Ben A.
Ben H.
They Preach Like Angels, But Live Like Men

Working for the UN constitutes a sort of internal tax exile, seeing as UN employees enjoy a fiscal exemption from federal and local taxes*. Kofi Annan, however, does not feel quite a scrupulous about insulating himself from subsidies. The NYSun reports that Annan has managed to hang on to a Mitchell-Lama rental (ML is a subsidy program for the construction of middle-income housing; waiting lists are huge) on Roosevelt island, while he lived in the posher UN Secretary General's residence. Annan's wife descends from one of Sweden's richest families. Predictable, if sad. [Ben H.: 12/19/06 14:26]
Tax Exile

The big political story in France happens also, coincidentally, to be one of tax exile. Johnny Hallyday (sort of an ersatz Elvis who survived the seventies) recently declared himself a resident of Switzerland to avoid French taxes. Notably, I believe, the wealth tax that is imposed on one's net worth (beyond about 700K euros) regardless of whether one works. The reason it's a political story is that Hallyday is a close media-friend of Sarkozy, the center-right candidate. So there has been a storm of scorn aimed at Sarkozy because of his unpatriotic tax-dodging friend. Le Monde has a pretty funny audio recap of it here; it begins with Johnny's own reaction ("J'en ai rien a foutre", i.e. I don't give a fuck about it), moves on to a good example of Villepin's bizarre over-pronunciation of certain words (I believe one of the reasons French people can't stand him is that he constantly seems to be trying to teach them spoken French), then a reasonable observation of Sarkozy to the effect that all these artists and scientists fleeing France indicates a real problem, and finally the sanctimonious weasel (and, thanks to his girlfriend Segolene's usurpation of his presidential ambitions, koro victim) Francois Hollande.

For my part I have no interest in renouncing my citizenship because I earned exactly zero dollars in wages and tips in 2006. As I mentioned to Ben H last time I was in NYC, I have to believe that this puts me in a fairly elite subset of our graduating class! What tempers my pride is that the nonprofit work I've been pursuing has been advancing so slowly. I have started to feel really frustrated that I don't see the answer to this math problem. Next semester I'll be able to work somewhat closely with a set theory professor here, so maybe that will speed things up. I joked to friend recently that if I don't get results soon, I'll probably rededicate my life to laying up treasures treated, where necessary, with naphthalene and Rust-O-Leum. This isn't quite true, but it's true enough to suggest my level of frustration. [Doug: 12/18/06 16:45]
Hate To Say I Told You So...

Global-source income taxation forces an unpleasant choice on people. Interest vs patriotism, I'm guessing interest will win. [Ben H.: 12/18/06 07:08]
Don't Worry ...

There's no global warming. Michael Crichton proved it! [Doug: 12/17/06 07:08]
I Kid You Not

Performing in Harvard Square this Christmas season, you will find ... the Lyndon Larouche Holiday Choir. Really.

If You See Only One Puzzle Drama Set in Victorian Era Professional Magic This Year...

...make it The Illusionist. Having now seen the both it and The Prestige, I can confirm that The Illusionist is far superior as a drama, far moer plausible, and far less grim. [Ben A.: 12/16/06 11:40]
Invest in France!

I wrote earlier about the saga of the bankrupt leftist French daily "Libération", about how its employees demand that the main shareholder, Edouard de Rothschild, cough up several more million euros in salaries that the newspaper has no chance of earning, all while holding him in total contempt. Finally, after threating to strike, the employees voted to accept layoffs of about 25% of the staff, and then Rothschild agreed to cough up the millions. But the vote was not unanimous, as you can infer from this remarkable video. Thanks for the millions, you rich fuck, now kiss my ass! The real mystery here is not how this can happen in modern Europe (the dysfunctionality of France having been well analyzed), it's how Rothschild can just sit and take this abuse. Rich man's guilt is one explanation. I for one suspect koro [Doug: 12/16/06 07:15]
Anything You Can Do, We Can Approximate At Great Public Expense

France 24, the new French news channel broadcasting around the clock in French, English, and Arabic, has launched its website and perhaps also its actual TV signal. It is Jacques Chirac's brainchild. "FRANCE 24 is characterized by respect for diversity and attention to political and cultural differences and identities. It offers an in-depth analysis of current events,
aiming to uncover what lies beneath the surface and reveal what the public is not used to seeing, knowing or understanding. It also gives special attention to culture and lifestyle." Maybe. From what I can find on the site, it just seems like another outlet beaming the same six stories per news cycle. Dao is not quaking in her boots at the prospect of their site's competition.

