I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Be Still, My Beating Heart

My only quarrel with Jay Richards is that he doesn't make enough YouTube videos. I search for ‘Jay Richards’ and find only videos I have already watched – actually, anything he says is worth listening to multiple times.

Tonight I found a new one, uploaded a week ago but from last year. What can I say to encourage you to watch?

It is lapidary.

As I watched it, I kept thinking about Sam, a wonderful human being and very bright. His problem with Christianity is that he has not been shown reasons why he should believe. Does he require a mathematical proof? I think this is unnecessarily demanding. Proof belongs to Mathematics. Most of what we believe we believe without rigorous proofs. There are things we believe (atheist or theist) which amount to knowledge. Do I have to prove to you, or even give you evidence, that torturing little children for fun is evil? You and I both know this to be true.

I’ll keep this brief, though I will find it hard. To summarise: JR examines many of the things we all believe or know or that Science has discovered and subjects them to scrutiny. Does this make more sense from a theistic perspective or from a materialist perspective?

I’d love to go on. Here he is: Ratio Christi. Start at about 9:00 minutes in - the first bit is introductory Enjoy!

The Iron Law of Minimum Wage Laws

You know that I am not a professional economist. Even if I were, that would not make me right. Professional economists are very various and within the profession there are diametrically opposed opinions and analyses. We can assume that if the Marxists are right, Free Marketeers are necessarily wrong – and vice versa. Physicists have disagreements too but they share a larger chunk of their discipline than economists do. However, I think I am right in saying that there is one economic ‘fact’ that is pretty well universally accepted: The Iron Law.

This can be stated in more than one way.

·         If something is relatively plentiful, it will be relatively cheap. The extreme case is air: there is no shortage and that is why the price is zero.

·         If something is relatively scarce, it will be relatively expensive. After a bad wheat harvest bread will be more expensive than after a good harvest.

·         If the price of a good is low, people will buy more of it. When petrol prices are low, people use their cars more. If it costs nothing to graze your sheep, you have an incentive to have more sheep. If everybody does the same, then the meadows will be over-grazed. This is known as the Tragedy of the Commons.

·         If the price is high, people will buy less.

·         If many people want something, the price will be relatively high. We can see this illustrated in bids at an auction.

·         If few people want something, the price will be relatively low.

These six sets of sentences say essentially the same thing in different ways. All other things being equal, these statements are unfalsifiable. That does not make them unscientific – economics is not that kind of science.

But Life is complicated – by governments! A classic example was the slaughter and burning of millions of pigs during the Depression. Prices were maintained by the destruction of wealth. Was that a smart policy when there were many hungry people in the US? The question answers itself.

Another example is that of minimum wage laws. Governments pass legislation which (in effect) threatens to put employers in prison if they pay less than an arbitrary minimum wage. Workers are prevented from selling their labour for less. So, employers buy less labour. Is this good for people who have only one thing to sell, their labour? If Mike’s labour is worth less to an employer than the minimum wage, the employer will decline to hire Mike. The less skilled Mike is, the fewer employers will want him. Upgrading his skills can only be done by working. Mike is out of luck – thanks to the government. Is that a smart policy? The question answers itself.

Of course, most people who are employed earn more than the minimum wage because their labour and skills are worth more to the employer than the minimum wage, by definition. Mike is unimpressed. The higher the minimum wage, the fewer workers will be employed. The attrition starts with the least skilled, the most vulnerable.

Economics is important. Most economic policy consists of ‘fixes’ for problems caused by earlier policies, whereas simply repealing the earlier policies would be a better way forward.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Jason Riley Tells It Like Is

"My beef with the black left is that they want to keep the focus on what government or Washington or politicians or whites in general can do for blacks, instead of what blacks can do for themselves," says Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to 
Succeed and editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal.

Watch the video below. From it I learned that between 1940 and 1960 poverty among blacks in the US fell by 40%. This was before the War on Poverty, after which poverty fell much less steeply.

