A Reality Show for the Hall

Popular Mechanics has an article on the History Channel's show, Forged in Fire.

History's newest competition show ... challenges smiths from across the country to, in the first of three rounds, forge a sturdy, deadly knife under a strict time limit. Following rigorous testing and an elimination, the smiths must then create a suitable hilt for their knife. Finally, when only two smiths remain, they have a week to replicate a particular historical weapon that not only retains its edge and cuts clean, but is period-accurate. The winner of each episode walks away with $10,000.

The show's three judges determine whose steel is most worthy of the prize. Baker, a veteran of Spike's Deadliest Warrior and Hollywood prop man, is the authority on historical accuracy and aesthetic beauty. Mastersmith J. Neilson examines the technical qualities and tests the durability of the swords, while martial artist Doug Marcaida determines how effective the weapons would actually be in their natural habitat: combat.

Stirring the pot is Wil Willis, a former ranger and pararescueman ...

There are some cool photos of forging and some of the contestants' blades with the PM article, and it looks like you can watch the full episodes at the History Channel's site.

Dystopian America

I recently read Dan Simmons's 2011 dystopian novel, Flashback.

From the back cover:

Some twenty years from now, the United States is near total collapse. But 85 percent of the population doesn't care: They're addicted to flashback, a drug that allows its users to re-experience the best moments of their lives. After former detective Nick Bottom's wife died in a car accident, he started going under the flash to be with her; now an addict, he's lost his job and is estranged from his teenage son.

Nick may be a tortured soul but he's still a good cop, so he's hired by a top government advisor to investigate the murder of the advisor's son. Soon Nick becomes the one man who can change the course of an entire nation turning away from tomorrow to live in the past.

Simmons draws on the events of the last few decades, ending historically with the first years of the Obama administration, and offers a very dark, possible future. There are ongoing race wars, a new Mexico has reclaimed large swathes of the southwest, Texas is again an independent republic, and most Americans, including the hero, care far more about reliving their glory days than solving the problems.

Although it's science fiction, this is at heart a pulp detective novel with dark twists and turns along the way to solving a murder. Despite its 550 pages, it moves quickly and is a pretty good read. Simmons occasionally takes a break from the action to preach to the reader about obscure things like the disastrous effects of national debt and enabling Iran, but it didn't really diminish how much I enjoyed the book. (Maybe because I agree with much of what he says?) I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it is unusual. If you enjoy these kinds of stories, I highly recommend it.

As a last note, parts of the book feature trucker convoys through the anarchic wastelands of the American West which reminded me a lot of the song Grim posted back at the end of June:


They say this didn't work out well for the Neaderthals when we started trying it.

That explains it

From a three-part New Yorker article about sleep disorders:
If you sleep six hours a night for twelve days, Adusumilli says—and that’s about how much many Americans sleep all year round—your cognitive and physical performance becomes virtually indistinguishable from that of someone who has been awake for twenty-four hours straight. (The same effect is produced by six days of four-hour nights.) And the performance of someone who has been awake for twenty-four hours straight is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1 per cent. In other words, “normal” amounts of sleep deprivation have us acting like we’re drunk. (Charles Czeisler recalls presenting these facts to a Times journalist; when the journalist handed in the story, the editor said it couldn’t possibly be true. Most people in the newsroom were sleep-deprived, and they still managed to produce the Times every day. Surely an intoxicated newsroom would be incapable of such a feat.)
In my whole life, I've almost never used an alarm clock to wake up in the morning unless I had a plane to catch. It's one reason I don't like traveling.

Mismatched sets

Laura, a young woman in Bogota notices a man in a butcher shop, William, who looks so like Jorge, one of her co-workers, that she assumes she's caught him moonlighting. She takes a picture of him back to Jorge, who is struck by the resemblance. Jorge shows the picture to another friend:
"Tell me what you think of this photo," he told his friend, handing him the phone.
You look fine, the friend said.
"Except it’s not me," Jorge said. He could not stop staring at Laura’s phone.
. . . Jorge moved to his desktop computer so he could see the images more closely. He clicked once more on the photo of William and the friend holding shot glasses. Now that the image was large, he could examine what he had failed, incredibly, to notice when he looked at the photo on his phone. He leaned in close, his nose practically touching the screen. The man’s hair was slicked up like a rooster’s crown, and the shirt was all wrong. But there was the full lower lip and thick brown hair that Jorge knew well. The buttons on the man’s shirt were straining slightly at the hint of a potbelly, in a way that was intimately familiar. Jorge felt a rush of confusion, and then his stomach dropped. The friend sitting next to his double had a face that Jorge knew better than his own: It was the face of his fraternal twin brother, Carlos.

