Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Moral Foundations of Occupy Wall Street - Reason Magazine

Jonathan Haidt, author of one of my favorite books, The Happiness Hypothesis, applies his theory of moral foundations to the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve provided some quotes below. I like his approach.

My colleagues and I found that political liberals tend to rely primarily on the moral foundation of care/harm, followed by fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression. They are very concerned about victims of oppression, but they rarely make moral appeals based on loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, or sanctity/degradation. Social conservatives, in contrast, use all six foundations. They are less concerned than liberals about harm but much more concerned about the moral foundations that bind groups and nations together, i.e., loyalty (patriotism), authority (law and order, traditional families), and sanctity (the Bible, God, the flag as a sacred object). Libertarians, true to their name, value liberty more than anyone else, and they value it far more than any other foundation. (You can read our complete research findings at

So what is the mix of moral foundations at Occupy Wall Street (OWS)? In my visit to Zuccotti Park, it was clear that the main moral foundation of OWS is fairness, followed by care and liberty. Loyalty, authority, and sanctity, by contrast, were very little in evidence.

Many pundits have commented on the fact that OWS has no specific list of demands, but the protesters’ basic message is quite clear: rein in the influence of big business, which has cheated and manipulated its way to great wealth (in part by buying legislation) while leaving a trail of oppressed and impoverished victims in its wake.

Will this message catch on with the rest of the country, much of which also values the loyalty, authority, and sanctity foundations? If OWS protesters engage in acts of violence, flag desecration, destruction of private property, or anything else that makes them seem subversive or anti-American, then I think most Americans will quickly reject them. Furthermore, if the protesters continue to focus on the gross inequality of outcomes in America, they will get nowhere. There is no equality foundation. Fairness means proportionality, and if Americans generally think that the rich got rich by working harder or by providing goods and services that were valued in a free market, they won’t support redistributionist policies. But if the OWS protesters can better articulate their case that “the 1 percent” got its riches by cheating, rather than by providing something valuable, or that “the 1 percent” abuses its power and oppresses “the 99 percent,” then Occupy Wall Street will find itself standing on a very secure pair of moral foundations.

I particularly like what he says in the last paragraph about fairness. I’ve touched on this subject earlier in December in response to Obama’s speech in Kansas. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Repo Men - Kevin D. Williamson - National Review Online

This scathing article by Kevin Williamson targets Obama and his Democrat colleagues for their profiteering from intimate connections with Wall Street while pontificating how they're protecting the little guy, us 99% to use the Occupy Wall Street lingo. Republicans aren't spared his scorn either. And rightfully so (no pun intended). Just a warning. If you suffer from high blood pressure be sure to take your medication before reading this expose.

Williamson's points support what I said in my previous post:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saving the New Year - Megan McArdle - Business - The Atlantic

I'll admit that this post by Megan McArdle doesn't at first glance appear to fall in the category of political or social commentary and yet I feel it's worth sharing for her financial advice. Why? Because our current financial condition  is similar to what is happening in Europe I think we're going to face serious changes (i.e., cut backs) to Social Security, Medicare and other "entitlement" programs if (and that's a big IF) we're going to face the incredible financial hole we've dug for ourselves with trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities. The more we can rely on our own personal financial resources the more we can isolate (or try to isolate) ourselves from relying on the "safety net."

After a long explanation of the different economic and political factors that affect us she offers this advice.

The important thing is to pay yourself first. Savings should be the first thing you do, not the last. After you've saved, then you budget your consumption. I won't tell you what to cut, because when you confront your new, slightly leaner budget, you'll be perfectly able to calculate what's no longer worth the money to you. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that after a few weeks or a few months of initial pinch, you won't remember that you miss the money much.
Unfortunately saving for the future isn't nearly as much fun as splurging on buying things today, even if it means using our house basically as an ATM as many people did before the housing market imploded (and then expected someone to help extricate them from bad decisions). 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

PJ Media » What’s the Matter with Obama’s Kansas Speech?

I like Neoneocon's analysis of Obama's recent speech on PJ Media » What’s the Matter with Obama’s Kansas Speech?

For me a telling phrase in Obama's speech is this one, especially the last sentence.

There is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let's respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. "The market will take care of everything," they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn't trickle down, well, that's the price of liberty.
Now, it's a simple theory. And we have to admit, it's one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That's in America's DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. (Laughter.) But here's the problem: It doesn't work. It has never worked.
Should we really be so surprised by his comment? I ask this because I recall coming across a similar sentiment when helping my daughters with the Social Studies homework when they were in middle school more than ten years ago. I recall reading in their textbook how FDR’s New Deal policies saved capitalism from its own excesses and continue to do so. Obama is just touting the same line of thinking. (For a contrary -- and I think more plausible -- explanation of what caused the Great Depression and our current economic woes I recommend checking out the Ludwig von Mises Institute for the Austrian school of economics perspective.)

