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!

Ten Observations on Election 2016

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By Mike Cronin

Donald Trump’s victory certainly stirred up a lot of clamor and noise this week.  Let’s see if we can herd some of the cats:

  1. Democracy has failed. The people chose Hillary Clinton by 200,000 votes, but the electoral victory went to Trump. Our “democracy” cannot fail if we don’t have one, which is in fact the case. We were given a federalist republic under the rule of law. We use democratic processes for some decisions to give the people a voice, but we are not supposed to have a system of straight-up majority rule. As to the electoral vote: It remains to be seen whether any electors will “go rogue” and vote against their “pledge” on Dec 19th, but it has happened before (as recently as 2004).  Of course, it’s never been by enough margin to change the outcome of an election.  In this case, at least 38 would have to be “faithless electors” to get Clinton to 270.
  2. Trump hates immigrants. He hates Mexicans. He hates Muslims. He’s racist.  We’ll, he might. Only he knows for sure.  However, he is married to an immigrant and he has people from all walks of life working for him.  He certainly doesn’t think people should be here illegally, which is not the same thing as hating the people who are or the people who want to be.
  3. Trump is a misogynist sexual predator. His caught-on-camera crudities certainly lend themselves to this narrative. There’s little actual evidence and no credible accusers that demonstrate he hates all women or has assaulted any of them, but Trump’s verbal vulgarity in this area is one of the most troubling things about him. Still, while Trump has been caught speaking like a sexual predator might; Hillary Clinton continues to aid and abet one.
  4. Trump is going to destroy all of the progress progressives have made over the last eight years. Possibly, but presidents seldom accomplish their full agendas.  Yes, Trump will have a Republican-majority Congress, but it won’t be a super-majority, and the Republican establishment doesn’t like him.  Trump bills himself as a deal maker.  He’ll have to be to get his agenda anywhere.
  5. Trump is going to elevate nationalism over globalism. Both are euphemisms for collectivism; only the boundaries are different. Neither is as good for individuals as unfettered free market capitalism.  There might possibly be temporary beneficial effects for Americans in the shift, especially if our troops come home and small businesses can thrive again.
  6. Trump is an idiot/outsider/politically inexperienced. He certainly does not articulate himself with Obama’s grace, but he is no dummy. In fact, he’s likely quite adept at persuasion (see items five and six on this list). He is certainly gifted at getting free publicity (or at least notoriety) from the very mass-media that hates him. Also, his lack of political experience, i.e. his NOT being a career politician or D.C. insider, is one of the fundamentals that led him to get elected.
  7. What happened with the polls? They consistently gave Clinton the edge! Bottom line: garbage in/garbage out.  The pollsters drew their samples from the same body of “likely voters” they always used, and in some cases “oversampled” Democrats.  The former was neglectful and led to the Democrats believing in their own invulnerability; the latter was a nefarious attempt to convince would-be Trump voters to stay home on Election Day. Once exposed, the revelation likely caused the exact opposite effect. Either way, the pollsters failed to obtain accuracy because they could not, or would not, sample validly.  
  8. FBI Director Comey’s shenanigans (i.e. his announcements regarding the on-again/off-again investigation into Clinton’s email debacle vis-à-vis Huma Abedin’s laptop) comprised the quintessential October Surprise, and it hurt Clinton. It certainly didn’t help, but it’s much more likely that Clinton’s shenanigans hurt Clinton.
  9. Why were Clinton and Trump our candidates? What secret weapon did they employ that none of their competitors had? 30-plus years of universal name recognition.
  10. What does it mean that Republicans gained more seats in Congress, strengthening their majority? They didn’t get a super majority, so there are a few (rare) actions they would have to earn Democratic support for in order to act: Impeaching the president and overriding his vetoes are two such cases. 2. Republicans will get to shape the Supreme Court for the next generation. 3. Republicans now have an opportunity to reverse much of the Democrats’ work over the last eight years. Whether they will actually do so, or get complacent and/or get caught up with internal divisions remains to be seen.

RIGOROUS RED OR BOGUS BLUE, PT III

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By Mike Cronin

The focus of the last two posts was on the “blue pill” as it regards our “progressive” education system.  I have written several previous posts dealing with political prescriptions for “blue pill” thinking.  The imagery and tone of those pieces and this one may lead you to assumes I am associating all things “blue pill” with liberal/Democrat/ “blue state” politics, and red pill rigor with Republican/conservative/”red state” politics.

