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Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Was Going To Write About Economics, But First

First things first. There is a strain developing in the comments which worries me. Reasonably precise economic analysis and forecasting is completely dependent on careful sifting of data, identification of areas of uncertainty, and the willingness to say that sometimes one just doesn't know. Interposing any political, social or personal screen on economic data is fatal, because there is always a lot of uncertainty in the data itself, and thus even any minor but consistent filtering of it to match a worldview magnifies the inherent errors and sends you shooting off to infinity, a la Lawrence Yun's hysterically funny projections of home sales and prices.

Of course one could say the same for a number of other disciplines. However we live in a time in which the rise of cultic thinking is worrisome to say the least. In the 70s and 80s the average person was much less prone to this type of thinking then they are now.

I am probably acutely sensitive to the change because I was effectively removed from the broader culture for so long by acute neurological problems. I have not experienced this cultural change slowly. I cannot express to you all how incredibly odd it is to struggle out of an impaired brain which organically would not consistently store, retrieve and obtain data to discover that somehow, in my absence, this mode of existence has become the desired and preferable option for many who DON'T have brain damage.

I really don't understand how any group of people would willingly choose this. This entire blog is a testimonial to my belief that people have not in fact willingly and consciously chosen to distort their thinking.

has written a very important post about the reaction to Obama's Wright speech which addresses one small group in our society involved in cultic thinking, and the failure of another group to reject it:
Until Kristof or anyone else can provide some evidence to show that government scientists invented the AIDS virus and then introduced it into the black community or unearth the policy papers describing how introducing Crack into black neighborhoods would somehow achieve whatever goal fevered imaginations can come up with, these ideas, along with many others that Jeremiah Wright promulgated with minimal demurral from Barack Obama, must be considered nothing more than the worst kinds of paranoid conspiracy theories. These are not just different perspectives or different opinions but bizarre and damaging fantasy structures that infect the thinking of those who hold such ideas.

Human beings are prone to believe in nonsense. We typically find ways to use our rational thinking to support our nonsense theories, and usually the nonsense we believe in is harmless so long as it doesn't interfere with our ability to work, love, and play (to use Freud's old descriptor's of mental health.)
Other conspiracy theories are extraordinarily damaging to the holder. Those conspiracy theories are the ones that support the holder's view that he or she is the victim of circumstances, forces, and people that are much more powerful than they, are inimical to them, and are beyond their control. Those beliefs lead to passivity and anger, and away from self reflection and responsibility.
Please read the post. It is important for far more than race relations. I left a comment over there explaining why I think this is so important:
It accurately sums up my distress over Obama's speech. He appeared to be saying he would not reject this type of thinking, whereas from my POV the failure to reject this type of thinking inevitably places one in the position of always reacting and never controlling. It's letting yourself be whipsawed by nuttiness.

I also suspect that Obama's failure to reject this type of thinking is involved in his stated determination to negotiate with leaders like Ahmadinejad. It's not possible to negotiate with insanity. He probably does have a blind spot to craziness produced from ignoring the insane streak in a segment of black US culture.

The reason liberals do not see the problem is that they too are deeply involved in conspiracy theories. There is a large segment of our university culture which is just as bizarre and disconnected from reality as the ravings of Wright. This stuff is shocking, but it is CW among a large proportion of academics in the US.

European culture also has the same problem. Don't forget, a German government minister wrote a book claiming that the US government was behind 9/11, and a very large proportion of the German population found the position credible. It's an unpleasant reality that there are segments of old European culture which are far less sane than US black culture in aggregate.

I have a theory that living in a society or segment of society that is disconnected from economic realities, scientific realities fosters this sort of cultural demise. Over time, it's possible that any group which doesn't experience a real-world penalty for this type of thinking might tend to fall into it. Perhaps, as you note, the human ability to make the world "comfortable" would generate the same pattern in any culture group not consistently forced to deal with exigent outer circumstances.

University professors of non-reality tested disciplines, for example, do not pay a penalty for being wrong. Small businessmen do. Welfare recipients generally can be as dysfunctional as they like without it impairing their income. Climate scientists have been badly hurt because the money flow is dependent upon one set of conclusions.

The highly socialized populations of Europe may be similarly insulated from reality.

I wish there were a word other than "liberal" in common use to describe this type of non reality-tested worldview. I think "liberal" is a misnomer. You can have strongly liberal tendencies and not be subject to this habit of thinking. And people who hold views described as "conservative" can be as illogical and un-tested in their thinking as "liberals".
There are many people who consider themselves liberal who are extremely opposed to this type of thinking, and there are people who claim to be conservative who seem to have the ingrained habit of cultic thinking.

Probably Tanta over at Calculated Risk is a person of liberal views. She is notable for her habit of carefully identifying all salient features of a situation and then trying to evaluate suggested changes based on the facts rather than what she would like the solution to be. That is the opposite of cultic thinking.

David Mamet's recent Village Voice article entitled Why I Am No Longer a "Brain-Dead" Liberal is another example. I doubt that his political goals have changed, but some of his axioms have:
The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.
It is so unfortunate that a few of the Supreme Court justices who signed on to the Kelo decision had not spent more time in local government. If they had, they would have understood that entrusting a local body to determine what "public use" means is equivalent to handing the keys to everyone's house to some of the most easily corrupted individuals on the face of the earth. Those individuals will take the keys to the ones they can make the most profit on, and hand the keys of the rest back.

Mamet's point about experience in government is essentially the only salient one in most political debate. "How has this worked out in the past?" and "What are the likely consequences of trying this?" are the questions which underly the political and social framework of our society.

Cultic thinking is marked by the following:

  1. Demonization of opposing leaders or sanctifying leaders (these two are chained together),
  2. Ignoring plausibility when it contradicts a personally satisfying narrative,
  3. Breaking cause/effect relationships in narratives and substituting categorization by identity.
It is extremely difficult to create workable, effective political solutions unless one is firmly involved with the facts. Our society is an experimental and constantly adapting one. This is a big advantage, but it does imply that optimal solutions will change with time. Some things are constant, and some will vary.

