Jeffrey Sachs: Socialism and Sanctimony

Jeffrey Sachs is a famous Columbia University Professor. In his book, The Price of Civilization, Sachs shows that he has a real grudge against the rich.  He doesn’t like „unaffordable tax cuts … tax cuts for the rich …tax cuts on higher incomes …tax cuts for the wealthy … tax cuts for the richest Americans … tax cuts at the top” or „immoral tax cuts.”   This is a bit strange since Sachs himself is surely rich.  He lives in a townhouse in Manhattan and sends his daughter to a private school that costs $41,000 a year.  Maybe he approves of rich professors but not rich capitalists.

Sachs is furious that „careful work” carried out by „scientific academies” is ignored and that „expertise is ignored.” Jeffrey Sachs is a professor and he wants the government to pay more attention to professors.  The wealthy universities and research organizations that employ professors don’t need tax cuts because they pay no tax.  Not only do they not pay taxes, they receive money from the government, by the billion.

Never say that Sachs lacks a sense of humor:

„One recalls the dark joke in the waning days of the Soviet collapse: ‘Comrades, we were at the edge of the cliff, and we’ve just taken a giant step forward!’  A few more tax cuts for the rich, and we’ll be in a position to say the same.”

Then there is this, apparently not intended as irony:

„Yes, the federal government is incompetent and corrupt but we need more, not less, of it.  … to address fundamental collective challenges such as infrastructure, clean energy, public education, health care, and poverty.”

Professor Sachs puts in a plug for moderation:

„Tens of millions of Americans are  … overeating, overborrowing, overgambling, excessive TV viewing, or indulging in yet other addictions.”

Professor Sachs rails against human weakness:

„Voters are easily enticed by promises of higher short-term income, seemingly without concern for the long-term consequences.”

Sachs does not approve of former president Reagan:

„The main effect of the Reagan Revolution, however, was not the specific policies but a new antipathy to the role of government, a new disdain for the poor who depended on government for income support, and a new invitation to the rich to shed their moral responsibilities to the rest of society.  Reagan helped plant the notion that society could benefit most not by insisting on the civic virtue of the wealthy, but by cutting their tax rates and thereby unleashing their entrepreneurial zeal.  Whether such entrepreneurial zeal was released is debatable, but there is little doubt that a lot of pent-up greed was released, greed that infected the political system and that still haunts America today.”

You wouldn’t think that Reagan launched one of the greatest periods of prosperity in American history.

It costs $64,000 a year to go to Columbia and the average full professor makes $212,000 a year.  Columbia also received $483 million in government research grants in 2009.  Perhaps Sachs is not so concerned about wealth as he is with which social class benefits from the wealth.  Otherwise he might be suggesting that Columbia should tighten its belt to help the poor.

Sachs does not seem to see a need for moral responsibility by the „poor.” It appears that in Sachs’ mind the poor are helpless victims of circumstance who could be easily made into productive citizens by the expansion of government programs.  Sachs constantly invokes an image of the American poor as a group desperately deprived and in need of help from the larger society.  According to the government, in 2005, 98% of the poor had a television, 78% had air conditioning and 81% had a microwaves.  In other words, the poor, as a substantial group in the U.S., is a fiction.  It is bizarre that Sachs preaches about the alleged tragic state of the poor in America, because Sachs is a leading exponent of programs to help the poor in Africa, and he often visits Africa.  In Africa there are plenty of genuinely poor people.  Poor people in Africa suffer from insufficient nutrition and AIDS.  American „poor” people suffer from obesity acquired by watching television while snacking on fried chicken purchased with food stamps.  Sachs’ father was a prominent labor lawyer who represented unions.  Perhaps Sachs was inoculated at his childhood dinner table with the Marxist idea that the world is made up of virtuous workers and evil bosses.

Sachs displays the typical prejudices of an upper class professor living in New York.  He doesn’t like television, junk food, or obesity.   According to a New York Times profile, his television stays off for months at a time.  Sachs’ privileged lifestyle is based on his position in an institutional framework.  Higher taxes on the wealthy and increased reliance on government and university experts will only enhance his relative privilege.  His prescription for economic policy will siphon money from the private sector to the privileged bureaucratic-academic sector – that is to say, to Sachs and his friends.

Sachs sees the Scandinavian countries as models that Americans should follow.  Sweden is a country where antisemitism is rampant and Jews take precautions to hide their identity when walking in the streets.  But, the wealthy are heavily taxed.

Sachs is a professional economist, so he doesn’t say stupid things about economics.  Even though he is an advocate for socialist type solutions to economic problems, he acknowledges that other legitimate economists favor free market solutions.  Ironically Sachs has proposed free market reforms for foreign countries.

But, Sachs starts sounding like a fool when he explores fields outside of his area of academic expertise.  His many remarks concerning climate change or global warming exhibit massive ignorance.  He favorably cites crackpot conspiracy theorists, Naomi Oreskes and Ross Gelbspan, as authorities on global warming.

Sachs buys into the conspiracy theory that there is a big money PR campaign, sponsored by the fossil fuel industry, to confuse Americans about the „overwhelming scientific consensus that human actions have already dangerously disrupted the climate…” The only big money PR campaign is the campaign promoting global warming alarmism.  The „scientific consensus” is strictly a propaganda talking point.  There is no scientific consensus, only a consensus to keep the money flowing by promoting global warming alarm.

The natural gas industry gave the Sierra Club $25 million in a self-serving attempt to attack its competitor, the coal industry, on the basis that coal emits more CO2 than natural gas.  The corporate billionaire and Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, gave the Sierra Club $50 million to attack the coal industry.  Important environmental organizations are virulent promoters of global warming alarmism.  Some examples are the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund.  Together these organizations have an annual budget in excess of a billion dollars per year.  By comparison, the foremost institutional intellectual opponent of global warming alarmism, the Heartland Institute, has a budget of about $6 million per year.

The big fossil fuel companies provide little or no support for global warming skepticism.   These large corporations are very much at the mercy of the government.  Their executives are corporate types with little appetite for confrontation or political activism.  On the other hand there is a vast establishment of profit making enterprises that have a big stake in global warming alarmism.  For example, the wind and solar power industry, the electric car industry, and the corn ethanol industry.  We mustn’t forget the academic global warming promotion industry.  These are industries that would not exist except for government quotas and subsidies.  The government subsidies are justified by the threat of global warming.  Yet, as Sachs notes, in spite of official government endorsement and a vast promotional campaign, the American public is very dubious concerning global warming alarmism.  Sachs attributes public skepticism to ignorance.  But, maybe the public is better informed than the professor.

Chevron is one of the largest oil companies. If you look at their website you will discover that they favor development of renewable energy.  According to Chevron: „There’s a growing public concern about climate change and our planet.  We share this concern.” Most fossil fuel companies adopt this boot licking approach.

Sachs makes this keen observation:

„A considerable amount of American consumption spending is not for the enjoyment of consumption per se, but to show off wealth, status, or sexual allure.”

This is more than a little hypocritical coming from someone who has a publicity machine equal to that of any Hollywood star.  Sachs is constantly photographed with celebrities and has an ongoing gush-a-thon with the Irish rock star Bono.  Google images reveal that Hollywood professor Sachs colors his hair.  There are hundreds of videos on Youtube featuring Sachs hectoring his moral and intellectual inferiors.

Sachs is like an annoying mother-in-law constantly telling everyone else how they should live.  We can only wish he would shut up and go back to writing academic papers that nobody reads.

