Friday, February 8, 2019

Learning to Trade Options


Learning to Trade Options 
at the Online Trading Academy

Eric Paul Nolte



I have been going full bore with another project that has captured me: taking classes on how to trade various financial assets at the Online Trading Academy (OTA).

Three weeks ago I ran another lap through a course on trading options up at the Phoenix office of OTA.  Despite the word "online" in their name, they have 50 brick-and-mortar campuses in seven countries around the world where they give classroom instruction.  

This is astonishing and wonderful material that they teach!  The classes are not cheap, but they are a damn sight cheaper than college.  Moreover, having paid for any one course, you can take and re-take these courses as many times as you want, so long as there is space available, and for me, as for most students, there has always been space available.  

Imagine going back to your old college and saying, "You remember that calculus class I struggled with like a mouse wrestling with a boa constrictor?  Do you think I could re-take it and see if I can understand it now?  I'd really love to understand calculus better!"

Right.  Well at Online Trading Academy, this is exactly how they operate.

Moreover, the company works hard to create a nurturing atmosphere for their students.  The material is hard, the courses are dense, so the company goes to great lengths to make their instructors and staff available to the students' every question.  And even more-- there are mountains of help available online in the form of hundreds of courses, videos, papers, and actual people who are there to help us out.  Every question I have had, no matter how stupid I may feel it to be, is answered patiently and respectfully. 

Most of the classes are five days long.  I've taken six initial classes, retaken all of them at least once, and I've taken the class on how to trade options five times so that I can come better to grasp this most difficult of the courses.  Options trading, as the instructors say, is a business that has more moving parts than a helicopter!  

I started taking classes back in Norwalk, Connecticut two years ago, around the time I retired from United Airlines. 

The classes I've taken include instruction in how to be effective at trading stocks, exchange traded funds, futures on commodities, forex (foreign currency exchange, and finally, as I say, the mother of all things fabulous in the trading world: options!   

OTA's core strategy for trading has actually been patented (you can download the patent for free--it's not a very long essay, and it's available at the US Patent Office's website.  The patent number is 8,650,115.)

One may find their patent illuminating, but I doubt that anybody among us mere mortals can learn how to put this knowledge into practice without taking classes, which I highly recommend.  

I believe that OTA's work is brilliant.  The core strategy allows us to see the footprints of the big institutional traders whose buying and selling of assets are what move markets. 

These footprints of institutional buying and selling show up in areas on the price chart that we can call demand zones and supply zones.  These are areas marked by a telltale pattern on the price chart that we learn to identify as a likely holding pen for unfilled buy and sell orders.  When the price moves into one of these well-defined zones, it is the likely point of a price reversal as the result of these unfilled orders getting triggered.  

We see these footprints of the likely buyers and sellers in demand zones or supply zones on a price chart.  This insight gives us the basis of a strategy that allows us to place trades that have a high probability of success.  We always place these trades in the context of a rigorously followed plan of risk management.  We don't place any trades that exceed 2% of the value of our account so that if the trade moves against us, we will have a stop-loss order that will take us out of the trade before we can lose more than a small fraction of the money we have put at risk--a number that is calculated as a fraction of that asset's daily average range of price movement.  Sticking to this policy of risk management, there is no danger that we will ever blow our whole account, as so many hapless traders do!  We never place a trade that does not appear to offer an acceptable profit-to-loss ratio.  We have a rational, tested list of odds enhancers and we have checklists to follow, some applicable to all assets, and some that are specific to the asset class to be traded.  

I believe that our core strategy makes us much like pilots who live or die according to how well we follow the hard-won wisdom that is embodied in our procedures and checklists.  This strategy works.  

Many, perhaps most, college professors will tell you that the efficient market hypothesis means that nobody can have any better idea of where prices will go than predicting a drunk's wallowing course down Wall Street, bumping into light fixtures and fire hydrants.  Some of these same professors will also say that technical analysis of price charts is akin to mystics' reading tea leaves in a bowl.  They are mistaken.  

Well, it is true that conventional technical analysis has problems, but our system does not embody the flaws of these conventional analyses.  

Yes, it's true that nobody can be certain where prices will move, but I think the matter may be analogous to the way pilots deal with weather forecasts.  

