Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 31, 2017

Three Things

1. Months ago, my son acquired a flimsy blue plastic bracelet and lost it within days. He may have won it when I took him to a friend's birthday at a Chuck E. Cheese's, but I am not certain. In any event, he lost it within a day or so and seemed to have forgotten it -- until the next time he got upset, when he cried, "I can't find my blue bracelet!"

It took me a few moments to realize what he was talking about, but I eventually figured it out. Mrs. Van Horn later purchased for him a couple of nice blue bracelets, but still, he will sometimes make the same complaint when he gets upset or tired. "It's his Rosebud, I guess," I said to Mrs. Van Horn the last time this happened.

2. Discussing our next shoe purchase for the kids, my sleep-deprived wife told me of a shoe sizer from the web site of the store. "Print two," she said.

"Why do we need two?" I asked.

Then, feeling mischievous, I added, "I'll print four."

Justice came swiftly in the form of a quick poke to the ribs.

3. Ayn Rand has become required reading in the UK:

A-level students in the UK will now be called upon to know and understand the core tenets of Rand's philosophy, along with those of other conservative thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke. (The A-Level politics course also includes the study of liberalists like John Locke and John Stuart Mill, socialists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, and more.)

"Students will get to grapple with a diverse worldview and build up their own respective intellectual muscles through this new curriculum," says Yaron Brook, chairman of the nonprofit group The Ayn Rand Institute...
The government shouldn't interfere with education at all, much less run it, but given that it currently does, it is good to see an improvement like this.

Weekend Reading

"Unless someone is holding a gun to your head or is outright lying to you, you are never really a victim." -- Michael Hurd, in "Victimhood: Mostly a State of Mind" at The Delaware Wave

"By piously preaching to others, the hypocrite is trying to wish away his or her problems." -- Michael Hurd, in "Hypocrisy is a Full-Time Job" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[W]e face not some nebulous threat from 'terrorists' or 'violent extremists,' but a distinct enemy: the Islamic totalitarian movement." -- Elan Journo, in "The Jihadist Attack in London" at The Times of Israel

"The federal government essentially mandates the increasing use of electronic medical records by doctors and hospitals, which places patient information at increasing risk for being data-mined by any current -- or future -- unscrupulous government authorities." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Doctors Should Not Record Immigration Status Nor Gun Ownership in Patient Charts" at Forbes

Baffled by Nonconformity

Framing a bizarre question for Allison Green of Ask a Manager, a boss sounds completely flabbergasted by the habits of an employee:
She is different, she is under 25 and does not have social media or any internet presence and when her name is searched for nothing comes up. She has a landline and no mobile phone and she doesn't own a TV or any kind of streaming service, and when she isn't job searching she only checks her email once or twice a week. But she doesn't see why using cash [for] a business meal or event is a faux pas or misstep. As her supervisor, am I able to mandate her to use an electronic payment? She has refused all attempts so far and says she won't change.
Except for the television and possibly the credit cards, everything about this person would have been almost unremarkable as little as twenty years ago. In fact, when I was about that age, I went for a few years without owning a television, come to think of it.

-- CAV


Today: Added Hsieh op-ed to Weekend Reading. 

Neither Simple Nor Effective

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Over at MarketWatch is an article that considers a proposal made by Donald Trump during his campaign to sell off federal assets in order to reduce the deficit. Paul Brandus describes the proposal as follows:

Candidate Trump sold this in his usual simplistic terms: I'm a real estate guy, I know how to make the deals. We pay down the debt while putting Americans back to work in the oil and gas industry. We become energy independent and screw the Middle East. What's not to like?
But then Brandus goes into details, such as the small matter of finding a buyer:
It's important to remember that in absolute terms, oil companies make tons of money. But it's also a capital intensive business, meaning that profit margins are much narrower than people think. For example, Apple's net profit margin over the last nine years, according to S&P Capital IQ, was 21.5% -- but Exxon Mobil's was 8.29%. Translation: energy companies often spend more to make less. They always want access and drilling rights, but given the margins involved, and the volatile nature of the market, there always has to be a margin of safety. Interior has yet to place a value on what it might sell, or develop a process to do so. So we're a long way off from any of this coming to fruition, if indeed it does at all. So if Trump -- who is to be applauded for at least thinking out of the box on issues like this -- thinks he'll be able to slash the debt this way, he may want to think again. [bold added]
I agree that we need out-of-the-box thinking, but I give only one cheer. Why? Any fool can spend money like a drunken sailor, and end up in debt. So, even if this proposal were the easily-executed slam dunk Trump seemed to think it is, it wouldn't make a difference in the long run without the government also spending less money, which Trump's proposed budget doesn't do at all. And no Trump budget will, because Trump is far from being a principled advocate of laissez-faire. For the same reason, this idea is not part of the kind of broader plan necessary to rein government in to its proper purpose. (And this is the real issue -- of which entitlement spending and resulting debt are just a symptom. Very few people are talking about this, and Trump isn't one of them.)

That said, Trump's proposal has provoked an interesting thought experiment about the nuts-and-bolts of what transitioning from a mixed economy to capitalism might entail even on something less controversial than phasing out entitlements.

-- CAV

A Gush Gallop

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No. That's not a typo, but my title is inspired by the rhetorical tactic called the Gish Gallop, for which I'll prevail upon Wikipedia to summarize below:

His debating opponents said that [creationist Duane] Gish used a rapid-fire approach during a debate, presenting arguments and changing topics quickly. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, dubbed this approach the Gish Gallop, describing it as "where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn't a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate." She also criticized Gish for failing to answer objections raised by his opponents. The phrase has also come to be used as a pejorative to describe similar debate styles employed by proponents of other, usually fringe beliefs, such as homeopathy or the moon landing hoax. [links and notes omitted]
I'd go so far as to add to the above definition by including even factual information that is being misapplied to marshal an argument. The intent of a Gish Gallop is to give the impression that one has an unassailable case for one's position.

