Ben A.
Ben H.
You're right to point out my facetiousness. But the spread between the craziness of the slogan "Let's burn down the insurance companies" on the one hand, and the craziness of those companies' businesses on the other, has become dangerously narrow. [Doug: 1/31/09 23:21]
Forms of Argument

Skeptic: "I am worried about a US-led invasion of Iraq. How will we administer the country?"
Proponent: "Saddam Hussein is a monster. How much worse could it possibly be?"

Skeptic: "I am worried about replacing public schools with a voucher system. How quickly can new schools be formed? What selection criteria will be used? It sounds chaotic"
Proponent: "Inner city schools are a disaster. How much worse could vouchers possibly be?"

Skeptic: "I am worried about state control of our health care system. Government control usually works out poorly in the United States."
Proponent: "Our current system is a mess. How much worse could it possibly be."

[Ben A.: 1/31/09 08:29]
Also, Ben H, did you notice that auks backwards is skua? [Doug: 1/31/09 00:36]
On the topic of another Congressional bill: The Senate debate showed the outlines of what promises to be a much larger political fight over universal coverage. While Democrats championed expansion of the child health program, many Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, said they worried that it was part of a long-term effort to replace private health insurance with government programs. What a tragedy that would be. Somebody from HR "oriented" a few of us new hires the other week. About forty minutes was spent explaining the byzantine options that the private health insurers offered us: PPO's, EPO's, etc. The HR person urged us to poll our colleagues about the options, in particular about whether local doctors in various specialties could even be found who accepted these plans and new patients. Do the cost comparisons of different nations' health systems include the billions of man-hours that we Americans lose just trying to explain to each other how the hell our system works? But this isn't even the punch line. The HR person goes on to explain the next benefit on her Powerpoint slide show, namely our right to use the services of the "health advocate" company that they've contracted with. What might that be? Apparently it's a company that companies need to hire to fight the insurance companies that they've hired, when those insurance companies refuse to provide the services they've been hired to provide, like the reimbursement of medical expenses.

You know, the word "nihilism" has a lot of meanings, but in the context of 19th century politics, it means the belief that the existing order is so putrid that anything, even the absence of anything, would be preferable, and that one is therefore justified in working to destroy the existing order even without providing any alternative vision. That this is the correct attitude to take with regard to our current health care system is now beyond argument. While it would be flippant and immoral to advocate violence against people, I do advocate violence against the physical property of the health insurance industry; if all of their headquarters and call centers were burned to the ground (after hours, of course) our country would instantly be a better place.

Finally, I would like to encourage senator McCain to die. [Doug: 1/30/09 00:36]
Billions and billions for "advanced batteries". Yes, I am the managing director of AdvancedBattery LLC, and I have a Harvard physics degree -- what the hell do you know? [Doug: 1/30/09 00:18]
Forget all that the real money is in weatherization. 6.2 billion according to the version I'm reading. Prodigious Caulk LLC ... [Doug: 1/30/09 00:15]
400 million for "habitat restoration and mitigation activities." Listen, I will build you some fucking sweet bird houses for 400 million dollars. [Doug: 1/30/09 00:09]
650 mil for "education, consumer support and outreach ... to ensure a timely conversion of analog to digital television." (P. 51.) Are you fucking kidding me?? Yeah, I'll educate you about digital television for 650 million dollars ... DigitalEducation LLC. If only it could be women and minority owned. Wait is Dao a minority? [Doug: 1/30/09 00:05]
Shitload of money for "broadband deployment" ... how hard would it be to register InfoBahnIowa LLC, print some business cards, and get to know a fiber optic wholesaler?? [Doug: 1/30/09 00:01]
The Ornamental Fish Lobby Pissed Off The Wrong Guy

Sec. 1109. PROHIBITED USES. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.
[Doug: 1/29/09 23:50]

Ben A, I was having drinks with a friend of mine the other night, and I broke it down this way -- 90% will probably end up with friends and donors of the legislators who sign the bill, but 10% will be spent on "deniability" recipients: "Hey, I didn't allocate this money in an unjust way ... for example, this grant to the XYZ corporation! I've never met these guys!" I asked said friend to read the House stimulus bill for ways we might become that XYZ corporation. Incidentally, Dave, I'm still waiting for your report.

[Also, I'm pissed off that you can't get the bill formatted in a halfway convenient way. Let me record a subsequent exchange I had with Ben H. Me: "It's only 650 pages because it's in like 18 point font, double spaced, with huge margins and line-numbers! If I tried to submit this as a college essay they'd fail me instantly on the grounds of shameless padding!" Ben: "I think the real reason is that the senators are all 90 years old and half blind." But ultimately we agreed that the real reason for this formatting is to discourage citizens from printing out, and thereby reading and understanding, their rulers' dealings.] [Doug: 1/29/09 23:30]
Wall Street Bonuses Only Down 44%??

Our taxes now pay, via the TARP, for these twats' bonuses, which average about twice the average citizen's salary. Speechless
[Doug: 1/29/09 19:38]
Linguistic Report From American Office, Early 2009

"That guy"
Usage: "Somebody had to point out how bad Ashley's outfit clashed; I was like, yeah, I'll be that guy." "There was one brownie left on the plate, and I was like, I'm not going to be that guy."
Verdict: Laudable in that it points out the fixed roles available to office workers -- but will quickly get overused/tiresome.

Usage: "We need to schedule the rest of the team's week so let's identify any blockers that might keep us from moving forward."
Verdict: Bad because the football usage is the first one that comes to an American's mind -- a blocker is something that moves aside a danger to forward progress, not the danger itself. [Doug: 1/29/09 16:25]
Stimulus Response

Cynicism and sarcasm can only take you so far. My underinformed guess puts the house bill at 60% stimulus, 40% grab bag of stuff that people were looking for an excuse to pay for. Has anyone found a real accounting? [Ben A.: 1/29/09 08:17]
Year of the "Ox"? That explains it. I thought everybody was talking about the year of the "Auks", which seemed kind of obscure. [Ben H.: 1/28/09 14:23]
Happy Lunar New Year to everyone, too. I think the ox might be the right symbol for me. Basically hoping to pull my weight for twelve months and not get sent to the abattoir. [Doug: 1/26/09 22:21]
At the end of another mediocre William Kristol column, these suprising words: "This is William Kristol's last column." I don't have time to scour the internet for the backstory here. And maybe that's a good thing, for I can simply comfort myself with the explanation that his mediocrity was too arrant for his employers to overlook, even with his family pedigree. [Doug: 1/26/09 17:46]
Acounting, Gulf-style

Prince Alwaleed's Kingdom Holdings reported a quarterly loss of $8.3bio dollars. Such a performance is so at odds with Alwaleed's (self-?) image of a savvy investor, that it apparently bore re-examination. Upon further review, the results were restated to show a $275mio gain. Apparently, the change stems from differences between GAAP numbers and ANAP* numbers. Congratulations on a great quarter, Prince. Not quite as good as mine, in which I made 8 quadrillion dollars**.

You have to admire the Arab relationship to reality.

*Arabian Nights Accounting Principles
**based on mark-to-wet-dream valuation of securities portfolio
[Ben H.: 1/25/09 11:04]
All the News that's Fit to Print: NYT's Paper Fit for Use as Toilet Paper

It's not news to me that the NY Times is junk, but now Moody's agrees, having cut the paper's credit rating to Ba3 from Baa3. That is, from investment grade to junk. [Ben H.: 1/23/09 12:30]
NY Senate

I'm with you, Ben!

