Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why People Leave the Church

At Yahoo News (January 11, 2011), Sheryl Young wrote: "Why teens, young adults are leaving American churches." Her main points:

  • Churched kids and teens spend six of seven days each week hearing other people say how judgmental Christianity is.
  • Churches use outdated methods of Sunday School.
  • Teens can only eat so much pizza at church social events before they see through this thinly veiled attempt at keeping them occupied and out of trouble.
  • Those surveyed say there aren't enough good reasons given for holding Bible beliefs other than "the preacher says so..." or "your parents say so."
  • Sometimes kids are routinely kept out of "grown-up church."
  • The Church in general hasn't yet been able to conquer racial reconciliation, domestic abuse and the rampant church divorce rate...sometimes in their own families.
  • Older generations won't blend a moderate amount of contemporary music with traditional hymns.
  • Or, the Church discards all the old hymns that were written out of peoples' struggles with life, pride and suffering. Thus, the newer generations don't hear about how God can help them through hard times.
  • Parents expect the church to teach what may fall within their own responsibility.
  • But then, young parents raised in the last twenty years have themselves grown up under the new pop psychology of never receiving or deserving any discipline or criticism. They've seen church become irrelevant. Now, as parents, they're hesitant to make (or even ask) their kids to go to church or develop a backbone in faith.
  • Lastly, everyone's too busy for church. There are too many other attractions in life.

A generally dead-on list, and one that will result in no changes whatsoever because the things keeping people away are the very things that many churchgoers hold most dear. It's very much along the lines of Jared Diamond's observations in Collapse: the things that ultimately destroy institutions are very often the things that helped them succeed, and therefore, when challenges arise, the first impulse of many is to rally around the old, now fatal, ways.

My own list, which overlaps Young's somewhat:


You Lie


I heard a campus organizer for Chi Alpha (a campus conservative Christian group) once lament that kids in college hear over and over that they've been lied to in church. I wanted to get up and ask "is not lying to them on the table?" The first few days in a comparative religion class or a conversation with non-Christian classmates will show them that all that garbage about other religions being from Satan is a lie. Everything conservative Christians say about evolution is a lie.

Note to PanzerPope: you've got a rampant problem with sex abuse among the clergy and you expect to be considered any kind of a moral authority? You don't have the moral credentials to criticize a snuff film. You want vocations to the priesthood but you refuse to make the reforms necessary to make that career choice attractive? And you really wonder why attendance is down?


You're moral cowards

 

From the article:

When kids want to know why someone like Gabrielle Giffords was shot, they don't need another lesson on Noah's Ark.

Forget Noah's Ark. Does their Sunday school teach them that when "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho" he massacred women and children?

They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

You're Willfully Ignorant


Ask the average conservative Christian why it's okay for Joshua to massacre civilians at Jericho and you'll get a deer in the headlights stare. Because as often as they've heard this story, it never once occurred to them to think about it. They resolutely refuse to ask hard questions. Next time someone pulls the "evolution = Hitler" move on you, ask where the Jews are now? Are they in Hell for not being Christians? If so, how are Christians any different from the Nazis? Hilarity ought to ensue.

And this is why they don't have an answer when a teen asks why God could allow Gabrielle Giffords to be shot. The answers that worked in the Middle Ages when life was nasty, brutish and short, and any good at all was a rarity and a blessing - literally - don't work in a world of plenty. When we can do surgery with micro-precision, it's fair to ask why God doesn't do it all the time. If we fallible humans can eradicate smallpox, why couldn't an omnipotent God?

There are lots of serious, deep analyses of the problem of evil. And they might as well be in Klingon for all the average Christian knows about them. I am absolutely convinced that people like Richard Dawkins are being raised up as prophets against Christianity because the stench of its corruption has gotten so bad. It may very well be that the best thing Christianity could do would be go out of business for a while and then rebuild from scratch.

You're arrogant in your ignorance


Just read any creationist site if you can stomach it. Or consider James 3:1

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Yet every Christian, it seems, thinks that verse doesn't apply to him or her. James? Pshaw. Wasn't that Luther's "epistle of straw?" Just read the half-baked comments Christians make on line and forward by e-mail to see how many think merely being a Christian, no matter how Biblically or worldly ignorant, gives them credentials to weigh in on even the most complex issues.

Your Sermons are Dull


Two minutes of theology skillfully packed into forty-five.

Your Music Sucks 


Church music falls into several categories:

Pukingly saccharine


Schubert's Ave Maria leads the list. %#$@*&; Sorry, my computer just threw up. It Is Well With My Soul is a close runner up.

Some of the worst isn't technically church music, but secular "inspirational" music. "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel, a musical that makes Springtime For Hitler look inspired, is a particularly glaring example.

Funereal


O Sacred Head so Wounded. A Lenten favorite. Forty days of penance wrapped up in one song. The irony is this song has a march tempo. Sped up 50% the melody wouldn't be half bad. The lyrics not so much.

The worst ever was a midnight Mass I once attended at Christmas. It can't have been easy to find dreary Christmas songs, but the music director found them. I had no idea there even was such a thing.

Cocktail Lounge


A current fave is called I'm Coming Back to the Heart of Worship. Hint: if you close your eyes and play only the melody, and you can't tell if you're in church or in a bar, it's Cocktail Lounge music. Extra points if the song leader stops singing and goes Barry White and speaks the lyrics.

I knew a song leader once who was an eminently unattractive guy and terrible singer to boot, and when he got up there, you just knew that in his head, he was doing a stage act in Vegas and women were throwing their room keys onto the stage.

Just Plain Drab


After bashing conservative Christians a lot, I gotta give props to the Episcopal hymnal here. Now we are going up the scale, and here we are going back down and whoops, back up for a couple of notes. Okay, level it out now. Don't want to get overheated. You know the stories of the kid who faked piano practice by letting the cat run up and down the keyboard? It's like that.

Too slow


Everywhere. The organist is plodding along playing the song at 3/4 the speed it should be played at, and people aren't singing, because most people can't hold five-second notes. So she slows it down still more, so they can "catch up," except people stop singing. Now you musicians read music far better than I do, but I do know when the tempo signature says "Quarter note = 120" that means 120 quarter notes per minute. Not eighty.

I once heard a group of evangelicals singing It Is Well With My Soul, plodding along at a pace slower than glacial but a tad faster than continental drift, and they got to the verse that speaks of "bliss." I thought "Bliss? You all sound like your dog just got run over."

Every denomination has great music. I like to joke that when the Reformation happened, the Catholics got the good theology and the Protestants got the good song writers. But there are some great old time Catholic hymns, and a wealth of wonderful stuff from the Vatican II era. Old time evangelical hymnals are chock full of good hymns and there is great contemporary stuff as well. And it hardly ever turns up in church. At most churches, the good hymns are kept in a closet to be dusted off and used for "special" occasions. Whatever the denomination, and I've seen it in Catholic, Episcopal and evangelical churches - the music directors gravitate toward the most boring, insipid hymns in the book, either because they think drab is solemn and respectful, or they don't want people to get jaded by playing the good stuff too often, or - and I've actually seen this - they think their job is to "educate" the congregation musically. And so you'll get "O Sacred Head So Wounded" every Sunday in Lent, and that great, vibrant tune "The King of Glory" on Palm Sunday - maybe. (When my church sang it for the first time in just about forever, it had been so long that nobody knew the words any more.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Does it Pay to Go to College?



Smart(?) Money


Today's lesson in voodoo economics is "Is a college degree worthless?" by Jack Hough in SmartMoney on MSN.com, June 20, 2009. The article blurb explains: "The higher incomes that college education brings may not make up for the savings it consumes or the debt it adds early in the life of a typical student." Hough lays out his scenario thus:
Consider two childhood friends, Ernie and Bill. Hard workers with helpful families, each saves exactly $16,594 for college. Ernie doesn't get accepted to a school he likes. Instead, he starts work at 18 and invests his college savings in a mutual fund that tracks the broad stock market.Bill will have higher pay than Ernie his whole life, starting at $23,505 after taxes and peaking at $56,808. Like Ernie, he sets aside 5%. At that rate, it will take him 12 years to pay off his loan. Debt-free at 34, he starts adding to the same index fund as Ernie, making bigger monthly contributions with his higher pay. But when the two reunite at 65 for a retirement party, Ernie will have grown his savings to nearly $1.3 million. Bill will have less than a third of that.
How can that be? College degrees bring higher income, but at today's cost they can't make up the savings they consume and the debt they add early in the life of a typical student. While Ernie was busy earning, Bill got stuck under his bill.
When I read stuff like this, I give thanks for the War on Drugs, because there is no way drugs could not have been involved in that analysis.

Ernie


See "Note on Method" for a description of how I arrived at my results.

Let's start with Ernie. He starts off earning the average for a worker with no college degree: $15901 after taxes. Unless he wants to live in a slum, he'll pay at least $600 a month in rent, so roughly half his income will be gone right there. Add a couple thou a year for food and another couple for a car and we have maybe $4000 for everything else, roughly $11 a day, of which he's going to plow about $800 a year into investments. Utilities? Phone bill? Internet? Car insurance? Clothing? We'll presume Ernie doesn't have any vices like alcohol or smoking, because if he does, they will eat up his discretionary income in no time flat.

And Ernie had better hope he doesn't get sick, because he probably has a job with skimpy, or no, health benefits.

Is Ernie planning on having a sex life? Getting married? If he gets married, and his wife earns comparably to him, they may have something. One of the two salaries can go into savings and investments. But if they have children, fuhgeddaboudit. If the wife is a full-time parent, now Ernie is trying to support three people on a salary barely adequate for one. If the wife still works, there will be huge child care expenses. And kids have a way of ripping though family finances like a log chipper.

It is unlikely in the extreme that Ernie will be able to invest according to the scenario here. If he has the discipline of a Trappist monk, maybe. But all the odds are that he will not only not be able to invest, but he'll have to dip into his initial nest egg as well.

