Of airs and affectations.

character of vanity

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Ecclesiastes 11:7-9.

I never read the book, but I am watching the video version on Amazon and, as a major fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, am enjoying it immensely, though hardly for any cultural or noble reasons. Whether or not it’s a realistic portrayal of life of British high society during the Napoleonic Wars, I don’t care. It’s immensely funny to watch people with minimal self awareness making asses of themselves while they are drunk with their own virtue. Now you know that such an introduction could equally apply to the high society of our day. Who are they? Well, who does the bold sentence remind you of? Hint: some recently elected young skulls full of mush–thanks again, Rush–to the United States House, and their minions. Airs and affectations are still as funny and obnoxious as they were in the early 1800’s, whether they on the Continent or here. It was all about wealth, status and virtue, as it still is.

Of the three, only wealth is not the product of Airs and affectations. Notice the cover of Vanity Fair. After watching a few episodes, it’s apparent to me that he’s married to another woman, but is whispering lewd suggestions, and she, after shamelessly flirting with him in front of his wife, is pretending to be suitably shocked. Airs and affectations! His fancy uniform is an empty suit, though it should be red if he is supposed to be British–the French wore blue uniforms–but no matter, they are each playing their part in the drama according to the standard of their society and times. To the extent they judge themselves at all, they are judging their behavior according to….what? They readily identify the sins of others that they themselves are committing, and absolve themselves when they believe their status is enough to shut down criticism. But if their status is lower than the critic, they grovel. With no absolute standard, what else is there?

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is 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 brother’s eye.”- Matthew 7:1-5. Jesus is clear that right judgment requires you to confront your own sin before trying to confront the sins of others. This truth was rejected by the “good and the great” of Thackeray’s time, just as it’s rejected by the virtue signalers of our time.

This program is worth seeing, for a laugh and a perspective.

Intra-acronym wars: The race to be the more favored victim.

what a boy!?

Peter Heck, writing for PJ Media, used the term above, and it is his words in Italics, below. The acronym in question is LGBTQ. Gay activist and author Andrew Sullivan explains why:

This is the deeply confusing and incoherent aspect of the entire debate. If you abandon biology in the matter of sex and gender altogether, you may help trans people live fuller, less conflicted lives; but you also undermine the very meaning of homosexuality. If you follow the current ideology of gender as entirely fluid, you actually subvert and undermine core arguments in defense of gay rights. “A gay man loves and desires other men, and a lesbian desires and loves other women,” explains Sky Gilbert, a drag queen. “This defines the existential state of being gay. If there is no such thing as ‘male’ or ‘female,’ the entire self-definition of gay identity, which we have spent generations seeking to validate and protect from bigots, collapses.” Contemporary transgender ideology is not a complement to gay rights; in some ways it is in active opposition to them.

And it’s important to realize this isn’t just academic opposition.  It has real-life consequences, and those, perhaps more than anything else, are what seem to be motivating an increasingly vocal lesbian revolt against their transgender foes. Julia Beck, an outspoken lesbian, was recently kicked off Baltimore’s LGBTQ commission.  Her crime?  Offending the pronoun police in the transgender crusade.

“I was found guilty of ‘violence.’ My crime? Using male pronouns to talk about a convicted male rapist who identifies as transgender and prefers female pronouns.  It doesn’t matter that he sexually assaulted two women in a women’s prison after being transferred there on account of his ‘gender identity.’ Oh no, it is far more criminal for me to call a male rapist ‘he’ than it is for him to rape,” Beck argued… “The meeting made one thing crystal clear: Inclusivity means all voices are welcome, except women’s, except lesbians’,” Beck said. “Everything is about the T now, entirely eclipsing the L, G, and B. The T is diametrically opposed to the first three letters in the acronym, and especially to the L.”

And Beck isn’t the only lesbian who has suffered the consequences of being a member of the less-favored victim category at the moment.  Iconic tennis legend Martina Navratilova has been dropped from the advisory board and ambassador position for the LGBT group “Athlete Ally.”  Why?  Because Navratilova wrote these words in a Sunday Times op-ed:

“A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organization is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires,” she wrote. “It’s insane and it’s cheating,” she continued. “I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.”

