The end of civilization in one sentence

August 31, 2009

This is from a posting about loving in-mates on death row (from Roissy):

But if you really feel it is right, then just go for it and enjoy it:thumbsup:

Could one sentence better sum up the moral failure of society?


Review of "Not With a Bang But a Whimper" by Theodore Dalrymple

August 31, 2009

You can find the book here.

As with the rest of Dr Dalrymple's books, this one is a collection of essays that fits together very nicely.  They are all beautifully written, insightful and often sad.  There are memorable essays on Dr Johnson, Shakespeare, and Anthony Burgess.  There are, as always, memorable essays on some the underclass whom Dr Dalrymple works with.

If one takes away from Dr Dalrymple, it is that life is deeply imperfect and cannot be made perfect.  Attempts to arrive at perfection results in incredibly tragic consequences.  In a way, Dr Dalrymple also does what good reporters used to do, before good reporting died.  There is no better way to get a sense for the reality of the modern life of the underclass than by reading Dalrymple.

His observations about crime are also memorable: "the young, poor and prosperous alike, have imposed a curfew on the older after dark, and on everyone on Friday and Saturday nights."  Government doesn't even try to stop crime anymore.  In fact, government works in the worst possible way.  Everything that everyone does is recorded by the police, but crime continues to increase.  To understand this seeming paradox, you must read your Dalrymple.


The nihilism of game

August 31, 2009

I'm really sorry I was traveling during the great discussions about game that came up during the last couple weeks.  Much of the most interesting stuff was on Mr Auster's site (here and here, but in other posts as well).

I would like to belatedly summarize some thoughts.  Many on Mr Auster's site misunderstand the problem.  They accuse men (or perhaps more accurately boys) of my generation (I'm 28) of being whimps.  We are.  They tell us that game is not the proper pathway to manliness.  It's not.  They tell us to just grow up and be men.  We don't know how.  Who are our masculine role models?  We don't have any besides comic book villians and Rambo-types.  John Wayne is dead, feminism killed him.

The commenters on Mr Auster's site are telling to be something that we have never seen.  I agree that game is perhaps amoral, but I'll take amoral men over amoral boys always.  The moral project would be the restoration of manliness as a virtue (or even as a topic of discussion).  Perhaps we could all start by reading this.

Finally, both the games and Mr Auster seem to agree that civilization is crumbling.  Mr Auster would like us to rise to its defense and Roissy believes it's past the point of no return – civilization in the latter's view cannot be saved, so we might as well hasten its downfall so we can begin the process of rebuilding it sooner.  I'm not sure who is right, but if you believe civilization is past the point where saving it is possible, is it necessarily amoral and nihilistic to hasten its downfall?  I'm not as Mr Auster seems to be.


Firing a teacher

August 31, 2009

Here is some great reporting on teachers in NY.


Vox populi, vox motherf*cker

August 31, 2009

I missed this article on Craigslist while I was traveling for the last couple weeks, but it's worth taking some time to read.  Highlights:

His cause is not helped by the fact that if the craigslist management style resembles any political system, it is not democracy but rather a low-key popular dictatorship. Its inner workings are obscure, it publishes no account of its income or expenses, it has no obligation to respond to criticism, and all authority rests in the hands of a single man. Ask Newmark about any feature you would like to see on craigslist and you will always get the same response.

"Ask Jim," he says.

"How do you get your feedback? Have you ever done a poll or anything like that?"

"The thought makes me tired. But you can suggest that to Jim if you wish."

"What if Jim says no?"

"If you want to ask him again, you can," he says.

And my favorite:

By eliminating marketing, sales, and business development, craigslist's programmers have cut out all the cushioning layers that separate them from the users they serve, and any right they have to teach lessons in public service comes from the odd situation of running a company that is directly subservient only to the public. Here's the lesson: The public is a motherfucker.

Finally:

. . . craigslist still treats social life as dangerously complex, deserving the most jaded caution. Corporate isolation, user anonymity, refusal of excessive profit, glacial adoption of new features: These all signal Newmark and Buckmaster's wariness about what humans, including themselves, might do if given the chance. There may be a peace sign on every page, but the implicit political philosophy of craigslist has a deeply conservative, even a tragic cast. Every day the choristers of the social web chirp their advice about openness and trust; craigslist follows none of it, and every day it grows.