Going to the Wild

Going to go ride for a while. I think the Grandfather Games are going on right now. Might be worth stopping in.

Back Tuesday or so. Here's some relevant music to these hills, and to things Celtic.

Gentlemen Can Be Ungentlemanly If Necessary

I've long advocated being a gentleman.
To do so, though, requires that you constitute yourself a defender of your country and its civilization. It is not enough to say, as did Dutch humanist Oscar van den Boogaard:
"I am not a warrior, but who is?" he shrugged. "I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it."
No, that is not a gentleman, though he wears the finest clothes and writes the finest novels, keeps the best society, and has the finest manners. He has only the accidents of a gentleman. He has nothing of its essence.

The essence is to bear arms, in defense of country and civilization. That is the real thing, the root of the tradition. The arms may be symbolic, or they may be actual. The defense must be devout.
Today I read about men who were no gentlemen.
On the afternoon of July 4 in Washington DC, a teenager with a knife boarded a crowded metro train and attacked a 24-year-old man, Kevin Joseph Sutherland, stabbing him 30 or 40 times and kicking his head repeatedly until he was dead. No one tried to stop him....

That no one did displays not just cowardice but also a callous and unthinking selfishness. The Reddit eyewitness had no idea at the time how many more people Spires would kill, no idea if he would attack the 52-year-old woman or an elderly passenger. He just let him walk off the train into the subway, covered in Sutherland’s blood.

This is essentially the opposite of the spirit of United Flight 93—the heroic selflessness that prompted a group of courageous passengers on 9/11 to attack their hijackers, forcing them to crash the plane in a Pennsylvania field.
The basic theory I advanced more than ten years ago in "Social Harmony" was that we need old men to be dangerous. This 18 year old was totally un-moored from our civilization. He was a murderer, an armed robber, and his society was so soft that no one in a train car full of people tried to stop him.  Older, larger men did nothing.  Even if they were too late to stop the killing, as knives work fast, they needed to stop him from leaving until police could arrive. A virtuous citizenry would have that courage. They would pull together to enforce the common peace.

Maybe we've become too nice, and not rough enough. Present company excepted, of course. A dangerous world can only be tamed by what Louis L'amour used to call "men with the bark on." This guy isn't nice, he dresses and grooms himself in a terrifying manner, and he uses obscene gestures and language. Yet he has the spirit of the thing. He's a guy who dares to be an apostate from Islam, a convert to Christianity, and a proud American. He has understood what is valuable about our civilization, and he has constituted himself a defender of it.

We must do better.

Havok Journal: ISIS Must Die

How much brutality can you stand before we decide that something must be done? There is a point when we become numb to such behavior, when after that we become used to such behavior. I don’t want to be used to something like that and yet with innumerable occurrences, I can no longer feel the way I did before.

We lose a bit of our humanity when we learn to harden ourselves to something like this. I had calluses on my soul before. I don’t want them back.

Understand clearly, this is the pattern of the Islamic State; this is how they will rule and there is no turning back. No nation, which started out with brutality and bestiality has ever stepped back from that level of force. They started their campaign this way and nothing has changed in the few years since it began.
UPDATE: Jim Hanson has an op-ed on ISIS today as well.

Old guys rule

The pleasure of seeing expectations confounded: young athletes get made up convincingly as geezers, then show up on the basketball court or skateboard park. It's a good joke on everyone, and no hard feelings.

Bad Habits

Same band as last night, this time singing about cocaine.

I don't care at all about cocaine -- I'm one of the last Americans to have never done any illegal drug -- but I was wondering about this song for a while. I heard it in this documentary about the Angels, and for a long time I thought it was an ode to BDSM: "everybody take a whip on me!" That turns out not to be the relevant lyric at all. It's an old tune, done by Woodie Guthrie.

By the way, forward that video to 8:24 to hear Jerry Garcia give an ode to bikers. "Is that out front, or what?"

"Are you afraid of them?"



"Because they're scary, man."

Root for the Socialists. It's Important.

