Setting Terms of Debate

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Have this guy free to create new marvels -- or have a bunch of busybodies chain us all down behind our backs? (Image via Pixabay.)
Writing for the the Foundation for Economic Education, economist Richard Ebeling writes an essay titled, "Socialism, Like Dracula, Rises Again from the Grave." Although the whole thing is worth a read, I think the most valuable point it raises pertains to how advocates of the capitalist alternative can make our cases. The example is negative, but it is part of the answer to what the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seem to be doing, which is not quite as simple as shouting "free stuff!" just as people enter their voting booths. The below is the beginning of a section titled, "'Democratic Socialism' Means the Tyranny of the Meddler":
Since everything would be politicized with government involvement even more than currently in America to supply this promised "free" life of material post-scarcity existence, democratic decision-making would be extended to, well, everything. The [Democratic Socialists of America] says the U.S. Senate should be abolished, and the entire electoral process replaced with a system of proportional representation in more directly democratically elected bodies. There would be "civilian boards for various government services, program councils (at the national, state, and local levels) for those who receive government services, and municipal and state-level citizens assemblies that would be open to all that would be tasked with making budget decisions." [bold added]
Ebeling explores the implications of this further, noting that while most of us are busy with the work of our lives, the primary participants in these "civilian boards" would be "people with too much time on their hands possessing political and ideological axes to grind." (I recall reading that this happened during the height of the (initial phase of the) "occupy" movement, to the boards they used to run their encampments.) In other words, while the current crop of socialists are inviting people to imagine a utopia, Ebeling is improving their imaginations by grounding them in reality. As, I believe Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute once indicated in a podcast, many young voters support socialism because they mistakenly believe it will improve their lives personally -- an imperfectly selfish motive. Part of addressing this imperfection is to help some of these people see how their lives really will be affected personally, but long before the deadlier consequences of socialism begin setting in. (Although starvation and death are hazards, they seem far off to most voters, making it too easy for people like Bernie Sanders to plead that they aren't talking about the same thing as Soviet Russia -- or even Venezuela.)

Indicating the more immediate negative consequences is a good point of entry, but we can improve on this by recalling what Alex Epstein has said in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels about the way people argue today: There is a strong tendency -- often by people on the left arguing against some aspect or benefit of capitalism -- to focus on the negatives to the near exclusion of the positives (e.g., honing in on the fact that petroleum use can cause pollution, but glossing over the numerous benefits of same). Debunking socialism is important, but we must remember that much of its momentum relies on taking for granted the many benefits of the capitalist aspects of our mixed economy. In addition to debunking socialism, we should also speak up for capitalism at relevant points, including by more directly appealing to self-interest. Furthermore, such more direct appeals ought to clarify, whenever possible, that the rational pursuit of self-interest (which most emphatically does not include taking things from other people) is virtuous.

As that last sentence demonstrates, there is great confusion about morality and politics in our culture today, to the point that advocates of the pursuit of happiness are practically dragged into a defensive posture at the outset, by the need to clarify basic terms. We have to learn how to quickly shift to offense, however, or we will allow ourselves to be defeated miss out on opportunities to win -- by making our case for justice and prosperity.

-- CAV

"Equal Time" -- the Latest Trump Retread

Monday, July 30, 2018

Matt Gaetz, R-FL (Image via Wikipedia.)
As if bringing back protectionism (a major cause of the Great Depression) weren't bad enough, Donald Trump and his cronies now appear to be breathing new life into another idea that has no place in a free society: the "Fairness" Doctrine. Taylor Millard of Hot Air reports that a couple of pro-Trump congressmen have "launched a multi-pronged attack on Twitter" over "shadow-banning" conservatives. Part of this attack is an FCC complaint that is all but explicitly hostile to Twitter's property rights. Regarding Twitter's alleged practice of making it hard for people to find conservatives, Representative Matt Gaetz stated:
It gives advantages to our political opponents. It gives them access to the platform that we don't have.
Since when does freedom of speech include entitlement to being given a platform for speaking? Twitter can run its own forum any way it pleases because it owns the forum. This is bad enough, but the following is a particularly disturbing development:
This is, of course, a major problem and only likely to grow exponentially as "the mob" looks to regulate whoever can express what opinion. Democrats -- along with some conservatives -- suggested it was time for big data regulations due to Russia"s use of Facebook ads during the 2016 election. Republicans are now pushing for more government oversight because social media isn't giving "equal time" to certain Trump supporters. The hypocrisy is apparent, but no one cares because it's "owning the libs/cons."
The phrase "equal time" hearkens back to the era of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," in which the threat of the loss of a broadcasting license was used to violate both the property and free speech rights of the owners of broadcasting media.

Philosophy professor Tara Smith recently discussed in great detail how confused our national dialogue on freedom of speech has become, as well as the great risk this poses to our republic. It becomes clear later in the Hot Air piece that this problem is deeper among the Republicans than many might realize. Trump and his unprincipled, grasping supporters, are making it much worse.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 27, 2018

Four Things

Below are (just!) four things I enjoyed or found enlightening when I read A Mind at Play, the biography of the father of information theory, Claude Shannon, by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman.

