Monday, September 29, 2008

let the government do more of what it's done to health care-- as it's done to finance

In a recent post, Blue Indiana is having some fun with "McCain: Let the free market do for health care what it's done for finance".

The primary fallacy is assuming that either sector is even close to a free market.

So, if we're just looking at easy cause-and-effect, the same thing could be said about the government: Let the government do more of what it's done to health care-- as it's done to finance."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Moose (and 20)!

No, this isn't a post about Sarah Palin's hunting prowess...

It's about the only baseball player I still follow with any passion: Mike Mussina.

Who? You know, Moose! One of the quietest-best pitchers in baseball history.

Today, he won his 20th game of the season at age 39, becoming the oldest pitcher to win his 20th game in a season for the first time. (The former record-holder was Jamie Moyer at age 38.)

It was his 270th career win-- 33rd on the all-time list. (Earlier this week, he passed up Jim Palmer on the career win list-- my favorite player when I was growing up.)

Mussina is the 10th pitcher to win 20 games in a season at age 39 or older-- a feat accomplished 12 times in all (twice by Cy Young and Warren Spahn).

Mussina had been the pitcher with the most wins who had not won 20 games in a season. But he is now re-replaced on the top of that list by Dennis Martinez-- another former Oriole.

If he comes back for two more years, Mussina still has a good chance to join two select clubs: 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. (At present, he is 19th all-time in K's with 2,810.) But, it's not clear whether he will retire or become the first pitcher to retire after a 20-win season since Sandy Koufax.

For a look at the best pitchers after age 40, click here. Four pitchers stand out for their late-career excellence: Phil Niekro (in particular, check out what he did when he was 40, 43, and 45), Nolan Ryan (look at his career before and after age 31 and the season he had when he was 42), Warren Spahn (who averaged 21 wins between ages 35-42), and Jamie Moyer (half of his wins have come after his 37th birthday).

Friday, September 26, 2008

McCain wins debate; Obama increases likelihood of winning in November

We know what the partisan hacks will say about this. But since I don't have a dog in this race, perhaps some objectivity will be helpful and more interesting.

One advantage for Obama is that the debate only spent 55-60% of the time on foreign policy-- presumably his weakest area. (Will one of the other debates substitute some foreign affairs back into the menu?) Overall, I thought McCain was stronger. But Obama generally had more gravitas than I expected-- and certainly seemed to have enough in terms of looking and sounding (relatively) presidential.

In a word, McCain was more credible, but Obama held his own. Remember that in today's context, Obama doesn't have to be better than McCain. He only needs to beat a McCain weakened by his pseudo-connections to Bush.

Observations by topic:

1.) Bailout: both were blah-blah-blah (and disappointing)

2.) Spending: edge to McCain
-On what will you change given the financial crisis, Obama was eager to get in and said a lot, but had little to say. When McCain noted that and proposed a spending freeze in many areas, Obama's (weak) defense was saying that a scalpel was needed.
-I thought it was interesting that Obama owned the "most liberal" label, but tried to transform that into being the most anti-Bush. I'm not sure if that works, but maybe it's the best available strategy (vs. mere denial).

3.) Taxes: Obama came off better (although he's wrong on the topic)

4.) Energy: a lot of blah-blah from both, but especially Obama-- and with an edge to McCain given his great line: "You can't get there from here" with alternative energy, but without substantial drilling and nuclear.

5.) Iraq: both were compelling, but talked past each other-- McCain on the surge and the future vs. Obama on the original decision. In fact, one could argue that they're both correct!
-I thought McCain scored some nice little jabs with tactic vs. strategy.

6.) Afghanistan/Pakistan: McCain strengthened here
-Aside from that, both want far more activity, with McCain more aggressive.
-But Obama lacks some credibility here in his opposition to the surge in Iraq as a strategy.
-McCain's litany of votes on U.S. military involvement, his travels, and his barb about Obama's inactive sub-committee seemed quite effective.
-It was funny that they had competing military bracelets: a nice move by Obama to have that angle covered!

7.) Iran: slight edge to McCain
-Obama was good on connecting Iraq's fall to Iran's rise.
-But McCain messed with Obama pretty hard on "pre-conditions". Obama sounded too technical in parsing "participation" and "pre-conditions".

8.) Russia/Georgia: should have been about even, but Obama's worst "round"
-McCain scored points with Obama's original position on the conflict.
-Obama again sounded wienie/technical in describing Russia's action as "illegal, objectionable".
-Obama devolved into a weird set of tangents on energy and eventually climate change. It wasn't this bad, but perhaps he was trying to make Palin's response to Couric sound more intelligible.
-McCain worked really hard in this section to name-drop and place-drop. Does that work? Probably.

9.) 9/11's going forward: could have been a draw, but McCain scored again
-An interesting question that seems really good, but then you realize that both parties have to give the same, safe answer.
-Obama could have played this safe-- and played it to a draw. But again, he took it to Iraq and Al-Queda, leading to the previous argument but also McCain's broadsides on their relative levels of experience.

So, to repeat my overall assessment: McCain won the debate, but Obama increased the likelihood that he would win in November.

Your thoughts?

Rockwell blows up Bush

The economics and politics of President Bush gets more and more frustrating and devastating...

Here's Lew Rockwell with a great piece on the Bush speech the other night. (He doesn't point out my favorite Econ-101 mistake/lie from the talk: his assertion that the assets could not be sold. What he meant was that they could be sold at a preferred price. I also love the "I'm free market, but..." line.)

Anyone who has read a good economics book would be quickly reduced to laughter and tears by George Bush's ridiculous economic address to the nation. He put on his 9-11 suit and tried to warn Americans about the impending disaster: that their access to an infinite stream of paper money might be imperiled if they don't cough up hundreds of billions immediately. It is very tempting to go line by line and shout back.

"I'm a strong believer in free enterprise, so my natural instinct is to oppose government intervention. I believe companies that make bad decisions should be allowed to go out of business."

And this is why he nationalized airport security, created huge new bureaucracies, spent more than any president in American history, centralized control of education, put up more protectionist barriers than Clinton and his father combined, bailed out airlines, presided over the Sarbanes-Oxley reign of terror, unleashed anti-trust regulators, intensified health-care controls, and pretty much used every headline as an excuse to demand more money and power?

"The FDIC has been in existence for 75 years, and no one has ever lost a penny on an insured deposit, and this will not change."

But the penny itself has lost 94% of its value in those 75 years precisely because of institutions such as the FDIC and the Fed. Does he really think we are that foolish?

Here is my favorite:

"The problems we're witnessing today developed over a long period of time. For more than a decade, a massive amount of money flowed into the United States from investors abroad because our country is an attractive and secure place to do business."

So those nasty foreigners did it to us, huh? Maybe it was Bin Laden who sneakily tried to create a credit bubble by investing in U.S. stocks!

And here is his description of the grave calamity we face:

"As uncertainty has grown, many banks have restricted lending, credit markets have frozen, and families and businesses have found it harder to borrow money."

Imagine that! We might have to live within our means for a bit. That would actually be a wonderful thing. Maybe a recession would last a year or 18 months, and then we would be back on solid footing again. He very nearly admits that too much credit is what created this mess. So he proposes more credit so that we can continue to live on too much credit. And then what happens next time? Ever more credit? This path ends in Weimer-level inflation and total destruction....The "credit crisis," as Bush describes it, is nothing more than the kind of crisis a college kid faces when his parents cut back on the deposits to his checking account. It means less high living, a few more nights moping in the dorm rather than going out with his drinking friends. It does not mean the end of the world.

