I saw this and thought about my grandmother and our “blasian” (“blackasian”) nephew.
My grandmother, when she was still around, used to call my then 3-4 year old nephew “Chocolate”, because he was “black but not that black.” When Barack Obama became president my grandma was elated. I recall her saying, “This means our Chocolate can be president someday.” 
I am sure my grandmother had concerns when she found out one of her grandchildren was marrying a black guy. But my grandmother wasn’t racist – she was (as Asian Tiger Parents can be), however, pragmatic and a realist. 
You realized that she loved her “black but not that black” great grandchild, but worried that the blackness could mean the child face prejudices and discrimination, and not necessarily have the same access to opportunities as other not-so-black Americans. She worried about disenfranchisement of those in her *tribe. 
On another extreme, she also told me before I left for Afghanistan in 2009, “Promise me you won’t die – other people’s kids can die, but not you.” Oh sure grandma, if the bullets start flying I’ll just throw some other kid in the way. “Sorry bro, promised my Nana!” 
I don’t know what she would feel today if she were still around. But if she had doubts, I would say the same thing I said back then. “It’ll be ok.”


How Trump

11 October 2016

I work with a guy I’ll call James. James is a Trump supporter, and will tell anyone who asks that yes, he is voting for Trump. Also, nobody who actually knows James would call him “deplorable.” James is a decent dude.  

James is also a guy from Pennsylvania, who went to school at Villanova, lived and bought a house in New Jersey, and otherwise spent his whole life in the NY-metropolitan area. He has zero desire to travel abroad (he told me so, when we talked about how much time I spend overseas).

I figure that, beyond the explicit reason *why James supports trump (James says Trump will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices), is a deeper and implicit reason *how he can support Trump – James simply doesn’t feel what a lot of #NeverTrump voters viscerally feel. For example:

– James has never feared categorical discrimination for being Muslim.
– James has never suffered sexual discrimination for being female. 
– James has never felt the pain of being cast as a perpetual foreigner as an ethnic Asian (James watches Fox News, maybe even #WattersWorld). 

All these things, and likely more, James doesn’t feel because its not relevant to his personal experience. And because its not relevant to his personal experience, he can easily dismiss them as Political Correctness and something baked up by some Liberal Agenda.   

By contrast, anyone who has ever been a minority in any regard – be it Muslim in a predominantly Christian community, Asian in a predominantly White society, female in a predominantly Male workplace, has had to do this at some point in their lives:

*Adapt to the dominant narrative.  

 It has always been incumbent upon minorities to “fit in” or even overcompensate: if you are gay, you act “macho”; if you are female and want to get promoted, you likewise find a way to be #OneOfTheBoys, if you are an ethnic Asian, you better score 800 on your SAT verbal (just kidding. Maybe 700 is good enough. But seriously, I love it when some white dude tells me “You speak English so good!”)     


The “dominant narrative” in America is that of the generic experience of a white dude – James.

James has never had to step outside his own experiences to “fit in.” Everyone else who doesn’t share his experience has had to adapt to “fit in” his worldview.
James is not deplorable. James is a white dude who grew up in Pennsylvania and who has not since strayed far from home, and takes for granted that his life experience, what matters to him, is all that really matters – because he has lived the privilege of never having to step outside his own shoes to see things through the eyes of others, in order to “make it” as an American, to make it in the C-suite.

There are decent dudes who support Donald Trump because they don’t understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. It’s not real to them, so it doesn’t really matter (compared to the things that do). 
What these Trump supporters could stand to gain isn’t decency, it’s empathy – the awareness to look beyond our own limited experiences and feel for others unlike yourself.

This isn’t a criticism against any person or White Dudes in general. It *is my opinion on why there are decent people who continue to support Donald Trump in spite of all that he has said. It *is a critical opinion on how privileges (some of which I benefit from, others I do not) can blind us if we don’t consciously try and identify our blind spots. And it’s my observation on the different layers of social stratification and even hierarchies that exist in American society, and how it affects the way we perceive things, and choose to act or not act.


Incidentally, I work in a pretty White, pretty Male, workplace. Our big boss has explicitly pointed out the lack of diversity as a challenge, not for cosmetic purposes, but in fulfilling our mission.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, by contrast, that in the case of Colin Kaepernick, much of the support he receives is from his peers, to include White Dudes (professional coaches, e.g., Chip Kelly, Gregg Popovic, and players, Chris Long etc) who in all likelihood, have spent years of their lives working very closely with many, many, Black coaches/players – enough to at least begin to understand that people do have different experiences that deserve to be heard.


EPILOGUE 12 November 2016

By Greg Popovich:

“I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.

“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff….

“That’s what worries me. I get it, of course we want to be successful, we’re all going to say that. Everybody wants to be successful, it’s our country, we don’t want it to go down the drain. But any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear mongering, and all of the comments, from day one, the race bating with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me wondering where I’ve been living, and with whom I’m living.

“The fact that people can just gloss that over, start talking about the transition team, and we’re all going to be kumbaya now and try to make the country good without talking about any of those things. And now we see that he’s already backing off of immigration and Obamacare and other things, so was it a big fake, which makes you feel it’s even more disgusting and cynical that somebody would use that to get the base that fired up. To get elected. And what gets lost in the process are African Americans, and Hispanics, and women, and the gay population, not to mention the eighth grade developmental stage exhibited by him when he made fun of the handicapped person. I mean, come on. That’s what a seventh grade, eighth grade bully does. And he was elected president of the United States….

“One could go on and on, we didn’t make this stuff up. He’s angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. That’s ironic to me. It makes no sense. So that’s my real fear, and that’s what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other group’s situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person. How disenfranchised they might feel.”



fn1: Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the #minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more #empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the #skin of a rhinoceros.. ” – Tim Cook

fn2:  “I play in a league that’s 70 percent black and my peers, guys I come to work with, guys I respect who are very socially aware and are intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys.