Getting back to Neoneocon’s article I would take a somewhat different angle. She correctly identifies that “Obama repeatedly mentioned this goal of fairness while blurring or ignoring the all-important distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome as a measure of that fairness.” While this is indeed a valid distinction fairness also masks an inherent fuzziness that works to the advantage of (to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases) those who want to expand the concept of fairness to suit their agenda. I would argue that the concept of individual rights gets forgotten in this line of argument. We can argue forever over which definition of fairness we use unless we have a valid concept of individual rights to ground this argument and to settle disagreements over what is “fair.”

I’ll admit that the Left has successfully eroded or expanded the idea of individual rights to justify their desired enlarged of the role of government but it took some mighty verbal acrobatics to do it. For a good discussion of how FDR did this check out NeverEnough: America’s Limitless Welfare State by William Voegeli. However if we get sucked into debating definitions of fairness we have already lost the intellectual fight. With individual rights there is some objective standard to which we can repair.

Fairness, like a magician’s sleight of hand, gets us to shift our focus away from the conditions necessary for each individual to live freely and to pursue happiness to the relationship between individuals. In other words Obama and his supporters substitute the concept of individual rights which has an objective basis (if formed properly) to fairness, which can mean whatever one wants it to be. I think this is precisely their motive.

While fairness is a valid concept on the social level in terms of how people treat each other in a non-legal context elevating fairness to trump rights and to be a governing political principle is a path fraught with peril.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Paradox of the Outraged - Axel Kaiser - Mises Daily

The Paradox of the Outraged - Axel Kaiser - Mises Daily

This article nicely summarizes the issues involved with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. My favorite quote is:

Self-reliance was progressively replaced by a mentality of rights with no duties. As a result, a gigantic disconnect arose between what people are willing to pay in taxes and what they expect in return in the form of government benefits. Because promising welfare is the easiest way to win elections, politicians kept expanding the size of government over the decades. And because the public would not have tolerated an honest increase in taxes to finance the new welfare programs, governments started borrowing the money necessary to finance them. Thus, governments became dangerously in debt. Then the financial crisis came, to a large extent caused by government actions: welfare programs to make true the progressive "homeownership-society" dream in the United States created the structural conditions. Government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who bought and guaranteed around 50 percent of the total US mortgage market, offered the financial vehicle to transfer the wealth; and the Federal Reserve provided the easy money necessary to finance it. In addition, the US government was borrowing and spending money at an all-time record in order to finance its warfare/welfare policies.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Mobius Strip of Politics: Sarah Palin’s Comments and Mine

Thanks to a Facebook post by Joshua Zader I became aware of the content of a recent speech by Sarah Palin. After reading the article I posted this.

I agree with Palin's points although the NYT writer is probably right. Many people won't consider her points because it's Palin who uttered them, not someone considered more "reputable" Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex but we're seeing a different threat: a government-crony business complex. We used to have just Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises). We saw how well that worked out. With the bailouts and other programs we have a growing collection of what amount to new GSEs which further isolates them from market competition (which should be driven by the wants and needs of individuals). As Ayn Rand said the political spectrum should be collectivism versus individualism not socialism versus fascism which are just two forms of collectivism. Today we have a political spectrum where the ends of the traditional political band have twisted, like a perverted Mobius strip, to join in an unholy alliance of government/business corporatism. The individual (and small business entrepreneurs) are left in the middle so to speak. Meanwhile Republican and Democrat voters argue with each other while our Ruling Class of politicians and their cronies laugh all the way to the bank and to the public trough. What a system! ;-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Economic Recovery Stalled After Obamacare Passed - James Sherk

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation released a report which indicates that Economic Recovery Stalled After Obamacare Passed. The primary reasons are outlined below.

The law discourages employers from hiring in several ways:
  • Businesses with fewer than 50 workers have a strong incentive to maintain this size, which allows them to avoid the mandate to provide government-approved health coverage or face a penalty;
  • Businesses with more than 50 workers will see their costs for health coverage rise—they must purchase more expensive government-approved insurance or pay a penalty; and
  • Employers face considerable uncertainty about what constitutes qualifying health coverage and what it will cost. They also do not know what the health care market or their health care costs will look like in four years. This makes planning for the future difficult.

There is a telling graph showing how job growth per month flattened almost immediately after the passage of the bill. Admittedly that by itself doesn't prove that Obamacare was the culprit. I think Sherk's explanation makes sense though. In addition in discussions with my accounts almost every one has said their sales have improved but they're reluctant to start hiring again because of the uncertainty of what other regulations might be imposed on them. The known affects of Obamacare and the unknown future regulations makes for a potent double whammy on job creation.

