Thursday, September 27, 2012

From Canada

I like Canada, I married into a Canadian family, and in New Hampshire I live less than an hour from the border. I even like the AM French stations I hear late at night with the music so un American.

Now from north of our border comes the following statement:

The fact that Willard M. Romney is still running almost even in the polls despite his demiurgic implausibility as a candidate, afflicted by a one-person pandemic of foot-in-mouth disease, illustrates the concern of the American voters. Either Romney lucks through and numerate sanity starts to return to American public life, or the most self-destructively incompetent regime since James Buchanan brought on the Civil War, will come back and stoke up a truly spectacular inferno that will purify America in a mighty economic Jonestown. There will be no more tugging at a trouser leg from Canada — either a comradely pat on the back, or a neighbourly blast with a fire extinguisher, but this operatic crescendo can’t continue for one more full act.

 Perhaps we should listen and heed it. From the time of Gov Thompson and his need to arm New Hampshire with nuclear weapons to defend themselves against the "Commies" in the North, to now with the North telling us that we are worse off than most others, and they are correct, it will be interesting to see if any down here are listening.

This is worth a read.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Suetonius, Politicians, and Giving Away the Public Money

Suetonius, in his Twelve Caesars,  reflects on the Emperor Vespasian as follows: 

Vespasian behaved most generously to all classes: grant­ing subventions to senators who did not possess the property qualifications of their rank; securing impoverished men of consular rank an annual pension of 500,000 sesterces; rebuild­ing on a grander scale than before the many cities throughout the empire which had been burned or destroyed by earthquakes; and proving himself a devoted patron of the arts and sciences.

He was the first to pay teachers of Latin and Greek rhetoric a regular annual salary of 100,000 sesterces from the imperial exchequer; he also awarded prizes to leading poets, and to artists as well, notably the ones who refashioned the Venus of Cos and the Colossus. 

An engineer offered to haul some huge columns up to the Capitol at moderate expense by a simple mechanical contrivance, but Vespasian declined his services: 'I must always ensure', he said, 'that the working classes earn enough money to buy themselves food.' Neverthe­less, he paid the engineer a very handsome fee.

When the Theatre of Marcellus opened again after Vespasian had built its new stage, he revived the former musical performances and presented Apelles the tragic actor with 400,000 sesterces, Terpnus and Diodorus the lyre players with 200,000 each, and several others with 100,000; his lowest cash awards were 40,000, and he also distributed several gold crowns. Moreover, he ordered a great number of formal dinners on a lavish scale, to support the dealers in provisions.

On the Saturnalia he gave party favours to his male dinner guests, and he did the same for women on the Kalends of March. But even this generosity could not rid him of his reputation for stinginess. Thus the people of Alexandria continued to call him 'Cybiosactes', after one of the meanest of all their kings. 

One need only read between the lines, the Emperor gave money to engineers not to work and employed those who did the work, Shovel Ready Projects, he paid the teachers exorbitant sums, well we know where that is,  then money to the theatre, or as we call them "green" jobs. Politics never changes, politicians remain somewhat the same. Suetonius was the Bob Woodward of Rome for a while, a bit more succinct, yet as telling and as insightful. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose..

Economists and the Economy

I have a continuing spat with the economists who have all too often been wrong, both in predictions and worse in recommendations. In a recent blog entry by Mankiw, whose projections paralleled my comments for the past 4 years as regards to the actions of the current Administration has an interesting blog entry.

This post takes its title from a new article at Econ Journal Watch.  Here is the abstract:

"In early 2009, the incoming Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers predicted real
GDP would rebound strongly from recession levels. In a blog post, Greg Mankiw expressed skepticism. In their blogs, Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman sighed. Of course there would be strong growth, they maintained, because the recovery of employment would mandate it via Okun’s Law. Mankiw challenged Krugman to a bet on the issue, but there was no response. Of course we now have a good idea of the likely outcome, but I posit a hypothetical time series econometrician who, at the time of the blog entries, applies some standard forecasting methods to see whether DeLong and Krugman’s confidence was justified. The econometrician’s conclusion is that Mankiw would likely win the bet and furthermore that a rebound of any significance is unlikely. The econometrician has no idea how DeLong and Krugman could have been so confident in the CEA’s rebound forecast."

Now my rants have been targeted at Romer and her now infamous January 11, 2009 paper from the "Office of the President Elect" stating what one would expect from the Stimulus. As we have chronicled for almost 4 years her projections never came close. Mankiw and others were more on target. One thus wonders where we may be in another 4 years if we are to continue this way.

