Secretary of the Treasury arrested?

This is certainly an interesting and unexpected development. I have absolutely no idea what it signifies, but it does appear as if the massive pyramid of cards is looking increasingly flimsy of late.

Nope, old news. Business as usual. Dow 13,000! Nothing to see. Move along, move along…. And if at first, second, and third you don’t succeed, try, try again!

Team Calvin: Question 2b

Jamsco attempts a summary:

Okay, I’m going to do what I did in Question AA and say what I think Vox is saying. Vox, again please correct what I have wrong.

We cannot apply Vs. 28-31 to all Christians, because it is in the context of vs.10-15, in which Jesus describes what the 12 should do in their first mission. This means we can’t apply Vs. 16-27 to all Christians either.

And since the comparative passages in Luke are in Chapters 9 and 12, we can’t apply the verses in Luke 10 and 11 to all Christians either.

This includes the Parable of the Good Samaritan, The Lords Prayer and the instruction to Take up your Cross and follow Jesus.

I have decided much of this in the last day or so, because I don’t like what it means if the Sparrows and Hairs passage applies to all Christians.

So what do I have wrong?

Most of it. But before I begin, I will note that this summary further supports my contention that Calvinism is primarily a consequence of a problem with reading comprehension.

We cannot reasonably apply Matthew 10 verses 28-31 to all Christians, because it is clearly in the context of verses 1-15, in which the twelve disciples are listed by name and Jesus describes what the twelve should do in their mission to the lost sheep of Israel. This means we can’t apply verses 16-31 to all Christians either.

I decided this the first time I read this passage, because my reading comprehension abilities have been objectively determined to be superior and I tend to have very little difficulty correctly determining to whom a message is being addressed.

Being a Calvinist, Jamsco can’t possibly understand that I don’t dislike the Sparrows and Hairs passage because I have never thought, for even a moment, that it contradicted my opinion concerning the voliscience of God, as compared to the omniscience postulated by Calvinists and other Christians. It’s not as if I hadn’t encountered the passage prior to the last day or so, after all.

With regards to Luke, it’s quite clear that because he was working from second-hand sources, he has certain events out of order. The fact that there are passages related to the sending of the Twelve in both chapter 9 and chapter 12 says absolutely nothing about the contents of chapter 10 and chapter 11, which quite clearly refer to different events taking place at different times. This is hardly remarkable; in the massive and magnificent The Cambridge Medieval History, just to give one of many possible examples, there are references in Volume VIII: The Close of the Middle Ages to events that precede events recounted in Volume II: Foundation of the Western Empire thousands of pages earlier.

Now, the fact that Jesus Christ’s specific instructions to his twelve disciples are clearly not intended to be specific instructions to us does not mean that we can’t learn something useful from them. But it does mean that we cannot assume that the message He was providing to them was also meant for us in precisely the same manner that it was meant for them. And the fact that even at the end of the chapter, verse 40, Jesus is still making specific references to the mission of the twelve is indicative that the entire chapter is best understood through the context of that mission.

I note that when Jesus is speaking in general terms in this chapter, he does so. Verse 32: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven”. Verse 37: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” And yet, in the two verses immediately prior, he did not say: “Even the very hairs of everyone’s heads are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; everyone is worth more than many sparrows.”

The fact that Jesus uses specific terms in verses 30 and 31 then switches to general terms in the verses immediately following them strongly supports the interpretation that the earlier verses are not intended for general application, but apply to the individuals to whom he was speaking.

Now this is a book review

Ferdinand correctly skewers the American literary establishment. And by skewers, I mean “prison rapes”:

The New York Trilogy is a encapsulation of everything I hate about modern literature. It’s turgid, condescending, obtuse, and pointless. But the sad thing is that Luc Sante got it right in his intro — Paul Auster is the poet laureate of New York City, though not for the reasons he thinks. The New York Trilogy is the perfect book for the New York of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, a stultifying police state run by over-educated SWPLs who think All Things Considered is really deep and get the vapors whenever anyone says anything vaguely controversial. It’s perfect for the New York of the hipsters, pencil-necked dweebs from Seattle or Milwaukee thinking they’re going to be the next Thurston Moore or Lydia Lunch while they snack on artisan bread courtesy of their trust funds. It’s perfect for a New York defanged, declawed and stripped of everything that made it interesting and unique, made safe for underemployed Midwestern brats and bored Australian tourists. The New York everyone romanticizes— the New York of danger, intrigue and passion — is dead and buried.

