Monday, April 30, 2012

Poisoned Spring

The right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. ... [F]ree competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life - a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated

– Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931)

In this week's sift:

  • Jesus Shrugged -- why Christianity and Ayn Rand don't mix. Rep. Paul Ryan can't have it both ways: He can't be a good Catholic as well as a good Randist. The Church is right not to let him wash his cruel budget in the blood of the lamb.
  • How Understanding Should Liberals Be?  Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind explains to liberals how conservatives can be good people too. But is there anything useful we can do with that information?
  • Bad Arguments and other short notesLogical fallacies, the pyramid of refutation, and excuses conservatives use when the facts prove them wrong. Plus:  Obama jams and does comedy. MTP regulars condescend to argue with Rachel Maddow. Maybe high-fructose corn syrup doesn't cause autism. Where to hear me Wednesday. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. It's rare for the short-notes post to be the most popular, but Working for the Man and other short notes was, with 161 views.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Story Logic

The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.

--  Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2012)

In this week's sift:

  • The Narratives of NovemberWhat matters at this point in the campaign isn't the Electoral College, favorability ratings, or head-to-head polls. It's whether either candidate can assemble believable stories explaining why he should be president and his opponent shouldn't.
  • Jobs, Hobbies, and Reflections on a Viral PostThe most common complaint about last week's Rich People Don't Have Jobs is that I co-opted the perfectly good word job. Why that seemed necessary opens a whole other can of worms.
  • Working for the Man and other short notes. Private prison corporations, lobbyists, and industries that pay peanuts for prison labor have established an incestuous relationship with government. The Yes Men take on the Bank of America. The Vatican cracks down on American nuns. Environmental arguments against immigration are actually arguments against the poor. Plus links to a few other things I found worth reading this week.
  • Book recommendation of the week: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, where this week's quote comes from. It's an important book for anybody who wants to influence politics (so I may give it a longer review in some future week). One key insight: It's now possible to prove rationally that people are not rational. Intuition reacts to any situation first, and the rational mind then turns that intuition into a post-hoc argument that might convince somebody else. That's not a glitch; it's what the rational mind evolved to do. The possibility of using to reason to find truth is a happy accident that came later. Rational truth-finding hardly ever works except in subcultures (like the scientific community) that go to great lengths to foster it.
  • Last week's most popular post. Rich People Don't Have Jobs was only the sixth 1000-view post since the Sift moved to last summer. At last count it had 1156 views. It has a follow-up post (Jobs, Hobbies ...) this week.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Not Laughing

Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them. 

-- attributed to Margaret Atwood

In this week's sift:

  • Rich People Don't Have Jobs. I don't care how hard you work or how productive you are; if you don't need the money you're making, you don't have a job, you have a hobby.
  • The Sifted Bookshelf: "Delirium" by Nancy Cohen. A feminist historian reviews the last half century and determines that all the conventional wisdom about the culture wars is wrong.
  • Girls Heart Republicans and other short notes. Herman Cain is just the guy to explain the gender gap. Mitch McConnell puts words in the mouth of his female senators. How "low-effort thought" leads to conservative views. Free Republic revolts against Romney. Four crazy legislators. Orrin Hatch "despises" the Tea Party. Abstinence-only sex education still doesn't work. And a grandmother recalls her abortion, while hoping that her granddaughters will have the same rights she did.
  • Last week's most popular post.Seven Issues the Election Should Be About got 611 views. The most-clicked link went to Nicholas Kristof's "Learning to Respect Religion".
  • Follow-ups on past articles. Now that ALEC is drawing public attention, more and more corporations are dropping out. I love whoever noticed the resemblance between John Derbyshire's racist rant and this clip from Twelve Angry Men. And Derbyshire causes Slate's William Saletan to make the roughly the same observation about racial profiling that George Zimmerman evoked in me: "drawing inferences about anyone based on race, sex, religion, or any other crude category is a lousy substitute for inspecting or interacting with that individual.  If you tell people to protect themselves by avoiding interaction with the person they’re judging, you’re not just rationalizing racism. You’re perpetuating it."
  • This week's challenge. I know it seems pointless to contribute money to political campaigns when you read about Super-PACs raising hundreds of millions, but it's important that ordinary people throw the stubborn ounces of their weight onto the scale. Decide how much you can contribute this year and start looking for candidates who deserve more than just your vote.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Things Better Left Unsaid

