Archive for the 'Political Philosophy' Category
Posted by Zenpundit on 9th March 2014 (All posts by Zenpundit)
cross-posted to zenpundit.com
The Union League Club of Chicago Building
Yesterday, I attended the 2014 Midwest Business & Markets Conference at the historic Union League Club of Chicago. While business conferences are far afield from my usual interests, the main draw for me was seeing Lexington Green speak about the book he co-authored with James C. Bennett, America 3.0
Michael J. Lotus (“Lex”) His book
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Posted in Anglosphere, Business, Chicagoania, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Illinois Politics, Internet, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th February 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Democratic candidate for Congress who tweeted:
Fox News does nothing but tell lies and mistruths. They have unqualified political analysts. We need FCC to monitor and regulate them.
The vast majority of the traditional media, of course, fervently supports the Democrats. Evidently this candidate cannot stand the presence of any source of diverse reporting and opinion.
With this tweet, Mike Dickenson declared war on American free speech.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is by no means rare among Democrats and “progressives.” For example, this story is about threats of legal action and potential loss of license against a TV station that dared to broadcast ads critical of Democratic candidate Gary Peters. (The lawyers who sent the letter work for the law firm of Bob Bauer, who was general counsel of the Obama campaign.)
The hostility to free expression and discussion of ideas is especially strong in many universities. For example, here’s a Swarthmore student who was appalled that conservative Princeton professor Robert George was allowed to debate against leftist Princeton prof Cornell West: ”“What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion,” Ching told the Daily Gazette, the school’s newspaper. “I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” The same link mentions an article by a Harvard student, who calls for replacing academic freedom with something she calls “academic justice.”
Gleichschaltung is a German word which means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line.” It was a term much favored by the Nazis, who used it in the sense of “forcible coordination.” Under the Nazi regime, all aspects of society–all organizations ranging from major professional associations such as those representing the country’s legal profession, down to to folk-singing groups and small local hiking clubs–were subjected to Gleichschaltung. Not only was there to be no criticism of National Socialism in the explicitly political sphere, there was to be no truly non-political sphere at all. Everything had to be about the propagation and strengthening of the ideology of National Socialism.
The Democratic Party, the “progressive” Left, and the Obama administration are clearly attempting to establish more and more control over public discourse about political and social matters, and also about anything that could relate to these matters.
And what is “political correctness,” after all, other than a contemporary American form of Gleichschaltung?
Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 21st February 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
…as prefigured in a poem by W H Auden:
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports of his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the war till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report of his union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day,
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows that he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High–Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A gramophone, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
When there was peace he was for peace; when there was war he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
And our teachers report he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
The Unknown Citizen, W H Auden, 1940
Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Poetry, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd February 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Religion, Russia | 9 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Kevin Williamson, writing at NRO, notes that political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest. About Barack Obama, he has this to say:
What could it possibly mean to be lectured on selfishness by a man whose entire career has been dedicated to no cause other than the cause of himself? “Selfishness” has been conflated with materialism and greed, but the literal meaning of the word is excessive devotion to one’s self and one’s interests. To be unselfish is to be ready to give up that which one holds most dear; for some men, that is money, but what is money to a president of the United States, who knows that in retirement he can support himself in ducal style with one day’s work a month at Bill Clinton rates, in princely style with two days’ work, and in imperial style with three? Money is an abstraction to a retired president. But the thing that he really cares about — power — Barack Obama guards in a fashion more miserly than that of any mythical dragon watching his horde. (sic–I think he means “hoard”)
And political power, of course, is always and everywhere convertible into economic wealth. The conversion may be in the form of in-kind benefits…the dachas and special stores made available to the old Soviet elite, the extremely expensive government aircraft made available to Obama’s vacationing family (and even to his dog) as well as to himself…or it may involve the at-least-implicit conversion of influence into money. (Al Gore’s financial net worth in now somewhere around the $200 million level, the Clintons are at roughly the same level. Today’s WSJ mentioned that former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis has been hired by a Chinese company to defend them against charges of violating California law. Lanny Davis may be a good lawyer, but is anyone really so naive as to think that his selection for this job has nothing to do with influence?) And in the celebrity-obsessed culture of 2014 America, the public recognition that comes with political office and power increases still further the ability to turn power into economic wealth. Get the power, the wealth will come…although, of course, for many obsessive power-seekers, the psychic rewards of power itself are the primary motivators.