And this neutered New York has produced a literati that spends all day sniffing its own farts. Jonathan Safran Foer, Colson Whitehead, Nicole Krauss, Gary Shteyngart, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Foster Wallace (actually wait, he’s dead — I’ve never derived so much joy from a suicide in my life), and all the rest: worthless hacks devoid of curiosity, humanity or talent. There’s more merit in a single Roosh Tweet than in the entire American literary establishment.

As Camille Paglia anticipated, the removal of religion from art has all but destroyed it. Although this is more visible in the visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, the disease of secularism has absolutely ravaged literature. Even the viciously anti-religious artist at least had something against which to posture. The philosophers may have foreseen the ghastly, soulless consequences of secular meaninglessness, but it has taken the artists to truly drive the ugly point home.

Seriously, who actually reads this tedious navel-gazing shit anymore? I don’t think even those who pretend to like it do.

If corporations are legal persons

Why are they never held accountable for their criminal actions in the same way that real people are?

NEXT week, the Supreme Court will hear a case with many potential ramifications for American and international law, and for corporate responsibility for human rights around the globe. The justices will be asked to decide whether the corporations to which they have been extending the rights of individuals should also be held accountable for crimes against human rights, just as individuals are.

The story behind the case begins in 1980, when my colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights and I helped obtain the first semblance of justice to the family of a slain 17-year-old Paraguayan youth named Joelito Filártiga.

A police inspector general in Asunción, the capital, had tortured the boy to death in retaliation for his father’s opposition to Paraguay’s brutal dictatorship. But the case was decided in New York, far from Paraguay, where the crime had occurred and where justice had proven impossible for the Filártiga family; the boy’s murderer was ultimately ordered to pay the family $10.4 million in damages.

The precedent-setting case was made possible by a remarkable decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which allowed it to be brought under a long-obscure law enacted by Congress in 1789. Known as the Alien Tort Statute, the law has been interpreted to mean that foreigners who commit heinous crimes abroad in violation of international law can be held accountable in the United States if they are present or do business here; the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2004.

Since that decision, dozens of successful alien tort claims have been brought in American courts — at first against individuals, and eventually against corporations. As a result, many foreign victims of egregious crimes — ranging from torture and slave labor to the execution of loved ones — that were sanctioned, endorsed or commissioned by corporations have found justice in our courts.

Yet in September 2010, a divided Second Circuit — the very court that had rendered the Filártiga decision — held that only individuals, and not corporations, can be sued under the statute. That ruling, in a case known as Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, came less than a year after the much more famous — and criticized — Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which removed restrictions on political spending by contributions and wildly expanded the concept of corporate personhood.

Together, these decisions have triggered a wave of outrage among advocates for human rights, which see in them a signal from the courts that corporations have extensive rights but few responsibilities under American law.

Since we are living in a bank-run corpocracy, I tend to doubt the Supreme Court will be inclined to permit corporations to be held liable. And this will go a long way towards demonstrating the necessity of ending the facade that corporations should be given the rights of real people.

A new energy source discovered!

At least when the United States loses its next war, there won’t be any great mystery why; between all the women, the foreigners, and the gays, is there even any room for the conventional soldier?  I imagine that today, considerable electricity could be generated at Arlington, what with the way all the members of the Corps who are buried there are presently spinning in their graves.

Those who support the foolish notion of homosexuals being permitted to not only serve in the military, but serve openly, often like to point to the Sacred Band of Thebes as a justification for homosexual military service.  In response, I simply point out that the Sacred Band was a separate unit, removed from the rest of the Theban military, and managed to last all of 40 years before it was wiped out by Philip of Macedon at Chaeronea.  So, I’m a little dubious this is the historical precedent American military commanders would be wise to follow.

