Pilgrim Food for Thought

As we settle into this Thanksgiving, it’s worth remembering some of what the second permanent English settlers in the New World (the first being the Jamestown settlers) went through in order to lay the groundwork for what later was to become the United States of America. Here’s some food for thought, courtesy of the History Channel DVD Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower.

* The Pilgrims spent 10 years living in the Netherlands (where there was more religious freedom than in England), before deciding to set off to the New World.

* About half the passengers were non-Pilgrims who just wanted to go to the New World as well, whom the Pilgrims called the Strangers – although after two months of crossing the Atlantic in close quarters it’s doubtful that they were considered strangers anymore.

* They were victims of a bait and switch deal where the investors who financed the voyage at the last minute demanded that the Pilgrims had to work six days a week for them after getting to the New World – like indentured servants. By that time the Pilgrims were too deeply into the project (e.g. had sold their land and many of their possessions) to back out.

* Just before departing they had to sell off literally tons of supplies in the ship in order to pay additional bills.

* They wanted to leave in spring or early summer but were beset by delays so they finally set off in August, with the Mayflower and Speedwell. But the Speedwell started taking on too much water so they turned back to have it repaired. After waiting a few weeks they set off again and had to turn back yet again, finally deciding that the Speedwell was just too unseaworthy. They lost a month that way, so had to set off in September, one of the worst possible times not only because of the Atlantic gales revving up, but because that meant they would arrive in the New World in November at the beginning of winter.

* During a storm, a main support beam cracked, threatening the integrity of the whole ship. But they managed a make-shift solution.

* According to the agreement with the investors, they were supposed to arrive and settle in the Hudson River Valley – not far from present-day New York City. They reached landfall around Cape Cod, then headed south toward the mouth of the Hudson, but got caught in the Pollock Rip Shoals off of Cape Cod where many many ships have gone down. They were in grave danger but fortunately the wind direction shifted and they managed to turn back.

* A schism broke out, with some of them saying their special laws drawn up for their venture will be invalidated if they don’t settle within the Virginia Colony, which at that time encompassed part of the Hudson River Valley. That’s what led to an onboard agreement – now called the Mayflower Compact – in which they drew up special rules and regulations to abide by in lieu of the Virginia Colony laws.

* They originally tried to settle down on Cape Cod but realized they had antagonized the Nauset tribe too much by digging up their mounds containing stored provisions and disturbing grave sites. So they settled on the mainland at what they called Plymouth, which turned out to be a poor choice for settlement compared to the present-day Boston Harbor 40 miles to the north. They chose a spot where a group of Wampanoags called the Patuxet had lived. They villages were deserted, because four years earlier in about 1616, almost all of the Patuxet along with thousands of others up and down the northern coast had died from plague, probably from germs brought over by a French ship.

* By February or March, only a little over half of the original 102 passengers were still alive. Most had died from scurvy and other diseases, including their governor, John Carver.

* Several months after arriving they finally established relations with the Wampanoag. Squanto, one of the few surviving Pautuxet, chose to live with them and taught them a lot about surviving in the new world. Squanto already could speak English, because several years before, he was captured by traders/slavers and sold as a slave in Malaga, Spain, where he escaped to London and made his way back to his homeland.

* That spring, the Mayflower and its crew headed back to England, many months later than what they originally planned. It only took a month to go back, versus the two-month journey the way there. When it arrived in London, the investors were expecting the ship to be loaded with valuable goods from the New World. It was only loaded with rocks, for ballast.

Don’t Sweat the Red-Blue Switch

There was a WSJ op-ed where the author laments the media’s labeling of all things Republican with red and Democrats with blue:

“Perhaps the most brazen language diktat has been the mischievous switch of political colors. … The change came in 2000 courtesy of MSNBC and NBC’s “Today” show. …Saddling your political rivals with a symbol to which they have been historically opposed is an even better and naughtier joke. Either it was that or numbing cluelessness.”

