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  1. In a post about "Techie Luddites," tech blogger JCS notes a particularly striking example of compartmentalization, a cultural phenomenon that Ayn Rand commented on nearly fifty years ago: Thought experiment: Replace the newspapers with smart phones. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.) ... In an interesting article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Morgan G. Ames tells us how many of the "technical elite" refuse to let their children use electronic devices such as phones, tablets, or computers and how they send them to schools that proclaim themselves to be traditional and tech-free. As Ames points out, many of these technical people consider themselves to be the smartest people in the room and while that may be true regarding technology, they don't know anymore than the rest of us about child development or the wider social implications of technology. They are, in fact, subject to the same fashions and misinformation as everyone else. If that claim seems a little overwrought, consider this shocking fact: at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, "[a] techie-dominated, tech-shunning school," only 35% of kindergarteners had been fully vaccinated before California made such vaccinations mandatory. If even the anti-vaxxers have established a beachhead among the technical elite, we must certainly abandon any claim to being immune to new luddism [sic]. [bold added, format edits]This is alarming, but I disagree with the last sentence. Why? Let's first ask: How can otherwise intelligent adults fall for such obviously ridiculous ideas as the anti-vaccination movement, or the slightly less ridiculous idea that children shouldn't be exposed at all to electronic devices? By failing to integrate new knowledge outside their areas(s) of expertise. This failure leads them to ineffectively evaluate claims to knowledge that they otherwise would easily reject, or at least fail to realize the need to investigate such claims more thoroughly. And so we have someone who (for good reasons) couldn't imagine not safeguarding against a computer virus -- taking some random stranger's advice at face value (but checking it poorly, if at all) and failing to vaccinate his children. Ayn Rand mentioned this phenomenon in her 1972 essay, "Selfishness Without a Self," but her student Leonard Peikoff fleshes out the idea more thoroughly in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A somewhat better case is the man who does integrate his mental contents, but only within an arbitrarily delimited square or compartment. An economist, for instance, may eagerly relate a new economic idea to other ideas within his field, but refuse to consider its implications for related fields (such as politics, ethics, history) or their implications for his own. "That's not my concern," such a man characteristically says about anything but his own specialty; "that's somebody else's domain." Ayn Rand calls this type of non-integration compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is an improper form of specialization. It consists not merely in specializing, but in regarding one's specialty as a dissociated fiefdom, unrelated to the rest of human knowledge. In fact, however, all knowledge is interconnected. To cut off a single field -- any field -- from the rest of cognition is to drop the vast context which makes that field possible and which anchors it to reality. The ultimate result, as with any failure of integration, is floating abstractions and self-contradiction. A simple example is the conservative economists who scornfully dismiss philosophy, then advocate the profit motive in economics and the Sermon on the Mount in church.Obviously, compartmentalization can lead to bad choices on the part of someone for whom this is a modus operandi. And this certainly can cause harm or inconvenience to others through their actions. But it can also cause problems for observers, who might subsequently have to get past prejudice this might induce. In my caption, I point to a humorous comparison of men reading smart phones versus men reading newspapers. That sure does make the digital minimalist crowd look like idiots, doesn't it? Or does it? The parents who won't let their kids have any screen time are generally being ridiculous, but we shouldn't let them cause us not to consider the merits of advice by those who, like Cal Newport, suggest using such devices much less frequently than many do. They -- and this is crucial -- give good reasons for the advice, as one might suspect when one starts considering the differences between newspapers and smart phones. For example, how commonplace was it for people to fall into holes or run into things a century ago, because they were reading newspapers as they walked or drove? This is obviously not to say that we need to look afresh at every idea such people embrace, but we would do well not to let a compartmentalizer's apparent adoption of an idea weigh too heavily in how we evaluate that idea. That person does not really understand what he professes or does. As usual, one must do one's own thinking first-hand, as far as possible. (This doesn't make us not need to consult experts, for example.) It will not immunize against mistakes altogether, but I think it makes the mistakes less frequent, less severe, and much easier to correct when they have been made. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. News bulletin to American corporations: You never got (nor ever will get) credit for going along with virtue signaling. The latest case in point? Recycling. Now, picture this with three times the bins, a stop watch, and an air horn. (Image by Ingo Hamm, via Unsplash, license.) The New York Times has just come out with a slanted, disingenuous opinion video titled, "The Great Recycling Con." Its subtitle says just about all you need to hear: "The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products." But do go ahead and view the video, because it is short -- and shows how brazen that assertion is with its own reporting. (Chutzpah? Stupidity? Who cares?) Said reporting reveals how confusing government regulations are about labeling items as recyclable. This is not to let corporations entirely off the hook -- See below. -- but the very idea of focusing a substantial amount of blame onto corporations for the futility of recycling is ridiculous, in light of the incessant media drumbeat, "activist" hectoring, and government jawboning for same over the past several decades. The role the corporations do have to play is neither small nor entirely innocent, but it is understandable: With the government on the side of recycling and most people being both misinformed and on the moral defensive against this wasteful practice, many companies understandably decided to "go along to get along," much as American railways did back in the 1800's, when they paid monetary bribes to remain viable: [W]hat could the railroads do, except try to "own whole legislatures," if these legislatures held the power of life or death over them? What could the railroads do, except resort to bribery, if they wished to exist at all? Who was to blame and who was "corrupt"--the businessmen who had to pay "protection money" for the right to remain in business--or the politicians who held the power to sell that right?But look what happened: It was the railroads who got the blame for playing a game they didn't create. And now, American companies are getting the same treatment after their attempts to morally bribe environmentalists by racing out to label everything as recyclable -- and even though they followed the very laws the environmentalists put on the books. The corporations thought they were buying goodwill with these labels, but all they got was blame at a later time -- recycled from the very fact that they used the labels at all. Perhaps, one day, business leaders will learn that a better plan is to oppose government regulation as the immoral ordering-around that it actually is. In the meantime, let me point out another video that deserves even wider circulation than that made by the New York Times: Pen and Teller's demolition of recycling -- which is hosted by BitChute -- from their series, Bullshit. They make many of the same arguments I made in a piece on recycling, but in more entertaining form. My favorite part is when they time people on a patently absurd nine bin system -- that they all profess to support -- and blow air horns when they make mistakes. Doing the same thing during the New York Times video would make it practically impossible to follow. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. In an article at Forbes, Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress notes that "no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species." More important, he notes that the common practice of tossing apocalyptic predictions around like croutons over a salad has some negative, real-world consequences: Really? Why? (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.) In September, a group of British psychologists said children are increasingly suffering from anxiety from the frightening discourse around climate change. In October, an activist with Extinction Rebellion ("XR") -- an environmental group founded in 2018 to commit civil disobedience to draw awareness to the threat its founders and supporters say climate change poses to human existence -- and a videographer, were kicked and beaten in a London Tube station by angry commuters. And last week, an XR co-founder said a genocide like the Holocaust was "happening again, on a far greater scale, and in plain sight" from climate change. ... Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public. There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people. And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over. [bold added, links omitted]These tactics emphatically include -- and I think are essentialized -- by Greta Thunberg's recent call for panic. Considering that (1) the hallmark of panic is blind action, with cooler heads issuing orders, and (2) the remedies proposed by the panic-mongers are quickly seen to be wrong and life-threatening upon careful consideration; let me add that this kind of framing would lead any sane person to question the motives of the people making the claims. This would be true and reasonable, even if the claims were correct and the cause just, neither of which is the case with whatever green totalitarians are choosing to call global warming at the moment. There is a lesson here, and not just for people who might be concerned about the effects of carbon dioxide on the climate. Even if a course of action would (such as essentially outlawing fossil fuels without an alternative in place) result in a catastrophe, screaming that the sky is falling is no way to be taken seriously. Those of us who are interested in truly making a positive difference in the world would do well to view climate catastrophism as a case study in what not to do. Climate alarmism has been as successful as it has been only because the culture of our society has been disarmed by hundreds of years of altruism and collectivism, and several generations of Progressive education. Competing for scaring others the most does nothing about this problem, is aiming at exactly the wrong audience, and will not create the kind of change we need. That requires rational persuasion, which is the farthest thing on earth from herding a panicked crowd, and far more effective, at least if human flourishing is the goal. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Blog Roundup 1. Most educated people know that Ayn Rand advocated capitalism. (Whether they know what capitalism is is another question altogether.) And many even know that Rand advocated selfishness -- also commonly misunderstood. But what about pride? I doubt it, and I'd bet even fewer people know what it actually is than know what capitalism or egoism really are. This thought occurred to me when I read the post "Humility vs. Pride" at the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights, which explores why that virtue has an undeserved bad name: In other words, the proud person trusts the judgment of his own mind rather than the arbitrary edicts of God or His earthly spokesmen. And trusting one's own mind, we are to believe, is a bad thing.The above is a re-framing of a religious explanation for the animus against pride, and kicks off a good, short outline of what is wrong with that all-too-common attitude. 2. In her discussion of political opposition to Black Friday in France, business professor Jaana Woicheshyn points out a timely book on the subject of green totalitarianism, and a review of same: Green totalitarianism is not just a vague threat -- it is steadily encroaching, as Belgian philosopher Drieu Godefridi argues in his new book: The Green Reich: Global Warming to the Green Tyranny. You can read Donna Laframboise's review of it here. She reports that in Godefridi's view, environmentalism is more "ambitious in its desire to subdue" humanity "than any previous doctrine," including Marxism. [links in original, format edits]Woicheshyn's further remarks on the folly of corporate appeasement of the greens are also worth your time. 3. At Thinking Directions Jean Moroney has some interesting and useful things to say about some common mystical explanations for subconscious phenomena. Here is a relevant quote regarding the "power of prayer," which many people swear by: What is happening is similar to what happens when you think on paper. When you quiet yourself -- separate yourself from distractions, breathe, let