" /> I write: April 2006
Curmudgeonalia
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April 22, 2006

In Our Hands

Charles Murray – ISBN 0844742236

Murray has done it again: another wise and interesting exploration of our current welfare problem. Or, rather, the problem of our welfare! His solution is Alexandrian. Instead of trying to untie the Gordian knot, he cuts thru it! This time he has an historic and riveting conclusion, and recommendations. His first work, Losing Ground was published in 1984. In it he explored our welfare system, reviewed its history, and pointed out its faults and appropriate remedies. In the 10th anniversary edition he acknowledged that little progress had been made, but that some of his suggestions were at least being discussed. Not insignificant strides have been taken since, culminating in the recent (Clinton administration) welfare reform bill which has nearly halved the number of people receiving welfare.

In his newest rendering he expands to include Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, corporate welfare, etc. Essentially all government “wealth redistribution” programs would be eliminated and replaced by his plan. He explores all in relative depth considering the brevity of the book. He notes that government redistribution now approaches 1.5 trillion dollars annually; a staggering sum which is rising sharply, and will reach 2.6 trillion by 2020. That simply isn’t possible, even with our incredible economy. We are going bankrupt, and it’s time to actually do something about it. As before the current incentives are all wrong, except for a few recent changes which have impacted mightily. His plan outlines a near total renovation of incentives, and a creative approach to “redistribution.”

Debate has raged (literally) in the halls of congress over revamping Social Security and Medicare, and has now ceased because the parties will not agree. With leading Democrats in favor of continuing the same bankrupting program, and cowardly Republicans unwilling to bite the bullet, nothing will be done any time soon. The weakness is said to be that the government must guarantee ends, and not permit private investment. Most alternate calculations are made with the supposition that citizens will contribute like funds to private accounts, with yields calculated at 4% compound annually. This is neither good enough, nor safe enough, say the opponents. Murray points out, however, that if the stock market doesn’t yield the 4%, the government can’t meet the demand either. Thus to argue for “security” is a faux argument.

Instead, he suggests, explains and justifies “the plan,” which entails a distribution to every adult citizen (i.e. over 21) a sum of $10,000 per annum, in monthly aliquots deposited in their checking account, with the presumption that the first $3,000 will be set aside for health expenses, including insurance, which everyone will be required to have. And he has a revolutionary approach to insurance, as well.

Thus a minimum wage worker will have a take-home pay of at least $7,000 more than he would otherwise; a working couple would have twice that. For average working families, the plan would have a similar impact, since there is no adjustment to the $10,000 until each worker makes $25,000. Then it is incrementally adjusted by 20%. It never becomes less than a $5,000 distribution. (For many, the additional monies would permit one spouse to quit working, or work part time, thus augmenting child care and family time.)

You say that we can’t afford it? Look again. In less than four years the projected outlays of the current system will exceed those required for his plan. And the excess increases geometrically thereafter, while “the plan” is a near horizontal line with minimal incremental increases. The truth is that we can’t afford not to do it.

You’ll have to read the book to fully comprehend “the plan,” but I believe you will agree with it. Imagine this coupled with The Fair Tax!! Of course nothing will happen with either until a significant proportion of the voting public demands it. I’m not hopeful, though he is optimistic.

About the only counter-argument would be that free choice is involved, and its weakness is the governmental (yea, societal) tendency to cover the butts of even those who make dismal decisions and end up broke . . . still even then they would have $10,000 per year on which to exist, hopefully having learned a few lessons,

Chapter 8: “The Pursuit of Happiness in Advanced Societies,” is, alone, worth the purchase price of the book. Introducing the subject he notes that “The real problem advanced societies face has nothing to do with poverty, retirement, health care, or the underclass. . . . [it is] how to live a meaningful lives in an age of plenty and security."

For most all of man’s history just staying alive was the principal problem, followed by having and properly maintaining a family to, in turn, maintain you in your dotage. Sudden death was an all encompassing situation requiring attention to spiritual issues. Life now requires none of those things. This has left one with “a few friends, serial sex partners, earning a good living, having a good time, and dying in old age with no reason to think that one has done anything more significant than while away the time."

Small wonder that today the main question seems to be: "Is this all that there is?" He explores the importance of transcendental meaning in life, and its absence in the "advanced" European welfare states/societies. Brilliant! As is the next chapter wherein he gives voice to the importance of Vocation: the central satisfaction of doing something worthwhile . . . and well, and how nearly impossible that is in a European welfare state, questioning whether or not we really want to go there.

Posted by respeto at 12:17 PM

April 18, 2006

American Genesis

Jeffrey Goodman, Ph.D. ISBN – 0425051730

It's time to review an old book again; one which might well interest you. This one is no longer in print, but can be found online for a dollar or two.

It is a seminal treatise, both concise and comprehensive in that Goodman discusses the subject in lay terms, with brevity and interest, without encumbering the dialog with myriad and confusing details.