The bigger picture here is France's misguided attempt to prove itself the equal of the "Anglo-Saxons". France -- or rather its elite -- looks around to find instances of Anglo-Saxon superiority, and says "Hey, we can do that too, and our honor depends on it!" Then they slowly erect some cumbrous, centralized, government-funded simulacrum of the thing in question, which might be Google, or Boeing, or, now, CNN. I remember that in 1999 or 2000, when many of my computer-industry friends had to nail their front doors shut to keep the tsunami of dollars from coming in and drowning them, Groupe Bull, the French IBM, lost some staggering number of billions of euros. Luckily the wise Chirac has only budgeted 87 million euros for his beacon of national pride to scatter into the ether.
[Doug: 12/15/06 14:14]
War On Christmas

Am I the only one who suspects "Elazar Bogomilsky" is the creation of the same folks who brought us Springfield City Councilman Les Wynan? [Doug: 12/13/06 04:51]
The American Sgolne

I agree with both of your comments on the Obama phenomenon. At this stage he is, just like Sgolne in France, the The Appealing Alternative From Out of Nowhere, which if anyone cared to investigate turns out to be Exactly The Same Elite Schools Our Discredited Leaders Went To, in the French case, ENA. Sgolne is an even purer Rorschach candidate than Obama, with her central theme of "l'ordre juste", which she welcomes you to interpret as anything from socialist enforced equality to Blairism. (The persistent reports of plastic surgery reinforce the Rorschach theme.) I will leave for another post the question of whether this modern political culture, in which the winners are achievement-bots who from the age of sixteen cannot take a piss without considering its effect on their electability, is superior to the older one, with all its human beings. What I will say is that (1) Sgolne is going to win (I am no longer hedging on this) since she will more plausibly claim to incarnate "modern France" (and tar Sarkozy as a closet American just as Bush tarred Kerry as a closet Frenchy), (2) Sgolne's victory will be worse for France than Obama's for America (should it occur), because "modern France" is a more dysfunctional pile of ideas, fears, and habits than even the nebulous "modern America" that Obama will no doubt claim to represent. Also Obama's personality strikes me as positively as it does Ben A, however machine-tuned it may be. Ségolène just strikes me as another prissy neurotic French bureaucrat telling me to go to the back of the line because I filled out the wrong form. [Doug: 12/12/06 03:45]
He's Not Hillary, He's Not McCain and That's a Start...

Still, I look upon The Appealing Alternative From Out of Nowhere with some suspicion. Don't we merely project upon the occupant of this role the photographic negative of the front-runner's flaws? A guy with whom I do a lot of business went through HLS with Obama and says that even back then, he carefully considered the opinions he'd express at law review meetings for their possible later political implications. More of the same, I'm afraid. [Ben H.: 12/11/06 22:20]
Obama-mania Sweeps This Corner of Neocon Country

I'm not much of a left-wing Democrat. Talk about nationalized health care, the living wage, and 'investing' in education to me immediately translates as "here are a raft of policies which will suppress growth, create windfalls for the politically connected, and immiserate just those unfortunates in whose name they are enacted." That said, whenever I listen to Barack Obama speak, I think "lead on, Mr. President!" He seems to have a magical cross-ideological appeal. Perhaps I'll come to my senses as my industry is nationalized. But likely not. I am sucker for a compelling biography. [Ben A.: 12/11/06 21:31]
Obama! Obama! Obama!

[end of message] [Doug: 12/11/06 09:02]
I Second This Link

The one to this page about the uneven distribution of ability, which Ben A linked to. Did you know that pro football players have above-average IQ? [Doug: 12/11/06 08:52]
False Beliefs

Ben A, if your beliefs are affected by your being an American and a monotheist, mine are shaped by being an American and a Buddhist of sorts. The metaphysics that I've dedicated (at least this phase of) my life to proving mathematically consistent is, as you suggest, pretty baroque. But I try to approach it from both sides of a schism within Buddhism: metaphysics-vs.-antimetaphysics. To me this schism or tension is one of the most interesting things about Buddhism, not least because it parallels the hard-realism-vs.-Dewey/James-pragmatism tension in American thought, and thereby suggests that this tension is universal. The Buddha himself most definitely had and expounded theories about the universe, enumerating the skandhas and so on. But he also counseled very strongly against getting caught up in metaphysical speculation, as in the very funny Discourse to Malunkyaputta which I've linked to before. After the Buddha's death, you have some Buddhists constructing this metaphysical system now called the Abhidharma, which is complex enough to go toe-to-toe with the system of any Medieval scholastic (or, say, Gary Gygax), but you also have the incomparable Nagarjuna and his focus on the emptiness of appearances, his insistence that all metaphysical systems are in some deep sense wrong (or not even wrong). The lesson that I draw from this is that, in order for there to be progress and some rescue from intellectual despair, the search for better understanding must coexist with a belief that in some deep sense all beliefs are false, that no scientific system will fully capture reality. (As an aside, you can find glimmers in the writings of Newton and Leibniz that they realize this fundamental limitation.) This is the spirit I've tried to pursue my work in. I think that, however well or poorly the math works out, there's a bit of truth in Bergson's views that ought to have a higher market-cap in our intellectual bourse, but I don't think that anyone (least of all myself) will ever cultivate this bit of truth into the Theory of Everything.

