The Day At The DMV

My driving license had expired so I was forced to head down to the local motor vehicle office to get it renewed. The state offers a “service” for renewing by mail, but this requires getting a separate eye exam, filling out some forms and hoping that the postal service does its job. Having had my state tax returns lost the last two years, my confidence in that link in the chain is not very high, so I elected to do it the old fashioned way. That meant standing in lines and dealing with surly functionaries of the state.

When you enter the place, you are “greeted” by a functionary that asks you for the purpose of your visit. You are then assigned a number or directed to a kiosk. More on that in a bit. The numbers are assigned in a way that almost seems random. The person in front of me got “G23” and I was given “B80.” The idea is to make sure no one waiting truly knows who is next in the queue. Maybe they had riots in the past or perhaps people sold their place in line. Maybe there is no reason for it.

The office near me is not in the ghetto, but serves the ghetto so that means lots of vibrancy in the waiting area. One of the first things I noticed was that many of the people there were trying to pay off violations, mostly parking tickets. The angry greeter at the front desk barked at those people to get in the line for the “self-service” kiosks against the wall. He had that look of a man irritated that these people had interrupted his work, even though his work was to greet people entering the facility.

Of course, these kiosks could be located all over the malls and shopping centers around the state so people could do this task anywhere and at any time. For that matter, this could be a phone app, but that’s not how the government works. The kiosks are not for your convenience. They exist for the convenience of the government workers. In all probability they were sold to the state as a way to make life easier for the clerks, who had to haggle with citizens over unpaid fines. Given the color of the place, it is not irrational.

Of course, the lines for those machines were long as most of the machines were out of order. Then you have the fact that the diverse community is not very good at following instructions. You see this in fast food joints where they struggle to order from the menu. A system that requires someone to select from a menu of options, with no modifications, is never going to do well in the diverse community. The result is a struggle of diverse man versus machine, with outbursts and demands for service from the staff.

I spotted a Muslim women in a trash bag shuffling up to one of the counters. Two swarthy men were hovering around her. They guarded her virtue as she exposed her head for the license photo. From what I saw, they have no fears of rival males carrying her off. Everyone in the place was intently watching the scene, even the surly functionaries. For a minute, all of us were plugged into the collective consciousness, wondering why our rulers are doing this to us.

This is an example of why open borders will end in disaster. In a world without government, people will sort themselves out, one way or another. In the custodial state, everyone is dealing with the state. That means the interface has to accommodate all comers. In a world where the picture ID is critical, a people who think photos steal their soul or make Allah angry with their women is doomed to failure. The DMV can handle Mexican fruit pickers, it cannot adapt to Bronze Age barbarians.

The funny thing about the diverse community is they will sit forever, waiting for government service. Honkies get impatient with lines and expect the government to work like the private sector. The diverse are much more reasonable in this regard. Everyone had head phones so they could listen to their music while they stared at their phones, doing whatever it is they do on their phones. They came prepared to entertain themselves for the day. Maybe it is from habit or maybe it is from nature. Regardless, these are not people who will be voting libertarian.

That’s the other thing you see in a government office. Libertarianism works fine as long as your society is composed of high IQ sociopaths, who can manage on their own. Once you have people like those working for the state, and getting services from the state, libertarianism collapses. The people in the waiting area not only need rules, they need help following the rules. That’s not going to happen through voluntary association. Unless you have genocide in your heart, libertarianism cannot survive outside the lab.

The other interesting thing is that the motor vehicle office no longer issues a license. It is mailed to you. I did a little sleuthing and discovered that the selling of ID’s was a problem. No one admits it, but the rules they have in place now are clearly aimed at preventing insiders from selling your information. Allegedly, they now account for each blank that is used for a license. By mailing it, they insure the person applying for the license is at the location they claim.

This will not work so the next step will be bio-metric ID’s where you provide a thumbprint or some other biologically unique credential. All of our credentials will eventually be multi-factor authentication. That means you will present the physical ID, some sort of randomized PIN that is linked to the ID and a password. Secure facilities do this for system access. Adding a thumbprint or DNA sample is the logical next step once the costs are low enough to make it practical.

That also means all of us will be in the government database. Our medical records, credit history, internet pornography interests, will all be tied to our official government issued citizen ID. It’s not unreasonable to think that people will have a chip implanted at birth that links to the ID and other items that require authentication for access. It’s not happening tomorrow, but you can see where it is headed when you look at things like Real ID. Like a fungus, this is slowly growing on us and will one day feel like a normal part of life.

Of course, it will still require us to stand in line to get our license renewed.

Essential Knowledge Part I

A while back, someone suggested I do a post on the books I think are important. This was within the context of a back and forth on books related to a specific topic. The first thought was the traditional list with some commentary, but that would end up being either a ridiculously long list that no one would read or a short list that simply revealed my selection bias. Plus, listicles are the lowest form of writing, somewhere below grocery lists and ransom notes.

Instead, I decided to do a series of posts on the topics a modern, educated person should have in his inventory of knowledge. Along the way I’ll recommend books, articles and podcasts I think are useful in learning about the subject. Podcasts are what led me to expand the idea from a simple book list. We live in an age where you can download lectures from experts in any field. I have in my rotation lectures from Yale on Ancient Greece, for example. In other words, books are not the sole storehouse of knowledge.

The thing is, you don’t have to be an expert on everything. Simply knowing the basics and the relevance is enough in many cases. You have the entirety of human knowledge at your fingertips so knowing how to look things up is more important than memorization. Einstein allegedly said he had no reason to memorize how many feet were in a mile because he could find in any book. Today, you can find the details off your phone or laptop in seconds. What you need is an understanding of how to find it.

