Try Before You Know

Conducting an experiment to explore what works > Making a religion out of every newly discovered self-improvement technique.

In design thinking, there’s a process known as “Proof of Concept.”

This is when you create a pilot version of a project in order gauge your idea against the feedback of some real world experience.

This works not only for developing products, but also for developing your self.

If there’s new book you’re on the fence about buying, find a podcast interview or YouTube video of the author talking about the ideas. If that experience makes you want more, then you have your proof of concept. You now have a better indication that you’ll enjoy the book. If the experience makes you bored or irritated by the author’s communication style, that might be a good indicator that your time is better spent elsewhere.

If you’re considering a new approach to exercising, commit to trying it out for one week. That might be too soon to notice visible results, but it’s not too soon to notice how it makes you feel. Does it make you want more? If so, try two weeks. Does it make you feel less inclined to work out? If so, maybe it’s time to put something new to the test.

Marriage is a wonderful practice, but not everything in life needs to be approached as if it’s a marriage.

Instead of making a lifetime vow to eat a certain way, to get up a certain amount of time, to read a certain number of books, to work a specific set of hours, and so on, try the art of trying things out.

There’s no need to declare a dogmatic opinion about all your strategies and techniques. Being open-minded is good enough. You can get the rest of the information you need by taking a little action and measuring how that makes you feel.

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Cops Are Always DWI

There is no such thing as a police officer driving without being impaired. Not ever.

They are always under the influence of their imagined “authority“. It’s a powerful drug and it causes them to drive erratically. Their permanent condition of intoxication kills innocent people– and some of the guilty cops, too.

It causes them to engage in high-speed chases. But when the cop kills innocent people he and his gang– The Blue Line Gang– will blame the person they were chasing. This is a filthy lie.

It causes them to make U-turns in unsafe conditions– one of the local cops wrecked the cop car he drives (pictured above before the wreck) and seriously injured a random motorist a year or so back by doing just this in order to catch someone “speeding” a little– something much less dangerous than what the cop did.

It causes them to believe they can text, make phone calls, and use their onboard computer terminals (to try to find reasons to stop and molest other motorists) more safely than lesser people like us. They can’t. Their “training” doesn’t make them superhuman.

Every cop is a junkie. No cop should be behind the wheel of a car under any circumstances. Never. But most certainly never under the excuse of “policing traffic”. They are worse than any problem they pretend to fight. They are dangerous hypocrites. Get them off the roads, and keep them off the roads.

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Some Men Just Want to Watch Mexico Burn

In the introduction to La Vida, famed anthropologist Oscar Lewis unfavorably compares Puerto Rico to Mexico:

But perhaps the crucial difference in the history of the two countries was the development of a great revolutionary tradition in Mexico and its absence in Puerto Rico.  Puerto Ricans sought greater autonomy from Spain during the nineteenth century, but they were never able to organize a revolutionary struggle for their freedom, and the single attempt along this line, at Lares, was short-lived and never received mass support.  By contrast the Mexicans fought for their independence from Spain between 1810 and 1821, drove out the French in 1866 and later produced the great revolution of 1910-20 with its glorious ideals of social justice.  In the course of these struggles great heroes emerged, men who have become symbols of the Mexican spirit of revolution and independence.

La Vida was published in 1965, just 45 years after the end of the Mexican Revolution.  Lewis personally knew many Mexicans who lived through it.  But what actually happened during this “great revolution” with its “glorious ideals of social justice”?  The best paper I could find on the topic is Robert McCaa’s 2003 paper “Missing Millions: The Demographic Costs of the Mexican Revolution” (Mexican Studies 19, pp.367-400).  After a detailed review of earlier estimates, McCaa deploys new techniques to reach a grim conclusion:

The human cost of the Revolution was paid mainly in blood. Of a total demographic cost of 2.1 million, excess deaths accounted for two-thirds,  lost births one-fourth, and emigration considerably less than one-tenth of the total… The best two-sex inverse projection to 1930, taking into account the age and sex distribution of the population in that year,  points to some 3 million missing as of 1921. Census error in the 1921 enumeration reduces this figure by 1 million. Two-thirds of the remainder was due to one factor: excess mortality (1.4 million deaths), with 350,000 more male deaths than female. Lost births were substantially less at 550 thousand. Smaller still, at less than 10 percent of the total loss, was emigration to the United States, with the persisting number of male “refugees,” generously defined, slightly more than 100,000, and females about three-fourths of this figure.

The basic history of the Mexican Revolution, moreover, was hardly “heroic”:

[O]nly six months passed between Francisco I. Madero’s pronouncement of revolution (November 20, 1910) and the overthrow of the old dictator Porfirio Díaz. The resignation of Díaz came in late spring 1911 and was accomplished with little violence or destruction. The fighting scarcely began until 1911… Victory at Ciudad Juárez came to the revolutionaries on May 10, 1911, after a siege lasting only a couple of days… Although the fall of Díaz was achieved due to uprisings throughout the republic, the cost of the Revolution, to this point, was probably only a few thousand deaths.