Obama once remarked “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Has he ever considered the possibility that maybe at a certain point he’s accumulated enough power? I doubt it. To a considerable extent, I think, the Democratic harping on inequalities of wealth and income acts as a smokescreen to avoid discussion of the high and increasing inequalities of power.
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Posted in Big Government, Human Behavior, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
One more batch…
Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?
301 Years of Steam Power. What they told you in school about James Watt and the invention of the steam engine was very likely wrong. Related: 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.
An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?
The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.
Book and Video Reviews:
Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.
Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.
Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.
Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.
Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Human Behavior, Military Affairs, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
The “Affordable Care Act,” aka Obamacare, seems to be full of surprises. For example, it seems that many Americans are being forced onto Obamacare exchanges where most plans provide only local medical coverage…a bit of a problem for people who travel, change jobs, or have vacation homes. To take another example, this Washington Post article says Obamacare may make it impossible for people living in American territories (such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) to purchase health insurance policies at all. “Unexpected!” results of Obamacare seem to be almost daily news.
These surprises especially strike those ordinary Americans who are the targeted users of Obamacare, of course…but also, they seem to strike many of the creators of the program. Some members of the government classes, of course, simply lied about Obamacare’s effects…first and foremost this is notoriously true of Obama himself. But I also feel sure that there are many among those CongressCreatures who voted for this 2000-page bill who have been genuinely surprised by some or many of its outcomes. It is simply not possible to clearly predict in advance the effects of a piece of legislation so all-encompassing, so verbose, and so quickly pushed through.
Rose Wilder Lane, still at that point a Communist, visited the Soviet Union in 1919. After she explained the benefits of central planning to a disbelieving village leader, he shook his head sadly and said:
It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.
Indeed, one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand heads together in the form of CongressCreatures or health care bureaucrats did not suffice to make one great big head that would fully grasp the implications of Obamacare. Nancy Pelosi was sort of right when she said “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it”…she should have carried it further and said: “We have to pass the bill so that we can find out what’s in it.”
It is precisely this difficulty in predicting the outcomes of sweeping change, on a society-wide scale, that makes such sweeping and radical change something to be usually avoided..and when indeed necessary, to be conducted with caution and careful forethought. British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke made this point eloquently and famously. Nothing could be more anti-Burkean than Obama’s statement on October 30, 2008: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
After coming to realize that the defects of Communism are inherent and not just due to problems with one particular implementation of it, Rose Wilder Lane also became convinced that:
Centralized economic control over multitudes of human beings must therefore be continuous and perhaps superhumanly flexible, and it must be autocratic. It must be government by a swift flow of edicts issued in haste to catch up with events receding into the past before they can be reported, arranged, analyzed and considered, and it will be compelled to use compulsion. In the effort to succeed, it must become such minute and rigorous control of details of individual life as no people will accept without compulsion. It cannot be subject to the intermittent checks, reversals, and removals of men in power which majorities cause in republics.
Note how this comment ties in with the Obama administration’s tendency to adjust the healthcare insurance program via quick and arbitrary administrative rulemaking, rather than via the legislative process. RWL would say that this kind of behavior is inherent in a program intended to establish government control over vast swaths of society.
She also notes that:
Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called “demos” or “labor” or “capital” or”agriculture” or “the masses,” actually are men; they are not sheep. Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors.
…and discusses the temptations of power to a leader who believes in expansionist government:
If he wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.