That’s the first thing a modern person needs to know. How to look things up on-line is an essential skill in the modern age. Working with young interns years ago, I was surprised to discover that none of them knew how to be curious. I had to teach them how to find things on-line. They had no idea how to discover the world by inference. What I ended up telling them is always ask what a thing is, not where a thing is. What is its nature, what does it do. Who thinks it is important. Enter those things in a search engine and you will get close to what you seek.

This is probably obvious to most reading this, but there is a reason browsers have bookmarks and there are services that let you synchronize your bookmarks on all of your devices. Most people store knowledge and then remember where they left it. That has its place, but when searching for things on-line, you may, whether you realize it or not, be looking for unknown unknowns. By thinking about what a thing or event is, you will find things like it or related to it that you never considered or simply did not know existed.

This will no doubt strike some as pedantic, but in the modern age, the ability to quickly acquire necessary information is probably the most valuable skill and therefore, the most essential of knowledge. All of us have at our fingertips the totality of human understanding. Knowing how to quickly dig through it to find what it is you need is vastly more useful and important than the ability to remember how many feet are in a mile or where the book you learned it is on your book shelf.

The other bit of basic, ground floor knowledge a modern person should have is a grasp of math. I don’t mean a working knowledge of linear algebra or even the ability to factor polynomials. These are fine skills if you have a need for them or you simply enjoy math. No, the math one needs is much more general and conceptual. Modern discussions of the oldest of issues now contain references to basic mathematical and statistical concepts. Understanding these concepts and their limits is critical to following along with the discussion.

The first bit of math to grasp is the size and importance of numbers. Most people struggle understanding a billion. A billion dollars for a stadium no longer strikes people as a lot of money, because the word billion gets tossed around so much. Similarly, statistics have become the bane of modern debate mostly because people struggle to understand the basics. Ten people in a room may have an average height of 5’8″, but no one in the room may actually be that height. Of course, probability gets confused with causality all the time.

A good book to read for non-math people is The Universal History of Numbers. It is a history of numbers, written for those that like history, but maybe not math. From One to Zero: A Universal History of Numbers, written by the same guy, is also a useful book. As far as basic statistics, you are spoiled for choice, but if you just want to become familiar with the general concepts, Naked Statistics is a good book to read. It is short and aimed at people who don’t like math. At the minimum, you will understand the general concepts that turn up in modern public debate.

Put the two together and you arrive at the most fundamental of essential skills in the modern world – skepticism. Since you have the totality of human knowledge at your fingertips, you can verify the accuracy of what is presented to you. Having a general grasp of the math, and a way to understand the numbers tossed around in public, let’s you see past the sophistry that is the bulk of public discourse. To be a modern intellectual, you cannot be too skeptical.

I will post the next item in this series next Friday. It’s unclear how long this will go on, but the plan is to do one a week until the subject is exhausted.

The Future Stinks

Try to imagine living as a hunter-gatherer 25 thousand years ago. Naturally, you’ll think about the cavemen you recall seeing on TV or in movies. Museums used to have life sized figures of early humans in their exhibits to give visitors an idea of what it was like to be a person in the Stone Age. Maybe it sounds appealing, maybe not, but most people focus on the material differences. Living in a cave, wearing a loincloth or bearskin, depending upon your locale, would not be fun after a few days. Modern man likes his modern things.

If you think not having cell service would be terrible, imagine a total lack of privacy. Humans in that period did everything in full view of everyone else. They ate together, slept together and did all the other things together. Of course, the lack of complicated shelters made this necessary. It’s hard to have privacy when you don’t have walls. But, there was also the fact that people had no concept of privacy. They did not think of it because it had never existed.

In fact, privacy in the way in which we think of it is fairly new. The Romans famously had public baths and public toilets. Very public toilets. Everyone has probably seen pictures of the remains of Roman public toilets. Here’s a recreation of what it was like to pinch a loaf with your pals. Well into the 19th century, outhouses were common in the West and some of them were two-holers. Abe Lincoln had a three-holer, which was the height of luxury for his day.

The point of all this potty talk is to make the point that personal privacy is relatively new. It is the consequence of wealth and leisure. It’s not just things like flush toilets and indoor plumbing. People’s attitudes about personal privacy changed. We expect our financial affairs, private correspondence, personal foibles, private appetites and so forth to be off-limits from scrutiny. Health companies are required to go to great lengths to guard your medical data, even though no one knows why it matters.

The technological age is promising to change that and maybe do so in a hurry. The roads are now littered with cameras to monitor you as you drive. Street cameras are increasingly common in cities. In the UK, CCTV cameras are everywhere. Big Brother is literally watching you. Of course, big tech companies track your internet habits. The cable companies track your viewing habits. The “internet of things” means your house will be reporting on you to Google, Apple, Amazon et al.

The unwanted gaze is not just at the personal level. Retailers are encouraging people to put themselves into the big database voluntarily. This story about how sports teams are “offering” easy access as long as you let them scan your eyeball on the way in. Of course, they keep track of what you buy and probably how often you cheer. The new payment services are letting our overlords connect your shopping to your mobile phone, which links to all you internet habits.

It does not stop there. The FBI pays computer repair shops to dig around your stuff and report you to the Feds. The tactic is very old school, but the concept is very modern. The combining of our corporate overlords with our government overlords is a handy way around our remaining constitutional protections. How long before your Alexa gets a guilty conscience and reports your drug taking to the Feds? How long before your copy of Quicken starts talking to the IRS about your cash deposits?

