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Gus Van Horn blog last won the day on February 7 2017

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  1. Notable Commentary "... I am ... deeply disturbed by any prospect of psychiatric diagnoses being used (or misused) for political purposes." -- Paul Hsieh, in "You Might Not Like the President, but That Doesn't Mean He's Crazy " at Forbes. "If [Susan Stamper] Brown sincerely wants conditions in Haiti to improve she should speak against their government." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Haiti, America Should Have More Respect for Rights" at The Aiken Standard. "In the quest to protect misguided notions of freedom, ... it is freedom that will suffer." -- Tara Smith, in "The Free Speech Vernacular: Conceptual Confusions in the Way We Speak About Speech" at The Texas Review of Law and Politics, vol. 22, no.1, pp. 57-92. (2018, PDF, blogged here). "The advocates of the restrictions frame every new way to speak about politics as a 'loophole' that must be sealed up." -- Talbot Manvel, in "We Don't Need More Campaign Finance Laws" at The Capitol Gazette. "If one values romantic love, the idea of multiple sexual partners is repugnant, as it is and should be, for the civilized man -- the man who values himself as an individual." -- Charlotte Cushman, in "Monogamy is Moral, Promiscuity is Not" at The American Thinker. From the Blogs The latest post at You Can and Did Build It, about the beginning of the philosophical discussion of free will, closes with an interesting observation: Image via Wikipedia,Aristotle's view that man's character is shaped by the man himself, and therefore he is responsible for it (and its consequences), is the most important part of his discussion. If men learned nothing from Aristotle's view of free will but this conclusion, much of the current debate (certainly in ethics, politics and law) would end. No one who accepted Aristotle's view would argue that a criminal should be excused because he "felt," in the moment, that he wanted to slaughter a whole family, or because he was too drunk to know what he was doing when he tee-boned another car. Maybe all that is true -- maybe he didn't, in the moment, know what he was doing. But according to reason, and to Aristotle, that is beside the point. The criminal brought himself to this moment by his own choices, and could have done otherwise. That is why we do, and should continue to, "punish a man for his very ignorance, if he is ... responsible for the ignorance." [bold added]Incidentally, you may be interested to learn of The Internet Classics Archive, which has brought "the wisdom of the classics to the Internet since 1994." I had either forgotten about or did not know of this resource until I followed a link from that post to the Nichomachean Ethics. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. What do travel expense audits and smart phone apps have in common? Both offer excellent examples of how meaningless price can be when that number is yanked from all context. The first example comes to us from Allison Green's excellent Ask a Manager blog, where a reader has run afoul of an accountant with a myopic concern with airline ticket prices: He may have lost two hours of sleep and can't get any real work done today, but he saved the company fifty bucks. (Photo by Harry Knight on Unsplash)I replied that the added expense of ground transport to farther-flung airports would routinely add at least $100 to each round-trip, which always makes flying from my preferred airport a wash, and that my status on American means an additional $25-35 savings each way on checked baggage that I'd have to pay on other airlines. The accounting rep then said that I should use the alternative airports and use public transit, which takes far longer to use (even though our employee manual specifically says the organization reimburses for cabs). The accounting rep said I could also save money by taking flights that leave at 5 a.m. and return after 10 p.m., even though my business needs often call for spending the morning in the office and taking an afternoon flight. As part of the "audit follow up," he instructed me to send accounting screenshots of all flights on Kayak available ANYTIME ON THE SAME DAY to ensure I am choosing the cheapest option regardless of time of day.The above passage doesn't even mention further costs, such as lost productivity to the business that such a selection process would entail, although that does come up. Obviously, it's harder to cut costs than just looking at a bunch of numbers for just one of the costs. In a similar vein, a software developer tackles a lament common among those involved in smart phone software, urging his compatriots to "Stop using the cup of coffee vs. $0.99 app analogy": Fact: Your $1 App is a Total Gamble Now, contrast this with your app, Mr. Developer. I don't know you from Adam. You're pitching digital Instant Refresher Juice 1.0 to me in the form of a new app. The return I'm going to get is questionable at best. I already have 30 games on my phone, some of them very good. Do I need another one? I don't play the 30 I have. The experience I'm going to get from adding one more game is not trustable. I'm assured of nothing. Last week I bought a game for 99 cents and it was terrible. I played it once, for 15 seconds. I could be shoving $1 straight down the toilet again for all I know. Your app, good sir, is a total gamble. Sure, it's only a $1 gamble ... but it's a gamble and that fact matters more than any price you might place on it. [format edits]Offering a lower dollar price for something is pointless if doing so fails to solve other, greater costs that exist whether or not they, too, are priced in dollars. Numbers may not lie, but they cannot contain the full truth, as both of these examples attest. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Philosopher Tara Smith has just published a timely and much-needed corrective (PDF) to the ongoing debate about freedom of speech. Although this has been published in an academic journal, the combination of the subject matter and Smith's clear writing will make the material accessible to any intelligent reader. Since I strongly recommend reading it, let me add that you should not be put off by its nominal length of 34 pages: In addition to this article being a pleasure to read, these are small pages and often only partially filled by the main article, with the remaining space for footnotes. These, although often interesting, can be skipped. If you've ever had a conversation with someone about freedom of speech and been perplexed by, say, nonchalance about censorship or an odd conflation of the content of speech with the idea of freedom of speech, this article is especially for you: You are probably well aware that people are confused about at least one aspect of this vital debate, and you will likely profit from Smith's clarity regarding what people are confused about, how widespread the confusion is, and what is causing the confusion. I'll provide a few excerpts below, but even these won't do justice as a teaser. But perhaps they'll show why I think that if you share my concern about our continued ability to enjoy the right to freedom of speech, you should read this piece in its entirety. Its title is, "The Free Speech Vernacular: Conceptual Confusions in the Way We Speak About Speech." Even if one is aware that many or most people have serious misconceptions about freedom of speech, Smith may surprise with some of her examples of intellectuals and opinion leaders offering muddled opinions on the matter. Noting that "not only rubes" use the terms "censorship" and "freedom" pliably, Smith provides an example from academia: n a recent law review article, Brian Leiter argues that, because much of what people have to say is of little value, we should temper our adoration of free speech and rein in its protection. In support, Leiter reasons that "[t]here is no free speech in the courtroom [where speakers must adhere to rules of admissible evidence and the like], and (almost) no one thinks there should be." We also accept restrictions on speech in classrooms and scientific research; therefore, he concludes, we would be justified in placing legal restrictions on all speech. Unfortunately, this, too, relies on a flagrant equivocation -- this time, between freedom of speech and standards of constructive speech. Freedom is not immunity from all standards of judgment (such as standards of logical strength, probative relevance, or pedagogical import). Rather, it is the absence of coercion; one's speech is free when it is not forcibly restricted by other people. [footnotes omitted, bold added] (71) The number and severity of Smith's examples are, fortunately, matched by her clarity about what is going on. Shortly after the above comes the following list of "Confusions Concerning the Referent of 'Freedom' of Speech": The point is, people sling around the phrase "freedom of speech" to mean several different and often inaccurate things. An inventory (which is not necessarily exhaustive): People confuse the absence of external coercion of speech with the absence of normative standards' applicability to speech (such as in Leiter's reasoning). People confuse freedom of speech with the quality of speech -- with its objectivity or truth or wisdom, for instance (as in [Bill] O'Reilly's remark about a free press). People confuse freedom of speech with the value of speech or with the value of a particular thing that is said. Yet the fact that a particular person's speech makes no positive contribution to the advance of knowledge or to the resolution of a question tells us nothing about whether his speech is free. (Leiter's contention that we should rein in freedom of speech because much speech has little value reflects this confusion.) Closely related, people confuse the value of speech with the value of freedom of speech. Yet in fact, the value of a particular exercise of the right to speak (e.g., of Jim's particular utterance at the meeting last Friday) does not dictate the value of his, or of anyone's, having the freedom to say what he likes. The value of particular instances of speaking is not identical with the value of freedom of speech -- of that general condition. People often mistake freedom for license -- for the prerogative to do as one pleases, subject to no boundaries whatsoever. This notion is implicit in [Steven] Pinker, [Jeremy] Waldron, [Eric] Heinze, and [Emma] Teitel, for instance, each of whom viewed legal limits as exceptions to free speech that demonstrate its not being absolute. In fact, these would be exceptions (abnormalities) only on the supposition that the governing norm should be utterly boundless, that respect for true freedom demands allowing individuals carte blanche. Yet as John Locke recognized, "[f]reedom is not, as we are told, [a l]iberty for every [m]an to do as he lists: (For who could be free, when every other [m]an's [h]umour might domineer over him?)." And this mistake is linked with yet another. People often overlook the fact that "speech" is a wider category than "freedom of speech." "Speech" does not mean "freedom of speech." Image of inscription of First Amendment via Wikipedia. Indeed, it is for this reason that the First Amendment decrees that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech" rather than "no law abridging speech." "Freedom of speech" refers to a specific subset of speech: of all the speaking that a person is capable of engaging in, it is that portion that he may rightfully engage in (i.e., without infringing on others' rights). The Amendment's language respects the difference between that which a person can say and that which a person is entitled to say. Correspondingly, the fact that a person's speech is restricted does not entail that his freedom of speech is restricted. It might be or might not be, depending on whether the restricted speech falls