Category Archives: Social and Political Pieces

It would be nice if we could ignore the world around us. But we can’t.

Bolshevik Revolution: Ten Days That Shook the World Still Shake

The Cruiser Aurora, where the “first shot” of the Bolshevik Revolution came from and began seventy years of communism. From a Soviet-era photograph in then Leningrad.

This week we remember the Bolshevik Revolution.  I’d have to say that the “ten days that shook the world” (to use John Reed’s phrase) have certainly shaken my life.  But it was the back end of that revolution–the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath–where things really got interesting for me, and the world looks different after that experience.

A video of a 1990 trip to the then Soviet Union:

I’ve done many pieces on the subject, some of them are as follows:

And a couple of more videos…

The Shifting Sands of American Law

In the midst of a thumbs-up for the estate tax repeal and the step-up basis retention, a warning:

If the bill is passed without changes to these provisions, then planning will focus on maximizing basis step-up at death, perhaps with additional lifetime gift planning in anticipation of a reasonably likely future return of the estate tax in the future when political tides shift.

And shift they will.  American politics and law are cyclical; today’s fashion is tomorrow’s crime.  To have a properly functioning economic system one must have a legal system that is both transparent and stable, and ours is less of both as time goes by.  Thus, people have less incentive to build wealth under one legal framework only to see it change to another.  The only people who manage to survive these rough seas are those who either anchor their wealth offshore (and don’t mind getting outed occasionally) or those whose wealth/corporations are big enough to buy the influence necessary to keep their place.

In my years in business, this was a persistent problem, especially when we got the feeling that a target was being painted on our back.  It’s unreasonable to expect people to provide jobs under these conditions, and it’s amazing that our economy has retained the vitality it has under the conditions to which it has been subjected.

The Tasteless Suburbs Were the Creation of the Government

Well, somewhat:

What image springs to mind when you picture “federally subsidized housing”? Most people imagine a low-income public housing tower, a homeless shelter, or a shoddy apartment building.

Nope—suburban homeowners are the single biggest recipient of housing subsidies. As a result, suburbs dominate housing in the United States. For decades, federal finance regulations incentivized single-family homes through three key mechanisms:

  1. Insurance

  2. National mortgage markets

  3. New standards for debt structuring

I’ve discussed the left’s hatred for suburbia more than once, most recently in my discussion of the offshore oil industry.  But this piece shows that their hatred may be misplaced: it should be directed to policies which are part and parcel with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Without the credit controlling mechanisms and incentives that began with the creation of the FHA, American suburbs would not be what they are (and the housing bubble that crashed the economy in 2008 would not have taken place.)

I strongly urge my readers to go back to the original piece and look at the FHA’s mortgage evaluation list; that explains a great deal of why American suburbs are what they are today.

Inside of Intersectionality is an Intersection Where Collisions Take Place

That’s what’s going on in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighbourhood:

If “the revolution devours its own,” as the saying has it, then anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights, a heavily Latino district just east of downtown Los Angeles, have been feasting. They have greeted liberal artists and hipsters with racial taunts, vandalism, boycotts, and mask-wearing demonstrators. In several cases, they have succeeded in forcing events and establishments to move their activities elsewhere.

One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.”  No where is that disproven more consistently than in California.  We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.

The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle.  For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences.  Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means.  It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.

As someone who sees first hand gentrification taking place in my community, I have mixed feelings about the process.  On the one hand, it does make for a spiffier looking neighbourhood.  On the other hand, the pushing out of the existing residents is clear.  In the South, that generally means mostly black neighbourhoods, and these, with their churches, were the place where the civil rights movement was born.  And, of course, it’s hard to take when we turn over parts of town to the people whose main claim to greatness is getting laid, high or drunk, no matter what their income level is.

What neighbourhoods like Boyle Heights need are community organisers with a vision to make the place better with existing residents and self-sufficient economics.  Instead we have too many which use their community prominence to move to higher office; Barack Obama is the outsized example of that.

If this trend continues, what we’ll end up with is the same thing we see in Europe, where the prosperous city centre is surrounded by suburbs ranging from good to hopeless.  Not only will our elites have to go over flyover country, but they’ll have to speed through ungentrified places to get to the airport.

Be Careful Before You Encourage Unpatriotism

It never ends: now we have a stink over NFL (and other) players “taking the knee” during the National Anthem.  Our President and just above everybody else is involved.  It’s another way to fill up Twitter with vitriol, as if we don’t have enough.