When I mention this to liberal friends here in Massachusetts their typical reaction is to shrug it off as if to say “Oh well, too bad. Those businessmen will think of something.” It’s as though they believe businesses have unlimited resources, an infinite capacity to bear any burden and an unfair advantage over us proles. In one sense this is true, for those crony capitalists who curry the favor of their government buddies to form an unholy alliance that protects the businesses from competition. But I don’t believe this applies to most businesses who don’t have an inroad to the Capitol and who have to find ways to absorb the constantly increasing financial and regulatory demands while still making a profit and declaring a dividend (if they’re a publicly held company) to their shareholders.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

If we are to survive the looming catastrophe, we need to face the truth - Janet Daley

It's refreshing to see someone finally talk about the cause of the financial crisis in Europe and the U.S. I've been saying something very similar: that the decades of welfare statism followed by Keynesian attempts to stimulate our way out of this mess have failed. As Daley says:

We have arrived at the endgame of what was an untenable doctrine: to pay for the kind of entitlements that populations have been led to expect by their politicians, the wealth-creating sector has to be taxed to a degree that makes it almost impossible for it to create the wealth that is needed to pay for the entitlements that populations have been led to expect, etc, etc.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Coming Intra-Party Wars - The Atlantic

Megan McArdle's The Coming Intra-Party Wars - The Atlantic posting on the debt limit battle contains two comments that caught my eye. The first one talks about the choices the Republican and Democrats will have to take.

The Democrats ... are going to face unprecedented conflicts between their constituencies in the decades to come. Fundamentally, we're bumping up against the willingness of the American public to pay more taxes, or accept spending cuts. Some constituencies are going to lose. Republicans are going to have to decide whether they'd rather have lower taxes, or a stronger military. And Democrats are going to have to decide who they care about more: old people, or poor people.
The other comment brilliantly captures the shell game we're playing on ourselves.

Me, I'd like a single entitlement system that takes care of people who are actually destitute and unable to work, not this mad scheme whereby America's middle class is supposed to get rich by picking its own pockets.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tax The Rich? Good Luck With That -

When we hear certain politicians, like Obama, constantly demonizing the wealthy for their transgressions and proposing higher tax rates for this group to close the budget gap, consider what Walter Williams says in his Tax The Rich? Good Luck With That - The bottom line: this avenue leads to a dead end that falls woefully short of the declared goal of having enough funds to pay for all of the expenses in our national budget. 

This isn't top secret, impossible to find information so I can only conclude that the motive behind the incessant demonizing of the rich has other motivations than balancing the budget.

Deaths per TWH by energy source

Related to the post below about different radiation sources this link compares the rates of death of different methods of generating electricity. Deaths per TWH by energy source

Radiation Comparisons

Found this link when the Japan nuclear reactor first started to fail after the earthquake. While this is old news I like how this chart shows the relative exposures from different sources of radiation. Better late than never, right?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jon Stewart versus Chris Wallace

I happened to find the link to Jon Stewart’s appearance on Fox’s Chris Wallace show and watched the entire interview. Before I start let me say that I’ve watched Stewart occasionally and enjoy his show. I even went to watch him when he performed at UConn several years ago and laughed at most of his material.

Overall I though Wallace did a fair job challenging Stewart’s claims about how biased Fox News is. When challenged Stewart hid behind the “I’m a comedian” shield. Although to be fair (and balanced) Stewart admitted “the bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness.” While I partly agree with his assessment I don’t agree with his denial that the mainstream news outlets don’t have their own political agenda. (See more below.)

NewsBusters’ analysis covers most of the points I would have made so instead of repeating them here I’ve provided the link.

And in the interest of being objective here is the link to PolitiFact, “a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in politics.” When you look closely they have their own bias but I’ve found some useful analyses. They take Stewart to task over his claims about Fox.

I find it interesting how much ire Fox stirs among the left. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “How dare you call yourselves fair and balanced? You’re biased!” By implication they’re saying that the mainstream news media outlets are paragons of objectivity. Stewart provides a prime example when Wallace presses him whether The New York Times is “pushing a liberal agenda.” His answer: “Do I think they're relentlessly activist? No. In a purely liberal partisan way? No, I don't.” For an analysis check out Their conclusion: “The way Stewart phrased the comment, it’s not enough to show a sliver of evidence that Fox News’ audience is ill-informed. The evidence needs to support the view that the data shows they are ‘consistently’ misinformed -- a term he used not once but three times. It’s simply not true that ‘every poll’ shows that result. So we rate his claim False.”

I’d say Stewart is too intelligent and informed to make a “mistake” like this. I think he threw this claim out to see if Wallace would challenge him on it. Unfortunately Wallace let this claim slide. I gather he was more interested in drawing Stewart out regarding the bias of other news media rather than getting bogged down in refuting Stewart’s claims about Fox.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

When Government Jumps the Shark and FannieGate by Walter Russell Mead

Mead’s insightful analyses explain how the housing mess imploded our economy and how various government “entitlement” programs evolved through various stages until they grow to be too large to dismantle and so charged that they become the “third rail” of politics (meaning, untouchable unless you want to be electrocuted). However, like the mainstream media Mead misses a moral point: the welfare state depends on the moral premise that people are “entitled” to benefits regardless of the consequences. I put the word entitled in quotes because I disagree with this designation. To me saying I’m entitled to something means I can morally demand that someone else provide it to me against their will.

Mead points out that most programs like Social Security start out small then grow to the point that many people depend on its continuation while being supported by a declining base. In addition a continent of special interests consisting of politicians, lobbyists, etc. sprouts to cater and foster this group. The scope and target population of these programs expands in order to increase the “customer base” (i.e., potential voters who will support the politicians who curry their favor) until they become an increasing burden on those who foot the bill.

