The Stadium That Theft Built

Thursday, January 31, 2019

John Stossel ably presents Atlanta's publicly-financed stadium -- which will host Super Bowl LIII -- as an example of the economic consequences of wealth destruction famously described in Frederic Bastiat's essay, "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen:"

Image by elisfkc, via Wikipedia (license).
So this Sunday, when Atlanta politicians brag about their beautiful stadium, and clueless media claim that it created lots of jobs, let's also remember the jobs the subsidies destroyed...

The problem isn't just Atlanta, and it isn't just sports.

Most every time government presumes to tell us where and how our money should be spent rather than leaving it up to free individuals, it creates a loss.
And every time the government does this, it is stealing from us. That's all I would add to this otherwise insightful and timely piece.

We can and should celebrate excellence on Super Sunday, but let us spare a thought for the folks in Atlanta who were robbed so some pack of politicians could pretend to be great benefactors. That's obscene, no matter how trifling the amount taken from any one individual by the government, and no matter what the excuse.

Theft is wrong, especially when performed by the government -- the very agency whose mission is in large part to protect us from it.

-- CAV

Schultz Rekonsideris

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Translation from the Esperanto: Schultz Reconsidered

An analysis of the possible independent Howard Schultz run for the presidency (which I discounted a couple of days ago) is making the rounds, and it's by one of the first pundits to predict that Donald Trump could win. In "Howard Schultz Could Actually Win the Presidency," Roger Simon argues in part (as excerpted at Power Line):

Image via Pixabay.
Elections are often a reaction to the previous one. America will be searching for a calm, level-headed voice. That, we know, is not Trump, nor is it the hard-left candidate that could well, in fact likely will, win the Democratic nomination.

Current frontrunner Kamala Harris is far from reassuring. She's a shrill (see the Kavanaugh hearings) quasi-socialist promising pie in the sky -- Medicare-for-all, debt-free college, guaranteed pre-K, minimum basic income, confiscatory taxes -- and she's just getting started. Bernie and others will soon be following suit. Fauxcahontas already has, competing in a game of socialist one-upmanship. Even supposedly centrist Biden is playing along...

The cost of all this, the actual numbers, if they ever even publish any, will be stratospheric. The national debt will reach the moon and beyond...

And Howard Schultz knows it. That is why ... he has isolated the escalating national debt as his main issue and pilloried Trump for doing nothing about it. (He has a point there.) At first, he will seem stodgy to "idealistic" millennials, but after a while, they too will wise up. It's their futures too, after all. The outrageous costs of the Democratic platform will be made known to them and then some. The election, already started, is long. The hard left's proposals will not wear well.

Schultz's policies would end up being much closer to Trump's than to the Democratic opposition
. He would want to increase taxes, but only a smidge, so as not to disrupt the economy. He opposes Medicare for all as far too expensive. He would be for a strong defense, at least relatively. He would be middle-of-the-road on immigration, where many Americans are. He would be Trump-lite, a palatable Donald that many of the media could swallow because he wouldn't insult them for being liars (even though they are) or say outrageous (though often accurate) things for them to deliberately misinterpret.

And, of course, he has plenty of money to run -- in every county, as he says. [bold added]
Simon adds a few other things that generally make Schultz more electable than other recent independent/third-party candidates.

I think this is a strong case, focusing as it does on Schultz's electability.

In my previous post on Schultz, I realize now, I misapplied both Ayn Rand's caution about elections as "debates" and the historical lesson about third-party politics -- by implicitly assuming in my haste that Schultz actually stands for a principle (or at least one distinct from what is common in the electorate), which I don't think he does. Schultz is not billing himself as a principled free marketer -- else he'd argue we need to work towards dismantling the welfare/entitlement state, as opposed to merely looking for a way to reduce the national debt. In other words, in terms of where the electorate already is (and is likely to be in 2020), Schultz may plausibly win, especially against his likely opposition. This is because he is not really offering anything substantially different than what most people want. And for the same reason, since his goal isn't to change minds, it doesn't matter in that respect how he chooses to run. In another respect -- what would either party nominate (a preening thief or a brain-dead strong man) -- it makes all the difference in the world.

So, no, I don't think Schultz running for office is Quixotic. But a Schultz presidency will not make a substantial difference in the direction our country is heading, either. Given the current state of the two parties, though, it might be the best outcome. The Democrats would be held at bay for another few years, and perhaps a loss would shake the hold of the brainless Trump coalition on the Republicans.

-- CAV

I'll Take the Dentist With the Lower Rating, Please

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Drill more deeply than the numerical rating when choosing a dentist. (Image via Pixabay.)
Having just moved and in need of a routine cleaning, I recently had to choose a new dentist. Driving time is no small concern where I live, so I started by looking for practices nearby. I knew about two: One I had driven past a few times and another a neighbor had used. An internet search revealed that these are indeed the only ones that are very close. But the good news is that both are highly rated. All I had to do was pick the one with the better rating, right? Wrong. And this was despite my neighbor's good experience and the fact that the higher-rated practice had an order of magnitude more reviews than the one I chose. (The neighbor mentioned this dentist in passing, and at a time I wasn't thinking about choosing a dentist, so I didn't probe.)

Often, a large number of reviews can add credibility to a rating, but it's only one piece of information. The fact that a product or company is popular or rated highly is never as important as why, so I did what I always do when having to gauge unfamiliar choices: I read enough reviews, positive and negative to get a feel for how credible I found the rating. With the larger practice, the good reviews seemed a little too glowing, and some of the negative reviews credibly stated that the practice likes to sell unnecessary treatments. In contrast, the smaller practice had both more credible positive reviews and the kinds of negative reviews one would normally expect, ranging from non-alarming minor problems any business might sometimes have -- to reviews that really amount to, "I am a difficult person with unrealistic expectations, and this business was unlucky I came by."

So, yes, I'm going with the smaller, lower-rated practice, and it will need to earn future visits, although I am fairly confident it will.

This all reminds me of a couple of things I recently encountered pertinent to the same kind of problem, one of them being a recent Suzanne Lucas column at Inc., where she discusses "How to Spot Fake Glassdoor Reviews." Among other things, it is interesting to note that many companies do try to manipulate online reviews:
The Wall Street Journal reports that Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli, "instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews." The result was a flood of positive reviews at the same time.

