"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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The federal Code of Judicial Conduct applies to all Article III judges—except members of the Supreme Court of the United States. Is that because Supreme Court justices do not need ethics? No. Is it because they are better human beings, citizens, and jurists than their lower court colleagues? No.
What I learned was that these gentlemen were entirely comfortable with their U.S. identity. They did not pine for the Confederacy to rise again. They did not blame the U.S. military for Confederate wartime deaths. There was no anger in connection with Sherman’s march, and the destruction of southern cities, farms, infrastructure, and other public & private property. So what exactly did bother them–what precisely was their beef? It was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It upset them to no end. I was young then. Perhaps, I should have understood why it upset them so much. In my defence, I can say, after some years (decades) of reflection, I figured it out.
When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams. Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.
Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard. Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble; for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying. You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…
For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure. And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking? Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love. But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more. Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.
In his Foundation series of books, Isaac Asimov imagined a science, which he termed psycho-history, that combined elements of psychology, history, economics, and statistics to predict the behaviors of large population over time under a given set of socio-economic conditions. It’s an intriguing idea. And I have no doubt much, much more difficult to do than it sounds, and it doesn’t sound particularly easy to begin with.
Behavioral modeling is currently being used in many of the science and engineering disciplines. Finite element analysis (FEA), for example, is used to model electromagnetic effects, thermal effects and structural behaviors under varying conditions. The ‘elements’ in FEA are simply building blocks, maybe a tiny cube of aluminum, that are given properties like stiffness, coefficient of thermal expansion, thermal resistivity, electrical resistivity, flexural modulus, tensile strength, mass, etc. Then objects are constructed from these blocks and, under stimulus, they take on macro-scale behaviors as a function of their micro-scale properties. There are a couple of key ideas to keep in mind here, however. The first is that inanimate objects do not exercise free will. The second is that the equations used to derive effects are based on first principles, which is to say basic laws of physics, which are tested and well understood. A similar approach is used for computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which is used to model the atmosphere for weather prediction, the flow of water over a surface for dam design, or the flow of air over an aircraft model. The power of these models lies in the ability of the user to vary both the model and the input stimulus parameters and then observe the effects. That’s assuming you’ve built your model correctly. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it?
I was listening to a lecture on the work of a Swiss team of astrophysicists the other day called the Quantum Origins of Space and Time. They made an interesting prediction based on the modeling they’ve done of the structure of spacetime. In a result sure to disappoint science fiction fans everywhere, they predict that wormholes do not exist. The reason for the prediction is simply that when they allow them to exist at the quantum level, they cannot get a large scale universe to form over time. When they are disallowed, the same models create De Sitter universes like the one we have.
It occurred to me that it would be interesting to have the tools to run models with societies. Given the state of a society X, what is the economic effect of tax policy Y. More to the point, what is cumulative effect of birth rate A, distribution of education levels B, distribution of personal debt C, distribution of state tax rates D, federal debt D, total cost to small business types 1-100 in tax and regulations, etc. This would allow us to test the effects of our current structure of tax, regulation, education and other policies. Setting up the model would be a gargantuan task. You would need to dedicate the resources of an institute level organization with expertise across a wide range of disciplines. Were we to succeed in building even a basic functioning model, its usefulness would be beyond estimation to the larger society.
It’s axiomatic that anything powerful can and will be weaponized. It is also completely predictable that the politically powerful would see this as a tool for achieving their agenda. Simply imagine the software and data sets under the control of a partisan governing body. How might they bias the data to skew the output to a desired state? How might they bias the underlying code? Might an enemy state hack the system with the goal to have you adopt damaging policies, doing the work of social destruction at no expense or risk to them?
Is this achievable? I think yes. All or most of the building blocks exist: computational tools, data, statistical mathematics and economic models. We are in the state we were in with regard to computers in the 1960s, before microprocessors. All the building blocks existed as separate entities, but they had not been integrated in a single working unit at the chip level. What’s needed is the vision, funding and expertise to put it all together. This might be a good project for DARPA.
Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals. He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria–Beria being Stalin’s notorious secret-police chief. Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities. So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn’t on Vladimir Putin’s list of 10 favorite people.
Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities. Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime. (More from Claire here.) It certainly seems quite possible that Putin’s intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky’s computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.
I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment. I am also impressed by the logic of Diana West’s question: “Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images’ worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic “grooming” gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on … Vladimir Bukovsky?”
Above and beyond this specific case–and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter–there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government. There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn’t like something he wrote. There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel. And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the ‘crime’ of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.
John Kerry, America’s idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves. But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.
G K Chesterton is credited with the saying “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy–the actual Chesterton quote can be found here) But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.
Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections: it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation. Cheerleading for a ‘borderless world’, without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.
At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding. Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents–ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.
Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.
In broken-windows policing the cops go after guys who jump subway turnstiles and commit other minor crimes. This is because the policing of low-level crimes tends to lead to reductions in serious crimes. Not only are minor criminals disproportionately responsible for felonies as compared to the general population, the fact that the police are seen not to ignore the small stuff creates a virtuous cycle by deterring other crimes and increasing the public’s confidence in civic authority.
I thought of this issue when I noticed that a sophisticated Java program that I use on my PC has serious bugs that are never corrected. For example, opening an Excel tie-in in the Java program kills all of the open Excel processes on my PC. I’ve complained several times but nothing gets fixed. Meanwhile there are simple apps on my phone that get updated frequently so that annoying little problems disappear over time. The fancy Java software has many more features but which software would I rather use?
Another Chicagoboy adds: The problem is that many companies view software updates as a cost rather than a feature. Software upgrades in response to customer complaints should be a trumpeted feature, because they are a way of convincingly communicating that the company shares its customers’ values about what matters, and therefore that it’s safe for the customers to invest their time in the company’s products as opposed to competing products.
Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich. All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.
The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration. The past tells us what the future should be. When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.
Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.
Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), who is falling in love with Natasha, is talking with her sister Vera:
“Yes, that is true, Prince. In our days,” continued Vera–mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times–“in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her.” (emphasis added)
Bingo, Leo Tolstoy! I have often observed people writing or speaking about “these days” but equally or more often about “this country” or “this society” as if they had conducted a vast comparative study. Frequently you will hear people talking about some unfortunate characteristic that is pretty much universal across space and time and attributing it the “modern American society” or simply “our society.” Few of these, I’m pretty sure, have either spent a lot of time in other societies or made a serious study thereof, nor have many of them conducted extensive historical research about other eras.
I’ll give the floor to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose Lord High Executioner was looking forward to doing away with:
The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone All centuries but this, and every country but his own
They are mostly Sanders supporters. And they feel oppressed by the industry that they are in, and especially by the VCs who fund the companies where they work. Here’s the complaint of a 26-year-old software engineer:
“They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you. But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”
“Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make,” said another guy, this one a PhD student at Berkeley.
Now, one’s first instinct when reading this story–at least my first instinct–is to feel contempt for these whiners. Most of them are far better off financially than the average American, even after adjusting for the extremely high costs of living in the Bay area. And no one forced any of them to work at startups, where the pressures are well-known to be extreme. They could have chosen IT jobs at banks or retailers or manufacturing companies or government agencies in any of a considerable number of cities.
Looked at from a broader perspective, though, the story reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote almost 50 years ago:
I believe in the evolution of life, I think there’s lots of fossil evidence for it and none for a single-point-of-time creation of mankind. I also believe in the evolution of the universe for the same reason. 14.5 billion years ago the universe came into existence as a hot plasma, from which galaxies, stars and planets condensed. How simple and straightforward is that?
It could hardly be more complex. Starting with the universe, no one can explain from where the universe came or into what it is expanding. In other words, we can say “The following things have happened and here’s the evidence”. And that’s fine, I accept the evolutionary description. What’s missing is how a universe of material was born from a point in nowhere. No one wants to talk about that and will cry “No fair!” if you try to discuss it. It is unanswerable, apparently. How does one discuss what happened or even what existed in a time before time existed? And no one wants to think about the consequences of that violating every principle of what we call science and physics. It’s too uncomfortable to confront.
Biologists will tell you life is easy to create. It seems to have existed on Earth within a few hundred million years of its formation. Provide a suitable habitat that’s warm and stable, wet with water or suitable liquid, add energy and a few raw materials like carbon and hydrogen, and bingo! you get life. We’ve been trying that for 50 years and can’t get that experiment to work. We get complex chemicals forming similar to the ones we see in life forms, but nothing that’s alive.
