Sunday, March 20, 2011

Land of Milk and Phony

This week's lame Palin analysis drops, in the context of a half-hearted disclaimer, a truth that says as much about the media as it does about Palin:

Who knows whether or not Palin will run for the nation's highest office. But if she does, comments like this one do little to make her sound presidential. For one, even if it was a joke, Palin was making light of something that has to do with the future of this country--the health and well-being of its children. And even if Palin spent most of the talk discussing deficits, health-care reform and foreign affairs, it's unnecessary side comments like these that will--whether she likes it or not--lead the news.

You know, I think we all got it a looong time ago that Palin is an empty-headed smartass. Running one smartass item after the next is, while entertaining, not terribly useful at this point. If in fact Palin did "spen[d] most of the talk discussing deficits, health-care reform and foreign affairs", even we accept the stupid fact that the media will always lead with the halfwitted jab at Obammy, it might be at least somewhat constructive if at least a paragraph or two were utilized to inform folks about Miss Thang's pronunciamentos on those subjects.

Palin has always been most revealing not when lobbing her cheesy punchlines, but when she tries to elucidate an actual opinion, tries to show she actually knows what she's talking about on any issue of importance. I think it's important to offer up to the public what her "solutions" to the Middle East, Iran, Libya, defecits driven by third-rail entitlements and bloated defense expenditures, health-care costs might be. It would, for one, force her increasingly ridiculous and self-marginalizing supporters to explain the inevitable gaffes and incoherencies, the dearth of ideas or solutions, or even the pretense of same.

It might be helpful if someone in our blessed corporate media thought these things important too, rather than spending their Palin time and space digesting and regurgitating one sub-borscht-belt line after another through its bloated cloaca. That would be too easy, and more importantly, counterproductive to the perpetual campaign industry.

Some $500 million or so was spent during the 2008 presidential campaign, and twice that is projected for next year's. It is in the vested interest of the vaunted fourth estate to keep a horse race going, to harvest clicks and eyes, sell ad space and commercials. The endless "will she/won't she" cock-tease keeps the game going, though everyone knows that she's not viable, incompetent, and probably doesn't want the job anyway. Beats workin'.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Les Mots Justes

Of course M'sieur IOZ is absolutely correct in this week's unceremonious roasting of EnriqueMatt Yglesias. The current era of economics reeks more of careerism and credentialism for self-selecting opinion-mongers and audiences, and less of empirical data-crunching and pattern-theorizing. Consider this paragraph of Yglesias' which IOZ excerpted:

The fact that the economics profession can offer so little in the way of consensus guidance about dramatic, crucially important events like the panic of 2007-2008 is a huge problem and a very legitimate knock on the enterprise, but it doesn’t actually undermine the overall epistemic status of the discipline.

First is that the bumptious prose of this sickly little paragraph may as well be a sixth example for Orwell to present in Politics and the English Language. It is merely a hymn plucked in church to appease the faithful. It is difficult -- at least for me, because life is too short to spend too much time reading Teh Woodchuck with anything approaching regularity -- to really know whether these guys actually believe the guff they spread, or they've simply sunk too far into the sales pitch to divest credibly.

It doesn't matter. Just in that stray paragraph one sees much more fundamental errors, namely the classic Princess Bride issue of words not meaning what the user thinks they mean. Yglesias mentions "the panic of 2007-2008", as if those wascally Hunt brothers had tried to corner the dang silver market and caused a stampede. "Panic" is as inaccurate a term to describe what happened as the more tendentious debate over whether the real-estate collapse caused a "recession" or a "depression". An accurate term would be correction, or perhaps heist. "Panic" merely implies unknown causation producing unpredictable results via mass alarm and random collective action.

As opposed to, say, a bunch of boiler-room shysters pushing loans on people they knew full well wouldn't be able to afford them, just so they could slice and dice and tranche a bunch of derivative side bets, knowing full well that their investment in Barack Obama would be recouped when the mathematical reckoning inevitably came. Causation was known, results were predictable, and on the off chance that the engineering of this mess wasn't flat-out deliberate, it was at the very least sociopathically indifferent.

A lesser, but still substantial, semantic failure to follow through in an intellectually honest fashion is the "knock on the enterprise" line. Look, if economics is not an out-and-out religion, as IOZ calls it, with its impenetrable dogma, its cloistered priests, and laity suckaz like Yglesias, then at the very least one can ham-fistedly paraphrase Yogi Berra and point out that it's 90% psychology, and the other half is mathematical.

