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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. This man wants to double Californians' sales taxes. (Image by Paulsanjose, via Wikimedia, license.) The pandering news media are too busy yelling "free money" for you to tell by the headlines, and you may still be dazed by that state assembly's many other horrible ideas, anyway. But... The part of Assembly Member Evan Low's "Universal Basic Income" measure (AB 2712) that will wreak havoc for those for whom it is still legal to work for a living is as follows: The bill would authorize the department to adopt regulations to implement the program, and would state the intent of the Legislature to fund the CalUBI Program with a value-added tax of 10% on goods and services, as specified. [link added]There would be irrelevant exceptions regarding who would receive this "universal" handout of stolen money, as well as when everyone's pockets would be picked. (If I recall correctly, food and medicine would not be subjected to this complicated new tax.) But, for customers buying from any business subjected to this tax, they will ultimately pay the tax and foot the bill for whatever compliance costs it will entail -- on top of their already high income taxes and the old-fashioned sales tax they already pay. Coming from a state where it is legal to shoplift -- but not to make plastic straws freely available -- this seems about right. I believe the Texas governor recently welcomed that state's refugees with a polite request to reconsider their voting habits. I second the latter, but would add that if enough Californians would do that now, they could perhaps turn their state around in plenty of time not to have to move at all. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Writing at City Journal, John Tierney delivers a near-comprehensive broadside against the inane and dictatorial plastic bans that have been littering the legal landscape lately. My primary complaint is that Tierney leaves unaddressed the fact that these laws violate individual rights. That aside, Tierney thoroughly covers many aspects of the phenomenon, from the flimsy arguments greens make for them, through the widely-held (but incorrect) belief that the bans reduce pollution on land and sea, and all the way to why politicians keep pressing for more of the bans, despite the fact that they are unpopular even in many leftish areas. The piece is about 4,000 words, so it will take some time, but I strongly recommend it to anyone concerned about the numerous intrusions on liberty coming from the green left -- and even more so to anyone wishing to reduce the problem of plastic pollution. (Spoiler alert: Bans and recycling are making that problem worse on top of making us less free.) Below are excerpts pertinent to each of the points I just noted Tierney making. 1. On the flimsy arguments in favor of banning single-use plastics, we learn that they are not even a major component of American street litter: Why do greens seem oblivious to the fact that the hydrocarbons here are about to be put into the ground? (Image by Brian Yurasits, via Unsplash, license.) It's true that some plastic in America is littered on beaches and streets, and some of it winds up in sewer drains. But researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags (which account for less than 2 percent of litter) and food containers do not reduce litter (a majority of which consists of cigarette butts and paper products). The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage littering and to pick up everything that's discarded -- a direct approach that has proved effective. 2. Regarding causes of plastic pollution in the ocean, we learn that plastic recycling programs are a far more significant cause than the single-use plastics being banned: ome of the plastic from your recycling bin has probably ended up in the ocean because it has gone to a country with a high rate of "mismanaged waste." At the rudimentary recycling plants in Asia, some of the plastic waste leaks out into the environment, and much of the imported waste doesn't even reach a legitimate recycling plant. Journalists and environmentalists have been collecting horror stories in Malaysia and Indonesia of Western plastics piling up at illegal dumps and spewing toxins when they're burned in backyard kitchens. The people living near the dumps and recycling operations complain that foreign plastics are fouling their air and polluting their rivers. [links omitted] 3. And, finally, a word on what motivates this new scourge of immoral, impractical, and annoying laws -- which Tierney shows to be remarkably similar to ancient sumptuary laws: The laws didn't curb the public's sinful appetite for luxury or contribute to national prosperity, but they comforted the social elite, protected special interests, enriched the coffers of church and state, and generally expanded the prestige and power of the ruling class. For nobles whose wealth was eclipsed by nouveau-riche merchants, the laws reinforced their social status. The restrictions on imported luxuries shielded local industries from competition. The fines collected for violations provided revenue for the government, which could be shared with religious leaders who supported the laws. Even when a law wasn't widely enforced, it could be used selectively to punish a political enemy or a commoner who got too uppity. There aren't many people who actually support banning single-use plastics, but they are out there and exercise disproportionate influence. This article is a good one to read and have in mind in case you have a chance to counteract the ill-informed opinions, outright myths, and despicable shaming attempts that are being used to support these bans. In a better world, we'd be able to use plastic bags and straws -- and toss them into the trash -- without being scolded about it. But we live in this world, and unless we begin to fight back, we will lose these simple (and surprisingly valuable) liberties. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Over the weekend, I re-read Ayn Rand's 1965 essay, "The Cashing-In: The Student 'Rebellion.'" Paragraph by paragraph, two things kept leaping out at me: (1) It was astounding how many things about the culture Rand was able to essentialize, and (2) how similar our culture is now. (These things explain the trope of Ayn Rand as prophet, and pervade her writing. And yet the new connections one can find never cease to amaze.) After the polling in Nevada's caucuses over the weekend, I'll share just one example. Regarding the campus protesters of the time, Rand quotes from a survey in Newsweek: "If they are rebels," the survey continues, "they are rebels without an ideology, and without long-range revolutionary programs. They rally over issues, not philosophies, and seem unable to formulate or sustain a systematized political theory of society, either from the left or right." (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 242) [bold added]And then, a bit later, Rand makes her point that the "rebels" aren't rebelling at all: Image by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia, license. The helpless bewilderment on the face of Harry Reasoner, the commentator, when he tried to sum up what he had presented, was an eloquent indication of why the press is unable properly to handle the student rebellion. "Now -- immediacy -- any situation must be solved now," he said incredulously, describing the rebels' attitude, neither praising nor blaming, in the faintly astonished, faintly helpless tone of a man unable to believe that he is seeing savages running loose on the campus of one of America's great universities. Such are the products of modern philosophy. They are the type of students who are too intelligent not to see the logical consequences of the theories they have been taught -- but not intelligent nor independent enough to see through the theories and reject them. So they scream their defiance against "The System," not realizing that they are its most consistently docile pupils, that theirs is a rebellion against the status quo by its archetypes, against the intellectual "Establishment" by its robots who have swallowed every shopworn premise of the "liberals" of the 1930's, including the catch-phrases of altruism, the dedication to "deprived people," to such a safely conventional cause as "the war on poverty." A rebellion that brandishes banners inscribed with bromides is not a very convincing nor very inspiring sight. (249) [bold added]These passages together remind me of the young crowds of self-proclaimed "democratic socialists" who rally most frequently around the manufactured "issue" of climate change. Specifically, the following passage from Socialism Sucks!, came to mind. The economist authors attended a socialist conference in the United States and had concluded that most of the youths there did not really understand what socialism really is, and: A significant number of socialist leaders at this conference, however, did support socialism as we understand the term and would socialize the means of production if given the chance. We fear that they are using social justice causes like abortion, the environment, and immigrant rights to bring more young people into the fold. (loc 1,673)The parallels continue, and culminate in another striking similarity: The panic of members of the establishment in the face of what they have spent so long bringing about: These "activists" are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry to all the university administrations and faculties: "Brothers, you asked for it!" (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 246)The Democratic party establishment and its lackeys in the conventional media don't explicitly operate at the highest levels of philosophical abstraction, but they have played their part, fighting for one anti-freedom cause after another, and lazily repeating whatever the most fashionable intellectual figures say at the moment for decades. The Democrats are finally getting the straight version of what they have worked for all these years. If that frightens them, perhaps they could spare a thought for the consequences we all will face if Bernie Sanders, their ideal, makes it into office and succeeds. And that thought experiment is where things really get chilling: All most of these people fear is the Democrats losing the election because what Sanders wants is too obvious for most people to evade. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Blog Roundup 1. Writing at New Ideal, Tom Bowden notes that "Wall Street needs a moral defense against [Elizabeth] Warren [and Bernie] Sanders," as he reviews In Pursuit of Wealth: The Moral Case for Finance, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins: Image by Roberto Júnior, via Unsplash, license. The lead essay, "The Moral Case for Finance," is a tour de force, describing in detail what financiers actually do to deserve the enormous profits they generate. By channeling savings to the most productive businesses and creditworthy consumers, financiers "match money with talent" and "maximize the financial well-being of everyone involved in trade," write Brook and Watkins. Large profits, they argue, are not a cause for shame but a sign of virtue...Bowden then briefly indicates topics covered by other chapters in the book, including one that was scheduled to be posted on the same blog afterwards. (Part I of "The Morality of Moneylending: A Short History" now appears here.) 2. Although it's laudable to try to learn from failure, Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions argues that it is better to learn from mistakes: There's a big difference. You can make a good decision, based on sound reasons, and still have it result in failure. For example, there can be many external factors that affect whether you win a contract or make a profit on a product or have the right person for a job. That doesn't necessarily mean you should change the way you price your contracts, promote your products, or hire new people. Failure does not always imply you did something wrong or you should do something differently. Success is not guaranteed on this earth -- not even to those who do everything in their control as well as possible. On the other hand, you can make a colossal mistake and luck out so that you don't suffer any bad consequences. But if you don't realize that, you risk making the same mistake, again -- with terrible consequences.Continue reading there for how to become better at detecting mistakes. In addition to this being a better way to learn how to become more effective, it is more fair to yourself, and thus better, emotionally as well. 3. Over at the Center for Industrial Progress, Alex Epstein lists some key takeaways from a discussion of a climate change town hall on his Power Hour podcast, which he calls a "wake-up call." His post concludes: The key is to counter the anti-fossil fuel movement in a very aggressive way that makes clear to people that these anti-fossil policies are not going to make our country and our environment better -- that they are actually deadly and miserable for human beings.The podcast aired last September, but it is no less relevant now. 4. At New Ideal, ARI announces that its online campus now hosts a collection of previously unpublished letters of Ayn Rand, from 1938-1950. (Specifically, a final group of these letters had just been added to the collection.) The announcement includes the following excerpt from a letter Rand sent after outlining The Fountainhead: At present, I am working on my next novel -- the very big one about American architects. For the last few months I have been wracking my brain and nerves upon the preliminary outline. It is always the hardest part of the work for me -- and my particular kind of torture. Now it is done, finished, every chapter outlined -- and there are eighty of them at present! The actual writing of it is now before me, but I would rather write ten chapters than plan one. So the worst of it is over.Here are links to the four parts of this 40-letter collection, which was selected by Michael Berliner, the editor of Letters of Ayn Rand: 1, 2, 3, and 4. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. In case you need a fresh example -- or a short litany of examples -- of environmentalists opposing the very things they say they support, I refer you to Alex Bezerow of the American Council on Science and Health. Berezow comments on a German news story I noticed a day or so ago: Greens demand that we make these, and charge them with solar and wind -- and then keep us from building the required infrastructure. (Image by Dario, via Unsplash, license.) Solar power, wind mills, and electric cars will save the world, environmentalists tell us. But if that's actually true, then environmentalists need to stop blocking the construction of solar power, wind mills, and electric cars. The latest flash point has occurred in Germany, where Elon Musk's electric car company Tesla was clearing forest outside of Berlin to build a new factory. Of course, environmentalists are unhappy when any trees are cut down (despite the fact they can be replaced), and they further claimed that Tesla would poison the drinking water. So, a court issued a temporary injunction. [link omitted]Bezerow rightly argues that "environmentalists" are really after political power and stopping human progress -- after elaborating on a couple of attempts by greens to oppose building the kinds of electric generating facilities they claim they want us to use, to charge the cars they demand we drive, but won't let us build. Remember this, and mention it to others the next time you hear the likes of Greta Thunberg demand that we "leave it in the ground" ASAP. They don't give a damn about the consequences we will suffer, left as we would be without power or transportation, with no viable alternative in place. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. On learning that the four thousand illustrations from Jules Verne's "54-volume masterpiece" are now hosted online, I became curious. Why hadn't I ever heard of this huge "masterpiece?" Also, since I sometimes enjoy science fiction and fantasy, I was curious about reading at least some of Verne. I had also recently reviewed some of Ayn Rand's work on writing, and knew she might have said something about Verne, so I looked, and found a couple of passages. The first, from The Art of Fiction, considers science fiction as fantasy, and really just uses Verne to make a point: Most of Jules Verne's science fiction presented extensions of the discoveries of his time; for instance, he wrote stories about dirigibles and submarines before these were actually invented. This was merely a literary exaggeration of an existing fact. Since inventions exist, it is legitimate for a writer to project new and greater ones. (p. 169)The second doesn't offer particulars, but I take it as a hint at possible reason(s) (apart from the need for translation) that Verne's work is not widely-known as a whole, despite that whole containing several renowned works. This comes from "What Is Romanticism?" the sixth chapter of The Romantic Manifesto: With its emphasis on sheer physical action and neglect of human psychology, this class of novels stands on the borderline between serious and popular literature. No top-rank novelists belong to this category; the better-known ones are writers of science fiction, such as H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. (Occasionally, a good writer of the Naturalistic school, with a repressed element of Romanticism, attempts a novel on an abstract theme that requires a Romantic approach; the result falls into this category. For example, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.) It is obvious why the novels of this category are enormously unconvincing. And, no matter how skillfully or suspensefully their action is presented, they always have an unsatisfying, uninspiring quality.(p. 109)I haven't read any of Verne, so I can't offer thoughts one way or the other, but this is highly suggestive of a couple of possible answers to my first, broad question: lack of integration or a failure to move beyond suspense or rich description seem plausible enough to me. It's an interesting question. That said, I looked a bit more into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I suspect I'll eventually read it. It sounds interesting enough on its own, and now I'm curious to see what Rand might have had in mind when she mentioned Verne in that second passage. Coincidentally, in The Art of Fiction, Rand soon after mentions a book I did read recently, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of which she has a higher opinion: Image by Henry Van der Weyde, via Wikipedia, public domain. The best example of this kind of fantasy is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The literal subject of the story -- a man who changes himself physically into a monster -- is impossible, but this is only a symbolic device to convey a psychological truth. The story is a study of a man with contradictory premises. By drinking a special medicine, Dr. Jekyll indulges in the fun of turning himself into a monster. At first he is able to control the process, but then he reaches a stage where he cannot control it anymore, where he turns into the monster whether he wants to or not. This is what in fact happens to bad premises: at first they might be hidden or controlled, but if unchecked, they take control of a personality. (pp. 169-170)To that I would add that, despite the fact that the general idea behind the story is very well known, I still found suspense in the way Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story, and highly recommend it. That the general idea of the story is so commonplace caused me to hesitate about reading it, and I am glad I got past that. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Some time ago, I ran across an intriguing thread at Hacker News that I promised myself I'd take a look at later on. It starts with the following question: "What has your work taught you that other people don't realize?" I looked, but did not finish: There were 700-plus replies as of yesterday! Nevertheless, the short time I spent there was worth it. To show you what I mean, I'll throw out three samples: Millions of employment novices well-served... (Image by Joshua Austin, via Unsplash, license.) 