Something fundamental bothers me about all this. Why? There’s no answer to that question. It’s the question we seem to be asking from the moment we’re born, children ask it endlessly. Why should a universe pop into existence out of nothing? Why should life exist in it? What is the purpose of either? For all of our ability to describe what happened, we cannot answer the why of it. How could something like life come into existence from inanimate matter unless it was designed to do so? Carl Sagan famously quipped, “If you want to make an apple pie, first you must create the universe.” That’s very profound in its way. The simplest things, like a pie, require the inexplicable to have occurred, and on a scale beyond human comprehension.
In the end, it seems, I have no answers, only questions. But I reject the notion that all of this is meaningless. A universe does not exist for no reason. Life does not exist for nothing. It all exists for us to learn, to experience it. It’s where our souls grow up. It’s where our spirit evolves. That’s what I think.
“There’s a difference between the West and the Non-West”
Mr Hanson demonstrates not just what we owe to the Greeks, but how many of the issues they struggled with we still struggle with today: how to look at and understand the world, immigration and assimilation, voting rights, poverty and income equality, social justice, socialism and egalitarianism, and the role and rights of women in society.
Just from the opening:
“Places like India and China are becoming much more like us, if I can use that controversial term, than we are like them. And in our period here at home the irony of all this change, as it expands from the center, I think at the same time there’s never been a period in the West when people who are Western have so little confidence in what they have to offer the world. At the very time that India and China and South Korea and Latin America are embracing Western civilization, we in the West are questioning it. So much so that we created this alternative protocol called Multiculturalism. It sounds great, study all cultures. Two things to remember about it. The Greeks started Multiculturalism with people like Xenophon and Herodotus that were inquisitive and empirical, inductive in their interest in Persian and Egypt. And second, it doesn’t mean study all cultures, it means to advance them as equal to Western culture. I have no problem with that except it’s intellectually dishonest.
Because privately, we in the United States, and indeed in Europe as well, we live two lives. We profess a multicultural utopia, that all the world and the cultures and all the history are all of relatively equal merit, even though we see that China and India and all these countries are adopting business practices, language practices, transparencies like our own. But then we don’t live this multicultural dogma. If I can be very blunt and controversial, if we all want to travel and you have a choice between flying Nigerian Airlines and United, you’ll take United…If you want to say, you happen to be an atheist – God forbid – in this audience, but if you said ‘God is dead!’ you better do it in Salt Lake City – Mormon as it is! – than try to do it in Saudi Arabia where you’ll be executed.
Is it because of race? No. Is it because of genes? No. It’s because of a particular culture, a particular way of looking at the world. What is that way of looking at the world? Primarily it’s empirical. That a person starts his existence without preconceptions. We inherited that from the Socratic tradition. We are not deductive, we don’t start with a premise and make the premise fit the examples. We look at the examples…and then we come up with conclusions about it. The scientific method.
What else is this Western idea? It’s the idea that a person, an individual, has inalienable rights. We see that best epitomized in our own Constitution. But it goes back to Greece.”
And I’ll conclude with a spoiler from his finish because I think it’s so profound. Describing the fall of Rome to a band of thugs after a much smaller Roman Republic had defeated much larger and more dangerous threats:
“Fast forward to the 5th century AD, is this the Roman Republic, 1/4 of Italy? No. It now encompasses 70 million people, from Mesopotamia in the East to the Atlantic ocean in the West, to above Hadrian’s Wall in the North to the Sahara Desert in the South, one million square miles. And they’re attacked, not by a formidable power, the inheritor of classical military science like Hannibal, but a thug like Atilla with some Huns and Visigoths and Vandals. By any measure, the threat was nothing compared to the threat that Romans faced when it was much, much smaller. But why in the world could they not defend themselves….?
