Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Working at home: a primer.

With the Coronavirus shutdown of movement in the world, and as more and more of us are asked to work from home, at some level it may seem a godsend–you don’t have to drive into work, you have greater control over how to spend your time.

But working at home is really not for the faint of heart.

So I thought I’d give some advise–as someone who primarily has worked from home most of my life as a software developer–on how to thrive working at home as the days give into weeks and the weeks potentially into months.

The problem is this: going to work, as much as most of us love to complain about it, gives us structure. It gives us social time–and we are social creatures. It gives us a sense of order to the otherwise meaningless stream of days: a place to go, something to do, people to be around and to either spend time in idle chit-chat or plot against.

And we lose all of this while working at home.

When we work at home, it’s easy to become unrooted from the world. Our sense of order gets challenged, and the sense of isolation can easily lead to cabin fever. It is, ironically enough, why many people who retire–who actually have the money to stop working for the rest of their lives–either get a volunteer job or get a part-time job somewhere. Not for the money–but for the sense of order, the purpose, having a place to go and people to be around. (And this fact–that many people work because they want to work for the social interaction and not for the money, is reflected in Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys.)


So here are my hints on how to survive–and even thrive–while working in isolation while staring at the same four damned walls day in, day out.

Establish an area of your home: a separate bedroom, a corner of your living room, somewhere which is your “office.” This allows you to establish a separate “space” where you work. Ideally it’s a separate part of your house which you can then close off and walk away–so you can clearly establish times when you are “working”, and times when you are “not working.”

Establish a routine. Yes, you don’t have to do the commute, but still: set an alarm and get up at the same time each day. There is actually good research that shows getting up at the same time each day helps with sleep patterns and helps with your mental sanity. Get up, do your normal morning routine as if you’re going to work. For me that’s taking a shower, then fixing a cup of coffee in a travel mug–even though I don’t commute. It’s spending a few minutes reading the Internet–or posting articles like this.

Remind yourself what day of the week it is. You may want to hang a calendar for this purpose, or set the clock on your computer’s desktop to show the day of the week. Weirdly working at home it becomes very easy to loose track of the day of the week–and that contributes to cabin fever and a sense of isolation and drifting in the world.

Create a calendar of things you need to do. Most of us do this already; keep up the practice. For those of us whose jobs are less calendar-driven–such as software development, where (aside from a daily stand-up) your schedule looks the same, it reminds you of what day of the week it is.

If your company doesn’t already do this, have your group establish a “daily call.” It shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes, and should go around giving everyone a chance to speak. In these stressful times, having the ability to just share the fact that we’re all in it together is highly important. If your company doesn’t do a “daily standup,” suggest one.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to co-workers just for idle chit-chat via video, or don’t be afraid to use corporate internal social media to keep touch with your co-workers’ lives. What seems like wasteful idle chit-chat time is actually a very important element of a corporate culture: knowing the people you work with both allows you to go to them more readily if you have a problem and you need their help, and it helps with corporate cohesion. This means if your company doesn’t have a virtual “water cooler” you need to set one up–even if it’s just on Slack or Discord.

Get out of the damned house! For me, this one is extremely important. Thanks to social distancing rules you can’t just go and hang out at a coffee shop–which have recognized the social aspect of working at home and make money selling coffee to people who want to see something other than the four walls of their house. (It’s why Starbucks advertises their WiFi as much as their coffee.) But you can go to the park, go walking around the neighborhood, go exercise or find a park bench or get in the car and drive to the lake or to the beach for an hour.

This should become part of your daily routine. For myself, I spend an hour bike riding in the late morning. For others it could be packing a lunch and taking it to the local park.

But consider this a top priority: make getting outside part of your daily routine, part of your daily schedule. Sunshine helps with vitamin D production, and vitamin D helps with immune response health. Plus the change of scenery helps with mental health.

Do not work weekends. This goes back to establishing daily routines to maintain a sense of order, and to reminding yourself what day of the week it is. Do not allow the company you work for to infringe on your own personal time by setting hard limits with yourself (and with your boss if needed), and that includes not working on those days which you would normally have off.


This is, of course, not an inclusive list. I’m sure there are other things that can be added here.

But so long as you establish physical and time boundaries, establish a routine, reach out and talk to others on a regular basis, engage in idle chit-chat with others you work with, and get out of the house on a daily basis–even if it’s just to sit on a park bench to eat lunch–you will make it through what can potentially seem like an extremely isolating experience.

And you may even come to enjoy it.

A comment left elsewhere regarding wealth.

Wealth can certainly be crated.

Every act of creation creates wealth. Every time you write something you contribute a little to global wealth. Even on Facebook–though we are (inadvertently) giving that wealth (which, individually, isn’t worth very much) to Facebook, which is why they’re so rich.

If you create something, if you write a sonnet or draft an essay or write some computer software or build a shed–you create wealth.

(Keep in mind that fundamentally, “wealth” is “something desirable.”

For many forms of wealth, we are often willing to translate that desire into financial terms–which is, at its core–a proxy of our own efforts to create wealth. Meaning if you write a great book, I may be willing to trade some of my wealth–created by writing software, and selling it to someone else whose wealth may have been amassed through different means–for a copy of your book.)

And despite what’s said by the materialist Marxists or the modern day hard-left ecologists, wealth is not intrinsic in the raw materials of the Earth, unlocked by workers who toil in labor. Meaning that–despite the fact that in a mass production economy prices tend to move towards the cost of raw materials plus the cost of production–the wealth of a thing created is not the raw materials plus the cost of labor. Wealth is proportional to desirability.

Which is why a large corporation can create an economic disaster: consider, for example, the Edsel, whose value was clearly less than the cost of materials plus the cost of labor.

On the other hand, a painting made by a master painter can certainly be worth far more than just the cost of the canvas plus the cost of the paint. (The difference which the painter, in an act of speculation, can reap the rewards from.)

And sometimes the value of a thing depends on having a corporate structure to frame that thing in a profitable fashion. Which is why I make so much money freelancing for other companies, while my own attempts at building something to sell myself have flopped; because I don’t have a corporate structure (or really, the knowledge) to add value to my software, whose wealth I can then reap the excess rewards from.