You would only be partially right.  Our education and media elite are certainly dominated by those who would prefer a tame, conditioned electorate, but that desire is not exclusive to the panoply of progressive poohbahs.  There is no shortage of conservatives/traditionalists that would like to impose their own brand of “blue pill” virtuality upon us using the existing, Prussian-model school system.  The pill would be “branded” quite differently, of course: Teaching of creationism/intelligent design as science and mandatory recitation of the pledge of allegiance (a loyalty oath) by children too young to understand the concept of total commitment are two ways that come readily to mind.

“In our secular society, school has become the replacement for church, and like church it requires that its teachings must be taken on faith.” ― John Taylor Gatto

So what can be done?  Ultimately, a “red pill” solution would entail the separation of school and state, in the same way and for the same reasons we have separation of church and state.

Whoa! How can you say such a thing, Cronin?!  If we don’t have public education, we’ll have a bunch of uneducated kids running around that can’t think critically, getting into mischief and gangs and criminal conduct! We won’t be competitive in the global market!

How would that be different than what we have now?

Believe it or not, before the imposition of public schooling, and especially the Department of Education, the literacy rate in this country was actually higher than it is now across many demographic groups. (Admittedly, that is a tough comparison to accept. It requires that one omit slaves from the calculation, for instance, as the first public schools appeared while slavery was still legal; teaching slaves to read was often prohibited.)

I ask you: If a thing can be done privately, what business does the government have doing it?

But if we don’t have public education, won’t the private education system be just as much of a “blue pill?”

Unlikely. The key ingredients missing from education in a system monopolized by government are competition and choice. In a competitive education market, schools would have to meet their customers’ expectations or go out of business.  Good teachers would be highly sought after and well compensated.  Bad teachers could be fired. Government is force. Government performs exceedingly well where force is the required tool to solve a problem.  At best, government achieves a desultory mediocrity at everything else it does. Is force the correct tool to use to educate our children?

We are indoctrinated by a school system designed to mass-produce workers and consumers, “informed” by a mass media machine that continuously keeps us alarmed, and led by politicians whose only concern is getting elected or re-elected.  How could anything be wrong?

Rigorous Red or Bogus Blue? Part II

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By Mike Cronin

Using the analogy of the Matrix movies, last week I posited that two philosophical traditions are vying for primacy over our minds.  One of them, the “blue pill,” offers a fantasy.  Conversely, “red pill” traditions require mental rigor.  They are not so easy to follow, but they flow from and describe the true nature of reality.

The most insidious facet of the “blue pill” is that it works best when it is proffered early in a child’s development…and its greatest efficacy lies in “armoring” the developing mind against the “red pill” before the child even knows there is an alternative. Our school system is the primary dosing mechanism for instilling “blue pill” thinking.

“Education is a system of imposed ignorance.”Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

How can that be? Our kids learn reading, math, and science, don’t they?  With those subjects, they are equipped to learn anything else, aren’t they?

Our schools certainly present those topics. It is in how they are presented that the crime lies. Our education system “standardizes” kids by teaching them facts and theories but neglecting context. It forces the “blue pill” on kids in several basic ways:

  • School as a state function, with attendance becoming compulsory.
  • Regimentation and Pavlovian conditioning (age segregation, dividing the day into lesson periods, sitting in rows, bells, uniforms, etc.)
  • Discouraging holistic comprehension by segmenting knowledge into disjointed subjects (reading, math, science, art, “social studies,” etc.) taught in incomprehensible order.
  • The “professionalization” of teaching. Aspiring teachers, themselves graduates (victims?) of the same system, are given to understand that it is their role to fill minds…instead of to remove obstacles and let young people be their own teachers. This lead to the decline of parent-as-mentor – and of kids who could already read before entering school at six or seven.
  • Employers and higher education institutions began demanding evidence that proved completion of the prescribed program (diplomas).

This model was imported from Prussia and/or instituted in the early-to-mid-1800s. The Prussians devised their system independent of any relationship to individual liberty or freedom.  The Prussian system had three tiers.  The vast majority (94%) of the population was to be adequately prepared to function and contribute, but not think for themselves or lead, at volksschulen.  The other 6%, those from elite families, were destined to rule or manage.  They received educations more geared to critical thinking.

In the US, the Prussian model was implemented in part to “Americanize” (i.e. instill WASP values in) the many Catholic immigrants coming in from Italy and Ireland.

