Saturday, January 16, 2010

Predestination -- and a small reflection on the Calvinist culture into which I was born

"It was meant to be". "It was all planned out before we were born". Such statements are the essence of Calvinism. And I think that they are still common in at least some Christian circles. In the English-speaking world, the home of such doctrines is the Presbyterian Church -- in its various incarnations. But very few modern-day Presbyterian churches still preach it from the pulpit.

Yet it has a good foundation in scripture. See Ephesians chapter 1, for instance. And because of that foundation a very theological version of the doctrine even appears in the famous 16th century 39 "Articles of Religion" of the Church of England. There was a time when the Church of England respected scripture -- and you had to assent to the 39 articles to be an Anglican priest, in fact. These days the only faith that most of the Anglican clergy seem to have is in homosexuality and global warming.

Despite its venerable historical and scriptural roots, however, it seems to me that predestination is still not generally a well-articulated doctrine. It is more an instinct than anything else.

I was born into a family that was not at all religious but was still somehow Presbyterian. I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School as a kid and still have the fondest memories of that time even though I have been an atheist for all of my adult life. Yet my mother and my aunties would all from time to time come out with the statements with which I have introduced this post. What is not now preached from the pulpit still survives among the people. And the lady in my life -- Anne -- who also has a Presbyterian background but is no more religious than my mother and my aunties -- also comes out with such utterances to this day.

And Islam seems to have a very similar doctrine.

So I think that we should respect religious feelings even if a searching examination of them reveals large logical difficulties. Feelings are important. Anne does not in fact appear to believe in God. Yet she believes in a planner and a purposer. I have no difficulties with that -- even though I personally do not remotely share such beliefs.

Religion is much more a matter of feeling than anything else and I am delighted that I myself once shared such feelings. People who attack religion are in my view incompletely human. I don't in fact think that a true atheist feels any need to attack religion. Crusading atheists like Dawkins seem to me to be very religious themselves. They too are feelings-driven.

And while I am about it, I want to pay tribute to the immense power of the New Testament faith. Virtually all present Christian churches stray extensively from that faith -- as my commentary on the NT sets out in great detail -- but even that fragment of the original faith that Christians generally possess has survived, flourished and conquered for 2,000 years. And I have every confidence that there is at least another 2,00 years of life in it yet. Forget church doctrine and pagan preconceptions. Just read the NT and soak in it. It probably still has the power to transform you if you let it. It has certainly been the biggest single influence on my life.

A small addendum to that: There is one large diocese of the Church of England that does still hew closely to the scriptures: The Sydney diocese of the Anglican church of Australia. And their theological seminary -- Moore college -- is overflowing with around 300 young people (male and female) studying the faith. By contrast the local Roman Catholic seminary has about six students. Getting close to the NT is the key to power in Christian faith.


Chatting with Sarah

by Bill O'Reilly

The phenomenon known as Sarah Palin made her debut this week as an analyst on Fox News. You should have heard the braying from our competitors CNN and MSNBC. She's a dunce, they wailed, a conservative shill! Foaming at the mouth doesn't begin to describe the reaction. Here's my question: If you guys are so smart, how come your ratings are softer than Jell-O?

Palin appeared on my program and began by knocking President Obama around a bit on health care and terrorism, standard-issue right-wing stuff. But then I asked her about charges on "60 Minutes" that her frame of reference is so weak, she doesn't even understand why there are two Koreas. Palin just shook her head and said the man who made the charge, author John Heilemann, is a liberal who simply is not telling the truth. So there.

Whatever your opinion of her, you have to admit the bashing of Palin is almost unprecedented in the media. Newspaper critics and uber-liberal TV commentators are the worst. Reviewing my interview with the former governor in The New York Times, Kate Zernike wrote: "After marveling that '60 Minutes' spent eight minutes on Ms. Palin on Sunday night, Mr. O'Reilly spent about 20 with her."

Well, yeah. She's a brand-new FNC analyst and was the lead guest on my program. The “60 Minutes” story was about a book featuring dozens of politicians. Palin, however, got most of the airtime, and it was all negative. And that's the point. If you hammer Palin, the Times will have no beef. But give her a forum in which she can respond to her detractors, and watch out.

David Zurawik, television critic for The Baltimore Sun, makes that point better than I ever could. Reviewing the Palin chat, Zurawik said: "In a protected TV environment like the one Fox and O'Reilly skillfully provided for her Tuesday night, I think (Palin) could be a red-hot ratings winner. And the country and our political conversation are going to be the poorer for it. "I can only imagine what kind of power these two might come to wield in the elections of 2010."

Aha! Never mind that I asked Palin about the perception that her intellect is not up to presidential standards, Zurawik and his soul brothers and sisters on the left are very worried about the fact that Palin now has a place to state her case. A very well-watched place.

That presents a clear and present danger to the liberal ideologues masquerading as press people. No longer can they mock Palin with impunity. Now she can mock them back, big time, and perhaps convince open-minded folks that her message is worthy, and that she is not a reincarnation of Georgette on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Simply put, Palin has a big opportunity to balance the playing field. Boy, do her critics hate that.



Phony Fruits in the Obama White House Garden

by Michelle Malkin

Hold on to your hoe. It turns out that the fruits and veggies used in a special edition of the popular Food Network TV show “Iron Chef America” featuring first lady Michelle Obama did not, in fact, come from the White House garden. Could there be a more deliciously fitting symbol of Obama White House fakery than Garden-Gate?

Some may shrug at this tempest in a colander. But as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Hope and Change inauguration, the first lady’s little horticultural hoax serves as a handy metaphor for a cornucopia of Obama fraud. They’ve stocked health care town halls with partisan goons and benefactors. They’ve provided lab coats to doctor donors to make their health care lobbying look more authentic. And they’ve treated soldiers, in President Obama’s own words, as “pretty good photo ops.”

Ringers are what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

East Wing apologists are whirling like KitchenAid salad spinners over the Iron Chef-fuffle: "Due to the production delay between the shoot at the White House and the shoot at Food Network, the produce used in Kitchen Stadium during the 'Super Chef Battle' was not actually from the White House garden," admitted a Food Network spokeswoman. But, they stress, the replacement produce consisted of the exact same types of sweet potatoes, tomatillos, broccoli and fennel purportedly picked from the White House garden.

It’s the haute cuisine version of disgraced CBS News fabricator Dan Rather’s fake-but-accurate card. But this is just the latest Potemkin produce from a Potemkin presidency.

To wit: White House number-crunchers and Democratic fuzzy mathematicians have been cooking the books on stimulus jobs numbers and government health care takeover costs. They desperately ditched the “jobs saved or created” recipe for a jobs-funded concoction to salvage the illusion of economic recovery. They’ve inflated deficit reduction estimates and downplayed doctor reimbursement cuts. And they’ve done so behind a locked kitchen door.

Candidate Obama whipped up a nutritious package of transparency pledges that has fallen flatter than a one-egg souffle. Open government, he told us, was good for Washington and good for America -- and the president promised to give us heaping doses of it on C-SPAN. But not a camera was in sight for the past week’s backroom health care negotiations among the White House, Democratic leaders and left-wing special interests.

Now, President Obama is poised to deliver juicy tax exemptions for unions while squeezing middle-class taxpayers, employers, investors and drugmakers to subsidize expanded government health care.

The liberal press became unhinged when former President George W. Bush posed with an artificial turkey on a surprise Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad in 2003. But on Thursday, when Obama served up a fake populist turkey of a $90 billion bank tax -- dubbed the “financial crisis responsibility fee” -- much of the press corps dutifully chewed and swallowed. Feigning outrage at the very financial sector that loaded his campaign coffers and provided him with crony Treasury appointees, Obama demanded “our money” back.

But the tax will not apply to the Enron-rivaling financial black holes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (it would “not be productive,” says a White House filled with Fannie- and Freddie-enriched advisers). Or to the bailed-out auto companies. Or to the bevy of non-banks that have soaked up taxpayer bailout money. Gobble, gobble, gobble.

Nor will any of the incompetent or complicit financial regulators who practiced self-admittedly “inadequate” oversight before the meltdown and during the government bailout structuring be fined or penalized. (We’re looking at you, Tim Geithner).

With Year Two of the Obama administration barely under way, even its most loyal subjects are beginning to realize that Hope and Change were phony fruits. He promised new politics. We got the same old crony capitalism. He promised public accountability. We got the back of the hand. How ya like them rotten apples now?



Obama Rewards Losers, Punishes Winners

President Obama's misbegotten bank tax is precisely the wrong policy at precisely the wrong time. It will wind up backfiring across the board. Why? Because bank consumers and borrowers are the ones who will wind up paying this tax, creating an obstacle to economic recovery.

