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  1. Although Paul Graham doesn't get around to saying exactly what good taste is or might be, his most recent essay is a good argument for its existence, not to mention food for thought on many related issues. Highly relevant to all of this is why he felt the need to argue the point:Image by Amy-Leigh Barnard, via Unsplash, license.When I was a kid, I'd have said there wasn't. My father told me so. Some people like some things, and other people like other things, and who's to say who's right? It seemed so obvious that there was no such thing as good taste that it was only through indirect evidence that I realized my father was wrong. And that's what I'm going to give you here: a proof by reductio ad absurdum. If we start from the premise that there's no such thing as good taste, we end up with conclusions that are obviously false, and therefore the premise must be wrong.One such conclusion is that "If there's no such thing as good taste, then there's no such thing as good art." This is a profound point, and points to an important implicit premise: There must be good, bad, and objective ways to distinguish between the two. (I think Graham agree on good and bad, but is unsure on the matter of objectivity.) This Graham assumes, and it is fun and instructive to see where he goes with art -- an area for which there is no shortage of people who will claim that it is a subjective, anything goes type of endeavor. And that is on top of the fact that people can have other bases for disagreement about judging art, just like they can for anything else. Oh, and Graham very interestingly hits on an issue I wouldn't have thought of on my own -- the idea that the goodness of art might be inherent to the object:The other reason people doubt that art can be good is that there doesn't seem to be any room in the art for this goodness. The argument goes like this. Imagine several people looking at a work of art and judging how good it is. If being good art really is a property of objects, it should be in the object somehow. But it doesn't seem to be; it seems to be something happening in the heads of each of the observers. And if they disagree, how do you choose between them? [bold added]I don't agree with his answer to this problem, but I enjoyed reading it:The solution to this puzzle is to realize that the purpose of art is to work on its human audience, and humans have a lot in common. And to the extent the things an object acts upon respond in the same way, that's arguably what it means for the object to have the corresponding property. If everything a particle interacts with behaves as if the particle had a mass of m, then it has a mass of m. So the distinction between "objective" and "subjective" is not binary, but a matter of degree, depending on how much the subjects have in common. Particles interacting with one another are at one pole, but people interacting with art are not all the way at the other; their reactions aren't random -- far from it. [bold added]Graham follows this with other thoughts that, while I didn't agree with all of them, I found them worthwhile. It is at this point that I think it is worthwhile to recall Ayn Rand's definition of art, since it touches on the fact that art is intended for a human audience:Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments. Man's profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man's consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.Even with this, there is much we have yet to learn from many disciplines before we'd be able to develop anything close to a comprehensive understanding of how to judge whether art is good, but that doesn't mean there aren't objective criteria for good art or that it is impossible to judge the merit of a work of art. (See Rand, especially regarding what it would take to have objective criteria for judging music.) That makes it a little harder to say what good taste is, but my stab at it would be this: Good taste describes a highly intuitive or near-instantaneous ability -- perhaps derived through long or thorough study of a field -- to accurately judge something as good or bad. I think taste can be corrected or improved through study or, for an intellectually active mind, by immersion in a field. However, it is an interesting question as to how much, because I would suspect that there has to be integration between one's conscious premises and aspects of one's subconscious mind, i.e. one's emotional responses and one's memories. The first is within one's control and the other likely isn't, or at least isn't completely. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. If you live in California, rev up your garbage disposal! It's that, or waste time and effort storing your food waste as if it were gold so you can have it picked up for recycling:Penn and Teller's lineup of trash cans with timed sorting and a bullhorn for errors captures the absurdity of recycling. But only free men have the luxury of laughing at the absurd. (Screen Capture by Gus Van Horn, via Penn and Teller: Bullshit, S. 2, Ep. 5. I believe this to be permissible as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law.)Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such "green" waste from other trash, but the program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses in the coming months, with the actual startup date varying, depending on the location of your home or business. Fines can be levied for failing to separate organic refuse from other trash. But those charges aren't scheduled to begin until 2024. CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the change, has lots of information about the new requirements on its website. [bold added]Whether you regard this as a good idea or agree with me that recycling is a wasteful activity, this will be at your own expense as a taxpayer, of course. Many, if not most people will see this as a good idea, although it in fact entails the threat of government force to prescribe a small amount of labor in addition to theft in the bargain. Even if I believed that global warming were an immanent threat and that diverting the greenhouse gases from food decomposition would actually make a difference, I would oppose this law. There is no such thing as a valid excuse for even the slightest degree of slavery, and this law is no exception. Shame on California for this latest in its assault on liberty. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. Notable Commentary Image by Mufid Majnun, via Unsplash, license."Trusted messengers, in familiar settings, are key to moving the needle on vaccination rates." -- Amesh Adalja, in "With Child Vaccines, We Enter a New Phase of COVID-19 Pandemic" (The Hill) "In the context of Omicron, it's worth considering how original antigenic sin factors into discussions of boosting young, healthy adults with the current COVID-19 vaccines." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Don't Jump the Gun on Boosting All Adults" (Medpage Today) "It's important to emphasize, considering widespread disinformation from the anti-vaccine movement, that there is no 'antigen overload' risk with combination vaccines." -- Amesh Adalja, in "The Technological Marvel of Combination Vaccines" (Medpage Today) "[T]oo many public health officials issued pronouncements without adequately conveying the lack of certainty." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Public Health Officials Have Lost Many Americans' Trust, and How They Can Regain It" (Forbes) "Without property rights securing the fruits of these high-risk, high-cost labors, medical miracles won't happen." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Waiving Vaccine Patents Would Imperil Public Health" (The Virginian-Pilot) "As a matter of moral principle, there is no difference between the farmer who labors for a year to create crops to sell in the market -- armed with the knowledge that the fruits of his labors will be secured to him as his property -- and the scientists, engineers, and physicians who engage in inventive labors for years knowing that patents will secure the fruits of their productive labors." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Pandemics, Patents, and Price Controls" (PDF, Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum 285, 2021) "President Washington's deeds and Madison's words speak volumes about the original understanding of patents and copyrights in the Founding Era: They were property rights and deserved the same legal and constitutional protections afforded all other property rights." -- Adam Mossoff, in "The Constitutional Protection of Intellectual Property" (PDF, Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum 282, 2021) "When government funds a particular scientific viewpoint, it is establishing it unfairly." -- Raymond Niles, in "Wuhan Lab Controversy Illustrates How Government Funding Throttles Scientific Integrity" (The American Institute for Economic Research) "Undoubtedly, the Trump-started and Biden-continued trade war with the Chinese has disrupted global supply chains and contributed to worldwide shortages and shipping disruptions." -- Raymond Niles, in "Hostility to Free Trade Is Now Officially Bipartisan" (The American Institute for Economic Research) "The Power to debauch the money is the Power of the One Ring." -- Keith Weiner, in "What Trick did Tricky Dicky Pull 50 Years Ago Today? " (SNB & CHF) "The prices of commodities, and manufactured goods alike, have been rising due to non-monetary forces." -- Keith Weiner, in "Why Isn't Gold Going Up with Inflation?" (SNB & CHF) -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Having to do an inordinate amount of driving around lately, I've been treating myself to some very interesting podcasts. One of these was last year's discussion of the events of that January sixth by Elan Journo and Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute. I'm not all the way through it, but this has been very thought-provoking and I highly recommend it. As someone who did not closely follow the events then and have no truck with partisan accounts on either side of it, this has been the even-handed analysis I have wanted. One bizarre thing that came up -- about the point I'm at now -- was a well-debunked claim that Trump has made repeatedly since about 2013, including several times while in office, about being one of the last five guests on Oprah Winfrey's show:Her last couple of shows. You know, it was a big deal, who was gonna be her last week; I guess her last week. I was on her show for the last week. In other words, the entire show was devoted to I think five different people. I was one of the five. Oprah liked me. And maybe still does, I don't know. But Oprah is great.Ghate ably discusses the philosophical implications of the fact that Trump made this arbitrary claim at all and then continues to do so in blatant disregard for the truth. I will simply ask -- and I don't know as of the time I am writing this if Ghate or Journo take up this line of inquiry -- Why on earth would someone feel the need to make such a claim? And related, I can't help but wonder: Can there be nobody out there who could make a complete ass of Trump during a political debate for making this and (I am sure) similar ridiculous pronouncements? This guy basically intimidated all the other GOP candidates on his way to the nomination and managed to get elected to a term -- and pulled the second-highest vote total in history when he lost his reelection bid, if memory serves. I am not sure which I find more disturbing: that this psychological pygmy won the GOP nomination or that nobody in the room, as it were, could or would stand up to him. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Medical freedom for all would and should include insurance rates and employment contracts that accounted for avoidable risks. And such freedom ends where another person's reasonable risk ends. (Image by Paul Becker, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)In The Hill, Cornell's Glenn C. Altschuler argues that the unvaccinated should be held "accountable for putting themselves and others at risk." That sounded good to me until I read the rest of the sentence and saw the remainder of the article. Atltschuler continues:[M]ake them pay more for health insurance through surcharges and eliminating paid time off when they are sick while offering financial incentives (including lower deductibles) for fully vaccinated Americans who enroll in wellness programs.Make them? The insurance companies can't do this already? Why can't insurance companies decide what to charge their own customers? Altschuler