Or, to put this all another way, I posit that there is a crucial difference, in answer to the question "So are murder and photons objectively bad and objectively massless respectively?", between Joshu's "Mu" and the average man on the street's "Wha?". [Doug: 12/11/06 08:47]
Non-Transitive Dice

Joel E. sent on a link to this interesting page about non-transitive dice and their quasi-paradoxical properties. Hopefully by posting it here I will not only give enjoyment to a handful of readers but also propitiate the math gods enough that they'll reveal the key to proving this stupid lemma about boolean algebras that has had me stuck for a day or two. [Doug: 12/10/06 18:27]
False Beliefs

In re your false belief #1, Ben, I have the same nagging doubt. This comes up quite a bit in my line of work. Many of my employees like to point out, with some ruefulness, the various investment managers who have made themselves very wealthy by breaking obvious rules of prudent risk management and portfolio optimization. By the same token, I interact with many wealthy entrepreneurs in emerging markets countries, who seem created to illustrate Balzac's apercu that "behind every great fortune, there is a crime."

What I tell my team -- so often that it has become something of a desk maxim -- is that if you want to maximize your wealth, the surest way to do so is to take advantage of other people. For myself, I have other factors in my objective function, one of which is the sense of having treated others fairly.

I do wonder, though, if this preference yet another example of the inaccuracy of imaginative projection as a technique of hedonic forecasting. Most of the spiv investment managers and EM barons seem quite happy. [Ben H.: 12/9/06 10:32]
Jeane Kirkpatrick, R.I.P.

"Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism"
-Dictatorships and Double Standards

You know how I strive to stay positive, how I try to refrain from the 'take a look at this doofus" school of blogging. That said, you may be aware that in the 80s, the author of the comic stirp Bloom County cast Kirkpatirck as the paramour of strung-out Garfield surrogate Bill the Cat. Well, I recently saw a comment on Kirkpatrick's death -- entitled "somewhere Bill the Cat is Crying" -- that included the amazingly unselfconscious comment: "for many of us, Bloom County represented an important element of our political education."

I suppose were you arguing for the limitation of your political participation to voting for the hunkiest member of "Gray's Anatomy" on, this would be the right kind of admission to make. Otherwise, not so much. The author's occupation? Academic, of course.
[Ben A.: 12/8/06 23:40]
Angels in Fedoras

For one day, at least. [Ben A.: 12/8/06 23:17]
May He Find Context In Heaven

George W.S. Trow is dead. I blame Geraldo Rivera. After all, he is the most culpable person in the world. [Ben H.: 12/7/06 13:22]
Things I Believe Which Are Probably False

Theres a joke proof to the effect that everyone is either inconsistent or arrogant. It goes like this:

1. Unless you are arrogant, you know you are fallible
2. If you are fallible, some of your beliefs are false
3. Yet, you believe all of your beliefs
4. Thus the dilemma: either you are arrogant, and think all of you beliefs are true, or you are inconsistent, and believe things you know to be false

Although this proof falls short of transcendental deduction, the basic point is right. We all do believe things that are false. And it is a good exercise in mental housekeeping to flag those beliefs one holds which are most dubious. Heres a brief catalog of what I consider to be my least likely beliefs:

1. Morality is real: almost every day I have the opportunity to better my condition through dishonesty and betrayal. By better I of course mean in the purely hedonic sense: more money, more pleasurable sensations, more thwarting of people I dislike. David Hume would tell me I dont do these things because of my sentiments, because I would not really enjoy the fruits of vice. He would be wrong. I suspect theres a good deal of sociopath in me: I could compartmentalize easily, and reconcile the all sorts of ill-gotten gains with being a good neighbor and maintaining a sunny attitude. The reason I avoid cheating, stealing, and conniving is not because the benefits would be ashes in my mouth, but because I believe that it is objectively wrong to do so. But honestly, how plausible is this? Were there an objective basis for morality, would not someone have discovered it by know, or would not several of the plausible candidates* for such a grounding gained some measure of consensus?
2. People are equal in some meaningful way: A couple of weeks ago, we had a six foot wardrobe delivered. The main mover dude spun that thing around like it was a helium-filled Sasha Cohen. I could no more do that than fly to the moon. We arent equal, on individual abilities we are nothing like equal, and as far as the hope that it all evens out in the integral, there seems to be substantial empirical support for the unity of the virtues hypothesis. So why then am I so certain that we are all, like the man says "created equal?"
3. Quinean naturalism is false. I suppose theres nothing that you hate so much as your former self. My first exposure to philosophy was through Hume and Kant. I was instantly convinced that empiricism, sentimentalism, and naturalism were correct, and that rationalism and the a priori were a dead letter. I suspect this is what any scientifically educated person is likely to think. For various reasons, I ended up turning against this initial view almost totally. Yet there is something so very plausible about the world described by empiricism. This is one I think myself most likely wrong on (and on which my incorrectness will, natch, ripple through 1 and 2)

Reviewing these three dubious beliefs**, what conclusions can I draw? First, that these are all beliefs that make me more hopeful and happier. That's the type of delusion to have. Second, that being an American and a monotheist sure had an effect on me.

So, what likely false beliefs do you hold? I can count on Doug, I think, for equally baroque metaphysics supporting a vision of human dignity and possibility. For Ben H, I really have no idea. That Jeter deserved his Gold Glove, perhaps?