Obama is actually rewarding losers and punishing winners -- exactly the reverse of free-market capitalism. Who's being rewarded? Obama's bank-tax penalty is being used to finance the failed government takeovers of GM, GMAC, and Fannie and Freddie. And let's not forget the $75 billion failure of the so-called foreclosure loan-modification program. To this day, no one knows where that money went. But the big banks are going to be forced to finance this through a tax that will damage lending, stockholders and consumers.

This is sheer political favoritism. Crony capitalism at its worst, with a sub-theme of bailing out Obama's Big Labor political allies. It's just like his bailout of the unions by exempting them from the so-called Cadillac insurance tax until 2018, all while the rest of us may have to suffer under that tax.

Speaking of political unfairness and favoritism, mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie will not pay a nickel of this tax. These government-sponsored enterprises were at the very center of the financial maelstrom, financing the government's quotas and targets for unaffordable mortgages. Think about this for a second. President Obama is out there bashing away at excessive bonuses. And yet Fannie and Freddie's CEOs stand to make $6 million in the next year or two. Huh? These are big-government-owned bureaucrats. They ought to be paid like GS-18s.

Of course, the Federal Reserve, which is having its most profitable year ever, was probably the main culprit in all this, with its negative-real-interest-rate easy-money policy, which amounted to throwing red meat to a pack of sharks in the deepest waters. But this tax punishes and penalizes the biggest banks -- institutions that have already met their obligations by paying down TARP, with interest, and by providing taxpayers with a tidy profit on the stock warrants they held.

Now, this is not to condone the major mistakes made by the big banks. They were overleveraged, borrowed way too much and sold highly flawed mortgage bonds and other complex derivatives. And the banks should not be paying big bonuses for 2009 -- not for the period during which they were TARPed. That's their biggest mistake.

With the banks having paid down TARP, however, the U.S. government should not be waging war against them. Somebody ought to tell the White House that al-Qaida is the real enemy, not the banks.

At the same time, taxing the living hell out of the banks will not promote economic recovery and long-term prosperity.

More here


BrookesNews Update

Things are not looking up for the US economy : Obama's borrowing and spending binge point to an eventual rise in long term interest rates severe enough that if it did not kill off investment it would severely curb it. Sustained economic recovery means capital accumulation. Obama's policies are anti-growth, whether he knows it or not. His green jobs policy is a prime example of gross economic illiteracy and amounts to nothing but a 21st century version of pyramid building that will do as much for the American economy as did the building of the Palace of Versailles for the French economy
Why Bernanke needs to change course to save the US economy : The main source of the current crisis is the Fed's own policies. Once the Fed lowers interest rates and pumps money into the economy, it enables the formation of various false activities, and sets in motion an economic boom. A reversal of the loose stance strangles non-productive activities and sets in motion an economic bust
Doyle is screwing the Liberal Party on green policies : Once again the Liberal Party reveals its total incompetence in dealing with green nonsense and economic fallacies. Robert Doyle proposes destructive green policies and Liberal politicians and their advisors are unable to figure out what's wrong with them
Another interventionist fallacy: unemployment, labour costs and the value-added fallacy : Interventionists and all manner of would-be central planners are utterly clueless about how businesses are run and how markets operate. This ignorance makes these meddlers particularly dangerous to our standard of living
Castro's Cuba: Terror sponsor : "Castro has protested being placed on the U.S. list of terror-prone nations slated for extra airport screening. This is the same murderous thug who built terrorist-training camps, sponsored individual terrorists like Carlos the Jackal, and who in 1962 plotted to blow up New York's subways with 500 tons of TNT under Bloomingdale's, Gimbel's and Macy's on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The plot was foiled by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. The same thug also attempted to blow up a Miami-area nuclear plant in 1983. No wonder the Hollywood left love him
Fidel Castro: Hollywood screenwriter : Well whaddyaknow, it turns out that the Soderbergh/del Toro biopic Che was basically written by Castro's The Cuban Film Institute with Castro having the final say on the script. What a pair of lying leftwing Hollywood creeps. They couldn't wait to grovel to the sadistic Castro while praising the equally sadistic but inept Che. Hollywood has been turned into a leftwing cesspool by the likes of the America-hating Soderbergh and stone
The Crucifixion of Brit Hume : When Brit Hume declared his faith in Christ the American left immediately went into an indescribably vile frenzy. Christians should be happy because it revealed the left's hypocrisy, its shocking intolerance of anyone disagrees with it and its pathological hatred of Christians. It also revealed that the left is the real threat to Americans' liberties
Obama: America's gift to terrorists : For al Qaeda and other terrorists across the globe, Obama is the gift that just keeps on giving. The fanatical Muslim terrorists who are intent on wiping out every man woman and child that doesn't accept Allah as God was just handed another victory by the President of the United States
Leaving the US - why and why not? : After the Bolsheviks took over Russia, many who lived there before were able to compare life before and after the Communist take-over. It became readily apparent that they had gone from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Subsequent generations, having nothing to compare, had no idea what life could be under some other kind of government and simply accepted the regime as a way of life. Is this what will happen in the United States?


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


Friday, January 15, 2010

Baby temperament found to predict adult brain structure and personality

Not those pesky genes again!

In a study that could help clarify the complex relationships between the brain, environment and behavior, researchers have found that four-month-old infants' temperament predicts some aspects of their brain structure 18 years later. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Mass., studied 76 eighteen-year-olds that, at four months of age, had been categorized in previous research as "high-reactive" or "low-reactive." High-reactive generally means shy and inhibited, while low-reactive means outgoing and uninhibited.

The investigators used a form of brain scanning known as structural magnetic resonance imaging, which employs magnetic field and radio waves to produce clear and detailed pictures of the brain. Adults with a low-reactive infant temperament showed greater thickness in a brain structure called the left orbitofrontal cortex, the scientists found. This region has been implicated in processing of emotions and of self-monitoring.

On the other hand, the adults previously categorized as high-reactive, showed greater thickness in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the researchers reported. This brain area has been linked to impulse control, with greater size linked to more self-control, and with the analysis of social situations.

"To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that temperamental differences measured at four months of age have implications for the architecture of human cerebral cortex lasting into adulthood," the researchers wrote in the study, published in the January issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. The cerebral cortex is a layer of brain cells covering the surface of the brain and linked to advanced thinking functions.

High-reactive infants are characterized at age four months by vigorous activity and crying in response to unfamiliar stimuli, according to the authors, Carl Schwartz, director of the hospital's Developmental Neuroimaging and Psychopathol&sh Research Laboratory, and colleagues. Low-reactive infants by contrast stay more still and cry less in respose to the same situations.

High-reactive infants tend to become behaviorally inhibited in the second year of life, while low-reactive infants tend the opposite way, the authors added.



Small Group of Bureaucrats Hampering Use of Anti-Terror Technology

Voice stress analysis has been proven effective by law enforcement, but a turf war stands in the way of using it to catch terrorists

Recent headlines shared horrible news about the intentions of those who wish to do the United States harm:

* Al-Qaeda Terror Attempt on NWA Flight 253 (Dec. 25, 2009)

* Seven CIA Operatives Killed by Double Agent in Afghanistan (Dec. 31, 2009)

* Muslim Extremist Kills 13 at Fort Hood, Texas (Nov. 5, 2009)

These are but a few recent examples of the importance of preventative intelligence — that is, the ability to determine enemy intentions in order to effectively interdict the specific threat posed by an enemy before it occurs, according to James Chapman, education and standards director of the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts, a group that represents more than 1,800 law enforcement agencies and the thousands of criminal justice officials who use CVSA on a daily basis to solve crimes.

Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to use existing U.S. technology to identify enemy intentions — namely those of individual terrorists and highly compartmentalized terrorist cells — through all legal means possible. Instead, says Chapman, the 67-year-old regarded by many as the world’s foremost authority on CVSA, they’ve sided with a tiny group of government employees determined to maintain the status quo. “With the exception of a small minority of the population, few Americans know the U.S. possesses a technology that has been proven through research and field application to have the ability to identify terrorists and their intentions,” Chapman explained during an interview Monday.

“More than 1,800 local, municipal, state, and federal criminal justice agencies use CVSA to solve crimes and determine the suitability of individuals to perform law enforcement related duties,” he said. “Likewise, the technology is authorized under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 for the screening of potential terrorists and to ensure the security of U.S. airports and the flying public.”

On the military front, the man with nearly four decades of experience working with voice stress analysis said few people outside of the Pentagon know Gen. David Petraeus and his advisors advocate for the use of this technology in the Army’s “Counterinsurgency” Field Manual (U.S. Army FM 3-24, Dec. 2006). “In fact, General Petraeus was responsible for producing the field manual during his exile to non-combat duty by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,” Chapman explained. “Sadly, its content has been kept secret from the American public.