But I stand agog at Kennedy's performance: the arrogant Kennedy sense of entitlement, the waffling of a Cuomo, the heedless infliction of damage to friends and political allies of a Clinton, and the inarticulateness of a Bush.

She really brings it all together! [Ben H.: 1/23/09 12:25]
No Cuomo!

Now that is change I can believe in! [Ben A.: 1/23/09 10:08]

She's out!
Wait! She's back in!

Are we sure that she doesn't have, in addition to the famous high-proof Kennedy stuff, some Cuomo blood flowing through her veins? And note the following:

Several sources said the governor, who has sole power to replace Clinton, was unimpressed with how the daughter of John F. Kennedy handled media interviews and private sessions with various officials.

A Kennedy turning out not to live up to her billing? Good heavens, how could that happen? I look forward to a day, not too far off, when the Senate transacts its business without a single Kennedy!

[Ben H.: 1/22/09 06:58]
Conundrums of the Market

So let me get this straight:

- Citi rallied because Dick Parsons assumes the chairmanship. Because Time Warner stock did so well when he ran the company??

- Bank of America stock jumps 30% because CEO Ken Lewis bought shares. The same Ken Lewis who bought Countrywide and Merrill Lynch at prices that proved too high by an order of magnitude (or even had the wrong sign!)? [Ben H.: 1/21/09 18:45]
Yeah but he didn't say he was honored (that I can recall) -- it's that contradiction that drives me nuts. I watched the speech here and it's disorienting to suddenly have a president who conveys competence. The line that I would have rewritten is when he said, as the climax to a litany of challenges, that "They will be met." The right line was "We will meet them." [Doug: 1/20/09 13:41]
Doug! He said HUMBLED!!! In the first sentence!! [Ben H.: 1/20/09 13:08]
USA, #1

I didn't vote for Obama, but I wish him well, and I like him, if such a ludicrous thing can be said about a public figure. I also like that he encourages people to have pride in America, and to be excited about the promise of our country. Have at it, Mr. President.

[Ben A.: 1/20/09 00:10]
Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas. Fleas that might carry bubonic plague. Can I get a Nelson Muntz haw-haw? [Ben H.: 1/19/09 14:42]
Finally the Internet Delivers Something of Value

Oh yes, it's all online!
[Ben A.: 1/19/09 12:21]
The financial clouds have a silver lining. [Ben H.: 1/17/09 19:57]
I didn't see the plane hit the water but I did see it float past the office where I work, which is on the West Side Highway. But it wasn't close enough to see much. [Doug: 1/16/09 10:45]
Did you manage to see either the crash or the aftermath? The video I saw was pretty amazing. Of course, now I can't complain about the "safey briefing" on planes anymore! "In the event of a water landing," the flight attendant trills, and I mutter, "tell me the last time a commercial jet made a successful water landing?!" (There was a case in Indonesia a few years back, but it was in water shallow enough to stand in). The sting of getting showed up by USAirways' is soothed by the fact that Ralph Nader looks even worse, writing that a jet attempting a water landing would, "shatter like a raw egg dropped on pavement, killing most if not all passengers on impact, even in calm seas with well-trained pilots and good landing trajectories."

My joke on all this is that as soon as I saw the landing, I went to Expedia to see if USAirways now regularly ran the Laguardia to the West Side of Manhattan route. Seems like a great way to beat crosstown traffic! [Ben H.: 1/16/09 07:12]
Maybe now that everyone's safe I can share my new boss's comment -- "What a horrible day for these people, first their plane crashes, then they have to go to Hoboken" -- and my prediction for tomorrow's NYT headline -- "Global Warming Changes Migratory Patterns, Causing Plane Crash" [Doug: 1/15/09 19:46]
This passenger jet did an emergency landing in the Hudson river and floated past the office building where I now work.

I don't have anything to add, really, but this seems like the sort of thing you're supposed to post about. [Doug: 1/15/09 17:24]
Those Who Need Explanation Will Likely Not Find This Funny

But I assure you it is...

Go here for the back-story... [Ben A.: 1/13/09 12:03]
It's a good thing the Iranians don't read the NY Times. It would indeed be a pity were they to uncover our supersecret unconventional disruption plan! The Times says that it withheld details of the plan at the request of our government. How very cricket of the Times. We here at thebandarlog understand concur with Mike Wallace: our only allegiance is to the story, our journalistic integrity having reached such heights of purity that it transcends mere borders. Thebandarlog can reveal to you today that the core of the US plan involves downloading a new and highly addictive version of Tetris onto the mobile phones of the scientists involved in the Iranian enrichment program. Take that, you Persian shoes! [Ben H.: 1/12/09 07:45]
NYT Iran Blockbuster

This is news. Comments? [Ben A.: 1/11/09 01:06]

I've started rereading Plato's Republic. Other than Ben A's encouragement I have no very precise reason for doing so. A feeling of shame for not knowing the book better is involved, probably, as is curiosity about whether I'll get more out of it now, being somewhat wiser than the last time around. Another factor might be a need to engage, or to feel engaged, with big questions of statecraft, in order to fight off this feeling of powerlessness that's grown as (1) the economy suffers from problems I confess I don't understand, and (2) my professional identity as a simple web monkey solidifies.

Expect some, but not too much, commentary from me. (You guys are of course welcome to discuss too.) Book I sufficed to snuff out any notion of exhaustive analysis on my part. My reaction to Socrates' argument at 332c was representative. There he says (Bloom's translation):

"[...] if someone were to ask him, 'Simonides, the art called medicine gives what that is owed and fitting to which things?' what do you suppose he would answer us?'"
"It's plain," he said, "drugs, foods and drinks to bodies."
"The art called cooking gives what that is owed and fitting to which things?"
"Seasonings to meats."
"All right. Now then, the art that gives what to which things would be called justice?"
"If the answer has to be consistent with what preceded, Socrates," he said, "the one that gives benefits and harms to friends and enemies."

My reaction to this is: There is not even any prima facie reason to think that this analogy will shed light on the nature of justice. The fact that two distinct pairs of words can be plugged into the same Mad-lib hardly ensures a meaningful relationship between the pairs! Now, if I said that to a teaching assistant, he or she would reply, "Okay, that's a valid reaction, Doug; let's see if we can identify the ways in which the analogy is valid, and the ways it's invalid." And if I were trying to avoid a failing grade (i.e., at Harvard, a B+) I would give it my best shot. But being older and lazier, I am content to say: yeah, you could probably cogitate your way through the T.A.'s question, and come up with something, but the cogitation would be tiresome and the end result would be, let's be honest, of zero worth. (Aside: this sort of exercise may well be useful for that majority of philosophy majors who intend to become lawyers.)

The more relevant question to ask me is therefore: why not just put the book away and avoid this boring stuff. Three answers come to mind.

First, I know that much of the rest of the book is concerned with the relationship between cities' governments and the character of their citizens -- and this issue seems as important now as it is neglected. A huge percent of media throughput today concerns particular actions of governments -- X dollars to solve this problem, Y dollars to avoid that catastrophe, and a Z percent change over there -- while hardly any concerns the self-sustaining mechanisms that turn most of our countrymen into (to put it bluntly) jackasses, mechanisms that must nonetheless be crucial to the problems behind these X's, Y's, and Z's.

Second, a lot of this talk in Book I is -- and I congratulate Ben A for finding le mot juste here -- jive. Plato is aware that Socrates is just talking circles around young Polemarchus here. There is, to some extent or other, a subtext question: "Where are the limits to what verbal investigations can accomplish, both for edifying us and for influencing government?" I think I missed this the last time I read the Republic. But it's evident when Polemarchus gives the timid qualification "If the answer has to be consistent with what preceded, Socrates" (and obviously it doesn't). In fact it's evident on the first page where Glaucon half-jokingly refuses to let Socrates leave and refuses to listen to his arguments why he should be allowed to leave.

