Quick Roundup 311

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Return of the Steel Penny?

Our government's inflationary fiscal policies appear to have finally made stamping out fiat dollars one cent at a time cost more than it's worth:

A House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., convened a hearing Tuesday on a proposal to change the composition of both coins. Republicans and Democrats like the concept, particularly its promise to save taxpayers $100 million a year by using cheaper metals at the U.S. Mint. If the legislation clears the House and Senate and President Bush signs it, you could be plucking steel pennies off the street before year's end. [bold added]
Wow! A nationwide savings of one hundred million dollars a year! (Excuse me while I whistle through my teeth here.)

This is like Pork Busters for monetary policy in that it focuses on petty theft and turns a blind eye to grand larceny. I'd far rather spend an extra thirty cents helping Uncle Sam mint copper-clad zinc pennies next year if our lawmakers would focus less on navigating a bureaucracy they helped create and more on preserving the strength of the dollar in the short term. And I'd really love it if they'd consider exploring a way to return to the gold standard in the long term.

Instead, until more American voters demand protection of their individual rights rather than government handouts, Congress will continue to use the ability to print currency as a means of robbing my bank account behind my back even as they "demonstrate" with steel pennies that they want to save me money. Spit in my face and tell me it's raining....

I regard Ron Paul's refusal to insist on or acknowledge a proper intellectual defense of individual rights as treasonous to the cause of freedom. Nevertheless, if Polly does indeed want a cracker, even a parrot will sound like it knows what it's talking about from time to time. In a similar vein, Paul pretty well summed things up when he said, "[W]e cannot even maintain a zinc standard."

(Real) Money is good. (And inflation is deadly.)

The Resident Egoist actually found a decent comment about money over at Slashdot, which reminded him a little of Fransisco d'Anconia's famous "Money Speech" in Atlas Shrugged. And while we're on the subject of money and inflation, here's a good quote from Rand's essay, "Egalitarianism and Inflation" from the online version of The Ayn Rand Lexicon:
Money is the tool of men who have reached a high level of productivity and a long-range control over their lives. Money is not merely a tool of exchange: much more importantly, it is a tool of saving, which permits delayed consumption and buys time for future production. To fulfill this requirement, money has to be some material commodity which is imperishable, rare, homogeneous, easily stored, not subject to wide fluctuations of value, and always in demand among those you trade with. This leads you to the decision to use gold as money. Gold money is a tangible value in itself and a token of wealth actually produced. When you accept a gold coin in payment for your goods, you actually deliver the goods to the buyer; the transaction is as safe as simple barter. When you store your savings in the form of gold coins, they represent the goods which you have actually produced and which have gone to buy time for other producers, who will keep the productive process going, so that you'll be able to trade your coins for goods any time you wish. [bold added]
Consider what government printing of unbacked currency means in this light: Inflation not only robs you of part of your current effort by effectively reducing your income, it retroactively taxes the fruits of any past effort you have set aside. To the extent that this occurs, it is as if you hadn't lived a portion of your productive life at all.

Socialism or Slavery?

Alexander Marriott recalls an interesting discussion he once had concerning a very common and very unfortunate mistake: That capitalists haven't the moral standing to oppose slavery. He concludes:
It is no accident that societies built upon socialism resemble societies built on slavery in that the great mass of people are being sacrificed either to some smaller group of people or, theoretically, to each other. In either case, their lives do not belong to them but to others. The only real difference is whether one prefers being ground up in the sugar mills of an 18th century French plantation in St. Domingue (Haiti) or being pounded into the dust of some five year plan in Soviet Russia. Either way, you are just as sacrificed; either way, you are just as dead. [bold added]
The distinction between slavery and socialism is one that unfortunately masks their essential similarity.

