Religion

That is the recent Israeli TV show — a dramatic comedy of sorts — about the dating lives of Modern Orthodox Jews.  It is interesting to see a professionally made serial where the erotic tension of a date cannot be satisfied, or for that matter further inflamed, not even by a kiss or by a brush of one shoulder against another.  It was once dubbed “No Sex in the City.”  Everyone is in a hurry to do lots of dating and those who are not candidates for marriage are disposed of swiftly.  Quite a bit of lying and double-dealing and rapid switching goes on, yet without sex being present in the background.  There is frequent discrimination against those who are not the right shade of seriousness about their degree of adherence to Judaism.  The men and women who are “just friends” seem to have the best relationships of all, although for some reason they cannot convert that into romantic capital.

You can view it here on Amazon or buy it, or it is on Hulu.  Here is Wikipedia.  Definitely recommended if you are looking for something different, or something interesting about social conservatism, there are many excellent scenes.

One good answer is from Tim O’Neill:

People were generally very familiar with the Bible pre-1900, so the figures usually cited as the epitome of evil tended to be Judas Iscariot, Herod the Great or, most commonly, the Pharaoh of the story of Moses in Exodus. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the date of the Lexington massacre], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen Pharaoh of England forever.”  The Confederates referred to Abraham Lincoln as “the northern Pharaoh” and abolitionists in turn called slaveowners “modern Pharaohs”.  Americans also referred to all tyrants by comparing them to King George III and Napoleon was often cited as the ultimate bogeyman in Britain.  But generally it was Pharaoh who was used the way we use Hitler.

Did they have something akin to Godwin’s Law back then: “if you have to mention the Pharaoh, you’ve lost the argument!”  Somehow I don’t think so.  A link to the Quora forum is here.

Update: It seems Brian Palmer deserves credit for the information behind that answer.

All hail Khan!

by on June 14, 2014 at 10:58 am in Current Affairs, Law, Religion, Science | Permalink

Congratulations to Razib Khan, the noted genetics blogger, on the birth of his son. Born just last week, Razib’s son is already making the news:

An infant delivered last week in California appears to be the first healthy person ever born in the U.S. with his entire genetic makeup deciphered in advance.

Razib, a graduate student at a lab at UC Davis in California, had some genetic material from his in-womb son from a fairly standard CVS test.

When Khan got the DNA earlier this year, he could have ordered simple tests for specific genes he was curious about. But why not get all the data? “At that point, I realized it was just easier to do the whole genome,” he says. So Khan got a lab mate to place his son’s genetic material in a free slot in a high-speed sequencing machine used to study the DNA of various animal species. “It’s mostly metazoans, fish, and plants. He was just one of the samples in there,” he says.

The raw data occupied about 43 gigabytes of disk space, and Khan set to work organizing and interpreting it. He did so using free online software called Promethease, which crunches DNA data to build reports—noting genetic variants of interest and their medical meaning. “I popped him through Promethease and got 7,000 results,” says Khan.

Promethease is part of an emerging do-it-yourself toolkit for people eager to explore DNA without a prescription. It’s not easy to use, but it’s become an alternative since the FDA cracked down on 23andMe.

Craig Venter was the first person to have his genome sequenced, that was in 2007. Now, just seven years later, costs have fallen by a factor of 10,000.  Personal genome sequencing is going to become routine regardless of the FDA.

In a delightful, short article on Economics and Morality, Timothy Taylor asks why economics has a reputation for leading to corruption:

Political science, history, psychology, sociology, and literature are often concerned with aggression, obsessiveness, selfishness, and cruelty, not to mention lust, sloth, greed, envy, pride, wrath, and gluttony. But no one seems to fear that students in these other disciplines are on the fast track to becoming sociopaths. Why is economics supposed to be so uniquely corrupting?

Arnold Kling gives one answer:

I think that economics is singled out for opprobrium because of the way that it challenges the intention heuristic. The intention heuristic says that if the intentions of an act are selfless and well-meaning, then the act is good. If the intentions are self-interested, then it is not good.

I would put the point more directly. Economics is detested because it doesn’t just study vice it shows that some vices have good consequences. The moral inversion of economic thinking begins early, in Mandeville’s scandalous and wicked book the Fable of the Bees, which aimed to show how private vices can lead to public benefits. Later, of course, Adam Smith would make a similar point in The Wealth of Nations with his metaphor of the invisible hand and his famous admonition that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

The private vice, public virtue theme is not limited to self-interest and microeconomics. Keynes was an admirer of Mandeville as an early discover of the paradox of thrift. Namely, that in some situations the virtuous behavior of saving can lead to public ruin and the vice of consumption can lead to riches. Paul Krugman continues to make this point today with his admonition that economics is not a morality play. Krugman offends traditional morality when he writes:

As I’ve said repeatedly, this is a situation in which virtue becomes vice and prudence is folly; what we need above all is for someone to spend more, even if the spending isn’t particularly wise.