Posted in Civil Society, Health Care, Law, Leftism, Obama, Political Philosophy, USA | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
The Power of Metaphor and Analogy. How verbal imagery affects decision-making.
Not a Single One. Not a single Democratic senator managed to demonstrate enough judgment and courage to go against his Party herd and vote “Nay” on the Hagel confirmation. Also, interesting comments from a political science on the increasing tribalization of the electorate…strongly related to what I call the outsourcing of judgment and conscience.
Coming Soon, to Places Near You? How French bureaucracy in the 1920s offers a preview of rampant American bureaucracy in our present era.
The Reductio ad Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism. Swedish police were unable to suppress the riots, but they were able to issue parking tickets to burned-out cars…reminding me of an old SF story by Walter Miller.
More on Bureaucracy. Peter Drucker explains why every government must be a “government of paper forms” if it is not to degenerate into a mutual looting society.
Durbin, Tocqueville, and Freedom of the Press.
Posted in Human Behavior, Israel, Leftism, Management, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2014 (All posts by David Foster)
Western Civilization and the First World War…with a very good comment thread.
The Power of Metaphor and Analogy.
The Normalization of Abusive Government.
Would You Trust Your Financial Future to This Woman? Patty Murray, a U.S. Senator and an obvious moron and bigot..as the quotes in this post clearly demonstrate…is head of the Senate Budget Committee.
Whose Interests Will Jack Lew be Representing? There were some rather interesting clauses in the Treasury Secretary’s employment agreement with Citigroup.
Time Travel. Some personal connections with the past.
Posted in Britain, Economics & Finance, Europe, France, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 1st January 2014 (All posts by Jonathan)
Caroline Glick, Khodorkovsky and the freedom agenda:
Both the Iranian democracy activists then and the Ukrainian protesters today demonstrated through their actions that they do not seek the mere overthrow of unrepresentative, repressive governments. They seek freedom, and are willing to work for it. All the Iranians needed then, and all the Ukrainians ask for today, is assistance from foreign powers, just as George Washington’s Continental Army required French assistance to defeat the British Empire.
While those are easy cases to understand, the lesson of Putin’s Russia and of post-Saddam Iraq is that freedom doesn’t sprout from thin air. The only way to plant democracy in nations unfamiliar with the habits of liberty is to cultivate them, relentlessly and unapologetically, over time.
Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Iraq, Management, Political Philosophy, Quotations, Russia | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th November 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
…because it increasingly seems that the first three digits must be One, Nine, and Three.
Kanye West says Obama’s problems with getting things done are because “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people”…(also, “Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.”)
New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio praises Al Sharpton, who was one of the primary instigators of the Crown Heights Pogrom.
Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) recently asserted that “President Obama should drop the charade of democracy and rule directly through executive orders.”
Obama-supporting protestors demand that Obama make even more use of government by executive order than he has already done.
Obama’s frontmen at Organizing for America told their members to propagandize for Obamacare at family Thanksgiving dinners. As Byron York notes, politicization of all aspects of life is a standard feature of totalitarian societies.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is one example of those “progressives” who think patriotism is all about obeisance to the government and the Leader, rather than being about love of country.
A third-grade textbook, said to be compliant with the new Common Core standards, portrays Obama with the kind of messianic iconography commonly used by totalitarian governments in praising their rulers.
Posted in Judaism, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 21st November 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Majority Leader Harry Reid has succeeded in getting the Senate to change the rules such that most of Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees no longer need to clear a 60-vote threshold to reach the Senate floor and get an up-or-down vote.
This action is simply one more manifestation of the Democrats’ hostility toward any limitations on government power…at least, any limitations of government power as long as they are in control (which they clearly intend to be for a long, long time.)
