The Third Estate
What Is The Third Estate?
What Has It Been Until Now In The Political Order?
What Does It Want To Be?

A Touch of Paranoia

Thursday, April 30, 2009
I generally poo-poo media-inspired disease frenzies, but this got my attention. An advanced man in the white house develops swine flu symptoms. The report then states the following:

The spokesman also said that President Barack Obama also has had no symptoms of the virus and doctors see no need to conduct any tests on his health.

Does that strike anyone else as a bit of an odd way to put it? I mean, why not test Obama to make sure? Or are they afraid testing him would create a panic?

Very strange stuff.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:53 PM

0 comments :: permalink

How I Feel About The Specter Switch

After mulling it over for a day, I have a surprisingly diverse array of thoughts about Specter's defection from the Republican Party and admission to the Senate Democratic caucus:

1. Watching the Republicans flip out is always good for a laugh. This is their lowest point since the last election.
2. Specter really is an opportunistic little worm, isn't he?
3. The Republicans are going to be even more desperate to block Al Franken
4. 60 seats. Well, assuming Franken ever gets seated and Specter's voting doesn't change.
5. Hmm. Now the Democrats won't have any excuses about obstructionist Republicans. Is this a good or a bad thing?
6. Specter should still get a primary. No one gets to own a Senate seat, particularly not Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Jellyfish.
7. Hey, maybe the neoclassical economists ARE on to something.

To hone in on the question of Specter's prospective voting record, I think it quite possible that he'll become more liberal than many suspect. You see, he isn't going to have to placate the wingnuts anymore, but he will have to give the liberals something to make them happy. I suspect he's going to make some early votes to re-establish his independence and then scamper over to the middle of the Democratic caucus where his re-election constituency is. If he knows what's good for him, that is. Which is another reason he should get a primary.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:25 AM

3 comments :: permalink

Wanker of the Day

Monday, April 27, 2009
Mark Taylor.

Hey Mark, rather than effectively destroying the academy to solve the problem of too many graduate students, how about we just have fewer graduate students? KTHXBAI
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:52 PM

0 comments :: permalink

Let's Not Be Foolish

Friday, April 24, 2009
Look, this is really quite simple. No reconciliation process, no health care reform. The Republicans are going to filibuster anything that actually does something about rising health care costs and the uninsured. A number of Democrats will do so as well. There is a chance you can get 51 votes to solve the problem, but 60? Never. So if we emerge from the budget process without reconciliation, we can assume that we're going to have to wait at least another 10 years before we can try again. Oh sure, they might pass something called "health care reform," but it won't amount to much. We'll know soon whether we're going to change a thing in this country. I'm skeptical.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:10 AM

0 comments :: permalink

Am I Following the Rules?

Thursday, April 23, 2009
I'm in the process of (slowly) writing a novel, one I've wanted to write for years. I got off to a decent start I think, writing 2 chapters in 2 months - not bad for somebody who has a full-time job and only has about an hour a day free, I think. Unfortunately I have not maintained that pace and lately I've felt a bit stuck.

I've been letting Brazen Hussy take a look at each chapter as they're finished, and while the first one looked fine, the second one needed a lot of work. I realized that I had to do a major revision of one of my 2 major characters , which required a lot of background research. That resulted in an entirely new second chapter (the previous second chapter became the fourth), which I have a first cut of and am currently making a second version. Then I realized that the changes required a re-thinking of my other major character, which required more research and a few revisions of the first chapter. Generally I've been allowing myself one major edit for each chapter before I move forward, but I've been spending an awful lot of time on these first two because they introduce all the major themes of the book and set the tone for the rest. It doesn't have to be perfect (far from it), but I want it "good enough".

The upside of this extra work is that I think the beginning of the book is shaping up quite nicely. The downside is that I've spent so much time on minor edits and background research, as well as just a lot of thinking, that the actual process of putting words to paper has gotten pretty difficult. I suppose in a way I'm just out of practice. Also, I've been working on this for almost six months (!) and only have about 70 pages, which seems like a glacial pace.