His hypothesis, as well documented as possible, is that Homo sapiens sapiens actually evolved in the Americas—probably California—and spread around the globe from there. Further, he indicates that our species is much older than is generally supposed, and supports this conclusion by itemizing “digs” in the Americas which have been documented to be 40,000 to 150,000 years old, with some considered to be 250,000 years, and suspect of being as much as 500,000 years in age. All of which suggests that we may be over 1,000,000 years old as a species, not the 100,000 years or less which is commonly supposed. And we didn’t come from Africa. That seems certain.

This is breathtaking in light of the fact that man is “widely known” to have evolved in Africa and came here across the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. He is bemused by how unrelenting the “experts” are in denying that man might have moved the other way across the Bering Strait. Apparently it was the world’s first one way street! It reminds of the now defeated argument that no European came to the Americas before Columbus . . . N(body)B(efore)C(olumbus) as the acronym reads. Now, of course, we know that Norsemen were here, and there is strong belief that others came in earlier times. But that’s another story.

His arguments are solid, and the “establishment” is reluctantly coming to agree that just maybe the old conclusions are wrong.

Most interesting is the datum offered that Cro-Magnon had very exquisite and distinctive flint points and other tools when they appeared suddenly, from nowhere, in Spain at the end of the last ice age. “No one knows from whence they came.” That’s gospel. Strange that points and tools have been found in the American Southwest which are identical to those of Cro-Magnon, and 35-70,000 years older. As well, Cro-Magnon skeletons look a lot like modern day Southwestern Indians!

Another fascinating discussion is Hopi Indian legend involving their three past worlds, destroyed first by fire (volcanos), they by ice (glaciers) and finally by water (flooding); strangely consistent with what now appears to be worth serious consideration. The scenario is, however, geologically impossible if their civilization is not at least 250,000 years old. Their legend also states that they came from afar, from a land in the Pacific which is now submerged. Huh?

The most interesting discussions by far deal with the domestication of animals, the development of agriculture, and their advanced medical skills. Much derided until recently, the Amerinds now appear clearly to have been grinding grain (which one presumes they cultivated) at least 100,000 years ago, hybridized maize (corn) so long ago that no natural related plant now exists, freeze dried vegetables tens of thousands of years before this was done in Eurasia, rode horses before they became extinct in the Americas (10,000 years ago,) and practiced holistic medicine which included antibiotics for infections, digitalis for heart disease, quinine for malaria, Vitamin C for scurvy, aspirin for pain, cocaine for hypesthesia, splinted fractures, performed trephination, removed cataracts, and even practiced psychiatry, after a fashion, by recognizing and treating psychosomatic illnesses.

I found especially remarkable the fact that they had hybridized amaranth, and grew it in sufficient quantities to feed hundreds of thousands of people before the Spanish made them quit. Recently we have rediscovered this cereal grain and it offers the possibility of resolving malnutrition worldwide. It is hardy, drought resistant, grows nearly everywhere, and has just about all of the things humans need to stay healthy. It is especially interesting to me because Indians in the South American rainforests are only recently known to have developed elevated farm plots in these miserable soils. They are not yet understood, but they involved "charcoaling" certain plants with fire, which, when mixed with the soils, retains nutrients for a century. These vast acreages also supported millions of people where only a few now eke out an existence--because it is a forgotten technology.

Apparently when the Conquistadors discovered these Amerinds, they annihilated them with battle, disease, etc., and their technological mastery disappeared with them. We are just about to learn how millions of “savages” worked out a survival plan for jungle life . . . perhaps tens of thousands of year ago!

Read the book . . . it is brief, captivating, informative, and well worth the time.

Posted by respeto at 3:00 PM

April 8, 2006

The Last Lion

William Manchester
(a biography of Winston Churchill in two volumes)
ISBN – (I) – 0385313489 (II) 0385313314

This biography, upon its release in 1983/88 was described as “brilliant,” “bedazzling”, and “a triumph.” That, I’d say, is not hyperbolic. No exaggeration is possible over what is arguably Manchester’s most stunning work.

I chose to reread this tome after 15 years. It is particularly apropos “this season,” in light of the fact that we are again facing—though some refuse to acknowledge the fact—a most serious challenge to Western civilization. Indeed, to civilization itself. Not since WWII have we been so seriously challenged, and not unlike then, we can lose. If we do . . . civilization is all over for the next millennium.

Beyond doubt, Winston Spencer Churchill was the most important world figure in the 20th century. It can be fairly said that without him Western civilization would not exist as we know it, and it is virtually certain that we would be in the 7th decade of the 3rd Reich, speaking German—at least those of us still alive. Isaiah Berlin described Churchill as “the largest human being of our time.” Indeed! He is likely amongst the largest human beings of all time.

