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  1. Recently, I said of pandemic news, "t can be helpful to follow the odd contrarian." For similar reasons, it can be helpful to listen to a foreign voice with regard to American affairs. Enter Australian writer Xin Du, whose 1500-ish words in Spiked! take a look at the "systemic racism" claim of an organization whose name I can't agree with more, and whose ideas and methods I can't agree with less. I highly recommend its whole essay as a look at the real progress America has made in racial equality and a reality check on its current state of affairs. But I particularly liked the following part of Du's conclusion: Is there any to end? (Image by Clay Banks, via Unsplash, license.) In a debate on reparations, the late, great Christopher Hitchens defined racists not as those who discriminate, but precisely those who are unable to discriminate between individuals. Instead, the racist prefers to see individuals as groups, based on arbitrary markers like skin pigmentation. This is exactly what the so-called anti-racists are doing. They clump together all black people, and all white people. They then paint all black people as mendicant, and unable to forge their own way without the white people getting out of the way. Theirs is the soft bigotry of low expectations. [bold added] Du continues, although I think this applies more to the rank-and file than the leaders of this odious movement: The latest anti-racist [sic] lynching of America shows how much damage can be done by well-meaning people who follow narratives rather than facts, and who treasure feelings over truths. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. But back to the previous quote: This reminds me both of Ayn Rand's seminal essay on racism and Tyler Cowen's recent call for the piece to be "resuscitate[d]." Rand's money quote is quite similar to that, although it elaborates on important points: Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage -- the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors. Racism claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman's version of the doctrine of innate ideas -- or of inherited knowledge -- which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men. Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man's life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination. [bold added] It can be difficult, within America over the past few weeks, to maintain a sense of optimism about our country in general and racial equality in particular. I thank Xin Du for offering us the perspective of someone for whom there is psychological distance, and for reminding us of who we are at a time when tempers can cause us to forget. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Today, I start only the second week in which I will have kid-free time on weekdays ... since early March. Yesterday, my home state of Florida set yet another record for new cases. With case numbers also rising in several other states, the specter of new or extended "lockdowns" raises its ugly head. Bearing that in mind, now might be a good time to consider (a) what lockdowns accomplished the first time around, and (b) what our government ought to have done with the time those months-long, "two week" lockdowns were initially supposed to have bought us. Regarding the first, physician-economist Joel Zinberg ends a statistical analysis at City Journal as follows: An old poster explaining contact tracing during an Ebola outbreak. (Image by the CDC, via Wikimedia, public domain.) The lockdowns led to wide unemployment and economic recession, resulting in increased drug and alcohol abuse and increases in domestic abuse and suicides. Most studies in a systematic literature review found a positive association between economic recession and increased suicides. Data from the 2008 Great Recession showed a strong positive correlation between increasing unemployment and increasing suicide in middle aged (45 -- 64) people. Ten times as many people texted a federal government disaster mental-distress hotline in April 2020 as in April 2019. As we consider how to deal with resurgent numbers of Covid cases, we must acknowledge that mitigation measures like shelter-in-place and lockdowns appear to have contributed to the death toll. The orders were issued by states and localities in late March; excess deaths peaked in the week ending April 11. Reopening began in mid-April, and by May 20 all states that had imposed orders started to lift restrictions. In June, as the economy continued reopening, excess deaths waned. Our focus must be on ensuring that the health-care system can simultaneously treat Covid-19 and other maladies and reassuring patients that it is safe to seek care. Otherwise, today's young physicians will have to start entering a new cause of death on death certificates -- "public policy." [links in original, bold added]Zinberg is on the right track with his observation that the government is worsening this epidemic, but he doesn't go quite far enough, since he's mainly writing a critical piece. The full scope of our government's folly becomes apparent only when we consider what it should be doing. And unfortunately, in addition to actively violating our rights with universal, indefinite, mass incarcerations, our governments have utterly failed to do what they could have and should have been doing regarding this disease from the start -- test, isolate, and track -- as Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute put it in The Hill:Months of statewide lockdowns across the country were meant, in part, to buy time to ramp up testing and contact tracing with regard to the spread of COVID-19. Now, amid an upsurge of cases in Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere, we still have nothing like a strategic approach to testing and tracing. ... With the ability to test, isolate and contact-trace at scale, the United States could have identified and quarantined many who are infectious, significantly slowing the spread of the virus as states loosened lockdowns. Instead, the virus goes uncontained and we face the prospect of rolling shutdowns to come. Imagine if the Army tried to fend off an invasion with a small fraction of the needed troops, antique weapons and no plan. That, in a nutshell, appears to be how our government is responding in the pandemic.Within, Ghate and Journo point to a white paper that outlines in detail what a proper government response would look like, and why -- in sharp contrast to the right, which often seems unwilling to acknowledge the severity of the epidemic and the left, which seems to think the pandemic will go away if we treat sick and well alike as prisoners for long enough. Our government is thus not only making this epidemic worse by locking down, it has failed to do what it can and ought to do by failing to test, isolate, and track active cases of infection. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. Four Things 1. In October, Boom will be unveiling a scaled prototype of its planned "Overture" fifty-seat, supersonic jetliner:Boom Supersonic is the only private supersonic company funded all the way through to flight test says chief executive Blake Scholl. Mr. Scholl told AirlineRatings in an exclusive interview at last year's Paris Air Show that there would be many thousands of test-flight hours for the XB-1. The prototype is a proof of concept before production of a full scale 50-seat supersonic airliner, to be called the "Overture". The timeline for the planned entry into airline service has now also slipped from the previously envisaged 2023-24 to between 2025 and 2027. [format edits]Japan Airlines is Boom's first major airline partner, and has an option for twenty of the jetliners. 