The red-blue switch used to somewhat bother me but not anymore. Want to know why the use of “red” and “blue” is so much more common now than it was pre-2000? Because the Dems must have hated the “red” label due to its association with communism. They were insecure with that, and didn’t want people to think they were that far to the left. Now that Repubs have been annointed with the “red” label, no one’s going to associate Republicans with communism.

So let the pundits have their fun. The switch has freed the media (who of course lean left) from that insecurity. Using the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” all the time can get boring, so why not liven things up a bit – add some color to the conversation – by throwing “red” and “blue” into the mix?


The Righteous Mind Isn’t Totally Right About the Right

I’m half-way through a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. He attempts to explain what drives righties and lefties. He admits being on the left, although I get the impression that as his research progressed over the years he’s become less of a died-in-the-wool leftie and more understanding of righties.

He has a fondness for contrasting lefties and righties by pointing out bumper-stickers on cars – although discerning anything from bumper stickers hardly seems scientific. Nevertheless, in an effort to demonstrate that lefties supposedly care more about innocent victims around the world while we righties are mainly just concerned about protecting our own, he displays snapshots of bumper stickers he found around Charlottesville, Va. where he lives (or lived). He contrasted a leftie bumper sticker that said “Save Darfur” with a rightie sticker that said “Support Our Wounded”.

It’s puzzling that the author didn’t pull from the tremendous number of bumper stickers on righties’ cars exhorting people to protect innocent unborn victims. Go to any Catholic church parking lot during Mass and you’d have had tons of such bumper stickers to choose from.

As for why one may find more “Save Darfur”  bumper stickers on lefties’ cars than on righties, perhaps it’s because the latter think more realistically. They know that such stickers aren’t going to have one iota of influence on the tyrants perpetuating the sad state of affairs in that part of Africa, even if the tyrants were here to view the stickers. An anti-abortion sticker, meanwhile, is far more likely to be seen by those who have a direct say on whether an innocent human fetus lives or dies.

We righties seem to care a heck of a lot more about the innocent victims suffering in North Korean concentration camps (in addition to the people of North Korea as a whole) than lefties, yet “Free North Korea” bumper stickers are scarce. Ya think the North Korean leadership would ever take it to heart, even if they saw one?

Another whopper: “Conservatives, in contrast, are more concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.”  And another: “They don’t want their nation to devote itself primarily to the care of victims and the pursuit of social justice.”

Total bunk! Concern about humanity, victims, and the pursuit of social justice is the whole reason I abandoned leftism long ago. I found out that leftist policies actually harm humanity, create more victims, and exacerbate and perpetuate the very problems that society needs to solve. The phrase “the road to h— is paved with good intentions” is all too descriptive of the left.

There are many broad subject areas that can prompt a leftie to move to the right (such as the late Christopher Hitchens vis-a-vis terrorism) but one of the most powerful subject areas – which  prompted me to realize that leftism did little or nothing to promote the well-being of humanity – is economics.

I just pulled from my shelf the textbook, and zeroed in on the page therein, that sparked my epiphany long ago. The book is Economics of Development (by Gillis, Perkins, Roemer and Snodgrass), which I read for a course I took in graduate school. We’re talking about third-world development here. Key passage:

All these policies promote the welfare of one relatively small group at the expense of a much larger group. Minimum-wage laws and similar measures … make wages and working conditions better for those (third world) workers fortunate enough to get jobs in modern-sector firms. But by raising the cost of labor, minimum-wage laws limit the ability of existing firms to absorb more workers and inhibit the creation of more enterprises like them. In other words, minimum wages improve the well-being of the relatively small group of modern-sector employees at the cost of the much larger group that is either unemployed or working in the informal and rural sectors.

It was then when I started to recognize that to help all of humanity (as opposed to the special interests) and especially the poor, you have to move right. Other examples of the same abound, such as those highlighted throughout this blog.

The classic Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt sheds light on what makes us righties tick. And believe me: it ain’t out of indifference to out-groups.

