Friday, September 30, 2011

Learning Experience for the Christian Apologist

When I was a Christian I teamed up with other Christians, some of whom were Reformed, and we ganged up on Catholics. We'd laugh about how crazy their beliefs were and marvel at their inability to properly deal with our arguments. I'd learn a bit as I went.

But I learned a lot more when suddenly the disagreements within my own ranks came to the fore. I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with these people fighting for the true gospel and suddenly we've turned our guns on each other. That's fine really. Catholics are obviously supremely irrational. Since my fellow Protestants are so much smarter and more reasonable maybe we can make progress.

But of course it was a mess. They're really obnoxious. I never noticed before. They don't seem interested in understanding what I'm saying. I never noticed that before. Do they treat Catholics the same way? Do I? I needed to start paying closer attention to their treatment of their critics. These are my mentors. I expect others regard them as mentors. Maybe that is misplaced.

Steve Hays is not someone I knew while I was a Christian. But today he seems to be someone that others listen to. He seems to have a lot of readers at Triablogue. He's treated with respect. To me his inability to seriously interact with critics is more extreme than any other Christian I know. He's also among the most obnoxious apologists I know. But apparently Christians that read him don't see that.

Why? Same reason I couldn't see it. When they are on your team sometimes you don't notice.

James White didn't seem to notice. But maybe he does now. At least a little.

James White has others that contribute at his blog, and one of them, Jamin Hubner, has questioned evangelical devotion to the secular state of Israel (see for instance here). He raised this on his own personal blog, not James White's blog. So Steve, apparently dedicated to the secular state of Israel, essentially tried to compel James White to punish Hubner for this. Allahu Akbar and Omega Ministries. This compels James White to reply, which he did. Wednesday Musings. He's trying to be discreet with a title like that. Let's not have a huge division over an issue like this. Nope. Steve has a new post, once again trying to tweak White over his long running battles with Norman Geisler and Ergun Caner. Geisler Syndrome. White replies only to say wow, Steve didn't interact in a serious way with anything I said.

That's right. He didn't. But that's been going on for a long time in all of Steve's battles. This is the kind of incident that helps Christians see that for the first time.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mark Perry's Accuracy

Mark Perry is a visiting scholar at the right wing American Enterprise Institute. He's Professor of Economics at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan, but presently on sabbatical. He's generally optimistic about the present state of the US economy. Here are some of his thoughts on the state of the economy just prior to the stock market crash in 2008.

July 02,2008. Don't compare us to the Depression. Things are looking great.

July 03, 2008. Cheer up. Look how great household wealth looks. It's a story you don't hear from our "disaster sells" media.

July 06, 2008. Things are looking great. It takes less work to buy food. People are working less. (I'm not sure where he gets this stuff. It's true that people spend less on food, but not on other fixed expenses. Family working hours are up a shocking 700 hours for the median two parent family since 1975).

July 09, 2008. People are way too pessimistic.

July 11, 2008. Subprime losses aren't that high.

July 25, 2008. Global warming? Irrational hysteria.

July 26,2008. Look at this incredible home ownership rate rebound.

July 27,2008. Like Ben Stein says, overall this economy is not bad.

July 31, 2008. We're not in a recession.

Aug 05, 2008. Disposable income looking good.

Aug 7, 2008. Home sales data looking good.

Aug 7, 2008. Jobless claims are looking good.

Aug 10, 2008. Amount of sub prime mortgages is too small to matter.

Aug 12, 2008. Real estate boom continues for US farms.

Aug 12, 2008. Why are liberals like Paul Krugman pessimistic about the economy while conservatives are optimistic?

Aug 12, 2008. Look at the amazing growth in US exports? Expect US GDP to be revised upwards.

What he says is not always untrue. He often plots data and just comments on it. But the tone was similar then to what it is now. Things are just great. But they weren't back then. We need to look at track records more, including those of the left. We need to ask ourselves who it is that learns from their mistakes and who it is that never admits to any all while recommending the same failed policies of the past.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Iranian Hostages and the US Media

An important element of this hostage story that isn't mentioned in mainstream media sources (via Greenwald). How did the Iranian guards justify their harsh treatment of the US hostages? Joshua Fattal explains in his interview with Democracy Now.
In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay; they'd remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world; and conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S.