Third, it's interesting to me to see where the old Athenians' background views diverge from ours, in order to test various cultural elements for universality. For example, in the exchange quoted above, we can see that the default view of justice back then was "help your friends, hurt your enemies." And this bolsters Nietzsche's case that the Jewish/Christian "love your enemy" morality is an innovation, or an inversion, or at any rate something non-universal. Or take the question of whether luxuries are the final end of human existence. Their answer turns out not be "Duh" (as we now know today) but rather "no" (Glaucon, 373b-e).

On the other hand, it's interesting that the "social contract" view of origin of government seems already to have been the obvious explanation (Glaucon, 358e) and not to have awaited Rousseau. And the fear of punishment in the afterlife seems not to have awaited monotheism (386b).

Well, we'll see if I have anything more to say about the book as I head back into the world of full-time employment. [Doug: 1/9/09 14:02]
Back From The Sunshine

Colby and I just returned from a short trip to St. Lucia. The resort we stayed at sits amid a huge spread of jungly property that operated as a plantation from the late 18th century to the mid 20th. One day, we decided to go on a guided hike of the plantation ruins. Besides the two of us and the guide, there was an older English couple. The man was an avid birder, binoculors hanging from his neck, and seemed uninterested in anything other than the winged fauna, about which he asked lots of questions. The guide was quite the amateur botanist; he had grown up in the area and talked about how his grandmother had taught him all about the wild plants that could serve as remedies for various ailments. THe hike took place in the late afternoon, which made for fine light and temperatures, but exposed us to the worst time of day for mosquito bites. Colby and I accumulated a few bites, but the English woman was clearly getting the worst of it. In fact, it appeared she was drawing off the mosquitos from the rest of us. Her arms quickly erupted with angry looking welts. She was so perfectly English about it, though. "I say, the mosquitos seem to like me," she said offhandedly. Her husband didn't reply and only opened his mouth to ask about birds. "Is the red-throated one the male or the female?" We entered the ruins of an old sugar-house. The Englishwoman at this point must have had 50 bites on her arms. "These mosquitos are rather aggressive, aren't they?" You could sense she was almost building up to an actual complaint, but before she could register it, the guide starting talking about how his slave ancestors had to work 14 hours per day, 7 days per week, stirring cane juice in enormous cauldrons as it boiled down to molasses. I suppose she would have felt churlish complaining of a few bites in the face of that story. The guide finally took a little notice of her suffering and reassured her, "my grandmother showed me an herb to take care of mosquito bites. We'll get some in a bit." After another half hour of hiking and with her arms more bite than unblemished skin, the woman managed, "say, will we come across that herb for mosquito bites soon?", but any reply was pre-empted by the appearance of a rare finch. At last, as the hike approached its endpoint, the guide stopped by the side of the trail and exclaimed proudly:"Here's the best remedy for mosquito bites, rashes, any kind of skin problem." He broked off a juicy leaf from a succulent plant. "Aloe vera" The woman's shoulders visibly slumped. You could read her thoughts: "Aloe freakin' Vera? Are you fucking kidding me? That's your remedy??!" She was too politely English to manage anything more vexed than a slightly befuddled, "oh, I see, Aloe Vera... regular Aloe Vera?" And the guide was too proudly St. Lucian to notice her disappointment and took off in a panegyric of this wonderful plant. It was at this point that her husband finally snapped out of his bird trance. "Oh my," he said, looking at his wife's pock-marked limbs, "the mosquitos have really eaten you up!" [Ben H.: 1/7/09 08:40]
Reality, In a Small Way, Infiltrates Deborah Solomon's World

An interview with Joan Rivers:

DS: Don’t you think most of us want to be loved for who we are, as opposed to some artificially enhanced version of ourselves?

JR: That will never happen. Are you out of your mind? [Ben A.: 1/4/09 11:29]
Outrage of the Month: English 10 On the Outs

Predictably awful curricular innovation by the Harvard English department. Banality dressed up as provocation is a wonderful capsule description. [Ben A.: 12/27/08 13:00]
Christmas Movie Report

Air Force One: Movies like these get made only under popular administrations. Air Force One gives us a hero president, effective humanitarian intervention, and generals and cabinet members who do their duty. The Government of the United States does not act like a criminal gang, nor do evil, Haliburton-esque corporate overlords control our foreign policy. Hey, if Barack Obama can make white people love America, give him twelve years!

The Constant Gardener: I make a point of seeing all movies featuring diabolical pharmaceutical firms. My beau ideal for villainy remains The Fugitive’s Devlin-MacGregor Pharmaceuticals; Three Bees does not really compare.
[Ben A.: 12/26/08 00:51]
The Eight Days

I sincerely wish there were some explanation for that mistake other than mental atrophy. [Doug: 12/25/08 22:23]
The CPDO was probably the high water mark of structured finance mumbo-jumbo. When it was first pitched to me, I couldn't detect the specific analytical flaws on the fly. Nonetheless I knew it was garbage. You cannot get L+250bps for true AAA risk out of some sort of reconfiguration of a high-yield index. Not to sound to Islamic in my orientation toward finance, but if it appears you can make something from nothing, either you're god or you're wrong.

My colleague and I did about an hour of work on the Moody's CPDO methodology and found about a half-dozen conceptual errors. We pointed this out to the bank peddling it and they said that, well, while we had a point, they had buyers. The CPDO wave didn't last long. The errors were simply too apparent. Moody's allegedly found some bugs in their model and then (the story goes) instead of admitting the rating result was wrong, they fixed the model but changed around some assumption to get to the same rating. Ugh. [Ben H.: 12/25/08 14:00]
And That Was The Actual Strategy!
Let me reiterate that, just to drive the point home. The ratings agencies said: you can take a BBB-rated index, leverage it 15-to-1, and follow an entirely automatic trading strategy (no trader discretion, no forecasting of defaults or anything, just a formula-driven adjustment to the leverage ratio and an automatic roll of the index), and the result is rated AAA.

Great insider article on structured finance. Ben H, you can tell us if the account smells right to you. The moral for me: when I first heard about the way mortgage tranches were being rated by Moody's, my thought should have been "what else are they doing wrong?"


It was a conservative strategy: one fewer point of return than days of Hannukah!
[Ben A.: 12/25/08 11:26]
My Take On The Madoff Scandal

I conjecture that so many prominent people in the Jewish community in particular bought Madoff's lie (that exactly seven percent returns were being generated every year) because they grew up with Hanukkah and its automatic seven presents, rather than with Christmas, where the loot varies with economic conditions. [Doug: 12/24/08 16:06]
I heard you on that, Doug, but I just couldn't find a big enough bottle of ketchup to balance it out. [Ben H.: 12/24/08 07:06]
Now see, Ben H, that's the shade of yellow I was pushing for when you repainted your living room. [Doug: 12/24/08 00:15]
Why Insurance is Good

It covers rent on this place:

(I post this mainly so that kind-hearted readers don't feel bad for me on the basis of the photo below.) [Ben A.: 12/23/08 21:28]
I think that's now called a "great room".