* * *

The author says certain “foundations” motivate righties and lefties; righties are more driven by the foundations of loyalty, authority, and sanctity, and lefties more about care and fairness. But so far in the book, he hasn’t said anything about the millions of people who move from the left to the right or vice-versa. Are such people also changing their “foundations”? Of course not. I know from personal experience that in the case of lefties becoming righties, they’re still very much motivated by the care and fairness foundations, and come to realize that right-leaning policies are better at achieving those objectives.

As I said, I’m still only half-way through the book. If the author addresses the above issues in the second half, I’ll duly report it.

* * *

A Wall Street Journal interview with the author had a revealing tidbit. It illustrated something that is rarely discussed and that people rarely admit, but that is all-too prevalent in society: people refuse to change their political beliefs, or at least refuse to openly criticize or question policies associated with their own side of the political spectrum, because they’re afraid of what their friends and associates will think. Here’s the key quote, in reference to Haidt: “Why is his language so much less hedged when discussing Republicans? ‘Liberals are my friends, my colleagues, my social world,’ he concedes.” At least give him credit for honesty.

Concern about what one’s friends, colleagues, or significant others will think is a key factor preventing people from reassessing their political beliefs. I say go ahead and think what you want to think, or abandon any hedging in your language, regardless of what others will think. In addition to being the morally right thing to do, it will tell you who your real friends are. If someone abandons you after speaking out, then they weren’t a genuine friend anyway. So you’re better off all-around.

Dave Terry, Rest Peacefully

Most Americans would consider running to be a form of masochism. I run, and especially when I’m really pushing myself, that’s what I often think. But curiously, others really love it. They say that it releases endorphins to produce a “runner’s high” – although I’ve never been so fortunate as to experience that. People actually can get addicted to running. But it’s a healthy addiction, right? Nope, not necessarily.

I just found out that running addiction killed a college friend of mine: Dave Terry, who was my fraternity pledge dad. I remember him as cheerful, helpful, kind, funny, generous, and one of the nicest guys in the frat. Plus I had a special affinity for Dave because he was a ski racer. So was I up through high school. He was on the Colorado College ski team – and to make that cut you had to be darn good.

I think I never had the heart to tell him that upon my return from junior year abroad, I deactivated. (When you first join a frat you’re a pledge, and if you decide to drop you de-pledge. After you go through the initiation you’re an active. And then if you decide to quit you deactivate.)

We didn’t keep in touch after college, but I learned that he went to medical school and became a radiologist. Lived in Portland.

Then a couple of years ago I read in the CC alumni bulletin that he passed away. A friend of mine thought it was because of an aneurism, but wasn’t sure. I did some digging on the Internet and found tributes to him, mostly by his running buddies. Turned out that he was an ultrarunner. He ran ultramarathons – 100 mile races. At least two dozen of them.

Prior to knowing the cause of death, I assumed that too much exercise may have killed him – especially after I read about a recent study that ultrarunning can actually be bad for your heart. (According to another study, the optimal amount of running is just 1 to 2.5 hours per week, and not too fast.)

The other day, though, I finally found out the exact cause of Dave’s death: suicide.

Since the initial reports of his death on the Internet, which never mentioned the cause of death, people have opened up about that. And from what I gather, it seems an injury made him cut back on his running. Apparently he couldn’t handle it and took his own life.

I find it bizarre that one can be driven to suicide by not being able to run, but apparently it’s true.  Who knows – maybe there were other factors involved. I’m sure there are a lot more details that I’m missing.

I did some research on running addiction and found that “Intense, high-achieving perfectionist individuals are particularly vulnerable to this addiction.”  That no doubt described Dave. May he rest in peace.

What to Be Thankful For? Start With Your Life

Thanksgiving Day, 2011. This holiday, like every holiday, everyone should take a few minutes to reflect on and appreciate what the day stands for.

The first thing that comes to my mind is life. Be thankful that you were born. Especially considering that you had an infinitely remote chance of ever being conceived.

