Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Gus Van Horn blog

  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


Everything posted by Gus Van Horn blog

  1. After listening to one of Alex Epstein's Human Flourishing Project podcasts, I found myself intrigued by the title of a blog post he mentioned and I subsequently read, "Why Books Don't Work." This is a very thought-provoking and clearly-written essay of about 4,600 words, and considers the problem, common even among the educated, of people realizing how little information they actually retain from reading books. More important the author, Andy Matuschak, also offers some thoughts on what to do about it. Image by ASTERISK, via Unsplash, license.To illustrate his problem and begin offering his solution, Matuschak starts with the commonplace problems of people leaving books and lectures (a simpler case) with much less than they realize in the moment. This problem, he holds, is due to the fact that any such medium is based (at least implicitly) on a similar theory, or "cognitive model" of how learning takes place. The theories occur on several levels and at varying degrees of faithful implementation. But we can learn about learning by considering these theories seriously and by looking at what people do to compensate for their deficiencies. There are lessons for us, then coming from what the raw media seem to assume, through what educators who use the media (and attempt to make up for their deficiencies) believe, all the way to what successful end-users are doing. The end-users can teach us the most, the author holds, because they are actively engaging in the material, paying attention to how they absorb information, and self-monitoring themselves. These end-user activities Matuschak calls metacognition, or "thinking about thinking." Effective authors, he contends, are such because they do things to lighten their reader's metacognitive load. But if you think Matuschak is hoping to "build a better book," he isn't necessarily urging that (or ruling it out). He's willing to consider completely novel media, such as we see in his Quantum Country: My collaborator Michael Nielsen and I made an initial attempt with Quantum Country, a "book" on quantum computation. But reading this "book" doesn't look like reading any other book. The explanatory text is tightly woven with brief interactive review sessions, meant to exploit the ideas we just introduced. Reading Quantum Country means reading a few minutes of text, then quickly testing your memory about everything you've just read, then reading for a few more minutes, or perhaps scrolling back to reread certain details, and so on. Reading Quantum Country also means repeating those quick memory tests in expanding intervals over the following days, weeks, and months. If you read the first chapter, then engage with the memory tests in your inbox over the following days, we expect your working memory will be substantially less taxed when reading the second chapter. What's more, the interleaved review sessions lighten the metacognitive burden normally foisted onto the reader: they help readers see where they're absorbing the material and where they're not. [format edits]There is more, but many university students will recognize the repeated review of smaller "chunks" at intervals, the quizzing, and the monitoring. As revolutionary as this sounds, I admit finding myself being nagged by the memory of a dismissive term some of the nuns from my Catholic education used regarding some of the newer teaching methods, almost certainly "progressive," they deemed inferior: spoonfeeding. I am not dismissing this author's approach, but I see a need for caution in applying it, particularly in the creation of novel media. (I will note that I have not attempted Quantum Country, but I don't think my cautions suffer as a result.) For example, the author notes that lecturing has been "ditched" "in US K-12 education." That development is not necessarily an improvement. There can be good or bad reasons for uniting a lesson plan around a "theme, for example, and doing so at the expense of teaching deeply in a given discipline is definitely the wrong approach. That said, I am not necessarily defending how the nuns taught me. Perhaps those who did well could under almost any circumstances. What I strongly suspect, given the poor general state of education in the United States, is that in addition to the cognitive models in books leaving something to be desired, people are generally worse at metacognition now. In other words, I think "fixing" books or devising new media can only help so much. It's not a waste of time: They can make it easier for the well-prepared and perhaps make up for some of the deficiencies of our educational system. But we should temper our enthusiasm. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Four Things Image by Jeffrey Hamilton, via Unsplash, license.Due in part to the holiday and in part to travel, I will be mostly or entirely absent from here until as late as July 16. In the meantime, I wish you a happy Independence Day. 1. Little Man, who just turned six, has his own amusing equivalent of way back in the good old days. When he wants to talk about something that happened long ago, or bring to our attention what a big boy he is, he will preface whatever it is with, "When I was four and a half..." 2. During a drive some time around their birthdays, the kids decided to list what each family member was best at. Here is what they came up with: Little Man: Memory Pumpkin: Vision Daddy: Being Wise Mom: Wrapping Presents As Dave Barry, who I am sure would be proud, might say, I am not making this up. 3. My daughter, now eight, had just finished her first big-girl sleep-over summer camp, and I was driving her home. Meanwhile, Mrs. Van Horn texted me with a request for an ETA while running errands with Little Man. Dad won! he suddenly piped up. In his lexicon, that meant I was home before they were. Naturally, I had missed the text because I was driving and sent the appropriate message as soon as I was home. Little Man read the notification when it popped up on his mother's phone. 4. So, yes. Brownie camp went well for Pumpkin, which was a relief, in part because we realized after sending her there that it was the same camp one of her aunts attended and hated when she was a kid. But we were also naturally apprehensive about how she would handle being away from home for so long. I was less so the day I dropped her off: She objected to me slipping and calling her "my little girl" on the drive over. And then she seemed eager to be rid of me once we got there. It didn't occur to me until later, but the cute, impatient frown she shot at me at one point did much to put me at ease. On the way home, some of the things she told me about were getting to groom horses, learning how to use a bow and arrow, and sneaking out to catch frogs at night with one of the other girls. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Steve Forbes pens a bizarre column at Fox News in praise of Donald Trump as a "deregulator." Yes, it commits the usual conservative sin of conceding the whole argument by speaking of "excessive" government regulation, but the piece comes across as to me a unique cocktail of damning by faint praise and gross understatement. First, we have the following: Image by Gardner Wheeler, via Unsplash, license.One example of the president delivering his deregulation promise came in late May when the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration abandoned a costly regulatory proposal issued by President Barack Obama. The measure would have forced private freight railroad carriers to continue operating with two people in a locomotive cab. This proposed Obama, anti-business mandate was always wrongheaded, and its revocation carries important lessons for how best to regulate.Okay, good. The President ended some blatant featherbedding. Forbes gives no figure on cost savings versus railroad expense, so it is not clear how much this actually helped the railroads. Forbes does note that the regulators had no safety data demonstrating a need for the extra employees they would have had to pay, so there is that. But if I try to put myself in the shoes of an average reader, I can more easily see "fewer jobs" and have little clue about "increased investment capital" for the railroads. In other words, that potential benefit of deregulation is lost on me. (And the fact remains that some people probably lost their jobs.) That said, I'm open to the argument that perhaps I'm being hard on Forbes. And he does argue that what's good for the railroads is good for the rest of the economy. Let's put that aside for a moment, or even assume that Forbes made a clearer-cut case that this regulatory move really helped the railroads. We still have the following: Rather than bow to narrow labor interests, regulators would be better served stating the goals and letting industries figure out the best ways to achieve them. [We don't need a bureaucrat to say, "Get me and my stuff there quickly, safely, and cheaply." -- ed] This would encourage innovation and avoid the constant problems of regulators always being behind the curve when it comes to newer and better practices. The Trump Transportation Department deserves immense credit for turning rhetoric into action. A nanny-ish, we-know-best mentality on a decision better left to the private market is simply unneeded