1. Shannon's six methods for attacking a problem.

2. Shannon proved that a message could be sent with an arbitrarily small amount of error:

That insight is embedded in the circuits of our phones, our computers, our satellite TVs, our space probes still tethered to the earth with thin cords of 0's and 1's. In 1990, the Voyager 1 probe turned its camera back on Earth from the edge of the solar system, snapped a picture of our planetary home reduced in size to less than a single pixel -- to what Carl Sagan called "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" -- and transmitted that picture across four billion miles of void. Claude Shannon did not write the code that protected that image from error and distortion, but, some four decades earlier, he had proved that such a code must exist. And so it did. It is part of his legacy; and so is the endless flow of digital information on which the Internet depends, and so is the information omnivory by which we define ourselves as modern. (loc. 104)
The book makes the point elsewhere that Shannon had amazing powers of abstraction. That he did so very well is attested to by the myriad practical applications of the above insight. See also Item 1.

3. As brilliant as Shannon was, he benefited greatly by having a good mentor in Vannevar Bush:
Finally, Bush took it upon himself to find a suitable dissertation project for Shannon in the field of -- genetics. Genetics? It was at least as plausible an object for Shannon's talents as switches. Circuits could be taught, genes could be taught -- but the analytic skill it took to find the logic beneath them seemed more likely to be inborn. Shannon had already used his "queer algebra" to great effect on relays; "another special algebra," Bush explained to a colleague, "might conceivably handle some of the aspects of Mendelian heredity." More to the point, it was a matter of deep conviction for Bush that specialization was the death of genius. "In these days, when there is a tendency to specialize so closely, it is well for us to be reminded that the possibilities of being at once broad and deep did not pass with Leonardo da Vinci or even Benjamin Franklin," Bush said in a speech at MIT. "Men of our profession -- we teachers -- are bound to be impressed with the tendency of youths of strikingly capable minds to become interested in one small corner of science and uninterested in the rest of the world. ... It is unfortunate when a brilliant and creative mind insists upon living in a modern monastic cell." (p. 48)
At many points, Shannon would use insights gleaned from one interest to forge ahead in a seemingly unrelated area. I am glad that Bush saw the value of this practice.

4. A strong impression about Shannon I got from the book was of benevolence. In addition to the title they chose, the authors make note of this in their last chapter:
Shannon demonstrates machine learning with Theseus in a Bell Labs short.
He did none of this consciously; he wasn't straining to give the appearance of fun. Shannon simply delighted in the various curiosities that grabbed his attention, and the testimony of those around him suggests that it was a delight that, like his mind, was polymorphous. He could find himself lost in the intricacies of an engineering problem, and then, just as suddenly, become captivated by a chess position. He had a flair for the dramatic and the artistic; we see it in the flaming trumpet, Theseus the mouse, a flagpole he hand-carved out of an oversize tree on his property, the juggling clowns he built to exacting specifications. Shannon's admirers are just as quick to compare him to M. C. Escher or Lewis Carroll as they are to put him in the company of Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. He turned arid and technical sciences into vast and captivating puzzles, the solving of which was play of the adult kind. It says something about Claude Shannon and his instinct for play that his work found its way into both the pages of journals and the halls of museums.

In one sense, it may be impossible to draw anything from this. Shannon's enjoyment seems sui generis. But perhaps his example can still remind us of the vast room for lightness in fields usually discussed in sober tones. These days it's rare to talk about math and science as opportunities to revel in discovery. We speak, instead, about their practical benefits -- to society, the economy, our prospects for employment. STEM courses are the means to job security, not joy. Studying them becomes the academic equivalent of eating your vegetables -- something valuable, and state sanctioned, but vaguely distasteful. (p. 278) [link added]
I cannot help but wonder if less "state sanction" -- less meddlesome prodding -- might allow more people to develop a genuine love for science. Perhaps Shannon's joy is normal, save in the scope genius affords. In any event, this book was a pleasure to read and comes highly recommended, in part for the same reasons the authors gave for wanting to write it:
We are biographers, not mathematicians or physicists or engineers. The best we can say for this inexpert book of ours is that we've tried to write as we'd like to live. That is, we began with a nagging sense that there is something harmful in using without understanding, or at least trying to understand. We began with the idea that there is something ungrateful and grasping in enjoying our bounty of information without bothering to understand how it got here. (p. 283)
We should never allow ourselves to become jaded by wonders that men like Shannon have made routine.

-- CAV

Don't Blow Off Millennials

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Many of the same people who think punching a "fascist" is cool don't know that fascism has much in common with socialism, or that the policies they mouth allegiance to lead to really uncool food lines and worse. (Image via Wikipedia.)
According to John Hart of RealClear Politics, the recent primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Joe Crowley is "the most significant political upset since Tea Party Republican Dave Brat defeated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014." I agree, and I have to express my relief that a conservative is taking the event seriously. Rather than yielding to the temptation to dismiss Ocasio-Cortez as a fluke, or half-insultingly assume that young voters will somehow "grow up" to embrace free markets, Hart considers the broader political context. He then offers specific strategies for overcoming the ascendancy of the far left in the Democratic Party. Here's an example of one strategy I am close to agreeing with:
The only path forward for conservatives is to appeal to millennials who are undecided about economic theory. For instance, a Gallup poll from 2016 showed a majority (55 percent) of Americans between the ages of 18-29 had a positive view of socialism. Yet, the same poll revealed that millennials view small business, entrepreneurs, the free enterprise system and capitalism more favorably than socialism. Free enterprise was viewed favorably by 78 percent of younger Americans while capitalism was viewed favorably by 57 percent. Gallup also found that millennials have a higher opinion of small business and free enterprise than Americans over 65.
This is true, but ought to go father in two directions. First, there is no need to limit oneself to appealing to undecideds. Second -- and this is why the first is true -- the appeal need not and should not be restricted to economics. Ayn Rand and others have argued that capitalism (the "unknown ideal") is not just more practical than the alternatives, it is the most moral political system. It is not clear to me that Hart agrees with this assertion, but he does appreciate the moral dimension of this development:
The heart of the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez Democratic-socialist movement is a question more than a set of policies: Is it right and moral that in a modern and wealthy country some people are too poor to live? That is the right question. Conservatives have the best response and should welcome this struggle. [bold added]
I am not sure I agree that this is the right question, but it is being asked.

