Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 13, 2009

Cramer Becomes Inarticulate

Filed under: capitalism, economy, media — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:05 am

Crooks and Liars has Jim Cramer’s appearance on the Daily Show.  There was definitely a moment of who-are-going-to-believe as Cramer tries to ignore the fact that Stewart has just played a tape where Cramer admitted that he manipulated the market and following it up with example on how to start a rumor and short Apple’s stock.   

Cramer was all over the map, advocating criminal indictments, kangaroo courts, and positing his street-cred as an Obama voter.  To me, he never seemed to answer the fundamental question: what does he see as CNBC’s role as an institution?  Cramer, lamely, kept admitting that CNBC needed to do better without ever striking at the heart of the issue.  

The focal point of Stewart’s criticism was how CNBC pushes itself as a reliable get-rich-quick network.  When Santelli complains about bailing out loser’s mortgages, he fails to mention that no home owner is leveraged 30 to 1, unlike many investment banks that we are now pumping money into.  The unbelievable sense of entitlement that the executives of bailed out firms demonstrate when simultaneously asking the government for money while threatening dire consequences if their demands aren’t met shows the accountability free and disconnected nature of the Wall Street aristocracy.  Stewart likens it to Sherman’s march to the sea; it is more like Nero fiddling as Rome burns.

The problem is that CNBC could have been the early warning system to let the public know something was going wrong.  Instead, CNBC cheered on Wall Street, and why not?  Everyone was making money at least on paper.  In reality, executives walked away with the real cash for illusory short-term gains and people who entrusted their savings in the market are left holding the long-term losses.

Michael Parenti has an article called “Capitalism’s Self-inflicted Apocalypse.”  While, it might be a tad over-the-top.  The real economy is based on work, not gambling.  Until we get back to that foundation, and limit the tax that these middle-men can place on the productive economy by their arbitrary and obviously undeserved control of capital, disasters like the ones we are experiencing aren’t unexpected, they are inevitable.


March 12, 2009

Liberty University Students Test Their Indoctrination Against Reality

Filed under: Education, politics, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:54 am

The Washington Post has an article on students from Liberty University taking a trip to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, presumably as a test of their religious indoctrination. Yes, they could claim that it is, I, who is indoctrinated with “Darwinism.” But, see, there is this little thing that I like to call reality. Evolution is true for the same reason the theory of gravity is true, they were arrived at by the same method. Believing in creationism requires a complete distortion of cosmology, astronomy, biology, geology, physics, along with countless other scientific fields. Steve Hendrix, the author of the piece, calls this “challenging the conventional wisdom.” I call it being in denial.

It seems to pass Hendrix without additional mention that at one moment DeWitt bemoans that some of material in the museum was out-of-date, pointing to a 1980’s-era introductory video, while one of his students is taken aback at Grandma Morgie.

Now, I’ve been to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum recently. The morganucodon is at the end of the exhibit on the dinosaurs. The overall point, which seems to have been entirely missed by this student, is that the dinosaurs go extinct, and when they do, mammals, like us, take their place.

This is not a trivial point. Evolution says that you share a common ancestor with all other forms of life on this planet. Yes, there is a common ancestor between us and chimpanzees, which usually draws the most attention. But, there is also a common ancestors between us and dogs, dinosaurs, fish etc. Richard Dawkins wrote a book examining our connections with this “Tree of Life” in The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. Neil Shubin wrote more specifically about our fish ancestors in Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

Somehow, I don’t feel the education of these students is lacking because they don’t have access to the latest information. Instead, it seems that they have no mastery over the basics.

I could be extrapolating too much, but the course is titled “Advanced Creation Studies” so it is more likely that this is just the tip of iceberg on nonsense that would spew forth from the mouths of these students upon a little more prodding. In the end, it is just a travesty that Liberty University is an accredited institution.

March 4, 2009

Re: Don’t Say a Word

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:17 am

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate called “Don’t Say a Word” which raises concerns about a non-binding U.N. resolution on “Combating defamation of religions.” Non-binding U.N. resolutions are pretty ineffectual. They are more or less a litmus test for general attitudes in the world and high-minded platitudes. Now a particular irony comes from the fact that this particular resolution appears to come out of Commission for Human Rights. As Hitchens points out, many member states do not have spectacular Human Rights records.

