Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cash Transfers, Poverty, and Paternalism

Many monetary transfers* from the wealthy/middle class to the poor involve distinct policy bias and outcomes. For a variety of reasons most countries have decided to target assistance to the poor through specific programs rather than cash transfers. For example, in the United States we recognize that an advanced society shouldn't have "hungry" citizens so we provide foot stamps (SNAP) to qualifying families. Likewise, we understand that we want to limit the number of people on the streets so we subsidize rent (e.g., Section 8) and heating bills (LIHEAP). We do this because we want to make sure our "money" is being spent on the intended policy outcome. This policy of targeted assistance leads to significant costs for our government and the people receiving the assistance (deadweight loss).

If we wanted to be much more economically efficient we would institute a policy of strict cash transfers. Thus, rather than giving $100 in vouchers the government would give $100 in greenbacks (and save on government overhead). As Matthew Yglesias states:
It sounds banal when you say it, but one of the main obstacles to people being less poor is that they don’t have enough money. If you give them money, they’ll have more of it. Will this be optimal in all cases? Of course not. But in the vast majority of cases, you’ll do some good. 
I agree with Yglesias that cash transfers are better and think that individuals are better at making decisions than the government, however, he and others have failed to highlight the one significant problem with cash transfers--living with the consequences.

Could we actually live with the consequences of program that though more efficient leads to "some" people make really bad choices and publicly suffering the consequences? Would we be able to say, "Well, he had his money, but decided to spend it on something else?" I don't think so (and to be fair I don't think Yglesias thinks so either). We want to talk tough, but like many things in the policy world, decisions are hard and all have consequences--foreseen or otherwise.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Lack of Education

I'm a nerd, plain and simple. I like facts of all sorts and kinds. Facts about maps, facts about the distance between stars, facts about Peruvian llamas, facts about farm policy. As a child I read fact books before I drifted off to sleep. I might not have been the fastest kid or the cutest, but I did know lots of things about lots of stuff.

Unfortunately, as I've aged I've come to see a lacking in my education. I could talk to you for hours about the formation of mountains and the water cycle and the dominance of ferns during the age of dinosaurs. However, during a walk in the woods I wouldn't be able to tell an elm from an ash. The difference between a hydrangea from and a rhodendrum is greek to me. Socrates was done in by hemlock, but I couldn't tell you if I was eating a hemlock leaf right now.

This new awareness comes from my reading of Roger Deakin's Wildwood. In this fantastic book he traces his journey through his local (and far off) wood. And with me he is leading a blind man.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Read Me Some "Battle Cry of Freedom"

On work trip to Sioux Falls a month ago I had joyful the opportunity to peruse a local used bookshop. Unfortunately, I have inherited from my father the need/compulsion to leave any bookstore with a new book. So I left the store with McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, a one volume history of the United States Civil War.

Over 800 pages McPherson covers the social and military history of the Civil War. He explains not only the hows and whats, but also the whys. And as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Civil War more and more talk has been had about the causes for the Civil War. Some talk, alas, has veered into complete silliness with slogans that the War was about "State Rights" and "Protecting Liberty" and "Fighting for the Homeland."

Of course, that's bunk. "State's Rights"only works in the sense that the state's seceded for the right to own slaves. To quote from Mississippi's "Causes of Secession" of 1861:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. 
Or from South Carolina:
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.  
The Civil War was a horror for all involved. But it is important to remember why the states seceded.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent

Rowan Williams:
We turn our minds to the universal longing for God that is given voice in the Jewish scripture, the yearning towards the 'desire of all nations' ... For the people of God in Jewish scripture, loyalty to the covenant meant above all the forsaking of idols: the task is not to make sense of the world, beginning from unaided human resource, but to let ourselves be given sense purely by the summons of God. This was Israel's own story: being led out of slavery and given shape and solidity by the unexpected presence and pressure of God ... And in Advent, in that day, we all become - as it has been said - Jews once more ... We are perpetually looking to and giving thanks for an uncovenanted event, a transforming newness, the history of Israel and Jesus; we are perpetually 'on the eve' of God's coming, knowing and not knowing what it will be ... Advent, we have said, sets out before us the richness of religious eros; it is a season of beautiful, elegiac hymns, voicing our longing to be spoken to, judged and absolved. But in its deeper aspect, its pushing of us back into the experience of Israel and Israel's unconsoled rejection of idols, it also shows us also the danger of religious eros, its capacity to become another vehicle for human self-reflection. The Christian, in the Advent season above all, must learn something of God's own simultaneous 'yes' and 'no' to all religious aspiration and expectation.
HT: More than a via media

A Christmas Song by Sufjan

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Real Business Sense

From the Comments of the previous post that should be brought to our attention:
Egg Farmer needs to clarify... It is section 179 depreciate, not accelerated depreciation that is a problem. Section 179 allows businesses to completely write off a new piece of equipment. The state of minnesota does not allow the deduction or only a portion of the total amount the federal section 179 allows. If a business person cannot take it both on the federal and state, what is the point... In our case we don't take the full amount of section 179 tax deduction, because it doesn't help on the state tax return. Of course, my good friend across the state line can take the section 179 both on the state and federal tax. All these different tax deductions and/or incentives that are given to businesses I understand (we take advantage of as many as we can). The problem is that the playing field becomes uneven. I am not arguing that the government should some how make it "even" or "fair" for all, because innovation and technology will always disrupt the playing field. What I think the role of government can or should play is to use its limited resources in shaping a better playing field (better infrastructure, simplifying the tax code and security), which would benefit all.
A few thoughts. First, it is easy for the folks who don't run a company to see the day to day effects of our taxation policy. How we tax matters. Second, if I ever want to run a small business, boy I need an education. Third, I'd be interested in Egg Farmer's take, do you think that services you get in MN (better infrastructure, better schools, etc) and the closer proximity to large population centers outweigh the higher taxes? Life is full of trade offs (no matter what Congress says), so is this a worthwhile trade off?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The BET!

I was talking to Egg Farmer in Cokato the other day about the topics of the day: taxes, federal budgets, and egg prices. As a businessman Egg Farmer in Cokato had lots of insight into taxes, particularly how a lack of harmonization between federal and state taxes create different incentives (e.g., the feds allow a business to accelerate the depreciation of an asset--say new packing equipment--encouraging the business to purchase expensive items and then deduct the cost from it's taxes. Minnesota does not allow a business to do that).

