Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Outrageous Housing

As mentioned earlier, this blog is a chance for me to vent. And something happened JUST NOW that deserves your attention.

Our good friend, Ed J. DeMarco, who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, just announced that he will object to the Obama administration's efforts to reduce the principals that homeowners owe on their mortgages. So many houses in foreclosure has led to a severely depressed housing market,  declining housing prices, more and more people just packing up and mailing their keys back to the bank, creating more people who are underwater on their mortgages...basically a vicious financial and business cycle.

The best way to stop this deflationary cycle is to offer debt relief. For a small price to taxpayers (in the short-run), the principal is re-negotiated at current interest rates. People then get to stay in their homes, Fannie and Freddie don't take a total loss on the home because people are still making payments on their mortgages, and the money that people are sending to banks (who are refusing to lend and just sitting on their deposits anyway) could be spent on on other goods and services, stimulating demand and economic growth (and increase tax revenues), and housing prices start climbing again as fewer homes go into foreclosure! It's basically a giant tax break or reduction. Win, win, win, win! Both Republicans and Democrats have favored this sensible, or SOBER, (see that word again!) plan.

DeMarco rejected this idea. In a letter to the Obama administration, he stated that the costs outweighed the benefits. He basically believes taxpayers--not homeowners, the agencies he runs, nor the overall economy--would benefit enough. Yes, taxpayers would have to pay for this activity, and the uncertain benefits are outweigh by the even more uncertain risk of moral hazard. This ignores the fact that everyone is made better off in the medium to long-term, if we have a tiny amount of loan forgiveness now. [And I won't even get into how beneficial it would be to forgive student loan debt!]


Economists and other experts have resoundingly objected to DeMarco's objections. Some say he doesn't have the power to decide these matters. That he was charged with managing Freddie and Fannie and should not be concerned with matters related to the federal budget and taxpayers. I'll let the lawyers work that one out, however.

What irks me the most here is that he has an incorrect notion of what moral hazard is--or is at least applying it to this case incorrectly. What is moral hazard? In a nutshell, it occurs when a person is incentivized to engage in behavior that was previously detrimental to his interests because he is now insured against the consequences. It pays to fail (somewhat). For example, moral hazard occurs when people buy any type of insurance. A person is rational to purchase insurance because in today's modern world you can't possibly prepare for all of the possible events or actions of others (or, yes, your own) that can severely affect your financial position. Rationally, you don't have the time or money to worry about every possible disaster and save money for every possible negative event that comes your way, such as cancer, a car crash, accidental housefire, or you hit someone on the golf course in the head with a golf ball with an errant drive and you get sued. It's also rational because it makes more sense allocating your scarce resources to activities that will have bigger payoffs, instead of the rare chance of something bad happening. It's only irrational, i.e., a waste of money, in a sense, if you know AHEAD OF TIME that you will always have perfect health, never get into a car accident, have a fire or storm damage, or have someone fall on the ice in front of your house. NEVER HAPPENS! [Not that I don't think my insurance payments are waste of money sometimes, until I get into that major accident that my co-pilots think is just around the corner...not literally!]

So, you buy insurance to cover you in case of those low-probability, high-impact outcomes. And insurance companies make a LOT of money doing it. That's the point. BUT, by insuring you, you are SLIGHTLY more likely to engage in risky activity, because you are now partly protected in case of failure, controlling for other factors. So, when people buy hurricane insurance, they are more likely to build a house on a beach in Florida---"After all," they say, "I'm insured!" If everyone did this, then everyone would have the incentive to "fail" and the whole market come tumbling down, and the market would cease to exist or not even come about in the first place, even though it could operate just fine with a bit of monitoring. That's what's known as market failure (not the failure of markets).

Well, the answer is not to eliminate the entire insurance industry! Instead, insurance companies MONITOR you! They pay a lot of money to make sure that you won't do the behavior that you're insuring against. Of course, adverse selection is also a problem. Those who are most likely to need insurance, can't get it. This applies to smokers (for health insurance), people who live on faultlines (home owner's insurance), and teenage drivers (car insurance). That's one way to reduce the effects of moral hazard; only select the best candidates for insurance (or make those who are riskiest pay a LOT more).


