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  1. As if saying it enough times will make it so, Dennis Prager has written yet another column asserting that a secular society is -- somehow -- also therefore a less free one. Somehow? you might ask. Well, you tell me:Image by Alex Shu, via Unsplash, license.Here is something any honest person must acknowledge: As America has become more secular, it has become less free. Individuals can differ as to whether these two facts are correlated, but no honest person can deny they are facts. It seems to me indisputable that they are correlated. To deny this, one would have to argue that it is merely coincidental that free speech, the greatest of all freedoms, is more seriously threatened than at any time in American history while a smaller-than-ever percentage of Americans believe in [God] or regularly attend church. [bold added]Does this not seem like an odd way to open an argument about secularity ... Gosh! what is that word? -- necessitating? ... the decline of freedom in our great republic? In case your'e having a hard time putting a finger on why it does, let's consider an uncontroversial phrase that I would have thought was also familiar to almost any educated adult and certainly should be to any intellectual:Correlation does not imply causation.Prager frequently equates the left with what he calls "secularism." I personally think the left looks more and more religious by the day, and "nature" is a strong candidate for one of its gods. Be that as it may, let's run with Prager's assumption for a moment that religion necessarily implies belief in a god of the Judaeo-Christian sort. If so, then I completely agree with him on both counts: America is both less religious (in that sense) and less free, and those facts about our culture are likely correlated. But so, too are US spending on science, space, and technology -- and US suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation, from 1999 to 2009 -- according to the web site, Spurious Correlations. Those numbers are facts and so is the correlation. But I don't think even Dennis Prager would seriously argue that one of these causes the other. Prager's article says not a peep about causation, but that's something we really ought to consider. America has become less free and less observant of traditional Western religions over the past century. Anyone who values freedom would do well to ask that question. Prager, oddly, just assumes -- or seems to want the reader to assume -- that less religion somehow causes less freedom. At least one thinker I am pretty sure Prager has heard of, Ayn Rand, would beg to differ, as her greatest student, Leonard Peikoff, once outlined in some detail in his essay, "Religion vs. America." Within, Peikoff argues in part:Point for point, the Founding Fathers' argument for liberty was the exact counterpart of the Puritans' argument for dictatorship -- but in reverse, moving from the opposite starting point to the opposite conclusion. Man, the Founding Fathers said in essence (with a large assist from Locke and others), is the rational being; no authority, human or otherwise, can demand blind obedience from such a being -- not in the realm of thought or, therefore, in the realm of action, either. By his very nature, they said, man must be left free to exercise his reason and then to act accordingly, i.e., by the guidance of his best rational judgment. Because this world is of vital importance, they added, the motive of man's action should be the pursuit of happiness. Because the individual, not a supernatural power, is the creator of wealth, a man should have the right to private property, the right to keep and use or trade his own product. And because man is basically good, they held, there is no need to leash him; there is nothing to fear in setting free a rational animal. [bold added]If the case for liberty is actually secular, then something other than an some woozily-implied causation of less freedom by an absence of Christianity might be causing the two cultural trends Prager brings up, but doesn't seem very serious about understanding. To wit: His "opposition to slavery was based entirely on the Bible," even if true, does not imply that without religion, we would all advocate slavery. As witness the oath of Ayn Rand's most famous character, "I swear by my life ... and my love of it ... that I will never live for the sake of another man ... nor ask another man ... to live ... for mine." As for what might be causing the two trends, my note about the left becoming more quasi-religious should offer a clue, but a more full explanation would come from Rand's and Peikoff's extensive analyses of the baleful influence of Immanual Kant -- whose mission was to save Christian altruism from the Enlightenment -- on our culture over time. In short, our society continued moving away from Christianity, but also, thanks to Kant, began moving towards a duty-based ethos and its anti-freedom political correlate of statism. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. At RealClear Markets, John Tamny ably discusses the prospect of what an economic downturn in China -- specifically due to a return to communist policies -- could mean, and rightly offers the following warning:Image by CRCHF, via Wikimedia Commons, license.