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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Three Things 1. The number of our year is prime. To mark the occasion, someone with a mathematical bent came up with a list of fun facts about 2017 titled, "2017 Is Not Just Another Prime Number." Among other things, T.J. Wei notes the following: The prime number before 2017 is 2017+(2-0-1-7), which makes it a sexy prime, and the prime after 2017 is 2017+(2+0+1+7). 2017 itself is of course equal to 2017+(2*0*1*7).All I can add is the following observation regarding the last two digits of the year: In American mm-dd-yy notation, 11-13-17 will be the last date featuring three consecutive primes until February 3, 2105. 2. The bad news is that ransomware attacks are on the upswing. The good news is that there is now a place to turn to for help: t is sometimes possible to help infected users to regain access to their encrypted files or locked systems, without having to pay. We have created a repository of keys and applications that can decrypt data locked by different types of ransomware. See the bottom of the page for a list of decrypted ransomware threats. 3. Permit me a bit of Inauguration Day humor. Let's hope Donald Trump's jawboning -- or ideas on trade and currency -- doesn't ultimately result in any of the old jobs in this gallery making a comeback. A couple would be illegal today, but the rest disappeared due to improved technology. The unseen part of that story is that technology freed up labor for other things and created even more jobs than were eliminated. Similar points can be made regarding free trade. Weekend Reading "Stealth humor is perfect for anyone who is too spineless to criticize openly and stand behind his opinions." -- Michael Hurd, in "Toxic Humor" at The Delaware Wave "There are no morally wrong or 'bad' feelings." -- Michael Hurd, in "To Thine Own Self..." at The Delaware Coast Press -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids sounds the alarm over a bill in California, the bulk of whose primary opponents are, unfortunately, anti-vaxxers and the like. But if one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, one shouldn't assume a proposed law is harmless based solely on the opposition it attracts -- or good based on the stated intention of its sponsor. For starters, Jacob Sullum of Reason notes the following: All of the "rights" declared by [Richard] Pan's bill are vague, and several of them involve claims on other people's resources. In Pan's view, the decision to reproduce gives people a license to raid the wallets of total strangers who had no say in that decision. Furthermore, there are no clear limits to that license, since it's anybody's guess what "appropriate, quality health care" or "appropriate, quality education" might entail, what it takes to achieve "social and emotional well-being," or how the government can guarantee "optimal cognitive, physical, and social development." The most contentious "rights" in Pan's list are the ones that imply second-guessing of parental decisions and interference with family relationships. S.B. 18 says children have a right to "live in a safe and healthy environment," to have "parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest," and to "form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being." Since it's not clear what happens when a parent's idea of a healthy environment, healthy attachments, or a child's best interest conflicts with a legislator's or a bureaucrat's, you can start to see why the bill's opponents call it "an attempt by power-hungry California legislators to further degrade the rights of parents," argue that it "will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California," warn that "it's extremely problematic to allow a very small group of people to decide what constitutes 'best' for...millions of families," or worry that Pan's dubious, undefined rights "could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child." [bold added, links dropped]Sullum goes on to note that the state already intervenes on behalf of children in appropriate instances, such as child abuse. He is also correct to note that such a law would invite all kinds of meddling sooner or later. Let me add that, for anyone who pooh-poohs the threat that such a bill poses to parental rights, many states already have meddlesome laws on the books. From Skenazy's blog, it is possible to learn, for example, that in Maryland, it's illegal to leave a child under eight inside a locked car without someone else at least thirteen years old also in the car. This is supposed to promote safety, so who could argue against it? Allow me... Consider the following hypothetical: Your sick child, age six, is fast asleep in the back of the car (after a day of vomiting). It's cool outside; your other child's daycare is in a safe neighborhood; the parking lot is heavily trafficked by other parents (many of whom you know); and you park in full view of its office. You need to go inside for less than five minutes to pick up your other child, age four. Your spouse is unavailable to help you on short notice. Maryland law requires you to drag your sick child into the daycare center, if you can't find someone willing to hang out in your car with the sick kid, rather than doing the common-sense thing: Locking the door and making a quick pick-up. Perhaps Pan's ridiculous bill and the publicity it is attracting is a good thing: Parental rights are already under attack, and the situation will not improve until, for starters, we stop turning our brains off every time someone says something is for the "safety" of "our children." -- CAV Link to Original
