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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Some time this summer, I recall hearing a discussion about anti-fossil fuel activist investors on a Power Hour episode. A recent post at How to Be Profitable and Moral reminded me to look into this trend some more. The date of the specific podcast escapes me, but the post I just mentioned and another at the Center for Industrial Progress do a good job of outlining what this is and why it poses a threat to anyone who wants and needs cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy. As seems obligatory with leftist initiatives, there is an abbreviation to watch for, in part because it helps adherents feel like they're in the know and in part since makes everyone else look or feel like they're missing something: ESG. This stands for "environmental, social, and governance." I'm sure that when enough people catch on, some new abbreviation or acronym will replace it. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress cuts through the blather you're likely to hear and presents a bulleted list on what this means for the fossil fuel industry: Industrial civilization is beautiful in more ways than one. (Image by Cinq1, via Unsplash, license.) One of the leading strategies of the anti-fossil fuel movement is pressuring investors to divest themselves of fossil fuels for moral and economic reasons.The greatest success of this "divestiture" movement so far is harming hydrocarbon valuations by popularizing a narrative that projects a radical decline in oil/gas demand: the "transition to renewables" narrative.According to market surveys this narrative is already causing many investors to negatively revalue oil and gas stocks.To prevent you from challenging the "transition" narrative, the anti-fossil fuel movement is trying to mandate that you endorse it as part of your ESG reporting obligations -- which call for negatively biased reporting against your industry.While companies feel compelled to "check the box" on ESG, by doing so in the conventional way they are promoting the "transition" narrative and obligating themselves to reduce future oil/gas development.Fortunately, the ESG push has a giant vulnerability: its disingenuous claim to be concerned with accurate reporting to investors. This gives you the opportunity to agree with the demand for accurate reporting, but to criticize ESG's bias and to embrace "full-impact" reporting instead.With full-impact reporting as your foundation you can debunk the biased, sloppy "transition" narrative and replace it with an accurate and positive "expansion" narrative.This is both a clear explanation of the nature of the threat and a strategy to fight it. Readers of Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels will recognize his application of several principles -- such as weighing all evidence -- to fighting this effort at whatever level one can. And fighting this is important, a fact Jaana Woicheshyn puts well in her opening paragraph at Profitable and Moral: The goal of "sustainable" finance is to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations ... into investment decisions, as opposed to focusing on financial returns. To many, that may sound benign. But before you draw that conclusion, I urge you to consider what motivates the sustainable finance movement. As -- and if -- it gains traction, it will impact you whether you are investor or not. The impact will not be benign.Indeed, but don't take my word for it: Read the rest of the post. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. Think carefully before burning. (Image by Max Beck, via Unsplash, license.) Yesterday, I came across a post from a few years ago at Ask a Manager about how bad an idea taking an employer's counteroffer can be. Most of the points in the post focus on how accepting a counteroffer changes the relationship between the employer and the employee. These all make sense, but won't necessarily jump out at most people in the situation -- especially those that might affect the employer. So it's worth heading over there to think about those. But the last point is potentially the most important, given the fact that the others indicate that the employee may face -- or end up wanting -- an exit, anyway: Good luck getting that new employer to ever consider you again. If you go all the way through their hiring process only to accept a counteroffer from your current employer, then the former is going to be wary of considering you in the future. If it's a company you'd like to work with, you might be shutting a door you'd rather keep open.That's a great point, and underscores why I hold Alison Green's blog in such high regard. Green helps her readers understand how the interests of the different members of a work team can conflict or coincide, and makes it clear how to react appropriately. Using a job offer as leverage with a current employer has good odds of being, as Michael Scott might put it, a "lose-lose-lose situation." That's good to know, but it is better to understand why. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. I am home with my kids for the holiday and find myself ambivalent about the fact that my first-grade son learned about it when he did at school. Image by Ebony Magazine, from National Archives via Wikipedia, public domain. When I was his age, I attended a racially-mixed Catholic school in Jackson, Mississippi. In the 1970's -- when there were still plenty of people who felt comfortable using epithets in conversation, and nerves could be a little raw. Nevertheless, I also recall not really being aware of such a thing as "race" until something like third or fourth grade. (A girl's older brother and an adult female made this real for me, one by glaring at me and the other by teasing me in their efforts to get me to conform to the norms of the day.) Based on past reading, I am pretty sure that most children that young aren't aware of race, either, and my general plan for addressing this issue was to tackle it as I thought I needed whenever it eventually came up. In other words, I wanted, as far as possible, for my son to remain innocent on this matter for as long as possible, and to experience himself and other children as individuals, and not as members of collectives. (Of course, an important part of this for me is being ready to discuss the matter in a way he can understand if circumstances dictate. Maybe I have to start earlier than I had hoped.) "He taught white people and black people to get along." The intention is good, but ... this was the first time he ever used the term "black" to describe anyone: Before then, if skin hue factored in to how he described someone, he'd use terms like "pink," "white," and "brown." I had hoped he could continue to treat such attributes properly -- as noticeable, but accidental -- for a little bit longer, so as not to pollute his mind so early with the idea of classifying people into groups based on them. And maybe he still can. Time will tell, and I know to keep an ear out in the future. But on top of that, I am also not sure that much of what went on then would make sense to a child. (And that's even after glossing over the ugliness and brutality that occurred due to racism.) There are ways to essentialize and simplify, but I don't trust many people to do that well. In sum, I think in normal circumstances, children haven't yet acquired sufficient knowledge or developed a matrix of concepts necessary to understand the full significance of the holiday. But maybe I am being pessimistic. You can say that about all of the holidays. Perhaps something like, "Martin Luther King helped us learn to treat each other fairly, no matter what we happen to look like," is the way to start. As I write, that's how I think I will frame the issue, should it come up. The positive lesson is bigger and more important than race, anyway. -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Four Things 1. Over at Hacker News, is a post titled "Ever Worked With a Service That Can Never Be Restarted?," by an IT professional facing a problem that combines a high degree of technical difficulty with ample opportunity to become a scapegoat. Nevertheless, I'll admit that this part of the problem statement made me laugh: The service has current up time of 55 months.Whether or not you also laugh, take a look at the comment thread. Some of the advice about how to handle problems like that without getting burned is worth reading. 