Trump Acts Crazy; Democrats Respond by Saying "Hold My Beer"

Six months into the Trump Administration, I was committed to voting for whomever the Democrats fielded in the next election -- I was even going to eschew my usual quixotic Libertarian vote.

Since then my views on Trump are mixed at best.   I still think his demeanor is appalling.  His trade policy is even worse than I had feared.  His demagoguery on immigration has only resulted in a gridlock that has left a total mess at the border.  His use of national emergencies to end-run democratic processes is a terrible precedent.  To be fair, there have been some good things.  I have been encouraged by some of the regulatory efforts in some of his departments -- in particular I would happily follow Sonny Perdue's lead and ship much of the Federal headcount out of DC and into flyover country.  And I think the tax cuts passed were largely structured in a sensible manner.  None of this silver lining, though, is enough to offset the bad things for me.

But the largest change that has occured since my original vow has been the behavior of the Democrats.  Seeing the craziness in the White House, their response has been "You think that's crazy?  Hold my beer!"  The competition among mainstream Democratic candidates to one up each other with trillion dollar giveaways and absurd socialist programs is simply astounding.  Even my wife the New England Democrat -- who I am pretty sure has never checked an R box in the voting booth except maybe for Jeff Flake -- is horrified at the choices.

I am exceedingly close to joining the Ostrich party and, after years of political engagement, just ignoring it all.

Regime Uncertainty and Trump's Trade Machinations

Conservatives rightly criticised the Obama Administration for rewriting rules so frequently and seemingly arbitrarily that businesses were reluctant to make long term investments.  As the WSJ editorialized in 2016:

Pfizer CEO Ian Read defends the company’s planned merger in an op-ed nearby, and his larger point about capricious political power helps explain the economic malaise of the last seven years. “If the rules can be changed arbitrarily and applied retroactively, how can any U.S. company engage in the long-term investment planning necessary to compete,” Mr. Read writes. “The new ‘rules’ show that there are no set rules. Political dogma is the only rule.”

He’s right, as every CEO we know will admit privately. This politicization has spread across most of the economy during the Obama years, as regulators rewrite longstanding interpretations of longstanding laws in order to achieve the policy goals they can’t or won’t negotiate with Congress. Telecoms, consumer finance, for-profit education, carbon energy, auto lending, auto-fuel economy, truck emissions, home mortgages, health care and so much more.

Capital investment in this recovery has been disappointingly low, and one major reason is political intrusion into every corner of business decision-making. To adapt Mr. Read, the only rule is that the rules are whatever the Obama Administration wants them to be. The results have been slow growth, small wage gains, and a growing sense that there is no legal restraint on the political class.

I am willing to believe this is true. On my own smaller scale, our company has disinvested in California because we simply cannot keep up with the changing rules there.

But all this forces me to ask, why doesn't this same Conservative criticism apply to Trump's trade policy?  The rules are changing literally by the day -- Consumers of goods from Mexico are going to be hit by new tariffs, Mexican goods are not going to be hit by new tariffs, China is hit by new tariffs, a China deal is near, a China deal is not near, Company A got a special tariff exemption, Company B did not get a special exemption, etc. How can any company with a global supply chain, which is most any US manufacturer nowadays, plan for new products or investments in this environment when they have no ability to make long-term plans for their supply chain?

Climate "Disruption" and Publication Bias

Quite a while ago I wrote an article about climate publication bias called Summer of the Shark.

let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark." The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida. Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks. Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

The point is that it is easy for people to mistake the frequency of publication about a certain phenomenon for the frequency of occurrence of the phenomenon itself.  Here is a good example I saw the other day:

An emaciated polar bear was spotted in a Russian industrial city this week, just the latest account of polar bears wandering far from their hunting grounds to look for food.

Officials in the Russian city of Norilsk warned residents about the bear Tuesday.  They added that it was the first spotted in the area in over 40 years.

I am willing to bet my entire bourbon collection that a) hungry polar bears occasionally invaded Siberian towns in previous decades and b) news of such polar bear activity from towns like Norilsk did NOT make the American news.  But readers (even the author of the article) are left to believe there is a trend here because they remember seeing similar stories recently but don't remember seeing such stories earlier in their life.

One Wore Blue, One Wore Grey -- Chinese Version

A large part of the mythology of the American Civil War is the stories of brothers who fought on opposite sides of the way.   They are a favorite part of many Civil War novels (including that series which I can't remember the name of that had a Patrick Swayze mini-series).

I am sure similar stories are part of many civil war traditions in many countries, but one of the more amazing comes from China in the 20th century.  And it involved sisters, not brothers.

Soong Ching-Ling was one of three sisters born in the Shanghai area in the late 19th century and sent by their father to America for school.  She would marry her father's friend Sun Yat-Sen (one of several wives -- Sun was only Westernized so far).  When Sun died, the left-right coalition he held together among the Chinese revolutionary forces disintegrated, with Soong Ching-Ling ending on the communist side.  She eventually rose to be vice-president of the PRC.

Her sister Soong Mei-Ling would marry Sun Yat-Sen's protege Chiang Kai-Shek, who was to lead China in the 30's and early 40's and eventually dual unsuccessfully with the communists after the war for control of China.  He would then rule the Chinese nationalist forces in Taiwan for most of the rest of his life.

