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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Thursday, April 06, 2017





Blog post for 4-17-2017 (2/2):

Not feeling much of an impulse to yawp at the moment, so mainly epistolary blogging, from various emails over the past year:

Little Talk:

I've been playing around with the idea of Fibonacci tithing:

First, determine your residual: income - essential expenses.

Split your residual 3 ways: Yoga, lobha, and bhoga.

Or, less rhyme-y but more accurate in translation: Dharma, Artha, and Kama.

Or:  Charity, Investment/savings, and personal.

Of the personal money that you don't wind up spending, split it half way between charity and investment/saving:

Of the money you devote to charity (33 per cent of your residual), split it up like this:
1 arts & science
1 public interest journalism
2 politics
3 religious organization
5 religious charity
8 reputable charity
13 disreputable charity

I guess the main thing worth commenting on, is that I believe, that while both are important, disreputable charity is more important than reputable charity.

 I'm currently working. . .as a contractor. The contract is supposed to last till June 30, 2017, and if I can last that long, I will be very happy, and in a good position to carry out my plan of moving to India in 2017. . .

If I can adjust to the pace and smarts and work ethic required to keep up. . .I can see it being a very good year. A good opportunity for me to explore SoCal, and make a jump in my understanding of the software trade, before abandoning it for studying math!

. . .I'm definitely *planning* on moving to India in 2017, whether I will actually do it, who knows? There are a bunch of math/physics books/textbooks I want to read/work through, it makes sense to me to do it in a place where my burn rate will be lower, plus I have many friends from my school years in India, and would enjoy living closer to them for at least a few years. I'm tentatively planning to travel in the US/Canada in the summer of 2017 (Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon are near the top of the list of places to visit) then arrive in India soon after that.

I [plan] to move to India, [sometime] after easter 2017, for a few years, at least, to study math, at first. . .I am looking forward to it, though I am feeling a bit more fearful and a bit less courageous now that the time has finally come to put my plan into action.

In any case, once in India, and for some months before in preparation, I will have to eliminate dollar expenditures. . .

. . .Regarding my India plan, one day in a bar, I was describing to a friend what I wanted to do if I had the money, and it was basically sit at my desk everyday and work through math and physics textbooks, without deadlines, until I had achieved the deepest understanding of the book's subject matter that I was capable of. My friend said it sounded like one of those old Rabbis, who spend all their time studying the Talmud, never doing a stroke of work, and I agreed that that sounded pretty much right. Ever since then, we called it my "Rabbi Krishna" plan, and at some point I selected Easter 2017 as the date I would start on it.

An example of the type of books: Calculus, volumes 1 & 2, by Tom Apostol, and Mechanics, by Kleppner and Kolenkow.

I decided to do it in India because:

1) I went to school in India for 5 years (6th-10th grade), and would like to live for a few years closer to my Indian friends and family.

2) I hope it will be cheaper than the US. . .

It could very well be my [planned budget] is a hopeless underestimate, in which case I will have less time. We shall see.

My plan to move to India came before Trump, though the prospect of leaving him behind is not displeasing. What the Trump movement has clarified for me is what I believe in: I believe in a society of free and equal human beings, and I believe that without both a love for freedom, and a love for equality, the human spirit starts to sicken and die.

Equality for me doesn't mean we all have beachfront homes, but it does mean a society where nobody has to suck up, or gets to spit down.

As I get older, I'm starting to understand a bit about the rigors of aging. It's difficult, no question about it. In C.S. Lewis's book of letters, edited by his brother, in one of the last letters of his life, which his brother chose to end the book with, he talks about an enduring sorrow for mutabilitie (quoting Edmund Spenser, I think), and I agree with them. . .

. . I also am grateful for this opportunity to write down the things I've been thinking. Maybe I should do it more often!

. . .I would say, I will be in India within a year, and probably a bit sooner. (Gives me chills to say that!) The contract at my job currently ends on June 30, I had planned to leave any time after Easter 2017. If the contract is extended 6 months, I may accept it, but right now, I'm not expecting it to extended. [It wasn't.] There's also the possibility my contract would be suddenly cancelled, before June 30, which would be a trifle worrying, but no more than that, and I'm excited at the prospect at not having to worry about stuff like this, at least for a few years!

After I leave my job, I am planning to do a little traveling - Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon are on the list. Then on to India!

Actually, one of my favorite cartoons is Charlie Brown's rage at Snoopy after Snoopy takes 3 strikes down the middle of the plate without swinging. Haven't been able to find it online. . .Thanks so much!!! It's the cartoon I remembered. 