[W]hile some may contemplate a wrecked, economically retreating China with glee, the view here is that they're not thinking very expansively. And they're not thinking much at all about what a Maoist scenario for China would mean for the United States. The economics of such a lurch would be very harmful for the U.S. economy. In other words, a declining China would very much pull down the U.S. To see why, consider the aforementioned ubiquity of American restaurant brands in China's cities. As the economy has grown in China thanks to rising freedom, the prosperity of its people has surged. And they in many ways went on an all-things-American buying spree. There are 3,700 McDonald's restaurants in China, over 4,000 Starbucks locations, hundreds of Carl's Jr.'s. Assuming a lurch back toward socialism or communism, American companies with large footprints in China will suffer in a big way. And that's only part of the story.This is true, and I agree with most of what Tamny says about this looming problem, with one major exception. While Tamny holds that such a change "would also take a strike on Taiwan off of the table," I am not so sure. Certainly it would, long-term, but China has a large military now, and a great deal of manufacturing capacity that hasn't been hobbled yet, and might last long enough to cause a problem. I've heard countries like this likened to batteries, in contrast to capitalist generators, and I think the comparison is a good one. And if the CCP is so clueless as to make good on its threat, I don't see it taking a lesson when that causes economic problems. In fact, the situation reminds me of something Ayn Rand once said regarding the relationship between freedom and war:Statism -- in fact and in principle -- is nothing more than gang rule. A dictatorship is a gang devoted to looting the effort of the productive citizens of its own country. When a statist ruler exhausts his own country's economy, he attacks his neighbors. It is his only means of postponing internal collapse and prolonging his rule. A country that violates the rights of its own citizens, will not respect the rights of its neighbors. Those who do not recognize individual rights, will not recognize the rights of nations: a nation is only a number of individuals. Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by looting; a free country survives by production. Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies. World War II was started by the alliance of Nazi Germany with Soviet Russia and their joint attack on Poland. [bold added]To make matters worse, the troubles with Evergrande, which I have seen compared to a Ponzi scheme, could both jump-start the process and provide ideological cover for (and economic blinders to) the CCP: Capitalism will get blamed for whatever occurs because of that, regardless of whatever state interventions made it possible in the first place, and whatever China might attempt to soften the blow if it follows a "too big to fail" policy of mitigation. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. This morning, I read a column by a cranky old man urging his fellow New Yorkers to "get real" about returning to work in their offices. To Steve Cuozzo's credit, he did concede that there were some advantages to working from home as opposed to going to the office. And he is absolutely correct to start off by noting that employees are contractually obligated to work how and where their bosses want them to. Cuozzo might even be right that lots of people are selectively afraid of Covid when it comes to office work, but brave when it comes to filling restaurants and bars. And he might be right that productivity took a nosedive with widespread at-home working -- although unfair to grouse about people spending time with their kids. (Remember all those union-driven school closures?) So far, so good, but what does he build up to?Image by Israel Andrade, via Unsplash, license.Memo to those who say, "I don't care if I never go back to the office," and to companies that say, "We'll get there when we get there": The issue is bigger than you. Indefinitely empty office buildings will doom this city. Without the fortune in tax revenue that the buildings generate, our $98.6 billion annual budget won't be carried by parking-violation and unleashed-dog fines. Tenants need to engage their employees on these issues more than they have. Or we'll see an endless cycle of office-return postponements until companies say enough! Let's keep everyone home for good. Should that happen, and strip the value off thousands of office towers with a half-billion square feet and wreck the economy, don't blame the banks. Don't blame Trump, Biden, Dr. Fauci or China. It's all on us for not tackling the problem head-on, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. [bold added]No. The issue is between you and the person who is giving you money to perform work. If that work satisfies him, even when you do it at home, you might be able to negotiate working from home for some or all of the time that work takes. Or not. And your employer's proper concern is how profitable his business is, not feeding Leviathan or serving as some kind of charity. Ayn Rand frequently commented on conservatives never having the moral high ground on leftists, and this column is, unfortunately, a great example of that. If conservatives did not share the same altruistic ethical base, there would be no silly talk like this of a cause -- taxation (!) -- being "greater than oneself," and if conservatives were not basically collectivists, Cuozzo might have taken the strong possibility of a diminished tax base for New York as a point of departure for perhaps finally starting a conversation about rolling back the city's government to its proper scope, of protecting individual rights, rather than treating us all like milch cows. If conservatives could stop whining about how we aren't just mindlessly returning to old routines, they might consider questioning them and beyond. Until they do, they'll keep sounding like grumpy Democrats and wondering why they can't seem to win elections against the the party that undeservedly attracts most of the young, energetic idealists. Freedom to pursue one's self interest inspired at least one successful revolution against tyranny in this country. I suggest conservatives get real about giving that a try for a change. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Writing at RealClear Politics, Susan Crabtree notes the inevitable jumps to conclusions performed by the Democrats after their all-out campaign to save Gavin Newsom's hide succeeded last week in California:The only way to go was up, so they ... kept digging!? (Image by Josh Kahen, via Unsplash, license.)... President Biden deemed the recall's landslide defeat a "resounding win" for Democrats and his administration's vaccine and COVID-related mandates. California voters rejected the "Republican brand that is centered around insurrection and denying the pandemic," Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters Wednesday. The true takeaway is far more basic. Republicans never stood a chance without a big-name mainstream celebrity running in a state where Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden by nearly 30 percentage points last fall and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin. [bold added]Or, as GOP consultant Matt Gorman put it more tersely, "[That's] like me bragging about winning a [campaign] in Alabama." (This is true, but the GOP's allegiance to Donald Trump is doing it no favors.) The piece also hypothesizes that the November gubernatorial race in Virginia, where both parties are competitive, will be a much better gauge of the national mood. I am inclined to agree. Until and unless the people of California begin to realize that many of their state's biggest problems are a direct result of the policies enacted by the people they elect, and consider the alternative of greater freedom, they will become increasingly irrelevant to national politics -- beyond the fact that they can be counted on to provide a bloc of left-wing officials to the House and Senate, and handicap the Republicans in every presidential race. At best, one could say that many Californians reacted quite strongly against the GOP due to its foolish continued allegiance to Donald Trump, but I suspect that, since Trump is basically an abrasive version of an old-fashioned Democrat, a lot of that is for the wrong reasons, and certainly not because they share my wish that the GOP upheld capitalism. To the rest of us, it boggles the mind to see Newsom, so plainly unfit for office, not booted out, if only for the purpose of sending a wake-up call to his party. Indeed, Republicans might do well to consider running against California in those states with enough voters who might be receptive to an alternative to the likes of Newsom, Pelosi, Feinstein, Harris, and other similar examples of the ... sensibilities ... of that place. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Four Things 1. A couple of weeks ago, reader Ryan G brought the hurricane information blog Tropical Tidbits to my attention. Let me second his recommendation. The proprietor is a meteorologist who periodically posts videos, such as the one below, in which he goes through the relevant available data and explains in layman-accessible terms what he thinks is likely to happen and why. Probably lots of us on the coast develop a feel for what we have to worry about or not, but we all know that's not infallible. What I like about the videos is that they incorporate more than I know about and in an intelligible way I can use, with the other information at my disposal to weigh my risks more intelligently. 2. En route to other things, I learned that browning- and bruise-resistant Arctic apples are finally on the market in the United States. I'd first heard of these some time ago through an Ayn Rand Institute GMO Monday podcast, but had forgotten about them The New York Times Magazine article, by the way, notes that GMO technology is demonized in part because it was introduced by large corporations. The reaction of the government to this pressure, onerous regulation, has ended up making it extremely difficult for all but the largest corporations to introduce new products, thus perpetuating the ability of the organic food/anti-GMO lobby to continue using this anti-capitalist smear against the technology. 3. Via Hacker News comes an interesting diversion/research tool. The Marginalia Search tool is, as its creator puts it, geared towards "serendipity," or helping the user find something "interesting" about a topic. This it does in part by "favor[ing] text-heavy sites and punish[ing] modern web design," as the title of the comment thread at Hacker News puts it. 4. Journalists Look Like Total Idiots or Evil Gaslighters, part 8,076: As I tweeted this morning:: "This year's giant Antarctic ozone hole probably due to climate change." : "If the warming hadn't happened, we'd likely be looking at a much more typical ozone hole."Only two years ago, we'd had the smallest ozone hole on record. The ozone hole is a seasonal occurrence each winter since sunlight is needed to make the highly unstable O3 molecule. So here's a bonus: If the story is that some change in weather patterns is causing the ozone hole to have an unstable size, the press has gotten that part of the story (if there is one) wrong at least twice now. When something explains everything, it explains nothing. -- CAV
