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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Notable Commentary "The [Patent Trial & Appeal Board] was supposed to address the problem of low-quality patents; it now threatens all patents, undermining the foundation of the American innovation economy." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Patent Unfairness" at RealClear Politics. "f there is no difference between words and action -- if communicating certain 'wrong' ideas is subject to punishment -- there is a corollary: the actual use of force can be exonerated if done in the name of the 'right' ideas." -- Peter Schwartz, in "The Ideology of Violence" at The Huffington Post. "Bitcoin's unstable price makes it unusable as money." -- Keith Weiner, in "Bitcoin: Tragedy of the Speculations" at SNB & CHF. "[The TC Heartland decision] significantly multiplies the costs to all patent owners in securing their property rights in court" -- Adam Mossoff, in "'Examining the Supreme Court's TC Heartland Decision': Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the Internet" (PDF, 11 pages, June), George Mason Law and Economics Research Papers, no. 17-29. "[Conservative commentator Star] Parker should embrace the one idea in Christianity that is the most secular – the importance of the individual. She should oppose secular collectivism and support secular individualism." -- Robert Stubblefield, in "Letter: Keep Religion Out of Government" at The Aiken Standard. From the Blogs ICouldAndDid wraps up his three-part critique of Sam Harris's Free Will over at You Can and Did Build It, and summarizes the whole as follows: How Sam Harris wants you to see yourself. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.) ... The first part of this review identified the arbitrary underlying premise behind Harris' view that past brain states necessitate all future actions. He simply ignores, without any argument, the possibility that a being could possess capabilities that are enabled by and emerge from the brain yet are not completely necessitated in every detail by the brain's neurology. The second part of this review analyzed the gimmick that gives plausibility to the argument, namely focusing only on a straw man (the last split second of the process of choice) rather than the true nature of free will (the entire sequence of mental events and choices from the primary choice to focus and leading up to a final, higher-level choice). Finally, the present post identified the conceptual inversion involved in denying the validity of free will while depending on it for an argument. This vast collection of fallacies -- arbitrariness, use of straw-man tactics and hierarchy violations -- are the means used by the neurological determinist to deny the universal experience of free will. Any one of those transgressions alone would be sufficient reason to reject Harris' arguments, and to accept what one grasps from personal experience rather than deny it as a delusion. The combination of all three logical insults should make one recoil from the poisonous free-will-denier's doctrine. [bold added] Earlier in the post, ICouldAndDid notes a similarity between what Ayn Rand called the "stolen concept fallacy" and the denial of free will by Sam Harris and his ilk. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. In a recent column, Walter Williams questions the idea that the problems faced by black Americans are a "legacy of slavery," while at the same time raising another possibility that too many miss or ignore: According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today about 75 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. LBJ signing the Poverty Act.Is that supposed to be a delayed response to the legacy of slavery? The bottom line is that the black family was stronger the first 100 years after slavery than during what will be the second 100 years. At one time, almost all black families were poor, regardless of whether one or both parents were present. Today roughly 30 percent of blacks are poor. However, two-parent black families are rarely poor. Only 8 percent of black married-couple families live in poverty. Among black families in which both the husband and wife work full time, the poverty rate is under 5 percent. Poverty in black families headed by single women is 37 percent. The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has. The black family structure is not the only retrogression suffered by blacks in the age of racial enlightenment. In every census from 1890 to 1954, blacks were either just as active as or more so than whites in the labor market. During that earlier period, black teen unemployment was roughly equal to or less than white teen unemployment. As early as 1900, the duration of black unemployment was 15 percent shorter than that of whites; today it's about 30 percent longer. Would anyone suggest that during earlier periods, there was less racial discrimination? What goes a long way toward an explanation of yesteryear and today are the various labor laws and regulations promoted by liberals and their union allies that cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and encourage racial discrimination. [bold added, format edits]Williams goes on to note that most black politicians support the government programs that thwart initiative or enable idleness. I leave it to the reader to consider whether those politicians see this as a bug or a feature. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. The excellent Captain Awkward, in reply to someone dumped when she thought an engagement might be in the offing, gives her advice on recovering and on how to maintain poise in the meantime. This comes with the following memorable passage on dealing with what I think of as "emotional lag": Image courtesy of Pixabay.It's okay to still be in love. Love is -- as this hideous wedding-cake topper excruciatingly reminds us -- patient, it is kind, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. So there you are, all shaggy and embarrassing bounding toward your person wagging your tail and doing that adorable thing you do where you pretend that you're not going to hand over the ball you're carrying in your mouth and your person doesn't even want your stupid ball and then the leash of reality yanks you back. That part of you is the purest and best and truest part of you, and you can't really turn it off. It's just going to love for a while. I say this because it's really fucking frustrating to try to talk yourself out of having a feeling or beat yourself up for having a feeling at the same time you're having the feeling. So just have the feeling. Just be the Golden Retriever of Love. You're not stupid for feeling it, you're not a bad person, you didn't do anything wrong. You just feel what you feel, and you'll feel until one day you stop, and you can't decide when that is, so don't even try. [bold in original]This is an excellent illustration of the nature of emotions, as identified by Ayn Rand: Your subconscious is like a computer -- more complex a computer than men can build -- and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance -- and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions -- which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. [bold added]In abstract terms, the letter-writer, who was mistaken about the man she loved, valued him highly and had woven him into her life and hopes. This happened over time, and correcting the mistake will also take time. The resulting emotions will take time to catch up with the intellect, simply by the nature of how they work: Lots of subconscious associations are still there to be altered or supplanted by new ones. I note this not as some attempt to improve on Captain Awkward's advice to her writer. She said exactly the right thing, and in just the right way. Rather, I go to the level of the abstract because it can help show the advice to be more generally applicable. False hopes of marriage are hardly the only way to meet visceral, disorienting levels of emotional pain, and it can be comforting to know this. Why? Because the mechanism of recovery will be the same. One can do similar types of things to aid that recovery. And one can know that despite an unpredictable time course, there can be certainty of a recovery. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Image courtesy of Pixabay.Conservative Andrew Klavan makes some astute observations about what he calls the "surreal blessings of Donald Trump." Although I think Klavan errs in seeing conservatism as a viable alternative to leftism, I think he is right to note the following items of cultural good news resulting from the Trump presidency. First, the rabid hatred of Trump coming from the left is causing many decent people to start questioning the opinions they had been defaulting to thanks to the cultural dominance of the left: [T]he riots, the seething Facebook posts and, of course, the slavering fake news of the mainstream media -- has revealed the left's true, nasty and oppressive nature to the liberal middle. YouTube suddenly abounds with stories of "red pill" moments in which liberals, experiencing the wickedness of the left, suddenly realized that conservatives are now actually the liberal ones. I think this is the beginning of a groundswell that will have a profound and beneficial effect on the culture... [link in original]A bit later on (and somewhat contradictory to his next two paragraphs), Klavan notes something even more interesting: ... Trump has so divided conservatives that we are now arguing fervently among ourselves -- that is, we're not just crushing idiot leftists, we're actually engaging with other smart conservatives over essential differences! I have hopes that these arguments will lead to a new, stronger and more modern conservatism. Trump blew every candidate away in the primaries. That alone should tell us that the Republican Party needs reform, and it ought to begin with a reformed conservatism, a conservatism that can win. [bold added]I don't completely agree with this: I'd say Trump has made fault lines within the conservative movement more evident. I strongly agree that those differences urgently demand not just acknowledgement, but exploration. Perhaps Donald Trump hasn't merely -- by single-handedly making himself their presidential nominee -- shown the GOP to be pushovers. Perhaps this revelation and others that have come up during his young presidency will also help people see the need for a better alternative to the left than Trump, the GOP, or the conservative movement can offer. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. Over at his blog, Grasping Reality With Both Hands, Bradford DeLong considers what it would take to emulate the latest iPhone with technology available in 1957. I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who thinks doing so at speed would have been impossible, but I think what DeLong comes up with is well worth considering: Image courtesy of Unsplash.The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have: cost 150 trillion of today's dollars, which is: one and a half times today's global annual product, more than seven times today's U.S. annual national product forty times 1957's U.S. national product fourteen times 1957's global annual product taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide drawn 150 terawatts of power -- 30 times the world's current generating capacity the world produces 50,000 TWh/year -- that is: 5 TWh/hour = 5 TW of capacity (cf.: the 50,000 vacuum tubes of the "AN/FSQ-7 computer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/FSQ-7_Combat_Direction_Central... occupied 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) of floor space, weighed 275 tons, and used up to three megawatts of power..." http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=964) [minor edits]This reminds me a little of a similar comparison, between the amount of hardware electronic data storage required that I mentioned here a few years ago: In fifty years, the weight of the hardware needed to store 8 GB of data had decreased by a factor of 134 million. (And that figure, I am sure, is giving a pass for how quickly one could access said data.) Such comparisons can serve two apparently contradictory purposes. On the one hand, no matter how clumsily they do so, they help concretize otherwise very abstract kinds of technological progress. (See also photos at my old post.) And on the other, they help us imagine the full meaning of Frédéric Bastiat's parable of the broken window. I am far from finding fault with that simple example. However, it does fail to convey just how disastrous government "planning" and plunder can be, as when thought, effort, and property that could go towards the next near-miracle of innovation are, instead, squandered on the alleged needs of others today. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Four Things 1. Now that my daughter is six, I'm starting to see amusing juxtapositions of toddler behavior and "big kid" behavior (for lack of a better term). One morning last week, Pumpkin was in need of a waking-up to make it to school on time. She seemed to resist all efforts to roust her, so I picked her up out of bed, carried her downstairs, and set her down in an easy chair. Apparently dead to the world the whole time, she opened her eyes, grinned, and said, "Psyche!" as soon as I set her down. She got me to carry her, and I got a chuckle out of the deal. 2. Enjoying a song on a local college radio station, I became curious and found the following whimsical video: French singer "Jain" (Jeanne Galice) sounds quite promising, and has just started her career. 3. If you have fond memories of her books, either from having them read to you when you were young, or from reading them yourself, here's your chance to learn more about Sandra Boynton, the reigning Doctor Seuss: In person, Sandra Boynton is warm and funny, with a throaty voice and a soft, easy smile. She's not an introvert, but those who know her best say she's somehow been able to hold on to childhood sensibilities that most of us surrender. So the books, the drawings, the songs -- "They're for me," she says. "They're for me as a child. Things I would respond to."I knew her books were popular, but it surprised me to learn how much she makes from them. 4. Via GeekPress comes the story of the invention of the tater tot: He's certainly not alone. "Fuck making them," says Dale Talde, head chef and founder of the casual Asian-American restaurant Talde in South Brooklyn. "I always buy them frozen. There is no benefit from making them unless you are a [masochist]." Talde's former restaurant, the now-closed Pork Slope, served up tots in a dish called "Irish Nachos": a layer of crispy tots, topped with cheese sauce, chili, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños. Talde says he thinks the tot has endured at all levels -- from caviar paired in restaurants like Elske in Chicago to school lunch trays -- because people "have great memories and and love crunchy, salty stuff."The tater tot forms the third member of a trifecta of trash-to-treasure food innovations in America, the others being baby carrots and Buffalo wings. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Image courtesy of Unsplash.Let's grant for a moment that leftist chant about "climate change:" "The science is settled." So what? Even if we knew that the most apocalyptic scenario were going to occur, it hardly follows that we should persecute dissent and impose central planning measures, such as fuel rationing. Oh? I'm exaggerating the political goals of climate "activists" or taking what they say too literally? Thanks for making my point: Arguments about scientific facts are not alone sufficient to discern the answers to questions of political philosophy. Indeed, I find endless scientific debates bizarre and inappropriate when a political program is being put forth as a solution without any serious debate. Whatever you might think of the climate effects of increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content by burning fuel, I don't care how solid a case you make for it: You still haven't explained why the government should violate individual rights in an effort to do something about it. Conveniently, Michael New of National Review has just about spared me the necessity of proposing a thought experiment to help make my point. (Prius-drivers with pro-life bumper stickers will still have some thinking to do.) New attacks a study on so-called "telemed" abortions. Said study concludes that it is just as safe for a pregnant woman to use abortion-inducing drugs without a physician present as it is to have the procedure administered by a physician. New raises several issues that anyone relying on such a study really should satisfy herself with before agreeing with