May 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


No, an Above-Average P/E Ratio Does Not Show Stocks Are Overpriced (ALAN REYNOLDS, 5/02/17, Cato)

[T]here is no reason to expect the p/e ratio to revert to its long-term average unless bonds yields revert to their long-term average.

The graph illustrates this connection by inverting the trailing S&P 500 price/earnings ratio and expressing it as an earnings/price ratio. This became known as "The Fed Model," though I prefer to call it "The Reynolds Model," because I first used it in March 1991 (to suggest bonds, rather than stocks, were overpriced). From 1970 to 2016, the average e/p ratio was 6.52 (equivalent to a p/e ratio of 15.2) while the average yield on 10-year bond yield was almost identical at 6.57%. That connection between stocks and bonds has been quite close over the long haul (though not before August 1971 when the dollar was convertible into gold).

An oversimplified thumb rule from Investopia says, "If the earnings yield is less than the rate of the 10-year Treasury yield, stocks as a whole may be considered overvalued." In 2016, the earnings yield of 4.17 was about twice as high as the 10-year Treasury yield of 1.84, which suggests the earnings/price ratio was then too high and therefore the price/earnings ratio (or bond yield) was too low. 

On May 1, 2017, the p/e ratio was 25.26, which is equivalent to an e/p ratio of 3.96 (=1/25.26). Since an earnings yield of 3.96 is obviously much higher than recent bond yields of 2.3%, the market is still "undervalued"-not "fragile."

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM



In 2007, one of the oddest and most delicious channels on YouTube launched with a short, lo-fi video on how to make Japanese hot-pot-style soup. "Today, I will show you how to cook sukiyaki," a male voice narrates, in accented English, over a shot of lightly simmering beef broth. Then the camera pans, abruptly, to a closeup of a poodle. "Hello, I am the host of this show, 'Cooking with Dog,' " the male voice--we realize now it is the dog's--continues, as the camera surveys his poofy hairdo and frilly purple collar. "O.K., let's get started." When the camera zooms out, the dog is perched beside a stove, and a middle-aged woman in a pink shirt begins following his cooking instructions.

This video, one of hundreds of episodes of the YouTube show "Cooking with Dog," has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. Over the years since the series launched, the dog (whose name is Francis) and the woman (known only as Chef) have released a new episode every Friday, unravelling the intricacies of Japanese dishes like octopus tempura, mochi, and pork soba noodles; Western favorites like pumpkin muffins, Valentine's Day chocolates, and spaghetti carbonara; and hybrids like matcha-flavored Swiss-roll cake and adzuki-bean popsicles. Francis delivers his instructions with the air of a patient and straightforward teacher, though the Japanese techniques and ingredients he describes may be unfamiliar to Western disciples. ("This time, you substitute komatsuna for shungiku.") He stands obediently by Chef's side throughout each lesson, seemingly untempted by the delicacies just inches away from his nose. "Good luck in the kitchen!" he encourages after each brewed dashi stock and noodle dish is complete. In a couple of episodes, Chef is nowhere to be found; instead, Francis is stationed at the stove pouring and scooping using a pair of strategically placed human hands.

"Cooking with Dog" is one of those gifts of the Internet that raises many compelling questions. (First and foremost: What is a poodle doing hosting a cooking show?) But it is delightful precisely because it refuses to answer, pursuing its unlikely premise for years with a resolutely straight face. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Has Coffee Gotten Too Fancy? (OLIVER STRAND, APRIL 10, 2017, NY Times)

The $1 cup of coffee is divisive, as drinks go.

For some, it's a staple of the American morning: a comforting routine, a good deal. Anything that costs more than $1 is needlessly expensive, a waste of money -- the coffee from a deli, diner or doughnut cart is all you need to start the day. For others, the $1 cup is suspiciously cheap. Maybe it tastes bad, or its production does harm to the land and is unfair to laborers. If you have to pay more, then that is probably a reflection of a drink's true cost.