But hey, there's that $1.3 million waiting at age 65. All you have to do is spend 47 years at a job with mediocre pay, hoping you don't meet a catastrophe, to get it. Dead man walking. And if Ernie dies at 63, his heirs will have a good head start. He died with the most money. He won! Why would Ernie follow such a path? $1.3 million, at 8%, would yield over $100,000 a year. Why wait? Ernie could start tapping his investments for $10,000 a year around age 40 and still have enough for a $50,000 a year income at retirement. In this ideal world, he could. In the real world, where interest rates and yields vary all over the place, he'd need to monitor his investments very carefully to make sure he didn't over-withdraw.

Bill


Hough's analysis works only because he makes completely unrealistic, overly optimistic, assumptions about what Ernie can do on his salary, and equally unrealistic assumptions, this time pessimistic, about what Bill can do. In fact, the assumption of a large nest egg at age 18 so ridiculously slants the picture in favor of the no-college option that Ernie can invest nothing and still end up with more than Bill.

It it possible for Bill to out-earn Ernie? Easily. Bill gets out of college at age 22, at which time Ernie is earning $20337. Bill gets a job at $23505. Ernie has just over $30,000 in investments and Bill realizes he has catching up to do. Not having slept through econ, he realizes he needs to eliminate his debt and start plowing money into investments. So he pays $2000 on his debt and puts the rest of the salary differential, $1167, into investments. His net, after taxes, loan payment, and investments, is $20377 - exactly the same as Ernie.

Next year, since Bill's salary increment is greater than Ernie's, he decides to live it up a little. He pays $2000 on the loan, plows three quarters of the remaining salary differential into investments, and enjoys the remaining quarter. Ernie's net is $21446, Bill's is $22516. By age 32, on this slightly accelerated payment schedule, Bill has paid off his debt. He also has about $72,000 in investments, not far behind Ernie's $85,000. Ernie's net is $31428, Bill's is $34998. Now, considering he has more money to work with, Bill begins investing 6% of his salary.

Conventional wisdom is that it makes sense to pay debts slowly if the interest rate is low, and invest money elsewhere. The only problem is that, when things get tight, you have a choice whether or not to invest, buy a new car, or go on vacation. You don't have a choice about paying the debt. So my philosophy is to regain your freedom of choice as quickly as possible. One of the horror stories making the rounds these days is about a woman who completed medical school and is $500,000 in debt. That's why you pay off debts as soon as possible.

The following year, when both turn 33, Ernie plateaus out at $32538. Bill sees a big jump in his net since he is no longer paying off debt and his Spartan living period is over. He is actually investing less than the previous year (6% compared to 3/4 of the salary differential) and his net jumps to $45530. Bill tops out at age 37 at $53967,  $21429 more than Ernie. At age 44, both have about a quarter of a million in investments, and Bill pulls ahead of Ernie, since he's investing 6% to Ernie's 5%. This might also be about the time Ernie looks in the mirror, decides his life sucks, and concludes he doesn't have enough money because teachers are paid too much. By age 65, Ernie has $1.3 million in investments, but Bill has $1.4 million.

But there's more to it than that. Bill had the same net as Ernie the first year, thereafter, he had more, every single year. By age 37, it's $21,000 more, and he out-earns Ernie at that level for 28 years until both retire at 65 - and he has more to retire on. It's not in the least difficult to come up with a plan where Bill outperforms Ernie in investments and has higher net income every single year.

So what can Bill do with the extra money? Apart from the obvious, having more and nicer things, going out more often, etc.
  • He can buy a house. He can buy a much nicer house than Ernie. Now a ton has been written lately about the folly of regarding a house as an investment, all of it true, nevertheless, it has value that can be tapped if need be.
  • He can build a big rainy-day fund. This is short-term savings for emergencies and desirables.
  • He has credibility for loans. If he needs a big loan for a serious problem, he can get a bigger one, much more easily, than Ernie.
  • He has a cushion. He doesn't have to worry about choosing between a new transmission and fixing the furnace.
  • In a real crunch, Bill has a lot more room to tighten his belt than Ernie.

A More Realistic Scenario


Instead of Ernie having $16,594 right out of high school, let's give him a more realistic amount: zero. And instead of Bill's "typical" two years in a public university followed by transfer to a private university, let's assume he does all four at a public university, working during the summer and part time during the school year. He graduates with a modest debt, so let's say he isn't in a position to invest until he's 25.

Not having a head start of $16,594 cuts into Ernie's retirement just a bit. At age 65 he has $667,000, just about half of what he had under Hough's scenario. If he earns 8% at retirement age, he will make $53,000 a year from earnings - much better than he ever did from his salary. By the time Bill starts investing, Ernie has a $9000 head start. Let's assume that both invest at 5%. It takes a long time to erase that head start, but Bill's higher salary closes the gap. Bill pulls ahead of Ernie at age 50 and retires with $704,000. At 8% return, he will make $56,000, more than his peak salary.

So, Ernie has a choice. He can go to work at 18 and retire at 65 with an annual income of $53,000. Or he can go to college and enjoy that level of income at age 37.

And Another One


Words of wisdom from James Altucher in Yahoo! Finance (March 4, 2010), quoted in "Rethinking College as Student-Loan Burdens Rise."
There's a lot of evidence to suggest that motivated kids are going to make money whether or not they go to college," says Altucher, managing partner at Formula Capital. "So teach your kids how to be motivated. Teach your kids how to sell a product, build a network of connections. That's going to be far more valuable.
Note it's not invent something, make something, or find a way to provide a service better or less expensively than before (like, say, writing open source software). It's sell a product and make connections. Park yourself in the money stream, diddle around with it a little, and rake off a lot.  Gordon Gekko lives. "I produce nothing." And teach your kids to be economic tapeworms, too. This is a recipe for multi-generational social parasitism, only more lucrative than welfare.
100K for a degree: But with four years of college costing $104,000 on average (including books and tuition) and the average college student graduating with $23,000 in debt, Altucher argues it's time to rethink the value of four years of higher education, especially right after high school. He believes the vast majority of HS grads would be better off if tuition money was invested for them instead, as detailed here, or used to fund a new business or other "educational" endeavors like travel.   
Mighty generous of him to include tuition in all that. Shows he actually understands economics a little. Four years of living on the poverty line costs $100,000. Room and board are a wash, since students have to pay for those anyway unless they plan to live in the woods. Tuition and fees at my campus are $6600 a year and maybe a couple of thousand more for books and supplies.
Altucher notes the cost of college in the U.S. has risen 10 fold during the last 30 years, compared to a six-fold increase for health-care and three-fold for inflation overall. "College, not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That's why they keep raising tuition greater than health care or inflation costs," he says.
Let's see now. Thirty years ago computers were mainframes, there was no biotechnology, no cell phones, no Internet, no satellite TV. And unless Altucher wants to train his new hires on computers at his own expense (and you can just picture that), somebody else is going to have to do it. That means whoever does needs close to state of the art software and hardware. The vast majority of what people actually do with computers can be done in Windows 95 on a 386 computer. (That's productive work, as opposed to Web surfing.)

University tuitions rise faster than inflation for two reasons. First, technology is increasing faster than inflation, and is the principal reason why there's little inflation. Second, it's the flip side of everybody's "invest rather than pay tuition model." What happens if you don't invest during a period of inflation? Well, you have to play catch up and the starting line, let alone the finish, has moved way ahead. Using Altucher's numbers, inflation during the last 30 years was about 330 per cent. Now when did that happen? Mostly during the double digit years of the 1970's. And university budgets utterly failed to keep up. And let's not forget cutbacks in research funding as well. Pay me now, or pay me later. By the way, how much did hedge fund managers make 30 years ago?
The total fee for undergraduates at campuses including UCLA and UC Berkeley will exceed $10,000 an academic year by fall 2010. That annual fee was just $1,620 in 1990, and about $3,830 in 2002. Not surprisingly the fee hikes have sparked protests and anger -- especially as the state's budget woes haven't stopped top UC officials from pocketing base salaries of about $400,000 annually..
Ooh! UC Berkeley and UCLA have about 30,000 students and about 25,000 employees each. How much would you pay a private sector CEO who ran a company of 25,000 employees? $400,000? Whoa, dude, that's like, $16 an employee per year! Outrageous. Considering that Altucher probably makes a heck of a lot more for doing a heck of a lot less, this is just idiotic. It's even more idiotic considering the whining from the business community that bankers deserve multi-million dollar bonuses even after mismanaging billions of dollars.

Oh, and it's okay to price gouge if you're oil, or health insurance, or the RIAA. But don't raise tuition.

Might not hurt to rethink letting certain people handle your money.

Let 'Em Eat Cake


There's a profound "let 'em eat cake" obtuseness in a lot of articles of this sort. The authors all seem to assume "I earn $100,000 after taxes, and I have no problem at all investing 5% of that, so if you earn $20,000, just invest one fifth as much." It's astonishing that people who write financial columns seem never to have heard of the concept of disposable income. That's income left over after paying obligatory expenses like rent and taxes, and necessities like food. Down where Ernie will spend much of his working life, discretionary income will be close to zero. If he does manage to save, it will be to cover foreseeable emergencies like car repairs, a new fridge, dental bills, and so on. This is based on my own experiences when my own net income was $15,000-$20,000 or so and mortgages and car loans were a lot smaller than they are today. I don't even want to think about trying to support a family on that income today, even after taxes.

It's interesting that so many studies on the cost of higher education drag private colleges into the mix. It's ironic in the same way that having the heroine of Atlas Shrugged be a railroad baroness is ironic, because it's hard to find two enterprises more slavishly dependent on government handouts than railroads and private colleges. Watch Harvard, Princeton and Stanford try to survive a few years without government grants. Watch private college enrollments soar if government financial aid is limited to public university tuition payment levels - not.

Overall, the scenario Hough lays out, starting off with a big grubstake and then assuming dependable 8% growth, is about as realistic as saying "if you hit a few Powerball winners, you can be a billionaire when you retire." In order to have that growth you have to know ahead of time which funds will perform that way and have an unbroken record of guessing right. It's like the character in C. S. Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress who proudly lays out his philosophy of total self-sufficiency (autarchia), until one of the travelers gives him a reality check:
"Your art then," said Virtue, "seems to teach men that the best way of being happy is to enjoy unbroken good fortune in every respect. They would not all find the advice helpful."

