Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (11/15)

Ok, so how is this for strange. NASA has observed an object that looks like a six-tailed comet.

And the Smithsonian has a story about a fake Civil War veteran.

Come take a tour of Ancient Rome.

On to more serious topics, a new economic study has determined that there are significant and measurable benefits to sponsoring poor children in developing countries.
The results in our other five countries confirm the positive impact of Compassion's child-sponsorship program in Uganda. In all six countries, we find that sponsorship results in better educational outcomes for children. Overall, sponsorship makes children 27 to 40 percent more likely to complete secondary school, and 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete a university education. ...
To put it simply, these educational impacts of sponsorship are large—roughly equal to the substantial effects of the Rosenwald Schools program that from 1913–31 educated blacks in the Jim Crow South. They are roughly double those of Oportunidades, the celebrated conditional-cash-transfer program that gives cash to mothers in Mexico for keeping their children in school. It's so successful, it has been replicated in dozens of developing countries around the world with financial incentives from the World Bank. 
Compassion's results extend beyond school attendance. We found that child sponsorship means that when the child grows up, he is 14–18 percent more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35 percent more likely to obtain a white-collar job. Many of the Compassion-sponsored children become teachers as adults instead of remaining jobless or working in menial agricultural labor. We found some evidence that they are more likely to grow up to be both community leaders and church leaders.
And speaking of economics, it looks like Americans may be trying to kick the credit card habit.

For milenninals who have jobs, LinkedIn is trying to promote take your parent to work day. Yeah, it's kinda silly.

You didn't think I could get through this post without a political link, did you? Well, here's an excellent one on the fallout of the shutdown on the Republican party. And then there's always the attempts to draw meaning from the Virginia elections. But that's all I'm going to say on that topic.

Because this article on C.S. Lewis is better than anything political.

And finally, because we always need a video, here's one to encourage you to keep marching whatever comes your way.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (11/8)

This week the rumor arose that David Barton was considering a run as a US Senator from Texas. However, he has since stated that he will not run.

Thomas Kidd identifies some quotes commonly but incorrectly attributed to Patrick Henry. You may have heard one of them: "it cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!"

And this week was election week. Some of the most overlooked races were probably in Iowa, where a candidate won a mayor seat with eighteen write-in votes.

Also on the election front: the electorate in five Colorado counties voted to explore seceding from the state.

Ender's Game was released last week, so it's a good time to consider some of the actual military tactics reflected in the novel.

Thaddeus Kozinski writes that a liberal arts is simultaneously useless and very important.

Journalist Kirsten Powers tells the story of her conversion to Christianity.

The Obamacare rollout is getting so troubled that Democratic Senators are starting to complain to the President.

And finally, on Obamacare, here are Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley at this year's County Music Awards.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Prudence and the afterlife

Last week National Review published a long but very good piece reflecting on the government shutdown and the lack of prudence demonstrated by the Republicans. Among other things, the writers note:
Conservative groups that have internalized the apocalyptic view of politics believe the most effective model for gaining ground is simply pressuring Republicans to be more confrontational. The first step of the defunding strategy was not to persuade most Republicans that it was a good idea; it was to force them to go along with it whether or not they agreed. So the defunders prevented the majority of House Republicans, who disagreed, from being able to follow a different approach, and threatened to run primary opponents against some of them. Then they began to insist that Republicans who remained critical were dishonorably breaking the party’s (coerced) unity. It turned out that the power to move the House Republican caucus is not the power to move the world. Again and again it has instead been the case that as House Republicans go, so go House Republicans. 
While not working, this approach increases the amount of bad blood among allies. The elevation of tactics to the level of principle means that there will always be new turncoats to purge. In recent weeks, Senators Ron Johnson and Rand Paul, both previously tea-party favorites, have been denounced for not being sufficiently committed to defunding. Constantly generating new turncoats is not a sign of a workable strategy. 
This article prompted Redstate's Erick Ericson to declare that NR was no longer a conservative standard-bearer:
Now, instead of standing athwart history yelling stop, National Review spends 3,591 words to tell conservatives to stop fighting until they win. National Review has individual voices that echo the hunger of conservatives outside Washington. National Review itself does align with those conservatives on a number of issues from immigration to the export-import bank to the farm bill. But in the hard slogs against the establishment of our own side, National Review most often chooses to sit with the establishment or on the sidelines.
However, it was the next paragraph in Erickson's article that particularly jumped out at me. Erickson wrote:
Like much of the Republican Leadership, National Review wants to win majorities before unleashing hell, but history shows us repeatedly that Republicans never unleash hell once they have the majority. They become well-fed denizens of power, using it to reward friends and influence people, instead of willingly surrendering it to shrink the leviathan. More often, these Republicans often have help from the very voices that should be urging restraint and accountability. Accommodation of pro-life statists among the GOP should not be the hallmark of conservatism’s standard bearer.
This is the very "apocalyptic view of politics" that NR criticized in the first place.

One of the strengths of conservatism is its resistance to utopian ideology--those plans that attempt to create heaven on earth. There is a healthy reaction among conservatives to anyone who wants to fundamentally transform or remake society. Politics has its own limits. And this fits well with my Christian political philosophy as well: politics is the art of pursuing the common good. Heaven is in heaven, not on earth,

Conservatives today need to be especially cautious here. They need prudence, as the original NR piece pointed out. There is a tendency to say if we only have the right candidate, if we only can get so and so out of office, if we can only rewrite the rules, then we can have our conservative society. The appeal of the conservative (or libertarian) utopia is held as being just out of reach, yet blocked by whatever the target of the day is. Hence the need to "unleash hell" on "them."

This is not utopia in the positive sense, where a beatific vision is sold to the people. Instead this is negative-utopia, where support is garnered by the appeal of tormenting the opposition. It's actually not unlike the hell that utopias always fall into, with loyalty tests, purges, exiles, and executions. It just short circuits the attempted utopia and aims directly for hell.

I'm not interested in creating heaven for those who agree with me or imposing hell on those who don't. Both strategies replace an idea of the "common good" with something neither common nor good. And besides being impossible and subject to backfire, both inclinations attempt to pull the afterlife into the present and are consequently fundamentally neither conservative nor (more importantly) Christian.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Finding out what's in it

During the healthcare debate, Representative Pelosi infamously stated that "we have to pass the bill so that we can find out what is in it." You can see the clip here.

