Category 1. American Culture

Private Civility/Public Incivility

One of the many ways in which I am fortunate is that I am often surrounded by people who disagree with the political ideas that I cherish most. When many of your closest relatives, friends and colleagues are on the other side on important issues, you learn to see people who disagree with you as merely misguided rather than, as is too often the case where such differences arise among strangers, as ignorant, stupid or flat-out evil.

I know that some of the people who are dearest to me feel just as strongly as I do about political issues, but have managed to arrive at the opposite conclusions to mine...

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Falling Standards/Failing Students

The rot in our schools is far worse than we want to admit. To get a sense of how bad it is, a quick read of this post https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/how-colleges-are-ripping-generation-ill-prepared-students will give you an overview. The author’s (unimpeachable) data is drawn from the recently-released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/), which should be a source of grief to one and all. Quoting the linked post: “Only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math. Among black students, only 17 percent tested proficient or better in reading, and just 7 percent reached at least a proficient level in math.”

Amazingly, most of these manifestly unprepared high school gra...

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Media Hypocrisy

La Rochefoucauld famously quipped that “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”. True enough, but I still find that particular trait grating. Most people do.

I want to barf when I read the press’s endless encomia to Senator McCain, not because I hated the Senator – I most certainly did not – but because I’m old enough to remember when, during the presidential campaign of 2008, the very same media – indeed, in many cases the same people –  painted him as a Crypto-Nazi. At that time, I was contributing to McCain’s (sadly, inept) campaign and paying very close attention to how he was being portrayed.

Now they praise McCain for two reasons – that he hated Trump and that he’s dead, in that order...

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A Great Country

Governor Cuomo has spent recent days walking back a comment he made in a speech last week that America “…was never that great.”

In trying to show his opposition to all things Trump, Cuomo had gone too far, insulting those who take pride in our country’s accomplishments. It’s impossible to imagine such a sentiment having crossed the lips of previous generations of progressive politicians like, to pick a not-so-random example, Mario Cuomo. The son lacks the father’s deftness – and his judgement.

Besides being politically foolish, the younger Cuomo’s comment was wrong by any conceivable objective measure...

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A Culturist

As you may know, the word libertarian fairly describes my thinking on most broadly political, economic and even social matters; there should be a word that captures how I, and others like me, think about culture. I propose the word culturist. I think – and clutch your pearls now if you are one of the perpetually offended – that some cultures are better than others.

By better, I mean both that such cultures are – in broad terms – fairer and that they encourage behaviors that result in the creation of vastly more wealth and knowledge. They help mankind not lead lives that are, in Hobbes’s immortal phrase, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Over time the vast majority of people who have ever lived have done so in Hobbesian conditions; we do not...

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The Old Continent(s?)

At present, I am sitting in the bar of an old hotel in Lisbon, nursing a drink while my beloved has a pot of tea. Over the last couple of days, we have walked all over this city.

Europe is the cradle of Western Civilization; it is breathtakingly beautiful and its inhabitants have refined the enjoyment of life’s physical delights to a high art. Even so, its present state saddens me: Europe is tired.

For those who have money and live here or, like us, are just passing through, life is still beautiful, but whole countries look backward with nostalgia and forward with concern.

Europe’s native populations have opted for the illusions of security – personal and societal – provided by their local governments and the EU – over grander visions and more sustaining values.

For most Western Europeans,...

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Trust

Trust is far more important than law.

Think of it: how many times have you sued somebody, or been sued? Have you ever been arrested? Each of us interacts with many others in numerous ways every day, and recourse to the law is exceptionally rare. Our actions may be constrained by certain laws; but usually they are far more limited by the expectations of those with whom we are dealing.

If you were unwilling to trust others, it would be next to impossible to accomplish anything. Once, when I was a young banker, I was asked to hand deliver a package containing $10 million in fully negotiable securities to a major corporate customer...

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