Thursday, September 30, 2010

The brain on steroids

From Scientific American:
Yet there are millions of cases of steroid use that occur daily with barely a second thought:  Millions of women take birth control pills, blithely unaware that their effects may be subtly seeping into and modulating brain structure and activity.
The possibility that an accepted form of chemical contraception has the ability to alter the gross structure of the human brain is a cause for concern, even if the changes seem benign -- for the moment. 
It is ironic that so many people are so concerned with minute traces of man-made chemicals in the environment but think nothing of dousing themselves with huge dozes of man-made chemicals that are prescribed by their doctors.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


From the Christian Science Monitor:

The cyber worm, called Stuxnet, has been the object of intense study since its detection in June. As more has become known about it, alarm about its capabilities and purpose have grown. Some top cyber security experts now say Stuxnet's arrival heralds something blindingly new: a cyber weapon created to cross from the digital realm to the physical world – to destroy something.
The appearance of Stuxnet created a ripple of amazement among computer security experts. Too large, too encrypted, too complex to be immediately understood, it employed amazing new tricks, like taking control of a computer system without the user taking any action or clicking any button other than inserting an infected memory stick. Experts say it took a massive expenditure of time, money, and software engineering talent to identify and exploit such vulnerabilities in industrial control software systems.
Stuxnet's ability to autonomously and without human assistance discriminate among industrial computer systems is telling. It means, says Langner, that it is looking for one specific place and time to attack one specific factory or power plant in the entire world.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Experience is a cruel but effective teacher

James Taranto argues something good will come from the Obama presidency:
This is not to deny that the Obama presidency has been ruinous. But sometimes the costliest mistakes are those from which we learn the most.

(I wonder if the same will be true of the recent revival of fiscal policy. Fiscal policy seemed to have died in the 1970s but was revived by George W. Bush. Paul Samuelson was quite delighted to see it come back in his last days, but he departed before he would see it fail. If fiscal policy goes dormant again, it will only be for a generation and then it will be revived. Its appeal to politicians as a justification for things they want to do for other reasons is just too great to put it in the grave.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whom to blame

From Jennifer Rubin: "When things go wrong for the left, it blames the people; when things go wrong for the right, it blames the governing elites."

Friday, September 17, 2010

How many people did Mao kill?

From the Indpendent:

Mr Dik├Âtter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.

His book, Mao's Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, reveals that while this is a part of history that has been "quite forgotten" in the official memory of the People's Republic of China, there was a "staggering degree of violence" that was, remarkably, carefully catalogued in Public Security Bureau reports, which featured among the provincial archives he studied. In them, he found that the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as "digits", or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.
People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death. 
45 million is only the Great Leap Forward. How many others were killed in his consolidation of power and in the Cultural Revolution?

(Found via Legal Insurrection.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

SUVs, green jobs, and thugs

From news about Jesse Jackson:
Following the embarrassing news that Mayor Dave Bing’s GMC Yukon was hijacked by criminals this week, Detroit’s Channel 7 reports that the Reverend’s Caddy Escalade SUV was stolen and stripped of its wheels while he was in town last weekend with the UAW’s militant President Bob King leading the “Jobs, Justice, and Peace” march promoting government-funded green jobs.
Read that again: Jackson’s Caddy SUV was stripped while he was in town promoting green jobs.
Real jobs produced big, profitable SUVs like the one Jesse prefers to ride in. His SUV has been stripped by thugs – a fitting metaphor for what Jesse and his pals have done to the auto industry for the last 35 years.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Catholic writers and economics

In an article at Inside Catholic, Jeffrey Tucker tries to explain why Catholics do not understand economics. He begins with this assertion:
Today, most of what is written about economics in Catholic circles is painful to read. The failing extends left and right, as likely to appear in "progressive" or "traditionalist" publications. In book publishing, the problem is so pervasive that it is difficult to review the newest batch.
His hypothesis is that in religious thought many things are not scarce goods but rather either free or public good and thus religious writers are not used to dealing with economics questions that arrive from scarcity:
These are goods like salvation, the intercession of saints, prayers of an infinitely replicable nature, texts, images, and songs that constitute non-scarce goods, the nature of which requires no rationing, allocation, and choices regarding their distribution.
I accept his premise that a lot of Catholic writing shows no understanding of economics, and many of the comments left on his post re-enforce his premise--they are painful to read if you understand economics. I think there is an element of truth in his theory, but I also think there are at least two other factors that help explain the awfulness of Catholic economic understanding.

First, a lot of people who deal with religious matters are used to thinking in normative terms. I knew a person who thought of himself as a Catholic thinker and I do not know if he was able to think in any other way. For him, everything was normative and he simply could not think in positive terms. It meant that most conversations with him went nowhere.

Second, intention is key in discussing whether a person is acting morally or not. This is not true in determining what is naturally right or wrong, the natural law view of things, but it is in terms of judging specific actions. If a person does something that is naturally wrong but does not intend to do something wrong, or thinks that the action is in fact a right action. that person is not guilty of sin. If I hate my neighbor and do something that I intend to harm him but it in fact helps him, it is my intention that matters not the result when looking at whether I have been sinful or not. Alternatively, if I intend to help my neighbor but my actions in fact harm him, my actions are not sinful. In contrast, economics pays no attention to intention. Economics assumes that people act in a self-interested way, but self interest can be anything from selfish greed to certain forms of altruism. When economists see a result they do not like, they do not try to change people's intentions, but rather they try to change incentives. People in the religious world are prone to convert people, in other words, to try to change intentions and motivations,

Finally, my guess is that few Catholic writers have ever taken an economics course. (Maybe that is a third factor.)

Fun quotations

Mattheew Sheffield in the Washington Examiner:
The reason for this rhetorical disparity is that conservatives and libertarians seem to have a much better grounding in the idea that they have a political ideology. Liberals lack this sense, believing their ideology to be literally incommensurable to other ideologies. To oppose liberalism is thus not only intellectually incorrect, it is also an affront to common decency.
In other words, he says that liberals suffer from what has been called epistemic closure.

David Greenfield in his blog Sutan Knish has an entertaining rant on the ideological bias of the mainstream media:
By putting politics over profitability, the media left alienated viewers and readers exactly during the critical transition period when it needed them most. And the worse its fortunes grow, the more radical its politics have become.
When it came to a showdown between the principles of journalism and the principles of liberalism-- journalism never stood a chance. And all that was left was shrill political advocacy, propaganda if you will. Numerous stories praising their politicians and their cultural figures. Numerous other stories damning opposition politicians and elements of culture that displeased them. And the costs to the nation were high. The same media that did everything possible to destroy McCain and Palin, also portrayed Obama as a visionary leader, even though he had barely nailed down 100 days in the Senate before running for President.