1. I worked at a McDonald's in high school that was adjacent to a major highway so we were always packed. Even now, getting in the flow of programming when everything is going right and I'm making huge progress, that feeling pales in comparison to being in the zone when working drive thru with 8 orders on the screen and each of them is in a different state as you build them as fast as possible as different components are coming in from different stations all at once. When you tame that chaos, and it's Saturday afternoon when all the best people are there and everyone is on their game... I've never experienced anything like it. It's like when you see a really amazing play in your favorite sport, but that same amazing play goes on for a couple hours. I imagine it's like being an air traffic controller or maybe a stock broker on the trading floor where you can talk to everyone and it's productive chaos at its glorious peak. 2. When I was a young man, I was working at a children's museum, and one of our guests got sick by the front door. I was dispatched to clean it up. While cleaning, (no customers were around at the time), I flippantly said, "Where's the dignity in this?" An elderly woman who was working as a volunteer at the museum overheard me and said, "The only dignity a job has is the dignity you bring to it." 3. I fixed my mum's computer a few years back (cleaned up some adware and other stuff that was making it awful to use) and did a bunch of virus scans and cleanup etc. After a while she asked "Is this what you do for a job?" The conception of what happens inside our industry just isn't present in the wider population, and I imagine we're not unique in that. I saved money for a semester of college in Europe by working at McDonald's during college, and I really liked the description of the busy Saturday -- both for accuracy and the reminder of my youth. The thread reminds me a little of a couple of times I prepared for behavioral-type job interviews. Done correctly, that is a valuable exercise, and I noticed it was a bit of an ego boost on top of serving as an inventory. But this question is a little different, and I think I might think about it some time. As with the interview preparation (and the plethora of examples in that thread), I imagine it could well lead to (or remind me again of) valuable insights. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. A story in the New York Post crows that "Team Trump Just Called a Halt to the Obama-Era War on American Suburbs:" Westchester County was once Barack Obama's "petri dish." Now, it's Donald Trump's. Since when should anyone's property be at the mercy of a government official? (Image by Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) During the Obama administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development tried to install Washington bureaucrats as the decision makers for how communities across all 50 states should grow. Using an obscure rule called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, HUD sought to remake America's cities, towns and villages by forcing any community that was getting federal funds to meet racial quotas. To do this, HUD applied the notion of "disparate impact," which unilaterally deems housing patterns to be discriminatory if minority representation is not evenly spread across the jurisdiction. Communities with high concentrations of minorities are automatically labeled segregated. ... [A] year into the settlement, HUD demanded that the county go "beyond the four corners" of the decree and declare its basic zoning rules on things like height, density and safe drinking water as racially "exclusionary." Single-family homes on quarter-acre lots were deemed potentially "racist" -- supposedly because minority members might not be able to afford them.The good news, such as it is, is that the "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)" policy, which Obama implemented at the last moment of his administration, has been considerably weakened. Paul Mirengoff of the conservative Power Line blog correctly notes a problem I have noticed with other instances of Trump "finding Obama's pen" and using it -- rather than pursue a more principled and effective solution to his predecessor's abuses of power: Not really. Yes, the Trump HUD, under Secretary Ben Carson, has proposed a revision of Obama's AFFH that peels back some of the rule's most egregious overreach. However, it has the core of Obama's AFFH ... intact. That core is the federal government's power to control local zoning decisions. As long as the feds have this power, they can tell people where to live and take control of key housing, transportation, and business development decisions. They can siphon off suburban tax revenue and control suburban, as well as urban, planning. [bold added]And it is hardly lost on Mirengoff that a Democratic successor to Trump can easily restore this "overreach" and more with such an apparatus intact and waiting to be used. Speaking of an earlier claim by Hugh Hewitt that Trump had [brought] "down the hammer on the guidance-addicted bureaucrats" via a pair of executive orders, I stated: Maybe. For now, until some crafty functionary finds a new way to circumvent the law. And via an order a future President can easily overturn, anyway. ... He can't, but it isn't because he can't get the legislation he needs to remedy the problem that Trump is signing this executive order. It's because he has no fundamental problem with central planning: He didn't ask by what right the government plans our lives. There is no larger or long-range plan to rid America of this huge, long-known, and well-documented burden, of which "dark matter" is just a particularly pernicious manifestation. [bold added]So, clearly, Trump's being a fan of the government running everything (as long as it's his way) isn't just not a long-term solution to these problems, it's worse than none at all. But on top of that, Mirengoff shows us that the problem is bigger than just the man in the Oval Office: The Trump-Carson "AFFH lite" accepts the principle that it is the business of the feds to tell local governments how to zone and plan.And, as intelligent as so much of Mirengoff's commentary is, he has accepted the principle that government can and should "plan" private economic activity and tell property owners what they can and cannot do with what they own. This -- like the housing rules under discussion -- violates individual rights, as Ayn Rand in remarks about the term state's rights noted in 1963: The constitutional concept of "states' rights" pertains to the division of power between local and national authorities, and serves to protect the states from the Federal government; it does not grant to a state government an unlimited, arbitrary power over its citizens or the privilege of abrogating the citizens' individual rights.This applies equally well to counties and municipalities, and includes zoning, which should not exist at all, and whose existence sets the stage for such federal-level meddling as two administrations in a row now have adopted. Note that we haven't even gotten around to discussing the impropriety of the government stealing money and giving it away, which also continues under this cosmetic change. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Four Things News you may or may not be able to use... 1. Bacteria living in parasitic worms produce a chemical that holds promise as a new antibiotic: In lab experiments, the new antibiotic was able to cure mice of dangerous Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae infections, without any toxic side effects. Getting darobactin ready for humans will undoubtedly take a long time, but this is a promising start. Researchers identified the nematode as a possible host for an effective antibiotic because of the way these worms feed on insects, targeting their larvae and releasing bacteria that then have to fight pathogens similar to those inside the human gut. [italics in original, links dropped]For the more scientifically inclined, the Nature paper is here. 2. Some time back, I encountered a reference to a flow chart version of when medieval Christians permitted sex. The flow chart, first compiled by historian James Brundage, appears in all its glory in The Atlantic: Penitentials were handbooks carried by some priests in the Middle Ages that delineated various sins for private confession and their penances. They were full of strict limitations as to what constituted pious behavior. They went on and on. To digest it all, James A Brundage, a scholar of the Crusades, aggregated the complex rules about sex into this excellent flowchart. [links omitted]Go there to view the flow chart. After having to look up Whitsun, I wondered if anyone had worked out how often, best-case scenario, people had the green light. The answer would appear to be no. Perhaps it's in Brundage's textbook, but if it is, I haven't seen it cited. In any event, the chart reminds me a little of the "consent" checklists that modern Puritans of the left want people to fill out in colleges. (I wasn't expecting to find an actual example!) And I am sure it gets used about as often as folks in the Middle Ages performed the mental gymnastics that actually following such rules would require: That's not to say that Medieval folks actually lived according to the flowchart rules, of course. There's always a huge gap between proscription and reality. People did it then like we do it now: whenever they could. But it is a fascinating glimpse into the both prurient and ascetic world of Medieval confessor literature, and what kind of standards Medieval people might have measured themselves against.When your standards have nothing to do with living... 3. Changing gears... If you've ever wondered why a 2 x 4 is neither, head on over to The Spruce Crafts, where you can knock yourself out on the subject of "Nominal vs. Actual Lumber Dimensions." The piece includes a useful chart. 4. At Slate is a fascinating article on the "Lines of Code that Changed Everything" and it starts out with a bang: Bouchon's Automated Loom. (Image by Dogcow, via Wikipedia, license.) Binary Punch Cards Date: 1725 The first code Binary programming long predates what we think of as computers. Basile Bouchon is believed to be the first person to punch holes into paper and use it to control a machine: In 1725, he invented a loom that wove its patterns based on the instructions provided in the perforated paper it was fed. A punched hole is the "one," and the absence of a punched hole is the "zero." As much as things have changed since then, the essential building block of code has not. -- Elena Botella, Slate [link in original, format edits]I was aware that punch cards came first, but the date came to me as a surprise. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Kerry Jackson of the Pacific Research Institute offers an update (PDF, via Issues and Insights) on California's new law that essentially bans gig work (and threatens other industries, as well as the franchise business model). After briefly noting the disastrous impacts this law has had in barely over a month, Jackson speculates on whether this power grab by the Democrats and the labor unions might backfire: Image by Victor Xok, ">via Unsplash, license. Like so many other laws passed in California during the Blue State Era, AB5 was a solution in search of a problem that has introduced some nasty consequences. It might well be the worst law on what has become a long list of injurious policies. Its effects are so baleful and widespread that it's tempting to wonder if Democrats made a mistake with AB5 that will break their stranglehold on state politics. And it might break their dominance in states such as New Jersey and New York, which are pursuing their own efforts at "cracking down hard on the gig economy." California Democrats will try to mollify some of the anger with more exemptions. But will that be enough? We're seeing a restlessness in California that hasn't been present in some time. We might look back at 2020 being a political turning point in the state, with Assembly Bill 5 the force that changed the direction. I don't expect the Democrats to change, and I'm not sanguine about the possibility that the people who have kept them in power for so long will, either. (The state has long been recognized as a "judicial hellhole" for businesses.) But we can hope. Jackson does note that some Californians are openly questioning their party affiliation. Having said that, I think that the best outcome we have a realistic chance of seeing is a repeal of AB-5 by referendum. Sadly, this is not what Uber and Lyft are working on, which I think is both a tactical and strategic mistake. AB-5 should be repealed completely. Full stop. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Between Ben Domenech of the New York Post and psychologist Michael Hurd, who blogs at the Daily Dose of Reason, we have some bad news about our culture in snapshot form. First, Domenech contends that Joe Biden -- queue jokes about him taking his old boss's "lead from behind" literally -- has fallen victim to a process he helped create. Domenech starts with the irony that Biden bragged in the last Democratic debate about "almost single-handedly" keeping Robert Bork off the Supreme Court: Bork's defeat in the Senate at the hands of Mr. Biden and his colleagues was a turning point in many ways. One of the most significant ways was that it upended the standards for desirability in a judicial nominee. Pre-Bork, the most desirable thing was to have lots of experience so that senators would be convinced that the nominee was qualified for the job. Post-Bork, the most desirable thing became to have as short a paper trail as possible, so as to minimize the chances that a nominee's writing could be distorted or seized upon in a way that could ultimately derail the nomination. People haven't focused on it quite yet, but what we are and have been witnessing is a similar transformation in presidential politics. In presidential candidates, as with post-Bork judicial nominees, lengthy government experience has become a liability rather than a strength. [bold added]Domenech is absolutely right about this, and he elaborates a bit later: Image by Tarun Deep Girdher and Rana Swarajsinh, via Wikipedia, license. There is something, though, about the Democratic swoon for Messrs. Obama and Buttigieg that is particularly emblematic. It goes beyond the mere mechanics of campaigning or of opposition research. The short-on-experience candidates are the personification of judging on intentions rather than on results. They are the perfect representations -- Bernie Sanders, in a way, too -- of a party that prioritizes virtue-signaling over actually getting things done. [bold added]My only complaint with the above observations is that they don't go far enough. The Republicans went with a political novice in the last election, and their primary process, which Hot Air's Allahpundit observes "allowed Trump to pile up an insurmountable lead" isn't exactly built on the premise of thoroughly vetting anyone or carefully weighing alternatives, either. (The Democratic "debates" accomplish this in a different way: by everyone having (or pretending to have) views so indistinguishable we end up with things like all the candidates raising their hands as being in favor of medical care for indigent immigrants at taxpayer expense.) To begin to understand the significance of this bipartisan quest for a living, breathing embodiment of "none-of-the-above," we turn to Michael Hurd, who recently said: I think I finally figured out why Pete Buttigieg holds any appeal at all to Democratic primary voters. It's not because of who he is; it's because of who he isn't. [links omitted, bold added]And later: ... If you follow some of the things he has been saying over the last year, you end up pretty confident that he will, in the end, come out for things like the Green New Deal, nationalization of medicine, free college, economy-crushing tax rates and all the rest. And he did claim, at one point, that Thomas Jefferson references should be removed or renamed. If none of these things matter to Democrats, then they should have no problem voting for the socialist schoolmarm or the outright Communist, just as easily as Buttigieg. Maybe Mayor Pete's bland vagueness is a way for them to close their eyes to the destruction of their party and, quite possibly, the country. [links omitted, bold added]Our country has been sleepwalking from freedom to chains for generations, now, and the records of our uniformly lousy politicians are proof. And yet most people are too comfortable with our unstable mixed economy or too averse to thinking deeply about politics (which the mixed economy keeps making intrude our daily lives more and more each day) to think deeply about making a different choice than they have their entire lives. Voters sense something is wrong, but do not know or care to ask why. They evade the fact that all the unlikable people with bad records they reject were once young spouters of good intentions themselves -- and end up repeating the very same mistake. News flash: If everyone who runs on the same set of platitudes ends up with a bad record, consider the idea that it is the platitudes which are bad, having been put into practice and failing so many times. Until this changes, we will ironically have politics, which nobody wants to discuss seriously, taking up more and more of our daily lives because we keep electing people who tell us that they will take care of everything, and that they mean well. To propose to take even partial control of the lives of other adults is to propose to do exactly the opposite of what a government official should be doing. And it is not a good intention, no matter how nice the person making the proposal might seem. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Business writer Suzanne Lucas discusses a result from a Verizon business survey that you may find surprising: There is such a thing as corporate jargon that most people like. Curious as to why, Lucas considers the five most-liked phrases and the five least-liked phrases with an eye on what they imply and with the goal of understanding what makes some phrases liked and others disliked. Speaking of the best-liked five, Lucas concludes in part: These phrases focus on teamwork and positive plans. Getting the big picture says "I'm not just going to focus on my small area, but I want to understand how we work together as a team." Understanding what others do and how everything fits together makes a team function better. All hands on deck, and bring to the table focus on inclusiveness. Everyone has something they can bring to the table, and getting everyone involved in a project is, again, very team focused. The other two aren't quite so team-oriented, but they do show enthusiasm and creativity. After all, one of the worst phrases is, "this is how we've always done it." Going out of the box means you're willing to look at other possibilities. Go all-in shows commitment to an idea or plan. They are all positive things that focus on getting work done!I think Lucas pretty well nails this, and I mostly agree with her analysis of the five least-liked phrases. But why? And how can I better apply what she has taught me? Sure. I'm on board with, "Do[ing] what can to fix it up and find a positive solution," the next time something jargony makes me cringe, but what does that really mean? Why do I cringe? What aspect of my communication can I improve? Do I always do this, and if not, why and when wouldn't I? I think two ideas I learned from Ayn Rand are key to making this a richer lesson. The first is what Rand called the trader principle: Image by Josh Calabrese, via Unsplash, license. There is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value. The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange -- an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment. A trader does not expect to be paid for his defaults, only for his achievements. He does not switch to others the burden of his failures, and he does not mortgage his life into bondage to the failures of others. [italics in original, bold added] I think this clarifies at least three aspects of what Lucas discussed: why (1) teamwork-oriented phrases and (2) those that affirm the value of individual effort work so well for most of us; and (3) why commitment to a plan sounds good. My effort won't be wasted, nor will I be pulling someone else's weight if a plan is good. (Often, but not always, commitment to a plan is evidence that it is a good one.) We all win by doing what we each do best to reach a clear objective in a clear way. To reinforce this and help understand the more cringe-worthy phrases, let's consider motivation by love vs. by fear: You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive...[bold added] Something I noticed early on in my first job out of college was that the bad bosses frequently tried to use "motivation" by fear. I have also noticed that bad planning can result in people having "not looking bad" as their substitute for a positive goal. The bottom five catchphrases all reek of poor planning, being singled out for an extra burden, and someone not wanting to admit those things: Hearing them makes me feel not like I'm about to make a trade, but like I am about to be taken advantage of. It's easy to see the love in a shared goal. But what about the fear? That comes in when we consider that, often, such phrases come from a boss or coworker or subordinate (See Note.) not holding up his end of the bargain and hoping to be bailed out, and the real possibility that you will end up doing more than your fair share in the case of "success" or looking bad in the case of failure. Short-term, one may well decide that helping cover for bad management or an incompetent coworker may be in one's employment or career interests, but long-term, that is demoralizing. The directness and taking-of-initiative that Lucas advises is thus a way to minimize such short-term pain by getting to the bottom of whatever the jargon is hiding -- and a way to improve one's job and career over the longer haul by fostering a culture of clear communication and mutually-beneficial teamwork. -- CAV Note: That was me, in that first job out of college, telling my boss about a problem without also offering my first stab at solving it or trying to solve it first, myself. I didn't use jargon, but I can see this happening both ways in the chain of command. Link to Original
