Sunday, June 28, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Here’s proof you are right:
In the SAB, I identify the Bible's verses that contain good advice about how we should live our lives, whatever our religious views might be. For example, I think it's a good idea to try, at least as much as possible, to treat others kindly. So I include Leviticus 19:18 ("Love thy neighbor as thyself.") in the "Good Stuff". Of course, not all the verses that I've marked good are as good as this verse, but I marked them good because they seemed (at least somewhat) good to me.
So take a look at the SAB's good stuff to see if you agree, at least most of the time, that the verses that are marked good are, in fact, good. If so, then the following analysis should be reasonable for you, as well.
I'll begin with a plot of the number of good things in each book of the Bible.
There are two far outliers in the data: Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Proverbs has the most good stuff, but it is also a much bigger book. Here is how it looks when size is taken into account. (The graph on the left is a histogram; the graph on the right is a box plot.)
So Ecclesiastes has nearly twice as much good stuff (per 100 verses) than any other book in the Bible.
But what about all the bad stuff in the Bible? Shouldn't we try to find a way to rate the goodness of a book by weighing both the book's good and bad stuff?
The simplest solution, I think, is to count up the good things in each book and subtract the bad. The result is the net good. (I totaled cruelty, injustice, intolerance, family values, women, and homosexuality to get the number of bad things, since the verses marked with these categories are all morally objectionable.)
When I did that, I found that there are only two good books in the Bible: Ecclesiastes (of course) and Proverbs. There are three others that have a zero net goodness. The other 61 books are all more bad than good (with a negative net goodness).
Here are the statistics for the two good and three not bad books in the Bible. (I'll deal with the bad books elsewhere.)
|Good Verses||Bad Verses||net good (good - bad)||net good / 100 verses|
And here's a plot of the net good / 100 verses.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I don’t think Krugman is stupid because he disagrees with Austrian Economics – I think he’s stupid because he so obviously is, as revealed in this particular gem:
[w]hy doesn't the investment boom—which presumably requires a transfer of workers in the opposite direction—also generate mass unemployment?
Yup – that’s what he asks. Not rhetorically, but in all seriousness. You don’t believe it? Check it out here.
Krugman really went to pot.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
by Anatol Lieven
Over the last several days, two pieces attacking the realist approach to Russia were published in prominent media outlets in the United States and Russia. One, co-authored by Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center, Igor Klyamkin, vice president of the Liberal Mission Foundation, Georgy Satarov, president of the Russian NGO the Indem Foundation and Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center was featured on the editorial page of the Washington Post. The other, by Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, was released in the Moscow Times.
I read these pieces concerning the moves to improve relations between America and Russia with a profound feeling of depression. This is not just because there is something bizarre and twisted about pro-Western Russian liberals attacking the recommendations of the Hart-Hagel Commission or statesmen such as Henry Kissinger and James Baker. It is also because their criticism serves as a mouthpiece for the agendas of the most bitterly anti-Russian and geopolitically aggressive liberal interventionists and neocons who help maintain tensions between Russia and the West—and actually between the United States and the rest of the world.
And these tensions are extremely damaging to any hopes of the long-term liberalization and Westernization of Russia which these liberals want to further. Do Piontkovsky, Shevtsova and the others seriously think that the U.S.-Russian rivalry in the Caucasus, and the war over South Ossetia which resulted, helped the cause of liberalism in Russia? Do they ever actually talk to any ordinary Russians, one wonders? Or do their duties briefing Americans simply leave them no time for this?
My depression is also because Russia does in fact desperately need a strong liberal movement which can influence the state in a positive direction. Thus figures like Igor Yurgens, a leading businessman and adviser to President Medvedev, are playing an extremely valuable role in resisting moves to further authoritarianism, centralization and nationalization in response to the economic crisis. They could do much better if they had bigger support within the population at large.
Tragically however, many Russian liberals in the 1990s—through the policies they supported and the arrogant contempt they showed towards the mass of their fellow Russians—made liberals unelectable for a generation or more across most of Russia; and to judge by these and other writings of liberals like the ones under discussion, they have learnt absolutely nothing from this experience. They think that they form some kind of opposition to the present Russian establishment. In fact, they are such an asset to Putin in terms of boosting public hostility to Russian liberalism that if they hadn’t already existed, Putin might have been tempted to invent them.
Two aspects of their approach are especially noteworthy. The first is the profoundly illiberal—even McCarthyite—way in which Piontkovsky tries to disqualify views with which he disagrees by suggesting that they are motivated purely by personal financial gain, rather than conviction. Where, one wonders, would this leave all those Russian liberals, and U.S. think tanks, which took money from Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other Russian oligarchs in the past? Where would it leave those U.S. officials linked to leading U.S. private financial companies whose shares benefited so magnificently from the plundering of Russia in the 1990s? Where, indeed, does it leave Russians—like two of the writers under discussion—who draw their salaries from U.S. think tanks? Actually, I do believe that most are motivated by sincere conviction—but all the same, they would do well to remember the old adage about people who live in glass houses.