Norman Rogers is a volunteer Senior Policy Advisor with the Heartland Institute, a Chicago think tank.  He maintains a personal website.

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Russell Brand: Profit is a Filthy Word

The UK comedian and actor Russell Brand appeared on a BBC talk show last week to denounce the concept of profits. The pampered multi-millionaire called for the establishment of „…a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibilities for energy companies exploiting the environment.”

In what has become an all-too-common spectacle of ignorant and intellectually challenged celebs on both side of the Atlantic spouting socialist slogans, Brand epitomized these qualities and the unmitigated hypocrisy of all leftists. Mr. Brand has amassed a $15 million fortune as a very funny and talented comedian and actor – so obviously his proposed „massive redistribution of wealth” does not apply to him. Remember, socialism is for you and me, never for the socialist.

Just as Harry Reid said the very same week: „The only people who feel there shouldn’t be more coming in to the federal government from the rich people are the Republicans in the Congress. Everybody else, including the rich people, are willing to pay more. They want to pay more.”

Senator Reid apparently doesn’t want to pay more; he is also a multi-millionaire who insists on holding on to his $5 million dollars and has never offered to turn it over to the federal government for redistribution. But then, just like the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he is busy doing all the brainwork for us little people. You would not rob us of our repose, would you comrades?

Mr. Brand went on to say that:

„[British Prime Minister] David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word, well I say profit is a filthy word… I think the very concept of profit should be very much reduced because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. This system currently doesn’t address these ideas.”

Apparently his millions in profits are not filthy because they were earned as a jester, and not by making products that create wealth or contribute to the unparalleled prosperity of Western civilization. Without profit there can be no prosperity. The right of the individual to retain the fruits of his labor is the very essence of liberty and the only means for a society to flourish. Everyone works for profit; weather he is a garage attendant, wealthy manufacturer, or millionaire celebrity, the free citizen expects to make as much as much money as his ambition, talents, and time allow – and to keep what he earns.

It is the desire for profit that provides us with all the comforts of modern life. Oil company executives, engineers, scientists, technicians, and laborers do not invent incredible devices for extracting petroleum from miles beneath the sea, and work in hostile and dangerous countries and climates because they wish to serve their fellow man – they do it for profit. Pharmaceutical companies that have created thousands of miracle drugs to cure disease and ease suffering did so to make profits from the sale of those drugs. Likewise your local grocer, florist, auto mechanic, lawyer, and landscaper provide their products and services to you for „filthy” profit – not because you are a nice guy or gal. This is not a new discovery. As Adam Smith wrote in the 18th century,

„It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love…”

Neither money nor profit is inherently evil. In fact, free-market capitalism is the only economic system ever devised that permits human liberty, maximizes prosperity, and facilitates relative peace and harmony among people and nations. Before America adopted a mixed economy of socialism and free markets, people were free to pursue their interests and industry and to make as much money as their skills would take them. Free people chasing their own dreams and desires deal with one another through the use of money and have no need to covet what someone else has. Neither do they need to employ force to obtain what they want, unless they lack the character to get what they want through work. Wealth is created by individuals and used as a tool of fair exchange between equals. As the great American philosopher Ayn Rand put it,

„But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.”

Mr. Brand concluded with a prediction of revolution and encouraged people to not bother voting, „there is going to be a revolution… don’t bother voting. Stop voting stop pretending, wake up, be in reality now. Why vote? We know it’s not going to make any difference.”

Like many well-meaning but ill-informed people, Mr. Brand senses – correctly – that the game is rigged (In both the UK and USA), but somehow believes that the solution to the unfair system our governments have established is to turn over what little remains of our liberty and property to the very same corrupt political class that created this mess. It is our political overlords that created the centralized command and control economy, central banks, and regulations to benefit their political cronies and corporate donors. It is utterly baffling that people like Russell Brand can be led to believe that the very same political establishment will set everything right if we would just give up what’s left of our freedom and income; That’s just you and me of course – not Mr. Brand, or George Clooney ($160 million), or Nancy Pelosi ($35.5 million), John McCain ($10.5 million), Lindsey Graham ($1.5 million), Barack Obama ($12.5 million), etc, etc… You would not rob them of their repose, would you comrades?

Todd Douglas is a former U.S. Navy intelligence specialist attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency, state police commander, and author of the new book, A Republic, if you can keep it; a chronicle of the American counterrevolution.

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The Euro-Socialist Death Spiral

In a small but telling incident, a German journalist accosted a Tea Partier at the Supreme Court on the day the ObamaCare case was being decided. The German upbraided the Tea Party movement for opposing government-run health care. His tone was the standard condescension for enlightened Euro-moralizing about – well, everything, but especially socialized medicine – for the benefit of benighted Americans. In short, he behaved like an average Democrat.

An old fable describes the attitude of „civilized” Euro-Socialists – and their U.S. counterparts, the Democrats – toward the United States. A genie appears to two peasants and grants each a wish. The first wishes for a beautiful prize cow. The second, envying his neighbor’s coming prosperity, wishes for the cow to drop dead on the spot.

Instead of getting their own cow, our „betters” keep wishing for ours to die. The Democrats eagerly agree, forcibly herding Americans into the Euro-Socialist death spiral – for our own good, of course. Government knows best. This is especially of our health care system.

According to the German journalist – echoing American liberals – it is time for the USA to join the family of civilized nations by providing universal government-run health care. The current enlightened view among the really, really, REALLY smart people (by definition, Euro-Socialists only) is that no country is civilized unless its health care system is 100% government-run. The barbaric U.S. health care system is so horrifyingly terrible, in fact, that people from the „civilized” world routinely buy our pharmaceuticals and come here for life-saving treatment.

To his German self-styled moral superior, the Tea Partier responded that European nations with government-run socialized medicine can’t afford their own social models; even Germany, itself, runs a deficit equal to 3 percent of GDP. The German reporter turned on his heel and walked away. Being an enlightened leftist means never having to acknowledge inconvenient truths.

A more effective, if politically incorrect (i.e., too devastatingly true for enlightened leftists to tolerate), occurred to the Tea Partier later: Germany had government-run universal healthcare at the same time they were herding six million Jews into ovens. Universal healthcare equals „civilized?” Lucky for the Euro-Socialist crowd, facts never interfere with propaganda.

Here’s a brief look at the „civilized” world, domain of our Euro-Socialist moral betters.

• Germany. Parents who home-school their children are subject to arrest and prison, the children subject to seizure by the state. The Romeike family emigrated to the United States to escape such oppression, and were granted asylum. But the German authorities want to make an example of the Romeikes by extraditing them to Germany to face trial and jail. The „civilized” Obama administration is working feverishly to revoke the Romeikes’ asylum and deport them to Germany.

• Canada. Canadians are highly chauvinistic about their socialized medicine. „You Americans,” they love to jeer, often shortly after making a new American acquaintance, „have a terrible health-care system!” (Pleased to meet you, too.) They praise their own system to the heavens, one so wonderfully awesome that Canadians routinely come to the U.S.A. for life-saving treatment. Like the premier (equivalent to a U.S. state governor) of Newfoundland and Labrador ditched Toronto and had heart surgery in Florida. Or a former cabinet minister (equivalent to a U.S. cabinet secretary) who came to California for cancer treatment – at her Canadian doctor’s suggestion. Just like all those times important Americans go to Canada for cancer treatment and heart surgery – oh, wait. That never happens.

