Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Wikileaks, information, and zealously holding on to one's idols

The occasion for this post is a nice article on Wikileaks. But all of this points to broader issues:

A lot of people vote for Party X out of tradition and habit, devoting little thought to the process. And that's fine: since each vote matters *so* little, why bother? But what about the people who spend considerable energy trying to justify avid support for horrible candidates?

The mental gymnastics required to support Trump are well-documented and obvious. But in the case of Clinton, it's particularly interesting, because these are supposed to be the smart, tolerant folks. Is the related pathos greatest because of their...
a.) prudish self-righteousness
b.) ironic fundamentalism
c.) utter rejection of liberal values while still claiming (believing?) to be "liberal"

Anyway, it's obvious that if we had a lot more liberals and conservatives, we'd have a much better political arena.

UPDATE: This article (salty but spot-on) from Ray Rieck (on the relevant FB thread)...and my response:

Salty, indeed, but I think it aptly describes a huge (or yuge) part of what's going on for Trump: radically different worldviews; condescension of the elites (most of whom are self-styled liberals); largely-reasonable suspicion of the elites by the unwashed / deplorables; and so on.

What explains Clinton voters, though?
a.) They were only given two (lousy) choices in the primaries: unicorn-believing, idealist Sanders vs. Clinton-- and Clinton (barely) wins that...ironically, by winning a rigged primary system. And what else are they going to do?
b.) The probable culmination of identity politics: What they say, believe, do, etc.-- doesn't matter. Let's get a member of group X into position Y.
c.) Their supposed policy positions and supposed approach to others have always been a sham-- and this moment gives us occasion to see both on full display. .

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

poop on you

In the same vein, the Trump campaign would be the Dave Matthews Band in 2004 Chicago. (Or maybe it's Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation? Or this from Monty Python with mud subbing in for feces.)

I'm not sure which is better; let's take a vote. Which do you like?
a.) the metaphor itself
b.) the photo of the "forward together" bus addition to the metaphor
c.) the connection to the prophetic Ezekiel 4:12-15
d.) the policy application (I love the environment, but...) with policy analogies (I love African-Americans, but I have a busload of policies for them. I love the working-poor and middle-class, but... I love peace, but...)
e.) all of the above

My favorite part is the guy saying "That's wrong. I don't care who you are". That, sir, is where you're wrong. If Hillary does it, then some of us look the other way, make excuses, plead the 5th, hold our noses (but please pretend not to hold it), and self-righteously vote like a Yellow Dog.
The day before this, I commented on Sam's FB page that "the DNC can recover from its smoldering dung heap (and what it reveals) more easily than the RNC can recover from its dumpster fire (and what it reveals)." After the fact, this turned out to be a nice prophetic reference to dung heaps, huh? ;-) LOL!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

on Lone Ranger Christians, the Church, and the Mystery of Ephesians 2-3

A lot of people suppose that they can be "Lone Ranger" Christians-- faith and practice (of some sort) with little or no connection to Christian community. This is practically limited and biblically incoherent for a number of reasons.

On FB the other day, someone asked me about the importance of robust involvement with the local church and the Church-- as opposed to a merely individual salvation and a privatized faith. I replied that there are verses and more sophisticated cases for this claim. One of the latter appears in Ephesians 2-3, which I'm preparing to teach on Sunday. A great quote from John Stott (127-129):

“...the center of God’s eternal-historical plan is Jesus Christ, together with his redeemed and reconciled people…it is evident from Ephesians 3 that the full gospel concerns both Christ and the ‘mystery of Christ’…not only to save sinners like me…but also to adopt us into God’s family; not only to reconcile us to God but also to reconcile us to one another…The gospel is good news of a new society as well as of a new life…If the Church is central to God’s purpose as seen in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives…How dare we push to the circumference what God has placed at the center?”

