16 December 2016


According to US intelligence services there is little doubt that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computers. But as President Obama made clear today that is old news, something he confronted Putin about months ago. He further stated that after that it stopped. I share his puzzlement as to why it is an issue in the media now. 

Hillary Clinton now says that this was a factor in costing her the election, though it is unclear how that could have come to pass since there is no evidence anyone tampered with the electoral process itself. Mrs. Clinton seems to be confusing the DNC hack with her own problems with her personal email server, which is a completely different issue. Her negligence in that case, and her violation of various rules is what damaged her, if anything did. The DNC hack produced no information of any consequence, and the Wikileaks buildup was a total bust. Not a single thing detrimental to Hillary Clinton was revealed in the Russia-to-Wikileaks dump so it could not possibly have affected the election. The more salient reason why Hillary lost was the fact that she spent little or no time in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Nevertheless this kind of security break ought to concern everyone, especially in Europe where there are upcoming elections. The US cannot tolerate this kind of interference, or potential interference in our electoral process and measures to correct this ought to be taken. However, in terms of damage or influence, there was none apart from some embarrassment on the part of people whose emails were hacked. Nothing of any real interest to anyone was revealed, so for the parties involved it was a waste of time. Going forward, we need to be prepared to resist this sort of thing, and if our servers are breached at this point it is our own fault. 

12 November 2016


Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States, and no matter what your feelings about that, his achievement is astonishing. A more improbable candidate is hard to imagine, yet he managed to defeat 16 good candidates for the Republican nomination, and, against all odds and expectations, then went on to win the general election. He managed to do this without the full support of some in the party, without an extensive ground operation, and in spite of a hostile media, elements of which went so far as outright collusion with the Democratic campaign. He was vastly outspent and virtually the entire establishment was aligned against him. As a result, he will enter office unencumbered by obligations to special interests and  unbeholden to anyone other than the people who elected him. 

His victory was a stunning rejection of elites across the board, as he was propelled to office by people who have lost faith in major institutions. The establishment that gravitated towards Hillary Clinton and the status quo was soundly rebuked in an election where the change candidate came from the right. The Democrats and their media allies, concentrated on the coasts, completely missed the undercurrent of anger and despair across most of the rest of the country. What little credibility the mainstream media had left has evaporated. They got it all wrong. 

Some of the losers are putting forward a ridiculously dark picture that is never going to materialize. Those who opposed Trump should realize that his election is not the apocalypse. The opposition expressing fear and anguish should understand that if the government finally succeeds in addressing long-standing problems everyone benefits. That will now possible as gridlock finally ends given that the Republicans now control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and most state governments. They must produce now, as there can be no excuse for failure. But they should also not make the same mistake the Democrats did with Obamacare, when they completely froze out Republicans. Major legislation that seriously changes things can only come about if it comes from consensus and involves the other party to assure continuity. The new administration and congress must accept the mantle they have been given with humility. 

The notion that a slight loss of the raw, popular vote makes the new administration illegitimate is ridiculous. Democrats had no problem with the Electoral College as long as it gave them a huge big-state advantage starting out. In addition Republicans won the congressional elections by three million votes and clearly have a mandate for change. Ironically incessant speculation about the collapse of the Republican party prior to the election now clearly applies instead to the Democrats. In the worst case, if the radical left now stirring gains control of the party they will be out of power for a long time. 

We are all exhausted by the endless campaign that culminated in the results on election day. The way elections are conducted in the US needs serious reform as I have argued repeatedly. At a minimum we must limit the campaign season along the lines of how elections are conducted in Great Britain. Nominations and campaigning should be limited to a few months, not two years. No one wants this kind of electoral process to continue save for the media which benefits from it immensely in terms of advertising revenue as well as “news” coverage. 

In terms of international commitments nothing is going to change that radically. Trump simply wants a better deal. He is a dealmaker, which means he is not an ideologue since making a deal necessarily involves give and take or compromise. I believe this will be his approach across the board and seemingly extreme statements are more akin to establishing a bargaining position. The US is not going to withdraw from the world or start a trade war that would benefit no one, and I believe that mutually beneficial trade deals will continue to be negotiated. At this stage it would behoove everyone to do as both Hillary Clinton and President Obama suggested- keep an open mind.  

