David Brooks | The Secrets of Lasting Friendships – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“In early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, I met a woman who said she practiced “aggressive friendship.” It takes a lot of her time, but she’s the person who regularly invites friends over to her house, who organizes events and outings with her friends. What a fantastic way to live.

I thought of her while reading Robin Dunbar’s recent book, “Friends.” If the author’s name means something to you, it’s probably because of Dunbar’s number. This is his finding that the maximum number of meaningful relationships most people can have is somewhere around 150. How many people are invited to the average American wedding? About 150. How many people are on an average British Christmas card list? About 150. How many people were there in early human hunter-gatherer communities? About 150.

Dunbar argues that it’s a matter of cognitive capacity. The average human mind can maintain about 150 stable relationships at any given moment. These 150 friends are the people you invite to your big events — the people you feel comfortably altruistic toward.

He also argues that most people have a circle of roughly 15 closer friends. These are your everyday social companions — the people you go to dinner and the movies with. Within that group there’s your most intimate circle, with roughly five friends. These are the people who are willing to give you unstinting emotional, physical and financial help in your time of need.”

Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful piece. I remember reading about the magic number of 50, for the number most people can keep up with, and the observation that all over the world, throughout history, most military companies had 50 fighters. The comments are also interesting, because some people testify about the truth of the research reviewed, while others skoff and deride it as outdated. Many wounded people have trouble making friends, and feel threatened by the data revealed. I was often a black belt in many sports and martial arts, but never at making friends.

Ezra Klein | Biden Has the Right Idea, but the Wrong Words – The New York Times

David Lindsay: I was unhappy with Biden’s speech last night, but it was late, and I had tennis at 6:30 am, so I went to bed rather than process my issues.  Ezra Klein apparently did not have to go to bed for early tennis, and he really connected some of my thoughts. My main critique was that he continued to want all of the above, instead of a narrow focus on mitigating climate change and rebuilding the middle class through manufacturing in America.  He has to get his program past Manchin and Sinema, to get it passed. I agree with David Brooks and others, James Carville, David Axelrod, and Stanley Greenfield, that you have to win over more white working class men in 4 critical states, if you want to carry the 4 swing states that determine whether the Democrats or the Trumpistas take over the White House.

Here is the end of Klein’s take on last night.

“. . . There are parts of Biden’s agenda that, if passed, could help to lower prices for families, rapidly. Medicare could negotiate drug prices next year. Child care subsidies could take effect quickly. There is no resource limitation stopping us from lowering Obamacare premiums. The same cannot be said for Biden’s more ambitious proposals to build the productive might and critical supply chains of the United States. To decarbonize the economy and rebuild American manufacturing and lead again in semiconductor production is the work of years, perhaps decades. It won’t change prices much in 2022 and 2023.

But it needs to be done, and not just because of Russia. Covid was another lesson, as America was caught without crucial supply chains for masks and protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic and without enough computer chips as the virus raged on. And while I don’t like idly speculating about conflict with China, part of avoiding such a conflict is making sure its costs are clear and our deterrence is credible. As of now, whether we have the will to defend Taiwan militarily is almost secondary to whether we have the capability to sever ourselves from Chinese supply chains in the event of a violent dispute.

Biden devoted a large chunk of his speech to his Buy American proposals, which economists largely hate but voters largely love. As a matter of trade theory, I’m sympathetic to the economists, but as Russia is proving, there’s more to life than trade. You could see that in an analysis done by The Economist, which has long been one of the loudest voices arguing for the logic of globalization. “The invasion of Ukraine might not cause a global economic crisis today, but it will change how the world economy operates for decades to come,” it wrote. Russia will become more reliant on China. China will try to become more economically self-sufficient. The West is going to think harder about depending on autocracies for crucial goods and resources.

This was, in the end, the unfulfilled promise of Biden’s speech. Russia’s invasion and America’s economy were merely neighbors in the address, but no such borders exist. And connecting them, explicitly, would bring more coherence and force to Biden’s agenda.