While the Obama administration is clearly more hostile toward the institutions of American democracy than even most previous Democratic presidents have been, still, the desire of Democrats to remove constraints on government power goes back a long ways. As I noted in a comment to this post, Woodrow Wilson believed that separation of powers was obsolete…he argued for this viewpoint based on extremely simplistic reasoning about the “organic” nature of government and the assertion that an organism could not have “organs offset against each other as checks, and live.” (As I also noted in the same comment thread, one would think that anyone who had run any kind of organization would understand the need for “organs offset against each other as checks.” even at the simple level of an auditing department and the separation of payment authorization from payment execution…and, of course, the concepts of feedback control and homeostasis clearly demonstrate the need for those “organs offset against each other” in any complex system.)
Also in the same thread, Vader cited someone who had said that Wilson’s belief in his own moral righteousness was so great as to approach mental illness. This is clearly also true of Obama, probably to an even greater degree than it was true of Wilson. And people with this level of arrogance, of course, tend to be especially impatient of any restraints on their power.
But it goes far beyond Obama himself. The growth of educational credentialism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people who believe that their college degrees…entirely irrespective of any actual accomplishments that they have made or actual knowledge that they possess…have given them preternatural wisdom and hence they right and duty to control the lives of their less-enlightened countrymen.
American democracy is in grave danger. The 2014 elections will probably be the last chance to keep this country..and the world…from going down a very dark path. I’m reminded of a speech Winston Churchill gave during the years of appeasement, specifically in March 1938, in which he spoke of Britain and its allies:
descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.
See also my related post When law yields to absolute power.
Posted in Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 21 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th October 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Since I am a Department of Defense contractor, examining military recruits. I expected that we would not be called to come in after Monday but I worked Tuesday and was told they expect no slowdown. Of course, maybe they won’t pay us but that is still in the future.
UPDATE: Today is the 8th and I have been called again for tomorrow.
So far, the shutdown seems to be working with the assistance of Democrat verbal and active mistakes. I always thought Gingrich fumbled the ball in 1995. This time, the GOP strategy of passing small directed bills to fund popular programs, seems to be working. Certainly the Democrats like Harry Reid and the National Park Service are helping all they can.
Washington politicians may have the time to debate how to fund the government, now that their pig-headedness has shut it down, but the nation’s World War II veterans don’t.
“World War II veterans are dying by the hundreds every day,” says Fred Yanow, of Northbrook, Ill., who spent 1942-45 in the Pacific theater as an Army private. “It’s a shame that they don’t care about World War II veterans when so many of them are dying off.” The 16 million men and women who wore their nation’s uniform in the so-called “Good War,” from 1941 to 1945, are leaving for eternal R&R at the rate of 650 a day.
Which Washington politicians ?
Harry Reid ?
Claire McCaskill had some clever comments.
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Posted in Big Government, Conservatism, Current Events, Obama, Political Philosophy | 25 Comments »
Posted by Zenpundit on 23rd September 2013 (All posts by Zenpundit)
Cross-posted from zenpundit.com
David Ronfeldt, RAND strategist and theorist has done a deep two-part review of America 3.0 over at his Visions from Two Theories blog. Ronfeldt has been spending the last few years developing his TIMN analytic framework (Tribes, Institutions [hierarchical], Markets and Networks) which you can get a taste from here and here or a full reading with this RAND paper.
David regards the familial structure thesis put forward by James Bennett and Michael Lotus in America 3.0 as “captivating” and “compelling” for ”illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN”. Both reviews are detailed and should be read in their entirety, but I will have some excerpts below:
America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 1 of 2)
….Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:
“It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles.
As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39).
In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our “amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions:
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Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Civil Society, History, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, Morality and Philosphy, Organizational Analysis, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, USA | 5 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 15th August 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
My sentiments on the whole drug question have been influenced by some experience with the medical aspect of the problem. Drugs are slipping out of any control due to developments in synthetic variations of older substances that stimulate brain chemistry, sometimes in unknown ways. The traditional drugs, if we can use that term, are also slipping out of control with Mexican drug wars replacing the Columbian cartels even more violent than their predecessors.
