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January 31, 2005

Tax Transaction Costs; Lederman Sources

Professor Lederman did a useful follow-up of the topic of our law-and-econ lunch last week, which was the transaction cost of taxation. Here are some facts:

The IRS budget is around $10 billion, http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/budget-brief-05.pdf.

IRS collected nearly $2 trillion in revenue in 2003: http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=98141,00.html.

IRS reports that it costs taxpayers 48 cents per $100 collected: http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=98141,00.html. The site doesn't say, on the front page, what this means. I think it means the IRS's budget cost, 10 billion divided by 2000 billion dollars. Taxpayer costs and allocative distortion would be much higher.

IRS Data Books for 2001-2003, which contain a variety of interesting statistics, are available at http://www.irs.gov/taxstats/article/0,,id=102174,00.html.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shareholders vs. Directors as Owners of the Firm; Bainbridge

From what Professor Thomas Smith says, Professor Bainbridge's UCLA conference on corporate law was a great success, with interesting papers and a crowd of interesting and diverse people like Hart and Presser. Why wasn't I invited? (maybe because I've never written a paper on corporate law and don't even have any related papers in progress.) But I can see some of the papers at ALEA in New York in May, most likely.

In his blog Bainbridge says:...

... Lynn Stout’s presentation forcefully makes the case for what she and I have taken to calling "director primacy": i.e., the idea that the corporation is a vehicle by which directors hire factors of production and the corollary proposition that shareholders have only the very limited set of control of rights for which they have bargained. ...

The other axis along which the shareholder primacy debate plays out relates to the ends of corporate governance. What is the decisionmaking norm that guides corporate governance? At one end of that axis lie folks like myself who believe that Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. meant what it said; namely, that the end of corporate governance is shareholder wealth and that the discretion of directors must be exercised towards that end.

(A blogging note: It would be nice if Bainbridge (and Reynolds, and others) had Weblog RA's. The RA would be told to scan the blog several times a day and links intelligently. In the post above, the RA would add links to Stout's paper, Bainbridge's paper, and Dodge v. Ford.)

I see a problem, so obvious that no doubt Bainbridge's journal articles deal with it: if the corporation is the directors', not the shareholders', why should the directors maximize shareholder wealth rather than their own wealth? I suppose the answer is that what Bainbridge means is that the deal between shareholders and directors is that the directors will act like trustees, maximizing shareholder wealth, but as the directors, not the shareholders, see fit. That's fine-- it's like the idea of republican instead of democratic government (small r and d), with the elected officials doing what they believe is right rather than what they believe the voters want. Burke, I think, took that view in a piece titeld something like "A Letter to the Electors of Bristol".

That is different, though, from the notion that the directors simply hire all the factors of production for their own benefit, including hiring capital from shareholders. If that were so, then the directors would be residual claimants. They would have to reward shareholders enough to make them buy risky shares, but if the corporation were unusually well run, well enough to have extraordinary profits, the directors would keep the excess.

Now I am starting to think that maybe that notion is correct, though. It looks like it would lead to efficient production. And it might fit reality-- with the directors being pretty safe from litigation, even if they self-deal or pay excesssive managerial salaries, so long as the shareholders do OK and are kept pretty happy. I'd have to do a formal model, I think, to figure it out.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

America Reacting to Europe; Frum

David Frum has a good piece on Transatlantic relations:
There is a tendency to assume that everything that happens in the transatlantic relationship happens because of America: that it is always America that acts and Europe that reacts . This assumption no longer holds in the post-cold war world. It is European leaders, not American ones, who are loosening transatlantic ties, and as much as this saddens Americans, there is little they can do about it.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Sider on the Immorality of Self-Identified Christians

Ronald J. Sider's 2004 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, sounds interesting. The book's theme is that most nominal Christians (a large proportion of the American population-- and about 40% say they are "born again") do not live according to their purported beliefs. It is excerpted here, and I've excerpted the excerpt at length, dropping footnotes and some formatting. ...

...In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent). In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same. In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans ---a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ .

Barna makes a distinction between born-again Christians and evangelicals. Barna classifies as born-again all who say "they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today" and who also indicate that they "believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior." In Barna's polls anywhere from 35 to 43 percent of the total U.S. population meet these criteria for being born-again.

Barna limits the term "evangelical" to a much smaller group--just 7 to 8 percent of the total U.S. population. In addition to meeting the criteria for being born-again, evangelicals must agree with several other things such as the following: Jesus lived a sinless life; eternal salvation is only through grace, not works; Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians; Satan exists. Obviously this definition identifies a much more theologically biblical, orthodox group of Christians.

What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals--just like 25 percent of the total population--have gone through a divorce. ...

In many parts of the Bible Belt, the divorce rate was discovered to be "roughly 50 percent above the national average" (italics mine). Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma pointed out the irony that these unusually high divorce rates exist in his state, where 70 percent of the people go to church once a week or more. "These divorce rates," Gov. Keating concluded, "are a scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit." ...

The Ronsvalles compare the giving in seven typical mainline denominations (affiliated with the National Council of Churches) with the giving in eight evangelical denominations (with membership in the National Association of Evangelicals). In 1968 the eight evangelical denominations gave considerably more than the seven mainline denominations. While the mainline denominational members gave 3.3 percent of their income, evangelicals gave 6.15 percent. While this is significantly more, the evangelicals on average still gave less than two-thirds of a tithe. By 1985 mainline folk had dropped their giving to 2.85 percent of their income and evangelicals to 4.74 percent. By 2001, mainline members had recovered slightly to 3.17 percent, but evangelical giving kept dropping and was at a mere 4.27 percent. ...

Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise . The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."

... Nationally, 33 percent of all adults have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25 percent for born-again folk.

Is the South and are Blacks more Christian because they feel more need of the support of religious morality? It would be interested to do paired comparisions (or regressions) to sort out the South effect from the Religion effect, but even if they are distinct, it is noteworthy that the higher percentage of Christians in the South has not produced a more moral society. Rather, at first glance it seems that the immoral society has produced a less moral Church.

In 1992, George Gallup Jr. and Timothy Jones published a book called The Saints Among Us. They used a 12-question survey to identify what they called "heroic and faithful individual" Christians. Some of the questions identified people who believed in the full authority of the Bible and practiced evangelism. But others identified costly behavior: "I do things I don't want to do because I believe it is the will of God" and "I put my religious beliefs into practice in my relations with all people regardless of their backgrounds." They labeled "saints" those who agreed with every question. And they called "super-saints" those who agreed strongly with every question.

The good news is that the "saints" lived differently . Only 42 percent of the strongly uncommitted spent "a good deal of time" helping people in need, but 73 percent of the "saints" and 85 percent of the "super-saints" did. Only 63 percent of the spiritually uncommitted reported that they would not object to having a neighbor of a different race. But 84 percent of the "saints" and 93 percent of the "super-saints" said they would not object. Interestingly, a disproportionate share of the saints were women, African Americans, and persons earning less than $25,000 per year ....

That's not too persuasive, actually. I'd be more interested in the divorce statistics than in their claims and opinions. But the defining questions are interesting.

It also turns out that the fraction of people who hold even basic orthodox beliefs-- the kind held by Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin-- is extraordinarily low, only 9% of the self-identified "born again". But at least these peple do behave differently, as explained below.

George Barna has developed a set of criteria to identify people with a "biblical worldview." These people believe that "the Bible is the moral standard" and also think that "absolute moral truths exist and are conveyed through the Bible." In addition, they agree with all six of the following additional beliefs: God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who still rules the universe; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; Satan is a real, living entity; salvation is a free gift, not something we can earn; every Christian has a personal responsibility to evangelize; and the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches.

Barna's criteria for identifying people with a biblical worldview are not identical to his criteria for identifying evangelicals. Barna's "born-again" category is much broader; about 40 percent of the total population are born-again, but only 7-8 percent are evangelicals. Using his definition of those with a biblical worldview, Barna has discovered that only 9 percent of all born-again adults have a biblical worldview and only 2 percent of born-again teenagers. That is the bad news.

The good news is that the small circle of people with a biblical worldview demonstrate genuinely different behavior. They are nine times more likely than all the others to avoid "adult-only" material on the Internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose intentionally not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people. Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldview have volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor, whereas only 29 percent of born-again Christians without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non-born-again Christians had done so.

Thus, it seems there is a strong connection between a person's theology (which is distinct from moral beliefs) and his moral behavior. I find that more interesting than the connection between claims about one kind of behavior and claims about another kind of behavior.

I'd like to know how many people hold a biblical worldview but do not describe themselves as born again, and how those people behave. Perhaps they are included in the statistics above.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

Gallagher, Freelance Journalist Independence; The Washington Post

As I wrote a couple of days ago, the Washington Post attacked writer Maggie Gallagher. She has written in support of Bush's education policy, and she has also, separately, been employed by the government to write reports. The Post insinuated that her case was like that of Armstrong Williams, who was paid by the government covertly to advocate the Department of Education's views.

Now Fred Hiatt, who oversees editorials and op-eds at the Washington Post, has just written an op-ed on the Maggie Gallagher affair. I find it unsatisfactory. While it clearly states the situation, there are three problems. First, it does not apologize for the misleading nature of the original article. Second, it essentially repeats, more clearly, the attack on freelance, independent journalists who do work for the government (or anybody else). Third, it is hypocritical. Here's what he says,...

...after which I'll explain more.

We have not written editorials about Gallagher; she was not paid to covertly espouse administration views in her columns. She was paid, as The Post disclosed, to write brochures and essays for the Bush administration on marriage policy; and she separately praised the administration's marriage policy in her syndicated column.

Was that wrong? A member of The Post's editorial board doing the same thing would be fired. Post journalists do not take money from the government , a policy that applies as strictly to news reporters (whom I do not oversee) as to opinion writers. But we also have the luxury of regular paychecks, which freelance contributors and independent columnists may not enjoy.

So the Gallagher case is murkier. Since the Post story was published, she has described herself both as an "opinion journalist" and as a marriage expert entitled to do consulting work in the field. It seems to me these roles coexist uneasily if the consulting work is for the government. At a minimum, as she has since acknowledged, she should have disclosed her government payments in columns on the subject.

1. No apology for the previous article's insinuations. This article clearly states the facts, in the first paragraph above. It acts as if the previous article had too. It had not-- which is why so many people, after reading it, though that Gallagher was paid covertly espouse administration policies, like Williams.

