What If Quentin Tarentino Rewrote Plato?

Socrates: There’s this little passage I got memorized that I like to recite in situations like this. It is a tale of a brave man, Er, who once died in war. On the twelfth day, as he was already laid out on the funeral pyre, he revived, and told what he had seen yonder. He said that after his soul had left him it travelled with many others until they came to a marvellous place, where there were two openings upward into heaven, and between them sat judges. These, when they had given judgment, ordered the just to go upward through the heavens by the opening on the right. The unjust they ordered to travel downward by the opening on the left. For all the wrongs they had done to any person they paid a tenfold penalty. Savage men, all fiery to look at bound their feet, hands and heads, and threw them down and beat them, tortured them on thorny bushes.

Aristotle: What the f**k was that all about?

Socrates: So, motherf**ker, prepare to test the hypothesis! See, I’ve got it figured out, I’m the just man, and you’re the unjust man, my gun is the thorny bushes, and Mr. dead pansy here is the judge. Now DIE MOTHERFUC —

Aristotle: But what if I’m the just man and you’re the unjust man and this dead dipshit is the thorny bushes?

Socrates: Oh, uh …

Aristotle: Or what if Alcibiades is the just man, and we’re both unjust men. And the thorny bushes are the judge?

Socrates: S**t, well I guess that all depends on your definition of justice.

Nathaniel Daw’s “Republic Dogs” (h/t Michel Butler)

…there’s more.

‘Restrepo’ Nominated

Restrepo‘ was just nominated by the Academy for Best Full-Length Documentary. I loved it; TG hasn’t felt brave enbough to see it yet. I’ll take her to a screening.

You can rent it or stream it from Netflix, and I’m sure other video rentals. See it, please.

It’s certainly a hard watch for a military parent; and a hard watch for almost anyone. But it’s amazing, and the men who it depicts (including MOH winner SSG Giunta) so honestly deserve no less.

Even though the Academy is one of my clients, I seriously didn’t know until this morning when they made the announcements.

A Two-Hanky Read

TG works with lawyers and judges and such, and with only one exception that I know of, the folks I’ve met through her are uniformly wonderful and delightful. (Note that this doesn’t change my view that we’re badly over-lawyering our society…)

Then today, she shared something with me that just made me stop. And tear up like I was making onion casserole.

Retired Marine Charles W. McCoy Jr. was the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Courts for the last two years (the Hon. Lee Edmon, who …possibly jokingly… threatened me if I ever hurt TG’s feelings and then stood with us and married us is his replacement) is the adoptive father to children he met and adopted through the foster care system.

He wrote them a poem, which TG just shared with me…

Gather round my children for a story that is true.

A story about Santa Claus and the gift he gave to you.

You said that last year Santa didn’t come your way,

That there was nothing ‘neath the tree for you on Christmas Day.

When last year Santa saw you in that foster home, he knew what you were feeling — so sad and all alone.

You wrote down what you wanted, made your list of toys, and oh how Santa wished that he could give you back your joy.

Santa’s toys are made with love, each a work of art.

But Santa knows that none of them can mend a broken heart.

So Santa doesn’t always bring just what you ask him to, he searches deep within your heart to find his gift for you.

He watches when you’re dreaming, hears you when you pray.

And that’s how Santa chooses what to bring on Christmas Day.

Back and forth Santa paced, then sat down in his chair.

Scratched his head, thought and thought and fiddled with his hair.

Soon he closed his big blue eyes, his cheeks all flushed and red.

In a flash, he fell asleep, as if he were in bed.

And as he slept more deeply, he began to snore.

Till the roaring of his snoring shook the workshop floor.

Suddenly he woke up with a twinkle in his eye.

“I’ll give those kids a present money cannot buy.”

He grabbed his coat, rushed outside and disappeared from view.

All night long he searched and searched to find his gift for you.

He’d watched you in your dreaming, heard you as you prayed, and that’s how he decided what to bring on Christmas Day.

All at once he found it and stuffed it in his sack.

It was a gift that you could hug, and it would hug you back.

A present you could play with, and it would play with you.

A gift that you could love and love, and it would love you too.

A present you had asked for, but only in your dreams.

Exactly what you wanted more than any thing.

You thought that he forgot you, that Santa passed you by.

But that’s because you didn’t see the twinkle in his eye.

Santa gave you something that you had never had.

He gave you what you wanted most.

A loving Mom and Dad.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Littlest Guy’s mom and stepdad have adopted two delightful (and energetic!) children through the foster system, and that my brother is hoping to do the same thing this year.

There’s a special room somewhere for these people…

Smart Writing On Guns (And Some Not So Smart)

Dan Baum – who we’ve discussed here beforehas a great post up at Huffington Post about guns (h/t Instapundit).

No, really.