Anyway, EFIC is much more pessimistic than me. I said that the USA will hit a significant budgetary crisis because of every rising deficits, while he says it will happen within in 10 years. Thus, a bet is born. For a six pack of beer we decided to bet on the timing of a significant budgetary crisis. The definition of the crisis will be a point of time in which the US Congress will need to balance the budget (for the fiscal year) because of significant financial pressures. If this crisis happens before Dec 31, 2019, Egg Farmer in Cokato wins. If after, Redhead in Rapid wins. The bet is a bit wooly, but we think we can agree when we see the crisis unfold before our eyes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Good News of the Day

It is easy to see man a hard scrabbled creature willing to cut any throat to seize the day. So here is my good news to consider, from The Best Defense:
With Colombia now moving toward peace, there are hardly any wars underway in the western hemisphere, notes Fettweis, a political scientist who used to teach at the Naval War College and now slings international relations at Tulane University. Europe is at peace -- and barely has any militaries anyway. The Pacific Rim has two billion people and no fighting, quite an achievement. Asia's only conflict last year was the nasty little Sri Lankan civil war, which is over. The wars that are occurring are long-term affairs on low boil, such as the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the Yemeni fighting, and, of course, the United States' messes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Me in 5 Years

Copyright: Mr. Thompson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Congressional To Do List

It's easy to complain about Congress and Politics. Bitching and moaning make up much of cable news and facebook status updates. I'm as guilty as the next guy, so to make amends here is my congressional to-do list.

  1. Repair the Tax Code: We are living under an onerous and cancerous tax code with too many favors for special groups (e.g., homeowners, certain businesses, etc). Much too much time and money is spent on trying to comply with the tax code and work within the tax code to save money. We need to remember the spirit of the Tax Code Reform Act of 1986 and make real reforms. Some things to be done--get rid of nearly all deductions, especially the home interest deduction, and specific industry credits and deductions; get rid of the corporate income tax and raise the rate of dividend and capital gains taxes; get rid of AMT, it is a fantasy that takes up way too much time; and on and on.
  2. Talk Seriously About our Debt and Deficit Problem: Notice that I'm not even asking Congress to solve the problem, but just to be realistic about the problem. To that end we need Congress to recognize that (a) our biggest cost driver is Medicare and something much be done about it; (b) we don't actually have a Social Security Trust Fund and that soon we'll need to use general fund money to cover Social Security payments; and, (c) that Defense Spending is the largest piece of the discretionary pie and has increased the most in the last year and therefore can't be ignored.
  3. Deal with America's Infrastructure: It's a well known fact Johnny that America has an aging and decrepit infrastructure. From cracking roads, to an overworked freight rail system, to bursting pipes, to poor transportation systems, the US of A needs some work. We need to raise real revenue (increase gas tax and other stuff) and reform our construction bidding process and start laying the foundation for our next economic boom.
That's it. There is plenty more that I would like Congress to do, such as ending farm subsidies and getting serious about our engagement with the world and a host of other issues. But here are at least 3 things they could do and can do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The ELECTION

Since last Tuesday we've been inundated (if you've been paying attention) with analysis about the ELECTION. Folks, pundits, and politicians have been pontificating upon the meaning of the election... MANDATE for Republicans...Victory for the Tea Party...Demonstrated the limits of the Tea Party...Smaller Government...No Government...The Dems still control 2/3 of the legislative process...

Each narrative has some truth and has elections and opinion polls to back it up, nevertheless, I think the takeaway from this election is that the American People WANT RESULTS. Their expectations may be unrealistic, but the first party to be "in power" when the economy turns will become the victors. If it happens over the next two years it will be Mr. Obama who benefits. But if we are stuck with 9% unemployment and a stuttering economy, the President is in trouble. Better than that and we got an (new) election on our hands.

Personally, I'm disappointed with the parties in power. We have significant issues--health care, the economy, the deficit and national debt, two wars--but neither party wants to tackle them. The GOP claims to be serious about the deficit, but that's absolute BS. They have not listed any serious changes to significant budget expenses (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, and Defense). It's big plus is that they won't go crazy with spending. Now the Democrats, well, they ain't doing much either. They won't touch the same budget items, but feel free to spend at will.

This isn't going to be a pretty two years.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Best Kind of Theater

Back in the 1960s and 70s my grandfather would find himself at the Santa Barbara Airport parking lot fifteen minutes before takeoff. He would stroll to the counter and quickly pick up his ticker. Security was an invention waiting to happen (and it did happen sometime during web 1.0) and so he would just take his ticket and hop on the plane. The airlines were happy, the airline workers were happy, and my grandfather was happy (particularly because he wasn't the most timely man).

Now, of course, those days are consigned to the dustbin of history. Ancient, forgotten days before the advent of anything worth doing.

My Eyes Hurt

Cause I got them dilated. Ms. Red Head in Rapid was duly impressed with my wrap-around polarized glasses. She thought I couldn't walk straight. Bleh. I was just admiring the pretty leaves on the tree. What are you going to do when the haters start hating?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wind Cave...

This last weekend my Mrs. Redhead in Rapid and I headed to Wind Cave National Park. It was awesome. I got to learn lots and lots of new facts. Let me tell you some:

  • Wind Cave is the fourth longest cave in the world.
  • However, though 135 miles have been discovered the 'experts' think that they've only found 5% of the cave. If true, this would make it the largest cave in the world.
  • So far, all 135 miles are crammed into 1 square mile (with a depth of 1/3 mile). That's like cramming 134 inches of a string into 1 square inch.
Wait, you don't want more facts? Well, too bad:
  • The cave was "discovered" by the settlers in the 1880s.
  • This cave has very little water, so you don't see stalagmites or stalactites. Instead...
  • 95% of the world's box-work is found in Wind Cave.
This is only a few of the facts I gleaned from my 3 hour trip. Boy, what fun!


The RACE...

Here in the Heartland (aka South Dakota... eat it Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska, etc...) we are having an intense US Representative race between Kristi Noem and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. Both gots lots of money so we get to experience plenty of attack ads. And because ad time is cheap we get to see lots and lots and lots of ads. And because I watch old folks T.V. (e.g., Wheel of Fortune) they pile them on.