2. Pinboard, my favorite bookmarking service -- which is also a one-man show -- is now eleven. On the occasion, its proprietor informs us of some behind-the-scenes maintenance and improvements in his usual entertaining style:Doing this on a live system is like performing kidney transplants on a playing mariachi band. The best case is that no one notices a change in the music; you chloroform the players one at a time and try to keep a steady hand while the band plays on. The worst case scenario is that the music stops and there is no way to unfix what you broke...Maciej Cegłowski notes that he will be adding a few new features soon. Fortunately, this is coming from someone who did not like what the once-simple Delicious became after its "upgrades." So this reads to me more like the promise of new functionality than the threat of bloat and broken workflows that the u-word so often means these days. 3. Speaking of bookmarks, here's a site I've tagged for later on when my kids are old enough: Progress Studies for Aspiring Young Scholars. The landing page for the guided self-study program reads in part:This program will explore: what problems, challenges and hardships in life and work were faced by people in earlier generations and centuries? And how did we solve those problems through science, technology, and invention? Learn about manufacturing from blacksmiths to assembly lines; about power from water wheels to combustion to electricity; about food from famine to industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops; about disease from basic sanitation to scientific medicine -- and the struggles and circumstances of the men and women who worked to bend the arc of humanity upward. Your learning will be supported by instructors who will help you develop your reasoning and research skills. You'll also have the chance to engage ideas with a community of like-minded peers.Most of our education system completely neglects instruction about the history entire idea of industrial and technological progress, so learning about this program is welcome news indeed. The current paid program, which is relatively inexpensive and has a manageable time commitment, is geared towards high-school students, but there are plans to develop a college-level version. In addition, content will be made available for free self-study later this summer. 4. When government limits and freedom from regulation collide, you get a physician who makes more from his side-hustle than from his profession: Image by Kyle Glenn, via Unsplash, license. He's just posted a video on how he uses Notion to organize his YouTube activities. That doesn't sound too exciting until you discover that he makes more from his Youtube videos than he does as a doctor. Although he describes his YouTube and other activities as a "side hustle," a case could be made that medicine is the real side hustle and that he's primarily a YouTuber. He's currently aiming at posting 3 videos a week and has a support team to edit the videos and perform other vaguely administrative chores. [links omitted]This interesting tidbit comes from a blog I check occasionally for productivity advice. In this case, the blogger's take-home, though, sounds quite a bit like something I already do. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Amidst media hysteria over sharp rises in confirmed corona cases in Texas and Florida comes commentary by Matt Strauss. The Canadian physician and medical professor speaks of the deafening silence about Georgia -- which also dared defy respectable blue state opinion by reopening for business. Strauss's City Journal piece reads in part: Image by Victor Diaz Lamich, via Wikimedia Commons, license. On April 21, the Washington Post called Georgia "America's No. 1 Death Destination." On April 29, The Atlantic declared the state's early reopening an "Experiment in Human Sacrifice." On April 30, The New York Times was a bit stodgier, saying merely that Georgia had "Screwed Up." After two months, though, Georgia remains open, and its Covid death rate stands at 27.2 per 100,000 -- well below the U.S. average of 39.7 per 100,000, and eight times lower than the state of New Jersey. ... ... Absent an effective vaccine or transformative treatment, and given the economic devastation of long-term lockdowns, why not focus public-health efforts going forward on the vulnerable, and allow young healthy people to resume life, taking certain precautions? This is what Georgia has done. Governor Brian Kemp lifted the statewide lockdown on April 30 but ordered persons over 65 and the "medically fragile" to continue sheltering in place. This policy continued until June 11, when healthy elders were let out. Indeed, cases of Covid-19 have been increasing in Georgia since about June 11, with a rapid upward inflection of the curve coincident with ongoing Black Lives Matter street protests and increased testing capacity. If these new cases are found predominantly in young healthy people, or are a function of increased testing rates, we may hope that they will not yield an increase in daily Covid-19 deaths -- and bring the state closer to herd immunity. [links in original, bold added]As best as I can tell, Florida's governor has pursued similar policies to that of Georgia, and Florida's new cases are occurring primarily among a less at-risk age cohort. As I noted yesterday, time will tell whether Florida will look more like Georgia or New York, but my money is on the former, and I fully expect to hear absolutely nothing about it from our negligent-at-best news media. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. The American news consumer could be forgiven for thinking the guy who couldn't see the forest for the trees was in an enviable position. (Image by Zbysiu Rodak, via Unsplash, license.) In an age when it seems that every major media outlet, left or right, politicizes everything, it can be helpful to follow the odd contrarian -- in addition to hearing both "sides" and paying attention to experts, of course. Regarding the corona pandemic, which is neither the left's Armageddon nor the right's hoax, my favorite contrarian has been Michael Fumento, and he recently put out three new columns focusing on various aspects of media coverage of the epidemic. Of these, my personal favorite is the one linked above at three, which appeared a few days ago in Townhall Finance. It discusses the recent upsurge in cases, as well as some of the lurid coverage of complications alleged to be due to the new disease:We also saw lots of attention given to, as a Washington Post headline put it, "Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19 ... dying of strokes." Turns out it was essentially based on a study comprising five (5) people. A later wider analysis concluded (translated from Spanish) "Stroke does not appear to be a major manifestation of Covid-19... As testing has expanded from the clearly sick to persons with no symptoms, we're getting more headlines like: "Coronavirus is infecting more young people in their 20s and 30s... " Right. That's the way it works. And the game continues. Now the Florida Sun-Sentinel breathlessly informs us that two people who tested positive for COVID-19 have appendicitis. With "only" 250,000 Americans getting that disease annually and 2.3 million positive for coronavirus, it cannot possibly be sheer overlap. [links in original, format edits]Regarding that five-person study: Three of those had comorbidities