Monday, June 30, 2008

Suddenly, Half of Europe Disappears--Poof, Gone!

In 50 years, half the population of many European countries will simply disappear--puff! gone. Why have Europeans stopped having babies, and why does everyone in Europe seem to be avoiding the issue?
For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover.

...In Germany, where the births-to-deaths ratio now results in an annual population loss of roughly 100,000, Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family minister (and a mother of seven), declared two years ago that if her country didn’t reverse its plummeting birthrate, “We will have to turn out the light.”

...“But you can’t go on forever with a total fertility rate of 1.2. If you compare the size of the 0-to-4 and 29-to-34 age groups in Spain and Italy right now, you see the younger is almost half the size of the older. You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.” Read the rest at the __NYT
A Europe without children? Europe dispensed with its military infrastructure decades ago, in favour of allowing the US to carry the weight. Other once-vital parts of its infrastructure are going by the wayside one by one.

Welfare states need workers to pay into the system, to provide for all the trusting retirees who assume the system will always be there for them. The challenge for Europe--in the face of both low fertility rates and rising emigration of its brightest and most talented--is to keep the top-heavy bureaucracies running, the infrastructure maintained, and the productive sector producing. Unfortunately, it is the productive sector that seems to be shrinking the most quickly.

Recommended reading:

The Global Baby Bust
Europe's Baby Bust
A Return to Pastoral Europe?
Birth of an Empire
Fiscal Policy and Fertility in the US

Previously published at Al Fin

Friday, June 27, 2008

Olympic Paradise in Beijing: Streets Clean & Mean

China means to clean its Beijing streets before the Olympics this summer. There will be no dissent, no narcotics, no prostitution, and no religion too. This is Beijing 2008, and the oligarchy of the CCP intends for the games to be a showcase for its own special kind of enlightened dictatorship.
A helpful “legal guide” tells foreign athletes, officials, reporters and spectators how to behave. In addition to shunning narcotics, weapons and counterfeit currency, they should abjure “subversive activities” or the “display of religious, political or racial banners”. __Economist
Comparisons to the 1936 Berlin Olympic games are inescapable. Both events meant to showcase the inevitability of an authoritarian way of life. Supremacist ideology and racial attitudes acted out via the ages old tradition of peaceful international athletics.

Beijing might be smarter to focus on providing clean food, water, and air for the summer games. Preventing dissent and disorder will be next to impossible. All the world's media will be on hand, plus armies of videobloggers and freelance video journalists--some with only their video cell phones to capture the mood.

Until recently, Chinese authorities could feel free to beat bloggers to death for reporting on roadside demonstrations against the authorities. If the CCP gets too heavy-handed in the international circus of the Olympic games, the stain on its reputation will be harder to remove.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Madrasas for Leftists: PC Universities Doomed?

There once was a time when the university environments of North America were not ones of indoctrination and brainwashing, as they often are now. Professor Alan Kors remembers those days:
I was taught at Princeton, in the early 1960s—in history and literature, above all—before the congeries that we term "the '60s" began. Most of my professors were probably men of the left—that's what the surveys tell me—but that fact was never apparent to me, because, except in rare cases, their politics or even their ideological leanings were not inferable from their teaching or syllabi. Reasoned and informed dissent from professorial devil's advocacy or interpretation was encouraged and rewarded, including challenges to the very terms of an examination question.

...In grad school at Harvard, while a few dates left in the midst of dinner on discovering my free-market and hawkish politics, and while I did get thrown out of a party for opposing, when asked, Eugene McCarthy's view of Vietnam (this should have been a warning), the classroom remained open and, by design, intellectually pluralistic....When I went off on job interviews, I was not once asked a question, ever, about my worldview, but only about my historical research and notions of teaching. Politics were simply not in the category of appropriate inquiry.