The market is working now to make things right, to eliminate bad debt and get us back on a sound economic footing. The government can help by legalizing alternative monies, cutting regulations, cutting spending and taxing and wars (as Ron Paul says), but otherwise by doing absolutely nothing. Lehman failed on its own and yet life goes on. The same should happen to Goldman, Morgan, Bear, GM, and all the rest.

Free enterprise is a profit and loss system. This is a time of losses, stemming from an overinflated credit sector, one that the Austrian economists have warned about for many years. Listen to the Austrians now and permit the failures to occur.

By the way, since when has it been an article of our national religion that the economy must never, ever, under any circumstances, be permitted to fall into recession, even slightly? This is completely insane....

Our choice is this. We can buckle down for a year-long recession and then get on the path to financial and economic soundness. Or we can set off a calamity that will last a decade or more, and perhaps even wreck civilization as we know it. That's our choice.

is the BIG debate? hype, hope, or hysterics

From the media's perspective-- given their fawning admiration for Obama-- this debate will be the biggie, if Obama is perceived (or they can sell him) as the winner.

A useful overview of tonight's festivities from the WP's David Broder (hat tip: C-J)...

Friday evening in Oxford, Miss., Barack Obama and John McCain will meet in the first presidential debate of 2008, and this dramatic campaign will in all likelihood reach another turning point.

The match-up could have come much earlier, but Obama turned down McCain's invitation to join in a series of joint town hall meetings during the summer. That would have allowed both men to ease into personal confrontation with relatively small audiences and similarly modest stakes.

Now, they meet with terribly high expectations and little room for error. McCain, after enjoying a brief boost from the Republican convention and the unveiling of Sarah Palin, has fallen back to his pre-convention position, lagging slightly. Obama still is unable to lock down 270 electoral votes, because he is falling short of the lead Democrats enjoy generically over the Republican opposition this year.

Obama is known for his eloquence, while McCain often struggles even when given a decent script. That creates an expectation that the Democrat ought to dominate when the two men are directly compared.

But when I discussed the coming debate with one of the Democrats' most experienced debate handlers — a man who helped prepare Hillary Clinton for the primary debates and now advises Obama — he said, "No matter what others say, I think this is a very even match-up."

McCain, he said, has developed a knack for answering questions with flat, simple declarative sentences, conveying a sense of candor and strength. Obama often starts slowly and finishes with a more complex answer. That made McCain the clear winner in back-to-back sessions with Pastor Rick Warren.

When I bounced these comments off a Republican counterpart to the man just quoted, he was derisive. "That's spin," he said. "McCain has lots of strengths, but verbally, he's not in the same league as Obama. This will be a severe test for him."

Looking back at the performance of the two men during their primary debates, the proposition that they are evenly matched looks quite plausible.

McCain began his revival last year with a strong performance in a Republican debate in New Hampshire. Throughout the spring, he was usually at least the second-best man on the stage, outdone by the folksy and humorous Mike Huckabee but clearly more comfortable and assertive than Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and the others.

Except for Romney, McCain was rarely directly challenged in the way that Obama will test him; the other Republicans paid tribute to his character and treated him with kid gloves. So his struggles to maintain his composure and avoid personal attacks on Romney suggest a potential vulnerability in the Arizona senator. When Obama bluntly questions McCain's positions, the Arizona senator may have difficulty staying cool.

Yet Obama did not win the Democratic nomination by dominating debates. In the early ones, when the stage was full, he lacked the verbal or physical tools to stand out from the crowd. Hillary Clinton or John Edwards generally made the strongest impressions on the cameras and the audience. And when Clinton and Obama met one-on-one, she won most of the confrontations and the subsequent primaries....

To win the election — and not just this debate — McCain must somehow convince voters that he would be fundamentally different from George Bush, whose policies and methods have been overwhelmingly rejected.

To win the election — and not just the debate — Obama must show enough of himself that voters come to believe that despite not being able to identify with aspects of his exotic life story, they can trust him to look out for their interests as president.

Those are very different challenges. Neither candidate has an easy task. That is what makes this debate so intriguing.

debate spin

I've been saving this up-- from Paul Bedard in U.S. News & World Report...

The conventions are over, and the presidential candidates are still close in the polls. So, naturally, all eyes are on the first debate between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama on September 26, where voters and pundits expect one of the two to break out. "They are going to decide in the first debate" whom to vote for, predicts pollster-strategist Frank Luntz. With that kind of hype hanging over the event in Oxford, Miss., the candidates are already starting to lower expectations. First, McCain. Aides say that he won't be as eloquent as Obama. Obama's team, meanwhile, suggests that he's not as practiced at debates as his long-serving Senate colleague. "These debates are not Senator Obama's strong suit," says one aide.

I think the key question will be the extent to which Obama connects with people-- beyond pleasant-sounding answers.

And after pushing the line that McCain is old and decrepit, Dems are (or should be) stuck with higher expectations for their man.

Tbe more obvious point is that Obama's reputation as a speaker must increase expectations of his performance. But delivering a speech is not the same thing as a debate.

Should be interesting!

one more potentially devastating impact of the Bush bailout

The Bush presidency has been a disaster in economic/political terms.

Here's a doozy I haven't heard anyone mention: all of this talk about $700 billion may be softening up the public to accept some federal version of socialized medicine.

Imagine if the supposed price tag on that comes in at $400 billion. It will be a lot easier to sell that-- after insisting that we could drop $700 billion on welfare for the rich and a bail-out for bankers.

Obama: talker; McCain: do-er

In the recent debate about the prospective debate postponement, it struck me that McCain was taking action-- as he is prone to do (for good, and certainly, for ill). And Obama was focused on talking-- as he is prone to do (for good, for ill, and mostly, for wind).

Do you prefer someone who talks wrong and votes wrong-- or someone who does a lot of stuff (much of it wrong)?

democracy (not capitalism) leads to individualism

I just heard an interview with Hugh Brogan on the Mars Hill Audio Journal where an author was describing deTocqueville's views on democracy, markets, and equality.

He notes that social hierarchy has the advantage of clearly communicating expectations within the community. Democracy promotes equality-- but also individualism-- by removing the hierarchy and the expectations.

So, this implicitly deflects blame from free markets, which are often blamed for individualism.

Interestingly, markets often foster more social interaction-- competition between sellers, competition between buyers, and largely, cooperation between buyers and sellers.


Will all of the people giving John McCain a hard time be giving Baron Hill a hard time for his recalcitrance in setting up debates for the 9th District?

my (brief) thoughts on the bailout...

I oppose this bailout as well-- on constitutional, ethical and practical grounds-- and just sent a press release calling on Hill to really be a Blue-Dog Democrat, at least on this one issue.

oooohh...that's not good!

Palin responding to a Katie Couric question on bailouts and answering with an incoherent ramble on other topics...

Not good...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Libs and "wasted votes": Scott Tibbs and my reply...

From Scott Tibbs and Hoosier Access...

First, let me say I like Eric Schansberg. If he were representing Indiana's Ninth District, he would represent us well in Congress. I agree with him on limited government, and he is pro-life. I have met him several times and he is a good person. However, I will not be voting for him in November. I will vote for Mike Sodrel.

Schansberg's run for Congress as a Libertarian is actually an impediment to implementing a libertarian legislative agenda. The votes that Schansberg drains from Sodrel will help Baron Hill in his efforts to return to Congress. That would be destructive to efforts to limit government and protect the unborn, two issues where Schansberg and Sodrel are, for the most part, in agreement. Schansberg's run for Congress is unwise and counterproductive.

