hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
In Hindu mythology, there's a character called Kumbhakarna, who sleeps for 6 months, then eats for 6 months. Below, my Kumbhakarnian post. Read on if you have the slightest desire:






Big Talk:

1. Don't Kill People


. . .the former drone operators argue that the strategy is self-defeating, as the high number of civilian casualties and the callousness of drone killings merely propagates anti-US hatred. “Right now it seems politically expedient,” said Cian Westmoreland. “But in the long term the bad side of a Hellfire missile and drones buzzing overhead is the only thing that a lot of these people know of the United States or Britain.”
Bryant accepted that there was no negotiating with extreme, violent terrorists of the type that carried out the Paris attacks. “But you have to prevent such people being created,” he said. “We validate them, we keep this cycle going. Their children are afraid to play out in the sun because that’s when the drones are coming.
Certainly, there is zero evidence that 15 years of the WOT has made the American people either subjectively or objectively safer. Since time immemorial, the state of the WOT has been that tremendous progress had been made, but that victory is at least 6 months / 2 years / 5 years away. If, that is, one is so gauche and unsophisticated as to make any references to "victory". I'd be interested in how the length of the WOTFU has evolved over the years.

I don't have a problem with using drone strikes as a weapon of hot war, for a war fought for a limited, definable objective, such as the capturing of land. I do have a problem with using drone strikes as a weapon of peace or of cold war, or for wars fought on the basis of never-ending, unachievable objectives, such as the current WOT.

A war fought with the strategy of "killing bad guys" can never end successfully, because all of us are a mixture of good and bad.

Lightly paraphrased Jeb Bush: "One thing's for sure about my brother, he kept us safe. . .Don't you remember the rubble?"

Lightly paraphrased Obama: "We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be hunted down fanatically and killed".

Who are the "them"? ISIS? ISIL? How many of the people we have killed over the past 15 years have had ISIS or ISIL tattooed on their butts? I remember too many different "thems" over the past 15 years, demonstrating that no one in power actually cares who the "them" is, as long as they provide an excuse for prolonging the war. Why they want to prolong the war, I don't know, but my guess is that if the war ever ended, they might eventually be forced to make an honest reckoning of what 15+ years of war have accomplished, and what they haven't.

Rajkumar Hirani, who directed the movie further adds, "We have not done anything for which people can tell we have deliberately hurt anyone's religious sentiments. The core idea of the film is just that we are not born with a birthmark proclaiming we are Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians. 

What does the iCasualties data say to you? What it says to me is that while the Iraq war is the worst American policy mistake since the Vietnam war, the Afghan surge is second place. And while there has been has been at least some attempt at accountability for the Iraq war, there has been zero accountability for the Afghan surge. The biggest problem I had with the Vox foreign policy interview with Obama is that there were zero questions on the drone war, and zero questions on the Afghan surge, which seem to me two of Obama's biggest foreign policy mistakes.



I don't think I have any special desire to criticize Obama, but in this case I don't think I have a choice. One of my disagreements with Obama is that I think 15 years of the War on Terror has produced pretty strong evidence that "they" don't need to be "hunted" and killed. I think the old fashioned remedy of capture, arrest & trial by an independent judiciary has proved far superior to the modern innovation of holding a classified coffee klatch, followed by pressing a button.

I also appreciate, too late, the wisdom of Paul Rosenberg, when he wrote that "It's not possible to win a War On Terror, because War is Terror".  

I advocate a race-neutral and cause-neutral based approach to mass shootings. Obviously you don't become a mass shooter unless something is chapping your ass, but I don't think the cause of enchapment, whether it's annoying dot heads, annoying bitches, annoying tax collectors, or annoying Israelis, fundamentally matters.

It also seems worth noting that, bad as ISIS is, ASAS, the American State of Ammo-Sexuals, has killed a lot more Americans, and captured a lot more American territory, than ISIS ever has, or will.

So while it is probably smart to take prudent steps to reduce the danger of ASAS and ISIS both, tactics which would be too extreme for fighting ASAS are also too extreme for fighting ISIS.

For the most effective strategies for fighting ISIS, I would consult young Sunni Muslims, both female and male. Riverbend or Kerem Nachar might be good people to start with.