Whether Hitchens falls into the camp of “Islamophobia” as he calls it, I’ll leave up to the reader. However, I will note that he is an unapologetic defender of the invasion of Iraq.  I will also note that there was a good deal of violence directed towards Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. That isn’t to say that there is any type of moral equivalence, but just as it was wrong for hijackers to kill scores of innocent people, the same principle applies to the innocent victims of assaults and beatings because they happened to share the same faith as those who attacked the US. I feel the non-binding resolution tries to address the second problem while acknowledging the first.  Hitchens makes no mention of the violence directed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

As for gagging of criticism of Islam, Hitchens establishes some credentials as a wing-nut. However, there is this absurd notion that religious convictions should be free from criticism. This is not unique to Islam, since many Western countries promote the same idea. The basic premise is that all people should have the right to have a set of beliefs which are free from criticism. These beliefs are generally religious. Now, the reason why people want a set of beliefs free from criticism is obvious, there are beliefs that people would like to hold but cannot be defended.

America has already gone down this road to a certain extent, as it is considered rude to bring up religious or political topics in polite company (taboos on politics is a particularly baffling aspect of the culture since the United States is a participatory democracy, that is, public opinion is supposed to matter). Although, the country is so doctrinally Christian at this point, not being able to criticize those other false religions, especially the scourge of secularism or Islam, is unlikely to go over too well. Hence, the extraordinary indignation over this essentially meaningless resolution.  It is this same demographic that generally wants the United States out of the United Nations. This resolution just adds fuel to the fire.

Now, it may seem strange that we have an atheist and Christians banding together to promote scares about secret Muslim plots to take away treasured American freedoms.  However, the Hitchens/Christian alliance against Islam is not unprecedented because we see similar tag-teams surrounding the implausibility of Scientology.

Rampant paranoia aside, the wrong-headedness of this resolution is laid on the foundation that there should be beliefs free from criticism. The premise of the U.N. resolution is shut up and get along, which is the antithesis of freedom. Free societies are not utopias. There will always be tensions between conflicting ideas. There will always be those who are intentionally provocative or offensive. The individual human freedom that we are defending is precisely the freedom of those who annoy us most. Otherwise, we don’t have freedom; we have tyranny.

February 25, 2009

Bank Re-privatization?

Filed under: capitalism, economy — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:50 am

The growing consensus seems to be that banks will be nationalized. The case for nationalizing banks is pretty much a done deal as far as economists are concerned.  Krugman lays out the case fairly well.  I hate the term “stockholders” in this context, because it isn’t really stockholders that are the problem, at least directly.  The problem is with the executives of the banking companies and the ridiculous moral hazard they are faced with.  Society has an incentive to keep these financial institutions afloat.  The executives have an incentive to run the businesses into the ground precisely because they know society will not allow these institutions to fail.  

Why not pay exorbitant bonuses to yourself as your company is losing money hand-over-fist?  Might as well do it now while you still can.  It is precisely this perverse incentive for those who actually run the company that necessitates a government intervention, especially if the institution is FDIC insured.

As such, it is an illusion to say stockholders control a company.  I’m a stockholder and in many cases the ownership is indirect through mutual funds.  It is a complete illusion to say I exercise any power in the corporations in which I own a stake.  Myself and stockholders like me theoretically have power but it is too dilute.  Locking me out from benefits of a bailout is nothing compared to the executives.  However, saying so requires an admission that there is a corporate master class, and such an admission is not considered polite when you are an academic talking to the proles in the New York Times.

Regardless, the nationalization that is proposed is always temporary.  Why?  I’m not saying that re-privatization is not a good idea, but I want someone to explain it to me.  And one key point I would like to see addressed is explaining how re-privatizing banks would ensure a crisis like this won’t happen again, because, to me, this current crisis seems to be a direct result of a private profit motive combined with successful lobbying.  

It is particularly galling because the alternative is so obvious.  Why not keep the banks nationalized and centralize them?  Why not lock out the for-profit motive of lending entirely?  The Federal Reserve system already effectively sets interest rates, why not just take it one step further and provide financial services directly to citizens and businesses in the form of a national bank. Citizens could deposit and obtain loans from this bank.  We could get rid of FDIC.  If people wanted to risk putting their money in private banks, fine.  But, if it goes under, the government is not going to come and bail you out.  I even imagine there are some economies of scale with such an approach, in that it may be more efficient than the current banking system.  It would also reduce the need for regulatory oversight of private banks.  At the very least, there wouldn’t be “stockholders” to screw things up.