Last Monday, I attended the IU College Republicans call-out meeting because Mike Sodrel would be speaking to the group. Once again, Sodrel showed that he "gets it" on individual liberty and limited government....


I like Scott too, but here are four thoughts...

1.) I agree that Mike is good at talking about “fiscal conservatism”. But as Baron illustrates on other issues (pro-life, drilling for oil), talk is not enough. The data from NTU, CFB and CAGW are clear that Mike voted like a fiscal moderate. If he had voted like a fiscal conservative– and this was not such an important issue right now– I’d be spending more time with my wife and kids (and quite happy to do so).

2.) My opposition to Planned Parenthood funding is not only counter to Mike’s voting record, but may be the reason for the Pence Amendment in 2007. Why weren’t Republicans talking about this before I brought it up in 2006?

3.) You’re assuming that I’m taking votes mostly from Mike. In 2006, the polling data indicate I got much more from Hill. Presumably because Iraq is less important (and perhaps because fiscal conservatism and the economy are more important), the polling data this time are more mixed. So, it looks like I won’t be able to help Mike out this time.

4.) Mike doesn’t seem to be running an active campaign this time– and according to the polls I’ve seen, he’s down by double-digits. If it looks like a blow out in November, then a vote for me, even by a pragmatist, will not be “wasted”. In fact, a “protest” vote for me would be far more valuable than voting for a major-party candidate who loses by 10%. In any case, I hope voters will be more principled than pragmatic.

Chris Spangle has more to say on this...

I’d like to remind all members of the Republican party that Libertarians are a different party, not a sub-group within the GOP. There are two types of Libertarians: Republicans who realized that the Republicans are no longer Conservatives, and Democrats who realized that socialism is wrong.

It’s time for Republicans to drop the incorrect line that Libertarians are just Republican votes. I am a Libertarian. I vote Libertarian. It is my vote. It isn’t a Republican vote.

And that is precisely the reason why many are leaving the parties. The average voter’s voice carries no weight with the party structure. If you espouse an idea different from the party platform, your voice is silenced, and you are labeled a traitor or a whacko. No debate or discussion is allowed within the party structure.

Neocons (Big Government Republicans) rule the Republicans with an iron fist. I’ll direct you to this post to highlight the treatment of Ron Paul. He is a Taft/Goldwater Republican. The Bush Republicans have effectively labeled him “crazy.”

Honest, thoughtful citizens lose their voice. As a result, you lose my vote.

It is my vote.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

tell it slant-- through parables and questions...

More from Eugene Peterson and his Mars Hill Audio interview with Ken Myers...

The title of Peterson's latest book is "Tell it slant"-- from the provocative Dickinson poem of the same name.

Peterson goes on to note Christ's use of parables-- and that He seemed less interested that they get the message, than that he got them. He often didn't seem all that interested in (high degrees of) clarity. He often relied on allusion and questions-- to engender participation and ownership in a path of "evangelism" and more to the point, discipleship.

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

"Many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not; faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can…people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 5

Friday, September 19, 2008

J. Patrick Rooney: now, there was "compassionate conservatism"

From Russ Pulliam on the passing of J. Patrick Rooney from the Indy Star's webpage...

Pulliam cites me at the end of the article-- in a comment I made on another blog. I should have reproduced my comment on my own blog, but this gives me an occasion to do so.

Beyond my brief summary of Rooney's great life, Pulliam's essay is worth reading because it provides context for Rooney's personal life and public policy choices. Pulliam also mentions his advocacy of MSA/HSA's-- another key public policy reform of the last 30 years.

May God continue to bless the work of Rooney's hands for generations after he has moved on to his eternal home.

Ideas have consequences, as the late J. Patrick Rooney knew.

He could have retired to a comfortable beach in Florida after building a successful Indianapolis-based insurance business. But Rooney, who died this week, took his business skills into the social and political arena, wielding a rare amount of local and national influence in those retirement years.

He started with simple truths, such as caring for the poor and the value of competition. Then he put them into practice and persuaded others to join him. He was a true compassionate conservative, long before George W. Bush used the notion to win the presidency.

Rooney thought parents had been left behind when it came to public education in the 1980s. He and other business leaders asked the Indiana General Assembly to let low-income families in the inner city have vouchers to send their children to public or private schools. They found a champion in Democratic state Sen. Louis Mahern, but the legislature said no.

Instead of walking away, Rooney used his own money to start a private scholarship fund. Almost immediately, 700 poor families signed up for their children to attend private schools. Others, including Mitch Daniels, joined Rooney in what became the CHOICE Charitable Trust.

CHOICE offered a private school option to thousands of low-income families and made Indianapolis Public Schools face a new level of competition. CHOICE was duplicated in more than 50 other cities, also giving a boost to the charter school movement.

Education reform based on competition was never an exclusively conservative idea in the political sense. Urban Democrats, such as Mahern, could be just as eloquent about the need to free low-income families from the public school monopoly.

Rooney wasn't moved just by ideology in these matters. He got a close-up view of the challenges many urban families face as a member of the predominantly black Holy Angels Catholic Church in Indianapolis. He believed, as a matter of social justice, that poor families should have the educational choices that wealthy families already had.

When he wasn't pushing for educational options in his "retirement years," Rooney launched another movement -- the creation of medical savings accounts. He wanted individuals and families to shop for medical care, injecting competition into the insurance-dominated medical care system.

At his death, Rooney received tributes from Democrats such as former U.S. Rep. Andrew H. Jacobs Jr. and Republicans like state chairman Murray Clark. A Libertarian Party candidate for Congress in southern Indiana, Eric Schansberg, summed up his education initiative in this tribute on the HoosierAccess blog: "A lot of conservatives don't care all that much about the inner-city poor; a lot of liberals say they care, but are beholden to statism, elitism and the teachers unions. Thank God for people like J. Patrick Rooney who stepped outside those boxes."

who is THE President?

A nice reminder (hat tip: Tom Lambert)


1. The Bible will still have all the answers.

2. Prayer will still work.

3. The Holy Spirit will still move.

4. God will still inhabit the praises of His people.

5. There will still be God-anointed teaching and healing.

6. There will still be singing of praise to God.

7. God will still pour out blessings upon His people.

8. There will still be room at the Cross.

9. Jesus will still love you.

10. Jesus will still save the lost.

With God all things are possible. AMEN!!!!!

why "feminists" hate Palin

From Cathy Young of Reason-- here, in the WSJ-- an essay on Palin and the hypocritical response of "feminists"...

Left-wing feminists have a hard time dealing with strong, successful conservative women in politics such as Margaret Thatcher. Sarah Palin seems to have truly unhinged more than a few, eliciting a stream of vicious, often misogynist invective.

On last week, Cintra Wilson branded her a "Christian Stepford Wife" and a "Republican blow-up doll." Wendy Doniger, religion professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, added on the Washington Post blog, "Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman."

You'd think that, whether or not they agree with her politics, feminists would at least applaud Mrs. Palin as a living example of one of their core principles: a woman's right to have a career and a family. Yet some feminists unabashedly suggest that her decision to seek the vice presidency makes her a bad and selfish mother. Others argue that she is bad for working mothers because she's just too good at having it all....

