10-25-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Decade Ago...

... I started this blog.

It is hard to believe I have been doing this on most days for ten years, particularly over the past three and change, with my very young children eating into my writing time and usually interrupting what has been left of it. About halfway through this post, for example, I had to start holding Little Man, badly congested from a cold, on my chest so he could sleep.

Almost fittingly, this anniversary sees me at home, alone with the kids, while my wife is away at a medical conference. It is possible she will make connections with her first post-training employer there, ultimately leading to a permanent position for her and making our next move, if there is one, permanent.

I have found blogging to be a good, although not wholly satisfying, outlet for my desire to write about politics, culture, thinking, and a little about everything else. I am somewhat optimistic that I shall soon be better able to write more demanding pieces again.

I'll keep the rest of the introspection that such an anniversary prompts to myself: It's for my sole benefit and is incomplete anyway. I'll make the following exception, though: I'd like to thank the readers, supporters, and friends who have come my way due to this activity: Your companionship has been a rich reward and, for someone inclined towards introversion (to put it mildly), a very pleasant surprise.

Last, but not least, I'd like to thank my wife for putting up with her "bitchy blogger" for so long, and with such good humor.

Weekend Reading

"[A]ll good advice should have an 'if/then' component." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Advantages and Perils of Advice-Taking" at The Delaware Wave

"[I]f one uses [alcohol] to stop thinking, or to distort reality in order to act in counterproductive ways, then I consider that abuse, even if it involves only a single drink." -- Michael Hurd, in "Alcohol Use and Abuse" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Keynesianism is a theory about what kind of orders the state should issue to its serfs." -- Harry Binswanger, in "Keynesianism Is Government Force Blocking Reality" at RealClear Markets

"Overall, I think Dan Diamond strikes the right balance in his piece, 'It's OK To Worry About Ebola In NYC. But You Shouldn't Panic.'" -- Paul Hsieh, in "Why You Should Be Concerned but Not Fearful About Ebola in NYC" at Forbes

My Two Cents

It is amazing how succesfully moral intrincism stunts thinking about alcohol. I suspect that few, if any,  of the critics Michael Hurd brought up in his column about the subject would have thought of the case (quoted above) of a single drink constituting abuse.

From Here to Agloe and Back

If you liked the story of how a raccoon "became" an aardvark through a prank at Wikipedia, you'll appreciate this similar one by NPR: "An Imaginary Town Becomes Real, Then Not. True Story "


Friday Four

Friday, October 24, 2014

1. I sometimes post beer recommendations here, but it is always only after rigorous testing and careful study.

But, if by "rigorous study", you mean "more than one tasting", I will have made an exception today by mentioning Black Albert, brewed by De Struise of Belgium. Depending on whom you believe at Beer Advocate, this one is either "world class" or merely "outstanding". I lean towards the former description, for this is a truly memorable beer.

Click to enlarge.

The label notes (above) say it all.

2. At $1799.00 it's ... out of my price range, but if I had money to burn, I couldn't think of a better kitchen gadget than one that would allow me to brew whatever I want in only four hours. An excerpt from a USA Today review of the "PicoBrew" reads in part:
Hit "brew" and walk away. The Internet-connected PicoBrew adds the ingredients based on the chosen recipe...
And lest the folks at Unclutterer cluck, this is no mere "unitasker". Apparently, it is "also great for Sous-Vide [sic] cooking".

3. He's making the country more like Soviet Russia every day, so I can't think of a people better-suited to poke fun at Barack Obama than the Russians.

And boy, do they nail him!

