January 10th, 2018

South Korean leader credits Trump—and so does Trump

Here’s the story:

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has credited his US counterpart Donald Trump with making a “huge” contribution to bringing the North and South together for landmark talks…

“War must not break out on the Korean Peninsula again,” Moon said. “My goal is to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem and solidify peace during my term.”

I have no idea what this will lead to, but it’s big enough news that not only is CNN covering it in the article I linked, but so are ABC (“I extend my gratitude to President Trump,” said Moon), the NY Times, and other MSM outlets that aren’t ordinarily into giving Trump much credit. I guess when Moon gives the credit, it’s news.

The Times couldn’t resist a subtle dig about Trump’s ego, though:

His comment reflected a tactful maneuver for Mr. Moon: stroking the ego of the American leader, who has claimed credit for the inter-Korean dialogue, while easing fears in Washington and among his conservative critics at home that in his eagerness for dialogue, he may be too accommodating to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

In a post on Twitter last week, Mr. Trump asserted that North Korea had gone to the negotiating table because he had been “firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.” Mr. Moon agreed on Wednesday that Mr. Kim’s decision to start a dialogue with the South could be a sign that the Trump administration’s policy of applying maximum sanctions and pressure was working.

After Trump wrote that tweet last week, it was followed up by some remarks I think very interesting (this was prior to Moon’s public statements thanking Trump):

Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job [the writer can’t resist adding that reference, just to remind us], the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone.

“Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.”

Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.”

Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that…

“If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

Trump also said President Moon Jae-in of South Korea had thanked him “very much for my tough stance” and added that previous US governments “you know, for 25 years they haven’t been using a tough stance, they’ve been giving everything”.

“You have to have a certain attitude and you have to be prepared to do certain things and I’m totally prepared to do that,” he said…

He added, “and it’s not just a stance.”

Does that sound like a man who’s cognitively challenged? Not to me, it doesn’t. It’s certainly not elegant in terms of expression, but it’s an improvement on the claptrap that’s been issued about Korea by Democratic and Republican administrations for the past several decades.

January 9th, 2018

Breitbart bids Bannon “buh-bye”


Stephen K. Bannon has stepped down from Breitbart News Network, where he served as Executive Chairman since 2012.

Bannon and Breitbart will work together on a smooth and orderly transition.

Bannon said, “I’m proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform.”

According to Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, “Steve is a valued part of our legacy, and we will always be grateful for his contributions, and what he has helped us to accomplish.”

Does anyone think that Bannon’s stepping down was the least bit voluntary?

His fall reminds me of the Emerson maxim: “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Bannon is perhaps more ruthless than smart, because somehow he seems to have thought he could strike at Trump and Trump’s family and come out the winner.

By the way, if you don’t get the reference in the post’s title, it’s from this:

January 9th, 2018

Guess what? David Brooks can’t stand Trump…

but he doesn’t think Trump is crazy or demented.

This rates as unusual.

From Brooks:

It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation. Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country.

I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

That seems to me to be a reasonable way of looking at it, for those who remain “fervently anti-Trump.” I’ve already expressed my own position—which is that Trump is far better as president than I expected, although his character flaws remain.

But although I laud Brooks for his relatively reasonable approach among “fervent anti-Trumpers,” I wish he’d managed to look at Trump’s predecessor Obama without reducing him (or rather, elevating him) to “a fairy tale” of a very different sort.

To refresh your memory, see this.

January 9th, 2018

Robert Louis Stevenson, changer

Robert Louis Stevenson is one of those writers I connect with childhood, where he loomed large.

A Child’s Garden of Verses and Treasure Island, of course (which I now see were published in the same year), and then the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And although the only works of his I’ve actually read are those for children, his oeuvre was certainly not limited to that. It included musical compositions for the flageolet (which is a sort of recorder and not a bean, although beans have been called “the musical fruit“).

