Math: When You Need to Feel Superior

Math: When You Need to Feel Superior

From as long as I can remember, I’ve been good at math. It was just fun. The same way that Jerry West practiced basketball late into the night, I was the same way about math. Probably as a result, I’ve always hated math used as a substitute for intelligence. And it was in that context that I came upon the image above.

It was for something like joining Mensa or buying some “brain training” course of something. But I like a good math puzzle as much as anyone. So I figured I would solve it. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, and it is as good an excuse as anything.

The thing about it is that it isn’t much of a puzzle. It’s just a math problem. And it takes zero creativity. All you need is to have taken a basic algebra course taught by a reasonably competent teacher. And you must have taken the course seriously enough to learn the material.

That shouldn’t have been hard because math actually is loads of fun. But the fact that someone would use it to construct such a simple, uninspiring problem does sum up everything that makes most people hate math. But without further ado, I guess I will get to it.

Why Someone Thought It Was Interesting

The two equations look similar. It’s just that one is with x and the other with x2. And so it looks like there ought to be some clever trick that allows the problem to simply pop out.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A mathematician better than I might see something brilliant. But I don’t. There are lots of ways to approach the problem, but they all end in a slog.

Solving the Equations

Sadly, this is a brute force problem. The first equation is just a quadratic that can be solved all by itself, admittedly, with two solutions.

We just multiply both sides of the equation by x, and end up with the following equation:

x2 + x – 5 = 0

Oh, how I do wish this were more interesting. There are a bunch of ways to solve this, one way or another, you get that the two values of x are:

x = (5 ± 21½)/2

If we choose the “plus” case, then x = 4.79. If we choose the “minus” case, then x = 0.209. And through the wonders of mathematics, if you put these two numbers into the second equation, you will get that:

x2 + 1/x2 = 23

Now an actual mathematical question is why this is so. What we just did was plug numbers into equations. This is a good example of why most people hate math.

Even worse is that some dimrod thought that solving this question indicated any kind of intelligence or, even worse, intellectual creativity.

But trust me: this is the kind of nonsense that your children are being taught in school. This is why the American Empire won’t last the century.

Hillary Clinton and the Conservative Book Club

Hillary ClintonMatt Yglesias wrote a great article and Matt Bruenig followed up on it. The bottom line of it is that Donald Trump became president because Hillary Clinton was unpopular. There are some striking facts to chew on, like that Donald Trump won a smaller proportion of whites than Mitt Romney.

Long History of Clinton Hate

I know this from my personal experience. My father voted for Donald Trump. This is despite the fact that he was not going to vote for Donald Trump after reading David Cay Johnston book on Trump. But in the end he voted for Trump because he hate Hillary Clinton.

I’m not saying that his hatred of Hillary Clinton was right. The truth of the matter is that conservatives via the conservative book club and right-wing hate radio and Fox News have turned Hillary Clinton into some kind of evil figure.

If you have any questions about this I highly recommend that you read David Brock’s book Blinded By the Right. It explains all of this. But the truth is that a great section of America simply didn’t trust Hillary Clinton. And it had nothing to do with her or what she had done. But that’s politics, right? It isn’t fair.

The Smart Democrats

Sad to say, the Democratic Party should have known not to run Hillary Clinton. But Hillary Clinton was extremely liked by most of the people in the party. I am an extremist. In a parliamentary system, I would definitely not be a Democrat. And yet I like Hillary Clinton very much. There is no question in my mind that she would have made a great president.

But she was the nominee because those in power in the Democratic party wanted her to be. They were her friends. If they had been objective they never would have allowed her to be the candidate. But they weren’t rational. They liked her just as most Democrats like myself like her.

Lost Opportunity

And this is yet another lost opportunity for the Democratic party. As I have noted many times, in 2008 the Democrats were in the perfect position to nominate a real liberal, but instead we nominated a moderate. In 2016, we could have nominated a socialist (a real one — not Bernie Sanders) but again, we nominated a moderate. The big problem this time is that we didn’t even win.

As Matt Bruenig noted, “If you had replaced [Clinton] with almost anyone else, they would have beaten Donald Trump. Bernie would have won. O’Malley would have won. And Barack Obama would have dominated in an absolute landslide.” This is, of course, assuming that the Democratic Party establishment hadn’t sabotaged any other campaign. But as we saw with the Labour Party in the UK, the establishment only has so much power.

Conservative Book Club and the 1990s

One thing is clear: Donald Trump won the election in the 1990s. He won via the sustained attack on Clinton as a new and dangerous kind of woman — a feminazi — a woman who didn’t think her place was staying at home baking cookies. And in addition to the things Clinton actually was, there were all the ridiculous stories made up about her like the murder of Vince Foster.