Regarding capitalism as a moral system, I will refer the reader to Ayn Rand (and previous two links) for the full argument. But, again, I mention this because one thing Ocasio-Cortez does on the campaign trail is uphold socialism as a moral system. This is a big part of what makes her so compelling as a candidate, and this is what pro-liberty politicians will have to become able to address if they are to hope to have real success at winning elections, making America freer, and ensuring our future prosperity.

-- CAV

Altruism Takes Another Life

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Over at Power Line is a sickening example of the deadliness of the altruistic premise that government exists to "rehabilitate" criminals:

“Mercy” means an unearned forgiveness. -- Leonard Peikoff (Image via Pixabay.)
[A]fter just two-and-half years in juvenile detention, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs set [Jayden] Myrick free. She put him on probation and placed him in a special program whose director claimed could keep tabs on Myrick and reform him.

Now, Myrick, age 17, is accused of shooting and killing a 34 year-old Washington, D.C. man during the course of another armed robbery, as the man was waiting for an Uber ride after leaving a wedding reception in Atlanta. Christian Broder is survived by his wife and a 9-month-old daughter. He would be alive today if Judge Downs hadn't stupidly subscribed to the tenets of those pushing sentencing reform.

The judge explained that Myrick "has been in prison now for two and a half years and I don't think it helped him much, I haven't noticed a whole lot a change." Lost on the judge, as on many sentencing reform advocates, was the fact that the primary purpose of putting Myrick away was to protect society from his menace, not to help him. [bold added]
Or, as Ayn Rand once put it, "The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence."

Paul Mirengoff notes this as a case for minimum sentencing laws. I'm inclined to agree. It's too bad that this kind of thinking is so common today as to preclude investigation and some kind of remedy. This is something for which this judge deserves removal from office at the very least. And if the above isn't enough to convince you, do read further to see just how negligent this judge was, demented as she is by the kill-switch of altruism.

-- CAV

Sam Altman on Productivity

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Entrepreneur Sam Altman has been asked frequently-enough for productivity advice that he has relented, and posted on four general areas: What You Work On, Prioritization, Physical Factors, and Other Stuff. The first is the most important, and here is some of his advice:

Delegate the others to people who want to do them. (Image via Pixabay.)
I've learned that I can't be very productive working on things I don't care about or don't like. So I just try not to put myself in a position where I have to do them (by delegating, avoiding, or something else). Stuff that you don't like is a painful drag on morale and momentum.

By the way, here is an important lesson about delegation: remember that everyone else is also most productive when they're doing what they like, and do what you'd want other people to do for you -- try to figure out who likes (and is good at) doing what, and delegate that way.
He reiterates and summarizes at the end:
[P]roductivity in the wrong direction isn't worth anything at all. Think more about what to work on.
The piece overall is thought-provoking, although he does not consistently explain all his advice. But that may be for similar reasons he advises his readers to avoid "the trap of productivity porn." His piece is short, his main point is good and, and he spares you great detail on things (like "physical stuff") that you might need to figure out for yourself.

-- CAV

Tesla as Boondoggle

Monday, July 23, 2018

Image via Pixabay.
The New York Post carries an article titled "Elon Musk Is a Total Fraud," which passes along some pretty damaging information on both the amount of government loot Tesla is going through and Musk's "leadership" style. Regarding the former, Maureen Callahan reports that Tesla burns through half a million dollars an hour, receiving $4.9 billion in subsidies a year.

Regarding the latter:
Musk infamously does not take criticism well and refuses to be questioned or challenged -- three lethal traits in a leader. On a conference call with analysts in May, Musk dismissed questions about Tesla's diminishing capital and other dubious claims with name-calling.

"Excuse me," Musk said. "Next. Boring boneheaded questions are not cool."

Tesla's stock plummeted 5.6 percent after that performance. They also dropped 5 percent after an April Fool's Day tweet in which Musk announced Tesla had gone bankrupt. [bold added]
These strike me as opposites of the kind of qualities someone would need to trade with others to mutual benefit, to say the least.

Callahan also reports that a major investor is predicting that Tesla is headed for a "brick wall." I am inclined to believe that, and when it happens, it will be important to remember articles like this. When this loot-funded enterprise fails, some will inevitably blame it on "capitalism" -- even though companies like Tesla would not even exist under actual capitalism.

The article casts further doubt on the Musk's character and the viability of his other enterprises, but it could have stopped with Tesla. We have, after all, become used to the idea of massive theft of our own money and assets by the government as well as its doling out of the same. We should be indignant about these practices, to say the least. Instead, the government gets away with theft and props up businesses built on unsound premises. Worse, if the conclusion stated in the title of this article is true, by doing the former two things, the government will have enabled a fraud to mimic success well enough to dupe people who could have put their money into a real business. That, too, is worth remembering, since Space-X going under could deal an undeserved blow to the cause of privatizing space exploration.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 20, 2018

Blog Roundup

1. At his Study Hacks blog, Cal Newport comments on a recent study of how the "open office" floor plan affects productivity:

What is surprising, however, is the fact that face-to-face interactions declined so sharply in the first place. My critiques of open offices (c.f., Deep Work) assumed that removing spatial barriers would generate more face-to-face disruptions. In this study, removing barriers instead decreased these interactions while increasing the amount of electronic distraction.

