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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Reproduction by William Stone, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. I am grateful to Bruce Yandle of the American Institute for Economic Research for reminding America, in this age of tariffs, of the Boston Tea Party and what it implied to its participants: The Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773 was a powerful protest by a freedom-loving group called the Sons of Liberty against the British government's decision to impose a tax -- a tariff -- on tea imported from China to the Colonies. The protestors opposed an arbitrary government action, which they saw as an infringement on their rights as Englishmen.And, in case this historical review isn't sufficient to give the reader at least a sense of irony about our Chief Executive acting like an English monarch in his purported effort to "make America great again," Yandle makes things more explicit: Thomas Jefferson, the Enlightenment thinker who penned [the preamble to the Declaration of Independence], saw this new nation as an experiment in liberty, one where free people ... with rights ... could pursue happiness. And how might they go about doing so? By cooperating and engaging in mutually beneficial exchange in the world's marketplace. These free people would not be inhibited by government, but assisted by it in their happiness pursuits.This is a profound point: By dictating to the American people with whom they may trade and on what terms, our government is indeed doing the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. To make America great again, one must have some idea of what made her great in the first place. By imposing tariffs, Trump eloquently demonstrates that he does not fully understand his self-proclaimed mission. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Writing at RealClear Markets, Jimmy Sengenberger of the Millennial Policy Center rightly calls the media on its predictable and incorrect adulation of nearly every left-wing program as "ambitious:" Minds change one at a time, and almost never all at once. (Image by Mael Balland, via Unsplash, license.) For some reason, massive entitlements and intricate bureaucracies are always and necessarily intrepid policy proposals. Yet there's nothing genuinely "ambitious" or "bold" about pitching complex, massive programs to give people "free stuff" and make "the top 1%" pay for it. The reality is that this path -- the big government path -- is truly the easy thing to do.This much is correct. Indeed, allowing for the confusion, common among conservatives, of "small" government with properly limited government, it is clear that Sengenberger's heart is in the right place when he goes further: "In truth, the hardest thing to accomplish is to shrink government -- its size, its scope and its power." Unfortunately the conservatives Sengenberger praises -- Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Donald Trump -- are dismal failures. If these hollow men are his inspiration, he is doomed to fail in the efforts -- with which I sympathize -- to "unleash... the unlimited potential of every individual to improve their own lives." Take just the first of these, Ronald Reagan, whom Sengenberger quotes: As Ronald Reagan said way back in 1964, "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on Earth." Truer words were never spoken. How many federal programs have been created that have really gone away?Put that together with controls breed controls, and it sounds like we are doomed. We need to dig deeper back in time and look harder for better examples to have any hope. And fortunately, I can think of two things -- foreign tyranny and the institution of slavery -- that were each far worse than any federal program today. Despite the fact that they are so far back in the rear view mirror that even today's would-be defenders of liberty often seem to have forgotten them, they hold lessons for us today. In both cases, men who regarded liberty as a moral cause did everything in their power to persuade others of the merits of their cause and to join them. Unlike Reagan (and many of their contemporaries), the abolitionists didn't tsk and pretend that slavery was some sort of unchangeable condition of nature. Nor did they propose to "reform" the inherently corrupt system they opposed, as did George Bush. And they certainly didn't "take an ax" to the institution of slavery by, say, freeing a few hundred slaves and leaving it at that -- which would be the nearest equivalent I can think of to what Trump has done regarding the regulatory state. The restoration of liberty in America, if it is to occur, will require a significant minority of people to re-embrace the individualism that was once much more common in America. That may take some time, but it is a fight worth fighting in whatever way one can. My contribution of the moment to those passing by would be to point them to the thoughts of the philosopher and energy activist Alex Epstein regarding mass movements (worth the price of admission), historian Brad Thompson on the abolition movement, and novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand on the moral foundations of liberty. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. This morning, I experienced the spiral theory of learning in a humorous and productive way. Image by Xiang Hu, via Unsplash, license. Without going too far into the gory details of my writing setup, I have for years written and edited blog posts and the early stages of other pieces with (1) a great text editor first created in the 1960's, and (2) a script that adds an HTML header and footer to the (markdown) file. That file automatically refreshes every few seconds. This setup allows me to edit an HTML file and see the results in close-enough to real time for my purposes. It's clever, if I say so myself, and easy to use. I have also for years had an extension within the text editor that allows me to view web pages within the editor. It's ugly and not my first choice, but sometimes, it's a great way to quickly and cleanly view sites that are slow to load or that have bad visual design: I just see the text, and can access it with all my editing functions and macros if I want to. So this morning, due to a weird problem I had encountered, my mind was working on software in the background and I made a connection that had, oddly, eluded me all this time: I could try loading local files into the browser extension. (I think part of why this never occurred to me was due in part to how one of the text editing modes opens links: It had wrongly gotten into my head that my editor would always want to edit local files, but call an external program to view HTML links...) So I did this and very quickly realized that I could do everything -- edit HTML and see near-real-time results -- all within my edtior, and without the mild annoyance of having to open a browser, arrange application windows, re-size the browser, etc., etc. In Emacs, I just split my window and see the HTML on the left and the rendered text on the right. I thought, with a chuckle at my own expense: How did I not realize this much sooner? And then I proceeded to write this post that way. Lots of things just got even better in my writing software setup. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. At Jewish World Review is an article by Helen Carefoot on turning goals into accomplishments. The article draws from several productivity experts to offer both general advice and specific tips pertinent to becoming better organized and more effective -- but laudably mentions that different things work better for different individuals. Accordingly, it advises self-monitoring and adjustment. That last is indispensable. Over time, I have come to regard advice on productivity to be almost as difficult to evaluate and apply as advice on nutrition for the same kinds of reasons: Individual situations are variable enough and the science behind some of the advice (i.e., psychology or nutrition) is not well-enough established. Having said that, I regard this as the kind of piece that offers most people a chance of finding something valueable. In my case, I expect to put the following to good use the next time I have to deal with certain kinds of tasks that normally bring out the procrastinator in me: Image by Cristian Giordano, via Unsplash, license. Drumming up enthusiasm to accomplish even mundane tasks is half the battle, she said. Tying consequences and rewards to tasks helps them get done. "Think about the reasoning behind it and ask 'how can I find the "I want to" in that task,'" she said. For example, [Liz] Sumner recently obtained an Italian driver's license after several less-than-fun visits to the Italian equivalent of the DMV. Her motivation was being able to drive in her new home country, and she used that to propel her through steps such as making time to study for the test (which was given in Italian) and booking appointments. [bold added]I wouldn't call this (or advise?) "tying" consequences and rewards to a task so much as discovering and retaining awareness of those things. Yes, you could try to "gamify," but I think looking for a real motivation by love will work better, by tying the goal and actions to the rest of your knowledge and values. This advice reminds me of the visualization techniques Mark Murphy recommends in Hard Goals, but one can go further. If one has to sit and wait at the DMV in order to enjoy those scenic drives, why not also find a way to use or enjoy that time, in the likely case that the room is not filled with the world's most scintillating conversationalists? I did just this at the DMV a few years ago, when I wrote part of a blog post on a smart phone -- using the venerable, 1960's-era emacs text editor -- just to see if I could. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Blog Roundup 1. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn makes a good case for full legalization of cannabis (as opposed to the tightly regulated and taxed piecemeal "legalizations" we're seeing today). Along the way, she counters a common objection: It is also important to recognize that in a social system based on the principle of freedom, no one can be forced to pay for others' treatment, of for their food, housing, or anything else. Individuals are responsible for their own health care, for which there will be competing providers at different price points. (The truly destitute, which would be a tiny fraction of the population in a free market system, will have to depend on private charity. Historical evidence shows that private charity flourishes when government is not involved in social welfare). In a free society, no one is their brother's keeper by force.Her argument, incidentally, demonstrates just how self-defeating "libertarians" who really just want to smoke marijuana are: The stakes are far higher than that, and any narrow "win" on that very minor issue will be partial and temporary at best if we do not fight for the broader principle of freedom. 2. At the blog of The Harry Binswanger Letter is a post arguing that "All Trade Deals Are Bad Deals." In addition to explaining that such "deals" are fascistic by nature, Binswanger debunks the idea that our "trade war" with China is in any way justified by incidents of intellectual property theft: [T]oday's approach is the unjust practice of punishing a whole group for the misbehavior of one party. Imagine that Qualcomm were found to be stealing intellectual property from Apple. Would that justify slapping a tax on every American business in order to "play hardball" with Qualcomm? It's even more outrageous to tax all Americans in order to "play hardball" with Huawei. Punish the offending party, not the population at large.This is only one of several points Binswanger makes by using non-international examples to remove the confusion that the existence of international borders seems to cause for many people. 3. Bookish Babe briefly discusses Hidden Figures and follows up with a book recommendation: The author wrote a young readers version of Hidden Figures. I mistakenly purchased this version. I believe this is an excellent book that will inspire children to respect intellectual pursuits.I am grateful for both the reminder of an excellent movie -- which I managed to miss when it was out -- and the young reader's book. I need to see the former, and my daughter perhaps could use the latter down the road. She seems to be good at math, and might do well to see where that could take her. 4. At New Ideal, Ben Bayer briefly elaborates on Ayn Rand's views about religious faith, ending as follows: If you believe in that, I have a pair of cloth glasses to sell you...(Image by Kirill Balobanov, via Unsplash, license.) Rand's view that faith is fundamentally a fear of independence helps further distinguish her view from the idea that faith is simply trust we invest in others. Belief from fear is far from being belief that derives from an awareness of others' expertise or reliability. By the same token, it is also very far from some kind of divine light whereby God directly illuminates truths we contemplate in the privacy of our minds.Within the post are quotes by Rand (a) indicating what faith is (and why it is bad) and (b) regarding the psychological motives behind it. There is also a link to a webinar where the issue of what faith is came up. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. A 2016 article from Harvard Business Review discusses innovations in four very different fields as exemplary of what its authors (including Clayton M. Christensen, who coined the term disruptive innovation) regard as a way to focus one's inventive efforts: Know the jobs your current and prospective customers need done. (I have seen this abbreviated elsewhere as JTBD.) After a somewhat long lead-in -- which you can skip by searching "The Business of Moving Lives" -- the authors get to what I found to be the most interesting example. A building company had been having trouble selling condominium units to its target market of downsizers (e.g., empty-nesters and divorcing parents) and was unable to figure out why from any of the usual ways of investigating the problem, such as from demographic data. And attempts to boost sales, such as from changes to the units based on focus groups, were unsuccessful. So the company brought in Bob Moesta, an innovation consultant. Moesta's approach involved interviewing people who did buy units in order to see whether there were any common threads that might help him discover what job the units were successfully doing for the buyers. This is an important part of what he was able to piece together: Image by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash, license. n Moesta's conversations with actual buyers, the dining room table came up repeatedly. "People kept saying, 'As soon as I figured out what to do with my dining room table, then I was free to move,'" reports Moesta. He and his colleagues couldn't understand why the dining room table was such a big deal. In most cases people were referring to well-used, out-of-date furniture that might best be given to charity -- or relegated to the local dump. But as Moesta sat at his own dining room table with his family over Christmas, he suddenly understood. Every birthday was spent around that table. Every holiday. Homework was spread out on it. The table represented family. What was stopping buyers from making the decision to move, he hypothesized, was not a feature that the construction company had failed to offer but rather the anxiety that came with giving up something that had profound meaning. The decision to buy a six-figure condo, it turned out, often hinged on a family member's willingness to take custody of a clunky piece of used furniture. That realization helped Moesta and his team begin to grasp the struggle potential home buyers faced. "I went in thinking we were in the business of new-home construction," he recalls. "But I realized we were in the business of moving lives." [bold added] On reaching this understanding, Moesta came up with ways the company could make moving less traumatic for its customers. Upon implementing his advice, his client saw an impressive gain in sales despite terrible overall market conditions. The last bolded line of the above passage is the most important: Even when it seems obvious what one's job is, unexpected difficulties might be a symptom that one's assumptions about it are wrong. Or, to put it more broadly: Gaining and maintaining a firm grasp of the job-to-be-done is an active and ongoing process that is essential to occupational success. I highly recommend this piece not only for its obvious merits to businessmen, but also because almost anyone can learn from it to become a better trader, and at any point in a career. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Over at The Bitter Southerner is a well-written and positive piece about how gas stations have managed to survive in the rural Mississippi Delta -- by addressing the need for restaurants and small grocery stores in a region that unimaginative "activists" and government bureaucrats know only as a "food desert:" Image by Nsaum75, via Wikimedia Commons, license. Other nearby operations have adjusted their business model to service both a hungry crowd and those needing fuel. Spend one day traveling the two-lane highways of the Mississippi Delta and you will undoubtedly come upon one of some 50 Double Quick stores scattered throughout the region. With nearly a century under their belt in the petroleum business, the Gresham family, owners of the Double Quick chain, have learned to accommodate the near-constant fluctuation in gas prices by operating these shops as full-fledged restaurants and occasional grocery stores. "We tend to think of ourselves as a food destination first, that just happens to sell fuel," says Damon Crawford, director of marketing for Double Quick. Customers in search of fried chicken tend to agree.And it's not all fried chicken: The combination of variety and quality in unexpected places reminds me a little of the first time I read about some of the hole-in-the-wall establishments described by the late Richard Collin in The New Orleans Underground Gourmet as a teen. A short list ranges the gamut from a particularly inspired take on the moon pie (not for me, but still), through boudin sausage, to Indian cuisine. As a native Mississippian, it wasn't the quality or variety of what was available so much as where it was showing up that surprised me. But I grew up in Jackson, and am not very familiar with that part of the state, despite the fact that my father's side of the family comes from there. But, should I happen to go through there, I look forward to making a stop or two for the food. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Jane Fonda's been getting arrested -- for breaking the law in the name of "climate" activism this time. But has she been doing jail time? Not at all: Hell, she isn't even being fined. The following comes from a recent Brent Bozell column on the subject: Something is more than fishy about this catch-and-release policy. (Image by www.raubfisch24.de, via Pixabay, license.) This is nothing but an exercise in political vanity. Getting arrested sounds all naughty and risky -- but there are no risks. The Capitol Police does not allow demonstrations on the Capitol grounds without a permit, so these leftists come unauthorized and play Martin Luther King for a day -- unauthorized but not unannounced. Press attention (and adulation) is everything, so they make sure everyone knows they're coming. Protesters are put in single-use plastic handcuffs and usually taken to the Capitol Police garage. Fonda isn't sitting in jail over the weekend. No one's fining her $1,000 for the trouble. When Fonda was first arrested, on Oct. 14, the network morning shows were predictable stenographers to leftist protest. [bold added]I was at first mildly offended at Bozell's "play Martin Luther King for a day" -- until I realized that that is a perfect characterization of what is going on here. And there is cause for offense, but not directed at Bozell. Jane Fonda and Ted Danson hardly face the kind of risks that the civil rights protesters of the 1960's faced when they protested Jim Crow in the South. Their cause is not just: The science concerning climate, being science, is debatable. The notion of the government taking control of the economy and our lives -- given its proper purpose of protecting our rights -- would not follow even if "the science" unequivocally showed a crisis, which it doesn't. Ditto