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]
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


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.

--CAV


Friday Four

Friday, October 17, 2014

1. Little Man, save for a short nocturnal stint, has always been a far better sleeper than his older sister. Even now, he seems to be "sleep training" himself. Wednesday evening, around his usual bedtime, he kept arching his back uncomfortably as I tried rocking him to sleep. Eventually, I put him down and he walked over to the couch and climbed up there. I sat next to him and watched him fall asleep. I have since rocked him to sleep, but I think I am near the end of an era. I will miss some aspects of rocking babies to sleep. I will not miss having to -- or failing at it for no apparent reason.

2. Call it a form of "parentsplaining" if you must, but this post -- on things a stay-at-home dad would love to say to many of the mothers out there -- helps me see that one man's tedium is another man's fellowship. The following especially cracked me up:

#10. If I never see your husband at after-school potlucks or fundraisers or Sunday afternoon birthday circuits, I start to think he may just be a loser. (#10a. Unless he works for Goldman Sachs and really is out making millions -- but then why don't you have a nanny?) [reformatted]
Not all of these resonate with me, but several did.

And don't get me started on sippy cups, most of which I detest almost as much as folding laundry, a task which is amazingly resistant to my efforts so far at usually doing efficiently. (Mental note: Now that I think of it, I really should look at this some time.)

3. Hah! This brings back an old memory from college that still makes me laugh: There is now a web interface for the old game of Diplomacy. (It looks good, but it will never live up to the real game. Read on.)

Back in the day, one of my circles of friends liked such games. That circle included a guy obsessed with war, an obsession that manifested in everything, such as the papers he wrote for both of his majors, every Dungeons and Dragons character he ever created, and ... the way he approached this game. In short, he took alliances in games too seriously, making him a ripe target in a game like this. He was Russia and I was Turkey (or was I the Ottoman Empire?). Together, we were steamrolling westward, he throwing everything up front and I with lots of units hanging back.

And then I struck.

He immediately screamed, momentarily placed both hands around my neck as he gurgled, picked up the board, and then threw it across the room like a frisbee.

Having no hope of ever replicating such success again, I retired from the game then and there.

4. The latest gem forwarded by my mother is the following joke titled "Male Logic", which also appears here:
Woman: Do you drink beer?

Man: Yes.

Woman: How many beers a day?

Man: Usually about 3.

Woman: How much do you pay per beer?

Man: $5.00 which includes a tip.

Woman: And how long have you been drinking?

Man: About 20 years, I suppose.

Woman: So a beer costs $5 and you have 3 beers a day which puts your spending each month at $450. In one year, it would be approximately $5,400. correct?

Man: Correct.

Woman: If in 1 year you spend $5400, not accounting for inflation, the past 20 years puts your spending at $108,000, correct?

Man: Correct.

Woman: Do you know that if you didn't drink so much beer, that money could have been put in a step-up interest savings account and after accounting for compound interest for the past 20 years, you could have now bought a Ferrari?

Man: Do you drink beer?

Woman: No.

Man: Where's your Ferrari? [minor edits]
This joke reminds me of the following economics joke:
Two economists walked past a Porsche showroom. One of them pointed at a shiny car in the window and said, "I want that."

"Obviously not," the other replied
Although this joke has stuck in my mind for over two decades, I am not sure I agree with the point it is supposed to illustrate.

-- CAV


Admin: An XML-Related Question

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Update: Problem solved. See below.

Here's a question for any XML jockeys who might be following my blog...

For my blogging and -- now that my kids are starting to sleep more reliably -- other writing projects, I have been intermittently working on a sort of home-grown personal knowledge base. Towards that end, I have realized that a smooth way to import bookmarked and annotated URLs into markdown documents would make my work much more mobile (e.g., platform-agnostic) and faster. (Just dumping the HTML code for the bookmarks into the markdown document, although it would work for some purposes, is worse than useless for others.)

My bookmarking service gets me about half-way to where I need to be: I can export my bookmarks into an xml file. From there, it is a snap to filter for what I want, but I have hit a wall on the problem of switching formats.

