The Best and the Brightest 

Are you loyal to your family, your faith, and your country?
– If Brock Turner was your child, would you hold him accountable, or defend him before the law.
– If you were Catholic in the 16th century, would you support Martin Luther’s rebellion in the Reformation, or choose loyalty to a corrupt Papacy?
– If you were German in WW2, would you question Nazi authority, or choose patriotism and serve your country faithfully.

17 January 2017

Took a trip to #YadVashem, the Israeli #Holocaust memorial on Mount Herzl. The strange thing I thought about while there, was a refrigerator magnet I once saw. 

It was one of those “quotable” magnets, with a proverb, attributed to the Talmud: 
“You can educate a fool, but you cannot teach him how to think.” 
Toward the end of the museum, was a wall with profiles of Third Reich leaders tried at Nuremberg in 1945. The display consisted of individual flight recorder “black boxes” which could be opened, and contained excerpts of the respective testimonies, explaining why they did what they did, given by the individuals during their trials.
Our guide made an emphatic point that all the Nazi leaders were highly educated men, and, by some accounts, also “normal” – going home from “work” to their families, being husbands and fathers like any other person. How could this have happened? What were they thinking?
These men were no fools. Given IQ tests by psychiatrists, the majority of those tried at Nuremberg scored above 120. 
But it does occurs to me that too often we conflate “educated” with “thinking.” It’s one thing, for example, to be “educated” with Nazi propaganda on international jewish conspiracy theories and “medical data” by Nazi doctors showing that jews were a “sub-human” race. 
It’s a separate thing entirely, to think critically, and to periodically evaluate and to question the various things we are taught or are exposed to.
To Hannah Arendt, “the Nazi war criminal’s actions stemmed from her well-known phrase ‘banality of evil,’ not as a result of mental illness but as a result of a lack of thinking.” 
I imagine that each of us, if put in a comparable situation, would like to believe that we would be among the “Righteous among the Nations.” 
But maybe only if we are inclined to question and capable of thinking critically – and that a liberal education is not an ends to itself, but a means to advance critical thinking, by exposing us to diverse thought in the first place.



2.  Obedience, orthodoxy, and faith.


By Ben Cohen

Oct. 6, 2016 11:42 a.m. ET

San Antonio

Gregg Popovich came to San Antonio Spurs training camp this year prepared with some questions for his players. Such as: Who were the explorers pushing west in early America? What is the fourth holy city of Islam? And where is one in danger of being attacked by wombats?
This is not what most NBA teams talk about. It’s not what employees in a typical office talk about. But their boss is the one who demands the Spurs broach these topics and more serious ones at their place of work.
Popovich has been quizzing the Spurs on current events and world history for years. Now he wants them to engage more than ever. So this season, for the first time, he also plans to track which players know the most about everything other than basketball.
“What’s cool is that everybody looks at that person, like: How do you know that?” Popovich said….

“It’s in large part because of Popovich’s intellectual curiosity that this basketball team in the middle of Texas is usually acknowledged as the most progressive organization in the most socially conscious American sports league. For years, being an informed citizen has been a prerequisite of playing for the Spurs….
Popovich spoke out during Spurs’ media day on the morning of the first presidential debate. After the first 2012 debate, Popovich gave his players DVD copies to watch. He did not subject them to the same exercise this year. Popovich found the first debate incredibly disheartening. Then he tried to watch the vice-presidential debate and couldn’t get through the whole thing.
“I worry that maybe I’m being a little too pessimistic, but I’m beginning to have a harder time believing that we are not Rome,” he said. “Rome didn’t fall in 20 days or 30 years. It took a couple hundred years. The question is: Are we in that process and we don’t even know it? I really am starting to think about that. It’s not just the two candidates. It’s the way the whole thing is being treated.”
The Spurs try to exchange ideas, especially about race, in more substantive ways. In last year’s training camp, they hosted John Carlos, the Olympian who raised his fist on the medal stand in 1968. During the season, they scored tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton,” and they had a private screening of “Chi-Raq,” the film by Spike Lee, who answered questions from the players and then joined them for dinner.
This year, when they arrived at training camp, they received copies of the Ta-Nehisi Coates book “Between the World and Me” and previewed “The Birth of a Nation,” the new film about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. The Spurs were so moved that they sat silent through the entire credits sequence, Popovich said. He expected they would talk about it on their own the next day.
“I think it’s important for their lives, for their kids, their wives, for our basketball team,” he said. “Everybody’s gotta get engaged with this elephant in the room that we all have to deal with, but nobody really wants to. People are, like, tired of it. Is it race again? Do we have to talk about it? Well, the reason we do is because it’s still the elephant in the room. Because it still has never been taken care of. Because it’s still there.”
What’s most remarkable isn’t that Popovich is one of the few people in sports to speak about such issues sensibly. It’s that, at this point, it was almost expected of him. People slap “Popovich for President” bumper stickers on their cars here because of his reputation for being utterly reasonable.
“If I just did basketball, I’d be bored to death,” said the coach with five titles spread over three decades. “How much satisfaction can you get out of doing jump shots and teaching someone to deny in the passing lanes? OK, that’s cool, that’s my job, that’s how I earn my living, and I have a good living and I enjoy it. But I’m not a lifer. It doesn’t define me. If I win a game, I’m fine. If I lose a game, it hurts, but I’m fine real quick. It’s not that important.”
His perspective has influenced the entire NBA. Popovich’s coaching tree casts a long shadow: More than one third of the league’s teams are now run by coaches or general managers who have spent time in San Antonio and understand the value of their organizational culture. The result is that the Spurs are the team that other teams want to be.
Popovich says there’s a simple reason he wants his players to be engaged citizens: It makes for a fuller life. He believes there are basketball advantages, too. He thinks it makes them want to play with and for each other. “I think it’s sad if a person’s whole self-image and self-worth is based in their job,” he said. “Whether you’re a basketball player, a plumber, a doctor, a mailman or whatever you might be, why not try your best to live a more interesting life that includes other people, other cultures and different worlds?”
The Spurs certainly have. They are loaded with foreign players who tend to follow the news and debate international politics more than anyone else in the locker room. “They like to tell us what’s wrong and right about our country,” said Spurs forward Kyle Anderson.
The Spurs never quite know what Popovich might ask when they show up for work. But the foreign players often have an advantage when their coach tests them “to see who’s paying attention in the world,” as American guard Danny Green put it. Which is why they’re sometimes disqualified from Popovich’s quizzes….