even if "renewables" could quickly take the place of fossil fuels, which they can't. Indeed, given how popular their views are among the government and the media, they aren't fighting at all. And on top of this, the Capitol Police are being used, at public expense, as stooges to help them pretend -- to themselves most of all -- that they are being brave. The fake arrests, on top of being a misuse of government, are an insult to the memory of Martin Luther King, and a sacrilege. As a professional actress, Jane Fonda is well practiced at pretense. Rather than fawn, more than one journalist should note this fakery. And rather than help her fool the young and the credulous, our negligent journalists should ask: What else about her understanding of the science and professed concern for politics might be phony? -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Over the weekend I accidentally had the pleasure of shutting down an annoying solicitor cold. On top of that, I gained a positive interaction with a neighbor and perhaps further small opportunities to support the enormous value of industrial civilization. At home with the kids while my wife was out helping her parents house-hunt, I heard a knock on the door. It was close to when I expected everyone back, so I half-expected my wife. Instead, I got one of today's equivalents of a patent medicine salesman: It was a representative of a solar panel installation company. Image by Vivint Solar, via Unsplash, license. We exchanged pleasantries, and then had something like the following brief conversation, picking up from the instant it became clear he wanted to push solar panels on me: Me, cutting him off in mid-sentence: No thank you. I am not interested in solar panels. Salesman: You're not interested in saving money? Me: I'm not interested in government subsidies. Also, I support the continued use of fossil fuels because I don't think solar technology is anywhere close to being able to replace them. Salesman: Would you like our brochure? Me: No thanks. Thank you for your time. Salesman: Have a good day. Me: You, too. I think this was an okay response, but not a perfect one, and I'm not going to beat myself up here: For one thing, I'm easing out of a long period of not having many face-to-face conversations like this. That said, I look back wishing I'd noted that solar is actively harmful because it destabilizes the power grid, and had a clearer idea about how the government "incentivizes" it in Florida. (I believe it's actually primarily through tax breaks, although I would hardly be shocked if the apparent dollar cost savings seen by a homeowner turned out to be unimpressive over the long run.) On the positive side of the ledger, I was firm, but polite. I successfully cut my time losses and spared myself a litany of green intellectual debris. I may have succeeded in doing my small part in countering the leftist trope that all opposition to environmentalism comes from knuckle-dragging troglodytes. And, perhaps the salesman at least knows that there are thinking people who question the premise that solar is a panacea. Best yet, a neighbor happened to walk by while I was doing this. I didn't know who it was until later, when, driving by while I was outside with the kids, she stopped to thank me for shutting this guy down so quickly. Although I think she was more impressed with the fact that I so quickly dispatched a solicitor, I did take the opportunity to reiterate my contention that solar is not a cheap or reliable power source, and I mentioned that Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels did a great job countering lots of garbage -- Yes, I used the term. No, I'm not sure that was the best time to use it. -- about energy and global warming hysteria. Will my neighbor follow through on my recommendation? Time will tell. Did others overhear me make it? Maybe. But the most important thing was that I didn't let the guy guilt me or leave thinking he was offering anything of value to me. Unlike anyone else on my block (that I know of), I will not so much as have this person darken my door again, and, knowing how my mind works -- slowly and in the background -- I will have an even better answer the next time this happens, if there is one. My main small regret is that I would have liked to more clearly register my moral disapproval of this racket in the moment, so as to avoid any staircase wit later on. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Four Things I like to keep an eye out for web resources I can use to teach my kids about various subjects. Here are four you may not have heard of, in no particular order. 1. The relationship between the earth and the sun lies behind the day-night cycle and the seasons. Bartosz Ciechanowski has posted a thorough but accessible, illustrated and interactive guide to the complexities: Over the course of this article I'll try to explain how the Sun and the various motions of the Earth end up making our planet look like in the demonstration below. You can drag the globe around to see it from different perspectives and use the sliders to change the date and time...The interactive parts are fun, and provide a great way to get past Night is the earth's shadow and hand-waving about how axial tilt causes the seasons. 2. Here (and above) is a short video of the first moon landing. 3. In another short video is an animation of how the continents and oceans have changed over time, by Christopher Robert Scotese of Northwestern University: Notice how the areas of green (land), brown (mountains), dark blue (deep sea), and light blue (shallow seas on continents), changes throughout time. These changes are the result of mountain-building, erosion, and the rise and fall of sea level throughout time. The white patches near the pole are the expanding and contracting polar icecaps. The first part of the animation is a global view. The second part of the animation is a closeup view...I once inadvertently frightened my daughter (then six) when I told her that where we lived at the time was once underwater. I don't know if this would have necessarily helped then since the time scales are so great, but I'm glad to have this available the next time such a subject comes up. 4. I am not one to push my children to try to gain early admission to college, but if one of them shows enough aptitude and interest, I want to be able to help. And yes, I'd heard of the Khan academy, which I suspect I'll use sooner or later. But there's more advanced stuff out there, too, like MIT OpenCourseWare. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Noticing that the way I maintain my daily planner was causing me distraction, I recently realized that a major problem was that I was attempting to use the same document to simultaneously track what venture capitalist Paul Graham might call the maker's and the manager's aspects of my schedule, or Cal Newport (author of Deep Work) might call deep and shallow work, or Alex Epstein might call what-thinking and how-thinking. (These categories do not completely overlap, but they together indicate that different kinds of work require different kinds of planning.) What is missing, here? (Image by Austin Distel, via Unsplash, license.) My own terms for coming to grips with the time aspect of my problem are scaffolding and space. The former type of planner item includes things like phone calls, errands, small tasks, and scheduling constraints like appointments. The latter includes time for such deep work as research, mulling, and writing. I was finding the format of the planner, while ideal for helping me navigate the non-deep part of the day, was hindering me during times I wanted to do deeper work, and this was even after I had started planning that in advance in order to avoid decision fatigue. Here is my initial stab at what was going wrong, from a journal entry: The document I have been calling my Planner is an unholy (and demoralizing) combination of scheduler and to-do list. I feel very limited when I look at it during creative/work time because of all the crap hanging over me AND (I just realized in words): Nothing creative or productive [in terms of deep work] is listed. [format edits] The last sentence isn't completely accurate: I'd have things like "research "X or "work on a column for an hour," but these were jumbled in as bullet points of the same order as "Take kids to gymnastics," or "Call about hurricane deductible." There are at least three things wrong with this: (1) I start out a deep work session with unnecessary reminders of things I am free to set aside; (2) I didn't necessarily have any kind of breakdown of the tasks on hand; and (3) The inflexible format of the planner wasn't conducive to note-taking or brain-storming -- unless I already had a dedicated place for that. The last two are related in the sense that sometimes there is no way to know exactly how to proceed. But that should be noted, if it is true, I think. (This both sets a standing order for the subconscious and serves as a reminder on the day.) But the most glaring problem, I see in retrospect, is that the planner wasn't capturing creative, longer-term goals. All that said, my planner wasn't worthless: That kind of planner helps me determine and remember the structure of my day, like scaffolding. But it was ill-suited to guiding me during my deep work during the spaces of time I allotted for it. Recalling, possibly from Deep Work, that Newport would just sketch out a plan for his deep work in no specific format, I decided to try using two types of planners. The old planner is now strictly for "scaffolding" and the new for "space." The new planner does not have bullet points and more closely resembles a journal. The format for a given day varies, depending on what I want to do, with only the following usual formatting: Date: There is a date at the start of a day's entries. Goal Listing: There is link to the section of the other planner where I list goals and time blocks for the day. Block Header: At the start of a block of deep work, I briefly re-state my goal. Notes: If there is not a separate place for notes on whatever it I am working on, notes related to my work go next. This can be as much as a few short paragraphs or as little as a brief sentence summarizing my progress. (If I can't work on something, it's a scheduling problem and I make