The comment sounds silly, as if those voting on legislation didn't know what was going to happen.

So imagine my surprise when I found James Madison making a very similar (although more verbose) argument about adopting the Constitution. Here he is in the Federalist 37 (sorry, no video available). After stating what a miracle it was that the Constitutional Convention could agree at all, he turns to those who are demanding more clarity from the proposed Constitution:
Experience has instructed us that no skill in the science of government has yet been able to discriminate and define, with sufficient certainty, its three great provinces the legislative, executive, and judiciary; or even the privileges and powers of the different legislative branches. Questions daily occur in the course of practice, which prove the obscurity which reins in these subjects, and which puzzle the greatest adepts in political science. 
The experience of ages, with the continued and combined labors of the most enlightened legislatures and jurists, has been equally unsuccessful in delineating the several objects and limits of different codes of laws and different tribunals of justice. The precise extent of the common law, and the statute law, the maritime law, the ecclesiastical law, the law of corporations, and other local laws and customs, remains still to be clearly and finally established in Great Britain, where accuracy in such subjects has been more industriously pursued than in any other part of the world. The jurisdiction of her several courts, general and local, of law, of equity, of admiralty, etc., is not less a source of frequent and intricate discussions, sufficiently denoting the indeterminate limits by which they are respectively circumscribed. All new laws, though penned with the greatest technical skill, and passed on the fullest and most mature deliberation, are considered as more or less obscure and equivocal, until their meaning be liquidated and ascertained by a series of particular discussions and adjudications. Besides the obscurity arising from the complexity of objects, and the imperfection of the human faculties, the medium through which the conceptions of men are conveyed to each other adds a fresh embarrassment. The use of words is to express ideas. Perspicuity, therefore, requires not only that the ideas should be distinctly formed, but that they should be expressed by words distinctly and exclusively appropriate to them. But no language is so copious as to supply words and phrases for every complex idea, or so correct as not to include many equivocally denoting different ideas. Hence it must happen that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be rendered inaccurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered. And this unavoidable inaccuracy must be greater or less, according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined. When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.
Here, then, are three sources of vague and incorrect definitions: indistinctness of the object, imperfection of the organ of conception, inadequateness of the vehicle of ideas. Any one of these must produce a certain degree of obscurity. The convention, in delineating the boundary between the federal and State jurisdictions, must have experienced the full effect of them all.
Now granted, there is still quite a difference between Madison's argument and Pelosi's. Madison is saying that they were as clear as language permitted, while Pelosi was simply dodging a question about poor policy writing. Madison was not hiding behind poor drafting, but instead arguing that the drafting was as good as possible even if it wasn't always as clear as some wanted.

I think Madison's point is well worth remembering. He notes that even in what was likely considered one of the most legally advanced nations at the time and in large part a model for the drafters--Great Britain--the laws still needed to be worked through after passage to determine what exactly they meant. Madison reminds us that even the Constitution is subject to this limitation of language.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (11/1)

Yesterday was Halloween, and today is All Saint's Day. What better way to note the occasion than with photographs of ghosts.

In case you needed another reason to not drive in DC, the sister of a friend of mine was pulled over and ended up with $905 in traffic fines. That's a lot of kittens.

I was at a bookstore last week and found a book that the author describes as the “imagined embrace between Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran and Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind.” Now I really want to read it.

This is a fascinating article examining one of the issues facing the pro-life culture:
I think the actual problem here, I think the reason people continue to defend abortion is because, essentially, of existential terror: fear of what will happen when something unexpected, uninvited, unplanned bursts into our lives demanding action. I think that is a crippling psychological problem that doesn’t even rise to the level of morality, that we can’t just tell people to suck up and get over.
We may not know why the chicken crossed the road, but at least he can do it safely.

When the Navy needed a captain for it's new destroyer, it turned to none other than Captain James Kirk. And speaking of ships, Blackbeard's cannons are being recovered.

And this is for those thinking that Thomas Kinkade paintings are lacking a little ... something

Vision Forum Ministries President Doug Philips announced yesterday that he is resigning his position.

Have you ever wondered what the Civil War would look like if covered by today's media? Sample:
NEW BATTLEGROUND POLL: Lincoln’s negatives are “through the roof” in Va., N.C., S.C., Ga., Miss., Ala., Louisiana, Ark., Tenn.  PLAY-BOOK TRUTH BOMB: Lincoln is not going to improve these numbers if he refuses to press the flesh. A playbooker telegraphs: “I don’t know what happened to the gregarious guy we saw in 1860. Jeff Davis hasn’t been invited to the White House for cocktails once since Abe became president!”
And speaking of presidential negatives, Obamacare is resulting on lots of people seeing their existing policies be canceled and the White House knew this would happen. This is more than just not being competently run. When the left-leaning Slate begins paragraphs with "When launched with the fanfare and success of a North Korean missile..." you know there's a problem.

And on the political front, a new book indicates that President Obama seriously considered dropping Joe Biden from the 2012 re-election ticket.

Also speaking of presidential negatives, Bush's aren't quite as bad as they used to be.

In appalling news to Sriracha lovers everywhere, the factory could be closed.

This week The Atlantic ran an article on why homeschooling is such a good thing: "The final question is what sort of educational system is likely to produce the best results in the long run, or to be more specific, what system is best suited to evolving in advantageous ways. I'd bet on the diversified system, the one where there are always competitors with different models to measure public schools against."

And finally, because this week is election week here in Virginia.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (10/25)

As usual, we'll start off with some political articles before getting to the really important stuff.

The Tea Party revolution may be fostering an establishment counterrevolution.

The Obamacare rollout is resulting in mass cancellations of existing health insurance policies.

And this one was excellent on the failure of the Republican message to connect with white middle-class voters:
Today’s conservative movement increasingly emphasizes “getting ahead,” “owning your own business,” and economic dynamism as essential to the American dream. That’s what “you built that” was all about. For whites without any college education, however, these are largely alien concepts. 
On the cultural landscape, Harvard students are turning to ancient Chinese philosophy.

And Neil Gaiman talks about the vital importance of children reading and libraries.

Now, for the really important stuff

Legoland may be coming to Virginia.

Jewel covered skeletons may sound like something out of a Pirates movie, but you can actually find them in small churches all over Europe.

And for school administrators: you may want to put some boundaries on bring your pet to school day.

