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Galileo Blogs

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  1. A looter is not a self-sustaining individual. By definition, he must depend on the work of others. He needs their loot since he chooses not to produce his own "loot" himself (if he produces it, it no longer is "loot"; it is just "goods"). So, the looter is dependent on others in a specific way. He depends on others' weakness (if he conquers them) or stupidity/naivete/ignorance (if he defrauds them) or wrongheaded moral views (if his victim is a willing slave). Contrast the dependence of a looter with the independence of a producer. A producer's primary frame of reference is not on the weaknesses of his fellow men, but ultimately on theirs and his grasp of reality. If he chooses to properly and accurately identify the nature of reality, he is able to create his means of sustenance and trade with those who have done the same. His means of survival fundamentally is within his control, whereas the looter's means of survival fundamentally is not within his control. The producer, if he rationally appraises the opportunities reality provides him, creates his means of sustenance. In contrast, the looter is entirely dependent on the availability of victims. What if there are no victims, or the victims rebel, or they shrug? Then the looter has no means of survival. The loot is gone. As a human, which way would you rather live? Sure, some looters get away with their crimes, but a larger number do not. Think of the many dictators who face the firing squad as another dictator overthrows them, or faces an angry mob as the revolution comes his way? For a more mundane looter, think of the many criminals of various stripes who die early deaths in gang violence or who get arrested and have to endure brutalities in prison. Sure, some gang members, a very small number, "retire" from their lives of gang violence and they live to be old men. How many are there? Where are they? On a different level, consider the psychological state of a looter versus a producer. The looter lives in constant fear that a fellow gang member, or a member of the politburo, or a leader of an enemy country, will murder him. A thief, who loots individuals for a "living", lives in constant terror of getting caught by police, or killed by an angry victim. The producer, on the other hand, experiences the profound joy of creating values. A scientist knows this when he discovers something new in his lab. A businessman knows this when he makes a profitable deal. A carpenter knows this when his handcrafted work is executed flawlessly. A barber knows this when he skillfully cuts a head of hair. It is not an accident that a producer experiences happiness as his fundamental psychological state, and a looter experiences a fundamental state of terror. Yes, there are times when the producer is unhappy, and there are times when a looter experiences a stolen moment of elation. But does this change the essential and enduring nature of their psychological states? It is not an accident that the mental states of the producer versus the looter differ in this way because production benefits man. It improves his life; it aids his survival. As a manifestation of the integration of mind and body, is it any wonder that a producer when he is creating the values that sustain his life experiences happiness? In comparison, is it any wonder that a looter, who simply steals values from others, feels terror (the terror of getting caught)? Considering the physical and psychological requirements of man's survival, I have no doubt that a productive life is infinitely preferable to the life of a looter. As an aside, my post here briefly describes some of the psychology of a "successful" jewel thief who stole millions of dollars over the course of his life. He was one of the few thieves who "made it". Although he went to jail several times, ultimately he kept most of the loot he stole. If he is an example of looting at its "best", is this an ideal to strive for? Consider also that for every one of him, there are thousands of petty looters living miserable lives on the margins of society and in jail.
  2. I glanced at a couple of those threads. It is interesting how so many Swedes want to come here, but I never hear about a reverse flow of people. I even have an acquaintance who is from Sweden, but lives here. He waxes poetic about the virtues of Sweden and its socialist model. Did I mention that he lives here?
  3. Yes, that is correct, although I am presuming the answer to the question. I am less interested in and knowledgeable of Scandinavia, but I know, through newspaper stories, anecdotes and personal experience that welfare recipients in the United States commit more crimes per capita than those who work. I tried to provide some anecdotal situations to think about that illustrate this point: e.g., walking through a public housing project, visiting public schools and welfare offices. One has either never been to a big city like New York or lacks a certain context to fail to appreciate what I think is an obvious point. Of course, one can do the research and dig up the relevant statistics. If I am proven wrong, I will accept that. That would not change the immorality of welfare which involves theft of property and a violation of individual rights, but it would make the discussion quite interesting.
  4. I am saying that eliminating welfare would improve the quality of the lives of both the poor and the non-poor, for the reasons I gave. If the poor are not on welfare, they work (assuming a sufficiently capitalist economic system, such that there is no excessive unemployment caused by government intervention in the economy). Those who work commit fewer crimes than those who don't work and are on welfare. Everyone benefits from the greater safety, wealth and lower crime rates of a society without welfare, i.e., a capitalist society.
