Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greek Crisis Update

I go on vacation for a couple weeks and things change quickly in Greece.

Greek bond rates shoot past 10% almost to 11%.  CMA datavision now shows a probability of default of 68% (highest in the world), up from 34% a month and a half ago.

Interesting note - California and Illinois probabilities of default have shot up considerably recently as well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Greek Crisis Over? No

For links and explanations on the current economic scene, go here.

A few weeks back, Greek bond rates soared and the EU rushed in with a bailout.  Crisis averted, story over, right? Not exactly.

Before rates started to skyrocket they were on a steady upward march.  After the panic, however, government bond rates returned to that upward trend.  This crisis can not be considered over until Greek government bond rates stop going up.  They are now north of 8% and are on trend to cross 10% by the end of the year. 

Furthermore, I captured CMA Datavision's estimate of the cumulative probability of default back on May 12th.  At the time it was 33.92%.  That number has now risen to 45.31% a month later.

I see no sign yet that Greece is going to recover without a default or leaving the Euro and printing money.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Propaganda Revisited

In this column, I want to establish that the mature Christian mind is best protected against propaganda.

Last year, as I watched in disgust as so many Americans were mesmerized by Obama's frighteningly dark drivel, I read Jacques Ellul's 'Propaganda'.  Much rang true, but I didn't have much background to question his evidence.

As I've mulled over how people choose to believe what they believe, I was reminded of some passages in his book.  He describes modern man as such:

Above all he is a victim of emptiness-he is a man devoid of meaning.  He is very busy, but he is emotionally empty, open to all entreaties and in search of only one thing - something to fill his inner void.

The main point to my four part series on rationality was that people choose to believe the most emotionally satisfying answers.  Furthermore, I believe that our ability to ascertain the true nature of reality is when we have little emotional stake in the answer.  If we emotionally need an answer to be true we will rationalize and even lie to ourselves to satisfy those emotional needs.  In general, if we are emotionally needy people, our ability to adhere to reality is diminished.

What I propose, and it will be left unproved until later posts, is that Christianity provides the ultimate path to emotional satisfaction because it prescribes optimal human behavior.  This optimal human behavior is what I call morality.  Reality, as described by Christianity, I will call the Truth.

If one rejects the Truth, one must be accepting a disreality, a non-truth, or more simply, a set of lies.  By pursuing a path that is suboptimal, one will inevitably suffer.  The pain we suffer because we have chosen to believe a disreality while living in reality wounds us emotionally.  The inevitability of pursuing a disreality is emotional emptiness.  This emptiness, as Ellul points out, leads one to believe more lies and more propaganda.

Empty people will fall prey to propaganda.  Inevitably they will be ruled by the propagandizers.  The emptier they are, the more brutal the rule over them will be.  They will be imprisoned by the lies they have told themselves to assuage their emptiness.  It truly is a hell of their own making. 

Only the emotionally satisfied mind can see reality as it is.  And, as I propose, only the Christian mind can be fully emotionally satisfied.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part IV

Rationality was born as a tool to satiate our wants and desires.  Ideas, as units of rationality, are tools within the whole.  Ideas are like any object.  We grab ahold of those ideas that satisfy our wants and needs, and discard those that do not.  When we choose to believe something, it is because it satisfies an emotional need.

I explicitly reject the notion that we can limit our beliefs to rationality.  Rationality is why we choose to believe some things, but it is not how we have come to believe most things.  We only stick to rationality when the subject major has no emotional incumbrances.  In some areas of human though, rationality can reign, such as physics, but in economics, psychology, and sociology, emotions prevent us from more objective analysis.

The final implication is religious.  I recently had an interaction with a very smart atheist friend of mine who told me that he thought that a belief in the after life was ridiculous.  I got him to concede that the evidence provides no light on its existence.  He asked why then I did believe, to which I replied, "Given the lack of evidence, it's the most emotionally satisfying answer."  He was unsatisfied with this reponse, still wedded to rationalism.  We left the discussion at that point.

I returned a few days later to continue the discussion after concluding the ideas in this series I blogged.  He followed my reasoning that all beliefs are emotionally born, and that rationalism is merely a particular method of choosing beliefs.  He conceded my point and admitted that my choice was justifiable.  The discussion was obviously much longer, but this was the final outcome.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part III

Where does rational thought come from?  Somewhere between ape and man, child and adult, our thinking went from wholly irrational to mostly rationality.  We don't see any other animals exhibit the same ability to grasp the world around them like humans.  Perhaps glimpses, but nothing quite to our scale.

