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Substitutes for Religion

from The Wall Street Journal,How to Defeat Religious Violence by Jonathan Sacks:

What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose.

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.

But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.

Religion has returned because it is hard to live without meaning. That is why no society has survived for long without either a religion or a substitute for religion. The 20th century showed, brutally and definitively, that the great modern substitutes for religion—nation, race, political ideology—are no less likely to offer human sacrifices to their surrogate deities.

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Ranking RIsks

Kevin_Williamson (1)

From National Review, Theatrical shootings aren’t the problem, hysterical reactions aren’t the solution, by Kevin Williamson:

These acts are dramatic because they are unusual (not as unusual as we’d prefer), extraordinary because they are unrepresentative of the contemporary experience rather than representative of it. Those of us who were around for the Clinton years do not recall them as a time of bloodthirsty savagery, but in terms of being shot to death, Americans are about twice as safe today as they were in the early 1990s. We are not, in fact, a polity dissolving into chaos. Our streets aren’t filled with blood — they’re filled with mediocrity. Politicians sell you emergency when they want to take something away from you. Terrorists are not the only people who know that a scared population is a compliant population.

We insulated moderns are not very good at ranking risks. We are fascinated and terrified by predator attacks, but in reality you are a hell of a lot more likely to be killed by a cow, a deer, a bee, or a moose than by a shark, a wolf, a bear, or a crocodile. But we love stories. We love them more than we love reality: The Republican party is not run by a secret cabal of warmongering billionaires; Barack Obama is a cookie-cutter Ivy League lefty, not a Kenya-born al-Qaeda plant; you’re going to die from emphysema or from being fat rather than from Ebola or a resurgent Islamic caliphate; the people who commit the murders are for the most part going to be ordinary criminals going about ordinary criminal business, and a fair number of the people they kill are the same thing.
Our ordinary crime is largely the result of ordinary failures: failed families, failed schools, failed communities, failed police departments, failed penal institutions, failed parole systems. Even our dramatic crimes are mostly rooted in ordinary failures: those failed families, again, failed mental-health practices, etc. A scary-looking rifle is visually arresting, a fact that tells us something about the weapon, and maybe something about us. It doesn’t tell us anything useful about the actual challenges facing the United States in 2015.

But if you are going to be worried about something, that ordinary crime — not the bloody pageantry of mass shootings — is the place to look.

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Political Thoughts 2015 10 04


Why do I vote as I do?

At the current time I see the priorities of our political requirements as being 60% economic, 30% foreign policy, and 10% social issues.  Why?

The economic issues includes other domestic policy initiatives such as education, but our ability to fund our welfare state, any necessary military and foreign policy initiatives, and so many other demands and requirements depends on our ability to pay for them. We need to generate wealth before we can distribute it.  The progressive wing of the Democrats, which dominates them more than the Tea Party dominates the Republicans, has sacrificed economic growth to a host of progressive dreams with the bill now coming due. Calling an expense an investment does not make it so, and it creates an expectation that will not be fulfilled.  The reason that so many of both parties are so disappointed in their political leadership and that they have been promised more than their leaders can deliver.

Large systemic changes such as the ACA create disappointments, but are seductive political objectives.  Solving component problems (access, insurability, cost) can be more effectively addressed individually, but this requires real problem solving rather grand political gestures. Real problem solving is not subject to effective sound bites and electioneering.

The Progressive Democrats believe they have political solutions to economic problems, and they hide true costs behind Rube Goldberg mandates and Kafkaesque regulations.  Even when a problem is apparently partially solved it is at far too great a cost.

While there is much I do not like about the Republican front runners on some issues and while I abhor the boorish style of a Trump, and the inexperience of a Carson, I find the Democrats so sorely lacking on the economic and domestic policy issue, and since I weigh that portion so heavily, it is unlikely that I will find a Democrat I can support.  The Democrats complain about the effects of their policy of the last eight years as if they had nothing to do with it.