So, what does this have to do with DeMarco? Well, he basically believes that if we work to forgive a small amount of homeowners' principals, who have mortgages from Fannie or Freddie, OTHERS will be incentivized to go underwater as well. He writes:


"The sheer size and public awareness associated with the Enterprises [Fannie and Freddie], including the need for a consistent set of public rules regarding implementation, greatly enhances the likelihood of altering borrower incentives by implementing HAMP PRA [Obama's plan]. Even within HAMP PRA as undertaken by other lenders, the subjective, internal decision-making of those lenders creates an opaque environment that inhibits a general rule that borrowers might use to engage in strategic efforts to attain principal forgiveness." What nonsense!

In plain English, he thinks that if we forgive current homeowners, others will have a incentive to go underwater too, i.e., not make their mortgage payments on time, because of some subjective change in attitudes in an opaque environment! Got news for you, DeMarco, that ship has sailed! We ALREADY have thousands of people who are underwater, even though they were NOT incentivized to be so. So, we can't say moral hazard CAUSED the mortgage crisis. Unemployment, stagnant wages, and falling home prices all better account for why people need to be "bailed out."

And this hypothesis leads to an absurdity. How many homeowners say to themselves, "I'm making my mortgage payments on time, but I'll default and go through refinancing, ruin my credit, all just to shave a little off my principal?!?!" NONE! Or very few. And if you really think that the number of borrowers who default on their mortgages is going to increase so much that no bank will want to lend any longer because the borrowers can always refinance, and interest rates will, thus, go up, because banks will think everyone is riskier, then just put some limits on the program. Put some restrictions on the renegotiated principal. Limit it to people with a certain income, time period, or degree to which someone is underwater. But that ship has already sailed. And monitor people. Make sure they're making their payments on time.

My point here is that most people who are complaining about moral hazard are ignoring the fact that the disaster that should have been avoided already happened! It's like saying, "Oh, no, we won't insure you against tornadoes, even though a tornado just hit your house and now you need help rebuilding your house, BECAUSE we're afraid that OTHER people will build houses that get hit by tornadoes." And you're blaming the disaster on moral hazard, when it had nothing to do with it. In the meantime, an entire community is destroyed, people are injured, and it would be cheaper to just rebuild the town and everyone benefits from the town being made better off.

Of course, there are two objections here.

1. The system is currently rigged to allow people to do this. That the system encouraged moral hazard. Well, that DEFINITELY applies to the banking crisis of 2008, but I don't have time to get into it. But, if you think a homeowner is MORE LIKELY to go into default with his mortgage just because he has mortgage insurance now, you're insane...or just don't know what the total ramifications are for a homeowner if they default on their mortgage.

2. Libertarians will oppose this plan. "Everyone is on his or her own!" they say. They argue that if you default for no fault of your own (which is not the problem of moral hazard), then you're SOL. Well, there are ways to argue against that on moral and political grounds. But, for now, there's the economic one. We're all better off economically, including the libertarian, if we do so, EVEN IF it was their fault, which it wasn't.

Fire DeMarco!











Monday, July 30, 2012

The Not-So-Subtle Racism of Mitt Romney

This blog was envisioned as a way for me to comment on political and social affairs, defined broadly. It's also a place for me to vent about particular events or columns I've read that just leave me completely flabbergasted. And since my current audience is relatively tired of my rants, this blog is a good venue for them. And today I have one.

It's well acknowledged that Mitt's foreign trip has been pretty much a flop from the get-go. He's insulted just about one of our closest, and friendliest, European allies by criticizing their preparations for the Olympics. One fundamental rule is that the British are allowed to complain endlessly about their own politics and society, but no one else is allowed to complain about things British to them. That's not only rude, it pricks the thin skin of every Brit who still longs for that period of Victorian greatness, but just can't admit that they're a third-rate Europe power now. Or, better yet, the Brits don't tolerate outside criticism, because a) they do it so much better than anyone else and b) insulting Britishness is one of the only things the Brits are still good at!

I guess this is in contrast to Germany, where Germans love to complain and welcome foreign assistance in that effort--so as to remind themselves and everyone else that they know they are horrible people and need to continue to hear it from others as well so that they never get high and mighty again, in other words, nationalist masochism. Or is it masochistic nationalism?

