SocraticGadfly: 4/22/12 - 4/29/12

April 27, 2012

A pox on #GnuAtheist and anti-Gnu houses alike

P.Z. Myers, aka Pharyngula, gives space to "Jesus mythicist" Richard Carrier for bashing liberal Jesus scholar Bart Ehrman, who is somewhere between deism and agnosticism himself, for nothing more than upholding the historicity of Jesus.

And, in return, self-appointed defender of secular humanism against the hordes of Gnu Atheism R. Joseph Hoffmann, bashes Myers, Carrier, and "mythicism" (a term I reject as much as "accommodationism" when used by Gnus).

And, I've come to the conclusion that what we have is Carrier and Ehrman (we'll see what reply Ehrman may have to Carrier) as authors of dueling books with dueling propositions. Between their stances, there is no room for compromise.

And, above that level, we have Myers willing to give a platform to anyone who might advance the Gnu Atheist agenda and help recruit cadres (his Chairman Mao word from a couple of years ago), while Hoffmann, in part because he's a Jesus historicist, sees P.Z.'s "using" of Carrier as another excuse to attack him.

First, my reply to Hoffmann, since I just wrote it;
I disagree with your take on mythicism, starting with the word. (That said, I'm not a Gnu by any means.) Were I to offer Bayesian-like odds, based on current levels of scholarship, I'd offer 10 percent odds, maybe 20 percent, that Yeshua bar Yusuf never lived. In other words, high enough probability for it to be legitimate discussion. That said, PZ is really ridiculous here. While Ehrman believes in the actual existence of Jesus, he's always, from what I've seen, been cordial about the issue. And, I know that from personal experience

And, quoting Paul? The only thing he says in an authentic letter is that Jesus was "born of a woman." That says nothing about his historicity, and could be interpreted as nothing more than an anti-Gnostic statement. [Calling James "the brother of the Lord" can be seen as nothing but stating his leadership in the Christian movement.]

Q?  Q says nothing historically grounded about Jesus' existence other than his baptism, and thousands of people were baptized by him. [Q is the putative source behind the wisdom sayings of Jesus common to Matthew and Luke.]

As for mentions of Caiphas, etc.? Well, Matthew mentions a likely non-historic "massacre of infants." Mark has no birth account. Luke of course botches the historicity of Jesus' birth and in a royal way, enough to argue AGAINST anything else he claims that is alleged to be historical.

Besides, as I've said, there's option 3: Yeshua was the Pharasaic Yeshua crucified by Alexander Jannai. That gives more than a century for the myth to develop and the history to be replaced.
And, yes, I believe that is at least in the 5 percent range, if not 10 percent. So, let's discuss it more.

Second, let's look at what Carrier says. The reality? Hoffmann somewhat overstates Carrier's tone vis-a-vis Ehrman (however, per my update, way below, Carrier had more vitriol in another post; dunno why Hoffmann didn't lead with that), and ignores some of Ehrman's own tone in his original article. Carrier notes he has appreciated Ehrman's previous books, and even that many mythicists of the past have been kind of nutso. Otherwise, it's a general argument against some of Ehrman's claims for historicity.

That said, Carrier engages in some degree of special pleading, like insisting that if we had all of Paul's writings, it would be clear what calling James the Lord's brother means. I partially agree with the commenter who says it's strained, but don't think it's AS strained as the commenter claims.

And, , yes, Ehrman DOES overstate his case. And, per my comment to Hoffmann, does so with a vitriol I've not seen from him before. Although, from what I've read, Carrier's now book-to-be is probably very overrated, Ehrman's, which I want to read, may well be, too.

A sampling from Ehrman's blog post:
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves).  
First, the claim that an original written source, a proto-Q, is traceable to within a year or two of his life, is laughable. Second, per the response I made to Hoffmann, Ehrman knows better about Paul.