JR is a very articulate and intelligent man. He happens to be black.

[I have just been speaking to Kevin on the phone. I told him about JR and his video. He wanted to know about Riley’s background. I couldn’t tell him anything. But, and I was waspish about this, I accused him of having a Marxist point of view. Marx’s whole analysis is based on ‘the class struggle’. He believed that people’s beliefs are class conditioned.

The only thing worth knowing about beliefs is whether or not they are true (or, at least, have truth content). One’s upbringing may well have an influence on one's beliefs. Obama was brought up by radical leftists and became a radical leftist. But it is insulting to say to someone, ‘you only say that because you are wealthy/poor/white/black/a man/a woman’. Do them the courtesy of addressing what they say.

I may return to C S Lewis’ essay, Bulverism. He says that you need to show that a man is wrong before there is any point at all in showing why he is wrong. Bulverism is the fallacy of attacking beliefs by explaining how they came to be held.]

Friday, 14 November 2014

Left vs Right

In Thinking about Politics, a few posts ago, I acknowledged that those on the left and those on the right both take Ethics as their starting point. I was rude about the left because, I said, whereas the right treats Justice as foundational, the left has invented a spurious foundation: so-called Social Justice. We in the West have theorised endlessly about Justice and, I think, are agreed that Justice means treating our fellows as they deserve to be treated. We have a visceral reaction to injustice against ourselves. ‘It’s not fair’ rises to our lips very readily.

Every individual has an obligation to treat every other individual according to his or her deserts, though this is not the end of the story. Each of us has a right to be treated according to our deserts. 

Conservatives characteristically derive rights and obligations from the Creator. Our opponents (at least the atheistic opponents) have no such recourse. We see them as having no ultimate basis for morality. Even when it comes to our non-human fellow animals, Conservatives have a concept of ‘stewardship’, of an obligation to refrain from gratuitous or unthinking cruelty because animals are fellow creatures. They are not, in our view, ‘people’ – even though it seems plain that they can suffer.

Traditional conservatives regard human beings as the summit of creation. We believe that we are created in the image of God. But this is not a diatribe against ‘animal rights’ a very dubious proposition, which we would contrast with human duties towards animals, while acknowledging that animals have no duties towards us.

Human duties and rights with respect to other humans are horizontal and reciprocal. Human duties towards animals are vertical and one-way.

Utilitarianism, formulated by Jeremy Bentham, who died in 1832, has as its axiomatic principle ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’, an idea which would appear to justify the enslavement by 51% of the population of the other 49%. The traditional concept of Justice forbids the exploitation of even one person merely to serve the wishes and needs of others – no matter how numerous they may be.
Having skimmed through Bentham on Wikipedia, I find myself sympathising with many of his ideas.

But, to get back to social justice; why is it spurious? First of all, what does it mean? It arises from our observation that some people have what we might call a sufficiency of material things: enough food, adequate shelter, effective medical intervention when they fall sick or suffer injury. Actually, this is false. For most of human history medical intervention has been pitifully inadequate. Kings died of diseases and no intervention is effective against a lance through the heart. This is still true. Doctors could not save Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer.

A more accurate observation is that the distribution of some material things is uneven. A poor man may have a stronger constitution than a rich man, it is true; but what we focus on is food and shelter and toys and leisure. For most of human history these things have been scarce goods – until relatively recently painfully scarce for most people. Those not suffering from scarcity were a tiny minority.

Moreover, it is also true that many who suffered (and still suffer) from painful scarcity did (and still do) because they were violently dispossessed by others stronger than they. They had little leisure and no toys because they were physically compelled to contribute to the wants and needs of those who enslaved them. I suppose we can agree that where these conditions exist, Justice is absent. Social Justice is not a useful concept here.

Humans are sinful and humans very frequently succumb to the temptation to take by force or deception. We know this and have developed legal codes, which, for the most part, derive their justification from their effectiveness in mitigating the consequences of greed. Always and everywhere some humans will try to circumvent the code.