  5. Both companies have nice stock charts. SLXA had a big up-move late last year (on news leaking that ILMN would buy them?), but ILMN took a dip in January. Perhaps they overpaid for SLXA? Do you think the sale of Solexa units are a significant part of ILMN's future revenues/profits? If I am imposing on you with these questions, feel free not to answer -- no offense will be taken. However, I am curious about whether the potential of the Solexa units will show up in ILMN's stock price. As you describe it, the machine sounds like quite an advance. Of course, a best-selling machine if it is only a small part of a company's profits, or if the number of units sold is small in absolute terms, will not have a large effect on a stock. On the other hand, if it is a large and fast-growing part of a company's profits, or could be, the stock could go up considerably. In case you are wondering, yes I am in the investment business! My best to you in working with a great technology in a great industry. I share Kendall's enthusiasm for the prospect that the type of things you are working on will add years to my life. The power of capitalist technology is outweighing the dead-hand of creeping socialism. Amazing.
  6. Is the company that makes Solexa publicly traded? It appears to be a private company.
  7. An interesting question to examine in Scandinavia is whether welfare recipients commit more crimes than the general population there. I would hypothesize that residents of public housing, in particular, commit more crimes there than those who live in private homes. Such data would support your contention #1, that there are cultural factors other than welfare that explain differences in crime rates between Scandinavia and the U.K./U.S. As for welfare in the U.S., what do the statistics say in regard to who commits more crimes? Do welfare recipients and residents of public housing, in particular, commit more crimes than those who do not receive welfare? Or, to put the question a different way, how safe do you feel when you walk through a block of public housing projects at night versus a block of condominiums? (I base my question on New York, in particular, although undoubtedly it is applicable in all regions of the country.) In terms of behavior, walk into a welfare office. How polite and civilized do the recipients (and welfare workers) seem compared with the customers and employees you encounter at a supermarket or a bank? For one more example, spend time in a variety of public schools, especially those in districts where a high proportion of residents live on welfare. Compare your experiences there with students and teachers at a variety of private schools. Of course, individual exceptions exist in both groups, but what are the norms? As for myself, I have done all three of these things. My first-hand anecdotal evidence strongly supports the conclusion that welfare creates criminality and bad behavior. Finally, consider what values a welfare recipient is likely to learn versus the values that a productive person will learn. The welfare recipient essentially learns that one gains by "scamming" the system. One scams to get food stamps, public housing, prescription drugs, free meals and clothing, etc. The productive person learns that to gain the values he wants, he has to work honestly and productively. Which person is more likely to be a criminal? To me, the evidence is abundant that welfare creates more hoodlums and downright rude people per capita than non-welfare. That evidence is available in many locations and in many contexts.
  8. Thank you for the quote listing. Is there a particular book of Heinlein's that you can recommend where he makes these statements? Assuming you have an opinion on Heinlein, which are your favorites among his books? I would like to read some more of his works. Thanks.
  9. The opposite of what you say is true. The more money spent on welfare means the training of more unruly criminals and bad-behaving people. The fruits of welfare -- public housing, public schools and indolent days not working -- create rude and surly people at best, and heinous criminals at worst. Is it any wonder that crime rates shot up beginning the in the 1960s when welfare was radically expanded under Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon? In contrast to welfare recipients, people who work to earn a living know the values of honesty, productiveness and civilized living. Can anyone doubt that people who work commit fewer crimes per capita than people who don't work? To have safer and less mean streets, abolish welfare, all of it, completely and as quickly as possible.
