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  1. Four Things 1. Over at In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe discusses a paper whose authors are taking a new approach to treating Lyme disease -- by looking for an antibiotic that might treat the infection more specifically while sparing the gut microbiome:The authors conducted a screen in soil actinomycetes, which as they note are a pretty well-studied source of antibiotics -- but not so much for really selective ones, because that's not where the focus has been, historically. And they uncovered a compound that's been known since the 1950s, hygromycin A (also known as totomycin). To the best of my knowledge, it's never been developed for human use, because it was not seen to be especially potent against panels of common disease organisms. But it does hit B. burgdorferi and several other spirochetes, interestingly, while having much lower activity against common gut bacteria.The paper goes on to suggest that the compound could also be used to tamp down the presence of the disease in the wild. 2. Twitter recently updated the behavior of its site in a most unhelpful manner: If you keep multiple tabs open in your browser, leaving Twitter's tab and then returning to it results an a very irritating page refresh -- causing you to lose your place and wiping out any Tweet you might have been composing. Shortly after, I found a better place to compose: Twitter Character Counter. (Fellow Emacs users can find similar functionality without having to use a web browser here. (HT: Mark Gardner)) 3. Speaking of useful web sites, GeekPress links to a discussion thread titled, "What useful unknown website do you wish more people knew about?" As he warns, it is a rabbit hole, but I quickly found several I could use, not including the above. 4. Scrimmaging with my son's soccer team the other day reminded me that, as I approach codgerdom, I might want to look into "walking football." My brother sent me the link to the YouTube video above, which I found to be a hybrid of the somewhat Monty-Pythonesque and -- as you might expect from the cultural reference -- worth filing away for later. Skip through the first five minutes or so to see a couple of English teams playing. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. ... it's that he accepted Mission Impossible. An article in The Hill dings the Transportation Secretary and the President by implication for poorly handling the current spate of shortages and supply chain issues that started during the pandemic and have only worsened. I am no fan of Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden, but this line of criticism is neither fair nor accurate: There is no such thing as a person or even a government that is "qualified" to run an entire economy, and the whole idea is ridiculous. I have quoted the economist George Reisman on this numerous times before, and I'll do it again:Image by U.S. Dept. of Transportation, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning. By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. (as quoted in Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto, p. 345) [bold added]This is in no way intended to let Buttigieg or Biden off the hook: They subscribe to the incorrect view that government can run the economy and to the morally bankrupt view that it should, overriding our individual judgement and our freedom in the process. It was this anti-freedom notion that led to the disgraceful and disastrous combination of "lockdowns," redistribution, and inflation (but I repeat myself) here and abroad that threw numerous monkey wrenches into the world economy in the first place. These immediately caused obvious problems; the current shortages are knock-on effects of those, and will not be helped by more rights-violating and heavy-handed attempts to "fix" them by the likes of Buttigieg or Biden. It is for those things that we should roundly condemn the Democrats (and any Republicans who attack them on the grounds of "incompetence"), while offering the superior alternative of freedom -- rather than merely carping that a small town mayor can't solve all our problems, as if any central planner could. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. The Washington Times editorial staff complain via this title, "Why don't liberals [sic] know what conservatives believe?" That's a fair question, but I think they need some help with understanding the confusion -- especially after making themselves sound so like leftists (or worse) in the process. Let's look at their two examples, but in reverse order. Take the issue of school choice. The piece correctly complains that opponents of school choice see the whole idea as a racist plot to deny decent educations to poor, black, inner-city children:Scylla and Charybdis, aka The Left and the Right in Modern America. (Image by A. H. Payne, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)Moving to the second tweet, University of North Carolina-educated Nikole Hannah-Jones of 1619 Project fame wrote last week, "Why do 'school choice' advocates never advocate eliminating school district boundaries/funding schools by local property tax and allowing poor, Black students to attend white, wealthy schools in neighboring municipalities? They don't really want choice, just privatization." As Hannah-Jones would have quickly discovered if she bothered to read the replies to her tweet, many conservatives have advocated for this policy for years... [bold added]Such a step might be good, as a step towards making