What about marijuana ? It is widely used by the younger generation and, while I do think there are some harmful consequences, especially in potential schizophrenics, the fact is that the laws are widely ignored and do little good and much harm. First, what about the link to psychosis ?
Epidemiological studies suggest that Cannabis use during adolescence confers an increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms later in life. However, despite their interest, the epidemiological data are not conclusive, due to their heterogeneity; thus modeling the adolescent phase in animals is useful for investigating the impact of Cannabis use on deviations of adolescent brain development that might confer a vulnerability to later psychotic disorders. Although scant, preclinical data seem to support the presence of impaired social behaviors, cognitive and sensorimotor gating deficits as well as psychotic-like signs in adult rodents after adolescent cannabinoid exposure, clearly suggesting that this exposure may trigger a complex behavioral phenotype closely resembling a schizophrenia-like disorder. Similar treatments performed at adulthood were not able to produce such phenotype, thus pointing to a vulnerability of the adolescent brain towards cannabinoid exposure.
This suggests that adult use may be less harmful.
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Posted in Civil Society, Health Care, Law Enforcement, Libertarianism, Medicine, Political Philosophy, Science | 26 Comments »
Posted by Lexington Green on 30th July 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Detroit was once the greatest city of the modern world. Automobiles were the cutting edge of technology in the first half of the twentieth century. Talent and genius flocked to Detroit. Innovators in engineering, technology, design, finance, marketing, and management created a concentration of economic dynamism and creativity unlike anything the world had yet seen. Detroit was the Silicon Valley of its day, except its products were made of tangible metal, rubber, and glass. The auto industry transformed America into a land of mobility and personal freedom beyond the dreams of earlier generations. Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.” He meant the old limits could be blown away, and ordinary people could have a better life than they had ever dreamed of before.
(The rest is here.)
Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, History, Illinois Politics, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, Taxes, Transportation, Unions, Urban Issues, USA | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th July 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Alexander Schmorell, who was a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
Schmorell was of German nationality but Russian ancestry. Deeply religious, he had strong artistic and literary interests–his favorite author was Dostoyevsky—and was studying to be physician. He met Hans Scholl in 1940, and in mid-1942 collaborated with him on the initial White Rose leaflets. Later that year he served as a combat medic on the Eastern Front, and what he saw there reinforced his already-strong anti-Nazi convictions.
Following the arrest of the Scholls and Christoph Probst, Schmorell attempted to escape to Switzerland, but was betrayed by someone he thought was a friend, a woman named Marie-Luise: “Alex’s picture and description had been all over the place by now, and she felt that she had no choice but to report him, if not to save her own neck, but to save her unborn baby’s,” according to the post at the above link.
Shurik, as he was known to his friends, identified strongly with Russia and with Russians:
I love Russia’s endless steppes and breadth, the forest and mountains, over which man has no dominion. I love Russians, everything Russian, which cannot be taken away, without which a person simply isn’t the same. Their hearts and souls, which are impossible to grasp with the mind, which can only be guessed at and sensed, which is their treasure, a treasure that can never be taken away.
Alexander Schmorell was executed by the Nazi state in July 1943. Shortly before he went to the guillotine, he asked his lawyer to tell Marie-Luise that he had forgiven her completely.
A moving description of the canonization ceremony here.
See also my previous post about the White Rose.
Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Political Philosophy | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People. On July 7, 1941–five months before Pearl Harbor–this poem was read over nationwide radio. The title I’ve previously used for these posts is It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.
This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.
And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.
He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces
The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.
Benet’s poem ends with these words:
We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained
But shall it?
Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, History, Holidays, Poetry, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in July 2009. I’m re-running it now for obvious reasons)
Many Unhappy Returns, by Charles Rossotti, is the story of Rossotti’s experiences as IRS Commissioner, which position he held from 1997-2002–having previously spent his career in the private sector and been cofounder & chairman of American Management Systems Inc. I picked the book up for a dollar at a library book sale, thinking it might offer an interesting case study on the challenges of managing and improving a very large bureaucratic organization.
