Category Archives: Podcasts

Bookworm Beat 8/26/19 — China versus the Aztecs and open thread

A fun, down-and-dirty post comparing China to the Aztec Empire and talking about the real economic difference between Red and Blue states.

Yes, China does have something in common with the Aztecs. One of the points I’ve been making for about a decade is that, contrary to what they teach in schools, 167 Spaniards (and their horses) did not destroy the mighty Aztec empire. What destroyed the mighty Aztec empire was that it had made a lot of enemies in the decades before the Spanish appeared. The Aztecs were indeed mighty warriors and mighty builders, skills they used to dominate completely every tribe for miles around — and by dominate I mean human sacrifice (in the tens of thousands), enslavement, and constant demands for tribute from those allowed to remain on their own lands.

When Cortez and his Conquistadors (and their horses, of course) came along, there’s no doubt that Montezuma II thought that they were gods and that it shook him. But what really made the difference when Cortez decided to take over the Aztec empire was the fact that all of those long-suffering regional tribes were thrilled finally to have a leader for their side. This means that what really destroyed Montezuma was Cortez, his Conquistadors, their horses, and several thousand other Native Americans all out for revenge.

What does this have to do with China?

This relates to China because China isn’t the just the purveyor of cheap goods to the world and, especially, to America. It’s also become a regional bully.

I first had an inkling of that a few years ago when I was touring through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The people in those countries loath the Chinese. Chinese tourists descend on their countries like locusts. They are loud, rude, demanding, and destructive. They arrive in huge busloads and, lacking any respect for the countries they visit, literally destroy the historic sites they’ve come to view. They are the equivalent of the Europeans touring Egypt, Italy, and Greece back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They bring small amounts of money and large amounts of cheerfully acquisitive pillage and destruction. They have not made friends.

The Chinese also haven’t been making friends in the region with their little trick of building artificial islands to extend their reach into the South China Sea. That’s been an extremely sore point with countries along the Malayan peninsula (especially the Philippines), as well as with Japan.

In addition to regional activity, the Chinese have been offering ostensibly cheap money to all sorts of third world countries, only for those countries to discover that the Chinese somehow managed to end up owning their economies.  It was one of those things, like borrowing money from the neighborhood loan shark, that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Put another way, like the Aztecs, China’s been a bit of a bully. That’s why this story did not surprise me in the slightest:

President Trump got another big win on Sunday, as he announced that the U.S. and Japan had agreed “in principle” to a trade that will open Japan to $7 million of American agricultural products. Speaking to reporters at the G-7 summit, Trump stated, “We have been working on a deal with Japan for a long time. It involves agriculture. It involves e-commerce. It involves many things. We’ve agreed in principle.” Trump added, “We’ve agreed to every point, and now we’re papering it and we’ll be signing it at a formal ceremony,” according to The Hill.

Expect more stories like the one above to come soon, both from East Asian nations looking to take China down a peg and from nations across the world anxious to see their local loan shark weakened. Indeed, I think it’s pretty clear that the Chinese themselves expect more stories like this, which is why they’re suddenly making nice:

China signaled Monday it is now seeking a “calm” end to its ongoing trade war with the U.S. and President Trump voiced optimism about a deal, as Asian markets crumbled and China’s currency plummeted to an 11-year low following the latest tariffs on $550 billion in Chinese goods announced last Friday by the Trump administration.

“I think we’re going to have a deal,” Trump told reporters.

Trump said Monday that officials from China called U.S. officials and expressed interest to “get back to the table,” The Wall Street Journal reported. He called the discussions a “very positive development.”

“They want to make a deal. That’s a great thing,” he said.

News of the possible opening in negotiations came shortly after Trump threatened to declare a national emergency that would result in American businesses freezing their relationships with China. Trump’s tariff barrage on Friday was a response to China imposing its own retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods.

Our very sane genius in the White House understood a few things that Leftists and NeverTrumpers didn’t. He understood that the Chinese economy needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs the Chinese economy. And he understood that the Chinese, like the Aztecs, have been bullying people everywhere. For those people, when a Cortez, and his Conquistadors (and their horses) come along, they have suddenly found the leader they’ve been looking for to take down the regional bully.

By the way, I grew up in San Francisco surrounded by Chinese people. I think Chinese has an amazing culture, with wonderful people, and an awesome and awe-inspiring history. I spent a lovely day in Beijing being overwhelmed by the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I just don’t want Communist China to be the most powerful country in the world or to control East Asia. I don’t like communism . . . at all.

