This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Mariam Memarsadeghi interview Stanford University senior fellow and biographer of Joseph Stalin, Dr. Stephen Kotkin. He explores Stalin’s origins, consolidation of power, and his Communist despotism. Kotkin delves into Stalin’s cunning political maneuvers, his complex relationships with other Soviet leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, and the devastating consequences of his regime, including the forced collectivization and mass starvation of millions. Additionally, Dr. Kotkin examines Stalin’s role as a wartime leader, his alliances with Western powers, and the far-reaching implications of the Nazi-Soviet pact. He shares a preview of the forthcoming third volume of his Stalin biography, offering insights into Stalin’s Soviet Union during the post-WWII era and the early years of the Cold War. In closing Dr. Kotkin reads a passage from his first volume, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928.

Hollywood’s Ultimate Values


Be honest. When you read the words “ultimate values” did you think of morality? Don’t be naïve. We’re talking about money, cold hard media cash. But stick around; the two meanings of the term “values” have odd ways of converging sometimes.

Studio executives making veiled references to “the Ultimate” may sound mystical, but it’s a purely practical insider’s term, a studio’s secret estimate of the present and future value of every movie and show they own. Suppose Apple wants to buy Warner Bros Discovery, or NBCUniversal buys Paramount Global to combine their two middling-successful streaming services. Coming to agreement on how much things are worth, the act of setting a price is the essence of the market, of capitalism itself.

Quote of the Day: The Secret Knowledge


Our country has created the most effective and beneficent, the most productive and the most just civilization in the history of the world, by forming laws based upon that shared truth: compassion no less than greed will, in the hands of the State, cause misery. It is not the job of the State to be compassionate, but to be just.

Mamet, David. The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (p. 191). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Howard Zinn & Hamas?


It is bizarre to watch young, very privileged Americans get wildly enthusiastic about Hamas even while holding ideological and moral values entirely antithetical to Islam in general and Hamas in particular.  Perhaps we should have foreseen that Howard Zinn, the son of Jewish immigrants who left behind the anti-semitism prevalent in central Europe, would ultimately become a gift to Islamic terrorism.

How many millions of American kids and lightweight teachers had their patriotism undercut and their perspective warped by A People’s History of the United States (1980)?  When the socialist/communist movement largely collapsed after the USSR fell, and the likelihood of class warfare had been erased by greater per capita wealth in free market economies, the Gramscian shift to the culture wars approach did not require a different textbook—the moral indictment of the USA was still in those pages.

The Bible is Bad


“The Bible is a homophobic, racist, misogynist, violent document that suppresses minorities.” Statements such as this are often insisted upon by adversaries of Christianity. Attacks against the Bible sometimes begin with such generalities. When public university students confronted me with assumed grievances against Scripture, I would respond with three questions.

One, have you read the Bible within the context of the time it was written? Two, can you give me examples from your study of the Bible that would give evidence of what you claim? And three, by what standard do you evaluate ethics from the Bible or anything else?

My questions were always greeted with silence; students had not thought to honestly assess the Bible.

Planning Ahead


Madame Tex and I are 63 and 66, respectively.  We don’t have children although we are close to some of our nieces and nephews. Our home is on a large tract of land. The house was built in 1952, on a large ranch that was subdivided in the 90s. We have added to the original acreage. The water system (well, storage tank, pumps, etc) was already somewhat complicated, but since then we have added buildings with water and power.  Even two complete septic systems and the electric power come off of two different utility line feeds.

I got to thinking about all the times we had to figure out where electrical and water lines ran and what a pain it was.  So I started making diagrams and writing a long narrative explaining how all the stuff works.  Now I have it all in a binder and I’m trying to figure out where to put it in case we unexpectedly shuffle off this mortal coil.  I figure someone will end up with this place and I’d sure like to save them the trouble we went through.

A Dubious Commitment to “Saving Democracy”


During this election year, one insistent theme refers to the urgency of “saving American democracy.” In the abstract, no one cares to dispute that proposition: at its core, it claims that we should have free and fair elections to make sure that the people elect those candidates who represent their basic values. If the plain meaning were the true meaning, the push to “save democracy” would satisfy a strong populist impulse which is, however, in deep tension with a second dominant theme: no all-powerful state, no matter how it is chosen, should ever exert complete control over the lives of its citizens. Hence, any constitutional democracy places strong limits on the power of government to do what it wills by a combination of structural devices and protections of individual freedoms on such matters as speech, religion, contract, and property. The goal is to safeguard those freedoms from a militant majority that can invoke in the exclusive power of the state to bring criminal and civil prosecutions against its enemies.

