Monday, December 30, 2013

From Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer

"There could be no greater irony: For all the sublimity of art, physics, music, mathematics and other manifestations of human genius, everything depends on the mundane, frustrating, often debased vocation known as politics (and its most exacting subspecialty -- statecraft). Because if we don't get politics right, everything else risks extinction."

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Summary of Classical Greek Philosophy

469 BC – 399 BC
The teaching of Socrates was to “know yourself.” Plato in his description of justice taught that you should also be true to yourself, especially as to what is your particular merit and what you deserve or is your due. Aristotle was the philosopher of temperance, moderation, and the “golden mean.” Of course, if you really know yourself, and are really truthful or honest with yourself and about what you deserve, then it becomes obvious why we should all act with some moderation.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King

Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. probably made the two greatest contributions to political thought in the second half of the Twentieth Century. They confronted the injustice of apartheid and segregation. They became moral leaders who worked on behalf of the primary moral concept of equality. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be remembered as an advocate of nonviolence as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Nelson Mandela will be remembered as the leader who, after spending 27 years in prison, became the President of South Africa and advocated a policy of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela had incredible resolve against entrenched injustice, but they will also be remembered for their great sense of individual and human dignity. The successful application of the ideas of non-violence and of forgiveness and reconciliation was quite an accomplishment in the context of the Twentieth Century. Not only their ideas, but their examples as individual leaders in this context, can even now be recognized as having enduring value.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
    -Nelson Mandela

“So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. ”
    - The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Biology Will Become the Primary Paradigm in this Century

Biology rather than physics will become the primary paradigm or model of thought
in this century.  This is in part due to the genome project and the influence that it will have on scientific research.  It will also, however, be a result of a much broader understanding of co-evolution and our interaction with the world in which  we live.

“By natural selection we are not indifferent to our fate.”
It will be driven by our need to incorporate human values and also our need to live in a pluralistic global community.  Biology will not become the new paradigm, however, until it develops a methodology and multidimensional understanding of human nature that is  broad enough  to include not only the life sciences, but also the other basic sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.

Epistemology is the study of ways of knowing and biology is an epistemological process.  Unlike physics and chemistry, biology also relates to information, which in human biology is both genetic and cultural.  In evolutionary biology and in culture the transmission of information is also historical.  Life means the presence of intrinsic and functional values.  Biological diversity and complexity are based on information about how to compose, maintain, reproduce, and transmit life processes.  This is the type of self-affirming information that is lost in the reduction of biology to physics and chemistry.

There are emergent properties, synergies, and functional and cultural values that are lost in the translation to the basic elements.  By natural selection we are not indifferent to our fate. We are also, to some degree, capable of modifying our environment and transcending nature with our human individual and cultural values. It has been noted that life is a countercurrent to entropy and culture may be a countercurrent to natural selection.  

Ecology is the interaction between an organism and its environment.  Adaption is an ecological word. One could surmise an entanglement of a factual realism based on literal correspondence and a practical and sometimes metaphysical realism that incorporates our desire for both survival and well-being.  In moral terms these would include both a Socratic quest and a humanistic commitment.  The Socratic quest, however, can result in an unproductive and pedantic skepticism without a humanistic commitment.  A humanistic commitment, whether secular or religious, on the other hand, also needs to some degree to be open-ended and questioning to avoid what Eric Hoffer, after World War ll and in response to fanaticism of all kinds, described as the “true believer.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Change in the Filbuster Rule furthers Partisan Politics

President Obama has made it clear that, when the legislative process fails to advance his agenda, it is his intent to achieve as much of his agenda as possible through executive powers. The Democrats in the Senate have now used the “nuclear option” to break the filibuster rule to allow a simple majority rather than 60 votes to confirm executive nominees and most federal judges. The immediate effect is to allow the Democrats to pack the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with three new judges even though there is no pressing need. Administrative and regulatory actions which are challenged are most often adjudicated by this influential court. The appointments are for life.

This will allow for a significant extension of Presidential power.

“... to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet [will] cause the bitterness and gridlock to get worse.”
 - Senator Barack Obama, 2005
The hypocrisy is that both parties in the past have vigorously opposed this option when their party was in the Senate minority. It has always been perceived as a power play by the majority to eliminate the need to seek some greater deliberative collaboration, compromise and consensus which incorporates at least some of the concerns of the minority and the larger community. A group of democrats have made it clear that they would also like to abolish the filibuster for normal legislation in the Senate. The approval rating for Congress cannot be much lower than it already is, but this move toward more partisan legislation only adds to the causes for public cynicism. Senator Obama opposed such a rule change at a time when the Republicans held a majority in the Senate. He said that neither party should “change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet” and that such a change would only cause “the bitterness and gridlock to get worse.”