We use our price charts and our core strategy the way pilots use flight manuals and weather forecasts.  We know that anybody who absolutely trusts a weather forecast is the kind of fool who might think he can buy the Pentagon.  But we know that the weather forecasts do tell us generally enough to calculate the fuel load we should carry in order to make allowances for adverse winds aloft and lousy weather at our destination and alternate airports.

Weather reports are flawed, but they are not as unreliable as reading tea leaves in a bowl, and they are crucial to rational flight planning.

As with pilots using weather forecasts, our price charts may not tell us with certainty everything that will happen down the airways.  We cannot know for sure where prices will move, but our core strategy and our list of odds enhancers allow us to position ourselves with a high probability of success, just like a pilot's use of weather forecasts, and to position ourselves against many of the adverse forces that can shoot down our trades.     

*   *   *

Before I close, I want to offer some thoughts on how this kind of work, the trading I'm learning how to do, is deeply misunderstood and therefore vilified by much of the world.

Many people think that this work in the financial world is meaningless paper shuffling by predators in business suits who steal other people's money in a way that is barely a millimeter away from being outright criminal.  We are thought of with the kind of derision that is reserved for the likes of Shylock, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, or Gordon Gecko, in Oliver Stone's movie, Wall Street.  

I utterly reject this idea of finance.  I believe this derision can only be held by the hapless who are ignorant of the actual role that finance plays in the world.  

Finance is crucial to directing the flow of capital into those ventures that stand the best chance of producing goods and services that lift our lives to the most wonderful heights that the world has ever seen!  We live at the most abundant and fruitful time since Homo saps first emerged from the caves and began to create the civilized world with agriculture and everything else we have come to enjoy.  

Think of your iPhone or your automobile, or the airplanes that bring us all together!  Think of the advanced medicine and foods that have in just the last two centuries doubled and then tripled our life expectancy and given us the astonishing quality of our lives, compared to any time or place before ours!  

None of these improvements would have been possible on a global scale if it weren't for the miracle of high finance, the conduit for effectively directing venture capital, and profit-seeking speculation which considerably softens the severity of blows to the financial system that are the result of wrenching political events and the forces of Nature. 

There is a river of money out there, and I am wading in the shallows, learning how to ladle some of this heart-warming profit my way.


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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Infernal Revenue Service, Acts of Congress, and Why I'm Going Back to Work



The Infernal Revenue Service,
Acts of Congress, 

and 

Why I'm Going Back to Work

Eric Paul Nolte




Just before Christmas, I was sitting at the kitchen table with our financial records and concluded that I should go back to work, at least for a couple more years.

Doing what? Flying is my best shot at finding work that pays anything worth talking about, of course.

The United States Congress, operating in their usual mode that says, "We know better than you how to run your life," passed an Act of Congress that mandates the retirement of airline pilots when they turn 65 years old. So I had to retire from United Airlines in January 2017.

It is infuriating and absurd that Congress has dictated airline pilot retirement. We have to pass a stringent medical exam every six months, and we must undergo flight proficiency tests several times a year. We get a line check in the airplane on a regular flight, and they put us in the flight simulator several times a year during which they throw every dirty, rotten, nasty life-threatening problem at us, and we have to be able to handle every airplane problem you can imagine (and many that you probably would never imagine!)

So if we pilots are physically fit and proficient at handling all the emergencies, and if we want to work and our employers want to keep us on the job, then what the hell business is it of the federal government to impose this further layer of regulation on an industry that may already be the most highly regulated business in the economy? Maddening.

I can still work as a pilot, so long as I have a medical certificate, but the jobs available to retired airline pilots mostly require us to work twice as hard for half the pay.

All looked well when Terri and I retired in June 2017 and we moved to our beautiful new home in Arizona with a magnificent view out the back window wall of the whole Santa Rita mountains with their majestic twin peaks of Mounts Wrightson and Hopkins. 

We retired with no debt, except for the mortgage on a house for which we put down half the cost. We would be able to make ends meet on our social security and a little pension. 

I have a smallish account for trading stocks and options, and now I can earn significantly more money than I lose, thanks to the trading system I've been studying for two years at the Online Trading Academy, but it will be a while before I can hope to grow my account enough to replace our income from the profits of my trading.

Then we ran afoul of the Infernal Revenue Service.