What I would call a "gush gallop" is a little bit different. The speaker and his audience both seem willing to check reason at the door in the hopes that some unrealistic goal is within grasp. There may even be a paucity of points proposed by this kind of galloper. But that doesn't stop him from promising the moon, and that he (or people he knows) can deliver it through some kind of underpants gnome logic. I got the idea for this term when I read a skeptical account, by an expert on pharmacological research, about an effort to cure Alzheimer's on an impossible schedule:
... If Bill Gates is thinking about a cure for neurodegenerative disease in ten years, he'd better have a bottle of a great drug candidate in his pocket right now, because time's-a-wasting. In fact, that timeline is absurd. It's going to take ten years in the clinic just to see if anything works against Alzheimer's. And that's not because we don't have "innovative leadership"; that's the pace at which Alzheimer's disease develops in human tissue. Giving speeches will not help. A human brain can make of Gates' editorial what it will, but the neurons themselves are immune to calls to dream big and seize the future. [emphasis in original]
Both tactics can seem plausible due to intellectual division of labor: We can't all be experts on everthing. That said, laymen aren't off the hook, either. We must be careful about whom we take as experts and why, and seek out dissenting opinions, both as part of the process of integrating what we hear with our other knowledge. On top of this, phony experts will be loathe to make your job any easier, while real experts will often have better things to do than refute every hack they know about.

-- CAV

In(ternet) Justice? Maybe Not.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

One of my favorite business writers brings the voice of sanity to an internet brouhaha I was blissfully unaware of until this morning. Writing at Inc., Suzanne Lucas cautions those who want "justice" for a woman fired by Cracker Barrel to be careful of what they wish for. This she does by means of the following hypothetical press release:

After 12 years with us, John's work began to slack off. We coached him, but he didn't respond. He was late 12 times since January. We encouraged him to take advantage of our Employee Assistance Program. Still, he missed his deadlines, was rude to other staff, and couldn't manage to do quality work, so we kicked him to the curb. We won't fight unemployment, but we won't give him a positive reference either. [links omitted]
Lucas is not accusing "Brad's Wife" of any of John's deficiencies, but brings up this situation (and other possibilities, including options for this employee) as things to consider about this cause célèbre, which is really between two parties to a private contract.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this story is that we have a mob demanding "answers", while seemingly being unable to step back for a moment, as Lucas has, to consider what reasonable possibilities exist, be they in terms of the justice of the firing, the terms of employment, or the most effective options available to either party. On the last score, Lucas covers a good one for the former employee. But also, consider what can of worms caving in to this petition would mean for Cracker Barrel and any future hires. Cracker Barrel would open the door to anyone who was fired to raise a stink in order to be reinstated. Plainly, the company would be faced with a choice between being saddled with bad employees or having to change its hiring practices (or employment agreements) to prevent this from happening.

But back to the irony: What good, given the evident lack of thought here, would such "transparency" really do? The implicit premise is that Cracker Barrel is in the wrong. The mob has made up its "mind." Any answer offered to it will be unjust or a lie, as far as they are concerned -- unless it's to give in to what they want. And then the same mob will be happy to go on making other demands. Whose business is this, anyway? More important, if this company is really such a horrible octopus, why would anyone want to go back to its embrace? Those are questions for the rest of us.

I will close by noting that mobs are composed of individuals -- individuals who have allowed themselves to be worked up into a state of anger, and so perhaps are not thinking clearly. Perhaps the best thing one can do, when something that sounds like it could be a gross miscarriage of justice comes up, is to remind oneself that righting any injustice takes time. Part of this time includes the time to carefully weigh evidence, including opposing points of view. Don't let a mob or some agitator stir you up enough to "do something" (even if it's only to click a button under some petition) without taking a day or so to calm down and think about it, first. If righting injustice deserves action, it deserves deliberate action, starting with a just assessment of any evidence on one's own part.

-- CAV

$64 Billion Ain't the Half of It

Monday, March 27, 2017

From the California Political Review comes an analysis of what that state could be doing with the now $64 billion estimated cost of its project to build a bullet train between Los Angles and San Francisco. One item in particular caught my eye because it matched the original estimated cost of this fiasco:

(3) Build plants to reclaim and reuse 2.0 million acre feet of sewage per year, supplying 2/3 of ALL California's residential (indoor and outdoor) water requirements for $10 billion.

Californians produce about 3.0 million acre feet of sewage per year, and today only a small fraction of that sewage is treated to "potable" (drinkable) standards. In California's huge coastal urban centers this sewage is treated sufficiently to be released into the environment where it wasted as outfall into the ocean. A recent installation in Orange County, the "Ground Water Replenishment System" (GWRS) plant, reclaims as indirect potable water 70,000 acre feet of sewage per year, at a capital cost of only $350 million (not much when compared to the bullet train budget). This equates to a capital cost of $5,000 per acre foot of annual output, which is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase the supply of fresh water for Californians.

Sewage reuse combined with desalination not only have the potential to fulfill 100 percent of California's residential water requirements for a combined price of $25 billion, but the treated water can be injected into coastal aquifers, combating saltwater intrusion. Currently these aquifers are often replenished with water transported from rivers hundreds of miles to the north, at equal or greater cost. [links and emphasis in original]
This train is Jerry Brown's pet project -- the governor whose "solution" to the drought was rationing, even in unaffected areas. The list as a whole is similarly striking because it shows that this latest estimate is enough to fund solutions to California's three biggest infrastructure problems: water, electricity, and transportation.

Even more striking to me, as an opponent of central planning, is that the article probably grossly underestimates what this amount of loot could do if allowed to remain in private hands. (See previous link regarding water, for example.) The figures Ed Ring of the California Policy Center cites admittedly assume the current centrally-planned means of addressing these problems, which he admits are (also) plagued with cronyism. So if the article as a whole reminds one (as it should) of the parable of the broken window, one should further imagine each of the businesses affected being inefficiently run by the government. There is more than one problem here, to say the least.