So, there are haves and have-nots. Sometimes this is because the haves unjustly dispossess the have-nots. Sometimes it is not. When it is, we appeal for Justice; when it is not, to what can we appeal?
If you eat better than I do or are housed more comfortably than I am, it may be because you are more diligent or talented in acquiring good things. If you are more successful than I am in winning friends, it may be because you are more charming and more winsome. You may beat me in sexual competition, perhaps because you are just sexier than I am. You may defeat me at squash or in an argument, perhaps because you have practised harder or perhaps because you have more talent. For me to whine, ‘it’s not fair’ will not wash.

It is curious that in these various arenas it is only in the first (the economic arena of food, housing, toys and leisure) that ‘politics’ raises its head, only here that we ever even think about levelling the playing field. Why? It may be that only in the economic arena is levelling even possible without recourse to really grotesque intervention. We have got used to the idea of levelling the field by progressive taxation, of making you pay at a higher rate than me. We would have to sink very low before recommending battery acid in your face or mutilation or a bang on the head to make us more equal. And it is not even possible for some of your talent to be transplanted into me.

Since I have introduced sport as an area of competition, you may be thinking about handicapping, as in golf. But handicapping is simply a system whereby players with different abilities can enjoy competition with each other.

And now to the really interesting issue: how do economically successful people succeed? They do so by serving their fellow men. Richard Branson gives consumers (who can exercise choice) goods and services for which they freely exchange their money. If his goods and services are of poor quality or if he demands a price consumers are not prepared to pay, he does not succeed. RB wants economic benefits for himself. In the market he has to provide economic benefits in return. Austrian economists have a value theory which explains this. Goods and services have no intrinsic, objective value. Value is purely subjective. If a flight across the Atlantic can be sold for £x, that is because sufficient consumers value the flight at more than £x. Does Social Justice demand that the price of the ticket be £x/2? Branson will soon shut up shop.

It would be very highly desirable for more people to have leisure, toys, comfortable homes and nourishing food – plus access to effective healthcare when they need it. This does not mean that everyone has a right to these things because that would impose an obligation on someone else to provide it. So, how do we enable those who have less to acquire more without dispossessing those who have more.

This is the miraculous thing about free markets under the rule of law: it has been happening for nearly three centuries, by fits and starts, in the west. Everyone wants to better his situation. To do so he has to be sufficiently energetic and creative to provide what others want. He may acquire capital which facilitates the creation of goods and services (wealth). He can do this in two ways. Either he denies himself in the short term, by consuming less than everything that comes his way; or he demonstrates his creditworthiness and borrows.

He may have little talent or inclination for entrepreneurship; in which case he can sell his skills and labour to those who do. When governments confiscate from the productive (for whatever well-meaning objective), there is less capital to be invested in wealth and job creating enterprises – much less. The process of taxing and spending is necessarily costly – you have to set up expensive and unproductive bureaucracies to do it. For a host of reasons, governments don’t spend our money well. The main reason is that they do not have anything like sufficient information to guide their decisions. When I spend my money, I have every reason to try to get best value for money. I want low prices and high quality. When I and the other seven billion members of my species are free to do so unhampered by government interference, we drive prices down and quality up – inevitably. When everybody is busy getting goodies for himself, wealth is engendered on a massive scale.

It is not always easy or pleasant, particularly in the short term. Nineteenth century factories were noisy, dirty and dangerous. But every John Countryman who took a factory job perceived himself to be better off than when he was working in a tranquil but dirty and dangerous (and probably back-breaking) farming job. In every generation John’s children and grandchildren had better conditions and higher wages, not because factory owners suddenly became nice people but because they couldn't get workers otherwise. We became more skilled. More sophisticated manufacturing processes required more and more skilled workers. Thousands of brand new industries have created billions of jobs. The trend was ever upwards.

Two things serve to put the brakes on: War and Welfare. War destroys wealth, although some get rich from it – so there is less capital for investment in things we want. State welfare siphons money from society and also reduces capital investment.

