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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Economist Richard Ebeling, writing about the "zero-sum world of Donald Trump," notes the unprincipled nature of much of the opposition to the new President from the left: It is important to understand that many of the fears expressed by members of the Democrat Party or the political left in general about presidential usurpations of power -- real or imagined -- by Donald Trump all ring hollow. After all, they all delighted in the use of the same presidential prerogatives by Barack Obama through executive and related powers to get around a Republican controlled Congress during six of his eight years in the White House. It was Obama who said that he had a phone and a pen, and with these in hand, he would do whatever he could get away with, whether Congress or a majority of the American people were supportive or not of his vision of a hope and changed America. Suddenly, when that powerful presidential pen is in Trump's hand, the left is "shocked, shocked" that the chief executive of the United States government may not adhere to the tradition of limited and divided powers in the American political system. Their only problem with that presidential pen of executive power is that it is being held by someone they dislike and even detest, rather than someone who they fawned over and believed to be the voice and vindicator of the cause of "social justice" and a "progressive" vision for a remade America. [bold added]As if that weren't bad enough, we can say the same in reverse about many conservatives, as the below image -- which I obtainedfrom a prominent conservative blog -- demonstrates. It's as if they expect never to see another Democrat win the presidency, or that everything Donald Trump might wish to decree will necessarily be a good thing, or that the don't really appreciate the whole idea of checks and balances. Ebeling is correct to note that Trump is behaving much like his predecessor. Trump may loosen a few controls here and there, and he might represent a pause in the increased government control of the economy we have witnessed over the last few decades, but he does not differ in kind from his statist predecessor. And it would appear that many of his fans have a reckless disregard for history, even the kind that should be fresh on their memories. With "opposition" like this, it is the Democrats who can afford to be complacent. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Three Things 1. If only more parents and economists in the Unites States understood what many parents in the poorest parts of the world do regarding markets and education:One parent summed up the difference between these shantytown private schools and the government schools with a succinct analogy: "If you go to a market and are offered free fruit and vegetables, they will be rotten. If you want fresh fruit and vegetables, you have to pay for them."The above comes from the pamphlet, Freedom of Education I mentionedhere recently, specifically from C. Bradley Thompson's essay, "Education in a Free Society." Let me reiterate that I highly recommend this pamphlet. 2. I agree with the first commenter on this post by a popular security expert:It's been a remarkable week for cyber justice. On Thursday, a Ukrainian man who hatched a plan in 2013 to send heroin to my home and then call the cops when the drugs arrived was sentenced to 41 months in prison for unrelated cybercrime charges. Separately, a 19-year-old American who admitted to being part of a hacker group that sent a heavily-armed police force to my home in 2013 was sentenced to three years probation. Don't mess with Texas Brian Krebs. 3. Accordingto tech writer, David Pogue, thanks to the new USB-C standard and chargers like the one he reviews, the power-adapter drawer will soon be extinct. Weekend Reading "More than the conclusions themselves, I like to look for the method by which people draw conclusions." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Art of Disagreement" at The Delaware Wave "How in the world is somebody supposed to appreciate something when it's handed to them unconditionally?" -- Michael Hurd, in "Teach Your Children Money" at The Delaware Coast Press "If you can get people to own their responsibilities, then reporting to you is a cooperative venture, not a command-and-control venture." -- Scott Holleran, in "Jim Brown, new Ayn Rand Institute CEO: 'Culture and society out there can look pretty irrational. Just look at the last election'(Interview)" at The Los Angeles Times -- CAV Link to Original
  3. 24/7 Wall Street has run a pieceon twelve things not to do if you win the now $403 million Powerball Lottery. I recommend reading the article, not only for the fun it might bring by helping you imagine what life with these millions would be like, but also for the practical advice. Much of the advice applies to everyone, such as the following: The 1980s film Brewster's Millions may have made it seem impossible to blow $30 million in 30 days. That was then -- now that can be blown in days or hours without even being that creative. The ongoing costs of private jets, mega-yachts, private islands, mega-mansions, luxury cars, extravagant parties, private concerts, buying luxury goods or art and collectibles, and having an entourage add up quickly. These may sound great at the time, but only until you honestly factor in the ongoing costs for a