2. Attack on freelance journalists. It is absurd to think that a freelance journalist like Gallagher is less independent than a Washington Post reporter because she does a variety of work and is paid by a variety of employers. Quite the opposite. The Washington Post reporter knows that 100% of his income, his promotions, and much of his reputation is at the mercy of his single boss. They tell him what to work on, they edit what he writes, and they decide whether to publish anything he writes. If he decides to explore a topic on his own, one they do not think ought to be investigated, I presume he would be fired.

Someone like Gallagher also has to pay attention to the demand for her work, but if one employer decides to drop her, she has only lost a part of her income.

As to whether she should disclose her numerous employers-- use some common sense. Would anyone think less of her columns on education because she had done previous work for the Bush administration? Of course not. If you worry about that sort of thing, you should worry much more that she is currying favor for future employment in the administration, in some nice salaried policymaking job. But it is absurd to have a disclaimer like "Note: the author would be willing to accept a cushy job with the administration whose policies she is praising."

Instead, ask if the reader would care. If, for example, Gallagher was praising the brilliant writing in an op-ed by an Education Dept. official, then it would be important that she disclose that she had ghost-written it.

3. Hypocrisy. "A member of The Post's editorial board doing the same thing would be fired. Post journalists do not take money from the government..." Notice how narrowly this is written. It only talks about "the same thing" and "from the government". What about taking money from other sources? Are writers for the Post expected to not take any income for doing journalistic things (writing, TV, etc.) for outsiders? (And what about their wives and other relatives?)

I think not. In my last post I linked to Kaus's Slate column. It points out that the Post has lied on this subject in the past. The Post has been criticized for employing the very writer of the Gallagher piece, Howard Kurtz, as media critic, when he co-hosts a TV show for CNN, a major media company (which is in the same corporation as Time-Warner). As Kaus says,

On Sept. 7, 1999, Kurtz wrote a profile of Rupert Murdoch that touched on the feud between Murdoch and CNN founder Ted Turner, a man who could presumably end Kurtz's CNN career with one well-placed phone call. No disclosure.

Kaus has numerous similar examples-- I just picked one of the half-dozen or so that he had quickly searched out. He also quotes a Washington Post associate editor who said:

I know that Charles and others have those qualms about Howie's multiple employers. ... Howie always discloses his relationships when he writes about any of them. The Post has accepted that arrangement. I think it's O.K.
That, as Kaus shows, is false. Kurtz frequently writes about his other employers without disclosure. Thus, why should we believe that other Post writers do not take money from outsiders?

Posted by erasmuse at 02:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

Lileks's Lazy Day

James Lileks has a good post on a lazy day with his 4-year-old daughter.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The AARP: Special Interest Group *and* Liberal Front

Professor Bainbridge makes a good observation on the AARP as a liberal front, rather than just another special-interest group:
...just one more liberal special interest group, albeit a particularly well [camouflaged] and effective one (using those discounts to pull in seniors who probably vote red). The latest example: We learn from an Eleanor Clift column (of all things) that the AARP quietly has joined up with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to oppose President Bush's judicial nominees. So why would a loyal (more or less) Republican like me join one of the worst of those left-liberal special interest organizations of which the Democrat Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary?

Posted by erasmuse at 08:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Quoting Scripture Illegal: The Koran in Australia, The Bible in Canada

Human Events tells us that in Australia the law considers it "religious vilification", a criminal offense, to quote the parts of the Koran liberals consider it impolite to mention:

Two Christian pastors in Australia have been found guilty of religious vilification of Muslims. The decision threatens us all.

One of the pastors, Daniel Scot, is Pakistani. He fled his native land seventeen years ago when he ran afoul of the notorious Section 295(c) of the Penal Code -- which mandates death or life in prison for anyone who blasphemes "the sacred name of the holy Prophet Muhammad."...

Scot went to Australia, only to run afoul of that nation's new religious vilification laws. Last Friday, Judge Michael Higgins of The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found him guilty of vilifying Islam in a seminar hosted by his group, Catch the Fire Ministries. The judge noted that during the seminar, Scot stated that "the Quran promotes violence, killing and looting."...

He also scored Scot for contending that the Qur'an "treats women badly; they are to be treated like a field to plough, 'use her as you wish,'" and that in it, "domestic violence in general is encouraged.'" He charged Scot with saying that the Qur'an directs that "a thief's hand is cut off for stealing." Yet the idea of the field and "use her as you wish" are from Sura 2:223 of the Qur'an. Husbands are told to beat their disobedient wives in 4:34. Amputation for theft is prescribed in 5:38....

When during the trial Scot began to read Qur'anic verses that discriminate against women, a lawyer for the Islamic Council of Victoria, the organization that brought the suit, stopped him: reading the verses aloud, she said, would in itself be religious vilification. Dismayed, Scot replied: "How can it be vilifying to Muslims in the room when I am just reading from the Qur'an?"

This of course reminds me of the Saskatchwan case in which quoting the Bible was ruled to be illegal. As I posted in 2003,

... Let's talk about this so-called high threshold, and let's look at comparable Saskatchewan human rights legislation and a decision of December 2002, the Hugh Owens decision.

In paragraph 7 of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench decision in the appeal of that particular case, we have the description of the offence:

The bumper sticker in the advertisement displayed references to four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, on the left side of the sticker. An equal sign (=) was situated in the middle of the sticker, with a symbol on the right side of the sticker. The symbol on the right side was comprised of two males holding hands with the universal symbol of a red circle with a diagonal bar superimposed over top.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission found--and the court upheld this-- that this advertisement violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code because it exposed homosexuals to hatred. They made a specific legal finding that it exposed homosexuals to hatred or ridicule.
Quoting Scripture of any kind seems to get judges mad at you, doesn't it?

Posted by erasmuse at 01:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Maggie Gallagher Pseudo-Scandal

It's interesting how the Mainstream Media still retains its power to lie successfully even to conservative weblogs and politicians who should know better than to believe everything they read in the newspapers. Via Instapundit and Anklebitingpundits, I found a yahoo story on the Maggia Gallagher affair. She is falsely accused of accepting money to promote government programs in her journalism. What actually happened is that she is a journalist who has done contract work for the government to write particular reports-- all clearly labelled as coming from the government. In fact, it turns out that part of the money was from the *Clinton* Administration:...

... Gallagher got another $20,000 -- part of which was approved while President Clinton (news - web sites) was still in office --from a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative, using money from a Justice Department (news - web sites) grant. For that 2001 grant, she wrote a report on the institution of marriage, entitled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?"

More details: Gallagher says,

"I did not and would not accept any payment to promote anyone else's policies of any kind in my newspaper column or anywhere else. Moreover on Jan. 25, I offered Howard Kurtz copies of my contract and invoice as documentation of my work product. He had also received a copy of my Jan. 25 column, explaining the exact nature of the work I performed, before he filed his story.

"It is not uncommon for researchers, scholars, or experts to get paid by the government to do work relating to their field of expertise. Nor is it considered unethical or shady: if anything, government funded work is considered a mark of an expert's respectability. Until today, researchers and scholars have not generally been expected to disclose a government-funded research project in the past, when they later wrote about their field of expertise in the popular press or in scholarly journals.

The same article has Kurtz's response:

In response, Kurtz told E&P: "It's too bad that Maggie Gallagher, in the process of apologizing for her mistake, has seen fit to blame the messenger. My story made quite clear that her work at HHS included writing brochures for the President's marriage initiative, ghostwriting a magazine article for a top official, and briefing other department officials on the issue. That sure sounds like promotion to me, but none of this would be a media controversy had Ms. Gallagher disclosed the contract in her writing trumpeting the Bush marriage plan."

No-- Kurtz is trying to deceive his readers. Here is his Washington Post article's opening:

In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.

"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.

The implication is that while her work included drafting magazine articles, etc., it also included defending Bush's proposal in her columns. Kurtz's column. The column reveals the truth later, but in a sleazily clever way:

Wade Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said his division hired Gallagher as "a well-known national expert," along with other specialists in the field, to help devise the president's healthy marriage initiative. "It's not unusual in the federal government to do that," he said.

The essay Gallagher drafted appeared under Horn's byline -- with the headline "Closing the Marriage Gap" -- and ran in Crisis magazine, which promotes humanism rooted in Catholic Church teachings. Horn said most of the brochures written by Gallagher -- such as "The Top Ten Reasons Marriage Matters" -- were not used as the program evolved.

"I don't see any comparison between what has been alleged with Armstrong Williams and what we did with Maggie Gallagher," said Horn, who founded the National Fatherhood Initiative before entering government. "We didn't pay her to write columns. We didn't pay her to promote the president's healthy marriage initiative at all. What we wanted to do was use her expertise." The Education Department is now investigating the Williams contract.

Rather than state the undoubted truth-- that Gallagher was not paid a retainer to write pro-Bush columns-- Kurtz puts it as a quote from an Administration official. (Notice that earlier in his article he doesn't put quotes around "But Gallagher failed to mention..." or other statements that he wanted to sound accurate.) To add a final slap in the face, he includes in the same paragraph, " The Education Department is now investigating the Williams contract," so that we are left with the impression that Horn is a rascal who is practically in jail already.

Glennreynolds.com has more, much from Kaus at Slate, who notes frequent instances of Kurtz himself praising corporations without revealing that he is on their payroll--- as an employee of CNN as well as the Washington Post, where he is "media critic". (From Kaus: `Kaiser writes: "It is inconceivable that The Washington Post would allow this kind of conflict of interest for anyone covering any other beat. Can you imagine the Detroit correspondent becoming a consultant for General Motors?"').

I'm afraid I may have to start putting the Washington Post in the same category of unreliability as the New York Times.

What is most interesting, though is not that the Mainstream Media is biased and unreliable. We know that already, from numerous exposes. Rather, it is that conservatives fall for it. Drudge's first report accepted the Washington Post at face value, though he's pulled down that report by now and put up another. And as the yahoo story says,

President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries Wednesday not to hire columnists to promote administration agendas after disclosure that a second writer had been paid to assist an agency.

"All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda," Bush said at a news conference. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet." The president said he expects his agency heads will "make sure that that practice doesn't go forward."

Bush's remarks came a day after syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher apologized to readers for not disclosing a $21,500 contract with the Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Department to help create materials promoting the agency's $300 million initiative to encourage marriage.

and Professor Bainbridge writes
I've had it

In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families. ... But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21, 500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. (Link)

This tears it. I'm tired of working for free here. As of now, I'm not saying anything nice about the President or his policies until I get paid. So there.

As Professor Reynolds notes, the only reason this has come up is because it follows the Armstrong Williams story, a legitimate scandal (or am I too believing of what I hear?). Apparently the Department of Education paid Williams to talk about its proposals favorably on his show. Viewers would not that his statements were paid for by the government, unlike readers of the materials that Gallagher wrote for government contracts.