And finally, the most important part of this post. How long does it take a blu-ray laser to pop 100 black balloons?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Senate Battle That Wasn't

One of my favorite examples of Presidential leadership, which I have used as an anecdote in many conversations but never written about here, is the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's navigation of the United Nations Charter through the United States Senate.

Now you may have never heard this story. After all, the Charter, which under the Constitution needed a 2/3 vote in the Senate to be ratified as a treaty, was approved by the Senate on a landslide vote of 89 to 2. What's incredible about that vote is not it's count but its context--just twenty-five years earlier the Senate had rejected President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations after a long drawn-out legislative battle between the President and the Senate. In contrast, by the time the United Nations Charter came to a vote, it was a mere formality. While cultural and attitude changes can be partly attributed to the change, a lot of the credit belongs to the leadership of President Roosevelt.

But first, we need to examine the Senate's consideration of the League of Nations. The popular story is that the isolationists in the Senate blocked the treaty. And while this is not false, it is not entirely true either. Yes, there was a group of isolationist Senators (known as the "Irreconcilables") who were dead set against joining the League of Nations. However, they only could count between fourteen and sixteen Senators in their group, which was far below the thirty-two "no" votes needed to block the treaty. Even more startling is the fact that the remaining Senators all supported the League of Nations in some form--more than enough to ratify the Treaty. However, this support was also split into two groups, those who supported Wilson's version of the treaty as submitted to the Senate (which I shall call the Advocates) and a more cautions group, known as the Reservationists, who supported the Treaty in principle but wanted to ensure that the United States' sovereignty would be protected.

So what happened? President Wilson negotiated the Treaty without Senate involvement and then submitted it to the Senate for ratification. The Reservationists and Irreconcilables combined their votes in the Senate and attached a list of reservations to the Treaty. When the Treaty with the reservations was voted on, it failed by 39-55. Then a motion to consider the Treaty without reservations was voted on, which also failed by a vote of 38-53.

Although at first glance the two votes look almost identical, they could hardly be more different. On the vote of the Treaty with reservations, the Reservationists voted in support while the Irreconcilables and Advocates voted against (the Advocates were instructed by Wilson to oppose the Treaty with reservations). Then, on the Treaty without reservations, the Advocates voted in support while the Reservationists and Irreconcilables voted against. The result was that while the necessary two-thirds of Senators did support the general concept of the Treaty, at no time did more than one-third support a specific version. As the former Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations describes, “The thirty-five whose vote kept the Untied States out of the League included twenty-three of its most convinced supporters, acting in loyal obedience to the bidding of their President.” Wilson took an all-or-nothing approach to Senate ratification, and received nothing.

That backdrop is significant to the story of the United Nations Charter. President Roosevelt took specific steps to avoid Wilson's mistakes, and as a result, the Charter was ratified on a 89 to 2 Senate vote. Here is what Roosevelt did differently.

Instead of handing a pre-written treaty to the Senate, Roosevelt included Senators in the Charter drafting and negotiation process. But even more striking was how Roosevelt did this. At the time, the leading Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee was Senator Arthur Vandenberg. As a newspaper editor, Vandenberg had written against the League of Nations, and he was a strong isolationist when he joined the Senate. However, he had been wavering somewhat in that stance during World War II. All the same, Roosevelt knew that Vandenberg could make Senate ratification very difficult.

So Roosevelt selected Vandenberg to be on the delegation to San Francisco to draft and negotiate the Charter. That would be similar to President Obama asking Rep. Paul Ryan to be his budget czar or (even more aptly) selecting Sen. Rand Paul as a delegate to a United Nations meeting.

Senator Vandenberg was naturally suspicious of the offer. He told Roosevelt that he could accept only if it were understood that he was not committed to supporting the finished product in the Senate--a condition Roosevelt agreed to.

At the Conference, Vandenberg threw himself entirely into the writing of the Charter. However, he maintained his independence and at least once even used the threat of his Senate veto to influence the negotiation and drafting. The result was a Charter that he could and did support, an endorsement that neutralized the Senate opposition and made ratification a formality. And in a particularly ironic twist, the approved United Nations Charter looked an awful lot like the League of Nations Treaty with the proposed reservations.

This contrast between Wilson and Roosevelt illustrates effective leadership traits. Wilson thought he could simply hand the Senate a finished product and railroad it through ignoring sympathetic criticism. His inability to either consider his opponents motivation or compromise drove away those who supported the fundamental concept, resulting in defeat.

In contrast, Roosevelt neutralized his potential chief opponent, not by pushing him aside but by including him in the finished product. Roosevelt was able to take those on the fence, include and consider their concerns, and ultimately turn them into supporters. That this tactic worked is demonstrated by the lack of Senate resistance to the Charter's ratification. President Roosevelt's ability to concede small issues and incorporate his opposition meant that no fight was necessary.


Dana Fleming, The Role of the Senate in Treaty-Making: A Survey of Four Decades, The American Political Science Review 28, no. 4: 583-598 (1934).

James Gazell, Arthur H. Vandenberg, Internationalism, and the United Nations, Political Science Quarterly 88, no. 3: 375-394 (1973).

Leo Goss, The Charter of the United Nations and the Lodge Reservations, The American Journal of International Law 41, no. 3: 531-554 (1947).

W. Stull Holt, Treaties Defeated by the Senate: A Study of the Struggle between President and Senate over the Conduct of Foreign Relations (1933).

Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, FDR and the Creation of the U.N. (1997).

F.P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations (1952).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Undemocratic Opposition (Blair’s Lessons, part IX)

So the Federal Government has reopened, and, less than a year after being defeated in an election, the Republicans are now going through yet another self-assessment, with some (in my judgement correctly) calling the shutdown a suicide mission and others looking desperately for a silver lining. But however you look at it, the Republicans raised expectations for an impossible outcome and then failed to deliver. This will naturally leave many of the faithful disillusioned. And that disillusionment opens a temptation to blame the system.