“A small, secretive group of bureaucrats and political appointees have effectively blocked the use of the highly sophisticated Computer Voice Stress Analyzer after repeated and well-documented successes of the technology in accurately identifying foreign terrorists.” (See “If Not for Memo, Torture Might Not Be An Issue (Part 1)” and “Part 2” for details about the Defense Department’s decision-making on this subject.)

What motivates those in the polygraph community? Chapman believes they’re simply trying to preserve an entrenched bureaucratic structure that has existed for decades. “Within the Pentagon there is a small group of bureaucrats who have not been capable of devising a technology to rival CVSA after more than 20 years and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on research,” Chapman said. “Yet they have blocked the CVSA simply to ensure their power and their monopoly over government truth verification operations.”

A 19-year study of CVSA technology by Chapman, professor emeritus and former director of the Criminal Justice Program and the Forensic Crime Laboratory at the State University of New York in Corning, demonstrated conclusively that CVSA is an effective and accurate truth verification tool, with an accuracy rate above 95 percent.




As I think we have all found, some things that seem obvious when pointed out were not at all obvious before that. And I have just encountered a good example of that. I have received by email an extensive exegesis of Matthew 16:18, usually translated "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church". It is the foundation text for the claim of apostolic succession. But the passage is a translation from the Greek, and Christ did not speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic. So we have to look at the passage with an eye to what the original Aramaic might have been and meant. And when you look at "Peter" as an Aramaic name, the meaning becomes radically different. I have just posted the email on my Scripture blog. I have commented previously on the Greek and Latin versions of the text concerned.

NYC does not want terror trials: "New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly warned Wednesday that putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspects on trial for terrorism in New York would place an unbearable financial and security burden on a city whose policing resources were already badly stretched. Commissioner Kelly did not openly urge President Obama to reconsider his Justice Department's decision, saying such policy issues were Mayor Michael Bloomberg's domain. But he saw no reason, he said, why such high-profile trials should not be held at a military base or another venue that would be less "disruptive" and pose less of a security challenge to New York. Commissioner Kelly said that the Obama administration's decision to try the five highest-profile accused terrorists in New York was not only "certain to raise the threat level" in a city that has always been al-Qaida's top target, but would also break the department's budget absent substantial federal assistance from Washington."

Palin FNC Ratings Sky High: "The Nielsen ratings are in and former V.P. hopeful Sarah Palin hit the nearly 4 million viewer jackpot last night for her debut appearance on Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor" as a Fox News contributor. The count: 3,954,000 people tuned in to watch Palin last night. That number is up 42 percent from the same night last year, and up 26 percent compared to every other day of the show in January. Palin's appearance beat out CNN's Campbell Brown, who had 999,000 viewers last night. The show also beat every ABC program between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., which included shows like "Scrubs" and "Better Off Ted."

The never-ending TSA nonsense again: "An eight-year-old boy from the US is apparently suspected of being a terrorist when he travels because of a name mix-up. Cub Scout Michael Hicks, from New Jersey, is believed to share his name with a suspicious person, and gets stopped and searched at nearly every airport, Sky News reports. Problems began six years ago when the family tried to fly to Florida from Newark Liberty International Airport. Airline staff said Hick's name was "on the list" and the boy was patted down. He was just two-years-old. Michael's name seems to be on a government watchlist of suspicious persons which triggers a higher level of security screening than other passengers. The list is operated by the US Terrorist Screening Centre. Copies are passed to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which hands them out to airlines. The TSA said as a rule there should not be any children on the list, but it would not comment on Hicks' case. The final straw came when the family recently flew to the Bahamas. Michael was searched on the way there and more forcefully on the way home. His mother Najlah Hicks felt her son was being treated like a terrorist. Mrs Hicks said she has done everything she can to get her son off the list, "I understand they need to do his, I know there is a need for security. But it shouldn't take eight years to get this fixed." More than 81,000 frustrated travellers have asked the US Department of Homeland Security to remove their names from the list, and there are 25,000 cases pending."

MSM boycott Palin speech: "A day after organizers of the upcoming national Tea Party convention said they would open Sarah Palin’s Nashville speech to media, news comes today that the list of organizations credentialed to cover it include the following: Fox News,,, The Wall Street Journal and World Net Daily.”

FDA gets slapdown: "A federal judge said the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the authority to seize electronic cigarettes because the products don’t qualify as devices subject to the agency’s regulation. In a 32-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon sided with electronic-cigarette makers Smoking Everywhere Inc. and Njoy. He criticized what he called the FDA’s ‘tenacious drive to maximize its regulatory power,’ saying he found its interpretation of the law ‘unreasonable and unacceptable.’ Representatives of the FDA weren’t immediately available for comment.” [Under Obama, the FDA is run by Leftist fanatics]

swers can be tough to come by: "It was a simple question. I only wanted to know the cost of two recent mailings I received from a couple of state government employees who claim to represent me. Was it an unreasonable request? I don’t know, but I’m only trying to be financially responsible and monitor how my money is spent. Yet, I did not get an answer to my question. Oh, I received responses; they just didn’t answer the question. Maybe that’s all I can expect from politicians.”

Crony capitalism again: "Thank goodness that libertarian think tanks like CATO, Reason, Heartland, The Manhattan Institute, CEI, and PERC defend free markets. I say that because, although people believe that businesses stand up for market competition, they rarely do. Take Altria, which owns Phillip Morris. I love Altria, because it supports some of the free market think tanks. I also hate Altria, because it’s quick to partner with government to quash competition. For years, cigarette manufacturers lobbied against regulation. Then, in 2001, Phillip Morris suddenly said it supported ’soup to nuts regulation of the entire industry, and we think that the FDA should be involved in all of that.’ They said it’s because they want ‘a common set of high standards for all tobacco manufacturers and importers doing business in the U.S.’ Maybe. I think it’s more likely that it’s because they realized that, since they control 50% of the cigarette market, FDA regulation of new tobacco products would stop competitors from challenging their dominance.”

Big business and regulation: "In a response to a comment to a previous post, I referenced Gabriel Kolko, a historian generally considered to be a hard-nosed leftist, who demonstrated that the wave of federal economic regulation in the ‘progressive’ era was almost all inspired by and in some cases written by lawyers and lobbyists for big business, which sought to use government power to stifle the competition that arises in a free market and make things more ‘efficient’ (and profitable for them). The book in question is The Triumph of Conservatism, which is well worth buying and reading, especially if you’re interested in going beyond the simplified summary history you get in high school.”

Saving capitalism … : "We have met the enemy and he is us. So Pogo might have described the situation that the business community has created for itself. There is no question that the Obama administration, and even more the Democratic leadership in Congress, harbor something between skepticism and hostility towards free markets. They believe they can do a better job of allocating the nation’s resources than can millions of consumers signaling their preferences to millions of producers by setting the cash registers ringing. That’s one reason — indebtedness to trade unions is another — Obama and the Democrats bailed out a manufacturer of cars no one wanted to buy. But the wave of regulations that characterized the latter part of the Bush administration and the first year of the Obama administration has as much to do with the behavior of the business community, or at least some of its most prominent members, as with the ideological bent of our political masters.”

The disasters of poverty: "The earthquake in Haiti was a magnitude of 7.0. According to Wikipedia, the 1989 San Francisco quake was either 7.0 or 6.9 depending on which scale one used. In other words, the intensities were fairly similar. Haiti is devastated. If the New York Times is correct, the death toll could be in the tens of thousands. The death toll in the 1989 quake was 63, if you include indirect deaths due the quake. The difference is wealth. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest areas in our part of the world and Haiti is the poorest. Poverty makes natural disasters worse. Wealth mitigates natural disasters. You would think that those who worry about the poor of the world would promote policies that increase wealth. Instead they push policies that restrain wealth creation and they do it intentionally and knowing it will restrain wealth creation.”

Equality vs. sameness in American political society: "Barack Obama’s quest and campaign promise to ‘fundamentally change the United States’ is in full swing. It is not a new effort and the change has been underway for years. The changes are simple; what is underway is a redefinition of the term equality in the American psyche.”

From the lead frying pan into the toxic fire: "In late December RC2 Corp., the Oak Brook, Ill.-based maker of Thomas & Friends Wood Railway toys, agreed to pay a $1.25 million civil penalty for allegedly violating a federal lead paint ban in 2007. The violations resulted in a major crackdown by federal authorities on lead paint and coatings, which pose a risk of lead poisoning and other health problems in children. But the new regulations, which have failed to prevent subsequent health scares in toys, may be driving smaller manufacturers off shore — the very companies needed to spark a sustainable economic recovery.”


