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  1. From tech businessman Jacques Mattheij comes a life lesson about honesty, which includes the bonus of an example of the impossibility of applying moral principles in the absence of context. Mattheij describes an episode from his youth, when the growing evidence of his technological ability attracted the attention of a shady relative: ... I could easily see is that this would be a beginning, and a bad beginning too. You can bet that someone somewhere will lose because of crap like this. (Fortunately, now the EU has made odometer fraud illegal). You can also bet that once you've done this thing and accepted the payment that you're on the hook. You are now a criminal (or at least, you should be) and that means you're susceptible to blackmail. The next request might not be so easy to refuse and could be a lot worse in nature. So I wasn't really tempted, and I always felt that "but someone else will do it if I don't" was a lousy excuse. If you're reading this as a technical person: there will always be technically clueless people who will attempt to use you and your skills as tools to commit some crime. Be sure of two things: the first is that if the game is ever up they'll do everything they can to let you hold the bag on it and that once you're in you won't be getting out that easily.The young man's thinking reminds me of both (1) Ayn Rand's case against lying, as related by Leonard Peikoff in "My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand" and (2) the proper way to apply principles. Is it always wrong to lie, as, for example, Mattheij did when he told his relative he couldn't do what he was asked? Or might there be cases in which telling the truth would actually be wrong? Ayn Rand once summarized the virtue of honesty as follows:Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud -- that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee -- that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling -- that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.When a criminal, through the initiation of force (or the threat thereof) places you in a position in which your statement of a fact only makes him better able to make you act against your better judgment, you are in a situation in which telling him a lie is a perfectly moral (or, in some situations, the only) thing you can do in self-defense. This is not "stooping to his level" (as an intrinsicist might say), because you aren't trying to obtain anything by fraud. Nor is it an example of subjectivism, because one is actually doing this in order to continue acting (or once again be able to act) in accordance with one's best judgment. Neither inflexible commandments nor the fiction that reality is infinitely malleable can provide any useful guidance on the matter of how to live one's life. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Notable Commentary "The [Patent Trial & Appeal Board] was supposed to address the problem of low-quality patents; it now threatens all patents, undermining the foundation of the American innovation economy." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Patent Unfairness" at RealClear Politics. "f there is no difference between words and action -- if communicating certain 'wrong' ideas is subject to punishment -- there is a corollary: the actual use of force can be exonerated if done in the name of the 'right' ideas." -- Peter Schwartz, in "The Ideology of Violence" at The Huffington Post. "Bitcoin's unstable price makes it unusable as money." -- Keith Weiner, in "Bitcoin: Tragedy of the Speculations" at SNB & CHF. "[The TC Heartland decision] significantly multiplies the costs to all patent owners in securing their property rights in court" -- Adam Mossoff, in "'Examining the Supreme Court's TC Heartland Decision': Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the Internet" (PDF, 11 pages, June), George Mason Law and Economics Research Papers, no. 17-29. "[Conservative commentator Star] Parker should embrace the one idea in Christianity that is the most secular – the importance of the individual. She should oppose secular collectivism and support secular individualism." -- Robert Stubblefield, in "Letter: Keep Religion Out of Government" at The Aiken Standard. From the Blogs ICouldAndDid wraps up his three-part critique of Sam Harris's Free Will over at You Can and Did Build It, and summarizes the whole as follows: How Sam Harris wants you to see yourself. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.) ... The first part of this review identified the arbitrary underlying premise behind Harris' view that past brain states necessitate all future actions. He simply ignores, without any argument, the possibility that a being could possess capabilities that are enabled by and emerge from the brain yet are not completely necessitated in every detail by the brain's neurology. The second part of this review analyzed the gimmick that gives plausibility to the argument, namely focusing only on a straw man (the last split second of the process of choice) rather than the true nature of free will (the entire sequence of mental events and choices from the primary choice to focus and leading up to a final, higher-level choice). Finally, the present post identified the conceptual inversion involved in denying the validity of free will while depending on it for an argument. This vast collection of fallacies -- arbitrariness, use of straw-man tactics and hierarchy violations -- are the means used by the neurological determinist to deny the universal experience of free will. Any one of those transgressions alone would be sufficient reason to reject Harris' arguments, and to accept what one grasps from personal experience rather than deny it as a delusion. The combination of all three logical insults should make one recoil from the poisonous free-will-denier's doctrine. [bold added] Earlier in the post, ICouldAndDid notes a similarity between what Ayn Rand called the "stolen concept fallacy" and the denial of free will by Sam Harris and his ilk. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. In a recent column, Walter Williams questions the idea that the problems faced by black Americans are a "legacy of slavery," while at the same time raising another possibility that too many miss or ignore: According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today about 75 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. LBJ signing the Poverty Act.Is that supposed to be a delayed response to the legacy of slavery? The bottom line is that the black family was stronger the first 100 years after slavery than during what will be the second 100 years. At one time, almost all black families were poor, regardless of whether one or both parents were present. Today roughly 30 percent of blacks are poor. However, two-parent black families are rarely poor. Only 8 percent of black married-couple families live in poverty. Among black families in which both the husband and wife work full time, the poverty rate is under 5 percent. Poverty in black families headed by single women is 37 percent. The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has. The black family structure is not the only retrogression suffered by blacks in the age of racial enlightenment. In every census from 1890 to 1954, blacks were either just as active as or more so than whites in the labor market. During that earlier period, black teen unemployment was roughly equal to or less than white teen unemployment. As early as 1900, the duration of black unemployment was 15 percent shorter than that of whites; today it's about 30 percent longer. Would anyone suggest that during earlier periods, there was less racial discrimination? What goes a long way toward an explanation of yesteryear and today are the various labor laws and regulations promoted by liberals and their union allies that cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and encourage racial discrimination. [bold added, format edits]Williams goes on to note that most black politicians support the government programs that thwart initiative or enable idleness. I leave it to the reader to consider whether those politicians see this as a bug or a feature. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. The excellent Captain Awkward, in reply to someone dumped when she thought an engagement might be in the offing, gives her advice on recovering and on how to maintain poise in the meantime. This comes with the following memorable passage on dealing with what I think of as "emotional lag": Image courtesy of Pixabay.It's okay to still be in love. Love is -- as this hideous wedding-cake topper excruciatingly reminds us -- patient, it is kind, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. So there you are, all shaggy and embarrassing bounding toward your person wagging your tail and doing that adorable thing you do where you pretend that you're not going to hand over the ball you're carrying in your mouth and your person doesn't even want your stupid ball and then the leash of reality yanks you back. That part of you is the purest and best and truest part of you, and you can't really turn it off. It's just going to love for a while. I say this because it's really fucking frustrating to try to talk yourself out of having a feeling or beat yourself up for having a feeling at the same time you're having the feeling. So just have the feeling. Just be the Golden Retriever of Love. You're not stupid for feeling it, you're not a bad person, you didn't do anything wrong. You just feel what you feel, and you'll feel until one day you stop, and you can't decide when that is, so don't even try. [bold in original]This is an excellent illustration of the nature of emotions, as identified by Ayn Rand: Your subconscious is like a computer -- more complex a computer than men can build -- and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance -- and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions -- which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. [bold added]In abstract terms, the letter-writer, who was mistaken about the man she loved, valued him highly and had woven him into her life and hopes. This happened over time, and correcting the mistake will also take time. The resulting emotions will take time to catch up with the intellect, simply by the nature of how they work: Lots of subconscious associations are still there to be altered or supplanted by new ones. I note this not as some attempt to improve on Captain Awkward's advice to her writer. She said exactly the right thing, and in just the right way. Rather, I go to the level of the abstract because it can help show the advice to be more generally applicable. False hopes of marriage are hardly the only way to meet visceral, disorienting levels of emotional pain, and it can be comforting to know this. Why? Because the mechanism of recovery will be the same. One can do similar types of things to aid that recovery. And one can know that despite an unpredictable time course, there can be certainty of a recovery. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. Image courtesy of Pixabay.Conservative Andrew Klavan makes some astute observations about what he calls the "surreal blessings of Donald Trump." Although I think Klavan errs in seeing conservatism as a viable alternative to leftism, I think he is right to note the following items of cultural good news resulting from the Trump presidency. First, the rabid hatred of Trump coming from the left is causing many decent people to start questioning the opinions they had been defaulting to thanks to the cultural dominance of the left: [T]he riots, the seething Facebook posts and, of course, the slavering fake news of the mainstream media -- has revealed the left's true, nasty and oppressive nature to the liberal middle. YouTube suddenly abounds with stories of "red pill" moments in which liberals, experiencing the wickedness of the left, suddenly realized that conservatives are now actually the liberal ones. I think this is the beginning of a groundswell that will have a profound and beneficial effect on the culture... [link in original]A bit later on (and somewhat contradictory to his next two paragraphs), Klavan notes something even more interesting: ... Trump has so divided conservatives that we are now arguing fervently among ourselves -- that is, we're not just crushing idiot leftists, we're actually engaging with other smart conservatives over essential differences! I have hopes that these arguments will lead to a new, stronger and more modern conservatism. Trump blew every candidate away in the primaries. That alone should tell us that the Republican Party needs reform, and it ought to begin with a reformed conservatism, a conservatism that can win. [bold added]I don't completely agree with this: I'd say Trump has made fault lines within the conservative movement more evident. I strongly agree that those differences urgently demand not just acknowledgement, but exploration. Perhaps Donald Trump hasn't merely -- by single-handedly making himself their presidential nominee -- shown the GOP to be pushovers. Perhaps this revelation and others that have come up during his young presidency will also help people see the need for a better alternative to the left than Trump, the GOP, or the conservative movement can offer. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Over at his blog, Grasping Reality With Both Hands, Bradford DeLong considers what it would take to emulate the latest iPhone with technology available in 1957. I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who thinks doing so at speed would have been impossible, but I think what DeLong comes up with is well worth considering: Image courtesy of Unsplash.The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have: cost 150 trillion of today's dollars, which is: one and a half times today's global annual product, more than seven times today's U.S. annual national product forty times 1957's U.S. national product fourteen times 1957's global annual product taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide drawn 150 terawatts of power -- 30 times the world's current generating capacity the world produces 50,000 TWh/year -- that is: 5 TWh/hour = 5 TW of capacity (cf.: the 50,000 vacuum tubes of the "AN/FSQ-7 computer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/FSQ-7_Combat_Direction_Central... occupied 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) of floor space, weighed 275 tons, and used up to three megawatts of power..." http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=964) [minor edits]This reminds me a little of a similar comparison, between the amount of hardware electronic data storage required that I mentioned here a few years ago: In fifty years, the weight of the hardware needed to store 8 GB of data had decreased by a factor of 134 million. (And that figure, I am sure, is giving a pass for how quickly one could access said data.) Such comparisons can serve two apparently contradictory purposes. On the one hand, no matter how clumsily they do so, they help concretize otherwise very abstract kinds of technological progress. (See also photos at my old post.) And on the other, they help us imagine the full meaning of Frédéric Bastiat's parable of the broken window. I am far from finding fault with that simple example. However, it does fail to convey just how disastrous government "planning" and plunder can be, as when thought, effort, and property that could go towards the next near-miracle of innovation are, instead, squandered on the alleged needs of others today. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Four Things 1. Now that my daughter is six, I'm starting to see amusing juxtapositions of toddler behavior and "big kid" behavior (for lack of a better term). One morning last week, Pumpkin was in need of a waking-up to make it to school on time. She seemed to resist all efforts to roust her, so I picked her up out of bed, carried her downstairs, and set her down in an easy chair. Apparently dead to the world the whole time, she opened her eyes, grinned, and said, "Psyche!" as soon as I set her down. She got me to carry her, and I got a chuckle out of the deal. 2. Enjoying a song on a local college radio station, I became curious and found the following whimsical video: French singer "Jain" (Jeanne Galice) sounds quite promising, and has just started her career. 