lifetime of that. Any combination of those could go over $100 million, or even $500 million, again without even being that creative. [format edits, bold added]That reminds me of a time, way back in college, when a friend bought a new car and offered frugal, car-less me his old beater for free. It took me only a short time to consider what it might cost to own a car vs. my income to turn him down. Sure, the car might have solved a few problems I knew I had, but it would have created others I could easily imagine, and maybe a few I couldn't. (Insurance didn't even cross my young, inexperienced mind, right then, for example. That thought came to me in the form of added relief a few days later.) It is likewise with gobs of money out of the blue. This is a worthwhile article because it repeatedly shows these things: (1) Life is not fundamentally different for the wealthy, and (2) any situation, no matter how apparently good, requires knowledge you may need to acquire to face properly. And so it is that, for much of the advice, there is food for thought for the non-lottery winners: If you just won tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars, it seems obvious that you would want to tell everyone you know. After all, how could you not share that with friends and family? Reality check: Do not dare do this! try to keep your lottery winning quiet for as you can. Sadly, your friends or family members cannot be trusted to keep your secret a secret. Telling everyone you know before you collect your winnings can put you in danger. That is danger in more ways than just one. Everyone who has ever done anything for you now may come with their hands out asking for something. You may even become a target by rather unfriendly people. You may have heard of kidnap and ransom insurance before. [bold added]Your circumstances have just changed radically, and you will have enough to think about without having to factor in what everyone you know or even random strangers might do with this information. The huge amount of money here merely underscores the value of managing what other people know, when possible. It can thus be a useful thought exercise to see how being careful about other, less earth-shattering information can give oneself more control over his own life. If you have ever been burned by someone with loose lips, maybe you don't need this one, but the article has plenty of other good advice. Read it all for fun and profit. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. A couple of news stories I encountered recently brought to my mind a common assumption about regulations, namely that we "need" them, or businesses will act haphazardly with regard to customer wants and needs. In the first story, about new (and voluntary) industry-wide guidelines for use-by dating, shows that industries can and do regulate themselves. In this case, a haphazard and confusing number of labels is being replaced by two kinds of labels to help customers stop wasting food, and thereby save money: We've long known that the expiration date on groceries is a mess of different terms that mean absolutely nothing. Now, the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association have put together a plan that simplifies the label you'll see on food. Right now, more than 10 different date labels exist on food, like sell by, best before, best by, expires on, and whatever else. The new initiate will use just two phrases: Best If Used By and Use By. [links and emphasis in original]The second story, by contrast (and despite its implicitly pro-regulation stand), provides a counterexample to the idea that, without our philosopher-kings to guide us, the market would degenerate into chaos, where we'd get nickeled-and-dimed to death: Food labeling is increasingly controlled by federal regulations. What once was a requirement that food labeling must be truthful and non-misleading now occupies thousands of pages of regulations. Adding to this, the federal government now has four new food labeling regulations pending implementation (special labeling for foods sold in vending machines, menu labeling, remodeling the Nutrition Facts Label on almost all packaged foods and changes in labeling regarding partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs). Moreover, four more regulations are in the works, including new rules for nutrient content claims, health claims, labeling foods "natural" and mandatory GMO labeling. Even for those who believe that all of these regulations are reasonable, repeatedly requiring label changes on foods over the next few years defies rationalization. On average, it costs food companies up to $6,000 to update the label for each product or SKU (stock keeping unit). With over 800,000 food products on the U.S. market, the overall cost of a government-mandated label change may run in the billions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has estimated that just one of the mandated label changes now scheduled for implementation may exceed $4.6 billion. When labels have to be changed repeatedly, those costs are multiplied. Of course, regulatory compliance costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher food prices. [bold added]These examples do not and can not, by themselves, make a case that industries can agree to labeling standards, and that these will tend towards being simple and helpful. But they should cause people to ask themselves why they think an army of bureaucrats is necessary to goad businesses who presumably are accountable to their customers into making them be clear about what they are selling. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. A piecein USA Today considers the fact that our Presidents' political opponents have, over the past few decades, been reliable complainers about those Presidents daring to partake of leisure activities: This is great news, particularly if you hate Trump's politics. The more time he spends playing golf, the less time he has to play president. Rather than pleasing his critics, Trump's golf outings irritate them. It's ironic that the same people who don't want Trump to do anything complain when he doesn't do anything.Indeed it is, and I have openly wished for Obama to play golf much more often. Windsor Mann starts with the fact that a President you oppose who plays golf has less time to do political damage to your cause, and that's true enough. But he continues with the following interesting observation: Golf exposes a president to derision. Critics accuse him of neglect and insouciance -- in short, of not caring enough. But a president can't possibly care about everyone; nor should he. That's not his job.I don't know Mann's political persuasion, but he's right: It is not the President's job to be some kind of national father. Indeed, if our government were properly limited, our Presidents would probably have far more leisure time. But back to the issue of caring. Mann reminds me of a profound point about such critics that conservative blogger Walter Hudson once made in defense of one of Obama's vacations: It's entirely legitimate to criticize someone for indulging at the expense of vital responsibilities. To the extent Obama has neglected his job, you can build a case against his vacations. But this idea that he or any person should not enjoy life while others languish in misery proves as immoral as any have-not claim upon the lives of haves. [bold added]The best you can possibly say about such criticism is that it is poorly thought-through. Mann is absolutely correct to say, "The dumbest criticism of any president is that he plays too much golf." -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Business writer Suzanne Lucas efficiently demolished perhaps the most insipid bit of pandering I have ever seen in a Super Bowl ad (playable at the link). For those who want one, here's her synopsis: [T]he text begins with a dad (apparently a dad who never once read a parenting book or listened to his own parents) who says, "What do I tell my daughter?" He then goes on to say all these horrible things about how she'll be treated poorly because of her gender. "Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma?" and "Do I tell her that despite her education, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?" Goodness, no, dad. What kind of a parent sets out to tell his child that she'll be an utter failure? Oh wait, that's not the point. The point is the pay gap. [link dropped]The easily-digested idea of a male-female "pay gap" is constantly being used as an insult/moral cudgel against anyone with the temerity to suggest otherwise, with the ad campaign's hash-tag as Exhibit A. Obviously, I am a regressive troglodyte if I don't turn my brain off and join the bandwagon. I won't, and to understand why, I invite the interested reader to consider some of the many lines of evidence offered by Lucas against the idea that women are universally valued less than men or that there even is a pay-gap when controlling factors -- all of which Lucas boils down to the choices many women make -- are accounted for. Here's just one: Women prefer to not do jobs that are dangerous. In 2013, 3,635 men died in workplace accidents, compared to 950 women. Men are far more willing to take on dangerous tasks, and dangerous jobs pay more than safe jobs. [bold and link in original.]This is one I had not heard of before. The others are similar in nature to the main factor, time off due to bearing children, I was already familiar with. None of this is to say that women do not face real issues as women in the workplace. Rather, such pandering trivializes that whole idea, makes it easy to dismiss out of hand, and should cause people to wonder if those who spout the idea of a "pay gap" really are concerned with such issues. It is also telling how irritated many of the same people are with Donald Trump's campaign slogan of, "Make America Great Again." They both attribute too much of his win to the slogan and give his voters (I am not one of them.) too little credit for allegedly swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. "Pay gap" is just as simple, has been repeated at least as often (and has been for longer), and is just as much an empty vessel to fill with whatever suppositions one wants. There is nothing inherently wrong with using a memorable phrase or slogan -- so long as facts warrant doing so. Otherwise, expect to harm your cause in the eyes of your most able potential allies, and to attract an unthinking mob. That certain movements apparently cultivate mobs on purpose conversely speaks volumes. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Three Things 1. Last week, I creditedthe Waze app with taking much of the frustration out of driving in DC, but I didn't mention another app that also helps a bunch. Parking there would be a nightmare even if you knew the streets like the back of your hand. For that, I highly recommend Parking Panda. That and two other things: (1) Check your email (which is stored on your phone) for your reservation if you find yourself at a pay booth a mile underground, and (2) Allow yourself an extra half-hour of lead time when using an unfamiliar garage. The first tip comes from quick thinking and the second from hindsight. 