Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Black Swan: The impact of the

Book Review by William J. Skinner

This is not the kind of book I would normally pick up and read.  Newt Gingrich mentioned it in his new book, Understanding Trump, so my interest was aroused.  I discovered the Palm Beach County Library had one copy each of the first (2007) and second (2010) edition and obtained the second to see what the book contained about politics, Trump and Florida.  I am glad I learned about this 444 page softback, including the 71 pages of Postscript Essays, chapter notes, bibliography, and index, because it may help to round out my thinking big with all the minutia I am programmed to read.

             Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ancestral home was the Greek orthodox village of Amioun, in northern Lebanon, and he was born in 1960.  Talib was educated at the University of Paris,  Paris Dauphine University, University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  At the time the second edition was published, Talib was a Distinguished Professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute. His official biography on the web says: “Taleb's works focuses on mathematical, philosophical, and practical problems with risk and probability, as well as on the properties of systems that can handle disorder. He spent 21 years as a derivatives trader and, after closing 650,000 option transactions and examining 200,000 risk reports, he changed careers in 2006 to become a scholar, mathematical researcher and philosophical essayist.”

             Taleb is in the thinking business.  The idea of Black Swan was first mentioned by Sextus Empiricus in his medical writings made probably in Alexandria in around 100 CE. (p204)  The Black Swan is an outlier or impossibility to most people because they assume or believe all swans are white.  Believe me there is a lot more to it than this.  Find out in the book.  This author has written down every thought he has ever had about his wonderings.  Taleb may be writing random thoughts with parenthetical phrases to make sure he tells the reader any exceptions. The book contains 19 chapters many of which are around 10 pages in length, so you will be moving from theory to theory.  A simple message is to forget the bell curve and forget the standard devation because they can be meaningless.

            But let me tell you five thoughts why Gingrich might have thought of Taleb’s book when he wrote about Trump.  This will also tell you more about the book.

             Taleb made a prediction after the 1987 stock market crash when Harry Markowitz and William Sharpe were awarded the Nobel prize for developing the Modern Portfolio Theory, when he wrote:  “In a world in which these who get the Nobel, anything can happen.  Anyone can become president.”(p277)  Trump became president in a black swan event few expected.

             Point two is that Donald Trump graduated from the Wharton School as did Taleb.  This bit is not in the book, but I know it anyway.

             Point three is that Taleb says Edward Lorenz, MIT meteorologist, discussed the butterfly effect as being when a butterfly moves its wings in India this could be responsible for a hurricane in New York two years later. (p179) At least this is a question of probability.  This is the Florida connection to Taleb’s thinking.

            Fourth, Taleb says a few times in the book that militarily trained people think about risks differently than otherwise educated individuals.  Trump graduated from a five year military prep school before going to Wharton.

             Despite these coincidences, there is no doubt in my mind that Taleb was not thinking about Donald Trump when he wrote this book.  Taleb was thinking about knowing the unknowns and determining probabilities of what will happen next in multiple contexts.   A couple more glimpses of Taleb’s subject matter follow.

             “What to Remember

            “Remember this: the Gaussian-bell curve variations face a headwind that makes probabilities drop at a faster and faster rate as you move away from the mean, while ‘scalables,” or Mandelbrotian variations, do not have such a restriction.  That’s pretty much most of what you need to know.” p234  Taleb dedicated this book to Benoit Mandelbrot.

            Taleb wrote it took him close to a decade and a half to find a real thinker, “the man who made many swans gray: Mandelbrot—the great Benoit Mandelbrot.” p252

             Yogi Berra is quoted at p136 as saying, “It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

 The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness are only two of Taleb’s books, but they are in print in thirty-one languages as of 2010.  The Black Swan is - ISBN: 978-0-8129-7381-5.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What Do We Really Know About The Bill of Rights?