*Let me quote culture hero Tyler Burges introductory lecture to undergraduates on the First Critique: and what is still more amazing about Kant is that in addition to his tremendous achievement in metaphysics and epistemology, there was his ethics. Really, his ethics was in a sense behind, and motivating all of this achievement. And it really is one of the two great ethical systems: his and Aristotle. (pause) ... (pause) ...(grimace) ...and I suppose consequentialism is a system of sorts."

**There are, of course, a number of other dubious beliefs I hold. For example, I believe that (pace my sophisticated libertarian friends) government is not ultimately a scam, and that it will not be rendered obsolete by changing economies of scale in the provision of public order. I believe that the 2002 Red Sox were the best team in baseball. I believe that invading Iraq was not, despite what we see today, an obviously bad idea. These beliefs all have a substantial empirical component, however, and are therefore less interesting.

More on Mental Housekeeping

Bizzarro-world secretary of the Treasury Robin Hanson is blogging on cognitive bias

Say Yes to the Jazz Cigarette/Say Nil to the Thrill of Pills and Blow

It seems white people actually can rap, apparently. Does this mean Adam Morrison wins rookie of the year?

(Note: The video is not particularly endorsed)
[Ben A.: 12/4/06 01:49]
I hadn't thought about currently existing non-sectarian chapels. I agree that the current airline flap seems insufficient basis for a policy so at aodds with my "American prinicples" rider as creating separate prayer rooms for different religions/sects. That said, it would suck to be pulled off a plane because you were saying your evening prayers. That does seem like the type of potentially radicalizing event we should seek policies to diminish. [Ben A.: 12/3/06 12:21]
Just a second: most airports have non-sectarian chapels. If people feel the need to pray away from the maddening crowd, they have the facilities to do so. The premise of the complaint of these professional grievance-mongers is that Muslims need their own private room because their praying is too much for bigoted non-Muslim Americans to handle. The evidence adduced for this premise is the removal of the six "imams" from the USAir flight. The fact is that these guys were removed for a chain of suspicious behaviors, not merely because they prayed in the gate area.

The argument implied the problem is that Americans are intolerant and therefore we owe special accomodations to Muslim "victims of prejudice." Sorry, but I call bullshit. Were their pogroms after 9/11? No. That alone, I think, gives non-Muslim Americans the right to tell these so-called "Muslim community leaders" that their whinging will buy them no special treatment.

I see your point about avoiding needless antagonism so as not to create more enemies and not to alienate friends. Alas, those making demands for accomodation, by and large, come from organizations that can already be considered largely adversarial to mainstream American society. CAIR is not our friend and is not going to be our friend. Beyond that, I am pretty sceptical that friendly Muslims will prove very useful as providers of intelligence (as providers of intelligence officers/agents -- well, that's another story). Those already in the orbit of the crazies won't be appeased by prayer rooms and the rest of the community is probably quite distinct from the crazies and therefore not in possession of actionable intelligence. Intelligence will come from subornation, blackmail, and infiltration, not by granting un-American favors like separate prayer rooms. [Ben H.: 12/3/06 01:04]
It's going to be very hard for our Muslim readers* to derive from your post below an accurate impression of your general fair-mindedness and the love in your heart, Ben H!

Also, it seems to me that on the merits it is often good policy to provide accommodations such as the Muslim prayer room referenced in your post. The terrorist threat faced by the United States is almost entirely a creature of Islamic extremism. This means that Western Muslims will come under greater scrutiny, and will disproportionately bear the costs of anti-terror policies. It also means that any increase in a radicalized and unitary adversary culture among American Muslims increases the likelihood of attacks and reduces the flow of information and tips to law enforcement. For this reason, we should seek out any support any policies** which reduce the formation (or slow the growth) of Muslim adversary culture.

*A group that includes friends of mine, and may soon include members of my extended family.

** Provided, of course, that they compromise neither American principles nor effective anti-terrorist procedures.
[Ben A.: 12/3/06 00:18]
I've got a room for you twats: it's called a holding cell, and you can do whatever you like in there until it's time to board your deportation flight. [Ben H.: 12/2/06 14:52]
For the NYT, Panama Capitulo Dos?

Is the Times following up its inept misreading of the political winds in Panama with a blooper in Venezuela. According the headline, Chavez is "coasting to victory" in this weekend's election. Last weekend, Manuel Rosales, the challenger, managed to mobilize something like 1.5mio people at a rally in Caracas, in spite of a sudden, unplanned spate of "maintenance" that closed most of the roads from the rest of the country into the capital. Different polls show widly varying results. Face-to-face polls that ask how people voted in the last election turn up only a fraction of the number of opposition voters as did the election results themselves, a sure sign that in Chavez's clientelist dystopia, citizens doubt the anonymity of face-to-face polling and fear reprisal for giving the "wrong" answer. On the latter point, they have good reason to fear. A video surfaced a couple of weeks ago of a Chavez minister addressing an assembly of PDVSA workers, haranging them and threatening that failing to vote for Chavez could endager their job tenure.