I was amazed(!) at how "flat-footed" Romney's been during interviews while in Britain. I mean, really, how are hard is it to state some basic pleasantries about the importance of the "special relationship"--something that's only existed since 1945, and been through it's many turbulent times [Suez crisis anyone???]--and complement the British government on the Olympics? No, he has to make repeated slip-ups of smugness, thinking that HIS olympics were better (but we'll never know for sure). And, to further the case that he's just an a-hole [currently in a debate with a friend as to whether he's more of a-hol or more a douche], he won't even cheer for his WIFE'S HORSE! Who knows how the horse got there, but, really, how insensitive can you be? Can't you display or articulate one genuine form of empathy for a moment, Guv'nor?! I'm now starting to think Romney has political Aspergers Syndrome.

It was Romney's foray onto my territory--political economy--that got my gruff! Here's what he said today in Jerusalem:

 “Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation [Israel], I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.” “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he said.

Let's forget the fact that he's totally underestimated the differences in GDP between Israel and the Occupied Territories. It's his claims that culture [amongst other things?] that matters. So, Romney is just resurrecting our good friend Max Weber via David Landes. What makes some countries wealthier than others? That question has been around AT LEAST since Adam Smith, but probably longer. And has motivated political scientists and economists ever since. Exhuming Weber from the dead, via Landes, culture explains it! When Weber was trying to tackle this question, he found the Protestant ethic was necessary for capitalism. That's why there's no capitalism in the backward Russia or "Oriental" China. They just don't have the right values, whatever those may be. And Landes updates this by focusing on some key "mores and morals" that a society needs to grow economically.

I've been cautioned to keep these posts short, so that people will actually read them. So I won't go into a long critique of Landes's crappy piece of scholarship. I'm just saddened to hear a major presidential candidate subscribes to this thesis. Well, should I be saddened if I have such unrealistically high expectations? 

But here's a short list of flaws:

1. Romney completely ignores all of the OTHER possible reasons--quite rational--why the Palestinian territories haven't grown. A great list of them is here. Needless to say, but let's write about it anyway, there are plenty of reasons to think that IF the Palestinian territories had at least all of the characteristics of a typical market economy, it would be much richer than it is now.

2. Culture? Really? Does Romney dare go further? Just what is it about Jews that make them so much better than our Palestinian friends in running an economy? We're getting into dangerous anti-/philo-Semitism territory here.

3. If a student of mine cited culture as flippantly as Romney did, and they did, then I would give them a D. [Not like Romney couldn't buy a better grade from me.] I've been teaching versions of the "Wealth of Nations" debate for years. And I always got students who said, "Oh, Prof. Siegel, it's just culture." It's the way they are! So, the implications are: nothing can be done; they don't need our help; our help won't work if it is given; they need to change their culture (somehow) to grow; they're different from us, you see; it's nothing we did; can I go on? Certainly fits with their pre-existing views and inclinations not to support these people and their cause. It's not just that there's no room for nuance. It's that no one can really tie together in a meaningful way how some cultures values become shared, are tied to the outcome [industrialization], why some have them and not others, why some cultures don't get them, why some still grow, but don't have them, why some have them, and don't grow, and on and on.

4. Romney's aides said that his comments were taken out of context. He spoke of the differences "between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” Really? Go further, then, please, Governor Romney, just how are Mexicans and Americans different from each other due to cultural factors? Let's how much of the Latino vote you get then? And just think of how this would translate to Detroit! Why not compare it to Windsor and see what "cultural factors" explain those differences? Why is "nearness" your criterion for case selection?

5. There's no doubt that Romney's comments were directed to his audience--right-wing American Jews. What could be a better combo? Israel and capitalism! Jews and free markets. In contrast to socialism and those Arabs. This all fits well with their worldview that is certainly pro-Republican, conservative and Zionist. Let's put off the question of whether Zionism is racism or just another form of nationalism for another day. What we can say is that people like Sheldon Adelson and his supporters do have this attitude of superiority of the Jewish people to others, especially to Muslims. That they deserve special protection. And it's their own belief in the "success" of the Jewish people that makes them better than others--those other minorities!

There, this rant is over. For now. It'll probably continue in future posts, which I hope will happen more often.

Plus, there's no better way to get your blog read than weighing into the Arab-Israeli conflict. My brother and father can attest to that when participated in forums on the conflict in the early days of Prodigy!!










Saturday, July 21, 2012

All we have to fear is ourselves!

Well, here we are. Again. Another mass shooting in the United States. The person is clearly psychologically diseased. But it's another mass shooting on a long list. In the last 30 years, we've had Killeen, Texas. Columbine. Binghamton, NY. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. And more are bound to happen. Is it because Americans any more insane than any other country? Not likely given the massacre in Norway in 2011 by Anders Breivik. Nor the multiple school shootings that have happened in Germany. No, mass killings are not that unique to the US. But they do seem to be the purview of advanced developed countries. And they are increasing over time in the US.