28 October 2016


When we hear the “system is rigged” what “system” are we referring to? The idea that there is any kind of overall “system” is a nebulous concept that went out with Marx. It is like saying that life is rigged. That is not to say there are not particular systems, such as the political system or electoral system, so the question at this time is really whether those are in any way “rigged.” In the US there is no overall national control of elections; nor is there even much in the way of state control. Elections are organized in a myriad of localities, each with its own system so that they cannot possibly be controlled by anyone anywhere. No one can rig that system. This does not mean there is no electoral fraud in some jurisdictions, but it is not widespread enough these days to throw an election, due to so many safeguards and vigilance on both sides.

What about other factors, such as media influence? Here there is clear and obvious bias against Trump, evident no matter what your political persuasion, and to a lesser extent against Republicans generally. This may be unfair but it isn’t rigged.There is definitely a herd mentality, not by any design or collusion, but ideological sympathy, and, more importantly, reliance on the same news sources. There is no question that the execrable New York Times regularly performs front page political hatchet jobs, so when the Times breaks (or fabricates) a “story,” most major media pick up on it because that is where they get much of their news from, especially in New York, still the media capitol.  These days reporters are more likely to be reading the Times than going out and actually finding news themselves. While that may be annoying to the right, the Times has little legitimacy beyond the left and the notion it is the “newspaper of record” is a joke, especially when there is free open competition and something like Fox News can draw more people than the other networks combined. 

But if these things are not exactly rigged, it does not mean the situation is not fair; it isn’t. But life is not fair. Most establishment institutions are against Trump, and elites are virtually united in their opposition to him. This includes those normally associated with the right, such as conservative intellectuals, as well a wholesale desertion of corporate backers not seen since the Goldwater candidacy. Thus the entire establishment is almost completely aligned with Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is flush with cash. So yes, the deck is stacked in this sense, but this is not the same as rigging, or conspiring to steal the election, for the process itself is largely immune to tampering.

Things are going well for these people, who believe they are part of a “meritocracy” and deserve to be where they are, but the only real merit system that exists is in professional sports, and to a lesser extent, science. Instead, these elites are more often people with good social skills, such as sucking up, connecting, networking, and playing the game rather than necessarily being the best at what they do, as well as just plain luck. This conceit also makes them largely oblivious to those who feel the “system” is no longer working for them. 

For what the elites are missing is the depth of the alienation of the working class along with a substantial segment of the middle, who increasingly have lost faith in established institutions, and no longer recognize the country they are living in. They have responded to Trump, who has managed to channel this sentiment  in spite of material provided by the elites, who are baffled by the seeming imperviousness to critical information by a substantial portion of the population. This “revolt of the masses” and Trump’s candidacy meanwhile threatens to delegitimize the whole process and Trumpism, or right-populism, will not disappear after election night. Indeed a more gifted politician could potentially take it over the top, for whatever the election outcome, Trump has succeeded in rattling the system to its core. 

04 September 2016


If you appreciate the open freedom of the Internet then you must be concerned with something that is about to happen at the end of this month unless it is stopped. The Obama administration intends to give up management of the Internet and turn that function over to an international body, i.e. the United Nations. The American government does not, even now, directly control the Internet. It is managed by a private nonprofit NGO through the US Department of Commerce, which is about to be set loose to fall under “international” control. 

A substantial majority of my readers live outside of the United States and this should concern them as well. Anyone who believes in the free flow of ideas and information should appreciate that under the present system this freedom is absolute. There is no interference and no restrictions at all. Even in countries that attempt and sometimes succeed in censoring the Internet there is no control of information that can still appear elsewhere. This will certainly change if the UN or equivalent body gets ahold of it. There are repressive regimes all over the world that would like nothing better than to be able to censor and control information flows on the Internet. As I wrote two years ago when this noxious proposition first surfaced: 

One could argue that the Internet has long since become an international phenomenon and it therefore ought to be under the purview of an international body. However, there are many other instances of global standards being maintained by a particular country. For example Britain and Greenwich Mean Time, as well as other standards and measure. It is thus, not unprecedented for standards that originated in a particular country to be maintained by that country. Only a basic hostility to the US can account for a wish to change this. 
Furthermore the record of international bodies is less than impressive. There are many countries clamoring for various forms of censorship, and this is the surest path to that end. It will also provide the pretext for exclusion, i.e. of Israel, as has happened in other international bodies. How about Islamic, or any other restrictive standards? How about erasing something because some regime somewhere finds it offensive? This is effectively taking the part of repressive regimes rather than the people on the street. The possibilities for mischief are endless, but what is certain is that it will be the end of the wide open Internet. Some governments may   oppose the US hold on the Internet, but the people don’t because they trust it to be free and open. That will end the minute the US gives up control.