“And I respect the anthem. I would never kneel for it. We all come from different walks of life and think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about, and not kneel. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.

“Listen, it’s been complicated…. I’m just going to listen to my peers because I respect those guys, and I can’t put myself in their shoes.”
fn3: “What’s really interesting is the people that jump right away to say, one is attacking the police, or the people that jump on the other side. It’s a question where understanding and empathy has to trump, no pun intended, has to trump any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature. It’s a topic that can’t just be swung at, people have to be very accurate and direct in what they say and do.”

Do you support that athletes that are taking stands?

“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done. The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it. Whether it’s Dr. [Martin Luther] King getting large groups together and boycotting buses, or what’s happened in Carolina with the NBA and other organizations pulling events to make it known what’s going on. But I think the important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is to keep it in the conversation. When’s the last time you heard the name Michael Brown? With our 24/7 news, things seem to drift. We’re all trying to just exist and survive.

“It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived that experience. It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with. It’s not just a rogue policeman, or a policeman exerting too much force or power, when we know that most of the police are just trying to do their job, which is very difficult. I’d be scared to death if I was a policeman and I stopped a car. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And part of that in our country is exacerbated by the preponderance of guns that other countries don’t have to deal with. It gets very complicated.
“At this point, when somebody like Kaepernick brings attention to this, and others who have, it makes people have to face the issue because it’s too easy to let it go because it’s not their daily experience. If it’s not your daily experience, you don’t understand it. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But for sure, the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities.”

If your players protest, do you plan on talking to them about it?

“My players are engaged citizens who are fully capable of understanding what their values are, and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate, and what they feel strongly about. Whatever actions may or may not be taken are their decisions, and I’m not going to tell anyone ahead of time that if they don’t do A, B and C, they’re going to be gone or traded. I think that’s ignorant.”


The Long Game: Politics, Salvation, Fantasy Football

THE WHITE HOUSE, 10 November 2016.
“A lot of our fellow Americans are exalted today, a lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns, that’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy and it’s not always inspiring….

“But to the young people who got into politics for the first time and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged. Don’t get cynical, don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. 
“You know, the path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back, and that’s OK…

“That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right and then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena, we go at it. We try even harder the next time.
“The point though is is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.
“And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on, as Americans, will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next president is successful in that.

David Remnick, On and Off the Road with Barack Obama, The New Yorker, January 2014

“THE PRESIDENT always takes the long view.
“… That appeal to patience and historical reckoning, an appeal that risks a maddening high-mindedness, is something that everyone around Obama trots out to combat the hysterias of any given moment. “He has learned through those vicissitudes that every day is Election Day in Washington and everyone is writing history in ten-minute intervals,” Axelrod told me. “But the truth is that history is written over a long period of time—and he will be judged in the long term.”
“If you’re doing big, hard things, then there is going to be some hair on it—there’s going to be some aspects of it that aren’t clean and neat and immediately elicit applause from everybody. And so the nature of not only politics but, I think, social change of any sort is that it doesn’t move in a straight line, and that those who are most successful typically are tacking like a sailor toward a particular direction but have to take into account winds and currents and occasionally the lack of any wind, so that you’re just sitting there for a while, and sometimes you’re being blown all over the place….
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.”

“When he deploys Mattis always packs the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman who was both a Stoic philosopher and an emperor. “It allows me to distance myself from the here and now,” and to discern the connection to the eternal verities of warfare, he explained.

I don’t always quote the Bible, but when I do, I’m playing Fantasy Football. #TheLongGame:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27



The long twilight struggle-
There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.


Bureaucracy – the Fifth Estate

One of the deepest impressions I took away from Afghanistan 2009-10 was an appreciation *for bureaucracy. 
#Bureaucracy in the United States carries a lot of baggage, and negative connotations, and yet, what struck me in Afghanistan was the challenge of sustaining a democracy amidst rampant corruption, when the country had a ~92% illiteracy rate. 

A competent bureaucracy was precisely what was needed, because how do you fight corrupt practices and run an accountable government when the vast majority of the people cannot read or write? We had one out of twenty Afghan National Police on our outpost who was literate – i.e., only one person could document witness statements, keep records, etc. – sometimes tedious things to ensure shit wasn’t just made up out – and that there was a Process for things.

You leave a place like Afghanistan with its history of tribalism and Warlords, in an externally imposed and nascent attempt at a centralized democracy, and you just think, if only they had a Bureaucracy- a functioning and professional Civil Service working in institutions free of all the cronyism, nepotism, parochial influences that manifests itself in the corruption.

Well, maybe this is the last line in the United Stated for those who fear Executive overreach – that those who make the Bureacracy is up to snuff, and having spent more than a spot-Political Appointee term at one thing or another, know what lines they will not cross. 

What Trump has said about the CIA and the military has “put us in a difficult position, but the flip side is there is an institutional ability to survive,” said a second senior U.S. official. 

“Bureaucracies chug along and take lumps and have conflicts. If you ask about rank and file, for a long time there has been a sense that [presidents and administrations] come and go, but we’re still here. You’ve got to assume that the Foreign Service at State, generals at the Department of Defense, have that belief. There’s an institutional stability built into the system that can withstand spasms.”

How Mark Felt Became DEEP THROAT
“When I mentioned the graduate work to Felt, he perked up immediately, saying he had gone to night law school at GW in the 1930s before joining — and this is the first time he mentioned it — the FBI. While in law school, he said, he had worked full time for a senator — his home-state senator from Idaho. I said that I had been doing some volunteer work at the office of my congressman, John Erlenborn, a Republican from the district in Wheaton, Ill., where I had been raised.