What does seem to be unique about the US is our complete inability or unwillingness to do anything about it. A rather moving and prescient piece was just penned by Roger Ebert. In it, he identifies quite well the cycle we go through in this country when it comes to mass killings and shootings. We'll have armchair psychologists. We'll point out all of the holes in our gun laws. The right-wing we will say, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Some helpful suggestions for reducing the easy accessibility to guns will be recommended, which Mayor Bloomberg has taken the uncharacteristically brave lead on, but then the NRA will mobilize, accuse anyone of making the tiniest effort at improving our gun safety systems as anti-consitutional and pro-tyranny, our government representatives become silenced by the power of special interests, and, as Ebert writes, it all happens again.

But we can't just stop there. Clearly the status quo is not tolerable. But, aside from the special interest groups seeking to advance their agendas, why else do Americans simply tolerate the idea that it is theoretically possible someone will walk into a movie theater and start shooting at you? I've been struggling to think of a convincing explanation besides, "The NRA just won't let you have gun control; that's why we live in fear." Interest group politics is great, but does it get to the heart of the matter? After all, it seems on the surface that more gun control does not lead to less crime or mass killings, as our good friend John Lott would argue [one of the best manipulators of statistics around]. But, then again, gun control is set at such a minimal level in this country, it's probably hard to know for sure. But, I'm pretty certain minimal changes in our gun laws in this country would NOT bring down crime in this country substantially.

No, there are plenty of other reasons why we are such a violent country. One is inequality. There is simply more crime in unequal societies.  South Africa, Brazil and the United States all have extraordinary levels of inequality and high levels of crime. Why? There is so little chance of social and economic mobility, why not resort to crime to get what you want? In highly unequal societies, the ruling social order and authority is perceived as less legitimate. Why not break the law? It's been against me for so long in the first place, see South Africa. That probably needs to be unpacked some more.

But I'm thinking of a different reason. And that is our basic fear of each other as Americans. I started thinking hard about this a lot more after seeing Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Say what you will about his work and knee-jerk, political hyperbole, he asked a great question at the end of his movie. Canada has so many more guns then we do, especially per capita, but why are there so many fewer shootings? Why do they keep their doors unlocked? And he turns to Charlton Heston, who famously said, "We are a country with a history of violence...and mixed ethnicity." That's why we kill each other. Because we fear the rise of hostile groups. We fear those groups who are going to take away our power.

And then I listen to idiot-Congressman-of-the-day-Louis Gohmert, who says that the shooting resulted from Judeo-Christian values (which are a contradiction) coming under attack. And why didn't anyone shoot back? Aside from the pure stupidity of his comments, what he is subconsciously  trying to say, assuming he doesn't only have an id?  And they're out to get us. And that we're all on our own. And we should be ready to shoot them when "they" are. This is how the NRA succeeds in telling its members that Obama is out to take your guns, a completely irrational position. The UN is out to get us with its back helicopters. We need to have LOADED guns in our home, despite the clear danger that poses. Why increase the level of danger in your home by having a loaded gun? Because there must be something out there that is even MORE dangerous! And why are we so afraid?

We're afraid of everyone else. We are extremely fearful of our fellow Americans. We really believe the guy next to us (usually a guy) is locked and loaded and ready to take us down. And Charlton Heston was right on track. It's because we don't get along in this country...as groups, contrary to what Rodney King wished. "We need our guns to feel safe." From what? From each other. Someone could break into my home. Someone could rape me. Someone could take my property! And, most likely of all, they're likely to be a different skin color (now, religion) than me. That's what people are afraid of. Why else are there people in rural areas of this country owning more guns than people in cities, where there is there MORE crime per capita?!?! Because they're afraid of each other out there! Sure, it's hard to call on the police when you live more than 50 miles from the nearest police station. But, historically, what was the greatest fear? Sure, some people who wanted to take your property. But, white man, you were also taking it away from someone else already! Are you surprised that some Native Americans in the 19th century fought violently to keep their land? That's why you had to have a gun on the farm..not just to protect you from the nearest mountain lion or wolf.