Basically, I want to extract a few fields -- the URL, its title, and my notes -- from each entry and make them look like this: [title](URL) -- notes. Using a solution I found to what I take to be a very similar problem, I seem to have hit a wall. I get the formatting marks for the correct number of records, but no data! I know next to nothing about XML, so I could well be barking up the wrong tree, but I don't think so. I suspect that I am missing some aspect of how data is referenced that another pair of eyes might spot right away.

I will have to provide more data by email: Blogger completely butchers regular HTML, let alone anything involving displaying HTML-like markup. If you think you might be able to help, email me and I'll send you more details.

Thanks in advance to anyone offering to help, and to my other readers for their patience.

-- CAV

Updates

10-17-14: My thanks go to reader Jeff Borlik who wrote in a very short time after I posted this and, after a couple of brief email exchanges, had me off and running.


The Sport of Organizing

Erin Doland, former pack rat and current editor of Unclutterer, shares a seminal observation she made en route to an uncluttered -- and more purposeful -- lifestyle:

[B]eing organized and uncluttered is a skill - like playing a sport. No one wakes up one morning able to win a gold medal at the Olympics; you have to practice every day. Even today I slip up, but now I have systems in place, significantly less stuff and years of practice to help me quickly get back on track. [bold added]
This comes from an expert interview at Mint. I have enjoyed and profited from Unclutterer for years, and think this interview provides a good introduction to the blog, not to mention inspiration for anyone feeling beseiged by clutter of any kind and wanting to find a real way out. I must add that I appreciated her emphasis on the rewards of uncluttering, which the interviewer's use of the term "minimalist" evoked: "Let me start by saying I'm not an ascetic."

-- CAV


In Drought, a Flood of Central Planning

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Edwardo Porter of the New York Times writes an illuminating yet frustrating article titled, "The Risks of Cheap Water". Within, Porter indicates how easily free market mechanisms could solve supply-and-demand issues, particularly in the drought-stricken American Southwest. That's the illuminating part:

But the proliferation of limits on water use will not solve the problem because regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation's wanton consumption of water: its price.

"Most water problems are readily addressed with innovation," said David G. Victor of the University of California, San Diego. "Getting the water price right to signal scarcity is crucially important."

The signals today are way off. Water is far too cheap across most American cities and towns. But what's worse is the way the United States quenches the thirst of farmers, who account for 80 percent of the nation's water consumption and for whom water costs virtually nothing.

Adding to the challenges are the obstacles placed in the way of water trading. "Markets are essential to ensuring that water, when it's scarce, can go to the most valuable uses," said Barton H. Thompson, an expert on environmental resources at Stanford Law School. Without them, "the allocation of water is certainly arbitrary."

...

The price of water going into Americans' homes often does not even cover the cost of delivering it, let alone the depreciation of utilities' infrastructure or their R&D. It certainly doesn't account for other costs imposed by water use -- on, say, fisheries or the environment [sic] -- caused by taking water out of rivers or lakes. [bold added]
The frustrating part is that the governments responsible for this fiasco of central planning invariably respond with ... more regulations. At best, these include such pseudocapitalist measures as setting up "markets" that might have arisen spontaneously had water not been so heavily regulated or subsidized in the first place. (I say "pseudocapitalist" because I have no reason to believe that any of these entities is attempting to transition to laissez-faire.) This is in addition to the fact that other aspects of capitalism (e.g., property rights within waterways) could have prevented the injuries and property damage (which are often decried as "environmental" damage) and blamed on "capitalism".

I don't wish to shoot the messenger for not being a radical capitalist; most people are so used to the regulatory state that it takes a high degree of independence to even question something like very low water rates. Porter notes that water rate hikes invariably draw angry reactions. Perhaps that -- a government so pervasive for so long that it seems natural -- is the greatest hazard of all presented by apparently cheap water.

-- CAV

P.S. Here's another problem caused by the pervasiveness of central planning: Water rates might ought to be higher now than they are, but would they really be cheaper, after a period of transition and in terms of income, for most people? We can only speculate, with good cause to think they would, due to the nature of central planning.

Updates

Today: Corrected link to property rights in waterways.