There are several fundamental fallacies that just keep cropping up repeatedly in these articles:
  • Emphasize top tier and private colleges. Don't consider where most people actually go to college, at smaller public institutions. Don't consider attending a two year college first, or saving money by living at home.
  • Ignore the fact that most students work and pay some of their bills as they go.
  • Include room and board figures. Because people who don't go to college can do without food and shelter.
  • Make wildly optimistic estimates of investment yields.
  • Make utterly unrealistic estimates of what people with low and moderate incomes can invest.
  • Assume that people of low and moderate income will never have an emergency that will require them to cash in on their investments
I expect a certain amount of anti-intellectualism from some people in business - a very tiny minority, might I add based on my own contacts. After all, here we professors go telling people that oil is finite and so on. Plus we have a lot of freedom in our jobs. For some odd reason,  it's okay to say poor people made bad choices and have to live with the results, but when it comes to someone who freely chose a business career and resents other people having more freedom, it's not their fault. It's the other guy's fault for making a better choice, and, by the way, deciding to sacrifice salary for other benefits.

College, like everything else, is a matter of balancing costs and benefits. But the analyses should at least be done by people who are marginally economically literate. And the two authors above are completely illiterate.

Does it Pay to Go to College?


Numerous studies have noted that when you factor in the missed years of salary and job seniority, and the costs of student loans and supplies, it can take quite a long time for the higher earnings of college graduates to pass those of non-graduates. In fact, someone did a similar analysis during the 1970's, when inflation was running at double digits, and found that with high enough inflation rates, college graduates might never catch up.

Then there are the intangibles. If you go to college you either put off having a family or you struggle to make ends meet and balance study time with other obligations. On the other hand, you can have four years to experiment with your life.

So far, we haven't addressed what Bill and Ernie actually do from 9 to 5. Maybe Ernie is a landscaper because he loves watching things grow. Maybe he's a plumber, machinist or mechanic and makes more than Bill. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a skilled blue collar occupation. Maybe Bill works as a paralegal in a pro-bono poverty law firm and earns well below average for a college graduate because he believes in what he's doing. Or maybe Ernie just settled for the first job that came along and now feels trapped. Maybe Bill got a business degree because that was where the money was, but he's really not very good at it (both authors, above?), and he's also trapped.

So does it pay?

There's only one sensible answer: it pays if what you want to do with your life requires a college education. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, engineer, manager, nurse or teacher, it pays. Because you don't get into those professions without a college degree. If you want to be in business or computers, it's a lot easier to get in the door with a degree, but it's possible to claw your way in without one. But you'd better be good, as opposed to merely thinking you're good. Bill Gates didn't finish college. On the other hand, would Windows have become the mess it is if he'd spent a few years learning some mental discipline? When you do something comparable to Bill Gates, tell me about how not going to college is a good idea. If you want to be an airline pilot, you'll probably need a degree, but a hitch in the Air Force will probably be more valuable. If you want to be a mechanic, plumber, or carpenter, probably not. Unless you also have a passion for history, literature, or science. Then it pays personally.

If you make your career choice based solely on earnings, do us all a favor and just go on welfare instead. You will cost society less in the long run. Some business somewhere will not have to put up with a clock-watching employee content to get by. And if you are contemplating a career because that's what your family expects, tell your helicopter parents to crash and burn, okay? Spare some profession the burden of somebody going through the motions in a job they hate.

Note on Method

I was able to replicate Hough's numbers on a spreadsheet using fairly simple assumptions that may not be exactly the same as his. Based on the salary graphs he provided, I assumed that salary increased linearly for 15 years and then plateaued out at the maximum. Like him, I didn't make any assumptions about inflation or market variables since they would affect both cases the same way. I used simple annual interest and didn't worry about compounding since the effect is actually pretty small. I prefer to get rid of debts as soon as possible, because you have a choice about saving versus spending for some immediate need, whereas you have no choice about paying off a loan. Doctrinally, it makes sense to invest at 8 per cent rather than pay off a loan at 5 per cent, but the actual impact of doing so is not very large here.

A Few Liberal Conspiracy Theories

John Stuart Mill once observed "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative." Certainly conservatives have a different kind of stupidity from liberals. It's more crass and unsophisticated. Conservatives are far more likely to deny objective reality outright. They deny evolution, the finite nature of resources, climate change, and the legality of a birth certificate plainly labeled "prima facie evidence." Liberals are more likely to deny social phenomena, using buzzwords like "blaming the victim," "false consciousness," or "correlation is not causation." And they're likely to resort to the converse of Mill's statement, believing that, since stupid people are generally conservative, liberals, by definition, cannot be stupid. The term "conspiratorial narrative" is pretty much self explanatory. Although the Right tends to have more of them, and more ridiculous ones, they are widespread on the Left as well. Conservatives are often cranks; liberals are more often meta-cranks, that is they construct some fantasy meta-reality where the data might be acknowledged but its significance is spun in weird ways. They have no need to fear or deny data because they have no intention of letting it rock their world-views.

Leftist conspiratorial narratives are mostly not acknowledged as such because most of the people who point to Rightist conspiratorial narratives either believe the Leftist ones or are in outright denial about them. But here are some prime examples.


And The Band Played On


The narrative is that the Reagan Administration deliberately dragged its heels in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, resulting in the needless deaths of many AIDS sufferers.

Someone once defined a government crash program as trying to complete a pregnancy in a month by putting nine women to work on it. Crash programs work on some things and not on others. They work if the project is scalable, that is, if increasing the input increases the result. The Manhattan Project, once it got rolling, was eminently scalable. Once it was clear that we needed Uranium-235 to make an atomic bomb, and ways had been devised to do it, it was just a matter of building as many of the separation units as necessary. In a perfect illustration of scalability, the scientists at Oak Ridge once told General Leslie Groves, military head of the project, that it would take twice as long to isolate enough U-235. He simply ordered that the separation building, already the largest roofed space in the world, be doubled in size.

On the other hand, figuring out how to get a nuclear explosion was not scalable. There were only a limited number of people in the world capable of participating meaningfully. Some were unacceptable security risks. Others were needed in other capacities. Too many workers would have tripped each other up and slowed progress. The project could be speeded up by providing logistical support and assistants, and in some cases farming out subtasks to different groups, but fundamentally the work could only be done by a select team working at its own pace. Groves' genius (and Groves was anything but a cuddly teddy bear) was recognizing this fact and letting it happen.

The Apollo Program was also highly scalable. Once a working design for the rockets and spacecraft had been developed, it was a matter of building more of them. Teams could work in parallel on subsystems of the spacecraft. Design questions could be sorted out by allowing teams to pursue various scenarios and making the best case they could for each approach.

Medical research is not nearly so scalable. Once a treatment strategy has been defined, it's possible to farm out trials to separate teams working in parallel. And fundamental research can be scaled somewhat by supporting research concurrently among many different lines. Only after a drug has been developed can real scaling take effect, and sometimes not even then. Drugs like interferon are still extremely expensive to manufacture.

As soon as I became aware of AIDS, which means about as soon as it appeared in any scientific media, I watched the debate from the perspective of someone interested in pseudoscience. It had such great potential. There was the inevitable hysteria over the contagiousness of AIDS. There were (and still are) denials that AIDS was caused by a virus at all, coupled with very Velikovskian claims that unorthodox ideas were being suppressed. There were also bland assurances that AIDS could not be caught from casual contact long before there was sufficient data to justify such a claim.

Almost as soon as AIDS was recognized as a serious problem, there were accusations that the government was deliberately dragging its heels on attacking the problem. Yet the number of people capable of mounting an attack on AIDS was limited. Many of the questions about AIDS involved fundamental research on viruses in general, meaning the research was eminently fundable through existing channels. A massive influx of money might have facilitated research, but it would also have attracted less qualified researchers who would require time and effort to bring up to speed. Surely a lot of it would have been wasted on administrivia, and yet other money would have been shunted into peripheral projects that superficially might look related to AIDS research but would have contributed little to the effort. The most cost effective way to ramp up spending would have been through undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, and medical school support, to create the next generation of researchers. That would take a minimum of ten years to bear fruit. The best evidence that a glut of money in the 1980's would not have helped the fight against AIDS significantly is that, thirty years later, despite worldwide research efforts, we still do not have a cure or a vaccine for AIDS.

It's all because the government and the drug companies don't want a cure? Fine. Show me your doctorate in biochemistry or medicine as evidence you have any idea what a cure for AIDS would require. Start by telling me what a retrovirus is.

(Why do we need national health care at all? Just start a blog where people can write in with their symptoms and other people will write in prescribing cures that have been suppressed by the Medical Establishment. Like homeopathy, the results will be more effective for being highly diluted with ignorance.)

Despite statements that AIDS was a disease like "any other," from the outset it was treated uniquely, unlike any other. The classical method of stopping outbreaks of sexually-transmitted diseases, and contagious diseases in general, was to trace transmission chains, but that approach was quickly stifled in the name of privacy. For some reason, social stigma never stopped health officials from investigating outbreaks of syphilis or gonorrhea.


The Stolen Election of 2000


The most important thing about the 2000 election is what the Constitution itself specifies:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. (Art. II Sec. I)
The most recent wave of outrage over the Electoral College came in 2000, when George Bush narrowly won Florida, and the election, from Al Gore, even though Gore received half a million more popular votes nationally. The Florida recount process was finally terminated on December 11 by the Supreme Court, partly on 14th Amendment grounds (uneven treatment of recounts) and partly on Electoral College issues. Federal Law states that electors selected more than six days before the scheduled counting of electoral votes are to be regarded as conclusively chosen. Since the electoral votes were to be counted on December 18, electors could be selected without challenge up to December 12, the day after the ruling. The court ruled that there was insufficient time to perform the desired recounts and select electors in a way that would preserve Florida's right to choose them without Congressional interference.