an entry in the scaffolding planner.) I usually note the time I start a block. Block Footer: I always put down the time a given block ends and make sure I have some form of notification. This is a new habit and a work in progress, but I have already noticed I look forward to planning each day. I also feel freer than I did before since I don't look at the "scaffolding" quite so much. In the interest of getting more ideas about planning deep/maker's work, I did a search on Cal Newport's productivity blog yesterday, and think the following three "deep habits" entries will be worth consulting as I get used to working this way: Plan Your Week in Advance, Three Recent Daily Plans, and How a Big City Lawyer Uses Weekly Planning to Accomplish More in 45 Hours Than Most Could Accomplish in 100. From the first: On Monday mornings I plan the upcoming work week. I capture this plan in an e-mail and send it to myself so that I will be sure to see it and have access to it daily. (See the snapshot above of some recent plans in my inbox.) This planning can take a long time; almost always longer than an hour. But the return on investment is phenomenal. To visualize your whole week at once allows you to spread out, batch, and prioritize work in a manner that significantly increases what you accomplish and goes a long way toward eliminating work pile-ups and late nights (the latter being crucial if you practice fixed-schedule productivity). There is no best format for creating a weekly plan. In fact, I've found it's crucial to embrace flexibility. The style or format of your plan should match the challenges of the specific week ahead. (Indeed, attempting to force some format to your plan can reduce the probability you maintain the habit.) [links in original]Newport's first sentence gave me an actionable idea regarding planning the week: That, too, requires distinguishing between the scaffolding and the space. I had been attempting to plan my next week each Friday afternoon, but often finding myself not feeling very energetic. So I'm splitting that up, too: I will lay out the scaffolding on Friday, and briefly consider what deep work I want to do the next week. But then, I will plan in more detail on Monday morning. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. A ProPublica piece by Talia Buford titled, "The Obscure Charges That Utility Companies Add to Your Bills" discusses "16 lurking surcharges" on bills from a New Jersey electric utility. Predictably and wrongly, the article departs from there to impugn utilities nationwide for cheating their customers and implying that they have a freer hand to run their own affairs than they actually do: Image by Giorgio Tomassetti, via Unsplash, license. Across the nation, local and state governments have turned to utilities to address acute and pervasive infrastructure needs, while utility companies have looked to surcharges as a way to finance those projects -- and ensure steady profits. Sometimes, utilities have used revenue from surcharges to pay for things other than infrastructure, many of which customers might expect are already included in their rates: tree trimming (Kansas), smart meters (Colorado) and pension costs (Massachusetts). In New Jersey, gas and electric bills are packed with add-ons that pay for everything from installing solar panels to putting substations on platforms above flood levels. For residential customers, a single charge, added to bills in increments as tiny as a thousandth of a cent per kilowatt hour, can add $35 to $45 a year to costs; for industrial and commercial customers, the charges can add up to tens of thousands of dollars annually. And it's all on top of the price that regulators have agreed customers should pay for their electricity service. [bold added]In other words, utilities have to go through regulators to set rates -- which are apparently not adequate to cover their costs, some of which are mandated by those regulators. I am already inclined to blame the regulators, but that's not the only reason power rates are higher than they ought to be. For the full story -- and a more objective take on the current relationship between utilities and government, I refer you to an article by Raymond Niles of the American Institute for Economic Research. He's writing about another problem caused by the government's stranglehold of the energy industry, but much of what he says directly applies to the ProPublica story: Consider that Californians already pay some of the highest electric rates in the country. This is also a result of the [government-mandated --ed] monopoly status of its utilities. When the utilities ran up excess costs it could simply pass them on dollar-for-dollar to its captive monopoly "customers." Sometimes those excess costs were its fault, but usually it was the result of some regulation that forced extra costs onto the utility, which then passed it on to its customers. The regulators also "benefit" from the monopoly status of the utilities they regulate because they can "try out" expensive "flights of fancy" projects such as making the utilities install extremely expensive "green power." It is of little consequence to the utility because it just passes the costs on to its customers, who have no choice but to pay the bill for these failed experiments. But here's the rub. There can be no doubt that Californians are already paying electric rates that are so high that a competitive electric utility, if it were unencumbered with these costly regulations, could undoubtedly supply cheaper and much safer electricity over well-maintained transmission lines that don't spark fires to trees. We know this is true because it is already done elsewhere in the country, where utilities are run somewhat more efficiently, even though they are also regulated monopolies. [link in original, bold added]I recommend reading the entire Niles article, as well as his more comprehensive historic narrative, "Property Rights and the Crisis of the Electric Grid." Each piece greatly clarifies why so many utilities seem more like corrupt government entities than companies eager to make money by providing value to their customers. It is because they are largely run by the government. Our high electric bills and our increasingly precarious supply of reliable electricity are far from the fault of the profit motive. Indeed, freedom from government control -- not more of the same -- would easily solve the problems Buford and Niles discuss. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Climate Change activists often call their cause "the moral equivalent of war." It is, in fact, the practical equivalent of one waged against the America and the West. *** Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute considers the oft-stated rationale behind a raft of litigation against "Big Oil" and finds the idea that it is premised on "saving the planet" wanting: Image by Jason Blackeye, via Unsplash, license. There is the further matter that that "Big Oil" is so small a part of global industrial operations that elimination of the [Greenhouse Gas (GHG)] emissions from consumption of the fuels produced by those producers would have virtually no impact on climate phenomena. Whatever the current or prospective harms caused by GHG emissions: Can anyone argue seriously that Big Oil is responsible for all of them? What about other fossil-fuel producers -- Aramco and the Russian oil and gas industry and many others come to mind -- and agricultural activities, cement production, coal output, ad infinitum? That the litigation is being aimed at only the five or so large producers actually vulnerable in American courts speaks volumes about the pecuniary, ideological, and political imperatives actually underlying this effort. Or is it the goal of the groups promoting such litigation to win these suits and then take aim at one economic sector after another, thus imposing massive losses upon the U.S. economy writ large?One could just as well ask the Democratic Presidential candidates -- who all favor the Green New Deal or something similar -- why none of them has discussed bombing the coal plants in India or China. If, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has put it, her crusade is the "moral equivalent of war," why the lack of saber-rattling? (Just to state the obvious, I regard fossil fuels and the freedom to use them as essential to human prosperity and have no desire to see anyone anywhere forcibly deprived of their many benefits by tyranny or war.) While we're on the subject, it amazes me that nobody calls out leftists like Ocasio-Cortez on war metaphors: They frequently use these, despite their constant protests against war as such, especially wars which are being fought based on the idea (mistaken or not) of national self-defense. Despite appearances, the left is not as inconsistent as it sounds: It's just that they're coy about their actual enemy. A policy (or litigation strategy) that will obviously cripple the American economy is not just the moral equivalent of war: it is the practical equivalent of one waged against America. And protestations on the part of foreign powers that they have "clean" plants and have pledged to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions would (of course) be treated as cause not to begin the bombing in five minutes. It is not so much that leftists really believe the foreign leaders as that they aren't truly serious or careful about their stated crusade. (Elizabeth Warren is both anti-fossil fuels and anti-nuclear. In other words, she opposes the only power source that can currently come even close to replacing fossil fuels in a reasonable time frame. This is lies somewhere on the spectrum between dictatorial and genocidal, at best.) They are focusing all of their efforts on stopping America and the West generally from using the fuels we depend on to live and flourish. This fact deserves much more attention than anything they have to say. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. The Campaign for Free Speech recently released disturbing poll results (PDF) showing, among other things, that a slim majority of Americans regard the First Amendment as "outdated" and in need of a re-write. Image by Miguel Henriques, via Unsplash, license. Furthermore, about half of respondents thought (undefined) "hate speech" should be illegal and over three quarters regarded the following as true: "The First Amendment allows anyone to say their opinion no matter what, and they are protected by law from any consequences of saying those thoughts or opinions." The report notes "exceptions," such as falsely shouting Fire! in a crowded theater, but oddly fails to also mention libel laws as exemplifying the legal limits to what someone can say. The article rightly cites ignorance as a major problem. (That's perhaps a post for another day Others have that covered very well.) But another problem occurred to me after I failed to find anything particularly loaded or biased about the poll questions. This problem isn't confined to this poll or even to the question of freedom of speech: It pertains to how we use our speech. As I read through the questions, they struck me as very ... other-centric. I am not faulting the folks at the Campaign for Free Speech: Practically everyone does this today regarding questions of policy, and it may well be appropriate to ask questions in this way in a poll, in order to find a worst-case scenario. (I would need to think a lot more about this to be sure.) But back to policy. Many news outlets and political organizations misuse polls to nudge sympathetic politicians or intimidate opponents of proposed laws, such as those against "hate speech" or those in favor of the "Green New Deal" or teaching creationism in government schools. Opponents sometimes do find examples of polling questions blatantly geared towards eliciting a desired answer, and sometimes opponents can discuss the impracticality of a measure. Both of these are correct, but too often come without use of a much greater opportunity for more effective opposition: Reframing the question -- be it for an opinion poll or an election -- in such a way as to make clear to individual voters in the public what the consequences would be, for them, personally. (Panderers do this by cherry-picking and pitching to a target demographic; but it is a mistake for defenders of our greatest political value, freedom not to personalize our proposals, since reality is on our side and our target demographic is every man and woman of voting age.) This is not always straightforward (e.g., in the case of targets of pandering), but I'll give a shot here on the "hate speech" question. Here is the poll's version: The First Amendment, which provides the right of Americans to have free speech, was enacted more than 200 years ago. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? 'The First Amendment goes too far in allowing hate speech in modern America and should be updated to reflect the cultural norms of today.'And here is my off-the-cuff re-framing: Do you think the First Amendment should be re-written in such a way as to make it possible for you to be fined or go to jail for expressing your honest opinion, if a government official deems what you said as against current cultural norms?Notice that the official version of the question causes people to imagine consequences for imagined, despised others, at the expense of cautious self-regard, which should be the primary concern when people are tossing around proposals to change the government -- the sole social institution that can legally coerce anyone. It would be interesting to consider what the poll results would have shown had every single question been rephrased so that respondents would default to focusing on the nature of the threat represented by unfree speech -- rather than indulging in fantasy about some jerk getting a comeuppance that, richly deserved as it may be, would not be worth the price of gutting government protection of our most precious and important right. I will close by noting that the widespread nature of altruism in our culture predisposes many, including people who explicitly reject altruism, to frame policy questions this way as a matter of habit. This is a habit we must become aware of and break. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Notable Commentary, Fifteenth Anniversary Edition "Competition and the profit motive would actually deter any [company] from pursuing such a disastrous strategy and if they did, those same motives would propel its competitors to take away their customers." -- Raymond Niles, in "The Solution to Blackouts and Wildfires in California" at the American Institute for Economic Research. "As we debate energy policy during the 2020 election campaigns, the fundamental role that low-cost energy plays in our lives, and the unique ability of the fossil-fuel industry to produce it, needs to be part of every conversation." -- Alex Epstein, in "Energy Means Food and Time" at National Review. "Given the high rates of invalidations of patents by courts and the high rates of rejections of patent applications in some fields of technology at the USPTO, it is Congress' job to perform its key constitutional role in amending the legislation that has been the fountainhead of the U.S. patent system since 1790." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Testimony on 'The State of Patent Eligibility in America' Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Intellectual Property Subcommittee" (PDF) in George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper Series, No. 19-26. "The mother of all Motte and Bailey Fallacies in monetary economics." -- Keith Weiner, in "Motte and Bailey Fallacy" at at SNB & CHF. "New restrictions may paradoxically worsen the problem of illness caused by black-market products, rather than help." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Don't Make the Vaping 'Crisis' Worse With Hasty New Regulations" at Forbes. "The central issue in ethics ... is whether we are committed to achieving personal values -- or whether we are committed to surrendering personal values because some external authority says so." -- Don Watkins, in "The Reckoning: Why 'Serving a Cause Greater Than Yourself' Cannot Give Life Meaning" at Medium. "Is it dignity to presume that two adults can't reach an equitable agreement to exchange work for pay?" -- Gus Van Horn, in "California's Politicians Threaten to Suffocate Silicon Valley's Gig Magic" at RealClear Markets. Fifteen Years Ago Today... I decided to start a blog as a means of satisfying my writing itch and to achieve a bit of what I -- naively, and for a time -- would call "work-life balance." Thanks to blogging and the people I have met as a result, I have enjoyed the following: Making new acquaintances, including a handful of new "in real life" friends; More easily maintaining some older relationships with people I knew before I started blogging; Maintaining some level of intellectual engagement (and a measure of sanity) as a father (and main caregiver) for two very young children during a period that saw us move three times in six years; Gained opportunities to write in other media; and Learned new things, be they from material I encountered in the course of looking for subject matter for posts, or about myself and the process of writing. I still have lots of model railroading things in boxes. This might be a good hobby to resurrect and introduce the kids to... (Image by Darren Bockman, via Unsplash, license.) On that last score, I have ironically, after years of dealing with difficult constraints, been granted the gift of time by my wife -- only to take months to realize that I need to plan time away from writing to make the most of this opportunity, whatever its duration. I don't like the term work-life balance, because work should integrate with the rest of one's life, but it manages to capture the problem that dawned on me (while working in the garage as you might guess): One needs a break from whatever it is one spends most of one's time doing, no matter how much one might like it. Many people dream of pursuing hobbies full time. There is nothing wrong with that, but to keep that from becoming a nightmare requires one to treat the hobby like a job in more ways than one. And it also requires being open to the idea that perhaps the beloved activity best remains just that: a hobby. So, fifteen years in, I get to do something I fantasized about long ago, and have been monumentally frustrated from seriously attempting for a very long time. But I have lots to learn, including, among other things: (a) how central to my life I really want writing to be, (b) how to shift from the survival tactic of using scraps of time to write short pieces to also incorporating longer stretches (This has been oddly harder than I imagined it could be.), and (c) what area and type of project to focus on. Regarding the last: I started out with two book ideas. The good news is that one was good -- so good in fact that someone is coming out with something about the same subject and from a similar perspective in November. The other is much harder to write than I thought it might be. So, I may have a book in me, but I am pretty sure I am farther from being able to put one together than I thought I was at first -- and there's also what publication and marketing require, which includes the huge matter of finding a way to establish my credibility). This is a good problem to have, but it is a problem: It is something I have to figure out, and I will leave it at that for now. In the meantime, let me thank my readers for coming by, especially my friends RB, who helped me realize I should try something "bigger" in the first place; and Steve D., for his invaluable editing. And last, but far from least, I thank my wife, not just for putting up with -- but standing behind -- a writer for so long. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Cal Newport, author of the recently-released Digital Minimalism, offers a piece of advice on his blog that he says he wishes he'd given in the book. He names it after the practice of parents who had their land lines in out-of-the-way parts of the home, way back when land lines were useful: I guess having it tied down was an advantage... (Image by Hello I'm Nik, via Unsplash, license.) The Phone Foyer Method When you get home after work, you put your phone on a table in your foyer near your front door. Then -- and this is the important part -- you leave it there until you next leave the house.As you might expect, Newport elaborates and gives a few exceptions to this rule, which is close to what I do about half the time I am awake and at home with the kids: Mine sits on a charger on the standing desk in my office. I like the idea of this as an intentional strategy for becoming more present at home and plan to do this as often as practicable. And for those who -- like me -- often work at home and are a primary contact for kids in school? I use a sort of soft blacklist for pocket dialers and others who do not need to reach me during work hours (but disturb me anyway). My new name for it is the silent ring tone club. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. A California law that goes into effect in January next year will ignore decades of precedent and codify a bad court decision -- making many freelancers (including Uber drivers) into employees in that state. (I blogged about Assembly Bill 5 and wrote a RealClear Markets piece on it before it was passed.) That this blatant attack on freedom of contract makes it harder for so many people to earn a living is bad enough. But Kassy Dillon, a freelance writer who is affected notes that it even manages to violate freedom of speech due in part to the fact that it caps freelance journalists at 35 articles per outlet: She likes being her own boss, but the state of California thinks she should have two bosses, including a union boss. (Image by Tran Mau Tri Tam, via SOURCE, license.) It's worth mentioning that [the bill's sponsor, Lorena] Gonzalez is not only telling freelancers how much they can write, she is using her Twitter platform to determine who is and is not a journalist. After facing criticism from New York Magazine and HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali, Gonzalez responded by claiming, "Yashar isn't a journalist, he's not a constituent." Who is a journalist and who is not isn't something for government officials to decide. ... The law also appears to be regulating the First Amendment's freedom of the press. In what dystopia is the government able to restrict how much a journalist can write? Not since the totalitarian governments of the mid-20th century has a Western government dared to regulate or limit the written word. It's maddening, but the law is also laughably misguided. [bold added]I agree with Dillon that the law is a heavy-handed attempt to grow and entrench labor unions, but I find her too generous in that regard. Consider the following, from a story that described some of the behind-the-scenes sausage-making: Gov. Gavin Newsom is reported to have offered tactical advice to Uber and Lyft as they sought an exemption from the bill's potential impact: Get organized labor's blessing for the maneuver or face insurmountable opposition in the Legislature.The unions have hated Uber since its inception: How the hell did Newsom keep a straight face when he offered this "advice?" The article (and many others) goes on to note that the legislation is hardly the last on the subject because it is so flawed. Newsom couldn't even muster a token veto? Travesties like this are rarely the product of a good-faith effort, however misguided. In addition to even more legislation and inevitable legal challenges, it is likely that there will be a state ballot initiative to repeal or limit this new law next fall. I hope it is well-crafted. This law is an reprehensible attack on freedom of contract as it is. The fact that it is a threat to freedom of speech makes challenge or repeal all the more urgent. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. I'm not wild about their name for this observation since I oppose such government intrusions as Prohibition and taxation. (And that is no endorsement of the person I am about to name!) Nevertheless, the general idea behind the "Al Capone Theory of Sexual Harassment" that Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell discuss is more useful than one might think: Image by Chicago Bureau (Federal Bureau of Investigation), via Wikipedia, public domain. So what is the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment? It's simple: people who engage in sexual harassment or assault are also likely to steal, plagiarize, embezzle, engage in overt racism, or otherwise harm their business. (Of course, sexual harassment and assault harms a business -- and even entire fields of endeavor -- but in ways that are often discounted or ignored.) Ask around about the person who gets handsy with the receptionist, or makes sex jokes when they get drunk, and you'll often find out that they also violated the company expense policy, or exaggerated on their résumé, or took credit for a colleague's project. More than likely, they've engaged in sexual misconduct multiple times...The name comes from the fact that the Federal government convicted Al Capone of tax evasion, which it could prove, instead of his smuggling-related criminal activities, for which it had difficulty making a case. The general idea is that a person with few scruples in one area probably will act unethically or illegally in other areas that are easier to detect. So, if one needs help in judging someone else (or building a case to convince others), that person has often provided ample evidence in places one might not be thinking about. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. Pundits of all stripes often speak of Ayn Rand as a prophet whenever recent events play out like those in her novels or her better-known commentary. Often, conservatives use the analogy in a "told-you-so" sense before flitting off to complain about the next entirely predictable result of cultural trends they'll fail to challenge, or even abet. And then there are leftists, who use the term derisively. When they're not putting words in her mouth in an effort to discredit her analysis, they're grasping at straws to portray her as a hysterical alarmist. The most recent event that made me think of Ayn Rand was Venezuela's inclusion on the UN Human Rights Council, as reported by a major conservative blog: Venezuela is a tragedy but the United Nations is a joke. The UN's Human Rights Council is composed of 47-members who are elected to three-year terms by UN members. Today, Venezuela was elected to one of two seats reserved for Latin American nations thanks to support from other socialist states...No. Hot Air didn't then go on to report this as yet another prophecy by Rand, but they could have: We need more reason, and less mumbo jumbo... (Image by Danny Trujillo, via Unsplash, license.) Psychologically, the U.N. has contributed a great deal to the gray swamp of demoralization -- of cynicism, bitterness, hopelessness, fear and nameless guilt -- which is swallowing the Western world. But the communist world has gained a moral sanction, a stamp of civilized respectability from the Western world -- it has gained the West's assistance in deceiving its victims -- it has gained the status and prestige of an equal partner, thus establishing the notion that the difference between human rights and mass slaughter is merely a difference of political opinion. ... Who, but a concrete-bound epistemological savage, could have expected any other results from such an "experiment in collaboration"? What would you expect from a crime-fighting committee whose board of directors included the leading gangsters of the community? [bold added]That the socialist gang running Venezuela is now an officially recognized champion of "human rights" is a travesty that should cause any nation serious about individual rights to at least threaten to withdraw from the UN in protest. (This assumes such a nation somehow was a member in the first place: I further agree with Ayn Rand that we shouldn't even be a member of the UN.) But I will not hold my breath. There will be no push to do this from the left, who want to flush our country down the same socialist toilet. And the right? Note the terms tragedy and joke: Much stronger terms are in order. The suffering and death caused by the "Bolivarians" are atrocities; and the UN is an abomination. But the right has failed for so long to challenge the altruistic base of socialism that I would be surprised to hear the first of those more proper terms used. And worse, so many accept so much of the culture uncritically that they additionally treat the UN as a metaphysical fact rather than as the man-made institution it is, hence the impotent sarcasm of calling the UN a joke. So, although nobody has said this is yet another fulfilled prophecy, it is. And these will keep coming until more people listen to and heed the warnings -- or until they can't keep coming. In the latter case, the real tragedy (for innocent victims, such as children) and the real atrocity (by those capable of thinking or acting to avert it, but who do not) will be the fact that any and all of these "prophecies" can be averted with the exertion of mental effort and moral courage. -- CAV Updates Today: Changed caption and reworded a sentence. Link to Original