This is why conspiracy theories are so powerful in this country...maybe a bit more effective than elsewhere. And I'll more to say on those in a bit [I've been told successful blog posts should be shorter]. But, underneath all of the interest group politics and feckless politicians who say nothing about it, especially in an election year, it's just our deep-seeded fear of everyone else in this country that leads to the easy accessibility of guns and the successful efforts of interest groups to use propaganda to prevent rational gun control policy. What could be more successful in this country than to tell a bunch of middle-aged, rural and suburban white men that a black man, who's in charge AND illegitimate by the way, is coming to take away your guns? That's why there's no real gun control in this country. Someday we'll overcome all of this, sober up as a country, and enter the 20th century.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter's anti-gay bias.

Here's a copy of a letter I just wrote to the Atlantic. It's in reaction to her "much-talked about-discussed--commented on piece on "Why Women Can't Have It All.

Dear Professor Slaughter:

As of now, your piece on "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" has blanketed various media in the US. The fact that your article has received such a great deal of attention by so many testifies to the importance of the topic and the contribution you make. Since I've been following your career and your writing for so long--I received my PhD in Political Science in International Relations from Cornell, but have now left the profession--I was so eager to learn what you had to say about the topic of "work-life-balance" for women. But, like a few others, I was pretty disappointed in your analysis. For a while, I left it to people with more time and stature than me to respond to your article. But, I saw that you will appear on the Colbert Report this Monday. This just reminded me once again that I had something to say in reaction to your piece and wanted to get it out as you appear in an upteenth interview--on my favorite program no less. And I doubt you have heard this perspective elsewhere.

So why the provocative subject heading? First, it's an attention grabber. I know you've probably received thousands of emails about your article by now. And somehow I wanted my points to get through your cluttered inbox [and the Atlantic gatekeeper]. Second, I find the assumptions behind your piece flawed and biased against gays and gay couples raising kids. And it's important that you hear them. Let me explain. 

Throughout your original piece and elsewhere (during your interview on the Slate DoubleX Gabfest, for example), you have constantly reiterated the arguments that it is WOMEN who have this biological need to be with their children. I'm not sure if you really believe that men do not have an equal need, biological or not, to be with their children. But, reading your article and short piece reacting to the reaction, I get the sense that you think this drive is less among men (although you give plenty of exceptions to the rule of elite Washington men who at least wanted to be home with their children). You also said as much on the DoubleX Gabfest. you remarked that equality means respecting women's difference--a la Simone de Beauvoir. But, in your constant defense of the "biological necessity and drive" for a woman to be at home with her kids, you are giving ammunition to the school of thought that women ARE NECESSARY to raise a child. Now, I know that you do not to intend this. You would probably argue either a) I did not have gay couples in mind when I wrote this or b) the problem of finding a new work-family balance is a problem for all types of families. If the latter, then great. But you don't seem to give that much weight in your argument. Even in your "reaction to the reaction" piece, you once again state that you wrote this for women. And why? Because it is women that have this need to be back home and juggle work and family, PRIMARILY. So where does that leave 2 gay men raising a family? Do they also not have this problem?

Well, the answer, Prof. Slaughter, is not to strengthen stereotypes which are hetero-normative (which you do in your original Atlantic piece). You are probably not aware that your piece is being read by the gay community, especially those with children, as saying that "Oh, well, I don't have those pressures because I'm not a woman--how DARE HER!" EVERY type of caregiver, gay or straight, faces this difficulty. And what this implies, and what you can't seem to be torn away from, is that your perspective is that to say that PRIMARILY WOMEN face the pressure to "have it all" is itself sexist. The fact that you are "grateful" that Andy stepped in to take care of your children while you were away at the State Department only gives the reader a greater sense that it was YOUR fault and agony to bear when being away from them. Where was Andy earlier, before your teenage son was having problems? Did he ever experience loss when being away from his kids and writing his books? And why would you reconfirm these sexist stereotypes on the XX gabfest, when you said "it was difficult to be in a home full of testosterone." It took be a good minute to bring my eyes because of how far they rolled up into my head. Is that how you define masculinity? By claiming that there is this biological need for a woman to be with her kids, you are just re-affirming the stereotype that it is a WOMAN AND A MAN that is needed to properly raise a child.