  6. Kevin Folta, writing at his Illumination 2.0 scientific outreach blog, discusses what he calls cyclical sensationalism, or reporting on the problem you create. He begins his explanation of the problem with the help of the following metaphor:WARNING: Misleading information can be hazardous to your health! (Image by Author Unknown, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)A reporter places a banana peel at the top of the staircase in a local mall. A customer walks toward the stairs only to be shoved by the reporter onto the banana peel and down the stairs. The customer dies from traumatic injuries. The next day the reporter's headline reads, "Customer Dies on Mall Stairs." The same reporter repeats the assassination ritual a few more times and shares the story of a negligent staircase widely on social media. he also cites his own article from the previous week, giving the impression of an epidemic of dangerous stairs. From there it spreads among local mall patrons. The next week the reporter's headline reads, "Customers Concerned about Staircase Safety at Mall."This, he argues is an increasingly common M.O. among anti-scientific journalists and "activists," with the cycles of self-reference and amplification, such as by social media, being used to (1) damage the credibility of legitimate scientists, and (2) create the impression (impossible for politicians to ignore!) that there is "mass interest in a non-problem that they describe as a risk." I found Folta's comments quite enlightening, and I would hardly be surprised to see this tactic in use on a wider array of topics than science, particularly areas that require specialized training to understand, or for which most of the public is poorly-prepared to consider critically. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, an anti-capitalist trust-buster and an explicit nationalist (See embedded video ca. 5:15.), has weighed in on the crowded Republican primary for one of Ohio's U.S. Senate seats. He has endorsed J.D. Vance, most famous as author of Hillbilly Elegy. This was surprising and disappointing to me: Although I never did regard Vance as an especially effective or consistent advocate for freedom, his book had at least placed much of the blame for the dysfunctional hillbilly/redneck culture of Appalachia and the South where it belonged: bad individual choices. In case you have any doubt that Hawley is about the opposite of what a pro-freedom individual would want in the Republican party, I commend you to the embedded video below. Yaron Brook's comments will be helpful, but if you're pressed for time, you can start at the 5:15 mark, where Hawley calls for a "new nationalism" and aggressive trust-busting against "big tech" for "censoring" what he calls "conservatives." (Are there any of those left anymore?). Except for the particular excuse, the trust-busting garbage could have come straight from Representative Ocasio-Cortez's mouth. But surely, Vance isn't that far gone! you might protest. I am sorry to report not only that, but that he is arguably worse. And the only reason I say arguably is that I have an inexact measure of Hawley's lowness for the comparison. Mona Charen has a longish must-read for anyone who might have had some regard for Vance after reading his book. I did, although I lost some respect for him when he took a gratuitous swipe at Ayn Rand towards the end. After reporting that Vance had at first been anti-Trump, he apparently flip-flopped and has jumped into bed with the worst elements of that camp:But a funny thing happened after the introduction of J.D. Vance, anti-Trump voice of the working class. He began to drift into the Trump camp. I don't know why or how, but Vance became not a voice for the voiceless but an echo of the loudmouth. Scroll through his Twitter feed and you will find retweets of Tucker Carlson, alarmist alerts about immigration, links to Vance's appearances on the podcasts of Seb Gorka, Dinesh D'Souza, and the like, and even retweets of Mike Cernovich. On February 16, he tweeted "I still can't believe the 45th president of the United States has no access to social media, and the left -- alleged opponents of corporate power -- is just totally fine with it." There's a lot along those lines. But the tweet that really made my heart sink was this one from February 12: "Someone should have asked Jeffrey Epstein, John Weaver, or Leon Black about the CRAZY CONSPIRACY that many powerful people were predators targeting children." So now the brilliant author of Hillbilly Elegy, a man of judgment, nuance, and, one assumed, a moral center, is positioning himself as QAnon-adjacent. Please understand what that tweet conveys. By citing the cases of Jeffrey Epstein and John Weaver, one a convicted abuser of underage girls and the other an accused abuser of teenage boys, he is whitewashing the QAnon conspiracy. [links omitted]QAnon-adjacent? No thanks! -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Today, Californians head to the polls to decide two questions: (1) Should Gavin Newsom be removed from office?, and (2) Who should replace Newsom if a majority answers yes? Recent polling would seem to indicate that Newsom will remain in office. That is too bad if it turns out to be accurate. Larry Elder, the candidate who seems most likely to replace Newsom in the event that he is recalled, recently wrote a column that appears in the Orange County Register. Like the candidate, it is far from perfect, but it is about the best description one could hope for for the proper purpose and scope of government coming from a politician today. Elder states his case positively in part:Image by Amber Kipp, via Unsplash, license.Clearly government has its place, albeit limited. It exists to protect the public. The federal government exists to protect its citizens from outside enemies, such as during war. Which is why citizens pay taxes for a military. State and local governments exist to protect law-abiding citizens from criminals. Which is why citizens pay taxes for a police force. From this perspective, inane calls for defunding the police are neither humane, nor righteous.And what if he loses? He has reviewed Newsom's track record of failure and properly rated his hypocrisy as "merely add[ing] insult to injury." Elder correctly names a recent attack on his campaign staff as both a consequence of Newsom's competing theory of government and a portent for things to come should the governor remain in office:Recently, staffers of my campaign were attacked when I visited a homeless encampment in Venice Beach. Such violence and lawlessness are precisely what the government should protect its citizens against. Yet crime and homelessness in California have