Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ending this Blog.

This blog has come to an end. I will be posting on my new Blog Nexus of Thought.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Anti-Trump Grandstander

We all have one in our pantheon of friends and family. Many of us have several. You know the type - Homo trumpus erraticus better known as the Anti-Trump Grandstander (ATG).

While appearing normal on the outside and indeed reasonable on most fronts the ATG is not always easy to spot. They carry very little of the outer baggage of SJWs, rarely wear their politics on their sleeves and more often than not disappear into the political ether appearing rather clear thinking across most axes.

That is until the subject of one Donald J. Trump comes to the fore. Then as if ignited by a trigger catalyst the ATG springs to life. Gone is the previous demeanour of controlled rationalism, enter stage left is a symphony of vents, ridicules and desperation pleas that draws uncritically from the memosphere of the Anti-Trump world.

Trump we are told is the harbinger of a Brave New World, a reactionary of the worst type, a fanatic but most importantly all that there is wrong with western civilization wrapped into one. There is no debate. He is both evil and stupid and all arguments to the contrary are ridiculous. So goes the reasoning.

Although I have much reservations about Trump (I wanted Rubio to win the nomination for all of those reasons) I take great pains to hear such an individual out, supplying the necessary counter balances as there is some pedagogic value to be obtained in understanding how emotion drives political thought. The ATG is a textbook case as they have chosen to filter all information through a confirmation strainer and therefore see no grey in a polarized world where they are clearly on the side of good. The fact that Trump supporters have a completely different interpretation is therefore of little value. Not when parameters are so clearly defined.

With Trump there is no middle ground as ATGs see it, so even giving ‘The Donald’ a fair chance makes no sense. The best that can be done is to grin and bear these next four years with the hope that Congress and indeed the Supreme Court rein in the excesses of his Administration. In short it is dystopia for now. One ATG even told me that he was thinking of moving to New Zealand, so dismal is the outlook.

Now Trump is certainly an unknown quantity when juxtaposed against the current political environment. On words alone he appears to have bucked the consensus with respect to the global focus and when one distills out the root cause of such opposition to him I suspect that his walk away from the Hegelian notion of historical direction is at the epicentre of such grievance.

Many people have invested strongly, not only financially but more importantly  emotionally, on the emergence of a global worldview. Free Trade is a belief shared by both the centre left and right across the West and the vast majority of those in the supposed ‘know’ see it as a necessary step in the march of history (an illusion if ever there was one). While opinions differ with respect to technicalities, Internationalism is viewed as a forward looking policy that will benefit humanity in the long run. To oppose it smacks of a regression to a bygone era of nationalism that ripped open the planet with global war. Trade brings peace and who in their right mind doesn’t want peace?

Trump of course on the surface enters as the antithesis of such a worldview – his buy America, anti-illegal immigration stance and apparent backtrack from Internationalism fly in the face of the vested paradigm. While much of his words have been distorted and need to be analyzed in context, at first glance they tap into the visceral and pour cold water on the emotional commitment that has underpinned a near uniformity of thought. Consequently they are attacked with a rigour of disdain as if he is cutting at the essence of what defines the individual.

This need not be the case. Trumpism is not anti-Internationalist. That ship has long since sailed on that front. What he will do though is to redefine and readjust America’s role within the broader global spectrum. The nation needs it. High U6 unemployment for much of the Obama tenure and an extremely slow recovery are indicative of problems within the larger economy that could have implications for the future. Whether his plans will prove productive are of course debatable but something has to be done.

I have mentioned this to many an ATG but most are unreceptive. While some acknowledge the argument especially when framed in the context of blue collar jobs I sense that there is another factor which makes the anxiety around Trump even louder and its much more than the coarseness of his personality and his way with words. It comes down to the issue of control.

With Trump there is a sense that control of the environmental factors that impact one’s lives will be lost especially if a status quo is disrupted. ATGs give lip service to change but in their heart are resistant to it. Despite this apparent irony there is a conservatism that runs through progressive and liberal thinking and like some of the conservatism on the right it wants to safeguard its gains. With progressives/liberals this drive may even be stronger as environmental factors are so much more powerful within this thought base.

The New Alignment

There is a certain urgency about the Trump Presidency that has forced many a denizen of the West to question the direction that the civilization has been moving. As a classical liberal I have entertained these thoughts for some time.

While I celebrated the collapse of Soviet style Marxist-Leninism in the early 1990s I was not convinced that the finality of the great struggle between the powers as envisioned in Francis Fukuyama’s work The End of History and the Last Man (1992), was about to dawn . Samuel Huntington’s  The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1993) made more of an impression then and I believe that it looms even larger now.