In this election, these principles are all being tested perhaps as never before, as the Biden administration has pushed the law to the limit—in both criminal prosecutions and in civil enforcement through executive orders and administrative regulations.

They Are Not Going Home


I recently completed Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe and The War on the West. Taken together these books amply document the changes in America both past, present, and future as a result of internal and external forces. It is sobering and depressing if you are a lover of the Enlightenment and the animating philosophy of the American founders.

The important takeaway is that America (anymore than Europe) is not going back to earlier times. The people chanting “Death to America” in Michigan are not leaving, nor will they be removed. President Biden and the Democrats will certainly not remove any illegal aliens while in power — now or in the future. President Trump will remove some, but certainly not all. That President Trump will remove some will be an improvement. Those targeted will be violent criminals and/or gang members. The Chinese “immigrants” will no doubt come under some scrutiny by Trump to determine whether they are actually foreign agents of the CCP positioned here either as part of a specific plan or giving the CCP some “options” in the event of harsh treatment by a future administration. But wholesale deportation is not in the cards.

Kennedy 2024! (blue states only)


Growing up in Massachusetts, all you would hear were the older people talk about how great the Kennedys are.  Rose did this, Jackie is so beautiful, John Jr. did that. It got annoying. I said I would never vote for a Kennedy for dog catcher, yet here I am.

I have only spoken to one of them in my life. I was working at Nestle’s in Arkansas, programming a machine to spit a blob of cheese into a Stouffer’s Five Cheese Lasagna. Surprisingly my machine was the only automation they had other than the conveyor belt. They had a line of cafeteria ladies with smocks and hair nets weighing and dishing out pasta and sauce. Also, I have to say it was immaculately clean — everything gets sterilized between shifts.

Farewell, My Lovely NPR



My office door says “Uri Berliner, Private Detective.” There was a nervous little guy coming in through it.

“I heard that you’re lookin’ for NPR’s Susan Stamberg,” he said.

Is an Unheard-of Legal Theory Being Used Against Trump?


A question for lawyers or others with more legal expertise than me.

The Trump hush money trial seems to hinge on Trump’s “intent” when he made the payment to Daniels. Was he merely trying to prevent embarrassment generally, or was he trying to help his campaign by keeping it quiet, in which case it was an unreported campaign contribution in excess of federal limits?

Earth Day


I am not a religious man. I think there is, broadly speaking, no greater good than human flourishing. In that sense I am, again broadly speaking, a humanist.

Our flourishing requires that we consume the resources of our planet. In an ideal, imaginary world we could do so without diminishing those resources: we could live infinitely sustainable lives of comfort and security.

Stopping to Smell the Pepper Trees


One of my favorite parts of visiting my sister in San Diego is my daily walk that starts in the canyon trail complex behind her house, involves a few neighborhood streets, and culminates at the park. I used to think I wanted to vary that walk just to mix it up a bit, but nah.

Running for Office is Making a Promise to Serve Out Your Term


Imagine you buy a book. The cover and blurb offer an interesting story. You buy the book and really enjoy it. However, two-thirds of the way through, you find the story just ends and the rest of the pages are blank. You would feel cheated. You bought a book with the inherent promise the book would be complete. It is the minimum expectation, really.

When I agreed to run for President of my professional organization, the LPCA of GA, I was told it was a three-year commitment. I am coming to the end of that this June. The inherent promise to the organization and its members whose votes I solicited was that I would serve the three years. The President before me almost died during her first year. She ended up serving all three years. While my terms have not been that bad, I have paid a price to do this. I pay it gladly, but it is still there.

Relaxing at the Ricochet bar


Since so many of my posts generate discussions of alcohol rather than discussions of the actual topic (This is not my fault – it’s Barfly’s fault), I figured I’d just start a discussion of everyone’s preferred libations.

While I occasionally appreciate a good bourbon, tonight I’m enjoying an absolutely wonderful, refreshing beer.  Bourbon Barrel Imperial Milk Stout.  Smooth, chocolatey, and yummy.  At bit pricey ($14 per four pack – yikes).  But at 12% alcohol, you won’t be chugging 12 of these things anyway.

In the comments, feel free to discuss anything you like, except for the best bourbon, which is obviously Wellers.  Case closed.  $24 per bottle, and it’s the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted.  The best casks of this are used to make Whistle Pig, and the rest is sold as Wellers.  I’ve tried many bourbons that cost a lot more, but I’ve never tasted a bourbon as absolutely superb as Wellers.  Good luck finding it.  But if you do, buy it.  Trust me.