  3. At RealClear Markets, editor John Tamny considersthe president-elect's repeated assertions that the dollar is "too strong," in light of history recent-enough for someone Donald Trump's age to remember, economic principles, and analogous cases. His last paragraph serves as an apt summary: While the president-elect talks a good game about the importance of economic growth, talking down the dollar measure amounts to fakery. To believe it works is as silly as a real estate developer believing he can command more for his properties by devaluing the square foot. This is not the stuff of a serious country. [bold added]This should also serve as a wake-up call for anyone who thinks Trump's business acumen or cabinet picks reveal him to be the antidote we need to decades of central "planning" and intrusive government. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas hits the nail on the head when she calls for the death of the "feedback sandwich," the kissing cousin of the internet's flame sandwich: n theory, this feedback sandwich -- bad news sandwiched between the Wonder Bread of praise -- is how you are supposed to do it. It's supposed to soften the blow of the bad news. Instead it made me cringe. Now, if this woman had regularly sent me emails praising my parenting, it would have been fine, but she doesn't. Lucas doesn't use the term, but her further comments about it being good practice to routinely offer praise or timely criticism indicate the nature of the problem with such "sandwiches": There is a dearth of justice in a working relationship in which someone feels the need to do this. I am glad someone has noticed this problem and found a constructive way to address it. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. A couple of recent stories from Free Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy's parenting blog, have reminded me of Ayn Rand's essay on "The Ethics of Emergencies," which argues that, because emergency situations are not metaphysically normal for man (cited at link), they should not serve as the basis for the ethical system by which he should live his whole life: It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions. An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible -- such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.). By "normal" conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue. By its nature, an emergency situation is temporary; if it were to last, men would perish. It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save.... The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.The modern variant of comparing our existence to a hospital or a life boat is to demand that we all live by the imaginary, worst-case dictates of precautionary thinking. Think of the biggest worry-wart you know (and probably ignore), and then imagine that person in power over your daily life. Here are just a couple of examples of this from Skenazy's blog, one from journalism and one from parenting. Here's the first: A squirrel chomped the leg of a senior citizen sitting on the porch of a retirement home in Deltona. WESH TV reports that the victim ran inside, furry felon still attached, whereupon it bit three more seniors. This is terrible. (Especially for a squirrel fanatic like me. One bad squirrel does not a bad species make!) Anyway, I bring it up because at the end of this "news" story, the reporter ("Robert Lowe"!!!) says in all seriousness, "Tonight I spoke with the parent company which runs the senior living center here in Deltona. They described in detail what happened but did not say what if anything they're doing to prevent another attack." That's right. The company did not abjectly, automatically and immediately announce any new measures it will take to make sure this once-in-a-lifetime incident does not happen once-in-a-lifetime again. What does Robert Lowe think should happen? Perhaps the parent company could chop down all the trees on its property, or cover the porch in wire mesh? Maybe it could hire some squirrel assassins? Give HazMat suits to the golden agers who inisist [sic] on venturing outside? My point is, this "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!" mentality is doing us in. It's making us dumb, scared, wasteful, ungrateful ... [bold and link in original]And now, before you laugh at yet another dumb reporter, consider the second, in which a father -- thanks to the courts empowering yet another meddlesome creep with