Can the two viewpoints be reconciled? Is it possible for high-quality coffee to be inexpensive? At Locol, the self-described "revolutionary fast food" chain opened last year by the chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, the answer is yes.

Locol's stated mission is to bring wholesome, affordable food to underserved neighborhoods. The coffee delivers. Obtained and roasted according to the same lofty standards found at Intelligentsia Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters or any of the small, innovative companies that have transformed the high end of the industry in the past decade, Locol's coffee is clean and flavorful.

But unlike those shops, where a cup can cost $3 or more, Locol charges just $1 for a 12-ounce coffee, or $1.50 if you want milk and sugar. Rather than offer free condiments and pass on the cost to all customers, those who want milky, sweet coffee pay for their pleasures, while drinkers of black coffee get a break. As for getting it chilled, that's on the house: Iced coffee costs the same as hot.

McDonald's coffee has been a buck for quite awhile and Cumby's is even cheaper.  But if you're not making your cup from a can at home you're already wasting money...

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Is Syracuse Necessary? : Some want to save the fiscally challenged city in New York by effectively abolishing it. (ALAN EHRENHALT, MAY 2017, Governing)
What would happen to the state of New York if Syracuse ceased to exist? Maybe not a lot. Life would go on pretty much as before. Unless, of course, you were a resident of Syracuse. In that case, you might have cause to wonder what would justify folding up the state's fifth-largest city after a productive life of 192 years.

All right, I'm exaggerating. Syracuse isn't going to be literally wiped off the map. The struggling city will continue to exist as a geographic entity, 26.6 square miles of territory with fixed boundaries and roughly 150,000 people inside them. But if the plans of a blue ribbon commission become law, Syracuse wouldn't be much more than that.

After three years of work and testimony from hundreds of residents, the 19-member Commission on Local Government Modernization, created by a coalition of civic leaders and financed in part by the state legislature, issued its final report early this year. It made a series of recommendations that weren't entirely surprising but still managed to be rather startling in their language, scope and aura of solemnity.

Under the plan, the city would be absorbed by surrounding Onondaga County. Syracuse would have no mayor, no police force and no economic development agency. Its city council would be merged into a 33-member county legislature, only five of whose districts would lie entirely within the city, which currently holds about a third of the county's population.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Donald Trump and the Rise of Hate Comedy (Christian Toto, 5/04/17, Acculturated)

Did you hear the one about the President of the United States having oral sex with Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

It's a knee slapper. And there's much more like it heading our way. The only question remaining, perhaps, is a simple one: How low can modern comedians go when it comes to our current Commander in Chief?

Hollywood's hatred for all things Donald Trump is epic, and yet we've only just passed the marker for the President's first 100 days in office. It started more than a year ago, a time when Donald Trump was one of several Republican candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination. Louis CK called Trump Hitler. So did Sarah Silverman.

It was over the top. Outrageous. Yet, at the time, comedians were talking about a candidate. He wasn't president yet. Even those who despise a particular president understand the office itself deserves some respect.

Like the respect we showed the gay Muslim Kenya-born socialist?  

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Oil prices have plunged 15% in 3 weeks (Matt Egan, May 4, 2017, Money)

Renewed fears about the oil supply glut have sent crude prices plunging 15% from their peak in mid-April to $45.52 a barrel on Thursday.

It's the weakest level for oil since November 29, the day before OPEC finalized a deal to slash production in a bid to end the epic oil glut.

The landmark OPEC agreement, the cartel's first cut since 2008, initially sent oil bulls into a frenzy. Crude prices spiked and many predicted a speedy return to $60-plus prices as excess supply would finally be drained.

