02 April 2016


Throughout the last century the US was steadfast in its opposition to socialism. It was an ideology that never gained a foothold in America, even under the most dire economic circumstances like the Great Depression. Moreover sometimes this came at great cost in lives and treasure in the struggle against its most virulent communist form. Yet today we find that at least a plurality if not a majority of that generation referred to as “milennials” has a favorable view of socialism. How is this possible after all we endured to be rid of this noxious notion? University faculties occupied by tenured radicals from the sixties may play a role, but above all else it is a degenerate historical ignorance (not even historical amnesia, as that would imply once knowing something and forgetting it); an abysmal lack of knowledge of history and the human experience that has brought us to where we are today. 
But those of us who lived through it can never forget. Over 100 million people were killed over the course of the last century as a result of attempts to force this idea upon them. It was a titanic struggle for the fate of humanity, and there were times when our prospects seemed bleak and the triumph of freedom was by no means certain. More than one hundred thousand Americans gave their lives resisting the spread of communism, and we must now wonder whether all the sacrifice and struggle has been in vain. What terrible irony that the country that was the bulwark against socialism should now have a generation infatuated with it. 

Some might say that I am confusing communism with socialism, but that is not true. They are the same, with the fundamental operating principle being that the state should control the resources of society, directly or indirectly and manage them accordingly for the benefit of humanity, leaving little to private life.  No matter that the idea has failed miserably wherever it has been tried, from eastern Europe through Asia, while in western Europe what socialist parties there are exist in name only, as they have steadily moved away from any dalliance with socialism. The opposite is threatening the American way of life today as an avowed socialist has gained a considerable amount of support in the Democratic party, leading one to wonder where that party is headed, at least on the national level. Bernie Sanders speaks of “democratic socialism” but this is a man so steeped in ideology that he honeymooned in the Soviet Union at a time when that worker’s paradise was an implacable foe of the United States and the western world, which was little short of treason in sentiment if not practice. 

Ignorance of historical experience allows some younger people to view socialism as something new and appealing, never mind that it is a 19th century idea that has been discarded almost everywhere else in the world. But there is not even a rudimentary ideology in this current incarnation, for it is all about selfishness rather than altruism. They want free stuff. Moreover they feel entitled to it, having been indulged with an abundance of “self-esteem” all their lives, despite lacking any underlying foundation for it. They have grown up with things that are free, i.e. on the Internet via free sites, free information, and corporate models that give away free stuff for other returns, and when that doesn’t do it,  outright piracy. There is thus a sense of entitlement for things that are disconnected from work. 

In childhood many of us have wondered why everything can’t be free, but we usually outgrow such naive notions. Perhaps the provision of free stuff in this economy has delayed the realization of the basic economic facts of life, for it is true that many of these nascent socialists quickly discard these beliefs once they go to work for a living. They come to see that the trouble with socialism, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, is that “sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”

11 March 2016


Americans now appear to be heading towards the awful task of having to choose between a man who is abysmally ignorant regarding the constitution and government of the US, and who thinks that judges “sign bills,” and on the other side a candidate who will receive her party’s nomination….unless she is indicted. In the face of that the Republican leaders are starting to rally around a man that none of them can stand, but now Ted Cruz has improbably become the white knight for the Republican establishment, which is understandable given the alternatives of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Trump does not appear to have any brain trust, but since there is little evidence he possesses any kind of political philosophy, that becomes important because it will provide some indication of where he is likely to go.

How have we come to this, especially when this long campaign season began with such a promising field of potential Republican candidates?  The blame must fall on a seriously flawed modern electoral system which inherently yields flawed results, as we have seen with the past few presidents. It rewards people who can endure the marathon election cycle, and who are good at running for office, but not so much at governing. I’ve written on this in the past, and now more than ever believe that true reform of the political system can only occur by overhauling the way people are nominated, especially at the presidential level. My proposal is essentially this: that presidential candidates should be nominated by the elected officials of the respective parties. Who, after all, constitutes the party more than those who have been elected to office?  Who better to judge the character and capabilities of potential candidates than colleagues who are familiar with them? In the present environment this notion may finally gain more traction in congress. 

