Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
May 27, 2009 - May 20, 2009

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Are you listening, fool?

THINGS FOR THE UNGRATEFUL. Thanks Brizoni. You've done a lot of people a favor. When you take even The Boss by surprise with the dumbest possible presentation of a question, you've done something good. In this instance, you've reminded us of a whole generation of kids who know nothing about how the economy works and how their own indifference to it is a form of genocide.

You don't seem to like bankers. The Good News: Nobody does. The Even Better News: They're only the raw ingredients of every delightful cake you've ever eaten. Someone has to pay for the flour, the eggs, the baking powder, and the sugar you pour into the pan. And the recipe for the cake. And the skill and artistry of the baker. Capitalism is about the value of the knowledge, labor, execution, timeliness, and distribution systems of those who transform mundane ingredients into a product people desire enough to pay money for.

Contrary to appearances and standard reporting, bankers are not the top end of capitalism, but the low end.. They know nothing, they make nothing, they are nothing. Their participation in capitalism is always ignorant, second-hand, mathematical, and dense. If capitalism is, as the standard metaphor goes, a great engine of wealth, the money men are merely the gas station attendants who pump the fuel for that engine and sometimes check the oil. If this makes them seem overpaid to you, congratulate yourself. They are overpaid.

So why is all journalistic coverage of the economy dominated by quotes from the suspendered nancy boys of Wall Street? It's just an accident of positioning. Like the gas station attendant, they perform their pedestrian tasks from a vantage point above the engine. Which makes it seem as if they have some global perspective on what's happening inside the cylinders and valve trains of the engine. Some of them do. Most of them don't. You may have learned that whenever your own car breaks down, there's always some jerk-off at your elbow anxious to offer an opinion about what went wrong. Most economic reporting consists of journalists (ignorant bystanders) asking that guy (the know-it-all dumbass twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines) for his diagnosis of a motor he's never scraped his knuckles on.

The real reason for the paralyzing boredom you experience on all matters pertaining to the economy is your subconscious awareness that every so-called expert opinion solicited and relayed by the media is utter bullshit. When they tell you the stock market fell today because Intel reported lower than expected earnings, they're flat-out fucking lying. The stock market is a set of instruments measuring hundreds of thousands of engine performance variables, but the read-outs from those instruments are too complex to be correctly interpreted by static photos of the dashboard -- such as analysis of the meaning of results at arbitrary points in time like the 5 pm closing bell of today's trading session. Imagine analyzing the health of a Grand Prix race car engine by studying images of the cockpit dash at regularly timed intervals. There are only a few conditions you could reliably detect: low fuel, overheating, and complete absence of speed. Everything else could be a function of where the car is on the track. High revs could mean acceleration on a straightaway, routine downshifting for a curve, or sudden transmission failure. Falling speed could mean expert braking or engine failure. Now imagine that none of the dashboard instruments display Arabic numerals or constant measurement units. They generate their data in pure sensory terms -- sound, smell, taste, and blurry visual snapshots of the track. All interpretations of such data could be spectacularly wrong. That's why day-to-day and month-to-month interpretations by so-called economic experts are routinely wrong. Inflation is soaring. No, it isn't. Consumers are panicked. No, they aren't. All is well. No, it isn't. The economy is in freefall. No, it isn't. It's in a controlled four-wheel drift at the apex of a tricky chicane the driver has well in hand. Or: it's sliding out of control directly at the wall because of a blown shift. No foolproof way to tell.

BUT. And this is a BIG big BUT. None of the above is any excuse for anyone, including you, Brizoni, not to understand the essentials of capitalist economics, which have absolutely NOTHING to do with Harvard MBAs or the pontifications of politically aware Econ professors. Capitalism isn't even boring. It's one of the most exciting, infinitely variable, and attractive aspects of human endeavor. It's not at all hard to understand or visualize. Here's a look at it in action:

They're catching crab. For money. A lot of money.