that put them at risk of stroke. Fumento notes another couple of egregious cases of the media incorrectly attributing the deaths of young people to the disease. These are all helpful reminders of the poor quality of American journalism overall. That said, Fumento isn't flawless or completely objective. I've already dinged him for pooh-poohing models as such -- which FiveThirtyEight has since started making available for perusal. And regarding this last batch of articles, my main reservation is that his discussion of how lockdowns may or may not be effective is flawed in a similar way to his discussion of models. From the piece linked at column above, we have:And inevitably the media ignore rising testing in favor of the explanation they presumed from the start, as with "Alarming Rise in Coronavirus Cases as States Roll Back Lockdowns." It's merely synchronous. They were convinced through confirmation bias or whatever that lifting lockdowns would lead to increased cases and their bias has been seemingly confirmed. [link omitted, bold added]I oppose lockdowns (and agree with this editorial), but strongly suspect that they probably overall reduced transmission rates. One could more effectively critique coverage of the increased number of cases by conceding this point and noting that case number increases should lag the end of the lockdowns -- and note that the increased number of cases is, in many places, among a younger (and less at-risk) population and would likely have been missed altogether without the better testing availability we have now. And speaking of lagging indicators, hospitalizations and deaths from the localized outbreaks will be the proof in the pudding. I wouldn't feel entirely comfortable calling the "second wave" a "scam" (as Fumento does at column above) -- although I wouldn't call it a "second wave," either. I have reasons enough based on my age and family background to be concerned about this virus, and will be especially interested in seeing how the outbreak in my home state of Florida plays out. Whatever his faults, I am grateful to Michael Fumento for exposing some of the more ridiculous claims about this disease I keep hearing. In the meantime, I'll continue adding my own grains of salt to whatever I hear from him, the media, and even the experts -- many of whom really undermined their own credibility by changing their tune about social distancing the moment there came a left-wing cause masquerading as a call for racial equality. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. Image by The National Cancer Institute, via Unsplash, license. Over three months ago, government officials across the country started locking things down in a panicked response to the beginning of the corona epidemic. These lockdowns were sold to the public as a temporary measure to keep from overwhelming hospitals. But we all know where that went, as someone from Illinois quipped on Twitter: "Day 110 of 15 days to 'flatten the curve.'" This is bad enough, and I am glad that the good folks at the Ayn Rand Institute have argued in editorials and at length that a major part of preparing for the next pandemic will be defining the role of the government ahead of time. But the problem is much bigger than that: Our government has played the role of central planner for so long that nobody bats an eye anymore -- much less offers an alternative. Our educational system is a case in point and the epidemic has just given us a stark example. Ever since the early stages of the epidemic, the schools have been closed. Locally closing schools for a short time is a common method of dealing with disease outbreaks. But children do not appear to be as susceptible to this disease or as prone to spreading it as adults. Keeping the schools closed -- indefinitely and everywhere -- makes no sense as a policy: The government shouldn't continue such school closures as a means of controlling the epidemic. This question is complicated by the fact that our education sector is mostly socialized. Even with a proper policy regarding the epidemic, we have the government improperly running the schools, and so we have news stories like, "Florida Department of Education Orders Schools to Reopen to Students 5 Days a Week in August," and what a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution it is:Those requirements include ensuring services that are legally required for all students, such as low-income services, English language learning and accommodations for students with disabilities are all maintained next school year, the order states. That means that the only option for schools to not be physically open in August is if local Department of Health officials say schools cannot open, according to the emergency order. The order also means that school districts cannot schedule certain students to spend part of their time in school and part of their time at home, as educational leaders in several First Coast counties have indicated they are considering. Every student must have the option of being in school five days a week. [bold added]This might sound relatively harmless, and even flexible, in the sense that the order isn't forcing all the students -- say children whose parents are high risk or not convinced that children don't spread the disease -- to physically attend school. But it does override some slightly more flexible plans at the county level, such as the one my county has proposed that incorporates students being in classes part-time during periods of increased spread of the virus. The state plan removes that from the table, which would probably result in pressure on the county health department to close the schools completely during those times. So we have an order that sounds like it forces every public school student to attend class in a building in the fall, but doesn't -- and that sounds like it will keep schools in session, but probably won't. So, on top of the many crimes of a government-run education system, we now see what little creative thinking and flexibility there still was being quashed by top-down planning. Probably the strangest part of this "emergency order" is the following:The emergency order comes the same day President Donald Trump posted a tweet emphatically stating "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!"The government shouldn't be running schools at all, nor should it be operating anything by decree. Interestingly, even though Trump's general sentiment happens to be right here, the wrongness of rule by force is on full display: This loyalty-signaling decree actually will make it more likely that schools will end up closed altogether in some parts of Florida, if the epidemic becomes unmanageable there. This is but icing on the cake. The real crime is that so many parents have been lured by price or forced by taxation into these schools, which were (and will) always be insulated from market forces and subject to the whim of bureaucrats. The fact that these same parents will be made less able to plan their time is a direct result of this centralized control and the lack of options caused by the existence of government schools in the first place. (It's hard to compete with "free.") Forcing all schools to open is not fundamentally different than forcing them all to close. The real solution is to free the schools to operate as best as the needs and judgement of the parents and students at each particular school indicate, along with the freedom enjoyed by paying customers in any other free industry to seek alternatives when they are not satisfied. -- CAV P.S. This reminds me of how conservative states deal with the question of labor unions. Rather than leave companies and employees free to unionize or not, they interfere with freedom of contract in the opposite direction, in the form of "right to work" laws. Link to Original