Against this it could be argued that “the people” ought to choose the candidates, reflecting the popular will. The trouble is “the people” as such don’t really make that choice. Only a small percentage of the population actually votes in primary elections, and they usually tend to be those who are both politically active and ideologically motivated. But the result is that extreme candidates tend to win these contests, which inevitably results in political polarization. It was not always this way. Primaries have only become decisive in modern times. Although primaries began as a progressive reform early in the last century they did not lead to the party nomination until 1960, with the election of John F. Kennedy. 

It is worth noting that Kennedy didn’t even announce his candidacy until January of 1960 for the election held in November that year. Today candidates start running the day after the last election, and in earnest at least two years before the actual election. The result is all politics all the time,  and a virtually permanent campaign. To sustain such a campaign over so long a period requires vast resources, which means endless fundraising as well. Under these circumstances it is futile to try and reform campaign financing because it is not the fundamental cause of the problem. It is rather the length of the campaigns that requires the resources.  Thus what we really need to do is limit the amount of time a campaign can take place in, as they do in the U.K. 

If elected officials nominated the presidential candidates and the campaign period was limited we would get better candidates, and an end to the ceaseless cacaphony of the permanent campaign. It is true that there are interests that might have a lot to lose under these conditions, such as campaign consultants, fundraisers, party hacks, but above all the media, which is primarily responsible for turning the whole thing into a circus. They anointed Obama and have now given us Trump. It is true that this proposal would cause huge amounts of advertising revenue to be lost and it might bring an end to coverage of the campaign as though it were a sporting event.  Then they might be compelled to provide more real news for a change. The political temperature would be lowered and as we have hit bottom with the current election campaign, this might lead to a restoration of faith in our institutions at long last. 

29 February 2016


Support for Apple’s position resisting the Justice Department’s attempt to force them to crack open their own security system is not the same as uncritical support for the company and its practices. Long time users, some as loyal as groupies, have routinely been screwed by the company as purchases have often become obsolete as soon as they are received. There is also the recurring habit of making connections obsolete, particularly in computers, constantly replacing an existing interface with a different one rendering peripherals obsolete or creating an aftermarket for adapters to bypass the change. Apple also seductively lures you into its “ecosystem” so you are stuck there, having invested so much in it. 

That is why I bought an IPad Pro a few months ago, even though I hated the IPad I already owned, because the circumstances are comparable to the relatives you are stuck with. I bought it from AT&T, complete with the cellular option sharing my IPhone line only to find that you can’t make calls with it; it only receives, or has to have the IPhone present (like the watch) which is kind of ridiculous. That makes the cellular feature primarily useful for expensive data charges if you’re stuck somewhere with no wifi. I sprang for the 128Gb maximum memory because you still can’t use any external storage, i.e. with an SD card, because I have a huge number of apps and books on it. That pushed past the capacity of my Idrive,  making it necessary to pay for additional cloud storage. The operating system still sucks, especially if you’ve used a Mac, because the IOS system is basically invisible unless you spring for apps that can do basic things like file handling. The only real improvement over the previous IPad is numbers and letters appear on an expanded keyboard instead of having to switch between them thanks to the additional real estate. To do any serious writing you have to buy an external case and keyboard, so what you wind up with in the end is basically a second rate laptop. 

On the plus side, when I had battery and other problems with the device Apple replaced the whole thing with no hassle. They also offer a hell of a lot of software for free or at a low price even for professional programs like Logic audio or Final Cut Pro, and has made the cost of IOS apps remarkably cheap. I bought the IPad Pro to use as an external surface for things that run on the Mac, supplementing it, and for use as a scratchpad on the go. You can also use finger swipes to edit photos and remote controls on audio. However typing is i still better on a PC (Apple makes lousy keyboards- for one of my Mac Pros I actually had to buy a Microsoft keyboard to type comfortably).  Documents and photos are passed through icloud to other devices that can continue editing, but remember this- Apple does not back up your Icloud documents on your computer. You have to do that yourself. So if you ever have a cloud problem, your work disappears, as happened to me one time. 

Photos is a simple program, but does allow for third party extensions making useful to serious photographers, who are now faced with two systems; Apple’s and Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photoshop and Lightroom users. Apple’s claim that all your photo are stored basically assumes you take pictures with an IPhone which I never do. I use an SLR, and at high resolution the files are huge and will quickly exhaust the space they give you. 