One can hardly imagine the immense amount of material Manchester had to command in order to write this 1600 page document, though it is readable to the last page. And riveting. For those too young to remember, and those otherwise unenlightened of history, Churchill was virtually alone in his battle over European appeasement of the Germans when they could have been stopped, thus avoiding WWII. He finally had the attention of the British after Chamberlain’s announcement that he had negotiated “peace in our time,” just before Germany’s massive attack upon the allies.

The story begins with Churchill as a child, reviewing this most unhappy state, follows thru his early military career, his first era of prominence, his subsequent slide into oblivion (after Gallipoli) and his recovery to lead the allies to victory in WWII.

Sheer grit, determination, and faith in his God and his country were all that Winston needed to believe that the battle for civilization could be won. A leader of his talent comes along only rarely, and, it seems to me serendipitously—or perhaps by an act of God.

In addition to all of that he was a masterful politician (though spottily so), a phenomenal historian and an eclectic writer who supported himself thruout his life with his writing skills. While of noble birth, he was sufficiently removed from it that he inherited nothing. Still he had the family history and pride in his predecessors.

Read it for information . . . for history . . . for insight into the sheer magnificence of the West—and Churchill, of course--and to be reminded of what we are, or ought to be fighting for at this time. You will not read a more comprehensive or moving biography anytime soon, which is why it is still in print!

Posted by respeto at 1:35 PM

April 1, 2006

Collapse

(how societies choose to fail or succeed)
Jared Diamond – ISBN 0143036556

This book is brilliant. Collapse is a comprehensive, provocative, well researched book, and very readable. Diamond reviews carefully selected cultures which best make the points he wishes to emphasize. Included are the ancient Mayans, the Greenland and Iceland Norse (and Inuits), the Easter and several other Pacific Islanders, the American desert southwest, and perhaps more interestingly, contemporary Australia, China and the Southeast Asians who are moving toward first world culture. Along the way he includes Rwanda, Hispaniola, and others as examples of specific problems.

Unlike Guns, Germs & Steel, he barely reveals his liberal, anti-capitalist, religion avoiding assessments wherein culture and nurture were largely eliminated from consideration. Collapse simply avoids these subjects: more easily done than in “Guns.”

He reviews in appropriate detail the failures and successes as measured by societal survival, and is specific about the causes of same, using voluminous data, much of it recently mined from historic and archaeologic materials, as well as in depth interviews on personal visits, which he has conducted over decades.

From deforestation to salinization of soils, thru over fishing and farming to ritual excesses he details the problems as best they are interpretable. He explores population density, population controls, necessary enlightenment as regards resource management and generally what it will take to achieve sustainability. In this he does a masterfully balanced job of presenting the facts, and in so doing is very persuasive as regards the difficulties, and is generally hopeful about the future.

I found his wide-ranging discussion of contemporary Australia to be of particular interest because it is contemporary, and Western as well. While time and space prevent encyclopedic dialogue, he does detail the environmental calamity which is modern Australia, and masterfully uses it as an example of its cultural values being opposed to environmental reality. In this, Australia is “the canary in the mine shaft” for Western culture, and in no small measure the emerging 1st world cultures of India, China and the Asian “tigers.”

Primitive “slash and burn” cultures, along with modern “rape and run” proclivities are appropriately discussed. Surprisingly, he emphasizes that only the people (meaning all of us) can exert controls and demand the change of attitudes. In this he is particular emphatic. Simply bemoaning the realities of modern environmental catastrophes is not enough. He gives numerous and explicit examples of how an environmental consciousness can be imposed upon industry thru public activism. What needs be done is to become informed and involved in these activities.

While one can’t materially influence the local lumber yard regarding poor harvesting and replenishing techniques, the “Big Guys”--Home Depot and Lowe’s--can be pressured into insisting that they will not market products cultivated in environmentally unfriendly ways. Whereas tuna fishermen formerly noted that it wasn’t possible to deliver the product without killing turtles, dolphins, and myriad other fish species, it is now established that they can and must, or “we” won’t buy their product. And so it goes with oil, coal, and increasingly with metals, by influencing corporations like DuPont. While not specifically mining the metals, DuPont provides them to industry and can ill afford to be tarred by the bad reputation of the “hard mining” industries.

People can make a difference. They must! Indeed it is the only practical answer. Interestingly, while discussing these factors he never uses the term “market forces,” presumably because it is a capitalist term. Capitalism works. The problem with it is selected “capitalists” (Ken Lay and his ilk come to mind.) They must be hoist on their own petard, avoided and/or disciplined by the market (and the courts.) Even Diamond disallows government as the answer . . . thus leaving only the market.

Churchill once observed: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. It is clear to me, if not to Diamond, that so it is with Capitalism. Hernando DeSoto stated that it is the only system capable of “providing us with the tools required to create massive surplus value.” Without that massive surplus one cannot hope to address environmental concerns, human welfare, and all the rest, not excluding human survival.

People need to get involved. The future is in our hands. With that I can agree!

Posted by respeto at 4:11 PM