Given that “wealth” is “desirability,” it should be clear that wealth can be destroyed.

Anything that makes a thing ugly or undesirable destroys wealth.

If you wreck a building, you’ve destroyed wealth. If you destroy a fine work of art, you’ve destroyed wealth.

Worse, wealth is fickle: what is desirable today (a machine that can mass produce bikinis, for example) may be worthless tomorrow (in a hypothetical era where bikinis are outlawed).


And this can happen at the scale of nation-states as well.

The collective wealth of a nation is, after all, the sum of individual actions by people in that nation. If you take away their incentive to do things–because you’ve put your finger on the scales trying to force your own idea of the right outcome–you run the risk of people simply deciding not to work.

And the wealth of a company–what makes companies desirable–is it’s ability to produce things that people desire.

Too many workers walk off the job (because they’re not being well compensated for the work they’re doing), or the company produces too many “Edsels”–too many things people don’t really want or desire–and the company loses value. It stops being quite so desirable.

And that “desirability” is generally measured by that company’s “market value” or market capitalization for a publicly traded company.

Which is why Venezuela is now poor.

Not because its wealth was stolen; not because Venezuela’s value was somehow represented by stacks of gold bricks in a vault somewhere which were taken secretly in the middle of the night by the CIA.

What happened in Venezuela when the government started imposing price controls and started seizing control of many private corporations. This forced corporations to lower the amount of money they were able to offer their workers to work.

This left people no longer wanting to work: the thing they were being offered was worth less to them than simply having their time back.

(Remember: time is also a desirable commodity.)

Which in turn caused companies to stop being able to produce the things people desired. Which made those companies less desirable.

Which made Venezuela as a nation less desirable.

Which decreased Venezuela’s wealth.

🤷‍♂️

And now for something completely different.

I’m posting this here for posterity, in the off chance someday I build my own house.

Home design features I like (a partial list):

(1) A ‘mudroom’ with a bathroom/shower off to one side.

(A ‘mudroom’ is a side door or back door entry way where guests and family take off their shoes after entering from the back yard. It stands to reason if your shoes are muddy, you may be muddy and in need of a sink or shower before tracking mud throughout the house.)

(Bonus if the mudroom has a separate alcove for a litter box for cats. If you have cats, it would be nice to have a space for their litter box rather than just setting it in the middle of the bathroom. If you don’t have cats, put a potted plant in the alcove.)

(2) A decent coat closet off the entry for guest use.

(3) Walk-in master bedroom closet which is accessible separately from the master bathroom. (Ours is currently accessible by going through the master bathroom–which means if one person is showering, the other person has to pass through the bathroom to get to the closet.)

(4) A separate enclosed toilet in the bathroom. (That is, put the toilet in its own little closet-sized space behind a door, so one person can use it in privacy while another is in the bathroom.)

(5) The walk-in master bedroom closet should be accessible from the laundry room.
(That is, I’ve seen walk-in bedroom closets with a second door leading to the laundry room. This means putting away clothes in the master bedroom is a matter of walking through a door rather than walking clothes up a flight of stairs, as is in our house.)

(6) A decent sized laundry room. (Like big enough for a washer, a drier, a sink, a couple of cabinets to store things, and space for an ironing board.)

(7) A decent sized rectangular spare room that can be converted into a playroom, a game room, an at-home movie theater, a bar, or whatever else the users want to use. (This implies the room should have plumbing available but hidden behind a panel in case someone wants to install a bar room sink, as well as adequate outlets, including an outlet in the ceiling and in the floor.)

(8) A walk in pantry off the kitchen.

(That may seem like a luxury–but when you realize you can now buy in bulk and have a place to store things, that “luxury” can pay for itself rather quickly.)

(9) Wiring should be installed through dedicated conduits rather than stapling wire to interior studs. This allows new wiring (like updated network wiring) to be pulled through with relative ease.

(10) A small utility closet off the downstairs, accessible from the inside of the house (so it’s not exposed to the outdoors) which is the terminus for some of those dedicated conduits, as well as plenty of outlets inside the closet. (Ideally this should be located towards the face of the house where cable and telephone feeds arrive from the outdoors.)

In today’s day and age, anyone with a computer pretty much has a modem and router. And today a number of folks are trying to sell us black boxes used for storing away our files and pictures–essentially dedicated network servers for home use.

We may as well admit to ourselves we need a networking and computer equipment closet. And while we’re at it, we should be running conduits to the living room, so the closet can double as an A/V equipment closet.

(11) A large kitchen which opens into the living room, perhaps even containing a small fireplace, which could have a small pizza oven installed inside.
Kitchens have become defacto informal gathering places in many houses, and we may as well admit to that fact. Keeping the space open to the living space means your guests can gather without having to pick a pony.

And bonus points for putting in a cabinet which can be used to hold a full sized (20 to 30 gallon) trash can, not one of those sad tiny little things that have to be emptied every five minutes.

(12) Can we finally admit no-one knows the difference between a “living room” and a “family room”–and just combine them into one single large living space?


Many of these features do not require a large house; only a little forethought in its design. (Though some things like a large laundry room or a mudroom with a dedicated bathroom, may be a luxury.) And some of these features certainly can be modified for a small house or even a larger apartment–such as locating the laundry (even if it’s just a 3×3 closet large enough for a stackable laundry unit) near the master bedroom.

Design is about considering how a space will be used.

And the best designs are so well thought out life just seems easy without really understanding why.

This is not an impeachment hearing.

The reality is, this is not an impeachment hearing.

That is, this is not a hearing which is to lead to an impeachment finding against the President which is then to be taken up by the Senate.

Politically there is no point to an impeachment anyway. An impeachment is simply a charge raised by the House against the President–but it is up to the Senate to then hold a trial to determine if the President is innocent or guilty.

And unless the Senate loses around 34 Republicans in the next election–or the Senate can flip 34 Republicans who will undoubtedly vote along party lines (because the Democrats will vote along party lines)–an impeachment is essentially a waste of the paper it is printed on.