Economists understand composition fallacies: a sum of light feathers is not necessarily light, a sum of bad actions isn’t necessarily bad and a sum of good actions isn’t necessarily good.

It’s no surprise that Hayek was another fan of Mandeville and also an opponent of traditional morality (also here) because Hayek recognized that nominally bad actions and beliefs can lead to good outcomes (“spontaneous order”) and that nominally good actions and beliefs can lead to bad outcomes (“the atavism of social justice”).

Even more recently we see Tim Geithner making the argument against morality:

“…in a panic, to rescue people from the risk of mass unemployment, you’re going to be doing things that look like you’re helping the arsonists…”

Standard morality, as Kling argues, often stops at intentions while economists are interested in consequences. Consequentialist philosophers also look at consequences but economists have the tools to trace interactions as they sort themselves into an equilibrium. Equilibrium outcomes may be very far from intentions. As a result, we find that economists often places themselves and their discipline in opposition to standard morality.

The new issue of Econ Journal Watch is online at http://econjwatch.org

In this issue:

A symposium co-sponsored by the Acton Institute:

Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?

The Prologue to the symposium suggests that mainstream economics has unduly flattened economic issues down to certain modes of thought (such as ‘Max U’); it suggests that economics needs enrichment by formulations that have religious or quasi-religious overtones.

Robin Klay helps to set the stage with her exploration “Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them.”

Seventeen response essays are contributed by authors, representing a broad range of religious traditions and ideological outlooks:

Pavel Chalupníček:
From an Individual to a Person: What Economics Can Learn from Theology About Human Beings

Victor V. Claar:
Joyful Economics

Charles M. A. Clark:
Where There Is No Vision, Economists Will Perish

Ross B. Emmett:
Economics Is Not All of Life

Daniel K. Finn:
Philosophy, Not Theology, Is the Key for Economics: A Catholic Perspective

David George:
Moving from the Empirically Testable to the Merely Plausible: How Religion and Moral Philosophy Can Broaden Economics

Jayati Ghosh:
Notes of an Atheist on Economics and Religion

M. Kabir Hassan and William J. Hippler, III:
Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

Mary Hirschfeld:
On the Relationship Between Finite and Infinite Goods, Or: How to Avoid Flattening

Abbas Mirakhor:
The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within: On the Flatness of Economics

Andrew P. Morriss:
On the Usefulness of a Flat Economics to the World of Faith

Edd Noell:
What Has Jerusalem to Do with Chicago (or Cambridge)? Why Economics Needs an Infusion of Religious Formulations

Eric B. Rasmusen:
Maximization Is Fine—But Based on What Assumptions?

Rupert Read and Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

Russell Roberts:
Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

A. M. C. Waterman:
Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

Andrew M. Yuengert:
Sin, and the Economics of ‘Sin’

There is a new paper by Benjamin Hermalin, with the intriguing title “At the Helm, Kirk or Spock? Why Even Wholly Rational Actors May Favor and Respond to Charismatic Leaders.”  The abstract runs like this:

When a leader makes a purely emotional appeal, rational followers realize she is hiding bad news. Despite such pessimism and even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, rational followers’ efforts are nonetheless greater when an emotional appeal is made by a more rather than less charismatic leader. Further, they tend to prefer more charismatic leaders. Although organizations can do better with more charismatic leaders, charisma is a two-edged sword: more charismatic leaders will tend to substitute charm for real action, to the organization’s detriment. This helps explain the literature’s “mixed report card” on charisma.

Here is what actually drives the argument:

As shown below, a savvy leader makes an emotional appeal when “just the facts” provide followers too little incentive and, conversely, makes a rational appeal when the facts “speak for themselves.” Followers (at least rational ones) will, of course, understand this is how she behaves. In particular, the rational ones—called “sober responders”—will form pessimistic beliefs about the productivity state upon hearing an emotional appeal. But how pessimistic depends on how charismatic the leader is. Because a more charismatic leader is more inclined to make an emotional appeal ceteris paribus, sober responders are less pessimistic about the state when a more charismatic leader makes an emotional appeal than when a less charismatic leader does [emphasis added]. So, even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, sober (rational) responders work harder in equilibrium in response to an emotional appeal from a more charismatic leader than in response to such an appeal from a less charismatic leader.