February 12, 2009

Why Evolution is Awesome

Filed under: books, science — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 10:14 am

I recently finished reading Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago.  He also has a blog with the same title as the book.

From the quotes on the back cover, I was expecting a devastating case for evolution.  Dawkins puts it, “I defy any reasonable person to read this marvelous book and still take seriously the breathtaking inanity that is intelligent design ‘theory’ or its country cousin, young earth creationism.”  At various points in the book, Coyne takes shots at creationism.  So, the book is definitely written within a social context in which evolution is rejected by a significant portion of the population.  I guess the disconnect I feel between Dawkins’ quote and the actual experience of reading the book is that I didn’t feel throttled by the logic, as it were.  

It could be that it was just me, or maybe the experience is different considering that I already accept evolution as true and was already familiar with many of the arguments presented in the book.  Nevertheless, I did try to put on my adversarial hat and asked myself, if I were a creationist, would this book force me to discard creationism and accept evolution.  The answer I kept coming up with was “no.”  Now I fully admit I could be wrong, and as I said, I’m not a creationist.  But the reason why the book wouldn’t convince me is illustrated by Lewis Carroll’s dialogue “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.”

Tortoise: Readers of Euclid will grant, I suppose, that Z follows logically from A and B, so that any one who accepts A and B as true, must accept Z as true?”

Achilles: Undoubtedly! The youngest child in a High School — as soon as High Schools are invented, which will not be till some two thousand years later — will grant that.

Tortoise: And if some reader had not yet accepted A and B as true, he might still accept the sequence as a valid one, I suppose?Achilles: No doubt such a reader might exist. He might say ‘I accept as true the Hypothetical Proposition that, if A and B be true, Z must be true; but, I don’t accept A and B as true.’ Such a reader would do wisely in abandoning Euclid, and taking to football. 

Tortoise: And might there not also he some reader who would say ‘I accept A and B as true, but I don’t accept the Hypothetical ‘? 

Achilles:  Certainly there might. He, also, had better take to football.

 Tortoise: And neither of these readers is as yet under any logical necessity to accept Z as true? 

Achilles: Quite so.  

Tortoise: Well, now, I want you to consider me as a reader of the second kind, and to force me, logically, to accept Z as true.

The full dialogue is worth reading, but in the end, Achilles was never able to make the Tortoise accept the proposition if A and B are true, then Z must be true.  So, a creationist could accept every fact presented in the book, but still not accept the conclusion.  Maybe this falls outside of what Dawkins would consider “reasonable” but from reading the dialogue, I don’t see any particular place where the Tortoise is being particularly “unreasonable.”  Now, I consider the Tortoise’s position nonsensical, untenable, inconsistent and potentially hypocritical, but I do think that it demonstrates an important point.  Truth is something that one must approach with an open mind.  That doesn’t mean discarding all skepticism, since there is a lot of “woo-woo” out there as James Randi puts it, but expecting any argument to throttle you with logic and force you to accept a particular position is itself, an unreasonable expectation.

This brings us back to why evolution is true.  Evolution is true, not because we want it be true, or we’d like it be true.  Evolution is true because as we examine the world around us, we keep coming up with the same answer.  The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  Life has existed on the planet for approximately 3.5 billion years, with the first animals that we would commonly recognize as being human emerging approximately 250-100 thousand years ago.  The evidence for this comes from a number of diverse sources such as fossilized coral that recorded 400 days in a year to similarities in DNA (not just any DNA but DNA that is essentially junk).  

As Coyne repeatedly points out, this evidence puts the creationist in the position of either admitting evolution is the process that explains the diversity of life or else the creator also created all this evidence to make it appear as if life had evolved.  Of course, the religious apologia of “sure everything may appear that way, but it is actually another” is as old as Galileo and may go back further.  However, getting a creationist to accept either of these positions, for reasons I stated before, is the challenge.

The evidence for evolution is more than can be put in a blog post.  There is more evidence than what is even presented in Why Evolution is True.  However, Coyne gives a great overview surveying some of landscapes of evidence and plumbing some of its depths.  I won’t go as far as Dawkins’ quote, but I would be surprised to hear from a creationist who read the book with an open mind and still refused to admit that evolution is true or at least appears to be true in the same way the sun being the center of the solar system appears to be true.  Again, open-minded in this sense does not mean uncritical.   Please, be skeptical.   Just don’t be like the Tortoise.