It would be interesting, of course, to find out how many pundits have ever received money from the government for contracts, employment, grants, and so forth. I bet we'd find that 95% of the money went to liberal pundits (aside from previous government employment money, which is probably split evenly). Think about any pundit connected with public radio or TV, for example. Think about organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which, as I've mentioned before, gets a third of its revenue from government and another third from its abortion clinics.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

The Rice Confirmation Vote: Closest Ever?

Condoleeza Rice has been confirmed as Secretary as State by a vote of 85 to 13, but that is the closest vote in the past 70 years (at least) for a Secretary of State. I take this as yet another sign of how partisan the Democrats have become, since the closeness is entirely up to them. Nobody can say that the Republicans were this partisan in voting on confirmations during the Clinton or Carter administrations-- nor were the Democrats in previous administrations. As the AP says,
Although Rice was assured of confirmation, she got the most "no" votes since World War II. Seven senators voted against Henry Kissinger and six each against Dean Acheson and Alexander Haig....
...The exact vote was this: (I marked interesting votes in red)
Democrats Yes

Baucus, Mont.; Biden, Del.; Bingaman, N.M.; Cantwell, Wash.; Carper, Del.; Clinton, N.Y. ; Conrad, N.D.; Corzine, N.J. ; Dodd, Conn. ; Dorgan, N.D.; Feingold, Wis.; Feinstein, Calif.; Inouye, Hawaii; Johnson, S.D.; Kohl, Wis.; Landrieu, La.; Leahy, Vt.; Lieberman, Conn.; Lincoln, Ark.; Mikulski, Md. ; Murray, Wash.; Nelson, Fla.; Nelson, Neb.; Obama, Ill.; Pryor, Ark.; Reid, Nev.; Rockefeller, W.Va.; Salazar, Colo.; Sarbanes, Md.; Schumer, N.Y.; Stabenow, Mich.; Wyden, Ore.

Democrats No

Akaka, Hawaii; Bayh, Ind. ; Boxer, Calif.; Byrd, W.Va. ; Dayton, Minn.; Durbin, Ill.; Harkin, Iowa; Kennedy, Mass.; Kerry, Mass.; Lautenberg, N.J.; Levin, Mich.; Reed, R.I.

Republicans Yes

Alexander, Tenn.; Allard, Colo.; Allen, Va.; Bennett, Utah; Bond, Mo.; Brownback, Kan.; Bunning, Ky.; Burr, N.C.; Chafee, R.I.; Chambliss, Ga.; Coburn, Okla.; Cochran, Miss.; Coleman, Minn.; Collins, Maine; Cornyn, Texas; Craig, Idaho; Crapo, Idaho; DeMint, S.C.; DeWine, Ohio; Dole, N.C.; Domenici, N.M.; Ensign, Nev.; Enzi, Wyo.; Frist, Tenn.; Graham, S.C.; Grassley, Iowa; Hagel, Neb.; Hatch, Utah; Hutchison, Texas; Inhofe, Okla.; Isakson, Ga.; Kyl, Ariz.; Lott, Miss.; Lugar, Ind.; Martinez, Fla.; McCain, Ariz.; McConnell, Ky.; Murkowski, Alaska; Roberts, Kan.; Santorum, Pa.; Sessions, Ala.; Shelby, Ala.; Smith, Ore.; Snowe, Maine; Specter, Pa.; Stevens, Alaska; Sununu, N.H.; Talent, Mo.; Thomas, Wyo.; Thune, S.D.; Vitter, La.; Voinovich, Ohio; Warner, Va.

Republicans No


Republicans Not Voting

Burns, Mont.; Gregg, N.H.

Others No

Jeffords, Vt.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Adam Smith on the Invisible Hand and Wealth Maximization

Here is the famous passage from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations on "the invisible hand" ( B.IV, Ch.2, Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries):

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can . He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

Notice that he explicitly uses a criterion close to the "wealth maximization" standard in economics. (See the "Notes on Value Maximization" that I just wrote for class.)

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January 24, 2005

Regulations as Compared to Opinion Letters

I just taught and blogged on FERPA, the Buckley Amendment law that is interpreted to say that professors can't post students' grades on office doors. What I'd like to ponder now is a general point of jurisprudence: what is the difference between an opinion letter and a regulation?

The starting point of administrative law is the actual law passed by Congress-- in this case, FERPA. A regulatory agency administers the law, writing regulations to flesh out the details. These regulations are made using a strict and formal process that includes publication of proposed regulations in the Federal Register, a public comment period, cost-benefit analysis, and so forth. Even the regulations do not include all the details, though. The agency gets questions from people who think the law has been violated or are afraid they might violate it themselves, asking about details left unclear by the regulations. The agency answers the letters, and sometimes publicly posts its response, which I will call an "opinion letter" (I don't know if that is the legal term) so that other people can learn the details too.

My problem is this: It appears that a large amount of what agencies require people to obey are not the formal regulations that got public comment and a formal process, but these opinion letters, which as far as I know get no public comment and don't have to obey the usual rules. Thus, an agency that wants to avoid the formal process need only issue sketchy regulations and then use opinion letters to blindside the citizens, avoid political pressure, and avoid having to do things such as cost-benefit analysis.

Is that right?

FERPA is a good example. The federal regulations (here, with the crucial definitions section here) are not so bad, and would have passed through the rulemaking process without much complaint except for lack of specificity. But then the Department of Education issues opinion letters like this one which says a teacher can't mail a student's grade to him on a postcard because the mailman could read it. That, I think, is a rule that would have more trouble in a public comment period.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

FERPA; Silly Education Records Privacy Rules

I gave a lecture today on how regulations are made and interpreted. Half the lecture was structured around the example of FERPA, the federal law regulating what teachers can publicly disclose about their students. The big theme was that there is a long journey between the law passed by the legislature and the internal rules imposed by an organization like a corporation or a university which is a little like the game "telephone" except with a bias towards silly caution.

In this case, the end result is an Indiana University regulation saying explicitly that a professor cannot say in a recommendation letter that the student got an "A" in his class, because that would be unauthorized disclosure of grades to a third party. You'd don't believe it? Take a look at "Main Points for Faculty to Remember" (main points-- the picky ones are somewhere else)

"I'm often asked to write letters of recommendation for students for awards, graduate school, or job applications. How does FERPA apply this case?

Statements bas

ed on your personal assessments and observations of the student are not derived from "education records" covered by FERPA. However, you must obtain the student's written consent if our letter includes such information as the student's overall GPA, or grades in specific courses....

... It gets worse. A January 10 memo to the entire IU faculty tells us to be sure not to disclose to anyone even that a particular student is enrolled in a particular class (as well as use shredders if possible-- not, I think, a wise use of money at a university where faculty must empty their own office garbage cans because we can't afford enough janitors). This implies that without written student consent, I am not allowed even to say that a student took my class-- unless I can say that (or his grades) are from "personal assessments".

An example of stupid federal law, or stupid regulators, or stupid federal judges run amok? No. I don't like the federal law, but it doesn't look so unreasonable. Neither do the federal regulations, though the less official "opinion letters" issued by the Dept. of Education are an order of magnitude sillier. The only Supreme Court case I found is positively sensible; the Court unanimously rules that an appellate court was wrong to say that "peer grading", in which one student grades the paper of another, violates FERPA, and Justice Kennedy's opinion even makes fun of the appellate court, between the lines.

No, the problem is Indiana University's interpretation of the federal law, an ultra-cautious one that sacrifices learning to the gods of the plaintiffs' bar.

References: Here is the Buckley Amendment, or FERPA, from the United States Code. Falvo v. Owasso 534 US 426 (2002) is perhaps the leading Supreme Court case interpreting it, a case in which the U.S. Solicitor General supported less regulation. The Dept. of Education has made regulations, of which the definitions are key, and issued opinion letters saying no grades allowed on postcards and no use of the last 4 digits of SS number for posting grades. Also, I've linked the Dept. of Education FERPA site and Indiana University's "Main Points for Faculty to Remember". My own hmtl overheads are here.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

The Liberal Consensus in Universities

There is a revealing quote from an article in New York magazine about Columbia University's Middle East Studies Department (MEALAC):
"The university should have looked at MEALAC five or ten years ago," says Richard Bulliet, a historian and colleague of Khalidi’s. "It’s become locked into a postmodernist, postcolonialist point of view, one that wasn’t necessarily well adapted to giving students instruction about the Middle East." He adds that politicizing a curriculum, or what some call "advocacy teaching," isn’t always a bad thing. "We’ve had advocacy in the classroom for a long time," he says. "But in the areas where it’s most visible, like black studies and women’s studies, the point of view tends to coincide with the outlook of the Columbia community--no one feels you have to give the slaveholder’s or male-chauvinist pig’s point of view." He pauses for emphasis. "But here," he concludes, "we have an area where no consensus exists. And that’s the problem."
What is revealing is that he takes it for granted that there is consensus about the positions advocated in black studies and women's studies. Maybe in universities, but not in America!

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Old Words and New Ideas in Religion, Law, and Academia; Chesterton

Pastor Timothy Bayly has an excellent Chesterton quote at the end of this post on gender-neutered Bible translations:

It is remarked, "We need a restatement of religion"; and though it has been said thirty-thousand times, it is quite true.

It is also true that those who say it often mean the very opposite of what they say. As I have remarked elsewhere, they very often intend not to restate anything, but to state something else, introducing as many of the old words as possible.

(G. K. Chesterton, The Thing, p. 190, "Some of Our Errors".)

That idea also applies to law. The objective in creating a "living Constitution" is to kill the old Constitution and then resurrect as many old words as possible to dress up a new one.

Interestingly enough, the opposite is true in many academic and artistic fields. In theology and law, tradition is honored, even by those who dislike what is traditional. In academia and some spheres of art, tradition is dishonored, even by those who like what is traditional. As a result, there we tend to get old ideas dressed up in as few of the old words as possible.

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January 22, 2005

The Natural Law Philosophy of Bush's Second Inaugural

Joseph Bottum has a good Weekly Standard article on Bush's Second Inaugural Address, which I just blogged on. He says, quite rightly, that it is based on the idea of natural law and full of interesting philosophical points....

...The speech was as clear an assertion of a particular Christian political philosophy as we're likely to hear in these latter days. "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom," the president declared. "Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul."...

The problem for ethics is always how to match empirical and logical claims ("Humans want to be free") with moral claims ("Humans should be free"). And, within philosophy, natural law is a way of bridging the gap by asserting a unity of fact and value--based on the endowment of human nature with moral worth by the model on which humans are based. "From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value," as President Bush explained. And the reason? Well, "because they bear the image of the Maker of heaven and earth."

