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  1. Over at the web site of The Energy Law Journal is a reply(PDF, from Vol. 37, No. 3) by energy advocate Alex Epstein to a non-review of his best-selling book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (MCFF). The piece is not a point-by-point rebuttal, because, "Such a rebuttal would require that her criticisms and arguments were of the actual content of the book; they overwhelmingly were not." I would add that such a reply would also be a waste of his and his readers' time. Epstein does much better than that: He takes the opportunity afforded by Harvard's Jody Freeman to introduce readers to his book for the first time, by explaining his overall approach -- and then demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt that, whatever Freeman was talking about, it wasn't his book. The latter Epstein does by comparing several passages from Freeman's "review" with passages from the book that contradict them. In the process of doing these two things, I think Epstein will (1) encourage any honest, curious reader to consider his book, and (2) help other fossil fuel advocates anticipate the kinds of evasive, context-dropping, and dismissive attacks they will likely encounter. For the second group of readers, this will be a good refresher. I recommend reading the whole thing, but will provide a couple of excerpts below. On his overall approach to the question of fossil fuel use, Epstein writes: In 2007, as a philosopher analyzing popular thinking on numerous cultural, industrial, and political issues, I concluded that popular thinking and discussion about energy and its associated environmental issues was severely flawed. For example, logic dictates that when analyzing any course of action we carefully consider both the positives and negatives of all our alternatives. Yet in popular discussion only the negatives of fossil fuels were considered, while the negatives of "green" sources of energy were all but ignored. ... In MCFF, I argue that we have to learn to think clearly and precisely about fossil fuels. Specifically, I highlight three key thinking methods we need to follow:Be clear on our standard of value: is our goal to maximize human flourishing or minimize human impact? Think big picture: look precisely at the positives and negatives of all the alternatives. Use experts as advisers, not authorities: demand clear explanations from experts of what they know, what they don't know, and how they know it -- and use that information to form our own big picture assessment of the best way to promote human flourishing. These methods are present in every chapter of the book, and they are the keys to understanding and evaluating the book's arguments...It is too bad Freeman never actually gets around to understanding these arguments, let alone evaluating them. To wit, the following is a quote from Freeman's "review":Since there is no persuasive evidence that any warming effect is associated with greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, Epstein claims there is no basis to believe predictions about likely warming in the future. Moreover, Epstein's claim that the climate is not sensitive to CO2 concentrations is contradicted by both the climate models and physical data about past climates, which scientists have collected from a variety of sources, including CO2 concentrations found in ice cores and sedimentary data on the ocean floor. [notes omitted]"Yet MCFF repeatedly states that there is a warming effect associated with greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere," Epstein replies, before quoting what I thought was one of the more helpful passages of his book on exactly that matter:A huge source of confusion in our public discussion is the separation of people (including scientists) into 'climate change believers' and 'climate change deniers' -- the latter a not-so-subtle comparison to Holocaust deniers. 'Deniers' are ridiculed for denying the existence of the greenhouse effect, an effect by which certain molecules, including CO2, take infrared light waves that the Earth reflects back toward space and then reflect them back toward the Earth, creating a warming effect. But this is a straw man. Every 'climate change denier' I know of recognizes the existence of the greenhouse effect, and many if not most think man has had some noticeable impact on climate. What they deny is that there is evidence of a catastrophic impact from CO2's warming effect. That is, they are expressing a different opinion about how fossil fuels affect climate -- particularly about the nature and magnitude of their impact. So why do we have the idea that the greenhouse effect means rapid global warming? Because the proven greenhouse effect is falsely equated with the related but speculative theory that the greenhouse effect of CO2 is dramatically amplified by other effects in the atmosphere, leading to rapid warming instead of the otherwise expected decelerating warming. Some predictions of dramatic global warming (and ultimately catastrophic climate change) posit that the greenhouse effect of CO2 in the atmosphere will greatly amplify water vapor creation in the atmosphere, which could cause much more warming than CO2 acting alone would. This kind of reinforcing interaction is called a positive feedback loop. [notes omitted, bold added]What I like about this piece, as I did with Epstein's debate with Bill McKibben, is that he does not allow himself to be drawn into squabbling over non-essentials (as McKibben's Gish Gallop was intended to do), but focuses on helping his audience think about the issues themselves. This approach not only promises hope for a more rational debate about energy, but about countless other issues. