What Is It About the Internet?

What is it about the Internet that seems to produce and/or attract flimflammers? Low barriers to entry? Something else? I have always thought that both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were flimflammers and recent news provides additional support for that view. Tremendously rich and successful flimflammers but flimflammers nonetheless.

It also says something about the global economy that two of the richest people in the world are flimflammers.


Echo Silver

I hear that Alexa is losing money. Not surprising—Echo was always a loss leader. You cannot turn money losing lines of business into profitable ones with loss leaders or, at least, it’s darned hard.

There’s at least one thing we can thank Alexa for, the funniest Saturday Night Live sketch in years, “Echo Silver”.


Improving Mental Health Care

I found Stephen Eide and Carolyn D. Gorman’s report at Manhattan Contrarian simultaneously encouraging and frustrating. Here’s the nub:

The concept of a Continuum of Care system can guide discussions of accountability in mental health policy. In recent years, mental health has been a leading focus of news coverage, with policymakers at all levels of government regularly questioned as to their plans for reform, though the direction of mental health policy reform is often vague, if defined at all.

To function as a tool for accountability, Continuum of Care must be a term of distinction. Not all public mental health programs serve the seriously mentally ill, and not all programs that provide some benefit to the seriously mentally ill should be considered part of the Continuum of Care.

A significant number of major problems facing us could be ameliorated with better mental health care including homelessnesss, crime, mass killings, and drug abuse. I’m afraid it would require more than Continuum of Care but a sea change in how we think about mental health.

We’ve got to remove the stigma and take it more seriously at the same time. Families and those troubled themselves are reluctant to seek care. And the cases in which care is not a choice should be considered more critically than at present.


An Alternative to Foreign Aid

I think that Joe Chialo has hit upon something at Worldcrunch. France and Germany should stop sending aid to African countries and start investing more capital there. We should be doing the same in Central and South America.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I know why they and we don’t do that. It’s too risky. The money would just disappear without doing much to boost the economies of those countries. Just as foreign aid does and for the same reasons.

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Who’s Responsible?

I thought you might find this piece by Casey Crownhart at MIT Technology Review interesting. It has three relevant graphs and the most relevant is the one above.

I have four problems with President Biden’s declaration about the U. S. paying “loss and damage” to poorer countries for its emissions. First, the president doesn’t have the legal authority to make such a commitment. The Constitution is quite clear about that.

Second, the whole concept is implicitly Marxist and wrong, dividing the world into exploiters (the United States and other rich countries) and exploited.

Third, those supporting “loss and damage” imagine a completely one-sided ledger. What they conveniently ignore is the contributions to modern agriculture, medicine, and transportation that the rich countries have made and from which the remainder have benefited. A lot of people in those poor countries owe their lives to the rich countries. Isn’t that worth anything?

Finally, it has the typical problem with foreign aid: poor people in rich countries paying rich people in poor countries. If it does anything respecting carbon emissions it will exacerbate them since the rich guys into whose hands the money flows tend to have higher carbon emissions than anybody else in their home countries.

Also, why start at 1750? Why not start at 10,000BC? Weren’t people emitting carbon then?


The Army’s Recruiting Crisis

The military is falling far behind in its recruitment goals. At Army Times John Ferrari and John Kem propose four prospective strategies for remedying that:

  • Put people in Recruiting Command on the promotions track. Right now it’s a dead end.
  • Use commercially available sales software to improve recuiting.
  • Decentralize procurement as it pertains to recruiting.
  • Clearly articulate what it means by quality and why it believes most Americans are not qualified for recruitment into the Armed Forces.

I was surprised that not going to war when we’re not fully committed to winning didn’t make the cut. I would think that an endless meatgrinder from which victory was denied would be demotivating.


How Do You “Abolish Billionaires”?

I’m seeing quite a few opinion pieces calling for billionaires to be “abolished” (in the NYT and The Nation just to name two). I wonder how they intend to go about it. Back in the 1960s when the highest marginal personal income tax rate was 90%, there were still very rich people (Joe Kennedy’s net worth was about $500,000,000, well over a billion in today’s dollars) so pretty clearly it can’t be taxed away.