Flash forward five months and the epic supply glut continues to cast a shadow. A combination of resilient US shale output and surprisingly sluggish demand for gasoline from American drivers has led US stockpiles of oil to remain at historically-high levels.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Is a placebo better than nothing to treat insomnia? (Lisa Rapaport, 5/03/17, Reuters Health)

Compared to participants who didn't receive any treatment, those who got placebos they believed were real treatments reported more improvements in their ability to fall asleep, total amount of rest and sleep quality, the analysis found.

"The comparison with no treatment means that we can be sure that the improvement we observed was due to a genuine placebo effect, rather than being an artifact of simply taking part in a trial," Colagiuri said by email. "The study provides new evidence that genuine placebo effects exist for insomnia treatments."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Tradition, Innovation, and "Modern Age" (Peter Augustine Lawler, Spring 2017, Modern Age)

Because our high-tech world is full of preferential options for the young and their proudly disruptive innovations, it's easy to forget what conservatives know: it's impossible to think clearly or act confidently without reliance on established personal authority, the authority embedded in tradition. Tradition provides us the guidance--the interpersonal world--with which we can know and love together, and our tradition provides us multiple points of access to unfashionable sources of wisdom about, for example, love and death. It gives us help we couldn't possibly provide for ourselves in knowing ourselves. The Bible, Plato's Republic, and Shakespeare's plays all make claims to "know man," and what Shakespeare knows, a literate person discovers, he wouldn't have known without careful attention to the Bible and Plato.

Now, as Kirk described in detail, American tradition is a large and somewhat amorphous array of heritages. He borrowed from the remarkable Orestes Brownson the thought that our written Constitution is less fundamental than our providential constitution, than what we've been provided by Greek politics and philosophy, Roman law, Christian revelation, Anglo-American common law, the Enlightenment, and so forth. The moral and intellectual diversity of our tradition is deployed by conservatives both in thought and in the art of living to fend off the one-dimensional despotism of progressivism.

Although conservative thought and faith aspire to universal truth, conservatives don't think that practical life--a particular community--is best guided by an overarching theory or even a wholly binding tradition. It's conservative to privilege sustainable relational life over any and all intellectual or individualistic pretensions. Kirk called himself a "bohemian Tory," a Stoic, a Catholic, and much more. He was much more concerned with how to live well as a privileged and responsible person in a particular time and place than with the coherence of any particular doctrine or mixture of doctrines. The mixture of bohemian and Tory, we can say, is deeply conservative; significant personal freedom and even ironic enjoyment depend on a settled life or sense of place. And the bohemian Stoic tells the more somber and beleaguered Stoics--even Marcus Aurelius himself--to lighten up and be happy with the unbought gift that is life. The future of being or even the environment is not in our hands.

Conservatives are always quick to discern that a worthy and sustainable moral and political world depends on claims for intellectual liberation and heroic greatness being chastened by the complexities of "real life." Conservatives often note that our Declaration of Independence was much better than the Enlightenment theory of Mr. Jefferson, precisely because his original draft was amended by the more Christian members of the Continental Congress. Legislative deliberation and compromise secured a place for the providential and judgmental God of the Bible in our understanding of who we are by nature as beings with inalienable natural rights. Our Founders built better than they knew, because they built as statesmen, not theorists, taking into account all the real possibilities presented by our providential constitution. Conservatives tend, in general, to be "fusionists," to put together what's true about various doctrines and practices to capture all that's true about persons sharing a life in a particular part of our world.

The classic form of conservative fusionism mixes libertarianism with traditionalism. In one way, that mixture is singularly American, insofar as the traditional impulse to revere our wise and virtuous Founders produces a narrative of American decline from their "classical liberalism" down the road to nanny-state serfdom. Hayek--like the "originalist" constitutional theorists today--preaches that a real or classical liberal is the true American traditionalist. And the greatest living conservative thinker, the English writer Roger Scruton, observes that the conservative curbs the liberationist and reductionist pretensions of liberalism without rejecting the Enlightenment achievements of the separation of church and state, representative government, and the free economy. For a true conservative, libertarianism and traditionalism both suffer from the extremism of all "isms." Libertarianism presents an unrealistic view of the free individual as absolutely sovereign or unencumbered by relational duties. Traditionalism slights the obvious fact that those who inhabit a vital tradition don't associate their way of life with some generic "ism." The truth is that free persons depend for their personal significance on a stable and enduring "lifeworld."

