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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Four Things 1. The Supreme Court's unanimous decision to uphold freedom of speech in a recent trademark case is great news: Ruling against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's determination that the name Slants had violated its "disparagement clause," Justice Samuel Alito's decision for the court was written with the rare clarity of a declarative sentence in the active voice: "This provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend." This is hardly the end of a war currently being waged against freedom of speech, but it is a most welcome victory. 2. As both an appreciative Linux user and someone interested in unorthodox career paths, I admire Linus Torvalds, who created and maintains the open-source operating system. Here is an excerpt from an article on how his hobby-career still surprises and motivates him after 25 years: ... a prime principle was that you should be able to fork and go off on your own and do something on your own. If you have forks that are friendly -- the type that prove me wrong and do something interesting that improves the kernel -- in that situation, someone can come back and say they actually improved the kernel and there are no bad feelings. I'll take your improved code and merge it back. That's why you should encourage forks. You also want to make it easy to take back the good ones.It is refreshing to see someone with this attitude towards differences in professional opinion. I look forward to learning more from the entire, thirty-minute source interview. 3. Hooray for technology, part eleventy-squintillion: Watching the kids during a big game doesn't mean you miss seeing excellence. I checked my soccer app shortly after the recent U.S.-Mexico game started at Azteca Stadium. Lo, and behold, we were in the lead on a goal scored by midfielder Michael Bradley at something like five minutes in. It was around their bedtime, so I'd have to see the game later, which I did, of course. Let me say that I could loop this video clip of that goal all day. (As a bonus, it reminds me of my own favorite goal, which I scored from about the same position after I'd noticed the opposing goalkeeper insulting my team by sitting down next to his goal post.) 4. A dining critic reviews Nutraloaf, the meal fed to misbehaving prisoners: [T]he funny thing about Nutraloaf is the taste. It's not awful, nor is it especially good. I kept trying to detect any individual element -- carrot? egg? -- and failing. Nutraloaf tastes blank, as though someone physically removed all hints of flavor. "That's the goal," says Mike Anderson, Aramark's district manager. "Not to make it taste bad but to make it taste neutral." By those standards, Nutraloaf is a culinary triumph; any recipe that renders all 13 of its ingredients completely mute is some kind of miracle.I'll take his word for it. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. What would the child of Frédéric Bastiat's Fallacy of the Broken Window and Ayn Rand's essay on "The Property Status of Airwaves" look like? A recent articleat the Foundation for Economic Education gives us the answer: A world that got cell phone service forty years earlier than we did, because the Federal Communications Commission wasn't there to thwart the technology. Let's start with an excerpt from Rand's 1964 essay, as anthologized in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: The history of the collectivization of radio and television demonstrates, in condensed form, in a kind of microcosm, the process and the causes of capitalism's destruction. It is an eloquent illustration of the fact that capitalism is perishing by the philosophical default of its alleged defenders. Collectivists frequently cite the early years of radio as an example of the failure of free enterprise. In those years, when broadcasters had no property rights in radio, no legal protection or recourse, the airways were a chaotic no man's land where anyone could use any frequency he pleased and jam anyone else. Some professional broadcasters tried to divide their frequencies by private agreements, which they could not enforce on others; nor could they fight the interference of stray, maliciously mischievous amateurs. This state of affairs was used, then and now, to urge and justify government control of radio. This is an instance of capitalism taking the blame for the evils of its enemies. The chaos of the airways was an example, not of free enterprise, but of anarchy. It was caused, not by private property rights, but by their absence. It demonstrated why capitalism is incompatible with anarchism, why men do need a government and what is a government's proper function. What was needed was legality, not controls. [bold added] (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 125)Cell phones are, as the FEE piece indicates, an idea that had been around since just after World War II! The FEE piece and Rand's piece combined will make it clear to any layman that private property rights would have made implementing that idea extremely easy. Let me urge you to read both pieces, with the last paragraph of the FEE piece as its teaser: It was a Motorola vice president, Marty Cooper, who placed the first cellular call with a mobile handset in 1973. It might as well have been a pocket-dial. Motorola's lawyers were placing calls of their own, lobbying FCC bureaucrats to keep cellular networks from being built. (Motorola misjudged its own interests: It would become a leading beneficiary of the new marketplace. By 2006 it was the world's second-largest