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Gus Van Horn blog

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Everything posted by Gus Van Horn blog

  1. Four Things 1. My daughter has solved a problem for me caused in part by a sort of technology-induced blindness. I had always been a little dissatisfied with the kinds of lunches I was packing for her. She hates bread, so sandwiches are out the window -- for starters. And then, during summer camp, she became loathe to use her bento box, because she thought it looked childish. Oh, and she wanted something hot in her meal. And she offered by way of suggestion a very good way to do it. Back in kindergarten, we'd gotten her a set of two thermoses. One was for drinks and the other for soup. The soup container went unused for years, but I had told her it could keep things warm, and she remembered that. (I know, because I asked her how she came up with the idea.) She wanted Spaghetti-O's that day. I wasn't sure how well it would work, so I told her so and offered to try it as an experiment. So I went ahead and microwaved them and put them in her soup canister. It worked very well. She has since had leftover dinners, scrambled eggs, and breakfast fajita mix, heated in the microwave and kept warm in the thermos. Today, she's having chicken piccata, aka "Daddy chicken." It's an elegant solution, and may seem blindingly obvious to many of you -- but I never thought of it because I always use a microwave when I want to heat something for lunch, and had mentally pigeonholed the canister for soup, which I generally don't regard as a meal. Mrs. Van Horn got her some small plastic containers that can fit onto a freezer block for side dishes. She's been quite happy, and it solves a dilemma I've had for some time: How can I work at places that don't have microwaves without having to buy a lunch or resort to cold sandwiches, which I'm rarely in the mood for? This is how, and I can thank my daughter's fresh perspective and creativity for it. (And now that I'm editing, I recall doing something similar when my son was in a hot dog-eating phase. I'd put heated 'dogs in a drink thermos (minus the straw) for trips, knowing he wouldn't do fast food. This doesn't make my daughter's idea any less creative or, since I'd forgotten this, any less appreciated.) Update: It is important to let children know not to use a lunch stored hot if it is not warm to the touch, or to eat from a hot container later on. The leftovers have to be discarded. More here. The author and his wife, as game characters. There must have been no facial hair options in this game: He portrays me with my beard when possible. (Image by my son, copying permitted.)2. Surprise, surprise: My son loves computer games. He will sometimes try to induce his parents to play -- or simply have more character options -- by creating characters for us. The first time he did this, he got me to play Among Us by making me a character named Nin, with a green space suit (my favorite color) and a "Florida hat," as I like to call the kind I wear to the beach. His latest creations are of me and Mrs Van Horn, at right. These were extra characters that my wife saved from digital oblivion when it became apparent he needed to get rid of them due to some kind of limit in the game he was playing. He always does a good job, considering the media at his disposal. He once did great Lego miniatures of my in-laws. I believe they ended up using my photos of those in their Christmas letter last year. 3. I was glad I took Cal Newport's advice to have a "working memory" file on all my electronics devices, including my phone. This was great for taking notes during my kids' latest check-up. Mrs. Van Horn always wants to know their heights and weights, and we're monitoring a medical condition my daughter shares with me, so I had a great place to keep track of the new data and what I need to do next. My daughter is closing in on being as tall as her mother. A year or so should do it, I think. 4. I like the fact that in Florida, unheated swimming pools have tolerable water temperatures during most of the summer. By contrast, back in Maryland, I developed a rule of thumb after several times of having the kids ask me to take them swimming, only to get out of the water and ask to leave because it was too cold: No swimming unless it has been at least 85 for at least three days running. Ground temperatures lag ambient air temperatures. I do face a weather problem here, though. Around this time of year, it pretty reliably thunders and rains in the afternoon -- the time it would otherwise be best to take a dip. Often, it's obvious, and I have no issue since the kids know that swimming during thunderstorms is a Bad Idea. One day, it seemed nice, and I was in the mood to go swimming -- but the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms. I looked outside and there were threatening clouds in many directions, despite the sunshine. So I decided against swimming and kept my trap shut about the whole idea. Unknown to me, Pumpkin was Facetiming with a school friend, and they hatched a scheme to cajole their parents into a play date at the pool at 3:00. I had to say no to their plan, and I explained why, but the momentary sunshine outside didn't help, despite the fact I took her outside and pointed to all the clouds. The lightning show and torrential downpour fifteen minutes later were a welcome and timely demonstration of my superior fatherly wisdom. Sometimes the weather does cooperate! -- CAV Updates Today: Added note to Item 1.Link to Original
  2. A while back, I noted a link at Hacker News to a blog post titled "Do Nothing." I'll allow its terseness to stand in for a more verbose explanation of this workflow method, which one commenter identified as the Napoleon Technique (more on that here):Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.I spent my early career as a sysadmin in a company of about 300 people. These interactions were frequent. Being [a] young upstart I would jump on them straight away. Often I would spend hours solving the problem, prioritising it above what I was previously doing, only to find it wasn't important to begin with. The reason people make these requests is that it removes a burden from the requestor. They have some stress, and they need someone to offload that stress on. This has nothing to do with the actual problem and everything to do with the person's peace of mind. [bold added]The post opened with examples of such problems -- which the other person was able to solve on his own relatively quickly. The function of these minor asks for the requestors as stress relief reminded me of comments Cal Newport often makes regarding what he calls the hyperactive hive mind, in which people will make minor requests of others through such channels as Slack or email: The source of the stress relief is primarily through capture: The problem is somewhere in writing and won't get lost as the person asking moves on to what he really needs to do at the moment. Newport's solution isn't identical to the Napoleon method or to earlier advice to ignore email for long periods. (Indeed, a quick search of his site for Napoleon yielded only one hit -- for Napoleon Hill.) Newport's advice is to get this stuff out of email/chat:You can't ... avoid this work, but you can find better alternatives to simply passing messages back and forth in an ad hoc manner throughout the day.Specific strategies he suggests to deal with a flood of non-urgent requests are (1) using scheduling apps to arrange meetings, (2) moving obligations into role-specific, non-email repositories, and (3) holding office hours. It is on a podcast in which Newport answers a question about office hours that he sounds the most like the post about doing nothing. The very fact that many people will have to wait to discuss a small matter will cause them to think more deeply about what they want to discuss. Two common things happen as a result: What would have been, say, a long email chain gets compressed into a short interaction -- or the person who would have emailed about a trivial matter finds or figures out the solution in the process of thinking a little bit more about the issue. In the second case, a small problem disappears, and in any case, the person following Newport's recommendations is spared lots of time and context-shifting. Not to short-sell Napoleon: He did make exceptions to his rule for holding his mail for three weeks before reviewing it. But Newport's method would seem to have fewer things delayed unnecessarily and with a far better response time! As someone who has struggled with procrastination all his life, I have occasionally seen my tardiness humorously "pay off" with the demise of one obligation or another. In some cases, it is clear that the procrastination was as if I'd employed Napoleon's Method. It's good to know that one can do this intentionally and systematically, and experience the good fortune of problems disappearing or not existing at all on not just a regular basis, but routinely. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. I am at a loss for words after reading an open letter, hosted by the Independent Institute, demanding that California replace a proposed K-12 math curriculum that includes the following, among other loony things, all quoted in the letter from the proposal:[F]ringe teaching methods such as "trauma-informed pedagogy;"[T]eachers insert[ing] "environmental and social justice" into the math curriculum;[H]aving teachers develop students' "sociopolitical consciousness;"[A]ssigning students -- as schoolwork -- tasks [to] solve "problems that result in social inequalities;" [And, my favorite, d]iscourag[ing] accelerating talented mathematics students.I'll quote a couple of the paragraphs from the letter, which mostly is on point:In California, the dunces run the classrooms. (Image by cogdogblog, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)We believe infusing mathematics with political rhetoric is alien to mathematics as a discipline, and will do lasting damage -- including making math dramatically harder for students whose first language is not English. We believe that all students without exception have natural gifts they can use to learn school mathematics, and therefore all students are harmed by refusing to recognize students' giftedness. We thus find it immoral and foolish to intentionally hold back the intellectual growth of students by forcing them to waste time in unchallenging classes. Those who are ready to move up, should do so. They should not be held back for fear of recognizing the existence of differences in giftedness -- differences which are a reality in every human endeavor. We believe that the modern world of science and technology -- and of constitutional democracy, human rights and expanded opportunity for all -- arose largely because societies learned to value inquiry that was disinterested (i.e., "objective" and "neutral"), rational and coherent. It arose by moving away from judging ideas on the basis of cultural origins and group identity in favor of judging them according to their real merit. We believe, therefore, that this proposed framework must be replaced with one that will truly serve equity [sic] and justice by living up to the very moral aspirations this framework rejects.Save for the use of the term equity, this is as close to the best reply to such nonsense possible short of calling for the separation of education and state. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Writing at The Federalist, David Larson makes quite a few interesting points regarding the left's attempt to federalize zoning law, often referred to as the "war on the suburbs" by conservatives. Probably Larson's best point is that conservatives are failing to uphold the right to property:Image by Michael Tuszynski, via Unsplash, license.This is where the fight over "single-family zoning" comes in. In many cities, the bulk of land is zoned in a way that only detached houses with large-sized lots can be built. If you want to build townhouses, a corner store, a duplex, or, God forbid, an apartment complex, good luck. [Tucker] Carlson argues that if the federal government pressures towns to scale back single-family zoning, you "are no longer in charge of how large your lot sizes can be." But what he really means is, you will no longer be in charge of how large your neighbor's lot size will be. Are conservatives only against impositions on freedom and property rights from the federal government, while local governments should have absolute power over the size and use of all property in their jurisdictions? To paraphrase Mel Gibson in the "The Patriot," who was paraphrasing American royalist Mather Byles, "Would you tell me, please, Mr. Carlson, why should I trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away, for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?" [bold added]This is an excellent point, but it is compromised by Larson's failure -- common among conservatives -- to uphold individual rights on principle as an absolute. This part of his essay is titled, "Zoning Gone Wrong." Why not Zoning Is Wrong? That said, many of his other comments are worthwhile, for they do highlight the many ill effects of suburban-type zoning, such as long commutes, unaffordable housing, and a lack of control over our own property. But this essay goes off the rails quite ironically shortly after his second (and second-best) point:[J]ust because some on the "other side" are for something doesn't mean we need to reflexively fight it. Many on the left who care about this issue seem to be motivated by their belief that this model is better for the environment and that it makes affordable housing more available and dispersed. [bold added]Amen to the part in bold, with a big but. Larson would seem to be in favor of the federalized zoning because it would -- in his imagination -- cure many of the ills caused by the zoning regime we currently have in place. That is the same kind of fool's paradise we inhabit every time a President wrongly uses an executive order that creates an outcome we happen to like. If you are green, you loved it when Biden killed the Keystone Pipeline by executive order immediately after he took office -- the same one Trump revived soon after he was inaugurated, to the temporary relief of energy advocates. When our government no longer does its job, of protecting individual rights, including the right to property, our individual aspirations for how to supply ourselves with the energy we need -- or live in what we regard as an ideal community -- are reduced to pipe dreams if they don't already exist and placed under threat from any change of public mood or officialdom if they do. Analogous case: The left favors vaccinations and vaccine passports. Many on the right reflexively fight vaccination and want to stop businesses from inquiring about vaccination status. Not reflexively fighting vaccination need not and should not entail advocacy of forced vaccination nor violating a businessman's right of association by banning him from asking about vaccination status. It should entail giving solid reasons to consider getting a shot, while also advocating that the state butt out completely beyond a proper response to the pandemic. So it is here: By merely replacing dumb and wrong zoning laws because "suburbia" is ugly, expensive, etc., and not because it's wrong to tell land owners what to do with their own property, Larson's case at best can be mistaken for We need better zoning, if that isn't what it actually is. I can't tell. Worse, it very easily can get marshalled as an argument for federalized zoning. It may be true that we won't repeal zoning anywhere anytime soon. And, yes, the kind of less restrictive zoning Larson wants may be the best achievable alternative today. But not being clear that one advocates as much as a temporary waypoint on the road to property freedom causes what could be an effective argument for doing even that into just another voice among the many squabblers over what kind of zoning we'll have for the time being, and effectively, a capitulation. I want the same vast array of living options Larson does, but I'll be damned if I'll consider federalized zoning as the right way to achieve those things. A real fight for such a value would entail advocating the abolishment of zoning altogether, as well as restoration of respect for what an owner wishes to do with his property, so long as he violates no one else's rights. Larson is correct: The right is inconsistent about respecting property rights, and that is a problem worthy of addressing. But the way to do that is to advocate property rights. Do that effectively enough, and you will incidentally also win over those on the left who see that any valid concerns they have (affordable housing is one, forcing people to lease to criminals is not) will be served by the same. The reason zoning -- or any other instance of government fiat overriding individual rights -- "goes wrong" and limits our options is because zoning is wrong. Unless a property owner violates someone else's rights through the use of his property, such as by creating a nuisance, the government should have no say whatsoever on the matter. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw reports that Philadelphia's fleet of 25 electric buses, purchased in 2016 for $1 million apiece, has finally achieved zero carbon dioxide emissions. Do note that this report isn't coming from some rainbows-and-unicorns green outlet, whose reporters do not seem to understand that the electricity required for such vehicles has to come from somewhere and, more often than not, that somewhere is a fossil fuel power plant. Or that it takes forever to charge batteries built on today's technology, which isn't improving very rapidly. What we have here is: someone on the right tacitly admitting that such a bus fleet is emissions-free. You might ask: What is this? A cover-up? Why aren't they admitting it? Indeed, in a virtual factory visit in April, none other than President Biden called the manufacturer, Proterra, a "company of the future." Maybe a better question would be: Why haven't the news media been shouting such news from the rooftops? Why haven't I heard about this at least seventy times since I woke up by now? Stop teasing us, Gus. How did they do it? The Free Beacon, as quoted by Shaw, reports in part:Why do greens invariably take pro terra to mean contra humanitatem? (Image by mliu92, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)More than two dozen electric Proterra buses first unveiled by the city of Philadelphia in 2016 are already out of operation, according to a WHYY investigation. The entire fleet of Proterra buses was removed from the roads by SEPTA, the city’s transit authority, in February 2020 due to both structural and logistical problems—the weight of the powerful battery was cracking the vehicles’ chassis, and the battery life was insufficient for the city’s bus routes. The city raised the issues with Proterra, which failed to adequately address the city’s concerns. The city paid $24 million for the 25 new Proterra buses, subsidized in part by a $2.6 million federal grant. [bold added]Oh. That's not exactly a trade secret, is it? Indeed, and speaking of trade, we should look far beyond Shaw's wondering aloud about which of (a) SEPTA, (b) Proterra, or (c) both should be on the hook for the problems with these buses, which would have been obvious from the get-go had any of numerous parties been out to make an honest profit. Note that SEPTA is a government entity, whose financial mistakes will be papered over by tax increases, borrowing, or grants -- but I repeat myself. Proterra, although a publicly-traded company, is very much a creature of the government and our culture's dominant quasi-religion, environmentalism: Its raison d'etre is to cater to government programs behind the adoption of unreliable green energy sources; it fed on grant money early on; and much or all of its market would be government transit authorities, which are hardly profitable or efficient. The kinds of questions Shaw asked would have been front-and-center in the minds of a proprietor of a transit company who would go under if he ignored them or were so incompetent as not to think of them. Private enterprise would have saved lots of money here, just to start with, and would have motivated someone to build better buses in the first place -- even battery-powered if truly practical. So, yes, this whole episode is scandalous, but the real story is this: Even with all this propping-up, battery-powered vehicles have -- once again -- proven to be a failure -- but only insofar as providing transportation is concerned. In terms of reducing emissions, they have been a resounding success. Remember this the next time someone like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tout green energy as the future. And ask yourself what they think the purpose of what they are calling energy sources actually is. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. Four Neat Things I Can Thank Stack Overflow For Software developer Joel Spolsky's Stack Overflow site recently sold for quite a tidy sum. The site, which Wikipedia aptly describes as "a question and answer website for professional and enthusiast programmers," has helped me -- definitely one of the enthusiasts -- do all kinds of things with computers that save me time or make my life easier. Here are just four instances out of many that I've been able to hack something together without having to spend too much time figuring something out, bothering others with newbie questions, or shelling out money for software that will become obsolete after five years of annoying me. Image by Gus Van Horn. Copying permitted.1. A few years ago, I wanted a way to see changes to a web page quickly while editing it. From slinging HTML, I knew how to get a web page to auto-update, but I didn't want to have to explicitly add/remember to take the code out every time I edited an HTML or markup file. But Gus, just have your browser reload, you might say. I didn't want to do that, either. I basically wanted an editing environment where I could edit in one pane and see changes in the way the web page would look in another in close to real time. I realized I could have a script add the auto-refresh code to a dummy file based on what I was editing. Great, but then the browser is just auto-refreshing the dummy file ... unless I can have that re-generate every time I save my edits to the file I'm actually concerned about. Stack Overflow helped me find how to monitor my saves so I could make a new dummy file, which the browser would load on auto-refresh. With that piece of the puzzle, I got the HTML/markup editing environment pictured at right. I use this almost every time I blog. 2. Yeah, it's cool to ask Alexa what the weather is like, but I'm really more of a written word guy, and I can't get away with this during writing/planning time at zero-dark thirty, anyway. Not with kids asleep in the next room. So, as much as I liked her pithy description of the day's weather, I needed another source. The National Weather Service site fits the bill. (Take a look.) Nice, but I have a bad memory for things like this. So I wanted a description of the weather in my planner for reference, and hate to cut and paste. Stack Overflow helped me figure out how to fetch the web page and extract the short description of the weather for that day. Now, I just hit a couple of keys in Emacs and I have something like this in my planner:- Today: Partly cloudy. Highs in the upper 80s. Southeast winds 5 to 10 mph increasing to 10 to 15 mph in the afternoon. - Tonight: Mostly clear in the evening then becoming partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 70s. Southeast winds 10 to 15 mph becoming south 5 mph after midnight.I do have to change a configuration setting when I travel. I once started to try to automate that, but realized that that was going to be too much of a rabbit hole to be worth it. (Some of you are doubtless saying, Too late!) 3. Yeah, there's probably a way to click on two points and get a distance in Google Maps, but I found out quickly enough from Stack Overflow how to collect the screen coordinates of my mouse. With that knowledge, I wrote a script that computes distance after I click on Points A and B and each end of the scale, and enter the units. Better yet, I can use this on any map or image of a map, and I don't have to hunt around and guess if the powers that be at Google decide to hide their method of getting distances under some new, faddish redesign in the future. 4. I save lots of time by having my computer automatically download news from a handful of sites several times a day, remove redundant links, and produce a news and commentary digest I can quickly look at on any of my devices. (I sometimes get ideas for blog posts while looking at this in line at the grocery store.) Some time along the way, I realized I could also archive these. Now, in addition to having a time-saving list of current news, I have an archive that I can search, including by date. I consulted Stack Overflow and many other sites quite often as I gradually developed the tools that allow me to do these things. I still use other sources (for news and scripting hints), of course, but overall, Stack Overflow keeps me from having to spend too much time looking at news. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. After making some headway riffing off yesterday's temporary blog template, I noticed an option to use a "first generation" blogger template in the Blogger editor. I tried that, followed by a restore command and an upload of my old template. Voilà and whew! The bad news: I'll still need to manually rebuild the blog list in the footer. The good news: I was thinking of overhauling that, anyway. I will do that as able. In the meantime, my annoyance at this problem from out of left field is somewhat mollified by my ability to cut down the amount of time I was afraid it would take to recover from it. Onward! -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Purse strings resemble those that control a marionette in more ways than one. (Image by Icons8 Team, via Unsplash, license.) Way back in grad school, I knew a leftist architecture student who would occasionally spam me with political email. This ended shortly after an email she sent me in an effort to prevent de-funding of some government art sponsorship program by the new Republican congressional majority. I usually ignore email like this, but something about this one caused me to realize I had a teachable moment on my hands, so I wrote her a short note, something like: "Government funding of the arts means government control of the arts." Did I change her mind? Only on the issue of whether it would serve her purposes to spam me, or so it would seem. Knowing what I know now, I can entertain a faint hope -- that, yes, I should have kindled a bit at the time -- that my note precipitated the first step of a journey towards a better understanding of the corrupt bargain too many of us make by accepting government funding. All I am likely to know about the matter, though, is to try to do better next time. -- CAVLink to Original
  9. I was thinking about changing the look of this blog for some time, but today was not when I intended to do it. Based on the fact that my private test blog also failed to render post content*, I can only conclude that the maintainers of the Blogger platform decided to change something without warning that made my old template incompatible with how they now display content. On short notice and in the interest of at least displaying post content, I found a decent minimalist template that emphasizes content, tdSimple. It will do for now, but installing it erased my blogroll, the blog search box, the navigation menu, and numerous other things -- that the Blogger user interface caused me to believe would be left alone. I intend to bring these back in some form when I have more time. -- CAV * Actually, it didn't fail to render the content so much as push it way off to the side and squeeze it down to a word or two per line. I'm not conversant enough with CSS to figure out why that happened in anything resembling a short time, so here we are.Link to Original
  10. I am not sure how long the problem has existed -- I'd guess only for a few hours -- but post content is visible in the mobile device view and invisible on the desktop view for this blog. This does not appear to be a browser-specific issue, nor is it a universal problem with Google/Blogger-hosted blogs. I am looking into why this is happening, but I have not changed the style template for the desktop view in quite some time. This tells me it could well be that the problem comes from Google's end. If that's the case, resolution could come in the form of the problem just going away when they fix some issue on their end, or me having to create a new, compatible template because they changed the way they deliver the content. That said, I am not sure I will be able to address the issue today. As I noted on Twitter, the workarounds for anyone who wishes to view the blog from a non-mobile device can either (1) add ?m=1 at the end of the address bar or (2) view the auto-reposts at Objectivism Online. My apologies for any inconvenience. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. Over at RealClear Markets is a review of a book I first heard about on Alex Epstein's excellent Power Hour podcast, Steve Koonan's Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters. The review is worth a full read (and the podcast a full listen), as the following six points Koonan makes should indicate. In each case, I am quoting directly from the review:Nor do we need one... (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.)[T]he models relied upon by the Left to predict future global warming are so poor that they cannot even reproduce the temperature changes in the 20th century.[T]he United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's own analysis indicates that any negative economic impact that global warming eventually may have will be so modest that it warrants no action.[T]he National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UN IPPC do not claim that a link has been established between global warming and natural disasters.[A]s the earth's temperature has risen, natural disasters have become far less deadly.ome of the world's best scientists believe that global warming will be beneficial rather than harmful.