a camera -- received criminal sentencing for making his eight year old son walk home on a familiar route one evening: [Mike] Tang later asked the court if a man who would not let a 20-year-old walk home at 8 at night struck them as a reasonable judge of danger. Apparently it did. This was a jury trial and the verdict came back: Guilty. Tang was sentenced to a fine of $220 plus one year of parenting classes plus 56 days of "hard labor" which sounds like breaking rocks, but is basically picking up trash and other menial tasks for the county. To date Tang has refused to do any of these things and now the county is threatening to suspend his driver's license. Which, Tang pointed out in an email to me, means his son would be doing even more walking.. Tang has filed an appeal even as the court has issued a warrant for his arrest. [bold in original]The above excerpt hardly does the case justice, so I recommend reading all of it. Do note that Tang correctly assessed the chances of harm coming to his son and made that clear in court -- and that the court labeled this speculation. This court then sided with the fevered speculation of the man mentioned in the first sentence of the above. After you do, consider the fact that, although such cases are currently rare enough to remain newsworthy, they are becoming common enough that we should speak up about them. Yes, the widespread availability of mobile cameras does mean that we might be filmed or photographed at any given moment. But having to live up to someone else's ridiculous notions about what is "safe" should not and need not be part of the bargain. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Three Things 1. We got more snow last week and I did well by doing good, thanks to my three-year-old son. At home with him Friday, while my daughter was in kindergarten, I took him outside to play with the snow. Almost at once, the sun peeked out from behind some clouds. "That's sparkly," he said, smiling, and causing me to enjoy again the wonder of snow through the eyes of a child. After observing me brush off the cars while we were outside, he also spoke up to offer me a good idea for the first time. I was showing him how he could loosen show from his boots by kicking at the steps. He said I should just use the brush. That made me smile, too. This isn't the first time my son has offered me solid help: He is good enough at remembering where things are that, if I am unsure, I can often ask him where something is and have him come back with it, moments later. 2. My wife and I have a movie night planned in the near future -- but It's her turn to pick, and she wants the new Star Wars movie. Intrigued by favorable reviews of La La Land on HBL (but afraid it might not be in theaters when my turn to pick comes), I made time to catch a matinee showing. This was one of the few times I didn'tconsult Scott Holleran before watching a movie I picked. But I did look up his review afterwards and found him to be spot-on, as usual: La La Land comes with realism. This film is not escapism, despite those minimizing it as such. In fact, what's most distinctive about this picture is its blended, balanced sense of a whole life, specifically, the whole life of one who creates. [Director Damien] Chazelle delves into how hard it is to create; how it's lonely, stressful and agonizing, including why it costs and why the artist's life is going to be to some degree cruel, not kind. Like the title, La La Land imports what haters regard as artificial about LA and strips it bare, showing that it's where the artist creates work that adds value, power and life. [bold added]I highly recommend the movie and, with the desire to see it out of my system, I plan to enjoy Rogue One on its own terms this weekend. But remember: If you do see La La Land, make sure you turn off your oven before you leave home. 3. I encountered the following fun fact while conducting some research: there is a strain of bacteria that can live off caffeine: [Ryan] Summers and his colleagues found these caffeine-feeding bacteria lolling in a flowerbed on the University of Iowa campus. Although that hardly seems like a logical place for such a stimulated species, Summers explained that it is far from jolting. "Due to the extensive presence of caffeine in the environment, it is not surprising that there are bacteria that can 'eat' this molecule for growth and reproduction," he wrote in a summary of his new research, set to be presented May 24 [2011 --ed] at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.These are related to a strain that was modified to become the first patented organism in the world. Weekend Reading "Every person plays a role in someone else's life, and if their personality changes, so too will that role." -- Michael Hurd, in "Not Everybody Welcomes Change" at The Delaware Wave "By refusing to labor under the delusion that you'll 'finally' be caught up, you'll get the same things done -- minus all the nervous baggage." -- Michael Hurd, in "You'll Never 'Catch Up'" at The Delaware Coast Press "What is news that the