September 30, 2008

Opinions of the Opinion-Makers

They say all the interesting discussions are intra-party, and I agree. So the bailout package debate has been particularly absorbing/distracting. I suspect it's a confirmation of Rush Limbaugh's power that there are as many bailout foes as there are. Here's what I've been able to gleam so far (I could add David Brooks but he's too RINO and Michelle Malkin is too young):
Supports Bailout
Hugh Hewitt
Newt Gingrich
Bill O'Reilly
Rich Lowry
Peggy Noonan
Ross Douthat

Does Not Support Bailout
Walter Williams
Rush Limbaugh
Thomas Sowell
Laura Ingraham
Jonah Goldberg
George Will
Of the four Republicans in the family I've talked to about it, two are for it, two against it.

I think there's a libertarian element and a conservative element within the broader Republican party. The conservative element leans towards authority and stability and could be conceived more "Catholic", while the liberatarian element is more rugged individualist, independent and willing to take risks, and hence more "Protestant". Of course I could be all wet.

Update: Looking at the list above, there's four Catlicks in the first group and only one (that I know of) in the second. Hmmm....I wonder if I walked into a remark that was quasi-insightful? I always figure if I throw enough stuff out on the blog, something is likely to be smart.
The Authority Vacuum

Had an interesting discussion with Ham o' Bone. He's full-metal jacket against the bailout and challenged the underlying assumption I was working from: that in times of economic crisis we listen to the Fed.

In this crisis it seems no one in a leadership position is perceived as a source of legit authority, no one above politics. Is that actually worse than the financial crisis itself?

George W. Bush is not trusted, with good reason, by conservatives or liberals. To the burgeoning list of his bad hires we can add Secretary Paulson.

The Democrats have been likewise abysmal, with Pelosi almost beautifully incompetent, such that she could inspire a primer titled "How Not to Lead".

So who do you trust here? Well, ideally you go to the Federal Reserve. Their role is supposed to be above politics. Our whole society is predicated on specialization, which is a good part of the reason for our wealth and relative lack of poverty. Specialization means we don't all have to be economists when making these sorts of calls. We don't have to become intimately acquainted with AIG's portfolio.

The function of the Fed is to tamper with free markets, adjusting interest rates and money supply in order to smooth out the natural market, which tends toward wild swings in part due to the tendency of humans to make irrational decisions ruled by emotion when information is lacking. It is to our benefit that a steady hand come in to smooth out irrational episodes. And I think the Fed has been reasonably good at it, especially in my adult lifetime.

So my view of the bailout was immediately colored by the fact that Bernanke said it was necessary. Was that trust misplaced? Perhaps. Even Federal Reserve chiefs follow Keynes or Hayek, meaning their authority is derived. But my assumption was that, in a crisis, Americans would trust the credibility of the Federal Reserve. They most certainly did not.

To paraphrase the old "All in the Family" song: "Mister, we could use a man like Alan Greenspan again".
Eros and Education

Eve Tushnet shoots and scores:
In her college novel The Secret History, Donna Tartt describes a student who, having spent hours and days reading classical works in dead languages, looks up from his books with “fifth-century eyes.” He has become different, through his encounters with radically different worldviews. He has loved the classics precisely because of their startling, alien, unknown qualities, and for a fleeting and paradoxical moment he can attain his desire: to unite with that alien quality, without making it any less alien. This description of the process of education (Tartt declares in her epigraph that “our story is the education of our heroes.”) captures its dangers, as well as the erotic energy that propels education. Today, it is rarely recognized that Eros is the basis of education, because both Eros and education make it inconvenient to hold many of the beliefs that appeal most to intelligent, skeptical Americans.
         

I’ve commented before on those alarmist reports about polls showing that Muslims in this country think of themselves as Muslims, not Americans, first. But of course. The same should be true of any Christian who has thought about the matter. - Fr. Neuhaus of "First Things"

The sacramental/ritual/hierarchical structure of Catholicism keeps it relatively steady, but tempts us to neglect the personal aspect of faith. The personal focus of evangelical Protestantism gives it energy, but can lead to mistaking emotional responses for faith, and so on.- Amy Welborn, on how our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness

"Forgiving Ourselves" - These words were seen on the sign in front of the Unitarian church near here, and they presumably were meant to indicate the theme of this coming Sunday's sermon. What can be said? It puzzles this observer: why belong to a church that preaches self-absolution? - Dylan of "More Last than Star"

There are those who are comfortable with the idea of a free economy as a necessary institution for providing material well being for the human family. It simply is not possible to support six billion people on a system of central planning or on agrarian or distributivist principles. At the same time, there are the Sojourners who feel grave discomfort at what they perceive to be the materialism of our age and thereby seek system-wide change. Finally, there are the moralists who minimize debates about politics and rather seek to inspire personal moral piety. What we need to see is the greater compatibility between the three positions than is usually supposed, provided there is freedom in which the three approaches can work. No society under any economic system will be free of greed, but the free economy produces the wealth that also makes charity and philanthropy possible. In addition, for those who seek simpler lives and private piety, the free economic system provides the room and possibility to make that choice. Davenport does not appear to be what I would call a pro-market thinker, which is what I suppose I might be called. Nonetheless, this book has identified the critical issues of the debate in those times and in our own. Christianity has adapted itself to many cultures and settings, but the advent of capitalism did provide its own special challenges. How can a religion born in a world of poverty, and centered on the eventual glory associated with death on a cross, thrive in a world of fantastic levels of material prosperity? The experience of Americans shows how, and the views of the thinkers highlighted in this volume explain how a reconciliation can occur. It comes down to the critical fact that the most productive economic system ever known also happens to be the one that is most respectful of human rights and dignity, and provides the freedom to worship. - Fr. Robert A. Sirico on "First Things"

First, sadly the abortion mentality is so pervasive in American culture; a devout, pro-life Catholic may not have a bona fide pro-life choice in elections. Second, moral theology teaches us that there is a difference between direct consequences (i.e. a Catholic cannot vote for someone with the intent of expanding or perpetuating abortion) and indirect consequences (this would be choosing the politician who, when no truly pro-life option is available, is the best on the gamut of issues encompassed by Catholic social teaching). - Fr. Paul Hartmann of "Ask a Priest", asked if a Catholic could vote for a pro-abortion candidate; via TB

Proportion is not ultimately a matter of opinion. It is a matter of both facts and opinions -- and principles, too, of course...Suppose I judge that a certain act of remote material cooperation with evil will produce a good that is proportionate to my level of cooperation. Then, since that's exactly what a proportionate reason is, in my judgment I have a proportionate reason. Now, my judgment needs to be well-founded, but (except for trivial cases) it cannot be entirely founded on facts and principles. Something entirely founded on facts and principles isn't a matter of opinion, but knowledge, and a proposition about future contingent things cannot be a matter of knowledge (for humans at least)....Even a sound argument for proportion will [almost always] need to rely on opinion about uncertain things, where the uncertainty comes not just because I don't know some things, but because some things don't yet and may never exist. - Tom of Disputations

Liberal Catholics, [Dougherty] writes, “find their most powerful allies in the hierarchy of the Church... the New York archdiocese alone has over 110 different offices, with some organs of Church bureaucracy dedicated to immigrants, others to diversity, and others still to the promotion of social justice.”...It should not be said that all liberal Catholics are heretical. But those who are must ask themselves: why break away from an institution when we already run it? “Conservatives, political and theological, tend to be an insurgent force in the Church, establishing new institutions rather than occupying old ones,” Dougherty points out...I had taken solace that dissenting groups like Call to Action are aging and powerless. Under Dougherty’s analysis, we see that such groups are merely superfluous. Their needs for networking and information-sharing are served by the faculty lounges or the national conferences for liturgists or catechists. Dissenting ideologies are all the more effective in these organizations when they have become taken for granted. - Kevin Jones of Philokalia

The complete indifference, if not outright hostility, to anything different [in small towns] is... exacerbated by mobility. The people who would be part of any town's creative class would once upon a time have returned to the town to hang out a shingle as a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, etc., and leavened the community by their interests. And in turn, they would have been shaped by living among others not like them. Nowadays, though, it's easy, and often mandatory, for them to leave for the big city in search of work and of marriageable partners. I don't know what the answer to this is. But as we get more and more segregated along these lines, you end up with culture wars like the one that erupted over Sarah Palin, which was really class war in disguise. Urban people fear and loathe small town and city people, and vice versa. Same planet, different worlds. - Rod Dreher