• Great Britain. When Britain banned handguns in 1997, home invasions went through the roof. A home invasion is criminal entry to ransack a house while its occupants are present. Since it’s a crime for law-abiding citizens to be armed, many people took to sleeping with hammers and baseball bats. (A sophomoric „humor” website found this hilarious.) In a Daily Telegraph web-poll, ignored by the elites, Britons overwhelmingly favor lifting the ban.

• While we’re talking about Great Britain and weapons, a long jail term awaits anyone who falls afoul of Britain’s restrictive and baffling knife laws. Even better: the cops – not the courts – determine a knife’s legality. It’s illegal to buy many knives available in a U.S. sporting goods store. Sleeping with hammers and cricket bats seems even less funny.

• Europe, in general, Great Britain specifically: bad teeth. Many Britons feel defensive and love to sneer at what they characterize as Americans’ ridiculous obsession with dental health. Long-standing research shows that good dental health is important for overall health. Apparently, government-run health care miraculously negates science.

• Germany again. The 2011 tsunami in Japan caused a disaster at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Germany’s powerful radical environmentalists pounced, and the German government began shutting down nuke plants as fast as they could, Germany apparently being vulnerable (who knew?) to tsunami and major earthquakes. Slight problem: nukes produced close to 25% of Germany’s power, and there is now something of an energy crisis. Whoopsie.

Europe, Summer 2003. Some 70,000 people, the majority of them elderly, perished in hot weather, almost 15,000 of them in uber-enlightened, uber-socialist France. Our infinitely more civilized European brethren shrug: we aren’t used to heat, darn that Global Warming! (Or is it Global Cooling? Climate Change?) Tens of thousands of old folks baking to death – very sad and all that, but let’s not get distracted from the real crisis – Global Warming! (Or whatever we’re calling it this week.) Thought experiment: change the location to the U.S. (Hint: a decade later, the media would still be condemning the then-Republican president and Congress.)

• Great Britain again. Earlier this year, a cold snap killed 2,500, most of them pensioners – i.e., senior citizens. Each year, winter weather kills well over 20,000 Britons, most of them elderly. Environmental taxes have made utilities unaffordable. Big government caused the mess, so of course big government has a solution: utility-bill grants – i.e., welfare. (Obamacare also promises an „allowance” – i.e., welfare – for insurance premium costs. Hmmm.)

There we have it, life in the ultra-civilized, morally-advanced, non-American world, by definition totally superior to America because of government-run medicine. Membership in this elite bestows not just the blessings of DMV-style health care, but also the sophisticated societal conditions described above.

No, thanks.

Mark Petrina is a member of the Obama Care Truth Squad (, an advocacy group that seeks the repeal of Obamacare and the introduction of free-market health care solutions.

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Computer Games and Global Warming

Pioneers of science like Pythagoras, Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton had beliefs that were mystical in nature.  The Christian God was very much on the minds of 18th- and 19th-century scientists.  Now it is a faux pas to mention God, but the religious impulse is still present in the human personality.

The scientific mind has not changed just because intellectual fashions have changed.  Galileo practiced astrology.  Scientists today are simply consumed by new mysticisms, like environmentalism and apocalyptic predictions of doom.  The current new mysticism is global warming.

The growth and persistence of mysticism in science are nurtured by the pervasive misuse of computers.  Computers make it easy to turn fake science into good-looking science and bad statistics into powerful-appearing evidence.

Jay Forester was an MIT professor and a pioneer in the computer modeling of real-world business and policy problems.  He became a member of the elitist Club of Rome, a group of self-appointed wise men who humbly assumed the task of planning the future of humanity, and convinced the club to model the world economy using his techniques.  The result was the book The Limits to Growth (1972), which predicted doom due to exponential growth of population and industry.  It was filled with computer-generated graphs showing shortages and crashes along with terrible pollution.

Now, 40 years later, there is no sign of the predicted doom.  The predictions reflected the fashions of the times.

My favorite book of that time is Famine 1975!, published in 1967.  In the ’70s, global cooling was a fashionable worry.  Of course, the computer maxim „garbage in, garbage out” applies.  With different inputs and different coefficients, the computer would have predicted a rosy future of never-ending prosperity and happiness.  Although the authors of The Limits to Growth surely believed what they wrote, they probably believed the same things before they wrote their computer programs.  The computers served as electronic Tarot cards.

The biggest and most influential practitioners of computer mysticism are the scientists using computers to predict global warming doom.  Their predictions are plagued by obvious problems.  For one, there are thousands of scientists screaming that the emperor has no clothes – but that doesn’t matter, because all objections are swept away by impressive computers used to mobilize the prestige of the computer age behind the fortune-tellers’ prognostications.

For decades, climate scientists have been trying to construct computer climate models to mimic the Earth’s climate.  Twenty-odd of these massively complicated climate models are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the basis of their periodic reports – and those models disagree with each other about the most important number in global warming: the climate sensitivity.  Climate sensitivity is the estimate of how many degrees the Earth will warm if CO2 in the atmosphere doubles.  Some models say 2 degrees Celsius; others say more than 4 degrees.  Dissenters think it is more likely one half-degree.

Not only do the models disagree with each other, but they disagree with the Earth.  Top climate scientist Kevin Trenberth says that „the state of the oceans, sea ice, and soil moisture has no relationship to the observed state at any recent time in any of the IPCC models.”

An objective observer would conclude that climate models are interesting laboratory curiosities that need a lot more work.  But these models are the basis of predictions of global warming doom.  We are supposed to believe that the science is solid, and that practically every scientist agrees that unless we quickly switch to solar and wind energy, terrible things will happen.  It’s all pathetic nonsense.  The scientists who believe in the computerized predictions of doom have suspended their critical facilities in favor of the thrill of participating in a crusade.

The IPCC deals with the disagreement between the climate models by simply averaging the results together.  Its operatives claim, with no good justification, that this ensemble of climate models gives a better result than any one climate model.

Since the models disagree strongly about the effect of CO2 on the Earth’s temperature, it would not seem possible for all the models to reproduce the temperature history of the 20th century.  But this is made to happen by the expedient of manipulating factors other than CO2 – for example, ocean heat storage – to force the models to fit the 20th-century temperature history and allow for a pretty graph to impress the experts at the New York Times. This is actually a scandal, but it is so buried in scientific obscurantism that it goes unnoticed – except by those who critically study the techniques of the IPCC.  Prominent scientists have complained about this.  Their complaints are swept under the rug – ignored.

The manipulation and misrepresentation of climate models is only the most important example of IPCC duplicity.  There are innumerable books and articles critical of the IPCC.  An example is Donna Lamframboise’s book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.

One of the biggest logical problems with global warming is the early 20th-century warming, from 1910 to 1945.  That warming spell, during a time when industry was small and CO2 could not have been an important factor, is mysterious.  Nobody has more than speculative theories to explain it.  Yet the global warming believers insist that a similar warming during the late 20th century, from 1975 to 2002, was surely caused by CO2 and minor gases with a similar effect to CO2.

The graph below shows a one-year running average of official global temperature changes as compiled by the U.S. government.

The graph shows another problem with global warming.  For more than a decade, the Earth has not warmed, but cooled.  The apologists for global warming explain this away in various ways.  But if lack of warming continues much longer, it will cause the collapse of the global warming movement.

As can be seen in the graph, there are seemingly random variations in the global temperature.  Some of these are associated with changes in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño and La Niña, which usually take place every few years.  Other variations have no apparent cause.  These brief diversions from the general trend are described as chaotic variations.  The Earth’s climate is a chaotic system, in which future evolution is very sensitive to initial conditions – if a butterfly in Idaho flaps its wings, it could cause a hurricane in Mexico next year, to give a colorful example.  A chaotic system may make abrupt jumps rather than gradual transitions from one state to another.  For example, there are abrupt jumps in the graph above in 1945 and 2002.