vendor of cellphones, selling more than 200 million units per year.)Consider what a revolution cell phones have proved to be, even without their added functionality as portable computers. (Even then, there were hints of this, which were missed or ignored by Motorola and AT&T.) Motorola may have benefited from the new market, but how much greater might it have been had it not thwarted itself along with everyone else through privilege-seeking(more commonly and mistakenly called "rent-seeking" or "regulatory capture")? Apart from Motorola getting partial justice in the form of stunting itself, the silver lining of this tale, such as it is, is that advocates of capitalism now have a powerful example of regulation greatly lowering the standard of living of countless individuals on a personal level. That said, as a case of What Might Have Been, it requires more intelligence and imagination to deploy (and to grasp) than the usual indictments of capitalism -- lent surface credibility by perceptual-level events -- served up by the panic-mongerers of the left. But then again, anything worthwhile takes effort. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. A grant-writing firm regardsPresident Trump's interest in "boosting" apprenticeships as "rare good political news," but is it? Compared to higher education, it may seem so, and many will find it tempting to hope so, based on what Jake Selinger notes: For The Story's Story [sic], I wrote about Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton's Paying for the Party. The book is too complex and interesting to summarize briefly, but one of its main points concerns the way colleges have evolved party tracks that require little studying -- but undergrads with successful outcomes on that track tend to be wealthy and socially connected. Many undergrads wander onto that trackwithout their peers' financial and social resources, only to fail to graduate or to graduate with weak degrees that don't produce much income. Given this situation, policy change is warranted. If college was once a panacea, growing college costshave eliminated that situation... [bold added]Unfortunately, everything in bold above is a direct result of the government "boosting" higher education with easy money for decades, predictablycausing all of the problems bolded in the above passage. (And we haven't even started talking about the regulatory strings attached that have, among other things, turned so many colleges into multiculturalist hothouses.) The government actively "boosting" any sector of the economy mis-allocates resources, both unjustly depriving the productive of what they have earned and enabling the waste of that money by others. (To be clear, I do applaud the proposed removal of regulations that keep companies from taking on apprentices if they desire, but that's not a "boost" so much as a getting-out-of-the-way. If that's what Trump meant, I'd be all for it.) The government has already boosted higher education to hell. Let's hope it doesn't start doing the same with commercial training programs. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Within an article about work-family conflicts are a couple of paragraphs that ought to be front and center, from what I can tell of my nearly six years of fatherhood: That might be the case, but there are other problems men face that are left unmentioned in the 1843 article. One is the unquestioned assumption that children in the modern era need constant attention. Nathan says that he is responsible for "helping" with the kids, which is different from spending quality time with them. Kids and teenagers were once expected to entertain themselves for large parts of the day, whether it was riding bikes, reading, cooking their own meals, or playing board games. Now, with extracurricular activities that require organization, drop-offs and pick-ups, mom and dad can no longer rest and recuperate on evenings and weekends. Furthermore, in the digital age, parents' work often follows them home, further eroding private time. This leaves no room for adult fun, which our parents and grandparents used to enjoy by going out dancing or to dinner or on vacations without the kids. Too many adults have also lost the practice of contemplation, a vital function of human flourishing that was more available in previous eras and that helped keep men ... feeling more balanced and sane. Contemplation is often described as a religious practice, which it can be, but it is also a way of quietly reconnecting with the universe. Contemplation can take the form of a long walk in the evening, a rainy day spent in solitude, or immersion in a brilliant novel or work of music that transports you to another world. [bold added]I am glad to see further evidence of a pushback against the common mania for cramming as much as possible into every waking hour as if that were an end in itself. Until this point, I have primarily seen such outlets as Free Range Kidspoint out how bad this can be for children. (A biggie for me is this: How will they get a chance to figure out what they want for themselves without having chunks of free time to explore on their own?) What I like about this article is that it can remind us to spare a thought for ourselves and any (other) parents we know. Often we have a adageslike the one the title alludes to for good reason. More positively, we could borrow a page from Steven Johnson and argue that, human beings need to play even beyond the sense of recharging after hard work. Current cultural norms unfortunately make it necessary to be more active about making sure there is down time and play time for everyone in the family. -- CAV P.S. The mention of "transport[] ... to another world" really hit home for me, having just finished reading, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Not too long ago, I realized I hadn't read a book for pure fun in a long time, when I saw the hardcover (from my pre-fatherhood days!) sitting on a shelf. Having liked the movie and wondering whether it might be a good one to introduce to the kids in a few years, I decided to read it. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the trilogy. I highly recommend it to any science fiction or fantasy fans who might happen by. Link to Original