CBS New anchor Katie Couric ordered staff to drop all references to “Governor” or “Gov.” from her interview with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. When a staff member pointed out that in other venues, Couric and CBS News had referred to Governor Palin’s opponent, Joe Biden, using his title of “Senator” or the abbreviation, Couric, according to a CBS News editorial aide, sought approval from CBS News management to drop the “Governor” reference during her broadcast interview with Palin that began on Wednesday night. - from the American Spectator blog

My beloved viewed the whole thing last night, and was thrilled by Palin’s charisma. “She is darling,” my Southern belle gushed. “She’s feisty, she’s fierce—and ohmigod is she beautiful. After five children—did you see that figure?” These are not virtues we should take lightly—in a world where the alternative is four years of staring down Joe Biden’s hairplugs. No less an authority than Aristotle allowed that ethos and delivery were central elements in rhetoric.-John Zmirak, after Palin's speech at the Republican convention

A young man, urged on by his mother, came to me for confession. He really had no faith. We began to have a discussion and, at a certain point, in the face of my diatribe, he laughed and said: "Listen, all that you are trying so forcefully to tell me is not worth as much as what I am about to tell you. You cannot deny that the true grandeur of man is represented by Dante's Capaneus, that giant chained by God to Hell, yet who cries to God, "I cannot free myself from these chains because you bind me here. You cannot, however, free me from blaspheming you, and so I blaspheme you.' This is the true grandeur of man." After being unsettled for a few seconds, I said calmly, "But isn't it even greater to love the infinite?" -Giussani's "Religious Sense" via Frederick of "Deep Furrows"

When we are in a burning train wreck in progress, and we have definite and clear means to get out and to rescue many others in the process, we have a concrete obligation to actually do so. If doing so violates our economic theories about actions and consequences that tells us something about our economic theories; it doesn't tell us anything about our concrete moral obligations right here and now. So color me unimpressed when it is suggested that the Chicago School is against the government injecting liquidity into the market to prevent a disastrous collapse with global implications. The last century or so is littered with the bodies of people who have suffered and even died for the sake of vindicating economic theories. "Let Main Street burn, because my economic theory tells me we should" is not a proposition I find it even slightly tempting to adopt. - Zippy of Zippy Catholic

First Thing We Do, Let's Retain All the Lawyers - title of ABC News blog post via Terrence Berres, regarding Joe Biden's boast that he's that he's "done more than any other senator combined" for trial lawyers

September 29, 2008

Parody is Therapy updated for your bemusement...
PTL & Pass the Ammunition!

Well, wow, to quote the famed philosopher Gomer S. Pyle: "Sir-prise, Sir-prise!"

Did I misread Congress or what? Turns out those ol' rascals in the Republican House bunker were the ones rallyin' the opposition!?

Even Gen'l Gingrich of the Fightin' 69th said yesterday that he would have voted for the plan given the lack of alternatives.

Tis a deadly combination when you bring together gambler-purists willing to commit hari-kari and regular folk who've forgotten that there is any connection between Wall Street & Main Street due to decades of left-wing propaganda. To paraphrase Robert E. Lee, it's well that wars and depressions are so terrible lest we grow too fond of them.

So here's today's market tip: stock up on survival gear manufacturers! Yep it's gun-buyin' time folks! Whoa Nellie, it's gonna be a rough one! A good ol' fashioned Noreaster's a blowin'!

I have to say it is rather exhilarating, especially seeing how we were all getting tired of jobs and 401k accounts and...er... food, right?

Because, you know, some day the survivalists have to be right, and I'm moving their way: "I'm comin' to meet you 'Lizbeth!" (say like Fred Sanford).

The pluperfect clue that something was amiss was when I heard "executive compensation" being bandied about a few days ago. Now I hate golden parachutes as much as the next guy, agreeing with Dennis Miller that these CEOs should be given actual, gold-colored parachutes and told to jump from ten-thousand feet up, but that was a ominous sign of the unseriousness of the discussion. It's like the passengers on the Titanic spending their precious time writing up a resolution to denounce the Captain after the ship had hit the iceberg.

Right 'bout now I suspect there's a whole bunch of giddy House Republicans drivin' their Chevys to the levy drinkin' whiskey and rye singing "This'll be the day the economy dies!"
Faith Differs From Knowledge

If the Shroud is the true burial cloth of Christ, it seems no accident that the part of it carbon-dated in 1988 was a repair patch.
One Family in History

I'm in the midst of an interesting if likely unproductive project, that of a near-simultaneous reading of the William F. Buckley family memoirs. WFB comes from a family of twelve, at least four of whom have memoirs which make prominent mention of their prodigious family. All have slightly different perspectives but, like the gospels, perhaps that lends greater truth for the diversity.

I read them in part to see what went wrong for the youngest Buckley, whose life was marked by much sadness and loss of faith. She had the same parents and upbringing - or did she? She describes herself as an "only child" amid ten since she was the youngest, with six years between her and the next youngest. The primary differences between her and her siblings appear to be: a) lack of a parental bond b) growing up in a different, less stable, era and c) less sibling interaction.

It's tempting to attempt to try to separate these influences, especially in regard to the loss of faith. What caused what? But after reading Amy Welborn's post about St. Therese, it seems a fool's game. St. Therese was born in a good era (understanding that all eras are deeply flawed) to saintly (literally) parents, had great companions, no pernicious influences or errant experimentation and yet still felt strong feelings of atheism. If there was ever a "hothouse flower" in terms of nature & nurture, it's St. Therese the Little Flower. (Of course she is a saint...but faith resists forensic and empirical study.)
Week in the Rear View

Amy Welborn has moved away from the Midwest and I feel a bit poorer for it. “Many hands make light work” they say, and I liked that she was up here adding her hands to holding back the line against the winter foe. (I’m likely under the mistaken impression that winter doesn’t really exist in Birmingham; Steven Riddle mentioned that in Orlando area he wore no jacket the first winter there, but then a jacket the second winter, and now wears a winter coat. It’s all relative, except when it’s not.) I attribute to the Deep South the sort of romanticism that many a Northerner does. Greater gentility, a slower, more satisfying way of life, pretty women, hot toddies, and warm hospitality. Or pretty toddies and hot women? I get corn-fused.

* * *

I was a bit disturbed by how much more difficult Thursday’s bingo than bingo’s past, particularly because I only worked only part of the evening, as Kim will testify as I was subbing for her until 7:30, give or take. I think a big part of it is that all the novelty of bingo has been completely stripped. In the beginning, the first year or two, everything was so new that it offered an adrenalin rush. I recall with nostalgia the quiet non-smoker’s room to which I would repair in order to breathe air with oxygen.

Since I am by nature private, the public thing was a big step out. The bingo players had been built up by fellow bingo volunteers as tigers without cages such that you had to be tough skinned to survive, and yet I did.

Bingo held a sort of anti-glamour and after the glow of fatigue and camarderie with other bingo workers I would come home, feeling sort of holy from the effort and would write inspired. Oddly(?), I’m closer to my bingo co-workers than my corporate co-workers.

But now I have nothing to write about bingo. I think it’s a writing vein that has been tapped, although I never expected it would be worth writing about and so that was all bonus. There were all sorts of eccentric people, people I would never normally see in my daily life. But eventually, alas, it is a fact of human nature that a church bingo hall would become something less than…say…Broadway.

Bingo is a genre that, like spam poetry, seems to have been spent. I’ll miss it!

* * *

I’m still thrown back by the big financial bailout. Or more to the point, by the reaction against it. There's an unlikely coalition of populists whose view of economics is, in my opinion, lacking, and uber-principled conservatives. Including Ham o' Bone and my stepson. It’s amazing how out-of-step I am with “Main Street” as well as with my fellow hardcore conservatives. It seems as though issues are clarifying the Catlick conservative community. I feel a bit chagrined to notice I don’t take the “purer” stand on either not voting for McCain because of his support of ESCR or against the bailout. It’s likely thin gruel to know that I wouldn’t have voted for Giulliani or if McCain had nominated a pro-choicer. Coulda, woulda, yeah.

One thing is for sure: to the extent the financial crisis has global consequences America owes the world an apology for this FUBAR.

* * *

Watched the first Office episode. It was okay, but not as magical as it used to be.
* * *


Wednesday was water aerobics, which I shorten to “aerobics” when mentioning in mixed company so as to preserve my heterosexuality. (Or some absymally small fraction of coolness.) Our instructor was absent this week. Last week I felt proud to have asked her a question she’d never heard before. I’d said, “why exercise our stomach muscles when anything you exercise gets bigger, and my stomach is big enough already thank-you-very-much?”. She explained that our stomach muscles are not our biceps or quads. Their maximum size is so small as to not significantly alter belly size.