Postscript:  I see there is a Hong Kong movie with a pretty nice cast on the sisters, might have to watch it.

The Bad Economics of ... Pretty Much ALL Advocacy Groups Looking For Government Handouts

John Hinderaker at Powerline writes about the House committee hearing on reparations the other day.  Just as a review, there is a proposal on the table by many Democrats that a large group of Americans who have never owned slaves or even condoned slavery pay reparations for slavery to a large group of Americans who have never been slaves (nor likely have their parents or their grand parents).

Forgetting the moral bankruptcy of the underlying arguments for reparations, I would have thought that if modern American blacks were somehow owed reparations for past damages, the very fact of being held in bondage was damage enough.  That crime is so bad it's hard to imagine anything else really adding more than incrementally to the damage calculation.  But apparently Ta-Nehisi Coates tetified, using a recent academic paper, that cotton grown and harvested by black labor amounted to nearly half the US economic activity at the time, and thus was somehow worse.  I am not really sure I understand this argument, but if we focus narrowly on the statement at hand it is obviously absurd, if for no other reason than the fact that the South was economically overwhelmed in the war by the North.

Apparently the "trick" in the study was to essentially double count economic activity and claim any activity that only marginally touched on cotton to be part of the tally for the size of the cotton economy.

Coates’s numbers come from Cornell University historian Ed Baptist’s 2014 book The Half Has Never Been Told. In a key passage in the book, Baptist purports to add up the total value of economic activity that derived from cotton production, which at $77 million made up about 5 percent of the estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States in 1836. Baptist then committed a fundamental accounting error. He proceeded to double and even triple count intermediate transactions involved in cotton production — things like land purchases for plantations, tools used for cotton production, transportation, insurance, and credit instruments used in each. Eventually that $77 million became $600 million in Baptist’s accounting, or almost half of the entire antebellum economy of the United States.

My point is not to quibble with Coates's numbers per se -- as I said up top, a) I don't think reparations are owed for our great great grandparents actions b) I think the economic contribution of cotton is a rounding error on any damages that would be owed and c) I feel like the United States government and its people already paid this bill in blood and treasure during the Civil War.

The point I want to make is that this same error is made ALL THE TIME.  Every study you see quoted about economic impacts of .. whatever ... likely makes this same mistake, either accidentally or on purpose.  When sports teams try to get tax subsidies so their billionaire owners can build new stadiums, the economic impact "studies" they produce do this same triple counting.  When the sugar industry tries to justify the absurd tariffs that protect it, their studies use this same trick.  When climate alarmists cite economic impacts of a degree of warming, they use this technique.

By the way, I have made my own proposal on slavery reparations that targets the cost of reparations at the wealthy institution in the antebellum south, an institution that still exists today, which did the most to extend and preserve and defend slavery.

The Case For Studying History

I know that for many folks today, history seems increasingly irrelevant.  Millenials will say that anything a bunch of old white guys were doing 500 years ago has no bearing on their lives.  Or perhaps more accurately, they don't want it to have any bearing on their life.

I love history in and of itself, but studying it has real value in understanding public policy choices. The problem in public policy is that we can seldom run good controlled studies (e.g. half of you will live under socialism and half capitalism and we will see who does better).  And even when we do inadvertently run A/B tests (e.g. blue state fiscal and regulatory model vs red state) we seldom pay attention to the results in part because we are just too close to them and too invested in them in one way or another.

But if you look back through enough time and across enough different civilizations, humans have already run millions of experiments and we can read the results.  I find it impossible, for example, to look at our government today without thinking of Rome and the Gracchi brothers in the 2nd century BC.  People today are trying to throw out institutional checks and balances, rules of decorum, traditions of collegiality, and limitations on power because they feel these are standing in the way of (mostly) well-meaning improvement programs ( in areas such as climate, income inequality, racism, etc).  But history teaches that such efforts always end the same way.  As in Rome in 133BC or Russian in 1917 or Cuba in 1957 or in many other historical cases, the inroads made by well-meaning idealists in weakening limits on individual power just open the door for real iron-fisted authoritarians to take the helm.

Well, Sometimes You Can't Pick Your Allies

The only thing more annoying in an argument than trying to have a discussion with someone who does not think logically is to have an "ally" pop into the discussion on your side who does not think logically.  Via the AZ Republic

One of the original leaders of the anti-light rail movement in south Phoenix claims God "judged" Congressman Ed Pastor for "bringing death" to the community by supporting light rail and punished him with a fatal heart attack.

At a City Council meeting last week,Celia Contreras told council members she was "coming in the name of Lord Jesus Christ" with a message: Stop the light rail or the "punishment" will continue

Well, to be fair, the guy knows his business is going to take a big hit, without any hope of a takings claim on the government, and I suppose he is pretty stressed out.

By the way, the presence of this story in the Republic is a tell as to which side the paper favors.  I have been to public meetings on Phoenix light rail and I have personally seen a number of insane claims by light rail supporters (at lot of wrath of Gaia stuff, for example) that never gets featured in the paper.