The promoters of global warming cite chaotic variation to explain what they can’t explain any other way.  The scientists Delworth and Knutson published a paper in the journal Science that tried to explain the early-century warming as a manifestation of chaotic variation.  They searched through 900 years of model-simulated climate looking for a warming spell big enough, along with some other assumptions, to explain the 1910-1945 warming of the Earth.  They found such a warming in 4.8% of the 35-year segments in the simulated climate.  From this Delworth and Knutson concluded: „These results suggest a possible mechanism for the observed early 20th century warming.”

Usually, in science, you need 95% probability for evidence to be considered significant.  Delworth and Knutson have only 4.8%.  There is a 95.2% probability that their theory is wrong.  Their paper was published in Science only because all concerned, including the editors of Science, are true believers in global warming and will embrace any evidence that supports their belief, no matter how weak.  (It is also an unproven assumption that chaotic variation in climate models mimics the chaotic variation in the Earth’s climate.)

Einstein said on more than one occasion that God does not play dice with the universe.  The global warmers seem to think that the dice are loaded in their favor.  Chaotic variation is invoked to explain the recent absence of global warming as well as the robust early-century warming.  Whenever it is convenient, chaotic variation is used, and whenever it is inconvenient, it is ignored.

Protocols for the proper use of computers, computer models, and statistics do exist.  The temptation to abuse those protocols is irresistible.  Scientists are tempted by the desire to manufacture scientific progress, the desire to publish, and the desire to justify ideological visions like global warming.  Science, which should be an objective interpreter of the world, is reduced to a crude tool of politics and is put to political use by scientist trade unions, like the National Academy of Science.

When bad science is buried in computerese, it becomes difficult for anyone to figure out what is real and what is nonsense.


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Keeping the Poor Poor (Until They’re Not)

Government data indicate that the U.S. remains far from winning the longest war in its history: the war on poverty.

The latest line of argument from defenders of the welfare system is that we are measuring poverty inaccurately; counting welfare as income, they suggest, would show that we are winning the war on poverty.  Proponents of changing the way we classify the data on America’s poor would accomplish little more than a subterfuge to distract from glaring flaws with the status quo of government social welfare programs.

The economic downturn that began in 2007 has officially been over since June of 2009, but the end of the recession did not mark the beginning of meaningful prosperity for many Americans.  With the coming of the debt ceiling and proposed reforms to the government’s food stamp program, there is a serious debate unfolding about what the government should do to bring people out of poverty.

Census data for 2012 have just been released showing that poverty levels have remained persistently high at 15 percent.  Nearly 48 million Americans find themselves on the food stamp rolls, and the numbers have been on an upward trajectory.  At the same time, Republicans in Congress are pushing through changes to the food stamp program that would create stronger work requirements, time limits, and stricter eligibility requirements for those receiving other government benefits.  The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is currently projected to cost $764 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  The proposed reforms are expected to reduce spending by $39 billion over that time and remove several million people from eligibility for the program.

As the political battle over food stamps was being joined, the New York Times published an opinion piece, by Sheldon H. Danziger of the Russell Sage Foundation, attempting to justify the government’s outlays in fighting the war on poverty in light of the recent Census Bureau report.  His thesis was that spending on government programs such as food stamps has been successful in reducing poverty; the problem is that we are not measuring the data properly.  Programs such as food stamps are working, despite the depressing numbers from the Census Bureau, or so the argument goes.

Mr. Danziger took aim at Republican arguments that social welfare programs are both too expensive and ineffective, typified by Congressman Paul Ryan’s statement that „[w]e have spent $15 trillion from the federal government fighting poverty” and remain stuck with the highest poverty rates in a generation.  Mr. Danziger countered that if programs such as food stamps and a myriad of others were counted as actual income to recipients, the poverty level would be much lower.  For example, counting food stamps as income would mean that 4 million people were no longer below the poverty level.

Such a new measure of poverty, in fact, will be released by the Census Bureau in October.  It will help show that decades of expensive government programs fighting poverty haven’t been a waste (the reasoning goes).  Looked at in this light, programs such as food stamps are responsible for removing millions of people from poverty.

Mr. Danziger is pushing sophistry.  And he was recently joined by the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who made a similar argument about the measure of poverty.  Their purpose is to obscure failures for which the economic data lay responsibility plainly at the feet of the government anti-poverty programs they support.

Imagining welfare to be income does not change the reality of people’s poverty.  It is not winning any battle in the war on poverty.  The rate of poverty should rightly be a measure of those people in need of assistance because they have little or no income of their own.  Removing them as the focus of our measure of poverty would mean sweeping the issue under the rug.  Proclaiming that the program has lifted 4 million people from poverty would be deliberately misleading, but for those who have a vested interest in proving the wisdom of the war on poverty, it is a seductive argument.

Measuring poverty in this way does nothing to rebut the policy argument that Mr. Danziger attacks – namely, that trillions of dollars in federal government spending have done nothing to win the war on poverty.  Economic dependency is hardly something to be celebrated or tolerated.  Most Americans would agree that winning the war on poverty would mean getting people jobs.

The undercurrent of Mr. Danziger’s piece is that government welfare programs shouldn’t be touched because they still help people.  So, one might argue, if the money is helping people who are currently poor, why reform the program?  Why seek to strike more people from the food stamp program?

The negative uproar over the reforms to the food stamp program gives insufficient consideration to the negative externalities of welfare spending in general.  The current system of government welfare, of which SNAP is but one piece, distorts incentives to such a degree that it effectively discourages people from joining the workforce.  A recent Cato Institute study found that in 35 states, a recipient of typically available welfare support would be receiving more income than that available through a minimum-wage job or other entry-level positions.  In 13 states, welfare pays more than a $15-per-hour job, and in 11 states, it pays more than the average first-year wage for a teacher.  In 39 states, welfare pays better than the starting salary for a secretary; in 3 states, it pays more than a position as an entry-level computer programmer.

Limited and prudent support for individuals experiencing periods of unemployment makes sense, morally and economically; but the data indicate that there is a point at which that support siphons away the economic incentive for a recipient to find a job and the programs become self-defeating.  In short, this is how you lose a war on poverty.

A new measure of poverty that renames failure as success won’t help anyone, though it may fool some.  At bottom, it reflects an attitude that sees more people receiving government aid as a policy victory, not a problem to be remedied.  Those concerned about the plight of people struggling below the poverty line should see the current debate over food stamps as a cause for a rigorous reexamination of the nation’s welfare programs as a whole, and seek ways to reform them to serve their intended function of ending poverty.

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The Millennial Generation Is Abandoning Liberalism

The media claimed that conservatives must become more moderate or face permanent irrelevancy after the supposedly solid liberal millennial generation of 18-29 year olds that overwhelmingly supported reelection of Barack Obama. These dire warnings reminded me of the media geniuses who proclaimed after Jimmy Carter’s presidential victory in 1976 that the 18-29 year olds of the Baby Boomer generation would always vote as a liberal bloc. Four years later, Baby Boomers abandoned liberalism and began reliably voting as Ronald Reagan conservatives for the next three decades. As Millennial support of President Obama has plummeted this year, it is liberalism that may again be facing decades of irrelevancy.