  13. Thanks to the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, we can dip our virtual toes in fame. In "11 Reasons Not to Become Famous," Tim Ferris writes an eye-opening post on the good, the bad, and the ugly of achieving fame. And don't let the fact that Ferris isn't an A-list celebrity put you off: Some of his stories will give you pause, and you will be glad of the warning and his advice for how to mitgate some of fame's consequences. Consider his advice on kidnapping (!), which he illustrates with his own brush with that particular hazard: Image by Brian Solis, via Wikimedia, license. If you appear semi-famous online, guess what? Even if you're not rich, it can be assumed that you have enough money to make a nice ransom. There are places where kidnapping is an established industry, and professionals do this on a regular basis. The US is generally safe, but if you're flying overseas, you should be aware of a few things. For example, if you use a car service, give them a fake name (and nothing cute like "James Bond," which will blow it) that they'll use on the sign or iPad to find you at luggage claim. Here's why: it's common practice for organized crime to have an arrangement to buy flight manifests from airport employees. This means that the potential kidnappers, much like a Michelin three-star restaurant, will Google every name associated with every seat to figure out exactly who is who. If you appear to make an attractive target, they will then go to the airport an hour before you land, find the driver with your name on a sign, and pay or threaten them to leave. They then replace your driver with their own driver, who now holds the sign and waits for you. B'bye! This can take other forms too. Once in Central Asia, I had a driver show up at my hotel to take me to the airport, but ... he used my real name, and I'd given the car service a fake name. To buy time, I asked him to wait while I made a few phone calls. About 10 minutes later, the real driver showed up to take me to the airport, using the designated pseudonym. The first fraudulent driver took off, and to this day, I have no idea how he knew where I was staying or when I was leaving. But it bears repeating: there are professionals who do this, and they will be very good at what they do.Ferris is far from making a mountain out of a molehill here: (1) This is just one thing he has had to deal with (and arguably not even the most hair-raising); and (2) He offers the following excellent way to conceptualize why fame presents oportunities and hassles in equal measure: In that short span of time, my monthly blog audience had exploded from a small group of friends (20 -- 30?) to the current size of Providence, Rhode Island (180, -- 200,000 people). Well, let's dig into that. What do we know of Providence? Here's one snippet from Wikipedia, and bolding is mine: Compared to the national average, Providence has an average rate of violent crime and a higher rate of property crime per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2010, there were 15 murders, down from 24 in 2009. In 2010, Providence fared better regarding violent crime than most of its peer cities. Springfield, Massachusetts, has approximately 20,000 fewer residents than Providence but reported 15 murders in 2009, the same number of homicides as Providence but a slightly higher rate per capita. The point is this: you don't need to do anything wrong to get death threats, rape threats, etc. You just need a big enough audience. Think of yourself as the leader of a tribe or the mayor of a city. The averages will dictate that you get a certain number of crazies, con artists, extortionists, possible (or actual) murderers, and so on. In fairness, we should also include a certain number of geniuses, a certain number of good Samaritans, and so on. Sure, your subject matter and content matters, but it doesn't matter as much as you'd like to think. [bold in original]Since then, Ferris has become more famous -- about New York City-sized famous. He takes a similar look at Gotham -- and his collection of stories starts making lots of sense. A good thing about his post is that it is clear-eyed without being alarmist. Ferris also has much to say about the good fame has brought him, and he ends with a great quote about fame from another famous person. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. As far as I'm concerned, snow is pretty under a microscope and from afar-- and an ugly mess otherwise! (Image by David Grubler, via Wikimedia, license.) Four Things 1. Scientific wonder of the day: Snow Crystals. This (PDF, via John Cook) 500-plus page scientific book about snow crystals is beautifully illustrated with examples, and this even includes some of the figures -- like one explaining plate-like vs. columnar shape vs. temperature (Fig. 3.16 on p. 102). The author has an entire website on snow crystals, where the visitor can learn about such curiosities as identical twin snowflakes, buy illustrated volumes on snowflakes, and pretty much go to town on the subject of snow. Knowing this makes me no less happy to be permanently exempt, as a Floridian, from shoveling snow in the winter... 2. Word of the day: Astrophilately. This is the commemoration of space exploration through postage stamps and postmarks. For anyone interested, there is a club. 3. "Law" of the day: Cunningham's Law. Via Irreal, the law states: The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it's to post the wrong answer.The source -- which has more -- cites an illustrative xkcd cartoon. 4. Etiquette Tip of the day: Fighting Fire With Fire. Miss Manners puts a way to shut down incessant talk about medical conditions very delicately: In your most compassionate voice, say, "Please stop. I feel for you -- so much, in fact, that I get squeamish when I hear about illness, and you won't want to be around me. I'm really sorry, and I hope you understand." Miss Manners trusts that they will understand that the physical consequences of nattering on would be dire.This makes me think of a monster's ... breath weapon ... from a B-grade science fiction movie for some reason. No need for more, thanks! -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Writing for the James G, Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Edward Archer offers a disturbing bird's-eye view of "The Intellectual and Moral Decline in Academic Research." (HT: Steve D.) Interestingly, none other than President Dwight Eisenhower warned about the problems government money could cause in his 1961 farewell address. Archer's is definitely a read the whole thing kind of piece, so here's the tip of the iceberg: Archer notes two major instances of research misconduct at Duke University. (Image by NPatrick6~commonswiki, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.) Incompetence in concert with a lack of accountability and political or personal agendas has grave consequences: The Economist stated that from 2000 to 2010, nearly 80,000 patients were involved in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted. Beginning in 2013, my colleagues and I published a series of empirical refutations in top medical and scientific journals showing that no human could survive on the diets used by the U.S. government to create the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To be precise, we demonstrated that the methods used by government and academic researchers produced data that were physiologically implausible and inadmissible as scientific evidence. Yet, rather than address the consequences of our refutations, academic researchers simply ignored the evidence. That lack of scientific integrity leads to evermore faculty and students using demonstrably implausible dietary data every year. Given that taxpayers fund thousands of meaningless studies that generate erroneous and often ridiculous conclusions (e.g., eggs cause heart disease or coffee causes cancer), it is unsurprising that policy architects and the public are confused about "healthy eating." [links in original, minor format edits]There's more where that came from, and Archer offers some recommendations to begin to correct the mess. I think some of these might be good first steps -- but only if made part of a larger plan to remove government from all funding and supervision of science not clearly related to its proper function. That said, naming a problem is the first step towards solving it, and for that alone, I am grateful to Dr. Archer. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. By all accounts, President Trump's intuition for welfare state politics (aka "owning the libs") was on full display during his State of the Union Address last night. On top of this, Nancy Pelosi, whom he apparently snubbed for a handshake earlier, played into his hands by making an ass of herself throughout. This she consummated by pointedly ripping her paper copy of the speech in half. Pelosi was hardly alone in serving as a a foil to the President. During the address, Pelosi or the Democrats -- whose female members wore white, as if they belonged to a religious cult -- witlessly obliged Trump, as if they were a band of marionettes. Among other things, Pelosi or the Democrats: Refused to applaud a short tribute to the achievements and heroism of past Americans. Hissed or heckled Trump after he noted a reduction in welfare rolls. Did not applaud a student who received a scholarship. Refused even polite applause when Trump awarded Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Before I go on, let me be clear that there are good reasons to be upset about much of what Trump has done or failed to do during his Presidency. And most, but not all, of these things do not align with the anti-freedom priorities of the Democrats. For example, how did Trump reduce welfare rolls, and is this part of a larger strategy to abolish welfare? I don't know the answer to the first question off the top of my head, but I am certain that the answer to the second question is No. Furthermore, the above (after the first item) are not all necessarily things to applaud, in ordinary circumstances -- but read on about why token applause might have been the best thing to do, anyway. And yes, I agree with Trump's words, "[N]o parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school." But I don't see this man plotting a road map to end socialized education. And I do have every reason to wonder whether the tax credit program he supports is just a way to get federal funding for religious education. To wit:Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or Independent, surely we must all agree that every human life is a sacred gift from God!No. Our inalienable rights derive from our nature as rational beings. And the idea that they come from God is being used by anti-abortionists to claim "rights" for fetuses at the expense of the actual rights of pregnant women. These are all legitimate gripes, but protesting during the State of the Union is not the way to bring them up. The President runs the show and it is too easy to look foolish -- as the Democrats demonstrated -- by trying to make a point while it is going on. Indeed, this "formal speech from the throne" -- as Thomas Jefferson called it -- seems practically designed for the purpose. (And I agree with him and Jeff Jacoby that the message should be transmitted from the President to Congress in written form.) So, sure, I had some chuckles at Pelosi's expense, but then the full context of her blunders set in and I realized that this speech basically teed up Donald Trump to look good -- because his opponents are so consumed with hatred for him, and probably also America, in many cases. As an opponent of the left and a lover of liberty, I have found the Trump Presidency to be a disaster, in objective terms. And yet I will consider voting for him simply because the Democrats seem hell-bent on nominating someone much worse. And now, after the State of the Union address, criticizing Trump will seem petulant at first blush to many people who need to hear that we could do a lot better. Trump -- with a big assist from Pelosi -- just made it harder to be heard when speaking up for many things, especially separation of church and state, and abortion rights. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. David Harsanyi discusses Elizabeth Warren's latest and most Orwellian proposal yet, criminalizing "disinformation" about elections: Discussion is an active process, by which participants help each other decide for themselves whether something is true, or even discover the truth. It often leads to people changing their minds. Making people afraid to voice their opinions will make them less likely to be able to correct themselves if they are mistaken. Why does Elizabeth Warren want to curtail this valuable activity? (Image by Edvin Johansson, via Unsplash, license.) f the state can criminalize disinformation about elections, what is to stop it from criminalizing "disinformation" about candidates or science or public policy -- or anything that supposedly undermines the common good? If, say, a person prone to hyperbole publicly accuses Warren of being a proto-fascist scoundrel, is he "misleading" voters? What if an elected official claimed to be Native American but really wasn't? Would she be banned? How about social-media users who assert once widely accepted scientific statements that have fallen into disfavor -- statements such as ... "there are only two genders"? What about the rhetoric of "climate-change deniers"? One wonders if Warren realizes that her plan is a precedent that authorizes the next Donald Trump to dictate the parameters of acceptable speech online. Regarding that last question: Warren either doesn't know or (as I judge) doesn't care about these obvious implications. Either way, she is manifestly unfit for the office of President. Every new proposal I hear about from this candidate from hell sounds more dangerous than the last. Please note the caption for the photo in this post: Elizabeth Warren's contempt for the truth and your mind is on full display here. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. A report that originally appeared in the New York Times decries recent slight market liberalizations in Venezuela in terms that would have made Walter Duranty proud: Even these, as devalued as they have been, have helped in Venezuela. (Image by Jp Valery, via Unsplash, license.) After years of nationalizing businesses, determining the exchange rate and setting the price of basic goods -- measures that have long contributed to chronic shortages -- Mr. Maduro seems to have made peace with the private sector and let it loose. And while the country's economy continues to contract overall, the declining regulations have encouraged companies serving the wealthy or the export market to invest again.[link omitted]And, much later: The transformation also brought some relief to the millions of Venezuelans who have family abroad and can now receive, and spend, their dollar remittances on imported food. But the boom has also come at a cost. The new free market economy completely excludes the half of Venezuelans without access to dollars. This exacerbated inequality, that most capitalist of ills, and undercut Mr. Maduro's claim of preserving the legacy of greater social equality left by his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, and his "Bolivarian Revolution." [bold added, link omitted]This is what happens -- as the entire "1619 Project" by the Times amply demonstrates -- when "journalists" feel free to leave terms undefined. It is a safe bet today, that whenever one encounters the term "capitalism" in a news story, especially in a left-wing organ like the Times, it really just means, "something that displeases the left-wing intelligentsia." To quote Ayn Rand once again, so we know what capitalism is (and what the left is against): Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man's rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man's right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control. [emphasis in original]A dictator who apes other dictators by permitting a very circumscribed modicum of semi-freedom from complete state control has done anything but establish a "free market", let alone capitalism. (We further set aside for the moment the worthwhile question, ably addressed elsewhere, of whether inequality is good or bad, let alone an "ill.") It is disgusting to see -- all but explicitly stated -- a clear editorial preference that Venezuelans all starve to death equally rather than any feel relief that any others don't also have. And on a par with that is the complete neglect of the pregnant questions of (1) why a professed socialist (like Maduro) would find such measures effective and why (2) a self-professed champion of the "common man" (like any socialist) would not urge Maduro to greatly expand and accelerate measures that are clearly helping at least some Venezuelans. Instead, the Times damns the slight loosening-up of the economy for failing to create an instant, universal paradise (after remaining silent for decades now about the descent into hell caused by socialism) -- and calls it "capitalism." And wails about an "ill" that can be anything from yet another example of elite looting under socialism to a universal manifestation of the laws of economics under capitalism. Whatever it is, it's wrong, and capitalism caused it. Such is the "thought" process on the left. Sadly for anyone in Venezuela who wants freedom, the socialist dictatorship has found a way to tighten its iron grip on power by further imitating Cuba. And sadly for America, one of our leading newspapers has decided it is more important to double down on socialism by making Nicolas Maduro into a "capitalist" non-person, rather than begin to consider what it might mean that even a very slight whiff of de facto freedom can bring relief to millions of Venezuelans. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. Four Things Image by Leilani Angel, via Unsplash, license. 1. You can add a small cooler to my list of Disney travel hacks. Between microwaveable, pre-cooked bacon and sausage, pre-hard-boiled eggs, and such "usual suspects" as yogurt, it's really easy to have a quick, decent breakfast before starting the day when your room has a small refrigerator. I get away with a small, hand-held cooler by using the wagon I mention at the link above. (There is a Walmart near the park, but it is invariably an extremely crowded time sink. The cooler allows me to pick things up at home as part of a shopping trip I'd do at home, anyway.) The hard-boiled eggs, which I recently noticed in the dairy section, are a great product. I don't know when those first came out, but what convenience! 2. In the vein of "all publicity is good publicity," I note the appearance of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged on a list of "Most Loved and Hated Classic Novels" at Goodreads. 3. According to a story at Fast Company, It's comically hard to make a secret phone call. Here's step 3 of 6: After storing burner phone in a Faraday bag, activate it using a clean computer connected to a public Wi-Fi network[.]Needless to say, the last step is to destroy the phone. 