  10. I was there. I especially enjoyed Dr. Willie Soon's comments. He says he began noticing the politicized pseudo-science on global warming about 15 years ago. He kept his mouth shut about it and focused on his research until a couple years ago, when he couldn't take it any more. He became so profoundly exasperated by dishonest pseudo-science among many "scientists" out there, that he began to speak out. As for credentials, he is an astrophysicist at the Solar and Stellar Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I personally cannot validate his scientific statements about the role of the sun in heating up the earth (and Mars apparently), but it makes a lot of sense to me. I also get the impression that it takes a lot of courage for him to speak up like that. He reiterated at the beginning of his talk that his views were his own and do not represent the views of the institution he works for. I bet that by speaking up he faces the real risk of not getting research grants. It is courage like his that defeats irrational ideas, even if it seems that everyone in the world is advocating them. After hearing the talk, I feel a little more confident that the global warming hysteria may die before too severe economic damage is done from implementation of rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
  11. I agree with this. Your formulation gets to the root of the issue. The thinking problem of Christians (and others) is that they are willing to accept the arbitrary. Doing so is harmful to them, presumably because it weakens both their grasp on reality and their ability to grasp reality. One often hears how a religious person can compartmentalize. Indeed, they do, but I suspect there are leaky holes in those compartments that result in corrupted thinking in other areas. How leaky one's compartments are depends on the person and the ideas they are trying to segment from reality. At one extreme you might have a successful professional American, a liberal Protestant Christian, where the "leakage" is subtle and not immediately obvious. At the other extreme might be a Muslim jihadist, whose compartments are practically non-existent. Of course, religion is harmful. Why have to build compartments in one's mind at all?
  12. I agree entirely with these two statements. I have heard stories of some pretty successful criminals from police officers. In one case, a notorious jewel thief who had a "successful" career of many years urinated in his pants when he was caught. He was caught while wearing black clothing and a ski mask that he used to sneak into women's bedrooms at night when they weren't there to steal their jewels. How masculine is that? As for a thief's thinking, I had the mis-fortune to read a book written by this same thief after he became an old man. His book amounts to a several hundred page rationalization of his cowardly crimes, asserting that the rich don't need their jewels, and that he was more clever and smarter than they were. How independent is that?
  13. Those Heinlein quotes are amazing. I read Stranger in a Strange Land quite a while ago and I've read several of his short stories, and I just don't remember such rationality coming from him. Where did Heinlein say those things? I am assuming it came from some of his works published after Stranger.
  14. I recommend watching the movie Quest for Fire for a dramatization of life in a prehistoric tribe. I was very moved by the movie, for it portrays individualism within the context of a tribal structure. I suspect that as soon as man was capable of altering nature to suit his ends, i.e., as soon as he could fashion tools and harness fire, individualism began to rise in importance. The reason is simple. All achievements are the result of individual thought. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the tribal structure was essential to survival in an era like that. I would look at it as a built-in community with a division of labor. Some members of the tribe gathered roots, others hunted, some guarded the sacred fire, and all banded together for mutual self-defense and to hunt large game. On a side note, I marvel at the first advances of primitive man, especially the harnessing of fire. It made man safe, gave him light so he could work at night and paint on the side of cave walls, made his food easier to eat and enabled him to preserve it by smoking it, protected him from wild animals, and kept him warm in winter. Essentially, all those functions are served today by man's modern fire, electricity.
  15. I think we have seen what apes look like with more spindle neurons. Has anyone seen Planet of the Apes or Escape from the Planet of the Apes? In all seriousness, apes would have rights if they were capable of rational thought. Of course, if they had more spindle neurons than us, we may end up working for them. This is fascinating science. Imagine if by planting more spindle neurons in a human's head, you could increase their conceptual abilities. Although Ifat makes some good points, while sitting here in my armchair and without the benefit of having studied neuroscience, I don't see why more spindle neurons could not be implanted in the human brain. Observe how the brain can learn new functions when there is a stroke or a traumatic brain injury and part of the brain is destroyed. Apparently, a completely new part of the brain learns the function of the damaged/missing part of the brain and a person can re-gain use of a limb that was paralyzed or some other function that was lost. If the brain shows such "adaptability" in the face of injury, could it not also adapt to having more neurons added to a specific part of it? I, for one, would marvel at a living creature that had double or triple our number of spindle cells. In that vein, it reminds me of my favorite Star Trek episode (I'm talking about the original 1960s series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy): "Where No Man Has Gone Before". In that episode, the space ship passes through a radiation cloud and one member of the ship begins to develop super-human capabilities. Of course, some of these capabilities are most likely impossible, such as telekinesis. However, the essence of his mental expansion is simply the ability to conceptualize and learn extremely rapidly. Eventually, he is seen to be studying the ship's manuals and plotting to take over the ship. Spock warns Kirk that at the rate his mental abilities are progressing, he will eventually gain abilities of such magnitude that no one on the ship will be able to stop him. So, Kirk and crew plot to strand him on an uninhabited mining planet nearby. After they manage to inject him with a tranquilizer, before the tranquilizer has taken full effect and in a half-conscious state, the new God-man says (something like), "Be careful, I can squash you like ants." Well, the rest of the episode is excellent. It raises very interesting questions about God, and just what it means for man to worship a God. I am not sure if I was an atheist when I first watched the episode, but purely on an emotional level, it shows the essence of what religion is for me, and what it means for man to worship anything in a subservient manner. Well, that was a big tangent (but fun talking about). As for the topic at hand, the Star Trek episode takes the perspective that super-human capabilities would make the super-human creature have so little in common with man that we would become like ants to it. Whether to kill us or not would have the same level of moral significance to it as killing ants is to us. What if a new creature, one with more spindle cells, was far more advanced than us intellectually? How would it view us? What would our lives be like, in relationship to that creature?