And you are probably not aware that simply stating that it is the woman that has this desire to take care of her children, which is biological, you are giving ammunition to those groups who deny and which to take away those rights gays and gay families have fought for and received in the last 20 years. BECAUSE of the stereotypes you are re-affirming, I can hear plenty of right-wing, gay-hating groups saying, "SEE, even this smart, Harvard-educated, leftist woman thinks a WOMAN is NECESSARY to raise a real, functioning family," or at least to feel like a successful woman, i.e. have family and work success. I wonder if you can see the underlying bias of your article any better. 

Think of what the implications are for two gay men raising a child based on your thesis. If they are men, they both would rather pursue their careers and there will less of a "motherly" or "feminine" figure in the house. So, gay families would be weaker and less able to raise children because the two, gay, mean will pursue careers over family, because it's biological.

Finally, this leads me to my last point about where you think change will come from. You only vaguely say how, except that it's necessary to bring woman to power. Well, first, not every woman is going to share your analysis of the problem, i.e. Sarah Palin. Second, why not start convincing men that they should start taking care of their children as well. Maybe more childcare for ALL will then be available. Criticizing Hirshman's critique of your article just because she is another academic is kind of cheap. And you don't really respond to her central claim that your problem IS a problem that WE ALL must deal with. 

One last item..you cite Michelle Obama as a model to follow. You forget that she had a lot of help...from HER mother. Her mother LIVED with the family AND still does help raise the children. Perhaps if it was possible for the rest of us to rely on extended family to help care for our children, we all, gay and straight families, can have it all.



Sincerely,
Scott Siegel




And see Hirshman's response to Slaughter's Response!





So what's with the title?

Why "political sobriety"?

Well, in essence, this blog is going to be about my ruminations on politics and society. But with, hopefully, some sober reflection. In most places on the blogosphere, we have ranters ranting about the latest rants they read. Over the last ten years, we have all noticed how crazy political discourse has become. Not really amongst us common people as much as in the media--both digital and analog. Both electronic and print. And we've all hit our level of toleration some time ago. But the ridiculousness doesn't stop. It takes on different forms. It's spoken by new people looking for their 30 seconds of fame on the Fox News channel. And they do so by saying the most extreme things they can. Although there are many who probably pre-date her, even in 18th America, Ann Coulter seems to be the best example of it. Just see how the titles of her books have "evolved" over time.

It's aggravating and exhausting. We're pretty much sick of it. But that doesn't mean we should retreat into re-runs of Law and Order (BEFORE Jerry Orbach left the show). There are a lot of good reasons why we should become cynics and withdraw. But, mostly for worse, there are too many people that do have influence over our lives. If these people were not having some effect, however minuscule, on our lives, then we could ignore them. But they do. And their fire of rage and irrationality should be met by the cool waters of reason and rationality. By sobriety.

What I'm trying to do here is tone it down a bit, while still giving you a strong dose of opinion. Rather than something "fruit-forward" and 15 proof, I'm trying give you something more subtle, but that still has substance. I'm going to try to give you a version of my own "sober" analysis. Try to see recent political and social events through some cool, calm reasoning. With evidence and reality-based claims there to back me up. Or provide you with just my own "unique" point of view.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't have my own passions. And, Yahweh knows, a chief reason why anyone creates a blog is to share her outrage, anger, contempt and disgust about something that happened just five minutes ago. This can lead to some outrageous statements devoid of fact and logic. And I will be guilty of doing that once in a while. When I am, I look forward to your reactions. Unlike some people on the political boob-tube (am I describing TV or politicians?), I can revise my thinking once in a while.

In my first real, substantive posting you will see my own reflections to an essay by a prominent political scientist that has stirred up quite a debate recently. Although I've been meaning to start a blog for some time now, it was her piece and a few others by that ever-annoying David Brooks that just left me fuming. But I had no vent to release all that steam. Hopefully what follows are some reflections after some sufficiently sober thought.

And, by the way, the title for this blog came from a close acquaintance who is usually good at naming things..including my own types of miscreant behavior.

Let the Blogging Begin!

So....here I am. I'm starting a blog! I'm becoming a member of the "blogosphere." Of the "world of blogs." Perhaps typically of most people, I read a lot of other people's blogs, but never blogged myself. I read "Five-Thirty-Eight", now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NY Times, almost everyday during the 2008 presidential election. I read Talking Points Memo almost every day on the hour to get the latest updates. I read blogs on gay issues, food, wine, music, magazines, etc. (links for the ones I like the most you will find to the side). Even my brother has had a blog for years.