Energy, for instance, is central to Russia’s wealth, power and financial reserves. Biden could have used that to mount a full argument for his climate and energy package, which is languishing in the wreckage of Build Back Better. As the energy analyst Ramez Naam has noted, Biden’s package would reduce American demand for oil and natural gas, both of which would weaken Russia — and plenty of other petrostates we’d prefer that neither we nor our allies were dependent on.

Helpfully for Biden, Joe Manchin seems not just open to this line of argument; he’s leading on it. “The brutal war that Vladimir Putin has inflicted on the sovereign democratic nation of Ukraine demands a fundamental rethinking of American national security and our national and international energy policy,” the senator said in a statement on Tuesday:

The United States, our European allies and the rest of the world cannot be held hostage by the acts of one man. It is simply inexplicable that we and other Western nations continue to spend billions of dollars on energy from Russia. This funding directly supports Putin’s ability to stay in power and execute a war on the people of Ukraine.

Manchin went on to say that “we must commit to once again achieving complete energy independence by embracing an all-of-the-above energy policy to ensure that the American people have reliable, dependable and affordable power without disregarding our climate responsibilities.” I do not claim to know what Manchin truly has in mind here or what he will vote for when the roll is called. But it is a door ajar, and Biden should step through it.”

Thomas L. Friedman | I See 3 Scenarios for How Putin’s Ukraine War Ends – The New York Times

“The battle for Ukraine unfolding before our eyes has the potential to be the most transformational event in Europe since World War II and the most dangerous confrontation for the world since the Cuban missile crisis. I see three possible scenarios for how this story ends. I call them “the full-blown disaster,” “the dirty compromise” and “salvation.”

The disaster scenario is now underway: Unless Vladimir Putin has a change of heart or can be deterred by the West, he appears willing to kill as many people as necessary and destroy as much of Ukraine’s infrastructure as necessary to erase Ukraine as a free independent state and culture and wipe out its leadership. This scenario could lead to war crimes the scale of which has not been seen in Europe since the Nazis — crimes that would make Vladimir Putin, his cronies and Russia as a country all global pariahs.

The wired, globalized world has never had to deal with a leader accused of this level of war crimes whose country has a landmass spanning 11 time zones, is one of the world’s largest oil and gas providers and possesses the biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads of any nation.

Every day that Putin refuses to stop we get closer to the gates of hell. With each TikTok video and cellphone shot showing Putin’s brutality, it will be harder and harder for the world to look away. But to intervene risks igniting the first war in the heart of Europe involving nuclear weapons. And to let Putin reduce Kyiv to rubble, with thousands of dead — the way he conquered Aleppo and Grozny — would allow him to create a European Afghanistan, spilling out refugees and chaos.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
UC Graduate mentions a fourth option, Putin succeeds, and the Trumpistas come back to power, and Putin rebuilds the Soviet Union by killing people and ending democracies. I have a 5th option. NATO gets inspired and shamed by the bravery and horrible suffering of the Ukrainian people, and decides, like adults, to come to Ukraine’s rescue, by admitting them into NATO, and declaring that they will send troops to expel the Russian invasion from the independent country of Ukraine. Then they do it. If the fools and fearful around Putin allow him to destroy the world with the nuclear weapons supposedly at his command, we will not have to worry about the climate crisis or our impending extinction, as part of the sixth great extinction on planet earth.,
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

Opinion | Fiona Hill: For Russia’s President Putin, It’s Not Just About Ukraine – The New York Times

“We knew this was coming.

“George, you have to understand that Ukraine is not even a country. Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe and the greater part was given to us.” These were the ominous words of President Vladimir Putin of Russia to President George W. Bush in Bucharest, Romania, at a NATO summit in April 2008.

Mr. Putin was furious: NATO had just announced that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join the alliance. This was a compromise formula to allay concerns of our European allies — an explicit promise to join the bloc, but no specific timeline for membership.

At the time, I was the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, part of a team briefing Mr. Bush. We warned him that Mr. Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke pre-emptive Russian military action. But ultimately, our warnings weren’t heeded.”