My attitude towards the traditional respect given towards the National Anthem and the flag come from growing up in the home of a superpatriot.  For him the country was perfect; doing these things was non-negotiable.  You either showed the proper respect for the flag, anthem, and institutions, or you left.  I seriously considered the latter.

The trout in the milk for American loyalty has always been the government.  The concept of the United States is wrapped around the Constitution of 1787.  It wasn’t our first and isn’t really our founding document but until we go through the procedure of replacing it our identity and validity as a nation cannot be separated from it.  Along with the Constitution all the government formed under that document goes with it.  That’s so ingrained in our national consciousness that few really grasp what it really means.

Those on the right reflexively wave the flag without realising that its form, shape, star pattern, etc., are all set by an act of the…government, along with many other things they like (like the military.)  And they don’t realise that, if our government has passed into the hands of those whose intellectual antecedents hated the place, then it’s time to reconsider our whole attitude towards this country and not always retreating to some idealisation.

The left likewise needs a reality check: the power of that government, even though it doesn’t always go their way (especially at times like this) is the chief enabler for their agenda, and has been for a long time.  When their heroes in the NFL “take a knee,” they’re delegitimising the government from which all (well, a lot of them) liberal things come.  Put another way, they’re cutting their own nose off to spite themselves, and that may come back to bite them.

As far as the NFL is concerned…if the NFL dries up and blows away I could care less.  (Given the ratings drops, that isn’t out of the realm of possibility either.)  Then we could turn our attention to other things, and when the time comes say with one voice:

“¡GO-O-O-O-O-OAL!”

Maybe It’s a Good Time to Make Your Speeches Online

Given the hatred the left feels for Trump and that former FBI Director James Comey is a career martyr to the cause, you’d think he’d be welcome on campuses.  But no…

Students at Howard University loudly protested former FBI Director James Comey Friday as he delivered a convocation address.

As Comey, making a rare public appearance since leaving the FBI, began his speech welcoming new students at Howard University, protesters could be heard yelling from the back of the room, raising their fists and shouting. Some of the slogans included “No justice, no peace, “We shall not be moved” and “white supremacy is not a debate.”

Standing before a packed auditorium, Comey stood silently for over 15 minutes as the students yelled, “I love being black” and “Get out James Comey — you’re not our homey.”

Evidently “intersectionality” doesn’t work as well as its enthusiasts say it does.  That’s something conservatives could take better advantage of if they were better led.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I have the habit of making “speeches” on the blog.  I’ve done this for two reasons: I think I have something to say, and I don’t get invited.  The upside to that, however, is that I don’t get disinvited either, the current sport on college campuses.  And getting disinvited isn’t the worst of it: if you don’t get disinvited, you can get the same treatment that James Comey is getting, or worse.

P.S. I’ve posted another “speech” on a companion blog.  The topic isn’t of much interest to regulars here, but I do make some observations on the advance of science and technology and how that gets hindered in our society today.

Why I Just Can’t Get Excited about #DACA

With the major hurricanes done for the moment and a debt crisis averted by Trump’s deal with the Democrats, Congress must turn to the issues in front of it.  Tax reform code is at the top of the list, although I’m not holding my breath.  Behind that is the DACA program, or the “Dreamers,” where young people brought here outside of our immigration legislation have special dispensation to pursue their education here.

Immigration, like infrastructure, is one of those issues where bipartisan agreement (or at least under-the-table collusion) has resulted in inaction.  Business interests would like a labour force with an interest in work, so they pressure the Republicans, and leftists would like an electorate that votes for them, so they pressure the Democrats.  Both of these use the appeal that, if these people are sent back to their ancestral homelands, their dreams will end.  And that’s an easy sell with Americans; we’d all like to think that we’re the only place in the world where dreams and goals in life come true.

But that’s really not the case.

My lack of enthusiasm for this issue is purely personal, and goes back to a time in my life where I was making my own decisions about life aspirations.  That in turn should be set against the backdrop of the time, and that scene wasn’t pretty.

Growing up I was presented with two options about what this country was all about.  In one corner was my father, who was a super-patriot.  In his mind our country could do no wrong and it was not permitted to question anything it did.  That may seem odd in a country that fancies itself on freedom, but professing freedom while taking it away is more common than you might think.