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


Thursday, January 14, 2010

IQ-related genes continue to be discovered

There is universal agreement that there are many genes involved in the production of high IQ. There is not a single "IQ gene". High IQ seems to be the product of many genes working "just right" in the same individual -- which is why it is rare. And the process of finding out which genes are involved is advancing steadily. Below is the latest report of a gene which has been found to affect IQ. The focus below is on what happens when the gene works badly but the implication is that the gene is one of those that would need to work well for high IQ to emerge

An interesting side-effect is the demonstration that the cousin marriages which are common among Muslims can lead to mental retardation. Arab populations do show a lower than average IQ

A gene involved in some forms of intellectual disability has been identified by scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as published this month in The American Journal of Human Genetics. The gene is called TRAPPC9.

In the same journal two other international research teams independently confirm the findings of Dr. John B. Vincent, a scientist at CAMH, and his team. "This spotlights the intense interest that genetics is bringing to types of inherited intellectual disability that, to date, have been poorly understood," says Dr. Vincent. "Now that we have identified TRAPPC9 as a gene that may be associated with hundreds of thousands of cases of intellectual disability world-wide, we can build on that knowledge with research to help individuals and their families," says Dr. Vincent.

Unlike intellectual disabilities that are part of a syndrome with other medical conditions or physical abnormalities, TRAPPC9 is associated with non-syndromic types of intellectual disability; these cause up to 50 per cent of intellectual disability worldwide. "The discovery sheds light on a gene for intellectual disability on one of the non-sex chromosomes," says Dr. Vincent, "just the seventh such gene that we know of." The mutation in the TRAPPC9 gene identified by Dr. Vincent's team causes the production of a truncated version of a protein and results in faulty cell function.

Because there are no highly recognizable physical differences that are associated with the non-syndromic intellectual disabilities, it is more difficult to tease out the genetic mutations that may cause them. But researchers and families themselves have long suspected an inherited factor, based on patterns observed in extended families. Families with many affected individuals, and particular families from cultures where cousin-cousin marriages are common, have become invaluable in the search for such genes, and with recent advances in technology it is now possible to map disease-causing genes in a single family.

Dr. Vincent's team first identified and mapped out the TRAPPC9 gene in a large family from Pakistan that had at least seven members with non-syndromic intellectual disability. "To date, most such genes have only been found responsible for disease in a single family," he adds. But Dr. Vincent's team also found a mutation in the same gene in a family from Iran, confirming the gene's importance. "This additional finding gives us a very strong reason to continue to explore the gene and its possible mutations," he says.



Ayatollahs desert Iran's besieged regime

Not something you often hear about:

AYATOLLAH Ruhollah Khomeini established his Islamic regime on the premise of velayet-e faqih, the undisputed moral and religious authority of the supreme leader as a successor to the prophet Mohammed and the infallible Shia imams. This premise was set to justify and guarantee the survival of the system he created. Undisputed authority, he thought, with a back-up from Allah, cannot be challenged. But as events in Iran unfold, it becomes clear this is no longer the case. Not only is the leader challenged but also his self-ascribed monopoly on God.

Khomeini's successor Ali Khamenei never enjoyed the religious and moral authority of his predecessor. Khamenei, a mid-level cleric (hojatoleslam) who had never completed a resaleye amalie (equivalent to a PhD dissertation for Shia religious students), ascended to the rank of grand ayatollah within three months. He began his career by putting his rival, grand ayatollah Hosein Ali Montazeri, under house arrest. For his part, Montazeri, once designated as the successor to Khomeini, indeed became Khamenei's most vocal opponent. His once lonely voice of dissent became stronger as more and more ayatollahs, including very senior ones, found it increasingly difficult to keep silent.

The rift between the clerical establishment and the regime has significantly widened during the past six months. Slowly but surely, even some of the most conservative ayatollahs began to distance themselves from both. Last month, grand ayatollah Javadi Amoli, who performs Friday prayers in Qom, announced his resignation. In his departure statement, he expressed his frustration with the lack of listening on the part of the Supreme Leader: "When the Friday imam articulates the problems that people face and those problems are resolved, it is evidence that he has expressed them well. But if the problems are not resolved, that means he was not successful."

In another recent sermon, Ayatollah Reza Ostadi, a Friday prayer leader in the holy city of Qom, condemned the "extremism in support of the Supreme Leader", or the heavy-handed tactics used by the regime to impose Khamenei's authority. In response, one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's aides launched a verbal attack on the senior cleric. However, no less than 19 top members of Qom seminaries issued an open letter in support of their colleague.

Last June, shortly after the first peaceful demonstrations were met with violence, a video clip of Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammed Dastghaib, the most senior religious figure in Fars, appeared on YouTube. In it, he openly called the supreme leader an apostate who should be removed from God's mercy. This brazen speech brought the closure of his mosque as well as several attacks on his office and home. He was also barred from giving public speeches. But his message still resonates.

In another YouTube clip, Ayatollah Shirazi, who belongs to one of the most prominent clerical families in Shia Islam, called Khamenei "worse than Yazid", referring to a historical figure who is the embodiment of Satan for Shi'ites. Yazid's army killed Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed and the most revered Shia imam on the day of Ashura. Although the timing of the clip is not clear, its content is unequivocally lucid: Khamenei, no longer represents Islam but, rather, he is perceived as an enemy of the faith. Shirazi ends his remarks by praying for Khamenei's severe punishment on the day of judgment. Shirazi's remarks appeared more relevant at the December 27 mass demonstrations that coincided with the Ashura, the annual commemoration of Hussein's death. At least nine people were killed that day, an untold number were injured and more than 1100 people arrested in Tehran alone. Such brutality during the holy day placed the supreme leader closer to the side of Yazid in the eyes of many.

Co-opting God remains at the core of this debate. Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, one of Khamenei's most corrupt representatives, called the leaders of the opposition enemies of God who should be sentenced to death. Mehdi Karubi, a mid-ranking cleric and an opposition leader, characterised the attack on the demonstrators on the day of Ashura as an "unforgivable sin".

Yazid or not, it is becoming increasingly evident that the moral authority of the Supreme Leader is fading. With it, the very foundation on which the Islamic Republic was built appears shakier than ever. The Iranian people, along with the religious leadership, are distancing themselves from a regime that represents neither the people below nor God above.



STIMULUS WATCH: Unemployment unchanged by projects

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth." An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

With the nation's unemployment rate at 10 percent and expected to rise, Obama wants a second stimulus bill from Congress including billions of additional dollars for roads and bridges — projects the president says are "at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the administration's recovery program Monday, writing on his blog that "DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry." Road spending would total nearly $28 billion of the Jobs for Main Street Act, a $75 billion second stimulus to help lower the unemployment rate and improve the dismal job market for construction workers. The Senate is expected to consider the House-approved bill this month.

But AP's analysis, which was reviewed by independent economists at five universities, showed the strategy of pumping transportation money into counties hasn't affected local unemployment rates so far. "There seems to me to be very little evidence that it's making a difference," said Todd Steen, an economics professor at Hope College in Michigan who reviewed the AP analysis.

And there's concern about relying on transportation spending a second time. "My bottom line is, I'd be skeptical about putting too much more money into a second stimulus until we've seen broader effects from the first stimulus," said Aaron Jackson, a Bentley University economist who also reviewed AP's analysis.




SCOTUS protects witnesses in homosexual marriage trial: "The Supreme Court split along ideological lines Wednesday as it barred a federal judge in San Francisco from broadcasting a high-profile trial involving same-sex marriage. The court issued an unsigned opinion that said lower courts had not followed proper procedure in approving plans for the broadcast. … The court’s liberal bloc — joined for the first time in an ideological split by Sonia Sotomayor, the new justice — issued a strong dissent.”

Forecast: Foreclosures may rise to record three million US homes in 2010: "A record 3 million U.S. homes will be repossessed by lenders this year as high unemployment and depressed home values leave borrowers unable to make their house payment or sell, according to a RealtyTrac Inc. forecast. Last year there were 2.82 million foreclosures, the most since RealtyTrac began compiling data in 2005. More than 4.5 million filings are expected this year, including default or auction notices and bank seizures, said Rick Sharga, senior vice president for the Irvine, California-based seller of default data and forecasts.”

