The One Hoop Many Never Jump Through

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A while back, I ran into a couple of articles on health and "performance" fads that illustrate something I would like to see more of in our culture: a healthy degree of skepticism.

In the first, Charles Krauthammer regales us with a whirlwind tour of things that have come and gone as conventional wisdom, and offers the following example of skeptical thought:

Yes, you need some C to prevent scurvy if you're seven months at sea with Capt. Cook and citrus is nowhere to be found. Otherwise, the [Vitamin C] megadose is a crock. Evolution is pretty clever. For 2 million years it made sure Homo erectus, neanderthalensis, sapiens, what have you, got his daily dose without having to visit a GNC store. [bold added]
I am not sure I can endorse his view on placebos, although I have encountered it before.

The second article, from The Economist rightly mocks the "cult of extreme physical endurance" among business executives in a similar manner:
It is time to call a halt on all this hyperactivity, before it gets out of hand. There is no doubt that many bosses have heavy weights resting on their shoulders. But are they likely to make these decisions better if they arrive at work exhausted and sleep-deprived? Working around the clock is probably a sign that you are incapable of delegating, not that you are an invincible hero. Frenetic multi-tasking -- surfing the web while watching TV while listening to music -- is a formula for distraction, rather than good management. And bosses who think of themselves as supermen and superwomen can weaken their companies. As Peter Drucker, a management guru, once pointed out, "No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organised in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings." [bold added]
There is nothing wrong with attempting to improve one's health or performance, but incredible claims should be an immediate cue that some independent thinking and research is in order. Sometimes, even common sense and a visit to such sites as Snopes can be enough to avoid wasting time, money, and energy on rubbish.

-- CAV

Might Climate Science Also Be Broken?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Writing at First Things, William Wilson argues (via Geek Press) quite convincingly that "so much of [today's] science isn't." Wilson expands upon and weaves together many things I have noticed in the past, including frequently overturned findings and the (almost always overlooked) danger of government funding compromising the scientific process. The entire article is thought-provoking, but I find the following particularly noteworthy:

What they do not mention is that once an entire field has been created -- with careers, funding, appointments, and prestige all premised upon an experimental result which was utterly false due either to fraud or to plain bad luck -- pointing this fact out is not likely to be very popular. Peer review switches from merely useless to actively harmful. It may be ineffective at keeping papers with analytic or methodological flaws from being published, but it can be deadly effective at suppressing criticism of a dominant research paradigm. Even if a critic is able to get his work published, pointing out that the house you've built together is situated over a chasm will not endear him to his colleagues or, more importantly, to his mentors and patrons.

Older scientists contribute to the propagation of scientific fields in ways that go beyond educating and mentoring a new generation. In many fields, it's common for an established and respected researcher to serve as "senior author" on a bright young star's first few publications, lending his prestige and credibility to the result, and signaling to reviewers that he stands behind it. In the natural sciences and medicine, senior scientists are frequently the controllers of laboratory resources -- which these days include not just scientific instruments, but dedicated staffs of grant proposal writers and regulatory compliance experts -- without which a young scientist has no hope of accomplishing significant research. Older scientists control access to scientific prestige by serving on the editorial boards of major journals and on university tenure-review committees. Finally, the government bodies that award the vast majority of scientific funding are either staffed or advised by distinguished practitioners in the field. [bold added]
Given how frequently leftists intone, "the science says", before presenting the non sequitur that a scientific result implies we have to give up even more of our freedom, allow me to predict utter indifference to this real problem on their part, particularly in the case of global warming alarmism.

The same people who are going after dissenters like criminals on the grounds that they might have received private funding for their research are quite happy to perpetuate the fiction that the only way to have unbiased research is to have it funded by the government. It is as if curiosity on the part of a scientist (or self-interest on the part of a private funder) could not inspire any respect for the truth. Or that someone hoping to run the economy by force wouldn't pervert science in order to gain credibility. It clearly behooves us to take such anti-capitalist bigotry as a warning about those who hold it, and question not just what they claim to be "science."

-- CAV

Vox on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There is worthwhile article at Vox about "civil forfeiture," of which I have heard, but have not thought much about. Titled, "These States Let Police Take and Keep Your Stuff Even if You Haven't Committed a Crime," the piece states the following early on:

These states fully allow what's known as "civil forfeiture": Police officers can seize someone's property without proving the person was guilty of a crime; they just need probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking.

Police can then absorb the value of this property -- be it cash, cars, guns, or something else -- as profit, either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing, which lets local and state police get up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments. [bold added]
I am open to the idea that this controversial practice could be used, with much stricter limits, for legitimate ends, but it strikes me as an abuse of government power. Also, it hardly surprises me that even the most cursory search shows it to be (or have been) a major component of two things that definitely are abuses of government power: the "War on Drugs" and Prohibition.

