Trade and the Exchange of Value

  • by Gitabushi

My good friend and blog proprietor, PCBushi, informed me regarding an article he’d encountered:

If you don’t want to go look at that tweet series, the gist is that many US military systems rely on lithium-ion batteries. Since China owns 55% of the lithium industry, and is trying to ramp up that control to 90%+, it puts the US in even more of a bind than the peril of having so much of our economy and standard of living dependent on China’s lithium production.

It might have been this article.

I didn’t really respond because it seemed to me to be PCBushi granting me a point in the trade issues the US faces with China.  He wasn’t conceding, nor really trying to rekindle the argument about Trump using tariffs against China (and other nations), but he was acknowledging that the issue is complex, with points that can be made on both sides.  As I acknowledge that while I disagree with him, his view is certainly defensible and perhaps superior to my own.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

All this is merely an introduction to what I do want to talk about: the exchange of value.

Going back to my thing about assembling arguments against socialism, one of the things that attracts people to socialism is the notion of being exploited by corporations, or being seduced into mindless consumerism, and thus compelled to be a wage slave.

To me, that’s nonsense.

Yes, the vast bulk of humans live and die without making much of a worldwide difference.  The overwhelming majority of mankind can be seen as selling the hours of countless lives for a handful of geegaws like high-definition television.  But I note that the people making this complaint the most probably have one earbud in to listen to their favorite counterculture band, dress according to the current counterculture fashion, and will be more than happy to tell you about their favorite movie or television show.

No one in the US is out of the system they claim to hate.

I think this complaint is born of angst or ennui, not understanding the purpose of life, or unable to enjoy the simple pleasure of existence, but that’s another issue.

To try to yank this back on topic, we want to enjoy our lives, and life, in general and for the most part, is improving.

On one level, there is no exploitation.

On another level, yes, you might buy a product with expectations that aren’t met, or with a belief in resale value that doesn’t come to fruition because of some hidden aspects, or at a price that gives the seller a bigger profit than you think is fair.

But really, there is no exploitation in a free market system.

This next point is basic economic philosophy, but I think it isn’t stated openly and clearly enough: in a free market system, an exchange can only happen if both sides think they are getting a good deal.

I only by the TV if I think the TV is more valuable than the money in my account (which represents hours of life worked).  The salesman only sells the TV if he thinks the money in my account is more valuable than TV (which represents the hours worked of all the people in the manufacturing and sales/marketing chain).

It might have only cost $10 to make, but if I value it more than the $500 in my pocket, then $500 is a good price.

Another aspect to trade that I had to learn (sometimes painfully) through my guitar obsession is:

The actual value of an item is approximately/vaguely whatever price I’m willing to sell at, in combination with whatever price someone else is willing to buy it at.

So if I want to buy a guitar, and I bid $700, and other bids push it up to a winning bid of $500, then it is worth $500, no matter what I’m willing to pay, and no matter what the seller thinks it is worth.

If I get tired of the guitar and decide to sell it, and after a round of bidding (or after weeks on the market) the highest bid/offer I get is $300, then that means the market changed between the time I bought it and the time I sold it.

Maybe the guy who thought it was worth no more than $499 lost hope and no longer wants the guitar, and the next-most enthusiastic buyer thinks it is worth $300.  Maybe a new guitar came out with all the same good points, but due to economies of scale, is being sold for only $325, undercutting the value of the one I bought.

You don’t know.

All you know is the value of an item is dependent on what both sides are willing to agree on at that moment.

And that’s what makes international trade so difficult.  Because right now, US corporations are willing to buy all sorts of stuff from China at low prices, even though China uses those business partnerships to steal technology that it will then use to undersell their current partners.

Insert some quote by a Marxist about how capitalists are stupid enough to sell you the rope you will use to hang them.

The United States (like much of the rest of the Western World) has allowed itself to become dependent on Chinese manufacturing, allowing our own industries to atrophy. Whether correctly or not, President Trump is trying to reinvigorate our domestic manufacturing capability. Because while China is not exploiting anything but our own willingness, China is explicitly not doing it for own benefit.

That is not the fault of the Free Trade system, but it is a risk that the US should consider and discuss more often.

The article above about the problems of over-reliance on China? It mainly exposes that we are complacent. The same warning was given five years earlier, and nothing was done.  I’m sure there were earlier warnings, but I just thought it interesting that the earlier warning was in the same publication. Self-serving, yes, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

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BREAKING: GOP Rep Chris Collins Arrested for Impersonating a Democrat

  • by Gitabushi

The FBI announced the arrest of GOP rep Chris Collins on 8 August, for the typical Democrat politician activity of insider trading.

“This is unacceptable,” said Demcorat Nancy Pelosi, who has used her political position to amass a fortune of over $29,000,000 off of an annual salary of just over $100k.

“I can’t believe he would do such a thing,” said Democrat Mark Warner, who used used his knowledge of federal telecommunication law and policies and industry connections gained while staffing for Democrat Chris Dodd to make a fortune of more than $90,000,000 by brokering mobile phone franchise licenses.

The FBI went on to say, “If he’d chosen to caucus with Democrats, we wouldn’t have batted an eyelash, like the fact that Diane Black only non-government employment was as a registered nurse for a handful of years, yet still ended up with just short of $46,000,000 in personal net worth. But getting rich while in office as a Republican?  That’s not allowed.”

The FBI spokesperson went on to note that the accepted reality is the richest Republicans in Congress all made their fortune in business before running for office, whereas the Democrats almost all became rich from investing and other financial moves made based on knowledge and contacts gained from so-called public service.

“If he’d merely revealed TOP SECRET information, including the true names of undercover CIA agents, or ran a huge, fraudulent slush fund built from selling US influence to the highest bidder, or sent $1,700,000,000 in cash to help known terrorists fund deadly activities, we’d probably have looked the other way,” said the agent. “At least, if he were a Democrat, that is.”

