more so than McArdle. But McArdle has drawn a line that lets in her friends and keeps everyone else out, the better to have enemies to attack. Emotionally still in high school, McArdle resents that Taibbi is considered cool and her own deep, edumacated elite thoughts turned out to be wrong. Back to McArdle's earlier Taibbi attack.
What is most infuriating is that the people who know the least are the most confident about their appraisals. Anyone with any sort of expertise in the field knows that no one understands this crisis very well.

Economists all over the ideological spectrum are rethinking the lessons we thought we had learned from the Great Depression and the Japanese experience. As it unfolds, we will no doubt be seriously rethinking our model of the relationship between the financial markets and the real economy.

Here is another of her excuses, another method she uses to convince herself that she is right and everyone else is wrong. It's the famous Whocouldaknown? excuse, as if actors don't exist in a situation. Things just happen, for structural reasons, and we better sit us down for a long, long spell and think about those structures. Ignore the newly ultra-rich and newly poor, they have nothing to do with it. It's an impersonal, theoretical level, not a level that makes you acknowledge that you are actually talking about real people.
The problem is, ignorant people who have somehow gotten hold of one or two precious facts, and brandish those facts like a mighty Sword of Truth, are superficially convincing. They are convincing because they misunderstand the situation in, well, the way that ignorant people misunderstand it. The stories they concoct are therefore very convincing to the ignorant, except those who have an ideological predisposition to doubt their story. Those ignorant people are busy listening to some other huckster peddling financial snake oil.

This passage also shows the ever-present comedy in McArdle's work. She has no idea how often she describes herself while talking about others. She projects her own actions on others constantly and I can't help but laugh at her cluelessness. It's one of the few amusing things about this whole disaster and in bad times we have to get our fun where we can find it. McArdle has very poor reading comprehension (how on earth did she manage to get an English degree?) and frequently leads her readers astray, who then proceed to merrily follow her down the path of misunderstanding and error.

Here is another example: McArdle picks at a WHO study that shows America might just not have the best healthcare in the world. She can't accept the study for personal reasons, which she disguises as professional reasons. Her libertarian beliefs against national health care are merely part of her longing to be special, to feel good about herself. Unfortunately she wants to do this by excluding others, to feel like she is one of a special elite. She was obviously developed this need in childhood and now is sentenced to seek constant reassurance for the rest of her life, or until she wakes up and realizes that she doesn't have to prove herself to anyone but herself.

Back to the WHO study--first, she says the study's old. Then she states the liberal solution won't work like magic (as if anyone thought it would) and indicators are cherry-picked. Next she pulls one of her favorite tricks, trying to blame the study for not concentrating on some other factor McArdle claims is more importnat the actual, damaging, study, thereby hopelessly confusing the reader with straw men.

These machinations lead her to the other source of funny in McArdle's output: her ability to tie herself into rhetorical knots while attempting to defend the indefensible. It's where the true McArdle essence shines.
But one would hope that the WHO rankings would reflect, to a first approximation, where you'd rather get sick. Does anyone really think that they'd rather be the average consumer of health care in Colombia, than in Columbus, Ohio?

But what about the worst off, you might say? What about them? The WHO table isn't even a good ranking of where I'd prefer to be poor. I'd far rather be an uninsured day laborer in San Francisco, than in the Dominican Republic. For that matter, I'd rather be uninsured anywhere in the United States than an average citizen in Costa Rica.

Stupid, callous and wrong. It's the inevitable consequence of stupid, callous and wrong values, and stupid, callous and wrong decisions based on those values. It's why we laugh at McArdle, and why we fight McArdle.

Sunday Sermon

I'll have more on this later, but I want to take a moment and savor the fact that Megan McArdle is supporting Goldman Sachs, (as she has supported the bankers) over people like herself. McArdle is one of the money-grubbing libertarians whose only concern is always her own personal satisfaction. It's the philosophy of selfishness, the religion of self-love, the I've-got-mine-Jack-screw-you attitude devoid of honor or compassion.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (John Donne)

Donne wrote that we all are part of the Body of Christ, and therefore we are each part of the same whole. Even though I don't believe in gods, I still feel a part of mankind because I choose to feel, to let their suffering or concerns pierce the daily comfort of the little island of Me. We are all connected, and what we do affects others we'll never meet. Our actions send out ripples of repercussions, for good or ill.