Verizon and Cable

There was an interesting article in today's Times about Verizon and the CATV folks. It states:

“We were all trained to believe cable operators and the phone companies were natural enemies,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. 

Cable operators and phone companies thought so, too, but the cable companies have largely ended efforts to compete in the mobile phone business because the cost of building their own wireless networks could be prohibitive. 

Instead, they can use Verizon to attract customers without investing in a network of stores. “We’ve looked at a whole range of options for how to fulfill that customer need, including building our own cellular carrier, but we concluded we would be a late entrant in a highly competitive business,” said Peter Stern, chief strategy officer at Time Warner Cable. 

Cox, which tested the waters in the wireless market, now sells Verizon products and services in its Cox Solutions Stores in Tulsa, Okla., and Oklahoma City. Cox, which is based in Atlanta, has 130 retail locations and predicts Verizon will be a major part of its offerings. 

Now let me refresh a few on the technical facts:

 1. LTE/OFDM can accommodate 8 bps/Hz of bandwidth.

2. Verizon just got a tremendous amount of bandwidth.

3. Adaptive beam antenna can multiple OFDM by a factor of 10, thus almost 80 bps/Hz.

4. MPEG 4 runs at 2 Mbps and H.265 will half the rate of H.264 with HDTV. 

5. Verizon can then provide direct to the home HD TV and everything else with their exiting bandwidth and cell sites.

What does this mean:

1. Cable companies will have near instantaneous competitors at marginally lower costs.

2. Verizon has a union problem on the wireline side. Thus the ending of FIOS, along with its costs. There is no union on the wireless side so by switching to all wireless means the end of the unions, and further reductions in costs.

3. Wireless is seamless between fixed and mobile, same techniques, and thus extends over the customer's life cycle.

4. By being the face to the customer you get to own the customer. Going forward Verizon could own all of the customers and the CATV guys are left behind.

So who thinks this is a good idea?

Will Rationing Happen Here

The Telegraph in the UK states:

GPs believe the numbers of patients asking about paying for operations including cataract removal and joint replacements has increased markedly in the last year, according to a poll. 
Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said it was “incontrovertible” that increased NHS rationing was behind the increase in going private, a trend she described as “very sad”. 
The poll, carried out by ComRes for the firm BMI Healthcare, found that 70 per cent of GPs are now unable to refer a patient for further treatment on the NHS at least once a month because they do not qualify under local criteria. 
Primary care trusts (PCTs) have increasingly been restricting access to treatments including cataract removals, hernia operations and hip and knee replacements, by raising the threshold of how ill or disabled a patient has to be. 
It is suspected that the same will happen under the ACA especially for Medicare patients. Whether that is good or bad depends on what is rationed and to whom.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obesity and the Government

Obesity is an epidemic and the major cause of Type 2 Diabetes. As we have argued in our draft online book on Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes (with some 10,000 downloads!), the solution is quite simple, stop eating. Or at least get down to where your caloric input equals or is less than you burn rate, generally about 1,800 to 2,200 kcal per day. Recall that a pound gain in weight occurs for every cumulative 3500 kcal above the burn rate. 200 Kcal sodas consumed at 17.5 per week add a pound. Pizza at 800 Kcal, well you can do the math.

Now in JAMA two authors, one being the head of NIH state:

The obesity epidemic is not the first major health crisis that the United States has faced. In recent decades, progress has been made against such daunting challenges as tobacco use, infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS. However, obesity may pose the most significant challenge yet because it involves changing approaches to 2 fundamental aspects of daily life: food consumption and physical activity. To have any chance of release from obesity's ever-tightening grip, the nation will require broad-based efforts in every corner of society: homes, schools, community organizations, all levels of government, urban design, transportation, agriculture, the food industry, the media, medical practice, and, without question, biomedical research....

To address this need, research must proceed swiftly on 2 parallel fronts. The first is to devise practical and effective strategies for intervention, with special emphasis on preventive strategies that can be rapidly implemented in health care and community settings. The second is to evaluate community-based efforts that will soon be launched or are already under way, to gather data about their effectiveness, and to use that information to develop evidence-based interventions that can be applied on a wider scale.

 I respectfully disagree. Obesity is 50 to 100 times worse than AIDS, and it is simply controlled by controlling consumption. It does not require retroviral drugs it just requires reduction in calories. So let's look at the above.