parents best able to choose schools for their own children -- but that's only because privatization is the way to achieve meaningful choice, via competition. But the Times leaves off that meaningful qualification. (Chance to engage minds? Lost.) I haven't heard a conservative make a point like that in a long time. In fact, now that I consider this reply, it reminds me of so many times in the past when some craven conservative -- faced with some false widows and orphans will be thrown to the streets-type accusation -- quickly backed off with the equivalent of, Oh, no! I'm not a capitalist at all! But at least on that issue, one can imagine that some conservatives are at least trying to smuggle a modicum of freedom into a horrible system that we're stuck with for the foreseeable future... On abortion, there is no room for such hope, which is a shame because that's an issue the left is actually correct about, except for its statist method of funding it. Take a gander at what the Times has to say about the oblivious leftists wondering why anti-abortion states don't force men to pay child support (including pre-natal medical bills) to the mothers of their unwanted children:[A]nyone with even a passing familiarity with the pro-life [sic] movement would know that conservatives are perfectly fine with forcing men to pay for the pregnancies of women they impregnate. In fact, the state of Utah, a deep-red state with a Republican Legislature and Republican governor, passed a law doing exactly that earlier this year! Yet Ioffe is completely clueless about this conservative viewpoint. [bold added]Wow. This makes the government forcing me to pay for someone else's abortion look positively humane and borderline capitalist compared to the enslavement of a woman and a man to the not-yet-living that the Times here is asserting as a conservative position. This radical capitalist/classical liberal will offer his two-part answer to the question above. First, one can forgive the left for part of the confusion -- which is still shared even by many who think of themselves as conservatives: Conservatives themselves used to at least pretend to be pro-freedom and pro-capitalist. Hell, some of them actually were, to an extent. Second, the left is so rabidly anti-capitalist they can't even think straight when the idea of ideological opposition rears its head: Voice a desire for school choice or anything that sounds vaguely free-market and you'll probably be called or thought of as racist, as wrong as that is. The left routinely smears all its opponents, and many of those doing the name-calling -- thoroughly indoctrinated by a school system conservatives won't even discuss abolishing -- believe their own propaganda. What a surprise! I was merely disappointed by the school choice concession, but I am appalled by that We're way ahead of you on your child support idea! That one reminds me of when conservatives claimed to support both economic freedom and the draft, as if they thought you could own your wallet, but not your own life. Thanks, Washington Times, for clearing the air, I guess. At least, this time, you're being honest. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Over at RealClear Markets, David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center cautions against legislation in Congress purporting to regulate PFAS, a class of compounds with a variety of uses in industry. He takes a recent rant by British talk show host John Oliver as his point of departure:The issue with the "one size fits all" approach, advocated by Oliver and being pushed by Congress, is that this fails to appropriately address the hazards and risks presented by each of the 5000 chemicals that fall under the classification of PFAS. This is an important distinction, because the risk that PFAS presents for human health largely depends on how humans are exposed to these chemicals. [link omitted]I oppose government regulation of industry and will note here that the dumping of C8 Clement cites would have been dealt with by better respect for and enforcement of property rights -- if not preempted altogether. That said, we are likely decades away from any substantial or meaningful repeal of such regulations. Given that fact, I agree with Clement that whatever regulations there are should be as scientifically sound and well-considered as possible:In a regulatory state, other people's panic can be hazardous to your health. (Image by Andrey Metelev, via Unsplash, license.)For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. In fact, Congressman Larry Bucshon, who was a heart surgeon, criticized the PFAS Action Act for failing to include a revision that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices, stating that the bill in its current form would jeopardize access to life-saving drugs. [link omitted, bold added]As with other bogeymen -- single-use plastics and fossil fuels immediately come to mind -- we have some small, ignorant, and vocal part of the population zeroing in on a real or imagined hazardous side-effect of a great innovation and -- apparently completely oblivious to any benefits that innovation might bring -- essentially trying to do away with it. I am grateful to Clement for calling attention to this latest example. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. If you ever wondered why every other country in the world but ours seems to be able to build things, wonder no more... At City Journal is an article by Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) about the negative regulatory impact (to understate it) that a Nixon-Era environmental regulation has had on our energy sector:Hoover Dam was completed in less than half the time it took to approve work on a short stretch of Interstate 70. Image by Nathan Roser, via Unsplash, license.)Fifty years since [the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] was signed into law, the process has become a bureaucratic nightmare. The latest data show that completing an [Environmental Impact Study] takes four and a half years, on average. One-quarter of the statements take upward of six years. Some projects drag on even longer: the approval process for a 12-mile expansion of Interstate 70 in Denver took 13 years to complete, with a final impact statement running 8,951 pages (not including an additional 7,307 pages of appendices). Before NEPA, projects could be completed quickly. Congress authorized the damming of the Colorado River in 1928; construction began in 1931, and the Hoover Dam was opened five years later. The federal government approved the Golden Gate Bridge in just seven months. The NEPA process would have rendered the swift completion of these projects impossible. [bold added, links omitted]Thirteen years to approve a short stretch of a road versus less than five years from start to finish for the Hoover Dam! If the Biden Administration were serious about improving American infrastructure, it would at a minimum consider rolling back or eliminating NEPA altogether, or perhaps even enacting the reforms Schweikert and Lee propose. (This is the first I've heard of them, so I haven't an opinion on their merits.) If our infrastructure is worth spending $3.5 trillion on, then surely making that money go farther and the improvements faster deserve serious consideration. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. Blog Roundup 1. If you're not up to speed on Biden's plan to treat American parents like terrorists even as he surrenders to real ones, mosey on over to C. Bradley Thompson's Ed Watch Daily blog. There, you will find what he calls a kind of multi-media essay about the attempt to crush dissent against the racist dogma of Critical Race Theory that government schools have been indoctrinating children with:More fundamentally, what [Attorney General Merrick] Garland's letter is really saying is that the federal government is entirely responsible for the education of your children. You have no rights and no authority to determine the content of your child's mind. That is for the government to determine. Your old-fashioned view that your children are actually your children is no longer relevant. If you think I'm exaggerating, you should listen to Melissa Harris-Perry talk about why your children are not your children: Merrick Garland's directive may very well be the single most disturbing abuse of government power in American history since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. Garland, a man once nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, has corrupted the mission and power of the United States Department of Justice. He must be removed from office. He is a threat to both the lives and freedoms of ordinary Americans.This is very long, but worth your time, even if it might take several visits. 2. At the blog for the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips argues that "It's Always Time to Be Greedy" as he discusses the injustice of pandemic-excused violations of the property rights of landlords. Within is the following real-life counterexample -- with cogent rationale -- to the idiotic stereotype of the landlord simply raising rent through the roof for the hell of it:As a landlord, I have not raised rents during the pandemic, even though several of my properties are currently renting for significantly less than the market rate. While I never relish a vacancy, I am even less enthusiastic about trying to rent a house under the conditions we have been enduring. An increase in rent of 20 percent or more would significantly increase cash flow. However, it would take close to ten months to recover the cost of a make-ready and the income lost during the vacancy. From a business perspective, I have decided that it makes more sense to retain tenants rather than possibly lose them by greatly increasing rents. By doing what I think is best for me and my business, I am being greedy.It always is time to be greedy: If only more voters thought longer-range at the ballot box. If they did, they might realize that such measures as rent controls and eviction moratoriums ultimately threaten the supply of affordable housing by causing that business to become more of a burden every day. 3. Over at Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney explains a way to catalyze dramatic change that she calls the Pierced-Ears Principle. The post analyzes what she observed after making a small improvement on two different occasions, and lists the following as what seemed important each time:a) The improvement was permanent. Once you pierce your ears, the earrings stay in for 10 weeks. Once you buy a new table, it's there in the room every day. b) The improvement was obvious. I saw the earrings in the mirror each morning. We saw the table in the living room. c) The improvement made familiar things look worse by contrast. My hair looked bad with earrings. Clutter looked bad on the table. d) There was always one obvious next improvement to make -- never an overwhelming number.I have a couple of big changes I want to make at home, and I'm seriously thinking about finding an "ender" -- a small change