Musings from George

Newt’s fantasy article on Fox News
May 19, 2017, 10:19 am
Filed under: Politics, Random walk

Newt wrote another bit of fiction.

The country is divided as never before, but that’s where Newt’s analogy between Trump and  President Lincoln ends. Lincoln was self-made, well-educated, and articulate. Trump … not so much. Lincoln was fighting to unite the country, not to divide it. Trump … exactly the opposite. Lincoln was respected and hated, for the causes that he clearly championed and believed in (what does Trump believe in? that seems to change weekly). Trump is loved by those enamored of his declared causes (reversing illegal immigration, making trade fair for the US, bringing jobs back) but despised by a much greater number of Americans alarmed by his reckless and misguided attacks on the judiciary, the press, and the leaders of the opposition party. Trump has declared war, and now becries the siege. Those who were led into the bunker by Trump (“pay no heed to what they say, they are the enemy!” ; “I have the absolute right to do anything, if a President does it then it is not illegal”) are finally accepting the fact that they have been lied to repeatedly.

The better analogy for Trump is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself the ruler of a to-be-built grand caliphate. Promising law and order, he delivered Sharia law. Promising to defend religious values, he enslaved entire populations and institutionalized rape for his troops. As the number of enemies grew, and the number of warfronts increased, his bitter backers retreated back into their swamps to await defeat.

Trumpcare is a travesty, and the nation can only hope that the checks and balances created by our nation’s founders prevent the House’s proposal from becoming law. Trump’s assault on undocumented workers is indeed having the desired effect, accelerating what was already happening over the past ten years — net negative immigration. Banning immigration from entire countries, building bigger barriers on our borders, empowering a broad array of police to target anyone with brown skin will indeed reduce the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. But it has also reduced tourism, and it has impacted our reputation as the best place in the world to get an education. Talented people around the world are staying home or choosing Canada as a destination. Americans facing a potential issue at the border when they return are not going to travel;  foreigners afraid of  being assaulted by our immigration officers and customs officials are going to pass on Disneyland, on Yosemite, and on Broadway.

Perhaps the easiest part of Newt’s essay to criticize is his selection of three statements by Trump to emphasize how reasonable his war on the press is. Independent analysis shows that Trump lies more than half the time, offering the perverse incentive to believe the opposite of what he says. The man given to “people say” attributions of known falsehoods wants the press to name names, the man who cites the Enquirer as the source of his facts wants to finger leakers, the man given to repeating conspiracy theories (yes, if you still believe that Obama is a Kenyan you can thank Trump for that; but it does seem to have played out that the Manchurian candidate actually has orange hair, not black skin). There is sweet irony in citing Trump’s statements as the basis for ANY conclusion.

None of us can know for sure where Mueller’s investigation will lead, but his well-known commitment to finding the truth and to stating facts is going to be a wonderful contrast with the current administration. And if Special Counsel Mueller decides that no crimes have been committed, no misdemeanors have been wrought, then both sides should stand down. Trump should cease his war on the press (as cited by Newt) and his attacks on the judiciary (as he was encouraged to do by Gorsuch); the Democrats should work to pass reasonable improvements to health care, immigration, and the tax system. Obama was prevented from fixing government over the past six years, but that doesn’t mean the right thing to do is to chain the country to the tracks for another two, four, or six years. Let’s work to govern this great country, rather than hobble it. Let’s debate ideas and proposals, rather than simply attacking anyone (or any party) with a good idea.

We are blessed to live in interesting times. I just wish we were talking about the wars we continue to wage in far-off lands (talking about how to end the violence), and the income disparity not just in the US but around the world (a small number of us possess a great share of the wealth). Rather than tearing up trade treaties and reversing environmental protections, no matter how imperfect they are, let’s work to propose better solutions and a cleaner future.

Random Walk
September 18, 2016, 12:21 am
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Random walk

I just commented on an article in the NY Times, and thought it was time to write more than 140 characters or 1500 words about important topics.

KPFA is a local NPR station that does amazing things on its own small budget. One of their most popular services is interviewing very smart people in town-hall settings in Berkeley, California. Berkeley is one of the most liberal communities in the world, and people who like to be interviewed by KPFA tend to be pretty liberal.

I donated to KPFA this year, as I find their appeals hard to resist (are you listening? have you paid? freeloader!!). One of the gifts for donating was a USB thumb drive with almost four hundred interviews with interesting people, a gift of serendipity for a person with no ability to seek out those interesting people or to read their books.

Two retired CIA employees were interviewed as one of these many informative talks. The man had spent years in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and he was fairly blunt about our (the US government’s) prospect of success there: zero. What we portray as a democratically elected government fighting a terrorist organization is better represented as our decision to support our puppet in power (a Tajik) against the majority of the population (Pashtuns). Together with some additional powerful tribes (Uzbeks, Hazaras), the mix in Afghanistan looks oddly familiar (think Iraq) and equally unsolvable.

We drop bombs, we write checks, and occasionally an American soldier dies doing something that he / she believes is important. In the grand scheme of things, we are NOT helping. We prop up a minority-led government, we kill at times indiscriminately, and we get nothing in return.

Status quo is attractive. Inertia is powerful. But we really should *stop* doing things that do not benefit us. Even one more dollar, one more death is too much. I understand the Pottery Barn rule (you break it, you bought it) but that is capitated at the cost of the item you broke. We clearly did not break $850 BILLION in assets in Afghanistan … let’s cut our losses, bring home the troops, and make friends with the Pashtuns. Let’s stop buying heroin, and see if they plant fewer poppies. Hunting down their leaders, who have no argument with the US, is a waste of time and money.