There was a famous election in which David Duke ran against a legendarily corrupt politician that produced the slogan, "Vote for the crook. It's important." (The same politician produced the aphorism about political death meaning being caught in bed with "a dead girl or a live boy," the truth of which might now be questionable). At The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty argues that conservatives should root for the socialists in Greece.
Conservatives may say that people get the governments they deserve. But the Greeks actually did something that was unthinkable in this country, kicking out both of the major parties that led them into debt-peonage. Syriza was their Tea Party, and like the Tea Party it boasts some grandiose and irresponsible rhetoric, flagrantly breaks Godwin's law, and is generally unruly.
This is what I mean when I say that I expect us to have a conversation like this down the road. The ones who've been striving hardest against reckless spending are the ones being told they have to accept the consequences, including the disarmament of the Greek military at a time of national crisis. Doubtless we will hear the same things in our hour. We should look differently upon them, as we would want others to look differently upon us.

Too far?

Oh, my. I assumed the village flag in this HotAir newsclip was for funnsies, but apparently not.

Beating China on price?

Will the Chinese equivalent of WalMart soon have to start importing cheaper U.S.-made consumer goods? I wouldn't bet on it quite yet, but a Boston Consulting Group study claims that we're closing the gap in manufacturing costs and might actually get cheaper than China within three years, mostly as a result of drastically reduced fuel costs, which is turn will be mostly because of drastically reduced fracking costs. As the article notes, all other things being equal, American companies would prefer to eliminate the risk and delay inherent in shipping "cheap" goods here from halfway around the world. We have to get pretty uncompetitive before that starts making sense, but maybe we can innovate our way out of the jam. Or maybe the EPA will find a way to outlaw fracking, to keep us from doing anything competitive or unfair or harmful to Gaia.

Tonight's Music

A little piece about the Cumberland river.

The Greek Perspective

We've been talking about the crisis in terms of the English-language commentary on it, and in terms of the clash between German and contemporary Anglo-Saxon economic philosophy. What we haven't really heard about is what the Greeks think, except insofar as it has been represented by Germans or Frenchmen or English or American thinkers. A Greek whose acquaintance I made in the last few days sent me this graphic to explain how the crisis looks to him.

From his perspective, the Greeks are proposing to pay 3.5B of the 4B Euros being asked. The creditors group is demanding the 4B (officially), but the way it has come up with for Greece to afford it is to violate its basic national security requirements. The Greeks were already proposing defense cuts at half the level the creditors would prefer, but -- at a time when Greece is facing a heavy influx of refugees, and possibly infiltrators, from the crises caused by ISIS and in Africa -- the creditors are demanding cuts to the bone.

Now national security in the face of an immediate threat is one of the few cases in which we often think it is reasonable for a sovereign power to run a deficit. After all, what are your alternatives?

Under this reading, the Greek position suddenly looks a lot more reasonable. They're willing to meet their creditors most of the way, but they aren't willing to commit suicide to close the remaining gap. And, by the way, isn't it really to all of Europe's advantage if Greece is able to maintain sufficient defense forces to deal with the influx of refugees? That seems like a problem it is carrying for the rest of Europe, to a certain degree. Might not the rest of Europe help to carry that burden a bit, or at least not kneecap the Greeks while the Greeks are carrying that burden for them?

Just so you know how it looks from the other side.

Oh, Really? Were There Snipers?

This story sounds familiar.
She told a story about the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Clinton and President Obama were trying to negotiate terms with India and China—two of the fastest-developing countries in the world—for a climate change agreement.

The problem: China and India's leaders were nowhere to be found. Clinton said she and Obama "sent out scouts," who found that the leaders were meeting in a clandestine conference room. Clinton and Obama marched to the room, she said, and pushed past Chinese security guards to confront the heads of state. As a result, the assembled countries signed an accord... though much of the text was nonbinding.

Iron Lady II

For those of you who (like me) have never closely followed European politics, this WSJ article, which is linked via a Google search and won't trigger a paywall, is a fascinating summary. I didn't know that Angela Merkel was raised under communism or that she was a research physicist before going into politics. As she was the daughter of a West German Lutheran pastor who was assigned a parish in East Germany, her relationship with communism seems to have been ambivalent. She is a Christian Democrat who is openly skeptical of multi-culti assumptions, whose economic views pass for right-wing free-market enthusiasm in Europe, and who doesn't altogether despise Israel. She's also the Mean Mommy who tells countries with failing economies that they have to do their "Hausaufgabe"--their homework. Update: This is not a bad thumbnail sketch of the bid-and-asked in the negotiations between Greece and its creditors.

Freedom Machine

Let's stick with Junior Brown for another day. I liked the last one because of some of the clever word-play. This song doesn't really have any of that, but it does have some solid looking hotrods and ratrods.

We're still close enough to the 4th for an anthem to freedom. America has 365 freedom days.

The Robot Wars

The Japanese accepted.


