Posted by on September 1, 2017

Having just returned from another vacation – about which more in the Some Culture section below – here are some short thoughts in an overly long post.

Afghanistan

For many years, Trump has been uncharacteristically right about the need to stop the war in Afghanistan.  But we can’t have that.  So he recently did a U-turn directly into oncoming traffic.

I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that Trump is not proposing anything that hasn’t already been tried and found lacking during the last 16 years of America’s longest war.  As with his promise to replace Obamacare with “something great,” Trump is always the Great and Powerful Oz crying “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

More troops? Obama surged to over 100,000.

Looser rules of engagement?  Good luck being more brutal than the Russians were during their 10 years of failure.

No more nation building?  But still a need to train and build Afghanistan’s army, which is rife with corruption (including “ghost soldiers” whose pay goes directly into the pockets of the officers) and which, despite being much bigger and better equipped than its adversaries, routinely loses battles for lack of fighting.

Forcing Pakistan to stop providing safe haven for the Taliban, more economic aid from India, and greater involvement by NATO?  As a commentator in Reason said, “[t]his is not a plan; it’s a letter to Santa Clause.”

A shift from a “time-based approach to one based on conditions?”  Bush was at it for seven years without a time limit; it didn’t seem to help him much.  Plus a war of patience and attrition doesn’t work when each time your kill an insurgent, you help recruit 10 replacements.  We have more enemies now than at the beginning of the war.

And it still remains true that the declared purpose of the war, to deny terrorists a sanctuary from which they can carry out attacks on America, is nonsense.  The terrorists who carried out September 11th were almost entirely Saudis.  They trained for the attack in flight schools in the United States.  The attack was largely planned outside of Afghanistan, but could have been planned on a Formica table in almost any kitchen, anywhere in the world.  And, as I pointed out earlier, terrorists have shifted their tactics to the type of low-tech assaults that clearly require no significant base of action.

This is nothing but a giant exercise is political ass-covering.  After blasting Obama, wrongly, for creating ISIS by pulling out of Iraq too soon, Trump doesn’t want to run the risk that any subsequent negative developments in Afghanistan could be blamed on him.  So, he’ll maintain the war on a low boil, costing a mere $50 billion a year and hopefully not too many casualties.

Either this or he actually believes his own bullshit that this time will be different because we will be fighting for victory, unlike those wimps Bush and Obama, who were trying to lose.  Or it will be different because we now have the benefit of the magic Trump touch, which worked so well for mail-order steaks and universities.

Meanwhile, if something does go bad in the war, Trump has already prepared his excuse.  He will blame the generals and remind everyone that:

My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts.  But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.

The latter part of this statement almost gives you the impression that he really didn’t think about these things before shooting off his mouth as a private citizen and presidential candidate.  But that can’t be possible, right?

When Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller visited his troops in Helmand province last fall, he told them, “I can’t guarantee your kids won’t be here in 20 years with another old guy standing in front of them.”  This is the future that Trump has just embraced.

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Much has been written about this memo and the subsequent firing of its author, James Damore.  My general reaction, it will surprise no one to hear, is that these events confirm my belief that Silicon Valley is now the dopiest place on the planet.

Here are three specific observations.

First, the Left loves to chide the Right for its disbelief in the science of evolution.  Yet, it is precisely this science – or, more precisely, its allied field of evolutionary psychology – that lends most credence to Damore’s claims about fundamental differences between men and women, including with respect to things like a greater interest in “people rather than things” by women.  Human females and human males have fundamentally different reproductive strategies.[2]  It would be completely contrary to evolutionary theory if these did not produce differences in average cognition and behavior, albeit with, as Damore points out, potentially overlapping distributions of individuals.

For an interesting summary of some of the theory and evidence on this subject, I recommend this paper.

Second, many people argue that diversity is beneficial for decision making.  For example, one of the BloombergView authors recently made this argument in an article entitled “Computer Models Say That Diversity Helps.”  However, as in portfolio theory where you only have diversification benefits if the assets are uncorrelated, you only gain from diversity in decision making if the cognitive skills of men and women fundamentally differ.  But if there are fundamental differences, then why would you expect, for example, equivalent representation in a given profession?

In other words, if men and women are basically the same, there are no benefits to gender diversity.  If they are fundamentally different, then there is no reason to expect equivalent outcomes.  You can’t have it both ways.