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Peter Beinart of the Atlantic notes that President Trump outdid Barack Obama in terms of being "far more politically correct" during his speech in Riyadh than his bowing predecessor had been in a 2009 speech delivered in Cairo: On the question of women's rights, it was much the same. Trump attacked jihadist terrorists for "the oppression of women." But he described King Salman's government as a virtual beacon of women's rights. "Saudi Arabia's Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development," Trump declared. You would never have known that women in the Kingdom still can't drive. Trump didn't even mention the words "democracy," "liberty," or "freedom." To the contrary, in a sentence that will bring grins to autocrats across the region, he declared that, "We are not here to lecture -- we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be."Indeed, as Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute recently argued, it would be far preferable for Trump to "disrupt" the "scandalous US-Saudi relationship": For their own reasons, the Saudis hope for the defeat of Islamic State, and they oppose to the Middle East's other Islamic totalitarian regime, Iran. But it's perverse to ignore -- and effectively whitewash -- the Saudi regime's own malignant character, though that has been U.S. policy for years. After the attacks of 9/11 (in which 15 of the hijackers were Saudis), President George W. Bush embraced the Saudi regime, even hosting a member of the ruling family at his Texas ranch. President Obama, who bowed to the Saudi king, continued to afford the regime its undeserved standing as our ally. America's policy toward Saudi Arabia betrays our values and enables a vicious regime. If President Trump cares about our founding ideal of individual rights, here's a chance for him to deliver by breaking up the perverse U.S.-Saudi relationship.Do read the rest of the Journo piece for examples of this "malignant character," and reflect on the fact that Trump simply appearing there (as if this regime is a real ally) was bad enough whatever speech he might have given. The end of Beinart's piece is far from reassuring: If Trump wasn't being sincere with the Saudis, with whom has he ever been sincere? -- CAV Link to Original
  3. In case you were wondering about the strangely circumscribed ban on large electronics from certain Middle-Eastern airports that was abruptly announced in March, wonder no more. Jon Corbett, writing at Professional Troublemakerexplains that the ban was in reaction to compromised scanning equipment. From Corbett's closing summary: [T]he government lied to us when they said there wasn't a specific threat, they withheld information from us because they thought we'd be scared, and they implemented a laptop ban that will be ineffective and expensive at best, dangerous (as a result of increased fire risk) at worst...This should come as no surprise from a government that will not openly name our enemy, much less declare war, and is now hoping to "make a deal" with some of our enemies, as if nobody has had (or tried) that idea at any point over the past few decades. (This is not to say it was ever a good idea in the first place.) That said, if you have the time to read the article about the laptop ban, note the author's three arguments about its impracticality, and consider how similar they sound to any Republican's protests to the effect that any standard left-wing economic measure is "impractical". However true and well-researched such points may be, they will hold no water for supporters, because they are not motivated by practicality. They are motivated by a demonstrably incorrect morality that conflictswith the requirements for life on this earth. (For what it's worth, all three of Corbett's points immediately occurred to me when I first heard about the ban.) -- CAV Link to Original