3. If you have fond memories of her books, either from having them read to you when you were young, or from reading them yourself, here's your chance to learn more about Sandra Boynton, the reigning Doctor Seuss: In person, Sandra Boynton is warm and funny, with a throaty voice and a soft, easy smile. She's not an introvert, but those who know her best say she's somehow been able to hold on to childhood sensibilities that most of us surrender. So the books, the drawings, the songs -- "They're for me," she says. "They're for me as a child. Things I would respond to."I knew her books were popular, but it surprised me to learn how much she makes from them. 4. Via GeekPress comes the story of the invention of the tater tot: He's certainly not alone. "Fuck making them," says Dale Talde, head chef and founder of the casual Asian-American restaurant Talde in South Brooklyn. "I always buy them frozen. There is no benefit from making them unless you are a [masochist]." Talde's former restaurant, the now-closed Pork Slope, served up tots in a dish called "Irish Nachos": a layer of crispy tots, topped with cheese sauce, chili, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños. Talde says he thinks the tot has endured at all levels -- from caviar paired in restaurants like Elske in Chicago to school lunch trays -- because people "have great memories and and love crunchy, salty stuff."The tater tot forms the third member of a trifecta of trash-to-treasure food innovations in America, the others being baby carrots and Buffalo wings. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Image courtesy of Unsplash.Let's grant for a moment that leftist chant about "climate change:" "The science is settled." So what? Even if we knew that the most apocalyptic scenario were going to occur, it hardly follows that we should persecute dissent and impose central planning measures, such as fuel rationing. Oh? I'm exaggerating the political goals of climate "activists" or taking what they say too literally? Thanks for making my point: Arguments about scientific facts are not alone sufficient to discern the answers to questions of political philosophy. Indeed, I find endless scientific debates bizarre and inappropriate when a political program is being put forth as a solution without any serious debate. Whatever you might think of the climate effects of increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content by burning fuel, I don't care how solid a case you make for it: You still haven't explained why the government should violate individual rights in an effort to do something about it. Conveniently, Michael New of National Review has just about spared me the necessity of proposing a thought experiment to help make my point. (Prius-drivers with pro-life bumper stickers will still have some thinking to do.) New attacks a study on so-called "telemed" abortions. Said study concludes that it is just as safe for a pregnant woman to use abortion-inducing drugs without a physician present as it is to have the procedure administered by a physician. New raises several issues that anyone relying on such a study really should satisfy herself with before agreeing with it. One might conclude that New is concerned that this study offers bad guidance, and maybe, in his own inconsistent way, he really is. But the piece concludes with what sounds to my ear like the punch line to a sickening joke: "The concerns of pro-lifers and other public-health professionals about the safety of telemed abortions are well founded." Really? This comes in a piece that starts off by noting that there are fewer and fewer abortion facilities in the United States, no doubt a testimony to the successful efforts of such "concerned" parties, many of whom work overtime to make abortion illegal altogether. This they do not because of any concern whatsoever with the safety of the patient, but due to an arbitrary, mystical assertion that the fetus is a human life. That many women are having to resort to this procedure (which is still doubtless safer than what went on before abortion became legal) puts this concern to the lie: Anti-abortionists are far more concerned with protecting the fetus than they are patient safety, so matter how credibly (or credibly-sounding: I haven't looked at the study) one of them dissects a journal article, the fact is that they still have not offered an earthly reason for their political agenda. Let's assume arguendo that New is correct: The procedure is not as safe when a physician isn't on hand. I say again: So what? The fact that a medical procedure may not be as safe as other alternatives is still not a reason to abuse government power by standing in the way of a woman who may decide it is an acceptable risk. I thank Mr. New for providing me a real-life example of something many leftists need as a look in the mirror: Someone using "science" to push a political position they rightly find abhorrent. It is a shame me that some conservatives have chosen to ape this tactic, rather than taking the moral high ground. But that would require offering reasoned, relevant arguments for their positions. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, an editorial at Investor's Business Daily half-jokingly asks when "climate change" will get its due credit for the storm delivering less of a punch than had been widely (and wildly) predicted. Image of cherry-picking, courtesy of Pixabay.Last week, there was talk of massive destruction across the state, with damage estimates ranging up to $200 billion. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levin called it "a nuclear hurricane." Storm tracks last week showed Irma remaining a Category 4 hurricane for a significant portion of its trek across Florida. When Irma shifted to the west as it approached, it was described as the "worst-case scenario" for the state. However, when Irma made landfall in the U.S., it's strength quickly diminished and the actual damages to Florida in dollar terms will likely be 75% lower than predicted. While those dire forecasts were being made, environmentalists and politicians were busy pinning the blame on global warming. It was the same after Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in Houston. It's the case whenever there is an adverse weather event. If there's a drought, it's because of "climate change." If there's flooding, climate change. Wild fires, climate change. Blizzards? Climate change. So will environmentalists credit climate change for Irma's unexpected turn for the better?Needless to say, this reminds me of the work of fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein who, often smeared as a "denier" of climate change, once had this to say about the topic: 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.In a similar vein, the IBD editorial makes the following observation regarding what all this one-sided "evidence" suggests, in light of the political agenda of those who keep spouting it: This one-sidedness isn't evidence that global warming is real or inherently cataclysmic. It is, instead, evidence that global warming advocates are more interested in pushing a political agenda than actual science.If advocates of global warming hysteria had any genuine regard for the "planet" (speaking loosely and generously) they say they want to "save", they would consider the idea that we might derive some benefits from a warmer climate, such as those the editorial goes on to mention. But if they did that, they might also have to branch out and consider, as Epstein points out in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, the further benefits of continued use of same. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. A computer scientist considersan example of a common scenario among young professionals: Image courtesy of Pixabay.I know a brilliant young kid who graduated from college a year ago and now works at a large investment bank. He has decided he hates Wall Street and wants to work at a tech startup... He recently gave notice to his bosses, who responded by putting on a dog and pony show to convince him to stay. If he stays at the bank, the bosses tell him, he'll get a raise and greater responsibility. Joining the technology industry, he'd be starting from scratch. He is now thinking that he'll stay, despite his convincing declaration that he has no long term ambitions in finance. [bold added]Chris Dixon likens this situation to "hill climbing," a common computational technique. The analogy between the two problems is a good one, encompassing both the trap-like type of incorrect solutions and the means for avoiding them. In many respects, Dixon's post reminds me of the excellent job-and-career exploration advice Barbara Sher provides in Chapter 9 of I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was, and Jean Moroney very briefly summarizes in the middle of this review. (Search for "wrong job" if in a hurry.) Indeed, were Dixon's unhappy investment banker to read Sher's book, he might even salvage his situation by thinking of it as having already taken the wrong job as a step towards finding the right career. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. In his discussion about why Houston didn't evacuate, J.P. Miller notes in passing an increasingly common attitude that I find curious and disturbing: Image courtesy of Pixabay.I've watched a lot of coverage of Hurricane Harvey on both the local and the national level. I am struck by the incredulity of the national newscasters that the people of Houston didn't just leave. They almost sound like we are deserving of criminal punishment for endangering our lives. First and foremost, each individual has the right and a responsibility to himself if he wishes to survive to make the best decision he can regarding evacuation.This contemptuous attitude towards people making their own decisions reminds me of many experiences as a parent of young children, a stage of life of which I once observed, offers more than ample "'opportunities' to receive unwanted (and often presumptuous) advice from complete strangers." It is interesting to contemplate where this attitude might be coming from in light of an example of when Those Who Imagine They Know Better Than You did get their wishes: the massive air flight ban years ago, after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. I noted of that at the time: Given the life-sustaining necessity of production and trade, this is at once unnecessary hyperbole and a gross understatement of the damage. Millions of lives are in fact being harmed by this barring-by-government-fiat of individuals from evaluating risks for themselves and then deciding whether to board -- or fly -- airplanes. Even if the body count is zero after this fiasco ends, it has cost millions of people irreplaceable fractions of their lives in the forms of time and money.Likewise with the consequences of evacuating on essentially zero notice Miller describes. The proponents of precautionary thinking are quite happy to pronounce from afar what others should do in the name of "safety," as if knowledge of what is safest (or of anything) can exist in a vacuum or be applied in a vacuum. They clearly didn't consider the many things Miller lays out about evacuating Houston (or banning flights), the possibility that their prescribed action might be wrong, or the costs of carrying