Now Huntington himself was not a Republican.  During the Carter Administration he served in a coordinating capacity at the National Security Council and for more than half a century he played an integral role on the Harvard Faculty where he headed the Center for International Affairs. At one time he was a speech writer for Adlai Stevenson.

 His understanding of foreign affairs has almost a prophetic feel to it. Huntington argued that the pivotal clash defining the near future would be a series of confrontations between specific civilizations. These civilizations share very powerful cultural values, historical connections and in group similarities that set them apart from each other thereby transcending both economics and political constraints (and in many cases superficialities).

Huntington delineated several civilizations that he aptly named the West, Orthodoxy, Buddhist, Confucian, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Muslim and Hindu. He also identified some cleft countries that were split between various civilizations such as Nigeria and Sri Lanka, as well as ‘standalones’ like Japan.  Most civilizations gravitate toward a nexus of power - China in the case of Confucian, Russia with respect to Orthodoxy and India in the Hindu context.

In defining the West Huntington grouped together the United States, Canada, Western and Central Europe, Australia and Oceania. While most of the nation states draw somewhat from a Christian (Catholic-Protestant) moral core they have incorporated within their  framework a universalism (certainly evident in the elite) that at its root sees a world that would be all the better if others adopted enlightenment driven western values.

Standing in opposition to the West is the Muslim world of the Middle East, Northern/Western Africa, Albania, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Comoros, Brunei and Malaysia (as defined by Huntington). Many of these states are gripped by an Islamic resurgence that is hostile to Western Civilization and sees itself as a viable alternative worldview.

Strife and conflict would be inevitable and indeed in the post 911 world Huntington’s view carries some weight. However this is not the only fault line as we have seen with Russia and China reinvigorating themselves globally and India likely to follow suit making the Hindu claim at least on an economic level. In a further analysis Huntington even identified a civilization clash point in the United States with the inflow of Latin American immigrants into the nation (his solution a slow down followed by assimilation).

Huntington was invariably challenged on his model. Both the far left and free trade liberals criticized him for downgrading the role of economics (for different reasons of course) and playing to the vestiges of a worldview that had been swept aside by the ideological struggle of the Cold War. Others accused him of minimizing the nationalist (and religious) splits within the civilizations that he outlined. His view certainly stood in contrast to Fukuyama’s belief in a triumphant Western liberalism, let alone Karl Marx’s stance of a Hegelian march towards Communism. Huntington though was resolute in defending his paradigm and constantly warned optimists about the folly of believing that the path of history was fixed along their specific ‘utopic’ trajectory.

Reflecting on Huntington I see him in a slightly different light that makes him ever more relevant today. He articulated the reality that Particularlism would not be discarded and indeed would live to define a future that was already in the making (at the time of his writing the Balkan conflict was in full swing). International universalism could not celebrate and would have to put the champagne on hold for a while. From a Western perspective this would come to haunt our civilization as it had the most to lose from a resetting of a world order.  Demographic imbalance would speed up this transition.

Civilization Theory to some extent is what drives Trumpism. It is a reinvention of the defencse of Western Civilization (albeit more American focused) against the other. It is a reaction to the failed Internationalism of the Bush presidencies, the Clinton Administration and its obvious fall from grace under Obama. What drives Trumpism is a need to reverse decline.  On one level it represents the Huntington view reasserting itself against the consensus of the Fukuyama outlook. All the key tropes of Trump – The Wall, Trade Protection, Non-Intervention, ‘Make America Great’ are consistent with such a philosophy that has identified the threat and is acting with deliberate intent. Protecting the civilization is key.

Brexit and other Anti-EU sentiments sweeping across the European continent are a further illustration of the Civilization impulse rejecting the perceived false messiah of Internationalism. It carries with it a defense of culture that sees survival in a return to republic and away from the promises of an amorphous empire centered on platitudes.

In a sense it has replaced once ossified left versus right divide with a dichotomy of Civilization opposing Internationalism that seems to cut across class lines and will in all likelihood emerge in the forefront of policy across the West. The change may appear to have been sudden but the potential was always there. What was needed was time and the right combination of events to catalyze the realignment. It appears to have already happened.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why do so many US Political arguments involve attacking the extremist positions of each side?

Its a version of the Strawman argument. Define your opponent’s position in the worst possible light, frame it as such and then attack the frame. The frame will crack creating the false illusion that you have discredited the opposing side. Its a cheap trick and is extremely dishonest (not to mention illogical). Why is it used? Because in the eyes of a partisan audience it appears as though you have pulled one over on your opponent.