This is not a libertarian vision of hell, but a plausible reality that faces us in the technological age. High speed communication, massive data storage capacity and sophisticated search algorithms means all of the particulars of our daily existence, even our private correspondence, can be easily assembled to provide a pretty good picture of our life, without much effort. If the Eye of Sauron falls on you, the authorities will have no problems knowing everything about you but your thoughts. Even those can be surmised by the facts of your life.

So far, people seem to be OK with living in a fishbowl. Maybe they don’t think about it much, but there have been no protests or movements to arrest this trend. Go into any retail shop and customers gladly offer their discount card so the store can put their buying habits into the database. Most people cheer the implementation of video surveillance, in the name of safety. Even the reports of wholesale government surveillance have not been met with much pushback from the public.

Assuming there is no turning back and the surveillance state is inevitable, the question is how does this change how people interact with one another. If you know your most intimate thoughts and deeds could be made public, will you be more careful in your private dealings? Or, will you simply care less about who knows and also stop caring about the private things revealed about others? Hollywood stars live out their lives in public and it has no effect on their conduct. It may even make them less prudent.

Up until fairly recent, people were disgusting. They blew their noses on their sleeves, they farted in public, they went to the bathroom in communal toilets and were generally foul and disgusting. Public manners developed alongside personal privacy. The line between what you would do in public versus what you would do in private, was only possible when privacy was possible. As the material wealth increased, the available privacy increased and good public behavior became enforceable.

If everyone sees you at your worst, there’s no point in hiding it so in a surveillance state, where all our secrets are made public, maybe people will just stop caring. Hollywood always imagines the future to be sterile and clean, a land of stainless steel and glass. Maybe the future will be the opposite. Instead of tidy androgynous people in Lycra jumpsuits, its people with bed-head wearing sweats, scratching themselves in public.The glorious future will be people with nothing to hide and nothing you want to see.

Cars

This post on Sailer’s site the other day struck a chord with me. I’m beginning the process of buying a car so I have been thinking a lot about cars of late. I truly hate the car buying experience for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that it feels like a waste of time. The dealership model is a carryover from a bygone era when a man would spend a lot of time on purchases. Most of us buy on-line now so walking car lots looking for the right car just feels like a time suck to me.

That last bit reveals a bit of reality with regards to how societies work. The car selling business has been immune to change and it has a lot to do with the political power of car dealers. Tesla found that out when they wanted to sell cars in New Jersey. The state had a law requiring car makers to have a dealership in the state in order to sell cars. Tesla finally got the state to yield, but they had to bribe half of Trenton to do it. Car dealers are a powerful lobby in every state and they use their influence to make life tough on anyone with new ideas.

That Sailer post reminded me of something I have noticed among my friends and acquaintances, as I have got into car shopping. It is a very emotional subject. For instance, I’ve asked people for their recommendations and to a man they have refused. I always get something like “You need to test drive them and pick the one you like.” The alternative to this is to just change the subject entirely. It’s as if there is a taboo against giving anyone advice on cars.

I think the reason for the reluctance is two-fold. One is people still view their car as an extension of themselves. If they recommend a car and you reject it, it is as if you told them they have bad taste. On the other side of it, thinking it is an emotional experience, people don’t want to talk you into something you may come to hate. Alternatively, the people I know may not give a damn about my new interest in cars or they simply don’t like me very much. You can never be sure about these things.

The other thing I see, something that turns up in the comments of car posts like the Sailer one, is the car scold. Whenever someone starts showing enthusiasm for buying or owning a car, car scold comes along to tell them he thinks owning a car is a great burden that he suffers through for the good of mankind. This guy has a lot in common with TV scold and music scold. It’s as if enjoying life is such a great sin that the righteous must always be letting everyone know they are in constant pain.

There are, needless to say, a lot of these vinegar drinkers on the right. It is an affectation and a silly one in my opinion. You have but a short time on this earth. Making the most of it, including the fun bits, strikes me as the heart of conservatism. It is the ultimate acknowledgement of reality. Every man has his tastes, but if owning a snappy car brings you pleasure, best of luck with it. I may not share your passion, but I do share your desire to make the most of our time on earth. What’s wrong with that?

The root of this, I suspect, is the dominance of the Left in American culture. The neo-Puritan hags have been screeching at us about how form must always follow function for so long we have lost our sense of style. You see that in cars where the goal of designers is to make them more aerodynamic and pack them with useful functions. The result is a fleet of well-built cars that look like they came from East German film noir during the Cold War. Our cars are ugly because inside, we have become an ugly people.

If you doubt this, look at pics of parking lots from 40-50 years ago. They were a carnival of colors, shapes and sizes. A person’s taste in cars said something about him, a form of advertisement. A people embracing life and its potential were out buying all sorts of cars in all sorts of colors. We are now a people marching to the inevitable end of our miserable existences so we buy cars that are suited for the task. The top three car colors in America are black, grey and white, with dark gray the top interior choice.

Now, one aspect of this self-loathing has been a focus on the engineering of cars and that has resulted in some fantastic options. The cars of my youth were better looking, but they were in no way better built or better engineered. I test drove a Camaro SS the other day and it was like flying a jet. It was fast as hell and so packed with technology it is not accurate to call it a car. It is a transportation platform. Last year I rented a Cadillac on a trip and I needed ten minutes to figure out how to operate it. It is an amazing age.