The time to take a stand is long past, when these crushing wheels were set into motion, and now we all have to suffer the consequences. But we certainly don't have to tolerate or encourage the poor damned fools among us who are still cheering on their destruction, in the hopes that when the pinata of our economy is broken, they will be able to grab as much candy as their hands and pockets will hold.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Imaginary Friends

It seems I'm becoming superfluous, because now Megan McArdle is providing both sides of her debates, liberal and conservative. That saves me some time, but unfortunately with the responsibility also comes the power, and instead of hearing real liberal argument we hear McArdle's Imaginary Liberal Opponent arguments. Her ILO seems to be a child of average intelligence who learned everything she knows about the government from picture books. Let's call our liberal Shirley, after the little mop-topped movie star. It helps if you add a cute little lisp or inability to pronounce her r's.

Liberal Named Shirley: Gee willikers, Megan, it sounds like you think the rich are special people who need help!

McArdle: I'm afraid I gave the impression yesterday that I thought the fate of Manhattanites makes $200K+ was infinitely more tragic than the fate of single mothers making $20K. Not so. The point wasn't that beleaguered Manhattanites are particularly worthy of our sympathy--though there really is a disconnect between the lifestyle being taxed in Manhattan and Omaha at similar levels of income. Rather, it's that almost no one, including people who are quite affluent, seems to have realized that they're on the hook for the spending they support.

Shirley: (Giggles) Gosh, I never thought that if people had to pay taxes, I'd have to pay taxes too!

McArdle: Look at our current deficit. There's a reason that most countries do not attempt to fund large welfare states with a very progressive income tax, the way we do*. The income of the wealthy is fungible, mobile, and volatile. These are not strengths from the vantage of the tax system.

Paying for a huge new entitlement which will, at best, grow steadily during downturns, should not be done with a tax that will plummet the way progressive income tax revenues seem to during a depression. See: California, State of.

Shirley: I don't understand. Does that mean that taxing rich people is bad?

McArdle: But at any rate, I was in no way trying to argue that it's unfair to raise taxes on wealthy people. Only that a) doing so seems to raise shockingly little revenue and b) fairly wealthy people seem to be getting a nasty surprise from this, and I expect that the surprises will get nastier as the administration is forced to dip into lower income quintiles who were told to expect a tax cut.

Shirley: Oooh! Oooh! You are a mean, nasty lady who makes me just squirm with anger! Rich people can too afford more taxes--after all, the top 10% of rich people have 71% of the nation's wealth!

McArdle: * (Yes, yes, I know the liberals are squirming in their seats, waiting until they can tell me that it is a MORAL OUTRAGE that I called our system progressive. "Progressive" is a slippery term with many meanings, but in this case, I merely mean that our tax system collects a vastly disproportionate share of its income from the wealthier members of society. The individual income tax, which is the largest single source of revenue, collects 75% of its money from the top 10% of taxpayers. FICA is regressive in incidence, but still collects most of its income from the higher quintiles, for the unsurprising reason that higher quintiles have more income subject to the tax. Calculating corporate income tax incidence is functionally impossible, but one hopes it falls more heavily on the rich than the poor--if it doesn't, we ought to get rid of it.

Shirley (sobbing with frustration): I really want to say something but I'm afraid of such a mean lady!

McArdle: "You are missing the point!!!" you want to say, but for this purpose I am not. I am not making a normative argument about the justice of American tax distribution. I am making a positive argument about the dependence of American tax revenue on the income of the upper quintiles.)

Poor Shirley, who makes such bad arguments and has such an immature attitude. I'm surprised that McArdle can bear to live in a world filled with such imaginary people.