Anyway, the ads are getting a little ridiculous. Kristi attacks Stephanie as a Pelosi stooge, conflating procedural votes with real votes, to say that Stephanie votes with Pelosi 90% of the time. Even though Stephanie voted against the Health Care Bill, etc... On the other hand Stephanie's best attack is that Kristi has had 20 speeding tickets over 20 years... Umm... not that impressive.

I'm a bit stuck in this race. Generally speaking I'd prefer a conservative Democrat over a really conservative Republican. Both candidates say that they take the deficit and national debt seriously, but neither of them will tackle the elephant in the room... entitlement and deficit spending. And to make matters worse they both are for increasing farm subsidies. Sheesh. I got 2 weeks to decide and it ain't going to be easy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Mr. Dunleavy of the London School of Economics, via Foreign Policy's Passport:
For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government.
 The countries include India, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Canada.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Night Sky

We are but motes whirling through the universe:


Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Slow Walk to Involency: Air Force Edition

This ain't good for anyone:
Every time the Air Force sends a B-1B bomber on a mission over Afghanistan, it spends costs $720,000 in fuel, repair, and other costs. And when the plane comes back, it has to spend 48 hours being repaired for every hour it was in the air. All of which is double-crazy, because the bomber doesn’t really drop bombs over Afghanistan any more, thanks to the military’s airstrike restrictions. The B-1B just lingers over the country with a camera: a big Predator drone, at many, many times the price. “If the B-1 is not dropping its load of ordnance, we should withdraw it, and use unmanned systems instead,” Michael Wynne, former secretary of the Air Force, tells me. “They’re much cheaper.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Slow Walk to Insolvency

The passage of Health Care Reform was only one point in the long debate about how to provide health care in the United States. As a red head I've long advocated for a change to our health care system. We spend far too much money for too little results. It's really a disgrace having a system that combines the worst of the private sector with the worst of the public sector.

Now comes word that the Obama Administration will require health care plans to provide certain tests/screenings at no cost. As the NY Times editorializes in its article:
The new requirements promise significant benefits for consumers — if they take advantage of the services that should now be more readily available and affordable.
Unfortunately, I'm not so optimistic, because health care ain't free in this world. And though the preventative tests claim long term health cost savings, I'm doubtful. The article goes on to say:
The administration said the requirements could increase premiums by 1.5 percent, on average.
1.5%! I know it doesn't sound like much, but here's the thing. First off, the 1.5% won't be spread evenly and more likely than not, individual plans will get hammered, while large plans won't be hit too hard. Second, 1.5% is still real money. For my individual plan for two people that 1.5% equals $92. Real money.

Alas, I understand the Administration's desire to help the average American see that health care is changing. This piecemeal change, however, does not address the root problem of out of control costs and a bloated, bureaucratic system.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mr. Eliot's Verse on a Sunday Morning

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

In Honor of Today's England v. Germany Match

God Save the Queen:

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shalom

On May 22, my father spoke at Bethel University's commencement. Along with being hilarious he made some good points:

  1. You are going to die. Remember that and live your life understanding that death awaits.
  2. You are never unemployed (particularly relevant to college grads) because your job--your primary job--is to build shalom in this world. You are called to bring justice and mercy and love and peace to those around you. 
It's some good stuff to think about when your job or life ain't going to well. Or you are wondering what the heck to do with your life.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

I never expected to quote the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom in this blog or anywhere, but he has said some really interesting things:
When we hear talk of an “environmental crisis” or even of a “financial crisis,” I would suggest that this is actually describing the outward consequences of a deep, inner crisis of the soul. It is a crisis in our relationship with – and our perception of – Nature, and it is born of Western culture being dominated for at least two hundred years by a mechanistic and reductionist approach to our scientific understanding of the world around us.
So I would like you to consider very seriously today whether a big part of the solution to all of our worldwide “crises” does not lie simply in more and better technology, but in the recovery of the soul to the mainstream of our thinking. Our science and technology cannot do this. Only sacred traditions have the capacity to help this happen.
In general, we live within a culture that does not believe very much in the soul anymore – or if it does, won’t admit to it publicly for fear of being thought old fashioned, out of step with “modern imperatives” or “anti-scientific.” The empirical view of the world, which measures it and tests it, has become the only view to believe. A purely mechanistic approach to problems has somehow assumed a position of great authority and this has encouraged the widespread secularisation of society that we see today. This is despite the fact that those men of science who founded institutions like the Royal Society were also men of deep faith. It is also despite the fact that a great many of our scientists today profess a faith in God. I am aware of one recent survey that suggests over seventy per cent of scientists do so ...
As the English writer G.K. Chesterton put it, “real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them as a root.” I would also remind you of the words of Oxford’s very own C.S. Lewis, who pointed out that “sometimes you do have to turn the clock back if it is telling the wrong time” – that there is nothing “progressive” about being stubborn and refusing to acknowledge that we have taken the wrong road. If we realize that we are travelling in the wrong direction, the only sensible thing to do is to admit it and retrace our steps back to where we first went wrong. As Lewis put it, “going back can sometimes be the quickest way forward.” It is the most progressive thing we could do.
HT: Burke's Corner

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel, Gaza, the Sea, and the Pic of the Day

A lot of smarter people than me are saying smarter things about the incident in the Med. Needless to say, Israel has made both a tactical and strategic blunder with their handling of these ships trying to break the blockade. From a tactical point see pic:

You'd think they would be able to do much better than this. Do they not train? As Fred Kaplan from Slate asks:
The questions here are fairly obvious: Why shouldn't the Israeli commandos have expected resistance, at least as an operational premise? Why weren't they equipped with nonlethal weapons? Why didn't they fire a few canisters of tear gas as they boarded or once the first brickbats flew?
Strategically, it gets even worse. At the end of day, Israel leaders have created sympathy for Hamas (who vows to destroy Israel...not good) and antipathy to the blockade and any reasonable manner to contain Hamas in Gaza. This is going to get worst before it gets better.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fact of the Day

85% of upstate New York residents live within 25 miles of the Erie Canal.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

Plantiga's definition of a fundamentalist:
A stupid ass whose theological beliefs are to the right of me and my enlightened friends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Indictment of President George W. Bush

I'm not, nor ever have been a Bush hater. I didn't vote for him, but I don't think he was some loon running amok. The Iraq War wasn't a net positive, but I understand the impetus and the seemingly necessity of taking care of rogue nations. Nevertheless, from a more fundamental point of view President Bush was a disaster. At a time when our nation needed (and could afford) fiscal/domestic leadership, he flushed it down the toilet.

