Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

WHO CARES?

By Mike Cronin

As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, politicians only “care” about your issues after they have taken care of their own goal: to get (or stay) elected.

The mainstream media cares about 1. Getting ratings, and 2. Trying to tell you what your issues are, so that they can make a crisis out of them in order to 3. Get ratings.

Back to politicians. Guess how politicians figure out what to campaign on? Polls, certainly, but also by watching the news to figure out what the big issues are. Who else uses polls?  That’s right, the media.

Hmmm. The politicians who care about getting votes leverage mass media. Mass media cares about getting ratings, so they leverage and influence political discourse in order to “sex thigs up.” What we have here is a “self-licking ice cream cone.” The missing ingredient? Your interests. Who cares? Not your elected officials, and not the news media.

As a college professor once mentioned to me, any organization that reaches a certain critical mass will begin to behave like an organism.  The first goal of an organism is to survive; the second is to reproduce. Thus, governments at almost any level don’t care about you, they care about expanding. If they can do that by seeming to care about you, that is what they will do. If they grow by steamrolling you, then they will do that. Often, government manages to both at the same time. Who cares?  Not the government.

big corporations behave like organisms, too. They are different from governments in that they must make a profit to prosper and grow, and they cannot do that by killing or alienating their customers – so they take care not to purposely end you – but they are not so caring as to be above hooking you on their products (cigarettes, alcohol, medicine, sugary and fatty processed foods, etc.), and they have big PR machines to show how they (pretend) to care about virtuous causes.  Who cares?  Not big corporations.

College and universities care about bringing in the revenue, and they’ve found the easy button. Every year they raise prices, and every year the uncaring government (led by the uncaring politicians who are watching the uncaring media) obliges them by increasing the amount of money it gives, or loans, to students (or their parents), who then fork it over. Meanwhile, outside of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the knowledge, skills, and abilities of graduates continues to decline in value to the employers who might hire them. Who cares?  Not Academia.

We can keep going, but the answer to the question should be becoming apparent. The universe doesn’t care about you. The world doesn’t care about you. Government and politicians and corporations and the media and academia don’t care about you.  Only individuals care about you, or can care about you.

Why should you care?

Because much of the political ideologies popular today (socialism, communism, fascism, etc.) are geared towards promoting some form of collectivism – subsuming your individuality into a massive, unthinking, uncaring organism where every transaction, or even thought, is either compelled or forbidden.  These are the ideologies of people who would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

How much better to live in a society where the only forbidden transaction is the involuntary one? Where the competitive-cooperative nature of individuals can flourish, and where the more aggressive aspects of some can be channeled into more productive directions?  That is the essence of capitalism – it is the ideology of traders, i.e. it is the philosophy of people who care – about themselves certainly, but also about breeding the geese that lay golden eggs!

FREEDOM FROM FREEDOM

By Mike Cronin

Today we celebrate our nations’ birthday, codified by the Declaration of Independence.  It is one of the watershed documents of human history – not for its eloquence (though it is wonderfully written), but for what it accomplishes. In modern parlance, it is the “vision statement” of a new country (the preamble of the Constitution is the “mission statement,” while the body and the Bill of Rights are the “operating manual”) – one founded on the concept that the purpose of government is to protect the individual rights of the citizens – and not much else.

The kind of freedom espoused in the Declaration does not come freely.  An individual free from government oppression must by definition also be “free” from dependence on government – he or she must be self-reliant.  He or she must produce what they need to survive, either directly, through the hard physical work of living off the land, or indirectly, by doing the hard physical or mental work of producing something worthy of exchanging for the food, water, shelter, clothes, and other goods and services one needs to survive.  Under this vision of freedom, survival is the basic underlying motivation for producing: either you make your own shelter and grow/kill your own food, or you make something to sell to others, or work for someone else in exchange for money so you can buy those things, or you don’t eat and don’t have a roof over your head!

