Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 09, 2016

Three Things

1. My admonitions of morning silence to my three-year-old son, who rises early and exuberantly each weekend morning, have morphed over time into a shared joke.

At first, he took charge of morning silence. I began noticing that, if I tried to tell him something, even in a whisper, Little Man would smile, place his finger to his lips, and say, "Shhhh!"

So, one day, as soon as he shushed me, I jokingly shushed him back, and then would do this the instant he made a noise of any kind. Having a good sense of humor, he got the joke right away.

Now, we often start our weekends with a round of shushing each other. And overall, he usually does a decent job of being quiet while Mrs. Van Horn and Pumpkin doze upstairs.

2. They're calling them "nuclear batteries":

New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current. The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute's sold-out annual lecture - 'Ideas to change the world'- on Friday, 25 November. [links in original]
Later in the Phys.org article, which also notes the pros and cons of the new technology, there is mention of a way for interested parties to suggest possible uses. (HT: Snedcat)

3. Clients From Hell presents us with the following humorous sign of the times:
Can you send me your email?

-Sent from my iPhone
I have a strange feeling that the person who submitted that did not read that from a printout.

Weekend Reading

"If the season feels like a duty to you, then something is wrong." -- Michael Hurd, in "Gifting Shouldn't Be a Chore" at The Delaware Wave

"Risk gets a bad name because it gets lumped with sensation-seeking." -- Michael Hurd, in "Happiness Can Be Risky" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Trump poses such a threat to free speech because most politicians and intellectuals have not taken it seriously as a right for years." -- Steve Simpson, in "Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon" at The Hill

-- CAV


Breathing Easier While Pelosi Chokes

Thursday, December 08, 2016

No sooner do I raise an eyebrow about the president-elect's meeting with Al Gore, than he causes a tizzy on the left by naming one Scott Pruitt as his choice to head the EPA. But who is Scott Pruitt? "Racist Climate Denier," along with anything else from the left, is entirely devoid of meaning, whether because it is a smear or a boy crying wolf. And, as of this morning, Wikipedia wasn't that helpful regarding either his qualifications to run a government agency or what he might do with such authority, once he had it.

But I found the following from a piece in the Weekly Standard about Oklahoma's Attorney General:

[Pruitt] has challenged the EPA's practice of going far beyond its authority to attack the energy industry and thus affect practically every industry in the country. The EPA needs a leash, and Pruitt and other state attorneys general have gone to court to attach it.

Pruitt, 48, is a sharp critic of President Obama's "exceeding" of federal law in environmental and other cases. "He's kept his promise that Washington knows best," Pruitt told me in 2013. But Obama's executive orders are "not consistent with our Constitution and our rule of law."

He and Greg Abbott, then AG of Texas and now the state's governor, succeeded in voiding a dubious EPA rule that claimed air pollution from Texas and Oklahoma was harming Granite City, Illinois. In that case and others, EPA's evidence was pretty skimpy.

Even worse in the view of the environmental lobby, Pruitt is a leader in the effort, so far successful, to block the Clean Power Plan and the vast change it would require in how electricity is produced. The plan violates "at least three separate statutory bars and two constitutional limitations on federal powers," Pruitt's lawsuit to overturn the plan says. [bold added]
The piece goes on to note elation on the part of "free-market groups," and that's understandable, given the low bar set by President Obama and the prospect of Hillary Clinton as his successor. However, putting a "leash" on the powerful EPA, is not the same thing as abolishing it, not that I would expect my views to be widely shared among potential appointees for any such office.

So, assuming this is Trump's choice, he sticks with it, the article accurately describes Pruitt's views, and he wins his confirmation battle ... he may be about as good a pick as we can expect. That is, Pruitt might reverse some of the EPA's worst recent excesses, providing us a reprieve from much of the economic damage it is set to wreak. But the EPA looks like it will live to fight, reinvigorated, another day.

I will not complain about breathing room, but I will not call it victory.

-- CAV


What if There Weren't an Electoral College?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

We're getting the usual calls after the presidential election to do away with the Electoral College, especially since the Democrat who ran as one lost. Indeed, the left has been pushing for some time to effectively abolish the Electoral College. I have always been against such efforts, and agree (as explained in the first link) that this institution helps preserve the voting power of the individual in that contest.

And a recent editorial from RealClear Politics lends more weight to that argument by considering the likely consequences of abolishing the Electoral College, in light of the fact that, like Bill Clinton (twice), neither candidate in this election won a majority of the votes, anyway.

If we abandoned the Electoral College, and adopted a system in which a person could win the presidency with only a plurality of the popular votes we would be swamped with candidates. Every group with an ideological or major policy interest would field a candidate, hoping that their candidate would win a plurality and become the president.

...

Unless we were to scrap the constitutional system we have today and adopt a parliamentary structure, we could easily end up with a president elected with only 20 percent-25 percent of the vote.