Some of the failure here is due to "personal problems"-- aspects of personality that get in the way of a person pursuing authentic community. But the larger issue is surely a lack of vision: if one doesn't understand (or hasn't even heard) this part of Christianity, then it's less likely to be pursued. Another large issue is busyness-- or to be more precise, distorted priorities. I could do it easily enough-- lacking the problems you note-- but simply choose not to make the investment, given my perceptions of this and other opportunities.

This is also something of a barometer for whether one is a Christian or not. In fielding questions about the justice of Heaven and Hell, it's common to observe that if one doesn't want to be near to God now, why would one want to do a more concentrated version of that for eternity. In this context, if you don't want to be involved with the Church and the church today, are you sure that you're set up to do that in Heaven?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

this year's election: the anti-"Being There" movie! (and we wish we weren't here!)

This election seems like a novel-- the antithesis of "Being There". (I wish I had written it!) Check out the plot:

One political party emphasizes social morality and fiscal conservatism-- and chooses a repulsively-immoral, big-government candidate.

One political party emphasizes peace, inequality, and justice-- and chooses a corrupt, lying warmonger.

The rest of us don't know whether to feel sorry for the mental gymnastics on both sides-- or to laugh at them-- or to be upset that they're trying to foist their garbage on us.

In any case, we won't be voting for your candidates; we'll be choosing someone else!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

review of Zubrin's Merchants of Despair

I've written a good bit on eugenics and its intersection with economics and public policy. See: for example, my first article which "celebrated" the centennial of Indiana's path-breaking law and an essay expanding on the connection between health care policy and eugenics, In the next year or so, I'll have a journal article in Markets and Morality and a book review in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. Continuing along those lines: Here is a brief overview (and set of excerpts/quotes) from Robert Zubrin's Merchants of Despair

Zubrin opens by distinguishing between environmentalism and anti-humanism: The latter is not the former, although it often masquerades as the former (2). He defines the former as applying "practical solutions to real environmental problems...for the purpose of making the world a better place for all humans to thrive in." Of course, anti-humanism is not interested in the last two prepositional phrases of that definition.

One key problem in this arena is ignorance of basic economics-- from the value of mutually beneficial trade to the dynamics of markets through incentives. Zubrin opens chapter 2 by quoting Henry George (5): "The jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens; the more men, the more chickens." Human beings are not simply consumers but also cultivators (7).

Zubrin (6) offers a sobering quote from Malthus-- the original, famous anti-economist in this regard:  

"we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits...should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague...should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases..."

Zubrin also offers a long, surprising quote from Friedrich Engels refuting Malthus (7-8). Later, in chapter 9, Zubrin covers the non-genius of Paul Ehrlich, who received a Genius Award from the McArthur Foundation (118) and then got spanked by Julian Simon in their famous bet, which played out along basic economic principles. Zubrin also devotes space to the Green Revolution and the crucial work of Norman Borlaug (208-212)-- again, the implications of economics within market economies

On the other side of the coin, Zubrin covers the role of government in their efforts to make Malthus' predictions come true (the only way it'll happen): "While history has proven Malthusianism empirically false, however, it provides the ideal foundation for justifying human oppression and tyranny." (9) 

Malthus' theory was used to justify laws against the poor in Britain (the Poor Law Act of 1834) which "forced hundreds of thousands of poor Britons into virtual slavery" (9) Zubrin also addresses the Irish ("potato") famine and dispels popular myths about it-- that it was caused by overpopulation or too few potatoes. Instead, potatoes were all the Irish could afford and they were exporting all sorts of grain and meat to the British during this time. A key official in the British government characterized the deaths from the famine as bringing "permanent good out of transient evil" (12).