Here is another way of putting it by using a different animal metaphor. After decades of welfare statism (and crony capitalism) the chickens are coming home to roost. Unless we acknowledge and deal with the trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities which loom in the future I’m afraid that the unrest we’re currently seeing in Greece will turn into a feeding frenzy of unsupportable demands that spread to Europe and the U.S.

In any case I highly recommend reading Mead’s two essays.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Reactions to Bin Laden's Demise

Of all of the various posts I read on the Bin Laden assassination this one by the Maverick Philosopher comes closest to my reaction. While I don't agree with his introductory paragraph about God and mercy I lean towards his sentiment on how he feels about OBL's demise.

Anyone who doesn't see that capital punishment is precisely what justice demands in certain circumstances is morally obtuse. I agree with Prager on that. I also agree with his statement this morning that pacifism is "immoral" though I would withhold his "by definition." (I've got a nice post on the illicit use of 'by definition.') And of course I agree that terrorists need to be hunted down and killed. But there should be no joy at the killing of any human being no matter who he is. It would be better to feel sad that we live in a world in which such extreme measures are necessary.

The administration of justice ought to be a dispassionate affair.

I know Bin Laden's death carries symbolic weight because of his role as planner of the September 11 attacks. For that reason I'm pleased, even happy, that he met his just deserts. The best way I can describe how I reacted to this would be if the local animal control officer found a rabid dog in my neighborhood and put it to sleep. I can't say that I felt the need to dance in the streets as some chose to do. (And, like others, I noticed that those shown on TV cavorting in celebration were too young to even remember the 9/11 attacks. As one wag said, maybe they were celebrating that "their" President finally did something right. Related to this I've read several stories that the decision to attack came about due to intense pressure from military and intelligence experts who were urging the hit before OBL was warned of his impending doom. We'll probably never know if this truly was the case.)

For another interesting perspective check out Jonathan Haidt’s Why We Celebrate a Killing.

For the last 50 years, many evolutionary biologists have told us that we are little different from other primates — we’re selfish creatures, able to act altruistically only when it will benefit our kin or our future selves. But in the last few years there’s been a growing recognition that humans, far more than other primates, were shaped by natural selection acting at two different levels simultaneously. There’s the lower level at which individuals compete relentlessly with other individuals within their own groups. This competition rewards selfishness.

But there’s also a higher level at which groups compete with other groups. This competition favors groups that can best come together and act as one. Only a few species have found a way to do this. Bees, ants and termites are the best examples. Their brains and bodies are specialized for working as a team to accomplish nearly miraculous feats of cooperation like hive construction and group defense.

Health reform unhealthy for hospitals -

More evidence of the potential unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act. As often is the case the results of policies create the exact opposite of the intent behind them.

Over the last few months, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has exempted a long list of unions and employers from an Affordable Care Act provision that would have made it too costly for them to continue some of their health care insurance plans. But, in sharp contrast, HHS apparently doesn't intend to do anything at all about a new health reform mandate that could eventually force hundreds of badly needed U.S. hospitals to shut their doors.
Many of these hospitals are already struggling to make ends meet because Medicare only reimburses them for 90 percent of what it costs them to take care of Medicare patients. But, instead of helping them out, this rule change does the opposite. In a misguided effort to pressure them to become more efficient, it arbitrarily assumes that they can achieve the same productivity savings as the economy at large and decrees that these hypothetical cost savings must be deducted from any Medicare reimbursements they receive after September.

The Day the Movies Died Movies + TV:

I found this article highly interesting and gives me an opening to share some observations of my own.

I've been seeing movies with my friend Carl for more than ten years. When I get home my wife will ask what I thought of the movie. Many times I'd say, "They found a way to cram a 60 minute story into a 2 hour movie." I've also noticed the increased use of fast cutting and shaky cameras. I recall reading a Roger Ebert review (of Michael Bay's Armageddon, I think) in which he pointed out that no shot lasted more than 3 seconds.

I have also noticed that younger folks like my daughters who grew up under this newer, fast editing find older movies like Capricorn One to be deadly boring. Recently when I mentioned I was going to see True Grit to friends they told me their daughter didn't like it. Sure enough, I did like True Grit. I could also see why our friend's daughter didn't like it. There was precious little action. What is shown in the previews is about it. It was more a character study than an action movie. It was heavy on dialog and light on action, just like No Country for Old Men (by the same directors).

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying all movies should have the pacing of True Grit or No Country. I enjoy movies that intersperse action with narrative, something I think the original Terminator did well. I do think the current movie style reflects a shorter attention span that seems to be part of our culture, especially among younger kids. My wife who is a high school math teacher admits that she has had to change her style over the years to be more entertaining to hold the attention of her students. In the book Brain Rules John Medina recommends structuring presentations in ten minute modules to hold the audience's attention. For movies this slice of time has been whittled to two or three seconds.

“Altruism: The Moral Root of the Financial Crisis” by Richard M. Salsman

This article presents a different explanation for the current financial mess. Salsman rejects the commonly offered explanation that the inherent flaws of the free market caused the recession. His economic explanation is not unique. Others, like Thomas Sowell, have shown that government policies, not fatal flaws in capitalism, thrust us into the present mess. Salsman takes a critical step not evident in other free market based explanations. He identifies the ethical ideas behind certain policies: these ideas, accepted by Republicans and Democrats, pushed an altruist agenda in order to help folks without the necessary financial means buy houses. This was a recipe for disaster.