First, intervention, as any GP or Internet knows if you get 1% of your patients to voluntarily control intake it is a miracle.  You see them frequently, adjust the metformin or insulin, send them to specialists and at best they never really get any better. They must see this as an economic issue, they must pay more for the right to get fat, and then we must pocket the funds to pay for the inevitable. Frankly it worked with tobacco.

Now as a community issue, we all too often see obese families, obese groups of people, and they do reinforce one another. Thus Collins et al pose the need for some community approach.  Again in  my experience this is difficult if not impossible. "Mother" has food on the table, and often an excess. Societal pressure creates an accelerated demand. Again there is no motivator other than price, an economic motivator.

As we have argued before,  there are two economic approaches, Pigou and Coase. Pigou taxes at the point of consumption, tax on carbs, and Coase at the point of impact, if your BMI exceeds 25.0 you are taxed. This thus is a medial problem ex post but an economic problem ex ante.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pelagius, Individualism and The Nun

The NY Times recounts the speech of some nun at the convention a week or so ago. As they state:

The Catholicism of Sister Campbell and Mr. Biden is a natural fit for Democrats. It is the faith of social justice activists like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, the church whose pope pleaded for relief of the “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” in an 1891 encyclical. 

 Now let me mention two excommunicated thinkers in the Catholic Church; Pelagius and Ockham. It was Pelagius, a British monk, who proclaimed that individuals can attain their salvation based upon the good acts they perform, that the individual has both the capacity and the ability to act in a way to do good deeds. Furthermore it was incumbent on the individual alone to do so, not through a group, it was the person's singular actions. Needless to say Pelagius lost and Augustine won. For Augustin was a classic Roman, one of the last, seeing man as a "subject" of the Church as they were "subjects" of the Roman Empire. The very concept of the individual was a heresy to Augustine. Furthermore he rejected individual deeds and introduced the concept of grace and divine selection, God gives grace, and no matter what you do unless God decides on you, that is the only metric, thus predestination.

Now for Ockham, the first modern individualist. He argued against the Pope, he saw the Pope as just another individual, not as some supreme worldly pontiff, whose views went beyond any question. Indeed he questioned, and John XXII was most likely less than any pope we can envision.

Then in the 19th century we have the rise of socialism and the like and Rome's counterattack to more loss in its authority was infallibility of the Pope and the construct of social justice. Frankly they also grew from the loss of Papal lands and the pushing by Garibaldi and the nationalists of the papacy back to a religious only institution. From this comes social justice, a clear loss of individualism and demand for the global community to follow the Pope en masse. Thus the strange movement of nuns using social justice as a template but at the same time denying Papal supremacy is the cornerstone of the Democrat thrust into Catholicism.

Is it not truly what each person does, individually and on their own, is not the New Testament a document freeing the individual and at the same time demanding from each, each person, their due. Social justice is a movement wherein the collection of a few put demands on the many. What benefit does that have, it glorifies the few and oppresses the many. It does not allow the individual to act, to demonstrate the essence of their faith.

The recent document from the Vatican, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, presents the Vatican's view, and in many ways it both denies individualism, and in turn individual responsibility, and sets forth a doctrine of societal duty as a group. One may ask what happens when we seek collusion with Caesar, in stead of individually giving God what is due, individual acts. Pelagius may very well have some kernels of truth, Augustine was clearly hanging on to the City of Rome, both man's and God's. Furthermore Ockham and his arguments have strong merit especially in light of the many mis-steps of the papacy over two millenia.

Thus we hear from some nun about what we as a group should do, whereas the Gospels speak to us as individuals, letting Caesar get his piece apart from our duties elsewhere. The Times continues:

Mr. Biden is not a “cafeteria Catholic” who chooses his beliefs according to convenience. He stands in the tradition of the Rev. John Courtney Murray, the Jesuit theologian who asserted that the foundation of modern pluralist society is not perfect agreement but continuing “public argument” based on shared values. The laws that frame this evolving conversation cannot always align with religious teachings. “It is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong,” he wrote in a 1965 memo advising the church to support the decriminalization of artificial contraception.