Then there's this two-edged sword:
And what better way to malign the religious views of the vast majority of religious persons in the western world, which remains, despite everything, overwhelmingly Christian, than to claim that the historical founder of their religion was in fact the figment of his followers' imagination?
Yes, Gnus may have motivation behind their actions. But, a Robert Price, for example, isn't identified with Gnus. As someone who's at least more skeptical about Jesus than Ehrman, I know I'm not a Gnu.

And, just as Myers and his ilk are ruining the word "atheist," Gnu or otherwise, Hoffman and his "acoylte," Steph, are coming closer to ruining the phrase "secular humanism" through using this debate as a vehicle.

April 26, 2012

Dear Mac: No, you're not a PC; you're not close

Computer security guru Eugene Kaspersky says that in terms of computer protections, Apple is where Microsoft was 10-12 years ago. He cites more Mac-specific malware, plus the rise of Apple mobile devices, as the main issues and says Apple needs to step up its game.

Now, it's true that on mobile devices, Apple makes claims about the security of non-jailbroken products. But, at the same time, it promotes cross-platform synching. What if your Mac Air or G3 desktop has malware?

Left unsaid by Kaspersky is that Mac users need to stop being so smug about the issue, and take note that they need antivirus programs installed and up to date.

April 25, 2012

Quo vadis the Chinese economy? A bubble?

A great news analysis column here looks at three possible options of opinion about China.

One is the maximalists, who say that, for various reasons, China's economic good times will continue to roll. The second, rather than minimalists, could be called bubblers, because they see China facing many of the same bubbles that the U.S., then Western Europe, started facing five years ago, and with a more corrupt, perhaps occasionally dictatorially uneasy, government.

The third is that favored by the author: that China is facing a natural, inevitable slowing of growth now that it's per-capita income level and other factors have hit a certain level.

Sharma compares China to a number of countries that hit a similar middle income level. Mexico, he notes, never  broke through. Japan and South Korea did, of course, to become "developed nations." The jury's still out on Brazil right now, of course.

That said, a slowdown, even, with anemic Japanese and European growth, could return more capital to the U.S., he says.

Sharma also says it could lead to a return of more jobs.

Color me skeptical there. Globalizationalists in the U.S. have long said that they'll look at more manufacturing in places like Vietnam if Chinese wages get too high. Or ... speaking of Mexico ... lower fuel transportation costs than China will make maquiladores a tempting angle again.

Color me skeptical on one other thing, too. I'm a bubbler. Japan and South Korea had never inflated their economies like China did. And even though Southh Korea, at a comparable period, was also a dictatorship, it was a more secure one than the current group oligarchy in Beijing.

We'll here a bubble ... either semi-smoothly deliberately being deflated, or else rudely popping. But, we'll hear a bubble.

Memory is a JPG not a TIF

That insight popped into my head after reading Jonah Lehrer's column about memory degradation. Lehrer notes that the act of "opening" a "stored" memory is what causes it to decay. And, of course, as fellow workers with digital photos know, a "lossy" photo in a format like a JPG decays whenever you handle it, while a "lossless" format like a TIF doesn't.

Another thought .... this probably has something to say about too much rumination being bad in the sense that eventually one isn't ruminating about the actual event.

Hospitals as leeches

No, not as using leeches, but as leeches. Dunno if this practice has spread to Texas yet, but elsewhere, hospitals have outsourced more and more of their administrative work, including debt collection. AND ... they're letting debt collectors inside hospitals, even to pose as hospital employees.

There's a number of related issues.

1. A lot of this is for-profit hospitals trying to recoup costs of the uninsured using ERs. How much will Obamacare help with that? Probably a modest amount, no more.
2. What about nonprofit hospitals? Are any of them doing the same?
3. Would it help for more for-profit hospitals to be nudged into nonprofit status?
4. Do collection agencies calculate the cost of being fined for privacy violations into the cost of doing business?

April 24, 2012

#Tiananmen survivor: Biography cum propaganda

A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters by Chai Ling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first 4/5 of the book was great, but the last 1/5 clearly jumped the shark.

