Category Archives: Politics

Violence Always Escalates

violenceLast week I mentioned a saying that my sensei used to drill into us at the dojo. “Violence always escalates,” he said. Once violence begins, it doesn’t stop on its own. Violence only ends for three reasons.

  1. Violence ends when one party loses the ability to continue.
  2. Violence ends when one party loses the will to continue.
  3. Violence ends when one party makes a conscious effort to deescalate it and the other party is amenable to deescalation.

That’s it. Violence never ends for any other reason. Even one party achieving its objectives can’t end the violence on its own. If the other party still has the will and ability to fight, conflict will continue. Worse, as my sensei noted, it will escalate.

Retaliation is never equal. It is always greater. In the immortal words of Sean Connery, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

If it seems like 2016 is going off the rails, that’s because it is. There are many ongoing conflicts in the world today: Palestinians vs Israelis,ISIS vs the west, Black Lives Matters vs Blue Lives Matter, Russia vs Europe, the US vs… well, everyone it seems like. All of these conflicts are escalating. At times we’ve had leaders willing to make a conscious effort to deescalate. At times we’ve had leaders on the other sides amenable to deescalation. We’ve never quite managed to have both at once. Given that, escalation is inevitable.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing special about the modern age. We like to believe that we have evolved, but we have not left conflict behind us. There is no right side of history. History is riddled with pockets of peace as long as the one we’ve recently enjoyed. Some have been even longer. They inevitably end and conflict returns, as it is now. And when it comes, it always comes faster than people believe possible.

All of the conflicts I’ve listed are going to get worse before they get better – because violence always escalates.

No Second #Brexit Referendum

GBP-BrexitThe idea that there was going to be a second #Brexit referendum was, frankly, rather silly. “Leave” carried 52% of the vote. That’s as much as Barack Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012. It’s more than George W. Bush carried in either 2004 or especially 2000. It’s substantially more than Bill Clinton carried in 1996 and nearly ten points more than he carried in 1992. You have to go back almost three decades to find a US president who carried more than 52% of the vote. That was George H.W. Bush in 1988 – the year my wife was born.

That’s right – in her lifetime, my wife has seen one US president carry a higher percentage of the vote than Brexit did.

On top of that, the turnout was close to 75%, which is radically higher than any US presidential election in my lifetime.

In other words, if the Brexit vote were deemed invalid then there would basically be no reason to have any elections at all, ever. We’ve never once invalidated a presidential election. We didn’t decide that the result was too narrow for it to count. We didn’t call a “do over” because we believed people might change their minds the next day. And believe me – an awful lot of folks would like to invalidate many of those elections.

Nevertheless, this is how democracy works.

Today there’s confirmation: there will not be a second referendum.

The Government has rejected a call for a second referendum on European Union membership in a petition that was signed by more than 4.1 million people following the Brexit vote.

It was the most-signed Government petition since the process was introduced in 2011.

However in an official reply, the Foreign Office said 33 million people had had their say and “the decision must be respected”.

Folks like Mark Kern have done in demonstrating that a large number of those 4.1 million petitioners aren’t even British. Yet even if that weren’t the case, 4.1 million doesn’t compare to the 17.4 million who already voted to leave.

The voters have had their say, and they said “leave.”

Conflict is Nonlinear

dallasFor years and years as I was training in the martial arts, my sensei drilled many sayings into us. One of them is particularly appropriate at the moment: Violence always escalates. Over the years I’ve learned to put some caveats and limits on that saying – but the core of it remains true. Violence always escalates.

Today I’d like to add a corollary to that: Conflict is Nonlinear. What the heck does that mean?

Linear phenomena are simple. If you make a small change, get small and predictable result. Make a big change and you get a large, also predictable, result. Think about your water faucet. You turn the knob a little bit and you get a trickle of water. You turn it a lot and you get a deluge. Turn it the other way and it turns off. The direction that you turn it always produces the same effect: one way gives you more water, the other way gives you less. And the amount that you turn it adjusts the magnitude of the effect in a smooth manner.