Critics of the ruling ignore the Constitutional fact that the Constitution gives state legislators, and nobody else, the right to decide on electors ("in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct"). So, had the Court not cut off the process, one of three things could have happened:
  1. Florida would have sent in last-minute, disputed electoral votes. Congress would have had to resolve the issue, and both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans, so Bush would probably have won. 1876 deja vu all over again.
  2. Florida would have cast no electoral votes, giving the election to Gore. Very unlikely given that the Florida legislature was controlled by Republicans.
  3. Florida could have convened an emergency legislative session and appointed a slate of electors in time to meet the deadline, or they could simply have confirmed the Republican electors. Either way the Florida electors would have been Republican.
Actually, when Congress convened, a number of Congressmen did challenge the Florida electoral votes. However, challenges to electoral votes have to be co-sponsored by a Congressman and a Senator (a rule drafted in the aftermath of 1876), and no Senators came forward.

Although the Supreme Court's ruling has been called blatantly political and corrupt by Gore supporters, it is interesting to speculate what might have happened had the Court ruled that the recounts should continue. Faced with the prospect of missing the deadline for choosing electors, might the Florida Legislature have simply appointed electors and then defended its actions on the Constitutional grounds that the State chooses the electors "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct"? Who would have decided the case, given that the Supreme Court would have had a conflict of interest? What if the Democrats in the Florida Legislature stalled the selection until too late? If the electors had been challenged, the Republicans controlled Congress and could have rejected the challenge. Had the election gone to the House, the Republicans were in control, so Bush would have won, 28 states to 17, with 4 split and one independent.

Actually, given what the Constitution says about choosing electors, the only Constitutional basis for a suit would be that electors were being appointed in violation of the wishes of the Florida Legislature, or that an elector was also a Federal office holder (One electoral vote from Oregon was challenged in 1876 because the elector was a postmaster).

Oh, this cheerful note. If the House had, through some arcane fluke, deadlocked, then the Senate would have named the Vice President as acting President. Say it with me: President Cheney.

There's just not a plausible scenario that would have allowed Gore to win.


The Federal Failure of Katrina


It's interesting to compare three recent disasters: Katrina in 2005, and Haiti and the Deepwater Horizon in 2010. They're different kinds of disasters each offering distinct challenges, but comparisons can be illuminating. Effective control of the oil leak at Deepwater Horizon took weeks to achieve. In Haiti, significant aid personnel begin arriving about 5-6 days after the disaster and the government suspended rescue operations on Day 11, although a few rescues happened later. After Katrina, on the other hand, the Convention Center and Superdome were completely evacuated by Day 6, most levee breaches were plugged the following day, and most of the flooding was pumped out by two weeks after the storm. Despite the scorn heaped on President Bush the Younger, remarkably enough, the response to Katrina was the most rapid of the three disasters. By Day 6, the refugees at the Superdome and Convention Center had all been evacuated. In Haiti, aid deliveries continued to be erratic well after Day 6. This, of course, is not a criticism of the aid agencies, who had to contend with blocked streets and crowd control. It wasn't until Day 6 of the Deepwater Horizon spill that the extent of the discharge was fully known, and Day 9 before oil booms began to be mobilized in earnest. On the other hand, it was only around Day 4 or 5 that stories began appearing in the press critical of the response times for all three disasters, all written by people with no experience in actually responding to a disaster.

Disasters are gigantic sticky globs of entropy. By definition they make it impossible to move freely, get accurate information, or deliver aid. Workers can't simply drop what they're doing to assist some individual problem that may be acute for the individual, or newsworthy, but miniscule in comparison to the whole disaster. A driver of a food truck taking food for hundreds of people cannot - must not - stop to take someone to the hospital. The absolute bottom of the barrel for news coverage of Hurricane Katrina came when a BBC correspondent harassed aid workers - interfered with emergency operations - about an unburied body. The State Department should, very bluntly, have revoked his visa and deported him. Critical news coverage is one thing, interfering with emergency workers is another thing altogether. That shameful episode stands in stark contrast to the two heroic news teams in Haiti who pooled resources to dig out a buried quake victim and still report the story.

It wasn't like the danger was unknown. In 2001, four years before Katrina, Mark Fischetti wrote "Drowning New Orleans" (Scientific American, October 1, 2001) that detailed the risk in every detail. In fact, New Orleans dodged three bullets:
  1.  The storm dropped dramatically in intensity before landfall.
  2. The eye passed east of the city, so the most powerful right rear quadrant of the storm hit Mississippi.
  3. The levees failed as the storm was waning, not at the peak. Given that the disaster scenarios had been extensively modeled, Louisiana should have had a well crafted disaster plan. Evacuation centers should have been identified well inland (not downtown) and provisioned.
The principal responsibility for disaster response lies with state and local government, and their failures were legion. New Orleans' hundreds of buses were not used. In fact, an Amtrak train specifically intended for evacuation left empty because state and local officials made no effort to use it. One way traffic on Interstates was not initiated until too late. Governor Blanco delayed asking the Federal government to assume command of National Guard forces. Her reason was she didn't want to admit to being unable to cope with the disaster when it turned out she wasn't able to cope. A month after Katrina, there were National Guard troops from all 50 states in Louisiana. It wasn't even until August 30, two days after the levees failed, that she asked for National Guard units from other states. It's almost as if Blanco and Nagin thought merely declaring an emergency would take care of everything. "Unable to cope?" Ya think?

To me, three principal lessons come out of Katrina:
  1.  Americans have wholly unrealistic ideas of how fast aid can come after a disaster. Americans have the idea the disaster happens on Monday, FEMA arrives on Tuesday, they write checks on Wednesday, the builders come on Thursday, and everything is back to normal by the weekend. It just isn't so.
  2. Americans need to prepare far better for disasters. People need to be prepared to cope for a week or more before aid begins arriving in quantity. The three days recommended by FEMA is just insufficient.
  3. After a disaster, FEMA doesn't need to be part of Homeland Security. It needs to be Homeland Security, at least in the disaster area. It needs to be able to command other agencies and back the orders up with firing authority. It needs to be able to order the FBI to investigate problems, order Customs to allow foreign aid personnel and supplies to enter, and order other agencies to stop pushing paper and supply personnel as needed for critical tasks.
The man who beat Al Gore (well, actually that was Ralph Nader if you want to get picky) could do nothing right. Bush didn't leap up in panic when first informed about 9-11? Bad President. Then he spent the day under tight security? Bad President. He didn't fly back to Washington immediately after hearing about Katrina, despite having communications capabilities that allowed him to function from anywhere? Bad President. Then he flew over New Orleans rather than landing and interfering with rescue efforts? Bad President. Then he actually did visit New Orleans and interfered with rescue efforts? Bad, bad President. But the historical record is clear that gross negligence by Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin was the real cause of the hardships.

For historical perspective, it is most illustrative to compare the responses to Katrina with the behaviors noted by William James in 1906 in "On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake." Left as an exercise for the reader.


The Martyrdom of Saint Allende


It's ironic that many of the same people who complain that George Bush became President with less than a majority are silent about Salvador Allende becoming President of Chile in 1973 with only 37 per cent of the vote. And Ralph Nader wasn't even a candidate. Ah, the joys of a multi-party system.

I have a personal attachment to this event because at the time I was closely associated with people who regularly traveled to Chile. They spoke Spanish, were generally sympathetic to Allende, and politically liberal. Nevertheless, months before the coup, they were unanimous that the experiment was failing and that things were going to end very badly. It must have been so frustrating. According to Marxist theory, once the people take control of the means of production, all the wealth that formerly flowed to the plutocrats now goes to the people. Instead, formerly busy factories morphed mysteriously into empty buildings full of idle machinery.

What told me the regime was on its last legs was hearing that the government was nationalizing the trucking industry, a completely pointless gesture since most of the truckers were small independents and there was absolutely no possible benefit the regime could gain. I had the mental image of Chile's Marxists frantically ripping out sofa cushions looking for loose change. "I don't understand it - where did all the wealth go?" Where it went, of course, is that it simply ceased to exist. Unlike mass or energy, there is no law of Conservation of Wealth. It can be created, and it can also be destroyed.

Whether the CIA was involved is more or less irrelevant since the beatification of Allende has made any challenge to the idea unthinkable. But what exactly would the CIA have done? Ask yourself this: the station chief in Santiago wakes up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and heads off to work -- and then what? What specifically does he do? They didn't fly planes or drive tanks. They might have encouraged opposition military officers, provided them with money, information, help in planning, and promises of U.S. approval, but it seems almost insulting to suggest that any army in Latin America, of all places, needs the help of the CIA to stage a coup. One acquaintance of mine left Chile the day before the coup and learned of it only when he arrived in the U.S. He later told of trying to explain to leftists what he had seen in Chile and being met by a wall of denial. "Fine," he said, "Don't believe me. I was only there." I don't think anyone denies that Allende was a decent and sincere man, but Chile was on the verge of becoming Zimbabwe. Saying that the CIA "toppled" Allende is like saying an overflowing sink helped sink the Titanic.

Willie Horton


The narrative: George Bush Senior and his team conducted a blatantly racist campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988 by making the crimes of a black man, Willie Horton, a campaign issue.

William Horton was serving life without parole in Massachusetts for the murder of a store clerk in 1974. In 1986, he was released through a weekend furlough program (his tenth furlough) and did not return. He went to Maryland, raped a woman, beat her fiance, and stole his car. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms and remains in prison. (Horton, a victim of phenomenal bad luck, claims to be innocent of both the murder and the rape.) The furlough program was actually signed into law by a Republican governor in 1972, and defenders of Dukakis point out, accurately, that many other states have furlough programs, which is true.

Also, Bush's campaign team decided to make the Horton case a campaign issue by testing the response of focus groups to different potential issues. And Horton went by the name "William" but Bush's campaign strategists referred to him as "Willie." So the appeal to racism part has an element of truth - a very tiny one - in it.