The answer is…in 216 BC a Roman knew what it was to be a Roman. And they were under no illusions that they had to be perfect to be good. All they believed was they had an illustrious tradition that was better than alternative and could be better even more…In 450 AD I don’t think the average person who lived under the Roman Empire…knew what it was to be a Roman citizen, he did not believe that it was any better than the alternative. And when that happens in history, history is cruel, it gives nobody a pass. If you cease to believe that your country’s exceptional and has a noble tradition, and it is good without without being perfect, and it’s better than the alternative – If you cease to believe that! – there’s no reason for you to continue, and history says you won’t. And you don’t.”
Can we learn and change course? Or are we doomed to travel that road once more?
The Tea Party movement — which you also failed to understand, and thus mostly despised — was a bourgeois, well-mannered effort (remember how Tea Party protests left the Mall cleaner than before they arrived?) to fix America. It was treated with contempt, smeared as racist, and blocked by a bipartisan coalition of business-as-usual elites. So now you have Trump, who’s not so well-mannered, and his followers, who are not so well-mannered, and you don’t like it.
What we are seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.
With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30y of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, microeconomic papers wrong 40% of the time, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating only 1/5th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers with a better track record than these policymaking goons.
Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats wanting to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. I have shown that most of what Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types call “rational” or “irrational” comes from misunderstanding of probability theory.
Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation…The question for this September 11 is, How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.
I was also reminded of a passage from Erich Maria Remarque’s neglected novel ‘The Road Back,’ which follows a group of former German soldiers in the aftermath of WWI. One member of the group, George Rahe, explains his inability to come to terms with peacetime: Comradeship and idealism are perishing in “this pig’s wash of order, duty, women, routine, punctuality and the rest of it what they call life here”…he sees an ordinary city street as “All one long fire trench” and the houses as “Dugouts, every one–the war still goes on–but a dirty, low-down war–every man against his fellow–” These feelings drive him to join up again–most likely one of the Freikorps units which sprang up during the postwar chaos.
Also, Arthur Koestler wrote about what he called the Tragic and the Trivial planes of life. His friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary, explained the concept thusly:
K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.
The desire to move to the emotional intensity of the Tragic plane explains part of the attraction of war; I think it also explains to a considerable degree the revolutionary attitudes of many “progressives,” especially those who spend their actual days in pretty Trivial-plane ways.
I wrote and published this 8-page short story–Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend–a little while back. As I said, today is Purim, and it’s Purim again in a month. So my short story is, I think, once again, timely, and sadly, once again, all too relevant to life in our shared West, in our shared modernity.
Jonathan Haidt summarizes a paper (by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning) which may help explain some of the dynamics now manifesting themselves on college campuses and even in the larger society. In brief: prior to the 18th and 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honor, in which people were expected to avenge insults on their own–and would lose social respect and position should they fail to do so. The West then transitioned to cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.” The spirit of this type of culture could be summarized by the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Campbell and Manning assert that this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But the difference, Haidt explains is this:
“But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.” Campbell and Manning distinguish the three culture types as follows:
“Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”
I had read something about this model a couple of months ago, and was reminded of it by a discussion at Bookworm Room. She described a scene of insanity at Rutgers “university,” in which students were so traumatized by a speech given by Milo Yiannopoulos that “students and faculty members held a wound-licking gathering at a cultural center on campus, where students described “feeling scared, hurt, and discriminated against.”
In a recent comment here Andrew Garland referred to a 2009 comment by Chicago Boyz contributor Michael Kennedy, quoting Michael Crichton. It is worth re-posting the Crichton quote in full:
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
I thought about this because I have been having an email exchange with a left-wing acquaintance of mine. My acquaintance thinks highly of Obama’s performance in office. Like many of us, my acquaintance has noticed an increase in racial animosity over the seven years of Obama’s presidency. My acquaintance attributes this increased racial tension to racists, presumably white, who “are driven practically insane at the thought of having a black president”.
I am sure that there are such people. A quick tour of the Internet reveals plenty of racism to go around. And yet none of the many anti-Obama arguments I’ve read or heard has been based on race; conservative media are full of substantive arguments against Obama and his policies. Meanwhile Obama and his political allies have gone out of their way to racialize political controversies. And yet most of the Obama partisans I’ve met have been confident that white racism is the cause of most opposition to Obama. Apparently there are many people out there who believe that wet streets cause rain.