Now, any philosopher would point out that this is possible only if the moral law itself is real: a set of eternal truths that vary not in content but only in application as the temporal order changes. And, sure enough, there the necessary postulate is in Bush's speech: "Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before--ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever."

And watch it all come together as Bush reaches toward his peroration in the speech's penultimate moment: "When our Founders declared a new order of the ages ...they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty."...

Bush has done the natural law argument unusually well. As is all too common in discussions based on natural law, lots of hard stuff is bypassed. How do we know that it is God's will for men to be free politically? Are elections an important part of this, or is political freedom something else? (A Greek view of natural law might be that the best men should rule the masses, justly.) Still, he can take it for granted that his audience already believes that political freedom and elections are intrinsically good, and his reasoning is far more sophisticated than usual in a speech.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Best Parts of Bush's Second Inaugural

Here are my favorite quotes from Bush's Second Inaugural:
For a half-century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical -- and then there came a day of fire. ...

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know: America sees you for who you are -- the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side. ...

Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self.

The last one, in red, is the best.

It is worth noting that most of the speech is addressed to the World, not to America.

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January 21, 2005

Getting Chirac in the Right Mood

A nice Lileks quote today:
Went over to the Giant Swede’s house for an inaugural supper. Got into an argument over whether the Europeans should be treated with deference to assure future cooperation, or whether Bush should Taser Chirac the moment he sets foot in the Oval Office, just to set the ground rules for term two....

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Klein Bottles

Websurfing recently, probably via Anton Sherwood's Muttered the Ogre site, I came across this picture of a Klein bottle at the site http://www.kleinbottle.com/, which sells them at reasonable prices. A Klein bottle has no inside. Start on the outside and keep moving your pointer on the surface, and you can come right back the point at which you started, having covered every part of the bottle. A Klein bottle is the 3-D analog to the Moebius strip.

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Setting up TypeKey for Movable Type

With much labor, I have set up the Typekey registration for my weblog. As a result, anybody wishing to comment must sign up with Typekey. When you try to comment, you are given instructions for this easy procedure, which takes effect instantly and is useful for lots of different blogs. The advantage is that spammers don't sign up....

... This is a standard feature of Movable Type 3 blog software, and can be turned on easily. The problem comes in filling in the boxes. Typekey asks for the address of the weblog, e.g., http://www.rasmusen.org/x/, but that is actually not enough. In addition, as Pdq's Views explains, it seems one needs the address where you put your movable type software, e.g., http://www.rasmusen.org/mt-new/. To play it safe, I also included the address of my archives, http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/. If you have problems commenting, please let me know and I'll tweak it some more.

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January 20, 2005

Bush's National Guard Service: Info from the Thornburgh Report

I learned a couple of positive things about George Bush from the the Thornburgh Report that I hadn't known before:

(1) Page 130 says that Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam, when his National Guard unit was asked. He was turned down, as being insufficiently experienced. Thus, his attitude was similar to Kerry's. They both signed up for a "safe" service-- the National Guard and the Navy-- and then later volunteered for slightly less safe Vietnam duty. The difference is that Kerry was accepted for it, and served a few months in Vietnam, before getting out as quickly as he could.

Why did Bush's volunteering not come up during the campaign? I suppose because Bush wanted to keep the topic off of his National Guard service generally.

(2) Page 131 says that Mary Mapes sent an internal CBS email saying that Bush's National Guard unit had no waiting list, and did have vacancies. There were indeed vacancies for pilots in the National Guard-- though there was a waiting list for certain other kinds of positions.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

Why No Theory is Falsifiable. with Application to Evolution

I was just reading a criticism of Intelligent Design theory on some blog. It was making the typical Popperian argument that the big criterion for whether a theory is good is whether it is falsifiable. This idea has, I think, been long abandoned in philosophy of science. It is common among the less well educated in economics. It seems to be very common among people thinking about intelligent design. I have criticized its use as an attack on Intelligent Design before. (I also have posts on speciation and sunflowers and the usefulness of theology to science.) I am not up on the general criticisms of the falsifiability criterion, but my impression is that the first steps beyond it are the Kuhnian idea of paradigm shift (that even if a theory is falsified, people don't abandon it until a better theory comes along) and Lakatos's notion of science as process (that rather than rejecting a theory after it fails a test, we just fix up the theory, and then abandon it only if it acquires an ugly number of patches).

I just had another idea, though, one that if I'm right is a quite deadly attack on the falsifiability criterion. I'll start with the application to Intelligent Design, and then do the general case.

Suppose we have two theories of Evolution. Both are theories of Evolution, because in both, new species arise by mutation and spread by natural selection, the ones thriving that are best fitted to the environment at the time. One theory is Standard Evolution: that mutations are all the result of things such as cosmic rays and random mistakes in genetic copying. Another theory is Intelligent Design: that some (though not most) mutations are the result of some kind of intelligent intervention, by God, Martians, or whatever. Thus, one theory deals with the difficult problem of improbably complicated mutations by saying that improbable things do happen sometimes by chance (or is the result of something we haven't discovered yet), the other by saying that it isn't random after all, but designed.

Suppose someone says, "Standard Evolution is good because it is a falsifiable theory and Intelligent Design is not. Standard Evolution would be falsified if we discovered human footprints from the Jurassic Age." That is wrong. The footprints falsify Evolution, but they falsify Intelligent Design just as much as Standard Evolution. Where the two theories differ is not in saying that Evolution occurs, but in saying how it occurs. Thus, a falsifiability test of Intelligent Design or Standard Evolution per se must rely on the particular theory's special features.

Each theory could be falsified, but only improbably. Standard Evolution could be falsified if evidence came up that God guided mutations-- say, the Second Coming, with miracles and a divine explanation. Intelligent Design could be falsified if evidence came up showing that all the improbable mutations are not improbable after all, but have a simple explanation we just haven't discovered yet, so there is nothing left to be designed. (Of course, a weak form of Intelligent Design, not falsifiable, is that God is guiding even the ordinary mutations that easily explained by natural causes.) Or, Intelligent Design could be falsified by showing that no guiding intelligence exists-- a negative that is very hard to prove.

Let's focus on a particular form of Intelligent Design: that the Biblical God, Jehovah, is the intelligent designer. The problem then is that to falsify Standard Evolution we need to show that God exists, and to falsify Intelligent Design we need to show that God does not exist. Both are tasks, which, even if the premise in each case is true, are of the same order of difficulty. If it is hard to falsify Intelligent Design, it is also hard to falsify Standard Evolution, which is "Not-Intelligent-Design".

Now let us move to the general case.

Consider the theory (akin to invoking God, as X), THEORY 1. "If X is true, then Y will happen."

but suppose we cannot tell if X is true or not (though we can tell if Y happens or not). Theory 1 is nonfalsifiable.

A second theory says, THEORY 2. "If Z is true, then Y will happen."

and we can tell if Z and Y are true or not. Theory 2, you may say, is falsifiable. If we find a case where Z is true but Y did not happen, we have falsified the theory.

Theory 2, however, can also be written as THEORY 3. "If Z is true, then Y will happen, even if X is false."

Theory 3 and Theory 2 are the same aren't they? Theory 3 just makes explicit a detail which is implicit in the statement of Theory 2.

But Theory 3 is not falsifiable. To falsify it would require us to find a case where Z is true, X is false, and Y happens. But we cannot tell if X is true or not.

Thus, I conclude that Theory 2 is not really falsifiable. Since for any theory I can come up with a competing theory which, like Theory 1, is nonfalsifiable, and that competing theory's falsity is implicit in the original theory's statement this means no theory is falsifiable. Comments are very much welcome. Is this idea well known? Is there a flaw in my reasoning? Even if true, does not it not matter to the usefulness of the idea of falsifiability?

I will add as a postcript that falsifiability is actually a very useful idea. It's just that its usefulness is not so much in deciding whether to accept a theory or not as to figure out if it is coherently stated. If I ask myself,"What would falsify this theory?", I am forced to think about what the theory actually means, and frequently I find I don't know what I'm talking about-- that I hadn't really stated a theory to begin with.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lileks on Soap Aroma

James Lileks has a wonderfully written rant on the subject of soap:
... by Eucalyptus Spearmint. The soap and the shampoo worked hand in hand; they welcomed the lotion like a long-lost brother. The general scent was manly in fashion that recalled the barbershops of the Gilded Age; as one laved one’s chest one could conjure up images of bowler hats on the coat rack, well-thumbed Police Gazettes, shoe polish and cigars. A time of heavy coins and horse manure, warmish beer, a scandalous flash of ankle. When I finished my morning ablutions I had the momentary conceit that I smelled like Stanford White, and this mood carried me on its shoulders throughout the day.

But the company dropped the shampoo. Lileks says:
I could understand if you had abandoned the line completely; such are the vicissitudes of retail. But to keep the line going while eliminating a crucial element of the aroma profile is an act of colossal arrogance and cruelty, knowing as you do that no other shampoo in the store meshes with such ease and familiar grace into the Eucalyptus Spearmint line.

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January 18, 2005

Reporters in the Pay of the Palestinian Authority

Little Green Footballs has a post well titled, "The Media Really Are the Enemy". It is about a Jerusalem Post article that reports on how Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, and CNN all employ reporters who are also in the pay of the Palestinian Authority. The article also talks about how these and other news agencies rely on reporters who are openly affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Scandal of Test-Taking Privileges Under the ADA

Gail Heriot tells an interesting story about the Americans with Disabilities Act at The Right Coast. This Act, as interpreted by universities, is a limitation on academic freedom and an opportunity for corruption that favors the rich. Students who can show that a psychologist has diagnosed them with a mental problem can get 50% extra time on tests. The result is what you'd expect. As Heriot describes, though, we professors don't have to dirty our hands too much. The University will administer the test for us.
While I am sympathetic to many of the aims of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I’ve never been a fan of the ADA itself. But I’ll save my litany of complaints for another day. Right now my problem is not with the Act but with its implementation. On some college campuses, ADA accommodations for the learning disabled are administered by people who have never taken a similar exam and are unaware of what the professor is attempting to accomplish in giving the exam. And they don't ask. ...

How can the ADA commissar know whether the student should be given 50% more time than other students or 100% more time if he's never looked at the particular exam? One size doesn't fit all. Some exams require the student to do a lot of reading and a little writing. Others require a little reading and a lot of writing. If a particular student has a reading problem that makes him read half as quickly as the rest of the students, he would need only 5% more time on one test and 75% more time on another in order to "erase" his disadvantage.