CS Lewis's anthology of George MacDonald helps keeps me closer to sane in a world (and a self) frequently gone mad, but the price of buying sanity from such a supplier is that you have to listen to that voice, when it roars with an inescapable clarity and volume:

      [ 271 ] Visitors
      By all means tell people, when you are busy about something that must be done, that you cannot spare the time for them except they want of you something of yet more pressing necessity; but tell them, and do not get rid of them by the use of the instrument commonly called the cold shoulder. It is a wicked instrument. 
One of my favorite bits from Surprised By Joy:
Closely linked with Barfield of Wadham was his friend (and soon mine), A. C. Harwood of The House, later a pillar of Michael Hall, the Steinerite school at Kidbrooke. He was different from either of us; a wholly imperturbable man. Though poor (like most of us) and wholly without “prospects”, he wore the expression of a nineteenth-century gentleman with something in the Funds. On a walking tour when the last light of a wet evening had just revealed some ghastly error in map-reading (probably his own) and the best hope was “Five miles to Mudham (if we could find it) and we _might_ get beds there,” he still wore that expression. In the heat of argument he wore it still. You would think that he, if anyone, would have been told to “take that look off his face”. But I don’t believe he ever was. It was no mask and came from no stupidity. He has been tried since by all the usual sorrows and anxieties. He is the sole Horatio known to me in this age of Hamlets; no “stop for Fortune’s finger”.

next post: 1/18/2018






Blog post for 4-17-2017 (1/2)

Not feeling much of an impulse to yawp at the moment, so mainly epistolary blogging, from various emails over the past year:

Big Talk:



Emmett Rensin (via Glenn Greenwald): 'It's very strange that there are so many liberals for whom Trump was the new Hitler only up until the moment he actually started killing.'

What on earth is Rensin talking about? Did you he miss the reports about Trump bombing (and killing) more in the past 100 days than Obama had in a year?


This represents a blindspot on liberal/leftist views of HRC as a hawk, in my opinion. She was indeed more hawkish than Obama when it came to humanitarian interventions. But on Afghanistan specifically, and the war on terror more generally, she was probably more dovish.

Before Libya, I may have thought that it was possible for the US to pick a side in a war, and lend its superior technology to the more moral / less evil side. Now, I think that the right way to assess a proposed humanitarian military intervention is David A. Westbrook's rule of thumb:

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. . .
. . .Hence my rule of thumb: if we are serious, we should be willing to put troops on the ground and fight. In Libya, that probably would have meant defending some rather arbitrarily defined territory against the advance of Gaddafi’s troops, and then working for a negotiated solution on that basis, ideally with an appropriately drafted UN mandate. If we are not serious, however, we should not be killing people, hoping to tilt some balance in some direction that might be more advantageous for us. But hey, who knows?
The first question to ask about any statement in favor of a bombing campaign is, "How many people do you intend to kill, and why?". The answer for the Syrian bombing seems to be to "send a message" to Assad. And it's possible that the bombing was designed not to kill people, but to destroy infrastructure.

I am now very skeptical about any military intervention, including humanitarian interventions, based on "killing bad guys", or "sending a message" to a bad guy. I believe, because all of us are a mixture of good and bad, a strategy based on killing bad guys will eventually destroy the entire world. I am willing to consider a humanitarian military intervention with a strategy based on protecting vulnerable populations. But it seems absurd to talk about that, when we're not willing to accept any refugees.

For bombing campaigns proposed in order to fight Assad, and bombing campaigns in general, I think the right assumption to make is that, for every 10 foreigners killed, at least 1 American will eventually be killed, either due to short-term casualties, or due to long-term blowback.

If you make this assumption about the evil consequences of bombing and killing, I believe this makes most bombing campaigns, including most humanitarian bombing campaigns, a bad idea. Which seems to me, correct.


I have fairly extreme political views, and I usually try to avoid inflicting them on innocent people. Sometimes, I try to spare guilty people, as well.

In this particular case, imagine the most extreme anti-Trump feeling possible, and then double it. The man represents everything I do not like, and everything I do not believe in. I find it impossible to respect anyone who voted for, supported, or enabled Donald Trump in any way. I am willing to forgive such people, but it is not possible to forgive someone who does not want forgiveness, and who is not willing to repent and atone.

This seems a fair artist's depiction of my reaction to the election of Modi in India, the election of Trump in the US, and having to pay for parking at work:


I guess an optimistic view of the election would be to view it as a national version of the Prop 187 / Prop 209 elections in California.

My anti-Trump campaign would have been / would be incredibly preachy and sanctimonious, I'm afraid, but that's where I am at the moment: "Stand up for the immigrant and refugee, stand up to bullying and bigotry, hold fast to compassion, fairness and the golden rule. The American heart, and the American soul, are worth fighting for."

In response to this Michael Moore piece:


It was a pretty prescient electoral analysis, but I don't buy the economic arguments. If they wanted anti-establishment economics, they could have voted for Sanders. There's a reason they preferred Trump to Sanders, and IMHO the reason is not pretty: the reason is that Sanders believes in a society of free and equal human beings, and these assholes don't want equality, they want hierarchy. TBH, I find it impossible to respect anyone who voted for Trump.

But then, I usually hold pretty extreme political views, and I usually avoid inflicting them on innocent bystanders. And sometimes even the guilty ones.

Let me go Forest Gump, and early 90's:




And that's all I have to say about that.

What I want from the democratic establishment is a plan to end homelessness, healthcarelessness, and long-term unemployment/discouragement. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives. But to paraphrase Secondo in Big Night, they give to me nothing.