As pointed out here, it’s an amazing feat to be conceived. But once you get that far, you still had to run quite a gauntlet in order to be delivered nine months later. Thirty to fifty percent of embryos are lost early on – often without the mother’s knowledge that she even was briefly pregnant. Of the known pregnancies, some 10 to 20 percent of humans in the womb die due to miscarriage. Of the humans who manage to get past that hurdle, in the United States 1 out of 5 of them are intentionally killed; in Russia more than half of them are. (Can you imagine beating infinite odds to make it so far – so close to being able to experience the world outside of the womb – and then someone cutting short your life?)

So, adding up the above numbers, once you beat the infinitely remote odds of ever being conceived, there was still a 60 to 90 percent chance that you’d die within the next nine months. (Pre-Roe v. Wade you had a 40 to 70 percent chance of dying.)

But in America and other developed countries, once you make it to the delivery room, you’re practically home free. (Of course not everyone is, but statistically, your chances are pretty good.) Thanks to the hard work, intelligence, creativity, and dedication of millions of Americans alive now and who came before us – who helped set up and run a pretty awesome society compared with the rest of the world and compared with the past (especially pre-20th century), your chances of living a full lifespan are pretty high.

Not only that, but there’s a very good chance that you’re in the top 1 percent of the world, income-wise. Even if you’re at the official poverty line in America – which isn’t poverty compared with most other countries and compared with past times (poverty is a relative term) – you’re still in the top 15 percent of the world.

Now that you’re alive and living pretty comfortably – and aware enough to realize how exceedingly low  your chances were of ever being born – savor the moment. To borrow from something I wrote previously,

Feast your eyes on the sky, the grass, the trees, the animals, the people. Listen to the sounds of nature. Feel the breeze on your skin. Or the warmth of the sun. Do it knowing that you were so extremely close to never experiencing any of it at all.

The mundane is the extraordinary – like waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, looking out your window, or driving down your street.  You had an extremely close brush with never existing at all, so you should have a strong thankfulness for life – on this Thanksgiving Day and every day – and live your life with vigor.

Of course, you should be thankful for our tiny corner (or spec on a spec on a spec) of the universe, where our sun got formed, and then our planet got formed, which just happened to be the right size and the right distance from the sun in order to support life. And once that was in place, you should be thankful for everything else that happened astronomically and geologically and biologically in order for humans to get started. (Read the book What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? for examples.) Even thank the asteroid that is said to have wiped out (or contributed to wiping out) the dinosaurs; that paved the way for the rise of the mammals, and then you.

So in considering what to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, there are an innumerable number of things, and I’m sure you have your own list. But Life is one thing that can go at the top of that list.

A Leftie Actor Says a Shocker

Hm. Well it’s good to see that the leftie actor Alec Baldwin isn’t totally off his rocker. He actually told a group of Occupy Wall Street protestors, “I think capitalism is worthwhile. And capitalism demands the flow of money. So, I think we need to have that. … I do not want capital markets dismantled.”

Boy I wonder if he was concerned about his personal safety after that. I’m sure he in an instant created a lot of enemies. But at the same time I’m sure he prompted some OWS-types to ponder what he said for a while, and realize that there may be a legitimate opposing viewpoint after all.

WaPo: If you don’t get it, you ain’t missin’ much

Has the Washington Post gone down hill or what?

In today’s paper, the Outlook section – a special Sunday section with extended-length opinion pieces – has as its lead article, taking up three-quarters of the page including the illustration, a story on how more and more celebrities and other folks are wearing retro thick-framed glasses.

Just what I always wanted learn about.

I could see an article like that being in the Style section. But in Outlook?

There were two other articles on the Outlook front page. One urges someone named Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor who’s thinking of running for Senate in Massachusetts, to work on Wall Street (and “fix it”) instead. Yep, just what I always wanted to read about.

The third article is a book review titled “A Palin Tell-All With Nothing Much to Say”.

So if it has nothing much to say, then why even write an article about it?

All three articles are wastes of valuable newspaper-page real estate.

The inside articles aren’t much to write home about either, including one titled “5 Myths About the Redskins”. Nothing against articles on the Redskins, but that belongs in the Sports section.