SW wrote an earlier post describing why cultic thinking might be comforting (the specific example he used was the fact that about 30% of the British population believed that Princess Diana had been murdered):
In such a complex world, we are as out of control as the most primitive and superstitious Caveman, whose life was at the mercy of events both large (storms, lightning bolts, earthquakes and tsunamis) and small (smilodons, infections, broken bones). In such a terrifying world, our anxiety leads us to imagine that some all-powerful individual (at one time thought to be God, but he has been devalued by modern, secular sophisticates who keep themselves unaware of the primitive nature of our minds) or individuals, are actually in control.

A random world is not only terrifying but poorly comprehensible; a world controlled by secret cabals of Jews, Americans, the CIA, multinationals, or some other nefarious grouping, may be frightening, but at least it is understandable.
Yeah, well, it's also far more uncontrollable than the real world. Pushing on imaginary levers is not the way to move the world, even if you imagine the levers to be very big indeed and you are convinced that you are standing on the firmest rock imaginable. Therefore it is inimical to democracy. If you want to live in a dictatorship, cultic thinking is the best route.

You can be a traditional liberal or a traditional conservative and be a good citizen. If you are addicted to cultic thinking or victimology (a subset thereof), you cannot be a good citizen of a government "by, for and of the people."

Don't call yourself a Democrat here if you display cultic thinking. It's not Democratic. Don't prate about being a conservative who believes in free markets if you live in an imaginary world of "Regulation bad! Banks Good! Welfare bad!" A bank, you dummy, is the product of regulation. It is an entity created by regulation. For example, almost all banks have the ability to take deposits guaranteed by the state. FDIC insurance is bank welfare. Like all welfare, it is funded by the state under the theory that it does serve the public good.

I have no problem with anyone who is willing to follow their thinking consistently and to incorporate applicable facts into their worldview. There are usually multiple ways to solve most problems, and one of the benefits of having various schools of thinking is that those schools tend to generate multiple solutions, which helps the experimental process along.

MoM quotes Shrinkwrapped:

Human beings are prone to believe in nonsense. We typically find ways to use our rational thinking to support our nonsense theories, and usually the nonsense we believe in is harmless so long as it doesn't interfere with our ability to work, love, and play (to use Freud's old descriptor's of mental health.)

I would argue that Shrinkwrapped just indicted religion!
Now you need to learn to see that different religions are more or less prone to this type of thinking.

Look at the essence of their message and you will see just how different christianity and islam react to reality.
"University professors of non-reality tested disciplines, for example, do not pay a penalty for being wrong"...they do, however, often pay a severe penalty for disagreeing with the accepted wisdom in their disciplines. The same phenomena can be observed in business. An HR manager, for example, is more likely to feel that his career depends on agreeing with the ideas of his manager than is a sales manager, an engineering manager, or a manufacturing manager. Not that the latter fields are exampt from groupthing and trendiness, but at least they have internal checks on it.
"I have a theory that living in a society or segment of society that is disconnected from economic realities, scientific realities fosters this sort of cultural demise. Over time, it's possible that any group which doesn't experience a real-world penalty for this type of thinking might tend to fall into it."

Bingo! This is the key passage to me in your excellent blog/essay. It describes the situation in which a variety of American subcultures (MSM, Academia, Wall Street, Big Business, Fed Government, popular Black culture, to name a few) currently exist, and so we are increasingly finding ourselves heading in this direction as a culture overall.

The US has been so successful for so long (really since WW2, with lapses we can - and many do - choose to ignore since) that is has been possible for many parts of the overall culture to substantially ignore economic and scientific realities in favor of conspiracy theories and fantasies (e.g., political correctness) with little direct, observable price.

I think that day is ending due to stressors such as rising China and India (with accompanying commodity price increases due to competition and increased job competition), aggresive Islam, an unfolding US economic meltdown, etc.

Many people who have been able to substantially ignore reality for decades hate, hate! being forced to confront it now and will take every path possible to avoid that.

Demonization and shutdown of opposing viewpoints, etc., all result, heavily driven by the desire to shift the locus of blame to a single center of evil, or to avoid facing reality entirely.
David - yes. This entire financial industry debacle proves your point and proves mine. Take mortgages. Everyone believed that by selling off the mortgages they could escape the risk, and promptly adopted a narrative in which lending a person purchase money on a negative amortization mortgage was not risky. This has got to be some universal trait of humans. Got to be.

My entire argument about backstopping the economy but allowing the individual banks to take the losses is about restoring accountability to the system.
JR - most of the major religions and indeed, Epictetus' brand of Stoicism have two levels. One is a hypothesis about reality relating to at least First Causes and suggesting a creator. Another are the ethical code systems which are generally derived from generations of human experience and close observation. It is possible for any individual to be a superficial Stoic, I suppose. But Epictetus is not superficial.
Frank Many people who have been able to substantially ignore reality for decades hate, hate! being forced to confront it now and will take every path possible to avoid that.

Demonization and shutdown of opposing viewpoints, etc., all result, heavily driven by the desire to shift the locus of blame to a single center of evil, or to avoid facing reality entirely.

Frank, I think this is very true. If you look at history, societies often fail to profit from these reality checks. The result of the Great Depression, for example, was both the development of cultic Nazi culture within Germany and the failure of the stressed countries to unite against it.