Even so, we have become a cautious and frightened people, like herd animals waiting to be processed. The sports car buyer in 1965 was looking for risk. He wanted to rocket down the road in something that was probably not entirely safe, but that was part of the thrill. Today, sports cars are packed with safety features intended to let the buyer know he can have the kind of fun that is permitted today. It is part of the overall feminization of the West. Engineers today care about you like a mother.

I saw the other day that a company now sells an add-on for cars that allows parents to spy on their kids and even take control of the car, from their smart phone. The ad is not all that clear on the particulars, but it appears to be a GPS system that also provides some ability to disable the car, sound the horn and flash the lights. That way, if your son is out enjoying himself, you can put an end to it from your couch. Nothing says freedom like having mom watch you as you make out with your girl in the backseat.

The ultimate expression of this is the self-driving car. The quest to take all the fun out of life, and all the risk, leads inevitably to the nanny-state providing a ride service so that you not only get to your destination safely, you get to the correct destination. People naturally think the surveillance state will be Orwellian. No, it will be run by Google and Apple, sold as a market solution to public safety. After all, when it comes to your safety, we can’t let things like freedom, pleasure and privacy get in the way. You’re too important to us!

In the end, that’s why I will be buying some sort of hot rod in the coming weeks. I look around and see that the fun cars are only for the Cloud People, while the rest of us will be stuck with the dreary conveyance units. There are not many mid-priced sports cars on the market. Toyota does not even have a fun car on offer. Neither does Honda. I figure I better get a sports car before I’m too old and the before the state decides, for my own good of course, that they are no longer safe for Dirt People.

 

 

2017 Predictions

It’s here! It’s finally here! That’s right, here is my annual prediction post. Last year’s post can be found here. Reading it over, I’m surprised to see I got a lot of them right or at least close enough to pretend I was right.  Looking back on it, I was ahead of the curve on what was going on with Trump in the election. I also got the Fed strategy right, but the timing a bit off. I was hilariously right about the North Koreans and the Muslim diaspora into Europe. In both cases, those outcomes were so obvious there should be a penalty for not getting them right.

On the down side, the Red Sox did not win the World Series and the Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. Even worse, the Yankees did not go 0-and-162. Looking back, the one area where my predictions are never right is in the area of sports. That’s not a surprise as I actually care about sports. The rest of the stuff is just what I do between watching my teams play sportsball. But, The Olde Towne Team had a good year, a great Hot Stove Season and the great Tom Brady is leading America’s Team to another title this year!

So, what are the goat entrails telling me this year?

Part of the return to normalcy in America will be Washington reacquainting itself with economic matters. Trump knows he needs something big to goose the economy and give his presidency a boost. The way forward on that is to start with a big sweeping tax reform package. Given the make-up of the House, expect a package that simplifies business taxes, cuts the corporate rate and offers a big bag of goodies for companies that make stuff and employ people. That means big deductions for capital expenditures like machine tools and heavy equipment.

The signs also point to an effort at peeling back a thick slice of the regulatory state. Trump is a guy who remembers the Reagan years and he knows the impact of deregulation had on the economy. He’s also a guy who has spent his life dealing with government functionaries enforcing bureaucratic regulations. Republicans have been plotting a big rollback for over a decade and now they have their shot. ObamaCare is an obvious target, but look for this to be part of a larger rollback of regulations in an effort to boost the economy…

This is the year we see the floor fall out of the climate change rackets. Most Americans think global warming is nonsense and one of those Americans is Trump. There will be a concerted effort to depoliticize the climate science business by running off some of the fanatics and opening the field back up to sensible skeptics. The main driver will be turning off the money spigot to the fanatics and shifting funds to the honest science.  When the money goes away, the grifters go away…

The problems in the Chinese political economy will become more obvious to western policy makers as the boom times come to an end. There’s not much left the US can outsource to China, even if there was desire to do it. The Chinese know this and they have been feverishly trying to adjust by boosting domestic consumption. The trouble is it will require a vast restructuring of the Chinese society. The ChiComs are not intimated by such a task, but that does not make it less daunting.

China has a lot of smart people, but they have never figured out how to protect themselves from tyrants. That’s the limit on economic growth. When the government can arbitrarily take your property, there is no incentive to invest, unless you have political power. That breeds corruption and it breeds a bandit mentality. That’s the challenge for the ChiComs and what will stymie their efforts to move from a mercantile economy to a market one. This is the year when the problems start to become obvious…

Syria, Turkey, Iraq and maybe even Jordan become less stable over the next year as the West cannot agree on a coherent policy for the region. One reason for the chaos is no player has the resources to impose its will on the rest. The Russians have enough to keep Assad in power, but not enough to wipe out the Saudi and GCC sponsored rebels. The Saudis can keep the kettle boiling, but they cannot do much more without the US. Israel is happy to see her enemies fighting with one another so they will not be pushing for a resolution…

The alt-right will fall prey to infighting and squabbling and slowly burn itself out over the next year. The fighting between Cernovich, Treadstone and Spencer has all the familiar features. On the one side will be the guys who dream of riding their fame as rebels to positions within the establishment. On the other will be those who see legitimization as treason. One side goes one way, the other side goes the opposite and the “movement” splinters and dissolves. This is a common dynamic in radical politics and it will happen with the New Right…

Gene editing will become a very serious topic of conversation among the chattering classes. Ten years ago, no one in science really thought it was going to be cheap and easy to edit the human genome anytime soon. All of a sudden, CRISPR/Cas9 promises to make genetic engineering a reality. Researchers have already done things like edit bone marrow cells in mice to treat sickle-cell anemia. The Chinese have used this technology to edit the genome of human embryos.