And I’m sure it does. On the very first pages of the book, though, are some stories which are very relevant to our current political situation.
During the 1990s, public dissatisfaction with the IRS reached new levels, resulting in a series of Congressional hearings beginning in 1996. Rossotti excerpts some of the stories told by taxpayers (and IRS agents) at these hearings, and grim reading they are indeed.
For example, a woman from California told of her 14 year struggle to pay off a tax debt incurred by her first husband prior to their 1983 divorce. “Kafka himself could not have invented this real-life tale of an ordinary person caught in a maddening bureaucratic maze with no maps, no exits, and no explanation,” says Rossotti. Her ex-husband had gotten all the notices, but she alone had gotten the bill for interest on the unpaid balance. When she tried to pay it, the IRS repeatedly refused to accept payment, telling her she didn’t owe anything and even sending her refunds. But years later, the IRS threatened to put a lien on her new husband’s home because of her prior “debt.” She paid it but five years later, her second husband’s salary was levied for payment on the same “debt,” leaving the couple with only $18 a week to live on.
“The IRS is judge, jury, and executioner–answerable to none” said the woman in her Congressional testimony.
An IRS agent–the only one willing to testify without concealing her identity–claimed that it was an intentional policy of IRS management to pick on weak taxpayers to make the IRS’s statistics look better. She said that “to the IRS, vulnerabilities can be based on a perception that the taxpayer has limited formal education, has suffered a personal tragedy, is having a financial crisis, or may not necessarily have a solid grasp of their legal rights”…that “if the taxpayer does object or complain, every effort will be made by the IRS to run up their tax assessment, deplete their financial resources, and force them to capitulate to IRS demands.”
A Newsweek story said that “According to more than a dozen agents…(management) pushed for ever more property seizures from delinquent tapayers, even though the IRS manual says such moves should be a final resort, riding roughshod in some cases over their rights to appeal. They closed cases an sometimes slapped on levies and liens prematurely–which boosted the enforcement stats that the IRS rewards with cash awards for top officers.” There’s lots more of this stuff in Rossotti’s book.
Government is inherently dangerous. As a Delaware construction contractor said during the hearings, “believe me, when the resources of the government are unleashed on you, you are in trouble, no matter how good your case.” And this point is not specific to the IRS.
Reading these stories reminded me of a passage that has been attributed to George Washington:Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
It’s not clear that this quote really came from George Washington–but whoever said it, it captures an important truth. Yes, government is essential, but it is inherently very dangerous and there must be constant vigilance to keep this danger in check. Yet the dangers to individuals that come from a tremendous expansion of government seem entirely invisible to the “progressives” who currently dominate our national politics. This despite the fact that over the last century, hundreds of millions of people have been killed by their own governments and billions more subjected to lifetimes of unnecessary poverty.
And I would assert that the organizational and systems issues involved in enforcing the IRS regulations fairly, although not simple, are far less complex than those involved in a national healthcare program. And the time criteria are much more stringent in healthcare–a delay of a week usually won’t matter in an IRS case; in a healtcare situation, it may literally be a matter of life and death.
In virtually every aspect of American life, we are now seeing efforts to vastly expand government power, while ignoring or minimizing the dangers associated with such expansion.
Original CB discussion thread here
Posted in Civil Liberties, Management, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th June 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
John Barnes asks: Are we as a society putting too much emphasis on abstract categorization rather than practical application? The so-called Flynn Effect says that average IQs worldwide rise by about 3 points per decade, but:
Stuart Brown has described younger engineers at advanced research facilities who are “good at filling in bubbles” but don’t seem to be able to make a machine work. Senior engineers lament that the next generation overvalues its high test scores and undervalues the things that get the job done. Fine arts teachers tailor assignments to students who want to express simpler ideas with easier tools rather than acquire more open-ended and sophisticated skills.