4. I don't condone vandalism, but the story about how a raccoon became an aardvark nevertheless makes interesting reading:
This kind of feedback loop--wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood--is a documented phenomenon. There's even a Wikipedia article describing it. Some of the most well-known examples involve Wikipedia entries for famous people, such as when users edited the article on the British actor Sacha Baron Cohen to say he had worked at Goldman Sachs. When a Wikipedia editor tried to remove the apocryphal detail, it took some convincing. Because it had since appeared in several articles on Cohen in the British press, the burden was on Wikipedians to disprove the myth. [link in original, minor format edits]
Amusingly, the next paragraph of the article mentions that the Internet encyclopedia had, for a long time, erroneously reported the birth date of its own founder. I love Wikipedia, but I love being sure of the truth more. For important matters, it is wise to seek multiple sources for factual information.

-- CAV

Tossed out with the Bags: Freedom and Life

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The California legislature has just done advocates of limited government a favor by passing a law that is a poster-child of everything wrong with unlimited government power: It will ban plastic shopping bags statewide beginning in 2015. Stephen DeMaura notes at Forbes that the law enriches some at the expense of others, actually achieves the opposite of its stated purpose of solid waste reduction (not, let me add, that this is a proper role of government), and actually presents a public health threat in the form of an arbitrary incentive to use a certain type of shopping bag:

[R]eusable bags ... pose a growing public health risk, as demonstrated by a particularly disturbing vignette from Oregon, where a girls soccer team was stricken by the Norovirus traced to a reusable tote.

In the seven years since San Francisco became the first American municipality to ban plastic bags in 2007, researchers have tracked a 5-percent increase in death from food-borne illness. That increase isn't simply coincidental, but causal: According to a 2011 white paper by the International Association for Food Protection, a majority of reusable bags contain coliform bacteria.

These are genuine facts that California's lawmakers and governor willfully ignored. But they won't be ignored by voters--either their pockets will be hurting from a new regressive tax or their bellies from the forced transition to bacteria-riddled totes--when considering a referendum in 2016. [links dropped, bold added]
Also noteworthy are the jobs that this move will cost Californians. People involved in the manufacture of the economical plastic bags will lose their jobs, as well as those in the enterprise (ironically created in the first place by government regulations) of recycling them. At every step of this process, note the displacement of rational thought by government force. Starting with a complete disregard for what government is actually supposed to be doing -- opening the floodgates for it to meddle with everything -- we have the government proceeding to:
  • Declare itself puppetmaster of the people whose rights it is supposed to be protecting. (This is the whole premise behind prescriptive law.)
  • Declare itself instead as guardian of "the environment". (This is a concession to any lingering power the people might have: They must be shamed into supporting such measures. All other communication with those whom it regards as subjects will be in the form of orders.)
  • Dictate to everyone that "the environment" must be protected, and how to do so.
  • Unilaterally declare something unfit for the purpose it has decided.
  • Force anyone who uses paper bags to pay bribe money to shut up any potential opponents.
  • Present anyone who doesn't want to pay the bribe to choose between the following: (a) waste irreplaceable time by washing reusable bags, or (b) risk sickening themselves and others by not washing such bags.
Consider this law a microcosm of how our unbounded government operates today. It might also be worth contemplating how such an entity -- that can't and won't even get the matter of which bag to use for shopping right -- is supposed to micromanage much more important things, like your personal health and the entire economy.

As I said, this law is a favor, but there is a catch: It is not enough to call this law "impractical", because that merely leaves unanswered the question, "For what?" It obviously succeeds at quite a few things, and it is these things which hold the key to questioning its moral basis. Until we do that, the gang in power will continue to hide behind the fuzzy notion of "the common good", and we will merely squabble over implementation of bad laws.

-- CAV

Question Pieties

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thomas Sowell comments on the dishonest reporting behind a particular type of "news" story, in the process making a valuable connection and helping me make another:

Crusaders against such loans often make the interest rate charged seem even higher by quoting these interest rates in annual terms, even when the loan is actually repayable in a matter of weeks. It is like saying that a $100 a night hotel room costs $36,500 a year, when virtually nobody rents a hotel room for a year.
Sowell further elaborates as to why so-called "payday loans" have such high rates, before noting that the very people calling the practice "predatory" are themselves preying on ignorance in the process of furthering a political agenda.