“So we had two connections — graduate work at GW and work with elected representatives from our home states.
“Felt and I were like two passengers sitting next to each other on a long airline flight with nowhere to go and nothing really to do but resign ourselves to the dead time. 

“Felt seemed sympathetic to the lost-soul quality of my questions. He said that after he had his law degree his first job had been with the Federal Trade Commission. His first assignment was to determine whether toilet paper with the brand name Red Cross was at an unfair competitive advantage because people thought it was endorsed or approved by the American Red Cross. The FTC was a classic federal bureaucracy — slow and leaden — and he hated it. Within a year he had applied to the FBI and been accepted. Law school opened the most doors, he seemed to be saying, but don’t get caught in your own equivalent of a toilet-paper investigation…

“Somewhat to my astonishment, Felt was an admirer of J. Edgar Hoover. He appreciated his orderliness and the way he ran the bureau with rigid procedures and an iron fist. Felt said he appreciated that Hoover arrived at the office at 6:30 each morning and everyone knew what was expected. The Nixon White House was another matter, Felt said. The political pressures were immense, he said without being specific. I believe he called it “corrupt” and sinister. Hoover, Felt and the old guard were the wall that protected the FBI, he said.

In his own memoir, “The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside,” which received almost no attention when it was published in 1979, five years after President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, Felt angrily called this a “White House-Justice Department cabal.”

At the time, pre-Watergate, there was little or no public knowledge of the vast pushing, shoving and outright acrimony between the Nixon White House and Hoover’s FBI. The Watergate investigations later revealed that in 1970 a young White House aide named Tom Charles Huston had come up with a plan to authorize the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of “domestic security threats,” authorize illegal opening of mail, and lift the restrictions on surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather intelligence. 

Felt, a much more learned man than most realized, later wrote that he considered Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” The word “gauleiter” is not in most dictionaries, but in the four-inch-thick Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is defined as “the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control.”

There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to “identify every member of every hippie commune” in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society.

None of this surfaced directly in our discussions, but clearly he was a man under pressure, and the threat to the integrity and independence of the bureau was real and seemed uppermost in his mind.

He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons. The young eager-beaver patrol of White House underlings, best exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to him.


“First and most importantly, the bureaucracy is the front line of defense against executive abuses. So yes, in my opinion, my correspondent and others like him have—as he puts it—some “ethical and civic responsibility to stay here to do [their] small part to try to keep things in check.” The amount of damage that an abusive chief executive can effectuate is dramatically lessened if he has professional staff that will only behave legally and ethically. If Justice Department prosecutors will not target individuals because they have displeased the president or because he has declared that “everyone knows she’s guilty,” a Trump presidency will be far less abusive than if they will do these things. That means that people acculturated to modern ethical and legal norms of behavior among government lawyers should remain in place, at least at the outset. The same is true of FBI agents and CIA officers. It’s important, very important, that the government be staffed at the career level by people who know the lines they will not cross.


Why you might want to: to get rid of lazy assholes who don’t do shit.

Why you wouldn’t: to prevent our agencies from becoming staffed with partisan loyalists and become tools of a regime, rather than existing in service of the state. (What happens in authoritarian regimes)


Citizenship in the long twilight

The outcome of this election doesn’t change who/what I am, and regardless of the outcome, the election remains but part of the “long twilight struggle”:
“Oddly, the man of detachment, of cool wit and ironic view, preached the ‘long twilight struggle’ in which the most certain thing was that there would be ‘neither victory nor defeat.’

“Yet, the man of commitment, of action, rejected with robustious Teddy the ‘cold and timid’ souls who had no blood and dust upon their faces. And another quotation he liked to throw at university audiences was the rhetorical question of George Curtis of Massachusetts: ‘Would you have counted him a friend of ancient Greece who quietly discussed the theory of patriotism on that hot summer day through whose hopeless and immortal hours Leonidas and the three hundred stood at Thermopylae for liberty? Was John Milton to conjugate Greek verbs in his library when the liberty of Englishmen was imperiled?’

To the students of George Washington University, Kennedy gave his own answer:

“No, quite obviously, the duty of the educated man or woman, the duty of the scholar, is to give his objective sense, his sense of liberty to the maintenance of our society at the critical time.”

– Tom Wickers, #KennedyWithoutTears, ESQUIRE, 1964



Worth revisiting:

“There are currents in history and you have to figure out how to move them in one direction or another,” Rhodes said. “You can’t necessarily determine the final destination. . . . The President subscribes less to a great-man theory of history and more to a great-movement theory of history—that change happens when people force it or circumstances do.” (Later, Obama told me, “I’m not sure Ben is right about that. I believe in both.”)

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

A little while later, as we were leaving the Oval Office and walking under the colonnade, Obama said, “I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” He paused yet again, always self-editing. “Not ‘probably,’ ” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing.” 

David Remnick, Going the Distance, The New Yorker, 17 January 2014




“There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days.”

Albert Camus, The Myth if Sisyphus


“A proper understanding of the world view in the Meditations must include not only a sense of the predominant intransigence of human affairs but of their possibilities as well.

“In life, particularly public life, we are not to go ‘expecting Plato’s Republic,’ but to work, he advises, ‘in a principled way, with diligence, energy and patience … If you can embrace this [work] without fear or expectation – can find fulfillment in what you’re doing now … – then your life will be happy.”



#Obama2008 to #IAloneCanFixIt

Voting for change v. Being that change

Eight years ago, I worked on a presidential campaign. Maybe that explains why, while excited about the possibilities of the 2008 presidential election, my enthusiasm is much more restrained.