Dear snotty Blue staters: Remember that wealth is relative. Back when I was living on the Blue Coast, one of the points Leftists loved to make was that Blue states are wealthier than Red states. Their point was that Blue state policies are obviously better than Red state policies because they generate more wealth. This means that Red staters, in addition to being poor, are insanely stupid to vote for conservative Red state policies.

My usual point in response was that in California, while there’s certainly wealth concentrated in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, most of California is in fact an extremely poor state. In other words, I argued that Blue states may be creating wealth, but they’re also creating horrific wealth inequality.

Although my point’s correct, I was overthinking. After all, the thing about money, something that I taught my kids starting when they were in elementary school, is that it has no fixed value. It’s only worth the value assigned to it by willing buyers and sellers — and, of course, in Blue states, that value is hopelessly perverted by government interference in the marketplace.

Now that I’m in Tennessee, I’m reminded that real value lies, not in money itself, but in what you get for the money. In that regard, I’d like to quote from a timeless article published in 2015, although it only came to my attention yesterday:

One of the great conundrums of the American political scene is why the poorer states, colloquially known as “red” states, tend to vote Republican or conservative, while the richer states, the “blue” ones (and let it be said that this is very confusing for this European, for over here the colours tend to work the other way around, red is Labour, or left wing) tend to vote Democrat. We would think that it should be the other way around, the poor people voting for more from that Great Big Pinata which is government. But it seems that there’s a simple solution to this: the red states aren’t actually poorer in terms of the way people live.

If we measure by consumption patterns then it’s the blue states that are poor, the red states that are rich:

Blue states, like California, New York and Illinois, whose economies turn on finance, trade and knowledge, are generally richer than red states. But red states, like Texas, Georgia and Utah, have done a better job over all of offering a higher standard of living relative to housing costs. That basic economic fact not only helps explain why the nation’s electoral map got so much redder in the November midterm elections, but also why America’s prosperity is in jeopardy.

Red state economies based on energy extraction, agriculture and suburban sprawl may have lower wages, higher poverty rates and lower levels of education on average than those of blue states — but their residents also benefit from much lower costs of living. For a middle-class person , the American dream of a big house with a backyard and a couple of cars is much more achievable in low-tax Arizona than in deep-blue Massachusetts. As Jed Kolko, chief economist of Trulia, recently noted, housing costs almost twice as much in deep-blue markets ($227 per square foot) than in red markets ($119).

That particular piece then goes on to chunter away about how appalling it is that people aren’t willing to vote for more blue state type of policies and how this will be the end of America. However, the really interesting part of it is that part quoted above. For it speaks to something that economists just keep trying to point out to people. Yes, sure, income inequality might be important in a way, wealth inequality should have a place in our thoughts. But what really matters to people about how life is lived is consumption.

If I’m on a fixed income (which you should assume I am, so donations to the blog are always welcome), I’m a much wealthier person in Tennessee than I am in California. Here in Tennessee, my apartment costs 1/5 of what it would in California, my gasoline costs 1/2 of what it would in California, and my utility bills are 1/3 what they are in California. Produce is more expensive here, but I can only eat so many apples. In addition, the roads throughout Tennessee are better maintained than those in California, the people are delightful, and Nature’s fecundity is glorious. I’m no longer living in an elite Blue community, but I feel I’m getting a lot of bang for my buck.

Where’s the podcast? I won’t do another podcast until September 1. It costs money to have an online service host podcasts, and I’ve already used up my month’s worth of hosting. If I want to do another podcast before August ends, I have to cough up more money to buy a bigger service and I’m not ready to do that.

What I’ll probably do once September starts, now that I’ve started to get a feel for this podcasting thing, is do a podcast every second day or so. Then, if I can get 20,000 listens per month (and that’s a lot of listens), I can get advertising going and, with that money, start buying more space for storing podcasts. I’ll also look into other ways to monetize the podcast. I do like talking and I’d sure love to make money doing something I like.

Image credit: The Great Wall at Jinshanling by Jakub Halun

The post Bookworm Beat 8/26/19 — China versus the Aztecs and open thread appeared first on Watcher of Weasels.

The Inaugural Bookworm Room Podcast — plus the debates, Mueller, and obstruction

Check out the first Bookworm Room Podcast — or read its contents here: Marianne Williamson’s Leftism, Mueller’s picture, and Trump’s non-obstruction.

I finally did it — after literally mulling the matter over (not in the Joe Biden sense, but quite literally) for at least a decade, I finally decided to start a podcast. For years, I’ve said that my dream job is to talk about things that interest me. Here, at my blog, I’ve spent 15 years writing about things that interest me, but talking about them is different. It uses a different part of my brain.