Every individual has a high stake in trying to ensure that we use this opportunity to get more involved in reality rather than less involved with it.
I got this post from a list I'm on today:
> The answer is in the problem. Small communities in
> villages are suffering. In order to reduce their
> suffering we all - all of us must go back to nature and
> if we must live sustainably we must live in small
> communities which can only be sustainable...using local
> water resources, locally generate electricity, (if
> possible)...minimu amount of comforts...give up that car
> or motorbike in favour of public transport. And when we
> reduce our greed for material things, all things will
> change. So the change must begin within each of us...when
> we begin live conscientiously we bring the change. It is
> a long drawn way...but it is the only solution...not by
> law, or by any political powers but only by trying to
> develop a value based, less greedy society.

The only way I see that likely happening is

1. Our conditioning as children has to change to include
developing skills of cooperation and harmony and a proper
education of the vital importance of Nature and how it is
involved in all parts of our lives.

2. The basis of World Economy "Capitalism" is destroyed and
we return to much simpler ways of living together, as you
suggest. But this will never happen whilst we are governed
by Capitalist Politics.

I can't think of anything that proves your point more. It totally ignores how well the captialistic system has been in lifting people out of poverty. It wants us to go back to some sort of utopia that never existed. The only societies I am aware of with that level of cooperation are societies where the environment is so hostile that they have to cooperate merely to live.

I stopped voting Democratic because I realized I was listening to the same things being said about yet another Republican president. It was the third time I'd heard the same stuff. I felt like I had to start hearing from both sides and make up my own mind. I find the whole cult of Obama to be very disturbing. I also suspect that the reason that the Democratic party faithful are starting to turn towards a solution that makes Obama the nominee has to do with the fact that his supporters will likely riot and burn if he doesn't get the nod. Hillary's won't. It's the sort of situation the Founding Fathers tried to prevent. I'm not blaming Obama for the fanaticism of his followers, but he certainly doesn't disown it.

Moderation in all things is a humble, yet noble goal. At the same time, there is a time and place for even moderates to get a 'fire in the belly'. Thanks for taking the typically non-moderate road and actually speaking out.

I've run into cultic thinking most of my 57 years. Most times it is religious or political sometimes economic. It is not a new things. The US is more prone to it because critical thinking is not encouraged in school.

The GOP has gotten cultic because that is easiest for its current authoritarianism bent. Critics and dissents are purged. That leads to destruction of cults and authoritarian because there is no warning of impending destruction.

As to Obama, cultists are around all leaders because it is very hard to purge them out and maybe undesirable to boot. After all a leader must govern all.

I am an agnostic, one who finds no compelling proof for a God. I find most theists - folks who believe in a God or gods to be cultic in many ways. Certainly Creationists are cultic.

The belief that the US created Aids to hurt the blacks after the US did infect blacks with syphilis link is not a totally irrational belief. The fact is that the US government did perform atomic and biological experiments on civilians without permission or notice and with cover ups.appreciation of this belief. link

Put all of this together with a suppressed population and the rantings become almost sane.

Leaders often have a cultic following. Washington did, Lincoln, FDR, JFK - it is part of the job description. You have to have a mass of folks willing to bet on you for irrational reasons.

I like Obama because he is a good talker, able to convince folks to follow him and to trust him. My one and only concern is will he surround himself with able advisers and leaders to confront our problems.

I do not see Clinton doing this nor McCain.
vader..."The US is more prone to it because critical thinking is not encouraged in school"...can you identify specific countries where you think critical thinking is more encouraged in school? For a broad set of the populace?
Well, David, just list the countries where Creationism teaching in school is not bloody likely and is not a political plank and you got your list. Ditto for political parties held hostage by religious groups.

If you are in the South, approach your board of education and offer a course on critical thinking about Religion or Creationism and gauge the reaction they offer to do the same in Great Britain, Japan, France or Germany and gauge the reaction there.

In any case, you did not read what I wrote which was "It is not a new things. The US is more prone to it because critical thinking is not encouraged in school.
Granted that I sometimes start fingers typing before my mind in fully engaged. I do not encourage the same behavior in my critics.

I made no claim that any other country did a better job.

In any case, critical thinking is encouraged at the college level, but not so much in earlier classes. It thus benefits the college educated but not the general population.

Lets look at UFOs: A 1996 Gallup poll reported that 71 percent of the United States population believed that the government was covering up information regarding UFOs. A 2002 Roper poll for the Sci Fi channel found similar results, but with more people believing UFOs were extraterrestrial craft. In that latest poll, 56 percent thought UFOs were real craft and 48 percent that aliens had visited the Earth. Again, about 70 percent felt the government was not sharing everything it knew about UFOs or extraterrestrial life.

32% of Americans believe in the existence of ghosts

From wikipedia
"The GOP has gotten cultic because that is easiest for its current authoritarianism bent. Critics and dissents are purged."

Vader, can you give some examples of those purged dissenters? From my perspective the opposite is true: that the GOP keeps its dissenters (and nomimates one for President this year) while Democrats drive theirs out (Leiberman, Zell Miller). So I'm very interested in the counter-examples you have in mind.
Teri, that is very frightening. I don't question their sincere commitment to a better way of life, but their proposed solution would only work if at least half the population of the world gets killed. Mass agriculture is the only way to grow enough food to feed people.

I guess that is one proof that good intentions can pay the road to hell.
Vader - I hope Obama will be around in politics for a while. I agree that he is not responsible for the behavior/beliefs of all of his supporters. The only thing a candidate for public office should be criticized for are his or her own speech and actions. That includes, of course, what causes and/or churches you support.

Any candidate will attract some odd people. I also like your correct historical citations about past actions of the government. However, I totally disagree that it is sane to claim that the government is doing that type of thing now without proof. If the government is doing such things now they must be stopped. The question of fact is all-important.

I don't think you have adequately answered either David's or Frank's questions. You need to give specific examples of those other countries. I await them with great interest.

In his two posts, SW seemed to be making the case that certain types of delusional thinking will be a consistent appearance in human societies. It is interesting how often the 30% appears. Maybe we need to be realistic about human nature and realize that the test of any culture/government's viability is whether it keeps that 30% from controlling the culture?