Which brings me to something I stumbled across today from this website:

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
— E. L. Doctorow (1931– ), author of The Book of Daniel

Heinlein's Modified Rules for Writing
1. You must write frequently.
2. You must finish what you write in a reasonable amount of time.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
6. You must start work on something else immediately.
— Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988), author of Stranger in a Strange Land

I've clearly been violating Doctorow's rules, and I'm concerned that I've also been breaking rules 1, 2, and most especially 3. So my question - do you think I'm doing it wrong? Or is my current method just a more deliberate way of writing?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:59 AM

5 comments :: permalink

Random Bits

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
1. Brazen Hussy has gone on ANOTHER trip, leaving me to my own broken devices. And I don't even have cable yet, so I can't watch the playoff games. And the event in town this weekend means all the bars are going to be full. Poo.

2. We've been cleared for getting our new dog, which we will be driving to pick up sometime next week. Pictures when we have them!

3. Why is it that lately I only find out that proposals need to go out the day before they're due? That's just rude, and it's stressing me out. I'm not a miracle worker.

4. I'm sure you're all lolcat readers, but I particularly enjoyed this one.

5. The last word for now on the torture memos:

A. It can no longer be contested that for eight years we were ruled by evil men. Like Dr. Doom evil.

B. Dear Obama, if someone breaks the law, you prosecute them for it. What's so complicated about that? Love, America.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:18 AM

2 comments :: permalink

Schadenfreude Part 3482

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Richard Posner admits that the perfect efficiency of the unregulated free market...isn't.

Thanks for the tip, dude. Now can we have our money back? Or at least a promise that you won't condescend to offer us policy advice ever again?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:15 AM

0 comments :: permalink

Putting Bandaids On An Amputee

Friday, April 17, 2009
I am nearly beyond articulate exposition about the revelations of the torture memos. While I am happy that Obama released them, I am appalled that he is preventing prosecutions of those culpable. Those who in our name inflicted heinous tortures on fellow human beings don't deserve protection. They deserve to spend the rest of their lives behind concrete walls, breaking rocks and eating bad food during the day, and every night writing letters of apology to every man, woman and child in this country whose reputation they have besmirched. I don't care that it might be inconvenient to hold those responsible to account. The "morale" of those in the CIA, the supposed need to let bygones be bygones, are simply too trivial to have any weight in this matter. Some things are beyond considerations of expedience. This is a shame that must be expunged, no matter how uncomfortable it might make those who purport to govern us. In a democracy that wishes to remain so, there can be no compromise with the commission of this kind of evil, however tacit it may be.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:07 PM

0 comments :: permalink

Undergrad Pseudo-Intellectual Posturing

Thursday, April 16, 2009
Today I overheard one of the undergraduates who works for me defending the teabag protests to his compatriots. I would have loved to have jumped in and argued the point, if only to prevent the spreading of such absurdity to others, but it wasn't appropriate to do so. See, I'm becoming somewhat more mature.

However, I have a blog, so I can write all the things I wanted to say to the little pipsqueak. He made the ridiculous argument that since households have to balance their budgets, the government should balance its as well. This is wrong in so many ways I don't know where to start. First, households don't balance their books, especially in the short term. They go into debt to buy a car, to buy a house, to go to school, etc., etc. But this is a totally irrelevant point. What's far more aggravating is the goofy analogy made between households and governments. They aren't the same type of organization at all, and the persistent attempt to make such poor analogy may have a distinguished pedigree (going back to at least Plato) but that doesn't make it any less dumb - and frankly pernicious, given how it's been use to justify all sorts of paternalism. From a logical point of view I have little to add to Aristotle's effective refutation presented in the Politics. From a macroeconomic perspective, debts per se aren't all that important in normal times as long as the debt-to-GDP ratio is declining. Between 1945 and 1980 we had deficits most years, but the proportion of indebtedness declined from over 100% to around a third. More importantly, in a deep recession (like the one we're in now) the federal government is the only entity capable of propping up aggregate demand. When the economy is in the toilet, businesses and consumers cut back on spending, resulting in layoffs and thus more cutbacks in a downward spiral of declining demand. It's the feds job in these circumstances to prime the pump (to use an old expression). Cutting national spending during down times is a wonderful way to turn a recession into a depression.