So who cares if the Times has lost the plot? Sadly, it matters. Chavez may try to rig the vote count (he has certainly manipulated the campaign process, using massive amounts of public money for self-promotion). If the opposition charges fraud, it will have to overcome the doubts of the international community conditioned by the Times to expect a Chavez victory... [Ben H.: 12/2/06 11:32]
Press Release

"DrGravitee", at least one of whose humor pieces I've linked to before, declares:

I recently started a weblog with two friends. The goal of the weblog is to completely replace the NY Times by the year 2009. After 2009, the NY Times will use their presses to print paper leaflets of our blog for the masses. On Sunday, they will print a two-page color leaflet (double-sided) that has the occasional picture. While waiting for this eventuality to obtain, we discuss obscure sports-related topics:

[Doug: 11/29/06 01:55]
Cha C

Today Dao's parents made cha c. I believe Ben A declared this to be the best meal he had in Paris last time he was here. Its main ingredients are fried turmeric-coated fish and dill (I know of no other Asian dishes that involve dill). It's served with rice vermicelli and a bunch of garnishes -- lettuce, peanuts, fish sauce, various herbs. Dao's parents made an excellent rendition of it, better in most respects than the one at the Vietnamese dive we took Ben and Debbie to. One thing I like about that dive, though, is that they serve cha c with the Vietnamese herb called "ta t" (described here). Maybe this is inauthentic, but to me it really enlivens the dish. Ta t is one of the few foods that tastes both totally foreign and immediately pleasing. I can't really think of any other flavor to compare it to. Plus it looks really cool -- purple on one side, green on the other. If I were ever to make this dish I would probably cut out some of the more authentic ingredients to make way for ta t. [Doug: 11/26/06 17:12]
Gibbering Miscreants vs. Superannuated Curmudgeons

I am inalterably on Ben H's side, that of the curmudgeons. I caught the wave of mainstream rap in the 1980's (just ask my sister, who had to listen to Run DMC thudding through my bedroom door for hours on end) but was basically appalled when I listened to a copied cassette of a NWA album that a classmate gave me. (I believe the classmate was Kurt Reisenberg, who is revealed by a quick Google search to be the Managing Director of the CFO Executive Board in Washington, D.C.) From there it's all been downhill, and I now harbor a Bob-Seger-ish regret for that old-time hip and hop. Moreover, I am galled whenever my favorite culture organs express respect for the gibbering miscreants: Slate, for example, calls this a "raucous, hilarious freestyle rap" and appends additional accolades. And yet that video is the most arrant crap. Ah, well. Time doth make geezers of us all, as I believe Shakespeare said. [Doug: 11/26/06 16:44]
Brooklyn Academy of Music... emphasis on Brooklyn

I went over to BAM this evening to catch another film in the Thanksgiving Weekend John Ford series (Two Rode Together, in case you are interested, though the name of the film does not bear on the rest of this post*). As I went into the theater, I noticed a couple of cops in the lobby, but I didn't pay much heed. After Jimmy Stewart boarded the stage coach out to California, I came out to find the cavernous BAM antechamber completely packed with a crowd... how shall I describe it? Let's say that its members were unlikely to waiting for Act II of Hedda Gabbler. Think rather oversized baseball caps with very straight visors, flashy sneakers, cubic-zirconium filled earlobes. Upstairs, it turned out, BAM Cafe was hosting the "Global Hip-Hop Holiday with Akim Funk Buddha."

What amazed me was the utter transformation that had occured just outside BAM in under two hours. Advert-wrapped vehicles took up every inch of available curve-space. "Hot 97" vinyl banners hung from every available bit of sidewalk shed. Every street sign within two blocks had been jacketed from ground to top with posters advertising the latest release of various gibbering miscreants. The invading horde of promoters had apparenly overestimated the real estate available for guerilla postering, as about twice as many posters as had found a perch were haphazardly scattered on the sidewalks. Dozens of hawkers distributed handbills to passers-by and scalpers tried to peddle them tickets. Scalpers at BAM? Never thought I would see that day!

As much as I dislike hip-hop and find uncontrolled bill-posting and littering obnoxious, I have to doff my cap to the vibrant capitalist impulse on display...

* On a different note, I noticed a goof in the film. At a dance, the music is Strauss' Emperor Waltz, which was written in 1888. The movie takes place before the end of the Comanche War, which ended with Quinah Parker's surrender in 1874. [Ben H.: 11/25/06 23:47]
YouTube "Family Guy" Osama Bin Laden Clip, A Propos Of Nothing

Somebody posted this to my math class group; not much mathematical content but very funny. [Doug: 11/25/06 06:27]

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating." -- Simone Weil

Enjoy your turkey, Xi V, or diet coke and capers my friends. [Ben A.: 11/23/06 12:19]
Thoughts on a Busy Travel Weekend

NYT article on customer resistence to airfare increases reveals a deep vein of traveller resentment about handing over cash to the carriers. It strikes me as a little weird in that I can't think of any (American) industry that has been more publically and embarrassingly unprofitable. Shareholders and creditors watch their money disappear down a rabbit hole; pilot, shareholders, and managers experience a grinding process of wage deflation; leisure travellers zip around the country at prices below cost; and somehow the airlines are the bad guys, customers devoting countless hours to chisel them of a few dollars.