the hurly burly recede for a bit -- you give yourself some free mental space and time to listen to the quiet answers in the back of your mind. Your own quiet answers reflect everything you know about the situation -- your own experience and expertise, your own knowledge of the nitty gritty details, and your own value system. It is no wonder that this self-generated idea is often better advice than you can get from others, who don't understand the situation the way you do.When I was young and still giving religion the benefit of the doubt, I prayed every evening. The ritualism of the prayers themselves aside, the thinking I did at the same time was quite similar to what Moroney describes. I agree completely with her further remark that it is valuable to try to understand what is (or might be) going on, rather than stop at pat explanations: When I read about some popular advice which is justified by a theory I disagree with, I don't immediately assume that the advice is impractical. I go to look at what's involved, how I would explain the process, and why I think it might or might not work. If I think there's a plausible alternate explanation for why so many people find benefit, I experiment with it to see for myself. That is how I have broadened my understanding of how the mind works.Amen, so to speak. 4. Scott Holleran has written what sounds like a fascinating article about Pittsburgh, which is also his home town: Image by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, via Unsplash, license. In the piece, which may become available online, I focus on the Forties, when Rand wrote her observations of Pittsburgh in her journal, corresponded with an admiring book critic for a Pittsburgh newspaper and prepared for the movie adaptation of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. All of these tie into each other and relate to an interesting comment by Objectivist scholar Greg Salmieri, whom I interviewed for the article. Dr. Salmieri, who's editing the University of Pittsburgh Press series of books studying Rand's philosophy, gives his opinions on Rand's ideas and how they've been interpreted within the context of today's false left-right political dichotomy. I am delighted that publication of the first article about Rand and my hometown coincides with the first reprinting of my article about Andrew Carnegie in Capitalism Magazine (read it here). Carnegie is one of my first heroes. I became fascinated with him as a boy. As with Ayn Rand, the more I learn and know about this man, the more I admire him. I wrote this piece several years ago as a sidebar to an article I'd been asked to write for a magazine. [link in original, format edits]Here's the last paragraph of the piece on Andrew Carnegie: That the 'Great Egoist', who attached significance to names and put his name on colleges, halls and steel companies, loved his work and lived his life in comfort is abundantly clear. That he did so by making an effort to think, write, and speak as an intellectual businessman is not as widely known. But, today, we are the secondary beneficiaries -- in railroads, bridges, and things made of steel -- in Western Union, Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Mellon University, which he created or helped to build -- in places like public libraries, and Carnegie Hall -- of all that Andrew Carnegie thought, wrote, and produced.Here's hoping that the newer piece also becomes available online. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. I am pretty sure I've mentioned the following excellent point by Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, but it bears repeating: Image by Andreas G├╝cklhorn, via Unsplash, license. It is only on the premise that the environmentalist movement is truly driven by a concern for human well-being that its vehement attacks on carbon-based fuels (without which human life as we know it in the developed world would be impossible), its cavalier lack of any alternative plan, and its active opposition to proposed alternatives (whether real ones like nuclear or hydro, or fantasized ones like solar), make no sense.With our negligent media touting renewables from here to Timbuktu, one could understandably wonder about the description of solar as fantasized. A recent post at the conservative PowerLine blog provides ample evidence from the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow that this description is quite accurate. For example: Using batteries to back up sufficient power to supply U.S. electricity needs for just seven straight windless days would require more than 1 billion half-ton Tesla-style batteries. That means still more raw materials, hazardous chemicals and toxic metals.John Hinderaker notes further that this would cost "around $6.6 trillion for 24 hours [of] storage for the U.S. That is much more than the entire budget of the U.S. government." There is similar information for wind, as well as a plethora of excuses for the environmentalists demanding we implement these technologies today to turn around and oppose them tomorrow: [W]ind turbines don't last long -- 20 years -- those massive disposal problems are now coming to the fore. Every wind turbine contains 45 tons (90,000 pounds) of non-recyclable plastic that must be disposed of in landfills. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to decommission each wind turbine.The blog post reads a little like it is trying to argue against an environmentalist proposal on environmentalist grounds. That would be a mistake for a variety of reasons. But the information provided is useful for the purpose of illustrating the point that Lockitch makes: Environmentalists don't give a tinker's dam about human well-being. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. A very common defense of religion is that it forms the basis of morality, and that we would be reduced to anarchic mayhem without it. Given that practically the first words out of the mouths of such defenders usually spell out real-world consequences for a lack of ethical guidance, this defense strikes me as more psychological than philosophical. Regarding the latter: Wouldn't such a problem as societal collapse absent morality support (at least considering) the idea that there is a secular, rational, life-serving role for morality? Indeed, wouldn't such consequences call for greater thought about morality than, say, jotting down a list of rules to be taken on faith and calling it a day? This is a commonly-professed view, though, which means that many people accept it by default, without really thinking about it. For many of those people, the response has an element of fear, partly from genuine (but misplaced) concern, and partly from the unknown: This is something that many people find difficult to think about, in great part cause it also causes them to feel guilt. Guilt -- most