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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. The Wicked Witch of the North strikes again... (Image by Julia Pickett, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)In the New York Post is a report cataloging some of the latest foolishness resulting from "green" (read: arbitrary and life-threatening) energy policies. My "favorite" is the following:... Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is aiming to shut down a key US-Canadian pipeline, in violation of an international treaty. That would cut off delivery of more than a half-million barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day. Canada has officially invoked the treaty's dispute-resolution clause to block Whitmer.The piece helpfully notes the state of Europe, which has gone even further down the same road. I have noticed a few stories like this one popping up in news media lately. How effective they are in changing voter alertness to such energy policies is anyone's guess, especially considering how the piece ends:The only result of this pseudo-religious crusade is to make ordinary people suffer.Pseudo-religious? I was raised with a religious background, and know too well that religion is all about how virtuous it is to suffer. Until and unless significant numbers of people contest or openly question this notion, we'll be in for more and more of this mindless giving-until-it-hurts kind of nonsense. The Post is correct that green energy is impractical. The problem is that too many people wrongly think it is moral. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Four Things 1. Over at In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe discusses a paper whose authors are taking a new approach to treating Lyme disease -- by looking for an antibiotic that might treat the infection more specifically while sparing the gut microbiome:The authors conducted a screen in soil actinomycetes, which as they note are a pretty well-studied source of antibiotics -- but not so much for really selective ones, because that's not where the focus has been, historically. And they uncovered a compound that's been known since the 1950s, hygromycin A (also known as totomycin). To the best of my knowledge, it's never been developed for human use, because it was not seen to be especially potent against panels of common disease organisms. But it does hit B. burgdorferi and several other spirochetes, interestingly, while having much lower activity against common gut bacteria.The paper goes on to suggest that the compound could also be used to tamp down the presence of the disease in the wild. 2. Twitter recently updated the behavior of its site in a most unhelpful manner: If you keep multiple tabs open in your browser, leaving Twitter's tab and then returning to it results an a very irritating page refresh -- causing you to lose your place and wiping out any Tweet you might have been composing. Shortly after, I found a better place to compose: Twitter Character Counter. (Fellow Emacs users can find similar functionality without having to use a web browser here. (HT: Mark Gardner)) 3. Speaking of useful web sites, GeekPress links to a discussion thread titled, "What useful unknown website do you wish more people knew about?" As he warns, it is a rabbit hole, but I quickly found several I could use, not including the above. 4. Scrimmaging with my son's soccer team the other day reminded me that, as I approach codgerdom, I might want to look into "walking football." My brother sent me the link to the YouTube video above, which I found to be a hybrid of the somewhat Monty-Pythonesque and -- as you might expect from the cultural reference -- worth filing away for later. Skip through the first five minutes or so to see a couple of English teams playing. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. ... it's that he accepted Mission Impossible. An article in The Hill dings the Transportation Secretary and the President by implication for poorly handling the current spate of shortages and supply chain issues that started during the pandemic and have only worsened. I am no fan of Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden, but this line of criticism is neither fair nor accurate: There is no such thing as a person or even a government that is "qualified" to run an entire economy, and the whole idea is ridiculous. I have quoted the economist George Reisman on this numerous times before, and I'll do it again:Image by U.S. Dept. of Transportation, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning. By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. (as quoted in Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto, p. 345) [bold added]This is in no way intended to let Buttigieg or Biden off the hook: They subscribe to the incorrect view that government can run the economy and to the morally bankrupt view that it should, overriding our individual judgement and our freedom in the process. It was this anti-freedom notion that led to the disgraceful and disastrous combination of "lockdowns," redistribution, and inflation (but I repeat myself) here and abroad that threw numerous monkey wrenches into the world economy in the first place. These immediately caused obvious problems; the current shortages are knock-on effects of those, and will not be helped by more rights-violating and heavy-handed attempts to "fix" them by the likes of Buttigieg or Biden. It is for those things that we should roundly condemn the Democrats (and any Republicans who attack them on the grounds of "incompetence"), while offering the superior alternative of freedom -- rather than merely carping that a small town mayor can't solve all our problems, as if any central planner could. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. The Washington Times editorial staff complain via this title, "Why don't liberals [sic] know what conservatives believe?" That's a fair question, but I think they need some help with understanding the confusion -- especially after making themselves sound so like leftists (or worse) in the process. Let's look at their two examples, but in reverse order. Take the issue of school choice. The piece correctly complains that opponents of school choice see the whole idea as a racist plot to deny decent educations to poor, black, inner-city children:Scylla and Charybdis, aka The Left and the Right in Modern America. (Image by A. H. Payne, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)Moving to the second tweet, University of North Carolina-educated Nikole Hannah-Jones of 1619 Project fame wrote last week, "Why do 'school choice' advocates never advocate eliminating school district boundaries/funding schools by local property tax and allowing poor, Black students to attend white, wealthy schools in neighboring municipalities? They don't really want choice, just privatization." As Hannah-Jones would have quickly discovered if she bothered to read the replies to her tweet, many conservatives have advocated for this policy for years... [bold added]Such a step might be good, as a step towards making parents best able to choose schools for their own children -- but that's only because privatization is the way to achieve meaningful choice, via competition. But the Times leaves off that meaningful qualification. (Chance to engage minds? Lost.) I haven't heard a conservative make a point like that in a long time. In fact, now that I consider this reply, it reminds me of so many times in the past when some craven conservative -- faced with some false widows and orphans will be thrown to the streets-type accusation -- quickly backed off with the equivalent of, Oh, no! I'm not a capitalist at all! But at least on that issue, one can imagine that some conservatives are at least trying to smuggle a modicum of freedom into a horrible system that we're stuck with for the foreseeable future... On abortion, there is no room for such hope, which is a shame because that's an issue the left is actually correct about, except for its statist method of funding it. Take a gander at what the Times has to say about the oblivious leftists wondering why anti-abortion states don't force men to pay child support (including pre-natal medical bills) to the mothers of their unwanted children:[A]nyone with even a passing familiarity with the pro-life [sic] movement would know that conservatives are perfectly fine with forcing men to pay for the pregnancies of women they impregnate. In fact, the state of Utah, a deep-red state with a Republican Legislature and Republican governor, passed a law doing exactly that earlier this year! Yet Ioffe is completely clueless about this conservative viewpoint. [bold added]Wow. This makes the government forcing me to pay for someone else's abortion look positively humane and borderline capitalist compared to the enslavement of a woman and a man to the not-yet-living that the Times here is asserting as a conservative position. This radical capitalist/classical liberal will offer his two-part answer to the question above. First, one can forgive the left for part of the confusion -- which is still shared even by many who think of themselves as conservatives: Conservatives themselves used to at least pretend to be pro-freedom and pro-capitalist. Hell, some of them actually were, to an extent. Second, the left is so rabidly anti-capitalist they can't even think straight when the idea of ideological opposition rears its head: Voice a desire for school choice or anything that sounds vaguely free-market and you'll probably be called or thought of as racist, as wrong as that is. The left routinely smears all its opponents, and many of those doing the name-calling -- thoroughly indoctrinated by a school system conservatives won't even discuss abolishing -- believe their own propaganda. What a surprise! I was merely disappointed by the school choice concession, but I am appalled by that We're way ahead of you on your child support idea! That one reminds me of when conservatives claimed to support both economic freedom and the draft, as if they thought you could own your wallet, but not your own life. Thanks, Washington Times, for clearing the air, I guess. At least, this time, you're being honest. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Over at RealClear Markets, David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center cautions against legislation in Congress purporting to regulate PFAS, a class of compounds with a variety of uses in industry. He takes a recent rant by British talk show host John Oliver as his point of departure:The issue with the "one size fits all" approach, advocated by Oliver and being pushed by Congress, is that this fails to appropriately address the hazards and risks presented by each of the 5000 chemicals that fall under the classification of PFAS. This is an important distinction, because the risk that PFAS presents for human health largely depends on how humans are exposed to these chemicals. [link omitted]I oppose government regulation of industry and will note here that the dumping of C8 Clement cites would have been dealt with by better respect for and enforcement of property rights -- if not preempted altogether. That said, we are likely decades away from any substantial or meaningful repeal of such regulations. Given that fact, I agree with Clement that whatever regulations there are should be as scientifically sound and well-considered as possible:In a regulatory state, other people's panic can be hazardous to your health. (Image by Andrey Metelev, via Unsplash, license.)For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. In fact, Congressman Larry Bucshon, who was a heart surgeon, criticized the PFAS Action Act for failing to include a revision that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices, stating that the bill in its current form would jeopardize access to life-saving drugs. [link omitted, bold added]As with other bogeymen -- single-use plastics and fossil fuels immediately come to mind -- we have some small, ignorant, and vocal part of the population zeroing in on a real or imagined hazardous side-effect of a great innovation and -- apparently completely oblivious to any benefits that innovation might bring -- essentially trying to do away with it. I am grateful to Clement for calling attention to this latest example. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. If you ever wondered why every other country in the world but ours seems to be able to build things, wonder no more... At City Journal is an article by Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) about the negative regulatory impact (to understate it) that a Nixon-Era environmental regulation has had on our energy sector:Hoover Dam was completed in less than half the time it took to approve work on a short stretch of Interstate 70. Image by Nathan Roser, via Unsplash, license.)Fifty years since [the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] was signed into law, the process has become a bureaucratic nightmare. The latest data show that completing an [Environmental Impact Study] takes four and a half years, on average. One-quarter of the statements take upward of six years. Some projects drag on even longer: the approval process for a 12-mile expansion of Interstate 70 in Denver took 13 years to complete, with a final impact statement running 8,951 pages (not including an additional 7,307 pages of appendices). Before NEPA, projects could be completed quickly. Congress authorized the damming of the Colorado River in 1928; construction began in 1931, and the Hoover Dam was opened five years later. The federal government approved the Golden Gate Bridge in just seven months. The NEPA process would have rendered the swift completion of these projects impossible. [bold added, links omitted]Thirteen years to approve a short stretch of a road versus less than five years from start to finish for the Hoover Dam! If the Biden Administration were serious about improving American infrastructure, it would at a minimum consider rolling back or eliminating NEPA altogether, or perhaps even enacting the reforms Schweikert and Lee propose. (This is the first I've heard of them, so I haven't an opinion on their merits.) If our infrastructure is worth spending $3.5 trillion on, then surely making that money go farther and the improvements faster deserve serious consideration. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. Blog Roundup 1. If you're not up to speed on Biden's plan to treat American parents like terrorists even as he surrenders to real ones, mosey on over to C. Bradley Thompson's Ed Watch Daily blog. There, you will find what he calls a kind of multi-media essay about the attempt to crush dissent against the racist dogma of Critical Race Theory that government schools have been indoctrinating children with:More fundamentally, what [Attorney General Merrick] Garland's letter is really saying is that the federal government is entirely responsible for the education of your children. You have no rights and no authority to determine the content of your child's mind. That is for the government to determine. Your old-fashioned view that your children are actually your children is no longer relevant. If you think I'm exaggerating, you should listen to Melissa Harris-Perry talk about why your children are not your children: Merrick Garland's directive may very well be the single most disturbing abuse of government power in American history since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. Garland, a man once nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, has corrupted the mission and power of the United States Department of Justice. He must be removed from office. He is a threat to both the lives and freedoms of ordinary Americans.This is very long, but worth your time, even if it might take several visits. 2. At the blog for the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips argues that "It's Always Time to Be Greedy" as he discusses the injustice of pandemic-excused violations of the property rights of landlords. Within is the following real-life counterexample -- with cogent rationale -- to the idiotic stereotype of the landlord simply raising rent through the roof for the hell of it:As a landlord, I have not raised rents during the pandemic, even though several of my properties are currently renting for significantly less than the market rate. While I never relish a vacancy, I am even less enthusiastic about trying to rent a house under the conditions we have been enduring. An increase in rent of 20 percent or more would significantly increase cash flow. However, it would take close to ten months to recover the cost of a make-ready and the income lost during the vacancy. From a business perspective, I have decided that it makes more sense to retain tenants rather than possibly lose them by greatly increasing rents. By doing what I think is best for me and my business, I am being greedy.It always is time to be greedy: If only more voters thought longer-range at the ballot box. If they did, they might realize that such measures as rent controls and eviction moratoriums ultimately threaten the supply of affordable housing by causing that business to become more of a burden every day. 3. Over at Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney explains a way to catalyze dramatic change that she calls the Pierced-Ears Principle. The post analyzes what she observed after making a small improvement on two different occasions, and lists the following as what seemed important each time:a) The improvement was permanent. Once you pierce your ears, the earrings stay in for 10 weeks. Once you buy a new table, it's there in the room every day. b) The improvement was obvious. I saw the earrings in the mirror each morning. We saw the table in the living room. c) The improvement made familiar things look worse by contrast. My hair looked bad with earrings. Clutter looked bad on the table. d) There was always one obvious next improvement to make -- never an overwhelming number.I have a couple of big changes I want to make at home, and I'm seriously thinking about finding an "ender" -- a small change like Moroney describes -- to use as a way to motivate myself, as well as to get my