Clearly the emphasis now is on mobile devices, and power computer users are left hanging as desktops fade away from the mainstream. Apple’s latest desktop, which looks like an office trash can, echoes this trend. The previous Mac Pro was much better; indeed, from my experience it was the best computer ever made. It is big, but in addition to the startup drive it contains four bays that you can easily fill with hard drives and set up a multi-terabyte RAID array while enjoying the luxury of 64gb of memory on 12-core computing. Such features account for the robust aftermarket for machines that are six or more years old. Replace the boot drive with an SSD an you’re up to date on everything. 

It’s not just Apple though. The desktop market has significantly slowed down. PCs have had the same Intel processors, i.e. i3, i5, i7 for a number of years, where in the past every year brought something different. Computers still don’t have the reliability of video or audio gear or appliances etc. in terms of breaking down, but as obsolescence decreases reliability should increase. Laptops are now in much wider use, but there is a vulnerability that desktops don’t have, namely the screen. Once that goes on a laptop it’s gone. But few companies now focus on desktops, which increasingly have been relegated to serious technophiles, game enthusiasts, and server applications.

in truth what is a PC today? I would argue that smartphones; personal communicators, are the real “PCs” today, with all the things they can do. Far more people use smartphones than desktop computers, and apart from the phone function itself they are a primary Internet gateway. Those who have grown up with these things are aware of little distinction between the Internet and the device itself and have only a vague understanding of a computer as a useful stand-alone device without the Internet. 

So old “PCs” ought to be relegated to “desktops,” as the handheld devices we use increasingly are the real PCs. If you never write much more than 140 characters at a time or don’t care about grammar and syntax these things may suffice. But if you type fast, or touch type, they are painful, and the Apple “chiclet” keyboards aren’t much better  for any kind of serious writing. The best keyboard I ever used was the one on the old IBM Selectric typewriter, where words would somehow just fly across the page, and computer keyboards are only as good as they are close to that standard. 

Given the ubiquity of handheld devices, and an increasing number of other “smart” devices like televisions, DVRs, etc. things have come around full circle for the old desktop. It all began with a relatively small number of enthusiasts on the full-size computers of their day, only to come back to a base of power users who still find advantages in the desktop. For it is only with a desktop that you can pile on massive amounts of memory, multiple high capacity disks,  a motherboard that can take various expansion cards, and super sharp graphics boards that can support the largest monitors you can find in duplicate, triplicate or more. For these reasons, although relatively small in number alongside the rest of the market, in at least a few hands desktops will continue to be used and appreciated for the forseeable future. 

18 February 2016


When it comes to national security we are usually favorably disposed towards the government’s position and efforts, for that is its prime responsibility. However a federal court’s order to Apple to facilitate turning up evidence on a terrorism case is just plain wrong and an ominous expansion of government power. What is troubling is less about Apple’s resistance on principle and more to do with what the court has directed the company to pursue. 

It would be one thing if Apple had in its possession information that it was withholding or refusing to turn over. But Apple doesn’t have the information because their system does not allow even Apple to obtain user’s private information such as passwords, which is reassuring to customers concerned with their privacy. In other words, Apple itself does not have the keys to the box. What the court has done is breathtaking in its overreach. It has ordered Apple to do something to get the information, to come up with a way to crack the system which is designed to be nearly impossible to break. It is demanding that Apple come up with a way to defeat its own safeguards which hitherto have not been breached. 

There is no certainty that this is even possible. But if it is many arguments have been put forward as to why the order should be resisted. First it would destroy the promise of security that customers expect, second it effectively enable the government to penetrate the privacy of anyone at any time, third if a “back door” into the system is found hackers will soon get access, and fourth, since Apple sells more phones internationally than in the US, other governments, many with less respect for human rights than others, will demand the same prerogative. 

But most importantly and most troubling is the state’s order that Apple create something that does not exist now. If the government can tell Apple that you must do X because we need Y then the it effectively empowers the state to do the same with any entity or person at any time. For once it is established that the government can compel anyone to take certain actions they have not done before, with this effort coming at their own expense, there is no limit to what it could demand. If the FBI wants this information they should find a way themselves, for this is not something relatively benign like metadata, but is instead a serious abuse of power.  