He makes the following points (among others):

Arizona law was irrelevant to Jared Loughner’s purchasing the gun. The background check is federal, and he passed it. Yes, his carrying concealed to the Safeway, without a permit, was legal under Arizona’s new law, but if it hadn’t been, would he have been dissuaded? He headed off to commit murder; he was already far over the line where a concealed-carry law would have made any difference to him.

As a liberal Democrat, I worry about the damage we might do by rushing toward a fresh raft of gun-control laws. It’s very hard to demonstrate that most of them — registration, waiting periods, one-gun-a-month laws, closing the gun-show loophole, large-capacity-magazine restrictions, assault-rifle bans — have ever saved a life. It’s a hard thing to accept, but in a country of 350 million privately owned guns, the people who are inclined to do bad things with guns will always be able to get them. One might as well combat air crashes by repealing gravity.

I’m not one for slinging statistics, because everybody can read into them what he wants to see. One, though, seems pretty hard to ignore: The rates of murder and other violent crime have dropped by about half in the past 20 years — one piece of unalloyed good news out of the past two decades. During those same 20 years, gun ownership has gone way up, and gun laws have become far looser.

My own support for gun ownership is a combination of the pragmatic and the moral.

He pretty neatly covers my pragmatic points – too many guns are already here, most laws are meaningless (criminals are going to ignore them anyway), and there is really no meaningful data to support the more guns=more crime hypothesis (and lots of data that points the other way).

He doesn’t go into the morality of gun ownership – the notion that at root taking responsibility both for myself and for the safety of others (i.e. I’m handling something that could kill people if I’m not careful) makes you a better person.

But I’ll take this. The comments are pretty good as well.

And he makes one final policy point that’s worth remembering as well:

Gun control not only does no practical good, it actively causes harm. It may be hard to show that it saves lives, but it’s easy to demonstrate that we’ve sacrificed a generation of progress on things like health care, women’s rights, immigration reform, income fairness, and climate change because we keep messing with people’s guns. I am researching a book on Americans’ relationship to their guns, and keep meeting working-stiff gun guys — people whose wages haven’t risen since 1978 and should be natural Democrats — who won’t even listen to the blue team because they’re convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Misguided? Maybe. But that’s democracy for you. It’s helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition — useless for almost everything except turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and fomenting cynicism and resentment.

What he said. He’s writing a book about gun ownership, and I’m actually kind of interested in reading it.

Read the comments, too. My favorite is from commenter Gun Banner who writes:

“You don’t have to worry about any restrictio­ns that are put on the Second Amendment because those restrictio­ns will never be used on other Amendments or rights like the 4th Amendment or abortion because guns are bad and that makes them different.”

…which is probably the best summary of the gun banners thinking on the subject that I’ve read.

Another Amazingly Bad Article On The Economy In The Atlantic

I’ve drifted back to reading the Atlantic (thinks in large part to the great coverage of my son’s platoon in Arghandab), and find it – OK. There’s good stuff, and then there’s Sully. I ought to feel kinship with him – neither one of us fits into a neat partisan slot – but mostly just shake my head when I read stuff by him (note – for a great counterpoint re Palin from a progressive feminist, read this).

But I digress. The point of this post is to share my – pretty hostile – reaction to a column by Derek Thompson on why we’re having a jobless recovery.

Thompson suggest three reasons why companies are fast to fire and three why they are slow to hire.


1. Weak Unions
2. Executive compensation
3. The nature [magnitude, I think he means] of the recession


1. Firms expect a slow recovery
2. Blame the modern world [globalization]
3. The nature of the recession and the stimulus

Let’s go through them.

Weak Unions. Yes, highly-unionized industry tends to keep workers beyond where it’s economically sensible because they have to. But – in a recession like this one, what we would have wound up with are a bunch of bankrupt companies as sales collapsed because the consumers closed their wallets. There’s a counterclaim, which is that had fewer people been laid off, the wallets might have stayed a bit more open, but that’s countered by the wealth effect of collapsing home prices and the near-death of the non-public works construction industry. So no, I don’t think we would have been better off this cycle in a counterfactual world where industrial unions were still strong.

Executive compensation. Executive behavior is clearly an immense driver for the bad decisions that many companies made. But the reality is that it’s not (as much) executive’s desire to juice their equity packages and compensation as the fact that executives who didn’t manage quarterly stock prices get fired. It’s the investors, stupid. We’ve built a hair-trigger investment community that trades more than it invests. And for any public company – or nonpublic company where there is investor control – the holders of the reins (who, amusingly include fund managers investing pensioners money) are going to make executives perform in the short run or can them. This is the worst of his misjudgments, in my view, because it leads to the most misguided prescriptions. It’s not aligning executive pay in the long run that will change things, but changing the investment rules so that investors are there predominantly for the medium and long term that will have an impact.