Mere Poetic Justice for Spitzer

I share Amit Ghate's frustration that the only justice for Eliot Spitzer will be of the poetic variety. Excuse the obscene moral equivocations below, but it is impossible to find a news report devoid of them....
Eliot Spitzer knew how to catch bad guys by following the money. As attorney general, he once broke up a call-girl ring and locked up 18 people on corruption, money-laundering and prostitution charges. He ruthlessly investigated the pay packages of Wall Street executives and was so familiar with shady financial maneuvers that he rose to become the top racketeering prosecutor in Manhattan.

But in the end, it appears that Spitzer may have been done in by the same behavior he built a career out of prosecuting.

In fact, it seems he was tripped up by some of the very financial accounting methods he used so successfully against multibillion-dollar Wall Street firms. [bold added]
This man made a career out of using the apparatus of the state to go after people who, in many cases, were not doing anything that should have been illegal. He could have chosen to work to repeal such bad laws, but decided instead to enforce them ruthlessly. His semi-just desserts, while cathartic on some levels, will in fact be a legal travesty. I do not morally condone a married man using prostitutes, but the fact remains that prostitution should be legal.

Have Silver Lining, but Want the Cloud Back!

C. August and I are on the same page regarding paternalistic smoking bans: "So as much as I hate smelling like I rolled around in an ashtray upon leaving a bar, I say repeal the smoking ban!"

Particularly interesting is how proponents justified the ban in the first place. One would do well to consider how opponents in crusades like this can strengthen their arguments so that one can be prepared to respond. I am glad he talked about this.

How to Fix All of the Above

As I often mention here, significant political change for the better will not and can not occur without profound cultural change. Paul Hsieh and Rational Jenn both have recently said some very good things about how to bring this about. And Monica brings up something that sounds familiar to me:
I realized that oftentimes - not always, but oftentimes -- I am more interested in winning an argument than I am about the ideas. OR I am interested in the ideas and it sickens me to see people with the wrong ideas prevail, so I just end up avoiding the discussions altogether.
This is doubtless as common as it is counterproductive, and the fact that the false theory/practice dichotomy gets pounded into our skulls from every direction in our culture makes it almost impossible not to be afflicted with this urge to some degree, especially soon after encountering Ayn Rand. (And as I know from experience, it can take lots of time to get past this.)

I don't know how, specifically, to deal with this problem, but I suspect that it gradually goes away on its own as one integrates theory and action more fully on a subconscious level. Rational Jenn, for example, notes that before she became intellectually active on a more constructive level, that she "used to be frustrated to no end, 'debating' minutiae with people who were less interested in ideas and more interested in winning an argument." I went through a "silent period" of my own, and for similar reasons.

Ultimately, I think anyone who really values one's life and really understands having the right ideas as important to one's life hits this kind of wall and learns to stop beating one's head against it. Eventually, one's forays into the battlefield of ideas have the betterment of one's life as the motivation, and hence become much more effective and satisfying. Just noticing the problem is a good sign, in my opinion.

A Bleg

And now, after being so "helpful", I am going to turn right around and ask for some help. Despite my lower blogging output, I am in fact writing more than I used to, and it is beginning to take a physical toll on me. I want to nip that in the bud.

Does anyone out there happen to know of a good resource for work place ergonomics? Specifically, I am thinking of investing some money in a new computer desk and chair, and I don't want to waste it on something uncomfortable or likely to end up causing me physical harm from repeated stress injuries.

The chair is extremely important. (It's important enough for me to cast away mild embarrassment and admit that I'm on the bony side.) I've already whiffed twice on that.

I know that I could Google "egronomics" or other such terms, but getting a recommendation from someone with some experience with following such recommendations would probably save me lots of time and money. Especially someone else with an inefficient metabolism! If you don't wish to use the comments, email me.

-- CAV


: Corrected spelling of "Eliot".


Anonymous said...

I'm struck by your mention of the "silent period", because I too went through something similar several years ago. I was very active on Usenet in the late 1990's and early 2000's, but around 2002 I largely dropped out. I made a conscious decision that if this philosophy was for "living on Earth" then it should be possible to actually apply it directly to doing so, and that I was going to try it out instead of arguing about it. It worked well.