On Election Day in 2008, 37.4% of incoming freshman women and 30.5% men identified themselves as liberals or leftists, the most in 35 years. This corresponded four years later to 33% of Millennials describing themselves on Election Day 2012 as liberals. Given that Barack Obama lost a majority of the over 29 year old vote by 50% to 48%, it was his 61% to 36% support among 18-29 year olds that swung the election in his favor. The media proclaimed that Obama’s reelection was proof the Millennials would power liberalism to dominate American politics for the many decades.

Support for Obama has fallen by 9% since Election Day, but it is the 15% collapse in support by Millennials that is driving Obama’s fall. Furthermore, first-year college students self-identifying as liberals has also dropped by five points to 26.4% for men and 32.4% for women.

The media failed to understand that after the 18-29 year olds of the Baby Boomer generation swept Jimmy Carter into the White House in 1976, initial liberal views of youth do not necessarily lock a generation into a lifetime of liberal voting. Carter won heavy Baby Boomer support for his commitment to reestablish government „as good and honest and decent and compassionate and filled with love as are the American people.” But after 4 years of poor economic growth, high inflation, rising interest rates, continuing energy crises, and the Iran hostage crisis; Baby Boomers shocked the media by abandoning Carter’s well-intentioned liberalism for the blatant conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

In David Brinkley’s biography of Carter, Unfinished Business, the former president is described as crying on election night because he had:

„lost to a man he thought immoral to the core: an unprincipled but telegenic B-grade Hollywood cowboy who had ridden into the White House on such „patriotic” themes as abhorrence of government, xenophobia, and massive tax cuts. „Reagan is different from me in almost every basic element of commitment and experience and promise to the American people,” Carter had said at a town hall meeting in Independence, Missouri, two months earlier. Years later he would go further and state that „allowing Ronald Reagan to become president was by far my biggest failure in office.””

Carter would not acknowledge that his loss of the presidency was not about a failure to communicate as well as Reagan, but rather the failure of his liberal policies to give Baby Boomers a legitimate expectation that their economic future would improve. Carter promised to efficiently manage U.S. government resources to cushion the economic „malaise” the nation was suffering due to outside forces. Ronald Reagan blamed that malaise on our own government’s bloated nanny state, whose high taxes and incompetent meddling in the private sector stifled American prosperity. Baby Boomers abandoned Carter’s compassionate malaise and voted for Reagan’s plan for prosperity.

Barack Obama convinced Millennials to vote for him as the outside change-agent to repudiate the failed economic and foreign policies of both political parties. His campaign manager David Axelrod emphasized in 2008 that America was looking for „the remedy, not the replica.” Hillary Clinton and then John McCain were viciously mocked as Washington DC insiders beholden to powerful corporate elites. In 2012, the Obama campaign effectively mocked Mitt Romney as one of those corporate elites.

According to pollster John Zogby, Obama’s support from Millennials has suffered a big drop because he hasn’t delivered the results he promised in his reelection campaign. Millennials had „high expectations and feel a sense of ownership because of their strong support.” While Obama won 61% of the 18-29 year olds’ vote in 2012, only 46% now approve of his job as president. „For young people, the failure to stop the rise of student loan rates and the NSA revelations weigh in heavily,” said Zogby. Coupled with continuing economic malaise, the millennial generation appears to be abandoning liberalism.


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When I was a rich kid, we were all pro-communist

When I was a rich kid living in Great Neck, NY, I remember standing on the lawn of my girlfriend’s house and listening to her parents talk about how my girlfriend’s grandfather fought for the communists in Spain.  They were proud of him.  While the father puffed his pipe on the lawn of their estate, they pontificated on their sympathy for poor people and their desire to have a classless society.

They actually didn’t know any poor people except the maid and the gardeners.  They feigned sympathy for the poor because it made them feel more generous.  Gramps thought that by taking from the rich and giving to the poor, he was bettering society.  He gave about ten percent of his income to charities and acted like he was donating ninety percent and had switched living establishments with the poor.  He didn’t know that communists wreck the fabric of ambition and destroy Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest, substituting it for survival of the weakest, which makes society feeble and non-productive.

My dad was sympathetic to socialism, and due to his influence, I semi-agreed with my girlfriend’s family.  I believed in communism and what would eventually become Obama’s simplistic fair share.  I thought that Senator Joe McCarthy was a beast because he was tough on communists and made it difficult for some spoiled screenwriters to get jobs after betraying our country.  Hollywood cries; people in communist countries die.  I didn’t realize that Senator Joe was defending the American way and supporting Emerson’s self-reliance rather than the nanny state.

In my sixties I played tennis with Ben Gitlow, the son of the original president of the American Communist Party.  Even he had turned against the party.  The party was not kind.  It hurt those it pretended to help.  Only inexperienced fools who knew nothing about government remained loyal to the Communist Party. People like Ben and his dad, who had actually met with Stalin, knew that communism wrecked the economy and stole one’s life force, one’s soul.

Communists back then pretended, like Obama today, to defend the middle class and spitefully attack the rich.  But communism actually decimated the middle class and created a new power-class out of the communist faithful.  It is a party built on jealousy.  The communists, like the Occupy Wall Street crowd, are so jealous of the rich that they are willing to destroy the business structure of Wall Street without leaving themselves a viable path to success.  Imagine those unemployed rich kids and rapists setting up a new business model on Wall Street.  Failure, thy name is inexperience and youth.

Jews, of which I am one, are particularly prominent among American communists.  Maybe it’s because they feel that communism is the antidote to fascism.  They don’t care that communism killed five times as many people as fascism.  Nazis were small potatoes compared to communists.

Communist Jews follow communism’s founder, anti-Semite Karl Marx.  They forget that Jews were never really popular in communist countries.  It was ironic to see communists rationing their food in the USSR while rich limousine liberals in New York insulted capitalism as they pretended to be men of the people.

How stupid that many communists are academics.  You’d think that they’d be smarter than that, but they can’t get out of the way of their own envy and hatred of successful people.

What’s ironic is that Nazism bears a terrible reputation, whereas communism gets a pass.  Communism hides behind the lie that it is trying to give everyone a fair shake and improve life on earth.  Liberals are derivative of communism and also think of themselves as great healers, when in reality they are wreckers of society and destroyers of the competitive urge of capitalism.

Both Nazism and communism hate the bourgeois and bury themselves beneath a blanket of totalitarianism.  Both are government-heavy and restrict individual freedoms.  Nazism, communism, socialism, and liberalism are imperialistic and create an ideological theocracy on Earth.  It’s like deductive logic – everything from the top, no inductive pragmatism.  It’s time we woke up and realized that communism is as bad as Nazism, that Obama’s liberal policies are the death knell of society.

In the seventies, my liberal parents visited Russia and discovered long lines for bread and bedbugs in their supposedly four-star hotel.  In fact, they could get water only every second day and had to brush their teeth with Coca-Cola or lemonade.  Yet all the liberals back in America looked up to the USSR.  They believed that communism was nice to the masses who were really starving in the streets.  Yet I don’t remember any New Yorkers brushing their teeth with soda.

Communists have done more ill than fascists.  Yet the liberals still pat them on the back.  They make anti-Nazi movies like Inglorious Basterds.  They make pro-communist movies like Warren Beatty’s Reds.  They make Nazis out to be monsters and communists into loving people who give out bread to the poor.

Back in the real world, Che Guevara, America’s rock star, was shooting people in the back of the head.  And Fidel Castro has taken a thriving economy and buried it in his arrogant demand for power.

The Nazis starved many Jews to death.  Chairman Mao starved more of his own people.

Communism is fascism’s sister.  It’s time that they were recognized as twins and that the liberals stopped seeing communism through rose-colored glasses.  Democrats remind me of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields, where „Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout.”

