Romans 15:5-6

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I feel so sorry for young people today because the politically ambitious have sold out their futures for socialist ideology, personal profit, and political power. They trust, go into debt for college, and then end up in a very difficult position. The words “endurance” and “encouragement” are especially appropriate during these difficult times. So too is the advice that we should follow Christ’s example in dealing with one another, and mining and destroying future generations does not follow His example. I increasingly feel like Moses, “Let my people go!”

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Algonkian Writers

A few decades ago, I wanted to become a writer. My heroes at the time were writers: Tom Wolfe, George Will, Charles Krauthammer were my favorite intellectual writers, and I had an appetite for spy fiction that included Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, John Le Carré, and Trevanian. I took a creative writing class at NYU, and it was held in a small room with people sitting in the hallway, and I thought to myself, “Can’t they even figure out how to schedule the proper classroom?”

Of course they had as people started dropping out in huge clumps once the work started, and the work consisted of merely of writing and reading your writing in class. I remember well how nervous I was when I read my first writing aloud. People dropped out, and I persisted, and after a while it became apparent that a girl and I were among the best writers in the class. She wrote dark, brooding, Eastern European types of pieces, while I wrote lighter pop pieces in the manner of Tom Wolfe, if not his masterful style.

I went to grad school and eventually learned to write academic prose, but the dream of being a writer — or even better, an author — faded with jobs, mortgages, family, and non-fiction publications. However, my wife reminded me of my earlier ambition, and I have some ideas, so it’s worth going down that path again. I’ve identified the Algonkian Writer’s Conference as a good source of writing instruction as it’s not too academic — been there, done that — and seems to be well informed, practical, and economical. Caius Lowell will continue to be the venue for my opinion writing, but here will be my fiction laboratory in which I experiment a type out my lessons. Will let you know how it goes.

Replacing Marxism with Complexity

I just learned that May 5, 2018 was the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday, so happy birthday Karl! But I would be remiss to point out that this is a bittersweet occasion given the history of Marxism and the great fiasco of the Soviet Union as well as many, many other lesser fiascos.

I might point out, on a personal note, that the title of this blog, “Course 17”, which is what they call political science at MIT, is in part due to Karl, if I may call him Karl. You see, there was a professor there, let’s call him Prof. Kilo, which is appropriate since it implies the metric system, the implied ascendancy of science, and the rejection of regressive tradition and backward religion — by force if necessary — which frequently it proved to be.  I my case, I wrote a paper against socialism in an MIT class called “Rationality”. Being a computer scientist — what they call “Course 6” at MIT — I noted that computational theory shows there are all sorts of interesting limits that pop up quite quickly when it comes to the predictability of computers with perhaps the most famous being the halting problem, which states you can’t tell it a computer program is going to halt or stop unless you actually run the program. When it comes to actual day-to-day programming, this theory manifests itself through the need to save backups before making and testing even small changes because frequently what I thought was going to work didn’t, and I needed to get back to what I knew did work. This is counter-intuitive to non-programmers because I knew more about that code than anybody in the world because I wrote it, but the code had become sufficiently complex that my mind couldn’t predict what it would do. I had theories, sure, but they needed to be tested and were frequently found… wanting.

When it comes to Marxist political theorists though, they regularly assume they know how political systems far more complex than mere computer code work. Moreover, Marxists advocate — based on their super-powerful brains and deep understanding — making gigantic, radical changes to political systems based on their predictions about how they’ll turn out. My paper said, basically, that if I had trouble predicting small changes in my computer code that I created and understood better than anybody else in the world, then how could Marxists predict the outcome of gigantic, radical changes of systems understood far less well? Basically this was Hayek’s Nobel-winning thesis but with a computer theory overlay, which seemed like a reasonable paper for MIT.

The reaction was not what you would expect as a Course 6 person but exactly as you might imagine as a Course 17 person — that is, spectacularly negative! I received an F on the paper. Not much I could say about that, so I went away and reviewed my logic, which still made sense to me, and then thought about how to present my arguments better. I went back to Kilo and started to express what I was trying to do when he interrupted me and shouted, “Your paper means nothing! Nothing!” Strangely, I felt better because I realized that there was something there, but Kilo just couldn’t handle it because why else would he be so emotional? I still had an F on my record, but that was only a minor problem.

Later on I read Herman Finer’s Road to Reaction, which criticized Hayek similarly — that is, emotionally. What’s revealing is that this book by Finer, a Harvard professor and Fabian socialist or Marxist, is absolutely horrible, but it was published and apparently accepted as reasonable by his socialist and Marxist colleagues. Hayek was given an update by Herb Simon, who also a Nobel and created bounded rationality, which hearkens back to the Course 17 class that Kilo gave me an F in, Rationality.

The point here is not to rehash who said what long ago but to realize there’s an important and unresolved research puzzle here that has incredibly large, super significant policy consequences. Why do Marxists claim to follow science and logic yet come unglued when confronted with complex arguments they can’t understand or answer? What is the enduring appeal of Marxism, and why does it persist despite its obvious and oh-so-well documented failures? This isn’t just an academic endeavor but is vital for the future of humanity, and the way forward seems to be through a better understanding of complexity generally and complex social science specifically and, more importantly, how it is different from and better than Marxism. No less an intellect than Stephen Hawking said that the 21st century will be one of complexity, and who are we to let Steve — if I may call him Steve — down?