As the Mr. Douthat points out in a response to Mr. Mead's excellent post:
In hindsight, I suspect, the most damning judgment on the politics of the 2000s will be that our leaders (well, many of them, at least) misjudged how long they had before the fiscal crunch arrived. It was understood, throughout the decade, that once the baby boomers retired there would have to be an era of belt-tightening and fiscal retrenchment — but that moment still seemed a long (or at least a medium) way off, and the problem of the entitlement system’s sustainability seemed like it could wait for the late 2010s or early 2020s.
He goes on to say:
Looking backward, though, it’s very bad news for the legacy of George W. Bush, whose fiscal record looks much more irresponsible in the cold light of hindsight than it did while he was in the White House. For a time, Bush’s hope for rehabilitation seemed to rest on the possibility of a decent outcome in Iraq, but now I suspect that even that won’t be enough to rescue his reputation: Both right and left bear responsibility for letting the 2000s slip away, but Bush was the decider, and his budgetary decisions look worse and worse with every passing day.
Alas.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Funding Your State

The Great Recession may be officially over, but states throughout the land are still facing difficult budget decisions. They need to decide what to fund and how to raise the money. Too often in discussions of taxation we focus on income tax or just federal taxes when in fact we have a whole slew of taxes. Instead we need to talk about the tax burden citizens face rather than particular tax rates (e.g., the rich may face the highest income tax rate, however, if their income is from dividends their tax burden is significantly less).

You particularity see this tax reality with separate states. For example, in my lovely state of South Dakota we have no income tax, yet one of the higher property tax rates. As far as sales tax we are on the lower end, however, many more items are tax (e.g., groceries and clothes, while high tax MN exempts those items). Needless to say, tax policy is super fun.  Check out these state graphics:
OR

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A 5 year old Girl's Prayer OR Semper Fi, Moon

From the Sandbox, via Best Defense:

          God bless all our friends and daycare,
          and all our teachers at daycare ...

          God bless soldiers and sailors,
          polar bears and penguins ...
God bless astronauts and Space Shuttles.
God bless marines and ballerinas.

Amen

A Picture

From: APOD
Copyright: Credit & Copyright: Bret Webster

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Screwed...again

The NBA draft lottery was held today. The Timberwolves, once again, were in position to receive a great pick with odds on to receive the second pick. But, of course, it didn't happen. Take it away Star Trib:
Minnesota was awarded the fourth pick in next month’s NBA draft during Tuesday’s lottery, extending its history of never moving up via the league’s talent raffle. The Wolves’ 15-67 record was the second-worst in the NBA, but for the seventh time in 12 lottery appearances, they were moved down in the draft-selection order when two other teams, this time Washington and Philadelphia, were randomly drawn ahead of them.
Sweet... sure this is a deep draft, but sheesh...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Diversity and the Supreme Court

As widely reported President Obama has nominated Elena Kagan to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court of the United States (or SCOTUS). Much ink has been spilled on your qualifications, her point of view (Democrat, but too much or too little?), her gender, and her religious affiliation (with her on the court we'd have 3 Jews and 6 Catholics).

However, one point that has been little discussed is the lack of geographical diversity on the court. With Ms. Kagan's appointment we have 4 justices from NYC, 1 from New Jersey, 2 from California. 1 from Georgia, and one from Indiana. That's 8 justices growing up within 50 miles of the ocean. This isn't necessarily bad, but it does highlight a true diversity "issue." Nine justices can't represent the whole country, but it's a worrying trend when justices aren't familiar with rural areas, don't really know what a starry night looks like, and have no experience with life in the middle of the country.

........................
For some interesting analysis read David Brooks, who highlights the problem of our nominating incentives. I'm also with Matthew Yglesias who argues that we should change the lifetime appointment to 15 years.  

An Excellent Political Ad

We are soon coming to political ad season across America, but some states get an early taste with primary season. Here is an excellent political ad from Pennsylvania by Sestak attacking Spector for switching parties. You may not agree with the sentiment, but it's a good one.


For some short analysis, check out this post by The Atlantic's Joshua Green.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

El Sol

I've always wanted to be an astronaut.


HT: APOD

Awesomeness

Here's what you should be doing instead of watching television.
Check out the rest of the story at the Madshobbithole's Blog.

Don't Believe the News

Every few years or decades out trots the alluring "high-speed rail." Pundits crow about the transformation of transportation, politicians promise big bucks, and journalists write puff pieces. Don't believe it unless the money is over $100 Billion, cause anything else is chump change.
It's a pretty map, but that is way too many corridors to get anything. Just knock out the Northeast and go from there.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Los Suns

Much to the dismay of b-ball experts everywhere, the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association swept the San Antonio Spurs. I'm happy, cause the Suns are lots of fun to watch and have fun basketball players like Dudley, Amundson, Dragic (who went lights out in the 4th quarter of the 3rd game), and the one and only Steve Nash. Much better writers will say much more profound things about Mr. Nash's game and his place in NBA history. As a fan, let me just say that Nash is fun to watch as he weaves and bobs and passes and throws 'Y' ball shots high off the glass. Go Suns. And Go Mr. Nash.
UPDATE: From an old post by Matthew Yglesias. First, this table from ESPN's Hollinger:


And then Yglesias' commentary:
Look at the best offense ever. Then look at the second best. Then look at the fourth best. And look at the fifth best. Now look back at the third best. Then consider that Steve Nash was the starting point guard on all five of these teams! After being seemingly overrated for a while, is it possible that Nash has slipped into underrated status. Floor general for all five of the top-rated offenses of the past 35 years is a pretty gobsmacking achievement.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why the Greek Debt Problem Ain't Going Away...