2. I enjoyed watching the below video, titled "Seeing Through the Sea." It's about an artificial intelligence-based method, developed by oceanographer Derya Akkaynak, of removing the blue-green cast from underwater images. 3. When you have kids, you end up keeping an antenna out for news about dinosaurs. Worth passing on to other adults is this report from the BBC: "'Beautiful' Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber." And yes, in case you haven't thought much about dinosaurs in a while, it has feathers. 4. A recent installment of pharma blogger Derek Lowe's "Things I Won't Work With" series ends its discussion of a recent paper humorously enough. The [Senior Investigator] strongly warns readers that the preparations therein must not under any circumstances be scaled up, and that is clearly the advice of someone who has has your best interests at heart. Even at the amounts described, you will want an excellent and well-maintained vacuum line, access to noncommon nonhousehold reagents like the aforementioned bromine pentafluoride, a willingness to do things like redistill anhydrous [hydrogen fluoride], and you will at all times want to be suited up like you're going to going to spay a velociraptor. Ah, the halogen chemist's life for me, me hearties, yo-ho-ho and a barrel of ... well, we still don't know what to name it. Dang. [bold added]You may enjoy the rest of the post, too, especially if you have a background in chemistry. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Software engineer Thomas Kainrad has written a thought-provoking post about how he organizes such things as on-line information, software code, and his notes into a personal knowledge base. I am not a software engineer, but I found value in his post and think others can, too. I've seen and even bandied the term about before, but had never seen a definition, so let's cite his: Image by Campaign Creators, via Unsplash, license. It is hard to imagine any other field where lifelong learning is more important than in software engineering. Another unique characteristic is the degree to which learning material is available for free on the internet. On top of that, we create various resources ourselves by documenting issues, submitting bug reports, writing notes, creating documentation, and many others. The sum of all these resources can be called a knowledge base. You could argue that every developer has a system to manage their personal knowledge base, whether they know it or not. In this post, I explain my knowledge management practices. [bold added]After Kainrad warns against intermingling one's own data with that which should remain separate for various reasons, he discusses the kinds of information he uses and his system for organizing it, often describing the software he uses. Your mileage will vary, as they say. I don't see myself adopting the same database software, on the one hand. On the other hand, his level of detail about organizing notes will help me tackle some issues I have noticed in my own organizational scheme. He concludes in part: Similar posts often conclude with warnings that you should be very careful not to spend too much time on organizing and maintaining your knowledge and workflows. In principle, I agree with this sentiment. After all, you want to increase your productivity. I do believe, however, that it is worth it to spend some time thinking about your knowledge management system. The most important part about conceptualizing a system is to decide exactly which types of information you want to maintain in your knowledge base. If you get this right you will benefit for the rest of your career. Even if the tools might change in the future, the system will stay. [bold added]This is true, and all I would add is to state explicitly something that I think is only implicit in the post: You can't nail everything down at once. Your workflow and system will evolve over time as you learn more and your needs change. Perhaps the most important thing is a disciplined commitment to being organized, and an eye for figuring out and making the changes that will have the most benefit. In my experience, at least HAVING a system in place, however imperfect, makes improvement easy and permanent, however incremental it might be. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. A while back, Allison Green gave a great answer to a question (Item 3) from someone for whom the public-facing part of his job drew frequent comments. The comments were friendly, but were becoming annoying because the part of the job people saw resembles a hobby -- and they were presumably in monotonous or stressful jobs. Indeed, the questioner was even starting to see the comments as mildly insulting: It looks like a cush job, but somebody's got to do it. (Image by Samule Sun, via Unsplash, license.) What do I say to people who tell me my job has no stress and is easy? My job is challenging, physical, requires critical thinking, and involves taking care of living things! The implication is, I feel, that I don't have any special skills and that I just float from plant to plant with an empty head. My job garners a lot of comments from the peanut gallery, which I usually brush off, but sometimes it feels very frustrating to not be treated as a professional. These comments come from people who aren't directly involved in my work (they have no contact with the company) and who I may or may not recognize. In a big office, I know that I am seen by many people, but I don't know everyone.Green's answer, which I recommend reading, reframes the apparently thoughtless remarks. This will both help the questioner see the context of the people commenting on his work and, more important, will help this person by giving him a way to turn such comments into an occasional reminder of some of the things his job is freeing him from, namely the more humdrum or stressful aspects of working in an office. In addition, she suggests a good way for the person to acknowledge the thought and end the conversation quickly and gracefully. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. A pre-holiday article at FiveThirtyEight caught my eye with the attention-grabbing title, "How To Fight With Your Family At Thanksgiving." The piece offers some thought-provoking advice for navigating the disagreements that are inevitable that time of year. The following heading in particular caught my eye: Arguments go better in families that value disagreement.The next couple of paragraphs elaborate: Image by Suzy Brooks, via Unsplash, license. Another thing that affects the outcome of holiday arguments on family relationships is whether those families think disagreement is okay. In Johnson's study of Thanksgiving 2016, she writes about two different kinds of families. The first, called "conversation oriented" families, generally allowed for less conformity -- it was normal to talk about controversial issues. They came away from a particularly politically tense year with stronger feelings of closeness than the "conformity oriented" families who generally avoided talking about touchy topics and placed a lot of value on uniformity of thought. "Families that have a tradition of avoiding politics so they don't get into arguments got into these arguments because 2016 was such a big deal and surprised everyone," Johnson said. Avoidance might work out well most of the time. But if that's your tradition, your family is likely to hit a wall in a tough political climate because you don't have the experience to feel like disagreement is normal.The above made me think of a couple of things. First, most people probably aren't