Lawrence of Arabia

This weekend I watched Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, and there are three things about it you should know. First, the movie was made in 1962 and is almost four hours long, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that long.

Second, there’s a colonialism aspect to it that’s from another era. T.E. Lawrence was a mid-ranking British officer who excelled in the Arabian field. This provides a certain amount of hope for people who may find tradition and structure stifling. However, I learned that the British has more of an influence on creating Saudi Arabia then  I knew before. I learned where Aqaba is (in Jordan), and I learned where Medina and Yanbu are too.

Third, as we consider the mindset of Lawrence, there was doubtless a certain restlessness that travel offset. However a recent essay I read, “Travel is No Cure For the Mind,” states that when people travel, they bring their problems with them. Lawrence’s success may have been that travel was good for his mind, but the relief was only temporary. Eventually his demons caught up with him and he went back to England where he died in a motorcycle accident. Whether that accident was due to another bout of restlessness or bad luck, I do not know.

Finally, there is a raft of interesting trivia surrounding the movie, such as the Peter O’Toole was often drunk, he fell off a camel and almost got run over by a herd of horses but the camel stood over him to protect him, Peter called Omar Sharif “Freddy,” and the King of Jordan married one of the production crew. Who knew? I might have to watch “The Stuntman” again, one of my favorite O’Toole movies.

 

Tocqueville on America

In writing about America, one of the first questions that needs to be addressed is, “What is America?” Now there are a lot of ways to answer this question, and I would argue that a lot of them aren’t very good or accurate because they’re driven by marketing and self-interest masked by virtue signaling. However Tocqueville’s Democracy in America continues to shine a light on not only America but America’s place in the global system:

There are, at the present time, two great nations in the world which
seem to tend towards the same end, although they started from different
points: I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have
grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed
elsewhere, they have suddenly assumed a most prominent place amongst the
nations; and the world learned their existence and their greatness at
almost the same time.

All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and
only to be charged with the maintenance of their power; but these are
still in the act of growth; *r all the others are stopped, or continue
to advance with extreme difficulty; these are proceeding with ease and
with celerity along a path to which the human eye can assign no term.
The American struggles against the natural obstacles which oppose
him; the adversaries of the Russian are men; the former combats the
wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its
weapons and its arts: the conquests of the one are therefore gained by
the ploughshare; those of the other by the sword. The Anglo-American
relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends, and gives free
scope to the unguided exertions and common-sense of the citizens;
the Russian centres all the authority of society in a single arm: the
principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter servitude.
Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same;
yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of Heaven to sway
the destinies of half the globe.

Seems odd to review this observation over a century and a half later, but recent events have placed America and Russia into the worlds spotlight yet again. Underlying this dynamic must be a set of relationships that are essentially fundamental, which I argue is the continuum between quality and quantity, which as they say, has a quality all its own.

What Foreign Spies do in the US

Those “in-the-know” say that there’s never been a better time to be a spy, but the question remains, what do they do? It was with this question in mind that I was especially intrigued by this headline:
Chinese Spies Engaged in Massive Theft of U.S. Technology
The Chinese communists are stealing American technology, which when you think about it, is a well-incentivized deal. That is, developing technology is super expensive seeing how you have to pay engineers to sit around to do it, so it’s valuable. And when it gets stolen, the average person on the street doesn’t really care. This is the reality of it: the spy game isn’t like James Bond — spies are not engaging in car chases, hanging out with models, or killing bad guys: they’re stealing stuff.

The Chinese also engage in “soft power” through the Confucius Institute or (CI). This is not to be confused with the Intelligence Community (IC) or Counter Intelligence (CI), which Obama weakened to make it even easier for the Chinese to steal American technology. Also, note the marketing aspects of the name “Confucius” which helps take the communist edge off of today’s Chinese reality. In fact, Confucius was a bourgeois enemy of the people during the Cultural Revolution, but Confucius tested better with American audiences than Mao or Deng Xiaoping, so Confucius it was.

And you know, if there’s good stuff worth stealing, then other countries will get in on it too. The Russians had a great consulate in San Francisco, right down the street from Silicon  Valley, that was useful for stealing all sorts of stuff — until PDJT closed it down that is. More later!

 

The Deal with Course 17

At MIT they don’t have normal names for majors, they have numbers. For instance, Course 6 is electrical engineering and computer science (EE/CS), Course 8 is physics, and Course 18 is math. At MIT I studied Course 17, political science. Now with a Course 6 background, one might wonder why I studied something as potentially problematic as political science, and that’s a fair question. I went because policy questions are so important that they merit the intelligence and rigor that underlies EE/CS, or at least that’s what I thought when I went.

And I was correct because I got to study with Prof. Alpha who is what we call a quantitative social scientist, especially as he got his undergrad at MIT in Course 18, math.  On the other side though are qualitative social scientists, who in my experience have a more problematic and — dare I say — socialist perspective. Professor Kilo represents this view, and let’s just say that didn’t end well.

I’m going to write this up not in a “poor me pity party” way but because I ran the experiment. I went to the school, was conservative, Christian, and American, and what happened is instructive because it seems to inform modern-day politics. Additionally, whenever I write about my Course 17 discussions online, people seem to be interested. Some readers may disagree, but let’s write about it and see where it goes.