So we can say that conservatives oppose progressivism with the intention of mending, not ending, the real achievements of liberalism. And in the tradition of Kirk, Scruton, and many others, we conservatives distinguish between conservative liberals, with whom we often agree and certainly admire, and liberal conservatives, who we are. A liberal conservative makes the realistic observation that liberal political and economic life depends on "conservative sociology," and so they think of the family, religion, citizenship, and so forth as indispensably functional. Conservative institutions--often called mediating structures--must be cultivated for the benefit of the maximum possible individual liberty. Conservative liberals often push civic education, because a country that secures individual liberty has no future without literate and loyal citizens. A conservative liberal deploys conservative means for liberal ends.

Liberal conservatives, by contrast, think of liberal means as serving conservative ends, serving not "the pursuit of happiness" in some abstract way but the real happiness found by persons in dignified relational life. That means we ask about, say, religion not whether it's functional but whether it's true. The attempt to dispense with the question of truth actually makes faith and "organized religion"--not to mention higher education--much less functional. And the true limit on government is the truth about who we are as more than merely economic or political beings, as unique and irreplaceable persons with particular relational destinies. We conservatives don't say that citizenship is just another form of rent-seeking but rather a real privilege all Americans enjoy that has corresponding responsibilities. We're for civic education and "civic engagement" too. But it's also true that each of us is more than a citizen, and in that sense liberal education is for everyone. It's in that liberal conservative spirit that we are open to the truth and beauty of the best that has been thought and done in our long, diverse, and profound tradition. It's in that sense that we say that one point of personal freedom is culture or civilization in full.

One quibble with Friend Lawler : individual liberty is an oxymoron, at least in republican terms:

Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. [...] 

Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free. It can be said to be free only when its laws and constitutional orders effectively restrain the arrogance of nobles and the licentiousness of the people.

Republican liberty is the recognition that individual freedom must be curtailed coupled with the requirement that such restraints must be universal and arrived at democratically:

Republicanism in its classical version, which I identify with Niccolo Machiavelli, is not a theory of participatory democracy, as some theorists claim, having in mind more recent sources. It is, rather, a theory of political liberty that considers citizens' participation in sovereign deliberation necessary to the defense of liberty only when it remains within well-defined boundaries. Maintaining that sovereign deliberations--deliberations that concern the whole body of citizens--must be entrusted to the citizens themselves, republican theorists derived their principle of self-government from the Roman law that "what affects all must be decided by all." The idea was that self-interest would recommend to citizens that they deliberate for the common good, since those who participated were all equally affected.

And just as liberty is not really about maximal individual freedom, neither is the "pursuit of happiness" about individual happiness :  Free to Be Happy : The declaration of independence enshrined the pursuit as everyone's right. but the founders had something much bigger than bliss in mind (Jon Meacham, June 27, 2013, TIME)

To our eyes and ears, human equality and the liberty to build a happy life are inextricably linked in the cadences of the Declaration, and thus in America's idea of itself. We are not talking about happiness in only the sense of good cheer or delight, though good cheer and delight are surely elements of happiness. Jefferson and his colleagues were contemplating something more comprehensive -- more revolutionary, if you will. Garry Wills' classic 1978 book on the Declaration, Inventing America, puts it well: "When Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness," wrote Wills, "he had nothing vague or private in mind. He meant public happiness which is measurable; which is, indeed, the test and justification of any government."

The idea of the pursuit of happiness was ancient, yet until Philadelphia it had never been granted such pride of place in a new scheme of human government -- a pride of place that put the governed, not the governors, at the center of the enterprise. Reflecting on the sources of the thinking embodied in the Declaration, Jefferson credited "the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c."

