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Gus Van Horn blog last won the day on May 15 2018

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  1. Four Things And when to break them. (Image by geralt, via Pixabay (license)).1. From the Paris Review come three writing rules to disregard, by Benjamin Dryer of Random House. Perhaps because I never put much stock in any of these, I was amused by the following famous counterexample by Winston Churchill: This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.In addition to Never end a sentence with a preposition, Dryer dispatches rules on split infinitives and starting sentences with and or but. 2. A new version of the Firefox browser will start blocking automatically playing audio and video. I can't greet the news any better than the following, from a comment from Hacker News (and agree that they didn't go far enough): It's frustrating seeing video everywhere when you're just trying to read an article. If I wanted video, I'd turn on my TV.Because autoplaying media I am not interested in is ubiquitous, I bought a head jack switch years ago simply because it made it easier to mute my computer at writing time during the wee hours, for when I forgot to disable audio the day before. 3. Here's a funny sign of the times: a font designed to help college students pad essays with a page length requirement. 4. Venture capitalist and computer programmer Paul Graham, in the process of explaining why his adaptive spam filtering technique would drive up costs for spammers: The reason the spammers use the kinds of sales pitches that they do is to increase response rates. This is possibly even more disgusting than getting inside the mind of a spammer, but let's take a quick look inside the mind of someone who responds to a spam. This person is either astonishingly credulous or deeply in denial about their sexual interests. In either case, repulsive or idiotic as the spam seems to us, it is exciting to them. The spammers wouldn't say these things if they didn't sound exciting. And "thought you should check out the following" is just not going to have nearly the pull with the spam recipient as the kinds of things that spammers say now. Result: if it can't contain exciting sales pitches, spam becomes less effective as a marketing vehicle, and fewer businesses want to use it.After reading this -- which is worthwhile because it is a great example of someone explaining a difficult problem in a straightforward manner -- it amazes me that anyone still sends spam. Of course, it amazed me a couple of decades ago when my inboxes would get flooded with it. They don't now, though, and I suspect Graham's work was a big part of why. Indeed, I see spam in one of my inboxes about once every few months. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. It is good to see someone prominent answer -- albeit indirectly -- the frequent assertion by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that she is morally right. Walter Williams reflects on what Frederic Bastiat, a French economist who greatly admired America, might think of our country today. Williams first notes Bastiat's clear thinking on the matter of detecting legalized theft: He said: "See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime."Williams then notes how far we have fallen: Image of Bastiat via Wikipedia (public domain).What then should we call it when two-thirds to three-quarters of a $4 trillion-plus federal budget can be described as Congress taking the property of one American and giving it to another to whom it does not belong? Where do you think Congress gets the billions upon billions of dollars for business and farmer handouts? What about the billions handed out for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing allowances and thousands of other handouts? There's no Santa Claus or tooth fairy giving Congress the money, and members of Congress are not spending their own money. The only way Congress can give one American $1 is to first take it from another American. What if I privately took the property of one American to give to another American to help him out? I'm guessing and hoping you'd call it theft and seek to jail me. When Congress does the same thing, it's still theft. The only difference is that it's legalized theft. However, legality alone does not establish morality. Slavery was legal; was it moral? Nazi, Stalinist and Maoist purges were legal, but were they moral? We are in bad shape now, in terms of how common plunder is. But this pales in comparison to the "Green New Deal" this congresswoman recently proposed. The Boston Herald tries to puts a number on what that would entail: Taxing the rich won't come close to covering the costs of the Green New Deal, which includes a bunch of socialist policies that have nothing to do with climate change. Manhattan Institute budget expert Brian Riedl has calculated the 10-year costs using liberal and nonpartisan sources. The results are stunning: $32 trillion for a single-payer health care plan; $6.8 trillion for a government jobs guarantee; $2 trillion for education, medical leave, job training and retirement security; and between $5 trillion and $40 trillion to fund universal basic income to support those who are "unwilling" to work. (The final price depends on how "universal" it is.) Grand total? Between $46 trillion and $81 trillion.It is true that this would leave us destitute, but many observers argue that any smaller move in that direction would look acceptable by comparison, and that this may be the point. But theft is wrong be it of a penny or a fortune, no matter who does it. The Green New Deal is a wake-up call, but not of the kind the self-proclaimed socialist says it is. Our country has become so accustomed to legalized theft that we will spend the foreseeable future discussing how much of it we will have to endure -- until and unless we challenge the all-too-often unquestioned assumption that it is okay for the government to steal from private citizens. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. Computer security Bruce Schneier wrote some time ago about how easy it can be to accuse others of misjudging risks, even though most people actually have a good intuition about risk: You may have excellent mountaineering advice, but I can safely ignore it. (Image by aatlas, via Pixabay, license). This struck me as I listened to yet another conference presenter complaining about security awareness training. He was talking about the difficulty of getting employees at his company to actually follow his security policies... "We have to make people understand the risks," he said. It seems to me that his co-workers understand the risks better than he does. They know what the real risks are at work, and that they all revolve around not getting the job done. Those risks are real and tangible, and employees feel them all the time. The risks of not following security procedures are much less real. Maybe the employee will get caught, but probably not. And even if he does get caught, the penalties aren't serious. Given this accurate risk analysis, any rational employee will regularly circumvent security to get his or her job done. That's what the company rewards, and that's what the company actually wants. "Fire someone who breaks security procedure, quickly and publicly," I suggested to the presenter. "That'll increase security awareness faster than any of your posters or lectures or newsletters." If the risks are real, people will get it.Coming across this post again after listening to one of Alex Epstein's podcasts on human flourishing provoked my mind to make an interesting connection. (I don't specifically recall which one(s) this was -- my time for listening is currently limited mostly to time I set aside for running errands around town.) One of Epstein's major themes is how to evaluate the many claims to knowledge that one encounters, and two obstacles that he has named to doing so are (a) experts don't explain things well, and (b) the importance of many such claims are exaggerated. Here, we have an expert quite possibly not being clear enough about an explanation (about, to be fair, a topic that is difficult to begin with) addressing an audience jaded by lots of bad and or over-hyped security advice. Schneier's advice cuts through both problems, and he ends his post by basically advising computer security professionals to be sure they understand risk from their audience's perspective before giving their recommendations. This is good communications advice, but it can also be turned around and made into good thinking advice regarding claims to new knowledge one encounters. As with any claim, one should try to evaluate it as knowledge by asking oneself how well it integrates (or doesn't) with the rest of one's knowledge. But, assuming the claim is knowledge, how urgent is acting on it? That depends on integrating it within the full context of the rest of one's values. It can be easy to get carried away with new knowledge and forget to do this -- to assess one's own risk of not applying the knowledge. (The most obvious costs of unnecessarily acting on new knowledge are wasted time and effort.) If your primary use of a pen drive is to transfer music or video files between a couple of devices you own, the urgency of encrypting the data is probably zero -- if you work in a nuclear power plant, and use one at all, it is almost certainly for work, and you probably should be fired for it not being encrypted. With any claim to knowledge, one faces two questions: (1) Is it true? and (2) How important is it? -- CAVLink to Original
  4. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. -- Narcotics Anonymous The folks over at 99% Invisible have fallen into the above-mentioned trap regarding the folly of post-1970's recycling, in an interesting piece about a documentary that may have led to China's recent ban on imports of foreign "recyclables." The film, Plastic China, portrays the squalor of some of the modern rag-pickers this craze has produced: Image via Wikipedia. The movie provides a grim look at the actual process of breaking down materials, in an informal recycling facility. It shows the families cutting up plastic, melting, soaking it and turning it into a sludge -- then turning it into hardened pellets. The little girl washes her face in the gray plastic-polluted water and eats fish that have choked on bits of plastic. They live and work (and eat and sleep) near a plastic-shredding machine, inhaling dust and microparticles that are byproducts of the process. The whole village is enveloped in plastic detritus.At the intersection of our current technology levels and the value of these materials to the furtherance of human life (i.e., the lack thereof), this is exactly what saving everything we possibly can takes. The mask of respectability of recycling has finally been tugged at. Hooray! But recycling is only one person in the unholy trinity still being worshiped at 99 Percent Invisible: Somewhere along the way, key parts of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra got lost. We have lost track of reducing and reusing. Single-use products including