Saturday, January 08, 2005


The Administration push for Social Security “privatization” is obviously a scam — since when is the Administration interested in something that will only be a problem long after Georgie is out of office? Global warming? Nope. Energy independence? Nope. Global competitiveness? Nope. Water shortages? Nope. Health care? Nope. Long- term structural deficits? Nope.

But what kind of a scam? Everybody who actually looks at the numbers seems to agree that it's a horrible idea; Brad DeLong (who has economic credentials out the wazoo) has been particularly energetic in tracking this piece of idiocy.

Well, the obvious answer is that they're paying off their Wall Street supporters and propping up the stock market. All those accounts will buy stocks and bonds, which will drive up stock and bond prices. They'll need to be managed, which means management fees. Big return on investment for Wall Street's campaign contributions. As with all “privatization” schemes, it “privatizes” only the profits for the Administration's friends, leaving the risks for the rest of us to deal with.

But there's another barb in this hook, and it also ties in with “personal medical accounts”, another little “privatization” oddity being pushed by the Bush administration.

One of the many potential train wrecks in our current economy is the consumer debt level. Far too many people are carrying far too much debt, especially unsecured credit card debt. American bankruptcy laws are by far the most liberal in the world, and the credit card companies are terrified of a wave of personal bankruptcies. They've been worried about this for a good number of years now.

Problem is, if a bank makes an unsecured loan (like on a credit card) and the person getting the loan goes bankrupt, the bank is simply out of luck. The creditors divvy up the assets as far as they will go, but they're not going to come anywhere near to covering the debts. Enough people declare bankruptcy and the banks are in Real Trouble. Doesn't seem to slow 'em down sending out “you have already been approved” credit card offers, though.

Now, there is a movement to tighten up bankruptcy laws. Personal bankruptcy is being portrayed as a way of simply writing off one's debt and starting over, with essentially no penalty. It ain't. It's a process that nobody in their right mind would go through voluntarily, but that's not the spin. I've even seen suggestions of bringing back debtors' prison. I dunno how serious they were; debtors' prison seems to be an ideal way of guaranteeing that you'll never get your money back.

Bush's “ownership society” generates a bunch of new “assets” that can be attached by creditors. Declare bankruptcy or lose a lawsuit, and not only are your savings gone, so are your future Social Security and medical benefits.

Now, Social Security is supposed to provide a minimum level of support. If somebody has their “assets” confiscated as the result of a bankruptcy or lawsuit, they no longer have that minimum level of support. So what are we going to do? Let them starve in the streets? (I get the impression from some of the more radical Neocons that that's exactly what they want to do.)

BushCo looks to be willing to spend a lot of political capital on this one. Best to pay off your credit cards now .... But that's good advice in general.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Literal Meaning of Genesis

I wandered into a discussion of “creationism” on Steve Gilliard's blog a while back. Now, as I can vouch for experience, it's impossible to argue with a Creationist. Their attitude is “I am right and you are wrong. My devastatingly clever responses demolish your feeble arguments”. They'll just keep repeating their nonsensical arguments and ignore anything you say.

It seems that this isn't a new problem. It's old enough that one of the heaviest hitters in the history of Christianity got bit by it, and wrote the definitive refutation:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

— St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Or to summarize in less flowery language, “Shut the bleep up about stuff you know nothing about. You not only look like a jerk, you make the rest of us look like jerks, too”.

Coupla random comments:

  • This has no relationship to Satanism, as described in the previous post. Creationism isn't Satanic, it's just dumb.

  • The current euphemism for Creationism is “intelligent design”. This seems to be the basic Deist argument: God wound up the Universe like the ultimate Marvelous Toy, set it running, and then went away. This, unfortunately, does not provide that most fundamental function of any religion, which is how to get people to contribute to the church building fund.

  • One of the first things on my road to getting run out of the Southern Baptist Church was a little pamphlet called Roadblocks to Evolution. The Powers that Be handed it out with great pomp and ceremony as the thing that would crush this “evolution” nonsense once and for all; I handed it back with the errors highlighted. They weren't pleased. The arguments weren't just wrong, they were ridiculous.

  • The folks I've met who preach the gospel of Creationism seem less concerned about being related to Koko the gorilla (who seems rather sweet) than they are with being related to other Homo sapiens sapiens whose ancestors left Africa later than theirs did.

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