—-

No, this is not an impeachment hearing.

It is the cargo-cult equivalent of an impeachment hearing.

It is designed to make you think the President is guilty of the charges levied against him–regardless of actual innocence or guilt. Without allowing a proper defense to be established or even access by the defense to the evidence being used.

It is designed to make you vote for someone else in the polls in November of next year, thinking the President is guilty of something.

It is designed to distract you from the rather serious charges that are starting to bubble to the surface about some Democratic (and a few Republican) leaders about receiving foreign money into their personal bank accounts–in some cases for an apparent quid-pro-quo for favored access to US markets or favored support from the State Department.

It is designed to distract you from the fact that the #resistance–a movement which started before Trump ever took office and before we ever found out what sort of President Trump would be–formed for the explicit purpose of overturning a lawfully conducted election and a rightfully selected President. Don’t forget the Russian hearings which went nowhere, the talk about the 25th Amendment, the discussion about having an election “do-over,” the talk about abolishing the Electoral College.

It is designed to distract you from the fact that there is now a war in Washington D.C. against those who see themselves as the rightful unelected rulers of our country–those with family connections, with access to power (and who exchange that access for money), and who are the only ones who have the right to make decisions that control our country–and those who would like to upend the status-quo.

It is designed to cover the asses of those leaders–many of whom have become multi-millionaires on a congress critter’s salary. Many of whom were traveling down to Epstein’s little island. Many of whom have unsavory foreign connections.

—-

And because it is not an impeachment hearing, because it cannot go to the Senate for a vote, because that would allow the Senate Republicans to expose all of the evidence (and the process by which it was gathered) for all of us to see–this hearing will not conclude by November of 2020.

It cannot.

Because that would allow us to see exactly how the game has been rigged. It would allow us to start answering the questions we’ve been distracted from. It would allow us to open the door a little and see the tiny little man running the scary vision projected in smoke and mirrors as the visage of Oz.

So the impeachment hearing must continue for the next year as more “evidence” is provided, more “charges” brought forward. At some point I would expect a handful of women (who have never met Trump) to step forward and make accusations of rape or of child molestation. At some point I would expect a handful of men (who have never dealt with Trump) to step forward and accuse Trump of mobster-like dealings within his businesses. Certainly anything Trump says about his dealings with foreign leaders will (and in some corners already has) been turned into charges of tampering with official records and with witness tampering charges.

Because now that the framework has been established, with the defense being unable to defend itself, without supporters being able to gain access to understand what’s going on–we can pour any accusation we want into these hearings.

Because they are not impeachment hearings.

They’re a political gambit in the guise of an impeachment hearing.

And it’s clear this is all a political gambit because if they were real impeachment hearings no-one would care about televising the hearings, or about the ratings of the impeachment hearings, or polling the American public. Certainly no-one would worry about focus-group testing the hearings.

—-

So no, this is not an impeachment hearing.

Let’s be clear: I really don’t give two shits about Trump–though I confess I’m happy with some of the work he’s done, and I like the fact that he seems willing to turn over rocks and watch the bugs underneath scamper and scurry from the sunlight. I like the fact that he has exposed many of our supposed natural ruling aristocracy as the stupid power-hungry assholes they are.

But Presidents really don’t have that much control over my life, because our Federal Government has far less control over the day-to-day elements of my life than does the state in which I live and the county where my house is located.

In the 54 years I’ve been on this planet, I have dealt with city building inspectors and city-hired police officers. I have dealt with county-provided small claims adjudicators and am now involved in a lawsuit going to arbitration with the State Superior Court–and I’ve even had a case heard by the State Appellate Court. (Don’t ask.)

I have never had to deal with the Federal Government, except to obtain a passport and to get my Real ID. (Where I learned, by the way, that the information associated with my social security number was screwed up. Big Brother can’t even watch me properly.) And of course to file taxes. Though I’m happy about the Obergefell ruling.

So I don’t care how things turn out in 2020. Of course I’m going to root for my own team–as many of you will root for yours. But the winner or the loser doesn’t really affect much–though if a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, expect the economy to contract as every Democrat running has promised to take steps that would ultimately trigger a recession.

(Which, in an interesting turn of fate, helps my pocket book as a freelance software developer. So if you ask me to vote my pocket book, I’d vote for a recession.)

So to be clear, I’m not strongly attached to the results.

Even so, this is not an impeachment hearing.

It was never an impeachment hearing.

It’s something far worse.

It’s a shredding of constitutional norms by folks who told us from the start they planned to shred constitutional norms. Who were proud to announce they wanted to shred constitutional norms because Trump was never their President.

Because to them, Trump is so bad we must do anything to get rid of him.

Even if that means setting the Constitution on fire and burning it to the ground.

—-

And they forget that cultural and legal norms is the only thing that keeps us from the chaos of the abyss.

Politics of the personal, because there are no major debates left.

I read an essay a while ago and I really believe it to be true. In it the author asserted the last real major debate of our era–the role of the federal government, started with the New Deal era reforms, was finally settled in the 1990’s. The consensus was that we need the EPA and the FDA and other federal regulatory agencies. But those agencies needed to be finite in their power–and the federal government cannot solve all of our problems. In fact, the federal government often fucks things up even worse.

And we can see echoes of that consensus in some of our debates today: no Republican who wants to keep elected office for more than one term has called for shutting down the EPA; at best Republicans have asked for the EPA’s role to be more limited–or at least to be confined to a narrow reading of legislative intent.

Likewise, no Democrat who wants to keep elected office for more than one term fails to acknowledge the excesses of government control–the dangers of “crony capitalism” and of regulatory capture of governmental regulatory agencies by big business.

(In an earlier era, at the start of this debate, the question if big business was the proper overseer of governmental agencies was in fact floated–and for a while it was assumed he who paid the most taxes gets to call the shots. That’s why it was federal armies putting down strikers: not because the strikers were committing an insurrection against the federal government, but because big business were major taxpayers who were thought to deserve governmental help in the form of the military.)


Thus far we’ve been through (by some estimates) six party systems.

And note each party system was driven by a major debate: a major question of the time around which the parties organized.