Oh, Brother! Big Brother! It turned out that we owed them an impressive amount of back taxes. (I am at least partly to blame, so I won't bore you with the details.)

We took out a Home Equity Line of Credit to pay the IRS, and now it is clear that for some time to come we are obligated to spend a little more money than we are taking in.


     So, hi ho, hi hee!--
     It's off to work with me!
     I'll spread my wings
     For the cash this brings,
     Hi ho, hi hee! 


A week ago, I saw online that Flight Safety International's Tucson branch was advertising for a flight instructor. 

On a lark, I drove out to the airport and just walked up to the FSI reception desk and introduced myself. I said that I knew about the job opening and that I just happened to be in the neighborhood--would anybody be around who could talk with me now? 

I carried under my arm a cardboard box about half-again the size of an ordinary shoe box, filled with all my pilot logbooks--13 of them! That's how many it took to log my 26,861 hours in the air as a pilot. 

Hold on, the receptionist said. A moment later, the Director of Human Resources walked up to the desk and invited me back to his office.

In the office, I put down the cardboard box with my logbooks, pushed it slightly to the side, and then pulled out my various pilot credentials. 

With a flourish, I laid these credentials down on the Director's desk as if I were dealing a hand of playing cards. 

Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap! 

Airline transport pilot's certificate; 
certificated flight instructor rated for airplanes, instrument and multi-engine flying; 
ground instructor, rated for advanced and instrument flying; 
flight engineer's certificate, rated for turbojets;
aircraft dispatcher's certificate; 
FCC radio operator's permit; 
Airline Pilot's Association union card; and 
my FAA airman's First Class medical certificate.

The Director's eyes widened a little at this display. We talked for half an hour and he said he thought that I am just what they're looking for. 

I had my interview yesterday at Flight Safety International's Tucson learning center, which has a staff of maybe 80 flight instructors and a gaggle of flight simulators for the Bombardier Challenger 601 and 604 (a bizjet version of a regional jet airliner, the Canadair RJ), and a few kinds of Learjet.

In a classroom, I gave a 30-minute presentation to four FSI instructors and the director of HR. I believe that my subject is among the most important ideas for air safety, namely, the matter of the atmosphere we create on the flight deck when operating as a crew. The essence of this Crew Resource Management is to deal with each other in a way that will enlist the active minds of everyone in the cockpit. This atmosphere is in contrast to the traditional attitude that one might call The Captain as God school of crew resource management, in which the captain is the boss who dictates everything while the underlings comply without comment. In effect, when the captain discourages challenge or comment, the airplane is in the hands of just one brain, and this limitation has led to some spectacular catastrophes in the air. I cited three of these accidents. I also spoke from my personal experience in the bad old days, flying with many of these old imperious World War Two captains when I was a wet young pup in the co-pilot's seat of DC-3s and Martin 404s (these are cantankerous, big old hairy airplanes dating back to the Second World War and slightly after, equipped with radial engines as big as battleship anchors.) It's so much better these days! So much safer! Not to mention a far more pleasant work atmosphere. 

This week I had to learn how to use PowerPoint to put together this presentation, but it was easy enough to make a rudimentary set of 20 slides from which to speak. The business of actually speaking in the classroom was easy-peasy-- just like the old days when I was an instructor for years.

After my presentation, we had lunch together (designed so that the prospective instructor--that would be me) would interact with the staff in a more informal atmosphere. After lunch, I was grilled by the four instructors and the director of HR with a set of formal questions.

I think my interview went well. 

They have to do a background check before they will make a job offer, but I think this should go well because I was a Federal Flight Deck Officer for my last ten years at Continental and United Airlines, and for this--becoming a pistol-packing pilot on the flight deck--the background check was formidable! It was a process that included a search of everything in my life back to childhood and a two-hour interview with a psychologist. (Incidentally, my training was at the same facility in New Mexico that trains all the Secret Service agents, all the Border Patrol agents, the Federal Air Marshals, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Bureau of Indian Affairs--just about all the armed agents of the federal government except for the military, the FBI, and the CIA.)

I should know by the end of the week if Flight Safety will offer me a job. 

I really want the job! 

Flight Safety looks like a great place to work, it's in my field, it's close to home, and we could really use the money!


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P.S. I was hired--hallelujah!  I start work on Monday, February 11th.