David Lindsay:  I am running out of patience with Putin, which is a bad reaction, perhaps. Here are two comments I recommended.

Izzy
Danbury CT5h ago

A wonderfully written and thoughtful assessment of the untenable and dangerous situation facing the U.S. and NATO in Eastern Europe. Ms. Hill is to be commended for her years of service and unparalleled expertise in Russian relations. An asset to treasure.

3 Replies338 Recommended
Thor Dievel
Scandinavia4h ago

Thank you Dr. Hill for your solidly knowledge-based opinion. You explain vry well how Mr. Putin is masterfully exploiting any fissures in our Western stance against his endless thuggery. What I cannot understand myself is why we expect him to behave the way we want without facing any serious consequences. But, at the same time, I suspect that playing the military game is totally playing into his hands. It’s fairly predictable, and it will provide his regime with an external threat that will be used for all it’s worth internally, to further strengthen the authoritarian grip on Russia’s people. I would prefer “asymmetric warfare”, on the level where Putin himself would be hurt: Go after Russian oligarchs and their ill-gotten fortunes. Seize their vast property in London, New York and other Western havens. Kick their spoilt kids out of American and British universities. Further, stop all business deals with Russian entities and get all Western businesses out of Russia. Seize all Russian assets in Western banks. And yes, it would be hurtful also to us. But not so much as being dragged into military misfortunes on the Eastern front. And, of course, this approach would mean that Germany would have to fire up their nuclear electricity plants again, but so they should anyhow.

6 Replies233 Recommended

Opinion | Biden Wants America to Lead the World. It Shouldn’t. – by Peter Beinart – The New York Times

David Lindsay:   I didn’t like the beginning of this piece, but it got better and better. Obama announced that on his watch, the US would not lead the world, but lead from behind. Biden is sounding very eager to return to world leadership, and it doesn’t sound right, and raises a few red flags. Peter Beinart calls for solidarity and team work, rather than follow the leader. It would be a nice rebranding of Lead from behind.

“Biden Wants America to Lead the World. It Shouldn’t.

“. . .   Mr. Biden has offered two justifications for why America deserves this privileged role. The first is hereditary: “For 70 years,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs, “the United States, under Democratic and Republican presidents, played a leading role in writing the rules” that “advance collective security and prosperity.” In other words, America should lead the world now because it has done so effectively in the past.

Between 1945 and 1989, according to Dov H. Levin’s book “Meddling in the Ballot Box,” the United States interfered in foreign elections 63 times. So Mr. Biden’s cheery history of American Cold War leadership leaves a lot out. But even if you romanticize the post-World War II era, it is long gone.

Seventy years ago, as James Goldgeier and Bruce W. Jentleson recently noted, the United States accounted for roughly half of the world’s gross domestic product. It now accounts for just over one-seventh. Collectively, the European Union’s G.D.P., adjusted for purchasing power parity, is almost as large as the United States’. China’s is already larger, and the coronavirus pandemic is likely to only widen the gap. The phrase “leadership” assumes a power hierarchy that, at least economically, no longer exists.

Mr. Biden’s second justification is moral. As he wrote in 2017, “other nations follow our lead because they know that America does not simply protect its own interests, but tries to advance the aspirations of all.” But it’s hard to survey America’s behavior in recent decades and glean some special commitment to global welfare. According to a study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, America’s post-9/11 wars have displaced 37 million people. And even before Donald Trump entered the White House, the United States had refused to ratify international treaties that ban land minescluster bombs and nuclear tests, regulate the global sale of armsprotect the oceans, enable prosecution of genocide and war crimes, and safeguard the rights of womenchildren and people with disabilities. Most countries on earth have ratified all or nearly all of these agreements. No other nation has spurned every single one.

Mr. Trump has added to this litany of noncompliance by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Health Organization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Treaty on Open Skies and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This isn’t the record of a country that has earned the right to global leadership. It’s the record of a country that should work on global membership first.”  . . . .