Finally, the article concedes from the start that, "California's High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria." That stands to reason. As Ayn Rand once put it:
Since there is no such entity as "the public," since the public is merely a number of individuals, any claimed or implied conflict of "the public interest" with private interests means that the interests of some men are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others. Since the concept is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang's ability to proclaim that "The public, c'est moi" -- and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.
When voters willingly allow government to meddle in areas well outside its proper scope, they really have no room to be surprised when they find themselves on the hook for ridiculous things they'd never purchase on their own, and at the expense of what they know they need. Nor should they be baffled when such obvious lists like this one fail to change the government's course. That can only happen when enough people become morally outraged at the whole idea of central planning.

Central planning is wrong and it fails to bring prosperity. This is inherent in its improper, forcible removal of man's mind from the problem of his survival at at least two points: the individual's autonomy to make his own financial decisions, and the attempt to replace the plans of millions with those of a relative handful of government officials.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 24, 2017

Three Things

1. To drink or not to drink? That is the question Stone's Full Circle Ale presents to me:

Stone Brewing is breaking new ground by becoming the first to try making beer using water that "comes from the toilet."
In lieu (hah!) of my occasional beer recommendation, I ask because all water is recycled, and this wouldn't be newsworthy but for two possibilities: (1) environmentalists are enamored of recycling regardless of whether it is actually wasteful (i.e., more expensive than other alternatives); or (2) the brewery, based in San Diego, which did not suffer from California's drought, could be celebrating the innovation accountable for this fact. Regardless, the new beer will afford a chance for some interesting conversations once it hits the fan -- I mean, the market.

So my question comes not from a place of squeamishness, but from moral opposition to environmentalism, which is not the same thing as the wise use of resources.

2. What am I doing right now? Well, my daughter has yet another ear infection. Her waking up caused my son to wake early, so guess where he is. Here's a hint: "HOw To Workk From Home Wth Yor Chil,d SittiNG ON Yoour/ Lappppppp." Luckily, about half of this was already done.

And yes, I'm quite "focsed." Thanks for asking.

3. The other day, I raised my voice at my daughter, whom I was having to correct for at least the third time. My son, who is three, but very protective of his older sister, darted into the kitchen almost instantly and told me to "Calm down."

Weekend Reading

"When you focus on the things you feel you did wrong, you begin to overlook the things you did right." -- Michael Hurd, in "Leave those Regrets at Home" at The Delaware Wave

"Alcoholism, while not a disease, is not a choice in the normal sense of the term." -- Michael Hurd, in "Addiction: How Much is Too Much?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"If his presidency accomplishes nothing more than exposing the media as the dishonest, immoral and largely unaccountable bunch of sycophants for the leftist-socialist cause that they are, Donald Trump will have done America a heroic service." -- Michael Hurd, in "Left's Efforts to Censor 'Fake News' Real Threat to Free Speech" at Newsmax

-- CAV

I'm Happy for You

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Working my way through Barbara Sher's insightful I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, I encountered the following helpful observation about child-rearing:

[F]ew parents realize that pride in a child's accomplishments can be a tricky issue: it implies ownership. You wouldn't walk up to a famous athlete and say, "I'm proud of you." You know he or she isn't yours to be proud of. (84)
Sher correctly notes that "your children ... belong to themselves," and suggests a better way of expressing happiness about their achievements: See the title.

Yes. My son is only three and it is only potty training. (Finally!) But the time to start cultivating this habit is now, now that I am aware of the issue with this very common expression.

-- CAV

P.S. And don't get me started on the trendy, too often meaningless, "Good job," which does avoid the problem noted above. I noticed it was way over-used when my daughter wasn't even two, and decided never to use it myself. Indeed, my daughter surprised me one day by jokingly saying "good job" in a patronizing way. That let me know I was right to avoid that particular knee-jerk phrase.

Empathy vs. Feelings of Persecution

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

So much of the current crusade against bullying really isn't, and often itself amounts to bullying. Given the backdrop of combative hothouse flowers this is breeding, it is refreshing to hear someone speak about bullying and empathy and yet, at the same time, make an excellent point:

If you feel bullied, take the time to think about why the bully did what they did and if there is another viewpoint to the situation. What would you do if you were the other person? Why? If you're the person doing the conflict resolution, use empathy to help both parties understand where the other person is coming from.
Suzanne Lucas is absolutely right: Bullying is less prevalent than many people think it is. While it's important to learn self-assertiveness and other skills to shut down (or at least blunt the effects of) bullying, knowing how to spot the real thing is arguably more important.

-- CAV

Portlanders Soon to Feel More 'Utilized'

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

One of the bloggers at Hot Air comments on a proposal by the city of Portland, Oregon, to induce home owners to let homeless people live on their property. The inducement comes in the form of a free-standing mother-in-law apartment placed on their property by the city. The property owner can lease the "tiny home" after five years of allowing the city to send homeless people to live in it.

While this sounds, quite frankly, pretty creepy on the surface, I suppose there's nothing immediately disqualifying about the approach. The government isn't forcing anyone to put one of these makeshift shelters in their yard, but rather seeking volunteers who are willing to do so. And in theory, it's conceivable that willing homeowners might get something out of the bargain. If the tiny house is still livable after five years of being occupied by a stream of homeless persons, the landowner could then legally rent it out to paying customers for supplemental income.