“We know that this seems pretty minor when compared to the corruption of spying on political opponents, punishing their participation in politics, or even just leaving a US Ambassador to die, lying about it on TV, and then covering it up with a rigged commission, but the Law is the Law, no one is above the law, and we will enforce the Law on anyone,” the FBI agent stated. “Except Democrats, of course.”

When reached for comment, former FBI Director James Comey said, “It’s a shame he’s a Republican, you know? If he were connected to the Clintons, the FBI might have used the “No reasonable prosecutor would risk getting suicided by the Clintons by bringing a case against them” dodge. I mean, it’s not like lying to the FBI *really* matters, right?  What matters to the FBI is lying while obstructing the Democrat agenda.  But with the Democrats hoping to take back the House so they can present Articles of Impeachment against President Trump, there’s no way the FBI would pass this up.”

Tom Delay called in to say, “I really wish then when I was House Majority Leader, I had gotten a bill passed that would have ended the general immunity Democrats have to any/all laws on the books, but hindsight is 20/20.”

Evaluating and Debating Presidencies

  • by Gitabushi

I was a little excited when I saw this article by NeoNeoCon. Finally! Someone would talk about the shenanigans that go on when arguing about Presidents, debating who is to blame and who gets credit for economic developments, etc.  When I read the article, I was disappointed.  She hit some good points, but her approach was vastly different from what I was thinking.  So I guess I have to do it myself.

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This is the typical image I got when I looked up “Presidential Seal” in the free photo library, so we’ll just have to struggle through together. Photo by karsten madsen on Pexels.com

First of all, I hate the phrase “on his watch.”  It’s lazy analysis.  “Bush is to blame because it happened on his watch.” “Russian occurred on Obama’s watch.” No.  I mean, yes, that’s a factual statement, but it implies a causation that is not necessarily there. Equally as bad is arguing that a President “inherited” some aspect, good or bad.  Yes, there are some lagging indicators, and a President’s actions do carry on beyond their term.  But most people use it to deny giving credit to someone they dislike, or avoid giving blame to someone they admire.

Furthermore, I dislike the trend of blaming or crediting a President for everything that happens.  Sure, it’s easy to just blame/credit the President, and I think that’s why people like doing it: it’s easy.  The reality is we are governed by a government split into three branches.  The President only heads one branch, and the bureaucracy is so large and unwieldy, the reality is a President’s control is tenuous at best, and we should treat it as a fourth branch of government. Even with the formal branches, a President has extremely limited input to the Judicial Branch, and is given an often passive role when it comes to interacting with Congress.

On the other hand, a President has a few advantages:

  • the single government office that the entire nation elects.  The President has a mandate that even a Senator from California doesn’t have.  This is balanced somewhat by the House of Representatives, which provides more fidelity on the Will of the People via smaller districts and elections every two years.  The balance of these two expressions of the Will of the People mean that a POTUS should have a huge mandate in their first two years, but following Congressional elections add nuance and chip away at the edges of a President’s mandate.
  • the Bully Pulpit.  Being a singular head of a Branch means that a President doesn’t have to compromise with anyone to promote his views or his policies, can criticize the other branches, or even social developments, from a single person’s perspective.  As the most visible, singular, and sole nationally-elected official, citizens care more about what a President says, promotes, discourages, etc., than any other single official…and the news media follows suit. There is an incredible potential to push an agenda without creating one word of policy vested in the Office of the President

However, that doesn’t mean a President is all-powerful.  We credit a President too much for many things that happen in the United States. A President doesn’t control the economy, and certainly cannot prevent normal economic cycles. The President doesn’t set spending levels, or taxation levels.  The President can *propose* his preferred policy, and can use his Bully Pulpit to put pressure on Congress to pass it, but he doesn’t control legislation.

So let’s take a look at how people poorly and/or deceptively evaluate Presidents.

George H. W. Bush was POTUS from 1988 to 1992. In the early 90s, the US economy contracted. This was blamed on Bush, which, in my opinion, was unfair.  Sure, it happened on his watch. Moreover, it was likely triggered by Bush agreeing to sign a bill into law that raised taxes.  So, yes, he did it. However, the recession itself was inevitable, sooner or later. If the tax hike hadn’t triggered it, something else would have. Moreover, raising taxes is a *Democrat* policy, and it was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats.  Even worse, the economy had recovered before the end of Bush’s term, but because there is a great deal of fuzziness and arbitrariness about when a recession begins or ends, the news media was able to falsely claim we were still in a recession, and that it was fully Bush’s fault, right up until that dishonesty helped Bill Clinton defeat Bush.

Continuing on, Clinton is not only erroneously credited with fixing the Bush Recession, he is also somewhat inaccurately credited with reducing the number of people on welfare and with an extremely hot economy (sometimes called the dotcom economy or the dotcom bubble).  Yes, both those things happened on his watch. Yes, he even signed the welfare changes into law, and it was the result of his deliberate triangulation on the issue, to deal with the mandate the Congressional Republicans had earned by winning a majority.

But the obvious success and benefit to the US in these policies are used to credit Bill Clinton himself, and in his status as a Democrat President.  The argument is, Bill Clinton presided over the economic recovery, got people off of welfare, and led the nation into the internet age.  Since his term, every good economy and period of low unemployment is compared to Bill Clinton’s dotcom economy, and rightfully so: they were excellent numbers. The argument continues that Bill Clinton was/is a Democrat, so if you want a great economy, low unemployment, and people off of welfare, you must vote for Democrats.

Well, no.

There is nothing magical about Democrats or Republicans.  What matters is the *policy*, regardless of who enacted it.