2. It was nice for once to see someone with an academic interest in the subject consider the idea (via Marginal Revolution) that customers of check-cashing (aka "payday loan") stores may actually have solid reasons for using them: "The implication of that" -- the biennial surveys of the "unbanked and underbanked" by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- "was these people were making poor decisions," [University of Pennsylvania professor Lisa] Servon recently told Business Insider. "I knew that the people I had worked with closely who don't have very much money know where every penny goes. They budget things. They know where to get the best deals on things. And so it struck me that if they were using check cashers, there must be a good reason for that." [link dropped, format edits, italics added]Servon decided to learn more by working for months in such an establishment, and her conclusions make it clear that these stores benefit their customers, buttressing Thomas Sowell's past defenses of the same. 3. 3-D printer not required: Applying an electric charge across the strip causes cells in the sample to separate according to their electrical properties, allowing researchers to isolate certain cell types. This could be used to separate out tumour cells circulating in the bloodstream, for example, and catch certain cancers at an early stage. If researchers want to switch experiments and start counting cells instead of separating them by type, they can simply pop in a different electronic strip. "You can just draw [the strip] out on the computer and print it," [Rahim] Esfandyarpour [of the Stanford School of Medicine] says. In the future, he'd like to see a shared online database of different designs that can easily be downloaded, printed out and put to use. [link omitted]The articlenotes that a regular printer with electrically conductive ink can produce one of these "printed 'labs on a chip,'" meaning this idea is a potential boon for the developing world. Weekend Reading "This ominous episode underlines how students are learning to be contemptuous of intellectual freedom." -- Elan Journo, in "UCLA Banned My Book on Islam From a Free Speech Event" at The Hill "Having to rely on the ignorance of others doesn't sound very healthy to me." -- Michael Hurd, in "Lying Doesn't Feel Right When You're Mentally Healthy" at The Delaware Wave "[J]obs are just the means to an end." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Job Isn't the Career" at The Delaware Coast Press "Don't listen when some non-Binswanger tries to tell you that outsourcing means you don't have to cut your own hair, clean your own home, raise your own farm animals, sew your own clothes, cobble your own shoes, and fabricate your own microchips." -- Harry Binswanger, in "It's Time For All Binswangers to 'Buy Binswanger'" at RealClear Markets "In a letter to ARI, the UCLA Law School issued a formal apology for the incident, and it explained that the decision to ban the book was inconsistent with its vigorous commitment to freedom of speech and respectful debate." -- Elan Journo, in "After Banning My Book, UCLA Explains Itself" at The Times of Israel In More Detail I am glad to see both that Elan Journo won a skirmish in the fight for freedom of speech in academia and that the event he covers above (twice) is "part of a wider campaign." -- CAV Link to Original
  8. My wife purchased an Amazon Echo around Christmas, and let me take this opportunity to sing praise to the high heavens for the following mundane use: I can (at last!) get a concise summary of the weather on a daily basis. Yes, this thing is a technological marvel, and I love having something so science-fictiony sitting unobtrusively in the kitchen (where it blends in suspiciously well with our car coffee mugs), but this has been my most pleasant surprise and favorite use so far. Here's a slightly edited transcript: Me: Alexa what's the weather today? Alexa: Currently in Whitetail Woods, it's 28 degrees with intermittent clouds. Today you can look for intermittent clouds with a high of 58 degrees and a low of 21 degrees.Short, sweet, and to the point. But why has this been missing from the web? Before I begin, let's consider the obvious benefit of Alexa's weather summary: I can get the weather immediately when I need it -- generally when getting myself and the kids ready for the day -- without having to drop everything to check my computer or phone -- or having some radio station blaring the whole time. That's a big part of it, but the summary is far superior to the barrage of verbiage, images, and advertising (however much decent formatting salvages it) from the web, or even the less-bloated output of my phone's weather app. Indeed, I looked for some time for exactly this kind of summary, in text form, a couple of years ago, in the hopes of automatically dumping it into my daily planner so I could ... just ... know ... what generally to expect. I never found one. Given that this is a popular use of the Echo, it's not as if there was zero demand for something like this. My best guess as to why the web, for all the information available