Sheesh, I can see why you might not be living there for a while ...
[Doug: 12/23/08 15:34]
Open Floor Plan

[Ben A.: 12/22/08 23:06]
Payback Time

Dear Esteemed Nigerian Businessperson,

Please oblige my presenting myself as Citizen of United States of America. Despite poor reputation owing to rapacious outlaw regime, my Country is known to discerning congoscenti as home of great financial wizards. I myself am happening to know clerk of Park Avenue Joint Stock Company, due to very strict elite nature am needing additional funds to obtain entry for myself. If you would oblige the wiringof fifty thousand U.S. dollars ($50,000) to following account you will be assured handsome returns of nine or more percent at each coming of Spring rains.

Your humble servant,

Dwight "Jib" Adams [Doug: 12/21/08 18:25]
The Last Days Of The Empire

When I left NYC three years ago, the must-have exotic food item was something called "sunchokes". (I don't think I ever learned what they were.) It's taken me a few days back in the city to see what's replaced them. Answer: pink salt mined in the Himalayas. I sampled some expensive chocolate made with the stuff. Then saw at Dean & Deluca entire disks and bricks of this salt ($30 to $40) looking like translucent pink quartz. The idea is that you make them very hot in your oven, then cook your guests' wagyu beef strips in front of them on your dining table. Wagyu beef was Dean & Deluca's suggestion, anyway; I assume hummingbird tongues would work just as well. [Doug: 12/21/08 16:01]
Yes, there is ample precedent for what is known as "rescission risk." This comes in two flavors: first, that investors who have been induced to invest on the basis of fraud would have first claim on the fund estate; second, that in an outright fraud, there should be a clawback of fictitious profits. We once looked at a trade involving buying shares of a busted mortgage fund (long before the mortgage blow-up). This fund had allegedly misstated its returns for some time before the final collapse. Those investors who put their money in on the basis of misstated returns made the case (I believe this was in Cayman or Bermuda courts, but I don't remember exactly) that they ought to have first crack at the estate and the right to go after investors who had withdrawn money and gotten cashed out at bogus valuations. I am not sure how far back one can go. If the analogy is with fraudulent conveyance in a bankruptcy, then there is definitely a time limit (typically two years). [Ben H.: 12/17/08 18:25]
"The technical Wall Street term for this is a nightmare"

Hey Ben H, is this article correct -- do investors who pull out from a fraudulent fund like Madoff's (before the fraud is revealed) have to give back their profits from it, so that there's a big pool of money out of which all past and present investors get paid equitably? [Doug: 12/17/08 17:32]
If I didn't know better I'd say you planted the story! [Doug: 12/16/08 12:11]
This Must Have Been A Joke That Got Misinterpreted As Fact

From an article on the Madoff fraud. I call bullshit:

That exposure was through the Ascot Fund, a charity to provide wigs for people with the baldness disease alopecia, which is run by Mr. Merkin, the chairman of GMAC.

A charity to provide wigs... run by a guy named "Merkin"??
[Ben H.: 12/16/08 11:04]

A story of a North Korean escapee. [Ben A.: 12/15/08 16:11]
Scandal Convergence

In a perfect world, here's what would have gone down. Dreier hatched his scheme of selling fake prom notes because he realized he had lost all his savings invested in Madoff Securities, when he went to withdraw cash in order to pay Blagojevich for a Senate seat. [Ben H.: 12/15/08 11:45]
New Branch Of Mathematics Invented

Deferential Calculus.

Theorem. The integral of sine is cosine.

Proof. By the preceding lemma, we see that d/dx(cos x) is – sin x. Considering the antiderivative, this means that the integral of sin x should be negative cosine x. But would you prefer positive cosine? Because that's totally fine too. QED [Doug: 12/14/08 18:20]
The Return

... is anything but triumphant, but the party was great (thanks B & C). I'm sorry to hear your housing situation is still messed up. Let's see if we can arrange to get together in the next few weeks. [Doug: 12/14/08 18:15]
How's the Party?

Deb and I are sorry to miss your triumphant return to New York, Doug! We hope next few weeks will see us ensconced in medium-term housing, on-track to rebuild our old place, and liberated for pleasure travel. If you and Dao will be in NYC over New Years perhaps we can plan a visit. [Ben A.: 12/13/08 22:58]
New Niece

Congratulations to my sister Clare who gave birth yesterday to Andra Kate. Everyone involved seems happy and healthy. We'll go see them in the next few days. [Doug: 12/13/08 13:32]

I suppose that I ought to chime in on front-page stories that relate to my industry. In the case of Madoff, I think it sufficient to record the reaction of the two people in my office who had familiarity with Madoff, who for all the money he "managed" remained relatively obscure. The two guys each gave the same response: "It's about time!" To them, that Madoff's returns were too good to be true was obvious. The only uncertainty, in their minds, was whether he actually delivered such returns, but only via illegally front-running order-flow of his market-making business, or whether the returns were a complete fiction. Guess we have our answer now.

Sadly, the unmasking of this brazen and obvious fraud will have deleterious consequences for the hedge fund industry. Several large fund-of-funds had allocations to Madoff, thus making a mockery of the idea that individual investors can leave due diligence to FoFs. The most basic due diligence should have turned up glaring red flags (as it did for many FoFs and individual investors, who in light of the news, and consequence liberation from fears of slander accusations, have revealed the details of their own decision not to invest). The losing FoFs may well be out of business. More broadly, what the world suffers from today is a lack of trust. The hedge fund business asks a lot of trust from investors, given the necessary information assymetries. The Madoff scandal will corrode what little trust remains. [Ben H.: 12/13/08 10:23]
Long Contracts For Pitchers

Don't tend to work out. But next year the Yankees could be really tough. [Ben A.: 12/11/08 18:19]
Yankees now about to land Burnett? $80MM for 5 years? Too risky? [Ben H.: 12/11/08 13:58]
Microsoft Must Die

Spent 40 minutes getting a comma-separated-value file (CSV) to correctly display in Excel 2003 -- you know, the program where ctrl-A doesn't select the entire file (q.v.). The problem? It expects the fields to be separated by semicolons. Is it just me or would that be an SSV file YOU COCKSUCKERS [Doug: 12/10/08 18:46]
Hot Dog Vendors Rejoice Throughout the Bronx

Sabathia seems like a lovely fellow, and should be an asset. He projects to 200+ inning and an ERA between 3 and 3.5. For New York, that's 20 wins.

Yet of all the moves the (hated) Yankees could have made, this one doesn't scare me. Perhaps this is just an over-reaction to a small sample of Sabathia getting clocked in the postseason. [Ben A.: 12/10/08 11:00]
Yanks Land Sabathia

He gets the largest contract ever for a pitcher, six years and $140mio. But no worries for the Yanks; the team will cover the cost by selling seats at exorbitant prices to investment banks, hedge fund bigs, uhhhh, wait a sec...

We can expect Sabathia to revert to his Cleveland early-season performance, or perhaps injure himself, repeatedly, in freak accidents. [Ben H.: 12/10/08 08:54]
Blagojevich Done

Illinois governor has just been arrested. The allegation: that he tried to sell "Obama's Senate seat." Ethics aside, I endorse Blagojevich's marketing strategy. The "junior Senate seat from Illinois" doesn't sound nearly as valuable as "Obama's Senate seat." Own a piece of history! Not just any Senate seat, but the one previously occupied by the first African-American to become President! You'll totally best your friends who bought a mere commemorative plate.

At first glance, Team Obama comes out of this looking pretty good. To wit, from the Fitzgerald press release:

In a conversation with Harris on November 11, the charges state, Blagojevich said he knew that the President-elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them." [Ben H.: 12/9/08 11:06]
I Thought "Change" Trumped Dynasticism!