Because many people write a review after they leave a company, you'd expect a surge in reviews after a large layoff, but you would also expect them to lean to the negative side. (Although, it's perfectly possible to be laid off from a great place to work.) But a flood of positive reviews is a pretty good signal that there's a problem. [link omitted]
More important than learning how to spot this particular kind of problem or even knowing that it happens, is the rest of the article, whose main message I'd summarize as, "Using reviews takes much more than looking for a couple of numbers. Fortunately, there is more information there than you might think."

Another way of learning about whether you might want to hire someone or use a product is to use that fact that there are lots of proxies for reviews out there. As an example, consider the common problem of deciding whether to adopt a new technology. The following came from a very interesting Hacker News thread on the subject:
  • Is there a clear reason the new tech exists? What differentiates it from its competitors? This alone rules out like 90% of new front-end web frameworks / widgets / plugins.
  • Bonus points for tools whose authors have made the effort to explicitly compare it with competitor tools, particularly ones that acknowledge points where the competitor might have the advantage. ("Our new tech is better than existing old tech in every possible way" gets the side-eye from me; "Our new tech is better than existing old tech for these particular purposes, but old tech may still be more appropriate for these other purposes" goes a tremendous way towards confirming that the new tech has a real reason to exist.
  • Is there documentation? Is it any good? This is a really low bar, but far too many new tools have no documentation at all ("just check out the source code") or have minimal, incomplete, or tautological docs (" executes the foo method of bar"). A message board or IRC channel is nice, but not a substitute.
  • How big is the API surface? Does it need to be that big? I tend to avoid tools where there are six different ways to do the same thing -- looking at you, Angular -- it suggests the developers are unfocused or in disagreement, and makes it harder to find support or documentation on any particular issue. Same thing if the API has undergone major breaking changes or paradigm shifts between versions (looking at you, Angular...)
  • What does the tag look like on stackoverflow? This serves as a good indicator of whether the tech is too new or obscure to bother with, what the common pain points are, the average skill/knowledge level of its users, and whether help will be available if I get stuck when using it.
  • Is there a relatively simple way to try it out? I'm much more likely to experiment with something where I can clone a repo and get going with simple but nontrivial example code; if I have to reconfigure half the settings on my machine just to get a hello world, I'm not going to bother. [format edits, bold added]
There are many other good suggestions in that thread that can be applied elsewhere, especially also self-knowledge (What problem do I have to solve, anyway? Do I even need new tech to solve it?) and using terms like "disadvantages" with the search term for the thing in question.

Evaluating the unfamiliar is something too many people try to do quickly, but in the wrong way. With a little bit of thought, and perhaps by approaching it a little like a puzzle, one can do so efficiently and with a degree of confidence that rises the more one can integrate the new knowledge with what one already knows.

-- CAV

Howard Schultz, the Esperanto Candidate

Monday, January 28, 2019

Next to Kamala Harris's unsurprising, Obama-eque campaign kickoff, the chattering classes are occupying themselves the most by asking whether former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz might help re-elect Donald Trump by running as an independent. I agree with this Atlantic piece that that's a possibility, mainly because Schultz appeals to what had been Hillary Clinton's base within the Democratic party. (Some disagree.)

But that's where my agreement with the Atlantic ends. I'm with Schultz that (as the piece implies he thinks) the parties are basically the same but that's about it. (Sorry, Mr. Dovere, but strident bickering among people who fundamentally agree that the government should run everything is hardly a "stark" contrast.)

Indeed, I regard Schultz's solution, summarized below by the piece, as vapid, regardless of the merit of his other political positions:

Image via Wikimedia Commons, taken by Adam Bielawski
Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, would run under the theory that the answer to the political division in the country right now is moving away from party politics. There's little evidence to support that, as people report being more polarized and partisan, devoted to their own party and demonizing the other. For all the prominent Republicans who say they don't like Trump, the president's overall approval numbers among voters within his party remain sky high, according to polls. Schultz would have to persuade millions of them to abandon the party to vote for him, while drawing enough Democratic votes away from a party that is energized and excited about taking out the president. [bold added]
And no one can explain why it is vapid better than Ayn Rand, who noted in 1962 that, "To change the trend, one must work to create an enlightened electorate. And one must begin by realizing that elections are won in every month of the year -- except November." (bold added) The trend in question, which can't go on forever, is of politicians avoiding saying anything of substance, and of voters helping them along by pretending they are hearing anything important.

Rand hints at the magnitude of the task Schultz fancies taking on. And she identifies its nature, which the writer at the Atlantic fails to grasp -- although he still thinks Schultz is tilting at windmills:
A politician's first concern is to get elected -- without which he cannot achieve his goals, whether they are noble or ignoble, whether he is a crusading idealist or a plain ward-heeler.

If the voters approach elections with nothing better than the desperate feeling that "somebody ought to do something," if they evade or ignore political principles -- a politician will follow suit. (Which is why our age is not distinguished by the great stature of its political leaders.)

An election campaign is not the time to teach people the fundamentals of political theory, and a candidate is not a teacher. He can only try to cash in on such ideas as he believes the people to hold. He is not the cause of political trends, he is their product.

Who, then, is the cause? The country's intellectuals.

The study and definition of political theory is a full-time job. Just as all people cannot be automobile manufacturers, but can judge and select which car they wish to buy, so they cannot be political philosophers, but can judge the theories presented to them and form their own convictions accordingly. It is on this crucial responsibility that modern intellectuals have defaulted.

The dreary clowning of today's election campaigns originates in our college classrooms. The evasive mess -- a mixture of Marx, Keynes and moral cowardice -- taught in most classes of political science, would make our candidates look like paragons of frankness and precision, by comparison.

The people know that something is terribly wrong in today's world and that they are given no choice. But how can they make themselves heard? They are not in the profession of "opinion-making."

They sense, but cannot identify, that the real issue under all the evasions is: capitalism versus socialism. But that is the issue which neither the "liberals" nor the "conservatives" dare face or discuss.