Still, it takes a lot to believe that Donald Trump could win more electoral-college votes than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and that his Supreme Court appointments would have Justice Scalia’s respect for the lives of his voters. Mr. Trump’s nominations for anything sit as a mystery.
Before Justice Scalia’s death, some might have said the Trump option was a risk worth running. The risk now has become too high.
I’ve posted on Chicago Boyz and other blogs before, but it was a long time ago. Most of it was my work on the Clausewitz Roundtable. I’ve commented here and there, too. I’m happy to count Zen Pundit and Lexington Green as close blog-friends of many years.
I’m back. Some has changed, but not much. I’m still an active-duty US Marine Corps Officer. I’m a major now, not a captain. I’ve been to the sand box a few more times since I last posted an actual blog here. I’ve deployed more than most for my time in service, but less than some. I’m not complaining, just saying.
One thing did happen on my last deployment, in the end of 2014. Toward the end of deployments it’s not uncommon for things to slow down–lots of waiting for things to happen. So you have time to think. In that thinking I started to really question what the hell it is that I’m doing. Why am I fighting? What is it for? I suppose it’s connected to the fact that I was rounding out my fourth deployment to Afghanistan, and doing my small part to assist the Marine Corps with the turnover of Helmand Province to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps. I had deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, 2010, 2012-2013, and then 2014. Throw in an Iraq deployment, some time at sea with the Navy, and some other exercises, and you start to see the makings of a military career in early 21st century America. In any case, I was leading a unit and had a good amount of responsibility. But why? Why had the US come here, made the decisions it did, and why was it now trying to leave? And likewise, why was my Marine Corps doing the same thing? And me? Why was I a part of that?
I have no real regrets about the service rendered for my country. The cost has certainly been steep, personally, though. The family, with each deployment, goes through a great deal of stress, and after about three such deployments, they get harder, not easier, for the family and the soldier to handle. I’ve also lost more friends than I care to count (I can count them out for you, I just don’t want to). There are other costs which are borne, too. But the remuneration has been decent, I suppose. We always managed to be somewhat comfortable. Maybe that was the problem…the comfort?
Part of the expression of gratitude the country has for its military is the pay. For an officer, especially, the pay is quite good. I’m not going to tell you the amount of pay and allowances–that’s publicly available elsewhere. But suffice to say that the military has been quite shielded from the fears and losses of the great recession. Enlisted men and women do well, too, and can occasionally do very well when it comes times for reenlistment in specific occupational fields. Expenses have always been reasonably less than income, on average. There’s been no pressure from the economic environment to really think about my family’s financial situation today, let along 10 or 20 years from now. Yet something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel out of control, but I didn’t feel like I was in charge, either. I had a bit of a feeling of being adrift. The military side of things was very much in control of the situation–I always knew precisely how many people were under my charge, their individual strengths and weaknesses, their state of training and discipline, and their morale. I knew the capabilities of my equipment. I always strove to understand the mission, to lead with vigor, and to “own” my position. I was good at that. But personally and financially? I barely had a financial or a personal life. That had to change.
So I decided to get a handle on things. I started to track every penny–even the pennies I don’t see because they’re “pre-tax” and given to the government for safe keeping until I claim my share back at tax time. I located all of my accounts. I found all of the debts, the interest rates, the amount of interest I was paying. I started tracking expenses, and then cutting them. I’ll be honest–the wife wasn’t exactly thrilled by me looking at things with such magnification. I started to read up on personal finance, investing, and life-planning in general. I read blogs and books, listened to podcasts, and talked with others about how to really order finances these days. And I began to radically alter our financial course. We paid all our debts, we bought a house (so, in actuality, we have one mortgage now). We’ve rented out our basement to a tenant. And we now save about 40% of all our pre-tax income. We’re not where I want to be yet, but we’re getting there. I’m not leaving anything to chance any longer, unless it’s a calculated chance intentionally taken. Every expense is now deliberately taken.
I also decided to look for some hobbies. Being a military man has a way of becoming an all-encompassing experience. Your friends are basically military colleagues. Your work is military work. Military people know about “mandatory fun”–those obligatory nights spent with comrades and often with superiors. Your wardrobe is decided for you. Where you live is decided. My task was to carve out a bit of this life and make it mine. I had to get new friends and do new things with different groups of people. That would add richness to my life. I’ve done that, and I’m still doing that.