  7. Those who study the works of Ayn Rand will sooner or later become familiar with the idea of unit-economy, that is, of concepts enabling man's mind to increase its awareness of the world far beyond what it would be able to juggle at the perceptual level. Regarding the latter, Rand spoke of the "crow epistemology," a limitation in our ability to function at the perceptual level. Her student, Leonard Peikoff, puts it this way: Image by Jesse van Vliet, via Unsplash, license. This experiment illustrates a principle applicable to man's mind as well. Man too can deal with only a limited number of units. On the perceptual level, human beings are better than crows; we can distinguish and retain six or eight objects at a time, say -- speaking perceptually, i.e., assuming we see or hear the objects but do not count them. But there is a limit for us, too. After a certain figure -- when the objects approach a dozen, to say nothing of hundreds or thousands -- we too are unable to keep track and collapse into the crow's indeterminate "many." Our mental screen, so to speak, is limited; it can contain at any one time only so many data. Consciousness, any consciousness, is finite. A is A. Only a limited number of units can be discriminated from one another and held in the focus of awareness at a given time. Beyond this number, the content becomes an unretainable, indeterminate blur or spread, like this: ///////////////////////// For a consciousness to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes, therefore -- for it to be able to deal with an enormous totality, like all tables, or all men, or the universe as a whole -- one capacity is indispensable. It must have the capacity to compress its content, i.e., to economize the units required to convey that content. This is the basic function of concepts. Their function, in Ayn Rand's words, is "to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units ...." [bold added] (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, p. 106)The above is easy enough to grasp with low-level concepts, such as table or chair or human being, but we can (and do) also abstract further from concepts (correctly formed or not):You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions -- or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew... You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are? [bold added]Having briefly thought about how we form and why we need abstract ideas, it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the ideas of government in general (and police in particular) in light of recent events. Let's start with Ayn Rand's pithy, principled summary of what we saw in Seattle, which she foresaw decades ago:Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: ... a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.[bold added]And now, let's hear an update on the very predictable results of our most recent experiment with anarchy, as told by a couple of journalists:[O]nce they created a police-free zone, they immediately had to deal with all those issues and more -- with only the donated time and supplies of fellow protesters, who still had day jobs. With police absent from the 6-square-block area, the experiment spun out of control, with accusations that it ended up causing exactly what it had aimed to stop: more violence against Black people. [bold added]If anarchism -- like socialism -- fails every time it is tried, why do people keep trying it? Because neither their proponents nor, frequently their would-be opponents -- who should have an advantage in any debate -- really know what government is or what it is for. And that is because they have failed to form valid principles for understanding how a society must be organized to be successful. (In addition, opponents who are absolutely correct may fail at persuasion for a variety of reasons.) It is worthwhile to consider this in light of something else Rand said about concepts:The formation of a concept provides man with the means of identifying, not only the concretes he has observed, but all the concretes of that kind which he may encounter in the future. Thus, when he has formed or grasped the concept "man," he does not have to regard every man he meets thereafter as a new phenomenon to be studied from scratch: he identifies him as "man" and applies to him the knowledge he has acquired about man (which leaves him free to study the particular, individual characteristics of the newcomer, i.e., the individual measurements within the categories established by the concept "man"). [italics in original, bold added](Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, by Ayn Rand, pp. 27-28)It is the same with concepts like society and government: Many people do not have these things properly conceptualized, and so do "study" such phenomena from scratch, essentially by trial-and-error. And so, where concepts would save an individual's mental capacity, they could also save an individual or a whole society time. (And, in this case, unnecessary bloodshed.) Rather than go straight to "tear down the system" (or "defund the police," whatever that's supposed to mean), a proper approach would be to consider what "the system" actually is, what part(s) of it we need and why, and how to reach what we need. Even in a case where a system needs tearing down, doing so is worthless without already having a positive alternative in mind. "History repeats itself," need not be a pronouncement of doom. It is only a description of what happens when, out of ignorance or poor thinking, individuals attempt to solve universal problems without recourse to universals. Our society needn't reinvent or rediscover the police or government. The knowledge is already there and there is a correct and productive way to think about the problems it addresses. And, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there are people out there who would be selfishly and gratefully receptive to learning more about both. -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Image by Jon Tyson, via Unsplash, license.Notable Commentary for May and June, Part II Continuing from last week... "What we need and what is realistically achievable is an approach to infectious disease that codifies into law the best aspects of what Taiwan, South Korea and Sweden have implemented." -- Onkar Ghate, in "A Pro-Freedom Approach to Infectious Disease: Preparing for the Next Pandemic" (PDF, white paper) at The Ayn Rand Institute. "One of the worst days of my career was the day I had to call this charming, intelligent, benevolent man, whose enthusiasm for teaching math and science to children bubbled out of him like water from a spring." -- Rebecca Girn, in "Keeping America Safe From ... Montessori Teachers?" at Medium. "Many people may not care, because they do not own bonds." -- Keith Weiner, in "Defaults are Coming" at SNB & CHF. "Under the proposed OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] policy, if a copyrighted, peer-reviewed journal article reports on or discusses research that was funded with only one cent by a government grant, the journal article -- a product created with private, nongovernmental investments that is distinct from the underlying government-funded research -- must be made freely available online immediately upon publication." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Radical OSTP Proposal Would Undermine American Research and Sacrifice American Intellectual Property" (PDF, legal brief) at The Heritage Foundation. "Now people are being crucified for the actions and views of their relatives." -- Charlotte Cushman, in "Conformity Is the New God in Leftist-Run America" at The American Thinker. "Reporter Megan Moltini explains the training she received at a coronavirus contact tracing academy." -- Paul Hsieh, in "9 More Bizarre Consequences of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic" at Forbes. "Populism is where our money is being used to purchase our political allegiance by creating the illusion that government is the source of these benefits." -- Raymond Niles, in "Letter From a Populist" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Have you (those of you who approve of Trump's threat against Twitter) thought about how the future president may use the new authority to censor that President Trump will have created for him, if he makes good on his threats against Twitter?" -- Raymond Niles, in "Free Speech Is Not Just Partisan Speech With Which You Agree" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "[ESG] is a tool used by radical egalitarians to control business decisions by good, profitable companies." -- Don Watkins, in "The ESG Myth" at Medium. "If we want thought leaders, we need to offer training that equips them for thought leadership -- and encourage the pursuit of for-profit models rather than the non-profit model that dominates our movement." -- Don Watkins, in "The Liberty Movement's Influence Model Is Broken" at Medium. -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Most commentary I hear regarding individual behavior that could but the brakes on the corona epidemic reminds me of the phrase a month of Sundays, for a variety of reasons. Alicia Sparks of Wise Geek explores the phrase in some detail, of which I find her opening paragraph the most relevant: Image by Kenny Luo, via Unsplash, license. The simplest definition of the idiom "a month of Sundays" is "a very long time," though like many sayings, it's possible to dissect this expression and find more literal meanings and cultural origins. For instance, a person might reference the literal idea of a month filled with Sundays, which would reference the time it takes for 30 or 31 Sundays to pass. He might use the saying to refer, directly or indirectly, to the religious and cultural connotations of having a month filled with Sundays or a time period of limited or unexciting activity. Some people use the saying when referring to an event that is impossible or unlikely to happen, just as a month will never be filled with only Sundays. Still, although it might not be universal, this idiomatic expression is widely accepted among many English-speaking cultures as one that means a particular event or time period is extremely long. [bold added]My complaint stems not from how we must all restructure our calculations of personal risk or from the need to change aspects of our routines that are due directly or indirectly from the virus. If a black bear were in my yard when I wanted to go out, I'd change those things for that circumstance, too, and without thinking of that phrase. I think of that phrase because the advice is almost always distorted by collectivistic thinking and couched in altruistic terms. I am to think, not so much of my own welfare, but of some number of hospital beds. And I am not to consider how something might affect my life or its quality so much as whether some random person continues his physical existence. Or -- worse -- whether somebody, somewhere, catches the virus at all. Here's a typical example: The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States will continue to "get worse before it gets better," but the situation might improve as clinicians gain a better understanding of how to treat the virus in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, experts said Tuesday. Seeing an improvement assumes the public renews its commitment to "basic" approaches to containing the spread of the virus, including social distancing and wearing face coverings in public, according to Dr. Mark McClellan, a physician and economist who directs the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University. If the spread of the virus can be slowed, and the stress on the healthcare system caused by increasing numbers of seriously ill patients limited, the United States might be able to contain the outbreak within eight months, McClellan said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. [bold added, links omitted]From the beginning, the whole issue of facemasks has been muddled by collectivistic thinking necessitated by government controls of the free market, such as "anti-gouging" laws that caused shortages of face masks. So ... we were first told not to wear masks for selfless reasons, before we were told to wear them, again for selfless, unmotivating reasons. Each time, expert opinion has been cited, although as far as I can tell, it has been and remains divided on the question of how well they confer protection to the wearer. And this was all against the backdrop of the burdensome, damaging, and blatantly improper government decrees that enforced universal and indefinite detention within our homes. The latter have been partially lifted, giving us a restless public dying for freedom, but conditioned to act on guidance from above on the matter of the sickness and completely unpracticed at navigating life with this new risk in the background. And our only "guidance" is to do things to keep other people from getting sick? No wonder some people -- understandably! -- view mask-wearing with scorn, and even those who don't need to be reminded to wear them! If only selfishness, the long-range and thoughtful consideration of what is best for oneself -- weren't so stigmatized as to be beaten out of so many people from childhood on! For that very reason, most probably fail to see the contradiction -- or the connection -- between the assertions about the epidemic in the first and second paragraphs quoted above, for example. On the one hand, better treatments are already here and the prospects of a vaccine coming are pretty good. In that sense, it doesn't matter what people do to slow down the spread of the virus: The situation is improving. On the other hand, the first paragraph provides a great selfish argument to do exactly those things we are being commanded to as if they have nothing to do with our own lives: The longer we go without catching this crud, the more likely we are to get better treatment, or even avoid it altogether. A selfish person would keep an ear out for evidence about how the disease spreads and how severe it is likely to affect him and anyone he cares about. He'd now likely know to avoid crowds, prolonged close contact, and confined spaces. He'd know that the virus is transmitted mainly by droplets coming from the mouths and noses of other people. If he runs a business, he'd be concerned about harm to his reputation caused by people catching the disease on his premises -- and so take measures like requiring temperature checks or face coverings by his customers and employees. Likewise, the decision to wear a face mask or face shield would involve (a) a small measure of direct personal protection from larger droplets, (b) the ability to enter public establishments, (c) good will towards the at-risk, and (d) the knowledge that by cutting off transmission paths, including from himself, he keeps hospitals freer to treat anyone he cares about. I find that last much more inspiring than some floating