I wonder how many other Objectivists have gone through something similar, and whether it's a necessary condition to really integrating and understanding the philosophy in a first-handed way?

Gus Van Horn said...

Based on introspection, I would suspect that this is very common (but would certainly welcome proof one way or the other) and not just for cultural reasons, although those things definitely hinder the process of integrating ideas.

I think that it is normal to learn anything through periods of active concentration interleaved with periods of rest. (In fact, neurobiologists think that such resting periods are needed for physical changes in the brain related to memory storage and retrieval.) Learning an entire philosophy would be no different, except in that it is magnitudes more complex than most other things one studies.

More to remember and more to recall -- and many unexpected contexts in which recall is appropriate.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Does anyone out there happen to know of a good resource for work place ergonomics?

Here is my conclusion, after battling a variety of pains (arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis). For me the main solution was a diet change. That probably doesn't apply so much to you, though most people I know could stand to make their diets much healthier.

The second part of the solution, for me, was a close reading and meticulous application of the procedures described in Pete Egoscue's book, Pain Free. (He has others, but this is the one to start with.)

My experience, confirming his recommendation, is that the solution to work-related pains is not high-tech equipment, but posture correction.

Egoscue, rightly I think (based on my experience), recommends a simple bench or stool (the kind that twirls to adjust height). Then sit in perfect posture. Do the appropriate posture-correction exercises to correct uneven or other improper use of the body (for example, using the right hand far more than the left; or typing while slouching).

Here is another simple example. Most people place their wastebasket on their right side (if they are right-handed). Throughout their lives, they lean to the right and pitch things into the basket. This leads to a small but inevitable asymmetry as the decades roll by. Asymmetry in posture is like having a suspension bridge with cables tight on one side and loose on the other side. Torque! Pain!

Solution? Put the basket in different places, or, better yet, put it on the other side of the room. Get up from the desk and walk to it.

Burgess Laughlin said...

The only people, I think, who should debate a subject are the people who have mastered the subject (or at least think they have, provisionally).

Realizing that has helped me cut down on such involvements. One can always make observations, ask questions, and discuss, rather than debate.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for your book recommendation. The part about getting up occasionally makes lots of sense, and is necessary for many reasons (e.g., getting some exercise, and preventing eye strains).

My posture problems stem in part from the current horrendous arrangement of my computer and the limited desk space on my oddly-shaped computer desk, but I recently did notice less fidgeting around in discomfort when I moved to a table and brought in a folding chair.


Regarding discussion vs. debate, you make a good point I had not thought of.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Here is another workplace possibility to consider: A standup desk. Some individuals do much better standing than sitting. Ideally one could alternate.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. I already stand up to read and find myself wishing I could stand up to write as well.

Ideally, a desk would allow me to alternate (e.g., by moving my flat-screen monitor, mouse, and keyboard) between two positions. Thanks for bringing that up. Maybe such an animal exists somewhere....

Now I'll know to look for it.

Gus Van Horn said...

... or I could just get a stand-up desk and a high chair for it, as I immediately realized when checking these out on the web.

Your suggestion of a stand-up desk -- which I can improvise for the sake of a trial run -- is an excellent one, and one I might not have thought of on my own in a million years. Thanks, Burgess!

Burgess Laughlin said...

Your suggestion of a stand-up desk -- which I can improvise for the sake of a trial run -- is an excellent one, and one I might not have thought of on my own in a million years.