I’ve been waiting a lifetime for someone to pay me to talk. I finally realized that, with podcasts, I can start talking and then see if someone pays me. And even if no one pays me, there’s nothing to stop me from talking.

It wasn’t just the fact that this idea has been in my head for so long that got me started. Instead, I decided that the universe was trying to speak to me.

Last week, I visited with my father’s oldest friend. My father and mother are long gone, but the friend is still around, and I’ve sort of inherited him. He’s 99 now and was fortunate enough to end up with a wonderful caregiver. She’s an L.A. hippie, earth mother type, with Tammy Faye Baker makeup and a heart as big as the world. Everyone Lyra* meets is as a friend and my honorary uncle (for that’s how we treated him when we were children) is in better condition than he’s been in years. At 99, though, my honorary uncle is losing his memory a bit. I therefore spoke with him about stories I remember my dad telling us.

About halfway through the lunch, Lyra suddenly announced, “You know, normally when someone talks as much as you do….”

I froze, blushed hard, and apologized. Lyra was having none of it.

“No, no. What I was going to say is that, usually when someone talks as much as you do, my eyes are just rolling into the back of my head and I tune them out. You’re so interesting, though, I could listen to you forever. You really need to do a YouTube.”

I decided that Lyra was the voice of the universe, nudging me — finally — to act on something I’ve long yearned to do.

I’ve embedded below the link to my first podcast. It’s not too long (about 13 minutes) and, be warned, it is the beginning of the learning curve. I spent about 5 hours working on those 13 minutes, which is why I couldn’t bear to ditch it and decided, instead, to publish it. Next time, it will take less time and be better. I’ll be more fluid, cover more topics, have better audio inserts, etc.

For those who prefer reading, don’t worry: I fully intend to keep blogging. It is, after all, reading has always been my first love. The only thing that got me started listening to podcasts was the fact that, when my joints went and martial arts was no longer do-able, I started to walk for exercise and podcasts were the only things that kept me from going crazy with boredom. Also, on my recent journeys crisscrossing the U.S., podcasts have been a great way to while away 8-10 hour long driving days. There’s only so much Tejano music you can listen to (no matter where I was, my radio seemed to seek out Tejano music).

So, here’s the podcast (or, if your ad-blocker hides it, here’s a link). Scroll down a little, and you can read a full discussion of the topics I covered:

I start by explaining why I decided to do podcasts, along with introducing my dog, “Killer,” who will help provide color commentary. I then point out that Elizabeth Warren has gone off the deep end by insisting that America de-criminalize our borders:

Combine that with her demands for socialized medicine (plus every other pander she offers) and America is suddenly gone: No borders, no money.

But for sheer irritating craziness, there’s nothing like Marianne Williamson. At first glance, she sounds fun and funny, with all her spiritual gobbledy-gook:

There are two things, though, that keep her from being laughable. First, the audience ate it up, which means that she’s red meat for the base. Second, when you look at Williamson’s actual policies and cut away all the spiritual cover, she’s nothing but a garden variety Leftist, advancing the same policies as all the other candidates. For example, here’s the opening paragraph of her issues page on Climate Change, followed by her policy prescriptions, which come a few paragraphs later. The first paragraph is L.A. loon; the prescriptions are Warren-esque or Bernie-esque:

Every problem can be traced to a lack of devotion to things that matter most, and nowhere is this truer than in our relationship to the earth. Humanity’s spiritual disconnection from nature is at the heart of our climate crisis, and reminding ourselves of our moral responsibility to respect and protect the earth will resolve it.


Beginning with the appointment of a world-class environmentalist rather than a fossil fuel or chemical company executive (as is now the case) to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, I would fundamentally reverse the current misuse of the EPA, whereby it serves mainly the cause of profit maximization for fossil fuel and chemical companies, and return it to its original mission of protection and advocacy on behalf of our natural environment. The full powers of the executive branch of the US government would be put in service to this effort.

As president, I would immediately re-enter the Paris Climate Accords — while simultaneously working to expand talks to push for even more meaningful and enforceable agreements. In 2015, we were one of 195 countries to support this important agreement on Climate Change. We should not only re-enter, but also lead a new push for the global transition to reduce and even sequester existing carbon from the atmosphere. Our urgent goal is not just to hold temperature increases as close as possible to where they are now, but instead to reverse global warming back to more long-term sustainable levels. The current Paris Accords don’t go far enough, they may help stem off the worst of the worst consequences, but what we need to be aiming for is to restore health. We must put our full efforts behind continuing a global push to come into alignment on more robust goals and make the agreements enforceable, which they are currently not.


