Political Clarity and Anti-Anxiety Meds

Anti-Anxiety PillsYou may have noticed that I’m not writing quite as many articles as I usually do. This is because I am experimenting with taking an anti-anxiety drug. Most people think of me as a depressive, but this is not at all true. Or at least, it is not that important. I definitely have a manic-depressive cycle. And it seems I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Most of this too seems unimportant, although the past few years I have this problem of imagining my fingers being slammed in a door (and much worse). This takes a far amount of effort to not think about it and I have been told this is known as “unwanted thoughts.” On the plus side, other people have unwanted thoughts related to harming other people. On the minus side, these thoughts come into my mind ten to twenty times per day and can last for a long time.

Since taking the anti-anxiety drugs, I don’t have these thoughts as much and they don’t bother me as much. In fact, nothing bothers me as much. I am filled with a sense that I hope is common among other people: everything is going to be okay. Now, I’m not a stupid man. Even at my worst, I know that somehow tomorrow will come and I will manage to find food and stay warm enough. But that doesn’t mean that normally I don’t freak out about just such things. Well, actually, I’m more of a planner, so I’m usually more concerned about next week rather than tomorrow, but you get the idea.

What I find interesting about this new reduced-anxiety experiment is how it has changed my writing. The most obvious thing is that I just don’t find as many topics as interesting as I once did. That’s especially true of political stories. There is so much of the “who cares” in these stories. After all, we know that nothing any of us thinks or says is going to change anything. I don’t have a million dollars to donate to any candidates. And if you do, I have no idea why you’re reading this article! So I would have thought that what I wrote would have been more laid back. But it’s been just the opposite.

I think that reducing the emotional thrust of my writing, I can get more deeply to the intellectual thrust. Emotionally, I care very deeply about equality and justice. But intellectually I am completely disgusted with the world. Think about Obama. Most of the time, I have warm feelings toward him. I think that his preferred policies are the same as mine. That makes me feel good about him. The same for Bill Clinton: he only destroyed the welfare system to get other liberal policies enacted. But in my clear-headed, non-anxious thinking, I can’t escape the truth: they’re just liars. They’re both millionaires. They aren’t total bastards, but the first thing they think about in the morning and the last thing they think about as they fall off to sleep is what they must do to keep their wealth and power.

So if you think I’m being awfully harsh these days, you’ll know what’s going on. And I think think it is a net positive. For you, there is greater clarity about what is really going on in the world. And for me, there is a far lower chance that I will just kill myself. Although I must admit: the thought doesn’t sound especially tragic.

I think I’ll go watch Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

Hillary in 2016? Who Cares!

Hillary ClintonI’ve spent a lot of time over the last many years wondering, “Would Hillary Clinton make such a bad president?” I’ve thought that because, contrary to what most liberals think, her husband was a terrible president. I know, I know: unemployment was really low. That was great! But that wasn’t him. That was Alan Greenspan who was so crazy that he didn’t accept the idea that 5% unemployment was full employment. Yes, Greenspan was terrible for many other things. But in terms of Clinton’s economic miracle, it was all Greenspan.

What Clinton the Male was responsible for was greatly increasing income inequality, although we didn’t really see it until the tech market bubble burst. There are two big things he did. First, he pursued a strong dollar policy. What that did was push manufacturing jobs outside the United States. Sure, it’s nice to be able to buy cheap imported products. But it’s better to have a decent job. And the second thing that Clinton did was end welfare as we knew it. That too didn’t have an effect right away. It didn’t matter as long as there were jobs a plenty, that our entire federal government became a collective Scrooge, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?!”

The greatest thing that Clinton the Male ever did was not being Bush the Younger. There’s a reason why Republicans today think he’s just great: he was a conservative. He was the model New Democrat and that’s worse than an Old Republican. And our modern political system is so screwed up that none of his terrible domestic policies (to say nothing of his foreign policies) caused him any harm. But getting fellatio from an intern, that’s something the people care about!

Elizabeth WarrenSo the question remains. Would Clinton the Female be a good president? Would she perhaps not be just another New Democrat as her two Democratic predecessors? Oh, you see, I can be an optimist at times. But in this case, I find it hard to think that she would break the mold. In addition to her simply being who we all know she is, the rich people who will fund her election are exactly the same people who funded the presidencies of Obama the Hopeful and Clinton the Male. As a group, they all care about what I care about. And on those issues that don’t cost the rich any money, you can depend upon them to do something. Same sex marriage (now that it’s popular): yes! Access to birth control that has only become controversial in the last five years: yes! Social Security for people over 68 years old: yes! How proud we liberals are of our social beliefs!

