7-30-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Present and Absent

Over the next week, various family and professional obligations will significantly affect my schedule. I expect to be able to post, but that may be irregular. I may also be slow(er) than usual in replying to email and moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.

Weekend Reading

"These Democrats are harder on Republicans than they permit Republicans to be on Islam -- the religion of subjugating women and throwing gays off of buildings." -- Michael Hurd, in "Democrats Ignore Radical Islam's Atrocities" at Newsmax

"Why is it wrong for Hillary to lie about her emails so she can be president but okay for Trump to lie about his opponents so he can be president?" -- Charlotte Cushman, in "Should Cruz Endorse Trump for the 'Good of the Country'?" at The American Thinker

"[H]ere are three suggestions that might help resolve arguments over spending and/or saving money..." -- Michael Hurd, in "Love And Money ... Both Matter!" at The Delaware Wave

"[I]f you never allow yourself the freedom of being out of touch, you've made yourself a slave to that phone, and, by definition, to other people's whims." -- Michael Hurd, in "Turning Off the Cell Phones..." at The Delaware Coast Press

"The failures of the Indian Health Service (and of the VA system) should serve as a warning to Americans of the dangers of government-run medicine." -- Paul Hsieh, in "The Failure of 'Single Payer' Health Care for the US Indian Health Service" at Forbes

-- CAV


Friday Four

Friday, July 29, 2016

1. File the latest amusing story from my son's avoidance of diaper changes under, "Amusing toddler habits never get old; the kids just outgrow them." This week, I was going into the laundry room when my son, in the play room adjoining the same hallway, saw me.

"Hi, Daddy!" he said, while slamming the door in my face.

2. From reader Snedcat come amusing bits from the peer review process, like the following:

This paper is too difficult for a journal on Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics.
I won't repeat the name of the site, despite the fact it arguably continues a theme from Item 1.

3. At first, the headline caused me to do a double take: "Smell Test Could Identify Alzheimer's." My immediate reaction was, "I thought that was Parkinson's."

I was wrong, because I was recalling a report from some time ago of a woman who was able to determine whether someone had Parkinson's by scent. This is something new and completely different: New research is suggesting that an inability to distinguish odors might be an early indicator that someone has Alzheimer's.

4. As a craft beer enthusiast, I am familiar with the claim that Jimmy Carter "deregulated the beer industry". But what does that really mean? A blog post at the Atlantic takes a look.

I think the fairest interpretation comes at the end, in the form of an update: Carter's legalization of home brewing removed many barriers to entry, introducing many brewers to the craft. This proved to be a crucial impetus for the transformation of America from wasteland to paradise for beer drinkers. It also shows how much power even a small step in the direction of freedom from a suffocating regulatory regime can have.

-- CAV


Was Ty Cobb Racist?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

I am no aficionado, but even I "knew" that baseball legend Ty Cobb was a racist -- until I encountered this adaptation of a speech given as part of a "Sports and Character" program at Hillsdale College. A biographer, who started on that very same premise ended up changing his mind after both failing to find evidence for the idea and finding evidence to the contrary. Here's just a sample of what Charles Leerhsen, author of Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty learned:

Cobb himself was never asked about segregation until 1952, when the Texas League was integrating, and Sporting News asked him what he thought. "The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly," he said. "The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?" By that time he had attended many Negro league games, sometimes throwing out the first ball and often sitting in the dugout with the players. He is quoted as saying that Willie Mays was the only modern-day player he'd pay to see and that Roy Campanella was the ballplayer that reminded him most of himself.
Not only did Leerhsen find that Cobb's personal actions failed to live up to the claim, which seems to have come from a "biographer" who played fast and loose with facts, but his background further suggests he had been raised with more enlightened attitudes about race than many other southern whites at the time. This piece is a long, but very interesting read.

-- CAV


Trump as Ceremonial Executive Officer?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Jonah Goldberg, speculating on how Donald Trump might run things as President, asks, "Can America afford to have a ceremonial President?" Considering my low opinion of Trump, and his alarming admiration for strongmen worldwide, this would be a best-case scenario:

... Trump's not interested in policy. He's fine with outsourcing it to congressional Republicans and to his Cabinet secretaries. Trump wants to do the fun stuff. He wants to give cool speeches and fly around in a better plane. He wants the respect that comes with being president. He doesn't want to do the hard stuff.