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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Gandhi vs. Lamb Chop: A Little Sound and Fury About Philip Glass

Gandhi vs. Lamb Chop:

A Little Sound and Fury About Philip Glass

Eric Paul Nolte


Philip Glass is a renowned composer in the so-called minimalist stream of music that emerged some forty years ago.  At the age of 81, he continues to present new works and to perform and collaborate in the performance of his previous works.

In 2011, after watching a Met Live in HD broadcast of Philip Glass' Satyagraha, I slammed the opera and on my blog I posted my thoughts on the matter.  

In essence, I attacked Glass for squandering his superlative gifts on writing music that lingers in long, semi-comatose and repetitive loops.

Here is my conclusion in that blog post:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now Glass is a top-drawer talent of superb training and accomplishment.  He was in the last generation of students in the legendary Parisian atelier of the great Nadia Boulanger.  So how could such a well-trained and marvelous talent drive into such a ditch?

Philosophy, of course.  Philosophy, as always.  Philosophy, the mother of everything, the bedrock (or quicksand) on which all knowledge must rise (or sink).

So it was no surprise for me to learn that Glass majored in philosophy at the University of Chicago.  I will not now wander off into my baleful thoughts on the crazy, cockamamie intellectual viruses of postmodern philosophy, but suffice it here to say that I will put a tall stack of dollars on the proposition that it is this bizarre contemporary philosophy that steered Glass' very great talent into this postmodern musical sausage machine.

Glass has the ability to create eight measures of beautiful and arresting music and, by a process of extrusion, squeeze out 20 minutes of musical catatonia.  At the end of this soporific exertion, there is no evidence of the man's wanting to go hide in shame.

I imagine that it is his crazy postmodern philosophy that has so stripped him of aesthetic conscience that his heartless musical cranking leaves him stripped of the ability to feel guilt or any desire to atone for these crimes against his own talent, this sad abuse of his shimmering gifts from the gods.

Instead of going into a thoughtful few pages on this baffling postmodern philosophy, let me offer instead a little meditation on Philip Glass and Shari Lewis, the creator of the hand puppet, Lamb Chop.  

Consider Gandhi and Lamb Chop ...

The last act of Satyagraha ends with an empty stage, but for the character of Gandhi, who is singing a rising scale passage again and again and again, and then endlessly again and again.  And then a few more times, for good measure upon measure upon measure.  Oh, and did I mention that the phrase repeats itself?

The tune is in triple meter, say 3/4 time, in 8th notes (except the last note, which is a dotted half note), with an upbeat before measure one; it's a rising scale passage from mi to mi, if you know these solfege syllables:

mi fa sol la ti do re meeeee ...

(on the white notes of the piano, this passage rises from an E to the E an octave above, which is the C major scale, beginning and ending on the third degree of the scale.  The upbeat is on mi, or E, the first beat on fa, or F.)

As I did my stretches and calisthenics this morning, this passage from the end of Satyagraha wrapped itself around my mind and refused to let go.  Words kept setting themselves to this musical passage that recalled Shari Lewis and her hand puppet, Lamb Chop.  Do you remember this Shari Lewis song? --


     This is the song that does not end,
     It just goes on and on, my friend.
     Some people (clap!) started singing it,
     Not knowing what it was,
     And they'll continue singing it forever just because
     This is the song that does not end....


sol la ti do ti la do ti ... (G A B C B A C B, on the white notes of the piano, using the moveable doh system of solfege.)

This song, made famous by Shari Lewis, starts on the 5th degree of the scale, and the first line ends, hanging expectantly on the leading tone.

Back to Philip Glass' concluding passage (although it may be a misleading overstatement to call this phrase "concluding.") 

These are my words, in blank verse, to fit this phrase from the end of Satyagraha:

(Remember, it goes, "mi fa sol la ti do re mi," with mi an upbeat to fa, the downbeat.)


Miss Shari Lewis would be proud!
Because this song will never end!
But surely Death will intervene?
And take this song away from me?
Before I die and lose my chance,
I need a chord from Five to One.
But what's it mean, this Five to One?
The odds against a closing theme?
God help me find a way to stop,
Before the Union locks the door
And leaves me here to starve to death!