  4. An article at Aeon on "what know-it-alls don't know" illustrates the importance of mental integration, which Ayn Rand called, "a cardinal function of man's consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development." Scientist Kate Fehlhaber -- focusing on the Dunning-Krueger effect, in which incompetents misjudge their abilities as higher than they actually are -- indicates that many sufferers are likely failing to perform this vital mental activity as much as they need. This becomes apparent when she contrasts that effect to Impostor Syndrome: Interestingly, really smart people also fail to accurately self-assess their abilities. As much as D- and F-grade students overestimate their abilities, A-grade students underestimate theirs. In their classic study, Dunning and Kruger found that high-performing students, whose cognitive scores were in the top quartile, underestimated their relative competence. These students presumed that if these cognitive tasks were easy for them, then they must be just as easy or even easier for everyone else. This so-called 'imposter syndrome' can be likened to the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby high achievers fail to recognise their talents and think that others are equally competent. The difference is that competent people can and do adjust their self-assessment given appropriate feedback, while incompetent individuals cannot. [bold added]In other words, victims of Impostor Syndrome know that they are doing something well and are also availing themselves of introspection when self-assessing, but may not know about (or know how to use) other sources of information about their abilities. Once they have that information, they incorporate it into their self-appraisals. Incompetents, already oblivious to their own bad results (which are a kind of feedback), don't. But could they? My first impulse, on reading the last bolded word above, was to express disagreement with the choice of the last word. But considering the method of non-integrative thinking our government schools bombard so many students with (exacerbated by doses of flattery), it may well frequently be that many can't use such feedback. At the very least, on top of psychological barriers to forming the habit of seeking out feedback (often shared by the competent), such people would face enormous difficulties knowing how to use such feedback, let alone develop the apparently missing skill of more generally checking what they take as knowledge against the facts of reality. Someone who could do this, but is not in the habit of doing so would still face the arguably "easier" task of making that practice into a habit. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. Four Things 1. Yes: You read that subtitle right. As you may recall, when I decided a while back to make room for non-blogging writing projects, I changed my posting schedule. Now that I've had some time to see how that works for me, I am once again changing the format of my Friday posts. From now on, Fridays will normally feature short roundups of four items, usually positive or interesting, which may or may not be related by a common theme. (In other words, this is basically my old "Friday Four" type of post.) For Objectivist commentary that appears in mainstream outlets, I will no longer have a separate "Weekend Reading" section every week. Instead, on some Fridays, I will present a list of four (or more) such articles in the order I learn about them, sometimes with my commentary about one of them afterwards. 2. My son has it in his head that doors are supposed to be shut. That's why, one night, when I woke to the sound of little footsteps, I knew exactly who it was without looking. He wanted his Mommie, but since she wasn't in bed, he turned around and left, shutting the door, of course. 3. Motherboard reportson recent research findings to the effect that VLF transmissions (such as those used to contact submarines) may be improving our protection from "space weather". 4. The American Enterprise Institute describes two instances of cash-only medical practices: How does Clinica Mi Pueblo offer these medial services at the "most affordable prices possible"? Here's how: the clinic operates on a cash-only basis, with transparent prices that are listed both on the clinic's website and on the wall at each clinic. Further, the clinic accepts no insurance, and it will not submit insurance claims on patients' behalf. If patients have insurance, they can easily take the paperwork the clinic provides and file an insurance claim on their own. Reducing the costly, time-consuming mountain of paperwork associated with insurance, Medicare and Medicaid is one of the main reasons that cash-only medical clinics can keep their costs down and prices so low and affordable. That's the same business model that keeps surgery costs so low/affordable at the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, the "free market-loving, price-displaying, state-of-the-art, AAAHC accredited, doctor owned, multi-specialty surgical facility in central OK" that has been featured on [Carpe Diem] many times over the years. [format edits]Oddly enough, this business model compares favorably to ObamaCare for routine medical expenses. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. The New York Times reportsthat King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has the unusual hobby of co-piloting turbofan airliners for KLM a couple of times a month. Here's why: Willem-Alexander said the intense focus needed for piloting took his mind away from other concerns. "For me the most important thing is that I have a hobby for which I need to concentrate completely. You have an airplane, passengers and a crew. You carry responsibility for that. You cannot take your problems from the ground with you in the sky. You can for a brief moment disconnect and concentrate on something else. That is the biggest relaxation of flying to me." [bold added]The Dutch monarch's reasoning reminded me of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand's essay about her hobby of stamp-collecting, and her similar motives for resuming that hobby after setting it aside for decades: I am often asked why people like stamp collecting. So widespread a hobby can obviously have many different motives. I can answer only in regard to my own motives, which I have observed also in some of the stamp collectors I have met. The pleasure lies in a certain special way of using one's mind. Stamp collecting is a hobby for busy, purposeful, ambitious people -- because, in patterns, it has the essential elements of a career, but transposed to a clearly delimited, intensely private world. A career requires the ability to sustain a purpose over a long period of time, through many separate steps, choices, decisions, adding up to a steady progression to a goal. Purposeful people cannot rest by doing nothing; nor can they feel at home in the role of passive spectators. They seldom find pleasure in single occasions, such as a party or a show or even a vacation, a pleasure that ends right then and there, with no further consequences. [A] short-range event or activity that leads nowhere is an unnatural strain on them, an irritating interruption or a source of painful boredom. Yet they need relaxation and rest from their constant, single-tracked drive. What they need is another track, but for the same train -- that is, a change of subject, but using part of the same method of mental functioning. Stamp collecting fulfills that need. [bold added] (The Ayn Rand Column, p. 125)The story reminded also, by contrast, of Rand's open letter to Soviet chess master Boris Spassky, for whom Rand paradoxically identified chess as both an escape from an otherwise intolerable existence, and a trap for his otherwise powerful mind. That said, let me highly recommend reading (or re-reading) that column on stamp collecting, if you have it. Rand plays the tour guide here, taking the reader to the oasis of "lighthearted benevolence" she would visit regularly during the later part of her career. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Given how often I mention my radical opposition to all taxation here, I would be remiss not to mention an interesting piece put out by the Foundation for Economic Education regarding the prevalence of lotteries as a means of government finance in early America. Here's a sample: Once the colonies won the war, the new states leaned heavily on lotteries to raise revenue, in part because they were not eager to tax newly independent citizens who'd just rebelled against taxation by a central authority. Lotteries funded the growth of the country's earliest colleges, including the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), Dickinson College, Harvard, and Yale, of many, many churches, and of iconic buildings, including Boston's Faneuil Hall, which needed to be rebuilt after it burned down in 1761.I do not know enough about the subject to offer a definitive opinion, but I am skeptical that the government "ran on" lotteries, as the title states. Government was much smaller and much closer to its proper scope then, but ... just off the top of my head, the saying, "not worth a Continental" comes to mind. And an article about that subject over at the Mises Institute quickly indicates that even if, most of the time, government could have run this way, taxation and inflation were indeed around back then. As an opponent of taxation, I will reiterate that such a cause is lost without its advocates making principled moral arguments against the practice. Practical considerations, while secondary, are important. This piece says nothing about the former and is weak regarding the latter. First of all, it does not really make the case that the government actually ran on lotteries, as I have already noted. Second, it does not introduce (or re-introduce) a new idea to the modern reader, as its mentions of modern lotteries demonstrate. Third, it fails to note that many of its examples of lotteries as a means of financing such things as universities and public works are things outside the proper scope of government. It is regarding that third point that the FEE missed a chance to make some minor, but valuable points: It is true that the government (a) should not be involved in these things and should (truly) privatize them, and (b) should consider lotteries for more of its financing. But it is also true that private institutions that have traditionally relied on government funding should consider such means more often than they do now. Lotteries are not just one proper means of financing the government; they are a way entities that should not be funded by the government can fund themselves. That is, lotteries can be a tool for privatization. That said, the FEE piece is valuable primarily as a pointer to historical information about government finance. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. If you'd like a succinct demonstration of the wide gulf between conservatism and advocacy of individual rights, look no further than RealClear Politics, which has just published a piece by Diane Black (R-TN), who sponsored the ObamaCare replacement bill recently passed by the House: The American Health Care Act continues our progress in creating a more patient-centered, free-market health care system. The bill isn't perfect, but I worked hard to make it as conservative as possible. We gave states the option of adding work requirements for able-bodied adults with no dependents who are on Medicaid. But I believe that requirement should be mandatory and I will continue to push for that, whether in our upcoming budget or in future legislation. Work is a fundamental part of the American Dream. It's a reasonable expectation in exchange for getting a hand-up from the government, and we should do everything in our power to help everyone in America get and keep a job. [bold added]Where to begin? Governments, which act by wielding force, cannot create a free market in anything: That's the job of individuals who decide by mutual consent to trade with one another. What the government can and should do is create the necessary conditions for this to happen. But that would require the government to use its courts, jails, and guns only to ensure that individuals are free to act according to their best judgment, that is, to keep men free from other men. ObamaCare does the opposite, by enslaving everyone in a medical context in one way or the other. Here are a few broad examples: We are forced by taxation to pay for the care of complete strangers. Patients cannot avail themselves of (actual) medical insurance, because the government effectively outlaws it. Physicians work under onerous regulations. I could go on and on. All of these things are immoral, and a government that imposes them is tyrannical. This bill, and numerous other more established ones should be repealed root and branch, and as quickly as possible. There was nevera need to "replace" this measure with anything but freedom, and certainly not to add a new class of slaves (via a "job" requirement) to this reeking stew. And why do state governments, rather than individuals, get the few, limited choices ObamaCare Lite leaves open? For the same reason that this bill is fundamentally the wrong thing to do about ObamaCare. Replacing one tyranny with fifty is about as "free market" as the idea that the government should compel someone to nurse or employ a complete stranger, rather than making it possible for interested parties to offer medical care or employment for others to take or leave. That said, I am aware that an actual, total repeal is probably beyond the scope of the politically possible in today's context, and I understand that the idea of a work requirement is to "disincentivize" use of the program. But note that this piece in no way frames any of this as "in order to return government to its proper scope, we will adopt X measure as a way of sunsetting." (I would still hold that a work requirement would be wrong in that context.) Rather, the whole piece accepts the premise that it is somehow the government's job to take care of people by stealing from us or otherwise compelling us to do things. THIS is what distinguishes an effort to excise a cancerous lump from mere cosmetic surgery to make the lump easier for the patient to ignore for a while. Until and unless "as conservative as possible" refers to government limited to its proper scope, that phrase will offer cold comfort to advocates of liberty. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Back in December, Business columnist Suzanne Lucas considereda common Christmastime request coming from friends, or friends-of-friends, pushing us to buy from small businesses they know about. She titles her column, "How to Make Your Friends Rich (Without Spending a Dime)," and she addresses why such requests aren't as helpful as they might seem: ... The thought is noble--you're going to spend money anyway, why not help out a friend? Well, not everyone's business sells things that are appropriate for holiday presents (Hey, honey, I got you this article about management!), and sometimes we may be cash poor ourselves. And often, your friend sells something fabulous, but you don't need it...Lucas was kind enough not to mention that such requests are often awkward (and even borderline rude) for such reasons, but the real kindness was in what she did about them: She asked several entrepreneurs what they would appreciate friends and acquaintances doing -- and not doing. One item describes the right way to become part of a virtual sales team:Chad Naphegyi, Moveologist, Relocation Strategies: Chad says: "Be an advocate for each other's business and part of each[ other's] virtual sales team, simply by mutually networking for each other. Not saying make my sales pitch by proxy, or just feeding cold leads...but simply keeping an ear out for opportunities and potential synergies and confidently giving warm introductions to them. Eliminates a cold call, which we all hate receiving... 