Two quick points, Catholics have to accept the total bundle, but what one suspects is that what the bundle is, is bounded by the four walls of the Gospel. Second, Jesuits and Vatican 2 have a rather shaky record. I remember quite well that period, having spent pre-Vatican 2 in the Franciscan Seminary and Vatican 2 in a Catholic institution, and Murray is hardly the sine qua non expert to choose, nor Maritan.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Words and Wisdom

In the winter of 1960 the snow was wet, heavy, and the temperature just hung around freezing, making the streets a combination of ice and slush. For reasons I seem to have misplaced somewhere in my white matter my father had gotten me a job, full time, twelve hours a day and six days a week for six weeks in the New York Sanitation Department, in the Port Richmond Depot, shoveling snow from streets. Now he had arranged with my school’s headmaster, since by that time I had finished all my requirements for graduation, had gotten early admission, had scholarships, and was I guess getting to feel my oats, so manual labor amongst the folks was the wise thing to expose me to. Of course such a course of action would be unheard of this day, but then it was I suspect a way for a growing young man to see what the real world was like.

So up at 4 AM, by bus to the depot, and in a large garage filled with exhaust I assembled with fifty other young men, yet for all the others this was their real life, for me I saw it as some form of punishment, but one never questioned father or Brother Richard. One just got there and pitched in. Out into the streets, not having boots and long underwear, I wanted to look cool, I set about my tasks, shovel in hand, with my nice rabbit lined gloves, digging out gutters, crossings, being splashed by every vehicle, through sunrise, noon, sun set and back to the depot. Then home, drop, then start all over again.

Not what helicopter moms subject their kinder to but it was a learning experience. But where does this lead? Well in this environment with these lost folks whose lives would gone on this way forever I learned how to use the four letter word, f**k as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, infinitive, prefex, I could decline and conjugate it, active and passive voice, I could use it as a subjunctive, and thank God for my Latin, Greek, and French, I had learned a new one word language, imagine that, just one word, carefully emphasized by syllable and ending and I could conduct a full conversation. I do not think either my father of the Headmaster had fully thought through this but upon my return it did help my Middle English translation of Chaucer. Thus I now had the ability to speak as any good Staten Islander, just look at Jersey Shore; they are all my successors in linguistics and rhetoric, examples par excellence of Staten Island dialects.

Now this never did me any good in Cambridge, MIT or Harvard, in fact I never recall using it, but there have been times when it can so easily fall from my lips, fluid and clear, perfect pronunciation and crisp and clear diction and well parsed word structures.

Thus reading Woodward slates tome, The Price of Politics, well worth every penny, I was reminded by the actions of the then Chief of Staff at the White House how self centered egotistic amateurs use this dialect. This may was an interloper, he had no style, part thug, part Martinette, he would use this wonderful word just to show off, as if he had learned it the way I had, in the streets, amongst the people. But when you really learn, I mean really learn its use, you have an almost operatic flow, it requires hands, head, and eye motions, choreographed in a manner which can only be gained by shoveling slush in the New York Streets. Somehow the bonding which occurs with the slush, the splash, the sinister drivers, all blends into a manner of using this word with full grammatical correctness.

Frankly it is a shame that we have those in public service act this way, it becomes their legacy, it proves nothing than perhaps the thug like character of their very being, hollow men hiding in feigned words, and as one well versed in its usage, trained by some of the world’s best semiotic professionals, understanding the full sign carrying elements, I find it undignified and harmful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11

On September 11, 2001 I was in Prague. After the news I had dinner alone in the Marriott and was joined by two American couples who had come to Europe for the first time. The two men had flown fighters in WWII and they were there to reminisce. As we watched the television monitor they recalled briefly their time some 48 years earlier as young men and to them this was even more striking than Pearl Harbor. As with many tragedies as this we sometimes let memory slip into the past where it is safe, we forget the intensity of the feelings of that time. But for those of us who were proximate, we lost about 50 people in our town and the surrounding towns, this was real. Each town has a piece of the buildings as a memorial in some special place. We have different presidents, different leaders, but the same intense feeling amongst most Americans of the need to protect and defend. It is a day we all remember.

On Line Education and the Academy

I have serious questions as to what this on line "stuff" really is. I had taken the first MIT course and had serious problems, and frankly still do. I am trying the others as well. But here are some of the concerns:

1. What is the objective, why are you doing it? Other than just doing it one must be careful about the classic ambiguity of expectations. You may expect A and the student Z. It results in disaffection. Trust me, it always does. Do the students just want to "learn" and if so what do they expect in obtaining the certificate. Then also how does one know who really took the exams. The certificate may go to someone who never read the book. Then why give  certificate. If it is for self learning then let it be to the self alone.

2. Why are you doing it? Why is an institution doing this? Just to follow others? That is a bad idea. It means that you end up justifying it on the fly. Are you being charitable, nice but with costs rising exponentially then you may be shortchanging the students who pay, or their parents, and the alumni who donate.