Rational thought had to have been developed.  If anything like language, this was not a biological event, but a cultural one.  Having had two children, I am a first hand witness to the slow growth out of instinctual infancy to the budding rationality of childhood.  Rationality has to be learned.

Rationality is a tool to understand the outside world, which ultimately leads to our desire to satisfy our wants.  Our emotions create these desires, and it is our rationality that allows us to satiate those desires.  That is to say, our emotions tell us that we want the apple, but our rationality tells us how to get it.  At the core, our emotions are driving everything we do.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Series on Rational Thought - Part II

Having concluded that language is the expression and communication of emotion, the total sphere of communication needs to be added to complete this discussion. Verbal (oral and written) communication is only one of the ways that we communicate our emotions. The two other major forms are through music and aesthetics.

Certain music conjures up very similar emotional experiences in us. An ominous song comes across as such to most listeners. Whether there is some objective trait or subjectively created cultural understanding in music that makes it sound dark and ominous we seem to understand the intent for the most part. We match happy lyrics with happy tunes, and angry lyrics to angry tunes. Music is an additional layer of emotional communication. In Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, the feelings of longing are significantly heightened by the melody of the music. We like those sounds that resonate with our own feelings and emotions. We like love songs, we like soaring anthems, but we can’t stand a tune that doesn’t match our emotional experiences (She thinks my tractor’s sexy, ugh).

The same goes for aesthetics. An American flag conjures up much more emotion in the patriotic individual than another piece of colored cloth. The image means something more. It is a communication of ideas, and it conjures a whole litany of emotions and memories. A swastika can cause repulsion. A rose can fill us with romance. We have learned that certain images mean more than the photons hitting our retina.

Neither language, music, or aesthetics is rational. It’s all emotional.

A Series on Rational Thought - Part I

In this series I want to display how rational thought is a mirage. How we actually make decisions in mostly rational ways, but not truly. What we believe is decided by those ideas that most fit our emotional needs.

First, let me explore language itself. A baby’s first words usually correlate to its most pressing needs. “Mama”, “Dada” or “my”. It learns to communicate its emotion by use of these first simple words. If it experiences desire for an object, the child says, “my.” If it experiences desire for physical comfort, the child says, “mama.” A child first learns to express themselves, and slowly learns words to describe the emotions they are experiencing.

Later on, the child begins to cross another threshold of language. Children have to learn that other people have emotions and respect those emotions. A child wants a toy and asks, “Can I play with your toy?” In this, the child expresses their own emotion, but they are also communicating to the other child that they realize that the other child may have an emotional attachment to that object (toy) as well. Realizing that the asking child recognizes that the owning child does in deed “own” the object and that the object will be returned allows the owning child to share with more comfort and addresses its emotional connection to the toy.

Of course, children will also learn less admirable uses of language. They will learn how to say things to manipulate and to emotionally injure those around them to achieve their own ends. They recognize the emotional needs of others and exploit that knowledge.

In total, all language is the expression and communication of emotion.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why I Don't Believe in the Recovery

I was quite surprised last month by the announcement that 290K jobs had been added over the last month.  The number is a little sketchy given that 66K were temporary census hires, but 224K is still a very solid number.  The problem I have with this number is two fold.

1) The ADP employment number usually tracks well with the BLS report.  Scott Grannis has a nice chart:

Strangely, though, the gap last month between the BLS and the ADP grew wider than anything visible in this chart (last month is not shown).  ADP showed 32K jobs, and the BLS showed 290K.  That's a 260K gap.
2) The weekly initial jobless claims numbers just aren't revealing much growth.  During the last few years before this recession, weekly initial jobless claims ran in the 300-340K range.  Now, we are hovering in the 460K range.  We need a 140K average drop to be at a "normal" rate of layoffs.  Chart from Bloomberg below.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama's Poll Numbers Tanking Again