Welfare Reform is, at heart, a Conservative policy, not a Progressive one.  Progressives throw money at problems, Conservatives set up consequences and demand individual effort to obtain benefits.  Forcing people to actually and earnestly seek work to continue to receive welfare ended up with more people in the workforce because the policy prevented the “discouraged job seeker” phenomenon, and prevented recipients from living comfortably on the dole.  The dotcom bubble was also a Conservative event: it took over our economy because there were no taxes for items purchased on the internet: a tax moratorium is now proven to stimulate economic growth and increase employment. But Conservatives want lower or eliminated taxes; Progressive policy is to raise taxes whenever/wherever you can get away with it.  If Democrats had free reign, they would have imposed taxes on the internet from the beginning.

The lesson from this is, if you want to grow Space Commerce, do you announce that you will fund exploration and development with a fairly high corporate tax rate on all space activities?  Or do you announce a moratorium regarding any/all taxes on revenue derived from space commerce?  Obviously, the latter.  And just as obviously, that is a conservative policy, and runs counter to Progressive policies.

So let’s look at President George W Bush. What does he get blamed for, and get credit for, in my view?

Well, 9/11 occurred before he had his security team fully in place.  Moreover, the US Govt was hampered in its ability to detect the terrorist plot due to “walls” preventing information flow between different federal government agencies, and those “walls” were put into place by President Clinton, on the advice of his prominent advisor Jamie Gorelick.  Maybe you can’t blame Clinton, but you clearly can’t blame W, either.  Reports that “he was warned” are silly: the “warnings” were vague, and no action could have been taken without severe violations of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Sometimes bad things happen because of chance. Other times, bad things happen because an enemy has a successful plan that exploits weaknesses.  That’s what happened with 9/11.

Bush should be credited, however, for the improvement of the economy following 9/11. From 2003 to 2006, the US economy was pretty much the equivalent of Clinton’s dotcom economy.  And it came about due to Bush pushing for tax cuts back in 2002. But if you want to credit Congress instead, I won’t argue with you. The important thing is that the Conservative policy of tax cuts stimulated the economy.  As such, we shouldn’t elect a President because a Democrat or Republican President is better for the economy, we should vote for and elect a President who promises to cut taxes wherever possible, and finds ways to cut other stealth taxes (like federal govt regulation, and fees, etc.), because reducing the costs of doing business improves the economy.

But at the same time, Congress was spending like a drunken sailor.  Porkbusters emerged to try to fight back against GOP Congress-led pork barrel earmarks.  You can blame the GOP Congress for doing this, and you can blame W for signing the spending bills that included the pork barrel spending, but you can’t use that as an argument to vote for Democrats, because increased spending is, at worst, a *Progressive* policy…and at best, a bipartisan one.  Democrats who campaign on Republicans running up the deficit never cut spending…they find new things to spend on, arguing that fed govt spending improves the economy, and then they raise taxes to close the deficit, which kills the economy and makes things worse.  Republicans who campaign on Democrats running up the deficit will cut some spending, and make abortive attempts to cut other spending, but apparently will not cut spending, over the protests of the Freedom Caucus and Tea Partiers in the GOP, and with the RINOs gleefully joining with Democrat Congressional minorities who chortle about getting what they want with the GOP taking the blame.

This really needs to get fixed, but that’s an argument for another day. The point is that the spending doesn’t stay high because of the President, and sometimes it stays high due to GOP defections joining with Democrats to make a virtual Democrat majority.  And there are plenty of times the GOP just plain embraces spending.  But it is worth noting: the GOP has a vocal minority against the excessive spending, and that vocal minority has been growing over the last decade.  There is no minority among Democrats, vocal or otherwise, that is willing to consider spending cuts at all. In an even more stark disparity, GOP voters get fed up with spending to the point that someone like Dave Brat can surprisingly defeat a leading GOP Representative based purely on spending issues.  Not only does that never happen to Democrats, the opposite does: a prominent Democrat Representative gets defeated in the  primary by someone who advocates the nearly-unlimited spending of Socialism: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

So when it comes to the deficit, ignoring parties and personalities, the lesson is clear: tax cuts grow the economy, excessive spending causes deficits, and while you might struggle to force the GOP to cut spending, Democrats will always push to raise both spending and taxes.

Continuing on, W gets blamed for the 2006-2017 recession. But I think if you look closer, you see a few things: First, Democrats took over Congress in 2006. They won by pushing an end to the failed war in Iraq.  However, by the time they took office, W’s “Surge” had actually won that war, and Iraq was relatively peaceful. So Democrats began talking down the economy and increased spending and regulation. That primed things for a downturn.  The trigger for the crash, however, was clearly caused by encouraging banks to lend money to riskier borrowers. W was to blame for not vetoing the Democrats bills that weakened the economy.  But he actually pushed back against the devastating lending encouragement; in fact, Democrats called anyone racist who opposed that social justice policy.  Thus, the crash was caused by Progressive policy. If you think I’m being too vague, it’s to keep this shorter. I could write 4-5 pages just on how Democrats caused the crash.

W is also to blame for signing TARP.  But please be clear: it wasn’t Bush’s policy, and it *certainly* wasn’t a Fiscal Conservative’s policy.  It was, from start to finish, a Progressive policy.  It made things worse.

I agree that Obama can’t be blamed for the job losses that occurred “on his watch.”  However, I think he also cannot blame W for the economy he inherited, because he voted for the policies that crashed the economy as a Senator in 2006.

Moreover, Democrats blame W for the deficit because the deficit started to climb under W. Again, you have to look at who controlled Congress and the nature of the contributing policies.  The deficit reduced every year under W after 9/11.  The economic hit of 9/11 make those deficits understandable.  The deficit reduction continued even after Bush’s tax cuts (indeed, I think it was *because of*) and despite the spending in Iraq. The deficits didn’t start to grow again until Democrats took control of Congress and started passing policy that damages the economy.  So W can be blamed for not vetoing, but that should make it clear: the blame lies with *Progressive* policy, not the party of who was POTUS at the time.