That's the fundamental formula. The people who take the biggest risks to serve their chosen markets have the greatest opportunity to earn big rewards. Why do they deserve big rewards? Because losing is always an option. Risk. Reward.

There's a gap between risk and reward. A gap you can fall into.

Sometimes capitalists leap the gap by being brave. Usually, they leap it by being both brave and very very good at what they do. Are you starting to see the difference between capitalism and your video-game view of life? We don't live in a closed, rigidly programmed, zero-sum system with infinite do-overs available at the touch of a button. Winning isn't just a matter of starting out with enough 'cheats' and bludgeoning some artificial game into submission. It's about staring the scary possible future straight in the eye and still having the guts and brains to do what it takes to win. ANYONE can play. That's the incredible, glorious beauty of it all.

You can be brave and smart and lose. You can be brave and dumb and win.
But it's still better to be brave and smart. Risk, reward. Risk, reward. Get it?

If your frustration with economics is more than a pose, watch all three of the series linked above and THEN read an Econ textbook. Terms like supply-and-demand might begin to take shape in your head in dimensions beyond the humdrum charts. When you realize that the guys in bowties who are usually asked to explain the economy know absolutely nothing about the 'creation of wealth,' you're on the road to recovery.

The next and most important step is to go back to these same examples and ask yourself what would happen if a beneficent government decided that bravery is synonymous with greed and decreed that secretaries and file clerks are entitled to as much reward as these guys. We're all the same, aren't we? Why should that foul-mouthed white guy make more money than a drug-addicted single mother of five? Wouldn't that be heaven?

But we still have a sneaking suspicion that even the liberal heaven would retain a big supply of know-it-alls in bowties to explain why there isn't enough lumber, why all the seafood restaurants have closed, and why it's no longer 'economical' to conduct mining operations in Alaska.

The final step is to realize that every jot and tittle of the American economy, which has redefined the meaning of the word 'possible' to the rest of the world, consists of millions of people who have taken risks analogous to the kindergarten examples we've cited on YouTube.

Still bored, Brizoni? You need more show and tell before real life begins to strike you as more interesting than a video game? Awwww. Here's a homework assignment. Watch all these. Compare your creativity to that of a capitalist economy. Then come back and lord your boredom over us. Convincingly.

I'm waiting.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Pitiful Cry for Help.
Economics is to me what Mario is to everyone who understands economics.

EXT 25. 10-15. Someday, reverse-engineered cockroach genes will endow even that statistical Tibetan yak farmer who's never heard of Pepsi with a 400 year lifespan (and also with flight; otherwise why bother?). Until then, life remains short enough that one must choose between gaining a working knowledge of Mario Bros. or a working knowledge of economics. There's not time enough in the human life nor space enough in the human head for both.

Maybe that's pessimistic. I'll put it this way: Making sense of both Mario AND economics in the same brain is a two-event mental triathalon.

No points for guessing how much ass I kick at Mario. It's all. All the ass. Economics, to me, might as well all be written in that awful Beowulf quasi-English. Where every word has three extra "y"s, two extra "n"s, and a silent "e", no matter what.

The video above is the first level of the first Mario game. It'll be familiar to most of you with, like, actual jobs.

It's the level you've had a son or nephew or young acquaintance try to teach you to play. You grasped the basics: You could move your little Mario guy left and right, you figured out one of the red buttons on the controller made him jump, you got that you could hit the floating bricks with your head. Your young friend tells you to find the mushroom. What? There's a mushroom? Where? And why a mushroom, exactly? Just get it, he says. Hey, that looks like a mushroom walking towards you. But why is the ten-year-old next to you panicking --- oh no, did you die? You touched the walking mushroom. Did you get it? Did you get the mushroom? Is that how it's supposed to go? No, your nephew sighs in profound exasperation. It's contagious. You're a grown-ass man, so you decide any game this opaque can't be worth your time. You smile, muss your son's hair, and get the hell out of there as fast as you can without making a spectacle of it.