wife and kids on board to pitch in. 4. Over at How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn urges corporations to avoid the tar-baby known by the trendy name of "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR):CSR is an invalid concept because it is what Ayn Rand called "a package-deal:" it packages together "disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context." Mixing of contradictory elements makes a concept such as CSR hazardous to thinking. While including elements that enhance human flourishing, such as respecting others' individual rights (not polluting their property), efficiency (waste reduction), and profit making, CSR also sneaks in the ideal of altruism, the duty to serve others "to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm." The CSR package-deal diverts corporate executives' focus from the proper role of business: producing and trading material values -- on which our lives, well-being, and prosperity depend. If the executives accept CSR as an ideal, they will be always questioning the morality of the profit motive, earning unearned guilt from pursuing profits, and making attempts to divert the corporation's (the shareholders') resources to "social" and "environmental" causes. [link in original]CSR might seem like a way to name good business practices that is good for public relations, but it is indeed a trap. -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Walter Block has written a piece calling for the abolition of the FDA and its replacement "with a free enterprise certification industry." I would criticize the piece as being far from strongly-worded enough: the agency blatantly violates our rights to our own bodies, particularly the freedom to decide which medicines or foods to consume; its dithering -- most notably on rapid antigen tests -- during this pandemic arguably led to hundreds of thousands dying; and its stifling of medical innovation is a big part of why medical science produces innovation at a far slower and less earth-shattering rate than Silicon Valley does for communications technology. That said, the piece contains a hit and a miss I wish to comment on here. First, the hit:Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.If there are five [certification] private agencies, and one of them errs, it will tend to lose customers, followers, and go bankrupt. This would leave room for the expansion of the other four in this industry and for the entry of newcomers. Another advantage is that five heads are better than one. Then there is the fact that when the FDA fails there is no automatic mechanism that replaces error-prone scientists with better ones.This is true: We would not only be free to judge and try medicines and treatments for ourselves, we would have better guidance when deciding whether to do so. And the miss?There is of course one objection to free enterprise in this regard: a private certification agency might be paid off by unscrupulous business interests in order to buy a good report. Yes, of course, this is a danger. But the government, too, it not totally immune from such corruption. Also, any private firm caught putting its thumb on one side of the balance would immediately go bankrupt. Not so for the FDA, if ever its paw was caught in the cookie jar.I looks like the FDA's paw might have just been there, as I noted recently, and not only won't the FDA go down (unless we abolish it), it may well drag the whole idea of standards down the toilet. Until and unless our society outgrows its childish suspicion of selfish interest -- in the forms of (a) a lack of confidence in our own minds to choose wisely and (2) the assumption that others will stoop to the level of criminals if given half a chance -- we will never rid ourselves of the FDA or any other agency that exists for the alleged purpose of protecting us from ourselves or the businessmen we trade with (and yet so many lazily assume are predatory). -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Venture anti-capitalist Nick Hanauer, whom Bernie Sanders might call a "good billionaire," has written an op-ed urging the Democrats to steal as much money as possible from "the rich." In the process, he claims it's a great way to "grow" "the economy." I'm against the whole idea because stealing is wrong, no matter what the excuse, and it is particularly egregious when it is carried out by the government, whose job it is to protect our rights, including to property. I don't care how used to this everyone is or how long it has been going on. Those things really just make it worse. Why he has any more money in his bank account than whatever he doesn't consider wealthy is a fair question, and one he should be hounded with. Hanauer has a political right to his fortune, and he may well have earned it, but after this editorial, he has forfeited any moral claim to it. Having said that, his hackneyed stereotype of "the rich" "hoarding" money -- as if what others do with what they own is anyone else's business and his predictable assertion -- that he knows better what to do with it than they do -- reminded me of the following quote by Ayn Rand, from her 1974 essay, "The Inverted Moral Priorities:"Image by The Laura Flanders Show, via Wikimedia Commons, license.In view of what they hear from the experts, the people cannot be blamed for their ignorance and their helpless confusion. If an average housewife struggles with her incomprehensibly shrinking budget and sees a tycoon in a resplendent limousine, she might well think that just one of his diamond cuff links would solve all her problems. She has no way of knowing that if all the personal luxuries of all the tycoons were expropriated, it would not feed her family -- and millions of other, similar families -- for one week; and that the entire country would starve on the first morning of the week to follow . . . . How would she know it, if all the voices she hears are telling her that we must soak the rich? No one tells her that higher taxes imposed on the rich (and the semi-rich) will not come out of their consumption expenditures, but out of their investment capital (i.e., their savings); that such taxes will mean less investment, i.e., less production, fewer jobs, higher prices for scarcer goods; and that by the time the rich have to lower their standard of living, hers will be gone, along with her savings and her husband's job -- and no power in the world (no economic power) will be able to revive the dead industries (there will be no such power left). [bold added]Hanauer tries to frame the confiscation he envisions as an "investment," but the first question anyone with any money left over should ask is this: What if my investment makes me rich? The initiative-destroying example of the policy Hanauer wants means: I won't be rich for long. Why bother? is a short logical and psychological step away for most, and To hell with a society that will reward me by robbing me! will come to our best and brightest. See Atlas Shrugged. That said, Hanauer's immoral backing of Biden's proposed spending blowout brings up an interesting fact via the staggering amount of proposed looting: $3.5 trillion. (In this, he is either incredibly naive or dishonest: There is no such thing as enough of other people's money to a welfare state.) Did you know -- I didn't until this morning -- that the total net worth of the 400 richest Americans is only $3.2 trillion? A few more of the 614 Americans who are (currently) billionaires would have to pitch in -- if we took everything from them. It is disgraceful that Hanauer has chosen to stand with the looters, and hypocrtitically at that. But as galling as it is that he has so much as a pot to piss in, I hope he doesn't get the wish-fulfillment he deserves. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. The title pretty well sums up what I thought about a news story I ran into this morning on the constant frustration doctors are dealing with during this phase of the pandemic. The title comes from a popular use of the phrase god of the gaps to refer to any jump between some gap in human knowledge about a phenomenon to the conclusion that its cause must be supernatural. But there are a couple of twists: (1) The purported causes are not so much supernatural as they are arbitrary extrapolations of our somewhat magic-like technology; and (2) the knowledge gaps aren't in human knowledge as such, but within what a given individual doesn't know, but could easily find out. For example:Image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash, license.Dr. Carl Lambert hears lots of wild misinformation from his patients. Some comes from the Bible interpretations; some originates from the rapper Nicki Minaj. Some of it is the stuff of internet conspiracy theories, like there's a chip in the vaccine that will take over their DNA. [bold added]Where to begin with that one? It's just a sci-fi mirror image of the religious idea of demonic possession. The article is replete with such things, for anyone who hasn't had to listen to very much of this. Among the material is our old friend altruism, fueling the pandemic of conspiracy theories via a deep-seated