“. . . .  It’s not ordinary Americans who believe the United States must “sit at the head of the table,” as Mr. Biden said last week. It is foreign-policy elites, who often slander public opposition to American primacy as isolationism. But there is a dissident foreign-policy tradition, often championed by those at the forefront of America’s domestic struggles for justice. In his 1967 speech opposing the Vietnam War, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Such a government, he insisted, should not pretend “it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them.” Rather than seeking to dominate the world, Dr. King argued, the United States should show “solidarity” with it: first, by curbing its own contributions to global misery and second, by joining with others to battle “poverty, insecurity and injustice.”

The Biden team should make solidarity — not leadership — its watchword for approaching the world. In so doing, it would acknowledge that while the United States can do much to help other nations, its first obligation — especially after the horrors of the Trump era — is to stop doing harm.”

Trump Steps Up Attacks on Mail Vote, Making False Claims About Michigan – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday incorrectly accused Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state of mailing ballots to all of the state’s registered voters, falsely claiming that it was illegal, as he escalated his assault against mail voting.

The president also threatened to withhold federal funds to Michigan and Nevada if the states proceed in expanding vote-by-mail efforts.

“Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of primaries and the general election,” the president tweeted. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue secretary of state. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this voter fraud path!”

The Twitter post was the latest in a series of broadsides the president has aimed at the vote-by-mail process that has become the primary vehicle for voting in an electoral system transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
“WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday incorrectly accused Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state of mailing ballots to all of the state’s registered voters, falsely claiming that it was illegal, as he escalated his assault against mail voting.”
I really liked this article By Reid J. Epstein, and especially his opening paragraph. It is better to put fake news warning up front, so the reader will not possibly stop reading, before somewhere late in the piece, a disclaimer is revealed

The Gates Foundation has developed a cleaner, safer nuclear power plant and reactor – by David Lindsay Jr – InconvenientNews.Net

Yesterday was a wonderful day full of good news for environmentalists. And I’m not thinking about Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobushar, but of Bill and Melinda Gates. Someone at a recent  CT League of Conservation Voters meeting recently suggested to Kathleen Schomaker that she watch the new Netflix documentary, “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, who won an Academy award for “An Inconvenient Truth.”

There are three episodes, each about an hour. Part One, while describing Bill Gate’s blessed childhood in Seattle, bounces up to the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The short segments on the foundation, tell the story of it improving  sewage conditions in third world countries, especially by starting an international competition to invent a new toilet: a stand alone, recomposting toilet. The foundation also developed a new power plant that runs on fecal waste, creates electricity, and produces clean potable water. I have posted three reviews of the series at my blog, and one of them said that the reporting was full of technical “wonky” details on revolutionary toilet ideas!

Episode Two covered Bill’s high school years and getting to Microsoft, and how the Gates Foundation set about to eradicate polio from the planet. They were nearly successful in some of the worst places for polio in the world, like Nigeria, until the rise of Boko Haran. The terrorists started killing the vaccinators, and polio hasn’t been eradicated in Boko Haran territory.

But it is part three than got us wildly excited. The personal details of Bill and Melinda’s courtship and marriage, and the anti-trust cases against Microsoft were informative, but the big news was the third project of the Gates Foundation—developing a cleaner, safer nuclear power plant and reactor. A team of teams led by Bill came up with a new and radically different nuclear reactor design that they are quite confident will not be able to have a meltdown during even a missile strike. It will not run as hot, or need water for cooling, and it will run on nuclear waste–used and depleted uranium–so it will not create much more waste, and will give a use to all the nuclear waste dumps in the world today and use the waste up. If it works, it is a game changer. They decided the best place to build the first one was in China, since the Chinese were still actively building nuclear power plants, but when Trump came to office, he began tariffs and cancelled the carefully arranged partnership. The episode ended without more info. We just know that the Gates Foundation still has to build and test their first prototype somewhere, to see if the simulations in their labs and on their computers are accurate.