From Political Humor:

Eric Hines

If You Put Your Thumb on the Scales Hard Enough, It All Makes Sense

The governor of Pennsylvania demonstrates a Euro-like understanding of the workings of the market. There hard liquor sales are run through state alcoholic beverage control centers, which set prices and determine how much you are allowed to buy. The legislature moved to privatize hard alcohol sales, but no. The governor vetoed the bill with this statement:
This legislation falls short of a responsible means to reform our state liquor system and to maximize revenues to benefit our citizen,” Governor Wolf said. “It makes bad business sense for the Commonwealth and consumers to sell off an asset, especially before maximizing its value. During consideration of this legislation, it became abundantly clear that this plan would result in higher prices for consumers. In the most recent case of another state that pursued the outright privatization of liquor sales, consumers saw higher prices and less selection.
Turns out he's right about the last case, which was Washington state. Prices did go up after privatizing the market -- because the government slapped a huge tax increase on the stuff at the same time.

Crisis Averted!

The Greeks have made it all up to the EU.

Late to the party

So I had a quiet 4th of July at home with my wife and mother-in-law (as my wife has managed to break her tibia, she is unable to walk for about the next three-four weeks), and am just now getting caught up here at the Hall.  I came across Grim's An Independence Weekend Story and was reminded of a man I knew, who perhaps never fought for the Finns or Nazis, but did serve in the US Special Forces after fleeing the Soviet Union as a boy.  His name was COL Sobichevsky, and I met him in 1993 during cleanup of the Defense Language Institute of Monterrey as we were expecting a Base Realignment and Closure Committee visit.  So all the lower enlisted got to edge curbs, mow grass, trim hedges... all the normal spit and polish nonsense which kept up (or so the theory goes) from plotting bloody mutiny.  He came up to me and asked to speak with the NCO in charge of my detail, so I pointed out SGT Schwartz and got back to work.  He told my SGT to let us all know that we were doing a good job, and to let us know why we were out there... "Because those mother****ers want to close my base."

Perhaps a little insight into the man's history would give some clarity on why he made such an impression on me 20+ years ago.  Vladimir Sobichevsky fled the Soviet Union in 1943 with his mother.  They emigrated from a displaced persons camp to the US in 1949.  Seven years later, he enlisted in the US Army, and joined the first Special Forces group.  He spent his enlisted career in Special Forces and rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class, and decided to become an officer.  He then proceeded to spend almost all of his commissioned career in Special Forces.  For those who know of the Army's preference to "cross pollinate" officers between different branches of service, this will come as a surprise.  For those who don't, then just know that this does not happen in the US Army.  Officers don't get a choice in the matter, most times, unless that choice is to resign their commission.  My own father went from an Armor Officer to Quartermaster.  No one asked him if he wanted to.  But every time orders would come down to transfer CPT (or MAJ, or LTC) Sobichevsky to another branch, his commanders would send a request up the chain of command stating that Special Forces could not spare Sobichevsky, and so he would be left in branch.  One time (so the story goes) the request went before President Reagan himself who ordered Sobichevsky left in branch.

But we (of Military Intelligence) got COL Sobichevsky in 1992 for one very specific reason.  In order to advance in rank to BG and stay in Special Forces, one of the BG's in charge of Special Forces Western Hemisphere or Eastern Hemisphere had to go.  And neither was due to do so.  So, for the first time in his Army career of nearly 40 years, COL Sobichevsky found himself out of Special Forces.  We (lower enlisted soldiers) were more than a little intimidated by him, when he first arrived.  And I think he was more than a little discomfited by us and our non-SF ways.  One of his first acts upon being made Commandant of the school was to hold inspections of each soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine attending his school.  Since he really wasn't up on the uniform regs for the other services, they were mostly judged on the shine of their boots, while we soldiers got a full uniform inspection.  As I recall, he was impressed by the Marines, horrified by the sailors, lukewarm on the airmen, and we soldiers did okay (he passed by me without remark, not all were so lucky).  No official condemnation or corrective action ever came because of his inspection, but it gave us our first glimpse of the new Commandant.

In researching for this article, I found that COL Sobichevsky retired in 1995 after completing his tour as Commandant.  I was a little saddened by this, as it seems an ignominious close to an otherwise epic career, but a more earned retirement (39 years of service is a LONG time) would be difficult to find.  I hope the good COL (Ret) is doing well, and I wish him all the best.