With Hillary Clinton likely to slip the rotten parchment bonds of the Emoluments Clause and make it to Foggy Bottom, Governor David Patterson must decide on her replacement. While he has an entire congressional delegation of fellow Democrats to choose from, not to mention other well-regarded elected officials like Tom Suozzi and Byron Brown, late speculation has him giving the nod to Caroline Kennedy. Earlier chatter brought up the name of her cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr*. Apparently, Obama has put in a good word for Ms. Kennedy. Strange that the avatar of change, nothing if not a self-made man, should plump for a woman prominent only by virtue of her name to replace a predecessor who also came by her post due to her relations. The biggest fans of Kennedy and Obama would no doubt pronounce our most recent experiment in dynastic politics a resounding failure and will no doubt loudly decry the presumption of Jeb Bush should he choose, as is rumored, to run for Senate in Florida.

I perhaps have a bee in my bonnet about Kennedophilia due to the recent renaming of the Triborough Bridge. That homely but essential span is now known as, by decree of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and by virtue of expensive signage paid for by its toll-beleaguered patrons, the RFK Bridge. Let me avoid a long argument about RFK's flaws and misdeeds. For the moment, I'll accept his resume at face value. The man served briefly as Attorney General and for less than one term as carpet-bagging Senator from New York. He died forty frickin' years ago and in the interim has gotten stuff named out of him far out of proportion to his accomplishments. He had nothing to do with the proposal, design, construction or funding of this bridge. He was in fact rather anti-car for his time. If the TBTA feels like it has the extra cash to throw around on new signage and that the name "Triborough" isn't fancy enough for a bridge that costs $5 to cross, might I suggest choosing an eponym that actually has something more to do with the bridge itself? Someone who left more of a real mark on New York City than an ambitious political dynast who punched his ticket here on his ill-fated way to claim his Washington inheritance? Why not the Othmar Ammann bridge. Ammann designed several of the most celebrated of New York's bridges -- the George Washington, the Verrazano, the Bayonne, and, yes, the Triborough -- and had a hand in the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel, too.

I'm going to hold out against the Kennedophile toadies at the TBTA. I will continue to refer to the bridge as the Triborough. Perhaps my children and grandchildren will therefore regard me as I did my grandmother when she referred to the 4/5/6 trains as "the IRT." A parting question for you guys: can you think of other renamed public works that some people refused to refer to by their new names on ideological grounds? For example, I remember some people pointedly refusing to call Reagan-National Airport by its new name. Any others come to mind?

*This is not to lump the two cousins together. Ms. Kennedy is not in any positive way objectionable, and in fact seems like an thoughtful and accomplished person, though not necessarily more so than many other never-elected New Yorkers not named "Kennedy." RFK Jr is a paranoid, self-righteous blowhard, who has garnered a good deal of attention for peddling the bogus theory that childhood vaccinations cause autism. [Ben H.: 12/5/08 16:13]
It Couldn't Have Happened To An Institution That Could Better Afford It

After weeks of rumblings, Harvard admits its endowment got reamed. Down a whopping 22% in the four months since the end of the last fiscal year. Mohammed El-Erian once again displays his prescience: not quite prescient enough to spare the endowment the losses (which to be fair result almost certainly from investment decisions taken well before his time), but just prescient enough for his own narrow escape before the deluge. Well played, sir!

He of course knew that the portfolio was a supertanker (of allocations to P/E funds, hedge funds with gates, and other illiquid stuff) he couldn’t turn, headed for Bligh Reef. He decided to leave the bridge before the crack up, and it seems that Jane Mendillo will be playing the role of Joe Hazelwood. But hey, what’s it to Harvard? No other institution could better sustain the loss, right? What going to happen? The Assistant Dean of Diversity is going to have to do without the Deputy Assistant Dean for Sexuality Issues she hoped to hire? Gawd, might as well send my kids to a state school!

You can bet that what’s befallen the big H has hit most of the other top-tier endowments. Now that Harvard has admitted its losses, you can expect a wave of disclosure from other endowments taking advantage of the cover offered. In the end, even after this blow-up, HMC’s twenty-year record is probably very good. It’s just that the nineteen-year record was too good to be true. Regression to long-term historical average returns was bound to occur. The problem is that Harvard (and other schools) have developed their payout policy (miserly) and their fixed cost base (extravagant) based on routinely printing 20% returns. The university will either have to adopt a higher payout (there’s plenty of room for that) or fire a few Deputy Assistant Deans of Administrative Trivia! [Ben H.: 12/3/08 10:55]
Why Read Commentary?

A lesser organ of the right perhaps, but where else can you read this sentence in a book review:

It is hard to decide which author is more blameworthy

The answer is Jay McInerney.
[Ben A.: 12/2/08 22:20]
Rhodium's Moment

Doug, you really ought to become a trend-spotter. Michelle Obama's ring: rhodium! [Ben H.: 12/2/08 07:10]
How Does It Feel To Be The Last Turkey Asked to Die for a Mistake?

News just came across the tape that Pilgrim's Pride has filed for bankruptcy, mere days after Thanksgiving. It is indeed a bitter irony for all those turkeys who gave the last full measure of their devotion at our tables Thursday... [Ben H.: 12/1/08 13:32]

Coincidentally, we happened to watch "From Russia With Love" yesterday. I the plot set-up is similar to what I suspect the explanation of the Bombay terror attacks will be. SPECTRE is not a Soviet organization; it's just a group dedicated to pure evil, whose members commit attacks while posing as Soviets, so as to draw the superpowers into a war. While the Bombay terrorists are likely Pakistanis, I doubt they are taking orders from any official Pakistani organization (however much training and equipment they may in the past have received from the Pakistani intelligence services). And I suspect their fondest dream is to trigger a nuclear war.

The lesson that "From Russia With Love" teaches us is, of course, that we need to infiltrate a dashing agent with a thorough understanding of wine pairings. [Doug: 11/28/08 13:48]
Bummer. Sounds like you escaped the worst though. Is it wrong to be thankful for that, given that some of your neighbors suffered more? You might have to call up the Harvard philosophy department for that one. Presumably they have a hotline for this sort of thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to you guys and your families -- we'll see you very soon!
[Doug: 11/27/08 07:02]
Yikes, Ben! Glad to hear that you guys escaped unscathed. It's a pity that an insurable housing event should happen in occupied housing units when there are so many foreclosed or near-foreclosed homes that banks and owners would like nothing more than to see reduced to insurance-reimbursable ashes... [Ben H.: 11/26/08 14:17]

If your house must feature in the local news, you do not want “Arson Ruled Out” to be the headline. All things considered, we have no complaints. We got out in plenty of time, and are healthy and insured. Others are less fortunate. The fire started at a neighboring house, gutting that building and the top units in ours. Although at this point it seems no one was badly hurt, many of our neighbors are under- or un-insured; I fear some of them may be wiped out.

When Bad Advocates Happen to Good Ideas

Doug’s observation seems spot on to me. Small is beautiful, or it least it can be. And I am a great fan of the old bourgeois virtue of Thrift. Few moral/aesthetic principles, however, have suffered more from unlovely proponents.