does cite examples of other behaviors, like smoking and drinking, that result in higher insurance rates to buttress his point, and on these -- and the idea that high-risk people should have higher insurance costs -- he is not wrong, but still... His problem is either that he is not clear enough or he does not appreciate the great harm that government regulation of insurance and medicine do to those efforts. To wit:Smoking is exempted from federal laws restricting discrimination in premiums based on health status. Insurance companies can place a surcharge up to 50 percent (subject to limitations imposed by states) for anyone who uses a tobacco product four or more times per week.So the problem isn't so much that the private sector wouldn't hold people accountable for flouting health risks -- or that we need Big Brother to do so -- as that Big Brother is keeping that from happening. Consider the below from later on in the same piece:This fall, some employers began requiring unvaccinated workers to pay more for their health insurance. Delta Air Lines (which, on average, has been paying $50,000 for each COVID-19-related hospital stay) imposes a surcharge of $200 per month for its unvaccinated staff. Delta also limits salary protection for those who miss work to workers who have been vaccinated and have had "breakthrough" infections. Since these policies took effect on Nov. 1, 2021, it's worth noting, the vaccination rate among Delta employees has risen to 94 percent.Do note: (1) the non-governmental (!) per-hospital stay financial penalty to Delta for doing nothing, (2) the fact that Delta did not need Joe Biden to force it to do this or to tell it that vaccinated employees would benefit its bottom line, and (3) the happy circumstance of Delta not having a Ron DeSantis type able to keep it from "discriminating" against the unvaccinated. I recently heard an interesting argument to the effect that government, by making the vaccines free and doing whatever it could to force people to take them, had only caused certain quarters to become very suspicious of the vaccines -- rather than thinking about whether they might want to take them and why. That idea has lots of merit as does the fact that the welfare state, via subsidies, regulation, and cost-shifting has done a great deal already to insulate people like the unvaccinated from the costs of medical care. Nobody wants a trip to the hospital, but having to pay for it months or years later would give people pause if that were a real prospect. Arguing that point is a post article think piece book career for another day, but consider that vaccination rates have stalled in Europe:Even in [sic] sophisticated, please-let-government-run-everything Europe, vaccine uptake has stalled out: at 75% fully vaccinated in France, 71% in the UK and 68% in Switzerland.It's 62% here, but that does not refute my point: Our population is younger and has many more people who will blindly rebel when the government starts issuing orders, like Get vaccinated, prole. Europeans have socialized medicine, and so have been lulled into believing that they don't have to think or worry too much about silly things like their own physical or financial health. It is highly ironic that it is the biggest fans of the government running everything who are the most angry about the unvaccinated: Their policies are enabling and perpetuating the behavior. No less ironic are the allegedly pro-freedom anti-vaxxers, whose recklessness is state-enabled, and would be unthinkable to a truly responsible person, or even one who simply had to face the metaphysical consequences of his own choices. -- CAV P.S. The above focuses on the consequences for the individual for becoming ill due to his own carelessness. For that, there is no legitimate role for the government. However, there is no right to make others ill, and for that part of the problem, government does have a role to play, but not the one most people think. For that, I refer the reader to "A Pro-Freedom Approach to Infectious Disease," by Onkar Ghate of the Ayn rand Institute.Link to Original
  6. A common smear against capitalism today is the self-contradictory phrase crony capitalism, which wrongly packages together government favoritism (made possible by the misuse of government to influence trade) with free markets. As would be readily apparent to any reader of Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, government favors would be impossible under actual capitalism. This is because in that system, there is a separation of state and economics. This person does not have the right to coercively change the value of a stock, and then exchange that stock for money with those who do not know about it. Nobody has that "right." (Image by John Harrington, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)It is not under capitalism that cronyism can exist, and it is not under capitalism that we live today. We live under an increasingly government-controlled mixed economy. It is when a person like Nancy Pelosi squeals about her "rights" under "capitalism" -- presumably entailing her being able to buy and sell stocks in companies that she can regulate -- that we can see the full disingenuousness of that term: She knows that many Americans view capitalism favorably in practical terms and that many more view individuals as having rights. And she knows that what she is doing is anything but the same as regular Americans buying and selling stocks. And so we have capitalism being used to hide cronyism, rather than the usual guilt by false association, which usually is used to justify the likes of Pelosi running everything. And yet she fascistically violates our rights every day when she legislates to tell businessmen how they are to run their businesses, i.e., she disposes of the property and time of others. She does this and then buys and sells stocks in those very companies. Whether she has just helped or hindered those businesses, her stock trading takes advantage of the ignorance of others. It is not capitalism for the government to order businesses around, and it is immoral and (should be) illegal to acquire money or property under false pretenses -- as she does when trading with anyone ignorant of what she has just done. If Pelosi were serious about her profession of allegiance to capitalism, she would (a) immediately begin taking legislative steps to untangle government from business, (b) place her own holdings in a blind trust, (c) work to make it illegal for anyone meanwhile in a position to influence winners and losers to trade stocks, and (d) apologize. I am not holding my breath. Nancy Pelosi is no capitalist, but she is definitely a crony, and there is no such thing as a right to be a crony. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. ... and where are all the exploding nuclear submarines? "It is only on the premise that the environmentalist movement is truly driven by a concern for human well-being that its vehement attacks on carbon-based fuels (without which human life as we know it in the developed world would be impossible), its cavalier lack of any alternative plan, and its active opposition to proposed alternatives (whether real ones like nuclear or hydro, or fantasized ones like solar), make no sense." -- Keith Lockitch ("Energy Privation: The Environmentalist Campaign Against Energy" (2011, continued here) originally in Why Businessmen Need Philosophy) *** The only thing that surprises me about this disingenuous, cherry-picking op-ed against nuclear power is that it took so long for one to emerge from the bowels of the establishment media. The title just about says it all, when one keeps the above words in mind: "Nuclear Energy Backers Say It's Vital for the Fight Against Global Warming. Don't Be So Sure." I don't have time to rebut the many obvious problems with this piece -- and Michael Shellenberger adroitly recaps and rebuts its general arc within the pages of Apocalypse Never, anyway -- but one little example with which I am more acquainted than average is worth considering. In a piece that happily repeats many of the smears and innuendo against nuclear power that the press has happily doled out almost since its invention, Michael Hiltzik decides to use -- and I mean this figuratively -- the expertise of one Hyman Rickover, renowned as the father of America's nuclear navy:Rickover abandoned any thought of using [early liquid sodium-cooled] reactors in his submarines. He determined them to be "expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shut down as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair," as he advised his Navy superiors and technical experts at the Atomic Energy Commission in late 1956 and early 1957.Image by U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.Although even Hiltzik has to admit Rickover's navy was "a success," it is clear he does this only so he can misuse his words to smear modern nuclear technology he knows little about, as well as to perpetuate the common and irrational fear of nuclear power most people have. I haven't studied the modern design Hiltzik wants to scare everyone away from, but: It strikes me as a very odd way of thinking for someone who plainly wants to "leave it in the ground" to basically dismiss nuclear energy on the grounds of a reactor design from over half a century ago that was rejected -- also over half a century ago on the grounds of safety. Furthermore, the man who rejected that design found one that was and is safe, as attested by the longstanding, excellent safety record of the nuclear navy. Hiltzik says nothing about that, apparently hoping we have forgotten about it by the time we've finished his screed against the old sodium-cooled reactor design that nobody is using. We're to assume that nobody has thought of any improvement to the old design, that it would be a rip-roaring success in a free market even if it were unsafe, and that if any reactor design is unsafe, they all are. And I sit here, like many other ex-submariners, scratching the hair I somehow still have on my somehow still-only head, at the willful evasion of someone who is somehow employed as a business columnist -- over a quarter of a century after I walked within feet of a running nuclear reactor on a daily basis over the course of several years. Hiltzik doesn't actually indulge the cartoonish fantasies about "mutations" and exploding reactors that are a staple of popular culture, but I am sure he knows that many in his audience hold only slightly-less farcical preconceptions about nuclear power. (For example, Shellenberger notes that many people believe that a reactor can explode like a bomb, even though that is impossible.) In any event, even if these things were true, since billions of people would die without access to reliable energy and recent troubles in Texas and Europe would seem to indicate that "renewables" aren't ready to take the load, Hiltzik's fixation on the alleged danger and unprofitability of nuclear power seems ... off ... to say the least. Perhaps Hiltzik, rather than using Rickover's words to scare people, could try learning from his accomplishments. And that's just regarding safety. The news media, having scaremongered the public and officialdom into basically criminalizing nuclear power have thereby also made it inordinately expensive to deploy. But that's also a post for another day Talk about "reporting on the problem you create," to borrow a very apt expression... -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Notable Commentary Image by Simon Connellan, via Unsplash, license.It has been a while since my last presentation of quotes from fellow travelers appearing on the pages of popular media. I think we can safely say that the new (but cumbersome) routine I'd come up with for finding and tracking such has failed, and it's time to move on. Below is an almost certainly incomplete list of worthwhile material since -- cough! -- last April. Enjoy, and I look to return to making this a more frequent feature again, going forward. In fact, there will be more next Friday. *** "The divisiveness over the pandemic, I believe, takes some of its root in the abstinence-only approach and led to the false dichotomy the country has been mired in the past year: with some proportion of the population acting as if a pandemic is not taking place, while another segment cannot navigate a world in which any risk of COVID-19 is present." -- Amesh Adalja in "'Abstinence Only' Approach to COVID Failed in 2021 -- Missed Opportunity for Teaching Harm Reduction," at The Hill "The most valuable asset we have in the fight against COVID-19 is still unequivocally vaccination, and the presence of