Here's what the conspiratorial narrative leaves out:
  • As originally created, the furlough program excluded first degree murderers in practice.
  • When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the furlough privilege extended to murderers (because the legislation authorizing the program contained no specific exclusion for them), the Massachusetts legislature quickly passed a law in 1976 closing the loophole. Dukakis vetoed the bill.
  • The furlough program was abolished in 1988, during a later term by Dukakis, and only after the  Lawrence Eagle Tribune ran a barrage of articles about the program, winning a Pulitzer Prize as a result.
  • No other jurisdiction in the country permitted furloughs for prisoners serving life without parole.
  • When the scandal broke, Dukakis resisted journalists' requests for information on Horton and his prison career.
  • Dukakis never apologized to Horton's victims.
So, most states have furlough programs and even conservative lawmakers support them to some degree. They encourage prisoners to behave by holding out a possible reward, and they can prepare prisoners for eventual release. There will be cases where inmates violate their trust.

Dukakis went far beyond that. He actively opposed legislation to bar convicted murderers from furlough. Then he stonewalled on releasing information on Horton. As has often been pointed out, often it's not the crime, but the cover-up. He only yielded on the furlough program after grass roots anger reached the boiling point. By then, he had given his foes enough damning evidence to destroy his chances for the White House.

The Neglected and Forgotten Female Astronauts


Supposedly, NASA trained thirteen women as astronauts but then deprived them of their rightful place on the astronaut roster. This one has been thoroughly debunked by space historian James Oberg.

Let's begin with the fact that there is no such thing as a right to be sent into space at someone else's expense. But beyond that, the women were never formally trained. One NASA physician became curious how women would compare to men and began testing the women. The program ended when a government medical facility asked who was going to pay for further testing. The women had all served gallantly in World War II, ferrying aircraft and flying cargo planes. But none ever flew in combat, and the astronaut program specifically recruited combat pilots. In fact, early astronauts claimed that the reflexes they developed in combat were crucial for coping with crises in space. There were far more qualified applicants than could be used, and many of the pilots "rejected" for the Mercury Program flew later with Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. No male pilot with experience equal to the female "astronauts," that is, flight hours but no combat experience, would even have made it past the initial screening.

The Hacks of the 2016 Election


2016 was a banner year for crackpot conspiracy theories, with Donald Trump claiming he actually won the popular vote if we deduct the millions of illegal votes cast for Clinton. The liberal variant is that a last-minute announcement by FBI Director Comey that he was re-investigating Clinton's use of a personal e-mail server, plus Russian hacking, swung the election to Trump.

The problem is that Comey's actions and the alleged Russian hacking appealed to people who were already disposed to believe the absolute worst about Clinton. There are people who seriously believe she was part of a child sex-trafficking ring operating out of a pizzeria ("Pizzagate"). For the Russians to convince those voters to vote against Clinton would be about as challenging as selling vodka in Siberia in mid-winter. In fact, whatever trivial results they may have dug up by hacking her e-mails, they would have done far better by simply having some trolls dump outrageous rumors on social media, and let the right-wing echo chamber take it from there.

A later and even more extreme variant is that the Russians somehow hacked the election returns themselves. The chaotic mix of voting systems in the U.S. makes that claim flatly absurd. If they hacked some site giving overall vote tallies, that could be detected by simply cross-checking against state tallies. 



"Self Appointed Experts"


The man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end, extinction. On or back we must go; to stay here is death.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Ch. 6

The Script


I'm sick and tired of self-appointed so-called experts and their know-it-all, arrogant attitude. Why don't you people stay out of things you know nothing about? To hear you tell it, you know everything and the rest of us are stupid.

I've seen this script before. At this point I'm supposed to get all humble and apologetic and say "There, there. We didn't mean to make you feel bad. You're really a good person and a valuable human being and your opinions do count."

I'm tired of playing that game.
  • We're not "self-appointed" or "so-called" experts. We are real experts. We're not "authority figures." We are real authorities.
  • It's not arrogance to say what you know professionally. It is arrogance to reject expert opinion without having expertise of your own.
  • If hearing the experts say you're wrong makes you feel bad or stupid, that is your problem, not ours. See a therapist and work on your self-esteem. If you think this is rough on the ego, try getting a paper or grant proposal you've worked on for months rejected, something real experts face all the time.
  • We don't know everything, but we do know more on our subjects of expertise than other people, especially people with no training at all.
  • Unless you have real evidence to back up your opinions, they don't count.
  • If you hear something that conflicts with what you think you know, and you don't bother to check it out, you shouldn't feel stupid. You are stupid.
  • If you want to take on the experts but won't spend the time, effort and money to become an expert yourself, you're not just stupid. You're lazy, too.
  • If you think I'm disrespecting you, you're right. I have no respect for people who are uninformed, get angry when someone contradicts them, but are too lazy to get informed, and too cowardly to face failure, criticism, and the possibility they might have to change their minds. You're not a good person. Nobody who is lazy and cowardly can be called "good."

Where did you get the idea you're so valuable? There are seven billion of us. You're not all that unique. How exactly did you get the notion that you stand so high in the cosmic scheme of things that you have the right to make real experts treat you as an equal without bothering to acquire any knowledge yourself?

So ordinary people aren't as good as Ph.D.'s? People with ordinary jobs make the steel, mine the coal, harvest the wheat, drive the trucks, lay the pipes, string the wires, put out the fires, enforce the laws, keep the records, and do a hundred thousand other things absolutely essential to keeping the world running. They deserve to be honored and respected.

But that doesn't qualify them to have opinions on subjects where they have no expertise.

Doctor, Doctor


A common complaint is that people with Ph.D.'s call themselves "doctor," but they aren't "real" doctors.

If you buy this, you just demonstrated your total lack of qualification to deal with experts in anything. The word "doctor" comes from the Latin verb docere, meaning to teach. Doctor in Latin means "teacher," and was applied in the Middle Ages to anyone who had mastered a subject well enough to teach it at a University. It wasn't until rather late that medicine was even added to the University curriculum at all. As for surgeons, they were regarded as tradesmen and manual workers until nearly 1800.

So "real doctors" take their title from university professors, not the other way round.

And I don't care about "common usage." Common usage is just plain wrong and the fact that too many people are too illiterate to know any better doesn't make it right. You do not get to redefine words just because you're too lazy to use them correctly.

How to Become an Expert


Most people become experts by meeting the standards of other experts. I'm not a "self-appointed" expert. Columbia University said I was an expert when they granted me a doctorate. The State of Wisconsin said I was an expert when they hired me in their University System, gave me tenure, made me a full professor, and made me a Registered Geologist. Other professionals say I'm an expert when they accept my research for publication.

Most experts don't stay in their original areas. They move into new fields. You get to be an expert in a new field by learning enough about it to be able to teach it and publish credible research in it. Experts don't just learn a subject, they learn how to become an expert. They learn how to find references, and understand them thoroughly enough to be able to duplicate that level of expertise in their own work.

Every recognized field of learning was started by someone who had no formal training but figured it out on the fly. You can become an expert without formal training. You can learn a foreign language without attending a class or even cracking a book. And you're fluent when other speakers treat you as an equal, not when you think you are. Attacking native speakers of a language because they won't regard you as fluent after a few weeks of practice would be ridiculous, but people do it all the time in other fields.

There are amateurs in many fields who acquire expertise informally; inventors who never went to tech school, amateur astronomers, ornithologists, botanists and mineralogists who never took a class, amateur historians who are the recognized experts on their particular interests, and so on. And they did it the hard way - the only way - by spending years immersed in the field until they reached the level where other experts acknowledged them as equals.

2,200 years ago, Archimedes told his king there was no Royal Road to geometry, that he would have to struggle with it like everyone else. This is a king, for heaven's sake. Where does someone with no training come off thinking he can read "I Am Joe's Hangnail" in the Reader's Digest and be qualified to attack the medical profession?

Staying Expert


Once you get to be an expert, you have to remain one. If you make it to the NFL or the NBA and don't work out, your career will be short. If you think working on your Mustang in high school qualifies you to fix cars today, you are in for a rude shock. One reason university professors have to publish research is to ensure they stay expert in their fields. I spend most of my day on activities that didn't even exist when I was a graduate student.

Once professors get tenure, it pretty much takes a thermonuclear weapon to remove them. That protection is there because a significant part of our job is to tick people off. We tell them things they don't want to hear, like the earth is 4.6 billion years old, there is a finite amount of oil in the ground, you can't provide government services without taxes, we really did go to the moon, or they didn't learn enough to pass the course. So when a university grants tenure, it basically makes a lifetime commitment. Universities want to be sure that they're tenuring people with a lifetime commitment to staying on top of their fields. The stereotype of the professor who gets tenure and goes to seed has a basis in truth; universities try to avoid hiring people like that. Unlike most jobs where there's a 90-day or six-month probationary period, university professors have to demonstrate sustained productivity for six years.

A few years ago I published a textbook with two other authors. The chapter reviewers came from institutions ranging from prominent research universities all the way to community colleges. As much as I despise the "publish or perish" system, the comments I got from people who never published research were horrifying. They either had not read a journal in years, or if they did read recent research, misunderstood it. Expertise in any field is truly a matter of "use it or lose it." Some of these people had lost the right to be considered experts.

So people who are recognized experts in their fields don't just have a piece of paper on the wall; they spend a great deal of their time maintaining and upgrading their skills. While you're preparing to take on the medical profession by reading "I Am Joe's Hangnail" in the Reader's Digest, what do you suppose the medical professionals are reading?

The dead giveaway that a person doesn't have a clue what really goes on in professional circles is the question "how many books have you read on ......?" Books are just not the principal way information flows among professionals. Almost all professional fields report new information in journals. If you're in show biz, you don't find out about new plays and movie projects from books; you read Variety. If you're a doctor, you don't find out about new ways to remove gall bladders from books; you read the New England Journal of Medicine. And in any case, it's not quantity but quality. One paper in the Geological Society of America Bulletin with a reliable age date for a rock unit outweighs ten thousand books by creationists arguing for a young earth.

Time


"But I don't have time to check out all those facts." Fine, then you don't have time to have an opinion. Amazingly, people who don't have time to check out real science seem to have time to read all kinds of junk science. They don't have time to read real earth science and biology but they can read creationist books or go to creationist presentations. They don't have time to learn real history but have time to read crackpot works on "ancient mysteries."