Anti-cosmopolitan and small ‘c’ conservative arguments often have this problem. Who wants to argue against growth, against progress, against the universal brotherhood of man? A bunch of bitter jerks, usually. [Ben A.: 11/26/08 08:43]
That editorial is so dumb that about five different comments come to mind. I'll limit myself to the most tangential -- actually it's prompted by Ben's response more than article itself. Slave morality as applied to public policy questions says: exercising our will (more often, their will) to change the world for human benefit is wrong. We should humbly accept the world as it is. Terrible things will happen if we let arrogant people carry out their plans for altering the natural order. Versions of this opinion have been around forever. Notable examples include the Romantic view of industry as "dark satanic mills" and Hippie environmentalists of the 1960's and 70's. And also critics of the consumerist orgy that's been going on for 20 or 30 or 50 years. Now, in many cases, it is pertinent to track this opinion back to the physiology/psychology of its spokesmen, just as Nietzsche famously did. Many of them are feckless, jealous weeds. Moreover, since there has never been any "Wall-E"-style cataclysm, the slave-morality folks have created a crying-wolf situation for themselves. If I remember the story of the boy who cried wolf correctly, though, the wolf actually does come along in the end. And I have long wondered whether, as the human population gets up in the 1010 range and enough of them adopt the American way of consumption, the environmental wolf will eventually come along. Ditto for the American economic model of the last 15 or so years (consume everything, produce nothing). I've often looked around -- that time at Fry's Electronics in California being only the most extreme case -- and said, "This can't last". I've said that not as a slave-moralist, but as a fan of mammoths and Porsches and home video projectors and what have you. Maybe we have refused to answer the question of how to run a society as something other than an orgy of consumption, precisely because the question has been posed by hectoring losers in hempen clothing. Unfortunately this question is now pressing. And some decidedly hemp-free people are asking it, including this friend of Ben A. [Doug: 11/24/08 13:25]
Maybe "Slave Morality Forever!" Could Replace "All the News That's Fit To Print

As most Bandarlog readers know, the Times has adopted a side-project of confirming every accusation about liberal democracy made by Friedrich Nietzsche. Anti-mammoth sentiment is just one predictable consequence of a Last Man style opposition to anything noble, bold, sublime, or just plain freaking awesome. Like a 100% bona fide, eight ton, tusk-having, trunk-waiving mammoth.

These people are pussies. Worse, they are rationalizing pussies, and so must cook up some jive counter-arguments to the obviously legit program of mammoth cloning. That's how you get the Times arguing that a cloned mammoth will lack the essentials of a flourishing mammoth life. It no surprise to find the Times arguing that creatures unable to achieve their full potential are better off not existing. We have heard this argument before in another context.

Here is my counter-proposal. Mammoth number one will live adored by the populace, tended by devoted handlers, and will likely serve as the pampered centerpiece of the MGM Grand casino. If despite this the mammoth seems irredeemably depressed, kill it. I doubt it comes to that. Most living things like being alive. Clone the mammoth now!


No Times editorial would be complete without some reference to climate change, the thinking progressive’s replacement for the Fall of Man. The author appears to believe that global warming has robbed the Earth of the desolate tundra to sustain a small mammoth population. I say “appears” because he employs circumlocutions such as an environment “disappearing all too fast” and a “warming world [that] won’t look any more hospitable than the one that did them in.” Why not write a simple declarative sentence? First, the writer is a pussy (see above). Second, stating the point baldly reveals it as improbable to the point of absurdity. I claim scant expertise in biology, ecology, or mammothology; but it is hard to imagine that no sufficient habitat remains, on the entire planet, capable of supporting 50-odd mammoths.
[Ben A.: 11/24/08 01:43]
Hurt by all the mean things Ben A has said about it, The New York Times hits back where it hurts. [Doug: 11/23/08 18:11]
How's That "Superpower For The 21st Century" Thing Working Out?

Not so super. [Doug: 11/22/08 13:00]
Cow Poop?

Ah, the glamorous hedge-fund life ... [Doug: 11/22/08 07:43]
Pre-Holiday Travel Fun

I spent the better part of last week down in Argentina on business. Due to the reduction in airline capacity, I took a flight via Miami. As it turns out, a fellow investor was flying the same itinerary, and we were both upgraded to first class. Since we had a long layover in MIA, we both checked our bags. On arrival in BA, we waited in vain at the baggage carousel. THe two of us, both Executive Platinum flyers, were the only passengers left without luggage. The agent at the airport had no clue where our bags had gone to, and in fact spent about 20 minutes trying to get a printer to work to print out our claim forms (in the end, she took another 20 minutes writing them by hand). I had to leave BA the next day very early to fly out to a farm belonging to a company my employer has invested in. The management wanted board members to see the new "free-stall" dairy facility. In this arrangement, cows live in an enormous shed. Three times a day, they make their way over to a rotary milking parlor to get milked. This is basically an enormous merry-go-round, divided into about a hundred little stalls. The cows line up and one by one get into a stall, where a worker attaches a milking machine to each one's udders. Having done one rotation on the merry-go-round, the cow steps back out of the stall and plods back to the barn. It's pretty amazing. There's a small space between the outer edge of the merry-go-round and the wall, which we walked through in our tour. It did not occur to me that I ought to hug the wall, but I learned pretty quickly the wisdom of that course when one of the milk cows took a massive poop and gave me a light spraying of bovine feces. The clothes I would have changed into still floated somewhere in the American Airlines twilight zone.

My bags materialized at the hotel late that night, just in time for my departure the following morning. As I checked out, I decided I didn't want to lug my bags around all day, and I left them with the bellman. That evening, I returned to reclaim them before heading to the airport. After much scurrying about, the staff, alarmed, told me that the bags had disappeared. They continued to look (where, I don't know), until I angrily told them I needed to head to the airport. A few minutes into the trip, the hotel called me on my mobile phone. They had reviewed the security tape and figured out where my bags had gone. American Airlines had sent a rep to the hotel to take back my bags! It was only by the coincidence that I had left them there for the day that American could get its hands on them. Why they took them, I have no idea. At the airport, I went to the baggage office to try to get back my bags. The agent was completely unhelpful, but luckily I saw my bag among a little pile in the corner of the office. "That's my bag!" I told her. She refused to give it to me. "I can't just give anybody a lost bag," she said. "You don't understand," I told her. "The bag isnt 'lost'. You stole it!" By some miracle, I found the original claim tag in my computer bag. I got back my bag, but no explanation of why they had taken it. I had a good laugh when the security screener asked me, "where has your bag been since you packed it"... [Ben H.: 11/20/08 19:42]
Holiday Preparations

[Doug: 11/20/08 08:28]
Yes! Make This Happen!

Pleistocene Park! [Ben A.: 11/19/08 17:33]
I Am Delighted And Appalled By Democrats

"I am humbled and honored to serve Alaska in the United States Senate" --Alaska's new senator. You're off to a great start, fucktard. [Doug: 11/19/08 04:13]
Fuck Microsoft

Using a giant Excel spreadsheet; wanted to sort based on a particular column; hit ctrl-A to select whole sheet; did the sort; verified that it worked; saved and closed.

Later: noticing some anomalies, realized and verified that ctrl-A does not actually select all columns in a spreadsheet -- only 51 columns of the sheet in question. I guess "A" stands for "Almost" or "Approximate" or "Asswipes" -- something other than "all" anyway. Having re-sorted only the left half of the spreadsheet, and having no way to recover the initial order, I have to get my last saved version and redo a few hours of work. Fuck you, Microsoft. Fuck you. [Doug: 11/17/08 13:52]
Barack Obama Continues to Keep This Neocon Mellow

Kroft: What are you reading right now? I mean, have…

Mr. Obama: A lot of briefing papers.

Kroft: A lot of briefing papers?

Mr. Obama: Yeah.I've been spending a lot of time reading Lincoln. There is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful

[Ben A.: 11/17/08 05:33]
Quantum of Solace

I look forward to one consequence of the Obama presidency above all: movies will no longer proceed from the assumption that the American government is amoral at best and vicious at worst. The lead times of production may delay this effect, but by 2011 I entirely expect Jason Bourne to be back inside NSA, and fully in support of President Morgan Freeman’s humane, yet tough-as-nails anti-terrorist policies. Si, se puede!