For those willing to see, there's been a lot of evidence of that all along. He's said he won't even start learning about policy until he's elected. That Trump doesn't know or care much about public policy is obvious to literally every human being who knows anything about public policy. One could fill books with examples of him talking about articles of the Constitution that don't exist, events that never took place and proposals that make no sense.
Goldberg, perhaps assuming for the sake of argument that this inner circle that would actually run things weren't composed entirely of sycophants, notes that even this might be cold comfort:
... Because there is so much power in a president's words, a president's words matter. Just this week, the GOP nominee suggested that he would not honor our commitments to NATO if Russia attacked our allies in the Baltics. Those words are dangerous from a nominee. They would be catastrophic from a president.

A president with a verbal hair trigger -- one who doesn't know enough to know what not to say -- could ignite a financial crisis or a war.
Goldberg is on the right track here, but it's worse than that because, as he notes earlier, "Presidential power is the power to persuade." The big problem is that Trump neither has a discernible political philosophy nor attempts to make a case for any position he might hold. Make America great again? What was great about America? How would we do this? Why should we do this? He acts as if all of this is self-evident, when even the most patriotic Americans can disagree on any or all of the answers to the above questions. Worse, he acts as if what millions of grown adults think doesn't matter. As a businessman, Trump should realize that a team not even knowing what its objective is (beyond some nebulous notion, like "make profits") would derail any serious undertaking. And yet, here he is hoping to do this with our entire country.

America's problems weren't brought on all at once by a single individual acting nefariously, and no single individual, acting alone, can fix them. That Trump seems to think he can get away with pretending otherwise worries me even more in some ways than the fact that, for at least four more years, there will be no defender of liberty speaking from the bully pulpit of the presidency.

-- CAV


What Would a Good Manager Think?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

(Ugh. I was considering a blog post about the election this morning, but have decided to spare myself and my readers in favor of something positive, so here goes...)

Do make some time to mosey on over to Ask a Manager, the blog of business advice columnist Alison Green. (I was going to add, "if you haven't already heard of her," but even if you have, do this anyway.) The place is a treasure trove of everything job-related from interesting (and often amusing) anecdotes to actionable advice (often delivered with humor), and usually both at once. Green is my kind of guru, always respectful of the contexts of questioner and reader alike. This means that she both explains her reasoning and helps her readers understand whether or how to apply her advice. On top of that, she solicits (and often receives) updates on how her advice worked out.

Since I share Green's hatred of telephones, I'll excerpt part of her answer to someone's question regarding how to limit their use at work as an example:

And there are indeed phone people and email people. Some people are like us and despise the phone, and others can't imagine why we'd write an email instead of jumping on a five-minute call and dealing with whatever's at hand right there and then. They are wrong, of course, and we are right ... but they are plentiful, and it's not reasonable to think you can avoid them in your professional life.

That means that you really should not leave an outgoing message on your voicemail telling people that you don't answer phone calls. It will come across as odd, kind of rude, and a bit prima donna-ish. You can, however, have a voicemail message that suggests that people can get a faster response by emailing you. For instance: "You've reached Fitzwilliam Darcy. While you can leave a message here, I'm often able to respond more quickly by email, so feel free to email me at ___ instead. Otherwise, I'll return your call as soon as I'm able." (Keep in mind, though, that this might not be cool to do in some offices, so make sure you know your culture first.)
I don't know how I have managed to remain ignorant of this writer for so long, but I am glad I know of her now. I have already learned a few things that I am sure will help me in my career, and am pretty sure you might, too. In any event, since her blog is general-interest, I've added it to the "Very Frequently Updated" section of the blogroll, so if you can't get there today, it will be easy enough to do so later.

-- CAV


"Biohack" at Your Own Risk

Monday, July 25, 2016

I've seen the subject of "biohacking" come up in a couple of different places recently, learning just this morning, for example, that a group of neuroscientists recently put out an open letter to practitioners of do-it-yourself brain stimulation. (I'd heard of this, but hadn't realized that devices for doing the same were actually on the market.)