...A few years ago, one of my colleagues commented to me that she had heard that at some colleges as many as one third of students are receiving ADA-mandated accommodations on exams. At the time, neither of us had any reason to believe that this was true at USD (and I still don’t), but I had noticed that each semester one or two of the essays seemed much longer than anyone could humanly write in the time period I had allotted, and I wondered whether the total number of accommodations could be much higher. I therefore asked at the records office how I could find out how many of my students were receiving accommodations and what kind. The word came back to me in precisely these terms: "It’s none of your business."

It was an odd response, since it seems to me that it is precisely my business. I’m a law professor. Among the many things that I do, I draft and grade exams that test law students on what they have learned and how well they can apply it. It's my job t make sure those exams are the best they can be.

Part of what I test for is the ability to spot legal issues quickly. ... But if a large fraction of the class is getting extra time it certainly does, the results of such an exam are apt to be quite random. Before that point, it’s probably better to beat a retreat and devise an exam that doesn’t test for speedy analysis, even though something is lost with such a change. The problem is that if "[i]t’s none of my business," I don’t know about it, and I cannot adjust the exam accordingly.

Why am I bringing this up now? While grading exams this past week, I ran across an essay in which a student had written considerably more than any other student. But this time I didn’t have to wonder whether the student had gotten extra time. The student had carefully written on the exam the amount of time that had been allocated--50% more than the rest of the class.

Obviously, the amount of time given this student was too high. ...

There's actually an easy way to decide whether the ADA special provision for the student is legitimate or not: Ask whether it would benefit a student who wasn't disabled.

For example, suppose the special treatment is to allow the student to have a special desk that would fit his wheelchair. Would normal students benefit from that desk? No. We could even say that any student who asks for one can get one. The effect of the ADA would then just be to say that the professor *must* provide one to a disabled student.

Professors, of course, do this kind of thing even without a federal law. It is common to allow a foreign student to use a dictionary in tests. The professor wants to test economics knowledge, for example, and making the grade depend on English ability as well would make the test less informative. Using my rule, this is an ok accommodation because the professor could allow all of the students to use dictionaries, if they wanted to.

How about allowing 50% extra time? Well, that is bad, according to my rule. All the students would like to have that special treatment, because a normal student can benefit from it too. There is an opportunity for fraud, and, of course, the very fact that all students would benefit shows that ability to work under time pressure is something that the teacher is testing.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

Martin Luther King's Habitual Plagiarism

It's Martin Luther King Day, and time to remind everyone of how inappropriate it is for a university to have a holiday in honor of someone who plagiarized his doctoral thesis (as well as other academic work). Details can be found in a collection of articles in the The Journal of American History of which the following is one:

"King's Plagiarism: Imitation, Insecurity, and Transformation" (in Becoming Martin Luther King, Jr.-Plagriarism and Originality: A Round Table), David J. Garrow, The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, No. 1. (June 1991), pp. 86-92.

Webpages are less reliable, but here is one book review/A> that sounds accurate:

The news has been out since the late 1980s that Martin Luther King Jr., the American Civil Rights icon, was a serial plagiarist. Not only did he plagiarize at least half of his doctoral thesis; many of his speeches, including the most famous, were plagiarized too. Nor was this a recent development in his career - he had been plagiarizing material since he was a teenager....

The plagiarism did not begin or end with the doctoral thesis, so much so that the Collected Papers of Luther King Jr. apparently devotes at least as much time to "uncited sources" as it does to his own work, if that is the correct description. Even the much celebrated "I have a dream" speech of 1963 was plagiarized. By a peculiar turn of events, the source King raided for this was a speech given to the Republican National convention of 1952, by a black preacher named Archibald Carey.

The trail leads all the way back through Luther King Jr.'s undergraduate days to his teenage years - the earliest known instance is apparently an essay written at age 15. It seems to be harder to find something that that was incontestably original and not plagiarized....

Pappas was instrumental in breaking the story in the US, as the editor of the periodical Chronicles, which published the first details in late 1990, closely followed by The Wall Street Journal (though one should note that the first reports emerged in early 1990 from a handful of conservative organizations). This remarkable scoop for Pappas was due to courage only, since most other papers (including at least Dan Balz at the Washington Post, the editor of the New York Times book review section, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution) and newsmagazines had already known of the story for months. Later, The New Republic would publish a mea culpa, bemoaning their own decision to kill the story, but others were not as forthcoming.

King's sexual immorality is also a count against him, as this article says:
A few years later, with the publication in 1989 of Ralph Abernathy's autobiography, "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down," those rumors were substantiated by one of King's closest friends and political allies. ...

In the course of the Senate debate on the King holiday, the East office received a letter from a retired FBI official, Charles D. Brennan. Mr. Brennan, who had served as Assistant Director of the FBI, stated that he had personally been involved in the FBI surveillance of King and knew from first-hand observation the truth about King's sexual conduct --- conduct that Mr. Brennan characterized as "orgiastic and adulterous escapades, some of which indicated that King could be bestial in his sexual abuse of women."

He also stated that "King frequently drank to excess and at times exhibited extreme emotional instability as when he once threatened to jump from his hotel room window." In a study that he prepared, Mr. Brennan described King's "sexual activities and his excessive drinking" that FBI surveillance discovered. It was this kind of conduct, he wrote, that led FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to describe King as "a tomcat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges" and President Lyndon Johnson to call King a "hypocrite preacher." ...

It is precisely this material that is sealed under court order until the year 2027 and to which the Senate was denied access prior to the vote on the King holiday.

The last sentence refers to the Senate's refusal to unseal the relevant records so they could be read before voting on making Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Electing a Doge-- A Complex Electoral System

Via Anton Sherwood, quoting Wikipedia,
New regulations for the elections of the doge introduced in 1268 remained in force until the end of the republic in 1797. Their object was to minimize as far as possible the influence of individual great families, and this was effected by a complex elective machinery. Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.
Here's a good example of a system that looks silly but worked well.

Posted by erasmuse at 07:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

Understand the Trinity: Mysteries and Contradictions

Last week I posted Biblical references in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, but without much comment. Today I'll comment.

My position is that we can't know much about the Trinity. I will call it a "mystery": a concept that has truth or falsity, but which we cannot hope to understand in any depth given our current information. A great number of Biblical passages cannot be understood except by some doctrine of the Trinity-- some idea that God is both single and has two or three parts, and that Jesus is God (I'll leave aside the question of the Holy Ghost for now). But I don't think we can understand the Trinity in the detail Church tradition has given us, even at the level of the Nicene Creed. It is not that I disbelieve the Nicene Creed; rather, I doubt that its expressions have much content.

First, though, let me explain that in saying that I believe God is both one and three, and that Jesus is God, and that we must believe that as a mystery, I am not saying that we should believe impossibilities. Let me distinguish between a mystery and a contradiction.

An example of a mystery is a miracle-- say, Jesus healing a blind man. We cannot understand how He did that, given our available evidence. It is not at all hard to believe, though, for someone who accepts Jesus as the Christ and the Bible as even mostly true. The miracle does not involve any logical contradiction, it is perfectly consistent with the idea of a powerful Christ, and has no implications that are falsified by current facts. We cannot hope to know how the miracle was performed, given our available information. But this no more puts it in doubt that does our inability to explain how the Druids moved the stones to Stonehenge. Historical events are often hard to explain.

On the other hand, the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation requires a contradiction. It says that the Communion bread is simultaneously bread and human flesh-- the flesh of Jesus. Putting aside the sacrilegious aspect, this doctrine violates logic and evidence. Something cannot be both entirely bread and entirely flesh. We *can* test the bread, and it is just bread. Wiggling around this with talk of substance versus appearance is pure sophistry. Moreover, nothing in the Bible requires us to believe in transubstantiation; the passages commonly given are clearly metaphorical and the Roman Catholics rely on tradition to support the doctrine.

The Trinity is a mystery, not a contradiction. It is an idea needed to reconcile Biblical passages that otherwise would contradict each other. The idea itself, however, does not involve contradiction. Plenty of things can be said to be three and one simultaneously. The three-lobed shamrock is an example. A corporation can be thought of as ten thousand shareholders, ten directors, or one corporate person. Scientific theories do this kind of thing all the time-- looking at light as a wave sometimes and a particle other times, for example.

What, then, can we say about the Trinity? What parts of the doctrine are really required by Scripture and logic, and what parts are added by tradition or by theory reaching beyond evidence into the realm of the unprovable? I'll leave that till another day.

Posted by erasmuse at 07:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

The Trade Deficit as a Result of an Aging Europe and China

Professor Michael Pettis' WSJ op-ed " Deficit Attention Disorder" ($) calls attention to an important aspect of the U.S. trade deficit: aging populations in other countries. This means that the ratio of working adults to pensioners (or dependents) will be falling, which in turn means those countries had better do lots of saving now. This is true of the U.S. too, but we have less of a problem than most countries, including places such as China, which are thriving now partly because they have few retired people relative to productive people. The U.S. is a safe place to invest, too, and so foreign investment in the U.S. exceeds U.S. investment abroad. Foreign investment in the U.S. cannot be greater than U.S. investment abroad unless the U.S. runs a trade deficit. And so we do. In Pettis' words,
As Europe ages and its population declines, there will be enormous pressure to break the social model. Rising demands from pensioners, greater expenditures on health, increased military spending, and various other costs will have to be provided by a rapidly declining work force.

A reasonable long-term protective strategy might be to increase current European and Japanese claims on foreign economies in order to make the future adjustment process easier. Over the next decade, Europeans and Japanese would have to save as much as possible and use these savings to accumulate claims abroad. As their foreign claims accumulate while economic conditions are (relatively) good, they will be able to draw down on these claims to pay for the import of goods and services that they will need during their great adjustment periods....

With demographic crises threatening not just Europe and Japan, but also Russia and China, it makes sense for threatened countries to accumulate claims against the only part of the world economy that seems healthy and large enough to help the adjustment process. Of course, the only way to accumulate such claims is by running significant current-account surpluses against the U.S.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Rathergate: Hackworth's Credibility Blown, Thornburgh's Weak Conclusions Explained

Michelle Malkin notices that that the Thornburgh Report on Rathergate has details of how Mary Mapes used David Hackworth, noted retired colonel and web person, as a consultant on the Rathergate story. This is a big blow to Hackworth's credibility. He assured Mapes that the documents were genuine (not "any doubt in his mind"), and made other confident, extremely strong statements about military procedures ("then-Lieutenant Bush was 'AWOL' and that a person would have to reach that conclusion when reviewing the documents 'unless you’re the village idiot.' ") Parts of this interview were in the first draft of the 60 Minutes Story, but were cut before the final version.