Shale crash? Not so fast

The conventional wisdom was that shale production couldn't survive the lower oil prices that it brought about by its own success in flooding the market.  What's happened instead is that the pressure of lower prices has wrung cost reductions out of the market:
A Bloomberg analyst suggested that the cost of drilling services have fallen between 20% and 50% with break even prices in parts of the Permian and Eagle Ford below $40 per barrel.
Director of upstream research for Wood Mackenzie, Scott Mitchell forecast that producers could add up to 100 oil rigs by the end of the year.
The article also notes that increased production will require employers to go back to the labor market with their hats in their hands, which will drive up wages and therefore production costs. That's how prices work. Meanwhile, Brits (and New Yorkers) still hate fracking, while Argentina and China lead the world in shale exploration.

Earth slows down, women and minorities hardest hit

As a result of toxic CO2, the Earth is orbiting the Sun at its slowest speed in a year.  Wait, actually it's the aphelion, which happens this time of year.  At 2:41 p.m. Central today, we'll be the farthest we get from the Sun in our elliptical orbit.  We don't notice the resulting decrease in insolation here in the Northern Hemisphere, because the effect of being tilted toward the Sun in summer overwhelms the effect of being 3 million miles farther from the Sun than we were in January.

The slow-down, a natural aspect of orbital mechanics rather than a plot between The Heartland Institute and Big Fossil Fuel, means that summer lasts 5-1/2 days longer in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern.

It's the thought that counts

The action so far:  Greece borrowed a third of a trillion dollars.  It's been obvious for some time it neither would nor could pay it back.  Despite the best efforts of a lot of financial and political whizzes to obscure the issue in a series of "extend and pretend" paper blizzards, the issue came more or less to a head last week as the issue suddenly became concrete and unavoidable:  the Greek banks have been closed for a week.  Only little trickles of cash were available from ATMs, and that perhaps not for long.*  Suddenly foreign banks aren't just the guys who are demanding payments any more:  they're the guys with the buckets of cash that are needed to fill the ATMs back up.  Greece faces the prospect of having to consume only what it can produce locally.

The fascinating thing about the bank closure is that the issue no longer is about whether Greece will pay back its loans; of course it won't.  Four or five years ago, when it became obvious no such repayment would ever happen, the private lenders mostly sold out of the Greek debt and left it to the central banks.  It's now a political issue: will governments, especially Germany, soak their taxpayers for new cash to subsidize Greece's living beyond its means indefinitely?

This being an extremely uncomfortable question, not to mention one that will inspire Spain, Italy, Portugal, and perhaps France to demand similar subsidies, all efforts are now being directed to creating the illusion that the corpse of the Greek debt is still dragging itself along by its fingernails.  Everyone is frantically trying to preserve the impression that they are dealing responsibly with a troubled debt instead of deciding whether to pour shiny new Euros into the international project of making Greece a permanent welfare queen.  Bloomberg has laid out an impressive array of squid ink available to ECB officials in this effort:
Greece won’t leave the euro overnight. But it may face face three or four weeks of increasing pressure to start printing its own money.
That’s because Greek banks might soon be unable to meet European Central Bank demands for the collateral needed to keep access to Emergency Liquidity Assistance [a/k/a German cash subsidies], and the Greek government would run out of cash to pay its bills and workers....
[The ECB's] bank supervision arm will decide how to value the government-backed assets held on Greek banks’ balance sheets. Meanwhile, the central bank’s monetary policy arm will consider whether to object to collateral that lenders post to gain ELA [German cash subsidy] access from the Bank of Greece.
... Then, the banks would get calls for new collateral and might come up short. Taken together, the supervisory and ELA review could show the Greek banks to be insolvent, and Greece wouldn’t have the means to use euros to prop them up again.
At some point, a default could force a decision on Greece’s euro access. For example, if the government defaults to the ECB [again, and we really mean it this time] on July 20, that could trigger margin calls on the banking system and lead to a more generalized default....
The euro area could decide to help Greece to an “orderly exit,” through a phased withdrawal of liquidity [i.e., cut off the subsidies more gradually, like over a period of several lifetimes] or some other settlement mechanism. It could also put Greece’s euro membership on temporary suspension, a prospect raised over the weekend by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
[Central Bankers could] convert the emergency aid into a swap line, a tool that central banks use to extend liquidity to their counterparts.
Already, the ECB is preparing a facility with its Bulgarian counterpart, as a way to offer euros to the Bulgarian banking system against eligible collateral. Neither central bank would comment on the project.
Meanwhile, Greece issues dire warnings about the humanitarian crisis that Europe is causing.  "Give me what I want or I'll keep hurting myself."

*Update:  The Fiscal Times estimated that the Greek banks have about 1 billion euros left, which is 90 Euros per Greek.