Henry Hazlitt’s wisdom is summed up in one lesson: ‘The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.’

Obviously, I am neglecting something huge. What about those who, through no fault of their own, from age, infirmity, sickness and sheer bad luck, have nothing to contribute in term of skills and/or labour? Don’t I care about them, at all? I do. We should. Ethics is not simply about Justice. It is about Compassion too. Of course, this where the concept of Social Justice comes from. But democratically elected rulers do not care about compassion, only about votes. Talking about compassion is popular – it’s very easy. The rule of law is something that governments can, to a significant degree, enforce. No robbing, stealing, thieving will be tolerated. Governments can also facilitate wealth creation – but only by standing aside and by declining to expropriate and otherwise interfere.

In a wealthy society compassionate behaviour is much easier than in a poor society. In the past, and particularly in Christendom, charitable institutions have done great work: in medicine, education and in the relief of poverty. They characteristically work by enabling the indigent to help themselves. The welfare state positively discourages charity. It gives us an excuse. The welfare state positively encourages dependency. The War on Poverty has been a catastrophic failure. We should encourage wealth creation. We should give and act compassionately, as individuals, as churches and through voluntary secular institutions.

Enough, already.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Two Prayers

I am much less bashful about talking about my Faith than I used to be. In English English there is a contraction of ‘pious’ or ‘piety’: ‘pi’. When I say that you are pi, I am not being polite. ‘Sanctimonious’ is never a compliment. Englishmen feel an uncomfortable sensation in the collar region when alluding to such things as Faith. Older, more robust generations of Christians did not experience this prickling.

I offer the following as the most practical examples of piety I know.

It is now my practice, when I experience any frisson of joy or gratitude, inwardly to utter:

‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen.’

Every April I find myself quoting Browning to myself:

O, TO be in England

Now that April 's there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—

That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children's dower

—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

One of the uses of poetry is its appropriateness as a response to emotion. I think prayer is similar.

It is also my practice, when I experience resentment, malice or self-pity, inwardly to utter:

‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’

This is known as the Jesus Prayer. Christians of the Orthodox tradition make much of it. It is hard for me to imagine how more theology could be packed into twelve words. Its ‘usefulness’ though is not in reminding me of the Fall and the Incarnation and of Redemption. It is more like a squirt of bleach into the toilet bowl. It kills 99.9% of resentment, malice and self-pity.

I am a happier man for using these two prayers.

May you experience joy and gratitude. May you disinfect yourself from resentment, malice and self-pity.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Absolute Bafflement

When I post on this blog, I usually have an opinion – a point of view that I think deserves at least to be considered. I am a very opinionated cove. Tonight I am simply baffled. I am not going shed any opinions; but I’m going to share my bafflement with you. A few opinions may creep in. [Otras notas vao entrar; mas a base e uma so.]

What does the Islamic world think it’s up to? Really?

The Islamic world hates Israel; hates the Jews. I think I know why – but this posting is about what I don’t know.

The Islamic world is backward. It has not had a new idea in 14 centuries. The Arab world (Islam’s heartland) is not interested in ideas at all. Spain translates more foreign texts into Spanish in one year than the Arab world has translated into Arabic in a millennium. That is sad. Ideas are (or should be) international. Brilliant novelties, such as the alphabet, the wheel and zero, for example, have cross cultural relevance. Catastrophic ideas, regrettably, like socialism, get taken up by cultures as diverse as Cuba and Cambodia. Fortunately, socialism has imploded and is now only to be found in western universities.

In economic terms, the Arab world is a basket case. Without oil, all the Arab economies amount to less than the Nokia company of Finland. The tiny state of Israel is a powerhouse of innovation and creativity – and is, woman for woman, just about the most successful military machine on earth. The Arabs have been attacking it fruitlessly for half a century. The Arabs hate Israel but will probably collude with it if and when it takes action against Iran.