But you work hard all day and are too tired to read when you get home. You must have me confused with someone who cares. If you want to have an opinion on something, find the time to get informed.

Also, in our society, we have a built-in mechanism to create informed people. It's called "school." If you opted not to make full use of it while you were there, or let the information slip away afterward, that is not my problem. Science is not responsible for your irresponsible lifestyle choice.

"Arrogance"


This is a recent e-mail from a colleague.
Okay-

So, I'm waiting for my new dentist to give me a checkup (my old dentist left the practice) and I'm reading a book on the geology of southern Utah. The new guy ("Dr. Mike") asks what I'm reading and I show him. I tell him I'm a geologist. He says "You must really like the Grand Canyon." I indicate that it is one of my favorite places on earth and I visited it five times last year, once backpacking down to the bottom with my children. He says, "I just don't know how they can understand how old it is. After all, Jesus only lived 2000 years ago." This began an interesting one-sided conversation (I'm at a disadvantage when people are sticking sharp, pointy things in my mouth) about young-earth creationism. Wow. Even at the dentist. I offered to take him out to a site on the east side of Las Vegas Valley to show him some rocks, but he declined indicating that everyone has their unprovable theories.

Wow. Even at the dentist. I wonder how he would feel if I tried to tell him how to do dentistry?

This example is striking because it's someone who has years of training himself and ought to realize that people in other fields undergo similar training. But the last sentence says it all. What would you say if someone walked into your place of employment, admitted he had no technical training in your work, but told you that you were doing it all wrong (probably while demonstrating amply his lack of expertise)? Wouldn't you describe such a person as arrogant? Who is really the self-appointed expert here, the person with a lot of training or the person with none who still thinks he is qualified to criticize?

Where In The World Do People Learn To Write Like This?


This is an actual e-mail I received:
You astound me, Steve Dutch. The reasons for this are varied, and while I do not plan to explore them in full detail, I shall outline them briefly for the benefit of your utterly massive ego. It started with an accidental visit to your site, this mundane scatter of HTML encased with long, long paragraphs. The opinions stated in an irrefutable manner, the disclaimers proudly displayed in the heading of each page, and that peculiar manner in which you choose to write, a manner which often leaves readers unaware of your true feelings. Yet these reasons are what compelled me to sacrifice an entire evening analyzing every detail of your personal monument (for would merit would my words have if they were based on a single article?). I'm given the distinct impression that you represent a mythical hybrid, some odd amalgamation of Basil Fawlty and Santa Claus. However, these perceived follies present the justification for my presence; to actually discover, on the Internet, logical ideas presented in a manner devoid of superfluous graphics and fanfare is commendable. I sincerely hope your students recognize your seemingly endless source of wisdom, as well as your analytical abilities. Also, after reading your praise for the film "Enemy at the Gates," I'm interested in your opinion concerning "A Bridge Too Far."

A forewarning: disregarding the film, or curtailing its perceived historical inaccuracies will result in a lengthy, Ignatius Reilly-esque tirade in which I prove you wrong. Commending it, though, will justify further praise upon your spacious mind.
Does anybody have a clue what this guy is saying? The words and syntax bear a superficial resemblance to English, but there's no content that I can discern. I gather that he resents some of my pages, but he doesn't say precisely what his problem is, so there's not much to respond to. And no, my name is not a pseudonym and I am a single person, not a committee.

As for not revealing my true feelings, that's deliberate. When I discuss certain topics, I do so as impersonally as possible, precisely because writers like this one want to "know where I'm coming from" so they can know whether or not they can feel free to disregard what I'm saying. When I leave my feelings out of it, they have to deal with the logical and factual content, something that is apparently painful or confusing to a lot of people.

People who write stuff like this tend to live in their own weird worlds, but on the off chance that you do think this is how to write, or know somebody who does, let me assure you it isn't so. Editorial pages are chock-full of stuff like this, where the writers indulge in convoluted wording and oblique allusions. I guess they think it makes them sound erudite or profound. Actually, all it does is make them sound like they can't say what they mean in plain English.

Technical works are full of complex prose because the subject matter is complex and calls for it. Legal prose is complex because it has to define terms as precisely as possible without leaving any possible ambiguity. Shakespeare and the King James Bible have complex prose because that's how people talked 400 years ago, and people of the time considered it perfectly plain English. Stuff like the e-mail above is complex because the writer apparently wants to impress people. If you're an English teacher who has let stuff like this pass, shame on you.

Ditch the pretentious language. People who write like this come across as posers. It's like some CPA who lets his stubble grow for a month so he can ride his moped to the Sturgis bike rally and "blend in."

How To Let Scientists Know You're Not One


This is verbatim from a recent e-mail:
I currently have a 60 page report in review with a peer-reviewed journal. I'd love to explain the mechanism here to you but that may be unwise before the paper is published.
Let's take this phrase by phrase...

"I currently have a 60 page report"
Length doesn't correlate with quality. It will be very hard to get any 60-page paper published. Who cares how long the manuscript is? College freshmen talk as if length correlates with hard work; most scientists struggle to shorten their papers.

"in review with a peer-reviewed journal."
Being in review doesn't mean a thing. Acceptance is the hard part.

"I'd love to explain the mechanism here to you but that may be unwise before the paper is published."
Nobel-Prize caliber research is circulated informally to peers as preprints, so why exactly people outside the mainstream are so paranoid their ideas will be stolen is a mystery. I have a suspicion that "before the paper is published" will be a while.

"But You Have To Respect Their Dedication"


Why? Google 9/11, and the wingnut and moonbat sites far outnumber legitimate sites. Velikovsky could waste his talents on an imaginary scenario of ancient catastrophes instead of real research on mental health. American society could terminate the Apollo Program to spend the savings on "problems here on earth" and get nothing in return for it, and many of the people who cheered are now saying it was all a hoax. Give me one good reason why I should respect such a waste of intellectual resources.

The armed forces are critically short of linguists, and overseas competition is cutting into jobs here, but Americans still seem to regard it as a personal violation to have to learn foreign languages. Yet the same people can spend hours writing illiterate blogs about politics and the war on terror that reveal a total lack of knowledge - of anything. People have the time to read dozens of creationist books but not a single legitimate book on geology or biology. What's to respect here?

And Now A Word To Conspiracy Theorists


You are entitled to respect when you show respect to others. When you tell me the government is engaged in all sorts of black ops, the corporations that provide you with goods and services are all out to screw you, and anyone who doubts is a co-conspirator or a dupe, what in the world can you offer me as a reason to show you respect? You're dissing everyone in the world and you demand respect for yourself?

And seriously, what reason do you have to complain about the world? Gas is $3 a gallon? You did nothing to find the oil, nothing to refine it, nothing to transport it, nothing to invent any of the technology for exploiting it. The oil is not your property. Is there some part of "private property" you don't follow here? What exactly is your grounds for complaint? Medical care too expensive? 200 years ago there were no CAT Scans, X-rays, MRI's, organ transplants, antibiotics, antiseptics, or anesthesia. And what did you do to bring any of that to pass? And if you complain about paying taxes for schools to train the people who will eventually go into the medical profession, double shame on you.

What's the difference between a conspiracy theorist and a new puppy? The puppy eventually grows up and quits whining.

So Why Aren't Comments Enabled?

Once upon a time there was a little boy who was so unfailingly cheerful his parents were actually worried. When his puppy died, he was glad, because now his puppy was in Heaven. His parents finally decided the kid needed serious reality therapy, so that Christmas, instead of toys, they arranged for a truckload of horse manure to be dumped in the yard. To their amazement, the kid let out a scream of joy, jumped in the pile, and began frantically digging in it with his bare hands. When his parents asked what he was so happy about, he replied: "With all this horse$### here, there has to be a pony somewhere!

There is no pony in blogosphere comments. There's only horse$###.

The sad story of the site PostSecret says it all. PostSecret allowed people to post secrets anonymously by phone. The flood of vileness caused the blog owners to remove the phone app.

It depends somewhat on the site, but in my experience, maybe 10% of blog comments are informed and useful, 50% or so are banal and the rest are abusive and ignorant. Even Scientific American and the New York Times are mostly flooded with banality.

So, if you have something intelligent to say about anything posted here, set up your own blog and have at it. And if you're anything else, nobody cares what you have to say.

Let's Play the "Evolution = Nazism" Game

Ben Stein's Expelled is merely the latest in a long line of creationist pieces that argue that, since Hitler appealed to evolution to justify his ideas, therefore evolution bears much of the blame for Nazism and the Holocaust. Evolutionists retort that it's always possible to misuse any belief system, but that doesn't make the belief system itself wrong.

I think that's wussy.

First, it is fair to examine the role a belief system has in abuses that arise from it. It's certainly fair to examine the role that Western leftists played in making Stalin's and Mao's purges possible, or examine the question whether Vietnam activists abetted the Khmer Rouge atrocities, or hold drug users morally responsible for atrocities by drug gangs in Mexico and Colombia.

Second, it's noble to persuade your adversary with calm reason. But it's far more satisfying to grab your adversary's best weapon and beat him to a bloody pulp with it. D'Artagnan is cool and gets the dates, but I'll bet Hagar the Horrible's fighting style is more fun any day.

So, you wanna play "Who's responsible for Hitler?" Fine, let's play.


Where Did Hitler Get the Idea to Persecute the Jews?

I can understand, if not condone, Hitler's animosity to the Russians. Communism was at one of its nadirs of barbarism, though we could argue endlessly whether Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot was the most evil. And the fear of invasion from the east is a primal one in Europe, fed by repeated invasions from the East. Although it had been 700 years since the Mongol invasions, the Turkish Empire was dead, and maybe it was time to let it go.