The people are taking the only way out, still open to them: the protest vote. Predominantly, they are voting, not for anything, but against it. The trend in most semi-free countries, notably in England, is to keep voting out whoever is in. It is a temporary means to prevent the entrenchment of a single clique in power. ("The Season of Platitudes", reprinted in The Ayn Rand Column, pp. 50-51.)
Even if Schultz were truly different from what the two parties offer, the electorate isn't ready to hear him, and it isn't as if the question of (effectively) forming a third party has never been asked. (Spoiler alert: It's a great way to make sure you have zero influence on one of the two coalitions that our political system naturally organizes itself into.)

To summarize: Whatever Schultz offers, he won't affect the debate in either party. He's sure to appeal to somebody, so he might siphon off some votes and possibly tip the election one way or the other. But since every electable politician sees no problem with central planning or the entitlement state, it's anyone's guess as to whether the eventual winner will matter all that much -- if we're lucky.

It would be nice if all we needed to do to fix the world's problems was speak the same language, but people often disagree about things for good reasons. And sometimes, when practically everyone is wrong, there is much to be said for anything -- even including bickering -- that distracts them from getting their way. See also the checks and balances system created by our founders.

-- CAV

P.S. I realized a couple of days later that my analysis here is partly mistaken.


1-30-19: Added PS linking to another post on Schultz.

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 25, 2019

Four Things

Image via Wikipedia.

1. Recently, I read Steven Johnson's entertaining and thought-provoking book, Wonderland, which explores the roles of delight and play in the creation of the modern world. One section concerns the spice trade, from which we learn of how difficult it was at first to grow vanilla beans anywhere but Mexico:
[T]hat seemingly trivial act -- a boy tricking a flower into producing seed, in the hills of a remote island -- would somehow shift billions of dollars of economic activity from one part of the world to another, and turn a spice that was once pursued by only the elites of society into a flavor so ubiquitous that its name has become a synonym for the commonplace and the ordinary. (loc. 1703)
Until that moment, only a specific species of bee native to Mexico could cause the plants to produce fruit. They otherwise could grow easily in plenty of other locations around the world.

Johnson has a very interesting idea, but I am not sure he did as much as he could have with it. But then, many (if not practically all) intellectuals fail to appreciate the importance of play for the rational animal.

2. Here's another from Wonderland, regarding the game Monopoly:
Ironically, the game that became an emblem of sporty capitalist competition was originally designed as a critique of unfettered market economics. [Lizzie] Magie's version actually had two variations of game play, one in which players competed to capture as much real estate and cash as possible, as in the official Monopoly, and one in which the point of the game was to share the wealth as equitably as possible. (The latter rule set died out over time -- perhaps confirming the old cliché that it is simply less fun to be a socialist.) (loc. 2564) [link and bold added]
That's no cliche, and it figures that even the fun version of the game is a poor representation of capitalism, starting with the fact that it is zero-sum.

Incidentally, you can also learn from the book that the shopping mall, which many leftists love to use as a cudgel against capitalism, was invented by a socialist architect, who saw them as, "machines for selling" (loc. 695 ff.)

3. It is well known that even the most hardened criminals dread it, but how bad is solitary confinement, and why? Poker players, known to bet on almost anything, eventually got around to learning part of the answer empirically, in the form of what at least one regarded as a sucker bet (although a high-stakes one):
[Rory] Young was relieved. He had come to a gradual realization that he hadn't given enough weight to the fact that [Rich] Alati was there by choice. "So if you're in solitary confinement in prison, that's a scary situation. You don't know if you're going to get out ever," he said. "Here, if he lasts, he gets 100k, but these guys in solitary confinement get nothing -- they have to do that."
Young's relief cost him a negotiated $62,400.00.

4. In case you ever need to know how to spot an AI-generated face in an image, Kyle McDonald has you covered at Medium.

-- CAV

Blocking Decision Fatigue

Thursday, January 24, 2019

I mentioned Alex Epstein's podcast, The Human Flourishing Project, some time back. I'd heard about it some time ago, but didn't have time to listen until very recently, due to our move. The series concerns finding the best way to achieve prosperity and happiness in our very unusual modern circumstances: Technology has advanced so far on so many fronts that it should be very easy in many respects to live an engaging, productive, and happy life. And yet, the following very significant obstacle to that goal remains: The knowledge of how to do this is often hard to get for many reasons, such as being drowned in a sea of non-knowledge.

Image via Pixabay.
This general problem is what Epstein opens his series with, and his solution is for us to work on improving what he calls our "knowledge systems." (e.g. How do we treat newly-encountered claims to knowledge? How do we evaluate experts? How can we test suggestions for ourselves?)

Throughout, I have been impressed with seeing both how Epstein has applied his knowledge systems to various concrete problems and some of the specific advice he offers after considering it. (Having said this, the best way to treat his specific advice is by applying one's own mind to it. This is in part to develop the habit of better evaluating claims to knowledge, in part to develop a better understanding of the type of problem one wants to solve, and in part because our individual natures and circumstances can require tailor-made solutions.) For one example, I learned from a STRIVE talk of Epstein's that he recommends meditation as a rejuvenation method. (He mentions this a few times in his podcasts, too.) This was interesting and fun, and I might try it again some time, but I usually fell asleep for about 15 minutes when I tried it a few months ago. I did learn that the resulting cat naps were sometimes somewhat refreshing. The point is, Epstein is demonstrating how to figure out good approaches to daily problems for which good advice is difficult to ferret out, if it exists at all.

A good, common, example is in order now. A couple of the episodes relate to relaxed productivity, and the first of these discusses a common problem -- and one that has greatly frustrated me over the years. I'll just dump my notes here for a description:
  • Example of tortured productivity [the opposite of relaxed productivity --ed]: Spending a work day unsure of what one should be working on. No plan, so options start popping into mind, so questions about priorities do. Eventually, on picking [a task], he starts wondering how best to proceed. This is complex, so by the time he gets to it, he's sapped of energy and stressed, so he hasn't the energy to do what he eventually chose. This is a very common and very miserable state that is a constant for many people.
  • He used to see this feeling as a symptom of over-commitment, but he now realizes that the feeling is due to a lack of prioritization.
  • Prioritization (what) and Work (how) BOTH require lots of effort, and mixing them is disastrous. Do each rigorously and separately.
  • He noticed early in life that lots of planning on Sunday worked extremely well, although he worried he was over-planning. But [what-planning] needs to be respected as its own kind of work... [format edits]
I couldn't have come across this at a better time: I have been trying to improve my own planning for quite some time, and had noticed the task taking longer and longer -- to the point that I was wondering if what I was doing was no better than a procrastination ritual. But it's clear to me now that the two kinds of planning can lead to decision fatigue when not separated. And worse, as long as planning a week can take -- Epstein recommends a big chunk of a day, if I recall correctly. -- the amount of time wasted and the degree of resulting frustration can dwarf that. So I now have something new I can add to my evolving weekly planning routine -- the realization that there are two kinds of planning to separate.