...a structural deficit of 9%. In other words, year after year, not including interest payments, Greece spends 9% more than it takes in in income.
This graph is structural deficit as % of GDP in 2010. Ain't looking good for many countries.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quote of the Day

From a letter by Douglas Harrison, an English professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, to Kevin Drum of Mother Jones on why no one knows about the Shack, even though it has sold 7 million copies:
You haven’t heard about it for the same you reason you probably didn’t hear about Rick Warren’sPurpose Driven Life series of books until Warren become a lightning rod figure in the news or about the Gaither Homecoming Friends Gospel Music Series, which outsold Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Rod Stewart for worldwide ticket sales not too long ago. MSM and mainstream American culture just doesn’t know where to look and/or how to talk about or take seriously evangelical culture if it’s not through the culture war or political polarization lens. I study and write about evangelical culture for a living and it used to be astonishing to me how many otherwise very bright and engaged, informed and curious intellectuals and scholars of American culture and literature I’d meet who simply had NO CLUE about vast swaths of contemporary American (religious) culture that isn’t exactly hiding. After a decade or so of this work, I’ve come to expect it, and indeed, to capitalize on it (I’m writing a book right now about the cultural function of white gospel music — yes there is such a thing ... gospel doesn’t only mean BLACK gospel). But in general, you aren’t alone in having no clue about this stuff.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Back in my previous life I worked on some agriculture issues. Though no longer paying daily attention to issues facing the farmers of America, I do check into them from day to day. One great advancement in farming over the last 20 years is the rise of Roundup Ready GM crops. With Roundup Ready corn or soybeans or cotton farmers could plant the crop, spray with Roundup, and not worry about weeds. This saved the farmers time and was better for the environment. Of course, the weeds aren't just dying, but growing, and now we have the rise of "superweeds."
Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.
To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.
“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”
Not good.

Me NBA Playoff Picks

I'm a wee bit late to this party, but let me throw out my picks. Having missed the first round, I'm able to smartly not choose the Mavs or the Nuggets and understood that the Celtics are proverbially bringing it. Also, I was able to see that Mr. Yglesias was right, the best predictor is point differential,* not win/loss record. Look at the first round, to a series the team with the better point differential won the series.

For the 2nd round that would mean the Jazz, Spurs, Cavs, and Magic will win and the Magic coming out Final victors. I don't think that will happen, because not every team plays the same schedule, so here we go:
  • Lakers over the Jazz
  • Suns over the Spurs
  • Cavs over the Celtics
  • Magic over the Hawks
Conference Finals:
  • Lakers over the Suns
  • Cavs over the Magic
Finals
  • Cavs over the Lakers
Boring, yes.

* Please note that the team with the worst point differential is the one and only Minnesota Timberwolves. Sheesh... 

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Really Bad Day

Imagine working years and years on a project. You get no results as you work on it, nothing but blood sweat and toil. Then imagine that for the project to work you need a balloon to travel 122,000 feet into the air. And then imagine the wind is off and some latches not strong enough...


Not good.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Liberal England is Dead

The UK is in the midst of election season for the first time in 5 years. The hot topic is the rise of Nick Clegg and Liberal Dems who are outpolling Labour (though they won't win half the seats of Labour or the Tories because of Britain's first past the post voting system). But, as Burke's Corner points out, Liberal England is dead.
Therein lies the explanation for the inevitable bursting of the Clegg bubble. Liberal England died as those heady years of Edwardian progress ended in constitutional crisis, class conflict and Ypres. Now the Liberals are merely those in the north of England who dislike Labour and those in the south who dislike the Conservatives. At local government level, they are merely like Joseph Chamberlain - urban and urbane conservatives.
The Lib Dems are, in other words, ironically defined by the two great British political traditions - Labour and Conservatism. Apart from those traditions, the Lib Dems have no meaning, no identity. Almost a century on from the events of which he spoke, Dangerfield's words continue to echo and describe our politics. Nick Clegg and his party are not the great Liberal tradition reborn. Liberal England is indeed dead. [emphasis mine]

Something You Should be Aware of...

...cause if things aren't handled right, bad things could happen and the USA could be drawn into another war. In short, a month or so ago a South Korean ship was sunk by an explosion at the loss of 42 lives. The explosion was a mystery though North Korea was an immediate suspect. Now it appears that NK is behind the attack, but the SK are playing dumb because they don't want get into a tit for tat war. Pay attention, bad things could happen. For more info, check out Information Dissemination.
Source: The Guardian

A Sign I am Lazy and Late

Here is a comic from the great Richard Thompson about Earth Day. Mr. Thompson is the cartoonist of the best cartoon since Calvin and Hobbes, Cul de Sac. If you don't believe me, just know that I've been reading the comics page since I was 8 years. My palate has been honed by the glories of Far Side and the drudgery of Beatle Bailey, BC, and those old lame ones.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Video for the Evening

Mostly funny.

I'm Back...

Once again, I took a little break from blogging. Unlike last time I didn't visit any far off land, rather, life just a got a bit busy. A few notes:

  • Yay Twins! Though they can't sweep a team, they are at least winning every series and dominating the 3 spot in various "power rankings."
  • Hmmm... Vikings. The draft came and went and much too much of the nation's airwaves was concerned with the draft. Sure, watch it on TV, but we have no idea how good any team's draft will be until 5 years down the road. That being said, I'm a bit puzzled by their picks. I wish they had gone withe McCoy or Clausen, cause I don't see Jackson as the future. Oh well, we got one more shot at the Super Bowl before things fall apart.
  • The Health Care debate ain't over. Numbers have come in from HHS, which point to potentially higher costs than originally estimated (note all the caveats). Here is a take from McArdle and Klein.
  • VAT... Value! Added! Tax! Are you for it or against it? I'm still not sure. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Try Harder You New Atheists

Or at least, that's what Mr. Hart thinks in his fantastic article in First Things. So many great quotes, here is just one of many:
The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).
Go read it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Picture and Lame Blogging

I'm sorry I've been so bad at blogging. It will pick up soon, I promise. To tide you over here is a fantastic photo of an Icelandic volcano.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

For Tax Day

From the one and only Reihan Salam:

When we view our long-term fiscal challenges through the lens of lifetime net tax rates, one thing becomes clear, as Daniel Shaviro has argued: present generations are getting a much better deal than future generations. So in truth, the real "Lucky Duckies" are all of us working and paying taxes right now: thanks to excessive spending commitments and unfunded tax cuts, we are shifting the tax burden from today to tomorrow. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The South, The Confederacy, and Memory

A week or so ago the Governor of Virginia issued a proclamation celebrating Confederacy History Month. Unfortunately, in his glorifying of the South and the Glorious Cause he forgot to mention that little known problem of slavery. An outcry ensued and too his credit he quickly issued an additional proclamation recognizing the importance of slavery in Virginia's history. The proclamation and ensuing controversy has brought forth commentary from all quarters.