  5. (And Related Thoughts) At the start of a collectionof eyewitness accounts from Chernobyl comes the following quote: Everyone who thinks the EPA is not necessary and the regulations on power plants are there to stifle growth and profit should read every comment here...Although I don't think the government should regulate the power industry, this individual is no mind reader. I appreciate that, while many regulations do"stifle growth and profit," they are not necessarily created with that in mind. Indeed, some accomplish what industry engineering standards, watchdog groups, or other non-government efforts would and should otherwise accomplish. That said, let's accept his challenge for a moment and look at another quote: Fruits and vegetables from the contaminated areas were sold feely [sic] at Moscow markets. In fact, that summer there was quite an incredible abundance of produce and the prices were low. The levels of radiation in produce from certain areas were very high. Some of our friends who used Geiger counters to check produce at Moscow Central Market had the counters confiscated then and there.Soviet Russia and the EPA are both examples -- the one more consistent than the other -- of central planning. Chernobyl and its aftermath happened in a centrally planned economy. The above instance shows just how well that "EPA for everything" worked, at least to achieve the goal of the protection of individual rights. (I am not by any means asserting that that was the goal, but it's the most benevolent interpretation I can muster of the notion that we "need" the EPA.) I won't, without further evidence, attribute hatred of the individual to the author of the first quote. However, I will say that facts alone are insufficient to settle the implicit question he raises, which is, "Should we have central planning?" For starters, I bet if I made a painstaking case -- which I am not, here -- that Chernobyl is exactly what happens under central planning, many people would shrug it off as an anomaly or even dismiss my factual statements as "propaganda." And many would, sadly, dismiss out of hand the idea that the purpose of the government is to protect individual rights. (Other possibilities exist: Some of these people might be persuaded to change their minds about these objections, but only with much more effort. Also, I could make such a poor case for the idea that Chernobyl exemplifies how "well" totalitarian regimes respect individuals that I'd rightly be dismissed.) The bottom line is that, when one wants to pitch an intellectual argument, he must set limits that account for some potential audience members being too far away from his position to engage -- anytime soon (because of fundamental differences, despite a basic level of intellectual honesty) or at all (because of a lack of intellectual honesty or for other reasons). The fact that there are people who are unreachable by rational argument in no way lessens the value of rational argument -- when directed at the right audience. Never let their seeming ubiquity demoralize you: They are unwittingly helping you with the task of prioritizing your time by honing in on the audience one can most profitably engage with. I do not accuse the author of the first quote of being the type of person I am discussing, but his remark caused me to think of the kind of reaction I might get if I engaged him personally about it, and of past reactions I have observed from others after similar conversations. Those reactions are more useful that I once thought. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Four Things 1. The man who invented the chicken nugget, which anecdotal evidence suggests to me is the only thing some kids will eat, also left his mark on the outdoor gathering customs of upstate New York: Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce, though, was his first great triumph, and what he is best known for in upstate New York. All summer, every summer, Cornell Barbecue Chicken features at backyard parties and family get-togethers. Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don't even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors. "Every fund-raising event, every fire department cookout, every little league barbecue, must serve this recipe or nobody would come," writes barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn.It's a simple recipe, and I intend to try it over the weekend. Yes. Finally, cookout season has arrived in Maryland! 2. Someone at Hacker News raised the question, "How do I dress better?" Someone who replied explained something that has always baffled me, because it runs counter to what I learned ages ago -- i.e., Don't. -- about wearing short sleeves in an office: Of course the reasoning for short sleeves is that graphite dust would stain long sleeves. Likewise for a black tie. Since drafting using pencils is pretty much nonexistent these days the need for the style is gone. Now it's just used to project an image of competent professional engineering.Ah! Dilbert's wardrobe: explained. 