But ultimately, it is our fault — Democrats. It’s not that I didn’t know there was this weird belief that there was something wrong with Clinton. In the minds of many Americans, she represents everything that was scary about the 1960s. Donald Trump might be a racist sexual predator, but that’s something Americans are all very familiar with.

Should we have known? All I can say is that the thought occurred to me several times. But the polling and Trump’s vileness made me push it to the background. I shouldn’t have.

Hillary Clinton vs Bernie Sanders? Really?!

Hillary ClintonI’ve really been trying to avoid this whole battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Well, I say battle. It’s actually just Clinton’s battle. Sanders isn’t taking part of it. But hey: she lost. I understand how that must be hard and how she would want to write an apologia. What I don’t understand is why she thinks it makes any sense to attack Sanders. But given what I’ve heard from Clinton supporters, I’m not surprised by it.

This morning, Clinton was on The View and she said something that made me angry. She said that after she lost the primary in 2008, she endorsed Obama and worked hard for him. “But I didn’t get that respect from [Sanders] and his supporters.”

Well, the fact that she had to work so hard to get her supporters to vote for Obama shows that Obama didn’t get that respect from her supporters either. But here’s the thing: I was paying close attention to the 2016 primary. And after Sanders lost, I remember him giving Clinton a lot of support. And in the end, as many Sanders supporters voted for Clinton as Clinton supporters voted for Obama.

Hillary Clinton Is Confused

Bernie SandersI think that Clinton is confused. You see: Clinton and her supporters wanted Sanders to drop out of the race is February. It was back in April of 2016 that the Clinton camp was so upset that Sanders wasn’t supporting her. Was Clinton supporting Obama in April of 2008? Of course not!

Now, it’s true that the Obama-Clinton race was much closer than the Clinton-Sanders race. I called the race in February 2016. But I don’t blame Sanders for not seeing it the same way. My position was largely based on the fact that the Democratic establishment was determined to have Clinton as their nominee, and nothing other than a clear win by Sanders would change that.

Sanders Was a Good Surrogate

Once Sanders lost the primary, he was quite a good surrogate for her. And I find it petty that Hillary Clinton is now going around complaining that Sanders wasn’t a good enough surrogate for her. What incentive do future primary losers have to play ball when they get such treatment.

But it looks like this treatment happened long before now. As Slate reported, “Bernie Sanders surrogates who extended an olive branch to Hillary Clinton’s staff after the primary and were met with, at best, closed ears and, at worst, mockery.”

My biggest concern about Bernie Sanders winning the primary was always that the Democratic Party establishment would be more interested in tanking his campaign than in winning the election. You can look at George McGovern in this country or Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. In the petty world of politics, the only things worse than your stated enemy are the people in your own party who don’t quite agree with you. Let’s call it the People’s Front of Judea theory of politics: the Republicans may be awful, but not as awful as people who disagree with you about how to provide universal healthcare.

The “Bernie Isn’t a Democrat” Canard

In addition to Bernie Sanders supposedly not supporting Hillary Clinton during the general election, I was treated to one of my most hated complaints: Bernie Sanders isn’t even a Democrat. Look: I wish Sanders would just join the Democratic Party. I’m not keen on this purity nonsense. The truth is that he is a Democrat in every way that matters.

I’m a Democrat. And I’m actually a lot further from the party ideologically than Sanders is. Sanders is a Democrat in the FDR sense of the word. I’m not. But in the US, we have a two party system. Neither Sanders nor I are Republicans; so we are Democrats.

But this idea that Sanders — who is hugely popular among Democrats — isn’t a real Democratic and so shouldn’t be taken seriously is just nonsense.

Are We a Party or Not?

I voted proudly for Bernie Sanders in the primary. And I voted proudly for Hillary Clinton in the general election. But Clinton is really disappointing me with her book tour. The truth is that the future of the Democratic Party is with Sanders, not Clinton. But she’s smart. And she should see that that part of the reason she lost the election was that everyone could see that she was working too hard to thread the needle.

One reason I was proud to vote for Hillary Clinton was that I knew she was real liberal. She was the person in the Bill Clinton White House who was constantly causing problems. If she had run as that authentic liberal, she might be president now. Regardless, that was a bigger problem than that Bernie Sanders didn’t support her enough in the general election.

Hillary Clinton Is Harming Her Image

Complaining about Bernie Sanders just makes her look small. And for those Democrats who can’t see that Democratic voters like Sanders and can’t see why, they’re lost. They need to spend some time thinking about that. Because the problem is not with the majority of Democratic voters who like Sanders. It is with you.

DACA and the Republican Destruction of Norms

DACA and the Republican Destruction of NormsWhen DACA was first put into effect, my immediate thought was what would happen if the Republicans went and shut the whole thing down. Now it has happened. And all these kids have given all of the information to the government. Will the information be given to ICE so that they can all be picked up easily?

