Monday, July 23, 2018

The Trump Cheat Code

Old-school videogames often had a cheat code--a special sequence of actions that, when entered, would make your game avatar invincible.  Cheat codes weren't particularly sporting, but they made it much easier to win a game.

Donald Trump has found a cheat code for our current national politics, and he seems content to use it every week.

Here's the cheat code:

Donald Trump has targeted a specific group of voters who resent and distrust the mainstream media.  This means that when that media criticizes him, those voters loyalty to him increases.

The reason this is a cheat code is that while it is very hard to get good publicity, it is trivially easy to get bad publicity.  All it takes is a single threatening tweet to spark several days of critical covfefe--er, coverage.

When Donald Trump threatens North Korea or Iran, or seems to offer sympathy to white supremacists, he sparks a wave of (justified) criticism that just seems to make him more popular with his base.

The side effect is horrendous geopolitical risk, but that doesn't seem to deter Donald Trump one iota.

I believe that the best way to invalidate this cheat code is to focus the criticism of Donald Trump on concrete, pocketbook issues that directly affect his supporters.  It is easy for them to support Donald Trump when his actions harm others, or cause harm in the future.  It will be harder for them to support him when, say, his trade war with China causes massive layoffs in their town.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Trust Makes Our Lives Better

On America's Independence Day, it's worth considering the role of trust and distrust.

Distrust caused the British government to pass laws to better control its colonies.

Distrust caused a political contest to turn into a shooting war.

Trust allowed the various states to come together.

Trust allowed the Americans to grant George Washington the power to fight that war...and Washington repaid that trust by preventing a mutiny by his underpaid, underappreciated army.

One of my wishes for my country is that its various factions find ways to trust each other...and live up to that trust.

When we don't trust each other, opposing sides become extremists.

To me, this is clearest when it comes to the issue of gun control, but the same applies to abortion.

In the case of gun control, the pro-gun-ownership forces try to fight almost any regulation, fearing that any compromise will eventually lead to gun confiscation.

In the case of abortion, the pro-abortion forces try to fight any restriction on abortion, fearing that any compromise will weaken Roe v. Wade and lead to prohibition.

The same dynamic applies to the opposite side of both these issues.

I think that many, if not most Americans, like me, would prefer compromise to extremism.  But the more the opposing sides distrust each other, the more extreme their rhetoric and actions, the more they distrust each other, the more intractable the problem becomes.

I don't believe that polarization inevitably increases.  In American history, we have often been at loggerheads, including the Civil War, but we have always come back together.  As we celebrate Independence Day, I think a worthy way to honor those who have fought and sacrificed for our freedom is to try to build a nation that they would want their heirs to live in, rather than engaging in behavior that ends up trying to pull it apart.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Principled Argument for 2nd Amendment Rights

I tend to be a supporter of increased gun legislation.  I don't own a gun, I didn't grow up with guns, and I don't believe I've ever even held a gun or been present when one was fired.  So from a practical and personal standpoint, I would prefer to minimize private gun ownership.

However, I also recognize that there are other legitimate points of view.  I've often engaged in conversations with friends who are staunch defenders of their Second Amendment rights.  These are smart, thoughtful people, and their arguments go far beyond the standard arguments that I find easy to discount (e.g. guns make us safer, guns are necessary to prevent a totalitarian government).

One of these friends, who has to remain anonymous because expressing his opposition to gun control threatens his livelihood (he has lost clients and business over such political disagreements, and thus his wife has asked him to refrain from jumping into the fray), recently made a very compelling argument, which I will share here.

This argument hasn't persuaded me to change my mind about my preferences, but it illustrates how it is possible to have a principled and rational argument for Second Amendment rights.

Every day, an average of 10 Americans die because of a wholly preventable evil.  That's about 3,500 unnecessary deaths every year.  About 1 in 5 of the victims are children, aged 14 and under.  This affliction disproportionately kills African-Americans, who are affected 5.5 to 10 times as frequently as whites.

What is this plague on our society?  Water recreation.

