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God, Mother Nature Hate You

Two celebrities on opposite ends of the political spectrum had incredibly insensitive things to say this week about the earthquake in Haiti.

Pat Robertson:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club." "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

Cool true story, bro. I don't know what sort of strange version of original sin Robertson believes in, but any theology that views God as a vengeful deity interested in punishing the descendants of alleged sinners many generations after the fact is not merely a God I could never believe in, but a God I would actively hate were it anything more than a figment of pathetic human imagination. Hail Satan!

Danny Glover brings us the leftist version of apocalyptic theology:

"What happened in Haiti could happen to anywhere in the Caribbean because all these island nations are in peril because of global warming," Glover said. "When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm sayin'?"

As Roderick Long observed in reference to an proposed environmentalist ad:

What I’ve yet to see anyone point out is how counterproductive the ad’s caption is:

THE TSUNAMI KILLED 100 TIMES MORE PEOPLE THAN 9/11.
The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. www.wwf.org

(a.k.a. “Kneel before Zod!”) When you hear that “the planet” has killed 100 times more people than 9/11, is your natural response to respect and preserve it, let alone to donate money to its support? I’d think the natural response would be “I guess the planet is our enemy! We’d better declare war upon it!”

I feel more sympathy for Robertson than Glover. Robertson has to deal with the problem of evil for theological reasons: if God is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good deity, then why does God allow evil to exist? The obvious answer is that the existence of free will is even more valuable than the existence of evil is undesirable, but this only helps explain evil that results from human actions, not natural disasters like earthquakes in Haiti.

So Robertson invokes convenient patsies - the devil, the sinning ancestors of contemporary Haitians - to explain away the tragedy and get his God off the hook. But what is Glover's excuse? Worshipers of Gaia have no need to address the problem of evil, unless they maintain that mother nature is omnibenevolent - which a cursory examination of, well, nature, would be quick to disprove. Nature, as Alfred Lord Tennyson reminded us, is red in tooth and claw.


Quote of the Day

Kerry Howley on the not unracist U.S. immigration policy toward Haitians:

The disparity between the treatment of Haitians and the treatment of similarly positioned, non-Haitian migrants was glaring even before the earthquake. Both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration tried to craft a more humane refugee policy with regard to Haitians, only to revert back to the initial repatriation policy for fear of triggering an unsightly wave of migrants. You can only read this history through that particular fear; anything less than large-scale repatriation will bring black, poor, unskilled immigrants to American shores in numbers no politician wants to deal with.

The Obama administration has at least agreed to stop deporting Haitians for the time being, which is a start, though it’s worth noting that Canada didn’t require an earthquake to stop sending Haitians back to the poorest country in the hemisphere. I’m of the opinion that a country that can afford to vagazzle itself can afford to allow refugees from a small country in ruins to work on its shores. And when disaster cash dries up—when Americans stop texting their $5 pledges—remittances remain.


Tom Palmer Throws Down The Gauntlet

Tom Palmer, one of my intellectual heroes, throws down the gauntlet in his defense of David Boaz from dishonest smears posted on Lew Rockwell's blog by Walter Block and Tom DiLorenzo.

I still agree with the general thrust of Bryan Caplan's foundational essay, Purges and Schisms, though I might quibble with some of his arguments regarding marketing. When two or more sellers offer the same or similar ideological products, sharing the same name, they are in a sense fighting a zero-sum reputational game for the ownership of that label - what that label represents in the public's mind. So there is good reason to fight over what one believes to be the "best" version of libertarianism and the best way to communicate that vision.


Riots in Knoxville

University of Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin announced he's leaving to be the new head coach at USC. I couldn't find any mention on Google News at this time, but lots of tweets are being sent out that civil unrest is bubbling over in Knoxville.

Is Twitter the best news engine?


SoundHound FTW

Shazam was the first iPhone app that I found extremely useful. I always kept a piece of paper and pen in my car for the times when I'd hear a song on the radio but couldn't identify it. Scribbling down a lyric or two at least allowed me to Google the song later.

