Archive for  February 2017

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I few months ago, I was in Hawaii doing my time for the Marine Corps Reserves.  My wife and I were having a swim on Waikiki beach.  She had just had our daughter, Eden, six weeks earlier, and these swims were one of the only times where she was able to stretch out and relax.  I told her one of the deep-seeded fears that plagued me.  I wondered if people a few hundred years from now would look back at me and think that the time that I have spent in the Marine Corps since 2003 was a bit quaint, and pretty meaningless.  How many of us could really look back at the War of the Roses, the War of Spanish Succession, the 30 Years War, the Punic Wars, the Peloponnesian war, and empathize with the reasons that the males in those conflicts died.  It is easy for us to be glib and say that religion, political order, the distinct sovereignty of the church and the state make sense.  Can we really say, though, that Rome was morally superior to Carthage, or that the Athenians were more just than their opponents.  With enough remove, these conflicts start to seem like parochial tribalism. I wonder if, with enough remove, the love of my country will seem to be just as quaint, just as pointless, and just as parochial.  You can already hear it in the stories that we tell ourselves about Vietnam, and to some extent in the voices of some of my fellow Vets who served in Mosul, Fallujah, and other cities that have fallen to ISIS.


We are not the first generation to do this.  When I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003 we were told to memorize the names of two Marines who had earned two medals of honor, one was Dan Dailey, and one was Smedley Butler who famously wrote a small book called War Is a Racket. This tome is about how he had spent the better part of his life in charge of defending the corporate interests of the United States in the now-forgotten banana wars in Central and South America.


I don’t want to make this post autobiographical, but to me, this question is more than simply academic.  I have personally been part of the most obvious of the feedback mechanism for governments as I spent the better part of my adult life in the service of the US government, and by extension, the American people.  I am no longer obliged to remain part of the reserves, and I could resign my commission at any time.  I would like to know that the time that I spend in government service is well-spent.


Moving on from autobiography to governments more generally.  I will point out briefly that viewing governments as smaller and discrete institutions from religious and cultural ones is a fraught topic. There are certainly instances where governments view themselves as coterminous with religions (ISIS, for instance), or coterminous with the culture of the people (Japan, is probably close here, or Han China). This mix of religious and state institutions is not the sole preserve of non-western countries.  If you doubt this, then listen to one of the songs that I sang in Cadet Chorale at The Citadel, a British hymn called ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’.  Nation-states, those unique places that seemed to contain the bulk of people who were part of the same culture, religion, and who had the same government were seen as a good thing at least up to the day of Winston Churchill.  They were often regarded as having less internal strife. Unfortunately, for someone like me, a citizen of the United States living in Australia of Swiss-German extraction, there are few cultural or religious lines on which I can draw my citizenship.  Americans, Canadians, and Australians are pretty unique in our ‘civic nationalism’ the idea that our identity as ‘Americans’ comes not primarily from our ethnic extraction, but from our alignment to the key values of our respective government institutions.  


Perhaps now is a good time to take an aside on the development of the modern western state.  The modern states that we often take for granted were not always so. After the fall of the Roman empire, the people of Europe had several sources of authority, and it was not always clear who to appeal to.  There were ecclesiastical courts, armies, the church held land, and some people even called themselves Holy Roman Emperors.  The state, such as with was, may have been secular, but the coronations were almost invariably done in churches, and the alignment of a monarch to Protestantism or Catholicism was the source of some of the bloodiest wars in European History.  There was one particularly nasty and bloody conflict called the 30 Years War.  This war started with the defenestration of Prague, where the protestants literally threw some Catholics out of the windows of the Prague Castle into a pile of excrement, preventing their death (though as the Catholics tell it they were lowered by angels, and did not die).  After this event, a general war broke out between the Protestant and Catholic areas.  Some German towns’ populations were reduced by as much as 75%, with only the very old and the very young escaping.  This war was ended by a couple of treaties, collectively known as the Treaty of Westphalia, that largely tried to establish separate state and ecclesiastical authority.  At least in text, if not in practice, these treaties outlined the rights that people were supposed to have to exercise their religions in peace.  This is when we start talking about the concept of state sovereignty.  This is generally defined as having a monopoly on the legitimate use of force (e.g. the police, gendarmes, military), and having no higher authority to which to appeal.