But I never blogged myself. So, why have I moved from the passive consumer of information to being an active producer? Well, it's mainly due to the fact that I once was a producer of information for a long time in a different environment--in the ivory tower. I spent most of my waking hours--ok, not all of them..I did have to make time to watch Community and due other wasteful things with my time--trying to produce knowledge. As an academic, my job was to produce knowledge that was meant to be serious and peer-reviewed. The knowledge/information I produced was intended for a limited audience, but still hopefully made a significant contribution, whether an article or a book. After trying to refine one more sentence in a 4000-word essay that would be published in a low-ranking journal to have one more line on my CV, I was too exhausted to share my thoughts elsewhere. And too afraid, for whatever reason.

And, somewhat painfully, reluctantly, and a little too late in my life than I would have liked, I learned and eventually acknowledged that I wasn't very good at it. I didn't publish, so I perished. But, as a very good friend of mine pointed out some time ago, failure can be the best thing for us. Yes, I know it's sometimes hard to acknowledge, but it can lead you to reevaluate and point you in a new direction that will be successful. And that new journey has begun.

You see, I still want to produce! You see, I'm now a consultant at a small firm "on the Peninsula," and this new lifestyle, of working 9-5 in an office outside my home, temporarily, has given me the breathing room and eagerness to re-engage the world on my terms. I still love to discuss politics, social change, economics, art, and the latest fashion trend featured in Bill Cunningham's style column. And I've been known as a loud-mouth. I seem to be a gregarious person. Ready to share my opinion about anything, even if it was totally uninformed or absurd, and I even made up facts to support those opinions until I was called on my bullshit. But I quickly realized that the number of people in my social circle who wanted to hear my rants were getting a little tired of hearing my booming voice disturb them as they sipped their pinots. And I wanted a bigger audience. I would still get frustrated by the latest column I read by that insufferable David Brooks, laugh at the latest snarky posting on Wonkette, or discuss the latest fuck-up by the Obama administration. And I needed to share those thoughts with SOMEBODY besides my over-annoyed loved ones.

I want to put in my own ten, fifteen, 50 cents on an issue. I wanted to give you my thoughts and observations based on what I've learned over the years. Perhaps dig up a few political science references as I give you my thoughts on the relationship between unemployment and presidential elections. Why the euro is collapsing. And why New York State cannot produce a good red wine. Full stop.

I don't want to lie and say I don't have a hidden agenda here. I would love to get noticed by Ariana, Rachel or Bill. I would love to appear someday on those political talk shows and shove George Will's bow-tie down his throat. Maybe this blog will lead to an occasional column for the New Republic. Or will get highlighted by DailyKos. Even a little ch-ching for some new bling-bling would help. But, in the meantime, this is a place for me to make casual observations about what I think are either important or trivial items that enter the news or our collective social consciousnesses.

And to get feedback from you. Sure, I don't have to worry about peers reviewing me here. I don't have to worry about ridiculous editors. But it would be nice to get your comments. To start a dialogue structured by ME. Hopefully, there won't be too many crazies putting their comments here. And hopefully they won't all be from academia--grad students cooped up in their sterile offices or hunched over their coffee-stained keyboards just waiting to escape the drudgery of writing another dissertation chapter so they can start earning something like a real living.

DISCLAIMER: What follows in future posts are just my own brief thoughts and comments on recent events. It won't be limited to politics, but you'll see that it has a political focus. It will occasionally drift towards economics (which I don't pretend to be an expert about), society, music and even what makes a good pinot (see a theme?). So everything is up for grabs. What this blog won't be is a long rant about the ivory tower, the academic profession, the tenure track system, and its acolytes. Why? Because, as my therapist said too many times (and actually had to pay a lot of money to hear), the past is the past. No sense having regrets. Don't worry. I will be posting items regarding my contempt and sense of betrayal by the profession in future posts. But this blog is about the FUTURE!

So, I'm here, I'm queer, and starting another damn blog I hope you'll read before watching another re-run of Law and Order or to distract yourself again from the fifth version of that article for that obscure journal you know no one reads. Hopefully, I get a few more hits than that one too.

TECHNICAL NOTE: I'm still figuring out this whole linking, tweeting, tumblr, reddit, and other social media fads. I'm WAY behind the times. The relative technical sophistication of my blog will improve over time as I get used to using the inter-webs and learning how to put all of these tubes together.

And, yes, my posting will be far shorter than this lengthy monologue was.




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