Friday Four

Friday, February 12, 2016

1. Last weekend, I watched my one NFL game of the year, and won family bragging rights for correctly predicting the winner and being closest on score. (Until late in the game, things seemed right on track for 19-17, too ...)

Boasts aside, I like good defensive teams, so I enjoyed reading "When Von Miller and the Broncos Realized They Had Broken Cam Newton"

"They haven't played nobody man," [cornerback Chris] Harris continued. "So you look at the schedule and we're the first dogs they've played."

And all Denver needed was its biggest dog, its best dog to go prove the point. The Broncos felt like if someone could stand up to Newton, eye to eye, will to will, then everything would crumble. Newton plays the game with great passion and emotion, it can power him to greatness; it can also leave him in doubt and depressed.
The Broncos defense did exactly what that situation called for: They struck early, and hard, and relentlessly.

2. Many web pages include bloated code that can slow computers to a crawl. This is related to the advertising necessary to make their content available at no charge. So it is that I am interested in new ideas to address the problem, such as this one from Wired:
[I]n the coming weeks, we will restrict access to articles on if you are using an ad blocker. There will be two easy options to access that content.

You can simply add to your ad blocker's whitelist, so you view ads. When you do, we will keep the ads as "polite" as we can, and you will only see standard display advertising.

You can subscribe to a brand-new Ad-Free version of For $1 a week, you will get complete access to our content, with no display advertising or ad tracking.

Either way, you will get to experience the great content that you expect from WIRED, and you'll be supporting our journalism.
I don't read Wired often enough to justify paying them a dollar a week, but I could see this model being expanded to a subscription model including multiple sites. Had I not coded my own way to avoid some of the problems caused by web site bloat, I'd consider a multi-site subscription -- and might, anyway. Would you?

3. Here's an amusing and informative infographic for job-hunters that catalogs signs that one should not take the job. I've never run into Sign 8:
Your potential employer wants money from you to begin working here. This is a company already on the ropes.
I'm not sure I needed that warning, but I got Sign 7 on an interview once when I was young.

4. For a stroll down memory lane or an interactive look at what computing was like back in the early '90's, use the Internet Archive (aka, The Wayback Machine):
Indeed, the colorful and unique look of Windows 3/3.1 is a 16-bit window into what programs used to be like, and depending on the graphical whims of the programmers, could look futuristic or incredibly basic. For many who might remember working in that environment, the view of the screenshots of some of the hosted programs will bring back long-forgotten memories. And clicking on these screenshots will make them come alive in your browser.
A brief look failed to turn up one of my old favorites, Empire. But maybe that's a good thing.

-- CAV

The Press Who Cry Wolf

Thursday, February 11, 2016

David Harsanyi discusses the most recent effort by leftists to discredit a Republican politician, this time an allegation that Ted Cruz is an anti-Semite. Ted Cruz, you see, had the chutzpah to use a Yiddish term many other non-Jewish and non-conservative politicians use, and this term -- at least when he uses it -- is an "anti-Semitic dog whistle." Regarding the substance of that insinuation, Harsanyi notes:

If that's the case, Cruz has done an abysmal job. He's been about as pro-Israel as any politician. This doesn't mean Jews should automatically embrace him, but it'd be peculiar positioning for candidate vying for the Bircher vote. Guys who have actively sought the Orthodox Jewish vote -- "I share a great many values with the Jewish community and the Orthodox community," Cruz told one group not long ago -- don't usually use this kind of coded language. Then again, these imaginary dog whistles probably say more about how many liberals view the middle of America than it does about middle of America.
And perhaps that view is why leftists aren't attacking Cruz on substantive grounds, not that he hasn't provided them with plenty of ammunition.

That is a shame, just for starters.

-- CAV

P.S. My latest column, "In a World Without Regulations, Imagining Our Prosperity," now appears at RealClear Markets.


Today: Added PS. 