Nonlinear phenomena are completely different. Imagine that your faucet worked completely differently. Pretend for a moment that turning the knob a little bit in one direction gave you a trickle of water. But turning it more in that direction turned it off. Give it another turn – a large one – and… you get a trickle. Give it another tiny turn, still in the same direction, and it gives you a flood. Try turning it in the opposite direction and you get similar effects.

True nonlinear systems follow complex mathematics. In one sense, they’re not quite as completely unpredictable as what I just described. You can predict patterns of behavior that can give you some ideas of how the systems work. On the other hand, they can be even more unpredictable than what I just described. Predicting exact, precise results for nonlinear systems is pretty much impossible. This is why the weathermen still can’t predict the weather more than a day or three in advance, and they’ll probably never be able to.

The human brain handles linear systems very well. We encounter them every day and they match with our natural intuition. But we don’t handle nonlinear systems well at all. They respond in completely non-intuitive ways.

Conflict is nonlinear. Once it starts, it doesn’t respond predictably at all. Tiny events can escalate it out of all proportion. Meanwhile drastic events can have imperceptible effects, barely effecting anything. Or maybe the tiny events have tiny effects and big events have big effects. The reality is that both can and do happen once the conflict starts.

Racial tensions in this country have been growing for at least the last year – I’d actually argue for far longer. Last night, the conflict kicked off in earnest. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Once bullets are in the air, they don’t care which side you’re on.

Rule of Law is Dead

hillary_bitch_faceAfter nearly a year long investigation, the FBI today recommended that no charges be filed against Hillary Clinton for maintaining her own private e-mail server. This is despite the fact that there is more than enough public evidence already to file plenty of charges. Had I or any of my coworkers committed the same offenses that we know that Hillary has, there wouldn’t have even been a year long investigation. They’d have long since thrown us under the jail and destroyed the key.

Rule of law is officially dead in this country. If you are sufficiently connected and powerful, the laws simply don’t apply anymore. Meanwhile, the little guy is held accountable for the tiniest infractions. Welcome to our banana republic.

What is an SJW?

SJWsAlwaysLieMy book review of SJWs Always Lie combined with yesterday’s post about originality in my mind to remind me that many of my readers may not actually know what an SJW is.

SJW stands for “Social Justice Warrior.” Although the phenomenon has been around for at least a few decades now, the term itself is relatively new. There’s some debate about the origins. Some say the Social Justice Warriors named themselves. Some irate SJWs claim that others coined it as a pejorative term. I’m more inclined to accept the former story for reasons that will soon become clear. But I have to admit straight up that I don’t actually know.

SJWs are a particular, radical subgroup of the political left. In particular, they embody an especially radical form of that distinct liberal ideology known as “progressivism.” They can be readily identified by the following features:

  • They believe in activism for the sake of activism. SJWs are all about the petitions, demonstrations, sit ins, and hashtag advocacy. It doesn’t matter much what the activism is for. The activism itself is a form of virtue signaling.
  • It doesn’t matter much what the activism is for – as long as it fits the pattern. The pattern is that the prime goal is always to root out “offensive” or “unacceptable” behavior in others.
  • “Offensive” behavior is always defined in terms of sex, race, or sexual orientation – even if the behavior in question has nothing to do with these things.
  • The more a person can identify with a “disadvantaged” social group, the higher status that person has within the SJW hierarchy. What’s more, those higher status individuals are also treated as if they have higher moral status – regardless of their own actual behavior. These people make up, in SJW minds, a kind of Sacred Victimhood.
  • SJWs assume that all non-SJWs are always and forever acting in bad faith – specifically, they’re always trying to oppress members of the Sacred Victimhood.
  • Motivation matters more to SJWs than consequences. They are actively paving the road to hell with their Good Intentions.
  • They will deny any and all aspects of objective reality in order to maintain their narrative.

They move in a herd. They are often also referred to as “rabbit people.” That’s kind of an in joke – a reference to a particular evolutionary psychology theory that some use to explain their behavior. There’s strong debate about the validity of that theory, but the name stuck because it fits. SJWs are finely attuned to the thought of the group and always move with it. They are incapable of forming their own opinions.