I’m for the men in the middle – By David Lindsay, Jr. – InconvenientNews.Net

For the lasrt six months, and still today, my first candidate is Joe Biden. It is telling that Ross Douthat, one of the new right wing conservatives opinion writers at the NYT, has chosen to write the essay endorsing Joe Biden. Douthat ends his op-ed:

“You lose any immediate chance at sweeping change, in other words, but you gain some room for incrementalism that greater ideological ambition might foreclose.

“Finally, the strongest argument for Biden is nonideological: More than the other candidates, he offers the possibility of a calmer presidency, where politics fades a bit from the daily headlines, where the average American is less bombarded by social-media swarms and cable-news freakouts, where gridlock and polarization persist but their stakes feel modestly reduced.  I’ll be honest: It wouldn’t be good news for political columnists, but as a citizen it doesn’t sound that bad.”

But I am also excited about either Michael Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg.  Any of these three men in the middle of the political spectrum, and on the right side of the Democratic Party,  are the most likely, according to the polls that I am aware of and have studied, to beat Donald Trump where it matters, in the swing states that tilt the electoral college. Biden and Bloomberg are certainly more likely to attract swing voters, conservative independents and disgruntled Republicans, than either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeeth Warren.  These concerns largely explain why Trump has been calling the Ukraine for investigations into Biden, while quietly supporting, along with Russia, Bernie Sanders.

While I should possibly consider Amy Klobushar in this group of moderates, I don’t think many voters in the mid-west and red states will vote for a female for president, and I am turned off by the story in the NYT of how she mistreated minorities and immigrants when a prosecutor, and she has not impressed the voters in the causcuses and primaries we have had to date.

The United States and the world face some daunting challenges, climate change and the sixth extinction, growing income inequality, voter suppression, hate-based populism, pollution and overpopulation, to name some big ones. With Donald Trump and the current Republican Party on the wrong side of each one of these major issues, the outcome of the next election takes on special importance.

 

Children Freeze to Death as Attack Prompts Largest Exodus of Syrian War – The New York Times

“REYHANLI, Turkey — The baby wasn’t moving. Her body had gone hot, then cold. Her father rushed her to a hospital, going on foot when he could not find a car, but it was too late.

At 18 months, Iman Leila had frozen to death.

In the half-finished concrete shell that had been home since they ran for their lives across northwest Syria, the Leila family had spent three weeks enduring nighttime temperatures that barely rose above 20.

“I dream about being warm,” Iman’s father, Ahmad Yassin Leila, said a few days later by phone. “I just want my children to feel warm. I don’t want to lose them to the cold. I don’t want anything except a house with windows that keeps out the cold and the wind.”

Ahmad Yassin Leila and his infant daughter Iman, who froze to death.

Syria’s uprising began in a flare of hope almost exactly nine years ago. Now, amid one of the worst humanitarian emergencies of the war, some of those who chanted for freedom and dignity in 2011 want only to ward off the winter cold.”

 

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
There is misery, suffering, blood and death on Trump’s hands. When he stabbed the Kurds in the back, by removing our small force that protected them from airstrikes from Russian and the Syrian government, he unleashed this terror on them and on our other allies in the area, the Syrian rebels, who I think, were being protected also by the military prowess of the Kurds. I am disgusted, and embarassed by our current president, and his subservience to Putin ofRussia, Bashar Al Assad of Syria, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.

Opinion | Dems, Want to Defeat Trump? Form a Team of Rivals – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Calla Kessler/The New York Times

“If this election turns out to be just between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country. How do we prevent that?

That’s all I am thinking about right now. My short answer is that the Democrats have to do something extraordinary — forge a national unity ticket the likes of which they have never forged before. And that’s true even if Democrats nominate someone other than Bernie Sanders.

What would this super ticket look like? Well, I suggest Sanders — and Michael Bloomberg, who seems to be his most viable long-term challenger — lay it out this way:

“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my cabinet choices — my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.”

David Lindsay: I’ve watched at least half of all the debates, and this idea has been in my mind since the first one. Thank you Tom Friedman, for saying so clearly what I and, according to the comments, many others, have been thinking.