Third, the social justice warriors want to achieve superficial diversity at the cost of imposing an “ideological echo chamber” that stifles the most important diversity of all: diversity of thought.  The contradiction was evident in the memo issued by Google’s CEO explaining Damore’s dismissal.  It talked about the importance of open debate and risk taking…but then he shit-canned Damore anyway.

As the old saying goes, everything before the word “but” is just bullshit.[3]

Police Unions Enable Bad Cops and Sheriff Joe’s Unforgivable Pardon

The majority of cops are decent people trying to do their best in a very difficult job, but there are undoubtedly some bad apples in the bushel.  A recent Washington Post article highlights one of the major reasons why it is so difficult to pluck them out: union contracts that severely restrict the ability of police departments to fire bad cops.

WaPo sent out requests to the nation’s 55 largest police forces regarding their firing of officers for misconduct.  Thirty-seven responded to the request.  Since 2006, these departments have fired 1,881 officers but have been forced to re-hire, typically following mandatory arbitration, 451 of these.  Information on about half of these re-hirings was available.  This showed that, among the reinstated cops, 151 had been fired for conduct unbecoming, 88 for dishonesty, 33 for being charged with a crime, and 17 for being convicted of a crime (usually a misdemeanour).  Amazingly, eight were fired and re-hired more than once.

Some specific cases:

In[Washington DC], police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents.  In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the truck driven by his ex-girlfriend’s new man.  In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face.  In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.

Imagine how demoralizing it must be for the good cops when one of the bad ones is brought back.   And imagine the message this must send to the cops and the community.

Speaking of messages, Trump certainly sent out a big one when he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  And that message was, to quote a tweet sent out by Garry Kasparov (who knows a little something about life under authoritarian thugs), “For my friends, everything.  For my enemies, the law!”

I have not followed Arpaio’s career closely, but if even one-tenth of my twitter feed (from usually reliable sources) is to be believed, he was certainly the worst lawman in America until he was finally voted out in 2016.  His department’s misbehavior has so far cost Maricopa Country about $140 million in civil lawsuits, including $3.5 million for a local newspaper that was the target of vindictive, and completely illegal, arrests.  He also apparently faked an assassination attempt against himself in order to generate publicity and sympathy.  And, in an act that will certainly earn him the animosity of my mother, his underlings chased the puppy of a suspect back into a burning building and then stood around laughing as it burned up.

Trump pardoned Arpaio prior to his sentencing and prior to the exhaustion of his appeal rights, thereby apparently overruling the advice of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is not exactly known for being soft on crime.  He also acted without the advice of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is the DOJ department charged with vetting pardon pleas.  Both of these actions, along with Trump’s hinting about Arpaio’s pardon at his recent (and very badly attended) rally in Phoenix, make crystal clear that the pardon has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with throwing some red meat to Trump’s base.

Meanwhile, here is a video of an off-duty police officer drawing his service weapon,  and neglecting even to identify himself as a police officer, on a motorcyclist who was speeding and here is a video of police in Salt Lake City arresting a nurse who refuses to draw blood without a patient’s consent or a warrant, in accordance with a recent Supreme Court ruling.  And here is a video of Trump telling an audience of police to “please don’t be too nice” with suspects, which only Trump seems to think is an encouragement they need.

Operation Choke Point

Did anyone know this existed?  I certainly didn’t.

Operation Choke Point was a 2012 joint initiative of the DOJ and the FDIC to require banks to scrutinize heavily clients from certain industries.  Although pretending to reflect money-laundering, fraud or credit risks, in fact it was used by the Obama administration to target politically unpopular industries, such as payday lending, online gambling, firearm sales and “head shops.”  The banks quickly got the message, cutting off financial services, which often forced the businesses to close.  Here is a Reason article giving the details.

Kudos to Trump’s DOJ, and congressional critics, for killing this off.

As I have mentioned before, Obama was a former constitutional law professor whose administration had the worst record before the Supreme Court in the last 50 years, largely due to Obama’s attempt to rule with a “pen and a phone” following the Democrats’ shellacking in the 2010 elections.  And this from the man who haughtily lectured the Republican congressional leadership in 2009 that “[e]lections have consequences.  And at the end of the day, I won.”