Perhaps, because public opinion about the question of drug legalization is shifting, the time is ripe to examine this practice and reform it (if it is legitimate) or eliminate it altogether (if it is not).

-- CAV

Defeat Procrastination Tomorrow!

Monday, April 25, 2016

(AND Today!)

A professional psychology journal recently published an article about procrastination, which makes quite a few interesting observations, among them the following, which I'd never heard before:

In general, people learn from their mistakes and reassess their approach to certain problems. For chronic procrastinators, that feedback loop seems continually out of service. The damage suffered as a result of delay doesn't teach them to start earlier the next time around. An explanation for this behavioral paradox seems to lie in the emotional component of procrastination. Ironically, the very quest to relieve stress in the moment might prevent procrastinators from figuring out how to relieve it in the long run.

"I think the mood regulation piece is a huge part of procrastination," says Fuschia Sirois of Bishop's University, in Canada. "If you're focused just on trying to get yourself to feel good now, there's a lot you can miss out on in terms of learning how to correct behavior and avoiding similar problems in the future." [bold added]
Afterward, Sirois asked the test participants what they thought about the scenario. She found that procrastinators tended to say things like, "At least I went to the doctor before it really got worse." This response, known as a downward counterfactual, reflects a desire to improve mood in the short term. At the same time, the procrastinators rarely made statements like, "If only I had gone to the doctor sooner." That type of response, known as an upward counterfactual, embraces the tension of the moment in an attempt to learn something for the future. Simply put, procrastinators focused on how to make themselves feel better at the expense of drawing insight from what made them feel bad. [italics in original]
A translation, in terms actionable by the chronic procrastinator, might be: You need to develop a habit of considering the pain that fun little distraction you are about to indulge in is liable to cause yourself later on.

The article offers a few other ideas, but I think this one is central, and there is no need to wait for a professional consensus about better "interventions." We have free will, and the idea so fashionable today that psychological problems are illnesses, creates the illusion that the cavalry is coming. (This is not to deny either that there are psychologists who disagree with the idea or that some severe cases need professional help.) The key to taking advantage of the article's insights would, for the layman, seem to be to take action during any moment of clarity it might bring, and to find a way to remember that moment on the path to defeating procrastinatory habits.

The cavalry ain't coming, but there is hope.

-- CAV

P.S. I would add that the one thing anyone hoping to learn from the article ought to put off is deciding if it did them any good.

4-23-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Will Makes Case for "Voterless" Primaries

Along the lines of some other commentary I recently noted, George Will recommends the GOP reconsider how it nominates presidential candidates next time:

Trump's campaign to discredit the GOP would benefit from any attempts, whatever their motivations or consequences, to rewrite convention rules now, in the middle of a process that all participants began on the assumption that this year's rules were settled. Next year, however, when this year's competition is, like Trump, just a fragrant memory, state parties that have open primaries should rethink this practice. It makes parties susceptible to free-floating voters and freebooting candidates who are, like Trump, lightly -- if at all -- invested in the party's historic mission and its future. Open primaries are not unconstitutional but they are discordant with a First Amendment value -- the freedom of the individual to associate with like-minded persons in political parties to advance a particular political doctrine. [bold added]
I agree. Will also argues that Donald Trump's complaints about the "rigged" primaries he has lost are unfounded and that he is, instead, "having the novel experience of competing in systems that are not rigged."

Weekend Reading

"The people running [the GOP], including those in elected office, no longer bother to even pretend to do what the voters put them into office to do: cut government, cut taxes, cut spending and strengthen the military." -- Michael Hurd, in "Personal Attacks by Cruz, Trump Handing Victory to Hillary" at Newsmax

"Once you realize that you are, in fact, capable of managing your feelings, you can then refer to another list which I fondly call: 'Three Things to NOT Say to Yourself, Lest You Fall into "Victim-Think."'" -- Michael Hurd, in "Alternatives to Victim-Think" at The Delaware Wave

"Without bad moods, we might not know that something is starting to go wrong." -- Michael Hurd, in "Bad Moods Are Not the End of the World" at The Delaware Coast Press

"We need to grasp that while Islamic totalitarianism is a multiform movement, it is fundamentally united by its religious doctrine and vicious goal." -- Elan Journo, in "We Can't Beat Jihadists Unless We're Real About Their Motivations" at The Federalist

"A common myth is that you cannot be a victim of injustice unless you are powerless or disadvantaged, or that an injustice is okay if it's aimed at someone who isn't powerless or disadvantaged." -- Don Watkins, in "Economic Inequality Complaints Are Just a Cover for Anti-Rich Prejudice" at The Federalist

On the Length of Atlas Shrugged...