soared under Gavin Newsom.Elder has spoken clearly. Will Californians hear him? Can they hear him? Or are they so far gone that they will refuse to consider alternatives to a state of affairs that already has many of them leaving the state or preparing to leave? -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Over at Let Grow, parenting freedom advocate Lenore Skenazy recently celebrated the latest passage of a "reasonable independence" law, this time in Texas. I have expressed reservations about such legislation in the past. For example, I once asked, Why are we legislating common sense, now? (The fact that Skenazy has celebrated strong bipartisan support for such legislation has hardly been a comfort to me: These days, that kind of popularity can indicate a very bad idea that appeals to anti-freedom elements from each side of our nation's political divide.) Although I still have reservations about these laws, Skenazy has offered a very reasonable explanation for why they might in fact be necessary:Image by Jonathan Borba, via Unsplash, license.[T]here are two sets of laws governing child neglect. One is the criminal law. If you commit a crime against a child, law enforcement steps in. The other set is promulgated by child protective services. If you are suspected of abuse or neglect, the child protection folks step in. The problem arises from the fact that the majority of states' neglect laws are so open-ended that parents don't have a clear idea of what is allowed and what is not. That's how my neighbor ended up thinking that she couldn't leave her child, age 7, alone for even a minute until age 12. [bold in original]I am not a lawyer, and have not delved deeply into this, but this does sound like at least a reasonable case for reforming the neglect laws; perhaps this is what this amounts to. (Even without a welfare state complicating things, there could be problems interpreting what constitutes neglect or abuse, which would and should be illegal in a fully free society.) In any event, what I do feel comfortable agreeing with is this:Our job as reasonable parents is to find out the local laws.This is as uncontroversial as it can get, but I am grateful for the advice. Why? Because, whichever side of Skenazy's solution I ultimately come down on, I do appreciate her pointing out a problem that I am sure the vast majority of parents are unaware of. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Four Things 1. I am not certain, but I believe it was through the Yaron Brook Show that I heard that Leonard Peikoff's excellent course, The Art of Thinking, is available on YouTube. I've been working my way through it when driving lately and I can't recommend it strongly enough. For example, the first session, "Clarity Through Volition," describes a brilliant sort of mind hack on steroids one can use to prevent oneself from being hobbled by mis-integration while attempting to achieve clarity about an area of knowledge. It has been some time since I have heard Peikoff speak: I had forgotten just how dynamic and insightful he is. I usually remember courses I have taken before, but this one seems new to me. Regardless, I am enjoying this course and learning a lot in the bargain. 2. The Internet Movie Data Base says it will be out in December, but I heard from this half-hour podcast by the Genetic Literacy Project that there was to be a screening recently in Los Angeles. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see if Big Fears Little Risks helps people overcome anti-scientific misconceptions. The web page for the movie features a trailer, but the podcast interview with Matty Cardarople, who spoke to various scientists on the film did more to get me interested in the film than the trailer. 3. "We don't want blood. We want tickets," was the rallying cry of British Hoover customers at one point during the worst sales promotion in history. Things started off plausibly enough as a partnership between the appliance maker and a travel agency with lots of international flights to unload. Hoover would offer free international flights to people who made a minimum purchase -- and were patient enough to deal with lots of hoops to jump through. Hoover got away with that, but then?Under a new promotion, that same £100 Hoover purchase could net a UK-based customer two free round-trip flights to New York or Orlando -- a package worth £600+ (£1200, or $1,460 USD, today). When Hoover ran this plan by risk management professionals, the company was warned that it would be an absolute disaster. "To me it made no logical sense," recalled Mark Kimber, one of the consultants. "Having looked at the details of the promotion [and] attempting to calculate how it would actually work I declined to even offer risk management coverage," recalled Mark Kimber. Unfortunately, Hoover chose to ignore this advice.The whole morbidly interesting, slow-motion train wreck would have cost the company over £171,000,000 in 1992 money had it been able to honor its word. 4. And speaking of strange sales promotions, I'll give Blaze Pizza of Des Moines creativity points. They once offered free pizza in exchange for being tattooed with their logo. To my surprise, the tattoos weren't free:The $40 flame tattoo comes with 24 free pizzas and the $65 Blaze name logo comes with 48 free pizzas as part of the promotion, said Lyndsey Palmer, owner of Twisted Ink in Des Moines. This equates to about $200 and $400 in free pies.The flame sounds from the story sounds more like an ordinary tattoo than being branded for life with a trade mark. But whatever: Doing that for pizza sounds like something Homer Simpson would do, and I'm not a tattoo guy, anyway. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Have you ever been flummoxed or annoyed by someone asking Who funded that? -- or otherwise dismissing a valid claim simply because the work that established that claim was financed by someone that person disapproves of? If so, Joakim Book wrote the column for you back in October last year. Among many good points is one worth keeping tucked away for any future (and probably inevitable) encounter with this erroneous practice:Possible comeback: "Who's your boss? Is he paying you to tell me this?" (Image by Celyn Kang, via Unsplash, license.)As soon as the Bought-and-Paid-For objection is raised, two strange things happen. First, we start investigating the funding relationships behind the research in a totally unworthy fashion -- remarkably akin to identity politics: what someone says is downplayed in favor of the skin color, gender, class, or demographics of the person saying it, or in this case their funding bodies. That is, we cease following the proud tradition of the Enlightenment and turn back time a few centuries in the application of scientific inquiry: devout believer or heretic destined for the stake? Second, we disregard the evidence of the case in question! Instead of looking at what matters for the case at hand we look at what doesn't matter: the identity of the researcher, her previous allegiances or funding backgrounds. [links omitted, bold added]Book continues, providing as a counterexample his own work, which was indirectly attacked because he is affliated with a think tank that received a donation from -- gasp! -- the Koch Foundation. Book is careful to state that people from both the left and the right are guilty of this error. In my experience, it has been more common on the left, but it is becoming more common on the right. Regarding leftists, they seem blind to the possibility of government funding being a corrupting influence. I would watch for the right, which seems less and less rational -- and more like the left -- by the minute these days, to start making a similar error, but in the opposite direction: They will start assuming that government funding is a reason for suspicion, if they haven't already. Regarding the last: Consider how the right's new anti-vaxxers talk about the FDA and the CDC now. Regardless of whether either agency should exist, the fact is that there are now scientists doing legitimate work for each and who make public statements and arguments about facts, vaccines in particular, for example. Judgements about these statements have to be made in a full context, of which institutional affiliation and funding are but a part. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. Within the story of Katy Morgan-Davies -- who was born into a Maoist cult and kept prisoner until she was thirty -- comes the following:Orwell? He had nothing on Anthem, the first novel about pronouns and totalitarianism. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)Through her "secret reading" in the house she learnt about Lord Longford, the Labour party politician and social reformer. She joined the Labour party but has since quit. "I hear things that remind me very much of the cult, some of the language, the hating on white people or on men. I just think it's wrong," she says. She finds certain conversations around colonial guilt particularly troubling. "My dad used to say that my mum can't say anything critical about him or my stepmother because she was from a colonialist, imperialist background. Because she is white, she has to apologise and allow them to bully her," Morgan-Davies says. "I hear the same things on the left nowadays." We are becoming "more unkind, more punitive", she says. What she finds hardest to accept is the clampdown on independent thought. "I feel like there is an element of [George Orwell's] 1984. We have to think in a certain way and speak in a certain way." [bold added]This reminds me of a couple of things. First, in the Where have we heard that before? department, it echoes remarks North Korean defector Yeonmi Park has made regarding American higher education. Second, it reminds me of Ayn Rand's important contention in her famous lecture, "Philosophy: Who Needs It," that:If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: "How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?" -- you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization. [emphasis in original]Park's and Morgan-Davies's stories are wake-up calls, but many will fail to heed them due to how normalized socialism is, along with the altruistic ethical ideas that make it seem like a noble ideal. In the case of North Korea, too many will find it easy to argue (or accept) that a place like North Korea is a rare exception, rather than the logical end of the collectivist political ideas we have floating around. Likewise for Morgan-Davies: socialism and its war on independent thought are so widespread that it is similarly easy to dwell on the smallness and isolation of her father's cult as if his emotional manipulation in particular or the individual weaknesses of the other adult members were the only thing to blame. But phenomena like North Korea and this Maoist cult are made possible by the acceptance on some level of their underlying philosophical ideas by their victims. Dismissing the one as (just) a criminal enterprise or the other as (just) a group of weak personalities being herded along is to miss what Park and Morgan-Davies are noticing within our culture. We urgently need to look closely at what they are saying and ask why. If the cult grows to involve millions, does it stop being a cult? And if our leaders enjoy enough power to no longer feel accountable, shouldn't we question the teachings that led to such a situation? -- CAVLink to Original