Zubrin also connects this strain of thought to Darwinism, eugenics (particularly of the late 19th and early 20th C), and the even-nastier events of the mid-20th century. Where Malthusians saw over-population and death as an inevitable but regrettable consequence, Darwinians saw it "as a blessing...hastened the advance of humanity through the weeding out of 'unfit' individuals and race." (27) When seeing man as just another animal, the inferences get squirrelly. But human beings "are capable of systematically passing on information through non-hereditary means, such as artifacts and words." (30)

All of this also "did a perfect job of justifying brutal European imperial looting of the less-developed world." (31) Darwin's work "produced a forceful argument for those wishing to be free of the constraints of Christian or Enlightenment humanist ethics...hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed...human compassion toward the unfortunate was not merely useful (as per Malthus) but actually morally wrong...Instead of being evils, war, disease, and famine were not good and necessary." (33-34)

Zubrin presents some sobering quotes from Darwin in chapter 2-- where he argued that "the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races" (26). As a result, the gap between man and monkey will grow, instead of the small gaps he saw between "negros", Australians (Aborigines who were a step below blacks-- and rated below "the better breeds of domestic dogs" [37]), and gorillas (26).

Zubrin provides more "great" quotes on eugenics in chapter 3. The editoralists of the New York Times eulogized Frederick Douglass in 1895 by noting that he was a great man. But they attribute some of his greatness to his "white blood" and propose that he would have been greater with "more white blood" and without "any black blood". As such, his blackness should have been seen as "a cause for lamentation instead of a source of lyrical enthusiasm over African possibilities...plain justice should see to it that the right race gets the glory or the humiliation." (35) Wow.

Zubrin notes that Darwin was not a racist or a utopian, but was content to watch and wait for nature to take its seemingly-inevitable course. "Nevertheless, such people readily understood that Darwinism gave them precisely the scientific and ethical justification they desired." (35) For example, Ernst Haeckel: "Since the lower races (such as the Veddahs or Australian Negroes) are psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes and dogs) than to civilized Europeans, we must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives." (43)

Zubrin points to the pre-WWII role of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in promoting eugenics (53-56): forced sterilizations of "inadequate" people (feeble-minded, mentally ill, criminal, epileptic, drug addicts, diseased, bling, deaf, deformed, and dependent)-- with laws in 30 states, 63K institutionalized who were sterilized, and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of poor people who were sterilized to avoid losing welfare benefits-- until it was ruled unlawful in 1974. The government also allowed the poor to die from "pellagra" by squelching information and treatment.

IQ tests were part of the problem, given their selection bias and testing bias. Test questions were culturally based (including baseball) and "proved" that Americans were smarter than immigrants. Moreover, it "proved" that immigrants were getting worse, since they did worse and worse every year.

In his first chapter about the Nazis, he opens with a Rudolph Hess quote that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology." (68) Zubrin is helpful in noting that the Nazi anti-semitism was a "tyranny created to serve the ideology". But the ideology was not so strong that they weren't willing to discriminate against Jewish folks as soldiers, doctors, and scientists. (Well, at least initially; as persecution increased, Hitler drove Jewish scientists to America, leading ironically to the atomic bomb.) "Darwinian ideology did not merely control Nazi Germany-- it created it and enabled its capacity for evil." (70)

How else could a majority behave in this manner? How else could anti-Semitism-- a common issue-- rise to this level? And why would it aimed at so many folks-- given that the Nazi genocide was aimed at so many groups of people?
"It was not motivated by old-fashioned bigotry. It certainly took advantage of such sentiments, [but]...it required Darwinian science." (72) 

Zubrin quotes Weikart: "Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world's greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy." Zubrin describes an "inverted...moral calculus": "came to view their own inner voice speaking for such compassion as the voice of sentimental weakness, which had to be overruled by their intellectual convictions, which presented themselves as the voice of duty..." (73)

Particularly with WWII's extension of the relevant principles, direct/overt eugenics fell out of favor. But the related instincts have remained in play-- from abortion to health care. Zubrin highlights the role of a closer cousin, "population control", after WWII. From social pressures to government subsidies, governments were encouraged-- and they were encouraged to "encourage" their people-- to restrict population. In particular, the wrong kind of people were especially encouraged to refrain (81-85). In America, this included Native Americans (156).