Well, if regular Mario crosses your eyes, steel yourself for a return to the utter perceptual chaos of infancy. I give you Hard Relay Mario:

Did you, could you watch the whole thing? Or did it black you out after two minutes? That's what economic talk does to anyone born after 1980.  If you know an exception to that rule, well, that's awesome for you. I've met more albinos in real life, myself.

I'm pretty sure this article tells the story of private firms not having enough money at once, so the government (the Fed's the government, right?) decided to give billions of dollars away so the debt/liquidity juggling act our economy is founded on doesn't collapse. Is that about right? I don't know. I can't bring myself to do anything but skim the piece. I really cannot make myself read every word in that barrage of paragraphs, terrible as an army with banners.

Think of two hetero men forcing themselves to kiss each other. Economic language is just as strongly and innately repellent.

And that's unacceptable. To me. The mechanics of money affects my life more than most of the things that piss me off, and I have barely any idea what and who involved to hate at. Herculean feat or not, I've gotta learn this stuff. Odds are I'm missing quite a few crucial puzzle pieces not knowing it. You know?

Or relearn it. I've had exactly one economics class in my life. I've forgotten most of it. I used to know who Keynes was, and the important spin or caveat or new perspective he brought to the old supply-and-demand model. Those and the other factoids in the economics set are deeeeep in the catacombs of memory now. Guarded by a fierce minotaur named No Natural Interest Whatsoever.

I'll need the magic sword AND shield to kill that beast. AND once I've made a helmet of his hollowed-out skull, I have to dig a new, much larger catacombs to put my new knowledge in, AND walk every inch of those new catacombs until I know them by heart. I can't just learn this stuff once to say I learned it. It has to make sense to me.

I expect that quest to go something like this:

Stay tuned.

UPDATE.  Don't worry, son. Papa will explain it all. And you won't even have to stop sucking your thumb.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

With all due respect...

We love The Anchoress here.

THE GOSPEL OF JEFFREY. With all the back and forth in the Democratic campaign over the past few days, people are losing their perspective and getting things wrong. Specifically, they're being swept up in the amount of ink being lavished on individual events and failing to see the difference between a grenade and a bunker-buster. Today, Glenn Reynolds (who also made an erroneous snap judgment of his own this morning) cited The Anchoress as a wise perspective on what's going on:

Both Democrat candidates have been playing victim cards in their turn, for months. Yesterday Geraldine Ferraro upped the ante by playing the gender and reverse-racism victim card.

These are not “racist” or “sexist” gambits being played by Wright or Steinem, but appeals to emotion, and appeals to emotion are too often used to gloss over a lack of substance, or so I have been told by my correspondents on the left, lo these many years, as they accuse the GOP of governing on “fear,” (because terrorism is not a real threat).

And while the victim card appeals to emotions, it tends to noisily set off rage in those who listen and perceive themselves as being identified as the “enemy.” So everyone gets emotional, everyone starts yelling, and no one is listening or making any sense...

Her point seems to be that we are at fault if we experience any kind of emotional response to the exchange of revelations between opposing campaigns. This time, The Anchoress is wrong.

So is the lede of the USA Today piece linked by

WASHINGTON — The passion fueling the Democrats' history-making presidential campaign is putting two of the party's most important constituencies — women and African-Americans — on what could be a collision course.

What could be...? USA Today is wrong.

And Glenn Reynolds offered the following post, reproduced here word for word:

Glenn Reynolds is wrong. However they surfaced -- which was inevitable despite The Anchoress's uncharacteristically irrelevant concern with how they surfaced -- the video excerpts from the sermons of Jeremiah Wright are the only significant revelation that occurred this week. (Ferraro's faux-pas will be as insignificant as she is in two weeks time.) They are also fatal to Obama's chances of winning the presidency. They are probably equally fatal to Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency. It's up to the Democrat Party to figure out how to deal with the catastrophe, but catastrophe it is, and there are multiple reasons why.