I’m completely in favor of ending subsidies to billionaires but it’s hard to drum up any interest in that.


Looking Backwards

I seem to be in a more than usually reflective mood today. In my life there has been an enormous amount of social change. Whatever you may think or read to the contrary blacks (we used to call them “colored people”) are no longer relegated to the back of the bus.

The United States has gone from a country that was 85% people of primarily European descent to 65%. Its population has nearly tripled, from 130 million to more than 330 million. 8% of the people had been foreign-born; now more than 14% are.

The likelihood not just of engaging in sex prior to marriage but having had multiple partners before marriage has increased enormously. The percentage of children born to parents who weren’t married has gone from 5% to 40%. Women working full-time jobs has gone from being a phenomenon of the poor to being not only expected but necessary. The openness of the professions to women has increased considerably.

Not only is marriage no longer between a man and a woman but we’re not even sure what men and women are.

I think it’s obvious that the nature and pace of social change is disruptive. I don’t think the society has really adapted to the change in sex roles impelled by the change in the role of women.

Here’s my question. Can a society exist without norms? I think we’re being pushed in that direction. I doubt that it can. I think that what Chesterton said holds: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. They then become capable of believing in anything” and applies to social norms as well.


When Failure Is an Option

For most of my life with a few hiatuses the United States has been at war. It might have been called a police action, an intervention, an invasion, or something else but it has been at war. It has lost many of those wars. Have you ever wondered why?

For insight I recommend you read John Waters’s interview of Clausewitz scholar Donald Stoker at RealClearDefense. In it Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all considered and, to some extent, the outcomes explained. Here’s a snippet:

No one blames the troops for our failures in Korea, Vietnam, or Afghanistan. Rather, it is “the political leaders who have forgotten that victory matters,” historian and Clausewitz scholar Donald Stoker told me recently over the phone. And since the politicians do not believe that victory matters, our troops have found themselves trapped in endless wars that lead to defeat or stalemate, a doom loop of poor planning-leads-to-poor results, where the pursuit of war itself becomes more important than defeat or victory.

The failure to pursue victory can take many forms from the civilian leadership failing to communicate the political goals to the military leadership to the political goals having been impossible from the start.

My own view is that we should never go to war unless failure is not an option.

We are presently at war with Russia. I am sure that many will disagree with that assessment but when you buy the weapon, transport the weapon to the battle zone, sight the target, aim the weapon, and do everything but pull the trigger, I think you’re at war and arguing differently is sophistry.

What are our political goals? Ukraine’s? Are we able to achieve them? Are we willing to achieve them?


The Velvet Hammer

In light of all of the encomiums being heaped on Nancy Pelosi in reaction to her announcement that she would not seek another term as Speaker of the House, I thought I’d provide a little background and commentary on Michael Madigan, nicknamed “the Velvet Hammer”, who was Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives for most of the last 40 years. Let’s start with a quick summary of important events:

Date Event
1969   Elected 13th Ward Committeeman
1970 Elected to the Illinois House
1977 Becomes part of House leadership
1983 Elected to the first of 18 terms as House Speaker
2019 Excommunicated
2021 Resigns as Speaker
2022 Indicted on federal racketeering charges

During Mr. Madigan’s tenure in office Illinois went from a state whose population and economy were growing rapidly, whose fiscal state was reasonably solid, and where the Democratic and Republican Parties competed for power in the state to one in which the population was declining, individuals and businesses were fleeing, it had (by some reckonings) the highest taxes in the nation, was paying higher interest rates to borrow than any other state, and Democrats held hegemonic unchallenged control. While in office Mr. Madigan became rich through property tax appeals cases handled by his law firm.

Mr. Madigan was an important Speaker. He was an influential Speaker. He was a powerful Speaker. He was not a good Speaker. As the late Mayor Daley would say, let’s look at the record.