The 2000 presidential election in Taiwan was historical in its own right. I remember standing on stage at Chung-Shan soccer stadium in Taipei City the eve of the election, experiencing the palpable wave of energy rise from the thousands and thousands of supporters when our nominee, and later president-elect, took the stage. It almost made me cry. But I also remember going home that night with a sense of both excitement and anxiety – the latter, not over what would transpire on election day (is our guy going to win?), but what would happen the hundreds of days thereafter (what are we actually going to do if he wins?)

Taiwanese people voted for change in 2000. They did again, earlier this year. The eight years in between, I think, most would agree, did not go so well.

I also learned that campaign promises are not always (if not rarely) realistic. This is especially true of promises, or at least their insinuations, designed to “rally” the ideological bases, rather than appeal to moderates. A JFK biography noted his favorite book was Herbert Agar’s “The Price of Union.” Agar recounts the particularly acrimonious presidential election of 1896:

“In 1896 … a man who stood for ‘No Compromise’ stampeded a Convention…. ‘We beg no more,’ said Bryan in his ‘cross-of-gold’ speech, ‘we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!’ So did Goldwater defy them. But this was no way to hold together a continent-wide federation of varied interest, occupations, climates and habits of life. Bryan, who was at least a politician, tried to broaden his agrarian base and to capture the factoriy worker for his cause. He failed, and thus lost every northern state east of the Mississippi.

Goldwater never explained what his base was, aside from nostalgia and a bitterness against the compromises of life. So he could not broaden what he could not define, and was beaten far more cruelly than Bryan. But they were both beaten for the same reason: they both, in their rash enthusiasm, forgot that a successful American political party must be a non-ideological affair, accommodating many points of view …. Such parties should never allow themselves to feel, and preach, that the opposition is not only mistaken but wicked. Bryan did this. So did Goldwater, with his suggestion that the Democrats were sowing a form of moral decay throughout America.

The Democratic party was long handicapped by the bitterness consequent to 1896 …. Once, unhappily, both parties failed at the same time in their assuaging mission, both offering us ‘a choice instead of an echo.’ The result was the Civil War.”

I suppose that captures my second disappointment – seeing more of the same: a choice only, and not an echo. For example, while presidential elections have repeatedly brought up issues such as abortion rights, which has been defined (if nevertheless subject to interpretation), much less attention is given to practical problem solving, such as reducing teen pregnancy, perhaps because it does not excite and rally the ideological base.

My final disappointment probably took a little longer to develop. I remember thinking of people’s excitement during campaigns and elections, but what happened thereafter? Supporters of the losing candidate perhaps withdrew in a certain amount of bitterness (the assassination attempt was a conspiracy! We were robbed by hanging chads!). Supporters of the victor, on the other hand, behaved as if all was well or would be well – after all, didn’t the President-elect promise all these fantastic sounding things HE would do? – well, sit back and let him do it for four years. No leader since JFK called on the people to ask what they could do for their country, and it seemed that the people did not ask, and did not do.

I suppose all this led me to think about what “change,” means, and what is required to bring about change, spurred on by fantasy baseball (true), and gaffing off law school, I wrote:

“I used to think that the athletic company Nike’s slogan ‘Just Do It’ was a hackneyed phrase. ‘Just Do It’ – like, c’mon . . . duh. Only recently has it begun to take on an almost mythic quality – a profound declaration of an aspiration rather than a cheap slogan merely stating the obvious. Perhaps, as a matter of fact, most people don’t just do it.

Many of us also like to say that we want to “make a difference.” But what is “difference,” but another way of saying “change”? I believe that there are a great many self-proclaimed “liberals” who, when it comes to action, are quite conservation if not outright prudish. I scratch my head. And here I ask, how are we to make a difference in this world, if privately, we as individuals are so frightened by the unfamiliar, so uncomfortable when out of our “zone”, so adverse to risk, so resistant to change? Furthermore, how do you go about changing resistance to change? Will everything amount to nothing more than a tautological exercise?”

I certainly did not think that any one person, or the political process alone, would be able to address our existing and future challenges. I figured that, insofar as our everyday lives, it ought to start with the little things – with a consistent dedication on the individual level to our immediate communities.

I would say that, it was eerie to hear Obama echo bits of those sentiments, and even JFK’s call to service and for shared sacrifice, during his campaign. That change ought begin from bottom up, e.g., that with respect to education – it ought start with parents at home working with their kids, etc., etc.

So I do, in fact, share in the excitement over possibilities of what may be, at the end of this day. The enthusiasm, perhaps, will return, should election euphoria translate into greater and sustained civic participation and service by Americans, and whether we are offered an echo, and not just a choice.


Because Men Are Not Angels

I endorse America 🇺🇸:

What does democracy entail? Is it as simple as a Choice? Or is it also something more abstract, that includes values such as due process, fairness, and liberty? 

What if, for example, Choice itself isn’t what democracy is, but rather a proxy for Fairness – the notion that each citizen having a voice is Fair and hence, democratic. 

If so, voting for Fascism is in fact anti-democratic, an un-American.


We have this recurring challenge in any large, hierarchical organization. Every layer manages to its own level – no management level looks just one level up. So Operations wants to protect its turf from Marketing and Logistics wants to guard its independence from Operations or whatever. Nobody is willing to look one level up and give an honest assessment of – what is good for the entire organization that might mean my Unit gives up some resources, independence and control?

That’s the problem facing American politics as well. We are so partisan we can no longer make honest assessments of what is best for the Nation.

The difference between the two – a large company or a democracy – is that in a large company you have a CEO approved by an ostensibly independent Board of Directors to make those larger, strategic, for the good of the *whole company decisions. Whereas in a democracy, it descends into the inmates running the asylum, and fighting to choose the President.