within his rightful freedom of speech, that is, the speech that he is entitled to engage in. And in light of this, we should be able to appreciate a final confusion: People sometimes treat the ability to do something interchangeably with the freedom to do that thing. This is reflected in the complaints that because a person can no longer use Facebook or broadcast his political views at work, his rights are violated. On just a bit of reflection, it is easy to see that there are plenty of things that a person is unable to do that he remains free to do. I cannot speak Polish, as it happens, and I do not know how to juggle, yet no one has interfered with my freedom to do either. Had I wanted to learn, I have been free to do so. My inability results from factors other than others' coercion. Admittedly, other people play a more influential role in a person's inability to broadcast his beliefs through certain media (T-shirts at work, on Facebook, etc.). Yet those uncooperative people are not coercing him. His freedom is intact, although his desires may be frustrated. For freedom does not mean: "I get what I want." (Again, such a notion of freedom could only be fulfilled by trampling on others' freedom. It is thus not an internally coherent conception.) The larger point is simply that an inability does not entail a lack of freedom. In short, this inventory makes plain that we often employ the term "freedom" of speech indiscriminately. We use it to refer to a range of phenomena that are actually distinct. [footnotes omitted, format edits] (71-74) There are more kinds of serious confusion about freedom of speech than you probably think. And they are more widespread among intellectuals and pundits than you might imagine. Likewise, even if you appreciate the importance of freedom of speech, you will likely find even more reasons to insist on a clearer debate. I will leave here with Smith's warning about the danger attendant to the widespread, sloppy use of the term, "censorship": The danger, in short, is the normalization of censorship. Whether or not that term is used, this is what takes place under a bloated conception of "freedom" of speech and under the latitude granted by the rejection of absolutes and the embrace of exceptions. Such normalization is not simply a far-off possibility. It occurs already. When an FCC Chair declares that, "there is censorship by ratings, by advertisers," conveniently excusing unwarranted government restrictions by effectively pleading, "don't object to the government for censoring -- we all censor, it's all the same," this is normalizing. When a Wall Street Journal columnist criticizes Google and Facebook for "excessive censorship," implying that some censorship would be fine, this is normalizing. [notes omitted] (p. 81) I highly recommend reading this piece thoroughly, first as a means of improving one's own thinking about the matter (including Smith's indication of where the confusions originate), and second, to be able to recommend it to others intelligently. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Image of autonomous vehicles via Wikipedia For a recent editorial on self-driving cars, Megan McArdle's title deserves an "A" for getting attention and an "F" for principle: "I'm a Libertarian. But Self-Driving Cars Won't Thrive Without Some Government 'Meddling'" Long-time readers might think I threw the flag on the first word, but I'm allowing a more generous interpretation of libertarian as meaning "pro-capitalist" there. I will even offer my qualified agreement with her, up to a point: Regulators are by their very nature risk-averse. Tragedies get laid at their door, while the main result of a success is that someone else gets the credit for whatever great new thing the regulator didn't prevent from happening. Innovating in a heavily regulated area, such as the national highway system, is thus a bit of a challenge. In the U.S., this difficulty is compounded by the fact that state and local governments also like to get in on the action. To get self- driving cars on our roads, we need a comprehensive federal framework that encourages innovation. [bold added]Indeed, given the regulatory and legal milieu of the United States today, some coordination of regulation (along with relief from liability) will have to happen for this technology to see daily use -- her "Level 4 automation" -- if it is even possible to do so in such a heavily-regulated sector. Sadly, we may be decades away from getting anywhere near a proper level of freedom in the transportation sector. That said, McArdle missed an opportunity to discuss how this could occur in a radically different legal context that truly does encourage innovation -- by respecting individual rights. Granted, it would take more than a column to make a full case for a truly private infrastructure, a tort system that isn't based on shaking down whoever has the deepest pockets, and allowing a combination of the profit motive and non-government standards bodies to take care of ensuring that the technology can be applied uniformly-enough to be useful for transportation. (Quick thought experiment: You run a private highway. You know that many different types of cars come to and from your road from other roads. Wouldn't it make good sense to come to some kind of consensus with auto manufacturers and other road owners on how to make this all work? Your time and distance perspective will already be greater than that of the local transit authorities or state regulators we now have. Your decisions will also not be subject to change at the whim of an unelected bureaucrat or an elected official in charge of said bureaucrat.) That said, it would clearly take a book or more to flesh out such arguments -- well beyond the scope of a column. But it would have been nice if McArdle, an intelligent writer whom I often enjoy, had at least indicated that an alternative to our current system of controls (which breed like rabbits) is possible. And again, there is the possibility that our government system is too brittle to allow fully automatic cars. Absent an alternative vision of government, we could well end up never seeing automatic cars at all, and falling for the myth that it was a nut we never really could crack. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. According to news reports, a California State Assemblywoman highly visible in the #MeToo social media campaign has come under fire for alleged sexual harassment. This is about as shocking to me as hearing that, say, a televangelist has been caught in an act of infidelity. There will always be hypocrites. It also doesn't surprise me that a female politician would eventually come under such scrutiny. Men don't have a monopoly on loutish or foolish behavior, and powerful people often feel like they can get away with things that others can't. In terms of newsworthiness, this would rate to me as another scalp, and potentially quite a valuable one. (That said, I do think that, in part due to generally being physically stronger, and in part for cultural reasons, men are more likely to perpetrate sexual harassment.) Strangely, an expert quoted by Politico doesn't see it this way, and that might actually be the most interesting part of the story: Image via Wikipedia.Jessica Levinson, a professor of law and political ethics at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles -- and the current president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission -- said that, if proven true, the accusations against Garcia threaten to seriously damage the nationwide movement that has been credited with bringing the issue of sexual harassment into the open. "Hypocrisy knows no bounds and no partisanship, it crosses all party affiliations,'' she said. "To the extent that these are substantiated claims, there's a picture of Cristina Garcia as a hypocrite in the dictionary." The stories underscore how "sexual harassment is not OK, period -- regardless of whether it's by a man, or a woman. And frankly, this threatens to set the movement back -- because when you have one of the faces of this movement facing these allegations, that's a real problem." [bold added]This can undermine the credibility of the movement, but only if Garcia remains unscathed by allegations proved true or she is ruined by false allegations. Both of these possibilities deserve serious thought regardless of the viability of any movement. In any event, something I noted before bears repeating: This could be very good or very bad, depending on why this is happening so quickly. It would be a very good thing if, indeed, this is a sign that, culturally, the kind of mistreatment of women the likes of Weinstein specialize in is no longer getting a pass. But consider that some of the outrage is coming from the left, which has been responsible lately for fostering outrages against men, on the premise that, as Cannon puts it so well, "merely being a man [might be] some sort of pre-existing condition." (Oh. And Caucasians. And the wealthy, but I don't really need to bring that up, do I?) Let's not forget that Weinstein is something of a strikeout: white, wealthy, and male.In other words, this movement is a mixed bag, and to the degree the left is using it to pass improper legislation, it is bad, and a loss of credibility among its bad elements isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, to the extent that this movement is making sexual harassment socially unacceptable, these allegations offer a valuable lesson. Consider the following: Unlike many women, he said he never felt physically threatened, and always felt supported by [California Assemblyman Ian] Calderon, his boss. But he said he feared repercussions from an influential assemblywoman who could affect his fledgling communication business. “Who wants to be that guy that Cristina Garcia is going after?” he said. [bold added]The "he" here was a 25-year-old staffer whom Garcia allegedly cornered and groped after an Assembly social event in 2014. The bolded quote can help many men better understand what the women facing the unwanted attentions of the more powerful go through when having to decide later whether to report such an incident. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Four Things 1. The coals to Newcastle aspect of this story isn't really that remarkable, but I think the following is: With rising crude exports and already booming overseas sales of refined petroleum products such as gasoline, the U.S. net oil imports have plunged to below 3 million barrels a day, the lowest since data available starting 45 years ago, compared with more than 12 million barrels a day in 2006. The U.S. could become a net petroleum exporter by 2029, the EIA said this week.Three cheers for fracking. 2. Has someone finally produced a tablet for the inveterate taker of notes on paper? I was initially ambivalent after reading this Gizmodo article on the "reMarkable," but the following comment from a Hacker News thread has me intrigued: Some cool facts about the device from a hacker point of view: Main developer/CTO is a KDE dev and very open source-friendly. You get root access to the device out of the box. The device is running a mainline kernel with minimal patches, which have a good chance at being upstreamed. The toolchain is open. They use vanilla QT/QML and people have already built simple example apps. There's an unofficial Linux client which works just fine. Desktop client and device run the same code, so you can just sync the files locally without connecting the device to the internet. Works both ways (it's the setup I use). [format edits, notes omitted, bold added]In other words, while the tablet may be pricey at the moment, and it might seem limited on its own, there is no dependence on a single device or a "walled garden" around the data it generates. Assuming the writing is as natural as the review suggests, this could make it really easy to enjoy the benefits of paper note taking and digitization all at once. Image via Pixabay.3. As long as they make a good gumbo: "This Mutant Crayfish Clones Itself, and It’s Taking Over Europe." Or an Etouffee. (Scroll down for my recipe.) 