As a newcomer to this podcast, I have some advice of my own to offer to others who might be interested in trying it: Resist the temptation to just grab an episode about a topic that interests you. These build on one another and they're short. I tried that approach, listening to an episode here or there in the car while running errands, and taking notes later. But then I took a couple of solo road trips that allowed me to listen in batches. Listening to the first few consecutively helped me better appreciate the integration in Epstein's approach, and caused me to realize that different episodes than the ones I picked out were what I actually needed. (For example, I had tried "Engineering Your Life Routine," when "Relaxed Productivity" better suited the problem I was trying to solve.) Another thing you might find helpful is to listen through a whole episode (or set of them), resisting the understandable urge to take notes, and let it percolate for a few days -- and then re-listen for notes. You may well find things you initially missed when doing so.

So, you may find the technique of blocking out your weekly schedule helpful -- or you may have that one already figured out and have another question about the nuts and bolts of reaching your goals. I am looking forward to continuing to test this technique on myself, and hope I have succeeded in getting a few more people to give this podcast a hearing. I think there is something for everyone there, first and foremost the approach to new knowledge; second, careful thought about many common problems; and third, lots of ideas to try.

-- CAV

The Impotence of "Owning the Libs"

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I don't know where Philip Bump stands regarding Donald Trump, but he very well summarizes the motivations of Trump and many of his conservative supporters. And he notes that many of Trump's voters are growing frustrated.

First, we have Trump, the blustering appeaser making a big show of temporarily stopping a busload of political opponents he's on record as wanting to cut a deal with:

Eyes off her and on the prize of freedom, please. (Image via Wikipedia)
Consider the reaction of Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator whose relationship with Trump's presidency has run more cold than hot. His reaction to Trump's letter to Pelosi came in a blog post that consisted of a headline, a picture and three sentences. The headline was "This Letter From Trump to Pelosi May Be the Greatest Letter of His Presidency." The third sentence was "His letter is hilarious." The image was a large, laughing face.

This is how Trump does politics. He may not do everything that his base would wish, but he at least fights against the people they hate. That's often good enough, as it was for Erickson on Thursday. [bold added]
No he doesn't, and what he does do is not even not good enough.

In the meantime, we have the following from a Trump voter:
"I voted for him, and he's the one who's doing this," she told Mazzei. "I thought he was going to do good things. He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting." [bold added]
The last time I checked, the President's job wasn't primarily to hurt or taunt people, but to protect individual rights. But let's give this supporter the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and applaud her for her frankness about Trump's braggadoccio wearing thin. That said, unless Americans who dislike the Democrats for one reason or another look for a leader with higher aspirations than "owning the libs" (i.e., getting a few laughs), they will continue getting the kind of "leader" they deserve.

It may be fun to see the likes of Nancy Pelosi getting a taste of their own medicine, but irritating Democrats is not the same thing as defeating them. More important, it definitely fails to advance the cause of freedom, and is probably setting it back.

-- CAV

Do You Really Need a Smart Phone?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Over at Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success, Cal Newport considers an idea raised by a piece in The Verge:

Vlad Savov ... asks if it's time to bring back the dumb phone. If we return to thinking of these gadgets in a more purely instrumental sense -- that is, asking what important problems they solve -- then, perhaps to our surprise, we might find ourselves wondering why the appropriate answer is not just a simple "yes."
Image via Unsplash.
Even considering Newport's very good points about the much-improved utility and portability of computing devices sized between the smart phone and the laptop, I find myself answering something like, "It depends, but probably, you do."

Granted, Newport is speaking mainly from a productivity standpoint, but a recent road trip I made showed me that there are at least two things a smart phone can be quite valuable for (on top of improving our enjoyment of our lives, if used with discipline): memory insurance and remote connectivity. Yes, phones can do many of the things a Chromebook or a tablet can do (but not as well). But during the trip, a contact I'd been trying to reach called me to set up an appointment. I was nowhere near another device at the time, so I put her on speaker and glanced at my calendar, using my phone. Later, at a gas station in the boondocks -- whose proprietor may not have even known what wi-fi even is -- I was able to quickly confirm another appointment right after sending my wife a brief text on my progress home.

Yes, I could have done either of these things later or on another device, but... In neither case was I trying to concentrate or otherwise deeply involved with something else, and in both cases, it was a fine time to do a short, one-off task. Indeed, had I not done the first of these, I might have missed a chance to batch the appointment with others -- and I would have had to expend an amount of effort to remind myself to return the call later (an amount equal to or greater than ... just setting the appointment). All this I could do just by reaching into my pocket or using the device I was already using.

Was this necessary? Maybe so, maybe not. But sometimes, small wins can pay off in unexpected ways. Unless you have great difficulty controlling the urge to check your phone every few seconds, I'd say that these are great for collecting small wins. I vastly prefer using a real computer for scheduling and other productivity tasks, but as annoying as it can be to do them on a phone, it's a great ability to have.

-- CAV

No, ESPN. Excellence Won That Game.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The NFL playoffs are generally the only time of the year I watch professional football. I am primarily a soccer fan, and I generally don't have three or four hours to spend in front of a television set. I follow the game a little, but when I watch sporting events, I want bang for my buck: Ninety minutes of uninterrupted soccer -- early in the day, thanks to time difference, once every week or so does me fine.

That said, I was at my in-laws yesterday and saw most of the NFC Championship game (which was close, and marred by a crucial officiating error) and part of the AFC Championship. With my Saints out of the Super Bowl, I checked the news this morning to see whether the Patriots won. When I did, I found the following at the tail end of an ESPN piece with the following promising title: "Patriots' Super Bowl LIII Trip Is a Bill Belichick Masterpiece for the Ages."

