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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. -- Narcotics Anonymous The folks over at 99% Invisible have fallen into the above-mentioned trap regarding the folly of post-1970's recycling, in an interesting piece about a documentary that may have led to China's recent ban on imports of foreign "recyclables." The film, Plastic China, portrays the squalor of some of the modern rag-pickers this craze has produced: Image via Wikipedia. The movie provides a grim look at the actual process of breaking down materials, in an informal recycling facility. It shows the families cutting up plastic, melting, soaking it and turning it into a sludge -- then turning it into hardened pellets. The little girl washes her face in the gray plastic-polluted water and eats fish that have choked on bits of plastic. They live and work (and eat and sleep) near a plastic-shredding machine, inhaling dust and microparticles that are byproducts of the process. The whole village is enveloped in plastic detritus.At the intersection of our current technology levels and the value of these materials to the furtherance of human life (i.e., the lack thereof), this is exactly what saving everything we possibly can takes. The mask of respectability of recycling has finally been tugged at. Hooray! But recycling is only one person in the unholy trinity still being worshiped at 99 Percent Invisible: Somewhere along the way, key parts of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra got lost. We have lost track of reducing and reusing. Single-use products including straws, bags, cups and bottles are a big part of the problem, as are items made of multiple different materials (particularly ones that are hard to pull back apart, like toothpaste tubes).And so, predictably, just as one nation is stepping back from the abyss of wasted time that is modern recycling, they call for us to double down on the folly by doing more of the grunt work of recycling here and wasting even more money and effort kowtowing to the other two. They -- and we -- would do well instead to consider the work of John Tierney, who also notes that some of the packaging we're supposed to "reduce" keeps food from spoiling, among other things. But I am getting ahead of myself, and I must first give the angels of 99 Percent Invisible their due, so to speak. I heartily agree with the conclusion of this article: In the end, Operation National Sword Could be a wake-up call. But only if producers, consumers, and governments tune in and listen.It is, but not in the narrow sense of saving a mantra at all costs. As I noted early last year, "around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world." It's time to ask ourselves the same question the Chinese seem to have asked themselves when they saw a poor girl's life being wasted and degraded by this barbaric rite of slow human sacrifice: Why should we recycle? This is an important question, and the quality of your life depends on it. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. National Review is no friend of Ayn Rand, as amply demonstrated first by its infamous non-review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers and confirmed by the fact that it stands by same decades later. As I argued ages ago, this tells us much more about that publication than it does about Rand: "A Strangely Important Figure." It is the adverb in the title which is important, for it suggests at the same time that it is odd for Rand to have achieved prominence, that she is an oddball, and that Rand's nonconformity somehow makes it implausible that she is important at all. That is basically the whole point of the article and of everything I have ever seen about Rand in National Review. Ayn Rand once compared National Review unfavorably to Christian Science Monitor because the latter admits that it is a Christian publication rather than posing as a secular one... [bold added]I explored this infatuation with conformity at some length and concluded in part about its author: This is a man who is out of ideas throwing everything but the kitchen sink (or, for that matter, an actual counterargument) at an intellectual giant. Aside from what I trudged through at length, there's a silly Freudian quip about a scene in one of the novels, there's the usual charge that her circle was a cult, and even a snide comment about how Rand looked. What a gentleman! Every kind of cheap-shot imaginable occurs in this typewritten sneer. The kind of readers who accept such lame substitutes for arguments are the kind who, ultimately, really don't make much of a difference in the world. The kind of readers who do care about ideas will think for themselves and eventually see through the hokum. They'll judge what Rand had to say on its own merits. Who knows? A few may even learn about her for the very first time because of this article. (Something like that drew my attention to Rand for the first time.) Her eloquent voice will still be heard and will still win their minds.Kevin Williamson hardly goes to such lengths, but his take on the recently-killed California bullet train is similarly unjust regarding Rand. That he bizarrely includes the false and gratuitous smear of Ayn Rand as a "utopian" shows -- at best -- that he is either incredibly sloppy or hates Rand to the point he can't see straight: Image of first page of utopian document via Wikipedia (public domain).The fundamental progressive idea is central planning. In the progressive imagination, society is a puzzle to be solved, a grand Rubik's Cube that can be adjusted and readjusted and experimented with until -- perfection! The progressive looks at society the same way a child looks at a model railroad set or an ant farm -- which is to say, from a point of view that is effectively godlike. Human beings, their families, their desires, their pleasures, their dreams, their businesses, their associations, their communities -- all of these are only chessmen to be moved around in pursuit of utopia. A car can go basically anywhere its driver wants. A train can go only where the central planners have preordained. It is for this reason that trains have long been at the center of the progressive vision. And not only the progressive vision: Such modern utopians as Ayn Rand find in the railroad the model of the kind of society they desire: a society that is designed, that proceeds according to plan. Whose plan? Preferably one of their own, of course, but they'll get on board for almost any old plan if the alternative is no plan at all. [bold added]Think about the bolded sentence for a moment in light of the fact that an important point Rand makes in the novel is that central planning can't and shouldn't run a even railroad, much less society at large. When called on his lumping together of Rand with her ideological opposites on the left, all of whom he calls "utopians," his feeble defense is basically more of the same: Her most famous book is a novel about the formation of an ideal community, the thrust of which would have been familiar in Oneida or Arden, even if the politics were different.No. The book doesn't end with the chapter on the "Utopia of Greed," but with the men who went on strike returning to rebuild America, including the following lessening of government control over the economy: The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade ... " (Atlas Shrugged, p. 1073)If by utopian, Williamson means "dictating how others are to live," he is plainly wrong about Rand. If by utopian, he means "thinking deliberately about how men should organize as a society," perhaps he should admit that he has big problems with the fact that the founding fathers and Ayn Rand did so at all. And if by utopian, he means that Rand asserts that there is a way of life proper to man, he should come clean about why he has a problem with Rand doing so, but not one with other philosophers or with religion. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Blog Roundup 1. At his web site, Objectivist journalist Peter Schwartz has published a lengthy email exchange between himself and Robert Levy of the Cato Institute regarding its tacit anarchism. The following, from Schwartz, cuts to the core of the problem he addresses and comes from a forum post (by himself) that he quotes in full just before the exchange: This anti-state attitude is why Cato has as its slogan, "Individual Liberty, Free Markets and Peace." The first two are absolute values; the third isn't. The refusal to wage war is not a virtue if we face foreign threats to our freedom. A genuine advocate of individual liberty would not hold "peace" as a fundamental principle. But an anarchist -- whether overt or covert -- would.In addition, I thought the following analogy was particularly good: When the Democratic Party declares, for example, that it supports "single-payer" medical care (along with many of its other statist measures), that is a tacit endorsement of the principle of socialism. It doesn't matter that the Party nominally declares itself to be in disagreement with socialism. The logic of its premises leads to socialism and to the acceptance of socialists as allies in achieving its political goals.I agree that that the Cato Institute should explicitly disavow anarchism. 2. At the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips exposes a double standard in wide use among "fair housing" advocates: Image via Wikipedia (public domain).Housing advocates don't like how some landlords choose to use/trade their property. And so they seek to force landlords to act as the advocates believe best. They think that many landlords judge tenants based solely on the fact that they hold a Section 8 voucher. But those same advocates judge landlords based solely on their refusal to accept those vouchers. The reasons for that refusal are largely irrelevant. It is irrational for a landlord to judge a tenant solely on the basis of holding a voucher. It is equally irrational for housing advocates to judge landlords solely on their refusal to accept vouchers. If housing advocates truly want to advance their cause, they would quit calling the kettle black.This might be helpful to remember down the road as the upcoming presidential election starts heating up: I know of at least one candidate, Julian Castro, who falls into that category. 