4. And speaking of crawfish, here's a map of what Americans call those delectable freshwater crustaceans. I actually called them "crawdads" when I was very young, despite being a Mississippian. The map suggests a possible explanation: My mother came from Arkansas, and her mother from Missouri, where that term is more common. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Over at The Unclutterer, there is a series that might be of interest to anyone interested in improving their record-keeping. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for links to the four earlier installments.) My first thought, upon encountering this fifth post was, "Wasn't that topic hot -- oh about a decade ago?" (The first post addresses that very thought, by the way.) The following excerpt both reminds me of my first foray into improved record-keeping and provides a good feel for what the rest is like: You probably still need one of these. (Image via Pixabay.)Is it worth imaging? If you're going to be shredding the paper within the next year, it may not be worth your time to scan it. The tax returns you are required to keep (but never actually look at again) may be able to sit quietly in a box until they are ready to be shredded. Focus on getting [this] year's documents imaged first, then work backwards in time if required. Many user manuals for appliances and electronics are probably already in digital format. Don't waste your time scanning them. Search for them online and download them. You can scan the receipt of purchase and keep that with the digital copy of your user manual. [format edits, bold added]Ah, memories! I remember going hog wild with my new scanner one afternoon back when I lived in Boston, and quickly realizing I was wasting my time. I also realized I would have trouble keeping up such a practice over the long haul. I quit, thinking I'd let ideas for a systematic approach percolate in my mind, but I didn't get back to it. Instead, a combination of indecision and being preoccupied with other things led, over time, to me defaulting into keeping many paper records as paper records, and simply shredding those regularly. It was when I found -- and deleted -- a directory of useless, scanned electric bills a couple of years later that I realized that using a drawer for certain paper records was a time-saver and explicitly made the decision. I think the series is a good idea: The novelty has worn off of "going paperless," enough that we can more easily see that it makes sense sometimes, and sometimes, not. Note further that the series discusses many other aspects of record-keeping from the perspective of record-keeping principles generally accepted in business. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. The anti-treatment "raw water" crowd* are at it again, this time improperly citing a study as "scientific" evidence that campers and hikers need not filter naturally-occurring water. Fortunately, the merits of treating naturally-occurring water are quite well established, and Wes Siler of Outside Online is paying attention. Siler notes something that opponents of this easy, prudent practice are all too eager to sweep under the rug: context. The study itself, the state of the scientific literature on the subject matter, and widely-known facts easily applicable with an ounce of common sense all contradict that foolhardy conclusion. Here is just a small sample of Siler's well-reasoned and clearly-written rebuttal: Image of Giardia via Wikipedia.The irresponsibility of the don't-filter argument is exacerbated by two things: While most Giardia, E. coli, Cyrptosporidium, and [other] waterborne pathogens induce fairly minor illnesses in adults, the effects can be much more severe if the infected person suffers from immunosuppression, is very young or old, or, as with my friend, is simply unlucky. In children, for instance, the CDC says giardiasis can may lead to symptoms as severe as delayed physical and mental growth, slow development, and malnutrition. Effective treatment options are affordable and easy to use. Use an expensive filter because you're short on time or like cleaner tasting water -- cheaper methods will keep you just as healthy. Both [physician Thomas R.] Welch and [Slate author Ethan] Linck argue that the failure to wash hands after taking a poo is responsible for more infections than drinking unpurified water. But while that is an argument for taking some hand sanitizer along, it is not an argument against water treatment. [link in original, bold added, minor edits]Even the study cited by Slate doesn't advise against treating water: "If our objective is to protect the backcountry user from enteric infection, then we should emphasize the overwhelming evidence showing that assiduous hand-washing or using alcohol-based hand cleansers is by far the most important strategy." I disagree with Welch that also urging water purification "dilutes" such a message. There is one point on which I do agree with Linck: Not purifying for oneself should be a personal decision since it is not risk-free, while purifying it is nearly so. As I have noted before, even this will probably not deter some people from flirting with the following scenario (or worse), anyway: Last year, a good friend of mine caught chronic giardiasis. The diarrhea that resulted was unpredictable, frequently sending him scrambling for a bathroom. For most of the year, that meant his dating life was totally on hold and he couldn’t travel. Already a thin guy, the resulting weight loss caused him to look visibly ill. To him, the worst part was the embarrassment all this caused, all from a parasite he caught on a camping trip here in California. [minor edits]It is with amusement that I consider those cases, so long as they are self-inflicted. To everyone else: You have been warned. And, if you are sending your kids to a camp, I recommend making sure those in charge will be treating any water they find. -- CAV * The author of the Slate piece claims not to be in this crowd, but his anti-capitalist sentiments, which permeate the entire piece, place him in the same "return of the primitive" camp, if you will. One can imagine him yelling "check your privilege" as he rushes to the water closet some time after a hike. Link to Original