  16. Out of the list presented by DarkWaters, I will second Garry Kasparov. Actually, I bet he would be flattered to give the speech. He was the youngest World Chess Champion, a title he held from 1985 to 1993, which should qualify him as someone famous. This includes his epic battle against IBM's "Big Blue" chess computer, which he first won and then lost. He contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal where he is an insightful commentator on global events, including the war against terrorism. I especially like his commentary on the state of affairs in Russia, where he stands as one of few principled opponents of Putin's authoritarianism. He is not just another armchair commentator, either. He has led demonstrations inside Russia, at considerable risk to his physical safety. He is not an Objectivist, but is a highly intelligent, principled commentator. Hell, I would love to hear him give a talk!
  17. I appreciate everyone's answers on this topic. Hopefully a few more people will chime in, too. This is a subject that I have wondered about and I haven't found any definitive answers. In particular, I wonder how a "modern man" in a Western society can cling to religion. I have met a number of successful people who still go to church on Sundays or to synagogue. They can be Catholic or Protestant or of a Jewish sect; it doesn't matter. What amazes me is that people don't take seriously what they hear in the religious services. If they did, they would have to question the many doctrines they hear. They would have to do it, even if they felt religion offered useful moral guidance and a ready-made and valuable social network. Perhaps that is why it is much easier for someone exposed to Ayn Rand's ideas to be an atheist. Ayn Rand challenges and refutes the morality of Christianity. After her arguments against altruism, Christianity does not even have the alleged morality leg to stand on. Then it is easier to be an atheist. Nevertheless, for me the essence of religion relies on one thing: faith in a god. If god cannot be proven to exist, the entire religious edifice tumbles. It is amazing how few people see that. One highly pernicious aspect of widespread religious belief is that most people are contemptuous of philosophical ideas. They sense that such ideas are unreal abstractions, just like the religious doctrines they claim to believe in are. Perhaps this contempt for ideas is related to why so many Americans seem to be pragmatists. They just don't take any ideas seriously. That is also why a religious person can sincerely accuse an atheist of "having his own religion." For the religious person, all abstract ideas have the same unreal quality. In any case, there is no doubt that religion in the West is highly attenuated. The primary purpose of modern-day religion in America seems to be social and for inculcating "decent" values in children. Its influence is generally limited to just attending Sunday services. Of course, if religion stayed at this level, it would not be a problem in America, but many religious people wish to exercise political power to inject their religion into political life. But that's another discussion... My interest in this topic also has a very personal element. A sibling of mine who at one time was a declared atheist like myself became a born-again Christian. He says he did this when he had children. He says Christianity provided a moral guide for his children in our permissive culture. He is a bright man and a successful professional, and now he is teaching his kids creationism, among many other pernicious doctrines. In contrast, I was raised in our "permissive" culture and ended up just fine, and kept my reason intact, including an educated understanding of evolution, among so much other science. When I think about his "conversion", I cannot find the words to say how I feel.