3. At New Ideal, the blog of the Ayn Rand Institute, Elan Journo discusses "Trivializing the Islamist Menace," whether it be by focusing on mass-casualty attacks or dismissing the Islamist threat as overblown: The wider lesson is twofold. First, this assault on the principle of freedom of speech is an integral feature of the Islamist threat, reflecting the essentially ideas-driven nature of the enemy. Second, it's a serious error to assess the scale of the Islamist threat solely, or even primarily, in terms of mass-casualty attacks, which are difficult to carry out. Doing so misses the full context. Islamists have managed to advance their agenda in several ways that have impacted our society.Journo correctly notes that the effectiveness of our enemy is due primarily to our allowing it to become effective. The two incorrect ways of thinking about that threat go a long way in explaining why we have. 4. In the interests of comic relief, and as a potential resource to fellow travelers interested in a constructive discussion of immigration, I offer a lengthy post at Selfish Citizenship: In future, both you and I can save time related to [this] trolling by replying ... with a link to this post. You're welcome.Thanks. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. John Stossel writes of one Cade Summers, who floundered in public school and -- like one in five school-aged boys -- ended up on medications to help him pay attention. This was ineffective, as was trying several different schools: He hated all of them. Then his parents sent him to a private school with an entrepreneurial focus, where the prospect of making money completely changed Summers's attitude. The end of the piece is especially thought-provoking: This is easier and comes more naturally when there are values at stake. (Image by Wokandapix, via Pixabay (license).)[Academy of Thought and Industry founder Michael] Strong is proud of students like Summers who flourish at Thought and Industry after struggling at regular schools. He described one who, in New Jersey's public schools, "needed a full-time aide. He was costing the state an enormous amount of money. He came to our school, he did not need an aide." It's true. We interviewed that student. He told us: "In middle school, elementary school, I was incredibly socially isolated... Coming here is just healing." The key for him, and many, was following his own interests, rather than following orders. That's what motivated Cade Summers to get up at 3 a.m. to work in that coffee shop. "It was me choosing my life," he says. The school, which is primarily for children of high school age, reminds me a little of Van Damme Academy (which serves younger children and has a very different focus). The similarity lies in an active attempt to engage the student's interest while respecting and promoting their independent judgement. The philosopher and energy activist Alex Epstein has called the latter "the school the world needs to know about." I agree, but perhaps this school is another. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Mike Palicz of Americans for Tax Reform warns of recent threats to the Federal Reserve issued by a gang of Democratic Senators that includes several presidential candidates. The threats come in the form of a letter "suggesting" the Fed manipulate interest rates in favor of "green" industries: The scary part is that they don't really believe this can work. (Image by nattanan23 via Pixabay (license).)Green investment, which purposefully favors lower-carbon emission investment, is inherently at odds with financial regulators' main goal of ensuring financial stability. Under this scheme, bank loans to companies producing renewable energy would receive a lower risk assessment than under a neutral regime simply for being "green" and favored by Democrats. Conversely, loans to companies producing traditional forms of energy such as oil and coal would be given artificially higher risk weights. This would incentivize banks to load up on green assets they wouldn't otherwise take on, creating an unstable lending environment. Palicz correctly notes that such economy-wide incentives to assume high-risk loans is a similar recipe to the one that caused the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.It is bad enough that we have a central bank at all. It is worse that politicians are quite happy to mis-use it in a way that can so obviously lead to disaster. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. An "anarcho-capitalist" calling himself John Galton -- in imitation of the hero of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- recently met a violent end in Acapulco. Unfortunately, a piece about the incident in the Daily Beast completely misses the significance of the story, starting with the headline: "John Galton Wanted Libertarian Paradise in 'Anarchapulco.' He Got Bullets Instead." As is too often the case these days, the person covering the story is about as unclear about the difference between anarchy and capitalism as this murder victim tragically was: Nice, but no capitalist paradise. (Image by n3otr3x, via Pixabay (license).)Anarcho-capitalists ("ancaps") believe in dismantling the state and allowing unchecked [sic] capitalism to govern the world in its place. Even within the small anarchist world, ancaps are fringe. Anarchists typically describe their movement as inherently anti-capitalist. Their philosophy describes anarchy as the rejection of hierarchical structures, which they say capitalism enforces. Anarcho-capitalists, meanwhile, see money as a liberating force. They promote a variety of libertarian causes like using cryptocurrency, legalizing all drugs, and privatizing all public institutions like courts and roads. The movement reveres the novelist Ayn Rand, whose work outlines a philosophy of radical selfishness and individualism. Her best-known character, an idealized capitalist named John Galt, appears to have inspired Galton's name.As Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger once succinctly argued, Ayn Rand actually rejected anarchy for good reason, and maintained that government -- properly limited in scope to the protection of individual rights -- is necessary for capitalism. Binswanger starts off by indicating the fundamental error in the "anarcho-capitalist" position: As it says next to my picture, I defend laissez-faire capitalism. "Anti-government" is the term Leftists use to smear this position. And, amazingly, some calling themselves "libertarians" are indeed anti-government across the board; they argue for what they call "anarcho-capitalism." "Free competition works so well for everything else," these anarchists say, "why not for governmental services, too?" But that argument comes from an anti-capitalist premise. Like the Marxists, who prate about "exploitation" and "wage slavery," the anarchists are ignoring the crucial, fundamental, life-and-death difference between trade and force.Binswanger elaborates on this far better than I can, and deserves to be read in full. But I would be remiss not to mention his later thought experiment regarding what the anarcho-capitalist position means when put into practice: The attempt to invoke individual rights to justify "competing" with the government collapses at the first attempt to concretize what it would mean in reality. Picture a band of strangers marching down Main Street, submachine guns at the ready. When confronted by the police, the leader of the band announces: "Me and the boys are only here to see that justice is done, so you have no right to interfere with us." According to the anarchists, in such a confrontation the police are morally bound to withdraw, on pain of betraying the rights of self-defense and free trade. ... Bear in mind that, in fact, those who would be granted the right to enforce their own notions of justice include Leftists who consider government intervention in the economy to be retaliation against business activities that the leftists claim is "economic force." It would include Palestinian terrorists who claim that random slaughter is "retaliation" against "Zionist imperialism." It would include those who hold abortion to be murder and bomb abortion clinics as "retaliation" in defense of the "rights" of the unborn, and Islamists who clamor to let "Sharia law" operate within Western nations.So, no, John Galton did not get bullets "instead" of his big-L Libertarian (and, in fact, non-capitalist utopia): He got the bullets that come with it. May his tragic end move others (and not just anarchists) to a more deliberate consideration of the nature and purpose of government. It is not capitalism that needs to be kept in check, but the ability of men to initiate force in violation of the rights of each other. In anarchism, it is easier for individuals and small gangs to do this. But in many other social systems, such as we see now in Venezuela, unchecked government acts like an organized crime syndicate. (It does to a lesser degree in our mixed economy, which is inherently prone to becoming more government-controlled over time and so is not truly an alternative.) Anarchy and dictatorship are not opposites in that respect, but two sides of the same coin. Their opposite, capitalism, which includes underappreciated and necessary checks on government power, is not to blame here. Indeed, were actual capitalism truly "unchecked" here or in Acapulco, this man might not have been a fugitive from the law in the first place. And, be it because the United States was freer or Acapulco not a pocket of near-anarchy, he could well have been alive today. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. A slick new script I recently wrote can slurp the entirety of my Pinboard account into an org-mode file, enabling me to really quickly scan through whatever I want by tag. (This is useful for heavily-populated tags, and it also generally makes importing data much easier for my purposes than cut-and-paste.) Testing it, I took a quick skim of a years-old backlog of things I had tagged as blogworthy. And so the title of a short Susannah Breslin piece from 2012 caught my eye. In "Why You Shouldn't Be a Writer," Breslin gives three very discouraging-sounding reasons to abandon the craft. I'll list the "tips" below, but you'll have to click through for the elaborations: You're not good at it. It's too hard. It's too hard to monetize. Image by aldryano, via Pixabay (license).My initial reaction to the list was something like this: (A) Any or all of these -- especially the third -- are likely true for any given writer. Regarding the third, I see too many writers whose level of success most of us only aspire to ... giving courses on "how to be a writer" with the implied standard of success being that they make a living as writers. If that isn't proof that financial success as a writer is a pipe dream, I don't know what is; and (B) I enjoy writing, so I will keep doing it, anyway. But is that part about it being hard to monetize really true? Breslin's point is clearly to make us think about what it means to be a writer, and too many people never get past fantasizing about being one. Wouldn't it be great to hole up in a cabin somewhere and write the next Great American Novel? That sounds too much like a vacation, as do too many other popular conceptions about what it means to "be a writer." Writing decent material is hard, but the work neither begins nor ends there. Finding an audience is hard, and a paying one harder. Publicity is hard. And, yes, just sales of the writing will still unlikely be enough to replace a paying job. But if the process of producing content isn't a vacation, then making a living as a writer isn't winning the lottery. The lecturing writers and the folks whose work is related to their writing aren't really failing to support themselves as writers: They do so to greater or lesser degrees, depending on how well-integrated into their work life their writing is. To be "a writer" isn't some platonic status separate from the rest of existence. I hear that even J.K. Rowling, Ayn Rand, and Brandon Sanderson still had forgo writing to eat three meals a day, to sleep, or blow their noses even after they found success. And all had to deal with the nitty-gritty details of getting their works published and then publicizing it. Each had to take work in regular occupations to support their writing along the way. Writing, like many other activities (brewing beer comes to mind), can range anywhere from a hobby to a full-time occupation, but the latter involves many activities that aren't exactly holing up in a cabin somewhere to write -- not that that isn't work, anyway. Perhaps Breslin's point is something along the lines of, "If you think of writing as some combination of winning a lottery and going on a permanent vacation, look elsewhere." -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Notable Commentary Image by Paweł Zdziarski, via Wikipedia (license)."Those who cite supply-and-demand charts would benefit from paying attention to both curves, not just one." -- Stuart Hayashi, in "Immigrants Don't Depress Wages" at Arc Digital. "Without these life-giving technologies two hundred years ago, I might have suffered frostbite or died on a day like today." -- Raymond Niles, in "If You Are Warm Right Now, Thank Capitalism" at AIER. "If [vaccine hesitancy] continues to spread unchallenged, it will be a willful, self-inflicted threat to human life." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Today's Skepticism of Vaccines Could Be as Big of a Health Threat as HIV" at USA Today. "[T]he information on Google may be inaccurate or unreliable." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Should Doctors Google Their Patients?" at Forbes. -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Within a column about the ongoing the Ralph Northam debacle in Virginia comes a gem by Walter Williams: Which one is the Democrat? Does it really matter? (Image by East Virginia Medical School, via Wikipedia.)Keeping blacks blind to the folly of unquestioned support for the Democratic Party by keeping blacks fearful, angry and resentful and painting the Republican Party as racist is vital. Democrats never want blacks to seriously ask questions about what the party has done for them. Here are some facts. The nation's most troublesome and dangerous cities -- Indianapolis, Stockton, Oakland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Kansas City, Baltimore, Memphis, St. Louis and Detroit -- have been run by Democrats, often black Democrats, for nearly a half-century. These and other Democratic-run cities are where blacks suffer the highest murder rates and their youngsters attend the poorest-performing and most unsafe schools.I rarely say this of Williams, but he doesn't go far enough. To see what I mean, read on. The writer at The American Spectator quotes Williams in partial support of his contention -- with which I agree -- that the Democratic Party uses race quite cynically today, and that its policies are harmful to everyone, especially blacks. But shortly afterwards, George Neumayr notes similarities between Republican immigration policies (with which I disagree) and those of several Democrats. The similarity hardly ends there, as Republicans have for decades been inadequate opponents of the Democrats, failing to oppose their policies on moral grounds, being "Democrats lite", or even adopting their bad policies. Case in point: With ample evidence of the failure of government schools, for example, did Republicans lay the groundwork for privatization when there was momentum for something like that? No. Instead, they pushed for vouchers, which could have been a good first step -- but which it soon became apparent was just a way to let churches get at the government trough. (Trump's recent voucher proposal, absent a broader context of getting the government out of education, is a prime example.) Threats to religious freedom aside, vouchers alone are a fascistic "solution" to the problem of socialism, which ignores the real alternative: capitalism. Ralph Northam may show that Democrats are all hat and no cattle... Scratch that: He shows them to be cattle rustlers. But the fact that Northam won the governorship of Virginia is not, as some have suggested, merely due to inadequate opposition research. It's because the Republicans are not substantially different overall than the Democrats. This is why mere race-baiting can win elections. But real contests with decent, actual alternatives aren't going to happen until many more of us -- not just blacks and not just Democrats -- start asking ourselves why we're delivering so much power over our lives and well-being to politicians, pretty much all of whom we should regard with suspicion. The fact that the top three rungs of Virginia's gubernatorial line of succession are inhabited by men of questionable character should make all of us think about that. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Back in grad school, we joked that PhD was an abbreviation for the sentiment expressed in the above title, but the joke was on lots of us. Around that time, articles like this one in Nature were all over the place. They covered folks with terminal degrees who took non-traditional career paths, for various reasons related to the fact that too many had trained for too few positions. This piece covers the surprising (to some) fact that often, it's not the low achievers who are crowded out, but the better prospects who decide to leave. Here is an excerpt from a section called, "From chemist to capitalist": Image via Pixabay.[Soroosh] Shambayati is among the hundreds of thousands of scientists who train in academia but then leave to follow a different career. According to the latest survey of doctorate recipients conducted by the US National Science Foundation, nearly one-fifth of employed people with science and engineering PhDs were no longer working in science in 2010. This is partly due to a lack of room at the top. In the United States, the number of PhDs entering the workforce has skyrocketed but the number of stable academic jobs has not. In 1973, nearly 90% of US PhDs working in academia held full-time faculty positions, compared with about 75% in 2010. [bold added]It is interesting to contemplate several things in addition to the values each of the three subjects considered in making their decisions. Many cite their science training as factors in their success, but what if each had started his or her ultimate career earlier, either training in it or, in the case of the stay-at-home dad, being able to move on earlier? And on top of that, there is the fact that each studies science either at the wrong time or instead of something else. Much of the PhD glut is due to central "planning" in the form of government funding of training and research in the sciences. How many people have wasted time or effort due to such encouragement? This isn't just an insult added to the injury caused by taking the funds by force in the first place. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Altruism. Over at Jewish World Review appears a short editorial by none other than former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is testing the waters for an independent presidential candidacy. Within, Schultz engagingly tells of an encounter with a frail-looking rabbi who puts a whole room of businessmen (Schultz included) on the spot by asking them about the meaning of the Holocaust. After dismissing a couple of answers from his unprepared guests, the rabbi lays the groundwork for his answer as follows: Image via Wikipedia."After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep. "As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'" And Rabbi [Noson Tzvi] Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."I have no idea what I would do in that situation (and hope I never do). But giving the blanket away seems like the only way left one could have defied one's captors or affirmed a love of life. That said, I can't accept the rabbi's lesson: [W]ith that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."At best, this is an admonition to remember the best within oneself, but couched in altruism, the ethical code of every religion and our cultural default. So this might sound good to most people, but where is the actual guidance? At worst, it is an attempt to make the dangerous idea of self-sacrifice seem like an ideal. The businessmen who answered before the rabbi were actually closer to the truth: Never forget this atrocity, and do what one can to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. Why do I say this? Because the holocaust was not a normal situation, and it is a grave (but extremely common) error to treat emergency situations like a normal framework for thinking about ethics. Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, known for upholding egoism, considers the error in part as follows: 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 Ethics of Emergencies," in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 47)To be clear, I am hardly equating the atrocity that was the Holocaust with a natural emergency. It was, for its victims, a man-made emergency. This means that we can, unlike an for earthquake, do something to prevent another. But this requires careful thinking. While we can admire or even find inspiration in the actions of its victims, this makes understanding how its perpetrators came to power of vital importance. Indeed, as Leonard Peikoff comprehensively demonstrates in The Ominous Parallels, the Nazis came to power via popular vote motivated by the ideas of altruism and collectivism. This rabbi, as well as Howard Schultz, however laudable their intent might be, are giving altruism an undeserved respectability. They might plead that self-sacrifice is somehow better than sacrificing others, but I disagree. There is a real alternative to human sacrifice of every kind, but it lies in another quotation, also from Ayn Rand: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." -- CAV Link to Original
  12. After reading this analysis in the Guardian, I was confident of a New England victory in yesterday's Super Bowl. The below encapsulates why Bill Belichick has been successful for so long in general, and hints at how the game was going to play out: MVP Julian Edelman scored the game's only touchdown. (Image by Jeffrey Beall, via Wikipedia.)The head coach's ability to zig while others zag has kept New England ahead of every team in the league for 18 years, and led to a mindboggling period of sustained success that should be impossible in a league that is designed for parity through a salary cap and draft system. Belichick's genius lies in his refusal to wed himself to one overriding philosophy. He's a shape-shifter, constantly evolving his team's style -- and that flexibility has been on show this season. As modern schemes have expanded the field and the focus has been on the dominance of quarterbacks and smaller, more mobile defensive players, Belichick has returned to an old-school, power running system. According to a recent study, New England are the third-heaviest team in the league. And that's by design. Belichick, an economics major, is constantly looking to find market inefficiencies to exploit. He has had great success with quirky schematic innovations, but, for the most part, he takes tried and tested methods and adopts them. [bold added, links omitted]That said, I was hardly expecting the defensive masterpiece on display, which one of Belichick's assistants delivered. I figured on a close game, possibly with the Rams leading early, but getting worn down over the course of the game. Instead, we got this: The Patriots only allowed two first downs in the first half, and Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed just 50 percent of his passes for 229 yards and a championship-sealing interception to Stephon Gilmore with 4:17 remaining. Using several exotic blitz packages and stunts up front, which allowed the secondary to take some risks in coverage, [Patriots defensive coordinator Brian] Flores had Rams quarterback Jared Goff dazed and confused all night. "They have done a good job with that," [Rams Coach Sean] McVay said. "Third down, they had their designers and things like that. They did a great job. It was a great game plan. There is no other way to say it, but I got out-coached." [bold added]Today, Flores will deservedly move on to a head coaching job in Miami. As for Belichick and the Patriots, it will be interesting to see what they come up with next. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Four Things Courtesy of a very good store I occasionally visit comes my first set of beer recommendations in a long time... 1. Years ago, somewhat early in my blogging days, I reciprocated a link to a blog run by the folks at Lazy Magnolia, a brewery I had never heard of in southern Mississippi. I suspect they found me was because (a) I occasionally mentioned beer, and (b) I noted on a few occasions that I am originally from that state. But it wasn't until few years later, while visiting my brother in northern Mississippi, that I got to try any of their wares. That beer was Southern Pecan, a nut brown ale. I liked it, and here is the commercial description, as provided by the Beer Advocate site: Image via Wikipedia.Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale is the first beer in the world, to our knowledge, made with whole roasted pecans. The pecans are used just like grain and provide a nutty characteristic and a delightful depth to the flavor profile. This beer is very lightly hopped to allow the malty, caramel, and nutty flavors shine through. The color is dark mahogany. Southern Pecan won a Bronze Medal in the 2006 World Beer Cup in the Specialty Beer category.Based on my finding this on the shelf at my new local beer emporium in Jacksonville, it would appear that Lazy Magnolia is doing pretty well, and it's nice to be able to have this one whenever I'm in the mood. 2. On the same trip I bought some Southern Pecan, I also brought home a small can of a kind of beer I had only ever heard of before, an Icelandic toasted porter, by Einstök: With notes of coffee and dark chocolate, this porter is roasty and rich, with a robust, yet smooth body. Toasted malts give it a sinister black color, but its crisp taste will have you believing that there's no more need to be afraid of the dark. Lager malt, Munich malt, chocolate malt, Bavarian hops, with the slight addition of authentic Icelandic roasted coffee.I agree with the folks at Beer Advocate that this is very good, but I will have a few more some time just to be on the safe side. 3. I was quite happy to find a big selection of lambics, including black currant, by Lindeman's. In lieu of a commercial description, I'll quote one of the better reviews: Very dark blackberry color. Body was just above average with a decent amount of champagne like carbonation. Overall a very nice feel to this beer. Aroma is black grape juice, black currant juice, some yeast and a mild tart sour funk also show up in the aroma. Taste really follows the nose on This one. It is a little sweet in a sugary way but is also a bit dry. The sweetness isn't over done and it allows the mild sour, tart, funk flavors to come through. Overall it's an excellent high quality beer. [minor edits]For those unfamiliar with the style and interested in trying it, I highly recommend clearing your palate, or at least not trying this after particularly hoppy beers. 4. Somehow, on my first visit to the new emporium, I managed to completely miss an entire shelf -- the one containing Spaten Optimator, of which I like to keep a few on hand. This was a problem, because it has otherwise been incredibly hard to find dopplebocks in this area. And so it was that the desire for a substitute caused me to try Abita's Andygator for the first time. (These beers usually have names ending in -ator in deference to Salvator, the first of its kind.) This is good, but it is a variety of the style I had not heard of: Andygator, a creature of the swamp, is a unique high-gravity brew made with pale malt, German lager yeast, and German Perle hops. Unlike other high-gravity brews, Andygator is fermented to a dry finish with a slightly sweet flavor and subtle fruit aroma. Reaching an alcohol strength of 8% by volume, it is a Helles Dopplebock.That noted, I'd never tried any of this Louisiana brewery's offerings before. I'll buy this again on its own merits and plan to try some of their other beers. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. John Stossel ably presents Atlanta's publicly-financed stadium -- which will host Super Bowl LIII -- as an example of the economic consequences of wealth destruction famously described in Frederic Bastiat's essay, "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen:" Image by elisfkc, via Wikipedia (license). So this Sunday, when Atlanta politicians brag about their beautiful stadium, and clueless media claim that it created lots of jobs, let's also remember the jobs the subsidies destroyed... The problem isn't just Atlanta, and it isn't just sports. Most every time government presumes to tell us where and how our money should be spent rather than leaving it up to free individuals, it creates a loss.And every time the government does this, it is stealing from us. That's all I would add to this otherwise insightful and timely piece. We can and should celebrate excellence on Super Sunday, but let us spare a thought for the folks in Atlanta who were robbed so some pack of politicians could pretend to be great benefactors. That's obscene, no matter how trifling the amount taken from any one individual by the government, and no matter what the excuse. Theft is wrong, especially when performed by the government -- the very agency whose mission is in large part to protect us from it. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Over at Commentary magazine, an article by Sohrab Ahmari argues that the near-eradication of Down Syndrome in Iceland is a Bad Thing: ... With new tests that can detect chromosomal abnormalities earlier in the pregnancy and with greater precision, an entire category of human beings faces extermination in societies that claim to prize tolerance and diversity above all. Well, not if Charlotte "Charlie" Fien has something to say about it. The 21-year-old from Surrey, England, is fast emerging as one of Europe's most important anti-eradication advocates. Her activism is especially compelling because Fien is living proof against the argument, frequently proffered by those who support systematic prenatal detection and abortion, that people with the disability are miserable.First of all, let's be clear on something: supporting a woman's individual right to decide what to do with her own body is not the same thing as "systematic prenatal detection and abortion" (whatever that's supposed to mean), so let's set that smear aside and get down to brass tacks: Whatever Charlie Fien's quality of life may be, it is completely irrelevant to the question of whether a woman has the right to decide what to do with her own body or her own life. On this matter, I will defer to Ayn Rand's clear, concise explanation of the issues at stake: Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a "right to life." A piece of protoplasm has no rights -- and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone's benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.That said, the author makes it seem as if Iceland mandates termination of pregnancies with positive screens for Down Syndrome. It doesn't, nor should it. In fact, for the government to coerce any aspect of such a personal decision, for or against (including funding or banning it), is an abuse of government power. It is heartening, for the sake of some who have Down Syndrome, that they can live happy lives. And a pregnant woman who knows about this can certainly take this into consideration, should she receive news that she faces the prospect of raising a child with this syndrome. But that is where such news should begin and end. If "anti-eradication" advocacy consisted merely of an education campaign, I would have no problem with it, but it doesn't end there: Anti-abortion activists are taking advantage of the fact that neither side of the anti-abortion debate understands individual rights by working, sometimes successfully, to ban abortions performed for this reason: Indiana's new law prevents a person from performing an abortion if he knows the pregnant woman wishes to abort the unborn baby because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability. It also prevents abortions due to the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the child. Notice how this religiously-motivated law is designed to appeal to the shared altruism and collectivism of the left via a laundry list of collectives allegedly injured by abortion. Unlike the authors of this law, let us spare a thought for the forgotten woman: She is pregnant and wants what is best for herself. And, if she is at all responsible, she also wants the best for any child she chooses to bring into the world. It is wrong to meddle with such a decision and appalling to do so while mouthing platitudes about equality. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Translation from the Esperanto: Schultz Reconsidered An analysis of the possible independent Howard Schultz run for the presidency (which I discounted a couple of days ago) is making the rounds, and it's by one of the first pundits to predict that Donald Trump could win. In "Howard Schultz Could Actually Win the Presidency," Roger Simon argues in part (as excerpted at Power Line): Image via Pixabay.Elections are often a reaction to the previous one. America will be searching for a calm, level-headed voice. That, we know, is not Trump, nor is it the hard-left candidate that could well, in fact likely will, win the Democratic nomination. Current frontrunner Kamala Harris is far from reassuring. She's a shrill (see the Kavanaugh hearings) quasi-socialist promising pie in the sky -- Medicare-for-all, debt-free college, guaranteed pre-K, minimum basic income, confiscatory taxes -- and she's just getting started. Bernie and others will soon be following suit. Fauxcahontas already has, competing in a game of socialist one-upmanship. Even supposedly centrist Biden is playing along... The cost of all this, the actual numbers, if they ever even publish any, will be stratospheric. The national debt will reach the moon and beyond... And Howard Schultz knows it. That is why ... he has isolated the escalating national debt as his main issue and pilloried Trump for doing nothing about it. (He has a point there.) At first, he will seem stodgy to "idealistic" millennials, but after a while, they too will wise up. It's their futures too, after all. The outrageous costs of the Democratic platform will be made known to them and then some. The election, already started, is long. The hard left's proposals will not wear well. Schultz's policies would end up being much closer to Trump's than to the Democratic opposition. He would want to increase taxes, but only a smidge, so as not to disrupt the economy. He opposes Medicare for all as far too expensive. He would be for a strong defense, at least relatively. He would be middle-of-the-road on immigration, where many Americans are. He would be Trump-lite, a palatable Donald that many of the media could swallow because he wouldn't insult them for being liars (even though they are) or say outrageous (though often accurate) things for them to deliberately misinterpret. And, of course, he has plenty of money to run -- in every county, as he says. [bold added]Simon adds a few other things that generally make Schultz more electable than other recent independent/third-party candidates. I think this is a strong case, focusing as it does on Schultz's electability. In my previous post on Schultz, I realize now, I misapplied both Ayn Rand's caution about elections as "debates" and the historical lesson about third-party politics -- by implicitly assuming in my haste that Schultz actually stands for a principle (or at least one distinct from what is common in the electorate), which I don't think he does. Schultz is not billing himself as a principled free marketer -- else he'd argue we need to work towards dismantling the welfare/entitlement state, as opposed to merely looking for a way to reduce the national debt. In other words, in terms of where the electorate already is (and is likely to be in 2020), Schultz may plausibly win, especially against his likely opposition. This is because he is not really offering anything substantially different than what most people want. And for the same reason, since his goal isn't to change minds, it doesn't matter in that respect how he chooses to run. In another respect -- what would either party nominate (a preening thief or a brain-dead strong man) -- it makes all the difference in the world. So, no, I don't think Schultz running for office is Quixotic. But a Schultz presidency will not make a substantial difference in the direction our country is heading, either. Given the current state of the two parties, though, it might be the best outcome. The Democrats would be held at bay for another few years, and perhaps a loss would shake the hold of the brainless Trump coalition on the Republicans. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. Drill more deeply than the numerical rating when choosing a dentist. (Image via Pixabay.)Having just moved and in need of a routine cleaning, I recently had to choose a new dentist. Driving time is no small concern where I live, so I started by looking for practices nearby. I knew about two: One I had driven past a few times and another a neighbor had used. An internet search revealed that these are indeed the only ones that are very close. But the good news is that both are highly rated. All I had to do was pick the one with the better rating, right? Wrong. And this was despite my neighbor's good experience and the fact that the higher-rated practice had an order of magnitude more reviews than the one I chose. (The neighbor mentioned this dentist in passing, and at a time I wasn't thinking about choosing a dentist, so I didn't probe.) Often, a large number of reviews can add credibility to a rating, but it's only one piece of information. The fact that a product or company is popular or rated highly is never as important as why, so I did what I always do when having to gauge unfamiliar choices: I read enough reviews, positive and negative to get a feel for how credible I found the rating. With the larger practice, the good reviews seemed a little too glowing, and some of the negative reviews credibly stated that the practice likes to sell unnecessary treatments. In contrast, the smaller practice had both more credible positive reviews and the kinds of negative reviews one would normally expect, ranging from non-alarming minor problems any business might sometimes have -- to reviews that really amount to, "I am a difficult person with unrealistic expectations, and this business was unlucky I came by." So, yes, I'm going with the smaller, lower-rated practice, and it will need to earn future visits, although I am fairly confident it will. This all reminds me of a couple of things I recently encountered pertinent to the same kind of problem, one of them being a recent Suzanne Lucas column at Inc., where she discusses "How to Spot Fake Glassdoor Reviews." Among other things, it is interesting to note that many companies do try to manipulate online reviews: The Wall Street Journal reports that Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli, "instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews." The result was a flood of positive reviews at the same time. Because many people write a review after they leave a company, you'd expect a surge in reviews after a large layoff, but you would also expect them to lean to the negative side. (Although, it's