The Nuclear Option Debate Explained in Two Charts
    -- Washington Post

New breed of Senate Democrats drove filibuster change.
    -- Los Angeles Times

James H. Rutherford, M.D.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Super Majorities Here and Abroad

Congressional redistricting in Ohio is an example of what to expect from unconstrained super majorities here at home. In Ohio, whoever controls at least two-thirds of three state offices is able to control the legislative redistricting process. This almost always results in the party in control maximizing the number and demographically secure districts for itself. This process across much of the nation has resulted in the entrenched positions of both parties and thus much of the gridlock that we see in a divided Congress. When one political party has controlled all of Congress and the Presidency, there also has not been much moderation or collaboration.

When this is the behavior of super majorities in our own country, why should we expect anything different from super majorities abroad. Many Arab nations have a super majority of Muslims in their population. Maldives, for example, has a population which is 95% Muslim and their recent Constitution requires that to be a citizen of Maldives one has to be a Muslim.

The redistricting process in California has thus understandably drawn some attention. First, a law was passed that placed the redrawing of voting districts in the hands of an independent commission. California also did away with party primaries. Instead, everyone runs and votes in a single open primary, with Republicans and Democrats on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters compete in a runoff. The candidates are often thus inclined to reach out to a broader portion of the population to win the elections. Even though the Democrats still control both the Assembly and the Senate in the California legislature, it at least appears that the current legislature has had a tendency to be more moderate.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Elephant in the Room -- American Cultural Problems

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. -- Senator Daniel Moynihan.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan 40 years ago warned of the adverse effect of declining American cultural values. He predicted a new type of poverty that would be one of the side effects of a welfare state and children born to single mothers. This is now fairly easy to document. He also described a “dumbing down of decency” in our culture. This has also occurred on the internet, TV, movies, music, and in our general use of language.

Several of the previous blogs have been very critical of Wall Street, the financial institutions, government regulatory agencies, and a dysfunctional Congress. A wide cultural failure at the top of our society that also extends even to major sports figures and even Catholic priests is fairly easy to document. The references below, however, address the rest of our culture and particularly those issues that affect education and poverty.

A 2009 study by the Brookings Institution, for example, found that Americans who finished high school, acquired a full-time job and waited until age 21 to get married before having children were much less likely to end up in poverty. In fact, "young adults who did all three had a 2 percent chance of winding up in poverty and a 74 percent chance of winding up in the middle class (defined as earning roughly $50,000 or more). By contrast, young adults who violated all three norms had a 76 percent chance of winding up in poverty and a 7 percent chance of winding up in the middle class. A high school education is still free, and as Woody Allen noted, “showing up is 80% of success.”

On the other side of the equation, kids who do not finish high school are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults and approximately 82% of the adults in prison are high school dropouts.
Young people have always wanted more independence and to establish their own identity. One of the messages that our young people should hear, however, is this:
There are two ways that you can lose your freedom in this country. One way is to commit a crime and be put in jail. The other way is to become addicted to drugs as you have then given up many of your choices to the drug. There is nothing manly or mature about throwing away your freedom; it is just foolish.
One of the most effective way to address the issues of crime and drugs is simply with a change in public opinion. Consider, for example, the effect of a change in public opinion on the issue of smoking. The expenditure of large sums of government money on education and poverty will not be effective unless these cultural issues are also addressed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Intermediary Institutions and Civil Society

Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke is considered to be one of the founders of conservatism. One of his criticisms of the French Revolution was that, by destroying the intermediate institutions which help maintain order in society, the state would be left with only the tool of coercive power and this would lead to tyranny. The French Revolution eventually claimed that the state was the source of all all moral and political authority. The progeny of this type of tyranny turned out to be Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

The basic inclination of conservatives is thus to incorporate the basic values of the culture in the intermediary institutions so that there is less need for the coercive powers of government. For conservatives, in particular, there should thus be a concern about the recent problems in almost all of our intermediary institutions. It is hard to think, for example, of any national bank, Wall Street firm, insurance company, or health care company that has not been the subject of very large regulatory penalties. There has been a rather remarkable failure of the elites.

On the other hand, the more secular liberals have been reluctant to address the cultural issues concerning the intermediate institution of the family. The inclination of liberals has also been to raise the cost of government and entitlements even in the presence of an unsustainable national debt and to mortgage the future, thus breaking the contract with the next generation to which Edmund Burke also referred.