'I have a friend (or former colleague) that I believe you will find it mutually beneficial to connect with regarding your....'" [link omitted, bold added, minor edits]This and all the other points were excellent advice, and all offer the kind of long-range support that a few one-off purchases don't provide, anyway. I especially like the last tip, too, as it is good etiquette to follow regarding anyone you might know who works from home. This advice, as worthwhile as it is, caused me to have an interesting thought about the ideas of charity and helpfulness so pervasive in our culture. Most people perform such things ritualistically, and tinged with a mixture of annoyance and guilt. This all comes in various ways down to the pervasiveness of altruism as our society's dominant code of morality. The idea that we have no right to exist for our own sakes is impossible to practice consistently, so most people evade it most of the time. This induces guilt, especially at times when most of our intellectuals urge us towards their notion of the good. And that leads to guilty attempts to make amends, such as by charitable donations or one-off purchases like these in the name of helping someone who "needs" it. And the fact that this is (a) associated with guilt, and (b) has nothing to do with long-range goals leads to both resentment and a desire to put it back out of one's mind. By contrast, selfishness, the opposite of altruism, is hardly inimical to the idea of helping others -- others one values and cares about. As an egoist, I must say that I find the common idea and practice of charity I described in the paragraph above appalling, and for many reasons besides the one exemplified by the perfunctory, once-a-year rituals so many people perform. But one thing stands out to me here: A real friend who actually wanted to help another succeed would put much more thought into doing so than making a half-hearted, one-off purchase. I have been fortunate enough to have many such friends over the years, and this column has reminded me to be on the lookout for chances to be such a friend myself in the future. The desire to offer genuine help from others comes from benevolence. It is interesting to consider how the idea that we must help others debases the quality of this help and can snuff out the emotion that motivates it. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Three Things 1. I guess it's time for a couple of phone-desktop convergence updates. First, Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu variety of Linux, just put out the last release that will feature its "Unity" desktop. This was supposed to make it simple for people to just plug a phone running Ubuntu into an adapter and, with a screen and other peripherals now attached, use it like a desktop. Seeing next to no adoption of their OS on phones, Canonical decided to stop pouring resources into the effort. But phone maker Samsung is still trying. Its latest effort, a docking station, just got a mixed review at Ars Technica. At around $150, the reviewer points out, one could just buy a Chromebook for a similar degree of portability and functionality. 2. The next time you hear how crucial government funding of medical research is, consider the following:People assume the NIH research brings us most new treatments and drugs, but that's not true either. To quote my brother from this winter's issue of National Affairs, "Three separate analyses concluded that 85 percent of the drugs approved by the FDA since 1988 arose solely from research and development performed within ... industry." [bold added]This comes from the latest John Stossel column, which advocates actually moving towards a free market in medical care, contra the ObamaCare Lite recently passed by the House. 3. The Atlantic asks, "Why Isn't Native American Food Hip?" One would think that the time is ripe for Amerindian food, with the recent flowering of interest in different culinary traditions and the trendiness of locally-produced foods, but there are headwinds:The confusion about what constitutes Native American cuisine isn't surprising; there's no easy definition. Of the more than 500 recognized tribes in the U.S., each has different cooking traditions shaped by access to different resources. That can make the task of launching and marketing a Native American restaurant difficult. Where one customer might expect to see buffalo and venison on a menu, another might anticipate salmon and squash. No restaurant can cater to everyone's interpretation of what constitutes Native American food. Mitsitam, the highly regarded cafe in the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, got around this by setting up a series of stations, each dedicated to the cuisine from a different region. "A lot of people don't really identify with native foods because they're not educated about it," said Jerome Grant, the executive chef at Mitsitam. "We kind of educate people of the indigenous ingredients of the areas."The fact that there is no one cuisine strikes me as a marketing and logistical nightmare by itself. But it's far from the only problem. Weekend Reading "Everyone has endured the vanishing keys, the elusive password or that pesky oven that might -- or might not -- be on." -- Michael Hurd, in "Give Your Memory a Jump Start!" at The Delaware Wave "You haven't seen hatefulness until you try to discuss politics with a leftist." -- Michael Hurd, in "Hollywood's Hypocrites Can't Take What They Dish Out" at Newsmax My Two Cents After reading the second Hurd column, quoted above, I can't resist adding that sometimes, you needn't even try. Interesting bonus: This guy was a one-percenter three years early... -- CAV Link to Original