like Moroney describes -- to use as a way to motivate myself, as well as to get my wife and kids on board to pitch in. 4. Over at How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn urges corporations to avoid the tar-baby known by the trendy name of "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR):CSR is an invalid concept because it is what Ayn Rand called "a package-deal:" it packages together "disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context." Mixing of contradictory elements makes a concept such as CSR hazardous to thinking. While including elements that enhance human flourishing, such as respecting others' individual rights (not polluting their property), efficiency (waste reduction), and profit making, CSR also sneaks in the ideal of altruism, the duty to serve others "to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm." The CSR package-deal diverts corporate executives' focus from the proper role of business: producing and trading material values -- on which our lives, well-being, and prosperity depend. If the executives accept CSR as an ideal, they will be always questioning the morality of the profit motive, earning unearned guilt from pursuing profits, and making attempts to divert the corporation's (the shareholders') resources to "social" and "environmental" causes. [link in original]CSR might seem like a way to name good business practices that is good for public relations, but it is indeed a trap. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. Walter Block has written a piece calling for the abolition of the FDA and its replacement "with a free enterprise certification industry." I would criticize the piece as being far from strongly-worded enough: the agency blatantly violates our rights to our own bodies, particularly the freedom to decide which medicines or foods to consume; its dithering -- most notably on rapid antigen tests -- during this pandemic arguably led to hundreds of thousands dying; and its stifling of medical innovation is a big part of why medical science produces innovation at a far slower and less earth-shattering rate than Silicon Valley does for communications technology. That said, the piece contains a hit and a miss I wish to comment on here. First, the hit:Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.If there are five [certification] private agencies, and one of them errs, it will tend to lose customers, followers, and go bankrupt. This would leave room for the expansion of the other four in this industry and for the entry of newcomers. Another advantage is that five heads are better than one. Then there is the fact that when the FDA fails there is no automatic mechanism that replaces error-prone scientists with better ones.This is true: We would not only be free to judge and try medicines and treatments for ourselves, we would have better guidance when deciding whether to do so. And the miss?There is of course one objection to free enterprise in this regard: a private certification agency might be paid off by unscrupulous business interests in order to buy a good report. Yes, of course, this is a danger. But the government, too, it not totally immune from such corruption. Also, any private firm caught putting its thumb on one side of the balance would immediately go bankrupt. Not so for the FDA, if ever its paw was caught in the cookie jar.I looks like the FDA's paw might have just been there, as I noted recently, and not only won't the FDA go down (unless we abolish it), it may well drag the whole idea of standards down the toilet. Until and unless our society outgrows its childish suspicion of selfish interest -- in the forms of (a) a lack of confidence in our own minds to choose wisely and (2) the assumption that others will stoop to the level of criminals if given half a chance -- we will never rid ourselves of the FDA or any other agency that exists for the alleged purpose of protecting us from ourselves or the businessmen we trade with (and yet so many lazily assume are predatory). -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Venture anti-capitalist Nick Hanauer, whom Bernie Sanders might call a "good billionaire," has written an op-ed urging the Democrats to steal as much money as possible from "the rich." In the process, he claims it's a great way to "grow" "the economy." I'm against the whole idea because stealing is wrong, no matter what the excuse, and it is particularly egregious when it is carried out by the government, whose job it is to protect our rights, including to property. I don't care how used to this everyone is or how long it has been going on. Those things really just make it worse. Why he has any more money in his bank account than whatever he doesn't consider wealthy is a fair question, and one he should be hounded with. Hanauer has a political right to his fortune, and he may well have earned it, but after this editorial, he has forfeited any moral claim to it. Having said that, his hackneyed stereotype of "the rich" "hoarding" money -- as if what others do with what they own is anyone else's business and his predictable assertion -- that he knows better what to do with it than they do -- reminded me of the following quote by Ayn Rand, from her 1974 essay, "The Inverted Moral Priorities:"Image by The Laura Flanders Show, via Wikimedia Commons, license.In view of what they hear from the experts, the people cannot be blamed for their ignorance and their helpless confusion. If an average housewife struggles with her incomprehensibly shrinking budget and sees a tycoon in