What they don’t realize is that when you don’t „get hungabout” the failures of communism, you end up hanging from a tree of your own neglect, dying in a noose of naïve optimism and the sophomoric fair-sharing of an unworkable society.


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Are We Solving the Mystery of Atlantis?

Ancient Greek literature is replete with intimations of lost civilizations, great floods, and slow renewals of human knowledge beginning at some unspecified point in a misty past.  The most famous of these intimations is Plato’s legend of Atlantis, a great naval power which was supposedly repelled by an equally great Athens more than nine thousand years before Plato wrote of it, and which then sank into the sea following an earthquake.

Now it seems that we, watching our Western civilization sink, may at last be granted the extraordinary privilege of bearing witness to the concrete truth about which the most daring thinkers of our past could only speculate.

Weeks before Rachel Jeantel popularized the issue during the Zimmerman trial, I read the following internet news headline: „Cursive writing facing extinction in face of technology.”  The headline itself hints at the problem suggested by the article: the author or an editor has merely tacked two stock metaphors together („facing” and „in face of”) in lieu of thinking clearly about word choice and meaning, and has thus produced a two-faced monstrosity of a headline.

The article’s content, however, though barely readable, is most thought-provoking.

[W]ith the increased presence of keyboards everywhere, the days of cursive writing may be numbered and schools are seeing the writing on the wall.

As the end of cursive writing appears to be nigh, many parents and educators probably find themselves wondering: should we still be teaching cursive writing?

There are at least 45 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec) that have nixed cursive writing as an official part of the curriculum[.] … And why should it be part of the curriculum? With limited time to cram everything in from the curriculum as it is, cursive writing is just one more thing teachers have to help students with in light of the pervasiveness of electronic communication.

Right.  With only a dozen years of compulsory schooling, with 12,000 hours of „socialization” and arbitrarily force-fed and quickly forgotten „general knowledge,” and with each „unit” in every subject having to be concluded with a lesson on how this topic relates to social justice and environmental sustainability, how are „parents and educators” supposed to find the time to „cram in” a few hours on something so inessential as the ability to communicate with other humans through time and distance without benefit of advanced technology?

The idea that the skill of writing one’s language in the manner in which adults have written it for hundreds of years is a dispensable frivol in a modern curriculum, while „How a Recycling Center Works” is essential knowledge, is more than just a sign of the times. It may be a sign of the end times. In the foreseeable future, there will be no one left who can read the Declaration of Independence in its original form – quite apart from the issue of understanding it. That document, and so many other extant testaments to man’s greatness, will thereafter be perceived as a mere picture, a collection of dainty lines and curves, and less comprehensible than Egyptian hieroglyphics. An important means of civilizational continuity will have been lost, as future generations will be forced to rely on „translations” to read their own language.

Here, I suppose, is where the devotees of progress will jump in to object that I am merely getting carried away with a romantic notion of „the good old days.”  I don’t think so.  I am far from being anti-technology; I rely on it every day, as we all do.  Regarding the present topic, I rarely write anything by hand these days, apart from rough notes.  But I fear losing the ability to handwrite, just as I fear losing the ability to perform simple mathematical operations in my head in the age of electronic calculators.

This math comparison is not just a rough analogy.  The ability to use a calculator is a skill that may itself become highly developed; but it is an entirely different, and clearly lower, skill than the ability to manipulate numbers accurately with one’s mind.  The first is mostly manual dexterity; the second is the skill that our great thinkers, from Plato to Locke, regarded as the natural precursor to the development of philosophical reasoning.

Similarly, the ability to produce preformed letters with a keyboard is a useful manual skill, and the technology that allows us to do it borders on the magical; but the ability to form the letters and words of one’s language in one’s own hand is magic of a much higher order.  We are barely aware of this as we learn the skill in childhood, but there is nevertheless something ennobling in the realization that we have the capacity to translate our thoughts and feelings through our own fingers into a complex of lines and dots that may be understood by men a hundred miles away, or a hundred years hence.  Not knowing how to produce those lines and dots – the real windows to the soul – we would be reduced to relying on machines that can produce them for us on demand.

The keyboard is the calculator of writing, allowing us to produce without mental effort that complicated interplay of thought and symbol, nature and convention, which constitutes one of mankind’s definitive triumphs.  The imminent demise of cursive writing will be more than the death of an obsolete tool.  It will spell the end of humanity’s direct experience of the spiritual significance of written language as the most sublime interaction of mind and body, the mysterious bridge linking our animal bulk to our divine spark.  And after we have burned that bridge, will we still have access to what once lay on the other side?  Or will we be left, as increasingly appears to be the case today, to make do with the decaying remnants of our former commerce with our souls?  Will language continue its slide into virtual disuse as anything but our economy’s hammer and nails, or a ritualized way of grunting and squealing?

The manual formation of the letters and words of our native language is one of the most complex skills we learn as children.  And this early activation of the mind’s attentiveness to detail, precision, and the subtle connection between mind and motion contributes greatly to subsequent cognitive development.  „The Chinese are better at math,” we casually say, meaning not that their expert mathematicians are superior to those of other nations, but that the average Chinese youngster seems more adept at math than other average students.  If we seek to explain this at all, we typically fall back on causally unhelpful abstractions about IQs.  But take a look at their written language, and think about how much mental discipline is required of their children in learning how to read and write those thousands of minutely differentiated characters.  I suspect a strong connection here.  If we stop teaching children how to write their own language by hand, we are stunting the development of a wide variety of skills and habits necessary for an advanced mental life: patience, memory, attention to detail, an eye for subtle distinctions, concern for precision and accuracy.  These, among others, are the learned capacities that Miss Jeantel, like most of her generation and its teachers, defensively dismisses as „old school.”  Simply put, when handwriting becomes obsolete, and is completely replaced with the mental shortcut of technology-assisted communication, complex reasoning (including moral reasoning) will become obsolete with it.  The cognitive nexus is natural and possibly inescapable.

But why cursive?  Might not hand-printed language, which bears a greater resemblance to our standard word processing fonts, perform this same function in our intellectual development?  Apart from creating the need, noted above, for „translations” of many of the seminal documents of our civilization, or of our own family histories – for scholarly specialists to tell us what Thomas Jefferson and Aunt Mimi were talking about – perhaps hand-printing would be an adequate substitute for cursive.  The problem is that the case for dumping cursive is also the case for phasing out hand-printing: the ubiquity of keyboard-based technology and the practical necessity of keyboard skills for modern life seem to obviate the need for any kind of hand-produced language.

And, if we accept the premises of the argument against cursive, this process of antiquation will only accelerate in the coming years.  Every child will have a smartphone, a tablet, or some subsequent technology in his possession continually.  Schools, parents, and governments will demand that such technologies be in use at all times, and as all communication will be required to be produced in electronic form (for uniformity, for convenience, and for government data-collection purposes), hand-printing will soon be another outdated skill that we just won’t have time to „cram in.”  In a generation or two, virtually no one – no parent and no government „educator” – will know how to produce language by hand; an entire civilization will have placed itself at the mercy of electronic technology for all its efforts to preserve and communicate its thoughts in a visible form.

But here comes the „Atlantis” question modernity never asks: And then what?