...What has changed? In terms of the university in loco parentis, which has been restored and expanded with a vengeance, the revolution has been breathtaking....From diverse motives of ideological sympathies and acute awareness of who can blackball their next career moves, they have given over the humanities, the soft social sciences and the entire university in loco parentis to the zealots of oppression studies and coercive identity politics. In the latter case, it truly has been a conspiracy, with networking and common plans. In the former case—the professoriate and the curriculum—it is generally, with striking politicized exceptions, a soft tyranny of groupthink, unconscious bias and self-inflated sense of a mission of demystification. Most of the professors I meet are kind, indeed sweet, and certainly mean no harm. It is profoundly sad to see what they have become.

There also has been, compounding academic problems, a dumbing down of the professoriate that quite numbs the mind—best seen not in the monographs that earn people their degrees, but in the egregious nonsense, crude meta-theorizing, self-indulgence and tendentious special pleading that are not merely tolerated without criticism, but rewarded at the highest levels.

...Academia also has become a place where professors can achieve the highest rewards, except in the protected fields, for acting out their pathologies. In higher education, to paraphrase the Woody Allen stand-up line, we increasingly send our students to schools for learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed teachers....

Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individual- ism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten "minorities," including women (the majority of students), about the "internalization" of their oppression (today's equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them? __WSJ__via_BelmontClub
In fact, Kors is understating the case--pulling his punches. The reality of the modern university is worse than he describes.

Richard Fernandez thinks that the age of academic indoctrination may be nearing its end. He draws that reassurance from J. Richard Gott's "doomsday argument. It is an interesting argument, related to the "anthropic principle" argument in nature. Thought-provoking, but not conclusive.

I sincerely hope that Fernandez (aka "Wretchard") is right. Universities of indoctrination are spewing out minds that are increasingly incapable of standard reasoning and logic. Too often a graduate of a liberal arts or social science program has never been exposed to divergent points of view--never learned to confront intelligent and reasonable people whose deeply held and closely reasoned ideas differ substantially from their own. Naturally he goes out into the world believing that all right-minded persons will believe as he does, and that all others are either dishonest, corrupt, or stupid.

All of that, before his pre-frontal lobes have even completely myelinated--before his powers of judgment have even come close to maturing. How could he possibly know better, unless someone at some point was willing to force him to delve deeply into diverse disciplines of thought and reason?

As Kors explains in his piece above, those halcyon days of intellectual diversity in the university are as good as gone. But is Fernandez right in supposing that this monolithic thought structure, this incompetence, this intolerance, is soon to meet its doom?

Society--in the form of the news and entertainment media, popular culture--has bonded itself to the PC worldview monoculture of the universities. Government bureaucracy increasingly adopts the same forms, and the bureaucracies of corporations and non-profit foundations have been increasingly moulding themselves according to PC intolerance.

There is no doubt that civilisation is attempting to transition from a religion-dominant culture to a secular-dominant culture. But it is not that easy. Society abhors the moral vacuum of the "middle ground." Secular morality has not truly stepped into the gap to provide a firm foundation for sound child-raising or a decent society. Leftist ideology has attempted to fill the void via many universities and much of the media, but for some reason, it has only done half the job. It has torn down most of the traditional moral icons of the civilisation, but its own moral forms have not been widely taken up by the society at large.

So instead of a culture confidently stepping out into the wide-open future, you see a fearful and insecure society full of self-doubt, questioning its own right to exist in the face of widespread poverty and misery elsewhere in the world. Entire nations are shrinking into the moral void, choosing anti-natalist ideas or going after comfort and security instead of taking risks on a wider future.

The human extinction movements are merely the extreme end point toward which a large part of the university educated are shuffling. Choosing to avoid children, or avoiding marriage altogether are other points along the same scale.

The quasi-suicidal carbon hysteria movement is a mere symptom of the basic intellectual nihilism that has followed university graduates into the culture at large. The true problem underlying the symptom is an inability to test hypotheses and theorems. If the hypothesis meets the long-term requirements of your ideology, put your emotions behind the idea, avoid the rational testing stage altogether, and use all the tools of human persuasion in your bag to put the idea over.