The negative impact is the same -- more interruptions = less deep work = poor return on investment in the organization's attention capital -- but the underlying mechanism is not what I expected.
The authors of this study suggest that human beings require boundaries to "reduc[e] the potential for overload", among other things.

I agree, but I'd also frame this in more positive terms: Workers in this situation are forced to be around other people, rather than having the freedom to seek them out when they realize they need to talk. Thus, regarding other people, the focus shifts to scrounging for whatever privacy one can get, rather than on the possibility of exchanging ideas -- or even just chatting.

It's one thing to have water when you're thirsty or want to swim; it's entirely another to be thrown into a lake when you want and need to be dry.

2. Over at You Can and Did Build It, the author entertains an interesting question about America's founders:
[They] made the most profound and historically significant choice: to break away from the dominant power on earth, and to govern themselves on the basis of reason and inalienable rights, rather than force and tradition. ... [But] did [the founders] see the connection between free will and reason?
And much later:
With regard to free will, then, the theme that emerges from studying the ideas of the Founders is their mixed views about it (in some cases explicit rejection of it), coexisting with an implicit embracing of free will in their major choices and actions.
For examples and implications, follow the link above.

3. At Check Your Premises, philosophy professor Greg Salmieri asks, "How should philosophy professors approach Ayn Rand?" Here is part of his answer:
So much, then, for [Skye] Cleary's refutation of Rand. But presumably the point of her short article wasn't so much to refute Rand as to motivate other philosophers to take up the project. I join her in encouraging them to do so. More generally, I encourage them to engage with her work. Philosophers interested in the task might consider making use of the Companion and the Ayn Rand Society's two books. All three books aim to facilitate intellectual engagement by bridging some of the gap between Rand's work and the literature that is more familiar to most English-speaking philosophers.
Salmieri is motivated in part by deficiencies in Cleary's refutation of Ayn Rand, insofar as she "[took] for granted both that Rand's philosophy comes from a place of cruelty and that it 'should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking.'" He is absolutely correct that even someone who fully engages Rand's work and leaves unpersuaded will come out better than someone who makes comfortable assumptions instead.

4. Facing a dilemma about a major decision? There's some worthwhile reading over at Thinking Directions regarding a common kind of confusion many unknowingly people face at such times:
The choices are probably manageable than you think. (Image via Pixabay)
The choice of career is an example of a complex decision that is made over a period of months or even years. You have too many questions about the future to make a decision per se. If you just try to ask yourself "which should I do?" you could easily find yourself stymied by the answer "I don't know."

Indeed, the first step of my Eyes-Wide-Open decision process is to identify the choice you actually face. The choice you actually face is a choice between 2-3 options that you know enough about that you can act on now, as opposed to some vague desires regarding the future with many unknowns.

You may think of your decision in terms of a complex choice involving the future. But this decision needs to be made over time by reducing it to a series of simple binary choices -- judgment calls -- that you can answer with confidence right now.
When I was younger, it seemed like some people just figured this all out naturally (but couldn't really explain that they did something like this), some who could use such advice struggled with their choices, and some (most?) just defaulted to something everyone else did or expected them to do. I think this is great advice for the second and third groups.

-- CAV

Getting Kids to Play Soccer ... and Leave Home

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Two pieces on parental failure that might seem unrelated (but aren't) caught my eye today. The first, by Free Range Mom Lenore Skenazy, considers a nationwide decline in youth soccer participation. The story Skenazy quotes rightly blames the decline on pushing children into tryouts and highly competitive leagues at too early an age, before stating what it is that kids really need:

Don't be fooled by the lack of a uniform... (Image via Pixabay.)
Really -- what IS the point? If kids want to play soccer, they don't need a coach, a field, a uniform and a fee. All they need is some friends and a ball. And actually, as Carlo Celli and Nathan Richardson note in their book, Shoeless Soccer, they don't even need a ball. Pele, the soccer legend, learned playing barefoot, kicking a sock filled with rags. [minor edits, link omitted]
I can't resist passing along a story about my baby brother, whose birthday it is today. My mother took him and a couple of his friends shopping when they were between six and eight, and they spontaneously began playing in a parking place next to her car as she loaded it. They used a dead frog as the ball. And, yes, one of them ended up heading it before she broke it up.

The second story is by Evil HR Lady Suzanne Lucas, and concerns helicopter parents interfering with their teenagers' first jobs, even unexpectedly filling in for them (!) when they complained about being tired. Her commentary is spot-on, and includes the following:
You are teaching your child many, many lessons in behaving like this. The first lesson is that your child is incapable of doing hard things. The second lesson is that mom does not trust them to solve their own problems. The third lesson is that mom will rush in and save them from any small difficulty. You know what this gets you? This gets you a 35-year-old living in your basement. [emphasis in original]
Although the first story concerns pushing children too hard and the second helping them too much, both are about parents who control the lives of their children too much. This keeps them from developing their own interests on their own terms, thereby becoming motivated and self-confident. In each case, back off is excellent advice.