Let’s not forget how Obama used extra-regulatory “Dear Colleague” letters to extend the scope of Title IX by financially threatening colleges that didn’t fall into line on his social justice crusade.  Or how he used the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists, which allowed the use of the military only against the perpetrators of the September 11th attack and their allies, to become the only two-term president in American history to be at war for every day of his administration.  Or why we have a “Paris Climate Agreement” instead of a “Paris Climate Treaty,” since the latter would have required congressional approval.

Just because he was preceded by Dubya and followed by Trump, future historians should not forget how bad Obama was.

Some Culture

My recent trip reminded me that Chicago on a nice summer day is one of the great cities in the world.

Even on a hot and humid summer day, Charleston in South Carolina is a very cool place.  Beautiful architecture and gardens.  History.  Varied and interesting cuisine.  Decent sporting opportunities.  Some funkiness (with nearby Savannah providing even more).

Caught the movie Fences on the flight back to Europe.  Although the story is terribly clichéd – embittered and authoritarian father undermining hopeful son, Oedipal confrontation over betrayal of tender and thoughtful mother, mother’s adoption of father’s extramarital offspring (which was the daughter she had always wanted) – the characters, dialogue and acting (by Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington and Oscar-winning Viola Davis) were all excellent.

I love language.  As you may have noticed.  If you are the same, then a strong recommendation is this Econtalk episode with John McWhorter.  The subject is the evolution of language and McWhorter’s book Words on the Move.  McWhorter has the rare ability, similar to Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue (another recommendation), to be an outside observer about something as inbred as language.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

 

I Wish That I Had Said That (And Sometimes Not)…

“A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis” (sung like this) from a punning description of Mahatma Gandhi, referring to his tendencies to walk without shoes and eat infrequently (which caused bad breath)

 “What I condemn is the violence that’s been done by any side and all sides in this” by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin, showing that America and the right-wing do not have a monopoly on intellectual and moral bankruptcy

“The Constitution does not say that a person can yell ‘wolf’ in a crowded theatre.  If you are endangering people, you don’t have a constitutional right to do that” by Nancy Pelosi, mangling a quote and a saying, and showing her Freudian slip, as she attempts to justify the suppression of the 1st Amendment rights of a right-wing group on the grounds of public safety

 

[1] “Things I’ve been reading, hearing or watching”

[2] I have often said that a much better title for the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus would be Sperm Are Plentiful And Easily Dispersed, Eggs Are Rarer And Require Nine Months To Incubate And Then Years To Reach Independence.  I also think my title is catchier.

[3] In Google’s defense, there is a very good chance that it was acting to avoid a legal risk.  If they had allowed Damore to stay, management would have opened itself up to the charge, under labor law, that it is facilitating a hostile work environment.

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Comments

  1. J Herbert
    September 1, 2017

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    Thanks Roger. Enjoyed it. Can’t say I agree with all of your comments but enlightening as always.

    • Roger
      September 2, 2017

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      Slowly, slowly catchee monkey

  2. Dave Anderson
    September 2, 2017

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    Really good analysis that I hadn’t seen before . . . “But if there are fundamental differences, then why would you expect, for example, equivalent representation in a given profession?”d abo

    But (lol) I’m a little concerned about your enthusiasm for Chicago in the summer — were you actually there in August?

    Dave Anderson

    • Roger
      September 2, 2017

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      Yes, in August. Maybe I got lucky and caught it on a non-humid day. But having the lakefront, which is really no different from oceanfront, in a major city is just amazing. Like LA (in certain areas), Barcelona and Sydney. Plus, all the ethnic neighborhoods. It was great.

      Thanks for the comments and your continued reading!

  3. Matt
    September 2, 2017

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    Roger, I think that was one of your best. I jump over Trump but connecting portfolio theory with workplace diversification is interesting and makes total sense. You might want to look deeper into it also including educational background (which tends to be same) etc

    • Roger
      September 2, 2017

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      Thanks, Matt, for your comments. And for the continued reading! Hope you are doing well. Where are you now? Still in Asia?

  4. Matilde
    September 4, 2017

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    On point and thoughtful as always. Good Monday morning b read

  5. Anonymous
    September 5, 2017

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    Fabulous post on the “Google Echo Chamber”, Roger. Thank you. But I don’t expect any broad public acclaim for that point of view.