suspicion of "selfishness:"Another explanation left him speechless: "The patient couldn't understand why they were given this for free, because humanity in and of itself is not nice and people aren't nice and nobody would give anything away. So there's no such thing as inherent good nature of man. And I had no comeback from that."While the government shouldn't be paying for vaccinations, we aren't overall in such a terrible political place that the existence of a sinister mass-injection program makes any sense. Having said that, page Peter Schwartz! Perhaps even more interesting than these samples of misinformation variants from the wild are examples of ways some physicians are fighting back. For example, I liked this analogical approach:... A Louisiana doctor has resorted to showing patients a list of ingredients in Twinkies, reminding those who are skeptical about the makeup of vaccines that everyday products have lots of safe additives that no one really understands. ... When patients tell Dr. Vincent Shaw that they don't want the COVID-19 vaccine because they don't know what's going into their bodies, he pulls up the ingredient list for a Twinkie. "Look at the back of the package," Shaw, a family physician in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "Tell me you can pronounce everything on the back of that package. Because I have a chemistry degree, I still don't know what that is." He also commonly hears patients tell him they haven't done enough research about the vaccines. Rest assured, he tells them, the vaccine developers have done their homework. [bold added] I'm still having interesting thoughts after reading this and recommend it to anyone who wants to fight back against the bad thinking (and the manufactured nonsense that comes with it) that are so common today. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. Image by Bannon Morrissy, via Unsplash, license.National Non-GMO Month? What? I know many people avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but I'd never heard of this. Although I am a bioscientist, I was unaware I had to avoid GMOs in the name of health, food security, and proper agriculture. According to its sponsor, the Non-GMO Project, all of October is a chance to "raise awareness about ... choosing non-genetically modified foods.” Genetically-modified food has been around for decades, and has been served trillions of times. Ninety percent of our corn was GMO in 2014. Am I missing something? It wasn't just my scientific curiosity that had been piqued: The laissez-faire capitalist in me wondered: Product labeling should be done by private entities, and not by the government. Is the Non-GMO project an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for genetically-modified food? UL is a private organization which tests the safety of electrical appliances before allowing manufacturers to mark them with its label. Just as the manufacture of appliances is an example of division of labor, so is testing them. But UL has an established reputation, has been around longer than the Non-GMO Project, and appliances bearing its mark haven't been bursting into flames lately. How do we know the Non-GMO Project is -- or is not -- worthy of our trust? ... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank my wife and Steve D. for their comments on an earlier version of this piece. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. Four Things 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just released the first footage (embedded below) from inside a hurricane taken by an unmanned watercraft:The Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 was directed into the midst of Hurricane Sam, a category 4 hurricane, which is currently on a path that fortunately will miss the U.S. east coast. SD1045 is battling 50 foot waves and winds of over 120 mph to collect critical scientific data and, in the process, is giving us a completely new view of one of earth's most destructive forces.For anyone who wants to know more, there is an interesting thread at Hacker News that includes discussion of why this is such an impressive accomplishment. 2. On what might sound like the opposite end of the ruggedness scale, the European Space Agency will be launching a wooden satellite at year's end:Samuli Nyman, the project's chief engineer and also a co-founder of Arctic Astronautics, says, "The base material for plywood is birch, and we're using basically just the same as you'd find in a hardware store or to make furniture." "The main difference is that ordinary plywood is too humid for space uses, so we place our wood in a thermal vacuum chamber to dry it out," he says in the ESA news release.A Japanese group is also working on a wooden satellite in the interest of minimizing reentry debris. 3. What's the most common search term on Bing? Google, of course. 4. If you're really bored, or, say, really, really desperate for that last item in a roundup post for your blog, you might mosey on over to the Hasty Reader, where you can find instructions on How to Summon & Sell Your Soul to Satan and Other Devils. Amusingly, eBay prohibits such transactions, and I think it's not the only platform to do so. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. The headline of a recent piece at The American Thinker echoes a thought I have had more than once since the start of the pandemic: "Covid-19 Is the New Global Warming." The piece does -- sort of -- capture this, from a harshly conservative point-of-view, taking conservative in its new, post-Trumpian, no-longer-capitalist sense. For example:Image by Bessie Pease Gutmann, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.Mask mandates. This has two distinct sides. On one side are those who believe that wearing masks is essential to protect public health and anyone who opposes that viewpoint is ignorant and a danger to society. The other side is more skeptical of masks, pointing out inconvenient little facts like that the typical mask opening is four times larger than the COVID-19 particle (500 nanometers to 125 nanometers), so wearing a mask is like trying to stop a swarm of mosquitoes with a chain-link fence, as that cliché goes. Mask mandates in the public sphere and for kids in school divide the electorate sharply along ideological lines.Count me as being on neither of these irrational, funhouse-mirror-image-of-each-other "sides." (This is a great analogy, but not my own. I'm pretty sure I got this from the philosopher Greg Salmieri.) Regulars here will know that I oppose mask mandates, but regard masks as offering some protection to wearer and others nearby alike. And don't get me started on that asinine "fence vs. mosquito" analogy, which is rehashed above. (Check the link: I'm not re-litigating that here.) Analogously to the debate over fuel rationing disguised as a "climate" debate, I oppose fuel rationing, and yet acknowledge that some "lukewarming" of the climate is happening, with good and bad effects. So am I a Green or a "denialist?" I'll be accused of either, depending on which of the former you ask. This is despite the fact that one can oppose environmental legislation without denying that some warming is occurring. (And I would oppose current political proposals even if there were a looming catastrophe.) Likewise, I oppose lockdowns and mask mandates, but think masking can be helpful and that vaccination is a good idea. The limited role of government in all of this is detailed here. So, yes. The fiercely-opposed sides that are both wrong in very important ways (and so hold self-contradictory viewpoints) make the debates over the pandemic and whatever they're calling energy rationing these days seem quite similar to each other. But the greatest similarity, shared by both sides, as this outsider to both can see, is that neither seems capable of asking itself, "How do I know this?" This scientist has been called a "science denier" simply because I oppose the Green New Deal, and has gotten nowhere with an anti-vaxxer relative despite (for example) my point-by-point rebuttal of a viral video of a quack doctor speaking to an Indiana school board. If you doubt me, try talking to someone firmly within either camp and see how little time it will take before you notice that what you are saying simply doesn't register. I have, and all I can say is that I hope these people are merely a vocal minority, for they seem unreachable by rational argument. The most disturbing thing about both of these struggles is that so many people see the issue in terms of a binary political choice between two inconsistent grab-bag sets of positions -- and not as a problem to be approached like any other in one's life, and with a suspicious eye cast on government, whose role is only how best to protect one's freedom to do so. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Harry Binswanger has already made an airtight case against the FDA; go to him if you need one. Both links are damning, but don't completely overlap. Having said that, a quick visit to In the Pipeline this morning has provided two additional strikes against government control of medicine (and drugs in particular), although its author -- like most people today might -- merely hopes for reform of that unreformable, illegitimate agency. Having already expressed outrage that the agency's questionable approval of adcuanumab, a very expensive Alzheimer's drug, Derek Lowe notes some interesting fallout. I think it is more interesting than he does, especially the following:Image by Myriam Zilles, via Unsplash, license.Out in the health-insurance world, which is where any such drug launch is really going to play out, many large insurance companies are holding back on approval for payment or have said outright that they will not cover the drug. They are understandably concerned about the possibility of paying for a treatment in a huge population with a $56,000/patient/year price tag that will leave its recipients exactly as sick as they were before (if not somewhat more injured, frankly)... [bold added]Private industry to the rescue! you might hopefully add, as I did. Indeed, insurance companies might well perform safety and efficacy testing if there weren't an FDA -- and you can already see here that the profit motive would stop an ineffective drug from getting the de facto seal-of-approval of being deemed worthy of insurance coverage. Strike One was the garbage drug approval. Yes. The FDA shouldn't even be at bat: People should be free to take snake oil if they want, just as insurance companies should be free not to cover it. But it's there. Here's the next pitch, and it comes in the next few sentences of that same paragraph:... The Veteran's Health Administration is doing the same, saying that there's not enough evidence of benefit. Many of these organizations say that they're waiting on a decision from Medicare, but that's a confusing situation, too. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has recently advised state that their Medicaid programs must include it as a covered outpatient drug. It's the national Medicare determination that everyone's really waiting on, though. [bold added]So a questionable approval of a dubious drug by the FDA might -- despite free-market elements of our economy acting as a partial backstop -- still put everyone on the hook to pay for it. Strike Two. Aducanumab should be a last-ditch drug (or high-end snake oil) for the wealthy, but it might about to be normalized at everybody's expense, instead. And here's Strike Three:[O]n the regulatory side, this decision has been a mud bomb: rare-disease companies are wondering why they're being asked for more data when Biogen wasn't, and other companies with vague, not-really-statistically-significant Alzheimer's data are lining up to get their approvals on this basis as well. This is not a precedent the agency should have set.So much for the whole damned idea that the free market needs government to set safety standards and prevent fraud. Abolish the FDA. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. Commenting on some interesting poll results about people who oppose GMO foods, Ilya Somin says the following:Image by Javier Allegue Barros, via Unsplash, license.Some of this is simply the result of what scholars call "rational ignorance": Most people have little incentive to spend much time learning about government, public policy, and policy-relevant science, because the chance that their votes will make a different to policy outcomes is infinitesimally small. Many people don't have time to study the science of GMOs. Thus, they simply do not know that GMO foods are no more dangerous than "organic" ones, and that most organic foods are themselves the result of centuries of genetic manipulation by humans. [links removed, bold added]Ages ago, I encountered the concept of rational ignorance, within the context of the impossibility of voters being able to make informed choices about the numerous things the government (improperly) does. I reached a decent conclusion then, to the effect that this problem would go away if the government were brought back to its proper scope, of exclusively protecting individual rights. But the issue of GMOs brings up an aspect of the problem I hadn't considered then: Some of the things government does, as a sort of unwanted outboard brain-substitute -- like assess the safety of GMOs -- are issues that concern us. What if the government didn't regulate those things? I've answered this before, but without reference to "rational ignorance:"If it is "unreasonable" to point out that watchdog groups, standards bodies, professional organizations, and the like can subsume the legitimate aspects of what the government package-deals with its central planning; I plead guilty as charged. In other words, no, we would not all have to attempt to become polymaths any more than we now learn the ins and outs of any number of physical types of labor. (Oh, and do note that government meddling already has this discussion on the wrong track: On important matters that aren't properly related to government, How do I vote? should be of zero concern. Conversely, there is an objective, non-political reason for not attempting to know everything: There simply isn't time to do so.) There is such a thing as a division of intellectual labor, and the more the government runs everything, the less apparent that becomes. We stop imagining private individuals doing these things, and throw our hands up in the air because of all the impossible decisions we find ourselves having to make at the ballot box. And when the government screws something up, as it had to during a pandemic of a novel disease? Or worse, when government officials use expertise as an excuse for tyranny? We end up even farther removed from the idea, because even expertise ends up getting the same bad rap capitalism was getting before We have moved from suspicion of private enterprise, leading to government agencies as "watchdogs" -- to a government with its fingers in so many pies people can't vote about "the issues" they shouldn't be worried about in the first place, leading to a feeling of overwhelm -- all the way to an understandable but wrong suspicion of people claiming to know more than we do, with an implied corollary that they can tell us what to do. The pandemic was bad enough on its own. This progression, whether the pandemic accelerated it or made it more apparent, is much worse. -- CAVLink to Original
  16. When I first saw the Hacker News thread titled "The Mom Test -- How to Talk to Customers," I figured it might have something to do with empathy. Think: Would you speak to your mother that way? Well, no, I wouldn't, but I'm always looking for advice that might improve my communication skills, so I looked and discovered first that I was wrong. That's because the discussion thread had truncated the subtitle of the book under discussion: The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you. I remained intrigued, and quickly found a link to a summary of the book. I especially appreciated the following:Image by Sergiu Vălenaș, via Unsplash, license.[This] is a book with the aim of improving your customer conversations and getting real learnings out of them! The idea behind the title is that you shouldn't ask your mum if your idea is a good idea because she will lie to you. Like you will learn in this book most people will lie to you, not even with evil intent. Unfortunately, this will not help you with validating your idea. The book tries to teach you how to get out of these lies and start a conversation where you actually learn something. The main takeaway is to validate the problem and not the idea. Start conversations that focus purely on the customer's life and the problem. [bold added](I'm not sure my mother would lie like this, but I know plenty of people would...) This may sound vaguely familiar to regulars here. This approach sounds, at least to my ear, a bit like Alex Epstein's Clarity Tool, although focused on the problem of starting a business. The Clarity Tool is in part a way to wrap one's mind around the concerns (good or bad) and premises (good, mixed, and bad) of a target audience. That said, the author's own book page states:The world doesn't need another framework or theory. The Mom Test skips all that and gets to the hands-on challenges. How to avoid biased feedback? How to write an email that makes people want to talk to you? How to figure out whether someone is really going to buy? It's all in here.It is a common (but understandable!) mistake these days to discount the need for a theoretical undergirding. This won't necessarily make the book valueless: Everyone operates on implicit philosophical premises, and the author's clear goals and experience have a very good chance of making this book worthwhile. And I think it will be more so to people who do have a framework for understanding how communication works, so this disclaimer isn't going to put me off. This seems like at least a collection of different examples to consider against what I know. In other words, I suspect -- not having read the book -- that pairing it with the Clarity Tool and other communication advice from Epstein and other Objectivsists could be quite valuable. It's not every day I bump into a discussion of a book and leave seriously contemplating a purchase, but that has happened today. If you're here and you happen to have read this, let me know what you think. -- CAVLink to Original
