Apophenia 6 October 2019.

The German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad (1905-1961) studied the development of schizophrenia.  In a 1958 book he defined an early stage of schizophrenia as “apophenia.”  Conrad explained that apophenia consisted of the “unmotivated seeing of connections [accompanied by] a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness.”[1]  What follows is an attempt to illustrate this idea by reference to a contemporary political controversy.

 

The “Steele Dossier” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2016.   The “Whistleblower Complaint” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2019.

The author of the “Steele Dossier” reportedly was Christopher Steele, a highly-regarded former British intelligence officer.  The author of the “Whistleblower Complaint is believed to be a highly-regarded Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The basis of the “Steele Dossier” was unverified hear-say.  The basis of the “Whistleblower Complaint” was largely then-unverified hearsay.

The “Steele Dossier” was first communicated to a consulting firm in the employ of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and to an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  Then, when the information did not reach the public or result in an official investigation, it was shared with journalists.  The “Whistleblower Complaint” was first communicated to a government “tip-line” and resulted in a formal complaint.  Then, when the information did not result in an official investigation, it was shared with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The “Steele Dossier” alleged—among other things–that: 1) that Trump presidential campaign officials conspired with the Russians; 2) that Carter Page played a key role in this conspiracy; 3) that Paul Manafort directed the conspiracy; 4) that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had met secretly with Russian representatives in Prague.

“The Whistleblower Complaint” alleged—among other things–that: 1) Trump tried to extort the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden; 2) Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, played a key role in this conspiracy; 4) US Attorney John Durham may be investigating Ukrainian leads as part of his probe of the origins of the Russia-Trump investigation.

It is useful to recall the context for both cases.  In the case of the “Steele Dossier,” Russians had intervened in the 2016 US presidential election, not least by releasing secret information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton.  The Australian government informed American officials that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told one of their diplomats that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  President Trump has doubted/denied the reports of American intelligence agencies about Russian interference and took umbrage at the investigation of alleged conspiracy between his campaign and the Russians.

In the case of the “Whistleblower Complaint,” 1) Ukraine suffers from endemic corruption.  During the Obama Administration, Vice President Joe Biden led an effort to pressure the government of Ukraine to shape up.  2) Information on the dealings in Ukraine of Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, provided some of the basis for Manafort’s indictment.  3) In 2014 Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company run by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.  Once Vice President Joe Biden took charge of trying to damp-down Ukrainian corruption, Hunter Biden’s position created an apparent conflict-of-interest that was acknowledged by the New York Times.  4) In Spring 2019, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko began alleging “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election by Ukrainians working against Trump.  Other officials have denied these allegations.

 

It is impossible at this point to predict the final outcomes of the two cases.  The case of the “Steele Dossier” is not yet concluded.

1) In March 2019: Special Counsel Robert Mueller “did not establish” that a Trump-Russia conspiracy had existed.  2) The Special Counsel did not charge former Trump campaign official Carter Page with any crime.  The Special Counsel stated that Michael Cohen never visited Prague.  Paul Manafort was convicted of financial crimes committed before 2016 and for obstruction of justice committed during the investigation of those crimes.  He was not charged with conspiring with the Russians.  3) The Department of Justice Inspector General has been investigating allegations of Federal Bureau of Investigation misconduct in FISA warrant applications to surveil former Trump campaign official Page.  This investigation included a July 2019 extended interview with Steele.  By mid-September 2019, a draft report on the FISA warrants was circulating inside the Department of Justice and the FBI.   4) In late April 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.

The case of the “Whistleblower Complaint” is just beginning.

1) After the Mueller Report, Democratic efforts to impeach Trump had languished, with House majority leader Nancy Pelosi paying more attention to public opinion polls and the situation of the moderate new members of the House than to the left wing of the party.  2) The “Whistleblower Complaint” shifted the balance of forces.  House of Representatives Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry.  3) Attorney General Barr has denied being asked to contact Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Giuliani with regard to Ukraine, and knowing about the Trump phone call until several weeks later, possibly as a result of the whistleblower’s complaint.  4) In late September 2019, John Durham was reported to be investigating how the incriminating information on Manafort reached the FBI from Ukraine.

There is a lot of scope for apophenia in these events.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia.  I first encountered the term in William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003), a sort-of science fiction novel set in what John LeCarre called “the recent future.”

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The Socialist Boogie Man 21 September 2019.