Everyone has been bending over backwards to give Obama the benefit of every doubt, including all Democrats, the fawning MSM, and the many many conservatives who would also like to enter a post-racial era of politics. That's the prime reason for The Anchoress's rare lapse of good judgment. Citizens in the electorate who perceive, emotionally or intellectually, that they are conceived of as "the enemy" by a presidential candidate can't be accused of "not making any sense" if they suddenly become intensely skeptical of that candidate. They have every right -- an infinitely greater right, in fact, than any candidate for the highest office in the land has to an unlimited benefit of the doubt about the sincerity of his rhetoric. The candidate's prime mission is to convince voters that he (or she) is not serving some narrow slice of the electorate at the expense of all others. If he fails to do this, he has not earned the office. Period.

For a variety of reasons, we all know very little about Barack Obama. His life has been much like his campaign persona, featuring some point of contact for all people. If you're poor and black, he at least is black. If you're white and highly educated, he at least is highly educated. If you're a struggling single mother, he at least was raised by a single mother. If you're a Catholic or a Methodist or a Presbyterian or a Baptist, he at least belongs to a nominally Christian church. If you're anybody who believes in the American Dream, he is at least, regardless of policy differences, a living embodiment of the American Dream. He has a finger in every pie. His speeches have been analogous. He wants things to be better. He wants less rancorous partisanship. He wants less conflict between America and the rest of the world. And he asserts his confidence, ever so believably, that all these utopian goals can be achieved because he is all of us, in one way or another.

But we don't know very much about him because the part of him to which any of us can relate is only a sliver. Hardly any of us had a white American college professor for a mother and a Kenyan muslim for a father. Hardly any of us spent large chunks of our youth living in non-European foreign countries. Hardly any of us went to the Harvard Law School. Hardly anyone in American history has been propelled to the summit of national politics with such frighteningly scant experience. He is the promising stranger who seems too good to be true. But he is a stranger, even to the 91 percent of genuine African-Americans who support him knowing that he shares none of their ancestry of slavery. And he is too good to be true.

The truth is, he is none of us. Which is absolutely fine for any individual citizen of the United States. But not for someone who aspires to be president of the United States. Ultimately, we all require some connection that goes beyond lofty phrases in speeches read off a teleprompter. The damage that will simmer and ultimately explode out of the Jeremiah Wright association is that Obama is a phony, no matter how he chooses to respond. Whether he defends his racist, anti-American pastor of 20 years or repudiates him with extreme prejudice. In his heart of hearts Obama understands nothing and no one, because he has never belonged anywhere or truly participated in anything. Which is why he has consistently gone overboard in trying to belong everywhere he's ever been. In the process, he has initiated a chain reaction that will do in his party, his rivals, the people he claims to want to serve, and himself.

He seems to present a forest of contradictions. His classmates at Harvard Law School, including his close associates at the Harvard Law Review, seem to remember him as a great guy, tolerant, friendly, and fair. Yet he chooses to be a member of a church that foments a continuous and deeply counter-productive racial rage. He forms a friendship with an over-privileged Vietnam-era radical terrorist whose knowledge of how to play "the system" is so advanced that he can cop a plea for bombing the U.S. Capitol and emerge from prison into a professorship without ever expressing a moment's remorse. Yet he marries a middle-class African-American woman who has had every conceivable advantage and who now, on the verge of becoming First Lady of the nation, publicly voices a churlish disrespect not only for her country but for white people. men generally, and even the husband who has opened up the golden path to power. He prospers politically through a murky relationship with a Chicago operator who has relationships with multiple dubious moneymen from the Wahabbi middle east that have benefited him politcally and personally. Yet he slams his female presidential rival for releasing a photo of him in muslim dress and objects to the speaking out loud of his own middle name.

Who is Barack Obama? There is only one thread of consistency in all these contradictions -- his distance from everyone in his life, save possibly the mother he chose to ignore in an autobiography focused on his distant, abandoning father. Barack Obama is whoever he happens to be around, whoever the emotionally strong people in his life choose to surround him with, whoever it serves him to be at the moment.