selfish enough when they argue. That is, with so many wrong and arbitrary ("not even wrong") positions out there, one can easily be caught off-guard, particularly if the opinion is immoral or outlandish enough that one would not normally discuss it at all. Don't let that blind you to opportunity: So long as neither side is indulging in the arbitrary, one of the following obtains in any argument: (1) one person is right and the other is wrong, (2) both people are partly right and partly wrong, or (3) both people are wrong. If both people are discussing the matter with a view towards understanding it better for themselves, discussions are great ways to learn: What am I wrong about? How can I better communicate what I am correct about? Are there things I haven't considered before that I should factor in to my opinion or the way I express it? It is possible to learn these things even from someone who doesn't have these motives, assuming that person is capable of remaining civil. In other words, arguments are a great way to learn, even for someone who does not change his position as a result. The flip side to this is that, it is easy, on reflection to cut someone who disagrees with you some slack: If thinking about your own opinion takes lots of effort, it is the same for the others. In other words, one develops a healthy respect for the independence of others, in addition to understanding an issue better. I lay much of the blame for this -- the dread arguments inspire in too many -- on our overwhelmingly altruistic culture, which predisposes many people to focused too much on what the other people think, rather than on the value of understanding something for oneself. Consider how many religions hold up various forms of proselytizing as virtuous. This focus on others can only leads to frustration, annoyance, and a sense of futility when one's (hopefully) superior enlightenment fails to gain a single convert. This is simply the wrong goal, and a basically impossible one at that since man has free will. The best arguments on earth fall mostly on unreceptive or unprepared minds. Second, the remarks on family culture are very interesting,and I almost missed their significance when I decided to comment on the article. Consider the below example of the vice of appeasement, from Ayn Rand's essay, "The Age of Envy:" An intellectual who was recruiting members for Mensa -- an international society allegedly restricted to intelligent men, which selects members on the dubious basis of I.Q. tests -- was quoted in an interview as follows: "Intelligence is not especially admired by people. Outside Mensa you had to be very careful not to win an argument and lose a friend. Inside Mensa we can be ourselves and that is a great relief." (The New York Times, September 11, 1966.) A friend, therefore, is more important than the truth. What kind of friend? The kind that resents you for being right. [bold added] (The Objectivist, July 1971)Contrast Rand's allusion to the fact that we can choose our friends, with the fact that we can't choose our relatives. If Uncle Buck can't talk about politics tactfully, you may well decide to sidestep the issue if you otherwise wish to see him enough. (It should be obvious that I am not saying we should tolerate anything from relatives, but I'll say it anyway.) I mention this because when I read the article, it seemed like it implied that families that "value disagreement" (See Note.) were healthier than those choosing to set politics aside. I'm not sure that I wasn't reading that into the article, but I am sure that that isn't necessarily the case. I can imagine a family that is normally quite comfortable having such discussions, but also having a ground rule to let some topics lie around Uncle Buck -- who might not realize how lucky he is to be invited at all. (This is emphatically not the same as letting him ramble if he gets started.) So I think whether a family avoids or embraces political discussions can hinge quite a bit on its particular circumstances, and not just on its overall culture. My take-home? Think in advance about how you might react when some unfamiliar opinion comes up, especially if you're in a family that discourages holiday politics. Think about how to quickly and politely express disagreement, and what kinds of questions you might raise if the conversation goes beyond that point. -- CAV Note: Rather than "value disagreement," I might have said, "have a stronger culture of rational discussion." There is nothing inherently good or bad about disagreement per se. Link to Original
  12. In terms of populist style and overall policy, there is essentially no difference between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two of them to the contrary notwithstanding. So it comes as no surprise that they're friends, or that they'd have a sort of non-aggression pact as they both vie for their party's nomination. That said, we're talking about politicians here, and of the modern, power-lusting variety at that. As soon as one of them feels desperate enough or feels like the moment is ripe, that agreement will come to an end. Perhaps that moment is now, with Sanders leading in Iowa and Warren sinking in the polls of late: But did you think? (Image by Parker Johnson, via Unsplash, license.) A rare sign of discord emerged on Sunday between progressive Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over a report that Sanders' campaign volunteers had called her a candidate of the elite in conversations with voters. "I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me," Warren told reporters after a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, which will hold the nation's first nominating contest on Feb. 3. ... The guidance suggested that volunteers argue Warren was supported by "highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what," rather than motivating people who do not normally vote, Politico reported. Reuters could not verify the talking points. Sanders said on Sunday he did not approve the negative talking points about other candidates. [bold added]Maybe so, but Sanders doesn't mind trash-talking his own potential voters, and neither does Warren. I personally take a very dim view of anyone who votes for either political party "no matter what," and I would welcome these remarks if I thought that is what Sanders and Warren were "trashing." Since the article calls the two "their party's progressive standard-bearers," it's worth asking: Is it education or affluence that these "progressives" object to? Or is it both? And why should anyone who has earned this description -- or aspires to it -- vote for either of them? Were a Democrat to, say, trash Biden for having high minority support, leftist fire would vaporize that person on the spot. But "othering the productive" is a-okay with them. That is wrong. This isn't the only bloc of voters (or for just that party) who should quit treating the act of voting as an automatic bodily function. But at the moment, I can't think of another group of voters more willing to put someone clearly at odds with them into a position of inordinate power. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Four Things The Internet is sort of like a wish-granting genie... Back in grad school, my class was treated to the unenviable task of writing grant proposals for projects we did not intend to pursue -- instead of for our proposed thesis projects like everyone else before or since. Oh, and we couldn't consult with anyone, either. (We were guinea pigs.) I chose to write mine on prions, then a still-emerging area of research. This turned out to be interesting and fun, but I reached an impasse: I knew what I wanted to accomplish experimentally, but had no clue how to do it. "Wouldn't it be neat if I could..." was my line of thought, but I had no idea where to look, this not at all being my area. So, as if I were writing a message to cast to sea in a bottle, I crafted a search expression. And then I fished the pre-Google internet. To my great surprise and relief, I learned that, not only had someone come up with this, it had been commercialized. Problem solved. Ever since, when I have had a problem to solve, but been unsure of how to proceed, I have used this tactic, often successfully. Here are just four more neat things I discovered by doing this. 1. Back in Boston, I wanted to save money when my wife had a winter accident and broke the tail light of her father's Mercedes. "Wouldn't it be cool if there were a way to ask multiple junk yards for the part all at once?" I thought. That's when I learned that I could specify a car part and whatever junkyards had it would offer it for sale. My phone briefly rang off the hook and between that and Pep Boys, I probably got the repair done for an order of magnitude less than had I gone to a Mercedes dealer. 