Month: August 2013



Five years ago, the warehouse of Woodland beverage distributor V. Santoni & Co. was stocked with fewer than 300 varieties of beer. Today the company’s inventory contains 1,800 brews, a change that reflects the exploding number of mostly small companies making craft beer. Link.

I guess I’m kind of surprised that the big brewers haven’t lobbied for more restrictions on craft brewers. That, after all, would be consistent with much of big business’ history in the United States: Lobby legislatures in the name of some noble purpose that has nothing (absolutely nothing!) to do with the big business’ economic self-interest. Those noble purposes typically revolve around children. “Do it for the children!” is, I think, the single-most used rationale by people who want to push their self-interested agenda. In this case, I gotta believe there are a dozen ways to spin the craft beer explosion into a problem, especially in light of the small brewers’ tendency to use outlandish names and labels to promote sales. “Too much craft beer is irresponsibly marketed, resulting in harm to families. Restrict it for the sake of the kids!”… Read the rest

James and Rothbard

As of this writing, I haven’t finished James’ Pragmatism, but I found this statement in Lecture Two that, I believe, summarizes James’ opinion regarding how religion fits into the philosophy of pragmatism. The italics are his:

If theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true, for pragmatism, in the sense of being good for so much. For how much more they are true, will depend entirely on their relations to the other truths that also have to be acknowledged.

Such a position is startlingly agnostic, but also strangely respectful. It strongly reminds me of Murray Rothbard’s statement regarding areas of study outside economics: his praxeological method never denies religion and philosophy their proper role for a full understanding of human existence, but for purposes of economics, they play virtually no role since they don’t provide a priori truths about human existence. Actually, natural law philosophy plays a huge role in praexology, since it posits truths that no one can deny (e.g., “Man desires to live”), but other than that, theology and philosophy plays no role (based on my understanding of Rothbard).

Anyway, James’ pragmatism is Rothbardian . . . or perhaps Rothbard is Jamesian (the chronologically-correct account). Regardless, at this time, I see no disrespect for religion in either system of thought.

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Economics and War

There is a definite correlation between economic troubles and war: the former leads to the latter. Now, does economic trouble lead to war naturally, like clashing cold and warm fronts contribute to tornadoes? Or does economic trouble lead to war artificially, like a caught thief who gets away because, at the moment of his apprehension, the authorities are called away to a bomb explosion that the thief’s accomplice sets off?

I think it’s the latter. I think Howard Zinn would agree: “Ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations–consciously or not–that war makes them more secure against internal trouble.”

And incidentally: If you had told me ten years ago that I would be reading and quoting the radical liberal Howard Zinn, I would’ve scoffed. But 2008 changed all that. I don’t know how any intellectually-honest Republican or Democrat could look at the events of 2007-2009 and not completely re-assess how they view America and its history. Zinn and his ilk provide a valuable counterpoise to standard histories.

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A Three-fer

Three largely un-related items that could’ve blossomed into full-blown essays/posts, but for whatever reason, didn’t:

1. “Some people have fallen for the naïve turkey-style belief that the world is getting safer and safer, and of course they naively attribute it to the holy ‘state’ (though bottom-up Switzerland has about the lowest rate of violence of any place on the planet). It is exactly like saying that nuclear bombs are safer because they explode less often.” Nassim Taleb, Antifragile.

2. “Sodom by the Sea”: Nineteenth century moral reformers’ nickname for Brooklyn’s Coney Island, where a lot of dancing took place. Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States. It’s a wonder the nickname hasn’t caught on for San Francisco. Of course, today’s ideological descendants of the Social Gospel reformers adore homosexuals, but still. It’s such a catchy nickname.

3. “Santayana says that, as we approach death, the world itself begins to look dark to us because we cannot imagine it being much good without us in it.” Joseph Epstein. I’m not sure Santayana is correct, but, if he is, it’s a great observation about the vanity we all need to fight against.

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Why Things are Fragile

I really like this observation by Nassim Taleb. It might be called the “paradox of scientific progress”: the more we understand and control, the more we unleash that we don’t understand or control. Here’s Taleb (emphasis mine):

“Man-made complex systems tend to develop cascades and runaway chains of reactions that decrease, even eliminate, predictability and cause outsized events. So the modern world may be increasing in technological knowledge, but, paradoxically, it is making things a lot more unpredictable.”

Related (and this, incidentally, is the fundamental reality that informs Antifragile):

“[A]s societies gain in complexity, with more and more ‘cutting edge’ sophistication in them, and more and more specialization, they become increasingly vulnerable to collapse.”

And no, Taleb has no confidence that the Bernankes of the world can technologize our way through fundamental economic mistakes.

We can, however, cover up our mistakes by fabricating the need for foreign wars and distracting the populace from the central government’s screw-ups.

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The new Gatorade: You can now get drunk while exercising. They’ve added electrolytes to beer. * * * * * * * This might be the most interesting drinking story of the year: Wine and Catholicism among the Tibetans of China’s Yunnan Province. Here’s a generous excerpt:

The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (still going strong today after 350 years) was planning to evangelize Tibet. It was the mid-nineteenth century, and French adventurers had slowly been nudging the empire’s influence up the Mekong from its Asian base in Indochina. The Pope granted his assent; the Qing, under duress, added theirs. Barred, sometimes violently, from preaching within Tibet itself, the missionaries set up camp among the Tibetans living right on its edge, in northwest Yunnan.

What inroads they made proved to be intensely local — family by family, village by village — and Tibetan Catholicism never extended beyond a few valleys, a few thousand souls. The Trung — many of whom are now converting to a kind of indigenous evangelical Protestantism—were never “reached,” but some of their Nu cousins were. After eighty years of this unimaginably difficult and controversial work, the missionaries were sent packing by the party after 1949.

The most revered and best-remembered of the fathers, Père Genestier, lies buried in a Bingzhongluo churchyard, which I visited one Christmas as the bells were ringing and the Tibetan dancers were starting to form their circles. Let Party atheists, orthodox Catholics, and other Tibetans think what they may: by now the Tibetan Catholics emphatically have their own thing going.

* * * * * * * Pic received in an email:

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The Magnanimous Man

What does a secular substitute for a saint look like? If you’ve ever known a good person who has no religious proclivities, you probably know what he looks like: a person infused with virtues even though he doesn’t believe in infusion.

Jacques Barzun describes the secular saint well in his description of William James:

[T]olerant, generous, tender to others’ difficulties, and yet strongly affirmative, combative even. His spirit seemed all-embracing, though too secular to be called saintly. There is a word for such a character: it is the Magnanimous Man.

Even those of us who think it’s more important to aspire to saintliness than secular magnanimity admire such men, especially when we’re honest with ourselves and acknowledge that, far from being saints, we’re not even magnanimous.

Nassim Taleb, incidentally, thinks highly of magnanimity and notes, rightly, that the concept has largely been lost in modern society. He had to go into antiquity to find it:

[T]he notion of megalopsychon (a term expressed in Aristotle’s ethics), a sense of grandeur that was superseded by the Christian value of ‘humility.’ There is no word for it Romance languages; in Arabic it is called Shhm–best translated as nonsmall.

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