Venom Wearing Denim

Just a little piece of honky-tonk to start the week.

Pensions for Poppers

I'm imagining a conversation.  "I am also willing not to shoot people for a thousand bucks a month.  I mean, contingently.  There may be the odd month where somebody really just needs shooting.  But I've got a pretty good record going, so..."

"That's just why you're not eligible.  Your good record is pretty uniform.  We only pay people who kill people sometimes.  You weren't going to shoot people anyway."

"Well, probably, but now I'm thinking that I need to get on the list of people you want to pay off..."

They say they've had good results.  I'm sure they have.  What I wonder about is whether this is the sort of thing that doesn't set up perverse incentives over time.

Imposing Law Upon the World, Two of Two (Economics)

So here is what the soccer article describes as the core German philosophical position as it relates to Greece:
Eucken's views are now known as ordoliberalism, and they're still very popular among German economists. A skepticism of debt is central to the philosophy, which many see influencing German policy today. As The Economist has explained in a brief history of ordoliberalism:
This is an offshoot of classical liberalism that sprouted during the Nazi period, when dissidents around Walter Eucken, an economist in Freiburg, dreamed of a better economic system. They reacted against the planned economies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But they also rejected both pure laissez-faire and Keynesian demand management.

The result was a school that was close both in personal contacts and in its content to the Austrian school associated with Friedrich Hayek. The two shared a view that deficit spending for demand management was foolish. Ordoliberalism differed, however, in believing that capitalism requires a strong government to create a framework of rules which provide the order (ordo in Latin) that free markets need to function most efficiently.

From the original ordoliberals sprang one big idea for state intervention when cartels dominated the economy: a muscular antitrust policy. A second was a strict monetary policy that focused rigidly and exclusively on price stability. A third was the enforcement of Haftung, which means not just liability but also responsibility. Germany has tougher insolvency laws than America or Britain, for instance.
This showed up after the financial crisis of 2008. The Germans wrote a "debt brake" in their constitution, the Economist noted, that seeks to balance state and federal budgets, and they have tried to bring the philosophy to other European nations as well.
Although this is presented as an alternative to Keynesian thought, both attempt to control what is really a natural process according to what are alleged to be 'laws of economics.'  They are both trying to treat something organic as if the rules of reason and logic apply to it the same way that they do to mathematical structures.  As D29 was pointing out just the other day, there is an important fact about Keynes' full position that gets lost. We all know about the 'pump priming' part, but people forget (willfully, perhaps) that Keynes believed this could only work coupled with at least some protectionist policies. After all, if I'm going to deficit-spend to prime my economy, I have to make sure the money I'm taking on debt to spend is going to create activity within my economy.  That requires control.  Otherwise, even if Keynes' General Theory works, we're just taking on debt to prime the Chinese economy. We're only hurting our own, even in principle.
...the Great Thinker actually came out for stringent protectionism and economic autarky six years before he published the General Theory and for good and logical reasons that his contemporary followers choose to completely ignore. Namely, protectionism and autarky are an absolutely necessary correlate to state management of the business cycle and related efforts to improve upon the unguided results generated by business, labor and investors on the free market. Indeed, Keynes took special care to make sure that his works were always translated into German, and averred that Nazi Germany was the ideal test bed for his economic remedies.

Eighty years on from Keynes’ incomprehensible ode to statist economics and thorough-going protectionism, the idea of state management of the business cycle in one country is even more preposterous.
I wouldn't say it was entirely fair to suggest a necessary tie between Keynes and Nazis, but we can see that the German philosophical outlook is primed to believe in this kind of approach. They are thinking about economics in terms of lawlike relations between actors.  They are thinking about it in terms of an artificial environment of economic activity in which the laws of the mind apply with full force in spite of the nature of things.  An important part of keeping economics lawlike and predictable is to control the entry of non-lawlike forces. What kinds of forces are not lawlike? Self-love was Kant's great example: that force that calls us to make exceptions for ourselves from the rules.

So from the German perspective, the article is alleging, the important thing is to enforce the lawlike relations that allow for orderly economic progress.  If that causes short-term pain (and boy is it doing that), that's too bad:  we must resist the urge to allow the Greeks to make exceptions arising from self-love (i.e., not starving or having their economy choked to death because they can't spend money across borders).

Of course, the other problem is Taleb's problem of antifragility:  just because the laws we think we see are really in us, and not in the economic activities to which we've assigned them, we often go wrong.  We think we are considering an economic system with rational laws.  In fact, there's just a bunch of human activities, which is governed not by rational laws but by (often irrational) human nature.  If we don't structure the risk of going wrong in the right way, we create situations of systemic collapse when things do go wrong.  That's our fault.