Of course, being a feminist role model is not part of the vice president's job description, and there are legitimate questions about Mrs. Palin's qualifications. And yet, like millions of American women -- and men -- I find her can-do feminism infinitely more liberated than the what-can-the-government-do-for-me brand espoused by the sisterhood.

hard evidence (if you care) that speculators shouldn't be blamed for high gas prices

From the editorialists of the WSJ, what should be a nail in the coffin on the ignorance of thinking that speculators were a primary cause of higher gas prices-- and the idiocy of thinking that drastically reducing the number of speculators through regulation would make things better...

It was said to be the year of speculators gone wild. Seemingly everyone in Washington, including Barack Obama and John McCain, decided that oil prices were soaring because profiteers and middlemen were manipulating the futures markets. "Speculators" were spotted everywhere this side of the grassy knoll.

The only problem is that there's no evidence to support the conspiracy theories -- and sure enough, federal regulators dismantled this Beltway consensus late last week. In one of the broadest and most authoritative studies to date, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has offered hard statistical data that financial trading hasn't been driving price moves. The CFTC conducted an unprecedented Wall Street data sweep and scrutinized millions of transactions worth billions of dollars between January and June of this year.

Commodity futures markets have grown fivefold by volume over the last decade, while becoming more complex. "Index traders" are one cause. These pension funds and other institutional investors don't buy options for commercial use, but rather roll them over from month to month as passive long-term investments. "Swap dealers," usually investment banks, operate off the main exchanges and sell customized futures packages to firms. These aggregations of options and derivatives are designed to match particular needs and spread risk more broadly.

Lo and behold, the CFTC found that index traders and swap dealers actually reduced their stake in crude oil futures as prices spiked. The number of contracts held by these investors betting that prices would increase -- the net long position -- fell by 11%, and more were shorting oil than going long over the six-month period. In other words, index traders and swap dealers were driving the future price of oil down.

Commodity index funds also have a much smaller share of the oil market than everyone thought: just 13%. Even if the figure was 70% or more, as some assumed, it wouldn't have mattered. In a futures exchange, trades are matched, so one trader's gain is another's loss. The overall volume is irrelevant....

As it happens, the CFTC report arrived just as the Moe, Larry and Curley of the antispeculation show -- Senators Byron Dorgan and Maria Cantwell, and Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak -- pre-emptively released their own study, by Virgin Islands fund manager Michael Masters, which purports to show "index speculators" are "now the single most dominant force in the commodities futures market." Bad political timing, folks.

Then again, the speculation furor was never about the evidence. The politicians wanted a fall guy for rising prices, since the real explanations of supply and demand and the falling dollar were partly their fault. On that point, the CFTC rightly notes that the expansion of commodities indexing can be partially explained by investors seeking to "hedge against inflation." It's not surprising that traders have been driven to commodities to protect themselves, given that the Federal Reserve, Bush Administration and Congress have all trashed the dollar.

No doubt the politicians will keep trying to shoot the price messengers, but thanks to the CFTC they look increasingly silly in doing so.

taxes and income

From Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore in the WSJ...

The new Census Bureau data on income and poverty reveal that many of the economic trends in this country are a lot more favorable than America's detractors seems to think. In 2007, overall real median family income increased to $50,233, up $600 from 2006. The real median income for intact families -- mother and father in the home -- rose to $78,000, an all-time high.

Although incomes fell sharply in the U.S. after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 (and still haven't fully recovered), these latest statistics reflect a 25-year trend of upward economic mobility. More important, Barack Obama is wrong when he states on his campaign Web site that the economic policies started by Ronald Reagan have rewarded "wealth not work." Based on this false claim -- that the rich have benefited by economic growth while others have not -- he intends to raise tax rates on high-income individuals.

To be sure, there has been a massive amount of wealth created in America over the last 25 years. But tax rates were cut dramatically across the income spectrum, for rich and poor alike. The results?

When all sources of income are included -- wages, salaries, realized capital gains, dividends, business income and government benefits -- and taxes paid are deducted, households in the lowest income quintile saw a roughly 25% increase in their living standards from 1983 to 2005....

Census Bureau data of real income gains from 1980 to 2005 show the rise in incomes based on gender and race. White males have had the smallest gains in income (up 9%), while black females have had by far the largest increase in income (up 79%). White females were up 74% and black males were up 34%. Income gaps within groups are rising, but the gaps among groups are declining. People are being rewarded in today's economy based on what they know and what they can do, not on the basis of who their parents are or the color of their skin....

Taking from the rich through much higher tax rates in order to help the poor and middle class makes no sense intellectually and has seldom worked in practice. Reducing rates, on the other hand, does increase the share of taxes paid by the highest income-earning group. For example, in 1981, when the highest tax rate on the rich was 70% and the top capital gains tax rate was close to 45%, the richest 1% of Americans paid 17% of total income taxes. In 2005, with a top income tax rate of 35% and capital gains at 15%, the richest 1% of Americans paid 39%.

We suspect that Mr. Obama will discover that when you put "tax fairness" ahead of economic progress, you produce neither.

[New Evidence on Taxes and Income]

political control and stock market performance

From Donald Luskin in the WSJ, one more piece of evidence on the usefulness of NOT having federal government power held by one political party...

This is a somewhat counter-intuitive result backed up by theory and empirical results on government spending from Public Choice economics. Especially when trying to guard a narrow majority in Congress and a narrow electoral win by a President, it is tempting to try to use our money to buy our votes. If one parties controls all, the incentives are greatly enhanced; if control is divided, then the incentives are greatly reduced-- in addition to the difficulties introduced by trying to pass legislation in that setting.

Let's get something settled once and for all. Have the stock markets and the economy historically done better under Democrats or Republicans?

There is no shortage of exaggerated claims on both sides. But on the surface, the Democrats would appear to have statistics on their side....

So there you go. Forget about the tax increases. Forget about the regulations, the protectionism, the union influence. Democrats are great for growth. The study proves it!

I've run the numbers myself. Superficially at least, the Democratic claims are true: Since 1948, the Standard & Poor's 500 total return (capital gains plus dividends) has averaged 15.6% when a Democrat was in the White House and only 11.1% when a Republican was in the White House.

You get a similar result if you look at growth in real gross domestic product. Under Democratic presidents, the average since 1948 has been 4.2%. Under Republican presidents it has been only 2.8%.

But it's not so simple when you study that "study." First, not all Democrats act like Democrats, and not all Republicans act like Republicans. John F. Kennedy, for example, was an enthusiastic supply-side tax cutter, and George H.W. Bush raised taxes. Bill Clinton promoted free trade, and Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls.

If you assign those four presidents to the opposite party based on that -- make the two Democrats into Republicans and the two Republicans into Democrats -- the numbers completely reverse. Now stocks average 14.7% under Republicans and only 10.5% under Democrats....

But then who ever said that the president alone determines the economy or the stock market? It's Congress that makes the laws. The president just signs them. Based on congressional control, the study results look very different. Under Republican Congresses, stocks have averaged a 19% return, while under Democratic Congresses only 11.9%. Real GDP growth, lagged two years, has averaged 3.7% under Republican Congresses, and only 3.2% under Democratic ones....

If the electorate were really smart, it would elect a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. Under that deal, stocks have averaged a 20.2% total return, and real GDP averaged 4%. That tells us that economic and stock market success isn't really about partisan politics at all. Sadly, nobody has a political incentive to conduct a study about that.

GOP presidents close the gender wage gap?!

From the WSJ, a semi-serious or really funny article by Casey Mulligan on wage equality between men and women...

Using the facile, selective and easy-causality "logic" of some on the Left, Republicans should get credit for closing the wage gap between women and men. (As an example, see: racism vs. Obama and sexism vs. Palin or the claim that wage gaps necessarily infer discrimination.)