As with so many things, then, to understand the Declaration we have to start with Aristotle. "Happiness, then," he wrote, "is ... the end of action" -- the whole point of life. Scholars have long noted that for Aristotle and the Greeks, as well as for Jefferson and the Americans, happiness was not about yellow smiley faces, self-esteem or even feelings. According to historians of happiness and of Aristotle, it was an ultimate good, worth seeking for its own sake. Given the Aristotelian insight that man is a social creature whose life finds meaning in his relation to other human beings, Jeffersonian eudaimonia -- the Greek word for happiness -- evokes virtue, good conduct and generous citizenship.

Perhaps we might say that what separates conservatives (liberal conservatives) from libertarians and conservative liberals is a recognition of the normative components inherent in liberty and "happiness," the idea that these concepts carry with them obligations, not just rights, that a republic with perfect liberty and happiness would not be perfectly free, nor happy, but would, rather, contain a perfectly virtuous citizenry?    

Might we even go so far as to say that the difference is between viewing people as individuals vs as "relational beings"?  This would certainly explain the differences over institutions.  After all, institutions--"family, religion, citizenship, and so forth"--govern how we relate to one another, but by the very fact of their structuring relationships must be vexatious to those prioritizing individual freedom*.

At any rate, much as we enjoy his blog, it's very exciting to have Mr. Lawler editing a major conservative publication and writing longer essays.

(*) As to the last, it is one of the things that makes "gay marriage" so American.  Sodomy is intended to be transgressive but is being hammered into a conservative institutionalized form.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


This is why American tourists don't want to travel to Cuba (Kari Paul, May 3, 2017, MarketWatch)

[T]he initial excitement about the formerly closed off country gave way to moral dilemmas over food shortages and other problems caused by tourism, as well as disappointment over limited working internet, lower hotel standards, and lack of running water there. The Allianz study found lack of travel infrastructure was a major cause of anxiety about traveling to Cuba for 13% of Americans.

They have to become more like us for us to want to go there.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


How to Make the Heritage Foundation Great Again : Jim DeMint's ouster could be just what conservatism needs. (TEVI TROY May 03, 2017, Politico)

[D]eMint had signaled a directional shift from the moment he was hired. As a Senator, DeMint had clashed constantly with his own party's leadership, challenging them for not being conservative enough. His most famous uttering was his line about preferring a Senate with 30 hardcore conservatives than 60 moderates. His approach, abhorred by Senate GOP leaders, seemed in line with the new Heritage Action political model of challenging Senators from the right if they failed to pass conservative muster. The message of his hiring wasn't lost on Republican politicians. Before DeMint, GOP elected officials and staffers once looked to Heritage to see what the standard conservative position was, and to find a creditable defense for that position. Now they're more likely to look to what Heritage Action is saying to avoid getting "primaried" on their right flanks.

The move to a more politicized Heritage affected the foundation's scholars as well, as a number of well-known and longstanding thinkers, including Stuart Butler, Matt Spalding, and Bill Beach, left in recent years. These developments, which began with the creation of Heritage Action and accelerated under DeMint's leadership, have altered Heritage's reputation. As Daniel Drezner writes in his new book The Ideas Industry, "liberal intellectuals had derided Heritage's intellectual quality in the past. What changed under DeMint was that conservatives began doing so as well."

Heritage is now undergoing a search process to identify a new leader. It is unclear exactly what the board will be looking for to fill this important post, but DeMint's departure gives Heritage a chance to reclaim its original mandate, and start charting conservative ideas for a new generation. At a time when conservatism is in the midst of an identity crisis - and sorely needs a powerful convening institution - a Heritage that seeks once again to be a unifying rather than dividing force on the right could be a powerful entity. This period in which Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress provides a big opportunity for a resurgent Heritage to help shape the policy agenda in Washington.