Of course, we could graft a run-off system onto our Constitution; the two top candidates in, say, a 10-person race, would then run against one another for the presidency. But that could easily mean that the American people would have a choice between a candidate of the pro-choice party and a candidate of the pro-gun party. If you thought the choice was bad this year, it could be far worse.
Regarding Bill Clinton, Peter Wallison notes a psychological corollary to the role of the Electoral College in insuring, as mathematician Alan Natapoff once argued, that the most consistent competitor wins: it is a mechanism for establishing legitimacy. Says Wallison, "[T]here was never any doubt -- because he won an Electoral College majority -- that [Clinton] had the legitimacy to speak for the American people."

-- CAV


Room for Gore in Trump's Wide-Open Mind

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Remember when I pointed out how similar the election of Donald Trump was to the passage of ObamaCare? As Nancy Pelosi so patronizingly put it, we needed to pass the ACA to find out "what's in it." This is proving doubly true of Trump. The same man who has (had? was rumored to be thinking about?) a climate contrarian heading up his EPA transition team has reportedly just had a tête-à-tête with climate alarmist Al Gore, which the former called a "productive" "search for common ground." (Pro tip: Never open suspicious packages.)

Regarding this, John Hinderaker of Power Line opines:

This is the peril of nominating a candidate who has no track record in public life. Donald Trump hasn't spent his adult life studying and dealing with public policy issues. That is precisely why many of his voters liked him; fair enough. But the down side of a candidate with no track record and a lack of fully thought-out stands on the issues is that he may blow with the wind. [bold added]
Close, but no cigar!

Trump actually does have a public record -- of contradicting himself and flip-flopping on everything.

This is not to say that Hinderaker doesn't have a point here: There is an argument for a presidential candidate having some sort of public record, in terms of us knowing how effective he might be once in office, but that still leaves the question of, "Effective -- at what?"

Trump's ramblings show not just a lack of study, but a lack of principles guiding his thinking, and that is real peril here: We've elected an unprincipled man to our highest office. "Make America great again?" In terms of its early -- if inconsistent -- commitment to all men being equal? Or in some Rooseveldtian sense? (Take your pick.) Or in Obama's sense, on the premise that he merely executed his plans poorly? Who knows?

Not having studied certain issues deeply would make someone unclear about policy specifics, but there would only be a range of variation in what those policies might be from a principled man. If, for example, slavery were an issue, a principled man might come up with any number of different ways of ending it, but he would not invite someone famous for, say, arguing that slavery is good for the slaves to discuss "common ground" when contemplating policies or choosing advisors.

That said, Trump has mentioned having an "open mind" about global warming, which reminds me of the following, by Ayn Rand:
[There is a] dangerous little catch phrase which advises you to keep an "open mind." This is a very ambiguous term -- as demonstrated by a man who once accused a famous politician of having "a wide open mind." That term is an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. A "closed mind" is usually taken to mean the attitude of a man impervious to ideas, arguments, facts and logic, who clings stubbornly to some mixture of unwarranted assumptions, fashionable catch phrases, tribal prejudices -- and emotions. But this is not a "closed" mind, it is a passive one. It is a mind that has dispensed with (or never acquired) the practice of thinking or judging, and feels threatened by any request to consider anything.

What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an "open mind," but an active mind -- a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants -- a certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion and fear. [bold added]
Regarding "equal status to truth and falsehood" (and, in Gore's case, the arbitrary), the only winner possible from such a meeting was Al Gore. If, as Trump asserted during his campaign, global warming is a scam, the only rational thing to do with someone like Al Gore is to refuse to give him any pretense of having something constructive to add to the national conversation. That Trump entertained Gore at all shows a concerning shallowness of conviction on his part, about this issue at the very least -- an issue he ran on. And it grants Al Gore a level of legitimacy he doesn't deserve.

I did not support Trump, nor did I expect great things from a Trump presidency. But I was beginning to feel a modicum of relief that he might offer some breathing room by some combination of (a) stalling or even partly rolling back some of the worst leftist policies, while (b) not being able to enact his more worrisome anti-capitalist ideas. Between Trump's "deal" "with" (i. e., fascistic jawboning of) Carrier and this meeting, I am not so sure even that much is warranted.

-- CAV


Government Anti-Midases Produced the 'Burbs

Monday, December 05, 2016

One of the things I miss the most about living in St. Louis is the fact that the older, "streetcar" suburb where we resided was relatively dense and had streets laid out in a grid. I still had to drive a lot more than I did when we were in the middle of Boston before that (and easily got by without even owning a car). But it was still easy to do things on foot, or even using public transit. On sunny days, I would sometimes take the ten- or fifteen-minute walk to a nearby commercialized area and pick out a coffee shop for work.

