Paul, Niall, and Fareed

Fareed ZakariaOn 8 July 2010, Paul Krugman and Niall Ferguson were on Fareed Zakaria GPS.[1] Niall Ferguson was saying that we have to deal with the budget deficit now. He’s been saying this for years. Paul Krugman was saying that we need to stimulate the economy. He also said that eventually, we would need to deal with the budget deficit, but to do so now was wrong and probably self-defeating because it would hurt the economy and thus hurt tax revenues.

After interviewing both men, Zakaria came on alone to give his thoughts on what should be done. He said he agreed with both men. We should stimulate the economy now and work to close the budget deficit over the long-term. You can probably already see the problem here. Although he claimed that he agreed with both men, he only really agreed with Krugman. What Zakaria was proposing was exactly what Krugman had said. Ferguson didn’t say we needed to balance the budget eventually; he said we needed to do it now. We are coming up on two years, and still US government bonds are ridiculously low. Ferguson is finally coming around.

The problem here is not that Ferguson was wrong; it is rare indeed when Krugman is not right about such matters; pity the man who decides to argue against him. The real problem is that we have journalists like Fareed Zakaria who will not say what they think or what is obvious. He insisted on making nice and pretending to accept Ferguson’s fallacious ideas. And that makes it appear like the two sides are equally valid.

We’re only supposed to do that about global warming.


[1] This is the only video I could find. I know the whole thing is available somewhere online.

On Good Reasons for Suicide

On Good Reasons for SuicideThere is nothing so much as watching the Super Bowl to make one start a list of reasons for suicide. How can you not? They are thrust in your face!

Most notably, of course, there is the dullest of sporting events: football. It is deadly. First, there is the fact that there is very little actual play in the game. It looks very bad compared to soccer, basketball, hockey, rugby, or even the pastoral baseball. Then there is the fact that the teams seem more like dysfunctional hospitals than sporting groups, where every player is specialized to the point of not being able to play any other position. Could you imagine a kicker filling in for a safety? So the main event is not worth watching, which is one reason.

Then there is the fact that there is no square inch without an advertisement. And after a while, you begin to think that this is actually the main event: “I must buy a Motorola headset.” This is another good reason.

Madonna performed at the half time. It was an amazing show. It was big, exciting, entertaining, professional. It could not have been any better. And it was awful. All that creativity and work and money spent to create something that looked like it shouldn’t be allowed outside the city limits of Las Vegas. This was a great reason.

The high point of the show was a commercial for some truck—let’s say it was Dodge, but I’m not sure. This man manages to escape sure death to meet his friends in the city, which frankly doesn’t look like a place worth escaping to. Then it starts to rain frogs, which, you know, makes me think they are trying to appeal to Christians. And that is definitely a good reason.

The high point of the event was a Hulu commercial with Will Arnett. He’s a funny guy and he even uses a line from Arrested Development. That in itself is not a reason.

But in the end, it seemed like my entire culture was just commerce. The creative and able people only create things to sell with but one thought: maximizing profits. And with complete honesty, I am deeply, deeply depressed. I see now how much a man of his time George Orwell was. 1984 was a great book. And movie. But it is no longer necessary to enslave people. They gleefully do it themselves.

Conservative Liberals: Am I Wrong?

VoteView has provided the following graph of how much to the right or left all the presidents since World War II are:

Presidents' Ideology

This is interesting in that it shows very clearly that Obama is the most conservative Democratic president in the post-war period. But it also goes against my often stated contention that Democrats are now more conservative than Republicans of the past.

Does this graph make me rethink my position? Definitely. However, it isn’t clear exactly what the graph means. I checked out VoteView’s website in some depth and did not find the details of their process.