But why the Jews? Walled up in ghettoes, barred from many occupations, what threat were they to anybody? Yet somebody, for centuries, had been fanning irrational hatred of the Jews. Somebody gave Hitler this idea. Who was it?
Nazi anti-Judaism was the work of godless, anti-Christian criminals. But it would not have been possible without the almost two thousand years' pre-history of 'Christian' anti-Judaism..
- Hans Kung

So Here's My Plan

One famous medieval diatribe against the Jews has an elaborate plan for making their lives miserable:
  1. First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians. [All together now: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll kno-o-ow we are Christians by our love."]
  2. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. [gypsies were among the victims of the Holocaust, too] This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.
  3. Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
  4. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
  5. Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home....If you great lords and princes will not forbid such usurers the highway legally, some day a troop may gather against them, having learned from this booklet the true nature of the Jews and how one should deal with them and not protect their activities. For you, too, must not and cannot protect them unless you wish to become participants in an their abominations in the sight of God. Consider carefully what good could come from this, and prevent it. [Anyone who protects the Jews from violence is sinning, and a little lynching might not be such a bad thing.]
  6. Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury [whose fault was that?], and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. [Predatory lending, 16th century style. Just the other day I was walking down the street and somebody pointed a gun at me and forced me to borrow money.]
  7. Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.
What did the Jews do to deserve all this?
I have read and heard many stories about the Jews which agree with this judgment of Christ, namely, how they have poisoned wells, made assassinations, kidnapped children, as related before. I have heard that one Jew sent another Jew, and this by means of a Christian, a pot of blood, together with a barrel of wine, in which when drunk empty, a dead Jew was found. There are many other similar stories. For their kidnapping of children they have often been burned at the stake or banished (as we already heard). I am well aware that they deny all of this. However, it all coincides with the judgment of Christ which declares that they are venomous, bitter, vindictive, tricky serpents, assassins, and children of the devil who sting and work harm stealthily wherever they cannot do it openly. [In other words, the fact that they deny these crimes proves that they're criminals]
But what about all those Christian commands to show mercy to others?
Nor dare we make ourselves partners in their devilish ranting and raving by shielding and protecting them, by giving them food, drink, and shelter, or by other neighborly acts... Now let me commend these Jews sincerely to whoever feels the desire to shelter and feed them, to honor them, to be fleeced, robbed, plundered, defamed, vilified, and cursed by them, and to suffer every evil at their hands -- these venomous serpents and devil's children, who are the most vehement enemies of Christ our Lord and of us all. And if that is not enough, let him stuff them into his mouth, or crawl into their behind and worship this holy object. Then let him boast of his mercy, then let him boast that he has strengthened the devil and his brood for further blaspheming our dear Lord and the precious blood with which we Christians are redeemed. Then he will be a perfect Christian, filled with works of mercy for which Christ will reward him on the day of judgment, together with the Jews in the eternal fire of hell!
Thank heaven for theologians who can discern the truth! If it weren't for this explanation, I might read Matthew 25:35 ("For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in") and get a completely different impression.

Anti-Semitism is the fruit of centuries of teaching by Popes and the Catholic Church, like the above excerpts, by Pope Ooops, my bad. That's not by a Pope or Catholic theologian. That was written by Martin Luther; it's a thoroughly evil little pamphlet from 1543 titled On the Jews and Their Lies. This is the guy that Halley's Bible Handbook calls "Next to Jesus and Paul, the Greatest Man of all the ages." A bit further along, we read "Persecution is the spirit of the DEVIL, even though carried on in the name of Christ." Apparently Halley never read Luther's writings. (You can find Luther's diatribe quoted in William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and many other places. You will probably not find it in a lot of "Christian" collections of Luther's works.)

Gotta love point 3, about taking all the books away. This from a guy who complained that the Catholic Church had taken the Bible away from the people. The irony is that Luther, early in his career, condemned abuses of the Jews. He seems to have hoped that they would respond to his kinder, gentler Christianity. But when they didn't, he turned on them.

This is not to defend the Catholic Church, which has its own long list of anti-Semitic sins, but to demolish entirely the pretense that Things Would Have Been Different if Real Christians Had Been In Charge. Now the Catholic Church is surely to blame for creating the general climate of anti-Semitism in which Luther lived. But Luther broke with Rome! He could easily have broken with anti-Semitism, but chose not to.

There's more. Encouraged partly by Luther's break with Rome, the peasants of Germany revolted in 1525. In his letter An Admonition to Peace, Luther condemned the avarice of the nobility but had scant sympathy for the peasants. To them he wrote:
Again, it is not true when you declare that you teach and live according to the Gospel. There is not one of the articles which teaches a single point of the Gospel, but everything is directed to one purpose; namely, that your bodies and your properties may be free. In a word, they all deal with worldly and temporal matters. You would have power and wealth, so as not to suffer wrong; and yet the Gospel does not take worldly matters into account, and makes the external life consist only in suffering, wrong, cross, patience, and contempt for temporal wealth and life. [Bad peasants. Revolting merely because of oppression.]

ON THE THIRD ARTICLE [the peasants had drafted a manifesto with twelve articles] “There shall be no serfs, for Christ has made all men free.” That is making Christian liberty an utterly carnal thing. Did not Abraham and other patriarchs and prophets have slaves? Read what St. Paul teaches about servants, who, at that time, were all slaves. Therefore this article is dead against the Gospel. It is a piece of robbery by which every man takes from his lord the body, which has become his lord’s property. For a slave can be a Christian, and have Christian liberty, in the same way that a prisoner or a sick man is a Christian, and yet not free. This article would make all men equal, and turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a worldly, external kingdom; and that is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot stand unless there is in it an inequality of persons, so that some are free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects, etc.; and St. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, that in Christ master and servant are one thing. [Considering how often anti-evolutionists equate evolution with subversion, it's worth asking whether anyone who respects Luther, a man who hated freedom so vehemently, can call himself an American patriot. Imagine, all men equal! O the horror! At the very least, the irony of Martin Luther King being named after this man is overpowering. All the more so when we recall the whiff of lynch law in Point 5 above.]
Then compare these two passages:
The rulers unjustly take your property; that is the one side. On the other hand, you take from them the authority, in which their whole property and life and being consist. [Because life loses all its meaning if you can't boss people around.] I must also give you an illustration from this present time. Pope and emperor have set themselves against me and have raged. Now how have I brought it about that the more pope and emperor have raged the more my Gospel spread? I have never drawn sword nor desired revenge. I have begun no division and no rebellion, but, so far as I was able, I have helped the worldly rulers, even those who persecuted the Gospel and me, to maintain their power and honor.
"I have begun no division and no rebellion." The mind just boggles. Within a short time, it was no more Mister Nice Guy. The pamphlet Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants really doesn't need much elaboration:
Stab, smite, slay, whoever can.
Luther was between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, many nobles blamed him for the Peasant Revolt (at least partly true, if perhaps unintended) and other people condemned him for betraying the peasants in his later writings (also partly true). It was a no-win situation. But just as with the Jews, when his initial conciliatory approach failed, Luther turned vindictive.

Luther was an absolutely classic authoritarian, someone who felt justified in opposing any authority that impeded him but who could simultaneously demand that everyone else submit to his authority. There's more than a passing similarity to Hitler, who lashed out at the intellectuals who spurned him by instituting a cult of authority. If Darwin bears some moral culpability for the Holocaust, where does that leave Luther and the people who have treated him as a hero?

Everything Hitler Said About Evolution

Mein Kampf is available on line. The version I used is the James Murphy translation (1939). It's easy to download it and then do a word count. The results are interesting:
  • "Darwin" never occurs. Not once.
  • "Evolution" occurs twelve times in the English translation. Out of roughly a quarter million words. The German word used, "Entwicklung," occurs many more times, usually translated as "development."
  • "Christian" occurs 32 times. To be fair, most are references to the Christian Democratic Party.
  • "Revolution" occurs 117 times, almost ten times as often as "evolution."
I can really see why people don't check this stuff out. It's so ha-a-a-ard. It took me fully two minutes to find a link to an on-line version of Mein Kampf (courtesy of the Australian Gutenburg Project), at least a minute to download it, and two minutes more to do the word searches. Why, that's five whole minutes. As Hobbes once said to Calvin, "Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"

I have to salute Murphy. This is turgid stuff even in English. Making sense of it in German must have been no picnic. It's worse than even most of the comments on political blogs, if you can imagine such a thing.

Chapter X (Volume I): Why the Second Reich Collapsed

In the political field also observant eyes might have noticed certain anomalies of the REICH which foretold disaster unless some alteration and correction took place in time. The lack of orientation in German policy, both domestic and foreign, was obvious to everyone who was not purposely blind. The best thing that could be said about the practice of making compromises is that it seemed outwardly to be in harmony with Bismarck's axiom that 'politics is the art of the possible'. But Bismarck was a slightly different man from the Chancellors who followed him. This difference allowed the former to apply that formula to the very essence of his policy, while in the mouths of the others it took on an utterly different significance. When he uttered that phrase Bismarck meant to say that in order to attain a definite political end all possible means should be employed or at least that all possibilities should be tried. But his successors see in that phrase only a solemn declaration that one is not necessarily bound to have political principles or any definite political aims at all. And the political leaders of the REICH at that time had no far-seeing policy. Here, again, the necessary foundation was lacking, namely, a definite WELTANSCHAUUNG, and these leaders also lacked that clear insight into the laws of political evolution which is a necessary quality in political leadership.