Politically-motivated grumpiness aside, the new Bond is a dud: a mess of a plot, a revenge theme both crude and dull, and largely flat action scenes. By way of public service I wil pass on the movie’s one good line, uttered by Judi Dench’s M after her personal bodyguard is revealed as a double agent:

When someone says 'We've got people everywhere', you expect it to be hyperbole! Lot of people say that! Florists use that expression! Doesn't mean that they've got somebody working for them inside of the bloody room!
[Ben A.: 11/16/08 20:44]
Auto Crash

With the new administration talking up a $50bio bail-out for the US automakers, the TARP will almost certainly get cited as precedent. Some will argue that to deny Detroit government support after pumping hundreds of billions into the financial sector shows shocking favoratism toward Wall Street. I think the two cases are distinguishable. Financial institutions cannot exist in a state of protection from creditors. When a bank fails, it fails. Industrial companies, however, can and do seek Chapter 11 protection. They take time to shed untenable contracts, renegotiate debt, and, operating all the while, eventually emerge with new owners (usually the debtors) and a cleaner capital structure. Many companies retain operational viability under unviable capital structures. The automakers probably fall into this category. Their woes predate the financial crisis. Their labor contracts render them uncompetitive. Pension and healthcare obligations -- effectively debt -- are too large relative to the future operating profits the companies can generate, even with rationalized labor contracts. Market debt is likewise too big.

This is not to say that the government should simply stand aside. Once GM and/or Chysler files for Chapter 11, the companies will then find themselves barred from the usual post-petition course of action by the turmoil in the financial markets. At that point, it might be appropriate for the government to step into the shoes of a debtor-in-possession lender. DIP financing has pretty much shut down, not unlike the CP market. And likewise, it seems fair to argue that the government should support a DIP market that has ground to a halt for reasons largely unrelated to the fundamental attrativeness of providing DIP loans. [Ben H.: 11/13/08 14:20]

What with all the talk about automotive mergers, and what with Republicanism becoming coterminous with yokeldom (see map below), the time is ripe for the Republican party to form a single combined entity with NASCAR. I propose the name PubicSCAR. [Doug: 11/13/08 08:09]

With our repatriation seemingly imminent -- I'll tell you more about this later, but let's say for now that the political shift at Dao's company has had the expected consequences -- Dao wanted to do one last European, or quasi-European, vacation. We went for a few days to Istanbul. Partly on Ben H's advice. We enjoyed it but the impression I got of the place and the people wasn't deep enough for me to say much interesting here. I will post a few photos though. What struck me most were the two show-stopper mosques, and the reception that the locals gave to our one-year-old kid. Just about everyone -- waiters, souvenir salesmen, random people passing on the street -- cooed at her, picked her up, kissed her.

Hagia Sophia Church Mosque

Not Necessarily Inaccurate Portrait Of Me As Tourist

Blue Mosque (Note Ropes Used By Rappeling Ninja Army)

Kid With Representative Turkish Guy

One thing I failed to get was the linguistic-incongruity photo. In this case what I missed were the signs for establishments called "Kafkas", apparently a common Turkish surname, and in particular the sign for "Kafkas Waffles". Were I assigned to "Let's Go Turkey", I think I would write: "These waffles are sweet, fluffy, reasonably priced, and served in seamless steel spheres."

[Doug: 11/11/08 09:55]
Homeric Epithets

A recurring theme of my posts is the search for perfect epithets for public figures. Successes include Al Gore ("dork") and George W. Bush ("dolt"). This season I failed to nail Obama; I'll give McCain "maverick" as a consolation prize. The epithet I'm happiest with applies to a writer I hadn't really read until his columns started appearing in the NY Times: Bill Kristol. The epithet is simpleton. He is the worst columnist on the Op-Ed page. Inspiration shows up neither in his ideas nor in his prose. His columns remind me of those sad lumps submitted by freshmen to the conservative campus paper Ben A and I worked on. Or okay, by sophomores: Kristol has after all internalized Rule One of the first-year Expository Writing class, "Mention some objections to your thesis and write some shit about how they don't matter."

After reading about Kristol's apparently important role in bringing us Sarah Palin, I briefly entertained the conspiracy theory that the NYT bigwigs deviously chose Kristol as the conservative spokeperson in order to weaken the enemy camp. What disproves the theory is Maureen Dowd's presence on the same Op-Ed page. [Doug: 11/11/08 08:13]
My Professional Future

I'm sitting right now in Miami International Airport, awaiting a connecting flight to Buenos Aires (ah, for the two-direct-flights-to-BA-per-day days of th EM bubble!). I've been all over the concourse, including taking the toy train to another building, passing by 50 gates, everywhere I could go without crossing outside the security perimeter, in search of frozen yogurt. TCBY, to me, is the quintessential airport food. And yet here in painfully under-air-conditioned MIA, I could not find a single purveyor of frozen yogurt, or semi-solid chilled dairy product of any kind. I sense an opportunity, less stressful than investing, and, at least this year, more remunerative. And no state income tax in Florida! [Ben H.: 11/10/08 20:31]
Yesterday's News Today

I just watched Gibson's Apocolypto, and it is absolutely stunning.

I may have bored a number of our readers by rhapsodizing over Azur Gat's War in Human Civilization, in particular his superb chapter on warfare in pre-agricultural and early agricultural societies. The short version: it's horrible. The first 30 minutes of Apocolypto captures the horror of human history better than any art I have experienced. Highly recommended. [Ben A.: 11/10/08 05:32]
A Dagger Aimed At The Heart Of Literacy

Now that North Carolina has been colored blue, the Republican nature of Appalachia, or maybe vice-versa, really jumps out:

[Doug: 11/7/08 10:24]
Ray Allen is right. McCain's team tried to win ugly, and you got the sense that McCain's heart wasn't in it. That's not to say that a more enthusiastic embrace by the top of the ticket of negative campaigning necessarily would have worked. It probably wouldn't have. Same goes for a more positive campaign, but at least that might have made the Republican party look more admirable in defeat.

As to getting back to Reaganite principles, my guess is that we'll see lots of mutual recrimination between the different wings of the Republican party over the next few months. In the end, though, I believe the impetus for a return to Reaganite principles will have to come from external forces. High marginal tax rates, innovation-choking unionism, minute regulation of the workplace -- all likely fruits of left-Democrat control of both the executive and legislative branches -- may focus voters attention on issues that, having been "settled" after 8 years of relatively economically conservative Clintonism and conservative, if imperfectly so, Bush economic policy, no longer motivated voters the way they did in the wake of the we-are-all-Keynesians-now economic fine-tuning, hyper-regulatory Johnson-Nixon-Ford-Carter economic policy. [Ben H.: 11/5/08 07:08]
Ray Allen: Not Just A Great Scorer

HOUSTON - John McCain was giving his concession speech on the locker room’s overhead TV and Ray Allen, fresh off a 29-point performance that was his biggest of the season, stood silently in place and absorbed every word.

But with the game over, and the impending presidency of Barack Obama at hand, history was now foremost in the Celtics guard’s mind.

“I saw that Jesse Jackson was crying,” he said. “People don’t realize how historic this night is. Jesse Jackson knew Dr. Martin Luther King, and the oppression that people suffered. Every child, regardless of race or color, is now going to have a better opportunity.

“That was a very classy speech that McCain gave,” said Allen. “Listening to him, he makes me want to be a better American. It was also the type of speech that I didn’t hear him give during the campaign.”