  20. Four Things That Happened in the Garage As I mentioned last week, I've been chipping away at a post-move wall of boxes in our garage during (part of one of) the wee hours in order to beat the Florida heat. I have been very happy with the progress and the end of that tunnel is surprisingly close. Here are four side-benefits, of varying degrees of importance and in no particular order. 1. The task requires some occasional focus, but my mind is free to wander. This has led me to notice two things I can use. First, since I am doing this task piecemeal, my subconscious works on it while I am doing other things. I have had several very good ideas on how to do this task and organize the house that I don't think I would have had otherwise, if I tried doing it in big chunks. Doing other large tasks might benefit from this approach, and I now have something to try the next time I hit a wall on one. Second, the non-demanding (but not brain-dead) mental nature of this project provides time and opportunity to think, which reminds me of what Alex Epstein called altitude in one of his human flourishing project podcasts. I have gotten some good thinking done regarding both a good problem I currently have and a difficult circumstance I will soon face. In other words, I'm getting the benefit of my slow-working subsconscious for this job and others. I am also getting extra time to focus on other problems while I do this. If I do take up home brewing again, I'll look into kegging rather than bottling. I had inconsistent results with bottles. Feedback from any experienced home brewers out there is welcome...(Image by Adam Wilson, via Unsplash, license.) I am now thinking about incorporating more of that kind of project regularly into my schedule. A couple of old hobbies of mine -- home brewing and model railroading -- strike me as possible candidates that could take up the slack when I don't have something I need to do, like the task I am doing now. 2. My son asked the other day about his huge teddy bear. I found it this morning and I am looking forward to his reaction when he finds it sitting on the couch after he wakes up. 3. Part of living in Florida is having to be prepared for hurricanes. I have had several good ideas for doing this while plowing through the boxes. For example, I (once again) found several (more) bottles of sunscreen and bug spray. Here we go again, I thought, Where am I going to put this? Almost instantly, I realized I could put the newest sunscreen into our hurricane supplies and use our oldest -- this batch -- first. Whenever we need another bottle of sunscreen, I can get it from the hurricane supplies and put sunscreen on the shopping list, to replace what we just took from that reserve. This means we won't get caught without sunscreen at home and I won't have to worry about old sunscreen should we need it when it is hard or impossible to buy it new. 4. My wife and I are both former academic scientists. This means we have a fair number of old boxes with papers. Most of this can go, but needs sorting. My wife has little time for this, but I have thought of a solution that also translates well to the biggest headache, which is the bulk of the kids' toy collection. I call it staged sorting. Using the papers as an example, I don't know what my wife will regard as important enough to keep or discard. But there are clear categories of things in her boxes and I do know enough to be able classify those things. (I'll make sure with her that I am correct.) So I can get the boxes through a preliminary sort. Then my wife can do the part I can't do later, when she has the time. -- CAV P.S. I had another great idea while hunting for images. Our house is new, and so follows a recent fad for very high ceilings. I just realized I could have a handyman install some very high shelving in our laundry room to make use of some of the wasted space in there. It's my blog: I'll think out loud if I want to... Link to Original
  21. Writing at Quillette, Steve Jacobs claims in his title, "I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn't Popular." The closing of his article is more important than his data: A group of men, just waiting to be interviewed so someone can twist their words into something else entirely and attribute that to them. (Image by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez, via Unsplash, license.) In my research, I was not advocating for such a [policy] compromise [on abortion]. However, advancing my own preferred outcome was not the point of my academic project. My goal was to use my training to establish common ground, learn whether a compromise was possible, and report on the most likely form such a compromise might take. An important takeaway is that both sides do agree on the arbiters of the question of when life begins. While the justices in Roe could not answer the difficult question of when life begins, the U.S. Supreme Court might well revisit this question in the future. The Court can trust the uncensored viewpoints of biologists and acknowledge that scientific experts affirm the view that a human's life begins at fertilization -- even if some would prefer that this fact be hidden from view. [link omitted, bold added]Before we go on, here go the data: "... 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded to me affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization." The scientific consensus -- with a high percentage attached! -- being hijacked to affect a political debate reminds me of a title from the climate debate: "'97% of Climate Scientists Agree' Is 100% Wrong." The fact that Jacobs's claim reminds me of that title is no coincidence. After asking (1) "What exactly do the ... scientists agree on?" and (2) "How do we know the 97% agree?" Epstein states: The 97 percent claim is a deliberate misrepresentation designed to intimidate the public -- and numerous scientists whose papers were classified by Cook protested... ... Think about how many times you hear that 97 percent or some similar figure thrown around. It's based on crude manipulation propagated by people whose ideological agenda it serves. It is a license to intimidate. It's time to revoke that license. [bold added, link omitted]Within the Quilette piece, Jacobs quotes some rather crude protests by some of the biologists he surveyed once they caught on to why he was querying them. His personal position is not clear in the article, but his framing of this issue as a scientific debate and his apparent willingness to consider the presence of a full set of chromosomes in a cell as sufficient for someone to be human (and in full possession of rights) make me suspect that the scientists are guessing correctly. (He asked them if a fertilized egg was "biologically human." See: "What were they agreeing on?") And it is true that their words can and will be used to argue against abortion rights. But, as Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute notes, "Science Without Philosophy Can't Resolve [the] Abortion Debate:" There is a new push by prominent opponents of abortion to cloak their position in the mantle of science, and claim that anyone who defends abortion rights is a "science denier." 1 This push has been the impetus for an onslaught of legislation aimed at restricting abortions on both the state and federal level. In response to this push, most abortion defenders have reacted by claiming that the anti-abortion partisans are the real "science deniers." This whole debate is a mistake. The science invoked by abortion opponents appears to support their case only through the lens of very particular philosophical assumptions. Since abortion defenders do not challenge their opponents' philosophical assumptions or argue for alternatives, it is little surprise that their battle looks like a rearguard action in a war that has already been lost. [bold added]Bayer goes on, after citing several examples, such as the presence of pain receptors in the fetus, of science being misused to claim rights for the fetus to say: The fundamental philosophical question at the heart of the abortion debate is whether a being like the embryo or fetus has a right to life. A few ordinary observations should make clear why the specialized scientific findings considered so far will not help us answer this question.I recommend reading the full article to anyone truly interested in the abortion debate. Steve Jacobs may have a PhD, and he will probably get journal articles out of his survey. But his results are just the latest in a new line of meretricious attacks against abortion rights that ape the equally fraudulent use of "science" by the Luddites of the left. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Hugh Hewitt devotes a column to explaining why conservatives support Donald Trump. It is mighty thin gruel to this radical capitalist, but I may have learned a valuable lesson about conservative punditry in the process of thinking about who the audience might be. Consider that Hewitt never explicitly mentions the left, only (perhaps) obliquely dismissing its "dismay" as manufactured. And so a great chance went begging: Hewitt should have at least noted that every single Democrat who might run against Trump supports policies that are so depraved and ruinous as to understandably make anyone who enjoys some modicum of control over his life and property consider running into Trump's arms at the next election. The fact that that's the strongest argument to vote for Trump -- although hardly an airtight case -- is enough to hope that a better candidate than Trump could emerge even from the Democrats. And yet Hewitt never brings it up, either in such hopes, or to light a much-needed fire under Trump, or to make the prospects of the Democrats winning less horrendous, even if only down the road. Instead, he speaks of Trump's "genuine and possibly lasting conservative reforms," citing as an example two executive orders pertaining to "regulatory dark matter," such as "guidance documents." Here's a sample: Trump is bringing down the hammer on the guidance-addicted bureaucrats, building on earlier actions by former attorney general Jeff Sessions and former associate attorney general Rachel Brand. [bold added]Maybe. For now, until some crafty functionary finds a new way to circumvent the law. And via an order a future President can easily overturn, anyway. And later: Image by Julius Drost, via Unsplash, license. After joking that he himself might have been the target of such "guidance letters" in the past, Trump hit the crucial note: "Because of these materials and the fact that these materials are too often hidden and hard to find, many Americans learn of the rules only when federal agents come knocking on the door," he declared. "This regulatory overreach gravely undermines our constitutional system of government." [link and bold added]Please note that Trump's objection is not to such rules, let alone regulation as such: It's to the rules being hard to know in advance. And when an allegedly anti-regulation official speaks of "overreach," you know that he finds some regulatory "reach" acceptable. That said, if this is "bringing down the hammer," it's doing so to fight a cockroach infestation. It may be noisy and it is, strictly speaking, "doing something," but it will be just as effective. He can't, but it isn't because he can't get the legislation he needs to remedy the problem that Trump is signing this executive order. It's because he has no fundamental problem with central planning: He didn't ask by what right the government plans our lives. There is no larger or long-range plan to rid America of this huge, long-known, and well-documented burden, of which "dark matter" is just a particularly pernicious manifestation. And, as if making a mountain out of this molehill weren't enough, Hewitt goes on to say: Really? How could