We’re still a long way from creating designer humans, but the path is suddenly open to solving a whole host of diseases. The Chinese will rush ahead with human testing, but the West will most likely start on more mundane things like creating disease resistant plants and treatments for insect borne viruses. Tinkering with mosquitoes so they no longer can carry the Zika virus has fewer moral obstacles than tinkering with humans. Even so, the brave new world begins this year…

The coming Trump immigration push will reveal that we no longer have two parties, but one party with two sides, one on each end of the immigration issue. Paul Ryan will lead the open borders wing in opposition to Trump and the nationalist wing. This will be seen as the first steps in the great realignment of the parties as a big chunk of people currently in the GOP camp begin to make their way over to the Democrat side. American politics will begin to resemble Israeli politics, where one issue divides the parties…

That’s it for this year. It has been a banner year for the blog, adding tens of thousands of new readers and many new commenters. I appreciate everyone taking the time out of their day to read and respond.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Video has been updated to play in all countries

Here is the late great Tony Snow’s legendary column on Kwanzaa:

BLACKS IN AMERICA have suffered an endless series of insults and degradations, the latest of which goes by the name of Kwanzaa.

Ron Karenga (aka Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga) invented the seven-day feast (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) in 1966, branding it a black alternative to Christmas. The idea was to celebrate the end of what he considered the Christmas-season exploitation of African Americans.

According to the official Kwanzaa Web site — as opposed, say, to the Hallmark Cards Kwanzaa site — the celebration was designed to foster “conditions that would enhance the revolutionary social change for the masses of Black Americans” and provide a “reassessment, reclaiming, recommitment, remembrance, retrieval, resumption, resurrection and rejuvenation of those principles (Way of Life) utilized by Black Americans’ ancestors.”

Karenga postulated seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, each of which gets its day during Kwanzaa week. He and his votaries also crafted a flag of black nationalism and a pledge: “We pledge allegiance to the red, black, and green, our flag, the symbol of our eternal struggle, and to the land we must obtain; one nation of black people, with one G-d of us all, totally united in the struggle, for black love, black freedom, and black self-determination.”

Now, the point: There is no part of Kwanzaa that is not fraudulent. Begin with the name. The celebration comes from the Swahili term “matunda yakwanza,” or “first fruit,” and the festival’s trappings have Swahili names — such as “ujima” for “collective work and responsibility” or “muhindi,” which are ears of corn celebrants set aside for each child in a family.

Unfortunately, Swahili has little relevance for American blacks. Most slaves were ripped from the shores of West Africa. Swahili is an East African tongue.

To put that in perspective, the cultural gap between Senegal and Kenya is as dramatic as the chasm that separates, say, London and Tehran. Imagine singing “G-d Save the Queen” in Farsi, and you grasp the enormity of the gaffe.

Worse, Kwanzaa ceremonies have no discernible African roots. No culture on earth celebrates a harvesting ritual in December, for instance, and the implicit pledges about human dignity don’t necessarily jibe with such still-common practices as female circumcision and polygamy. The inventors of Kwanzaa weren’t promoting a return to roots; they were shilling for Marxism. They even appropriated the term “ujima,” which Julius Nyrere cited when he uprooted tens of thousands of Tanzanians and shipped them forcibly to collective farms, where they proved more adept at cultivating misery than banishing hunger.

Even the rituals using corn don’t fit. Corn isn’t indigenous to Africa. Mexican Indians developed it, and the crop was carried worldwide by white colonialists.

The fact is, there is no Ur-African culture. The continent remains stubbornly tribal. Hutus and Tutsis still slaughter one another for sport.

Go to Kenya, where I taught briefly as a young man, and you’ll see endless hostility between Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya and Masai. Even South African politics these days have more to do with tribal animosities than ideological differences.

Moreover, chaos too often prevails over order. Warlords hold sway in Somalia, Eritrea, Liberia and Zaire. Genocidal maniacs have wiped out millions in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. The once-shining hopes for Kenya have vanished.

Detroit native Keith Richburg writes in his extraordinary book, “Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa,” that “this strange place defies even the staunchest of optimists; it drains you of hope …”

Richburg, who served for three years as the African bureau chief for The Washington Post, offers a challenge for the likes of Karenga: “Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers and I’ll throw it back in your face, and then I’ll rub your nose in the images of rotting flesh.”

His book concludes: “I have been here, and I have seen — and frankly, I want no part of it. …. By an accident of birth, I am a black man born in America, and everything I am today — my culture and my attitudes, my sensibilities, loves and desires — derives from that one simple and irrefutable fact.”

Nobody ever ennobled a people with a lie or restored stolen dignity through fraud. Kwanzaa is the ultimate chump holiday — Jim Crow with a false and festive wardrobe. It praises practices — “cooperative economics, and collective work and responsibility” — that have succeeded nowhere on earth and would mire American blacks in endless backwardness.

Our treatment of Kwanzaa provides a revealing sign of how far we have yet to travel on the road to reconciliation. The white establishment has thrown in with it, not just to cash in on the business, but to patronize black activists and shut them up.

This year, President Clinton signed his fourth Kwanzaa proclamation. He crooned: “The symbols and ceremony of Kwanzaa, evoking the rich history and heritage of African Americans, remind us that our nation draws much of its strength from our diversity.”