[G]lobal warming saves lives.I commend the reader to the review or, better yet, the book for further elaboration on each point. Koonan worked as a physicist for the Obama Administration and, according to Amazon, "served as Undersecretary for Science in the US Department of Energy ... from 2009 to 2011, where his portfolio included the climate research program and energy technology strategy." This is hardly a "science denier," and it is heartening that someone with his training, experience, and wide respect, has spoken up against climate catastrophism. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. The Hill has published an editorial by Alan Dershowitz on Donald Trump's new lawsuit against several major social media companies. If I recall correctly, Dershowitz is widely regarded as an expert on freedom of speech. If my memory has served me well, God help us.Image by Jens Holm, via Unsplash, license.The Miami Herald precedent and those that followed it came long before a small number of social media behemoths assumed so much control over the marketplace of ideas. At least one justice -- Clarence Thomas -- has indicated a willingness to consider whether these media giants should be treated as common carriers that are subject to some governmental regulations. But media companies are different than buses. The product they sell is public speech and press, which are expressly protected from government regulation by the First Amendment. The conflict between free speech and the First Amendment arises when these private companies use the First Amendment as both a shield and a sword selectively to censor [sic] free speech. The conflict becomes most acute when a small number of private companies are powerful enough to essentially shut down the marketplace of ideas -- which the First Amendment was designed to keep open -- to certain views. [links omitted, emphasis mine, format edits]There are at least three things I can see wrong here, just off the top of my head. (1) The concept of censorship pertains only to government action. (See link above at sic.) (2) Forcing a private company to publish views its owners disagree with very much violates their right to freedom of speech. And (3) these companies are not selling speech, but providing a platform -- their platform -- for same in exchange for the ability to insert advertisements. So forcing these companies to provide a platform for some speech is not just a violation of the owners' right to free speech, it also violates their right to the use of their own property as they see fit. (Before I go on, let me make clear that my recognition that the left-wing apparatchiks who run these platforms have the right to cherry-pick which politicians they will host is not in any way an expression of moral support for what they are doing or for their anti-American, "progressive" causes.) Gus, you're a just some random -- albeit pretty sharp -- dude on the internet. Who cares what you say? Fine. Let's quote the widely respected philosopher, Tara Smith, who has been published in peer-reviewed law journals, on this matter:People sometimes treat the ability to do something interchangeably with the freedom to do that thing. This is reflected in the complaints that because a person can no longer use Facebook or broadcast his political views at work, his rights are violated. On just a bit of reflection, it is easy to see that there are plenty of things that a person is unable to do that he remains free to do. I cannot speak Polish, as it happens, and I do not know how to juggle, yet no one has interfered with my freedom to do either. Had I wanted to learn, I have been free to do so. My inability results from factors other than others' coercion. Admittedly, other people play a more influential role in a person's inability to broadcast his beliefs through certain media (T-shirts at work, on Facebook, etc.). Yet those uncooperative people are not coercing him. His freedom is intact, although his desires may be frustrated. For freedom does not mean: "I get what I want." (Again, such a notion of freedom could only be fulfilled by trampling on others' freedom. It is thus not an internally coherent conception.) The larger point is simply that an inability does not entail a lack of freedom. [emphasis added]This Smith specifically enumerates within an article titled The Free Speech Vernacular: Conceptual Confusions in the Way We Speak About Speech. I highly recommend anyone genuinely concerned with freedom of speech, our most important right, read it and recommend it widely: That right (not to mention property) is now under direct assault by a man once sworn to protect it, and under the cover of at least one person whose authority seems more dubious than that of the proverbial One-Eyed Man in the Land of the Blind. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. Writing for Outside Online, Brad Stuhlberg considers two types of learning in light of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 Rule, and discusses the differing kinds of benefits one can reap from a lifetime of trying new things and taking the time to master some of them. I think most people can pretty easily see the value in seeking out new experiences, so I'll quote Stuhlberg's last two paragraphs, where he ties this together with the less-obvious benefits of pursuing mastery:This man is practicing a skill I do not feel the need to try, much less master. (Image by Hu Chen, via Unsplash, license.)"To practice regularly, even when you seem to be getting nowhere, might at first seem onerous," writes [George] Leonard [in his book, Mastery]. "But the day eventually comes when practice becomes a treasured part of your life. You settle into it as if into your favorite easy chair. It will be there for you tomorrow. It will never go away." Perhaps the key to long-term fulfillment, skill, and happiness is to think about the 80/20 rule like this: embrace both zero to 80 and 80 to 100. Find ways to be a beginner, or at the very least cultivate a beginner's mind. But also work toward being a master in some way, prioritizing depth and experiencing the granular texture that comes with it. [emphasis in original, link omitted]I'll be the first to admit that the click-baity title of the piece, "The Mental Benefits of Being Terrible at Something," drew me in, but I don't think it's accurate: Saying that someone is terrible at something is unfair to the beginner and to the competent non-master alike. And the piece makes a great point about the different kinds of challenges we can find in the pursuits of novelty and mastery. But as for a better title, I am stumped. Perhaps part of being a great writer is recognizing when the perfect is the enemy of the good. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Blog Roundup 1. If you've stopped by Jason Crawford's blog recently, congratulations: You can skip have probably already skipped ahead to Item 2. If not, be prepared to consider how close you may yet be to what I would call relative prescience:It's almost impossible to predict the future. But it's also unnecessary, because most people are living in the past. All you have to do is see the present before everyone else does. [bold added]Crawford follows up with a dramatic example from 1930's Germany and five good tips on how to be earlier. 2. The same justice who saved ObamaCare the first time would appear to have eviscerated a recent Supreme Court decision widely celebrated as a victory for property rights:... In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts responded that such inspections are proper when government requires a business to obtain a license or permit to operate. And this is the danger in the ruling. Governments can sidestep this ruling by simply requiring every business to obtain a permit or license. And then that same government can attach whatever conditions it chooses, including a requirement that union organizers be allowed onto private property. In granting an exception to the principle of property rights, Roberts abandoned the entire principle. [bold added]We often see rankings of Presidents. I don't see how Roberts would do very well in a comparable ranking of Chief Justices. 3. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn brings to our attention a particularly good response -- in the form of a corporate report -- to the cult of ESG that has been engulfing corporations the world over:[T]here is a shining example of a company that turned its ESG report into an opportunity to proudly defend its industry and itself: Liberty Oilfield Services. In the report, Liberty states its mission to be "bettering human lives." It is a self-described "technology pioneer of the shale revolution" that "has driven enormous improvements in both human well-being and environmental quality" while maximizing profits for its shareholders.I agree that this is a refreshing change from the likes of Coca-Cola, which follows ESG hook-line-and-sinker, hurling as it does racist epithets like Be less white at its own employees. Better yet, there is much more, so be sure to read the whole thing. 4. I am about halfway through the below podcast, linked at New Ideal on why Jordan Peterson is wrong to assert that faith is necessary for one to hold moral values. For now, I'll do two things. First, I'll quote the material philosophers Ben Bayer and Onkar Ghate cover:Why groundless faith in a God is fundamentally different from rational trust in other people;Whether Judeo-Christian religion is fundamental to Western culture;Why faith isn't a necessary starting point of practical and epistemic justification;The issue of whether we are all seeking to do good, or some people are just evil;The absurdities demanded by faith in the Christian idea of the resurrection;The evil of how faith demands a morality of sacrifice;The harm of believing out of faith;Whether the fear of social isolation is rational;Whether there's a conflict between Objectivism and Jordan Peterson's ideas.Like Bayer, I am an ex-Catholic, and I have been very happy to see him dismantle one familiar equivocation or evasion after another. As of yesterday evening, I was just finishing up a particularly tidy job on his part of walking through just how ridiculous the whole idea of the resurrection is. In a better age, Christians worried that religion was in danger of being "laughed out of existence:" After this podcast, you may wonder why that didn't happen long ago. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. The answer to its title-question -- Should discrimination against Trump supporters be illegal? -- is No, of course. Nevertheless, this New York Magazine Intelligencer piece by Jonathan Chait will be quite annoying to anyone who isn't a leftist, because lots of it will come across as the kind of sanctimonious, self-congratulatory stereotyping that we* get all the time. No. I am not a "racist moron" simply because I disagree with the left on most of its positive agenda -- particularly of egalitarianism and nature-worship -- today. That said, the only thing more irritating and disturbing about it will be, for fellow proponents of liberty, the valid point it makes below just before insulting non-"progressives" and offering us unsolicited advice:Image by New America, via Wikimedia Commons, license.[Eric] Kaufmann's proposal is more audacious: He wants the government to step in. "Employers should not be permitted to fire employees for legally protected speech unless the firing is justified by the core aims of the organization and authorized in an employee's contract," he suggests. Also, "publicly funded organizations would be required to be politically neutral in their communications and operations except on matters directly pertinent to organizational aims." Conservatives normally take a highly skeptical view of extending government authority into such prerogatives as an employer deciding whom to hire and fire. Kaufmann [of the Manhattan Institute (!)] argues [in the National Review (much less surprising)] that this robust new government authority will merely be used to enforce "neutrality," not to coerce institutions into becoming active supporters of the Republican agenda. Putting aside the difficult, if not impossible, task of designing and enforcing workable rules to this end, the goal of politically neutral spaces that permit political disagreement is sympathetic.Wow! From the Unsolicited Advice Department comes the expected counsel to not support racists. Of course, whether or not you believe Trump to be a racist, that advice is right up there in terms of politeness and usefulness with, Don't be an idiot, since anyone a leftist disagrees with these days is branded a "racist," more often undeservedly than not. That said, I am hardly defending Trump, for whom I only very reluctantly voted in 2020 simply because of how horrible several of his opponent's proposals were. (I had been hoping for divided government and fearing a Democrat-controlled Congress.) Moving on, let me raise two things the Intelligencer, no friends of liberty, omitted and would have left out anyway if they'd thought about either. First, Have conservatives lost their minds? Do they not recall that until Ronald Reagan rid the airwaves of the "Fairness Doctrine" that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and countless other conservative and pro-liberty voices were basically muzzled -- by the government's requirement of "equal time?" (And speaking of not defending Trump, let me remind you that he ignorantly and shamefully popularized reviving that vile regulation.) Second, a far better way to "not be seen as racist" (or whatever pejorative is fashionable with the left on a given day) is to quit letting leftists get away with pretending they have the moral high ground. This has been a longstanding problem, and it may be a habit impossible to break for some conservatives. But for advocates of liberty and better conservatives, this means two things: (1) Ignore the cry-bullying of the worst elements of the left: You'll never change their feelings and what they say will have no weight with the persuadable people you want and need to reach. And (2) Offer liberty as a positive and distinct alternative to the left, and stand up for it on moral grounds. To wit: One can and should oppose (actual) racism while upholding individual rights, including property rights. One could argue, Yes. If an employer wants to be an ass (and get all the negative publicity and other problems that he deserves) and not hire Republicans (or blacks, or whites, or atheists, or Christians, or Democrats), it should definitely be legal. This is because that job is the property of the owner, to do with as he pleases. Nobody is obligated to give a job (or media attention, or a platform) to anyone else. The principles of free speech and innocence until proven guilty are similar: We accept repugnant speech and the occasional criminal walking free because we recognize that those principles protect our freedom. America is a free country, where one may do as he pleases so long as he does not injure anyone else. Neither those ideals nor that kind of conviction is what we're seeing on the right today. No. Instead of actual opponents to the left, we have people like Eric Kaufmmann, and Twitter-master wannabes Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, who are quite happy to join the left in throwing out personal liberty -- and to give government all the power to guarantee outcomes that will seriously threaten our freedom, that they know they don't deserve and that they are naive enough to believe will happen, historical evidence cited above to the contrary. -- CAV * I use we to mean opponents of the left. Playing into the hands of the left is the fact that conservative "movement" is really just an amalgamation of elements that oppose the left for a variety of reasons and banded together in part to have any hope of stopping the left. Unfortunately, conservatives don't really stand for something, as Ayn Rand eloquently pointed out long ago: It is generally understood that those who support the "conservatives," expect them to uphold the system which has been camouflaged by the loose term of "the American way of life." The moral treason of the "conservative" leaders lies in the fact that they are hiding behind that camouflage: they do not have the courage to admit that the American way of life was capitalism, that that was the politico-economic system born and established in the United States, the system which, in one brief century, achieved a level of freedom, of progress, of prosperity, of human happiness, unmatched in all the other systems and centuries combined -- and that that is the system which they are now allowing to perish by silent default. If the "conservatives" do not stand for capitalism, they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone.This at once explains why the conservatives are losing and why it is so easy for leftists to smear all opposition as, for example, "racists" or "morons." While it is not unfair to opine about people who self-identify as "conservative" or regard this approach as the right way to defend America from the left, it is incorrect (although convenient for some purposes) to use the label to dismiss the left's political opponents.Link to Original
  16. "Whoever is careless with truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs." -- Albert Einstein *** The Foundation for Economic Education has run a short piece about a study of American media coverage of the pandemic and its effect on public policy. The short post is useful for memorializing both the tenor of the coverage and the consequences of the insane policies it inspired/panicked so many into accepting:Image by Ferdinand Schmutzer, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain."The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials," the authors found. "Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining." The trend toward pessimistic news coverage was so acute, James Freeman noted in the Wall Street Journal, that the media mostly missed the amazing vaccine development story that took place right under their nose. [my emphasis]onCue memories of me yelling at the television set about eighteen months ago. I could not believe how fact-free and emotionally manipulative the reporting was. Onward:[T]he lockdowns were worse than useless. While they did little to nothing to slow the spread of the virus, their collateral damage speaks for itself. A global collapse in economic output. A projected 150 million people falling into extreme poverty. A historic surge in depression and social isolation that will have consequences that reverberate for decades. Millions of children thrust into learning environments that appear to be even worse than their previous situations, despite the fact that health officials have for months said closing schools is not an effective way to curb the spread of the virus.We have just seen how the media and many politicians behaved regarding a relatively small matter -- at least to hear journalists and politicians say it -- compared to the allegedly world-threatening "climate crisis." After this mercifully short chapter of history, we should at the very least consider the reliability of what the media are saying -- and the wisdom of the remedies our politicians are pushing -- to be suspect. -- CAVLink to Original