#AmericanExceptionalism – is it that American people are exceptional (and the Nigerians, Polish, and Japanese are less so), or is what makes America exceptional our Constitutional Republic – ie, our form of government, which James Madison thought necessary because: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

If we believed that what makes America exceptional was You, and You, and I, maybe we might be inclined to undermine the foundations of our Constitutional Republic when we find them inconvenient (or politically expedient).

What a poor choice that would be.


JAMES MADISON, most cerebral of the Founding Fathers, would have been hopeless on #Twitter. As a rising political star, seeking to understand why the infant American republic was so fragile, he took to the library of his Virginia plantation, Montpelier, for several months. He emerged having written a 39-page study of previous attempts at political union, from the Achaean League to the Belgic Confederacy, as well as a memorandum on “Vices of the Political System of the United States”. Amid all that scholarship lurked ideas about government that he would champion throughout his career, as drafter of the #constitution, a leader in Congress, his country’s chief diplomat and its fourth president.

“… his concern was always to craft a stable, effective popular government, says Lynn Uzzell, scholar-in-residence at Montpelier. He did write in the Federalist Papers, a series of essays urging the ratification of the constitution, that “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” His preceding thought was that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” For him, properly-regulated government was a vital bulwark against human wickedness. That is not the same as seeing the federal government as a tyranny-in-waiting, straining constantly against chains fixed by the Founding Fathers.


Plato’s Digital Cave

original post 10 June 2016
It’s/It’ll really be like we’re living in a Matrix.
Someday, soon maybe, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning will be advanced enough to pump out millions of tweets (some accurate, others inaccurate – #HandsUpDontShoot) designed to go viral, advance a broader narrative, and lodge inside our minds.
Racist *Siri is just #Inception ver #T1000

1. “Microsoft’s newly launched A.I.-powered bot called Tay, which was responding to tweets and chats on GroupMe and Kik, has already been shut down due to concerns with its inability to recognize when it was making offensive or racist statements. Of course, the bot wasn’t coded to be racist, but it “learns” from those it interacts with. And naturally, given that this is the Internet, one of the first things online users taught Tay was how to be racist, and how to spout back ill-informed or inflammatory political opinions.”
Sarah Perez, Microsoft silences its new A.I. bot Tay, after Twitter users teach it racism, TECH CRUNCH, 24 March 2016,…
2. The United States Department of Justice report regarding the investigation into Brown’s shooting stated, “The media has widely reported that there is witness testimony that Brown said ‘don’t shoot’ as he held his hands above his head. In fact, our investigation did not reveal any eyewitness who stated that Brown said ‘don’t shoot.'”
The report also states that “Brown’s blood in the roadway demonstrates that Brown came forward at least 21.6 feet from the time he turned around toward Wilson” and “There is no witness who has stated that Brown had his hands up in surrender whose statement is otherwise consistent with the physical evidence. Again, all of these statements are contradicted by the physical and forensic evidence, which also undermines the credibility of their accounts of other aspects of the incident, including their assertion that Brown had his hands up in a surrender position when Wilson shot him.”
Wikipedia,,_don%27t_shoot citing, Department of Justice Report Regarding the Criminal Investigation into the Shooting Death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson, 4 March 2016, 
3. “Politics is usually basic #math,” he said, “and this is a little bit of calculus, #thinking a couple steps #ahead“:
WASHINGTON — A Twitter post recently caught the eye of Bill McKibben, the environmental advocate and godfather of the Keystone XL pipeline protests…. He promptly shared the post with his 150,000 Twitter followers, and the reaction was immediate.
Lost in the response was the source of the offending tweet. It was not another environmental organization or even a liberal challenger to Mrs. Clinton. Instead, it was a conservative group called America Rising PAC, which is trying, with laserlike focus, to weaken the woman who almost everyone believes will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 2016.
For months now, America Rising has sent out a steady stream of posts on social media attacking Mrs. Clinton, some of them specifically designed to be spotted, and shared, by liberals.
The new-style digital campaign captures some basic facts about 21st-century communication: Information travels at warp speed on social media, it is sometimes difficult to know where that information comes from, and most people like to read things with which they agree. The result, said Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who specializes in political advertising, is something more sophisticated.
“Politics is usually basic #math,” he said, “and this is a little bit of calculus, thinking a couple steps ahead.”
“The idea is to make [Hillary Clinton’s] life difficult in the primary and challenge her from the left,” said Colin Reed, America Rising’s executive director. “We don’t want her to enter the general election not having been pushed from the left, so if we have opportunities — creative ways, especially online — to push her from the left, we’ll do it just to show those folks who she needs to turn out that she’s not in line with them.”
Ashely Parker and Nick Corasaniti, The Right Baits the Left to Turn Against Hillary Clinton, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 May 2015, 
4. “System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine—usually.”
Daniel Kahneman, Of 2 Minds: How Fast and Slow Thinking Shape Perception and Choice [Excerpt], SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 15 June 2012,…
5. “In fact, #Foundation appears to contradict #Asimov‘s own definition of science fiction, as a “branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”
In this case, though, Asimov would later explain that he set out to create a genre he called “social science fiction.” He used the future as a template to explore a pivotal idea that we’ve been asking for centuries: Are there laws of human history as immutable as the laws of physics?
#Psychohistory is a blend of crowd psychology and high-level #math. An able psychohistorian can predict the long-term aggregate behavior of billions of people many, many years in the future. (However, it only works with large groups: Psychohistory is almost useless for predicting the behavior of an individual. Also, it’s no good if the group being analyzed is aware it’s being analyzed — because if it’s aware, the group changes its behavior.)
Mark Straus, What Absolutely Everyone Needs to Know about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, GIZMODO, 19 November 2014,…

“Worse and worse decisions over time.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, The Obama Doctrine: The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world, THE ATLANTIC, April 2016.…/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/
7. Plato, Allegory of the Cave – we see but shadows of the truth.