But our strength, as Richburg points out, comes from real principles: tolerance, brotherhood, hard work, personal responsibility, equality before the law. If Americans really cared about racial healing, they would focus on those ideas — and not on a made-up rite that mistakes segregationism for spirituality and fiction for history.

Exporting The Capital

Sitting in traffic on the Capital Beltway, I started wondering at what point the city just seizes up due to the overload. I was at one of the well known choke points that is just about impossible to avoid, but there are few spots around the beltway that are ever moving at maximum speed. The snarl I was in was at 7:30 PM, which is not all that unusual for DC. The fact is, the major highways around the District are well beyond capacity and there is not much that can be done about it.

It’s not just the beltway or inside it. Northern Virginia has traffic that reminds me of Los Angeles. In fact, the area is a lot like LA now. They say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people and the residential areas now have a similar vibe. It’s that feeling that the people who laid out the roads and neighborhoods were always in crisis mode, putting down streets and houses in an effort to keep pace with the flood of new people. The result is large scale suburban chaos.

Hassling through traffic, I started thinking about the new idea liberals have to reconnect with the little people in flyover country. They want to relocate chunks of the government to the hinterlands.

America’s post-industrial Midwest is far from being the country’s poorest region. To find the direst economic conditions in the United States, one generally has to look toward Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta region, the Rio Grande Valley, and a smattering of heavily Native American counties in the Southwest and Great Plains. What the Midwest’s recent economic struggles bring, however, is not just large-scale political salience but a particular kind of fixability.

The poorest places in the United States have been poor for a very long time and lack the basic infrastructure of prosperity. But that’s not true in the Midwest, where cities were thriving two generations ago and where an enormous amount of infrastructure is in place. Midwestern states have acclaimed public university systems, airports that are large enough to serve as major hubs, and cities whose cultural legacies include major league pro sports teams, acclaimed museums, symphonies, theaters, and other amenities of big-city living.

This article is part of New Money, a new section on economics, technology, and business.
But industrial decline has left these cities overbuilt, with shrunken populations that struggle to support the legacy infrastructure, and the infrastructure’s decline tends to only beget further regional decline.

At the same time, America’s major coastal cities are overcrowded. They suffer from endemic housing scarcity, massive traffic congestion, and a profound small-c political conservatism that prevents them from making the kind of regulatory changes that would allow them to build the new housing and infrastructure they need. Excess population that can’t be absorbed by the coasts tends to bounce to the growth-friendly cities of the Sunbelt that need to build anew what Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland already have in terms of infrastructure and amenities.
A sensible approach would be for the federal government to take the lead in rebalancing America’s allocation of population and resources by taking a good hard look at whether so much federal activity needs to be concentrated in Washington, DC, and its suburbs. Moving agencies out of the DC area to the Midwest would obviously cause some short-term disruptions. But in the long run, relocated agencies’ employees would enjoy cheaper houses, shorter commutes, and a higher standard of living, while Midwestern communities would see their population and tax base stabilized and gain new opportunities for complementary industries to grow.

Now, the idiocy of this lies in the general snottiness of the article. Matthew Yglesias is known for being one of those smug stupid people the managerial class is so good at producing. Even so, it would be a good way for solving what is becoming a critical problem in the Imperial Capital. There’s simply no more room. We’re full. In fact, we’re beyond full. Shipping out some of the agencies to places without a lot of people would fix two problems.

Obviously, it ships the people out of the capital, alleviating some of the congestion. Sending Housing and Urban Development to Detroit would be good for Detroit and good for the capital. Detroit has a need for urban development so putting the urban developers right there in the Motor City would be a marriage made in heaven. Even better, Detroit has lots of slums that were in no small way created by the idiocy of the Department of Housing and urban Development.

Now, a lot of government is already spread all over the country. Social Security has a huge facility outside Baltimore. West Virginia is dotted with Federal buildings thanks to former Klansman and US Senator, Robert Byrd. Alaska also has a lot of government due to the vast amount of natural resources that need managing. Still, some states, like Maine, have almost no big Federal installations. Putting the Department of Interior in Caribou Maine would be great for the state economy.

The major benefit of distributing these departments would not be economic. The real benefit is they would lose their value as nesting places for the army of tax eaters and their private sector analogs. If a middle management job with the government meant a posting in Caribou Maine, current temperature -18° C, I’m thinking many of those jobs would go unfilled. Even better, if that department secretary had to phone it in for cabinet meetings, I’m thinking Congress loses interest in them.

Let’s hope the Progs get their wish and we ship the plague of Washington out to the rest of you!

Forever Young

Greg Cochran has a short post up soliciting opinions on what will be the next big thing in science and technology. He is not fishing for the next smartphone app or medical cure. I think he means the big new field of study or technological advancement. It is one of those posts that is not intended to be interesting, but to get the readers noodling over the question. Judging from the comments thus far, that is the way his readers have read the post. It seems to be another stab at the topic he started the other day.

It is an interesting question as we do seem to have reached the point of diminishing returns with the microprocessor. E-mail was a huge game changer. The mobile phone was another big leap into the unknown. The web probably comes in third, but it still had an enormous impact on humanity. These inventions have changed the way humans interact with one another and continue to put stress on the organizational systems we have had in place since the Enlightenment. Donald Trump just won an election by mastering Twitter.

We have reached peak chip, so to speak. The low hanging fruit has been picked and we’re well on the way to commodification of technology. That’s not to say there is no more work to be done in tech. It’s just that the boom years are over and the industry is now mature. The next big ideas, the stuff that could alter society, will be coming from somewhere else. The temptation is to think it will be some new technology like genetics or nanotechnology. Those fields have the futuristic vibe futurists like.