as railroads continue to set all-time safety records -- a result of private investments averaging $25 billion in recent years. Indeed, as the American Action Forum outlined, "regulators should not impose specific and costly mandates when lacking evidence they will solve a problem. Regulators should also be mindful of the implications today's regulatory decisions will have on future innovation, particularly when evidence suggests those innovations could improve safety."I'll give one cheer to Trump -- whose regulation of foreign trade (aka tariffs) threatens to easily wipe out any of the gains intimated above. But doesn't the above make the whole premise of government regulation in the least bit questionable? Wouldn't investors not want to lose their money in the form of accidents, a reputation ruined by a poor safety record, or damages from lawsuits? And if regulators are perpetually "behind the curve" regarding safety and are making decisions on things "better left to the private market," why have them at all? -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Over at Ask a Bureaucrat, David S. Reed fields a question from a reader who has become interested in becoming a crony. I'm ready to get off my high horse and join in, "Boss Tweed" admits, apparently after being passed over for promotion in favor of one flunky too many. Reed facetiously, but relevantly, asks his reader to promise to use his power only for good before explaining exactly how to do this: Image by Thomas Nast, via Wikipedia, public domain.Your challenge is to build a crony relationship with your agency's officials, even though appointed officials typically stay in the same job only a few years. You can do it by adopting the same short time horizon as the appointee. When he announces a pet project, do not talk about how similar efforts failed before he came to the agency, or how this one is doomed to fail a few years from now after he has moved on. Instead, help rally attention and enthusiasm for the current effort. When the official is in a pinch to get something done, volunteer the efforts of yourself and the people you supervise. This will force you to juggle your workload, so prioritize what will solve the official's immediate problem. Sacrifice the work which would only show results in the long term. [bold added]As with shampoo, there will be a rinse-and-repeat with future officials, who will forgive and forget whatever mistakes can be blamed on their predecessors. The irony, of course, is that there is no way to exercise such "power" for good. It may well be that, even if our government were pared down to its proper scope, we would still have government bureaucrats. Nevertheless, I think the hazard of this problem would be greatly reduced (in terms of both opportunity and impact) under such circumstances. Furthermore, the very susceptibility of government bureaucracies to such a problem should make people more wary of placing more and more of our lives under direct or indirect bureaucratic control. Of course, that is on top of the fact that any government agency that is involved in centrally planning the economy is already curtailing our freedom. -- CAV P.S. I suppose one could make an argument that, under some circumstances, operating a government agency this way could achieve a noble purpose, as a means of sabotaging something clearly inimical to freedom. But the odds of such a situation arising seem ... long. Link to Original
  5. No, I didn't watch the Democrat "debates," but I have read plenty about them and watched a few of the more talked-about moments. Probably the biggest such moment came from the second night, when Kamala Harris took a cynical (and somewhat dubious) potshot at Joe Biden for working with segregationist senators (from his own party, AP) on non-racial issues early in his career. Even if I liked Biden -- I don't -- I don't think that noting a need, in those days, to work with a troglodyte or two would be to defend him. I think -- as the AP's confusion regarding the party membership of said troglodytes helps show -- that this was a clumsy and ill-advised attempt on his part to say something like, Look to me to be able work constructively with even those knuckle-draggers across the aisle. And yes, he opposed forced busing, but that was controversial across the board even then. But enough of that. We have a slate of over two dozen candidates -- twenty of whom participated in this two-night joke -- who do not substantially differ from one another, offering all kinds of insane expansions of the welfare state. One picture that made the rounds was every hand being raised in answer to whether illegal immigrants should receive free medical care. (Biden is one of them -- and it is actually hard to tell whether he's raising his hand.) And that's just one of the things that was discussed. Probably the most notable thing about this exercise is how little time was spent on the Green New Deal. In other news, Bill de Blasio quoted Che Guevara before a crowd in Miami. But not even points for honesty for him!Think about that. Every single viable candidate supports -- or pays lip service to -- this idea in some form or fashion. The proposal would obviously, from a moment's thought, upend the everyday life of practically every American, and it is supposedly being made to address a life-or-death problem. Why isn't someone embracing it for the latter reason, or standing up against it for the former reason? Hint: It's for the same reason that old, ambivalent Joe Biden is the front-runner (and is unlikely to be sunk by Harris's attack): Socialism as a moral force is dead, preening by the likes of Representative Ocasio-Cortez to the contrary notwithstanding. Few ordinary people are truly excited by any of these proposals, but everyone assumes they are The Right Thing to Do -- on those rare occasions they too briefly consider them. Absent a widely-known ethical alternative to altruism, we are coasting in that direction -- the direction of socialistic central planning -- by inertia. In such a milieu, the 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). -- CAVLink to Original
  6. Blog Roundup 1. From the Roots of Progress comes a ready-made how-to for writing a great history of technology or industry for the layman, in the form of a list of requirements: Tell a coherent story and not be arbitrarily limited in scope (either in place or time, e.g., "Agriculture in North Carolina 1860 -- 1910"). Describe what came before the technology existed, setting the context for why it was needed and what it evolved out of. Explain the problem that the technology solved, how people dealt with the problem, and why those approaches were inadequate. Explain the solution itself, in terms the layman can understand, but in as much technical detail as possible for that audience. Describe the impact of the technology, including its applications (for instance, a book on steel should explain what things were made out of steel, and why this was an improvement over previous materials). Quantify whenever possible. Better, visualize: show graphs of performance increasing or costs decreasing over time. Eliminate almost all other detail that does not contribute to these goals, save perhaps for a few entertaining side stories or intriguing historical connections. [format edits] It is interesting to read why he felt the need to make such a list and, since I sympathize, I am passing it along. 2. According to Dollars and Crosses, Leonard Peikoff has come out with a new book based in large part on his question-and-answer podcast: Keeping It Real: Bringing Ideas Down to Earth offers invaluable advice on how to apply broad philosophical principles to the real-world decisions we have to make every day. In this book, Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's longtime friend and heir, provides a wealth of practical counsel on personal relationships, child-rearing, career problems, politics, sex, and many other topics. His answers to hundreds of questions -- taken from the first five years of his former podcast -- highlight the importance of ensuring that the principles we claim to live by do not float in our minds as useless wordplay, but rather guide us in action toward our personal, selfish happiness here on earth. [format edits]I liked the podcast and always get great value out of Leonard Peikoff's books, so I am especially looking forward to Keeping It Real, pun intended. 3. Over at ARI's New Ideal, Keith Lockitch reviews Population Bombed!: Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change, by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak: Even if one accepts the need to plan for an increased risk of climate-related disasters, the proponents of end-of-the-world scenarios show no recognition of the life-or-death importance of abundant energy, the physical and economic realities of energy production, or the devastating consequences of the sweeping carbon-cutting policies they propose. As a corrective to the near-panic that pervades our cultural atmosphere, what's desperately needed is a broader perspective on the climate issue. Fortunately, such a perspective can be found in a recent book exploring the connections between the current fears over climate change and previous environmental concerns -- in particular, fears related to population growth.The authors, Lockitch goes on to argue in his mostly positive review, show that "Climate change is essentially similar to previous anticipated environmental crises that failed to materialize." Something oddly missing from most "alternative energy" lists. (Image by Val Vesa, via Unsplash, license.)4. At the blog of the Center for Industrial Progress, we learn how Alex Epstein spent his Earth Day: by making a new video for PragerU. We also learn that the following four five-minute videos have enjoyed over 10 million views combined: Why You Should Love Fossil Fuel Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy Do 97% of climate scientists really agree? Can we rely on wind and solar energy? It's good to know that these exist, particularly since the shortness doesn't ask too much of someone who may or may not be that interested in the crucial points they make -- and the clarity ensures that someone new learns of an alternative point of view. I am glad these have been so successful so far. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. I usually prefer to finish reading a book before commenting on it here, but I'm making an exception this morning. Recently intrigued by a review of Rich Karlgaard's, Late Bloomers, I bought a copy and have been slowly working my way through it. The book has proved valuable, and not just for the reasons I wanted to read it. I am still somewhere in the first third of the book, but on more than one occasion, I have found myself thinking something along the lines of Every parent should think about this. An emerging theme of the book jibes with much of what the likes of "Free Range Mom" Lenore Skenazy have been talking about for years. Karlgaard argues that our quest to identify talent early and our approach towards educating (if you can call it that) the "gifted" are doing children a great disservice. For example: Image via Amazon, fair use.Let's stop and ask: Is the sacrificial expenditure of money, wrecked family dinners, and kids exhausted from organized activities producing better, more productive, or happier people? Is it helping people bloom? For the majority of kids, it's doing the exact opposite. This pressure for early achievement has an unwitting dark side: It demoralizes young people. By forcing adolescents to practice like professionals, to strive for perfection, and to make life choices in their teens (or earlier), we're actually harming them. We're stunting their development, closing their pathways to discovery, and making them more fragile. Just when we should be encouraging kids to dream big, take risks, and learn from life's inevitable failures, we're teaching them to live in terror of making the slightest mistake. Forging kids into wunderkinds is making them brittle. Journalist Megan McArdle has written extensively about the fear of failure that plagues today's young adults... (loc. 540) [bold added]Karlgaard cites mental health -- and suicide -- statistics elsewhere to back himself up, but it's almost unnecessary. As a parent, I think almost anyone around middle age can see stark differences -- almost to the point of unrecognizability -- between childhood today and childhood as it once was. This is not to say that there aren't many, many improvements, but the cultural and institutional pressures to drill children in sports and academics have made me uncomfortable (to say the least) from the start. As another book, Steven Johnson's Wonderland, argues (and Skenazy often does), delight and amusement play crucial roles in cognitive and emotional development. Modern childhood strikes me as deficient in both. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. We own an HP Envy all-in-one, which is fine for our current needs for the occasional print, the rare copy, and the sporadic fax. I am pleased with it, overall, and remember being quite impressed with how easy it was to set it up as a network printer/scanner for the first time. It usually works flawlessly, with one minor and irritating exception: Every time it runs low on ink, I have to look up which kind. This menu demonstrates how ridiculous this display is.Pictured here is what my ink level indicator looks like. This appears on a screen with more than enough space and resolution to present a list in English -- as attested by the many other pages of menus and instructions that pop up when this device is called upon to perform any other function. (As shown at right.) At the risk of sounding like some kind of Luddite, I'd love to see something like this, instead: Ink Levels Black: 80% Color: 65%But heck, I could be persuaded to go with the filled bars -- if they came with labels in English as opposed to the unintuitive hieroglyphics they use. I can see an argument to the effect that the bars are a nice, quick read. But the symbols? It doesn't save time if I have to look them up, and as anyone might guess, ink has an annoying way of running out when time is of the essence. I swear I won't mind the moment it takes to make out a word or two, especially compared to having to drop everything and look it up on the web. I'm having to read anyway, so why not just have the words on the screen? This is a programmable computer, not a mass-produced leaflet for international distribution. There is no need or excuse not to use two simple words that anyone with a need for a printer will presumably be quite familiar with. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. With capitalism under heavy bombardment from the left, it was refreshing to see John Stossel's latest column (in which he quotes Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute), titled "Moral Capitalism" (or something equivalent in at least two outlets I am aware of). Here is the opening: Presidential candidates and the media keep telling people "it's immoral" that a few rich people have so much more money than everyone else. They talk as if it doesn't matter what the rich did to get the money. Instead, the fact that they are rich is itself immoral. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute says this is lunacy. "They want to condemn the people that actually have moved civilization forward," Brook complains. "People who improved the standard of living for everybody on the planet."Stossel quotes Brook again, crucially, on the small matter of these improvements being due to win-win transactions. Compare this to the following, typical conservative reaction to the kinds of prosperity-destroying attacks on America the Democrats are passing off as campaign planks: Image by JJ Jordan, via Unsplash, license.Warren breezes past these and other objections with indignant slogans about billionaire "freeloaders." That's an odd term. In 2016, the top 1% of earners took home 19.7% of national income. They also paid 37.3% of all taxes, which was more than the bottom 90% combined. If you want to raise (income) taxes on the rich, go ahead, but you will never extract enough to fund the spending Warren fondly imagines. The only way to achieve a Scandinavian-style welfare state is to do what the Scandinavians do -- tax the heck out of the middle class.Setting aside for a moment the propriety of taxation, notice how such a reply, couched in the altruistic assumption that trade is of no moral import, completely misses the gross injustice of the whole idea of soaking the rich -- something that is immediately clear from the Stossel column. It is beyond ridiculous to defend "the rich" based on how much money they have had taken from them in taxes. Worse, it puts advocates of capitalism in the absurd position of being on the back foot -- reacting to baseless claims that "the rich" have to hand out "their share" of loot, completely forfeiting the moral high ground and whatever amount some politician eventually decides is that "fair share." At the same time, the missing element of the agency of the common man in building the wealth of "the rich" is missing. We help ourselves through trade, and this might remind us that asking for more after the fact -- which plans like Warren's are -- is wrong. (And it might begin to stem our national epidemic of learned helplessness at the government teat.) If conservatives were serious about prosperity -- or self-reliance -- or justice -- they would scramble to adopt Brook's approach. It is too bad the GOP will almost certainly have only Donald Trump to run against whoever the Democrats coalesce around. Someone with Yaron Brook's clarity and understanding of what is at stake would justifiably make that person look like a laughingstock to a significant number of voters, and at least give pause to many of the rest. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Over at Power Line is a discussion of the famous fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. The fiftieth anniversary of that fire was June 21, and it has been misused to symbolize the alleged evils of capitalism and excuse environmental regulation ever since. The blog post takes note of both widespread misconceptions about and little-known context surrounding the fire. Most notably, the river was already on the mend and it had reached its then-sad state in great part due to the law at the time -- law that also hamstrung efforts at remediation: [T]he Cuyahoga was treated as an industrial stream, and state permits inhibited local clean up efforts. Public nuisance actions and enforcement of local pollution ordinances, in particular, were precluded by state regulation, while federal laws protecting commercially navigable waterways went largely unenforced."This comports with a post of mine from earlier this year, in which I noted that law that could have prevented water pollution went unenforced thanks to Utilitarianism. I quoted one source there as follows: Image by DJ Johnson, via Unsplash, license.Yet the judges were not insulated from broader social developments and thus their decisions reflected changes in values in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Strict protection of property rights in the early nineteenth century was compatible with the early republican thought, which attributed intrinsic value to property; it was the foundation of propriety and political participation in the society and the source of the citizen's independence. Utilitarian values gained prominence throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the Progressive Era when Gifford Pinchot promoted the use of water and forest resources for "the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." The mid-nineteenth century case reports indicate that for judges industry was the vanguard of economic development that benefited everybody. [format and punctuation edits, bold added]One small problem with this approach is that it is not the proper job of the government to guarantee or actively promote anyone's happiness (as if government officials are fit to judge that for anyone). In doing so, the government disregarded its proper job: protecting individual rights, including those downstream of the industries. I will also note again that the law was far from perfect regarding the rights of those downstream. Likewise, the cleanup efforts weren't, either, funded as they were, for example, with government bonds. That said, both (a) how the river became polluted in the first place, and (b) the fact that efforts were already underway to clean it, indicate the following: On top of so much of environmental regulation violating our rights (which should preclude the whole idea), the case for it is weak to say the very least, even if we set aside such objections for the sake of argument. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Four Things Here are a few moderately creative solutions to a variety of problems... 1. Problem: A bunch of idiots who insist on cramming their tiny office refrigerator with tubs of butter are preventing someone from using said refrigerator for lunch. Solution: (1) Brainstorm with others, (2) realize (after having to rule out some apparently obvious solutions) that the real problem is that the full refrigerator is preventing enjoyment of a cold drink at lunch, and (3) hide said drink in a butter tub. The photo at the solution link is quite amusing, and I smirk along with the "subterfuge." Image by Kirk Thornton, via Unsplash, license.2. Problem: On seeing a discussion of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, I realized with dismay that I now live too far away to visit it easily. Solution: I searched "fallingwater virtual tour" to discover both an app and a really good 3-D video tour so I can at least get an idea. Scroll down for the video, by Cristóbal Vila, which is just under five minutes. Beneath that is a half-hour documentary about the house. 3. Problem: You're stuck with the responsibility for keeping a shared kitchen clean. And people keep loading the sink with their coffee mugs. Solution: Write an amusing message in the sink, as pictured here. (Scroll down to Item 5.) 4. Problem: Some of the podcasts I listen to when driving contain great information -- which I can't take down for obvious reasons. Solution: At some other time, while I'm doing something else, I let Otter transcribe the really valuable parts. Otter is a free app that is surprisingly accurate on its first pass and exceedingly easy to use for editing. I agree with the folks at Fast Company, who write, "There's no perfect transcription app, but Otter is getting there." Now, all I need is a better text-to-voice app and I'll be set. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Via Hacker News, I learned of a story that perfectly concretizes something Ayn Rand once said about judging productivity: The moral issue is: how do you approach the field of work given your intellectual endowment and the existing possibilities? Are you going through the motions of holding a job, without focus or ambition, waiting for weekends, vacations, and retirement? Or are you doing the most and the best that you can with your life? Have you committed yourself to a purpose, i.e., to a productive career? Have you picked a field that makes demands on you, and are you striving to meet them, to do good work, and to build on it -- to expand your knowledge, develop your ability, improve your efficiency? If the answers to these last questions are yes, then you are totally virtuous in regard to productiveness, whether you are a surgeon or a steelworker, a house painter or a painter of landscapes, a janitor or a company president.Incredibly, this story epitomizes the point using the last two examples from Rand's list. Enter Richard Montañez, a janitor at Frito-Lay, and CEO Roger Enrico, who had issued a company-wide call to all his employees to think of themselves as owners. Here is a transcript of the initial phone call Montañez placed when he was ready to pitch his idea for Flamin' Hot Cheetos. It would probably be blasted as too unbelievable, were it part of a work of fiction: Spices from elote, pictured, inspired the seasoning for Flamin' Hot Cheetos. (Image by Robert Penaloza, via Unsplash, license.) "Mr. Enrico's office. Who is this?" "Richard Montañez." "What division are you with?" "California." "You're the VP overseeing California?" "No, I work at the Rancho Cucamonga plant." "Oh, so you're the VP of operations?" "No, I work inside the plant." "You're the plant manager?" "No. I'm the janitor."Montañez is now vice president at Frito-Lay and has since overseen the introduction of several multimillion dollar product lines. His story involves great difficulty, persistence, hard work, and keen observation. I highly recommend making time to read it -- It's a bit under 2000 words. -- especially if you could do with some inspiration. From his humble beginnings, through having to leave school in fourth grade, and from being advised to do the best he possibly could, through finding a way around a faction that wanted him to fail, this truly American success story has it all. (And yes, it is being made into a movie.) One last point: Although the story focuses on the self-made Montañez, I think it is inspiring and thought-provoking to consider Enrico's part, here, too. Without his active-minded leadership, from "invitation" (as Montañez saw his call to arms) to seeing past the roughness of a janitor's presentation, he deserves high praise and emulation as well. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. John Cassidy of the New Yorker correctly notes that the zombie-like rise of socialism from the grave is in part due to self-proclaimed pro-capitalist politicians failing to deliver prosperity. Unfortunately Cassidy incorrectly refers to the mixed economy said politicians gave us instead as "capitalism." Such confusion is quite common, but it doesn't hold a candle to another one that surfaces in Cassidy's closing paragraph: The legitimacy of the market economy is at stake. From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, defenders of capitalism have argued that it is ultimately a moral system, because competition ensures that it harnesses selfishness to the common good. But where is the morality in a system where the economic gains are so narrowly shared, and giant companies with substantial market power -- the heirs to the trusts -- exercise dominion over great swaths of the economy? Until a twenty-first-century Friedman provides a convincing answer to this question, the revival of the S-word will continue. [bold added]Cassidy is correct to note both the efforts of many advocates of capitalism to justify the system on moral grounds and the incompleteness of the job. But he doesn't seem to realize just how incomplete the job was. The good news is that there is no need to wait for the arrival of a moral justification for capitalism. That has already been provided by a twentieth-century radical, Ayn Rand. Although Rand is far better known as a defender of capitalism, she deserves even better renown as an ethicist, for her thoughts on the matter were clear and deep. Tellingly, she starts with a question I dare say none of the previous defenders of capitalism Cassidy was thinking about addressed: Image by Edgar Chaparro, via Unsplash, license.What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code. The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all -- and why?If my selection of this quote has you scratching your head, it is because the good news is, in a sense, also the bad news. Cassidy is more right than he realizes because -- as one might suspect from the ease with which opponents of capitalism attack it on moral grounds -- capitalists today must ask and answer for themselves some very fundamental questions, beginning with that one. Practically everyone today assumes that altruism -- a type of morality -- is morality. But if this is wrong -- and Ayn Rand has convinced me that it is -- making a moral argument from such a basis is doomed to failure. But don't take my word for it: Note how easily people get away with making moral and political hay out of the fact that some (highly productive) people make and keep lots more money than others (whom they have not harmed and whose lives they have benefited directly through trade and/or indirectly). They feel safe ignoring the context, part of which I have supplied in parentheses, because altruism so successfully short-circuits moral and political thinking to cause people to circumscribe their focus to the money they can see right now and how much of it anyone has (regardless of why) at this moment. Rand successfully argues that morality helps the individual live and flourish, and shows how (trade) and why (mutual benefit) men should (yes, that is a moral "should") cooperate. The heavy lifting is like initial research and investment, or like a foundation: Performed correctly, the rest is relatively easy. Ignored, it can doom all further efforts. Given the alternate (a) need some capitalists feel to justify the system on "moral" grounds (noted by Cassidy), or (b) urge others show (not noted by Cassidy) to dodge the issue entirely; it seems strange that capitalists would not have already at least consulted Rand to better understand the nature of the moral attacks coming from anti-capitalists. But until at least some do exactly this, enemies of capitalism will continue to enjoy misrepresenting capitalism and morality with impunity, and an undeserved ease in undermining the economic system that raised the West from destitution and slavery in a very short amount of time. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Over at Ask a Manager, Alison Green fields a question (Item 3) from a person whose customer-facing work involves caring for plants in offices full of people for whom this part of the job looks like a hobby: What do I say to people who tell me my job has no stress and is easy? My job is challenging, physical, requires critical thinking, and involves taking care of living things! The implication is, I feel, that I don't have any special skills and that I just float from plant to plant with an empty head.Green, who admits that the job sounds pleasant to her, advises the following before offering her thoughts on how to respond: Image by Riccardo Pelati, via Unsplash, license.[T]ry reframing those comments in your head so you hear them as "I'd love to be able to spend my day taking care of living things and not sitting in stuffy conference rooms with a cranky client who wants to debate comma placement." I do think that's what most people intend to convey -- they're having an escapist fantasy that may or may not reflect the reality of your job, but does reflect their stress/frustration/discontent/burn-out with their own... Or people are just making conversation without realizing how what they're saying is coming across.That's a great point. The questioner otherwise likes her job, and should realize that unusual jobs will often have unusual drawbacks. And a major type of unusual drawback is having to deal with most people having curiosity about things that have become mundane. This situation is very similar to that of people who are able to work from home -- and have to deal with family, friends, and neighbors who see the malleable schedule as some kind of vacation. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. Mazda has just announced that it will rid its cars of touch-screen control interfaces, something I was beginning to fear I'd be stuck with the next time I need to buy a new car: Image by John Schnobrich, via Unsplash, license."Doing our research, when a driver would reach towards a touch-screen interface in any vehicle, they would unintentionally apply torque to the steering wheel, and the vehicle would drift out of its lane position," said Matthew Valbuena, Mazda North America's lead engineer for HMI and infotainment. "And of course with a touchscreen you have to be looking at the screen while you're touching ... so for that reason we were comfortable removing the touch-screen functionality," he added. [format edits]Touchscreens for everything has always struck me as a fad, and it's nice to see that we won't necessarily have to suffer with such an awful design decision. On car rentals, I have had to deal with touchscreens and found that they added an unnecessary level of difficulty to what had been and should be simple operations. On top of that and the two major safety issues noted above, I absolutely hate having a glowing rectangle in my field of view when driving at night. I may have to live with that, but at least there is now a good prospect that having to look directly at as I drive might be off the table. I have been a Honda man for almost all of my driving life and, for a bit over a year now, a Subaru man. But I will definitely consider Mazda if they stick to their guns, and nobody else takes notice. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and better. Blindly applying new technology to already-solved problems does not necessarily lead to improvement and can actually do more harm than good. I am glad to see that at least one automaker has stepped back from what I would call, with apologies to Richard Feynman, cargo-cult technology. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Notable Commentary "Inventors will heed the lesson about what befalls the person who invents a better mousetrap, and antitrust enforcers and judges can freely decide if one is charging too much for the fruits of one's inventive labors." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Huawei Is the Only Winner After the Qualcomm Decision" at RealClear Markets. The Smoot-Hawley tarrifs exacerbated the Great Depression. The effects of Trump's are starting to be felt, according to Richard Salsman. (Image available from Library of Congress, via Wikipedia, unrestricted.)"For decades, U.S. tax and regulatory policies have suffocated and gutted American manufacturing, thereby artificially increasing offshore competitiveness and American importation of offshore products; instead of admitting their errors and changing their policies, U.S. politicians and policymakers blamed Japan (in the 1980s) and China (since the 1990s) for being so pro-manufacturing." -- Richard Salsman, in "Why are Trump's Non-Deals on Trade So Surprising?" at The Daily Capitalist. "'[T]his time will be different' ... are the most repeated and regretted words in market history." -- Richard Salsman, in "Why the Yield Curve's Predictive Power 'Puzzles' Economists" at The Daily Capitalist. "If 18-year-olds can decide whether or not to assume the risks of major surgery or serving in the military, they should also be able to decide whether or not to assume the risks of smoking." -- Paul Hsieh, in "If 18-Year-Olds Can Fight for Their Country, They Should Be Able to Smoke a Cigarette" at Forbes. "[W]hatever the actual terms and merits of President Donald Trump's proposal, we need to question the diplomatic article of faith that Palestinian statehood is necessary for peace." -- Elan Journo, in "What Would a Palestinian State Actually Look Like?" at The Jerusalem Post. "We're censoring ourselves daily, from powerful leftist-run social media and tech companies punishing us for challenging their anti-Western, pro-Islam agenda, to leftists across our culture crusading against speech that they hate, which they call 'hate speech', to conservatives placing 'respect' for religion above necessary criticism of Islam, to the worst censorship of all, self-censorship." -- Bosch Fawstin, in "If We Act as if Free Speech Is Over, It Will Be" at FrontPage Magazine. -- CAVLink to Original
  17. Roger Simon, notable for being among the first to predict a Trump victory, prognosticates that Elizabeth Warren will be the Democratic nominee. You can read his column for why he thinks this will be the case, but I find the following, by Paul Mirengoff of Power Line more explanatory, despite the fact that he is only speculating on her recent rise (to as high as second) in the polls: Cuba has had lots of plans, none of them good. (Image by Stéphan Valentin, via Unsplash, license.)Warren is, I think, the most demagogic of the Democratic candidates. She demonizes capitalists while pretending to support capitalism. She serves up villains, mostly pantomime ones, while Sanders, her main competition in the radical lane, blames the system -- a more plausible but less visceral form of radicalism. Joe Biden is wishy-washy. Sanders is a straightforward socialist. Buttigieg is crunchy. Harris has obvious demagogic traits but hasn't found her voice in the way Warren has. Advantage Warren, at least with a not inconsiderable chunk of Democratic voters.Simon goes so far as to say that Biden is, as Donald Trump has put it, a "dummy," and that not looking stupid will go a long way towards winning the Democratic nomination. But back to Mirengoff. I think he's right in part due to the fact that Joe Biden became the 800 pound gorilla as soon as he entered the race. Except for the young, small, democratic socialist wing of the party, I doubt most Democrats are ready to acknowledge (including to themselves) that what they want -- the familiar, if unstable, mixed economy that Biden represents -- leads to socialism. Sanders, whose lone virtue starts and stops at using that term, is losing ground in part because of that and in part because he doesn't offer specifics on how he will achieve all the free stuff he promises. Warren, whose campaign slogan is "I have a plan," attacks Sanders for that, and pays lip-service to capitalism. It is she who has found the balancing act needed to win her party's nomination. (1) She