There are many other symptoms of the underlying problem, and it would be nice if we could deal with them all, one by one. That will be left to others, such as FIRE. Al Fin's emphasis will continue to focus on efforts to bring the "next level" into reality. The dumbing down of university students and graduates--and thus the dumbing down of society in general--does not help Al Fin's task.

Derived from a previous posting at Al Fin

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who Elected These Insane Fools?

Fuel prices are high enough in the US to squeeze budgets of families and corporations. The mood is grim in many parts of the country, and people are looking for someone to blame. What we are seeing now resembles nothing so much as a lynching mob. And the US Congress has witlessly placed itself firmly front and center--following an invalid and obsolete ideology. An ideology that threatens to sink the US economy. More and more people are seeing what the Congress is doing, and they do not like it even a little bit.
...they are against business, against investments in domestic energy supply and for aggressive carbon controls... __Source
High oil prices are beginning to cook up a dangerous inflationary brew. By the time the next president is settled into office, the inflationary trend could be irrevocable--if Congress continues down its current slippery slope.
No profits. No exploration. No drilling. And no domestic oil with which to correct our dependence on foreign oil and thus provide a measure of security to a nation that runs on oil. __Source
Obama, McCain, and the Democratic Party dominated US Congress are all pointing the finger at big oil companies. But a rapidly growing proportion of US voters can clearly see that it is Congress itself that is limiting the options of the American economy. Even a national media that is sycophantic toward Obama and the Democratic Party cannot stop the groundswell of awareness by the public, of how the Congress is shutting off US energy options.

The stupidity of the current Congress rests upon fashionable leftist idiocies of catastrophic greenhouse warming and antipathy toward big business and big oil companies. As long as the public's attention is diverted from congressional suicidal insanity, the Congress can get away with almost anything. But now, people are hurting, and they are starting to see who is really to blame.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

No More Gazas

The war in Iraq is beginning to look less like a war and more like a rough-around-the-edges peacekeeping mission. Prematurely removing peacekeepers from the fragile and still-volatile country would, in all likelihood, reignite the war that is finally winding down. _Commentary

Senator Obama is painting himself into a blatantly irrational position on Iraq--but he genuinely has no choice. Based upon the people who have propelled him to his current front-runner candidate position, he must play the hand he has already dealt himself.

Obama must declare Iraq a "quagmire" and a "disaster", regardless of the actual situation in the real country of Iraq. It is the fictional country of "Iraq" that matters now--the country in the minds of Obama voters. As long as that fictional country is a deepening quagmire, a perpetual disaster, Obama's future as the next President Carter is assured.

Naturally, the same logic applies to Obama's position on global warming. Here, Obama's job is much easier, since global warming catastrophe hype has always been based upon computer models and fudged temperature data. If your theory is based upon fictitious numbers under the control of partisans, with the wink-wink support of "science" journalists, the theory is never in any real danger. Still, more rational people who are able to put the pieces together can easily see the absurdity in IPCC claims. These more rational people also have voices, in this new media age. Obama will need to stick with his media friends, and avoid more rational critical minds.

The current graphic image of abysmal failure is Gaza. Violence is the only export from that sad enclave of bitter religionists, full of hatred that flows from one generation to the next. Sadly, the policies that Obama promotes for Iraq are exactly the policies that would guarantee making a "Gaza-like" land of perpetual hate out of Iraq. Obama's wooly minded followers believe this is already the situation in Iraq, so they feel there is nothing to lose. How pathetically deluded.

Obama's candidacy has never truly been about logic or reason. Rather it has always been about emotion, and feelings. Obama's practised oratory is capable of moving weak-minded individuals emotionally, and that is all he needs to do for them to make them believe.

Generations of dumbing down in schools and universities--shifting from rational thought to emotional supremacy--has spawned this flock of willing dupes. They will vote and they will imagine they have done something fine.

