Friday Four

Friday, June 24, 2016

1. My wife will sometimes spontaneously coin words when tired or excited. Her most recent creation came in the wee hours. Here it is, in a snippet of the conversation we were having:

Mrs. Van Horn: My brain is misfunctioning.

Me: MALfunctioning.

Mrs. Van Horn: Exactly.

Amusingly, though, I just looked this one up to discover that "misfunction" really is a word.

2. Pumpkin, who just turned five, has also passed what I regard as a crucial cognitive milestone: She saw something funny on a show she was watching and got me to rewind it because she thought I'd find it amusing. And she was right!

I also enjoyed a remark by a friend of hers at school this week. The school has wooden mulch in its playground, so parents are instructed to enforce the fashion faux pas of having our kids wear socks with sandals, to avoid the mulch getting stuck in the sandals. When I came to pick up Pumpkin one day, the friend excitedly told me that she'd be wearing her sandals without socks to Pumpkin's party.

3. Apropos of yesterday's post is an amusing George Will column which offers wealthy Republicans some sound and inexpensive election-year advice:

Trump's campaign has less cash ($1.3 million) than some congressional candidates have, so Republican donors have never been more important than they are at this moment. They can save their party by not aiding its nominee.
Will notes further that, "Events already have called his bluff about funding himself," and offers the candidate some advice I'd like to see Old Smoke-and-Mirrors take.

4. You needn't be a runner to enjoy this article about New York City's Underground Half-Marathon:
[S]ays two-time women's winner Leigh Gerson. "In this world of races selling out in 50 minutes for 50,000 spots in the New York City Marathon, where people pay an exorbitant amount of money to freeze their butts off, 60 bucks gets you some awesome views, and you get to meet some cool people."
I suspect the name of the race will further intrigue: The Midnight Half.

-- CAV


From the Drawing Room to the Ballot Box

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Doug Kass, who writes at RealClear Markets, and correctly predicted a Trump-Clinton presidential race back in December, has made the following interesting amendment to that same prediction:

Surprise No. 16: Trump Bows Out

Donald Trump bows out of the presidential race some time between the Republican National Convention and Election Day.
This would be a welcome development in several ways, including making Trump far less credible in any future run and making it easy to contest claims that Clinton has some kind of "mandate." Furthermore, it might deter other, similar, militantly ignorant, anti-intellectual-and-proud-of-it politicians, at least for a time.

But why does Kass think this will occur? I think his best argument is that Trump has a "ceiling" of support that even he will have to admit, at least to himself, when that ceiling starts impacting his net worth:
[I]t's easy to see Trump falling even further behind Clinton in the polls. Embarrassing defeats in the first two televised debates on Sept. 26 and Oct. 9 could then lead to a more than 10% polling deficit for The Donald.

If that happens, we could foresee Trump's war chest failing to attract funds and dwindling rapidly. Let's also assume that he grows increasingly reluctant to self-fund.
Kass goes on to predict at least the House remaining in Republican hands and, fortunately, more "gridlock" with Clinton in office.

But Kass misses a further ramification of his prediction: a possible boon to the Libertarian candidate, ex-Republican Gary Johnson, whom a couple of fellow travelers have weighed supporting (with strong reservations, even as a protest vote). Johnson has been hovering around ten percent in the polls, siphons support from each major candidate, and would appear to be a logical choice to educated fiscal conservatives. It is also not hard to imagine a significant portion of Trump's voters -- especially those whose primary motivation is to stop Hillary Clinton from reaching office -- defecting to Johnson as the most viable alternative. Suddenly, the drawing-room debate about Johnson and the Libertarian Party (which I cannot support) may morph into one with electoral consequence.

-- CAV


Not Sad to See SAD Go

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In a piece arguing for the idea that our brains may function more efficiently in the winter, Christian Jarrett notes that the whole idea of "Seasonal Affective Disorder" (SAD), a relatively new psychological diagnosis, has been cast into doubt:

The researchers, led by Professor Steven LoBello at Auburn University at Montgomery, asked their participants to complete a questionnaire about their depression symptoms over the previous two weeks. Crucially, the participants all completed the survey at different times of the year, allowing the researchers to look for any seasonal patterns.

Contrary to what you might think, the results provided no evidence whatsoever that people's depression symptoms tended to be higher in winter -- or at any other time of the year. This lack of a seasonal effect was true whether looking at the entire sample or only respondents with depressive symptoms. The respondents' geographical latitude and sunlight exposure on the day of the survey were also unrelated to depression scores.