[The Gender Wage Gap]

Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Joseph Biden have proclaimed that they favor equal pay for women, and have alleged that Republicans do not. Sen. Biden has also insisted that Republicans, including vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, represent a step backwards for women.

More rich logic in that last sentence...

The economic record says exactly the opposite.

I have used labor market data from the Census Bureau to study the amount and reasons for women's progress in the labor market since the 1960s. One byproduct of my study is a calculation of women's relative wage growth by presidential administration.

In 1980 -- the last full year of the Jimmy Carter administration -- the typical woman (older than school age, but younger than retirement age) working full time throughout the year earned 38.5% less per hour than did the typical man in the same age bracket working full time throughout the year. When women earn less per hour than men -- even in full-time work -- that is known as the gender wage gap. When the gender wage gap narrows, women's wages have grown relative to men's.

The gender wage gap was 38.6% in 1976, the last full year of the Gerald Ford administration. By this measure, women made only infinitesimal progress toward equal wages during the four Carter years; women's wages were essentially stagnant relative to men's. In 1988, the last full year of the Ronald Reagan administration, women working full time throughout the year earned 30.3% less per hour than did men.

A 30.3% gender wage gap is obviously not full equality. But it is much closer to equality than it was at the end of the Carter administration. Women's wages grew almost two percentage points per year more than men's during the Reagan years, compared to less than 0.1 percentage point more than men's per year during the Carter years....

Of course, the presidents have nothing to do with it-- although I'm sure Democrats would take all sorts of credit if the numbers were reversed. The gap has closed because women are pursuing education and career differently than yesterday's high proportion of June Cleavers.

Obama = racism; Palin = sexism?

In recent days, the charge that an Obama loss in November would be caused by racism is ludicrous. Moreover, it is explicitly playing the race card-- something the Left says should not be done. And it sounds like the sort of excuse-making one often sees from those on the victim-obsessed subset of the Left.


If race and sex discrimination are both prevalent...
If some people are wary of awarding the Presidency to a woman or an ethnic minority...

Then, the line of "thinking" that says
a vote against Obama is primarily or significantly a matter of racism
should be balanced by the notion that
a vote against Palin is primarily or significantly a matter of sexism.

Again, I don't have a dog in this fight-- liking neither McCain nor Obama. But there are important differences between the two candidates. In fact, I can't remember a more different pair of major party candidates (at least given what Obama says)-- at least back to Reagan/Mondale in 1984. And I can't remember a sitting President who was as unpopular as the Republican-- going back to at least 1980. So McCain is fighting a significant factor there.

To argue that profound philosophical and policy differences as well as guilt by association (McCain lumped together with Bush) are trumped by racism and sexism are primary factors in this election is hard to swallow...

the "Attempted Murder Victim Still Alive Protection Act"

The "Born Alive Infants Protection Act" attempts to protect babies who are born alive after botched abortions (i.e., didn't kill them in the womb). Without the law, apparently, babies can be left to die (really) even if the abortion doesn't kill them.

Would opponents of the law, including Barack Obama, support a law that allows medical care to be withheld from attempted murder victims? I tried to kill you, but since you're only greatly wounded, should it be allowable to withhold medical care?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

economists study TV-watching

I've always been uneasy with studies that purport to find causation between TV-watching and video-game playing (particularly those that are violent) and negative outcomes.

For one thing, the intuition doesn't fit. I've seen my kids benefit (clearly) from some TV, videos, PC games, etc.

In terms of the research, I'm worried about correlations that may not be accounted for in the studies-- most notably, that those who watch a lot of TV (or play a lot of video games-- violent or not) are not being parented especially well. If that's the case, then it might easily be that poor parenting is to blame-- rather than watching TV or playing video games per se.

Then, TV and video games end up as scapegoats-- convenient in some worldviews-- for different and far larger problems.

Now, from the WSJ, an article by Justin Lahart on recent research by economists looking into these things...

It didn't take long after America started tuning in to television that people started to worry about what it was doing to children. "When it offers a daily diet of Western pictures and vaudeville by the hour, television often seems destined to entertain the child into a state of mental paralysis," wrote The New York Times in 1949.

A generation later, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of college-bound teenagers had fallen significantly. A 1977 panel appointed by the College Entrance Examination Board suggested television bore some blame for the drop. Indeed, the decline began in the mid-1960s, just as the first students heavily exposed to TV took their SATs.

But University of Chicago Graduate School of Business economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro aren't sure that TV has been all that bad for kids. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics this year, they presented a series of analyses that showed that the advent of television might actually have had a positive effect on children's cognitive ability.

The two are part of a tight-knit group of young economists using statistical techniques to examine how television affects society. The group's research suggests TV enabled an earlier generation of American children in non-English-speaking households to do better in school, helped rural Indian women to become more independent and contributed to lowering Brazil's fertility rate.

Mr. Gentzkow, who is 33 and doesn't own a TV set, says that figuring out how television influences children is far from straightforward.

"What are the reasons why some kids watch six hours of TV a day and some kids watch none?" he asks. "Clearly it has to do with their parents and what kind of parenting they're doing; it has to do with how smart they are and how much they like doing other things like reading; it has to do with what socioeconomic resources they have. Do they have a nanny who's taking them to the museum every day versus sitting home alone?"...

Lahart then continues by describing the various research lines in some detail...

Interesting, huh?

an ode to my friend Tom

That's Tom the mechanic-- not Tom who needs a belt! ;-)

From Dave Coverley's Speed Bump...

Baylor the new-alBanian Brewer

From Amanda Arnold in the C-J, a nice piece on my buddy/acquaintance Roger Baylor...


...different styles of beer from around the globe, an education partly derived from studying the menu of more than 200 bottled beers and more than a dozen international taps, but also from talking with company co-owner Roger A. Baylor....

Besides educating patrons, Baylor, 48, contributes beer or beer sampling certificates to numerous charitable events in the Louisville area, including the Brew at the Zoo and the Carnegie Center's annual "A Taste for Art and History" fundraiser.

At the samplings, he serves as a personal guide, teaching participants about the history of brewing, the different types of beer and the process of making it.

"What I want them to walk away with is knowledge on not so much the process but the different styles of beer," Baylor said. "If they have a brown ale and liked it, they know to look for brown ales."

Baylor, a 1982 philosophy graduate of Indiana University Southeast, developed a passion for beer while backpacking through Europe later that decade....

In 1994, he became co-owner of a local pizza business that soon expanded to Rich O's at 3312 Plaza Drive, New Albany -- and the beer list grew with it.

That evolved in 2002 into the New Albanian Brewing Co., now a four-barrel operation, that was New Albany's first brewery since 1935....

In November, Baylor and his partners plan to expand by opening the New Albanian Bank Street Brewing Co. in the former Rainbow Bread building. That will be a 15-barrel brewery, enabling the launch of a broader, regional distribution in February....

who pays "income" taxes?

the latest: Federal Individual Income Tax Data for 2006 (hat tip: Heartland Institute's Budget and Tax News)

Of course, this does not include the far more oppressive "payroll" taxes on income...But since only Libertarians talk about those, they probably don't matter. So, let's just focus on income taxes, shall we?

the top 1% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 22% of AGI
-earn at least $388K
-pay 40% of income taxes
-face a 22.8% average tax rate (ATR)

the top 5% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 37% of AGI
-earn at least $154K
-pay 60% of income taxes
-face a 20.7% average tax rate (ATR)

the top 10% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 47% of AGI
-earn at least $109K
-pay 71% of income taxes
-face a 18.9% average tax rate (ATR)

the top 25% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 68% of AGI
-earn at least $65K
-pay 86% of income taxes
-face a 16.0% average tax rate (ATR)

the top 50% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 87% of AGI
-earn at least $32K
-pay 97% of income taxes
-face a 14.0% average tax rate (ATR)

the bottom 50% of those with positive adjusted gross income (AGI)
-earn 13% of AGI
-earn less than $32K
-pay 3% of income taxes
-face a 3.0% average tax rate (ATR)

Monday, September 15, 2008

if you don't believe taxation is strongly connected to force and related to theft...

