North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Obama on the Mount

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It’s been a long time, but I simply can’t let this pass by me without a rejoinder:

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told a crowd at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, Sunday that he believes the Sermon on the Mount justifies his support for legal recognition of same-sex unions. He also told the crowd that his position in favor of legalized abortion does not make him “less Christian.””I don’t think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state,” said Obama. “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.” ((Hear audio from WTAP-TV)) St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans condemns homosexual acts as unnatural and sinful.

I sincerely hope our American friends will soundly reject Obama as a presidential candidate in favour of a far more mature and steady John McCain. There is much about Obama that makes me more than a little queasy.For starters, that ‘obscure’ quote from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is older than any of the gospels. I just happen to be reading Garry Wills’ book, What Paul Meant at the moment. Wills is a liberal Catholic. He might, for all I know, agree with Obama’s positions.This quote from the introduction shows that he would argue for such a position along very different lines. It also makes Obama look silly:

Many people would just as soon avoid Paul’s psychodrama and go “back” to the Gospels, which do not argue about understanding Jesus but just present him. Taking the shortcut was the obvious thing to do in the Middle Ages, when it was thought that the Gospels were written by the original followers of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses to what they set down. This lead to the view that there was a primitive church, true to Jesus’ simple teachings, which was later contaminated by Paul’s doubts and theories and wrangling (this is Jefferson’s thesis). But scholarly enquiry has destroyed the idea that the Gospels have a simple biographical basis. They are sophisticated theological constructs, none written by their putative authors, all drawing on second – or third – or fourth hand accounts – and all written from a quarter of a century to half a century after Paul’s letters. If we want to see what the original Jesus communities looked like, the first and best witness is Paul, the earliest writer of what would become the New Testament. In fact, his authentic letters [of which Romans is one – ed.] are the only parts of the of which we can say we know who wrote them. The Gospels, coming later, try to make sense of a history that already contained the conflicts that Paul reveals to us. Those who believe in a providential revelation through the New Testament must deal with the fact that Providence preserved the first batch of inspired writing with the signature of Paul. His letters were written roughly two decades after the death of Jesus. Other new Testament letters attributed to Paul or other authors (Peter, Paul, or John) are written two to five decades after his, and imitate the form of his.

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Written by Curt

March 4, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Harper’s capital mistake

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This is the dumbest thing the Tories have done since winning their current minority government.

It is simply wrong to rely on courts to achieve a high enough standard of justice to warrant the taking of a human life.

It is logically inconsistent to hold that our courts should not have the right to apply the death penalty, but others do. Canadians will rightly draw the conclusion that what’s coming next is a death penalty debate in Canada. I don’t think Canadians will want any part of this idea, and they will thrash a party that tries to foist it on them.  The recent Ontario election seems a likely model.

What’s more, this abrupt course change can be used by the opposition parties as ammunition against the Tories’ omnibus crime bill, a bill the Tories have been daring the opposition to bring down the government over. That’s been a good tactic, one that I don’t expect the opposition to take. With this action, however, that bill can now be cast in a new light. And it does not flatter the Tories.

If anything has been missing from this government, keeping it from being able to seek an election with some degree of confidence that it will gain seats – and possibly even a majority in the house – it has been a lack of statesmanship. It’s not that statesmanship has been entirely lacking, but magnanimity and generosity have not been on display in quantities large enough to sway a leery voter.

I can’t see the upside of this in any way. 

Written by Curt

November 2, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Justice in a vacuum

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Here are two articles I read today; I found both to really interesting. The first is a New Yorker article about an economist who thinks democracy leads to bad policy when it works properly. Why? People are uninformed and irrational. They choose based on prejudice rather than current theory. They tend to choose to tax and spend and regulate.

Fractured Franchise: Books: The New Yorker:

[Bryan] Caplan rejects the assumption that voters pay no attention to politics and have no real views. He thinks that voters do have views, and that they are, basically, prejudices. He calls these views “irrational,” because, once they are translated into policy, they make everyone worse off. People not only hold irrational views, he thinks; they like their irrational views. In the language of economics, they have “demand for irrationality” curves: they will give up y amount of wealth in order to consume x amount of irrationality. Since voting carries no cost, people are free to be as irrational as they like. They can ignore the consequences, just as the herdsman can ignore the consequences of putting one more cow on the public pasture. “Voting is not a slight variation on shopping,” as Caplan puts it. “Shoppers have incentives to be rational. Voters do not.”

Caplan suspects that voters cherish irrational views on many issues, but he discusses only views relevant to economic policy. The average person, he says, has four biases about economics—four main areas in which he or she differs from the economic expert. The typical noneconomist does not understand or appreciate the way markets work (and thus favors regulation and is suspicious of the profit motive), dislikes foreigners (and thus tends to be protectionist), equates prosperity with employment rather than with production (and thus overvalues the preservation of existing jobs), and usually thinks that economic conditions are getting worse (and thus favors government intervention in the economy). Economists know that these positions are irrational, because the average person actually benefits from market competition, which provides the best product at the lowest price; from free trade with other countries, which (for American consumers) usually lowers the cost of labor and thus the price of goods; and from technological change, which redistributes labor from less productive to more productive enterprises.