Was the GOP the popular choice for African-Americans before 1960?

African-Americans, who could only join the Democratic Party from 1924 onward, started leaving the Republican Party as early as 1936 not 1960 as is often believed. In fact in the election that year 71% of the Black vote went to FDR. This appears to be largely a consequence of the New Deal although the tireless campaigning of Eleanor Roosevelt may have played a role.

The voting trend held firm over the next three elections with African-Americans voting  by a margin of over 3 to 1 in favour of Harry Truman over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election. Truman of course was a key figure in ending racial discrimination in federal hiring often running afoul of key segments of his own party on this issue.

Even Eisenhower who would fully integrate the army (a process started by Truman but rejected by FDR) and opened up the schools to Black students was regularly outvoted at the polls by a margin of 76% to 24% in 1952 and 61% to 39% in 1956, with respect to the black voting demographic. However his appeal among African-American voters was a lot better than the last four Republican Party candidates (Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey- twice)

In short the shift had been ongoing for at least two decades before the Civil Rights debates of the late 1950s and 1960s. Economic rather than racial issues, a reflection to a  larger degree of the difficulties of  urban migration, appeared to be the key driver as the entrenchment of a racist core within the Democratic Party was still very much a truism.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

What irritates me about Quora?

I generally like Quora but I do find that it has a number of irritations
Here are a few
  1. Many Writers are condescending and rude when there is no reason to be so. I suspect that a great deal of those asking questions are kids who may be ignorant of certain facts. Responding politely with a well thought out answer is a far better option.
  2. Top Writers dominate key questions despite supplying answers that very often don’t live up to the hype associated with these writers.
  3. Obvious liberal bias. While Quora itself has no bias as an organization (as far as I can tell) the Quora community appears to be somewhat of a liberal echo chamber. Even conservative related topics are routinely dominated by liberals who regularly skew Conservative opinions to the applause of a Hurrah chorus.
  4. Too many questions are answered with anecdotal evidence only. While these are often great to read they don’t do justice to the broader question being asked.
  5. Questions on more nebulous topics are regularly answered with the language of certainty indicating that the author is reluctant to reflect on the strength of their argument.
  6. The Trump obsession - enough is enough…let’s move on here.

Are neoconservatism and neoliberalism the same thing?

Neoliberalism is more of an economic philosophy driven by laissez-faire economics, deregulation, free trade and a reduction in government spending.
Neoconservativism often include neoliberal principles in its worldview but is more focused on an foreign relations, promotion of democratic ideals and necessary action to spread such ideals. Some of the basic ideas of Neoconservatism are outlined in this list of statement from the Henry Jackson society.
The Society Believes that modern liberal democracies set an example to which the rest of the world should aspire.
  1. Supports a ‘forward strategy’ – involving diplomatic, economic, cultural, and/or political means—to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so.
  2. Supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach, that can protect our homelands from strategic threats, forestall terrorist attacks, and prevent genocide or massive ethnic cleansing.
  3. Supports the necessary furtherance of European military modernization and integration under British leadership, preferably within NATO
  4. Stresses the importance of unity between the world’s great democracies, represented by institutions such as NATO, the European Union and the OECD, among many others.
  5. Believes that only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate, and that the political or human rights pronouncements of any international or regional organisation which admits undemocratic states lack the legitimacy to which they would be entitled if all their members were democracies.
  6. Gives two cheers for capitalism. There are limits to the market, which needs to serve the Democratic Community and should be reconciled to the environment.
  7. Accepts that we have to set priorities and that sometimes we have to compromise, but insists that we should never lose sight of our fundamental values. This means that alliances with repressive regimes can only be temporary. It also means a strong commitment to individual and civil liberties in democratic states, even and especially when we are under attack.

What are the Voting trends of American Jews?

Still looking for better stats but the American Jewish Party Identification study undertaken by Gallup in 2014 may be a start. Here are some of the findings.
Key findings
  • 29% of American Jews are Republican, up from 22% in 2008
  • 61% of Jews are Democrats, down from 71% seven years ago
  • Highly religious and male Jews are most likely to be Republican
Let R = Republican/leaners D = Democrat/leaners
Highly religious R - 42% D-46%
Moderately Religious R -32% D - 59%
Not Religious R -24% D -67%
These results are based on 2014 Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 4,116 Americans who identified their religion as Jewish.

Why is Physics so badly taught?