abstraction about the number of ICU beds. And people would feel personally motivated in a way that those who use masks for superficial virtue-signaling can't and don't. Here's how I think about this and wish others would: The slower this disease spreads, the less likely it is to get me sick and, possibly, into a hospital. I want others to wear masks and will ask them to do so at appropriate times for real, personal reasons. Assuming a self-righteous tone or being rude -- like a virtue-signaler -- would understandably have the opposite effect than I desire: to provoke a careful, self-interested examination of how one confronts this epidemic. "Flatten the curve" successfully manipulated large numbers of people to drastically change their behavior in unnatural ways for a time. It might have bought the medical sector time to adjust for the epidemic, but it came at the cost of making the personal consequences of this epidemic less real. Rather than sacrificing our quality of life on the altar of the false gods of ICU beds and fashion, let us preserve our freedom and our lives by taking responsibility for keeping ourselves and those we love as safe from this illness as warranted by our own circumstances. Just as many religious people demonstrate by their actions that they do not take what they hear on Sunday seriously, so are many people reacting to the end of what they laughably call "quarantine." The epidemic is not over, but after our months of Sundays, lots of people are acting like it. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. Screenshot by Gus Van Horn. I grant permission to use with or without attribution. On my Twitter feed yesterday, the following provocative title caught my eye: "On Behalf of Environmentalists, I Apologize for the Climate Scare." That would have been enough on its own to get a look, but I also noticed that it was by Michael Shellenberger, whose work I've mentioned here before. I believe I have also heard fossil fuel activist Alex Epstein mention him favorably on more than on occasion on his Power Hour podcast. Looking forward to the piece, I quickly learned that it had been pulled by Forbes, as we can see from my screenshot and through the "Wayback Machine." The article, in which Shellenberger promotes his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, now appears here and, I believe, also at Quillette. For anyone unfamiliar with Shellenberger, the following should serve as a good introduction:On behalf of environmentalists everywhere, I would like to formally apologize for the climate scare we created over the last 30 years. Climate change is happening. It's just not the end of the world. It's not even our most serious environmental problem. I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30. But as an energy expert asked by Congress to provide objective expert testimony, and invited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to serve as Expert Reviewer of its next Assessment Report, I feel an obligation to apologize for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.There is more, including his story about why he has chosen to write about this issue now. And then, of course, Shellenberger gives us some of what to expect from the book: Factories and modern farming are the keys to human liberation and environmental progress The most important thing for saving the environment is producing more food, particularly meat, on less land The most important thing for reducing air pollution and carbon emissions is moving from wood to coal to petroleum to natural gas to uranium 100% renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today's 0.5% to 50% We should want cities, farms, and power plants to have higher, not lower, power densities Vegetarianism reduces one's emissions by less than 4% Greenpeace didn't save the whales, switching from whale oil to petroleum and palm oil did "Free-range" beef would require 20 times more land and produce 300% more emissions Greenpeace dogmatism worsened forest fragmentation of the Amazon From the above, it should be clear I probably would not agree with Shellenberger on everything he says, but I do find much of what he says worth considering. And it is clear that Shellenberger means well and is focused on getting the facts about his topic straight. We plainly can't say the same of Forbes, for whom Shellenberger has been a contributor. Were I a subscriber to that publication, I'd cancel, and use the savings to buy Apocalypse Never. As things stand, I can only point out the injustice, and make that suggestion for others to consider. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. A timely article in the Washington Examiner warns conservatives working to regulate Facebook and other social media companies that they could well get what they wish for -- in the form of more than they bargained for: Not for long if America forgets and abandons what made it great. (Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.) The writing is on the wall that some sort of major action will likely be taken against Big Tech in the near future. Conservatives concerned about bias in content moderation may cheer these developments, but they should be careful what they wish for. While the Trump administration may be sympathetic to conservative values, they won't always be in power. A future Democratic administration could easily pervert the proposed Section 230 tweaks to pressure platforms to take down "hate speech" and "misinformation" -- code words for speech they disagree with. [bold added]The article makes other, similar points, but it omitted a very important one: It only incidentally -- and incorrectly -- brings up "censorship," the excuse many conservatives are making for such regulations. This is a crucial point, because too many conservatives apparently don't know (or care) about the difference between a private company moderating discussion on its own forum and actual censorship. Fortunately, Ayn Rand made that distinction quite clear many years ago, so I shall bring it up now:"Censorship" is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one's own antagonists. [bold added]It is bad enough that conservatives apparently can't imagine the shoe being on the other foot when they propose tinkering with a law that arguably made many of their own fora and media empires possible in the first place. But it is alarming -- especially in light of how anti-American and frankly dangerous the left has become -- that our supposed political alternative would need to be reminded of the values of freedom of speech and property rights. Proposals such as Josh Hawley's would violate both, and set the table for tyranny. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. I recall some time back hearing Alex Epstein discussing what I believe he calls subject matter experts in some of the early episodes of his Human Flourishing Project series. Of particular benefit (and difficulty) is the ability to determine whether someone is (or is not) one of these. I like to think that I am pretty good at identifying subject matter experts, but I am also in the somewhat frustrating position of being unable to explain exactly how I do it. What I can say about my somewhat intuitive process is that an important part of how I can tell comes from how they communicate. Can someone explain what he is thinking about in a manner appropriate to his audience? (I emphasize part here: Some experts are ... unpracticed ... at communicating with people outside their field.) Generally, though, it seems that someone who can do this has a solid percepts-through-concepts grasp of his field. Perhaps because of this, an expert understands what someone with a different level of expertise would need to get up to speed. Perhaps, especially for an expert who interfaces a lot with the public or other specialists, it's largely due to practice. Again, having a good grasp of one's field isn't always enough to communicate well, as software developer Eric Raymond cautions when he writes "A User Story About User Stories." Fortunately, he offers us a workaround: Are you targeting conservatives, liberals, or human beings? (Image by BBH Singapore, via Unsplash, license.) The way I learned to use the term "user story", back in the late 1990s at the beginnings of what is now called "agile programming", was to describe a kind of roleplaying exercise in which you imagine a person and the person's use case as a way of getting an outside perspective on the design, the documentation, and especially the UI of something you're writing. [bold added]Raymond provides his own example of a user story in part because the term in his industry has been watered down over time to the point that many people there are not doing what he did -- which was come up with a real person, very different from himself, who might nevertheless be part of his audience. Not only that, he recommends triangulating from one character to others as a means of finding other aspects of one's work to make more accessible.It works even better if, even having learned what you can from your imaginary Joe, you make up other characters that are different from you and as different from each other as possible. For example, meet Jane the system administrator, who got stuck with the conversion job because her boss thinks of version-control systems as an administrative detail and doesn't want to spend programmer time on it. What do her eyes see? In fact, the technique is so powerful that I got an idea while writing this example. Maybe in [the] reposurgeon[ suite]'s interactive mode it should issue a first [line] that says "Interactive help is available; type 'help' for a topic menu." [bold added]It is very interesting as a writer to consider this point, and I'd say that goes double for anyone who thinks he's already doing that. Raymond goes on:However. If you search the web for "design by user story", what you are likely to find doesn't resemble my previous description at all. Mostly, now twenty years after the beginnings of "agile programming", you'll see formulaic stuff equating "user story" with a one-sentence soundbite of the form "As an X, I want to do Y". This will be surrounded by a lot of talk about processes and scrum masters and scribbling things on index cards. There is so much gone wrong with this it is hard to even know where to begin. Let's start with the fact that one of the original agile slogans was "Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools". That slogan could be read in a number of different ways, but under none of them at all does it make sense to abandon a method for extended insight into the reactions of your likely users for a one-sentence parody of the method that is surrounded and hemmed in by bureaucratic process-gabble. [bold added]The one-sentence "parody" can -- very cautiously -- be used as shorthand for what you want to do, which is how I suspect this situation originated. But it is clearly not a substitute for doing the imaginative work. And that goes double for opinion writing. I favor free markets, but most of my audience will favor policies that are antipodal to them in one or more ways. Am I shoehorning -- or even writing off -- my potential audience with stereotypes, like hippies, or rednecks, or "low-information voters?" Or am I trying to understand how they might have gotten to the point where they think such things as abolishing the police, or severely restricting immigration, or imposing tariffs are good ideas? What concerns have them looking at these things? What kinds of arguments are they hearing? What might they already have in their minds that could help them appreciate better alternatives? Speaking for myself, I can see how this approach could help me with the two biggest obstacles -- aside from time, lately! -- to being a more productive writer: knowledge and accessibility. On the first, I frequently will come up with what sounds like a great idea for a column, only to discover after a little bit of research, that I don't know enough about the topic to make an argument I am satisfied with. The above technique is no cure-all: There are some topics any writer will have no business writing about. But for some things, this might indicate which areas to look at, such as one's knowledge gaps about what might be informing the context of parts of one's audience. On the second, if one finds talking to other people easier than writing, one now can simulate an audience. Perhaps this is another technique that can help with the psychological distance problem, shortening the amount of time between drafts or cutting down on the amount of editing one needs to do after reading a piece to others or hearing it read, as I already do. Just as there are limits to who might use a software package, so there will be to commentary. I won't be pitching anything to a Marxist professor any more than a software designer has to worry about someone whose only use for a computer is to read or stream Netflix from a Kindle. And the degree of fleshing-out is an interesting question, as is how frequently one want to might use the technique. These things seem like the kinds of questions one has to answer by doing. That said, this sounds like a technique that can be applied to commentary, so I am glad Raymond decided to write about it. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. Wanting an image for freedom, I was mildly surprised that I didn't see an American flag among the results until the 75th image. (Image by Isabella and Louisa Fischer, via Unsplash, license.)Notable Commentary for May and June, Part I "We must get back to work, back to living, as well and as quickly as possible, while continuing to observe reasonable precautionary measures." -- Quent and Linda Cordair, in "Going Back to Work, No Matter What" at The Napa Valley Register. "[T]he actual excess cancer death toll could be considerably higher." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Delayed Cancer Care Due to Covid-19 Could Cost Thousands of Lives" at Forbes. "Objective infectious-disease laws would put individuals on notice that they are free to act as long as they do nothing known to threaten the freedom of others to live without dangerous infection." -- Ben Bayer, in "We Can Maintain a Free Society While Effectively Addressing Pandemics" at The Orange County Register. "This [lockdown] approach ... treats people as sort of a single body or blob where it is okay to cut off one part of the blob to save the rest of the blob." -- Raymond Niles, in "Needed: Millions of Individual Experiments" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Like the darkened lights of North Korea, America endures unpredictable 'rolling shortages' while Canada largely has been able to maintain the availability of goods during this coronavirus emergency, albeit at higher prices in many cases." -- Raymond Niles, in "Why No Shortages in Canada as Compared with the U.S.?" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Longer-term, laws must be eliminated that create unnecessary encounters with the police." -- Raymond Niles, in "Individualism Is the Answer" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Physicians and policymakers must respect that different people will be willing to risk exposure for different things; such pluralism is at the heart of a liberal society." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Protest? Visit Grandma? The Pandemic's Next Phase Means Weighing Risks and Values." at The Washington Post. "The U.S. literally cannot survive many more months of an economic freeze." -- Don Watkins, in "The Harsh Truth About COVID-19" at Medium. "More to the point, you should know this as well: I will be, to quote William Lloyd Garrison, as 'harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice' when it comes to defending the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights." -- C. Bradley Thompson, in "The Rise and Fall of the Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans" at The American Mind. "Two narratives from opposite ends of the political spectrum shed light on the peculiar reaction to Gates's forward-thinking philanthropy." -- Elan Journo, in "The Curious Attacks on Bill Gates" at Areo Magazine. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Yesterday, I listened to the first lecture of "Persuasion Mastery," a course by Don Watkins, formerly of the Ayn Rand Institute. Watkins stresses that persuasion is possible, but difficult, with both the possibility and the difficulty being due to free will: One can't make someone else change his mind, but one can help that person see the need to begin the process of examining facts and checking premises that is necessary to do so. The best way to persuade others, he holds -- citing The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand as examples -- is to make one's conclusions overwhelmingly obvious. Ideally, the reader should end up saying something like, "Oh, my God!" as a result of your writing. By coincidence, I woke late enough today to miss most of my writing time this morning, and so looked at a list of ideas for possible posts. Among them was the following note about Socialism Sucks!: "I like the clear way of putting the idea of spending our way to prosperity." This I wrote about the following passage, which elaborated on the demonization of "the rich" that is so common today: Not a word about investment in capital goods, which make the economy more physically productive and increase real incomes. Nothing about capital maintenance, which keeps the structure of production up and running. Nothing about saving at all, since most popular critics of capitalism appear to think consumption is what really contributes to economic health -- as if simply using things up could make us rich. [bold added] (loc. 55) Yes. That sucks. But then, I found something that caused me to think, That's scary! This occurred shortly after I thought, Hmm. Didn't Ayn Rand talk about savings a lot? I wonder what she had to say. Here's a small sample: Image by Micheile Henderson, via Unsplash, license. Agriculture is the first step toward civilization, because it requires a significant advance in men's conceptual development: it requires that they grasp two cardinal concepts which the perceptual, concrete-bound mentality of the hunters could not grasp fully: time and savings. Once you grasp these, you have grasped the three essentials of human survival: time-savings-production. You have grasped the fact that production is not a matter confined to the immediate moment, but a continuous process, and that production is fueled by previous production. The concept of "stock seed" unites the three essentials and applies not merely to agriculture, but much, much more widely: to all forms of productive work. Anything above the level of a savage's precarious, hand-to-mouth existence requires savings. Savings buy time. [bold added]I don't want to knock the first quote: It is not obvious to most people what currently fashionable economic theories actually mean, so putting them into plain English is valuable. (And the rest of the book more than supports the premise of its title.) But still, reading Rand's discussion of savings after that had me thinking, Holy crap! Rand's positive case for savings helps us see just how dangerous anti-capitalists are: They don't merely want us to forget the first and most important realization that got us civilization and keeps the vast majority of us alive today. That would be bad enough. They want us to do exactly the opposite of what that knowledge indicates we must do -- if we want to remain alive, let alone prosperous. Clearly, advocates of liberty have lots of work to do, and I can't think of a better way to do it than to find a way to help people realize where we are going before it's too late. Making our case (and our opponents' folly) too clear to ignore strikes me as a very good first step. I am looking forward to the rest of Persuasion Mastery, and hope it succeeds in helping more advocates of liberty become much more effective. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. At Ask a Manager, Allison Green reminds an introverted job applicant of the nature of a job interview before showing how to apply it to a strange question he had received: Image by Van Tay Media, via Unsplash, license. The thing to remember is that the interview is for you to learn about the employer just as much as it is for them to learn about you -- and for both of you to decide if the fit is right and you want to move forward. So the main goal in answering any interview question should never be to come up with an answer they'll find palatable. To the extent you can, you want to have an honest conversation about what they're looking for and how that fits with who you are, and what you're looking for and how that fits with who they are. [bold added, link omitted]Green later admits that job interviews don't feel like a balanced conversation to many people. Nevertheless, it is clear that internalizing this approach will make many odd questions less awkward, such as the one she was asked about: How would you go about connecting with coworkers outside of work? Here is how Green suggested handling this question:So if you really don't see yourself looking for outside-of-work events to attend with coworkers, don't say that's your jam. I can understand why you did -- you were put on the spot and felt pressure to answer in a way they'd like -- but you really, really don't want to pretend to be someone you're not in order to get a job ... because the person who will be showing up to work every day will be real-you, not insincere-interview-answer-you. ... If you could re-do it, I'd suggest responding with something like this: "I've always found my strongest connections with colleagues are built at work, by working together, collaborating on projects, being warm, helpful and responsive, and taking a genuine interest in people's ideas and their lives." That doesn't sound anti-social, but also doesn't misrepresent you... [W]hen you're hit with a question that surprises you or raises questions about their culture, always always always ask about it... [bold added]The long-range approach of answering politely, but truthfully, can plainly prevent an unpleasant future in an incompatible work culture, yes. But remembering that an interview is a conversation can prompt one to get the context that could make the occasional odd interview question seem less odd or provide further valuable information. Perhaps the writer was not being confronted by "giving up weekends and evenings to try and force friendships." A polite answer in the moment to a question like that can buy the time to learn one way or the other without unnecessarily blowing an opportunity. -- CAVLink to Original
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