Abandon Hope, who hopes to find
In Philip Glass, a work succinct!
Instead, we have much brilliant work,
Created by this best-trained man,
Where tunes that ought to last a breath,
If written by a Brahms or Bach,
When written by this Philip Glass
Go on at soporific length!
A little tune that ought to have
Proportions of a toy balloon,
Are Zeppelins, the Hindenburg!

So what explains this so sad turn
Of brightly burnished talent spoiled?
Postmodern academic thought!
Philosophy should help us find
Life-serving purpose, sight, and joy!
Philosophy should clear the mind
Of Bullshit no one can believe,
Just like the cant that poisoned Glass,
Extruded, endless sausage link,
But tangled as a tumbleweed:
Postmodern surf that drowns the mind.



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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Caravan Cometh--and Then What?

                The Caravan Cometh--and Then What?

                                                          Eric Paul Nolte


If, as so many believe, our borders should be open to the coming Caravan and everybody else, how is this notion any different from the idea that a thousand migrants should be free to board five big airliners and fly into, say, Stinking Holler, Arkansas, and then just slither into the woods unmolested forever?  Or worse, imagine these thousands on their dozen airplanes flying unannounced into the ginormous international airport at Dallas-Ft. Worth, and expect to deplane and then melt into the city unchallenged? 

I just don't get it.  What other country in the world has such open borders?  Apart from some ruined, chaotic pit like the anarchy that was Somalia under their competing warlords?

Well, seriously, there are many countries without borders, but most of these are either island nations throughout the world or a region like the European Union, which in 1985 opened their borders to residents of the Schengen region. 1.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the notion that so many people believe that our borders should be, in essence, abolished along with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 2.

Mind you, I do believe that immigration should be seen as an aspect of human nature, like the rights of all individuals to their own life, liberty, and property.  

Why shouldn't we be able to live anywhere we want to?  I believe we should enjoy the freedom to live wherever we want to, so long as we are peaceful and self-responsible.

Historically, national borders tended to be relatively open, especially in Europe during the second half of the 19th century when the expanding railroads and sea travel allowed so many more people to travel abroad.  This freedom of movement remained pretty much the norm until the bloody wake of the First World War, when fears for national security throttled the reality of free passage around the world.

But this freedom of movement is certainly not the norm today through most of the world.

Given that among the most legitimate purposes of government is to defend its citizens from foreign aggression, and given that we live in a world where many people do indeed want to kill us for their various reasons, mad-hatter and otherwise, it does not seem unreasonable to impose some government restrictions on who can enter America.  

While I believe that the US should be vastly more open than it is, it strikes me as a completely unhinged policy to allow just anybody to cross over our borders willy-nilly and expect to live here (much less come here and then take advantage of our government services without paying taxes.)

As with so many other vexing issues, I believe the best answer lies in more freedom--blessed liberty, the elixir of life, love, and abundance.

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1. Kristoffer Barks, "Which Countries Don't Have Borders?" 

found at Quora.com:
 https://www.quora.com/Which-countries-dont-have-borders

2. According to the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute, as reported in USA Today, a large percentage of Americans believe that the so-called "caravan" trudging towards the US border should simply be allowed to cross into the US and live their lives unmolested by any authoritarians clucking over their dubious status.

The poll makes clear that most Americans believe at the very least that the migrants should all be given the opportunity to make their case for asylum here.  The breakdown of the politics of those polled shows this belief is held by 89% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 43% of Republicans.  A much smaller percentage of Americans believe the migrants represent any real threat to us.