Team Calvin: Question Two

The second question devised by Team Calvin and my response to it:

BB. Matthew 10:29-31

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

If God indeed didn’t know of Israel’s suffering in Egypt for 400 years, and if He indeed didn’t know how many righteous men were in Sodom, then what do these verses mean? If they are a metaphor or poetry, then a metaphor or poetry signifying what? Please write a paraphrase of the passage such that it helps the reader understand how it doesn’t actually say that God watches the earth to the detail of each hair of one of his own or one sparrow, since such detail would conflict with God not even knowing of the existence of the person in Sodom.

It’s not exactly a surprise to see an appeal to this verse. And while it might look initially persuasive, as is so often the case, the superficially convincing Calvinist reading becomes significantly less sustainable when it is viewed in the proper Scriptural context. As I have remarked previously, the Calvinist case tends to be heavily based on verses taken out of their specific context and applied to a general case that was never intended and does not reasonably apply. I believe that is precisely the situation here, so let us consider what is the proper Scriptural context of Matthew 10:29-31. In order to correctly establish that context, I quote this excerpt from the preceding section:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. – Matthew 10:5-15

In other words, the context is the specific instructions to the twelve disciples named in the preceding verses with regards to an important mission to the Jews of Israel during Jesus Christ’s ministry. It is clearly erroneous to argue that any of the verses in this section are intended to be applied broadly and literally to all Christians in all times, unless one is also willing to insist that Christians should avoid going among the Gentiles, refuse to utilize hotels, and anticipate being arrested and flogged in a synagogue one day. So, now that it is clear that the context of this section consists of detailed historical instructions to a small group of specified people, let us examine the disputed section in its entirety, as it actually begins one verse before the citation provided.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:28-31

Read in context, it is readily apparent that this is not any sort of theological revelation about the extent of God’s knowledge, it is simply a promise that the twelve disciples being sent out to the Jews, not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, are under God’s particular protection during the course of their mission. The reference to the sparrows are nothing more than a rhetorical means of establishing the relative importance of the disciples to God and the reference to the hairs of the head being numbered is simply a way of saying that God would not permit them to be harmed. What the verse means, in my opinion, is that the twelve men were being told that they could go out among people that hated them and speak their message without fear that they would killed because God was protecting them.

I therefore paraphrase the requested section thusly: “Nothing, no matter how small, is too trivial for God to concern Himself when He chooses. You need not be afraid that you will be killed on your mission, because what I have told you to do is important and God will not permit anyone to harm so much as a hair on your head.”

There is obviously no conflict between this paraphrase and the idea that God did not know of the existence or the precise number of the righteous individuals in Sodom. In fact, the entire section actually tends to support the concept of God’s attention to detail being variable, as there is the clear implication from the nature of the special and detailed assurances provided here that this is a very special task to which God intends to pay particularly close attention. I find Team Calvin’s perspective to be a bizarrely literal one that transforms what are caring and perfectly clear instructions concerning a specific situation into an incoherent message inexplicably divided in half by an unrelated and tremendously important theological statement. I assert that Team Calvin is reading the verses too literally because they are ignoring the clear and obvious Scriptural context and thereby leaping to unwarranted conclusions that violate other Biblical passages with contrary conclusions that are, unlike this one, entirely in line with their correct Scriptural context.

As I pointed out in TIA, based on the reasoning exhibited here, the Calvinist would be forced to argue that Hercule Poirot is omniscient on the basis of his direct claim to “know everything” at the end of pretty much every book. When contradicted, the Calvinist could then indulge in the customary Calvinist theatrics, wondering if I was calling Poirot a liar or if I was being dishonest due to my assertion that Poirot not only does not know everything, but is not even claiming to do so despite his direct statement to the apparent contrary. My response, of course, would be that the book was a murder mystery, and therefore the context of “knowing everything” was clearly limited to “knowing who the murderer is and how he committed the murder.” This conclusion would be conclusively supported by the fact that Poirot’s subsequent address to his audience dealt solely with those murder-related issues, and not the average airspeed velocity of an unladen African swallow in flight, the number of acorns shed by oak trees in the state of Minnesota in 1985, or the victor of the Sino-Turkish War of 2185. This is not a case of x = not x, but rather, x ⊂ X.