The researchers are clear about what this means for what they call the "well-entrenched folk theory" that winter brings on or worsens depression. Their results, they write, "cast serious doubt on major depression with seasonal variation as a legitimate psychiatric disorder." They think the early studies on the concept of SAD were flawed by virtue of the fact that they selectively recruited people who said they suffered from winter-related mood changes -- an approach that was likely susceptible to confirmation bias, or selectively interpreting evidence to support a theory you already have. This makes intuitive sense. Once the concept of SAD was introduced, after all, it captured the public imagination and went on to spawn a whole industry based around ways to treat the "condition," including using artificial light. [bold added]
Jarrett goes on to make a quasi-plausible case for our brains functioning more efficiently in the winter, but I have no opinion on that one way or the other.

I don't expect sales of the above-mentioned lighting to decrease any time soon, and, who knows, perhaps they do good in some cases, due to a placebo effect. Or not. That said, I would be slow to mock someone who swears by them: Were I to venture a guess as to why such things might be helpful, it would be because of the fact the user was taking charge of something in his life in and of itself, more so than the individual action. This would particularly apply if he also did so in many other areas of his life and was at least trying his best to do the most rational thing.

-- CAV


We've Heard the GOP's Line on Trump Before

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Washington Post very effectively demolishes the whole idea, touted by Republican congressional leaders, that we can count on checks and balances to limit the damage of a Donald Trump presidency. I recommend reading the whole thing, but do wish to bring up a related point.

The quote bolded below served for me as an express train to memory lane:

As Benjamin Franklin said, "a Republic, if you can keep it." Today, Americans can't simply rely on the system to save them from the possibility of a fascist president. And they certainly can't count on the Republicans who produced this threat in the first place. They will have to shoulder that responsibility themselves, in the voting booth. [link dropped]
This immediately reminded me of the many court challenges to the ACA that so many Republicans were hoping would save them from the necessity of actually opposing that monstrosity. Regarding those, I once said:
The reactions to these rulings on the part of conservatives is what interests me, and it all reminds me of the atmosphere just before the Supreme Court first rescued ObamaCare (via calling the individual mandate a tax). Having failed to oppose the ACA on the principle that it (like the rest of the welfare state) violates individual rights, the conservatives, unsurprisingly, saw the law passed and seemed to be wishing for it to just go away. (I think the court should have ruled differently, but we shouldn't have gotten to that point, anyway.)
So we are to rely on men with a proven track record of wishing problems away to stop our version of Mussolini? Count me out.

-- CAV


Coal's Double-Dose of Government Poison

Monday, June 20, 2016

Having written here about the coal industry falling victim to central "planning", I was somewhat surprised and intrigued to see a well-written piece arguing that, "Coal Isn't Dying Because There's a War on It." The main points of Barry Ritholtz's argument (after he gives a passing nod to over $300 billion in regulatory overhead) are that: (1) cheap natural gas (for which we can thank fracking) is displacing coal fair and square; (2) some of the companies facing bankruptcy now acquired bad debt, exacerbated by the lower coal prices; and (3) "clean energy" (as Ritholtz calls it) is replacing coal due to state-level regulations against coal, or ... (as I would put it) there is even more more central planning than just the previously mentioned $300 billion.

I appreciate Ritholtz pointing out (1) and (2), and have indeed made a similar point myself about getting facts straight when advocating matters of public policy:

[S]uch carelessness played right into the hands of someone who, after taking the moral high ground ceded to him, was apparently just as quick to blame this sad state of affairs on capitalism, through the convenient surrogate of the building's absentee landlord. ("[T]he free market capitalist is the bad guy here....", he claims in a comment at Marginal Revolution.)
That said, I take issue with Ritholtz's last argument, because, whatever the proper solution to pollution may be (e.g., torts, or better definition or enforcement of property rights), I don't agree that the state artificially dictating our source of energy is the proper one. Furthermore, not assigning this part of the problem for the coal industry to regulatory costs or central planning is simply wrong.

So, while I agree with Ritholtz that the sudden and dramatic decline of the coal industry is no one-dimensional problem, I find that his analysis actually supports the idea that, were it not for a regulatory burden amounting to a "war on coal", the industry would, at a minimum, not be as troubled as it is.

-- CAV


6-18-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Orlando Unmasks the Left

Writing at the the Federalist, Robert Tracinski argues that the reaction by the left to last week's Islamist massacre in Orlando reveals an indifference to minority rights, a contention with which I have long agreed:

So the Left will gladly protect homosexuals from the very great threat of having Christians refuse to bake cakes for their weddings. But when homosexuals are attacked by Muslims who think they should be put to death merely for existing, the Left will cover its ears and eyes and deny the threat even exists.
Tracinski also notes (as others have observed) that the ascendancy of Donald Trump and the racist "alt-right" leaves said minorities without a viable political alternative. See also the Elan Journo piece linked in "Weekend Reading" below for how both major presidential candidates are wrong about the jihadist threat.