Even worse, Democrats wanted lots of new spending, because their ideology, against all available evidence, still erroneously believes govt spending helps the economy.  So Congress refused to give Bush the 2009 budget to sign. This was because it was so stuffed with pork, even W might have vetoed it. Plus, they believed it was usher in an era of prosperity, and didn’t want W to get credit.  So they delayed delivering the bill until Obama was POTUS.  Once that huge spending increase was set as the baseline, Democrats dropped the regular budgeting order and just forced Continuing Resolutions so they would never again have to face voters with votes for their ruinous levels of spending. And after deliberately arranging for Obama to be the one to get credit, when it didn’t work out as they hoped, they churlishly give W the blame for the increased spending…I guess depending on ignorance of when the 2009 spending bill was actually passed, and who signed it.

Okay, that’s a bunch of paragraphs of narrative, but it is all to set up this explanation: I also think you have to credit/blame a POTUS for what they promise and predict.

For instance, Obama campaigned on the notion that he knew what was wrong with the economy, and would fix it immediately.

Okay, we can allow for campaign exaggeration.  But after being elected President, he predicted recovery the first summer.  When it didn’t happen, he blamed Bush for the economy he inherited.

No. If you claim to know what the problem is, predict you can fix it, and get the policy you want, you now get the blame.  He spent his entire two terms blaming Bush for anything that didn’t work out like he wanted.

This is wrong.

Likewise, Obama and his sycophants predicted all sorts of disaster under Trump. Some said the stock market would *never* recover.  Obama himself mocked Trump by asking Trump if he had a magic want to magically make the jobs come back.  When Obama’s anemic economy never broke 3% growth, Obama and his sycophants said this was the new normal, and the US would never see growth above 3% again.

As such, no one should be allowed to claim Obama gets the credit for the economy under Trump.  It is stupid.

If your predictions for the economy are completely wrong, then you lose all credibility to blame or credit at all.

Again: Trump enacted *Conservative* policy: he reduced all sorts of federal govt regulation, reducing the cost to doing business. He also clearly telegraphed that he wouldn’t add unexpected, onerous new regulation, so businesses could plan for growth without worrying about painting themselves into a corner.  This was one thing Obama clearly did wrong: Obamacare was a whole bundle of uncertainty.  Businesses had no idea how much costs would increase from year to year. And to keep the health system from catastrophic failure cause by Obamacare, Obama unilaterally (and probably in violation of the US Constitution) delayed implementation of many of its aspects.  But all that really did was increase the uncertainty of the business climate.  Then when Obama started pushing diversity/identity issues, it frightened companies about the possibility of arbitrary increased costs at any moment.

As a result, Obama didn’t just preside over the worst recovery in the history of the US, he arguably caused it.

The argument that W ruined the economy so badly that it caused the slow recovery is ridiculous.  In the history of the US and economics in general, the worse the economic downturn, the quicker the recovery.  Economic cycles are *always* long/slow/mild or quick/short/deep.  Obama’s economy was not. The decline was rapid and deep, and then stunningly anemic in recovery.  And it was due to uncertainty in the business climate from policy advocated and/or enacted by Obama.

The penultimate point I want to make is that Trump promised he would create an environment that would boost employment for blacks in specific and minorities in general. Okay, okay he claimed he would create jobs for blacks.  But as you hopefully realize by now, Presidents don’t create jobs. They merely help create an environment conducive or adverse to economic growth.  But with the reduction of taxes, reduction of fed govt regulation, and attempt to reduce spending, Trump has encouraged a business climate that has significantly increased manufacturing jobs, energy sector jobs, and pushed unemployment for blacks and Hispanics to record lows.  Since this is what he predicted he’d do, he gets full credit for it.

The final point is a word about gas prices.  Again, a POTUS doesn’t have direct control over gas prices. It’s a complex pricing system, with inputs coming from OPEC, US domestic production reacting to barrel prices, barrel prices reacting to expectations of future surplus or future shortage, summer driving demands on gas, refinery availability (impacted by flooding and hurricanes), and fuel mixes that change based on season and geography.

But, just like how a POTUS can impact the business climate to encourage or discourage expansion and hiring, a POTUS can impact whether the speculators think there will be surplus or shortage in the future.  One of the ways is by signalling a willingness to tap the strategic oil reserve. Another way is by pushing to lower the federal gas tax. Another is by signalling willingness to approve additional drilling locations.

In every case, Obama signalled that he didn’t care about low prices, and wanted so badly to reduce CO2 emissions and boost “green” energy, that he was unwilling to do anything that made fossil fuels more available.  This caused higher prices.  In contrast, W signalled willingness to allow drilling and tap the strategic oil reserve.  Prices remained high due to uncertainty worldwide about how terrorism and war in the middle east might impact oil availability.

Add to this, China’s economic growth has stimulated a sharp increase in their demand for petroleum, which increases global demand, which increases prices.

I’m not going to go so far as say we should blame Obama for high gas prices on his watch but give Bush a pass.  There is more that Bush could have done. There were many things that were out of Obama’s control.

But I do think the differing attitude, policy, and revealed intent should indicate whether each should get credit, blame, or tolerance.

And this is how I evaluate Presidents, and how I think everyone should evaluate Presidents. Some tribalism will always be a part of the evaluation, based on your preferred policies.  But rather than making arguments based on the party you like, you should analyze the policies that brought about the results you like, and then advocate for the candidate/POTUS you prefer based on your preferred outcomes.  This should result in a lower level of tribalism.

Education Problems in the United States

  • by Gitabushi
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Education paths in the United States via Wikipedia user https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Harej

Lately, I’ve had cause to mention a few times that students in the US, in general, aren’t just poorly educated, they are mal-educated.

I’m sure you are familiar with many of the complaints I’m about to list.  This article won’t be anything new to anyone.  I’m writing it as an attempt to put a bunch of thoughts in one place, and somewhat organized, and in some overall context.

