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  1. I am home with my kids for the holiday and find myself ambivalent about the fact that my first-grade son learned about it when he did at school. Image by Ebony Magazine, from National Archives via Wikipedia, public domain. When I was his age, I attended a racially-mixed Catholic school in Jackson, Mississippi. In the 1970's -- when there were still plenty of people who felt comfortable using epithets in conversation, and nerves could be a little raw. Nevertheless, I also recall not really being aware of such a thing as "race" until something like third or fourth grade. (A girl's older brother and an adult female made this real for me, one by glaring at me and the other by teasing me in their efforts to get me to conform to the norms of the day.) Based on past reading, I am pretty sure that most children that young aren't aware of race, either, and my general plan for addressing this issue was to tackle it as I thought I needed whenever it eventually came up. In other words, I wanted, as far as possible, for my son to remain innocent on this matter for as long as possible, and to experience himself and other children as individuals, and not as members of collectives. (Of course, an important part of this for me is being ready to discuss the matter in a way he can understand if circumstances dictate. Maybe I have to start earlier than I had hoped.) "He taught white people and black people to get along." The intention is good, but ... this was the first time he ever used the term "black" to describe anyone: Before then, if skin hue factored in to how he described someone, he'd use terms like "pink," "white," and "brown." I had hoped he could continue to treat such attributes properly -- as noticeable, but accidental -- for a little bit longer, so as not to pollute his mind so early with the idea of classifying people into groups based on them. And maybe he still can. Time will tell, and I know to keep an ear out in the future. But on top of that, I am also not sure that much of what went on then would make sense to a child. (And that's even after glossing over the ugliness and brutality that occurred due to racism.) There are ways to essentialize and simplify, but I don't trust many people to do that well. In sum, I think in normal circumstances, children haven't yet acquired sufficient knowledge or developed a matrix of concepts necessary to understand the full significance of the holiday. But maybe I am being pessimistic. You can say that about all of the holidays. Perhaps something like, "Martin Luther King helped us learn to treat each other fairly, no matter what we happen to look like," is the way to start. As I write, that's how I think I will frame the issue, should it come up. The positive lesson is bigger and more important than race, anyway. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Four Things 1. Over at Hacker News, is a post titled "Ever Worked With a Service That Can Never Be Restarted?," by an IT professional facing a problem that combines a high degree of technical difficulty with ample opportunity to become a scapegoat. Nevertheless, I'll admit that this part of the problem statement made me laugh: The service has current up time of 55 months.Whether or not you also laugh, take a look at the comment thread. Some of the advice about how to handle problems like that without getting burned is worth reading. 2. I enjoyed watching the below video, titled "Seeing Through the Sea." It's about an artificial intelligence-based method, developed by oceanographer Derya Akkaynak, of removing the blue-green cast from underwater images. 3. When you have kids, you end up keeping an antenna out for news about dinosaurs. Worth passing on to other adults is this report from the BBC: "'Beautiful' Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber." And yes, in case you haven't thought much about dinosaurs in a while, it has feathers. 4. A recent installment of pharma blogger Derek Lowe's "Things I Won't Work With" series ends its discussion of a recent paper humorously enough. The [Senior Investigator] strongly warns readers that the preparations therein must not under any circumstances be scaled up, and that is clearly the advice of someone who has has your best interests at heart. Even at the amounts described, you will want an excellent and well-maintained vacuum line, access to noncommon nonhousehold reagents like the aforementioned bromine pentafluoride, a willingness to do things like redistill anhydrous [hydrogen fluoride], and you will at all times want to be suited up like you're going to going to spay a velociraptor. Ah, the halogen chemist's life for me, me hearties, yo-ho-ho and a barrel of ... well, we still don't know what to name it. Dang. [bold added]You may enjoy the rest of the post, too, especially if you have a background in chemistry. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Software engineer Thomas Kainrad has written a thought-provoking post about how he organizes such things as on-line information, software code, and his notes into a personal knowledge base. I am not a software engineer, but I found value in his post and think others can, too. I've seen and even bandied the term about before, but had never seen a definition, so let's cite his: Image by Campaign Creators, via Unsplash, license. It is hard to imagine any other field where lifelong learning is more important than in software engineering. Another unique characteristic is the degree to which learning material is available for free on the internet. On top of that, we create various resources ourselves by documenting issues, submitting bug reports, writing notes, creating documentation, and many others. The sum of all these resources can be called a knowledge base. You could argue that every developer has a system to manage their personal knowledge base, whether they know it or not. In this post, I explain my knowledge management practices. [bold added]After Kainrad warns against intermingling one's own data with that which should remain separate for various reasons, he discusses the kinds of information he uses and his system for organizing it, often describing the software he uses. Your mileage will vary, as they say. I don't see myself adopting the same database software, on the one hand. On the other hand, his level of detail about organizing notes will help me tackle some issues I have noticed in my own organizational scheme. He concludes in part: Similar posts often conclude with warnings that you should be very careful not to spend too much time on organizing and maintaining your knowledge and workflows. In principle, I agree with this sentiment. After all, you want to increase your productivity. I do believe, however, that it is worth it to spend some time thinking about your knowledge management system. The most important part about conceptualizing a system is to decide exactly which types of information you want to maintain in your knowledge base. If you get this right you will benefit for the rest of your career. Even if the tools might change in the future, the system will stay. [bold added]This is true, and all I would add is to state explicitly something that I think is only implicit in the post: You can't nail everything down at once. Your workflow and system will evolve over time as you learn more and your needs change. Perhaps the most important thing is a disciplined commitment to being organized, and an eye for figuring out and making the changes that will have the most benefit. In my experience, at least HAVING a system in place, however imperfect, makes improvement easy and permanent, however incremental it might be. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. A while back, Allison Green gave a great answer to a question (Item 3) from someone for whom the public-facing part of his job drew frequent comments. The comments were friendly, but were becoming annoying because the part of the job people saw resembles a hobby -- and they were presumably in monotonous or stressful jobs. Indeed, the questioner was even starting to see the comments as mildly insulting: It looks like a cush job, but somebody's got to do it. (Image by Samule Sun, via Unsplash, license.) What do I say to people who tell me my job has no stress and is easy? My job is challenging, physical, requires critical thinking, and involves taking care of living things! The implication is, I feel, that I don't have any special skills and that I just float from plant to plant with an empty head. My job garners a lot of comments from the peanut gallery, which I usually brush off, but sometimes it feels very frustrating to not be treated as a professional. These comments come from people who aren't directly involved in my work (they have no contact with the company) and who I may or may not recognize. In a big office, I know that I am seen by many people, but I don't know everyone.Green's answer, which I recommend reading, reframes the apparently thoughtless remarks. This will both help the questioner see the context of the people commenting on his work and, more important, will help this person by giving him a way to turn such comments into an occasional reminder of some of the things his job is freeing him from, namely the more humdrum or stressful aspects of working in an office. In addition, she suggests a good way for the person to acknowledge the thought and end the conversation quickly and gracefully. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. A pre-holiday article at FiveThirtyEight caught my eye with the attention-grabbing title, "How To Fight With Your Family At Thanksgiving." The piece offers some thought-provoking advice for navigating the disagreements that are inevitable that time of year. The following heading in particular caught my eye: Arguments go better in families that value disagreement.The next couple of paragraphs elaborate: Image by Suzy Brooks, via Unsplash, license. Another thing that affects the outcome of holiday arguments on family relationships is whether those families think disagreement is okay. In Johnson's study of Thanksgiving 2016, she writes about two different kinds of families. The first, called "conversation oriented" families, generally allowed for less conformity -- it was normal to talk about controversial issues. They came away from a particularly politically tense year with stronger feelings of closeness than the "conformity oriented" families who generally avoided talking about touchy topics and placed a lot of value on uniformity of thought. "Families that have a tradition of avoiding politics so they don't get into arguments got into these arguments because 2016 was such a big deal and surprised everyone," Johnson said. Avoidance might work out well most of the time. But if that's your tradition, your family is likely to hit a wall in a tough political climate because you don't have the experience to feel like disagreement is normal.The above made me think of a couple of things. First, most people probably aren't selfish enough when they