Paradoxically, the ancients, who had relatively little known history at their disposal, were obsessed with eternity – with the inadequacy of mere time-measurement as a means to understanding our ultimate place in the cosmos – whereas we moderns, with access to a much broader and deeper historical perspective, have resolved to trip along contentedly with the existential confidence of the profoundly narrow-minded.  Modern political progressivism is our peculiar form of tyranny because it is the model most suited to an age that presumes a rectilinear conception of time.  Imagining we are moving in an unambiguous straight line comprising discrete points, and hence that the past is materially irrelevant, it becomes easy to believe that our gradual changes indicate irreversible forward development – i.e., „progress” – thus reinforcing our disrespect for the past.

The Greeks, by contrast, favored a cyclical conception of historical development.  Time itself was understood as circular – exactly the opposite of our „progressive” assumptions, whether of the Enlightenment rationalist or the Marxist historicist sort.  Perhaps this is no paradox after all.  The Greeks, perceiving their civilization as something fundamentally „new” in the known world, drew from this perception an inference that perhaps only they could draw: this cannot be the first time mankind has risen.  This noblest form of humility is perhaps bound to dissipate over time, as the evolving civilization loses direct contact with its beginnings, and hence loses the jarring effect of the juxtaposition of the infinity of being and the brevity of known history.

Thus, the ancients tended to be exquisitely aware of the precariousness of their existence, and the severely limited moment they occupied in the grand calendar.  We, on the other hand, take our existence for granted, and assume that we occupy a privileged moment in time – namely, the „latest” moment.  This is why the most profound ancient minds imagined the soul’s journey through the afterlife in three-thousand or even ten-thousand-year increments, although they had little solid historical knowledge stretching even a thousand years back, whereas we, who casually discuss the universe in terms of billions of years, can barely remember what happened last week, and never engage in serious speculation on life ten thousand years hence – let alone our own lives ten thousand years hence.

Atlantis was Plato’s mythical speculation (or development of a received speculation) regarding a more advanced human civilization that reason seemed to indicate must have existed at some point in the unending sweep of time.  Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis revived that speculation, but projected it into a semi-realizable future – as a practical hope, rather than a quest for cosmic understanding – thus demonstrating a chief intellectual difference between the ancient and modern West.  (This difference may also be observed by comparing Darwinian evolution to its most famous ancient counterpart, that of Empedocles, who conceived of a never-ending cycle, encompassing both evolution and devolution.)

This brings us back to the gradual, and seemingly inevitable, disappearance of handwritten language, and my question as to what might come next.  Our age’s progressive impulses are rooted in a foolish sense of indestructibility and irreversibility, and in dreams of impending „transformation.”  Cursive writing, like so many of our noblest and most valuable traditions, now seems disposable; we don’t need it, because technology has rendered our former needs obsolete.

And if that technology should fail?  Progressive authoritarianism has lived parasitically off the dwindling blood of Western liberty for so long, and we are so entangled in Marxist historicist fantasies about socialism as the natural completion of modern scientific man, that we may underestimate the invariable historical fate of authoritarian irrationalism: societal ruin, moral decay, economic collapse – and the loss of previous knowledge.  In the known periods of such ruin, the loss has typically remained incomplete, either because the collapse was regional, and the collapsed region resuscitated by its conquerors or neighbors, or because the past was preserved in limited form by scholarly devotion and linguistic or cultural continuity.

We know beyond any doubt that modern warfare in general, and specific modern weapons such as the widely discussed electromagnetic pulse bomb, are capable of destroying or disrupting our technological civilization in short order.  And absent such a sudden calamity, modern progressive totalitarianism, whatever its advocates’ best-laid schemes, will tear industrial society to the ground in the long run, if it is permitted to smother man’s last breath of hope and initiative.  As a global movement (made possible by the technology it is bound to destroy), progressivism’s precipitated collapse will not be regional – there may finally be no advanced (i.e., free and rational) civilization on the outside from which the world’s competing progressive rulers may steal, or to which a tattered post-progressive world may turn for restoration.

If, by one means or another, our technological society should grind to a halt, much would depend on the ability of the people around at the time to carry on the human heritage in the physical reality of 1750.  And while it may seem a trivial concern now, with a keyboard in everyone’s pocket, how would the physical reality of 1750 play out if no one – or no one outside the ruling elite – knew how to form letters and words by hand?  We are already a civilization in which fewer and fewer young people in each generation are able to comprehend, let alone compose, anything but simple, brief, ungrammatical text punctuated with electronically prefabricated emoticons to fill in the gaps in meaning where unknown vocabulary ought to be, and without any shared reference points outside today’s popular culture.  A century of compulsory public schooling has, in the name of universal literacy, conspired to restrict the majority of the English-speaking world, at least, to elementary literacy levels, or worse.  (I have no reason to doubt that a similar devolution is taking place throughout Europe, for the same reasons.)  Literacy, grammar, and a vocabulary worth the trouble of writing down are now an old man’s game.

Can we be brought even lower?  Yes we can.  The complete disappearance of both the skill and the practice of handwriting not only is foreseeable, but is now being advocated and actively pursued by education policymakers and the cultural mainstream alike.  Whether the technological collapse that traps us in our incapacity comes in the relatively near future, or many years hence, it will come – to assume that it can’t happen would be not merely imprudent, but also hubristic and narrow-minded.  And when it comes, as we can now see, modernity may have officially, by custom and by law, cut itself off from the miracle of manually produced language that constitutes the great leap forward in the development of all civilizations, and in the evolution of man as a spirit that has learned how to use its own flimsy, temporary body to extend itself across space and time.

We appear to be fulfilling a prophecy of the ancients, preparing ourselves for an eventual return to our roots – namely, oral tradition.  Or rather, to the precursor to such a tradition: a semi-verbal state of disjointed, prefabricated phrases that carry only vague signification, interspersed with emotive grunts and squeals – and a devouring sea of violence, which is how men communicate when reason and language fail them.

Daren Jonescu

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The Historicity of the Resurrection of Christ

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ (33 A.D.) is the most attested historical fact of the ancient world.  In addition to the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is also widely attested by Greco-Roman and Jewish writers.  Closely related, history also confirms that the tomb of Jesus Christ on that first Easter morning was indeed empty.  Every vested party knew where Jesus was buried after he died.  Yet on Easter, the tomb was found empty, and nobody has ever been recovered.

In fact, the gospel of Matthew showcases that there was a still a heated debate going on between certain Jewish leaders and the Christians in the apostolic church over whether or not the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:1-15).  As such, both sides knew full well that the tomb was empty.  More surprising, both sides also knew of the presence of Roman guards.

With a plethora of similar historical details connected to the empty tomb, Greco-Roman historian Michael Grant concedes, „The historian cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb … if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”

Once the reality of the empty tomb sinks in, this stubborn fact substantially narrows down the historical possibilities of what transpired on Easter morning.  Outside the resurrection itself of Jesus Christ, only a handful of other historical scenarios have been propagated in its place – all of which can be routinely dismissed through a quick process of elimination.

One of the most popular answers to explain the empty tomb over the centuries is that the disciples stole Jesus’s body during the night.  The biggest problem with this supposition is it cannot explain the later behavior of the disciples, who became stalwart apostolic pillars in the church founded upon the preaching of the resurrection of Christ.  The apostles lived very difficult lives.  Many of them were martyred.  If they had stolen the body of Christ, they would have known that Jesus was not raised from the dead.  They thus would not have spent the rest of their lives sacrificing themselves for a lie.

Others have tried to implausibly advocate that the women who first visited the tomb Easter morning went to the wrong one.  The very fact that the gospels admit that women were the first ones to visit the empty tomb gives historical authenticity to the entire account.  In such a male-dominated world, no one in his right mind would ever want to acknowledge that women were the first to notice the tomb was empty – especially when a new religion was essentially founded upon such an embarrassing fact.