-- CAV

It's ALL 'Wish Recycling'

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Or: You Can't Recycle Your Time, Part 7084

A new logistical problem with government-sponsored recycling programs that prompted me to write a column earlier in the year is finally making the news. The LA Times reports (HT: Steve D.) that China's new standards for quality are causing ripples in the domestic recycling industry and sending lots of material to the landfills:

In January, China began barring "contaminated" material it once accepted. And under China's new rules, if something is one-half of 1% contaminated, it's too impure for recycling.

"This policy change is already starting to have adverse impacts on California," CalRecycle declared last month in a bulletin, "and is resulting in more material being stockpiled at solid waste facilities and recycling centers or disposed of in landfills."

Eric Potashner, a government relations official for Recology, a curbside hauler that sorts San Francisco Bay Area trash for recycling, says, "There's no market for a lot of stuff in the blue bin. What we can't recycle we take to a landfill."
Interestingly, although the focus of the article is China's new standards, those are hardly the only thing causing people to realize that recycling is uneconomical.
"A year ago," Potashner says, "we were getting $100 a ton for newsprint. Now we're getting an average [of] $5 ... . Revenue has fallen off the cliff."
And quality is being compromised by a practice called "wish recycling," in which people put things that can't be recycled into bins simply because they wish they could be recycled.

But in my column, I argued that these programs are all "wish recycling":
The only thing worth reusing in this picture would be the metal these bins are made of. (Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash)
... Although you might think it was invented by hippies who, as Ayn Rand once put it, "would pollute any stream by stepping into it," recycling pre-dates China itself, and began the moment someone realized that it saved time, effort, and/or money to re-use an object or any of its raw materials. In fact, the practice was so economical that there was no need for scolds and government bureaucrats: People have made careers by buying, collecting and selling scrap metal, rags, and even human waste. Nevertheless, in the days of rag-pickers and night soil collectors, some things were recycled and some things were not -- because it was a waste of time, effort, or money. Tells, those large mounds arising after centuries of human habitation, attest to this in addition to accounting for many archaeological discoveries. But around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world. Lest you think I quibble, consider how that affects even a simple choice: Toss out a cheap soft drink bottle -- or wash it and send it off to a recycling plant, regardless of whether it is quicker or cheaper to make a new one. [bold added]
This goal has caused countless Americans to waste enormous amounts of time sorting through trash for decades now. If China's new standards cause us to see this, that country will have done us a great favor.

-- CAV

One Cheer for WeWork

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Just swap a nice, juicy rib eye for that bottle, and see how little things change in a century. (Image via WikiMedia.)
In case you haven't heard, WeWork, a company that provides shared workspaces and other infrastructure for startups and other small businesses, recently adopted a policy of refusing to reimburse employees for meat-containing meal items purchased while on business. (The policy is supposed to reduce WeWork's "carbon footprint," in case you were wondering why a company would try to pressure employees into eating like vegetarians.) Business writer Suzanne Lucas amuses by indicating much better ways the company could achieve its stated goal than by annoying something close to ninety-seven percent of its employees -- and by spelling out just what a hassle this will be:
Imagine you're the person in charge of travel reimbursement. You now have to scour receipts to make sure someone didn't get chicken on those nachos. And what if an employee takes a client or a job candidate out to eat? Is the employee required to say to the client (or job candidate), "Hey, you can't order that spaghetti Bolognese. No meat!" Because that won't go over well.
And that's just a sample. Even the exceptions the company is willing to grant will entail extra inconvenience and expense.

Lucas is right that WeWork, as a private company, has the right to set whatever policies it wishes. And she is also right to mention that:
[I]f I was balancing two job offers and one would scrutinize my business meals for signs of hamburgers and the other would not, I might be inclined to turn down the offer from the company that cared more about what I ate on a business trip than what I accomplished. I suspect I'm not alone. [bold added]
I think that there is an additional lesson here, though. Whatever you might think of WeWork's policy, at least they can only inconvenience themselves and (perhaps) those they do business with. When like-minded people demand similar policies of the government, they are asking that it force us all to live with their choices. This is not just wrong, it might be even more impractical than they realize. I don't know if WeWork sponsors organizations that seek fuel rationing or other government interference with what fuel I use, but at least they are doing two things: (1) suffering the consequences of their own foolishness, and (2) "'virtue' signalling" (by publicizing this), so I am aware that this company places other considerations above how best to offer me value for my money.

-- CAV

Two on Kavanaugh

Monday, July 16, 2018

Shortly after President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I came across a couple of analyses of his past record that indicate where he might stand on a couple of key issues.

Regarding freedom of speech, Ken White of Popehat concludes:

Image via Wikipedia.
... Kavanaugh's work on the D.C. Circuit show a judge strongly protective of free speech rights, and part of the trend of applying free speech doctrines both to classic scenarios and to government regulation. His stance on telecommunications and elections laws will get him painted as part of the "weaponize free speech" movement by results-oriented thinkers. He's strong on First Amendment limits on defamation law and his approach to anti-SLAPP statutes do not, as some have suggested, signal that he wants to make defamation cases easier. But though he might help upset applecarts by applying the First Amendment to regulatory schemes, and will not uphold broad speech restrictions, he will likely not overturn doctrines that make it hard for individuals to recover for speech violations.
So far, so good -- for someone nominated by a President who doesn't exactly strike me as friendly towards this crucial right.

Kavanaugh's record on abortion isn't exactly extensive, but he has been nominated by a President hostile to women's reproductive rights. Regarding how he might rule in an abortion case, we have the following from The New York Times
In a case last fall that drew widespread attention, the appeals court voted to allow an undocumented pregnant 17-year-old in immigration detention to seek an abortion without delay; the Trump administration had wanted to first transfer her to an adult sponsor for guidance.