A common leftist jab at Ayn Rand/attempt to prevent even a moment's consideration of her ideas is to whine about the length of her best-known work, Atlas Shrugged. The following (via Randex) should put that complaint into perspective:
The number of words in Atlas Shrugged is 645,000. The Bible has around 700,000 words. The number of words in the Federal Tax Code: 3,700,000! [format edits]
But guess which one can land you in jail if you don't follow it to the letter.

-- CAV


Today: Added Elan Journo and Don Watkins pieces to Weekend Reading. 

Friday Four

Friday, April 22, 2016

1. One evening, around bedtime, I hit my shin on something I hadn't noticed on the floor. I said, "Ouch!" loudly enough that Little Man, who was upstairs, came down and asked me if I was okay.

Satisfied that I was, he then noticed I wasn't in my pajamas yet and told me to change. The boy turns three in less than a couple of months.

Pumpkin turns five around the same time, and this week marks the sixteenth year since my wife went from movie buddy to romantic partner.

2. A Gizmodo article on sleeper buses between West Coast metropolises reminds me of the way I toured Europe back in college, by using my Eurail pass and sleeping on trains between cities (although not in my own bunk). The author seems puzzled about the business model, though:

Why would you sleep on a bus for six-and-a-half hours when you could sleep on a plane for one hour? Hmmmmm. I'm not actually sure. I found flights from SFO to LAX for about $114 round trip, which is only $18 more than Sleepbus. If you want to factor in security lines, travel time to the airport, and maybe ground transportation costs, that might make Sleepbus the clear winner, cost-wise. But even the worst airport and vehicle traffic experiences in the world wouldn't take 6.5 hours door-to-door.

So maybe Sleepbus is an alternative to driving. It takes about the same amount of time, but it would be nice not to actually drive, right? And indeed, this where Sleepbus shines is in comparison to other wheeled vehicles. Greyhound's overnight ride starts at $20 each way and takes anywhere between eight to 11 hours, but you don't get a bed. Megabus gets you there a little faster for $41, but again, you're stuck in a seat. Amtrak has beds but they're pricey as heck, going for $208 each way, and still that only gets you as close to SF as Oakland.
Yes, this beats other wheeled transport hands-down, but I'd say the amount of time flying is comparable to begin with, and wastes valuable waking hours. The bus would also save a night or two of hotel costs, too, although one would need a place to freshen up and change clothes upon arriving at the destination. I think this is a great idea.

3. What is the largest number that can be represented by three digits? The answer to that question may surprise you.

But don't let that distract you from the dogged defense a man gave his bright daughter against a mediocre education establishment.

4. How big is the solar system? You can always look up a number, but an old walking exercise attempts to make the vastness more comprehensible. Representing the earth with a peppercorn and the sun with a ball eight inches in diameter, the whole thing (including Pluto, then classified as a planet) requires a 1,000 yard walk.
The correctness of the scale can be proved to skeptics (of a certain maturity) on the spot. The apparent size of the Sun ball, 26 paces away, is now the same as that of the real Sun-half a degree or [sic] arc, or half the width of your little finger held at arm's length. (If both the size of an object and its distance have been scaled down by the same factor, then the angle it subtends must remain the same.)
Even without Pluto, the distance required is impressive.

-- CAV

The Zombie Party

Thursday, April 21, 2016

An article about the Republican primaries written before the debacle in New York contains the following bit of wisdom:

GOP chairman Reince Priebus deliberately encouraged the clustering of 30 primaries and caucuses in March on the dubious theory that a foreshortened presidential race would produce a consensus nominee.

Instead, Priebus earned a place of honor among political leaders who arrogantly believed that they could outsmart the Law of Unintended Consequences. Democracy without time for deliberation produces chaos -- and a delegate lead for Trump, a candidate who embodies the authoritarian temptation in 21st century garb. [bold added]
Too many Republicans, Priebus included, merely oppose (or reluctantly go along with) the left, rather than standing for individual rights. And among the "opponents," how many make arguments that some leftist proposal is noble, but impractical, or otherwise object only on pragmatic grounds? And how many -- including the few ideologues -- disparage ideology as such? Freedom provides obvious benefits over serfdom, but understanding or supporting it is not just a matter of common sense. It is precisely this fatal allergy to ideas or the discussion thereof that has led to a candidate selection process devoid of debate and designed to avoid substance. The fools in the GOP got exactly what they deserved, but I am not gloating about this: I had hoped for a real alternative to whichever socialist or fascist the Democrats nominate this fall. Should Trump be the nominee, I will almost certainly vote against him or abstain from the top of the ticket.

Has this election killed the GOP, or has it merely proved that it was dead all along? Judge for yourself.

-- CAV


Today: Added formatting note to block quote.