won't scare off those who are afraid to name the essence of that party's direction -- many of whom will support Biden until enough gaffes pile up and she strikes them as the "sane" alternative. (2) She will appeal to more calculating leftists who will recognize that her plans would go a long way towards achieving their goals while also flying under the radar of the conceptually impaired. (3) And then, of course, the cherry on top is that she's a woman. That fact should matter no more than her ethnic heritage, but it does in today's political climate. I am not sure what this portends for the general election. Simon seems to believe that the investigation of the roots of the failed Mueller investigation will burn the Democrats, but he underestimates how unimportant this will be to Democrats, especially if Warren manages to fire them up. (Notice how little they care about the facts that (a) she passed herself off as Amerindian for years, (b) advanced her career by doing so, and (c) has no qualms about the whole idea of racial quotas. Why would they care if any revelations about Obama are true? They really just want to beat Trump and get free stuff -- or at least feel good about helping others get it.) Biden's apparently very successful entry into the campaign completely derailed a column I was writing because it made the choice voters confront much more difficult to lay out than it had been. A Warren candidacy will, I think, be easier to write about, but harder for Trump -- no capitalist, and a less clear-cut choice than Republicans are wishing he is -- to win against. -- CAV P.S. Just to be clear, our country faces a choice between freedom and tyranny in each election, whether that choice is acknowledged or not, or the candidates reflect that choice clearly or not. I have not yet made up my mind about my presidential vote, including whether to cast one at all.Link to Original
  18. In the same vein that it is mildly amusing to see leftists wring their hands over all the birds their windmills kill, I recommend the following before reading through an article at the New Republic titled, "The Promise and Problem of Fake Meat." Make some popcorn. I like real butter with mine. As my regulars know, I oppose the Green New Deal and I have a very low regard for practically all nutritional advice I hear, particularly from the press and the government. I also happen to like meat, and feel approximately ... zero ... moral qualms of any kind about eating it. In fact, I so strongly suspect that meat is an important enough component of my diet that I have no interest in substituting something created in a lab from vegetable matter. It's not that I don't think a lab couldn't do this at all: It's that I don't think a lab can do this today, given the current state of our knowledge about nutrition. With all that out of the way, I present what I regard as one of the few somewhat compelling paragraphs from the piece: I'll have the real thing, thanks. (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.)Traditional meat products usually have one ingredient. These newfangled meatish products are more complicated. The Impossible Burger has 21 ingredients, and the Beyond Burger has 22. Impossible's main contents are soy protein isolate, sunflower oil, and coconut oil; Beyond's are pea protein isolate, coconut oil, and canola oil. The oil in each product is supposed to mimic beef's fat content; the soy and pea proteins mimic the protein content. Both plant-based burgers contain water, salt, and the binding agent methylcellulose. Both are gluten-free.Oh. I forgot. I tend to break out if I have too much vegetable oil other than olive oil. And I'm not an anti-GMO Luddite. But while food processing isn't bad in and of itself, I am wary of replacing a significant amount of meat with plant material engineered to resemble meat. So, yeah. They're not exactly 3-D printing a perfect replica of actual meat here. Perhaps even more compelling is what the article takes for granted. Consider, selfishly please, the two main reasons the piece finds fake meat "promising:" (1) Its manufacture supposedly results in the production of less greenhouse gas than actual meat; and (2) It might reduce the overall incidence of certain diseases that have been attributed to meat consumption among the general population. These are both debatable assertions of debatable utility. (The article does suggest the rather insulting "utility" of the product helping the guilt-ridden fool themselves. No thanks.) Note further that neither argument is pitched in a way to appeal to an individualist, and that should raise one's suspicions to say the very least. The second superficially looks like a pitch to the health-conscious, but is arguably insulting: Diet and exercise regimens always require some degree of self-experimentation because of individual variability, and the government's pronouncements on such matters have a poor track record even as general advice on top of that. And I don't recall reading anything about price, (Nor do the terms cost or price appear anywhere in the story.) Whatever one thinks of global warming or government nutrition advice, the question Why should I want fake meat at all? is never really addressed. Perhaps the take-home is this: When something is touted as a promise in altruistic or collectivist terms, it should be regarded as a threat until proven otherwise. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. Over at the Let Grow! parenting blog is a an idea whose effectiveness I can already (accidentally and partially) attest to: This idea is radical -- and easy. When you're fretting about something, ask your kids for advice. That's a cool technique Adam Grant, the ubiquitous writer/TED talker/podcaster, espouses in this Atlantic video. The idea is to normalize the idea that life is often confusing or hard. And to normalize asking for someone else's input. And to normalize the fact that kids are not just advice recipients, they can have insights, too. [links omitted]Without having listened to the Atlantic video, this sounds good in between the extremes of asking questions with obvious answers (at the risk of being patronizing -- or normalizing the idea that you're an idiot) and asking questions that are impossible for them to even understand (and normalizing the idea that everything is boring or complicated). But how effective is the advice? Potentially very effective: What children might lack in knowledge or life experience, they often make up with connections that your habits or distraction might make less obvious, or with an eagerness to help. My son did this when he was just three: After observing me brush off the cars while we were outside, he also spoke up to offer me a good idea for the first time. I was showing him how he could loosen show from his boots by kicking at the steps. He said I should just use the brush... This isn't the first time my son has offered me solid help: He is good enough at remembering where things are that, if I am unsure, I can often ask him where something is and have him come back with it, moments later.And then, of course, if you pay attention, you can take advantage of their special talents, as in the second example above shows. Here's another example, from right after school: Things like this don't phase my daughter. (Image by Yathin S. Krishnappa, via Wikipedia, license.)[My daughter, seven at the time] had often amazed me with her ability to spot things that blend into backgrounds... I had lost my black-framed eyeglasses earlier in the day, and was afraid that they might get damaged, so I warned the kids: "You don't have to go looking for them, but watch out for my glasses when we get home. I lost them, and I'm worried that someone might sit on them or step on them." Within minutes of getting home, my daughter piped up, "Daddy, I found your glasses!" Where were they? On a black step stool in the downstairs bathroom.If your kids haven't already done something like this, or you haven't noticed, this advice is worth following. I plan to be alert for more chances to follow it myself. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. As an opponent of government regulation, I always have an antenna up for examples of how things ought to be done. After all, many functions performed by government regulators are legitimate activities, many or most of which can and should be done by the private sector. A recent announcement by the CVS drug store chain that it will require third-party testing of any dietary supplement before it will offer it for sale helps illustrate why we do not need the FDA to regulate drugs. The testing is performed by independent inspectors -- not by CVS or the supplement makers themselves. It checks for contaminants and verifies that the contents listed on the labels are correct. CVS says 7% of the products flunked, and were either pulled from the shelves or had to change their labels.It is interesting to think for a moment about why a company would do something like this on its own initiative -- contrary to popular stereotypes of businessmen being little better than hucksters. Do you take such supplements yourself or buy them for loved ones? Do you give vitamins to your kids? Would you rather have some assurance that you are getting what you pay for? Knowing about this, might you consider a trip to CVS a safer bet than some other drug store? Are you, indeed more conscientious than armies of paternalists among the news media and in and around government might imagine? Do you now wonder, having seen this line of questioning, why it isn't more common than it seems today for people to look for the answers? A researcher who praises the move raises a question that is probably a better one than he realizes: Image by Angel Sinigersky, via Unsplash, license.A leading researcher on supplements, Dr. Pieter Cohen of Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, praises the program, but adds, "We should have had this for the last 25 years." It should long have been the norm, he says, "that if we go into CVS, and we purchase Vitamin D, what's listed on the label should be exactly what's in the pills." But the lax regulation of supplements in the United States means there's no guarantee, he says. [bold added]Indeed, this should have been the norm long ago, but I disagree with Cohen's implication that supplements should have been regulated long ago. Indeed, I would argue that the long time it took before a major chain realized that self-initiated testing could be an advantage is an argument to the effect that drugs should have been de-regulated long ago. Why? One of the side-effects of the existence of a comprehensive regulation scheme is that people are lulled into imagining that they don't have to give much thought to the safety, efficacy, or even the identity of what they are taking. Everyone just assumes that the regulatory bureaucracy -- which we should note is staffed by human beings who don't have the profit motive to keep them sharp -- will think of everything for them. Much of the public, including even businessmen, drop their guard to the point that it probably never occurs to most people to even ask how they know what they are taking is what it is supposed to be or -- as Cohen later rightly cautions -- actually works as advertised. In such a torpid atmosphere, why would anyone care much to ask their drug store to do such testing? I think this is both why this testing hasn't been around for a long time already and a reason to be very glad CVS has started this program. We can and should take a far more mentally active role in looking after our own health. CVS has helped all of us -- not just potential customers who want supplements -- see this. On top of violating our rights to association and property, our current government regulatory scheme: has blind spots, is slow to self-correct, and actively dumbs down consumers of drugs and supplements. Let's abolish it. -- CAVLink to Original
  21. Four Things I learned last night that one of my favorite musicians, Dr. John, died of a heart attack at the age of 77. I will start this week's roundup with one of my favorites, which he wrote after Hurricane Katrina devastated his beloved New Orleans. As an atheist, I do not believe in an afterlife, and I take comfort in knowing that he spent so much time in the place he loved, and doing the thing he enjoyed most. 1. Through GeekPress, I ran into an amusing list of laptop holding styles. But they left off "The Polymath", I thought. That was because I had also just encountered an interesting article about Stephen Wolfram's personal infrastructure: The biomechanics weren't too hard to work out. I found out that by putting a gel strip at the correct pivot point under my wrists (and putting the mouse on a platform) I can comfortably type while I'm walking. I typically use a 5% incline and go at 2 mph -- and I'm at least fit enough that I don't think anyone can tell I'm walking while I'm talking in a meeting. (And, yes, I try to get potentially frustrating meetings scheduled during my walking time, so if I do in fact get frustrated I can just "walk it off" by making the treadmill go a little faster.)Well, okay, that's his desktop setup. But a bit further down, there is a picture of him happily walking around outside with a laptop strapped on. Could one actually work like this, typing and everything? After my "heart-rate discovery" I decided I had to try it. I thought I'd have to build something myself, but actually one can just buy "walking desks", and so I did. And after minor modifications, I discovered that I could walk and type perfectly well with it, even for a couple of hours. I was embarrassed I hadn't figured out such a simple solution 20 years ago. But starting last fall -- whenever the weather's been good -- I've tried to spend a couple of hours of each day walking outside like this...You heard that right: "Walking desks" are a thing. I don't see myself using one under the blinding Florida sun, but I like the idea. 2. No. Kudzu never "ate the South": Image by Scott Ehardt, via Wikipedia, public domain.[W]here did the more fantastic claims of kudzu's spread come from? The widely cited nine-million-acre number appears to have been plucked from a small garden club publication, not exactly the kind of source you expect a federal agency or academic journal to rely on. Two popular how-to books, one a kudzu craft book and the other a "culinary and healing guide," are, strangely, among the most frequently quoted sources on the extent of kudzu's spread, even in scholarly accounts. Yet the popular myth won a modicum of scientific respectability. In 1998, Congress officially listed kudzu under the Federal Noxious Weed Act. Today, it frequently appears on popular top-ten lists of invasive species. The official hype has also led to various other questionable claims -- that kudzu could be a valuable source of biofuel and that it has contributed substantially to ozone pollution.Of course Congress -- the same institution that paid farmers to plant this weed in the first place -- ended up declaring it a noxious weed. 3. The following comes from a thought-provoking review of Rich Karlgaard's Late Bloomers: [T]here's an argument to be made that early bloomers, though they may unsettle those of us who are slow to sort ourselves out, have ultimately helped improve the odds of late bloomer achievement. This column regularly argues that Main Street and Wall Street can't exist without the other, and perhaps there's a similarly optimistic scenario unfolding here. Those early achievers make our late-in-life reinventions much more of a possibility. Furthermore, discomfort is a good thing at times. The early achievers arguably spur us to betterment, or greatness. Karlgaard seems to agree.Hear, hear! 4. Although I don't recommend emulating such behavior professionally, the story of how Internet Explorer 6 was finally put to pasture is a fun read: The first person to come by our desks was the PR team lead. He was a smart, dapper man who was always bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. Except this time. This time he was uncharacteristically prickly. He had come in on an otherwise normal day to find email from every major tech news publication asking why the second largest website on the planet was threatening to cut off access to nearly a fifth of its user base. Fortunately for us, the publications had already settled on a narrative that this was a major benefit to the Internet. By their call, YouTube was leading the charge towards making the web a faster, safer experience for all of its users. The entire PR team had Macs running Chrome and could not even see what we had done, let alone issue comments to the press on any of it. They were caught completely unaware. We eagerly told them everything about what we had launched and helped them craft the necessary talking points to expand on the narrative already established by the media. Satisfied that he could get back in front of the story, the PR team lead turned and warned us to never do anything like this without telling him first. He did not want to let great public relations opportunities like this slip by ever again.The whole thing reads like this. -- CAVLink to Original
  22. Ian Adams talks us through how to answer an interview question common for sales positions. Ahead of a large number of interviews, Adams figured he'd eventually get asked to "Sell me this pen," and thought about how to answer in terms of what it shows about the prospective salesman. His answer is worth the quick read and it illustrates the four attributes the interviewers are trying to gauge when they ask the question: Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, How you gather information, How you respond to information, How you deliver information, and How you ask for something. So far, so good. What I found useful in the piece was the importance of value. Implicit in the question is the following challenge: "Figure out why I value pens and what further value this one can offer me." Considering how the pen has been useful in the past offers a clue, as does considering the ways one could improve on pens of the past. Beyond this, it should be obvious that the lesson generalizes well beyond pens, whether or not the primary emphasis of our career is on selling things. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Writing at BuzzFeed, workplace advice columnist Alison Green reveals the most important bit of wisdom she has gleaned from answering eleven years' worth of questions: Image by Mimi Thian, via Unsplash, license.[T]he biggest lesson I've learned? When something at work is bothering you, you should speak up. It might sound obvious. But judging by my mail, it's the number one thing that people struggle with over the course of their careers. I hear from a lot of people whose questions boil down to, "My colleague is doing Annoying Thing X [dumping last-minute work on me as I'm walking out the door at night/assuming I'll drive them home every night/spitting on me while they talk/etc.]. How can I get them to stop without actually saying anything to them about it?" And sure, of course we want people to stop annoying us without needing to have an awkward conversation! But in the vast majority of cases, that's not really an option. [italics and brackets in original]Green's subsequent discussion is worth reading for several reasons. First, she notes on a practical level that such conversations are often both less awkward and more effective at solving problems than we might expect. Second, she gives helpful indications about whom we should address, be it a peer, an immediate superior, or someone elsewhere in the food chain. Finally, she points out that speaking up about small things can be good practice for doing so about more important matters at work, as well as establishing a habit of self-assertiveness that is valuable in all areas of life. -- CAVLink to Original