That's perspicacious, but has Sowell also unearthed a general rhetorical strategy of the left? I think so. Consider any number of leftist crusades, as I did in yesterday's post:
Racial equality has practically come to mean government handouts and quotas; reproductive rights somehow became the "right" to purchase abortions with other people's money; and now, same-sex unions have been perverted into micromanagement of marriage chapels (among other things).
At the risk of stating the obvious, we thus have: race-based law in the name of ending racism, forced payment of an elective medical procedure by a third party in the name of "choice", and bossing chaplains around in the name of not bossing around homosexuals who wish to marry.

The rhetorical tactic is a sort of quickie form of what Ayn Rand identified as the "Argument from Intimidation", and if spelled out, it might go something like this: "Only a bigot (e.g., a racist, misogynist, or homophobe) could possibly oppose what I advocate, since I am denouncing bigotry."

Early in his article, Sowell notes all the repercussions leftists like to ignore about the policies they advocate. Perhaps it's time to call their bluff, and openly question their professed concerns.

-- CAV

More Clarion Calling, Less Bible-Thumping

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Although I am not sure I agree with his conception of freedom of religion, David Limbaugh does succeed in raising a good point in his latest column:

This nightmare began Oct. 7, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho's marriage laws and legalized same-sex marriage in that state, which allowed Idaho county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses a week later. On Oct. 17, the Knapps declined a request to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Knapps, the city of Coeur d'Alene is "unconstitutionally coercing" them to perform these weddings at their Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in violation of their religious beliefs, their ordination vows and their consciences. City Ordinance Section 9.56 bars sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations, which forces the Knapps to choose between betraying their religious convictions and following them and facing up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. According to their complaint, they arguably commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor each day they refuse to perform such ceremonies, with the potential criminal penalties piling up cumulatively. [links removed, bold added]
Limbaugh opens his column by asking, "Where are all the atheist freedom lovers we always hear about?"

To Limbaugh, I say, "Yoo-hoo!"

For the same reason -- the individual right to make contracts with others or not -- I support government recognition of same-sex unions and I oppose the government forcing someone who does not wish to officiate same-sex marriages to do so. Limbaugh is correct that this latest leftist crusade has nothing to do with freedom, although freedom does entitle some people to form unions that others may find abhorrent for whatever reason. The left has such a long history of perverting just causes that I am amazed that anyone accepts its help anymore: Racial equality has practically come to mean government handouts and quotas; reproductive rights somehow became the "right" to purchase abortions with other people's money; and now, same-sex unions have been perverted into micromanagement of marriage chapels (among other things).

Limbaugh blathers on about the scriptural basis for the Knapps' objection to performing these ceremonies (as if nobody knew about this), but the truth is, the government has no business forcing them to perform a ceremony for anyone for any reason whatsoever. But Limbaugh's blathering is worse than superfluous, or pandering to theocrats, or baiting the non-religious: It distracts from the fact that the causes of same-sex unions and what we could call "freedom of conscience" since the issue is bigger than religion are one and the same: the cause of the individual.

First they wouldn't let the gays marry, and I said nothing. Then, they came after the chaplains, and I said nothing. Is the picture getting clearer now? One man's rights do not diminish another's and certainly do not call for the violation of another's. To fail to make this connection does not impugn the stated cause of the advocate, but it does raise suspicions of the advocate and his actual cause. Limbaugh is right to impugn the left, but this "atheist freedom lover" has his own doubts about someone who makes more noise thumping a Bible than advocating individual rights.

-- CAV


10-23-14: Noted missing format edit note in block quote. 