First and foremost, I think schools do not prepare children for life. But that’s the parents’ job, you say? I disagree.

It is the parents’ job to teach their children their values: what children should think about religion, politics, the environment, taxes, etc.

The *sole* purpose of schools is to prepare kids for life.

There are skills and knowledge common to a successful life, regardless of your IQ, career path, marital status, sex, etc.

These are the things schools should be teaching.  Instead, schools seem to be more than happy to teach your kids their values, and to prepare them to do well on standardized tests that may help them get into college if their other abilities, academic record, and financial situation are appropriate for that option.

But what about those who don’t or can’t go to college?

I really think that school was a colossal waste of money and effort for the vast majority of students, and our education system has failed them.

Here are some of the skills and knowledge schools should teach:

  • Logic, reasoning, and how to think
  • Civics, including the structure of govt at all levels, the US Constitution, and other founding documents (like the Federalist Papers)
  • household finance basics, to include credit card interest, mortgage/car loans, how credit ratings work, tax rates, how insurance works, and the dangers of predatory lending like pawnshops and payday loans; there is no reason that people should freak out about payroll taxes when they get their first paycheck: they should be freaked out about how much they earn gets taken by taxes just from Finance Math at school
  • How to run a small business, like being a plumber or opening a restaurant; perhaps few kids will become entrepreneurs like this (and yes, a plumber *is* an entrepreneur), but they should understand the costs and risks businesses face, so there would be less of the financial illiteracy blaming corporations for charging for the goods/services
  • Emotional resilience. But, wait! Isn’t that dangerously close to teaching values?  I don’t think so. I think you can talk to kids about how to deal with problems, or how to cope when things don’t go the way you want them to.  Basically, this is the opposite of “everyone gets a trophy”, eliminating the stigma of letter grades, and grade inflation trends.  So, in a sense, this is *already* happening, but in a negative way: schools are teaching emotional fragility.
  • The path to a good life: get an education, get a job, get married, have kids, don’t get divorced, and do it in that order.  Again, people might object to this as teaching values, but it really isn’t.  The govt has no problems teaching the false and ruinous Food Pyramid, and is eager to tell us to conserve resources and recycle, so why can’t they teach the concept that overwhelmingly lifts people from the cycle of poverty?  Sure, there are some concerns that some people will not be able to marry, or stay married, or will still have children outside of marriage (deliberately or not), and that some stigma will be attached to these actions.  But nothing is perfect, and if kids are taught emotional resilience in school, they will be better able to cope with potential stigma if their life doesn’t go as planned.
  • Career choice. This is such a simple one, I can’t believe it isn’t a cornerstone of education.  I’m not sure when we should start, but I seem to remember being asked in school what I want to be when I grow up from as early as age 5. I understand that is an attempt to inspire kids to chase their dreams, but no attempt really seems to be made to give them the skills to achieve those dreams.  Kids need to be told: most jobs aren’t fun.  Even the exciting jobs like firefighter and police have moments of drudgery, and the exciting moments aren’t fun when you are doing them.  Not all scientists find the cure for cancer. Celebrity comes with loss of privacy and the need to satisfy a fickle audience. Maybe there should be less focus on career at all, and rather, lead kids to think about what kind of life they want: big city vs small town, north vs west (climate/temperature), coastal vs interior (population density), etc.  It would be a great way to teach kids about how people in other areas live…it might even reduce the disdain the North and the South has for each other (east of the Appalachians), or the big cities and rural areas have for each other.  Make it part of social studies?

There are probably some other things that should be taught.

Instead, children are taught many unnecessary things.  They are taught math, but despite some attempts to add context, I think math is taught simply as math.  How often does algebra come up in daily life?  Geometry comes up some…perhaps more if you are a carpenter than if you are in HR.  Certainly no trigonometry or calculus, unless you are specifically going into STEM, and even then, only some STEM.

I understand that math is taught because it is supposed to also teach logic.  That is perhaps what I still use most from Geometry: how to think about things, how to prove similar things are actually similar, etc.  But that was a case of me applying the logic to life on my own, there was no attempt to teach that connection in school; based on my twitter interactions, few have made that same connection I did. The connection of math to logical thinking needs to be made more explicit.

I had a civics class in Junior High, if I remember correctly, focused on Montana. We had to identify the major passes, major rivers, the State govt structure, and the history.  In my senior year, I had another civics class, but focused on the national level.  All I remember was memorization of the Amendments and general federal structure.  I think a deeper discussion of the purposes and implications of the 1st and 2nd Amendment would have been more helpful than trying to memorize the Amendments.  Then again, that was a decade before the internet, so maybe making us memorize them had some use, since at that time, there was no expectation we would soon have that information as a reference at our fingertips anywhere we have cellular or Wi-Fi connections.

One handicap I have in discussing this topic is the fact that my kids have lived with my ex- for the last decade. I don’t see their homework. I talk with them about school, but I am not fully familiar with their curriculum, beyond a general idea of what classes they are taking.  So maybe I’m making some incorrect assumptions.

Moreover, every state has different standards, and there can be a huge difference between what is taught in big city schools, magnet schools, small town schools, inner city schools, charter schools, private schools, etc.

So maybe I’m wrong in everything I’ve said.

However, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

You don’t have to look very far to see educated professionals demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the function and reason for the Electoral College.  Recently, someone who can be assumed to have a college degree made a claim that Californians are the least-represented when it comes to Senators.  In the past, people have complained that Wyoming has more influence than it should in both the House and Senate, due to their lower population.

The continued existence of predatory lending institutions prove whatever effort is made to teach financial literacy is insufficient.

My kids attended a magnet school in Spokane, and then a top high school in Silicon Valley, but were taught nothing about how insurance works or how to make a monthly budget.  Before my divorce, I remember my son bringing home materials regarding recycling, global warming, and environmental protection that bordered on religious tracts.  The paeons of praise in school to Obama when he was President are well-documented.  I realize those represented a minuscule of a fraction of schools…but along with all the other Leftist ideology taught in schools, I’m sure the general level of partisan approval for Obama and his policies permeated most schools with a miasma of Progressivism.