of it unearned -- is the dominant emotion aroused by the dominant form of morality in our culture, altruism. No wonder most people dislike such discussions! Much of the time, I take this objection as a confession that one hasn't given the question much thought, but at least values morality for life-affirming reasons. But what of those who aren't merely startled/grasping at the conventional wisdom? What of those who actually see this package deal -- of serious consequences from (actually) immoral behavior, with a school of morality divorced from this-worldly happiness -- as persuasive? If pressed, they will attempt to argue that reason does not apply to moral questions. But the fact is that they hope to frighten you away from that line of thought. That alone speaks volumes. That said, such people will not abandon reason so much as attempt to pervert it, a process Ayn Rand, the American novelist and advocate of egoism, called rationalization: Image by Heather M. Edwards, via Unsplash, license. Since an emotion is experienced as an immediate primary, but is, in fact, a complex, derivative sum, it permits men to practice one of the ugliest of psychological phenomena: rationalization. Rationalization is a cover-up, a process of providing one's emotions with a false identity, of giving them spurious explanations and justifications -- in order to hide one's motives, not just from others, but primarily from oneself. The price of rationalizing is the hampering, the distortion and, ultimately, the destruction of one's cognitive faculty. Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one's emotions. Philosophical catch phrases are handy means of rationalization. They are quoted, repeated and perpetuated in order to justify feelings which men are unwilling to admit. [bold added]I recommend reading the rest of the passage at the immediately preceding link. Rand ends with the following insight: "[E]vil philosophies are systems of rationalization." A corollary: The more effort an individual invests in trying to twist reality into fitting with one's emotions, the uglier the emotions. Rationalization is a confession of a very different thing than complacence. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Walter Williams throws the statistical book at frequent claims by Democrats that white supremacists pose a mortal threat to black Americans, and then ends with the following very timely observations: One of many abandoned houses in Detroit. (Image by Daniel Tuttle, via Unsplash, license.) White liberals deem that any speaker's references to personal responsibility brands the speaker as bigoted. Black people cannot afford to buy into the white liberal agenda. White liberals don't pay the same price. They don't live in neighborhoods where their children can get shot simply sitting on their porches. White liberals don't go to bed with the sounds of gunshots. White liberals don't live in neighborhoods that have become economic wastelands. Their children don't attend violent schools where they have to enter through metal detectors. White liberals help the Democratic Party maintain political control over cities, where many black residents live in despair, such as Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago. Black people cannot afford to remain fodder for the liberal agenda. With that in mind, we should not be a one-party people in a two-party system.I agree, despite the fact that in recent years, the Republicans have become merely bad imitations of Democrats -- and worse proponents of freedom. The GOP needs to be reformed top to bottom -- or replaced with a truly pro-freedom party. Nevertheless, Williams's suggestion could still be an improvement if it leads to a debate about the proper purpose of government. The four cities Williams ticks off had their last Republican mayors in 1967, 1949, 1962, and 1931, respectively. The crime and blight each has suffered during upwards of a half-century of Democratic control should cause voters to question the kinds of policies that have been in place for so long, and to punish the champions of such policies. At best, the Democrats are indifferent to their actual jobs and to their constituents, based on their decades-old track record of holding power and presiding over decline. That said, it should also concern Republican voters that too many politicians from that party are adopting similar policies, rather than arguing for freedom. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Following up on a recommendation in the third installment of Alex Epstein's excellent Human Flourishing Project podcast, I recently read the short but insightful and valuable The Gap and the Gain, by Dan Sullivan. An achieveable step towards an ideal. (Image by Jonathan Petersson, via Unsplash, license.) Epstein's podcast captures the general message well, and passes along one of the most important changes one can make right away: (1) Most people do not explicitly know how to set (or measure progress towards) their goals; and (2) a good first step towards correcting the problem and developing a habit of progress is to list three "wins" each day. The latter helps with the major manifestation of how people improperly measure progress: They focus on the gap between where they are and some fuzzy idea of where they want to be -- rather than the gain they accrued between a past starting point and the present. After finding the "positive focus" of listing wins helpful, I wanted to reinforce the lessons and better understand the insight, so I downloaded and read the ebook, which is free upon registration. I was impressed and glad that I did. One of Sullivan's insights is that many of us have vague ideals about what we want to achieve, or at least don't know how to use those ideals to set achievable goals. (I read Sullivan's use of the term ideal to include major ambition, moral ideal, or any combination of the two. Some of this whiffed of Platonism, but I don't think it detracted from his message significantly.) Sullivan summarizes the practical result of this kind of confusion quite well: Someone who's used to measuring their goals and progress against their ideal will get used to feeling disappointed because they can never actually reach the ideal.And, a bit later: It's important to protect your ideals. A good way to do this is to not use them for measurement because that will leave you disappointed in your ideals, and you'll become cynical about them.Setting vague goals can lead to learned helplessness and cynicism. This is is a profound and liberating insight, and his solution makes a great deal of sense. It can, with habit-forming practice, transform one's ideals from a millstone around one's neck into the lodestone they ought to be. When reading this, the following quote about philosophy came to my mind: As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown. -- Ayn Rand Rand is speaking of the burden that bad philosophy can cause. But even correct and well-thought-out ideals can be a burden to someone who has not found a way to use those ideals effectively. I think this short book -- which can be read in an afternoon -- can help someone make a good start on the process of making the ought into an is. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Admin. Note: I will be taking a break from blogging for the remainder of the holiday week. Warm wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. Via Capitalism Magazine, I learned of a brilliant 2017 John Stossel column that provides the relevant history behind Thanksgiving. It does include the Pilgrims and the Indians, but the following will be news to most Americans: Image by Gabriel Garcia Marengo, via Unsplash, license. Fortunately, the Pilgrims were led not by Bernie Sanders fans or other commons-loving socialists, but by Governor [William] Bradford, who wrote that he "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could ... that they might not still thus languish in misery ... After much debate (I) assigned each family a parcel of land ... (T)his had very good success, because it made every hand industrious." There's nothing like private ownership to make "every hand industrious." The Pilgrims never returned to shared planting. Owning plots of land allowed them to prosper and have feasts like the ones we'll have Thursday. Private property became the foundation for building the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, a place where people have individual rights instead of group plans forced on everyone.Stossel is right to start his column off by noting that we can thank private property for the fact that we have turkeys to eat at all. Stossel also describes a simple demonstration of the tragedy of the commons that would easily translate into a game families could play with kids to teach this lesson memorably. I recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you have children. Thank you, Mr. Stossel, for the valuable and accessible lesson in history and economics. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. So we should practice it much more often... Before I begin, let me point the reader to the definitions of empathy and selfishness, both of which I advocate and both of which are widely misunderstood. It is important to understand each term because doing so will help you understand in interesting connection I made when thinking about the best way to combat pseudoscience -- which is ultimately to help individuals become able to detect it for themselves. I am also writing this as much for myself as a means of consolidating this connection and reminding myself of it later, because I see this method as an improvement on something I was already doing, but with a different class of questions. We all occasionally receive unsolicited advice or sales pitches, and quite often, the latter poorly disguised as the former. Often, it's something fairly easy to see through, but occasionally, it's novel enough or comes from someone who might be knowledgeable enough that it is impossible to judge the claim right off the bat. (Pro tip: Admit you don't know and take you own damned time to figure it out.) Some examples: an offer via mail for insurance of "exterior electrical lines," a scheme for investing in a foreign currency whose value will supposedly skyrocket, and the occasional fake overture of friendship that turns out to be an attempt to recruit for a multi-level marketing network. The first thing I do when I encounter one of these is plug whatever it is into a search engine plus the word scam. Whether I am doing this because I am having trouble judging the claim, am merely curious, or am thinking about helping someone get or stay out of trouble, this alone is usually enough to debunk the claim -- and when it hasn't been, it has at least pointed me to things that ultimately helped me make up my mind. So far so good, but some shenanigans are harder to detect, for a variety of reasons: The mark may not lose that much money (and so will be less careful), the scam is being run in an area (such as nutrition or psychology) where even experts aren't in total agreement or there are lots of popular misconceptions, or the scammer's financial interest is hard to see or very indirect. What to do? That's a huge question, but here is a tactic that can sometimes apply, particularly when the person pitching the idea relies on common suspicions. Practice empathy. A blog post about "Food Babe" Vani Hari does a good job of classifying several mistakes Hari repeatedly makes, but oddly fails to go for the jugular when it should have. (Empathetic is not a synonym for non-judgmental.): To her credit the author does allow a lot of critical comments pointing out some of these mistakes on her posts, but she has rarely responded to them and the comments don't seem to have affected her basic take on these matters. Food Babe's goal is laudable, but in propagating these basic scientific errors and misleading opinions, she is not only ignoring fundamental facts which are not in dispute but is also performing a great disservice to her readers who are coming to her website for finding out the truth about food products. It's hard to justify getting basic facts wrong if your goal is to seek the truth.Hari's stated goal is laudable, but actions speak louder than words. Just from the above, it is clear that Hari is dishonest. But could someone hear one of her pitches and more quickly get to the truth. Consider one of her most common kinds of claim: Pass the road de-icer, please. (Image by Charles, via Unsplash, license.) Category mistake 1: Claiming that food ingredient X must be harmful because it is used for some unrelated purpose Y. Thus, in one of her recent posts, azodicarbonamide which was used in Subway sandwiches was declared to be harmful because it is used in "yoga mats and shoe soles". When employing this tactic the author is using a classic psychology trick, to color someone's opinion through guilt by association. By that token, common salt should be harmful because it is used to deice roads in winter. Or as McGill chemistry professor Joe Schwarcz says, "We use water to wash our cars. Vinegar can be used to kill weeds. If she ever found out, she'd want salad dressing banned."Food "activists" like Hari are all-too-happy that chemical names are long, hard-to-read, and easily evoke fear of the unknown. This makes it even easier to impute bad motives to the faceless corporations that dump them into their products for profit. That last sentence is where empathy comes in. Note the presumptuous smuggling-in of moral condemnation on someone (Corporations employ large numbers of people ...) for wanting to make money (... who are working hard to make a