But how likely is that? Looking at the conditions in the tent cities, not only in Portland but at homeless gatherings around the nation, this is not generally a clientele one would expect to take good care of the space and work to keep property values up. I'm sure there may be exceptions to the rule but the trends seem undeniable. And this doesn't even begin to address the question of having unknown persons who frequently may have a history of "interactions with the police" tramping around your property at all hours of the night and day. It's interesting that the director of this project describes the locations for these tiny houses as "underutilized space" in the interview. I have some underutilized space in my backyard as well. I call it my backyard and I don't generally open it up for strangers.
Agreed. This is creepy, but two things immediately strike me as not just "disqualifying about the approach," but outrageous: (1) A substantial part of the money funding this has been looted from private individuals, who should be free to decide whether or not to spend their own money on such an endeavor; and (2) What recourse might one have if a next-door neighbor decided to do this, and the occupants happen to be criminals who don't politely confine their activities to a single yard? Even if all the normal remedies to such a situation remain, the city is foisting people of questionable character on any neighborhood with a resident who will stoop to anything to get a "free" outbuilding, or wants to pat himself on the back for being such a great humanitarian -- as if the absence of such a program was stopping him from helping the homeless in the first place. And again, it is doing this at the expense of any victims involved.

-- CAV

Precrastination vs. Planning

Monday, March 20, 2017

Over at Fast Track, I have learned of a new word, precrastination. The post there is a round-up that also points to a post on the benefits of procrastination, although it is debatable that putting things off always deserves to be called procrastination.

Semantics aside, the first two items in the list do a good job of highlighting a common theme, which is that how far in advance one performs a task is much less important than thinking it through. Regarding "procrastination," the author notes:

... Procrastination can also cut out unnecessary work if things change between the time work is assigned and the time it's due; can give your ideas time to percolate and improve; and can lead to higher quality, better thought out work. If you're not convinced, [Larry Kim] also points out that in ancient Greece and Rome, procrastination was highly regarded; you were thought to clearly be a leader if you had time to think things over and refrain from acting until you had fully thought out a decision. [bold added]
This theme is reinforced by the commentary on precrastination:
... Bob Pothier writes in Inc. that you might be a pre-crastinator if you reply right away to emails about problems rather than waiting until you've thought it through; if you start on major assignments right away rather than waiting; and even if you start buying holiday gifts before Thanksgiving. The issue, of course, is that jumping on things immediately isn't always good; waiting to answer an email until you have time to think, for example, can lead to a better answer. Pothier argues that waiting is especially important when a project requires creativity of innovation... [links in original, bold added, format edits]
I have always hated to be rushed, particularly at the start of complicated projects or those likely to change in scope. Both situations make it hard to prioritize and require the kind of thinking that simply can't be goaded. I think the two items together are useful for thinking about when to start projects generally, as well as making oneself ready to counter the rash urgings of the precrastinators in one's life.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 17, 2017

Three Things

1. Alex Epstein has challenged Bill "The [Self-Proclaimed] Science Guy" Nye to "debate ... on the morality of fossil fuels," and has graciously offered to handle all the logistics.

To the best of my knowledge, Sir Robin -- I mean Nye -- has failed to respond in the nearly three weeks since.

2. There is a new blog called You Can and Did Build It, which focuses on free will:

This blog's entire purpose is ..., put positively, to prove, defend and promote the idea that [man] can choose his direction, make his own life and succeed on his own. Fundamentally, it will defend the idea that man has free will, or volition. This is a broad philosophical abstraction, and as such needs to be defined, put in context and concretized, which this blog will do over the course of many articles -- supported by philosophical argument, as well as historical references and concrete news stories.
The above comes from its introductory post. You will find new posts linked directly in the blogroll as they appear.

3. I'm way late to this party, but this toddler video-bomb is too good to pass up. The fun starts at 1:45.

As my mother put it after I texted this to her and a few other members of my family:
If you could watch adult TV, you would have seen it on the local and national news... Reminds me of something that might happen to you!
Hah! Right on both counts.

Weekend Reading

"On the basis of this classic moral justification for all property rights -- that people should have the fruits of their productive labors secured to them as their property -- early American legislators and judges secured stable and effective property rights to innovators and creators." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Patents Are Property Rights, Not a 'Bizarre Regulatory Lobby'" at Townhall

"Parents might not have the opportunity to send their child to a Montessori school, but these enlightened ideas can still help kids navigate through the early years of life." -- Michael Hurd, in "It's Not All about the Warm Fuzzies" at The Delaware Wave

"To fight these ideas and the culture they've spawned on campus will require more than complaining about college 'snowflakes' or political correctness." -- Steve Simpson, in "Why Our Campuses Are Boiling Over in Left-Wing Rage Instead of Discourse" at The Hill

"Therapy, or some similar commitment to ongoing self-change, is the only sure-fire way to move beyond mere functioning and into the realm of actual happiness." -- Michael Hurd, in "How to Improve Yourself WITHOUT Excuses!" at The Delaware Coast Press

-- CAV

Oasis Spotted by Nation Thirsty for Freedom

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The good news: Virginia Postrel has seen Trump's proposal to roll back gas mileage regulations, and raised him with a call for outright abolishment:

Automakers won't ask politicians to scrap the CAFE standards. They're used to them. But Trump and his allies have promised to shake up Washington. If Trump and Congressional Republicans are going to pick a fight over fuel standards, they might as well go all the way.
The bad news lies in the context of the above, which completely undercuts the bold-sounding proposal. The whole rest of the article focuses on how fuel standards fail to achieve narrow policy goals. This may be true, but it takes for granted (a) the propriety of the government ordering everyone around, and (b) the practicality of central planning:
The more you examine how CAFE standards work, the more convoluted and absurd they appear. A rational approach would either raise the price of gasoline directly with additional gas taxes per gallon, offset by tax cuts elsewhere, or levy an emissions tax, payable with one's car registration, based on the age and model of the car.
I don't intend to single out Postrel for failing to see the forest of central planning for the trees of one failed policy or another. Many voters complained about Barack Obama's "incompetence" when they should have asked whether (a) they wanted someone to deprive them of freedom more competently, and (b) whether it is even possible for one tiny group of politicians to run a country -- at least anywhere but into the ground. The GOP, too, is guilty of this problem, as shown by the fact that they seem content with merely tweaking ObamaCare, rather than planning for a transition to a free market in medicine.

I do agree that, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth Trump's proposal will surely provoke, it hardly "shakes things up." But neither would pursuing any other policy aimed at a task outside the proper scope of government. If we continue to let people for whom freedom is an impediment set the terms of our political goals, they will keep winning, even if they don't have enough sense to realize it.