  18. I was very lucky in finding Ayn Rand. I picked Anthem off the shelf of a used bookstore at age 13. I was hooked right away and wanted to go immediately from that to Atlas Shrugged! However, I decided to read the rest of Ayn Rand's fiction in the order she wrote them for two reasons: (1) I would see her progression as a writer, and be able to enjoy each of her books more by not reading her best work first; and (2) I think I knew I would be able to appreciate Atlas more if I were just a little bit older! I ended up reading Atlas at 14 or 15, declared myself an atheist to my parents that year (I was raised Catholic), and then met my first Objectivist in college a few years later. She became my girlfriend in college, although we broke up soon after I moved to New York. I read all of Ayn Rand's non-fiction by the time I got to college. As I assume it was for just about everyone on this forum, Ayn Rand's books absolutely changed my life. One aspect, which Alessa36 mentions in her post, is that everyone used to call me selfish. I never understood it. Now I know they called me selfish just because I was passionate about what I liked. Here's to Ayn Rand [glass raised high]!
  19. The Sunday New York Times magazine today had an article that asks why religious belief is so persistent and prevalent across human history and cultures. The article identifies the answer as evolution. The human brain has evolved in a way where a tendency to believe in a god is hard-wired. Because of this, it is easier and more natural to believe in god(s) than not to believe. I do not agree with the article on several levels, but the basic question is one that has interested me. Why is religious belief so prevalent across cultures and throughout history?
  20. I agree with DavidOdden's and SoftwareNerd's comments. A saying captures those thoughts, and much more: "Torture the data and Nature will repent." I first heard it as inside joke from an economics professor of mine, a professor who spent all day every day doing countless regressions to "prove" economic trivialities. Statistics are a convenient and easy weapon to deceive. That is why there are so many examples of statistics being mis-used that way.
  21. Reverend Swig, welcome back, Your Holiness!
  22. There have been some pretty good posts on this topic. I mentioned which ones I thought were especially good in an earlier post on this thread. I will summarize why statistics are a valid cognitive tool, and several ways they are mis-used. The key principle is that statistics establish correlations; they do not establish causation without further (non-statistical) research. Why are statistical correlations so valuable? First, they form a basis for action, when the need to act is immediate and there is no time to establish causal relationships. Examples of that have been given. Frequently, it is simply not worth the effort to establish causation. In those cases, basing actions on statistical correlations means getting things done that would not otherwise get done. Second, they can point up areas for further research. Analyzing a set of data using a technique called "regression analysis" can show up a heretofore unknown correlation buried among a seemingly inchoate mass of data. That discovered correlation can then be analyzed for a causal relationship. The result is new knowledge. Statistics give you a tool to tell you when the correlation is "statistically significant", i.e., it is unlikely to be just random chance. A higher degree of correlation indicates a stronger relationship, one that is more worthy of study. Statistics can give you a measure of just how strong the correlation is. There is no problem with the science of statistics. There are only problems when statistics are mis-used, which happens frequently. Here are some fallacies of statistics that you can see almost every day in the newspapers or on the evening news: (1) Assuming a causal relationship exists when there is a correlation. Correlated phenomena may be causally related, they may be caused by a third phenomenon, or there may be no causal relationship. Furthermore, the correlation itself could simply be coincidence. Correlation does not necessarily imply a causal relationship, although a stronger correlation indicates that a causal relationship is more likely. To put it simply, correlation alone cannot establish a causal relationship. For example, not too long ago in the news there was a story saying that teenagers who used anti-depressants were more likely to commit suicide. The FDA ordered drug manufacturers to put warning labels on the anti-depressants, acting under the premise that the anti-depressants caused the teens to commit suicide. Can such a conclusion about causation be derived from a mere statistical correlation? Of course not. In fact, the more likely reason for the correlation is simply that teens with a greater propensity to commit suicide used anti-depressants. Which conclusion is true cannot be answered from statistics. Further medical research is required. It appears that the FDA acted in hasty reliance upon an improper conclusion drawn from a statistical correlation. As Bart Simpson would say, "Duh!". (2) Mis-stating the direction of causation. Assuming Phenomenon A caused Phenomenon B, when the reverse is true. For example, a medical researcher may observe that people with a certain cancer are missing a key enzyme in their blood. He assumes that the lack of that enzyme causes the cancer, and proposes that people ingest that enzyme in order to prevent the cancer. However, further medical research showed that causation was reversed. The cancer caused the blood to lose the key enzyme, not the other way around. The research reached a faulty conclusion about the direction of causation by improperly relying only on statistics for his