Heck, at the very least, schools should teach the failure of Socialism everywhere it has been tried, as an introduction to the dichotomy between theory and practice, due to the perversity of human nature.

I’d like to see math taught in the context of personal finances.  Perhaps one semester is Household Math, with the later years being focused on running a business, and one semester of Pure Math.

I’d like to see Civics being a yearly requirement, just like English and Math.  There is so much that can be taught regarding civics, including the fact that Socialism never works, and how International Socialists specifically exploit liberty to gain power with the intent of dismantling freedoms once they gain power.  Of course, this is just a pipe dream: there are too many Progressives who believe in Socialism as their most cherished religion for this to happen.  We need to start shifting *that* Overton Window now; we should have done this decades ago.

Break break.

Another problem I have with education in the US is the lowering of standards and grade inflation.  It isn’t uncommon now to hear of a school graduating 17 Valedictorians, all with perfect grade point averages, to include 5.0 grades from Advanced Placement classes.

This should not be possible.  If even one person gets all As, then grading is too lenient.

This ties into emotional resilience and life preparation. Grade inflation is the result of parents refusing to accept their child didn’t deserve an A, combined with parental panic that anything less than an A will harm their child’s competitiveness to get into a good college, or to get a scholarship that make school (slightly) less unaffordable.

It’s wrong, though. And it not only doesn’t prepare kids for life, it actively teaches them attitudes and expectations that will cause them to fail at life.

One thing I learned a while back is that the proof of what you learned can also be watered down.

The exact same course, taught with the exact same information, presented exactly the same way, is much tougher if you give only essay tests, vs T/F tests.

You can often guess your way to passing on a T/F test just by how the questions are worded.  Just understanding the military mindset, I was able to guess my way to a 70% on all my Professional Military Education tests, and so only had to study enough to get that extra 10% or so for a passing grade.

You can do that, to an extent, even on SAT tests. I don’t think I’ve taken a test that I didn’t learn something from, meaning, at least 2-3 questions that I got right just from knowing how tests are written.

There is a skill to taking multiple choice tests that can be learned.

So the easiest grading is T/F, then multiple choice, then fill in the blank, then short answer, then long answer, then essay.  Perhaps there are a few other options, but as you can see, standardized tests are basically just short of being the easiest test to take.  This is because multiple choice is also the easiest to grade, which is necessary when you have to grade thousands of students to an objective standard.  Even “fill in the blank” requires some subjective judgment from the grader, which it comes to handwriting and spelling disparities.

This is one of the ways I think education has been watered down.  I think that as the assumption that college is necessary and good for all students has become more prevalent, the pressure for grade inflation, grading objectivity, and preparation for standardized achievement testing has caused all schooling to move away from actual education to merely enhanced daycare, where kids are watched during the day, given a chance to socialize, and cold-bloodedly allowed to sink or swim for college and/or future career.

That pushes all the actual preparation for life back on the parents.

I think this is wrong, because if school doesn’t prepare for life, then why do we pay so much in property taxes (and federal taxes for the DoEd) for it?

Civilization is based on the advantages of specialization.

I don’t have to know how to make shoes. I don’t have to know how to build a house. I don’t have to know how to repair my car. I don’t have to know how to deal with a neighbor being noisy. I don’t have to know how to deal with someone who drives recklessly. I don’t have to know how to force people to contribute to national defense, or resolve conflicts.  I could go on and on and on, but the point is we all specialize in our different roles, and then use money to exchange goods and services.

Schools are supposed to prepare our children for life, so that we don’t have to stop working to teach them (unless we home school).

That schools only teach kids how to pass standardized tests means schools are a complete failure at their primary mission.

Who is to blame for this?

  1. The Department of Education.  Anything with bureaucrats drifts Leftward. Bureaucrats also water things down, so they can still claim success even as performance declines.
  2. School administration, for the same reasons as the DoEd.
  3. School boards, because they make all sorts of decisions in disregard of parental opinion, and at times, even try to do things on the sly so parents don’t hear and object.
  4. Parents, for expecting schools to be merely enhanced daycare, for not teaching their children to behave in school or value their education, and for pushing for the benefit of their own child to the exclusion of other children.
  5. Teachers, in that they overestimate the difficulty of their jobs in comparison to other jobs, and in that they support teachers unions that, like bureaucrats, make things worse by pushing for the interests of teachers to the exclusion of the interests of students.

Okay, come at me and tell me where I’m wrong.

 

I Think I Know Who Broke the Law

  • by Gitabushi

One of the principles of our Judicial system is that human nature is immutably unable to maintain a conspiracy in the face of legal pressure.  Everything: the long interview sessions, the separation of cronies to see if they can keep their stories straight, asking people to repeat stories over and over to see if there are discrepancies, the offering of lighter sentences to the first that admit guilt: this is all designed to use Games Theory (Prisoner’s Dilemma, mainly, but others, as well) to find out who broke the law.

It doesn’t always work.  Some people are better liars.  Some threats of retaliation are convincing enough to keep lips sealed.  Sometimes the pre-coordination and memorization of stories works.

But other times, it works.

James Comey’s book just came out. Look what has already happened:

This is just after the pressure of one person saying things to protect himself that his cronies could see as throwing them under the bus.  So they have been doing some hypovehiculation of their own.

And there are others. Obama is implicated in this.

Susan Rice wrote an email to herself, attempting to cover her vulnerabilities.

And Rosenstein could get dragged in, as well as Sally Yates.

With the exception of the Susan Rice email, this *all* happened just from Comey releasing a self-serving memoir.