I Used To Be Excited by SpaceX and Private Space Flight -- Now, They Are Just Another Crony

I guess I should not be surprised at this in a company headed by Elon Musk, but this is just straight-up cronyism of the worst sort (emphasis added):

The U.S. Air Force, which leads Pentagon space efforts, has spent the last five years reorganizing how the military and intelligence agencies get their satellites into orbit. Pursuant to congressional mandates, it has had three goals: (1) stop using Russian rocket engines, (2) assure access to all key orbits by selecting two capable launch providers, and (3) foster competition between those providers to discipline price and performance.

The service has made good progress, sharing the costs of developing new launch vehicles with prospective providers and preparing to select two winners next year. But now comes Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, with a plan to overturn the Air Force’s efforts by arbitrarily giving up to $500 million to the one company that failed to win a launch services agreement from the service in competitive bidding last year.

The losing company was Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which failed to convince the Air Force it had a suitable plan for assuring safe and reliable access to space for all planned military payloads. Under Rep. Smith’s proposal, which is contained in the pending 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, SpaceX would get a huge windfall of taxpayer money so that it can continue competing against the three companies that won development agreements in last year’s awards. As reporter Sandra Erwin observed at SpaceNews.com on June 10, “Smith’s provision would give SpaceX access to government funds that it did not win competitively.”

Smith’s proposed language is Washington politics at its worst. According to the Air Force, if it becomes law U.S. access to critical national security orbits will be endangered, the military will need to rely longer on Russian rocket engines, and the cost of all national-security space missions will increase. As if that were not enough, the Air Force says Smith’s proposal would reward an uncompetitive offeror while punishing successful competitors who have been sharing the cost of developing launch vehicles with the government.

For instance, the Smith provision would require other companies in the race for launch contracts to turn over intellectual property they have developed to SpaceX in order to level the playing field. In addition, the Air Force says that the requirement in Smith’s language for early notification of Congress before future contracts are announced would create the perception that Congress influenced the outcome.

A Conservative Discovers Problems With Police Accountability. Sort of.

Scott Johnson of Powerline has been following the trial of a Minneapolis police officer accused to shooting and killing a totally innocent woman (in fact, the woman who called the police) seemingly without the least provocation.  Johnson has reported for months on all the frustrating barriers to bringing this police officer to justice -- the refusal to pin the officers to a story immediately before they had time to coordinate a story, the internal affairs investigators who acted more like cover-up artists, the complete unwillingness of the police force to do a quality investigation, and the incredible difficulty the DA had in pursuing this case or getting any cooperation with supposed law enforcement officers.  As he writes:

Prosecution of the Noor case by his office has been a tremendous strain on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. He is in treatment for alcohol abuse. He deserves credit for assigning the case to Assistant County Attorney Amy Sweasy and sticking with it as it roiled relations with Minneapolis police. As it turned out, Sweasy had to convene a grand jury and issue subpoenas to secure the testimony of police officers involved in the case.

These are the kinds of issues I and many others have raised for years about problems with police accountability.  I believe bad police officers are a small minority of the force but this lack of accountability has been incredibly obvious for years, and has poisoned the view of police officers in certain communities that interact with them the most.  Black Lives Matter started with a police accountability agenda before the movement went off the rails.  So I am happy to see a prominent writer give it attention.

Sort of.  Because it is not clear to me that Johnson really sees the general police accountability issue.  For most of the last 10 years, Powerline bloggers including Johnson have been pretty skeptical of those who have critiqued police shootings. I would describe their default position as "the police are right, their critics all have agendas."  I refuse to claim to see into people's hearts, and really am reluctant to get pulled into intersectional finger-pointing, but it is impossible to ignore that the one case that seems to have woken him up is the killing of a pretty blonde white lady by a person of color.

Don't get me wrong, I think the jury was correct in convicting the officer, and respect their bravery as very, very few juries will ever convict police officers.  The prosecutor had to have done a heroic job in getting this conviction.  But I fear that Johnson and perhaps other Conservatives are reading the wrong causes into the difficult prosecution.  He writes that "Something is rotten in the city of Minneapolis," and my interpretation of this (from this series as well as other things he has written) is that he attributes the difficulty in prosecution not to systematic problems in holding police accountable but in the fact that the officer was ethnically Somali and that the city of Minneapolis is somehow reluctant to challenge the Somali community.  I guess after horrific stories like the non-prosecution of rapists in Rotherham, one has to consider this possibility -- I know Minneapolis has a large Somali community but know nothing of its dynamics.  But frankly after studying 100 candles that are burning through the oxidation of petrochemicals, I am skeptical the 101st will turn out to be phlogiston.

Iron Law of Unintended Consequences

From a very dedicated reader (and Boing Boing)

East West Market in Vancouver, B.C. had a terrific idea to get people to start bringing their own reusable shopping bags: design plastic bags with messages too embarrassing to carry. Unfortunately, while hilarious, it's backfiring. They made them too good and now everyone wants a set of them! Collect all three: the Colon Care Co-op, Into The Weird Adult Video Emporium, and Dr. Toews' Wart Ointment Wholesale.