argue. That is, with so many wrong and arbitrary ("not even wrong") positions out there, one can easily be caught off-guard, particularly if the opinion is immoral or outlandish enough that one would not normally discuss it at all. Don't let that blind you to opportunity: So long as neither side is indulging in the arbitrary, one of the following obtains in any argument: (1) one person is right and the other is wrong, (2) both people are partly right and partly wrong, or (3) both people are wrong. If both people are discussing the matter with a view towards understanding it better for themselves, discussions are great ways to learn: What am I wrong about? How can I better communicate what I am correct about? Are there things I haven't considered before that I should factor in to my opinion or the way I express it? It is possible to learn these things even from someone who doesn't have these motives, assuming that person is capable of remaining civil. In other words, arguments are a great way to learn, even for someone who does not change his position as a result. The flip side to this is that, it is easy, on reflection to cut someone who disagrees with you some slack: If thinking about your own opinion takes lots of effort, it is the same for the others. In other words, one develops a healthy respect for the independence of others, in addition to understanding an issue better. I lay much of the blame for this -- the dread arguments inspire in too many -- on our overwhelmingly altruistic culture, which predisposes many people to focused too much on what the other people think, rather than on the value of understanding something for oneself. Consider how many religions hold up various forms of proselytizing as virtuous. This focus on others can only leads to frustration, annoyance, and a sense of futility when one's (hopefully) superior enlightenment fails to gain a single convert. This is simply the wrong goal, and a basically impossible one at that since man has free will. The best arguments on earth fall mostly on unreceptive or unprepared minds. Second, the remarks on family culture are very interesting,and I almost missed their significance when I decided to comment on the article. Consider the below example of the vice of appeasement, from Ayn Rand's essay, "The Age of Envy:" An intellectual who was recruiting members for Mensa -- an international society allegedly restricted to intelligent men, which selects members on the dubious basis of I.Q. tests -- was quoted in an interview as follows: "Intelligence is not especially admired by people. Outside Mensa you had to be very careful not to win an argument and lose a friend. Inside Mensa we can be ourselves and that is a great relief." (The New York Times, September 11, 1966.) A friend, therefore, is more important than the truth. What kind of friend? The kind that resents you for being right. [bold added] (The Objectivist, July 1971)Contrast Rand's allusion to the fact that we can choose our friends, with the fact that we can't choose our relatives. If Uncle Buck can't talk about politics tactfully, you may well decide to sidestep the issue if you otherwise wish to see him enough. (It should be obvious that I am not saying we should tolerate anything from relatives, but I'll say it anyway.) I mention this because when I read the article, it seemed like it implied that families that "value disagreement" (See Note.) were healthier than those choosing to set politics aside. I'm not sure that I wasn't reading that into the article, but I am sure that that isn't necessarily the case. I can imagine a family that is normally quite comfortable having such discussions, but also having a ground rule to let some topics lie around Uncle Buck -- who might not realize how lucky he is to be invited at all. (This is emphatically not the same as letting him ramble if he gets started.) So I think whether a family avoids or embraces political discussions can hinge quite a bit on its particular circumstances, and not just on its overall culture. My take-home? Think in advance about how you might react when some unfamiliar opinion comes up, especially if you're in a family that discourages holiday politics. Think about how to quickly and politely express disagreement, and what kinds of questions you might raise if the conversation goes beyond that point. -- CAV Note: Rather than "value disagreement," I might have said, "have a stronger culture of rational discussion." There is nothing inherently good or bad about disagreement per se. Link to Original
  6. In terms of populist style and overall policy, there is essentially no difference between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two of them to the contrary notwithstanding. So it comes as no surprise that they're friends, or that they'd have a sort of non-aggression pact as they both vie for their party's nomination. That said, we're talking about politicians here, and of the modern, power-lusting variety at that. As soon as one of them feels desperate enough or feels like the moment is ripe, that agreement will come to an end. Perhaps that moment is now, with Sanders leading in Iowa and Warren sinking in the polls of late: But did you think? (Image by Parker Johnson, via Unsplash, license.) A rare sign of discord emerged on Sunday between progressive Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over a report that Sanders' campaign volunteers had called her a candidate of the elite in conversations with voters. "I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me," Warren