the alleged destroyer of democracy make such an argument? He explained: "Unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats must not be able to operate outside of the democratic system of government, imposing their own private agenda on our citizens." And certainly not by unsupervised regulatory statists.Democracy is mob rule. We live in a republic, and the essential characteristic of our system is that it protects individual rights, a phrase I cannot recall Trump ever saying. Trump may not be actively destroying the republic, but he is not actively saving it, either. We need better, but we won't get better by pretending otherwise. So Hewitt never calls out the depravity of the Democrats, and his hero, Trump, does not fundamentally oppose the government planning our lives via a bureaucracy. We can see from this "genuine and possibly lasting conservative reform" in its full context. So conservatives support Trump. And Trump does not fundamentally oppose the Democrats. What might Ayn Rand -- of whom Trump professes to be a fan; whom so many leftists like to equate with the right; and whom so many on the right like to quote or damn as they wrongly deem expedient -- have to say about that? Today's culture is dominated by the philosophy of mysticism (irrationalism)-altruism-collectivism, the base from which only statism can be derived; the statists (of any brand: communist, fascist or welfare) are merely cashing in on it -- while the "conservatives" are scurrying to ride on the enemy's premises and, somehow, to achieve political freedom by stealth. It can't be done. [bold added]Trump trying to sneak in a little bit of freedom by executive order is a nearly perfect encapsulation of how he operates. And wishful thinking by conservatives to the effect that this is "bringing down the hammer" or "owning the libs" is their magical thinking on display. The best we can truly hope for from Trump is that he buys time to fight for freedom. Hewitt is preaching to the choir because he knows only they will see it this way, and because he needs to fool himself most of all. What a waste of what little is left -- in time or scope -- of your freedom, Mr. Hewitt: Our republic will not change for the better until people who understand and uphold freedom make their case to the general public in a way that will change enough of their minds. The conservatives, who have squandered every mandate to lift economic controls, from Reagan on, are not the ones who will do so. It is because they can't and, deep down, they know it. For those who value liberty, be wary of this when following conservative commentary: It does often cover things leftist media outlets like to hide, but it has its own way of lulling its audience. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Having recently encountered planning advice I largely agree with, I also encountered a problem: I either incorrectly recall the advice or I can't take it because I usually can't devote whole days to any one type of work. In part, this is due to circumstance: I have kids, and must plan my time around their schedules. But I also know from experience that I need breaks from intense concentration. Through some measure of trial and error, I realized I needed to schedule in terms of blocks of time, rather than entire days, but I wasn't completely sure how to go about it. An Internet search turned up an article about time blocking at a site calling itself "Productive Flourishing." After explaining that the timing and number of blocks of each type is dependent on individual circumstances (e.g., what time of day is best for focus), the piece lists four types of scheduling blocks: Image by La-Rel Easter, via Unsplash, license. Focus blocks are 90-120 minute blocks of time where you're especially creative, inspired, and able to do high-level work that requires focus. Admin blocks are 30-60 minute lower-energy blocks of time where you're not in the zone to do the work that requires heavy lifting, but there are still other types of work you can do effectively. Social blocks are 90-120 minute blocks of time where you're primed and energetically in the right space to meet with other people. Recovery blocks are variable-length blocks of time that you use for exercise, meditation, and self-care. What I like about this advice is that it helps bridge the gap between Cal Newport's Deep Work and David Allen's Getting Things Done. Newport is up front about blocking out time for creative work for the maker, but does not focus so much on the manager-like elements we still have to attend to, to borrow Paul Graham's terms. (See last link.) And then, of course, Allen is good about having lists for different contexts and doing tasks consonant with one's energy level. But I find that creative work is not so amenable to lists and, when it is, one project needs its own list, apart from everything else. This kind of scheduling allows for separation of these widely different kinds of work and can drastically reduce decision fatigue by helping one plan deep work in segments of focus blocks, as the article explains in more detail. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. Whether Bernie Sanders intended it or not, he gave Elizabeth Warren the endorsement of her dreams last night on national television: Image by Lawrence Jackson, via Wikipedia, public domain. "There are differences between Elizabeth and myself," Sanders, I-Vt. [sic], said in an interview with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."Sanders was a distant third behind Senators Biden and Warren before his heart attack, and here appears to be taking a desperation swipe at Warren. Attacking from the left makes some sense; but doing so this way will not help him. And their far-left base will see this for what it is. The anti-capitalists who support Warren will correctly view her claim as a pitch to a more moderate base -- and about as cynical and credible as her well-known, fraudulent claims of Amerindian ancestry. This will not persuade them to shift allegiance. (And they are correct that Warren is not a capitalist: She is a fascist.) The ones who might shift allegiance are those those who do not understand what capitalism actually is, emphatically including those who imagine that capitalism has to be "saved from itself." This is a large swath of moderate Democrats and independent voters -- who might remember what Sanders said as Biden's ship continues taking on water. As I put it some time ago: [T]he nomination will go to (a) whoever succeeds in helping voters pretend everything is fine (Biden, so far), (b) helping voters pretend they are in the right (Warren, so far, but with Harris catching on; see also "Why the Left Can't Let Go of Racism"), or (c) both (possibly Warren, which makes her the most dangerous). [links omitted]So here we have it. In his outburst, Sanders has made himself look desperate to their base -- and Warren palatable to voters outside their base. Many of the latter aren't really paying attention, so all they'll get is that Warren isn't some raving socialist nut like that Bernie. And being tired of histrionics already, thanks to Trump, they might see her as the moderate, calm, electable alternative that Joe Biden never really was. -- CAV P. S.: For anyone who isn't sufficiently alarmed at the prospect of a President Warren, I urge you to listen to Yaron Brook's analysis. When I called Warren "dangerous" back then, I was mainly thinking of the Green New Deal. That isn't the half of it. Link to Original
  25. Four Things Several years ago, I decided that each Friday, I'd take a break from the negativity of the news cycle and make a list of four things I find interesting or enjoyable. I still do that most weeks. But recently, I started ending each day (or starting the next morning) by making a list of three wins, big or small, from the day. Here are four of those from the past month, excluding (a) the lack of a visit from Hurricane Dorian, (b) my good time hustling art with my son, and (c) my discovery of a way to finally get the garage clear of moving boxes... 1. On the anniversary of my father's death, I remembered, "I was very lucky to have Pops as a dad." Image by Jan Kolar, via Unsplash, license. 2. While we were visiting with my brother in another part of Florida, I took a look at the house with a Nest camera, and heard an Echo/Alexa alarm going off. We used to use the Nest cameras as child monitors and I remembered that it's possible to speak into the phone app and be heard through a small speaker built into the phone. So I tried to silence the alarm by saying, "Alexa, stop!" It didn't work, probably because the sound quality from the Nest camera isn't great and it was sitting across the living room from the Echo. It was fun to try, though. 3. For ages, I have had a chronic problem completing my weekly review, during which I had scheduled looking at all my project tracking files. So I set aside an entire Friday to accomplish this. If by "fail," you mean I still didn't make it through them all, I failed. But I did get through quite a few, and more important, I saw a better way to do this part of the weekly review: Just do a few each week and note where I left off. Pick up there the next week and repeat. Now, I know I'll at least look at everything from time to time, and that I won't fail to do this entirely for so long ever again. 4. We took the kids to Disney last weekend. At one point, while standing in line, I heard my six-year-old son's voice. He was frustrated and upset about something. That something was that he'd managed to trap his arm between the metal frame of a movie poster and a guard rail. I tried moving his arm vertically, in case he'd inserted it through a slightly wider part of the gap, then tried to pull out from a narrow part. No dice. So quickly I am still amazed, I realized that (a) I needed to lubricate his arm, and (b) that water is a lubricant. "Stop panicking," I said to my son. "Do you have some water," I asked my wife. Using the bottle she produced from the bowels of her backpack, I moistened his arm and immediately got it out, earning applause from a foreign tourist behind us. -- CAV P.S.: It was fun reviewing my wins for the month. This has been a part of my day I look forward to, and I highly recommend this practice. Link to Original
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