Basic survival is the foundational motivation, but it is not the only one.  Since any surplus produced belongs to the producer who created it, it can be saved for a rainy day, or exchanged for something else – a luxury, perhaps, or something that will make the future effort of producing “a living” go a little easier, i.e. an investment. In this manner, the “rugged individualists” are producers of wealth.  They have no expectation that anything will be given to them, and they demand that nothing be taken from them – but they trade value for value amongst each other. All economic exchanges are conducted voluntarily to mutual benefit. This is how wealth can be created.  It is the essence of Capitalism.

Critics either cannot or will not see this creation of wealth, this “enlargement of the pie.”  To those folks, the “pie” is finite. There is only so much wealth, and if someone has more if than another, they must have stolen the excess, or received it unfairly.  The “pie” (wealth) is distributed, not produced!  They also argue that no one, not even the “rugged individualist,” can go it alone, that each of us must depend on the benevolence of others, or of the state (i.e. the same thing) – under the threat of force, if necessary.  They use that formulation to argue for and justify all manner of violations of our rights by the government (that is supposed to defend those rights), and then point to the artifacts of those intrusions (roads and railways and schools are favorite examples) as proof of their assertions – as if those things have not been and could not be made by private parties.  This is the essence of all forms of Collectivism.

To make it work, they have to cram the word freedom through the Orwellian doublespeak machine. What comes out the other end is all but unrecognizable. To this crowd, freedom means the absence of want or need or responsibility for one’s choices. Since they “can’t” handle the requirements of individualism, they must first hook as many people as possible onto the drug of state dependency, and then they must vilify and penalize those who insist on being individualists.  Therefore, you must want government regulation and government assistance for everything, right? It’s what’s best for you.  Surely, then, you‘ll understand and appreciate the tax man taking 40-50% or more of everything you produce, right? And when that doesn’t cover the costs of all the “benefits” and “entitlements” the government is “bestowing” upon your neighbor, you’ll understand when the bureaucrats will take even more of your wealth by manipulating the value of the currency, right? (Oh, wait, they forgot to teach that part at the government –run schools they “bestowed” upon you.) Thus, the 1800 square foot house your parent’s bought in the Denver area in the 1960’s for $18,000 goes for $350,000 to $400,000 today. The value of the house might have gone up – it might have even doubled or tripled, based on the popularity of the city and the neighborhood, but it didn’t go up 22 times. Rather the dollar has been devalued that much or more over 50 years – and salaries haven’t kept up.  An $18,000 house was an affordable investment for an engineer with ~3 years’ experience, making a $7K or $8K annual salary in the sixties.  How does the salary of an engineer with ~3 years’ experience compare now, relative to the house that has “gone up in value” 22 times? The median pay for an electrical engineer in Denver, CO is $76K per year now.  The value of the house “went up” 22 times, but the pay of an engineer only “went up” 10 times during the intervening 50 years. The lag between rising prices and rising salaries is the stolen wealth zone.

The Collectivists don’t want you to look behind the curtain. They don’t want you to realize that their formula requires you to be a producer so that more and more people who won’t produce can ride on your back – until it gives out and you beg for assistance yourself – but at that point there won’t be anyone left to provide assistance, and we will have become Venezuela…or worse.

When you celebrate our independence today, will you be celebrating independence from tyranny, or independence from reality?

THE 7-INGREDIENT FORMULA FOR A “LUCKY” LIFE

By Mike Cronin

Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the loudest about wealth inequality, or global warming, or racism, or (insert social malady here) always only ever have one solution? To take something away from you. They say you’ve won life’s lottery, so they need you to “give back.” By that, they mean they are going to take your money through taxes. They are usually also trying to take away some of your comfort by banning or restricting something: low-flow shower nozzles, incandescent light bulbs, plastic shopping bags, etc.

They never seem to admit to even the possibility that the single greatest contributing factor to one’s “station” isn’t “luck,” it’s the life choices one makes. They never seem to admit to the possibility that one can improve one’s standard of living over time.