When the poll analysts for the Democrats claimed that passing the Health Care expansion would help them in November I thought they were crazy. Well, I was wrong, and they were mostly wrong. Right after the Health bill passed, support amongst Democrats increased. Support amongst Republicans went nowhere. However, that boost that Obama received for a few weeks seems to have evaporated in recent days. The Rasmussen Presidential Index shows a rapidly widening gap between strongly disapprove and strongly approve. My guess for the drop off in strong support is due in part to both the BP oil fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico and the turbelent economic conditions of the last couple weeks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Funny Math with Unemployment

Weekly initial jobless claims came out this morning.  According to the title of Foxnews article: on May 13th:

Weekly Jobless Claims Drop 4,000 to 444,000

Interestingly enough, I found another Foxnews article issued on May 6th detailing last week's initial jobless claims with this title:

New Weekly Jobless Claims drop 7,000 to 444,000

This is not a misprint.  Foxnews has the numbers right as reported by the government.
Given this math, I want to make a bold prediction.  Jobless claims will continue to drop throughout the year, and could reach as low as 444,000 by Christmas.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

California is a Worse Credit Risk than Iraq

According to CMA Datavision today:

California's Cumulative Probability of Default now surpasses Iraq's.  You know, that country with questionable elections and frequent mass fatality bombings.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Following the Greek Crisis

Here are a few links to help you follow the Greek Crisis:

To see what the market thinks of Greece's ability to pay back it's loans, you can use the change in interest rates on Greek governments bonds.  If you look at the chart, it's bad news.  All from Bloomberg:

Two-year bonds
Five-year bonds
Ten-year bonds

To check on "contagion", the only free site that I have found that follows government bonds worldwide is CMA Datavision.  At this link there are three lists.  The 1st list is comprised of countries with the highest probability of default.  The 2nd group is comprised of countries whose CDS spread (a measure of the probability of default and bankruptcy) are shrinking.  This is good for those countries.  The 3rd group is comporised of countries whose CDS spreads are increasing.  This is bad.  Unfortunately, it doesn't give history or list every country every time it is updated (I think twice a day).

CMA Datavision, Sovereign Debt Credit Spreads

Bloomberg lists the rates for a few major countries around the world, but it leaves much to be desired.  That link is here:

Gilts, Bunds, and other Government Bond rates

To see the effects in the United States, you can check out a few links as well.  The market price of risk is the VIX.  Traditionally, the VIX runs about 15-20 in a calm market.  On Friday, May 7th, the VIX hit 40, which is not good.  It hit 80 back in the 2008 panic.  It will soar during a market panic, and is a good indicator as to the nervousness of professional traders.


To see if American banks might be in trouble you can check out the TED spread.  This is a measure of the credit risk seen within American banks.  If banks are going to melt down this measure will spike.  It was running in the teens and has now jumped to 30 bps.  During the last market panic this number his 300, I think, so don't sweat this little jump too much just yet.

TED Spread

For the economy as a whole, I love Consumer Metrics Institute.  They measure internet purchases, which seem to have an uncanny ability to predict future GDP reports.  Right now, their data suggests a double dip recession.  The 2Q GDP report (out August ~25th) may show negative growth.

Consumer Metrics Institute

That's all for now.  If anyone has any good links or a request for a link, let me know.  I have a few more, but I suspect that none of you would want to get that deep into the data.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm Psychic

Back in March of 2009 I said:

U.S. Govt Crowding Out International Borrowing

A while back I brought up the idea that the U.S. government was borrowing so much money that some other governments might begin to have trouble borrowing for their own purposes. The world has a finite amount of cheap capital, and with the amount of money that our government and several others are...borrowing to prop up financial firms and wager on Keynesian stimulus that the supply of those funds might dry up.
Now, the credit spreads for numerous European countries are widening.  The world is running out of money.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Best Column Yet Written on Obama

Victor Davis Hanson of Pajamas Media nails it.  Titled the Postmodern Presidency

It's brilliant.  No snippets.  Every paragraph is worth the time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is the U.S. Slowly Going Bankrupt?

At bloomberg today:

The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.

Two-year notes sold by the billionaire’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in February yield 3.5 basis points less than Treasuries of similar maturity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Procter & Gamble Co., Johnson & Johnson and Lowe’s Cos. debt also traded at lower yields in recent weeks, a situation former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. chief fixed-income strategist Jack Malvey calls an “exceedingly rare” event in the history of the bond market.