  9. Making a point I noted some time ago, but from a different perspective, a commenter at Marginal Revolution explains part of why automation is not the threat that snobbish academics and pandering politicians would have us believe it is to "low level jobs" (as they like to think of them): Photo by Rhys Moult on Unsplash.For example, truck drivers don't just drive trucks. They also secure loads, including determining what to load first and last and how to tie it all down securely. They act as agents for the trunking company. They verify that what they are picking up is what is on the manifest. They are the early warning system for vehicle maintenance. They deal with the government and others at weighing stations. When sleeping in the cab, they act as security for the load. If the vehicle breaks down, they set up road flares and contact authorities. If the vehicle doesn't handle correctly, the driver has to stop and analyze what's wrong -- blown tire, shifting load, whatever.There is much more for anyone who sees a truck on the highway and thinks driving is the whole job for the man in the cab -- not that automating that task is easy. That said, the following stands out: "When you see how hard it is to simply digitize a paper process inside a single plant (often a multi-year project), you start to roll your eyes at ivory tower claims of entire industries being totally transformed by automation in a few years." It is interesting to consider the above in light of how much academics dislike being written off as irrelevant. To the degree that their fields are relevant to daily life it's part of the territory to the degree that the connection between their thinking and daily life is indirect or non-obvious. To the degree that many people disdain abstract thinking, it's a justified annoyance. But to the degree that they don't keep in touch with the world they're supposed to be studying, as seen here, it's unjustified. More, it is a sign that they need to re-think how they are working. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. I and many others bring up Venezuela, the (latest) example of socialism in practice, as potentially enlightening for members of the younger generation who might be amenable to evidence and logical argument when it comes to politics. But the assault of the left against Western civilization isn't just against economic freedom. Iran, like Venezuela, can serve as an example of what life can be like under one of the many cultures the left insists is superior to our own -- when the "racist" idea of individual rights is discarded. Apparently, it's high time for such an admonition, given that a college student is being publicly harassed for refusing to try on a hijab. From that just-linked blog post coms the following from a news story covering ongoing anti-hijab protests in Iran: The choice of wearing a headscarf should not be a matter of life, liberty, or even bravery. (Image via Wikipedia)"We are fighting against the most visible symbol of oppression," said Masih Alinejad, who hosts the website My Stealthy Freedom where women in Iran post photos of themselves without hijabs. Under Iran"s Islamic law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair with a scarf, known as a hijab, and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Violators are publicly admonished, fined or arrested. "These women are saying, "It is enough - it is the 21st century and we want to be our true selves,"" the Iranian activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Iranian police said on Thursday that 29 women who took part in the campaign had been arrested in Iran for protesting against the country"s compulsory hijab rules, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Those arrested were accused of public order offences and referred to the state prosecutor"s office, Iranian media reported. [bold added, link in original] The fact that the student being harassed isn't taking things lying down is encouraging, but it is alarming that such things go on with administrative approval. Aside from the campus group in the blog post, I am thinking of an email that landed in my in-box from a government university, which suggested celebrating "World Hijab Day." Perhaps it helps that, despite government schools working to replace young minds with invincibly prejudiced vessels of leftist orthodoxy, some of their teachings are so blatantly at odds (women should be treated as equals vs. multiculturalism here) that it's getting hard to miss. They may have government schools in a death-grip, but it is increasingly obvious that the Law of Non-Contradiction is not on their side. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Four Things 1. Lately, my four-year-old son has gotten it into his head that the least bit of wind will rip away anything light and, I guess, lose it forever. He gets worried any time I wear a scarf when I am around him, and will urge me to hold on to it. One day, I had it draped over my neck when I was taking him home from pre-k and there was some wind. In a near-panic, he grabbed both ends so it wouldn't go away. I had to just hobble to the car since my hands were full and there's no talking him out of things like this in one shot at his age. So now, when I might want a scarf, but will have him with me, I factor in doing without for convenience vs. using it so I can gradually show him the wind isn't always a big deal. 2. I always knew that the Navajo Indians were not the only code talkers employed by American forces, but I was under the impression that they were the first. Actually, the first code talkers were Choctaw Indians, and they fought during World War I: Choctaw Code Talkers (Image via Wikipedia)Unfortunately, there was little mention of the Choctaw Code Talkers after W W I mainly because the men did not discuss their roles during war. Both the term, and the Choctaw association to the term died out. It resurfaced again during World War II, when Navajo speakers were recruited especially by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units located in the Pacific.The exact way the Choctaw started out code-talking is lost to time, but it appears to have started when someone overheard two men conversing in the language in a barracks. 