Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Quotes of the day

[Music] artists don't put out albums anymore, they put out single hits, so they have reasons to tour. Hits and tours make you relevant, and they get you sponsorships, and earn you money from merchandise.--Zack O'Malley Greenberg

Having a sense of the rhythms and emotions of music helps poetry, and so to does the logic of mathematics help economics. But good economics, like good poetry, almost always stands by itself without the adjunct. Just as we should beware of poetry that only sounds good when there's music playing, we should distrust economic analysis that only seems profound within mathematical models. There's the hope that if we use some rigorous method of reasoning economics will avoid the stagnation of ideas we see in politics or journalism. Would that it were true.--Eric Falkenstein

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was on to something when he said he was worried about the shift towards ‘self-hatred’ within French society and its potentially destructive impact. Unfortunately, his call for a debate about ‘national identity’ has been as clumsy as that initiated by British politicians, while his decision to stop Muslim women wearing the burqa in public suggests that France really has lost its understanding of what it means to be a secular, liberal nation rooted in Enlightenment values. Gainsbourg appears to be influenced by these contemporary tensions in French society. While on the one hand it happily plays on the Gallic stereotypes of freedom-loving aesthetes with a liberal attitude towards sex, it also morbidly dwells on the Nazi occupation and residual racism across French society. Appealing to past glories and abasing past disgraces, however, won’t help resolve the question of French national identity today. The French only need to look across the Channel to see the folly in that strategy.--Neil Davenport

So why not alert listeners that you might be getting a “liberal” or “leftist” perspective from those two sources, just as you warned them that the Cato Institute was speaking from a fiscally conservative perspective? Back on March 23, I noted but did not blog about references on “Morning Edition” to “the libertarian Cato Institute,” the “conservative American Enterprise Institute,” and “the Brookings Institution.” No label needed for Brookings, of course. Just folks there.--David Boaz

Words I never thought I’d write: I pine for George W. Bush.--Peter Beinart

Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They’ve all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency—Barack Obama’s presidency—has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the “news” by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth—these forces have made today’s Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself. ... Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington’s problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades—at a rate barely noticeable while it’s happening—produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it’s the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. --Todd Purdum

I punted all these balls to my successor and discovered I was the receiver.--Robert Gates

U.S. troops were fighting and dying in two foreign wars, but the Pentagon bureaucracy was shuffling through its peacetime paces. The Army and the Marines, for example, had a new armored vehicle, the MRAP, which could provide greater protection against Iraqi roadside bombs and save many troops' lives. But the brass were doing nothing to accelerate production. Similarly, the Air Force had a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, "drones" equipped with real-time video cameras and remote-control-fired missiles; troops in the field were clamoring for more, but Air Force leaders were not stepping up deployment. [Defense Secretary Bob] Gates quickly intervened, taking both programs outside normal channels. He added $16 billion to build more MRAPs on a crash schedule. And he fired the Air Force's chief of staff, Gen T. Michael Moseley, in part for negligence with the nuclear command, but mainly, according to knowledgeable officials, for his sluggishness on the drones. Gates replaced him with Gen. Norton Schwartz, head of the Air Force's unglamorous Transportation Command. He picked Schwartz because he had tirelessly worked out a way, at Gates's request, to speed the air delivery of MRAPs to Iraq; that is, he'd acted as if a war was going on. (Schwartz's promotion made him the first Air Force chief of staff to come up through the ranks as neither a bomber pilot nor a fighter pilot; the move marked the beginning of a huge cultural shift in that branch of the military.) Gates also noticed that the Army's most innovative colonels -- brigade commanders who not only understood counterinsurgency theory but practiced it in Iraqi cities and villages -- were getting stalled in their careers by generals with much less battlefield experience and who were wedded to Cold War precepts of combat. So, near the end of 2007, Gates called on Gen. David Petraeus, then the U.S. commander in Iraq and the architect of the counterinsurgency strategy there, to chair that year's Army promotion board, which would advance 40 colonels to the rank of brigadier general. More than a dozen of the Army's promising colonels, at least one of whom had been passed over twice, got their stars. With this single stroke, the Army's culture -- the signals sent to the troops of what kind of soldiers get promoted and what kind don't -- changed dramatically. ... When Gates submitted his budget to Congress, the president attached a message that he would -- not "might," but "would" -- veto the bill if it contained money for even one more F-22. It was the only veto threat in the president's first budget, and it worked. By then, it was clear -- to the surprise of many -- that the two men had hit it off. Their biographies were very different, but their executive sensibilities were nearly identical: pragmatic, problem-solving, averse to ideological formula and cliché, inclined to give everyone involved a say and then make a crisp decision. Several officials said that Obama had asked Gates to stay on as defense secretary mainly to provide continuity in the management of the wars -- and cover for any resulting controversies, owing to his credibility with the Joint Chiefs and with both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. But it was soon evident that Gates had become, as one official put it, "a core player on the team." --Fred Kaplan

After much self reflection, I have decided to retire from managing client funds and I wanted to give you prompt notice of my intentions and explain the reasons for this. I have had to recognize that competing in the markets over such a long timeframe imposes heavy personal costs. While the joy of winning for clients is immense, for me the disappointment of each interim drawdown over the years has taken a cumulative toll that I cannot continue to sustain. This is true even though to date we have delivered an unbroken record of positive annual performance which I hope will continue for 2010 as well. And while our clients were certainly pleased that we achieved positive results for 2008 and 2009 in a challenging environment, as you may have surmised I was dissatisfied with those results because they did not match my own, internal long-term standard. You may remember that I chose to leave Soros Fund Management ten years ago because the challenge of managing an enormous amount of capital was having a clear impact on my ability to perform, as well as my state of being. Unfortunately, as Duquesne has grown, these factors have again emerged.--Stanley Druckenmiller

It turns out that sex often triggers a large stress response, leading to a spike in glucocorticoid levels. The good news, though, is that this stress is good for us. While chronic stress normally leads to a dramatic reduction in neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells, the stress produced by sex has the exact opposite effect, at least in the dendate gyrus.--Jonah Lehrer

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