Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 21, 2017

Three Things

1. Part of the reason I was away from here last week was a great family vacation. Comparing notes with Mrs. Van Horn, I realized that we both came back feeling unusually energized. She thought we just really needed the break, and I agreed. But we'd traveled plenty of times before without feeling this refreshed. And I think I know why this time was different: The kids have passed a threshold. Yes, they are still toddlers, but Pumpkin was more mature and Little Man much more independent on this trip. Two things stood out: First, they were much better at entertaining themselves without getting hurt or breaking things; and second, playing with them was much more about having fun with them than being vigilant.

Caring for infants and young toddlers has its moments, but it is hard work, and parents are always on call. I am glad I got to be as involved as I have been, but I won't mince words: I feel as if I've had my first real vacation in nearly six years.

2. This guide, "How to Survive the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017," is geared for the curious, not the superstitious. That said, the anticipated "hurricane evacuation-like traffic" -- Scroll down to "Day 2" -- is worth factoring in, if it doesn't outright make you want to stay put.

3. Save a life, get razzed for your painted toenails:

Paramedics were getting the officers out of their ice-cold clothing to warm them up when they noticed something funny.

Officer Gadwell had gold toenails.

Gadwell said, "They're looking at me funny and I'm like, 'This is what happens when you have daughters at home."

"I get to the hospital and everyone is making fun of me. They're laughing at me and they go, 'Hey, just so you know, your partner's toes are done too."
My toenails remain unpainted ... so far.

Weekend Reading

"People will not change without first arriving at the deeply held conviction that change must take place." -- Michael Hurd, in "We Change Only if We Want To" at The Delaware Wave

"The [value judgment behind the] emotional state of students 'diagnosed' with now-being-debunked 'attention deficit disorder' is, 'Schooling is not important.'" -- Michael Hurd, in "How to Unlock Your Motivation" at The Delaware Coast Press

"If we are to truly learn the lessons of Communism's history, it is the moral premise of collectivism that [Ayn] Rand asks us to question and reject." -- Yaron Brook, in foreword to "Our Alleged Competitor (PDF)," by Ayn Rand (1962) at The Conservative

-- CAV


McArdle on the United Airlines Fiasco

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Finally, thanks to Megan McArdle, there is an even-handed take on the United Airlines incident I heard about every time I happened upon the news while I was away last week. Three things stand out to me. First, the flight wasn't oversold. (This piece explains how we benefit from overbooking, anyway.) Some blogs have mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Second, McArdle notes a misdirection of attention, which is quite curious in these days of media-fanned, anti-cop hysteria: "[I]t was the cops, not United, who made [the passenger] bleed." Third, McArdle outlines how United could have easily handled this situation better:

...United made two really dumb mistakes. First, it let passengers board before the bumping began. [See P.S. --ed.] That was stupid. It's easy to keep someone off a plane, and hard to remove them once they're there.

Then the airline compounded its error by trying to remove people by force. Now, United may have the legal right to do so. But that's irrelevant. It would have been cheaper for staff members to just keep offering more cash until four people agreed to get off. At some price, they'd have found takers. They should have found that price instead of slowing down the boarding process and turning themselves into a viral disaster.
This bad publicity, cynically magnified by our anti-capitalist media, is bad in the short-term, but I appreciate McArdle seeing and taking the opportunity it presents to help the public understand some of the more annoying aspects of air travel in light of (a) how they beat alternatives and (b) how airlines can easily improve some of them.

-- CAV

P.S. The Cranky Flier (linked above) notes that the other air crew showed up at the gate. If this is the case, then United couldn't have avoided having to get a passenger off its plane after boarding, but her solution of offering more money to volunteers remains an option.


Death by Leisure Deficit

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Living in a quintessential suburb so soon after being in the thick of things in Boston (and close to it in Houston and St. Louis), the very title of the following piece had me saying Amen. In "A Leisure Deficit Is Killing Off the Suburbs," Leonid Bershidsky considers a study with pretty good controls about why "the relationship between housing prices and distance from the center of major U.S. cities has reversed since 1980."

Indeed, since 1990, the number of skilled people working long hours -- 50 a week or more -- has been growing. There are often two such people to a relatively affluent household, and they know a long commute is not an option: It doesn't just leave little time for fun and family life, it's downright bad for one's health. A 2012 paper showed that increasing the daily commuting time from 62 minutes -- the average for Americans living in urban areas -- by another 60 minutes leads to a 6 percent decrease in health-related activities and so contributes to obesity. Short commutes that can be made by foot or bicycle actually increase a worker's life satisfaction because they're healthy and provide a cushion between home and work life.
Another thing Bershidsky considers as a possible solution is telecommuting, whose wider adoption he correctly notes faces cultural inertia. Although I'd caution that telecommuting is no panacea, I think that wise use of remote work could greatly alleviate the burden of commuting.