No sane person has any sympathy with terrorists, who must be rigorously pursued by any necessary means. If Apple had the requested information it would be right to order that they turn it over. But they don’t. It is completely unreasonable to force them to go find something they do not possess and that they might or might not be able to discover. The government has more than enough evidence to make this particular case (the massacre of 14 people in San Bernadino). The only possible value for what it is asking is to find out if anyone else is involved, which is a laudable goal, but can be discovered in other ways. 

If this goes forward we will not be any safer or more secure, and we will have lost a significant amount of freedom. So it is not even privacy that we ought to be concerned about so much as the ridiculous notion that the government in seeking information no one possesses can force any of us to go find it for them. All lovers of freedom should support Apple in this matter. 

02 February 2016


it is increasingly likely that Marco Rubio will win the Republican nomination for President. He has considerable momentum coming out of the Iowa caucuses and will only grow stronger as the primaries move south after New Hampshire. At that point it would be time for the two-percenters to drop out given their low showing in the polls and rally around Rubio as the “establishment” candidate. 

It is ironic that Rubio is now being viewed as one of the Republican establishment candidates, given that he rose in Florida politics as an insurgent. He became speaker of the Florida House of Representatives at a very young age, and then challenged the man who was in fact the “establishment” candidate in the race to be Florida’s Senator, former Governor Charlie Crist. At the time it appeared that the senate seat was Crist’s for the taking, but Rubio’s insurgent campaign prevailed and he won the nomination. He was in fact the anti-establishment candidate, and unless one considers anyone elected to office as “establishment” simply by virtue of the position they hold, it is ridiculous to give Rubio that label. It is true that Rubio did engage in horse-trading with other senators, involved himself in the legislative process and occasional compromise, but that is what senators are supposed to do. 

The back story in this reveals why many grassroots Republicans do not trust the establishment. A man like Crist was a typical moderate, establishment Republican figure. But when he lost what did he do? He switched parties and became a Democrat but subsequent lost with  that designation anyway. If the political situation is this fluid it is understandable why some people mistrust establishment figures. Nevertheless the establishment encompasses a broad range of individuals with different viewpoints. All they may have in common is a willingness to work within the existing system, traditions, and conventions. 

The alternative is to behave like Ted Cruz, not only not playing nice with others but attacking them as well, based upon purity of principle; to the point where none of his colleagues can stand him. That defiant stance may win the Iowa caucus but will never win the presidency. If he improbably did win we would have the same situation that has prevailed with Obama throughout his presidency, namely the inability to work with congress, due to disdain for that body in Obama’s case or ideological rigidity in Cruz’s case. A President cannot dictate. He must persuade, lead, and compromise when necessary to get anything done.

Rubio offers the prospect of young, dynamic leadership that could restore the essence of what this country has lost while at the same time move forward. He would be wise to consider composing part of his cabinet from some of the other impressive candidates. Ben Carson could be Surgeon General or head Health and Human Services, Carly Fiorina could be Secretary of Commerce, and Chris Christie would make a great Attorney General, among others, and a number of the other candidates would also make a good Vice-Presidential choice. 

At this point he would contrast well against the Democratic candidates spiraling towards left-wing irrelevancy. He could win against Hillary Clinton, or not improbably, Joe Biden if she is deposed by legal problems. When the primary dust settles Rubio will be the one left standing, and his ascendancy will only be starting. 

27 January 2016


The American media is so obsessed with presidential election politics that significant trends elsewhere, especially in Europe, are being totally missed. Right-wing populist parties are increasingly doing well, whether it is the National Front in France, UKIP, or similar parties in Eastern Europe. Uncontrolled Islamic immigration and terrorist attacks have upended the usually sleepy political climate in Europe and it is hard to tell where things will wind up. In the US Donald Trump has tapped the same disenchantment and continues run strongly in the polls. 

The question is whether all of this represents a conservative trend, or something else. Whatever they are, the right populists are not conservative, although claiming the mantle is unsurprisingly in keeping with stretching the meaning of political terminology and identity. Since all of these candidates are calling themselves conservative but are far apart on many subjects it essentially just show how meaningless political labels have become. 