The bags are great, I will let you click through to see them

As I Predicted 15 Years Ago, Indefinite Detentions at Gitmo Continue in the War that Never Ends

Sigh -- here is your update:  Human beings are still being detained by the US government in Guantanamo without any due process.  I was writing about this 15 years ago, but with the loss of some of my early content the earliest I can find is this from 2006.  The problem always was our using US POW rules from past wars in this very different war.  In the past, wars actually ran for what now seems like a limited time (though folks living through WWII would be surprised at that perspective).  POW's for most part were captured in uniform and on a battlefield (or floating in the water after their ship sank).  Nobody really had due process concerns as a) being in a German uniform in a Normandy pillbox on June 7 was pretty persuasive evidence one was an enemy combatant; b) the detained combatant was likely headed to Arkansas to harvest crops for a year or two, which was a FAR better place to be than where they were captured; c) when the war unambiguously ended, they went home.

But in our current AUMF and the "war on terror," where does it end?   There are no uniforms.  The battlefield as defined is the entire world.  The power to detain human beings for the duration of the war allows the Administration to detain roughly anyone they way, without having to defend that decision, and keep them however long they want because only the Administration (or perhaps Congress if it had a spine) decides when the "war" is over.

I had hoped that the Supreme Court would take the opportunity to review this practice after so many years had passed.  I think there were real reasons to ban this practice in 2004 when the Court reviewed this the first time, but at that time the war was relatively fresh and the detentions still shorter than other wartime POW internments.  But what about now?  Unfortunately, the Court declined to rethink their earlier position, despite hints in the original decision that matters might change if the "war" dragged on.

Today the Supreme Court declined an opportunity to examine whether it's still acceptable to hold enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay at a time when Washington's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq no longer resemble anything the U.S. was doing in the direct wake of 9/11.

Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni citizen, has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay since January 2002, when he was captured in Pakistan fleeing Afghanistan. He was initially accused of being a veteran terrorist combatant and a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard. Much later, in 2015, officials concluded he was most likely not a former bodyguard; while he was affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it's unclear whether he was engaged in any sort of combat against the United States. He's one of 40 prisoners still detained there.

He's been sitting in Guantanamo Bay for 17 years, but the U.S. government has not charged him with any crimes. It doesn't appear to intend to charge him with anything, but it also refuses to release him, because the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to wage war in Afghanistan and against the Taliban and al Qaeda remains in force.

In 2004's Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the AUMF authorized such detentions with an understanding that this authorization ended at the conclusion of the war. But even in 2004, the majority was cognizant of the possibility that this amorphous "war on terror" was likely to change over time. In the ruling, written by then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, it notes: "If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that understanding may unravel. But that is not the situation we face as of this date."

I find Conservative support for these detentions frustrating in light of recent events.  People across the political spectrum, but particularly Conservatives, were outraged that Harvard would terminate a dean merely because as a lawyer he chose to represent an unpopular client (Harvey Weinstein).  They rightly argued that due process demands representation of every client, and that to make that work an attorney's moral standing can't be conflated with that of his clients.  Or put another way, what a defendant allegedly did or did not do is irrelevant to  what we owe them for due process.  I think the same can be said of the folks left to die in Guantanamo.

But Coyote, they aren't American citizens!  We don't owe them due process.  Wrong.  We do.  Read the first words of the Declaration of Independence.  Rights belong to all human beings -- they are not grudgingly granted by the Constitution to US Citizens only.  There is nothing in what I call the extended Bill of Rights (including 13-15) that does not apply to everyone who walks the Earth and interacts with the US Government.  Otherwise, as an extreme example, grabbing Africans and enslaving them would still be Constitutional.

But Coyote, no one wants these guys.  Well, that is a different point and is NOT the current legal underpinning of their detention.  I do understand it is politically impossible, and perhaps even unethical, to drop these folks in the US.  If we free them all and no one will take them, then they may stay as our guests to try to live some kind of life at Guantanamo.  But that is not the status they have today.

But Coyote, one of these guys may kill again.  In general, the argument in favor of confining or keeping at a distance any group that probably contains future criminals is bankrupt.  The argument exploded in popularity on the Right a while back with the Skittles immigration meme.  The meme said something like if you had a thousand Skittles and knew one was poisoned, would you eat from the bag?  And if not, why would you let in immigrant populations that likely include some future criminals.  The problem with this is that if this argument really had moral weight, we would be equally required to ban sex or at least all births since some percentage of babies born will be criminals.  At a higher level, our whole legal system is based on the presumption that it is better to err on the side of not punishing an actual criminal than on the side of punishing the innocent (which we still do a lot of nevertheless).  This presumption of innocence is one of the key markers that separate us from totalitarian governments.

A Plea to Packaging Designers

Of late the design ethic for hotel shampoo bottles has led to 1) all text in 8 point or smaller fonts and 2) all text is printed in low contrast colors, something like cyan on a turquoise background.  Please designers, a lot of us are growing older and it's unlikely I am going to have my reading glasses in the shower.  I shouldn't have to guess which bottle is the shampoo and which is the hand lotion.  There has got to be a way to make the packaging look elegant but still be readable.

Sarah Connor Wept

So When Did We Give the President So Much Unilateral Power on Tariffs?