Islam is stultifying. Some of its apologists demonstrate this. Anjem Choudary thinks that Islam comes from God. That is why we should adopt it. On his say so. Or Mohammed’s. Oh, right? The Koran (transmitted to the world by Mohammed) says that M is the ideal role model for humanity. Anjem, you are as winsome (word of the year) as Mohammed.

So, back to my problem. What do they think they are up to? They have grievances aplenty. Kuffars and Jews invade their lands, allegedly. The west is decadent and corrupt but they immigrate into Denmark, Sweden and Canada by the tens of thousands. In their benighted homelands they slaughter each other by the tens of thousands. What do they think they are up to?

Sunnis and Shiites divided still, not doctrinally but over who should have succeeded the prophet in six hundred and something, kill each other in numbers that make non-Muslim killings of Muslims almost derisory. When will they come to their senses? What do they think they are up to?

Islam is mostly about hatred. The three central texts (the Koran, the Sunna [Mohammed’s biography] and the Hadith) are more about unbelievers than about theology or moral exhortation.

Almost any moral teacher will tell you about the corrosiveness of hatred. It even prevents you from competing with those you hate.

A depressing hate sermon: Hatred

Abiotic Hydro-carbons

We talk about ‘fossil fuels’. This is a question begging term. It simply assumes that oil and natural gas (and coal, for that matter) are the products of heat and pressure on fossilised plants and animals. If this is so, it stands to reason that, because a finite quantity of plant and animal material has existed, we will eventually run out.

I think that this is problematical from several points of view. Firstly, is this what geologists actually believe? If it were true, it seems to me, the price of fossil fuels (as I shall now cease to call them) ought to be rising steeply. As it happens, the price of energy fluctuates and is presently at a low.

The estimates of recoverable reserves of these hydro-carbons go up and up. Maybe this contributes to low prices. If we discovered a huge deposit of, say, copper ore, we would expect the price of copper to fall.

The second problem is that hydro-carbons are not only to be found earthside. Astronomers tell us that methane and other hydro-carbons are detectable in the makeup of comets. Did they originate from biological material? I don’t think so.

What is more, oil deposits have been discovered at tremendous depths – tens of thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Did pre-historic plants and animals burrow down before dying?

Serious scientists in Russia and The Ukraine (as well as Thomas Gold of pulsar fame) have another theory. Hydro-carbons, they say, are constantly being formed in the earth’s mantle. Experiments have demonstrated that they can be formed in the laboratory and in the absence of biological material. We know that decomposing biological matter can result in the production of hydro-carbons but we also know that that is not the only way to produce them.

Another piece of evidence supportive of the abiotic theory is that some ‘exhausted’ oil wells have been observed to have been replenished.

Energy companies (aka Big Oil) etc certainly would have an incentive to persuade us that the supply of hydro-carbons is limited. But what if it is not?

The Greens worry about CO2, produced when hydro-carbons are combusted. That is an argument for another day. What Greens do not typically do is to rejoice that fracking produces fuels that emit less carbon and other ‘pollutants’.

I am not certain that the abiotic theory accounts for all or most of the fuel we get from the ground. I am certain that it should be better known and that a serious debate should take place. If it is indeed true, then we should rejoice. The possibility of virtually limitless energy bodes very well for developing nations, whose women and children suffer serious respiratory diseases from burning wood and animal dung.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Thinking about Politics

You have got to start with Ethics, with Morality, with Right and Wrong. Conservatives (for the most part) understand this. Conservatives (again, for the most part) source their moral principles from the past. The Ancient Jews and the Greeks understood Justice to be the foundation of Morality. Every action must be judged by the standard of Justice - treating our fellows as they deserve to be treated. We have obligations; our fellows likewise. We have been talking about it since the time of Socrates. Who has contributed a new principle since Moses or Socrates? Progressives have undermined the concept of Justice by tacking ‘social’ to it.