Well, they say there’s no such thing as a dumb question, don’t they?

She was absent because she’d lost her voice, presumably from her day job as a roller derby gal. Well, now, that’s different.
Blog Alert

After a blog hiatus of three years, Mary (formerly of "Ever New") begins anew with Broken Alabaster.

September 28, 2008

More Bailout

Seems I was under the mistaken impression that the options last week were limited to only two: to let everything fail, or to pass the Paulson plan. (Of course politically-speaking, maybe those were the only alternatives?) Warren Coats writes:
If the intent is really to restore liquidity to MBSs rather than to raise their value and thus the capital of those institutions holding them, the scheme is unnecessary because the Federal Reserve can lend banks any amount against these MBSs as collateral and has already introduced new lending facilities with longer maturities...

According to Mallaby, "Within hours of the Treasury announcement Friday, economists had proposed preferable alternatives. Their core insight is that it is better to boost the banking system by increasing its capital than by reducing its loans."
Not surprisingly the root cause was assessed as the assumption among nearly everyone that houses would always go up, and thus only collateral need be examined, not ability to pay a mortgage:
Peter Fisher, former Treasury Undersecretary for Domestic Finance, has argued that over-reliance on collateral (for a mortgage, the house itself is the collateral) rather than cash flow (an assessment of the ability of the borrower to pay) lending has contributed both to lax underwriting standards (e.g. no-doc or liars loans) and lax monitoring of the enforcement of those standards.
Coats continued by saying that the only way to keep borrowers honest is through a down payment:
A critical feature of keeping borrowers honest and thus of relying on borrowers' assessments of their own ability to meet their payment obligations is to insure that they have enough of their own money at risk. Thus a reasonable down payment is critical. The traditional norm was 20% but government-sponsored FHA loans require as little at 3%. When borrowers have little or no financial stake in the loan, stricter regulation and scrutiny of their income and credit worthiness is needed.
Similarly, the only way to keep voters honest is by making everyone - even those of low income - pay some tax? Otherwise why not vote for every government tax increase? I think that part of the dismay and anger liberals felt was wondering why every single lower income voter wasn't voting for big government. They thought: "Hey, we've made it so you don't have to pay taxes, so you don't have any skin in the game. So why aren't you voting for our (free to you) programs?"

The problem, many say, is that the free market isn't applied to big corporations since they are "too big to fail". The thinking goes that if we would allow them to fail, then they would be more responsible next time. Which may be true, but what always follows any financial crisis is more socialism, not less. FDR excesses grew out of the '29 crash.

I don't know how you get back to freedom, once you've given part of it away. Because citizens run a democracy but our citizens don't ever credit a free market, or freedom in general, when things go well. But we certainly blame freedom when things go awry -- which leads to more regulation and less freedom, until the next thing goes awry, in which even more freedom is stripped.

September 27, 2008

Nuns & Bars

It’s telling that Bill O’Reilly has titled his memoir after what a Catholic nun called him in third grade: “a bold fresh piece of humanity”. Here he is fifty-some years later -- after having been described by thousands if not tens of thousands of people – and he chooses to refer to himself, or at least his memoir, the way that nun did.

Did that religious sister define him or did she simply recognize what was already in him? Did she, by nature of her vocation, possess an authority greater than the others who would label him? Or did she simply recognize, by dint of her vocation, his "bold freshness"?

Teachers have an especial ability, I think, to see differences in kids that parents can’t. While most families may have three or four children in which to compare, a teacher has the advantage of thirty or forty every year for decades. A teacher is in a good position, if he or she is paying attention, to see the essence of a given child simply by virtue of having seen so many. They are in a place to point a child towards his or her destiny. And it’s telling that one perceptive nun saw Bill O’Reilly and assessed him as a “bold, fresh piece of humanity”.

At the time Sister Ruth said it I didn’t take it seriously as I didn’t consider teachers as having too much sense. If they were so smart, what were they doing teaching us? Shouldn’t they be doing something important with their lives? It’s funny how a line from a teacher we’ll remember to our dying day, like O’Reilly and his third-grade teacher. My fifth-grade teacher called me “a dreamer”. I would that I recall her catechesis as much as her description of me, but those who would define us at an age when we’re trying to find out who we are have power.

I never thought of myself as a dreamer and at the time dismissed it as humorous. But I secretly cherished it as a compliment; I might've been called far worse. And in the years post-collegiate it seemed downright prophetic. She was of German stock, so I still half-tried to dismiss it by thinking that practical Germans would think of the Irish as dreamers, but… I couldn't be sure if she hadn’t seen something in me I’d missed for being too close. I suspected that she'd been right all along.

* * *

Like it or not, I spend far more time in the associative rather than disassociative mode nowadays. But it's with great fondness I half-recall those halycon half-drunk days at Victory's, when you could stare at the sheen of the bar wood profitably. Isn’t it remarkable that a few moments, among the zillions spent there, stick out so profoundly, moments that were otherwise completely uneventful?

Girls appeared like gazelles in the mid-distance, grazing on beer nuts and cocktails. Marty led the charge with his “walk of champions”, which roused us from our reveries like a call of revelry. I went through the motions for his sake.

There was, in that time, the expanse of time. Must you waste time in order to feel its expanse, or is it that its expanse is not meant to be felt but in periods of drudgery? Marty was the actuary of excess, an accountant who insisted we keep a “beer log” in order to make even that a competition. That this tendency is ingrained is scarcely deniable; it can easily be imagined Adam betting Eve on how long it would take an ant to travel to a piece of fruit. I thought he was far too analytical given such a disassociative activity as drinking.

September 26, 2008

Signs of a Bubble

When you hear "you just don't get it" you may be seeing a bubble. From Camassia:
I was at a seminar that the CFA Institute puts on periodically to help journalists read financial statements. (A very good thing of them to do, I might add.) A bond trader was telling me and another journalist about his company’s past dealings with Enron. Even before the company collapsed, the place frightened him, for two reasons. One, he did not understand what they did. They had a great number of businesses scattered around the world, and reported revenue streams from mysterious sources. Secondly, he said, they were bullies. At one point when he criticized one of the management’s new schemes, the executive office got on the horn with his boss, suggesting that the bond trader might find another occupation because he was “not a believer.”

The other reporter said she’d run into similar attitudes when she was covering dot-coms during the tech boom. In particular, she remembered confronting the management of eToys with their hemorrhaging balance sheets, and being told, “You just don’t get it.”

---

According to Noah Millman, an investment banker who’s been writing about all this with agreeable clarity, the big losses “were incurred by people who were imitating the super-smart guys, but weren’t smart enough to get off the train before it crashed.” Between the newbie bankers who are trying to look smart and the newbie reporters who are trying to look smart, it’s no wonder bubbles keep blowing up until they splatter.
The Way to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

The most amazing statement Pelosi made was not assigning any blame to the Congress. Story here:
For decades, the White House and Congress (and other levels of government) have operated under the (questionable) belief that public policy should promote ever-higher homeownership rates. However, politicians (correctly, I suspect) believed that the public would oppose a broad, explicit taxpayer subsidy program for homebuyers, so they instead encouraged the development of elaborate financial products to provide loans to higher-risk mortgage borrowers — the financial products that have now gone toxic following the collapse of the real estate bubble.

Fannie and Freddie did not issue these higher-risk subprime and “Alt-A” mortgages as part of their traditional operation of purchasing and packaging low-risk “conforming” loans in the secondary market. However, as Charles Calomiris and Peter Wallison explain in their excellent Tuesday WSJ op-ed, Freddie and Fannie became the dominant players in the subprime and Alt-A market, sinking (along with their GSE brethren) more than $1 trillion into the riskier mortgages and growing them from 8 percent of all U.S. mortgage originations in 2003 to more than 20 percent by 2006.

Freddie and Fannie arguably have more government oversight than any other corporations in the United States, with their own federal regulator, regular congressional oversight, and board members appointed by the White House. Yet, all that oversight did not keep the firms from fueling the high-risk mortgage industry; as Chris Edwards notes below, their regulator gave them a clean bill of financial health less than a year ago.

Why the forbearance? Because Fannie and Freddie’s government overseers wanted the firms to achieve political goals, despite the risk that posed. Calomiris and Wallison have the money quote from Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), now chair of the House committee that oversees Freddie and Fannie:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have played a very useful role in helping to make housing more affordable . . . a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing.
One can appreciate Frank’s sentiment. He highly values homeownership for low-income Americans, and he believed that allowing Freddie and Fannie to play (heavily) in the subprime and Alt-A markets would bring the American dream to poor people without (directly) burdening American taxpayers. However, these machinations proved too clever by half.
Heart-breaking story from Carl Olsen....
Test or Relationship?