Before I proceed I should advise that I am a Yankee through and through. I'm a Northerner and have little time for folks forgetting slavery and it's importance in shaping American History.

One of my favorite commentators on the Civil War and Memory (and lots of other things) is Mr. Coates from the Atlantic Monthly. His latest post (and the accompanying photo) shows the idiocy of American's twisted racial logic. It begins with this photo:
Read the post.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Your Photo of the Day

From APOD:
Photo by Martin Rietze
Note the lightning within the volcano.

Fact of the Day

From the Wowzer files:
Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now.
HT: Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Problem with Nostalgia

The current debate over health care has brought forth extreme hyperbole. On the Right we have the easy demonization of President Obama and his socialist revolution. This crazy talk is only matched by the Left infatuation with President Bush and his theocratic push. Both sides suffer the disease of nostalgia. Quickly folks think that 10 year, 50 years, or 200 years was better than it was today. Particularly in America we like to hark back to the days before this great country was corrupted by... money, politicians, tyranny, etc... Though certain things in the past may be better than today, the world was often crappy for a whole slew of folks.

A perfect example is highlight by the blog Burke's Corner and his analysis of Daniel Boaz's article in Reason. In short, Boaz notes that there is no golden age of liberty and for anyone to declare that we had more Freedom 200 or 100 years ago is phooey in a country that held a large portion of its population in bondage.

The only note of caution that I will add is how the role of technology impinges upon our freedom. For example, you can't go anywhere in the UK without someone "official" watching you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Article You Should Read

One of the most influential people in America today is General Petraeus. He is revolutionizing how the US Army fights and shaping how the US Army will look. With that in mind, read this article.

A Poem for Easter (One Day Late)


Seven Stanzas at Easter, By John Updike
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
            reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
            eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that - pierced - died, withered, paused, and then
            regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
            faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
            grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
            opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
            embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GAO Report of the Week

GAO is a wonderful agency. It produces important, but dry reports on who knows what (e.g., Crop Insurance). It also throws out quirky little reports on random stuff, like this one: ENERGY STAR PROGRAM: Covert Testing Shows the Energy Star Program Certification Process Is Vulnerable to Fraud and Abuse.

In short, GAO investigators were able to get energy certified some great products, such as:

  • Gas-Powered Alarm Clock
  • The highest efficiency Geothermal Heat Pump on market (no questions asked)
  • Refrigerator (approved and on the website within 24 hours, who said government isn't efficient?)

Video of the Day


HT: Scot McKight

Your Link of Day

Here is a fascinating article on Netflix and how it is just so darn fast in processing your DVD.

One interesting note:
After 5 p.m., trucks are loaded with cartons of mailers and return to the post office -- indeed, Netflix has become the fastest-growing source of first-class mail for the Postal Service, a department official says.
That is until we get all our videos over the internet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Problem with Republicans: A Lack of Ideas on Anything

I don't have much to add to Mr. Douthat's post at the nytimes.com except to say AMEN! Individual Republicans are actually grappling with the issue, but the party is just doing whatever it thinks will allow it to regain power. To quote the post:
Ryan’s correct that these ideas were dismissed by Democrats early on. But it’s important to note (and I know I’m a broken record on this point) that they were also dismissed by the Republican leadership, which decided to offer nothing — nothing! — in its formal alternatives to Obamacare that would have increased health insurance coverage for the working class. 
Still, when you’re trying to rebuild a party after two devastating electoral defeats, you need to think strategically as well as tactically, and work to rebuild your intellectual credibility and lay the groundwork for future legislative efforts. On health care, Daniels and Ryan have that credibility. Their party, unfortunately, does not.
GOPers sound like Dems from the late nineties. This ain't good for country. Enjoy the wilderness.

Why we have tax benefits for children

Along with the fact that we want our country to exist in 100 years, it makes great economic sense.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Bracket: Busted

Like many people across the county my brackets are busted. This unfortunate turn of events is, unfortunately, a rather regular occurrence. Every year I'm faced with the same problem: I don't follow NCAA basketball much until a week before the tournament, I then do just enough research to think I know more than I do, and then try to get cute with my picks. Alas, my little education is my downfall. I will wait until this weekend is over to show my true incompetency.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

“I think that liberals view the market as a somewhat barbaric and unfair mechanism for allocating resources. They view government as a mechanism for restoring fairness and justice. To a libertarian, the market mechanism is civilized. When people buy and sell in the market, they are making voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges. In contrast, government is an arena where one side wins and the other side loses. When I shop for a coat, if I do not like the way a coat fits or how it looks, or how much the seller wants me to pay, I do not buy that coat. I buy a different coat, perhaps in a different store. The shopping process leads to peaceful, mutually satisfying trade. On the other hand, look at how the issue of health care reform is going to be resolved. It is like gang warfare, where the Democrats and Republicans are going to rumble, and at least one side is going to be very unhappy with the outcome. For me, it is the democratic process that is barbaric, and it is the market process that is comparatively peaceful and civilized.” 
— Arnold Kling, “Liberals and Markets
HT: Ross Douthat

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Summary of Why the Brits Lost the Revolutionary War OR Why Education Can Make You Think You Know More Than You Do

Back in my former life I took a class on Strategy and War. Like many papers I've written in college and grad school I was way over my head. Fortunately my confidence would not be shaken. Here is the opening salvo:
Thirty years after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 the King and his government faced another rebellion. This time, three thousand miles away, a select group of American colonists were agitating for independence. The implicit question before Parliament was what kind of war was it fighting. Was it a rebellion that needed to be put down or a war where success would mean less than the status quo? Unfortunately, for Parliament and the crown, the British leaders chose poorly. In the colonists they saw illegitimate agitators seeking to break apart the empire. In choosing a rebellion that needed to be repressed the British leaders lost the war. Despite numerous victories in battle, America was lost. Events in America did little to change strategy in London. No British general was able to translate the subtleties of events in the theater of war for the ears of the cabinet. 
Throughout the war British leaders were unable (or for some, unwilling) to reassess their strategy because they didn’t understand the nature of the conflict. And they didn’t understand the conflict because (1) British leaders in power were unable to comprehend the American people and their cause, (2) which when filtered through the British political structure inhibited clear policies and obtainable political objectives, and led to (3) a lack of coordination between military actions and political ends. Ultimately what inhibited British leaders from reassessing their strategy was the interaction between the government and military, exacerbated by incomprehension. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees because they thought they were sailing in the open ocean.