Charles Petzold on 9/11 and the efficacy of bombing, whether through drone strikes or any other method:



I think Petzold may be too generous to drone strike advocates. "Killing one to save many is an exceptionally simple moral equation. But. . .", he writes, but there is zero evidence that these strikes are saving anybody. Hatred toward Americans, and desire to kill them, has increased in every region where drone strikes have been implemented. It's hard to understand how anybody ever thought it could be otherwise.




Faheem Qureshi’s uncles sat with their neighbors, chatting, cracking jokes and sipping tea, in their family’s lounge for male guests. Qureshi, almost 14, stood nearby, bored and restless, thinking about when he could go to the nearby playground where he and the other Ziraki village kids played badminton and cricket.
It had been a long day – Friday prayers, a food shopping errand at his mother’s behest, hosting – but also a happy occasion, as people stopped by to welcome an uncle home to North Waziristan, in tribal Pakistan, from a work excursion to the United Arab Emirates. Then he heard a sound like a plane taking off.
About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.
This was the hidden civilian damage from the first drone strike Barack Obama ever ordered, on 23 January 2009, the inauguration of a counter-terrorism tactic likely to define Obama’s presidency in much of the Muslim world. It was the third day of his presidency.
 Reportedly, the strikes did not hit the Taliban target Obama and the Central Intelligence Agency sought. . .
Even if the drone strike had hit the Taliban target they sought, there is zero evidence, and zero reason to believe, that it would have made Americans any safer. There are a handful of targets that might justify drone strikes: Bin Laden, KSM, Zarqawi, Zawahiri. And even in those cases, capture and arrest would be far preferable to special forces killing, special forces killing would be far preferable to drone strike. For every drone strike other than those 4 targets, the harms have greatly exceeded the benefits, if there are benefits, which I doubt.

Zawahiri might have been more responsible than even Bin Laden for 9/11. Yet the WOT has become so diffuse and sprawling that we don't even remember him, and don't even remember that he hasn't been caught.

I don't like the Obama-centric framing of the Ackerman article. Obama's presidency will soon be over, but the WOT, apparently, will not. Nor does the national security establishment have any plans to ever end it, it now appears.


Even if the strike hadn't killed civilians, there is still zero evidence, and zero reason to believe, it would have made Americans any safer.

3. There was a CIA annex near the consulate, and it included former special ops guys that consular officials including Stevens saw as the “cavalry.” That group of operatives did play an important role in getting the remaining 55 consular personnel out of Benghazi but in the end could not protect Stevens. CIA safe houses are covert. The Senate report makes clear that the US military was not apprised of its existence. Very likely, Secretary Clinton was not told about it either. If she was not told the details of what security arrangements were in place, she would have had no basis for questioning them. That there was something covert about the entire US operation in Benghazi seems clear, which means that then CIA director David Petraeus was probably more involved than Hillary was, but the GOP never brings him up with regard to Benghazi.
Add Benghazi to the list of disasters (9/11 , the Iraq war, the Afghan surge, drone strikes) caused in part by too much infosec, and too much reverence for classified information, not too little.

This excerpt from David A. Westbrook's column seems to me one of the truest things said about Libya:

Let me suggest a rule of thumb: we should not undertake the moral burden of killing when we are unwilling to undertake the existential risk of dying.
This is not to say that half-measures might not be appropriate in certain circumstances. But half-measures are not the same as a policy which blithely assumes we can kill forever without eventually being killed ourselves.


Westbrook's rule of thumb also seems to me relevant to the chronic, long-term, addictive and habit-forming use of drone strikes, which seem to me to have long ago escalated from use to abuse. Drone strikes, and the Sisyphean obsession with kill/capture lists, seem to me to have become the opiate of the national security establishment.

I think if the current establishment had been fighting WWII, they would be drone-bombing neo-Nazis 50 years after Pearl Harbor, while still issuing unctuous, Eddie-Haskellish pronouncements about criticizing them in A Time Of War.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that after telling us "10 months or 10 years", they're not willing to stop even after 10 years.

I understand the argument about having duties to the Afghan/Iraqi peoples. But that implies only staying to carry out actions requested by the Afghan/Iraqi peoples, subject to negotiation that they not ask for grandiose, unattainable things. That's not current policy.


It's fashionable to blame Bowe Bergdahl for the enormous resources devoted by American planners to finding him. But if patterns of American activity in Afghanistan were completely disrupted because one soldier reached his breaking point one day and went walkabout, doesn't that suggest that there was never much coherent strategic thinking behind those patterns of activity in the first place? If American commanders found it so easy to shift resources from their other missions into finding Bowe Bergdahl, mightn't one reason for that be that finding Bowe Bergdahl, unlike their other missions, was a mission that actually made sense?