-- CAV

The Unseen Costs of Slacking

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Over at Ask a Manager is some excellent advice for anyone in the potentially demoralizing situation of having a co-worker who seems to be getting away with being a slacker:

Some people react to working alongside slackers by lowering their own standards -- figuring that there's no reason for them to work hard when clearly no one is going to intervene if they don't. Other people react to it by getting increasingly agitated and resentful, which is where I think you are right now. Neither of those are particularly good for you, though. The first ends up harming your own professional reputation and comes with opportunity costs down the road. The second is terrible for your mental health and day-to-day quality of life.

Instead, I'd try reframing it in your head. I know it must feel like your co-worker isn't getting any negative consequences for her behavior, but that's almost certainly not true. There's at least one unavoidable consequence, which is that she's building a terrible reputation for herself. Even if your boss is clueless, other people around your colleague are seeing her behavior. At a minimum, she's missing out on the reputation-building that doing good work will provide, but it's also pretty likely that people are actively forming negative impressions of her. You, on the other hand, are presumably creating a strong reputation for yourself, one that will pay off for you later on when you're looking for jobs in the future. Don't underestimate how valuable that is. [bold added]
This solution elegantly avoids both the career and mental health pitfalls of the two most common kinds of reaction to this common problem.

-- CAV

In With the Good, Out With the Bad

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Every once in a while, I run into a post I wish I'd written, and I recently ran into a couple fitting this description that complement each other. The first of these is "Dumb Phones and the New Luddites," a complaint about a genre of articles in which the authors blame (or seem to blame) smart phones for their own lack of self-control:

If you think Twitter is too distracting, GET THE HELL OFF OF TWITTER. If you lack the will power to stop checking it, delete your account. Same with Facebook and all the rest of it. But please, I beg you, stop trying to drag the rest of us into your problems. Most of us are very happy with our phones and wouldn't consider dumping them. I'm not on Twitter or Facebook but I use my iPhone all the time and it's almost never to call someone. Don Knuth famously gave up email but he didn't walk away from computers; he just stopped using email.
Amen, and I say the same regarding another post, by psychologist Michael Hurd, who elaborates on an important aspect of the problem:
[Y]ou have to look at what would tempt someone to spend so much time on, say, social media rather than with one's own company. And what's the alternative to social media? Think of some examples. Taking a walk. Being in the present, being self-reflective. Being mindful, self-aware and living consciously. Experiencing every moment fully. Thinking about the problems of the day and attempting to find solutions by having little conversations with yourself. Reading a good book and losing yourself in the drama or thoughtfulness of it all. These are some of the things you miss by spending hours of time looking at what everyone else is doing every last minute of every day.
I understand the exasperation of seeing people slamming smart-phones (or email, or Twitter) left and right, when they could become more disciplined about their use. But that might not always be simple. In particular, I think the problem becomes a vicious circle at some point, in the (apparent) absence of positive alternatives.

Quitting something cold turkey is one solution, and maybe the only one for some people, but such a drastic step may not be necessary -- or even desirable, as the first post notes regarding smart phones. An alternative solution to dropping your smart phone or your Twitter account altogether comes when Hurd explicitly mentions alternative ways of spending time. They're all long, and one might have to schedule them. To do this necessarily implies doing the same for social media and smart phones. I scheduled email and other social media for different reasons some time ago and found more time to concentrate on what was important to me, and to try other things. I found that I didn't just end an annoyance: I started an adventure with the "new" time I really had all along.

In sum, if you find yourself pondering the merits of chucking your phone off a bridge, don't. Don't beat up your phone or yourself. Take charge of both, and look for positive reasons to do so. Is there a book you've wanted to read for some time or an activity you've been wanting to try? Pick something and make time for it. And even if something fails to live up to expectations, just doing it will feel new and interesting, and you'll find yourself being more deliberate about your old vices. Or, more precisely, you'll keep the the technology and activities that actually help you lead the kind of life you want, and stop or at least curtail the rest, all for positive, selfish reasons.

-- CAV

Would No DST Be a Good Sign?

Monday, March 13, 2017

In the past, I have sometimes wondered if abolition of Daylight Savings Time might be an early indicator of cultural change in the direction of properly limited government. I think not, and to begin to appreciate why, it's worth it to consider a recent article about the mounting evidence against the practice:

Some of the last defenders of daylight saving time have been a cluster of business groups who assume the change helps stimulate consumer spending. That's not true either, according to recent analysis of 380 million bank and credit-card transactions by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study compared Los Angeles with Phoenix in the 30 days after the March and November time changes. Arizona is a natural test case since it's one of the two states, along with Hawaii, that doesn't do daylight saving. In the spring, according to the consumer transaction data, the additional hour of evening daylight in Los Angeles managed to slightly boost card spending per person, compared with that in Phoenix, although by less than 1 percent. That spending uptick is swamped by the negative impact of the November time change, which sees the darkened population of Los Angeles spend 3.5 percent less at local retailers. [link omitted]
There is not a single whiff here of indignation about the fact that the government is imperiously compelling everyone to make these switches. All we see are (1) the assumption that that's one of the "things government does" and (2) arguments about the costs and benefits of the practice to the main pressure groups keeping it alive.

If there were such indignation, particularly regarding a universally-despised, top-down decision of dubious merit, this silliness would go away in an instant (and we wouldn't need to worry about the government forcing us to accept other dumb ways of keeping time, either). But there isn't and it won't. Indeed, the article mentions a great deal of inertia -- aside from the fact that the federal government is behind this -- in favor of keeping DST. This has thwarted efforts in nineteen states to pick a time, standard or daylight-savings, and stick with it. And even if all the senseless clock-setting were to stop in any of these cases, the government would still remain in charge of everyone's clocks. So the "disappearance" of DST in any of these cases would be for the wrong reason (enough pressure groups to make the government adopt a new central plan) and so the real problem (that the government tells everyone how to keep time in the first place) would remain.

