Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 17, 2017

Notable Commentary

"[T]the word 'business' embodies the word 'busy,' but the great practitioners of business, historically, didn't achieve what they did or succeed financially for so many decades by a mere frenzy of senseless, haphazard activity, by working too quickly or myopically, as fly-by-night operators." -- Richard Salsman, in "Why Donald Trump Is No Big Deal (Maker)" (PDF) at RealClear Markets.

"The state should have no role in promoting or decrying any particular set of ideas." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: School Vouchers Have Benefit Outside of Religion" at The Aiken Standard.

"A core problem is that our intellectual and political leaders push aside the need for a serious moral assessment of the Palestinian movement's nature and goals." -- Elan Journo, in "Let's Stop Normalizing the Palestinian Movement" at The Hill.

"Trump's interpretation of 'America first' is shaped by the collectivist notion of economic nationalism." -- Peter Schwartz, in "'America First:' Rethinking the Meaning of Self-Interest" at The Hill.

Good News in the Fight for Freedom of Speech

The following, from the response of a Harvard student to a recent ARI-sponsored event, is very encouraging:

Image via Wikipedia.
The fact that I don't agree with much of what the panelists said or stood for was why I got so much out of the event. Sitting down with people we disagree with is one of the bravest and most productive things we can do. I believe in hearing all sides of an argument and critically thinking about them before reaching any conclusions. I am saddened by the fact that recently, these beliefs and my progressive ones have often seemed incongruous. The fact that a 'free speech' rally in Boston drew a crowd of thousands of progressives protesting white nationalism is indicative either that the alt-right has successfully co-opted free speech, or the left has erroneously chosen to reject it. Likely both are true, and equally problematic. [bold added, link omitted]
The student, Eve Driver, is nowhere near embracing Objectivism. But this event has caused her to see the value of freely and openly debating ideas, and the folly of preventing the same from happening. [bold added, link omitted]

-- CAV

So Many Ways to Say, "Shut Up!"

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Or: Unintentionally Good Advice from Lifehacker

Recently, Lifehacker posted a "guide" on how to tell if you're "mansplaining." Being in a perverse mood, I took a look at it and found it to be even more ridiculous than I expected. Having two young children, I found the following to be not only the most amusing passage, but also the most illuminating:

Facial reactions in the person you are speaking to are a huge sign: [body language expert Tonya] Reiman said to look for things such as a clenched jaw, shifting the jaw to the side, or flaring the nostrils, which can be a sign of holding in anger. She calls moves like this "non-verbal sarcasm" because they're a way of letting your body say you're listening while your brain is in disbelief at what is being said to you.

Non-verbal sarcasm in the listener can quickly shift to actual shame. If the person you're talking to shifts their gaze downward or covers their neck with their hands, that's a sign you're not only mansplaining, but have the person you're talking to has also basically given up on the conversation.

"They feel shame," Reiman said. "That person is either feeling something emotional or they're feeling like they've just been hit."
It is a good idea to practice being aware of signs that someone is becoming defensive and asking oneself whether it might be due to problems in one's communication style. But, given the insulting term and its source from the "microagression crowd, it is hard to take this advice as anything other than, "Walk on eggshells or shut up." I can't help but imagine myself talking to a kid in a contrary mood when I read the above -- and being expected to concede to their demands every time I see so much as a pout. (But shame? Really? If someone feels embarrassed when confronted with a differing opinion, it's on them to examine why: That's a completely different feeling than the justifiable anger about being treated badly.)

Having said the above, the article is "right" by accident about one thing: If you are scrupulous about etiquette, and about how you communicate with others, and find yourself facing someone about to melt down, anyway, it probably is time to end the conversation. But this is because you are likely wasting your time.

-- CAV

P.S. I am old enough to remember when "woman driving" was, as this piece puts it of "mansplaining", "a thing." Even if women then were more likely to be poor drivers or, as this article indicates, men are more likely to rudely express uninformed opinions, both terms are inherently insulting and have no place in polite conversation.