In a later chapter, Zubrin opens by quoting LBJ: "Five dollars in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth." (154). And while we realize today that the old Keynesian fiscal policy ideas are bankrupt, the idea of "investing" $100 was really considered something back then!
  In chapter 8, Zubrin details the role of malaria in WWII, particular as Germany vacated the field in Italy-- and American know-how that defeated malaria as a wartime and post-war enemy. From there, Zubrin returns to the usefulness of malaria as a form of population control and anti-humanists crying over malaria's demise. Two nice quotes here: Alexander King (Club of Rome; scientist): “My chief quandary with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem.” Aldous Huxley: “Quick death by death has been abolished; but life made miserable by undernourishment and over-crowding is not the rule, and slow death by outright starvation threatens ever greater numbers.

Rachel Carson's screed against DDT initially carried the day. But Zubrin notes that science of the time strongly favored DDT, including powerful pro-DDT statements by the NAS and the EPA. But he blames William Ruckelhaus for running with a ban on DDT in the U.S., making DDT more expensive by banning US exports, and connecting USAID and other foreign aid to eschewing DDT.

I suppose all of this could be a function of Malthusian ignorance, rather than eugenics—particularly aimed at certain people groups. Then again, we’ve had plenty of the latter—from science and popular wisdom, from Darwin and the Progressive Era until recent decades. So, it’s difficult to dismiss the hypothesis out-of-hand.

In any case, it's certainly enough to make the objective person wonder about the extent to which science is used-- out of ignorance or the pursuit of power-- to achieve other political ends.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

how to think, discuss and legislate-- when rights collide

Interesting that FB did not put up a preview of the article I cited in the post-- by Walter Williams. It ain't censorship since it's not the govt, but still interesting that they seem to be discriminating in this way!

Aside from the debate on what to do with this issue and how to help the people in this position...

When you're in a setting where "rights" *necessarily* conflict, pushing really hard on one side will inevitably lead to conflict and usually leads to incoherence.

Entering such a realm, here are some good ideas:
-think through the practical costs and benefits;
-aim for humility, empathy and (true) tolerance;
-avoid dogmatism;
-embrace freedom and choice-- for all-- as much as possible.

on the Great Recession and the tepid recovery caused by govt (vs. the late-1970s economy and Great Depression)

Two things to know, if you're into science and economics:

The Great Recession was about as bad as the late-1970s economy (developing from LBJ through Carter) and nowhere near the Great Depression. Of course, it is politically helpful to describe the GR as the worst since the GD (and implying that they were close to each other in severity)-- to ignore the big-govt late-1960s and 1970s; to make tons of govt action seem necessary; and to mitigate political blame for a tepid economy.

The recovery from the GR was poor, even in commonly-understood terms and relying on commonly-used statistics. One big, additional problem: the govt's most popular measure of "unemployment" gas made things look better than they are-- by ignoring declining labor force participation and increased part-time work and "underemployment". (Did you know that "employment" starts at ONE hour of work per week?) As Barro notes, we got a slow recovery that did get going eventually (see: stock market) without the usual labor market effects.

All of the "stimulus" efforts-- and the (dis)incentives and uncertainty created by the ACA get the lion's share of the blame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

History of the World in Six Glasses

A History of the World in Six Glasses was Brennan's summer AP World History reading assignment two summers ago. The book looked interesting, so I put it on my shelf and got around to it when we were traveling to Ghana

Tom Standage's thesis: "The availability of water constrained and guided humankind's progress. Drinks have continued to shape human history ever since." (1) The six drinks? Chronologically, three alcoholic (beer, wine, spirits) and then three caffeine-based (coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola). "Each was the defining drink during a pivotal historical period." (2)

Another thing they all had in common: all of them were safer than water: beer (21); wine (59); spirits (including citric additives in "grog" as a way to fight scurvy [110]); coffee and tea (which required boiled water [135] and tea contains tannic acid [179]); and of course, Coca-Cola is bottled and modern. 