The real fighting began as the revolutionaries trained their weapons on one another over the course of the following six years… Zapata, having waited four months to rebel against the hated Díaz, did not allow four weeks to pass before rebelling against the enormously popular Madero. In late November 1911, Zapata, “tired of waiting” for Madero to carry through an agrarian revolution, according to the conventional view, denounced Mexico’s first democratically elected president by proclaiming the Plan of Ayala. Yet, until 1912, Zapatistas did not pose a serious threat to the Madero government. Elsewhere regional bands (and bandits), some with plans, others without, escalated the plundering of the countryside, hamlets, and towns. As is well known, within two years of Díaz’s resignation the nation slid into chaos…

With the assassination of Madero on February 21, 1913 –- probably on the order of the Madero-appointed commander in chief of the federal army, Victoriano Huerta—civil war erupted. The usurper proved incapable of suppressing the many revolts… [A]fter the failure of the Convention of Aguascalientes to resolve the differences of regional warlords, an even bloodier phase of the Revolution began, as, once again, the victors turned on one another.The year 1915 was the year of hunger. Marauding bands destroyed the few crops that were sown, many before they could be harvested. Destruction continued into 1916, although with the defeat of the northern chieftain Pancho Villa at the Battle of Celaya in April 1915, the violence began to wane, however slowly. Devastation was made worse by the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918/19, to be examined in detail below.

McCaa thoughtfully concludes:

Given the magnitude of the human losses caused by the Mexican Revolution, the silence of some scholars and disbelief by others is surprising…

For the Americas, both North and South, the Mexican Revolution was the greatest demographic catastrophe of the twentieth century. From a millennial perspective,the human cost of the Mexican Revolution was exceeded only by the devastation of Christian conquest, colonization, and accompanying epidemics, nearly four centuries earlier.

How then could as knowledgeable a scholar as Lewis credulously praise the sordid bloodbath that was the Mexican Revolution?  As a Marxist, he was obviously predisposed to positivity.  His gushing, however, would probably resonate with many non-Marxists, too.

What possesses anyone to so gush?  One could say, “You can’t make huevos rancheros without breaking eggs.  The war was tragic, but the results were great.”  Since we’re talking about Mexico, though, this seems absurd.  Sure, it’s a middle-income country, but violence remains a grave problem to this day.  And given its proximity to the U.S., gravity alone should have turned it into a peaceful, First World country by now.  The legacy of the Mexican Revolution is one of the better explanations for why this transformation has yet to happen.

In any case, people who admire revolutions rarely bother with counterfactual history.  What excites them is revolution itself.  Revolution is romantic.  The vision of tearing down the wickedness of the world, serving wrong-doers their just deserts, charging barricades with our brave leaders, and building a better world on top of the ashes is a thrilling story.  Counting corpses and asking, “What was it all for?,” in contrast, is a real downer.

If you share this romantic vision, you might even welcome my analysis: “Yes, I’m inspired by revolutionary idealism.  At least they tried.”  Yet calmly considered, this romantic vision is inexcusable.  Launching a bloody war without even asking, “How likely is this war to improve the world?” is as “romantic” as drunk driving at a playground.  Giving revolutionaries credit for “trying” is ridiculous.  If you combine brutality with wishful thinking about the consequences, your real goal isn’t to make those consequences a reality.  Your real goal is just to exercise brutality.

So why did Lewis gush over the Mexican Revolution?  Batman’s butler got it right: “Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”  I’ve learned a lot from Lewis, but the less real-world influence people like him have, the better.

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Chelsea Manning: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Again

One of the 21st century’s greatest heroines is behind bars again, held in contempt by federal judge Claude M. Hilton for refusing to help prosecutors trump up charges against the journalists who published information she paid dearly for giving them.

Chelsea Manning spent more than six years in prison —  854 days of it in pretrial confinement, violating the military’s “speedy trial” maximum of 120 days — for the fake “crime” of showing the American people evidence of actual crimes committed in our name by the US government.

President Barack Obama commuted her sentence three days before he left the White House. That, however, turned out not to be the end of her mistreatment at official hands.

Manning, who testified about  her interactions with WikiLeaks during her illegal 2013 court-martial, refuses to do so again before a grand jury targeting WikiLeaks and its founder/leader, Julian Assange, for their work in bringing hidden truth to light. Under Hilton’s order, she may be held for up to 18 months, or until the grand jury’s term ends, or until she gives in. Her history says she won’t do that.

Grand juries usually function in harness to the wishes of prosecutors. A defense lawyer famously told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 1979 that “the district attorney could get the grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he wanted to.”