The first party system was organized around the fundamental question of a strong government verses a weak government: a major point of debate revolved around if the federal government should even keep a standing army and navy.

The second party system was organized around the question of which should have primacy: the executive branch or the legislative. Should we be run like an elected monarchy or with a more parliamentary approach with the President answerable to Congress? A major point of debate was over the need for a central bank.

The third party system was organized around the question of slavery. One could say the third party system’s central debate replaced the second’s without the major questions brought about in the second party system being resolved.

The fourth party system was organized around the question of reconstruction, and the role of citizens in government: should the government be involved in guaranteeing rights (such as voting rights and labor rights), and should the government be involved in the banking sector?

The fifth and sixth party systems revolve around the role of the federal government in the economy: how strong a hand should it have? Should we even have an administrative state–and if so, what role should it play? The separation between the fifth and sixth party systems (it seems to me) was over the question of civil rights–which led to a realignment of the parties in the 1960’s.


But we’ve settled these debates.

Yes, we’re going to have a standing military. The fact that we even had this debate early on in our history may strike some people as somewhat foreign.

We’ve decided the legislative and executive branches are co-equal–and power waxes and wanes as necessity requires. Yes, the executive branch is now in charge of the largest governmental bureaucracy overseeing the largest economy ever seen on Planet Earth–but congress constrains the bureaucracy, and in practical terms the President’s power over the bureaucracy he is nominally in complete control over is actually quite limited.

(By extension, it implies strongly that we’ve in fact created a de-facto fourth branch of government: the administrative state, with its own power and its own inertia. If you think otherwise–consider: who writes the actual rules regulating remote-controlled drones in the national airspace? Congress? The President? Or technical bureaucrats with deep knowledge of air-traffic issues working within the FAA bureaucracy? And keep in mind those rules have the force of federal law–complete with appropriate civil and criminal penalties.)

Yes, we’re going to have government involvement in banking through a Federal Reserve. Few serious candidates have called for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, and fewer for the US to be put on a gold standard.

Yes, we’re going to have an EPA, an FDA, a Department of Housing and Urban Development. Few serious candidates have called for their abolition–but fewer candidates believe these agencies should control the horizontal and the vertical. (No serious Democrat I know–who generally favor expanded regulatory oversight–has asked for HUD to take over the entire housing sector and provide socialized housing to the population, for example.)

No, we’re not going to turn over the government to the biggest taxpayers–though it seems like that’s in fact what we’ve done. (Just look back to the strike breaking activities of our military a hundred years ago to see what that actually looks like.)

And now, we’re out of debates.


Oh, sure, it’s not like there aren’t other debates to be had. And some of them have gotten quite loud, thanks to the magnifying effect of social media.

But consider the nature of our current debates. For example, recently there was a lot of complaining about President Trump “gutting” the EPA’s protection of water. But if you dive into the actual debate (rather than the fear-mongering that serves as “memes” on social media) what you find is a technical debate over the interpretation of the EPA’s power over navigable waterways and if they should apply to non-navigable surface streams.

A similar debate over the supposed gutting of the EPA’s protection of the environment with coal miners (and the subsequent fear mongering how we’re going to strip the lands clean and turn large parts of this country into filthy coal mines) turned out to be a technical debate over the nature of EPA licensing of certain businesses: the current Administration favored a strict reading of existing law while their opponents wanted a more expansive reading. And given the economic pressures on coal, it was a debate that will probably have zero effect one way or the other.

Consider even the debates over the PPACA–so called “Obamacare”, which was framed by its supporters and opponents as “socializing” health care in the United States to provide universal access. Well, as it turns out, the PPACA didn’t really move the needle on access (as it was promised), and instead involved itself in a technical rearrangement of the players–a sort of musical chairs–while the ship continued to sink due to economic pressures that the current system (or the pre-PPACA system) was ill-equipped to resolve.

Meaning the PPACA’s supposed “socializing” of the health care industry–an attack its supporters hoped would destroy the insurance companies and thus force a single-payer system–basically turned into thousands of additional pages of regulations that really didn’t amount to much, beyond the creation of a governmental portal for shopping for health care which essentially competed with privately-provided health care comparison sites.

In all of these cases, we have not been engaged in a fundamental debate over the role of the Federal Government. Instead, we’ve been exploring the limits of that control–nudging a little here, pushing back a little there.

In practical terms, the debate over the role of the Federal Government: the question if the Federal Government bureaucracies should exist–that was settled during the Clinton Administration.


Now of course no new debate has arisen in part because we were distracted by 9/11. In late 2001, the largest terrorist attack on the United States succeeded in distracting us from the fact that we have no real fundamental philosophical debates left.

Fine tuning the authority granted to the EPA is not a fundamental philosophical debate.

It’s bookkeeping.

But now we’ve reduced the “War on Terror” to quadrature: yes, we’re going to have troops abroad, no, they’re not going to fight everyone’s war. Yes, we’re going to take in refugees, no, we’re not going to take them all–and we’re now in a minor debate as to “how many.” Yes, we’re going to try to stabilize the region; no, we’re not going to engage in major nation-building a’la the British foreign service of the 1800’s, and frankly we’re not equipped to do that anyway.

And we’re turning back to domestic affairs, finally to fundamental philosophical issues of the time.


My prediction, by the way, is that the Democrats are going to lose the 2020 Presidential election cycle, and they will make historically weak gains (or even losses) in Congress.

Why?

Because a number of Democratic candidates are trying to re-open the fundamental debate over the role of the Federal Government by bringing up “Socialism.”

The problem is, however, that debate was settled during the Clinton Administration, as I noted above. We’ll vest power in the federal government for oversight–we won’t put power in the hands of government to control.

Various Democrats (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders) have raised the question of socialism in the name of fairness–they’ve raised the question in the context of a “Green New Deal” and in the name of environmentalism; they’ve raised the question in the context of “social justice” and basic economic fairness.

But even if they were to win power over the executive branch–I’m sorry, but the debate was settled. The best they will do is in the name of “Socialism” argue for a slightly more expansive reading of existing legislative mandates for existing regulatory bodies. They may have pushed the Overton Window to the left–but for all practical purposes it won’t go anywhere.