If you know anything about financial mathematics, this really screw things up.  Many calculations are based on the underlying premise that the risk free rate is the U.S. Treasury rate.  By definition corporate bond rates are higher than Treasuries.

What is actually happening is that people no longer believe that the default risk for U.S. bonds is zero.  We are seen by the market increasingly as a credit risk.

If/when the "Obamacare" Health Bill becomes law, tack on another $500B in deficits over the next ten years.  The Medicare cuts alleged in the bill are politically unfeasible and will never happen.  One more heap of straw on the camel's back.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Status and Esteem, Old Enemies

In this post, I mentioned the link between status and depression.  That is, low status leads to depression.  After observing my own feelings, watching films, and watching other people, this link seems very strong and very common.  I had a brief e-mail exchange with Alvin Plantinga, a noted Christian philosopher at Notre Dame.  After his responses I fleshed out some of my thinking on this subject. 

There is a dichotomy to status in regards to relationships.  One side is power and the other I call esteem.  A perfect power relationship would be sociopathic, having no value in the person, only in what the person can do for them.  A perfect esteem relationship, would be one of perfect love, where the object is valued without regard to the power the relationship affords.  Neither exists for man in a pure form, only in tendencies.

"Real Friends" as they are referred to are those of esteem.  A friend, who is still your friend when you've lost your ability to provide status and power to those around you.  You lose your fortune, the power relationships end, the esteem relationships remain.  You lose your public image, the power relationships end, the esteem relationships remain.

The world of power relationships is unstable.  The vicissitudes of style, hipness, and good fortune, put us at the whim of forces outside of our control.  There can only be one "it-girl".  There can only be one alpha male.  There's only one Megan Fox, and only one Robert Pattison.  That is, until next week.  It is a zero sum game, where every win presupposes that someone else loses.

The world of esteem relationships is unbounded.  Choosing to trust, to value, appreciate, to love, is a game of mutual advantage.  Every win presupposes that someone else wins.  Our esteem, our status, is a function of our ability to create and maintain genuine relationships.

In that old post, I asked this question:

Are Christians susceptible to depression by avoiding status symbols, personal glory and power? Or is there some other route that supplants these losses with something more?

Choosing to eschew power and embrace esteem is the pathway for the Christian away from depression.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why We Fear Obama and the Left

From Stan Isaacs at the Philadelphia Inquirer today, speaking on Obama:

He should forget bipartisanship and work with congressional Democrats to name three new justices to the court to meet the challenges he faces.

The whole piece is dedicated to justifying Obama naming three new Supreme Court justices, to lift the total to 12.  Does this man not smell the brimstone on his own breath?  Isaacs even thinks that FDR got a raw deal when public opinion turned against him while trying to pack the court in the 1930's.  This is Hugo Chavez style thinking.  Checks and balances be damned, we need to pass our agenda.

Why are we afraid of Obama and the Left?  Is he a socialist, maybe not.  Is he a communist, maybe not.  The problem with the Left, though, is that they have no logical barriers between themselves and totalitarianism.  Hayek's  Road to Serfdom is the logical flow of their beliefs.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

If God Does Not Exist, We Would Need to Invent Him

This morning I had a good conversation with a friend who reads my blog.  He helped me come to this conclusion:

If all reason is a tool for power, and therefore we should be skeptical of all reasoning because its origin can be corrupt and self-serving, then no human philosophy can produce objective truth.  However, if a mind, unaffected by the evolutionary process (or any other process leading to status seeking), produced objective truth claims, those claims could be believed.

Who fits this definition?  Only a supernatural being.

Could this supernatural being, be one of many gods?  Well, if it was, then we might be suspect of its motivations.  Greek mythology tells us of the constant warring in the heavens.  However, if there is one all-powerful, all-knowing God, status could never come into play because there can be no competition.  This God is the only one that can produce objective truth that can be believed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Towards Liberty

Over the last year I’ve become more and more persuaded by the likes of Nietzsche, Foucault, and the Post-Modernists that there is no ultimate truth. All presuppositions are fallible and subject to doubt. This affected my zeal for politics, and left me without a strong anchor for my political inclinations. My time adrift, though, is over.