They often possess very slightly above average intelligence (say, an IQ in the 105 to 115 range). They are convinced that this means they are actual geniuses. They have not spent enough time around actual geniuses to know better. Many have been told all their lives that they are actual geniuses. Yes, if you’re wondering, Millennials make up the largest portion of SJWs. Baby Boomers are next.

They will always find a way to make everything about them. And it will always be about how they are victimized, because they are always victims. They simply don’t know how to operate in any other way.

They exhibit a phenomenon very similar to the famous “two minutes hate” of George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984. The herd will select a target based on their “heresy” to some particular part of the SJW Narrative. You never know who this person will be or why they will be picked, because the Narrative is always changing. Yes, that’s another similarity with Mr. Orwell’s classic. Most of the time they choose their targets from the political right, but not always. Those on the left who are not SJWs are not-infrequent targets. Sometimes they will even turn on their own, in a process that seems more akin to something out of Lord of the Flies than anything else. Nobody is safe.

I am very definitively on the rightward side of the political spectrum, yet this is not an attack on all of those on the left. I have known many on that side that I can at least sit down and have a rational discussion with. We may not change each others’ minds, but we can at least talk. You can’t have a rational discussion with an SJW – even if you’re on the left, too. It’s simply not possible to do.

This sounds extreme. Many reading this will think that this can’t possibly be right. Yet I can assure you that these people exist. I have met them. I have had run ins with them. I have watched them literally destroy the lives of their targets. I even briefly had one try to turn the two-minute-hate on me.

#Brexit Bet

GBP-BrexitBritain won’t be the last to exit the EU – and the next one won’t be overly long in coming, either. Most likely nobody else will exit before Britain’s two year withdrawal period is up. Everyone else will want to watch and see what happens to Britain. But when it turns out not to be the global catastrophe that many have predicted, there are several European nations that have strong incentive to leave.

The PIIGS – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain are the obvious candidates. In fact, I’m personally surprised that Greece wasn’t the first to go. But with their current economic conditions, they have a good reason to be next. Getting out of the Euro and defaulting on their loans would remove their crippling debt and let them devalue their currency. Both would be painful – extremely painful – in the short run. But in the medium term, that combination would let them get their feet under them again. They can’t do it while they remain in the EU. The other PIIGS are in similar, though less severe, circumstances. If one of them is first, it’ll probably be Greece.

France is another strong contender. Marine Le Pen and the National Front have been gaining ground in France for years already. Brexit is likely to put wind in their sails and strengthen their cause. On top of that, France is… well, it’s French. They’re the ones who withdrew from NATO in 1966… basically because they just didn’t feel like being part of it anymore. It would not be a surprise for them to taunt Europe a second time. As a coworker suggested, they’re likely to wait for the absolute most chaotic possible time to do it – just because they’re French.

The counterintuitive but very plausible contender is Germany. France and Germany were already pulling more than their share to keep the EU afloat. The fifth largest economy in the world just voted to leave the EU. That isn’t going to make it easier for Germany. Merkel is already in trouble. Her popularity is dipping, and a lot of it is anti-EU sentiment. The German nationalists probably don’t have enough vote to claim her chancellorship… this round. But they’re growing just about as fast as the National Front in France.

Which one of these will be next? I’d guess Greece. On the other hand, France is the only one that just might do it before Britain finishes the process. Once again, it would be very French for them to cut a side deal with Britain as part of their mutual exit deals. In short, I think it’s most likely to be one of Greece, France or Germany – but I’m not ready to put money on it.

What I am ready to put money on is that it’s a matter of when and who – not if. Indeed, I already did put money on it. Earlier tonight I bet a steak dinner that ten years from now at least two more nations will have withdrawn from the EU. I’m officially documenting it here for the world to see. Why two? Nobody wants to be the first. But once the process starts, it will accelerate. It’s the nature of these things.


SJWsAlwaysLieI’ve planned to read SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police for quite some time. With one thing or another, I’ve always found a reason to push it off. As a regular and longtime reader of the author’s blog, I had also witnessed firsthand as many of the principles in this book were developed. I already had a basic grasp on the concepts, so the book itself could wait.