  11. At The Hill is an article about what the "nuclear option" invoked in the Gorsuch confirmation might mean down the line, given recent speculation that Justice Anthony Kennedy might retire as early as June. Law professor Jonathan Turley notes that the new rules for confirmation of Supreme Court Justices pave the way for the appointment of much less "moderate" justices in several ways: The greatest problem for liberals with this self-inflicted wound is not the change in the numerical threshold but the political reality for confirmation. The filibuster rule gave political cover for Republican senators in justifying their opposition for nominees who were too far right. They could claim that they personally wanted such a radical change but that the filibuster rule required them to compromise. Now that cover is gone. They can easily appoint a reliable conservative and would have to be open about their personal preference for a moderate in opposing a Trump nominee. The same is true for Trump. He pledged a hard-right conservative and there is now no serious barrier (or excuse) preventing him from fulfilling that pledge.The immediate aftermath of the rightward lurch that can easily occur on the court is that two areas "dangling on a single vote" are in the crosshairs: legal abortion and gay rights. Turley rightly notes, however, that "the majority of voters might not like the territory acquired in the wake of a conservative breakout on the court." His analogy of the changes to the confirmation process -- initiated by the Democrats and completed by the Republicans -- to multiple World War I mines is far more apt than the usual analogy to a nuclear bomb: The full ramifications cannot be known or controlled by the mine-layer. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. An article at Bloomberg coversthe "long, hard, unprecedented fall of Sears," which the article rightly notes was the Amazon of its day: "The Sears catalog had an even bigger impact in 1900 than Amazon has had today," said Robert Gordon, a professor at Northwestern University and author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Like today's e-commerce powerhouse, the Sears catalog provided shoppers more choice than ever before, and at lower prices. Sears freed shoppers from the tyranny of the local general merchant and improved their living standards. "The cost of living went down the minute Sears became available," said Gordon. [bold added]It is tempting to look for contemporary commentators from that era to see whether they complained, as current ones do of Walmart and Amazon, about all the lost jobs and "mom-and-pop" stores. I knew the retailer was in trouble, but the degree of their problems surprises me a bit: the company is even in danger of being forgotten altogether. According to one source, "You've got young people today that don't even recognize Sears as a place where they would go." That said, reading the rest of the article might make you wonder how they have remained in business even this long. The whole story reminds me of the adage, "From shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations." -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Interested in what Ayn Rand had to say about introspection a while back, I ended up re-reading her 1974 essay on "Philosophical Detection" and was floored, despite my long familiarity with her word economy, with how well Rand explained both how evil and how tempting altruism has been throughout history: Observe that, in spite of their differences, altruism is the untouched, unchallenged common denominator in the ethics of all these philosophies. It is the single richest source of rationalizations. A morality that cannot be practiced is an unlimited cover for any practice. Altruism is the rationalization for the mass slaughter in Soviet Russia -- for the legalized looting in the welfare state -- for the power-lust of politicians seeking to serve the "common good" -- for the concept of a "common good" -- for envy, hatred, malice, brutality -- for the arson, robbery, hijacking, kidnapping, murder perpetrated by the selfless advocates of sundry collectivist causes -- for sacrifice and more sacrifice and an infinity of sacrificial victims. When a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet its advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction or an "ideal," but a rationalization. (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 20)Two cultural phenomena that most people would hold as completely unrelated are brought to my mind -- and are united -- by the identification above: (1) the rioting in Ferguson, Baltimore, and numerous other places over the past few years, which the criminals and domestic terrorists involved justified on altruistic grounds, frequently seconded by the leaders whose job it was to put a stop to them; and (2) the common, cowardly conservative practice of observing the failure of some "liberal" (i.e., leftist) policy or other without questioning the original excuse for said policy. The second is sometimes followed by a proposal to end the policy, more often by a proposal to implement basically the same policy (only more "competently"), and neverby a challenge to the moral ideal behind said policy. Given that it takes courage to stand up to everyone else (or anyoneelse), particularly when they claim (rightly or not) to hold the moral high ground, it is easy to see why many conservatives are afraid to examine too closely the moral code they share with leftists. And that very code -- the source of so many problems -- gives them the excuse to fail to do exactly that. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. In the process of thinking about a problem I realized had similarities to dating on several levels, I once ran across an advice columnist who calls himself Dr. Nerdlove. I ended up reading a couple of pieces of his, and found value in much of what he had to say. For example, he discussesthe problems with a kind of dating advice offered to young men by self-described "Pick-Up Artists" (PUA): There isn't as much out there for men. We have precious few role-models for how to approach women we want to sleep with in a healthy, respectful way. In many cases, our major source of how to get women to like us are our peers -- and that's often a case of the blind leading the blind. Moreover, those who are blessed with a seemingly-innate affinity to women -- "Naturals" in PUA lingo -- often don't know what they're doing. They're just being themselves; they don't know how to articulate it into anything other than "I guess women just like me". It's incredibly frustrating to be a young man."Where was this guy when I got divorced back in grad school?" was my immediate reaction upon reading this. That said, I quickly remembered that all my bumbling around had a happy result: I was out there at exactly the right time to end up with Mrs. Van Horn. But then I recalled something Leonard Peikoff once put memorably: "If things had been different, they would have been different." I was distantly acquainted with my wife early on in grad school, through the friend who would later introduce us. Maybe I would have gotten through the breakup faster and met her earlier with such advice. Who knows? In any event, I thought I'd mention Dr. Nerdlove for any passer-by out there who might be where I was back then. I think his dating advice is good for the better part because his focus is on personal growth, which makes one a better person and, oddly enough, more attractive to worthwhile women as a result. -- CAV P.S. I mentioned the above speculation to my wife and she replied that around the same part of grad school I was thinking about, she was recovering from a big breakup, so there you go. What I said about the self-improvement aspect of Dr. Nerdlove's advice still applies. Link to Original
  15. Three Things 1. Statistician John D. Cook makes an amusing observation regarding personality classifications, such as the commonly-used (but meaningless) Myers-Briggs: "There's one thing advocates of all the aforementioned systems agree on: the number of basic personality types is a perfect square." This makes me think of those humorous "Demotivator" posters. I see one on rationalism(e.g., Lesson 6), and another on market penetration. 2. But the second of the above jokes is rapidly losing its bite, thanks in large part to the efforts of the folks at ARI, as Don Watkins notesin his farewellpost at its blog, Voices for Reason: t has never been easier to learn about Ayn Rand and Objectivism -- and the career prospects for Objectivist intellectuals have never been brighter. Without a doubt, ARI has played a central role in making that happen. I take enormous pride in having had a part in those achievements. [bold added] Ayn Rand is all over the media, and ARI is no longer the only nationally prominent Objectivist (or Objectivist-friendly) think tank. I find both developments remarkable and inspiring. Both Watkins and Alex Epstein (also an ARI alumnus), whom he is joining at the Center for Industrial Progress, have penned best-sellers. 3. Regulars here will know that I am no environmentalist, so they will also know that it's the interesting new application of two existing technologies I find appealing in a story from Australia regarding extremely reliable solar-powered, e-ink traffic signs. Weekend Reading "AIs sorting through millions of patient records without an ideological bias might invalidate many currently accepted medical practices or to validate other practices that are currently considered 'fringe.'" -- Paul Hsieh, in "AI in Medicine: Rise of the Machines" at Forbes "[F]riendship and business relationships are two completely different things, with a completely different set of expectations." -- Michael Hurd, in "Can Business and Friendship Coexist?" at The Delaware Wave "Problems only arise if you get less out of being with somebody than what you're putting into the relationship with them." -- Michael Hurd, in "Is 'Agree to Disagree' Really Possible?" at The Delaware Coast Press -- CAV Link to Original