‘Social Justice’ is a term to be abhorred and execrated. It always and everywhere means ‘what I approve of’, often ‘what suits me’. Believe in Social Justice and you will soon be marching for abortion and lesser evils, such as mansion taxes and progressive taxation.

Most of us in the West never notice how unjust progressive taxation is – almost by definition. If you have a flat rate of income tax (let’s say 10%), if Andy earns £10,000 a year, he pays £1,000 in tax and Barry (on £100,000 a year) pays £10,000 in tax. Both have an incentive to work harder – each knows that if he earns an extra £1, he will pay £0.10p more. Justice means treating people equally. It’s that simple.

It is bad enough when the taxes pay for policemen and courts. Such things are necessary in a fallen world. Libertarian thinkers have pointed out that state provision of policemen and courts is not, by any means, the only way of providing for them.

Progressive taxation means that Barry gets clobbered disproportionately for policemen and courts (from which he may benefit). ‘Disproportionately’ is surely a synonym for ‘unjustly’.

The welfare state (laudable though its inventors’ intentions may have been) means that Barry gets clobbered for programmes that only benefit Andy and those lower than Andy on the income scale. It is unjust for me to mug Barry on Andy’s behalf. Acquiescing in state mugging cannot make it just!

We are not animals. Morality does not apply to animals – the cheetah who chokes a gazelle to death commits no murder. Murder is an exclusively human phenomenon. So are fraud, extortion and robbery. Materialists, who deny that there is any meaningful discontinuity between animals and humans, are surely legitimising fraud, extortion and robbery.

I have got to admit that Atheists, Materialists and Progressives are not (by definition) of one ilk. There are some theistic progressives. But the overlap is considerable.

Am I saying that Progressives (and Socialists) are incoherent in their thinking? Absolutely! Sometime in the centuries since Socrates they have magicked out of thin air a new Morality. We have, in this very century, ‘moralists’ whose summum malum is inequality of income. They do not do so by metaphysical argument but by manifestly defective ‘data’. They have as little credibility as one who would declare that inequality of prettiness is the summum malum.

Politics is these days very largely about income distribution. The millionaire Obama seems to care about it. He has not had a coherent idea since kindergarten.

Politics is about Justice. Justice is not “wouldn’t it be nice if…”

Progressives agree that Politics is about Ethics. They don’t have a coherent theory of Ethics. That is why their political programmes are disastrous.

Progressives believe themselves to occupy the moral high ground: let’s do what we can to help the disadvantaged. Their policies (as well as being unjust) have failed repeatedly. They dispossess the productive and reward unproductiveness.

Answer me this: Assuming that Hard Work, Self-Sufficiency, Creativity and Technical Innovation are Good Things and that Idleness and Dependency are not, should our political institutions and programmes reward the former and punish the latter? The question answers itself.

There is another question: If I have more (perhaps much more) than I need, should I volunteer to help my neighbour who is indigent – especially if he is indigent through no fault of his own? The question answers itself.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


This worked even better than I expected. It is endlessly flexible. I did it with minced beef; but 
without the meat, it could accompany any meal.

Minced Beef and Vegetable Crumble
Dice and fry onions, garlic, courgettes and aubergines. Stir in one can of chopped tomatoes. Pour into an oven-proof dish. Fry minced beef and add to the vegetables. Add a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs and season. Stir. Make the topping by combining plenty of grated cheese with an equal volume of oatmeal and a splash of oil. Cover the meat and vegetables with the cheese mixture. Press it down and bake in a hottish oven for about an hour. Ten cooks could make ten versions – all delicious.

While I am it, here is my Barbecue Chicken recipe. This is really rather good.

Chop lots of garlic and lots of fresh ginger and as many chillies as you like. Mix together with about a cup of soy sauce and about a half a cup of balsamic vinegar. A splash of red wine doesn’t hurt. Marinate chicken thighs (skin on) in the mixture for an hour at least. Barbecue the chicken, turning it regularly and basting it with the marinade. A potato salad goes very well with this. Boil diced potatoes and cool. Add chopped celery, spring onions and crispy bacon. Dress generously with mayonnaise.