From the blurb pages produced by World...

Summit County, Ohio, sent two sheriff's deputies to Daniel Clark's Bradenton, Ohio, home to arrest him and his wife. The crime: The pair owed just over $10 on their income taxes...When Clark checked with his wife, she confirmed that she had in fact ignored official notices sent by the city.

The couple avoided handcuffs but ended up with an extra $400 in court costs.

tell it slant

From the title of her poem-- used as the title of Eugene Peterson's latest book, and a portion of an interview with him on the Mars Hill Audio Journal.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---
--Emily Dickinson
Peterson used this to speak to the truth that truth is often best presented cryptically and with a "slant"-- from an angle. Not diminishing the truth, but presenting it in an intriguing manner. Not being to communicate all of it well in one setting, but illuminating pieces at a time.

We see this in action from the parables of Jesus to a positive contribution related to post-modernism.

if you want nationalized health care (of some sort)

why wouldn't you want it to be tried at the state level instead?

First, you would expect states to be more attuned to the needs in their state; more flexibility, more knowledge, etc. These are good things, yes?

Isn't health care far too important to expose it a single, risky experiment undertaken-- by the federal government (of all things)?

If they mess it up (and I know that's difficult to believe when it comes to describing the efforts of the federal government), how would you fix that problem?

Wouldn't it be better to have the states try 50 different ways to deal with this complex and amazingly important problem?

sure, what's another $25 billion?

More money that the Democratic Congress (and perhaps the President) would like to take from you to give to corporations.

Uhhh....when will the insanity end?

Articles on back-to-back days in the C-J on a proposed $25 billion bail-out/subsidy for the auto industry-- as, guess what, another attempt to stimulate the economy.

How about you just leave the economy alone instead of using that as an excuse to give money to a bunch of people?

Obama = Jesus; Palin = Pilate

Most of you have probably seen this (or at least heard about it), but here's another over-the-top attack on Palin-- from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-NY)...

Cohen compares Obama to Jesus and Palin to Pontius Pilate.

It's clever-- by half-- and thus way over the top.

With friends like Cohen (and the mainstream media attacking Palin and comparing her to Obama), Obama won't need any enemies!

Biden amazingly uncharitable

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy, another sad example of lefties who don't give much to charities...

Sen. Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, have given an average of $369 per year to charities during the past decade, according to tax returns posted today to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign Web site.

Biden, the Democratic nominee for vice president, claimed $995 in charitable gifts in 2007 on the joint return with his wife. That figure is 0.3 percent of the couple’s claimed income of nearly $320,000.

The 2007 contributions were significantly higher than the couple’s gifts in previous years, which ranged from $120 to $380.

By comparison, Sen. John McCain, the Republican Presidential nominee, in 2007 reported $405,409 in total income and contributed $105,467, or 26 percent of his total income, to charity.

McCain files a separate return from his wife, Cindy. The totals do not include Ms. McCain’s income or charitable contributions.

Obama, and his wife, Michelle, donated $240,000 in 2007, or about 5.7 percent of the couple’s $4.2-million in reported income.

The most famous example, heretofore, was Al & Tipper Gore's lack of charity. Given Gore's bigger name, he may still hold onto his fame in this arena. But since Biden's example is more contemporary-- and since it's more fun to point to Al's "carbon footprint"-- perhaps Biden's will supplant Gore's.

Biden's behavior is consistent with Arthur Brooks' research on liberals.

Perhaps I'm being uncharitable, but Biden's behavior is hypocritical given his propensity to take your money for various "charitable causes".

That said, Biden's behavior may be understandable-- beyond its self-serving nature-- if he is believes that too many people are like him...and so, the government will need to take care of those who will not supported by charity.

Noonan on the state of the race/campaign

A great essay from Peggy Noonan in the WSJ on the state of things within the presidential race...

Democrats, hit reset. Accept the fact that the race has changed utterly, that you're up against a ticket that has captured the public imagination. Now you must go out and recapture it.

Out of the shirtsleeves, into the suit. Stop prowling the stage with what looks like Phil Donahue's old mic. No more scattered, listless riffs; back to the podium and the prepared—and focused—speech. Campaign as a duo, Obama-Biden, together again. Obama alone looks like he's part of nothing.

You must aim your fire at the top of the ticket, John McCain, and not at this beautiful girl, Sarah Palin, about whom you can do nothing.

You can never kill her now. Forget it. She can hurt herself, but in terms of Democratic attacks she is bulletproof. You made her that—she wasn't that way when she walked in.

Hope that Mr. McCain stops campaigning with her and spins her off into her own orbit, to small towns and medium-sized cities. It will cut his recent power in half. Some press will follow her, but mostly on gaffe patrol. They will want to keep their main lens on Obama and McCain.

This is going to be the only way to contain her power: Ignore it.

Absolutely correct. I was surprised at the brilliance of McCain's pick of Palin-- and equally surprised how often Obama's allies have stepped in it, since then, by continuing to attack her "inexperience" (an implicit attack on their own candidate), and even sillier, comparing her to him!

Now, Noonan's advice for the Dems (and the GOP)...

This race is not over. Everyone I know thinks it is, but I don't buy it. Mr. Obama just suffered a catastrophe, his first. Mr. McCain just enjoyed a triumph, maybe not his last. GOP strategists are experiencing premature triumphalism; they're puffing up like blowfish, emitting great bubbles of self-regard. Democrats, be encouraged by this! They make mistakes when they're winning. They always start to think they're the reason....

Here's why it's not over: We are a more or less 50/50 nation experiencing 80% wrong-track numbers, alarming economic challenges and two continuing wars. New voters are about to flood to the polls. There are more than 50 days to go. The media environment is volatile. The Obama campaign has some experience in turning inevitable candidacies into evitable ones. Sen. Obama himself is talented, resourceful and compelling.

More important, obviously, the race shouldn't be over. The nation deserves—and requires—a real debate, a real and spirited presenting of fact and argument. It won't get that if the election is over. The candidates must argue this thing out or it means nothing. And the day after the election, for the winner in this tempestuous nation, it better mean something, or he won't be able to govern....

Then, some strange and guarded optimism from Noonan:

After the past 10 days, it is not remarkable that Mr. McCain has caught up with Mr. Obama. It is amazing that Mr. Obama is still roughly even with Mr. McCain.

There is no denying that Mr. Obama is in a bad place, that he must now be considered the underdog, that he's wearing Loser-Glo. The slide started with the Rick Warren interviews in August, just as America was starting to pay attention. Verdict? McCain: normal. Obama: odd.

Then Mrs. Palin, and the catastrophe of the Democratic and media response to her. Books will be written about this, but because it's so recent, and so known, we're almost not absorbing how huge it was, and is. Here was the central liberal mistake: They used the atom bomb just a few days in. They used it so brutally, and yet so ineptly, in a way so oblivious to the true contours of the field, that the radiation blew back over their own lines....

