The Most Embarrassing Factions of the US-Cuba detente

I can only list, in order of magnitude, three: 1) Republican hawks, 2) condescending Leftists, and 3) anti-Americans abroad.

In some ways none of this is surprising. All three of these factions hate each other, mostly because they are the least libertarian factions in the world (familiarity breeds contempt, it is often said).

Republican hawks are first on my list because they are the most dangerous. This is a deeply reactionary faction that does not care one iota about the national interest. It is a vulgar mob that has no need for nuance or depth. One of the state of Florida’s Senators, Marco Rubio, exemplifies this isolationist faction. This is demagoguery at its finest. It also goes a long way toward explaining why I will never, ever be a Republican, despite the honest efforts of courageous statesmen like Ron and Rand Paul.

Condescending Leftists are second because of their reactions to the beginnings of the end of a vicious, self-defeating embargo: Decrying the fact that Starbucks and McDonald’s will soon be forcing poor, naive Cubans into becoming customers with actual choices in an actual marketplace. According to the worldview of these Leftists: the lives of Cubans have been better than those of Westerners because of its simplicity (this simplicity was brought about, of course, by the heavy-handed tactics of the Castro dictatorship, but somehow this always fails to make the final cut of the condescending Leftist’s narrative). Capitalism will put an end to the simple lives of the Cuban people, and this is a bad thing for both the world and the Cubans themselves.

Embarrassing and disgusting.

The last faction on my list, anti-Americans abroad, have taken the Obama administration’s decision to reach out to Cuba as an excuse to lie to domestic factions everywhere. They have seized upon the fact that the US sometimes pursues bad policies, and have turned it into a soapbox preaching session for all of the gullible schoolboys and girls in the world who instinctively hate the world’s liberal hegemon. What is lost (or, more likely, ignored) in these preachers’ message is the fact that the US is changing its bad policy. The same cannot be said for the tired tropes wielded by aging anti-Americans in the name of some variant of socialist (whether national or international) revolution.

Some notes in the margins:

  • Cuba will not become free or (or) democratic overnight.
  • It will not become wealthy overnight, either. In fact, there is bound to be a whole lot of cronyism in the near future, as Castro’s butchers and henchmen gobble up much of the wealth that will inevitably flood Cuba’s markets. Remittances will likely increase as well, which means that the cronysim of Castro’s henchmen will be offset by the influx of cash from the US. This, in turn, means that the Castro dictatorship is likely to be around for a lot longer than anticipated.

Peggy Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is well-worth reading. Observe:

A closing note: I always thought, life often being unfair, that Fidel Castro would die the death of a happy monster, old, in bed, a cigar jutting out from the pillows, a brandy on the bedside table. My dream the past few years was that this tranquil end would be disturbed by this scene: American tourists jumping up and down outside his window, snapping pictures on their smartphones. American tourists flooding the island, befriending his people, doing business with them, showing in their attitude and through a million conversations which system is, actually, preferable. Castro sees them through the window. He grits his teeth so hard the cigar snaps off. Money and sentiment defeat his life’s work. He leaves the world knowing that in history’s great game, he lost.

Open the doors, let America flood the zone and snap those pictures. “Fidel! Look this way!” Snap. Flash. Gone.

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa.

I’ve just been chillin’ with family the past week or so. My brother got home from Paris recently and my sisters arrive in town, from Utah, sometime this weekend.

I’ve been browsing through the Bismark section of Kissinger’s Diplomacy, as well as the Bismark sections of Ozment’s A Mighty Fortress and Tipton’s A History of Modern Germany Since 1815. I’m trying to get a feel not so much for the man himself but for how he created a federal state out of many and called it Germany. I would welcome recommendations on this topic.

I’ve also been reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. There is not enough gratuitous sex and violence for me to recommend the series (in fact there has been no sex at all in the series so far, and I’m about halfway through the second book), but the story line has hooked me enough that I’ll read through the entire trilogy. I think I’m done with fantasy though. I mentioned that I read the A Song of Ice and Fire series and really liked it, but apparently that series is considered an anomaly of sorts within the fantasy genre. A damn shame.

Questions about R

And lots of ‘em.

I just downloaded the R package from the CRAN in Seattle. I haven’t opened it yet. I don’t even know what CRAN is. I’ve been gathering some data on the GDP (PPP) per capita of regions in the world and I want to tinker with them, but I also want to get familiar with a stats program.

Any help with the fundamentals of what I’m dealing with would be great. Thanks!

UPDATE 12/18/2014: Michelangelo has steered me away from R and into the loving arms of gretl:

I prefer gretl to R because the former has a menu-based interface. R, Stata, etc. on the other hand require you to now how to ‘code’. There are menus in the latter, but I don’t find them user friendly. The coding is hardly hard, but I think it confuses people who are just starting out and it isn’t really worth coding if you’re doing it for fun.