A couple of weeks ago, however, something happened that finally forced it to the top of my list. In short, I knew that I needed to read it. The good news is that the book is quite short. I made it through the entire thing in only a few hours. The better news is that I really did have a good handle on the concepts. I handled the situation correctly, and following the principles in this book did indeed shut it down. The bad news is that this book proved decisively that I was indeed dealing with an SJW, a fact that I had previously been uncertain of.

Due to a gentleman’s agreement that I made with the “professional in the room” who helped me successfully deal with this issue, I can’t go into any detail about the exact situation. All I will say is this: the issue began with a baseless legal threat. When I quickly shut that down, it just as rapidly escalated into the beginnings of an internet lynch mob. Using the advice in this book, I shut that down very quickly as well.

The SJW phenomenon is absolutely real, and it’s one of the worst developments in American culture in my lifetime. These people do not believe in politics by discourse – they believe in absolutely destroying the individuals they oppose.

SJWs Always Lie is an uncomfortable book. Many on the left side of the political spectrum will find this book uncomfortable. It is not fun to believe that those whom you might agree with are acting in this way. Moderates – those who actively seek compromise – will find it difficult to acknowledge that some people simply aren’t interested in it. Conservatives will find it difficult to accept the tactics that are necessary to fight back. Those with a libertarian inclination, like myself, will resist the necessity of leaving behind our “live and let live” principles.

Yet necessary it is. This book illustrates the tactics that actually work against these people – the tactics that will prevent them from destroying your life. And I can now say from personal experience that they do work.

This is not a happy book. It’s not a fun book. It’s not a book that you’ll enjoy reading. Yet if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of an SJWs two-minutes-hate, you’ll be glad you’ve read it. In short, this is a necessary book. Sadly, the future looks to make this book more necessary, not less.

And for what it is, it’s done perfectly. It is short. It is concise. It is clear and easy to understand. It lays out the principles you’ll need: how to recognize an SJW, and how to fight back. It doesn’t belabor the point, but it also doesn’t leave anything out. For that, I give SJWs Always Lie five stars out of five. Highly recommended – not because you’ll enjoy it, but because someday you’ll probably need it.

That’s Where The Money Is

I sparked off an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday when I made a wisecrack about Apple withdrawing from the Republican National Convention. Specifically, one of my friends wondered why Apple was involved in the first place. I found the question itself to be shocking.

Why was Apple involved in a political party’s convention? For the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: Washington is where the money is.

Another friend of mine jumped into the fray defending Apple, with the following factoid:

To which I can only respond… so what?

For the record, I have not bothered to fact check these numbers. I know Michael well in real life, and I strongly suspect that he has a good source. Even so, the reality is that this is irrelevant.

First of all, that still means Apple spent over $4 million dollars on direct lobbying. That’s not a trivial sum. Even a company the size of Apple doesn’t throw that kind of money around without expecting a return.

Second, the fact that Apple is spending less than Google could mean that it’s getting a better return on the dollars it is spending. Or it could mean that it’s found that it’s not getting a great return, so it spends in other areas.

Third, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison (forgive the unintentional pun). Google has several products that it sells directly to government customers and/or government contractors: Google Maps Servers (recently discontinued, but I know firsthand that government was one of their big users), GMail and related apps (Google went to a lot of effort and expense to get GMail approved for use by government contractors) and more. They’ve also been the target of real and threatened anti-trust lawsuits. Apple, on the other hand, sells boutique products – high end devices at premium prices. That’s the exact opposite of the government’s typical spending patterns. In short, Google has more reason for direct lobbying than Apple does.

Fourth, never forget that direct lobbying is only part of the story. All of the major tech companies have been playing roles in the conventions of both political parties for the last several cycles, and those roles have been getting larger. Why? Because we live in the digital age, and conventions need tech to operate. Providing wi-fi for thousands of people is a logistical nightmare. Streaming video of all of the important speeches is a big deal. Getting an app together for convention goers is expected these days. And that’s just the big stuff. Some of those services are donated and classified as political contributions. Some of those services are paid contracting services. This is, after all, part of what these tech companies do. Providing these services as a paid contractor is influential all by itself, even if you haven’t offered any discounts.