The argument is being made that Obama must hate America because he went to Jeremiah Wright's church, got married there, had his children baptized there, and contributed $20K to it in 2006. That's wrong, too. It's Michelle Obama who hates America, who believes the vile propaganda of yet anothe rich, phony, one-church Pope, who wanted to be married in a Farrakhan-esque cult denomination, and have her children baptized there. Obama was just reflecting her wishes because she was authentic African-American and he was merely determined to belong. She knows this. That's why she can barely conceal her contempt for him.

There is no Barack Obama. Everyone who meets him makes up their own version of him. He is an outstanding orator becaue he has learned to read the desire of those around him about who they want him to be and then to reflect and fulfill that desire. It has worked for him every step of the way until now. Be the ball? He is the words he says. When he says them. That's his whole identity, the wave of affirmation that flows back from the crowd when he has been a clear enough mirror.

He has been too many things to too many different people. But all those people expect to see what they're expecting to see every time, and it's no longer possible in the simultaneous pressures of a presidential campaign. Even he doesn't know how different he is from venue to venue and person to person. That's why he doesn't know how to recognize the urgency of repudiating Jeremiah Wright in absolute and unforgiving terms. There's a part of him that believes in the AIDS conspiracy, just as there's a part of him that believes in the fundamental decency of all the guilty liberals who admired and promoted him at the Harvard Business School.

All of this could possibly be overcome if he had any feel for the deep diversity of the American electorate. But he doesn't. From first to last, he's always been an outsider. He doesn't understand at all -- and neither does USA Today's eager young reporter -- that African-Americans have been on a deadly collision course with feminists since the mid-seventies. These two apparent and frequently avowed allies have been competing for the same finite pool of extra privileges all along, and because there are more women and more of the women are white, it is the feminists who have done more to slow the de-racialization of America than any other force. The feminists' anti-male propaganda has inevitably done far more damage to African-American males and their role in families than it has done to white men. The feminists' gradual achievement of female hegemony over child ownership, child-rearing, and abortion decisions has done more to destroy the black family and promote the epidemic of children born out of wedlock than any conspiracy Jeremiah Wright could ever dream up. The resistance -- in the virulent form of hip-hop hatred of women -- has made racism and sexism into the two supposedly allied causes that were destined to go finally and horribly to war with one another.

Regardless of how the campaign war turns out, both sides have been crippled. Obama cannot win because there is no one inside the gauzy, unreal image to battle through the contradictions to a mandate based on character rather than a mosaic of sliver identities. His white vote will shrivel as ordinary Americans discover they can't determine where his allegiance lies, unless it's to himself only. Women will sit on their hands because they've seen enough of the slick young operator who waltzes in at the last moment and swipes the opportunity from the deserving veteran female (and being half-white doesn't help him in this respect). But Hillary can't win, either, because of the one-drop rule. Even though Obama is not and never was an African-American, he has always been black enough to benefit from the superannuated slave culture that forgives every corruption and hypocrisy in those who have any claim on being black. If Hillary is the nominee, African-Americans will stay home in significant numbers. Unlike Jeremiah Wright, John McCain is the irascible uncle we'd go to for help in a pinch, not hide from because of the revolver he keeps in a cigar box.

At the end of the day, Reverend Wright is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the poison in the well. Like Moses, he can never accompany his chosen ones to the promised land When his people finally learn to stop following his like, they will find what they seek, as if by magic. But for now, the horse he groomed for them is scratched at the gate.

If you think we're wrong, you do not yet understand the power of YouTube.

It will "never stop, never stop, never stop..."