I’m just saying …

What path would you rather be on?
January 12, 2016, 9:50 am
Filed under: Politics, Random walk

At a large software company nearby, the Net Promoter Score (subtract the number of people with a negative view from the number with a very positive view) is used to measure the relative happiness of users for any given application or service. High net promoter score = successful product — predictable usage and renewals. Low score, expect churn.

In politics, this is consolidated in the simple question “Is the United States on the right path?” According to Time magazine, the last time a majority of the American population felt good about our path was shortly after 9/11, when we began bombing Afghanistan and were united in our outrage against a foreign enemy. Now, with low unemployment, relatively high stock market values, low energy prices and a growing economy … people are unhappy and critical. One is left to wonder, what path would you rather be on if not this one? Where would you prefer to live?

The United States remains the world’s most powerful economy, and the world’s most powerful military. The US continues to defend free speech, to enable true human rights, and remains the center of innovation for the world. Many focus on politics and the election; the beauty of the US is that we will survive both, regardless of the buffoons currently tearing each other apart in the primaries. The US has handed power back and forth between parties that hated each other for years, and that is part of the power of our divided government and the established role of the three branches of government.
Are we on the right path? The easiest measurement is immigration — many of the best, brightest, and hardest working in the world want to come to the US. THAT is the real indication that has always highlighted how great the US is, and it confirms that we are indeed on the right path. When a Russian scientist, an Israeli entrepreneur, a Canadian software developer and a young kid in Honduras all want to move to the US … we are doing something right.
It is not about Obama, and it is not about the Donald — it is about a country that is based on personal freedom, with an established legal system, that defends personal property and respects the rights of individuals. The US is ascendant for all the right reasons, and we should all recognize how lucky we were to be born here at this time.
The US is on the best path. Be glad to be a citizen of the US in this time and age. Leave if you can’t.

A Short Random Walk Through Topics I Never Covered
January 18, 2014, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Charity, Nonprofit, Random walk, Uncategorized, Volunteering

Every so often I am notified that someone found and read my blog, which is a little like hearing from a high school friend after many years. My first reaction is “really? they must be horribly bored” and the second reaction is a twinge of guilt that I have not stayed in touch and indeed feel guilty that they had to take the first step because I am too self-involved to go back and check in with old friends. I know that I stay in touch with many more people than your average engineer, but I also wish I could see Nick and Katie more often and could squeeze in an adult play date with Mike and Michelle. There are about two dozen people on my “wish I could spend time with” list that I haven’t connected with in a year, and that just makes me sad. So, the random walk that was promised in the title… questions and topics that I think are worthy of discussion, even worthy of monologuing (watch The Incredibles for an awesome example from Jason Lee of monologuing). Herewith:

  • When is a white lie simply a lie? When are you shielding someone else from pain they don’t need to experience, and when are you just being a coward because you don’t want to tell the truth?
  • When is it wrong to invest in your own children, when there are others that are in much more need? When your elementary school PTA asks for a voluntary donation, if you don’t give are you a free-loader? If you give the same amount to a school across town in the poor neighborhood, is that an equivalence? Should you feel obliged to give to both?
  • When you are asked to keep a secret, what obligations come with that request? You may be thrust into a position of knowledge you did not see, which can put you in the uncomfortable position of  having to lie about your knowledge to keep that secret. Why should someone be empowered to pull you into their world?
  • Euthanasia and end of life decisions. Since most of us avoid hard decisions and hard realities, many of us end up in a terrible health care crisis late in life. When should the government (or some other power) be enabled to end someone’s life because there is no upside left (dementia, without family, in an unheated homestead house without plumbing… yes, it is real).
  • Money. If you have some, and people you love do not, how much should you share? When should it be a gift, and when a loan?
  • Alcoholism. Runs in may families (we famously have an alcoholic lumberjack in the family, which just makes Monty Python a MUST SEE for our generation), and is difficult to manage and almost impossible to stop. Yet it is easy to buy alcohol, parties are better with an Open Bar, and we accept the drunken idiots, sloppy drunks (“I love you man!”), and dangerous drunks (so many deserving DUIs, so few cops!) as part of society.

Let me know if you have written something insightful on any of these topics, and I promise to read it (caveat: no books, just blogs!) Let me know if you want to hear my perspective on any of these things. Today’s rant: volunteering and non-profits. I have volunteered my entire life, crossing many different organizations targeting education, homelessness, animal welfare, hunger, micro-lending, sports, international poverty and health conditions, I have given for breast cancer research, for rebuilding in the Philippines and  in Honduras, to Doctors Without Borders without restraints, to MIT and for stroke victim recovery. I have also volunteered many many hours as a coach and as board member for sports organizations. The challenge — almost all of the money comes from a few donors, and the same 10% of the people do all the volunteer work. If Karma is real, most people are negative. How does a modern Mother Teresa volunteer at the PTA *without* recognizing that the same few people do everything, and why don’t we have some obligation to give back? Our current approach enables freeloaders to skate (voluntary contributions are, of course, voluntary) and doesn’t give any advantage to those who do the work (the 10%). So why don’t those of us in the 10% just give up and stay home? Why do I keep coaching, and reffing, and writing checks? Maybe *I* am the stupid one… What do you do for others that they could do for themselves? When do you find yourself frustrated with your volunteer efforts (e.g. delivering presents through a charity to a family with a TV bigger than yours, because they filled out the forms…)? When have you STOPPED helping a charity because you took issue with something they did or didn’t do? That’s all for now. Let me know what to read, and what to write, that would be interesting to both of us. George