Superstitious people often cite “seven” as a lucky number.  Well, I have a seven-ingredient formula to have a “lucky” life. It doesn’t require anything from anybody to accomplish, only that you are made aware of its existence. The formula is simple to understand, but hard to follow. It’s almost never taught in school:

  1. As early as possible, adopt the attitude that you are responsible for everything you do or fail to do, because once you turn eighteen, that is the way the law sees it, and that’s the way your employer sees it. The people who will allow you to not see things that way, i.e. the people who would encourage you to always play the victim and blame others, are merely trying to get you hooked on a cycle of dependency: your vote for their “assistance” against your purported “victimizers.” It’s a recipe for a life of perpetual resentment.
  2. Graduate from high school. A diploma is better than a GED, which is better than “dropped out.”
  3. Don’t become a single parent. If you cannot or will not abstain, then Males: wrap that rascal. Ladies: pick a birth control method, AND make him wrap his rascal.
  4. “Live on less than you make.” (h/t to Dave Ramsey.) You don’t need to live like you are rich. Fun fact: many, many rich people became rich by not living like they were rich! You don’t need designer clothes, blinged-out or brand-new cars, the latest model cell phone, flat screen, and Blue-Ray, etc. The people who matter don’t give a crap whether you have those things.
    1. Corollary 1: If you think you can afford something because you can “afford” the monthly loan or credit card payments – you can’t afford the thing! (One exception usually applies: a home mortgage). If you are making interest payments on car loans, credit cards, etc., you couldn’t afford those things.
  5. Improve yourself. Never stop learning. Increase your opportunities to advance by increasing your value to the market place – continuously improve your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and/or continuously add new ones to your repertoire. Note that going $100,000 into debt to pay for a degree from a big-name university is not required. Heck, a college degree is not required (though it is highly advisable!). There are ways to get a degree on a budget and stay out of debt. Bottom line: the more you follow item 5, the higher your income will go, and the easier it becomes to follow item 4.
  6. Invest in yourself. “Spend” money on an emergency fund, a retirement plan, and health insurance. Save up to pay cash for big-ticket items. Again: The more you follow items 4 & 5, the easier following item 6 will be.
  7. Don’t become an addict or a criminal. Just don’t.

Not one of the things on the list requires that one have “white privilege,” or that you start out in the 1%, or that you belong (or not belong) to a certain race, or gender, or religion, or that you grow up in a given neighborhood. None of them require a college degree (although that is often helpful!), professional-caliber athletic ability, cover-model good looks, or keen intellect. Most of them do require understanding the concept of delayed gratification: if you practice some discipline now, the reward will be greater later on!

Following the formula is not a guarantee you will have a successful life, nor are you guaranteed to have a crummy life if you don’t follow it…but I estimate that 80% of the people who follow this formula will be better off than 80% or more of the people who don’t.

Some of the things on the list are hard.  I know I only avoided violating number 3 by random chance. Complying with number 4 was touch-and-go for nearly a decade after high school.  But all of the things on the list can be done, and they don’t require anything from anyone besides you (see item number 1).

More Comfortable Lies and Painful Truths

By Mike Cronin

Comfortable Lie: Healthcare is a right. The US is the only developed country without universal healthcare. Obamacare reduced the gap. We must close that gap, but the Republican just tried (and failed) to open it back up.

Painful Truth: We have the right to life, but not the right to live at the expense of someone else. We have no more right to use the coercive power of government to take our neighbors’ money than we do to rob our neighbors in person, regardless of whether the loot is to be used to pay for healthcare.  Universal healthcare has been made to sound wonderful by the people who stand to gain the most power by implementing it; and it has been made to sound ghastly by the people who stand to gain the most by not having it. The fact that the US is the only developed country that does not have universal healthcare is irrelevant. We have been the first, or only, country to do, or not do, many things – one of which is to be the first nation established on the principles of individual liberty and freedom – which require individual responsibility and self-reliance. Reliance on the state leads to stagnation and mediocrity and the erosion of liberty and freedom.

Comfortable Lie: “fake news” and “alternative facts” are a recent phenomenon born of the 2016 election and social media.