I think the reason Jesus mentions reward in the gospels - that our reward will be great in Heaven and that we will receive much more than what we give up - is not to motivate us towards a distant goal, so much as to give us a reflection about what that says about Him.

It's to show that He is good. "I want to give you things, not merely take things away" is the jist of it. And as a motivating force the future is generally weak. It's hard to save for a new car, let alone the next life! But we can have Him today in relationship even if the reward spoken of in the gospels may be distant. (I make a purposely false dichotomy here since Christ is our reward.)

I think it's impossibile to be a Christian and focus on the reward, even though in the temporal realm it's true we can be good savers by focusing on our retirement. Why? Because being a Christian is infinitely more difficult than saving for retirement. If our 401K asks for 10% of our income, God asks for everything, our very selves. That is impossible except by focusing on Christ's goodness, which he demonstrated in word and deed. This is the antidote against falling into the easy trap of seeing life as a seemingly pointless test in which God is neutral, as an impartial judge would be.

One of the greatest gifts we can ask of Jesus is the gift of final perservance, but that still focuses on self and "the test". How much more moving and motivating to pray with today's antiphon!: "You are the men who have stood by me faithfully in my trials..." (Lk 22:28) which we could also read as: "You are the men who have stood by me faithfully in your trials." In other words, seeing God as good even in the midst of woe.
I Suspected as Much

I suspected on Wednesday that "the deal" wouldn't happen as quickly as advertised.

After listening to Nancy Pelosi's fiercely partisan rant on NPR, I figured Congress was going to have a heckuva time with it. It certainly changed my opinion of Pelosi. For the first time it became clear to me that the fate of the country is not her primary concern. The interview was remarkable for the chutzpah displayed. Even while she said she knows that not passing the bailout would trigger a financial Armageddon, still she would have her pound of flesh.

There may be no winners here, but it does seem Democrats usually win these sorts of things. Newt Gingrich lost in a budget stand-off with Bill Clinton in '98 because Clinton figured the Republicans were taking the lion's share of the blame for the government shut-down. Dems figure that Republicans simply want this bailout more because of their ties to Wall Street. Republicans think Democrats will be blamed because they own the Congress.

The most dangerous time to play a game of chicken is when both sides think the other will blink.

Update: This bailout, by the way, is also an interesting test of whether our leaders can lead. It may be less that Pelosi on NPR was outraged on her own behalf so much than as she was just doing it to placate her constituents. I had discounted that simply because it's just so hard for me to believe Main Street is so indifferent to its own survival.

Meanwhile, Zippy shoots & scores.

Elsewhere, Ham o' Bone says let the bastards burn:
I find it interesting that the national "mainstream" media have placed Congressman Barney Frank in the de facto spot of on-the-scene expert. It is no different than bringing forth a mugger and proclaiming him as most knowledgeable of the crime committed and charging him with restoring the mugged victim to wholeness...

We are living in "Animal Farm." A corrupt media, fueled mainly by a socially progressive agenda, is distorting all reality with the aim of getting Senator Obama elected. Social Engineering Absolute Truth # 23: The heart of discord between the political parties is one of values: namely, abortion and homosexuality. Though seldom discussed, these issues are at the heart of national rancor. There are economic differences, of course, and the progressives's ongoing support for disproven Marxist policies would be humorous if it weren't dangerous. So the media presents Napoleon the pig (aka the Democratic Party)'s failed policy of mortgages-to-anyone-who-can-make-their-mark-on-the-sign-here-line as a GOP FAILURE that can only be fixed by electing more Democrats. And Barney Frank has become the spokesman.
But my take is that there is no guarantee - in fact almost the opposite - that we would return to a purer free market without the bailout. The 1929 stock market failure was legit and necessary given stock speculation but it was made ineffably worse by FDR, who put the "great" in "Great Depression". Who would be "fixing" things in the aftermath of a non-bailout? You can bet not a Calvin Coolidge! It would be Barney Frank... Barack Obama. It's one thing to fall on your sword because you believe future generations will be better off. But I see no indication of that here since I don't think people and their elective representatives see this as a result of government interference in the free market.
The Subprime Primer

Here's your one-stop shopping guide to how it all happened. (Warning: link contains profanity.)
Septembers Past

September is a coy mistress. She's still warm and summery but with the margins erased, the mornings a bit cool for reading and the evenings cut black with darkness.

Yet the leaves are still green and the sky the hue of robin's egg. Shadows are thicker somehow, everything having a Hitchcock profile, a foreshadow of winter with the sun adding melodrama.

In ages past, Septembers and Octobers were vivified by Reds baseball. During the '70s nearly every year was a fight for the pennant, which made the weather seem irrelevant (except in the case of a rain-out).

That I'm a baseball fan and my brother a football fan may be an accident of chronology. I was born in the wheelhouse of the Big Red Machine, enjoying Reds' World Series visits when I was 7, 9, 12 and 13, while my brother was born in the Bengals era. By the time he reached the age of reason, the Reds had shipped Tony Perez off to the Expos and the Reds were dead but the Bengals were in the pre-Mike Brown era, which means they still had life. They went to the Superbowl in January of '82 and '88, when my brother was 12 and 16.

In memory, if not in actuality, it was right around the moon landing that Mom told us that there was going to be another member of the family. "What, we're adopting!?"

My best friend's family had just adopted a Vietnamese girl and so I naturally thought it was catching. I was clueless concerning Mom's developing paunch. Grandma had one too but that didn't mean she was pregnant, and Mom was every bit as old as Grandma in a six-year old's eyes.

No, Mom was going to have a baby.

This was news, much bigger than that of men landing on the moon. What was the big deal about that anyway, I wondered. A full moon looked two, maybe three miles away. (I figured NASA had waited for a full moon to make it an easier target.)

Adults seemed to get excited over the wrong things. Like beer and moon landings when there were much more awesome things all around us, like the fact that you could fit a 20-piece orchestra in a box called a stereo.

Or like the fact that babies, like deaths, could happen at any moment. My whole life there'd been the four of us, at least as far back as I could recall, and I was likely a conservative even then -- change was guilty until proven so. Certainly any non-sports or non-science news was, by definition during that era, bad.

My brother spent his formative years in a completely different era. He grew up, or at least became increasingly conscious of the world beyond the family, from 1975-1985, while I did from 1968-1978. I grew up when only bad news emanated. From the Vietnam war to Nixon's resignation to Carter's ineptitude and the Iranian hostage crisis, it was a period of American history when nothing went right. It was also the era of Pope Paul VI, who sadly seemed to be as relevant to the American church as Queen Elizabeth was to the British parliament.

My brother grew up in the John Paul II era and during the Reagan Revolution, which lead to a series of good news shocks that eventually led to the unthinkable: the fall of the Berlin Wall in September 1989, followed by the fall of Soviet Communism.

September 25, 2008

A Constipated Market & the Senate Cush Job

Capitalism runs on trust, on confidence. It's the other fuel of the economy. Keeps it "regular".

So when I heard last week reports surface about bad loans "clogging" the market*, I was unsure what exactly that meant. It turns out that it means simply that banks were not lending to other banks anymore. No trust, since no one knows which banks have bad loans and what percentage is bad.

This is important because no bank, like no human, can stand alone. Each one has reserves far smaller than its outstanding deposits. So if some big investor or a lot of little investors ask for their money, that bank would have to borrow from another bank. If the bank can't borrow, then...well...can you say "bank run"? And, of course, all the banks in the United States together can't produce the deposits of all its depositors. That's part of why this is important to Main Street.

* - visions of my "toilet-poor" days come to mind
* * *

Another reason Peggy Noonan may be right in saying that most people don't think either McCain or Obama is qualified to be president is that both have gone AWOL from the Senate for about a year now without any discernable effect on the republic. Same with Hillary.

In fact, Obama was content to sit out the negotiaions regarding the financial bailout, a crisis that Warren Buffet calls "an economic Pearl Harbor". In other words, Barack Obama is so insignificant in the Senate in terms of expertise that he is not needed on arguably one of the most important bills of the last decade.

Or perhaps this is just indicative that the Senate is one of the easiest jobs anyone can aspire to. After all, Obama found time to write two books, one fairly serious. Not ghost-written. He's basically a full-time writer with a day job! Just how intellectually demanding can these Senate jobs be?

Not very, apparently. And if you look at the calendar in January, you see that there was a whole lot of nothing getting done. Mostly resolutions on order of congratulating the Super Bowl champions. You can't make it up.

