Cage Match: Private vs. Public Infrastructure

Monday, September 30, 2019

My renewed attention to hurricanes indirectly led me to uncover an interesting counterexample to a common misconception. Practically everyone assumes that we need government to undertake massive civil works projects, or at least to make sure that such projects meet minimal safety standards.

Image by Tony Webster, via Wikipedia, license.
Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, we have about as close you can get to an experimental result from a test of this idea:
Louisiana Governor Huey Long [aka, the Bayou Bolshevik --ed] was opposed to toll bridges and offered to have the state purchase the bridge from its private owners. The offer was rejected, so Governor Long constructed two free bridges to the east along U.S. Route 90 across Chef Menteur Pass and the Rigolets Pass. With a free alternative, the toll bridge faced financial ruin and was sold to the state in 1938 for $940,000. Following the purchase, the bridge's name was changed to the Maestri Bridge, named after Robert Maestri, the mayor of New Orleans. U.S. Route 11, formerly co-signed with U.S. Route 90 across the Chef Menteur and Rigolets Bridges, was re-routed onto the Maestri Bridge around 1941.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed the I-10 Twin Span Bridge to the east. However, due to its sturdy construction, the Maestri Bridge was largely undamaged and was the only route to New Orleans from the East until the Twin Spans could be temporarily fixed (US-90 was also closed due to damage to the Fort Pike Bridge). [Links omitted. Bold added.]
The Maestri Bridge was privately built as the Pontchartrain Bridge about 1928 and withstood the wrath of Katrina, while two much newer, government-built bridges (at least one of which had twin spans) completely failed.

This alone is hardly conclusive proof of the superiority of capitalism, but it does call into question the stereotype of the "profiteer" as a shady, short-range operator out to make a quick buck, his customers' safety and tomorrow be damned. And it should also make us wonder why two newer bridges (three or four, if you count spans) constructed for "the common good" under "strict" government supervision failed.

We could -- and should -- go further to think about industries where the government already offers "free" alternatives, such as education. And the fact that the government wants to offer such an "alternative" in another important industry, medicine, should give us pause to say the least. What are we missing in the former case, and what will we miss in the latter, perhaps after it is too late?

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 27, 2019

Four Things

1. One week over the summer, the kids attended a "movie camp," which they both seemed to enjoy. Arriving to pick them up one afternoon, I saw a bizarre sight: my eight-year-old daughter was sitting on the floor with her palms facing upwards, apparently meditating.

Meanwhile, my six-year-old son was capering around her and trying to get her attention, like some kind of out-sized and very annoying gnat.

And yet, Pumpkin sat serenely, the embodiment of lofty detachment.

For about another second, anyway...

Then she swatted him.

I still chuckle when I think of that.

I learned on the ride home that the camp counselors had told everyone to make up games to entertain themselves while they waited for their parents to arrive. This is what my kids came up with.

2. A few weeks ago, Little Man asked me what Labor Day was, and I told him it was a day to remember and honor the productive, the people who work.

About a year ago, my son was putting signs on everything. Here is one he made after his grandparents told the kids and their cousins not to go into the drawers of their coffee table.
A few days later, he spoke to me, apparently worried about something.

"Is Mom going to get fired?" he asked.

"What? Why would that happen?"

"She didn't go to work on Labor Day."

Sometimes, it's funny the things you don't realize you need to make clear until you have to.

3. The good news was the bad news: My son figured out how to use the Amazon Fire remote well enough to run his own TV time. Good for him, but timewise, I had merely replaced the ritual of waiting for an eternity for each menu to show up on the screen with ... wasting an eternity looking for the remote before he did this. (And, yes. I hate looking for things, so I almost always would say something about how nice it would be if only there were a place we could keep the remotes so we could find them.)

And then, one day, my son came up with a new rule: All remotes have to be kept on the corner of the breakfast bar.

Contest the true origin of that idea all you want, but I praised my son for his solution and have made it a point to help him enforce his rule ever since.

4. My son can be quite enterprising, and one day, he decided to try his hand at selling art. It was hot, and I thought there wouldn't be any foot traffic in front of the house: I tried to get him to try a better time, but he really wanted to do this, so I poured myself a beer, pulled a chair out, and helped him set up his stand. I ended up having a pleasant hour or so chatting with neighbors off and on, and he ended up making $4.00.

I can think of worse ways a kid can learn that adults can sometimes be wrong.