At this point, the state of the war on terror seems to me similar to the state of the old communist factory: we pretend to support them, and they pretend the war makes sense.



I think Clark has a duty to explain why he didn't call for such camps after the Oklahoma city bombings, or other mass shootings which didn't fit the profile.

I view Clark's 2007 interview with Amy Goodman as, first of all, a warning to have an appropriate hatred of bombing, whether it be terrorist bombs of evil and terror, or our bombs of freedom and love. Second, a warning to not be ok with a never-ending, perpetual state of war, devoid of any strategy for victory or a way out.

. . .this is why I say you must use force only as a last resort.
I told this story to the high school kids earlier, but it bears repeating, I guess. We had a malfunction with a cluster bomb unit, and a couple of grenades fell on a schoolyard, and some, I think three, schoolchildren were killed in Nish. And two weeks later, I got a letter from a Serb grandfather. He said, "You’ve killed my granddaughter." He said, "I hate you for this, and I’ll kill you." . . .And that’s why you shouldn’t undertake military operations unless every other alternative has been exhausted, because innocent people do die.
I don't agree with Clark's limiting the evil of war only to "innocent people". Some of us guilty, or even partially guilty, people, would like not to die in a war, as well.  It seems to me significant that in Kosovo, the bad guys weren't killed.


2. Don't Jail People


The Chelsea Manning jailing has become a litmus test issue for me. I'm not willing to endorse any person or organization who's not willing to say about Chelsea Manning, "35 years is too much". I'm not willing to endorse any person or organization who's not willing to say, "What Chelsea Manning did is not worse than what the Abu Graibh torturers did, and she should not be punished more harshly than they were."



I have not been appropriately appreciative of the Iran deal, perhaps because I, like all humans, find it hard to sufficiently appreciate leaders who quietly and without fuss avoid a disaster. Gordon Brown, for example, gets no credit for avoiding the Euro disaster, while I think he deserves at least some. I have also been unable to accept one of the implicit premises of the deal, that it's worth going to war to prevent Iran going nuclear. I think the logic of MAD works as well for Iran as it does for any of the nuclear weapons 9 (5 + Pakistan, Israel, North Korea & India).

But the freeing of the American prisoners in Iran is a big deal to me, as is the release of Bowe Bergdahl. I thank everyone involved for not caving in to the taunts of appeasement or treason, and getting these people home.



3. Less Fear

(Via https://twitter.com/Blackamazon): https://twitter.com/hashtag/FlintWaterCrisis?src=hash



George Orwell - Don't Fear The Sacker

While I can't accept the implicit tolerance of slavery in the Orwell piece, I think it points to one thing lacking in contemporary America, something like the Homestead Act, which would give the modern day peasant the ability to avoid being frightened of the sack, and the freedom to punch gently poke their boss in the eye and move out West.


To me the modern-day equivalent of the Homestead Act sounds like the UBI or the job-guarantee. I find it too hard to care about the differences between them, when neither is endorsed by a single politician that I know of. I find both perfectly acceptable, and my preference is probably for a UBI. My path forward at the moment toward a UBI is nothing more, though nothing less, than what I once read an Indian girl offer as her solution to 50% illiteracy: "Every one teach one". That is, every one with an income above the UBI help at least one person with an income below the UBI get over the line.




I support the right to assisted suicide, I think. But I don't think I would ever advocate it for myself or for a family member I had to make decisions for. I think if I was of sound mind, I would still consider life worthwhile, even if I had an unsound, painful, body. And if I was of unsound mind, it would no longer be my decision. My limited experience with dying is that even when the dying lose their ability to communicate with the outside world, there is still at least some sentience, and those last hours in our present mortal form are still precious and meaningful.







note: there are some instances of obscene racism in the Pilgrim's Regress.