Genetics does have the prospect of being highly disruptive. Just take a look at how 23andMe or Ancestry.com sell their products. Implicit in their pitch is that race and ethnicity are in your DNA. That means race is not a social construct. Ancestry disguises this by using multi-racial actors, but the implication is clear. Similarly, the ability to predict things about people at an early age, based on examining their DNA, could be very disruptive. Imagine what happens to insurance when you can test for risk of heart attack.

The thing is, a lot of this information has been available to us through other means. Humans have known for a long time that people are not the same across race or ethnicity and most people still know it, even if they don’t say it. Even so, it has no impact on public policy or on the howling of the multiculturalists. We’ve also known that the apple does not fall far from the tree. If the kid is born to losers, the kid will probably be a loser. How the kid is raised has little to do with it, but we still preach the morality of parenting.

A more promising area where something game changing could come is in the field of aging. Humans live longer and are healthier than ever and it has already had a huge impact on society. All of our pension and insurance schemes are broken mostly because people live too long. Long living has resulted in children maturing more slowly, in terms of social status. A century ago, a man went to work as a teen and had a family by the time he hit 20. Today, men live at home until 30 and start families well into their 30’s.

Imagine what happens if science finds a way to push the expiry date out a few more decades. Imagine if 100 becomes the new 65, in that the 100 year old is as vigorous as the typical 65 year old. Imagine that the golden years of retirement start at 110. This is standard stuff in science fiction, but it may not be too far off in reality. British researchers have figured out how to drastically slow the aging of mice. That opens the door for not only slowing the process, but arresting it. Forever young may not be too far off.

Even if that is beyond the pale, think about the impact of Viagra. Invent a pill to keep the needle pointing north and the world beats a path to your door. Imagine a pill to end gray hair or crow’s feet. Even if people don’t live to 150, just being healthier and more vigorous late into life could have a huge impact on society. Retirement, for example, would make a lot less sense if you had plenty of juice well into your senior years. Of course, retirement would become something radically different too. Our view of aging would radically change.

The reason to think that life extension and aging is the place to see great innovation in the near term is mostly economic. Penis pills made their makers very rich. A gray hair pill or a wrinkle cure would similarly make their makers billions. Just look at the number of men seeking out HGH from black market sources. The market for anything that extends life or extends youthful vitality is the market of all people. Is there anyone who would not buy a pill that makes you look as good as you looked in the flower of youth?

Fat People

Last month when I was in line waiting to vote, I spotted an extremely fat woman. She was so fat, her ankles rubbed together. Judging by the three gallon bucket of soda pop in her hand, I’m assuming she was not the victim of elephantiasis or some other disease. Everything about her was fat, even her head, which was the size of a bowling ball and covered in pink-dyed fur. How she was able to get around with hundreds of pounds of fat attached to her is a mystery. I would think the mere act of toting around so much weight would result in weight loss.

Last week, I stopped at the ghetto market for a few items and spotted a couple in the snack aisle. The man was something like a large ball with arms and legs. I estimated his diameter was close to 24 inches. That would mean his belt was 75 inches. His wife was of similar size. My first thought was how they were able to, you know, enjoy the marital bed. Is it even possible that they find one another attractive? I suppose it is possible that all of their energies are focused on moving around their girth and finding enough food to maintain their weight so sex is a non-issue.

Anyone familiar with American poverty knows that our poor people are fat, very fat. There are exceptions like drug addicts or those spindly ectomorphs you see loitering on street corners. Black woman, of course, are almost always fat. This is something most everyone knows. The ancients drew images of African women with giant stomachs and buttocks. In all probability, this is a genetic issue with West Africans. Even so, across the ethnic spectrum, American poor people are fat. Even our Mexicans are fat now.

In fact, Mexico is the world’s fattest country. This is mostly likely due to the fact that food is cheaper now than at any time in human history. It’s extremely hard to starve your people these days. Food is just too cheap and plentiful. Even basket case countries like those in sub-Saharan Africa have more than enough food. That’s most likely the cause of the population boom in Africa. The Malthusian limit has been pushed much further out so the population has exploded.

Public health officials tell us that obesity is a crisis in America. Being fat supposedly results in an exploding number of maladies like diabetes and heart disease. This drives up health costs thus collapsing the technocratic schemes cooked up by the managerial class. It’s important to remember that public health officials are usually wrong. For example, they said AIDS would jump from the bathhouse and heroin den into the middle-class suburbs. That never came closer to happening.

Even if obesity is a public health problem, it’s unlikely that there can be a public policy to address it, other than deliberate starvation of the people. Our Germans probably have the same obesity rates as Germans in Europe. The same is true across the ethnic landscape. We’re forbidden to notice that blacks and Mexicans are very fat, compared to everyone else. That means we’re forbidden to note that honky obesity rates are not too far off from Europeans rates. That would be racist and everyone knows race does not exist.

The point of this observation is to note that biology is beyond the reach of public policy. If fatness has some serious detriments to the population, then it will sort itself out over time. If fatness becomes associated with low status people, then there will be cultural pressure to not be fat. Smoking rates have declined not so much due to public policy, but from the fact famous people stopped smoking. It stopped being cool with famous people. Fatness will follow a similar path. We are seeing that with black actresses and singers.

Still, humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup. That’s unlikely, but nature tends not to reward that which is deleterious to a species. Nature is self-correcting.