Gee, why the objection? It is acknowledging the reality that male hormones build more muscle mass than female, males have greater lung capacity and heart/blood pumping force. Of course, women in great shape could build greater endurance than a sedentary male, but she is talking about conditioned, trained athletes.

Martina Navratilova has done more to advance the homosexual rights movement than perhaps any sports figure in history.  She “came out” in the 1980s and faced far more opposition to her positions than any of these modern sexual revolutionaries will ever know.  She should, in every way imaginable, be their hero. Instead, she’s slammed as a hater and kicked out of the club.  Lesbians everywhere should be on notice: if they’re willing to trample the name, legacy, and reputation of Martina Navratilova, they’re willing to do it to you. 

And for all those who have advanced the identity crusade of homosexualism the last several years, your greatest enemy is not conservative Christians who point towards redemption in Jesus.  Your greatest enemy is in your own acronym. This echoes the immortal words and country wisdom of Lyndon Johnson, when asked why he would invite sworn enemies to join his campaign: “I’d rather have him in the tent pissin’ out, than out of the tent pissin’ in.” Amen.

But wait, how did this state of affairs occur so fast and so thoroughly? How did transgenderism, which is either an anomaly or a hoax, gain so much cultural power? Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in the chapter of his book, Skin In The Game called the Dictatorship of the Small Minority that in a complex system in which a flexible majority and intransigent, inflexible minority (need I say fanatical), the most intransigent wins. What the heck am I talking about? He gives an example of Kosher products. A tiny but inflexible minority in our society demand Kosher food, while the majority don’t care or even know what Kosher is. But, unbeknownst to most of us, many foods we buy carry the little kosher symbol–a U surrounded by a circle–sometimes with the word pareve. When I read that, I thought nah, can’t be. But in my fridge and pantry, Heinz barbecue sauce, Trader Joe’s almond butter, Walmart soy sauce, Trader Joe’s almond milk, Planters peanuts, Barilla pasta, Trader Joe’s maple syrup…what? I have shopped at Trader Joe’s for years, and have seen countless yuppies, but not a single Hasidim or yarmulke in any TJs store. Yet, it seems the majority of their products are Kosher. Why?  Simply because going full Kosher allows the producer, grocer, restaurant, to not have to distinguish between Kosher and nonkosher with special markers, separate aisles, separate inventories, different stocking sub-facilities. The simple rule that affects the whole is as follows: A Kosher (or halal) eater will never eat nonkosher (or nonhalal) food , but a nonkosher eater isn’t banned from eating kosher.

Talib points out that two factors influence how yielding the majority, who tend to be flexible, will be to the I.M., intransigent minority. Distribution in the population: If the I.M. is randomly distributed throughout the majority, their demands are more likely to be met than when they are concentrated in their own enclaves. Cost of accommodation: There is a relatively simple cost-benefit calculation involved when we are talking about a product line being all Kosher vs. the cost of differentiating Kosher from nonkosher. When we are talking about behaviors rather than products, the analysis skews much more in the direction of accommodating the I.M., and the squeakiest wheel gets the most grease, so we could assume, even if overwhelming evidence was not shoved in our faces, that the trans lobby squeals the loudest.

So there you have it. This aberration or hoax or anomaly called transgenderism and it’s handmaiden, gender dysphoria, have rapidly and radically accumulated political and cultural power by virtue of their intransigence! I think the rest of the culture needs to be a lot more intransigent!

Wearable schizophrenia.

We’ve all read about or seen so many recent instances of MAGA hat insanity, people being assaulted or refused service just for wearing a hat with four capital letters on it. Make America Great Again is apparently a capital crime. What if I was a rabid Arsenal soccer team fan–there are probably millions–and I wanted to tout Make Arsenal Great Again? Would I still be refused service? Does the MAGA hat wearer have to be added to the ever growing list of government protected groups? What if I was black, or transgender, or cross dressing, and wore the hat, would I still be refused service, or assaulted or verbally abused? Nope, hat or not, those are protected groups. I’d call down the wrath of the local EEOC!

What if, as an unprotected and unloved straight white male, I wore a hat with two brims facing opposite directions, each having an entirely different message? One side is red, and merely says MAGA, the other side is black, and says #blacklivesmatter. I could wear whichever message was appropriate for the neighborhood, making friends of those walking towards me from the front, and enemies of those behind me. That’s one way to incite a riot. Or I could turn the hat sideways, illustrating schizophrenia. Ridiculous you say? More ridiculous than assaulting someone for their headgear?