That moment has arrived. It is vital that the independence of the Internet be preserved. Otherwise dark forces will begin to interfere and call for the suppression of information, or worse, the promulgation of disinformation. All those who love liberty must make their voices heard and stop this transfer, or failing that, in the worst case make certain that ironclad safeguards are put in place to assure freedom of expression. The record of international bodies is not good in this respect, and we must be sanguine about the prospects if this transition occurs. The Internet has thrived because the present circumstances have allowed it to. If this “international” oversight materializes you can be certain that it will soon degenerate into control, changing from passive, detached supervision to direct, active management of content, domains, and expression. We cannot trust international safeguards given the atrocious record of hypocrisy at the UN with regard to “human rights,” and the huge discrepancy between the UN charter and the practices of its membership. The safest course is to keep the Internet exactly as it is now, where it originated and developed and has come to serve all of humanity without distinction. 

02 August 2016


In this election Hillary Clinton is the default presidential candidate, the person who will continue the policies of the current administration, by her own account. Given the high level of distrust, and low level of esteem in which she is held by a majority of the American people, Republicans simply had to nominate a not-Hillary, and would have likely cruised to victory in the presidential election. Almost any of the potential candidates could have filled this role, except for Donald Trump. He has managed to move the election dangerously close to being about not-Trump. The result is a clash between two negatives: not-Hillary vs. not-Trump, with the winner being the one who ultimately is perceived as less loathsome. Thus the campaign won’t come down to who would make the best president, but rather who would be worse, with people voting against a candidate rather than for one. 

This foreshadows a nasty campaign and a relatively low voter turnout as people become turned off by the whole process. Hillary has to run on the notion that things aren’t so bad, and for that matter that she’s not so bad, which is a tough sell. But fate has rewarded her with an even more problematic candidate in Donald Trump. Although he actually has the upper hand on conditions, i.e. things aren’t so good, in the mind of the public, his problem is not his policies, such as they are, but his personality. If he continues to respond rashly to every perceived slight, if he continues to display a lack of self-control and elevates trivia to an unwarranted significance he will certainly lose. For he will have converted the election from being about Hillary to being about himself. Trump would probably have a better chance if he kept his mouth shut between now and November, because the only way he can win is by keeping the election about Hillary.

Despite the negative impressions they have generated, it is Trump’s outbursts that have attracted a significant segment of the population, which indicates just how alienated they are. They don’t care about propriety and temperament. They want someone who is so much of an outsider that he will upend the whole system. This makes him immune from almost any exposure of past allegedly dubious business practices. They are against the existing order and the way things are going for them personally, and Trump offers at least the possibility of change. But that base is not enough to win an election. That will hinge of people who are undecided as to who is worse. 

Hillary, on the other hand, has to run against her own party if she wants to win, given how far left it has lurched. Her own primaries accentuate her weakness, being so objectionable that just about the worst candidate who could have opposed her came close to winning the nomination. She will win her party’s base, which may vote without enthusiasm, but that is not enough to win the election. She also has to convince and then add enough voters who think her opponent is even worse. 

There is something wrong with an electoral system that winds up giving people a choice between the lesser of two evils. There are the Libertarian and Green party alternatives, and the former could get enough votes to affect the outcome, but the winner will still be either Clinton or Trump. We must ponder how it is that a country so fortunate, rich, and still full of promise could wind up with such a dismal choice. The saving grace is that the institutional structure is still strong enough to prevent anyone from mucking things up too seriously, given federalism and the separation of powers embedded in the constitution. The Framers understood the fragility of human nature, and designed a system that could withstand incompetence, stupidity, and egomania. Nevertheless even they might be surprised at the dismal choice we face more than two centuries later. 