it out. How much mental effort did they put into this? And if they didn't put any real effort into formulating or evaluating their pronouncements, how dare they sit in judgement of others whose decisions had major consequences for their own lives? My best general guess about those who feel the need to alternately hector others with questionable advice "for their own good" and sneer at them when they don't obey it without question is this: Both are defensive reactions to a deep level of a fear of independence. Crises confront us with how little we really know. How does one react? By considering all the available alternatives and choosing the most feasible -- or by sitting around and waiting to be told what to do (or be rescued, as some did after Katrina)? The answer to that will often be similar to how one approaches everything else in life, and the reaction to how others respond to crises will reflect that. The former group will take solace in the fact that those in danger have minds of their own, and will be highly motivated to learn and evaluate relevant facts quickly. The latter, being mentally lazy, will let fear of the unknown (which is a lot of territory for them) override what really ought to be considered and dealt with: They will react badly to those who question the wisdom received from their usual media and government oracles, thereby causing them to question, for a brief, terrifying moment, their choice to "live" without Thinking Too Much. They just gave stupid advice to people in the crosshairs of catastrophe: Their basic choice is to backtrack and apologize -- or find a way to double down. A form of the latter is to project self-contempt onto the victims. That's about as far as I care to speculate about the legions of sneering busybodies out there. Whatever my level of understanding of this phenomenon, my curiosity is far overmatched by how disturbed about it I am: Many of these same people put a great degree of effort into making sure the government can force others to do as they imagine best. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Four Things 1. File under Things That Make It Hard to Keep a Straight Face: "You're a bad Daddy! You're going to jail!" Mom and Dad in jail. Little Man has been known to send us both there at once. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)That's how my son, now four, has been reacting to decisions he deems unacceptable lately. A close second happened as I was dropping him off at daycare on a day he wasn't in the mood. He had his Maui hook in hand and, as I was about to unbuckle him from his car seat, he threatened me with it. I somehow managed a stern demeanor as I said, "You're not hitting anybody with that," and took it away from him. 2. From a story about Hurricane Harvey, I learned about a redeeming quality of the fire ants seen floating around in huge mats: Whoever lives will have the land all to themselves. There is at least one possible upside: Fire ants love to eat ticks. The area where the fire ants landed may be crawling with stinging ants for a while. "But it'll have absolutely no ticks. So it'll be lovely from that perspective," says [entomologist Alex] Wild.Living near all the deer I do, and thanks to anti-vaxxers, having some fire ants around would be a welcome development: I wouldn't have to worry about Lyme disease. 3. The following passage, about Premier League fandom in America, brings back Boston memories, thanks to a fellow Gooner: "My origin story comes from watching my baby daughter on Saturday mornings 10 years ago to let my wife get some additional sleep," said Arsenal fan Brian Kelly. "As a sports fan, it's great to have world-quality athletics on at 7:45 a.m."Back in Boston, I enjoyed either seeing the games at home as early as 6:45, while holding a sleeping baby or watching Pumpkin crawling around. Or, better yet, enjoying a later game over brunch with her and my wife at a sports bar within walking distance. And why am I an Arsenal fan? One year when I was in high school, my dad coached my team. He chose the name upon a gun shop agreeing to become our uniform sponsor. 4. And speaking of kids, the following passage from a list of of "Five Types of Moms You Meet in the Office" made me chuckle more than once: She has infant twins, or a baby and a toddler, or three kids under five. You've met her, or maybe you've even been her. She has dark circles under her eyes, and guzzles coffee. She looks forward to Monday because she can go to the bathroom by herself. When one kid gets sick, you know she'll be working at home for a week because kids never get sick at the same time -- each one will have to have their turn.I am happy to report that having kids two years apart has gotten noticeably easier over the past couple of years. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. John Tamny makesan interesting connection regarding Trump's pro-manufacturing brand of economic meddling. First summarizing observations about the economic stagnation of Russia and Afghanistan, where visits spaced decades apart yield remarkably similar views of their inhabitants' working days, Tamny considers what those observations mean: Image courtesy of Unsplash.So while it's popular to say that the disappearance of some forms of work tells the story of a formerly glorious city, state, or country's demise, the paradoxical truth is that the non-departure of specific work is the bigger signal of looming demise. Investors are the creators of all jobs, and they want dynamism. Locales defined by static working conditions are the opposite of dynamic, and as such they're an investor repellent. New York City thrives by virtue of it having shed its manufacturing past, while Flint languishes for it having not shed manufacturing work quickly enough. Investors want change, simply because profits are, like luxury, an historical concept. Just as entrepreneurs commoditize luxuries every day to our benefit, so do they aggressively compete away profits. This explains why the nature of work is constantly changing. It simply must. Where it doesn't is where opportunity is slight mainly because investment is. [bold added]True, at one point, the mere presence of factories was an indicator of economic strength and progress but, for reasons Tamny elaborates on, they aren't, any more. And measures, such as jacking up prices via tariffs to make manufacturing things here again seem attractive, would just as surely squander American talent and wealth as "employing" armies of ditch-diggers after banning heavy construction equipment. The change investors want is increased efficiency. Factories filled with human beings who have to be paid more than others (or robots) are today's ditch-diggers. They might do a job, but there are better ways of doing it. One can see either doing work with his eyes, but one must hold the context in which such work is valuable (because it is the most efficient alternative) with one's mind. To embrace manufacturing as a panacea for the former reason is foolish; to do so in a given case for the latter, is wise. It is a shame that politicians have enough power to saddle us, even partly, with their own foolishness.Trump's economic ideas -- like those of Bernie Sanders and Nicolás Maduro -- were discredited decades ago. Were the state and economics separated, discussion of them would be the academic exercises they should be, and nowhere near the realm of implementation. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. In a column for the San Antonio Express-News, Christopher Baecker takes a moment to remind the anti- "price gouging" crowd of the humanity they seem to have forgotten they have in common with the "gougers": Image courtesy of Pixabay.Now imagine it's your favorite food, and you had the foresight to stock up in anticipation of such a shortage. But instead of consuming it, you rely on selling it to make a living. It's the same principle on the supply side as it is on the demand side: It has become a more-scarce resource or good. That's the dilemma that vendors of water, gasoline, batteries and the like face when a hurricane such as Harvey is heading their way. They don't know when their next shipments are coming, or if they're coming. They don't even know if their place of business will still be standing after landfall. Keep this in mind when demagogues start screaming about price gouging. These vendors are humans just like us, humans with strong enough nerve to risk a lot to supply us with everything we want and need. And now, just like the rest of us, they're facing what is hopefully just a temporary disruption of an important part of their life. They don't raise prices to cheat consumers but rather to defend their livelihood. [bold added]But politicians and bullies with video cameras are more than happy to use the morality of altruism to distract us from this humanity. It is astounding how fast other human beings are viewed as evil or means-to-an-end when the essence of one's moral calculus comes down to the brain-dead idea that one person owes another simply by virtue of having something he doesn't, regardless of all context. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Editor's Note: I'm taking Monday and possibly Tuesday off from blogging. Happy Labor Day! Notable Commentary "[W]ealth is not distributed by society: it is produced and traded by the people who create it." -- Don Watkins and Yaron Brook, in "How the Campaign Against Economic Inequality Undermines Political Equality" (PDF) at The Journal of Law and Public Affairs, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 100-115. "This simple legal and commercial fact -- copyright could not secure the real value represented in an innovative computer program -- explains why in the mid-1990s there was a shift to the legal doctrine that could provide the proper legal protection for the innovative value in a computer program: patent law." -- Adam Mossoff, in "A Brief History of Software Patents (and Why They're Valid)" (PDF, 2014) at George Mason University Law and Economics Research Papers, No. 14-41. "My body and my organs are mine -- not mere means to others' ends." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Should the Government Require Your Consent to Be an Organ Donor?" at Forbes. "Many who rightly attack the dollar as debt-based money, seem happy with bitcoin because the debt backing it is removed." -- Keith Weiner, in "Bad Ideas About Money and Bitcoin" at SNB & CHF. "We offer this insight: [Bitcoin] speculation converts one person's wealth into another's income." -- Keith Weiner, in "Hidden Forces of Economics" at SNB & CHF. My Two Cents At fifteen pages each, both academic papers above (the one by Watkins and Brook, and the other by Mossoff) are relatively short. They also both offer concise, clearly-written arguments for their respective positions. Having just read Equal is Unfair, I was impressed at how well Watkins and Brook conveyed that book's arguments at such short length. Mossoff's paper likewise cuts through lots of popular (and judicial) fog regarding what software is and why it should be patented. I highly recommend both. -- CAV Link to Original