Roy Moore as a Cultural Symptom

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

After correctly noting that the media's objections to Roy Moore, Alabama's Republican candidate for Senator, "are the weakest reasons to reject Moore's candidacy," Scott Holleran delves into those reasons -- the ideas that motivate him to act lawlessly regarding separation of religion and state. His piece is worth a full read, and ends as follows:

Hopefully, a Premature Tombstone for American Liberty. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Any serious candidate who would leave doubt as to whether he seeks to enact laws to put adults to death for having consensual sex is a monster deserving total and absolute scorn and the most emphatic denunciation from statesmen, intellectuals and every moral American. Insinuating that he thinks gays deserve to die and stating clearly and explicitly that he aims to enact a religious government disqualify Moore from political office. Whatever moral transgressions he's made in his sexual past, including his alleged assault and proclivity for sex with children, Roy Moore's election to the Senate on December 12, 2017, would mark a black day in U.S. history. If Moore wins, his election will be a victory for religious statism and another chilling step toward dictatorship.
At the same time, there is something to be gleaned from allegations about Moore's taste for teen-aged girls. This is because they lead directly back to his religiously-based morality, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times:
Prominent conservative Reformed theologian Doug Wilson has a documented history of mishandling sexual abuse cases within his congregation. Nevertheless, he continues to be promoted by evangelical leaders such as John Piper, whose Desiring God site still publishes Wilson's work. When a 13-year-old girl in Wilson's congregation was sexually abused, Wilson argued that she and her abuser were in a parent-sanctioned courtship, and that this was a mitigating factor.

There's no shortage of such stories. A Presbyterian Church in America, or PCA, pastor attempted to discipline a woman who warned home-school parents of the convicted sex offender in his congregation. (The sex offender had gone online to solicit a 14-year-old girl for sex.) Another PCA church allowed that same convicted sex offender to give the invocation at a home-school graduation ceremony. He wasn't perceived as an attempted child rapist, and he was "repentant."

Growing up, I witnessed an influential religious right leader flirting with some of my teenage friends and receiving neck and shoulder massages from one of them. I've been expecting a scandal to break with him for years, but in the meantime, this man has put significant time into campaigning for anti-trans bathroom bills while deeming trans people "predators."

The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem. It's not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem. It's a Christian fundamentalist problem... [links omitted, bold added]
Many non-fundamentalists and even non-religious people are sympathetic to the idea that Christian morality is a beneficial cultural influence and foundational to American law. If you are one of them, and yet have a healthy distaste for treating children this way, I ask that you question this assumption. I recommend doing so (1) starting with "which sect of Christianity," and (2) ideally continuing to the point of asking what morality is for and further asking yourself why you should take any answer as to the nature of morality on faith. The first step is to remind yourself of a fact many religious people at American's founding were well aware of: Political power in the hands of a rival sect was a dangerous and potentially deadly proposition. (The solution, separation of church and state, mimicked, but did not imply understanding of a more general principle: Religion wielding political power is inimical to liberty.) The second is an opportunity to do something these poor child brides aren't permitted and too few people avail themselves of: A chance to consider the proposition that taking other people's word about big questions is a practice that stunts one's ability to live a fulfilling life.

-- CAV

A Century of a Million Deaths Per Year

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I'm a bit late to this party, but let me recommend one last look at Communism on its centenary, this one by Robert Tracinski of The Federalist. Here are the closing paragraphs:

A few victims of a political ideology that has become fashionable in America. (Image via Wikipedia)
The only person who fully grasped these lessons was the Russian émigré Ayn Rand. She escaped the Soviet Union and set out to revive individualism and build a philosophy that redefined the meaning and moral status of individual self-interest. She would later explain: "Stalin did not corrupt a noble ideal ... . If service and self-sacrifice are a moral ideal, and if the 'selfishness' of human nature prevents men from leaping into sacrificial furnaces, there is no reason ... why a dictator should not push them in at the point of bayonets -- for their own good, or the good of humanity, or the good of posterity, or the good of the latest bureaucrat's latest five-year plan. There is no reason that they can name to oppose any atrocity. The value of a man's life? His right to exist? His right to pursue his own happiness? These are concepts that belong to individualism and capitalism."

If Communism represents the full implementation of a commonly accepted view of morality, we can understand the compulsion to make excuses for it, to claim it's never really been tried, to forget its disasters and atrocities, to allow only a gauzy airbrushed version of its history, and to desperately wish that if we just tried it one more time and really did it right, we would finally reach the promised paradise.