Judge Kavanaugh dissented. He wrote that while the appeals court was bound to obey Supreme Court rulings that said that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose an abortion, those precedents left room for the government to apply "reasonable regulations that do not impose an undue burden."

He maintained that the government was within its bounds to choose a transfer to a sponsor instead of "forcing the minor to make the decision in an isolated detention camp with no support network available." Judge Kavanaugh accused the majority of wrongly inventing "a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand." He said that barred the government from intervening to connect minors with their immigration sponsors before making such a serious life decision. "The majority's decision represents a radical extension of the Supreme Court's abortion jurisprudence," he wrote. [links omitted]
The fact that the case covers someone in government custody muddies the waters, but this falls clearly within the debate over the role a parent or guardian should play in whether a minor has an abortion. Kavanaugh's stand here doesn't tell me conclusively that he would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, but, given that many conservatives see government intervention with such involvement as a convenient means of interfering with the exercise of that right, this ruling doesn't look good

I haven't made up my mind on whether I support or oppose this nominee, but I am concerned about the second issue.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 13, 2018

Image via Pixabay.
Four Things

1. On the ride home from school back in June, my seven year old daughter made an odd complaint: she couldn't get a song out of her head.

Yes: In the process of promoting a school trip to an Orioles game, her teachers managed to afflict her with her first earworm. The song in question was, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

2. Some time in the past month, I had to explain to Pumpkin what a jackpot actually is, after she informed me that her little brother was sitting on it.

3. What you or I might call July 4 or Independence Day, Little Man was calling America Day. We spent the evening of ours on a beachside balcony in Florida's First Coast area watching fireworks.

4. Some time over the past few months, Little Man has taken to ... greeting ... squirrels by yelling "Hello!" and racing towards them. He's fast, but they're faster.

At Disney World, he yelled an insult at a duck (not Donald or Daisy!), but didn't storm after it. He's otherwise a very good-natured little boy, and I have no clue where that came from.

-- CAV

Something Parents Can Worry Less About

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lenore Skenazy writes of child abduction by complete strangers, something parents hear about on a near-constant basis and from every direction:

Image via Wikimedia.
It doesn't seem to matter to [Joey Salads] that he is reinforcing an idea that is already both rampant and untrue: Everyone is just waiting for the split-second opportunity to steal our kids.

Stranger kidnapping is the rarest of crimes. Even if you wanted your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, you'd have to leave him outside, unattended, for 750,000 years before he'd be statistically likely to be snatched.

But you wouldn't know it from Salads' shame-spreading, fearmongering videos, including his latest, in which he and a dad decide to teach the dad's wife about how horrible she is for letting their baby wait in the car for the few minutes it takes her to pay for the gas. [bold added]
Skenazy also briefly considers those child abductions that do occur in a Wall Street Journal piece and notes that "The most common victims are girls aged 12 to 17, with sexual assault being the biggest motive," and that the vast majority of them did not live with their parents.

-- CAV

Rude and Concerned Are Not Synonyms

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For better or worse, there is often a time delay for me when it comes to processing ridiculous and unexpected insults. A good example of this came during our recent family vacation, which included taking the kids to Disney World for a few days. Having gotten up later than we wanted for a scheduled event, we rushed to the park. Just after, I saw an opportunity to buy everyone breakfast while my wife stood in line with the kids for a ride. After my kids (aged seven and five) and I got a place in line, my wife joined us. So I headed out the building to get breakfast. No more than a yard or two from the building, two young adult females with technicolor dreadlocks accosted me, asking me where my children were. Assuming them to be park employees of some kind, I said, "Oh, they're with my wife."

Yeah. That's me around the thirty- and sixty-second marks.
"We're concerned that you're leaving them in line by themselves," one of them said somewhat brusquely. Thinking something was odd, but being in a hurry, I simply left for the coffee shop. Only at some point on the way did I realize that these two were almost certainly busybodies, rather than park employees, and that the answer they really deserved was something like a perfunctory, "That's rude."

I am not a threatening-looking person. My kids are healthy and clean, and were dressed for the occasion. I wasn't yelling at my kids. They weren't crying or screaming. The only reason whatsoever I can come up with for any concern by an onlooker is that they saw me enter with my kids and leave without them -- a sight that anyone with a grain of sense would realize is not some rare phenomenon at an amusement park. I am sure plenty of other parents hand off their kids to the other parent, or even their older siblings, other relatives, or friends.

A clean-cut, ordinary-looking man taking his kids to a line and leaving a few minutes later signals abandonment ... exactly how? And did this duo -- whose demeanor would give me pause about trusting my kids with them, to say the least -- spend any time enjoying the park? Did they worry themselves sick by appointing themselves guardians of every child in sight? Do they enjoy provoking parents? I don't know or care. But their assumption that I would skip out on my own young children in a crowded amusement park was either clueless enough or rude enough to merit an etiquette citation rather than an answer.

-- CAV

Ocasio-Cortez as Lipstick on a Pig

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

George Will's latest column argues that, at least in one respect, there is little to be excited about -- regardless of one's political orientation -- by the recent primary victory of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. His closing paragraph offers a good summary of his position:

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Today's American socialists say that our government has become the handmaiden of rapacious factions and entrenched elites, and that there should be much more government. They are half-right. To be fair, they also say that after America gets "on the right side of history" (an updated version of after "the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest"), government will be truly disinterested, manipulated by no rent-seeking factions, serving only justice. That is, government will be altogether different than it is, or ever has been. Seriously.
That good news, such as it is, offers cold comfort when one realizes that -- as Will correctly indicates -- we are well on the way to socialism. Worse, those who want us further down that road to ruin are in fashion, and aren't listening to the likes of Will, or to legions of conservatives who correctly argue that socialism will fail (again!) to lead us to prosperity. And neither are too many people who haven't considered the question deeply.

