Sunday, September 13, 2020

 The Labor Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  In part 1, we discuss recent urban unrest, in part 2 we debate the sincerity of public figures' professed political positions, and in part 3 we speculate on the mental condition of this year's presidential candidates.  As always, listeners are encouraged to respond to our discussion by adding comments to this post, rather than by, say, rioting or looting.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

 The August edition of the ICBW podcast is now posted.  Part 1 covers the Beirut explosion and voting security issues raised by mail-in ballots, discussion of which continues in part 2.  In part 3 we discuss the Orwellian--or perhaps not-so-Orwellian--semantic games recently infecting the discourse (including the constant introduction of ill-defined terms such as "the discourse" into the discourse).  As always, listeners are invited to post responses in the form of comments on this post, which, unlike most podcasters, we in fact actually read...  

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The July ICBW podcast is now available, filled to the brim with pertinent topics and rambling, irrelevant digressions from them.  In part 1, we discuss recent unrest in US cities, with a lengthy digression on the question of whether the American Revolution was a good idea.  In part 2, we compare "cancel culture" with its predecessor, McCarthyism, before wandering off into topics such as crime and the cyclicality (or lack thereof) of political and social trends.  Finally, in part 3, we discuss MIT's response to COVID-19, which triggers general pondering of the questions of what should be studied in fields such as history and science.  Perfect listening for our ADD-afflicted fans!

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The June edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  Part one discusses the causes and consequences of the recent nationwide protests/riots/looting, part two delves into what the unrest reveals about policing, and part three looks at "expertise" and scientific integrity--how to identify the former, and how to preserve (or perhaps restore) the latter.  Perfect curfew listening! 

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The May edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  In part 1, we discuss (what else?) COVID-19 and how to deal with it, including the ideas in my recent post on the subject.  In part 2, we move to politics--specifically, the 2020 election and the Flynn case.  And in part 3, we discuss the recent wave of enthusiasm for Internet censorship, and its relationship to political partisanship.  Stay safe and healthy, listeners!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The current debate over "opening up" various cities and states, as opposed to "keeping them closed", in response to the local state of the COVID-19 epidemic, makes absolutely no sense to me.  First of all, "opening up" and "keeping closed" are not binary choices--there are infinitely many gradations between a complete lockdown and the pre-epidemic state.  In fact, no place (in America, at least) has been placed in a "complete lockdown" state since the epidemic began--every place, for example, allows "essential services", defined variously, to continue to operate.  Secondly, the continuum isn't even single-dimensional--rather, there are all kinds of specific rules that can be imposed that allow or prohibit various activities in various locations under various rules.  The possible combinations are endless.  So how do we decide among them?

The reason so many people are so baffled by these choices, in my opinion, is that we lack clear information on the effects of various restrictive countermeasures.  Suppose we require everyone in a particular location or pursuing a particular activity to wear some kind of cloth mask.  How much would that cut down on the spread of COVID-19?  What about requiring 6 feet of space between people?  12 feet?  6 feet plus a mask?  Does it matter whether it's indoors or outdoors?  As far as I know, we simply don't yet have good, quantitative answers to these questions, and until we do, we can't really determine what policy to impose on activities that involve interactions among people from different households.  (That's why most locales have been resorting to the one big hammer they know works:  fairly complete lockdown.)

Our first priority, therefore, should be to gather the data necessary to answer these questions as quickly and accurately as possible.  Once we have the answers, the issue of "essential" vs. "non-essential" activities will likely disappear.  Instead, we will be able to ask the question, "what set of restrictions makes a particular activity--whether essential or non-essential--under a particular set of circumstances acceptably low-risk for infection?  For example, shopping--whether for essential groceries or non-essential fashion apparel--is presumably reasonably safe under the right set of conditions, and once we have determined those conditions, we should apply them equally to all retail environments.  The same can be said of other activities, whether recreational, commercial, social or political.  (It's of course possible that for some previously popular activities, a reasonably safe set of conditions simply doesn't exist.  But one hopes that that set of activities is fairly small.)

Perhaps more importantly, approaching the issue in these terms is likely to mitigate a lot of the raucous political and social conflict surrounding it.  Right now, discussions about how and when to "open up" are dominated by loud, belligerent and largely ignorant voices, because more reasonable ones have little in the way of concrete proposals or supporting evidence to back them up.  Armed with a set of specific, transparent and scientifically supported policies, though--rather than a pair of vague, broad options--the reasonable voices might actually have a fighting chance.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The April Fools' Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available to entertain anyone foolish enough to listen.  In part 1, we discuss--what else, COVID-19, what was done, why it was done, and what could (or couldn't) have been done instead.  In part 2, we discuss microeconomic responses to the pandemic, and in part 3, we discuss macroeconomic responses and their effects, along with our by-now-standard digressions into academia, environmentalism and Constitutional law.  All in all, perfect listening for fools everywhere!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The March 2020 edition of the ICBW podcast is now available for download or streaming.  In part 1, we discuss the novel coronavirus and its press coverage, digressing into a general discussion of the evolution of the press in the US over the last century or so.  In part 2, we assess the recent proposed peace treaties between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  And in part 3, we look at the recent protests by Canadian Native peoples against various energy projects, and consider the whole question of indigenous status in a modern country like Canada.  Perfect self-isolation listening!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

