Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category


Black comedy with Alan Greenspan

March 31, 2011

A couple days ago, Financial Times gave some column-inches to Alan Greenspan to bash the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill. Not, of course, for being insufficient in its strictures (see Matt Taibbi for that), but rather for being too heavy-handed and market-distorting. The money statement, and the one that has elicited unending amounts of scorn and hilarious snark, is this:

Today’s competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.

To which Dean Baker says,

Just in case you have forgotten, we have 25 million people who are unemployed, under-employed or have given up looking for work altogether because Alan Greenspan did not understand financial markets and the economy. Perhaps the FT will have a column offering advice on disaster management from Michael Brown.

Crooked Timber dedicates a whole post, plus a gazillion comments, to mocking the “with notable exceptions” thing. I haven’t read them all because the sheer number of them is overwhelming, but there’s some pretty funny stuff in there. “With notably rare exceptions, Germany remained largely at peace with its neighbors during the 20th century.”

It’s also interesting to note that the vast majority of commenters on the original FT piece are largely derisive of Greenspan, and of FT for giving him undeserved airtime.

Finally and more substantively, the thrust of Greenspan’s argument appears to be that the financial sector is just too complicated to be regulated. This is, needless to say, a troubling line of argument, but not one that’s entirely uncommon. In fact, World Bank President Bob Zoellick essentially made a similar argument when he gave a talk here last year, saying that he had the World Bank put pressure on the Basel III financial regulatory talks so that the resulting regulations would not be an “overreaction” that resulted in unintended consequences. About Dodd-Frank, Greenspan says:

The financial system on which Dodd-Frank is being imposed is far more complex than the lawmakers, and even most regulators, apparently contemplate. We will almost certainly end up with a number of regulatory inconsistencies whose consequences cannot be readily anticipated.

I understand the idea of unintended consequences as an argument against sweeping reforms, but when the system to be reformed is so thoroughly broken, one would think that something more than cautious baby steps is called for.

Flying Whale


Faking It

October 8, 2009

In what reads more like a Stuff White People Like post than the usual commentary on humanitarian aid, Michael Bear tells us how to sound like a expert on the “poverty-stricken, war-torn country of your choice.”

1. Memorize the names of various tribes and semi-obscure towns. Ask questions like: “But what do the [insert name of random tribal group] think?” Or “What about the situation in [semi-obscure town]?”

Both of which are best said with a thoughtful expression, verging on concerned. There’s nothing like seeming to agree with your interlocutor while subtly pointing out that his or her analysis is rather facile for ignoring said tribe or district.

2. Memorize the date of one significant or semi-significant event in the country’s history. Tie all current political and / or military developments back to that date: “You make an interesting point about Liberian politics, but it’s all really just an outgrowth of what happened on September 9th, 1990.”

Don’t deign to explain further; instead, act as tho of course everyone should know what happened in Liberia on September 9th, 1990.

3. Acronyms, acronyms, acronyms. Saying you dislike the Sudanese Government is one thing, but doesn’t really separate you from the crowd. Saying you dislike the NCP is better. Extra points if you can work NCP, SPLM, GNU and HAC into one semi-coherent sentence.

First, I’m nearly positive I had a conversation with someone last night who somehow managed to read this post before it was written.  We were talking about the most recent ethnic group from Burma to be granted refugee status (both of us having some organizational contact with refugees more broadly) and I swear he was following this formula (and Tip #1 quite well).  Suddenly that whole conversation makes more sense.  I feel enlightened.

But more substantively, it strikes me that this would more or less work for lots and lots of topics.

Nothing says “I know school reform” like talking about the synergistic momentum that NLNS, KIPP and TFA are creating (Tip #3).

And how many times, in talking to folks younger than forty about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina did someone say, “Gosh, this is just like 1965.”  Good grief folks, call it Hurricane Betsy and actually know a little something.  Yes, the levees failed both times, but there is a hell of a difference between 76 deaths and 1,836 (Tip #2).

Anyway.  My plan moving forward: follow up conversations like the one last night with a “Great to talk with you” email.  And a link.



Something a little lighter

August 13, 2009

Some people get their news from Jon Stewart. I prefer Auto-Tune the News, particularly the first 90 seconds or so of this one (if you missed it a month or so ago):

Flying Whale