Behind the scenes, the damage control specialists will be working overtime, often in vain. Disaster often creeps up on a society just when it thinks it set all its ducks in a row.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Good Intentions and Smooth Talk: When Psychological Neotenates Elect Themselves

Will Americans be electing a psychological neotenate as US President this November? As time goes by, the odds of electing someone who has never actually had to prove themselves in the real world grows larger. At least Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had been re-elected state governors--an administrative position of responsibility. Bush had flown multiple flights in particularly difficult to fly jet fighter aircraft as an air national guardsman, without crashing, and had at least some experience in the private sector before entering politics. McCain proved himself in the Navy performing as a pilot and in many other duties. What has Obama done to prove himself, other than sliding almost unopposed into his current undistinguished position?

How do you create a world of pyschological neotenates? A world where it makes sense to elect another psychological neotenate as the most powerful leader of the free world? You do just what western countries have been doing recently. Have only one or two children per family. Make the kids feel special even though you know they aren't. Teach them self esteem they have not earned. Make them feel entitled.

Having only one or two children allows parents to shower a great deal of attention upon each child. And that must be a good thing, right?
No other generations of kids have been so curried and cultivated, so pampered and primed, though primed for what exactly is a bit unclear. Children are given a voice in lots of decisions formerly not up for their consideration. "If it's your child, not you, who gets to choose your weekend brunch spot,"

...Every high school now has its battery of counselors: guidance, psychological, college. A larger and larger segment of the student population seems to bring its own psychological tics and jiggeroos to school with them: ADHD, dyslexia and other learning disabilities, various degrees of depression requiring regimens of pills and therapy sessions. Some of these defects and disabilities are the result of parents' having their children at a later age. Might others be that the children are so intensely watched over and tested that more and more defects and disabilities show up, some among them possibly imaginary?

...So often in my literature classes students told me what they "felt" about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one's feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to--but did not--write: "D-, Too much love in the home." I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.
Even only children who are full of self-esteem and their own specialness, are in reality "quite insignificant." Sequestered in classrooms until their twenties or later, protected from any real responsibilities, prevented from being tested by the larger world, they are finally tossed into reality demanding everything but qualified for little or nothing.

These "special" children are turning into psychologically neotenised lawyers, politicians, journalists, judges, political activists, bureaucrats, educators, clerks, and any other occupation where they can frequently turn their feelings into a quasi-truth. Heaven helped these poor children who fall into a field where they are actually tested against reality in a meaningful way. Working physicians, engineers, IT workers, technologists and technicians, maintenance and construction workers, pilots, lab workers who are required to develop things "that work", business people who must "deliver the goods"--these are examples of people who have to go beyond their feelings and actually be competent.

There are many examples of psychologically neotenised people who got into "competence-tested" fields by mistake. They flew the plane drunk, or operated on the patient under the influence of drugs. They fudged their data, produced sloppy code, and designed buildings that fell down.

Unfortunately, parents in developed societies are turning their few progeny into more and more psychologically neotenised princes and princesses. Full of self-esteem and a sense of entitlement, they are spilling out into all occupations and fields. What have they done? Nothing. What can they do? Nothing. What are they willing to learn to do? Almost nothing. What do they want? Everything!

In November, voters in the US will have the opportunity to elect a US President who has done essentially nothing. Never flew a jet fighter or served in any type of military or national guard unit. Never operated a successful business or served in an important administrative position. Barely served half a US Senate term. Never faced re-election as US Senator. No record of achievement, legislation, or accomplishment. The very picture of a quite special psychological neotenate, sliding his way toward an important position at a time in history where challenges to western civilisation are growing critical.

Welcome to the Kindergarchy.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama a Local Hero in Damascus

In many places ruled by despots, subject to strong popular waves of fanatical belief systems advocating violence against civilians, Barack Obama is considered something of a local hero. Damascus is one such place.
Syria’s enthusiasm for Obama, so widely shared among Muslim Arabs, is not surprising, given his endorsement of directly engaging states like Syria through creative diplomacy. Obama has repeatedly said that the United States should not speak only to its friends, but also to its enemies—in most cases, without the onerous “preconditions” that the Bush administration has laid down and that Syrian officials reject as tantamount to preemptive surrender.... Above all, Syria yearns to be taken seriously, or as Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a critic of the country’s leadership, puts it, a state that “seeks to project regional influence well above its weight by appearing to keep all options open to balance contradictory policies, like allying itself with Iran and hosting terrorist groups while offering peace talks with its enemies.”