Chapter XI: Race And People

Such a dispensation of Nature is quite logical. Every crossing between two breeds which are not quite equal results in a product which holds an intermediate place between the levels of the two parents. This means that the offspring will indeed be superior to the parent which stands in the biologically lower order of being, but not so high as the higher parent. For this reason it must eventually succumb in any struggle against the higher species. Such mating contradicts the will of Nature towards the selective improvements of life in general. The favourable preliminary to this improvement is not to mate individuals of higher and lower orders of being but rather to allow the complete triumph of the higher order. The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all. [This is the only use even remotely related to biological evolution.] Only after subjugated races were employed as slaves was a similar fate allotted to animals, and not vice versa, as some people would have us believe. At first it was the conquered enemy who had to draw the plough and only afterwards did the ox and horse take his place. Nobody else but puling pacifists can consider this fact as a sign of human degradation. Such people fail to recognize that this evolution had to take place in order that man might reach that degree of civilization which these apostles now exploit in an attempt to make the world pay attention to their rigmarole.
Unconsciously his instinct will submit to the knowledge that the preservation of the species, even at the cost of the individual life, is a primal necessity and he will protest against the fantasies of pacifist ranters, who in reality are nothing better than cowardly egoists, even though camouflaged, who contradict the laws of human development. For it is a necessity of human evolution that the individual should be imbued with the spirit of sacrifice in favour of the common weal, and that he should not be influenced by the morbid notions of those knaves who pretend to know better than Nature and who have the impudence to criticize her decrees.
The intellectual faculties of the Jew have been trained through thousands of years. To-day the Jew is looked upon as specially 'cunning'; and in a certain sense he has been so throughout the ages. His intellectual powers, however, are not the result of an inner evolution but rather have been shaped by the object-lessons which the Jew has received from others. The human spirit cannot climb upwards without taking successive steps. For every step upwards it needs the foundation of what has been constructed before--the past--which in, the comprehensive sense here employed, can have been laid only in a general civilization. All thinking originates only to a very small degree in personal experience. The largest part is based on the accumulated experiences of the past. The general level of civilization provides the individual, who in most cases is not consciously aware of the fact, with such an abundance of preliminary knowledge that with this equipment he can more easily take further steps on the road of progress. The boy of to-day, for example, grows up among such an overwhelming mass of technical achievement which has accumulated during the last century that he takes as granted many things which a hundred years ago were still mysteries even to the greatest minds of those times. Yet these things that are not so much a matter of course are of enormous importance to those who would understand the progress we have made in these matters and would carry on that progress a step farther. If a man of genius belonging to the 'twenties of the last century were to arise from his grave to-day he would find it more difficult to understand our present age than the contemporary boy of fifteen years of age who may even have only an average intelligence. The man of genius, thus come back from the past, would need to provide himself with an extraordinary amount of preliminary information which our contemporary youth receive automatically, so to speak, during the time they are growing up among the products of our modern civilization.

Chapter IV (Volume II)   Personality And The Ideal Of The People's State

In order to elucidate this point of view it may be worth while to glance once again at the real origins and causes of the cultural evolution of mankind. In our case this term has no meaning. Because everyone who believes in the higher evolution of living organisms must admit that every manifestation of the vital urge and struggle to live must have had a definite beginning in time and that one subject alone must have manifested it for the first time. It was then repeated again and again; and the practice of it spread over a widening area, until finally it passed into the subconscience of every member of the species, where it manifested itself as 'instinct.'

Chapter VII  The Conflict With The Red Forces

No. The general evolution of things, even though it took a century of struggle, placed the best in the position that it had merited. The sovereign rights which the individual states renounced in order to form the REICH were voluntarily ceded only to a very small degree. For the most part they had no practical existence or they were simply taken by Prussia under the pressure of her preponderant power. The principle followed by Bismarck was not to give the REICH what he could take from the individual states but to demand from the individual states only what was absolutely necessary for the REICH. A moderate and wise policy. On the one side Bismarck showed the greatest regard for customs and traditions; on the other side his policy secured for the new REICH from its foundation onwards a great measure of love and willing co-operation. But it would be a fundamental error to attribute Bismarck's decision to any conviction on his part that the REICH was thus acquiring all the rights of sovereignty which would suflice for all time. That was far from Bismarck's idea. On the contrary, he wished to leave over for the future what it would be difficult to carry through at the moment and might not have been readily agreed to by the individual states. He trusted to the levelling effect of time and to the pressure exercised by the process of evolution, the steady action of which appeared more effective than an attempt to break the resistance which the individual states offered at the moment. By this policy he showed his great ability in the art of statesmanship. And, as a matter of fact, the sovereignty of the REICH has continually increased at the cost of the sovereignty of the individual states. The passing of time has achieved what Bismarck hoped it would.

Chapter XI   Propaganda And Organization

The year 1921 was specially important for me from many points of view. When I entered the German Labour Party I at once took charge of the propaganda, believing this branch to be far the most important for the time being. Just then it was not a matter of pressing necessity to cudgel one's brains over problems of organization. The first necessity was to spread our ideas among as many people as possible. Propaganda should go well ahead of organization and gather together the human material for the latter to work up. I have never been in favour of hasty and pedantic methods of organization, because in most cases the result is merely a piece of dead mechanism and only rarely a living organization. Organization is a thing that derives its existence from organic life, organic evolution. When the same set of ideas have found a lodgement in the minds of a certain number of people they tend of themselves to form a certain degree of order among those people and out of this inner formation something that is very valuable arises. Of course here, as everywhere else, one must take account of those human weaknesses which make men hesitate, especially at the beginning, to submit to the control of a superior mind. If an organization is imposed from above downwards in a mechanical fashion, there is always the danger that some individual may push himself forward who is not known for what he is and who, out of jealousy, will try to hinder abler persons from taking a leading place in the movement. The damage that results from that kind of thing may have fatal consequences, especially in a new movement. The National Socialist Movement, which aims at establishing the National Socialist People's State, must always bear steadfastly in mind the principle that every future institution under that State must be rooted in the movement itself. It is a great mistake to believe that by acquiring possession of supreme political power we can bring about a definite reorganization, suddenly starting from nothing, without the help of a certain reserve stock of men who have been trained beforehand, especially in the spirit of the movement. Here also the principle holds good that the spirit is always more important than the external form which it animates; since this form can be created mechanically and quickly. For instance, the leadership principle may be imposed on an organized political community in a dictatorial way. But this principle can become a living reality only by passing through the stages that are necessary for its own evolution. These stages lead from the smallest cell of the State organism upwards. As its bearers and representatives, the leadership principle must have a body of men who have passed through a process of selection lasting over several years, who have been tempered by the hard realities of life and thus rendered capable of carrying the principle into practical effect.

Chapter XIII The German Post-War Policy Of Alliances

This evolution has not yet taken the shape of a conscious intention and movement to restore the political power and independence of our nation; but the blame for this must be attributed to those utterly incompetent people who have no natural endowments to qualify them for statesmanship and yet have been governing our nation since 1918 and leading it to ruin.
These quotes make it obvious that Hitler never used evolution in a rigorous biological sense. By far most of the usages use evolution as synonymous with "development" or "historical forces." Not a single usage is remotely scientific and not a single one uses evolution to argue that Germany should adopt some policy or take some course of action. Hitler's usages are almost those of a vitalist - he seems to think evolution is driven from within by "spirit of sacrifice in favour of the common weal" or "the vital urge and struggle to live." In fact, since the word "Entwicklung" occurs far more than twelve times and is mostly translated as "development," one has to wonder if Hitler was even aware of Darwin's ideas at all.

Where Are the Jews Now?


The ones who died in the Holocaust, I mean?

"I don't know?" Oh, come, come, come. Don't be so modest. One of the principal things a religion tries to answer is the question of what happens when we die. And your religion doesn't know? Shame on you.

Or maybe you're saying it is possible to go to heaven without being a Christian. I don't have a problem, personally, but then I don't go around spouting creationist babble about links between evolution and Nazism.

No, anyone who believes evolution was a root of Nazism knows perfectly well what the answer to this question has to be. The Jews are in hell, because they didn'tacceptJesusastheirpersonalLordandSavior.

O-kay. So evolution is evil because it led to the Holocaust. You follow a god who condemns people to hell after they've been through Auschwitz. So if evolution is evil, where does your belief system fall?

Now I can picture one possible response to this argument. And I really, really, really hope somebody makes it.

So You Think I'm Exaggerating?


From Australia, one of the few places where extreme fundamentalists can be even more evil than their American counterparts, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 19, 2008:
A Baptist pastor has admitted telling Jewish leaders that Jews were "going to hell" and faced a fate "worse than the Holocaust" because they had not accepted Jesus as their saviour.
Australia, even counting Ken Ham and the crackpot government of Queensland, is nowhere near the bottom of the barrel. There's far worse than this. From the British Observer, December 9, 2007:
The rainy season is over and the Niger Delta is lush and humid. This southern edge of West Africa, where Nigeria's wealth pumps out of oil and gas fields to bypass millions of its poorest people, is a restless place. In the small delta state of Akwa Ibom, the tension and the poverty has delivered an opportunity for a new and terrible phenomenon that is leading to the abuse and the murder of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children. And it is being done in the name of Christianity. Almost everyone goes to church here. Driving through the town of Esit Eket, the rust-streaked signs, tarpaulins hung between trees and posters on boulders, advertise a church for every third or fourth house along the road. Such names as New Testament Assembly, Church of God Mission, Mount Zion Gospel, Glory of God, Brotherhood of the Cross, Redeemed, Apostalistic. Behind the smartly painted doors pastors make a living by 'deliverances' - exorcisms - for people beset by witchcraft, something seen to cause anything from divorce, disease, accidents or job losses. With so many churches it's a competitive market, but by local standards a lucrative one.
But an exploitative situation has now grown into something much more sinister as preachers are turning their attentions to children - naming them as witches. In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush.

Some parents scrape together sums needed to pay for a deliverance - sometimes as much as three or four months' salary for the average working man - although the pastor will explain that the witch might return and a second deliverance will be needed. Even if the parent wants to keep the child, their neighbours may attack it in the street.
If evolution leads to the Holocaust, how shall we judge Christianity? Remember,
 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:18 - emphasis added)
Go ahead, debate me on "Evolution = Nazism." I'll be looking forward to it.

Note for Historically Literate Readers


This pretty much excludes anyone who buys the "Darwin = Hitler" idea.

I am perfectly well aware of the complexities of Luther. He did launch the Protestant Reformation, although so many other people broke with Rome at that time that it seems inevitable that someone would get away with it. And almost single handedly, he standardized German with his translation of the Bible. But he was a deeply flawed, contradictory and conflicted person. And under the veneer of spirituality, once you start reading his works, was a very vile, spiteful, and hate-filled person. Most historians draw a pretty straight line from Luther's anti-Semitism to Hitler's.