We've done that for a full century, and even longer. After all, Communism was tried on a small scale, in voluntary utopian communities, for more than a century before it failed upward and took over entire countries. It's time to start grasping the moral lessons before we're forced to live once more through the nightmare of chasing the Communist dream. [bold added]
Read the whole thing, particularly if you or someone you know is fond of saying that Communism "doesn't work."

-- CAV

P.S. One more. I'll pass along word of a lecture I plan to listen to, "Socialism's Legacy," by Alan Kors, which was delivered at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. It's an hour and a half, but I am confident based on the source of the recommendation that it will be worthwhile. Kors, by the way, wrote the following, as quoted by Glenn Reynolds:
No cause, ever, in the history of all mankind, has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents, and more orphans than socialism with power. It surpassed, exponentially, all other systems of production in turning out the dead. The bodies are all around us. And here is the problem: No one talks about them. No one honors them. No one does penance for them. No one has committed suicide for having been an apologist for those who did this to them. No one pays for them. No one is hunted down to account for them. It is exactly what Solzhenitsyn foresaw in The Gulag Archipelago: "No, no one would have to answer. No one would be looked into." [italics in original, bold added]
None of this will occur until knowledge of a proper ethical alternative to altruism becomes better known and respected.

Alexa, What Are Some Keys to Success?

Monday, November 13, 2017

I wanted a woman who could get me out of a third-world prison. -- Jeff Bezos

Over at TechCrunch are tips on success gleaned from an interview of Jeff Bezos by his younger brother, Mark. It's a short, enjoyable, and down-to-earth read, as the above quote might indicate. And don't be fooled by the gross, yet humorous story about his grandfather's thumb: The interview has several thought-provoking points, like the following:

Image via Wikipedia.
On how to establish work-life balance: "I like the phrase 'work-life harmony'", Jeff says. "Balance implies there's a strict trade-off." If he feels like he's adding value and is a productive member of a team at work, "it makes me better at home. If I'm happy at home, it makes me a better employee, a better boss." Don't be someone who drains energy out of their co-workers or family. He believes it's not just about how you allocate hours in the day, but whether you have enough energy to participate with enthusiasm. [bold in original]
Yes. It is definitely a mistake to regard one's home and work life as things that detract from one another rather than things that can complement each other. That mistake can both detract from one's enjoyment of each and blind one to the possibility of each benefiting the other, or of finding ways to integrate the two. Other highlights include advice on making big decisions, his approach to "multi-tasking", and the genuine, benevolent tone of the interview.  For some good thoughts on how to achieve success and a chance to meet the man behind Amazon, head over there.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 10, 2017

Four Things

1. Here's Item 2,598 from the "When Government Does Everything Except What It Should Be Doing" file:

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports via Wikipedia.
There's a drinking game played by people who have worked at the Department of Agriculture: Does the U.S.D.A. do it? Someone names an odd function of government (say, shooting fireworks at Canada geese that flock too near airport runways) and someone else has to guess if the U.S.D.A. does it. (In this case, it does.) Even people who have worked at U.S.D.A. for years wind up having to chug. So it's no use pretending that I can actually explain to you everything the place does. I was looking to get a sense of the big risks that increase when a limb of the federal government is neglected or misunderstood or badly managed. [bold added]
The whole piece -- "Inside Trump's Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.'s Scientists" -- is interesting, although definitely in favor of improper government.

Advocates of limited government would do well to read it in full and understand that this is what we're up against. The piece well illustrates two facts: (1) The USDA (for example) does do many things that need doing, almost all of which could and should be done by some non-government means; and (2) Most people, especially including the conscientious types the article portrays, can't even begin to imagine how these things would be done without Big Brother shaking everyone down to make sure they get done.

I would also add that a big downside to Trump's ideology-free campaign against regulation (that he doesn't like) can backfire big time precisely because he has no answer to such "but what about..."-type objections -- either on why government shouldn't be doing these things or how they would get accomplished otherwise.