That said, I'd add that suburban living is worse for leisure time than the obvious culprit Bershidsky discusses. Thanks to government planning, the layout of most suburbs is horrendous. I have found that doing almost anything somewhere besides home almost always entails at least twenty minutes of driving time before and after. (Don't be fooled: even a so-called "five minute drive" includes getting into and out of a car, finding parking, and often, gratuitous traffic delays.) So, driving eats away at what little time a suburbanite isn't at work, commuting, or asleep. And walking or biking? My own experience has been that walking, once an integral and enjoyable part of my routine, is now something I have to go out of my way to do.

As far as I'm concerned, the suburbs can't die off fast enough.

-- CAV


GOP to Emit Carbon Tax

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Leave it to conservatives to resurrect an idea that had been regarded as "dead on arrival," according to the Wall Street Journal: a carbon tax. This "group of prominent conservative Republicans" hopes the resurrection will come about because they have found a way to make the less-than-observant think they are getting something for nothing:

[F]ormer Secretary of State James Baker III, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Walmart Chairman Rob Walton -- met with key members of the Trump administration on Wednesday about their proposal to tax carbon dioxide emissions and return the proceeds to the American people. Such an economy-wide "carbon dividend," as the group calls it, could enable the United States to achieve its international emissions targets with better economic outcomes than under a purely regulatory approach. [links omitted]
Further reading reveals that this tax will disproportionately affect those who use the most energy -- i.e., the most productive -- in order to toss crumbs to the less well-off. The World Resources Institute provides the following bullet points about this new proposal (bolded, below), which would make the likes of FDR and Bernie Sanders envious. I provide my own quick takes after each:
  1. Significantly reduces emissions. -- This will happen when energy costs go through the roof due to these taxes increasing on a schedule. We won't need to add "energy poverty" to our lexicon, because we'll have good, old-fashioned, plain poverty to deal with once the prices for everything start going up with the energy prices -- I mean, carbon taxes -- needed for production and transport.
  2. Benefits for poor and middle classes. -- As long as you (deep breath): (1) don't value your freedom (or that of others you trade with); (2) don't care about what activity the government might decide to tax next; (3) ignore the fact that the hidden costs of this policy will exceed your pittance; and (4) assume that global warming is: (a) real, (b) primarily caused by human activities, (c) has zero upside (including the continued use of the cheapest and most portable energy source there is), and (d) can be averted by this method -- then I guess this is true, in the sense that stealing "benefits" the thief.
  3. Addresses concerns about U.S. competitiveness and international action. -- If you don't understand how tariffs reduce the taxing nation's productivity -- See Henry Hazlitt -- you'll love this. As for me, I'd rather come in dead last in a race and walk away, than win one in which all participants have to hobble themselves, first. (This isn't the best analogy since trade isn't a zero-sum game, but involves both sides winning.)
  4. Cost-effectively reduces emissions. -- See Item 2 above. Also note that the tax amounts to a government-decreed price. Why not declare that the diesel used to drive carbon-belching farm equipment costs $1000 a gallon, to discourage use, and wheat is now a penny a bushel, so as to drive those ecologically benighted farmers out of business? Oh, wait. That would be too obvious...
  5. Offers potential for bipartisan support. -- Hey! Here's one I actually agree with. Both parties are full of panderers, and too many voters are looking for a free lunch, even if consists of seed corn and meat from stud animals. Many of the worst ideas floating around in politics appeal to members of both parties.
It astounds me that there is so much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the left: With enemies like these, who needs useful idiots?

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 07, 2017

Editor's Note: I am taking next week (and possibly some change) off from blogging. Expect me back here on the seventeenth at the earliest and on the nineteenth at the latest.

Three Things

1. In the face of assertions by the likes of Dennis Prager that morality is impossible without God, Craig Biddle of the Objective Standard has written a rebuttal. This takes the form of an easily-understood outline of how the philosophy of Objectivism derives morality from facts. Indeed, his conclusion is so inescapable that I think he is perfectly justified to end his piece in the following manner:

People are free to continue claiming, "If there is no God, there is no objective morality." But they are not free to do so honestly. Ayn Rand's derivation of morality from reality is too clear and too accessible for anyone interested in this subject responsibly to neglect. If people think her reasoning is in error, they should point out where and how they think she erred. But to ignore the existence of Rand's ideas while asserting, "If there is no God, anything goes," is to engage in evasion: the refusal to think, the refusal to see, the refusal to know. Such evasion is akin to the Church's refusal to acknowledge Galileo's proof that the Earth orbits the Sun -- except that those who evade Rand's proof have much more knowledge and, consequently, much less excuse.

It is time for everyone who cares about human life, happiness, and freedom to repudiate the nonsense that objective morality depends on God. Objective morality depends on reason -- and, if we're willing to look, we can see that it does.
I will also echo the sentiments of several of the other members of HBL, where I first learned of this essay: This would make an excellent pamphlet.