30 July 2016


There is considerable anguish amongst the conservative intelligentsia concerning the rise of Donald Trump. Virtually the entire establishment of conservative leaders, intellectuals, and pundits are united in their distaste and opposition to his candidacy, based initially on the perception that “he is not one of us,” followed by a firm commitment to the notion that “he must be stopped.” That these efforts failed miserably may be a testament to the possibility that the extent of their actual influence may not significantly exceed the diminutive circulation of their magazines. It also may be indicative of the reality that many self-identified conservatives hold radically different views as to what conservatism consists of, given the widening breach between the mass following of Trump and the conservative elites. The latter may well have painted themselves into a corner, from which there is no easy exit, by constantly vilifying Trump. Furthermore they may increasingly come to be perceived as “liberals” by a runaway base that may well have held different views all along. 

A case could be made that in this election Hillary Clinton is the conservative, given that she represents continuity, the status quo, the traditional political order, and that she is unlikely to upend the system in any way, notwithstanding her progressive posturing. In the area where presidents exercise the most power, international affairs, she is dedicated to the existing order that has been built up over decades and may be more hawkish than Trump in many respects. In fact given the way they have cast out Trump she would appear to be the logical alternative. The agony arises because these same conservative leaders have been implacable in their opposition to the Clintons over the years. I’ve never understood the intensity of that animus, at least on ideological grounds, given Clinton’s relative moderation, so it’s more personal insofar as many people think Hillary has a miserable personality and is basically dishonest. She may be an awful person, but we now have the spectacle of conservative elites actively opposing the Republican candidate for president which can only aide the election of the Democratic candidate they have loathed for decades. 

They have been joined by some Republican politicians, former officials and a considerable chunk of the corporate establishment and wealthy that last left the party in droves when Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate. But these former officials consist almost entirely of people associated with the Bushes, who were ultimately disastrous for the country and the Republican party when in power. Their departure is no loss for a party that can hardly be considered the party of the wealthy any longer as it becomes more of a Republican Peoples' Party, in the European sense, with a working and middle class base. This is not simply populist irrationality that liberals of the left an right would have us believe, but a natural reaction on the part of people who have not fared well over the last few decades. The problem is that the candidate who has successfully channeled these sentiments, Donald Trump, may be woefully unprepared to actually govern. But at this point Republican elected officials can do little more than support the national ticket if they want to avoid disaster. 

The net effect is that the conservative intelligentsia has been left out in the cold, with, from their standpoint, two unpalatable candidates. It is hard to see how anyone could support Hillary Clinton and still be a Republican. On the other hand, a process that began with 17 candidates, several of them attractive and well-suited for the presidency, has yielded what they regard as a populist interloper. Thus there is nowhere to go. This is a consequence of a deeply flawed system based upon primaries that few people vote in, an endless election campaign season, and mass media that exacerbate these conditions. Unless we reform the electoral system and give the power to choose candidates back to elected officials it is only going to get worse. Another electoral season is coming to a dismal end, so these days when I turn on the news I’m more interested in the weather.

04 June 2016


One of the ongoing nuisances of the Left is their propensity to manufacture issues in places where there were none. This is evident in the latest “controversy” over transgenderism, instigated by President Obama in the waning days of his administration, when he oh-so-boldly mandated that high schools across the entire country allow transgendered students to use the bathrooms of their sexual identity. There is nothing especially offensive about this in and of itself. What is intolerable is the administration’s attempting to dictate this, threatening to withhold funds from states and school districts that don’t comply with the Edict of Trans; never mind that these clowns have totally ignored the really serious violations of “sanctuary cities” openly defying federal law with impunity and facing no consequences. 

Republican legislatures predictably took the bait and started passing state laws mandating the opposite; i.e. that students must use the lavatories designated for their sexual identity at birth. Meanwhile I’m not aware of reporters finding a single transgendered high school student in the entire country suffering from lavatory discrimination; they are simply too young to have crossed over in any significant numbers. But liberals have never met a minority they don’t like, so the transgendered are the latest cause, never mind that they are but a fraction of 1% of the American population, yet have become the focus of attention of no less than the President of the United States, who has made a fool of himself as a result. One has to wonder what is left for progressives to minoritize now. Are fetishes next? 