The blogosphere has commented at length on how the Thornburgh Report, while clearly and elaborately laying out the dishonesty and managerial incompetence of various executives at CBS comes to two surprising conclusions that are contrary to all its evidence: (1) there is not convincing evidence that the documents are genuine, and (2) there is not convincing evidence that CBS was biased-- haste to get a story out quickly is enough to explain the story.

As everybody knows, this is silly. (1) Does anybody really believe the documents might be genuine? No. Certainly you could not find a single expert witness to say so. (2) Does anybody really believe that CBS is not biased against Bush? Maybe some liberals do not believe that, but the evidence is overwhelming. In fact, in both cases, I think the evidence is "beyond a reasonable doubt," the jury standard.

There, however, may lie the key to the Thornburgh Report. Could a libel case be brought against CBS? First, there must be a false and hurtful statement. Clearly there was. But that is not enough. If it is a public figure that is libelled, the case must also be proved (by a preponderance of evidence, I would guess) that the liar is heavily to blame for saying something false and hurtful-- that it is more than just negligence. I forget the exact standard. It may be that the plaintiff needs to prove that the lie was deliberate and intentional, or it may be he just needs to show that it was the result of reckless disregard for the facts.

Now look back at conclusions (1) and (2) of the Thornburgh Report. If it had come to the opposite conclusions, and said that the documents were indeed false and that CBS aired them because of political bias, that would be potent evidence in court in a libel suit, because Thornburgh is acting as CBS's lawyer here. So, as a good lawyer, Thornburgh is being discreet.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

Posner on the Two Misconceptions of Law Students

Judge Posner writes
I can't resist responding to the two commenters who asked me to identify the principal misconceptions of first-year law students. There are two, and they are closely related. The first is the idea that the law exists somewhere, in a book presumably (or, to be modern, in an electronic database), and that what you learn in law school is how to find the book, and that what law professors do, to justify making you sit in class for three years, is hide the book from you. The second misconception is that legal reasoning is something special , subtle, esoteric, which will enable you once you have learned it to answer a question in a way that would make no sense to a lay person. In other words--and this is what joins the misconceptions--law is a mystery.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

New HTML Format for Quotations

Do you like my new quotation format? It looks like this:
"A Reputation Model of Quality in North-South Trade." Countries have different comparative advantages in quality. These might be due to technological differences, or to reputation differences of the sort described in Klein \& Leffler (1981). Reputation differences are particularly interesting, since good reputations are a form of ``social capital'' that is amenable to modelling. They can explain why firms in these industries like to export even if the foreign price is no higher than the domestic one, and why governments would like to have large ``high-value'' sectors. ( http://www.rasmusen.org/papers/trade-rasmusen.pdf).
I got the commands from my old Uni High classmate Anton Sherwood, whose blog is ... muttered the ogre. Here's the command, adapted for Movable Type, where it goes into the Main Index template and the Individual Archive template, right at the start of each file:

<style> BLOCKQUOTE {border-left: 5px solid #bdc;
margin-left: 1.5em;
padding-left: 5px;} </style>

Posted by erasmuse at 09:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Bad Comments in Weblogs--- Kevin Drum's Weblog

Yesterday I thought I'd see what liberal bloggers had to say about the Rathergate Report (partly, I must admit, for entertainment value at seeing them squirm). Kevin Drum has a reasonable post in which he acknowledges that CBS messed up, and even adds extra weighty evidence of his own. At the end, to be sure, he says, in effect "the other side does it too" and "plus, Rather are not on our side anyway; this was stupid journalistic zeal, not bias", but if you're going to defend the Democrats, that's the tack to take.

What surprised me, though, was the number of vulgar, thoughtless, and partisan liberal comments his site attracts. In particular, look at the comments to his post on Republican sleaze, by which he means not bribery, such things as but partial repeal of the 1994 rule changes on transparency, big changes made to bills in conference committee, and holding votes open so members can be induced to change their votes in time. (My comment was that the backtracking from 1994 may be bad, but Drum's saying that "It took Democrats 40 years to start losing losing their soul to corruption. Republicans have left them in the dust in a mere decade." is curious given that the Republicans still aren't back to the 1993 rules the Democrats used for decades).

I haven't done a comparison. I wonder if conservative blogs with open comments attract just as many mindless, low-quality readers?

Posted by erasmuse at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bush's National Guard Service--A Summary

Patrick Sullivan, in a comment at Kevin Drum's weblog, has a nice summary of George W. Bush's military career. I don't know if it's all correct, but it seems reasonable.
In a nutshell, here's the military career of George W. Bush:

1. Over Christmas vacation 1967, Yale senior Bush decides he wants to fulfill his military obligation by becoming a fighter pilot (emulating his WWII bomber pilot father).

He discovers that his hometown ANG unit has openings for fighter pilots. He introduces himself to the appropriate recruiter, Cliff Staudt. Who must have had the recruiter equivalent of a wet dream when a Yalie, physically fit, with a WWII pilot father, who also happens to be the area's congressman walks in and asks about signing up. There are Texas ANG pilots from this group flying in Vietnam at the time.

2. Bush passes his tests about the same time as the North Koreans seize the Pueblo, and the North Vietnames and Viet Cong launch the Tet Offensive. 14,000 Americans die in Vietnam that year. He is accepted in May, just before he graduates. He serves a few months as an enlisted man in Texas while he awaits a slot in Georgia for flight training.

3. He graduates in the top half of his flight class, and is sent to Ellington AFB for his F-102 training in late '69. After he is qualified on the F-102 in 1970 he, along with three other pilots, volunteers to fly in Vietnam. Two of those are accepted, Bush and Fred Bradley, having fewer cockpit hours are not.

4. Bush flies with distinction--according to his annual fitness reports--through April 1972. When--with the Vietnamization of the war well along and pilots fighting for cockpit time in the states--he decides to get on with his life. He takes a job with a Senatorial campaign in Alabama, meaning he has given up flying. He gets the permission of his superior officers to do this.

5. He works in Alabama through November, and his candidate loses to a Democrat. He serves week-end duties at the AFB base in Alabama-with several eye witnesses remembering him being there.

6. January 1973; the Vietnam war officially ends, and our POWs return home. Spring and Summer of 1973 he resumes duties in Houston, building up enough points for the entire year by July (iirc). Applies for a routine out 'early out' to go to Harvard Business School. 'Early out' granted, and Bush is discharged-- HONORABLY--on October 1, 1973.

End of story. Perfectly normal career. No political influence needed, as it mirrors the experiences of thousands of other men whose fathers were carpenters or bus drivers.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Should Grammar Rules Evolve? Conservative and Liberal Attitudes

The American Spectator has an article on grammar that says
Often there is good reason to be skeptical of change, particularly when it comes about out of laziness and the dumbing-down of grammar rules. Again, compare Fowler's inflexible 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage to current grammars like Woe is I, in which rules that are troublesome or too difficult to remember are pronounced outdated or dead. (Rats, if I had known this was possible in my college days I would have pronounced Algebra outdated and dead and gotten on with my binge drinking.)

What the conservative sees as threats to the mother tongue are dismissed by the linguist as the natural progression of language, and nature trumps civilization (here represented by long-established rules) every time. These threats include the politicization of language, as in politically correct speech; threats from bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians who use language to obfuscate, confuse and deceive, or in the case of academics to disguise a dearth of ideas; and, finally, threats from linguists who promote a laissez- faire approach to language.

This came up in class yesterday as I was going over how to fix flawed sentences. At what point should correct usage change to match spoken language?

That it should is clear. Strunk and White say that "claim" should not be used to mean "assert", as in "I claim that good writing is important," and should be reserved for the meaning "lay claim to". That limitation is wrong now-- as wrong as to use "prevent" to mean "come before", the King James Version meaning.

It is also true, however, that there is such a thing as correct usage. Indeed, it could not change if it did not exist. And correct usage does not change as fast as spoken English, nor does it match certain aspects that are long-established. Correct usage excludes obscenity, for example, despite the laxity even of conservative magazines now, and in formal contexts it excludes contractions.

Which approach to call "conservative" and which to call "liberal" is not as clear as you might think. Naturally, it is conservative to wish to keep rules the same. But a central feature of conservatism is the idea of the organic growth of society-- that it should gradually evolve rather than being established by decree, shoudl be decentralized rather than centralized. Writing rules that fight the evolution of language are an example of central establishment. One place where we can see the disadvantage of rules is in spelling. If rules were laxer, it would have simplified over the centuries.

Liberals are now trying to establish liberalism in the language by the use of grammar rules. They are using gender-neutered language, and not just using it in their own writing, but teaching it in schools and putting it in the manuals of style. This is an example not of evolutionary change so much as a conscious attempt to prescribe new rules that will change spoken usage. Nobody says in everyday speech, "A truckdriver must be careful to stay awake. Otherwise she might have a crash," but you see that kind of thing in academic writing.

The correct approach is for the manuals of style to keep the written language a few decades behind the spoken language, and to make it match spoken language rather than follow consistent rules. Following this philosophy, "hopefully" can now be used to mean "one hopes that" instead of just "with a hopeful attitude", but "he/she" cannot be used in place of "he". This, I think, is Fowler's approach in the classic book mentioned above.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Should Grammar Rules Evolve? Conservative and Liberal Attitudes

The American Spectator has an article on grammar that says
Often there is good reason to be skeptical of change, particularly when it comes about out of laziness and the dumbing-down of grammar rules. Again, compare Fowler's inflexible 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage to current grammars like Woe is I, in which rules that are troublesome or too difficult to remember are pronounced outdated or dead. (Rats, if I had known this was possible in my college days I would have pronounced Algebra outdated and dead and gotten on with my binge drinking.)

What the conservative sees as threats to the mother tongue are dismissed by the linguist as the natural progression of language, and nature trumps civilization (here represented by long-established rules) every time. These threats include the politicization of language, as in politically correct speech; threats from bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians who use language to obfuscate, confuse and deceive, or in the case of academics to disguise a dearth of ideas; and, finally, threats from linguists who promote a laissez- faire approach to language.

This came up in class yesterday as I was going over how to fix flawed sentences. At what point should correct usage change to match spoken language?

That it should is clear. Strunk and White say that "claim" should not be used to mean "assert", as in "I claim that good writing is important," and should be reserved for the meaning "lay claim to". That limitation is wrong now-- as wrong as to use "prevent" to mean "come before", the King James Version meaning.