Along came Shazam, an application that identified the song by simply "listening" to it. While it worked for most songs, it couldn't identify different versions of a song or acoustic songs.

Midomi was a competitor to Shazam that claimed to be able to identify a song if you sang into the iPhone or even hummed the notes. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work, at least not for me.

I noticed that Midomi had been updated as SoundHound on my phone, and I tested it out. It identified all of the following songs as I sang them (10 second fragments is what it records).

Shimmer - Fuel
Careful - Guster (2 tries)
Falling - Ben Kweller
Bizarre Love Triangle - Stabbing Westward version
You and I Both - Jason Mraz
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
Don't Stop Believin - Journey

SoundHound recognized all except one on the first try, and more importantly, it didn't miss a single one. My guess that it doesn't just recognize notes and pitch, but has some very basic word recognition programming.


Conservatism: An Ideology of Imaginary Childhoods

John Oliver of The Daily Show nails it:


Modern Cavemen

No, not those Geico guys. From a NY Times article:

The caveman lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s interpretation, involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture. Mr. Durant believes the human body evolved for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and his goal is to wean himself off what he sees as many millenniums of bad habits.

It goes through other ways people are trying to emulate our remote ancestors. At times, the interviewees sound rather socially inept.

Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. “We’re due,” Andrew said.

My view: in theory, evolutionary fitness/nutrition sounds promising. But there are really no controlled studies showing it works better than other lifestyles.


Conservative mythology

Charles Johnson, a.k.a. Rad Geek, takes down a lame conservative argument for something completely indefensible. He has a number of points, but this is the money shot:

Of course, the main thing to say here is really that maintaining our [sic] culture is not a good enough reason for criminalizing nonviolent people. If your culture can only be maintained at the point of a gun, then your culture sucks, and the sooner you stop maintaining it on the backs of harmless pot-smokers, the better.

The rest is a great, and has a point too infrequently made: the past that conservatives want to conserve rarely meshes with the actual historial past.


Malthusianism Redux

Malthusian economics held for all of history prior to 1800. I think it would be fair to say that it held even before we evolved into humans, though that might be a reach--I don't know. Today, Malthusian economics doesn't hold. We're getting richer every day.

A prediction about whether Malthusian economics will re-assert in the future should, I think, hinge on an explanation of why it doesn't hold today. Are we living in a brief anomaly, a temporary blip in time? Or have we undergone a secular, permanent change?

In the discussion below, I didn't see any convincing explanation of why we no longer live in a Malthusian world. I see two factors at work:

1) Technology grows much faster than population. If the population doubles, but technology allows us produce four times the stuff from the same resources, people still get richer.

2) People have fewer children.

Regarding the future, I have no idea if technology will continue to grow faster indefinitely. But why are people deciding to have fewer children?

I'm talking far out of my league here, but I think people have undergone a shift in reproductive strategy from one of dandelions to one of mammals. (Is there a better analogy?) Dandelions spread their many seeds as far and wide as possible. Some will thrive; many won't. Mammals invest heavily into a small number of offspring. Today's middle class parents want to get their kids into college for white-collar jobs. They can't do that if they have too many children.

The other variable might be selfish parents-- how can I enjoy my own life (big screen TV, vacations, retirement) if I have too many children?

I'm not sure how, if at all, the dynamics change in the far future. I'm not convinced of Malthusian re-assertion.


Dangerous Historical Myths

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here's a great piece about Dangerous Historical Myths:

Take the standard account of the Great Depression and the New Deal. In many ways the New Deal itself was one result of another historical myth: the widely received account of what had happened to the German economy in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly during World War I and the Third Reich. That myth probably did more harm than almost any other in that century.

Unrelated, but important: next time I hear someone say "Communism is good on paper, but ... " I am going to hit the speaker over the head with a copy of Mises's Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. Good thing it's a short paperback.