Stevenson and Longfellow seemed to have long ago merged in my head. But in an effort to differentiate them (sparked by seeing this painting earlier today) I decided to do a bit of research on Stevenson. Lo and behold, I discovered much interesting stuff in his Wiki profile. He was quite the youthful rebel in his twenties, in a way that sounds mighty familiar:

His dress became more Bohemian; he already wore his hair long, but he now took to wearing a velveteen jacket and rarely attended parties in conventional evening dress. Within the limits of a strict allowance, he visited cheap pubs and brothels. More importantly, he had come to reject Christianity and declared himself an atheist. In January 1873, his father came across the constitution of the LJR (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) Club, of which Stevenson and his cousin Bob were members, which began: “Disregard everything our parents have taught us”. Questioning his son about his beliefs, he discovered the truth, leading to a long period of dissension with both parents…

As for politics, the following should sound extremely familiar:

Stevenson remained a staunch Tory for most of his life…During his college years, he briefly identified himself as a “red-hot socialist”. By 1877, at only twenty-six years of age and before having written most of his major fictional works, Stevenson reflected: “For my part, I look back to the time when I was a Socialist with something like regret. I have convinced myself (for the moment) that we had better leave these great changes to what we call great blind forces: their blindness being so much more perspicacious than the little, peering, partial eyesight of men…

But Stevenson was not too happy about the change, although he remained a conservative:

Now I know that in thus turning Conservative with years, I am going through the normal cycle of change and travelling in the common orbit of men’s opinions. I submit to this, as I would submit to gout or gray hair, as a concomitant of growing age or else of failing animal heat; but I do not acknowledge that it is necessarily a change for the better—I dare say it is deplorably for the worse.”

If you read his Wiki entry or other accounts of his activities, you’ll see that Stevenson suffered from ill health almost continually but lived an incredibly varied and energetic life not just in terms of writing (and of music: “over 123 original musical compositions or arrangements, including solos, duets, trios and quartets for various combinations of flageolet, flute, clarinet, violin, guitar, mandolin, and piano”), but he was especially well-traveled in an age in which travel was a long and difficult undertaking. He lived in many lands, including California, and ended up in Samoa. His literary reputation has waxed and waned over the years and then waxed again.

It’s shocking to read an account of Stevenson’s life and all his accomplishments and realize that he died at the ripe old age of only 44. He packed quite a lot into it, and he himself said towards the end of his life, “sick and well, I have had splendid life of it, grudge nothing, regret very little .”

January 9th, 2018

Have you had trouble dating checks “2018”?

Of course, these days fewer people even write checks. Autopay has taken over, and credit cards are ubiquitous.

But I still write the odd check here and there, and in previous years I’ve often had a problem with the transition in January from one year to another.

“2018” seems ridiculously advanced, timewise. But for some reason I’ve had no trouble at all writing it without hesitation or thought. It’s as though 2017 was some sort of placeholder, an awkward prime number just waiting impatiently for smooth balanced 2018 to succeed it.

I’ve felt that 2017 is a prime, but I hadn’t checked to find out for sure till now. Sure enough, it is. And not just any prime.

January 8th, 2018

Time’s acceleration

I don’t quite buy this, although I do think it’s harder to experience new things as one gets older. Or, at least, new fun things:

The older you get the more the days seem to fly by. Why is that?

Science is not short of explanations. “The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last,” the New Yorker’s Burkhard Bilger writes. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” neuroscientist David Eagleman tells him. Less is new and noteworthy for adults, so we remember less and time goes faster…

Part of the reason your 30s seem half as long as your 20s (I’m terrified of how long my 40s will seem), according to a new study out of the University of Kansas, is ‘chunking.’…dividing your experiences into larger categories or “chunks.”…

When the researchers conducted a series of lab experiments that encouraged subjects to think of their lives in chunks – asking them to draw pie charts of their activities in the current day or year, for example – they reported that time seemed to be passing more quickly.

But the explanation that makes by far the most sense to me is something I read about some time ago (I forget where) which is more mathematically oriented. It’s the idea that each unit of time—say, a year—represents a smaller and smaller fraction of your entire life as you get older, and seems to pass more quickly in part for that reason. When you’re four years old a year is 25% of the life you’ve already lived. When you’re twenty years old a year is 5%. Whey you’re fifty years old it’s 2%. You get the idea.

As you get older each unit of time is also a larger fraction of the time you have left. For example, take a man who turns 70 today. If you plug those figures into a life expectancy chart, on average he’ll live another 15 years, although of course there’s no guarantee. But that means a year for him is something like 6-7% of the time he’s got left. When he was 30 years old, it was about 2% of the years left to him on average. This adds to the sense of time running out, and the resultant sense of urgency and preciousness makes time seem to run more quickly.

Some people, of course, are impervious to all of this and never think about it. I’m not one of them.

