23 May 2017

“So There I Was, Helping to Spread Fake News…”

Conspiracy, Trump 9 Comments

Now to be clear, I’m not saying every single moment of footage on cable TV at this point is dictated by 4 bankers in a dark room smoking cigars. I’m just pointing out that what “everybody knows” about Trump/Russia/obstruction etc. rests on a weaker foundation than what everybody knows.

For example, check out Brian Williams talking to the NYT reporter who broke (I think?) the story about Comey’s memo(s) concerning Trump asking him to drop the Flynn investigation. Listen to the whole clip, but pay particular attention around 0:20 when the NYT reporter admits that he actually never saw a memo, and was just relying on the details that someone else had recounted to him.

Keep in mind, it’s not as if we’re talking about the schematics to the new Air Force bomber, or a list of undercover CIA operatives working in Kabul. We’re talking about a memo that Comey supposedly wrote up after Trump asked him to drop the investigation of Flynn. What would be in that memo besides the very thing that is being reported already? If there were sources couldn’t they just be redacted in a photocopy of the memo given to the NYT? Or wouldn’t the NYT just withhold that sensitive stuff, the way the WaPo did with the alleged story about Trump giving sensitive info to the Russians?

Here’s more background information that some of you may have forgotten/never known:

==> This meeting in which Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation happened the day after Flynn resigned. So it’s not like Trump was trying to nip things in the bud before the world caught on. Flynn was already disgraced and would go down in history (fairly or unfairly) as a Russian interloper.

==> At the time, Comey was the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Martha Stewart.

As always: I DO NOT KNOW IF TRUMP OR HIS INNER CIRCLE DID ANYTHING UNUSUALLY DIRTY FOR A PRESIDENTIAL TEAM. I am simply pointing out that people are stating certain things as public fact when we actually can’t be sure of that yet.

22 May 2017

Scott Adams’ Post Is Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

Humor, Scott Adams 22 Comments

Scott Adams has a neat post explaining “How to Know You Won a Political Debate on the Internet.” For example, if your opponent “recasts your opinion to include an ‘absolute’ word, such as every, always, never, all, completely, universally, and the like, you are seeing cognitive dissonance.”

So I liked Adams’ post at this point. I have personally had such a realization, for example when a hostile emailer told me today that I cry over defenseless rich people (because I had opposed the emailer’s call to reduce income inequality) I knew I had won our short-lived argument. He had to attribute a ridiculous view to me rather than deal with my actual argument.

But then I was troubled by Adams’ next example:


Analogies are good for explaining concepts for the first time. But they have no value in debate. Analogies are not logic, and they are not relevant facts. An analogy is literally just two things that remind you of each other on at least one dimension. When I see a cauliflower, it reminds me of a human brain, but that doesn’t mean you should eat brains in your salad. When your debate opponents retreat to analogies, it is because they have no rational arguments. You won.

There’s a reason your plumber never describes the source of your leak with an analogy. He just points to the problem and says it needs to be repaired or replaced. No one needs an analogy when facts and reason can do the job.

Yikes! This had me worried, because I use analogies all the time. And what really made me squirm was Adams’ talking about the plumber example. I had to admit, he was totally right: If a plumber starting using an analogy with me, I’d get suspicious that he didn’t know what he was doing.

But I soon relaxed, and realized I had won my (implicit) debate with Adams, over the fairness and relevance of analogies in online debate. After all, we had been talking about political arguments, and he goes and brings up plumbers.

17 May 2017

With Loyalists Like These…

Trump 26 Comments

Scott Sumner surveys a lot of anti-Trump stuff, and he says this recent piece by Erick Erickson “might be the single most negative report on Trump that I’ve ever read.” Similarly, Ross Douthat has been pushed to call for Trump’s removal (using the 25th Amendment) in part because:

It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. And all this, in the fourth month of his administration.

And in that excerpt from Douthat, the link on “self-selected loyalists” also goes to the Erick Erickson piece.

Wow! What bombshell does this piece contain?

Not a single thing, except that Erickson personally vouches for one of the anonymous sources who is saying Trump shared classified information with the Russians, and says that this guy started out as a fan of Trump. (In case you doubt my assessment, the actual title of Erickson’s post is: “I Know One of the Sources.”)