3. I hate snow, and vastly prefer to enjoy winter from afar. With that out of the way, I loved these winter photos from north of the Arctic circle. 4. Here are the strangest roadside attractions in each state I have called home: Mississippi -- The Devil's Junction/Birthplace of the Blues, Texas -- The Cadillac Ranch, Rhode Island -- Green Animals Topiary Garden, Florida -- World's Smallest Police Station, Connecticut -- Frog Bridge, Virginia -- The Great Stalacpipe Organ, California -- Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch, Massachusetts -- The Museum of Bad Art, Missouri -- Jesse James Home Museum, and Maryland -- National Museum of Civil War Medicine To find one from a state not listed, go here. The states are in order of when I first resided in each. Of these, I have lived in only one, Texas, more than once, and I wouldn't mind living there again. I have split my life roughly in thirds so far among Mississippi (where I was born, but which lacks opportunity), Texas (which I would pick, but which lacks my wife), and the rest. Of the others, five were due to Navy moves and three to be with my wife. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. A bill wending its way through the Washington state legislature is ostensibly aimed at making it easier for customers to repair their own consumer electronics. This "right to repair" bill would, for example, forbid manufacturers gluing batteries into such devices as smartphones and tablets. Apple has particularly raised the hackles of proponents, many of whom are either interested in making their own electronics repairs or are environmentalists. Here is probably the part of the article I empathize most with: Image via Wikipedia.Late last year, Apple confirmed that it slows down the processor speeds of iPhones with older batteries. This performance decrease can be fixed by replacing the battery, but Apple's replacement program has a weeks-long waiting list and the company has fought against third-party repair of its phones at every turn. A wave of so-called right-to-repair or fair repair bills that would prevent companies from having repair monopolies have been introduced in states around the country. Last year, 12 states introduced bills that would require electronics manufacturers to make repair information available to consumers and third-party repair shops and would require them to sell replacement parts for electronics. It would also prevent them from using software locks to prevent repair or from remotely bricking electronics that use aftermarket parts. Already in 2018, 17 states have introduced fair repair bills. [links omitted]While I empathize, as someone who used to upgrade my PCs when larger disks or cheaper RAM would hit the marketplace, the pace of improvements in many of these devices has been such that holding onto them for longer than a few years doesn't make sense for most people at the prices they have been able to pay -- on top of the repairs being harder due to the much smaller size of the devices. I suspect that the number of people interested in making repairs is insignificant enough in this market that catering to them would not make sense for most manufacturers. I have heard, for example, that gluing in batteries makes the devices cheaper: If only a tiny fraction of people who want, say, a Microsoft Surface, are interested in repairing one, why should the already-expensive devices be made even more so? And if enough such people want something like a Surface, nothing is stopping a manufacturer from making one and selling it to them. This law interferes with the right to contract, and will make devices more expensive for most people so a few hobbyists, people who waste hours to save small amounts of money, and environmentalist scolds can achieve their objectives at everyone else's expense. That said, I don't entirely scoff at the idea of phones being made easier to repair. I recall a smartphone I was perfectly happy with whose power button had failed -- but for which the cost of repair was comparable to simply buying a new phone: I ended up buying a new phone, and it really wasn't better enough that I would have otherwise bought it. It is easy to imagine companies pursuing short-term profits by making cheap trash, and perhaps some companies -- whose management is influenced by pragmatism -- do this. (In the case of Apple, I vaguely recall reading somewhere that phasing out support for old devices on its part is a way it saves money for most of its customers. In any case, potential customers of theirs shoud take note of its well-known practice of not supporting devices for more than a few years.) This is unacceptable, but it is something customers should handle themselves -- by refusing to purchase junk, or at least doing so with open eyes. In any event, that isn't a problem that government abridging the right to contract can or will solve -- although it will create other problems in the attempt. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Vox laments the "damage" EPA head Scott Pruitt is doing to the EPA "from within," even as it demonstrates ways environmentalists can slow down his campaign of regulatory rollback, delay, and non-enforcement. But the following passage is what I find alarming, given how Pruitt's tactics and the GOP's refusal to argue for the abolishment of the EPA tee it up: And, in the meantime, the government can keep subsidizing rights-violating noise-polluters like these. (Photo by Karsten Würth (@inf1783) on Unsplash) The EPA is essentially an environmental public health agency. Its regulations directly affect millions of Americans as it diagnoses ailments in the air, water, and soil, to name a few, and prescribes solutions. It has had a pretty great track record. The Clean Air Act, for example, reduced conventional air pollutants by 70 percent since 1970. Substances like ozone, carbon monoxide, and lead have dangerous consequences for human health like heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory arrests. According to one estimate, the legislation prevents 184,000 premature deaths each year and has saved $22 trillion in health care costs over a period of 20 years. [links omitted]It is easy to make Pruitt and the GOP look bad -- and to smear capitalism -- when there is no one pointing out that proper protection of property rights could accomplish many of the "public health" goals of the EPA while also protecting our rights, rather than violating them. And not only does a positive case against the EPA remain unstated, so does the negative case, against preventative/regulatory law. Pruitt may indeed give us breathing room, but it is coming at an even greater cost than I initially anticipated. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Dropbox -- or at least one of their bloggers -- takes on the question of what to do about the rightly hated "open office." The article starts off well enough, ticking off the many well-documented problems with open offices. But then, judging from some of the comments at Hacker News, the article then proceeds to tick off many of its readers by suggesting an alternate office plan many of them have problems with: Maybe it's better than this, but that's not saying much. (Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash) No designated desks. Today's mobile communication tools allow people to work from anywhere, opening up the entire building as a potential workplace. You may want the buzz of energy that a cafe or atrium can provide. Other times, you may find that setting up shop in the fresh air can lead to fresh perspectives. Moreover, according to the architecture and design firm Gensler, "employers who offer choice in when and where to work have workers who are 12% more satisfied with their jobs and report higher effectiveness scores." These kinds of setups -- where people have the autonomy to work in the areas that best suit their tasks and temperaments at any given moment -- may just be what offices need. With them, companies can finally achieve the freedom and exchange of ideas promised by the original open office of the 1950s. And that can give us something we can all agree on: workplaces that work for all employees. [formatting and link in original]Yes. It's "hot desking," and I've commented on it here, although it was to note the increased chance of theft of personal items such a setup brings with it. Many of the gripes against hot-desking regarded the fact that the setup makes customizing an office (with something like a standing desk) more difficult, and can leave workers without a real home base when they're at work. Lockers can partly remedy the second problem, and it appears that the market is hard at work on the first (such as with portable stands that can convert a traditional desk to a standing one). That said, the discussion there leaves me with the impression that I am not alone in being highly skeptical of this idea. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Government regulation frequently has economic consequences that are unintentional, or at least unanticipated by most people. It should be no surprise then, that, since regulations affect the behavior of individual human beings making mundane decisions, such consequences can pop up in the most unexpected places. I've noted a couple of these before, from the layout of suburbia to modern car design. To our list of examples, we can add architecture, which turns out to have a very long and rich history of such influence (and particularly so when we include special kinds of taxation as a de facto form of regulation). Here's an example from a survey by Kurt Kohlstedt at 99% Invisible: Taxation makes these houses in Amsterdam picturesque -- and a pain on moving day. (Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash)In 1783, Paris implemented a 20-meter (roughly 65 feet) restriction on structures, with a crucial caveat: the limit was based on measuring up to the cornice line, leaving out the roof zone above. Naturally, land owners seeking to optimize their habitable space responded by building up mansard roofs. Later window-based taxes offset some of the financial incentive behind this design strategy, but in 1902, an expansion of the law allowed up to four additional floors to be built using the roof-related loophole, helping to re-expand its utility. Similar restrictions in other places helped the mansard style spread beyond Paris as well.Regulation and taxation had other consequences, ranging from the picturesque through the curious to the disastrous: Respectively, Amsterdam's tall, narrow housing; English bricks increasing in size over the ages; and a deadly fire caused by a baker connecting his hearth to the chimney of a neighbor. Many people speak of the economic consequences of regulation in vague, abstract terms since it is easy in some respects to conceptualize its impact by looking at aggregate economic effects, like its $1.75 trillion drag on the economy. This can be useful, but in order to help other individuals understand just how pervasive regulation really is, it might help to recall such concrete consequences. Even a simple tax can end up interfering with such personal decisions as how to build a home. -- CAV Link to Original