As most libertarians feared, all those Republican concerns about Executive power under President Obama seem to have magically disappeared now that the President has an "R" after his name.  President Trump is set to put on his magic Thanos glove and snap his fingers and impose 5% Tariffs on Mexico.  The ostensible reason is to force Mexico to reduce immigration to the US, though I think it is becomming pretty clear that Trump actually thinks tariffs benefit Americans and he wants any excuse to impose them on our major trading partners (how about a 5% tariff on Canada if the Raptors win the NBA Finals?).  And all those Republicans in Congress who just 2 years ago nominally 1) were pro free trade; 2) were against raising taxes on Americans; and 3) were against expansions of executive power -- they are just going along meekly.

Scott R. Anderson and Kathleen Claussen attempt to explain what possible legal authority he might have to do so, and it turns out the decision rests on Trump's earlier declaration of a national emergency at the border.

By the way, I know a lot of readers really piled on me every time I tried to compare the border wall to the Berlin Wall.  Didn't I understand that it is totally different to keep people out than to keep them in.  I never thought that made much sense -- the wall blocks free movement of people and I am not sure its morality turns 100% on which side of the border built it.  Perhaps my point is now clearer.  What if Trump convinces Mexico to build the border wall, or at least use more aggresive policing to keep people in Mexico.  Isn't THAT now just the same as the Berlin Wall?

Facebook: Now You Know Their True Privacy Policy

From the Daily Dot:

A lawyer for Facebook argued in court Wednesday that the social media site’s users “have no expectation of privacy.”

According to Law360, Facebook attorney Orin Snyder made the comment while defending the company against a class-action lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Snyder said.

In an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out, Snyder further claimed that Facebook was nothing more than a “digital town square” where users voluntarily give up their private information.

“You have to closely guard something to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Snyder added.

Zuckerberg really is one of the most dangerous people on the planet.  He has taken well-founded criticism against his company, its failings, and its past misrepresentations and somehow morphed that into a campaign to gain totalitarian government regulation of online speech.  Incredible.

Charges Against Scott Peterson Yet Another Symptom of the Increasing Stakes of Partisan Politics

From Jacob Sullum at Reason

Former Broward County sheriff's deputy Scot Peterson has been widely vilified for failing to intervene in the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But did Peterson's failure amount to a crime? Although that is what local prosecutors argue, it seems like a stretch.

The arrest warrant approved by Circuit Court Judge Andrew Siegel this week charges Peterson with seven counts of child neglect, a felony, and three misdemeanor counts of culpable negligence as well as one misdemeanor count of perjury for allegedly lying to investigators about how many shots he heard while taking cover 75 feet away from the building where a gunman was murdering students and teachers. Only the perjury charge seems like a straightforward application of the relevant statute, while the other charges are novel applications of laws that are generally invoked in very different contexts.

To my mind, this represents another example of the escalation of stakes in modern partisan politics.  Conservatives invested a lot in the "it's all Scot Peterson's fault" narrative about Parkland, presumably as a foil to the gun control lobby.  I think this is similar to some of the flimsy charges levelled at Trump associates in an attempt to show that some kinda-sorta-maybe Russian collusion was going on.  If it were not Florida I would say that there can't be any way the charging authority thinks this can make it through trial, but it is Florida after all.

Omaha Beach: Not Just Bravery, but Intelligence and Initiative Won the Day

Like many commenters, the hell the soldiers faced on Omaha beach  when the ramps dropped on the landing craft is simply beyond my imagination.  Everyone talks about the bravery of the men that day, which is beyond question.  But the ultimate success at Omaha Beach, which was far from assured after the first hour, required more than bravery.

Virtually the entire plan for the Omaha Beach landing was moot from the first minutes of the battle:  the naval and air bombardment was completely ineffective, the tanks that were to support the landing never made it, and many of the landing craft landed in the wrong places.  But the carefully coordinated waves of landings were fairly robust to these sorts of problems.

In my mind the number one planning problem is that the whole invasion plan and all the training was geared to getting off the beach from a limited number of draws that led inland through the beachfront hills and cliffs.  These draws, however, were absurdly well defended by concentrations of troops and hard fortifications.  It was virtually impossible to advance through these draws as was planned.

The success at Omaha was based on a few (mostly junior) men, under murderous fire, having the brains to recognize the plan was bad and improvising a new plan on the spot.  Eventually, these men began to lead others up the steep hills to the top (most of the heavily defended draws were only taken later from the rear).

The participants in the (often unsuccessful) North Korean human wave attacks in the Korean War were undoubtedly brave.  But these men were not allowed to exercise any initiative or use their intelligence to formulate a better plan than being thrown uselessly in masses directly into the teeth of fortified positions.

So yes, its appropriate to celebrate the bravery of the troops.  But bravery alone would have led to slaughter with waves of men mindlessly trying to storm up the fortified draws.  Omaha Beach was ultimately won with intelligence and initiative of junior officers and enlisted men.

Postscript #1: If there was a failure at Omaha Beach, it again went back to the organizers and planners.  They spent so much time training men in the landing itself, they did not spend any time training or even planning well on what to do next.  As a result, instead of expanding the bridgehead, most of the troops stopped not far from the top of the beach escarpments.  In the following weeks, troops were to spend miserable days in the hedgerow (bocage) country, without any training or fighting doctrine of how to deal with this beautiful defensive terrain.  Again, it was often the initiative of the frontline troops, rather than the planners, that ultimately developed fighting doctrine to deal with the hedgerows.