When I was a captain at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in 2008, all the HQ Battalion officers had to attend a PME (“professional military training”) that talked about Stanley Milgram’s experiments. 
For all the alleged rigidity of the military, it has been the *only place I’ve ever worked that gathered its leaders and said, hey – if *everyone else is doing something, but it doesn’t feel right to you – DON’T FORGET TO FUCKING THINK

“They should insist in being heard.”

9:00 – 11:00

and General Anthony Zinni, United States Marine Corps; The Obligation to Speak the Truth;

2003, United States Naval Academy:

Senator McCain was very upset with me, and he said to me, “What gives you the right to question this?” Later on, I got the same question from the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger: “What gives you the right to question this?” My response was the First Amendment. You know, they didn’t appreciate that answer, but that’s what gave me the right.
And I mentioned to the Senate Armed Services Committee that, unless I forgot something, when I first came before you to be confirmed as the Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command, Senator Strom Thurmond required of me to raise my hand and swear that I would come before this committee in the Senate and give my honest opinion and my honest views, even if they were in opposition to Administration policy or any other policies that may have been implemented by our government. I swore to do that, and yet those who were not hearing what they wanted to hear objected to it. It was very painful.

I managed to get called over to see my boss, the Secretary of Defense, along with the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and got an appropriate portion of my anatomy chewed on. I had to respond to questions like: “Why did you do this? Why did you say this to the Senate?” And I said, “Because they needed to hear the answer. They needed to understand my view, that I have an obligation if asked a question to provide that.” I asked the Secretary of Defense, “Do you think I’m wrong? Do you agree with them and disagree with me, because if that’s the case, then you know, you obviously need to get another Commander in Chief.” He said, “No, I agree with you, but I disagree with the way you said it.” I said, “Well, I don’t understand. I spoke in declarative sentences. I know that’s unusual for Washington, but you know, it’s the way I was brought up.”

The Undersecretary for Policy said, “No, you don’t understand the problem. You weren’t nuanced enough,” and I said, “You know, if you want nuance, don’t send a Marine. We don’t do nuance very well.”

The Undersecretary for Policy said, “No, you don’t understand the problem. You weren’t nuanced enough,” and I said, “You know, if you want nuance, don’t send a Marine. We don’t do nuance very well.”

Not long after that, David Hackworth, one of my favorite guys, because he is irreverent and p—-s everybody off, wrote an article in 1999 about Marine generals, and he said, in effect, “What is it with most of these Marine generals? They get inoculated with double shots of truth serum in boot camp? Why is it that Jack Sheehan, Chuck Krulak, Charlie Wilhelm, and Tony Zinni speak their minds? Why doesn’t anybody else speak their minds?” I liked it. Most of my bosses didn’t.

There is an obligation when you are in uniform to follow orders. There may become a point in time in your career when you have to make a decision. Your choices are only two: to follow those orders or to step aside. You have no other choice when you swear that oath to the Constitution of the United States except to follow the orders of our Commander in Chief, but you have, up until that point when you have to make that decision, a sincere obligation to give your honest view and opinion on what’s going to happen and what in your view is right or wrong about the decision that’s being made.