Miscellaneous observations on each of the six: 

-Beer was originally drunk through straws (10,18)-- to avoid the chaff in the early versions of production. Standage argues that this led to shared drinks and beer as a standard form of hospitality. (And in low-information / high-stakes environments, drinking together was a way to ensure that one would not be poisoned!) 
-Beer and bread are siblings: "bread and beer were [probably] derived from gruel...Bread was solid beer, and beer was liquid bread." (17) Standage also notes that "bread and beer" (37) was a metaphor for prosperity. In this, it's similar to the OT's use of "olive and fig". (I thought I had a blog post on this topic-- from a talk I heard and a book I read, but I can't find it. Let me know if you're interested and I'll look around some more.)  
-Standage also makes the provocative claim that beer (and its trade) were responsible for the creation of accountancy, writing and bureaucracy to keep track of beer and taxing it (23, 30). Beer also shaped early America: it determined the Puritan's landing spot, cutting short their trip-- and otherwise being a key part of what they brought on their trips to the New World (114). 

-Beer was the drink of the common man; wine became the drink of the elites in Greek and then Roman times. Standage makes two references to Jesus here-- the type of wine at the crucifixion (80) and His first miracle in John 2-- turning water into wine (85), interestingly, as in Genesis 1 and John 1, creating something with "apparent age".

-Spirits were a compact form of alcohol, reducing transaction costs and allowing for easier tax avoidance and tax evasion. 
-Spirits were able to transcend the limitations of yeast through the process of "distillation" (99). 
-Determining the strength of spirits was a common problem-- a low-information environment. But grog drinkers were able to develop an ingenious test of its strength, using gunpowder and sunlight (109). 
-Rum (and related tax policy) played a key role in the American Revolution (117-121), through laws that were not enforced and then laws they tried to enforce. Standage quotes John Adams-- that "molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence." (121) 
-And tax policy led to early antics and a strong government response with the Whiskey Rebellion (121-127). Whiskey did not rely on imported products; it could not be blockaded or easily taxed. After the War, Hamilton was looking for revenue sources and imposed a tax on distilled drinks. Far more onerous, the tax was imposed at the point of production rather than at consumption or sale, so that even private use was being taxed. It was a key moment in early battles over the extent of federalism-- the federal govt's authority over the states.
-In all of this, I'm reminded of a provocative OT verse on spirits-- Deuteronomy 14:26, which says "Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice."

From there, Standage turns to three drinks based on caffeine. 

-Coffee promoted sharp/clear thought-- important in an "Age of Reason" and with the increasing emergence of "information workers" (vs. manufacturing; 135).  
-Coffee was put on trial by Muslim imams-- and found innocent, at least in the court of public opinion. (Standage does not make mention of the LDS/Mormon prohibition.) 
-Standage links the earliest coffeehouses to information, politics, and networking-- including the formation of Lloyd's of London (163) and the first Stock Exchange (165).

-Standage details the emergence of tea in Britain-- and the political clout of the British East India Company with tea (190, 203-206) and then opium (206-212). He also details the 1839-1842 Opium War, which devastated the Chinese.  
-He also notes that coffee's popularity over tea only began in the 19th century-- rather than the common idea that the Tea Party was cause/effect with coffee's dominance over the English beverage (219-220)

-"The rise of America, and the globalization of war, politics, trade, and communications during the 20th C., are mirrored by the rise of Coca-Cola, the world's most valuable and widely recognized brand." (225) Coca-Cola has been linked to patriotism, including an exemption from sugar rations since it was seen as essential for the war effort-- and bottling facilities were set up as possible at military bases (252). 
-Standage also details the irony of Asa Candler's shenanigans causing Coca-Cola to thrive and thus, preserving creator John Pemberton's name/fame (240).  
-He also notes that Coca-Cola grew quickly by reducing transaction costs in deciding not to bottle the syrup and the soda water (241).

Standage wraps up by closing the loop and arguing that water is (or will be) drink #7-- for both the developed world (as a lifestyle choice that seems luxurious and banal) and the less-developed world (as life or death).