straws, bags, cups and bottles are a big part of the problem, as are items made of multiple different materials (particularly ones that are hard to pull back apart, like toothpaste tubes).And so, predictably, just as one nation is stepping back from the abyss of wasted time that is modern recycling, they call for us to double down on the folly by doing more of the grunt work of recycling here and wasting even more money and effort kowtowing to the other two. They -- and we -- would do well instead to consider the work of John Tierney, who also notes that some of the packaging we're supposed to "reduce" keeps food from spoiling, among other things. But I am getting ahead of myself, and I must first give the angels of 99 Percent Invisible their due, so to speak. I heartily agree with the conclusion of this article: In the end, Operation National Sword Could be a wake-up call. But only if producers, consumers, and governments tune in and listen.It is, but not in the narrow sense of saving a mantra at all costs. As I noted early last year, "around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world." It's time to ask ourselves the same question the Chinese seem to have asked themselves when they saw a poor girl's life being wasted and degraded by this barbaric rite of slow human sacrifice: Why should we recycle? This is an important question, and the quality of your life depends on it. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. National Review is no friend of Ayn Rand, as amply demonstrated first by its infamous non-review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers and confirmed by the fact that it stands by same decades later. As I argued ages ago, this tells us much more about that publication than it does about Rand: "A Strangely Important Figure." It is the adverb in the title which is important, for it suggests at the same time that it is odd for Rand to have achieved prominence, that she is an oddball, and that Rand's nonconformity somehow makes it implausible that she is important at all. That is basically the whole point of the article and of everything I have ever seen about Rand in National Review. Ayn Rand once compared National Review unfavorably to Christian Science Monitor because the latter admits that it is a Christian publication rather than posing as a secular one... [bold added]I explored this infatuation with conformity at some length and concluded in part about its author: This is a man who is out of ideas throwing everything but the kitchen sink (or, for that matter, an actual counterargument) at an intellectual giant. Aside from what I trudged through at length, there's a silly Freudian quip about a scene in one of the novels, there's the usual charge that her circle was a cult, and even a snide comment about how Rand looked. What a gentleman! Every kind of cheap-shot imaginable occurs in this typewritten sneer. The kind of readers who accept such lame substitutes for arguments are the kind who, ultimately, really don't make much of a difference in the world. The kind of readers who do care about ideas will think for themselves and eventually see through the hokum. They'll judge what Rand had to say on its own merits. Who knows? A few may even learn about her for the very first time because of this article. (Something like that drew my attention to Rand for the first time.) Her eloquent voice will still be heard and will still win their minds.Kevin Williamson hardly goes to such lengths, but his take on the recently-killed California bullet train is similarly unjust regarding Rand. That he bizarrely includes the false and gratuitous smear of Ayn Rand as a "utopian" shows -- at best -- that he is either incredibly sloppy or hates Rand to the point he can't see straight: Image of first page of utopian document via Wikipedia (public domain).The fundamental progressive idea is central planning. In the progressive imagination, society is a puzzle to be solved, a grand Rubik's Cube that can be adjusted and readjusted and experimented with until -- perfection! The progressive looks at society the same way a child looks at a model railroad set or an ant farm -- which is to say, from a point of view that is effectively godlike. Human beings, their families, their desires, their pleasures, their dreams, their businesses, their associations, their communities -- all of these are only chessmen to be moved around in pursuit of utopia. A car can go basically anywhere its driver wants. A train can go only where the central planners have preordained. It is for this reason that trains have long been at the center of the progressive vision. And not only the progressive vision: Such modern utopians as Ayn Rand find in the railroad the model of the kind of society they desire: a society that is designed, that proceeds according to plan. Whose plan? Preferably one of their own, of course, but they'll get on board for almost any old plan if the alternative is no plan at all. [bold added]Think about the bolded sentence for a moment in light of the fact that an important point Rand makes in the novel is that central planning can't and shouldn't run a even railroad, much less society at large. When called on his lumping together of Rand with her ideological opposites on the left, all of whom he calls "utopians," his feeble defense is basically more of the same: Her most famous book is a novel about the formation of an ideal community, the thrust of which would have been familiar in Oneida or Arden, even if the politics were different.No. The book doesn't end with the chapter on the "Utopia of Greed," but with the men who went on strike returning to rebuild America, including the following lessening of government control over the economy: The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade ... " (Atlas Shrugged, p. 1073)If by utopian, Williamson means "dictating how others are to live," he is plainly wrong about Rand. If by utopian, he means "thinking deliberately about how men should organize as a society," perhaps he should admit that he has big problems with the fact that the founding fathers and Ayn Rand did so at all. And if by utopian, he means that Rand asserts that there is a way of life proper to man, he should come clean about why he has a problem with Rand doing so, but not one with other philosophers or with religion. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Blog Roundup 1. At his web site, Objectivist journalist Peter Schwartz has published a lengthy email exchange between himself and Robert Levy of the Cato Institute regarding its tacit anarchism. The following, from Schwartz, cuts to the core of the problem he addresses and comes from a forum post (by himself) that he quotes in full just before the exchange: This anti-state attitude is why Cato has as its slogan, "Individual Liberty, Free Markets and Peace." The first two are absolute values; the third isn't. The refusal to wage war is not a virtue if we face foreign threats to our freedom. A genuine advocate of individual liberty would not hold "peace" as a fundamental principle. But an anarchist -- whether overt or covert -- would.In addition, I thought the following analogy was particularly good: When the Democratic Party declares, for example, that it supports "single-payer" medical care (along with many of its other statist measures), that is a tacit endorsement of the principle of socialism. It doesn't matter that the Party nominally declares itself to be in disagreement with socialism. The logic of its premises leads to socialism and to the acceptance of socialists as allies in achieving its political goals.I agree that that the Cato Institute should explicitly disavow anarchism. 2. At the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips exposes a double standard in wide use among "fair housing" advocates: Image via Wikipedia (public domain).Housing advocates don't like how some landlords choose to use/trade their property. And so they seek to force landlords to act as the advocates believe best. They think that many landlords judge tenants based solely on the fact that they hold a Section 8 voucher. But those same advocates judge landlords based solely on their refusal to accept those vouchers. The reasons for that refusal are largely irrelevant. It is irrational for a landlord to judge a tenant solely on the basis of holding a voucher. It is equally irrational for housing advocates to judge landlords solely on their refusal to accept vouchers. If housing advocates truly want to advance their cause, they would quit calling the kettle black.This might be helpful to remember down the road as the upcoming presidential election starts heating up: I know of at least one candidate, Julian Castro, who falls into that category. 3. At New Ideal, the blog of the Ayn Rand Institute, Elan Journo discusses "Trivializing the Islamist Menace," whether it be by focusing on mass-casualty attacks or dismissing the Islamist threat as overblown: The wider lesson is twofold. First, this assault on the principle of freedom of speech is an integral feature of the Islamist threat, reflecting the essentially ideas-driven nature of the enemy. Second, it's a serious error to assess the scale of the Islamist threat solely, or even primarily, in terms of mass-casualty attacks, which are difficult to carry out. Doing so misses the full context. Islamists have managed to advance their agenda in several ways that have impacted our society.Journo correctly notes that the effectiveness of our enemy is due primarily to our allowing it to become effective. The two incorrect ways of thinking about that threat go a long way in explaining why we have. 4. In the interests of comic relief, and as a potential resource to fellow travelers interested in a constructive discussion of immigration, I offer a lengthy post at Selfish Citizenship: In future, both you and I can save time related to [this] trolling by replying ... with a link to this post. You're welcome.Thanks. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. John Stossel writes of one Cade Summers, who floundered in public school and -- like one in five school-aged boys -- ended up on medications to help him pay attention. This was ineffective, as was trying several different schools: He hated all of them. Then his parents sent him to a private school with an entrepreneurial focus, where the prospect of making money completely changed Summers's attitude. The end of the piece is especially thought-provoking: This is easier and comes more naturally when there are values at stake. (Image by Wokandapix, via Pixabay (license).)