Image via Wikipedia.
In the end, the Patriots won the game because they won the overtime coin toss, because special teams captain Matthew Slater called "heads" and the coin bounced his way. Slater would say afterward in his delirious locker room that he always calls "heads" because his Hall of Fame father, Jackie, once instructed him to. "We always say God is the head of our life," Slater said, "so we call 'heads,' simple as that." Never mind the fact that both teams should always get at least one touch of the football in a postseason game. As soon as the Patriots won the toss, they knew exactly what 41-year-old Brady was prepared to do. They've seen this movie a few times before. [bold added]
This nonsensically follows what what had contained the elements of a good buildup. You can learn that football mastermind Bill Belichick and the Patriots faced long odds from the start of the season and overcame them; they had a definite, well-executed game plan; and they managed to built up an early two-touchdown cushion. Tom Brady and company needed every single point of that cushion just to get the opportunity to try for that game winning touchdown. Besides, think what you will of sudden death rules, there's no guarantee that, had the Chiefs won the toss, they would have scored, as spectacular an offense as they have.

What was more important than the coin toss or even what happened afterward was what it took to get to that point. That the Brady touchdown might have seemed routine, or a foregone conclusion, does not detract. It underscores that point.

Ironically, when I read this story, whatever algorithm ESPN uses to queue stories after each other came close to doing for the sports writer what he says the coin did for the Patriots. That title? "Tom Brady Exults, Says 'Odds Were Stacked Against' Patriots."

Congratulations to the Patriots on their continuing success.

-- CAV

P.S. Curiosity and a desire to learn from Bill Belichick led me to a somewhat rambling article about Burj Najarian, mentioned early on in the above-mentioned story. This led me to a transcript of (or notes from) a show about Belichick's right hand man. From those notes, one can learn just how comprehensive and integrated Belichick's coaching is. (He trains players to answer questions in a way that won't give opponents information they can use, for example.) One can also see that Najarian vitally performs many necessary tasks for Belichick, allowing him to concentrate on football matters. (This is in addition to Belichick avoiding social media and being the only coach to refuse to join the NFL Coaches Association.) Belichick is routinely and unjustly called names and belittled for seeking every small advantage, but one can learn a lot from someone who has a lifetime winning record in the Super Bowl and is heading to another.

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 18, 2019

Notable Commentary

"[U]sers of these services should be aware of potentially life-changing consequences of learning about their heritage, as well as possible ways governments can use (or misuse) their data." -- Paul Hsieh, in "So You Got a Consumer DNA Test for Christmas -- Now What?" at Forbes.

Ironically, some wallow daily in a modern pot of gold, but miss the rainbow that got them there, or tsk as if it were a primitive myth. (Image via Unsplash)
"Professors now insist that despite a panoply of private sector employers to choose from, we're oppressed by 'private government,' whereby 'employers rule our lives' (per philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson); and despite a capitalist cornucopia of new products and services, allegedly we suffer a 'tyranny of choice' (per psychology professor Barry Schwartz); and despite new opportunities for self-employment, we're enslaved by the 'invisible handcuffs of capitalism' (per economics professor Michael Perelman)." -- Richard Salsman, in "We Should Celebrate Diversity in Wealth Too" at The American Institute for Economic Research.

"When we zoom out, then, it is clear that the threat to free speech is far wider than just the jihadist menace." -- Elan Journo, in "The betrayal of Charlie Hebdo" at Spiked.

"Have you ever had one of those horrific nightmares that begins with you having already done something terrible, and you feel a combination of guilt, and terror, and a pained confusion about how this crime was committed beyond your control?" -- Lisa VanDamme, in "On Crime and Punishment: Sympathy for the Devil" at Medium.

"When the interest rate [is lowered by a central planner], that does not turn a wealth-destroying activity into a wealth-creating one." -- Keith Weiner, in "Surest Way to Overthrow Capitalism" at SNB & CHF.

"Voting is essential to America and to any moral system of government, not because it enables the majority to assert its will, but because it protects each individual from being subject to the will of others." -- Gregory Salmieri, in "Voting in the American System of Government," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand.

"[B]ecause the source and nature of economic power and political power differ, we should have different attitudes toward them." -- Onkar Ghate, in "On American Political Philosophy," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand.

"We should look instead to the distinctive American approach to government, and consider the more basic question: what, in that original system, is the government's proper job, domestically?" -- Elan Journo, in "What Should a Distinctively American Foreign Policy Do?," reprinted from A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand.

-- CAV

A Brief Primer on Slavery

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Larry Elder recently wrote a short column about the institution of slavery. I highly recommend it, because not only does it do a good job of summarizing that history, but it also will teach almost any reader something he did not know. Perhaps the most important thing that too many people don't know today is the following, which he quotes from economist Thomas Sowell:

Slave (l) and "owner" (r) ca. 1886. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century.

People of every race and color were enslaved -- and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed. [bold added]
As Elder indicates, through the example of a reparations supporter who long ago adopted an Arabic name, too many people are ignorant of or evade our nation's role in ending this evil practice. This column will help the former gain an appropriate appreciation for the United States, however imperfect it is; and it should cause us to ask why the latter focus only on the sins and mistakes of its past.

I recommend reading the whole thing, and remembering it whenever there is a chance to aid the ignorant or disarm the unjust.

-- CAV

The Soul-Body Dichotomy vs. Work and Leisure

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Writing of the poisonous idea that she called the soul-body dichotomy (or the mind-body dichotomy), Ayn Rand once summarized, through her hero, John Galt:

They have cut man in two, setting one half against the other. They have taught him that his body and his consciousness are two enemies engaged in deadly conflict, two antagonists of opposite natures, contradictory claims, incompatible needs, that to benefit one is to injure the other, that his soul belongs to a supernatural realm, but his body is an evil prison holding it in bondage to this earth -- and that the good is to defeat his body, to undermine it by years of patient struggle, digging his way to that glorious jail-break which leads into the freedom of the grave.
A column at Ask Polly, in reply to a successful woman consumed with self-doubt, reminded me of those words, but in more concrete, day-to-day terms. The following paragraph is a great example:
Remember, it's re-creation -- and that man is a being with a self-made soul. (Image via Pixabay.)
I never really understood this until I met my husband. My husband and I are both easily daunted. If you say the words, "What's for dinner?" within earshot of either of us, we immediately crumple up like plastic wrap on a hot stove. Even when we're both at our absolute best -- working hard, firing on all pistons, exercising vigorously, sleeping well -- we are still tempted to throw it all out the window so we can sit and eat aged cheeses and watch something stupid on TV. Because we're both guilt-driven former Catholics, we both get angry at ourselves constantly just for being slow-moving animals with needs and emotions. This guilt also makes us obsessed with anything that sounds "indulgent" because we equate indulgence with a temporary escape from the guilt-inducing sounds that our brains make. [bold added]
These "guilt-inducing sounds" Polly eloquently calls "the religion of I'm Not Enough," and she attributes her own struggle to emancipate herself to her Catholic background. But the truth is that the idea Rand described (along with several other false dichotomies) permeates our culture and makes life difficult for practically everyone. Even those who reject the abstract idea will usually have psychological work to do to recover from the fact that they have probably internalized this idea to some degree. Given that fact, it is worthwhile to consider the advice contained within the column for specific things one can do to achieve better psychological health. One gem that comes to my mind is the following:
Consider giving up. My husband and I do this all of the time now, as a means of understanding exactly what we want from our lives. My husband has a tendency to blindly take on extra work commitments because he sees it as the "right" thing to do. So I often ask him, "Do you really want to spend time on that, or could you just relax instead?" I've been pushing both of us to define work and relaxation in clearer terms. When you have a history of being both ego-driven and driven by guilt, it really pays to consciously reevaluate your priorities and deconstruct your assumptions about what you want to do with your life. [italics in original, bold added]
Were I to essentialize the above and all the other steps, I would say, "Test your self-evaluations against reality, rather than some arbitrary ideal." But because both the devil is in the details and this advice is easier to hold in mind with a few concrete examples, I recommend reading the whole thing, anyway.

-- CAV

Lax Property Protection and Water Pollution

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Last week, in a post titled "Cause -- or Apt Analogy?," I stated incorrectly (but admittedly from hazy memory), that "At one time, for example, property rights to riverbeds were taken away from their owners so companies could dump waste into them without fear of being sued." An interested commenter asked for a citation or source, which I was unable to supply.

Fortunately, reader Snedcat mentioned in a comment of his own a couple of illuminating sources directly pertinent to the matter:

Image via Pixabay.
[The] lax, "pro-business" legal climate around that time" ... especially involved a series of legal decisions picking up in the 1880s. An overview is available here. One of the legal issues not discussed so much in it is that common law (from Roman law through Bracton) considered river beds one category of property owned by the state; the legal cases above refer to riparian rights, the rights of people along the river to certain amounts of water of a certain quality. This discusses it. [links in original]
I find the following passage, from the first of these, particularly relevant:
Yet the judges were not insulated from broader social developments and thus their decisions reflected changes in values in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Strict protection of property rights in the early nineteenth century was compatible with the early republican thought, which attributed intrinsic value to property; it was the foundation of propriety and political participation in the society and the source of the citizen's independence. Utilitarian values gained prominence throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the Progressive Era when Gifford Pinchot promoted the use of water and forest resources for "the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." The mid-nineteenth century case reports indicate that for judges industry was the vanguard of economic development that benefited everybody. Public opinion turned against corporations and big business at the end of the nineteenth century, when their misuse of power had been amply demonstrated. By then it was considered that social welfare and the interests of large corporations were not compatible. [format and punctuation edits, bold added]
So I was generally correct that government protection of the property rights of many downstream of polluters was lessened. But these weren't rights to the riverbed. I further think that it would be wrong to infer or imply that the property status of rivers were ever laid out perfectly at any time.

With that, let me thank Snedcat for the helpful correction and my much-improved understanding of those historical developments. (And chalk one up to the value of admitting when you don't have an answer.)

-- CAV

Time to Dump Recycling

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pardon the clickbait-y headline, as imprecise as it is, but I am hoping to attract the attention of thoughtful folks here and there...

I don't. (Image via Pixabay.)
About a year ago, as Maggie Koerth-Baker of FiveThirtyEight reports in "The Era of Easy Recycling May Be Coming to an End," China greatly tightened quality requirements for certain kinds of recyclable material it imports. This change was due in large part to its unsuitability as an industrial feedstock.

Although it took longer than I expected for American news outlets to start discussing the consequences, it seems to be happening now. Unfortunately, although I think many might agree that this should start a serious conversation about recycling, this isn't the case. Consider the closing paragraph, concerning "single-stream," the most popular form of municipal recycling because it does away with much of the tedium of sorting through trash:
Single-stream isn't the only cause of higher contamination rates... But it's a big factor. And with China no longer buying -- and other countries considering similar restrictions -- we're going to have to make our recycling cleaner. That means either less single-stream recycling or more public education and more stringent use of single-stream systems. Either way, you can expect recycling to get at least a little less convenient. [bold added]
This follows a somewhat detailed analysis that includes the following highlights regarding government-sponsored residential recycling: (1) a quarter of the material is "too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill;" (2) the growth of single-stream "pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates" -- in part due to how the waste is collected; and (3) the increased amount of material collected is largely offset by this higher contamination.

If only the intelligent folks at FiveThirtyEight would sort through their philosophical premises as thoroughly as they do their trash. If they did, they might hesitate to claim that we "must" redouble our efforts at this astoundingly wasteful activity.

I, for one, disagree that millions of Americans spending more time contemplating their garbage every day is something we "must" do, and I reached that conclusion about a year ago, when I got wind of China's new standards. (In today's context, this is really a call for massive donations of free American labor -- of your time.)

Last year, in "It's Time to Get Serious About Recycling," at RealClear Markets, I wrote in part:
Let's be clear about what recycling is. Although you might think it was invented by hippies ... 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]
And, later:
China's new rule means that it's time to get serious about recycling, but not about into which bin we drop that soda bottle. We need to examine the cost, in terms of our own life and happiness, of recycling, just like any other activity... If China, which supposedly wants this scrap, isn't willing to put in the money or effort to refine it, shouldn't that cause us to reconsider what and why we recycle, rather than blindly provide even more free labor... ? [bold added]
Rather than checking our trash, we should, as Ayn Rand, author of The Virtue of Selfishness, might put it, check our premises, first and foremost the idea that our purpose in life is to "save the planet," whatever that means.