This is an excellent question and one that teachers have been wrestling with for some time. In fact I will be giving a presentation along these lines to a group of teachers in February of this year. Here is a list of key factors that have been identified
  1. There is all too often not enough time spent making sure that the students understand the key concepts (Big Ideas) before moving on to the problem solving;
  2. Overuse of poor analogies in explaining concepts that lead to further problems down the road when application situation become more complex;
  3. Many physics teachers are transplanted math teachers who teach the subject as a type of Applied Math - Physics of course is much more than that;
  4. Lack of Laboratory work and Demonstrations that allow students to consolidate big ideas on a visual/hands-on level;
  5. North American courses are often too focused on breadth and not on depth with respect to curriculum content - in a rush to cover many teacher’s often sacrifice the deeper analysis to check off all the topic boxes;
  6. Instruction methodology often lacks diversity - Various Combinations of teacher and student orientated approaches should be intermixed as is necessary to target the broader student mosaic (and variety of learning styles);
  7. Too much focus on formula memorization - Formulas are important but students need to understand where they come from, how they apply and what are the limitations of each formula based on the Assumptions inherent in their derivation

Liverpool can win 2016/17 but its not going to be easy

Liverpool can win the title but they have to keep their focus and momentum. They have arguably the finest striking force in the English game as is evident by their lead in the goals ‘for’ category but have an Achilles heel in defense that continues to be problematic. Jurgen Klopp may address this in the January transfer window.
In addition the Reds will be without the very influential Sadio Mane for several weeks and will need some time to reintegrate Philippe Countinho back into the side following his injury.
Their greatest strength this season though is that they have proved to be tremendously capable in distributing the scoring load which makes them less vulnerable ultimately to a single injury . Lallana, Henderson, Milner and Firmino have all been wonderful.However problems could arise if injuries and suspensions pile up.
Fortunately for Liverpool have only Domestic fixtures to concern themselves with and while this is true of Chelsea as well it make work in Liverpool’s favour who after the Old Trafford match up this coming Sunday (Jan 15) will have a schedule that is even more biased towards home games for the Reds.
We will have to wait and see. Still predicting good times ahead for the Reds. YNWA.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

No Free Lunch for Putin

Posted to Quora and a few other sites
The problem with partisan politics – and we have seen on more than our fair share of it in this particular election cycle – is that we often herald the virtues of our supporters and downplay the concerns of our opponents.
Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his support for Donald Trump. He detested the Clinton-Obama Axis and openly championed the Trump campaign. Whether he went so far as to order an e-mail hack remains very much in doubt. Official evidence is lacking and ratcheting up the rhetoric on a bunch of hearsays and supposed ‘secret’ investigations by the CIA, as have the Washington Post, is irresponsible at best.
However our alarm bells should be ringing. Putin is no friend of the West and with the Trump victory two big questions emerge – What does he stand to gain? and How will this impact the US/Western World in the long term?
The first question is the easier of the two to answer. Putin needs the US to sit back while he continues spreading his footprint in the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe (from all accounts the Baltics). As the latest in a line of Russian strongmen he understands the importance of power through territory but can’t afford the resistance that will likely occur in the face of such an approach. NATO has to be weakened and he is hoping that Trump’s appeal to this once buried isolationist tradition in American foreign politics will resurrect itself.
However as we have seen in Aleppo and elsewhere it is not just Eastern Europe that Putin sees as falling under his sphere of influence. Indeed he has offered feelers to the current Libyan hierarchy and is certainly giving the Iranian mullahs - in what can only be described as a deal with the devil - the muscle to make their presence felt in the face of the Sunni/Shi’ite pan-regional conflict.
While I would not rush ahead to see Putin as a modern day political Svengali. I wouldn’t for one moment underestimate his shrewdness. He is extremely calculating and although he appears to transcend ideological conformity he does see himself as the embodiment of a Russian nationalism. We should all be concerned.
It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will respond. Mike Pence appears to be a product of the Cold War Reaganite school and has on more than one occasion expressed his displeasure with the Russians.
James Mattis has made no secret that he favours a more forceful approach when dealing with the Iranians which could extend to their Russian backers. Rex Tillerson looks, at least from his oil industry pedigree as a player not eager to jeopardize the US-Saudi relationship. The three look set to dominate foreign affairs in the Trump White House.
If Trump’s election rhetoric is to believed then it appears that he wishes to distance himself from the neo-conservative nation building of George W. Bush and its variant under Barack Obama. He is correct on this issue. The US cannot afford more ill—conceived ground troop interventionism in regions of the world based on the export of some nebulous transfer of Wilsonian democracy. Pragmatism has to rule. However on the other hand it should not be subjected to the spirit of a nativist isolationism. The global economy of 2017 is a far cry from what it was in 1927.
The free world cannot afford to see the US sit back while Russia and indeed China, not to mention unsavouries in Iran and the various Jihadist alliances run amuck. This can only lead to more bloodshed, an exporting of anti-Enlightenment tropes and the likely jeopardizing of valuable resource flow lines. The world will worsen under strict isolationism and it will undoubtedly come back to haunt the US.
What is necessary then is a process of involvement through informed backing – a checking of oppositional ambitions by a support of local regional elements that stand in the face of this greater belligerency. The US ought to re-evaluate its NATO commitments, but to drop the Alliance at this point would be a catastrophe.
This should be Trump’s message and if it conflicts with the ambitions of Russia, Tehran, the Saudis or any other party so be it. The US is still the principal superpower. Putin may have cheered for Trump but this does not give him a free hand in anything. Its critical that the White House make this clear from the get go. Failure to do so will not only embolden Putin but other opportunists as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