It is also true, however, that there is such a thing as correct usage. Indeed, it could not change if it did not exist. And correct usage does not change as fast as spoken English, nor does it match certain aspects that are long-established. Correct usage excludes obscenity, for example, despite the laxity even of conservative magazines now, and in formal contexts it excludes contractions.

Which approach to call "conservative" and which to call "liberal" is not as clear as you might think. Naturally, it is conservative to wish to keep rules the same. But a central feature of conservatism is the idea of the organic growth of society-- that it should gradually evolve rather than being established by decree, shoudl be decentralized rather than centralized. Writing rules that fight the evolution of language are an example of central establishment. One place where we can see the disadvantage of rules is in spelling. If rules were laxer, it would have simplified over the centuries.

Liberals are now trying to establish liberalism in the language by the use of grammar rules. They are using gender-neutered language, and not just using it in their own writing, but teaching it in schools and putting it in the manuals of style. This is an example not of evolutionary change so much as a conscious attempt to prescribe new rules that will change spoken usage. Nobody says in everyday speech, "A truckdriver must be careful to stay awake. Otherwise she might have a crash," but you see that kind of thing in academic writing.

The correct approach is for the manuals of style to keep the written language a few decades behind the spoken language, and to make it match spoken language rather than follow consistent rules. Following this philosophy, "hopefully" can now be used to mean "one hopes that" instead of just "with a hopeful attitude", but "he/she" cannot be used in place of "he". This, I think, is Fowler's approach in the classic book mentioned above.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Student Loans-- Becker and Posner, Investment vs. Consumption

The Becker-Posner blog has an interesting discussion of student loans (see Becker and Posner), inspired, I bet, by a WSJ article I read today or yesterday giving sob stories of people pressed to repay the government money they took and used for education.

I am surprised that neither Professor Becker nor Posner highlight the crucial difference between home mortgages and student loans: student loans are profitable for the borrower, but home mortgages are not. (Both are, technically, investment, but a home loan is investment only in the sense that it pre-pays for housing consumption.)

This strengthens Becker's point that people would be willing to take out large student loans since they are willing to take out even larger mortgages. The student loans, unlike the mortgages, actually increase the borrower's ability to repay, by increasing his future income.

This weakens Posner's point that if lack of bankruptcy protection is appropriate for student loans, it ought to be appropriate for mortgages too. One reason it makes a difference is that we might think that because of consumer ignorance or transaction costs the default rule should be bankruptcy protection for consumption loans but no bankruptcy for investment loans. Why, then, would education investment be different from, say, investment in apartment houses? -- Because the purchased capital can be used as security if it is an apartment building instead of an improved brain.

Of course, not all student loans are for investment. Some do *not* increase earning ability-- maybe. Loans to people getting B.A.'s in English come to mind. But, first, I'm not sure such a degree doesn't have a high material return. If you looked at English majors 20 years down the line, I would not be surprised if you found they had, on average higher incomes than business majors. The reason is not necessarily that English is so useful in making money, but that it may be that the kind of people who major in English are those with the intellect and family background to be successful in business.

Second, I think it would be appropriate to deal separately with education that does not have the high material return that most education does. The easy justification for most government-aided student loans is that they are loans that have positive return to the borrower, and are merely filling in for market failure arising from bankruptcy. This is Becker's main point-- that this is legitimate, but it doesn't need any government subsidy on top of special repayment rules. The more difficult justification is that even non-income- generating education has positive externalities. That may be true, but it surely depends on the type of education. If so, we should target the subsidy to the externality-generation kind of education. Training to become a research scientist has positive externalities; training to become a diesel mechanic probably doesn't.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hybrid Cars and Misleading Gas Mileage Tests

Truth about Cars, via Clayton Cramer has some interesting things to say about hybrid cars:
Buyers pay a large premium for a hybrid Escape or a Prius, presuming that the increased fuel mileage makes them a better environmental citizen. While there’s no question that the Toyota, Honda and Ford hybrids are more fuel efficient than their conventionally powered equivalents, the difference is nowhere near as great as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers suggest.

Because of the low speeds involved, the city portion of the EPA’s test is accomplished in battery-only mode. As the gasoline engine is off- line for a significant part of the test, the eventual mileage figure is grossly inflated. The test fails to consider the fuel needed to recharge the batteries later on. What’s more, all energy-draining, electrically- powered accessories (including AC) are switched off during both the urban and highway tests. These variables contribute to the huge discrepancy between the EPA’s official numbers and hybrid owners’ real world experience.

Few people realize that a hybrid’s power train adds roughly 10% to the weight of a car. Even fewer realize that manufacturers try to offset the weight penalty-- and add to the hybrid’s headline-grabbing mileage figures-- by the extensive use of non-hybrid gas-saving technology. Engine shut-off at idle, electric power steering, harder and reduced rolling resistance tires (at the expense of comfort and traction), reduced option content, reduced engine performance, and, in the case of the Ford, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) all help raise the cars’ overall efficiency.

Thus, there are three main points: 1. During much of the EPA test, only the batteries are used, but they need to recharged later by burning gasoline. 2. Electrical accessories (including lights, not mentioned in the article) in the hybrid are powered less efficiently by the hybrid battery than by normal batteries (The article doesn't say this outright, and it might be wrong, but if it isn't, the fact that accessories are shut off is no more misleading for the hybrid than for regular cars.) 3. Much of the hybrid's gas mileage is legitimate but achieved by means older than the hybrid engine.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 09, 2005

Bible Passages on The Trinity

I've been starting to investigate the Trinity. The importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it solves the puzzle of what to do with the many passages in the Bible which seem to equate Jesus and Jehovah. Fully understanding it is, I think, impossible. It is a mystery in the same manner as the Atonement: we can see various features of the doctrine from the Bible, and those features are not contradictory to each other or any other doctrine, but it is beyond our mental capabilities to come up with a single good theory to explain the various features. We have to accept them separately.

Here are a few of the facts we have to deal with.
1. Jesus was worshipped by people, and neither He nor the Bible's authors object to this.

2. He was criticized for putting himself on a level with God and did not reply by denying it.

3. He claimed that the books of Moses taught things concerning Himself.

4. He helped create the world. "the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John)

5. "...and the word was God." (John 1)

6. He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John)

7. "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John)

8. "Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:" (Philippians)

9. "him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things" (Hebrews)

10. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus)

11. Various New Testament passages describe Jesus quoting Old Testament passages that describe God.

Here is a list of relevant passages. The following web source may also be useful: The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity by Robert Bowman.

Matthew 8:2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

John 2:18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.

Only God dwells within a temple.

John 8:57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

alluding to

Exodus 3: 14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM : and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

John 9:30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. ... 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

John 10:31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? 35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? 37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. 38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

John 17:5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

John 20: 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Romans 10: 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

This alludes to:

Joel 2: 32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

Romans 14:10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

This alludes to:

Isaiah 45: 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. 24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

I Cor 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

1 Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is another allusion to:

: Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15 Who is the image of the invisible God , the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

I Timothy 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

I John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Revelation 1: 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

This alludes to:

Isaiah 44: 6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 08, 2005

Stupid Warning Labels

CNN via Marginal Revolution (Cowen) tells us (with some editing by me):
The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, M-LAW, whose main mission is to reveal how lawsuits and anxiety over lawsuits have created a need for overly obvious warnings on products, sponsors the The Wacky Warning Label Contest each year. Here are some top entries:

-- A scooter with the warning "This product moves when used." p> -- An electric blender used for chopping and dicing that reminds users to "Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is

operating." -- And a three-inch bag of air used for packaging that read "Do not use this product as a toy, pillow, or flotation device."

A toilet brush that says "Do not use for personal hygiene"

So much of the cost of regulation is overreaction. There is a systematic bias to overreact, even from the point of view of private costs. Or is it just an accurate response, given risk and risk aversion?

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January 07, 2005

Corporate Share of GDP; Who Owns Stock?

The 2003 Economic Report of the President, Chapter 2, is quite good on corporate governance. It starts with some interesting facts:
Corporate governance is the system of checks and balances that guides the decisions of corporate managers. As such, it affects the strategy, operations, and performance of business firms over a large segment of the economy: corporations during 2001 accounted for 60 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Corporate governance also affects the ability of those outside the corporation---including investors--to monitor the quality of management and its decisions and to influence and even control some of those decisions. This observability, or transparency, can greatly enhance a corporation’s ability to raise funds from outside investors. It can also make it easier for other outsiders, including suppliers and customers, to transact with the corporation, by making the incentives and abilities of its managers and other employees more clear.

Households increasingly participated in the ownership of corporate stock during the 1990s. Fewer than one-third of U.S. households--31.6 percent-- owned corporate stock directly or indirectly in 1989. By 1992 that number had grown to 36.7 percent. More than half--51.9 percent--of households owned stock as of 2001, the latest year for which comparable survey statistics are available.

Another interesting fact, from Chart 2.4, is that now institutions (pension funds, insurance companies, etc.) hold 49% of stock, compared to 7% in 1951. Much of the increase (15% to 31%) occurred from 1965 to 1971, and by 1986 the figure had reached 43%.

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January 06, 2005

EOM: A Convention for Email, "End of Message"

The Wall Street Journal said December 30 that a custom has started some places of putting EOM at the end of messages to indicate that no reply is needed (though of course you can reply if you see a reason to other than politeness). The convention is confusingly used other ways, as indicated below, but it seems useful
Introduce your workplace to EOM , shorthand for "end of message." Slapping these three letters onto the end of an e-mail message is a signal to the recipient that the exchange is complete and he or she doesn't need to send a reply.

Usage of EOM has evolved. Traditionally, it has been employed on the subject line to indicate that the entire message is contained there, saving the recipient from having to click to open the message only to find nothing in it.

Techtarget.com says
EOM stands for "end of message."

People who exchange a great deal of e-mail sometimes write a very short message in the subject line of an e-mail note and conclude it with: (EOM). This is a little faster to send and saves the receiver from having to take the time to open the note, since the entire message is visible in the subject line. The "(EOM)" is a signal that the message is wholly contained in the subject line.

I think both uses can co-exist. If you see EOM in the subject line, you know not to bother opening the message, which will be blank. If you see EOM at the end of the body of a message, you will have already read the message anyway, and you will know not to send an acknowledgement to the sender.

The EOM convention is good, so I hope blog pass the word on it. EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM EOM

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Sontag's Thinking and the Core Dump Style of Writing

Here's a nice description of typical thinking from The American Spectator.
What I mean is that, for all her rhetorical gifts, Sontag could not think -- or, rather, she could not reason. She didn't do if-then logic. She tossed around ideas as though they were horseshoes and hoped that their proximity to a thesis formed an argument. This method made her consistently provocative, consistently readable, and consistently irrelevant.
It is teaching logical thinking that I find most important and most challenging. The description makes me think of the "core dump" style of writing for test essays: write down every fact you know that is connected with the subject of the question and hope the right answer is in there somewhere.