Epilogue: Dawkins beat me reviewing the book.  He also addresses some of my concerns.  Overall, I would say the difference in views is due to Dawkins being more confident in people’s inherent pragmatism.  Maybe there are fewer people like the Tortoise than I think.

January 27, 2009

Ancestor Worship

Filed under: religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:38 am

One of peculiarities of creationists I’ve been thinking about is their seeming dislike for the modern.  For example, in a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Dan Barker, D’Souza states his aim to ignore the “new” atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, etc.) and instead address the arguments of  people like Russell, Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger.  Why Marx doesn’t make the list I don’t know.  He calls the modern atheists the “Lilliputian shadows of the great atheists of the 19th century and early 20th century” ( about 5 minutes in).

Ben Stein, in his movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” also complains about all the things Darwin didn’t know as if new facts undermined rather than strengthened Darwin’s central thesis of evolution by natural selection.

Admittedly, one shouldn’t draw a conclusion by only two data points, but the phenomenon is just so odd.  Even if we were to grant that Russell was a better philosopher than Dennett.  Dennett doesn’t stand in Russell’s shadow; Dennett stands on Russell’s shoulders.  It takes a lot less work to take a good idea that you’ve come across than to come up with it yourself.  Think about all the facts about the world we just know now, like the laws of thermodynamics, atomic theory, Maxwell’s equations, etc.  Let’s do a thought experiment.  Let’s say I found myself on a deserted island at a young age (5-ish) in a land of abundance so I didn’t have to spend my life struggling for existence but rather could easily care for myself.  But let’s also say, I was devoid of human contact and all social artifices.  As such, with nothing else to do, I devoted the rest of my long life (100 years?) to just contemplate the universe and the world around me.  I think it is safe to say, at the end of that life, I would be lucky to have the understanding I had at merely the age of 15 in my current life.

I am not alone in this assessment.  In the Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Dawkins there is excerpt from Lancelot Hogben’s Mathematics for the Million that maybe puts it better:

In the course of the adventure upon which we are going to embark we shall constantly find that we have no difficulty in answering questions which tortured the minds of very clever mathematicians in ancient times.  This is not because you and I are very clever people.  It is because we inherit a social culture which has suffered the impact of material forces foreign to the intellectual life of the ancient world.

The difference between 19th century and the 21st maybe isn’t as drastic as the ancient and modern, but the 20th century was a time of great scientific progress and technological development.  That is to say, no matter how sagacious we consider Russell, Nietzsche, or Freud to be, the arguments we should consider are their modern incarnations because no matter how brilliant or clever they were, they may have made some mistakes which modern thinkers can correct.  This goes along with the added benefit that the modern thinkers are still alive, so they can respond directly to criticisms instead of leaving us conjecturing about how the dead might respond to a particular argument were they still alive.

The part that is nagging me is that maybe there is actually something deeper going on here.  For example, it is a common canard of creationists to claim that mutations cannot add “information” to the genetic code (i.e. they ignore duplication and its subsequent modification).  But, what if they actually believe progress is impossible.  Let’s say, they really believe creations of every type can only devolve and decay from their original inception.  Russell or Nietzsche were the geniuses who introduced atheism in its purest and strongest form and the “new” atheists can only muster cheap imitations, and knock-offs of these great atheists’ thoughts.

This point of view is absurd for the reasons I outlined above, but it is completely in keeping with ancestor worship; father always knew best, and so did his father, and on and on up the chain.  I guess this isn’t so surprising if they also consider the bible the best book ever written.  However, it is always these types of underlying assumptions that baffle me because the arguments that people like D’Souza present are like waves on top of this deeper idealogical ocean.  I fully admit I might be jumping to conclusions, but there must be some explanation for this behavior.  Although, it might be just a simple as they don’t want to bother reading anything new.

January 26, 2009

Jerry Coyne and Secular Reasoning

Filed under: politics, religion, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:34 am

Jerry Coyne has a new book out called “Why Evolution Is True.”  He also wrote a piece in The New Republic called “Seeing and Believing” where he examines the tensions between science and religion particularly around teaching evolution.  Mr. Coyne examines two books that try to reconcile the apparent incompatibility and thoroughly demolishes them.  In particular, he destroys the argument that science and religion are compatible because there are Christian scientists.  As he puts it:

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers. ) 

Coyne does a good job pointing out the incompatibility of liberal theologians and various religious apologizers.  He defends Dawkins attacking mainstream religious belief in “The God Delusion” because that is what people actually believe. As Coyne points out in the following video, 63% of Americans believe in angels, only 40% believe in evolution.