Rasmussen: Massachusetts race a dead heat: "Pollster Scott Rasmussen’s latest numbers on that special Senate election in Massachusetts: Democrat Martha Coakley 49%, Republican Scott Brown 47%, independent candidate Joe Kennedy (no relation to the Kennedys) 3%. Rasmussen points out that this is not precisely comparable with his survey last week, which showed Coakley ahead 50%-41%, since in that survey it offered the choice of “some other candidate” and in this one Kennedy (whose inclusion in debates Coakley insisted on) was named. Turnout matters: this most recent poll shows Brown 2% ahead among those absolutely certain to vote. Obviously all these results are within the statistical margin of error, which means that either candidate could win.

Democrats fielding a corruptocrat in Massachusetts: " Democrat Martha Coakley is the voice of the “little people” the way Ted Kennedy was the voice of sobriety. If Massachusetts voters want another privileged liberal who talks a good “social justice” game while ignoring public corruption, pocketing gobs of money from Beltway fat cats and pandering to corporate special interests, Coakley’s the one. Coakley, the Bay State’s attorney general, has campaigned to replace the late Sen. Kennedy on a law-and-order platform. But she has consistently turned a blind eye to both. When a top aide to Boston Mayor Tom Menino was caught deleting thousands of e-mails in violation of public records law last fall, Coakley punted. Democrat Menino was in the middle of a re-election bid; Coakley was wrapped up in her own senatorial bid. Instead of expressing any concern about the City Hall information black hole, Coakley refused to investigate. She accused her critics of playing politics: “(W)e get lots of complaints from folks who are adversaries who have a particular agenda.”

Playing politics with pullets and paychecks: "Back in the early 1960s, West Germans were eating a lot of imported American chicken. This apparently threatened Germany’s poultry producers so their politicians slapped an import tax on the foreign fowl. What this did, as ever, was to punish large numbers of their own chicken chomping citizens for the benefit of a relatively small number of politically connected roaster raisers. But never mind. America struck back. President Lyndon Johnson imposed an onerous 25 percent tax on imported delivery vans and trucks, thereby punishing Volkswagen's autoworkers while ostensibly protecting America's unionized autoworkers at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American large and small business owners who use delivery vehicles in their daily operations."

More than zero: "Anyone who has expended energy arguing for free trade, market competition, and the open exchange of ideas has repeatedly encountered the same obstacle: zero-sum assumptions misapplied to dynamic, nonlinear phenomena. Almost anywhere you see statism advancing — in economic policy, national security, even the basic conditions for free speech — you can bet that underneath there’s a faulty zero-sum argument. All complicated matters of life, according to this way of thinking, can be reduced to a simple binary scale: Press your thumb down on the bad end, and the good one will go up. So when President Barack Obama slaps a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires, as he did on September 11, he does it in the name of ensuring that (as he put it in a campaign promise) ‘China is no longer given a free pass to undermine U.S. workers.’ In this yin-yang formulation, there is a single pie of domestic American tire consumption, and China’s slice is growing bigger at the expense of domestic producers.”

India: Pill signals new openness: "A college-age woman, dressed in traditional Indian clothing with her hair in a long braid, nervously whispers into a phone that she needs to find an abortion clinic. The next scene of the popular Indian TV ad shows the woman and a friend peering into a dimly lit alley as a voice-over says, ‘It’s better to take an I-pill and avoid the quandary of an abortion.’ The candor of the advertisement is a sign of dramatic change in India, whose traditional society still frowns on public displays of affection. Sexual behavior is increasingly openly discussed — and prevalent.”

Facing a choice about fascism: "Political scholars tend to disagree about what, exactly, defines fascism. Many go the ‘I know it when I see it’ route, alluding to the nebulous definition of pornography, while others maintain that it doesn’t exist at all, believing instead that what we perceive as fascism is usually just a perversion of some other form of government. Largely due to Hitler’s would-be empire, the modern world views fascism as a mish-mash of bigotry, ultra-nationalism, totalitarianism, and censorship. However, if you dig beneath the ‘isms,’ you’re left with is a single, simple truth. Most of the evils perpetrated by Hitler’s regime were trappings created to support an economy where private ownership of industry was coupled with a massive level of government control. Fascism is, and always was, about money.”

The old delusion of protectionism: "When Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced his support for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, he told reporters that a key factor in his endorsement was that Obama ‘has always opposed NAFTA’ — the North American Free Trade Agreement linking Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Dorgan is a strident protectionist, so there was nothing unusual about his slap at NAFTA. Except this: The same week that Dorgan came out for Obama, the US Commercial Service reported that North Dakota had ranked first in the nation for export growth the previous year. And the top destinations for the North Dakota merchandise exported in 2007? Canada and Mexico. International commerce has been good to Dorgan’s state.”

The people making “the rules” are dumber than you: "The people who regulate what you do, in most cases, know less about what you’re doing than you do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s nominally a ‘public’ or ‘private’ organization, or how smart the people running it are as individuals. No matter how smart the people in charge are, they are systematically stupid in their organizational roles, because of the dynamics of information flow in hierarchies (as described by Robert Anton Wilson, for example). Organizations are pyramids, and the people at the tops of the pyramids tend to communicate much more effectively with each other than they do with those at the bottoms of their own respective pyramids. That means that most organizations are riddled with ‘best practices’ based almost entirely on feedback about how well they worked from people at the tops of the other pyramids. And those latter people have almost no valid knowledge of how the policies actually worked in their own organizations.”


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Divine Right of Intellectuals

Too many intellectuals believe they have a duty to make decisions for the rest of us

In his 1988 book Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, Paul Johnson wrote that one of the lessons of the 20th century was “beware intellectuals. Not merely should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice.”

Not long after Johnson released his book, economist Thomas Sowell appeared on the C-SPAN program Booknotes. The host, Brian Lamb, asked Sowell what his next book would focus on, and he said he was considering writing about intellectuals. When Lamb asked how his book would be different from Johnson’s, Sowell threatened, “Mine would not be as generous as his.”

With his new work, Intellectuals and Society, Sowell has finally made good on his 20-year-old promise to write about intellectuals. He has also made good on his threat. Sowell takes aim at the class of people who influence our public debate, institutions, and policy. Few of Sowell’s targets are left standing at the end, and those who are stagger back to their corner, bloody and bruised.

What makes Intellectuals and Society even more withering than Johnson’s historical-biographical work is that Sowell approaches his subject as an economist, analyzing the incentives and constraints intellectuals face. Sowell defines intellectuals as an occupation, as people whose “work begins and ends with ideas.” This includes academics, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, policy wonks, and, to a certain extent, journalists. This distinguishes them from occupations in which the work begins with ideas and ends with the application of ideas. Physicians or engineers usually start with ideas about how to approach their work, but eventually they have to put them into practice by treating patients or constructing bridges.

As a result, intellectuals are free from one of the most rigorous constraints facing other occupations: external standards. An engineer will ultimately be judged on whether the structures he designs hold up, a businessman on whether he makes money, and so on. By contrast, the ultimate test of an intellectual’s ideas is whether other intellectuals “find those ideas interesting, original, persuasive, elegant, or ingenious. There is no external test.” If the intellectuals are like-minded, as they often are, then the validity of an idea depends on what those intellectuals already believe. This means that an intellectual’s ideas are tested only by internal criteria and “become sealed off from feedback from the external world of reality.”

An intellectual’s reputation, then, depends not on whether his ideas are verifiable but on the plaudits of his fellow intellectuals. That the Corvair was as safe as any other car on the road has not cut into Ralph Nader’s speaking fees, nor has the failure of hundreds of millions of people to starve to death diminished Paul Ehrlich’s access to grant money. They only have to maintain the esteem of the intelligentsia to keep the gravy train running.

Intellectuals, of course, have expertise — highly specialized knowledge of a particular subject. The problem, according to Sowell, is that they think their superior knowledge in one area means they have superior knowledge in most other areas. Yet knowledge is so vast and dispersed that it is doubtful that any one person has even 1 percent of the knowledge available. Even the brightest intellectuals cannot possibly know all the needs, wants, and preferences of millions of people. Unfortunately, they have considerable incentive to behave as if they do.

Sowell notes another important distinction between intellectuals and other professions. “There is a spontaneous demand from the larger society for the end products of engineering, medical and scientific professions,” he writes, “while whatever demand there is for the end products of linguists or historians comes largely from educational institutions or is created by intellectuals themselves.” Members of other professions can achieve fame and fortune by finding ways to meet the demand for their end products. But for intellectuals to prosper they must create demand for their ideas by stepping outside their areas of expertise to offer “solutions” to “social problems” or “by raising alarms over some dire dangers which they claim to have discovered.” Chances are slim that Noam Chomsky would ever have achieved the acclaim that he did if he had stayed in the field of linguistics instead of venturing into U.S. foreign policy, nor the entomologist Ehrlich if he had limited himself to studying butterflies rather than making gloomy predictions of human overpopulation.