Would this same reasoning also imply we should choose intrinsically panicky leaders, because then, if we see them panic, we would think the real underlying situation isn’t so bad after all and we are simply witnessing their innate propensity to panic? Yet no one would buy that version of the argument.

I will instead suggest that we (sometimes) follow charismatic leaders because they have high social intelligence, and most of all because other people are inclined to follow them.  Some of those followers of course do not have rational expectations but rather they are touched by the charisma directly.  Given that, why not follow the focal leader, even if you yourself are not touched by the charisma?

A related question is to ask how many recent world leaders are in fact charismatic.  Obama and Clinton yes, but how about David Cameron?  How about most Prime Ministers of Japan, Abe being a possible exception?  Arguably Merkel has become charismatic through a sort of extreme, cultivated anti-charisma, but I would not cite her in favor of the theory.  Any Canadian since Trudeau?  Helmut Kohl?

Putin?  Well, he’s not charismatic to me but now we’re getting somewhere.  And what does Putin have that say Prime Ministers of Japan do not?  Could it be a citizenry that gets excited relatively easily by the brutish?  Come to think of it, the USA has a wee bit of excitability of its own, though more about national pride and foreign policy than anything like Putin.  Hint: does your theory predict that Argentina will have charismatic leaders relative to Denmark?  Yes or no?

In which business sectors are the CEOs most likely to be charismatic?

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Addendum: Hermalin responds here.

Vegetable Eggs

by on May 12, 2014 at 10:08 am in Economics, Food and Drink, Religion | Permalink

Technology Review: Hampton Creek’s CEO, Josh Tetrick, wants to do to the $60 billion egg industry what Apple did to the CD business. “If we were starting from scratch, would we get eggs from birds crammed into cages so small they can’t flap their wings, shitting all over each other, eating antibiotic-laden soy and corn to get them to lay 283 eggs per year?” asks the strapping former West Virginia University linebacker. While an egg farm uses large amounts of water and burns 39 calories of energy for every calorie of food produced, Tetrick says he can make plant-based versions on a fraction of the water and only two calories of energy per calorie of food — free of cholesterol, saturated fat, allergens, avian flu, and cruelty to animals. For half the price of an egg.

At present, Hampton Creek is focusing on finding vegetable proteins than can substitute for eggs in cakes, salad dressings, mayo and so forth rather than replacing the over-easy at the diner. As with in-vitro meat, however, vegetable eggs pursued for economic reasons will end up greatly supporting the 21st movement for vegetarianism.

Suzanne B. Shu and Kurt A. Carlson have a paper (pdf) on this claim:

How many positive claims should be used to produce the most positive impression of a product or service? This article posits that in settings where consumers know that the message source has a persuasion motive, the optimal number of positive claims is three. More claims are better until the fourth claim, at which time consumers’ persuasion knowledge causes them to see all the claims with skepticism. The studies in this paper establish and explore this pattern, which is referred to as the charm of three. An initial experiment finds that impressions peak at three claims for sources with persuasion motives but not for sources without a persuasion motive. Experiment 2 finds that this occurs for attitudes and impressions, and that increases in skepticism after three claims explain the effect. Two final experiments examine the process by investigating how cognitive load and sequential claims impact the effect.

Here is a NYT summary of those results.

That is the new Princeton University Press book by Michael Cook and the subtitle is The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective.  It is a very good comparative look at why Islam has evolved to have a special influence on politics, relative to the other major religions:

…Muslim solidarity has not displaced nationalism, but it has established itself as an alternative to it.  It has done remarkably well in shifting the moral terms of trade in favor of Islam as a political identity and against the various nationalisms of the Muslim world, thereby putting them on the defensive…These qualitative observations find some support from a survey of 2005 that asked Muslims in six mainly Muslim countries whether they saw themselves as citizens of their countries first or as Muslims first,  In all but Lebanon more respondents identified primarily as Muslims than as national citizens…

The findings of a survey carried out in 2006 shed an interesting light on this.  In Pakistan 87 percent of Muslims identified as Muslims first, rather than citizens of their country; in India only 10 percent of Hindus identified in this way.

I found this book consistently interesting.  The book’s home page is here.

By the Very Revd John Drury.  I mentioned the book favorably in passing once before, but I don’t think I drove home how much I liked and learned from it.  For me it is a clear choice for best book of the year so far.

Here is a pithy bit from Amazon:

Though he never published any of his English poems during his lifetime, George Herbert (1593–1633) is recognized as possibly the greatest religious poet in the language. Few English poets of his age still inspire such intense devotion today.

I was not interested in Herbert per se, so that is further testament to the quality of Drury’s achievement. This volume passes at least one bottom line test for book quality, namely whether I ordered many other books by the same author.  I did.

