Foreign policy makes no sense

I found this interview with Jake Sullivan:

You may skip the first fifteen minutes.

There is also an accompanying transcript:

It’s worth watching for at least the nominal answers to questions like “what is the purpose of foreign policy? whom should it serve?” etc.

I found the Commandments cited interesting:

One, thou shalt employ common sense. Foreign policy is not rocket science.

Two, thou shalt understand power and use it. Power is power, not hard or soft, not smart or dumb. Through pressure and incentives, make others do what others do not want to do.

Three, thou shalt be wary of the soft power of love and the hard power of marshalled might. One is foreplay; the other is ancillary.

Four, thou shalt exorcise the demons of dogma, ideology, politics, and arrogance.

Five, thou shalt exalt the virtues of pragmatism, realism, moderation, and competence. Set priorities. Distinguish what is achievable and what is beyond reach. Aim for the former and manage the latter.

Six, thou shalt enshrine the precept of mutual indispensability. American leadership is summoned but not sufficient.

Seven, thou shalt ground policy in strategy, not fly by the seat of one’s pants. Strategy is a guide, not a straitjacket.

Eight, thou shalt learn from these masters: Truman, Marshall, and Acheson; Nixon and Kissinger; Bush Sr., Baker, and Scowcroft.

Nine, thou shalt recall the gospel that great nations ultimately perish from within, not without. Foreign policy originates at home. Invigorate America’s values and valuables with vigor.

And ten, thou shalt hark to Leslie Gelb’s clarion call that I quote: “For all America’s faults, don’t doubt that we remain the last best chance to create equal opportunity, hope, and freedom. But this will require something that has not happened in a long time: that pragmatists, realists, and moderates will unite and fight for their America.”

In particular number nine seems relevant to the current moment.

Finally, the title of this post comes from a phrase during the interview, elaborated as:

And he explained what he meant, that, essentially, a great deal of it is people making decisions without enough information with based on some ideology or in a bit of a bubble and then trying to catch up with events halfway around the world that they really don’t understand and then spending the rest of their lives defending their decisions about things that they really never believed in in the first place.

On Madness

From an article in the Tablet:

Entire nations can go insane. Here’s a way to test if we’re headed that way: Watch five minutes of TikTok—anything related to politics, beauty tips, or social justice. Follow that up with five minutes of MSNBC, then the same amount of Fox News. Next, read a chapter of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility—any chapter. Lastly, carefully scan some QAnon Reddit posts. Immediately after doing all this, take a shower and then ask yourself: Is American political culture not in the throes of degenerative madness? Might the seemingly stable present be attributable to the fact that we remain too rich, militarily impenetrable, and geographically insulated to face the full consequences of our psychological derangement?

Makers of Pizza

I went to pick up a pizza yesterday, which we sometimes order from this place that’s about a ten-minute walk away.

As I was waiting to pick it up and pay for it, I was able to see how the pizza was made in the brick-lined wood-fired oven.

There was a very competent woman who was operating this one-person army of pizza making.

Taking the dough, rolling, then spinning it into that big flat shape. Then placing it on this big flat metal board with a long rod that was used to push it all the way in. And later taking it out; all this was happening extremely efficiently.

I had the sudden feeling like this is a person who is actually making something.

We have a lot of this glib talk about “makers” — but then frequently ignore people like this.

I paid for my pizza and left.

“Happy” social networks

Inspired by my recent experience, some thoughts on the right way to have social networks without all the depression and unhappiness that are endemic to them today.


  • Disallow “likes”
  • Disallow retweets, reblogs, etc.
  • Disable “follower counts”


  • Allow following, but keep it private. I should not be able to see who you follow, and vice versa.
  • No “comment threads”, only “replies”.


  • Dis-incentivize bots by disallowing mass free accounts. Have a fee either to sign up, or to post more than X posts, or to reply more than Y times.

An inspiring unix-er

An obituary of Lorinda Cherry, someone I wouldn’t normally have heard about.

In these years, Cherry recalls, the potential of the computer had barely been tapped, and if asked what she did for a living, she would say that her job was to “see what kind of neat new things I can make the computer do, and in those days the computer wasn’t doing a lot, but it was super interesting and there was a lot more stuff you could make it do.”

Cherry found inspiration for her work in every area of her life, from rally car racing to dog training. In fact, she authored a series of papers on using statistical analysis to evaluate the unconscious bias of dog show judges toward certain characteristics or breeds. As she told one interviewer, “I’m a practitioner. I’m off to write programs with any excuse or activity.”

Now that’s what I’d like to live by!

“On Cyberspace”

Warning: From 1995 (25 years ago!)

Today the term “cyberspace” sounds silly (perhaps “internet culture” comes closest) but here’s a 10-min clip of Neil Postman talking about it.

My first observation is his prescient (and today, contrarian) comments:

  • people becoming “information junkies
  • globally connected world leading to a “reversion to tribalism” instead of bringing people together
  • people retreating away from public forums, and a reduced ability to solve problems together
  • “… am I using the technology, or is it using me?” (!)

My second observation is the format of this interview itself!

How rare it is now, to see a discussion like this, question-and-answer, uninterrupted every five minutes by an advertisement, without dramatic inflection.

Where could this even happen? Who would today’s equivalent of Charlayne Hunter Gault be? It certainly wouldn’t happen on TV! (The closest things come to this today are in “long-form podcasts”, like Joe Rogan or Lex Fridman)

Space, science, progress, hope

We were eating in a cafe that had a 50s-60s theme and had this front page of the LA Times from 1961 on the day Alan Shepard became the first American in space.

I didn’t do a good job of taking the picture, it’s at this weird angle (but here’s what an image search turned up).

What I found more interesting though was that article on the bottom-right.

This expresses sentiments that seem almost shocking today.

I don’t want to live in a world where science advances so rapidly that the man in the street doesn’t know what’s going on.

Think about that! It seems so quaint today, six decades on, when we take it for granted that people really have no clue about how things work.

And that’s not the only aspect that stood out:

But to me the most significant thing of this particular shot … is the fact that it takes men’s minds and eyes away from troubles and comparatively trivial problems, such as Laos and Cuba, and points out in the sky to what they are capable of doing.

Again, think about that! Dismissing domestic concerns as “comparatively trivial” would be pretty controversial today.

If it was possible to feel this sort of hope then, it must be possible to feel it again!

On different paths with similar outcomes

I had the following experience recently (hiding names and details because reasons):

  • I came across a repository implementing something that I found interesting, from a decade ago
  • The person had long abandoned this were now working at $BigCo at something completely unrelated
  • I made assumptions about who they were, what they must’ve been doing earlier
  • Turns out I couldn’t’ve been more wrong!
  • This person started off with a film and language background
  • This person worked for many years in various sorts of tech repair and maintenance
  • This person worked in IT support roles at small businesses
  • This person eventually joined some Bay Area company, and then joined $BigCo
  • The innovative exploratory repository that I had come across was something they did in their early period
  • This person found the time and motivation and interest to do this essentially on their own
  • I was impressed AF
  • I was embarrassed, firstly, to remember how frequently I’ve abandoned various lines of thinking or experimentation or making, with the excuse that “this is something that can happen after I do xyz“, or that “I need to learn xyz first, before trying this
  • I was embarrassed, secondly, to realize how frequently I had made unconscious assumptions about “the paths that people take“, and what should or shouldn’t be possible at a certain point in time.

All in all, a good learning experience 🙂