it. One might conclude that New is concerned that this study offers bad guidance, and maybe, in his own inconsistent way, he really is. But the piece concludes with what sounds to my ear like the punch line to a sickening joke: "The concerns of pro-lifers and other public-health professionals about the safety of telemed abortions are well founded." Really? This comes in a piece that starts off by noting that there are fewer and fewer abortion facilities in the United States, no doubt a testimony to the successful efforts of such "concerned" parties, many of whom work overtime to make abortion illegal altogether. This they do not because of any concern whatsoever with the safety of the patient, but due to an arbitrary, mystical assertion that the fetus is a human life. That many women are having to resort to this procedure (which is still doubtless safer than what went on before abortion became legal) puts this concern to the lie: Anti-abortionists are far more concerned with protecting the fetus than they are patient safety, so matter how credibly (or credibly-sounding: I haven't looked at the study) one of them dissects a journal article, the fact is that they still have not offered an earthly reason for their political agenda. Let's assume arguendo that New is correct: The procedure is not as safe when a physician isn't on hand. I say again: So what? The fact that a medical procedure may not be as safe as other alternatives is still not a reason to abuse government power by standing in the way of a woman who may decide it is an acceptable risk. I thank Mr. New for providing me a real-life example of something many leftists need as a look in the mirror: Someone using "science" to push a political position they rightly find abhorrent. It is a shame me that some conservatives have chosen to ape this tactic, rather than taking the moral high ground. But that would require offering reasoned, relevant arguments for their positions. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, an editorial at Investor's Business Daily half-jokingly asks when "climate change" will get its due credit for the storm delivering less of a punch than had been widely (and wildly) predicted. Image of cherry-picking, courtesy of Pixabay.Last week, there was talk of massive destruction across the state, with damage estimates ranging up to $200 billion. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levin called it "a nuclear hurricane." Storm tracks last week showed Irma remaining a Category 4 hurricane for a significant portion of its trek across Florida. When Irma shifted to the west as it approached, it was described as the "worst-case scenario" for the state. However, when Irma made landfall in the U.S., it's strength quickly diminished and the actual damages to Florida in dollar terms will likely be 75% lower than predicted. While those dire forecasts were being made, environmentalists and politicians were busy pinning the blame on global warming. It was the same after Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in Houston. It's the case whenever there is an adverse weather event. If there's a drought, it's because of "climate change." If there's flooding, climate change. Wild fires, climate change. Blizzards? Climate change. So will environmentalists credit climate change for Irma's unexpected turn for the better?Needless to say, this reminds me of the work of fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein who, often smeared as a "denier" of climate change, once had this to say about the topic: A huge source of confusion in our public discussion is the separation of people (including scientists) into 'climate change believers' and 'climate change deniers' -- the latter a not-so-subtle comparison to Holocaust deniers. 'Deniers' are ridiculed for denying the existence of the greenhouse effect, an effect by which certain molecules, including CO2, take infrared light waves that the Earth reflects back toward space and then reflect them back toward the Earth, creating a warming effect. But this is a straw man. Every 'climate change denier' I know of recognizes the existence of the greenhouse effect, and many if not most think man has had some noticeable impact on climate. What they deny is that there is evidence of a catastrophic impact from CO2's warming effect. That is, they are expressing a different opinion about how fossil fuels affect climate -- particularly about the nature and magnitude of their impact.In a similar vein, the IBD editorial makes the following observation regarding what all this one-sided "evidence" suggests, in light of the political agenda of those who keep spouting it: This one-sidedness isn't evidence that global warming is real or inherently cataclysmic. It is, instead, evidence that global warming advocates are more interested in pushing a political agenda than actual science.If advocates of global warming hysteria had any genuine regard for the "planet" (speaking loosely and generously) they say they want to "save", they would consider the idea that we might derive some benefits from a warmer climate, such as those the editorial goes on to mention. But if they did that, they might also have to branch out and consider, as Epstein points out in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, the further benefits of continued use of same. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. A computer scientist considersan example of a common scenario among young professionals: Image courtesy of Pixabay.I know a brilliant young kid who graduated from college a year ago and now works at a large investment bank. He has decided he hates Wall Street and wants to work at a tech startup... He recently gave notice to his bosses, who responded by putting on a dog and pony show to convince him to stay. If he stays at the bank, the bosses tell him, he'll get a raise and greater responsibility. Joining the technology industry, he'd be starting from scratch. He is now thinking that he'll stay, despite his convincing declaration that he has no long term ambitions in finance. [bold added]Chris Dixon likens this situation to "hill climbing," a common computational technique. The analogy between the two problems is a good one, encompassing both the trap-like type of incorrect solutions and the means for avoiding them. In many respects, Dixon's post reminds me of the excellent job-and-career exploration advice Barbara Sher provides in Chapter 9 of I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was, and Jean Moroney very briefly summarizes in the middle of this review. (Search for "wrong job" if in a hurry.) Indeed, were Dixon's unhappy investment banker to read Sher's book, he might even salvage his situation by thinking of it as having already taken the wrong job as a step towards finding the right career. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. In his discussion about why Houston didn't evacuate, J.P. Miller notes in passing an increasingly common attitude that I find curious and disturbing: Image courtesy of Pixabay.I've watched a lot of coverage of Hurricane Harvey on both the local and the national level. I am struck by the incredulity of the national newscasters that the people of Houston didn't just leave. They almost sound like we are deserving of criminal punishment for endangering our lives. First and foremost, each individual has the right and a responsibility to himself if he wishes to survive to make the best decision he can regarding evacuation.This contemptuous attitude towards people making their own decisions reminds me of many experiences as a parent of young children, a stage of life of which I once observed, offers more than ample "'opportunities' to receive unwanted (and often presumptuous) advice from complete strangers." It is interesting to contemplate where this attitude might be coming from in light of an example of when Those Who Imagine They Know Better Than You did get their wishes: the massive air flight ban years ago, after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. I noted of that at the time: Given the life-sustaining necessity of production and trade, this is at once unnecessary hyperbole and a gross understatement of the damage. Millions of lives are in fact being harmed by this barring-by-government-fiat of individuals from evaluating risks for themselves and then deciding whether to board -- or fly -- airplanes. Even if the body count is zero after this fiasco ends, it