At its core, Syria’s Obama infatuation reflects its intense disdain for President Bush, another widely shared sentiment in Arab circles. For the past three years, Washington has tried hard, if unsuccessfully, to isolate Damascus, [Ed: based upon] Syria’s secret efforts to develop a nuclear capacity, its pernicious meddling in neighboring Lebanon, its help in sending foreign fighters and arms across its border into Iraq, and its support for militant Islamists throughout the region—for Hamas in Gaza, Islamic Jihad in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran, whose interests often coincide with but are not identical to its own. __CityJournal
Obama appeals to those who hate America on a visceral and irrational level. This is true both internationally, and within the US itself.

But in reality, it is Obama's vast "blankness" that appeals to such large groups of people with little in common. Obama is a media-generated Rorschach blot into which observers can see and read anything they wish to see. He has no record of substance, no achievements, nothing but a history of graft, corruption, and personal memoirs dedicated to radicalist politics.

A person who can say with a straight face that he supports Obama, is a person who does not take his politics seriously enough to dig for substance. Image is everything--at least that is what Andre Agassi used to say, when he lost more than he won. After he disciplined himself and mastered the game of tennis, he learned that image is actually a very small part of the reality of mastery.

North America and most of the western world is caught up in the aura of faddish fashionality. It is a superfluity that comes with a huge price tag attached, and when payment comes due, few people will be happy. Few, that is, except for most of Senator Obama's long-distance supporters, who want nothing more than the downfall of the western world.

If that is what they truly want, then perhaps they have chosen the right candidate after all.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Iran and Iraq: Perpetually at War?

Iranian Revolutionary mischief-makers have been busy in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. Ahmedinejad, silly monkey, has assumed that he can do as he pleases without suffering any adverse consequences. But something has happened to his dysfunctional Iraqi neighbor while Mahmoud was attempting to destabilize the entire middle eastern region: it started to learn how to take care of itself without a dictator's help.

Coalition forces captured four Mahdi Army fighters, including a “an individual suspected of smuggling Iranian weapons and coordinating Special Groups training in Iran” and “training others in sniper tactics and acting as a key conduit between Special Groups leaders in the western Baghdad area” during a raid in the Kadhamiyah district on June 1.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups operative behind rocket and mortar attacks along with another Mahdi Army fighter on May 31. The same day, US troops captured five Mahdi army fighters in separate actions in West Rashid, East Rashid, Mansour, and Adhamiyah. One of the men was behind EFP attacks, another was a weapons smuggler, facilitator and improvised explosive device maker, and another was responsible for conducting ethnic cleansing and weapons smuggling. __Roggio
Iraq and Iran have gone to war since long before they were called by those names. Iran is a dictatorship of the apocalyptic, Iraq is a nascent democracy of sorts. Habits of modernism have rubbed off, slightly, onto Iraqi units and work groups who have observed the coalition troops and contractors closely.

Traditionally corrupt and ultra-tribal methods of operation are likely to persist for many generations in Arab and Kurdish Iraq. But modernity has a way of creeping in and transforming a society. If Iran's Ahmedinejad persists in his religious apocalyptic mischief-making beyond a certain point, he and his country are doomed.

The US under President Carter allowed the current obscene Iranian regime to gain a foothold and consolidate power. The US under a President Obama would no doubt wink and nod as Iran obtained a nuclear weapons influence in the region.

Anyone with eyes can read those tea leaves. The monkey of Iran is hoping with all his heart for an Obama victory (along with Chavez, Ortega, Putin, the CCP etc), but the monkey persists in his mischief-making. Unrest in the middle east causes US voters to look toward a steadier hand, internationally and militarily. Obama's hand is the hand of a flake, a twit. Nothing could be unsteadier.