Tony Blair explains:
Part of the problem when the Opposition is useless is that the public feel strangely disenfranchised. This was how many Labour people felt during the Thatcher years. It’s why after 1992 Labour started to consider electoral reform. We had lost four elections in a row. The system must be faulty, mustn’t it? Whereas, of course, we were at fault. So this sense of alienation is not, in fact, reasonable. Actually, it’s worse than that; it is profoundly undemocratic. It’s the losing side feeling it shouldn’t have lost and trying to manufacture a rerun, or a change of the rules.
I've seen this repeatedly over the past few years. The effort to declare an election fraudulent, or the President ineligible, or the complaints that I'm not represented by the system, or the citations to the Declaration of Independence urging open rebellion, or seeking to amend the constitution to freeze liberals out, all feed off of this sentiment that the system is broken and, therefore, the result is illegitimate. It starts with the premise that "my party should be in power" -- a sentiment which, as Blair notes, is profoundly undemocratic. (The Democratic obsession with the "stolen" 2000 election demonstrates that both sides do this.)

When a party loses an election, or a political standoff, often they are at fault but can't admit it. The loss reflects a failure to connect to the people, or a failure to be reasonable, or a failure to truly lead.

So as much as the Republican party may want to blame the system, or blame the Democrats, or blame someone or anyone in an attempt to feel more self-righteous, that temptation must be resisted. The failure is entirely internal. It's a failure of messaging, of policy, and of strategy. And scapegoating merely blinds us to the real cause of the problem, which will prevent correction and result in another defeat next time.

So where to go from here? Well, for one, the Republicans need to admit that they are, in fact, a minority party. Sure, they control one chamber of Congress. But that one chamber cannot set the agenda of the other two. To regain a majority status requires hard work, not just political stunts. Lessons can be drawn from other historic minorities. But instead of merely galvanizing the base by demonizing moderates, Republicans need to learn how to capitalize on the doubts ordinary people have in the Democrats.

So by all means, Republicans, keep the heat on the (large D) Democrats. Attack their policies. Outline differences. Explain problems. But don't forget to do it (small d) democratically.

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (10/18)

This week the quasi-shutdown finally ended and government got back to normal. What did the Republicans gain from it? Oh right, nothing. In fact, less than nothing, since (echoing what I wrote here) "the partial shutdown reinforces public doubt that Republicans can be trusted to govern." The lack of strategy was a major problem. And when even Grover Norquist says the Republicans went too far, well, that's a problem. It also doesn't help that the Republicans declined to negotiate 19 times prior to the shutdown, and then tried to pin the lack of bipartisan talks on the Democrats.

Not that the Democrats look much better in this giant game of chicken played by giant egos. The result: the nation was harmed and nobody won (except for maybe a singing sloth somewhere).

In the meantime, the shutdown failed to stop the Obamacare rollout (which I thought was the entire point--see comment about lack of strategy above). And the rollout has had problems of its own. So much so that President Obama's own former press secretary is wondering if someone should be fired over the debacle. And then one can't help but be amused that this Obamacare supporter became rather upset when informed that it would double his insurance premiums.

Because when it comes to customer service, the government could take a cue from Netflix. Or T-Mobile. That's what millennials appreciate.

And socially, income distribution in the United States is becoming a problem even by capitalist standards. It's no surprise that there's a Marxist renaissance taking place.

But enough about domestic politics.

Russia is building a rail system to bypass the Suez canal. Unfortunately, other parts of its transportation infrastructure are falling apart.

And here's the little known story of Iran Flight 655, which helps explain some of the current tensions between Iran and the United States.

On a completely different note, here's a fascinating scientific development that appears to cheat Newton's third law.

And finally, an explanation for some of the awkwardness in romance.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (10/11)

Let's see, oh, where to start. With the politics, of course.

Apparently all the American flags on the moon are now white. Have we surrendered, or is this just another effect of the shutdown?

And speaking of the congressional problems, some truckers are taking matters into their own hands. So are Millennials (but with more productive consequences).

But for researchers who can no longer access government databases, Oxford Academic is offering free access to its contents.

Did you know that the Founding Fathers engaged with American Muslims? Me neither.

This is an inspiring story of a young mayor transforming the City of Compton, California.

Answers in Genesis has a new ad campaign running on billboards across the country. It reads, "To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you’re wrong." Some aren't very happy about this. And when it comes to missions, this might be a better approach anyway.

I've long enjoyed Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre series. Their next installment, on the life of C.S. Lewis, looks excellent.

And now for the really important things.

A giant dragon skull has washed ashore a British beach.

The head of the US Joint Special Ops has confirmed: "I think ninjas are probably quieter than SEALs, but we are better swimmers, and also better with guns and blowing things up." That settles that.

What is an out of work Disney villain to do (it's a tough economy these days)? Put together a resume, of course. And avoid trying to start an urban farm in Muskegon, Michigan.

No matter how bad your day was, this guy's was worse. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he is still legally dead.

And finally, in honor of the shutdown, here's some political spending logic for you.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Losing A Popular Issue (Blair’s Lessons, part VIII)

Reading about the current government shutdown, ostensibly over Obamacare, reminded me of a story in Tony Blair's autobiography. He wrote about the campaign in 2001, when his government was ultimately voted back into power for another term.

Going into this election, there had been growing discontent with Blair's government. One issue that the Conservatives (Tories) decided to focus on was Blair's unpopular pro-European Union stance. Both the polls and the media revealed that this was a weak point in Blair's platform, so naturally, the Tories thought they could exploit it. Instead, it backfired. Blair explains:
What’s more, while Euroscepticism was just about tolerable, there were—as there always are with such issues—those who wanted to take a position that was already at the outer edge of respectability and push well beyond it. The leadership stance gave them permission to go even further and there’s where the public’s position on Europe couldn’t be entirely guessed by reference to the polls. True, if asked, they supported the Tories on it, but it was never going to determine the election. It wasn’t their priority, so the Tory focus on it gave the Tories a curious, lopsided look that swiftly turned into the thought among the public that, well, maybe they just weren’t ready to govern. Once such a thought takes hold, the election’s over.
In that case, the Tories selected an issue that had popular support, but addressed it in such a way as to appear irresponsible and unprepared to take power. They pushed the issue to hard, to extremely, and consequently severed the popular sentiment from their specific policy stance. The result was another Blair victory—not because the people agreed with Blair, but because they doubted the basic competence of the alternative party.

This demonstrates just how difficult it can be to take a popular issue and translate it to electoral victory. How you address an issue can be even more significant than what the issue is.

I believe that's the issue the Republicans are missing in their attempt to use the government shutdown as an attempt to negotiate delay/repeal of Obamacare. Let's presume for the sake of argument that it really is as unpopular as the Republicans say it is. Stunts like the non-filibuster filibuster that was never intended to block the bill, or the inability to pass a bill out of their own controlled chamber do not instill confidence in the Republican party's ability to govern (were they given power). Nor does the apparent lack of strategy overall.