Reinforcing these incentives is what Sowell dubs the “Vision of the Anointed.” Intellectuals’ belief in their own superior knowledge and virtue leads to a belief that they are an anointed elite who are qualified to make decisions for the rest of us in order to lead humanity to a better life. Under this vision problems such as poverty, injustice, and war are not due to inherent human weaknesses, but are the products of society’s institutions. Solving those problems requires changing those institutions, which requires changing the ideas behind the institutions. And who is better suited for that task than those whose work begins and ends with ideas?

“There could hardly be a set of incentives and constraints more conducive to getting people of great intellect to say sweeping, reckless or even foolish things,” Sowell states. He warns that if “no one has even 1 percent of the knowledge currently available . . . the imposition from the top down of the notions favored by the elites, convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue, is a formula for disaster.”

The most telling portions of Intellectuals and Society are the ones in which Sowell chronicles the disasters that occur when intellectuals succeed in getting politicians, judges, and other policymakers to impose their vision on society. In the section on crime, Sowell examines what happened to the U.S. when intellectuals imposed on the criminal-justice system their vision of crime as being as much the fault of society as of the individual. In the 1960s, the Warren Court made it more difficult to convict and imprison criminals with decisions such as Miranda and Mapp. Other judges and policymakers followed with an effort to alleviate the so-called “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and discrimination. Rehabilitation was emphasized over prolonged imprisonment. The result was a reversal of a decades-long improvement in the crime rate. For example, in 1961 the murder rate was half what it had been in 1933. By 1974, it was double that of 1961.

By the early 1990s, voters had had enough and began electing politicians who emphasized longer prison terms for convicted criminals. As incarceration rates rose, crime rates dropped. Yet this made no dent in the vision of the intellectuals. The New York Times ran numerous variations on the article headlined “Crime Keeps Falling, but Prisons Keep On Filling.” Times columnist Tom Wicker dismissed voters’ desire for tougher penalties as “panicky public fears and punitive public attitudes.” Sowell notes that this is a common tactic among intellectuals, to dismiss the differing views of others and treat them as “mere emotions (‘panicky’), rather than as arguments that had to be analyzed and answered with facts.”

To date, the biggest disaster perpetrated by intellectuals is the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. After World War I, pacifism — the belief that the real enemy isn’t other nations, but war itself — became part of the intellectuals’ vision. Being a pacifist was a badge of honor among intellectuals in the inter-war period. They were so successful in promoting pacifism in the public sphere that politicians in England and France worried about losing the next election if they advocated military action against Germany. As in other fields, intellectuals seldom addressed the arguments against pacifism, instead dismissing them as, in the words of John Dewey, “the stupidity of habit-bound minds.”

What enabled intellectuals to explain away Hitler’s increasing military aggressiveness leading up to World War II, from the Rhineland to Czechoslovakia to Austria to Poland, is what Sowell calls “one-day-at-time rationalism.” This sort of rationalism restricts “analysis to the immediate implications of each issue as it arises, missing wider implications of a decision that may have merit as regards the issue immediately at hand . . . but which can be disastrous in terms of the ignored longer-term repercussions.” Intellectuals focused on each of Hitler’s aggressions separately and considered only the immediate consequences of taking military action against Germany. For example, the French political scientist Joseph Barthélemy asked, “Is it worth setting fire to the world in order to save the Czechoslovak state?” When Hitler demanded annexation of the Polish port of Danzig, a French newspaper asked, “Do We Have to Die for Danzig?” Looking at Hitler’s actions this way obscured the larger and more important question, which, as Sowell states, “was whether one recognized in the unfolding pattern of Hitler’s actions a lethal threat.” Public- opinion polls from the summer of 1939 suggest that shortly before Hitler invaded Poland the French people caught on to what he was doing, but by then it was too late for the Third Republic.

Sowell’s book serves not only as a history of intellectuals but also as a guide to what is currently unfolding in the United States. A constant theme in Intellectuals and Society is the intellectual as a “surrogate decision-maker” who thinks his preferences should override those of the parties directly involved in a decision. For example, Sowell notes that intellectuals often complain that they do not understand why corporate executives are paid such high salaries, “as if there is any inherent reason why third parties should be expected to understand, or why their understanding and acquiescence should be necessary, in order for those who are directly involved in hiring and paying corporate executives to proceed on the basis of their own knowledge and experience, in a matter in which they have a stake and intellectuals do not.” However, companies that received TARP money do need the acquiescence of White House pay czar Kenneth Feinberg, who recently decreed that the top executives at these companies could not earn more than $500,000 annually. That Feinberg has no experience at running a company, and that it will be the employees and stockholders of those companies, and not Feinberg, who will suffer the consequences of that decision, is consistent with an administration culled from the anointed.

Sowell writes that it “was part of a long-standing assumption among many intellectuals . . . that it is the role of third parties to bring meaning into the lives of the masses.” Many people were shocked when in early 2008 Michelle Obama proclaimed, “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. . . . That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” Sowell probably just shook his head in knowing disgust.

Sowell also emphasizes the fact that intellectuals take their beliefs as axiomatic truths rather than hypotheses to be tested. In the current health-care debate it is axiomatic among many intellectuals that a public plan will improve the health-insurance market. As one liberal blogger put it, “If the public plan works, then private insurance will work better as well. In this telling, the simple existence of the public plan forces a more honest insurance market.” But treating that claim as a hypothesis shows that the evidence points in the opposite direction. Medicare, the “public plan” for seniors, drove private insurance for the elderly out of the market.

The intellectuals of today are continuing a long tradition, according to Sowell, going back at least to Rousseau, who dismissed the masses as “a stupid, pusillanimous invalid.” He was succeeded by John Stuart Mill, who said that intellectuals are “the best and wisest” and “those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling.” If Mill were not long dead, it would be easy to conclude that he ghost-wrote George Clooney’s Academy Awards acceptance speech for Syriana.

In a way, Clooney represents one of the few weaknesses of Intellectuals and Society. Sowell excoriates intellectuals for believing that their superior knowledge in one area can be generalized to other areas, but he states that “chess grandmasters, musical prodigies and others who are . . . remarkable within their respective specialties . . . seldom make that mistake.” Yet actors and singers seem to be making it almost every day now. The likes of Clooney, Sheryl Crow, Rosie O’Donnell, and many others never seem to tire of giving us the benefit of their ignorance. Sowell should extend his analysis further into what motivates people to pronounce on matters over which they have no expertise. After all, most celebrities already have oodles of fame and fortune and don’t need to make reckless and foolish public statements in order to get a share of the limelight.

It would also be helpful if Sowell trained his sights on some of the recent variants of conservatism. For example, one author has stated that Compassionate Conservatism makes “solving the problems of the urban underclass a top priority,” as if conservatives are qualified to guide the poor. Or consider National Greatness Conservatism, which is about more than just organizing “citizens’ resentments”; it is about “informing their hopes.” This looks eerily like intellectuals trying to bring “meaning” into the lives of the masses.

Despite the book’s gloomy tone, Sowell does offer a hopeful note. Since the 1980s, conservatives and libertarians have pushed back to the point that intellectuals’ “overwhelming dominance has been reduced somewhat.” Yet he warns that the intellectuals’ vision is still dominant: “Not since the days of the divine right of kings has there been such a presumption of a right to direct others and constrain their decisions, largely through expanded powers of government.” But now that Sowell has given us a penetrating analysis of that vision, perhaps it will be easier to fight it.




White House issues more imaginary job statistics: "President Barack Obama’s emergency spending measures last year saved up to two million U.S. jobs, the White House said on Wednesday, but it warned that the outlook for the economy remained uncertain. … The White House, using two different approaches to figure out the impact of the stimulus package, estimates that U.S. employment had been raised by between 1-1/2 and 2 million jobs by the end of 2009 as a result of the stimulus measures. Romer said she thinks the stimulus measures will have saved up to 3.5 million jobs by year’s end.” [About as likely as the old Soviet production statistics]

Politicizing the law: "Eric Holder’s Justice Department has exiled Christopher Coates to South Carolina. Coates, you may recall, is a career attorney at Justice, the chief of the Civil Rights Division’s (CRD) Voting Section. More to the point, Coates recommended that the CRD file a lawsuit for voter intimidation against the New Black Panther party and several of its members, who were in paramilitary uniforms (one of them waving a nightstick) threatening elderly white voters at a polling station in Philadelphia during last year’s elections. Political appointees at the Justice Department overrode Coates’s recommendation. They ordered him to dismiss the lawsuit against all but one of the defendants, even though they were in default because they did not defend themselves. … The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has opened an investigation of the unexplained dismissal. It has subpoenaed Coates, but Justice has ordered Coates not to appear before the panel.” [See also here]

He’s the president, not America’s “daddy”: "Despite her cutesy gal-talk and chatty pop-culture references, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is worth reading, if only because she often inadvertently encapsulates the worst ideas in contemporary politics. ‘Americans are scared’ after the failed Christmas bombing, MoDo proclaimed in her column Sunday. But by responding coolly, Barack Obama let a good crisis go to waste. He missed his ‘moment to be president,’ Dowd says, ‘to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders.’ Could there be a more infantile conception of the chief executive’s role?”

