September 21, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
His first day in office, Trump handed China a giant victory by nixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal we’d expressly created to blunt China’s clout. Yet Republicans call President Biden “soft on China.” The truth is the opposite.
We have two main global antagonists. Russia has been called a Third World country with missiles (which it cannot use). It’s a mischief maker, including its election subversion, but is no existential threat.
China is far more powerful and, in ways, more threatening. China does want to take us down a notch, to swagger as the…
September 18, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
Brimfield MA’s antiques flea market, several times yearly, is gigantic. My wife and I hadn’t gone in years, but decided to visit on September 10. About two hours from Albany.
Every kind of collectable imaginable is on offer, and many you wouldn’t imagine. Like one dealer’s display of old band-aid boxes. We were entranced by the varieties of early typewriters. The whole show is a visual feast, full of bon-bons to tickle the eye and mind. You register an object in a nanosecond, then move on to the next. But quite often you stop and…
September 14, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
September 11 fundamentally changed America — or so we’re told, in a flood of 20th anniversary commentaries. I’m not so sure.
Much is made of 9/11’s moment of extraordinary national unity. And how transient it proved. But that shows 9/11 did not, indeed, fundamentally change the country. It was a blip.
September 10, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
It seemed an odd subject for a film: the story of the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund. But Worth explores the issue of how we value a life.
I’ve written about that before, in the context of Covid-19, and how much economic pain we should accept per life saved.* In the case of 9/11, the government feared an avalanche of economically ruinous lawsuits, so set up the fund to give survivors taxpayer money if they’d agree not to sue. Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg (played by Michael Keaton) was named “Special Master” to run the fund. …
September 6, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
For four Trump years we had a bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy. An ignoramus thinking himself a genius — a deadly combination. His “America First” policy so idiotically executed it vastly harmed us.
Few Americans paid close enough attention, so he skated through it, like everything, with no comeuppance. Not even his disgraceful Northern Syria betrayal seemed to register.
Then comes President Biden — an experienced, knowledgeable, conscientious, decent, sane man — whom I hugely supported — and he blows it, bigly, regarding Afghanistan. There is no cosmic justice. Life is unfair.
September 2, 2021
“Mother died today.”
That’s the opening line of Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger. When I started reading it, my own mother had died a few days before.
His mother’s death doesn’t matter, is Meursault’s basic stance. Nothing does. This narrator in the novel is seemingly a quite ordinary person, but hollow, resembling a zombie. Yet not exactly; he does have feelings. But only, almost literally, mere bodily sensations. His feelings about his mother’s funeral concern only the heat, his discomfort, his fatigue, food, etc.
His girlfriend suggests marriage, and he casually agrees to it, but when she…
August 29, 2021
“Hubris” is the word of choice to sneer at America’s global engagement. Now we’re scolded that we arrogantly deluded ourselves we could do good in Afghanistan. When a hard-nosed realism should have told us to forget it. And so we wasted 20 years, trillions of dollars, and many lives. With, in the end, nothing to show for it.
But 20 years in which millions of Afghans — especially women — could live decent fulfilling lives is not nothing. Legions of girls getting education was not nothing. Which could have continued, for what would really have been very…
August 26, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
I’m not one of those pessimists believing humanity is riding for a fall. We’ve proven remarkably good at overcoming challenges and improving our condition. Climate change is a very big deal, but I believe we are capable of coping with its gradual unfolding. However, more sudden calamities, out of the blue, are possible. A recent PBS drama, “COBRA,” depicted a solar flare event knocking out Britain’s power supply. (Cyber-hacking could do likewise.) In COBRA, the problem wasn’t quickly fixable. Things got ugly.
Apparently such solar flares do happen periodically. An 1859 occurrence wasn’t catastrophic only…
August 22, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
The force of gravity is proportional to mass and diminishes with distance. When a star dies, there’s a lot of mass in a pretty small space, and no more force pushing outward against the gravity. So the star crushes down, becoming even smaller and denser, further concentrating the gravitational force pulling toward the center. With enough mass it condenses into a tiny nubbin, with gravitation so great that nothing, not even light, can escape. That’s a black hole.
With a ratio of mass to volume virtually infinite, the normal laws of physics cease to apply…
August 17, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
President Biden decided that 20 years of commitment to Afghanistan was enough, so he’d pull out our few thousand troops. Never mind that we’ve had tens of thousands in Germany, in South Korea, in Japan, for over 70 years — with far less compelling rationales.
We had invested vastly in Afghanistan. But at this point the mission’s cost there — in manpower, money, and casualties — was comparatively small. Yet had a big payoff. While we weren’t winning the war, we were managing to sustain a status quo with the Taliban contained, thus enabling millions…