  17. Four Things 1. Some time ago, I ran across the following analogy between the arrival of the dynamo in the workplace and that of email:At the turn of the century, factories had all of the components needed to deploy the much more efficient individual motor approach to manufacturing. But it still took decades for them to actually make the shift away from hulking central power plants and overhead spinning shafts. Today we almost certainly have all the technological tools needed to push knowledge work into its next productive phase shift. But we remain in the moment mired to instead simply moving unstructured interactions into email threads and Zoom meetings; the Digital Age equivalent of hooking up a new electric motor to the old belt drive system.I think it could be helpful to keep this analogy in mind when considering how to deploy other new technologies. 2. If I had to run lots of them, I'd consider seeing if the way Amazon runs meetings could work for at least some of them:The interesting part to me isn't in the format of the document, but how it is used. Meetings start with reading. Depending on the length of the document, we'll read anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. If the meeting has a long document (six-pagers are the longest) and many attendees, the meeting will be scheduled for enough time to read and discuss. Reading the doc is part of the scheduled time. I've worked at plenty of places that I've tried to document everything for a meeting ahead of time. I've written well thought-out emails, shared links to documents, and written detailed wiki pages. In all of my meetings outside of Amazon I had one of three outcomes:No one read the email/document and I had to explain everything in the meetingSome people read the document but forgot what it said because they read it days or hours beforeAt least one person had a question that I could have answered via emailThe writer expected the new way of running meetings to solve problems like those listed above, but he also reaped other unexpected benefits, and elaborates on them. 3. Quick! Name something good about rip currents! If you can't think of any, go here and find out. I'm negatively buoyant and not a great swimmer -- something the pandemic has delayed me in mitigating. And I'm pretty sure I got caught in one once. (I surmise that I did not notice it, and was out of its channel when I realized how far from shore I was. Lucky me.) The good thing about them is that once you know about them, and how they work, you can: (1) often visually recognize them and avoid them altogether; (2) remain calm if you get caught in one and realize it, and exit the current early; or (3) realize that swimming back to shore should not be particularly difficult. Image by Proriat Hospitality, via Unsplash, license.4. Samuel Adams has released a new beer that is so strong it's illegal in 15 states:The brewer releases a new version of its Utopias brand every two years, and the twelfth edition will be on shelves starting Oct. 11. But don't bother looking for it in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont or West Virginia. Utopias are illegal in those states because they contain 28% alcohol by volume, more than five times the potency of typical US brews.Interesting! And it's not illegal in Florida. I thought at first. But I don't think it's $240.00 interesting, which is the price for a 25 oz. bottle of the stuff. -- CAVLink to Original
  18. As if saying it enough times will make it so, Dennis Prager has written yet another column asserting that a secular society is -- somehow -- also therefore a less free one. Somehow? you might ask. Well, you tell me:Image by Alex Shu, via Unsplash, license.Here is something any honest person must acknowledge: As America has become more secular, it has become less free. Individuals can differ as to whether these two facts are correlated, but no honest person can deny they are facts. It seems to me indisputable that they are correlated. To deny this, one would have to argue that it is merely coincidental that free speech, the greatest of all freedoms, is more seriously threatened than at any time in American history while a smaller-than-ever percentage of Americans believe in [God] or regularly attend church. [bold added]Does this not seem like an odd way to open an argument about secularity ... Gosh! what is that word? -- necessitating? ... the decline of freedom in our great republic? In case your'e having a hard time putting a finger on why it does, let's consider an uncontroversial phrase that I would have thought was also familiar to almost any educated adult and certainly should be to any intellectual:Correlation does not imply causation.Prager frequently equates the left with what he calls "secularism." I personally think the left looks more and more religious by the day, and "nature" is a strong candidate for one of its gods. Be that as it may, let's run with Prager's assumption for a moment that religion necessarily implies belief in a god of the Judaeo-Christian sort. If so, then I completely agree with him on both counts: America is both less religious (in that sense) and less free, and those facts about our culture are likely correlated. But so, too are US spending on science, space, and technology -- and US suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation, from 1999 to 2009 -- according to the web site, Spurious Correlations. Those numbers are facts and so is the correlation. But I don't think even Dennis Prager would seriously argue that one of these causes the other. Prager's article says not a peep about causation, but that's something we really ought to consider. America has become less free and less observant of traditional Western religions over the past century. Anyone who values freedom would do well to ask that question. Prager, oddly, just assumes -- or seems to want the reader to assume -- that less religion somehow causes less freedom. At least one thinker I am pretty sure Prager has heard of, Ayn Rand, would beg to differ, as her greatest student, Leonard Peikoff, once outlined in some detail in his essay, "Religion vs. America." Within, Peikoff argues in part:Point for point, the Founding Fathers' argument for liberty was the exact counterpart of the Puritans' argument for dictatorship -- but in reverse, moving from the opposite starting point to the opposite conclusion. Man, the Founding Fathers said in essence (with a large assist from Locke and others), is the rational being; no authority, human or otherwise, can demand blind obedience from such a being -- not in the realm of thought or, therefore, in the realm of action, either. By his very nature, they said, man must be left free to exercise his reason and then to act accordingly, i.e., by the guidance of his best rational judgment. Because this world is of vital importance, they added, the motive of man's action should be the pursuit of happiness. Because the individual, not a supernatural power, is the creator of wealth, a man should have the right to private property, the right to keep and use or trade his own product. And because man is basically good, they held, there is no need to leash him; there is nothing to fear in setting free a rational animal. [bold added]If the case for liberty is actually secular, then something other than an some woozily-implied causation of less freedom by an absence of Christianity might be causing the two cultural trends Prager brings up, but doesn't seem very serious about understanding. To wit: His "opposition to slavery was based entirely on the Bible," even if true, does not imply that without religion, we would all advocate slavery. As witness the oath of Ayn Rand's most famous character, "I swear by my life ... and my love of it ... that I will never live for the sake of another man ... nor ask another man ... to live ... for mine." As for what might be causing the two trends, my note about the left becoming more quasi-religious should offer a clue, but a more full explanation would come from Rand's and Peikoff's extensive analyses of the baleful influence of Immanual Kant -- whose mission was to save Christian altruism from the Enlightenment -- on our culture over time. In short, our society continued moving away from Christianity, but also, thanks to Kant, began moving towards a duty-based ethos and its anti-freedom political correlate of statism. -- CAVLink to Original