Monday, November 12, 2018

More Thoughts on the US, Vietnam, and the Middle East

More thoughts on the US, Vietnam, and the Middle East Eric Paul Nolte Yesterday was Veteran's Day. I posted a blog piece with some thoughts on my experience as an Army veteran during the Vietnam war. A friend upbraids me for not commenting more knowledgeably on the history of Vietnam, but the history of Vietnam was not the point of my essay. Of course there is much more to be said about the sad history of Vietnam and whether we should have gone into Vietnam in the first place after France's defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Here I have some more thoughts on the Vietnam War and our wars that followed in the Middle East.  Now, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam during the war, turns out to have been an interesting character with whom we might have dealt as an ally.  Yes, he was a communist, but growing up at the time when Marx's idea of "scientific socialism" could have seemed most plausible, Ho came of age and embraced his socialist politics during his studies in Paris, in the years from just before and after the First World War. After his studies in Paris, he came back home to Vietnam filled with a passion to make his country a better place.  He does not appear to have been a doctrinaire Marxist because his ideas also included an admiration for the intellectual origins of the American project, and especially for Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.  In the early 1960s, the US government blew the chance to establish a good relationship with Ho, apparently because of the widespread fact that communism was rapidly spreading throughout the world and because we were becoming increasingly afraid of the communist menace, based on the facts then emerging about the genocides that were taking place in communist regimes like the Soviet Union and Red China. And yet Ho Chi Minh was a saint, compared to Pol Pot and some other Asians who came of age in the early 20th century, when a Marxian ethos hung over Paris.  While Ho came back to southeast Asia as a communist, he also had a broadly humanist conception of what a good society might look like. 
On the other hand, Pol Pot's dogmatic Marxism focused on establishing an absolute equality of outcome, and when his faction grabbed the levers of power, they gave us the killing fields of Cambodia.
The US approach to the war in Vietnam seems to have been, as I said in my last blog post, a confused, sometimes cynical, sometimes merely dizzy, pose intended to… intended to do what?  Until the last year of the war, it was certainly not strategically or tactically set up to win a decisive victory in Vietnam. The US has long been sadly committed to rules of engagement that are guaranteed to get our soldiers needlessly killed. Another factor was that our will to win was never plainly established.  We never actually declared war in Vietnam.  It was considered to be a police action. The problem with suicidal rules of engagement for our troops would become even worse when the US became involved in the wars in the Middle East. When we somehow lurched into peace talks with the North Vietnamese in 1972, they walked away from the table. As I cited yesterday, Bruce Herschensohn, senior fellow at Pepperdine University, provided this account of what actually happened at the end of the Vietnam War and afterwards. After North Vietnam walked away from the Paris peace accord in 1972, the Nixon Administration found its way to mounting a serious effort to achieve a decisive victory in Vietnam: the US therefore started bombing Hanoi and Haiphong with the intention of crippling their industrial and military power. The effectiveness of this bombing shortly brought the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table and they signed the peace accord that ended the war and gave South Vietnam the assurance that they could continue as an independent country recognized by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. This peace stood without challenge for more than a year. Then, after the disgraced Nixon was ousted from the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Democrats won both houses of Congress and immediately put an end to our supply of military goods to South Vietnam, thereby reneging on the US promise to help South Vietnam remain an independent country. The North Vietnamese attacked the South and shortly defeated them while the US officially abandoned them with the consequences I described in my essay, leading to the deaths of some half a million South Vietnamese as a result of summary execution, death by starvation, disease and, among the refugee Boat People who were attempting to escape from Vietnam by sea, death by drowning, exposure, and murder by pirates in the South China Sea.   As for all our other foreign military adventures since Vietnam, I largely agree with the libertarians who state that the purpose of government is to protect every individual's right to life, liberty, and justly acquired property.  This purpose must include a constitution to spell out these rights, a police force to restrain domestic predators, courts to adjudicate disputes between even well-meaning parties, and--to the point here--a military to protect us from foreign attack. One might ask, well, we were attacked on 9/11/2001, so shouldn't we defend ourselves? They attacked us! Okay, but now who are "they?" Hmm. Seems like the attackers were mostly Saudis backed by a lot of Iranian money. Oh, right, so now we should attack Iraq, of course!  And Afghanistan, although their government policy had nothing to do with the attackers. Afghanistan was merely a place in the desert where Bin Laden's guys set up a training camp.