But in actuality, grand juries enjoy sweeping powers to look beyond what prosecutors show them. Should that ham sandwich — or that prosecutor — happen to attract their negative notice, they can indict the sandwich, or the prosecutor, whether the prosecutor likes it or not.

Federal prosecutors and judges are weaponizing the grand jury system to attack freedom of the press and freedom of information in support of a fortunately dying ethic of government secrecy. This particular grand jury should punish that behavior instead of rewarding it.

The grand jury should indict federal prosecutors Tracy Doherty-McCormick (who represented the government at the contempt hearing) and Gordon D. Kromberg (who requested the Manning subpoena) as well as their bosses for, among other crimes, conspiracy against rights (US Code 18, Section 241) and deprivation of rights under color of law (US Code 19, Section 242).

In the meantime, those who value truth, justice, and the American way owe Chelsea Manning a massive debt. One way to partially repay that debt is to contribute to her legal fund at https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/chelsea-manning-needs-legal-funds-to-resist-a-grand-jury-subpoena. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

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Don’t Panic: The Retail Apocalypse Isn’t Disaster, It’s Progress

In the first week of March, big retail chains announced more than 1,100 planned store closings. That, writes Hayley Peterson at Insider, brings the number of planned US store closings for 2019 to more than 5,300.

The Retail Apocalypse is here, and it has consequences.  Including, reports Krystal Hu for Yahoo! Finance, 41,000 retail jobs cut in January and February.

Yet the US economy recorded a net gain of 20,000 total jobs each in January and February, its 101st straight month of job gains.

The economy is slowing down a bit, and we don’t know yet what consumer spending looked like for January (the Commerce Department was delayed in issuing that report by the federal “shutdown”), but people haven’t stopped and won’t stop buying food, clothing, electronics, etc. Many Americans are tightening their belts for various reasons, but that on its own doesn’t explain the Retail Apocalypse.

What does explain it? Progress.

Nearly 30 years after it became widely publicly accessible, the Internet is in the final stages of killing off physical retail as we once knew it. But it’s not killing the economy.

How much stuff do you buy from Amazon or other online retailers (some of them formerly entirely brick and mortar establishments) that you used to have to hunt down in a physical store?

If your family is anything like mine, the answer is “a lot.” And your needs are met, more conveniently and often at lower prices, by a few humans packing boxes in warehouses instead many humans stocking helves, assisting customers, dragging items over price scanners, and bagging them.

Even if you pick your purchases up at a physical store, there’s a fair chance you ordered them online and had them waiting for you when you arrived.  More convenient for you, less labor required at the seller’s end. I’ve done that twice in the last 24 hours.

At some point in the early 20th century, if the reporting mechanisms we have today had existed, we’d have read panicked  accounts of the Horse and Buggy Apocalypse. The automobile caught on.  Purchases of  surreys with the fringe on top plummeted. People in old industries had to find new jobs. But everyone benefited as it got faster, easier, and cheaper to move people and things around.

In the last few decades we’ve experienced Fax Machine Apocalypses (thanks, email), Album on Vinyl and Cassette Apocalypses (thanks, CDs, MP3s, and streaming media), and a thousand other changes of direction in what we buy and how we buy it.

The world didn’t end.

The current “apocalypse” won’t end it either.

Yes, this next model of commerce will mean difficult transitions for some workers and companies, along with other social dislocations we haven’t noticed or even thought of yet.

But if past performance is indicative of future results, it will also mean we get more of the stuff we need, more new stuff we didn’t even know we wanted, cheaper and faster, along with new opportunities.

Change is scary. But it’s also inevitable. And usually for the better.

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Inconsistency is a Hallmark of Statism

Statism is so internally inconsistent that statists hallucinate inconsistency everywhere else, in everyone else. They can’t even imagine anything like consistency.

I’ve seen statists hallucinate that the right of self-defense somehow justifies their support of an armed gang of badged government employees, funded with stolen money, imposing counterfeit rules at gunpoint, with little or no accountability. They imagine that recognizing this gang for what it is is somehow an endorsement of a free-for-all Mad Max world. They come to believe it’s somehow different to shoot a rapist in the act of raping than it is to shoot a law enforcer committing an act of law enforcement.

I’ve seen statists claim that not supporting a government “border wall”, funded with stolen money, built on stolen land, and maintained with stolen money, police state tactics, and coercion, is the same as not respecting private property rights. This is a hallucination caused by statism in the brain.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of your own.

The statism requires this internal inconsistency in order to be maintained. They don’t want to admit they have a problem, so they project their traits onto others so they won’t feel bad. Being so inconsistent, they see inconsistency where it doesn’t exist. They have a psychological need to find inconsistency in others to excuse it in themselves.

If people were internally consistent– in reason and principles– they wouldn’t be statists.

Consistency doesn’t guarantee an individual is right (you can be consistently wrong), but inconsistency guarantees an individual is wrong.

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