When it comes to the trajectory of Socialism, critics of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are either ignorant or liars.  Historically, Socialism is an economic system in which 1.) society, not the private individual, owns the “means of production”; 2.) planning, rather than the market, determines the production of goods; and 3.) co-operation, rather than competition, is the guiding principle.

Socialism arose as a response to what people saw as the “injustices” of Capitalism; poverty, frequent unemployment; the destruction of the old handicraft industries, awful living conditions in factory cities, and a political system that tilted hard in favor of the capitalists.  Unions and strikes were illegal; there were high property requirements to be able to vote or run for office in most places; and real power belonged to the bourgeoisie.

Early Socialism (1820s-1848) argued that a humane economy and society could be created by building co-operative factories and towns managed by the people who worked and lived in them.  Many amusing stories come from this time.  (See: phalanstery; see: Brook Farm.)

In 1848 the German intellectuals Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto, creating the form of Socialism later called Marxism.  Marxism argued that a) capitalist greed would lead to a few owners gobbling up all their competitors so that ownership would end in a few hands; b) capitalist greed would lead to wages being forced down to the bare survival level; c) poor people can’t buy the things they produced, so capitalist governments would fight wars to conquer new markets and destroy surplus production that they could not sell; and d) all the miserable poor people would recognize that they belonged to one class (“those who work”) and the few owners belonged to another class (“those that don’t”); and e) revolution would replace Capitalism with Socialism.  Everyone would live happily ever after.

Marxian Socialism became the dominant movement in Socialism after 1848.  However, capitalism began evolving: unions were legalized, wages and living standards rose, governments created social insurance systems, and the bourgeoisie accepted political democracy.  In the early 20th Century, Marxism split into two opposing groups.  Reformist or Democratic Socialists said that Marx’s predictions hadn’t worked out, that revolution had to give way to participating in democratic politics, and that politics required a willingness to bargain with the other classes.  In contrast, Communists said that to achieve Socialism it would take a small group of professional revolutionaries to organize “the masses” and then to lead a continuing revolution.

In practice, Communism turned out to represent “prison camps, overalls, and a damned long march to nowhere.”  Communism is what contemporary American conservatives describe as “Socialism.”

In fact, the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, and the German Social Democratic Party have never been anything but guardians of political democracy.  They have never tried to create a monopoly on political power and they have never failed to yield power when they lost a democratic election.  Sanders and Warren clearly fall within this tradition.

Fight them on the real and many failings of Socialism, but don’t scare-monger and lie.

Shareholders versus Stakeholders 1 21 September 2019.

Historically, American industry grew from a foundation based on prioritizing “shareholders” over “stakeholders.”  Labor and communities didn’t count for anything in the epic period of industrialization.  In my original home town, Seattle, the railroad tracks ran right along the shore of Elliot Bay because that led directly to the piers for loading cargo on ships. That’s where the railroads wanted their lines and the public be damned.   In my adopted home town, Easton, the Coal and Iron Police of the Lehigh Valley were deputized by the Commonwealth so that they could lawfully counter unionization.  Then came the Great Depression.  The great corporations were humbled and regulated by the federal government.

Then the Second World War devastated the industrial economies of most countries in the world.  Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan emerged from the war with their industrial plant and agriculture in ruins.  After 1945, the pressing demands for economic reconstruction conflicted with pressing demands for higher standards of living and social welfare systems in many countries.  To make matters worse, Britain and France spent heavily on defense in order to maintain “great power” status.  All of these factors made for a slow revival of competitiveness on international markets.

In the meantime, the United States provided the goods demanded by the rest of the free world.[1]  Thus, during a “golden age” of the 1950s and 1960s, American corporations enjoyed huge profits without struggling very much.  They could reward shareholders and “stakeholders” in ways that satisfied all concerned.  Corporate social responsibility came to mean not laying-off workers or cutting wage and benefits, not closing down plants, not getting rid of unprofitable or incompatible divisions, and not off-shoring production.

Most people were happy with this situation, but not all.  In a 1970 New York Times Magazine essay Milton Friedman, asserted that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”  Radically at odds with recent experience, Friedman’s view did not receive wide acceptance.  Instead, America’s economy became increasingly uncompetitive without most people noticing.