4. The following comes from a first-person account of eating a destroying angel mushroom and living to tell the tale: They honestly did not taste that good, rather bland in my opinion. I thought to myself, "Gee, I don't think I'll ever pick and eat these again."And that was the high point of the experience: It goes way downhill from there. The man is lucky he didn't need a liver transplant. Unlike the account of a man who allowed himself to be bitten by a black widow spider for the sake of science, this is a cautionary tale. Not that I needed it: Although I am good, given time, at catching myself when I miss the kinds of details this guy did, I will never tempt fate by taking up mushroom hunting. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Yesterday morning, I came across an economist's critique of a Texas Monthly article that disputed the idea that Houston is generally more affordable than New York City. My data are a shade over a decade old now, but I remember facing the problem of moving away from Houston when it was time for my wife to begin her medical residency. It is -- or was, then -- highly unusual for a medical school graduate to choose where she would ... reside. Like everyone else, the best we could do was have my wife apply to places that would (a) help her later career that (b) we could afford and which (c) had opportunities for me. After she interviewed at all these places, she ranked them and vice versa -- and then, on "Match Day," we learned our fates. It did not take long for me to rule out places like New York and San Francisco once I took charge of that part of the narrowing-down process. One requirement of note: Because Mrs. Van Horn would be on call, we needed to live close enough to the hospital for her to be able to get there quickly when needed. More on this in a bit. Relevantly, the critique notes: In Houston, I often biked for miles on paths like this, next to the bayous. I took to walking once I moved to Boston. (Image by Random Sky, via Unsplash, license.) It's easy to compare the prices of average houses in different metropolitan areas, but what about the houses themselves? The envious responses to a viral tweet by a new Houstonian showing off her apartment might suggest a big difference in housing quality, and this is borne out by some figures. Houston proper and Manhattan, for example, have about the same population, but Houston's apartments are about 20 percent larger, averaging 877 square feet compared to 733 in Manhattan. Likewise, Houston apartments have better amenities: 36 percent of them have in-unit washer-dryers, for instance, compared to 20 percent in New York. The quality of transportation also differs. The biggest expense of travel is not money but the value of one's time, and New Yorkers spend about 25% more time commuting than Houstonians -- the average one-way commute time in New York is 37.6 minutes, compared to just 30 minutes in Houston. [links in original]Here's my anecdotal data to add to the pile: For the same commute time in Boston that we had in Houston, we downsized to an apartment with about a third of the area of the house we'd rented in Houston -- and had to pay over three times the rent. That far exceeded the savings we realized by getting rid of our cars. And we got to start paying state income tax. Moving later to St. Louis (still more expensive than Houston) was a relief. And then between it and Baltimore was a wash, costwise. The author ends as follows: Texas Monthly told a story that a lot of people wanted to hear: loosely regulated housing markets like Houston have long embarrassed ideological opponents of free markets who insist that only rent controls and massive public subsidies can provide affordable housing. There is a ready audience for the argument that Houston's affordability is a mirage. If you ever find an argument like this tempting, though, ask yourself: is it more likely that you're mistaken, or that the millions of Americans voting with their feet are?Amen to that. (How many other arguments like this can you think of?) I'll close with another anecdote, thankfully not my own. Once, during my Boston days, I met a couple during a networking event, soon after our move. Still raw from sticker shock, I learned that they had moved from San Francisco to Boston to save money. Good on me for doing my research and giving my wife a hard No! to the Bay Area. There is no substitute for doing one's own research ahead of a big move, and part of it is accounting to one's own satisfaction for what large numbers of people are doing. -- CAV Link to Original
  21. "Grumpy Economist" John Cochrane concludes a post about the World Economic Forum with the following reflection and call for suggestions: By inviting Greta Thunberg to speak at Davos, world leaders betrayed her; they betrayed countless others, like this girl; and most of all, they betrayed themselves. (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.) On reflection, hypocrisy is not a good word either. What do you call the behavior, of mouthing platitudes that you know to be meaningless or false, from good old self interest? [sic] You know a Warren or Sanders presidency is a good possibility, and they will use the regulatory and judicial machinery ruthlessly. So let's get those public statements and virtue signals out fast -- support for "stakeholder" capitalism, climate crisis, "ESG" metrics or whatever it takes. You know that social climbing at Davos, your nonprofit boards, (your hope to become dean someday, in academia) or just avoiding the twitter mob demand conformity. So you mouth the harder and harder to pronounce words, or even convince yourself of the worthiness of it all. There must be a good word in Russian, the art of getting along under a communist regime. We say "virtue-signaling" but that does not cover the self-interest of going along with the crowd. I welcome suggestions for a good word.As is usual in our Atlas Shrugged-imitating time, the author of that classic, Ayn Rand, named this very phenomenon long ago: [Intellectual appeasement] is an attempt to apologize for his intellectual concerns and to escape from the loneliness of a thinker by professing that his thinking is dedicated to some social-altruistic goal. It is an attempt that amounts to the wordless equivalent of the plea: "I'm not an outsider! I'm your friend! Please forgive me for using my mind -- I'm using it only in order to serve you!" ... An intellectual appeaser surrenders morality, the realm of values, in order to be permitted to use his mind. [bold added] ("Altruism as Appeasement," in Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Jan. 1966, p. 2)Appeasement is exactly what these "leaders" and captains of commerce are hoping will allow them to continue inventing and making things that make life possible -- even as they are damned for precisely the sin of doing so. Throughout her work, Rand argues for the importance of fighting back -- in word and deed -- against such platitudes as those mouthed by Greta Thunberg. This is because moral ideals -- right or wrong -- guide the actions of men. Especially regarding all but the very best and the very worst: They are more likely to act on the wrong ideals when those are unopposed, and less likely to act on the right ideals when those are unsupported. (Even more important than this, Rand argued -- after first asking what morality is and why men need it -- that there is a way to judge whether an ethical proposition is right (as in correct) or not.) Having seconded Ayn Rand's suggestion, I pass along something else she once said, in a 1964 speech, regarding whether Atlas Shrugged is "a prophetic novel -- or a historical one:" [A]lthough the political aspects of Atlas Shrugged are not its central theme nor its main purpose, my attitude toward these aspects -- during the years of writing the novel -- was contained in a brief rule I had set for myself: "The purpose of this book is to prevent itself from becoming prophetic." The default choice, appeasement, will ensure that the novel becomes prophetic. And that is why I "sic'ed" Cochrane's phrase "good old self-interest." Having the world go to hell in a handbasket, in part because one hasn't the guts to tell an ignorant child or the people egging her on No! is hardly in one's self-interest, although it may feel like it in the nonce. -- CAV P.S. Whatever credit such leaders think they are getting is short-lived at best. Link to Original
  22. The British royal family is not exactly a family business, but business writer Suzanne Lucas found similarities relevant to anybody running one. The most important one is this: "Your children aren't obligated [to] remain in the family business." Building on this, and the family business-like nature of the royal family, Lucas notes the following: Image by Mark Jones, via Wikimedia Commons, license. In this case, the family business is set up explicitly for one person to be in charge, and all the other family members get to support that person. Prince William had the advantage of being able to say to Catherine Middleton, "One day, all this will be ours." Prince Harry could only say to Meghan Markle, "One day, this will all be my brother's, and we'll be doing the same thing we do today for the rest of our lives."And this isn't just any family business -- it's the royal family, and I agree with Lucas that there was probably no good way for Megan Markle to have truly figured out what she was getting into. I wish the ex-royals well, and salute them for making the difficult -- and admirably selfish -- decision that they did. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. New York City is set to ban cashless stores. In other words, it is going to violate the right of a merchant to set acceptable terms for making a sale, allegedly to aid minorities and the "underbanked:" It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg for someone else to ask me to use this. (Image by flyerwerk, via Pixabay, license.) "When you open a dollar bill, it reads 'This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,'" said Councilman Ritchie Torres, the sponsor of the bill. "Cash ought to command universal acceptance." [Really? On what basis? --ed] Once signed, businesses would have nine months to adjust before the law takes effect. Torres said the bill would protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers, such as seniors, homeless people and undocumented residents.Given that that this will incur higher operating expenses and security risks, some businesses will "adjust" by closing altogether, as I and others have noted before. And I have also already discussed how this will likely do more harm than good (even setting aside the further erosion of government respect for individual rights, which is much worse): ... Have these "consumer advocates" not heard of "food deserts" -- poor areas in cities that lack grocery stores? Cashless stores alone would not solve the problem, but it's conceivable that the ability to operate without mounds of cash on hand might make it safer enough for at least a few businesses to enter or start in such potential markets. And as for "the unbanked" not being able to pay, I am sure some enterprising soul could come up with a pre-paid way for many of them to use such stores, if that hasn't been implemented already. But that's not even the half of how ludicrous such proposals are... ... [G]uess who loses when their employer's costs increase? Or is it "elitist" to make entry-level employees accustomed to higher pay levels?And as if that doesn't show how short-sighted and self-congratulatory this bill is, its own backers don't bat an eye at the following double standard: The law would not apply to online transactions.But what do I know? New York is already considering a law to ban independent contracting, so maybe Amazon is already in the crosshairs, too. No new idea is too effective or promising in the realm of liberating the common man these days, that some kleptocrat won't manufacture a flimsy excuse for banning it. Perhaps, to show solidarity with those "oppressed" by the mere existence of technological alternatives to cash, Mayor de Blasio could start insisting on receiving his quarter million-plus salary in cash, and walk it home each payday after work. My calling de Blasio a hypocrite is no endorsement of his professed views: It may not be obvious, but it is just as ridiculous to demand de Blasio do this as it is for him to demand that a shopkeeper accept cash whether he deems it wise or not. There is a far better course of action he could follow, but it would take deliberation and courage because both go against the grain of today's political trends. He should think about something other than looking like a defender of the downtrodden in the eyes of the ignorant, and being a defender of them (and, in the process, everyone else) in actual fact. In other words, de Blasio could make a stand, rare in this day and age, for the inalienable rights of the individual to conduct his life according to his best judgment. De Blasio should refuse to sign this measure into law because it violates those rights. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. Blog Roundup 1. After a series of debates between Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of the socialist organ Jacobin, ARI's Ben Bayer writes a thought-provoking analysis of Sunkara's "anti-intellectual case for socialism." He concludes in part: Rather than answering Brook's facts, Sunkara invokes his pragmatism as a virtue. He echoes a point he made in the first debate, that if socializing a sector of the economy doesn't work, "we" could always vote to re-privatize [it]. There actually is a governing principle here, though Sunkara doesn't seem to want to name it: it's that the whim of the majority is supreme. The majority that gets to decide what counts as important, what counts as outcomes that "work," and, ultimately, whose lives should be interfered with or uprooted, and to what extent. Sunkara had claimed that workers' collectives under socialism could be as innovative as capitalists in a free market. But given his pragmatism, we should now ask: how can human beings be expected to innovate in a system in which they must live in fear of how the majority will decide to experiment the day after tomorrow? How can they innovate when no clearly defined principle stops the majority from voting to rob them of their property, their freedom, or their lives? These are dots Sunkara does not do the intellectual work to connect. [footnotes omitted, emphasis added]The cultural dominance of Pragmatism, goes a long way towards explaining how so many can find such "arguments" persuasive. It also makes this piece disturbing news, to say the least. One of the debates mentioned above. 2. Within the appendix of the second edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology are excerpts, in Q and A format, from a series of workshops on the subject involving Ayn Rand and various participants listed only as Prof. A, Prof. B, etc. If you've ever wondered who they are, wonder no more. Harry Binswanger names them all, starting with the full participants: There were only five full participants, if I recall correctly: Leonard Peikoff, George Walsh, John O. Nelson, Allan Gotthelf, and me. The rest were "auditors" or "guests."Binswanger notes that the workshops occurred fifty years ago now, and eventually gets around to identifying each "professor." 3. Brian Phillips of the Texas Institute for Property Rights offers a timely corrective to a popular misconception in a post titled "Cronysism Isn't Capitalism:" Cronyism cannot exist in a capitalist society. If government is limited to the protection of individual rights, it cannot dispense political favors. There are no political favors to dispense. With government prohibited from interfering in the voluntary and consensual activities of individuals, politicians and bureaucrats cannot award benefits to some at the expense of others.And, for anyone wondering what cronyism is, he covers that in another post. 4. I meant to mention this post at Tracking Zebra before now, but it remains timely. The health security expert reviews Peter Hotez's Vaccines Didn't Cause Rachel's Autism, calling it a tour de force defense of vaccines and science: ... I have read many book on vaccines and vaccine policies and this one stands out among all of them. Perhaps it is the way Dr. Hotez seamlessly weaves in his and his family's experiences with Rachel's autism. He covers the diagnosis, the daily trials and tribulations, the frustrations, and the successes. Over 12 chapters, Dr. Hotez expertly addresses each vaccine "controversy" ("whack-a-mole") and illustrates with data and scientific reasoning why such controversies are manufactured and, in my view, essentially arbitrary. He discusses the celebrity culture that abets the anti-vaccine movement as well as the history of the anti-vaccine movement in the US.Adalja goes on to discuss the fact that too many academic scientists neither engage with the public nor regard doing so as an important part of their work. Hotez argues that this fact is aiding the spread of misinformation about vaccines. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. In his most recent Ask a Bureaucrat column, David Reed takes on an interesting question from a frustrated would-be innovator. Hedy Lamarr wants to know how to find a boss who will back her up when she has ideas for improvements at work -- but she "can't just ask 'do you support innovation' because [her] current boss would say yes to that, and it's not true." Reed considers this dilemma in light of results from a workplace survey: Through no fault of her own, Jenna was having a hard time filling her boss vacancy... (Image by Tim Gouw, via Unsplash, license.) The researchers were surprised by their findings. One might expect "transformational leadership" to be better [at encouraging innovation] than "transactional leadership." But supervisors who had a transactional style -- that is, supervisors who reward employees for performance -- reported more change-oriented organizational citizenship (innovation) by their employees. Supervisors who had a transformational leadership style -- who try to motivate by instilling their values in employees and inspiring them -- reported less change-oriented citizenship behavior by their employees. ... ... Here's the explanation that I think applies to your current boss not supporting your innovation: If a supervisor is concerned with performance, then she will be happy with any change her employees come up with that improves performance. But if a supervisor is concerned with telling employees how they should think and feel about their jobs, so she can be a "transformational leader," then innovation by her employees threatens her role. [bold added]I can see a fellow traveler being nonplussed for a moment -- especially one who thinks of former CEO of BB&T, John Allison, who is a very value-oriented and successful boss. Recognizing and rewarding initiative, as part of a mutually-beneficial trade is in line with the ideals he espouses and practices. But that moment, if it happens at all, will be a short one. That's because such a reader will also recall that a common phenomenon in our culture is what Ayn Rand called the theory-practice dichotomy: [Consider the catch phrase:] "This may be good in theory, but it doesn't work in practice." What is a theory? It is a set of abstract principles purporting to be either a correct description of reality or a set of guidelines for man's actions. Correspondence to reality is the standard of value by which one estimates a theory. If a theory is inapplicable to reality, by what standard can it be estimated as "good"? If one were to accept that notion, it would mean: a. that the activity of man's mind is unrelated to reality; b. that the purpose of thinking is neither to acquire knowledge nor to guide man's actions...That this is such a common idea (and seems credible) is in large part because many people do not tie their abstractions down to reality. What do "innovation," and "values" mean to the boss in the question? What does "leadership" mean? This is especially true regarding moral concepts, which partly accounts for the common but mistaken idea that the moral and the practical are opposites. After considering the advice in this light, I think the column leaves us with a general rule of thumb: If a potential boss/management hire makes much of "inspiring" his team or bringing his "values" (What values?) into the workplace, this merits following up at the very least. Sure, you might be interviewing the next John Allison -- but be on the lookout for management fads, vagueness about the meanings/details of implementation of (buzz)words, or even moral convictions that conflict with business success. -- CAV Note: Although the advice and the study deal with government workplaces, I think it is safe to say that it somewhat applies to what passes for the private sector. Link to Original
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