I am about 11 years younger than you. It is possible that my young adulthood was spent in some sort of halcyon oasis of culutural rationality, but I doubt it. There is absolutely no question that cultic thinking is more acceptable now than when I was a child, a teenager, or in my early 20s.
I can not speak to the contention that 9/11 was government planned,however there is a group of architects and engineer who have studied the collapse of building 7,ad raised questions that have not been satisfactorily answered.Gary Webb wrote a book about the crack epidemic which was thoroughly documented,and in which he showed that it was the result of malign neglect,the contra's were given a free pass to import coke as a way to fund their efforts,he was vilified to the point he committed suicide,although his charges were later admitted to be true.Alfred Mccoy's " The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" is the seminal work on the US gov'ts involvement in the Drug Trade.As far as cultic thinking,yes it is more acceptable to voice such opinions now,although it is my suspicion that there is a consistent 30% of the Human Populace that thinks this way.I do not trust any Ideology,I try to find out what works best in each Arena and support it,with the basic attitude that education works,Freedom is good,and it is going to be messy no matter what.
OK, how is this for cultic thinking?

1) Free enterpise must not be tampere3d with
2) except when your buddies make big mistakes, then
3) tax money is used to bail them out.

Or this:

1) Bankruptcy by individuals shgould be dificult, painful, and ineffective, but
2) Bankruptcy for corporations should reward those that caused it


1) We must at all costs stop Osama bin Laden whio was in Afganistan so
2) We delegate the job of surrounding him to the Pakistani military, which was known to have ben riddled with those who supported the taliban, so OBL can go to Pakistan, so
3) We go into Iraq, with absolutley no idea of what to do once we get there and
4) Staying there and getting shot at is a good thing.

I'll stop now. this faith-based neoconservatism is sickening. Don't talk about brain-dead liberals while ignoring the complete didsaster that is "conservatism".

BTW, just what is it that conservatives conserve? American lives? not. American money? not. The Consitution, including those Amendment thingies at the end? not.
I am in my mid 40s as well, and I do not recall in my younger days the political discourse having the same level of polarization and shallow (cultic?) thinking that I seem to observe now. At first, I thought it was just a factor of my own changing level of attention to religion, the economy, culture and politics through the years, but now I am not so sure, especially as others have mentioned it as well.

I have seen the impact on seemingly rational people becoming more common and more widespread, and I do not mean to imply that it affects only those people who disagree with my views. I have just as little patience for anyone who agrees with my conclusions but care little for the mental rigor required to think through a given issue. Regardless of viewpoint, lack of rational thinking is, well, irrational. It is as if the "Jedi Mind Trick" really does exist for some weak/lazy-minded individuals.

I will push a different metaphor. Somehow, somewhere, someone got a hold of a demagoguery play-book and started calling in plays from the sidelines. A key concept of that imaginary play-book seems to be the ability to prey upon the righteous anger of people. I believe some people are susceptible to this because anger is an emotion that many people actually enjoy. They can savor the moment and feel the rage build and blood course through them, and no tangible and immediate harm need be suffered by the person and thus nothing need interfere with that joyous moment of rage; it can be enjoyed purely in its abstraction. The bonus is that all the thinking is already packaged for the happily enraged person, allowing the person to sidestep the extra effort of dispassionately sifting through and weighing the facts in order to form a typically colored and therefore less than 100% satisfactory conclusion.

I do hope for an antidote to all this nonsense; I'm still looking for one. I've refused to discuss political and economic with persons who have conveniently redefined facts (I could give examples but I have already digressed too far) or who have used higher volume vocals and staccato-style, never-back-down tactics as measures of the soundness of an argument. Perhaps that may be the desired effect -- squelch discourse, and thus dissent. Arguer wins by proxy.

Maybe I'll start with the political and economic pundits. Which of Shakespeare's plays were the uttered words "kill all the lawyers"? That is so last century; for this century, let's (figuratively) kill the pundits. Just as long as we replace them with something a little better. I know not what.

-- son of zinger
I'm way out of my league but who cares, it's the internets...

tomcpp: The idea that christianity and islam have different relationships with reality is absurd. You essentially are arguing that the killing of people in the name of your god is more justifiable than the killing of people in the name of someone else's god.

OriginalFrank says:

Demonization and shutdown of opposing viewpoints, etc., all result, heavily driven by the desire to shift the locus of blame to a single center of evil, or to avoid facing reality entirely.

I'm hip to this statement but your
12:29 statement is just this side of naive, three come to mind immediately: Paul O'Neill; Colin Powell; Jim Jeffords.

MoM: I do not disagree about the two levels, creator & morality v. ethics. May I correct myself in saying that Shrinkwrapped has just indicted the supernatural and moral parts of religion. To continue, in reality, which somehow has become this measurable and identifiable truth, I argue that the ethics of religion(s), in this day and age, is unobserved by those who hold themselves as the standard-bearers for their respective religions.

I know little of the Stoics but to describe it as religion as Christianity is considered a religion appears incorrect as the idea and expectation of God is severely and fundamentally different.

To all: Do you know what it means to be a liberal or a conservative? In reality, boy this is getting easy, these terms describe people of ideas and have no relationship with morals or ethics.

I think Obama's speech was incredible in its tone and content. I'm not so cynical that I can dismiss his speech as simple words; if you accuse this candidate of it you must accuse the other of the same.

First, he seems to be the only candidate that has recognized and embodied the idea that a large majority of people in this country are Americans and identify themselves firstly as such. I think more people in this country are looking to be brought together than pulled apart; if you think otherwise, then you believe there is no hope for this country. This is what's worrisome to me, many are swayed more by the messages of divisiveness than the message of shared experience/fate/whatever you want to call it.

Second, Obama says," [I] have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy." What more do you want??? The paragraphs that follow are not backsliding but are a explanation of why it is Obama condemns those controversial statements.