Douglas Murray

He is gay, he is an atheist and he is one of my heroes.

Who is more articulate than DM? Ben Shapiro? Jay Richards? Jonah Goldberg? Arthur Brooks? George Will?

It so happens that I have more American heroes than British. The proliferation of ‘conservative’ think tanks in the USA may account for this. DM is a Brit and is much in demand across the Atlantic. Pat Condell too.

Murray is associated with two think tanks: The Centre for Social Cohesion and The Henry Jackson Society.

Here is a fairly representative video clip.

Antibiotics – Ignorant Musings

Q: How many people owe (or have owed) their lives to antibiotics?

A: Countless millions – perhaps billions.

We should really be asking about person/years. A person who was injected with penicillin in the 1940s may be dead now but may well have enjoyed many years of post-infection life. What is more, they may have borne/begotten offspring of which the same is true.

An example: Gordon was wounded in WWII. Gangrene set in. It was defeated with penicillin (plus 40 person/years or more). He had four children who were saved from death by penicillin or its successors (from pneumonia or whatever). If each one lived (on average) an additional 30 years (as a result of treatment with penicillin), we are already talking 160 p/y. Perhaps some of them might have fought off the infection on their own. But then some of them might have had offspring whose lives were likewise saved by teramycin or its successors.

My enchanting granddaughter, Clara, is the product of 2 parents, 4 grandparents and 8 great grandparents, every one of which might have been carried off by infection, but for antibiotics, in the more than half-century since Alexander Fleming’s great discovery. The very thought leaves me tremulous. [Lord, Jesus Christ, make Your face to shine upon AF.] Multiply precious Clara by the many millions of babies born this year. The number is staggering!

Antibiotics have served us very well. But there are problems. There are now populations of disease causing bacteria which cannot be destroyed with antibiotics: C-Dif and MRSA, for example. Ebola is a different case – viruses cannot be killed with antibiotics.

It may be that doctors prescribe antibiotics too readily. It may be that patients do not use their medications as responsibly as they should.

Whatever, the orthodox (Darwinian) explanation is that bacteria mutate (viruses too, allegedly). I have a problem with this and I know I am not on a secure footing here. Please keep peppered moths in mind here – and bear with me. I will read your comments respectfully.

Is fortuitous mutation the explanation? How do bacteria know how to produce antibiotic resistant offspring? Pace Rupert Sheldrake, who may have a better explanation, I hazard the following. Let us reverse the scenario. Let us think of a human population invaded by a disease (instead of a bacterial population attacked by an antibiotic), the plague, for example. When it struck, some people, with natural immunity, survived – and so did their offspring. Europe was not wiped out by the plague. Europe survived.

A population of bacteria is stricken by antibiotic chemicals; some individual bugs, with natural immunity, survive.

Scenario 1) There are not enough survivors to kill the patient. Her own immune system sees them off.

Scenario 2) The survivors are numerous and potent enough to make the patient sick and/or infectious. She may survive but if she infects another person, he is now hosting a population of resistant bugs. No mutation is required but his doctors cannot treat him with the same antibiotic chemical because only resistant bugs were passed on to him.

Digression: Peppered Moths. One of the arguments in the Origin [sic] of Species featured peppered moths. Entomologists had observed that with the advent of industrial pollution, which darkened the trunks of trees, only dark coloured moths were to be found, whereas earlier the observed moths of this species had been light coloured. Darwin surmised (he was a clever bloke) that Natural Selection had turned light coloured moths into dark coloured moths. The trouble is: there had always been both light and dark moths. Pollution favoured the dark coloured ones – they were camouflaged against dark trunks and predatory birds couldn’t see them. With decreased pollution, following Clean Air legislation, the light coloured moths predominated because now they were the ones with camouflage – a perfect case of micro-evolution. Jonathan Wells cites Peppered Moths in his Icons of Evolution.