  19. At RealClear Markets, John Tamny ably discusses the prospect of what an economic downturn in China -- specifically due to a return to communist policies -- could mean, and rightly offers the following warning:Image by CRCHF, via Wikimedia Commons, license.[W]hile some may contemplate a wrecked, economically retreating China with glee, the view here is that they're not thinking very expansively. And they're not thinking much at all about what a Maoist scenario for China would mean for the United States. The economics of such a lurch would be very harmful for the U.S. economy. In other words, a declining China would very much pull down the U.S. To see why, consider the aforementioned ubiquity of American restaurant brands in China's cities. As the economy has grown in China thanks to rising freedom, the prosperity of its people has surged. And they in many ways went on an all-things-American buying spree. There are 3,700 McDonald's restaurants in China, over 4,000 Starbucks locations, hundreds of Carl's Jr.'s. Assuming a lurch back toward socialism or communism, American companies with large footprints in China will suffer in a big way. And that's only part of the story.This is true, and I agree with most of what Tamny says about this looming problem, with one major exception. While Tamny holds that such a change "would also take a strike on Taiwan off of the table," I am not so sure. Certainly it would, long-term, but China has a large military now, and a great deal of manufacturing capacity that hasn't been hobbled yet, and might last long enough to cause a problem. I've heard countries like this likened to batteries, in contrast to capitalist generators, and I think the comparison is a good one. And if the CCP is so clueless as to make good on its threat, I don't see it taking a lesson when that causes economic problems. In fact, the situation reminds me of something Ayn Rand once said regarding the relationship between freedom and war:Statism -- in fact and in principle -- is nothing more than gang rule. A dictatorship is a gang devoted to looting the effort of the productive citizens of its own country. When a statist ruler exhausts his own country's economy, he attacks his neighbors. It is his only means of postponing internal collapse and prolonging his rule. A country that violates the rights of its own citizens, will not respect the rights of its neighbors. Those who do not recognize individual rights, will not recognize the rights of nations: a nation is only a number of individuals. Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by looting; a free country survives by production. Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For instance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czarist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies. World War II was started by the alliance of Nazi Germany with Soviet Russia and their joint attack on Poland. [bold added]To make matters worse, the troubles with Evergrande, which I have seen compared to a Ponzi scheme, could both jump-start the process and provide ideological cover for (and economic blinders to) the CCP: Capitalism will get blamed for whatever occurs because of that, regardless of whatever state interventions made it possible in the first place, and whatever China might attempt to soften the blow if it follows a "too big to fail" policy of mitigation. -- CAVLink to Original
  20. This morning, I read a column by a cranky old man urging his fellow New Yorkers to "get real" about returning to work in their offices. To Steve Cuozzo's credit, he did concede that there were some advantages to working from home as opposed to going to the office. And he is absolutely correct to start off by noting that employees are contractually obligated to work how and where their bosses want them to. Cuozzo might even be right that lots of people are selectively afraid of Covid when it comes to office work, but brave when it comes to filling restaurants and bars. And he might be right that productivity took a nosedive with widespread at-home working -- although unfair to grouse about people spending time with their kids. (Remember all those union-driven school closures?) So far, so good, but what does he build up to?Image by Israel Andrade, via Unsplash, license.Memo to those who say, "I don't care if I never go back to the office," and to companies that say, "We'll get there when we get there": The issue is bigger than you. Indefinitely empty office buildings will doom this city. Without the fortune in tax revenue that the buildings generate, our $98.6 billion annual budget won't be carried by parking-violation and unleashed-dog fines. Tenants need to engage their employees on these issues more than they have. Or we'll see an endless cycle of office-return postponements until companies say enough! Let's keep everyone home for good. Should that happen, and strip the value off thousands of office towers with a half-billion square feet and wreck the economy, don't blame the banks. Don't blame Trump, Biden, Dr. Fauci or China. It's all on us for not tackling the problem head-on, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. [bold added]No. The issue is between you and the person who is giving you money to perform work. If that work satisfies him, even when you do it at home, you might be able to negotiate working from home for some or all of the time that work takes. Or not. And your employer's proper concern is how profitable his business is, not feeding Leviathan or serving as some kind of charity. Ayn Rand frequently commented on conservatives never having the moral high ground on leftists, and this column is, unfortunately, a great example of that. If conservatives did not share the same altruistic ethical base, there would be no silly talk like this of a cause -- taxation (!) -- being "greater than oneself," and if conservatives were not basically collectivists, Cuozzo might have taken the strong possibility of a diminished tax base for New York as a point of departure for perhaps finally starting a conversation about rolling back the city's government to its proper scope, of protecting individual rights, rather than treating us all like milch cows. If conservatives could stop whining about how we aren't just mindlessly returning to old routines, they might consider questioning them and beyond. Until they do, they'll keep sounding like grumpy Democrats and wondering why they can't seem to win elections against the the party that undeservedly attracts most of the young, energetic idealists. Freedom to pursue one's self interest inspired at least one successful revolution against tyranny in this country. I suggest conservatives get real about giving that a try for a change. -- CAVLink to Original
  21. Writing at RealClear Politics, Susan Crabtree notes the inevitable jumps to conclusions performed by the Democrats after their all-out campaign to save Gavin Newsom's hide succeeded last week in California:The only way to go was up, so they ... kept digging!? (Image by Josh Kahen, via Unsplash, license.)... President Biden deemed the recall's landslide defeat a "resounding win" for Democrats and his administration's vaccine and COVID-related mandates. California voters rejected the "Republican brand that is centered around insurrection and denying the pandemic," Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters Wednesday. The true takeaway is far more basic. Republicans never stood a chance without a big-name mainstream celebrity running in a state where Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden by nearly 30 percentage points last fall and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin. [bold added]Or, as GOP consultant Matt Gorman put it more tersely, "[That's] like me bragging about winning a [campaign] in Alabama." (This is true, but the GOP's allegiance to Donald Trump is doing it no favors.) The piece also hypothesizes that the November gubernatorial race in Virginia, where both parties are competitive, will be a much better gauge of the national mood. I am inclined to agree. Until and unless the people of California begin to realize that many of their state's biggest problems are a direct result of the policies enacted by the people they elect, and consider the alternative of greater freedom, they will become increasingly irrelevant to national politics -- beyond the fact that they can be counted on to provide a bloc of left-wing officials to the House and Senate, and handicap the Republicans in every presidential race. At best, one could say that many Californians reacted quite strongly against the GOP due to its foolish continued allegiance to Donald Trump, but I suspect that, since Trump is basically an abrasive version of an old-fashioned Democrat, a lot of that is for the wrong reasons, and certainly not because they share my wish that the GOP upheld capitalism. To the rest of us, it boggles the mind to see Newsom, so plainly unfit for office, not booted out, if only for the purpose of sending a wake-up call to his party. Indeed, Republicans might do well to consider running against California in those states with enough voters who might be receptive to an alternative to the likes of Newsom, Pelosi, Feinstein, Harris, and other similar examples of the ... sensibilities ... of that place. -- CAVLink to Original