(Of course as a conservative I'm not too upset about the lack of things that get done in D.C. since there's a great chance they muck it up. Perhaps it's a tinge of unwarranted envy or perhaps it's that they still find time to spend a heckuva lot of money.)

As Jim Curley recently wrote:
I am not sure either of "the candidates" are impressing many with their "leadership" during this "financial crisis". Both seem to be "responders" rather than leaders...Kudos now to John McCain in belatedly recognizing this and getting back to Congress give his input.
Various & Sundry

It was interesting to see our local diocesan newspaper list blogs in a cover story on the online Catlick world. I was surprised to see no listing of Mark Shea in the seventeen blogs covered; I'd always thought of blog popularity as similar to the evangelical view of salvation: once popular, always popular. But you can lose your popularity, and I think Mark Shea's hard-edge has cost him. Of course, losing status by itself costs him nothing in terms of eternal or even temporal value. I was also surprised to discover that of the variety of different blogs listed I only regularly read Amy Welborn. I feel way out of the blog mainstream (blogstream?). It did remind me that I really should add Shrine of the Holy Whapping to my bloglines.

While on the subject, I don't think it's betraying a confidence to say that the blogger at "Sancta Sanctis" is looking forward to the end of the U.S. elections so that peace and edification will reign anew in the blog world. It's gotten so bad that she's beat a retreat for the home schooling blogs, despite not being a mother or home schooler. And indeed, blogging about politics is the biggest waste since the last government program, but you know, see my blog title. Amy Welborn has the discipline of ten men in not blogging about the subject despite being immersed in it. It's one thing to resist its allures when you're consciously not reading it, but to feel passionately about it and not blog about it? Why, that's positively unbloglike. But then that's part of why she's a national treasure, which Mark Shea accurately said in his more popular days.

UPDATE: Odd, but a reader pointed out that Mark Shea is on the Internet version of the list (though not the hard copy). Hmmm... Gregg suggested it was the power of my blog! But then why isn't my blog listed? Huh? Oh yeah, my blog is self-indulgent and not popular enough, both of which I rather like. Obscurity is grand. But it could be that the blogmaster of the diocesan website reads my blog though I rather doubt it. There was at least one other blog added, in addition to Shea's. I did get a few Columbus-area hits today so I can't rule it out. Everyone loves a good mystery - call this one "The Case of the Suddenly Appearing Shea Link".
Reconsidering...

I think that, over time, growth in holiness makes it more difficult to vote because one becomes more keenly aware of the evils espoused by candidates and one becomes more scrupulous in that regard. Perhaps it's a natural thing, in the spiritual sense of the word. I was watching the Padre Pio movie the other day, and St. Pio made use of a former con man in the building of his hospital and said to him afterwards 'now let's go to the confessional' since the con man apparently wasn't completely reformed. When the con man is perfectly reformed perhaps his fund-raising contacts will eschew him, such that he will be used differently, just as those who can no longer vote for a major party candidate will also, even if it be simply in their prayers for our country, prayers which carry more weight by virtue of their virtue. It is hard to watch really good people take themselves out of the voting pool, or, rather, to see God take them from the voting pool, but then the maintenance of society is not job one and their collective prayers offer far more than their collective vote.

I've just started Archbishop Chaput's book "Render under Caesar" so hopefully that will help clarify things.

September 24, 2008

Ingenious

Lucky Charms is one of those cereals always on the cusp of cereal greatness but never quite there. You may buy it once in a blue moon, when you have a craving for those little colored marshmellows. Or you may get it for purposes of nostalgia even though it was your sister's favorite cereal and thus somehow tainted. (Your nostalgia may vary.)

But imagine my surprise when recently I came across Chocolate Lucky Charms! The dude who came up with that ought be promoted. Some see cereals as they are and ask why? Others see cereals as they could be with chocolate and say, why not?

This helps refute the fallacy that nothing is as good as "back in our day"! Modern progress occasionally does improve things. Kudos to General Mills for refusing to rest on their cerealic laurels and for providing a replacement for Count Chocula, which I can't find anymore.
Narrative Wednesday

It was the summer we were transfixed by Sarah Palin, whose name (let alone looks) launched a thousand neologisms. The Palinator, Sarahcuda, Palintropic...

She would not be "borked", to borrow another name-turned-verb. She was too pretty to be demonized by grave voice-overs saying: "Imagine Sarah Palin's America...". We already had and we liked it. She was lipstick and they were trying to apply the pig. It didn't work.

Yet I marveled at the inability of any of the four candidates to say anything remotely interesting other than a few humorous Palinesque lines at the Republican convention. The utter lack of depth seemed an indictment of the education system. How different, I said, was the era of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

"No," said a friend. "Don't you realize things are far more complex today, in this globalized society, than in Lincoln's time?"

"We're not undereducated," another friend said, "but overeducated. We water down the training of the elites by educating the masses, many of whom would be far happier farming or shoeing horses had we the jobs."

My mind was too filled with other thoughts to respond. I was soaking in the details of the Great Financial Bailout of '08 in order to satisfy that human need to find genesis and scapegoat. I was impatient to apportion the blame between lenders and government, leaders and indebted Americans, the press and the oppressed, original sin, unoriginal sin, nature, nurture-- Calgon take me away!

The crisis felt a kind of crossroads, a great melting pot of latter-day faults: piss-poor leadership, destructive do-goodism in the form of lending practices requiring no income statement, a lack of thrift, a lack of common sense in the face of ideology.

But out of it slithered a sliver of humility. A treasury secretary was forced to say the obvious: "This is a disaster! We are not in control."

For once, it seemed, someone in government told the truth.
My Mission!
Me: "Hey honey, we have to take regular vacations, like as often as we can afford."

My wife: "Why?"

Me: "Because I have a responsibility for those who vicariously vacation through me! They are counting on us!"
Yes, I have to admit that vicarious suffering is not something I'm particularly good at, nor am I great at pentential suffering. But I am pretty good at vicarious vacationing (although I could always use practice in order to keep up with the Jeff Sawyers of the world).

So please send your vacation requests to me*. As I told a co-worker the other day, "I give and I give."

* - nowhere cold -- that would be vicarious suffering.
Taken on a Visit to Local Park

September 23, 2008

Three Cheers...

...for John Zmirak! That's what I'm talking about Willis!

I'm always amazed by non-believers calling the Christian message "wishful thinking" -- because you don't have to be all that creative to have wished far more wishfully.

For example, the quote goes "carry your cross" rather than "jettison that bad boy as soon as you see it".
How Important is '08?

In the investment world, capital preservation instruments like money market funds are often looked down upon. It's like keeping a money in a mattress, some experts sneer. But if every other investment is losing money hand over fist then capital preservation doesn't look so bad. Sure you are losing purchasing power by putting your money under the mattress, but you're not losing your shirt either.

I feel similarly about McCain vis-a-vis Obama, and Ramesh Ponnuru bolsters flagging motivation in the latest NR by bringing up something that gets tossed around a lot: whether it would be better if Republicans lost this time around in order to set the table for a more favorable future environoment to conservatism. I have to admit the thought crossed my mind that if Obama has a Carter-like presidency it could disrupt the normal cycle of liberalism's turn at governance. (Arthur Schlesinger theorized that conservativism and liberalism generally have fifteen-year cycles of strength.)

Ponnuru's first reason hoping for a McCain victory is foreign policy. He then continues by pointing out an Obama win insures Roe v. Wade will persist another generation, while likely spawning other "rights":
My second reason is judges. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens is 88; Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 75. Surely both would retire in order to let President Obama extend their liberal activism for several decades. David Souter, 69, might also retire...Even if Obama merely kept the current liberal-conservative balance, Roe v. Wade would stay on the books for another generation. If he tilted it farther leftward, the Court would surely invent a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, reinvent one to partial-birth abortion, and make the death penalty a dead letter. And then: Mandatory voting rights for felons? A right to euthanasia? The possibilities might not be limitless, but they would not be limited by the Constitution.

A Republican sweep in 2012, assuming it happened, would undo almost none of the damage. Even a dozen years of conservative appointments to the Court might not undo it. None of the major activist precedents of the Warren Court has been reversed.

...McCain may pick the wrong nominee, as Reagan sometimes did and any Republican might, or he may cut a bad deal with Senate Democrats. If so, it would mean only that some of his appointees turned out by accident to be as liberal as all of Obama’s would be by design. Only one Democratic appointee of the last half century, Byron White, has not been a reliable liberal activist.