The other is the intellectual sleight of hand by which Shevtsova, Gudkov and the others suggest—without arguing or substantiating the suggestion—that the desire of ordinary Russians for greater democracy and the rule of law equates both with hostility to the present Russian administrationtout court, and to acquiescence in U.S. foreign-policy goals in Georgia and elsewhere. According to every opinion poll I have seen, it is entirely true that most Russians would like to see more of certain elements of democracy in Russia, including, as the authors mention, the rule of law and a freer media.
But, according to the same polls, this certainly does not add up to approval of “democracy” as it was practiced under the Yeltsin administration, and praised by some of the authors. Georgy Satarov was, in fact, a top official in Yeltin’s political machine with direct responsibility for some of the undemocratic practices of that administration. What is also absolutely certain according to the same polls is that whatever their feelings about Russian domestic policies, the overwhelming majority of Russians support the basic foreign-policy line of the present Russian administration and oppose that of the United States vis a vis Russia. This is not to say that every American policy decision has been wrongheaded and Russia remains justified in all of its positions, but rather that people who blindly back a U.S. democracy-promotion line are doing an injustice to the very liberalization they seek.
They are also very bad for the interests of America. The military overstretch produced by Iraq and Afghanistan has now been compounded by the colossal burden on U.S. resources created by the present economic recession. In these circumstances, as the Obama administration has recognized, the United States needs firstly to identify its truly important international interests and prioritize them; to reduce the hostility of other states to America wherever this can be done without surrendering important U.S. interests and values; and to enlist the help of other states, including Russia, in dealing with truly important issues like Iran’s nuclear program and the long-term future of Afghanistan.
Do these Russian authors really think that U.S. interests and values are served by giving lectures on democracy that only infuriate ordinary Russians? By making further commitments to a regime such as that of Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia? By pressing upon Ukraine a NATO membership which most Ukrainians oppose? The truth of the matter is that like Ahmed Chalabi and other “democracy promoters” who have sought U.S. aid, these writers care neither for American nor for Russian interests, but only to enlist U.S. help in trying to bring themselves and the groups they represent to power and influence in their countries—and do not even know enough about their countries to see that appealing for U.S. help in this way only reduces whatever popularity they still have.
By this kind of approach, foreign liberal informants like the Russians who authored these editorials have contributed to a deep flaw in Western journalism, reflecting in turn a tragic flaw in humanity itself: namely an extreme difficulty in empathizing with those whose background, culture, experience and interests differ from your own.
For of course, for better or worse, other peoples are just as nationalist as Americans themselves. They may well wish for democracy—but not always or necessarily if it comes with unconstrained capitalism and the assumption that to be a democrat means sacrificing your national interests to those of the United States. In the case of Russia, these American assumptions in the 1990s helped lead to the reaction of Vladimir Putin. And Putin’s Russia isn’t the worst we could see by a very long chalk. If the present Russian system falls, as the writers under discussion so ardently desire, we can be very sure of one thing: It would not be Russian liberals like them who would rise from the resulting ruins.
In none of the statements by the Hart-Hagel Commission or the likes of Henry Kissinger, is anyone an apologist for potential Russian aggression. Instead, they argue that compromise, when the West can afford it to get cooperation from Russia in the areas we need it, is the ultimate goal of sensible and realistic U.S. policy—not all or nothing strategies that will never achieve anything, and which these Russian liberals in any case never spell out in detail.
Understanding what narrative a specific nationalism is based on is key to creating better outcomes for U.S. policies in a number of countries of the world, including Iran and Pakistan. It is equally crucial in establishing better relations not just with the present Russian administration, but much more importantly with the Russian people; and thereby over time helping Russians get the freer media and more open elections they desire.
Part of the reason why both Russian liberals and many Western analysts tend to get Russia so badly wrong is that they instinctively compare that country with former Communist states, Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe and the Baltic nations. There, mass movements were generated in support of economic reform and democratization processes which, however flawed, spared them from the dreadful experience of Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s.
This comparison is dead wrong, and wrong for a reason that goes to the heart of the Russian liberals’ failure to win mass support in Russia. In Eastern Europe, successful democratization, the adoption of successful economic reform, and the eventual achievement of economic growth proceeded in tandem because they were backed up by very powerful mass nationalist drives in these countries that were directed first and foremost towards taking these countries out of the orbit of Moscow, and into their “rightful” historical place as members of the West.