After this, the relatively small principalities of Europe continued on for a few hundred years. It became apparent, especially to the very small states that they had little chance of competing with larger states.  Many government institutions are replicated in every country, and even what westerners regard as despotic states must provide basic facilities to enforce contracts, norms, and public safety.  While we don’t often think of these costs, except around tax time.  These costs can be large when not defrayed over a large enough population.  Imagine, for instance being the modern state of Luxemburg, and needing to set up diplomatic relations with the 170-odd other countries in the world.  The simple things that we take for granted such as establishing what visa classes the citizens of each country are eligible for, and what mutual defense pacts you are going to be part of would be a significant part of the budget for your small country.  More importantly than this was likely the high fixed cost for military forces.  What amounted to small city-states in Germany would have no hope of fielding a multi-division army to compete against the larger states. Eventually, most of these smaller states federated into larger countries in Europe, Italy forming its own federation, and Germany its own.


This held for a couple hundred more years, and is the basis for our current international system.  In World War II, the states were the real parties to the conflict, and formed alliances against one another.  After World War II at Bretton Woods, and in the UN conventions, the states were the parties to the newly-formed institutions. The United Nations Security Council is nothing more than the veto power held by the primary victorious countries of the Second World War.  


If this were all that existed, then we might well believe that states were going to continue to consolidate into larger and larger blocks and that the very idea of a country-level institution would seem as anachronistic in a few hundred years as the Holy Roman Empire or the small German principalities.  As we are now seeing this is not the entirety of the story.  There have been instances of small states turning into truly larger states without exit clauses, the United States of America, is an example of this.  Its Civil War is an example of how there is no exit clause for the southern states of America.  This is not the only model. After the Second World War the European Coal and Steel Commission was an attempt to bind the French and Germans together in a union that would not be easily torn asunder.  This evolved into the European Union, which, until lately, most would have thought, was inseparable. As we can see with Brexit, the fallout from the Portuguese, Italian, and Greek debt crises, such an assumption is no longer warranted.  Likewise the USSR, fractured into independent states after the end of the Cold War (a transcript of the conversation between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev is here, and is worth reading, just because).  


Up until now, I have given rather short-shrift to the non-European views of statehood.  They certainly do exist.  Other systems, tribal, and otherwise have been lost to history after the conquest of the Americas and Africa by European powers. Of these, the only one that has a lot of bearing on the current international system is from East Asia.  In the far-East, something commonly called Suzerainty governed the relation between ‘states’ to the extent that they deserve that name.  This was a system which was somewhat similar to the Medo-Persian system, or the Roman system. The rulers of individual people were allowed to remain in place, but they would all be required to pay tribute to the Son of Heaven, the Chinese Emperor.   This is relevant today because it is the vision of the world that scares many of the states of SouthEast and East Asia.  Take, for instance, Vietnam, obviously, they fought a bloody war with the United States in living memory, and are still culturally and religiously disparate from the US.  Notwithstanding this, they have recently been seeking alliance-like relationships with the United States to protect themselves against a rising China.  Many within the country are concerned that a resurgent China will ask for similarly-filial relationship as it had in the past.


So that is the current state of play.  Back to my original question in this series.  Are there homeostatic mechanisms that keep states between lateral limits which can be reinforced, or are there feedback mechanisms which can be generated to ensure that they stay in a prosocial balance?


In modern western representative democracies, voting obviously provides a feedback mechanism.  Its handmaiden is the free press, which provides information about the actions of the state so that people can vote.  Fiscal constraints, in the long run, also provide left and right lateral limits.  If a state is particularly miserly, or misappropriates funds, then it may find that the institutions remain intact, but the individuals at the helm are deposed.  Likewise, if a state is especially profligate, and leads the nation towards hyperinflation, then the rich people of the country may exclaim that they are not able to get an adequate return to capital and a brain-drain will ensue.  As already mentioned warfare, provides a rather direct and forceful feedback mechanism to prevent states from acting with impunity.  This is even true within their own territory, see the intervention of the Vietnamese against the Khmer Rouge.  Just as with our exploration of culture and religion, it is possible to spend an entire career in the professions that enable the state, let alone the state itself, and few would think a person is insane for doing so.  Imagine all of the following professions being held by someone who was only half-committed to their religion/culture, and who was a divorcee because they worked too much (i.e. to the exclusion of other institutions).