As far as pure financial performance goes, I stick to my longstanding theory of the problem: physical barriers to exit. Forget about permissive Chapter 11 rules, the issue is that absent the efforts of Muslim loonies, planes just don't disappear. Pilots, too, have incredibly specialized training and are unlikely to just decamp to another industry. On the planes point, consider the cargo operator I'm involved in. These guys have just managed to acquire and get into service three new Airbus A-300 freighters. None has a vintage more recent than 1980. Taking hulls and engines out of layup in various countries, sending them to the corners of the earth for C-check slots, they've managed to get functioning freighters for under $3mio a piece. Oh, and by the way, a 1980 vintage A-300 freighter, properly maintained can fly until 2030. [Ben H.: 11/23/06 11:17]
Xi V

My parents just visited and did a lot of home improvements I've been too lazy to do myself, like painting the WC. Now Dao's parents are in town, because of the death of an uncle. Today her mom showed me how to make one of my absolute favorite Vietnamese dishes. It's called "xi" (pronounced "soy") and is basically steamed sticky rice and mung beans. However, the preparation involves grinding the mung beans, so you might not guess they're one of the ingredients. Xi is one of the few savory Vietnamese dishes I can think of that involve neither fish sauce nor soy sauce. Actually, xi can be served in lots of ways, some of which do involve fish sauce (and don't involve mung beans). For instance, the Vietnamese dive up the street serves it (already unusual, since xi is considered more cuisine populaire than cuisine raffine) with chicken and coconut flakes. There are so many versions, and all of them are so good, that I've been considering opening a restaurant in the East Village called Xi and serving little else. (Maybe when "Rice" becomes pass I can take over their lease.) The recipe below is my favorite, xi v. This name denotes a mung-bean version although "v" is apparently a particular hand motion akin to rubbing, which is what you do to it to keep it from clumping. We had xi v on the street for dinner a few times during our ill-fated Hanoi trip. (Essentially here.) I calculated that we paid 29 cents each for dinner; it was more satisfying than many meals I've had in New York for literally one hundred times the price. However, the cause of the various grave diseases that I got in Vietnam and that caused me to leave (in a wheelchair) remains unclear, so this praise should be taken with a grain of penicillin.

Xi V (steamed sticky-rice with mung bean)


2 cups sticky rice
1 cup split mung beans
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons flavorless vegetable oil
some sliced shallots or onions
Southern option: about 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

The ingredients scale linearly in case you want to make more. You generally serve xi v with a garnish; I highly recommend vng, which is just ground roasted sesame seeds with salt.

Soak mung beans and rice separately in lots of water, for at least eight hours.

Gently wash the mung beans and the rice with multiple changes of water, until the water ceases to be cloudy.

Drain the rice and the mung beans as much as possible. This is a key point of the dish: although everything is steamed, you want to keep everything as free from liquid water as possible so that it doesn't get gummy or sticky. The end product should be fluffy.

Steam mung beans for about 20 minutes. One puts a cloth under the steamer lid to prevent condensation from forming and dripping onto the mung beans.

While beans are steaming, put sliced shallots or onion into a little pot with the cold oil, and heat up on medium heat until sizzling. You can keep cooking until the the bits are crispy, but they are not used in the dish; the point is to flavor the oil, which should be strained before using.

Stir the mung beans toward the end of the steaming. When they are tender, take them out and process them in a food processor until fairly fine. (It should still be a little grainy, not a paste.)

Put the beans into a big bowl with the (washed, thoroughly drained, but uncooked) rice. Sprinkle all the salt and mix. Sprinkle half the flavored oil and mix. Try to "v" it so as to unclump any lumps; your interpretation of this word is as good as mine, but the point is to de-lumpify. Put mixture into the steamer. Steam for 30 minutes, mix in the remaining half of the oil, and steam for 30 more minutes. The cloth is used under the steamer lid again to prevent dripping of condensation.

Remove xi v from steamer and fluff/v to de-clump and to let steam escape. Apparently, a Southerner would mix in sugar just before removing from the steamer, but the more ascetic Northerners don't (Hanoi seems analogous to Boston culturally as well as latitudinally).

[Doug: 11/22/06 15:53]
Kinsely Embarrasses Himself

He should really stick to humor [Ben A.: 11/22/06 01:16]
Press A! PRESS A!!!

First person shooters vs. anime RPGs: point, counter-point.
[Ben A.: 11/19/06 21:25]
Signs You've Been Doing Business for Too Long In Argentina

Aboard AA956 there are 9 other people in First Class. You've sued two of them. [Ben H.: 11/19/06 15:06]
He May Never Pace Another Sideline

But we'll know he's with us whenever we turn our heads to the sky.