4. More Freedom

Comments on macro:


Didn't understand much of the Cochrane post, but the fact he does not address the downward nominal wage rigidity argument seems to me baffling:


In terms of macro policy, FWIW, I think I agree with the helicopter money people. That is, I think there is a difference between increasing reserves and helicopter-money, and that helicopter-money would not have pushed on a string in the way that increased reserves did.


re: Ari's comments on private sector debt, I am surprised there's not been more discussion of the possible macroeconomic benefits of easy bankruptcy, both as a way of deleveraging more quickly, and as a way of inhibiting bubbles, by encouraging lenders to pay more attention to whom they're lending to. It seems to me there's been hardly any discussion about repealing the 2005 bankruptcy reform, or the previous reforms which made it harder to discharge student loan debt, or medical debt. It seems to me one overlooked historical advantage of the American economy has been easy bankruptcy, and that suicide rates are linked both to unemployment/discouragement and to harsh bankruptcy laws.

Easier bankruptcy may lead to higher interest rates, but a tradeoff of making debt more expensive in good times but easier to slough off in bad times seems to me beneficial.

Comments on RBC:


I actually might agree with a weak form of RBC, if you define "technological slowdown" as "increased difficulty of check-receivers in making persuasive arguments why check-signers should sign them a check". e.g. in 1998 you can make a persuasive argument why a check-signer should sign a check for your .com. In 2002, not so much. in 2003, you can make a persuasive case why a check-signer should sign a check for your mortgage. In 2007, not so much.

The problem with defining "technological slowdown" in this way is that it suggests an obvious role for policy in ending the "technological slowdown" by signing some checks in place of the customary check-signers.

Check-signer, check-signer, sign me a check. . .

Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgoB2JMEowc

Perhaps the definition of an economy in trouble is one in which the reasons why people are signing checks are based on wrong-headed, unrealizable expectations.

More wrong-headed and unrealizable than usual, I mean.

I'm actually always on the lookout for issues to disagree with Krugman on. One of those, apparently, is helicopter money:


I guess my disagreement with Krugman is that the difference between helicopter money and ordinary fiscal stimulus is that helicopter money stimulates without increasing the risk of insolvency, or the risk of greater debt servicing.

I am slightly pleased that Summers & Co. are critiquing Yellen from the left, and I agree with their criticisms, but to me it feels a bit like the debate between the UBI and the job-guarantee.

The 4 macro issues I care most about:

1) Helicopter money. Perhaps a less confrontational way of saying this is that I want a form of stimulus which is not biased toward the interest-rate sensitive sectors of the economy. I.e., helicopter money.

2) Easy Bankruptcy. I live in hope that the next Al Gore bestseller is "Sane Bankruptcy, Sensible Deleveraging". As I've said before, the lack of advocacy for repealing the 2005 bankruptcy act is astonishing to me.




I don't particularly like the Obama-centric framing of the above articles. It's not Obama, it's the whole political class, of both parties. Still, when reading the Natalie Kitroeff piece about the Robert Murphy case, I thought of Michael Kinsley's comment on George H.W. Bush: "What the hell else is the point of being nice and being President at the same time?"

To put the case for bankruptcy reform in as non-confrontational a way as possible: Students take out loans for higher education based on certain expectations of what higher education will do for them. When those expectations are not met, it seems to me the losses should be split between the lenders, the borrowers, the schools and the government which made a (wrong, IMO) choice to encourage financing higher ed via debt. Instead, because of progressively harsher bankruptcy laws passed over the last 30 years, the losses are falling entirely on the students.

I think what should be done on student loans is that the establishment should recognize that the era of debt-financed higher ed was probably a mistake, and it should remove the special bankruptcy provisions for student loan debt. Then the Fed should buy non-performing legacy student loans from the private sector at face value, and institute much gentler policies of debt collection, giving every student-loan debtor the chance to pay based on income.


Probably the worst thing you can say about student loan debt is that it encourages a non-Puddleglum like view of the world.

Steve Ballmer - Deleveraging Deleveraging Deleveraging Deleveraging

3. Postal Banking.





4. TRIPS - Treasury Retiree Inflation Protected Securities. An inflation-protected savings vehicle based on the retiree basket of goods, and not the general consumer basket.


This Bob Solow quote seems to me even more important than the Napolean and the Notre Dame Fight Song quotes:
. . .Now you could ask, why do not prices and wages erode and crumble under those circumstances? Why doesn’t the unemployed worker who told me “Yes, I would like to work, at the going wage, at the old job that my brother-in-law or my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law is still holding”, why doesn’t that person offer to work at that job for less? Indeed why doesn’t the employer try to encourage wage reduction? That doesn’t happen either. Why does the Chrysler Corporation not cut the price? Those are questions that I think an adult person might spend a lifetime studying. They are important and serious questions, but the notion that the excess supply is not there strikes me as utterly implausible.