Another thing should be clear: w
e should not be engaged in the hopeless and ruinous effort to make ourselves into the world's police force. We can lend moral support to those who are fighting the bad guys (and citizens can do more) but unless the United States is threatened, we should not get involved in foreign entanglements. Had we held to such an idea of the purpose of government, we might never have suffered the horrible attacks of 9/11, and we certainly would not have so many American troops committed abroad. (Footnote: According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report that draws on US Defense Department data, we have more than 1,000 troops deployed in each of 16 countries around the world, with only one of these, Afghanistan, being in an active war. An interesting fact is that only about 9,000 of these troops are in Afghanistan, while 38,800 are in Japan, 34,000 in Germany, 24,000 in South Korea, 12,000 in Italy (for crying out loud--Italy has a third again more troops than in Afghanistan!), and 8,300 in the UK (almost as many as in Afghanistan, the actual war zone.)  Of our 1.3 million troops on active duty, 193,000 are deployed abroad, 15% of the total number of troops.) While it seems clear that our efforts were crucial to defeating ISIS, in the long run, it seems likely that our wars in the Middle East are hopeless, given our benighted understanding of the Islamic part of that region. One might ask, but shouldn't we have struck back at our attackers of 9/11/2001? Yes, of course, we should defend ourselves against them! Hmm... but exactly who are "they" who attacked us?  Seems like the attackers were largely Saudis backed by a lot of Iranian money. Oh, right, it was Saudi Arabia and Iran, so, of course, we should attack Iraq!  And attack Afghanistan too! But it was not the Afghan government's policy to attack us, it simply happened that a bunch of Bin Laden's Islamists chose a place far out in the desert to make a training camp that was beyond almost anybody's awareness. In 1977 (just before the Iranian revolution) I spent a year working for a Saudi company, flying over much of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  I am here to tell you that an appalling number of Muslims hate each other's guts, want each other dead over trivial differences of religious opinion, which they treat as unforgivable differences that must be punished by death.  But one thing unites many of them: the belief that the US is, as the late Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini put it, the Great Satan, and Israel, the Little Satan. Nothing we do will turn these Muslim countries into models of liberal democracy.  We should leave them the hell alone unless they attack us, and hope that they will create an Islamic reformation and an enlightenment comparable to the secular European Enlightenment that largely lifted the brutal Christian factions out of the devastating wars which in the 16th century alone resulted in the deaths of something like a third of the population of Europe--every man, woman, and child--murdered in the name of God. We can hope that a Muslim reformation and enlightenment will affirm such basic ideas (not yet universally affirmed among their most faithful adherents) as these: That flourishing and rational happiness are better than suffering; That truth is discovered by the light of logic applied to the evidence of experience, and that such knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance; That a mere difference of opinion is not a legitimate reason for killing somebody; That health and life are better than sickness and death. Osama bin Laden famously said that those in his circle love death more than the infidels love life. That there are many more powerful life-serving ideas to be found in the works of such thinkers as Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and Ludwig von Mises. Not to point fingers at the Muslim world as singularly benighted, I should point out that Alex Epstein has recently commented that never before in history has so much astonishing and life-serving knowledge been available to humanity.

The existence of this cornucopia of true knowledge is the good news.

The bad news is that never before in history has it been so damned hard for average people to figure out which is the true and life-serving knowledge and which are the claims to true knowledge that can only lead us ultimately to destruction. Never before in history has there been so many crazy, destructive, and false claims to true knowledge! We have to work on ourselves first, of course. And we should beware of trying to convert other parts of the world when we ourselves still have such a long way to go. In the end, much of our foreign policy in the Muslim world is akin to taking a meter-long hardwood dowel and beating up on a buzzing hornet's nest as if it were a pinata. E P N 2018.1112
Rev. 2018.1201

Sunday, November 11, 2018

My Thoughts as a Veteran

           My Thoughts as a Veteran, on Veteran's Day

                                                      Eric Paul Nolte



Today I saw a short video that was produced as a "thank you" to American veterans who were in the military to defend our country, all of whom were all vulnerable to being put in harm's way, even if we were not actually at war during the years of our service.  As many National Guardsmen discovered at the start of the Gulf War, they could be activated at any time and sent overseas to fight.  The little film caused me to well up with emotion.  We've faught so many pointless wars!  In my opinion, almost all wars are insanely pointless.  But not all of them.

During the Vietnam War, I was on active duty in the Army.  I could have been deployed to Vietnam, but I had the good fortune to be sent to Germany instead where, in my spare time, I spent most of my pay on flying lessons, and thereby put myself on a good track to become an airline pilot while acquiring a taste for good German beer.

When the Vietnam War began for the US in the mid-1960s, I was a barely pubescent boy in junior high school.  I remember that everybody thought that surely the war would be over long before those of my age became eligible either to join or be drafted into the military.  
There were anti-war slogans in the air.  Make love, not war.  Hell no, we won't go!  Bring 'em home!    