3. Equity is at play. The students who pay, get vetted, attend class, and pass are clearly better than the "someone" who gets a certificate.

Now in a NY Times piece on the firing of the President of UVA one reads:

What had the board so worried? In late May, as she prepared to remove Sullivan, Dragas e-mailed a board colleague a link to a Wall Street Journal column, beneath the subject line: “Why we can’t afford to wait.” The article described a joint venture that offers free, open online courses. In the last year, Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T. and other elite schools have moved aggressively into this arena, drawing significant global audiences, if no actual revenue. While many veteran professors roll their eyes at predictions that online learning will transform the structure of universities, to certain segments of the donor community — the Wall Street and Aspen Institute types — higher education looks like another hidebound industry awaiting creative destruction. “If you’re not talking about it,” says Jeffrey Walker, a UVA fund-raiser and a former JPMorgan financier, “what’s wrong with you?” 

Perhaps there  is not only nothing wrong with you but you may be smarter than the rest. After all MIT and Harvard plan to spend $30 million apiece out the gate to start this process. That would be a big chunk of change for UVA with there being no clear reason to do it. Afford to wait ... why not if there are so many empty questions.

There is not a single tangible piece of evidence that this will change the universities. In fact as best I can gather from my MIT colleague many of those who got As were my former students back in the late 60s and early 70s taking the course again as I did. There was no vetting of the students, no idea of their backgrounds, and apparently as best I can gather no post course review of the course takers.

I have had this conversation with many who wanted the same fast movement and after a discussion of the type that any reasonable business person would have they changed their views drastically, and fell into the camp of "why are we doing what?".

Perhaps the same momentum do follow the lemmings was similar to what led to the financial collapse. I always remember my father's comment, prior planning prevents poor performance. So just don't follow the lemmings unless you know why and what the consequences may be. The President was apparently quite prudent.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Task Force Again

According to the NY Times, the USPTF has issued another dictum, namely that testing for ovarian cancer has no merit. They states:

Tests commonly recommended to screen healthy women for ovarian cancer do more harm than good and should not be performed, a panel of medical experts said on Monday.

Now this may not be exactly true, but it is mostly. There are two simple tests for ovarian cancer, CA125 in the blood and ultrasound exams of the ovaries. They are not bad, but, and here is the real problem, they do not seem to make themselves evident until too late a time. Why? Ovarian cancer grows very rapidly. Thus if one has a yearly interval, and the cells double at say a 5 day rate or even less, then at say 3.65 doubling there is 2^100 times the cell, roughly. That means a massive tumor in a ear.

Thus the question is how frequently should one scree to see a material change in survival in ovarian cancer from such screening. Again no one seems to have even thought of the correct question. But alas the USPTF seems to have this chronic ailment.

If one asks the question then I suspect based upon a back of the envelope test one should test every month or so. That is a bit expensive. But if e have a 5 day doubling time then we have 2^6 in a month, or only 64 cells. Is that enough to see or raise CA125. We do not know. How about once every 100 days, with 5 day doubling time. That is 2^20 cells or 1,000 times 1,000, and now we have a mass with CA125 effect and observable on ultrasound. But has it metastasized already? Good question.

But as with all such issues the insight is all too often in the question, not the answer. Ask the right question and you are brilliant.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

James, Pragmatism, and Antnee Squirrel

I was rereading William James and Pragmatism to better understand what he meant. He says: 

SOME YEARS AGO, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find every one engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel—a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree's opposite side a human be­ing was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. 

The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not? He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree; but does he go round the squirrel? In the unlimited leisure of the wilderness, dis­cussion had been worn threadbare. Everyone had taken sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. Each side, when I appeared, therefore appealed to me to make it a majority! Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contra­diction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: "Which party is right," I said, "depends on what you practically mean by 'going round' the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. 

Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you con­ceive the verb 'to go round' in one practical fashion or the other."

 Well as I went out to check with my fried Antnee stuffing himself on the feeder and asked him what he thought he sat there a while and looked at me somewhat stunned. His first comment was:

"Was this from some Professor Sir?"

Surprised I said "Yes, Antnee."

He then replied:

"A Professor from Harvard Sir?"

I replied again, "Yes".

He then said:

"Enough said Sir."

Then he went about eating again. I guessed that was pragmatism for Antnee!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Individualism and the Left: Reconstructing Individualism, A Review

In the book, Reconstructing Individualism, by Albrecht, one finds an interesting attempt by the left to redefine the concept. Although difficult to read, it is not well written, its portrays the mind of the left with some clarity.