The article doesn't really say what it thinks the Greek philosophical position would be.*  The alternative it poses is described as "Anglo-Saxon," and is the utilitarian position:  the right thing to do is whatever it takes to avoid pain and restore pleasure in economic relations.  Utilitarianism takes pleasure and the avoidance of pain to be the basic standard for human ethics, including economic ethics.  The Greek suffering is a problem that cries out, on this model, for action to put an end to the suffering.

So, let's put all this together.  The economic system we've set up isn't a thing in its own right.  It doesn't have a nature, and therefore it doesn't have laws of its own.  Economics is just a human activity.

Thus, the relevant laws to economics seem to be our laws, that is, they are consequences of our nature.  Human nature includes the danger of starvation and the suffering of pain.  It also includes this dangerous incapacity to always cleanly distinguish between what our mind tells us about the world and the world itself.  Where we've set up a system that is fragile instead of antifragile, systemic collapse is our fault and should be our responsibility.  In this case, the Germans' outsized influence on the system suggests outsized German responsibility.  They have created much of this problem by acting as if it were possible to impose laws on economics that don't take account of human nature. All economic laws are located in us.

On the other hand, human nature also includes a robust self-love that corrupts us when we try to treat each other fairly.  Greeks have behaved in accord with human nature, but not wisely or well.  Making exceptions for those who have behaved unwisely is a serious business.  It has to be done in a way that doesn't make exception-seeking an attractive proposition for other nations (such as Portugal or Spain).

If that can't be worked out, then we should bow to human nature and let the Greeks take care of themselves -- out of the Euro, and out from under the control of its rules.  The rules are unwise, and the philosophy behind them likewise.  Because it mistakes the locus of the laws, it thinks you can have economic laws that are detached from human nature.  That can only lead to systemic collapses such as this one.  We should expect to see more, whether the Germans or the Greeks "win," unless the whole set of rules is re-examined to take account of human nature in its fullness.

*  One reason he doesn't give you the Greek philosophical position is that the Ancient Greeks didn't have one.  Economics is really a modern production, and its focus on laws and lawlike relations is thoroughly modern.  We get only a little talk about economic problems in Plato and Aristotle.  Aristotle thinks that the household is the seat of economic production, and thus he would suggest that the problem is too much specialization:  no family should put itself willingly in a position in which it can't provide for its basic needs.  At the present moment, that position is untenable (though it may become tenable again in a more automated future).  Specialization is necessary for economics as we practice it given our current technology.


Early results suggest that the Greek people have issued a resounding statement:  "No, you must continue sending us boatloads of money."  Yay?

Taste and judgment

From C.S. Lewis, "The Seeing Eye," an essay on the difficulty of separating moral judgments from aesthetic or natural preferences:
Being fallen creatures we tend to resent offences against our taste, at least as much as, or even more than, offence against our conscience or reason; and we would dearly like to be able--if only we can find any plausible argument for doing so--to inflict upon the man whose writing (perhaps for reasons utterly unconnected with good and evil) has afflicted us like a bad smell, the same kind of condemnation which we can inflict on him who has uttered the false and the evil. The tendency is easily observed among children; friendship wavers when you discover that a hitherto trusted playmate actually likes prunes. But even for adults it is 'sweet, sweet, sweet poison' to feel able to imply 'thus saith the Lord' at the end of every expression of our pet aversions. To avoid this horrible danger we must perpetually try to distinguish, however closely they get entwined both by the subtle nature of the facts and by the secret importunity of our passions, those attitudes in a writer which we can honestly and confidently condemn as real evils, and those qualities in his writing which simply annoy and offend us as men of taste. This is difficult, beause the latter are often so much more obvious and provoke such a very violent response. The only safe course seems to me to be this: to reserve our condemnation of attitudes for attitudes univerally acknowledged to be bad by the Christian conscience speaking in agreement with Scripture and ecumenical tradition.... For our passions are always urging us in the opposite direction, and if we are not careful criticism may become a mere excuse for taking revenge on books whose smell we dislike by erecting our temperamental antipathies into pseudo-moral judgements.

Imposing Law Upon the World, One of Two (Metaphysics)

I was asked to talk about an article that tries to explain the Greek financial crisis using a Monty Python sketch about (Ancient) Greek versus (Modern) German philosophy. The Greeks are the good guys here, and the winners of the soccer match, but the author's whole point is to explain how the Germans are focused on trying to establish and enforce rules.

