Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Lives of Mammals

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

Malcolm Gladwell is a fox. I think I saw him once on the Lower East Side, but maybe not. Anyway, I mostly admire his work, but unfortunately he seems to be operating with no bullshit filter.

I have added a link to Microkhan, Brendan Koerner's blog. Koerner is definitely a fox.

I have mixed feelings about Koerner's extreme embrace of foxiness. He clearly has a good eye for fascinating minutiae, but wouldn't it be better if he dug a little deeper? I mean, he's written a book, so it's not as though he's incapable of running an interesting idea to ground. But his blog seems frenetic, darting here and there. Like a fucking fox. I guess I'll try reading some of his published articles and whatnot, maybe it's all a balance.

And indeed, we need foxes as well as hedgehogs. But we also need insight, and I think Koerner is the kind of guy who could get a lot out of some of these ideas.

Not Ideas About Blogging But the Thing Itself

Bloggers piss me off sometimes. I think what gets me the most is the overconfidence and certitude. Bob Rubin wrote that he has met people who are more sure about everything than he is about anything. I find myself in the same boat quite often.

Take thisvalue-laden post from Megan McArdle. Her basic argument is that walking away from a non-recourse mortgage is morally wrong. The context is that house prices have dropped significantly since a lot of these loans were made. If a loan is non-recourse, then you can end all your obligations by handing over the house. This makes economic sense if the outstanding balance on the mortgage exceeds the value of the house by a large enough margin. However, whether or not it makes sense to walk away, McArdle thinks it's morally wrong, in that the borrower isn't paying the debt in full.

Bear in mind, there do exist recourse loans. The ability to walk away from a non-recourse loan isn't some loophole sprung upon the unsuspecting lenders. Also, Megan makes an exception for people who declare bankruptcy. However, nothing in the Bankruptcy Code prevents debtors from repaying their debts after they have emerged from bankruptcy protection, and the Bankruptcy Code does not purport to discharge the moral, as opposed to legal, obligation to repay debts.

As the bankruptcy example shows, it is easy to complicate the question. If the moral obligation to repay debts is absolute, then should borrowers never take advantage of, say, the lender's failure to act within the statute of limitations? If I'm morally required to fulfill my contractual promises, where does that leave the concept of efficient breach?

These are normative questions, so they are inherently bullshit. But you can engage the difficult points, the full implications of your position, instead of giving a tendentious example and picking on the other side's weak points. It all just feels very college-y, and particularly college debate-y. Unfortunately, that seems to be a big part of what it means to be bloggy.

And yes, I've been known to engage in the occasional obnoxious debate tactic. Normativity is dead people, get over it.

Water, Water Everywhere

I am feeling especially guilty today. Why? Because I learned that I use an unconscionably high percent of New York's water supply.

Here's the line that has me worried:

"One is the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx, which will provide up to 290 gallons a day of filtered water — up to 30 percent of the city’s water needs — from the Croton watershed in Westchester and Putnam Counties."

So by my calculation, this means that the city needs about 966.7 gallons of water a day. Now, that's a lot of water - in fact, it's impossible to picture that much water, just as it's impossible to imagine what $1 million would look like. It's a good thing New York is in a high-precipitation region. Think how difficult it would be to procure 966.7 gallons a day in a dry region like southern California.

Here's the thing, though. I probably use an average of 30-40 gallons a day. There's my shower, obviously, but also drinking water, cooking water, laundry, dishes, etc. This means that I use 3-4% of New York's water every day. In a city of 100 people, no one person should be using more than about 1% of the city's water on any given day. I'm way over my share - in fact, I'm using as much water as 3-4 New Yorkers, on average.

And that's assuming that New York City has a population of 100. To be more accurate, we would have to use its actual population, which is over 8 million.