  • Voting: Elected officials put in power by parties, community organizers/civic action leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, or Ghandi
  • Free Press: People like the six murdered journalists of Novaya Gazeta, or Julian Assange
  • Fiscal policy: Independent economists such as Alan Greenspan (currently), boutique investment bankers, and Warren Buffett
  • Warmakers: Professional soldiers or mercenaries of South Africa, Blackwater, Triple Canopy, ISIS fighters coming from overseas, or the French foreign legion


This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the feedback mechanisms on a modern state, but it certainly includes the primary mechanisms whereby I can provide much feedback to the state. This moves me onto the secondary question of this post, what feedback mechanism, if any, should I put my energy into?  I will approach this with the same framework as I approached the last level of institutions, a simple utilitarian expected value format, the key questions are as follows:


  • How many people will it impact?
  • How much will it impact them?
  • What is the probability that I personally will be able to make such an impact?


In my case, on voting.  I am only a citizen of the United States.  I vote in California, a state with a population greater than Australia.  Given that the United States does not have proportional representation, this means that the only way that I could influence the election is if it were otherwise going to be a tie, and my vote were to tip it over the edge.  I spent ~3 hours of my life trying to understand the issues in San Diego County, and do my best of the electorate last time.  I will say that it was a bit humorous to see a referendum to raise the tax on cigarettes on the same ballot as a referendum to legalize marijuana last time.  I see this as a low-cost civic duty, but not as something that will likely shape the course of the United States. I have lumped a great deal together in the first bullet point above, but I am not sure it is too much. Though we often think of our elected officials as having great power, they are very circumscribed by the desires of thought leaders, the whims of the public, and the limits of their office.  The question then arises, does service in an elected office, or working outside of the official system make sense in terms of impact.  I will take these in turn.  Having spent a brief stint working as a Fellow in the US Congress for Rob Portman, I can say that I was amazed by how little time the man had to legislate, he flew in on Tues AM, and out Thu PM to be able to show face time in the district.  His peers were similar.  If we got a letter from a constituent on a sufficiently random topic, then that letter would be assigned to a staffer who would work on it for a couple of hours or more (though if many people wrote in on the same issue, then only a slightly modified form letter would go out).  All this is to say that a Congressman, who was similarly unlikely to hold the deciding vote in most cases was greatly circumscribed in his choices.  I have not had any experience in the judiciary, or the executive, outside of the DoD, so I cannot speak to the circumscribed confines they must work in.  I can say that for the DoD, the level of latitude held by even General Officers, and their civilian equivalents is limited.  I spent a small amount of time working for the Turner Foundation in Atlanta.  Its mission was to restore the systems that made life possible, or essentially a wildlife/nature foundation.  As an organisation with an independent endowment, we had a great deal of latitude about how our money was spent, and what items would be funded. I know people working as the directors for other foundations where the latitude was/is lower. While my experience was not directly in the PAC/party organizations, I can imagine that with sufficient funding you could have a great deal of latitude, and an ability to sway elections.  There has been a bit of academic work on this, and it seems that this is especially useful for the challengers, see here for one of the most commonly-cited articles about the impact of spending on US congressional elections (it had ~571 citations at the time of this writing, and showed that ~20% swing to the challenger could come if they spent $800K in the right conditions).  The final avenue is opinion leadership, the like of Ghandi, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, etc.   Their impact is variable, there are plenty of lost causes such as the Irish Republican movement, the Basque separatists, the Confederacy, and even the true independence of Ukraine, which failed.  Some of the leaders of these movements are enshrined in places like Stone Mountain, GA, Alesia (Vercingetorix), but many are not enshrined at all.  The spare strings on military uniforms today are still called ‘Irish Pennants.’ I would be worthwhile to consider the base rate of success for these, documenting the number of lost causes vs the number of causes which succeeded vs those that succeeded on some, but not all, of their aims.  This is not an easy question to operationalize because ‘mission creep’ and post-hoc rationalization as well as sample bias clearly come into play.  If I were truly going to consider this option, then that would be a logical next step.  Unfortunately, I think there is another blocker here that is worth noting.  It seems that in this field nearly your entire life is given over to ‘the Struggle’, as Mandela called it. Even in the political arena domestically, the lives of those who end up making a large difference are often entirely wrapped up in their causes.  LBJ apparently used to have up to eight showers a day so that he could meet people in the bathroom of his dorm.  A consummate politician needed to keep behaving like that for decades before he had the ability to cash in his chips and try to pass the Civil Right Amendment and his Great Society programs. Personally, I have the ability to be this singularly-focused, but I am not willing to hear the painful lines that Mandela heard from his daughter when he came back from Robben Island, paraphrasing they were something like ‘I thought when you came back that you would be my father, but you were already spoken for as the father of the nation.’  That is, to affect change in the political sphere the level of commitment required is often at the expense of other institutions you can invest in, the exceptions here are money, which can scale your impact on others voting, and your personal voting, which does not scale unless you break electoral law. To summarize this extraordinarily long paragraph.  Though we spend a great deal of time talking about voting, figures in politics, opinion leaders, and money in politics, there is not a great deal that most of us can do about it.  On the topic of talking, let’s move onto the news.