Those who claim greed caused are partially (and only partially) right. While Salsman explains how banks were "encouraged" by the certain politicians to lower lending standards I'm sure it's also true that some institutions and individuals were motivated by greed to play along and even profit from these lowered standards. This would include those who managed Freddie Mac and Freddie Mae as well as their political buddies who protected them. Greed by itself doesn't explain why the housing market imploded. Otherwise it would happen all the time and not just in the housing market. (Do we see this happening, say, in the cell phone market? Or with PC's? Or food?) You need something to prevent the market from correcting itself. In this case one of the factors was the unhealthy alliance between those who ran Freddie Mac and Freddie Mae and those who "regulated" them and the banking industries. Greed certainly was a factor but not the sole or even the main one.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Bin Laden Lost - Brendan Greeley

I have only a few minor quibbles with Brendan Greeley's perceptive commentary on Bin Laden. He starts his article with: "The United States has no purpose." I like to think he worded his intro that way simply to catch our attention. I’d put it differently: the purpose of our government is to protect our individual purpose. I agree: it’s not nearly as catchy. In essence Greeley is saying that our government does not establish a purpose to which all of us must march in lockstep but to protect the ability for each of us to take steps in the direction of our choice.

I agree with his overall point: that the founding principles of the U.S. protect our ability to pursue happiness. While Greeley tends to focus on consumption such as collecting figurines, joining a clogging troupe and taking road trips (these are his examples) he misses another aspect: creating values. Our Constitution protects both enjoying values and creating them.

Towards the end of his article Greeley says: “We humans follow base and pedestrian needs.” Unfortunately, whether he means it or not, I think this choice of words plays into the hands of those who think we should be committed to a “higher” purpose, such as serving others. There is a strong sentiment here in our own country to compel us to serve others whether we want to or not.

To me there is nothing base or pedestrian about fulfilling our needs. Yes, I don’t deny there are some activities (like watching Jersey Shore) which are base or pedestrian. At least I think they are and don’t partake in them; I also don’t recommend outlawing them.

I think it’s a mistake both philosophically and strategically to label activities that satisfy our wants or needs as merely “base” or “pedestrian”. Our ability to pursue these wants reflects the success of our approach: that we can transcend basic survival needs to pursue other desires that represent our individual needs, interests, wants and desires. We have the luxury of, say, collecting figurines, joining a clogging troupe and taking road trips precisely because of the spectacular and envied (or despised depending on your viewpoint) success of our system of limited government and the free market. This success rests on our freedom to create, enjoy and express values within a market and culture protected by laws based (in general) on individual rights. In other words our riches rest on our ability to pursue our own self-interest as long as we don’t violate the self-interest of others. We collect figurines, clog or travel because we feel they enrich our lives. We don’t feel the need to justify our existence by serving some “larger” purpose such as serving God, others or Allah. Nor should we.

With all of the above in mind I nonetheless highly recommend reading Greeley's article.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

George Monbiot's Epiphany

Walter Russell Mead reports in Top Green Admits: “We Are Lost!”George Monbiot of the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian has a must-read column in which he admits that because of a whole series of intellectual mistakes, the global green movement’s policy prescriptions are hopelessly flawed.

Greens like to have it both ways. They warn darkly about “peak oil” and global resource shortages that will destroy our industrial economy in its tracks — but also warn that runaway economic growth will destroy the planet through the uncontrolled effects of mass industrial productions. Both doomsday scenarios cannot be true; one cannot simultaneously die of both starvation and gluttony.

As Monbiot says in his The Lost World.

You think you’re discussing technologies, you quickly discover that you’re discussing belief systems. The battle among environmentalists over how or whether our future energy is supplied is a cipher for something much bigger: who we are, who we want to be, how we want society to evolve. Beside these concerns, technical matters – parts per million, costs per megawatt hour, cancers per sievert – carry little weight. We choose our technology – or absence of technology – according to a set of deep beliefs; beliefs which in some cases remain unexamined.

Although Monbiot gets close to the truth, I believe Robert Bidinotto gets even closer in his Environmentalism or Individualism?

Capitalism and science are values only to people who want to achieve material progress; they rest implicitly on the idea that self-interest is good. Yet this clashes with age-old moral teachings, which hold that goodness consists of "service to others"--and that self-interest is evil.

This explains why economic and scientific arguments have failed to inoculate the public against environmentalism. By and large, people want to do the right thing. But if they've been taught to equate "the right thing" with self-sacrifice, and evil with selfishness--if they've been taught "Paradise" is Eden, that perfect Garden in which Man is a humble steward of the "natural balance"--then how can they possibly remain sympathetic to the enterprises of science and free market economics?

As I wrote in an earlier post on climate change:

I think the following quote from the former Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart sheds light on their motive.

“No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits…. Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.” Source: Calgary Herald, 14 December 1998.