living...) so they can raise their families and enjoy their lives (... and so might want their customers around for a while.) Might these people know what the chemical in question does? Might they have a good reason for adding it? Might they be earning their money by improving your life? Isn't that why you're buying things all the time? These are just a few of the kinds of questions a more empathetic person might ask when someone like Hari fans the flames for the sake of selling a few more books -- while also making it harder or impossible for fellow human beings trying to earn money from you so you can make your life better, too. This alone obviously won't make anyone a Nobel laureate in chemistry, but asking more questions has the following personal benefits (just off the top of my head): (1) it can reduce the fear of the unknown; (2) it can reduce the stress of living one's daily life after seeing through these things a few times; (3) it can save time otherwise wasted on making unnecessary changes to one's lifestyle. Longer range, individuals doing this can help fellow human beings (and themselves, more or less directly) by (1) not unnecessarily making their jobs harder, (2) not making certain categories of products impossible or expensive (e.g., there is a limit to how many times companies can twist themselves into pretzels to rid a product of a completely benign ingredient), and (3) over time, schemes like this may well become harder to pull off. Thise are just a few preliminary thoughts of mine on how empathy can blunt certain hysterical attacks on industrial civilization, and on several interrelated levels at that. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Four Things In which my six-year-old son steals the show... My son likes to "invent" things. This is the dispenser he made for his Halloween candy -- which he immediately altered when he realized the candy would just spill out at the bottom. (Image by the author. Feel free to re-use. Attribution appreciated.) 1. It was the morning of Crazy Sock Day in the lead-in to Halloween at my son's school and we hadn't picked a pair yet. So I explained the premise -- mismatched socks, as different as possible in as many ways as you can get, like color and pattern. He did a good job of that, and as I was about to set the unmatched second pair on his dresser, he took them from me and put them in the dirty clothes basket. Yes. He wanted both pairs back after the wash. 2. The kids learned about Veteran's Day at school, but as he has before, my son confused veteran with a similar-sounding word: On the day, he wished me a Happy Veterinarian's Day and gave me some hand-made cards. Later on, he told a neighbor that I had worked for George Washington. "I'm not that old," I chuckled, before explaining to him that Washington was our first President, but had died long ago. Good on him, anyway for remembering that the President is atop the chain of command, and for trying to put that together with something else that he learned about the Presidency. 3. My son likes to enjoy some screen time as he soaks in the tub, and I allow him to use an iPad sitting a few feet away on the toilet lid. One day, his battery was low, so I hooked it up to an external battery before his bath. "Don't splash around or get this wet," I told him. "It could start a fire." When I came to check on him a few minutes later, I found that he'd moved the iPad and the battery further away, to the top of a vanity -- and those were sitting on a folded towel. 4. We took the kids to Disney last weekend, and one morning, Little Man was in the mood to do something else at the moment we needed to leave for the first Fast Pass window of the day. "Disney is boring!" he complained. As wise and clever as he can be, he's still a little boy, and not long later, was excited to see Mickey Mouse in one of the many parades that seem to pop up out of nowhere all the time in the park. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Just as leftists demand windmills, only to complain that they kill birds, so do they bite the corporate hand that feeds them the vegetable matter they're supposed to crave... Image by Syced, via Wikimedia Commons, license. I'd already heard that the meatless "Impossible Burger" patties at Burger King contained two things that are anathema to the Luddite branch of the food police: material from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and glyphosate (the harmless herbicide in Roundup). But, as they say in infomercials, that's not all. A vegan is suing Burger King because the patties were cooked using the same equipment as the real hamburgers. As Jim Treacher put it: That's right, this genius went to Burger King and bought a burger, and now he's suing them because it contained traces of... burger. Treacher correctly calls out adherents to the idea that "the natural" is inherently good -- as if man and his rational faculty aren't natural: "[T]heir entire philosophy is anti-human." And it should come as no surprise that this attempt at a meat-free burger that actually tastes good -- a marvel that requires lots of ingenuity -- would upset adherents to this belief. Let's hope this lawsuit gets thrown out as frivolous. To the extent that artificial meat could lower food prices in the future, this legal exposure is bad news. And may corporate America grow to understand sooner rather, than later, to stand up to the irrational demands of people whose self-contradictory desires make them impossible to please. To the extent that Burger King chose to sell this product in order to appease nature-worshipers, it made a poor decision: Treacher is right to note that some market segments are best ignored altogether. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. This is not a story I have followed closely, but for years, Chik-fil-A has had a bad reputation in some quarters, because (for example) its corporate values have been shaped by its Southern Baptist founder and it has donated to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage. I am nonreligious and oppose the government intruding on life-long committed relationships beyond its proper role in enforcing any contract arising from the same. I think that, until the day comes that the government is out of the business of saying who can and cannot get married, it should at least permit same-sex marriages -- for the same reason that other laws it shouldn't be making should be based on objective principles as far as that is possible. That said, while I disagreed with the ownership of Chik-fil-A on the question of marriage, I had some measure of respect for them for sticking to their guns in the face of often venomous and unfair attacks from the left. But I did hope they would change their minds -- and apparently, they have: Will they make money -- or come home to roost? (Image by William