3. I'd heard that the recently-deceased Adam West had an off-beat sense of humor. Mosey on over to a recent tribute to the original Batman for a good example. 4. If you're a parent near the Baltimore area and want a good day trip on a week day, let me recommend the bakery tour of Snyder's of Hanover, about an hour north of town. I took my daughter there and to an excellent local park last week, and she loved it. I intend to try a few others from this list of "7 Factories and Businesses That Give Great Tours," too. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Anyone concerned about the costand intrusivenessof the regulatory state will doubtless be interested in reading a recent reporton Trump's first six months, by Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Crews compares Trump to each of the presidents over the past twenty years and concludes that, "Trump is so far the least regulatory president of all." This good news, and, in addition to backing up his contention, he adds the following note of caution: Trump's mode so far is regulating bureaucrats rather than regulating the private sector, with rules to limit their rules. Even more importantly, more unswervingly than any other, the administration has incorporated regulatory dark matter into reforming the administrative state in both his freeze and the two-out requirement. This material consists of all the memoranda, guidance, notices, bulletins and other proclamations (including threats and bad publicity) with which bureaucrats create or influence policy, but that escape the (already inadequate) discipline of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act. All this seems significant in terms of history of the regulatory state. The drop between Clinton and Bush was dramatic, but otherwise last time we saw anything comparable to today's reduction was when both regulations and Federal Register page counts dropped over a third under Reagan. But that didn't last. Similarly, the longevity of a Trump rule-making hiatus will depend upon Congress passing legislation such as the bipartisan 2017 Regulatory Accountability Act to codify the best elements of the past few decades of regulatory oversight executive orders, as well as enhance congressional accountability for what agencies do. [links in original]This is true, but more important, there will be no permanent reduction in number or scope of intrusive laws until a more fundamental cultural change occurs: The people who elect our lawmakers once again come to regard government's sole purpose as protector of individual rights. Without principled opposition to the government pushing people around (even including when it tells us to do reasonable things), any controls left in place will, with the precedent that the government is a substitute brain left unchallenged, ultimately breed more controls. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. A reporton the deteriorating conditions within socialist Venezuela ends on the following optimistic note: While some still solely blame the current crisis on the collapse in oil prices in 2012, a vast majority of Venezuelans believe the country needs serious economic reform. After 17 years of hardcore socialism, egged on by left-wing elites around the world, many in leadership appear hesitant to accuse the socialist system itself -- and not the people running it -- of being the problem. Many within the opposition's leadership structure are members of the Socialist International (SI). Popular Will, the party led by Leopoldo López before his arrest, belongs to the SI. López's colleagues often find it easier to lay the blame at Maduro's feet and call for elections, rather than demand a free, capitalist society, rebuilt from the ground up. Yet the students and street protesters, who have put their lives on pause to fight Maduro, seem to understand that the institutional rot goes way beyond Maduro. As one student put it to me: "Chávez succeeded in creating an equal society by making everyone poor." [bold added]The student at the end is correct, but how deeply does this understanding run, even in his case? One of the pictures from the article shows a demand for the release from prison of Leopoldo López. Certainly, there should be no such thing as political prisoners, but why him in particular? Are Venezuela's many serious and mounting problems caused by mere corruption or "institutional rot" -- or by socialism itself? The fact that people are risking life and limb by backing a socialist under such oppressive conditions tells me that the lesson being learned isn't that socialism is immoral and impractical, but that the current regime isn't implementing it properly. Even if many Venezuelans are blaming socialism for their problems, they will likely experience things getting worse before they will have a chance to try to make them better. The current regime has no interest in reform, and it will be replaced only after it collapses or is overthrown. Chaos will precede any attempt to change to a freer social system or, what I fear for them is more likely, a second chance for socialism. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Even in the "greener" countries of Europe -- where they are probably less impractical than they are in the U.S. -- electric car sales need to be propped up by the government. (Actually, as you will see, "hobbled less than for other cars" might be a better description than "propped up.") A story, mis-titled "Denmark Is Killing Tesla," revealsthat sales figures were helped by the fact that a tax levied against internal combustion cars wasn't being applied to electric ones: Denmark, a global leader in wind power whose own attempt at an electric car in the early 1980s famously flopped, used to be enthralled with them. Its bicycle-loving people bought 5,298 of them in 2015, more than double the amount sold that year in Italy, which has a population more than 10 times the size of Denmark's. However, it turns out that those phenomenal sales figures had as much to do with convenience as with environmental concerns: electric car dealers were for a long time spared the jaw-dropping import tax of 180 percent that Denmark applies on vehicles fueled by a traditional combustion engine. A graph within the article illustrates something like a 90% drop in sales after the start of a phase-out of a break on that 180 percent tax. Basically admitting its role in trashing that favored sector of the economy, the government has decided to delay the phase-out. (General prosperity doesn't seem to be a concern there since, as far as I know, nobody is floating the idea of abolishing the 180 percent (!) import tax on all cars.) The article ends quite ironically, with Laerke Flader, head of the Danish Electric Car Alliance, saying that his industry -- which owes its very existence to government meddling in the economy -- "doesn't want to invest in a market that may not be there next year. They'd rather invest where conditions are better and predictable long-term." -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Since becoming a parent, I have noticed a cultural phenomenon recently bloggedby Lenore Skenazy. She calls it "Using 'That's Not Safe' to Control Others," and quotes an Australian father extensively. For example, a professed concern for safety can be used to preempt discussion among adults: ... A toddler may complain about having to eat his green beans and asks, "WHY DO I HAVE TO EAT THEM"? The parent can respond with "BECAUSE I SAID SO THAT'S WHY"! However, an adult can't say this to another adult. They instead say, "I'M RIGHT BECAUSE MY WAY IS SAFER", or "WHAT YOU'RE DOING IS DANGEROUS"! [capitalization in original]I have personally been harassed by complete strangers on such a basis. And I would say that any parent who gives in is providing us with a prime example of what Ayn Rand called "sanction of the victim." I would guess that many, if not most parents push back because they know that they have weighed the risks and benefits of whatever they are doing. Unfortunately, the meddlesome often don't stop there. The above was just the first item of a list. The second is worrisome: Law enforcement and other people in authority are often manipulated to put such words into action, as happened when a parent was thrown out of a sports event because she hadn't dressed her children up like Arctic explorers. (Cold weather is a favorite excuse.) In one sense, this is nothing new. All kinds of things, from theft to censorshipare promoted by politicians "for the children." But these have usually been such measures as welfare programs or regulations that, while wrong, probably most people do not find intrusive on such a personal level. It disturbs me that so many people these days feel so comfortable attempting to boss others around personally. However, this kind of behavior doesn't go unnoticed, and that is a silver lining: Such intrusions represent an opportunity to speak up about the use of altruism as a blanket excuse to override the thinking of others. This behavior is becoming common, but it isn't going unnoticed and it isn't going over well, to say the least. This can be a golden opportunity, for just one example, to openly discuss the difference between altruism and actually caring for someone you love. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Four Things 1. Christian Pulisic seems well on his way to becoming America's first soccer superstar. A long article at Bleacher Report aims to impart his parents' wisdom to those interested in helping children develop their athletic talent. A big pro tip is to let them be kids: Christian also had no specialized training prior to joining U.S. Soccer's under-17 residency program as a 14-year-old. Before moving to Germany, his weight training consisted primarily of body-weight exercises like pushups and pullups. "I saw parents who after the games would allow their kids only fruit chips and water," Mark says. "I am all for teaching kids good nutrition, but if after a game Christian got handed a bag of Doritos, I wasn't the parent who ran over and said, 'Don't eat that.'" The lesson: Removing any semblance of freedom or joy from a kid's life leads to burnout more often than stardom.The contrasting case of Todd Marinovich comes to mind, and for good measure, the article explicitly draws the comparison as it debunks a story about his father pushing him to become equally comfortable with using either foot to control the ball. 2. A question about cleaning led me to discover a web site you may find useful, Unfuck Your Habitat, whose "about" page explains itself in part as follows: There's a weird sort of void in the "taking care of your physical surroundings" stuff, in the archaic "how to keep a home" and "how to be domestic" arenas. It tends to ignore single people, or people without kids, or students, or people with pets, or people with roommates, or people with full-time jobs, or classes, or other shit going on. It assumes everyone is married with kids and one partner is around a lot of the time, and has a lot of time to devote to "housekeeping."Yes, Rachel Hoffman is given to the playful use of profanity, which you may enjoy or have to overlook. With that out of the way, she gives good advice, such as the