According to former award-winning teacher turned public-school critic John Taylor Gatto:

“A small number of very passionate American ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century; fell in love with the order, obedience, and efficiency of its education system; and campaigned relentlessly thereafter to bring the Prussian vision to these shores. Prussia’s ultimate goal was to unify Germany; the Americans’ was to mold hordes of immigrant Catholics to a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model. To do that, children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influences.”

So, you know how we are often told that our kids are continually ranking lower on literacy and math than other developed nations, i.e. that our schools are failing?  That we must “invest” more public funding in the schools?

Understand that in the most basic sense our schools are not failing at all; they are doing exactly what they were designed to do: make the vast majority of kids swallow the blue pill and grow them into good consumers who are smart enough to run the machines and think what they are told to think by their betters, but not smart enough to think for themselves and run the businesses or lead the country.

Trolling by Polling

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By Mike Cronin

Now that the presidential campaign season is in full swing, we are being treated to the usual inundation of “demographic” polling results (i.e. how are “soccer moms,” Hispanics, gays, white men, etc. going to vote?)  Taken individually, as they are usually reported, the vast majority of these polls tell us nothing useful.  Piolls that tell us how a state will vote are getting closer to valuable.

Consider: This page at Real Clear Politics lists numerous polls with entries similar to this one:

Race/Topic: State X:         Poll : Qunipiac                Results  Trump 44, Clinton 38                            Spread: Trump +6

Trump is up by six points over Clinton in State X.  Sounds dire for Clinton, right?

You still might be getting “trolled.”

Regardless of how you’d like the race to go, we need to remember how presidents get elected: by winning the Electoral College vote.  The popular vote heavily influences the Electoral College, but the nature of that influence is determined by state laws. As we’ve seen as recently as 2000, it is possible to win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote and the election. In terms of polls: It means that generic surveys of this or that demographic, such as the one cited above, are almost useless by themselves for telling us how an election might go, especially in “solid” red or blue states. It makes no difference if a candidate’s poll numbers go up in a state that was already going to vote for them.  It makes a great deal of difference if a candidate’s numbers change in a battleground state with a lot of electoral votes, such as Florida or Ohio – such a shift could move electoral votes from one column to the other, perhaps enough to get to 270.

Thus, even taken in aggregate, “demographic” polls aren’t much of a barometer.  A much more instructive product would tell us how every state is currently trending, with caveats for the states (Nebraska and Maine) that are not “winner take all.”  Such a tool would give us a much better predictive assessment of the electoral college votes likely to go to each candidate.

Such a beast exists: http://www.270towin.com/. They have broken down the race several ways.  If we look at their map that “kluges” current polling data with expert forecasters’ opinions, Mrs. Clinton already has 272 votes in her camp, two more than are needed to win.  But  if we look at their chart that displays the accumulation of polling data only and omits “expert opinion,” then Clinton has about 200 electoral college votes in her camp (out of 270 needed to win), while Mr. Trump has 163.  Either situation sounds much more troublesome for him than “Trump up by six” sounds for Clinton, doesn’t it?

If “demographic” polls vice “electoral vote” polls do little to predict the outcome of the Electoral College race, why publish them? At least two possibilities come to mind:

  1. There’s nothing like stirring the pot in order to keep you tuned in and watching advertisements.
  2. To shape voters’ behavior in some way favorable to whomever commissioned the poll. Example one: Clinton’s current lead only translates to victory on Election Day if enough voters actually go to polling places and pull levers.  If you want Clinton to win, maybe you paint her as losing ground in the polls in order to generate a hint of doubt. Maybe that will motivate folks to go vote that might have stayed home if they felt comfortable she was going to win. Example two: If you want Trump to win, you might commission such a poll in order to generate enthusiasm by painting him as an underdog coming from behind and pulling ahead – a narrative that always does well in America.

Manifestly, Donald Trump still has an uphill battle.  In his best case scenario, he has to take 107 more votes and keep Clinton from gaining, while in his worst case he needs to take at least three of Clinton’s existing votes away!

Despite being much more instructive than run-of-the-mill poll reporting, even such tools as the “270towin” charts are not infallible, nor is the sentiment recorded today going to be the same on election day.  Clinton’s recent bout with “pneumonia,” clumsy messaging regarding her overall health, and “deplorable” commentary on Trump supporters certainly helped Trump’s polling tick up a bit, but did it affect the electoral vote trend?  Time will tell – and we still have to get through the “October Surprise.”

While such and event or revelation may yet upend the race, there is sure to be a battle over the next few weeks for the remaining available electoral votes. Poll results that don’t tell you how that aspect of the election is going are probably not worth your consideration.

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.