Class war: "Exempting themselves from traffic laws in the name of a threat that no longer exists is bad enough, but what government workers do to the rest of us on a daily basis makes ticket dodging look like child’s play. Often under veils of illegal secrecy, public-sector unions and their political allies are systematically looting the public treasury with gold-plated pensions, jeopardizing the finances of state and local governments around the country, removing themselves from legal accountability, and doing it all in the name of humble working men and women just looking for their fair share. Government employees have turned themselves into a coddled class that lives better than its private-sector counterpart, and with more impunity. The public’s servants have become our masters.”

Report: Freedom declines around world for fourth consecutive year: "Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization that monitors democracy and political rights world wide, says global freedom declined last year for the fourth consecutive year. Although the group says there were some improvements, last year’s slump represents the longest continuous decline in the nearly 40-year history of the report. Freedom House says that whether it was the brutal repression of demonstrators in Iran, the sweeping detention of activists in China or the murder of journalists and human rights advocates in Russia, 2009 was a year that was marked by intensified repression of human rights defenders and civic activists.”

Japanese savers about to be ripped off by the Japanese government: "I have felt rather lonely after suggesting in my New Year Predictions that Japan is dangerously close to blowing up on its sovereign debts, with consequences that will be felt across the world. My intended point — overly condensed — was that 2010 will prove to be the year that Japan flips from deflation to something very different: the beginnings of debt monetization by a terrified central bank that will ultimately spin out of control, perhaps crossing into hyperinflation by the middle of the decade. So it is nice to have some company: first from PIMCO’s Paul McCulley, who said that the Bank of Japan should buy “unlimited amounts” of long-term government debt (JGBs) to lift the country out of a “deflationary liquidity trap” and raise the souffle again." [Similar to Obama's money-printing]

The recession is over, the depression just beginning: "In his upcoming State of the Union address, Obama is expected to repeat his post-China trip message that fiscal austerity (meaning sharp social spending cuts) is necessary to cut the public debt. In other words, bankrolling Wall Street, health insurers, the drug cartel, other corporate favorites, and war profiteers will continue while working Americans won’t be helped during the greatest economic crisis in their lifetimes, a protracted one that will last years. Looking ahead in 2010, the state of the nation for most people is dire and worsening, and 2011 looks no better.”

Note to TSA, DHS et al: “Disclaimer: No, I don’t advocate ducking ’security’ ropes, sticking Gatorade jugs full of honey in your luggage, rubbing your luggage with a Milkbone right before leaving for the airport, writing Bob Denver inspired notes about your pteromerhanophobia, or getting drunk and hogging the Great White Porcelain God’s airborne confessional. BUT! Any or all of those things are weird annoyances at worst and require mild on-the-spot correctives at most. It’s the reactions to them that are the real problem. There’s no nice way to put this: Those reactions objectively aid and abet al Qaeda.”


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Putin marks 10 years of extraordinary achievement

The article below certainly presents another side to what we normally hear. It was written by an Australian Christian conservative. What is missing is a comparison with other post-Soviet economies -- such as the Baltic States. But while the Baltic States have done better in many ways, the economic crisis hit them hard -- which was much less so for Russia. Like the USA, Russia is at the moment propping up large private businesses rather than expropriating them

A decade ago this month, Boris Yeltsin handed the reins of Russia to Vladimir Putin. It was a good day for Russia and the world. Putin is Russia's finest leader since Peter the Great.

Western profiles of Putin usually begin with ''ex-KGB agent'' but that is misleading. As a spy in West Germany in the 1980s, Putin witnessed the superiority of the free market. After the 1989 revolutions, Putin moved to St Petersburg to join his friend and former university lecturer, the mayor, Anatoly Sobchak - the Milton Friedman of Russia - and was appointed to attract foreign investment to Russia's second largest city. When Yeltsin defied Soviet tanks in Moscow in 1991, Sobchak performed the same heroic feat in St Petersburg. During those momentous days, when Russia's fate was in the balance, Putin resigned from the KGB to work against the Soviet coup.

Putin stayed with free-market Sobchak until 1996, when he moved to Moscow, ended the Chechen revolt and in August 1999 was appointed Yeltsin's fifth prime minister in 17 months. Four months later, Yeltsin resigned as president and, under Russia's constitution, Putin became acting president.

He called an election, further entrenching the rule of law, in which 75 per cent of Russians voted, winning a 53 per cent majority in a field of 12 candidates. Four years later he was re-elected with a thumping 71 per cent mandate and has since enjoyed the highest approval rating of any political leader in the democratic world.

Putin inherited an economic catastrophe. In 1998, Russia defaulted on its foreign debt and the rouble collapsed. His first public commitment - to double the productive capacity of the Russian economy in 10 years - was met with derision, but has been fulfilled.

When Time magazine asked Putin how a lifelong KGB man raised in the Soviet Union become a believer in free markets, he replied: ''One doesn't have to be a particularly bright highbrow to see the obvious, that the market economy has major advantages over an administrative system.''

In the Putin decade, Russia followed the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, with average annual economic growth of 7 per cent. Foreign debt has been repaid before it fell due and international bond investors now bemoan the shortage of its public debt.

Real wages have grown at about 12 per cent a year. In 2001, Putin achieved the holy grail of progressive reform - a flat income tax of 13 per cent, creating a wave of incentive to work while reducing the appeal of the black market.

At the same time, he cut corporate tax from 35 to 24 per cent and gave small businesses a choice - pay 6 per cent of gross revenue in tax or 15 per cent of profits. The former Soviet Union now boasts the lowest taxes in Europe while achieving increases in government revenue.

Western critics predicted Putin would use the global financial crisis as a pretext to increase state control, but the reverse has been the case. Russia has embarked on a new round of privatisation, with 5500 state-owned enterprises earmarked for sale.

The World Bank reported: "Russia's strong short-term macroeconomic fundamentals make it better prepared than many emerging economies to deal with the crisis . . . prudent fiscal management and substantial financial reserves have protected Russia from deeper consequences of this external shock.'' Its sharemarket more than doubled last year, giving its investors the best returns of any bourse.

Putin's Russia has floated its currency and liberalised its current and capital accounts, completing the troika required for full integration into international capital markets. In 2000, Russia's economy was ranked 22nd in the world - now it is seventh. The power of oligarchs diminished under Putin, with the growing counterweight of parliament, the rule of law and a middle class that has exploded from 8 million to 55 million. Those living in poverty fell from 30 per cent to 14 per cent under his watch.

Yeltsin gave independence to 15 former Soviet republics and, although Putin is perceived as a tough guy, the empire is not striking back. John McCain wrongly attempted to characterise the Georgia skirmish as a "resurgence of the Soviet bear". South Ossetia was historically part of Georgia but during the Soviet era its population became dominated by ethnic Russians. Today the vast majority of South Osettians want to be part of Russia. Georgians launched an offensive to retake South Ossetia during the Beijing Olympics and Russia resisted. South Ossetia may be a complex story but comparisons with Budapest in 1956 are wrong.

While the Soviets repressed all religious faith, Putin happily wears a cross, admits to studying the Bible and has largely restored the prestige of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian media may be excessively pro-Putin but only a fraction more or less than the US media have been towards President Barack Obama. It is distressing and disturbing that several Russian journalists have been murdered during Putin's administration. In the absence of persuasive evidence to the contrary, I can only accept Putin's own logic that their deaths have caused him more damage than anything they could have written or spoken.

Russia is the largest geographic nation and the ninth most populous. It retains the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Everyone on Earth has an interest in Russia's stability and prosperity. It seems likely that Putin will stand again for president in 2012, as the constitution permits. In view of his extraordinary record of achievement in office, its hard for me to see how anyone of good faith could regret his continued influence in Russia and the world.



Obama's 'fixes' will fail


On Christmas day, a terrorist known to our intelligence system tried to blow up 300 innocents on a US-bound flight. Our government's response is to take porno pictures of your wife and daughter. A radical-Islamist US Army major, known to our intelligence system, massacred his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. Our government's response was to offer counseling sessions. A triple agent, known to our intelligence system, detonated a suicide bomb at a CIA outpost, killing seven Americans and a cousin of Jordan's king. Our government's response is to shift intelligence assets away from targeting terrorists to support development efforts.