The nature of the recession. Well, yeah, this is a big recession. But other recessions just as big from a GDP perspective were already hiring back (see the charts in his article) – so if the question on the table is “where are the jobs” this is kind of a useless point.

Firms expect a slow recovery. Well, firms expect a slow recovery and are uncertain about what that recovery will look like. (see below)

This is a nub of the issue (see my post below) and the hard reality is that our decline to the norm isn’t going to be universal, it’s going to be targeted as individual sectors of our economy suddenly have to face global competition – at a far lower cost. The image I have in my head is of our economy as a glacier calving off giant slabs of jobs and businesses. People in those slabs are in bad trouble – their old jobs aren’t coming back and neither are their skills going to be very valuable. They’re going to melt into the global ocean of labor.

The nature of the recession and the stimulus. Here we get into meaty territory. We made the decision to bail out the financial sector and got essentially nothing for it (yes, we may get most of our money back, but because it happened so quickly, and was done in such a slapdash manner (and if you don’t believe my assertion, read “House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street“) that no meaningful extractions – in terms of improving the impact that the financial sector has on the rest of the economy – happened. We saved them, and instead of demanding as a part of the rescue that they go to rehab and straighten up, we handed them a bottle of Oban and the keys to the economy – again. Those decisions by our policymakers were made, in large part, because of the incestuous nature of the policy, political, and financial leadership of the country (see this) ; Ortzag knew where his next job would be – even if he didn’t know what logo would be on the card – and even if there was no conscious backscratching, no one with an outside perspective who might have asked “why?” was at the table.

At some point, our political class needs to cough that person up, and sit them down with the political and financial elites, and let them ask some hard questions. Our journals of public ideology – like The Atlantic – ought to leading that charge. Maybe someday they will.

Update: added link to story about a specific example of DC’s revolving door

On Decline, Relative And Absolute

I read two things this week, and they – between them – nailed what I’ve believed for a long time.

They are about the change in role and position of the United States; one is purely historic, and one prescriptive (note that I’m dubious about the prescription)…

The issue, of course is the decline – certainly in relative and potentially in absolute degree – of the United States. Decline economically, which in turn leads to decline politically and militarily.

One is an instablog over at Seeking Alpha, the investment site, by some guy named Steven Graves. He makes, succinctly, a point that I deeply believe in:

Consider the circumstance of the US at the conclusion of the Second World War:

1) As a result of the enormous arms build up, approximately half of the world’s industrial capacity resided on US soil.

2) We possessed two-thirds of the known gold reserves on the planet.

3) To help fund the war effort 85 million Americans had “saved” $185.7 billion by purchasing bonds (equivalent to Americans saving $2.26 trillion today).

4) A half decade of rationing had pent up an overwhelming reservoir of consumer demand.

5) Our primary economic competitors had all been ravaged by warfare while our infrastructure had thrived.

When had any nation, since the dawn of the industrial age, enjoyed such a staggering advantage over every other nation? It had never happened before and almost certainly never will again, so it is little surprise that such an unprecedented advantage would subsequently translate into a generation of unparalleled growth and prosperity. By the 1970s, however, the world was catching up. US economic hegemony was being directly challenged by rival powers and US industries, many of which had slackened into complacent oligopolies, sluggishly adapted to foreign competition. For their part, US workers, whose wages and benefits had soared during the boom years, were increasingly forced to compete with cheap foreign labor. Add to this the unfortunate fact America’s domestic energy supply had peaked in 1970 and the vine was ripe for stagflation as President Carter urged his fellow Americans to “face the truth” in his infamous Malaise Speech of 1979.

There’s a level of inevitability in this – it would have been virtually impossible to have maintained the kind of economic gap that existed at the end of WW II – as well as a level of virtue – the world is better off with more prosperity wider spread than with less.

We’ve clearly done a bad job with what we were given as well – squandered when we should have invested, raised generations of critical theorists, filmmakers and lawyers when we needed entrepreneurs and engineers. But overall, all it would have done is to have slowed the changeover.

The question, of course, is what that means.

Robert Wright, over at the NYT, has a thoughtful – and I think off-base – article in which he moves from the historic point to a policy one.

People who, like me, raise questions about the value of global military engagement are sometimes called “isolationists.” But that term rightly applies only to people who don’t realize that there are threats to our security out there. If you perceive the threats but realize that they’re collective action problems, you realize that we do have to be involved in their solution.

What form should the involvement take? Funny you should ask! This is my last Opinionator column (maudlin details below, in the postscript), and I just realized that in my year of writing the column I’ve given short shrift to one of my main hobby horses: global governance.