2. At Check Your Premises is a good piece regarding the latest academic to have leveled an unjustified attack on Ayn Rand:
[R.P.] Wolff does not seem to want to seriously critique Rand. He wants to tarnish her by association with Ryan and tarnish Ryan by association with a caricature of her. Apoplexy over the current "administration" is scarcely avoidable for any one with sense, but it in no way excuses shoddy thinking. The problem is that we diminish ourselves and the quality of our public discourse when we throw out intellectual standards for the cheap thrill of thrashing a straw man. [bold added]
Regarding the excerpt, one could replace "Wolff" with any other name from a long list of people from the intelligentsia and politics here, and not just from the left. Perhaps that is why the people who do this do not seem to know enough to be embarrassed by what they are doing. In any event, the above points could stand widespread dissemination.

3. Probably through Hacker News, I got wind of what it takes to start a sports league in the CIA. Muckrock breezily translates some of a declassified memo on the subject as follows:
To cope with these rather unique challenges, the Agency formed the Employee Activity Association (EAA), which, in exchange for membership dues, would ensure that next weekend's fishing trip would have a plausible cover story.
The agency classified activities according to "plausible deniability to CIA affiliation."

Weekend Reading

"Until or unless we get coercion out of health care, there will be no art of the deal or anything close to it." -- Michael Hurd, in "Why There's No 'Art of the Deal' for Healthcare" at Newsmax

"[I]f you want to get a point across, don't engage in vague feel-good speak that ultimately says nothing." -- Michael Hurd, in "Let's Replace Psycho-Speak With Real-Speak" at The Delaware Wave

"Rather than making it easier for the government to pick our pockets, we should work towards not having it pick our pockets at all." -- Gus Van Horn, in "Simplifying Tax Filing May Just Be Too Easy for Government" at RealClear Markets

"[T]here's a lot we can do diplomatically and financially to press the regime to take steps toward protecting free speech and rule of law, while publicly shaming it for flouting those principles." -- Elan Journo, in "Trump Should Break the American Tradition of Ignoring Egypt's Abuse of Its People" at The Hill

A Word of Thanks

I thank Mrs. Van Horn and reader Steve D. for their comments on an earlier version of the op-ed linked above.

-- CAV


California Flirts With Another Bad Idea

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Writing at Investor's Business Daily, Sally Pipes reports that California, which is considering single-payer medicine, could stand to look at other recent attempts, as well as conditions in other nations that use the system:

Vermont's attempt imploded in 2014 following news that it would cost $4.3 billion a year -- nearly as much as the state's entire budget. Gov. Peter Shumlin concluded that the taxes and regulations required to fund the program -- an 11.5% payroll tax on business and a tax of up to 9.5% on individuals -- "might hurt our economy." No kidding.

...

The single-payer system I grew up under in Canada, also known as Medicare, condemns sick patients to delays that have grown ever-longer over the past few decades. Last year, Canadians waited an average of five months for medically necessary specialist treatments after receiving a referral from a general practitioner, according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
Also illuminating are Britain's "black alerts," or warnings that certain hospitals "can't guarantee life-saving emergency care."

Of course, data like these have been around since long before ObamaCare, and yet the march towards fully socialized medicine goes on, despite lulls in places like Vermont and Colorado: So there's a lesson for opponents of socialized medicine here, too. It is this: There is some other consideration in the minds of its supporters that causes them to ignore or not care about these problems.

That consideration is moral, and until those of us who oppose such plans also openly question and oppose the morality of altruism, we will continue to lose ground to such government programs. There is, and has been for a long time, ample evidence that these programs erode our standard of living -- to the point of endangering our lives. Instead of asking how much evidence it takes to deter the likes of Bernie Sanders, perhaps the real question is this: What will it take for people to say, "No. I am not my brother's keeper."

-- CAV

P.S. My latest column, on the lessons we can learn from a failed attempt at tax filing reform, now appears at RealClear Markets.


Snowflakes: The Cure for Age Discrimination

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

As an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, let me immediately be clear that my title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. However we might evaluate them morally, employers should be free to employ (or not) anyone they please, and for whatever reason, sound or not. Unfortunately, our universities are giving employers some very solid reasons to look apprehensively at recent graduates, as you shall see.

That said, anyone who reads Suzanne Lucas's latest column, about snowflakes (aka, eggshell plaintiffs) landing in the workplace, will become quite concerned about the blizzard of frivolous lawsuits that will arrive when "the campus culture wars [come] to your office":

It's a huge mind shift -- where people are always taught to appeal to an authority and that authority is you, but you're expected to side with the complainant. That's not how ... business works, and you'll prevail (hopefully) in the courts, but do you want to go through that hassle over imagined racial or gender slights?

If you don't, you'll want to be actively aware and involved in what is happening in the universities. [link added]
Although the best solution to this problem is to separate state and academy, we are so far from that ideal that the best immediate course of action is the one suggested by Lucas. Read the whole thing.

-- CAV