We see but shadows of the truth.
8. 2016 ELECTIONS Addendum – Didn’t expect I could tack this on:
We are seriously entering Matrix territory – what’s real, what’s not? 
“Russia’s troll factories were, at one point, likely being paid by the Kremlin to spread pro-Trump propaganda on social media.”That is what freelance journalist Adrian Chen, now a staff writer at The New Yorker, discovered as he was researching Russia’s ‘army of well-paid trolls’ …. ‘A very interesting thing happened,’ Chen told Longform’s Max Linsky in a podcast in December.”‘I created this list of Russian trolls when I was researching. And I check on it once in a while, still. And a lot of them have turned into conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re all tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff,’ he said.”
Natasha Bertrand, “Russia hired internet trolls to pose as pro-Trump Americans,” BUSINESS INSIDER, 27 July 2016,…
“If, as Ilyin wrote, the #arithmetical understanding of politics” is harmful, then digital meddling in foreign elections would be just the thing.”
Timothy Snyder, “How a Russian Fascist is Meddling in America’s Election,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 20 September 2016,



The weaponization of information:

Assistant Secretary of State Benjamin Ziff told a Senate subcommittee in Washington… [that] modern Russian propaganda is no longer concerned with censorship. Rather, it is widespread and prolific, filling up the media space to such an extent that people sometimes can’t tell what is right and what is not.

Ziff said the Russians have “a sophisticated $1.4 billion-a-year propaganda apparatus.” They claim to reach 600 million people across 130 countries.

Molly McKitterick, “Russian Propaganda: The Weaponization of Information”, VOA EUROPE, 3 November 2015,


False information floods Twitter; many Americans “confidently wrong”:

“Many Americans — liberal and conservative alike — hold wildly incorrect ideas about public policy issues, including welfare, Social Security, and China’s share of U.S. debt, according to a study by Emily Thorson of George Washington University…. these false beliefs were widespread among Republicans and Democrats alike…. This pattern suggests that these misperceptions are not the result of exposure to politicians’ false statements. Instead, they likely occur when respondents attempt to “fill in the blanks” about complex policy issues.

AMERICAN POLICY INSTITUTE, New fact-checking research: False information floods Twitter; many Americans “confidently wrong”, 29 April 2015…/new-fact…/

 But cf.



16 Nov 2016

“A study by Oxford University’s Project on Computational Propaganda found that pro-Trump bots out-tweeted pro-Clinton bots at a 7-to-1 rate during the final presidential debate on Oct. 19. However, bot activity wasn’t enough to move the data in this analysis—Clinton scored +5 on Oct. 19, while Trump scored -7—potentially because those automated tweets are less likely to contain the kind of natural human language that sentiment algorithms like Brandwatch’s are looking for.


“Above all, it left him with a huge anxiety about the frailty of political elites, and how easily they can be overthrown by the people.”
Chris Bowlby, “Vladimir Putin’s formative German years,” BBC NEWS, 27 March 2015
George Kennan’s article, dubbed the Long Telegram, and originally published under the name “#X” in 1947, argued that (wiki)  “the Soviet Union would be sensitive to force, that the Soviets were weak, compared to the united Western world, that the Soviets were vulnerable to internal instability, and that Soviet propaganda was primarily negative and destructive. Kennan advocated sound appraisal, public education, solutions of the internal problems of U.S. society, proposing for other nations a positive picture of the world the U.S. would like to see, and faith in the superiority of the Western way of life over the collective ideals of Soviet Communists.”
(Kennan’s ideas were manifest in the US Cold War policy of containment, rather than military confrontation with the Soviet Union – and ultimately seen as prescient with the collapse of the Soviet Union from internal forces)
The unraveling of liberal democracies on their own, without imposition by external forces, though arguably influenced by Russian disinformation, is the #LongTelegram turned on its head-and would be one of the greatest geopolitical ironies of the last half-century.

Originally posted June 10, 2016. Updated November 5, 2016.


Calvin and Hobbes, and a Trump Foreign Policy

From about 2003-2007, traveling abroad as an American could have been more difficult than before. A lot of places you’d go, the people were suspicious or even angry at US foreign policy, particularly the Iraq War. Not that they would necessarily be rude to you if they knew you were American, but there was just that little bit more of a general chill, compared to before.
Obviously, this doesn’t affect people from Long Island who tend not to “cross well-understood geographical boundaries” (Kurt Vonnegut), and I get the attitude that “it doesn’t affect my life so I don’t care” – But American prestige and credibility abroad do matter even if the effects aren’t direct nor tangible.
I’d forecast that a Trump Presidency, and a bull-in-the-China Shop, transactional Foreign Policy (you pay this, you pay that Mexico and Japan; bye NATO), would be significantly more damaging than the Iraq War.
Americans should prepare to be greeted with increasing suspicion abroad.



Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Trump

I guess I always knew why, rationally, I was #NeverTrump. Took me until now – to read Ray Allen’s letter to 21-year old self, connected to Kobe’s New Yorker interview and the FT’s piece on Obama, to realize why the antipathy is also visceral.

You grow up being the new kid and outsider enough that, deep down, you get what it feels like to be a disabled American reporter being mocked for being disabled, a Muslim American family being denigrated for being Muslim, … and it just sets you off.

This election is personal.


For many of us who have spent large chunks of our childhoods or even lives as #outsiders, a Trump candidacy probably causes visceral discomfort. Kids like Trump were probably the ones who went out of their way to point out to other kids how different we were to them, and make it harder for us to blend in when all our differences were being highlighted.#KobeBryant #RayAllen #BarackObama

If Trump was black, he’d had been the kid bullying Ray Allen with “You talk like a white boy.”