We’re certainly not returning to the 1970’s when the Nixon Administration imposed wage and price controls on the economy. We’re not going to see a “Pay Board” and a “Price Commission” setting “fair prices” and “fair wages.” We’re not going to see centralized control of the United States economy.

The Overton Window may have been pushed left: it may be acceptable nowadays to call yourself a Socialist. But the actual window of acceptable policies–call it the wonkish Overton Window–has slid to the right. It’s slid towards individual economic control, even if those individuals are in charge of very large corporations.

The Socialism Debate is, frankly, dead in the water.

And Democrats trying to re-arbitrate the argument may as well be asking if we need a standing army, a Federal Reserve, or re-open the argument over slavery.


And that is why, I believe, politics has turned to the personal: to the so-called “Politics of Personal Destruction.” That’s why people are angry over politics all the damned time, why we’re so concerned over if we impeach President Trump or if that represents an effective coup d’etat. That’s why we’re drawing caricatures of Trump or chanting “Orange Man Bad” or contemplating why Pelosi is a multi-millionaire on a congressional salary or taking to the streets in black masks and hoods and trying to “punch a NAZI.” That’s why people are hell bent on name calling.

Because we’ve run out of meaningful things to debate.

And to justify their existence, political parties have nothing left to say.

Worse, once people realize political parties have run out of major debates, and all that we’re doing now are minor technical course corrections on a status quo that was decided over two decades ago, the political parties run the risk of losing cohesion.

So long as people are angry over Trump, Democrats can hold their party together. As soon as people realize the major debates of our era boil down to things like the proper interpretation of 33 USC 1251, section 401 and 501(a)–well, that sort of wonkishness does not really make for great “get out the vote” material.

So all we have left are personal attacks.


Someday, perhaps a great debate will arise that grabs the imagination.

Right now a great debate has emerged in Europe over the role of internationalism verses nationalism–a continuation of a great debate Europe has been locked in since before the start of World War I. The debate has shifted towards nationalism–much to the concern of cosmopolitan internationalists who see echoes of NAZI fascism, conveniently forgetting their own side was originally backed by the brutality of the Soviet Communist Party.

Perhaps that may spread to the United States as a debate over our proper role in international affairs.

Perhaps a great debate will arise over computerization and Artificial Intelligence. Right now in our economy we’re seeing a major shift–as major as the original Industrial Revolution–that is pushing our economy into one that is increasingly computerized, where customer service is measured by how well your App ranks on Apple’s App Store, where customer satisfaction requires you show on a map where a customer’s package is today.

Today we’re seeing as every major sector is being systematically dismantled and rebuilt around software. Lyft and Uber has replaced taxis by providing an app which allows you to call a ride, specify a destination, see where your ride is, pay for your ride, and tip your driver all within an app. Today we’ve seen retail gutted by two-day delivery; while we’ve eliminated the pleasure of walking up and down aisles discovering new things in a box chain electronics store, we now have access to a wide variety of goods all with a single click of the mouse. Today we’re seeing retail banking under attack by on-line app makers: the latest in that attack is Apple’s credit card, which, while it does come with a physical credit card–that physical credit card is actually optional.

And today if you want to start your own company, the easiest thing to do is find an existing business–and build a competing business that uses an app or a web site as a major portal of interaction, and which provides complete transparency in scheduling. I can envision, for example, competing against “Mr Rooter” by creating a plumbing company which handles scheduling, payment, and even tells you where the service technician is, all on a web site.


But so far, none of these debates have grabbed the popular attention.

So all we have left is the politics of personal destruction.

And until we see another great debate arise–and “Socialism” isn’t it, that’s been settled–all we will have is the politics of personal destruction.

Because without that, our political parties really have nothing to hang their collective hats on.

Rights as nouns verses rights as verbs.

Compare and contrast the right to work verses the right to a job.

The former is a verb. The latter is a noun.

The former is an attempt at effort. The latter is a state of condition or a state of being.


A job is employment, generally by another. A job as employment generally requires that when you work for a living, you are compensated. And most statements enumerating your rights to a job (such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) outlines the parameters for a job to which you have certain rights:

The right to just work conditions. The right to equal compensation. The right to favorable renumeration. The right to belong to a trade union. The right to reasonable working hours. The right to holiday pay. The right to dignity.

Each of these “rights” point to not just the idea of having a job, but working within a culture where when you work at a job, you are compensated–generally with money, which indicates some sort of collective economic system. The right to a trade union, reasonable hours, holiday pay and dignity–all these indicate an employer, and that generally indicates some sort of corporate structure.

All of this assumes, if not a capitalist society, at least a society where capital and money is used to barter exchanges, and where an employer has certain expectations that must be fulfilled.

In other words, the noun “Job” implies an infrastructure–because for you to have a “thing”, the infrastructure must exist in which to provide that “thing.”

And that infrastructure limits the rights of action and demands a certain arrangement of society in order to make that “thing” exist.


Consider any right that is a noun, like the right to a “job” like having the right to a “gum ball.”

For that right to be satisfied, first we must assume gum balls exist.

And for gum balls to exist all the infrastructure for the manufacturing of gum balls must exist: we need a supply of sugar and other ingredients, we need a method by which those gum balls can be produced, we need people to make the gum balls.

We need, in other words, a whole host of preconditions and a whole host of cultural, societal and economic arrangements to be set up before you can have your right to a gum ball fulfilled.


And consider: what if you don’t have a job?

Are your rights being violated?

Is firing someone a violation of their rights?

Is unemployment a human rights violation?

Note that the UNDHR weasels its way out of these conundrums through Articles 29 and 30, which places concrete limitations on the expectations of these rights: they’re only available if the law permits it, and they can’t be used to ferment revolution.


Now compare and contrast this to the right as a verb:

Work is defined as effort. In the context of “working for a living” or “working a job”, we can narrow the definition somewhat to “effort expended in order to improve one’s material existence.”