In fact, I have yet to see a coherent objective to this current tactic. If it's merely about negotiation, than the Obamacare stance is merely a pretext (which is what the Democrats are saying). If it's about Obamacare, than it's not particularly relevant to the budget debate (since the shutdown didn't affect Obamacare anyway, and most of the objectionable stuff isn't a budget question). If it's merely a ploy to make the Democrats give up something, anything, than the Republicans are as petty as they're saying the Democrats are. The only way the Republicans can score even a few points off this is if they are soundly defeated, and then play the victim (a strategy that requires ensuring defeat and claiming it as victory). If it's some combination of the above, which I suspect is the case, well, maybe the Republicans just aren't ready to govern.

Having a popular support on an issue won't help. As Blair warns, "Once such a thought takes hold, the election's over." The people's attitude to the group in power simply becomes (as Blair says a few pages later) "You’ve done OK, the other lot aren’t ready, carry on."

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (10/4)

Alright, first of all,  Homeschoolers Anonymous published an expanded version of my prior post here on the United Nations and parental rights. It was written in response to their prior post arguing that homeschooling is not a human right. Check it my response.

And this week's government shutdown has sure generated a lot of interesting links. For example, those suffering panda withdrawal (since the live feed of the panda at the National Zoo has been turned off) need look no further. And here are 21 other lesser known aspects of the shutdown. And it's even causing a bit of an international embarrassment since, well, the Greek ambassador might just want to visit the Smithsonian exhibit done in cooperation with his country.

But on the bright side, many DC restaurants are offering specials to out of work Government employees. (My favorites are the ones that charge double for members of Congress.)

Of course, politics being what it is, both parties are more concerned with blaming the other then with actually identifying or solving the problem. So far, Republicans seem to be getting the worse end of that game (and rightfully so). One of their problems may be that they don't know how to take hostages. But their complete lack of a strategy might also be a contributing factor. For a recent demonstration, look at the effort that the Republicans deliberately set up to fail the very chamber they control.

 Oh, and Australia had a shutdown ... once. Sigh, sometimes monarchy doesn't look too bad.

Ok, enough of that. On to important things. Like the lake that petrifies any animals that touch it. Or the new island formed after an earthquake. Or the abandoned castle in New York. Or the noise police clowns in Paris.

And here's an interesting article on why tough teachers get good results. And on the topic of education, have you heard about how Christian kids loose their faith in college? Apparently they're more likely to loose it if they don't attend college.

And finally, this is an amazing video about the octopus.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (9/27)

My apologies on the lack of posts recently--after taking the bar exam I moved across the country. However, I'm pretty much settled now, so we can resume.

Alright, where to begin...

Abortion clinics are closing across the nation.

Carl Trueman discusses his concerns with the Christian preoccupation with "Christian worldview."

This is an incredible story of the conversion and baptism of a former Taliban member.

And on the political front, this sums up pretty well why I'm skeptical of the current push to defund Obamacare:
Now the Republican plan relies instead on maintaining a Republican filibuster in the Senate, in perpetuity, to prevent a vote on a bill to open the government. They have maneuvered themselves into the least tenable position to defend a plan that never stood a chance of succeeding in the first place.
This article considers whether election outcomes would be different if decided by chance. They would certainly be a lot cheaper.

And the political nerd in me found this article on the changes in political parties fascinating.

Dr. Mark Mitchell on what's wrong with "Conservatism."

Nicholas Kristof on the dangers of living in a political echo chamber.

And the buzzwords that signal a candidate is about to lose.

Have you ever wondered what the United States map would look like if the states all were equalized for population? Now you know.

And on the more strange news front, it's more important than you think to make sure the body is dead before burying it.

I would have never imagined robbing parking meters could be so lucrative, but then again, he had eight years to do it.

Beware of Apple maps. Or, more accurately, if using Apple maps, beware of airplanes.

The above warning probably still applies if you're driving the safest car ever made.

And finally, what will you do for your morning coffee?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Falling Into an Ideological Trap: Responding to Dr. Baskerville's Faith & Reason Lecture

Back in the fall of 2005, my alma mater Patrick Henry College launched its Faith & Reason lecture series. Each semester, an entire day would be devoted to a lecture and discussion on some aspect of Faith & Reason.

That initial lecture was significant, since it was an early factor in the course of events leading to the departure of several faculty members. However, I am not intending to relive or reopen those old wounds. Instead, this is about the Faith & Reason lecture that Dr. Steven Baskerville delivered this semester, entitled “Politicizing Potiphar’s Wife: Today’s New Ideology.”

Already multiple people have criticized the lecture, such as alumni David Sessions, Willie Deutsch, and Michael Daniels. Another blogger has also conducted a thorough critique.

The reaction was so harsh that Patrick Henry College scheduled an additional question and answer session with Dr. Baskerville a week later, which was broadcast online to alumni. At the beginning of that session, the school made it abundantly clear that while they selected the general topic and speaker, Dr. Baskerville’s lecture was neither approved by the school, nor is the school necessarily in agreement with it. The professor hosting the follow-up session also stated his own disagreement with several parts of the lecture.

Dr. Bakserville’s thesis is that there is a new ideology infiltrating our society which is “far above the others in its grip over both culture and politics.” While he fails to give this ideology a name (it’s some form of sexual radicalism), or an objective (other than power, which he identifies as a goal of all ideologies), he does want to talk about its expressions; particularly how this ideology influences all aspects of family law. He says: “Today's most critical political battleground is the family, and of all the soft ideologies, the most elusive and dangerous is the one encompassing the matrix of issues involving the family, children, and sexuality.” In short, he argues that in all aspects of family law, this ideology seeks to disadvantage men and exclude them from the family. And he argues that the liberal/feminist/homosexual lobby is the architect of this agenda.

The first glaring problem, as has been noted elsewise, is that the lecture which contends an ideological takeover of family law fails to define “ideology” (except as something seeking power and motivated by grievances). Dr. Baskerville also appears, from the title and uses throughout, to be equating “ideological” with “political,” an error any student of politics should seek to avoid.

In his wonderful little book Politics: A Very Short Introduction (which was assigned reading at PHC while I was there), the late Kenneth Minogue explains the difference—indeed the opposing nature—of politics and ideology. These concepts are key for understanding Dr. Baskerville’s lecture.