On the fourth estate.  I think through this blog that I am completing a small augmentation of the fourth estate.  I don’t believe that I have any special skill at the craft of weaving together compelling stories, and there are already many voices in the din, so I need to be realistic about how many people will ever read this.  There are other reasons to write, to be sure, but the purpose here is to examine what effect it may have on the governmental layer of institutions.  As a whole, I think that the institution can have a great effect.  The origin of the term the Fourth Estate came from Edmund Burke talking about the British Parliament, and it was coined to compare of the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, the House of Commons, and the press corps notionally forms a ‘Fourth Estate’ which is more powerful than the rest combined.  I have done a bit of academic work on this personally.  I published this paper about how the lack of media coverage of humanitarian interventions in Australia likely caused the Australians to persist in operations that were no more successful than similar operations the world over.  Similarly, the ‘CNN Effect’ as it was once known, purportedly increased the desire of the American people to intervene in conflicts abroad.  One of the most interesting academic papers I have read is ~30 years old, and it covers the ‘logic of two level games’. Meaning, politicians often play a ‘game’ trying to gain domestic votes, while playing a ‘game’ in the anarchic international system where they try to maximize the power of their state.  The ‘games’ here are not meant to be pejorative, but rather refer to game theory.  The feedback mechanism in the lower-level game is often assumed, but is almost invariably intermediated news.  I plan to write an article about the loss of the free press.  Those countries that lack a free press certainly lose some faith in their government institutions as well.  There used to be a homeostatic mechanisms on the newmedia itself.  In the broadcast/broadsheet days of the news, if a news anchor were going to send the same story out to the entire nation, then, that news anchor had to take into account the diverse political beliefs of everyone who would be watching/reading one their limited number of broadcast channels/papers. This is no longer the media landscape.  I am personally very concerned about the loss of intelligent intermediaries who can summarize the often boring, often esoteric developments in the world into a few pithy lines.  For all of the hand-waving about Hillary Clinton’s Emails and the FBI how many people actually went to the source and read the 250 page FBI report, or the 50,000 emails?  Most people need someone to summarize that information.  With the rise of FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube allow people to select only the people that they would like to hear from, and to do so almost unadulterated.  This is great, in some ways, but for all the complaints about the bias in the news media, there is no more bias than that from the source itself.  People are, if nothing else, self-rationalizing, and will do everything to construe themselves in the most positive light.  If people do not actively seek out countervailing views, then it will be truly difficult to get a balanced point of view.  Overall, I believe that the ability of the fourth estate to influence voters, and thus elections, and thus the actions of elected officials has historically been strong, that influence is waning.  The question is whether we try to reinforce the existing capacity, or find a similar mechanism elsewhere. I suspect that a role for a well-footnoted version of news articles exists. Perhaps something like a Wiki which combines the strengths of direct communication (like Twitter) logging of that through time (for which there is no service I can think of) and the summary-view of the world which doesn’t leave out inconvenient facts.  Personally, what can I do here? As I said, I’m not a very thrilling writer.  Perhaps I could help fund journalism, a new Guardian-esq model for traditional journalism except with a much smaller contribution base.  In my work at Google, I have historically helped news media companies raise revenue through ad sales, and I developed some expertise in this area that could be useful.  What of reforming the dopamine-strewn hits from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like?  Is there any way to make them verifiable, and ensure that there is a counterpoint to the self-rationalizing comments in people’s echo-chambers?  While I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) stop people from pursuing what they were interested in, I could encourage the new media platforms to air a ‘not generally watched/followed/liked by people like you’ section.  Back to the old calculation: how much of a difference could this make multiplied by the probability that I personally will be able to make a difference? The difference in public opinion could be material to the outcome of an election.  The proportion of earned media to paid media is always tilted towards earned media. The proportion of people’s time spent on new media platforms is growing, so this could have sway in the future.  My ability to affect this is still rather slight.  There are, and will likely (rightly?) remain, many independent media outlets, my ability to touch/influence any number of them will be small, regardless of my expertise.  My ability to reach the new-media companies is potentially stronger given their tech bent, and my current work at Google. Of the two, I think it would make sense to invest lightly in the “new media” areas to ensure they are giving inconvenient news as well as clickbait and echo-chambers.