I suppose the general rule for today’s culture is, “outrage makes anything acceptable.” Though of course, it doesn’t. Outrage is only your personal emotions worn on the surface. That doesn’t make anything done from that state of intoxication acceptable or desirable, no more than behaviors driven by being drunk/high on alcohol, meth, cocaine, heroin, or PCP, for instance. Outrage is intoxicating, and you are no less dangerous than the drunk or drug addict panting for a hit.

Oh, am I being intentionally naive? Don’t I know that MAGA stands for President Trump? So what? Does that give you the right to break laws because someone is wearing that message on a hat? Some normally law abiding business owners say publicly that they will refuse service to someone wearing a MAGA hat. Huh? Isn’t that illegal? No, it’s now illegal to refuse service to a man kissing another man, or someone flamboyantly dressed like the other sex (ah, a clothing crime, because they must be trans), or someone with a different skin color. I would like nothing better than to see Billy Porter, that black actor who considers him/herself to be the wife of a man, who wore that flamboyant “tuxedo gown” to the Oscars, wear a MAGA hat to a restaurant virtue signaling by refusing service to the hat!

Yeah, that’s likely! I can always dream. Isn’t that America?

When your eyes are open.

Oops, wrong ring…..boom!

I consider marriage to be a lifelong joining of a biological man and woman. Needless to say, that is an outmoded definition in our postmodern culture, but so what, that’s what I believe. Transgenderism (why the heck is there an ism for a condition?) and it’s current umbrella, LGBTQism, which is already starting to fray in the strong winds of trans intransigence, would argue that anyone can “marry” anyone, though slipperyslope-ism will eventually argue that anyone can marry anything. In fact, there is a guy who insists he married a dolphin. None dare call that an aberration. Today’s aberration is tomorrow’s mainstream, if we keep heading off the cliff of sanity.

I don’t like genuflecting to transgenderism. I’ve called it an aberration, anomaly and a hoax, maybe all three, though I haven’t used the word trannies yet (transmissions are also called trannies) and I have been waiting for a reader to call me out, and ask “how do you think trans people should be treated?” That’s a reasonable question, so rather than wait until it’s asked, I will volunteer my answer. That depends on the venue or context. Within their biological family, they should be loved. Within a Christian church, they should be loved. When out and about among everyone else, they should be loved, and within the company they work for, they should be loved. So should all of us in those venues, in a perfect world. But I need to define love. It doesn’t show up the same in every venue.

Love within your biological family must recognize certain realities: parents don’t take advice from children; as the children get older they take less advice from parents and resent direction more; parents frequently mistake enabling for love, though maybe the truth is that they love themselves so much that they are unwilling to be unpopular with their children. I have no right or authority to make any recommendations for someone else’s family, but I believe children will grow out of gender confusion, unless they choose a peer group that thinks it’s cool. Heaven help them. Parents who buy the idea that hormones or surgery are the answer for gender dysphoria confusion may think they are loving by affirming, but what about the responsibilities of adult counsel? Whatever you do, there are at least two sides to the issue. Why not get both and then apply the test of Y2K? What is that? Remember how many people were in a panic prior to the year 2000 over the impending worldwide computer meltdown that never materialized? I was a financial adviser then, and many people asked my advice. My advice was the same for everyone: Since no one knows what will happen, don’t make irrevocable or irreversible decisions based on the worst case. Plan for a range of scenarios. The trouble with betting everything on the worst case is, you then have a vested interest in the worst case happening.

What this has to do with gender dysphoria confusion is this: The worst case is that your child is truly, biologically “misgendered”. Betting everything on that scenario means irreversible surgery and drugs. If you let them go that far, both they and you have a vested interest in transgenderism being real, and in defending the change, and suppressing regret. What happens when regrets set in, like if God forbid, a biological woman who transitioned to the appearance of a male by having HER uterus removed, changes her mind and later wants to marry a man and have children? What if you rushed to get her testosterone injections and surgery when she was a teenager? Mom or dad, though mostly it’s moms, you failed your daughter. Where was the adult in the family? Instead, if you were more prudent and weighed all kinds of counsel, and came to the conclusion that if your child was still gender confused when they reach the legal age of consent, you would love and accept her or him whatever they chose, what would be your counsel then? Mine would still be “don’t do anything irreversible.” Am I saying that if a parent gives in to a child’s whim or temporary confusion, despite their (hopefully) better judgment, they aren’t loving them. Can you say “enabler”? Love doesn’t collapse with the pressure of expediency.