On the other end were the hippy-dippy people who professed to seek a deeper meaning in life but in the end could only find it in getting laid, high or drunk.  This didn’t strike me at the time as particularly American, but in a way it is.  There’s been a strong streak in the country that we came here to run the woods free and act the way we wanted to, and that was part of the ooze that bubbled to the surface in the 1960’s.  There was also the “hick moving to town” theme; growing up in Palm Beach left me with no sympathy for this.  History taught me that a country this sybaritic wasn’t going to make it, and I wasn’t too keen on sticking around for the end.

The disaster of Watergate ripped our political system apart; that only created despair.  It became obvious to me that only foreign intervention would fix this broken culture, which lead to this.  But with the atheistic Soviet Union being the most likely option, the reality of that wasn’t too appetising.  Maybe, I said to myself, what I need to do is get out of here.

The opportunity to do just that presented itself in the spring of 1976 at the Offshore Technology Conference, when I stopped by the booth of Motherwell Bridge, a Scottish engineering and construction firm.  I talking to one of their representatives, mentioned that I was graduating that year and would be looking for a job.  He expressed an interest in speaking to me about a position with them.  I told him I’d be in the UK two months from then, and would call him then.

That was all well and good, so when I got to the UK and Scotland was in the plans, I rung him up.  Unfortunately I butted into that European habit of going on holiday during the summer; he was gone to sunnier climes and I was out of a job interview.  (The UK was experiencing a major drought that year; he really didn’t have to go anywhere for sunny weather.)

I could have gone to a “Plan B” to emigrate in the fall by strategically choosing my job interviews.  But by then I had lived in Texas three years and both seen and experienced a part of this country that was truly good and highly productive.  So the man who started to emigrate ended up with a security clearance at Texas Instruments.

It’s always tempting to play “what if” with a situation like this; certainly life would have been different on the other side of the pond.  One of my commenters pointed out that average income in the UK is considerably below that of the US.  But that meant nothing to me at the time; I took a “pay cut” to work for TI as opposed to working in the oil industry (which, after a bit, I ended up doing .)  One thing it would have done is, if I tired of Old Blighty, becoming an expat is easier for just about anyone than it is for an American, thanks to our possessive tax legislation.

The good part of this country–which surfaces in things such as the response to Hurricane Harvey–has been under relentless attack from a wide array of groups with elite support, including the New Urbanists, the various “diversity” groups, and indeed the “Blue state” mentality.  That it has survived as well as it has is amazing, a testament to the viability of the lifestyle itself as much as the tenacity of its practicioners.  But the outcome is still in the balance.

As far as DACA is concerned, I hope that Congress can come to a resolution on this.  It’s always good to attract people who will actually work and make things happen.  But we need to be real about this: if more dreams could be fulfilled in places like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, we’d be better off as a country.  We would have more stable southern neighbours and an additional market for our goods and services.  And that’s not as far-fetched as it might seem: at this stage it’s easier to start a small business in Mexico than in the US, thanks to our ridiculous legal and regulatory system.

Americans on both sides of the divide love to gush forth rhetoric about how this is the only place where people’s dreams can be fulfilled.  The country would be better off, however, if, instead of mellifluous rhetoric, we’d spend as much effort making this country inviting for dreamers as we do talking about it.

If You Can Lead Sheep, You’re Ready for Politics

I could not pass up this gem from Philo Judaeus, in his Life of a Man Occupied with Affairs of State, or on Joseph, I:

Now, this man (Joseph) began from the time he was seventeen years of age to be occupied with the consideration of the business of a shepherd, which corresponds to political business.  On which account I think it is that the race of poets has been accustomed to call kings the shepherds of the people; for he who is skilful in the business of a shepherd will probably be also a most excellent king, having derived instruction in those matters which are deserving of inferior attention here to superintend a flock of those most excellent of all animals, namely, of men. And just as attention to matters of hunting is indispensable to the man who is about to conduct a war or to govern an army, so in the same banner those who hope to have the government of a city will find the business of a shepherd very closely connected with them, since that is as it were a sort of prelude to any kind of government.

When I worked at Church of Lay Ministries, our last bookkeeper lived on a farm and, as part of that, tended sheep.  The whole concept of a real shepherd working in a Christian organisation was more fun than a human being ought to have, and I made the most of it.  Her response was that sheep are pretty dumb, and comparing people to sheep (a common theme in the New Testament) isn’t very complimentary to people.