The word is that it isn’t. But I don’t believe that. Sure, the government hasn’t given ICE all the information yet. But just give it time. Let a terrorist attack happen that was committed by an unauthorized immigrant and see how quickly that all changes.

DACA Is Just Another Norm Set for Destruction

When DACA was first passed, there was an unstated assumption. This kind of thing in government is not supposed to be partisan. Things aren’t supposed to change that much from administration to administration — even when parties change. This is somewhat similar to the way that nations are responsible for the spending of previous despots.

But now what I originally feared is coming to fruition. The only question is how bad it will be. And now quickly it will happen.

The State of DACA Repeal

President Donald TrumpThe whole DACA situation has been very annoying to me. It all started last week with a discussion with my father. He assured me that Donald Trump would not repeal DACA. For all of my father’s negative political beliefs, he is very pro-immigrant, given that he is the son of immigrants.

When Trump did do DACA repeal, my father went ballistic. But then a good 10 minutes of Fox News viewing and he saw things entirely from Trump’s stated position. It was all about process. Trump didn’t want to hurt close to a million young people. He just wanted it done by Congress. Thus, the Congress would have to pass a law. And of course they will. That didn’t mean much coming from the man who said of course Trump wouldn’t repeal DACA.

DACA Has to Go Because of “Process”

This is the typical excuse that all politicians and those who favor their policies use when they do something that is both cruel and unpopular. Supposedly, Trump didn’t want to screw over these kids. But he had to, you see, because Obama use the wrong procedure.

But suppose that if Trump really did think that DACA needed to be on a more stable political grounding. He could have let it continue to make its way through the counts. But he didn’t do that, because he doesn’t care about process. He knows his political support is based on white resentment. He killed DACA because it hurt Latinos and his base hates Latinos. So he talks about process so that ABC News doesn’t report on him as the monster he is. And his supporters know that he is the monster he is.

Republicans Don’t Care About Norms

Given that Republicans will do anything they want without thought of precedence or anything else. And given that they can always find a justification for it that will be accepted by the mainstream media, what are we to do? Should Obama have simply let the Dreamers languish in their uncertain legal status?

What is clear is that the Republicans cannot be trusted about anything. If they can do something they will. They have no commitment to normal political order. And this is why the Republicans must be destroyed as a political concern. As much as I dislike much of the democratic party, at least it is a normal political party. The Republicans are a pox on our nation. And we cannot continue on as a stable nation if the Republicans continue to wield any kind of power.

North Korea and Just How Generous the US Is

North Korea and Just How Generous the US IsThis weekend I was at a family gathering. And I overheard two older people — great-grandparents — discussing foreign aid. One of them noted that it was one thing they agreed with Trump about.

As nicely as I could, I pointed out that our total expenditure on foreign aid was about 1% of our federal budget. I could see that the information was resisted. They just didn’t want to believe it. They just “know” that we spend an enormous amount of money on foreign aid.

It’s odd. But I think it goes along with the idea that Americans have — especially Americans of that generation — that we are an extremely generous people. Is doubtless comes from the Marshall Plan. Of course, given how little Word War II touched us, it was the least we could do. But we did do a lot. It’s just that we don’t anymore.

We Spend a Lot on Our Military

We are, in fact, a fairly miserly country. If you compare the amount of foreign aid that we give out to what other countries give out, we look very bad. Where we spend a lot of money is on our military.

We have bases all over the world. This undoubtedly is what a lot of people think of as foreign aid. But it isn’t that at all. It is the outward manifestation of American Empire. We have those military bases to protect our interests, not to protect the interest of those people who often don’t want our bases anyway.

Aid and Nuclear War for North Korea

But shortly after the family get-together, I learned why the subject even came up. Trump is complaining that we give money to North Korea. “The US has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” It is a tiny amount of money. Over the course of 15 years, it has averaged $85 million per year. But as we know, the amounts don’t much matter.

The truth of the matter is almost all of the people in North Korea are effectively prisoners. The aid we give North Korea is for food for these people. Anything we could do to help those poor people would be a good thing. It is certainly something that anyone who calls themselves Christian should do.

Instead, I see a lot of conservatives thinking we should just nuke North Korea. They tend to forget that this would cause a nuclear war with China. But apart from that, who would be hurt by our attacking North Korea? All of these innocent people. We would kill them in the most horrible way imaginable.

How Generous Is the US?

But what about the aid? Just how generous is the US?

Let’s look at how much money we give to other countries and how much money other countries give out. It isn’t pretty. If you look at the total amount that we give as a percentage of our total economy, we give roughly 0.16 percent. The United Nations says that advanced economies should give at least 0.7 percent. Many counties do give around this amount — and more. Sweden — the top country in this regard — give 1.4 percent. But even the tenth most generous country — Switzerland — gives 0.52 percent. We give less than a quarter of what we ought to.