What about love in the context of a Christian church? What does the Bible say about the creation of human beings? “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. Did God make a mistake in transgenderism? Or is the dogma of transgenderism the mistake? Love, in the context of the church, is upholding the Word of God and preaching that God will clear up all sexual confusion, and ministering to those in pain without watering down the truth. What about love in the other venues of life? The principle of love is always the same, and it starts with truth. Lying by embracing a fad that would have been considered mental illness a few years ago is still lying, and not love. As for those who profit from advancing a false dogma, and who pressure parents to allow irreversible damage to be done to their children, you are cursed. “But what if it’s not irreversible”, you ask. If you even have to ask, you admit the possibility that the winds of fad can change direction. You are doubly cursed.

Playing For Change

playing for change

These days when I hear the word “change”, as in something we all need or a politician’s promise, one hand holds on to my wallet, and the other goes for my gun. Not really to the second one, because my gun usually isn’t that accessible. But today, that word is part of something hugely wonderful. I opened the YouTube app on my computer, and there was a video from Playing For Change of one of my all time favorite songs, Take Me Home, Country Roads.

I listened, fell in love with the music, the concept, and joined immediately. Only $5/month or $50/year. What is it? Some kind of worldwide musicians cooperative I think, but listen to this video and make up your own mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3g9QUT_oP0

Where else can you watch and hear consummate talent from around the world? Where else can you hear a sitar solo from India, dobro solo from Italy, balalaika solo from Lebanon and guitar solo from Tokyo following each other in a single song?

Go on up, for the land is before you.

fruit of the land

The people of Israel who had been slaves in Egypt have come to the decision point. The Lord, who had done mighty works for them, has just directed their leader, His prophet Moses, to select one leader from each of the twelve tribes, to spy out the promised land and bring back a report. The same Lord had visited miraculous plagues against Egypt, including the death of all the firstborn while sparing all the Israelites, and then parted the Red Sea so they could safely escape from the Egyptian army pursuing them. When the Egyptians tried to follow on the dry seabed, with walls of ocean piled up on each side, the Lord caused the waters to close over them.

This same Lord formed a pillar of cloud to lead them through the wilderness to the promised land of Canaan, and provided food for them, manna bread formed from the dew each morning. So many signs of God’s power should have been enough to convince them to obey His commands on faith, and now He was testing their faith. Who were the spies? The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” Numbers 13:1-2. So they were chiefs among their tribe. Were they faithful and courageous?

And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. Numbers 14.

Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, were faithful and courageous, the others not. Each got an appropriate reward. Joshua and Caleb would live to see their children conquer and occupy the promised land, the other ten died in a “plague from the Lord”. The fate of the rest of the people, who wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb for having confidence in the Lord’s power to deliver His people, was to wander in the desert for 40 years, a year for each day the spies were measuring the promised land. This is not a mere history lesson. The worldwide Body of Christ, those who worship Jesus Christ, are the Israelites, now wandering in a cultural desert of their own making, admittedly mostly in “westernized” countries.

Twenty years ago, almost everything espoused by the Perfectionist Progressives in our country, Canada, Western Europe and Australia would have been grounds for commitment to a mental hospital. Many chiefs of the tribes–pastors and church leaders–wilted before the onslaught of this idiocy. Instead of saying, “the Bible says the ‘gates of hell’ will not stand against the church of Christ”, the unfaithful and cowardly of the chiefs began to syncretize the insanity of the world with the truth of the Bible, and the Joshuas and Calebs among the pastors were verbally stoned. So we all are wandering in the cultural desert. But God is sovereign. He can and will bring us to the promised land, despite our complaints and infirmities.

And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them. Keep your courage up, the “people of the land” may appear to be giants living in fortified cities, but that is a temporary illusion. The Lord will prevail, so go on up for the land is before you!

What’s your gospel?