No free society can be achieved because those who desire power will slowly undermine the logical presuppositions that liberty rests upon. Of course, tyranny too must rest on logical presuppositions. It is a battle of ideas and presuppositions between those who want power and those who want liberty. It is a battle that will never end, and I suspect will always ebb and flow.

In this battle, both sides are using the flawed techniques of social science and utilitarianism. Both suffer inescapably from the impossibility of calculation, and the perversion of status seeking agendas. Without spending countless hours of study and analysis, how can we resist the “science” of tyranny and thwart it with the “science” of liberty?

We don’t have to.

Then how can we help our fellow man avoid propaganda and the manipulation of self-serving reason? Without looking at the reasoning, we can merely look at the conclusions. Do the conclusions of their arguments gather more power into the hands of a small set of individuals? If so, then their argument is likely false and motivated by the “will to power”.

Recall, though, how I explained how an academic can be corrupted by secondhand status. That is, those with power reward the academic because his arguments give them power. The academic can maintain the pretense of disinterested research because he appears not to directly benefit from his conclusions. His mind has been bent to reinforce the status he has achieved. He will doggedly defend his “science”.

Am I immune to the desire for status? Not at all. I am, however, humble enough to realize that I will not be one of the select few who get to rule. My best alternative is to undermine the power lust of others. To avoid tyranny, I must pursue liberty, and not just for myself, but for everyone. The accumulation of power anywhere is a threat to me.

We must be skeptics. Our liberty depends on it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pragmatism is the Vessel of Propaganda, Thankfully Obama is an Idealogue

Jonah Goldberg writes a nice column mocking Obama's pragmatic above-the-fray arrogance.  He also elucidates the virtues of ideology.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1909 that if everyone becomes a pragmatist, then "ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth." Russell's point was that there's nothing within pragmatism to delineate the proper and just limits of pragmatism. We must look outside pragmatism for that.

Our values, customs, traditions and principles provide the insulation against the corrosive acid of undiluted pragmatism. When you bundle these things together, it's often called an ideology, and there's no reason to apologize for having one.

Also recall from an old post of mine on propaganda:

...the educated, and especially the intellectual, are most susceptible to propaganda. Once you realize that people with little education tend to just follow what their parents and community tell them, you realize that only the educated are truly open to new ideas, many of which are poorly supported.

A President must be a jack-of-all-trades.  His biases will lead him to listen to "experts" with those biases.  A pragmatic mind is one that is most easily shaped by the limited voices he hears, and thus is the most susceptable to propaganda.  However, this President appears to be unwavering in his ideas, agenda set in stone, unshaped by public opinion.  Ironically, as Goldberg points out, the President's claims of pragmatism are just the self-delusioned arrogance of a blatant ideologue.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Debra Medina Rising

A few weeks ago, Debra Medina, my choice for Texas Governor was at 4% of the Republican primary vote.  Then, it was 12%, and now it's 16% according to RasmussenReports.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Do We Need Meaning?

A few days ago I was listening to a podcast of a theological debate between a Calvinist and a Christian of a different persuasion which I did not catch.  In the end it was pointless so I won't harm the world by linking to it.  However, there was an interesting exchange that got me thinking about the human desire for meaning.

The two men used a theoretical event where a fictional man rapes and murders a small girl.  Both of them were explaining their view of God's nature by suggesting how God might have allowed this to happen for the greater good of the world.

Why?  Why do we suppose that God is some sort of utilitarian?  Why do we presuppose some sort of cosmic justice or karma surrounds every negative that befalls us?  As if good and evil were like double entry accounting where everything zeroes out in the end.

When I say, "we", I need to exclude myself.  For whatever reason it is a phenomenon that I do not identify with at all.  This is not to brag, but I do not ever recall having gotten angry at God.  Never have I struggled with the lack of meaning in events.  I don't know if I'm missing a gene or if I simply never began to believe that God needed to justify the world that he created and we altered.

Even the greatly reveered Christian author C.S. Lewis struggles through anger and doubt towards God upon the death of his wife.  I've been reading his "A Grief Observed".

This is not a criticism of anyone.  Where did this idea come from?  Why do we believe this?


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Raw Political Power

Several days ago I endorsed Debra Medina for Governor of Texas.  I also exercised my enormous political clout and shot an e-mail over to Robert Wenzel, blogger of EconomicPolicyJournal extolling her virtues.  He gets about a thousand times as many hits as I do every day, and he told me he would keep an eye on her campaign.  Lo and behold, he links to an article on her today extolling her virtues.