Lastly, who could rightfully argue against the reality of black anger and white resentment. This is the recent racial emotional history of country, if we fail to recognize and pursue the causality of the continuation of these feelings....then...well...we've all failed. It's strange, because these tensions, of both type and magnitude, do not exist between whites and Latin Americans.
Anon - Steve Jones appears to be quietly and irrevocably mad. Take a look at this video. He's going to start talking about his thermite "proof" which is the components that were found in their analysis of the metal samples. Now take a look at the components of steel alloys. They analyzed samples of steel and found that it was composed of stuff like iron, sulfur, phosphorus and manganese, i.e. steel. He somehow seems to believe that this is proof of thermite. There is a reason why the engineering department at Brigham Young nearly died of embarrassment over his allegations.

As for his contention that steel can't melt or lose tensile strength with hydrocarbon fuels, there is the recent example of the overpass in CA. That was open air and the worse possible conditions. Steel loses its strength and melts at lower temps than iron. The first steel dates back to over 1000 BC. I assure you that they weren't using thermite to create it. Why don't you read the Popular Mechanics site? There is no way to "satisfactorily answer" someone who believes steel components are proof of thermite. Also see information about the Bessemer Process. The initial charge of jet fuel was blown throughout the building. This started multiple fires (clouds of fuel particles were blown down the elevator shafts and then ignited). On top of the structural damage to the impact site, the air flow probably produced a Bessemer-like process, which generates slag. Certainly by the time it pancaked conditions in the understructure would at local spots have approximated a blast furnace.

As for the other stuff, it is much on the same level. You might as well accuse the government of being involved in prostitution rings because it prosecutes for tax evasion if you don't report income. The overwhelming attempt of the government has been to try to stop drug use. I doubt they will ever succeed.

But yes, freedom is good and pragmatism is a fundamental component of countries with representative politics. It will be messy and imperfect, but at least in the US one can form a labor union without getting arrested and thrown in jail. That was not always true, and it is testimony to the ability of the representative government system to slowly generate a liberal and free society.
Bob Don't talk about brain-dead liberals while ignoring the complete didsaster that is "conservatism".

I haven't. Read the end of the post. Read the freakin' blog. If you want to try that little search feature up at the top of this blog, you'll discover that I was begging people to put pressure on Congress to stop the 2005 bankruptcy reform act, for example. Pretty obviously a lot that I have written about banking and risk lately directly contradicts the statements of some top financial types.

But if you really want change (especially on this banking stuff), you simply must start dealing with reality. First, Bush didn't start the process. Glass-Steagall was repealed under Clinton. Second, Clinton's administration, from THE VERY BEGINNING, was aligned with the big banks and the Street. Why do you think Clinton started with people like Reich and Rubin, and raised so much money from Wall Street? Mind you, Congress was just as big a player and the Congress which passed the final Glass-Steagall repeal was GOP-controlled. Gramm-Leach-Bliley followed the actual agglomeration which prompted it!! Earlier in the clinton administration other financials got special waivers!

Right now Bush is standing against bailing out these banks. Clintonites like Rubin are pushing the bailouts.

You've got to come to grips with the fact that both parties accepted the lobbying efforts of the big financials with very little scrutiny. They pretty much took the money, shrugged and said "Whatever!" Over the last few decades the US government and BOTH parties decided to dismantle the system of checks and balances that kept the financial system in something of a risk equilibrium. Another bill passed in 1999 changed the regulation of commodities (contained the Enron loophole) and may have something to do with the current situation. SOX was passed in 2002, but poor old Sarbanes received so much flak for it that he retired before the last midterms. One of the first things that happened when control of Congress rolled over after the last midterms was that the NY senators immediately started talking about changes to SOX.

I've read a lot about the Obama "cult", but I think his appeal is based on the idea that we really do need a change in Washington and a recognition that it is unlikely that Hillary will truly provide it!

I cannot be comfortably in the Republican or Democratic ranks because of stuff like this. The policies themselves, not the name of the party that advances them, are what is important.

Bush is not in the clear even personally on this, because he appointed Hank Paulson, who chaired the group that produced the report on hedge fund regulation declaring that "there was no problem!" The spectacular failure of the financial regulatory system is a direct result of relatively recent innovations.
"I'm hip to this statement but your
12:29 statement is just this side of naive, three come to mind immediately: Paul O'Neill; Colin Powell; Jim Jeffords."

Well, JR, I don't know much about Paul O'Neill and don't want to research him, so I won't try to address him. Perhaps other readers do/will.

Colin Powell is a Republican, though as you seem to be trying to indicate, he is more moderate than much of the Bush Administration. Yet he commands a great deal of admiration from broad range of Republicans, frequently being discussed for a potential presidential bid. Therefore, I would say that he is an indication that the GOP does *not* read dissidents out of the party but rather often continues to honor them even when they express very different opinions from mainstream GOP thought/opinion.

Jeffords is quite different. He was long a moderate/liberal conservative and was accepted within the GOP on that basis. In 2001, he quit the GOP in a bid to gain a leadership position by becoming the critical 51st vote to support Democratic positions. We can differ about whether that was an idealistic switch - because he discovered that his positions were more Democratic than Republican - or a political move to enhance his personal position in the Senate. There are valid arguments either way. However, what is leaving behind the facts would be to consider this supporting the meme that the GOP ejects dissidents since he was long a dissident and was neither encouraged or forced to leave. In fact, if I remember correctly, there was a strong attempt by other moderate/liberal Republicans to keep him after he made his announcements.

So I'll by default give you Paul O'Neill because I don't want to do any research. The others do not support the "reject the dissident" argument, since Powell is still Republican and Jeffords quit despite strong lobbying by Republicans to get him to stay in the GOP.
Excellent Post.

I will try to comment briefly although could elaborate at length.