I think this might be a strong candidate for the blog post I am most ashamed of:


It was a post that was both lazy and mean, which is not a good combination. The intellectual laziness consists in making the assumption that the deficit spending under the Bush presidency was crowding out other spending, and particularly investment spending (both public and private). In fact, there is zero evidence that Bush-era deficit spending crowded out other spending. The positive effects on the balance sheet swamped any effect of higher interest rates, which were never, in fact, very high.

Not so incidentally, this seems to me to be true of the Obama presidency as well. If there had been less deficit spending during the Obama presidency, it seems to me that other spending, and total investment spending, would have been lower during the Obama presidency than was the case, not higher.

Regarding the Jeb Bush 4% controversy, would it be so outlandish to think. . . Jeb Bush might endorse NGDP targeting? Surely it's worth a shot for him to do this?

There don't seem to be too many blog posts linking Jeb Bush, 4%, and NGDP:





One idea I might as well throw out: linking a region's minimum wage to the price of starter homes within that region. I guess the idea is that it provides an incentive for a region's policy makers / employers to provide more cheap starter housing.



This George Orwell excerpt seems to me useful in understanding the benefits, dangers, and limits of philanthropy:
Outside the church quite a hundred men were waiting, dirty types who had gathered from far and wide at the news of a free tea, like kites round a dead buffalo. . .There was to be a service after the tea, and the regular congregation were sitting in the well of the church below. It was a week-day, and there were only a few dozen of them. . .We ranged ourselves in the gallery pews and were given our tea; it was a one-pound jam-jar of tea each, with six slices of bread and margarine. As soon as tea was over, a dozen tramps who had stationed themselves near the door bolted to avoid the service; the rest stayed, less from gratitude than lacking the cheek to go.
 . . .All round the gallery men lolled in their pews, laughed, chattered, leaned over and flicked pellets of bread among the congregation. . .A ring of dirty, hairy faces grinned down from the gallery, openly jeering. What could a few women and old men do against a hundred hostile tramps? . . .
The minister was a brave man. He thundered steadily through a long sermon on Joshua, and managed almost to ignore the sniggers and chattering from above. But in the end, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he announced loudly:
'I shall address the last five minutes of my sermon to the unsaved sinners!'
. . .Even while the minister was threatening hell fire, we were rolling cigarettes, and at the last amen we clattered down the stairs with a yell. . .
 The scene had interested me. It was so different from the ordinary demeanour of tramps - from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they normally accept charity. . .
At half past eight Paddy took me to the Embankment, where a clergyman was known to distribute meal tickets once a week. Under Charing Cross Bridge fifty men were waiting, mirrored in the shivering puddles. Some of them were truly appalling specimens—they were Embankment sleepers, and the Embankment dredges up worse types than the spike. One of them, I remember, was dressed in an overcoat without buttons, laced up with rope, a pair of ragged trousers, and boots exposing his toes - not a rag else. He was bearded like a fakir, and he had managed to streak his chest and shoulders with some horrible black filth resembling train oil. What one could see of his face under the dirt and hair was bleached white as paper by some malignant disease. I heard him speak, and he had a goodish accent, as of a clerk or shop walker.
Presently the clergyman appeared and the men ranged themselves in a queue in the order in which they had arrived. The clergyman was a nice, chubby, youngish man, and, curiously enough, very like Charlie, my friend in Paris. He was shy and embarrassed, and did not speak except for a brief good evening; he simply hurried down the line of men, thrusting a ticket upon each, and not waiting to be thanked. The consequence was that, for once, there was genuine gratitude, and everyone said that the clergyman was a good feller. Someone (in his hearing, I believe) called out: 'Well, he'll never be a bishop!' - this, of course, intended as a warm compliment.
The tickets were worth sixpence each, and were directed to an eating-house not far away. When we got there we found that the proprietor, knowing that the tramps could not go elsewhere, was cheating by only giving four pennyworth of food for each ticket. Paddy and I pooled our tickets, and received food which we could have got for sevenpence or eightpence at most coffee-shops. The clergyman had distributed well over a pound in tickets, so that the proprietor was evidently swindling the tramps to the tune of seven shillings or more a week. This kind of victimization is a regular part of a tramp's life, and it will go on as long as people continue to give meal tickets instead of money.
My earnest wish for all of you is that you respond to the charitable endeavors of your richers and your betters with neither jeering hostility nor abject worm-like gratitude. I do confess myself slightly gobsmacked by the ability of rich people to find causes to support other than "giving money to people who don't have enough of it".