UPDATE. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. I owe him an apology. When he didn't link this post quickly enough to suit me, I sent him a cranky email. InstaPunk's customary arrogance is a persona that's a useful tool on a satirical website but has no place in other kinds of correspondence. Glenn has proved he's a fairer man than I am. We'll see if I can do better in future.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shakespeare on Terrorism

Nicholas Shakespeare

BRITABUSE. All right. I admit it. The headline was the whole motivation for the post. All that's left is a review by one Nicholas Shakespeare of a book on terrorists by his fellow Brit, Michael Burleigh. I know I should end the entry right now with a link to the book review in question, but I'm a stubborn cuss, and I can't help looking for some meaning to justify the grandiloquence of my headline. My apologies [Leave. Go. Get the hell out of here. I have absolutely NOTHING to say today that's worth reading]. Still here? Damn.

At least I'm not blogging about Eliot Spitzer. That's probably why you're still reading. Nothing is more boring than Eliot Spitzer. Not even Nicholas Shakespeare. And truthfully (???), the review does illuminate the profound death wish of the Brit intellectual caste. They are all so absent emotion that one could cut their throats and their final gurgled words would be a critique of your technique. Here are some excerpts from the review:

We live in an age of cultural disorder, where to point a finger at the absurdities of radical Islam is to be branded a racist, a fascist or a bigot. This timely and important book would probably not have been published 10 years ago, but its relevance is bracing.

Michael Burleigh's theme: the moral squalor, intellectual poverty and psychotic nature of terrorist organisations, from the Fenians of the mid-19th century to today's jihadists - the latter group, especially, being composed of unstable males of conspicuously limited abilities and imagination, and yet who pose "an existential threat to the whole of civilisation" with their crusade to realise "a world that almost nobody wants", all in the hope of an afterlife featuring 72 virgins and rivers foaming with honey and beer...

Burleigh has read and travelled enough to express an impeccable contempt for the "theoretical gobbledygook" of the IRA or the "stunningly tedious" ideology of the New Left, while sharing the bemusement of the kidnapped German industrialist Hans Schleyer "at the incredible ignorance his captors [the Red Army Faction] demonstrated about the higher workings of the German economy"...

Meinhof's co-revolutionary Andreas Baader embodies many of the resentful and narcissistic traits that Burleigh identifies in his subjects: sour, lazy nobodies, ugly, of febrile imagination and indifferent talent, who can only become somebody by blowing others, inevitably persons more talented and intelligent, up....

Burleigh parades an arsenal of facts, and the cumulative effect is undeniable. Only with his claim that the tactic of terror "never amounted to more than an irritant", and was not crucial in forcing colonial powers to leave Palestine and Algeria, not to mention acceding to power in Ireland and South Africa, do I depart from his thesis....

Burleigh shares in his prose style something of the pitiless monotone with which his targets engage with the world. He finds little room for levity in over 500 pages, except where his keenness to be up to date gets the better of him. He has his finger on the pulse, but his foot on the pedal....

Blood & Rage is in all sorts of ways an outstanding book; it is also fuelled by the manic energy and focus of someone accelerating a truckload of intellectual high-explosives into the gates of a "stunningly" credulous soft-liberal establishment, composed of "colluding" human rights lawyers and "celebrity useful idiots" such as Tariq Ali, whom Burleigh witheringly chastises for having "progressively marginalised high intellectual endeavour" while at the same time conspiring to convert cosmopolitan London into the Islamic haven of "Londonistan"...

Al Qa'eda's chief military spokesman in Europe puts it best: "You love life and we love death." If there are no flies on Burleigh, there are plenty on the moribund dogmas of those he dissects. [emphasis added]

An academic subject, terrorism. Really. Something to pass the time when no one else wants to discuss something important, like the unutterably depressing brilliance of Graham Greene novels. So here we have the passionless reviewing the passionless and noting passionlessness as a stylistic fault.

You know, the Brits are just fucking DONE.

Maybe I should have blogged about Eliot Spitzer. Even he is more intriguing than Brit intellectuals.


BRIZONI! Where the HELL are you when we need you?!

Back to Archive Index

Amazon Honor System Contribute to Learn More