Some have tried to suggest that Jesus’s death was staged, or that it was a hoax.  This is impossible for the simple reason that no one could have survived the cross.  Jesus was beaten to a pulp and whipped out of his mind before he was crucified.  Once he was nailed to the cross, his fate was sealed.

Others have tried to say that the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples were hallucinations.  Hallucinations, however, are individual occurrences by definition.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul wrote that whole groups of people, along with hundreds of eyewitnesses, saw the resurrected Lord.  In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul tells his followers in Corinth that more than 500 witnesses saw the resurrected Christ at one time, most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Still others have tried to venture the idea the resurrection accounts were based on fictitious folklore.  However, such legends typically require 200-300 years in order to be established – which is precisely what did happen with all of the fanciful apocryphal gospels that have helped spur the modern interest in The Da Vinci Code.  In great contrast, the apostles were preaching the resurrection of Christ from the very outset, and even some of the most radical skeptical scholars of the German Protestant Enlightenment, like Ferdinand Christian Bauer (1792-1860), admitted that Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthian epistles were penned by the apostle Paul – who emphasized the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Bauer believed that much of the New Testament was written much later by pseudo-authors.

However, one of the most eminent ancient church historians of all time, English scholar J.B. Lightfoot (1829-1889), established very early dates for two important church fathers – Clement and Ignatius – both of whom quoted or alluded to most of the New Testament around the turn of the 1st century.  Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) then established the surprising accuracy of the book of Acts, stating that Luke was one of the greatest historians of the ancient world.  In 1976, John A.T. Robinson (1919-1983) demolished the entire edifice of Protestant Germany’s skepticism by writing a book called Redating the New Testament.  Robinson placed the entire New Testament back to the 1st century because it everywhere presumes that the Jerusalem Temple was still standing.  Since the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A.D., the New Testament must have been written before that time.

This leaves modern man faced with the startling conclusion that Jesus Christ may have indeed been raised from the dead.  A little more than a century ago, Dr. W.H. Griffith Thomas wrote an outstanding book entitled Christianity is Christ, where he strongly concluded that the resurrection of Jesus was one of the best-attested facts of the ancient world.  Much later in the 20th century, Josh McDowell compiled a vast array of Christian evidences that demand a verdict, and Lee Strobel has an excellent Case for Christ.  In fact, Strobel persuasively contends that the very historical existence of Christianity cannot be explained apart from the historicity of the resurrection of Christ.

Just because the resurrection of Christ cannot be placed in an experimental scientific test tube does not mean that it is an irrational fairy tale.  In 1 Corinthians 15, one of the longest chapters in the New Testament, the apostle Paul strings together a series of arguments for the resurrection of the dead – everything from the authority of the Old Testament to historical eyewitness accounts to his own apostolic authority and personal life – and even for the sake of morality itself.  Paul even points out that nature itself teaches the resurrection of the dead every year a farmer plants his garden anew (1 Corinthians 15:36).

It was Jewish German scholar Karl Lowith (1897-1973) who acutely observed, „The Christian hope is almost rational, for it rests on faith in an accomplished fact.”  However, because the apostolic writers depicted the historical events of the gospels as a decisive once-for-all cosmic salvation event, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ invariably offends, contradicts, and upsets „the normal historical consciousness of both ancient and modern times.”  The Christian faith offended the classical mind because it rendered a onetime historical event with ultimate significance.  The Christian faith offends the modern mind because it exempts its own specific history of salvation from the generalized history of multicultural godlessness.  Such unforgiveable offences are why the resurrection of Christ will often continue to be ignored and attacked in spite of its historicity.

Mark Musser is a missionary/pastor and a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance, a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.  Mark is also the author of two books, Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust, which has been recently expanded, updated, and republished, and Wrath or Rest: Saints in the Hands of an Angry God, a commentary focusing on the warning passages in the book of Hebrews.

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Did Hugo Chávez Pick the New Pope?

Recently Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that Hugo Chávez would return on the clouds with Jesus on Resurrection Day. Then, Venezuela’s left-wing „president in charge” and hopeful successor to Hugo Chávez, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, gave Hugo credit for convincing Christ to influence the papal conclave to choose a South American pope. Immediately following the white smoke puffing from the Vatican chimney, Nicolás did some puffing of his own, only his was emanating from a bodily orifice bearing no resemblance to a chimney.

Based on his comments, Nicolás Maduro apparently thinks the room-temperature despot is sitting at the right hand of God, still fulfilling the calling of dictator. In the mystical eyes of Maduro, a follower of the late Bhagawan guru Śri Sathya Sai Baba, Chávez is also a „spiritual saint and miracle worker.” The late president of Venezuela is proving so potent a force that at his funeral he actually got Mahmoud to lose his head and commit „haram” by hugging his grief-stricken mother, Elena Frias de Chavez.

Nonetheless, Maduro, who must be smoking something other than Venezuelan cigars, said, „We know that our commander has risen up there and is face to face with Christ.” That comment, which wasn’t a joke, prompted laughter in the crowd Nicolás was addressing. In Maduro’s opinion, Hugo was such a great persuader that when the conclave in Rome was having difficulty choosing a pope, Hugo „got to Christ,” pulled Him aside and whispered in His ear, and thus „influenced things so that a South American pope was chosen.”

And that’s not all. According to Maduro, „One of these days [Chávez] is going to call a constitutional congress in heaven to change the church in the world, so that the people, only Christ’s pure people rule in this world.” That sounds more like Mahmoud’s vision for Islam than Jesus’ vision for a fallen planet the Bible says is destined for destruction by fire.

Besides, if Hugo Chávez is so persuasive that he was able to move the hand of God to install Argentine Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis I, how come he couldn’t persuade the Almighty to cure his terminal pelvic cancer and allow him to oppress Venezuela for another 14 years?

Everyone knows how Hugo’s story ended. Therefore, in death as in life, Chávez is so highly esteemed that there were plans to call in a taxidermist – of sorts – to preserve Hugo’s body so that he can be put on exhibition in Caracas. That way, Chávez can lie in state in a manner similar to dead dictators he has admired, such as Kim Jong Il, Hồ Chí Minh, Stalin, Lenin, and Argentine megalomaniac Evita ‘don’t cry for me’ Perón.

Based on Maduro’s assessment of the sainted Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, one would think the nation of Venezuela was in possession of an incorruptible corpse. Now we come to find out that after leaving St. Hugo’s body on display in a military academy like some sweaty salami sandwich that’s been sitting in the sun too long, embalming experts who were called in are of the opinion that Chávez’s carcass may have passed its sale date, so to speak.

Russian embalming specialists had expressed their willingness to drain Chávez’s blood from his tissues, remove his organs, pump him full of embalming fluid and submerge his sorry ass into a bathtub filled with formaldehyde, and then put the lid on it, wrap it in a white cloth, and basically pickle him in a room with „precise temperature and humidity conditions” for six months.

The Russians were even willing to instruct the Venezuelans on the upkeep, temperature and humidity requirements, the „bacterial threats,” the need for a sterile sarcophagus, the twice-weekly inspection, and the need for Hugo to be submerged every year and a half in the embalming solution for one month, then dried off, gussied up, and plopped back out on the display bed.

Now we come to find out that because Chávez was distracted by telling Jesus who His pick for pope should be, he forgot to transmit the directive to the people in charge of his preservation that if his corpse was going to be dressed up and put on permanent display, „precautionary steps would have to have [been] taken much earlier.” In other words, once again, from the smell of things, there’s something rotten in Caracas.

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