Moreland, via Unsplash, license). Chick-fil-A surpassed $1B in sales in 2001 and eclipsed the $5B mark in 2013, the year following Cathy's statement on gay marriage. The chicken chain became the third-largest U.S. fast-food chain this year with $10.5B in sales, according to Nation's Restaurant News data. Only McDonald's and Starbucks bring in more revenue among fast-food chains. But after years of "taking it on the chin," as a Chick-fil-A executive told Bisnow, the latest round of headlines was impossible to ignore. This time, it was impeding the company's growth. [link omitted]This reminds me a little bit of how Houston desegregated peacefully in the 1960's, after its leading businessmen realized how bad for business segregation was. Perhaps we are once again seeing a triumph of capitalism over bigotry. That would be a very good thing, both for Chik-fil-A and for capitalism. But hold on for a minute... Religious conservatives, like Rod Dreher, are unhappy. They see the change as a "surrender" to the left, who he says unfairly characterized the chain: y abandoning the Salvation Army and other charities, Chick-fil-A's corporate leadership signaled that it accepts the Left's critique. The company is trying to dodge this charge, saying that it is merely refocusing its charitable giving priorities, to focus on education, fighting hunger, and fighting homelessness. The Salvation Army doesn't have anything to do with education, but you will find no more effective and valiant fighters of hunger and homelessness than the faithful of the Salvation Army. Dreher does indirectly bring up a good point here: Chik-fil-A should have made a more direct, positive statement about the change -- and for precisely the reason that so many on the left are merely obnoxious nihilists, despite posing as supporters of the right to marry. Failing to do this certainly looks like a capitulation -- to its allies and admirers, to these barbarians, and to everyone else. (And if it is just a capitulation (as time will surely tell), it will only embolden the worst elements of the left. So, hooray for the power of boycotts and the profit motive to usher in cultural change. But beware: That power can cause change for the worse in many ways unless corporate leaders develop a spine. If the owners of Chik-fil-A have really changed their minds, they should say so. If not, they should have either admitted that their past practices were bad for business or simply stuck to their guns. There are no points with anywone for phoniness, and there is absolutely no such thing as appeasing a mob, which is what the left has increasingly become. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. In the course of some research, I ran across a mendacious smear piece in the "1619 Project" of the New York Times. The lengthy piece quite revealingly starts off with Martin Shkreli, the notorious scoundrel who gamed central planning (in the form of FDA rules) to charge extortionate prices to patients who needed a medication. Since the patents had long expired for this medication, it should have been available from multiple suppliers. And it would have been under capitalism, since that regulation would not have existed to impede the law of supply and demand. It is Shkreli -- no capitalist, and whom the Times plainly regards as a criminal -- whom the Times happily elevates to a quotable authority: [T]his is a capitalist society, a capitalist system and capitalist rules.The rest of the article proceeds accordingly, as you might expect of a journalist who doesn't even bother to define the term he is plainly denouncing. So let's take up that slack right now, before we go any further: Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man's rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man's right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.This definition comes from Ayn Rand, author of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Matthew Desmond chose someone he despises as a representative of capitalism: He has no room to complain about my choice. With this out of the way, reading most of the rest of Desmond's hit piece will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Here are my notes on the rest of the piece: The idea of there being different "varieties" of capitalism, (e.g., "democratic to unregulated") is ridiculous. Also, regulation is not part of capitalism, and democracy is mob rule. There are, however many different examples of mixed economies in the world. It is simply wrong to call any or all of these systems "capitalism." The assertion that, "Slavery was undeniably a font of phenomenal wealth." is highly debatable, to say the very least, plantation millionaires (the seen) for example, not withstanding. Despite the opulence of its rulers, find me a Venezuelan who calls their brand of slavery a "font of phenomenal wealth.") The author gives a whirlwind tour of early American history, with emphasis on: (a) the brutality of slavery, (b) the fact that land speculators and plantation owners benefited from the often dishonest and inhumane treatment of Amerindians, (c) a quick portrait of the cotton economy, (d) the fact that many Northerners grew wealthy by trading with the plantation owners, and (e) assertions that many modern management techniques originated on plantations. This snow job proves absolutely nothing, except that the author wants us to think that "American capitalism" (whatever that's supposed to be) is a more or less direct descendant of the institution of slavery. (His discussions of management techniques read like he'd consign the world to starvation just because the Haber Process originated in Nazi Germany.) America is indeed scarred from its shameful legacy of slavery, but it is fatuous to damn it (or "capitalism") as if it has not made any meaningful progress since. At one point, after calling slavery "America's first big business," he followed with a particularly graphic and disturbing description of the punishments meted out for slaves not making their quotas. This is a calculated ploy to cause readers -- who may be too shocked to remember that people don't receive this kind of treatment in America today -- to wrongly associate brutality with capitalism. After all of this buildup comes the following paragraph, which may well sound aspirational to a reader, horrified at the brutality and overwhelmed by mostly irrelevant details by this point. In fact, it is quite ridiculous. It is about the "freedom" felt by poor whites who had been exposed to slavery. Like the rest of the piece, it mixes a grain of truth with an anti-capitalist agenda: It was a freedom that understood what it was against but not what it was for [true --ed]; a malnourished and mean kind of freedom that kept you out of chains [also true --ed] but did not provide bread or shelter. [See below. --ed] It was a