All of these arguments are fairly uncontroversial, except among those who like holding forth about national economic policy without knowing a damned thing about it. Which of course constitutes about 85% of the Republican party and its adherents.

So there.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:30 AM

0 comments :: permalink

More Evidence on the Silliness of Neoclassical Economics

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The foundational moral psychology of neoclassical economics is that individuals are rational self-interested utility maximizers (or as I will abbreviate it, SIUM). Everybody (including I expect most economists) know that in practice this conception is not just wrong, but almost laughably so. Perhaps the construction of economic models assumes that people will behave as if it's true, leading to aggregate behavior that approximates SIUM - it's behavior we measure, not intentionality. But then there's plenty of evidence that this isn't right either. Bubbles exist because people get irrational. People operate with limited (and frequently wrong) information and are fully capable of projecting what they wish to be true onto reality. But I don't even have to get all that sophisticated to debunk SIUM. How about these 2 examples of patently irrational behavior in precisely those situations when one would suppose individual SIUM to operate?

1. Arlen Specter. Clearly he wants to be re-elected. To win re-election, he must first get re-nominated by a Republican primary electorate that nearly rejected him 6 years ago (he won with 51%) when he had the full backing of the White House and the Republican primary had a bunch of moderates in it. Now the moderates are gone, the White House is Democratic, and obviously Specter is going to have to move right to be re-nominated. So what does he do? Votes for what conservatives view as a socialist stimulus bill. He waffles on the employee free choice act (which conservatives view as socialism too). He's going to have to run so far to the right that even if he wins the primary he's doomed in the general election. He could run as a Democrat or an independent, but he doesn't do that either. Tell me, where is the sense in what Specter is doing?

2. Moving to Dubai and going into debt. You'd think one would research what happens to debtors in a country before moving there and before acquiring a bunch of debt. Now these people are looking at debtor's prison. They could have put money in investment funds focused on Dubai and kept living in Canada. Why in the world would they move there? And why not go home when you started having health troubles? After all, health care in Canada is free. It's ludicrous.

These are just 2 instances that appeared around the internets today, but I'm sure I could write this every day, like some tedious version of the Darwin awards. What I have to wonder is why very intelligent people would base a major theory with profound real-world implications on a concept which is patently ludicrous. It would be like designing a criminal justice system on the theory that people are motivated by the desire to go to jail.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:29 PM

1 comments :: permalink

Why Bonuses?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Somewhat lost in all the brouhaha over huge wall street bonuses for failed company executives is the simple question - why are these people eligible for bonuses at all? Ever? I can understand a little extra pay around the holidays or for someone's birthday. I fully support fringe benefits. I can even be persuaded on giving employees a share of stock so that they benefit directly from the company's general growth. But why in the hell should already well-recompensed executives receive huge additional sums of money as a matter of course? Beyond this, is it really a good idea to give stock brokers a share of commissions on the sales of stock, rather than just the additional earnings? That just seems to lead to pointless paper-shuffling without an eye to solid long-term investing.

I suppose that the managers of said companies would claim that these "highly skilled" employees need the extra money or else they'll go work someplace else. Sorry, but that argument doesn't wash. First, that's an argument for higher pay, not bonuses. Second, it suggests a serious collective action problem, not a reward for superior merit.

So my question remains, why bonuses? Until I get a good explanation, I'm going to support restricting, regulating, and taxing the beejeezus out of large bonuses, cause from where I'm sitting I don't see the justification for them at all. Particularly when they're being paid by citizens who are making 8 bucks an hour.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:49 AM

0 comments :: permalink

Moving Day Etc.

Monday, April 06, 2009
Sorry that posting has been particularly light. We were moving across town this week and I was a bit busy. I also didn't have internet access for a while and have lost track of all the blog post. If you had some big events, I'm sorry I missed them! Moving itself went fairly smoothly. Some of our friends came to help and the weather was nice the day we moved all the furniture and boxes. I don't have much nostalgia about the old place, and the new place is lovely. It's the first real house BH and I have ever lived in.

I'm trying to catch up on a lot of work before we leave for Mexico on Thursday for a wedding, so I don't know how active I'll be this week either. In the meantime, go Heels!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:33 AM

1 comments :: permalink