Nerd Alert!

A computerized animation of flying over the moon:

Quote of the Day

Edmund Burke:
In order to prove that the Americans have no right to their liberties, we are every day endeavouring to subvert the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Health Care: The Ending?

The U.S. Health Care is soon to meet it's tortured point of decision. I have no idea if Dems (from a political point of view) should vote for or against the bill. I don't know the political effects, nor even know the health care effects of the proposed legislation. It will expand government and the bureaucracy. Perhaps that will be for the good of the nation, perhaps not.

As we enter this difficult stretch I came across this NPR article that details a different sort of health care:
As policymakers in Washington, D.C., debate overhauling health care, several evangelical Christian groups have found a way of getting around the high cost of health insurance. Instead of paying premiums, they simply agree to pay each other's medical bills...
James Lansberry, the vice president ofSamaritan Ministries, says the concept is simple. First there's a $170 annual fee to cover Samaritan's administrative costs. His nonprofit group then compiles members' health care bills and tells its 14,000 households where to send their monthly checks.
"The money doesn't get received at our central office — it goes directly from one family to another," Lansberry says. "So each month I send my monthly share of $285 directly to another family."
This is a fantastic model and the though the total reimbursement is capped at $100,000 is something that could potentially work in other settings.

The article points to one of the main problems with our health insurance, which is that people see it not so much as insurance, but as prepaying health-care. Thus, they have no incentive to limit their consumption (give me all the tests doc!) nor do the docs. What I think we need is for folks to pay normal expenses (doctor visits, etc…) out of pocket, maybe using this model to share those costs. And then the government should have catastrophic insurance (accident, random cancer) that no individual could pay.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Advertising Works!

Since moving to Rapid City I've been driving quite a bit. Coupled with the local public radio's love of music means that for the first time in my life I've spent some time listening to...sports radio. Most of it is inane and crazy and full of complete BS, but BS can be fun to listen too in small doses. Anyway, a couple of days ago I was at the store and purchasing some shaving cream. I was sick of supporting Gillette and scanned the shaving cream row until my eyes settled on Barbasol. I had never heard of Barbasol until I listened to sports radio. So what did I do...well, I succumbed to the capitalistic system, and me some Barbasol.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Your Tax Link of the Day

We are in tax season, and all the drudgery that comes with it. To lighten the load, here is a link to a description of state tax oddities. And to have more fun, here is your Tax Freedom day, the day of the year when (on average) you've earned enough income to pay all your taxes that year.

Your Wild-Eyed Prophet of the Day

It's no secret that some of the Old Testament prophets have a bit of that crazy in them. The mere fact that you'd stand up to kings and nobles and proclaim their coming doom requires a certain amount of unnerving certainty. Nevertheless, certain prophet give off the crazy vibe much more than other prophets. For example, Elijah performs miracles and signs of wonder and dukes it out the Ahab (one of the best scenes in the Bible) yet seems sane. He is man fulfilling God's strange call. Isaiah, to some degree, fits that same category. Sure, he has visions, but his calling to repentance and justice rings true to this day.

On the hand, we have Ezekiel. Like any decent prophet Ezekiel had visions, but he was also called by God to act out God's words, like some ancient performance art (from Ezekiel 12):
"Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the house of Israel."
So I did as I was commanded. During the day I brought out my things packed for exile. Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands. I took my belongings out at dusk, carrying them on my shoulders while they watched.
It's a reminder that God's call is not necessarily a sane call, or a proper call, or a call to tell your grandma about over a cup of tea.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Creek: March 8

The ice has broken on the creek. For three months the ice strangled my little bit of the creek, turning flowing water into a coughing stream. Six-inch ice shelves still hug the shore, but spring is here. And with spring comes thoughts of death. For my part of the world was death, but now life is on the breeze. The trees are beginning to breath again. The bush branches contain a bit more strength as I plow through the forest. The death of the winter has passed, and though much has perished, life all around me has survived.

With these thoughts I continue my Lenten journey. With mud replacing snow I remember my initial state. For dust we are, and dust we shall return. But before that return, life has come and will come to those muddy puddles, as life has come to me. Around me I see tentative shoots of green amidst the stubborn banks of snow. Warmth and cold, life and death, wrapped together within and without.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Your LaRouche Crazy of the Day

When I went to George Washington University in DC I'd often run across these random folks singing political songs, holding signs calling out various political leaders as Nazis. This strange brew were followers of Lyndon LaRouche, a left-wingish nutter political group that has at times accused both President Bush and Obama of following in the steps of Hitler.

Anyway, a LaRouchie has recently won the Democratic nomination for Texas House District 22. From her website (now taken off her website):
The victory in the 22nd Congressional District yesterday by LaRouche Democrat Kesha Rogers sent an unmistakable message to the White House, and its British imperial controllers: Your days are numbered. Kesha's campaign hit relentlessly at a single theme, that President Obama must go, that his attacks on this nation – with his dismantling of the manned space program, his efforts to ram through a fascist, killer “health care” policy, his endless bailouts for Wall Street swindlers, while demanding budget cuts which will increase the death rates among the poor, the sick, the elderly and the unemployed – are not acceptable, and will not be tolerated.
Skeptics said that LaRouche's approach is impractical, it won't work, that Democrats will never support someone who is calling for the President's impeachment. Obviously, the voters of the 22nd district disagreed with those skeptics, as Kesha received 53% of the vote against two opponents. As Kesha told the Galveston Daily News last night, when a reporter asked if she expected support from the Democratic Party in the fall election, “I am leading a war against the British Empire. I'm not worried about what Democratic Party hacks say or do.”
HT: Ezra Klein

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Reason to Like Tolkien

From the Jewish Review of Books:
Although it might seem unlikely that anyone would wonder whether the author of The Lord of the Rings was Jewish, the Nazis took no chances. When the publishing firm of Ruetten & Loening was negotiating with J. R. R. Tolkien over a German translation of The Hobbit in 1938, they demanded that Tolkien provide written assurance that he was an Aryan. Tolkien chastised the publishers for “impertinent and irrelevant inquiries,” and—ever the professor of philology— lectured them on the proper meaning of the term: “As far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects.” As to being Jewish, Tolkien regretted that “I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Old Man

My old man turns 62 today. Happy Birthday. It's also Saint David's day in Wales. The nation's patron saint. He's got a fantastic flag. I guess one of the benefits of being both a saint and a national patron saint.