Democrats and their friends in media, and academia, openly talk about Russian hacking as if there's actual proof that it happened." -- Michael Hurd, in "Dems Sore Losers With Election Hack Outrage" at Newsmax "If offending others is taboo, then free speech isn't a right, it's a privilege exercised at the sufferance of whoever has the thinnest skin." -- Steve Simpson, in "Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?" at The Hill Productivity: Not Its Own End Interestingly, on the very day I decided to buy one of theseto evaluate it, I ran into a thought-provoking article (via Allison Green) titled "Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives." My executive summary is that it's because so many people treat "efficiency" as a goal, rather than ask themselves what they want to achieve. Merlin Mann, of Inbox Zero fame sums the problem up nicely: If you're just using efficiency to jam more and more stuff into your day ... well, how would you ever know that that's working?The article isn't perfect -- It lays the blame on "capitalism" at one point -- but it can help you put reams of "productivity" advice into better perspective. And, regarding that, see also Michael Hurd (linked above) on getting "caught up." -- CAV Link to Original
  7. From a report about a popular Chinese restaurant in Manhattan that recently diedfrom "over-regulation," comes the following little gem: The de Blasio administration noted the city provides free help to small businesses. The "Small Business First" initiative helps owners save time and money while reducing the amount of paperwork. Free compliance advisors are available for on-sight consultation aimed at helping small businesses comply with regulations.Set aside the fact that it is a lie to call anything funded from government loot "free:" What a fine, flesh-and-blood example of the economic maxim that "controls breed controls!" (And I can't help but be reminded of the Soviet-era "political officers" who were attached to military units, either. And cockroaches.) Regulars here will know that I regard the term "over-regulation" as a misnomer, because the government has no business running the economy. But even if we set aside our concerns with the proper purpose of government, it speaks volumes that, when businesses start dropping like flies due to a combination of taxes and red tape, the solution of reducing one or both doesn't even seem to occur to elected officials. Restaurants in New York face a regulatory environment so hostile that city officials admit that the extra work is too much for many owners -- so their idea of a solution is to charge ahead with the same regulatory burden, and add to the tax burden. And who is to say that having to deal with a government official when one ought to be thinking about how to run his business is going to save much time, anyway? On top of that, it is easy to imagine such "help" coming up with all kinds of new, time-consuming "suggestions" for anyone foolish enough to avail himself of it. The only thing missing from this travesty is a new regulatory requirement by Mayor Bloomberg that every business must deal with such officials. (For all I know, that's already on the books, too.) In any event, it is clear that officials know there is a problem, and that if anyone even mooted the idea of reducing the regulatory burden faced by small businesses in the Big Apple, the idea was rejected. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. In a recent column, George Will notes (among other things in its favor) the following good reason for keeping the Electoral College: Those who demand direct popular election of the president should be advised that this is what we have -- in 51 jurisdictions (the states and the District of Columbia). And the electoral vote system quarantines electoral disputes. Imagine the 1960 election under direct popular election: John Kennedy's popular vote margin over Richard Nixon was just 118,574. If all 68,838,219 popular votes had been poured into a single national bucket, there would have been powerful incentives to challenge the results in many of the nation's 170,000 precincts. [bold added]Add this to the fact that this system preserves individual voting power, ensures that a candidate with broad appeal wins, and underscores the legitimacy of the winner -- and the case for abolishing it seems quite weak. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. During the holidays, I ran across an excellent series of posts titled "The Sniff Test," by philosopher Ben Bayer, regarding the "fake news" controversy that either started or gained prominence during the last election cycle. Bayer offers the following diagnosis of the problem: Fake news sites exist mainly because they can make a fly-by-night profit by attracting eyeballs to ads. That means that they continue to exist because readers believe fake news and are willing to share it. But these readers should know better. A few moments of reflection is usually all that's needed to check the temptation to believe a fake or misleading story. The fault, dear readers, is not in our social media, but in ourselves. [bold added]Bayer's words are directed at two kinds of people: (1) Those who could stand to consider stories more critically, and (2) those who know there is a problem and wish to do something about it. These types are not mutually exclusive, as anyone who reads the series will realize. That said, Bayer offers the following advice for those of us in the second category: ... Rather than just telling your friends they've posted fake news [or calling for censorship -- ed], you might give them a tool to help avoid a similar mistake in the future. If you find my advice useful, consider sharing this article or any of its sequels with people who spread misleading information online. Or just share some of the advice. In my next five posts, I'll describe important critical questions we should ask about the stories we hear online. Eventually I'll include a separate link to an essay about each question here, so you can share just the one you might think an offending poster needs to ask him or herself: (1) What is the source of this story and what do I know about it? (2) How likely is the story to be true in the first place? (3) If this story were true, what else would be true? (4) Does the story represent its own facts honestly? (5) Why do I want to believe this story is true? [format edits]To this, all I can add is that, although I, too, am known "as someone who likes to posts links from Snopes" and already had a decent feel for how to assess the credibility of a story, I learned quite a few things from the series, and I strongly recommend reading and heeding the advice therein. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. ... No More, and Probably Less Many of a limited-government persuasion, myself included, have been pleasantly surprised, to say the least, by some of president-elect Donald Trump's proposed cabinet appointments. We should temper any enthusiasm, though, in light of the following explanation: [W]hat happened? Trump has no track record as a conservative to speak of, and not many people change their politics at age 70. What has made Trump seemingly the Democratic Party's worst nightmare? Was he a closet right-winger all along? I don't think so. My guess is that throughout the general election campaign and continuing to the present, Trump has been stunned by the insane outpouring of hatred against him and his family from the Left and the Democratic Party. My guess is that he didn't see it coming. He wasn't particularly conservative, and had never had anything to do with the social issues, the main locus of left-wing venom. As an urban real estate developer, he had worked collegially with Democrats in various cities. He had been a Democrat for much of his life; heck, he even had been a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He must have been shocked by the hysterical hatred that the Democrats unleashed against him and his wife and children. Trump spends a fair amount of time on Twitter; how do you think he felt when he saw that #RapeMelania was one of the top trending hashtags? [bold added]John Hinderaker of Power Line chalks this up to revenge: "One thing we know about Trump is that if you hit him, he will hit back." This makes a great deal of sense, and it may well lead to the vicious cycle (prima facie bad for the Democrats) Hinderaker's colleague predicts. But this is no rose garden for anyone genuinely concerned about limited government. What will Republicans -- the party he bullied into submission during the primaries -- do to stop him from pursuing bad policy (e.g., on trade)? Risk his wrath or "win" by rubber-stamping whatever it is he wants to do? There is a serious risk that the Trump presidency, a bad sign in itself, will usher in something much worse through the combination of haphazard rollbacks of some parts of the regulatory-entitlement state, ill-considered economic policy (Get that man a copyof Economics in One Lesson yesterday!), and high Democratic turnout after four years of this. The first two could even worsen things enough to make the third superfluous. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Why he is an enemy (or just passes as one for the moment) is much more important. Advocates of limited government must keep this fact in mind. Until and unless Trump establishes a consistent track record of advocating individual rights, we should not take him to be one. I, for one, won't be holding my breath. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Three Things 1. My three-year-old son was in a contrary mood when I asked him a question. "No!" he replied, crossing his arms, furrowing his brow, and puckering his lips. (This is so cute that I struggle not to smile or laugh when he does this. Fortunately, his next stage, to turn away from me, allows an easy out.) To amuse myself, I then asked, "Are you feeling contrary?" "No!" I won't do this again, but I next yielded to the impulse to ask, "Are you my buddy?" To my amazement, he paused and looked a little less flustered, and replied, "Yes." Along the same lines, I have noticed that he can pick up on when Mrs. Van Horn or I find something he says endearing. He'll say, "That's not siwwey!" -- which falls into the same category. So we're having to wear our hearts on our sleeves a little bit less these days. 2. Robert Hulseman, the inventor of the plastic Solo cup, died just before Christmas. Afterwards, the Washington Post ran a storyabout why the ubiquitous item so many of us take for granted was something of an engineering marvel. Here's part of it:One of the Solo Cup's distinguishing features, according to the patent, was the curved lip of each cup (see 10a in Fig.3). When several cups were stacked together, the lips would "engage" -- to use the company's language -- and rest upon each other, keeping one cup from sinking too tightly into the next.It is too easy to dismiss this invention as merely clever, as used as we are to plastic cups being so convenient. But I see it differently: Cumulatively by now, Hulseman has, with his ideas on design, spared us a great deal of time that would have been wasted in annoyance and frustration from just that one aspect of using plastic cups. 3. On the heels of receiving a surprise gift of a streaming video drone from my father-in-law, I have learnedthat anti-drone technology is being developed. And I thought all I had to worry about was running afoul of the hawk that terrorizes the squirrels in my neighborhood... Weekend Reading "John's excellent book argues that 'the goal of war is to defeat the enemy's will to fight,' and shows 'that aggressive, strategic military offenses can win wars and establish lasting peace, while defensive maneuvers have often led to prolonged carnage, indecision, and stalemate.'" -- Elan Journo, in "Netanyahu Is Reading Nothing Less Than Victory -- and So Should You " at The Times of Israel "To the extent that conservatives adopt the view that health insurance should be provided by government, they'll merely pave the road to government-run medicine (which they claim they are against.)" -- Paul Hsieh, in "No, the Government Should Not Provide Health Insurance for All Americans" at Forbes "To learn which of two factors really motivates someone, it's useful to see what he picks when the two come into conflict." -- Ben Bayer, in "Why Do I Want to Believe This Story Is True?" at Medium "Life is more about creating and cashing in on opportunities than it is about reflecting on chance events." -- Michael Hurd, in "Make Your Own Luck" at The Delaware Wave "When you say that someone knows how to push your buttons, what you're really saying is, 'This person knows how I think, what's really important to me, and how to say or do things that encourage me to become aroused within that context.'" -- Michael Hurd, in "Who's Pushing Your Buttons?" at The Delaware Coast Press -- CAVLink to Original
  12. Thomas Sowell, one of my favorite authors, and perhaps my favorite columnist, has written his farewell column. During a stay in Yosemite National Park last May, taking photos with a couple of my buddies, there were four consecutive days without seeing a newspaper or a television news program -- and it felt wonderful. With the political news being so awful this year, it felt especially wonderful. This made me decide to spend less time following politics and more time on my photography, adding more pictures to my [website].Writing at the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley (who discovered Sowell just a few years after I did), writes, in tribute:Mr. Sowell's first column appeared in 1977. Now 86 years old, he can't be faulted for wanting to spend "less time following politics and more time" on his hobbies, as he wrote last week. But what it means in practice is that many readers are losing perhaps the best professor they've ever had, even if they never went to college. Although Mr. Sowell left academia decades ago -- since 1980 he has been a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution -- he has never stopped teaching through his newspaper columns and many books, most of which are aimed at general readers instead of his fellow intellectuals.In his column, Riley emphasizes Sowell's commitment to learning the facts about what he wrote, and it is this commitment that has made his application of economics to the problems of the day so valuable for so many of us. But I have to disagree a little bit with him here: Sowell's columns (archived here) and books will remain a valuable resource for years to come for anyone who wishes to apply his knowledge of the past to today's problems. He is not done teaching, so much as making it look easy to cut through the fog and really understand what he often called "the passing scene." Thank you for your rigor and clarity, Dr. Sowell, and enjoy your retirement. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. It has become apparent, as "Manhattan Contrarian" Francis Menton lays out, that the global warming gravy train for government loot may soon be derailed. Among other things, Menton notes: And finally, there is the question of funding. Under Obama, attaching the words "global warming" or "climate change" to any proposal has been the sure-fire way to get the proposal whatever federal funding it might want. The Department of Energy has been the big factor here. Of its annual budget of about $28 billion, roughly half goes to running the facilities that provide nuclear material for the Defense Department, and the other half, broadly speaking, goes to the global warming cause: crony capitalist [sic] handouts for wind and solar energy providers, and billions per year for research at some seventeen (seventeen!) different energy research laboratories. During the eight Obama years, the energy sector of the U.S. economy has been substantially transformed by a technological revolution that has dramatically lowered the cost of energy and hugely benefited the American consumer. I'm referring, of course, to the fracking revolution. How much of the tens of billions of U.S. energy subsidies and research funding in that time went toward this revolution that actually produced cheaper energy that works? Answer: Not one single dollar! All of the money was completely wasted on things that are uneconomic and will disappear as soon as the government cuts off the funding spigot. All of this funding can and should be zeroed out in the next budget. Believe me, nobody will notice other than the parasites who have been wasting the money.This may be optimistic, but let's run with it, particularly the bit about scientific funding. It is worth noting, in the reverse order of how I encountered it, how having a single, large source of funding for science that is anything but "disinterested" results in a self-reinforcing orthodoxy that chokes off work outside that orthodoxy. In an piece at RealClear Investigations, James Varney quotesa dissident climate scientist, regarding the winds of change some of Trump's nominees could bring to global-warming related government funds and rules: While it could take months for such expanded fields of research to emerge, a wider look at the possibilities excites some scientists. [Princeton Professor Emeritus William] Happer, for one, feels emboldened in ways he rarely has throughout his career because, for many years, he knew his iconoclastic climate conclusions would hurt his professional prospects. When asked if he would voice dissent on climate change if he were a younger, less established physicist, he said: "Oh, no, definitely not. I held my tongue for a long time because friends told me I would not be elected to the National Academy of Sciences if I didn't toe the alarmists' company line." [bold added]The effectively single-payer government system of financing science, creates a weakness in the peer review system: The experts who review a paper are the ones whose research has made them able to fund their laboratories through grants. When the source of those grants has an agenda, it should be obvious what problem that brings, but let's hear it from the trenches, anyway: "In reality, it's the government, not the scientists, that asks the questions," said David Wojick, a longtime government consultant who has closely tracked climate research spending since 1992. If a federal agency wants models that focus on potential sea-level rise, for example, it can order them up. But it can also shift the focus to how warming might boost crop yields or improve drought resistance. [bold added]There is nothing wrong with a patron of science being interested in discovering the answer to a question. Indeed, that is how science funding ought to work. But when a "patron" is really looking for objective-sounding arguments to back up a coercive agenda, and controls basically all the funding, it's isn't just "asking the questions." Questioning the alarmist view of global warming in particular and, on principle, opposing central planning (which is a feature of every proposal based on such views, not to mention government funding of science), I welcome the news that this agenda is being thwarted. But the problem remains, so long as the state funds practically all science, that the search for truth will still suffer. Under such a scheme, the old orthodoxies of those who lost power will merely be replaced by new ones, if the newly-empowered remain so for long, and do not renounce state funding of science. Trump will not begin the necessary process of decoupling the state from scientific funding (or anything else), and I am even skeptical that he will do that much to curtail existing global warming cronyism. Don't cheer too much about this "train" being derailed: It's only a few cars off another that continues merrily on, and might even add a few more. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Well, this year's blogging break has been about equal parts excitement and frustration for me, and I consequently find myself having to ease myself into blogging. To do that, I will share a highly appropriate, inspirational quote I learned this morning from a digest of the Harry Binswanger Letter: It's a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it. -- Kira Argounova, in We the Living, by Ayn Rand, p. 107Most of this break we spent visiting relatives in Florida. I thought I'd adequately budgeted morning time for the vagaries of travel, visiting, and holidays, but I didn't figure on my three-year-old son to appear, beaming, each morning at 6:30, to end "writing time" an hour early practically every day. (Except, oddly, today, which allowed me time to write two posts.) So, for once, I end a break not exactly jumping at the bit to write, but that isn't really a bad thing. I was able to break out of rut or two, and the desire to continue some of the exploration I did is sure to be profitable. So I'll thank him for leaving me hungry for more with the early dismissals. Before I leave today, I'll put in a good word for HBL: I have subscribed for years and have always found the discussions there interesting and worthwhile. But it has improved over even that steadily since its renaming a year or so ago from "The Harry Binswanger List." I don't get to participate nearly as much as I'd like, and I still manage to gain incredible value from my subscription. As just one example, over the break, I downloaded and listened to a fascinating presentation given by Ashley Karen Roy about Alex Epstein's method of cultural activism. This came from one new feature at HBL, called "Meeting of the Minds," in which members can hear presentations or hold discussions in real time most Sundays. (Or listen later, at a more convenient time.) What impressed me most about Roy's talk was that, as Epstein considered how successful mass movements succeeded, she analyzed how he succeeds on an individual level. I'll stop there and make a plug: If you have a serious interest in Ayn Rand's work, I strongly recommend that you consider subscribing, which is easy through the longstanding offer there of a free, two week trial membership. That's just a sample of what I've been doing over the past week, and I look forward to pursuing that line of inquiry and a few other things I ran across, thanks in large part to HBL. -- CAV P.S. Twitter, of all things, deserves mention. I have, up to this point, mainly used it to automatically announce new blog posts, but I have found the email digests they send very useful. I don't want to stare at a feed all day, but I will be looking for some way to begin mining Twitter for information. Suggestions for efficient ways to do that are welcome. Link to Original
  15. Happy Holidays! It's that time of the year again, and with it comes my annual week or so off from blogging. This year, I plan to disappear until January 3. I am unlikely to check email or comments during this time, but will catch up soon after. As always, I thank you for making my blog part of your routine, and I wish you and your loved ones a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Three Things 1. The bad news (for me) is that we still live far-enough north to have to think about winter. The good news is that we're far-enough south that our taste of the recent arctic vortex was just enough snow that the kids could have a fun time with it. As with the blizzard earlier this year, I got a nice picture out of the bargain. Freezing rain preceded our dusting of snow, forming "leafsicles," as my wife called them, on a bush outside. The kids enjoyed crunching on these, including the one pictured. 2. Henry Heimlich has died. I mark his recent passingwith gratitude, because I probably owe my life to him. Years ago, I was eating lunch in an airport. Because of dental apparatus I had to wear at the time, I managed to lodge a chunk of meat in my airway. Before I fully realized what was happening, someone who knew the maneuver used it on me, to my immediate relief. Rest in peace, Dr. Heimlich. 3. Was someone so distraught by the election of Donald Trump that she stopped wanting to date? The blogger at Hot Air couldn't tell if the account was serious or parodic, but he offers the following wisdom: It is possible to disconnect the results of an election, even a disappointing one, from one's personal life. In fact, having a personal life that isn't wrapped up in politics is one way to cushion the blow when things don't go as you'd hoped. If election results are robbing you of joy and hope, maybe take a break and find something else that inspires you. There really is more to life than politics.Amen, so to speak. Weekend Reading "Perspective doesn't mean denying your appreciation for things." -- Michael Hurd, in "Perspective Is Everything" at The Delaware Wave "Leave it to the eternally smug Oprah Winfrey to provide Michelle Obama the forum in which to spread the party line that a president can inspire hope and confidence merely by uttering the words to an unthinking public." -- Michael Hurd, in "Obama's More Govt [sic] Leaves Us Less Hopeful" at Newsmax One More for the Road Or would that be the air? Over at McSweeney's is an amusing dose of perspective for anyone who will be flying with kids: "I'm an Excellent Conversationalist on Airplanes." Whatever your kids might do, they are saving you from That Guy... -- CAV Link to Original