Seriously, Schembechler was a childhood idol of mine, and maybe I would be a better person today if I had assimilated more of his competitiveness (though not to this degree). [Doug: 11/17/06 17:59]
Greetings from Buenos Aires

I've spent the last week in the Southern Cone, which I hope excuses my light posting. When I visit foreign countries, I make a special effort to immerse myself in the culture in order to better understand what makes it different from my own. I try to focus on the important, truly fundamental aspects, passing over fripperies like cuisine, dress, and language. Invariably, the exercise produces insightful observations on the nation's bathrooms. Here in Buenos Aires, every WC seems to contain a bidet: not merely in homes either, but in offices as well. This struck me as deeply weird. Do office workers taking a quick bathroom break really opt for the full undercarriage wash? I ought to have given more credit to the wisdom embedded in Argentine culture. The average Argentine consumes 75kg of beef per year. After a week on the cow genocide diet, I can say from personal experience that a bidet is not a mere luxury... [Ben H.: 11/17/06 17:22]
An item of interest to one bandarlog writer, if not to any bandarlog reader: Bo Schembechler is dead at 77. [Ben H.: 11/17/06 14:42]
Crony Economics

I get to see Crony Capitalism and New Age Socialism up close and I have to say there is little difference. The real power in both cases is wielded by government insiders and they arrogate the fruits of this power to themselves through a variety of channels. Both models feature the picking of winners and losers by the state (or whomever can control its levers), bureaucratic capture , cartelization and mediated competition, and ultimately vast misallocation of resources. The only major differences lie in the nominal ownership of capital assets -- for in both cases, the government really determines their value and controls their disposal and acquisition -- and the relative share (within a small margin) of labor's share in national income. The titans of Menem-era Argentina would feel quite at home in today's China. The opposite of both these models is that of isonomic free enterprise, which exists nowhere in the world in pure form, but which I think the post-Goldwater and pre-Hastert Republican Party truly believed in and wanted to make a reality. Of course I find it enormously depressing that the Congressional Republicans have deviated from this vision. Why I can't get behind the idea of the Dems as a corrective is that for the Republicans, playing the crony game represents a betrayal of principles; for the Dems it is the core of their principles. It is my hope that this defeat may bring the Republicans back "home" ideologically and that getting thrown into opposition will cure them of the desire to win at any cost. Nagging at me is that fact that for the democrats, losing power had precisely the opposite effect, to the extent that they put up as a candidate a blood-and-soil Jacksonian like Jim Webb. [Ben H.: 11/13/06 18:23]
What Does Your Nemesis Read?

More excellence from Library Thing. Here's my personal test case. [Ben A.: 11/13/06 02:20]
I, For One, Welcome Our New Insect Overlords

I cannot speak for Ben H, but identification with the Republican party contributes little to my sense of self. All my generations touch-stones of Republican consciousness-building passed me by. I grew up too nave -- and too immersed in left-center culture -- to regard Reagan as anything a boob. My gratitude for his achievement was entirely retrospective. Likewise, during the Clinton wars I was largely as a civilian. An increasing ideological conservatism has made me more and more sympathetic to the GOP. This sympathy has not bred much attachment to the current crop of congressional Republicans, nor does their recent repudiation strike me as a great tragedy.

Insofar as I understand it, Doug, I agree with your assessment of the cause of that repudiation: it was not an endorsement of an ideology, it was a rejection of incompetence and venality. The current wave of Democrats have unlikely to show themselves socialist firebrands, and insofar as they content themselves with rolling back the most egregious examples of GOP overreach in the past 12 years, they will be doing the Lords work

Will they? I am not so sure. And my uncertainty stems from a reluctance to place crony capitalism and sclerotic socialism on opposite ends of any axis. There is crony capitalism and crony socialism, and I think we can expect both. Perhaps the Democrats will govern less corruptly; certainly they could hardly be more. Yet this does not render harmless the anti-market and illiberal strands so present in center-left thought, nor does it mean that should the left half of the Democratic party get their way on health care or education we should expect anything other than bad outcomes.
[Ben A.: 11/13/06 01:26]
Chicken Soup For The Militant Vegetarian

What you (Ben A) say about the left-wingers is certainly true. But once again I wonder if their importance seems exaggerated out in 02138. The hard-core fans of sclerotic socialism thrive on resentment and indignation. A real political victory would probably send them into shock. Was this victory theirs? The MSM consensus seems to be "no": the Democrats seem to have gained ground where they were most centrist. (The Lieberman story -- where the Democrats technically lost a seat -- is the exception that proves the rule.) To say that the new Congressional class risks moving us toward sclerotic socialism is like saying that Kate Moss's purchase of a Hershey bar risks moving her towards gross obesity. We've veered so far toward the other extreme -- crony capitalism -- that even to mention its opposite as a danger seems sophistical.

None of the three of us belongs to the "Dude, where's my country" school of thought. No surprise there. What surprises me a little is that I seem to be the only one who asks, "Dude, where's my Republican party?" The graft, the incompetence, and the foreign-policy quixotry all prove that the "party of ideas" from the 1980s is long gone. Not that its disappearance is itself surprising -- there's surely some law of political science that says when any party stays in power long enough it gets fat, intellectually lazy, and corrupt. I'm well aware of this dynamic and so when I ask "Where's my Republican party?" it's admittedly a bit disingenuous. But the predictability of the GOP's decadence doesn't make it any less real. So I'm left wondering whether your continued identification with the party is due to some insider knowledge that exculpates it (or inculpates its opponents) or whether it's ultimately just a team identification, some kind of Red-Sox thing.