As foreshadowed by our podcast, it's time for the traditional ICBW end-of-year predictions post.  As always, we begin with our (rather unimpressive) slate of predictions for the past year:
  • The US economy will slow markedly starting in early-to-mid 2019, though not into recession territory.  The stock markets will continue to decline throughout the year, rallying late but not by enough to prevent an overall negative year.  Real estate prices will also continue their decline, but oil prices will rebound modestly from their recent lows.
By no means is this the first time we have underestimated the resiliency of the current bubble economic recovery.
  • President Trump's approval ratings will continue their stable modestly-underwater trend throughout 2019.  There will continue to be multiple non-stop investigations--this time including Congressional ones--of the president's activities, but they will result in no immediate legal jeopardy to the president himself, nor will he be impeached by the House of Representatives.  Numerous White House staffers and cabinet members will be investigated and prosecuted, however--including by politically ambitious state prosecutors unconnected with Congressional or Department of Justice investigations.
The first part of the prediction was rock-solid, but not only has Trump now been impeached, but the pace of investigation of Trump administration officials has been so lackadaisical that this tracking page hasn't been updated since March.  Apparently, Trump has the uncanny ability not only to draw an inordinate amount of media attention towards himself, but an inordinate amount of investigative attention, as well.
  • The frontrunners for the Democratic Party presidential nomination at the end of the year will be the most viable candidates from the party's "mainstream" (read:  minority) and "progressive" (read:  upper-class/would-be upper-class) wings.  Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand are the current favorites for these respective roles.
I actually have a pretty consistent record of getting presidential nominees badly wrong, and this one fits the pattern.  However, my breakdown of the Democratic party's structure is now conventional wisdom, with Biden the favorite of the mainstream/minority wing, and Warren and Sanders splitting the upper-class/would-be upper-class wing's support.
  • In Europe, "Hard Brexit"--without a negotiated deal--will come to pass, with far milder consequences than opponents are predicting.  As a result, British PM Theresa May will survive in office through 2019--partly out of Tory fear of the electorate, and partly out of the inability of her divided party (mirroring the pre-Trump US GOP's business/blue-collar split) to coalesce around an acceptable alternative.  Meanwhile, the EU will calm its many internal rebellions by acquiescing to greater immigration restrictions across the union.
This one almost came true, but some deft parliamentary maneuvering by remainers prevented it.  As a result, May was toppled and new PM Boris Johnson looks able to ram through a Brexit deal in January.  As for EU immigration policy, it seems more intent--for now, at least--on pushing the lump in the carpet around rather than flattening it.
  • Justin Trudeau will win a comfortable majority in the coming Canadian federal election.  (Canadians usually re-elect their prime ministers at least once if they don't completely screw up on the job.)  Likewise, Benjamin Netanyahu will win re-election and remain in office through 2019, although a corruption indictment will be delivered against him, and its resulting legal process will drag on through the year, hanging over his political career without actually ending it.
I slightly overestimated the political strength of both leaders, although the real consequences of the difference remain to be seen.  Trudeau's near-majority is in practice little less stable than a majority, and while Netanyahu just barely failed to cobble together a coalition over two elections, his opponents have also failed to form one, and as a result he continues to be Israel's PM, despite the indictments issued against him.
  • The combination of US withdrawal from Syria and increased Turkish intervention there to suppress the Syrian Kurds' territorial ambitions will turn the Syrian conflict into a Turkish-Iranian one, with the two would-be hegemons unable to work out an acceptable partition of the now-recolonized country.  Russia will recapitulate its historic rivalry with Turkey by siding with Iran, and the US will thus be pushed by its NATO commitments and geopolitical interests into siding with Turkey, despite the many tension-generating issues dividing the two countries (which may in turn be assuaged somewhat by this partnership).  Meanwhile, the US will reduce, if not eliminate, its involvement in Afghanistan, and refocus its energies on other geopolitical threats, such as China.
While this prediction accurately reflects the likely overall direction of the regional conflicts, it overstates the speed of their evolution.  Turkey and Iran aren't yet in full conflict, and Russia and the US are both still courting Turkey without either having fully won it over yet.  The predicted Afghanistan drawdown, on the other hand, has already begun.
  • Louis CK's comeback will spark a minor explosion of politically incorrect comedy, as stand-up comedians escalate from complaining about politically driven constraints on their material to actively rebelling against them.  The change will mark a tipping point in cultural acceptance of leftist censorship, since comics are by nature conformist barometers of consensus opinion, rather than the daring vanguards of forbidden ideas they are often portrayed as being.  (Laughter, as I've explained in the past, is a product of comfort and reassurance--often following surprise and/or discomfort--and comics must therefore provide reassurance in their punchlines to succeed.  They do so, in most cases, by catering to audiences' consensus beliefs and prejudices.  Thus if comics feel confident in mocking and flouting the rules of political correctness, then rejection of those rules must have achieved a high threshold level of consensus among comedy audiences.)
One swallow does not make a spring, of course--but it may sometimes signal its imminent arrival...  