Here’s my question: are policy positions based upon the existing (at the time) political range? I suspect that VoteView would say it is not. However, there are problems with this contention, even if VoteView made it—and I don’t know that they would. Certainly, Reagan was generally a bigger proponent of tax cuts than Obama, even though—as a practical matter—Obama has cut taxes more than any president. Obama wants to raise the top tax bracket to 39% while Reagan lowered the top tax bracket to 50%. I suspect that VoteView would see this as Reagan being more conservative on taxes than Obama, even though the net practical effect is that Obama’s top tax rate would be 11% lower than Reagan’s.

So I think this is still an open question, and I’m open to whatever the evidence indicates. Regardless, the graph clearly puts the lie to the conservative talking point that Obama is some kind of radical socialists.

Numeracy in Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in LoveIn my never ending efforts to provide my readers with the most trivial observations of life, I recently wrote roughly a thousand words about a ten cent mathematical error in the film Rocky. And I promised that I would discuss a similar issue in the film Shakespeare in Love.[1] This brings to mind an even more trivial question: why only Academy Award winning films? I don’t know. It could be that I’m just not paying attention, because I noticed the math in both these films around the same time many years ago.

Shakespeare in Love begins with Hugh Fennyman and his henchmen torturing Philip Henslowe, because of unpaid debts. Henslowe proposes that they go into business together to put on a play. Fennyman likes this idea, so he begins to speculate.

Fennyman: A play takes time, find the actors, rehearsals; let’s say we open in two weeks. That’s what, 500 groundlings at tuppence [two pence] a head, in addition, 400 backsides at thruppence [three pence], a penny extra for cushions. Call it 200 cushions. Say two performances for safety. How much is that Mr. Frees?

Frees: Twenty pounds to penny, Mr. Fennyman!

Fennyman: Correct.

Let’s do the math, shall we?

500 × 2 + 400 × 3 + 200 × 1 = 1000 + 1200 + 200 = 2400

Two performances: 4800? That’s twenty pounds to the penny?

The United Kingdom has since metricized their currency, but not that long ago, and for a long time before, their currency made as much sense as all the other imperial units. Here is a list:

4 Farthings = Penny
6 Pennies = Sixpence
12 Pennies = Shilling
20 Shillings = Pound
240 Pennies = Pound

So 4800 Pennies is, in fact, “Twenty pounds to the the penny, Mr. Fennyman!”


[1] I’m sorry to bring this up, but there was another thing in Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s Reduced Shakespeare that annoyed me:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead — Two Bards

Everybody rise and give it up for Tom Stoppard. Not only did he re-energize the short-funny-alternative-Bard industry with Dogg’s Hamlet … he also helped Marc Norman write the delightful screenplay Shakespeare in Love, and he created Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his worm’s-eye view of Hamlet in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (minor characters in Shakespeare’s play) become the leading characters in their own story and discover they aren’t up to the task. Filled with Stoppardian wit, Shakespearean in-jokes, and Beckettian existential dread, Stoppard examimes a world in which “every exit is an entrance somewhere else.”

So it’s a bummer to report the movie’s a bit of a drag. Although very funny in spots, and a treat to watch Gary Oldman play a bumbling, funny, nice guy, you can’t avoid the fact that the play is ultimately about two guys who merely watch and wait. Action heroes they’re not.

With that caveat, however—enjoy.

Shakespeare in Love is a great film in all ways except for the primary plot, which is okay. Given Marc Norman’s history of writing (in large groups) such gems as Cutthroat Island, I doubt that anything I actually like in this film is due to him. All that is clever and interesting is most likely Stoppard’s.

I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who think that the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is better than the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is just so much richer. In particular, it is great to watch Rosencrantz (Oldman) discover or invert Archimedes’ principle, the steam engine, gravitation, conservation of energy, flight. The film is a delight that only gets better with more viewings.

The criticism that the title characters just spend the film watching and waiting is amazing, given that Martin and Tichenor seem to be aware that it is an homage to Waiting for Godot. Given that, what are the characters to do? What are any of us to do? That’s life: we wait around until we die. I don’t think people turn to Shakespeare when they are in the mood for an action movie.

Update (21 November 2012 4:57 pm)

I changed the numbers I got wrong by only doing a single performance. See comments below.