Review of "A Book of Burlesques" by H. L. Mencken

August 29, 2009

This book is full of relatively short vignettes and some repeats from A Little Book in C Major (reviewed below).  This was definitely not my favorite Mencken book.  Read something else.


Review of "A Little Book in C Major" by H. L. Mencken

August 29, 2009

This book is a short easy read.  Mencken is sort of the Roissy of his era.  And he rips on democracy.  Some samples:

"Democracy defines the truth as anything believed by at least 51 men in every 100. It is thus firmly committed to the doctrines that one bath a week is enough, that "I seen" is the past tense of "I see", and that Friday is an unlucky day."

"A Socialist, carrying a red flag, marched through the gates of Heaven. "To hell with rank!" he shouted. "All men are equal here." Just then the late Karl Marx turned a corner and came into view, meditatively stroking his whiskers. At once the Socialist fell upon his knees and touched his forehead to the dust. "O Master!" he cried. "O Master, Master, Master!""

"Democracy is also a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

"Three proofs that the Creator is a humorist: democracy, hay fever, any fat woman."

"How little it takes to make life perfect! A good sauce, a cocktail after a hard day, a girl who kisses with her mouth half open."

"The sort of man a woman remembers longest is the sort that it would be better not to remember at all."

"Without a doubt there are women who would vote intelligently. There are also men who knit socks beautifully."


Review of "Interface" by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George

August 29, 2009

The book is here and a plot summary is here.  It's sort of a technologically advanced Manchurian Candidate with some cool writing on the working of the brain.

Basically, a group of mysterious, wealthy people have decided that the US is incapable of governing itself after the President suggests that the US will default on its debt.  These people decided to plant a chip in the brain of the Governor of Illinois who has recently suffered a stroke.  While the Governor recovers, they use media consultants to ensure that everyone wants to vote for the Governor.  The goal is allowing "America's investors [i.e. the people who hold its debt] to have a permanent say in the management of their assets."  Their vision for the country is actually rather conservative: "In the old days, contract was sacred: divorce, bankruptcy, fraud, were taboos for the average people.  The rogues of course, the robber barons were beyond that.  We have to return the country to those values so that there won't even be a thought to renege on the debt."  Surely, the government can't borrow forever and expect no consequences:

"Do you have any idea how much money your government borrowed?" "A lot," Eleanor said.  "Ten trillion dollars."  . . . "Well, you certainly can't expect to borrow that much money from someone without incurring certain obligation, can you?"  Lady Wilburdon said, as if it were all perfectly obvious.  And it was, in fact, perfectly obvious.  "Of course, not," Eleanor said, "you're right."  "When a business borrows money from a bank, and does so irresponsibly, and is profligate and incompetent, what happens?"  "It goes bankrupt.  And the bank takes it over."

One can't help but wonder if this story-line represents an exaggeration of the authors' views on how politics actually works in the US.  Are our politicians basically robots?  Are our elections basically decided by wealthy donors?  Can media consultants really control who we vote for?  The answers, are clearly, yes, to some extent.  The book then asks what happens if these trends continue to increase.  Here's some commentary:

In the 1700s, politics was all about ideas.  But Jefferson came up with all the good ideas.  In the 1800s, it was all about character.  But no one will ever have as much character as Lincoln and Lee.  For much of the 1900s it was about charisma.  But we no longer trust charisma because Hitler used it to kill Jews and JFK used it to get laid and send us to Vietnam. . . . [Now, we manipulate the multitudes through "public opinion"] . . . "I pain a depressing picture here.  But we, you and I, are  like the literate monks who nurtured the flickering flame of Greek rationality through the Dark Ages, remaining underground, knowing each other by secret signs and code words . . . We do not have the strength to change the minds of the illiterate multitudes.  But we do have the wit to exploit their foolishness, to familiarize ourselves with their stunted thought patterns, and to use that knowledge to manipulate them toward the goals that we all know are, quote, right and true, unquote.

Like all other Stephenson stuff, there is a lot of other interesting things going on.  A seemingly illiterate dude in Iowa figures the whole thing out, which is pretty crazy.  Read the book.


Unintended (or intended) consequences of bailouts

August 29, 2009

From MR: large banks borrow at significantly lower rates than small banks.  Everyone is now a GSE.


The Fed and stable currency

August 27, 2009

Don't go together:

In other words, the value of the dollar remained extremely stable for 150 years, the Fed was created in order to "stabilize the value of the dollar," and the result has been a 95% devaluation of the dollar in less than 100 years following its creation.