If you speak out, you’re going to find that there are things that work against you speaking out. One of them is the question of loyalty. You’re required obviously to be loyal to your bosses and loyal to the system…. There can be an issue that you feel you need to deal with, you need to speak out on. It’s a personal decision. It’s a difficult one to make. What you have to say may not be well received. What you have to say may come back in some way to harm you career-wise or other ways. 
In my war, back when I was your age, we went into a conflict, as you heard Secretary of Defense McNamara say, with the right intentions, but we did it the wrong way and found the wrong cause. We created an incident, the Tonkin Gulf incident. We had the United States of America and its citizens believe in the President of the United States, who created a falsehood for going into war. We fought, based on a strategy that I believe the decision-makers felt was right, the domino theory. If you don’t stop communism in Vietnam, all of Southeast Asia will begin to fall, and it will affect us adversely around the world. It was a flawed strategy. It was based on a lie, and we fought it terribly. We didn’t mobilize this nation for that war. We went to individual replacements instead of unit replacements and made a whole series of mistakes and bad decisions at the lowest tactical levels all the way up to the highest strategic policy decisions. We can’t let that happen, when you get yourself in that strange situation where you need to trust and believe in your leadership and that point where you as someone who has sworn an oath to the Constitution must obey the order or step aside, but have those doubts and those gnawing concerns that tug at your heart.

No one can give you the right answer. It’s pretty clear what your obligations are in terms of whom you answer to and what kinds of answers you’re supposed to provide, but in most cases, the timing, the decision to speak out, ends up having to be a personal one. There is no universal rule about all this, and it’s very difficult for anyone senior to you to give you the advice on how to do it. Those judgments have to be made from within.

We do not swear an oath to the President of the United States. We do not swear an oath to the king or the queen. Each one of us swears an oath to the Constitution of the United States. It is unique. Even our closest allies, the Brits who are on the battlefield with us, swear an oath to an individual, to the Queen. We don’t. You swear an oath to a concept, to an ideal, to a law, and with that comes the obligation to protect the men and women that you’re responsible for, to protect the concept, the values, the ideals of what our country stands for, and it supersedes any obligation or duty to any one individual. What goes with that is the understanding that when the order is issued, you have to follow it or step aside, but up to that point, there is this obligation to speak out and to speak the truth.


“We have a great deal of difficulty acknowledging the role of what we don’t know. So we know what we know, and we tell a story about what we know. If I ask you is this national leader and I tell you, well, she is intelligent and strong. Now you already have a sense that she’s a good leader. Now, I could continue, you know nothing about her character. I could tell you she’s corrupt and cruel. But you have already jumped to a conclusion on the basis of very little information. You have a story. If I’d stopped there, you would feel that you know that here is a strong leader. That’s the way the mind works. It’s intended to jump to conclusion”

KAHNEMAN: Suppose you ask people that are about to travel abroad, and you offer insurance and ask, some of them would be willing to pay for insurance. And in one case the insurance is for something that happens during the trip, is for death for any reason. And in the other case you offer them a policy that covers death in a terrorist incident. 
That study was done when there was a fair amount of terrorism in Europe, and it was done in the United States. People pay more for the second policy than for the first.
PAULSON: Even thought the first presumably would include the second, right?

KAHNEMAN: Now, this is absurd. It would include the second, and it would include many other sources, forms of death, which are a lot more likely than dying in an incident. But, what happens is this, what we do when we do when we buy insurance is we measure how afraid we are. 

That’s a simpler question than, how much should I by willing to buy insurance. So the first (?), what comes to mind immediately is the reaction which is basically, the intensity of the fear that I experience. 

And then you map that intensity of fear into a number, and amount of dollars that you are willing to pay for insurance. 
That is answering the wrong question.

7.  How to become a Donald Trump.

1) Be smart, even very smart

2) Be good at at least one thing, even very good.


(a) Imagine you are smart, and good at, say languages. In Russian class, you shine. The kids good at math suck. But you aren’t in calculus with them. You only see how smart you are and better at Russian you are. You start to think you are just smarter than everyone, period.

(b) Your growing confidence leads to to make quick conclusions and take extreme opinions. You dismiss people who disagree because you think you are obviously smarter than them. Maybe all that math stuff is just bullshit anyway, because if those kids struggled so much in Russian – they obviously aren’t *that smart – how can all those numbers they come up with really mean anything? Fake science.

(c) At some point, you might even begin to engage in conspiracy theories. But people who recognize your extreme opinions and quickness to conclusions don’t bother arguing with you because they know you already made up your mind and don’t listen to anyone else. You actually interpret the lack of anyone challenging you as confirmation of your own positions and your natural and wide-ranging superiority on all subjects you express firm opinions and reach quick conclusions on.

(d) By habit, you become convinced you know everything, are very smart, have a good brain, can figure anything out, don’t need experts in math or science or climate change to tell you whats up.

4) Donald Trump.



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