And remember that, as Ayn Rand once said, "The smallest minority on earth is the individual."

Weekend Reading

"[F]ighting economic inequality destroys the only kind of equality that matters: political equality." -- Don Watkins, in "5 Simple Steps to End (Political) Inequality and Restore Opportunity in America" at Medium

"Having spoken to people who have cared for loved ones with Alzheimer's, I've learned several things that can make the ordeal more bearable." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Emotional Roller Coaster of Alzheimer's" at The Delaware Wave

"My daily experience repeatedly debunks the myth that good relationships require constant work." -- Michael Hurd, in "Marriage for the Long Run" at The Delaware Coast Press

"By calling dissenting opinions fraud, the Massachusetts Attorney General and others are making independent thought a crime." -- Alex Epstein, in "First the Government Went After ExxonMobil. Now They're Going After Me." at Forbes

"What everyone who refuses to boycott fossil fuels is acknowledging is that the relative benefits of fossil fuel use compared to solar and wind are incomparably greater than they admit -- and the risk of truly catastrophic climate change is incomparably smaller." -- Alex Epstein, in "The Moral Case for Investing, Not Divesting, in Fossil Fuels" at Forbes

"[B]oth are united, ironically enough, in negating the crucial role of ideas in animating the jihadist cause." -- Elan Journo, in "After Orlando, Why Trump and Clinton Both Get the Jihadists Wrong" at The Times of Israel

In More Detail

Alex Epstein ends his first piece (above) with the following challenge:
The leader of the climate fascists is Al Gore, who, after dozens of documented distortions in his influential film An Inconvenient Truth, has refused to debate any dissenter since the film came out. Now he is leading the unconstitutional crusade against freedom of scientific speech.

Mr. Gore, if you are as confident in your position as you say, if the debate is so much in your favor that you call it over, why not publicly debate a representative of one of the groups you are persecuting? That way the public can see who actually has the strongest case? I and many others are willing to debate you, putting our reputations on the line in the name of truth. Will you debate one of us? Or will you continue to threaten to drag us to jail?
Perhaps the only thing more disturbing to me about the emergence of this censorious behavior by global warming alarmists is the lack of outrage among ordinary Americans.

A Funny New Word for an Old Annoyance?

Via Word Spy comes the dating term benching, which it defines as follows:
Maintaining occasional contact with someone while you decide whether you want a serious relationship with that person.
The first citation, from the U.K. Telegraph, makes passing mention of the phrase I grew up with, stringing along, and this sounds like simply adapting new technology for old behavior. But there is a case for the new term being substantially different:
With benching, you don't even get to a stage where you're regularly dating.
Whatever single folk think of this, Radhika Sanghani ends with the following:
[O]ur advice? Bench them right back.
Looking back, and I will admit this is 20/20 hindsight, I could see a case for my having been benched by my eventual wife. But I liked her company, so that didn't matter, and ... maybe I did, in effect, bench her back. So I'd say that's good advice as long as you enjoy the occasional contact for what it is and move on, which is what I did.

-- CAV


Friday Four

Friday, June 17, 2016

1. Alex Epstein, author of the best-selling The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, recently received an inappropriate subpoena from Maura Healey, the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Healey has evidently joined a fishing expedition designed to silence anyone who questions the scientific merit of global warming alarmism. Showing a flair for gauging the intelligence and moral stature of his audience -- and addressing it in language it can understand -- Epstein penned the following response, which I quote in full:

Fuck off, fascist.
Aside from the direct assault on freedom of speech (and property rights) Healey's actions represent, a brief story about the response in the Daily Caller notes a few other problems with the order. (HT: HBL)

2. I like Linux and I can't wait to introduce my children to Harry Potter. It follows that I'd get a kick out of bash aliases for Harry Potter enthusiasts, as seen at GitHub.

3. Not a moment too soon comes a style guide on how to cover Donald Trump fairly, from the Washington Post. It may come as a surprise that such turns of phrase as, "cocktail shrimp in a toupee," and "husk of dead skin and hyperbole," are listed as bad. (HT: Snedcat)

4. When synesthesia and colorblindness meet, you get ... "Martian colors":
We also observed one case in which we believe cross activation enables a colorblind synesthete to see numbers tinged with hues he otherwise cannot perceive; charmingly, he refers to these as "Martian colors." Although his retinal color receptors cannot process certain wavelengths, we suggest that his brain color area is working just fine and being cross-activated when he sees numbers ...
More on the interesting phenomenon of synesthesia can be had at the link above and at another article, which starts off with time-space synesthesia.

-- CAV