What about the future? Will the clever microbiologists at Big Pharma continue to stay ahead of the bugs? Or will the next breakthrough involve beefing up our immune systems? Are the clever microbiologists on the case already? I hope so. I am already worrying about Clara’s offspring.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Bastards vs Fools

Me? I'm a bastard – and proud of it. Let’s be a tiny bit more nuanced. In modern English ‘bastard’ means a ruthless, self-seeking individual. It used to mean someone whose parents were not married – that is to say, typically, someone who was brought up without a father. Girls brought up by their mothers had a role model. Hence, a bastard is/was a boy without an appropriate male role model. Of course, not all male role models were (or are) wholesome. But we noticed, we English speakers, that not having one at all was not a favourable prognostication.

In political terms, it is safe to say that those who believe that all of us should (for the most part and where possible) take responsibility for ourselves are characterised by the other lot (statists) as bastards – ruthless and self-seeking. There is no logic whatsoever to this accusation – none. The contrary is true: people who take responsibility for themselves are vastly happier than those who live lives of protected dependence. A Progressive who works hard to support his family is happier than people living in protected dependence. In his life he is wise and beneficent. In his opinions he is not. Tom Woods claimed the prize for being the one millionth person to point out that progressive policies harm those that they are intended to benefit. So, I am (approximately) the 1,111,111th. Alas, no prize.

Arthur Brook and Charles Murray (both of the AEI) have proved this. AB talks about ‘earned success’ as being the infallible route to happiness. CM laments the fact that successful middle and upper class Americans do not preach what they practise. They defer gratification, they educate themselves and their children, they work hard, they marry and stay married. Typically, they worship. Moreover, they are just about the most generous people in the world when it comes to charitable donations and to involvement in their communities. If they vote Democrat, they betray all their best values. If they vote Republican, they are ‘bastards’ because Republicans ‘do not care about the poor and disadvantaged’.

The following thought experiment is instructive. Given that hard work, honesty and thrift are virtues (and good for society), what sort of system is most likely to inculcate them? Free Markets or Socialism? Given that idleness and selfishness are vices (and bad for society), what sort of system is most likely to inculcate them? Free Markets or Socialism? This is the no-brainer of no-brainers.

Do I need to point out that acting in your own self-interest is not selfishness? It is not selfish to wash your hands when you have had a crap. All day, every day you act in what you perceive to be your own self-interest. You must examine your own conscience. Did you act dishonestly or cruelly?
When we spend money in our own interest, we benefit others, perforce. When we invest money, we benefit others, perforce.

Most bastards (in our technical sense) are conscious that they do not, as individuals, give or do as much as they could or should. The fools are content to leave it up to the state. They are fools because the state (nearly) always gets it wrong. The state frequently takes from the poor to give to the rich, as in bank bail-outs and foreign aid. Thus, the intentions of the fools (in our technical sense) are frustrated.

Bastards, give more! Do more! (Imperative mood). Fools, give up your folly.

The UK government, apparently, proposes to give all income tax payers a breakdown of how the money stolen taken from them is spent. The largest proportion is on ‘benefits’. I bet that this will represent the gross amount taken. It will not separate the actual money going to the recipients from the amounts required to collect the take and to disburse the take. This is a discrepancy I have never seen or heard referred to in the media. The discrepancy goes to bureaucrats, who thereby have an incentive to vote accordingly.

I was about to post this when I noticed that I neglected to address a ‘fool’ objection. Fools subscribe to the zero sum fallacy. They ‘think’ that that if A earns more, B must earn less. This is simply not true. Why have we become steadily richer since the eighteenth century? We have become richer because of innovation, private property, the rule of law and the division of labour. This has happened since 1970 to a degree never before seen. Globalisation and free markets have since that year reduced the number of humans living in absolute poverty by EIGHTY PERCENT. Do you care about your fellow men AT ALL?

Stop being a fool – join the bastards!