November 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


New Poll Has Michael Bloomberg Beating Donald Trump By Six Points (JUSTIN CARUSO, November 10, 2019,daily Caller)

A new poll released Sunday shows that all top Democratic candidates are beating President Donald Trump in a hypothetical match up, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The poll, conducted by Morning Consult, showed that in a hypothetical general election match up with Trump, Bloomberg polls at 43%, while Trump polls at 37%. 21% are undecided or don't know.

Other Democratic candidates poll well against Trump too. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren beats Trump 45% to 39%, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden have similar leads.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


The Myth of the Nazi War Machine (Kevin Kallmes, 11/03/19, Notes on Liberty)

 I think it is past time that we recognize Nazism as not only immoral but also incompetent. Below, I hope to share some astonishing statistics that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the modern concept of Nazi military might is a myth.

The Allies rode in cars, the Germans rode horses. In 1939, the only transportation available to 85% of German infantry other than walking was horses. By was still 85%. In total, the US and UK produced almost 4 million general-use vehicles, compared to 160,000 German vehicles. That is a 25-fold advantage. The Allies also had 1 million infantry-supporting artillery compared to less than 100,000 for all of the Axis.

Where were the supplies? The Allies had 46 million tonnes of merchant shipping vessels to the Axis' 5 million, five times as much aluminum (key for engines and planes), and by 1943 had cut off all German access to rare metals such as tungsten, one of the key metals used in munitions, manufacturing, and electronics. The US supplied Britain and the USSR through the Lend-Lease Act with almost $700 billion (inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars) in supplies throughout the war, which is roughly double the entire German annual GDP in 1939.

The Allies swam to victory on a sea of oil. Though Rommel came within a battle of accessing the British Middle-Eastern oil fields, the Axis still had astonishingly little fuel (which they needed to power their King Tiger, which drank a gallon of gas every 700 yards, the vast Luftwaffe that put over 130,000 planes into action, and their gigantic battleship Bismark). The Axis as a whole used 66 million metric tonnes of oil, while the Allies used a billion. A 15X advantage.

The panzers were neither numerous nor superior technologically. The Mark 1 and 2 panzers that conquered France were actually less numerous and less technologically advanced than France's. While blitzkrieg and elan overwhelmed the French, even the Mark 4-the most commonly used panzer in the late war-underperformed Shermans in infantry support and reliability and were even considered inferior to the Soviet T34 by Hitler himself. Even including the outmoded Czech tanks repurposed by the Germans, they fielded only 67,000 tanks on all fronts to face 270,000 Allied tanks (with no help from Italy, with a pitiful 3,300 tanks, and Japan largely ignored mobile land armor and created only 4,500 tanks). The environment of idealogical zeal in Germany prevented a military researcher from telling Hitler about the true tank numbers of the Soviets, as Hitler himself recognized later in the war by repeating that if he had known the true number of T34's he faced, he would never have invaded. The US and USSR deployed massive numbers of upgraded Shermans and the workhorse T34s, while Germany sank huge investments into specialized and scary duds the Royal Tiger-300,000 man-hours and ten times as much as a Sherman. Only 1,300 Royal Tigers were ever produced, and their 70 tonnes of weight, constant mechanical issues, and cost undercut their supremacy in tank-on-tank duels. The US and Britain used precision bombing to inflict major tank losses on Germany, and while German tanks outfought Soviet tanks roughly 4:1, by 1945 the Soviets still had 25,000 tanks against the Germans' 6,000.

Collaboration helps both tech and strategy. The Allies worked together-the Sherman's underpowered 75mm (corrected) could be upgraded with a British gun because of interoperability of parts, and the US and Brits delivered over 12,000 tanks and 18,000 planes to the Soviets under Lend-Lease; the Germans did not even have replaceable parts for their own tanks, and the Germans never helped their Italian allies (who had lost a land invasion even to the collapsing French) develop industrial capabilities. Bletchley Park gave advance warning to US merchant convoys, but the Italians and Japanese found out that Hitler had invaded the USSR only after troops had crossed into Ukraine.