Indeed, I can't help but wonder if today, she might advise environmentalists to do the following: Chuck your premises.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 11, 2019

Blog Roundup

Or: Four on Writing, at Jane Friedman's Blog.

Over my blogging break, I began laying groundwork for a major new writing project. Along the way, I encountered several blog posts I found quite helpful. Here are four.

1. One of the most important questions a writer faces is, "Who is my audience?" This affects many aspects of the writing itself. But its relevance hardly ends there: The answer is crucial to marketing, too. Erica Meltzer of The Critical Reader, who opens with how she achieved success in writing test prep materials, describes "6 Questions to Help Nonfiction Writers Find Their Niche." I'll start with her first, because it reminds me superficially of how my wife and I named our kids:

This is probably not a location conducive to gauging a market. (Image via Pixabay.)
1. How saturated is your market?

You can get a good sense of the answer to this question with just an eyeball test: do the books on your topic cover a shelf in the bookstore? A couple of shelves? An entire bookcase? (Or, if you're looking online, how many pages of titles come up when you type in the category?)

If there are already dozens of books available, you'll need to spend some time reading through them in order to understand what's been done. As a general rule, the more that's been written, the more specifically you'll need to define yourself. For me, this happened to be a straightforward matter: as someone whose verbal score was more than 200 points points higher than her math, I had never been able to tutor all sections of the exam and was in no position to author a general SAT book. If I wanted to write a halfway decent guide, I would have to focus on the verbal portion only. [format edits]
This post is a good exploration of what "know your audience" means, and how to go about doing so. Although it focuses on a market I am not interested in entering, I think its lessons will, with some thought, translate well to just about any nonfiction category.

2. Every writer has at least one of these to overcome, but I particularly enjoyed reading guest blogger Grant Faulkner's advice on "Overcoming Creativity Wounds." The advice, contained in the last paragraph, is worthwhile, but I will quote the following, instead:
When I turned in my story for her feedback, not only did she not recognize my talent, but she eviscerated my story. She might as well have used shears. "No shit!" she wrote in the margins of one page. I met with her in her office hours to ask her questions and hopefully make a connection, but she was equally cold and cutting, offering nothing that resembled constructive critique, just the pure vitriol of negativity. She said my story was boring, pretentious. She said my dialogue, which others had previously praised, was limp and lifeless.


The question is how to begin again, how to recover the very meaning and joy that we found in our first stories -- to recover the reason we write. It's difficult. I still see that "No shit!" in the margin and sometimes wonder if I have anything worthwhile to impart...
The villain in the above anecdote is an author Faulkner admired and took a writing class from. I will confess to thinking something akin to, "She told you much more about herself than about your writing in that comment. Get over it!" And therein lies the genius of this particular "pep talk for writers," from Faulkner's entire, published-in-book-form collection. In sharing his own vulnerability, Faulkner sees to it that those readers who share it will immediately appreciate his advice. As for the rest, they might find themselves in his grader's shoes for a moment -- before realizing that their own wounds might seem equally puzzling to others. This man knows of what he speaks, and we should stop "thinking" like the jerk writing instructor.

I don't quote the last paragraph, because many of us, myself included, might shrug it off with a, "No shit!" of our own. But Faulkner knows that we all have our own wounds, that they feel mortal sometimes, and that what might sound trite is actually good advice. You will know that others, in their own way, have been there before and triumphed. And that is when you are ready to hear him.

So read all of it.

3. Although this does not necessarily pertain to the project I am speaking of, it might help me revive and finish an old one I started a while ago -- by helping me avoid pitfalls. Guest blogger Lauren Bailey (of Kirkus Reviews) walks us through "The 13 Most Common Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid." Here's an example:
8. No one read your book before you published it

Known as "beta readers," these nice folks love books enough to read them and give you feedback, letting you know if your book is enjoyable and where it might need some work. Sometimes it's as simple as asking friends and family members for honest critical feedback, but your best bet is to join a writers' group. Writing communities are supportive, and the only cost to you for this service is returning the favor. No one likes criticism, but it's a critical process for authors. Beta readers can be the difference between publishing a bad book (because you can't always trust your mom or bestie) and a great book.

Note: A great online tool for organizing your beta readers (and maybe finding new ones) is Beta Books. [bold and link in original, format edits]
Actually, "avoid pitfalls" isn't really the best way to describe any of Bailey's points: Each may describe a mistake, but what follows is solid, positive advice on what to do, and almost every time, there is at least one link to related material.

4. I'll end with a link to a post by Friedman herself: "Marketing Advice Roundup: Best of the Last Year."

Readers can keep up with future posts at Jane Friedman's blog through the blogroll below.

-- CAV

Cause -- or Apt Analogy?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Via Hacker News, I have come across a short blog post at City Lab asserting that the Great Molasses Flood, which happened in Boston a century ago, "ushered in the era of modern regulation." This is interesting to me, and not just because of the following, which I noted fairly recently:

Image via Wikipedia
Part of the problem is that our regulatory authorities combine several types of activities, ranging from the completely illegitimate; through those that need doing, but not by government; to providing a proper and necessary legal framework for a certain type of activity: (1) completely illegitimate central planning (such as the kind that makes "Uber for flight" illegal); (2) activity that standards bodies, watchdog groups or the like can and should be doing, instead of the government, such as establishing best practices for dealing with volcanic ash; and (3) adapting the law as necessary when new technology raises a question about, say the limits of property rights. Even in the last case, I doubt a full-blown regulatory agency would always (ever?) be necessary. [links omitted, bold added]
Considering what a wide net the term "regulation" casts, you can probably see a few problems with (or at least questions about) the following:
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, some 120 lawsuits involving victims of the incident were rolled into a class-action suit against Purity Distilling Company and its parent company, United States Industrial Alcohol. The resulting investigation, which lasted six years and included testimony from more than 3,000 witnesses, proved disastrous for the alcohol distributor: USIA was shown to have "engaged no one with any engineering or architectural expertise to review the plans created by Hammond Iron Works, either in the planning stage or after construction, nor had they asked other experts inside USIA to analyze the construction," according to a remarkably deep look at the legal proceedings published by the Daily Kos. Not only did USIA fail to conduct regular inspections of the tank during and after construction, but the company's leadership summarily ignored concerns from both inside and outside the organization regarding the safety of the project.