The problem is, the math side of it has been perverted beyond all honest recognition by the economists' brothers-in-arms, the rentier financiers, who every now and again pay some Indian kid from MIT to swing by the offices of Lloyd Blankfein's subordinates, dump some esoteric algorithm on a spreadsheet for them, and figure out how to plug in the numbers on whatever scheme they devise for the next round of rubes. The banksters neither know nor care how the formula works, or that it doesn't actually produce a tangible good, merely a new twist on the numbers game they run.

Now, I realize that the "enterprise" Matty refers to is economics, but seeing as how that discipline exists more or less symbiotically with finance, perhaps the current lack of, ahem, "consensus guidance" can be attributed to a poisoning of the epistemic well. Finance is not so much an "enterprise" these days -- a system that generates ever more money for ever fewer people, without producing any tangible goods or wealth, even secondarily (such as loaning that money or creating jobs with it) is not an enterprise, it's a racket.

The financiers are always going to maintain the pretense, especially since they have the government by the balls, and the assurance that when the new algorithm becomes mathematically unsustainable, they get bailed out and keep their goddamned bonuses. This is not about the creation of value or wealth, this is about recoupment by the very few from everyone else.

To the extent that intellectually honest economists realize all of this -- and how can they not? -- they are collegially and professionally constrained from stepping up and speaking their minds, fearing to be recognized as dupes to a street-corner hustle, or traitors to the common cause. Financiers move money around, economists track the results and develop arcane theories about yesterday's motions.

But neither group cares to mention the huge behavioral aspect to both, preferring to pretend that it's all mechanical, and therefore predictable and controllable to some degree. And the biggest behavioral factor is the return of a Gilded Age mentality, a smug, patrician assumption by a shrinking claque of well-heeled rulers that the rest of the population are merely sheep to be fleeced.

So no, the lack of "consensus guidance" is not undermining the "overall epistemic status of the discipline". But that status is being undermined all the same, by the failure of its prime movers to simply call things what they really are.

Orwell intrinsically understood the obfuscatory power -- and intent -- underlying cluttered language. It does not have to mean some firebreathing propagandist trying to conceal his true intent; it applies equally well to professional catechists.

Bringing Crazy Back

With the advent of violent chaos across the Middle East, and chaotic violence in Japan, one might begin to fear that the End Times are near. Au contraire, mon frère! Raving assclown Sharron Angle, last fall's scary-silly entertainment, is preparing to throw her polyurethane foam helmet back into the proverbial ring, assuming she can wrest her arms free from the straitjacket.

It would seem that Sharron Angle is running for a House seat in Nevada. In a video on her Web site, Ms. Angle says she is “running for the United States Congress” but does not name the seat. Presumably it is the one in the Second District, which is being vacated by Representative Dean Heller, a Republican who narrowly defeated her in a 2006 primary run for the position. Mr. Heller is now running for the Senate seat left open by Senator John Ensign, the beleaguered senator who is not running again.
Not that anyone will miss fambly valyews champeen Ensign, who will now and forever be known as the guy who fucked his friend's wife, then tried to buy the cuckold off with some bullshit sinecure. But Heller appears to be cut from the same predictable cloth as the increasingly tedious teabaggers, attaining office during the vaunted Gingrich (that other fambly valyews champ) revolution, and reflexively voting against whatever Obammy's fer.

Not saying that anyone's going to miss a card-carrying asshole like John Ensign, but Heller and the recombinant ascension of Angle would be a statistical offset, and then some. Ultimately it's probably not a huge deal, just Nevada getting precisely what it deserves -- if it really wants it that badly then, to paraphrase Mencken, they should get it good and hard.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More an Art than a Science

You have to hand it to the American media -- Japan gets hit with the twin power punches of massive quake and devastating tsunami, and in mere hours a good chunk of them find ways to make it all about us, and our deep-seated fears of everything except what we should actually worry about.

Your average 'murkin is many thousands of times more likely to die of stress, obesity, type 2 diabetes, substance abuse, depression, auto accident, and many other things, than from radiation from Fukushima, or Islamic terrists for that matter. This is not to say that I know that there is absolutely no danger in the US from radiation from Fukushima; I am saying that I don't know, which is what the mediots would say if they had an ounce of honesty in them. I will go out on a limb and say that a panic run on potassium iodide in Texas straddles that fine line between merely stupid and flat-out hysterical (and not funny hysterical, either).
Fortunately for opportunistic scumbag and all-around hump Glenn Beck (and unfortunately for the rest of the planet), the aphasic venom he soaks in is not fatal. Though one can always hope.