freedom far too easily pleased. [true --ed]Pardon my French, but how in hell does an abstract concept like "freedom" "provide bread or shelter?" It doesn't, as Ayn Rand points out in a discussion of individual rights, which are protected under (actual) capitalism: Or pills, but copetition would lead to pricesthat made sense. (Image by Amanda Jones, via Unsplash, license.) There is no such thing as "a right to a job" -- there is only the right of free trade, that is: a man's right to take a job if another man chooses to hire him. There is no "right to a home," only the right of free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it. There are no "rights to a 'fair' wage or a 'fair' price" if no one chooses to pay it, to hire a man or to buy his product. There are no "rights of consumers" to milk, shoes, movies or champagne if no producers choose to manufacture such items (there is only the right to manufacture them oneself). There are no "rights" of special groups, there are no "rights of farmers, of workers, of businessmen, of employees, of employers, of the old, of the young, of the unborn." There are only the Rights of Man -- rights possessed by every individual man and by all men as individuals.When one is free, one has the opportunity to create or trade for these things with other free men. Goods, like food and shelter are produced by individuals, working alone or cooperatively. The only institution that "gives" anyone such things without actual effort is a system that -- like slavery to a greater or lesser degree -- forcibly deprives other men of those things. And so it is that this piece has said something I think I can agree with: Desmond is clearly against capitalism and, based on what he has the gall to claim freedom should entail, for slavery. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Over the weekend, I finished reading Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants or needs (1) the inspiration of a real-life story of someone who has triumphed over major mistakes brought on by errors in thinking or personality flaws, or (2) an awareness of what some of these obstacles can be and how to overcome them. This engrossing book delivers on those promises with aplomb, and I am very grateful. But it is so much more than that. The authors -- who speak in the first person as Tetzeli -- hint at this in the below passage: Captain of Industry. Human Being. (Image by Matthew Yohe, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) What I have always loved about business journalism, and what I have learned from the very best colleagues I've worked with, is that there is always a human side to the seemingly calculated world of industry. I knew this was true about Steve when he was alive -- no one else I have ever covered was so passionate about the creations of his business. But only in writing this book have I come to understand just how much the personal life and the business life of Steve Jobs overlapped, and just how much the one informed the other. You can't really understand how Steve became our generation's Edison and Ford and Disney and Elvis, all rolled into one, until you understand this. It's what makes his reinvention such a great tale. (p. 14) [bold added]This book is a major step in the right direction for giving justice to the memory of Steve Jobs. Job, widely admired though he is, has many more detractors than his own bluntness and errors would explain, and the authors go a long way in rebutting the caricature -- convenient to the evil and the lazy -- of Jobs as "half-genius, half-asshole." That said, it is possible to go further than this book, by considering the words of another widely-misunderstood genius, Ayn Rand. Rand saw no breach between the moral and the practical, because she saw that the purpose of morality was to offer man rational guidance for the purpose of his own flourishing. As highly as I regard Becoming Steve Jobs, its authors were not focused on fighting the near-universal stereotypes of "cold," "calculating" reason, or of the near-universal equation of the terms morality and selflessness. Late in the book, for example, Tim Cook, Jobs's friend and successor as Apple CEO, praised Jobs because he was not "selfish." Given today's cultural context, this is understandable -- but it does threaten to limit what one can learn from Jobs's extraordinary life. Just one example comes from late in the book, when Jobs, tired and in pain from his illness, is having to seek approval from the Cupertino City Council for his company's eventual headquarters: When one councilwoman tried to joke with him that perhaps the city should get free Wi-Fi in return for approving the move, Steve said, "Well, you know, I'm kind of old-fashioned. I believe that we pay taxes, and that the city then gives us services."It's bad enough that we have the coercive arrangement of the government taking money at all, regardless of pretext. It is revealing that this adult female shamelessly "joked" about taking even more money from Jobs and his company. But generations of altruistic and collectivist intellectuals and politicians have made this into a norm as Ayn Rand once put quite well in her essay, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business:" America's industrial progress, in the short span of a century and a half, has acquired the character of a legend: it has never been equaled anywhere on earth, in any period of history. The American businessmen, as a class, have demonstrated the greatest productive genius and the most spectacular achievements ever recorded in the economic history of mankind. What reward did they receive from our culture and its intellectuals? The position of a hated, persecuted minority. The position of a scapegoat for the evils of the bureaucrats.Here, I am sure the shameless little thief felt that Jobs needed to "give back" to the "community," despite the fact that he had already personally benefited millions of people around the globe through mutually beneficial (and consensual!) trades. It is currently en vogue on the left (whose proposals for the economy would make it impossible for even much lesser men than Steve Jobs to produce what we want and need) to speak of "othering" minorities. They should look in the mirror and think long and hard about how they treat -- and incite others to treat -- the productive, on the pretext that they have large amounts of money. They probably won't, but anyone who is "undecided" -- as an acquaintance of mine admitted he was -- between capitalism and socialism should consider how they would feel about having what they worked for taken away from them just because someone else didn't have it. More important, they should think about why someone would do this in the first place, and what to do about it. -- CAV Link to Original
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