Individualism as a concept suffers from a lack of consistent definition. In this book by Albrecht it is impossible to find any definition, especially of what he seems to call classic individualism. The intent of the work one gathers is to “reconstruct individualism” along the lines of Emerson, Dewey et al using a pragmatic bent most likely according to James. Strange choice to build a view of individualism upon, for at best Emerson looks at the individual in an inward sense, along the lines of being true to yourself and Dewey was in effect a Marxist in his world view, having been a member of the Defense team for Trotsky in his trial resulting with the break with Stalin. Thus even incorporating Dewey stretches the view of Individualism to an extreme, for even Dewey in his works on Individualism demonstrates at best contempt, and in his Sophist way often redefines his form in a manner disjoint from any Individualism coming from past thinkers.

The book argues that “our conceptions of individualism have remained trapped within the assumptions of classic liberalism…” The author then presents what he considers a reinterpreted individualism, called reconstructing individualism, by examining the works of Emerson, James, Dewey and Ralph Ellison. As I am familiar most with the first three, my comments shall be limited to his observations thereto.

Let me start on p. 1. The author states “America has a love-hate with individualism.” From this point on I have a problem, for the author never seems to directly define what he means. Individualism has had an ever changing set of concepts and constructs. One can argue, as does the Marxist Meiksins-Wood, in Citizens to Lords p 226, that one of the first individualists was Ockham, focusing both around his arguments regarding nominalism as well as his opposition to the Avignon papacy. The Ockham school of individualism is also best explained by McGrade in the volume by Tierney and Linehan, Authority and Power; p. 149-165.

Individualism has many faces, not just the Lockean view or that of the Scottish enlightenment. The quote on the last page by de Tocqueville, wherein he criticizes individualism as he observed it was best analyzed by Schleifer in his work The Making of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, pp 305-322. Simply the Schleifer argument therein is that de Tocqueville was reacting more to the change and threats in French society and failed to adequately understand the American view. American individualism, in the early 19th century, was note one of an isolated self-reliance but one where the associations noted by de Tocqueville managed to assist communities and individuals. It was no a society of separation but one of association and cooperation.

Thus one is somewhat amazed by the title of the first chapter, “Individualism has never been tried” since it not only was but became the very foundation of the American spirit for a long period of time.

Thus the main critique is the lack of definition, especially with any clarity, of what the author means by individualism. The argument he makes is somewhat sophist in approach by incrementally alleging elements which he then rejects.

On p 8 he speaks of Dewey’s democracy as community. Dewey was anything but an individualist. The essence of is educational philosophy was a centralized and common core of basic education. For example, Dewey was often in mortal combat with the Catholic Church in New York City since the Church had an education system disjoint from what Dewey wanted. Dewey vehemently opposed the Church’s parochial schools. Dewey in so opposing any alternative was then effectively rejecting any attempt at individualism. He sought standards, standards that he and a select few would establish, to create a homogenized America.

Before continuing, again on p 8 the author describes what he calls a broad set of assumptions common to the four individuals whose work he intends to integrate. The first is an example of the style throughout:

“A pluralistic metaphysics that analyzes human activity, truth, power, and value as emerging and existing only within and against the limitations of specific conditions.”

Now frankly I have read this several dozen times, I have even tried to diagram the sentence. It makes no sense. Give it a try. Each word is a known term but placing them in this order seems to lead to an un-interpretable collection of words.

The most telling element of the text is in Endnote 2 on p 312 where the author attempts to demonstrate the pragmatic individualism of the current president while criticizing without any comment the opposing party. The key rule in writing documents which would stand the test of time is not to put such statements in the document. One now clearly understands the intent of the author to be the justification of the administration in power at the time of the writing and thus it may readily call into question the intellectual substance in view of the blatant political nexus.

Now Chapter 1 is dealing with interpreting Emerson as a Pragmatist, an interesting interpretation. On p 26 the author provides a reasonable overview of the philosophy of Emerson. On p 31 the author constructs a nexus between Emerson and William James, the son of a family friend and the prime mover of the American pragmatism movement. The evolution in pragmatic thought and the reification of religious thought can be readily seen in the progression from Emerson to James to Dewey. Emerson was clearly a product of the growing sense of American separatism, his speech at Harvard announcing the break with Europe was in a way the temporal instant in which the split was recognized, American was to “think” and thus act on its own, relying no longer on what Europe what to proffer. Thus in a sense the break that Emerson was creating even between his Universalism, anti-Trinitarian views, and the beginning of pragmatism are patched together by the author in this chapter. On p 36 there is a telling phrase when the author states:

“Here I depart from the assessment of Charles Mitchell, who concludes that James “wanted to make use of Emerson, not make sense of him, and his method was to mine Emerson for the valuable insights…” …James did conclude that Emerson’s voicing of monist and pluralist perspective revealed a lack of consistency…However … James went further … to “make sense” of the conflict between Emerson’s monism and his pluralism.” 