  17. Psychologist Stanton Samenow writes of a phenomenon he calls generalizing a point to an absurdity that is ubiquitous among criminals. An example:"Everyone drinks. My dad has a scotch every night after work." This statement was made by a man who had defied a condition of probation that he abstain from alcohol. When his blood alcohol test results came back positive, he disputed with his probation officer the "no alcohol" condition. Not only did he cite his father's daily drink, but he also launched into a diatribe about cocktail hour being part of society's culture and contended that alcohol helps people relax. Moreover, he declared that he was not a problem drinker, that he could drink without overdoing it. Like the burglar, this man was making a point, then generalizing to an absurd degree, equating people who have one drink with his pattern of binge drinking alcohol. [link omitted]The criminal is attempting to rationalize his own behavior to himself in addition to the psychologist. That's obvious, and it reminds me a little of the following quotation by Ayn Rand:If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: "How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?" -- you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization.That's interesting, but it isn't the subject of my post. Criminals, after all, are generally not systematic thinkers and have no interest in morality. Indeed, most accept altruism as morality and regard it with scorn. More interesting to me is the concluding paragraph:Image by Toa Heftiba, via Unsplash, license.Generalizing a point to an absurdity is a tactic habitually used by criminals in an attempt to minimize conduct that has harmed other people. Professionals who work with criminals sometimes get taken in by this tactic. Generalizing a point to an absurdity can assume a subtle form and can be convincing. The absurdity is not always obvious to the recipient. A person who is an agent of change working with criminals must recognize this for what it is -- a tactic that must be addressed as one of many barriers to change.And it is, but I see an even bigger barrier, namely the conventional conception of morality as exclusively a matter of how one treats other people. To see this, one can consider that Ayn Rand's egoistic ethical philosophy is revolutionary in part because of how she got there.The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values? Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all -- and why?Her answer leads her to the realization that ethics -- and one of rational self-interest -- is necessary to one's survival and flourishing as a rational being. And yes, injuring others does violate that ethics. But the problem is much deeper than that. Altruism, practically the only ethics system in our culture, causes every single ethical question to lose any real connection to the self. Even decent people speak of being unable to reconcile the moral and the practical: With moral questions divorced from the top priority of the criminal -- What's in it for me? -- why shouldn't a criminal fail to realize that his short-range, other-focused behavior is actually very detrimental to his own benefit? And what motivation will he really have to reform? Helping others one loves can, in an indirect fashion, overcome this problem, but it will only go so far, and it bypasses, curtails, or even prevents the hope of self-advancement from becoming the great asset to the reforming criminal that it should be. And it also prevents criminals from realizing that, while they might be able to fool a therapist or two, they are really only fooling themselves in the short-term, if at all. If anyone should appreciate the danger of being deceived, a criminal should. -- CAVLink to Original
  18. Regulars here already know of my disappointment with Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, and my apprehension about his apparently very healthy presidential prospects, and it's easy enough to find out for the rest. (Oh, and to be clear, this post is not about his property- and speech- rights-violating, unconstitutional requirement that Twitter give politicians a forum. That alone disqualifies him from holding political office.) So let's set that aside for now and consider something even more alarming: The hare-brained enthusiasm we can find for DeSantis from the right. Exhibit A is a recent piece at Red State titled, "Media Gets Stomped Into Next Week When They Go After DeSantis Yet Again on Building Collapse." I detest the media as much as anyone else who wants actual news delivered without an agenda. Absent that, I am not above a laugh at the expense of some pompous ass having his head served to him on a platter by someone he despises for the wrong reasons. I am sorry to have to advise against wasting your popcorn on this exchange between one of these bottom-feeders and the governor's Press Secretary, Christina Pushaw:Common misconceptions about government allow charletans to lead us by the nose further and further away from liberty. (Image by Cgoodwin, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)Ken Klippenstein of The Intercept [tried] to suggest there's a relation to DeSantis talking about deregulation in 2019 and the building collapse now. ... [Quoting Pushaw's reply:] Disgusting. First responders are risking their lives in fiery rubble to find missing people, & Ken attempts a political dunk. DeSantis wasn't Governor when the building was built or when concerns were raised -- & NO past Gov would have been informed of this building inspection. The 2019 ["Deregathon"] event was about occupational licensing not buildings. Stop lying media vultures.Pushaw should have quit while she was ahead. The first part of this was fine and the reply should have stopped there, or maybe after the second paragraph. By the third, we have a snatching of defeat from the jaws of (a small) victory. The second paragraph is ... okay. The government runs everything, so it's arguably appropriate to point out that the governor doesn't review building inspections, or that this didn' happen on his watch. It's gilding the lily a bit, though, since no reasonable person is going to blame this on DeSantis. That said, it verges on conceding the premise that building inspections are a legitimate function of the government and, arguably, that DeSantis perhaps should be in charge of them. Needless to say, Klippenstein would probably smell blood (or pretend to) and go after after Pushaw. But he didn't have to because in her third paragraph, she finishes the job for him! Instead of having called out a tawdry leftist for despicably (but predictably) using a tragic event to make a political point, Pushaw has conceded his premise that government regulation is the way to achieve building safety -- current evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- and will have any half-sentient reader wondering: If the government should tell architects and engineers how to build safely, why shouldn't it license those occupations and many others besides? Twitter isn't the forum to make or win such an argument, but it can certainly make it harder to do so. "Showing" some obdurate ass in the press is hardly worth inflicting harm, however slight, to the cause of liberty. We all wish someone would fight the left; let's not allow that wish cloud our judgement. -- CAVLink to Original
  19. Four Things It's food blog Friday... 1. One of the first things one learns about when moving to Florida is the Cuban sandwich, which originated in Tampa. I like those and know where to go when I'm in the mood for one. But until yesterday, I did not know that my own neck of the woods, Florida's First Coast, has its own sandwich, developed by Levantine immigrants about fifty years ago. An old article in no less than the New York Times elaborates:Elsewhere, the term might be pejorative. But in Jacksonville, these sandwiches, also known as desert riders, are a totemic food. Often stacked with lunch meats, smeared with Italian dressing and tucked into pita bread, they are eaten with a side of tabbouleh and accompanied by a cherry limeade. [bold added]I'm not sure how this evaded my radar the whole time I've been here, but I'll soon make a point of stopping by one of the various local chains that make these to try one. 2. Closer to my first home, I recently learned that comeback sauce originated with Greek immigrants in Mississippi:[A] number of those families ended up moving west to Jackson, Mississippi. The Mayflower, Primos, Dennery's, and Crechale's were all part of those families' legacies. Out of them sprang comeback sauce. From a culinary standpoint, comeback sauce is one of the very few things that Mississippians can claim as their own, and it is remarkable. It goes great on fried pickles, fish, shrimp, and chicken or drizzled over a salad. We use it on our Croque Monsieur and as a sandwich dressing regularly. It is also great for french fries. So just make a little and keep it in the fridge. It's kinda good for everything."I had no idea, and I grew up down the street from one of these restaurants! I never before gave much thought to the sauce and don't use it much myself. But a favorite restaurant of ours uses it on their fried green tomatoes to great effect, so I'll probably get around to devising my own recipe for it -- to go with my own take on fried green tomatoes. 3. Moving along to the other side of the world... Fellow sushi fans might enjoy learning about funazushi, which the BBC describes as "the fermented predecessor of modern sushi:"With the dexterity and speed you'd expect from sushi chefs, they scrape off the fish's scales with a knife, remove its gills and carefully angle a skewer down its throat to remove its innards without penetrating its flesh. But what happens next is truly unexpected. They pack the fish with salt, layer them in a wooden tub, weigh the lid down with 30kg stones and leave them to cure for two years. Each fish is then thoroughly rinsed, dried in the sun for a day and fermented for one more year in cooked rice before it is ready to be eaten.The rest is a fascinating read. Should I ever make it to Japan, that's something I'd like to try. 4. My own recipe for funazushi would be quite the tall order, but learning how to make Cantonese-style scrambled eggs seems doable after seeing the above video. Here are the program notes from Chinese Cooking Demystified:Whampoa stir-fried eggs! This is a classic egg dish and [my] favorite way to scramble an egg. One of the cool things about this egg frying method is that you can add in an assortment of other ingredients -- when they're other stuff added in, it's generally referred to as '[whatever] huadan'. In the video we show you a simple sort with Char Siu barbecue pork and Chinese yellow chives, but feel free to get creative.Below this at Youtube are ingredients and a written elaboration that I missed the first time I learned of the video. -- CAVLink to Original