perfectly possible to be laid off from a great place to work.) But a flood of positive reviews is a pretty good signal that there's a problem. [link omitted]More important than learning how to spot this particular kind of problem or even knowing that it happens, is the rest of the article, whose main message I'd summarize as, "Using reviews takes much more than looking for a couple of numbers. Fortunately, there is more information there than you might think." Another way of learning about whether you might want to hire someone or use a product is to use that fact that there are lots of proxies for reviews out there. As an example, consider the common problem of deciding whether to adopt a new technology. The following came from a very interesting Hacker News thread on the subject: Is there a clear reason the new tech exists? What differentiates it from its competitors? This alone rules out like 90% of new front-end web frameworks / widgets / plugins. Bonus points for tools whose authors have made the effort to explicitly compare it with competitor tools, particularly ones that acknowledge points where the competitor might have the advantage. ("Our new tech is better than existing old tech in every possible way" gets the side-eye from me; "Our new tech is better than existing old tech for these particular purposes, but old tech may still be more appropriate for these other purposes" goes a tremendous way towards confirming that the new tech has a real reason to exist. Is there documentation? Is it any good? This is a really low bar, but far too many new tools have no documentation at all ("just check out the source code") or have minimal, incomplete, or tautological docs ("bar.foo(): executes the foo method of bar"). A message board or IRC channel is nice, but not a substitute. How big is the API surface? Does it need to be that big? I tend to avoid tools where there are six different ways to do the same thing -- looking at you, Angular -- it suggests the developers are unfocused or in disagreement, and makes it harder to find support or documentation on any particular issue. Same thing if the API has undergone major breaking changes or paradigm shifts between versions (looking at you, Angular...) What does the tag look like on stackoverflow? This serves as a good indicator of whether the tech is too new or obscure to bother with, what the common pain points are, the average skill/knowledge level of its users, and whether help will be available if I get stuck when using it. Is there a relatively simple way to try it out? I'm much more likely to experiment with something where I can clone a repo and get going with simple but nontrivial example code; if I have to reconfigure half the settings on my machine just to get a hello world, I'm not going to bother. [format edits, bold added] There are many other good suggestions in that thread that can be applied elsewhere, especially also self-knowledge (What problem do I have to solve, anyway? Do I even need new tech to solve it?) and using terms like "disadvantages" with the search term for the thing in question. Evaluating the unfamiliar is something too many people try to do quickly, but in the wrong way. With a little bit of thought, and perhaps by approaching it a little like a puzzle, one can do so efficiently and with a degree of confidence that rises the more one can integrate the new knowledge with what one already knows. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. Next to Kamala Harris's unsurprising, Obama-eque campaign kickoff, the chattering classes are occupying themselves the most by asking whether former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz might help re-elect Donald Trump by running as an independent. I agree with this Atlantic piece that that's a possibility, mainly because Schultz appeals to what had been Hillary Clinton's base within the Democratic party. (Some disagree.) But that's where my agreement with the Atlantic ends. I'm with Schultz that (as the piece implies he thinks) the parties are basically the same but that's about it. (Sorry, Mr. Dovere, but strident bickering among people who fundamentally agree that the government should run everything is hardly a "stark" contrast.) Indeed, I regard Schultz's solution, summarized below by the piece, as vapid, regardless of the merit of his other political positions: Image via Wikimedia Commons, taken by Adam BielawskiSchultz, a lifelong Democrat, would run under the theory that the answer to the political division in the country right now is moving away from party politics. There's little evidence to support that, as people report being more polarized and partisan, devoted to their own party and demonizing the other. For all the prominent Republicans who say they don't like Trump, the president's overall approval numbers among voters within his party remain sky high, according to polls. Schultz would have to persuade millions of them to abandon the party to vote for him, while drawing enough Democratic votes away from a party that is energized and excited about taking out the president. [bold added]And no one can explain why it is vapid better than Ayn Rand, who noted in 1962 that, "To change the trend, one must work to create an enlightened electorate. And one must begin by realizing that elections are won in every month of the year -- except November." (bold added) The trend in question, which can't go on forever, is of politicians avoiding saying anything of substance, and of voters helping them along by pretending they are hearing anything important. Rand hints at the magnitude of the task Schultz fancies taking on. And she identifies its nature, which the writer at the Atlantic fails to grasp -- although he still thinks Schultz is tilting at windmills: A politician's first concern is to get elected -- without which he cannot achieve his goals, whether they are noble or ignoble, whether he is a crusading idealist or a plain ward-heeler. If the voters approach elections with nothing better than the desperate feeling that "somebody ought to do something," if they evade or ignore political principles -- a politician will follow suit. (Which is why our age is not distinguished by the great stature of its political leaders.) An election campaign is not the time to teach people the fundamentals of political theory, and a candidate is not a teacher. He can only try to cash in on such ideas as he believes the people to hold. He is not the cause of political trends, he is their product. Who, then, is the cause? The country's intellectuals. The study and definition of political theory is a full-time job. Just as all people cannot be automobile manufacturers, but can judge and select which car they wish to buy, so they cannot be political philosophers, but can judge the theories presented to them and form their own convictions accordingly. It is on this crucial responsibility that modern intellectuals have defaulted. The dreary clowning of today's election campaigns originates in our college classrooms. The evasive mess -- a mixture of Marx, Keynes and moral cowardice -- taught in most classes of political science, would make our candidates look like paragons of frankness and precision, by comparison. The people know that something is terribly wrong in today's world and that they are given no choice. But how can they make themselves heard? They are not in the profession of "opinion-making." They sense, but cannot identify, that the real issue under all the evasions is: capitalism versus socialism. But that is the issue which neither the "liberals" nor the "conservatives" dare face or discuss. The people are taking the only way out, still open to them: the protest vote. Predominantly, they are voting, not for anything, but against it. The trend in most semi-free countries, notably in England, is to keep voting out whoever is in. It is a temporary means to prevent the entrenchment of a single clique in power. ("The Season of Platitudes", reprinted in The Ayn Rand Column, pp. 50-51.)Even if Schultz were truly different from what the two parties offer, the electorate isn't ready to hear him, and it isn't as if the question of (effectively) forming a third party has never been asked. (Spoiler alert: It's a great way to make sure you have zero influence on one of the two coalitions that our political system naturally organizes itself into.) To summarize: Whatever Schultz offers, he won't affect the debate in either party. He's sure to appeal to somebody, so he might siphon off some votes and possibly tip the election one way or the other. But since every electable politician sees no problem with central planning or the entitlement state, it's anyone's guess as to whether the eventual winner will matter all that much -- if we're lucky. It would be nice if all we needed to do to fix the world's problems was speak the same language, but people often disagree about things for good reasons. And sometimes, when practically everyone is wrong, there is much to be said for anything -- even including bickering -- that distracts them from getting their way. See also the checks and balances system created by our founders. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. Four Things Image via Wikipedia. 1. Recently, I read Steven Johnson's entertaining and thought-provoking book, Wonderland, which explores the roles of delight and play in the creation of the modern world. One section concerns the spice trade, from which we learn of how difficult it was at first to grow vanilla beans anywhere but Mexico: [T]hat seemingly trivial act -- a boy tricking a flower into producing seed, in the hills of a remote island -- would somehow shift billions of dollars of economic activity from one part of the world to another, and turn a spice that was once pursued by only the elites of society into a flavor so ubiquitous that its name has become a synonym for the commonplace and the ordinary. (loc. 1703)Until that moment, only a specific species of bee native to Mexico could cause the plants to produce fruit. They otherwise could grow easily in plenty of other locations around the world. Johnson has a very interesting idea, but I am not sure he did as much as he could have with it. But then, many (if not practically all) intellectuals fail to appreciate the importance of play for the rational animal. 