Global governance is the solution to international collective action problems. The problems can range from environmental (it doesn’t make sense for any one nation to cut carbon emissions unless others join in) to financial (as when nations coordinate policy to head off a contagious financial panic). But the most prominent symbol of global governance – the United Nations – was created mainly to deal with the problem under discussion here: keeping the peace. The United Nations Security Council is a mechanism through which threats to peace can be recognized, the military action necessary to deal with them authorized, and the burdens of that military action shared.

That’s gonna work well…

Look, the United Nations is the organization that puts brutal dictators on the Human Rights Commission. The smurfs – the blue helmeted soldiers acting under UN control – consistently fail in their missions, where they aren’t trafficking in underage sex. It is one of the most deeply corrupt and ineffective organizations on the planet, and the notion that we can simply toss them the keys to world security, sit back and open a cold one and then catch a Jets game while the world takes care of itself is flatly ridonkulous. As Joe K frequently mentions his favorite Owen Wilson quote…”What in our history together makes you think I’m capable of something like that?

Look, it’s one thing to make a policy proposal. It’s another to make one so loopily ungrounded in actual history.

Wright wraps up saying

If we’re smart, we’ll use what’s left of this moment to craft instruments of global governance that will assure our security even in a world we don’t dominate … and will also equitably distribute the costs of international security. We’ll show people how to build a world in which we can all, without fear of being attacked, reduce the amount of money we spend on arms.

We do need to craft those instruments. But they will look much more like alliances with Brazil, India, and the Anglosphere than like yielding our authority and power to the control of the UN or one of the existing global agencies.

We need to do something, and we need to start doing it soon. But let’s not confuse something with anything.

The Nub Of What Is Wrong With Modern Liberalism

Here’s a Brad De Long comment about Mickey Kaus (from Mickey’s site)

When Mickey stops trying to destroy the careers of twenty-something journalists, I’ll talk to him…

Until then, I won’t – and you shouldn’t carry water for him either. He’s not a good person.

Brad DeLong

Not – “he’s deeply wrong because,” Not even “He’s deeply wrong.”

“He’s not a good person.”

Public liberals need to believe they have a better model – not the only model – and that those who disagree are fellow citizens who have different policy positions (and in some cases different values).

And it’s not uncommon. Last weekend I was at a party in Manhattan; a room full of nice people and I probably spoke with a dozen of them. Unifrmly liberal – although amusingly when I was critical of the bank bailouts and argued that Obama should have rescued homeowners and banks, not just banks and Wall Street, I was strongly and uniformly criticized. Not one of them was willing to believe that conservatives or Tea Partiers had anything to say, and the feeling was that polite society just didn’t listen to anything they had to say.

Get the f**k over yourselves, people.

Giffords Shooting

One reason I haven’t written much of anything is that everything I read right now pretty much puts me into a funk; the quality of rhetoric I’m seeing from both sides doesn’t bring me any kind of reassurance that our politics are going to be anything but a brawl – at a time when we’re driving our nation along a mountain road with no guardrail. It’s a bar fight where I just can’t bring myself to choose sides.

The immediate news suggests that the shooter is a garden-variety nutjob – about which more in a moment.

But I’ll bet the toxic politics of the moment help focus the rage of the deranged and disconnected and shake them out of the tracks of their daily lives into a path that’s potentially far more destructive. It’s absurd that either side claims that the other a monopoly on violent rhetoric – it’s just not true. And it’s more absurd to hear militant rhetoric from journalists and writers whose closest brush with violence was a shoving match at the frat house or sorority.

It’s disgusting, and somewhere, somehow, someone needs to shame these assholes into changing their tone. Maybe – just possibly – this tragedy will serve as a bucket of ice dumped in their laps that may, just possibly have an impact.

Everything being brought forward (and let’s admit that we have very little yet) about the shooter makes him out to be deranged. I’ll point something out here that I’ve said before; somewhere someone saw someone with a gun whose behavior should have set off a yellow light. Someone who should have said or done something, because – again based on very preliminary and sketchy stories – I’m hard pressed to imagine that anyone who looked at this guy would have had serious second thoughts about his fitness to own a weapon.

Update – fixed embarrassing typo in post title

Happy New Year

I’ve been the Absent Blogger lately, and the Management is working to see what it can do about that for the coming year.

But I didn’t want New Year’s to pass without sharing a greeting, and expressing how happy and relieved I am that 2010 – a year of loss, risk, and fear for so many – that our family was truly lucky and blessed.

This picture – our Christmas card for the year – says it all.


The photographer, Stephanie Pullman, did a number of portraits of the boys when they were very young. I happened to run into her at a Long Beach Opera performance, and amazingly she recognized me.

It was that kind of year for us, and I hope that the luck we’ve had this year will continue into the next.

And I hope that each of you is as fortunate in the ways that matter to you.

Happy New Year, and lift a mug of coffee to absent companions.