Most of these deaths occur in swimming pools, though a majority of adult drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, and oceans.  Aside from am extremely small number of deaths attributable to those with seizure disorders drowning in bathtubs, these deaths were the result of people voluntarily deciding to put themselves in harm's way.

Amazingly, water recreation likely accounts for the loss of more innocent American lives than guns.

In 2015, the CDC recorded 13,286 gun homicides.  This is much higher than the number of drownings, but doesn't account for the little-reported fact that the vast majority of victims of gun violence have a criminal record.

There isn't a lot of research on this topic (partly due to the NRA's efforts to de-fund such research), but I was able to find a couple of articles from mainstream sources (e.g. not right-wing propaganda) that cite the homicide data recorded by the City of Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission is a non-partisan government organization that includes community organizations on its executive committee.  Its goal is to identify and recommend ways to reduce the homicide rate in Milwaukee, and where implemented, its methods have been shown to reduce homicides 52% (versus 9.2% in control sites).  Its Founding Director, Dr. Mallory O'Brien, is an epidemiologist who has worked on violent injury prevention for nearly 25 years, including at Harvard and Duke, and has received awards from the FBI and Department of Justice.  In other words, if we can trust any data, it is the MHRC's data.  You can read more about the organization, including its detailed reports and data, here:
http://city.milwaukee.gov/hrc

The MHRC data shows that between 2012 and 2015 (the most recent four years of data), between 76% and 85% of homicide victims had a criminal history (2012: 80%, 2013: 76%, 2014: 86%, 2015: 83%).  In 2011, 62% of homicide victims (gun or otherwise) had at least six prior arrests.

While Milwaukee is not necessarily representative of the entire country, the general narrative is that innocent victims of gun violence are more likely to live in urban centers where they might get caught up in a criminal crossfire.  For the sake of argument, let's just simplify and assume that 75% of gun homicide victims have a criminal history.

It's important to note that no one "deserves" to be killed, and that some people who have criminal histories are the victims of biased or otherwise flawed police work.  According to the FBI, 73.5 million Americans have been arrested for a felony at some point in their lives, which represents a little under 23% of the U.S. population.  I doubt that all of those people are career criminals.

However, it is also the case that the majority of Americans have never been arrested (including me, and probably you).  If we apply the 75% figure to the CDC gun homicide data, we can extrapolate that about gun violence claims the lives of about 3,300 "innocent" (i.e. no criminal history) Americans each year.

In other words, if you are an American that does not have a criminal history, swimming pools and water recreation are probably a bigger threat to your life than gun homicide.  (Unfortunately, I do not have data on what proportion of drowning victims have a criminal history to make it a true, apples-to-apples comparison.)

One could reasonably make the argument that if we are willing to tolerate about 3,500 drowning deaths per year as a necessary price to pay for enjoying swimming and other water recreation, that we might also be willing to tolerate the 3,300 innocent gun homicide victims per year as a necessary price for Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

I still support reducing the prevalence of guns in the United States (our gun murder rate is 25X that of a basket of 22 similarly-wealthy nations), largely because I don't have any personal reason to value gun ownership, but it's worth considering how you would feel if you heard that the government was going to criminalize swimming pool ownership, or prohibit the use of recreational boats?  Would you fight for your rights, even though you knew that exercising those rights led to additional deaths each year?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why America Is Lucky Donald Trump Was Elected President

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of President Donald Trump.  I think that he is lazy, ignorant, incompetent, and as a result, a danger to our country and our world.  But I think it is entirely possible that we may someday look back upon his election as lucky accident that strengthened the United States of America.

What do I mean?

In a word, Donald Trump is cowpox.

In the late 18th century, smallpox was one of the deadliest plagues that humanity had ever faced.  Smallpox was so deadly that it is estimated that it accounted for 10% of all deaths, and over 20% on cities where it more easily spread.  Even those that survived were often disfigured for life.

Oddly enough, however, one group of people seemed to be immune: milkmaids.

The British physician Edward Jenner hypothesized that the milkmaids were resistant to smallpox because many of them contracted cowpox, a much less virulent and deadly disease, from the cows that they milked.