I’ve been working on the above things–redirecting our financial life and reordering how I spend time–for a bit over a year now. The changes have been pretty dramatic. Looking back, I realize that up until I took command of my life I was living in a bit of a fog. With all of the turmoil of military life, the American people do much to make finances reasonably tranquil. This financial tranquility is both a blessing and a curse. You’re never really forced to grapple with the default decisions the consumerist economy makes for you. Nor are you forced to grapple with the reality that politics is not really national. It’s local. Your political power begins with you and those you immediately affect. You need to reclaim that power for yourself. Take charge of the fruits of your labor. Own your day to the extent you can. If you want to descend into the cesspool of national politics, fine–but do it intentionally. In fact, live your life intentionally. A life, intentionally lived, taken to the logical extreme, is the very definition of freedom. That is why I fight, happily, for my country.
I’ll be blogging about my financial journey here, as well as on other things as I see fit.
Here is an interesting piece with thoughts on how generations look at the world differently. Obviously there are tremendous differences in individual experiences within a generation…and I certainly don’t share the author’s apparent leftist worldview–but I do think it’s probably true that one generation tries to deal with, and sometimes even partly solves, one set of challenges, thereby setting up a different set of challenges for succeeding generations.
Prior to the advent of mass mind control enabled by mass media technology, there was no real substantial differences between generations…at least not the sort that so thoroughly and contentiously divided us for the past century. Culture was far more static and slow changing, and influenced much more by religion and cultural traditions and norms.
I don’t think mind control is actually required, or even systematic propaganda: improved communications and transportation will tend to create more coupling within a generation, and more differences between generations, even in the absence of any central orchestration of messages.
Regarding generational perspectives in general and mating patterns in particular, Vox Day says:
(The Boomers) tend to think of “change” as something that an individual does within the context of a permanent infrastructure. GenX, on the other hand, sees that there is no permanence to the infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is not only transforming, but is imposing its changes on the individual.
The Millennial doesn’t even see the cultural infrastructure, and thereby doesn’t understand either the Boomer perspective or the GenX fury at the order and infrastructure they have lost.
(OK – finally the last of the history post I started earlier this week. Things to do, places to, things to write about. I said I would have this second part on Friday, but … real world, you know?)
Towards the end of that day, May 6th, 1942, the road petered out. Stilwell abandoned the last of the trucks and the radio van – the radio set weighed 200 pounds alone. Last messages were sent, one advising General Brereton, in New Delhi that Stilwell and his party were on foot, heading for Homalin and then Imphal, and asking for them to be met at Homalin by resupply and medical aid. “Indian govt. should be warned rice, police, and doctors urgently needed by refugees on all routes to India from Burma. Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe quite possible. End.” Another, to the US War Department via Chunking, ended, “We are armed, have food and map and are on foot 50 miles west of Indaw … believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stilwell.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been reading The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. The author remarks that, in the 19th century, the reading material in many American homes included Milton’s Paradise Lost. We already knew that Shakespeare and the Bible were common reading in those days.
The author notes (and this is unarguable, I think) that a society is largely characterized by the stories and myths that it shares.
So my question for discussion is this…and I’m almost afraid to ask it…in American in 2016, what are our primary shared stories and myths?
Tillman on Lamya H: “Your complaint is that your psychology professor was too—fat? I am so sorry. I can see that that would ruin your freshman experience. You were expecting? Luke Skywalker during his youth? Princess Leia Organa during her Jabba the Hutt years?”
From: Seth Barrett Tillman, Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior—responding to Lamya H.’s: A personal history of Islamophobia in America, Vox (January 15, 2016), http://ssrn.com/abstract=2719141.
The Diplomad observes that “‘Progressives’, of course, are greatly influenced by movies. In fact…the majority of what passes for “Progressive thought” is derived from the Hollywood version of history that they have running in an endless video loop in their heads. Listen to them talk about the economy, race relations, education, “gender equality,” US history, etc., and it all forms part of some giant Hollywood script.” Indeed—shortly after 9/11, when the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted, critics of the idea referred to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Hadn’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.