Make a Juggernaut, Get Run Over

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conservative commentator Bruce Bialosky describes some particularly asinine scheduling practiced by the Internal Revenue Service:

... [W]hen we received this message from our tax software service we were quite taken aback; "The Internal Revenue Service's electronic filing system will be shut down for maintenance from October 11-13 reopening sometime on October 14th." I contacted some colleagues who were just as stunned. They expressed they were mystified as to what the IRS was thinking shutting down this close to the end of [the extended] tax season. One then informed me that not only is the IRS system for electronic filing (required for all tax preparers and the predominant means of filing all tax returns today) shut down, but their system for electronic payments would be inoperable also. Many taxpayers today either prefer electronic payments or may be required to do such.
Bialosky complains that "[t]he IRS still does not get they serve the people of the United States". I was with him until then: Confiscating money from American citizens in violation of their right to property is not and can not be service -- not in the sense of proper government service, anyway. I am unfamiliar with Bruce Biaolosky, but he comes across as someone who would have no problem with the IRS continuing to subject us to myriad ridiculous rules en route to taking our money, if only it would do so more efficiently and politely. I beg to differ. (That said, the IRS ought to be made to make compliance as easy as possible until the day we are able to abolish it.)

The imperious disregard for just how anyone is supposed to live up to its rules, as described by Bialosky, may be incredible, but it is really just a symptom of a greater problem. When a people become comfortable with the idea that the government can take money from some to give to others, how can they complain about niceties such as being able to fork it over easily? And when so many demand abuses on a grand scale (such as income taxation) from our government, neither outrage nor surprise at such lesser abuses (as Bialosky describes) is really appropriate coming from anyone who isn't completely opposed to doing so.

Rather than whine about bureaucrats taking Columbus Day off, Bruce Bialosky should have warned us that we are being kicked around, and that we ought to stop asking for it.

-- CAV

10-18-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, October 18, 2014

You Can Help Stop Regulatory Censorship

Whatever you might think about electric cars, the ongoing saga of Tesla's battle against regulatory capture of the automobile market has done us all a great service by showing how despicable politicians and mooching "businessmen" can be.

I applaud Tesla Motors for taking the high road and showing everyone what they are up against:

Not content with enshrining their ability to charge consumers dubious fees, on the last day of the legislative session, the dealers managed to make a last-minute change to the bill in an attempt to cement their broader retail monopoly. Using a procedure that prevented legislators and the public at large from knowing what was happening or allowing debate, Senator Joe Hune added new language in an attempt to lock Tesla out of the State. Unsurprisingly, Senator Hune counts the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association as one of his top financial contributors, and his wife's firm lobbies for the dealers.

By striking a single, but critical, word from MCLA 445.1574(14)(1)(i), the law governing franchise relations in Michigan, the dealers seek to force Tesla, a company that has never had a franchise dealership, into a body of law solely intended to govern the relationship between a manufacturer and its associated dealers. In so doing, they create an effective prohibition against Tesla opening a store in Michigan.

This amendment goes even further. It also seeks to prevent Tesla from operating a gallery in Michigan that simply provides information without conducting sales. We could even be barred from telling people about our car. [link dropped, bold added]
This bill has been passed and awaits only Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's signature. The full post includes a way to urge him to veto this legislation.

Weekend Reading

"In reality, it's a combination of poor judgment or weak organizational skills, topped by a tendency to overcommit." -- Michael Hurd, in "'Rush-a-holism' & the Perils of Multitasking" at The Delaware Wave

"People have a reasonable need to feel that their lives are important and that they are visible to others." -- Michael Hurd, in "Visibility in Personal Relationships" at The Delaware Coast Press

My Two Cents

After reading the column about "rush-a-holism", I may have to be careful about smirking the next time I hear someone brag about being a good multi-tasker.

How Good Ideas Spread

Universities don't -- in the name of spreading "enlightenment" -- merely dunk as many people as possible into water and then hand them degrees. For the same reason, advocates of good ideas have no interest in merely asserting their worth, or of getting people to mouth agreement with them. That is because, for good ideas to spread, people have to see and accept their truth for themselves. That's why even the staunchest advocate should normally hold off from claiming that his philosophy is true, even if, by his best judgement, he sees it as such.