Now compare to the Trump Administration.  Trump is not known for message discipline, right?  Several people have been fired from positions of power. Having been fired, they would then have motivation to leak about criminal behavior, and would be in a position to do so, even with signed Non-Disclosure Agreements. That alone should provide evidence of guilt, but there has *also* been a Special Prosecutor investigation nearly everything it can on Trump: not just collusion with Russia, but also irregularities (if any) in the transition process, and actions taken dozens of years before he won the GOP nomination.

And yet?  Nothing.

A few people have been convicted or “confessed” to the “crime” of lying to the FBI. These are process crimes, and are not related to any actions that Mueller should be investigating.

The FBI could surveill you for a week to get proof of your activities, review it a hundred times until they had your words and actions memorized, and then give you *one* chance in an interview to, at the drop of a hat, provide an account that matches exactly with what they collected via surveillance. If there is any discrepancy, they will accuse you of lying.  Any hesitancy in response, or any change to your response, will only only give them more evidence that you lied.

This should not be a crime.  It should only be a crime if the action underlying their questions is a crime.  One guy was convicted because he was a lawyer who talked to one of Trump’s lawyers, but didn’t admit it to the FBI.  Horrors!

But I digress.

When you point out that after a year of investigation, Mueller has uncovered no evidence of criminal actions connected to his specified target topic, and that the convictions are only for process violations unrelated to the specified target topic, the response is that this is a tactic to put pressure on the foot soldiers to provide evidence on higher-ups.

Even with this pressure, Mueller has found nothing.  And we know he found nothing, because his office has never been able to keep from leaking any news that hurts the President.

In contrast, the Obama cronies are at each other’s throats after just one fiction story.

It is obvious who broke the law. No honor among thieves…and conspirators, it seems.

 

 

 

 

 

Disruption

  • by Gitabushi

In my last post, I mentioned Disruption.

This is a theme I’m still pondering. I haven’t come to any solid, final conclusions yet.  When I do, it will likely become another stakeholder/touchpoint in my personal socio-political Philosophy of Everything.

Right now, what I’ve mostly decided is that disruption is neither good nor bad.  It is Chaos, which is the dissolution of Order.  Order is generally good, but tends to calcify, becoming unyielding and stifling to the dynamics of human life.  In contrast, of course, Chaos tends to feed on itself, dissolving order and keeping humans in a constant state of stress and crisis, which pressures individuals into poor decisions that expand the Chaos.

This is kind of a big deal for my philosophy, because I’ve been a pretty consistent advocate of Order.

How I came to embrace the good points of Chaos was simply mulling on the best way to deal with the growing oligarchy of Silicon Valley, crony capitalism, Too Big to Fail corporations, and the unholy alliance between Government and Big Business.

I’m not a full-on Libertarian for a number of reasons, but I do have a Libertarian distrust of turning to Government to fix problems..  The problem with having Government fix problems is they tend to see all problems as opportunities for graft or gaining additional control over the every day life of citizens, they rarely do a good job of fixing things, and they are probably more responsive to other citizens who have a different notion of what “fixed” looks like than I do.

I am a firm believer in Liberty, however, and absolutely believe that the most effective solutions involve *increasing* options for individuals, rather than decreasing them.

This is intrinsically related to what I see as the role of Government: do the things citizens can’t do individually or even effectively in private groups, like National Defense and determining and acting on National Interest; resolve problems between equals (equal persons, lower levels of government, corporations, corporations and citizens, etc.); and working to ensure a level playing field.  To a certain extent, these are all just different aspects of the same thing: private citizen groups *could* engage in foreign policy and military action, but it would conflict with the rights and interests of other citizens, so it would almost immediately create a conflict that would need government to resolve, so just have the government do it in the first place, and ensuring a level playing field *is* resolving conflicts between citizens or between citizens and corporations.

So what I’m getting around to saying is that I think the best way to stop Big Corps from running and ruining our lives, or from putting their quest for Profit above the best interests of their workers and customers, is to encourage competition.

The best way to stop Google and Facebook from monitoring us 24/7 is to make it easier for other companies to make money disrupting Google’s and Facebook’s business model. The Silicon Valley Oligarchs are huge fans of regulation right now, the same issue they were huge opponents of when they (and the internet) was in its infancy.  That’s because regulation creates barriers to competition.  The difficult part is how easy it is to demagogue regulation.

Here’s a great example: It was discovered that some toys from China had lead paint.  This is bad. From there, it is very easy to demand that *all* toys imported from China be tested for lead paint.  Since that is logistically impossible, the logical step is to have random testing of imported toys, and demand that the toy importers pay for it. Guess who can afford to pay for random testing because they benefit from economies of scale?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al.  Guess who supported the new regulation for random testing paid for by the importer?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al. The regulation represented an additional barrier to small, upstart toy importers that could cut into their market share.  But if you oppose the regulation, China will have no incentive to stop exporting toys with lead paint, and US children will be harmed.

Look, some regulation is good. But encouraging disruption is also good.

There is no reason that a large company must stay a large company. There is no reason that just because they’ve been making a number of sales for a certain profit margin, that they should be able to continue doing so forever. Humans must compete and work to improve themselves to maintain their station in life, so corporations should also.  And they comprehend that, because they are always fighting to increase their market share, drive out competition, etc.  There’s just no reason our government should help them in reducing competition.

But I also can’t say disruption is always a good tool.  The Left has done a great job of disrupting things they don’t like: Christianity, the traditional family, integrity, free speech, the right to self-defense (via the Second Amendment right to bear arms). LBJ’s Great Society was extremely disruptive to the black community and to many of the traditions that had made the US strong.  Medicare merely added to the misconception created by Social Security that individuals should not be responsible for their own lives, sustenance, and comfort.  I cannot describe to you the sense of frustration and despair I felt when I found out that the Health Care for Life that I earned by sacrificing 20 years of my life to the military reverts to Medicare when I turn 65.  Not that the military’s TRICARE is all that good.  But everything I’ve seen convinces me that Medicare is worse.  But I digress.