The "Unarmed" and the Unnamed

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Heather MacDonald looks behind the numbers from a Washington Post database that commentators have used to justify charges that police are "gunning down unarmed blacks out of implicit bias." For example, MacDonald finds that categorizing many of those shot as "unarmed" is misleading:

[T]he numbers don't tell the whole story. It is worth looking at the specific cases included in the Post's unarmed victim classification in some detail, since that category is the most politically explosive. The "unarmed" label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black victims had reportedly tried to grab the officer's gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. And two individuals included in the Post's "unarmed black victims" category were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings. If the victims were not the intended targets, then racism could have played no role in their deaths. [bold added]
Note that the cases mentioned in the bolded passage can be legally regarded as assault with a deadly weapon:
[S]ome normal, everyday objects can legally be considered deadly weapons depending on the way they're used (such as threatening another person with injury). For example, these items are commonly used in cases involving assault with a deadly weapon:
  • Sticks or pipes
  • Wrenches
  • Hammers and other hand tools
  • Clothing (such as belts)
  • Sharp objects
So, just to start with, much of the frenzy the press keep fomenting against the police is based on classifying as "unarmed victims" individuals who are actually armed -- and accidental deaths as victims of racism. I agree with MacDonald that the aftermath of the Ferguson shootings (after which the Post started collecting this data) showed a need for police (and municipal government) reform. That said, basing such calls on arguably manipulated data risks discrediting the whole effort.

Worse still, as MacDonald argues later, the emphasis of the police reform effort on such dubious allegations of racial bias distracts from the very real problem of "black-on-black" crime:
While the nation was focused on the non-epidemic of racist police killings throughout 2015, the routine drive-by shootings in urban areas were taking their usual toll, including on children, to little national notice. In Cleveland, three children ages five and younger were killed in September. Five children were shot in Cleveland over the Fourth of July weekend. A seven-year-old boy was killed in Chicago that same weekend by a bullet intended for his father. In November, a nine-year-old in Chicago was lured into an alley and killed by his father's gang enemies; the alleged murderer was reportedly avenging the killing of his own 13-year-old brother in October. In August a nine-year-old girl was doing her homework on her mother's bed in Ferguson when a bullet shot into the house killed her. In Cincinnati in July, a four-year-old girl was shot in the head and a six-year-old girl was left paralyzed and partially blind from two separate drive-by shootings. A six-year-old boy was killed in a drive-by shooting on West Florissant Avenue in March in St. Louis, as protesters were again converging on the Ferguson Police Department to demand the resignation of the entire department. Ten children under the age of 10 were killed in Baltimore last year; 12 victims were between the age of 10 and 17. This is just a partial list of child victims. While the world knows who Michael Brown is, few people outside these children's immediate communities know their names. [links omitted, bold added]
It is appalling to say the least that "activists" professing concern about "black lives" can be so blithe about the facts concerning those lives and those charged with protecting them. As she rightly indicates in this timely and crucial piece, such indifference will ultimately undermine any efforts to improve policing in urban areas. I am glad to hear that MacDonald will discuss these issues in more detail in her forthcoming book, The War on Cops.

-- CAV

Is Jeff Bezos a "Robber Baron?"

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A Washington Post story reports that Amazon is "doubling down on lobbying." One of these lobbying efforts involves its efforts to use drones for deliveries:

Amazon dreams of delivering packages to customers doorsteps via unmanned aircraft, even though the proposed rules by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial drone use wouldn't allow for the type of flights the company hopes to make.

"The FAA has a tough job -- so I think we can acknowledge that right away," [CEO Jeff] Bezos said when asked about his experience working with the agency at the town hall. "What's happening with drones is going to cause a lot of new rules to be written, and they're going to have to be done very carefully."

While Bezos said the agency has "very good intentions," he also argued their approach perhaps may be a little "backward."
As an opponent of government regulation of industry, it strikes me as ludicrous that Amazon is having to get permission to implement such a plan. It's as if the bad publicity and potential for liability attendant on operating carelessly would not be incentives enough for Amazon to proceed with due caution.