Imagine being “interviewed” by someone who hasn’t the slightest interest in what you say or think, and is only using the interview platform for self-promotion. This interviewer has total control of the microphone, can cut you off at will, and will decide what gets left in and what gets cut out in the final edit of the interview. What are some of the rhetorical techniques he will use to distort your views? How will you answer? Why will you answer, when there’s no space for your answers, and the questions serve only the host? What can you do to rescue some dignity, if not the entire interview?

This kind of interviewer, with his total control of the mic, the questions, the space for answers and the final edits, perhaps even a laugh track or two, and his pernicious self righteousness unleavened by self awareness, is only waiting to pounce. Waiting for what? Perhaps wondering if before or after the commercial break would be a better opportunity to embarrass you. If he were sufficiently educated in the techniques of rhetoric, he might have planned the questions with the following rhetorical devices in mind, though more likely he is too lazy to plan and believes enough in his own cleverness to be “spontaneous”. It is irrelevant that what he considers spontaneity is merely regurgitating slogans with a lilt at the end of each sentence, as if he is asking questions:

  1. Meiosis is a type of euphemism that intentionally understates the size or importance of its subject. It can be used to dismiss or diminish a debate opponent’s argument. 
  2. Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that conveys emotion and raises the bar for other speakers. Once you make a hyperbolic statement like “My idea is going to change the world,” other speakers will have to respond in kind or their more measured words may seem dull and uninspiring in comparison.
  3. Apophasis is the verbal strategy of bringing up a subject by denying that that very subject should be brought up at all.
  4. Hypophora is the trick of posing a question and then immediately supplying the answer. It’s useful because it stimulates listener interest and creates a clear transition point in the speech.
  5. Expeditio is the trick of listing a series of possibilities and then explaining why all but one of those possibilities are non-starters. This device makes it seem as though all choices have been considered, when in fact you’ve been steering your audience towards the one choice you desired all along.
  6. Antiphrasis is another word for irony. Antiphrasis refers to a statement whose actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words within it.
  7. Dysphemism  is an offensive or detrimental phrase deliberately used in place of a nicer one. This applies to everything from using an insult instead of someone’s name, to phrases like frankenfood and junk food that try to influence what we should think of genetically modified crops and take-out restaurants with just a few choice words. It’s the mirror image of euphemism.
  8. Anthypophora is posing a question for dramatic effect and then immediately answering it yourself.

What chance does poor little you have against such an arsenal (if we were British I could shorten arsenal to arse, and leave it at that)? There is one thing you can do to turn the tables. First of all, just repeat each question back, with a fillip of your own, without answering any of them. Each time just say “next question.” Finally, when the interviewer is frustrated, lean forward and with a very earnest expression ask, “what is your gospel?”

The interviewer will inevitably ask, “what do you mean?” You: “I know you have all this airtime to fill, and you have questions designed to demonstrate your cleverness and your contempt for your guest, but there is only one question that matters. What do you believe in, and on what basis? That’s what I call your gospel. Mine is what Jesus Christ taught, that his apostles expanded. What is yours and where does it come from?

Commercial break, anyone?

There’s no “fake news” like “fake noose”!