Bolstering [defense attorney Charles] Choate's efforts was the fact that the disaster struck at a time when the Supreme Court was already pushing a lax legal and regulatory environment for businesses, wherein companies could effectively count on avoiding liability or responsibility in the courtroom... [bold added]
Although I am neither a historian nor a legal expert, I am aware of wrong-headed "pro-business" measures from earlier eras that remind me of such an anarchic -- a better term for this situation than laissez-faire -- legal environment. At one time, for example, property rights to riverbeds were taken away from their owners so companies could dump waste into them without fear of being sued. (Please see this correction.) This led to pollution problems that were wrongly blamed on capitalism and used to justify regulations on how companies deal with waste -- among many other things. If, as Ayn Rand once put it, "Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights," it does not include relieving businessmen of liability for clear negligence (e.g., not following well-known engineering best practices --- which, by the way, don't require government bureaucrats to establish).

So, at minimum, both of these are questionable: (a) the implication that the  situation that caused the flood is exemplary of "capitalistim," and (b) the idea that the needed remedy is an overbearing regulatory apparatus that makes it impossible to know whether one is committing a crime at any given moment.

It may well be true that this case, say, was (or is being) used to sway the public in favor of more government regulation. Whatever the case, if we are to truly learn from history, we must not uncritically accept the all-too-common idea that the alternative was and is either anarchism -- or an all-pervasive regulatory state.

-- CAV


1-15-19: Added parenthetical note pointing to post on downstream peroperty rights. 

Who Will Advise the Advisers?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

An otherwise entertaining -- if disgusting a couple of times; you have been warned -- roundtable about what it's like to write an advice column begins in part as follows:

Ask a Progressive? (Image via Pixabay.)
The best modern advice columns are kind, practical, progressive, funny, deeply empathetic, and just righteous enough. They teach all of us -- not just the LWs -- to do a better job of showing up for each other, and ourselves. [link omitted]
Progressive? (!)

I know that there was not an etiquette columnist in the mix, and it is Buzzfeed, but still... Since when did the admonition to save controversial topics, like politics, for appropriate times and contexts go out the window? Do note further that many "Progressives" favor "safe spaces" from dissenting views -- and disrupt or work to preempt non-leftist speakers at college campuses. I follow two of the columnists in this roundtable and sometimes read a third. One of these pretty regularly shows a non-grasp of the idea that someone thoughtful can end up not being a "Progressive". This blind spot is particularly shocking coming from an advice columnist: Part of the nature of the job is to mentally walk a mile in someone else's moccasins, as some of my Amerindian forebears might have put it. (The offending party relates a personal anecdote which suggests that compartmentalization is partly to blame.)

I do not have time to speculate much on why the same people who claim to favor inclusion and oppose bullying would start off a piece this way, but such self-congratulation cum thoughtlessness (at best) towards dissenters is becoming shockingly common. For example, I recently was treated to being called a "climate denier" by someone in a social setting in the first sentence of a conversation he initiated. But here's a start: Our culture is so dominated by altruism-collectivism that those who agree hardly realize they even have an opinion. This situation is greatly exacerbated by the fact that our government runs or regulates so much of our lives that we almost constantly have to think about politics on some level.

It is a sad day when even advice columnists participate in smearing people with different political opinions. Someone who can't tell an actual capitalist from a Nazi is probably beyond help, and I know of at least one such person who does lots of helping.

-- CAV

When You Don't Have the Answer...

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Author/Entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes that being a "very slow thinker" can make one look stupid to others:

Image via Wikipedia.
I'm a disappointing person to try to debate or attack. I just have nothing to say in the moment, except maybe, "Good point." Then a few days later, after thinking about it a lot, I have a response.

This probably makes me look stupid in the moment, but I don't mind. I'm not trying to win any debates.

In fact, I'll tell you a secret. For most of those interviews at, they sent me their questions a week in advance. I'd spend hours writing down answers from different perspectives, before choosing the most interesting one. Then once we were in a live conversation, I'd try to make it sound spontaneous. [bold added, links omitted]
While I haven't compared my own thinking speed with his, I know exactly what he means: Admit that you need more information or time to answer a question, and sometimes, people will assume you're an idiot. I found this to be especially true in the military, but that was long ago: I have probably since learned how to handle the situation better, such as by saying something like, "I don't have the answer now, but I'll get back to you later." Sivers is right to point out that it's fine to say something like that up front, and I appreciate his point that it would be a good thing if more people would do this, rather than needlessly endure unearned embarrassment.

That said, making such an admission requires confidence. Part of that comes from knowing what one's purpose is and is not. And part comes from the practice of resisting pressure from others to spout out an answer one isn't sure of.

-- CAV

P.S. This is related to one of many excellent points Alex Eptsein makes in the second lecture of his excellent Human Flourishing Project: There is indeed no need to have an opinion about any claim to knowledge one has immediately upon hearing it.

Blustering Appeasement

Monday, January 07, 2019

Over at Slate, Joshua Keating considers the effectiveness of our commander-in-chief at addressing the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear arsenal. This he does largely by looking back a year and asking whether anything but the rhetoric has changed. His conclusion just about says it all:

Trump's remarkable feat, intentional or not, has been in getting the U.S. public to accept North Korea as a de facto nuclear power.
It is clear that Keating is far from being very concerned about this. Indeed, it is clear that perhaps Keating, no fan of Trump, ought to be one. It is also clear that today that we live in a very different world from the one I grew up in: The above quote won't "say it all," at least to very many people. The truth is, we are now in much worse shape than we were a year ago, starting with the nature of what Trump has induced many Americans to find acceptable. To wit:
Image via Pixabay.
The difficulty with this approach is not simply that we can't believe, or verify, the promises of a totalitarian dictator. The fundamental problem is that the payment of protection money is a very impractical way of ensuring our safety. It works neither against criminals nor against criminal-states. It only encourages our enemies by telling them, in effect, that they needn't worry about a military response by us, because we're always open to an amicable "deal." This appeasing approach is the reason an impoverished, backward nation is now on the verge of being able to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles against us. [bold added]
The above comes from a piece published about a year ago by Peter Schwartz, a Distinguished Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, and deserves to be read in full.

At best, all Trump has done is kicked this can further down the road a lot more noisily than his predecessors.

-- CAV