The third reason is health care. As James Capretta has pointed out in these pages (September 1), Obama’s health-care plan is designed to evolve into a national health-insurance program along the lines of Canada’s. The resulting government monopoly or near-monopoly on health insurance would stifle innovation, require bureaucratic rationing, and infringe on freedom. But it would also move American politics permanently leftward...

First, the inevitable disappointments and failures of a nationalized system would just as inevitably be blamed on underfunding, creating a bidding war that liberals would usually win. On those occasions when voters understood that spending had to be controlled, they would prefer that liberals control it, so as to do the bare minimum necessary.

Second, the creation of a new health-care regime would alter the incentives for all the interest groups involved. In the short run, at least, squeezing money out of the government system would be more advantageous than abolishing it.

Third, the creation of a new system would make free-market alternatives look more radical to the public than they do now, because they would be more radical. The public’s aversion to risk, which now hurts advocates of liberal policies as much as it helps them, would only help them.

So national health insurance could be a lasting political success for liberals even if it is a colossal policy failure; it could, indeed, succeed politically because of its failures.
The best argument George Will can come up contra McCain is this:
Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.
And yet who was more "intensely personal" and Manichean than George Bush, who considered Saddam Hussein evil but Vlad Putin a soul-mate? What could be more impulsive than removing Hussein without having a post-war plan? And yet George Bush gave us two very strong Supreme Court justices, while his cautious and reflective father gave us David Souter. I don't see any reason to suppose that McCain wouldn't give us good judges.
From National Review TV

Politics and Catholics with Archbishop Chaput

Peter Robinson interviews...
Movie Recommendation

That which applies to books also applies to films: you can't judge one by the cover.

When I saw the title Padre Pio: Miracle Man I was thinking this was a movie about the miracles and healings, a sort of supernatural equivalent of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman".

Au contraire. It might be a stretch to call it a Lord of the Rings set in early 20th-century Italy but...it has that element of the display of heroism under conditions of constant temptation. It's also beautifully photographed.

The actor portraying Pio was very persuasive in displaying a spine of steel with a heart of love -- that which is so foreign to our modern view of love as license. The temptations he experienced were palpable, including a scene with his ill father who'd asked him to ask God for healing but Pio said no, that he had an arrangement with God to never ask for anything for himself, but only for others.

Today is the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
         

My son is in Rome [and] asked me today about the “wax effigy ” of John XXIII in St. Peter’s. Uh…not a wax effigy. “What? I thought maybe he was buried underneath it or something.” Nope. It’s him. In the flesh. Welcome to Rome! - Amy Welborn

I knew labor was coming the night before, and I was scared. I prepared for birth by reading the lives (or more accurately, the deaths) of the North American martyrs. Contractions, I reasoned, could hardly be as bad as having your thumb bitten off. And given that a week and a half later, I'm not in pain and still have my thumb, I think that assessment was correct. - Mrs. Darwin

This generation -- whether Jesus' or our own -- has initiated nothing. Everything, everything we do is in response to what God has already done, even if we think we're acting first. Yes, sometimes we pray to God to do something, then wait to see if He dances or weeps as we've directed Him. But it is an illusion to think our prayer is the first movement, that it creates the relationship -- and just as well to see it as an illusion, since the terms on which we create such a relationship will sooner or later lead to ruin. It is, rather, God, always, Who calls to us. The Son came [action verb] to reveal [action verb] the Father. The story of salvation is the story of God's action and our response (or, as in this simile, our lack of response). The Way may be narrow, but there are many places to step onto it, and God invites us at each place. - Tom of Disputations

I’m consistently surprised how little one needs to know in order to find things on the web. Like so much on the Web, YouTube is set up to suck you into an endless chain of clicks that will lead you to quit your day job and surf forever down an endlessly breaking wave of stuff almost interesting enough to be worth your attention. You know how it works. Next to your selection, the search mechanism offers related items. Looking for a copy of The Golden Bowl by Henry James? Very good, and by the way, there’s also Wings of a Dove, and a biography of James, and even a copy of The Golden Bough by James Frazier. Well, you haven’t thought about Frazier for years, but you’ve always wanted to read that classic in early anthropology. So you click, and soon you’re distracted by still other related items: a book about the California gold rush, a DVD of Treasure of the Sierra Madre that has old footage of interviews with John Huston, and then a whole fascinating set of images of ancient Egyptian ceramics. - R.R. Reno of "First Things"

Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not color, but to accept God's final word on where your lips end. - Jerry Steinfeld

Kafka’s humor–not only not neurotic but anti-neurotic, heroically sane, is, finally, a religious humor, but religious in the manner of Kierkegaard and Rilke and the Psalms, a harrowing spirituality against which even Ms. [Flannery] O’Connor’s bloody grace seems a little bit easy, the souls at stake pre-made...You can ask [students] to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door. To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens . . . and it opens outward–we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. - David Foster Wallace

I like comments. Waaaay too much sometimes. I will sit on the edge of my seat sometimes and wait for comments to come in. Well, not really, but it feels that way. Especially when the comments don't come. I watch and wait for a day or two, then I gradually forget that I've written anything at all. With more controversial posts, it is a bit different. It's not the excitement of having someone contribute to a discussion, it's a morbid fascination--the proverbial train wreck. With anxiety, anticipation, and dread, I wait for the lashes. I do the same when I follow heated comments on others' blogs. I can't help myself. This leads to my not posting on certain topics sometimes, until the bottled-up thoughts come bursting forth. And then, the waiting, and the contradicting, and the endless explaining. And that takes up a lot of time that I should be using for other things. - Blogger at "Words, words"

It is not we who have something to offer; it is He Who has something to offer. - Henry of "A Plumbline in the Wind"

Two quick points about the common complaints regarding "certain bishops, whose criticism of politicians sometimes seems designed to be exploited for partisan purposes." First, the complainers are always more upset that the Republicans can exploit the bishops' statements than that the Democrats are so easily condemned. (Of course, it used to be the other way around.) When Catholic teaching amounts to criticism of a particular political party, should Catholics condemn the criticism or the political party? Second, the complainers seem to want the bishops' words to be completely ineffective -- what effect could they have, after all, that wouldn't be partisan? But why should what a bishop says have no effect? - Tom of Disputations

The principle of double effect notwithstanding I can't think of any reason that it is morally justifiable to link to an article by Commonweal. - Commenter on Disputations

Joe Biden is the only Catholic candidate in the Presidential or Vice-Presidential races. He is my brother, and we are one in the body of Christ. So it is with great disappointment that I lament his prostituting his mother, the Church, for a few electoral points. - Frederick of "Deep Furrows"
Investing Like it's 1629  (sing to the old Prince song)

If houses hadn't fallen in price there would've been no crisis, sayeth the NY Times.

It was also said that home prices fell dramatically in price primarily due to rampant speculation (a bubble was created) during the early '00s.

There would likely not have been rampant speculation in houses if the stock market, the normal target of reckless speculation, had not already crashed in 2000 due to reckless speculation.

You could say we just keep moving from one speculative bubble to another and learn nothing from it. So here is my public service announcment to the Baby Boomers: you're not going to get double-digit returns like you did during the '80s and '90s in the stock market. Live it, love it, learn it.
Contra the Pelgians and Predestinationists

The homilist said to the congregation:

"If God is in charge
then why hell?
If man is in charge,
then why Christ?"

"There is no resolving it,"
said the pale-haired priest,
"except in personal relationship."
Metabloggic Musings

I think enough time has passed, or at least it feels so in blogtime (where two days = two weeks) such that I can poke my head out again. I recently experienced the mortification of accidentally publishing a diary entry and it reminded me that the word "embarrassment" comes from the vulgar Anglo-Saxonism "to bare [one's] ass". (I just made that up, but it seems plausible.) It wasn't quite embarrassing enough to give up blogging, apparently, as here I am.

Anyway, finding the post generated a flurry of work in the form of quickly gathering ten or so posts in which to bury the offending entry for aggregate readers, the theory being that a daunting dozen entries or so from Video Meloria would lessen any appeal to dig. Of course I'd re-updated the greatly slimmed-down entry and re-published to prevent viewing by those who visit the html rather than the xml. A quick peek at SiteMeter revealed maybe thirty hits. The overseas hits felt totally painless given the salve of the anonymity of distance.

September 20, 2008

From My Bro-In-Law...

It's interesting to see the marked efficiency of local boards of elections:
So, we moved last year, and I registered to vote in Champaign County and voted out here last year in November. About a month ago, the Franklin County Board of Elections sends us some mail asking if we moved, and to confirm that we did in fact move and to provide our new home address. We did that (seemed redundant, since I had registered to vote out here already).