a resplendent limousine, she might well think that just one of his diamond cuff links would solve all her problems. She has no way of knowing that if all the personal luxuries of all the tycoons were expropriated, it would not feed her family -- and millions of other, similar families -- for one week; and that the entire country would starve on the first morning of the week to follow . . . . How would she know it, if all the voices she hears are telling her that we must soak the rich? No one tells her that higher taxes imposed on the rich (and the semi-rich) will not come out of their consumption expenditures, but out of their investment capital (i.e., their savings); that such taxes will mean less investment, i.e., less production, fewer jobs, higher prices for scarcer goods; and that by the time the rich have to lower their standard of living, hers will be gone, along with her savings and her husband's job -- and no power in the world (no economic power) will be able to revive the dead industries (there will be no such power left). [bold added]Hanauer tries to frame the confiscation he envisions as an "investment," but the first question anyone with any money left over should ask is this: What if my investment makes me rich? The initiative-destroying example of the policy Hanauer wants means: I won't be rich for long. Why bother? is a short logical and psychological step away for most, and To hell with a society that will reward me by robbing me! will come to our best and brightest. See Atlas Shrugged. That said, Hanauer's immoral backing of Biden's proposed spending blowout brings up an interesting fact via the staggering amount of proposed looting: $3.5 trillion. (In this, he is either incredibly naive or dishonest: There is no such thing as enough of other people's money to a welfare state.) Did you know -- I didn't until this morning -- that the total net worth of the 400 richest Americans is only $3.2 trillion? A few more of the 614 Americans who are (currently) billionaires would have to pitch in -- if we took everything from them. It is disgraceful that Hanauer has chosen to stand with the looters, and hypocrtitically at that. But as galling as it is that he has so much as a pot to piss in, I hope he doesn't get the wish-fulfillment he deserves. -- CAVLink to Original
  9. The title pretty well sums up what I thought about a news story I ran into this morning on the constant frustration doctors are dealing with during this phase of the pandemic. The title comes from a popular use of the phrase god of the gaps to refer to any jump between some gap in human knowledge about a phenomenon to the conclusion that its cause must be supernatural. But there are a couple of twists: (1) The purported causes are not so much supernatural as they are arbitrary extrapolations of our somewhat magic-like technology; and (2) the knowledge gaps aren't in human knowledge as such, but within what a given individual doesn't know, but could easily find out. For example:Image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash, license.Dr. Carl Lambert hears lots of wild misinformation from his patients. Some comes from the Bible interpretations; some originates from the rapper Nicki Minaj. Some of it is the stuff of internet conspiracy theories, like there's a chip in the vaccine that will take over their DNA. [bold added]Where to begin with that one? It's just a sci-fi mirror image of the religious idea of demonic possession. The article is replete with such things, for anyone who hasn't had to listen to very much of this. Among the material is our old friend altruism, fueling the pandemic of conspiracy theories via a deep-seated suspicion of "selfishness:"Another explanation left him speechless: "The patient couldn't understand why they were given this for free, because humanity in and of itself is not nice and people aren't nice and nobody would give anything away. So there's no such thing as inherent good nature of man. And I had no comeback from that."While the government shouldn't be paying for vaccinations, we aren't overall in such a terrible political place that the existence of a sinister mass-injection program makes any sense. Having said that, page Peter Schwartz! Perhaps even more interesting than these samples of misinformation variants from the wild are examples of ways some physicians are fighting back. For example, I liked this analogical approach:... A Louisiana doctor has resorted to showing patients a list of ingredients in Twinkies, reminding those who are skeptical about the makeup of vaccines that everyday products have lots of safe additives that no one really understands. ... When patients tell Dr. Vincent Shaw that they don't want the COVID-19 vaccine because they don't know what's going into their bodies, he pulls up the ingredient list for a Twinkie. "Look at the back of the package," Shaw, a family physician in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "Tell me you can pronounce everything on the back of that package. Because I have a chemistry degree, I still don't know what that is." He also commonly hears patients tell him they haven't done enough research about the vaccines. Rest assured, he tells them, the vaccine developers have done their homework. [bold added] I'm still having interesting thoughts after reading this and recommend it to anyone who wants to fight back against the bad thinking (and the manufactured nonsense that comes with it) that are so common today. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Image by Bannon Morrissy, via Unsplash, license.National Non-GMO Month? What? I know many people avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but I'd never heard of this. Although I am a bioscientist, I was unaware I had to avoid GMOs in the name of health, food security, and proper agriculture. According to its sponsor, the Non-GMO Project, all of October is a chance to "raise awareness about ... choosing non-genetically modified foods.” Genetically-modified food has been around for decades, and has been served trillions of times. Ninety percent of our corn was GMO in 2014. Am I missing something? It wasn't just my scientific curiosity that had been piqued: The laissez-faire capitalist in me wondered: Product labeling should be done by private entities, and not by the government. Is the Non-GMO project an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for genetically-modified food? UL is a private organization which tests the safety of electrical appliances before allowing manufacturers to mark them with its label. Just as the manufacture of appliances is an example of division of labor, so is testing them. But UL has an established reputation, has been around longer than the Non-GMO Project, and appliances bearing its mark haven't been bursting into flames lately. How do we know the Non-GMO Project is -- or is not -- worthy of our trust? ... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank my wife and Steve D. for their comments on an earlier version of this piece. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. Four Things 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just released the first footage (embedded below) from inside a hurricane taken by an unmanned watercraft:The Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 was directed into the midst of Hurricane Sam, a category 4 hurricane, which is currently on a path that fortunately will miss the U.S. east coast. SD1045 is battling 50 foot waves and winds of over 120 mph to collect critical scientific data and, in the process, is giving us a completely new view of one of earth's most destructive forces.For anyone who wants to know more, there is an interesting thread at Hacker News that includes discussion of why this is such an impressive accomplishment. 2. On what might sound like the opposite end of the ruggedness scale, the European Space Agency will be launching a wooden satellite at year's end:Samuli Nyman, the project's chief engineer and also a co-founder of Arctic Astronautics, says, "The base material for plywood is birch, and we're using basically just the same as you'd find in a hardware store or to make furniture." "The main difference is that ordinary plywood is too humid for space uses, so we place our wood in a thermal vacuum chamber to dry it out," he says in the ESA news release.A Japanese group is also working on a wooden satellite in the interest of minimizing reentry debris. 3. What's the most common search term on Bing? Google, of course. 4. If you're really bored, or, say, really, really desperate for that last item in a roundup post for your blog, you might mosey on over to the Hasty Reader, where you can find instructions on How to Summon & Sell Your Soul to Satan and Other Devils. Amusingly, eBay prohibits such transactions, and I think it's not the only platform to do so. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. The headline of a recent piece at The American Thinker echoes a thought I have had more than once since the start of the pandemic: "Covid-19 Is the New Global Warming." The piece does -- sort of -- capture this, from a harshly conservative point-of-view, taking conservative in its new, post-Trumpian, no-longer-capitalist sense. For example:Image by Bessie Pease Gutmann, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.Mask mandates. This has two distinct sides. On one side are those who believe that wearing masks is essential to protect public health and anyone who opposes that viewpoint is ignorant and a danger to society. The other side is more skeptical of masks, pointing out inconvenient little facts like that the typical mask opening is four times larger than the COVID-19 particle (500 nanometers to 125 nanometers), so wearing a mask is like trying to stop a swarm of mosquitoes with a chain-link fence, as that cliché goes. Mask mandates in the public sphere and for kids in school divide the electorate sharply along ideological lines.Count me as being on neither of these irrational, funhouse-mirror-image-of-each-other "sides." (This is a great analogy, but not my own. I'm pretty sure I got this from the philosopher Greg Salmieri.) Regulars here will know that I oppose mask mandates, but regard masks as offering some protection to wearer and others nearby alike. And don't get me started on that asinine "fence vs. mosquito" analogy, which is rehashed above. (Check the link: I'm not re-litigating that here.) Analogously to the debate over fuel rationing disguised as a "climate" debate, I oppose fuel rationing, and yet acknowledge that some "lukewarming" of the climate is happening, with good and bad effects. So am I a Green or a "denialist?" I'll be accused of either, depending on which of the former you ask. This is despite the fact that one can oppose environmental legislation without denying that some warming is occurring. (And I would oppose current political proposals even if there were a looming catastrophe.) Likewise, I oppose lockdowns and mask mandates, but think masking can be helpful and that vaccination is a good idea. The limited role of government in all of this is