The issue may very well be at the heart of Pragmatism as explored by the author, a reasonable nexus between Emerson and James.

Chapter 2 deals with the individualism of Emerson. On p 55 the authors struggles with the issue of Emerson’s individualism. He states:

“Emerson’s individualism reflect is attempt to articulate an ethics commensurate with a world of limitation and power.

Now as with many other statements I did have some difficulty here with what seems to be said. If this is an attempt to describe, define, delimit the “ethics” or behavior norms of society, a society which exists in a world with well-defined limits of wealth, goods, etc and a world controlled by power, namely a few who exert control over the many, then Emerson may have done so, albeit with limited success. On p 56 the author again continues this discussion as he discusses the essays of Emerson. On p 57 the author also discusses the idealism of Emerson, as a real practice of ethical and practical behavior.

On p 67 the author states:

“…Emerson contends that individuality can only be realized in a social context …. that the interaction between the individual and society must allow for the nourishment and growth of individuals most vital talents”

Classic individualism as seen in the time period would not disagree with this. Somehow the individualism used as the straw target of the author is some isolationism, a Thoreau like separatism at Walden, rather than just what was said, an ability to allow each to maximize their talents within a flexible community.

On p. 70 the author uses the classic quote from Emerson on “Self Reliance” where he compares the Harvard dandy to the New Hampshire back woodsman. The Harvard dandy fails and thus never gets the next chance but the New Hampshire lad, despite lack of a great education, through individual drive and fortitude succeeds again and again. In a close reading one sees the dandy with his large “community” of friends and advocates, suffers an early and permanent failure, but the lad from New Hampshire with no more that his own “self-reliance’ never sees a failure. This is both consistent with individualism yet the author seems hard pressed to take it for what it says.

Chapter 3 begins the pragmatism of William James. Overall his presentation of James flows well as does his discussion of James’ view of individualism.

Chapter 4 is on Dewey, and here one may have some concern. Dewey was a complex person who was often at odds with the institutions which he was involved with, like his departure from Chicago, as well as his somewhat alienated location at Columbia. He was a strong supporter of Marxist causes, although not an outright Communist, he also was a key player in the general attitude of gross anti-Catholicism rampant at Columbia. To even try to say Dewey was in any way and individualist would at best be a stretch. Yes, there is a nexus to James, a sense of pragmatism in his philosophy, and his approach to epistemology was reasonable for its time, his political views, and individualism is as political as it is philosophical, is nowhere like what one would accept as true individualism.

On p 192 the author states:

“…Dewey is critical for understanding how pragmatism allows, and indeed requires, us to reconceive individualism. Of all the writers considered in the current study, Dewey articulates the most comprehensive critique of classic liberal individualism, as well as the most systematic argument why a reconstructed individualism is not merely compatible with, but essential to, a democratic ideal of community.”

This is truly a powerful statement and most telling. Yes indeed Dewey is a pragmatist, no one would deny that, but he is also in many ways a communitarian. The Dewey ideal of community would reject any form of individualism, it is more akin to Marxism, the individual disappears and the class remains. Nominalism would be rejected in this class based society, class as a conforming group not as a separatist set of associations. The author talks on p. 194 of a "trial by experience”. Indeed, individualism as exhibited in an entrepreneurial society, one where individuals are allowed to risk and if successful obtain rewards, as individuals, would in Dewey’s sense be subsumed into a group, a national pool of contributors to the whole.

On p 195 the author states:

“Dewey’s transactional model of selfhood leads him to reject the tired dualism of “individual” versus “institutional” approaches to reform, insisting instead that reform requires both the remaking of social conditions so as to instill new habits of individuality and the necessary role that individual imagination and choice play in so remaking social conditions.”

In a sense Dewey always saw “’society” as something moldable and the individual first fitting in that remolded society. One need just read Individualism Old and New by Dewey to fully understand his societal group think view.

Chapter 5 is about Dewey and reconstructing individualism. The bottom of p 245 has a most interesting statement:

“At the same time, the fact that an increasingly collective system of production has remained tied to an outdated system of individual property has alienated the vast majority of workers from meaningful control over and understanding the larger ends that direct their labor, thereby stripping their individuality of socially integrated meaning.”