  13. Sri Lanka is facing an economic disaster after its government's "bizarre overnight flip" to a ban on chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals ... "to make the Indian Ocean nation the first in the world to practice organic-only agriculture." It's not clear from this article whether Sri Lanka has fully made this transition or has just recently gotten started with the import ban, but the consequences are already grim:[P]rices of daily food items like sugar, rice and onions have soared over twice, with sugar even touching [a] record Rs 200/kg; kerosene oil and cooking gas prices are surging; tea crops are predicted to fail in October; and there are fears over a hit to production of other crucial export crops like cinnamon, pepper, rubber, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, betel leaves, cocoa, and vanilla. [bold added]The involvement of non-food items is a consequence of other disastrous top-down policies, and we can expect organic agriculture apologists to make much of that fact even as we have to admit the confounding variables. Whatever the case, it is clear that completing or persisting with that transition is a Bad Idea. Below, I've emphasized just the food security consequences:President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka (Image by Jorge Cardoso, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)According to experts, three scientifically rigorous meta-analyses of organic-conventional crop yield comparisons indicate that across all crops, the mean yield reduction in organic agriculture in Sri Lanka is around 19-25 per cent. This shows that an overnight shift to organic cultivation presents a clear and imminent threat to the country's food security. Eminent researchers have also noted that organic farming increases farmland due to its low yields. This results in deforestation, leading to large scale extinction of species and a rise in greenhouse emissions. According to the Annual Review of Resource Economics, organic agriculture generates more air pollutants and environmental emissions in the crop production process for a unit of food than chemical farming. Moreover, organic farming has exponentially higher monetary input costs due to a lack of usage of pest and pathogen-resistant chemicals, which increases manual labour, according to experts. The additional processing and marketing costs of organic produce is also significantly higher, analysts said. [links omitted, bold added]There are, as always, broad lessons to learn here about the evils of central planning. A big one here would be this: No matter what you might think about the merits of central planning or organic farming, this headlong rush with a plan so plainly unsuited to maintaining that nation's food sovereignty has been a disaster. Any public facing candidates (or, heaven forbid, officials) proposing major, abrupt changes from widespread and effective practices on which lives depend should do what it can to keep or get such politicians away from power. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Bayer, which recently acquired Monsanto -- and the enormous legal liabilities from its sales of Roundup to home gardeners in the U.S. -- recently decided to leave that part of the market to reduce its financial exposure. Fortunately, the highly effective herbicide will continue seeing use in the agricultural sector. The decision has nothing to do with the well-established safety of glyphosate, its active ingredient:Bayer's decision comes in response to the many lawsuits related to glyphosate that it inherited when it acquired Monsanto in 2018. Juries sided with the plaintiffs in three highly-watched trials before Bayer settled around 95,000 cases in 2020 to the tune of $10 billion. That settlement, which was one of the largest in U.S. history, allowed Bayer to continue to sell Roundup without any warnings. However, the company still faces further litigation, and said it decided to pull the product from residential use in order to prevent more. More than 90 percent of recent claims come from the residential home and garden market, AgWeb reported. "This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns," the company said when it announced its decision. [links omitted]The court decisions that necessitated this move are simply wrong on many levels, as anyone can learn by reading Kevin Folta's highly informative piece against the demonization of glyphosate at the Genetics Literacy Project (GLP). Within, Folta nails the "merits" of these cases to the wall with aplomb:Use all the evidence, not just what you like. (Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.)[J]uries and judges do not decide if a compound causes cancer. Such determinations are determined from a confluence of animal studies, epidemiological assessments, and careful identification of the precise molecular mechanisms that connect chemicals to cancers. Since its first registration with the EPA in 1974, glyphosate has been carefully scrutinized by dozens of international regulatory bodies and independent academic scientists (as well as the myriad of companies that sell it).Immediately following this is a graphic listing on the order of two dozen major risk assessments, most since 2000, with conclusions ranging from glyphosate being about as carcinogenic "as bacon, salted fish, oral contraceptives, and wine" to "no cancer link." Folta goes on to note a raft of consequences the people foolishly celebrating this move would do well to consider, and I recommend reading the whole piece. But the frosting on that cake of irony comes from another piece from the GLP. Cameron English, of the American Council on Science and Health, notes in the form of the title of that piece: "Another study finds glyphosate herbicide kills tumor cells. Is the much-maligned weedkiller a cancer fighter?" Note that English is hardly shouting from the rooftops that cancer has been cured, though. He carefully notes that these are preliminary results:If Roundup or one of its ingredients turns out to be an effective cancer treatment, it would be a stunning twist in the midst of Bayer's ongoing legal battle. But that's not yet the appropriate conclusion