-- CAV

A Time Block -- Or Block-Time?

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Statistician John Cook writes in part about the happy situation of setting aside a block of time to do deep work on a topic one is unfamiliar with:

I'll eventually block off some time to dive into whatever it is, to get to the bottom of things. Then in a fraction of the time I've allocated, I do get to the bottom and find out that I wasn't that far away. It feels like swimming in a water that's just over your head. Your feet don't touch bottom, and you don't try to touch bottom because you don't know how far away bottom is, but it was only inches away. [link omitted, bold added]
I've had that happen before, too, and not just when trying to understand something more deeply. It sometimes also happens with writing and it's great when it does.

Unfortunately, that isn't something that reliably occurs. And becoming a good writer requires finding ways to overcome the opposite situation: You set aside some time and discover that you're stuck. One possible cause is that, as with study, you sometimes do learn that you have more work to do than you thought. That's a relatively straightforward problem to solve: Spend some more time on research. (Sometimes, this can mean setting aside a topic indefinitely, if one discovers enough of a knowledge deficit.)

But there are many other possible causes for block, not being clear about what one wants to say being a frequent one. I've been running into that quite a bit lately, and have been thinking about how to not lose quite so much of the time I set aside for writing.

Two pieces of advice I ran into recently strike me as valuable. One involves conscious effort and the other involves leveraging the subconsious. Both I found at Jean Moroney's Thinking Directions site.

Here is the first, which is meant to guide some thinking on the subject, and comes from Ayn Rand's Art of Nonfiction:
Image by Aaron Burden, via Unsplash, license.
When you feel overburdened by the problems [of writer's block] I have discussed, one of the best solutions is to ask yourself what you want... Remind yourself what you sought in writing, and what great pleasure there is in having your say about life, reality, or whatever subject you choose. (85) [format edits]
As you can see if you follow the link, this advice will not necessarily solve the problem on its own, but I plan to try it the next time I am blocked.

But what if this doesn't quite get me over the hump, to where I am writing? I plan to leverage my subconscious, to try what Moroney calls "incubating:"
Often fresh, new ideas occur to you after a period away from your work. That's why many authorities on creativity recommend taking breaks to let this process happen. But just taking a break isn't enough. How often have you come back, after a break, and been in exactly the same stuck situation as you were before?
And, later on:
[N]ew ideas don't come by magic. They come when you prepare for them, by describing to yourself (in whatever terms make sense) what new ideas you wish you had. When you do this, you set up a "standing order" to your subconscious. Then, as you go through your day, something you run into by chance can trigger a new connection that is just what you needed.
I plan to implement this by giving myself a set amount of time to try writing, after which I will think about what I wish I could figure out. And then, I'll move on to some other task in my hopper for the time being.

This second technique isn't too far from how I did the work for my math major back in college. I woke up from naps with sketches for proofs all the time. The difference between that and writing is that in math, the problem statement did half the work. So when I try incubating, I will "state a theorem" first.

As I see it, the worst case scenario with this strategy, from a time management perspective, is that I get part of a block of time back and end up with better morale by making progress on something in the meantime.

-- CAV

Get Lowdown on Manual Before Buying

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

One of the first things I did when we moved into our new house last fall was obtain electronic copies of our appliance manuals whenever possible. Oddly, this was not always possible, and sometimes, it was trickier than it should have been. Having written against so-called "Fair Repair" legislation in the past, I suspected planned obsolescence might have something to do with it -- and a recent salvo by the "fair repair" crowd offers plausible support for my suspicion.

In a story about an Australian man who had been illegally distributing repair manuals for Toshiba laptops, Wired implies that the company's main motive for making it difficult to repair its older models is to have a short-range means of goosing sales. But then it dismisses out of hand the firm's concerns for customer safety (a.k.a., liability) and protecting its intellectual property.

Make what you will of their arguments: I nevertheless agree with the following advice -- for anyone who is a tinkerer or might want to use a computer for more than a few years:

So if you're considering buying a Toshiba laptop, don't. And if you're a current owner, write Toshiba... Buy from manufacturers who do make service documentation available online, like Dell, HP, or Lenovo.
A Lenovo Laptop (Image by cetteup, via Unsplash, license.)
I disagree with the letter to Toshiba being a nasty one: I'd politely request a repair manual and perhaps offer to sign a waiver and a non-disclosure agreement.