has cost millions of people irreplaceable fractions of their lives in the forms of time and money.Likewise with the consequences of evacuating on essentially zero notice Miller describes. The proponents of precautionary thinking are quite happy to pronounce from afar what others should do in the name of "safety," as if knowledge of what is safest (or of anything) can exist in a vacuum or be applied in a vacuum. They clearly didn't consider the many things Miller lays out about evacuating Houston (or banning flights), the possibility that their prescribed action might be wrong, or the costs of carrying it out. How much mental effort did they put into this? And if they didn't put any real effort into formulating or evaluating their pronouncements, how dare they sit in judgement of others whose decisions had major consequences for their own lives? My best general guess about those who feel the need to alternately hector others with questionable advice "for their own good" and sneer at them when they don't obey it without question is this: Both are defensive reactions to a deep level of a fear of independence. Crises confront us with how little we really know. How does one react? By considering all the available alternatives and choosing the most feasible -- or by sitting around and waiting to be told what to do (or be rescued, as some did after Katrina)? The answer to that will often be similar to how one approaches everything else in life, and the reaction to how others respond to crises will reflect that. The former group will take solace in the fact that those in danger have minds of their own, and will be highly motivated to learn and evaluate relevant facts quickly. The latter, being mentally lazy, will let fear of the unknown (which is a lot of territory for them) override what really ought to be considered and dealt with: They will react badly to those who question the wisdom received from their usual media and government oracles, thereby causing them to question, for a brief, terrifying moment, their choice to "live" without Thinking Too Much. They just gave stupid advice to people in the crosshairs of catastrophe: Their basic choice is to backtrack and apologize -- or find a way to double down. A form of the latter is to project self-contempt onto the victims. That's about as far as I care to speculate about the legions of sneering busybodies out there. Whatever my level of understanding of this phenomenon, my curiosity is far overmatched by how disturbed about it I am: Many of these same people put a great degree of effort into making sure the government can force others to do as they imagine best. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Four Things 1. File under Things That Make It Hard to Keep a Straight Face: "You're a bad Daddy! You're going to jail!" Mom and Dad in jail. Little Man has been known to send us both there at once. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)That's how my son, now four, has been reacting to decisions he deems unacceptable lately. A close second happened as I was dropping him off at daycare on a day he wasn't in the mood. He had his Maui hook in hand and, as I was about to unbuckle him from his car seat, he threatened me with it. I somehow managed a stern demeanor as I said, "You're not hitting anybody with that," and took it away from him. 2. From a story about Hurricane Harvey, I learned about a redeeming quality of the fire ants seen floating around in huge mats: Whoever lives will have the land all to themselves. There is at least one possible upside: Fire ants love to eat ticks. The area where the fire ants landed may be crawling with stinging ants for a while. "But it'll have absolutely no ticks. So it'll be lovely from that perspective," says [entomologist Alex] Wild.Living near all the deer I do, and thanks to anti-vaxxers, having some fire ants around would be a welcome development: I wouldn't have to worry about Lyme disease. 3. The following passage, about Premier League fandom in America, brings back Boston memories, thanks to a fellow Gooner: "My origin story comes from watching my baby daughter on Saturday mornings 10 years ago to let my wife get some additional sleep," said Arsenal fan Brian Kelly. "As a sports fan, it's great to have world-quality athletics on at 7:45 a.m."Back in Boston, I enjoyed either seeing the games at home as early as 6:45, while holding a sleeping baby or watching Pumpkin crawling around. Or, better yet, enjoying a later game over brunch with her and my wife at a sports bar within walking distance. And why am I an Arsenal fan? One year when I was in high school, my dad coached my team. He chose the name upon a gun shop agreeing to become our uniform sponsor. 4. And speaking of kids, the following passage from a list of of "Five Types of Moms You Meet in the Office" made me chuckle more than once: She has infant twins, or a baby and a toddler, or three kids under five. You've met her, or maybe you've even been her. She has dark circles under her eyes, and guzzles coffee. She looks forward to Monday because she can go to the bathroom by herself. When one kid gets sick, you know she'll be working at home for a week because kids never get sick at the same time -- each one will have to have their turn.I am happy to report that having kids two years apart has gotten noticeably easier over the past couple of years. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. John Tamny makesan interesting connection regarding Trump's pro-manufacturing brand of economic meddling. First summarizing observations about the economic stagnation of Russia and Afghanistan, where visits spaced decades apart yield remarkably similar views of their inhabitants' working days, Tamny considers what those observations mean: Image courtesy of Unsplash.So while it's popular to say that the disappearance of some forms of work tells the story of a formerly glorious city, state, or country's demise, the paradoxical truth is that the non-departure of specific work is the bigger signal of looming demise. Investors are the creators of all jobs, and they want dynamism. Locales defined by static working conditions are the opposite of dynamic, and as such they're an investor repellent. New York City thrives by virtue of it having shed its manufacturing past, while Flint languishes for it having not shed manufacturing work quickly enough. Investors want change, simply because profits are, like luxury, an historical concept. Just as entrepreneurs commoditize luxuries every day to our benefit, so do they aggressively compete away profits. This explains why the nature of work is constantly changing. It simply must. Where it doesn't is where opportunity is slight mainly because investment is. [bold added]True, at one point, the mere presence of factories was an indicator of economic strength and progress but, for reasons Tamny elaborates on, they aren't, any more. And measures, such as jacking up prices via tariffs to make manufacturing things here again seem attractive, would just as surely squander American talent and wealth as "employing" armies of ditch-diggers after banning heavy construction equipment. The change investors want is increased efficiency. Factories filled with human beings who have to be paid more than others (or robots) are today's ditch-diggers. They might do a job, but there are better ways of doing it. One can see either doing work with his eyes, but one must hold the context in which such work is valuable (because it is the most efficient alternative) with one's mind. To embrace manufacturing as a panacea for the former reason is foolish; to do so in a given case for the latter, is wise. It is a shame that politicians have enough power to saddle us, even partly, with their own foolishness.Trump's economic ideas -- like those of Bernie Sanders and Nicolás Maduro -- were discredited decades ago. Were the state and economics separated, discussion of them would be the academic exercises they should be, and nowhere near the realm of implementation. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. In a column for the San Antonio Express-News, Christopher Baecker takes a moment to remind the anti- "price gouging" crowd of the humanity they seem to have forgotten they have in common with the "gougers": Image courtesy of Pixabay.Now imagine it's your favorite food, and you had the foresight to stock up in anticipation of such a shortage. But instead of consuming it, you rely on selling it to make a living. It's the same principle on the supply side as it is on the demand side: It has become a more-scarce resource or good. That's the dilemma that vendors of water, gasoline, batteries and the like face when a hurricane such as Harvey is heading their way. They don't know when their next shipments are coming, or if they're coming. They don't even know if their place of business will still be standing after landfall. Keep this in mind when demagogues start screaming about price gouging. These vendors are humans just like us, humans with strong enough nerve to risk a lot to supply us with everything we want and need. And now, just like the rest of us, they're facing what is hopefully just a temporary disruption of an important part of their life. They don't raise prices to cheat consumers but rather to defend their livelihood. [bold added]But politicians and bullies with video cameras are more than happy to use the morality of altruism to distract us from this humanity. It is astounding how fast other human beings are viewed as evil or means-to-an-end when the essence of one's moral calculus comes down to the brain-dead idea that one person owes another simply by virtue of having something he doesn't, regardless of all context. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Editor's Note: I'm taking Monday and possibly Tuesday off from blogging. Happy Labor Day! Notable Commentary "[W]ealth is not distributed by society: it is produced and traded by the people who create it." -- Don Watkins and Yaron Brook, in "How the Campaign Against Economic Inequality Undermines Political Equality" (PDF) at The Journal of Law and Public Affairs, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 100-115. "This simple legal and commercial fact -- copyright could not secure the real value represented in an innovative computer program -- explains why in the mid-1990s there was a shift to the legal doctrine that could provide the proper legal protection for the innovative value in a computer program: patent law." -- Adam Mossoff, in "A Brief History of Software Patents (and Why They're Valid)" (PDF, 2014) at George Mason University Law and Economics Research Papers, No. 14-41. "My body and my organs are mine -- not mere means to others' ends." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Should the Government Require Your Consent to Be an Organ Donor?" at Forbes. "Many who rightly attack the dollar as debt-based money, seem happy with bitcoin because the debt backing it is removed." -- Keith Weiner, in "Bad Ideas About Money and Bitcoin" at SNB & CHF. "We offer this insight: [Bitcoin] speculation converts one person's wealth into another's income." -- Keith Weiner, in "Hidden Forces of Economics" at SNB & CHF. My Two Cents At fifteen pages each, both academic papers above (the one by Watkins and Brook, and the other by Mossoff) are relatively short. They also both offer concise, clearly-written arguments for their respective positions. Having just read Equal is Unfair, I was impressed at how well Watkins and Brook conveyed that book's arguments at such short length. Mossoff's paper likewise cuts through lots of popular (and judicial) fog regarding what software is and why it should be patented. I highly recommend both. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. This morning, I ran across an article at Next Scientist, which reviews Deep Work, by Cal Newport, from the angle of applying it to graduate school. Based on my own experience in graduate school, the author of the post knows of what she speaks regarding both the expectations that confront graduate students and how these expectations (and common circumstances) can interfere with making productive use of that time. And, based on the advice within that article, I am intrigued enough by the book that I might go ahead and read it. (I suspect that this will be another Nonviolent Communication for me, based on this review: Worth it, but littered with nonsense.) For example, one piece of Olga Pougovkina's advice closely resembles something I figured out back in grad school and use to this day: Very few PhDs have the luxury of an individual office. Usually the working area is more like a can of sardines with PhDs almost sitting on each other's lap. Finding solitude to concentrate in such environment will be challenging but don't let that stop you. Figure out if there are times when the work area is empty. Early mornings tend to be an unpopular stretch of time. Yes, get really early out of bed to work on your thesis. I know it's not very exciting, but contemplate the benefits... [bold omitted]My office wasn't crowded, but my advisor's "open door" policy made that unnecessary: The flip side of being able to talk to him any time meant he felt free to interrupt me any time. To do this, he would silently enter the office I shared with a post-doc through the door at our backs and launch right in to whatever was on his mind. (Yes, I would startle, and he seemed to get a kick out of it.) Fortunately, over time, I developed enough Linux expertise that I had a nice workstation in my apartment. So I spent a few hundred on a Matlab license so I could work from there in the early part of the morning, knowing he didn't frown on people arriving late in the morning. That investment really paid off when it was time to write: Since I could do everything at home I could do at work that didn't involve the lab or meeting with colleagues, I could spend entire days "in the flow". To this day, I use a similar strategy -- waking up very early -- to write. I don't see how I otherwise could have maintained a blog while raising two very young children over the past few years. Based on those things, the book sounds good, but I would be especially interested in hearing from any passer-by who has also read this book. If much or most of its advice is that powerful, I could probably use more of it. Let me know in the comments or via email. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Over at Unclutterer is a good post on learning how to function with a small kitchen. Having lived with a small, but very well-arranged kitchen myself for a few years in Boston, I think the tips and principles are worth considering even for larger kitchens. For example, consider the below list: Stack up, not out. Like me, you'll probably have more vertical space than horizontal. Store items near where they are used. Find things that work with your space, not against it. For example, a magnetic knife mount is much more efficient than a knife block when counter space is at a premium. Clean as you go. This is probably the best tip of the bunch. There just isn't room to make a big mess, so clean up as you work. [links omitted] I figured out most of these and still use much of what I learned to this day, especially Item 2, since our refrigerator is on the small side. For example, I keep beer and soft drink cans in the bottom of the pantry, except for one or two beers in the fridge. (We just use ice in the soft drinks.) A good general principle from the piece is that every item in the kitchen must earn its place there, based on one's priorities. Author David Caolo's most striking example is the microwave he got rid of, although that's something I regard as indispensable because saving time is a major priority for me. Whether you think you could make better use of your kitchen or could use some ideas for another cramped room, this piece will help you come up with the general principles you need, as well as a few specific ways of implementing them you might not otherwise have thought of. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. 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