We do not believe that such human rights violation on the part of our government justify what has been done to us: not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S. provide an excuse for other governments - including the government of Iran - to act in kind.

Is this narrative even remotely being mentioned in mainstream sources. Unsurprisingly not. Glenn Greenwald's commentary is excellent as usual.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Give Michael Moore Credit

You might think that when you are hanging out with Hollywood types you're hanging out with liberals. Check out Michael Moore's acceptance speech at the Oscars in 2003. He denounces Bush and the war. Look at the Hollywood celebrities in the crowd. Do they praise him? They are uncomfortable and unwilling to be supportive. In fact Moore is getting booed extensively. He denounces a President that is "sending us to war for fictitious reasons." Rather prescient. To prevent him from saying more they queue the band and cut him off. These are your supposed liberals. Goes to show how much courage it took to make a statement like this in this patriotic atmosphere. But he was right.

Michael Moore - oscar speech by Pzychofreak

After making the movie Sicko he was invited on to Wolf Blitzer. Wolf had prepared a hit piece created by Dr. Sanjay Gupta which he played by way of introduction. Then Wolf turned to Moore to get his reaction. A total ambush. Moore handled himself spectacularly even though it was very difficult to respond to the various fabrications so rapidly. Totally slamming Wolf and CNN for their nonsense.

And if my memory is correct in every actual point of dispute between Moore and Gupta Moore was right and Gupta was wrong. Gupta said Moore was wrong to say we spend $7K per year on health care per person and in fact it was closer to $6K. The reality was by the time they did this interview it was even higher than $7K. Gupta said Moore claimed in Cuba they spend $25/person. In fact Moore had correctly stated they spend $250 per person. Gupta points out that Cuba ranks below the US in the WHO rankings but Moore had never denied that.

And I've talked before about how in 1999 Moore was doing what he could to alleviate the sanctions regime in Iraq and the consequent starvation. Watch here. At a time when nobody was talking about it. He was right then, right about the facts in Sicko, and right about our more recent invasion of Iraq, which he courageously denounced. Pretty impressive.

Tony Bennett - They flew the planes but we caused it

"because we were bombing them and they told us to stop."

Seems so simple.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Setting Records in Output and Severe Poverty

Do you know that in America we are producing more than we ever have? GDP is higher than it has ever been. Production has recovered from the 2008 downturn. Manufacturing companies are enjoying record profits. US exports are at an all time high. We have record corporate profits.

The same is true of consumption. More things are being consumed than ever. Isn't that wonderful?

But there are more records being set. Severe poverty, defined as half the official poverty line, which amounts to $100/week is higher than it has been since data began being recorded (1975). The % in poverty, which is $200/week, is as high as it has been since 1993. Median income is down to 1996 levels. Income gains are ocurring. But only for the highest income earners.

Real GDP/capita is about twice what it was in 1975. How is it possible that we can as a country make twice as much and yet push even more people into severe poverty?

The problem is the way we allocate the goods we produce. We allocate largely by employment and naturally we think employment is desirable. But is it really?

Let me propose a hypothetical scenario. Let's just suppose that as a society we decided that we would discontinue growth in output. We would just say that the present GDP would be a maximum. Suppose we were concerned about depleting natural resources and we thought this would help. What would happen?

What would happen is employment would drop. Why? Because technological advancements are always permitting us to do more with less. Fewer people are required to produce the same output this year as compared to last year because we always get better at what we do. That ought to be a good thing. We should be happy to have more free time. But in our system this is not good. Why? Because we allocate based on employment. And we don't ask everyone to equally share the reduction in required work. What we do is we lay people off. So while some continue to work as before others have nothing. Those that continue to work get a larger allocation of the goods produced. Those that are laid off get nothing. Does this make sense?

What it really means is that in our society we absolutely must continuously increase our consumption. People that are laid off must find new areas to work in and provide an ever increasing amount of goods consumed. That's not always easy. You need consumption increases. Even though present consumption may be at record levels, the increase we've seen recently may not be enough to offset the gains in productivity we've enjoyed. So it may not be enough to employ more people.