2. Here's another from Wonderland, regarding the game Monopoly: Ironically, the game that became an emblem of sporty capitalist competition was originally designed as a critique of unfettered market economics. [Lizzie] Magie's version actually had two variations of game play, one in which players competed to capture as much real estate and cash as possible, as in the official Monopoly, and one in which the point of the game was to share the wealth as equitably as possible. (The latter rule set died out over time -- perhaps confirming the old cliché that it is simply less fun to be a socialist.) (loc. 2564) [link and bold added]That's no cliche, and it figures that even the fun version of the game is a poor representation of capitalism, starting with the fact that it is zero-sum. Incidentally, you can also learn from the book that the shopping mall, which many leftists love to use as a cudgel against capitalism, was invented by a socialist architect, who saw them as, "machines for selling" (loc. 695 ff.) 3. It is well known that even the most hardened criminals dread it, but how bad is solitary confinement, and why? Poker players, known to bet on almost anything, eventually got around to learning part of the answer empirically, in the form of what at least one regarded as a sucker bet (although a high-stakes one): [Rory] Young was relieved. He had come to a gradual realization that he hadn't given enough weight to the fact that [Rich] Alati was there by choice. "So if you're in solitary confinement in prison, that's a scary situation. You don't know if you're going to get out ever," he said. "Here, if he lasts, he gets 100k, but these guys in solitary confinement get nothing -- they have to do that."Young's relief cost him a negotiated $62,400.00. 4. In case you ever need to know how to spot an AI-generated face in an image, Kyle McDonald has you covered at Medium. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Larry Elder recently wrote a short column about the institution of slavery. I highly recommend it, because not only does it do a good job of summarizing that history, but it also will teach almost any reader something he did not know. Perhaps the most important thing that too many people don't know today is the following, which he quotes from economist Thomas Sowell: Slave (l) and "owner" (r) ca. 1886. (Image via Wikipedia.)Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century. People of every race and color were enslaved -- and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed. [bold added]As Elder indicates, through the example of a reparations supporter who long ago adopted an Arabic name, too many people are ignorant of or evade our nation's role in ending this evil practice. This column will help the former gain an appropriate appreciation for the United States, however imperfect it is; and it should cause us to ask why the latter focus only on the sins and mistakes of its past. I recommend reading the whole thing, and remembering it whenever there is a chance to aid the ignorant or disarm the unjust. -- CAV Link to Original
  21. I mentioned Alex Epstein's podcast, The Human Flourishing Project, some time back. I'd heard about it some time ago, but didn't have time to listen until very recently, due to our move. The series concerns finding the best way to achieve prosperity and happiness in our very unusual modern circumstances: Technology has advanced so far on so many fronts that it should be very easy in many respects to live an engaging, productive, and happy life. And yet, the following very significant obstacle to that goal remains: The knowledge of how to do this is often hard to get for many reasons, such as being drowned in a sea of non-knowledge. Image via Pixabay.This general problem is what Epstein opens his series with, and his solution is for us to work on improving what he calls our "knowledge systems." (e.g. How do we treat newly-encountered claims to knowledge? How do we evaluate experts? How can we test suggestions for ourselves?) Throughout, I have been impressed with seeing both how Epstein has applied his knowledge systems to various concrete problems and some of the specific advice he offers after considering it. (Having said this, the best way to treat his specific advice is by applying one's own mind to it. This is in part to develop the habit of better evaluating claims to knowledge, in part to develop a better understanding of the type of problem one wants to solve, and in part because our individual natures and circumstances can require tailor-made solutions.) For one example, I learned from a STRIVE talk of Epstein's that he recommends meditation as a rejuvenation method. (He mentions this a few times in his podcasts, too.) This was interesting and fun, and I might try it again some time, but I usually fell asleep for about 15 minutes when I tried it a few months ago. I did learn that the resulting cat naps were sometimes somewhat refreshing. The point is, Epstein is demonstrating how to figure out good approaches to daily problems for which good advice is difficult to ferret out, if it exists at all. A good, common, example is in order now. A couple of the episodes relate to relaxed productivity, and the first of these discusses a common problem -- and one that has greatly frustrated me over the years. I'll just dump my notes here for a description: Example of tortured productivity [the opposite of relaxed productivity --ed]: Spending a work day unsure of what one should be working on. No plan, so options start popping into mind, so questions about priorities do. Eventually, on picking [a task], he starts wondering how best to proceed. This is complex, so by the time he gets to it, he's sapped of energy and stressed, so he hasn't the energy to do what he eventually chose. This is a very common and very miserable state that is a constant for many people. He used to see this feeling as a symptom of over-commitment, but he now realizes that the feeling is due to a lack of prioritization. Prioritization (what) and Work (how) BOTH require lots of effort, and mixing them is disastrous. Do each rigorously and separately. He noticed early in life that lots of planning on Sunday worked extremely well, although he worried he was over-planning. But [what-planning] needs to be respected as its own kind of work... [format edits] I couldn't have come across this at a better time: I have been trying to improve my own planning for quite some time, and had noticed the task taking longer and longer -- to the point that I was wondering if what I was doing was no better than a procrastination ritual. But it's clear to me now that the two kinds of planning can lead to decision fatigue when not separated. And worse, as long as planning a week can take -- Epstein recommends a big chunk of a day, if I recall correctly. -- the amount of time wasted and the degree of resulting frustration can dwarf that. So I now have something new I can add to my evolving weekly planning routine -- the realization that there are two kinds of planning to separate. As a newcomer to this podcast, I have some advice of my own to offer to others who might be interested in trying it: Resist the temptation to just grab an episode about a topic that interests you. These build on one another and they're short. I tried that approach, listening to an episode here or there in the car while running errands, and taking notes later. But then I took a couple of solo road trips that allowed me to listen in batches. Listening to the first few consecutively helped me better appreciate the integration in Epstein's approach, and caused me to realize that different episodes than the ones I picked out were what I actually needed. (For example, I had tried "Engineering Your Life Routine," when "Relaxed Productivity" better suited the problem I was trying to solve.) Another thing you might find helpful is to listen through a whole episode (or set of them), resisting the understandable urge to take notes, and let it percolate for a few days -- and then re-listen for notes. You may well find things you initially missed when doing so. So, you may find the technique of blocking out your weekly schedule helpful -- or you may have that one already figured out and have another question about the nuts and bolts of reaching your goals. I am looking forward to continuing to test this technique on myself, and hope I have succeeded in getting a few more people to give this podcast a hearing. I think there is something for everyone there, first and foremost the approach to new knowledge; second, careful thought about many common problems; and third, lots of ideas to try. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. I don't know where Philip Bump stands regarding Donald Trump, but he very well summarizes the motivations of Trump and many of his conservative supporters. And he notes that many of Trump's voters are growing frustrated. First, we have Trump, the blustering appeaser making a big show of temporarily stopping a busload of political opponents he's on record as wanting to cut a deal with: Eyes off her and on the prize of freedom, please. (Image via Wikipedia)Consider the reaction of Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator whose relationship with Trump's presidency has run more cold than hot. His reaction to Trump's letter to Pelosi came in a blog post that consisted of a headline, a picture and three sentences. The headline was "This Letter From Trump to Pelosi May Be the Greatest Letter of His Presidency." The third sentence was "His letter is hilarious." The image was a large, laughing face. This is how Trump does politics. He may not do everything that his base would wish, but he at least fights against the people they hate. That's often good enough, as it was for Erickson on Thursday. [bold added]No he doesn't, and what he does do is not even not good enough. In the meantime, we have the following from a Trump voter: "I voted for him, and he's the one who's doing this," she told Mazzei. "I thought he was going to do good things. He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting." [bold added]The last time I checked, the President's job wasn't primarily to hurt or taunt people, but to protect individual rights. But let's give this supporter the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and applaud her for her frankness about Trump's braggadoccio wearing thin. That said, unless Americans who dislike the Democrats for one reason or another look for a leader with higher aspirations than "owning the libs" (i.e., getting a few laughs), they will continue getting the kind of "leader" they deserve. It may be fun to see the likes of Nancy Pelosi getting a taste of their own medicine, but irritating Democrats is not the same thing as defeating them. More important, it definitely fails to advance the cause of freedom, and is probably setting it back. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Over at Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success, Cal Newport considers an idea raised by a piece in The Verge: Vlad Savov ... asks if it's time to bring back the dumb phone. If we return to thinking of these gadgets in a more purely instrumental sense -- that is, asking what important problems they solve -- then, perhaps to our surprise, we might find ourselves wondering why the appropriate answer is not just a simple "yes." Image via Unsplash.Even considering Newport's very good points about the much-improved utility and portability of computing devices sized between the smart phone and the laptop, I find myself answering something like, "It depends, but probably, you do." Granted, Newport is speaking mainly from a productivity standpoint, but a recent road trip I made showed me that there are at least two things a smart phone can be quite valuable for (on top of improving our enjoyment of our lives, if used with discipline): memory insurance and remote connectivity. Yes, phones can do many of the things a Chromebook or a tablet can do (but not as well). But during the trip, a contact I'd been trying to reach called me to set up an appointment. I was nowhere near another device at the time, so I put her on speaker and glanced at my calendar, using my phone. Later, at a gas station in the boondocks -- whose proprietor may not have even known what wi-fi even is -- I was able to quickly confirm another appointment right after sending my wife a brief text on my progress home. Yes, I could have done either of these things later or on another device, but... In neither case was I trying to concentrate or otherwise deeply involved with something else, and in both cases, it was a fine time to do a short, one-off task. Indeed, had I not done the first of these, I might have missed a chance to batch the appointment with others -- and I would have had to expend an amount of effort to remind myself to return the call later (an amount equal to or greater than ... just setting the appointment). All this I could do just by reaching into my pocket or using the device I was already using. Was this necessary? Maybe so, maybe not. But sometimes, small wins can pay off in unexpected ways. Unless you have great difficulty controlling the urge to check your phone every few seconds, I'd say that these are great for collecting small wins. I vastly prefer using a real computer for scheduling and other productivity tasks, but as annoying as it can be to do them on a phone, it's a great ability to have. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. The NFL playoffs are generally the only time of the year I watch professional football. I am primarily a soccer fan, and I generally don't have three or four hours to spend in front of a television set. I follow the game a little, but when I watch sporting events, I want bang for my buck: Ninety minutes of uninterrupted soccer -- early in the day, thanks to time difference, once every week or so does me fine. That said, I was at my in-laws yesterday and saw most of the NFC Championship game (which was close, and marred by a crucial officiating error) and part of the AFC Championship. With my Saints out of the Super Bowl, I checked the news this morning to see whether the Patriots won. When I did, I found the following at the tail end of an ESPN piece with the following promising title: "Patriots' Super Bowl LIII Trip Is a Bill Belichick Masterpiece for the Ages." Image via Wikipedia.In the end, the Patriots won the game because they won the overtime coin toss, because special teams captain Matthew Slater called "heads" and the coin bounced his way. Slater would say afterward in his delirious locker room that he always calls "heads" because his Hall of Fame father, Jackie, once instructed him to. "We always say God is the head of our life," Slater said, "so we call 'heads,' simple as that." Never mind the fact that both teams should always get at least one touch of the football in a postseason game. As soon as the Patriots won the toss, they knew exactly what 41-year-old Brady was prepared to do. They've seen this movie a few times before. [bold added]This nonsensically follows what what had contained the elements of a good buildup. You can learn that football mastermind Bill Belichick and the Patriots faced long odds from the start of the season and overcame them; they had a definite, well-executed game plan; and they managed to built up an early two-touchdown cushion. Tom Brady and company needed every single point of that cushion just to get the opportunity to try for that game winning touchdown. Besides, think what you will of sudden death rules, there's no guarantee that, had the Chiefs won the toss, they would have scored, as spectacular an offense as they have. What was more important than the coin toss or even what happened afterward was what it took to get to that point. That the Brady touchdown might have seemed routine, or a foregone conclusion, does not detract. It underscores that point. Ironically, when I read this story, whatever algorithm ESPN uses to queue stories after each other came close to doing for the sports writer what he says the coin did for the Patriots. That title? "Tom Brady Exults, Says 'Odds Were Stacked Against' Patriots." Congratulations to the Patriots on their continuing success. -- CAV P.S. Curiosity and a desire to learn from Bill Belichick led me to a somewhat rambling article about Burj Najarian, mentioned early on in the above-mentioned story. This led me to a transcript of (or notes from) a show about Belichick's right hand man. From those notes, one can learn just how comprehensive and integrated Belichick's coaching is. (He trains players to answer questions in a way that won't give opponents information they can use, for example.) One can also see that Najarian vitally performs many necessary tasks for Belichick, allowing him to concentrate on football matters. (This is in addition to Belichick avoiding social media and being the only coach to refuse to join the NFL Coaches Association.) Belichick is routinely and unjustly called names and belittled for seeking every small advantage, but one can learn a lot from someone who has a lifetime winning record in the Super Bowl and is heading to another. Link to Original
  25. Notable Commentary "ers of these services should be aware of potentially life-changing consequences of learning about their heritage, as well as possible ways governments can use (or misuse) their data." -- Paul Hsieh, in "So You Got a Consumer DNA Test for Christmas -- Now What?" at Forbes. Ironically, some wallow daily in a modern pot of gold, but miss the rainbow that got them there, or tsk as if it were a primitive myth. (Image via Unsplash) "Professors now insist that despite a panoply of private sector employers to choose from, we're oppressed by 'private government,' whereby 'employers rule our lives' (per philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson); and despite a capitalist cornucopia of new products and services, allegedly we suffer a 'tyranny of choice' (per psychology professor Barry Schwartz); and despite new opportunities for self-employment, we're enslaved by the 'invisible handcuffs of capitalism' (per economics professor Michael Perelman)." -- Richard Salsman, in "We Should Celebrate Diversity in Wealth Too" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "When we zoom out, then, it is clear that the threat to free speech is far wider than just the jihadist menace." -- Elan Journo, in "The betrayal of Charlie Hebdo" at Spiked. "Have you ever had one of those horrific nightmares that begins with you having already done something terrible, and you feel a combination of guilt, and terror, and a pained confusion about how this crime was committed beyond your control?" -- Lisa VanDamme, in "On Crime and Punishment: Sympathy for the Devil" at Medium. "When the interest rate [is lowered by a central planner], that does not turn a wealth-destroying activity into a wealth-creating one." -- Keith Weiner, in "Surest Way to Overthrow Capitalism" at SNB & CHF. "Voting is essential to America and to any moral system of government, not because it enables the majority to assert its will, but because it protects each individual from being subject to the will of others." -- Gregory Salmieri, in "Voting in the American System of Government," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand. "ecause the source and nature of economic power and political power differ, we should have different attitudes toward them." -- Onkar Ghate, in "On American Political Philosophy," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand. "We should look instead to the distinctive American approach to government, and consider the more basic question: what, in that original system, is the government's proper job, domestically?" -- Elan Journo, in "What Should a Distinctively American Foreign Policy Do?," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand. -- CAV Link to Original