2. I recently needed to de-silo some data trapped in a legacy Windows app. I could run it under an emulation layer in Linux, but nothing I could come up with could rescue the data. A few days after I resigned myself to keeping the old app running on Linux, it dawned on me that, if I could print the data to a PDF, I'd get what I needed. But that's an alien concept to Windows XP: Only my ink printer showed up on the print menu. "Wouldn't it be neat if I there were a virtual printer that would "look like" a printer to this old app, but create a PDF? There is and I successfully extracted the data. 3. Years after iPads and Chromebooks killed netbooks, which had been a favorite writing platform, it dawned on me that someone had probably figured out how to install Linux on a Chromebook. I am writing this post on a Samsung Chromebook running a version known as Gallium OS. 4. Our subdivision is still under development. Consequently, I run over nails and get slow leaks every month or so. After finding two gas stations in a row with broken air pumps, I wished there were such a thing as a portable air pump that could run from a 12V DC adapter. Remembering this the next day, I looked. There is, and it costs only twenty bucks. And it's tiny, so I can just leave it in my car. It's so fun to use I almost look forward to my next slow leak. I picked mine up at Walmart: See embedded video above for details. I didn't watch this, but it shows the package it came in, and I found it easy to use, quick, and effective. It has a light for night operation and stops at the pressure you set for it. It will pay for itself, dollar-wise after one or two slow leaks, and it will easily spare me an hour or so every time, not to mentions the frustration of encountering poorly-maintained gas station air pumps. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Pharma blogger Derek Lowe discusses the problem of hyping reports of new scientific progress. The following, from an excerpted quote, really jumped out at me: When do the exuberant joy human beings naturally feel in a discovery, and the elation they experience in communicating it to others, overstep the boundaries of acceptability and transmute into falsification of process, evidence or conclusions?My short answer? Never. Either you have discovered something and you know it or you have not. In the former case, you will make damned sure you can prove it and that you will communicate it accurately. The whole idea of lying will seem preposterous, and having your results overpromoted or explained badly will at least annoy you. (The above assumes one has not been misled by a sloppy or corrupt colleague.) I left science nearly a decade ago, but this obviously also struck a nerve for Lowe, who is a working medicinal chemist: Above is my obligatory photo of someone holding a test tube. (Image by Bee Naturalles, via Unsplash, license.) Exuberance is one thing: excitement and pride in your own work can cause you to say things about it that can't be backed up. But that's different from sitting down and saying "All right, how can we generate the biggest headlines?" Because that leads to headlines about how you've cured Alzheimer's disease, and believe me, you probably haven't.Yes. And Lowe goes on to explain how typical institutional arrangements worsen the problem. I blame state funding and control for much of this, but will leave that aspect of it for some other time. That said, I doubt anyone would argue that there are researchers out there whose motivations are tainted by a desire for prestige, about which Ayn Rand once commented: The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. (By "spirit" I mean: man's consciousness.) These two aspects are necessarily interrelated, but a man's desire may be focused predominantly on one or the other. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed (but not defined) by the foggy murk of the term "prestige." ... Unearned greatness is so unreal, so neurotic a concept that the wretch who seeks it cannot identify it even to himself: to identify it, is to make it impossible. He needs the irrational, undefinable slogans of altruism and collectivism to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality -- to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims.Look for the biggest offenders in fields with a disproportionate influence on government policy, that can lead to applications that most people can tell (or already think) would help large numbers of people, that are messy, or that seem intractable at our current state of knowledge. The first two things tick off the altruist/collectivist boxes and the last two provide ample cover for failure. Not everyone in such fields will be corrupt, of course. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Old tractors are causing bidding wars at auctions, according to the Star Tribune: It may be old, but at least you can fix it yourself. (Image by Sean Stratton, via Unsplash, license.) Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one -- a 1979 John Deere 4440. He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn't need a computer to repair it.The bit about needing a computer for repairs ties in to a problem I wrote about some time ago, and which many are mistakenly attempting to address with so-called "fair repair" legislation. I salute Kris Folland for finding a better solution, and finding a way to use technology to improve the cheap, easy-to repair tractors he has bought. Perhaps in time, a manufacturer will see the market potential for simpler tractors that don't cost farmers two days of work every time they break. That said, Folland's approach to technology is quite similar to my own. Back in grad school and shortly after a divorce, I had a perfectly good PC, but not enough money to spend on software that would make it very useful. Linux took off around that time, so I installed it on my computer and ended up being able to do real work on it for a fraction of the cost. Over time, as I learned more about the kinds of tools and utilities that always come with Linux, I began to realize how lucky I was to have been priced out of Microsoft's wares: Because of the approach of having standardized tools that each did one thing well, didn't change with the latest fads, and could be glued together, I started noticing that what I learned (or built) wasn't subject to obsolescence with the next software release coming out of Redmond. My "software exoskeleton" has gradually become more sophisticated over time, and is largely unaffected by changes in popular software that I may or may not welcome. Like Folland, I can add a new capability to my software suite if it is genuinely helpful, while avoiding things that seem designed by a short-term thinker for the sole purpose of extracting money from me by artificially making my life difficult. Commenting on the same story, statistician John Cook calls Folland's approach "technology à la carte. (I also got the term software exoskeleton from him.) That's an approach more people should consider, although it isn't necessarily for everyone. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Over the holidays, I off-and-on read through Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World, by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, and I highly recommend it. The book is overall entertaining and clear, and despite my lifelong advocacy of capitalism, I learned a few things, such as what, exactly, "exploitation" means to a Marxist. (I had never explicitly tied it to the Labor Theory of Value.) That said, its chief value will be helping ordinary people who may not be that interested in economics or politics understand why capitalism is good and its opposite ... sucks. Along the way, the authors set straight a few sins against journalism, such as Kristen R. Ghodsee's 2017 New York Times piece, "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism," which I commented on at the time. The below -- a quotation from a Leningrad-based sexologist -- is just a sample of their total evisceration of that despicable piece: Soviet Apartments: Ugly on the outside, and with unwanted roommates inside. (Image by Marshal Bagramyan, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) Soviet women may well have the highest rate of culturally repressed orgasm in the world... Look, what kind of orgasms do you expect in a society which, on top of all the shame we've loaded on sex, lived for decades in communal apartments? I have one couple for whom I've found no solutions; the mother-in-law still sleeps behind a screen in the same room, the young wife can't allow herself to make one moan, one cry... How, how to make love that way ... the mother-in-law lying there hearing every creak of the bedding.And that's the lighter side of the problem (if you can call it that): The authors cite a poll revealing that 70% of Soviet women never had an orgasm and over half detested sexual contact. And yet, due to the gruesomeness (an understatement) of the "free" government abortions, there was a strong black market for illegal, private ones. -- CAV P.S., They rather ably take apart Walter Duranty, too. Link to Original
  17. Image by Michal Balog, via Unsplash, license. I attribute the title quote to a frog in a pot coming to boil. *** There is an etiquette rule -- both widely misunderstood and abused -- against discussing politics at inappropriate times. As strong as my political opinions are, chalk me up as grateful for it: It saves needless time and stress, particularly around family gatherings during the holidays. I want my kids to enjoy time with their cousins, for example, but that doesn't depend one way or the other on whether the parents agree about politics. That said, I still found myself having to push back on political issues, if only because I felt like I was being put on the spot or wanted my children to at least be aware that there are other points of view. Maybe I did okay: I think we all had a good time, anyway. But the visit has me concerned... When environmentalist totalitarians like Greta Thunberg say things like this, they mean it: This is what it's all about, this is all that we are saying. But I will also tell you this: You cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis, without seeing the full picture. You cannot leave the responsibility to individuals, politicians, the market or other parts of the world to take. This has to include everything and everyone. [bold added]My in-laws strike me as fairly typical Californians in that they buy into lots of the things preached by Thunberg. I found myself having to push back against recycling after my brother-in-law thundered, "Reduce, reuse, recycle," enough times and tried to pressure me into participating. (He also repeatedly expressed a dislike for "politics." This is not to beat him up: Read on.) After an innocuous joke about coal in a stocking, I found myself listening to a mini-sermon about coal in front of my own children, so I slipped in that it's a reliable form of energy. My brother-in-law loudly calls an ingredient in my son's favorite drink "poison," within earshot of my kids, I have to say something. Or at least it seemed so at the time: Split-second calls are the toughest part of being a parent, and there is no way to anticipate what will come up next or become completely comfortable making them. I'll credit my in-laws for not reacting badly to any of this and for attempting to practice what they believe, and leave it at that. But back to Thunberg and her allies. It is alarming to know that the small part of environmentalism that many people already buy into is both (apparently) not even regarded as politics and has so much penetrance into the culture. I would not classify my in-laws as totalitarians -- despite one of them expressing a desire to ban single-use plastics -- but it was shocking to me just how many times what was actually politics came up, apparently under everyone's radar but my own and possibly my wife's. And I'm more willing than most people to push back right then and there, even on things most people might regard as common sense, like recycling. (I limit myself to short comments that show I don't agree. I'm not there to discuss politics, either.) Our culture tolerates a very disturbing degree of social pressure and political control over individual lives, and, ironically, the people with the least desire to think about politics all the time are the ones not noticing -- even as they help the greens turn every damned thing into a politcal matter. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. Notable Commentary My daughter gave this to me as an early Christmas present. Editor's Note: Each year, I take time off from blogging and news. I start today, once I am satisfied any loose ends are taken care of. I'll resume posting here and on Twitter on January 6, 2020. I wish my readers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! *** "[P]atients suffer and die because of physicians trying to adhere to government guidelines." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Patients Pay the Price for Unintended Consequences of Government Health Care" at Forbes. "trong anti-meat dietary recommendations are not justified by the best currently available evidence." -- Paul Hsieh, in "I'm a Physician, and I'll Continue Eating Red Meat" at Forbes. "The council has been a microcosm of the U.N.'s fundamental moral bankruptcy." -- Elan Journo, in "Cheer the US Exit From UN Human Rights Council -- But Demand More" at The Hill. "The underlying problem is the persistent U.S. failure to understand and confront the ascendant Islamist movement, which Iran has spearheaded since 1979." -- Elan Journo, in "Presidential Candidates -- Including Trump -- Are Wrong on Iraq" at The Daily Caller. "Like the Pilgrims eating all of their turkeys and leaving none to make more, Ms. Harris and other presidential candidates would kill the golden goose that has laid the golden eggs of economic growth and a flourishing society in the U.S. -- the rule of law and protection of property rights." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Calls for Government Theft of Property Should End Like Kamala Harris' Campaign" at The Washington Times. "The Supreme Court has a chance to end the double standard that allows state institutions to run roughshod over copyrights, the legal fountainhead of American creativity." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Stop the States' Copyright Plunder" at The Wall Street Journal. "Since our inception in 2000 we've forecasted, in real time, the two U.S. recessions that have occurred (2001, 2007-09); just as important, our models haven't falsely forecasted any recessions that didn't occur." -- Richard Salsman, in "Unanticipated Recessions" (PDF) at RealClear Markets. "Epstein is right: Companies should stop fearing the cool media kids scaremongering and start reminding the people who count -- their customers -- of the full value they offer." -- Gus Van Horn, in "The Recycling Crowd Embraces Grade-School Juvenility" at RealClear Markets. "nstead of patting ourselves on the back that another critique of Rand's missed the mark, I hope we'll instead use this as an opportunity to become better." -- Don Watkins, in "Atlas Neutered: Ari Armstrong's Straw Man attack on Objectivism" at Medium. "[T]here is risk built into every choice." -- Don Watkins, in Survival and Risk, at Medium. "I believe I have made my point that we don't have capitalism today, or anything even close." -- Keith Weiner, in "An Open Letter to John Taft" at SNB & CHF. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. What if that discontinued keyboard you want is in there? What if I told you somebody would do the dirty work of finding it and cleaning it up for free? And what if you could buy it at or below retail and have it delivered? The neatness of this apparently went right over the heads of these journalists. (Image by NeONBRAND, via Unsplash, license.) Well, okay. Not really, but I think the Wall Street Journal and Amazon missed a great opportunity to discuss how beneficial recycling can be when performed for self-interested, self-motivated, and pro-human reasons, rather than being rammed down our throats by the government for altruistic reasons, like "saving" "the planet." Instead, the paper opted for yellow journalism. With, "You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon -- Literally," the paper begged for clicks. And since the blurb immediately afterwards claims that "dumpster divers" sometimes sell things there, the entire focus on the article is on the inevitable few bad actors who pop up in any marketplace. When I read this, I thought it was neat that Amazon can connect you with someone willing to do the dirty work of finding something -- perhaps no longer being sold -- in a dumpster in the first place and cleaning it up -- and then selling it for an affordable price. But that was due to my own thinking; the authors made the whole thing seem shady and disgusting. This focus, for which we can partly blame the dominance of altruism in our culture, makes it easy to forget that: (1) Customers can place reviews on Amazon, and (2) sellers have an interest in quality control when they offer things for sale, on top of (3) the standards the retail giant sets for participation. So long as some form of theft or fraud isn't involved, I don't give a damn where something I buy from Amazon comes from. And, as far as wrongdoing goes, the story notes: Late last week, Amazon said it updated its policy to explicitly prohibit selling items taken from the trash, adding to its list of unacceptable items any "intended for destruction or disposal or otherwise designated as unsellable by the manufacturer or a supplier, vendor, or retailer." [bold added]Part of this is probably a needed measure to prevent such things as a company's intellectual property rights (technological or reputational) being harmed by the sale of things it intends to keep off the marketplace: Many people are unaware of such things. But there is perhaps a missed opportunity to explicitly sell items under, say, a "salvaged" category. In addition to implicitly and wrongly blaming the profit motive for bad behavior, the focus of the article (as well as of environmentalism generally) causes the authors to not appear to notice that this is an example of what recycling can and ought to mean. (Indeed, the word "recycle" never once appears within.) Let's do that now, by considering which practice is the shady one. The Journal has already made it clear that there are some bad actors at Amazon -- as there are in any marketplace. Caveat emptor. But what about government recycling? These programs always involve the theft of money (taxes), the violation of liberty (regulations), and fraud (the implied assertion that it is good to recycle certain types of items). But all that is premised on the woozy, altruistic idea of "saving the planet" and the politics of collectivism. So journalists -- altruists and collectivists almost to a man -- give these programs a pass that for-profit programs never get. (e.g., The Journal is quite happy to illustrate a dumpster in one "trash"-selling "scenario," just to give the reader the impression that this is gross. It would be quite easy to make, say, glass recycling sound just as gross.) But since some Amazon resellers save perfectly good items from oblivion and sell them for (shudder!) personal gain, the seller's motives are immediately questioned and we are invited to assume that he has every incentive to pass off something anyone would regard as refuse as brand new. And so it is that modern journalists condemn the proper way to perform a practice, recycling, that most pay lip-service to, despite the fact that they don't even seem to realize that it is recycling. They just don't see what they're reporting on as good, because our culture has pounded into everyone's skulls that if an action is performed for gain, it is suspect. And since the practice doesn't come with the imprimatur of a government official and the usual rituals and trappings of government recycling are absent, it never even crosses their minds that this is recycling. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. A soon-to-be-former editor for SB Nation writes, in "California's Terrible AB5 Came for Me Today, and I'm Devastated," of the following fallout from that state's evil and foolish decision to redefine the term "employee" (and sloppily at that): Gig workers: If he has his way, you will have to choose between unemployment or an employment arrangement of his choosing. (Image by Michael Vadon, via Wikimedia, license.) For those who don't know, California's legislature recently passed a law, Assembly Bill 5, codifying a California Supreme Court decision that classifies many independent contractors as full-time employees. While there is a small carve-out in the statute that allows for paid writers or editors to continue to produce a very limited amount of content per company, it's not nearly enough, and it would be hard for me or most of my colleagues to fit in that small box. So, SB Nation has chosen to do the easiest thing they can to comply with California law -- not work with California-based independent contractors, or any contractors elsewhere writing for California-based teams. I don't blame them at all. ... This is a passion project for me. Personally, while the extra income helps my family, it doesn't break us to lose it. But I have literally HUNDREDS of amazing colleagues all across our network who DO rely on this money to help, and who are going to have to replace that income somewhere else, somehow. That sucks. So much. I am heartbroken that the state I love so much has forced a company I love working for to cut formal ties with people who are doing amazing work -- and who are able to help themselves and their families with the extra income that a passion project or side hustle can sometimes provide.One can hope that enough stories like the above -- and this one -- come out that California's legislature and governor come to their senses and repeal this economy- and freedom- destroying law. (But, for the same reason I suspect this sloppiness is a feature (and not a bug), I regard this as extremely unlikely.) Or, more likely, these stories can help build popular momentum for a repeal by ballot referendum next year. It is worth noting that in the lead-in to this bill's passage, at least four of the Democratic candidates for president voiced support for this bill: Bernie Sanders (who has introduced similar national legislation), Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. The first three remain in the race. Writers -- many of whom are freelancers -- are the canary in the coal mine, but this horrific law is poised to ruin livelihoods for many others, and not just within the "gig economy." -- CAV Link to Original