In 1796, he tested this hypothesis by inoculating his gardener's eight-year-old son, James Phipps, with cowpox pus from a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, who had in turn had been infected by a cow called Blossom.  After Phipps developed, then recovered from a mild fever, Jenner exposed him to smallpox and found that he too had become immune to the disease.  To prove the efficacy of his approach, Jenner made 20 different attempts to infect Phipps with smallpox, all fortunately unsuccessful.

Being used as a guinea pig for experiments with the most deadly disease known to man seems like it would be beyond the call of duty for a doctor's gardener, let alone his young son, but Jenner did end up giving James Phipps, then grown, and his wife and children a rent-free lease, so there is that.  When he was 34, Phipps attended Jenner's funeral in Gloucestershire.

Donald Trump is cowpox--a messy but non-fatal infection that may end up inoculating the country against a far greater threat.

Donald Trump is a terrible president, but thanks to his remarkable incompetence, he has inflicted relatively little harm on the country.  Yes, he has encouraged racists and bigots, discriminated against Muslims, wreaked havoc on long-standing bipartisan projects like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, largely because of his complete lack of understanding of and regard for truth and complexity.  He has had a corrosive effect on political discourse, both because he has no regard for traditions and norms, and because the hatred he has engendered in his enemies has caused many of them to become deranged themselves, and to traffic in the sort of hyper-partisan truthiness that ought to inspire disgust in all.

But, at least to this point, he has not caused irreparable harm.  The only actions he has taken which cannot be undone by a future president are to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (a fact, which, while maddening to Democrats and constitutional scholars alike, should rightly be attributed to Mitch McConnell) and to sign a tax bill (which should rightly be attributed to Paul Ryan).  And these actions are both actions than any Republican president should be expected to take, and which Trump did not assist, but rather generally hindered.  As for his various executive actions, one might disagree with his chosen appointees (many of whom are incompetent and/or corrupt) or policies (many of which seem to ignore reason), but he is well within his constitutional rights to make these choices.  Our republic works because we should all respect the process, even if we disagree with the results.  Many of those who rage against the imperial presidency as wielded by Trump were conspicuously quieter when Barack Obama made policy via executive order, a tradition which stretches back to the dawn of our nation.

If you want to see a true case of smallpox, turn your eyes to Russia, which is holding its presidential election today.  After the inevitable results come in, Vladimir Putin will have won another six-year term, which means that A) Putin will have ruled Russia for this entire millennium to date, having taken over for Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999 and B) he will be in striking distance of Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from roughly 1927 (when he removed his rival Trotsky from the Central Committee) to his death in 1953.  And while the Russian constitution prohibits Putin from running again, I will happy bet money that when 2024 rolls around, if Putin is still in power, the Russian constitution will be amended to remove that barrier.

In comparison to Donald Trump's cowpox, Vladimir Putin is true smallpox--virulent and deadly.  Trump blasts his enemies on Twitter with impotent threats; Putin has them assassinated with deadly poisons.  Trump's cronies try to enrich themselves with favorable treatment; Putin simply takes what he wants, and if an oligarch defies him, has him arrested and his property confiscated.

The rise of Donald Trump demonstrates that today's electorate is susceptible to the charismatic appeal of a would-be authoritarian "virus," but his election is the very thing that is producing the antibodies to help us fight off future infections.  I would argue that you can trace a direct line from Donald Trump's election to a host of social changes such as #MeToo and #BoycottNRA and the fall of figures such as Harvey Weinstein.

If we had elected an American Putin in 2016, things might very well be very different.  We should remember that America is far less vulnerable to a would-be dictator than Russia in 1999.  Among other things, America is the world's longest-lasting democratic nation, with a centuries-long history of rejecting would-be tyrants like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy.  In contrast, Russia has experienced roughly eight years of democracy during its entire existence.  But I'd rather not take that chance.

America is lucky that Donald Trump was elected president.  He has exposed the hidden racism, sexism, and authoritarian leanings that have always been there, and the country will be stronger for it long after he has left the Oval Office, thanks to an energized and activist citizenry.

Background Reading:
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Jenner
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Putin

Monday, January 29, 2018

Be Civil

Regardless of where people lie on the political spectrum (graph?), one thing I find remarkably unappealing is when people treat those who disagree with them with angry contempt.

