I did not know that either

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been following the mortgage meltdown, financial crisis, whatever you want to call it pretty closely since near about the beginning. I was in and out of fancy hotels across Europe, watching a lot of BBC business news, when the stock markets started crashing last September. And yet it wasn’t until today that I saw for the first time the phrase “negative-amortization mortgages.”

Just to spell it out, that’s when your monthly payments don’t even cover the interest. So instead of your balance going down a little bit every month, it goes up. And I guess it’s a testament to the incredible adaptive power of the human mind that we can now all see how that’s not really a great idea.

(from here)


Department of understatement

It reminds me of the United States in 1861 when the southern states argued that sovereignty rested with the states, and that membership in the federal union was an elective matter; that even as members, they were free to pursue their own independent policies. There was a conference held on this at Gettysburg in 1863 that ultimately settled the question.


The anti-anti-contrarian

I had an idea for a blog called the Anti-Contrarian, or something like that, which would defend the conventional wisdom from the Slate or Freakonomics sort of school of commentary, where everything is “counterintuitive” and has a “hidden side” and things are never quite what they seem. The thesis would be that a lot of things are exactly as they seem — we really do need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, we really should spend more on foreign aid, including food (and cash) aid to deepest corruptest Africa, private for-profit insurance really is an exceptionally stupid way to fund health care. That sort of thing.

Then I went and stumbled on this profile of John Gray, who is in a lot of ways basically who I want to be when I grow up — at the age of 61 he’s retiring from teaching political philosophy at the London School of Economics so that he can write and philosophize full-time. And in the course of his conversation with the interviewer, he mentions a couple of topics on which I hold opinions that really could be considered somewhat contrarian:

There’s something a bit sinister about Scandinavia. Gray only mentions Denmark and Norway in an aside about China and Russia not being the world’s only oil-mad villains. But for me, there’s something sort of too-good-to-be-true about these forward-thinking egalitarian social democracies. Denmark, for one, is suffering from its own success: there’s relatively little inequality within the country, their standard of living is much higher than the European norm, and their immigration policies are famously liberal. One or two of these facts is going to have to change. Wealth-wise, if not otherwise, Scandinavia is basically the USA of Europe, with the far-right anti-immigrant loons to prove it. Pretty soon, if they go on being rich and egalitarian, they’re going to have to lock the doors and start drowning the refugees, Italian-style. Meanwhile they’re the happiest people in Europe, the bastards.

Nuclear power, rather than wind or solar or wishes and dreams, will be the likeliest large-scale replacement for oil and coal. Yes, this will be bad in a lot of very big ways, people will be sickened and killed and some fairly large areas of the earth’s surface will become uninhabitable. But we’ll end up reluctantly deciding that that’s better than a return to the eighteenth century. I’m not saying I like the idea of widespread nuclear power, but I think it’s inevitable.

Richard Dawkins is a cock. Gray doesn’t explicitly say so but I think he’d agree with me. I’m as irreligious as anyone, but I do recognize that people have all sorts of reasons for religious belief, many of which are a lot more illuminating than “because they’re idiots.” I don’t find any of them personally convincing, but I do expect people to differ on the matter.

Point being, go and read this guy, especially if you’re a total pessimist who sometimes wonders if you might be so liberal you’re actually conservative.