David Warren writes about the conspiracy of German elites, in both media and government, to suppress knowledge of the New Year’s atrocities in Cologne and other cities. Indeed, one might conclude that the whole idea of free speech hasn’t taken hold very well in Germany over the last 70 years, at least among the writing and political classes. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Germany: Mark Zuckerberg, the ringmaster of the Facebook circus, was apparently all too eager to co-conspire with Merkel to delete strong criticisms of her immigration policies.
A society cannot thrive or even survive if its decision-making organs are disconnected from knowledge of what is actually happening, any more than your furnace can keep your house at the right temperature if the wires connecting it to the thermostat are cut. In a democracy, the ultimate decision-making organ is supposed to be the people of the country.
Don Sensing writes about totalism, and how it is reflected in the behavior of the Obama administration and the attitudes of the “progressive” Left. He quotes Mussolini’s definition of Fascism:
Fifty years ago, if you were a company building automobiles or telecommunications equipment, you would have employed an assembly line full of workers. There also would have been people kitting parts, making inspections, doing tests, even running errands. If you operated a catalog company, you might have warehouse full of people loading and unloading goods, taking inventory, generating reports and packing and shipping goods. If you manufactured metal goods, you might employ several grades of craftsmen, from apprentice to master machinist, as well as cutters and welders, finish workers, inspectors, packers and shippers.
Much less so today. Automobiles and electronics and every other sort of manufactured good are increasingly made on robotic lines. From painting to welding to complex assembly, robots are replacing people. Warehouses can run almost autonomously, with goods stored in a 3D grid that is accessed, inventoried and replenished by increasingly intelligent networks of machines and computers. Jeff Bezos would like to robotize even the delivery of those goods via autonomous drones. That seems entirely doable, though the thought of computer controlled helicopters moving through the skies upsets some people.
Sixty six years ago, almost to the day, Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot was published. It was followed by four more novels over 30 years as well as 38 short stories in what became known as The Robot Series. In these books, Asimov explored all sorts of aspects of a robot populated world, including the dangers they might pose to people, problems with machines that think with digital logic, their inevitable evolution from simple mechanisms to organo-machines that were difficult to differentiate from human beings, except for their vastly superior intellectual capacity and increased lifespan, and some of the implications of that.
In a society relieved of all sorts of menial labor and drudgery, Asimov envisioned something of a Golden Age of Man. Material goods would be so cheaply and easily made that no one would lack for any basic goods, and most people would enjoy a standard of living and a degree of leisure time available now to only the extremely wealthy. That’s a view with some precedent in how other technologies have improved our lot, so it’s one possible future.
I find myself wondering, though. Suppose something like that were to come to pass. After all, we’re seeing signs of its development now. How does this future society actually work? How are people employed? What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines? We see this problem already, which tells us we’re farther along this road than maybe we realize. All the people that are not employed in Jeff Bezos’ warehouses or building electronics assemblies or automobiles, what do they do? In the past, when people were displaced from agriculture by machinery, they went to cities and were employed in large scale industrial and retail businesses. That is no longer the case. Not only have the manufacturing base dispersed across the globe chasing cheaper labor and fewer rules and regulations, even the human staffed retail store is increasingly in question as a viable model.
This is all creative destruction in action, I know. And we can wave our hands and say, Well, people will adapt, they always have! Yes they will. But to what? Everyone can’t be – and doesn’t want to be – a robotics designer or research chemist or test technician in a robotics factory. Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs? Will the work week get reduced to 3 days on, 4 days off? I’m trying to imagine a world where the same or more people are available but less work needs to be done by them. And if the answer is more leisure time, is that necessarily a good thing? Do we get a Golden Age, or an Age of Sloth, where everyone gets crazier and more destructive in an attempt to amuse themselves. Who cares, eh? The robots will clean up the mess.
And is a robotic recursion process possible, where robots set about designing and building better robots? If we assume cookbook engineering can be encoded into a machine brain, millions of possible combinations may be scanned and modeled and simulated for each mechanism and each circuit, always searching for an optimal solution. And as everyone from Asimov to Clarke have asked, when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what? Our society is the early stages of major, ground shifting changes. There’s a lot on the horizon we haven’t even begun to think about to the level necessary. And how do we stay up with these changes if our political class is intent on bankrupting us and destroying our civilization?