The absurdity of all of this is brought home by a simple question: what were they doing before this “controversy” erupted? Transgendered people have been around for as long as sex-change operations have been viable and presumably were getting by without much controversy until liberals discovered and minted their “minority” status. The result is that we now have restrooms with all sorts of screwy sexual symbols that essentially mean the same thing as a bathroom with no gender identity, which have typically been found all along. What is the point of the stupid symbols if it is simply a bathroom anyone can use? There is none; it is an ideological statement to assuage the emotions of the left. That is the reason it ought to be opposed. We’ve had enough of this loony ideological assault on common sense. 

Even more annoying is the trend of corporations quickly adapting or caving to left-wing pressure, based on say, all of twenty emails,  in order to maintain their “progressive” self-image. The notion that corporations are still associated with the right these days is quaint, given their behavior, as many have gone out of their way to impose Obama-like mandates on their companies, or have even gone so far as to threaten moving facilities from states that don’t comply. Sooner or later there is going to be a reckoning on this, because the left is simply vastly outnumbered by the right. Either the right will neutralize this or start making their own demands, boycott threats, etc. to pressure companies in their direction. The truth is corporations have no business responding to political pressure of any kind; their business ought to be business, period. 

As for the transgendered, those having sex changes are mostly men, so the reality is whether a person formally a man now identifying as a woman, and so attired, ought to be able to use the ladies room. I really don’t see the problem. Ladies rooms consist of private stalls, so how they do their actual business is private. If someone is dressed as a woman, conveys themselves in that fashion, and wishes to be so identified, so be it. It would be more absurd to force someone with the appearance of a woman to walk into the mens room. There were no issues her before. But what this idiotic President has done is to open a can of worms since it provides the basis for anyone to claim they are whatever they want, and for non-transgendered men to enter the ladies room. It may even have the opposite effect of that intended, by increasing hostility to transgendered people. It is further pointless since they presumably were adapting to conditions and getting by well enough before all this erupted, to no good end. 

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.

12 January 2016


The other night we went to the Metropolitan Opera, holding some of the best seats in the house,  looking forward to a nice night on the town. It wasn’t. The restaurant we ate at close to Lincoln Center was the noisiest place I’ve ever been and it was impossible to carry on a conversation with everyone else shouting to be heard above the racket. Then the opera, Die Fledermaus, was presented in English and took considerable liberties with the libretto. Opera sung in English always sounds stupid to me, and there’s no reason for it since they stream translations across the back of the seat in front of you. 

Every time I’ve been there I look at the hall and think why can’t we do better than this modern blank edifice, say like the old Met, vastly superior halls in Europe or even in other cities in the US. That is also true of the other venues, including what was Avery Fischer Hall, now renamed David Geffen hall, but is still just Philharmonic Hall to me. I don’t see why anyone should get a tax deduction for plastering their name all over things; the ego gratification doesn’t warrant it. If you’re coming to visit New York you can skip Lincoln Center, except for the overall architectural view; the individual halls are nothing to write home about. 

Earlier in the evening I thought I was lucky to find a parking space like in the old days before they stuck meters on everything, so I could avoid paying $46 for a garage. There was absolutely nothing to indicate the parking was illegal so I thought I was home free. But after the concert when we got to the spot the car was gone; either stolen or towed. I called the city number and yes, it had been towed, for allegedly parking in a bus stop. However there was not a single sign indicating that, and there was no yellow line on the sidewalk, so there was absolutely nothing to show it was allegedly a bus stop. But the damage was done, we had to grab a cab and head for the 38th street pier to retrieve the car after paying a $185 towing fee, and there was also a $115 ticket on the car on top of that. Most of the people there after midnight were clueless out-of-towners with rental cars that had been towed. This is nothing but a revenue racket, and the appeal process is deliberately convoluted. 

It was 1 AM when we finally got home, and due to alternate side parking I had to find a space on one side of the street. I drove around and around several blocks but there were no spaces, even on the wrong side. Finally after half an hour I found a small space I had to squeeze into with only inches to spare, and still on the wrong side so I would have to move the car in the morning. 

Last week we were on our way to another event but never got there because I hit some sort of obstruction that wasn’t there before nor was it demarcated and had to get two new wheels. 

The point of all of this is that this city not only discourages cars, it is hostile to them. On that basis don’t drive in New York City. Those of us who are natives have to live with this, but travelers beware. Something is bound to go wrong and spoil your evening, never mind being shaken down for parking, and honestly there’s nothing that great here anyway.