On fiscal policy, the government is bounded by more than one source.  One fiscal boundary I have not touched on is the Laffer Curve, popularized during the Reagan administration.  

While the Laffer Curve has been discounted to some degree, it is certainly true at the extremes.  This curve makes the simple point that at 0% marginal tax rate the government will not have any revenue, and not be able to function in the long term.  At the other end of the spectrum, if 100% were the marginal tax rate, then few, if any people would bother to work at all.  Somewhere in between, Laffer reasoned, there was an optimal tax rate that would encourage people to work, but also allow the government to get the revenue it needs to pay for public works and salaries.  While modern economists certainly use other models to influence the courses that their governments take, models that take into account inflation, debt, and other factors, I think it is enough to say that no government is able to overrun its fiscal bounds for long.  Those that try, find themselves hard-to-believe inflationary scenarios like we can see in Zimbabwe or Venezuela.  Those that misappropriate a great deal, or collect very little, someplace like Haiti, for instance will often see government services collapse entirely.  Between these extremes there are the optimization efforts of economists who try to predict from the available data the tax compliance rate, the spending rate, the timing of the business cycle, and how the government might go about rectifying it.  In these normal ranges, the work of economists overlaps a great deal with the boundaries of other disciplines.  Not least of which is the boundaries of the fourth estate (how many of us still remember the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’).  Since I have already spent a great deal of time on the fourth estate, I will not further address it here.  I would like to keep this as mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive as possible.  Back to the purpose of these series of posts.  Do I believe that these feedback mechanisms are inadequate, or that I have some special ability to bolster them at limited cost to myself?  In both cases, I believe the answer for me is ‘no.’  The hard fiscal guardrails cannot be breached in the long term any more than the laws of Physics. When the economy is not running exceptionally hot, or exceptionally cold (i.e. not in these extreme conditions), there are already plenty of pundits who have studied as much or more economics than I have, and can quibble about shifting a few percent of spending here or there.  In the long run, these policies can certainly have a big impact on the social contract, and even the existence of the state, take the few percent per year that each of us spend on Social Security/retirement, etc.  I am not denigrating their impact, I merely believe that there are a lot of voices in the din already, and that mine would be of little consequence.  Put differently, on my old metrics of ‘is it worth doing’ and ‘can I make a difference.’ This would score high on the ‘worth doing’ metrics, but low on the ‘can I make a difference’ metrics.


Finally, onto warmakers.  This one is a topic close to my heart given the amount of time that I have spent in the US Marine Corps.  Clearly, countries bound one another’s ambitions through warfare.  Kim Il Sung decided that he would unilaterally reunite the Korean Peninsula, but was repelled from the southern half in 1950 by a coalition of United Nations countries.  Likewise, the territorial ambitions of Saddam Hussein for Kuwait were thwarted by a coalition of countries.  This does not always happen.  The British and French sat idly by as Hitler seized the Sudetenland, and the international community chose to not use military force to repel Russia from Crimea. In less stable countries, e.g. Thailand, Turkey, Fiji, and Pakistan, the military has also shaped the nature of the government domestically, seizing control in coups. The effects here can clearly be very meaningful and long-lasting.  The question left is to what extent can I (and I really mean me) make an impact in this arena.  The military’s scope is well defined in the United States, we cannot (and in my opinion should not), operate domestically.