  18. I have never seen a title perched so perfectly on the edge of provocative and off-putting as Bethany Mandel's recent editorial: "We Need To Start Befriending Neo Nazis." I was on the side of being put off, but today's blogging alternatives were so disgusting to me that I decided I had nothing to lose. These were: Republicans -- Including Ted Cruz! -- wanting government oversight of Internet companies, a political screed that sounded so much like a bigot's stereotype I had to check its source to believe a black person wrote it, and something I'll just call an "antifada." It can be easy to forget, with all this news of people so eager to shut down any semblance of independent thought or discussion, to forget that there are people open to rational persuasion out there. So I read the piece, and recommend doing so. (In part because it shows that there is hope even for some of those among the dregs making all the headlines.) It relates several stories, including one from the author's own experience, of people demolishing stereotypes by treating a bigot like a human being, and in the process, helping the bigot to see past a stereotype to the valuable human being. Mandel starts with her own childhood example: Riding the bus one afternoon, a girl in another grade began loudly complaining about our health class teacher. This teacher was the only other Jewish person in our rural Upstate New York school besides me, and pretty soon, the insults about the instructor turned anti-Semitic. I decided to toy with the girl a bit, so I played along and volleyed some anti-Semitic epithets of my own. The drama culminated in a dramatic reveal: as my stop approached, I dramatically informed her that the name Horowitz (my maiden name) is Jewish, and so was I. Over the years, as children are particularly good at doing, I forgave the girl and we became friends. Even now, we are still friends, even though we've never discussed what we said that day on the bus after school. We never felt the need. She got to know me as a human being, not just a Jewish person, and whatever hatred she had been taught by someone in her family melted away, because she saw that Jewish people aren't the evil subhumans she was led to believe. [bold added]Mandel goes on to mention a black man who goes out of his way to befriend white supremacists, so far getting a couple of hundred to renounce their views over the years. These are rare, powerful, and hopeful stories for this day and age, but there is a point I want to respectfully disagree with the author about. Mandel starts out by saying, "... I'm not sure I have the moral fortitude to actually carry [this] out in my own adult life." Yes, simply by writing this piece, Mandel shows a degree of courage she may not fully realize she has. But that's not my issue. Rather, it's this: This is brave, and I think it is among a set of rational ways for dealing with the bigotry that is sprouting up from every direction today. But doing exactly this is optional. We all have a selfish interest in making the world a place where we can flourish, including improving the culture, a process that the abolition movement shows us can only be done one mind at a time. There are many ways to do this (such as by writing a column informing us of an option we may not have thought of), some of which we may feel more comfortable, be better at, or have more opportunities for doing. More important, one should not do this if it is in any way self-sacrificial. It is up to each of us to weigh what we hope to achieve when attempting any form of persuasion, against any personal risks, be it in cognizance of anything from wasted time to personal safety. In short, one can admire a man like Daryl Davis without feeling guilty or morally deficient for not doing exactly the same thing. The fight for individual rights is big enough without us weighing ourselves down with the unearned guilt of unrealistic expectations or altruism. I thank Bethany Mandel for her column: If enough of her readers do something like this even once, it will have made a big difference. -- CAV P.S. This article raises another interesting point: The examples here are not of attempts to put forth an explicit ideological stand, such as individualism. That said, they implicitly rely on some degree of self-interest, resting as they do on helping someone see how his own very base ideology is cutting him off from real values, such as friendship. Link to Original
  19. Four Things 1. My favorite chuckle-to-myself headline used to be, "Man Runs Into Ex While Wearing Sandwich Board, courtesy of The Onion." It's in danger of being replaced with, "I Ghosted My Ex, and She's About to Be My New Boss." Payback is hell. 2. I loved Mike Rowe's television series, Dirty Jobs back when I had time to watch television, and I love his reply to a "progressive" who tried to bait him about recent events in Charlottesville: What can I say? I work for half-a-dozen different companies, none of whom pay me to share my political opinions. I run a non-partisan foundation, I'm about to launch a new show on Facebook, and I'm very aware that celebrities pay a price for opening their big fat gobs. Gilbert Gottfried, Kathy Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Milo Yiannopoulos ... even that guy from Google who just got himself fired for mouthing off. There's no getting around it -- the first amendment does not guarantee the freedom to speak without consequences. And really, that's fine by me. So no -- I'm not going to share my personal feelings about Charlottesville, President Trump, or the current effort to remove thousands of statues of long dead soldiers from the public square. Not just because it's "bad for business," but because it's annoying. I can't think of a single celebrity whose political opinion I value, and I'm not going to assume the country feels any differently about mine.I like this reply, not because I necessarily think celebrities should never speak up, but because Rowe shows a sense of decorum and professionalism about doing so that is rare today. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.Rowe, by the way, is concerned that our education system does a poor job of preparing students for the working world, a sentiment I have no trouble agreeing with. His solution to part of this problem is a foundation to support students interested in attending vocational schools in pursuit of "jobs that actually exist." 3. "ICouldAndDid" has posted the second part of this three-part critique of Sam Harris's Free Will, noting the author's mischaracterization of free will: Harris' examples are a mixture of two types of choices -- simple taste-type preferences (coffee or tea, vanilla or chocolate ice cream) and more fundamental choices like the one to start a website or to seek physical therapy. The taste-type preferences can be ignored, because they often are made on the basis of physical attraction and do have a strong element of the physical (taste or smell). They are also very superficial (but still actual) choices where operating on physical desire is perfectly legitimate. Note, however, that the mixing in of these types of choices with more fundamental ones is used by Harris to lend credibility to the "choice appears" idea. In effect, what he is asserting in this package deal is exactly that the more fundamental choices are just like those superficial ones in that they are physical and automatic. [bold added]The piece examines why this approach is wrong and provides a link to an Okhar Ghate talk on the subject. (I have not heard this talk yet, but expect I would agree with it based on having attended other lectures by Ghate on the same subject a few years ago. One point I recall, if I remember correctly, was the importance of using introspection as evidence in thinking about the subject of free will.) 4. The post on free will reminds me of a formulation I admired by philosopher Tara Smith in a paper of hers on the value of religious freedom I read recently. The below is Smith's elaboration of Rand's account of how human beings form conscious convictions, such as those about religion: ... What are the sorts of things that a person does as a means of reaching a religious conviction? While the exact steps vary in different cases, typically, he will engage in some assortment of the following: he thinks; he prays; he observes others; he emulates others in certain respects; he talks to others about their religious beliefs; he reads the doctrines and arguments of a particular religion or he reads about a religion -- some of its history, its detractors' criticisms. However extended or abbreviated a given person's process, however deep or shallow, systematic or casual, ultimately, he makes up his mind. He decides whether to learn more about other people's beliefs or whether to "try out" alternative religions. He decides whether he will continue to participate in the rituals that he practiced as a child or whether to suspend all religious belief or all interest in finding answers to the kinds of questions that religion characteristically addresses (questions about mortality, meaning, value, etc.). The point is, a person thinks in order to embrace