Six Months A Slave (The Drugs Don’t Work, They Just Make You Worse)

Check out Irfan’s story over at Policy of Truth about six months of addiction to some kind of sleeping pill (I’m a mushrooms and weed man myself, so I know little about pills):

I lay there awhile, let the vertigo wash over me a bit, then popped another 12.5 mg CR Ambien, settling soon enough into another four refreshing hours of non-REM sleep. By 2 am, I was wide awake, reading Jorge Luis Borges (on insomnia), and waiting for the sun to come back up so that I could start yet another vertiginous and sleep deprived day teaching ethics, critical thinking, and aesthetics to students who seemed not to notice that anything was amiss. (Conveniently, I had managed to collapse after class had ended. None of my students saw the collapse happen; I lay on the ground an hour before I was discovered by the instructor who needed to use the classroom after me.)

Read the whole thing. It’s very entertaining.

PS: My title is a reference to a song by The Verve. Don’t ask.

Around the Web

  1. Self-organization, Integration and Homeless People
  2. Book Review: Destination Denmark
  3. Pious Fraud: In a bombed-out church in wartime Germany, Lothar Malskat crossed the line that separates art restoration from forgery
  4. Indian States Need a Free Trade Deal (I’ll be blogging about this in the future)

Nationality, Ethnicity, Race, Culture, and the Importance of Citizenship for the Individual

Judging by some of the fruitful dialogues that have gone on here in the distant past and just the other day, I’d say that there is still a lot of work to do regarding a few concepts that seem to have meaning to them but are not really well-defined or well-understood.

I am writing about nationality, ethnicity, race, and culture, of course.

Dr Stocker and myself have taken aim at nationality before, and Michelangelo has taken aim at ethnicity while Jacques has taken a few cracks at race and ethnicity. Mike has some notes on ethnic identity as well. Culture has been discussed here at NOL before, but an effort to systematically define it has not been undertaken. (Update 12/8/14: Matthew has also taken a crack at ethnicity.)

The problem of these concepts can best be illustrated with a hypothetical (with apologies to Matthew!): There is a tribe in the state of Kenya known as the Maasai. In Kenya the Maasai are more than a tribe, though. The Maasai are considered by both the Maasai themselves and their neighbors to be an ethnic group. The Maasai and their neighbors within Kenya also consider themselves to be Kenyans. The Maasai have a distinct culture that sets them apart in some way from other ethnic groups in Kenya. Most Kenyans, including the Maasai, consider themselves to be racially black.

Now suppose that a single Maasai man from Kenya goes to Syria, or Belgium, or Canada, or China for a vacation. The Maasai man is suddenly no longer Maasai, for all intents and purposes. He still has a nationality, and an ethnic, a cultural, and a racial component to him, though. The Maasai man’s ethnicity suddenly becomes Kenyan rather than Maasai abroad. So, too, does his culture become Kenyan or simply African. He is still black racially. Notice, though, that these concepts mean different things in different contexts.

Suppose further that our Maasai man goes to Ghana for a vacation. Ghana is in west Africa, whereas Kenya is on the east coast. Africa is huge, and the gulfs between societies on the west coast and east coast of sub-Saharan Africa are cavernous. Nevertheless, our Maasai man is likely to be able to identify ethnically as a Maasai in Ghana. He is likely to be able to identify as part of the Kenyan nation. Culturally, though, our Maasai man is also going to be identified as Kenyan rather than Maasai.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Here is another way to confuse you. The Ashanti people of Ghana are considered by others in the region to be a nation, but not an ethnic group. The Ashanti belong, instead, to a pan-regional group of people known as the Akan, and the Akan are considered to be the ethnic group while the smaller Ashanti group is considered to be a nation. This, of course, comes into conflict with what it means to be a Ghanaian. In Europe or Asia or the New World, a member of the Ashanti nation would be considered instead as a member of the Ghanaian nation.

In sub-Saharan Africa everybody who is not black is white. So Persians, Arabs, Eskimos, Armenians, Koreans, Japanese, French, English, Dutch, and Brahmins are all racially white to Africans. Africans base their distinctions between whites on their different behavioral patterns. So a Sudanese man may be working with two groups of white people but he only distinguishes them (suppose one is Chinese and one is English) by how they behave toward each other, toward him and his associates, and in relation to the rules of the game established in Sudan. Race is the most prominent feature of foreigners in Africa, but curiosity about differences between whites abounds.

The combinations for confusion are endless. I have not even broached the topic of what is means to be ‘American’, for example.

This is where the importance of viewing the world as made up of individuals comes into play. This is where the abstract legal notion of individual rights becomes an important component of good governance and internationalism.

I think we could all agree that is does no good to ignore these confusing identities and attempting instead to cram them into a specific framework (“Western individualism”). This is where economists go wrong, but paradoxically it’s also where they are most right.

As I noted a couple of days ago, economics as a discipline tends to be more hierarchical but also more successful than the other social science disciplines. I didn’t have enough space to note there that this hierarchy is limited to a very small segment of society. Is it at all possible to establish a hierarchy of sorts, a unified code of laws that protects the individual but prevent this hierarchy of last resort from becoming the norm in other ways? A hierarchy that leaves plenty of space for independent networks and fragmented communities of choice?

I don’t even know how these question tie in to my title. I simply know that they do. Somehow.

Economists are special, but what about Palestinians and American blacks?