JAMES MADISON and the Struggle for the BILL of RIGHTS
By Richard Lubinsky

The above titled book was published in 2006, so you are already ten years behind if you have not read it. But if you get it now, it will be worth your while if you cherish the Bill of Rights like I do. From the opening page to end of the Epilogue there are 264 pages packed with details about James Madison’s work on the Constitutional Convention and the ratification in Virginia and other states, plus the election of Madison to the First U. S. Congress and his more than two year effort to pass the Bill of Rights.

Remember that the Continental Congress was meeting in New York City for several years during the Revolutionary War. James Madison was from Orange County, Virginia, a several day trip to New York and a trip that Madison dreaded because of his long-time illness that comes to light in this book. Madison had a gastrointestinal problem that frequently caused diarrhea and other discomforts that were embarrassing to him during long trips on a stage coach or other conveyance with a couple of other people. For me this was the first glimpse of the personal fortitude that Madison had in dealing with his personal health problems while he was the instigator and daily shepherd of the assembly of the Constitutional Convention, the adoption, the ratification, and the struggle to adopt a Bill of Rights.

The advance praise for the book comes from James Madison organizations and individual historians like Garry Wills, Philip Bigler, Charles F. Bryan, Jr. and David B. Mattern on the book cover. I am confident that if you read this book it will open your eyes to the divergence of views about adopting the Constitution in the first place to the switch by Madison from opposing a Bill of Rights to being the only real champion of adopting the Bill of Rights. This took Madison over two years of meticulous letter writing and personally speaking to hundreds of people.

You will learn that Madison was not a dynamic speaker like Patrick Henry. Madison was a soft voice of reason who preferred to work behind the scenes, but if called upon to address a legislative body, he could hold his own with detail after detail. Madison was particularly good in legislative committees where a few people often recognized his intelligence and deferred to his solutions for the problems under discussion.

The beginning of the book was somewhat dull to me, but essential to understand what was happening during the constitutional developments. I began making notes at page 174 when Madison’s election to the first U.S. Congress was described. Madison detested having to give up his work with the Continental Congress in New York and come home to Virginia to run for office to the House of Representatives. He did not like to ask for votes or do things like make promises. He thought everyone should know what he stood for and accept him for those characteristics.

There were secret political goings-on that prevented Madison from being nominated for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. Some people tried to get Madison to run for Congress in a district where he did not live because those people want him to represent them. Patrick Henry, a former governor of Virginia and an ardent Anti-Federalist, had succeeded in designing districts for the ten Virginia House seats (Virginia was the largest state in the Confederation at the time. Remember it included today’s West Virginia and Kentucky) that would place Madison in a district that Henry thought Madison could not win. Henry was against the adoption of the new Constitution because he thought that the document took too many powers away from the individual countries, such as Virginia. This is the first book that I have read that shows the people of the time flat-out described the states as “countries” and it is obvious to me now that all of the thirteen colonies thought of themselves as individual countries at that time.

But finally Madison was persuaded to come home four or five weeks before the election to campaign in ten inches of snow in the hills and hollers of Virginia. Madison managed to show up in county seat after county seat and talk to the people. Madison was frost bit a little during his travels in the counties of Orange, Louisa, Culpepper, and others, but he won the election over his friend, James Monroe, another individual who needs to be explored more by serious constitutional learners and scholars. Only 44% of the eligible voters came out in Madison’s district that first Virginia election, and in his district Madison was the victor.

Madison and Monroe were so close that they invested in land together and invited Thomas Jefferson to join them in a venture at one time. Madison made more money in land, perhaps, than he did from Congress or his estate at Montpelier. This was another interesting discovery in the book.

In that first election the Sheriffs of each county took down the voters’ preferences orally and made a record. Because of the bad weather, some Sheriffs took votes for three days because it took some hearty souls that long to get to the county seat to vote at considerable risk.

Think of this and contrast it with how easy it is to vote in the 21st Century. We are now coddled, one might say, with our voting machines and fraud prevention systems that sometimes allows double voting, false registrations, and other devious election irregularities.