January 8th, 2018

Why it’s so hard to lose weight

For many of us, that is.

There are those of you who are different. There are people who gain weight because they overindulge, and all they have to do is stop eating all that dessert or drinking all that beer or whatever it is they did to gain the weight, and off it drops.

And then there are those people regularly featured on cable TV who chow down to the tune of 20,000 calories a day and are enormously obese and get bariatric surgery because their systems are so awry that for reasons both psychological and physiological their appetites just won’t quit.

And then there are people like me, who’d like to lose ten or fifteen pounds and don’t eat all that much to begin with. It’s almost funny when I read an account from someone (usually a guy, but not always) who lost a formidable amount of weight by cutting out all the pizza and chips and candy bars and eating something like 1700 calories a day. I don’t eat pizza and chips and candy bars, and I doubt I eat 1700 calories on a regular basis when I’m not dieting.

And please do me a favor and don’t tell me to go paleo or Taubes or whatever. I’ve been on different versions of those sort of diets and (a) I don’t lose weight; and (b) I hate the food. And don’t tell me to exercise: I already do. Nearly every day I fast-walk three miles, and have done that for decades. And I can’t add lifting weights, although I’d like to, because doing so stirs up my chronic injuries.

Yesterday I found this Vox article entitled “The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight.” I already knew that because upping my exercise has never caused weight loss for me—although reducing my exercise has never caused weight gain, either. I exercise for other reasons, but weight loss is not one of them.

That led me to another article that helps you figure out what your resting metabolism probably is, based on age and weight and gender: 1186 calories a day for me. Since resting metabolism is supposedly a certain fraction of your caloric needs, according to the site that means that I need somewhere in the range of about 1423 to 1700 calories a day. Let’s average that out and say it’s 1560 or so. That’s as much as I can eat every day without gaining weight, and that’s at a moderately high activity level. To lose weight, of course, I’d have to eat considerably less—but you can’t eat much less than that without being really, really, really hungry. In fact, I challenge you to eat about 1500 calories a day, day after day after day for the rest of your life, and not feel hungry.

It also means that if I were to go on a conventional restrictive diet of 1200 calories as I often do, I’d be losing at a snail’s pace (do snails lose weight?). And all it would take to stop my weight loss in its tracks (or slow it down considerably from its already geologic pace) would be a couple of extra pieces of fruit a day, or an extra serving of pasta (which I almost never eat anyway, although I like it). Dessert? Don’t make me laugh.

To top it all off I can’t stand artificial sweeteners, and some of them actually make me very ill.

Come to think of it, maybe I should be grateful I’m the weight I am and just go about my business. But I have reasons for wanting to lose weight that have little to do with vanity—although vanity is one of them—and have to do with various things like cholesterol that have crept up and up over the years.

By the way, I was never naturally thin, even when young and very active. I’m 5’4″, and when I was dancing I weighted about 105, but I was subsisting on about 1000 calories a day, and my natural weight was closer to 130 at the time.

But enough about me. What about you?

January 8th, 2018

So now it’s Oprah for 2020. Of course.

You may have thought that the Golden Globes would be about the anti-Weinstein men and women in black—if you thought about it at all. But just look at memerorandum today and you’ll see that the real event was Oprah Winfrey’s speech and the desire of Democrats that she run in 2020.

It makes perfect sense. If Trump runs for re-election, it would be the celebrity vs. celebrity contest, the mega-wealth vs. mega-wealth contest, the man vs. woman contest, and the white vs. black contest, all rolled into one. What could be more au courant?

Oprah is exceedingly well-liked and has been in the public eye forever, or at least for about 35 years. In 2020 she’ll be 66, but that’s younger than Trump. Her lack of any political experience certainly won’t be a factor in running against Trump—although by 2020 he will be very experienced indeed.

No wonder Democrats are salivating at the idea of Oprah being their savior in 2020. NBC tweeted this (as a joke or an error? If a joke, it fell a bit flat, because they seem to have taken it down):

“Nothing but respect for OUR future president,” the verified NBC account tweeted on Sunday night during its Golden Globes telecast, complete with an image of Winfrey, after host Seth Meyers joked about his desire for the talk show icon to run for office.

Early Monday, NBC appeared to back off the apparent Oprah endorsement, and blamed it on a “third party.”

