Stop The Hurricane Blame Game

By Mike Cronin

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:

The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down.  First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two.   Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.

Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.

Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin?  As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!

The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity.  The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.

The Gouge on Price Gouging

By Mike Cronin

In military slang, the word gouge can mean information or intelligence. For example: One person tells another a trick or hack for getting a task done quicker. The second person might say “thanks for the gouge.”

On the other hand, people are very much not thankful for what they perceive to be the price gouging happening in Houston and the rest of the Hurricane Harvey impact zone.  Loosely defined, price gouging is when a vendor radically raises their prices, as often occurs in and near disaster zones. Potential customers believe such vendors to be vultures, capitalizing on the misery of others.

But is that what is really going on?

In a recent Facebook post, A group called  “Educate the People” shared pictures of a convenience store billboard showing gas prices over $8.00 per gallon, and a case of bottled water going for nearly $45.00.  The caption beloe the pictures read “Heartless Capitalist Texas Store Owners.”

“Educate the Public” indeed! It’s not heartless. If millions of people are trying to “get out of Dodge,”(or stockpile at the last minute) because a disaster is imminent or in-progress, then supply trucks aren’t going into Dodge. When that happens, the things we normally take for granted are suddenly in much more demand, soon to be much scarcer, and thus suddenly much more valuable. When the demand for something skyrockets, but the supply is shrinking, the price must skyrocket as well. It sucks if you want to buy the thing that has quadrupled in price (so you have some to spare), but if you genuinely need it for survival, there just might still be some available because the people who merely wanted it weren’t willing to fork over the cash. It may seem like the store owner is profiteering, but consider: The store is still open and doing business when everyone else is trying to flee or hole-up!

If the store owner left his prices at the normal level (or was forced by the government to do so), he’d be out of stock in hours – or even minutes, with no routine resupply on the calendar. What is he, or his customers most in need, to do then?

The purveyors of “Educate the Public” should consider taking some remedial economics lessons instead of pandering to a generation of Americans who are being taught that they are entitled to something just because they think they need it.

To save them some time, here are the applicable points:

Price, cost, and value are not the same thing; however, in a functional system of mutual trade to mutual benefit, they are closely related. If the thing is becoming scarcer because the gap between supply and demand is increasing, the price will go up as a message to the consumer that the scarcity of the thing has increased.

When some force, usually in the form of government, compels a vendor to ration items, or to limit prices, the system is no longer about mutual exchange to mutual benefit. It has become dysfunctional, shredding the relationship between price, cost, and value. The price of an item no longer communicates the scarcity to the consumer. This increases the risk that hoarders and black-marketeers will buy up all the stock in a short amount of time, leaving the shelves bare, and leaving people in crisis with far fewer options. This will in turn lead to more desperation and lawlessness, not less.

In short: price gouging is not evil, though radically increased prices may shock and offend our sensibilities during a crisis, lulled as we are by generations of living in the stability of the largest economy in the world. On the other hand, anti-price gouging and rationing laws just might be evil, because they create more harm than they cure – by causing or exacerbating  shortages in the guise of mollifying the unthinking and easily offended.

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.