Postscript #2: Tomorrow I will have my usual day-after-D-Day post on why the Normandy landings were magnificent but not necessarily what actually defeated Germany.

Postscript #3:  Americans, particularly after the movie Patton, love to dump on British General Montgomery.  But D-Day was essentially his plan, and for all that went wrong, it was a magnificent plan.  Montgomery caught a lot of flak from Americans then and now for being too slow and cautious at times when daring and speed were required.  But the flip side of this is that he was an undoubted master of the set-piece, highly planned major attack -- better at this than anyone I can think of on  the Allied side in Europe.

This One Weird Trick Helps Us Deal With Jetlag When We Vacation in Europe

Earlier this month, my wife and I spent a bit of time in Europe.  We started in France, which this time of year is 9 time zones ahead of Phoenix.  This time change is a problem for my wife, who really gets hit hard by jetlag.  To deal with this, we do something all of our friends think is crazy.

For the week before we go, we try to shift our lives as much as one time zone per day.  In reality, this means we wake up at 6am, then 5am the next day, then 4am to as early as 3am or even 2 on the day of the trip.  By the time we leave home, we are waking up as early as 11am in the time of our destination, and as a bonus we are ready to sleep when we get on the plane (Phoenix has a nice 10 hour direct BA flight to London in the evening).  The adjustment process to the new wakeup times is not totally effective because we don't have the sunlight signals at 3AM to get our brains thinking it is day time, but it has really been extraordinarily effective making the first 3-4 days of our vacations travelling east more enjoyable.

When we explain this to our friends, they treat us like the guy at parties who sings the praises of taking freezing cold showers every morning -- they sort of see the logic but can't imagine punishing themselves like this.

But here is our thinking: The value of a day on a vacation, almost anywhere, is way higher than the value of a random day at home.  Vacation days are rarer and require a much higher financial investment than days at home.  So doing things that make a few days at home less comfortable but that make a few days on vacation more comfortable seems to be a good tradeoff.

My Prediction of The Next New Thing: Rich Renting "Accommodation" Addresses to Boost Kids' Adversity Scores

Combine two recent news stories:

  1. The College Board is going to report an "adversity score" to colleges for each of its test-takers.  I believe that the woke intend this to be sort of the inverse of a "privilege" measurement.  This will almost certainly be based at lot on the child's address, since self-reported data on "adversity" would be too easy to game
  2. In the recent college admissions scandal, rich parents demonstrated they were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars not to just game the admissions system, but to outright cheat it.

The obvious hack for this is for parents to buy or lease an empty room somewhere in a high adversity zip code and report this as their child's address.  To get away with this, probably will need to have also given this address to the school, which might be hard for public schools but is perfectly possible at a private school.   "Ah, Ms. Huffman, what was it like growing up in Watts?"  I am sure there are already folks gearing up to sell this service.

Middle class kids in good public schools will likely end up with the worst adversity scores.

Why Transgender Athletes Dominating Women's Sports Is Great News For College Administrators

Apparently transgender athletes are starting to dominate in high school and college women's sports.  I don't have much passion on this issue one way or another.  My only intercollegiate competitive experience was in duplicate bridge, in which all human beings of any gender compete together in one division.

However, it does strike me that this is a godsend for college administrators as it solves one of two problems for them:

  1. If separate women's sports persist, college coaches of women's teams will increasingly seek to recruit transgender athletes.  This is a much more comfortable situation for college administrators, who have of late been embarrassed by the number of admissions spots that are given to athletes.  Now, they are not recruiting unwoke athletes, but super-high-intersectional point transgendered persons
  2. If this is taken to its logical extreme, it may well start to end separate women's athletics (though if we still have totally meaningless divisions for men and women in chess, who knows what will persist).  But women's athletics have always been a major pain for college administrators.  They seldom generate any money and it is hard to maintain enough participation in smaller schools to avoid Title IX problems (at least in terms of equality of outcome, ie pure athlete and sports team counts by gender).  A whole class of headaches could go away.

People Who Express Opinions Outside of their Domain Seldom Have Really Looked into it Much

My family often jokes about my obsessive behavior vis a vis Tesla and Elon Musk (on the off chance you are unaware of my thoughts, the most recent are here).  My daughter texted me last night that "Wealthy millennials seem to love Elon."  And that is true.  My answer to her is the title of this post, "People who express opinions outside of their domain seldom have really looked into it much."

Of course, I am not in any way arguing for some sort of strong credentialism wherein people should not express opinions outside of their domain.  God forbid, I would have to shut down this blog.  But I am saying that just because someone is really smart and successful at A does not necessarily mean their opinion on B is worth squat.  As always, as a consumer of opinions, caveat emptor should always be the watchwords.

The first time I really encountered this phenomenon (outside of obvious examples such as the political and economic opinions of Hollywood celebrities) was related to climate change.  I don't see them as often today, but for a while it used to be very common for letters to circulate in support of climate change science signed by hundreds or thousands of scientists.