Imagine a system that is so efficient, with robotics, solar power, and computer programming, that on average only 1 hour/week of work is required per person to sustain the system. That produces enough that it's possible for every American to enjoy a lifestyle typical of an upper middle class member of society. Sounds pretty good, right? In fact it's a nightmare. We'd have 95% unemployment. So these so called parasites that happen to not have jobs do nothing and are thus not entitled to any of the output according to some liberterian minded thinkers. Is that acceptable? A system that permits most to not even work, some work a tiny amount, is one that would probably lead to revolution. Rather than being a system that is enjoyed it is a system that would inevitably be destroyed. That's irrational.

Free market capitalism leads to production for exchange, not production for need. This leads to a society that could never be satisfied with what it has. And if increased production meant increasing consumption of our limited natural resources, those resources would be depleted, with catastrophic results. Increased leisure time is possible if production for need is considered. In that scenario productivity gains are embraced by all sectors of society. Today they are embraced by owners and those unlikely to lose jobs. It seems possible to do better than this. We are treating the earth like an infinite resource when it is not. We are leaving many people with next to nothing. We are in fact working more and more. It has to change. It is really not sustainable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ron Paul Flummoxed on Health Care Question

A good question from Wolf Blitzer to Ron Paul that you can see at YouTube here. Suppose a healthy 30 year old guy takes a risk and says he's going to go without health insurance. The worst is realized and he's in a coma. Should the government pay or should we let him die?

Paul struggles here. The ideologues in the audience (notice at about the 50 second mark) say sure, let him die. It's easy to talk that way when you are anonymous. That's the kind of thing someone might say in a blog comment stream. But say that on the record in front of millions of people. It's pretty grotesque. Paul knows that so he doesn't say it. He stammers for a bit, then finally comes up with the "charities" solution. Let private charities resolve it. He's never seen anyone that needed care turned away.

But they are already turned away and that's with some government support. With no government support even more will be turned away. Paul does not have a solution here other than the ideological one. Let him die. But I think that violates basic moral sensibilities for too many people, so it's kind of untenable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quote of the Day on Anger

"He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong."

attributed to St. John Crysostom via Aquinas

David Cross and Ron Paul on the Terrorists

First I have Ron Paul at the debate last night getting booed for stating the obvious. That's followed by David Cross stating the obvious.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

"We should never forget those in our government who used the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history as an excuse to launch completely unrelated wars, to do unprecedented damage to Americans’ historic liberties, to run roughshod over the Constitution, and to betray the Founders’ vision by savaging some of our most deeply held values."

Ron Paul saying it better than me.

Signs of Hope on September 11

As I listen to the remembrances and homages to the victims of the attacks 10 years ago today I can't help but think of the distinction our media makes between worthy and unworthy victims. Worthy victims are those killed by the bad guys. Victims of Pol Pot, Hussein, bin Laden, Castro. These are the ones everyone knows about. The unworthy victims are the ones killed by us. So the several thousand Chileans during the first 9-11, the few thousand Panamanians, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, the hundreds of thousands of Timorese. The victims of 9-11 should be remembered. But there are others that should be remembered as well.

But what gives me some hope is that the American people are not the same as the corporate media. The corporate media is going to serve their propaganda function. That's their institutional structure. So we shouldn't expect anything else. They will focus on the worthy victims because that serves corporate interest. Despite that we still see that the American people don't entirely go along. Sure, the media is influential. But so many of the people I speak with sound nothing like them. They care about others as well.

Take a look at this poll via Greenwald.

As Greenwald points out, this is a view that is almost never expressed in the mainstream media. Nearly a plurality recognizes it anyway. You hear it from Ron Paul. You then hear Rush Limbaugh freaking out and baffled that the crowd agrees with Paul.

There's a lot to be pessimistic about. Our government is targeting US citizens for assassination. People not in battle zones. People not even convicted of a crime. It's bad. But this has been happening for a long time. Fred Hampton was nothing but a charismatic leader of an entirely legitimate political party. We would learn that this political party was entirely infiltrated by the FBI so that crimes could be attributed to it and it could be discredited. It's complete undermining of democracy. People don't know too much about this stuff. But they seem to be more aware today.