Our president assures us that no individual is to blame. No one will be fired. It was only "the system," that elusive beast, that failed. Well, our intelligence system is made up of people. People failed. Starting at the top.

The dazzlingly incompetent Janet Napolitano, a "man-caused disaster" if ever there was one, needs to be removed from her job heading Homeland Security. White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan should be placed on double-secret probation and warned to pull up his grades. As for the National Counterterrorism Center chief who abandoned his post to go on a ski vacation the day after Christmas, I leave his fate to you, gentle reader. None of these people, including our president, took what almost happened on Christmas seriously -- until the public outcry spooked them.

To energize the bureaucratic proles, you have to chop off aristocratic heads. But President Obama won't use the guillotine. He's protecting incompetents. At our nation's expense.

The corrective measures announced Thursday boil down to two things: Buy more stuff (additional computer systems, full-body scanners, etc.), and re-arrange the deck chairs. That won't do it. These measures don't address the two enduring handicaps our intelligence community (and our government) suffers in our duel with Islamist terrorists.

First, you can't win by playing defense. Our unseemly protective measures relinquish the initiative to our enemies. Punishing law-abiding US citizens at airports is a disgrace, not a virtue. The only effective way to reduce the terrorist threat is to kill terrorists. Nothing else -- not even the humiliation of innocent air travelers -- will work.

Yet the politically correct group-think mentality in Washington is so pervasive and pernicious that even Robert Gates, who's been a great secretary of defense in so many ways, parrots the cliché that "we can't kill our way out of this." Oh, really? Suppose we had killed young Umar Abdulmutallab on the ground with al Qaeda in Yemen? Might that not have protected Americans more effectively than making them miss their holiday flight connections?

Any program that takes intelligence assets away from finding and killing terrorists is a mistake. Improving crop yields in southern Afghanistan won't keep Americans safe from Islamist fanatics. What about this is hard to understand?

Problem No. 2 is the nature of our intelligence system itself: It's morbidly obese. The well-intentioned creation of new bureaucracies after 9/11 only worsened the problem, creating more layers of fat. I prescribe a rigorous diet and exercise -- not force-feeding the system more funding calories. Our intel system is vast, redundant, intractable, self-satisfied, cautious and slower than crosstown traffic during a presidential motorcade.

Our Islamist enemies are lean, really mean, agile, ruthless and, above all, imaginative. Ragtag fanatics are out-thinking us. Why? Because bureaucracy, although it has its place, hates fresh ideas. The terrorists grab a good concept and run with it. We staff it to death, then decide it's far too risky. Before launching an attack on a confirmed terrorist target in Afghanistan, our combat units need up to a dozen different permission slips. Think al Qaeda or the Taliban work that way? We're not being defeated. We're defeating ourselves.

As a former Military Intelligence officer, I know the answer isn't more inexperienced hires or throwing more money at well-connected defense contractors. The answer is to emphasize quality, and for our leaders to foster a culture of risk in the field and personal responsibility in the Cabinet. We need to be creative and willing to commit sins of commission, rather than waiting for terrorists to expose our sins of omission.

Instead, we'll continue to penalize honest citizens (handing al Qaeda a massive, continuing win). Those full-body scanners? If you don't think porn shots of innocent women will end up on the Internet, you probably believe that trying terrorist butchers in civilian courts will make al Qaeda respect us. We need to check under the burqas, not the halter tops.



Fox does well with Sarah Palin signing

ALREADY entrenched as No.1 in the US cable television news wars, Fox News Channel today hired Sarah Palin as a contributor. The arrangement, first reported in the New York Times, has the potential of playing out as a big win for both parties.

For Fox, the addition gives its conservative political base one more reason to tune in, as Ms Palin is the darling of many sectors of the Republican Party. Fox has surged far ahead of rivals CNN and MSNBC , so it isn't necessarily fretting about losing its sizable advantage in the ratings. But it's always good business to give the people what they want, and they can't get enough of Ms Palin.

Ms Palin, for her part, now has an opportunity to appear as an expert commentator on political and family issues and stay in the public eye prior to the 2012 presidential election. Some have speculated that Ms Palin, who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, is gearing up for a run against President Barack Obama in 2012. Ms Palin's bestselling book, Going Rogue, afforded her an opportunity to expound on a variety of issues while getting ample time on television news shows.

Ms Palin will appear on Fox News on a regular basis as a part of a multi-year deal. Ms Palin has been coy and noncommittal about her plans. She has enlivened the GOP with her willingness to defend the right-to-life point of view - and criticise Democrats, particularly Obama.

SOURCE (More detail here)



Cuban Doctors Manage to Defect Via Venezuela: "Around 500 Cuban doctors have defected to the United States while serving on aid missions in Venezuela, according to members of Cuban exile groups in Miami. The latest case occurred on Wednesday when seven Cuban physicians managed to leave Caracas’ Maiquetia International Airport, after being held there for several hours and after paying hundreds of dollars each to officials. “The Venezuelan and Cuban officials at Maiquetia systematically subject the doctors who want to leave to psychological pressure until finally they pay bribes,” Cuban doctor Keiler Moreno, who left Caracas five months ago, told Efe. The bribes can range from $300 to as much as $2,000. Sources with Miami’s massive Cuban exile community say that around 2,000 physicians and other health care personnel have defected since 2006 and requested visas to come to the United States. Of that number, 500 came through Venezuela and just in the last year, about 200 arrived in Miami. About 45,000 Cuban doctors and other health care workers are participating in Venezuela in the “Barrio Adentro” public health program designed to try and make up for the lack of such personnel in Venezuela. Although the Cuban doctors who arrive in the United States cannot practice medicine until they get the proper licenses, Dr. Moreno said that they prefer to confront that situation rather than remain in a system plagued by corruption.

A woman’s inalienable right to murder: "On January 7, 2010 the Associated Press released a story titled ‘Maine woman avoids prison for killing of husband.’ What is important about this case are not the details — admittedly unattractive — but the essential legal principle established by Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm. Judge Hjelm established the legal precedent that any woman, based on her own internal and unverifiable thoughts and feelings, has the right to murder any man and suffer no legal consequences.”

Private property ownership issue in Maine: "With its idyllic views and wide expanses of pristine sand, Goose Rocks Beach has lured strollers, swimmers, and softball players for more than a century. Now, in a bare-knuckled lawsuit that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, beachfront residents are invoking Colonial law to affirm their private property rights on a 2-mile crescent that the public has used freely for decades. … Waterfront residents trumpet the suit as a principled stand for property rights, which have extended to the low-water mark since the reign of King Charles I. … But to many townspeople without a front-row view of the Atlantic, the court action is a selfish and cynical effort to hoard a precious piece of natural beauty.”

McCain: Wrong to give Nigerian bomb civilian's rights: "U.S. Senator John McCain says the Nigerian accused of attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas Day (December 25) should be tried as an enemy combatant in a military court. McCain told CNN Sunday that giving the man the right to an American lawyer that could help him legally withhold damaging information is a contradiction to the president’s view that America is at war with terrorists.”

SCOTUS to rule on Clinton movie, campaign funding: "Possibly coming soon: election-season Super Bowl-style television ads promoting congressional and presidential candidates, paid for by some of the largest U.S. corporations. It may happen. For decades, business and union money has been largely shut out of state, congressional and presidential campaigns. The Supreme Court may change that in a big way. The court has raised a range of high-stakes possibilities that could let corporations, unions and wealthy individuals pour money into elections in time for this year’s congressional races, not to mention the 2012 presidential contest. A ruling is expected as early as Tuesday.”

Yet another A380 failure: "A new Airbus A380 super jumbo has been grounded at a South Korean airport due to a mechanical fault, the latest in a series of glitches for the world's largest airliner, officials said yesterday. The Emirates plane was scheduled to take off late Sunday for Dubai but the flight was cancelled due to a technical defect, said airport officials in Incheon, west of Seoul. It was the first such case since the Dubai-based carrier launched the A380 service to South Korea last December. The carrier has seven A380s. "A technical problem has been detected in the plane's fuel system," said an official at the carrier's local public relations agency. The delay had forced some 420 passengers to stay at a hotel near the airport, he said, adding that the passengers would leave on another plane sent by the carrier overnight, after a 19-hour delay. Air France's new A380 was grounded more than once last month due to technical problems. Another owned by Singapore Airlines had to return to Paris last month for attention due to an electrical fault. A week ago a Qantas-operated A380 bound for Los Angeles was grounded at Melbourne airport due to a problem with its fuel gauge." [Fly on one at your own risk]

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)