detailed here. So, yes. The fiercely-opposed sides that are both wrong in very important ways (and so hold self-contradictory viewpoints) make the debates over the pandemic and whatever they're calling energy rationing these days seem quite similar to each other. But the greatest similarity, shared by both sides, as this outsider to both can see, is that neither seems capable of asking itself, "How do I know this?" This scientist has been called a "science denier" simply because I oppose the Green New Deal, and has gotten nowhere with an anti-vaxxer relative despite (for example) my point-by-point rebuttal of a viral video of a quack doctor speaking to an Indiana school board. If you doubt me, try talking to someone firmly within either camp and see how little time it will take before you notice that what you are saying simply doesn't register. I have, and all I can say is that I hope these people are merely a vocal minority, for they seem unreachable by rational argument. The most disturbing thing about both of these struggles is that so many people see the issue in terms of a binary political choice between two inconsistent grab-bag sets of positions -- and not as a problem to be approached like any other in one's life, and with a suspicious eye cast on government, whose role is only how best to protect one's freedom to do so. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. Harry Binswanger has already made an airtight case against the FDA; go to him if you need one. Both links are damning, but don't completely overlap. Having said that, a quick visit to In the Pipeline this morning has provided two additional strikes against government control of medicine (and drugs in particular), although its author -- like most people today might -- merely hopes for reform of that unreformable, illegitimate agency. Having already expressed outrage that the agency's questionable approval of adcuanumab, a very expensive Alzheimer's drug, Derek Lowe notes some interesting fallout. I think it is more interesting than he does, especially the following:Image by Myriam Zilles, via Unsplash, license.Out in the health-insurance world, which is where any such drug launch is really going to play out, many large insurance companies are holding back on approval for payment or have said outright that they will not cover the drug. They are understandably concerned about the possibility of paying for a treatment in a huge population with a $56,000/patient/year price tag that will leave its recipients exactly as sick as they were before (if not somewhat more injured, frankly)... [bold added]Private industry to the rescue! you might hopefully add, as I did. Indeed, insurance companies might well perform safety and efficacy testing if there weren't an FDA -- and you can already see here that the profit motive would stop an ineffective drug from getting the de facto seal-of-approval of being deemed worthy of insurance coverage. Strike One was the garbage drug approval. Yes. The FDA shouldn't even be at bat: People should be free to take snake oil if they want, just as insurance companies should be free not to cover it. But it's there. Here's the next pitch, and it comes in the next few sentences of that same paragraph:... The Veteran's Health Administration is doing the same, saying that there's not enough evidence of benefit. Many of these organizations say that they're waiting on a decision from Medicare, but that's a confusing situation, too. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has recently advised state that their Medicaid programs must include it as a covered outpatient drug. It's the national Medicare determination that everyone's really waiting on, though. [bold added]So a questionable approval of a dubious drug by the FDA might -- despite free-market elements of our economy acting as a partial backstop -- still put everyone on the hook to pay for it. Strike Two. Aducanumab should be a last-ditch drug (or high-end snake oil) for the wealthy, but it might about to be normalized at everybody's expense, instead. And here's Strike Three:[O]n the regulatory side, this decision has been a mud bomb: rare-disease companies are wondering why they're being asked for more data when Biogen wasn't, and other companies with vague, not-really-statistically-significant Alzheimer's data are lining up to get their approvals on this basis as well. This is not a precedent the agency should have set.So much for the whole damned idea that the free market needs government to set safety standards and prevent fraud. Abolish the FDA. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Commenting on some interesting poll results about people who oppose GMO foods, Ilya Somin says the following:Image by Javier Allegue Barros, via Unsplash, license.Some of this is simply the result of what scholars call "rational ignorance": Most people have little incentive to spend much time learning about government, public policy, and policy-relevant science, because the chance that their votes will make a different to policy outcomes is infinitesimally small. Many people don't have time to study the science of GMOs. Thus, they simply do not know that GMO foods are no more dangerous than "organic" ones, and that most organic foods are themselves the result of centuries of genetic manipulation by humans. [links removed, bold added]Ages ago, I encountered the concept of rational ignorance, within the context of the impossibility of voters being able to make informed choices about the numerous things the government (improperly) does. I reached