The simple truth is that disruption is merely a tool that helps us improve the order in our lives.  But tools can be used badly, and tools can be used on the wrong target, or for the wrong reasons.

I haven’t developed any pithy truisms regarding disruption. I don’t even have a metric for when or how to encourage creative disruption yet.  Let’s have a discussion about it in the comment section.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Ideas

  • by Gitabushi

I might never get my act together and write consistently.

Ah, screw the long-winded introduction. Let’s just get right into it:

Here are some story ideas I’ve started and abandoned. If you like any of them, use them. Whatever you would do with them would be so different than what I would do with them, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell they came from the same idea seed.  And that’s if I ever wrote any more on these stories, which I probably won’t, so if you use any of these, you won’t even owe me a mention on your acknowledgement page.

  1. Science Fiction story: a spy ship is on a mission to collect intelligence from an enemy world. Detected, it flees. But a traitor within prevents it from escaping, and the crew is captured. Basically, the point was a Science Fiction remix of the capture of the USS Pueblo and the Collision of the Chinese Fighter with the EP-3, with my thoughts on leadership and responsibility thrown in.  Does the pilot/commander have the responsibility to sacrifice his people for mission secrecy?  Or, at what point do military secrets matter less than a handful of lives? Does it matter if those lives are volunteers who accepted their lives might be forfeit the moment they stepped on the craft? And how do you lead your people to resist mind-games while in captivity?
  2. Fantasy story: Magic in this world is placed into twigs via ritual. Breaking the twig releases the magic. It can do things like increase strength, increase distance vision, permit levitation, etc. But each use of magic draws upon the normal powers or energy of the user. So, for example, if you use the vision enhancement twig, your vision is weakened for a few hours after the spell runs out.  If you use several magic twigs to boost the effect or delay the cost, then you risk permanent disability. Placed in the context of war, the intent was to explore the sacrifices soldiers make to complete the mission.
  3. Private Eye Noir story: man wakes up to find a red-haired woman wearing bright green pointing a gun at him.  She asks him a few inexplicable questions, then pistol whips him into unconsciousness.  I have no idea what I was going to do with this, I just thought it was a good start.  One possibility was when he goes out looking for the girl, he finds a red-haired girl in bright green has been murdered…but is it a frame?  Is it even the same girl?
  4. Science Fiction story: Due to an unknown development (but likely a microbe unexpectedly brought back from Mars), children are born without the ability to heal wounds. This should cause them to die before passing on their genes, but one rich family spares no expense to let their son live a full life: protective equipment when young, ballet and martial arts teachers from before they can walk to have the grace/balance to avoid damage. This method spreads to the point that there are hundreds of millions of people afflicted with unhealing, but someone uses fear of the unhealing to stir up hatred, and a war breaks out.  The superior grace, balance, and fighting ability of the unhealing results in them eradicating the genetic line of the healing, and civilization collapses, and all modern knowledge is lost within 40-50 years. But a moon colony has been watching this, developed a cure for affliction, and now wants to come back and re-introduce civilization, but as masters.  So the healing serum is offered to a young fighter to seduce him into being their general. Being able to heal, he can be more reckless in individual duels to ascend to tribal champion, then unite the various tribes by conquest.  Except maybe he has plans of his own. Intent was to show that some of the arguments about evolution are garbage (“See the giraffe? The long neck helped them survive by reaching the tops of trees when other animals starved! That proves evolution!”), but also the nature of using hate to build political power, and the desire of people to be rulers/masters.
  5. Epic Science Fiction universe: An asteroid barely misses the earth, inspiring a wealthy entrepreneur to fund a generation ship to another solar system. Inhabitants go through a trial to make it on the ship. The ship launches. A few weeks later, a mission to terraform Mars is launched.  Then an asteroid hits the earth, destroying most of life. This allows all sorts of science fiction stories: how are people selected to be crew on the generation ship?  You don’t want only intellectual scientists and engineers…do you? Apocalypse stories. Maintaining civilization on a ship stories. Moon colony stories. Mars terraforming stories.  Rebuilding civilization stories.  Could maybe even through in a zombie apocalypse, or magic re-emerging on earth in the wake of the asteroid apocalypse.  Epic.
  6. Science Fiction story: FTL needs pilots. Humans go insane from brain damage if they remain awake during FTL travel. Computers also fail if left on during FTL travel.  An accidental discovery indicates that children that have passed into the Pre-Operational stage (ages 2-7) can pilot ships without brain damage; obviously, a two year old couldn’t follow the steps correctly, but their brain development stage allows them to experience the FTL environment without damage. In the Concrete Operational stage (age 7-11), brain damage begins to occur; however, the damage doesn’t actually impact the mental activity until they achieve Formal Operational (around age 11). The government needs pilots. Age 2-7 is too short a time period for useful mission operation to be worth the training, so the government allows kids to keep piloting until they actually go insane. However, few parents would agree to this, so the pilots are all orphans. After they go insane, they are allowed to mingle, have sexual intercourse, and birth children…who are, of course, Wards of the State and eligible to be pilots.  To justify this virtual slavery, the pilots are given a good salary and the ability to buy out their contract. Most, being kids, just buy toys and candy.  One child, however, actually enjoys the idea of investing and manages to buy out his contract before experiencing any brain damage.  He gets out and goes into business and becomes wealthy, due to his ability to plan for the future, work hard, and delay gratification.  Then one day, a gray man comes to him and says, “Your little brother is still in, but will reach the damaging stage some time within the next year. Join me.”  This idea was conceived in reaction to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, in which children think and act like adults.  It pissed me off. Plus, I wanted to write an epic Star Wars like space opera romp, of a ragtag crew fighting against an all-powerful, and banally-evil govt. I always like stories where the govt is the bad guy, but not from Rule the World evil as much as People Are Liabilities and Must be Told What to Do and How to Live sort of evil.