Fifth, Apple is a highly unusual company. But it’s a highly unusual company that’s in the process of becoming a rather typical big company. The Apple of today is already not the same company that it was under Steve Jobs. Expect that change to become more pronounced over the next decade. That’s exactly what happened to Microsoft after Bill Gates stepped down, and I don’t know anybody who would argue that Jobs was less directly influential on his company than Gates was.

This last comparison is even more apt than it at first seems. Microsoft spent very little money on lobbying – very little… until the late 1990s. What changed? In 1998 Microsoft was hit with a massive anti-trust lawsuit. But it didn’t come out of the blue. Everybody had known it was coming for a few years before that. Bill Gates later expressed regret that he resisted spending money on lobbying in the early days of Microsoft’s history.

The simple fact of the matter is that Washington controls a tremendous amount of money. Government in the US collects 26% of GDP in tax revenue. Granted, that includes state and local governments. But the federal government’s $4 trillion budget is the lion’s share of it. That’s a hell of a lot of money. If you’re a major corporation like Microsoft, Google, or Apple, and you’re not making the effort to get at least some piece of that pie, you’re missing out. But that’s only part of the story. Government regulation plays a huge role in the economics of major companies: trade rules, tariffs, taxes, labor laws, environmental regulations, intellectual property rules, finance law – all of these things and more effect the bottom line of big companies. A small regulation change in any of these areas can literally cost – or save – a company like Apple millions of dollars. You’d better believe that they have their fingers in that pie.

apple_rncThis isn’t a diatribe against Apple. They’re not doing anything differently than any other huge corporation. But it is a simple reality: big government and big corporations feed and nourish each other by necessity. You cannot have one without the other.

But to finish with the thought that kicked off the whole discussion: don’t let yourself think for a minute that Apple gives a damn about gay rights or any other rights. If it did, then it would stop doing business with countries like Saudi Arabia that kill gay people – not just states that say you don’t have to bake them a wedding cake. Why does Apple do business with Saudi Arabia? Because it’s profitable. Why did it pull out of the RNC and stop doing business with South Carolina? Because that’s good PR for its core customer base: upper middle class coastal elites.

Like all big corporations, Apple doesn’t give a damn about your values or mine. It only cares about one value: the almighty dollar.

The Metamorphosis of Washington, D.C.


The following comment from Glenn Reynolds’s most recent column in USA Today gave me thought:

Over the past few decades, Washington has gone from a sleepy town with restaurants and real estate priced to fit a civil servant’s salary to a glittering city with prices that match a K street lobbyist’s salary.

This is just a tiny comment, almost throwaway in the larger article. As Mr. Reynolds himself would say, read the whole thing. But this is what I want to focus on – mostly because I can confirm it.

My grandparents – on both sides of the family – lived in the suburbs of D.C. In my very early childhood I lived in northern Virginia. Until about the mid 1980s I spent rather a lot of time in the city. The huge variety of museums, monuments and memorials – nearly all of which are free admission – made it an excellent place for a family to take children. Even after we moved to Alabama in 1985, we made regular trips back to the area. We spent almost every Christmas there, and more than once I spent a week or so visiting grandparents in the summer.

My maternal grandfather passed away in 1992 and my paternal grandmother passed away in 1995 (my paternal grandfather passed away before I was born). At around the same time, my cousins were rapidly graduating from high school, then college, then starting families of their own. As you can imagine, our trips became less frequent. But my maternal grandmother still lived in the area until she passed away last weekend, so we still made it up there.

Long story short: I can tell you from firsthand experience that Mr. Reynolds statement is absolutely true. In fact, we were in DC just this March for the first time in a couple of years. My wife and I distinctly noticed how the city had changed even in that short time. The city, even the touristy areas, are distinctly less family friendly than they used to be. Police are more common – far more common – and less friendly. Security theater is more omnipresent (I was denied entry into the Air & Space Museum over a MacGuyver/Boy Scout style Swiss Army Knife).

But these aren’t the only changes. As Mr. Reynolds notes, the city is considerably more expensive than it once was. This change is less recent. My own anecdotal experience says that the big increase came in the late 1990s and early 2000s – especially during the run-up to the housing crisis of 2008. Beyond my grandparents, I’ve had other family in the area. One relative recently sold their home, and I peeked at the listing price. It was mind-bogglingly high – yet not out of line, given where there house was. Yet I also know what kind of house the same price would get you here in North Alabama, and the difference is staggering.