following: Take pictures! Your brain doesn't always "read" everything that's in a room when you look at it, but a picture will let you notice things you might have otherwise missed.I plan to use her moving advice in the future, too. 3. And, while I'm on the subject of advice columnists, I've been meaning to mention Jennifer Peepas, better known as "Captain Awkward" for some time. Her blog covers a gamut including "family, friendship, mental health, dating, [and] awkward workplace situations" for those she describes as "late bloomers." Rather than attempt to excerpt her, I'll simply link to a post that exemplifies how well she manages to capture every angle of a situation, help the reader understand how to think about it, offer some "scripts" to try (She's a screenwriter.), and make us laugh all at once. It's title? "Dance Class and Stranger-Sweat" or "How to Tell Someone They Are Stinky: A Review." It's long, but if you have time, do read all the way to the contrasting case study at the end in how not to deal with such a situation. Even when I disagree with Captain Awkward, I learn something. 4. Should I ever decide to make money directly from blogging, I'll first consult this paper, by the Nielsen Norman Group, on "The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques." Most useful for that purpose is the section dealing with positive comments pertaining to some ad types. "Right-Rail" (a type that also had, by far, the lowest percentage of negative comments) is an example: Right-rail and related links received a majority of positive comments. "I like ads that do not obstruct content. I can glance to the side and decide if I want to open but am annoyed when I don't have that choice." "I am fond of links to the side and at the end of my pages. I can't tell you why, but I like them and am much more likely to click on them and check them out than anywhere else." Allowing your visitors to retain control of their own browsers seems to be a great way to retain good will. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. A software developer writes of what he calls negative work, in the process of reminding me of a complaint about lateness I once discussed here. Here is that complaint, once again: 10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish [sic] prat who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted -- while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice? [minor edits]If you think that's bad -- and it is -- one Professor Beekums will make you think again: I once worked at a company where we were investigating a new way to integrate the work different developers had completed. The method we were using was taking us hours every time we needed to do it. At the time we did this twice a week. We were convinced the new method would have brought it down to minutes. However, one influential developer didn't like any kind of change and they were allowed to veto any forward progress. It took 6 months to finally go through with it at which point that developer had to be largely ignored. 4 hours * 2 times a week * 26 weeks = 208 hours wasted over 6 months Ouch. That is 5 weeks [sic] worth of working hours for a single person. Can you imagine if you just did nothing for 5 weeks? If those weeks were just a waste of your life? [bold in original] Beekums is discussing the amount of time, not all his own, that an inefficient or obstinate worker can cost an employer, but he's not done: That leads into the human cost of developers who do negative work. Most people want to feel a sense of accomplishment when going to work. They want to feel like their time was spent on something worthwhile. For developers that means delivering software that brings value. Wasted time prevents that. [bold added]That makes those three hours really look like small potatoes, and that's a shame. It can be useful to consider whether there are analogs to this phenomenon in one's own life outside of work. Is there something you do -- or someone who does something that affects you -- that you keep finding yourself having to recover from? Stopping the behavior, avoiding such a person, or finding ways to reduce the impact on your life can pay great dividends, as this example shows. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Making the rounds on the internet is a storyabout a junior software developer who, on his first day on the job, got fired after he accidentally destroyed his company's production database. Commenters at Reddit (above) Hacker Newscorrectly flayed the executive who fired this sadder-but-wiser employee. A comment at the latter does a good job of summarizing why firing this employee was a bad idea: Sorry, but if a junior dev can blow away your prod database by running a script on his _local_ dev environment while following your documentation, you have no one to blame but yourself. Why is your prod database even reachable from his local env? What does the rest of your security look like? Swiss cheese I bet. The CTO further demonstrates his ineptitude by firing the junior dev. Apparently he never heard the famous IBM story, and will surely live to repeat his mistakes: After an employee made a mistake that cost the company $10 million, he walked into the office of Tom Watson, the C.E.O., expecting to get fired. "Fire you?" Mr. Watson asked. "I just spent $10 million educating you." [italics in original]Indeed, as business writer Suzanne Lucas notes, it is the CTO who should have been fired for this incident. As it stands, he has harmed a former employee and his employer. And with the attitude towards learning and responsibility his actions demonstrate, if the CTO remains employed, he will continue to be a major, hidden liability of unknown size for his company. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. I am generally not a fan of debates about the competence of public officials. A big part of my objection is that such debates usually pretend that some ideological pointof viewis so commonsensical as not even to beideological. Furthermore, and particularly in the case of presidents, I have to agree with Francis Menton of the blog Manhattan Contrarian, when he notes: [A] President doesn't really need to know all that much. He has endless expert advisors, indeed far more advisors than any human being could have time to listen to. Far and away the most important thing he needs to do is avoid making major blunders that can do great harm to the American economy and the American people.So we have indicated the kind of competence the job of President requires. (Blame the mixed economy for the idea that we need to be a nation of Renaissance men just to vote or hold office.) Nevertheless, like Menton, I have been withholding judgement on Trump's competence, and like Menton, who analyzes the President's recent rejection of the Paris climate accord, I have to agree he passes this kind of test. Menton summarizes why he thinks so, and, with my usual reservations about cost-benefit analyses, I think he is correct to say the following: It is impossible to look at the Paris climate accord with any degree of scrutiny and conclude that a remotely competent American president could have anything to do with it. This conclusion applies irrespective of whatever you might think about whether "greenhouse gas" emissions are causing a problem or even a crisis for world climate. Even if you think that the climatic effect of human GHG emissions is an existential crisis facing the planet, it would still be completely incompetent for an American president to sign on to this particular agreement. [italics in original]To which I would add only, "... unless your objective was to sabotage the American economy or multiply opportunities for graft." I highly recommend reading the rest of Menton's analysis for your edification, whatever your opinion on climate change or of Trump. Before he announced his decision, I wasn't sure Trump would pull out. (I recall hearing that he has been known to accept input from advisors right up to the last second of making a decision, which sounds about right to me.) But after learning more about this accord, I have to agree that, not only is Trump competent, his heart is in the right place. That said, he has no clear political philosophy, so that remains a two-edged sword. Wanting to help, but not really knowing how can lead to doing more harm than good. But at least Trump made the right call on this one. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. A wise man once spoke to me regarding an issue that had clearly gotten under my skin. "Let it go," he said. I wasn't in the right place then to listen to him, but he probably knew I'd hear him later, and I eventually did. It can be easy to become upset at, say, Californians who vote themselves into poverty and then move to other states, where their voting patterns remain the same. Or, as I once did, at communists who fled their dictatorial countries -- only to preach communism in the West. Or, more recently, Moslems who flee their perpetually war-torn, oppressive, stifling homelands, and yet remain devout.* Do none of such people even have an inkling that, perhaps, the situations they are trying to address might be the consequences of ideas -- which they share -- in the dominant culture of the place where things went so wrong for them? Does it never occur to them to examine those ideas? In the cases of refugees, do none wonder why these rednecks/consumerists/infidels/[or fill in some other stereotype here] have things so much better, or at least better enough to be worth putting up with for the rest of the refugees' lives? Some do, but most don't. And it is a grave injustice to those few -- and to oneself -- to spend too much time or emotional energy on the fact that they don't or won't follow that path of inquiry. Doing this can cause one to forget that it is a difficult path to follow. It can also cause one say or do something that alienates decent people, on top of wasting time, or missing out on a chance to learn something. This is not to say that one should pretend the anger or frustration does not exist. If the idea of, say, being called a racist by a racist causes more than what seems like an appropriate reaction, it might be useful to think about why. What premises do you hold that cause the emotions? Even if it takes lots of time find the answer, you might be surprised, and profit greatly from the process. I think most of the man-made problems in the world today are caused by the related (and very common) ideas that our lives do not belong to ourselves (and so must be surrendered to some "other", be it the needy, or someone's idea of a deity, or inanimate nature); and that government exists to force everyone to behave on such a premise. To allow oneself to be engulfed in anger by such ideas, as monstrous as they are, is to allow whatever remnants of them exist in your soul to cripple you, and to keep you from living the kind of life that remains possible to you. Keep rowing the boat, sure, but don't forget reverence for your own soul. Impatience with others can, ironically, lead to a kind of dereliction of the self. -- CAV *Conservatives who want to "drain the swamp," and then elect a crony as President are, in many cases doing something similar. Link to Original