Another item that piqued my interest was the beginning of Chapter 8 where it is disclosed that New Yorkers wanted to make that city the permanent capital of the United States. I live in Florida in a district where most of the voters are from a single ethnic group who used to live in New York, mostly New York City. My neighbors are democrats and I am a republican, so this struck me as especially interesting. Also my family and I lived in the Philadelphia area for five years during which time I accompanied my three boys and other Cub Scouts to the Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed on several occasions. The place still has the ability to produce memories and dreams of the 1770s.

Here is some detail about this time period that I learned from the book that will give you a good example of Labunski’s writing style:

“Even the state’s Anti-Federalists, many of whom had wanted to prevent ratification at the New York convention in July 1788, agreed to approve the Constitution only because Federalists had strongly hinted that the city would likely become the permanent seat of government. Anti-Federalists knew that if New York did not join the union, its largest city would have no chance of hosting the new government.

“New York officials worried with good reason, that Philadelphia would persuade lawmakers to return to that city, which was the home of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and where the Confederation Congress had met for nine years. Representative John Page of Virginia said that New York ‘is not so half as large as Philadelphia; nor in any manner to be compared to it for Beauty & Elegance.’ Benjamin Rush, a prominent Philadelphia physician, who wrote a long letter to John Adams in early spring to remind him of his home city’s many amenities and virtues, including ‘Philadelphia is the centre of the State of the Union: she is wholly & highly Federal.’ Another Pennsylvanian Timothy Pickering, said that ‘In Philadelphia, the Congress will find convenient lodgings & public buildings – provisions good, elegant, plenty & cheap -- & the most extensive libraries adapted to the use of public bodies, that are to be found on the Continent.’ Those libraries appealed to John Adams, who as vice president would be expected to be involved in the selection of a permanent capital. He told Benjamin Rush that “I love Philadelphia quite as well as New York, and the noble Libraries there [in Philadelphia] would be Strong temptation to me.” [footnotes omitted.]

Around page 180 I was interested in the reference to Representative Elias Boudinot from New Jersey as he is another founder I have recently studied and written about in regard to his religious beliefs. Boudinot, earlier under the Continental Congress he was the second president of the Congress when the country only had officers of the Congress. We only had three of those presidents as I understand it. Boudinot told his wife in a letter that when they arrived in this “dirty city [New York City]” -- “The difference of the wholesome Country Air, from the Stench of the filthy Streets was so apparent, as to effect our smelling Faculties greatly.” My own visits to New York City from the 1960s to present day did not exhibit what Boudinot found upon his arrival, so the years have allowed New Yorkers to make appropriate improvements.

I cite Boudinot for another reason at page 220 of Lubanski’s book where it is disclosed that Elias Boudinot was the chairman of the House Committee of the Whole when Madison was introducing the Bill of Rights in August. Someone raised the issue of whether the committee of the whole had to recommend the Amendments to the full House by a two-thirds vote. “The chairman, Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, ruled that a simple majority was sufficient, and his decision was upheld by a vote of the members.” [Footnotes omitted.]

This book covers the complicated story of the adoption of the Bill of Rights from 40 or more amendments to the twelve submitted to the states by President Washington to the final ten amendments ratified and adopted as additions to the Constitution. There were complications throughout the debates over the amendments as to whether they would be incorporated into the Constitution or appended to the end of the document. We know now that the ten amendments were added to the end and the Supreme Court is still interpreting what the founders meant by each Amendment.

You will not waste your time or money reading this story that can lead you to many other wonderful tales and happenstances about the Bill of Rights. If we let our children graduate from college, perhaps even high school, without knowing what is in this and similar books, we have to accept a degree of blame for letting them down.

Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN: 13: 978-0-19-518105-0 and ISBN: 10: 0-19-518105-0

William J. Skinner, Revised 9-3-2017
Understanding Trump by Newt Gingrich
Book Review by William J. Skinner
First, this book gives the Newt Gingrich group’s insight into potential positive changes in the way the executive department of U.S. government can be reformed to better serve the people.  These improvements are primarily dependent on the GOP and President Donald J. Trump (PDJT) working together.  The book should give hope to anyone who has doubts about whether these ideas will ever be achieved. Readers can learn how PDJT thinks and works and it is not as scary as some main stream media writers slant the outcomes using their creative non-fiction rubrics.