effective drugs doesn't change that." Amesh Adalja in "New COVID Antivirals Do Not Replace the Need to Vaccinate," at Scientific American "Home COVID-19 tests, which should still be employed by symptomatic persons, should be converted to full FDA licensure and be expanded to cover other infectious diseases such as influenza, RSV, strep throat, mononucleosis and sexually transmitted infections..." -- Amesh Adalja in "With Vaccinations on the Rise, COVID-19 Testing Takes on a New Role" at The Hill "Knowledge is something that must be acquired through a specific process." -- Amesh Adalja in "The Scientific Method and the Pandemic" at Medium "Faith in 'impersonal value' generates a very real threat to the values of real people: the value of a home or a college education or energy to a California resident -- and that of a young woman's right to live her life without fear of an enforced pregnancy." -- Ben Bayer in "The Dark Roots of the Texas Abortion Ban's Vigilantism" at Medium "f the purpose of a vaccination campaign is to help the country return to 'normal,' then a crucial part of that normal is a respect for individual rights and personal medical autonomy." -- Paul Hsieh in "Not Everyone Wants to Be Vaccinated. I'm OK With That," at Forbes "Even if cash prizes and conventional incentives may cause problems, some unusual incentives have apparently been quite successful." -- Paul Hsieh in "Perks and Incentives for Covid-19 Vaccination May Backfire" at Forbes "Just as a business or restaurant can require wearing shoes or a shirt as a condition for entry, they should be allowed to require that patrons provide proof of vaccination (or wear a mask) as a condition for entry." -- Paul Hsieh in "Some State Governments Are Banning Businesses From Asking Customers About Covid-19 Vaccination Status -- Why That's a Bad Idea" at Forbes "... I suspect that treating Americans like intelligent, responsible adults will work better in the long run than treating them like ignorant, foolish children." -- Paul Hsieh in "Governors Try Outreach and Persuasion to Improve Covid-19 Vaccination Rates" at Forbes "His thought was that if his Achilles tendon completely ruptured, then his supervisor would be forced to operate." -- Paul Hsieh in "How Defying One's Boss Led to a New Medical Discovery" at Forbes "ecause they avoid most insurance hassles, DPC physicians endure fewer bureaucratic headaches, thus allowing them to spend more time doing what they went to medical school to do -- to practice medicine." -- Paul Hsieh in "Why Patients Should Consider Direct Primary Care (DPC)" at Forbes "All of us are carrying our own burdens and challenges -- many of which might not be apparent to others." -- Paul Hsieh in "Riding the Roller Coaster of Holiday Emotions" at Forbes "[W]hile we may not have their expertise, there are rational methods for non-experts to choose experts." -- Gus Van Horn in "Why Halloween Is Much Scarier Than GMOs at RealClear Markets -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Or: Has the Pandemic Run Its Course? Over at Issues and Insights is a piece noting that deaths due to Covid seem not to be tracking cases of the disease in the same way they did earlier in the pandemic. Its title cites a chart showing this, and at least concedes that the chart isn't probatory. I am cautiously optimistic about the omicron strain, but wish to take issue with a few points. First, although I have heard of data suggesting that the omicron strain is less lethal than previous ones, I am not sure that that possibility has been proved conclusively:If this outbreak had been like the previous ones, COVID-related deaths would have started climbing weeks ago. What does this mean? Most likely it means that the disease is getting less lethal as it gets more transmittable, which is how viruses work. As an article in New Scientist explains, "In time, virologists predict, the virus will become more benign, following an evolutionary pathway previously taken by four other human coronaviruses that today cause nothing more than the 'common cold.'" If this is in fact what's happening right now, why isn't this news being shouted from the rooftops? [link omitted]It is true that evolutionary pressure on the virus favors it being less deadly and easier to catch -- in the long run. But evolution is random: It is not some semi-divine, purposeful watchmaker. A given new strain will not necessarily be less deadly, for example. On top of that, the fact that many people are already vaccinated or previously infected can confound the data on how deadly this strain actually is, since the main point of vaccination for this virus is to make it less deadly. Either of these reasons alone would warrant not shouting Omicron is just a cold! "from the rooftops," and both could be true. (Note that this is a whole separate issue from the fact that our news media report everything in apocalyptic tones. So, yes. Assuming the strain really is less deadly, as I also hope, I won't hold my breath waiting for some evening newscast to report it first, either.) Second, although I am no fan of Anthony Fauci, I think the speculation to the effect that he is actively covering up good news for nefarious reasons is ridiculous, and makes this usually perspicacious outlet look like it is pandering to the worst populist-conspiracist elements currently posing as part of the right. Acknowledging risk and handling it properly is apparently an underappreciated skill. (Image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)One last point: I wish the thinking of some fellow travellers -- notably Ben Bayer and Amesh Adalja -- were more prevalent: Too many people are confounding the pandemic as a public health emergency with the pandemic as a threat to one's own health. These are distinct, albeit related issues. For example, Bayer makes a good, selfish case for wearing masks during the earlier phase of the pandemic. And Adalja notes that "abstinence-only" public policies have caused some individuals to ignore the pandemic altogether and others to fear any and all risk from Covid. Both of these groups end up failing to make risk assessments that could prevent illness or improve the quality of their lives. And this brings me to my title. As the above -- and as a recent article titled "The End of the Pandemic Will Not Be Televised" -- would indicate, determining "the" end of the public health emergency phase is nontrivial, even when considering past pandemics. But what of "the pandemic" as an issue of your own health and of those you care about? In one sense, it will never be over because Covid will be endemic after the pandemic dies down. But in another, once one incorporates risk assessment as it pertains to this disease into one's life, it will be over as far as you're concerned. In my case -- if I may be fast and loose with what constitutes the public health emergency phase -- I am cautiously optimistic that the threat of massive government disruptions is over for me, as I live in Florida. My last concerns regard whether (a) a less-threatening omicron strain might still fill up hospitals with unvaccinated people in my general area, and (b) how likely I might be in a crowded area to get enough viral load to nullify the advantage of having been vaccinated. In other words, I'm mostly back to normal, but avoiding places like packed bars for a little longer. My guess is that within a few months, omicron will take care of those who won't take care of themselves, and the risk of having large numbers of sick people around me at once will be low enough in most situations for me to be comfortable. And then, as far as I am concerned, the pandemic will be over, even though the virus will still be around and worth being aware of. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Every once in a while, I bump into a blogger or a columnist whose first-hand thinking rates a holiday reading binge. The latest such writer is computing professional Rachel Kroll, whose tech blog, Rachel by the Bay I recommend, particularly to anyone with an interest in computing. One of her posts, "Simple-Minded Literalism and Avoiding the Big Picture," both recalls a recent post of my own, about documentation, and should be a good example of why I enjoy the writing. In my own post, I noted:As a computer hobbyist/amateur programmer/power user, I am frequently frustrated by software documentation: It seems always to be geared for either the computer illiterate -- using the "mouse," click with the right-hand button on the rectangle labeled "Start" at the bottom left of your screen -- or someone with a PhD in computer science who hacks away at his own operating system every weekend just for the hell of it. So it's either too obvious to be useful -- or too hard to access for the specific weird problem I have.Back then, I noted valid reasons for this that made sense of the situation for me: Documentation has to be pitched to some audience, and past a certain knowledge point, there may not be enough of an audience in numbers to justify writing something geared towards them. And, on top of that, it is a non-trivial problem to translate knowledge from one's own perspective to that of the user-audience. But those aren't the only reasons, as Kroll's account of a stultifying course she once took will show.Image by NeONBRAND, via Unsplash, license.... I had more than a few classes which were utterly silly and yet couldn't be avoided. The worst ones centered on a single implementation of a certain technology. That is, instead of being about spreadsheets, it was about Excel. Instead of being about word processing, it was about Word.One can protest that beginners have to start somewhere, but considering how anti-conceptual the American education establishment is, I am sure there was no attempt within those courses to generalize beyond those specific tools. (And I would go so far as to say that even a training course in how to use such a tool should include some material to make the knowledge easier to translate to other circumstances.) Kroll's conclusion, in which she describes her answer to a "seriously broken assignment," certainly seems to bear this out:... I even went as far as describing the right-click action on top-of-column label for dates to enable the magic formatting for that kind of data. This way it would know to treat those numbers as dates and not guess as to what it might mean. This repeated for other columns with potentially interesting data - prices are currency, for instance. Then I laid out how to select the data (dragging, or clicking that weird corner box thing) in order to feed it to the sorting and filtering flow. Everything else followed from that. It answered everything which had been in the problem description with stupidly simple language and offered absolutely no "outside the box" thinking. They loved it. I got an A. It amazes me, though perhaps it shouldn't, that assigning grades is so unfashionable today among egalitarians. They should be happiest of all with grades, as one could argue that they roughly correlate with how much any given student has been held back by such a course -- in the form of spending time on busywork instead of learning new things or being creative. It is interesting to contemplate how much better documentation might be if more people were trained to think in bigger-picture terms than they are now. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. As I do each year, I take time off from blogging around Christmas. My break begins today: Aside from checking my blog's email occasionally and perhaps the odd tweet here and there, I'll mostly be away. I expect to be back here about January 5. Before I leave, I'll post an excerpt from my favorite commentary on Christmas, "Christmas Should be More Commercial," by Leonard Peikoff:Image by Roberto Nickson, via Unsplash, license.All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness. America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate -- and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration. [bold added]I highly recommend reading the whole thing. I hope you have a merry Christmas, and a prosperous, happy new year. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. Over at Jewish World Review is a post-mortem by Ramesh Ponnuru of the apparent demise of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda. Having nervously followed this for some time -- and not quite ready to exhale -- I would have to agree with the following:[Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)] was, after all, right about the best way to structure the bill, as even some progressives conceded. If Democrats wanted a larger tax credit for children, they should have included a 10 -- year enlargement and ditched other parts of the bill -- as Manchin said. If they weren't willing to sacrifice other initiatives, they should have left an expanded credit for another day. But the bulk of the Democratic Party in D.C. wasn't willing to set priorities.The interesting question that nobody seems to be asking is: Why? If these things are so important to Democrats, why did they have to be bundled together this way? Ponnuru wanders to within spitting distance of the answer when he observes two things. First:It's not just Manchin the Democrats are refusing to hear. Biden tried to garner support for the bill by saying it "is what 81 million people voted for." A large segment of those voters, though, just wanted Donald Trump out of office.Yes. And second:Image by The White house, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.Build Back Better was unusual in seeking to realize an expansive partisan agenda in a very narrowly divided Congress. Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama tried to enact such large and far -- reaching changes in spending when they had much larger margins.This, too. The American political parties are really coalitions, as difficult as this might be to remember for conservatives looking at the Democrats and vice versa. (I'm not a conservative, but after Donald Trump's antics made sure Georgia elected two Democrats to the Senate, I pretty much expected Build Back Better or worse to pass.) Indeed, on the evidence, it would seem that nearly every faction of the Democratic Party forgot this fact when Biden got elected and had both houses. Coalitions are fine for winning elections, and can be for governing (if expectations are clear to all from the beginning), but not so much for legislation. Consider the counterexample of abortion, which I wrote about recently:If support for reproductive rights is so strong, why won't Democrats run on a promise to pass legislation to make abortion unambiguously legal? ... [E]very time the Democrats talk about the freedom to have an abortion, they wrongly package it with forcing third parties to pay for it. This makes the cause of legalizing it less compelling for the very significant part of the American population -- which this poll did not measure, but of which I am a part -- that fully supports reproductive freedom, but strongly opposes being forced to pay for the decisions or medical procedures of others. [links and emphasis in original]The Democrats will never legalize abortion because essentially none can conceive of separating the "part" of it (as they see it) with broad popular support (a woman's right to her own body) from the "part" (making people pay for other people to have abortions) that alienates lots of voters -- most of whom also disagree with them on other things. It's easy to see this with abortion: Democrats are the party of redistribution, and it wants to monopolize abortion. With Build Back Better, there were no issues that as plainly would alienate any faction: It looked to most Democrats like a grab-bag of goodies for everyone, and to a few (Manchin is evidently only the most outspoken) like a fiscal bullet to America's heart. Manchin was absolutelty correct: Probably some of these could have passed individually. Maybe some will, but throwing them all together and trying to hide their cost made even some within their own camp uncomfortable. The Democrats were so angry at Trump they lost sight of nearly everything else during the election, and afterwards forgot that they were a coalition when it came time to govern. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. A recent post by Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten makes the following much-needed point about scientific communication that seems head-slappingly obvious ... but only after he makes it after giving us a bunch of real-world examples:Doesn't that rube know there's 'no evidence' that parachutes prevent deaths? (Image by Ernesto Velázquez, via Unsplash, license.)... Science communicators are using the same term -- "no evidence" -- to mean:This thing is super plausible, and honestly very likely true, but we haven't checked yet, so we can't be sure.We have hard-and-fast evidence that this is false, stop repeating this easily debunked lie.This is utterly corrosive to anybody trusting science journalism. Imagine you are John Q. Public. You read "no evidence of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus", and then a month later it turns out such transmission is common. You read "no evidence linking COVID to indoor dining", and a month later your governor has to shut down indoor dining because of all the COVID it causes. You read "no hard evidence new COVID strain is more transmissible", and a month later everything is in panic mode because it was more transmissible after all. And then you read "no evidence that 45,000 people died of vaccine-related complications". Doesn't sound very reassuring, does it?One common example from the pandemic -- which he briefly takes up -- is face masks, for which there isn't (as far as I know) conclusive scientific evidence one way of the other of efficacy against Covid transmission, but for which there is a strong common-sense case. And yes, Alexander does mention that it does not serve the cause of clarity to make a big deal out of that lack of a particular kind of evidence. The whole post is well worth a read, and includes my favorite example of the silliness of demanding that everything be proven through a scientifically rigorous study: the claim one can make that there is "no evidence" that using a parachute helps prevent injuries and deaths when jumping out of planes. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Four Neat Tech-y Things... ... I might try. Of course, some may decide it's best to keep their thoughts to themselves, after all... (Image by Jeff James, via Unsplash, license.)1. Someone out there has figured out a good way to transform hand-written notes into web pages. He elaborates in part within a blog post he originally wrote by hand:Every morning I kept adding to my new paper website until I had written a whole tiny travel blog about the trip. Despite no one reading it, I found myself genuinely looking forward to writing a new post each morning. I wrote more without the distractions of the internet, and it was refreshing not being in front of a screen. It was also just really fun. [link omitted]This enterprising soul has started a small business that offers "a year long paper website, and a free Moleskine notebook to build your website in" for 99 smackers. In addition, he names some interesting web sites that some of his customers have come up with. If you want to journal and get a blog out of it at the same time, now there's a way. 2. Did you know that Salvador Dalí and Thomas Edison took advantage of an early sleep stage to further their creative efforts? Here's how::To use the technique, visionaries such as Dalí and Edison would hold an object, such as a spoon or a ball, while falling asleep in a chair. As they drifted off, the object would fall, make a noise and wake them up. Having spent a few moments on the brink of unconsciousness, they would be ready to start their work.I have an advantage in trying this as I am one who falls asleep easily. Unfortunately, I have kids and most of my work happens in the wee hours or during the day. Caffeination might be a problem during the former -- drink coffee and be unable to drift off, or don't and risk sleeping through -- and the extra measures I employ for short naps might work against me during the day. I intend to try it at some point anyway and, if I get dramatic results, I'll say something. 3. The FDA has recently approved eye drops that counteract presbyopia. (This is a new use for a drug that has been around for a while.)"Beginning around the age of 40, many find themselves using reading glasses, holding text further away, or even increasing the font size and lighting on screens to try to see more clearly," he said in a statement. "We are proud to offer VUITY as a first-of-its-kind once-daily eye drop that we believe will change the way people and their eye doctors approach presbyopia. The FDA approval of VUITY exemplifies our continued pursuit of innovative new treatments that push the boundaries of what's possible in eye care." Pilocarpine HCl ophthalmic solution 1.25% is a daily, prescription eye drop that works in as early as 15 minutes and lasts up to 6 hours, as measured on day 30, to improve near and intermediate vision without impacting distance vision.I have worn glasses for mild nearsightedness and mild astigmatism for decades, and my current glasses allow me to ... sort of ... correct for presbyopia. But for fine print, I'm having to whip out a magnifying glass, which is a pain. My near vision is good enough that being able to change focus easily would obviate the need for either when I'm working. I'm definitely looking into this some more. 4. Over a decade ago, Portable Ubuntu proved quite useful to me in situations when I had to use a Windows computer. Unfortunately, it became outdated orphanware soon after. But I have been interested in using Linux from pen drives since and keep an antenna out for replacements or interesting similar ideas. A common one of these is booting from a pen drive with Linux installation files on it (but without installing it). People who want to try Linux often do this, as do people who need to rescue data from a computer that can't boot. A major problem is that, until recently, this entailed some kind of skullduggery and an ISO image of an installation CD or DVD. This means that for reasons I don't fully understand, the pen drive itself is unusable to do such things as -- oh, I don't know -- save the data when you find it. This is where EasyOS comes in. It uses a drive image file to contain the OS instead, which -- for reasons I don't fully understand, makes the rest of the pen drive available:With a drive-image, the entire USB-stick is available. The EasyOS drive image has two partitions, a vfat "boot partition" and a ext4 "working partition". Initially, the working-partition is only 640MB, but at first bootup it automatically expands to fill the drive.This doesn't let you use Linux and Windows at the same time -- I have a different way that I do that now -- but it does allow for a much better Linux-based system rescue option than before. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. Over at Inc., business writer Suzanne Lucas explores what she learned by taking a class in improvisational comedy. Her main point is notable for being contrary to the now-conventional wisdom that creativity involves thinking "outside the box:"Do something fun today entails any number of good, but different options, depending on which side of the fence you're on. (Image by Domenico Daniele, via Unsplash, license.)"No limits" limits your creativity "What's your favorite movie of all time?" We all theoretically have a favorite movie, but your mind is likely to go blank whenever someone asks that question. It's as if you've never seen a movie in your whole life. Now, let's put limits on that: "What's your favorite action movie?" or "What's your favorite movie musical?" or "What was your favorite movie you saw in high school?" These limits make it easier to come up with your answer. The same happens in improv. If we say, "Go up on the stage and say something funny," everyone freezes. But, instead, you pull ideas out of a hat or have the audience shout ideas, and now we say, "You are an archaeologist in Cleveland, and you run into your mother-in-law." [bold in original]Yes. Tell someone to be funny -- or to do almost anything else creative with zero context -- and watch them freeze. We've all experienced this. Hell, I've even done this to myself: Write a column. Without some idea of a starting point or an end product, it's too much of an ask. I imagine that's a major source of writer's block: Whatever it is one wants to write, there is a gap, a lack of a starting point or a goal, and without one of those, there is no clear basis for action. None of this is to say there's no place for Think outside the box. I believe that saying is a caution against accepting limits or conventions uncritically, or not looking hard enough for alternatives. That box is a bad one. The box that Lucas is talking about is inescapable, but it is liberating to know about: To be is to be something, and to do is to do something. Once you know what that something is, you start getting ideas and can have thoughts about execution. -- CAVLink to Original
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