Minogue defines politics as “the activity by which the framework of human life is sustained” or the act of rationally considering and discussing “what local problems require of the legal system.”  “Ideologies,” he writes, “by contrast with political doctrines, claim exclusive truth. They explain not only the world, by the false beliefs of opponents as well. Ideologists possess the long-sought knowledge of how to abolish politics and create the perfect society.”

Minogue then further describes ideologies and how to identify them, using Marxism as his example for ideology:
Ideology meant (for the ideologues themselves) a philosophical hygiene revealing truth, and (for Marx) the very falsity which needed to be cleansed. The problem of apparent contradiction disappears, however, when one realizes that the falsity of those false ideas is guaranteed by the truth of one’s own ideas. Ideology refers, as it were, to the negative and positive poles of a dogmatic conviction. Marxists had a true understanding of the world, and therefore whatever contradicted them must be false—that is, ideological, which meant both false and false because reflecting the wrong social location. The same ambivalent usage marks anarchist versions of the truth, or those of radical feminists. So long as one grasps this symbiosis, the term ideology can be used without serious confusion as referring both to the truth, and also to all other beliefs which are judged to be false in terms of that belief. Ideology thus exhausts the entire field of truth and error, so long as one judges that one knows, as Marx and his followers thought they did, what the truth is. 
* * * 
Ideology is commonly signaled by the presence of a tripartite structure of theory. The first stage reveals to us the past is the history of the oppression of some abstract class of person. It is concerned with workers as a class, not (as a politician might be) with workers at a particular time and place; or with women in general, or with this or that race. Specific discontents are all swept up into the symptomatology of the structurally designed oppression. The duty of the present is thus to mobilize the oppressed class in the struggle against the oppressive system. This struggle is not confined to the conventional areas of politics. It flares up everywhere, even in the remoter recess of the mind. And the aim of this struggle is to attain a fully just society, a process called liberation. Ideology is thus a variation played on the triple theme of oppression, struggle, and liberation.
Dr. Baskerville adopts this very type of reasoning, condemning those ideas behind today’s family law structure as being the bad ideology and appearing by implication to endorse old Puritan (which he equates with Christian) structure as the “good” ideology. Neither needs to look to the facts of the matter or particular mores of the people, both are assumed to be all-encompassing ideals in competition with each other. Although complaining about the prevalence of ideology and asserting the need to “put the ideological genie back into the bottle,” the entire nature of the lecture is ideological in its scope.

Additionally, the lecture follows the ideological pattern exactly. He identifies the oppressed class (men), calls for mobilization against the oppressors (feminists and their ideological allies), and holds out the promise of liberation ending with the quasi-messianic comparison to the army of Gideon. He’s following the very playbook he condemns.

Insofar as he accurately (more on that later) identifies ideology at work, Dr. Baskerville is making an important observation. However, his failure to fully see it, especially his own, leads to significant blind spots in his own work. And his critique of what he is seeing is greatly muted by his own incorrect orientation. He condemns the ideological tendency to condemn groups, while condemning groups (both within the lecture and after). He criticizes the trend to make everything political, but cannot see the possibility of non-political motivations behind those he criticizes. He claims that Christians should never become “scolds” or “nag and bemoan and wag our fingers at others,” but does exactly that throughout. The result is a lecture that serves to perpetuate the very travesty it purportedly identifies. The argument collapses into self-referential inconsistency.

Furthermore, as part of his need to paint men as an oppressed class in need of liberation from the feminists, Dr. Baskerville mangles the legal system beyond recognition. Others have addressed this in more detail (see links above), but claims such as “[t]he confiscation of children from legally innocent parents by government officials is now out-of-control throughout the West” (p. 13) is absurd, as is his conspiratorial argument about large numbers of “secret incarcerations” that can’t be documented because they don’t appear in any records (p. 20). Furthermore, his railing against “involuntary divorce” (p. 13, 22) doesn’t even make sense, since in every divorce proceeding, at least one spouse is a voluntary participant.

Nor are domestic violence crimes in opposition to regular criminal law, as Dr. Baskerville would have you believe. Instead, domestic violence (which is in fact defined in state criminal law statutes) is usually classified as a type of assault or battery, which includes all the traditional elements plus additional ones.

And despite what he said at the follow-up question and answer session, there aren’t mass incarcerations where people were denied their right to a jury trial. That right is still considered pretty important by the courts, and they will and do reverse convictions based on its violation. I spent one summer in law school working in a court, and another working in the appellate division of a state attorney general’s office—these arguments were taken seriously.

And that is only a sample of Dr. Baskerville’s errors. I haven’t the patience to address the rest. Instead, I’m more interested what the sum total of these fallacious arguments amount to.

See, because of its ideological nature, this lecture couldn’t just present some shortcomings of the legal system and explore solutions (in fact, no solutions were presented). Instead, it needed to dig deeper, expose/invent the conspiracy, and assign then blame. That’s how the class becomes truly victimized and the struggle for liberation can be instigated. A series of inadvertent unintended consequences isn’t compelling enough to warrant an ideological response. A full-fledged inquisition is needed to get proper victimhood, and where it doesn’t exist it must be invented.

Now, some of these may actually be real problems. For example, the American Bar Association has discussed some of the problems with child abuse reporting system and due process. In seeking to protect the exploited, our legal system may not be giving sufficient procedural rights to the accused. (At the same time, rape and domestic violence cases remain very difficult to prosecute.) But when that is the case, it is an unintended consequence of balancing a prior system that gave women and children virtually no rights whatsoever, not a deliberate conspiracy by [insert disliked group here].

Potiphar’s wife’s crime was one of a false report. It, as I would imagine is also the case with those instances of false reports of rape or domestic violence today, did not have political undertones. It was neither a political nor ideological act, but instead simply a human sin.

However, this lecture does invent false accusations against another for an ideological goal.

Which leads me to ask: who has really transformed Potiphar’s wife into a political model?

* * *

As harsh as I've been in my critique, I believe there is still another point that needs to be made which is likely even more important. And this has been the hardest part to write due to its delicate nature.

Jesus warned us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matt. 12:34, Luke 6:45) In all the criticism, in all the response and disagreement, we may have forgotten that behind the lecture stands a person--a hurting person, as is evident from the lecture. And in forgetting that, we are liable to fall prey to the same impersonal temptation of "being right" that we accuse Dr. Baskerville of.