That last fact should alarm conservatives, but, strangely, it doesn't seem to. Many seem oddly content with smirking at how "unthinking and unobservant" Ocasio-Cortez or her supporters seem to be. Yes. Socialism is a pig and Ocasio-Cortez is just the lipstick Bernie Sanders and his ilk have been looking for. But our benighted youth were ready to accept that pig, anyway. That fact is nearly as alarming as the lack of solid opposition from the right.

-- CAV

A Drip for the Aid-in-Dying Debate?

Monday, July 09, 2018

The following headline on The Drudge Report caught my eye this morning: "Palliative Sedation, an End-of-Life Practice That Is Legal Everywhere..." Really? For a brief instant, the thought crossed my mind that the "right to die" debate, as some call it, might be overblown, but as is clear by the end of the article, that is anything but the case.

Using palliative sedation to relieve existential suffering is less common in the United States than it is in other Western countries, according to UCLA's Dr. [Thomas] Strouse and other American practitioners. "I am not comfortable with supplying palliative sedation for existential suffering," Dr. Strouse said. "I've never done that and probably wouldn't."

In states where aid-in-dying is legal, terminally ill patients rarely choose between aid-in-dying and palliative sedation, said Anthony Back, co-director of the University of Washington's Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence. In Washington, patients with a prognosis of six months to live or less must make two verbal requests to their doctor at least 15 days apart and sign a written form. They also must be healthy enough to take the legal drugs themselves.

"If you are starting the death-with-dignity process, you're not at a point where a doctor would recommend palliative sedation," Dr. Back said. "And with terminal sedation, the patient doesn't have that kind of time and is too sick to take all those meds orally," he said of the aid-in-dying drugs.

But Dr. Back does tell terminally ill patients who don't want or don't qualify for aid-in-dying that, when the time is right and no other treatments alleviate their symptoms, "I would be willing to make sure that you get enough sedation so you won't be awake and miserable." [bold added]
I am just about as dubious about calling aid-in-dying "right to die" as I am about all the "rights" (such as "housing," that are really violations of actual rights, such as property) manufactured mainly by the left. First off, aid-in-dying is an aspect of the right each individual has to his own life. So calling it by that name obscures the real issue. From there, we begin fighting to pass laws -- as if carving out a brand new area of freedom -- when maybe some statutes ought to be repealed first. (This is not to say that we wouldn't need new law (such as that making sure the patient really does want such assistance): We aren't, after all, accustomed to exercising this part of that right within the legal system.)

Let us leave mere cleverness to the fox. (Image via Pixabay.)
That said, one product of this myopic focus on death (versus living one's life as one sees fit) might be for proponents of aid-in-dying to be tempted to gloss over this difference to make their cause more palatable to people who have not thought much about the issue. Such a move will rightly lose them credibility among the most thoughtful -- those most vital to the cause. Conversely, opponents might seize on the surface similarity between aid-in-dying and palliative sedation to lull those same people into thinking the issue has already been adequately addressed, which is clearly not the case.

I lost a loved one who required morphine near death many years ago, and I support aid-in-dying; yet I had to think about this distinction. If that thought can cross my mind, I am sure that there will be people on either side of that debate who will attempt to exploit the fact that palliative care can sound a lot like aid-in dying. Those of us who value our lives -- enough to want the option to end them on our own terms if we are unfortunate enough to want it -- should make sure such tactics do not go unnoticed.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 06, 2018

Image via Pixabay.
Notable Commentary

"If [Alan Greenspan] wanted power and fame, he would not get them in his lifetime by advocating honest money." -- Keith Weiner, in "An Idea Whose Time Has Come" at SNB & CHF.

"Without predictions of hyperinflation or economic doom, without a makeover of the monetary system, and without even a skyrocketing gold price, there are simple and clear fiscal benefits to a government that issues a gold bond." -- Keith Weiner, in "The Benefits of Issuing Gold Bonds" at SNB & CHF.

"[W]hen medical organizations and medical journals start offering opinions outside their field of expertise, they simply harm their credibility and sound silly..." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Doctors Need to Shut Up More" at Forbes.

"For classical liberals like us and [Richard] Epstein, any government, and any system of law, must explain why their dictates have legitimate authority." -- Adam Mossoff and Eric Claeys, in "Patent Injunctions, Economics, and Rights" (PDF) in George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper, No. 18-17.

-- CAV

Using Traffic Jams

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Over at Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky gives advice on organizing for traffic jams. The implicit basic strategy is good: Avoid them if you can, but find a way to get some use of the time if you can't. Regarding the latter, a big one in my book -- at least when I am alone -- is as follows:

Pack the essentials

I always have a water bottle and some energy bars with me so I don't need to worry about getting thirsty or hungry. And I have a backlog of podcasts loaded to my smartphone to keep me happily occupied while traffic is slow (or stopped). Other people may prefer music, language lessons, or audio books in either CD or digital format.
Image via Pixabay.
I would add a couple of other things that can help, particularly if there is some flexibility about when one needs to arrive.