Instead, he grew up a rich snotty white boy, and chose to push the Birther movement against Obama.




“You’re used to being the kid that nobody knows… You’re used to being an outsider.

“Northern California. Then Germany. Then Oklahoma. Then England. Then Southern California…. You spent your formative elementary school years in Britain. So you don’t even realize it, but to some people, you speak very proper.

When you step off that school bus in South Carolina tomorrow and open your mouth, those kids are going to look at you like you’re an alien.

“You talk like a white boy,” they’ll say.

You’ll look around the school and see groups of kids all paired off, and you’ll feel like you don’t have a place.

You’ll think to yourself, I don’t understand. Who am I supposed to be?

I’m going to be 100% honest with you. I wish I could tell you that it will get easier, and that you’re going to blend in, and that it’s going to be alright. But you’re not going to fit in with the white kids, or the black kids … or the nerds … or even the jocks.

“You talk like a white boy,” they’ll say.
You’ll be the enemy to a lot of people simply because you’re not from around there.

This will be both the toughest and the best thing that will ever happen to you.




“When Kobe was six, the Bryants moved to Italy so that Joe could continue his career in the European professional leagues. They remained there seven years, as Joe thrived. Kobe had to read a Latin version of the Iliad. “And do presentations on it, in Latin, at nine years old, know what I mean?” he said of his Italian schooling. “That’s growing up a little differently.”

Bryant found the social adjustment difficult, re-assimilating as a black teen-ager used to speaking Italian, in the Philadelphia suburbs, where his parents resettled. “Combine that with blacks having their own way of talking, and I really had to learn two languages in order to fit in,” he once said. “Kids are cruel. It’s always been hard.”

“There is a bigger issue in terms of being an African-American athlete, and the box people try to put you in because of it,” he told me. “And it’s always a struggle to step outside of that.” When I brought up LeBron James posting online a photo of the Heat players dressed in hoodies, with their heads bowed, in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, as a political expression, Bryant seemed nonplussed. “I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said. “That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and as a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American, we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, if we’ve progressed as a society, then you don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”

… Bryant’s refusal to take up golf is a point of pride, related to the box he resists being confined to, as an African-American athlete. He told me, “I get questions all the time: ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ As if I had no life, no talent outside of playing basketball. It absolutely drives me crazy. ‘You just going to golf all day?’ I’m, like, ‘No. Who the fuck said that?’ It’s maddening.”

… The European childhood inspired in Bryant a sense that there is “a much bigger world out there,” as he put it to me, and, as an adult, he travels widely in the summers, both as an extension of his brand (doing promotional work for Lenovo in Manila, say) and in order to expose Natalia and Gianna to differ­ent cultures.



“Obama ate dog, snake and grasshopper, learnt Bahasa Indonesian, and got used to children throwing stones at his black skin. Aged 10, he returned to Hawaii, where he was born, to live with his grandparents but he continued visiting his mother in Indonesia. He rarely discusses his Indonesian years, presumably because most US voters don’t like their leaders foreign, but this formative experience as a cultural outsider makes him almost unique among US presidents.

Even in Hawaii, Obama remained an outsider. The state was nearly five hours’ flight from the continental US, and hardly any black people lived there. He got to know the American mainland only at college. But by then he was already a confirmed outsider, taught both by his experience and his mother’s anthropological outlook to see every culture — including the US itself — from outside. It’s wrong to understand Obama chiefly as a product of his ethnic identity, or as a mainstream American liberal like his mother. Rather, he wasn’t raised in any group.

The “birther” jibes, therefore, aren’t simple racism against a black president. After all, although black Americans suffer horrible discrimination, hardly anyone questions their Americanness. Instead, birthers are pointing up Obama’s perceived foreignness.

Viewing the US from the outside, President Obama never seems to have bought the notion that it is an exceptional country with a superior culture and God-given duty to save the world. Asked on his first trip overseas as president whether he believed in American exceptionalism, he replied: “I believe in American exceptionalism. Just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

That upset some voters. Obama can seem apart from his own country, haughty, almost a foreigner in the White House. Stephen Gudeman, anthropologist at the University of Minnesota, says: “He keeps a distance from what is going on, which I think is classically anthropological.”

Later, Obama sometimes paid lip service to American exceptionalism but his actions don’t suggest he believes it. I suspect one reason he didn’t intervene in Syria is that he doesn’t think the US has a manifest destiny or indeed any unique expertise to fix other countries. As for America’s domestic arrangements, he commented after last year’s mass shooting in Charleston: “You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation.” He was talking about the US as just another country — something almost taboo in American political discourse.

Another tenet of anthropology, says Gudeman, is that all people are equally valuable. Obama has spent political capital on America’s untouchables: prisoners and people without health insurance, who are usually ignored in US politics because they enjoy little public sympathy, rarely vote and don’t make political donations.

But it’s in Obama’s diplomacy that the organic anthropologist shows clearest. After talks last year with the Afghan president and anthropologist Ashraf Ghani, Obama quoted the anthropologist Ruth Benedict: “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.”` Anthropologists accept that different people see the world differently: Indonesian blacksmiths don’t think like Californian accountants. The anthropologist attempts to communicate with the other #tribe, understand it, and bridge those differences rather than try to erase them….




“Maryanne Trump declined to comment for this article except to say, ‘He’s still a simple boy from Queens. You can quote me on that.’”


“The Republican candidate is far more popular than Hillary Clinton among people who still live where they grew up.”

“Hometowns simultaneously repel and attract.