It all comes down to a new way to make us (the U.S. in particular and the West in general) feel guilty for our material success in order to soften us for their solutions of taxing emissions, changing our life style and bringing us down to the level of countries that don’t suffer from these “problems,” thanks to their policies of punitive taxation, heavy regulation and government control (or strangling) of their economies.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Nuclear crony capitalism | The Rational Optimist

Nuclear crony capitalism | The Rational Optimist…

On the subject of the liability cap that protects the U.S. nuclear industry The Rational Optimist observes:

That's exactly the problem with crony capitalism, whether in finance or energy or anything else. The `market' and `capitalists' are not on the same side and against `government'. No, its government and capitalists colluding against the market, which is on the side of the people. The `financial market' proved to be no such thing; it was a casino for favoured clients run by central banks. The `energy market' is no such thing. It is a scheme run by governments for favoured clients in the nuclear, renewable and environmental-pressure group industries.

Here is a balanced perspective on the Japanese nuclear industry that sheds light on how their plants suffered the damage from the earthquake and tsunami.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jeffrey Epstein's Society Friends Close Ranks

Jeffrey Epstein's Society Friends Close Ranks

I had not heard of this story until Robert Bidinotto commented on it in Facebook. Below is his take on why certain celebs and politicians jumped to Epstein’s defense.

One of the most revealing aspects of this episode is how the ethics of altruism serves to exonerate and absolve an individual even of sexual exploitation of young girls. What flaw of character these days cannot be overlooked and forgiven, simply by writing a check to some charity, or -- even easier -- simply by publicly advocating some Politically Correct cause, without even so much as writing the check? That this creep is a pal of Bill Clinton and Woody Allen speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Consider the case of Clinton, who soiled the presidency with his sordid Oval Office dalliances, then ruthlessly tried to destroy the reputations of women who resisted and reported his behavior. Where was the National Organization for Women to stand up for the women? Where were all the lefties who eagerly sought to expose Republican politicians who cheated on their wives? What was the difference in the behavior? None, except for one thing: that "their" candidates and public figures got a moral pass simply because they pay lip service to the "right" causes and policies, while their targeted enemies did not.

To the Ruling Class -- and by that term, I mean not just political leaders but also the intellectual-cultural Establishment -- "ethical behavior" is a concept that has been expunged from the personal realm and now applies solely to social-political activity. One can be a complete degenerate in his personal life -- a ruinous parent, an unfaithful spouse, a coke-snorting wastrel, a pedophile or pervert or crook -- and yet remain a hero among the self-anointed Elite, simply by virtue of promoting "charity," "self-sacrifice," "spreading the wealth around," etc. In this last, even blatant hypocrisy is excused. Think of all the jet-setting, gas-guzzling, mansion-dwelling celebs and politicians who pontificate about the perils of your carbon footprint. Think of the Charlie Rangels and Timothy Geithners and Jeff Immelts and other tax-dodgers who push the redistribution of OTHER people's wealth.

What we see in all of these contradictions, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies is one constant goal: the retention of their power and status. In the end, all the sanctimonious philosophizing and sophistic theorizing of the Ruling Class, all their chatter about charity and the ethics of altruistic sacrifice for Others, is nothing more than grand-scale rationalizing: moral excuse-making that will allow them to retain their status as members of the Ruling Class.

And that is why they will all rally together to support one of their own -- even if he is a convicted child molester. This is class warfare: warfare of the Ruling Class against the tediously restrictive standards and impossibly constraining principles of the Lower Classes. They are doing to ethics what they are doing to the Constitution -- and for the same reason.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

We should stop running away from radiation by Wade Allison, Oxford Univeristy

Wade Allison nuclear and medical physicist at the University of Oxford and author of
Radiation and Reason (2009) and Fundamental Physics for Probing and Imaging (2006) puts the recent concerns about the radiation from the Japanese nuclear reactors in perspective.

People worry about radiation because they cannot feel it. However, nature has a solution - in recent years it has been found that living cells replace and mend themselves in various ways to recover from a dose of radiation.

These clever mechanisms kick in within hours and rarely fail, except when they are overloaded - as at Chernobyl, where most of the emergency workers who received a dose greater than 4,000 mSv over a few hours died within weeks.

However, patients receiving a course of radiotherapy usually get a dose of more than 20,000 mSv to vital healthy tissue close to the treated tumour. This tissue survives only because the treatment is spread over many days giving healthy cells time for repair or replacement.

In this way, many patients get to enjoy further rewarding years of life, even after many vital organs have received the equivalent of more than 20,000 years' dose at the above internationally recommended annual limit - which makes this limit unreasonable.

The Narratives That Guide Our Lives by Robert James Bidinotto

Robert James Bidinotto has graciously given me permission to link to his post on Facebook about narratives. While his post is aimed at a specific audience (admirers of Ayn Rand) the points he makes applies to anyone trying to convince someone else of their position. We develop narratives about the world then embed them with our emotions. When someone challenges our narrative or don’t see the obvious wisdom of ours the emotions kick in and before you know it you’re enmeshed in a heated argument with no resolution.