Painful Truth: All news is fake; some news is useful.  This has been the case since the days of the town crier and before. Events that make the news involve, and/or are witnessed by, people – some of the least effective or reliable data recording and play-back devices known! (Remember the game called “telephone” from grade school?  Line everyone up and whisper a story into the first kid’s ear, then have him whisper it to the second kid, who whispers it to the third, and so on.  By the time the story gets to the last kid, it’s unrecognizable.) Sometime the “fakeness” of the news is due to misconceptions; sometimes it is deliberate, as mentioned in previous posts.  Sometimes the reason for the deliberate fakery seems not worth the effort, as when, in the days long before Photoshop, Life magazine retouched this shot of the infamous 1970 Kent State incident. Were they worried that somehow the public would assume the girl is screaming because a fence post seemed to be growing out of her head (right) in the original, and not because her friend lay dead in the street?

Or: What return on investment did the publishers of TV Guide gain by grafting Oprah Winfrey’s head onto Ann-Margaret’s body?  Did they think a genuine picture of Oprah would not sell as well at the check-out stand?

Comfortable Lie: The “experts” know when to raise interest rates, “inject liquidity,” or otherwise enact some control over the economy.

Painful Truth: An economy is an incredibly complex interaction between independent agents, the items they wish to buy and sell, and the relative scarcity of those items. “The economy” is impossible for even the most brilliant humans to understand at a level sufficient to make effective control decisions.  Invariably, those that try end up making small problems bigger and big problems into disasters. They also manage to steal from us by devaluing the currency we have left after paying taxes.  Consider: The humble candy bar cost a nickel a century ago, now it costs $1.25. The chocolate didn’t become 25 times more valuable in that time; our dollars have lost 75% or more of their buying power!

Comfortable Lies and Painful Truths

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By Mike Cronin

Comfortable lie: The one-percenters have too much money. They should have to pay their fair share of taxes so the rest of us can have more government benefits.

Painful truth(s): 1.The 99-percenters in the developed world (especially in the US) are the one-percenters compared to the rest of the world. If you have food, (even if it wasn’t prepared by a private chef) a car (even if it’s a used beater), a roof (even if it’s a crappy apartment or trailer), multiple changes of clothes (even if you got them second hand), air conditioning, a microwave, and a flat screen TV (or could have those things if you didn’t blow your money on tattoos, booze, drugs, or lotto tickets) then YOU ARE NOT POOR, even if you are living “below the poverty line.” 2. Regardless of how much money a rich person has, it is their money.  If you elect politicians to take money from the rich via taxation, you are no different than a gangster who hires thugs to rob people at gunpoint (unless it can be proved that a given rich person obtained their wealth via theft, exploitation, or other criminal means – and even in such circumstances, the only people who deserve their “fair share” of that wealth are the direct victims, not the rest of us).

Comfortable lie: Your employer owes you a “living wage” and medical benefits.  People who don’t get those things are being exploited.

Painful truth(s): 1. Your employer owes you what you agreed to work for when you signed on and not a dime more.  2. The idea that your employer OWES you medical coverage is fallacious – unless such coverage was part of the compensation you agreed to before you started working there.  The practice of offering medical insurance became popular as a way to increase compensation to deserving employees during World War II without violating the government-imposed wage freezes of the time.  3. You OWE IT TO YOURSELF to increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to increase your worth to your current employer (in order to merit raises and promotions) or to progress up the career ladder at subsequent employment – if you want to increase your income, increase your value.   4. You OWE IT TO YOURSELF not to start, or increase the size of, your family while you are working low-wage/low-benefit jobs. 5. If the pay in your chosen field is generally lower than you might like, it’s probably because there is no shortage of people waiting in line that can take your place. If people with similar skills sets to your own aren’t scarce, there is no need for employers to offer higher compensation. Again – if you want to increase your income, increase your value.

Comfortable lie: We have a right to life, liberty, and happiness. The government must take care of all of our needs from birth to death.