First, on trips with few or no good alternate routes (a fact that renders Waze and the like a little less useful), check traffic before setting out. On those occasions when you can know about bad traffic in advance, delay your departure a bit and do something useful with the time.

Second -- and this is really a variant of the first -- on trips with at least one decent stopping point, have things in the car that can help you make better use of the time at that stopping point. Is there a Starbucks that you pass every day to work? Pull over there if traffic is atrocious, and get the story. (I have found timely explanations for particularly bad traffic in Patch, in the form of reports on very bad accidents.) If it's going to take a while to clear, read or work there until the worst has passed.

None of this is ideal, but it can be satisfying getting a small win out of an otherwise annoying and frustrating situation.

-- CAV

What Is Independence?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

I think a quotation about the virtue of independence is in order, what with Independence Day coming so soon after the upset victory of a self-proclaimed "democratic socialist" over an incumbent in a New York congressional primary.

Image via Pixabay.
[An] error is committed by the man who declares that since man must be guided by his own independent judgment, any action he chooses to take is moral if he chooses it. One's own independent judgment is the means by which one must choose one's actions, but it is not a moral criterion nor a moral validation: only reference to a demonstrable principle can validate one's choices. [Ayn Rand, in "Introduction," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. x.]
When the left isn't fawning over this new politician, it's busy "explaining" what an unalloyed good democratic socialism supposedly is, without even lip service to the idea that one might want to question that evaluation, or any mention of how one ought to go about doing so. All one has to do to bring about paradise, apparently, is to vote for one of them.

In the meantime, the right isn't offering a very compelling alternative, even though it has mountains of facts on its side: Not merely has socialism caused misery every time it has been tried, but America and the rest of the semi-capitalist world have a level of prosperity never seen in human history. The problem of the right is that most on this side value human prosperity, but won't question the morality -- which they share with the left -- that condemns everything that makes this prosperity possible.

Now, more than ever, we need to "put the independence back in Independence Day," as Michael Berliner once put it. One cannot celebrate freedom -- or enjoy it for long -- without even knowing what it is. And one cannot know anything without thinking for himself.

-- CAV

Kagan's Darkest Fears Realized

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

George Will discusses the much-needed recent reversal by the Supreme Court of a 1977 decision that had allowed public sector unions to garnish partial dues from non-union public sector employees. Among other things, Will notes the following revealing passage from Elena Kagan's dissenting opinion:

Image via Wikipedia.
There is no sugarcoating today's opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation's law -- and in its economic life -- for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.
Will's commentary on this is amusing and informative, to say the least, and he is quite correct in his conclusion:
There is no sugarcoating today's reality. Public-sector unions are conveyor belts that move a portion of government employees' salaries -- some of the amount paid in union dues -- into political campaigns, almost always Democrats', to elect the people with whom the unions "negotiate" for taxpayers' money. Progressives who are theatrically distraught about there being "too much money in politics" are now theatrically distraught that the court has ended coercing contributions that have flowed to progressive candidates.
I can fault Will only for not going far enough -- not questioning the propriety of taxation or of the government performing some of the functions that so many government employees enable it to perform. But this ruling might make it a bit easier for the rare candidate (so far) who does to be heard, and to be elected.

The Supreme Court may have blown it on internet sales taxes, but at least it got this more important decision right.

-- CAV

That Vision Thing, Again

Monday, July 02, 2018

Unusual circumstances keep me from my blogging chair this morning, so Sunday, I dusted off what I jotted down as my original reaction to a conservative's blog post on the brewing war against Waze. (My only edit is the insertion of a link to my column.) I like the column I eventually wrote about that much better, but I do make a couple of points below that got left out, so here it is. Seeing now that I was a little hard on Jazz Shaw, I'll thank him now for inspiring my column.

Question: You hear about members of a community expressing concerns about the volume of traffic the Waze driving app is sending through their neighborhoods.

You reply by:

(a) Noting that others faced with similar situations have done things like get speed humps installed;

(b) Taking the opportunity to mention that many people (perhaps including some of them) should rethink opposing freeway improvements;

(c) Seizing this golden opportunity to introduce the idea of making roads into private property;

(d) All of the above; or

(e) None of the above, and implying that they are whiners who should passively accept the cultural and political status quo.
If your name is Jazz Shaw, you answered (e):
That road is not private. You didn't pay for it yourself. The taxpayers fund the construction and repair of it and everyone gets to use it. If that bothers you so much, perhaps you could move someplace where there is no road. That would solve one of your problems, but probably generate a few new ones to replace it.
Image of blinders via Pixabay.
One of the biggest problems with conservatives today is just such a lack of imagination. Sure. These roads aren't private -- but they should be and can be. Furthermore, Shaw isn't even right that voters don't control the roads running in front of their houses: First, they likely can petition for signs or other traffic calming measures to tamp down on speeding. Second, they have a longer term say as voters on how this government system is run. Third, and most important, if enough voters ever become dissatisfied with the inefficient way the government runs our transportation network (and with being pickpoketed for the privilege whether they use it or not), they can demand privatization.

So my answer would be (d), although I will admit that the most important part, (c) takes work and would be a long time coming. But it's an idea that needs wider circulation for exactly the same reason that a truly privatized post office does, and indeed the broader idea of separating economy and state.

Even saying this little bit yesterday, while I put off writing a letter, improved my mood over the alternative of being a misanthropic sourpuss. And perhaps a stray eyeball or two will read it. I invite Mr. Shaw to try that approach some time.

-- CAV