            Second, the first draft was assigned to two writers and then Newt Gingrich began organizing the book with his first-hand knowledge of the way candidate interacted with him and others from meetings beginning in 2015.  The entire Trump family seems to have participated in proving data for the Gingrich team. Gingrich and Callista became friends of PDJT and the Trump family.  Eric Trump wrote a forward.  Other family members are quoted or described as having favorable input.

            Gingrich synthesizes the military’s OODA-loop method of working with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s description of IYI (Intellectual, But Idiot) in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and a forthcoming book, Skin in the Game, with Charles Murray’s ideas in his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, with security expert Dennis M. Gormley’s concept similar to IYI, with Phillip Howards’ legal concepts of how to rewrite regulations in outcome terms rather than formulaic instructions to follow into new ways of doing government business on Federal, State and local levels.

            PDJT is a businessman who follows the military principles of Observation, Orientation, Decision on action, and Loop back to Observe again as a way to get things done.  Taleb’s essay will explain why government is focused on following the ideas of very smart people who are unable to accomplish results.  Gormley talks about the difference between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge about the threat of proliferation and development of land-attack cruise missiles abroad.  All of these ideas strengthen Gingrich’s ideas of how PDJT and the GOP can succeed in improving government performance.  Ideas from others are incorporated as well.

            The book contains three parts with a total of 15 chapters.  Two of the chapters lean on Gingrich’s back and forth written discussions with Allen C. Guelzo, the Lincoln scholar at Gettysburg, who tells Gingrich that the challenges faced by PDJT are similar to those faced by Lincoln.  For example, when Lincoln was elected the southern states newspapers were writing about destruction of the Republican Party and resistance to Lincoln’s government. Gingrich writes, “Today’s Left resembles Charlestonians about to secede in defense of slavery.”

            Part Three of the book contains six chapters each discussing how PDJT and the GOP can Make America Great Again.  Gingrich writes about a “Four-Box Model for the Trump Agenda” in much detail which either means PDJT has not heard Gingrich out in their one-on-one discussions or Gingrich wants to recruit more of us to help him convince PDJT and the GOP to get with the program.  Either way, if you do not read the book, and you favor changes, you will be on the sidelines. 

            The Safety Box is about safety at home, the border, outlaw cities, safety abroad, restoring America’s reputation, reviving the military, and eliminating radical Islam.  Gingrich says PDJT has a great team put in place to accomplish these goals.  The American Competitive Box is about tax cuts for business, how a border adjustment tax will help create jobs, eliminating the capital gains tax, repatriation of US money hiding in foreign countries, cutting the income tax, regulations,  jobs, training and education, immigration, and competing for the future. 

            The Health Box is about incorporation new scientific discoveries into health care more quickly than we do now, but he cautions that passing laws for a new way to do health care will take three and a half years of Congressional hearings, speeches, rallying the public by PDJT, committee votes and a conference committee to put the parts together.  There are three main Strategies set forth here. One focus is changing topic from reforming health insurance to reforming health care. This chapter must be read now so you can discuss it with your members of Congress.  As a former Speaker of the House, Gingrich knows more than the IYIs on this subject.

            The Making-Government-Work Box says the “ahead of schedule, under budget” plan can work if we do the Federal changes with the same determination as Wisconsin and Governor Scott Walker did to change the laws in that state.  Issues include government performance, unaccountable bureaucrats, and balancing the budget.

            Once we change the Federal laws and see improvement, we have to push the same winning ideas to the states and local communities.  Bold, big and wonderful is how I would describe the plans Gingrich tells us about.   He says Republicans have government cornered in at least ten states, so they are turning out some successes already.  Gingrich sets forth 23 guiding principles showing how these will box in the left more.  As people rethink modern government and society, more principles will be adopted.  Then Gingrich lists 35 separate projects we can all work on to make the changes we want. 