In exactly the same way, the swallows and hairs references apply specifically and solely to a singular historical event rather than to the fundamental nature of God’s relationship with Man and Creation. The strength of my conclusion is strongly supported by comparing the passage in Matthew, where “two sparrows sold for a penny”, to the related one in Luke, in which it is written that “five sparrows sold for two pennies”. Now we can certainly take the Calvinist’s literal approach and conclude that although He is paying very close attention to every little detail, God’s mathematical abilities are limited in a manner similar to those of the rabbits of Watership Down, but I suggest that would be absurd. Even a child is capable of recognizing that 0.5 does not equal 0.4 and a Doctrine of Divine Innumeracy would raise some very serious questions about the potential significance of unreliable hair-numbering, among other things.  What we should do instead is read the quoted verses in their correct historical context and realize that there is no special significance, theological or otherwise, to the comments about the sparrows except in that they illustrate God’s particular concern for Jesus’s disciples on their historic mission and His promises concerning their safety on it.

The trivial, but material difference concerning the reported price of sparrows is a reminder that the Bible is the Word of God as revealed through the flawed and imperfectly reliable mechanism of human transmission, and that attempting to read Scripture by means of detailed exegesis as if it were some sort of perfect divine code is not only doomed to failure, but will reliably produce misleading results that are contrary to the plain meaning of the passages examined.

The reliability of government figures

Argentina takes the easy and straightforward approach to reducing inflation:

Since 2007, when Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of internal trade, was sent into the statistics institute, INDEC, to tell its staff that their figures had better not show inflation shooting up, prices and the official record have parted ways. Private-sector economists and statistical offices of provincial governments show inflation two to three times higher than INDEC’s number (which only covers greater Buenos Aires). Unions, including those from the public sector, use these independent estimates when negotiating pay rises. Surveys by Torcuato di Tella University show inflation expectations running at 25-30%.
PriceStats, a specialist provider of inflation rates which produces figures for 19 countries that are published by State Street, a financial services firm, puts the annual rate at 24.4% and cumulative inflation since the beginning of 2007 at 137%. INDEC says that the current rate is only 9.7%, and that prices have gone up a mere 44% over that period (see chart).

INDEC seems to arrive at its figures by a pick-and-mix process of tweaking, sophistry and sheer invention. Graciela Bevacqua, the professional statistician responsible for the consumer-price index (CPI) until Mr Moreno forced her out, says that he tried to get her to omit decimal points, not round them. That sounds minor—until you calculate that a 1% monthly inflation rate works out at an annual 12.7%, whereas 1.9% monthly compounds to 25.3%.

Threatening letters sent by the government to independent economists also shed light on INDEC’s methods. One was told that since the cost of domestic service was “a wage, not a price”, he should not have included it in his CPI calculations. “They have put a lot of effort and lawyers into such arguments,” he says.

What is remarkable is that one can quite reasonably rationalize this exercise in statistical fiction under the economic doctrine of “rational expectations”, which is the insane neoclassical idea that it’s not an increase in the money supply or debt outstanding or even a change in the level of prices that matters, but rather the expectation of future price changes on the part of consumers. So, if the government simply adjusts those expectations downward by lying about the current rate of inflation, then the subsequent behavior of consumers will cause prices to fall in line with those expectations regardless of how much the government ends up actually printing or borrowing.

Wikipedia reports this interesting fact about the concept: “Chicago economists applied rational expectations to other areas in economics like finance, which produced the influential efficient market hypothesis.” The EMH, it should be needless to say, has turned out to be a complete and utter flop, as demonstrated by Robert Prechter and numerous others using a wide variety of means.

What I find rather amusing about this article from The Economist is the clear implication that it is only an Argentine tactic and other government agencies, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the United States, have not been playing exactly the same game for decades. Of course, as those who have read RGD will know, U.S. statisticians have been continually devising new and “improved” versions of CPI, each of which purports to show “true” inflation while methodically lopping off various sectors of the economy that are showing price changes such as those “volatile food and energy” sectors.