There is far too little training and exercising the mind in thinking and control of actions within ancient Greeks golden mean. If you don't operate on Use of Reason, man, what are you?

You cannot feed all your appetites and expect to have discipline of mind or action.

The univs. have helped destroy this country. It's an obsolete model.Adv. babysitting for the most part. Hot air and papers. To me, it's, "Can You Not Read ...and Apply" ?(like our grandparents did) Growth of Union controlled staff and empire building programs, buildings, etc. for own vested interests. Ph.Ds other than highly accomplished Renaissance type persons or earned for years of hard science research reward? They're Pinhead Dopes and butt kissers wannabes to the established staff to advance & get their spots later. All with about zero discipline imposed on thousands per year.
Same for acting honorably and dealing with consequences if not. Our great grandparents and grandparents were smarter --in many ways.

Interesting to me, most of the comments reflect biased and political bias based thinking.

I would prefer not having to talk about Obama at all. He is like some Manchurian candidate to us. All the PR puffery and revving up crowds is scary. He has no experience, etc. etc. etc. as I stated on a prior commented post.
And, attorneys don't impress smart people any more; they deal in circular reasoning, etc. etc. in case you haven't figured that out by now in life.

Read the ancient Greeks writings or as recent as Franklin's words about Hamilton and puffery oratory lately or at all?

If you read the Greeks and have read more of your history you know that emotionally based orators can are scary. His thinking is toward socialism. Scary because he is another living a lush lifestyle as elitist--socialist (my copyrighted term).

At best, Obama is a Congressman, or a college prof. ( maybe a missed calling as preacher). No higher than Congr. or at community level where he can do community work to better his region that he talks about. Same for Reagan and Bill Clinton to cover both sides.

Enough for now.
SI - Right before the Romans started their decline was the era of the great orators. Not a good reflection.

Yes, you are right about the comments. There is some debate on facts but more debate on who is to blame for unknown circumstances. The problem is that as citizens, we cannot get what we want unless we hold our own interests above those of the parties. Or to put it another way, it will be impossible to solve problems if we won't first sit down and figure out what they are.

So I am thinking that the next president is not going to get much support. Most of the conditions will not be that president's fault, but the unlucky pres will not be able to dole out the bread and circuses.

My personal belief is that both the Ds & the Rs have collaborated in trying to keep third-party candidates out of general election debates precisely so they would not be challenged on uncomfortable issues. I don't like it. I think the political dealers in the apparatus of both parties are no good. They prefer to try to dupe people into believing that if their own candidate is elected, everything will suddenly magically be better. I would like to see a third party.

I sent money to Lieberman hoping he would run as an Independent for that reason. I don't agree with a lot of Lieberman's positions, but he is a decent guy who is willing to take a stand. He seems about as honest as anyone in politics. Anything to break the complacency.

Frank - You didn't mention Lieberman and the wrath of the Dems. He caught a lot of heat for not toeing the line.
Arthur Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. One one level this is nonsense: any technology can be understood by someone who makes the effort, and the effort isn't usually all that high to get at least a basic understanding. But for people who don't ever bother/were never taught to understand, it must indeed seem like there's a lot of magic around.

For example, MOM, you mention the Bessemer process. I doubt if 5% of the population could explain what this process is, and doubt if 10% could explain *any* process for making steel, even approximately. In most schools, education about "technology" seems to consist of clicking icons on a computer screen.

At the same time, there seems to be less and less *history* taught in schools, as all disciplines whatsoever are dissolved into a "social science" mush. So I guess it's not surprising that people who are surrounded by apparent magic, and who have no real handle on the world's sequence of events, would be attracted to magical thinking and to consipiracy theories.
After some walking and thinking.

U.S. has had far too many years of easy living, consumer gorging, and living off what grandparents made for the country. Wanting to live like princes and princesses ---off other people's genuine production and export chain.

Ratcheting all down and squeezing out the excesses and the population finding ways to publicly punish all the financial firm crooks would really help this country.

My conclusion? Most are too soft and too spoiled these days. Left wingers or right wingers thinking is just as bad. Can only be around those who think and operate based on logic with @ 20% emotion for own sanity.

Was it not Epicitetus that said ( paraphrasing)

If you do not use Reason man, then what are you?
What else separates you from ...?
Does not the captain of a ship rely on his compass and instruments to guide the ship on course?
Does not the carpenter use the plumb to guide him in his craft? Does not the physician use instruments and measure of his medicines to go about his business? Why would you, man, think you can go about through your days without reason as your ruler to guide your mind?

You must exercise and train your mind and your habits as the athlete trains for competition. Purging vices necessary also. .

Strong mind and body and Stoic enduring of pain and adverse situations. Further, he used Nature and examples in nature to keep one's feet on the ground and focus real world.
etc. etc. etc.

Smart Independent
(at smartadviser)


Anyone that comes to the site & reads about Epictetus should know that he was captured and crippled by Romans. Through that suffering and his mental processes, and learnings, then went on to be one of the best philosophers of all time for many of us.

Did you all know that Epictetus was the favorite of
Admiral Stockdale and aided him in enduring?
Excuse as forgot to address the Independents topic
succinctly at this time.

Independents are @ 30% and growing.

Smrt Indepndnt

Sorry I missed/forgot the sentence that bashed cultic Conservatives at the end of the post.

On the other hand, it did follow a lot of what looked like liberal bashing, even if it wasn't.

Oddly, I'm not sure I'm a liberal. I do know that the Constitution was designed to prevent concentration of power in government; to have that in place and then allow the unbelievable concentration of power in corporations, which then buy the government, does not sound truly "Conservative" to me, but it seems to be OK with the neo-cons. I despise Bush/Cheney.

Yes I knew Clinton signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Pretty interesting, too: Glass-Steagall enacted in the 30s, no huge market meltdowns. Glass-Steagall repealed in '99, dot.com meltdown followed by the incredible ongoing mess we have now, which I think has the potential to rival the Depression.