Here’s the relevant passage:

What sets this story apart for me, at least, is that I know one of the sources. And the source is solidly supportive of President Trump, or at least has been and was during Campaign 2016. But the President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack.

So notice that Erickson isn’t giving us a name. This is still a totally anonymous source.

Also, Erickson isn’t giving us a literal quotation. He is just establishing that he knows one of the leakers, and then Erickson goes on to talk about all this other dirt he heard about Trump. Strictly speaking, we don’t even know if the “Trump loyalist” is the one saying all of the things about Trump’s character that Scott Sumner thought was the most damning critique he has yet read.

In this context, then, I think it’s worth pointing out that:

==> Erickson famously disinvited Trump to a debate during the primaries, following the Megyn Kelly comment. Apparently Trump fans then went nuts on Erickson, trolling him online, sending death threats, etc.

==> Erickson is not exactly known for his sober deliberation before posting things online. A brief sample:

In a 2008 blog post, he dubbed Michelle Obama a “Marxist harpy.” In a 2009 tweet, he called the retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter “a goat fucking child molester.” Later that year, Erickson argued that President Obama won the Nobel Prize because of an “affirmative action quota.” The 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Texas, Wendy Davis, was, in due time, “Abortion Barbie.”

I have no idea whether Trump did something really scandalous when he met with the Russians last week. The people who are telling me he did, have completely burned their credibility by either outright lying/deliberately misleading many times before, and/or by linking breathlessly to such people without a moment of introspection.

Here’s a quick test: If in January you were certain that Comey was a slippery serpent who abused his power to throw the election to Trump…but then when he starts talking about what illegal things Trump said to him only after Trump fired him, you are now certain that Comey is 100% telling the truth with no political motivation… Well you need to Ctrl-Alt-Delete your news reading.

16 May 2017


Krugman, Potpourri 15 Comments

==> Gene Epstein liked the most recent Contra Krugman, but pointed out that I missed this even more ironic–vis-a-vis his current stance–Krugman column (detailing the flaws of French regulations on labor) from 1997. An excerpt:

To an Anglo-Saxon economist, France’s current problems do not seem particularly mysterious. Jobs in France are like apartments in New York City: Those who provide them are subject to detailed regulation by a government that is very solicitous of their occupants. A French employer must pay his workers well and provide generous benefits, and it is almost as hard to fire those workers as it is to evict a New York tenant. New York’s pro-tenant policies have produced very good deals for some people, but they have also made it very hard for newcomers to find a place to live. France’s policies have produced nice work if you can get it. But many people, especially the young, can’t get it. And, given the generosity of unemployment benefits, many don’t even try.

France’s problem is unemployment (currently almost 13 percent). Nothing else is even remotely as important. And whatever a unified market and a common currency may or may not achieve, they will do almost nothing to create jobs.

Think of it this way: Imagine that several cities, all suffering housing shortages because of rent control, agree to make it easier for landlords in one city to own buildings in another. This is not a bad idea. It might even slightly increase the supply of apartments. But it is not going to get at the heart of the problem. Yet all the grand schemes for European integration amount to no more than that.

==> I liked that one so much, Gene then reminded me of this 1997 Krugman column praising cheap labor and globalization (which I had read before). Here’s a good excerpt:

The occasion was an op-ed piece I had written for the New York Times, in which I had pointed out that while wages and working conditions in the new export industries of the Third World are appalling, they are a big improvement over the “previous, less visible rural poverty.” I guess I should have expected that this comment would generate letters along the lines of, “Well, if you lose your comfortable position as an American professor you can always find another job–as long as you are 12 years old and willing to work for 40 cents an hour.”

Such moral outrage is common among the opponents of globalization–of the transfer of technology and capital from high-wage to low-wage countries and the resulting growth of labor-intensive Third World exports. These critics take it as a given that anyone with a good word for this process is naive or corrupt and, in either case, a de facto agent of global capital in its oppression of workers here and abroad.

But matters are not that simple, and the moral lines are not that clear. In fact, let me make a counter-accusation: The lofty moral tone of the opponents of globalization is possible only because they have chosen not to think their position through. While fat-cat capitalists might benefit from globalization, the biggest beneficiaries are, yes, Third World workers.