Soon after Friedman had spoken, huge waves of change broke over the American economy.  Globalization unleashed rebuilt foreign industries on the international and American markets.  Deregulation allowed the entrance of hungry and innovative new competitors onto the domestic market.  Rapid technological change contributed to globalization, while also substituting machines for men.  Furthermore, the 1970s witnessed the two “oil shocks” (1973, 1979).  While impossible in economic theory, combined high inflation and high unemployment turned out to be all too possible in economic reality.

Forced to choose how to use shrinking profits, corporations prioritized “stakeholders” over shareholders.  Savers—you have to save before you can invest—felt themselves to be getting “skint” from management.  Then, in the 1980s, appeared the corporate raiders launching hostile takeovers.  Disgruntled stockholders unloaded their stock on the raiders.  Successful takeovers led to fat, dumb, and happy corporations getting put through the wringer.  Fairly quickly, many boards and managers began prioritizing shareholder value over stakeholder value as a defense.  By the end of the 20th Century, Milton Friedman’s formula had triumphed.

[1] Steven Pearlstein, “When Shareholder Capitalism Came to Town,” The American Prospect, 9 April 2014, https://prospect.org/article/when-shareholder-capitalism-came-town

The Origins of Slavery in British North America 27 August 2019.

The Spanish “conquistadors” wanted to turn the “New World” into a paying proposition.  In the early 1500s, when Native Americans started dying like flies from European diseases to which they had no immunity, the Spanish began importing huge numbers of African slaves.[1]

In the 1500s-1600s, British “merchant” ships sailing “beyond the lines,” often engaged in piracy.[2]  One of them, the “White Lion,” captured a Portuguese ship carrying slaves from Africa to the Caribbean.  In August 1619, the captain of the “White Lion” traded 20-30 slaves to English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, for food.  These were the first African-Americans in British North America.  The Pilgrims only landed near Plymouth Rock a year later.

The new arrivals posed conceptual problems for the English colonists.  First, slavery did not exist in England and had not for 500 years.  Moreover, the English commonly talked about themselves as “free” men as opposed to the cowardly “subjects” of the tyrannical Spanish kings.  So, how did an Englishman adopt the law of his nation’s enemy?  Second, these particular Africans came from Angola, a kingdom reached by Catholic missionaries a hundred years before.  They were mostly Christians.  OK, enslaving Muslims might be OK, because they had done it to Christians first.[3]  Enslaving Christians though, even if they were Catholics, seemed wrong.  So, the colonists decided to treat the Africans as “indentured servants,”[4] not slaves.

Indentured servants were people who had received passage to Virginia in return for a promise to work for 4-7 years for the person who paid for their passage.  After that, they were free and they received a bit of land of their own, along with some clothes and tools.  In between arrival and liberation, the indentured servants worked the tobacco farms of other men.  This was killing work for anyone, black or white—and the vast majority of “servants” were white.  Hard physical labor for long hours out of doors along the Chesapeake.  Before air-conditioning or insecticides.  People—white and black—keeled over from heat stroke, malaria, and the “flux.”[5]

The thing is, living and working alongside black people creeped-out white people.  Sure, we’re kinda-sorta better about this now.  They weren’t.  Early “indentured servants” from Africa increasingly turned into slaves (1650).  The children of black women inherited the status of their mother, even if the father was white (1662).  Not many Englishwomen wanted to move to Virginia at this time, so there was a lot of inter-racial rape by white men.[6]

Most workers in Virginia were English “indentured servants.”  They became increasingly angry about their situation.  Angry young men with guns, if you see the connection.  In 1676, they rebelled against the rich guys—who wanted to get along with the Native Americans—in what is called “Bacon’s Rebellion.”  Once the rich guys regained control, they put a stop to “indentured servants.”  They started importing lots of African slaves.  Slaves didn’t have any rights and they couldn’t get guns.  A slave-owner could work them harder: slaves worked longer hours and more days than did whites.  That was a “white privilege” of that time.

[1] “America’s original sin,” The Week, 30 August 2019, p. 11.

[2] To be fair, so did the ships of every other European country.

[3] See: any playground dispute in elementary school.

[4] “Indenture” is an old word for contract.  As far as IU’s housing office knows, you are all “indentured students.”

[5] Drinking contaminated water led to explosive diarrhea + projectile vomiting until a person was totally dehydrated.

[6] Those “23 and Me” sites show that the average African-American is about one-sixth European-American.  One hundred and fifty years after slavery.  So, the figure in 1860 may have been much higher.  Or so I think.

Guns and Mental Illness 19 August 2019.