Clinton also gave us NAFTA and DMCA.

This is part of why I voted Obama in the primary. I think Hillary is bought and paid for. I'm not sure what I'll do in the general.

I'm considering voting for Obama in the general because the executive branch needs a good fumigation after Bush/Cheney. (Also, I do think Obama is really bright and shows some signs of leadership - if that's worth anything.) And I'm thinking of voting republican for congress, hoping that gridlock will stop the crazier stuff from getting done.

I still think Obama's race speech is the best thing said recently on the subject on this scale. It wasn't perfect, but what is?
Bob, I was thinking of voting for Obama pretty much for the same reason.

But now I'm pretty dubious. I understand we never a get a perfect president, and that no one person can be a great fit for all the challenges. But it seems to me that we've got three candidates with genuine problems.

I never considered this church thing seriously, and when I finally sat down and read what had people so upset I realized I'd been facile. So now I will sit and ponder it for a while.

Clinton is a definite no. She's bad on a whole bunch of points. My reaction to McCain is one of sheer horror. If he wins we need a Dem Congress to gutcheck him. But will they? I don't know. I feel ill when I think of him appointing SC justices.

This is a real mess.

Obama is a great speaker, and Bush is a terrible speaker. Otherwise, some of the things that worried me about Bush the most seem to be problems with Obama. Neither appear to be realistic about human nature. I am looking for some cynicism.
No offense, OriginalFrank, but if you don't want to do the research then you are part of the problem. This unwillingness to learn and evolve one's ideas and philosophies is exactly why our Country has turned into one big partisan battlefield.

Thanks, MoM, for providing the thought-provoking post.
"No offense, OriginalFrank, but if you don't want to do the research then you are part of the problem. This unwillingness to learn and evolve one's ideas and philosophies is exactly why our Country has turned into one big partisan battlefield."

So if I don't want to research for you any selected person or topic of your choice, I am part of the problem? Talk about demonization and partisan battleground creation!

This is not the way I learned the scientic method (or indeed debate). If you have a hypothesis that O'Neill indeed supports your point (as the other two you proffered do not), please offer some evidence!

I am willing and interested to consider evidence but haven't seen any yet.
Independents = @30%+

5%-10% of thinking moderates (of Dems or Repubs.could put an Independent in office.

A farce the hunfreds of millions wasted on these campaigns and handed over to campaign consultants and media cos. & medoa jackasses.

Sorry, all Obama is scary and
far too inexperienced; sophistry is dangerous; he's never run anything; he want to go around and pass ou tax dollars to be liked: etc.etc. We wouldn't even want thos who haven't paid adult taxes for several yrs. to vote.................


Most Moderates were tossed out by ea. party 25 yrs, ago.


A preference for Star Wars jeddi style & ninja style when needed on this earth.

Smart Independent
# posted by Blogger vader : 10:40 AM

"The belief that the US created Aids to hurt the blacks after the US did infect blacks with syphilis [link] is not a totally irrational belief."
-- -- -- --

No. Didn't happen that way. To clarify: the study did not "infect" these men, who were already suffering from late-stage syphilis. Our culpability lies in the Public Health Service not treating these men with antibiotics that they knew would have helped them.
A_Nonny_Mouse stated:

the study did not "infect" these men, who were already suffering from late-stage syphilis.

Any attempt to minimize this travesty is wrong.

The subjects partners were neither treated nor warned when they became infected. That qualifies as defacto infecting IMO.

The fact that these men were followed for decades shows that at least some of them had early-stage syphilis at the start of their "participation".

These men were followed for decades, the "study" lasted from 1932 - 1972. Penicillin became available in *1947*, yet these men were not treated, in fact they were put on lists at area hospitals to be denied treatment.

I, in fact, had no idea that this travesty lasted until 1972 - I only found out while finding info to rebut A_Nonny_Mouse.

1972! 7 years *after* the voting rights act was passed.

This was not just some rogue group of doctors - this was the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control.

Also, per wikipedia, "This was not a secret study; several papers published reports and data throughout the study."

From Tuskegee Timeline" at http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm:

1936: Local physicians asked to assist and asked not to treat men. It was also decided to follow the men until death.

1940 Efforts made to hinder men from getting treatment ordered under the military draft effort.

1945 Penicillin accepted as treatment of choice for syphilis.

1947 USPHS establishes "Rapid Treatment Centers" to treat syphilis; men in study are not treated, but syphilis declines.

1968 Concern raised about ethics of study by Peter Buxtun and others.

1969 CDC reaffirms need for study and gains local medical societies' support (AMA and NMA chapters officially support continuation of study).

And people wonder why black people are pissed off. Sheesh.
OriginalFrank: Do you even remember what you wrote that I responded to? Then let me quote:

From my perspective the opposite is true: that the GOP keeps its dissenters (and nomimates one for President this year) while Democrats drive theirs out (Leiberman, Zell Miller).

No explanations, no backstory, simply a statement, an opinion, hardly part of any "scientific process." Your response to my examples, made in a format indentical to yours, hand-waves my O'Neill citation and argues that the other two don't count because one is still embraced by Republicans and the other never really was a Republican.

I ignored your faulty reasoning behind Powell and Jeffords because I thought it was lazy that you started a partisan argument and then declined to understand a counter-argument when it was proffered. Do some legwork on your own, come up with your own judgements, I now seriously doubt that your Lieberman/Zell example was even your own.

So, then, I'll provide the reasoning for my argument that Paul O'Neill is just as good an example of the PTB in a US political party pushing somebody out of power because they didn't toe the line.