My pre-contact Native American ancestors worked. They didn’t have jobs–but they did expend effort, to gather food, to build shelter, to make primitive clothing, to create tools in order to make their other efforts more efficient.

And notice what my Native American ancestors did not have: they did not have “just working conditions.” Sometimes while hunting you could die during the hunt. They did not have “equal pay”–because generally they were not paid. (My ancestors did use money in order to regulate trade between tribes–but most day-to-day activity towards survival was not paid work.) They did not have holiday pay or trade unions. They did not have an expectation of dignity.

But they did work. They did expend effort to improve their material existence.


Unlike the right to a noun, the right to verb only implies that you have the right to expend effort and to try.

Verbs do not imply you have the preconditions to exercise the verb in a way we think of in a modern context. Nor do they imply that you will have any success when you engage in your actions.

The right to work–to expend effort to improve your material existence–means you have the right to forage for food, or to find materials to build shelter. It does not imply you will be successful in these activities.

More importantly, the right to work–the right to verb–is not violated because you don’t have a thing.

The right to express yourself through writing or painting is not violated if you don’t have a pencil or a paint brush–since these activities can also be carried out with much more primitive tools. Find a rock and scratch into a cave wall. Find some colorful mud and mix it with water.

My ancestors did this.


And unlike rights as nouns which demand other people’s action and which in theory are violated when the thing is not provided to you–rights as verbs can be performed in a vacuum.

The right to work–the right to expend effort to improve your material existence–only requires of others that they leave you and your stuff alone. It requires, in other words, that you not be enslaved to another or to society in general.

And if your work is unsuccessful: if you lie dying in the dirt because you don’t know how to gather and process acorns–you have no right to expect aid.

Though you may receive aid because that is what compassionate people do for each other.


All a right as a verb requires is that you not be enslaved; that you be free to **try.**

But rights as nouns require an entire infrastructure: societal relationships, economic structures, a matrix of codependency and social group membership which places demands and requirements on each of us.

Rights as nouns, in other words, demands us to be responsible to other members of our society–even at the cost of our own well being. Rights as nouns, in other words, requires a system of dependencies–not necessarily voluntary–in which we operate as humans in a social matrix.

Again, see the UNDHR’s Articles 29 and 30, and think through what those “limitations” talked about in Article 29.2 may be.

Rights as verbs, on the other hand, only demand that you are not a slave.

But they make no assumptions about your ability to even engage in that verb–about your ability to find the tools necessary for self-expression, about your ability to do that thing, and about the results of your efforts.

And if we stop to offer our compassion for another–it’s not because we are required to, forced to or are obligated to by force of law or by force of a strongman with a gun to whom we are enslaved. It’s because **we choose to stop and offer compassion.**

And because we can afford to offer compassion.


Those who argue that there is an equivalency: that somehow your right to “write as you will” is violated because someone won’t give you a pencil–meaning “verbs” require “nouns” to act–that’s because they lack the imagination to see society other than the one we’ve built in the West, where pencils and paper are plentiful, and where a capitalist society allows all but perhaps the most painfully poor to buy tools at a local Art Mart.

And they forget that our ancestors often wrote in the dirt at their feet using their finger.

To the young adults and children today who think we only have 12 years to live.

I was born in 1965.

I was born into a world that was just two decades off World War II–but which had not managed to stop war. A world which had just wrapped up the Korean War (which ended in a technical stalemate) and which was ramping up the Vietnam War.

I was born into a world where protesters were bombing police stations, where National Guardsmen were shooting students at Kent State. Into a world supposedly so bad the only thing left was to tune in, turn on and drop out. Into a world that supposedly could only be fixed by violent revolution.

I was born into a world that believed the ever-increasing population would lead to mass starvation by my teens. I was not just born into the world as part of the problem–my generation was the problem. “The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich had become a best seller. And it’s basic premise was that me and people like me were the problem; eating, consuming, destroying a weary planet by depleting it of its resources.

Mine would be the first generation to experience mass starvation.

And my parents and parents of my generation were being reminded of this fact: how could they be so selfish as to bring children into the world?

Mine was the first generation to have to figure out how to do away with the car–as we were to run out of oil by 1990. Mine was the first generation to have to deal with a flood of immigrants from India and China and South America due to massive starvation and famine which would kill not just thousands or even millions but billions. Mine was the generation who would have to go to war to bomb the starving because there just isn’t enough food; movies depicting rioting hungry people in the streets of Bakersfield or where the hungry are scooped up and processed into food were based on predictions of that era.

I was never to live past 35. Not, at least, in a world with any recognizable comforts.

And many of the poor around the world would starve: we were supposed to be a world surviving a mass starvation event that was to lower the planet’s population down to perhaps 2.5 billion (the population of the world in 1950), not a world that is currently supporting 7.7 billion people and where obesity has surpassed hunger as the primary health concern.


In other words, all the time I was growing up, I’ve heard nothing but how the world only had 10 to 20 years left, and we were all going to die in some sort of apocalyptic event that would kill billions.

And it never came to pass.

We now have more oil than before; we’re not running around killing each other off for a can of gasoline as was depicted in Mad Max 2. We have more food than before; we aren’t killing the starving poor off to maintain order. We have more wealth than before; we’re not living in a dystopian world where civilization has reverted to subsistence farming and horse-drawn carriages. We have more freedom than before; we’re not living in the world of Orwell’s 1984 where Big Brother monitors our every move, or in the world of a Brave New World, where we’ve sacrificed our freedoms for mindless pleasures. (Both are favorite motifs, and many claim we live in those worlds. But the people making those claims have not read the books.)

And if I were going to make a prediction about the next 10, 20 or 30 years, it would be this:

Unless something unexpected, unpredictable and catastrophic happens in the world–like a meteor strike–chances are your life will be better, wealthier, happier and more free (on average) than it is today.

A comment left elsewhere.

I have a feeling this post is going to be ever-green so I’m putting it here.