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January 05, 2005

Planned Parenthood and Planned Failure

The WSJ Best of the Web reports on tests by Consumer Reports:
The strongest condom was the Durex Extra Sensitive Lubricated Latex. And the weakest? "A melon-colored model distributed by Planned Parenthood performed the worst, bursting during a test in which the latex condoms were filled with air."

The report adds that CU "says its review of contraceptives was not politically motivated, although there is an intense debate among health professionals and advocacy groups about the focus on abstinence-only education by the Bush administration."

"We plan our testing programs quite a while in advance," Metcalf tells Reuters. "This is purely accidental." One might say the same about children whose parents use Planned Parenthood condoms.

As I've discussed before, one third of Planned Parenthood's income comes from abortion clinics, about the same as from donations and government grants. So maybe the bad birth control is a way to reduce costs and increase revenues at the same time.

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January 04, 2005

REPEC List of Top Economists

REPEC has a very interesting list of the top 5% of the authors in their web collection of papers by about 6000 economists (the top 5% is about 300). I used to be in the top 5%, I think, but I fell to the 93rd percentile earlier this year.

Some names I don't recognize are: Kirby Adam J.R. Faciane (7), Christopher Baum (11), Bruce Smith (18), Nicholas Cox (19), Ross Levine (24), M. Carmen Guisan (27), and Pablo Fernandex (29). Perhaps I should take a look at their work.

Posted by erasmuse at 07:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rascally European Union Commissioners

The Edge of England's Sword cites this November 2004 article by MEP Daniel Hannan:
How have we MEPs reacted to the revelation that Jacques Barrot, the EU's new transport commissioner, had a criminal conviction in a party funding scandal?...

Of the 25 commissioners, six are former Communists and four have recently lost elections - again demonstrating that the Commission is not so much undemocratic as anti-democratic, attracting politicians who have been expressly rejected by voters....

Again and again, it is left to the tiny contingent of Euro-sceptics to carry out what ought to be the primary duty of the European Parliament, namely to hold the Commission to account. For years, only British Tories ever asked awkward questions about the budget: most other MEPs were more interested in expanding the EU's finances than in ensuring they were properly spent.

It fell to a man called Nigel Farage, capo of the UK Independence Party, to inform the chamber of Mr Barrot's conviction. The pro-EU parties had not looked into his background because, deep down, they didn't want to find anything.

I hold no brief for the Farageistes. They are doing Blair's work for him, by dividing the Euro-sceptic vote. But the way MEPs reacted to Farage's revelation was horrible. One by one they rose to threaten him with legal action. The Liberal leader, Graham Watson, likened him to the football hooligans who had disgraced Britain in Europe. A fomer colleague of Barrot's, Jacques Toubon, rushed up and down the aisle, apparently looking for someone to punch (Robert Kilroy-Silk, recognising him as the minister who had tried to ban the English language from French airwaves, told him mischievously that no one would understand him unless he spoke English, which sent him into a choking fit). All this because Farage was doing the job that the rest of us ought to have done.

If you think I am exaggerating, consider the Commission's other personnel change - one that has been largely overlooked as a result of the Buttiglione and Barrot affairs. The Latvian candidate, Ingrida Udre, was withdrawn as a candidate. Her crime? To tell MEPs that she favoured tax competition. Her inquisitors were scandalised, and Mrs Udre was duly replaced by a Hungarian apparatchik.

I wonder what European government will be like in fifty years. An oligarchy? But perhaps that is what it is now.

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January 03, 2005

Disappearnce of Weapons during the U.S. Occupation of Japan

People have commented that although the U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II are generally thought to be a grand success, they, like our occupation of Iraq, had their rough spots. I just came across an example of this in Robert Whiting, Tokyo Underworld (1999), page 19:
"But those responsible for the disappearance of large stores of diamonds--transferred to the custody of the U.S. Army from--the Bank of Japan and other venues--were never found; nor Ware those who had made off with the entire armory of the disarmed Tokyo police force sometime between 1945, when the GHQ disarmed the Metropolitan Police Department and placed the weapons in securely locked storage crates in a military warehouse in Yokohama, and 1946, when the crates were opened and the contents were discovered to be missing."
Whiting's book tells about the pervasive influence of black marketeering gangsters during the Occupation-- gangsters whose influence rivalled that of the legitimate Japanese government and were more important to daily life than was the small U.S. presence.

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January 02, 2005

The Problem of Evil

Midwest Conservative Journal alerted me to an erroneous Wall Street Journal op-ed by David Hart, and Eastern Orthodox theologian:
The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all....

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms--knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against "fate," and that must do so until the end of days.

David Hart has it backwards when he says, "The Christian understanding of evil ... denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all." In fact, Christianity gives the only possible dignity to suffering: it claims that it is part of God's plan, deliberate, purposeful, and, since God is good, useful, even when we cannot see the use.

I got this idea from Perry Miller's excellent old bio of Jonathan Edwards, where he contrasts this with the liberal view that suffering is not part of God's plan-- in which case the sufferer has the extra indignity of knowing that he is involved in a thwarting of God's will. This seems to be Mr. Hart's position-- that the world is fallen, and the Fall is no part of God's plan. God, for him, is not powerful enough to save those dead children in Sumatra. This makes for a weak God indeed, since even Man could have saved some of those children if we'd cared to. A few billion dollars in tsunami warning stations in 2000 would have done it, and we, like God, knew that a tsunami would come sooner or later.

For the atheist, suffering similarly lacks meaning, though the atheist does not have to deal with the impotent god that the liberal theist does. Suffering is bad, pure and simply, and the sufferer has zero possibility of comforting thoughts that his suffering might be for some greater good he cannot see.

Contrary to Hart, those who believe in God's power and purposefulness are not blasphemous. We are humble. We do not think that we know how the world should be run in all its details. Hart is like those people who think the world would be better off if there were no death-- but forget about the mass senility and overpopulation that would be the result. The best metaphor I've found for the Problem of Evil is that I am like a toddler who is taken away from my mother by men in white coats who stick me with needles, suffocate me with a mask, and cut me with knives while I'm asleep. To the toddler, this is pure evil. To the adult, it is an operation necessary to save the child's life. The wise toddler trusts his parents, even when he cannot understand why they are hurting him.

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January 01, 2005

Aquinas on Science; Intelligent Design, Religion, and Evolution; Geology

Over at Transterrestrial a comment-blog debate on Intelligent Design and What is Science has been going on. We have that debate at the Indiana Law and Econ Lunch every now and then. I just came across an interesting snippet from Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica which is relevant. In Question 32, Article 1 he is discussing his claim that existence of the Trinity, unlike that of God, cannot be proved philosophically:
Therefore, we must not attempt to prove what is of faith, except by authority alone, to those who receive the authority; while as regards others it suffices to prove that what faith teaches is not impossible. Hence it is said by Dionysius (Div. Nom. ii): "Whoever wholly resists the word, is far off from our philosophy; whereas if he regards the truth of the word"---i.e. "the sacred word, we too follow this rule."...

Reply to Objection 2: Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point: firstly, for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle, as in natural science, where sufficient proof can be brought to show that the movement of the heavens is always of uniform velocity. Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them. In the first way, we can prove that God is one; and the like. In the second way, reasons avail to prove the Trinity; as, when assumed to be true, such reasons confirm it. We must not, however, think that the trinity of persons is adequately proved by such reasons....

Aquinas seems to be distinguishing between proof of facts (that the stars move across the sky at constant velocity) and proof that a theory conforms to the facts and is self-consistent (that planetary movements can be explained by epicycles). The epicycle example is especially apt because it has now been discarded, in favor of a theory of elliptical orbits (and a central sun) that is simpler and expains more facts.

Applied to Intelligent Design: If you already believe in God based on other evidence, then Intelligent Design is an easy way to make the theory of evolution fit with facts such as extreme complexity and nondiscovery of intermediate species. If you do not believe in God already, then Intelligent Design still works to make evolution fit with the facts, but it is less satisfactory because it requires the introduction of a major new force, God.

The "Intelligent Design is not science" objections are (1) we cannot think of ways that the Intelligent Design could be disproved and (2) Intelligent Design theory is empty because it does not make any new predictions. Perhaps these are the same objection, really.

Intelligent Design could be disproved, in a sense, by the disappearance of the need for it. If it turns out that it is not so hard to create life from chemicals, evolve the Krebs Cycle, and so forth, and if we find intermediate species for most evolutionary ladders, then while Intelligent Design has not been shown to fail to explain the facts, it has been shown to be unnecessary. That is enough to kill a theory.

Note, by the way, that Standard Evolution is subject to the same criticism. Darwin predicted that although in his day there were lots of gaps in the fossil record, missing intermediate species, those gaps would be filled. That was a reasonable prediction. It has largely failed, though. This does not kill Evolution as a theory, because there is a good fallback: conditions have to be just right for fossils to be created, and also if evolution occurs in spurts during times of crisis (e.g., after a meteor wipes out most of life) fossils might not be created. Standard Evolution becomes a weaker theory the longer no intermediate species are discovered, but it can never be shown to be inconsistent with the facts.

I have not looked into it deeply, but I find Intelligent Design very appealing. Since I believe in God already, it adds no extra forces to complicate the world. In fact, since I believe in both God and evolution, it helps a lot. Intelligent Design supports Evolution, and Evolution supports Christianity.

Intelligent Design supports Evolution because it solves problems such as complexity and missing intermediate species. Adding divine intervention, the objections of the Fundamentalists can be answered easily.

Evolution supports Christianity because it solves the problems of the age of the Earth and the wastefulness of extinct species. Sound geological evidence tells us that the Universe is billions of years old and that many species went extinct well before Man appeared. Why would God create such a Universe, which wastes almost its entire history? Evolution says that if God wished to use natural processes, with just a touch of divine intervention, then the Universe must be very old and many species must go extinct.

I do not understand why Evolution has attracted such opposition from Fundamentalists, by the way. Even for someone who believes in the Inerrancy of the Bible, it is reasonable to take the story of the seven days of creation as a metaphor. Treating Adam and Eve as metaphorical is a bit more of a stretch, though not an unreasonable one, but someone could accept Evolution for most species and still reject it for Man. In any case, even if Evolution is refuted, Geology remains. The age of the Earth is a far bigger problem for Inerrancy than Evolution is.

Two of my earlier posts are connected to this. See the post on a Scientific American article on speciation in general and the post on sunflowers in particular.

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