So how does an obviously intelligent person such as Dr. Baskerville come to some of the conclusions he did? Initially, I was inclined to say that this lecture is the result of his spending too much time as an unchallenged expert in the conservative bubble. And indeed, that may be partly the case, given his difficulty (demonstrated at the Q&A session) to even understand the critiques and his tendency toward Orwellian redefinitions.

But to dig deeper, I think this lecture is the culmination of a very broken person. His own account of his own divorce, which appears to have sparked his interest in family law matters, testifies to a feeling of powerlessness and loss of identity. That his wife left him, and a court determined that he was not fit to retain custody of his child, appears to have imposed a wound that is slow to heal. Regardless of the merits of those decisions, the hurt remains.

So while we can and should disagree with the lecture, that sentiment must always be balanced with something more important--care for person behind the argument. He may need our challenges, but he needs our care and prayers even more.

We Christians are called to care for the hurting. That includes the rape and domestic violence victims, the children harmed by divorce, those falsely accused of horrible acts, and yes, even Dr. Baskerville.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In which Thomas Paine flunks Bible history

Reading Common Sense recently I came across this line which made me laugh:
In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequence of which was, there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion. Holland without a king hath enjoyed more peace for this last century than any of the monarchial governments in Europe. Antiquity favours the same remark; for the quiet and rural lives of the first patriarchs hath a happy something in them, which vanishes away when we come to the history of Jewish royalty.
At my church we have been doing a series on the book of Judges. "Quiet and rural lives" is hardly a fitting description. And if I recall, there were a fair share of conflicts in Genesis as well.

Oh, and the conquest of Canaan also takes place in Paine's "no wars" chronology.

Ok, so maybe I'm being a little snide. Although conflicts, those weren't wars in the modern sense (with the Canaan conquest as an exception) with nation rising against nation. Instead, they were more like tribal conflicts or skirmishes between the patriarchs. However, even that interpretation of Paine fails to help him. If one defines wars as conflicts involving nations that are ruled by kings, then it would make sense that if one has no kings one can have no "wars." But that, at best, is equivocation, and at worst, is circular reasoning.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (8/16)

In global news: Sweden is running out of garbage, a Russian man used a bank's tactics against it to obtain an interest free credit card, and a Chinese zoo disguised a dog as a lion (apparently it was the bark that gave it away).

Not that important global stories make it to the domestic cover of Time.

On the domestic front, Steven Hayward at PowerLine explains why this was a bad week for liberalism.

And in the bad housing market, foreclosures are increasing. However, it appears that some banks, rather than keeping a paper trail of ownership, simply make it up.

Last week we linked to the five rules of politics. Here are five more. (That's ten, for those who are counting, but I suspect rules in politics are like budgets--as long as we don't add them all up we can keep it to five.)

Here is a global map of political anomalies such as: Non-Sovereign Sovereign States, Imaginary State, Proclaimed but Non-Existent State, and Barely Recognized Puppet State. And speaking of maps, here's the entire history of the world mapped out.

We've written quite a bit on immigration policy, including a critique of Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration. Here's another critique of their theology:
And this is the biggest problem with the EBI letter. While it gives lip service to the idea that the Bible requires God’s people to act with justice, compassion, and kindness toward the aliens and strangers among us, the authors tie themselves in exegetical knots to avoid having to extend that kindness to illegal immigrants.
And speaking of immigration, were you aware that veterans are being deported?

Here's a paradox: the US, where violent child play is more and more restricted, has much more adult violence than Japan, where violent play is encouraged. And speaking of violent play, here's an article digging into the background of G.I. Joe.

Another paradox: Charles Spurgeon, deemed a strong theological conservative, was a political liberal. While Charles Wesley, whose style was more liberal, was a political conservative.

And John Medaille over at Front Porch Republic adds his very insightful contribution to the future of the Republican Party:
The advantage of being out of power is that it gives a political party time to think and reflect. Better yet, it gives a party the opportunity to fight, and to fight with its most serious enemy, that is, itself. And that is what is happening in the Republican Party right now, as they collectively reflect upon their plight.
Dr. Who fans can now explore the TARDIS in Google maps.

And finally, why don't we have more sports like this?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (8/9)

It's been three weeks since I last had a Friday miscellaneous post. But I had a good excuse--everything was cleared off my schedule for the Virginia bar exam, which I took last week.

So now I get to rediscover what normal life is like. Which includes what happened in the world while I was absent.

It has been said that imitation is the best form of flattery. I think this "review" of Dan Brown's new book might show otherwise.

China keeps trying to redefine family relationships. First the one-child policy. Now laws mandating that children visit their parents.

And demonstrating once again that truth is stranger than fiction, here's a review for the History Channel's completely unbelievable show called World War II.

On a mores sober note, Christianity Today has an interesting article on Christians in Detroit:
Many Christians whom CT interviewed for this story explained their commitment to Detroit using an analogy from church history. (This story focuses on Christians in central Detroit; our online reporting will cover the work of Christians in Detroit's suburbs.) When the plague ravaged Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, inciting an exodus of citizens, many Christians rushed in to care for the sick and dying, joining the many who were already there, refusing to leave.
In our hyper-security state, there's always the temptation to classify everything as terrorism.

This should interest all our politically minded readers: the five rules of politics.

And finally, a helpful driving lesson.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Great Day: an Iliad House Day!

So I have a confession to make: I haven't been good with keeping up on blogging because I've been
Professor Portalis
inside Iliad House
working on something else. Something really fun.

If you read my review of "The Labyrinth" a year ago, you know I have always been an enthusiastic fan of Adventures in Odyssey. What I did not reveal explicitly in that review was the path that took my professional life into the orbit of men whom I consider to be giants in the Christian entertainment community: the creators and producers of Adventures in Odyssey.

The first episode of AIO I ever heard was "The Imagination Station." A high water mark which saw legendary character Digger Digwillow (Digger Digger Digwillow) go back in time to see Jesus's death and resurrection. Except he didn't actually go back in time. As a child I never understood that. When, in "Lincoln," Jimmy Barclay was unable to prevent the assassination, I assumed it was because he could not change history (or else I would not even be aware of the situation he was referring too). It was not until I was older that I understood what a safe construct the Imagination Station really was (in fact, in "The Mortal Coil" I assumed Whit's adventure about death was actually a time travel journey into your own future, a concept that terrifies me to this day, similar to HG Wells' apocalyptic vision of the end of the world; of nothingness).

