Thursday, September 29, 2005

Today's Tidbits

I'll start today with this brief review of why there's no reason to prefer organic produce over the regular kind. The author, Tomas Brandberg, a recent Ph.D. in bioscience writes:
By most definitions an "organic" product must not contain genetically modified organisms and its production must not involve synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. We are supposed to think that organic products are healthier and also better for the environment. However, there is little evidence to support either of those claims. It is true that farmers usually depend on toxic chemical substances in order to keep insects and weeds at bay and it is likewise true that traces of some of these compounds can be found in food and also in humans. However, there is no indication that the measured levels are harmful.
In addition, Brandberg makes the point that the amount of farming land necessary for organic farming is far greater than regular farming, due to the low productivity of organic farming.

In general, I try to avoid organic foods as there's a greater chance that it contains toxic natural bacteria that are absent from regular foods, particularly if the organics are not washed properly.


At FrontpageMag, Steven Plaut writes of "[l]eftists emerging from the shadows of the American intelligence community" and weaves a depressing tale of ex-CIA operatives turning to the Anti-American and Anti-Israel right and left. He recommends Angelo Codevilla's classic Informing Statecraft, to enlighten individuals unfamiliar with the fact that the CIA has a long history of left-leaning and politically correct policies. I've read that book many years ago and can also recommend it. Codevilla is presently a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute, a Conservative think-tank.


In today's Wall Street Journal op-ed page is an important article (unfortunately its requires a subscription) by Charles Murray entitled "The Hallmark of the Underclass." Murray writes:
Watching the courage of ordinary low-income people as they deal with the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, it is hard to decide which politicians are more contemptible--Democrats who are rediscovering poverty and blaming it on George W. Bush, or Republicans who are rediscovering poverty and claiming that the government can fix it. Both sides are unwilling to face reality: We haven't rediscovered poverty, we've rediscovered the underclass; the underclass has been growing during all the years that people were ignoring it, including the Clinton years; and the programs politicians tout as solutions are a mismatch for the people who constitute the problem.
As I assume many of you remember, Charles Murray was the author of Losing Ground, a masterpiece of social science research originally published in the 1980's, that investigated the welfare state in some detail and to his great credit concluded that the best thing to do would be to abolish all welfare programs.

In his op-ed piece Murray goes on to explain that the fundamental problems of the "underclass" is not lack of resources, or opportunities, or job training but a fundamental difference in attitude. He distinguishes between people who happen to be low-income but are trying hard not to be, including "the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city" and "the looters and thugs, and those ...women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass." He points out that the underclass has been growing; a fact which is evident from the statistics on criminality and illegitimacy. The prison population in 2003 was 2,086,000, the number of illegitimate births 35% for the entire population and 68% for blacks.

Murray concludes his piece by predicting the following for the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and inevitable onslaught of government programs to help them:
Five years from now, the official evaluations will report that there were no statistically significant differences between the subsequent lives of people who got the government help and the lives of people in a control group. Newspapers will not carry that story, because no one will be interested any longer. No one will be interested because we will have long since replaced the screens, and long since forgotten.
Murray is of course correct. The fundamental issue is philosophical and the people in the underclass lack the motivation to help themselves because they reject the better ideas that would support moving out of poverty. Unfortunately, the government over the last few decades has mostly reinforced the bad ideas. Conservatives frequently point to an increase in religious ideas as helpful but I think the self-abnegation that religions almost universally preach is no antidote to the irrational self-destructiveness of the underclass. Instead what they need is a philosophy that teaches rational egoism and the virtue of productiveness. Such a philosophy may be found in the works of Ayn Rand.

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