Michelle Malkin , reporting “fake noose” incidences in National Review
  • Columbia University, 2007. Remember black psychology professor Madonna Constantine? She made the rounds on none other than ABC’s Good Morning America, claiming she found a “degrading” noose (made of hand-tied twine) hanging from her office door. Constantine led fist-waving protests, decried “systematic racism,” and prompted a nationwide uproar, as I reported at the time in the New York Post.It turned out that Constantine was desperately trying to distract from a brewing internal probe of her serial plagiarism, for which she was eventually fired. 
  • Baltimore Fire Department, 2007. Another manufactured outrage erupted when black firefighter-paramedic apprentice Donald Maynard claimed he found a knotted rope and threatening note with a noose drawing on it at his stationhouse. A federal civil-rights investigation ensued, and the NAACP cried racism, until Maynard confessed to the noose nonsense amid a department-wide cheating scandal.
  • University of Delaware, 2015. Black Lives Matter agitators and campus activists triggered a full alert when a student spotted a “racist display” of three “noose-like objects” hanging from trees. After investigating, police discovered the “nooses” were metal “remnants of paper lanterns” hung as decorations during an alumni weekend celebration.
  • Salisbury State University, 2016. Students, faculty, and administrators were horrified when a stick figure hanging from a noose on a whiteboard was discovered at the school’s library. The N-word and hashtag #WhitePower also appeared in the menacing graffiti. Campus authorities immediately launched an investigation, which exposed two black students as the perpetrators.
  • Kansas State University, 2017. A paroxysm of protest struck K-State after someone reported a noose hanging from a tree on campus. Black students lambasted authorities for not acting quickly enough. But the “noose” was made of cut pieces of nylon parachute cord, which police believed had been discarded by someone who “may have simply been practicing tying different kinds of knots.”
  • Michigan State University, 2017. When a student reported a noose hanging outside her dorm room, MSU administrators went into full freakout mode over the racial incident. Cops and the Office of Institutional Equity were immediately notified. (I, Curmudgeon, attended MSU from 1964-1968. When did the school officially go insane?) “A noose is a symbol of intimidation and threat that has a horrendous history in America,” the university president bemoaned. But it turned out the “noose” was a “packaged leather shoelace” that someone had dropped accidentally.
  • Smithsonian museums, 2017. NPR called the discovery of “nooses” lying on the grounds of two Smithsonian Institution museums the “latest in a string of hate incidents” after Trump’s election. The African-American museum director called them a “reminder of America’s dark history.” But the museums refused to release surveillance video, and my (Michelle’s) public-records request filed last November yielded zero corroboration of any hate crime.
  • Mississippi State Capitol, 2018. ABC, CBS, CNN, and Yahoo were among the media outlets that blared headlines about seven nooses and “hate signs” found hanging in trees near the capitol building before a special runoff election for U.S. Senate. The stories created an unmistakable impression that the nooses were left by GOP racists intending to intimidate black voters. In truth, the nooses were a publicity stunt perpetrated by Democrats.

Thanks to National Review and Michelle Malkin for educating us on “fake noose.” Imagine if this trend becomes something of a “boy who cried wolf” kind of story. What that would look like is people passing by a real lynching, but they are so jaded about nooses that aren’t, they don’t recognize nooses that are. I hope that never happens.

If you’re tired of hearing “America is the greatest country in the world….”

One of the great privileges of blogging is being able to share wisdom from other sources. Colin Cowherd is my favorite sports commentator, for his insight and ability to connect sports to more important issues. Listening to his cast on the Fox Sports app on my iPad, I was impressed with how he segued from explaining why the knee injury to Zion Williamson is good for him to why our country is the greatest. Zion plays basketball at Duke University, one of the highest profile college B-ball programs, and is considered a “generational” player, which means he is damn good. I consulted some lists of top male college basketball players, and all of the top ones were from years ago, when they played more than one season before turning pro. But this isn’t going to be primarily about Zion.

Anyway, Zion apparently injured his knee when his Nike shoe came apart while he was running, thus ending his season. How could Colin say this was good for him, good for the fans, and for NBA basketball? Before I get to that, there is a fascinating context to his contention. He said that years ago when he was in Mexico, he met a Saudi Arabian who had emigrated to the United States, and set up a plastic surgery practice in Beverly Hills. This surgeon was world class, lived in 7 or 8 other countries before settling here, could have set up his practice anywhere in the world, in theory, but chose our country. Why? He told Colin that for people like him, who are extremely good at their profession, the United States is by far the best place in the world, because there are no artificial barriers to becoming as successful as your competency allows. He had traveled the world, and was kind of a student of opportunity and barriers to opportunity. Here there are no institutional, political, or religious bodies or regulations which restrict a person’s mobility or ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor, nor corrupt officials who have to be bribed as a matter of course in doing business. While there are always pockets of corruption anywhere, here it is the exception rather than the rule. This is why so many world class professionals–especially in sports and entertainment–who could live anywhere, move here.

Am I saying we are perfect, or that there is no injustice here, or that nothing stops anyone who strives for material success? No, we are far from perfect, there is plenty of injustice between individuals or within some organizations, and there’s lots of things that make material success difficult. Still, we are the Mecca of the world for achievers and freedom. Why? What we have is the rule of law, that makes true, virtuous capitalism possible. Capitalism can be virtuous. You might say that inequality under capitalism is proof that it is not virtuous, but inequality of material blessings will always exist, always has, everywhere that inequality of intelligence and ability exists, which is everywhere, at all times. Some people are born into better circumstances than others, and those born into more difficult circumstances will find the going harder. So what? Who declared that everyone must have equality of circumstances and outcomes? Some idiots I guess, but no one with real sense. Inequality is greatest under Communism.