I will leave aside foreign policy, because we all know that whoever is president is going to continue to murder innocent people all over the world in the name of some kind of rubbish American presidents always spout. But economic issues: they are the crux of the matter. And that’s where we got a nice little introduction of the bold economic plan that Clinton the Female has in store for us, Hillary Clinton Calls on Business to Help Close Income Inequality Gap.

According to the article:

The potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender said she is working to “encourage more companies to come off the sidelines and frankly, for some to use some of that cash that is sitting there waiting to be deployed,” in a speech at the New America Foundation 2014 Conference.

You know what this sounds like? Herbert Hoover! Although you can find this documented many places, Steven Horwitz wrote in Hoover’s Economic Policies:

On wages, Hoover revived the business-government conferences of his time at the Department of Commerce by summoning major business leaders to the White House several times that fall. He asked them to pledge not to reduce wages in the face of rising unemployment.

And they did it! They kept wages high. For the few employees who they didn’t fire, their wages stayed high! See how effective it is to depend upon the good intentions of the business community?

I’ve come to the conclusion that we would be better off with a failed Elizabeth Warren campaign than a successful Clinton the Female campaign. At least a Warren campaign would remind the people of the United States that there are more policy options than “give all the money to the rich” and “give almost all the money to the rich.” This country is badly in need of having its Overton Window expanded. Over the last forty years, we’ve seen the window move to the right, but not expand at all. And that means that “left” now means cutting aid to the poor while “right” means ending aid to the poor and giving ever more aid to the rich. That’s not much of a choice and the American people know it.

We deserve better. And thus far, we are not seeing anything better from Clinton the Female.

Is Your Family Improving America?

Target Smart

Target Smart has a great web application, What’s in a Name? It uses a database of voter registration throughout the country and allows you to look up your last name. It will tell you what percentage of people with your name are registered Democrat and Republican. It also tells you how likely you are to vote. It’s a whole lot of fun!

For example, I put in “Koch” into the database and found that 56% of people with that name are registered as Republicans. That’s unusual, because most names I looked at skewed Democratic. For example, “Smith” is the number one name in America and it is 57% Democratic. But as usual for the registered Democrats, the Smiths don’t vote as much as average. They vote 48% of the time, whereas the average is 49%. But those Republican leaning Kochs vote 57% of the time.

The other top names are similarly skewed. Johnson: 63% Democratic; Williams: 70% Democratic (but even less likely to vote); Brown: 64% Democratic; Jones: 65% Democratic; Miller: 50% Democratic; Davis: 61% Democratic; Garcia: 80% Democratic (they really don’t vote much); Rodriguez: 80% Democratic (they vote even less than the Garcias); and Wilson: 58% Democratic.

What you see going through all of this is that the notion that America is a center-right nation is total nonsense. America is a center-left nation. But because our voting system makes it so hard to be part of the electoral process, American voters are just barely right of center and that won’t be the case for more than a year or two. Note to all my liberal friends: if you care about democracy, then get people to vote: if you know old people or disabled people or people with kids who have a hard time getting to the polls: help them! Remember: we are still nominally have a democracy. Let’s use it while we still can!

You may be wondering where the Moraes name came down in all this. Well, it turns out that it’s a little complicated. The Moraes name is kind of a new-world mistranslation of the original Portuguese name Morais. In general, people with the name Moraes are from India and Brazil. My family came from The Azores, a Portuguese island that is way in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This is why I’m so pasty, because English sailors historically stopped by the island and did a whole lot of fornicating as sailors are wont to do. But I still think that we are all one big happy name. (Also: I would rather spell my name “Morais” for two reasons. First, “Morais” is more or less how it is pronounced. Second, half my mail comes to “Morales.” I hate that.)

The two names are not very different and given the small number of people with the names (only a total of 1341), they probably are consistent. Moraes is 71% Democratic and Morais is 78% Democratic, for an overall rating of 77% Democratic (because there are a lot more Morais). Also, we Morae/is people are not big voters. The average is only 42%. I may take it upon myself to call all my extended family members to lobby them to get to the polls. (Note: I don’t care how people vote because I love democracy!)

I learned something else about my extended family. We mostly live in California, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. And my fellow Moraeses really don’t like Chris Christie! My fellow Moraises are more widely spread on the east coast, where they have been helping to turn Virginia and North Carolina into blue states.

So what has your family been doing to make America great?!

Wilhelm Steinitz and Paul Bishop

Wilhelm SteinitzA couple of days ago, someone by the name of Alekhine’s Cat followed me on Twitter. It was weird because this person had no followers. That alone intrigued me, but not as much as the reference to Alexander Alekhine, the great chess world champion who beat Capablanca. You see, I was trying to decide if I was going to follow this strange person since I now have a new theory that I’ll follow pretty much anyone, at least until they annoy me. But the guy had zero followers and that seemed strange.

