Sunday, March 16, 2008

What happens when...

...a brain scientist has a stroke

Prepared to be wrong

I have yet to see a video of a talk from TED that hasn't been really good. And this is no exception. The quote I like, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Books I like

Just this morning, I realized one aspect of why I like Blue Like Jazz. It reads like a blog. Each chapter is a separate story that can stand on it's own. But reading all of them, you get a bigger picture of the author and what the author thinks. This is true of Velvet Elvis, too.

Or it's possible (but highly unlikely) that since most of my reading of late has been blogs instead of books, I'm just justifying my preferences and trying to equate blog reading with book reading... Yeah, right! Glad that thought was so easy to dismiss.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.
Here's the rest of the article.

UPDATE: I hadn't finished reading the article when I submitted this post. I like this quote even better.
What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hankerin' 2

At church tonight, my pastor talked politics. There were a number of things that he said that directly opposed something I said in my previous post:
I think God still thinks that all of our governments are unnecessary.
That may have been a bit strong. He was specifically talking about the role that a Christian should play with politics. He was explicitly *NOT* telling anyone how to vote. But he did make two points that that I want to comment on:
  1. The power that the government has is delegated to it by God.
  2. We should get out and vote.
First things first. I agree with point 1. I obey the laws of this country and do not plan on doing otherwise. However, I think that the government that we have in this country is a shell of it's original intentions. The system of government that we have is, by far, the most free system of government in the world. But I think it's been in a slow and steady decline. And I don't see much hope for improvement. Our government was borne out of the concept of freedom. Yet, we have a the Kelo decision, and all of its successors. We're supposed to have equal protection under the law, yet if you're a bank, you can get special legislation that gives you immunity from patent law. If you are unlucky enough to have bought a piece of land that the government decides has an endangered species on it, you lose whatever property rights you had.

What is the commonality of all these things? These decisions all hinged on miscarriage of government power. In all of these cases, the government granted special permissions to a few at the expense of others. In one case to gain more tax revenue (increasing the size of the government). In another case, it was to have access to a very wealthy industry (allowing encumbants to remain in power). And in the last case, it was pandering to a group of socialists to override private property rights (helping to fulfill the socialist dream of the government running absolutely everything). IMHO, we have a government run amok.

And not a single one of the options left to us for president has any hope of making it better. Two of them want to socialize medicine, and the other one is proud of having severely restricted freedom of speech, and now vows to further restrict freedom of association. In fact, they all seem to be racing to "do more", and in doing so reducing the basic individual liberties that this country was founded on. Those individual liberties are the source of the wealth of this country. If you're serious about battling poverty, you can't be sanguine about the restriction of liberty.

Frankly, I can scarcely see any significant differences in the two major parties any more. For decades the democrats have been saying one thing then doing another. The biggest example that I think of is the unintended consequences that have come out of FDRs new deal and LBJs great society. But more recently, Bush proved that republicans are not immune to this disease. Whatever happened to permanent tax reform? What about spending control? How about social security reform as promised? Instead we got an government entitlement program - from the "small government" party.

My pastor made the point that it's possible for government to go beyond the authority that has been delegated to it. I tend to think that our government has done that and it's only going to get worse. So while I respect the authority of our government, and like David (the old testament dude), comply with it's authority, I still think that there is huge change required, and most of it in the reduction of government. In other words, getting back to a government that is aligned with the power that God has delegated. Which means forcing the government to give up a huge amount of what it's usurped.

As to point #2, at this point I can't see myself actually voting in the presidential election. I am so disappointed with the candidates that we have available that my non-vote has got to speak at least as loudly as my vote. Now, I will certainly remain engaged in what I think is rational policy. And I'm much more prone to vote in local elections. But the choice of remaining presidential candidates stinks so badly that I can't muster the nerve to associate my vote with any of them. People died so I could have the right to vote. I really don't think that any of the lot remaining are worthy of that sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hankerin' for an Argument

A friend of mine lent me a book that he really enjoyed. I've been wanting to read it for two reasons: First, I saw the author give a talk at an event and it was mind blowing. It took me weeks of pondering it before I felt normal again. Second, my friend who lent it to me is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. If he liked it, it's gotta be good.

And it's good.

The book is Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It's somewhere between a memior and really good explanation of Christianity. I'm half way through and I'm finding it hard to put down.

Of course, I'm a little surprised that I like it as much as I do. Because the author appears to be pretty far on the left side of the political spectrum. In one section he said:
"Satan, who I believe exists as much as I believe Jesus exists, wants us to believe meaninless things for meaningless reasons. Can you imagine if Christians actually believed that God was trying to rescue us from the pit of our own self-addiction? Can you imagine? Can you imagine what Americans would do if they understood over half the world was living in poverty? Do you think they would change the way they live, the products they purchase, and the politicians they elect? If we believed the right things, the true things, there wouldn't be very many problems on earth."

I get his main point. That we believe trivial things for trivial purposes and that leads to weird results. I agree with this. But I'm bothered by the underlying assumptions. The assumption that poverty can be fixed by the actions of the wealthy. That if Americans were more "in tune" with what's really going on we'd behave differently and that would cure the world of it's ills.

I'm guessing, but I think his prescription is this: the wealthy sharing their wealth with the poor solves the poverty problem. I think that usually makes the poverty problem worse.

I don't have any idea what Americans would do if we believed less trivial things. But what I actually think would do a better job of fixing the poverty problem would be exporting the liberties we have here to everywhere and making everywhere less encumbered by stupid human rules. How much poverty exists becuase of liberty crushing government? How much are those governments propped up by the good intentions of wealthy people who send their money to the dictators?

I wish I could have a discussion with Donald Miller. I wish I could convince him that some of us in the non-left camp are very concerned with world poverty. But as for me, I happen to believe that the best way to achieve it lies not with the modern liberal bent, but with the promotion of freedom. I want to convince him that the source of wealth, in this broken world, is something entirely unexpected. I'd like to try and convince him that emergent phenomena are God's pre-programming in us to get something that He wants. And that wealth is created out of an emergent phenomenon.

I'd try to convince him that if you really want to help the poor, it's a good idea to look at what has actually worked and what hasn't. I think God is a bigger believer in the power of freedom than I am. He made us free despite the fact that he knew it'd cause all this pain and suffering. And He's constantly talking about the evils of bondage and the promise of freedom. So I happen to think that when He's in charge, it will look almost exactly like the libertarian utopia... except it'll have God in it reminding us not to impose any other rules than his. It was, after all, the Israelites who demanded a King, despite protestations from God that it wasn't necessary. I think God still thinks that all of our governments are unnecessary. And I agree.

All of this being said, I might be wrong about the assumptions that I'm reading into the author. But I see them all over the place in this book, and it drives me crazy.

And I still can't put it down for how much I'm enjoying it.