I also know that there’s no way this particular family member could have paid that kind of price when the house was originally bought decades ago. In line with Mr. Reynolds’s comment, this was a dual-income family but both were civil servants. It’s a good house, and always was. Even when they bought it, it was probably a stretch on their income. But the new price simply isn’t one that a young civil-servant family could afford, even on dual income (an older civil service couple, nearing the top end of the pay scale, perhaps). The cost of living in the area has simply changed that much.

Washington D.C. and it suburbs are now truly the home of elites – serious elites. Not the top 10%, not likely even the top 5%. The only people who can comfortably afford it are the top 3%, or maybe higher.

It’s not a good thing that our capital has turned into that. The residents of the city are decision makers for the entire nation, yet they live a life that is completely divorced from what the rest of the nation experiences. Brexit, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are all symptoms of a populace that’s tired of being ruled by people who don’t know and often don’t like us.

We don’t like you, either. And we’re more numerous, and we can vote.

All Modern, Western, Secular Ideologies Are Actually Christian Heresies

Don’t let the title of this post throw you off. This is the day when I take off my Catholic Christian hat and return to my undergraduate roots. I’m putting on my philosopher’s hat. Even so, I’m going to make a strong claim that many secularists will take issue with. You see, we can best understand all of the major ideologies of the modern secular world as heresies of the Christian faith. This isn’t a theological claim. It’s a historical claim.

Christian heresies all follow the same general pattern. They either take a general tenant of Christian theology or dogma and overly simplify it or they take a single Christian virtue and elevate it above the others. Take for example the ancient heresies. Arianism, for example, overly simplified the doctrine of the Trinity by claiming that God and Christ were not consubstantial. Gnostic Christianity (distinct from but heavily influenced by the raw gnosticism that predated Christianity) claimed that the material world was fully evil. The claim is far simpler than Christian doctrine that the material world is fallen yet inherently good. Heresy begins as an attempt to simplify, but becomes heresy when it oversimplifies.

Or, as Ross Douthat put it in his most excellent book Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics:

The goal is always progress: a belief system that’s simpler or more reasonable, more authentic or more up-to-date. Yet the results often vindicate the older Christian synthesis. Heresy sets out to be simpler and more appealing and more rational, but it often ends up being more extreme.

The major modern western ideologies have all managed the exact same kinds of oversimplification. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other.

  • Socialism and Communism (in all of their forms, and across their whole spectrum) elevates the Christian virtue of charity above all else.
  • Libertarianism elevates the Christian virtue of dignity of the individual above all else.
  • Environmentalism elevates the Christian teaching that men are the stewards of the Earth above all else.
  • Feminism elevates the Christian teaching that women should be respected and well treated above all else.
  • Progressivism elevates the Christian virtue of tolerance above all else.
  • Capitalism elevates the Christian work ethic above all else.
  • Globalism elevates the Christian conception of community above all else.
  • Liberalism elevates the Christian concept of equality above all else.

In each and every case, the movements behind the ideologies were historically founded by Christian communities. No other communities could have founded them. The virtues at their base are not to be found in the same ways in other major world religions. Even Judaism, from which Christianity evolved, does not view these virtues in quite the same way. Without that base view there is no intellectual foundation upon which to build these ideologies.

And yet each and every one of these ideologies also warped the Christian virtues upon which they were founded. In the end they have distorted the virtues so badly that it’s difficult for an outsider to even recognize them. Socialism looks like theft. Libertarianism can’t shake the appearance of hedonism. Progressivism morphs into something grotesque and intolerant in its own right. Capitalism looks for all the world like raw greed. In the end, oversimplification brings all of these ideologies to their knees.

Yet the virtues they are founded on are good virtues. We should care about them – and most of us do, even if we call ourselves “secular” instead of “Christian.” We fail only when we forget that all of the other virtues are also, well, virtuous.

It is time to put my Catholic Christian hat back on. We fail because we have turned to heresies in the modern age. We would be far better served if we returned to the source.