            PDJT is an extraordinary figure to Gingrich who says that as the president learns more and more about the problems he will begin to solve them.  Maybe Gingrich is getting big consultant fees for saying all these nice things about PDJT.  If he is, I hope he charged enough, because there are many good ideas in this book.  Part of our problem will be to elect members of the House and Senate who will be smart enough to read and study the ideas in this book.  Some members of Congress seem satisfied to have arrived in the District of Columbia and never plan to leave. 

           The Trump speeches should be read again to see how they fit together.  Gingrich complements Steven Miller and a couple of the campaign speech writers now working in the White House for their good work. 

            Every book, no matter how many people work on it, will have a flaw.  I only found one in this book.  In a listing of early US presidents, the book lists Franklin.  This is new information to me.  If you read the book tell me where you found this listing and I will know you are a careful reader.

William J. Skinner,  September 3, 2017          

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By William J. Skinner
Almost everyone knows healthcare cannot be provided for free; but many people assume or believe healthcare is their right.  Many people are being pulled in this little red wagon and fewer people are making the payments.  Meanwhile politicians promise to take more from wage earners and pass it along to others who will not work or are unqualified for available jobs to get votes.  Americans are a generous people, but there are limits.

            Can we get more folks to participate in controlling the need for healthcare?  Chronic diseases are very often caused by lifestyle choices – over eating, drinking unhealthy beverages, eating the wrong foods, and failure to exercise.  Generally taking good care of oneself would be a good start to health.  Good health is ignored by not washing the produce before eating it, neglecting to wash hands, and not knowing how to recognize common medical conditions or symptoms.  Medical costs are driven up by going to the emergency room (ER) to get colds, sore throats, cuts, bruises and rashes treated.  And because we over exercise our petition rights too much to make laws, Americans now need help at the ER for over eating marijuana cookies.

             Not all people ignore practicing good habits to stay healthy, but many do not know what to do and let their personal health situation get out of control.  This ends up costing other people – the taxpayers – an ever increasing amount of out of control tax increases.

             We have now, in 2017, had seven years of experience in trying to pay for health insurance for 40 million uninsured plus millions of illegal immigrants with the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.   The plan was passed because of the “stupidity” of American voters according to Obamacare expert MIT professor Gruber.   The ACA has proven to be unsuccessful in getting young healthy people to pay for the care of old, sick people and others.

             The threat of fines and taxes did not convince enough people to pay the premiums for ACA- defined “universal” insurance.  Deductibles went up, the insurance exchanges were abandoned by profit losing insurance companies and the ACA proved it was poorly planned to be sustainable.

             We have more recently had a hard time determining what to do to get support for a new American Health Care Act.  We know the structure of ACA will not work, but so far we insist on reproducing a lite version of ACA under another name. 

            One of our problems is we do not have all of the people with skin in the game or a dog in the hunt, as politicians say.   If it is not too late to get our elected representatives to address this critical factor, we could still get more people in the fight to bring down health care costs. We need to try to achieve the attention of every American, young and old, in the next plan.  How can we do that?   Start by thinking outside of the traditional box and use our human resources is one way to describe our solutions to this effort.  Those who have read Alexis de Tocqueville may remember he wrote: “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”  He did not say by government run health programs.

Use the Education Techniques and Resources of Voluntary Associations

Youth Organizations

            Some of the most obvious providers of health education are youth organizations and disease organizations.  In the area of youth, for example, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) incorporates first aid and health education throughout its program for boys from ages six to 18 and beyond. Each rank advancement has some health component as a requirement for an award.   There are specific individual requirements, like using a tourniquet, and there are groups of issues combined in Merit Badges for many areas, like First Aid, Emergency Preparedness, Personal Fitness, and many others.