It is hard to debate religion with believers because they are keen to attack science where it is weakest (like first cause, the various physical constants of the universe, or uncertainty in quantum mechanics).  That isn’t to say these are particularly convincing arguments for a deity, but they do represent biggest gaps in current scientific understanding and therefore finding a role for a god there seems most plausible. Such gaps rely on ignorance and usually become more implausible over time.  For example, a virgin birth resulting in a production a male offspring seems more plausible when one knows nothing about chromosomes and the role of sperm in contributing the Y chromosomes, however, with modern genetic understanding such a scenario becomes less believable.  

Likewise, the apologist is hard pressed to defend the weakest aspect of their position, which is the internal consistency of their scripture.  They will twist language, deny plain meaning and arbitrarily pick and choose those parts which they find convenient to defend.  It is this process of picking and choosing, and attacking the language that makes apologetics so detestable; at least the fundamentalist is consistent in principle.

Coyne also points out in the video that simply trying to teach evolution better won’t work.  It is not the strength of the case for the evolution that is the problem, it is that people reject it because it conflicts with their religious beliefs (I find it is dishonest to say that it doesn’t).  Therefore, in order to get people to accept evolution, religious influence has to be rolled back.  

Evolution is a litmus test for a secular society.  If people are rejecting evolution because it conflicts with their previously held superstition, then there is no reasoning with them and any hope for consensus is lost.  In addition, there is no telling what other issues they will dogmatically and stubbornly cling to in the face of contradictory evidence.  A person who is unwilling to change his/her beliefs, especially in the face of overwhelming physical evidence, is a person who does not truly believe in the freedom of belief.  If one is looking for the seed of totalitarianism, there it is and woe for those of us who want to use reason to build a better world.

January 21, 2009

A Perfect Metaphor

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:00 am

Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States yesterday.  Still, there were reminders of the Bush legacy as Chief Justice Roberts managed to bungle the oath of office

Several news commentators expressed their disgust for people in the crowd who had the audacity to boo and taunt the 43rd.  I think Bush deserves no more respect than he has shown.  There are those who would say we should act like bigger people and be gracious in victory.  However, it is that very graciousness that would allow Bush to whitewash the past.  If the public does not repudiate Bush then who will?  The lapdog press?  No, it has been and will continue to be the people.  If Chris Matthews doesn’t like it then it is because his nose is too brown and must have come to the conclusion that everything now smells like roses. 

It is beyond a reasonable doubt that Bush has committed war crimes.  The United States has water-boarded prisoners, Bush has admitted to authorizing it.  

Call me cynical, but it is not clear whether Obama will prosecute.  Failure to prosecute Bush for his crimes would demonstrate a supreme lack of principle and moral courage on the part of the Obama administration.  He may deem it impractical or too alienating, but the simple truth of the matter is that Barack Obama would find himself face to face with injustice, with the power to stand for what is right, and would turn his back like so many others.  Denying justice would be an action of a small man.  Yes, it might grease the wheels with some Republicans to help pass a stimulus package, but such victories are fleeting, and such compromises seldom last.  It is impossible honor an agreement between two parties without mutual respect, and likewise, it is impossible to respect a man who compromises his principles.

But regardless of what Obama does, I will continue to call for justice.  Unlike Obama, I cannot drag George W. Bush into a court of law.  All I can do is voice my disapproval, and emphatically point out that George W. Bush never represented me or what I believe in.

January 14, 2009

Looking for Help from the Beyond

Filed under: religion, science — codesmithy @ 9:37 am

There have been a few comments that have echoed the sentiment that was relayed by “Blogster”

remember though.. look not to man for salvation, but only to God, the only way to true life

This is in response to a post where I expressed my desperation at trying to have a more rational discussion about energy.  “Blogster” makes it clear that by god he means Jehovah with all of his holy trinity mystery.  There are a few points that I would like to make about this sentiment.  First, in order to look to Jesus for salvation, you are invariably looking to man.  Jesus didn’t write the gospels, men did, and decades after his supposed death and resurrection.  The old testament holds up no better, for example, there is documentary evidence that the first five book of the bible are not, in fact, written by Moses, as the bible itself claims.  This is combined with the fact that the bible has been altered many times through its history as Bart D. Ehrman explores in his book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Even if we accept the fact that the book was divinely inspired, which I personally don’t, we must accept the fact that the message itself has been filtered through numerous men who didn’t necessarily believe that altering scripture was wrong.  Origen, an early Christian, lodges this complaint