And now for this year's predictions:
  • As mentioned in the podcast, Joe Biden will win the Democratic party nomination, and be elected president.  (Bonus "alternative reality" prediction:  if Biden somehow fails to win the nomination, then Trump will be re-elected.)
  • Following another election in which Likud weakens slightly but not enough for the opposition Blue-and-White party to forge its own coalition government, Likud and Blue-and-White will strike a deal on a unity government, with the leaders sharing prime ministerial duties.  In Britain, Brexit will go through under the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson (with perhaps a few minor amendments), with no major economic consequences for Britain in 2020.
  • The continuation of the Trump administration's absurdly expansionary economic policies will stave off an economic downturn through 2020 (at a likely serious cost in 2021, of course).  Equity markets will rise modestly, amid high volatility, and interest rates will finally be forced upwards, but only slightly, towards the end of the year.  Oil and real estate prices will follow a similar pattern.
  • The civil unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran will unfortunately be ruthlessly crushed, and will have completely disappeared by the end of 2020, with no significant interference by American forces (which will have quietly and all-but-completely withdrawn from Iraq, under Iranian pressure, by mid-year).  The strain of dealing with this unrest will however impede the Iranian regime from significant aggressive moves beyond this consolidation of power.  For example, as mentioned in the podcast, Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban in 2020, although the latter will make significant progress following the reduction in US support for the ruling government.  
  • Hong Kong will likewise be fully pacified at some point in 2020, and attention towards China will shift away from human rights issues in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and towards the increasingly dire state of the Chinese economy.
  • Conditions in Mexico will continue to deteriorate, with criminal organizations scoring even more spectacular victories against government forces, and more Americans getting caught in the crossfire.  Crime in the US will also spike significantly, as soft-on-crime policies spread across more and more jurisdictions, driven by a strange-bedfellows coalition of radical leftists and libertarians.  Anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area will continue to occur at a high rate, for example, as will incidents of homelessness-related disorder in West Coast cities.
  • In the US, there will be much attention given to the decline of non-online retail shopping, as "dead malls" and decaying downtowns prompt pundits to ponder this decline's dire consequences for society and propose solutions to the problem--mostly involving boycotting online retailers and pumping money into local ones.
As always, you are enthusiastically encouraged to counter with your own opinions of these predictions, or alternative predictions of your own--even if you're my co-blogger LTEC, who's promised (in our podcast) to be even harsher on my past predictions than I was...

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The end-of-year ICBW podcast is now available for your holiday listening. In part 1 we cover Afghanistan, the Horowitz report, and the recent global epidemic of civil unrest. In part 2 we introduce a new feature: a podcast version of our end-of-year predictions post, with both bloggers offering predictions for 2020. Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

After a hiatus of several months, the ICBW podcast is back!  In part 1 of our new fall edition, we discuss the recent events in Syria, and the Trump administration's Middle East policy; in part 2, we assess the Trump presidency more generally; and in part 3, we ponder the relationships among religiosity, democracy and political morality.  Apologies for the occasional fuzzy sound quality (we'll let you judge the fuzziness of the debate quality yourself, of course)...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The midsummer edition of the ICBW podcast is now available for sweaty, overheated consumption.  In part 1, we discuss Antifa and women's athletics, while part 2 covers the recent US Supreme Court decisions on gerrymandering and the census.  Perfect poolside listening!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The June edition of the ICBW podcast is now available.  Part 1 covers Brexit and the EU, with an unexpected digression into PEDs in sports, and then touches on the homelessness epidemic on the US west coast, which leads into part 2's discussion of how society handles (and mishandles) the problem of mental illness.  As always, listeners are encouraged to post their reactions as blog comments below.  Caution:  failure to listen and comment may cause an escalation of promotional efforts on our part--obviously something we all want to avoid...