The Narratives That Guide Our Lives

Most people of my philosophic persuasion believe that the power that moves individuals and cultures is, at root, philosophy. Specifically, that power lies in the "basic premises" which we accept about the world and ourselves: our beliefs about the nature of existence; about how we know things; about what constitutes good and bad; about how we should live together.

This view of the power of philosophic premises is true. However, those of my philosophic persuasion also make an additional assumption: that to change one's own life, or to "change the world," the most important and effective thing is to adopt and advocate the "right" systematic, abstract philosophy. In practice, this means: addressing thinkers and intellectuals, teaching students formal philosophy, planting "our" kind of professors in university chairs, and otherwise engaging in specifically abstract, philosophical pursuits. The tacit assumption here is that the basic philosophic premises that govern our lives are decisively communicated and absorbed in individuals and cultures by means of formal philosophical education.

That premise is mistaken.

We do not suddenly acquaint ourselves with our core worldviews in college courses, after we are already in our teens or twenties. By that time, our basic premises are usually already well-established and, in many cases, set in psychological cement.

So when, and in what form, do we really encounter and accept our foundational beliefs about ourselves and the world around us?

We do so early in life, and in the form of stories -- or what I call Narratives.

The myths that we learn in childhood, at Mother's knee, in church, in schools, in films and novels, represent primitive, fundamental interpretive stories about our world: how it works, what it means, what is right or wrong, who are the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.

These Narratives are pre-philosophical; in fact, they are acquired in their germinal forms while we are still far too young to subject them to critical analysis. They thus actually tend to determine which abstract philosophies, ideologies, economic theories, and political policies we later find appealing. These latter "feel right" to us largely because they mesh with the myths, fairy tales, parables, and stories we already absorbed during childhood.

Moreover, the more deep-rooted the myth--either personally and/or culturally--the more desperately we cling to it. We cling to it even when it may sometimes be utterly false, and lead us over a cliff. We cling to it because to challenge or criticize it means to unravel a lifetime of investments in values, choices, relationships, careers, emotions, and money. And who wants to do that?

So, like sleepwalkers, most people continue to be directed by Narratives they have never consciously identified, let alone soberly considered. Here are just a few familiar ones:

"Untouched nature is paradise; human choices and actions only upset the natural balance." That's what the Garden of Eden myth declares. Its eventual philosophical fruit? Environmentalism.

"We should take from the rich and give to the poor." That's what the tale of Robin Hood (at least, contemporary versions of it) tells us. Its eventual political fruit? Communism, socialism, and their many "progressive" variants.

"David is morally superior to Goliath." That's what the Old Testament dramatized. Its eventual global fruit? Decades of disastrous U.S. foreign policy, blindly aimed at toppling powerful regimes in favor of the "little guy" in the streets of foreign nations--even if that little guy is a jihadist wearing a suicide vest, and is eager to slaughter us.

So how, exactly, do each of us arrive at our basic Narratives?

When we're infants, we perceive the world around us strictly perceptually, and we react to "good" and "bad" in terms of raw emotions. We either like the way something makes us feels, or we don't; we're comforted, or we're uncomfortable and fearful. As our ability to integrate our perceptions of things improves, we initially do so in the form of primitive concepts.

The next stage of interpretation, though, is at the level of story-telling and myth. We do not graduate from perceptions into concepts, then go directly into philosophy. Long before we ever arrive at the ability to tie all those concepts together into anything like a systematic, abstract philosophy (for those of us who even get to that stage of thinking), we interpret the world through the stories we are told. Those may be bible stories, Aesop's fables, messages in cartoons and picture books, tales told by our parents, good-guys-vs.-bad-guys TV shows.

These provide us with our foundational interpretive template for understanding the world around us. What binds every culture or subculture together are the value-laden messages conveyed by these tales. That's because Narratives work for a culture just as they do for an individual. Looking at the glory that was Greece, for example, it is instructive to note that Homer, that society's seminal poet and storyteller, preceded by hundreds of years Aristotle, who represented the apex of formal Greek philosophical thought. The former was the true father of Greek culture, while the latter lived during its waning days. If abstract, systematic philosophy were the true fountainhead of a culture--or its salvation--then the sequence of their appearances should have been reversed.

And this should tell us where the true "power of ideas" lies: not in concepts and philosophies per se, but in concepts and philosophies as embodied, enshrined, dramatized, and propagated by compelling Narratives. In other words, the narrative medium is just as necessary and potent as the philosophic message.

This explains the enduring power of religion. Religions communicate largely on the narrative level, utilizing the power of myth, parable, and storytelling. Ask yourself: How many people are attracted to a given religion because of the incisive, intellectually satisfying arguments of its clever theologians? By contrast, how many followers instead find themselves gripped, touched, inspired, and persuaded by the stories and parables that the religion offers?

Therefore, let me offer a word of advice to people who share my own secular philosophic outlook, Objectivism.

It's futile to complain about the intractable hold of "mysticism" on people's lives. Trying to argue people out of their reigning Narrative is almost always impossible, because we all need a reigning Narrative. Instead, you have to replacea person's (or culture's) reigning Narratives(s) with something better--something more persuasive, compelling, and inspiring.