The scientists outline what is known and unknown about this area of research, and urge caution in each bullet point. For example:

Enhancement of some cognitive abilities may come at the cost of others. Cognition involves functional networks, with different components (or combinations thereof) responsible for different functions. In addition, brain networks interact with each other, such that modifying activity in one network can change the activity in other networks. Therefore, stimulating one brain area may improve the ability to perform one task but hurt the ability to perform another. For example, tDCS [transcranial direct current stimulation --ed] can enhance the rate of learning new material, but at the cost of processing learned material, and vice versa, depending on the stimulation site. Such tradeoffs are likely under-recognized, as most tDCS studies focus on only one or two tasks. Furthermore, such cognitive tradeoffs could develop over time and only become recognizable long after the stimulation. [emphasis in original, footnote removed]
An individual has the right to experiment on himself with this technique, but it is clear from the above and the rest of the article that doing so is a risky proposition. (It's one I personally would avoid, unless, possibly, I suffered from one of the conditions some are self-treating, and I'd had no success with any standard treatment.) A big part of this risk comes from the nature of scientific literature: Individual papers can be quite difficult just to understand for a layman, and properly evaluating one requires knowledge of the wider context of work in the field. That one obtains by reading many other papers and, usually, by years of specialized training.

And this leads me to another recent piece on biohacking (but of a different type), a post by pharma-blogger Derek Lowe, which is more direct, although the above might explain why:
There's a credulity problem here. I'm sure that many of the people doing this stuff think of themselves as very good scientists and engineers or clear-headed business dealers, but if you believe that (a) we know enough to "hack the brain" and (b) that these pills and shots you're taking are the way to do it, then you have a problem with weighing evidence and probabilities that might possibly extend to the other ways you do your work. I would be worried, for example, if I heard that before sending in an NDA that people at Genentech took care to ritually pour a vial of restriction enzyme over the outstretched foot of Herb Boyer's statue. But that has about as much chance of working as some of these biohacking ideas do. [link in original]
Ouch! But note, too, that Lowe isn't even focused on what "biohackers" might be hurting by acting on (at best) incomplete knowledge or evidence.

None of this is to say that we won't one day be able to, say, gently shock ourselves to learn much faster, or develop chemical cocktails that can enhance mental performance in some way, but I think this kind of thing is still too far on the frontier of scientific discovery to bet one's health or finances on it.

-- CAV


7-23-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sowell on Trump

What would be wrong with a President Donald Trump? Where to begin? Thomas Sowell, correctly identifying that prospect (HT: Scott Holleran) as an "unmitigated disaster" for the GOP and America, observes among many other things:

The political damage of Donald Trump to the Republican party is completely overshadowed by the damage he can do to the country and to the world, with his unending reckless and irresponsible statements. Just this week, Trump blithely remarked that South Korea should be left to its own defenses.

Whatever the merits or demerits of that as a policy, announcing it to the whole world in advance risks encouraging North Korea to invade South Korea -- as it did back in 1950, after careless words by a high American official left the impression that South Korea was not included in the American defense perimeter against the Communists in the Pacific.

The old World War II phrase -- "loose lips sink ships" -- applies on land as well as on the water. And no one has looser lips than Donald Trump, who repeatedly spouts whatever half-baked idea pops into his head. A man in his 60s has life-long habits that are not likely to change. Age brings habits, even if it does not bring maturity.
Sowell speculates that the best possible outcome of the election is a race that has to be decided by the House of Representatives. In the sense that the "winner" would lack a clear mandate and on the off-chance neither Trump nor Clinton might end up in office, there is merit to that conclusion.

Weekend Reading

"The real question is why they have so much misdirected confidence in a policy, led by Obama himself, that delivers them and all of Western civilization into the hands of barbarians." -- Michael Hurd, in "Phony Terror War Means West Really Loses" at Newsmax

"[N]ot having a clear idea of what to do with your life ... can result in not knowing what to do with your days." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Art of Examining -- and Living -- Your Priorities" at The Delaware Wave

"One of the most evil things you can do to a poor person is take away his freedom to improve his fate." -- Alex Epstein, in "How Opposition to Fossil Fuels Hurts the Poor Most of All" at Forbes

Pinboard Turns Seven!

The proprietor of my bookmarking service notes that his business has turned seven:
Ever feel like just wiping your servers and running off to Mexico?

Heh, don't worry, that's just the whiskey talking. Pinboard is seven years old today!
Humor aside, I have found Pinboard, which has been billed as "bookmarking for introverts" to be invaluable not just for my writing, but for basically anything I do that quickly checking a web-based reference might help. I highly recommend it to anyone, especially past or present users of del.icio.us.

-- CAV