If we look closely, the only areas the right populists and conservatives have common ground is some disposition towards nationalism and the traditional culture of their societies. We may find these things favorable in moderation. The problem with the further right is that there is always a danger of driving over the cliff, as all the countries that participated in the disaster of World War I certainly did. That along with the second world war made nationalism unpopular in Europe until recently. Thus there is a difference between patriotism and chauvinism, (a term so misused in this country most people don’t have the foggiest notion of what it really means. It originated with critics of a 19th century French figure who was so over the top in sabre-rattling and near loony extreme nationalism that the term chauvinism stuck). At the same time there is nothing wrong with patriotism or pride in one’s own culture. The problem in the west is an intellectual class that despises their own culture, and become horrified when people react accordingly. 

But there similarities end. The populists want action, which usually distresses conservatives who abhor social disruption. No one is making much of an economic argument but here again populists are tapping into real feelings about stagnant incomes and elusive prosperity. Trump has managed to channel a good part of this sentiment, and when responsible establishment figures attack him it seems to have the opposite effect.   For there are some problems in the way this righteous indignation has come across on two levels. First, we have the problem of loss in faith in institutions across society, be it the political class, what passes for “intellectuals” in this country, the media, etc. etc. whose scolding of Trump only further reduces their tenuous legitimacy while inflating his. 

I am hardly a supporter of Trump but in this sense find his critics annoyingly hysterical. He could hardly be worse than the past couple of presidents, he might do more to serve the interests of the working class, he’d get along well with Putin and probably cut a favorable deal with the Chinese leaders. The president after all can only exercise real power in foreign affairs, being otherwise hemmed in domestically by strong constitutional limits. However in other places where the constitutional order is less strongly embedded there could be problems, even somewhere like the Fifth Republic (France). 

Trump, like the other populists, is not invested in the system, a fact that is working in his favor at present, but could backfire if he were to come into real interaction with it in office. In such an eventuality given how moribund the Democrats are, I could see the principal opposition to Trump coming, ironicallly from conservatives. Given the way things are going, and indeed have almost always gone, we would be a lot better off if it didn’t matter so much who was president. Perhaps that will be the net result of all of this, but at this stage the only thing we can reliably expect is the unexpected. 

14 January 2016


Our little cat Cleo left for cat heaven after spending nearly twenty wonderful years with us. After all, given how genetically related we are with other life forms, if there is a heaven for humans it is not unreasonable to presume there is one for cats. For as Herodotus speculated 2500 years ago, if humans have gods in their own image, then is it not possible that cows, dogs, and other animals have gods in their own image as well? We can never know, but if we have souls, then animals must have some less developed equivalent life force. 

We sense this especially when we have pets, and we recognize that they have clearly distinct personalities. They are unique individuals and can become as much a part of our lives as any human. That is why their loss is so painful, because we truly have lost a little individual with whom we have shared so many memorable experiences. It is not merely a cat that has died, but a particular, well-known individual that has passed on. 

The last period of Cleopatra’s life was trying as her abilities declined sharply to the point where her demise was inevitable and painful to experience. It is for that reason that some people won’t consider adopting another animal, for the fear of the pain of loss is too great. Yet in perspective that is but a moment in what could otherwise be a long, happy life full of treasured experiences that transcend that momentary loss. What I wrote of her brother Caesar when he died three years ago still rings true and can easily be substituted for little Cleo: 

There are millions of feral cats who live short, miserable lives. My cat Caesar, who just passed away, was far more fortunate in that he lived as good a life as any creature ever had. That doesn’t assuage the sense of loss, but does provide some perspective on how painful life always is for most living things. When we take in pets we free them from the cruelties of nature and in the process they become something more. A bond is formed. We give them names and they adapt to us as we adapt to them. Then we come to realize that this is, in some sense, a sentient individual with a distinct personality. 

Caesar was a source of endless wonder and joy to me. He had perfectly refined features, and even at the end the vet remarked how handsome he was. He was a very loving cat, unusually good-natured, gentle, and provided endless fascination in the way he interacted with the world around him. He became an intimate part of our lives, so that with his passing there is a deep sense of loss. 

This is something that anyone who has pets inevitably has to deal with, and our tendency is to feel sorry for them. But if we have treated them well, the sorrow is all ours, for death and loss is mainly painful for the living. Of course I will miss Caesar, but inevitable loss is a part of life that we have to deal with. That is far outweighed by the precious, immeasurably rich experience of having shared a part of my life with him. 

It is equally the case with our little Cleo, who so constantly enriched our lives and will surely be deeply missed, yet ever stronger will be the memories of all the good times we shared with her.