Now that I'm drunk on power, I'll have to start ordering you little people around.  Someone get me some coffee!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alien in the Gaps Fallacy

Those in the intelligent design camp propose there are proofs that God exists in nature. An example being the irreducible complexity in the anatomy of the eye or bacterial flagella. The common retort to these claims is to cite the God of the Gaps fallacy.
The God of the Gaps fallacy can be defined as - a tendency to postulate acts of God to explain phenomena for which science has yet to give a satisfactory account.

This intelligent design line of thinking is, of course, a rather weak position. As soon as a scientific explanation is able to find an answer, the argument dies an embarrassing death. If one’s faith is built on one of these, it could be shattered in an instant. I’m not a microbiologist, so there may yet be a reason to be confident, but from a spectator’s viewpoint it seems rather tenuous.

The age old claim against God is the lack of evidence. Most people have some sort of mystical experiences, but these aren’t reproducible as required by science.

What shocked me, though, was the end of Ben Stein’s Expelled. When questioned by Mr. Stein, noted atheist scholar, Richard Dawkins, said that he thought it was possible that life had been brought to earth from another planet. This is the same person who believes that a belief in God is completely irrational.

I am agnostic on the subject of aliens, but his line of thinking seems a bit preposterous. We have been to the moon, we have been to Mars. We thought we found life on Mars, but we didn’t. We photographed the planets and their moons, and no visible life has been found. We have sundry instruments listening for rays and waves coming from outer space in hopes that there might be life on other planets. Yet, nothing. Absolutely nothing. The universe is deafeningly silent.

There is no evidence, yet many intelligent people assert that there is a probability. Surely, in all the universe, with billions of stars and planets, life exists somewhere else. Yet we haven’t seen a thing.

Even with this utter lack of evidence, Dawkins believes that it is a possibility that a race of super intelligent aliens, that we have never seen, nor have any evidence, went flying through the universe 5 billion years ago and dropped off some bacteria that evolved into us. Really? This is rational, but a supernatural being is not? We have barely scraped the universe which is why we haven’t found alien life, but by the same limited measure we can with certainty exclude a God. Really?

I dub this the Alien in the Gaps fallacy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Debra Medina for Governor of Texas

I have been a fan of my Texas Governor Rick Perry for a long time.  I have voted for him every time, and do not regret any of those votes.  In this coming primary election, I was planning to vote for him again, because Kay Bailey Hutchison has never impressed me beyond having a likeable personality.

However, I looked up Debra Medina, a lesser known candidate, last night after seeing a Rasmussen poll giving her 12%.  I looked at the Issues tab on her website and swooned.  She quotes Frederick Bastiat!  Beyond the self apparent awesomeness of that, it means she reads real books.

In her bio I find that she was a leader in the Ron Paul for President campaign in Texas, and she was also one of those early home school rebels.  That means she's got chutzpah (that means "cajones" to you English speakers).

I'm down with Debra Medina.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night

"I got a feelin'.  That tonight's gonna be a big big night." -- Black Eyed Peas

I predicted on my facebook page Sunday that Scott Brown would win against Martha Coakley by 7 points in the Senate Race in Massachusetts.  With more polling data coming out on Monday showing Brown up by 9 or 10 points, I am pretty confident that Brown's margin of victory will be large.

As many of you are well aware this could mean the death of Obamacare.  Brown has pledged that he will join a Republican filibuster against that bill when it comes out of the reconciliation committee.

However, libertarian economist Bob Murphy had this to say in the comments at EPJ.

I don't mean to be a party pooper, but I would caution everyone about getting real excited for Republicans to step up to the plate and defend our liberties.  I still cringe when I remember staying up late election night 2000 because I was so so worried that that "socialist Al Gore" would wreck the US economy...

I respectfully disagree, but not because I have faith in Republican leaders.  The incentives for Congressmen to spend money and expand government are still there, so they won't change that much.  However, what can change is the ideological mix of the country.