(From the Boston Herald) [Ben A.: 11/5/08 02:45]
I'll second that. [Ben A.: 11/5/08 00:10]
Here's to President Obama. May you govern as well as you campaigned. [Doug: 11/5/08 00:03]
MSM calling Ohio for Obama. There may after all be a level of damage a party can inflict on this country, and level of insolence with which they can inflict it, beyond which we revoke their mandate. After the 2004 re-election of W. Bush I doubted this. The truth is probably that our political affiliations are sufficiently like our professional-sports affiliations that it takes a decade or so to budge them. [Doug: 11/4/08 22:43]
The odious Elizabeth Dole: out [Doug: 11/4/08 21:54]
MSM calling Pennsylvania for Obama. The darkness is beginning to lift. [Doug: 11/4/08 21:41]
Here's a question I have for both of you, who have a better knowledge of the Republican party than I do. Is there any plausible path for it back to Reaganite principles -- small government, level-headed foreign policy, willingness to think -- and away from its fucktard / Sarah Palin wing? Or has that wing become its core for the foreseeable future? [Doug: 11/4/08 20:02]
Don't Blame The Elephant Alone for the Smell in the Room!

McCain's election would not grant the Republicans a four-year mandate to do what they please. The Democrats will control Congress, so the degree of diabolical, deliberate odiousness that his Administration could commit will be limited. Even if one accepts your depiction of the Bush Administration as a sort of cross between Idi Amin's cabinet and the Legion of Doom (which, actually living here under its reign of a alleged combination of efficient repression and total incompetence, does not comport with what I experience from day to day), it seems unlikely that McCain, as a bete noire of loyalist Republicans and something of a personal enemy to George Bush, will faithfully carry on his predecessor's vile policy.

Like I said, I dislike McCain for a lot of reasons, and in the end I decided not to vote at all. The line in Cobble Hill at 6am was around the block, despite the utter certainty of an Obama victory in NY and the absence of other contested races. It's another instance (in this case, a pretty benign one) of the enthusiasm for Obama. And the intensity of the enthusiasm (at least as I see it first-hand in liberal Brooklyn, and how it is presented to me by the media in its manifestations elsewhere) is -- this was my point -- a little worrisome. Now, if Obama were running against Bush, and Bush were as bad as you say he is, then, yes, your argument would make sense. It would be sort of like the excitement that, say, Serbians felt voting for Kostunica over Milosevic. But it seems to me that the huge expectations for Obama are really for him, not merely for the end of the Bush regime (which will happen regardless of whether Obama wins or loses). Seeing every other house in my neighborhood deploying an Obama poster -- not a poster with his name on it or his name and "2008", in the tradition of American political yard signage, but a stylized picture of his head, the word "HOPE" superimposed -- hearing at parties the kinds of quasi-religious praise heaped on him, well, it just gives me the willies. Obama is no doubt a smart guy and seems to have a temperament well-suited to the presidency, but what people expect of him... nobody can live up to that. His presidency has become a Sorrelian myth -- a glowing anticipation of indefinite future bliss. And when he fails to live up to the unrealistic expectations, I hope that my starry-eyed neighbors (and let's be clear -- I don't blame Obama for this messianism, rather, I see it coming more from the electorate) don't decide to blame, well, people like me (ooh, the powerful special interests sabotaged Obama) or the Constitution. Are these fears sufficient reason to vote against Obama? I can't quite go that far. It's just something I think it is worth noting and considering... [Ben H.: 11/4/08 19:26]
Enjoying a very subtle 2004 Savennières here with an arugula salad, watching CNN. [Doug: 11/4/08 18:55]
The Elephant In The Room

What's missing from your skeptical posts about Obama is any mention of the current state of the union, the context and starting point for this election. In fact it's missing from about four years' worth of your posts. The Republican party has become odious. It has fucked up the country. We are not voting here from some kind of neutral initial position, with two teams of identical technocrats differing only in their leadership. No: there is one team that is odious and has demonstrated that it harms our country, and there is the other team.

Specific instance of this: "the exuberance of expectations glowing in the breasts of Obamaphiles will not find satisfaction in the reality of an Obama presidency." If you measure that future reality against some abstract, neutral initial position, then no. If you measure it against the reality of November 3, 2008, then any president who speaks English and has a basic grasp of the world will provide plenty of satisfaction. [Doug: 11/4/08 17:38]
Strange Slogan Confluence

The Israeli tourist board has for the last few months taken out the full back cover of Commentary Magazine. It touts Israel as a destination with the slogan "No One Belongs Here More Than You" (clearly, they assume no Palestinian Arabs are reading the ads!) The phrase sounded familiar. A trip to the bookstore revealed where I had seen it before. Is this some sort of viral marketing cross-promotion or straight-up plagiarism? Moreover, using this slogan for a national tourist board is a waste. Clearly, "No One Belongs Here More Than You" ought to tout someplace like this! [Ben H.: 11/3/08 19:21]
I'm Going With Experience

I don't believe that McCain has much to recommend him over Obama. Do we want the cool, level-headed, sharp leftist or the crazy, cranky, unpredictable... uh... non-leftist (I hesitate to call him "conservative")? The main reason I lean toward the latter is that I feel safer in the knowledge that at least McCain would find himself trammeled by large Democrat majorities in the House and Senate.

One thing that I'm pretty sure, Ben A, you'll agree, even as you harbor greater hopes than I do, is that the level of enthusiasm, the exuberance of expectations glowing in the breasts of Obamaphiles will not find satisfaction in the reality of an Obama presidency. I mean that not as a deprecation of Obama's virtues. No human being could fulfil such expectations. What consequences for our political culture will the inevitable crash after the last few months narcotic high bring in train? Perhaps the benign outcome is an overcompensation by way of a descent into thusfar unplumbed depths of cynicism. A worse outcome would have his supporters ascribing his inevitable underperformance of unrealistic expectations to malign phantom conspiracies or to alleged defects of the structure of government. What mischief might unfold in the name of overcoming the conspiracies or the neddlesome, outmoded checks of our constitution?

I guess, what it comes down to for me is that, having had the opportunity in my work to operate in many different political cultures, I don't believe it is healthy for an electorate to freight any politician with such high hopes. A healthy political culture maintains a certain sceptical emotional distance from its politicians. It recognizes the inherent limits on what any leader can achieve and the tincture of roguery that colors even the most earnest candidate. Saints and miracles probably don't exist. The former certainly don't run for office and politicians certainly can't perform the latter. [Ben H.: 11/3/08 17:37]
The Triumph of Hope Over Experience

The title refers not only to my election prediction, but also to my own response to Barack Obama. The truth is I should be much less pleased. Past example demonstrates that almost all “fresh face” candidates disappoint. My own history tells me to distrust the instincts of any man acclimated to the left-wing swamps of Cambridge or Hyde Park. And even were Obama eager to transcend his machine-politics background, he comes into office at the head of a party at its core the political instrument of public sector unions. Experience teaches, therefore, to expect an Obama administration to bring with it a decline of American power abroad and at home a concerted effort to recast the state-citizen relationship as patron-client. A distasteful, dispiriting, and potentially dangerous combination.

With this said, I nonetheless view the prospect of President Obama with close to unalloyed optimism. There’s something about the man – or, more likely, the masterful way he has presented himself – that gives me hope. Hope for a transformational presidency. Hope that the story we will hear over the next eight years will not be the story we should by rights expect. Hope that I will not look back in four years and think my optimism foolish.

[And just to be clear, I am voting for McCain] [Ben A.: 11/3/08 03:12]



Ben A.
Ben H.