Constantine Christianity

In recent years much criticism* has been heaped upon Constantine Christianity as a distortion of Jesus and Christianity. Folks criticize this 1700 year old deal with the devil that allowed official, Roman recognition of Christianity at the expense of Christians (particularly the hierarchy) expounding the Gospel. In short, the critics argue that in the battle between truth and power, power won out. Eventually (over a 100 years) Christianity become the state religion, and thus lost its ability to speak, "truth to power." Since that time Christian Bishops and Popes and Patriarchs sacrificed the Gospel for the world.

Some of the criticism of this decisive moment in history is true and right. By willingly aligning itself to the official Roman order, the Christian hierarchy lost some of it's ability to fulfill the Gospel. However, too much of the frustration with Constantine Christianity is based on a poor understanding of history, culture, and Christianity.

First, what was the church suppose to do when Constantine the Great declared that Christianity was one of the state religions? Should they have said, "nah, we don't need that, please keep persecuting us"? Should they have said, "boy, we really need less people to believe and live the Gospel so that we won't be noticed by the Roman authorities and thus won't set Christianity down a path of destruction"? No, they did what any reasonable folks would do, they breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the Lord for their deliverance.

Second, was the devil in the deal or is there a little devil in all of us? Much of the justifiable criticism of Church leaders is because those leaders (popes, bishops, etc...) were venal, greedy, and corrupt, and used the church for their own ends. Plenty of church leaders throughout the middle ages and beyond acted with integrity, and used their power and money for good and justice. For example, Ambrose, a rich and powerful man, became Bishop (from deacon to bishop in a week), then sold his possessions, and more often than not advocated for the poor and the dispossessed. Meanwhile, he was an advisor to Emperors and part of the "inner circle."

The criticism of Constantine Christian System is more a criticism of human nature. I believe that State sponsored church ain't a good thing, nevertheless, we ought to be slow to criticize those decisions that saved people from persecution.

*I know I didn't link to any of the critics on the web, but that's because I'm lazy and tired. Just trust me that they are out there. 

Reason #22 That you are Happy you live in the 21st Century

I'm currently reading an abridged history of the Byzantine Empire. The writing is so-so, but the history is fantastic. For over 1100 years a Byzantium Emperor or Empress was on the throne in Constantinople. Too often we glaze over numbers as we read about this war and that plague and that invention. But to put that number into context, 1100 years would bring us back before the Normandy Invasion or is the difference in time between Kind David and Jesus.

Despite Byzantium's great achievements in art (beautiful icons), philosophy (the keepers of the greco-roman tradition), war (inventor of Greek Fire, and the only Empire to hold off the Arab Muslims for 800 years) you would not have wanted to live back then. Even if you knew you wouldn't die from disease, there was a chance some Slavic tribe would overrun your city and kill all the inhabitants or that your empire would destroy your town in taking it back or just the random extreme violence if you found yourself on the wrong side of an internal dispute. Not good. Also, thank the Lord for plumbing.

I'm Back...

...from greasing the wheels in DC. More posts to come.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crime and Hispanics

Over the last 8 years or so there has been a major debate in this country over immigration, especially illegal immigration. It's a significant issue with 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA, companies complaining about the inability to higher enough skilled workers, and intense public policy discussions on what to do. Politicians, like Tom Tancredo, have made a living on this issue. For whatever reason Latinos have become the face of the immigrant issue.

A subtext to the whole debate is that illegal immigrants bring crime wherever they go. In an issue as emotional intense as immigration this view is not unsurprising and has a long history in America (e.g., Irish, Italians, etc...). Combining the idea of higher crime rates with increased immigration was an easy move for anti-immigration. But is it true? Fortunately this article from the American Conservative tackles the issue straight on. Some conclusions:
Nearly all of the most heavily Latino cities have low or even extremely low crime rates, and virtually none have rates much above the national average. Eighty percent Latino El Paso has the lowest homicide and robbery rates of any major city in the continental United States. This is not what we would expect to find if Hispanics had crime rates far higher than whites. Individual cities may certainly have anomalously low crime rates for a variety of reasons, but the overall trend of crime rates compared to ethnicity seems unmistakable.
...if we restrict our analysis to major cities of half a million people or more and compare the average crime rates for the five most heavily Hispanic cities—Albuquerque, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and El Paso—to the those of the five whitest—Oklahoma City, Columbus, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Portland. This time, the more Hispanic cities are the ones with the lower crime rates—10 percent below the white cities in homicide and 15 percent lower in violent crime. A particularly remarkable result is that gigantic Los Angeles—50 percent Hispanic and frequently perceived as a dangerous urban hellhole—has violent crime rates close to those of Portland, Oregon, the whitest major city in the nation at 74 percent.
Some food for thought. HT: Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the season of repentance and contrition. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Great Recession And Education

Your momma told you to stay in school. And she was right. As this graph illustrates from econompicdata.blogspot.com, if you have a college degree you are much more likely to be better off than not. How much, well with a college degree your cohort unemployment rate is roughly 4%, but with only a high school degree your cohort is facing an unemployment rate of 10%.


















One implication of this stratification (as highlighted by M. Yglesias) is that those making the decision on how to deal with the economic crisis (Congress, Staffers, federal and state governments) work and live their lives in a cohort that isn't hurt too bad by the downturn. Sure, they see it, but they don't feel it. I don't know how you rectify this problem, but it is something to consider.

The Great Recession

As most folks know, we are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. By most statistical measures, Americans are poorer than they were 11 years ago. This is not good news. A must read on the subject is in The Atlantic's latest issue: How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America. The author, Mr. Peck, lays out the effects of long-term unemployment on (mostly male) college graduates, mid-career, and late-career employment. Needless to say it is devastating, especially coupled with rising health care costs, the lost of industries (not just temporary unemployment), and the transformation of the American workplace from industrial to service. One quote, which is actually a quote from William Julius Wilson:
The consequences of high neighborhood joblessness, are more devastating than those of high neighborhood poverty. A neighborhood in which people are poor but employed is different from a neighborhood in which many people are poor and jobless. Many of today’s problems in the inner-city ghetto neighborhoods—crime, family dissolution, welfare, low levels of social organization, and so on—are fundamentally a consequence of the disappearance of work.
Read the article.