5-30-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Our "Recovering" Economy: A Snapshot

From a report on Walmart having to increase staff on nights that food assistance money shows up in bank accounts:

"Two years ago, we were at just over 2 percent unemployment," said Kathy Gardner, director of Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force. "Our food stamp participation rate was one of the lowest in the nation ... because only 55 percent, a little over half of the Idahoans that were eligible and needed food stamps were participating."

Now, Idaho's unemployment rate is 9.1 percent and its food stamp participation has increased by 15 percent. Gardner said that it's not the chronically poor turning increasingly to food stamps, but professionals down on their luck.
Until we stop calling depressions "recoveries" and equating government looting with actual charity, expect things to get worse. Jobs and the money for short term relief come from somewhere, and that isn't the government.

Weekend Reading

"I refer to dreams as 'day residue' where the mind seizes onto a particular trigger event encountered during our waking hours." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Captivating World of Dreams" at The Delaware Wave

"Flying comes with a psychological cost." -- Michael Hurd, in "Let Your Fears Fly Away" at The Delaware Coast Press

Opening the Lid on the Open Office Plan

From, "Let's Take This Open Floor Plan to the Next Level", a great parody of a business fad:
You can now dial into a designated phone line to listen in on any calls taking place within the office and add your opinion.
Although parodies can backfire, when audience members think something like, "That never really happens," they can illustrate the essential problem with what they mock. In this case, it's the implicit idea that thinking is somehow a collective endeavor.

-- CAV


Friday Four

Friday, May 29, 2015

1. Andrew Chen, on "Why Investors Don't Fund Dating" web site startups:

You read that right. At 20% monthly churn, over the course of a year you'd end up re-acquiring your customer base 8 times over. Scary.
Oh, and there's more.

At first glance, such a huge market might seem to be a no-brainer. Once you read this, though, you may wonder why anyone even tries.

2. Walter Williams makes a serious point humorously:
Far more important for me in all of this is that liberals unintentionally treat me like a white person. Unlike their response to other blacks, they demand that I back up my statements. For that, I thank them.
And this he does in the process of answering a challenge to a recent statement.

3. Do your notes need a link to a specific line of a file somewhere? It's easy in Emacs Org-Mode, and doesn't entail changing the document in question. Also, this video, by its creator, is a good general introduction to that Swiss Army Knife of organizational tools.

4. The good news is that a new computer worm affects only devices with "weak authentication", to turn them into social network bots. The bad news is that there is at least one drug infusion pump on the market that fits that description.
While not intended to target Internet of Things devices specifically, Bilodeau and Dupuy found that [the] Moose [Linux computer worm] could infect a number of such devices, including medical ones. "Based on recent security research, we have evidence to state that even medical devices like the Hospira Drug Infusion Pump could be infected with Linux/Moose," the pair wrote. While these infections were essentially just "collateral damage," the worm could have an impact on the safe operation of these devices.
Hmmm. 

-- CAV


Myopic Tactic Saves Plastic Bags -- for Now

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Are some states, at least, starting to do what the federal government ought to be doing? That's an interesting question raised by a recent AP story on states preventing cities from enacting certain new regulations, such as banning plastic grocery bags:

The Missouri bill goes beyond plastic bags. It also would also prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide employees paid sick leave, vacation or health, disability and retirement benefits. And it would block cities and counties from adopting their own "living wage" requirements. [link added]
If, as I do, you favor government properly limited to the protection of individual rights, this might sound somewhat encouraging -- until you place it in the context of the totality of the article, or merely read the next paragraph:
States have pre-empted some local policies for decades. A movement to restrict local gun ordinances began in 1971, for example, and has been enacted as law in 45 states, according to the National Rifle Association. State lawmakers in Oklahoma and Michigan this year are pushing similar measures for knives.
This reminds me of an account I cannot find the source of, I think by Ayn Rand, regarding a fruitless debate she had with someone regarding nationalization. Rand used one industry (steel?) as an example, and found herself apparently winning a mind with the points she made -- only to realize that she had gotten nowhere at the end: The other person merely replied something like, "Yeah, but what about coal?" So much for him realizing that nationalization of industry, period, is immoral and impractical.

Rather than seeing the beginnings of a movement to stop government from interfering with contracts between consenting adults, we are just seeing another tactic of pressure group warfare becoming more widely deployed. Businessmen, acting only in the range-of-the-moment to protect some particular concern, are failing to see the value of being left alone generally. Worse, their tactic further entrenches the precedent of the government dictating every minor detail in our lives. In the process, some businessmen might win the battle of the bags (or the benefits, or the wages, whatever), but will continue to lose the war to run their businesses as they see fit. In the meantime, the states -- and not just the cities and the federal government -- are becoming more accustomed to improperly micromanaging our activities. This is the exact opposite of what ought to be happening, and is a far cry from, say, the federal government stepping in to keep states and cities from keeping Jim Crow laws on the books -- or, in more positive terms, protecting individual rights

-- CAV


Bottomless Irrationality

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A reader forwards me an email containing a link, quipping, "Lord, Berkeley. We should nuke the place from orbit, just to be sure." On clicking, I was unsurprised to find my browser pointed to pure lunacy, but did check the date upon seeing the title, "Occupy the Syllabus". Here is but a sample:

Furthermore, the classroom environment felt so hostile to women, people of color, queer folks and other marginalized subjects that it was difficult for us to focus on the course material. Sometimes, we were so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of lecture. For example, when lecturing on Marx's idea of the "natural division of labor between men and women," the professor attributed some intellectual merit to this idea because men and women are biologically distinct from each other, because women give birth while men do not. One student asked, "What about trans* [sic] people?" to which the professor retorted, "There will always be exceptions." Then, laughing, the professor teased, "We may all be transgender in the future." Although one might be tempted to dismiss these remarks as a harmless attempt at humor, mocking trans* [sic] people and calling them "exceptions" is unacceptable.
The date was not April 1, and I must agree with a comment from the forwarded email that, "There might be no bottom". This rivals a piece on "microaggression" I ran across not so long ago in its staggering foolishness. These leftists are demonstrating intellectual bankruptcy, although they strike me as too far gone to be able to realize it.