All of this was unacceptable to normal Americans. They experienced it as the town gossip spreading rumor and slander before the new neighbor even got to put down her bags. It offended the American sense of fairness....

The Democrats were up against Xena the Warrior Princess and came across, in response, as pale-lipped Puritans who actually, at the end of the day, don't really like women all that much. Mrs. Palin radiates the sense that she'd never give up her femininity in her quest for power because her femininity is part of her power....

A certain normal-versus-sissy template was captured in a deadly email that is making the rounds. It offers two pictures. One is of a young Mrs. Palin in a short skirt, smiling at the camera as she leans against a big ol' motorcycle. The other is of a thin and careful Obama on a bicycle, in a plastic safety helmet, looking like a tony suburban professional trying to lower his carbon footprint. The headline on the email: "This settles it."...

All of this is being exploited—so far relatively deftly, soon to be heavy-handedly—by the Republican Party, which is sending out emails saying that if you'll click on this little link you'll be able to contribute money to help stop the smears and lies aimed at Mrs. Palin.

Right now only Mrs. Palin can hurt Mrs. Palin. Messrs. Obama and Biden can't do it and shouldn't try. And the media can't, because more than half the country won't listen to them on this subject now, and for a while....

And then some interesting (but doubtful) speculation on the media...

The mainstream media may themselves come down on Mr. Obama. They like him, but if he doesn't come back and make this a race, he'll embarrass them. They just might be on the edge of getting angry, having been left exposed. Forget what Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin can do to Mr. Obama: If he embarrasses the media, they'll kill him.

Obama = Bill Clinton on foriegn policy? ouch!

From David Weigel in the October issue of Reason (I can't find the article on-line), the thesis that Obama is not a "peace candidate", but is in the mold of Bill Clinton in terms of "liberal interventionism"...

Weigel cites his speeches, his advisors, and his policy positions on intervention in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Pakistan.

An interesting and sobering piece...

"culture" and today's politics

From an interesting essay by Lee Siegel in the WSJ...

...the idea of a resurrected culture war is all sound bites and flurry, and not much else.

A war requires two sides to fight it. Yet the Republicans are clamoring about the culture while the Democrats insist on sticking to the political "issues." It's not war but two parallel monologues. The Republicans are frictionlessly pursuing the same successful strategy that they developed over 25 years ago.

That was when the Reaganites pronounced government irrelevant, even obstructive, to the improvement of social life, thereby shifting the Republicans' center of operations from politics to culture. In short order, the Reagan revolutionaries invited into their cause the Christian right, who set their self-contained cultural universe against secular cultural values that the liberals had never dreamed would be under explicit siege.

Still, the Christian perspective had to be tempered and made more inclusive. Enter Allan Bloom. In 1987, Mr. Bloom published his bestselling "The Closing of the American Mind," an attack on what he perceived as coarse popular culture and a destructive political correctness at the universities. Taking up the Christian right's banner in his cosmopolitan intellectual's hands, Mr. Bloom married the religious right to the mostly secular neo-conservatives. He began the work completed by William Bennett in the latter's sensationally popular "The Book of Virtues." Mr. Bloom redefined culture as "values."...

As a result of all this intellectual tumult, one stark distinction stands out among the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives (the real differences, not the manufactured ones). Liberals always think that there is something broken in politics. Conservatives always think that there is something wrong with the culture.

These conflicting urgencies have given the conservatives mostly the upper hand for over a quarter of a century. Since culture is more immediate to us than the abstract policies and principles of politics -- and seemingly more dependable than politics' often fluid expediencies -- a politics of culture is going to be more successful than mere politics. For many people, the idea that Republican politics are wholly responsible for the country's ills is hard to accept. You can't feel politics. Rather, such people blame a culture of selfishness and irresponsibility for the deepening malaise...You experience selfishness and irresponsibility in the flesh every day.

Let me clarify what the word "culture" means in this context, a la the Christian right and Mr. Bloom's descendants. If hearing the word "culture" makes you think of Rossini, the latest translation of "Anna Karenina," the Guggenheim Museum or "The Wire," then you're probably a liberal -- or, at least, an unreconstructed "cosmopolitan" conservative. But if the word culture means for you forms of courtship, or sexual preference, or the relationship between parents and children, or the set of rituals that revolve around the ownership and use of a gun, or, most passionately of all, ways of living, and believing, and rejoicing, and suffering, and dying that are hallowed by the religion you practice and embodied in the church you belong to -- if for you, culture does not primarily signify opera or HBO, then you are probably celebrating Sarah Palin's ragged, real-seeming life. In that case, you are what might be called either a heartland or a Bloomian conservative.

Broadly speaking, liberals segregate culture from ordinary existence. They will "do" culture and then "do" the rest of life -- gaze at a Vermeer, say, and then work on finding the perfect daycare center. But for conservatives, raising children, using the discipline of faith to endure illness or setback, cherishing life at its conception are cultural tasks and values inseparable from the challenges of everyday living. The liberal idea of culture as edification or diversion implies abundant leisure time. The conservative idea of culture as the practice of getting through life (like the anthropologist's idea of culture) implies time under siege by work and adversity; this is culture defined as the meaningful beliefs and activities that are the response to necessity and adversity. Culture in this sense is as familiar as the eight-hour day, and as intimate as biological function. It is a matter of life and death. Call it organic, as opposed to fabricated, culture.

Then, an interesting discussion of Thomas Frank's book...

This is why Thomas Frank's greatly influential 2004 critique of the Republicans' cultural strategy, "What's the Matter with Kansas?", has had such a negative effect on the Democrats' fortunes, for the simple reason that Mr. Frank assured Democrats that they didn't have to respond to the way the Republicans were manipulating organic culture. Mr. Frank cogently argued that the Republicans used cultural issues to distract their constituents from Republican economic policies which, ironically, were harming the very people who were voting for them. Mr. Frank believed that what Democrats had to do to win back the White House was to keep hammering away at Republican-induced economic disparities. Barack Obama's campaign is doing precisely that....

Then, returning to his thesis, this punchline...

No, there is no culture war. There is only the Republicans' unilateral mastery of the cultural strategy. The Democrats consider any attention to the practices and prejudices of everyday living a mendacious diversion from the "issues," while the GOP, the party of the status quo, has proven itself astoundingly skillful at using its cultural antennae to adapt to new times. Who knew? The Republicans may or may not be the party that will effect change. But they are certainly the party that knows how to ride it.

now, this would shake things up: instant run-off voting

While I was campaigning at the IU Student Involvement Fair last Tuesday, I ran across two booths on election reform, including efforts to allow for "instant runoff voting" and the "popular vote" election of the President.

The latter has advantages (e.g., candidates would be more likely to pay attention to voters in safe states) but disadvantages as well (e.g. candidates would be more likely to pay attention to voters in areas with more population density). In a word: although intriguing, I don't see the benefits outweighing the costs.

The former is much easier to defend: candidates would always win by majority rule and third-party candidates would not play the part of "spoilers". (Or the flip side: people who are more pragmatic and less principled in their voting would not be as worried about "wasting" their votes.) For a flash drive presentation of this, click on this presentation from

Another interesting alternative: allowing each party to have seats proportional to the percentage of votes they receive. For example, if Libertarians get 1% of the vote for Congress, they would receive 1% of the seats.

Johnny can't read; Jenny can't do math-- but they're going to college

From the AP's Justin Pope (hat tip: C-J), a report on the cost of remedial classes at universities...