Fascism is not industrially sound. Even though the Nazis put an astonishing 75% of their GDP toward the military by 1944 and despite taking on unsustainable debt to sustain their production, their GDP in 1939 was $384 billion, roughly equal to the Soviets and $100 billion less than the UK and France combined. By the end of the war, this fell to $310 billion, compared to a whopping $1.4 trillion US GDP. However, even these numbers do not fully represent how non-mechanized, non-scalable, and non-industrial Germany was even under military dictatorship. While German science and engineering had been pre-eminent pre-WW I, the central control and obsession with infeasible, custom projects before and during the war meant that the Germans had a lower percentage of their population that could be mobilized for wartime production than their opponents, not to mention that their GDP per capita was half of that of the US, and yet the Axis still took on opponents that had productive populations five times their size.

In treating them as an existential threat we gave Communism a pass.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


GOP Rep. Will Hurd: A Ukraine quid pro quo would be "violation of the law" (Jacob Knutson, 11/10/19, Axios)

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said on "Fox News Sunday" that it would be a "violation of the law" for "a president or any official" to withhold aid from a foreign country in exchange for investigations into political rivals, though he stopped short of saying President Trump had done so with Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


What Kind of God Is the God of the Jews?: a review of  Jewish Theology Unbound by James Diamond (Neil Rogachevsky, 11/06/19, Mosaic)

Above all, Diamond rejects the philosophers' conception of God as utterly unchanging--"the unmoved mover," to cite Aristotle again. Instead he maintains that the biblical God is "unbound" by any fixed attributes, positive or negative; a dynamic being, God changes and advances along with humanity. In his own words, Diamond is set on exchanging "austere rational notions of [God's] perfection and immutability . . . for a vital, fluctuating God who is aided by human beings in the attainment of new cognitions and ever-developing states of self-awareness."
Jewish Theology Unboundis divided into discreet considerations of specific biblical themes that could plausibly fall under the rubric of "philosophical theology." Among the subjects it considers are the act of "questioning" God, freedom and slavery, love, death, martyrdom, political sovereignty, and the meaning and purpose of angels. Throughout, Diamond reflects on and endeavors to explain what we can coherently think and say about the dynamic God and His attributes. In particular, he focuses on the relationship between God and human beings--and Jews in particular--as the aspect most marked by creative flux.

In one example, Diamond shows how understanding God as dynamic is the only way to understand His covenant with the children of Israel. Thus, God's command to Jacob to return from exile in his father-in-law's house to his parents in Canaan expresses a double wish: to reunite Jacob with his father and to end God's own exile. Having accompanied Jacob in his wanderings, He is now eager to return to His chosen land and His beloved Isaac. Human freedom, in this case Jacob's taking action to return to the Land of Israel, is transformative at the most fundamental level since it can effect change in God Himself.

In still another biblical passage, this one from Exodus, Diamond analyzes Moses' two youthful encounters with injustice. In the first, Moses sees "an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew man," and in response looks around for an "ish," any man, who might intercede to stop the abuse. But he finds no "man," only a mass of individuals defined by their discrepant tribal groups and unwilling to be guided by their shared humanity and the obligations it imposes. In the next scene, Moses witnesses two Hebrew men fighting and asks the instigator, "Why do you strike your fellow?" This question, according to Diamond, is Moses' acknowledgement of the incompleteness of his earlier view that injustice could be solved by erasing or transcending ethnicity and tribe. Moses, in short, is evolving to become worthy of the assignment soon to be placed upon him by an evolving God.

Diamond's argument is spelled out most explicitly in a dense chapter on the meaning of God's name. Here he points to Moses' first encounter with God at the burning bush, where the prophet asks to be told His name and God answers with a Hebrew phrase that in its usual translation--"I am that I am"--seems to imply His transcendence and immutability.

But the Hebrew verbs, as Diamond points out, are cast in the future tense, "I shall be what I shall be," suggesting a deity who "evolves" along with "His creation and His creatures." This adumbrates a conception of God much closer to the mystical view later promoted by medieval kabbalists and their successors than to Maimonides' perfect, immutable being; in fact, the two are almost complete opposites.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


The Radical Equality of Christianity (Bradley J. Birzer, October 19th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

One can find an equally profound statement of equality in the final chapter of Matthew's gospel and Jesus' issuing of the Great Commission:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew, chapter 28, verses 16-20).

Jesus did not say "convert all nations except those with skin tone x" or "convert all nations except for those few islands in the South Pacific." He said, "make disciples of all nations." No asterisk or caveat is included in His command. Thus, Christianity, is, by its very nature, an evangelical religion, always encountering that which it is not.

Until we Christians admit just how radical we are--how truly humane and universal our faith is--we will allow the secular forces of the world to confuse us and bewilder us. Yet, to be Christian has always been counter-cultural, antagonistic to the world, and, by its very nature and existence, it always must be.