I have no problem with Chai talking about specific spinoffs of her conversion to Christianity, since that's part of her biography. I'm not so OK with her equating forced abortions for gender in China with all abortions, for serious medical issues even, in the U.S. But, that's a belief that's part of her conservative evangelical conversion. So, it's not the shark-jumping, yet.

What is?

Her belief that China must become a "Jesus fearing" nation before democracy can take root. Tosh. Piddle. Or bullshit. And, one empirically refuted.

A very Chinese, very democratic (and capitalist), prosperous, QUITE non-Christian Taiwan sits across the Straits of Formosa from China.

In addition:
1. A very democratic, very prosperous, majority non-Christian South Korea almost borders China.
2. A very democratic, very prosperous, almost totally non-Christian Japan sits across the Sea of Japan.
3. A semi-democratic, very non-Christian, growingly prosperous Thailand is also in Southeast Asia.

If that's not enough to refute Chai Ling:
A (messily) democratic, not-yet-prosperous, very much non-Christian India has been democratic since its independence.

So, the shark was jumped there.

Related to that, we hear zero, zip, bupkis about what her dad, sister and brother think about her conversion.

I also noticed, by this point, that post-exile, there's almost no print given to fellow Tianamen student leaders who were successful in some way post-exile, rather than those who made peace with Beijing or else couldn't hack it abroad. And, there are other such people.

Result? It's hard not to think of this as half propaganda, half biography. And, having just written that, my review goes down another star. If we had half stars, I'd do 2.5, but I can't give it a full three.

View all my reviews

Ditch the euro — it's easy!

Simon Johnson, in talking about the ongoing eurozone crisis, says that, while it's not quite as easy as pie, it would be relatively easy for some countries, say the PIIGS, to ditch the euro. Why? He looks back to Depression-era Europe and notes how easily many countries went off the gold standard.

That said, one country going off the gold standard inspired or compelled others to do the same. So a mad rush for the euro exits would probably inspire more.

And, regarding austerity issues, leaving the euro could cut both ways. Germany might decide to leave the euro because it looks too weak, or, if a new French government tries to dump on Germany.

And, per Johnson's analogy, leaving the gold standard didn't immediately end the Depression.

Given that different of the PIIGS face what they do for different reasons, leaving the euro might or might not help. Spain and Portugal face the implosion of a housing bubble. Maybe they need to nationalize local banks, then implement a Tobin tax on non-nationalized banks to ding the Germans. Ireland might be in a similar boat.

OTOH, would Germany, or the UK, invest in them in the future then?

Greece? Its problems, of corruption and tax evasion, are self-inflicted. It shouldn't have been admitted to the eurozone, in the first place.

Italy? It's halfway in the Grecian urn, though not totally.

Leaving the euro, of itself, probably wouldn't help Italy and definitely wouldn't help Greece. Until Greeks own up to that, nothing will help them, anyway.

So, Johnson is half right. Ditching the euro is easy. Helpful? Maybe not so much.

April 23, 2012

James Lovelock thinks #Gaia ain't warming so much

James Lovelock, famed proponent of planet Earth as Gaia, a living organism of sorts in its own right, has said, in essence, that he's a global warming confuse-nik.

He said he's not a denier, but, he's clearly all over the map otherwise.

He says warming has slowed down since the change of the millennium.
He says oceans could so moderate climate that we could still have "an ice age" out of climate change.
He says particulate pollution could lead to cooling.
And various other nuttery.

On warming, he ignores the blistering spring 2012, which wasn't all global warming but was certainly influenced by it. Also, he is apparently ignorant of the fact that 2005, NOT 1998, contra continuing claims by deniers, was the warmest year on record, as well as this:
“All 11 years of the 21st century so far (2001-2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than 2011,” NOAA said.
Of course, while the Gaia hypothesis was inspired intuition, Lovelock's not struck me overall as a brilliant scientist, or a thorough one. So, mistake No. 1 isn't surprising.