A single tweet to him resulted in a series of tweets back that mostly confused me. He said, for example, that Alekhine’s cat was named Math, although as far as I can tell it was named Chess. (Note: both are terrible names for cats; they would be hard to distinguish; I would go with something like “chess piece.”) He also said that Alekhine was killed because he was suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer. That doesn’t appear to be true, but many people want to think it. Finally, he tweeted, “I am two degrees of separation from playing Alekhine over the board and you are three.” I told him he lost me, so he tweeted, “I’ve played someone who’s played Alekhine over the chess board and you’ve played me.”

There was an interesting mystery. I’d only every played two chess players who were really good. One was a master and the other may be one by now. So I figured it had to have been one of them. In order to know that you had played someone who played Alekhine, you would have to be a club player. That ruled out most of the good players I’d played against. So I went into his twitter feed to see who he was following and other than bizarre people like Carrot Top (who I’m willing to admit is wrongly vilified), I found that he was following David Luoto. That narrowed it down to Bob Portlock and Paul Bishop. I don’t know Bob to play chess, but the conversation was so bizarre, you’ve always got to include him. But it has been so many years that I’d talked to Paul, I’d forgotten just how bizarre he is.

Paul is an interesting guy. But in terms of chess, he is exactly the kind of person that makes me rarely play the game with humans. To me, it is a fascinating game of problem solving that opens your mind to creative thinking. To most players, it is about destroying the opponent. That was definitely the case with Paul. And I’ll admit, I’m not above that. When I really started to take chess seriously in graduate school, it was very rewarding when I started to beat people who previously mocked my playing. Now I find playing chess with a computer rather fun because I can force certain games to be played, although admittedly, the computer never really surprises me. Also, I find teaching children to play quite rewarding. In general, chess education is horrible.

Of course, I would love to play chess with Paul, as long as he was willing to approach it as a game rather than a contest of manhood. I’m very out of practice, but even at my best: my opening game was sloppy, the middle game was pretty tight and aggressive (it’s the best part of the game as far as I’m concerned), and as with most amateurs, my end game was pathetic. It’s strange, but I’ve often found that I could hold my own up to the end game against a strong player, but in the end game, that’s where they destroy you in short order.

All of this is a prelude to pointing out that on this day in 1836, the great chess player Wilhelm Steinitz was born. Let me just quote from what I wrote last year:

He pretty much single-handedly changed chess into what it is today. What I mean by that is that it used to be all about clever combinations. But after him, it became a game of position. That isn’t to say that clever combinations weren’t still important. But the focus of the game became controlling the board.

This is something that annoys me to this day about the way that I was taught to play chess. The idea that you can teach a child the moves and just expect them to figure out the rest is madness. It is like telling a child you are going to teach them how to play the piano and then only show them that this key is a C, this key is a C-sharp… No one would consider that a music education and yet that is the extent of most chess education. In fact, it’s even worse. There is a kind of social Darwinian aspect to it. Step one: teach the moves. Step two: see if anyone figures out the game. Step three: properly teach the game to the survivors.

It was only in graduate school that I learned to play chess. And I did it by studying master games. By trying to understand why they moved this way rather than that, I finally figured out the nature of the game. At that point I got so that I could beat people who previously had trounced me. All that was missing between my being a hopeless player and being all right, was an understanding of the game that I think I could teach a child in a short period of time. What’s key is that without this knowledge, you end up in games that are extremely frustrating. After a few moves you are in a position were even your best moves are bad.

Combine the lack of proper elementary chess instruction with the hyper-aggressive style that is encouraged and you end up with a game that very few people enjoy. Although I enjoy the game, I don’t much like the people I’ve played against. I’m not an aggressive person. My interest in chess is more academic. In a sense, reading those master games was perfect for me. It can be as thrilling to analyze a game as it is to listen to a symphony. Thus, I have no interest in destroying my opponent. My desire in playing is to have a good game. As a result, I commonly have opponents redo bad moves. I don’t ever recall anyone reciprocating. This seems to be because of this aggressive chess mentality that teaches that the purpose of chess is to crush the opponent. I recall one time allowing an opponent to take five moves back before eventually beating me. He was very full of himself after the game. And that’s fine with me because I think he’s pathetic.

Anyway, the point of all this is that understanding positional play and the overall theory of the game makes it fun to play. It also makes it beautiful and even artistic. And we largely have Wilhelm Steinitz to thank for that. Of course, this style of play would have come along eventually. But the fact is that he is the one who did it. Unfortunately, over the last 50 years, this has been taken to extreme to the point where serious players spend much of their time studying openings that can go up to 40 moves or more. This more than anything is the reason that computers are now the best “players” in the world. That’s why I think we need to move on to something like Chess960. But for the average player, chess is still a great and fun game, and that is largely thanks to Steinitz.

Happy birthday Wilhelm Steinitz!