The list of signatures was always impressive, but when you looked into it, there was a problem:  few if any of the folks who signed had spent any time really looking at the details of climate science -- they were busy happily studying subatomic particles or looking for dark energy in space.  It turned out most of them had fallen for the climate alarmist marketing ploy that opposition to catastrophic man-made global warming theory was by people who were anti-science.  And thus by signing the letter they weren't saying they had looked into it all and confirmed the science looked good to them, they were merely saying they supported science.

When some of them looked into the details of climate science later, they were appalled.  Many have reached the same general conclusions that I have, that CO2 is certainly causing some warming but the magnitude of that warming or in particular the magnitude and direction of its knock on effects like floods or droughts or tornadoes, is far from settled science.

So it is often the case that people who show strong support for ideas or people outside of their domain do so for reasons other than having made use of their expertise and experience to take a deep dive into the issues.  Theranos is a great example from the business world.  Elizabeth Holmes convinced a bunch of men (and they were mostly all men -- women seemed to have more immunity to her BS) who were extraordinarily successful in their own domains (George Schultz, the Murdochs, Henry Kissinger,  Larry Ellison) to become passionate believers in her vision.  Which is fine, it was a lovely vision.   But they spent zero time testing whether she could really do it, and worse, refused to countenance any reality checks about problems Theranos was facing because Holmes convinced them that critics were just bad-intentioned people representing nefarious interests who wanted her vision to fail.

Which now brings us to Tesla and Elon Musk.  I used to love Elon like everyone else.  I still think that having four or five billionaires in a space race against each other is finally the world I thought I was going to get growing up reading Heinlein.  The Tesla Model S was probably one of the most revolutionary cars of the last 50 years.  But he lost me when he committed outright fraud in the Solar City - Tesla deal and since then have only become more skeptical about he and Tesla.

I sort of laugh when folks tell me that really smart successful rich people believe in Tesla.  You mean like James Murdoch, on the board of Tesla and who also was lost his entire investment in Theranos?  Or like Larry Ellison, an adviser and fan of Elizabeth Holmes who invested $1 billion in Tesla just 6 months ago and has already lost 40% of it?   The window on this is probably closing, but over the last 10 years if you wanted to get Silicon Valley investors to throw a lot of money at you, find a traditional bricks and mortar business and devise a story in which you take that industry and convert its economics to that of the networked software world (see:  Uber, WeWork, Tesla, and even Theranos is some of its strategic pivots).

Or how about true millennials and Elon Musk?  Name a wealthy millennial supporter of Elon Musk and Tesla and I can bet you any amount of money they have not looked at Tesla's balance sheet or cash flow or the details of its global demand trends.  They have not thought about its dealership strategy or manufacturing strategy and the cash flow implications of these.  They just like what Elon says.  It sounds big and visionary.  They buy into Elon's formulation that he is saving the environment and everyone opposed to him is in a cabal with big oil (ignoring the fact that Elon routinely uses his Gulfstream VI to commute distances less than 60 miles).  So saying that rich millenials adore Elon is effectively saying that they want to be associated with the same things Elon says he is for -- the environment and space travel et al.

Elon Musk is Ferdinand DeLesseps.  He is PT Barnum.  He is Elizabeth Holmes.   He is the pied piper.   He is fabulous at spinning visions and making them sound science-y.  But he is not Tony Stark.  There is a phenomenon with Elon Musk that everyone thinks he is brilliant until they hear him speak about something about which they have domain knowledge, and then they realize he is full of sh*t.  For example, no one who knows anything about transportation or physics or basic engineering has thought his Boring Company and Hyperloop make any sense at all.  His ideas would have been great cover stories for Popular Mechanics in the 1970's, wowing 13-year-old boys like me with pictures of mile-long cargo blimps and flying RV's.  He is like a Marvel movie that spouts science that is just believable-enough sounding that it moves the plot along but does not stand up to any scrutiny.

All of this would be harmless if he was not running a public company.  I don't really care about the rich folks who were duped by Elizabeth Holmes, but hundreds of thousands of small millenial investors who have totally bought into the Elon hype are literally putting their last dollar into Tesla, and sometimes borrowing more.  Tesla shorts often laugh at these folks on Twitter, calling them "bagholders," but it is a tragedy.  Unless Tesla finds a sugar daddy sucker, and the odds of that are getting longer, I think it is going to end badly for many of these investors

As a disclosure, I have been short Tesla via puts for a while now.  It you really want to understand Elon, the best book I can recommend is The Path Between The Seas about the building of the Panama Canal.  First, it is a great book you should read no matter what.  And second, Ferdinand DeLesseps is the best analog I can find for Musk.

America's Soft Power We Don't Even Realize We Have

A while back I took at Teaching Company course on Victorian Great Britain.  The professor said something about the Victorians that really stuck with me -- he said that the British never understood the soft power they had in the world.   The world wanted to dress British and emulate British manners.  They read British authors.  They desperately wanted to send their children to British schools.  Even the native revolutionaries in their colonies sometimes revolted in very British ways.  Sure the leaders of the Indian National Congress harbored enormous resentments against the arrogance of British power, but all their leaders were British-schooled and cast many of their arguments in terms from the British enlightenment.