Then we get two more they mailings asking us to confirm that we've moved. These two mailings had two contradictory boxes already checked for us ("You've move to an address within Franklin County" and "You've moved outside Franklin County"), and asking us to fill these out and return these to them. All these are postpaid by Franklin County Board of Elections.

During this time, both [my wife and I] have rec'd 2 postcards from the Champaign County Board of Elections telling us which precinct we're registered in and where to vote.

There are about 1,000 homes/month that change hands -- about 12,000 of mailings nonsense per year. Just in postage (which is probably not the majority of the expense), we're talking $20,000. Then the permanent staff to make all that happen is likely very well paid ... Not to mention the consultants they hire. What a waste of taxpayer money and human effort.
Quote...

...from "Education of Henry Adams" that would seem to illustrate the difference between liberals and conservatives:
Politics offered no difficulties, for there the moral law was a sure guide. Social perfection was also sure, because human nature worked for Good, and three instruments were all she asked —Suffrage, Common Schools, and Press. On these points doubt was forbidden. Education was divine, and man needed only a correct knowledge of facts to reach perfection:

September 19, 2008

Ross Douthat on Porn and Adultery
The Woes of the Book World

So publishing ends up looking like a mini-Hollywood, but even more dependent on sleeper hits and semi-reliable franchises. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code buoyed Random House tremendously in the past five years, but with Brown’s sequel delayed, sales were down 5.6 percent last year. When Simon & Schuster announced that sales were off almost 10 percent in the first half of ’08, it cited the 2007 success of The Secret as the reason for the relative shortfall. Other companies did better—but on the strength of surprise hits. Sales grew 11 percent both at Penguin and at Hachette’s U.S. division, largely on the backs of two authors—Oprah-touted self-helper Eckhart Tolle at Penguin and Stephenie Meyer at Little, Brown.
* * *

Peck sees an increasingly hostile environment for the kind of books he used to write. “When you get $100,000 for a novel,” he says, “you want $150,000 and then $200,000, so when they pay you $25,000 for the next one, and my rent is $2,500 a month, what do you do? The system works just fine for commercial fiction. But for literary fiction, I think we had a nice run of it in the commercial world.”
What McCain Should Be Saying

The whole reformer thing leaves me cold, mostly because I see the problem with the federal government has having to do with its size and inefficiency rather than its flat-out corruption. Ross Douthat writes:
A couple days ago, I suggested a few ways that John McCain could have put together a more ideological creative campaign - running as a Sam's Club candidate, running as a Rockefeller-Repub centrist on issues like health care, or running as a Perotista deficit hawk and entitlement reformer. Now Daniel Henninger has his own suggestion - more porkbusting, but with greater specifics than McCain has offered to date:

The problem isn't standard political corruption. The problem is that the $2.8 trillion federal budget is a vast ocean of Beltway pilot fish feeding off scraps from the whale -- lawyers, lobbyists, ex-Members of Congress. No one runs the Sea of Washington. It's too big, too deep.

Barack Obama wants to dig a deeper hole. John McCain should ask the American people if they want this to go on, because it's nonsense to vote for government to do "more" and then whine when it doesn't work or degrades into sweetheart-deal hell.

Unfocused "reform" rhetoric from Mr. McCain isn't enough. The public has been there, heard that. Sen. McCain should talk about what he knows -- fat Fannie and Freddie, farm-bill bloat, the ethanol subsidy fiasco, the federal procurement mess. Show people Gov. Palin's 18 single-spaced pages of 2007 vetoes. Then identify Congress's bipartisan supporters of the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act and ask the voters' support. Appear with GOP congressman from Sarah's new generation who want to help -- Eric Cantor of Virginia, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Kevin McCarthy of California. There are others.

Promise to spend the first two years on this historic political reform effort, and if a Democratic Congress laughs, promise to barnstorm in 2010 for a Congress willing to act, from any party.
George Will, meanwhile, thinks that McCain should be making the case for divided government, by running against the awful things the Democrats might do.
Reading

I’m falling horribly behind in my reading. There has been a sudden onrush of new titles, like Bill O’Reilly’s memoir in which I hope to see glimpses of what causes his “Pelagian Catholicism”. Perhaps success itself is enough.

Kathleen Norris has a new book out and I found “Parched” by Heather King for only a penny plus shipping on the ‘net. It’s an embarrassment of riches, or embarrassment of Richmon’s as we say after a character at my work. The library yielded baseball poet Robert Creamer’s “Babe” as well as George Plimpton’s “The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair”.

There’s also an especially promising “First Things” (Oct. issue) as well as Helen Bevington’s lovely “When Found, Make a Verse of” and Rubin’s “Dante in Love”. Dante is a figure of wonderment on many levels.

A blog makes me hungry again for Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man” and the weather itself makes me pine for Annie Dillard prose as well as Ray Bradbury’s “Farewell Summer”. I revisited “Brideshead Revisited” last weekend, that dulcet flapper prose reminiscent of “The Great Gatsby”.

“Too much information,” sang the Police, long before the ‘net. They didn’t know the half of it.
Peggy Noonan...

...on on the Campaign:
A final point. Do you ever have the passing thought that the presidential election doesn't matter as much as we think? Whoever wins will govern within more of less the same limits, both domestically and internationally. A New York liberal leaning toward Mr. McCain told me this week he has no fear that Mr. McCain may be a more militant figure than Mr. Obama. We already have two wars, "we're out of army." Even if Mr. McCain wanted a war, he said, he couldn't start one.

I wonder if we follow the election so passionately because we're afraid. We're afraid a lot of our national problems are intractable, and the future too full of challenge.

We cannot tolerate feeling this way. So we make believe the election can change everything. And we follow it passionately to convince ourselves its outcome will be decisive and make everything better. We reassure ourselves with pictures of the cheering crowds at the rally. We even find some comfort in the latest story of the latest dirty trick. But deep inside we think: Ah, that won't work either.

Some part of me thinks we are all making believe this is a life-changing election because we know it's not a life-changing election. Ever have that thought? Me too. Then there's a rally or a scandal or a gaffe, and it passes.
Our Problem: Too Little Capitalism?

I spoke to Ham of Soc Engineer, and he railed against the bail-out of AIG for a much different reason than revenge against well-paid CEOs. No, he says that as a forest needs a wildfire every now and again for its health, so does our economy need be purified in the fire of a recession.

He makes some good points. He says we're in this bind not due to too little regulation but too much, in the form of the existence of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac. Lenders were also forced to make stupid loans by a government that wanted to eliminate "red-lining".

Ham has a lot to lose. A good job and a huge nestegg. So the fact that he's willing to experience finanical pain even to the point of losing it all is rather impressive. Modern society is pain adverse in a way unimaginable for all of recorded history; it'll be interesting to see if capitalism is compatible with pain aversion.

Reminds me of Amy Shailes recent book "The Forgotten Man" in which the claim is made that FDR put the "Great" in "Great Depression". Similarly it looks like the government has made things worse and will continue to here forward...
Can't Get There From Here on this Earth

I'm sure my socialist brother-in-law feels exactly the same way I do: why can't he see what I do? It's almost like there's a selective outrage gene. I can barely gin up any outrage over a CEO from whom I expected exactly nothing, while my bro-in-law is so mad he can't see straight.

For him, it is just absolutely, positively, the greatest injustice that the CEO of AIG made a quadzillion dollars and is getting bailed out by the government for his sins.

For him it proves that the capitalist system doesn't work and, of course, he may be right since the government takeovers are defacto anti-captitalistic. (As I read on another blog somewhere, "we're all Communists now!").

The root question: Do I want to get even with the CEO of AIG so much that I'm willing to lose my house and my 401k savings and everything else just so I can have the satisfaction of AIG not getting bailed out? No, not me. Maybe others would. Or some might say Greenspan is full of bull, which takes a helluva lot of moxie.

But why not go even deeper?

Let's say you were starving. You're on a desert island. You've been without food for a couple weeks.

And amazingly you find a hidden cache of food!

Only it's terrible food. There are two choices: one is a huge pile of beef jerky and it's really hard and looks pretty sucky. The other is attractive and tasty-looking hamburgers, only they've been laced with arsenic. You know this because you see dead bodies next to the hamburger pile and they have little signs saying, "Don't eat the hamburger! It's poison!"

That's your choices. You don't get nice tasty hamburgers that are arsenic-free.

Which do you choose?

Do you say, "Beef Jerky sucks! I hate it!" Or do you say, "beef jerky sucks, but it's the best of all possible choices I have. I'll eat the beef jerky even though it isn't nutritious and I'm not sure it'll keep me alive."