In Vietnam JFK just sent B-52's to carpet bomb civilian areas. I don't think he asked permission. And few in America really cared. If you spoke out against it in 1962 or 1963 you took your own life in your hands. Today they have to hide the slaughters of the innocent people. They don't send B-52's. They fear public backlash.

I for one had no clue about any of this 10 years ago. I knew there was some hostility to the US, but I thought it was quite irrational. I think there's more awareness now. I think there are a lot of people that dug a bit after these events to try and understand why they happened. And a lot of depressing realizations followed. It's a gloomier world then I realized. That's unfortunate. But the knowledge is the first step required for fixing the problems that I didn't know about. If we can fix them not only will we reduce the death tolls for the unworthy victims, we can reduce the likelihood of retaliatory violence against the worthy victims. I think it can be done, but it won't be easy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Burdensome Taxes and Regulations

Watch this interview on Bloomberg with Gary Burtless from Brookings and Bill Beach from the right wing Heritage Foundation to see a debate on the causes of our unemployment. For Heritage the problem is that corporate taxes and concern about future regulation are what is preventing our economy from improving.

But Burtless has a question in light of a couple of facts. Corporate profits as a share of income are at a 60 year high. Corporate taxes are near a 60 year low. Why would we conclude that less taxes and regulatory conditions that improve profits would make any difference?

And if future regulations are a concern, why not hire now in this low regulatory environment. If the regulations finally come that's when you scale back labor. You get while the getting's good.

The problem is lack of demand. Companies don't see that they need additional staff to meet demand and they don't see much by way of future demand. That makes sense. People are unemployed. People don't have spare money. If there were more demand then companies would hire. Instead they sit on their cash. That's rational.

The Selfish Gene and Right Wing Economists

Below is an interesting documentary with Richard Dawkins from 1987. Apparently following the publication of his book "The Selfish Gene" right wing economists regarded it as some sort of justification for their exploitative and seemingly nasty economic theories. Only the strong surviving and the weak poor suffer their fate as nature intended.

In this documentary Dawkins explains that this is a misinterpretation of what the biological science shows. He uses interesting studies in game theory to show that under natural selection kindness and mutual aid could be expected to produce a selective advantage. Altruism could be expected to make it more likely that a species would continue to pass on its genes successfully.

Our society teeters on the verge of environmental destruction and nuclear war, in my view because of our lack of empathy and altruism. If Dawkins is right and altruism is preferred by natural selection, then altruism is what the world will get. And it will get it either with humans or without them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Left Turn by Tim Groseclose

Does the media tilt in a liberal direction? That's the thesis of political science professor Tim Groseclose. Some of his admirers now believe he's proved it "scientifically." I watched a 5 part video interview with him that starts here and sent some commentary to Tim just to give the perspective of a leftist viewer. I reproduce that below. I don't think it was written great, but it contained some links that I want to save.

Hi Tim,

I watched the 5 segments you did at NRO and wanted to share some thoughts/ask some questions.

First question. Have you read Chomsky and Herman's media analysis? It's called "Manufacturing Consent". It's a pretty widely read, though not frequently discussed in the major media (if ever). Your views would conflict with theirs, so if you haven't read this and you're interested in a different point of view I would recommend this.

I'd like to offer a criticism for you to consider. Your definition of liberal appears to be related to the positions of the two major political parties. Here's a hypothetical question. What if the parties in fact did not represent the range of opinion held by the public, but instead reflected a narrower range that reflected certain business interests? There have been some studies on this. Particularly those of Thomas Ferguson. He offers what he calls "The Investment Theory of Politics." See this wiki link. There's also a series of YouTube videos starting here you could watch if you want an easy to listen to overview.

Based on the theory put forward by Chomsky, Ferguson, and Herman I would suggest that you are correct when you state that the media tilts leftward if by leftward you mean they tilt towards the Democratic Party, which in my view is one wing of the business party.

But what if liberal and conservative is defined differently? Let's define it based on public opinion. Take a particular issue and see what polls show the opinion of the public is. Here's a sampling of public opinion on various issues.