conclusion. (3) Assuming that A and B are causally related when, in fact, both A and B are caused by a third factor, C. For example, statistics may show a correlation between poverty and poor education. An advocate of public education may propose that free education will bring people out of poverty. He spreads public education far and wide, but the the poor remain poor. He may have missed the fact that both poverty and poor education are together caused by a third factor, mistaken moral values. If a group of people think that it is not "cool" to be "book-learned", that group is likely to end up both poor and poorly educated. Statistics alone cannot identify where the causal relationships lie. More research is needed. The public education advocate mis-used statistics to reach a faulty conclusion about causation. (4) Problems with small sample sizes. It is an error to assume that an observed correlation among a small set of data will prove true among the larger population. Conclusions about a larger population are more likely to be true when the sample size is larger. Small sample sizes yield unreliable conclusions about correlation. For example, a survey of 10 Americans about who will win the next Presidential election is worthless as an indicator of current sentiment in the population. However, a survey of 3,000 Americans gives a much more reliable indicator of the current sentiment in the population. Watch survey data carefully to see how many people were surveyed. Often, they are based on sample sizes that are too small. This is not an exhaustive list of statistical fallacies. Statistics is a very useful tool in many fields, from medicine to stock market investing to engineering. As ubiquitous as it is, it is well worth studying, especially so that you can spot the fallacies, which occur so frequently, and not make them yourselves.
  23. I agree with the above. However, I disagree with this: I don't think the Christian revivalists are upset so much by our material progress, although it may matter somewhat to them. The key things they hate are the post-1960s libertine social values. They decry no-guilt sexual pleasure and abortion and birth control, drug use, homosexuality, gay marriage, pornography, gambling, etc. I am sure they also dislike greater material wealth, the "progress" that you refer to, because it focuses people on material, earthly pleasures, rather than heavenly concerns. However, I do not think that is their primary focus. In fact, from what I have seen, many fundamentalist Christian churches actually encourage their church members to make money (probably so they can put it into the collection plate! ). You are correct that the Christian response to the "sinful" society they see around them is to form a mass movement. That is the aspect of the documentary I mention that struck me most. I also have personal knowledge of a close relative who became a born-again Christian. For these people, fundamentalist Christianity is a social way of life. All of their friends are Christians as are most of their business associates. Reading materials and entertainment for themselves and their children are carefully cultivated from acceptable Christian sources. Their children are home-schooled or attend fundamentalist Christian schools where evolution is denounced in biology classes. They socialize with fellow Christians and, of course, they go to church with fellow Christians. These people work hard at creating a self-reinforcing and self-justifying Christian community, one that is insulated from the larger culture. As a result, none of them on an individual level feels crazy when they hold their hands up and speak in tongues or proclaim the holiness of Jesus because... everyone else is doing the same thing. My sense of these people is that they want to take over the country. Their open goal is to make America a "Christian nation." They believe it was founded on Christian principles, and they want to insert those principles into American life by law. They are politically savvy and organized. They are focused on getting their people elected to the government and they are large enough already that they probably have a veto on who will get nominated for President by the Republican Party. We have seen a few of their laws already under the Republican Congress: banning Internet gambling, despite the approval of it by a majority of Americans; repeated efforts to chip away at the right of abortion through sundry laws; continued banning of marijuana and other drugs; sundry efforts to stamp out pornography on the Internet; and increased fines for indecency on broadcast television. Today, they only have a measured hold on the Republican Party. They can probably veto a secular Republican from being nominated for President, but they cannot yet ram down their Christian agenda on the whole Party and on the whole Congress. Evangelical Republicans are a minority in Congress today and were a minority even when Republicans held Congress. But watch out if they become a majority in Congress. It will be a scary sight. It will start with banning abortion and appointing anti-abortion Supreme Court justices. Then they try to ban pornography and in the process will hobble free speech. Expect actual laws harming gays and atheists to follow. All the while, expect a feeding frenzy at the government trough as every Christian charity you can imagine gets its share of federal dollars. Imagine if it even became illegal to "desecrate" Christianity in speech. Given recent discussion of banning the "n" word, isn't it possible? I disagree with this. The mixed economy actually makes it possible for the Christians to threaten us if they got power. All of the apparatus for government control of our lives is already in place for them to use.
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