You don't have to believe me; Ayn Rand reached the same conclusion. Why did she write fiction? Read closely herRomantic Manifesto, particularly her essay, "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art." In writing about the power of "art," she is really talking about the vital role and indispensable power of Narrativesin our lives.

That is certainly the conclusion I have drawn. Rather than try hopelessly to deprive people of their existing Narratives, mystical or otherwise, I believe the only practical course is to create a rich, compelling, emotionally satisfying counter-Narrative. That is a task Rand began with her own fiction. But it is a task that should be continued by other artists--at least by those artists who wish not only to objectify their own values (which should be their primary focus), but who also would like to help create a better world.

So, a personal note of explanation: If you find less current-events commentary here lately, in part it's because I've found it to be increasingly pointless to argue philosophy, economics, and politics with most people. Why? Because we are talking past each other. You may prove a point with unassailable facts and irrefutable logic. However, the other person replies, "Yes, but . . ." Those words usually signal that you've reached the ultimate barrier to further reasoning and communication: You've challenged his Narrative. And in my experience, that is ground he'll rarely, if ever, concede.

The invisible forces directing the flow and outcomes of such debates, then, are rarely those issues under explicit discussion. Rather, they are the unidentified, unspoken, implicit Narratives that we carry with us, and which are constantly reinforced in the plots of popular novels, films, TV shows, and Sunday sermons. That is the enormous subtext of most arguments, and it poses a virtually insurmountable challenge. After all, it is very, very difficult to joust successfully and intellectually with someone when you are simultaneously fighting Adam, David, and Robin Hood.

That said, I'll return now to the personal pleasure of crafting my own counter-Narratives.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Decline Effect is Stupid by The Last Psychiatrist

The Decline Effect Is Stupid by The Last Psychiatrist does a nice job revealing the errors in a piece titled The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? by Jonah Lehrer

The problem isn't that the Decline Effect happens in science; the problem is that we think psychology and ecology and economics are sciences. They can be approached scientifically, but their conclusions can not be considered valid outside of their immediate context. The truth, to the extent there is any, is that these fields of study are models, and every model has its error value, it's epsilon that we arbitrarily set to be the difference between the model and observed reality.

The Last Psychiatrist doesn’t touch on this but I believe the New Yorker article is a symptom of postmodernism’s attack on science and objectivity. If the scientific method can be discounted as untrustworthy this opens the door for refusing with impunity to accept conclusions derived from this approach. To be replaced with what? That is the question.

Check out Stephen Hicks’ site on postmodernism at

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pajamas Media » Obama and Me by by David Solway

This essay presents an eloquent summary of one disillusioned former Obama supporter's evolution.

When I first heard about Obama as a rising star in the Democratic Party, a man so refreshingly different from his predecessors and contemporaries, I was intensely curious and quite favorably disposed toward the youngish, African-American legislator and author. And when I gleaned from my local newspaper that he might harbor aspirations to the White House, I found myself very much in his corner, one of his many Canadian fans. He had an effect similar to the new car smell, appropriately called “outgassing” in the trade, which is often irresistible to prospective buyers.

Naturally, I wished to learn as much as I could about the man who represented an unprecedented phenomenon on the American political scene. I soon discovered that very little of substance was known about this rara avis and so began a disciplined search for more information. Within months I had accumulated a towering stack of articles, commentaries, editorials, and diverse kinds of documentary materials, much of this stuff mere unfocused adulation and adjectival irrelevance but many of these items of a distinctly troubling nature. His autobiographies notwithstanding, I was soon caught in the grip of a profound paradox. It seemed the more I knew, the less I knew. But this “less” was more than enough to convince me, by the time he had won the Democratic nomination, that Obama was everything he presumably was not.

I had finally amassed enough documentation to determine that he was not the centrist he affected to be but a far-left ideologue, that he was a gyrating opportunist who could reverse his proclamations on a dime to suit the occasion, that he had neither knowledge of nor competence in the complexities of foreign affairs, that he was an unabashed plagiarist in his stump speeches, that there was no chance of him becoming a “post racial” president but rather a demagogue who would sharpen racial tensions, that his grasp of real-world economics was shaky to non-existent, that he was an unnervingly ignorant man (e.g. the Austrian language) as well as a showboat (e.g., the fake classical pillars), that he was associated with some of the most dubious people in the political, academic, and religious communities, and that he would waste little time putting the screws on Israel while flattering and appeasing the Islamic world.

Monday, February 14, 2011

As the lies come crashing down by Caroline Glick

This article covers events in Pakistan that have not received much attention. I found these comments within the article to be particularly enlightening and concerning.

Since taking office, the Obama administration has failed to conceive of a strategy for contending with the situation. One of the main obstacles to the formation of a coherent US strategy is the Obama administration's move to outlaw any discussion of the basic threats to US interests. Shortly after entering office, President Barack Obama banned the use of the term "War against terror," substituting it with the opaque term "overseas contingency operation."

Last April, Obama banned use of the terms "jihad," "Islamic terrorism" and "radical Islam" in US government documents.
Maybe there is an innocent explanation for this change in official wording although I'm having a difficult time conjuring one.