In Maryland, I need a car to do almost anything, due to our suburban street layout. (And yes, I live on a cul-de-sac.) As you may have guessed, we live in an area built after World War II. On top of that, I bet you probably also thought, as I had, that this kind of development has been what the market has demanded for a long time. As it turns out, we are wrong on that second count:

The Federal Housing Authority embraced the cul-de-sac and published technical bulletins in the 1930s that painted the urban street grid as monotonous, unsafe, and characterless. Government pamphlets literally showed illustrations of the two neighborhood designs with the words "bad" and "good" printed alongside them.

The FHA had a hand in developing tens of millions of new properties and mortgages, and its idiosyncratic design preferences evolved into regulation. From the 1950s until the late 1980s, there were almost no new housing developments in the U.S. built on a simple grid.
Yes. Central "planning" is to blame for the spaghetti-like mess at the edges of those cities that aren't also laid out that way. The article linked above also notes that, on top of this layout necessitating more driving, it is also less safe than the older layout. This last fact may be due to the more traditional grid requiring drivers to pay more attention to what they are doing, or drive more slowly.

I have encountered so many instances of the octopus of the state slithering into so many disparate areas of our life that this should not have surprised me and yet it does, a little. And if it surprises me, I am sure others with a more naïve view of government regulation would be incredulous at best: The idea of not trusting the government the next time it tells us how to build communities might not even occur to them...

-- CAV


Admin: New Posting Schedule

Saturday, December 03, 2016

As you may have guessed from the title and form of yesterday's post, I have decided to change my posting schedule. The reason for doing so is to give myself a couple of deadline-free mornings on weekends for writing and writing-related activities that aren't directly related to the blog. (I'd been juggling these most days with very inconsistent results.) Interestingly, although this involves a lighter posting schedule, it is possible that, once I get used to the routine, I will produce more posts per week than I used to. I'm not committing myself to that, though.

The new minimal schedule will be as follows:

  1. Monday-Thursday: One Post
  2. Friday: One Hodgepodge Post (This will consist of a "Three Things" section, usually of things I like or find interesting; a "Weekend Reading" section of Objectivist commentary from publications aimed at the general public; and sometimes an additional section.)
  3. Saturday: Optional Post
  4. Sunday: No Post
I will also experiment with Friday being entirely devoted to the blog, with activities ranging from the creation of extra posts (on those days when the posts are practically writing themselves), administrative work, or working to better publicize my writing (which I haven't really been able to do for the past few years).

I have been thinking about making a change like this for some time, and a very productive weekend (made possible by writing a Saturday post in advance recently) confirmed for me that this was a good idea.

As always, thank you for reading.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 02, 2016

Three Things

1. Writing for the Federalist, a mother speaks for parents everywhere regarding winter clothing:

Here's my advice, then, if you see a cold-looking child and want to help. Put a sock in it. You don't know anything about this situation. Does it look like the child is in imminent danger of dying of hypothermia? No? Then go about your business.
And yes, her story is "better" than mine, although it may be that I can credit keeping my mouth shut for that fact.

2. On the proper way to preserve historic buildings, from the man who saved Houston from zoning back when I lived there:
When Milkovisch passed away, his property was purchased by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. That group wanted to preserve the Beer Can House from demolition, but rather than follow the typical pattern of trying to get a law passed, they put their money where their mouth is. This is the proper way to preserve historic buildings. And it is the proper way to celebrate and preserve Houston's heritage. [link dropped]
If I haven't said so already, I'll say it now: Despite its name and focus, there is plenty of material of general interest at Objectively Houston.

3. According to Walter Hudson of PJ Media, sometimes you have to say, "Because I said so":
Now that I have some experience, I realize that blind allegiance to parental authority is often precisely what is called for. I don't have time to explain the intricate nuances of every decision to the satisfaction of a three-year-old. More importantly, I shouldn't have to. There may be contexts when his prompt obedience could ensure his safety. More commonly, prompt obedience facilitates a productive routine. It isn't practical to make every moment teachable. Sometimes you just need to get moving.
This is true, although I stay away from that phrase as much as I can. I have found that I can often sneak in something like, "I'll explain why later," or even, "I've already told you why," particularly with my five-year-old.

Weekend Reading

"Whenever 'somebody else' pays for your health care, inevitably 'somebody else' will decide what care you will (or will not) receive." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Patients With Aortic Aneurysms More Likely to Die in the UK Than the US" at Forbes

"[I]n fact, [Castro] is no more than a cigar-smoking, dictator version of the relative who tells you to not be selfish." -- Michael Hurd, in "Fidel Castro's Overdue Demise" at Newsmax

"[T]he emotional effect of even the smallest breach between thought and action can slowly chip away at the peace of mind we try so hard to achieve." -- Michael Hurd, in "How Psychological Disorders Sneak Up on You" at The Delaware Wave

"I view gossip as a compulsion to talk about other people, regardless of the facts, for the express purpose of feeling better about yourself." -- Michael Hurd, in "Gossip vs. Self-Esteem" at The Delaware Coast Press

-- CAV