  20. En route to other things, I unearthed a series of Psychology Today blog posts by my favorite criminologist, Stanton Samenow. Within these posts, Samenow debunks the common trope of the ordinary person who "snaps" or otherwise commits an "out of character" crime. Samenow's first post lays out two major premises -- that people act consistently with their character and that character can be hard to read -- underlying his overall argument as follows:There were clues before the crime, too. (Image by Max Kleinen, via Unsplash, license.)[P]eople always respond in character. It is impossible for a person to do otherwise. You cannot be other than who you are. The "out of character" crime can be understood only by figuring out what the character of the alleged perpetrator truly is. It takes a very long time to know the many dimensions of an individual's personality well enough to assess accurately what is "in character." What a person presents publicly often differs radically from what he is like privately. The brilliant and compassionate doctor who has taken care of us for years might not be so admirable if we lived with him. [bold in original, link omitted]A person's character, as we see from the rest of Samenow's argument, arises from the kinds of choices a person habitually makes, and these in turn are affected by the way a person thinks. This isn't a denial of free will: Samenow's discussion clearly shows that he strongly advocates helping people correct the way they think about ethical issues and social interactions. In his second post, Samenow applies his thinking to the particular common notion that a person "snapped" to commit a horrendous act:Nearly everyone experiences unanticipated, stressful events. Human beings adopt an attitude toward adversity that is consistent with their character. Critical is not what happens to a person, but how he chooses to cope with whatever life hands out. Consider the impact upon an employee receiving without any warning a job termination notice. Suddenly, he is not able to support his family. There are many possible reactions to such a devastating, unexpected event. A person may become so depressed and psychologically immobilized that he secludes himself at home and does nothing to improve his situation. Another person fantasizes "getting even" but takes no action. A third person returns to the job site and angrily confronts his former supervisor at gunpoint. And a fourth individual immediately starts locating leads for a new job. The individual responds in a manner consistent with how he has reacted to other major stresses. A person who has dealt with past setbacks by seeking to improve his situation will not endanger others or himself by engaging in a violent confrontation. [my emphasis]This makes sense, but the myth he is attempting to debunk is frequently buttressed by assertions by people who know the criminal that what he did was out of character. Samenow addresses this issue in his third post by reminding us that it is difficult to judge people and that the kinds of people who are likely to commit crimes can cover their tracks pretty well:In their unceasing pursuit of control, these people fortify an insatiable psychological need. They may attain positions of considerable power which they utilize to further inflate their sense of self-importance. They treat others as they would pawns on a chessboard. Because they are admired, their faults are overlooked, sometimes not even recognized. Colleagues and peers endure their exploitative and abusive conduct which only serves to reinforce their sense of invulnerability. I call these individuals "secret controllers" because they are not perceived as controlling. They are successful in attaining what they want. Rarely do others challenge them. These people may not be seen accurately for who they really are until they have done irreparable damage. When a secret controller encounters a major threat to his ego, his response may be cataclysmic, appearing completely out of character.I generally agree with Samenow, although not with his conventional use of the term selfish. I think predatory would be a more accurate term, whether such a person actually breaks legitimate laws or not. -- CAVLink to Original
  21. Only you can invite a long conversation about religion. (Image by MTPICHON, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)Miss Manners recently fielded a question from an atheist who evidently isn't very good at heading off conversations about religion with friends -- who will often attempt to proselytize. I can see this being a problem for fellow nonbelievers, especially in the South, where many people are religious and one is raised with a respect for etiquette. The latter would be good, except that the code of etiquette is unfortunately tainted with an altruist ethic. (So, one ends up being considerate -- but also has to learn to quit white lies, bending over backwards to avoid conflict, failing to admit a conflict has already started, and the like.) There are thus ample "opportunities" for such conversations -- and one may well be poorly-equipped to end or fend them off altogether, especially if young or new to life as a secular person in a semi-religious society. The answer there is fine for such a situation, especially regarding the admonition not to engage. My main issue is that the time not to engage is often far earlier than the establishment of a friendship, and one can save lots of time and emotional energy by learning to see when that point is. I am from the South and live there now: It is often quite common down here for new acquaintances to toss a religious reference or so into a casual conversation. Here's a recent example: "Well, I think God never gives you more than you can handle." When that kind of thing isn't an "invitation" to start talking about religion, it's usually a clear sign that religion is important enough to a person that you will probably need to be clear about where you stand sooner rather than later. And since some people will react badly to the news, you want to figure that out as quickly as possible. Now, it can be tempting, especially to the young, or to someone who has recently embraced a rational alternative to religion, to want to come out swinging -- to lay out all the things wrong with religion, or how it set oneself back, or how history is littered with the corpses of religious wars. That is usually a mistake. As the letter-writer observed, "They all think I secretly believe in their God!" That is part bullying (Surely, you're too decent/polite to slam the door on someone whose values you plainly share, so let's keep this missionary work going.) and part defense mechanism. The version I got when I was young (and didn't have a ready answer) was You'll outgrow it. This is their way of continuing to pretend to themselves that they are thoughtful and good, in the face of evidence to the contrary: Someone they like on some level who, in fact, rejects their religion. In short, the vast majority of people who will do what the letter-writer is complaining about are not truly serious, and speaking with them about religion beyond an honest admission one is not religious, is a waste of time at best, and can unnecessarily alienate them at worst. Opportunities for serious conversations about religion, if you want them, will come when serious people seek you out or you find serious people to have them with on your own. Or you have to have one with someone already important to you. As someone who never really believed religion since his mid-teens and has been an atheist for over thirty years, my policy has been: (1) to be frank about the topic of religion when it comes up, but without indiscriminately volunteering my views, and (2) to be alert to things like casual references to God in conversations, especially with new acquaintances. Between these things, I haven't been told that I'm secretly religious in decades, or have had the disappointment of thinking I'm really connecting with someone, only to find out that the whole conversation was really just a conversion attempt. In sum, usually, not engaging is enough. And when the question of what my religion might be does come up, generally, I'm not religious suffices. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. One never stops learning about writing, and that can include making connections that will have yourself slapping your head and wondering how you failed to make them for so long. This idea -- summarized by the title -- is one of them, I think. To be clear, I'm more at a stage of letting it percolate: This post is my way of capturing and expanding on it shortly after thinking about it -- out of the blue yesterday evening. Image by Samantha Gades, via Unsplash, license.The idea follows from a couple of things. First, the form and purpose are a bit of a rip-off of Leonard Peikoff's advice for achieving psychological distance when editing: Imagine that your piece was written by "someone you vaguely dislike." What I think my idea might be helpful for is maintaining empathy, particularly when writing about issues that can make you angry, or tempt you to hurl zingers, or go into a rant. Second, while hosting a birthday party for the kids, I had a very enjoyable conversation with a neighbor of mine. Unlike me, but like a very difficult person I am forced to deal with regularly, he recycles. This is an issue that easily angers me. It is something that the difficult person once, for example, very publicly tried to pressure me about during a holiday gathering. That person seems completely unable or unwilling to consider that there could at all be an issue with recycling. But the guy at the party? I might never persuade him that recycling is a waste of time, but I sensed a degree of reasonableness about him I never get with the other guy. I want to write for people like him, and I want people to remember me with the same goodwill I feel for him. We didn't go on a tangent about recycling because we were having too much fun talking about other things, but I could see reasonable person there. I can imagine at the worst learning why he recycles and why that would seem to be a rational thing to do. Maybe I never need to actually discuss recycling with the guy from the party, but just remember that general impression. In today's acrimonious atmosphere, it can be very difficult to remember that there are actually lots of people like this. Perhaps, in the same way I get rid of the occasional "earworm" by listening to music I like, I can bring this conversation and other similar ones to mind when writing about issues like this. Forget about the people who repeat platitudes over and over, and remember the interesting ones. That impression improves focus by causing one to want to appeal to the best of another person: His basic decency and his thinking. It can also improve one's own morale. (The last bit reminds me of one of the better aspects of the early years of the late Rush Limbaugh's radio programs: His program helped numerous Americans realize they were hardly alone in wanting freedom and opposing the worst aspects of America's cultural and political trends.) It may feel like you've been dropped into a world of malevolent zombies lots of the time, but you haven't. This may all sound like common sense, and for all my past posting about empathy, I was a little surprised at myself for not thinking of this sooner. But I'm not going to beat myself up over this: In my defense, much of what I have read about empathy has been pitched form an altruistic, or at least an other-focused angle. I think I needed to experience for myself the selfish benefit of empathy. I'm a naturally solitary and very introverted person, so I might be an odd duck in that regard, but it did me good to see, in the concrete, a person very much like myself who holds a view I strongly disagree with. (Perhaps I am fortunate to be coming out of the relative isolation of the pandemic: This is hardly the first time I have had such an experience, but it really stood out.) Thinking of the two pieces of advice together, it seems that in the solitary pursuit of writing, one should strive to be more invested in understanding one's audience, and less invested in what one has already written down. That's the principle, and now I can remember to use concrete experiences like that one to make that more real. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. If you haven't already read Marc Andreesen's celebration of the role of technology in sparing us from the twin ravages of a pandemic and bad government, it is worth a read. Andreesen doesn't attempt to distinguish poor pandemic responses from the bad consequences a pandemic would have caused anyway. But he is right to point out the many ways technological innovation shortened the durations of many of these hardships or blunted their effects. (Fellow fans of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged will note that insofar as we were saved from bad policy, it will be more challenging to argue against it in part for that very reason.) I came across Andreesen's essay after first reading an exploration of the many creative ways hotels found to reassure their guests and find new markets during that very tough time. Among many such examples, we have one that I hope continues well after the pandemic is off our minds:Image by Francesca Saraco, via Unsplash, license.Open the door at the Sonesta San Jose to see a three-foot-tall robot wearing a bow-tie sticker. Under its lid: a preordered meal or slippers, delivered within 10 minutes of ordering. Steve Cousins, founder and CEO of Savioke, which makes the "Relay" bots, says they're not meant to replace staff but rather to help make late-night deliveries or during rush hours. "The robots are doing three times as many deliveries as they did before the pandemic," said Cousins. "Guests who have experienced robot delivery usually ask for it the next time they need something. It is fast, it doesn't seem to inconvenience the staff, and they do not have to tip it." [links in original] That said, the article also remarks on the demise of the breakfast buffet, something I miss enough to hope for a revival. For the most part, though, I can see many of the changes having legs, because they cut costs or increase market size. Notably, some hotels will be devoting entire floors to local business customers in "work from hotel" arrangements that remind me strongly of some of Cal Newport's advice for people for whom working from home has ended up meaning hitting a wall. -- CAVLink to Original
  24. Four Things Random thoughts provoked by a recent review of the Positive Focus Log... 1. The temporary bridge fell out at a time I could easily do something about it. I occasionally get to spend time in the dentist's chair due to the evolving aftereffects of a childhood injury. This came from a recent installment, and in addition to that bit of luck, I have the following amusing memory, since it was my first experience with a temporary bridge. While in the chair, with the dental assistant fabricating the bridge as I waited, I mistakenly assumed that there had to have been some kind of spectacular new technological wizardry at work. Forgetting that other, similar, things, like a fake tooth I had to wear a couple of decades ago, had also been ready for me before the end of a visit, I speculated that a 3D printer might be involved. Once home, I eagerly searched for a video about the process and found something like this: My first reaction to this was something like, "Oh, man! It's just epoxy!" A moment later, though, I realized that just epoxy is really technological wizardry from another era. And, after seeing the relevant part of the above video, it is clear that the epoxy my dentist used was a significant advance on that in the video. My temporary bridge was ready in minutes, not hours, and lasted for the weeks it took for my mouth to heal. 2. Thanks to a Cal Newport podcast, I learned that it is easy to export Kindle notes to such formats as PDF or HTML. This makes integrating such notes with the rest of my workflow much simpler. 3. My favorite soccer team, Arsenal will be playing some pre-season matches in the United States: I am looking forward to seeing the Gunners live with one of my brothers later this summer. 4. Last but not least: I have been a father for ten years this month. A first child is not the only one being born, nor the only one who does the growing up, nor the only one who gets to experience the joys of childhood. Case in point: While I was away from the blog, I got to answer the question, What does 'the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree' mean? -- while in line with her for a roller coaster at an amusement park. She seems to like these as much as I did when I was her age, so I had a ready example. -- CAVLink to Original
  25. Via Hacker News, I ran into an excerpt from a much longer post of psychiatrist-blogger Scott Alexander's Slate Star Codex. I'll present an excerpt of the excerpt here before moving on to my own thoughts: Image by Element5 Digital, via Unsplash, license.[An] obsessive compulsive woman would drive to work every morning and worry she had left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house. So she'd drive back home to check that the hair dryer was off, then drive back to work, then worry that maybe she hadn't really checked well enough, then drive back, and so on ten or twenty times a day. It's a pretty typical case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it was really interfering with her life. She worked some high-powered job -- I think a lawyer -- and she was constantly late to everything because of this driving back and forth, to the point where her career was in a downspin and she thought she would have to quit and go on disability. She wasn't able to go out with friends, she wasn't even able to go to restaurants because she would keep fretting she left the hair dryer on at home and have to rush back. She'd seen countless psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, she'd done all sorts of therapy, she'd taken every medication in the book, and none of them had helped. So she came to my hospital and was seen by a colleague of mine, who told her "Hey, have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?" And it worked. She would be driving to work in the morning, and she'd start worrying she'd left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house, and so she'd look at the seat next to her, and there would be the hair dryer, right there. And she only had the one hair dryer, which was now accounted for. So she would let out a sigh of relief and keep driving to work.Alexander goes on to elaborate that about half of his colleagues were scandalized by this solution, but that he loved it. I love it, too, and I found his longer post worth reading. That said, I would wager that at least some among the scandalized half of his coworkers were right to have misgivings. And I say this as someone who has taken his own hair dryer to work, so to speak: There are some very elegant solutions to problems out there -- and there are some tempting ideas that look like that kind of solution. I would hazard to guess that many or most such solutions crop up in areas -- like psychiatry! -- that are at the frontier of human knowledge. Alexander's post treats epistemological themes along with thorny issues about how to help people with psychological conditions like depression or being transgendered. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says there, but it is worth considering. But if he doesn't hold or agree with the following sentiment, I would add it: Take your hair dryer to work, but don't be blind to possible unforeseen consequences -- or to solutions you do understand and might want to implement instead -- that may crop up down the road. We all have to attempt to solve problems we don't understand completely from time to time, which means we are having to navigate without a complete map. It can be tempting, as saturated as our culture is with Pragmatism, to see something (apparently) working and simply run with it. Or -- particularly with some difficult problems -- it can be tempting to evade signs that the solution isn't right. That is the big danger a "hair dryer solution" can pose: You think you're clever. The problem is licked. But then, for example, you move to a house with a gas stove that you can't seem to remember turning off after you fried your bacon in the morning. Good luck setting that thing in your front passenger seat. Perhaps taking the hair dryer to work will buy you time to try new meds or do work that nips the real problem in the bud. Or maybe you're lucky and the hack really is all it will take to shake a less-serious-than-it-seems problem. In either case, take it with you, being honest with yourself about the fact that you should be on the look-out for a real solution and may face the consequences of basically driving without a map. (This is hardly to say that one can't make mistakes in forming or applying principles on which to act.) I like the outside-of-the-box symbolism of Alexander's hair dryer. But I will also take it as a reminder not to confuse a clever hack with principled action. -- CAVLink to Original
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