Given the current state of American politics, Philo’s words resonate, and one would wish that more American politicians had spent their early years watching over the flocks by night than haunting the halls of ivy.

Philo’s idea also puts this passage in a new light:

And Samuel did all that the Lord told him; and he came to Bethlehem: and the elders of the city were amazed at meeting him, and said, Dost thou come peaceably, thou Seer? And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and rejoice with me this day: and he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and he called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass when they came in, that he saw Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his appearance, nor on his stature, for I have rejected him; for God sees not as man looks; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And Jesse called Aminadab, and he passed before Samuel: and he said, Neither has God chosen this one. And Jesse caused Sama to pass by: and he said, Neither has God chosen this one. And Jesse caused his seven sons to pass before Samuel: and Samuel said, the Lord has not chosen these. And Samuel said to Jesse, Hast thou no more sons? And Jesse said, There is yet a little one; behold, he tends the flock. And Samuel said to Jesse, Send and fetch him for we may not sit down till he comes. And he sent and fetched him: and he was ruddy, with beauty of eyes, and very goodly to behold. And the Lord said to Samuel, Arise, and anoint David, for he is good. And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward: and Samuel arose, and departed to Armathaim.  (1Samuel 16:4-13 LXX)

God’s choice of David really was based on merit!

Having a Form of Diversity, but Denying the Power Thereof

Millennials’ legendary capacity for diversity may be just that:

A recent study conducted by a Grand Valley State University professor suggests that political correctness, at least among millennials, is little more than a charade.

In an August 16 study, Professor Karen Pezzetti explains that millennials pursuing careers in education “position themselves as good, non-racist people,” but in many cases may just be going through the motions of using “politically correct” terminology to “talk about students from diverse backgrounds.”

King James Bible fans will recognise the title as a take-off of this:

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2Ti 3:2-5 KJV)

It simply means that these people don’t “walk the talk,” and that evidently includes many Millennials and diversity.

Looking at problems from the perspective of others has never been Americans’ strong suit, but the closing of the American mind (one heralded by Allan Bloom many years ago) has taken place, making matters only worse.   What that means is that Millennials may have the moral wish for diversity but lack the intellectual capacity to really have it.  So, given the intense social pressures of the day, they simply do an act to make others happy without internalising it.  That doesn’t bode well for the day when they actually have to do it for themselves, which is too bad really because, when practiced in the context of a truly task-based work environment, diversity can be very powerful.

Personally I am coming to realise that the diversity business, as it is practiced these days, is a whitewash, analogy intentional.  It covers up the fact that it not only attempts to replace real diversity of thought with racial/gender quotas, but also that more heat than light has resulted.  That’s the dilemma that was exposed with James Damore’s piece that got him fired.  For all of Google’s rhetoric, the racial/gender distribution is still skewed, which has made them the subject of a federal investigation.  From a legal standpoint the last thing Google needed was Damore’s piece, which explains much of their vigourous reaction.

Evidently Twitter Doesn’t Like My Post on Trump and Palm Beach Clubs

One of the most popular posts I have on this site is Trump Opens the Club to Blacks and Jews? Not Quite, which is about two years old.  It’s gotten a good deal of traffic and the gamut of reactions.  I’m glad to inject a little Palm Beach perspective to this question, because both what Trump did and Palm Beach’s social system run against a lot of conventional wisdom out there.

One @RobertBarber64 liked my piece enough to attempt to tweet it.  On my Twitter laptop notifications, it looked like this:

But when I looked on my iPhone Twitter app, this is what greeted me:

My, my, I think it’s Twitter that’s sensitive, at least in a schizophrenic sense.  Maybe their mobile app people think one way and their desktop people another…

I’ve had commenters go postal on me when I challenge conventional wisdom, but this is the first time a social media organisation has done so, AFAIK.

I’m certainly bothered by the apparent censorship going on here.  But that’s what happens when you hand over the internet to a few organisations; they run things to suit themselves.  We can invoke law all we went, but tech has thrived by basically outrunning the law.  I’ve always assumed that sooner or later the powers that be would start shutting down their opposition (or at least try to) and they’re busy doing that these days.  That’s especially true of Google, whose offensive against their former employee is probably lawyer-driven by attorneys attempting to fend off the feds.