All that said, this is hardly one of the most important priorities en route to a properly limited government, but it seems to be low-hanging fruit. So government clock-setting (and with it, DST) might be an early casualty of an improved political culture, but that would be a function of the idea coming at an opportune time against a backdrop of more fundamental reforms -- if it weren't a simply by-product of one these.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 10, 2017

Three Things

1. Pumpkin's kindergarten teacher informed me that she'd gotten into trouble. On the way home, I told her what the consequences were going to be, and she threw the book at me in return. The stiffest penalty her young mind could muster was, "I'm going to make you to go to college!"

Of course, this made me burst out laughing: There is no way to be prepared for what might come from a child's mouth.

2. My quote of the week comes from Barbara Sher, and pertains to some common career advice:

... When I was a single working mother with two babies, you know what my skills were? I could clean house like a demon; catch a moving bus with my arms full of laundry, groceries, and kids; and squeeze a dollar until the picture of George Washington screamed for mercy.

I do not want the career that uses those skills, thank you. (2)
This is just one of many jewels that litter Sher's I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was (HT: Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions, who recommends it "for its excellent advice for how to pursue a challenging career").

3. Have you ever wondered why dentistry and medicine are completely separate professions, rather than dentistry simply being recognized as a specialized branch of medicine? Wonder no more:
[T]he dental profession really became a profession in 1840 in Baltimore. That was when the first dental college in the world was opened, I found out, and that was thanks to the efforts of a couple of dentists who were kind of self-trained. Their names were Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden. They approached the physicians at the college of medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore with the idea of adding dental instruction to the medical course there, because they really believed that dentistry was more than a mechanical challenge, that it deserved status as a profession, and a course of study, and licensing, and peer-reviewed scientific consideration. But the physicians, the story goes, rejected their proposal and said the subject of dentistry was of little consequence.

That event is remembered as the "historic rebuff." ...
From there, the desire for professional autonomy has perpetuated the dichotomy. This might be changing, but not for the best reasons.

Weekend Reading

"[I]f you really want to look or feel differently, then work to disconnect eating from your emotions and momentary frustrations." -- Michael Hurd, in "Eating Your Feelings" at The Delaware Wave

"Staying out is actually the more caring thing, because it respects the fact that your friend has a mind of her own." -- Michael Hurd, in "Good Intentions Do Not Mean Opinions Are Welcome!" at The Delaware Coast Press

"There is plenty of pie to go around when the bakers have incentives to bake." -- Gus Van Horn, in "The Unsung Role of Patents When It Comes to Prosperity" at RealClear Markets

A Word of Thanks

I thank my wife and reader Steve D. for their comments on earlier versions of the above column.

-- CAV

Stossel on Government "Art"

Thursday, March 09, 2017

John Stossel, writing about the prospect of less federal funding for the arts, nicely sums up how such schemes create and entrench cadres of looters:

... Arts grants tend to go to people who got prior arts grants.

Some have friends on grant-making committees. Some went to the same schools as the people who pick what to subsidize. They know the right things to say on applications so they look "serious" enough to underwrite. They're good at writing applications. They're not necessarily good at art.
Or, as I once replied to a leftist colleague who spammed me the last time people were in a froth about "killing Big Bird": "Government funding equals government control." (For clarity, (1) the above is just one of several ways this happens, and (2) "fixing" things so the "needy" would always get funds does not change the fact that the money was stolen in the first place.)

And, regarding Big Bird, Stossel notes that Sesame Street successfully privatized some time ago, and "no longer gets government funds." So it is doubly ironic that the news is running photos of Big Bird, now that these cuts are being discussed again. If he symbolizes anything about good art, it is that it can and does do well with private support.

Art is too important to be controlled in any way by the government, and it is a monstrous injustice that we're being robbed to perpetuate the situation. It is a shame that this classed-up swindle is going to survive at all.

-- CAV

Are Raincoats Indulgent?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Ester Bloom of The Billfold considers whether the raincoat is a necessity or an indulgence. Her post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I find the question interesting, anyway:

BG will be autumn ready. I will not. My umbrella is whatever I pull out of the bin by the door. My rain boots are regular boots that leave my socks damp because they're not actually waterproof. My rain coat? I don't have a rain coat, even though whenever it rains -- 121 days a year in New York City, or approximately one out of every three days -- I wish I did. But it feels like an indulgence! A winter coat is a necessity, sure. A rain coat? For me? Isn't that a frill? [link dropped]
I own a rain coat, the only one I remember having, and have since Boston. I used it all the time there, because walking was my primary mode of transportation then. I have since used it perhaps once or twice because, when using a car, an umbrella is usually sufficient for my needs: moving between my car and a building at each end of the trip. Every other time I've used one (or even thought a raincoat might be nice), it has been because I was stuck outside for more than a few seconds or minutes at a time.

The question interests me because my wife seems to have adopted a sort of raincoat-buying default for the kids, even though we live in suburbia, and have to drive ourselves (and them) to get anywhere. I suspect this is because her parents spent their youths in New York and Boston, where such an item would be a necessity. She grew up with raincoats, and she's buying accordingly. I plan to persuade her that we really don't need raincoats for the the kids -- unless, of course, one or both start doing lots of outdoor, all-weather activity. But they're still so young that that would be some time away. For them, now, I think a raincoat might be cute, but an indulgence.

The answer for anyone is, "It depends."

-- CAV

Rand's Death: An Exaggerated Report

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Jennifer Burns of the Hoover Institution has written an interesting op-ed titled, "Ayn Rand Is Dead. Liberals Are Going to Miss Her." Along with several other things in the piece, I dispute the premature obituary -- and can almost hear Rand say, "It's earlier than you think." That said, Burns ends with a very good point:

Mixed in with Rand's vituperative attacks on government was a defense of the individual's rights in the face of a powerful state. This single-minded focus could yield surprising alignments, such as Rand's opposition to drug laws and her support of legal abortion. And although liberals have always loved to hate her, over the next four years, they may come to miss her defense of individual autonomy and liberty. [bold added]
This sentiment echoes a point Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute made a few years ago, when he asked of liberals, "Why let conservatives monopolize her?"
This is precisely one issue on which Rand challenges modern liberals: whether it's consistent to advocate an individual's intellectual and personal liberty while denying him economic liberty.