A comment left elsewhere in response to this picture:

Jagger tweet

Actually this all makes perfect sense, especially if you have read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”

To the modern Left around the world who advocate for socialism, they believe that mankind is “perfectible” and that we are moving towards a higher level of consciousness. They believe that there are those who are further along this arc towards perfection than the rest who can lead the rest of us towards a better country. These “bodhisattvas” move amongst us and are our natural leaders–and if, along the way, there is great suffering (on the part of the rest of the population, ‘natch)–that is a small price to pay for Utopia.

And folks like Jagger believe that they are amongst the enlightened, those natural leaders (big and small) who need to help the rest of us reach this Utopian endpoint–one where there is no competition, only harmony; no suffering, only peace; no pain, only salvation.

These folks really believe in what Sowell called the “unconstrained vision” of mankind, and they believe in Socialism in part because they distrust decentralized institutions and in part because they see themselves as the natural leaders of the world. Thus, they have no problems with the apparent hypocrisy of flying all over the world telling us that flying is bad, or using US technological innovations while lecturing us that US innovations are bad.


To those on the Right tho believe in the “constrained vision” of mankind (and note not all on the Right subscribed to this vision; many on the Right honestly hold to the same ideas as the Left–they just disagree who the bodhisattvas are), this is all complete and utter horseshit.

That is, to the Right who believe in the “fall of man”, there are no bodhisattvas–no special people. Calling Obama “The One” was grating to those of us who believe that we are all created equal. We prefer time-tested solutions (and to evolve those solutions as they show themselves to be flawed) because there are no ideal solutions–only compromises. We believe if there is a moral arc to the universe, that’s only because we’ve seen better ideas about individuality replace older ideas about feudalism. And we believe while individuals can improve–the species will always be the same: flawed, requiring laws and law enforcement, governments full of checks on unbridled power, and a recognition that when a Jagger does his schtick, at some level he’s doing it out of personal self-interest. And if it looks hypocritical, it is–but primarily because he’s not speaking from some lofty moral mountain to the rest of us.

To those of us who believe in the “fall of man”–an idea which really translates to the idea that while we may aspire to godliness, we cannot ever be Gods–the Left is full of hypocrites, big and small. The most galling, of course are the “petit bodhisattvas”–otherwise, to use a Russian term, “useful idiots” who have no apparent power or position of superiority who lecture us as if they are speaking from the same lofty moral mountain as folks like Jagger.

Because at least Jagger has something–money, power, exposure, fame–which sets him apart, so he can be forgiven for allowing all this to go to his head. We can, in other words, feel sorry for folks like Jagger who are completely unaware of their hypocrisy.

But to the “useful idiots” of the Left–they have none of these things that set them apart, other than pointless anger, emotionalism, and an abiding belief they are superior. Which is extremely ironic because, as we have seen in the past, when the revolution comes, they are the first ones to have their brains splattered all over the wall.


And in fact this comment above has proven itself ever-green with the story of Alyssa Milano’s conversation with Ted Cruz, where the famous actress and strong gun control advocate revealed she owns two guns herself, for self-defense.

To those of us who believe in the constrained vision of mankind–this looks like the same sort of simple hypocrisy that Mick Jagger displays with his attacks on the United States after receiving care from our health care system.

But to those on the Left who believe in the unconstrained vision of mankind–well, she’s special. She’s a bodhisattva, both in her actions and deeds. She’s more enlightened; she’s further on the moral arc of the universe than the rest of us. So she can be forgiven what to the unenlightened looks like hypocrisy–because sometimes those more advanced than the rest of us move in mysterious ways.

So there is nothing wrong with a gun control advocate owning two guns, any more than there is any hypocrisy in having an ex-con threaten to seize our guns.

Because the moral arc of the universe is long, and is bent by our betters–by our moral and intellectual superiors–towards justice. </sarcasm>

Why do Muslims in foreign countries hate America?

This question came up in one of the Reddit groups I monitor. My answer is reproduced below.


I actually have a theory on this one. I could be wrong.

My theory goes like this. The United States is one of the few nations on Earth founded on a philosophical principle, which we view as a sort of civic religion. Our founding creed is that of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And most Americans believe in this concept of equality (though we constantly bicker over what it means in practice)–and we believe as deeply and as fervently as any evangelist or any other practitioner of any major religion.

This reflects itself in our foreign policy. We seem to approach foreign policy less as a practical matter (though there is a strong sense of pragmatism in how we conduct our affairs overseas), and more as an effort to evangelize the Good News of the Freedom of Man. That is, we are less pragmatists playing the “game of thrones” around the world and more religious proselytizers who are bent on spreading democracy which includes our own vision about what democracy looks like as an expression of Free Men and Women.

Now we’ve rationalized our religious zeal. The above linked paper, for example, notes:

After a brief discussion of definitions of democracy and liberalism, the paper summarizes the reasons why the spread of democracy— especially liberal democracy— benefits the citizens of new democracies, promotes international peace, and serves U.S. interests.

And I have remarked that, despite being the most powerful nation on Earth (in terms of military might and economy) we Americans want nothing more than to sink into obscurity safe in the knowledge that the entire world embraces our civic religion, that the entire world believes as deeply as we do “that all men are created equal.”


This is important because if you step back for a moment, you can see how this makes us amazingly tone deaf as we swing our might around the world.

You can also see how this makes America simultaneously the most disliked nation in many regions around the world–and yet the most desired country to immigrate to.

You can see how it makes many countries wary of American cultural exports–such as our movies, most of which are dripping with this underlying assumption that all men are created equal. And why so many countries around the world are disgusted with us–because our inherently multicultural society (for the most part most of us don’t care what you drink, wear, eat, what God or Gods you worship, what you believe or what your heritage is, so long as you believe as we do in the freedom of man)–we are able to export better quality movies that tell culturally important stories than the locals can. (China has been miffed at the quality of Kung Fu Panda, for example, wondering why they couldn’t have made that movie themselves.)

It’s because our cultural exports look almost like an insidious plot to export our religious beliefs to the world, wrapped in a high quality action film or a cute cartoon.


There is another competing religious ideology which has undertones of how one should approach governance and how one should view the position of man in the world.

And that is Islam.

Sure, other religions (Catholicism, Buddhism, etc., etc.) have views about the relationship between man and the divine universe, about the place of man amongst other men, and about the proper shape of governments and how rulers should rule.