It's a tough lesson for millions of students just now arriving on campus: Even if you have a high school diploma, you may not be ready for college.

In fact, a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually....

Analyzing federal data, the report estimates 43 percent of community college students require remedial classes, as do 29 percent of students at public four-year universities, with higher numbers in some places....

Simply dumping the remedial students into large classes isn't necessarily expensive for colleges, although it's also not very effective. But smaller classes typically require more attention and money. Some states have refused to fund remedial courses at the university level. In California, Oakley said, state funding for community colleges favors credit courses. Remediation (or "basic skills" as he and many educators call it) is typically noncredit....

There's a lot to say here...

-First, it points to the relatively low quality of the education provided by many government-run schools. Although splintered families is probably the number one cause of declining education, trusting most elementary and secondary education to government-run entities with tremendous monopoly power-- is not the wisest choice.

-Second, I've seen a good bit of this at IUS-- in part, because we're a "liberal admissions" university, but more broadly, presumably as part of a larger trend.

-Third, it's a mixed bag for universities-- and depends on funding sources. It distracts from mission, but it often brings in revenue.

-Fourth, it clearly costs taxpayers a lot of money. Not only do they pay out the nose for government-run elementary and secondary education, then they get to finance tremendously subsidized college tuition as well.

-Fifth and finally, it's just a shame-- on so many levels...

labor "exploited" again...

Front page news from Chris Otts in the C-J that "volunteers" at Valhalla for Ryder Cup this weekend will pay $220 to work the event.

This is obviously an outrage-- a clear example of "exploitation": workers earning far below the minimum fact, negative wages!

Of course, this is one example that illustrates a broader concept, putting the lie (golf puns intended) to most accusations of exploitation. Exploitation can only be defined objectively in contexts where workers have few choices-- facing monopoly power in the hiring process with firms.

In many cases, lefties see low wages and start moaning about exploitation. But assuming reasonably competitive labor markets, low wages are indicative of low market productivity-- where productivity goes well beyond worker skills to the supply and demand for labor, the technology applied to the labor, and the legal institutions which make that labor more/less productive and attractive.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

(four branches of) the "emerging church"

For those unfamiliar with the term, "emerging" refers to a relatively new approach to evangelical thought and approach to worship, evangelism and community.

The movement parallels "post-modernism" (PoMo)-- which brings both opportunity and temptation for the evangelical church: useful correctives to "modernism" and a fresh look at things we take for granted, but a potential emphasis on style over substance and relativism over absolutes.

Post-modernism cannot be rejected out-of-hand by evangelicals. It brings too much to the table. For example, its focus on narrative and context is consistent with a Biblical understanding. And its emphasis on the power of questions-- in evangelism and discipleship-- is a return to a technique used often by Jesus and many of the Prophets (particularly those who were post-exilic).

In the most recent issue of the Christian Research Journal, Mark Driscoll offers a description of tendencies within-- and common critiques of-- the four categories he finds within this movement.

Emerging evangelicals:
-interested in updating worship and teaching styles; trying to be more relevant to post-moderns
-the critique: "doing little more than cool church for hip young Christians"

House church evangelicals:
-dissatisfied with current forms of church, along with the observation that the Church is often little different than the surrounding world/culture
-the critique: "collecting disgruntled Christians who are over-reacting to the megachurch trend"

Emerging reformers:
-charismatic in terms of spiritual gifts; aggressive in church planting; commitment to Reformed theology; see themselves in the Reformed tradition of "reforming" the Church
-the critique: "merely repackaging tired Rerformed fundamentalism"

Emerging liberals:
-interestingly (and perhaps tellingly), Driscoll doesn't list any positive attributes and motives in his opening-- but I'd guess it's the same as the emerging evangelicals
-the critique: from the theological fringe within orthodoxy-- to heresy; "recycling the liberal doctrinal debates of a previous generation"

PoMo and the "emerging church" are complex entities that should be wrestled with earnestly-- not panned. Driscoll's article was helpful in trying to describe (tendencies within) sub-categories in the larger movement.

four ways of relating to Jesus/God

Reading in Mark 3 this week, I saw familiar themes in a new way. Not that this is brain surgery, but...

First, I read one of many times where the Pharisees disapproved of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. (Sometimes, it reads like He "happened" to choose the Sabbath; other times, it reads like He chose the Sabbath to make the point.) Then, I read about the disciples who were following Jesus and seeking to learn from His life and teachings. Then, I read one of many passages about people coming to Jesus for healing. This time, it struck me that the people were coming for healing, not for Jesus per se-- or perhaps at all.

So, that led me to think of four ways in which can relate to Jesus/God:

1.) Pharisees: those who see religion as duty, rules, rituals, a list of things to do and not to do. They miss the larger point about the spirit of the Law, who Jesus is, what God wants from us, etc. These are today's legalists.

2.) Health/wealth: here represented by those who came to Jesus like a Santa Claus, seeming to seek His blessings more than Him.

3.) Sadducees: not mentioned here, but those who respect Jesus as a moral man and a good teacher. (They might call Him "great", but they dismiss too many of those teachings to really believe He's great!) They reject the supernatural-- from miracles to the Resurrection. These are today's "liberals".

4.) Disciples: those who believe God/Jesus want the best for them (motives) and can advise them on what's best (knowledge). If you believe the smartest Person in the world is also fully benevolent, then it should be easy to put yourself under Him as a disciple is to a mentor.

May all of us enter into the graciously-offered, abundant and eternal life offered to us by a Loving God-- and then follow Him in discipleship...

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

“They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 5

Fast forward a few more decades and it's still the same or worse...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dems and gas prices...

I love the conspiracy stories that crop up about oil.

For example, President Bush wants oil prices to be higher to make money for his oil buddies. But then if prices come down, then President Bush is responsible for that-- in a devious strategy to get us to vote for him. OK...

That's not an "explanation"; that's a story (and not a very good one). That's not logic; that's evidence of a neurosis.

OK, here's one for you conspiracy buffs out there:

The Democrats want gas prices to be higher-- to discourage consumption and to encourage a move toward alternative energy. So, they are purposefully devaluing the dollar to drive up gas prices.

Very clever!

we evolved from fruit flies and pumpkins

Hey, I just heard that the DNA overlap between humans and pumpkins is 75%. While checking into this, I read that we share 93% with fruit flies. Maybe these numbers are off, but I'm going to have some fun with them-- along with periodic references to chimp DNA and our supposed evolution from them.

So, drawing some amusing but probably inaccurate inferences from a LiveScience article on monkey vs. human DNA...

The new analysis of the rhesus monkey genome, conducted by an international consortium of more than 170 scientists, also reveals that humans and the macaques share about 93 percent of their DNA. By comparison, humans and chimpanzees share about 98 to 99 percent of their DNA.

The fact that rhesus monkeys are further away from humans in evolution will help illuminate what makes humans different from other apes in ways that chimps, which are so closely related to us, could not, Gibbs said. (Rhesus monkey ancestors diverged from those of humans roughly 25 million years ago, while chimpanzees diverged from our lineage 6 million years ago.)

-We diverged from our fruitfly ancestors about 25 million years ago-- and from our pumpkin ancestors about 60 million years ago.

-Rhesus monkeys diverged from fruitflies on a lazy weekend about 25 million years ago.

-The fact that we are further away from fruitflies than chimps explains why we are more like the latter. The fact that we are further away from pumpkins than fruitflies explains why we are more like the fruitflies than the fruit (or is it a vegetable?).

another great t-shirt from

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