My generation, or, more correctly, those in my circle of politically and religiously liberal youth were agreed on our opposition to the war, in general, and to the draft in particular because, we argued, it was the draft that made it possible for our government to engage in this hare-brained, hopeless, foreign military adventure that was being carried out with no plan actually to fight the war in a way that stood any chance of achieving anything like victory.  In my circles, we thought the war was a cynical pose on the part of our government to give the impression that we could actually stop the spread of communism, while refusing to do what it would take to "win" the war.  Meanwhile, the war became a bloody meat grinder of the flesh of our young men (and more than a few women as well.)

This week, I came across some more of the facts of the matter.

Yes, we engaged in a long war that was often conducted with futile strategy and tactics.

But at the end of the day, as pointed out by Bruce Hershensohn, senior fellow at Pepperdine University, we get to the truth about the war we allegedly lost:

When the North Vietnamese left the Paris Peace talks in 1972, the US announced that in December, 1972, we would begin serious bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, the capital and major port cities of North Vietnam.  

We did bomb them, and within a month, the North Vietnamese, militarily devastated, came back to the negotiations in Paris and a peace accord was signed by the USA, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong.

As of January, 1973, we had won a decisive victory in the Vietnam War. 

The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong agreed by their signatures that their defeat had been decisive.

Therefore, the US celebrated on January 27, 1973 our Victory in Vietnam Day.

South Vietnam was to be left protected from assault by the North and the Viet Cong.

This peace accord entailed an agreement in which the US pledged to replace any military hardware that South Vietnam might require in its defense against aggression from the North.

Let me restate this more simply: 

Our incontestable victory in Vietnam was dependent upon our promise to back up the South Vietnamese with replacement hardware, should this be required in the face of attack from their enemies. 

But then a year later Richard Nixon was disgraced by the Watergate fiasco and was forced out of office.  

In the elections that followed in 1974, the US Congress was decisively taken over by the Democrats.

Despite the impassioned pleas of Republican president Gerald Ford and others, the Democrats then voted to end all funding for our aid to South Vietnam.  

The North Vietnamese then immediately invaded the South.  When they advanced without opposition that could replenish the South's equipment, North Vietnamese forces shortly took over the whole country.  Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City and the whole country fell under the rule of the communist dictatorship from the north.

The whole affair of American involvement in Vietnam has proven to be a searing, intellectually and morally vertigo-inspiring episode, like no other in our history.

It might not have needed to be so terrible if the Democrats had not abandoned our former Vietnamese allies.  

Our abandonment of South Vietnam resulted in the "re-education" camps in which more than a million South Vietnamese were interned, and where a quarter million of them died by summary execution, disease, and starvation.  

The Boat People were another two million people who fled the country for fear of their lives, and among them another quarter million died from weather, accidents, and at the hands of pirates.

Reasonable people can argue over whether we should ever have been in Vietnam in the first place.  

But no one of good will can reasonably argue that our outright reneging on our promise of protection to the South Vietnamese people was a terrible betrayal that resulted in at least another half million deaths and the destruction of the lives and prospects of countless millions more.

Ironically, in a move not unlike the transformation of the communist dictatorship of China, Vietnam has since evolved into much more of a market economy than almost anyone might have imagined possible, and it is now engaged in lively trade with the United States and much of the rest of the world.

As an interesting footnote, I find it fascinating that Jane Fonda,the infamous "Hanoi Jane," has come forward with a heartfelt apology for her behavior during her two week visit to North Vietnam at the height of the war.  Jane Fonda was accused of treasonously giving our enemies a propaganda bonanza because of her being exploited in such photographs as the one of her sitting, smiling, on an anti-aircraft gun used for shooting down American airplanes. 

The Democratic party, vastly more culpable here than Jane Fonda, given its murderous abandonment of our allies in South Vietnam, should long ago have come forward to apologize for their despicable, pragmatic action.  Hmm.  Actually, it would be fitting if some of them were in jail for this kind of horrible behavior.

The death toll here, obviously caused by the Democratic party's betrayal of South Vietnam, is five times larger than the deaths caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or by the fire-bombing that resulted in the destruction of the German city of Dresdon.


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2018.1111
Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the First World War, the War to End All Wars,
and now renamed Veteran's Day.