The front page today’s Post isn’t too exciting either. With tons of important news going on in the world, all they feature on the front page was something about tax breaks piling up, China’s thirst for oil, cameras in Fairfax County schools, and a poll on how people feel about the Redskins and its owner.

The Post has an advertising slogan that goes, “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

How about changing it to, “If you don’t get it, you ain’t missin’ much.”

Update, Oct. 30, 2011:

Subsequent Sunday issues of the Post revealed that the articles both in Outlook and on the front page were more substantive. Still not the most riveting content (a lot of mush, especially in the Outlook/opinion section), but more substantive nevertheless. So maybe the above was a fluke. We’ll keep an eye on it.

Putting the brakes on rising living standards

GDP growth was revised upward for the first quarter of 2011, from 1.8 percent to a whopping 1.9 percent.

When looking at living standards, the GDP growth rate is practically meaningless if you don’t take population growth into account. And considering that the population growth rate of the U.S. is about 1 percent, that means per-capita GDP growth was a measly .9 percent.

This is scary stuff. The single biggest indicator of a country’s standard of living is the per-capita GDP average growth rate over the long term. There have been plenty of times when recessions put GDP growth way below average. But typically during the immediate-post-recession period, GDP growth skyrockets, making up for the negative growth during the recession. For example after the deep recession of the early 1980s, GDP growth shot up to 8 percent.

Yet now, post-recession (nominal) growth has been 2 to 3 percent. That’s way too slow to bring up our average economic growth rate to historical levels.

It can’t be emphasized enough how important long-term GDP growth is. It is what separates first-world countries from third-world countries. The difference between 2 percent and 3 percent GDP growth may not sound like much, but over the long term, it really adds up. Over 40 years, growing 1 percentage point higher means 50 percent higher per-capita income.

A seemingly small difference in GDP growth really manifests itself when comparing per-capita income of the United States vs. western Europe.  Some 30 years ago per-capita income was about the same. But since that time U.S. GDP growth has been slightly higher, as Europe’s massive welfare state has taken its toll. That has resulted in big differences in per-capita income; in 2010 it was $47, 200 in the U.S., whereas in Germany and France it was $36,000 and $34,000 respectively.

Regarding our slow post-recession growth, what’s going on? Obama’s economic policies, no doubt. They’re stifling economic growth, at at time when it should be flourishing. In a word, Obama is making our economy more like that of slow-growth, massive-welfare-state Europe.

The trillion-dollar “stimulus” has been a big stifler. It’s the same sort of policy that Japan tried during the 1990s in futile attempts to jump start its economic growth. But it only put itself deeper and deeper in debt, with the result that now its living standards are stagnant or falling. See this NYT article on what today’s Japan looks like, after spending itself into a hole, like Obama is now doing for the USA.

Such anemic growth post-recession is unprecedented in modern U.S. history as far as I know. And it’s because we have a president whose been successful in implementing a growth-inhibiting agenda, mainly such huge government spending. It just goes to show that government spending doesn’t spur growth. Keynesianism, as they call it, is unfortunately alive and well, but it only results in sickness.


Folks, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Gotta love this lampoon by Mark Steyn, ever the shrewd and incisive wit:

“This plant indirectly supports hundreds of other jobs right here in Toledo,” Obama told the workers at Chrysler. “After all, without you, who’d eat at Chet’s or Inky’s or Rudy’s? Manufacturers from Michigan to Massachusetts are looking for new engineers to build advanced batteries for American-made electric cars. And obviously, Chet’s and Inky’s and Zinger’s, they’ll all have your business for some time to come.”

A couple of days later, Chet’s announced it was closing after nine decades. “It was the economy and the smoking ban that hurt us more than anything,” said the owner.

Funny parody, eh?

Actually that’s what I thought at first. Steyn had to have been making that up.

But he wasn’t. It’s all true.

Cowboy Poetry Festival Saves Tens of Thousands of Lives

Sen. Harry Reid recently said, “The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy-poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.”

Does that mean those tens of thousands of people never would have been born in the first place? Or that, were it not for the cowboy poetry festival, they would have met their untimely demise?