  22. Four Things 1. A couple of weeks ago, reader Ryan G brought the hurricane information blog Tropical Tidbits to my attention. Let me second his recommendation. The proprietor is a meteorologist who periodically posts videos, such as the one below, in which he goes through the relevant available data and explains in layman-accessible terms what he thinks is likely to happen and why. Probably lots of us on the coast develop a feel for what we have to worry about or not, but we all know that's not infallible. What I like about the videos is that they incorporate more than I know about and in an intelligible way I can use, with the other information at my disposal to weigh my risks more intelligently. 2. En route to other things, I learned that browning- and bruise-resistant Arctic apples are finally on the market in the United States. I'd first heard of these some time ago through an Ayn Rand Institute GMO Monday podcast, but had forgotten about them The New York Times Magazine article, by the way, notes that GMO technology is demonized in part because it was introduced by large corporations. The reaction of the government to this pressure, onerous regulation, has ended up making it extremely difficult for all but the largest corporations to introduce new products, thus perpetuating the ability of the organic food/anti-GMO lobby to continue using this anti-capitalist smear against the technology. 3. Via Hacker News comes an interesting diversion/research tool. The Marginalia Search tool is, as its creator puts it, geared towards "serendipity," or helping the user find something "interesting" about a topic. This it does in part by "favor[ing] text-heavy sites and punish[ing] modern web design," as the title of the comment thread at Hacker News puts it. 4. Journalists Look Like Total Idiots or Evil Gaslighters, part 8,076: As I tweeted this morning:: "This year's giant Antarctic ozone hole probably due to climate change." : "If the warming hadn't happened, we'd likely be looking at a much more typical ozone hole."Only two years ago, we'd had the smallest ozone hole on record. The ozone hole is a seasonal occurrence each winter since sunlight is needed to make the highly unstable O3 molecule. So here's a bonus: If the story is that some change in weather patterns is causing the ozone hole to have an unstable size, the press has gotten that part of the story (if there is one) wrong at least twice now. When something explains everything, it explains nothing. -- CAV
  23. Kevin Folta, writing at his Illumination 2.0 scientific outreach blog, discusses what he calls cyclical sensationalism, or reporting on the problem you create. He begins his explanation of the problem with the help of the following metaphor:WARNING: Misleading information can be hazardous to your health! (Image by Author Unknown, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)A reporter places a banana peel at the top of the staircase in a local mall. A customer walks toward the stairs only to be shoved by the reporter onto the banana peel and down the stairs. The customer dies from traumatic injuries. The next day the reporter's headline reads, "Customer Dies on Mall Stairs." The same reporter repeats the assassination ritual a few more times and shares the story of a negligent staircase widely on social media. he also cites his own article from the previous week, giving the impression of an epidemic of dangerous stairs. From there it spreads among local mall patrons. The next week the reporter's headline reads, "Customers Concerned about Staircase Safety at Mall."This, he argues is an increasingly common M.O. among anti-scientific journalists and "activists," with the cycles of self-reference and amplification, such as by social media, being used to (1) damage the credibility of legitimate scientists, and (2) create the impression (impossible for politicians to ignore!) that there is "mass interest in a non-problem that they describe as a risk." I found Folta's comments quite enlightening, and I would hardly be surprised to see this tactic in use on a wider array of topics than science, particularly areas that require specialized training to understand, or for which most of the public is poorly-prepared to consider critically. -- CAVLink to Original
  24. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, an anti-capitalist trust-buster and an explicit nationalist (See embedded video ca. 5:15.), has weighed in on the crowded Republican primary for one of Ohio's U.S. Senate seats. He has endorsed J.D. Vance, most famous as author of Hillbilly Elegy. This was surprising and disappointing to me: Although I never did regard Vance as an especially effective or consistent advocate for freedom, his book had at least placed much of the blame for the dysfunctional hillbilly/redneck culture of Appalachia and the South where it belonged: bad individual choices. In case you have any doubt that Hawley is about the opposite of what a pro-freedom individual would want in the Republican party, I commend you to the embedded video below. Yaron Brook's comments will be helpful, but if you're pressed for time, you can start at the 5:15 mark, where Hawley calls for a "new nationalism" and aggressive trust-busting against "big tech" for "censoring" what he calls "conservatives." (Are there any of those left anymore?). Except for the particular excuse, the trust-busting garbage could have come straight from Representative Ocasio-Cortez's mouth. But surely, Vance isn't that far gone! you might protest. I am sorry to report not only that, but that he is arguably worse. And the only reason I say arguably is that I have an inexact measure of Hawley's lowness for the comparison. Mona Charen has a longish must-read for anyone who might have had some regard for Vance after reading his book. I did, although I lost some respect for him when he took a gratuitous swipe at Ayn Rand towards the end. After reporting that Vance had at first been anti-Trump, he apparently flip-flopped and has jumped into bed with the worst elements of that camp:But a funny thing happened after the introduction of J.D. Vance, anti-Trump voice of the working class. He began to drift into the Trump camp. I don't know why or how, but Vance became not a voice for the voiceless but an echo of the loudmouth. Scroll through his Twitter feed and you will find retweets of Tucker Carlson, alarmist alerts about immigration, links to Vance's appearances on the podcasts of Seb Gorka, Dinesh D'Souza, and the like, and even retweets of Mike Cernovich. On February 16, he tweeted "I still can't believe the 45th president of the United States has no access to social media, and the left -- alleged opponents of corporate power -- is just totally fine with it." There's a lot along those lines. But the tweet that really made my heart sink was this one from February 12: "Someone should have asked Jeffrey Epstein, John Weaver, or Leon Black about the CRAZY CONSPIRACY that many powerful people were predators targeting children." So now the brilliant author of Hillbilly Elegy, a man of judgment, nuance, and, one assumed, a moral center, is positioning himself as QAnon-adjacent. Please understand what that tweet conveys. By citing the cases of Jeffrey Epstein and John Weaver, one a convicted abuser of underage girls and the other an accused abuser of teenage boys, he is whitewashing the QAnon conspiracy. [links omitted]QAnon-adjacent? No thanks! -- CAVLink to Original
  25. Today, Californians head to the polls to decide two questions: (1) Should Gavin Newsom be removed from office?, and (2) Who should replace Newsom if a majority answers yes? Recent polling would seem to indicate that Newsom will remain in office. That is too bad if it turns out to be accurate. Larry Elder, the candidate who seems most likely to replace Newsom in the event that he is recalled, recently wrote a column that appears in the Orange County Register. Like the candidate, it is far from perfect, but it is about the best description one could hope for for the proper purpose and scope of government coming from a politician today. Elder states his case positively in part:Image by Amber Kipp, via Unsplash, license.Clearly government has its place, albeit limited. It exists to protect the public. The federal government exists to protect its citizens from outside enemies, such as during war. Which is why citizens pay taxes for a military. State and local governments exist to protect law-abiding citizens from criminals. Which is why citizens pay taxes for a police force. From this perspective, inane calls for defunding the police are neither humane, nor righteous.And what if he loses? He has reviewed Newsom's track record of failure and properly rated his hypocrisy as "merely add[ing] insult to injury." Elder correctly names a recent attack on his campaign staff as both a consequence of Newsom's competing theory of government and a portent for things to come should the governor remain in office:Recently, staffers of my campaign were attacked when I visited a homeless encampment in Venice Beach. Such violence and lawlessness are precisely what the government should protect its citizens against. Yet crime and homelessness in California have soared under Gavin Newsom.Elder has spoken clearly. Will Californians hear him? Can they hear him? Or are they so far gone that they will refuse to consider alternatives to a state of affairs that already has many of them leaving the state or preparing to leave? -- CAVLink to Original
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