whatever religious views he does have. Even if a particular person's thinking is minimal or relatively uninquisitive, it is he who chooses to follow a given path. What is significant for us is that religion represents a conclusion. A person must be free in order to be able to investigate the relevant evidence and draw that conclusion rationally. Ultimately, a person must be free in order to reach valid conclusions -- the rational, reality-hugging conclusions that enable him to understand the world around him, to act on that basis, and thereby advance his well-being. Such freedom naturally brings with it the opportunity to think irrationally and to make poor decisions. The immediate point, however, is that it is not the sanctity of any particular conclusion that underwrites the value of religious freedom. Rather, it is the process by which human beings reach conclusions and can attain the understanding of the world that their well-being depends on. Freedom of the mind is indispensable to that process. This is the foundation of intellectual freedom's value -- and correlatively, of religious freedom's value. [bold added]I submit that this is an explanation of the value of intellectual freedom that should appeal to anyone who does not dismiss the whole idea of free will, and who values the opportunity to make up his own mind about what is important. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. I finally got around to reading perhaps the worst Townhall article I have ever encountered, Kurt Schlichter's "Conservatives Must Regulate Google and All of Silicon Valley Into Submission." There are so many things wrong with this piece, I'd ordinarily not know where to begin -- except that Schlichter almost immediately solves that problem with his second word, fascist. He uses the term derogatorily throughout his piece, which is the height of irony since the entire proposal is fascist in nature. For anyone who might be interested, let's spare a thought for a definition of the term, and some of its implications: The dictionary definition of fascism is: "a governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.), emphasizing an aggressive nationalism ..." [The American College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1957.] Under fascism, citizens retain the responsibilities of owning property, without freedom to act and without any of the advantages of ownership. Under socialism, government officials acquire all the advantages of ownership, without any of the responsibilities, since they do not hold title to the property, but merely the right to use it -- at least until the next purge. In either case, the government officials hold the economic, political and legal power of life or death over the citizens.So, to Schlichter and his ilk, the solution to the problem of a large corporation one can choose to boycott having control of information you cede to it, is for the government to take the same control over that corporation (and, by implication, everyone) by force. Schlicter's obvious failure to understand the nature of principles, evidenced later in the piece, is matched only by his obliviousness to an obvious consequence of implementing the principles of fascism. Even the left-wing Electronic Frontier Foundation can see this, so I'll quote them: "All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country," the San Francisco-based online advocacy group said in a blog post Thursday. "But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with."Or, to put it in terms even Kurt "[Y]ou're going to hate the new rules." Schlichter ought to be able to "get": What happens when we impose all these top-down controls on Google, and then the Democrats end up running things again? Hint: Doing away with elections is not the right answer. And that gets me to the most disturbing aspect of the whole piece, and which is something I have noticed among many conservatives over the years: Schlichter seems unable to grasp the power of persuasion outside of very concrete, conceptually-limited proposals. He reminds me of a few of my relatives from Mississippi who, learning I was going to college out of state, said things like, "Don't let them turn you into a liberal," as if the contents of my own mind weren't up to me, or there were no solid arguments for the better positions I shared with them. His whole piece reeks of this kind of intellectually passive despair even more than it does of obliviousness to the danger of his proposal. Any proposal to have the government do anything beyond its proper scope is based on the (often unstated) premise that other people will not voluntarily do or submit to whatever it is the "little dictator" has in mind. Why not warn people of the obvious risks of trusting such a company, and advise them of alternatives? Why not emphasize that, at least Google is only a private company, and that, fortunately, in America, we are (still) free to go elsewhere, or use or start our own alternatives? Why not urge people to complain in numbers to Google? Does Schlichter not know or not care why government regulation of Google -- or any other company -- is bad on its own? Or that, being against the principles behind proper government, it reinforces all kinds of other dangerous precedents? Is Schlichter so oblivious to the value of freedom that he can't offer others good reasons to fight for it? Is his conception of freedom so unmoored from reality that, on top of despairing of getting others to see its value, he ends up rejecting it himself? On this evidence, I have to conclude, yes. Sometimes, the only thing worse than open enmity towards freedom is a desperate measure to protect its fruits. -- CAV Link to Original
  21. Over at Ask a Manager is a short discussion of a prime example of poor communication from the business world. It's a poster about not complaining that will predictably result in the opposite effect. Regarding the poster, Allison Green nails down what is wrong with it:Yeah, it's ridiculously inept and a bit patronizing. If there's a morale problem where people are doing a lot of complaining, you fix that by addressing whatever the underlying causes are, not by trying to silence people. And I'm board with "hey, you should talk to people who can actually change the thing you're complaining about," but the effective way to convey that to people is by talking to them one-on-one and showing you'll giving them a fair hearing, not by posting juvenile signs. (And really, you can't ask employees to act like adults while simultaneously posting childish signs to communicate with them.)In other words, "Show, don't tell." One would rightly wonder how anyone could have thought this poster would achieve its stated objective, unless, perhaps he also encountered an interesting interview of humorist Dave Barry by economist Tyler Cowen. Barry comments at one point on his past as a business writing instructor:OK, the most consistent mistake ... not mistake, but inefficiency of business writing -- and it was very consistent -- is the absolute refusal on the part of the writer to tell you right away what message he or she is trying to deliver. I used to say to them, "The most important thing you have to say should be in the first sentence." And "Oh, no, you can't. I'm an engineer. We did a 10-year study, this is way too complicated." And inevitably, they were wrong. Inevitably, if they really thought about it, they were able to, in one sentence, summarize why it was really important. But they refused to do that because the way they found out was by spending 10 years of study and all this data and everything, and that's the way they wanted everyone to look at what they did. They wanted their supervisors to go plowing through all they had done to come to this brilliant conclusion that they had come to. [bold added]In other words, too many people in business are more concerned about tooting their own horn than about conveying an important point. To me, the poster is an attempt to scream, "I'm all over this morale problem, boss: I'm 'doing something'." This isn't the only problem with this poster, but it is interesting to consider how much the communication in either case (and probably other aspects of general execution of work) would benefit from a focus on the correct goal. Pleasing a boss is good, but ideally, it's a normal consequence of a job well done. If one should work smarter, not harder, one should apply the same advice about getting properly noticed. Step One might be to realize that the two are separate, if complementary tasks. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Although I am not sure I agree with the author's analysis, I have found the following trick for handling procrastination somewhat valuable: Imagine yourself starting, not finishing. What is the first, smallest, shortest, and least effortful task you can perform to get started? Say you need to clean your flat: then it could be to ... take 1 plate and put it in the sink. That simple act has now set you in motion. [format edits]Anyone familiar with David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology will recognize the value of breaking big, intimidating tasks up into smaller, more doable steps, and this certainly is consistent with that methodology. But I think that finding a way to get past inertia can be at least equally important for certain kinds of tasks. This seems true for well-understood and simple ones, like having to catch up on cleaning. Regarding such tasks, I have found it to be the case that once I start, I quickly get into a flow and work very efficiently. Getting past the many temptations that seem to come from nowhere just beforehand seems to be half the work as far as my mind is concerned. Perhaps it might be the case for yours. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Around the same time last week, I encountered (1) a story from the New York Times whose headline still has me at a loss for words: "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism," and (2) an audio clip of Yaron Brook commenting on the oddly different moral status of communism and Nazism within the dominant intellectual establishment (the entertainment industry in particular). From the second, I'll paraphrase a few observations of Brook's concerning the entertainment industry's double standard: For every movie depicting the evils of communism, there are a thousand depicting the evils of Nazism. Communists killed over 100 million people, and yet you have avowed communists in the entertainment press. Hollywood stands behind the communist regime in Venezuela, even now, as political opponents are being rounded up. That's bad, but Kristen R. Ghodsee's piece in the Times was breathtaking even by comparison. Ghodsee cherry picks quotes from an acquaintance and some government researchers, for example, but never gets around to addressing how either comports with a quote like the following, from the survivor of a planned famine:At that time I lived in the village of Yaressky of the Poltava region. More than a half of the village population perished as a result of the famine. It was terrifying to walk through the village: swollen people moaning and dying. The bodies of the dead were buried together, because there was no one to dig the graves. There were no dogs and no cats. People died at work; it was of no concern whether your body was swollen, whether you could work, whether you have eaten, whether you could -- you had to go and work. Otherwise -- you are the enemy of the people. Many people never lived to see the crops of 1933 and those crops were considerable. A more severe famine, other sufferings were awaiting ahead. Rye was starting to become ripe. Those who were still able made their way to the fields. This road, however, was covered with dead bodies, some could not reach the fields, some ate grain and died right away. The patrol was hunting them down, collecting everything, trampled down the collected spikelets, beat the people, came into their homes, seized everything. What they could not take -- they burned.There is more about the Times story at the blog Human Progress, where Marian Tupy notes the following after also revealing that this incredible piece in the Times was part of an entire series:I would have chosen to commemorate 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union in a different way. Over 100,000,000 people have died or were killed while building socialism during the course of the 20th century. Call me crazy, but that staggering number of victims of communism seems to me more important than the somewhat dubious claim that Bulgarian comrades enjoyed more orgasms than women in the West. But as one Russian babushka said to another, suum cuique pulchrum est. [formatting and link added]Tupy ends on the following note:But don't take my word for it. You can still visit a few communist countries, including Cuba and North Korea, and compare the social status and empowerment of their women with those in the West. Had the esteemed editors of the Times done so, they would have, I hope, thought twice about publishing a series of pro-communist excreta.That's putting things charitably, to say the least. This article is obscene on many levels, not the least because it attempts to prostitute what can and should be a sublime and joyous experience for the purpose of not just whitewashing, but celebrating barbarity. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. Four Things 1. Over at Hackaday is an articleabout difficulties you probably wouldn't have anticipated about colonizing Mars: Mars doesn't have a local electrical ground. The Earth does because the ground is electrically conductive and accepts charge from any charged object that comes in contact with it. Due to the large mass of a local Earth ground, it accepts this charge without becoming very charged itself. The moisture in the Earth ground aids its conductivity by enabling ions to move around. Mars' ground, however, is dry and while it contains ice, that ice further decreases conductivity.Yep. That one went right past me. Interestingly, that fact would affect architecture for any colonists. 2. Item One on this list of "Five Things You Must Not Do During Totality at the Solar Eclipse" is photograph it. For one thing, professional photographers will be all over this. For another, consult the rest of the list. 3. In an entertaining articleabout "The Confusing Way Mexicans Tell Time," a travel writer passes along the following method one American expat deals with the strange way they use the term ahorita, whose literal translation is "right now," but which is used quite differently there: ome expats living in Mexico just cannot get used to this more fluid way of measuring time. After moving to Mexico from the US, Elizabeth Wattson found a unique way of working with Ahorita Time. "Whenever my boss said 'ahorita', I would respond by asking 'ahorita when?'. I just couldn't work with this vague concept of something getting done at some indeterminate point in the future," she said. I think I'd pretty quickly start doing something like that, myself, in such a situation. 4. Forget everything you thoughtyou knew about lichens right now: He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since [Swiss botanist Simon] Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they're alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view. Okay, so that was hyperbole: You're still right about them being compound organisms, but this recent discovery is still really neat, particularly if you have a biological, or maybe a botanical bent. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. Over at Unclutterer is a reader question with a more interesting answer than I expected, regarding the storage of someone else's possessions: What you legally can and cannot do with someone's stuff stored in your home varies by jurisdiction. It is also based on the relationship of the people in question. For example, former spouses are treated differently from landlord/tenant relationships. The actual items in storage may also influence what you can legally do with them. For example, cars and high value items like jewelry may be treated differently from clothing and low value household goods. Do not act hastily to dispose of Robert's stuff. You could be sued or accused of theft. It is unfortunate that this could be the case especially since you were trying to do Robert a favour.This certainly stands to reason. However, a preexisting relationship and sympathy might keep one from thinking of it, even if one has strong personal boundaries in the first place. Perhaps a good second line of defense when thinking about helping someone is to consider what could go wrong if one were helping a stranger or ended up doing so for longer than expected, and acting accordingly. Some people are flakier than they appear, and everyone has free will. -- CAVLink to Original