Painful truth: You have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government is supposed to protect those rights by not allowing others to interfere with you, so long as you don’t interfere with others.  The government cannot “take care of” everyone without violating those very same rights.  Consider: if the government MUST provide your health care, then it MUST force doctors and other medical professionals to deliver that care. In so doing it has violated the medico’s right to life and liberty and pursuit of happiness (because the government has directed, under threat of penalties, how some portion of the medic’s life is to be spent).

Comfortable lie: We must nurture every kid’s sense of self-esteem by awarding participation trophies, de-emphasizing grades, and eliminating every objectionable word or insensitive influence, etc…

Uncomfortable truths: “If you look like food, you will be eaten.” (Clint Smith) 1. All life is competitive. Predators have to catch prey; prey has to outrun predator. Even plants compete for sunlight.  If you try to protect your kids from competition instead of teaching them how to function in a competitive environment, you are doing them a disservice. (Oh, and by the way, sports are an excellent place to do that…but they are not the only arena!) 2. A kid who has never felt the sting of losing or the “thrill of victory” isn’t going to have healthy self-esteem; he or she is going to have a dysfunctional sense of being entitled to things he or she didn’t earn.

On Critical Thinking

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By Mike Cronin

A lot of people talk about critical thinking, but I seldom ever see any explanation of what critical thinking is.  Left to our own devices, we might reasonably assume that critical thinking means being critical.  That is partially right.  Certainly people who practice critical thinking are often critical of others, but that is not the essence of the term.

To me, critical thinking means examining my own thoughts on an issue for errors in logic or reasoning before verbalizing them. It means basing my positions on a foundation of rational thought. It means recognizing bias, especially my own.

I’ve written before about bias.  When you read a news article or watch a news piece, the reporters and networks pretend they have no bias, but that is absurd.  Everyone has a bias – it is inevitable, because even the wisest among us cannot see things from every and all perspectives.  The difference between my blog and some others is that I tell you right up front what my bias is.  I am pro-freedom, pro-capitalism, pro-individualism, and pro-reason.  I am against socialism and any other form of collectivism. My biases are not a result of my upbringing.  If anything, my biases are in opposition to the trends and positions espoused to me in school, church, and to some degree, the military.

Logic is another key ingredient of critical thinking.  Ayn Rand described logic as the art of correct identification.  That sounds simple, but it has deep consequences.  It is easy for a child to recognize a lemon as a lemon, but it might be a bit harder for the child to understand that the lemon can never be anything other a lemon.  It can only do or behave as a lemon.  A person might squeeze it to get the juice, or grate it to get the pith, but a lemon cannot become a bird and fly away.

Wishful thinking and other logical errors are the source of much conflict and dysfunction in the world. An example:  The current brouhaha over gender identity.  We are either born with male anatomy or female anatomy (occasions of true androgyny are exceedingly rare). “Identifying” as the opposite gender from what one’s anatomy dictates (no pun intended) is logically erroneous.  One might align their conflicted desires to reality via surgery and drugs, but until those procedures are complete, one is “male” or “female” according to one’s anatomy.

At the heart of many arguments and conflicts over logic are premises.  There is no shortage of pundits, educators, and other influential people that use well-crafted logical arguments that stem from bad premises.  Take “equality” for example.  We might hear that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives want people to be treated as equal under the law, while liberals want everyone to have equal outcomes.  The first premise rests on the idea that no one is more valuable as a human being than anyone else.  It creates the conditions whereby a poor person can raise themselves up from poverty on their own hard work and merit. It is essentially correct, but hard to enforce, because the rich and well connected can sometimes buy better legal representation than the poor. The second premise rests on the idea that it’s not fair for one person to have more than another, so wealth must be redistributed.  It gives no attention to the concepts that wealth belongs to whomever created it, or that individuals have any responsibility for their own situation.  It is a bad premise, because it ignores the fact that life is not and cannot be fair, and it ignores all of the evidence of human history:  Humans cannot rise above animalism without individual effort to devise technology or apply the technology to raising the standard of living.

Are you a critical thinker?