The Bible is a bildungsroman about God.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Placebo Effect Appears Even in Pets (EMILY ANTHES, 11/07/19, The Atlantic)

In 2003, a team of researchers from several American universities launched a small clinical trial, the results of which should not have been a surprise. Of the patients taking the active drug, an anticonvulsant intended to reduce epileptic seizures, 86 percent saw their seizure frequency fall. So did 79 percent of the patients that received a sham treatment, or a placebo.

It seemed like a classic example of the placebo effect, with one notable difference: The patients were dogs.

"As I did these placebo-controlled studies and I was evaluating data, I was like, 'Oh, look, these dogs are getting better on the placebo,'" says Karen Munana, a veterinary neurologist at North Carolina State University who co-authored the study. That response had never been reported for epilepsy treatments in dogs before, she says.

At the time, double-blind placebo-controlled trials--the gold standard for evaluating new medical treatments--were relatively uncommon in veterinary medicine. But if Munana and her colleagues hadn't done one, they would have misjudged how well the drug, levetiracetam, worked. "If I had not had the placebo arm [of the study], I would've said that this drug was effective," she says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rawls & Theodicy: 'The Theology of Liberalism' (Samuel Moyn, October 30, 2019, Commonweal)

[T]wo young Harvard political theorists have come out simultaneously with two of the best treatments imaginable of the context and meaning of Rawls's epoch-making book. But the two could not be more different. In the Shadow of Justice, the exciting new leftish history by Katrina Forrester, suggests that, for all his abstraction, Rawls was offering a metaphysical gloss on the program of the right wing of the British Labour party of the 1950s, when it was seeking an increasingly market-friendly vision of socialism, one that would eventually devolve into neoliberalism. For her right-leaning colleague Eric Nelson, by contrast, Rawls is a failed early-modern theologian, whose legacy is to leave liberals without a good reason to believe that justice requires even modest redistribution. [...]

Nelson opens his book by placing Rawls's recently discovered Princeton University senior thesis, written in 1942, in the long Augustinian tradition of Christianity that denied that sinful humans could save themselves. For Augustine and his followers, Pelagianism--named after a late-antique theologian who was condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church--overstated the extent to which human beings can earn their salvation. Such a belief verged on an ideology of self-redemption of individual sinners or of humanity itself that (as Rawls put it at age twenty) "rendered the Cross of Christ to no effect." For Rawls, at the time a committed Christian who planned a career in the Episcopal priesthood before World War II service in the Pacific caused him to lose his faith, it followed that "no man can claim good deeds as his own." To contend otherwise inflated human capacity and courted sacrilegious idolatry of humanity itself.

Nelson contends that this Augustinian response to Pelagianism lurked in Rawls's defense of fair distributional justice long after he had moved on to secular philosophy. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls remarked that "no one deserves" their social ascendancy and the natural gifts--intelligence or industriousness--with which they achieved it. The fact that one person was endowed with them and another not was "morally arbitrary." A theory of justice aiming at fairness rather than fortune would reject any sense that people deserved their class position. Some redistribution from the rich to the rest was therefore just.

What Nelson does with this parallel between Rawls's Christian senior thesis and his mature theory of redistribution is more contentious. Demonstrating that most founders of the liberal tradition were Pelagians, he insists that it is difficult to reconcile Rawls's rejection of moral arbitrariness with the politics he hoped to advance.

"Liberalism," writes Nelson, "began as a theodicy." By this he means that for the major liberal thinkers in the early-modern period, the attempt to justify the ways of God to men almost always included the belief that God is unfailingly good. It is their own autonomy that leads humans, if they choose not to conform to God's plan, to introduce evil into the world on their own. What made for the correlation of Pelagianism with liberalism is that the theological defense of human freedom--including freedom to err--implied that individuals should be allowed politically to seek perfection on their own, without the interference of states or sects. Liberalism was born out of the insistence that, since agents were free enough to save themselves, they had to be left alone enough to have a chance to do it.

Mr. Nelson's imagined difficulty arises only because--as happened with Rawls--commentators insist on stripping the founders of liberalism of their Christianity.  Thus, Marxists and Libertarians alike can only consider Locke's Second Treatise on Government, which is fairly silent on providing for the common good in its attempt to secure property, and must ignore the First:

But we know God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all, has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions; since it would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another's plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise...