But I'll be voting for HRC. I know at least that she supports universal health care, and among the members of the establishment, I trust her and Al Gore more than most. I believe in competitive primary elections, but I don't believe in third parties.

Email my mom sent to the HRC Campaign:

'Very deeply touched by Hillary. Her grace, poise, her smarts, education. She would have done a lot more for the American people, given her experience holding so many offices. As she put it, we have to accept, and continue to do good things- from wherever we are. Thank you Hillary for being such a shining example to so many people. God Bless you and your gracious family. Thank you, and we do want to see you  in the public office soon, doing great things. May God give us all the courage to get over this set back in our lives at this time!'

The HRC Campaign sent a very gracious reply.

What the Trump movement has clarified for me is what I believe in: I believe in a society of free and equal human beings, and I believe that without both a love for freedom, and a love for equality, the human spirit starts to sicken and die.

Equality for me doesn't mean we all have beachfront homes, but it does mean a society where nobody has to suck up, or gets to spit down.

Politically, the crackdown on immigrants / brown people, is making me sick, but I am appreciative of the people fighting on their behalf.

Seeing Bannon whinge about the camp of the saints, makes me realize there must have been at least one guy in the Donner party eager to start gnawing off legs, even with several tonnes of provisions in the store room.

Bannon's reported counsel to Trump, that he has no choice but to stick with the pogrom, because the stains of his sins are permanent and will never wash off, reminds me of Saruman's taunting of Grima at the end of the LOTR.

This bit, from Al Gore's eulogy to his father, seems to me to get to the core issue of this, perhaps any, political era:


The old man was always teaching, his son said in the eulogy. "And I thank God he taught me to love justice. Not everyone was eager to learn. One unreconstructed constituent once said, in reference to African-Americans — though that was not the term he used — 'I don't want to eat with them, I don't want to live with them, and I don't want my kids to go to school with them.' To which my father replied gently, 'Do you want to go to heaven with them?' After a brief pause came the flustered response: 'No, I want to go to hell with you and Estes Kefauver.' "
President Obama,

I wept with joy at the reports you were considering a commutation for Chelsea Manning. I believe a commutation would be just, and more importantly, would be an embodiment of the principle that we should save every life that it is in our power to save. I do not believe a commutation would harm American national security. Chelsea Manning has already served 7 years in jail, and David Coombs has eloquently testified that other troops he represented, guilty of less forgivable crimes, received much shorter sentences.

 If you commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence, I, and I think millions of others, would be eternally grateful.

Thank you for your consideration,
Krishna Rangarajan

Sandra Bland & Aaron Swartz seem somewhat similar to me, helpful people who were willing to help, and bail others out, but were depressed at the thought of needing help, and needing to be bailed out.

Probably my favorite paragraph of commentary on Mad Men:

One line from Coca-Cola’s official history of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” made me laugh. Billy Davis, the music director for the Coke account, had a problem with the idea for the spot when it was pitched to him. He said: “Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke… I’d buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love.” Backer, the creative director, responded with one of the most confident, full-of-shit lines of spin in history: “OK, that sounds good. Let’s write that and I’ll show you how Coke fits right into the concept.”

A Deep Thought, inspired by comparing the economies of 2000, 2007, and 2016: 'All levels of employment are full-employment, but some levels of employment are more full-employment than others.'

Noahpinion asks what calls for 'humility' mean in economics. For me, it means less emphasis on optimizing, more emphasis on disaster avoidance / mitigation. For example, some very smart people believe the optimal rate for capital taxation is zero. Some even smarter people believe the optimal top rate for income taxation is 70%. I believe humility means paying less attention to these kinds of smart-data optimizations of policies which are already ok/satisfactory, and more attention to even the most simple-minded, thick-headed, naive policies designed to mitigate genuine economic disasters, such as homelessness, healthcarelessness, and long-term unemployment/discouragement.

Disaster avoidance / mitigation seems to me relevant in going too far to the right, and producing homelessness, healthcarelessness and long-term unemployment / discouragement. It also seems to me relevant in going too far to the left, and producing what's happening in Venezuela.

Humility would also mean the economics profession being willing to admit that they don't understand the sources of prosperity in rich countries. For example, I think the American economists advising Russia in the early 90's assumed that they understood what the sources of American prosperity were, and that by following their advice, the Russian economy would progress in the direction of the American economy.

In hindsight, the right advice for American economists to give to Russian politicians in the early 90's should have been something closer to, "We can't pretend to understand what the sources of American prosperity are, and we can't pretend that by following our advice, the Russian economy will make progress in a positive direction. Here are our best guesses. But remember, avoid making, if possible, sudden changes in programs which people depend on, and be alert to any significant change in policy having unintended negative consequences, instead of the hoped for positive consequences."

In hindsight, the Terrell J. Starr / Alternet dispute can be seen as a fairly strong example of attacking / refusing to believe the messenger.

Most important lesson of the Sanders / Clinton primary, in my opinion: the revolution has to start in South Carolina and Nevada, and not just Iowa and New Hampshire.

next post: 1/18/2018