It wasn't always so. Liberals in the nineteenth century were champions of science and at the forefront of abolishing slavery and securing a woman's individual rights. But they were also champions of private property, free trade and economic liberty. It is this combination that produced the individual's unprecedented progress in that century. Modern liberals, however, abandoned the right to private property in favor of various socialistic visions, which have since faded with awareness of what socialism and communism actually wrought. The result is what [Yale historian Beverly] Gage notes: modern liberals bereft of an ideal.

Any liberal-leaning person today who seeks long-term goals and a new vision, but will not touch the political right because of conservatives' anti-evolution, anti-immigration, anti-abortion platforms, would do well to remember nineteenth-century liberalism. Perhaps the two alternatives confronting us, a government with virtually unlimited power to dictate our personal lives or our economic lives, are both defective.
Each piece provides evidence that neither "side" of today's political "divide" consistently stands up for what it claims to uphold, be it prosperity (by the right) or personal freedom (by the left). But each also indicates why: an unmet need for the philosophical ideas that these goals depend on. It's only more obvious that the left never gave Rand a serious look, but the alleged adoption of Rand by the right sketched by Burns wasn't exactly deep. Someone who happens to want to spout off about some position that happens to align with one espoused by Rand will find eloquence and polemical material in abundance to lift, but so what? Can anyone who does this, and yet so plainly continues embracing contradictory ideas (e.g., Paul "Ayn" Ryan's professed desire to save the unsavable Social Security system) really be said to have taken a serious look at Rand, either?

As a long-time student of Ayn Rand, who was initially attracted to her in part for the ability I thought she would confer on me to eviscerate opponents, I can say this: Any fool can be a critic. Building a positive case for freedom is much harder, and requires a mode of thought that differs in kind from simply tearing down opponents (which just about sums up what most people do these days when discussing politics). If you truly value economic freedom, don't yield to the temptation to simply take easy (and easy-to-ignore) pot-shots at leftists. And if you truly value personal freedom, consider the idea that government "social" programs rob individuals, like yourself and people you care about. The fact that no one was able to rise above the palpably toxic level of "discourse" during the last election raises the question of why the GOP's alleged fans of Ayn Rand didn't display the certainty and serenity that comes with conviction.

Ayn Rand is too powerful a voice to ignore, but she is also too subtle a thinker to win instant converts. Whether Rand truly becomes a strong-enough cultural force to turn the political tide of history remains to be seen, and it is a mistake take abandonment by people who never really accepted her as a sign that the force of her ideas is spent.

-- CAV

Thank You, Mr. Sunstein

Monday, March 06, 2017

Cass Sunstein has just done what others in the political establishment haven't done regarding Donald Trump's rhetoric concerning regulations: He has looked at what the President is actually doing. Let me add that, in doing so, Sunstein may have also inadvertently aided the cause of limited government, something he shows that Trump isn't doing (and it is for that, and that alone I am thanking him):

[Friday's executive] order calls for the official designation of "Regulatory Reform Officers" and "Regulatory Reform Task Forces" within each department and agency of the federal government.

The reform officers are charged with carrying out three earlier executive orders. The first is Trump's own requirement that agencies eliminate two regulations for every one that they issue. More surprisingly, the second and third come from Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The Clinton order, issued in 1993, requires cost-benefit analysis of new regulations, along with approval by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The 2011 Obama order calls for "retrospective review" of existing regulations, with the goal of getting rid of those that don't make sense. By requiring adherence to the Clinton and Obama orders, the Trump administration has signaled a degree of continuity with what came before. That's a good idea (and it's hardly deconstruction). [links omitted, emphasis added]
And lest we forget, Sunstein is no foe of the regulatory state. Here are what he regards as the only alternatives going forward:
... Almost no one likes regulation in the abstract, but if we are speaking of food safety, highway safety, air pollution standards or protection of disabled people against discrimination, it makes no sense to take a meat ax to the administrative state.

What's needed is a scalpel, in the form of an evidence-based effort to see what really deserves to go, after close engagement with the American public.... [links omitted, emphasis added]
But that stands to reason: Nobody who thinks individuals need to be "nudged" with a gun for their own good is going to be able to imagine, say, (a) businessmen realizing that they have incentives to offer safe products, (b) a legal system consistently applying the principle of private property slamming the brakes on pollution, (c) better-educated members of the public, no longer lulled to sleep by government watchers being more careful about what they purchase, or (d) private groups subsuming much of what government agencies now do to set standards for more specialized industries. To truly deregulate, we would need axes, scalpels, and sun-setting for an orderly transition to capitalism, not that Sunstein -- or, as he correctly indicates, Trump -- is speaking of such. It is possible that reducing the size of this tumor may buy some temporary relief, but the tumor will remain, no matter what the patient is led to believe.

So, as the Trump years and their aftermath march on, when we inevitably hear that Trump "deregulated" this or that, don't forget what Sunstein has observed. Trump has undertaken the quixotic task of "reforming" a fundamentally flawed (and hence, unreformable) system. So when we hear "deregulation" being blamed for some ill down the road, remember that that's not what's happening right now.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 03, 2017

Three Things

1. I enjoyed reading about Google's "secret ... project to put an aquarium full of tiny, wiggly water bears inside your phone":

"It gets to something really big and emerging in culture, which is how the phone is a part of our body -- it stays in bed with us, it's in our pockets, it's this intimate thing that extends the body," said [creative director Jamie] Zigelbaum. "By putting life forms -- pets -- into your phone, it's a way to access some of the thinking around the barrier between organisms, technology, and what the boundary of the human body really is. And that was really exciting for us."
This, and a reproachful letter (from a nun to a rocket scientist) I ran into recently, conspired to remind me of the opening paragraph of Leonard Peikoff's classic op-ed, "Why Christmas Should be More Commercial":
Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life. Yet all of these are castigated as "materialistic"; the real meaning of the holiday, we are told, is assorted Nativity tales and altruist injunctions (e.g., love thy neighbor) that no one takes seriously. [bold added]
Christmas, in this positive sense, comes year-round when men are free to tinker, and there are, incidentally, many more of us to enjoy it.