“As it turns out, that odd magnetic quality might be playing a role in the 2016 race. How people plan to vote appears to correspond, albeit broadly, with whether they decided to move away from where they grew up. According to the just-released PRRI/The Atlantic poll, 40 percent of Donald Trump’s likely voters live in the community where they spent their youth, compared with just 29 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. And of the 71 percent of Clinton voters who have left their hometowns, most—almost 60 percent of that group—now live more than two hours away.*

“The effect is even stronger among white voters, who already tend toward Trump. Even a bit of distance matters: Trump wins by 9 points among white likely voters who live within two hours of their childhood home, but by a whopping 26 percent among whites who live in their hometown proper.


“…. you realize how deep culture really goes — because when people realize you don’t share all their habits, they suspect you don’t share their values either. An instinctive tribal hostility gets activated.”…/barack-obama-opinions-062110/



#Nativists – “America for Americans”







Epluribus Unum: From D-Day to Trump Day

Originally posted, June 18, 2016.

Two weekends ago, on Memorial Day, I stood on the beaches of Normandy, France, where Allied Forces landed on 6 June 1944, to begin the liberation of #Europe from Nazi Germany.

I was there with a 17-year old kid from New Orleans, Jackson, and his dad, Sandy, who had been an Army logistics officer in Germany.

Sandy said that he never pushed Jackson toward military service, and in fact, preferred that Jackson go to college after high school, but Jackson was hell bent on enlisting in the Army upon graduating, and to joining an airborne unit (82nd or 101st division).

I said, you know – everybody has their own reasons for when and why they volunteer. For most guys, the idea of adventure is probably part of it. But actually, one of the biggest challenges of deployment was boredom. There you are, in some shitty outpost, that you can’t leave without at least an 8-man patrol logged in with the COC (combat ops center). No movie theaters, no restaurants, no nothing when your “work” day is over. I smoked so many goddamn cigarettes on deployment simply to pass the time and cope with boredom.

But, if that was a disappointment (which it shouldn’t be – in retrospect you appreciate it as a blessing, to have deployments with little to speak of), there are things you walk away from your time in service you don’t join thinking of.

For me, that was not only meeting and working with Iraqis and Afghans, learning the culture and history, but also Americans from all walks of life and all corners of America: the middle class suburban Chicago kid, the Los Angeles gangster kid (he joined the Marines to leave the gangs), the kid from West Virginia who’s dad was a coal miner, officers who were Ivy League grads, etc.

You realize that America is a big and diverse country, though in civilian life you get the chance to go home after work and there is a tendency to self-segregate according to our religion, education, race, politics, what have you.

But the greatest privilege of my life and one of the most defining experiences – one I had no idea of when I volunteered – what I really walked away with is, the idea that people very different from yourself in many, many ways, are also very similar (in their commitment to shared sacrifice, and belief in this country, amongst other things), with those similarities ultimately being more important than the differences.

The military is, or was for me, if by accident, a time to develop greater empathy and understanding of people unlike myself – Iraqis, Afghans, and Americans alike.

So if in 2016 I post endlessly about the #tribalism, #parochialism,#provincialism that seems prevalent – it is a deeply personal thing.

I have seen what can be done when people make the effort to understand and get along with those unlike themselves, but also the conflict and tragedy that may result, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, when they don’t, and default to the narrow parochialism of evolutionary tribal/sectarian instincts. That result now is civil war.





  1. “On a clear summer evening, we squinted into the sun setting over the softball field on our U.S. Army base in Germany. One of my friends, who hailed from a small Pennsylvania town, said: “Look out there, Will, and tell me that isn’t cool. There’s a good ole boy from West Virginia pitching; in center field, we have a black power-lifter from Florida; in right field, there’s a Puerto Rican; at first base, an Irish-American from South Boston. I went to West Point, and you went to Princeton. If we were back home, what would be the chances that all of our paths would ever cross?””I was reminded of that moment the other night as my wife and I watched the final scene of ‘Band of Brothers,’ in which the soldiers play softball as the narrator explains what became of them after the war. After a few moments sitting in stunned silence as the credits rolled, in awe of the almost unimaginable self-sacrifice of Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company, “Band of Brothers” gave way to a cable news show and its cacophony of pundits shouting party-issued talking points at each other, without a trace of original thought. It was hard to avoid a sense of melancholy at the abrupt transition from Easy Company’s selfless service to today’s toxic political discourse, and to a social fabric that appears to be unraveling along partisan and socioeconomic lines.”… In a society that continues to divide between red state and blue, the very rich and everyone else, encouraging everyone to spend a year working together to perform a mission focused on the collective good would bridge some of the divides that are weakening us as a country. How often do the “coastal elites” express befuddlement at the support for Donald Trump, confiding to each other that they’ve “never met a Trump voter.” Likewise, some people in the reddest of counties rarely, if ever, come face to face with a committed progressive. The Brexit vote in Britain last month illustrates what happens when socioeconomic elites have grown so detached from the rest of the citizenry that a factory worker in Manchester seems more foreign to a banker in London than a fellow financier in Frankfurt.

2.  #Provincialism (which I believe correlates with racism, xenophobia, etc.) is a bane of our otherwise diverse democracy:

“According to the just-released PRRI/The Atlantic poll, 40 percent of Donald Trump’s likely voters live in the community where they spent their youth, compared with just 29 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. And of the 71 percent of Clinton voters who have left their hometowns, most—almost 60 percent of that group—now live more than two hours away.*

“The effect is even stronger among white voters, who already tend toward Trump. Even a bit of distance matters: Trump wins by 9 points among white likely voters who live within two hours of their childhood home, but by a whopping 26 percent among whites who live in their hometown proper.


“Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” —Bedouin saying
“Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict…. [But] something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all.
“Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” —Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5
“Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.
“Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.
“Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.
“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”
Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.
The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.
But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage. 
Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer, “How to get beyond our tribal politics”, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4 November 2016