[Academy of Thought and Industry founder Michael] Strong is proud of students like Summers who flourish at Thought and Industry after struggling at regular schools. He described one who, in New Jersey's public schools, "needed a full-time aide. He was costing the state an enormous amount of money. He came to our school, he did not need an aide." It's true. We interviewed that student. He told us: "In middle school, elementary school, I was incredibly socially isolated... Coming here is just healing." The key for him, and many, was following his own interests, rather than following orders. That's what motivated Cade Summers to get up at 3 a.m. to work in that coffee shop. "It was me choosing my life," he says. The school, which is primarily for children of high school age, reminds me a little of Van Damme Academy (which serves younger children and has a very different focus). The similarity lies in an active attempt to engage the student's interest while respecting and promoting their independent judgement. The philosopher and energy activist Alex Epstein has called the latter "the school the world needs to know about." I agree, but perhaps this school is another. -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Mike Palicz of Americans for Tax Reform warns of recent threats to the Federal Reserve issued by a gang of Democratic Senators that includes several presidential candidates. The threats come in the form of a letter "suggesting" the Fed manipulate interest rates in favor of "green" industries: The scary part is that they don't really believe this can work. (Image by nattanan23 via Pixabay (license).)Green investment, which purposefully favors lower-carbon emission investment, is inherently at odds with financial regulators' main goal of ensuring financial stability. Under this scheme, bank loans to companies producing renewable energy would receive a lower risk assessment than under a neutral regime simply for being "green" and favored by Democrats. Conversely, loans to companies producing traditional forms of energy such as oil and coal would be given artificially higher risk weights. This would incentivize banks to load up on green assets they wouldn't otherwise take on, creating an unstable lending environment. Palicz correctly notes that such economy-wide incentives to assume high-risk loans is a similar recipe to the one that caused the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.It is bad enough that we have a central bank at all. It is worse that politicians are quite happy to mis-use it in a way that can so obviously lead to disaster. -- CAVLink to Original
  9. An "anarcho-capitalist" calling himself John Galton -- in imitation of the hero of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- recently met a violent end in Acapulco. Unfortunately, a piece about the incident in the Daily Beast completely misses the significance of the story, starting with the headline: "John Galton Wanted Libertarian Paradise in 'Anarchapulco.' He Got Bullets Instead." As is too often the case these days, the person covering the story is about as unclear about the difference between anarchy and capitalism as this murder victim tragically was: Nice, but no capitalist paradise. (Image by n3otr3x, via Pixabay (license).)Anarcho-capitalists ("ancaps") believe in dismantling the state and allowing unchecked [sic] capitalism to govern the world in its place. Even within the small anarchist world, ancaps are fringe. Anarchists typically describe their movement as inherently anti-capitalist. Their philosophy describes anarchy as the rejection of hierarchical structures, which they say capitalism enforces. Anarcho-capitalists, meanwhile, see money as a liberating force. They promote a variety of libertarian causes like using cryptocurrency, legalizing all drugs, and privatizing all public institutions like courts and roads. The movement reveres the novelist Ayn Rand, whose work outlines a philosophy of radical selfishness and individualism. Her best-known character, an idealized capitalist named John Galt, appears to have inspired Galton's name.As Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger once succinctly argued, Ayn Rand actually rejected anarchy for good reason, and maintained that government -- properly limited in scope to the protection of individual rights -- is necessary for capitalism. Binswanger starts off by indicating the fundamental error in the "anarcho-capitalist" position: As it says next to my picture, I defend laissez-faire capitalism. "Anti-government" is the term Leftists use to smear this position. And, amazingly, some calling themselves "libertarians" are indeed anti-government across the board; they argue for what they call "anarcho-capitalism." "Free competition works so well for everything else," these anarchists say, "why not for governmental services, too?" But that argument comes from an anti-capitalist premise. Like the Marxists, who prate about "exploitation" and "wage slavery," the anarchists are ignoring the crucial, fundamental, life-and-death difference between trade and force.Binswanger elaborates on this far better than I can, and deserves to be read in full. But I would be remiss not to mention his later thought experiment regarding what the anarcho-capitalist position means when put into practice: The attempt to invoke individual rights to justify "competing" with the government collapses at the first attempt to concretize what it would mean in reality. Picture a band of strangers marching down Main Street, submachine guns at the ready. When confronted by the police, the leader of the band announces: "Me and the boys are only here to see that justice is done, so you have no right to interfere with us." According to the anarchists, in such a confrontation the police are morally bound to withdraw, on pain of betraying the rights of self-defense and free trade. ... Bear in mind that, in fact, those who would be granted the right to enforce their own notions of justice include Leftists who consider government intervention in the economy to be retaliation against business activities that the leftists claim is "economic force." It would include Palestinian terrorists who claim