More Tales from Teaching Physics

As a Physics teacher I never feel truly comfortable that I have figured it all out and that (for want of better words) is a good thing. If I did I would be tempted to sit back and relax which may have its benefits in the short run but from a growth perspective offers dubious value in the long term.
Over the course of the last week I have been working with my Grade Twelves on Special Relativity - a notorious pitfall for conceptual errors. I have taught (not to mention learned and re-learned) the sub-unit over twenty times in my career and I still find oddities that compel me to rethink my understanding of what is arguably one of the most counter-intuitive areas in all of Physics (notwithstanding Quantum Mechanics of course).
You see Special Relativity takes so much of what we formalize in classical physics and turns it on its head. Absolute space - gone, Absolute time - dead, Absolute momentum - see you later, KInetic Energy - we need a rethink. To top this off we teach the topic in a week (due to time constraints - I will avoid the pun) and tantalize the students with such notions as the Twin Paradox and the notion that events that are simultaneous in one frame of reference need not be in another.
Serious stuff - but the kids love it and boy do they challenge me with a series of 'What happens ifs..?' .This in turn makes me hit the books/internet for solutions which in turn improves my own understanding. A wonderful positive feedback loop if ever there was one and for this I am thankful

Liberal Privilege

Definition time
Liberal Privilege - The gift of being able to fully express your liberal viewpoint in virtually any urban bubble city setting in the Western World knowing full well that:
a) everyone agrees with you because you are 'correct' and 
b) if they don't they can be easily dismissed with the appropriate
-ism that need not carry any intellectual water.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quora Questions #2

Can Democrats overcome Electoral College outcomes by a policy of relocating liberals to non-liberal states?

I think Sarah Silverman tried to do this with a tongue-in-cheek invitation to Jewish grandparents to head to Florida. Could it work on as broader level? Unlikely. The amount of organization needed would be daunting and Republicans could counter with a population transfer move of their own. However what concerns me is that you appear to be looking at human beings as cattle - various dictators have tried such approaches - but would you really want to live in a country governed by a Party who sees such a hideous approach as a way of maintaining and winning power?

Changing positions

I often wonder about people who hold the identical political beliefs at fifty as they did at seventeen.Did they figure it all out at the young age or are they simply immune from self-reflection? There are other explanations but it seems as though the flow of history would necessitate shifts from certain positions (even if they are somewhat ossified). The shifts need not be major. Then again I may be underestimating the strength of inertia

Religion v Cults

Its still not easy to draw the fine line between some religious denominations and cults other than numbers, historical acceptance and longevity. However there seems as though there should be more than this - How about an obsession with converts, the intimidation of those who have left the cult/religion and the irrationality of the worldview? While all three adjuncts need not be met it does appear that if all the boxes are easily ticked off one ought to be concerned. for Hillary...Whatever dude?

Chomsky is a serial liar so I wouldn't take what he says with much credence. However for a man who has made a career of knocking US interventionism you would think that he would least admit that on this key issue that the more isolationist Trump is closer to his worldview than the globalist philosophy of Clinton. I have heard Chomsky speak favorably about both Messrs. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders for their less interventionist policies as well. Show a bit of consistency...not everyone is part of the groupie audience.

Trump Nazi Comparisons...More Nonsense

There are many reasons to attack Trump politically (as the case of any politician) but calling him a Nazi/Neo-Nazi or a future Adolf Hitler is ridiculous....No better then the Obama is a secret Muslim nonsense that we heard in 2008. If you don't know what a Nazi is then read a history book. Not only is such rhetoric beyond stupidity but it does nothing to advance our understanding of the real forces in action. Also enough with the screams of racism at every turn...all it shows is that you have run out of rational criticism and have completely defaulted to emotion.