The oceans? No, we're not perfect in our knowledge ... and there are worries of regional cooling in cases such as Greenland having glacier dissolution severe enough to break up the Atlantic conveyor belt and disrupt the Gulf Stream. (I think they're overrated fears, but they're there.) That said, we learn more about oceanic effects all the time, including how much or how little additional CO2 it can readily hold.

Particulate pollution? It's being lessened in the developed world. It's unlikely China and India will more than offset it by too much. Besides, China knows, warming aside, it's got a horrible, and growing, pollution problem. And, climate scientists have already calculated its impacts.

I always thought Lovelock was a diamond in the rough. Now I see how rough his rough is.

And, of course, even if he's not a denialist, he's now officially a "tool" for  those who are.

April 22, 2012

Dear Leader's latest election-year lie: mortage fraud non-settlement

Turns out, as I predicted when the latest mortgage fraud "settlement" was announced a month or two ago, that the "fraud" was as much in the alleged "settlement" as anything. Via Truthout, Naked Capitalism has the details, including lack of staffing and total lack of people with inside-the-Beltway titles being involved. When you get the telephone runaround, you know that you don't matter.

And, yes, also per the story, New York's AG deserves opprobrium for lending his name, and desire for 15 minutes of fame, to this bullshit in the first place. But not just Eric Schneiderman. California's AG, Kamela Harris, already touted as a rising Democratic star, decided part of her star being burnished was to look tough, then sign off on the same apparently toothless bottom line.

Trust me, you're going to see more, and more blatant stuff like this up to November. And, when it's pointed out, either enthusiastic or sadly resigned Obamiacs will challenge this, and challenge the idea of voting Green.

As for the reality of what will be done? Very little. When you still have such a robosigning mess that Bank of America sues itself, as does Wells Fargo, the banksters will first work on straightening the paper trail, then second address real foreclosures that make themselves more available. Third, between the first two things, they'll offer moderately more sweetened crumbs than before for refinancing, and pay money to state government coffers which the likes of Schneiderman and Harris will use to further buff their reputations.

A "shifting" of positions on Keystone XL is coming next, in all likelihood. Possible modification of some EPA rules might come after that. 

#Friedman needs to talk to #Kristof about #China

Teapot Tommy Friedman, aka "My Head is Flat," has never met a breathless story about the successes of globalization, especially in China, that he hasn't liked, embellished, spun into a column and loved to death.

Therefore, it's ... er ... "interesting" to note that he's said not a column-inch word about the recent news about corruption-laden, possibly  criminal Chinese Communist politico Bo Xilai.

That said, his op-ed partner, Nicholas Kristof, has no problem in so doing, and in spelling out what this really means, and what the likes of neocentrists like Friedman refuse to see, let alone accept: The Chinese bubble is bursting.

First, the corruption problem:
Even good people are on the take in China these days, because everybody else is. Chinese doctors take cash from patients’ families before surgery. Journalists take bribes to write articles. Principals take money to admit students. 
If this were about Mexico, Friedman would be all over it. But, it's China, so you hear the crickets on his column pages.

Second, as I said, Kristof notes that the bubble is bursting. Or, in some ways, it never expanded to include all of China:
The backdrop is the staggering wealth enjoyed by the elite. More than 300 million Chinese lack access to safe water, but one tycoon’s home I visited had an indoor basketball court, a movie theater and a pond with rare fish worth up to tens of thousands of dollars each.  
There's more, about the alleged money-laundering by Bo and his wife, and more. Kristof notes that reform voices are making themselves a little bit heard, but that's nothing new, either.

Zhao Ziyang was doing the same before Tiananmen Square in 1989, and his pains got him exiled from the government and under house arrest.

Contra neocentrists and neoliberals, capitalism of a sort can and will coexist with dictatorial government of a sort. Hell, it wasn't called "capitalism," but look at the Roman Empire.

That said, it will often become corrupt crony capitalism on a scale of the Koch Brothers' wettest of wet dreams.

And, despite Kristof's hopes, I doubt liberalization of Chinese politics, even within the Communist Party, will happen to any great degree in any time soon.