  21. No thanks. Life is too short to inspect labels every time I need to throw something away. (Image by Z22, via Wikipedia, license.) The third-grade boy shamefully completed his apology, in front of first grade. I was luckier than I felt. Just that morning, I had been convinced that the way to win friends was to do what the popular kids did: Stomp on the first-grader's coffee-can art project. I knew this was wrong but I immediately impressed the popular crowd -- the wrong way. My swift punishment only reinforced what I already knew: A crowd was a poor substitute for my own judgment. This lesson has served me well throughout my life, yet I was surprised to find myself transported back to that classroom by a New York Times video -- about recycling, of all things. A connection jolted me when I viewed "The Great Recycling Con:" The captains of industry were making the same mistake I had but with a twist: They are stomping on their own cans. I remember the early days of residential recycling as clearly as that hug. At first, only the neighborhood crank went through the trouble. But, after about a decade of shaming by celebrities and over-hyping of stories -- like the long search of a garbage scow for a customer -- governments got involved. Seemingly overnight, nearly everyone was being forced to recycle or taxed to support it. Companies had marching orders to label products so we could comply... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank my wife and Steve D. for their comments on an earlier version of this piece. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Business columnist Suzanne Lucas passes along some good news for McDonald's: A federal agency has ruled in its favor on a question only a union boss could come up with: Image by Lyman Gerona, via Unsplash, license. In 2012, a few McDonald's franchise employees claimed they were punished for pro-union activities. This is patently illegal. [It shouldn't be. --ed] The question was, is McDonald's liable or strictly the franchise owners? If McDonald's is a joint employer, then they can be held responsible for everything at the employee level--from missed overtime payments to sexual harassment. The National Labor Relations Board just handed down a ruling declaring that McDonald's was not a joint employer and allowing the franchise model to continue.In case the meaning of "franchise model [can] continue" isn't clear, Lucas elaborates in her closing remarks: Chances are this joint employer ruling affects everything from how you buy a house to who you hire to clean that house. Fast food restaurants are not the only people who operate in the franchise model. People buy franchises precisely because they want to be business owners and make those decisions. While it's nice to have a company's big pockets at stake, rather than just your own, if the franchise owner becomes liable for everything regarding employees, they are likely to seize control of everything as well. If they have control of everything, there is no point in franchising. This ruling is not only pro-big business but pro-small business owners, allowing them independence in how they run their franchised stores. [bold added, link omitted]We can heave a sigh of relief for the moment: The unions have failed in this attempt to destroy a very popular way of doing business. That said, I hope I am not alone in my alarm that a small group of government bureaucrats, whose members voted along party lines, hold life-and-death power over this well-understood and longstanding business model. Can a future administration revisit this question and reach a different conclusion? I wouldn't be surprised. In any event, it seems likely that the question will get asked again with different wording, given the legal tempest California's new anti-gig law is causing: ... The plaintiffs [in Salazar v. McDonald's, a different case] do not dispute this fact, but rather argue that Dynamex should be read broadly as a standard of joint employer status to encompass not only the franchise owner but also the national franchisor itself. They ask the court to find that McDonald's USA was an employer of its franchisees' workers under the ABC test and is accordingly jointly liable for any wage and hour violations. AB 5 codifies the ABC test, and at present contains no implicit or explicit exception for franchising. Proponents of the law are likely to press for its broad interpretation (as advocates of the ABC test have already done in the judicial context). If courts are receptive to these arguments, franchisors will potentially face exponentially increased financial exposure, as they might now be held liable for violations of wage, hour, and other labor laws committed by their franchisees arising from practices over which the franchisor has no direct influence, oversight or control. If that happens, we can safely predict the franchising model will face near limitless liability.So the battle is won, but the war rages on. And it will, until we start demanding that our government stop interfering with the right to contract and resume protecting it instead. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Four Things Four random wins from the past month... 1. I have been using a "split vertical" bookmarklet (like the one here) for years to make it easy to find information from one part of a web page without losing my place, or to have two pages next to each other in a single browser window. Before I wake the kids up, I flip this over to full screen mode on my standing desk. It's easy to check if I forget anything. (Image by the proprietor. Feel free to copy or use. Attribution is appreciated.) It finally dawned on me that it would be nice to open two or three pages at a time like this, without going through the bookmarklet every time. On inspection of the page source, I discovered this was ridiculously easy. So I now have a small collection of two- and three-pane pages I use for planning purposes. At right is a screenshot of the one I use on school mornings. At a glance, I have weather, the day's lunch menu, and a list of reminders of things to do. A nice bonus is that the rightmost pane is still visible when I am working in another application, so no switching back and forth or moving windows around. 2. I had lost my eyeglasses over a week before and was about to give up. Then, last weekend, as we decorated for Christmas, my eight-year-old daughter piped up: "Found your glasses!" The black-rimmed glasses had been sitting on a dark brown bookshelf at eye level -- mine, not hers! -- near the entrance to the master bedroom. My wife and I had probably each passed them at least a hundred times. "Sniper Eyes" does it again! 3. I needed to grab a quote from a PDF someone else had scanned. Some looking around spared me either copying the passages by hand (slow and error-prone) or having to print it and re-scan it with OCR (slow and annoying). OCRmyPDF very quickly performed as advertised, "add[ing] an OCR text layer" to the PDF. Assuming a good quality scan, a document becomes searchable, too. Highly recommended. 4. The good news: I have been very organized about how I keep track of old projects for nearly a decade. The bad news: I would have done this completely differently if I had it to do over again, with the files not being scattered across different directories (and even levels) throughout my user account. Judicious use of the find and grep utilities in scripts has fortunately allowed me to preserve my old organization scheme (and all the links between documents), and yet effectively have all the advantages of having everything in one directory. It is now much faster and easier to find and use old materials when I am doing research. As a bonus, I now sometimes get to smile at my own cleverness instead of experience mild frustration and annoyance when I have to do this. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. On days when I am stumped for blogging topics, I dig into the many bookmarks I save when browsing the web at odd times, like when I'm waiting in line at the supermarket. When I do this, I usually I find something really useful or interesting that I managed to completely forget about. Today's recovered gem is a post outlining tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen's thoughts on productivity, which are peppered with links throughout. Some of these are quite similar to what I already do, and others aren't. And many of you have probably heard of at least some of the things he discusses (e.g., David Allen's GTD system). But all of them are valuable in that they will make you think -- about whether you are satisfied with a given aspect of your work practices. And if you're not, he will probably give you an idea to consider or try. As a sample, I'll throw out the first part of what I found to be his most unusual piece of advice: Obviously, not having a schedule would be an auto-fail in some industries... (Image by JESHOOTS.COM, via Unsplash, license.) Let's start with a bang: don't keep a schedule. He's crazy, you say! I'm totally serious. If you pull it off -- and in many structured jobs, you simply can't -- this simple tip alone can make a huge difference in productivity. By not keeping a schedule, I mean: refuse to commit to meetings, appointments, or activities at any set time in any future day. As a result, you can always work on whatever is most important or most interesting, at any time. Want to spend all day writing a research report? Do it! Want to spend all day coding? Do it! Want to spend all day at the cafe down the street reading a book on personal productivity? Do it! When someone emails or calls to say, "Let's meet on Tuesday at 3", the appropriate response is: "I'm not keeping a schedule [this year], so I can't commit to that, but give me a call on Tuesday at 2:45 and if I'm available, I'll meet with you." Or, if it's important, say, "You know what, let's meet right now." Clearly this only works if you can get away with it. If you have a structured job, a structured job environment, or you're a CEO, it will be hard to pull off. But if you can do it, it's really liberating, and will lead to far higher productivity than almost any other tactic you can try. This idea comes from a wonderful book called A Perfect Mess, which explains how not keeping a schedule has been key to Arnold Schwarzenegger's success as a movie star, politician, and businessman over the last 20 years. [format edits, emphasis in original]Again, Andreessen admits that not keeping a schedule -- altogether, anyway -- is impossible for most people. But many can at least partially realize this level of freedom. (And he has just reassured me that my new method of tracking deep work is on the right track.) That said, I won't be using his method of dealing with proposals for meetings, because I try my best to avoid phone calls during the day. There are many kinds of work circumstances, personal preferences, and professional needs. I doubt anyone is going to adopt all of Andreessen's methods, but I think just about anyone can profit by thinking about them, especially if something about one's work routine isn't quite right. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. In a post about "Techie Luddites," tech blogger JCS notes a particularly striking example of compartmentalization, a cultural phenomenon that Ayn Rand commented on nearly fifty years ago: Thought experiment: Replace the newspapers with smart phones. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.) ... In an interesting article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Morgan G. Ames tells us how many of the "technical elite" refuse to let their children use electronic devices such as phones, tablets, or computers and how they send them to schools that proclaim themselves to be traditional and tech-free. As Ames points out, many of these technical people consider themselves to be the smartest people in the room and while that may be true regarding technology, they don't know anymore than the rest of us about child development or the wider social implications of technology. They are, in fact, subject to the same fashions and misinformation as everyone else. If that claim seems a little overwrought, consider this shocking fact: at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, "[a] techie-dominated, tech-shunning school," only 35% of kindergarteners had been fully vaccinated before California made such vaccinations mandatory. If even the anti-vaxxers have established a beachhead among the technical elite, we must certainly abandon any claim to being immune to new luddism [sic]. [bold added, format edits]This is alarming, but I disagree with the last sentence. Why? Let's first ask: How can otherwise intelligent adults fall for such obviously ridiculous ideas as the anti-vaccination movement, or the slightly less ridiculous idea that children shouldn't be exposed at all to electronic devices? By failing to integrate new knowledge outside their areas(s) of expertise. This failure leads them to ineffectively evaluate claims to knowledge that they otherwise would easily reject, or at least fail to realize the need to investigate such claims more thoroughly. And so we have someone who (for good reasons) couldn't imagine not safeguarding against a computer virus -- taking some random stranger's advice at face value (but checking it poorly, if at all) and failing to vaccinate his children. Ayn Rand mentioned this phenomenon in her 1972 essay, "Selfishness Without a Self," but her student Leonard Peikoff fleshes out the idea more thoroughly in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A somewhat better case is the man who does integrate his mental contents, but only within an arbitrarily delimited square or compartment. An economist, for instance, may eagerly relate a new economic idea to other ideas within his field, but refuse to consider its implications for related fields (such as politics, ethics, history) or their implications for his own. "That's not my concern," such a man characteristically says about anything but his own specialty; "that's somebody else's domain." Ayn Rand calls this type of non-integration compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is an improper form of specialization. It consists not merely in specializing, but in regarding one's specialty as a dissociated fiefdom, unrelated to the rest of human knowledge. In fact, however, all knowledge is interconnected. To cut off a single field -- any field -- from the rest of cognition is to drop the vast context which makes that field possible and which anchors it to reality. The ultimate result, as with any failure of integration, is floating abstractions and self-contradiction. A simple example is the conservative economists who scornfully dismiss philosophy, then advocate the profit motive in economics and the Sermon on the Mount in church.Obviously, compartmentalization can lead to bad choices on the part of someone for whom this is a modus operandi. And this certainly can cause harm or inconvenience to others through their actions. But it can also cause problems for observers, who might subsequently have to get past prejudice this might induce. In my caption, I point to a humorous comparison of men reading smart phones versus men reading newspapers. That sure does make the digital minimalist crowd look like idiots, doesn't it? Or does it? The parents who won't let their kids have any screen time are generally being ridiculous, but we shouldn't let them cause us not to consider the merits of advice by those who, like Cal Newport, suggest using such devices much less frequently than many do. They -- and this is crucial -- give good reasons for the advice, as one might suspect when one starts considering the differences between newspapers and smart phones. For example, how commonplace was it for people to fall into holes or run into things a century ago, because they were reading newspapers as they walked or drove? This is obviously not to say that we need to look afresh at every idea such people embrace, but we would do well not to let a compartmentalizer's apparent adoption of an idea weigh too heavily in how we evaluate that idea. That person does not really understand what he professes or does. As usual, one must do one's own thinking first-hand, as far as possible. (This doesn't make us not need to consult experts, for example.) It will not immunize against mistakes altogether, but I think it makes the mistakes less frequent, less severe, and much easier to correct when they have been made. -- CAV Link to Original
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