a decent conclusion then, to the effect that this problem would go away if the government were brought back to its proper scope, of exclusively protecting individual rights. But the issue of GMOs brings up an aspect of the problem I hadn't considered then: Some of the things government does, as a sort of unwanted outboard brain-substitute -- like assess the safety of GMOs -- are issues that concern us. What if the government didn't regulate those things? I've answered this before, but without reference to "rational ignorance:"If it is "unreasonable" to point out that watchdog groups, standards bodies, professional organizations, and the like can subsume the legitimate aspects of what the government package-deals with its central planning; I plead guilty as charged. In other words, no, we would not all have to attempt to become polymaths any more than we now learn the ins and outs of any number of physical types of labor. (Oh, and do note that government meddling already has this discussion on the wrong track: On important matters that aren't properly related to government, How do I vote? should be of zero concern. Conversely, there is an objective, non-political reason for not attempting to know everything: There simply isn't time to do so.) There is such a thing as a division of intellectual labor, and the more the government runs everything, the less apparent that becomes. We stop imagining private individuals doing these things, and throw our hands up in the air because of all the impossible decisions we find ourselves having to make at the ballot box. And when the government screws something up, as it had to during a pandemic of a novel disease? Or worse, when government officials use expertise as an excuse for tyranny? We end up even farther removed from the idea, because even expertise ends up getting the same bad rap capitalism was getting before We have moved from suspicion of private enterprise, leading to government agencies as "watchdogs" -- to a government with its fingers in so many pies people can't vote about "the issues" they shouldn't be worried about in the first place, leading to a feeling of overwhelm -- all the way to an understandable but wrong suspicion of people claiming to know more than we do, with an implied corollary that they can tell us what to do. The pandemic was bad enough on its own. This progression, whether the pandemic accelerated it or made it more apparent, is much worse. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. When I first saw the Hacker News thread titled "The Mom Test -- How to Talk to Customers," I figured it might have something to do with empathy. Think: Would you speak to your mother that way? Well, no, I wouldn't, but I'm always looking for advice that might improve my communication skills, so I looked and discovered first that I was wrong. That's because the discussion thread had truncated the subtitle of the book under discussion: The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you. I remained intrigued, and quickly found a link to a summary of the book. I especially appreciated the following:Image by Sergiu Vălenaș, via Unsplash, license.[This] is a book with the aim of improving your customer conversations and getting real learnings out of them! The idea behind the title is that you shouldn't ask your mum if your idea is a good idea because she will lie to you. Like you will learn in this book most people will lie to you, not even with evil intent. Unfortunately, this will not help you with validating your idea. The book tries to teach you how to get out of these lies and start a conversation where you actually learn something. The main takeaway is to validate the problem and not the idea. Start conversations that focus purely on the customer's life and the problem. [bold added](I'm not sure my mother would lie like this, but I know plenty of people would...) This may sound vaguely familiar to regulars here. This approach sounds, at least to my ear, a bit like Alex Epstein's Clarity Tool, although focused on the problem of starting a business. The Clarity Tool is in part a way to wrap one's mind around the concerns (good or bad) and premises (good, mixed, and bad) of a target audience. That said, the author's own book page states:The world doesn't need another framework or theory. The Mom Test skips all that and gets to the hands-on challenges. How to avoid biased feedback? How to write an email that makes people want to talk to you? How to figure out whether someone is really going to buy? It's all in here.It is a common (but understandable!) mistake these days to discount the need for a theoretical undergirding. This won't necessarily make the book valueless: Everyone operates on implicit philosophical premises, and the author's clear goals and experience have a very good chance of making this book worthwhile. And I think it will be more so to people who do have a framework for understanding how communication works, so this disclaimer isn't going to put me off. This seems like at least a collection of different examples to consider against what I know. In other words, I suspect -- not having read the book -- that pairing it with the Clarity Tool and other communication advice from Epstein and other Objectivsists could be quite valuable. It's not every day I bump into a discussion of a book and leave seriously contemplating a purchase, but that has happened today. If you're here and you happen to have read this, let me know what you think. -- CAVLink to Original
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