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  NOT BECAUSE I JUST EMERGED from long hours indoors during the Wisconsin winter, but rather because of the self-quarantine brought on by the Digital Age and social media, I find it ironic that many people today will easily adopt to their new lives under government-ordered quarantine: after decades of mass human migration toward self-confinement inside the virtual world, a decree, for many, would be a mere formality. Meanwhile, in the same fashion that a virus in your computer can completely disrupt a computer network, the novel coronavirus shut down society. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not the virus can be removed and the network and data saved relatively quickly, or whether the equipment is useless and the data lost.

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IN EVERY introductory economics class, it becomes clear from early on that specialization is the source of greater efficiency or productivity; in the division of labor and in free trade, the secret sauce is “specialize.” In other words, everyone should stop doing what they used to do and begin to do only the things they do best. It even works if they only do the things they do least poorly. This sounds great and all the textbooks have nice charts, pictures, and examples of how much we all benefit from this miracle. The books almost insult us for thinking that we might do things any other way. As a result of the consistent application of these principles over time, a country or an integrated global

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IMPORTANT SPIRITS FROM OUR PAST summoned their experiences, perspectives, and talents to deliver blessings and admonitions—invaluable gifts–to posterity. Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo, Sappho, Simone De Beauvoir, Ursula Le Guin are just a few that come to mind. They used books, plays, and poems to craft messages and warnings that would be relevant for millennia. After all, the human drama is nothing if not a series of remakes and sequels. Because human group behavior is so repetitive, many such messages and warnings have the clarity of a premonition or a revelation. I just finished reading the George Orwell (his real name was Eric Blair) classic 1984 for about the seventh time. I have read it every four or five years since I was in college and

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Movies

AS WITH THE ELECTION PRIMARIES, with the Academy Awards a lot of people pay attention to who has been “hot” with the earlier voters. Unfortunately, that can make for a boring show. For example, Best film, actress, actor, supporting actor and actress, and Best director are already strong favorites. With that in mind, for the major categories at least, identifying possible upsets will make the awards more exciting or give you a chance at winning the pool. So, here goes. Best Film 1917 but Parasite a serious upset chance. Best Actress Renee Z in Judy has won and won and won. Maybe Charlize Theron of Bombshell a longshot to play spoiler? Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix has been scooping up the awards for Joker. A shock

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    WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION less than nine months away, the plot couldn’t get much thicker. Trump’s approval hit a new high of 49%, and the Dems seem to be struggling to identify a candidate and agree on a platform. The pundits mostly focus on two things, namely a) who can get the Democratic nomination, and b) will that person be able to beat Trump. Little of this is new information. But really, the spoiler in the whole business may not be a candidate at all. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the economy has to hold for Trump to win;  without the economy, he would lose 20-30% of his current supporters. The candidate best suited to unseat the president might be the

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[Author’s Note: this year marks my 26th anniversary] Until I saw the date, February 2, it hadn’t occurred to me that it was my “birthday” again. This birthday–which is more of an anniversary–marks for me the first day of uninterrupted sobriety 22 years ago. It hadn’t seemed like a very important day at the time; in fact, if anyone had asked then, I would have said it was the worst day of my life.  I was bloated and quaking. My eyes were yellow like a cat’s–from jaundice. And my store of courage was so low I had to be led around like a child. There’s no question that on that day, my second life began. It would help to note here that I am not

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Movies

Movies are more than entertainment. While film is one of the most powerful mediums for storytelling, movies can inform and inspire. First of all, Movies—the good ones—are part of our culture. Once a movie is established as “good,” it conveys some valid message about the human experience. What people watch is important—just as it is important what they read and listen to.

Movies inspire, too. When I see  an impassioned performance or notice an exceptional display of cinematography, it makes me want to try and create art.  Great stories are there to ask us if we, like the hero and heroine, could rise to become our best selves when a lot was at stake, or when no one else would do the right thing.

So do I watch movies at home?  Yes, but the movie theatre, as Joseph Campbell noted, was like a temple. Moviegoing is a ritual. We go there to receive the potent “myths” of our time, and we hope to walk away slightly charged with purpose or reminded of what it means to be human—which is why we should be seeing movies at the theater, with strangers, humans.

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Markets

The markets are probably more interesting than the movies. After all, every day billions are pilfered in elaborate schemes, the equivalent of warfare takes place in the currency and equity markets, and heroes and villains make the headlines.

Aside from the drama involved, the spectacle of crowds in action is something to behold. The average person sees little more than the change in the value of their stocks or funds at the end of the day. But imagine watching a few bankers at the Federal Reserve change a couple words in their statement, only to add or erase half a trillion dollars in global values of bonds and stock.

Macroeconomics is essential. And the history of markets is priceless—people repeat the same patterns for centuries.

Does it matter that we use computers or smartphones to buy stocks? No.

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…and More

I have taught for about fifteen years now. But I got lucky. I was offered the chance to teach classes in world religions, diversity, economics, finance and Africa—to name a few.  The value for me was to see how those subjects interrelate.

I do not see political parties, or terrorists, or despots or ideologies any more: I see power structures and patterns. History did not have much value for me in high school or college—oh, it was interesting, but I did not see the usefulness. I see it today.

People have not changed in ten thousand years. They were just as smart then as we are today. And when they get together in groups, they do the same things. Over. And over.  Africa, for example, is a study in power structures. First tribes, then empires, then colonial powers, then religious influences, then Cold-War rivalries.

The world is anarchy. In anarchy, power is king. Watch the power. It’s a little like “follow the money.”

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