Paul O'Neill, the first Secretary of Treasury under George W. Bush, the former Chairman of Alcoa and the former Chairman of the RAND corporation, was forced from office in 2002 because of his arguments with the rest of the administration over his predictions of federal budget deficits and the inevitability of tax increases and/or spending cuts. (I paraphrase from Wikipedia which I used to help freshen my memory)

Lieberman, btw, considers himself an Independent Democrat and still belongs to the Senate Democratic Caucus; hardly forced from the Party. Where is Colin Powell, he who is so embraced by Republican Party? The last we heard from him was when we found out about how he felt that the Bush Administration threw him under the bus with his presentation to the UN outlining the reasons for invading Iraq.

Zell Miller was hardly forced from the Democratic party, he gradually became more conservative over time a happily and heartily jumped ship in the early 2000's. He's an evangelical christian who its on the board of the NRA. Few would argue that he's clamoring to get back into the Democratic party.

Lastly, Jeffords probably falls in the same camp as Miller and I was incorect in citing him as someone who was forced from his party. Jeffords was somebody whose political allegiance was initially fashioned by his own cultural past but came to realize that his belief system was no longer embodied by that party and conseqently switched parties.

But, seriously, why would you want somebody to spoonfeed this to you, if you care so much look it up yourself.
"No explanations, no backstory, simply a statement, an opinion, hardly part of any "scientific process." Your response to my examples, made in a format indentical to yours, hand-waves my O'Neill citation and argues that the other two don't count because one is still embraced by Republicans and the other never really was a Republican."

Right, since you said that the GOP drove dissenters out, and both of these suggested examples did not support that thesis.

I agree with your summary of Miller and Jeffords, with the caveat that the Jeffords switch will forever remain clouded the possible opportunism of the switch timing. But without getting inside his head, we'll never know how the factors weighed so it is right to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the two are roughly similar.

I didn't need to look up Jeffords, Powell, Miller, or Leiberman (much) since I am quite familiar with them/remember them quite clearly since I am a resident of the DC metro area where this kind of stuff is the daily news. And I don't care enough about "winning" some point with you to do more research -- simply pointing out that two of your three suggested examples did not support your hypothesis was sufficient.

Re: "But, seriously, why would you want somebody to spoonfeed this to you, if you care so much look it up yourself."

As I indicated, I knew enough without research to completely refute 2 out of 3 of your examples. I don't care enough about "winning" a debate with you to look up the third. Again, if you feel the third case (alone) proves that the GOP eject dissenters, please do provide that evidence. So far you've convinced me that O'Neill was pushed from a high administration post after repeatedly disagreeing with his boss. As a DC-metro resident, please allow me to say "ho hum". So routine, it's boring. I see nothing indicating he was "purged" from the GOP. Just that his economic perspective differed from others (and perhaps correctly given events).

I'll say no more on this topic -- MOM's site is not really a political forum (though she does often weigh in with interesting perspectives that touch on politics such as the original blog that touched this off. But I will be looking to see if you provide some evidence supporting the idea that O'Neill was forced from the GOP or in general supporting the hypothesis that the GOP ejects dissenters.

Thanks for an interesting exchange.
Obama has the most liberal voting record of anyone in the Senate. There are no instances of him working in a bi-partisan manner in the Senate. If he can't bring any sort of unity to that small group, why should I think he can do it to the country at large? To date, all I have heard is how we are all victims together and the evil unnamed corporate CEOs are to blame for all our ills.

As for the testing done on black in the 40s, yes, that was terrible. I'd bet that the same sort of testing was also done on whites, especially in the prisons. Nothing like what the Germans and Japanese did during WWII but that doesn't excuse that either.

I've got a couple of unique persectives on this. The first is that I went to a segregated grade school. I mention that to say that I have some idea of how much change and advancement that black folks have made since those days. And secondly, since I don't have tv, I've heard very little of Obama's speeches as delivered. If you read the words, you'd get a much different viewpoint of him. And that is why I say that he has not acknowledged the advancement that our society has made in dealing with racial issues. Secondly, he has too many unexplained issues. Say what you will, any Republican who attended a church with a pastor like that would be creamed in the nominating process. Obama still hasn't answered legitimate questions about why he stayed in that church.

I've already seen what happens when the Democrats cut and run from an unpopular war. I've sat through more than one president that decided bigger government would solve pretty much everything. I don't much care about the package those ideas come in. They just won't work. There have been two instances (NAFTA and pulling out the troops in 16 months) where his advisors have said that he doesn't really mean what he has said publically. If we can't trust what he says he wants to do, why should we trust him at all??
JR & Frank - I believe that neither party really wants to eject any member in Congress, because it can only hurt them.

Aside from that, I would just like to point out that neither party is monolithic. A Republican in a liberal state can often be more liberal than a Democrat in a more conservative state.

What I hate about today's politics is that it seems to me both Congressional factions are conniving to ignore important problems. This bothers me acutely.

Even if you hate Bush, he at least was willing to go to Congress and ask them to consider means of dealing with our unfunded retirement programs. This is clearly an issue which cuts across all divisions of society. Only the very small number of the quite wealthy can afford to be unconcerned about those programs. My belief is that we are beginning to see the economic results of the futzed CPI calculation. No one talks about this. Did no one stop to think that if real incomes were to fall by 20% for about 13% of the population we'd see it in consumption spending?

Congress just punted. A lot of the screaming about Bush is unfair. It seems to me it was really generated by anger for bringing up the topic. People are entitled to say that the idea of private accounts is no good (although the government workers have them, and it strikes me as a bit odd to scream that this would be terrible for the beneficiaries when that's what Congress has provided). However, people are NOT entitled to say that a trust fund exists when it doesn't. The only assets the Medicare/SS funds have are promises to pay from the taxpayers.

That is just one example, but it is a darned significant one.
SI - Your point about independents being able to get an independent candidate in might explain why both parties are conniving to suppress such candidacies. They seem to be cooperating to hold their franchise.

It would be okay with me if the parties were actually dealing with the country's real problems, but I don't think they are.

I'm irked!
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