from it, never delivered something like this comes down to a few things: Since it's easy to deliver gobs of information, and there's no telling how much detail what any one visitor might want, weather pages just go ahead and give it. (And one can come up with a general idea by perusing, say, the hourly forecast, but it takes more time.) Web pages are delivered "free," but since someone has to pay the bills, they have to include ads. So the "weather page" suffers from having more than one purpose. No man can serve two masters ... (Alexa, though not ad-free, is a subscription service, and needn't and doesn't serve ads for things like this. You'll get an ad only if you bump into something your subscription doesn't cover.) Such a summary, while it sounds simple, strikes me as something requiring artificial intelligence. Perhaps it is a happy byproduct of all the other work it took to create the Echo. Note that the web hasn't caused mass unemployment of television and radio weathermen. In any event, it has been a joy to be able to get what I need when I need it so quickly and easily. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Over at In the Pipeline, Pharma blogger Derek Lowe has a short post about Marathon Pharmaceuticals, the latest company to get money -- as opposed to earning it -- thanks to the perverse incentives of the regulatory state: [W]hat's not to like? Well, this drug has been around since the early 1990s. Marathon most certainly did not invent it. Nor did they think of applying it to [Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy] patients -- the biggest clinical trial of the drug for that indication was done over twenty years ago, by someone else. DMD patients in the US were already taking the (unapproved) drug by importing it from Canada. Marathon just dug through the data again and ran a trial in 29 patients themselves, from what I can see. I should note that this is not any sort of cure, nor does it address the underlying pathology of the disease. The steroid treatment makes muscle strength in DMD patients stronger -- barely. But even for that benefit, US patients will now have to get it from Marathon at something like 50 to 100 times the former price. This is exactly the same business plan as Catalyst Pharmaceuticals and several others, and the only reason that it's viable is because perverse incentives by the FDA make it completely legal. [emphasis added, links omitted]So the same agency that routinely keeps desperate patients from trying new treatments for their diseases also makes it easy for companies to charge gouging prices for old drugs of dubious value that had been on the market for a reasonable price. Lowe shares a belief held by many that some regulation is necessary, but I differ from him there: Increased consumer vigilance, aided by watchdog organizations like the Consumers Union or UL could perform the legitimate activities of the FDA. That said, I find this tale ironic, given that I have also heard that Donald Trump wants to jawbone drug companies into offering medicine at lower prices. First, the solution to the economic distortions caused by government control is less of it, not more. Second, it behoves any potential reformer to consider how elsethe government is ruining the drug market, be it through the FDA or other agencies that abuse government power. Finally, notice that "capitalism" is once again implicitly getting the blame for a government-created problem, first of all from the President himself, in the form of his immediate scapegoating/threatening of the companies. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. How many time have you heard someone complain of a Google or a Microsoft that they "could do that in a weekend?" How many times have you wondered how on earth they stay in business? I recently ran across a post by software developer Dan Luu addressing that argument that offers both a quick rebuttal and a dose of the kind of thinking that is missing. First, there is often evidence that, no, you can't do that in a weekend. Luu specifically considers the problem of internet search: A few years ago, in the wake of the rapgenius SEO controversy, a number of folks called for someone to write a better Google. Alex Clemmer responded that maybe building a better Google is a non-trivial problem. Considering how much of Google's $500B market cap comes from search, and how much money has been spent by tens (hundreds?) of competitors in an attempt to capture some of that value, it seems plausible to me that search isn't a trivial problem... [link dropped, bold added]A world littered with the failures of others doesn't prove that there isn't a better way to do something, but it suggests that, at minimum, there are aspects of the problem that might need more than passing attention. Luu goes into some detail about the problem of search and those of running a business, as a means of making his main point: It's not that all of those things are necessary to run a service at all; it's that almost every large service is leaving money on the table if they don't seriously address those things. This reminds me of a common fallacy we see in unreliable systems, where people build the happy path with the idea that the happy path is the "real" work, and that error handling can be tacked on later. For reliable systems, error handling is more work than the happy path. The same thing is true for large services -- all of this stuff that people don't think of as "real" work is more work than the core service. [link and footnote omitted, bold added]This reminds me somewhat of the "bike shed" argument, in which people will endlessly debate some trivial matter they know about (a bike shed on the site of a proposed nuclear plant), while glossing over something that is actually complicated (the nuclear power plant itself). In this case, internet search (although not trivial) is the bike shed, and numerous other things, like, say, making money with it, are being ignored. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. (Oh, wait. Never mind.) Upon encountering the following headline, my first reaction was to think, "It's about time:"Snapchat Doesn't Care About Saving the World -- and Its IPO Docs Prove ItThis is because, for far too long, businessmen have regarded the goal of making money as amoral at best. Never mind that businesses produce something of enough value to their customers that they willingly trade for it. Thousands or millions of win-win propositions don't (and can't) cut it under the moral code of altruism -- which ought to make people think twice about using it as a guide to their actions. In any event, the practice of grafting some altruistic goal or collectivist cause to one's business has become so common that it is newsworthy when a company doesn't rave about doing so. And that's all we have here, nasty headline and bile from the Observer's Brady Dale to the contrary. We are in a sad-enough state of affairs that the article slams the company simply for the fact that it finds its business opportunity in the most prosperous, well-developed markets before finally reaching what its author regards as a smoking gun. And what is the smoking gun?In February 2017, we established the Snap Foundation. After this offering, we and our co-founders have each pledged to donate up to 13,000,000 shares of our Class A common stock to the Snap Foundation over the course of the next 15 to 20 years. We anticipate that the proposed programs of the Snap Foundation will support arts, education, and youth. The Observerthen lambastes the company for taking too long to make these donations.So, the co-founders might give 13 million shares and, in 15 years, the company might even still be around by then. Like the good Snapchat and its foundation might ever do for the world, it's anybody's guess.Apparently, it would be better for Snapchat to raise a bunch of money, ostensibly for a business, but dump it into a charity instead, if push comes to shove. But that's beside the point. Do note that the filing documents do graft a foundation on to the company. Whether one believes the founders hand over shares to it when they propose because (1) they want to be able to support their own foundation or (2, as the article implies), they cynically hope to avoid donating money altogether is immaterial: The filing documents in no way prove the founders to lack an altruistic interest in "saving the world." At best, it indicates that they might want to keep their own money, but don't know (how) to stand up for themselves. An IPO from a true proponent of the virtue of productivenessand the trader principle might make no mention of charity, or it might include some mention of charitable donations towards causes Brady would strongly disapprove of. But that would be up to the founders. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Three Things 1. A former "Young Turk" explains, in less than five minutes, "Why I Left the Left" (via HBL): Today's progressivism has become a faux-moral movement hurling charges of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia and a slew of other meaningless buzzwords at anyone they disagree with. The battle of ideas has been replaced by a battle of feelings, and outrage has replaced honesty. Diversity reigns supreme, as long as it's not that pesky diversity of thought. This isn't the recipe for a free society, it's a recipe for authoritarianism. I agree with much of the video, although I disagree with Dennis Prager, whose site hosts it, that religion is the proper foundation for a positive alternative. 2. For a truly inspiring story, head straight over to the New York Times(I'm not kidding!) and read about one doctor's battle with his own rare, life-threatening, and baffling disease: Pursuing the answer to that question, it turned out, would become his life's work. It would transform Dr. Fajgenbaum from a patient on the brink of death five different times, whose illness stumped specialist after specialist, to one of the leading researchers in his field. He has even used himself as his own test subject, and may have discovered a treatment for his rare disease. Read the whole thing. 