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. -Misquoting Jesus pg. 52

Secondly, there is an issue of what constitutes a true life.  True life is assumed to be eternal.  Unfortunately, eternal life would be hell for any intelligent being with a working memory.  Think about it, you could do everything you ever wanted to do a million times, and still have an eternity to look forward to.  Eternal life ensures an eternity of boredom.  Now, it could be the case that you could have an eternal life and never even know it.  For example, if you had a form of amnesia and you always forgot the events of the previous day, and thus every day of your eternal life was a blank slate.  It would make eternity tolerable, but utterly meaningless as you repeated the same actions over and over and over again without realizing it.  But, even these scenarios aren’t the ones the Christians promise us.  They promise us a totalitarian existence where every moment of eternity is spent praising the father, son, or holy spirit.  Where you live in constant fear of being convicted of thought crimes, yet you sing about the leader’s love for you.  As you endure your existence, there are dungeons where people are being maliciously and eternally tortured for exercising the free will this god gave them and could have predicted their choices.  This is the system of justice the Christian’s “loving” god supposedly set up.  Luckily, there isn’t any credible evidence for it.  Instead of focusing on the Christian “true life,” which seems to me to be tedious or pointless all the while being self-contradictory, I’ll focus on the real one I’m currently experiencing.

As such, I’m not interested in eternal salvation.  I’m worried about salvation in this life.  Salvation in this context means “a means of preserving from harm or unpleasantness.”  I think the best way of doing this is to look to science.  I would fully expect “Blogster” to call this looking to man for salvation, but I don’t see it that way.  Atomic theory, the theory of evolution, the theory of gravity aren’t true because we want them to be true, they are true because they are based on countless observations of the world and universe around us.  Any scientific hypothesis is subjected to a high level of scrutiny, skepticism and self-criticism.  Even when accepted, it is only done so conditionally.  Science is a human endeavor, but the observations are accessible to anyone or anything in principle and therefore are the epitome of not looking to man.  If you care to doubt the results of a particular experiment, then you are encouraged to try to repeat it.  If you find differences, then submit your findings to a scientific peer-reviewed journal.   

Science does not intrinsically tell us right from wrong, but it establishes a basis of knowledge and experience that a bronze-age text just can’t match.  When facing the challenges of our modern era, I would rather do the things that science tells us will help alleviate the problems as opposed to praying for answers or looking to ancient texts.  One can do both, so long as the latter does not compromise the former, otherwise it is a dereliction of duty to your fellow man and might have repercussions for generations to come.

January 13, 2009

The Enron Economy

Filed under: capitalism, economy, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:49 am

Paul Krugman called our economy the Madoff economy back in December.  With all due respect to Mr. Krugman, I would tweak his description and call what we are experiencing the Enron economy.

60 Minutes ran an investigation into the price of oil.  It is not a coincidence that banks going south the same time the price of oil dropped.  

Oil has been the prime factor in the economy taking a turn for the worse.  Living in the suburbs, or exburbs became unaffordable because of transportation costs, rising food prices, and the rising prices of other basic necessities.  The root of all of these problems were oil prices.  Prices that were artificially inflated to feed speculative traders, and it was the productive economy that took the hit.  The direct parallel to this is what Enron was able to do to the California electricity market, not the Ponzi scheme Madoff set up.

The potential political ramifications were nearly as concerning.  Enron, whose former CEO and figurehead of the company had intimate ties with the Bush family, played a key part in getting Democratic governor Gray Davis recalled.  This resulted in the election of Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The parallel between this and “drill, baby, drill” is left for the reader.

Enron was not just the story of one company, it was the canary in the coal-mine.  The first one to go.  Enron did not just implode on its own, it took the law firms, accounting firms, government regulators and investment banks to look the other way.  However, in reality, the facts are so much more damning than that.  It isn’t that these institutions merely looked the other way, they were actively complicit in the fraud.  No, they didn’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t know anything.

When history looks back on the first decade of this new century, I think they will label it the age of fraud and negligence.    The defining characteristic will be incompetence, a contempt for the rule of law, and the failure of institutions to properly check and balance other centers of power.  It is all born out of a ideology that abhors rules, and the very notion of democratic governance.  Now, we are all experiencing its benefits.

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