Consider this. The entire rise-and-fall in housing prices have had no effect whatsoever on U.S. CPI despite the fact that according to the latest statistics, $69.5 billion new home sales and $756.7 billion in existing home sales take place every year, representing around 5.5% of the $15 trillion in transactions that make up reported U.S. GDP.

Team Calvin: Question One

Three weeks ago, in response to the idea that we non-Calvinists were as prone to contortionism as I accused the Calvinists of being, I offered The Calvinist Challenge, in which I asked Team Calvin to produce the five most difficult questions they could devise in order to determine whether or not I would be forced to resort to similar contortions of Scripture in my responses.  Nine of the planet’s finest Calvinist minds busily occupied themselves with concocting more than 30 questions, and after an intense series of debate during which charges of heresy were hurled back and forth and Markku narrowly escaped the fiery fate of Michael Servetus, they finally settled upon five of them. Here is the first question, followed by my response.

AA. Vox: Is this paragraph something you could write and agree with? If not please make it something you agree with, while editing, changing and deleting as few words as possible.

The God I worship is probably not aware of much of what is happening on earth today. You should not tell a child that God has a plan for her, because not only does He not know which husband will be right for her in twenty years, He doesn’t even know that she will be alive tomorrow. And it’s quite possible that if she does die, he will not be aware of it. If on the other hand she lives through an accident in which the car is totaled, thanking God for protecting her may be giving him credit for something he didn’t do. It is quite possible that my God knows less about your daughter than you do. To find out what is happening somewhere on earth, my God has to do research (or, if you like, “go and see”) to find out about it. My God most likely doesn’t have enough knowledge about me and my soul to know what I will do in a given circumstance.

No. The edited version that is consistent with my beliefs is as follows:

The God I worship is not necessarily aware of everything that is happening on Earth today. You should not tell a child that God has a specific plan made just for her, because not only is it possible that He does not know which husband she will choose in twenty years, He doesn’t necessarily know that she will be alive tomorrow. And it’s quite possible that if she does die, He will not be immediately aware of it. If, on the other hand, she lives through an accident in which the car is totaled, thanking God for protecting her may be giving Him credit for something He didn’t do or even intend. It is even possible that God knows less about your daughter’s current activities than you do at the moment. To find out what is happening somewhere on Earth, God customarily investigates Himself or instructs others to find out about it and inform Him. However, due to God’s knowledge of human nature and the human heart, He most likely has sufficient knowledge about me and my soul to know what I will do in any given circumstance.

Hypergamouse is back

The second in the weekly comic strip is now up at Alpha Game.

And on a tangentially related subject, I address a HUS commenter’s failure to grasp that ego simply does not apply in the same manner across the sexual divide:

“Maybe we [women] just don’t like [male] sluts for the same reason men don’t, which can be attributed to “ego” as well. Why is that so hard for some people to comprehend?”

“There are four reasons. First, women are notoriously bad at understanding and communicating why they do what they do. Second, because women very much like sexually experienced men, so much so that they observably harbor a vast preference for them over sexually inexperienced men. Women outright mock men who “can’t get laid”, so much so that they regularly resort to such insults even in cases where it manifestly doesn’t apply. If a woman is calling a man “a slut” or some similar term normally directed at women, she is usually revealing an amount of jealousy as well as her own willingness to have sex with him….”

There are few examples of the gulf between female consciousness and female action more readily apparent than with the common female claim to be disgusted and put-off by male sexual experience. But as last week’s Hypergamouse illustrated, taking female advice concerning female behavior tends to be one of the more effective means of ensuring failure with women.

WND column

The Limits of Freedom

It is both fascinating and frightening to be given insight into the thought processes that go into major foreign policy decisions such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Consider the basic flaws that are revealed in this single paragraph, beginning with the very first sentence. When in history, one wonders, has the removal of a tyrannical leader ever obligated those responsible for the removal to remake a nation’s entire system of government? And even if we accept this obligation, what is the basis for claiming that the revamped system of government must be a democratic one, especially if one considers that the elaborate structure which was imposed upon the Iraqi people is not only not a democracy, but was expressly designed to limit the free expression of their will on the basis of ethnic and religious identities?