But Islam for some has a rather explicit language for the relationship between man and Allah, between men, and between men and governments.

For example, Islam has the notion of “Dar al-Islam” or the abode of Islam: those regions of the world who are explicitly Muslim and where the ruling sect practices Islam. In most of these countries Islam has a privileged position in society, and islamic values hold sway in the culture of that country. (So, for example, in some Islamic countries women are required to dress modestly.)

Regions of the world not under the sway of Islam are “Dar al-Harb”, or literally “the abode of war”: these are areas where Islam do not hold sway, where Islamic values are not guaranteed and where Muslims do not have a privileged position in society.

It’s not to say that individual Muslims are discriminated against in the “abode of war.” Muslim doctors in the United States can make an excellent salary, for example. (In the United States 10% of all practicing doctors are Muslim.)


And here’s the trick, why my post is so stupid long and annoying.

American civic religious beliefs–beliefs we Americans tend to hold so deeply we don’t even realize it–is fundamentally incompatible with the vision of “Dar al-Islam.”

So to those who believe in the abodes of Islam and the abodes of war, America represents, quite fundamentally, an existential threat.

Not that we Americans want Muslims to convert to Christianity. We don’t. There are many aspects of Islam which many of us Americans find quite pretty or remarkable or righteous–such as the Zakat, a variation of which Americans try to practice ourselves. (Zakat is almsgiving or donating to charity.)

But we do want you to accept our notion of the equality of man–and that runs at odds with the notion that Muslims should hold a special position in governance or that Islamic culture should hold a special sway over culture.

That means accepting certain things that you (or I, as an American) may find offensive. That means allowing people to find their own paths–even if you (or I, as an American) think it’s the path to their personal ruin. That means accepting (even if believing it’s a mistake) other people’s sexual freedoms and personal freedoms and freedom to say what they will and live as they will.

(Of course we have the freedom to say “what the hell is wrong with you?” After all, we also have the freedom to say what we will. But that does not translate into forcing them to live in the way we think they should–even if that path was dictated to us by Allah through Mohammed, or outlined in the Bible and reaffirmed by Jesus, or written in golden plates by the angel Moroni and handed to Joseph Smith.)


But that’s the bottom of the stack. American civic religion–our core belief in the equality of man, which we treat like a religion and ponder why the entire world doesn’t believe as we do–is incompatible with a vision of Islam as a geopolitical force.

Just as our civic religion is arguably incompatible with other geopolitical beliefs–though unlike (say) Communism, where apologists have tried to argue is a better expression of the equality of man than what we have now–there is simply no defending the notion of “Dar al-Islam” with “all men are created equal.”


tl;dr: To much of the rest of the world America is a bunch of powerful, stumbling, bumbling religious zealots trying to evangelize our notion of the equality of man, and that can piss off the locals.

No, they were Authoritarians. Just like other Socialists.

In response to this curse-filled rant, claiming the National Socialist party were not Socialists:

Properly speaking, the German NAZIs of World War II were practicing economic fascism. That is, while they did bring under direct government control many sectors of the economy (such as banking, transportation and mining)–an act normally called “socialist” (which, as an economic term of art, simply means the collective control of the means of production)–they also permitted free enterprise so long as it served the interests of the NAZI state. (And the punishment for acting in a way considered by NAZI officials as counter to national interests was severe: amongst the 11 million killed in the concentration camps were business leaders who didn’t tow the line.)

Regardless, it was state-level authoritarianism: what is mine is either yours, or at least I get to own it so long as I do what you say.

From the perspective of the United States it looked like socialism because the State did directly own many key sectors of the economy.


In Communist countries, what they practiced was, properly speaking, socialism: that is, the direct State-ownership and State-control of the means of production. There was no middle-man: you took your orders, from how many shoes you’d produce and what you’d charge for them, to where you lived, and what job you had, directly from the State.

This is yet another form of State-level authoritarianism, and as we saw in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it disincentives workers in the exact same way as German economic fascism.

One interesting difference is that Communist countries all fell under the control of the Communist International, an international organization of communist leaders, who coordinated national policies under their international control.


Remember: the debate in the early 20th century in Europe was between what sort of authoritarianism was best for the continent: state-level authoritarianism, or international authoritarianism. Is the State the supreme authoritarian (National Socialism) or should that be left to an international body (International Socialism). The shorthands for these became “NAZIs” and “Communists”–and the Antifa folks were fighting “fascism” (i.e., the NAZIs who were practicing national economic fascism) on behalf of the Communists–who would have been quite happy with Hitler if he had answered to the Communist International. (But Hitler was having none, forming what he called the “Anti-Communist Pact” with Mussolini.)


Regardless of the words one attaches to these folks: “left-wing”, “right-wing”, “communist”, “socialist”, “fascist”, whatever–what they all have in common is that they are authoritarians.

And from the perspective of the average man on the street they’re all the same: they would take your liberty on the promise of security. They would centralize control over what you can say, how you can act, where you can work, what you can create, where you can live, and even who you can love. And they would just as soon kill you if you attempt to exercise any of these natural freedoms: the only group who managed to kill more than the NAZIs (at 11 million in the concentration camps, including 6 million jews) were the Communists–whose death toll has been estimated in the mid 100-million range.

Neither are viable options if you believe in the freedom of man.

So the pedantic squabbling over if Hitler was left-wing or right-wing is a distraction. None of these guys have your best interest at heart. And interestingly enough there is a third way–between nationalist authoritarianism practiced by the NAZIs and the fascists of Italy during Mussolini’s time, and the international authoritarianism practiced by the Communists (and still practiced today).

And that is what we generally try to practice in the United States–to various degrees of success. That is, we attempt to practice individualism, which is inherently anti-authoritarian. We attempt, in other words, to practice what our own founding fathers first wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

That was the 18th century “far-left”: because not only did it oppose Kings and Lords and the Aristocracy, but it also opposed authoritarianism of any kind. It opposes the State telling you how to live your life, and it implies you should have complete freedom–both social and economic–to determine your own fate.