The Drones Club*

When I was young, I looked like a truly hopeless student. In my third grade report card my teacher tried to soften the blows of her other comments by adding “at least he is average in math”. (Could a teacher even write such comments today, and not get fired? I doubt it.) That report card was just one in a long line of dismal assessments of my capabilities, all of them lovingly saved by my mother and returned to me as a set many years later. Boys’ minds are less orderly, and mature more slowly, than girls’ – and mine was right in line with the other boys’, or possibly worse than most.

I didn’t really catch on until the second half of eleventh grade...

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Small Businesses

Every new business is somebody’s dream. Somebody’s hope for a better life. Somebody’s worry.

A would-be entrepreneur starts with a question: how can I serve people better than they are now being served – with higher quality, lower prices, greater convenience, something they want?

And its doppelganger: what if I am wrong? How much will I lose – in terms of time, money, heartache and effort – if I’m wrong about what others will want or I can produce?

For most of those who take the risk, everything depends on getting the answers to those questions right – his (or her) livelihood, his family’s well-being, their standing – and likely presence – within their community, their prospects. Everything. After failure: the abyss.

Every time I see a small business fail...

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Trump, China and India

We have come to expect – and, truth be told, hope for – false modesty and at least the appearance of self-restraint from our political leaders; President Trump turns these expectations on their heads. He has all the self-restraint of a junkyard dog. Feed him and he will love you; step onto what he sees as his territory and he will try to feed on you. In Freudian terms, he’s all id.

Those who have accused Trump of having committed crimes or of being something reprehensible – a racist, most commonly – he taunts. He doesn’t buy those theories, thinks the people who have propagated them are the worst and tells the world exactly that, often in vividly colorful and grammatically creative language. Our elites – and many ordinary people – see him as uncouth or worse.

He also exaggerat...

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Political Prognostications

I think the 2020 matchup will be between Senator Harris and President Trump.

The only reason that Biden has been leading in the polls is that a plurality of Democrats thinks he’s the most electable of their possible candidates, and most Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, have the vague sense that he’s a decent guy. He didn’t show well in the first debate and I expect that his weaknesses – looking old and tired, a pronounced inability to think on his feet and his (related) propensity for verbal gaffes will continue to erase his aura of electability in future debates...

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The Less Frightening Alternative

In response to yesterday’s post, a CH reader who despises President Trump to a degree that I find remarkable emailed me a link to a Youtube video of Lawrence O’Donnell, Ron Klain and some guy from Mother Jones on MSNBC, telling us how terrible it is that Trump’s running up the national debt (https://youtu.be/Y_9GEEq8S_k). After watching the clip, I responded that I actually found the video kinda funny, in a painful sort of way – like listening to three drunks lecture the world about sobriety. I told him I would write a post about the experience – and, more substantively, about why I think Trump is the less frightening choice on deficit spending.

So here goes:

As soon as I saw Lawrence O’Donnell I knew what to expect: three Trump-haters, weeping and wailing and gnashing their ...

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Budgetary Nightmares

The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, recently estimated that implementing AOC’s Green New Deal would cost about 93 trillion dollars (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/green-new-deal-would-cost-93-trillion-or-600g-per-household-study-says). This figure is so absurd – more than 100 times our annual spending on defense and more than four times our total national debt – that the proposal has no chance of becoming law. Even so, its warm reception among leading Democrats shows that they believe that it is directionally correct, if maybe a little overeager. Given the power to do so, they would presumably enact something more moderate – maybe only doubling or tripling the national debt.

Here’s the thing, though: all such new programs – and, indeed...

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Priceless

When somebody dies the personal meanings that he or she has invested in things are lost. “Sunt lacrimae rerum”, wrote Virgil – “There are tears at the heart of things”, in Seamus Heaney’s translation. Those tears belong to the person for whom the things evoke particular memories. Orson Welles got this aspect of our psyches brilliantly right when he made Rosebud – the name on a worthless and otherwise forgotten children’s toy – the emotional touchstone in the life of Charles Foster Kane.

I have my own Rosebud; probably you do, too. This is the story of mine.

When I was a boy, I was very conscious that my father had made it...

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Things Taken for Granted

Psst. You might be interested to know that I am richer than Croesus. Much richer, in fact.

So are you, which I guess means it isn’t boasting to write, just among ourselves, about our astounding wealth.

Admittedly, our tableware isn’t solid gold – at least mine isn’t – but, winter or summer, we have fresh fruits, and meats or fish of our choosing. Sweets, too, tickle our tongues – if anything, in too much profusion. Did Croesus ever taste sushi, French wine or chocolate ice cream? I think not.

Our bodily wastes disappear with the press of a lever. We drink and bathe in clean water. Our clothes are soft and, as a general matter, neither they nor we stink. In the Lydian’s day, none of these things – except maybe soft clothes for the king – would have been true.

The building...

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On the Paucity of Genuine Grownups in Public Service

I have a friend who is notably circumspect. He is a master of leaving things unsaid. To those who know him well, what he doesn’t say is sometimes as thought-provoking as what he does.

This friend is a man of many accomplishments – personal, professional and philanthropic – but you have to know him a long time before he might refer to any of them. And then he’ll only do so obliquely, with reference to something, presumably more interesting, that’s already under discussion. You have to wait for his stories to emerge, never turning them into the focus of the conversation. He would consider zeroing in on what he has done to be boasting.

He also neither pries into nor gossips about personal matters. In short, he’s a man of decidedly old-fashioned manners.

***

When I was a boy, ...

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Three Good Books

Three books that I read last year tell stories that are strikingly similar. Two – Educated by Tara Westover and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – are memoirs, while the third – The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – is a novel. In each, the protagonist manages to overcome a childhood of deep, rural poverty and a terribly troubled, proudly antisocial family to become a highly accomplished adult. 

All three are very compelling stories; they give us windows into pathologies – mental health problems, drug addictions and PTSD in the three of them respectively, and extreme intra-family violence in all three – that combine with poverty in ways that conspire mightily against happy outcomes...

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