What Is The Plan of Newly-Arrived Illegal Immigrants?


Can some journalist please interview some of the recently arrived illegal immigrants — OK, I’ll accept it even if the journalist chooses to call them “migrants” or “newcomers” — what, exactly, did they think was going to happen once they illegally entered the United States? What was their specific plan?

In a hearing in which illegal immigrants were complaining about the quality and quantity of the goods and services that were being given to them at no charge to the immigrants, a New York City Councilwoman (a Republican, is that allowed in New York City?), asked some questions about what more the illegal immigrants expected. The councilwoman appears to be asking out of frustration that the city couldn’t do more. So her thinking seems to be, “The taxpayers should take care of whoever shows up. It’s tragic we can’t afford to. But it did cause me to wonder, what exactly do the immigrants think is going to happen when they arrive?” What is their plan? Do they really expect someone else to take care of their every need or want? And for how long? Do they have any concrete plans to become self-sustaining?

Sometimes an Eagle Hatches a Turkey


Over its existence the US Army Air Force and its successor, the US Air Force produced war-winning and spectacularly successful aircraft. Among them were the P-51, B-29, B-52, C-130, and F-15. Not all their aircraft were eagles. There were turkeys in the mix; even a few goose eggs.

Air Force Disappointments, Mistakes, and Failures: 1940-1990 by Kenneth P. Werrell, looks at the flip side of the coin. It examines not-so-great entries to the Air Force inventory. It includes missiles and electronics, too.

Some aircraft included in this collection are those you might expect to see. The YP-75 Eagle, a fighter produced from bits and pieces of other aircraft by automaker General Motors, set a benchmark for awful. So did the parasite fighter XF-85 Goblin. The nuclear-powered NB-36H takes a prize for the “what were they thinking?” award.

Kids these days…


As I discussed in a recent post, sometimes our adult children do things we’re not proud of.  It’s even more painful when you catch them in the act yourself.  So you can imagine my distress when I saw my beautiful little girl in a compromising position (see picture).  Ok, she’s 21 years old, and is normally a virtuous person of sound judgement.  And we all have the occasional lapse.  But you can imagine how upsetting it was for me to see her lifting the top layer of chocolates, which was still half full, so she could steal a chocolate from the bottom layer.

Me:  “What are you doing?!?”

Her:  “What?”

Saturday Night Classics — Never Gonna Let You Go


I wouldn’t have expected to choose this song for Saturday Night Classics, but what the heck. I actually stumbled on it at Rick Beato’s YouTube channel. He calls it “the most complex pop song of all time,” and his video analyzing it (see link below) is probably as good as or better than the song itself.

Quote of the Day – Freedom and Equality


Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free. – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Which matters more to you? Freedom or equality? For me it is freedom. I believe everyone should be allowed to rise to the level of their abilities. That makes sense (for me) since in a free society I am like a cork. I bob to the surface pretty quickly.

Making solutions impossible by using better tools


One of the points made by Chowderhead in his recent outstanding post is that as computer processors and memory become cheaper and faster, the value of elegant and efficient programming is decreased.  Programmers use lots of inefficient loops and subroutines because they can – the computers are so good, they can run even big sloppy code and do it very quickly and precisely.  His point caught my eye, because I think this phenomenon is happening today in lots and lots of areas of modern life.

Rather than thinking of processing speed, think of money.  Imagine a problem.  Imagine how you would go about fixing that problem.  Then, imagine how you would fix that problem if you had unlimited money.  Fixing it with unlimited money would cost more, of course.  Why not?  Just like a programmer writing code for a really fast computer.  Who cares, right?  But my point is that the fix with unlimited money will probably not be better than the fix with a tight budget.  In fact, it’s likely to be worse, in much the same way as unlimited processing power leading to sloppy programming.

In my field, many believe that they can match the quality of care provided by a brilliant physician, simply with a nurse practitioner and a CT machine.  And it’s true to certain degree – even if the NP lacks experience and talent, if she has enough high-tech diagnostic tools available, she can pick up pneumonias, etc that she might have missed otherwise.  But there are problems with this approach.

Open Letter to Congressional Democrats


Dear Rep. Bonamici and Congressional Democrats:

I was recently made aware that the ratio of calls to Congressional Democrats’ offices have been running 6 to 1 in favor of Hamas and Iran over Israel. I thought I’d take a moment to share why that is.

We know this podcast is met with great anticipation and we want to assure you that while the packaging may change from week to week, it comes to you with the same great taste!

Fancy that.