Same here with capitalism and socialism. Socialism is the poison hamburger. Capitalism is the beef jerky. This ain't paradise.

As Rich Lowry writes,
"Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst system except all the others. The same could be said of capitalism. There is no way to eliminate all the human failings — greed, exuberance, shortsightedness, fear and ignorance — that created the predicates of this crisis and are fueling it now. If we pretend there is, we only foster another illusion."
So this crisis is beyond politics. It's not about Republican or Democrat. It's more fundamental.

It transcends the silliness of the oversight role of the Congressional Banking Committee (why do we have such committees again?). It's not about this painful Bush bail-out.

It's simply that greed and stupidity are epidemic enough that it's extremely hard to regulate where it's going to pop up. We are always behind, always regulating only after something happened. We're always closing the barn door after the horse is out. Why? Because of fallen human nature.

My brother-in-law says that "Man is inherently good." Isn't that the key difference between liberals and conservatives? Or is that an illusion too because, after all, Democrats want more regulation. But the regulators need to be smart and good, two attributes in short supply these days. So the fault, dear people, lies not in our captialistic system or maybe even our leaders, but ultimately in ourselves.
The Anchoress on George Will's Latest:
In contemplating the almost knee-jerk disdain modern liberalism demonstrates toward average American values, Will frankly identifies President Dwight Eisenhower as the inspiration for such disdain, and John Kenneth Galbraith as the writer who gave it a lasting voice.

...

One finds oneself breaking a long-standing rule against writing in books to scrawl excitedly in the margins such notes-to-self as, "Read More Buckley!" "Remember Longfellow!" "Why don't we love Geo. Washington more?"

September 18, 2008

Derbyshire versus the priest.
Some Blog Eye Candy


An Unholy Alliance: When Dems and Business Attack

The Democrat Party is mostly an incubator of bad ideas marked by good intentions* (the life issue being the huge exception to the 'good intention' label).

Business is mostly an incubator of what is good for business and is marked by amoral intentions but which mostly results in good. (See Adam Smith for an explanation.)

So the Democratic Party and business complement each other and are often, by not always, at odds.

The problem is when their goals do meet, it usually ends in disaster for the country. Any time the Democrats and business both favor something, look out below. There'll be hell to pay. Check your wallet and pass the Metamucil.

And indeed, during the '80s the crisis du jour was homelessness, for which at the time we knew Ronald Reagan was personally responsible. Homelessness was to the '80s what universal health care is to today. There was a lot of de-institutionalizing going on, a lot of mental hospitals closing for one reason or another, primarily because of the effectiveness of psyschotropic drugs (those horrible drug companies!) and maybe also because of the way asylums were depicted in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (never underestimate the power of film to change public opinion). All of this resulted in more homelessness than we'd seen before.

During the '90s, the issue seemed to fade away, perhaps because a Democrat was president and the issue was no longer needed for party of Jackson to attain power. Increasingly lenient credit practices began to be put in place. The Dems thought: why regulate something that was helping the poor get into houses? Good intentions were operative.

Meanwhile, business was in favor of this because there was a sudden lack of accountability - they could bundle their loans and send them down the river, to a greater chump, who could in turn bundle them again. Something felt wrong, didn't it, during the '90s when we were constantly writing our mortgage check to a different entity? It smelled like a scam.

Regarding illegal immigration, there is controversy concerning its ill effects. It's not my pet issue, but if it is a great strain for social services including health care and education then you can explain that by this alliance between businesses wanting cheap labor and Democrats wanting an open border.

The reason we don't have universal health care now is because Hillarycare was so painful for businesses that it couldn't be rammed through. Now that businesses are feeling more and more pain in the expensive benefits for employees, it's more likely we'll have universal health care. Anything that business and the Democrats agree on is likely to see the light of day - with painful repercussions in the long run for America.

UPDATE: From this, the genesis of the crisis seems to be less homelessness than the Democrat desire to eliminate "red-lining". Either way, it's good intentions married to governmental intervention that paved the way to hell.

________

* - Jonah Goldberg would beg to differ and presents a persuasive case in "Liberal Fascism" that the Democrat Party has white-washed its social Darwinist Margaret Sanger-ish past.
Honesty...Is Such a Lonely Word

I never watch political commercials, but Darwin Catholic just wants a little truth in advertising. He imagines Obama saying:
"My opponent has the misfortune to be a member of the incumbent party at a time when our economic cycle is facing a downturn. Though this has little to do with his policies, and my policies would do nothing to alleviate it, I'd like you to vote against him just to show that bad luck will not be tolerated in our country."
Boy that would be refreshing.

September 17, 2008

Lightning Round...

  • Was watching an interview by Greta Van Sustern of the "first dude" talking about his wife, Sarah Palin, and realized that nothing quite makes you feel like an underachiever like someone about your age achieving what they have. Hey kids, our turn!

  • I really haven't watched Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet enough.

  • Amy Welborn hasn't blogged on Sarah Palin and I'm feeling it, especially after her recent tease promising to blog on politics. She's sort of the photographic negative of Hans Brinker putting his finger in the dike to stop a blog-flood: as soon as she weighs in then we can all move on and the tide will ebb. (Well, maybe not but...)

  • I bought the Titanic DVD partially for the ending song even though when I first heard it I hated it as it seemed maudlin and awash in sentiment. But now it's grown on me in part because it's one of the pieces my wife plays on the piano now and then.

  • "The Drowsy Lads" is my new favorite Irish music group.

  • The Amazon Kindle saves me a lot of money in printer ink; I rarely print anything anymore, preferring to send it to Kindle.

  • The prom pictures of the Palins remind me that the worst thing about the '80s was the hairstyles.

  • Here's the etymology of etymology.

  • One measure of the writerly craft is to prompt a phone call from Ham o' Bone, in this case by the death of David Foster Wallace. It somehow seems odd that someone could write this and yet commit suicide.

  • Least like cultural First Things "On the Square" reference might've been the lyrics to the song "In the year 2525..." --- but lo & behold....

  • These sorts of "30 skills every IT person needs" lists leave me tired and in need of a beer. I hereby formally protest the absence of the writing of poetry on that list.

  • Two things I would never have/use but for family member gifts: a cell phone and flip-flops.

  • I would like someday to have satellite radio since Columbus has no classical music during drive-time anymore. Plus I hear there's an '80s music channel (*drool*).
  • If the Lefty Bloggers/Media Were Smart...


    ...they'd try to re-fracture the presently united Republican base by exploiting the ticket's weakness on stem cell research. After all, bases tend toward utopianism and that can be exploited. But instead - get this! - they go right for the strength of the ticket, Palin's motherly normalcy.

    (Fortunately liberals don't read this blog so I don't think I'm giving away the store here...)
    "Even Walmart Was Closed"

    What's telling is that whenever there's a stray flurry of snow in the air, our local weather anchors ride to the rescue, hogging airtime and triggering their network's version "Operation Emergency Snowflake".

    And yet when wind gusts arrive that the National Weather Service says were of speeds never recorded in our area, we aren't alerted ahead of time and I don't see the familiar faces in front of their weather maps.

    (The way I understand it is that forecasters missed the damaging winds because it was sunny. They expected clouds to slow down Ike's winds, but instead it was a bright sunny day in Ohio and that produced a "race-track effect" for 70mph+ wind gusts.)

    But isn't this the way it always goes? We get excited over a snow flurry but miss the real story?

    Another example from the temporal world: There was a lot of angst and hand-wringing over the failure of an insignificant energy company called Enron, which prompted massive retaliatory government regulation. Meanwhile the mortgage and financial industries were quietly melting down. No one even seemed to notice. But then that's the way it goes - you can't prepare for catastrophe because mostly you don't know it's coming (New Orleans the exception) until it's too late.

    I feel little shame over my country with respect to Iraq; most of Europe ought feel shame for surreptiously selling oil to Saddam and failing to enforce U.N. resolutions. But I do feel shame that because the United States can't do something as simple as sell mortgages, the whole world has to suffer the consequences.

    September 16, 2008

    Partial RSS Feeds Tease
    "My eyes adored you...though I never laid a hand on you, my eyes adored you" - Frankie Valli
    Well, my eyes adored this feeder which promised delivery of blogs & columnist material to my e-reader.

    How cool would that be? Some tend towards writing more words than I like to read on a computer screen (ahem, Bill, Steven, & Peggy Noonan & others. You know who you are.)

    Never was so much promised since Obama's last speech, but alas and alack I find that although the Kindle Feeder site works perfectly, WSJ & Peggy Noonan do not offer full feeds. Nor Bill Luse. Steven Riddle does, but I had to kill my other partial feeds.