The US military’s international scope is much larger.  Though the application of military force is always at the behest of the President for limited police actions, and at the behest of Congress for declarations of war, senior military officials have a great deal of expertise in this area after spending years in the serve, and advise politicians on the best employment of the force.  At least in the Marine Corps, senior officers tend to differ to the judgement of the junior officers that they trust, so it is possible for officers of my rank to have some effect at the operational, and even strategic level.  Most of the effect that someone like me could have at this level is largely because we work on a staff for a higher-level commander who defers to us.  Occasionally, when the power of the fourth estate is coupled with the actions or inactions of officers, the result can impact the course of history.  On the negative side, you can have someone like Lt Cally decide to kill a whole Vietnamese Village, but on the positive side you can have someone like Warrant Officer Thompson who puts his helicopter down in the vicinity of the massacre and tells his crew to fire on his fellow soldiers if the massacre continues.  Personally, I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was seventeen, and was on a pretty good trajectory as an officer, but since I have moved back to the reserves my prospects for even picking up Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel, much less General, are dim. I could still have some impact in staff roles if I am ever called back to active duty in a major conflict again, but it seems highly unlikely that I will ever be given a wartime command again.  All of that seems fair to me.  Were I assigning infantry command billets, then I wouldn’t give one to someone who had been out of the operating forces for a long time. So where does that put me?  The impact of the military internationally can be tremendous, but my personal impact is likely to be mild except in the event of a major conflict.  Truth-be-told, even if I went back on active duty permanently, I would be unlikely to have a major impact on the world except in the event of a major conflict.  Much of the non-deployed military life is administration and training.  The probability of having an impact is low, but then the cost is also reasonably low.  I spend a few hours each weekend working on Command and Staff College and a few weeks each year on active duty in my reserve billet. The base rate for a massive international conflict in the last century is something like 10% (i.e. in ten years of the last 100 there has been a major international conflict, I am counting WWI, II, and Korea).  The probability that I will have much of an effect is small.  I’ll divide this by the number of service branches, ¼ or 25%.  If the probability that someone of my rank could make an impact, then given the number of officers of my rank in the Marine Corps, probably something like 1/4800 or .02% (the total number Marine Corps Majors, Active and Reserve).  The impact of these decisions that I am likely to have influence over is likely big-ish in terms of number of people, ~200k in the command I am in, and several thousand more in the opposing military force.  Whether I will be activated at the PACOM level, or some lower level to fill a Marine spot is uncertain, so I will use a uniform probability distribution for each command level, 200000 for PACOM, 30000 for a Marine Expeditionary Force, 10000 for a Division, 3000 for a regiment.  Here I will stop because it is unlikely that I will go to the battalion level again (sadly).  This means an expected number of people impacted of ~60750, and I should probably double this to.take into account enemy forces or local civilians.  The ripple-on effects could last for years (e.g. the armistice line between the Koreas was merely an administrative boundary between the Soviets and the Americans).  It remains to be seen how long the current state-based system will last, I could speculate as to how long this system will last, but it would be exactly that, speculation.  Let’s just look at the impact for today on these institutions and presume that the residual impact will be a function of how many people were initially impacted.  This leaves me with 10%*25%*.02%*60750*2=.6 lives impacted.  If/as my grade increases, the prospect of war increases, etc, this could change a great deal, but for right now, it does not seem like an area that is likely to have a tremendous impact.


In summary, in terms of things that I can personally affect, the following seem to be areas where government institutions can be swayed:

  • Pouring money into politics, the historical cost here has been ~2.5 basis points in a congressional election for every $1000 spent
  • My personal vote, the cost is low, as is the probability that I will influence the election.  
  • Ensuring that ‘new media’ outlets, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter are presenting inconvenient views as well as those that conform to the views/click habits of viewers/readers.
    • Based on writing this I started passing this article around internally and sounding out if it is possible to opt-in for actively open minded news selection
  • Limit my efforts in the military to what is needed to preserve my grade/influence, but not over-index on it.


Interesting stuff since the last post



  • I gave a talk at our Google Australia ‘Country Day’ to 900 people confessing one of my great sins in life. I had helped the now-government figure out how to put would-be refugees onto the islands in Australia’s northern approaches.  I did it because I was too concerned with my own loves to worry about the loves they had, and I encouraged others to think about the loves that they held too dearly. If you are interested in putting the loves of others ahead of your own, then this is the link I gave them. 


  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: A very readable guide to why we are much less likely to die of violence today than we were at any point in history.  The exceptions prove the rule. He talks about there not being much territorial expansion from great powers since the end of WWII, thanks Russia for breaking that streak in Crimea… He talks about the nuclear taboo that kept the Cold War from going hot, and the steady decline in nuclear weapons, let’s hope that this talk about increasing the American nuclear arsenal stays just talk… two more interesting tidbits from this:
    • Stories have a great way of increasing the sympathy for a class of strangers.
    • As long as people believe that others believe that something is good, they will publicly rate it more highly, that is how it is possible for no one to agree with something, but for it to become policy.
  • Interesting interview with the author of Going Clear.  The thing that stuck out to me was the protection that lawyers from the New Yorker, and HBO provided for him when Scientologists threatened to sue him.

Please, tell me what you thought before today this, and let me know if this changed your mind.