Somewhat related to this topic, I went on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House a few months ago, and hypothesized to the assembled audience (my sister and BIL) that the first psychic that Sarah Winchester consulted, who counseled her to "Appease the souls of Winchester rifle victims by selling all thou hast and giving it to the poor" was quickly replaced by a second psychic, who counseled her to "Appease the souls of Winchester rifle victims by building a never-ending mansion."

One thing I use to assess liberal pundits at the moment is whether they discuss, not the headline unemployment number, but labor force participation rates. Krugman has been pretty disappointing by this metric, with the possible exception of his Dec. 7th column:


I don't particularly agree with the "open season on Sanders" argument. I think the Sanders' press has been better than I expected, perhaps partly due to Sanders' personal qualities. But the economics in Baker's post seems to me important. I'm not sure if the centrist / center-left "Why are people so angry? The state of the union is so strong!" commentators are sincere. But if they are sincere, read the economics in the Baker post to understand why, for some people, it doesn't feel like a strong economy, filled with some potential opportunities, some hopes for the future, some protections against downside risk and some protections against worst-case scenarios.

Those familiar with economic data know the labor market, which is the economy for the vast majority of the public, is very far from recovering from the recession. While the unemployment rate is reasonably low, this is largely because millions of workers have dropped out of the workforce. 
And, contrary to what is often asserted, these are not retiring baby boomers or people without the skills needed in a modern economy. The employment rate of prime age workers (ages 25–54) is still down by 3.0 percentage points from its pre-recession level. Furthermore, this drop is for workers at all levels of educational attainment. Employment rates are even down for workers with college and advanced degrees. Other measures of labor market strength, like the percentage of people involuntarily working part-time, the quit rate, and the duration of unemployment spells are all still at recession levels. 
Furthermore, the huge shift from wages to profits that we saw in the downturn has not been reversed. As a result, wages are more than 6.0 percent lower than they would be if the labor share had not changed.




40 acres and a bunch of educated fools


I haven't commented on Coates's reparations essay, perhaps because I wasn't sure what I thought, and to the extent I was sure what I thought, I wasn't too impressed. But I should probably get it down.

My initial reaction to the idea of reparations was slightly to moderately negative. Other than possible aversive racism, I think I can identify 4 strands of opposition:


1) Thomas Sowell-style opposition to cosmic justice activism. "Far worse than unfairness is make-believe fairness". This seems to me an invalid reason for opposing reparations. I think Sowell makes a strong case for pursuing cosmic justice with more humility and less hatred. I don't buy his case for not pursuing it at all.


2) The Coates essay implicitly links the case for reparations to active malice against black people. But I think passive indifference does as much damage, if not more, than active malice. It's true they sometimes send you to jail for active malice, which they don't usually do for passive indifference, but I don't think this matters as much as we think. This seems to me a valid reason, not to oppose reparations, but to distrust reparations as the sole or primary avenue of progress.

. . .Talking about his own relatively modest roots, Checchi noted that his success was not hindered by racism. Pointing to his right hand, he said, "If this was a different color, would they have lent me $4 billion to buy an airline?"
Winning applause and "amens," Checchi said he will support affirmative action until discrimination disappears. . .
Somewhat related to this, it seems to me important to realize that the market, in theory and sometimes in practice, punishes employer racism. It does not punish customer racism, even in theory.

3) It's a fairly fundamental part of my nature to care a great deal about everyone having enough, and not to care too much about who has more than enough. This seems to me an invalid reason to oppose reparations. Even if you want money to be less important and less prominent as time goes on, as opposed to the meritocrats' desire for money to be more important and more meaningful as time goes on, there seems to me zero reason to start the social democrat revolution on the backs of slavery victims.

4) It seems to me healthy to think partly of other peoples' / the universe's omissions and commissions (hurt), and partly of our own omissions and commissions (guilt). We fear plunging into the reparations milieu in part because we fear a suffocating emotional environment where it's all hurt and no guilt, or alternatively, all guilt and no hurt. This seems to me an invalid reason to oppose reparations. Reparations may, indeed, be one of the best ways of fighting a mental atmosphere of too much guilt and not enough hurt, or vice-versa. "Nothing is ever settled until it is settled right".