The recent spate of mass shootings has poured gas on the smoldering debate over guns.  Broadly, perhaps over-broadly, two schools of thought confront one another.  Democrats want access to firearms massively restricted, starting with assault-style weapons.  This amounts to penalizing the many because of the crimes of a few.  Republicans call for improved mental health screening and treatment, while also calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act which expanded access to mental health services.  Democrats counter that most mass killers aren’t mentally ill: they’re inspired by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Donald Trump.

In the wake of the  El Paso and Dayton massacres, Richard Friedman argued that mass murderers are not so much mentally ill, as conquered by hate and sometimes sucked in by extremist ideologies.  Gun control, including enhanced background checks, offers a better course than concentrating on “mental health” issues.[1]

One problem for this line of argument is that a bunch of the mass shooters have been people with serious mental problems.  Jared Lee Loughner was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.  After the Columbine shootings, the FBI concluded that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a depressive with violent ideation.  James Holmes was mentally ill (probably some variety of schizophrenic), but sane enough to stand trial.  Travis Reinking suffered from delusions (including that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift) and appeared in a pink woman’s housecoat before exposing himself at a public swimming pool.

Yes, a bunch of the mass shooters have been proponents of hatred and racism.  Many others have slaughtered family members in relationships gone bad, many others have slaughtered former co-workers, and many others haven’t seemed to care who they killed as long as they killed somebody.

On the same days as Friedman’s opinion piece, Kim Strassel made an important point.[2]    According to Strassel, in 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study of the “demographics of gun ownership” in America.  Strassel  reported some of its findings. The fact that Democrats living along I-95 or I-5 don’t like guns masks politically important realities.  Overall, well over a third (42 percent) of Americans live in a home with some kind of firearm.  This includes 58 percent of people in rural areas, 48 percent of political Independents, 41 percent of people living in the suburbs, and 25 percent of Democrats.

About 75 percent of these people are determined to keep their firearms, which they regard as “essential to their own sense of freedom.”  “For today’s gun owners, the right to own guns nearly rivals other rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion.[3]

In short, the sort of gun control envisioned by Democratic activists and politicians face serious political opposition from gun owners who threaten no one.  Given the importance of the right to keep and bear arms to gun owners, it could cost the Democrats the White House in 2020.  The problem is how to include psychological screening in enhanced background checks.  JMO.

[1] “Letters to the Editor: Probing the Psyches of Mass Killers,” NYT, 18 August 2019.

[2] Kimberley Strassel, “Going to Extremes Against Guns,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

[3] Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms looks something like a religion.

Prediction and Postdictions.

I have no doubt that women of color, newly-tolerated gay people, and the coastal “intelligentsia” lean left in the same way that military personnel lean right.  Still, Sahil Chinoy has a fascinating piece in the Sunday NYT.[1]  A lot of what is announced as truth is…puzzling.

One, “the Republican Party has tended toward homogeneity” because it recruits conservative, white, “pro-life” Christians.  In contrast, the Democratic Party is “diverse” because it recruits liberal, non-white, a-religious or anti-religious, pro-choice people.[2]  So, why is one party “diverse” and the other party is “homogenous”?  Is skin color and gender alone what define “diversity”?  In fact, both parties are ideologically homogenous.

Two, Chinoy rolls out the common belief that the Civil Rights Act (1964) cost Democrats control of the South.  While this may be psychologically comforting to progressive people, there doesn’t seem to be much historical truth to it.  Southern whites did what Northern whites did: the moved to the suburbs and, when necessary, put their kids in religious schools not subject to the demands of “Brown v. Board of Education.”  Thus, school and housing segregation remained largely intact.  Southern whites only began to become Republicans when Democrats embraced the nationalization[3] of divisive social beliefs.  These include abortion, gun control, marriage equality, the secular sharia that seek to exclude religion from public life, and opposition to the “right to work” laws that under-pinned recent “Sun Belt” industrialization.

Three, the Democrats used to be the party of the white working class (see above), but now—purportedly–these voters are moving toward the Republicans.  Conversely, the Republicans used to be the party of the better-educated, but now these voters are moving toward the Democrats.[4]  Except that all low-income voters now lean only slightly (+3 percent) toward the Democrats, while both high-income and middle-income voters lean toward the Republicans (+14 percent for both groups).  Also, the “working class” and everyone else aren’t far apart.  In

Four, and most fascinating, human relationships matter for party identification.  The “never married” lean +28 percent Democrat,[5] and 57 percent of un-married women lean Democratic.  Meanwhile “Everyone Else” (i.e. men, married women) leans only +2 percent Democrat.  In contrast, white evangelical Christians[6] lean +41 percent Republican.