There’s no reason to think that public policy in a liberal democracy would be capable of addressing problems that stem from excess. Liberal democracy evolved in an age of great inequality and scarcity. Having a super rich aristocracy could not work while the peasants were starving. We now have a mega-rich aristocracy while the peasants are munching snacks and playing video games. They are doing these things at public expense. The bottom half of America is receiving direct and indirect public assistance these days.

Would the super-rich aristocracy of today have the will to impose rules on the bottom half, with regards to their welfare? Mayor Bloomberg came the closest with his soda and salt bans, but they went no where. Even his peers snickered at his prudery. Would these same people be willing to back exercise requirements and fitness exams in exchange for welfare benefits? Probably not. A feature of the modern aristocracy and their attendants in the managerial elite is a fear of confrontation. Hence the passive-aggressive culture of the rich.

We’ll just have to rely on nature to solve the obesity problem.

Crapped Out

Every year around the Solstice, I buy myself something I would never buy for myself during the year. It’s not a present to myself, but more of a way to remind myself that life is for living. A little frivolity is a good thing. I live to work, not work to live, but there is a lot of life that falls outside the joys of labor. if you enjoy working, you can easily forget that there are many other things outside work that you enjoy equally. I a disciplined moderation in life helps to maintain the proper perspective.

Usually my annual indulgence is a gadget or technology item that I really have no use for, much less a need for. I have a closet full of old electronic toys. Some years I’ll upgrade something I do need to a version I really don’t need. Last year I upgraded my home PC for one with high end sound and video. I’m typing this on a high end laptop I bought two years ago at Solstice. The old laptop was fine, but the new one has surround sound and HD video! I’ve watched exactly one movie on it and never played a single game.

This year, I’m at a loss. I’ve searched around for new gadgets and nothing jumps out to me. The hot new item is the Amazon Alexa. A few people have suggested that to me. That strike me as a stupid and pointless bit of nonsense that would just aggravate me. The hip young people in the commercials strike me as the sort of people I will send to the labor camps once I’m ruler of these lands. Having the fine people at Amazon spy on me like a doting mother is not something I will ever accept.

I thought about getting a new tablet, but there’s nothing new in tablets that excites me. I hate reading books from them anyway. I tried various versions of e-readers and I just don’t like it. My 7-inch model I got a couple of years ago works fine and does what I need it to do, which is let me goof off on twitter from the couch. I also wonder if staring at tablets close to your face is good for your eyes. I notice that I suffer from eye strain if I use the thing for more than an hour. Maybe it is just me, but that’s my suspicion.

Looking around at the other tech on the market for Solstice, I get the same vibe. It’s mostly polished up versions of stuff that has been around for a while. The new XBox I see advertised looks like the old one, but in a different color. The one item that looks cool is the heads up display for exercise that you can attach to your glasses. But, I looking like a douche bag is not a good idea. if you are an elite athlete, you can do it, but otherwise guys running around with gadgets on their heads are viewed as idiots.

Part of what plagues me these days is getting old. Once a man hits his middle years, the frivolous things lose their attraction. TV people know this, which is why they target kids and women. Men will watch sports and some shows with the wife, but otherwise, older men are not into TV. The same is true of movies. Even when it comes to sports, men lose some of their enthusiasm as they get older. Again, it is why they market jersey and caps to the young guys. they have the passion for it.

That said, I’m not an acquisitive guy and I don’t place much value in material possessions. I’m not quite Amish, but I am a plain person. Possessions come with obligations and often those obligations vastly outweigh the utility of the item. I’d like a boat, for example, but then I think about the work it takes to keep a boat. It is not just the cost of it. You have to be constantly fiddling with the things. An acquaintance in Florida has a boat. A two hour ride means an hour prep time and two hours after cleaning it up and hoisting into the dock. No thanks.

The point being that owning stuff usually means taking on obligations. In modern times, that means most people have credit card obligations they will never pay down. The result is they have fewer choices in other areas of their life. This is especially true of the lower classes who lack impulse control. They see, they want, they buy it on credit without much thought about the long term ramifications. That XBox in the living room can be quite demanding when it is sitting on the Visa bill at 23.9% interest. Heroin is less demanding than the material culture of our age.

Even so, I’m hunting around for some toy to buy this year and I’m coming up empty. I wonder if we have maybe hit some sort of dead end on the gadget front. The low hanging fruit of technology was picked long ago. The mobile phone and e-mail changed our world. Angry birds on your smart phone has not changed much of anything. Most people have a phone, a tablet and a PC. Everyone has a flat screen TV and some sort of console for games or movies. On the electronic gizmo front, we seem to have hit a dead end.

That may not be a terrible thing. Looking for some sort of gadget to buy, it occurred to me that I may find more pleasure in something else. I have been talking about cord cutting for a year. I should get on with it. I’ll need to upgrade my internet from DSL to cable if I want to do on-line video. That means wiring the house, which would be a nice weekend job. Alternatively, the guy down the road is selling an old Jeep that is a project car. Maybe that’s a better use of my Solstice money. Perhaps a return trip to Europe this winter, to gloat about Trump to the Euros.

There very well may be an end point to the materialist culture that blossomed in America last century. I could just be an old man with narrow interests, but it does feel like we have all the crap we need. If so, then perhaps a return to other pleasures will be the next big thing. It would be ironic that the politics of overthrowing the old hippies, currently in charge, ushers in one aspect of hippy culture – anti-materialism. Maybe the alt-right will adopt the old hippy mantra, “turn on, tune in, drop out” popularized fifty years ago by Timothy Leary. Maybe Amazon has a book on that…