The economic biases of the non-economist form a secular world view that people cling to dogmatically, the way they once clung to their religious faith, Caplan thinks.

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Written by Curt

July 5, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Stop whining and communicate

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The American Left’s Silly Victim Complex:

This Adbuster’s critique of the American left today had lots to say that I find to be just as true of the left in Canada.

Pique quote:

The American left has turned into a skittish, hysterical old lady, one who defiantly insists on living in the past, is easily mesmerized by half-baked pseudo-intellectual nonsense, and quick to run from anything like real conflict or responsibility.

The sad truth is that if the FBI really is following anyone on the American left, it is engaging in a huge waste of time and personnel. No matter what it claims for a self-image, in reality it’s the saddest collection of cowering, ineffectual ninnies ever assembled under one banner on God’s green earth. And its ugly little secret is that it really doesn’t mind being in the position it’s in – politically irrelevant and permanently relegated to the sidelines, tucked into its cozy little cottage industry of polysyllabic, ivory tower criticism. When you get right down to it, the American left is basically just a noisy Upper West side cocktail party for the college-graduate class.

And we all know it. The question is, when will we finally admit it?

And now, the money quote:

A liberal wielding power is always going to seem a bit strange because a liberal always imagines himself in an intrepid fight against power, not holding it. I therefore prefer the word “progressive,” which describes in a neutral way a set of political values without having these class or aesthetic connotations. To me a progressive is not fighting Mom and Dad, Nixon, Bush or really any people at all, but things – political corruption, commercialism, pollution, etc. It doesn’t have that same Marxian us-versus-them connotation that liberalism still has, sometimes ridiculously. It’s about goals, not people.

Awww, shucks. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi started out so well too. The comments are downright hilarious, if you’ve got time to kill. I have sympathy for his criticism and also think he’s highlighted a real solution – stop thinking of yourself as the ragged outsider. It’s delusional. There’s no reason a group like this – tops in education and earnings – is on the outs unless it is because it simply cannot broaden its appeal by way of outreach. Charity starts at home, so listen up. I’m far less impressed with the name change, and really don’t think it adds anything at all. The real use of the term ‘progressive’ is for those in the liberal camp to use in talking with one another. Using it outside the camp gets you nothing but splintering and therefore, weakness.

I remain as Tory as I ever was, so my suggestions here are really intended to strengthen the process by way of seeking a better exchange between the parties involved.

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Written by Curt

June 14, 2007 at 4:33 pm

The Traveler’s Dilemma

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This quote is taken from a Scientific American story on game theory problem called The Traveler’s Dilemma:

Suppose you and I are two smart, ruthless players. What might go through our minds? I expect you to play a large number–say, one in the range from 90 to 99. Then I should not play 99, because whichever of those numbers you play, my choosing 98 would be as good or better for me. But if you are working from the same knowledge of ruthless human behavior as I am and following the same logic, you will also scratch 99 as a choice–and by the kind of reasoning that would have made Lucy and Pete choose 2, we quickly eliminate every number from 90 to 99. So it is not possible to make the set of “large numbers that ruthless people might logically choose a well-defined one, and we have entered the philosophically hard terrain of trying to apply reason to inherently ill-defined premises.

If I were to play this game, I would say to myself: “Forget game-theoretic logic. I will play a large number (perhaps 95), and I know my opponent will play something similar and both of us will ignore the rational argument that the next smaller number would be better than whatever number we choose. What is interesting is that this rejection of formal rationality and logic has a kind of meta-rationality attached to it. If both players follow this meta-rational course, both will do well. The idea of behavior generated by rationally rejecting rational behavior is a hard one to formalize. But in it lies the step that will have to be taken in the future to solve the paradoxes of rationality that plague game theory and are codified in Traveler’s Dilemma.

Of course that doesn’t make a lot of sense without reading the article, where the game is explained, so I’d do that.

Like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, on which it is modelled, this game gives a fascinating insight into how what we might call “rationalist minimalism” can lead us astray. What puzzled me was the assumption that my “best response” has to be one that leads me to a better result than my opponent. That drives the “Nash equilibrium” to $2, which can clearly be bettered if the two players don’t get too torn up over which one of them gets the largest amount. It’s a bit like a “one in the hand beats two in the bush” scenario. If we both see this, then going for the larger number is not so hard to see. It costs me nothing if my opponent gets a large sum too.

Also from the article:

The game and our intuitive prediction of its outcome also contradict economists’ ideas. Early economics was firmly tethered to the libertarian presumption that individuals should be left to their own devices because their selfish choices will result in the economy running efficiently. The rise of game-theoretic methods has already done much to cut economics free from this assumption. Yet those methods have long been based on the axiom that people will make selfish rational choices that game theory can predict. TD undermines both the libertarian idea that unrestrained selfishness is good for the economy and the game-theoretic tenet that people will be selfish and rational.

It also brings into question an atomist understanding of how societies work, with each of us being lone rangers making choices based on our own thinking through of any problem that comes our way. When do act on such ideas, problems arise. If the subject interests you, EF Schumacher and/or commentaries might interest you.

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Written by Curt

May 22, 2007 at 6:00 pm