Since doing so doesn't persuade or change minds, I fear that people behave that way because deep down they don't believe in their own worth, and feel the need to belittle others to make those feelings go away.

This is a vicious cycle; pretty soon, the only way people can feel good about themselves is to fight with others.  And that means, paradoxically, that someone who behaves in this way craves two audiences: Those who agree and reinforce their bad behavior, and those who disagree and provide fodder for a self-esteem boosting fight.

If you agree with my take, I believe the right response is to model civil behavior, even when you are attacked.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Selfish and Giving

One of the paradoxes of my personality, which I think is actually a strength, is that I'm selfish and giving.

I'm selfish in that I'm quite aware of my self-interest, and frequently take actions to better my self-interest.

I'm giving in that I genuinely want to help people, and are quite happy to share my good fortune with the people in my life.

This combination may seem paradoxical, but I would argue is stronger than either trait alone.

The purely selfish are experts at losing friends and alienating people.  The purely giving are often pushovers who destroy their own lives.

By balancing selfishness and generosity, I seek ways to create massive value, but am then willing to share it with the deserving.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Email Product Ideas: Inbox100 and InboxNow

Random Product Idea #1: Inbox100.  It's an email inbox where it has a hard upper limit of 100 messages.  Once you hit 100 messages, until you archive or delete some current messages, no new emails come in.  This forces you to deal with emails rather than allowing them to pile up.  And the instant you deal with emails, you get the positive reinforcement of seeing new emails appear.  You would probably still need to allow the user to search emails, even the ones not being shown, so that the user could look for super-important, super-urgent emails.

This leads me to Random Product Idea #2: InboxNow.  It's an email inbox where it only shows messages that are less than 12 hours old (because presumably you have to sleep).  This forces you to deal with emails rapidly, or they disappear.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Bye Bye Bitcoin Bubble

It's all about the mackerel.

In the American prison system, prisoners use packages of mackerel as a medium of exchange because 1) the supply is inherently limited because prisoners can only buy 14 "macks" per week, and 2) no one wants to eat it.

In other words, prisoners collectively decided to use a useless item as a medium of exchange and store of value because its supply was inherently limited.  Sound familiar?

In a real sense, Bitcoin is even more useless than prison mackerel because at least prison mackerel is used to process transactions.  Bitcoin is barely used as a means of settle transactions; all the action is in speculative investing.

As I write this, Bitcoin just past $16,000 in value.  I would bet any amount of money that on December 7, 2018, the price of Bitcoin will be below that value.*

Everything about the situation just screams bubble.  I'm very bullish on blockchain, but Bitcoin?


Now, just because a medium of exchange lacks any inherent value doesn't mean that it's doomed to crash.  Gold remains a valuable (though bad) investment even though its usefulness as a conductor and jewelry material doesn't justify its price.  But gold also has millenia of history as a valued medium of exchange, a luxury Bitcoin does not.

In contrast, mackerel became a prison currency because the prior currency, the cigarette pack, ended up getting banned by the prison system in 2004, which means its history is barely a decade old.  Which is why it wasn't surprising when the value of the "Mack" crashed at one prison:

"I'll never forget the day where the macks lost all their value almost overnight. Someone had a huge amount of money macks and they got confiscated and the administration left them sitting in a bucket. They essentially introduced hyperinflation. They flooded the market with money macks."

Bitcoin prices have been rising because speculators are buying Bitcoin in hopes that prices rise further--the greater fool theoryDuring my current trip to Japan, Bitcoin has risen from $10,000 to $16,000.  Not coincidentally, I was pitched two different ICOs at an event where I spoke.

Inevitably, Bitcoin is going to hit a limit as the market runs out of greater fools, a point that I think is fast approaching, and some of the big holders (the Winkelvii?) will sell, flooding the market, and setting off a downward spiral.

There's even a catalytic event--on Monday, the Cboe will start trading Bitcoin futures, meaning that people will finally have a chance to bet against the currency, once again proving that Trading Places is both one of the funniest and most educational movies of all time.