Democracy don’t rule the world

You’d better get that in your head

This world is ruled by violence

But I guess that’s better left unsaid

-- Bob Dylan,  "Union Sundown" (1983)

In this week's sift:

  • Seven Issues the Election Should Be About. I have to confess I have low expectations of the Romney vs. Obama fall campaign: a lot of negative ads, deception, misdirection, and bad journalism. And that's a shame, because this country needs a good and accurate airing of liberal and conservative views on a number of important issues.
  • Democracy in Michigan: What Rachel Got Right and Wrong. Thursday, Rachel Maddow did a long segment on the abuses of democracy happening in Michigan. It's a huge story that more people should be covering, but she also screwed it up a little. As the Daily Show used to say: "When news breaks, we fix it."
  • Too Racist for the National Review and other short notesJohn Derbyshire just proved that it is possible to get yourself fired from National Review for being too racist; you should take a look at how far he had to go. Can Koch Industries be strip-searched? The coming War on State Universities. Executive pay is still going up. And more.
  • Book recommendation of the week: I haven't finished Nick Harkaway's new novel Angelmaker yet, but it reminds me that Harkaway's first novel, The Gone-Away World, is one of my favorite sci-fi novels ever. He's John le Carre's son, but his style resembles Neal Stephenson's: original ideas in wild plots, lavishly written.
  • Last week's most popular posts. Rather than one big viral outbreak, last week's traffic was distributed among Prejudice, Bigotry, and "Reasonable" Racism (242 views), Student Debt: the New Involuntary Servitude (221), and continuing interest in Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don't Want to See (an additional 141 views to total 592). Interestingly, August's Why I Am Not a Libertarian continues to chug along, getting about 50 views a week. It's now up to 21,924.
  • This week's challenge. While visiting Chicago recently, I discovered the Open Books used-book store. Its high-quality stock is donated, and its staff consists of volunteers who love books. (Every little sub-category has excellent staff recommendations, right down to "mysteries with a strong sense of place".) Lots of cushy old furniture makes it a great hang space. With no expenses for staff or stock, there must be profits -- they support literacy programs in the Chicago area. Use the comments to tell me about public-spirited non-profits in your area, or to give a shout-out to your locally-owned independent bookstore.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Soul Debt

Money is the seed of money, and the first guinea is sometimes more difficult to acquire than the second million.

-- Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

St. Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company sto'

 -- Merle Travis (sort of), "16 Tons"

In this week's sift:
  • Prejudice, Bigotry, and "Reasonable" Racism. How reasonable was George Zimmerman's assumption that a black teen must be up to no good? And what should he have done next?
  • Student Debt: The New Involuntary ServitudeStudent debt is now over $1 trillion, guaranteeing that young people trying to move up in the world will spend a big chunk of their careers under compulsion rather than freedom. The half-truths about choice and responsibility that justify this situation need to be exposed.
  • Supreme Panic and other short notes The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on ObamaCare this week, and liberals panicked. Should they? And what's the right answer to the Broccoli Argument? A quantum theory of Romney. Massive solar energy spills. Hate crime laws misunderstood. "Cracked" strikes again. And more.
  • Book recommendation of the week: Drift by Rachel Maddow. The Founders wanted a peaceful republic, suspected the martial ambitions of the Executive Branch, and so invested the war-declaring power in Congress, which they expected to drag its feet rather than rush to war. How did we get from there to the current situation, where presidents make war at will and Congress begs to get a seat at the table?
  • Last weeks' most popular post. Trayvon Martin: The Racism Whites Don't Want to See got 451 views, and has a sequel this week. The most-clicked link was to Cara Santa Maria's piece on the new Tennessee evolution law. (I guess that's what happens when I describe someone as "a hot chick".)
  • Expand your vocabulary. The distinction this week's lead article makes between prejudice and bigotry deserves to catch on.