            Special provisions will be needed for those who prove to be too lazy or adamant about doing nothing to improve their personal situation.  Some will be mentally or physically challenged and will not be able to participate in such programs, but this is a small number that most Americans will be ready to help because of their situation.  Waivers or equivalent certifications can be granted by government bureaucrats after the standards are written into law and regulations are properly promulgated using the Administrative Procedures Act to allow the population to learn about the program.  But the basic idea is that if you have not earned First Aid Merit Badge or the equivalent, you cannot get ER soap and water with bandages applied.
            This is not a time for government to start dictating how voluntary youth organizations should operate, but only a time for government to get some assistance from what Americans have always done – they help each other.  This is not a time to assign the task to government run schools and throw money at the problem so that politicians can have something else to control.  America for several years has been spending more and more on government/union schools and its students are fast losing rankings in educational levels among other nations of the world.

            I was personally involved in the BSA from 1948 through 2014 – a period of 66 years and the only time I was paid was the few weeks I worked on a camp staff during three summers in my high school and college years.  Thousands of volunteers would be willing to gear up to help other youth and adults learn what they need to know to improve their health care.

             The Girl Scouts, 4H Clubs, Campfire, some youth organizations sponsored by religious groups like YMCAs, and a variety of charitable youth organizations could be interested in becoming involved. 

 Disease and Disaster Associations

            The American Heart Association does a great job teaching adults and youth about cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), they even do it with an online program.  AHA has an instructor program already in operation and could take on larger groups that need such training.   AHA is a leader in resuscitation science, education, and training, and publisher of the official AHA Guidelines for CPR and ECC.  More than 10 types of instructional programs are offered, and many of these would be useful for affected individuals and families to learn about.

            Specific disease associations that specialize in diabetes, lungs, kidneys, cancer, feet, skin, and you name it often have educational programs for professionals, family members and individuals. Use their programs to help educate patients and families how to care for their illnesses.  Some of these voluntary associations have magazines offering advice and information.  These groups could develop certification programs to qualify for eligibility for taxpayer funded health care.

             The American Red Cross offers courses for instructors and individuals in five basic areas:

             The AP/LTP area has training with specific courses on Aquatics, Blood borne Pathogens Training / Babysitter’s Training, Professional Rescuers and Healthcare Providers, Responding to Emergencies, Lay Responder and Wilderness and Remote First Aid / Preparedness.

             Some disease foundations have set up patient support web sites that can be used to reduce patient costs on government funds, e.g. taxpayer funds.

 Underused Health Professionals

            Pharmacists should be consulted for advice about the use of prescription drugs, vaccines, drug interactions and side effects, over the counter drugs, health resources, and devices.   If pharmacists were reimbursed for their time, patients would learn more about their health needs from this easy to reach professional resource in every American town.

            Many patient disease-related support groups have participating social workers, physical therapists, and other health professionals.  For example diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, weight management and other conditions often have support groups available to orient patients and family care givers.

What To Do Now

            Everyone receiving taxpayer funded healthcare should be encouraged to participate in these various volunteer certification programs to show they understand what they can do to help themselves.  Let your state and federal legislators know how you feel about this general idea.  Urge them to consider it.  Think about how these kind of programs could help you with your health care or that of a family member or friend.  Let us work together to solve these problems.  Do not give up and just ride in the little red wagon.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sanctuary Leaders May Be Term Limited

Sanctuary Leaders May Be Term Limited
Unbeknownst to some mayors, city and county officials and governors, they may be prohibited from running for any other office because of their promotion of sanctuary cities, counties and states.  Apparently they have not read Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution stated below:
Section 3.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

            It would appear that more than 300 sanctuary movement leaders who are elected officials could be kept off the ballot for another office, by asking them for a copy of their Congressional waiver of disability.  Citizens could accuse these people of insurrection or rebellion against the United States for failure to obey the immigration laws.  They may be required to produce their waiver from Congress to election officials before they are allowed to run for another office.

          Section 3 is generally not thought of when the 14th Amendment is discussed, but it is still part of the Constitution and will be subject to little court interpretation.  This was not a partisan bill passed by a bare majority.  This is an amendment to the United States Constitution passed by two thirds of both the House and Senate and  ratified by three fourths of the states on July 9, 1868. Who will be the first person to challenge Section 3 as not being constitutional?

For more information on election law get my book:

How Voters Can Prevent Election Fraud and Make Elections Fair
Lake Worth, FL