I'm off to buy some futures contracts!




* UPDATE: Someone must have posted this to Hacker News, because it went viral.  Scott Walker even offered to bet me $1,000,000.  I admire his conviction, though I disagree.  But he does make a good point that I'm not *really* willing to bet any amount of money; I just didn't think someone would offer to bet me $1,000,000.  Therefore, I'm going to cap the bets I take at $10,000 per bet.

** UPDATE: I have received legal assurance that this doesn't count as illegal gambling, provided no money is "pooled" up front, so it's game on!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Adventures in Tokyo

I'm currently in the middle of a week-long trip to Tokyo where I'm speaking about my books and meeting with startup and finance folks on behalf of the Women's Startup Lab.  While I'd been to Tokyo once before, in 1982, I was so young then, and the city has changed so much since, that it's really been like visiting for the first time.  Here are some of the adventures and observations from my time in the land of the rising sun:

Story Time: My visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

One my first morning in Japan, I found myself awake at 3 AM (which is 10 AM California time) and started catching up on phone calls.  During one of those calls, I was strongly urged to go check out the Tsukiji Fish Market and its famous tuna auction, which takes place at 5:30 AM.  Fortunately, the Women's Startup Lab founder, Ari Horie, was both awake and willing to indulge my quixotic desire.  Little did I know that it would become an object lesson in entrepreneurship.

You see, what I didn't realize is that Tsukiji had just announced that it was not going to be allowing non-professionals to visit the auctions from December 1 through mid-January.  And of course, I was going there on December 4.

Tsukiji is an accidental tourist attraction; it's a commercial fish market for fisherman and wholesalers, with millions of dollars changing hands every day.  So when we arrived, there was no entrance or signs.  I believe the assumption is that anyone who has a legitimate reason to be there already knows where to go and what to do.

Were I by myself, I probably would have skulked around the perimeter, and ended up slinking back to my hotel room.  Fortunately, I was with a real (and Japanese-speaking) entrepreneur.  "Follow me, and don't make eye contact with anyone," Ari said.  She then began striding purposefully into the dark, industrial-looking complex, which, I should point out, was covered with signs that read things like, "Do not enter.  Unauthorized personnel not allowed."

We made our way without having any idea where we needed to go, dodging both security staff (each time we saw an officer, we changed direction to avoid him) and the ubiquitous electric cards that zoom everywhere at about 20 MPH, carrying boxes and whole fish.  Each cart had a semi-circular metal cow-catcher to absorb impacts, and a distressing number were dented and worn.  I suppose I should be glad they weren't blood-stained.

Eventually, we made our way to the center of the complex, where, by peering under partially raised garage doors, we could just make out the preparations underway for the tuna auction.  Whole flash-frozen tuna were being lined up for inspection by an army of Japanese men with wicked-looking fish hooks.

Again, were I by myself, I would have contented myself with saying, "Well, I guess I got to see the fish!  Pretty cool.  Now I'd better get out of here before they catch me and beat me to death with their hooks."  Ari had other ideas, walking along the building until she found a door marked, "Do Not Enter" which opened when she tried it.

Once inside, we got a much better look at the tuna, laid out like a giant set of fishy chess pieces all over the concrete, ice-strewn floor.  That's when Ari went up to a fisherman and began speaking with him in Japanese.  After about 5 minutes of conversation, the fisherman reached into his pocket and gave us two paper badges to put around our necks.  I found out later from Ari that she had told the fisherman that I was a very important visitor from Silicon Valley, who had come to Japan to observe the tuna auction.  The fisherman told her that you weren't allowed in the building without a badge, so she simply asked if he could give us some badges.  She told me that she had addressed him with the traditional rural Japanese honorific for "father," appealing to the ingrained parental instincts of any older Japanese man when addressed by a younger woman or girl.

Now armed with official badges, we got to wander the entire fish market while waiting for the auctions to start. (Ari purchased both a fresh giant scallop and a 1-pound block of fatty tuna, which I then stuffed into my jacket pockets)  It was astounding to see the variety of fish, from fugu to live octopi (I felt bad for them).  I watched blocks of tuna being trimmed to perfection, then being misted to glistening perfection via spray bottle like a Hollywood star being prepared for a close-up.  I watched eels being slaughtered, with their heads jammed on a metal pin on a cutting board so that they could be properly filleted.