And an even more fundamental error occurs when they insist that Locke chose Reason over Revelation in the first place:

So much virtue as was necessary to hold societies together, and to contribute to the quiet of governments, the civil laws of commonwealths taught, and forced upon men that lived under magistrates. But these laws, being for the most part made by such who had no other aims but their own power, reached no farther than those things, that would serve to tie men together in subjection; or at most, were directly to conduce to the prosperity and temporal happiness of any people. But natural religion, in its full extent, was nowhere, that I know, taken care of by the force of natural reason. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that 'tis too hard a task for unassisted reason, to establish morality, in all its parts, upon its true foundations, with a clear and convincing light. And 'tis at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a King and law-maker, tell them their duties, and require their obedience, than leave it to the long, and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them: such strains of reasonings the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh, nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of. We see how unsuccessful in this, the attempts of philosophers were, before Our Saviour's time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible. And if, since that, the Christian philosophers have much outdone them, yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added are, owing to revelation; though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason, and such as can by no means be contradicted. Every one may observe a great many truths which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, and perhaps, beyond his strength to have discovered himself. Native and original truth, is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we who have it delivered, ready dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine. And how often at fifty or threescore years old, are thinking men told, what they wonder how they could miss thinking of? Which yet their own contemplations did not, and possibly never would have helped them to. Experience shows that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light (how agreeable soever it be to it), makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men's necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests, which turn their thoughts another way. And the designing leaders, as well as the following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way. Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

Though yet, if any one should think, that out of the saying of the wise heathens, before Our Saviour's time, there might be a collection made of all these rules of morality, which are to be found in the Christian religion; yet this would not at all hinder, but that the world, nevertheless, stood as much in need of Our Savior, and the morality delivered by him.

Locke could not render a system of Rational morality himself and nor could anyone else, putting paid to the notion that we can save ourselves if "left alone".

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Western style 'democracy' in Africa is just a way of pushing the neoliberal agenda (Damola Adejumo-Ayibiowu, 6 November 2019, openDemocracy)

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent rise of 'good governance' as a development strategy is more than a coincidence. In his famous article The End of History, the American political analyst, Francis Fukuyama, proclaims that the end of the cold war is "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Such statements clearly indicate the readiness of liberalism protagonists to resist any ideology contrary to theirs. It is not a surprise, therefore, that since the 1990s, good governance has become a prescription of the World Bank for all development challenges facing African countries. Notably, the current good governance agenda is mainly a democracy cum neoliberal framework.

The argument for democracy may be very strong for African countries, many of which have had long histories of military rule, unfair elections, unaccountable leaderships, inadequate service delivery, and popularized corruption. Many scholars particularly argue that the lack of democracy is the main cause of poverty in Africa. But despite the implementation of donor's good governance reforms, corruption, poverty, and other challenges continue in Africa. Moreover, the wave of democratization which swept across Africa in the 1990s mainly paved the way for multiparty elections without improving the welfare of African poor masses who queue for hours to cast their votes. 

Now add capitalism and protestantism and you've got the agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Before Martin Luther, there was Erasmus - a Dutch theologian who paved the way for the Protestant Reformation (Katherine Little, 10/29/19, The Conversation)

Although Erasmus was sympathetic to Luther's critique of church corruption, he wasn't ready for the kind of radical changes that Luther demanded.

Erasmus wanted a broad audience for his books, but he wrote in Latin, the official language of the church. Latin was a language that only a small number of educated people, typically priests and the nobility, could read.

Erasmus had criticized the church for many of the same problems that Luther later attacked. In one of his most famous books, The "Praise of Folly," he mocked priests who didn't read the Bible. He also attacked the church's use of indulgences - when the church took money from people, granting them relief from punishment for their sins in purgatory - as a sign of the church's greed.

When Luther started getting into trouble with church authorities, Erasmus defended him and wrote him letters of support. He thought Luther's voice should be heard.

But he did not defend all of Luther's teachings. Some, he felt, were too divisive. For example, Luther preached that people are saved only by faith in God and not by good deeds. Erasmus did not agree, and he did not want the church to split over these debates.

Throughout his life, Erasmus forged his own approach to Christianity: knowing Christ by reading the Bible. He called his approach the "Philosophia Christi," or the philosophy of Christ. He thought that learning about Jesus' life and teachings would strengthen people's Christian faith and teach them how to be good.

...then we are the gods.