Amid all the uncertainties, at least one thing seems clear to me: it would have been better if the radical republicans had broken up the plantations and distributed a substantial portion of them to the freed slaves. So one possible path forward is to guess what the modern-day wealth distribution would have been if that had been done, and identify policies that would, eventually, get us to converge to that path. Perhaps spending x money each year buying plantation land, and then using it to increase black wealth.

Since I have no idea what x should be, this is what I meant by "not being too impressed with my thoughts."

I also think those who oppose slavery / jim crow / real estate discrimination / real estate terrorism reparations should identify the difference between slavery reparations and Holocaust and Japanese-American internment reparations. Coates's discussion of Holocaust reparations was a completely unknown history to me.

re: the Sanders-Coates debate, I think Coates is right that Sanders, more than most politicians, is pulling a fast one when he pleads political realism. However, there is a difference between reparations and Sanders' platform: Sanders' platform contains policies somewhat popular among the 99%, while being unpopular with the 0.1%. It does not contain policies, such as reparations or foreign aid, very unpopular with the 99%. If you accept Sanders' rationale for not supporting reparations (I'm not sure I do), Coates's question to lefties about when exactly they will be ready to address white / anti-black supremacism deserves an answer.

Little Talk:

A transcript of a talk I gave circa April 2014. I was planing to post this after Easter 2017, but as it turns out, there is, um, no reason to wait that long. Suffice to say it was given to an audience somewhat familiar with and interested in the world of Korean TV manufacturing:

5 Minutes With

1. He Was A Quiet Man

So, one day at work, It's kind of shocking to me that it was almost two years ago, I was reading a news story about a gun tragedy, and part of the story was interviews with neighbours and acquaintances:

"He was quiet"
"Kept to himself"
"Never knew what he was thinking"
"Didn't wave from the driveway"
"Talked to himself"
"Sometimes smiled at odd and inappropriate moments"

All of these traits apply to me, to some extent, and I got slightly annoyed at the news report's cliched description of lone wolves, and started ranting that just once, I wished that the description of the villain were something other than "quiet". Perhaps something like:

"He was an excellent salsa dancer"
"He worked hard and played harder"
"He was a wine Connoisseur and an amateur Sous-Chef"

Traits that clearly have nothing to do with me.

Well, Jason heard my rant, and informed me that there was in fact a movie, "He was a quiet man", starring Christian Slater, and of course, the movie is about a man who spends all his time being quiet and plotting his revenge.

2. The Real Danger Of Quiet People

Now, the real danger of quiet people, as all quiet people know, is not that they will suddenly snap one day and go on a rampage. The real danger of quiet people is that once they start talking, it's hard to get them to stop. So that's the danger that all of you are running today. I'll try to keep it short.

3. Quiet American?

I'm mostly American, and have lived almost all of my life in the Bay Area, with one exception. I was born here, and went to school here till I was 11, when my parents [these are my parents] whisked my sister and me [this is my sister and me] off to India to live in Bangalore and go to this school, The Valley School. I went to TVS for five years, till the 10th grade, and then came back to the Bay Area for the last 2 years of high school, and eventually college.

The picture is for my mom’s 65th birthday, and you might notice my sister has thoughtfully provided 1 and 8 for the birthday numerals.

3 points about living in India:

A. On first going to India, I made the same mistake Henry made, saying "Punjab" (rhymes with Moonjab) instead of "Punjab" (rhymes with Funjab). This led to me almost getting in a fight with a very, very mild-mannered classmate who thought I was insulting him by deliberately mispronouncing Punjab, until eventually I pled American.

B. The Indian school year runs from June to March, the American school year runs from September to June.  So when I went to India, I had no summer vacation, which for an 11 year old is a deep injustice, and when I came back from India I had a 6-month summer vacation, which for a 16 year old is probably an invitation to trouble. Probably these 6 months gave me a taste for freedom that is hard to shake off.

C. If the Bay Area school scene ever becomes too ridiculous, shipping the kids off to school in the Old Country remains a viable option. If you don't have an Old Country, even better, you can shop around and be selective.

4. Sports, Maths, Laughs + A Clearer Conscience

A few years back I started wondering whether I had a core, and if so, where was it. And finally I decided it was in 4 things: Sports, Maths, Laughs + A Clearer Conscience.