I was thinking about this a while back when I was in France and attended a show of local French artists.  As with much modern art, much of it incorporated bits of pop culture.  And about 98% of that was American and to a lesser extent British pop culture.  Sure, some of it was used ironically, but American culture is consumed everywhere in the world.  I must have seen 5 or 6 artists using Captain America imagery alone in their art in a not-at-all hostile or ironic way..  America in the 20th and 21st century is in the same position as the British in the 19th century, and we are probably just as unaware of that soft power and pissing it away just as surely with our slamming around the world like a bull in a china shop.

And speaking of China, it is simply insane in my mind to turn them into our enemies.  Whatever the top Chinese officials are after, much of the population wants to be like Americans.  They want to come to our schools and wear our fashions and watch our movies and TV.  We have had several exchange students from China live with us and they treat getting to spend time living in America like having hit the lottery.  We have watched one woman who goes by "Cat" in the US all the way from high school to college in America to getting a good banking job.  She first showed up at our house looking exactly like Ching "Honey" Huan from Doonesbury -- the hair, glasses, clothes, everything.  She now looks, dresses, and talks like any young American.  For a while her Instagram was dominated by pictures of her and her friends at Big 10 football games.

I have been consumed of late with other things in my life, and really have not had the chance to address the increasingly insane extent of the Trump Administration's economic nationalism. But go to Don Boudreax's and Mark Perry's blogs and scroll through them -- they do a much more eloquent job of defending free trade than I can.

Thank God for Proxy Servers

Apparently, despite the fact that I spend a high monthly fee to HBO to be able to stream all their content, I cannot get the content I paid for when in France.  I have an account with Express VPN and it has always served me well.  I was able to log in via this VPN and was able to stream the most recent Game of Thrones episode.  I could have probably waited until I got home but the Internet seems to be filled with like 6 million spoilers.

BTW, unlike much of the most vocal Internet, I was totally fine with how the major character deaths were handled in the last episode.  I thought they were symbolically consistent with how those characters got to where they are.

At home I almost always surf through a proxy server, even though that means I have to endure endless identity confirmation tests from websites as they don't recognize my IP.

Two Words You Might Not Know Were Acronyms

I am on the road but trying to stay in the blogging habit so this is a bit of a throwaway.  But anyway...

You probably know words like SCUBA, SNAFU, laser, lidar,  and sonar are all acronyms.  But here are two you might not know about:

The first word is "posh," which generally means a luxury experience (or Beckham's wife).  But it was originally an acronym for ship voyages from the UK to India.  Because it was a hot trip and there was no air conditioning, the best cabins were on the north side of the ship (at least above the equator) or the east side of the ship (ie facing away from the heat of the afternoon sun).  This would be the port side going to India and the starboard side coming home.  So to get the best cabin you asked for port out, starboard home or "POSH".

The other word is "Pakistan" which is the name of the country that split from India in 1947.  As India was approaching independence, Muslims (who were quite numerous all over in India but particularly in the northwest and the far east) proposed the new states formed form the old British Empire in India include a Muslim state.    They were seeking a state made up of the Muslim-majority whole provinces of Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, Indus, and Sind.  This forms the acronym PAKIS-tan with the "tan" meaning "land of".  The word Pakistan also means "land of the pure" in Sanskrit.    It was a powerful piece of branding.

As a postscript, these 5 provinces were all in the west.  The original Pakistan also included parts of the state of Bengal in the east which formed East Pakistan.  East Pakistan was actually more populous than the West but the West tended to dominate the country's leadership, leading to E. Pakistan breaking away in the early 70's to form Bangladesh.  The entirety of these 5 states in the acronym were not included in the final borders of Pakistan.  In particular, Kashmir was divided between Pakistan and India and has been the site of a lot of fighting between the two countries over the last 70 years (queue Led Zeppelin song).

Kudos to Kim Kardashian

I have spent pretty much zero minutes paying attention to the Kardashian women (I think I saw them more in the "People vs. OJ Simpson" than I have in all other media combined).  But I have great respect for how Kim Kardashian is spending her celebrity credit.  She seems to be doing real work that helps real people on an important issue, and one that does not give her the immediate virtue signalling credit as, say, making uniformed statements about the climate might.

Kim Kardashian West is staying true to her pledge to fight for prison reform.

CNN has learned that the E! star has been quietly working behind the scenes over the past three months to help commute the life sentences of 17 first-time nonviolent drug offenders.

Brittany K. Barnett, Kardashian West's personal attorney and co-founder of the Buried Alive Project, and MiAngel Cody, lead counsel of the The Decarceration Collective, told CNN that Kardashian West has been instrumental in the release of these inmates.

"Kim has been funding this project and (has been) a very important supporter of our 90 Days of Freedom campaign as part of the First Step Act, which President Trump signed into law last year," Cody said. "We've been going around the country in courtrooms and asking judges to release these inmates."

Barnett added that without Kardashian West footing the bill, this would not have been possible. "(Kim) has provided financial support to cover legal fees so that we can travel the country. Our relationships with our clients don't end when they are freed. (Kim) is truly dedicated to the issue. I work personally with her, we are really grateful."

But she's not just paying legal fees.

"When people get out of prison, they might be incarcerated hundreds of miles from their families and they might need help getting home. Really important, critical things that people might not realize -- and those are things Kim is helping with as well," Cody added.