The other aspect of Eastern Europe that cannot be replicated for Russia – or indeed, anywhere else in the world - is the pull, and the discipline, provided to the East Europeans and Baltics by the genuine offer of membership in the EU and NATO. The need to conform to the EU accession process in turn greatly limited opportunities for the kind of outright kleptocracy seen in Russia.
The failure to date to generate mass support for Westernizing reform in Russia has been a key factor in the extremely hesitant pace of such reforms compared to the central European countries and the Baltic states. This is due simply to the obvious fact that among Russians, anti-Russian nationalism cannot be a force of reform; and that, indeed, the whole drive to escape from the Soviet past has a completely different meaning.
If nationalism is to play a part in Russian development, then it will inevitably be along very different lines, and linked in some form to the restoration of Russia’s position as a great power (not of course a superpower) in the world. A key problem for Russia, however, is that given the geopolitical ambitions of both Russia and Western powers, such a course of development inevitably brings with it a strong measure of rivalry with the West.
That pro-Western Russian liberals like Lilia Shevtsova have the greatest difficulty confronting or even recognizing this dilemma stems from the tragic nature of their situation. They genuinely believe not only that their program is in Russia’s national interest, but that reform in Russia requires the closest possible relations with the West. This necessarily means that Russia has to sacrifice a range of lesser interests for the sake of their higher, indeed all-encompassing goal of “integration into the Western community” (a virtual leitmotif of her 2005 book Putin’s Russia).
But integration into the Western community, whether it be NATO or the EU, is not on offer at least for the foreseeable future. From the point of view therefore not only of Russian nationalists, but of ordinary nonideological Russians, there just are not enough benefits on offer in return for the concessions that Shevtsova and her allies are willing to make to the West in international affairs: like agreement to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, reincorporation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgia, acquiescence in a U.S. missile shield in central Europe and so on. And indeed, even for a non-Russian, there is something a bit nauseating about Shevtsova’s determination in her published writings to agree with the United States and condemn her own country on every single issue on which they have disagreed.
This goes not only for issues where America was in the right, for example over past Russian interference in Ukraine’s presidential election campaign; but for issues where by far the greater part of the world supported Russia’s position, as over Bush’s abrogation of the anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. The Putin administration’s efforts to maintain the treaty were, however, attributed by Shevtsova in her book to Soviet-style “complexes” and “neuroses.”
Nausea aside, the point once again is that such sentiments on the part of these sorts of liberals contribute to making them unelectable in Russia. And this of course is not the result of some form of unique Russian chauvinism or hatred of the West. Any American political grouping which openly and repeatedly identified with foreign interests over those of the United States would not, I think, be very likely to do well in an American election.
But then, Shevtsova and her allies do not really give a damn what ordinary Russians think or feel, and certainly take no interest in minor issues such as their incomes or living standards. The radical decline in the real value of state pensions in the 1990s, accompanied by long arrears in payments and the destruction of savings through devaluation, condemned many elderly Russians to hunger, despair and a premature death. Every reliable opinion poll on Putin’s popularity in his first years gave as one of the chief reasons the fact that under his rule pensions were paid on time, and their value had risen. The same was true of state wages.
By ignoring these issues, Shevtsova is able to write in her book that “For the intelligentsia, people who lived in large cities, and the politicized section of society, 2000 was much harder than 1999.” Statements of this kind consign the mass of the Russian population—including the elderly and the state-employed workers of the big cities—to non-existence. They implicitly state that the only sections of society whose opinions and interests should be of concern to the government are educated, young and dynamic urbanites. This was the approach of brash elite globalizers everywhere. They should not be surprised however if populations disagree, sometimes violently.
Gary Kasparov, treated by much of the Western media as the political face of Russian liberalism, has a very different approach. It has been to plan for Russian economic collapse, and with this in mind, to forge an alliance with savagely chauvinist neo-fascist groups, which will provide the tough street fighters who will exploit mass economic discontent. Shevtsova and her colleagues should take a close look at this repulsive but insightful strategy and ask themselves whether they really understand the country, and the world, that they are living in.
Anatol Lieven, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I have been struggling with the question of abortion and libertarianism for some time now, and while my instincts tell me that abortion would probably be at least tolerated in a libertarian society, I am not sure whether it is compatible with the strict logic of libertarian thought.