“Yesterday a tweet about the Golden Globes and Oprah Winfrey was sent by a third party agency for NBC Entertainment in real time during the broadcast,” read the tweet. “It is in reference to a joke made during the monologue and not meant to be a political statement. We have since removed the tweet.”

Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News that the initial tweet was “stunningly unprofessional” and it’s the “latest of about a billion examples” of how openly liberal and anti-Trump the mainstream media is on a regular basis.

Reports that Oprah is “actively thinking” about it came out almost immediately, fanning the flames. But in a post-speech interview Oprah said she isn’t planning to run. Nevertheless, her significant other had this to say:

“It’s up to the people,” Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday when asked about a presidential run. “She would absolutely do it.”

I wonder—will we ever again have a president who’s ever held political office before?

January 6th, 2018

I’m about to go outside…

…and the weather report says the “real feel” (I guess that’s replaced “windchill factor”) is minus 16.

Not too bad.

January 6th, 2018

Anesthesia and consciousness

Here’s a fascinating article on the mysterious working of anesthesia, which is as yet a poorly understood although highly effective and useful tool:

Anesthesiologists speak of patients descending through “the planes of anesthesia”—from the “plane of disorientation” through the “plane of delirium” toward the “surgical plane.” While we go under, they monitor our brain waves, titrating their “anesthetic cocktails” to make sure that we receive neither too little sedation nor too much. (A typical cocktail contains a painkiller, a paralytic, which prevents muscles from flinching at the knife—the early paralytics were based on curare, the drug South American warriors put on the poison-tipped arrows with which they shot Europeans—and a “hypnotic,” which brings unconsciousness.) But even as they operate the machinery of anesthesia with great skill, anesthesiologists remain uncertain about the drugs’ underlying mechanisms. “Obviously we give anesthetics and we’ve got very good control over it,” one doctor tells Cole-Adams, “but in real philosophical and physiological terms we don’t know how anesthesia works.” The root of the problem is that no one understands why we are conscious. If you don’t know why the sun comes up, it’s hard to say why it goes down.

The article contains a detailed description of the harrowing and yet transcendent experience of an Australian woman in 1993 who somehow became conscious during an operation and could feel all the pain involved, and yet was completely paralyzed and could not alert the doctors as to what was happening. That struck a nerve (to coin a phrase) with me because, when I had surgery in 1999, I had already read about that sort of phenomenon and the prospect had terrified me.

Its rarity at the time (it’s even rarer now, but it was very rare then, too) had failed to reassure me, and the day before surgery, when I had my little pre-surgery conference with the anesthesiologist, I mentioned my anxiety to him. Instead of pooh-poohing me, he was surprisingly kind. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I promise to keep you safe.” He explained that anesthesiologists had ways to monitor patients so they could tell, by changes in heart rate and blood pressure and other signs, if the patient was in distress. He swore that he’d make sure I was not aware of what was happening and that I wasn’t suffering.

Right before the surgery, when they wheeled me in under the bright lights and I saw the anesthesiologist again, I mentioned it again. He put his hand on my shoulder reassuringly and told me “I will not let that happen to you. I promise; trust me.”

And I did. After all, I really felt I had no choice. But I really did trust him; he seemed so certain and so kind.

That was almost twenty years ago, and I remain grateful to him, whoever he was.

January 6th, 2018

American teens are delaying sex more

This seems like good news:

Fewer U.S. teens are sexually active these days, as many wait until later in high school to try sex for the first time, a new report reveals.

But the numbers are still shocking, at least to me:

The proportion of high school students who’ve ever had sex decreased to 41 percent in 2015, continuing a downward trend from 47 percent in 2005 and 53 percent in 1995, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

Sexually active 9th graders decreased from 34 percent to 24 percent between 2005 and 2015, while 10th graders having sex declined from 43 percent to 36 percent during the same time period.

By comparison, significant declines in sexual activity were not found among 11th and 12th graders, the researchers added.

So it’s just the younger high school kids who are having less sex, not the older ones. And it turns out that significant decline was only seen black and Hispanic teens (who had higher rates to begin with, anyway), not white teens:

About 48 percent of black teens and 42 percent of Hispanic teens said they were sexually active in 2015, down from nearly 68 percent and 51 percent, respectively, in 2005.

On the other hand, sexual activity among white teens did not change significantly, the investigators found.