Should our government provide health insurance for all? 64 to 27 Americans say yes.

(From January 2003) Would you support the invasion of Iraq without UN authorization but with the support of one or two major allies? Oppose 52 to 39%

(From January 2011) Do you favor or oppose the US war in Iraq: Oppose 66 to 33%.

Do you think the US is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now, or should the US not be involved in Afghanistan now? Shouldn't be involved now 54 to 38%.

(From August 2010) Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not? Not worth it 72 to 20%.

(From November 1978) Would you agree with the following description of the Vietnam War: More than a mistake, fundamentally wrong and immoral. 72% agree.

Should US companies be allowed to trade with Cuba? Yes 62 to 26%.

Should the government negotiate prices with drug manufacturers? 85% of Americans say yes.

Would you favor or oppose taking away collective bargaining rights from public sector employees similar to what Governor Walker of Wisconsin is proposing: Oppose 61 to 33%

Do you support Obama's demand that Israel halt settlement construction? Support 52 to 31.

The majority position in each of these examples is what I would call the liberal position. But how often is this expressed in the media? Take for example media coverage in the run up to war. Here's an interesting graphic. Perhaps you are aware that the Donahue show on MSNBC was cancelled due to his opposition to the war, a position shared by the majority of Americans. This happened to be the top rated MSNBC show at the time.

Or take the Vietnam war, covered extensively by Herman and Chomsky. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe it was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. But according to Chomsky in major media that view has never once been expressed. If you know of a single expression of that view please forward to him because he's interested. The expressed opinion ranges from the right side (it's a just war and we should use additional force) to what is called the "dovish" position (the war was done with benign intent, but it was a strategic blunder, too costly, and beyond our means). That's the kind of criticism you might hear from a Nazi general. Opening an eastern front was a strategic blunder. Not that aggression is wrong. It was just unwise in terms of furthering Nazi ambition. Incidentally this is Barack Obama's position regarding Iraq. We're told he is a principled opponent of the war. Based on what? He called the war a strategic blunder. Meanwhile the bulk of the population thinks it was immoral to invade a country that wasn't threatening us and had done nothing to us in a manner that lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. That view isn't really expressed by what you would regard as liberalism (mainstream Democrats, like Pelosi).

So yeah, I think if you define liberal as reflecting the Democratic party, then the media does look liberal. But both the Democratic party and Republican party are well to the right of the American people generally. If you define conservative and liberal by the views of Americans now the media is not liberal at all.

That's pretty unsurprising when you consider what the media is and who it's customers are. The media (that is the major, agenda setting media) are large mega corporations. Their customers are advertisers. Who are advertisers? The extremely wealthy ownership class. So what picture of the world should we expect to emerge from such an institution? Without even looking at the output we would expect an institution that reflects the needs and interests of the owners and advertisers. So then you go look at the media product and see if that holds. I'm convinced it does.

Here's another interesting corollary. Herman and Chomsky's Propaganda Model actually predicts that their model will not be part of mainstream discussion. The function of the media is to serve the interests of their owners and advertisers. Laying bare that fact is dysfunctional. The model predicts that dysfunctional elements are filtered out. So if the model is true we would expect it wouldn't be discussed. If it's false it wouldn't be discussed. So we won't expect it to be discussed. Depicting the media as "liberal" serves to sort of bound the debate. If the mainstream Democrats/the media reflect liberal positions (complete with Obama's spiking of the public option, all the Democratic support for various wars, Obama's war on whistle blowers, extension of the torture regime, extension of the Patriot Act, rendition, extension of the Bush tax cuts) then to go to the left of that is really outside of what is acceptable. So real liberal positions (opposition to war, support for tax hikes on the rich, support for strengthening union rights) are portrayed as extreme even though they are majority positions. Democrats are the ones that effectively spiked the public option according to Tom Daschle. If Obama Care (which is really Romney Care which traces to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank) is liberal, then what of the 70% of the population that supports a public option and/or single payer? The majority is made to feel like they are extreme. But if extreme means minority then Republicans and Democrats are the extremists.

So anyway I just wanted to offer an alternative perspective. Your thoughts are welcome in reply. Hope that wasn't too long to read.