History is written in simple narratives, and this election tonight will be part of that narrative.  President Obama is a symbol.  He is big government writ large.  He is Keynesianism writ large.  He is elitist arrogance.  We don't need him to be defeated and humiliated as a person, but we need it as a symbol.  We need this brand of soft-socialism to become a punchline; a mythology of errors so engrained in our collective consciousness that economic intervention will be conflated with disaster.

The White House has already decided what their strategy will be after defeat.  According to Politico:

President Barack Obama plans a combative response if, as White House aides fear, Democrats lose Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, close advisers say.

He's doubling down.  Like Pharoah after the plagues he plans to be even more provocative.

Did the Hebrews in Egypt recognize the importance of symbolism and historical narratives?

Exodus 9:13 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Not to put word's in God's mouth or assume he has an opinion on this election, but if we value freedom for ourselves and for our fellow Americans, we should be giddy about a likely victory tonight.  Never in my lifetime has an opportunity for big government to be so thoroughly disgraced as it is right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mystical Mind

We all have a certain lack of self-knowledge. We experience ephemeral emotions and events that we can not repeat, can not define, and can not fully grasp. There is a hole in our minds, and we all know it. We can’t put a label on it, but it’s there. Something is missing. Something is supposed to be there.

I recently listened to a podcast entitled “What Can Science Tell Us About God”. My flippant response is “nothing”, but I don’t hold that against theism, it’s more a condemnation of science.

Apologetics315 describes the podcast as:

Lewis Wolpert (Emeritus Professor of Biology, University College London) says there is no evidence for God whatsoever and religion finds its origin in tool-making. Russell Cowburn (professor of nano-technology, Imperial College London) is a scientist defending the Christian position.

Prof. Wolpert, the atheist, makes a comment at the 13:14 mark:

I want to tell you, you all, myself included, have a mystical aspect to our minds. We all have it. All people have it.

I’ve taken this a bit out of context so don’t think that he is admitted anything supernatural (he is actually arguing the opposite; that evolution created this aspect).

This got me thinking about the human experience. The lives we live inside of our minds and body are not well defined. Slowly, over the course of our lives we come to understand how the soup of chemicals effect us. What is joy? What is angst? We struggle at times to wrap our logic around the incoherence of our emotions.

My grandma died a few months ago and it was really the first time I had ever experienced loss. I was never terribly attached to our pets or to other family members who passed away. I empathized with others experiencing loss, but I had never felt it myself. I was surprised how vivid memories would sadden me abruptly weeks afterwards (even now as I write this I feel it again). Even with this recent experience I couldn’t think of anything to write in a condolence card today for someone I used to work with. It was his grandmother too, but I didn’t know what to say, and I hate being the 9th person to write, “Sorry for your loss.”

Science can tell me nothing about this. I can not sit and experiment with my emotions until I’ve codified every nuance. I can’t apply logic to feelings that have never occurred before. The gaps in my self-knowledge are immense. Why do I chew on pens? Why am I compulsive about some things and lax about others? What is the purpose of my life?

There is a great deal that I will never know, nor can ever know about myself. There is a great gulf in my mind. A great sea of the unknown.  Something is supposed to be there.

Where is this God, you ask? He's right there.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Status and Depression

Arnold Kling at EconLog posted this article recently written by two evolutionary psychologists.  Many years ago I was really excited by evolutionary psychology, but I've slowly soured on it.  Nonetheless, the article is really interesting.  A snippet:

depression is an adaptive response to losing rank and conceiving of oneself as a loser. The adaptive function of the depression, according to rank theory, is to facilitate losing and to promote accommodation to the fact that one has lost. In other words, the depressive state evolved to promote the acceptance of the subordinate role...


an internal inhibitory process comes into operation which causes the individual to cease competing and reduce his level of aspiration. This inhibitory process is involuntary and results in the loss of energy, depressed mood, sleep disturbance, poor appetite, retarded movements, and loss of confidence which are typical characteristics of depression.

This linkage between low status and depression got me thinking about some of the Christian ethos of humility.  Are Christians susceptible to depression by avoiding status symbols, personal glory and power?  Or is there some other route that supplants these losses with something more?  (The last sentence not just being a rhetoric statement, it really is a question in my mind.)  When I read Paul, he seems to be overflowing with passion, which clearly does not fit under "loss of energy...loss of confidence".  There is something he has tapped in to, but explicitly grasping and defining that is eluding me at the moment