    There is more: there are, relatively speaking, hardly any women who start their own business, even though there is no good cultural reason for that. My anecdotal evidence is that women hate taking risks. Cognitive wiring. They like the status quo. When they do, it is typically because they were being naive about the risks they incurred at the time. They typically tend to think it would be ‘fun’ to do that. And when it stops being ‘fun’ they bail. There are exceptions, of course. But that is what they are: exceptions. Evolutionary theory tells us that may have something to do with the fact that men had to develop strategic intelligence, trying to predict and outguess the enemy and taking the calculated risks that go with that. On average you would not have survived as a male, if you did not have some of that talent. Whereas the absence of that talent would not have made any darwinian cognitive difference for women.

    The old platonic model holds: there is a cultural hierarchy that has philosophers, prophets and poets at the top of society, because they risk their lives questioning and conceptually re-defining the culture, they are the creators and guardians of the iteratively improved (western) cultures, of the vocabulary ordinary people use to describe themselves and give meaning to what they do; below that is the military class who defend those ideas with their lives, and below that, at the bottom level, there are the ordinary people, people who make the oikos, the household, the economy, work, a peaceful, pacifist, profoundly feminine occupation: the administrators, the toolmakers, the farmers, the financiers, etc

    Hardly any high-cultural achievement in the last 2500 years originated in the cognitive abilities of a woman. They will have people believe that is because they did not have ‘access’ to the social, intellectual respectability for them to be heard, to be given a chance. But that is a lie: most cultural innovators, i.e. most philosophers, were even less respected than the average woman, were given less of a chance, took risks that were as big as any risk any woman would have taken doing the same thing. But didn’t. Throughout history they were so unpopular they had to fear for their life (Socrates, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, etc) or their social status, being were perceived as cranks (Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, etc). Those aristocratic women who organised the famous ‘salons’ in Enlightenment Paris were as respectable if not more so than the ‘philosophes’ they invited to their events, and yet they themselves made absolutely NO intellectual contribution of note on those occasions, other than organising drinks and nibbles.

    Finally, I agree with a lot of what Damore says in his analysis, but not with his recommendations, as it suffers from the same ills: ‘psychological safety’ does not strike me as a healthy ingredient. Physical safety yes, but not psychological (whatever he may mean by that): the success of any collective venture is predicated on an ability and willingness to confront violently opposed, eloquently articulated views and argue them well. Psychological safety tends to means politely agreeing with people who do not manage to argue their case very well just so they won’t feel ‘hurt’. It’s the old: “a bad decision that has support from the team is better than a good decision that has only one advocate”. There is some great research out there on why “team-work” is overrated, footnotes to Jim Marsh’s publications on the ‘garbage can model’ of corporate decision-making. Drawing up psychological safety policies and erecting diversity prisons are not the answer. If shame still had a place in western cultures, Google would have to go a deep red.

    For those who are sensitive to these serious issues I can recommend 2 delightfully unpopular books:

    “Is there ANYTHING good about men” by R. Baumeister (I would have pushed the irony even further and called it: “Is there ANYTHING good about WHITE men”, but that might have been pushing commercial luck too much).

    “Le premier sexe” by Eric Zemmour.

    Two brilliant books that probably express viewpoints that are too diverse to find acclaim in the diversity sect.

    • Roger
      September 6, 2017

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      There is certainly a lot of evidence that women are, on average, more risk averse than men. Or less reckless (if you prefer). From an evolutionary perspective, and assuming a hierarchical group structure where reproductive rights are monopolized by the alpha, it makes total sense for males to be daring. Unless they took the risk of challenging the alpha, they didn’t get laid.

      As an aside, I have never yet seen a female Darwin Award winner.

  6. Anonymous
    September 6, 2017

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    That angle is not as clear-cut as people would have us believe, I think. It is not at all clear that women are as keen on the alpha male as popular myth has it. If our sample space was 21C women we would be led to believe, on average, the complete opposite (a great chapter in Zemmour’s book). It is debatable whether the pre-historic alpha male actually provided enough parental investment (P.I. – Robert Trivers) for any particular woman to benefit from associating with him, i.e. it is not clear that her progeny would have had higher chances to survive; it is not clear that developing that kind of risky behaviour in non alpha males would have been necessary. In other words: it may just have been the very pretty ones, and therefore, by statistical necessity, the not-so-bright ones that would have been partial to the alpha male. The critics will say that was not their (the women’s) choice at the time. It’s not clear. It’s an entirely different matter, however, when what is at stake is pure survival rather than procreative success.

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