Once the auction started, the sounds of ringing bells and constant sing-song auction chanting filled the air, and fishermen hurried about with hooks, loading 400-pound tuna onto wooden carts to be carried off to market stalls, high-end restaurants, or to be whisked to the US on cargo jets.  At one point, a security noticed us (which was hard not to, since Tsukiji is essentially 100% Japanese men, with no women or non-Japanese to be seen anywhere) and told us (Ari told me later) that we had to leave.  So we left the room, circled around to the other side of the auction, and re-entered.

All told, we watched the three different tuna auctions, then found the actual tourist-accessible part of the market and had a breakfast of fine sushi at 6 AM.  The fish was very fresh and very delicious.

The moral of this story is that even in Japan, the most orderly and rule-following nation I've ever seen (more on this later), an entrepreneur who won't take no for an answer can still work wonders.

Japan: Land of Detail

Japan is the cleanest, most orderly place I've ever visited, and I've visited Singapore:

  • I still haven't seen a single piece of litter on the ground.  This fact is even more astonishing because there literally are no garbage cans anywhere.  Ari told me that the lack of garbage cans reminds people that they are responsible for their own trash.  If this were America, there would be litter everywhere, as people said, "Fuck it," and chucked their trash whenever no one was looking.  In Japan, it simply means that people will carry their trash until they get home to throw it out.
  • The busy parts of Japan are as crowded as Manhattan, but the experience is totally different.  Everything is clean and polished.  The crowds of people move purposefully, obey all the traffic signs, and make barely any noise.  I eventually realized that the thing that seemed to be missing the most was the constant sound of honking and cussing that characterizes Manhattan.
Even the most minor thing is crafted with incredible care.
  • The first thing Ari and I did after getting through customs was to visit a Japanese convenience store for snacks.  I selected a tuna roll, which cost about $1.  When I opened the packaging, I was surprised to find that the rice and seaweed were carefully separated by a layer of plastic; when you want to eat a roll, you open the package, and roll the rice into the perfectly sized and aligned sheet of seaweed.  The result is a satisfying crunch when you eat the roll that would be impossible if it were presented, as it would be in the US, completely assembled, which would lead to soggy seaweed.
  • As I've already posted on Facebook, the instant coffee in my hotel room is a marvel of craft.  Rather than a cumbersome paper pouch or a sealed K-Cup, poured into a styrofoam cup, the coffee package folds out with origami-like precision to precisely fit the delicate, fine bone china cups provided in my hotel room.  It makes instant coffee somehow elegant and refined!
  • At my various meetings, my hosts presented me with coffee and tea.  Instead of the American system of a heatproof disposable cup with a cardboard sleeve to prevent burns, the Japanese way is to have disposable cups that fit into a plastic adapter that holds the cup, protects the drinker's hand, and offers a handle so that you can grasp the cup with a few of your fingers and drink your tea in a civilized and genteel manner rather than barbarically holding a cardboard cup with your whole hand.
  • After my talk, I was presented with a present--a special fruit package, which, when opened, proved to hold the most beautiful grapes I had ever seen, and a whole cantaloupe.  The grapes were all clustered perfectly on a single stem, were large and perfectly ripe, and were somehow perfectly clean and dry and ready to eat.  It wouldn't surprise me if they were hand washed and dried with tweezers.  They were delicious.  Later, I found out that the fruit package probably cost $100-200.
Here are few of the final quirks and observations that either amused, impressed, or horrified me.
  • Years of reading Cracked.com gave me the impression that all of Tokyo looked like a cleaner Blade Runner, with brightly colored lights illuminating a neon wonderland where all the women dressed as schoolgirls while Hello Kitty ruled from on high like a fierce overlord.  For the most part, Tokyo looks like a much cleaner, much more elegant, much more Japanese Manhattan.  Though we did visit Shibuya one night, and it did look like a neon wonderland that rivaled Times Square for garishness.  That was the night we went to a trendy "meat sushi" restaurant with pictures of horses on the menu.  I did not partake.
  • At one point, I visited a very traditional bank.  The lobby was titanic in scale, and had an army of uniformed receptionists who all looked and dressed identically.  When I went up to my appointment on a higher floor, I encountered a secondary lobby with its own army of uniformed receptionists, who would stand and bow any time any employees walked past.  I still haven't figured out when I'm supposed to bow, so I just bow anytime everyone else does and hope for the best.
  • People keep taking me to eat non-Japanese food.  I've already had Chinese food twice!  The food is excellently prepared and delicious, but I feel like I'm visiting Japan to enjoy Japanese culture, not Chinese or American culture.  That being said, not everything translates precisely; I saw New England Clam Chowder being advertised in a supermarket, complete with its traditional topping of mounds of cheddar cheese.  An Irish pub advertised its traditional beef salad.
  • Tokyo may be considered an expensive city, but restaurants are much cheaper than in the US, and tipping is not allowed.  We had a dinner in a high-end tempura restaurant at the top of a luxury office tower, complete with plenty of sake, and the total bill was about $50 per person.  I had a quick-service sashimi dinner for about $10.  On the other hand, nuts are expensive as hell (I guess they're all imported), and there is no peanut butter!
  • I feel like a hulking giant in Tokyo.  Everything, including the food, is designed for people who are much smaller.  I can only imagine what it is like for someone like Ben Casnocha, who makes me look tiny in comparison.  I found the taxis cramped, and my large American gluteus maximus spilled out of some of the chairs.  Once, I noticed that an elevator was rated for 1,000 kg/15 people.  In America, it would be 2,000 pounds/10 people, and even that might not be enough of a safety margin.
  • In the business districts, the vast majority of men wear suits and ties.  Dressed in my most formal attire, including Brooks Brothers blazer, I look like I'm wearing business casual.
  • I feel completely safe from crime wherever I go.  The contrast with San Francisco is devastating.  In comparison to Tokyo, we live in a third-world country.
  • The major auto manufacturers have many more models in Japan than in the US.  I don't even recognize most of them.  One person told me she had a Honda that was very short but very wide, and had three seats in the front, and three seats in the back.
  • Spoken Japanese is incredibly fast and very melodic and animated.  We think of the Japanese as reserved because their English is slow and formal, but their Japanese conversations make most English conversations pale in comparison.  Of course, I don't speak any Japanese, so in a number of meetings, I resorted to nodding my head when everyone else did, and trying to look sage and wise each time my name was mentioned.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Hopelessness Behind Trump's Support