You can order the book here.  You can find Herbert’s poems here.  This book also shows how much overly restrictive copyright law damages other works of literary criticism, Herbert of course is fully in the public domain.

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country, but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations, in particular, have rocketed since churches began reopening when Communist leader Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution. Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s No. 1 economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University in Indiana and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared with 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would be likely to put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. as the largest Christian congregation in the world, Yang predicted.

The article is here, via Noah Smith.

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

With the new questions, “it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,” says another agency document describing the changes. This “break in trend” will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said.

Obviously with a big new law you need new questions too, I suppose, plus the old questions ought not to hang around.  You can read more here.

As a side note, I have been reading far too many blog posts about “numbers enrolled” as a metric of success for Obamacare.  That has never been a good test of the serious criticisms (and defenses) of ACA.

I thank Megan and Garett for the pointers.

Addendum: You should read this update from Vox, though I am not satisfied with the Administration’s response.

Horse head squirrel feeder.  Who could possibly want such a thing?  Is that the result of a fixed point theorem?  Aren’t fixed costs God’s way of keeping such nasty stuff away from us?:

You have a Creepy Horse Mask, why not the squirrels in your yard? It turns out it’s even funnier on a squirrel. This hanging vinyl 6-1/2″ x 10″ squirrel feeder makes it appear as if any squirrel that eats from it is wearing a Horse Mask. You’ll laugh every morning as you drink your coffee while staring out the window into your backyard. Now, if only the squirrels would do their own version of the Harlem Shake video. Hole on top for hanging with string (not included).

horse-head-squirrel-feeder-930x709-480x365

For the pointer I thank John De Palma.

The 68-page Il Mio Papa (My Pope) will hit Italian newsstands on Ash Wednesday, offering a glossy medley of papal pronouncements and photographs, along with peeks into his personal life. Each weekly issue will also include a pullout centerfold of the pope, accompanied by a quote.

“It’s a sort of fanzine, but of course it can’t be like something you’d do for One Direction,” the popular boy band, said the magazine’s editor, Aldo Vitali. “We aim to be more respectful, more noble.”

There is more here.  It will sell for fifty cents, but there are intellectual property issues:

“Various magazines publish the pope’s teachings, but they have an accord with us,” said the Rev. Giuseppe Costa, the director of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. A similar accord has not been signed with My Pope, he added, though the magazine should have known better “because we have a relationship with Mondadori.”

“In the case they publish the pope’s words, I will have to intervene,” Father Costa said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger:

Former Pope Benedict, in one of the few times he has broken his silence since stepping down nearly a year ago, has branded as “absurd” fresh media speculation that he was forced to quit.

And his world of scarcity continues:

Libero also suggested that Benedict chose to continue to wear white because he still felt like he was a pope.

Benedict, who lives in near-total isolation inside a former convent on the Vatican grounds, was also asked about this and responded:

“I continue to wear a white cassock and kept the name Benedict for purely practical reasons. At the moment of my resignation there were no other cloths available.

A new paper was presented at the AEA meetings this January, “Religion, Economics, and the Rise of the Nazis,” by Philipp Tillman and Jörg Spenkuch, and the abstract for one version of the paper is this:

We investigate the role of religion in the electoral success of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany. Among historians, it is a well known fact that Protestants were much more likely than Catholics to vote for Adolf Hitler. However, in spite of the historical importance of the Nazis’ rise to power, the question of whether this correlation reflects a causal effect of religion has so far remained unanswered. We use an instrumental variable approach by relying on geographic variation in religious beliefs dating back to a peace treaty in the sixteenth century. According to the principle “cuius regio, eius religio.” the Peace of Augsburg granted local rulers the right to determine the religion of their serfs. Using rulers’ choices in the aftermath of the peace as an instrumental variable for the religion of Germans living in the respective areas more than three hundred years later, we are able to document an economically large effect of Protestantism on Nazi vote shares— even after controlling for a wide range of region fixed effects and socioeconomic characteristics. Taken at face value, our estimates suggest that Catholics were about 50% less likely to vote for the Nazi Party than their Protestant counterparts. We are currently testing multiple hypotheses to explain this effect and are in the process of collecting additional data.

That is not a new claim but it is new to have serious econometrics to back it up and show the vote tallies were not caused by associated demographic factors.  You will find a related copy of the paper at the first link here.  Tillman’s home page is here.  Spenkuch is here.  Here is Spenkuch’s paper on immigration and crime.  Immigration is connected to higher rates of theft crime, although by small amounts, and not positively related to violent crime.

Addendum: Here is the most current version of the paper (pdf), with notable additions.