told reporters after a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, which will hold the nation's first nominating contest on Feb. 3. ... The guidance suggested that volunteers argue Warren was supported by "highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what," rather than motivating people who do not normally vote, Politico reported. Reuters could not verify the talking points. Sanders said on Sunday he did not approve the negative talking points about other candidates. [bold added]Maybe so, but Sanders doesn't mind trash-talking his own potential voters, and neither does Warren. I personally take a very dim view of anyone who votes for either political party "no matter what," and I would welcome these remarks if I thought that is what Sanders and Warren were "trashing." Since the article calls the two "their party's progressive standard-bearers," it's worth asking: Is it education or affluence that these "progressives" object to? Or is it both? And why should anyone who has earned this description -- or aspires to it -- vote for either of them? Were a Democrat to, say, trash Biden for having high minority support, leftist fire would vaporize that person on the spot. But "othering the productive" is a-okay with them. That is wrong. This isn't the only bloc of voters (or for just that party) who should quit treating the act of voting as an automatic bodily function. But at the moment, I can't think of another group of voters more willing to put someone clearly at odds with them into a position of inordinate power. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Four Things The Internet is sort of like a wish-granting genie... Back in grad school, my class was treated to the unenviable task of writing grant proposals for projects we did not intend to pursue -- instead of for our proposed thesis projects like everyone else before or since. Oh, and we couldn't consult with anyone, either. (We were guinea pigs.) I chose to write mine on prions, then a still-emerging area of research. This turned out to be interesting and fun, but I reached an impasse: I knew what I wanted to accomplish experimentally, but had no clue how to do it. "Wouldn't it be neat if I could..." was my line of thought, but I had no idea where to look, this not at all being my area. So, as if I were writing a message to cast to sea in a bottle, I crafted a search expression. And then I fished the pre-Google internet. To my great surprise and relief, I learned that, not only had someone come up with this, it had been commercialized. Problem solved. Ever since, when I have had a problem to solve, but been unsure of how to proceed, I have used this tactic, often successfully. Here are just four more neat things I discovered by doing this. 1. Back in Boston, I wanted to save money when my wife had a winter accident and broke the tail light of her father's Mercedes. "Wouldn't it be cool if there were a way to ask multiple junk yards for the part all at once?" I thought. That's when I learned that I could specify a car part and whatever junkyards had it would offer it for sale. My phone briefly rang off the hook and between that and Pep Boys, I probably got the repair done for an order of magnitude less than had I gone to a Mercedes dealer. 2. I recently needed to de-silo some data trapped in a legacy Windows app. I could run it under an emulation layer in Linux, but nothing I could come up with could rescue the data. A few days after I resigned myself to keeping the old app running on Linux, it dawned on me that, if I could print the data to a PDF, I'd get what I needed. But that's an alien concept to Windows XP: Only my ink printer showed up on the print menu. "Wouldn't it be neat if I there were a virtual printer that would "look like" a printer to this old app, but create a PDF? There is and I successfully extracted the data. 3. Years after iPads and Chromebooks killed netbooks, which had been a favorite writing platform, it dawned on me that someone had probably figured out how to install Linux on a Chromebook. I am writing this post on a Samsung Chromebook running a version known as Gallium OS. 4. Our subdivision is still under development. Consequently, I run over nails and get slow leaks every month or so. After finding two gas stations in a row with broken air pumps, I wished there were such a thing as a portable air pump that could run from a 12V DC adapter. Remembering this the next day, I looked. There is, and it costs only twenty bucks. And it's tiny, so I can just leave it in my car. It's so fun to use I almost look forward to my next slow leak. I picked mine up at Walmart: See embedded video above for details. I didn't watch this, but it shows the package it came in, and I found it easy to use, quick, and effective. It has a light for night operation and stops at the pressure you set for it. It will pay for itself, dollar-wise after one or two slow leaks, and it will easily spare me an hour or so every time, not to mentions the frustration of encountering poorly-maintained gas station air pumps. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Pharma blogger Derek Lowe discusses the problem of hyping reports of new scientific progress. The following, from an excerpted quote, really jumped out at me: When do the exuberant joy human beings naturally feel in a discovery, and the elation they experience in communicating it to others, overstep the boundaries of acceptability and transmute into falsification of process, evidence or conclusions?My short answer? Never. Either you have discovered something and you know it or you have not. In the former case, you will make damned sure you can prove it and that you will communicate it accurately. The whole idea of lying will seem preposterous, and having your results overpromoted or explained badly will at least annoy you. (The above assumes one has not been misled by a sloppy or corrupt colleague.) I left science nearly a decade ago, but this obviously also struck a nerve for Lowe, who is a working medicinal chemist: Above is my obligatory photo of someone holding a test tube. (Image by Bee Naturalles, via Unsplash, license.) Exuberance is one thing: excitement and pride in your own work can cause you to say things about it that can't be backed up. But that's different from sitting down and saying "All right, how can we generate the biggest headlines?" Because that leads to headlines about how you've cured Alzheimer's disease, and believe me, you probably haven't.Yes. And Lowe goes on to explain how typical institutional arrangements worsen the problem. I blame state funding and control for much of this, but will leave that aspect of it for some other time. That said, I doubt anyone would argue that there are researchers out there whose motivations are tainted by a desire for prestige, about which Ayn Rand once commented: The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. (By "spirit" I mean: man's consciousness.) These two aspects are necessarily interrelated, but a man's desire may be focused predominantly on one or the other. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed (but not defined) by the foggy murk of the term "prestige." ... Unearned greatness is so unreal, so neurotic a concept that the wretch who seeks it cannot identify it even to himself: to identify it, is to make it impossible. He needs the irrational, undefinable slogans of altruism and collectivism to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality -- to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims.Look for the biggest offenders in fields with a disproportionate influence on government policy, that can lead to applications that most people can tell (or already think) would help large numbers of people, that are messy, or that seem intractable at our current state of knowledge. The first two things tick off the altruist/collectivist boxes and the last two provide ample cover for failure. Not everyone in such fields will be corrupt, of course. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Old tractors are causing bidding wars at auctions, according to the Star Tribune: It may be old, but at least you can fix it yourself. (Image by Sean Stratton, via Unsplash, license.) Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one -- a 1979 John Deere 4440. He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn't need a computer to repair it.The bit about needing a computer for repairs ties in to a problem I wrote about some time ago, and which many are mistakenly attempting to address with so-called "fair repair" legislation. I salute Kris Folland for finding a better solution, and finding a way to use technology to improve the cheap, easy-to repair tractors he has bought. Perhaps in time, a manufacturer will see the market potential for simpler tractors that don't cost farmers two days of work every time they break. That said, Folland's approach to technology is quite similar to my own. Back in grad school and shortly after a divorce, I had a perfectly good PC, but not enough money to spend on software that would make it very useful. Linux took off around that time, so I installed it on my computer and ended up being able to do real work on it for a fraction of the cost. Over time, as I learned more about the kinds of tools and utilities that always come with Linux, I began to realize how lucky I was to have been priced out of Microsoft's wares: Because of the approach of having standardized tools that each did one thing well, didn't change with the latest fads, and could be glued together, I started noticing that what I learned (or built) wasn't subject to obsolescence with the next software release coming out of Redmond. My "software exoskeleton" has gradually become more sophisticated over time, and is largely unaffected by changes in popular software that I may or may not welcome. Like Folland, I can add a new capability to my software suite if it is genuinely helpful, while avoiding things that seem designed by a short-term thinker for the sole purpose of extracting money from me by artificially making my life difficult. Commenting on the same story, statistician John Cook calls Folland's approach "technology à la carte. (I also got the term software exoskeleton from him.) That's an approach more people should consider, although it isn't necessarily for everyone. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Over the holidays, I off-and-on read through Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World, by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, and I highly recommend it. The book is overall entertaining and clear, and despite my lifelong advocacy of capitalism, I learned a few things, such as what, exactly, "exploitation" means to a Marxist. (I had never explicitly tied it to the Labor Theory of Value.) That said, its chief value will be helping ordinary people who may not be that interested in economics or politics understand why capitalism is good and its opposite ... sucks. Along the way, the authors set straight a few sins against journalism, such as Kristen R. Ghodsee's 2017 New York Times piece, "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism," which I commented on at the time. The below -- a quotation from a Leningrad-based sexologist -- is just a sample of their total evisceration of that despicable piece: Soviet Apartments: Ugly on the outside, and with unwanted roommates inside. (Image by Marshal Bagramyan, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) Soviet women may well have the highest rate of culturally repressed orgasm in the world... Look, what kind of orgasms do you expect in a society which, on top of all the shame we've loaded on sex, lived for decades in communal apartments? I have one couple for whom I've found no solutions; the mother-in-law still sleeps behind a screen in the same room, the young wife can't allow herself to make one moan, one cry... How, how to make love that way ... the mother-in-law lying there hearing every creak of the bedding.And that's the lighter side of the problem (if you can call it that): The authors cite a poll revealing that 70% of Soviet women never had an orgasm and over half detested sexual contact. And yet, due to the gruesomeness (an understatement) of the "free" government abortions, there was a strong black market for illegal, private ones. -- CAV P.S., They rather ably take apart Walter Duranty, too. Link to Original
  11. Image by Michal Balog, via Unsplash, license. I attribute the title quote to a frog in a pot coming to boil. *** There is an etiquette rule -- both widely misunderstood and abused -- against discussing politics at inappropriate times. As strong as my political opinions are, chalk me up as grateful for it: It saves needless time and stress, particularly around family gatherings during the holidays. I want my kids to enjoy time with their cousins, for example, but that doesn't depend one way or the other on whether the parents agree about politics. That said, I still found myself having to push back on political issues, if only because I felt like I was being put on the spot or wanted my children to at least be aware that there are other points of view. Maybe I did okay: I think we all had a good time, anyway. But the visit has me concerned... When environmentalist totalitarians like Greta Thunberg say things like this, they mean it: This is what it's all about, this is all that we are saying. But I will also tell you this: You cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis, without seeing the full picture. You cannot leave the responsibility to individuals, politicians, the market or other parts of the world to take. This has to include everything and everyone. [bold added]My in-laws strike me as fairly typical Californians in that they buy into lots of the things preached by Thunberg. I found myself having to push back against recycling after my brother-in-law thundered, "Reduce, reuse, recycle," enough times and tried to pressure me into participating. (He also repeatedly expressed a dislike for "politics." This is not to beat him up: Read on.) After an innocuous joke about coal in a stocking, I found myself listening to a mini-sermon about coal in front of my own children, so I slipped in that it's a reliable form of energy. My brother-in-law loudly calls an ingredient in my son's favorite drink "poison," within earshot of my kids, I have to say something. Or at least it seemed so at the time: Split-second calls are the toughest part of being a parent, and there is no way to anticipate what will come up next or become completely comfortable making them. I'll credit my in-laws for not reacting badly to any of this and for attempting to practice what they believe, and leave it at that. But back to Thunberg and her allies. It is alarming to know that the small part of environmentalism that many people already buy into is both (apparently) not even regarded as politics and has so much penetrance into the culture. I would not classify my in-laws as totalitarians -- despite one of them expressing a desire to ban single-use plastics -- but it was shocking to me just how many times what was actually politics came up, apparently under everyone's radar but my own and possibly my wife's. And I'm more willing than most people to push back right then and there, even on things most people might regard as common sense, like recycling. (I limit myself to short comments that show I don't agree. I'm not there to discuss politics, either.) Our culture tolerates a very disturbing degree of social pressure and political control over individual lives, and, ironically, the people with the least desire to think about politics all the time are the ones not noticing -- even as they help the greens turn every damned thing into a politcal matter. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Notable Commentary My daughter gave this to me as an early Christmas present. Editor's Note: Each year, I take time off from blogging and news. I start today, once I am satisfied any loose ends are taken care of. I'll resume posting here and on Twitter on January 6, 2020. I wish my readers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! *** "[P]atients suffer and die because of physicians trying to adhere to government guidelines." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Patients Pay the Price for Unintended Consequences of Government Health Care" at Forbes. "trong anti-meat dietary recommendations are not justified by the best currently available evidence." -- Paul Hsieh, in "I'm a Physician, and I'll Continue Eating Red Meat" at Forbes. "The council has been a microcosm of the U.N.'s fundamental moral bankruptcy." -- Elan Journo, in "Cheer the US Exit From UN Human Rights Council -- But Demand More" at The Hill. "The underlying problem is the persistent U.S. failure to understand and confront the ascendant Islamist movement, which Iran has spearheaded since 1979." -- Elan Journo, in "Presidential Candidates -- Including Trump -- Are Wrong on Iraq" at The Daily Caller. "Like the Pilgrims eating all of their turkeys and leaving none to make more, Ms. Harris and other presidential candidates would kill the golden goose that has laid the golden eggs of economic growth and a flourishing society in the U.S. -- the rule of law and protection of property rights." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Calls for Government Theft of Property Should End Like Kamala Harris' Campaign" at The Washington Times. "The Supreme Court has a chance to end the double standard that allows state institutions to run roughshod over copyrights, the legal fountainhead of American creativity." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Stop the States' Copyright Plunder" at The Wall Street Journal. "Since our inception in 2000 we've forecasted, in real time, the two U.S. recessions that have occurred (2001, 2007-09); just as important, our models haven't falsely forecasted any recessions that didn't occur." -- Richard Salsman, in "Unanticipated Recessions" (PDF) at RealClear Markets. "Epstein is right: Companies should stop fearing the cool media kids scaremongering and start reminding the people who count -- their customers -- of the full value they offer." -- Gus Van Horn, in "The Recycling Crowd Embraces Grade-School Juvenility" at RealClear Markets. "nstead of patting ourselves on the back that another critique of Rand's missed the mark, I hope we'll instead use this as an opportunity to become better." -- Don Watkins, in "Atlas Neutered: Ari Armstrong's Straw Man attack on Objectivism" at Medium. "[T]here is risk built into every choice." -- Don Watkins, in Survival and Risk, at Medium. "I believe I have made my point that we don't have capitalism today, or anything even close." -- Keith Weiner, in "An Open Letter to John Taft" at SNB & CHF. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. What if that discontinued keyboard you want is in there? What if I told you somebody would do the dirty work of finding it and cleaning it up for free? And what if you could buy it at or below retail and have it delivered? The neatness of this apparently went right over the heads of these journalists. (Image by NeONBRAND, via Unsplash, license.) Well, okay. Not really, but I think the Wall Street Journal and Amazon missed a great opportunity to discuss how beneficial recycling can be when performed for self-interested, self-motivated, and pro-human reasons, rather than being rammed down our throats by the government for altruistic reasons, like "saving" "the planet." Instead, the paper opted for yellow journalism. With, "You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon -- Literally," the paper begged for clicks. And since the blurb immediately afterwards claims that "dumpster divers" sometimes sell things there, the entire focus on the article is on the inevitable few bad actors who pop up in any marketplace. When I read this, I thought it was neat that Amazon can connect you with someone willing to do the dirty work of finding something -- perhaps no longer being sold -- in a dumpster in the first place and cleaning it up -- and then selling it for an affordable price. But that was due to my own thinking; the authors made the whole thing seem shady and disgusting. This focus, for which we can partly blame the dominance of altruism in our culture, makes it easy to forget that: (1) Customers can place reviews on Amazon, and (2) sellers have an interest in quality control when they offer things for sale, on top of (3) the standards the retail giant sets for participation. So long as some form of theft or fraud isn't involved, I don't give a damn where something I buy from Amazon comes from. And, as far as wrongdoing goes, the story notes: Late last week, Amazon said it updated its policy to explicitly prohibit selling items taken from the trash, adding to its list of unacceptable items any "intended for destruction or disposal or otherwise designated as unsellable by the manufacturer or a supplier, vendor, or retailer." [bold added]Part of this is probably a needed measure to prevent such things as a company's intellectual property rights (technological or reputational) being harmed by the sale of things it intends to keep off the marketplace: Many people are unaware of such things. But there is perhaps a missed opportunity to explicitly sell items under, say, a "salvaged" category. In addition to implicitly and wrongly blaming the profit motive for bad behavior, the focus of the article (as well as of environmentalism generally) causes the authors to not appear to notice that this is an example of what recycling can and ought to mean. (Indeed, the word "recycle" never once appears within.) Let's do that now, by considering which practice is the shady one. The Journal has already made it clear that there are some bad actors at Amazon -- as there are in any marketplace. Caveat emptor. But what about government recycling? These programs always involve the theft of money (taxes), the violation of liberty (regulations), and fraud (the implied assertion that it is good to recycle certain types of items). But all that is premised