2. Pharma-blogger Derek Lowe offers tribute to an octogenarian scientist who is still plugging away at the bench:
Long experience at the bench, if you're any good at all, gives you a fund of knowledge that's hard to pick up from the literature. What solvents to try first for a crystallization, what reactions have exothermic inductions that you have to watch out for, which reducing agents have the easiest workups, how to get rid of metal contamination in the final product, when to deoxygenate rigorously and when not to worry about it so much, ways to get rid of Common Byproduct X or Pesky Solvent Y. Donald Batesky has just contributed another one of those to the trade, and good for him. This guy is clearly a chemist (he's already stipulated that he wants to be buried in a lab coat), and I would very much enjoy sitting down and talking with him. It's always worthwhile to listen to people who are really good at their work or to watch them do it, and I'm glad to hear that he's still sharing his knowledge with his co-workers at Rochester.
I hope Lowe does get to talk to the man. I'd enjoy reading the interview.

3. Here's an interesting side-effect of the popularity of smart phones:
Gum sales have been relentlessly dropping for the past five years because people don't look around when they wait in line to pay.
Gum magnates will find an ally in Cal Newport.

4. Having lost my father as a consequence of multiple sclerosis, I keep an antenna out for good news on that front. Here's the latest:
In a remarkably rapid translation of laboratory research findings into a treatment with the potential to benefit patients, UC San Francisco scientists have successfully completed a Phase II clinical trial showing that an FDA-approved antihistamine restores nervous system function in patients with chronic multiple sclerosis (MS).


The drug tested in the trial, clemastine fumarate, was first identified as a candidate treatment for MS in 2013 by UCSF's Jonah R. Chan, PhD, Debbie and Andy Rachleff Distinguished Professor of Neurology, vice chief of the Division of Neuroinflammation and Glial Biology, and senior author of the new study. First approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1977 for allergies, the drug has been available over the counter in generic form since 1993. [links omitted]
I don't recall ever hearing a claim that something could either reverse damage, or help those suffering from the chronic-progressive form of the disease. Links in the UCSF press release cited above lead to the published results.

-- CAV

California's de Facto War on Weed

Thursday, November 09, 2017

There is an interesting article at Forbes regarding California's legalization of recreational marijuana, which reminds me of the following quote from Ayn Rand, and for reasons more than the immediate subject matter:

The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories -- with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe -- but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread. (from "Censorship: Local and Express," in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 186)
Rand is speaking of the false mind-body dichotomy, and the fact that both sides of the political spectrum generally agree with it, but choose opposite sides. The error has consequences in real life, as seen in the policy positions each side chooses. Rand's eloquent similes further note that each side of the error results in policies that are inimical to political freedom, and thus to man's life. California gives us a nice example, isolated to a single issue, of how each side of the error ultimately is anti-freedom when carried out.

Here's the "freewheeling" soul, ... man:
In 2016, California voters legalized the sale of recreational pot. Many voters felt they were striking a blow for personal freedom with their vote.
So California deactivated its "chip controlled from Washington." Of course, most of these voters are lefties, so the political apparatus they had in place correctly interpreted this mandate -- which was more a whine for permission than a blow for freedom -- by fitting the chains:
Since that day, all levels of the California governments have been coming to grips with how to implement the voter's choice. Of course, that really means how to regulate the sales and how to tax those sales.
Among the many interesting facts and figures Thomas Del Beccaro throws around, we can see a startling similarity in the status quo before and after "legalization." It is relevant to remember, as we can learn from Del Beccaro, that when the gang in charge fails to supply loopholes for extremely high levels of taxation (or prohibition of an activity that does not violate individual rights, such as use of a drug), other criminals will provide relief in the form of a black market.
Still in business trouble. (Image courtesy of Unsplash.)
[A]t the time of the vote, California already had the largest pot market in the country -- although its size is disputed because most of the market is illegal sales. Some have said, that as of 2015, "California . . . has the largest legal cannabis market in the U.S., at $1.3 billion." On the other hand, others have reported that over $7 billion in illegal crop has been seized in California. Given the Feds think they seize only around 10% of the illegal crops, you can see how large the market could well be.
So, although marijuana is "legal" in California, there remains a huge black market for it because it isn't quite legal to keep the money one makes from selling it.

As I have noted before, of a similarly fishy-sounding legalization scheme in Uruguay, "improper government regulation makes the whole concept of 'legal' farcical." In sum, California has moved from outlawing the possession of marijuana to outlawing the possession of nearly half (in some cases) of the revenue from selling it. One might as well ask if is really legal at all.

-- CAV