The article also quotes experts as saying they think the reason for the decline is sex education, but I’m not at all sure. No evidence is presented for that conclusion—although it may exist—and of course these experts have an agenda that favors promoting sex education. In reality they haven’t a clue why, as you can discover if you go to the research itself (as I did):

Although these findings cannot be connected directly to any specific intervention, the results indicate that decreases in prevalence of sexual intercourse occurred among the nation’s high school students. During 2005–2015, the United States experienced significant shifts in various influences that might have affected these findings, including changes in technology and the use of social media by youth, requirements and funding for education, and innovations in and federal resources for human immunodeficiency virus infection, STI, and teen pregnancy prevention.

It would be instructive to learn what the decrease was about.

January 6th, 2018

Have Trump’s critics lost their sense of humor?

David Frum certainly has:

This morning’s presidential Twitter outburst recalls those words of Fredo Corleone’s in one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather series. Trump tweeted that his “two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” and in a subsequent tweet called himself a “very stable genius.”

Trump may imagine that he’s Michael Corleone, the tough and canny rightful heir—or even Sonny Corleone, the terrifyingly violent but at least powerful heir apparent—but after today he is Fredo forever.

There’s a key difference between film and reality, though: The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

Michael Wolff’s scathing new book about the Trump White House has sent President Trump spiraling into the most publicly visible meltdown of his presidency. Until now, Trump’s worst moments have occurred behind closed doors, and have become known to the public only second-hand, leaked by worried officials, aides, and advisers. Yesterday and today, we have seen a Trump temper-tantrum in real time on Twitter, extended over hours, punctuated only by stretch of fitful presidential sleep.

To see an alternate point of view (and one I happen to share), read this from Althouse:

3 tweets. Read them in this order:

1. “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..”

2. “….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..”

3. “….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

Well played, those cards.

I like the mix of joviality and lightweight cruelty.

But all Frum and so many others see in Trump is a serious, deluded, angry, dangerous, dunce—and not an amiable one, at that.

To treat every tweet of Trump’s (nice alliteration, eh?) as though it’s uttered in solemn seriousness is to miss the point entirely. Does Frum not understand the joke inherent in the Valley Girl construction of “being, like, really smart”?

Actually, to take the whole thing seriously for a moment, Trump is in fact a smart man—as was Reagan, as was Bush, as was Obama (all of whom were called dumb, although by different crowds). I can’t think of a dumb president in my lifetime—one thing about the interminable campaign season is that it tends to weed out stupidheads. Not all presidents are intellectuals, however, (probably a good thing) and Trump is the antithesis of an intellectual. I may be an intellectual of sorts, but I certainly am not so dumb that I think Trump is a dumb man.

As far as “stable” goes—Trump’s main instability seems to be in his past divorces, if you consider that a sign of instability (otherwise known as restlessness and lack of fidelity). To weather the campaign he weathered is to be very stable, like him or not. As for his insulting/funny/nasty tweets, that’s been going on for just about as long as Twitter has been in existence. Very very stable in the sense of “steady,” although not to Frum’s liking.

I am puzzled as to why anyone would see these tweets as a temper tantrum from an unstable guy. Can’t they see the sarcasm? Can’t they understand the deftness of the historical reference to Reagan? These tweets are crafted, and if Trump doesn’t exactly wield a stiletto, it’s still a pretty effective knife that usually finds its mark.

[NOTE: More from Scott Adams.]

[ADDENDUM: By the way, when I first read Trump’s statement about Steve Bannon, I originally failed to take much notice of what Trump wrote at the very end [emphasis mine]:

We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.

That little poison pen letter about Bannon is very well written (did Trump write it himself? I don’t know). It’s jam-packed with incredibly apt put-downs that contain more sophistication than Trump’s usual—not that it’s Churchillian, but it’s certainly clever and it hits Bannon where it hurts.

I see its last sentence as an alliance with the more mainstream wing of the GOP, as long as they work with him, and a rejection of the more extreme views of the so-called alt-right represented by Bannon and in particular of what I call the “burn it down” crowd. I believe some of this reflects Trump’s anger at what happened in Alabama, which he blames at least partly on Bannon. Recall that Trump originally backed the establishment candidate and was not a Roy Moore fan. Trump’s life will be made much easier if the GOP keeps control of the Senate in 2018, and much more difficult if they lose it, and he’s not eager to encourage those he thinks are likely to engineer the latter rather than the former.]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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