This seems to be a Marxist view; society composed of classes, workers deprived of their due, and the individual must be subsumed under the integrated working class. The individual cannot exist except in the group of a socially properly structure society. This is hardly individualism as we understand it.

Then on p. 260 he states:

“An individualism that had at its core this goal of effective liberty and equality would seek, above all, to create social conditions that would afford all persons an equal opportunity to participate in the associated activities through which individual’s capacities are educated and liberated. So conceived, “individualism” describes an integral component of democracy considered as a way of life or the ideal community…”

This is total rejection of individualism and an acceptance of communitarian like systems. The author continues at length on p 261 a detailed discussion of this point. He believes society must structure the organizations to support individuals. He states:

“In an American context, be it Dewey’s of the 1930s or ours of today. proposals involving a significant degree of socialism are in danger of being pigeonholed, dismissed or vilified.”

Yes, because socialism is the very antithesis of individualism, of entrepreneurial societies, allowing free and open creative opportunities. I believe that here the author takes a clear and unambiguous position.

Chapter 6 deals with Ellison which I shall leave to the reader since I have no insight to him at all.

Now if one desires to understand individualism one need read many works which are available including Hayek, to name one. This book is in reality a socialist’s view of what they would like individualism to become; it in no way describes individualism.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Well Posed Observation

There are times when those outside the US may have a better understanding of that this election is all about. In the Telegraph the author states:

Whatever the outcome of the American presidential election, one thing is certain: the fighting of it will be the most significant political event of the decade. Last week’s Republican national convention sharpened what had been until then only a vague, inchoate theme: this campaign is going to consist of the debate that all Western democratic countries should be engaging in, but which only the United States has the nerve to undertake. The question that will demand an answer lies at the heart of the economic crisis from which the West seems unable to recover. It is so profoundly threatening to the governing consensus of Britain and Europe as to be virtually unutterable here, so we shall have to rely on the robustness of the US political class to make the running. 
What is being challenged is nothing less than the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust. The crash of 2008 exposed a devastating truth that went much deeper than the discovery of a generation of delinquent bankers, or a transitory property bubble. It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect. 

 Free markets have certain dimensions that basically reward success and punish failure. When Government intervenes to prevent failure for a few, albeit allegedly to prevent failure to the many, and extends to the many more than just a safety net, then we are doomed as a society. The alternative has not been thought through. There is no viable alternative to a free market, some have been tried and abandoned. The germ of a free market is the individual entrepreneur, and the death of that entity shall result in the death of the market, with as one says no Plan B available to take over.

From the illogical arrogance of Ms Warren the Harvard Professor, what else one may ask, to the Rasputin like control of some in our political system, we are faced with a clear choice, one which we may not be able to put off without facing oblivion.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cheating or Cooperation

There was an interesting piece today in the NY Times regarding a "cheating" scandal at Harvard. The article leads with:

Harvard students suspected in a major cheating scandal said on Friday that many of the accusations are based on innocent — or at least tolerated — collaboration among students, and with help from graduate-student teachers who sometimes gave them answers to test questions. 

 Harvard University revealed on Wednesday that nearly half of the undergraduates in the spring class were under investigation for suspected cheating, for working together or for plagiarizing on a take-home final exam. Jay Harris, the dean of undergraduate education, called the episode “unprecedented in its scope and magnitude.” 

 Now my recent experience in my local Community College taking Organic Chemistry let me see this first hand. Back in the  50s and early 60s at MIT students did their own Problem Sets and on Take Home Exams it was assumed that you did the work yourself. In fact the competition was so severe you would not trust others work, and they would not trust you. Independence was essential.

But today, there is a culture of "sharing". Before each class where there was a homework due the students gathered together and compared assignments, made changes as necessary and converged to an answer. It was accepted. No, I did not participate, I was the "old guy", they were all young students. But in a Facebook generation this sharing is de rigueur, commonplace. It is the way they work. They had been taught such team work in their education process all along their young lives. It is the way we are taught today, no individual performance, we all are told to work in a group, to share. It is a cultural norm, yet life does not work quite that way.

Harvard is getting a lesson in what their liberal professors have been preaching, the loss of individualism and the ascent of groupism. Is it good or bad. Grammar schools no longer give out grades, class ranking is no longer accepted, and sharing is accepted as the way to go.

Perhaps the chickens are just coming home to roost.