Were the left not so thoroughly entrenched, thanks to the cultural dominance of altruism and our mixed economy, I'd bet heavily on Objectivism very quickly sweeping into intellectual dominance in short order.

But we aren't just trying to persuade minds. That task is difficult enough without the additional, artificial barriers to rational discourse people like these will gleefully keep in place and expand.

-- CAV


"Helped" to Death

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Not long after one of my favorite columnists nicely summarized what is wrong with the Obama presidency, another has likewise provided an executive summary of the atrocious results of the past few decades of federal policies supposedly intended to help black Americans. Walter Williams notes, inter alia, what is lost to many black teens as a result of minimum wage laws:

The little bit of money a teenager can earn through after-school, weekend and summer employment is not nearly so important as the other things he gains from early work experiences. He acquires skills and develops good work habits, such as being prompt, following orders and respecting supervisors. In addition, there are the self-respect and pride that a youngster gains from being financially semi-independent. All of these gains from early work experiences are important for any teen but are even more important for black teens. If black teens are going to learn anything that will make them a more valuable employee in the future, they aren't going to learn it from their rotten schools, their dysfunctional families or their crime-ridden neighborhoods. They must learn it on the job. [bold added]
By reading the rest of his piece, you will learn that Williams is hardly blaming everything on minimum wage laws. Indeed, the greatest havoc they wreak lies in compounding the ills caused by other forms of government "aid".

-- CAV


Happy Memorial Day

Monday, May 25, 2015

I wish my readers a happy Memorial Day, and ask that you take a moment to consider the nature of the commitment our fallen soldiers and veterans made. In particular, I again recommend Peter Schwartz's recent op-ed, "Memorial Day -- But Don't Call It a Sacrifice", and Scott Holleran's blog post, "The End of Iraq". Here is an excerpt from the latter:

This Memorial Day weekend, I urge Americans to think, or re-think, and think twice about the men and women who fought and died, the unending war and the fact of doom and dictatorship that threatens to destroy freedom in America. Read this interview with my late friend and teacher, war and history professor John David Lewis, who studied the essentials of liberty and victory. Read, think and check your premises, as Ayn Rand wrote. If you, too, regard Memorial Day as the proper time to think about liberty and victory, and reflect on those who gave their lives for your freedom, with life as the ultimate value, pledge to honor the fallen, especially the one who once said: "Let's roll". Let the end of Iraq be the start of a renewed, radical American ideal. [bold and link in original]
Too often, memorials are somber affairs, and too often, celebrations lack substance. There is no good reason for either to always be the case. Our war heroes, after all, fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- in both abstract and concrete terms.

-- CAV


5-23-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Note: Due to family obligations during the holiday, posting may be light until Thursday May 28. Likewise, I may be slower than usual moderating comments and answering email.  

Jihadists -- or Islamic Totalitarians?

Peter Schwartz, writing about an "argument ...I'm ... pleased to engage in", makes the following point regarding the source of a disagreement over what to call the enemy in our current war:

The disagreement arises, I believe, out of a difference in purpose. If one's purpose is to demonstrate the true nature of Islam -- if one's purpose is to refute the widespread view that Islam is a "religion of peace" that has been hijacked and misinterpreted by some radical gangs -- then one will stress the inherent connection between Islam and jihadism, and will reject the notion that the jihadists are practicing some special or illegitimate form of Islam. This, I believe, is Mr. Fawstin's perspective -- and it is perfectly valid. The source of Islamic totalitarianism or militant Islam or Islamic jihadism is indeed Islam.
Read the whole thing. Since I have neither the time nor the inclination for much social media, this is the first I've heard about an active debate, if I am even drawing the right conclusion regarding one. I was aware of the different terms favored by Schwartz and Fawstin, but had not given much consideration to which might be better in which context,

Weekend Reading

"Avoid unearned guilt by questioning your assumptions." -- Michael Hurd, in "Unearned Guilt: A Leading Cause of Depression" at The Delaware Wave

"From a psychological point-of-view, it makes the most sense to see yourself as self-employed whether or not you work for somebody else." -- Michael Hurd, in "Who's the Boss?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Although I don't agree with all of Pamela Geller's views on how to deal with the Islamist threat, she was 100% correct in sponsoring this event." -- Peter Schwartz, in "Defying the Islamic Totalitarians" at The Huffington Post

"In a free country, soldiers who fight against an actual threat to America are not sacrificing what is most important to them -- they are upholding it." -- Peter Schwartz, in "Memorial Day -- But Don't Call It a Sacrifice" at The Huffington Post

Why They Kowtow

Secular conservative Robert Tracinski on why leftists seem so eager to stand up for freedom of speech -- as long as what is said is unlikely to offend Moslems:
The left is fundamentally reactionary. It is a reaction against capitalism and against America. The left are defined by what they are against, or more accurately who they hate. So they are drawn to sympathy toward Islam because it is not-us: non-Western, non-American, neither Christian nor a product of the Enlightenment. And I guess that's what the two ideologies have in common: they are both reactions against the supposed evils of the West. Which explains why leftists tend to find themselves uncomfortable and look for excuses to retreat when they are called upon to defend the West against this rival group of reactionaries.
I'd add as further evidence some of this antipathy towards Western civilization a consideration of some of the things leftists do take a strong stand for, and at whose expense.

-- CAV