Should Apple get into the 3-D printing market?
Speaking of 3-D printing, GE is running a couple of interesting contests. First, there is the GE jet engine bracket challenge–participants submit a design taking advantage of additive manufacturing capabilities to meet all performance criteria while minimizing mass. Submitted designs will be evaluated by simulation: the top ten will then be fabricated and subjected to actual loads. There is also the 3-D printing production quest: high precision and advanced materials. This one is focused on making parts requiring extreme precision with complex geometries, especially for healthcare applications–entrants are going to need production as well as design capabilities, and in addition to the $50K prizes there may be an opportunity to become a GE supplier or otherwise “collaborate” with the company.
Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Humor, Photos, Political Philosophy, Tech | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th June 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s Peter Drucker, writing way back in 1969:
Whether government is “a government of laws” or a “government of men” is debatable. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost. For “control” of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive. Yet this is what government is always expected to do.
The reason is not just “bureaucracy” and red tape; it is a much sounder one. A “little dishonesty” in government is a corrosive disease. It rapidly spreads to infect the whole body politic. Yet the temptation to dishonesty is always great. People of modest means and dependent on a salary handle very large public sums. People of modest position dispose of power and award contracts and privileges of tremendous importance to other people–construction jobs, radio channels, air routes, zoning laws, building codes, and so on. To fear corruption in government is not irrational. This
This means, however, that government “bureaucracy”— and its consequent high costs—cannot be eliminated. Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.
(Emphasis added. I’m confident Professor Drucker would agree that whether the forms are paper or electronic makes no difference at all in this context.)
If government operations are fully proceduralized, to the point of eliminating individual employee and frontline manager discretion, they will be cumbersome and inefficient. If they are not fully proceduralized in this way, then they will be subject to widespread corruption and tyrannical behavior.
Hence, the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency, eventually resulting in sluggish performance across the entire economy–while the increasing frustration with bureaucracy results in a widespread demand to “make government more responsive” by giving more discretionary authority to administrators and to their political superiors. This, in turn, results in a government which is not only a looting society but a tyranny. Yet at the same time, there will still be enough baroque proceduralization (selectively enforced) to ensure high levels of inefficiency and very high government administrative costs.
Posted in Civil Society, Management, Political Philosophy, USA | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 7th June 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from the rampant rioting that took place in late May.
Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars.
Link with picture
I’m reminded of an old SF story, “Dumb Waiter,” written by Walter Miller, who is best known for his novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. This story, which dates from 1952, lacks the philosophical depth of Canticle, but seems quite relevant to the events in Sweden.
In the story, cities have become fully automated—municipal services are provided by robots linked to a central computer system. But when war erupted–featuring radiological attacks–some of the population was killed, and the others evacuated the cities. In the city that is the focus of the story, there are no people left, but “Central” and its subunits are working fine, doing what they were programmed to do many years earlier.
The radiation levels have died down now, and the city is now habitable, from a radiological standpoint–but the behavior of the automated systems, although designed with benign intent, now makes entry to the city very dangerous.
Mitch, the protagonist, resolves to go into the city, somehow get control of Central, and reprogram it so that it will be an asset rather than a hazard for future human occupants of the city. The first thing he sees is a robot cop, giving a ticket to a robot car with no human occupants. Shortly thereafter, he himself is stopped for jaywalking by another robot cop, and given a summons to appear in traffic court. He also observes a municipal robot mailing out batches of delinquent utility-bill notices to customers who no longer exist.
Eventually Mitch establishes contact with Central and warns it that a group of men are planning to blow it up in order to have unhindered access to the city for looting…that the war is over, and Central needs to revise its behavior to compensate for the changed situation. The response is that he himself is taken away for interrogation. He hears a woman crying in an adjacent cell—she has been arrested by a robot cop for some reason or other, and her baby was separated from her and is being held in the city nursery.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Big Government, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Management, Political Philosophy, Tech | 20 Comments »