on the woozy, altruistic idea of "saving the planet" and the politics of collectivism. So journalists -- altruists and collectivists almost to a man -- give these programs a pass that for-profit programs never get. (e.g., The Journal is quite happy to illustrate a dumpster in one "trash"-selling "scenario," just to give the reader the impression that this is gross. It would be quite easy to make, say, glass recycling sound just as gross.) But since some Amazon resellers save perfectly good items from oblivion and sell them for (shudder!) personal gain, the seller's motives are immediately questioned and we are invited to assume that he has every incentive to pass off something anyone would regard as refuse as brand new. And so it is that modern journalists condemn the proper way to perform a practice, recycling, that most pay lip-service to, despite the fact that they don't even seem to realize that it is recycling. They just don't see what they're reporting on as good, because our culture has pounded into everyone's skulls that if an action is performed for gain, it is suspect. And since the practice doesn't come with the imprimatur of a government official and the usual rituals and trappings of government recycling are absent, it never even crosses their minds that this is recycling. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. A soon-to-be-former editor for SB Nation writes, in "California's Terrible AB5 Came for Me Today, and I'm Devastated," of the following fallout from that state's evil and foolish decision to redefine the term "employee" (and sloppily at that): Gig workers: If he has his way, you will have to choose between unemployment or an employment arrangement of his choosing. (Image by Michael Vadon, via Wikimedia, license.) For those who don't know, California's legislature recently passed a law, Assembly Bill 5, codifying a California Supreme Court decision that classifies many independent contractors as full-time employees. While there is a small carve-out in the statute that allows for paid writers or editors to continue to produce a very limited amount of content per company, it's not nearly enough, and it would be hard for me or most of my colleagues to fit in that small box. So, SB Nation has chosen to do the easiest thing they can to comply with California law -- not work with California-based independent contractors, or any contractors elsewhere writing for California-based teams. I don't blame them at all. ... This is a passion project for me. Personally, while the extra income helps my family, it doesn't break us to lose it. But I have literally HUNDREDS of amazing colleagues all across our network who DO rely on this money to help, and who are going to have to replace that income somewhere else, somehow. That sucks. So much. I am heartbroken that the state I love so much has forced a company I love working for to cut formal ties with people who are doing amazing work -- and who are able to help themselves and their families with the extra income that a passion project or side hustle can sometimes provide.One can hope that enough stories like the above -- and this one -- come out that California's legislature and governor come to their senses and repeal this economy- and freedom- destroying law. (But, for the same reason I suspect this sloppiness is a feature (and not a bug), I regard this as extremely unlikely.) Or, more likely, these stories can help build popular momentum for a repeal by ballot referendum next year. It is worth noting that in the lead-in to this bill's passage, at least four of the Democratic candidates for president voiced support for this bill: Bernie Sanders (who has introduced similar national legislation), Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. The first three remain in the race. Writers -- many of whom are freelancers -- are the canary in the coal mine, but this horrific law is poised to ruin livelihoods for many others, and not just within the "gig economy." -- CAV Link to Original
  15. No thanks. Life is too short to inspect labels every time I need to throw something away. (Image by Z22, via Wikipedia, license.) The third-grade boy shamefully completed his apology, in front of first grade. I was luckier than I felt. Just that morning, I had been convinced that the way to win friends was to do what the popular kids did: Stomp on the first-grader's coffee-can art project. I knew this was wrong but I immediately impressed the popular crowd -- the wrong way. My swift punishment only reinforced what I already knew: A crowd was a poor substitute for my own judgment. This lesson has served me well throughout my life, yet I was surprised to find myself transported back to that classroom by a New York Times video -- about recycling, of all things. A connection jolted me when I viewed "The Great Recycling Con:" The captains of industry were making the same mistake I had but with a twist: They are stomping on their own cans. I remember the early days of residential recycling as clearly as that hug. At first, only the neighborhood crank went through the trouble. But, after about a decade of shaming by celebrities and over-hyping of stories -- like the long search of a garbage scow for a customer -- governments got involved. Seemingly overnight, nearly everyone was being forced to recycle or taxed to support it. Companies had marching orders to label products so we could comply... 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. -- CAV Link to Original
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