I’m therefore quite pleased to have found Wendy McElroy’s thoughts on the issue, and while they are probably not the last word on it, I think they make a good case that libertarians have no choice but to support the right to abort foetuses, regardless of their status as human beings:
Abortion is still hotly debated within libertarianism. This has always seemed odd to me since I believe libertarianism is based on self-ownership and that a pregnant woman has an unquestionable right to her own body, including the right to expel the fetus or have any other body part amputated. This right has been subjected to critical scrutiny by anti-abortionists in the movement who claim the fetus is a human being with full individual rights that are violated in an abortion. Basically, anti-abortionists pit the woman's rights against the alleged rights of the fetus, and give the latter priority.
The argument is a weak one and open to attack from several directions. But my purpose here is a bit different. I want to explore some of the implications of the anti-abortion position because they are usually ignored even though they are vicious in nature.
Implication #1: If the fetus is accorded individual rights, then the aborting woman and anyone who assists her are murders and must be subject to whatever penalty society metes out for that crime, up to and including capital punishment. The punishment should be applied to past abortions as there is no statute of limitation on murder. If anti-abortionists shy away from this conclusion, then they do not really consider abortion to be murder. Note: it does not matter that the woman didn't view the fetus as a child; if her state of mind exonerates her, then it follows that a racist should be exonerated for killing blacks.
Implication #2: if a woman cannot 'kill' her fetus because it is a separate human being, then she also cannot injure it. If she does, she should be prosecuted in the same manner as if she assaulted an innocent bystander. If she ingests harmful substances, then the law should view the act as though she had strapped down a child and force-fed a toxin to it. Thus, the pregnant woman is vulnerable to criminal prosecution based on her diet, her lifestyle choices, etc. If anti-abortionists do not follow their own logic this far, it is not because the logic doesn't lead here. It is because the conclusion makes them uncomfortable.
Implication #3: if a woman wishes to abort or to take actions that will harm the fetus -- e.g. smoking crack -- then she should be imprisoned or otherwise forcibly restrained from inflicting death and/or injury on the innocent "child." Constant monitoring would be required -- presumably by the state; the woman would be a slave to her fetus. Anti-abortionists must explain how -- short of totalitarianism -- they intend to protect fetuses in peril.
Implication #4: anti-abortionists are effectively defining pro-choice libertarians out of the movement. If anti-abortionists are correct, then pro-choice libertarians are morally sanctioning and/or legally encouraging the deliberate mass murder of defenseless children. If there is any line that cannot be crossed without losing all claim to the word "libertarian", then surely the advocacy of mass murder is that line.
Implication #5: anti-abortionists are destroying the concept of natural righs itself which claims that every human being properly has jurisdiction over his or her own body. It is only because each human being is a self-owner that is is improper to initiate force against another. But if the fetus possesses the right to live off the pregnant woman's body functions -- to share the food she eats, the blood her heart pumps -- then this is tantamount to saying that one human being can properly own the body functions of another. It is tantamount to saying one human being can properly enslave another.
Implication #6: anti-abortionists are destroying the idea of "a natural harmony of rights" between human beings. If rights are based on being human, then everyone has the same ones to the same degree. The self-ownership of one person in no way violates the self-ownership of another; my freedom of religion in no way violates yours. Consider if human nature were different, however. If I had a biological need to eat human flesh in order to live, then the structure of universal rights would make no sense. One man's life would require another man's death. This would be Hobbes' "war of all against all" and to demand the non-initiation of force would be to condemn mankind to extinciton. Similarly the anti-abortionists posit a fetus whose right to self-ownership is in direct opposition to the self-ownership of the pregnant woman. They posit a biological disharmony of interests. Although such disharmonies can occur in nature -- e.g.. Siamese twins -- these occurences are extremely rare and not commonplace, like pregnancy. If they were not rare, then the idea of natural rights or "harmony of interest" would have no application to human nature.
Implication #7: anti-abotionists are claiming, "The fetus is an individual with rights" and, so, the onus of proof logically rests on the one who asserts a claim rather than upon those who see no evidence for the assertion.
Implication #8: if a pregnancy threatens a woman's life, anti-abortionists must legally require the woman to remain pregnant even if it means her death. Otherwise they do not take their own argument seriously. If the fetus is a separate individual with full rights, then the ill woman has no more right to kill it to save her life than a woman who needs a liver has the right to kill another person to secure a 'donor' organ. You cannot kill an innocent bystander just because your health requires it.
Implication #9: pregnancies that result from rape must also be brought to term. Anti-abortionists who make exceptions for e.g. a 12-year-old who becomes after being raped are saying that it is alright to kill an innocent baby under the 'proper' circumstances... which denies their entire argument, of course.
I just came across an idiosyncratic and very good critique of the Star Wars series. I could never stand Star Wars very much, at least not since I stopped being a teenager – but I never spent much effort analysing why. The obvious absurdity of lightsabers and superluminal flight always seemed enough for me, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how outright malevolent the Star Wars mythology really is. Read it here.