On top of that, most people, not thinking clearly about regulation, view it as necessary at least up to some point. Many of these same people will simultaneously concede that a company like Amazon will have no choice but to lobby -- and yet regard such efforts as shady. This situation reminds me of that of the railroads in the 1870's, which Ayn Rand once discussed:
The best illustration of the general confusion on the subject of business and government can be found in [Stewart] Holbrook's The Story of American Railroads. On page 231, Mr. Holbrook writes:
Almost from the first, too, the railroads had to undergo the harassments of politicians and their catchpoles, or to pay blackmail in one way or another. The method was almost sure-fire; the politico, usually a member of a state legislature, thought up some law or regulation that would be costly or awkward to the railroads in his state. He then put this into the form of a bill, talked loudly about it, about how it must pass if the sovereign people were to be protected against the monster railroad, and then waited for some hireling of the railroad to dissuade him by a method as old as man. There is record of as many as thirty-five bills that would harass railroads being introduced at one sitting of one legislature.
And the same Mr. Holbrook in the same book just four pages later (pages 235-236) writes:
In short, by 1870, to pick an arbitrary date, railroads had become, as only too many orators of the day pointed out, a law unto themselves. They had bought United States senators and congressmen, just as they bought rails and locomotives -- with cash. They owned whole legislatures, and often the state courts .... To call the roads of 1870 corrupt is none too strong a term.
The connection between these two statements and the conclusion to be drawn from them has, apparently, never occurred to Mr. Holbrook. It is the railroads that he blames and calls "corrupt." Yet what could the railroads do, except try to "own whole legislatures," if these legislatures held the power of life or death over them? What could the railroads do, except resort to bribery, if they wished to exist at all? Who was to blame and who was "corrupt" -- the businessmen who had to pay "protection money" for the right to remain in business -- or the politicians who held the power to sell that right? (from "Notes on the History of American Free Enterprise," in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand)
This doesn't mean that some railroads didn't use bribery for less-than-honorable ends or that there aren't modern "businessmen" who use bribery to gain advantages they could not earn in a free market. (See yesterday's post.) But it does mean that it is wrong to blame capitalism or "money" for a situation in which we all have to clamor for favors from the government, and those who can, do. We cannot get "the money" out of politics until we get the politics out of our economy.

-- CAV

Casselman on Rent-Seeking

Monday, February 08, 2016

Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight has written an eye-opening piece on rent-seeking, which he defines as, "gaming the [regulatory] system to make more money than you've earned." Here's a sample:

... Occupational licenses are good for existing businesses, which face less competition, and for workers who already have licenses, who according to one study earn roughly 15 percent more than they would in a free market. But they're bad for everyone else. Research has found that occupational licenses inhibit entrepreneurship, especially among low-income workers. They also raise prices, lower productivity and limit workers' ability to change careers or cities. One recent study estimated that licensing laws cost the U.S. as many as 2.85 million jobs. [links in original, bold added]
Like most commentators, Casselman appears to believe that some regulation is necessary and good. ("I want the people filling my cavities to know what they're doing.") I regard this view as mistaken, but understandable, given how far America has been from having a capitalist economy for so long: Government has taken over so many things that third-party watchdog groups -- or even better thinking and research habits among individuals -- could and should take care of that most people can't imagine government not doing those things. That common error affects some of Casselman's analysis, but his piece is worthwhile nevertheless

-- CAV

2-6-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Pardon en Route to the Coronation?

Andrew Napolitano examines the legal ramifications of Hillary Clinton's use of an insecure computer as a repository for her email, which often contained national security information. He ends:

Let's be as blunt about this as the FBI will be: Causing state secrets to reside in a nonsecure, nongovernmental venue, whether done intentionally or negligently, constitutes the crime of espionage.

And there is more. When asked about the consequences of Clinton's brazen exposure of state secrets to anyone who knows how to hack into a nonsecure computer, an intelligence operative winced as if in pain when he remarked that the nation's then chief diplomat surely compromised the "sources, methods, and lives" of her colleagues. Even Democrats who see Clinton as a symbol of their long-time wish for a progressive female in the Oval Office are beginning to recognize that anyone who has jeopardized American lives for political gain is unworthy of their votes, unworthy of their trust, and unworthy of public office.
I am skeptical that Democrats will care that much, given that one of their own, who has at least as much contempt for rule of law as Clinton does of national security, resides in the Oval Office and will be able to pardon her of wrongdoing -- if she gets past her more openly statist competitor.