Monday, June 10, 2019

The bizarre internecine war between the "Sohrab Ahmari" and "David French" factions of the US conservative movement that was kicked off by Ahmari's condemnation of "David French-ism" is likely completely incomprehensible to those not expert in the idiosyncrasies of American political debate.  But two bits of background, one contemporary and the other more historical, can help readers make sense of it.

The current-day context for the dispute is the breakdown of the Reagan-era alliance between the white working-class and commercial-class wings of the conservative/Republican coalition.  As I explained four years ago, the rise of Donald Trump signified that this alliance, which had rested on an exchange in which the white working class gained commercial-class support for its traditionalist social views, and in return supported libertarian pro-business economic policy, was in serious jeopardy.  The white working class, I argued, was no longer satisfied with this tradeoff, and their economic plight, severely exacerbated by the economic crisis of 2008, necessitated, in their view, a greater say for them in the combined coalition's joint economic direction.  This dissatisfaction placed them on a direct collision course with their pro-business allies, who naturally have their own very firm ideas regarding economic policy, as well as interests that are significantly in conflict with those of their blue-collar alliance partners.

Trump's victory, and his subsequent enactment of working class-friendly policies on trade and immigration, have further alienated libertarians and pro-business conservatives. Many of them have responded by declaring political war on Trump--and implicitly, on his working-class supporters, some of whom in turn have declared such "never Trump" conservatives to be traitors on a par with their arch-enemies, the white-collar professionals in the liberal Democratic alliance's "progressive" wing.  (The irony, of course, is that virtually all of the prominent commentators on both sides of this debate are, demographically speaking, highly educated professional writers and journalists--that is, a perfectly natural fit for the "progressive" cohort.)

Ahmari's attack on French, then, is best viewed as a Trump faction supporter's call to arms against his recalcitrant libertarian allies, who, he claims, have betrayed the alliance with their insufficient anti-progressive militancy.  Now, Ahmari is a firebrand Catholic, and his focus in his manifesto is cultural, not economic:  he accuses anti-Trump libertarian conservatives of treating progressives not as bitter enemies, but only as political opponents, in the battles over cultural issues such as abortion and religious freedom.  But then again, French, an outspoken Christian and cultural conservative who has been a tireless legal advocate for conservative free speech rights on campus, is an extremely odd target for Ahmari's cultural broadside--or, rather, would be an odd target, if his true preoccupation were cultural activism rather than tribal factionalism.

Why, then, does Ahmari couch his attack on French in terms of the latter's allegiance to "classical liberalism", rather than fire off a straightforward partisan attack on pro-business conservatives' refusal to embrace wholeheartedly the working class-centric Trump economic program?  The answer lies in the second, more longstanding element of this dispute's context:  American political culture's ambivalence about (if not outright hostility to) democracy.

In most of the world's democratic nations, democracy itself takes center stage in political debate:  factions argue about policies on the understanding that the electorate are the ultimate and proper arbiters of government's direction, and that their interests and preferences (however unsophisticated) are necessarily paramount.  But American democracy was founded over two centuries ago, when democracy on a national scale was still a new and somewhat ill-understood concept.  And to America's revered founding fathers, the essence of democracy wasn't so much the basic principle of ensuring government accountability through popular sovereignty as it was the art of defining a delicately engineered system of political mechanisms which, if designed to perfection, could produce optimally wise, efficient and effective government--irrespective of the inevitable defects and perverse wishes of a selfish, ignorant, fractious democratic rabble.

Unfortunately, American political culture has enshrined this oddly abstract vision of government into a kind of dogma, with the result that (a) most educated Americans have little use for democracy, and incessantly seek out means to suppress or circumvent it in the name of one or another public good, and (b) arguments about policy take the form of grand philosophical debates about the ideal society, and the ideal structure of government to implement it--again, irrespective of the will of the people as expressed through their electoral choices.  The result is what one might expect of policy debates untempered by the moderating influence of the democratic spirit:  all the noisy pomposity of clashing abstract absolutes, replete with the sort of extreme pronouncements and radical calls to action that make normal citizens cringe.

And so it is with Ahmari's jeremiad:  to him, it isn't radical progressives with their ludicrous, freedom-crushing policy proposals--or even wealthy, selfish plutocrats with their libertarianism and accommodationism towards popular opinion--that are the problem, but rather "classical liberalism" itself, whose political neutrality and respect for democracy fail to prohibit a priori the enactment of morally repugnant (in Ahmari's eyes) laws and policies.  Now, Ahmari never quite gets around to explaining what he would replace democracy with.  But the mere fact that he is arguing on this structural level about what amounts to some factional bickering between two ostensibly allied conservative cohorts, illustrates just how badly American founder-itis has infected the nation's political debate, obscuring the democratic essence of partisan disputes and eliding discussion of the obvious democratic approach to resolving them.