It is certainly bad enough when a fat, bloated, ignorant nation becomes entirely oblivious to its own bad karma, not only from initiating pointless, perpetual wars, but from trading its future for toys on credit to utterly shameless thieves and frauds. One has to ask, if one is so masochistically inclined as to engage with a subhuman prick such as Beck, precisely what it was that Japan did recently to earn this sort of divine reckoning. (One could also ask the Tokyo governor the same thing, since he sounds like the same breed of asshole, but maybe he gets voted out or forcibly removed from office.)

Putting natural disasters in moralistic contexts is never not going to be intellectually offensive. Most of us know this by the third grade. But wallowing around in this solipsistic narcissism of wondering how international catastrophes will affect us is very nearly as awful.

I'm embarrassed for them, really. I mean, somebody should be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Re-gyptian Strut

Everyone is expected to have formed an opinion on Egypt, on the asshole Mubarak, on the beneficence of him being our loyal asshole. The various potentates and kleptocracies that clutter the Middle East provide something of a tabula rasa for the spectrum of what passes for American foreign policy -- power to "the people" in Egypt, so long as they're the right people, and opportunism in Libya, to get rid of a loose-cannon bedouin colonel whose reach finally exceeded his grasp in a stuporous Castro-like tenure.

Notably absent from the conversation -- indeed, even modest official speculation -- is Saudi Arabia, which has an 86-year-old leader and an 82-year-old immediate heir, literally hundreds of inbred princelings after that, and a young, seething, jobless populace to placate. One would think that with that level of uncertainty, some of the more buffoonish tendencies of American vehicular self-actualization might give way to harsh oncoming realities.

One would, as always, be dismayingly wrong. There will be no shortages of single-occupant Excursions and jacked-up F350 king cabs with the requisite truck nuts, not until gas hits six bucks or so -- and then assholes such as those will be the first ones to siphon their neighbor's Honda, or knock over a liquor store to feed their insatiable addiction. One side preaches empiricism, physics and math, scientific prudence; the other pure id and gall and self-indulgence. There will be no respite from high bozoism, only a shift in its prevailing wind. Some halfwit knuckledragging House troglodyte, more likely than not from Texas, will sooner or later insist on opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to contain costs and enable the guzzlers just that much further, just one more hit, man, they'll suck yo dick!

So it goes, while the rest of the country continues its death march into uncharted realms of banana republic disparities, a dwindling cadre of inbred plutocrats manipulating swelling, foundering masses against their own rational self-interest.

Which, of course, brings us to Wisconsin, the latest guinea pig in said plutocrats' ongoing experiment in accumulating the last bits of rotted corpse. Per usual, Chomsky sees right through the Dems' feckless posturing, and refuses to play their dismal game:

The reason why you can’t get Democratic leaders to join [against union-busting tactics] is because they agree. They are also trying to destroy the unions.

The sooner we stop playing this game, enabling the charade of two distinct parties, the clearer the picture becomes. There are no parties; there is a ratchet and a pawl, a device manipulated entirely by vested interests, rentier thugs in $3000 suits who seriously think the peons should fellate them in public for all the wonderful good they do. The amount of contempt people like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon have for Main Street, for you and me, is almost incalculable; in fact, it would best be calculated simply in direct proportion to their compensation -- the more they profit from their bookmaking ventures and failures, the more they feel you owe it to them. Make sure you send Lloyd and Jamie a thank you card, m'kay, show your appreciation. They're good guys, really, just ask them, they'll tell you.

Wisconsin is just the start; as states get more and more in the hole, and get rolled into short-run schemes like selling off parking meter rights for the next 70 years to raise cash to pay off this year's bills, the public-sector union-busting tactics will metastasize to other, larger states. California politics is pretty much run through the prison-guard union, but if some sort of deal were to be struck that would allow them to keep theirs whilst throwing other public unions under the bus, of course they'd take it.

The lesson should be pretty obvious to all but the most deluded Beckalo -- that we love the "power to the people" jabber, until it actually occurs, and especially when it occurs here. Nothing scares the political and financial classes -- who, after all, own the very modes of communication by which "information" is officially disseminated -- more than the thought of a sufficient number of peons getting wise to their shenanigans. They needn't fear -- in times like these, people can be counted on to revert to the usual devil-take-the-hindmost mean.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Rumors of Demise

You know the drill, slammed to the gills -- working on two different case studies for a management control systems class (that finally ended on a high note, with a one-hour presentation/q&a session) and in the running for a promotion at work (that I didn't get, but turned out to be something of a pig in a poke anyway).

But I'm around, keep an eye out, there will be some non-Carlos Estevez material this week. Stay tuned.