But I never expected to meet the writers and creators behind this show. In 2010, I had heard maybe one Odyssey album in ten years when I went to visit some friends in Colorado Springs who are the kind of friends who feel it is their duty to make sure you have a fantastic time when you visit them. They had arranged through another friend to get me an informal tour of Focus on the Family headquarters (formal tours were not available then, though I understand they have since made a comeback). On that tour, we wandered into an office where I met a man named Jonathan Crowe, who's name I had heard and we had a nice conversation about the show and my filmmaking background. This was when I confirmed my suspicion that Odyssey recorded in Los Angeles and I made some breakfast recommendations that I believe the crew still relies on today. In response, Jonathan invited me to attend a recording session some months from then and I gratefully accepted.

Fast forward several months and Jonathan had suffered a terrible biking accident and couldn't attend the session (he's since fully recovered). But he graciously kept the invitation open and put me in touch with another great member of the Odyssey team, Nathan Hoobler. Nathan served as my tour guide into the production side of AIO, and that day I heard so many voices from my youth (and sadly missed many others). It was a good day, and I ended up helping them shoot a video for the Blackgaard Chronicles set; but ultimately the most eventful meeting I had that day was quite unexpected.

About halfway through the day a man came into the studio that I did not recognize. I knew all the people currently working on the show, and all were, for the most part, present. Then I heard him speak, and I realized who it was: Phil Lollar. But this was quite improbable. Phil had left the show in 2000, and hadn't been involved since. How could this be Phil Lollar? Turns out he was there to act, not produce, and played a small but humorous role in Album 53 (this foreshadowed his expanded role in "The Labyrinth in 55). Ironically, this meant he and I were the oddest men out in the room, and both sort of sat in the back for most of the day. I then later got to have dinner with the entire production team and observe a glorious reunion conversation between Paul McCusker and Phil Lollar (I also bought Paul McCusker a coffee, something I will always be able to say).

It was a fantastic experience, and eventually filed away into my memory. Then one day my old friend Jeremiah called me for a recommendation. He was helping produce the teen program at the Home School Legal Defense Association's National Leaders Conference in Orlando and they were going to do it on radio drama. He said they wanted to get someone from Adventures in Odyssey to be the keynote speaker for the program in Orlando, and since he knew about my experience, he wanted my advice on whom to ask. We discussed the merits of several of the people involved at length, all of whom would have made excellent guests, but it came down to me saying if he wanted someone who is just really funny, engaging, and is going to show the kids a good time, he should ask Phil. He did, and Phil said yes. And that is the conference that is mentioned on the Kickstarter page. That is how the founding members of Guess What met, and where Iliad House, at least for us, began.

It would be some time before I learned of Iliad House, of Professor Portalis, Jesse, and the magnificent Time Train (of doom?). Homer's Odyssey was about a journey, and his Iliad, a battle. But no matter what happens, my life has already been changed. I hope you'll come with us on this journey, and help us make Iliad House by donating to Kickstarter and then telling all your friends.

Here's an exclusive clip about the show only available here on Looking for Overland! Live long and prosper.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (7/12)

Think your day is bad? You could be trapped in a tree by a tiger.

Some conservative authors take issue with the criticisms of the proposed common core educational standards.

Did you know that C.S. Lewis wrote a review of The Hobbit (the book, not the movie). You can read it here.

This week Salon had excerpts from a new book on our rising police state. It's rather disturbing. The ABA has also reported on this.

Joss Whedon gives advice on getting stuff done (he would know).

I've heard a lot in the immgiration debate about the need to seal off our southern border. But is building giant walls really a sign of strength?

Is Christianity the world's most falsiable religion, and is that a good thing?

One blogger things he's found the unifying theory behind all pixar movies.
A few weeks ago we posted an article about the healium reserve. Well, did you know there's a raisin reserve?
And finally, this week NBC lost New Hampshire (don't worry, it was found again).

Monday, July 8, 2013

The simplest, most coherent, and most sensible explanation for the current economic condition

With a title like that, you should expect some long drawn out post. If so, you'll be disappointed. Instead, you get two quotes.
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. -Ernest Benn 

An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living. -Nicholas Chamfort
In our case, the politicians and the economists got together and gave us ... whatever it is we have. And you thought it was complicated.

The Atlantic recently had a longer article with pretty much the same conclusion.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday miscellaneous (7/5)

We hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July celebration yesterday. In case anyone's patriotism quota was not satisfied, here is some over-the-top patriotic fan art (personally, I think the Andrew Jackson piece almost looks authentic).

Oh, Obamacare Obamacare. We hardly knew thee. Betrayed by Massachusetts, rejected by the hobbyists, and kept at arms length by thy most ardent supporters. We passed thee, but still don't know what thee can do.

President Obama came into office promising to restore the relationships with our allies. Germany, however, is souring. Egypt isn't happy either. And in Africa, well, he can't quite measure up to George W. Bush (this sort of personal touch might be part of the reason why).

Conservative opponents of immigration reform keep saying the proposed bill is a sell out to liberals. That would be news to some liberals.

And speaking of the left, some are wondering if there are any progressive causes other than gay marriage (and the Conservatives are accused of only caring about the culture war). Part II gives some other issues that the left could work on.

Trying to keep up with the NSA, the USPS is tracking physical mail.

Amazon and Apple are in a price war for ebooks which, if nothing else, shows how antitrust laws can be manipulated by the very companies they're designed to regulate. (I'm ripping off both, since, since so far I have used my kindle exclusively for free public domain works.) And while on the topic of Amazon, here's a fascinating look at how their robotic warehouses work.

Homeschooling is often equated with the religious right. But there are a growing number of atheists who also choose this educational model.

This week's lost and found. Lost: toothpaste in hotels. Found: an abandoned giant space gun.

Utopian alert: both III Arms Company and Glenn Beck are planning their own libertarian communities (because we all know that those always end well). But if neither of those appeal to you, you can always fall back on Paulville (which is exactly what it sounds like). I wonder if any of them will have toothpaste--probably not. Giant space guns, however, are much more likely.

I put this at the end, for fear that if you read it you wouldn't read the rest of my post. But here it is: news is bad for you.

And finally, I had never realized the hazards of being a sneezing snowman. It's almost as bad as news.

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