The search for a new leader also gives Heritage a chance to correct some of the deviations Heritage has made from its original model, and re-establish itself as the idea factory that the conservative movement needs. To succeed in such an effort, Heritage needs a leader with a scholarly background. DeMint's predecessor Ed Feulner - who is retaking the reins in an acting capacity while the search for a replacement takes place - has a Ph.D. Such a credential is helpful but not necessary. What is required is a background as an author of serious work and an interest in taking ideas seriously. Politicians can sometimes fit this bill--the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had impeccable academic credentials, and so does sitting Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse--but being an elected official in and of itself does not serve as a qualification.

Another essential trait is the ability to bring conservatives together. For decades, Heritage's great strength was the fact that people in politics and in the media looked to it for the consensus conservative view. Heritage was a litmus test of conservatism, in a good way. It served as an indicator of where mainstream conservatism was going on a particular issue. In these days of conservative divisions, Heritage might have the chance to play this role again, seeking out and even establishing areas of conservative agreement. This may seem hard given the many divisions within conservatism today, but it is important work, and it is incumbent on conservatism's intellectual infrastructure, its policy journals and think tanks alike, to engage in that effort.

Finally, the new leader faces a crucial challenge of building a wall between Heritage the think tank and Heritage Action the political organization. The scholars and their research should set the agenda. If there must be a political arm, it should aim to implement the think tank's ideas, not have the think tank scramble to justify the political arm's goals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Which century saw the most change? (Ian Mortimer, November 2014, BBC History Magazine)

12th century: The ecclesiastical superhighway

Hundreds of new monasteries - established by men seeking a greater understanding of God - triggered an explosion in the dissemination of knowledge

You might think that monks, having withdrawn from the world, could not have much impact on what went on outside their cloisters. However, so many monasteries were founded in this century that they made an enormous impression. In England and Wales the number of religious houses more than quintupled, from fewer than 140 to over 700. Across the continent, monastic orders became Europe's first pan-European organisations.

Why was this? One of the reasons was the greater stability afforded by castles; another was a slight change in the climate - the Medieval Warm Period - which allowed more crops to be produced, more surpluses to be created and more wealth to be accrued by the lords who held the land.

But there was also a dynamism within the church itself, driven by a widespread desire to understand God. The success of the first organised monastic order, the Cluniacs, inspired men to found other orders of ever greater asceticism, such as the Cistercians and the Carthusians.

Through the universal establishment of a parish system the influence of the church at grass-roots level massively increased. And the powerful idea of Purgatory spread across Christendom. By the 1170s people widely believed that they weren't necessarily bound to go straight to heaven or hell but that most of them would temporarily find themselves in limbo. The monasteries they founded, the Masses sung for their souls, and the pilgrimages they undertook could help their souls ascend the ladder to heaven. Or at least improve their chances of avoiding hell -  in some lords' cases, that was the best they could hope for.

The links between all these monks and cathedral canons can be compared with the networking power of the internet in our own day. Monasteries and cathedral schools had libraries in which they stored information. They taught men to read and facilitated the composition of new texts and the copying of old ones, thereby both creating and preserving knowledge. Monks travelled between monasteries, especially other houses of the same order, spreading news and sharing the latest theological, scientific and historical works.

As a result, when scholars started translating the wisdom of ancient Greek and Roman writers from the Arabic copies in southern Spain and Sicily, there was a network through which to disseminate this knowledge. The rediscovery of the works of writers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy forced scholars - many of whom were clerics - to rethink the principles of knowledge.

13th century: Money flexes its muscles

As new markets sprang up across Europe, hard cash began to rival land ownership as the principal source of power

You might take the coins in your pocket for granted but there was a time when people scarcely used money. Barter played an important role in transactions in the early Middle Ages, and feudal obligations an even more important one. As the population grew larger, however, and markets were established to supply people's needs, money became almost the only form of doing business.