Here is an example of the meandering of a learning experience:
- I have spent much of my life sitting while reading and typing. Sometimes I was sore temporarily.
- I began getting tendonitis, arthritis, and bursitis pains when I was about 45 (18 years ago). Several doctors told me: "You are sitting too much." They offered me drugs. They masked the pain usually, but didn't solve the problem.
- I tried several other solutions: different chairs, different desks, standing up, and so forth. Some brought temporary or partial relief.
- Putting aside the dietary issue (which set me up for inflammations of all sorts), I realized--after eight years of intense pains--the actual problem was not that I was sitting too much, but that I was sitting improperly.
- Pete Egoscue's Pain Free helped me realize that.
- The solution was to correct my posture, not only while sitting, but all day. I do posture exercises every day and I pay attention to my sitting, standing, and walking posture. Occasional pain gets my attention refocused when I need to.

Best wishes on your own "adventure in learning"!

Gus Van Horn said...

And thanks again for making it a little less "adventuresome" in the bad sense of the word!

Anonymous said...


May I answer your comfort question with a question?

How long have you been experiencing discomfort at your desk? Was there a time in the past where you were comfortable at your desk (or any other desk)?

For me, as a "bony" person who can and has sat comfortably for long (6+ hours) stretches, I have found that all attempts at following what other people say is "proper" posture is not only futile but also counterproductive. For instance, all of those "lumbar support" devices are an instant ticket to pain-ville to me, whereas a simple, well-padded chair that I can slouch back in (and frequently adjust my position for comfort) works wonders.

Gus Van Horn said...

"For instance, all of those 'lumbar support' devices are an instant ticket to pain-ville to me, whereas a simple, well-padded chair that I can slouch back in (and frequently adjust my position for comfort) works wonders."

You said it! Lumbar support is for the birds! (Or is it "for the lumbars"?) And regarding chairs, I think I'd like being able to adjust frequently.

To answer your question, I think most of my problems stem from the fact that at home and at work, I'm leaning forward to look at my monitor and have my mouse and keyboard in bad positions (too high). (I have avoided wrist problems successfully by mousing left-handed at work and right-handed at home.) In addition, I have a crummy chair in my office at work. (My lab chair, on the other hand, is excellent.)

I suspect, since I often like to stand anyway, that a draft table or standing desk with a high-enough chair that I could still sit when I wanted (at least at home) would help, along with changing the other two things that are wrong.

Have I ever been comfortable? I never really noticed until being uncomfortable over about the past year. But the types of discomfort I'm feeling indicate to me places to start attacking the problem. Leaning forward is part of it, and being bony is, too.

Throwing the problem out there got me a good suggestion and a reminded that I, too, find comfort by slouching in many ways. Both are good to know.

Thanks for stopping by and asking your question.

Anonymous said...


Oops! That last comment was me, The Inspector. I forgot that blogger's new comment thingy doesn't put in a name field and I have to write it in the post.

(At least now I know where that funny feeling that I was doing something wrong when posting that came from!)


Given your answer, I'd recommend a few things:

1) Make sure the padding on the chair is cushy to your taste.

2) Make sure the chair is wide enough and basically flat so that you can "squirm" in it to your comfort. Avoid overly "ergonomic" chairs that try to force you into their "correct" position.

3) Make sure the amount the chair leans back is either to your taste or adjustable. If you're anything like me, you'll mostly want to be leaning back in it.

4) Get a bigger monitor so that you don't have to lean into it to see comfortably. Seriously. They've come down in price a lot. I'm typing this on a 24 inch LCD screen right now and I'm leaning fully back in my chair.

5) That table height thing you said was right on.

Of course, your results will depend but it sounds like you may sit similarly to me, and that's what works for me.


Gus Van Horn said...

I've already got a nice, big flat-panel monitor. In fact, I got a big non-cinema style one for less money (and more total acreage) as those new ones were coming out. (I don't get watching movies on computers. That's what televisions and theaters are for....)

I just need to find a way to have it colser to me and still have work space. This will probably involve a new desk or table of some kind.

Someone emailed me with info about a very nice adjustable chair, but as near as I can tell, it's about one thousand smackers. (It's always a VERY bad sign when a catalog doesn't list prices.) I'll try everything else and possibly save for the chair -- if I can find a way to try one out first.