  24. Although I've been unable to find an example, I recall seeing an infographic (a little like this one at Mercatus) comparing the dollar cost of our regulatory state to the national GDPs of Spain and Russia. True, the dollar costs are outrageous, but what other costs might there be? Jeffrey Tucker of the American Institute for Economic Research has recently noted that automobile esthetics have been such a casualty. Image by Emslichter, via Pixabay, license.Your car looks like a box. So does every other car. It's boring, even shocking when you consider how awesome cars used to look. What's gone wrong? And to what extent has the design mess contributed to the decline of American auto manufacturing?Indeed. I'd add that it's depressing if one dwells on it too much. I noted some time back that regulation had something to do with this, but Tucker argues that regulation deserves the lion's share of the blame: Truly, this cries out for explanation. So I was happy to see a video made by CNET that gives five reasons: mandates for big fronts to protect pedestrians, mandates that require low tops for fuel economy, a big rear to balance out the big fronts, tiny windows resulting from safety regulations that end up actually making the car less safe, and high belt lines due to the other regs. In other words, single-minded concern for testable "safety" and the environment has wrecked the entire car aesthetic. And that's only the beginning. Car and Driver puts this as plainly as can be: "In our hyperregulated [sic] modern world, the government dictates nearly every aspect of car design, from the size and color of the exterior lighting elements to how sharp the creases stamped into sheetmetal can be." You are welcome to read an engineer's account of what it is like to design an American car. Nothing you think, much less dream, really matters. The regulations drive the whole process. He explains that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with hundreds of regulations -- really a massive central plan -- dictate every detail and have utterly ruined the look and feel of American cars. [links in original, bold added]I am inclined to agree. This is just one aspect of one part of the economy. There are other costs. One that comes to mind is the difficulty of starting a business. I haven't an entrepreneurial bone in my body, but the thought has crossed even my mind -- and the very idea of having to deal with the regulatory headaches that would surely entail gets me quickly on to other things. (There are enough obstacles for businessmen without such artificial ones.) All of this brings to mind Ayn Rand's essay on "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation." The lowering of our quality of life and the diminution of our mental horizons -- directly attributable to the cultural decline Rand speaks of there -- are amplified by the regulatory state, which is itself a product of that decline. The dollar cost of regulation is enormous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the spiritual cost. -- CAVLink to Original
  25. Conservative Ben Shapiro recently considered election results from the European Union in light of lessons for America. In the process, he made a very common, and very disastrous mistake: Image by Paul Green, via Unsplash, license.The burgeoning conflict within the EU should provide the United States with an object lesson: When you maximize the power of the federal government at the expense of the states, you maximize the possibility of polarization. And indeed, that's precisely what we've seen. Take, for example, transgender bathrooms. If ever there were a local issue, that would be one: What business is it of a New Yorker what North Carolinians do to their bathrooms? Yet North Carolina's bathroom laws prompted national boycotts from residents of other states. This is dangerously half-right: It is true that to the degree a federal government attempts to impose the customs of one region on another, it will create conflict. But don't be fooled by the geography: That's just a particular manifestation of the pressure group warfare that mixed economies make inevitable: A mixed economy is rule by pressure groups. It is an amoral, institutionalized civil war of special interests and lobbies, all fighting to seize a momentary control of the legislative machinery, to extort some special privilege at one another's expense by an act of government -- i.e., by force. In the absence of individual rights, in the absence of any moral or legal principles, a mixed economy's only hope to preserve its precarious semblance of order, to restrain the savage, desperately rapacious groups it itself has created, and to prevent the legalized plunder from running over into plain, unlegalized looting of all by all -- is compromise; compromise on everything and in every realm -- material, spiritual, intellectual -- so that no group would step over the line by demanding too much and topple the whole rotted structure. If the game is to continue, nothing can be permitted to remain firm, solid, absolute, untouchable; everything (and everyone) has to be fluid, flexible, indeterminate, approximate. By what standard are anyone's actions to be guided? By the expediency of any immediate moment. [italics in original]Shapiro's proposed solution, as applied to the United States, would only result in fifty tyrannies, each with its own pressure group warfare, rather than one. More important, Shapiro's analysis, by focusing on superficial cultural differences among regions of a polity misses an important point. At what point should the federal government intervene? Would Shapiro regard laws enforcing racial segregation as local matters, too? This is a serious question, for Shapiro treats abortion, at least as serious an issue, as a local matter. But abortion is either murder or it isn't. And forcing a woman to carry to term is either slavery or it isn't. Murder and slavery each violate individual rights, and should not be tolerated at any level of government. Treating abortion as an issue of minor import (like whether a legislature is unicameral or what a state calls its county-equivalent subdivisions) is too steep a price to pay for a probably temporary reprieve from incessant, idiotic discussions about bathroom use -- discussions that could and should easily evaporate, anyway: See below. Shapiro's focus on local vs. federal government distracts us from what we should be looking at: the proper purpose of government. I agree with Ayn Rand that this is the protection of individual rights. "States' rights," which derive only from individual rights are, as I have argued elsewhere, much less important in such a view. Indeed, I shall quote Rand again on that: The constitutional concept of "states' rights" pertains to the division of power between local and national authorities, and serves to protect the states from the Federal government; it does not grant to a state government an unlimited, arbitrary power over its citizens or the privilege of abrogating the citizens' individual rights. [bold added]It is instructive to consider a proper resolution of Shapiro's own example of how governments should act regarding "transgender" bathrooms: Bathrooms, being private property, should be used as their owners see fit, so long as such use does not violate the rights of anyone else. The state (at no level, federal or otherwise), has any business dictating to the owner of a bathroom, how it is to be used. In practice, this means that a government can neither force an owner to provide separate bathrooms for men and women, nor to force men and women to use the same bathroom. Such arrangements would be up to the owner, who would face lost business as a consequence of any policy that potential customers dislike. Consonant with the protection of property rights, the federal government would intervene only if one of its constituent polities violated individual rights by making such a prescription either way. More to the point, not only is it not the "business of a New Yorker what North Carolinians do to their bathrooms," What I do with my bathroom is nobody else's business, nor is it any of mine what someone else does with his bathroom. To grossly understate: It is a shame that such an omission of the concept of individual rights from a political analysis is missed or evaded by too many in today's political discussions. -- CAV Link to Original
  • Create New...