3. Are feature phones retro or disruptive? In India, they are both. Weekend Reading "Should the German judiciary have shown deference to Hitler's orders?" -- Harry Binswanger, in "Neil Gorsuch Rightly Advocates Inching Away From 'Judicial Deference'" at RealClear Markets "When you speak, you're also listening to yourself..." -- Michael Hurd, in "Listen to Yourself" at The Delaware Wave "Growing up occurs at the moment you stop caring about what others think." -- Michael Hurd, in "Tell Me What I Want to Hear!" at The Delaware Coast Press "The so-called 'Muslim ban' ... flies in the face of the collectivist, socialist idea that American citizens, as the most prosperous on earth, are morally and politically obligated to support those with less." -- Michael Hurd, in "Entry to US Not an Entitlement" at Newsmax -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Until I found a navigation app that didn't annoy me (Waze, which is actually fun to use), I hated driving in DC. One of the many reasons is that, ironically (given who had been there for the past eight years), left turns are often prohibited. Leave it up to a leftist to show me what irony really is... You wouldn't expect an idiotic proposal from the title or beginning of this Quartz article, but it eventually happens. The article starts off innocently enough with a technique for saving fuel (and vehicle wear) you may have heard that UPS uses: It might seem strange, but UPS delivery vans don't always take the shortest route between stops. The company gives each driver a specific route to follow and that includes a policy that drivers should never turn through oncoming traffic (that's left in countries where they drive on the right and vice versa) unless absolutely necessary. This means that routes are sometimes longer than they have to be. So, why do they do it? Every day, along with thousands of other companies, UPS solves versions of the vehicle routing problem. In these mathematical problems, you are given a set of points and the distances between them, and you have to find the best route(s) to travel through all of them. "Best" is usually defined as the route with the shortest overall distance. [link in original]Yes. It is usually "best" to pick the shortest linear distance possible when selecting a route, because it usually saves time. But, as the article (and, often, Waze) indicates, other factors can come into play. An accident or heavy traffic ahead might make a route that is twice as long the fastest one between two of the points, making it "best" for that step, even if another order is considered. And, yes, fuel economy can come into play. And actually, come to think of it, the general purpose of the trip can affect what route is "best." I like to lump numerous errands together to save time I'd waste if I'd return home between each stop. If you considered my route to any subset of these in isolation, you might wonder why I selected such a lousy solution, distance-wise. Or, maybe I do groceries last, so as not to thaw frozen items. Lacking knowledge of that "point", my solution might look suboptimal to someone with little knowledge of my purposes. UPS is clearly doing something similar here, only with many more stops, and with a heavier weight than many other drivers might place on saving fuel. And save fuel they do, as the folks on Mythbusters once proved: It seems incredible that not turning left can lead to such significant savings. The TV series Mythbusters tested this idea and confirmed that, despite many more turns, the policy of only turning right does save fuel. In their one truck experiment they travelled further, but when you scale this up to a global level, UPS really does travel fewer miles in total. [link omitted]The distance savings, I am sure, is related to the fact that one route has many pick-ups or deliveries. The fuel savings would be a combination of that and engine time (fuel) not wasted idling at a left turn either waiting on a signal -- or the kind of perfectly-timed traffic I get in Maryland where traffic in one direction picks up just as that in the other ends. (I "turn right to turn left" a lot here, to save time, but this often involves an easier left, and I may or may not save fuel. My goal is to make the time of my route more predictable. Yes, sometimes I lose time doing this, but it beats randomly adding ten minutes to a given trip.) Do note here that my left-turn policy and that of the folks who own and operate UPS are each determined by our personal goals. This is important, because the author, Graham Kendall, doesn't give a damn about your personal goals: The success of UPS's policy raises the question, why don't we all avoid turning left (or right, depending on what country we're in), as we drive around cities on our daily commutes? If everyone did it, the carbon savings would be huge and there'd probably be far less congestion. The problem is that not every journey would be made more efficient by following this strategy, and most people are likely only to change their driving style if they personally benefit. ... So, if you cannot persuade people to always turn right (or left) for the benefit of everyone, it might be down to governments to encourage or even enforce the strategy. For example, we could plan roads that make it more difficult to turn through the traffic. It would take a brave city planner to implement this, but if UPS can save 10 million gallons of fuel, how much could a whole city or even a whole country save? [link in original, bold added]Why don't we all avoid left turns? Kendall, who advocates "selfless driving" answers his own question: Because there isn't always a selfishbenefit to doing so. And how will you convince people to do something patently ridiculous, given that most people aren't spending hours at a time making deliveries? He knows the answer to that one, too, and it is a sad sign of the times that he isn't too embarrassed to offer it. I strongly suspect that forcing everyone to drive the way Graham Kendall fantasizes they should, might not necessarily achieve his goal, anyway. But that's beside the point, because it is an abuse of government power to order people around, to deprive them of liberty for any reason other than that they have violated (or threatened to violate) the rights of others. There is truly nothing off-limits to an advocate of unlimited government power like Graham Kendall, as numerous improper federal regulations already attest. My title doesn't precisely describe Kendall's meddlesome proposal, but isn't hyperbole. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. "A cultural movement often produces caricatures of itself that emphasize its essence." Writing this over forty years ago, Ayn Rand immediately provided a memorable example: The hippies are one such caricature. These ecological crusaders -- who would pollute any stream by stepping into it -- are the physical embodiments of the spirit of today's culture. Much more can be said about their motives, but for the moment observe the intention of the physical appearance they choose to assume. The purpose of flaunting deliberate ugliness and bodily dirt is to offend others (while simultaneously playing for pity) -- to defy, to affront, to bait those who hold values, any values. [bold added] (The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, p. 147)A news item about an effort to clean up a mess left by followers of the environmental movement reminded me of this very quote this morning. Apparently, a camp site for anti-pipeline protesters -- run by an outfit that calls itself"Water Protectors" -- has created such a huge mound of refuse that it must be removed before the spring thaw. Otherwise, a festering mess that may include human bodies will likely pollutethe Cannonball River and the Lake Oahe reservoir. Too many will stop at calling this hypocrisy, but the real crime is that these protesters oppose industrialization and the numerous benefits it brings to mankind. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Thomas Sowell has come out of retirement to express his support for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Of all Trump's cabinet picks so far, she has faced the fiercest opposition in the Senate, where there is a 50-50 stalemate. Calling the DeVos nomination both a once-in-a-generation opportunity for educational reform and a major threat to teachers' unions, Sowell elaborates: [DeVos] has, for more than 20 years, been promoting programs, laws and policies that enable parents to choose which schools their children will attend -- whether these are charter schools, voucher schools or parochial schools. Some of these charter schools -- especially those in the chain of the Success Academy schools and the chain of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools -- operate in low-income, minority neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and turn out graduates who can match the educational performances of students in affluent suburbs. What is even more remarkable, these charter schools are often housed in the very same buildings, in the very same ghettoes, where students in the regular public schools fail to learn even the basics in English or math. You and I may think this is great. But, to the teachers' unions, such charter schools are a major threat to their members' jobs -- and ultimately to the unions' power or existence. If parents have a choice of where to send their children, many of those parents are not likely to send them to failing public schools, when there are alternative schools available that equip those youngsters with an education that can open the way to a far better future for them. [bold added]DeVos might be a dream candidate for this post, if (a) she were a principled advocate of laissez-faire, or (b) she were nominated by such a president, who would make sure her reforms would most likely lead to the abolishment of government schools. Neither is the case and, on top of that, DeVos, who explicitly regardsher activism as as a means to "advance God's Kingdom," wants religious schools to be eligible for vouchers. Plainly, on the grounds of separation of religion and state, these schools shouldn't be eligible, and including them in a voucher program (especially outside the explicit context of privatizing education) reinforces the dangerous precedent of government funding of religious activity set by Bush-Obama's "faith-based initiatives." That said, the mind-killing death grip the unions have on (what should be) education means, in light of Sowell's arguments (and the public not being ready for privatization), that we can't necessarily rule her out on that basis. Many parochial schools produce children better able to think than do the public schools. (And many parents would send their children to them, anyway. Note that this is not the same thing as the government sending their kids to them at the expense of others. The fact that people can misuse their freedom does not in any way justify the government funding or preventing such choices.) I am inclined to favor her nomination with eyes open as a means of reining back the power of the teachers' unions and freeing some young minds in the process. This is not a firm opinion, but DeVos may well be the best selection we can hope for in some time. Regardless, religious conservatives should not be confused with capitalists, and they have repeatedly shown themselves to be just as eager to dine at the trough of government loot as their fellow altruist-collectivistson the left. I would be pleasantly surprised to see her appointment bring us breathing room, but I don't expect much more. And it could well backfire. -- CAV Link to Original