Zion will benefit financially if he leaves college for the NBA, and will also benefit from striking a massive shoe endorsement deal from some company. He was wearing a Nike signature shoe when it imploded and he injured his knee. Nike competitors like Adidas and Underarmor will try to sign him, but
Nike MUST sign him, even as their competitors bid up the price. Zion will get a much better deal now than before his shoe broke down, because Nike needs to show that was a fluke.

I want to close by clarifying my main point, that capitalism can be virtuous under the rule of law, and therefore it is more virtuous here than most other places. When I think of other countries where I might want to live, given the scenery, weather, friendliness of the people, Mexico and Italy come to mind. Both are sort of capitalist and sort of democracies. I say “sort of”, because though they have a structure of laws and justice, corruption reigns. In the United States, if you want to start a business, the legal procedures for acquiring land or buildings, hiring and firing employees, obtaining permits or professional licenses, copyright and patent protection, contract enforcement and the other niceties and necessities of business are written and generally honestly enforced. In the two countries I mentioned and many more, if not most, corruption and bribery is the norm. Business people have to run a gauntlet of corrupt government officials, criminal organizations and dishonest unions to bribe for everything I previously mentioned as necessary for business. That’s what I mean by artificial barriers. Laws that are not suitably enforced, or replaced by coercion, are not laws at all.

While the United States attracts superstar professionals, we also seem to nurture superstar complainers and victims. Therefore, some will read my blog and will see only the things that are wrong here, as if perfection is the alternative. No you idiots, real oppression is the alternative.

The Outlier mystique.

What do LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, the Beatles and Bill Gates have in common? They are outliers. Merriam Webster definition: a person or thing that is atypical within a particular group, class, or category.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers begins with the observation that a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the earlier months of the calendar year. The reason behind this is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on January 1 play in the same league as those born on December 31 in the same year. Because children born earlier in the year are statistically larger and more physically mature than their younger competitors, and they are often identified as better athletes, this leads to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues. This phenomenon in which “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is dubbed “accumulative advantage” by Gladwell, while sociologist Robert K. Merton calls it “the Matthew Effect“, named after a biblical verse in the Gospel of Matthew: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Outliers asserts that success depends on the idiosyncrasies of the selection process used to identify talent just as much as it does on the athletes’ natural abilities. But there’s an even bigger factor in creating an outlier.

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of the Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time the Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes a Beatles’ biographer, Philip Norman, as claiming “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. Gates’ mother was an executive at IBM with computer privileges. At a time when computer time to practice, write and debug code was at a premium, or not even available to nascent programmers, Bill Gates had access to the most advanced machines in the world.

Some athletes are extraordinarily gifted naturally and on talent alone can go far, and even farther if they are willing to hone their talent with dedicated practice. But what it takes to go beyond very good to being outlier good is vision or outrage. LeBron James is an outlier not because of his extraordinary talent, physical gifts and dedication. His vision to be an empire builder rather than just a basketball star is driving him to celebrity in entertainment as well as basketball. Michael Jordan was similar. He had the talent and the dedication to be the best basketball player in the world, but beyond that to not only endorse products but to create them and the marketing strategies. Tom Brady didn’t have extraordinary physical talent but he was able to harness extraordinary outrage at being slighted, from being the 199th player selected in the draft and being a backup instead of a starter most of his college and the first few years of his professional career. But he had a vision of what he could be, and the mental discipline to transcend his physical limitations.

Outliers are not just high achievers, they actually create new paradigms and become the sun around which their chosen professions revolve. Steve Jobs was not a brilliant programmer, but rather had the vision to create products that didn’t previously exist and the marketing strategies. Donald Trump was probably the least likely Presidential candidate imaginable, and destroyed the mold of campaigning and governing as President, in keeping with his vision. He is an outlier as a first term president, but if he wins in 2020, without being conformed to the presidential mold, what will he be? Note to Democrats: If the best you can do are the candidates who are already vying for your nomination, second term Trump will break another mold.