Furthermore, fossil fuel companies not only pollute our air and water, damage our health and accelerate global warming, they have also polluted our political system for far too long. As the result of energy industry lobbying and campaign contributions, the federal government supports the use of fossil fuels and hands out massive tax breaks and subsidies to companies that are already among the most profitable in the world. U.S. fossil fuel producing companies rake in hundreds of billions in revenue every year, with huge profit margins, yet the U.S. ranks the worst of all G7 countries by subsidizing fossil fuels the most—over $26-billion a year.


When it comes to energy, we must:

Expand investments in clean, green energy.

Reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050 at the latest.

Mirror ambitious, but realistic, efforts in the State of California. This Nation needs to set a goal to transition to cleaner energy as quickly as possible. This will send a message to the US market, large businesses, and utilities.

Reinstate and expand energy and mileage efficiency investments. Conserving energy and making the most of our resources should not be a partisan issue. It is good for everyone. Our scientists and businesses are ready to help lead these efforts, but strong national leadership is essential.

Extend federal incentives and rebates for renewable energy.

Transition away from fossil fuel energy and halt all new fossil fuel projects. We must eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies and instead make massive investments in, and provide subsidies for, clean green solutions.


When it comes to transportation:

Fossil Fuel Vehicles: By 2035 we will phase out the sales of new fossil-fuel vehicles. By 2050 we will remove fossil fuel burning vehicles from our roads. We may consider an exception for historical vehicles, schools and museums for educational purposes.

Electric Vehicles: We will accelerate the production of Electric Vehicles, invest in charging infrastructure, and continue efforts to maximize fuel efficiency until we can move away from internal combustion engines. All parking spaces on either private or public land would have to have access to electric charging stations by 2035.

Heavy-duty trucks: Will either use electricity or more sustainable bio-fuels by 2035. All diesel vehicles will be retired by 2050.

Railways: We will require electrification of all railways by 2030, both passenger and freight.

Public Transportation: We will also deploy federal transportation funds to fully empower our cities’ public mass transit systems and walkable and bikeable communities.

Airplanes: All new airplanes would have to use either hydrogen or bio-fuels by 2035.

Williamson is like a communist Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the communist woman behind the curtain and just gaze in awe on the wacky spiritualist spouting anodyne New Age wackiness. I consider her quite frightening precisely because too many people find her amusing. (You can see the same hard Leftism when you look at her other issues.)

From Williamson, I transitioned to Robert Mueller. Yeah, yeah, I know that was so last week, but I spent last week in a car and, by day’s end, was too tired to write. I did listen to podcasts and news shows, though, so I know that a lot of people, including conservatives, found Mueller to be rather pathetic. They felt sorry for him as he stumbled for answers and appeared befuddled at times. Even assuming that Mueller was just a rubber stamp without first hand knowledge about the investigation, he still seemed lost.

I did not feel at all sorry for him. To me, Robert Mueller is Dorian Gray. As you may recall from high school or college English class, the eponymous character in Oscar Wilde’s famous novel was a debauched creature who never aged, but always looked fresh, young, and handsome. It turned out that, hidden away in his attic, he had a portrait that faithfully recorded what age and debauchery were doing to him, creating a face that was a repulsive image of a morally damaged human being.

Mueller has managed to maintain an image for rectitude that is inconsistent with a man whose career has been highlighted by crude, brutal efforts to use his prosecutorial power to destroy those people he thought were guilty, regardless of the merits of his case against them, or to destroy people he believed were not sufficiently helping his case. He’s overseen wrongful imprisonments and tattered reputations, and bankrupted more people than I can count. He has an ugly soul and it — his portrait — was on display before the nation last week.

The last point I made also concerned the hearings. Deprived of “Russian collusion,” the Democrats harped endlessly on “obstruction.” Putting aside the fact that it’s not a prosecutor’s job to announce that someone is not not-guilty, there’s the little fact that the investigators in this case were manifestly part of the coup aimed at bringing down a duly elected president of the United States. While innocent people can obstruct justice by interfering with a valid criminal investigation — because we want to encourage people to help honest cops — no one should have to assist with his own destruction at the hands of a coup. Moreover, Mueller at least had the decency to admit that, despite his fulminations, Trump in fact obstructed nothing:

And that was my podcast.

Please check it out and let me know if you’d be willing to listen to it again or if you think others, those less inclined to read than you are, might listen to it. Also, provided that you’re not mean about it, I’d love any constructive criticism you have to offer . . . or maybe you should hold off on the criticism until I’ve got a few more podcasts under my belt and have ironed out the worst of the amateur glitches.
* Not her real name.

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