I get a lot of crap from people because I argue that those of us who oppose the policies and behavior of Donald Trump should try to understand and empathize with his voters.

If I were to summarize the criticisms from fellow Trump opponents, it's that Trump voters are racists and bigots who made a conscious decision to vote for a lazy, racist, bigoted blowhard, and that expressing sympathy for them or pointing to reasons for supporting Trump other than prejudice is "letting them off the hook."

I think it's hypocritical to call for compassion and understanding, except for when it comes to your political opponents.

This profile of Trump's continued support in western Pennsylvania argues that despite their increasing suspicion that Trump isn't going to help them economically, people still support Trump because they view him as "on their side" culturally.  (I would define that culture as rural, blue-collar, white Christian conservatives)

On the one hand, progressives and liberals might tear their hair out, since it indicates that Trump supporters basically support him regardless of the impact of his policies, as long as he keeps up his pugnacious, bullying style.

On the other hand, I think explains why compassion is so necessary.  When people are so desperate and angry that they'll vote for and keep supporting a politician who shares almost none of their background (I'll grant that Donald Trump is white, but he is definitely not rural, blue-collar, or Christian) simply because he expresses their anger at the establishment that presided over 30 years of their declining fortunes, while other groups, especially the hated coastal elites saw their lives improve.

If your life is so hopeless that you've given up on improving your lot, and are now focused on seeing other people feel the same hurt that you feel, you're not going to be persuaded to change your mind when your opponents shower you with further anger and contempt.