Archive for February, 2013

Who says it’s cloudy?


Christmas Day, 2012, Sundance, Utah

This is the time of year I like to ski a lot. The other morning I got in an hour at the beginning of the day before heading to work (for those of you who do not live 15 minutes from the ski lift, I truly pity you!).  The whether was largely clear and sunny, but at the top of the lift there was a small cloud bank so thick that I had to inch my way down the hill because I had virtually zero visibility.

On other days, I have headed to the ski hill in cloudy, stormy conditions and have found the visibility good and the skiing conditions wonderful, even as heavy snow falls around me.


Same day, same time, same spot

My point is that  one has to actually be on the hill and inside the clouds to know how much they matter.

This morning I heard on NPR the latest in a stream of stories on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  In this story and in many others, there are references by so-called objective journalists about how Benedict is leaving the papacy in a moment when a “dark cloud is hanging over the church,” mostly because of the well-reported scandals involving sexual abuse by priests and the church’s failure to deal appropriately with this abuse. I am getting really sick of hearing about the cloud hanging over the church.

Like most people, I view those scandals with disgust.  Yet I’m hesitant, as an outsider, to say whether the “hanging cloud” metaphor is a good one.  And I find the media’s preoccupation with those scandals as reflecting more on the media than they do upon the church.  What does the largely secular, largely non-Catholic media know about whether faithful Catholics feel that a cloud is hanging over their church?  And, more to the point, what kind of objective evidence can they cite to make such a claim.  In general, what the media refers to as “news analysis” consists mostly of self-important journalists unloading their biases upon us.

There is no doubt that Catholics world-wide have been affected by reports of longstanding sexual abuse of children in some quarters of the catholic priesthood. I am sure that most Catholics feel great sorrow at those events, and a sizable number, to be sure, would like to see more done to punish wrongdoers, to have offending priests removed from their assignments, and to have more accountability from the church hierarchy.  But the inability of the media to cover practically any story on the church without focusing on the abuse scandals as the defining characteristic of the church denies the rich and varied religious lives of millions of Catholics world-wide.  For these people, their faith touches every aspect of their lives and is not defined by the terrible behavior of a few priests.   People like Maureen Dowd, who has long been a self-anointed pope unto herself, do not represent Catholics generally, and certainly not the subset of faithful Catholics who love their church and their pope–those represented by the thousands who flocked to here Benedict’s final papal message and to express their love for him.

So, to those journalists who are covering the church, I have a simple message: talk about clouds you know something about, not ones you can only see from a far-away weather satellite.

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Grasping at Shadows

So it looks as if the sequestration is upon us. The past few weeks have witnessed claims about the catastrophic implications of sequestration and ongoing efforts to assign responsibility (it was the GOP’s idea…unless it wasn’t). It has been quite the circus.

My chief concern: we are so busy grasping at shadows that we are missing the substance.

Examine the two charts below. Both report inflation-adjusted outlays and revenues (expressed in 2005 dollars) from 1940 to 2013 using OMB data (Historical Tables, table 1.3).

The first chart includes the estimated outlays (the blue line) and revenues (the red line) for 2013 without sequestration.

Outlays and Revenues

The second chart includes the estimated outlays and revenues for 2013 with sequestration.

Outlays and Revnues with sequestration

As we approach midterm exams at our fine university, let me offer a simple multiple choice question:

As you examine these charts, what are the most striking features?

  1. The magnitude of the cuts under sequestration
  2. The significant growth in inflation-adjusted federal spending
  3. The growing gap between outlays and revenues

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Via my friend Chris Preble (or as I now warmly refer to him, #82) of the Cato Institute and Pileus guest blogger:

Cato Infographic


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I want to thank Professor Aeon Skoble for joining us for a guest stint here at Pileus.  It was a pleasure to read his contributions, and I trust our readers appreciated his thoughtful posts.

I’d also like to plug Aeon’s recent piece at the Freeman laying out his three deserted island books.  Here they are:

John Tomasi – Free Market Fairness

Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War

Martha Nussbaum – Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach

I would have never guessed he would pick these three.  Interesting.  I really ought to read his book Deleting the State: An Argument About Government.

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Carla Gericke, President of the Free State Project, wants to “trigger the move.”  According to the Manchester Union-Leader:

Based on the current recruiting rate, Gericke said, the pledge total would hit 20,000 in 2018, triggering the large-scale move to New Hampshire. Under that scenario, the goal would be to have all pledgers relocate by 2023.

However, Gericke said she does not want to wait until she is 51 years old to trigger the move.

“I want to do it in the next two years,” she said, explaining the only way to accelerate the move is to begin major fundraising efforts and secure sponsors to help raise about $270,000 – a figure she believes could make the move feasible.

“The most valuable thing you can do is move, and you won’t regret it,” she told those in attendance for the opening ceremony of the New Hampshire Liberty Forum on Friday at the Crowne Plaza. ” … We are building the beacon of liberty for the rest of the world to emulate.”

I’m not a member (because I can’t absolutely commit to moving according to the pledge and I take my word very seriously) but I wish the FSP well and hope that more and more people will move to New Hampshire to realize “liberty in our lifetime.”

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The Center for European Studies at the University of Texas, Austin is hosting a symposium entitled, “Secession Redux: Lessons for the EU” tomorrow (Friday). It will be held all day at the LBJ School, Sid Richardson Hall, Room 3.122. It is open to the public. The schedule is here. I will be speaking on “Secessionism in the New Europe” on a panel dedicated to “Current European Challenges.”

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Apropos my “Don’t Go to Grad School” post from a couple of weeks ago, here are some hard data on the employment difficulties of new PhD’s in the hard sciences and humanities.

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