I am being dead serious, when Krugman post-2007 (or so) casts derision on orthodox economists and how they conveniently assume away the heart-wrenching problems faced by the disadvantaged, he is usually describing the way he himself treated a topic either in his pop stuff from the 1990s or in the latest edition of his textbook. The only thing I’m not certain about is if he is consciously or subconsciously doing that.

==> You know how the Marvel universe features a plot line where the US government after World War II brought in a bunch of Nazi scientists in weapons development? (Dr. Strangelove fits this too.) Well that was real; the CIA even says so, and you know they tell the truth.

15 May 2017

Contra Krugman Episode 86: Let’s Talk France

Contra Krugman 2 Comments

Yet another good episode. An outline:

9:10 I point out that Adolph Hitler is considered a right-winger, even though Nazi stands for “National Socialist.”

10:50 I exhibit my command of the French tongue.

11:25 I point out how slippery Krugman is with his French economic data. (I also give tutorial to Tom on how to run the show if something happens to me.)

16:10 I give the theory to explain the empirical results. Why is it that “generous” French regulations on work benefits lead to such high unemployment among younger workers?

18:38 I dig up a textbook backing up my views. You WON’T BELIEVE who the author is.

25:00 We take on the issue of the French working less.

30:00 We talk about austerity. I mention David R. Henderson’s work on Canada.

36:15 I praise Krugman’s discussion of Brexit (really).

14 May 2017

The Love of the Father and the Son

Religious No Comments

This post will probably only matter to Christians, just to warn you… I am relaying a train of thought that occurred to me a few days which you may find of interest.

I could imagine letting someone attack me even when I’m completely not at fault. For example, suppose I’m walking down the street at night, and I notice a car parked on the street has its windows all smashed in. I walk over to make sure there’s not somebody who needs help, and just then somebody yells, “HEY!!” A teenager runs out of the nearby house and starts swearing at me for messing with his car.

I try to explain it wasn’t me, but he is so furious that he just starts swinging at me. In that type of scenario, I would like to think that I would take measures to protect myself, but that I wouldn’t hurt the kid.

More generally, I could imagine circumstances where I would deliberate beforehand and walk into a situation, knowing that I was going to allow people to beat the @$( out of me. (It’s not my style to be confrontational rhetorically so it doesn’t really make sense, but if for some reason I thought a student group was going to try to shut down one of my talks, I absolutely would not want to ever strike back in anger even if students were attacking me physically.)

Now to be clear, I’m not telling you guys that I’m certain I *would* behave in this way. I’m just explaining that intellectually I would *want* to, and I hope I’d have the courage to do so if thrust into such a scenario.

In total contrast, if I’m walking down the street with my son, and we investigate a car with smashed up windows, and then a teenager runs out, there is no way he’s touching my son. I’m going to try to defuse the situation, but it is absolutely not going to happen that I am going to let my son do the very thing (i.e. absorb a beating from the confused teenager) that I personally would do.

Now take it one step further. This is a totally implausible thing but hypothetically speaking, suppose somehow my son and I found ourselves in a situation where we were both convinced that the right thing to do would be for him to take a beating from somebody that was completely unjustified, and I wasn’t going to intervene even though I could easily do so. When that scene unfolded, I would have to turn away and not look. There’s no way I could look at it.

* * *

Now think about the relevance of what I’ve written to these passages:

John 3:16 New International Version (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


Matthew 27:46 New International Version (NIV)

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

So as much as we are in awe at the sacrifice Jesus made for us, I think you could argue that what God the Father did was even more stupefying.

13 May 2017

Where Monetarism Goes Wrong

Austrian School, Chicago School 4 Comments

Jeff Deist had me on “Mises Weekends” to talk about Vienna vs. Chicago. Speaking of which, we’ll be in Chicago next week, and then Seattle.

13 May 2017

A Young Jon Stewart Interviews George Carlin

Humor 3 Comments

It was Friday night and I was procrastinating, so I stumbled across this interview. It was pretty touching; you see Carlin’s vulnerability (and also Jon Stewart himself was still trying to prove how cool he was with that get-up).