I do not think either party has a lock on foreign policy, although I think the reign of Obama and Hillary has been a disaster.  Bush for all of his controversies at least had a policy, well-formed and thought through. Parts of it may have been proven mistaken and misguided, but at least such a policy can be adjusted to unfolding realities, however uncomfortable they may be.

Obama’s policy is wishful thinking and leading from behind.  He is so afraid of military power that he negotiates from severe weakness and we see the result.  Foreign policy is difficult and he is not up to the task.  Other Democratic candidates have not presented any change, and apparently the statute of limitation on blaming Bush for every wrong on the planet has expired.

The GOP must get beyond Neocon blustering, but I do not see any Democrat superiority on this issue. There used to be a much greater consensus between the two parties on foreign policy and this was critical because effective foreign policy cannot tolerate dramatic changes every election cycle.

I disagree with the Republicans on some social issues but even if I disagreed with them strongly on every one, I weigh those issues relatively small compared to the importance of the other two.  There is just not much that I think would change as a result of their coming to power.  Yet this is their weak spot with the electorate.

Our modern history has been one of increasing progressive power punctuated by exhaustion and a retrenchment of government power, This happened after Wilson , and after Carter and after eight years of Obama I believe we are at that point again.

In choosing a candidate I place their governing philosophy and principles first and their character and competence second.  Who would want a competent politician effectively enacting disastrous policy? Hillary is clearly not to be trusted on anything and her only guiding principle is whatever brings her the most power and money.   Bernie can be trusted to try his best to add our country to the long list of socialist utopian failures in recent history.

There are several GOP candidates that have promise, but as a group they are killing the party.  There is much I do not like about several of them and they are as prone to gaffes and singularly stupid comments as any other, but compared to the last 8 years and the promise of the Democrats to continue down that path, selecting a candidate should not be so difficult.

As bad as the Republican candidates can be on any single news cycle, the Democrats so far have still managed to be the less desirable choice.

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Decadent Risk


from Daniel Greenfield at Sultan Knish, A Tour of  Our Decadent Civilization


Vigorous civilizations pursue meaningful risks. Decadent civilizations pursue meaningless ones. For a vigorous civilization, adventure ends with an accomplishment. For a decadent civilization, risk is the accomplishment.

The decadent civilization obsessively manages risk. Its layers of government are mainly dedicated to that task. Accomplishment in a decadent civilization becomes a difficult task because of the many lawyers of corporate and government risk management standing in the way of getting anything done.

Fear is the true currency of the decadent civilization. A corrupted fear that is used to expand a vast bureaucracy that claims to manage risk, but in reality manages who is allowed to circumvent it. Groups are stampeded into accepting new tiers of fear government and fear authority based on the risk that something might happen. And yet the source of the fear is never dealt with.

A vigorous civilization rushes out to deal with threats. A decadent civilization imprisons itself out of fear.

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Thoughts on the Economy 2015 10 02


Steel prices are the lowest they have been in 15 years. In China it is cheaper than cabbage. Stainless and aluminum are also very low.

Oil is also bouncing around new lows.

A sharp drop in industrial commodities has some forecasting relevance. If it is confirmed by lower shipping rates, container imports, railroad utilization we could be facing a new recession.  Business seems weak in many areas.

Three postings to read:

from National Review, Checkmate: The Economic Chess Masters Play a Losing Game by Kevin Williamson- the new realtionship wiring in our connected economy makes traditional econ math models far less reliable.

from Marginal Revolution, Quick thoughts on the new employment report by Tyler Cowen- wages and employment are subject to new dynamics

from Carpe Diem Today is Manufacturing Day, so let’s recognize America’s world-class manufacturing sector and factory workers by Mark Perry- the efficiency gains in manufacturing is one of those critical dynamics.

This chart from Mark Perry speaks volumes:

US manufactruring

these changes provide a serious challenge to economic policy especially relative to wages and employment. It may be transition similar to the transition from agriculture to industry- a change that ignited the Progressive era.  We may be on the verge of a new era that will require substantially different thinking than we are getting.