About 1,400 new markets were founded in England over the course of the 13th century, in addition to the 300 that already existed. Most of these new foundations failed. But 345 of them were still going strong in 1600 - over half of all England's extant markets in that year. It was a similar story on the continent.

A market made an enormous difference to people's standard of living. Whereas previously they had to make many items at home, now they could buy them. In city markets and fairs, they could obtain the more exotic items for the first time. By 1300, sugar and spices such as pepper, cinnamon and cloves were beginning to appear in France and England, along with silk and previously unimagined dyes.

To facilitate the growth of trade, coins of larger denominations were minted. The Italians pioneered banking, with branches in most European capitals.
Over the course of the century, the feudal structure of society - in which tenure of land was the all-important factor - came to be rivalled by the power of money. [...]

16th century: The word of God in plain English

Literacy soared and murder rates plummeted as William Tyndale's ground-breaking Bible rolled off the printing press

Johannes Gutenberg - who produced the first printed Bible in 1455 - is frequently credited with changing the world with his printing press. Yet in the 15th century, books were largely printed in Latin and were expensive. People who could not already read had no interest in them. It was the publication of the Bible in the vernacular that changed the world - Mentelin's German Bible in 1466, Malermi's Italian version in 1471, the French Bible Historiale in 1487, and Miles Coverdale's revision of William Tyndale's English Bible in 1539.
A book that people not only wanted to understand, but could also teach them to read, shifted European society towards the written word. It allowed individuals to consider the word of God personally, without the need for the intervention of a priest. It permitted sceptics to question the authority of the Catholic church.

It also had a major impact on secular society. In England male literacy increased from about 10 per cent to 25 per cent - while female literacy rose from 1 per cent to about 10 per cent. For the first time, women could address other women and attack the extreme sexism in society.

Writing also extended the influence of the state to local and personal affairs. Due to the improved administration of law and order, for example, the murder rate across much of Europe halved. [...]

18th century: A human rights revolution

Europe's leading thinkers clustered to the flame of the Enlightenment and challenged the state's right to repress its people

It goes without saying that the Bill of Rights that emerged from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (when William III and II accepted the throne vacated by James II and VII) had the most enormous impact in England. But it also had a major impact on the thinkers who clustered like moths around the flame of the Enlightenment. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and others were inspired. Rousseau in particular argued in The Social Contract (1762) that a state is unjust if it unduly represses the freedom of the individual. The French Revolution formulated its objectives largely around his ideas. And that event heralded the rethinking of the social contract - the relationship between the individual and the state - across Europe.

It was not just the political outlook that changed. Society was affected at a humanitarian level too. The execution rate dropped and, following the publication of Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishment (1764), the death penalty was abolished altogether in some countries. Flogging, burning and maiming also declined and religious intolerance weakened in the latter part of the century. Economic attitudes became more liberal too, as rigid mercantilist policies gave way to free trade.

Taken together these developments meant that the Anglosphere achieved the End of History by 1776.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Why Conservatives Should Be Environmentalists (Nathan J. Beacom, May 4th, 2017, Public Discourse)

Environmentalism, properly understood, has the power to appeal to something more fundamental than partisan divides, nurturing the primary community loyalty necessary for healthy politics. It can remind us that our relationship as neighbors is more basic than our political identities and that most people, whether liberal or conservative, can agree on the moral principles that form its foundations. Among these are the ideas that nature has a given order that is not of our making, that we live best when we live in harmony with this order, and that things have value above and beyond their economic utility. In a way, these might be said to be eminently conservative principles; they might also be called eminently human ones.

Conservatives should not be shy of environmentalism because of its association with leftist political programs. Rather, they should be attentive to the conservation of our environment as, in the words of philosopher Roger Scruton, a "pre-political" concern. By caring for our mutual home--the land that binds us together and sustains us--we can dedicate ourselves to our neighbors, recognizing our place within an organic order that we did not create yet have a responsibility to conserve. In doing this, liberals and conservatives can take a step together toward a more healthy civic life.