2. What happens when your workman's cafe becomes the mistaken recipient of a Michelin star?
Reporters, TV crews and prospective customers were astounded when they turned up at the Bouche à Oreille, in the small town of Bourges, to find a cheap and cheerful eatery with red and white polka dot plastic tablecloths. Many patrons wear high-visibility vests, it is often packed at lunchtime and the atmosphere is lively, with customers ordering beers at the bar.
The error may have been caused by the cafe having a similar street address to the more upscale establishment which was supposed to have won the star. Everyone involved took the mistake with good humor, and the proprietors involved will be treating each other to meals at their respective establishments.

3. In England, they're tackling an important question. "Were early modern people perpetually drunk?"
Paraphrasing Craig Muldrew's findings, James [Brown] argues that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries beer was more important as a source of energy (via calories both from grain and alcohol) than as an alternative to water (p 66). Amounts consumed were thus considerable, especially for men engaged in moderate to heavy labour, where most institutional allowances ranged from four pints to over a gallon of beer a day (p. 70)...
Dr. B. doesn't have the last word here.

Aside from the amusing line of inquiry, the post brought back pleasant memories of grad school, where a fellowship came with the following requirement: Most Fridays, I had to attend a seminar where beer was provided for all in attendance. (But no, not in a pub, and there was no singing...)

Weekend Reading

"Those who advocate more central planning in health policy might wish to keep these lessons in mind, before proposing 'obvious' ideas to improve Americans' health." -- Paul Hsieh, in "People Confound Experts: Three Paradoxes of Health and Human Behavior" at Forbes

"There is no such thing as good monetary policy." -- Keith Weiner, in "The Big Myth" at SNB & CHF

"Social media cannot make you crazy, but your failure to maintain perspective and focus on other values in life can." -- Michael Hurd, in "Is Social Media Making Us Crazy?" at Newsmax

"[I]f you're single and planning to embark on the adventure of meeting somebody new, especially in and around the nooks and crannies of cyberspace, first take time to get to know yourself better." -- Michael Hurd, in "Is the Internet the Cure for Loneliness?" at The Delaware Wave

"Show them they have minds, and show them how to use them." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Frantic Need to Keep Kids Busy" at The Delaware Coast Press

"In Trump's statements we can sometimes hear a welcome pro-America motif, but the president's signature positions don't live up to that ideal. " -- Elan Journo, in "How Much Ayn Rand Is There in Trump's 'America First' Foreign Policy?" at The American Spectator

-- CAV

A Warning From a Manual

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Business columnist Suzanne Lucas asked her readers if they'd ever had a coworker who "who seemed genuinely more interested in ruining morale than in doing any work." Lucas then, tongue in cheek, suggested the amusing possibility that such a colleague might have been sent in by the CIA to sabotage the business. This is because the so many of the following items, taken from a 1944 CIA manual on how to sabotage a business, resemble things she has seen in the past:

  • Insist on doing everything through "channels." Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large as possible -- never less than five.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Advocate "caution." Be "reasonable" and urge your fellow-conferees to be "reasonable" and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • "Misunderstand" orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
  • Don't order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products, send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
  • When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
  • Multiply paperwork in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
Lucas has food for thought regarding a few of these, and offers the following advice regarding the list:
It's worth your time to go through the CIA's complete list and see if any of these problems plague your department or company. If any do, it's time to stop them right now. When people ask why the change, direct them to the list. "Doing this is damaging to our business." Why would we want to do that?
So long as regulations, union rules, or fear of litigation aren't behind any of them, you can improve your business almost overnight.

On a serious note, some of the above might be to blame for some of these problems. In a couple of war stories from a Houston landlord, for example, I see a few of these, thanks to local regulations and the functionaries who enforce them (or pretend to).

Our deficient education system and culture produce enough people who "work" like this without our government forcing more of it down our throats with economic regulation and a tort system in dire need of reform. This column reminds me of an off-the-cuff remark by Glenn Reynolds about the previous administration, to the effect that Atlas Shrugged was a warning, and not a manual.

-- CAV

GOP Adopts Hiring Quotas

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A ridiculous proposal in Iowa for ideological hiring quotas shows just how far the Republican party is from grasping the nature of the problem with government schools, and, therefore, its solution:

A bill in the Iowa Senate seeks to achieve greater political diversity among professors at the state's Board of Regents universities. Senate File 288 would institute a hiring freeze until the number of registered Republicans and Democrats on the university faculty fall within 10 percent of each other.

"I'm under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity," said the bill's author, Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. "They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are." [link omitted, bold added]
This proposal is, paradoxically, as dangerous as it is ineffective. The danger lies in the precedent of aggravating a problem indirectly created by government control of education -- by explicitly setting up the government in the role of ideological monitor. (I suspect that even today, a court might strike that down, but to test that assumption is to play with fire.) The ineffectiveness should be obvious even to its sponsors: Current and prospective faculty could just change party affiliations -- not that there is any substantive difference between the two, if this measure is any indication.

Is the GOP cynical or oblivious regarding education and freedom of speech? Regardless of the answer, we now know they don't have any serious ideas about freeing the former or protecting the latter.

-- CAV


3-2-17: Please read the first comment below about a similar (but far superior) proposal from Ayn Rand regarding the problem of ideological conformity in higher education. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a link to the whole proposal (other than a bootleg copy I will not vouch for).