Unfortunately, I don't think the author correctly describes the philosophy, which is going to make it harder to understand. Here's what he says:

The basic question for all these thinkers is whether the patterns we see in the world around us really reflect patterns that exist in nature or are simply attempts by our minds to structure what we see. For many German philosophers, a key effort was to understand the principles governing societies.

This is a particular issue for economists, who seek patterns in the mass of statistics coming out of stock markets and labor surveys. It's not always enough, though, to look at how markets and prices behave and describe the mathematical patterns they seem to follow. In practice, there always seem to be exceptions to the rules, sometimes catastrophic ones, which suggest that those maybe patterns have more to do with our minds than the natural world itself.

"Anglo-Saxon economists are guided by the utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham, asking merely if a policy works," The Economist recently wrote. "Germans side with Immanuel Kant, believing that nothing works except through law, and are horrified when the [European Central Bank] strays from its narrow mandate."
Kant is described as giving an account by which nothing happens except through law, and indeed he does say that in the Groundwork. However, Kant's already talking about the world as understood within the mind. What Kant argues in his first critique is that we can't understand the world as it really is, but only as it appears to us, at which it is already being filtered through what he called a "transcendental apperception." For example, your mind takes sound waves and light waves and a sensation of gravity and tactile sensations, and these are all coming in from different organs on different nerves. But it presents you a picture of a soccer game in which you are participating. Is there really a soccer game? You can't know that even in principle. You can only know about the appearances in the mind.

There is some truth to this position, as is made clear by the example of the banana. If the body were simply a physical instrument, such that the eyes were merely receiving light waves which were merely translated into images by the brain, bananas would change color with changing light conditions like other things do. That's the way this article from LiveScience describes the process, and it's what would be true if the process works the way they think it does: if the body was a machine, so to speak.

In fact, under any natural lighting condition, your mind will report it to you as banana yellow.
What color is a banana? A banana is yellow in the sunlight and in the moonlight. It is yellow on a sunny day, on a cloudy day, on a rainy day. It is yellow at dawn and at dusk. The color of the banana appears constant to the human eye under all these conditions, despite the fact that the actual wavelengths of the light reflected by the surface of the banana under these varied conditions are different. Objectively, they are not the same color all the time. However, the human eye and color recognition system can compensate for these varied conditions because they all occurred during the course of the evolution of the human vision system, and can perceive the objectively varied colors as constantly yellow.

So a banana looks yellow under all conditions, except in a parking lot at night. Under the sodium vapor lights commonly used to illuminate parking lots, a banana does not appear natural yellow. This is because the sodium vapor lights did not exist in the ancestral environment, during the course of the evolution of the human vision system, and the visual cortex is therefore incapable of compensating for them.
So the law we infer -- "if it is a banana, then it is yellow" -- is actually not a product of the world, but a product of the mind. The evolved mind is coloring the fruit in a lawlike way. Once we move to kinds of lighting that our eyes didn't evolve to see, the law turns out not to be real. It was only a product of our minds.

Now, the first thing you'll notice is that Kant isn't quite right: we have just managed to learn something about the thing itself, the thing outside of our minds. And we've managed to find, through science, an example of a place in which the apparent laws are products of the mind and not of the thing. There's this huge division in German philosophy since Kant, between those who think that lawlike ideas are real (Hegel) and those who think that ideas about the world are often totally unreliable (Wittgenstein). The science gives us a middle way.

Greek philosophy, being much older, believes the laws are in the things, and the things are real. If you kick a ball something different will happen than if you kick a dog, and the reason for the difference is that the ball and the dog have different natures. The things are different, and their natural or essential differences will produce different results.

That's more like the scientific position, oddly enough, than the Modern position is. It's why we can say that bananas aren't "really" yellow the way we think they are: we look at the thing, find out what wavelengths of light its skin are reflecting, and then see that our eyes are treating those wavelengths differently in some cases than in banana cases. Thus, we say (as the Greeks) that the nature of the banana produces skin that reflects light of a certain wavelength, but that it's our nature -- our evolved nature -- that makes us see a favored food source as brightly outlined in all the lighting conditions our ancestors would experience. Both are lawlike: the banana's genetics reliably produces skin of a certain kind, and our evolved nature reliably produces minds of a certain kind. The important question for answering the German problem is figuring out where the law is.

Pyrotechnics on the 4th

Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations

From ChicagoBoyz, John Adams's letter to his wife Abigail July 3, 1776:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Late Night at the Star Club