This is important to know, but Republicans should spend less time hoping Clinton gets caught, and more time making a case for why the American people should choose their nominee over her (or Sanders).

Weekend Reading

"Life doesn't need to be as hard as some people make it, so I've come up with a Top Ten List of things people do to bring problems onto themselves." -- Michael Hurd, in "Get Out of Your Own Way!" at The Delaware Wave

"One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to tell their kids to not get 'a big head'..." -- Michael Hurd, in "What Does -- and Does Not -- Create Conceited Kids" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[Y]ou can see how our implied endorsement of Tehran would reinforce their view of America as morally bankrupt: economically and militarily, America is the world's most powerful nation, yet it stoops to appease a far weaker adversary." -- Elan Journo, in "Fueling Iran's Hostility" at The Times of Israel

A Grain of Sense

Via In the Pipeline, I ran across a nice debunking of David Perlmutter, a popular quack famous for writing Grain Brain, which, has played a big part in fomenting the current gluten panic, and whose assertions contradict much of his own past advice. Here's a sample, regarding Perlmutter's promotion of glutathione for Parkinson's Disease
These case studies raise an obvious question: If glutathione injection is such a miracle procedure, why hasn't the protocol been more widely adopted? Perlmutter's answer points to the profit-driven influence of Big Pharma: "Glutathione ... cannot be owned exclusively by any particular pharmaceutical company and therefore won't find its way to the highly influential advertising sections of the medical journals."

Sure, maybe. Or it could be that doctors don't prescribe intravenous glutathione for Parkinson's because it doesn't work. And they know it doesn't work thanks, in part, to work done by a man named ... David Perlmutter. In 2009, he collaborated on a randomized, double-blind study of intravenous glutathione for Parkinson's. The results are clearly stated in the study's conclusion: "We did not observe a significant improvement in parkinsonian signs and symptoms in the glutathione group when compared with the placebo group." Based on these results, the National Parkinson Foundation put out a strongly worded statement about intravenous glutathione: "First, there is a lack of evidence it actually works; second, the therapy requires an intravenous line which has both short and long term risks; and finally, insurance does not cover the costs of this therapy. .. Patients should beware of any medical practices offering a fee for glutathione treatment of Parkinson's disease."
Read the whole thing for a good picture of the modern snake oil salesman.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, February 05, 2016

1. Michael Cho describes his difficulty switching to a standing desk in, "Why I Killed My Standing Desk:"

After about two hours, I took a break. Sitting felt like greatest invention ever.
He also questions the idea (which I never bought) that sitting is deadly in and of itself.

Standing (only) to work has never held an attraction for me: Being able to switch back and forth between sitting and standing is the way to go. Along those lines, I wonder why Cho didn't just get a higher chair for his standing desk so he could do that.

2. Happy (belated) Randsday! Just because I let the date pass without commenting on it here doesn't mean I didn't celebrate Randsday. In the process of locating the official web site, I discovered that the term has made it into Urban Dictionary.

3. From an article on why Chinese has failed to achieve global dominance comes word of a curious modern difficulty:
[R]eliance on such [computer-aided writing] technology increasingly leads to character amnesia, which is on the rise among literate Chinese: People recognize the characters but forget how they are actually written...
The article is quite interesting, although the basic idea, that the system overtaxes the memory, seems obvious to me. Amazingly, aspects of the problem are even worse than I thought.

Also, the article discusses a character with so many strokes that there is debate as to the exact number.

4. The frustrated gardener in me enjoyed reading about fruit walls in Low Tech Magazine. Curiously, the piece is available online:
We are being told to eat local and seasonal food, either because other crops have been transported over long distances, or because they are grown in energy-intensive greenhouses. But it wasn't always like that. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.

These crops were grown surrounded by massive "fruit walls", which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature by more than 10°F).
That said, there is neither a climate change alarmist nor a "locavore" in me.

-- CAV