I’ve got the post-Thanksgiving flu. I know which toddlers are guilty of infecting me, and which aunts and uncles are responsible for this egregious assault on my happiness. Revenge will be sweet.

I’d like to get to Warren’s smackdown of my reparations proposal and also to Matthew’s thoughts on justified violence against the state (which were indirectly related to my own post on Ferguson), but first I’ve got to get to two interesting topics that have piqued my interest.

The first is Irfan Khawaja’s recent critique over at Policy of Truth of Jason Brennan’s new book on voting. As usual, Khawaja brings up a number of great points (too many, actually, for a lowly ethnographic enthusiast like me), and they deserve to be read by all (be sure to check out the ‘comments’ thread, too).

Here is an excerpt (Khawaja has flipped the tired script of many American academics by bringing in a fresh perspective):

I can’t work through all the details here, but take a look at Brennan’s argument in light of the preceding. Either my East Jerusalem case is a counter-example to his thesis, or it’s a defeater for it. In the first case, it refutes the thesis as stated. In the second case, it suggests that the thesis is highly misleading as stated. Given that, my argument requires that Brennan qualify his claims about the ethics of voting in ways that take more explicit stock of cases like the East Jerusalem one–something that would substantially change the “flavor” of his theory.

Brennan’s work has, of course, gotten a lot of excellent treatment in libertarian circles because of both his blogging activities (hint, hint, slackers) and because libertarians have a long, storied distrust of democratic politics (though this is largely an anarchistic distrust rather than the conservative-aristocratic one we North Americans think we are familiar with).

Switching gears, I also need to comment on an interesting paper (pdf) about the “Superiority of Economists” I came across over at MR. It was written by two sociologists and an economist, and it has a number of excellent insights (MR‘s link to the paper was broken, but MR also provided a link to comments by economist Paul Krugman, and his link to the paper was unbroken).

Most of the paper is a rehash of arguments about economics relative to the other social sciences (and the humanities) that libertarians have been having for a long time. (In my anecdotal experience, libertarian economists are quickest to defend the profession of economics from detractors, but they are also the quickest to defend the other social sciences from detractors (and, more importantly, incorporate non-economics research into their own). Leftist and conservative economists, by contrast, condescendingly acquiesce to attacks from other disciplines, but are also very, very disdainful of The Others’ contributions to research.) Libertarian economists generally share the same suspicions as The Other disciplines about the ability of economics to imitate the physical sciences using mathematical models (or that these models are even indicative of how humans “work”). See Warren’s piece (pdf) in Econ Journal Watch for more on these suspicions.

The last section before the conclusion (“A life of their own”) is really good and totally worth the click. It’s about economists and their relationship to everybody else in their society (this paper is made better by the fact that it is written by French academics with an intimate understanding of life in both the US and France, just like some other scholar that we all know and loathe love).

On page 18 the paper cites a few studies and lab experiments which have purportedly shown that people who study economics are, on the whole, less likely to cooperate than everybody else. There are a number of implications that the paper goes over (“does economics attract a certain type of personality?”, for example), but I wanted to focus on what is not discussed in the paper: The fact that economists probably have a different (actually, a more coherent and precise) understanding of the meaning of cooperation. Many criticisms of economics are clearly made of straw. One of the things that initially attracted me to libertarianism was the intelligent, well-informed critiques of economics as I then understood it (“homo economicus“) that were given by libertarians.

I also learned, on page 19 and contra Dr Amburgey’s repeated assertions, that economists are politically (and decisively) to the Left of the average American voter.

Another fascinating page 19 insight is that there is more income inequality ($57k gap between the top 10% and the median) in economics relative to other disciplines, but on this point the authors lose a golden opportunity to do some real sociological analysis (the authors focus instead, and predictably, on the economics profession’s recent prosperity as a whole relative to other academic disciplines; that is to say, on the income inequality between economics and The Others within academia). Earlier in the paper (7-14) an organizational comparison between economics and The Others highlighted the fact that the economics community tends to be more hierarchical, more incestuous, and possesses a “unitary disciplinary core,” which means that virtually all graduate schools teach the same concepts. The Others, in contrast, are “more decentralized, less cohesive, and [possess] less stable prestige rankings.” (9)

The most basic insight that stood out to me when I read the data on incomes was that the disparities and organizational structures of the social sciences and humanities represent a microcosm of society as a whole (pick any ole society you’d like): When rigid hierarchies are enforced, conformity and parochialism (incestuous is too strong a word here) arise, income inequality is more prevalent, and the pecking orders are more entrenched.

In contrast, societies that are “more decentralized and less cohesive” have more variety, much less deference to an established authority (such as a pecking order), and less income inequality ($42k gap between the top 10% of sociologists and the median). There are less women in economics relative to the other disciplines, and the median economist almost has the same income as a top 10% sociologist ($103k to $118k, a difference of only $15k).

Well, this post has already gone on for far too long (I hope to use it as a springboard for future musings) but I will end by noting that on page 23 the paper points out that economics is a very moral discipline, which is something non-libertarian economists vehemently deny. Libertarian economists, on the other hand, have been pointing this out for centuries.