Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

Use of mechanical tools may improve language skills.

The logistics crisis as an introduction to concentration risk.

Thousands of Chinese photographs saved from recycling.

The Two Countercultures.

Green shoots for nuclear energy–in the EU?

Why the ‘woke’ won’t debate.

Teams solve problems faster when they are more cognitively diverse.

The psychological and social costs of the college admissions game and the college treadmill.


An Extraordinary Woman

She was born to privilege and a degree of wealth, at the turn of the last century – Muriel Morris, an heiress of the Swift meatpacking fortune, and by most accounts conflicted over that circumstance. Like a scattering of her peers in the debutant world, she had an interest in social justice, as it was generally understood at the time. She is reported to have read Upton Sinclair’s polemic The Jungle as a teenager and been horrified – doubly so as both sides of her family had made their fortunes in the industry which Sinclair portrayed as especially brutal and gruesome. Muriel Morris was also of an unexpectedly intellectual bent and determined enough to pursue her intellectual interests – first with studies at Oxford, England in the 1920s, and then in – of all places, Vienna, Austria, where she hoped to study psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud. She briefly married a British artist, Julian Gardiner, by whom she had a single child, a daughter, before deciding to pursue a medical degree at the University of Vienna in 1926. She had a trust fund sufficiently generous to support herself and her small daughter.

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Europeans and Americans

Simon Kuper, writing in the UK publication Financial Times, had an article a couple of months ago with the title “Why the US is becoming more European”…a rather smug article, in my view.  He asserts that for decades, influential Americans looking at other countries used to ask “When will they become more like us?”…and argues that this has not happened, is not going to happen, and that, on the contrary, the US is becoming more like other countries…”Much of American society is Europeanizing”…and he seems to feel that this is pretty much an unalloyed good thing.  The article reminded me, though, of a passage from an old science fiction story by Poul Anderson.  Published in 1953, it is perhaps the first story to focus on the use of computer technology for surveillance of citizens.  Here’s the passage that came to mind on reading Kuper’s article:

The intellectuals had been fretful about the Americanization of Europe, the crumbling of old culture before the mechanized barbarism of soft drinks, hard sells, enormous chrome-plated automobiles (dollar grins, the Danes had called them), chewing gum, plastics…None of them had protested the simultaneous Europeanization of America: bloated government, unlimited armament, official nosiness, censors, secret police, chauvinism…

(I reviewed and excerpted Anderson’s story, which is very interesting, several years ago:  Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society.)  Simon Kuper, in his FT article, doesn’t raise any concerns about potential loss of American liberties..individual autonomy, freedom of expression…as a result of the projected Europeanization.  Topics he does focus on are: falling population growth rates..more abandonment of religion..falling American tendency toward violence (both lower violent crime levels and less support for military actions)…moving less frequently…less interest/dependence on automobiles…and what he says is a generalized disillusion with American exceptionalism.  “If you’re the only person driving down the motorway into oncoming traffic, you can either assume that you are exceptional and everyone else is wrong, or you can eventually conclude that you need to change.”  (Can you see why I referred to Kuper’s article as smug?)  He does admit that “some people argue that a more European US would be cease to be innovative” and admits that there may be something in that, but then goes on the assert that “the US in its previous social-democratic phase from about 1933 to 1980 remained innovative: it became the world’s first motorized society, built the atomic bomb, and landed men on the Moon”…and says “It’s doubtful whether more recent American innovations such as Facebook and Amazon increase the sum of human happiness.” America’s future, as he sees it, is to become a European-style ‘social democracy’.

The author thinks that American demographics imply that the Europeanization is rather inevitable…that “the Republican solution is to pass state laws aimed to disenfranchise Democratic voters.  The US of the future can have a Trumpist Republican rule or it can have a democracy, but it probably can’t have both.”  (He does not compare proposed Republican procedures for election management with those procedures in current use in Europe and other places, nor does he address the question of just how meaningful the word ‘democracy’ is when political communication and discussion is largely controlled by monopolistic and often-government-linked entities)

Kuper does make the valid point that the US has become more like Europe in some ways…and I’d also note the some influential American voices would also like us to become more like China.  But there is plenty wrong with his analysis.  Population growth, for example: while the US fertility rate is lower than it has been historically, it is still (IIRC) higher than any Western European country with the exception of France.  And immigration has been limited more by admission constraints than by demand: Kuper might want to check out what’s been happening over the few months since his article appeared.

The silliest thing in the article is this: “If you’re the only person driving down the motorway into oncoming traffic, you can either assume that you are exceptional and everyone else is wrong, or you can eventually conclude that you need to change”…here we have the true voice of Groupthink.  Traffic driving on the left or on the right is purely arbitrary and it really doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent: evolution of national cultures, political structures, and economic strategies is something else entirely.

(An earlier version of this piece was posted at Ricochet about a week ago.)

Corruption rules our country today.

I am succumbing to temptation to repeat a post from 4 years ago. The reason is that the problem is now far worse. We do not have just a Principle agent problem, the country is run by corporate renegades and those on foreign payrolls.

The principal–agent problem, in political science and economics, (also known as agency dilemma or the agency problem) occurs when one person or entity (the “agent”) is able to make decisions on behalf of, or that impact, another person or entity: the “principal”.[1] This dilemma exists in circumstances where agents are motivated to act in their own best interests, which are contrary to those of their principals, and is an example of moral hazard.

The Founders were well aware of this problem and tried to protect the citizens with certain provisions of the Constitution.

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”

This provision was violated by Barack Obama who spent billions to subsidize insurance companies to support his “Affordable Care Act” which was not successful.

Of course, the Amendments were intended to protect the rights of the people but the one that has been ignored for 100 years is the Tenth.

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Civil War largely ended Federalism.

In recent years, political parties have mislead their voters, the worst offender being the Republican Party. The Democrats posture as the party of the working man but it has become a party with two wings, the rich who want social liberties, and the poor who want to be taken care of. Jay Cost has written a good book about the Democrats Party called, “Spoiled Rotten, which explains the current policies of the party that has adopted “Identity politics” in which race and victim status has become a principal focus. My own review of the book is here.

The Republicans have gradually become the party of small business but the interests of small business are not being considered as paramount as the party seems to be evolving into another party of professional politicians whose personal interest trumps (so to speak) the interests of the voters. The result has been the rebellion of the Tea Party and more recently the election of Dave Brat, an economics professor, to Congress defeating Eric Cantor, a member of the GOP leadership, in 2014.

The election of Donald Trump has presented the GOP Congress with a crisis to which many have responded by retiring. One wonders what the next step of their career will be. Few, I suspect, will return home to the district that elected them. Most will remain in DC as Cantor has done.

Immediately thereafter, Cantor accepted a position as vice chairman of investment bank Moelis & Company. and,

In February 2015, the firm opened its Washington DC office, following the hire of Eric Cantor, former House Majority Leader, in September 2014.

That was bad enough in 2017 but we now have President Ron Klain, elected by no one, with Joe Biden as a prop when he can read his cue cards.

I think Angelo Codevilla’s piece about “The Ruling Class” has the best explanation.

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term “political class” came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public’s understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the “ruling class.” And in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

Now, we have a ruling class whose loyalty seems to be to other governments, China, Russia, The EU ? Who are they working for? Biden attacks BREXIT, Supporting the EU over the UK, infuriating the British ruling party. Labour has already ridiculed Biden for his dementia. Who is writing Biden’s speeches ?