Americans live in a fantasy land where we are noble and generous. But this has no real relationship with reality. And this is why people like my old relatives think that we give so much money in foreign aid. But it is time to give up childish beliefs. Maybe if we accepted the fact that we aren’t generous, we would become generous. But we never will be if we just assume we are.

Libertarianism and Labor Day

Libertarians and Labor DayWhat most annoys me about Libertarians — and free market purist of all varieties — is that they see the only potential liberty killing force as being the government. Or if they don’t believe that they believe that it is only the government that we should be fighting against.

This seems to come from the idea that they can’t stop businesses from doing what they want because that would limit the individual liberty of the business owner. And they are unwilling to make any judgments to maximize liberty. Even if a law would greatly increase the liberty of workers and only decrease the liberty of employers by a tiny amount, it can’t be done. This is largely because libertarians don’t see in terms of trade-offs, and they don’t even know they are making a trade-off.

The result of this is that their philosophy comes down to support for oligarchy. Since they start with business owners’ rights as undeniable, workers always get screwed. And this is why for example Libertarians almost to a person are in favor of Right to Work laws, even though they are clearly liberty killing on the part of the workers and employers. Libertarians just don’t like workers. It is simple as that.

What Limits Your Liberty?

If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.

But think about your life. Do you find it is the government that destroys your liberty? Unless you have spent a lot of time in jail, the answer is almost certainly no. The single biggest thing that gets in the way of your liberty is your boss.

Libertarianism might not be so bad if we still had a rural economy where almost everyone was a self-employed farmer. But today almost no one has any choice but to get a job working for someone else. And depending upon their boss, they are living in tyranny.

I stress the fact that workers had no choice because Libertarians always throw this idea up. To them everyone has endless choices. This may come from the fact that most libertarians are themselves from affluent or at least upwardly-mobile families themselves. But the truth is that people have at most an alternative not a choice. And most people don’t even have an alternative.

Libertarianism Just Helps the Rich

So libertarianism is a useless philosophy. All it stands for is bashing the government and allowing in the rich to do whatever they want. And I will fully admit that governments are often a huge problem. But in the United States it is not. The government is a problem mostly to the extent that it acts as a protector of the rich. Thus it isn’t surprising that the rich tend to be libertarians. In the United States it’s quite a deal. You have a government that supports the powerful and here is this supposedly scruffy political philosophy that wants to destroy the government.

This goes back to something I noticed many years ago and is probably the biggest reason why I stopped being a libertarian. If you vote for a libertarian what you end up getting is a politician who is against all of the good things that the government does like helping the poor, providing healthcare, providing for retirement, and so on. But they are all for continuing the gravy train for the rich.

Now it is true that if you talk to libertarians, they will usually tell you how they don’t believe in all this crony capitalism. But there are two important issues here. One is that in practice this is the way libertarians always act when elected. And the other is if you look at the libertarians themselves and how their default position is pro-business and anti-worker, you will see that it’s no accident that in practice libertarian philosophy always comes down to the worst form of conservatism.

Libertarianism Is Anti-Worker

What workers need to know is that libertarianism is not their friend. Even if it says some nice things about workers and rights it is dead set against them. It believes that if you aren’t a business owner you are just a taker and you should be glad that some great Job Creator is there to give you a job.

When you get down to it, libertarianism is the worst political theory that gets any kind of a fair hearing in our society. It is quite amazing that libertarianism hasn’t been soiled the same way that communism and fascism have been. But I believe this is only because a major country has not explicitly called itself libertarian. The truth is that Pinochet’s Chile was a libertarian system of government. Of course libertarians will never admit this.

Libertarians Will Not Accept Its Practical Results

Libertarianism only exists as a platonic ideal in the minds of its adherents. When it exists in practice it simply reduces to the worst kind of conservatism: absolute law of the jungle capitalism for the poor and crony capitalism for the rich. But this is never the fault of libertarianism. This is because libertarianism is a cult. It can never fail; it can only ever be failed.

Thus I get incredibly tired of even talking to libertarians because they aren’t willing to talk about the real world. They are stuck in their minds. But even on that level they are no friend of the workers. Remember that. If you work for a living, libertarians hate you.

Happy Labor Day!

Afterword

On this Labor Day, you should really read Elizabeth Anderson excellent article How Bosses Are (Literally) Like Dictators. I read it right after writing this article, and I was pleased that she said much of what I had. But she goes into a lot more depth overall. What’s more, she talks about how all the great free market (libertarian) writers were talking about a totally different economic environment, and how the Industrial Revolution made what they were talking about irrelevant. I highly recommend reading it. I’m going to get her book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).