The article wrongly supports "right to repair" -- which violates right to contract -- despite noting two other measures besides boycotting that could solve this problem: (1) an effort to create open-source repair manuals of the older Toshiba models and (2) customer demand succeeding in getting manufacturers in other industries to be freer with their manuals.

So, if you think you might want to use a piece of equipment for a long time or tinker with it, a consideration you should be aware of is the availability of documentation you need to maintain and repair it.

End of story.

-- CAV

Two Years Apart Worked Well

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

According to my bookmark manager, I apparently thought I'd find a site called Ask Mr. Dad useful way back in my St. Louis days, when my son was around one. (My wife, a physician, was in subspecialty training then, so I was the main caregiver for most of that time.) If that was true, I failed to cash in, for I had only tagged it as "evergreen" -- a possible source for blog posts that wouldn't age with the news cycle.

So there is that, and I am again aware of it as of yesterday.

The first item that scrolled up then was a post on "The Art of Baby Spacing," which does a pretty thorough job on the subject, as far as I -- a dad with two kids two years apart -- can tell. The author, Armin, covers several big areas of concern in pro and con lists for a mother considering a second child fairly soon after the first.

Here is the advantage of our spacing that resonates with me the most:

They'll always have a companion. When the kids are entertaining each other, there may be less pressure on you to do so. In addition, the younger child will constantly be trying to imitate the older one, which means (a) it'll take less effort on your part to teach them, and (b) the younger one will learn just about everything much faster than the first did.
Image by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash, license.
Yes, and while there is also lots of refereeing to do, the times the kids play well together have indeed made it easier for me. I particularly remember needing to work to make a deadline during a snow day in Baltimore, and the kids conveniently being "on autopilot" almost the whole time.

I also have a younger brother similarly spaced from me, and having had a friend my entire life is a big part of why I was glad to go along with my wife's wishes on the matter. (Her sister is a couple of years younger, too.) I see that as potentially one of the best things I could do for my children in the long run. (The author mentions this in his next point, as well.)

And now, on to my "favorite" disadvantage:
The first few years are going to be grueling for both of you. Those sleepless nights and lack of time to yourself (not to mention the back pain) will be extended for another couple of years. If the kids were spaced further apart, you'd (possibly) get a break in between.
Fortunately, no back pain for me. But, as I have seen commenters at Hacker News put it -- mildly for anyone who enjoys intellectual work -- caring for infants and toddlers is mentally hard. The first two or three years after our son was born were a penance in many respects: Our daughter had just started sleeping well -- and then we had a baby interrupting us all night all over again. Babies are helpless and toddlers still need lots of attention. So, no solid work time, except in the wee hours (after a few months) or with a sitter or daycare.

That said, as hard as it was to sleep poorly again when our son was born, I think I was better off: Getting taken back that small notch was easier for me than going from life with a five- or six-year old all the way back to caring for a baby would have been. First, the adjustment was smaller and second, the demanding (for me, anyway) infant/toddler times were telescoped together, saving me a couple of years.

And now, those times are over, not that they didn't have their charms. I realized recently at a pool party that the kids were independent enough that I had a pretty good time. I could play with them (rather than mainly guarding against them drowning) or socialize with the other adults while they goofed around with the other kids. This was also my first solo trip with the kids: We saw my family in Mississippi on Independence Day while my wife was on call at home. It was a long car trip, but it went very well.

With the grueling baby plus toddler stage somewhat in the rear view mirror now, I am on very glad we spaced our kids apart this way.

-- CAV

What Do We Learn From Boys Who Cry Wolf?

Monday, September 23, 2019

With the upcoming prospect of a child addressing Congress last week, conservative outlets made much hay over a well-timed list put out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute of failed predictions of eco-apocalypse.

A prime example of this comes from John Nolte of Breitbart, with the title, "Climate 'Experts' Are 0-41 with Their Doomsday Predictions." A skim will immediately show a problem with the title: The cited predictions are not all about climate, although many are.

But that's hardly the biggest problem. A more careful reading will reveal something that threatens to nullify the usefulness of lists like these:

Why would any sane person listen to someone with a 0-41 record?

Why would we completely restructure our economy and sacrifice our personal freedom for "experts" who are 0-41, who have never once gotten it right?