The philosopher-farmer mentioned above, Roger Scruton, lays out the natural connection between conservativism and environmentalism in his excellent book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet. We might often associate environmentalism with a certain cultural clique, a kind of irrational radicalism, and a whole raft of accompanying ideological commitments. Yet concern for the natural world's conservation is not limited to this superficial stereotype; the umbrella of "environmentalism" covers a diverse cultural and political array. Although our idiosyncratic sociocultural situation has severed many conservatives from ecological morality, there are a good number of conservative environmentalists walking among us today, even if they would not themselves claim the title. They are not handing out fliers for Greenpeace or tying themselves to trees, but they are supporting local measures to protect the lakes where they fish and the woods where they hunt. They are members of the local Izaak Walton League, gardeners, recyclers, and chicken-coop keepers. Liberal environmentalists and conservatives might be surprised to find out that they have a great deal in common, if only they communicated with one another.

In its origin, environmentalism might almost have been called a conservative movement, and the defenders of the environment in the early decades of industrialization tended to lean politically conservative. This makes some sense, because at the heart of conservatism is the idea that we have a responsibility to those who went before and those who come after us. We must preserve and augment what we have inherited, putting what is lasting ahead of the fashions of the present hour. The English theologian Richard Hooker described this conservative disposition well when he said that we were alive in our forebears, and they too live within us and our children. We are born into a sort of covenant between generations and across time.

This attitude also recognizes that there is a kind of social entropy present in human societies. Put simply, it is easy to destroy what we have inherited and very difficult to preserve it. 

The Right's love of carbon and other pollutions is essentially nihilistic and justified by their desire to destroy that which their political opponents champion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Pentagon Pulls Security Clearance of Trump White House Aide (Bill Gertz, May 4, 2017, Free Beacon)

Adam S. Lovinger, a 12-year strategic affairs analyst with the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA), has been on loan to the NSC since January when he was picked for the position by then-National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.

Lovinger was notified in a letter from the Pentagon on Monday that his Top-Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS-SCI) clearance had been suspended and that he had to return to the Pentagon.

The letter cited unspecified outside activities by Lovinger. The notice said the suspension was approved by Kevin Sweeney, chief of staff for Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


The end of autocracy in Venezuela? : After living in an electoral autocracy for 18 years, Venezuela is now ready to revolt for democracy. (Maryhen Jimenez Morales, 5/04/17, Al Jazeera)

It is impossible to summarise the catastrophic downturn that Venezuelans have suffered over the past decades. Today, the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world has 82 percent of its citizens living in poverty, suffering from chronic shortages of food, medicines and basic supplies. In fact, 80 percent of the population says they do not always have the money to buy food, and three out of four Venezuelans are dissatisfied with the healthcare system.

Almost the entire country believes that the economy is getting worse, while the IMF is predicting Venezuela's inflation to top the 2,000 percent mark next year. On top of that, Caracas is classified as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In 2015, it was declared the city with the highest homicide rates outside a declared warzone, with over 28,000 murders a year.

Some argue that it is hard to understand how Venezuela got to this point. Yet, the answer is quite simple. It is a regime question. A Churchillian view of politics reminds us that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others". Democracy is not a necessary condition for economic prosperity or even for political stability. Evidence from contemporary China, Singapore, Malaysia or some countries in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, shows that non-democratic regimes can be quite efficient in delivering public goods, economic progress or political stability. True though that may be, it is also true that these positive developments almost always come at the expense of check and balances, accountability, separation of powers, respect for human rights or opposition forces. Thus, was Churchill right? This is no easy question, but the Venezuelan case certainly demonstrates the risk of disregarding democratic processes. The transition from a democracy, to an electoral autocracy, to a regime that suspends all elections as of today, represents the origin of the country's current political, economic and social crisis.

Put that on the owner's desk.