to draw from this evidence. The four existing studies are very preliminary. Three of them, including the June 24 paper, are in-vitro or cell culture studies, which involve dousing cells in chemicals to see what happens, a notoriously unreliable way to measure real-world toxicity.He ends his piece as follows:The next time you see anybody claim that chemical X could cause or cure disease Y, make sure their argument isn't based on preliminary or incomplete in-vitro experiments. These kinds of studies can be informative, but they're usually the beginning of a meaningful scientific investigation -- not the end of it.So, we don't know -- and can't from such studies -- that glyphosate cures cancer. (I would argue that, according to the vast weight of prior evidence, glyphosate is safe, as used in agriculture.) And, more to English's real point, nor could the demonizers of that well-studied chemical conclude the opposite by cherry-picking similarly preliminary data. English errs on the side of generosity towards the anti-glyphosate camp, but his point is well-taken for anyone who would defend biotechnology: Winning will take the kind of care opponents aren't showing. This is not only in our rational self-interest -- Who wants cancer? -- but it will also appeal to the thoughtful, intelligent folks whose opinions ultimately count the most in cultural battles like this. Care in reaching and arguing for one's conclusions will not go unnoticed. Opponents of the use of glyphosate have done great harm with their victory. While it might be tempting for proponents of biotechnology to counter with sensationalism of our own, it will not truly be persuasive, and it could lead us to cause harm in much the same way: Acting in ignorance can cause great harm, not matter how good one's intentions. That's a lesson this gardener will recall the next time he has to shop for an herbicide. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. Four Things 1. While I was never in the path of Hurricane Ida, I kept apprised of the storm out of concern for my mother, who lives in central Mississippi. In the process of trying to get an idea of how the storm might affect her, I learned of the Windy website/app, which I have since incorporated into the my hurricane watching suite. The information from the National Hurricane Center was quite good, but not as fine-grained as I wanted in this case. I was pretty sure Ida wasn't going to bring hurricane conditions to my mother's neck of the woods, but I wanted to get a better idea of what it would do. Remembering someone raving about the site nailing a hurricane ten days in advance, I went there. Windy offers four different models, projections up to ten days ahead, the ability to zoom, and a map overlay. It was easy to see that the worst-case scenario, absent a tornado, was 35 mph sustained winds for a few hours in the middle of the Monday after landfall. I don't think my mother was as worried as I was, but my sleeping better was still worth it. Conditions proved to be within the range of the available models. Mom was fine, although without power for a little over a day. (Katrina had left her town in dark for a week.) And if you don't have to worry about hurricanes? Take a look, anyway. The app has all kinds of weather information and displays it very well. Image by Mrs. Van Horn. Feel free to re-use.2. Meet Ethel, the anhinga who took up sitting on our fence every evening a week or so ago, pictured at right. I see birds of this kind often in Florida, usually drying out their feathers by a lake. That's because they hunt underwater, where they spear fish with their long, sharp beaks -- but lack waterproofing and can't fly when wet. But Ethel has been the first I have been able to observe up close, and for several days, I had no idea what kind of strange bird I was looking at. She stood out mainly for her long neck and ungainly movement atop the fence. But a couple of days ago, she spread her wings out to dry them on the shore of the lake, and I instantly recognized what kind of bird she was. Among the several other names for this bird, I think water turkey suits them best. 3. In the most recent installment of the long-running saga of the dental health effects caused by a childhood accident comes a new cast member: Listerine. I recently had to begin rinsing with it as an adjunct to the special attention I am having to pay a dental implant that was not quite correctly installed. Naturally, after noticing that it contains something like 25% ethanol, I wondered why the state isn't trying to protect everyone from attempting to get drunk from it. In answer to that question, I found the following, upon translating my question into the cultural vernacular. Can you get drunk off Listerine?Many mouthwashes contain compounds such as menthol, eucalyptol and thymol. These ingredients can be toxic when consumed in amounts large enough to become drunk from mouthwash. Just in case you think I'm making this stuff up, there is a case study of fatal mouthwash ingestion. [link omitted]I believe I read elsewhere that the alcohol in Listerine, whose percentage is well below the 70% needed for it to serve as an effective antiseptic, is there as a solvent. That said, even the newfangled flavors they sell now, as opposed to the nasty yellow flavor I recall from childhood, are so gross, I can't see how anyone would manage to drink enough of it, let alone hold it down long enough to suffer ill effects. 4. Everyone knows that gumbo is of French and African origin, but many are likely unaware of an Amerind influence. Atlas Obscura takes a look into this, noting the Choctaw origins of filé, a powder made from sassafras that is used to thicken some varieties. There is also some discussion of a variety of gumbo made with greens, as well as a recipe towards the end. -- CAVLink to Original
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