Sports: I love sports; cricket and tennis are my favorites. Now that I have what the Chinese call an "Iron Rice Bowl" (FTE status), I plan on occasionally renting a tennis court yonder Great America Park Way, and seeing if anyone else in SVL wants to play. I may also decide eventually to fight, for my right, to Ping-Pong, at which point I will probably be informed that there are no Ping-Pong rights, only Ping-Pong privileges.

In terms of TV, I live mainly on the cricket and tennis channels. I have both the cable premium channels, and the web streaming subscriptions, which seems ridiculously excessive. The future of TV, for me, would mean, in the short term, being able to choose which cricket or tennis match I was watching, and in particular to watch the web streaming stuff on my TV. In the long-term, it would probably mean being able to watch super-local matches, television-quality video of school matches, or amateur club matches.

Because of my absurd love for sports, I can inform the [blah blah] people of one use case they overlooked: Taking your racket or your bat and admiring your wonderful backhand technique, or your wonderful technique in leaving the ball outside off stump. Alas, while I have done that in my lifetime, I wouldn't recommend it. My experience is that problems on the field or on the court have to be worked out on the field or on the court, and practicing your technique in front of a mirror is not going to get you very far.

Maths: I love Math, and for me, an ideal day would probably start with sports, and move on to math. Coding is a quite acceptable substitute for math. The pleasure of coding is quite similar to the pleasure of working on math sums. The pleasure of working on EULA, however, I must admit, is not quite as keen.

Perhaps there’s not much to say about Math to a room of UX people, except this. We all of us in this room, except Greg, probably have had some sort of traumatic experience of doing badly in a math class. I certainly had those experiences but at some point after school was over I realized I really enjoyed math, and just because I may not be able to do it at a super-advanced level, does not mean I shouldn’t do it. I sometimes feel like there’s dignified adult hobbies like yachting or wine-connoisseurship and undignified hobbies like messing around with sums, I’m definitely on the side of being undignified.

One other thing that intrigues me about mathematicians is that they tend to be more religious than scientists, possibly because they’re more open to accepting beautiful axioms on faith, and without evidence from the material world. Martin Gardner, one of my favorite authors, fits this pattern of a theist and a math person. I started reading Gardner in 2010, after he died and I was intrigued by his obit. I definitely would have liked to send Gardner a letter thanking him for his books, but since he was 94 going on 95 when he died, I’m not sure how long I could have expected him to hang on.

Laughs: My view of the world is essentially comic, and I basically have 2 modes: The first is comic and joking, the second is pious and painfully earnest, what my Dad calls my "Mother In Law mode". (He will tell me, "Don't look at me as if you're my Mother In Law"). In talking about comedy, I’ll start with a list of Larry Gonick books, because I think the books are very good, and they don’t seem to me to be that famous. I also mention the Gonick books because in one of the volumes, there’s a panel that tells the story of a Chinese peasant, who makes a wisecrack about a military general, and whose punishment is to be boiled alive. This anonymous Chinese peasant is a real hero to me, and if I were to ever make a wisecrack so annoying to someone in power that I was to be boiled alive, a part of me would be pleased: the part of me that is not being boiled alive. Very unlikely to happen, unless I move to North Korea.

A Clearer Conscience: One of my favorite quotes is from the book/TV show, "Yes Prime Minister":  "He wanted, he said, a clear conscience. I found myself wondering when he acquired this taste for luxuries."

A clear conscience is, I agree, difficult and perhaps expensive to acquire, and while I may not yet be able to live in Conscience-Land, I at least want to start making serious preparations for the down payment.

I've brought the Gonick and Yes Prime Minister books to work, in case anyone wants to take a look.

One tiny manifestation of conscience is that I studied economics in school, in part because I wanted to know about poverty and unemployment, and how to avoid them. To conclude, I want to bring your attention to 2 economics books, which are recently published, and getting lots of praise, and they are:

1) "Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which opens with a story of 2 Korean brothers separated by the Korean War, who were reunited after 50 years, with one brother living like a South Korean, the other brother living like a North Korean. So to some extent the cutting edge in economics research is studying the past 60 years of Korean history, and saying, "Do like the South Koreans, not like the North Koreans".

2) "Poor Economics", by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, which, among other things, has a discussion of TV in the lives of poor people.

Half relevant to the discussion of TV in peoples’ lives, I actually remember a funny incident at work of Keith first encountering the statistics on how much TV Americans watch, but I think I’ll save that for if I ever have to do this again. [I won't]

next post: 5/24/2016

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