Arguably, people who have trouble maintaining personal relationships favor an active state, while people who have strong personal relationships feel less need.

[1] Sahil Chinoy, “”Predicting Your Party,” NYT, 11 August 2019.  My remarks touch on only a segment of Chinoy’s observations.  The whole article will reward a close reading.

[2] In short, the NYT defines “diversity” in racial and gender terms, rather than in ideological terms.

[3] That is, “Every knee must bend.”  I agree with most of these policies, but then I’ve lived in Seattle, Boston, Paris, and—now—Philadelphia.  I wouldn’t have accepted that a bunch of dumb crackers could impose their views on me and my wife and children.  Maybe they don’t think that someone should impose their views on their community?

[4] Are the opinions of better-educated people more worthy of respect than the opinions of less-educated people?  If so, then the Republican Party must have been right and the Democrats wrong for most of the 20th Century.  If not, then what difference does it make how different groups vote?

[5] Marriage ended tragically, or just ugly.  I done this.  Eventually tried “Match.com.”  Bunch of Stepford wives or self-absorbed jerks.  Shook out much better for me than for many people.  The NYT is all bent out of shape about Twitter, but what if “Match” or “eHarmony” tells us more about the state of the union?

[6] Go to church on Sunday, turn around in the pews to shake hands with people, go for silver dollar pancakes with the kids afterward, do Bible study some other day.  Not for me.  Still, you form a community.

The Sentimental Imperialists 1 15 August 2019.

There’s this interesting book by Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (2008).  Weisman asks how long would our massive physical creations—buildings, dams, roads, tunnels—survive if humans were not constantly maintaining them?  He answers Not long at all.  Flooding, erosion, deer, those weeds that sprout through cracks in the sidewalk, would need only decades to begin erasing the human scar on the Earth.  Things that seem unimaginably durable and solid can quickly disappear.

What if we apply the same approach to political institutions?  What if we stopped maintaining them?  It wouldn’t matter much with domestic political traditions and institutions.  Those tend to be the product of long periods of development and bargaining.  They survive both triumph and disaster.  Trying to graft foreign or theoretical arrangements onto a long-existing political tradition isn’t likely to work.[1]  So, “tribes” (local identities) would survive.

But what if you apply the same approach to the cob-web of links between countries in what political scientists like to call an “international system” or “cosmopolitanism”?  There the approach seems more valid, at least at first glance.  Take Asia as an example.

China has grown into the second largest economy in the world.  Its wealth has allowed a massive military build-up and an aggressive posture in the Western Pacific.  Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has challenged the West in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, and in the conduct of democratic elections.  North Korea’s acquisition of advanced missile technology—from whatever source—poses a grave security threat to American forces and American allies in Asia.  Meanwhile a combination of refugee problems with a revolt against the “Eurocrats” of the European Union’s “administrative state” have disabled Europe as a force in international affairs.

That’s why the “Nervous Nigels” and “sissies in striped pants”[2] who populate the diplomatic corps of many nations and of international agencies have been bleating so hard.  Where will many millions of people be without the World Health Organization, the World Agriculture Organization, or the United Nations High Commission on Refugees?  Malaria, malnutrition, and massacres, that’s where.

Normally, many people would grudgingly look to the United States for leadership in crises.  The Trump Administration’s “America First” strategy challenges this reflex.  However, there are real limits on what the United States could accomplish under any administration.  Hong Kong has been a part of China since 1997.  China claims Taiwan.  If it buckles on Hong Kong, then its future with Taiwan may be in doubt.  The Uighurs are Chinese subjects.  Kashmir is a part of India.  North Korea already has been plastered with sanctions for decades without abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The Philippines resents the United States and forced the closure of American bases decades ago.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton either opposed or backed away from the Obama administration’s “Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Loathsome person though he may be, Donald Trump isn’t far off the mark in Asia.

[1] This was the position of early 19th Century Conservatives.  You couldn’t make Britain into Prussia and you couldn’t make the Austrian empire into the United States just by writing some documents.  However, the experience of the Third Reich and its adventures proved sufficient to make Germans open to new approaches.  Which proves my point.

[2] The Economist and Franklin D. Roosevelt respectively.