that random slaughter is "retaliation" against "Zionist imperialism." It would include those who hold abortion to be murder and bomb abortion clinics as "retaliation" in defense of the "rights" of the unborn, and Islamists who clamor to let "Sharia law" operate within Western nations.So, no, John Galton did not get bullets "instead" of his big-L Libertarian (and, in fact, non-capitalist utopia): He got the bullets that come with it. May his tragic end move others (and not just anarchists) to a more deliberate consideration of the nature and purpose of government. It is not capitalism that needs to be kept in check, but the ability of men to initiate force in violation of the rights of each other. In anarchism, it is easier for individuals and small gangs to do this. But in many other social systems, such as we see now in Venezuela, unchecked government acts like an organized crime syndicate. (It does to a lesser degree in our mixed economy, which is inherently prone to becoming more government-controlled over time and so is not truly an alternative.) Anarchy and dictatorship are not opposites in that respect, but two sides of the same coin. Their opposite, capitalism, which includes underappreciated and necessary checks on government power, is not to blame here. Indeed, were actual capitalism truly "unchecked" here or in Acapulco, this man might not have been a fugitive from the law in the first place. And, be it because the United States was freer or Acapulco not a pocket of near-anarchy, he could well have been alive today. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. A slick new script I recently wrote can slurp the entirety of my Pinboard account into an org-mode file, enabling me to really quickly scan through whatever I want by tag. (This is useful for heavily-populated tags, and it also generally makes importing data much easier for my purposes than cut-and-paste.) Testing it, I took a quick skim of a years-old backlog of things I had tagged as blogworthy. And so the title of a short Susannah Breslin piece from 2012 caught my eye. In "Why You Shouldn't Be a Writer," Breslin gives three very discouraging-sounding reasons to abandon the craft. I'll list the "tips" below, but you'll have to click through for the elaborations: You're not good at it. It's too hard. It's too hard to monetize. Image by aldryano, via Pixabay (license).My initial reaction to the list was something like this: (A) Any or all of these -- especially the third -- are likely true for any given writer. Regarding the third, I see too many writers whose level of success most of us only aspire to ... giving courses on "how to be a writer" with the implied standard of success being that they make a living as writers. If that isn't proof that financial success as a writer is a pipe dream, I don't know what is; and (B) I enjoy writing, so I will keep doing it, anyway. But is that part about it being hard to monetize really true? Breslin's point is clearly to make us think about what it means to be a writer, and too many people never get past fantasizing about being one. Wouldn't it be great to hole up in a cabin somewhere and write the next Great American Novel? That sounds too much like a vacation, as do too many other popular conceptions about what it means to "be a writer." Writing decent material is hard, but the work neither begins nor ends there. Finding an audience is hard, and a paying one harder. Publicity is hard. And, yes, just sales of the writing will still unlikely be enough to replace a paying job. But if the process of producing content isn't a vacation, then making a living as a writer isn't winning the lottery. The lecturing writers and the folks whose work is related to their writing aren't really failing to support themselves as writers: They do so to greater or lesser degrees, depending on how well-integrated into their work life their writing is. To be "a writer" isn't some platonic status separate from the rest of existence. I hear that even J.K. Rowling, Ayn Rand, and Brandon Sanderson still had forgo writing to eat three meals a day, to sleep, or blow their noses even after they found success. And all had to deal with the nitty-gritty details of getting their works published and then publicizing it. Each had to take work in regular occupations to support their writing along the way. Writing, like many other activities (brewing beer comes to mind), can range anywhere from a hobby to a full-time occupation, but the latter involves many activities that aren't exactly holing up in a cabin somewhere to write -- not that that isn't work, anyway. Perhaps Breslin's point is something along the lines of, "If you think of writing as some combination of winning a lottery and going on a permanent vacation, look elsewhere." -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Notable Commentary Image by PaweĊ‚ Zdziarski, via Wikipedia (license)."Those who cite supply-and-demand charts would benefit from paying attention to both curves, not just one." -- Stuart Hayashi, in "Immigrants Don't Depress Wages" at Arc Digital. "Without these life-giving technologies two hundred years ago, I might have suffered frostbite or died on a day like today." -- Raymond Niles, in "If You Are Warm Right Now, Thank Capitalism" at AIER. "If [vaccine hesitancy] continues to spread unchallenged, it will be a willful, self-inflicted threat to human life." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Today's Skepticism of Vaccines Could Be as Big of a Health Threat as HIV" at USA Today. "[T]he information on Google may be inaccurate or unreliable." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Should Doctors Google Their Patients?" at Forbes. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. Within a column about the ongoing the Ralph Northam debacle in Virginia comes a gem by Walter Williams: Which one is the Democrat? Does it really matter? (Image by East Virginia Medical School, via Wikipedia.)Keeping blacks blind to the folly of unquestioned support for the Democratic Party by keeping blacks fearful, angry and resentful and painting the Republican Party as racist is vital. Democrats never want blacks to seriously ask questions about what the party has done for them. Here are some facts. The nation's most troublesome and dangerous cities -- Indianapolis, Stockton, Oakland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Kansas City, Baltimore, Memphis, St. Louis and Detroit -- have been run by Democrats, often black Democrats, for nearly a half-century. These and other Democratic-run cities are where blacks suffer the highest murder rates and their youngsters attend the poorest-performing and most unsafe schools.I rarely say this of Williams, but he doesn't go far enough. To see what I mean, read on. The writer at The American Spectator quotes Williams in partial support of his contention -- with which I agree -- that the Democratic Party uses race quite cynically today, and that its policies are harmful to everyone, especially blacks. But shortly afterwards, George Neumayr notes similarities between Republican immigration policies (with which I disagree) and those of several Democrats. The similarity hardly ends there, as Republicans have for decades been inadequate opponents of the Democrats, failing to oppose their policies on moral grounds, being "Democrats lite", or even adopting their bad policies. Case in point: With ample evidence of the failure of government schools, for example, did Republicans lay the groundwork for privatization when there was momentum for something like that? No. Instead, they pushed for vouchers, which could have been a good first step -- but which it soon became apparent was just a way to let churches get at the government trough. (Trump's recent voucher proposal, absent a broader context of getting the government out of education, is a prime example.) Threats to religious freedom aside, vouchers alone are a fascistic "solution" to the problem of socialism, which ignores the real alternative: capitalism. Ralph Northam may show that Democrats are all hat and no cattle... Scratch that: He shows them to be cattle rustlers. But the fact that Northam won the governorship of Virginia is not, as some have suggested, merely due to inadequate opposition research. It's because the Republicans are not substantially different overall than the Democrats. This is why mere race-baiting can win elections. But real contests with decent, actual alternatives aren't going to happen until many more of us -- not just blacks and not just Democrats -- start asking ourselves why we're delivering so much power over our lives and well-being to politicians, pretty much all of whom we should regard with suspicion. The fact that the top three rungs of Virginia's gubernatorial line of succession are inhabited by men of questionable character should make all of us think about that. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. Back in grad school, we joked that PhD was an abbreviation for the sentiment expressed in the above title, but the joke was on lots of us. Around that time, articles like this one in Nature were all over the place. They covered folks with terminal degrees who took non-traditional career paths, for various reasons related to the fact that too many had trained for too few positions. This piece covers the surprising (to some) fact that often, it's not the low achievers who are crowded out, but the better prospects who decide to leave. Here is an excerpt from a section called, "From chemist to capitalist": Image via Pixabay.[Soroosh] Shambayati is among the hundreds of thousands of scientists who train in academia but then leave to follow a different career. According to the latest survey of doctorate recipients conducted by the US National Science Foundation, nearly one-fifth of employed people with science and engineering PhDs were no longer working in science in 2010. This is partly due to a lack of room at the top. In the United States, the number of PhDs entering the workforce has skyrocketed but the number of stable academic jobs has not. In 1973, nearly 90% of US PhDs working in academia held full-time faculty positions, compared with about 75% in 2010. [bold added]It is interesting to contemplate several things in addition to the values each of the three subjects considered in making their decisions. Many cite their science training as factors in their success, but what if each had started his or her ultimate career earlier, either training in it or, in the case of the stay-at-home dad, being able to move on earlier? And on top of that, there is the fact that each studies science either at the wrong time or instead of something else. Much of the PhD glut is due to central "planning" in the form of government funding of training and research in the sciences. How many people have wasted time or effort due to such encouragement? This isn't just an insult added to the injury caused by taking the funds by force in the first place. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Altruism. Over at Jewish World Review appears a short editorial by none other than former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is testing the waters for an independent presidential candidacy. Within, Schultz engagingly tells of an encounter with a frail-looking rabbi who puts a whole room of businessmen (Schultz included) on the spot by asking them about the meaning of the Holocaust. After dismissing a couple of answers from his unprepared guests, the rabbi lays the groundwork for his answer as follows: Image via Wikipedia."After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep. "As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'" And Rabbi [Noson Tzvi] Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."I have no idea what I would do in that situation (and hope I never do). But giving the blanket away seems like the only way left one could have defied one's captors or affirmed a love of life. That said, I can't accept the rabbi's lesson: [W]ith that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."At best, this is an admonition to remember the best within oneself, but couched in altruism, the ethical code of every religion and our cultural default. So this might sound good to most people, but where is the actual guidance? At worst, it is an attempt to make the dangerous idea of self-sacrifice seem like an ideal. The businessmen who answered before the rabbi were actually closer to the truth: Never forget this atrocity, and do what one can to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. Why do I say this? Because the holocaust was not a normal situation, and it is a grave (but extremely common) error to treat emergency situations like a normal framework for thinking about ethics. Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, known for upholding egoism, considers the error in part as follows: By "normal" conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue. By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish. It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save... The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others. ("The Ethics of Emergencies," in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 47)To be clear, I am hardly equating the atrocity that was the Holocaust with a natural emergency. It was, for its victims, a man-made emergency. This means that we can, unlike an for earthquake, do something to prevent another. But this requires careful thinking. While we can admire or even find inspiration in the actions of its victims, this makes understanding how its perpetrators came to power of vital importance. Indeed, as Leonard Peikoff comprehensively demonstrates in The Ominous Parallels, the Nazis came to power via popular vote motivated by the ideas of altruism and collectivism. This rabbi, as well as Howard Schultz, however laudable their intent might be, are giving altruism an undeserved respectability. They might plead that self-sacrifice is somehow better than sacrificing others, but I disagree. There is a real alternative to human sacrifice of every kind, but it lies in another quotation, also from Ayn Rand: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." -- CAV Link to Original
  15. After reading this analysis in the Guardian, I was confident of a New England victory in yesterday's Super Bowl. The below encapsulates why Bill Belichick has been successful for so long in general, and hints at how the game was going to play out: MVP Julian Edelman scored the game's only touchdown. (Image by Jeffrey Beall, via Wikipedia.)The head coach's ability to zig while others zag has kept New England ahead of every team in the league for 18 years, and led to a mindboggling period of sustained success that should be impossible in a league that is designed for parity through a salary cap and draft system. Belichick's genius lies in his refusal to wed himself to one overriding philosophy. He's a shape-shifter, constantly evolving his team's style -- and that flexibility has been on show this season. As modern schemes have expanded the field and the focus has been on the dominance of quarterbacks and smaller, more mobile defensive players, Belichick has returned to an old-school, power running system. According to a recent study, New England are the third-heaviest team in the league. And that's by design. Belichick, an economics major, is constantly looking to find market inefficiencies to exploit. He has had great success with quirky schematic innovations, but, for the most part, he takes tried and tested methods and adopts them. [bold added, links omitted]That said, I was hardly expecting the defensive masterpiece on display, which one of Belichick's assistants delivered. I figured on a close game, possibly with the Rams leading early, but getting worn down over the course of the game. Instead, we got this: The Patriots only allowed two first downs in the first half, and Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed just 50 percent of his passes for 229 yards and a championship-sealing interception to Stephon Gilmore with 4:17 remaining. Using several exotic blitz packages and stunts up front, which allowed the secondary to take some risks in coverage, [Patriots defensive coordinator Brian] Flores had Rams quarterback Jared Goff dazed and confused all night. "They have done a good job with that," [Rams Coach Sean] McVay said. "Third down, they had their designers and things like that. They did a great job. It was a great game plan. There is no other way to say it, but I got out-coached." [bold added]Today, Flores will deservedly move on to a head coaching job in Miami. As for Belichick and the Patriots, it will be interesting to see what they come up with next. -- CAV Link to Original