[P.S. -- on second thought a MLB-like team identification wouldn't explain it, since you guys often criticize your teams' trades and pitching decisions etc.] [Doug: 11/12/06 17:11]
Superstar, Yeah That's What You Are

Opulence is spelled F-E-D-E-R-L-I-N-E. Kid knows how to live.

Chicken Soup For the Left Wing Soul

There's little doubt that the new Democratic congress will put Big Pharma in the cross hairs. Yet no novel anti-psychotic could possibly do more to stabilize the mood of our progressive friends than this big Democratic win. Edging the US closer to sclerotic Euro-Socialism will be a small price to pay if it induces the American left to chill out. I am an sporadic visitor to the blogosphere's left side, and I can testify that apocalyptic pessimism has been the rule. Now it's all sunshine, puppies, and nationalized health care. The USA is, as we know, #1. It's a great country, and hard to screw up. So I will take an occassional electoral reverse if it ensures bi-partisan endorsement of American awesomeness.
[Ben A.: 11/12/06 03:15]
Henry Waxman as Reform Committee Chair. How much value of your pharma portfolio just evaporated, Ben? [Ben H.: 11/10/06 09:09]

Unlike many people of my general political disposition, I don't viscerally dislike the guy. I actually like his gruff, plain-spoken demeanor; more, I think it's a good demeanor for a secretary of defense to have.

Still -- what a wretched, wretched job he did: good riddance. [Doug: 11/8/06 15:44]

... to my father and sister, who completed the NYC marathon on Sunday. I will try to let their dedication to reaching their goal influence my own (more mathematical than athletic) projects. [Doug: 11/8/06 07:08]

My generally nonpartisan attitude and my knowledge that the Democrats stand for very little today do not prevent me from enjoying the election results. Standing for very little beats standing for plutocracy and pointless war.

But then there's the other election: Daniel Ortega? Ben H's assessment that we should have nipped Chavez in the bud is getting harder to deny. [Doug: 11/8/06 07:02]
Borat Uncovers American Decency

Rock on, animal shelter lady! [Ben A.: 11/6/06 21:43]
Mission Accomplished!

Hopefully the Saddam verdict will rally the Republican base. [Doug: 11/6/06 05:12]
Were sending our kids to fight an endless war in Boston, when its Detroit that attacked us!

Superb. I voted for the Red Sox acquiring A-Rod before I was against it.


I am a cringing lightweight, and am certain the Borat movie will be too much for me. The youtube clips are devastating enough. [Ben A.: 11/4/06 09:49]
Just Returned From Borat

We made an office outing of it, since it has at least some tangential relationship to our business. I am unusually susceptible to pangs of vicarious embarrassment, but I nonetheless got through it with only brief periods of covering my eyes. The reward was a good 45 minutes of convulsive laughter. A good trade, in my view. [Ben H.: 11/4/06 00:48]
Anyone Seen Borat?

I'm not sure I want to go see it. I cringed at the TV episodes, and the fact that that Manolo whatsername at the Times liked it puts a limit on how good it can be. [Doug: 11/3/06 14:48]
How Much Rhythm Do You Have?

I was walking around today and went past one of those Dixieland trios you see here a lot. (By contrast, the serape-and-panpipe brigades seem to have disbanded, or moved on to arrondissements more lucrative than those I frequent.) I found that my strides automatically conformed to the rhythm of their music. This happens to me with all kinds of 4/4 music -- in New York, it always happened with rap-blasting would-be-pimp-mobiles, to my consternation. As usual I had a hell of a time forcing myself out of step with the music. (I realize that the fact that I expend so much mental energy to avoid being seen to be "grooving" to music in the street says a lot about my personality.) This suggests a scale of how much rhythm people might have.

No Rhythm: Person cannot walk in time to 4/4 music heard on the street. (I have known people like this.)

Some Rhythm: Person can so walk, but only if they concentrate. (I speculate that a majority of people are like this.)

Much Rhythm: Person's stride naturally conforms to 4/4 music heard on the street, and person has difficulty getting out of step.

Maximal Rhythm: As above except person can easily figure out how to interpolate a 3/4 or 7/8 stride into the beat and so appear not to be in time with the music.

[Doug: 11/1/06 08:56]
"I felt like I had some Deep Sea scroll or some shit."

Eagerly awaiting the next New Yorker, where that quote apparently figures in a piece about the "Seven Habits" of the Hip Hop set, described here. In our whole history of incongruist literary mashups -- Lovecraft does Jeeves, Powerpoint does Proust, etc. -- have we ever thought to stage Chuck D winning friends and influencing people? Seems like someone else did, and made a ton of money. [Doug: 10/31/06 17:23]



Ben A.
Ben H.