If you had an investment counselor who steered you wrong 41 times, would you hang in there for number 42? [minor edits]
Nolte is absolutely correct that it is foolish to listen to someone with a proven record of error. But he misses a larger point.
Charles Ponzi (Image by the Florida Times-Union, via Wikipedia, public domain.)

But suppose, to borrow his analogy, that your investment counselor, who has never steered you wrong, is telling you that NOW is the time to bet the farm on something that sounds like it could be a Ponzi scheme. His record might be great, but you would be a fool to ignore your gut and everything you know to "panic" (as Greta Thunberg labels the kind of action she would have us take) and dump all your assets into his plan. Does this plan sound like a Ponzi scheme? Why do Ponzi schemes always eventually fail? What do such investments keep you from doing with your money? Most important, why are they illegal? Aren't they a form of fraud? At the very least, you should take as much time as you need to investigate this recommendation, including consulting with others.

It doesn't matter how accurate or inaccurate such a counselor is, there are some conversations you shouldn't even be having with him.

And that's what we're having with the proposals being bandied about by the Greens. If it looks like fascism/socialism, swims like fascism/socialism, and quacks like fascism/socialism, then it probably is fascism/socialism: Even if the experts were right every single time so far, there is no reason whatsoever for us to "sacrifice our economy and our personal freedom" (to be redundant) as a means of addressing it.

Why? Because man, being the rational animal, depends on the unfettered use of reason to survive, and doing away with freedom prevents him from acting on his best judgement.

The central planning of fascistic, socialistic programs such as the Green New Deal, will almost certainly prevent countless individuals from acting (individually or collaboratively) as they judge best to solve any problems caused by the alleged crisis (or otherwise). And the inherent central planning, lacking numerous inputs is a certainty to make wrong decisions -- which the government will then attempt to force everyone to act upon.

So Nolte may be right that catastrophists make poor guides, but he misses a chance to make the positive case against massive government action on "climate change" -- or the "climate crisis" -- or whatever it's being called at the moment -- or anything else but its job of protecting the individual's right to make and act on his own decisions. In fact, all of those other things are worse than keeping the government from doing its job.

This is why fraud is wrong, and this is why Greta Thunberg and her puppet masters are wrong.

The folks who are most smug about catching the boy crying wolf are missing the point of that fable: The boy's errancy about wolves is a sign that he is probably going to lie about other things, too. Your investment advisor is wrong and he's offering a share in a Ponzi scheme.

Or: There is never a good time to "sacrifice our economy and our personal freedom."

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 20, 2019

Blog Roundup

1. At the blog of the Center for Industrial Progress, Alex Epstein reports that "YouTube suppresses Green New Deal video" and offers a way to fight back:

Here's what I get from DuckDuckGo when I type in the title of Epstein's video. Feel free to reuse my image. And when you tell people about the video, mention that it's easy to find if you use DuckDuckGo.
What comes up on YouTube when you search for the exact title of Alex's popular Prager University video "What's the Deal with the Green New Deal?" For most people it's not Alex's video, which has been suppressed, but tributes to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with completely different titles and lower view counts.

One way to fight back is to help us advertise Alex's video. It costs approximately 1 cent per new viewer to share this video. If anyone is willing to donate at least $1000 (tax deductible and generates approximately 100,000 views) please let us know and we'll put you in touch with the relevant people. [link in original]
This is a pathetic response to this five-minute video, which I found very informative.

I recall recommending Google -- YouTube's parent company -- to friends and relatives back when it was new, but very fast and very good. Compare what you see at the link within the quoted material above and what you see in the screenshot of my search results using DuckDuckGo. Guess which search engine I recommend these days -- at least if you want to find something besides ads and things the staff of Google agree with.

2. Jason Crawford persuasively argues that "Progress studies [are] a moral imperative" and I agree. And he has some ideas on how to fill this yawning gap in modern education:
Today, I'm writing this blog, and I'm starting to give some talks and do some podcast interviews. But I'm at a crossroads in my career: I've just left a job and I'm exploring opportunities for my next step. My career has been in the tech industry, but I'm considering a sabbatical to work on this project, if I can find a way to fund it. In addition to simply writing a lot more blog posts, future work could include a podcast or YouTube channel, or even interactive diagrams or games. Eventually, I'd like to write a book (or several).

If you would like to help fund this, or know of anyone who would, please get in touch:
When I wrote that we needed to improve our education system so people could continue to appreciate and support progress, I hadn't even conceived of this as a special field, which it plainly is.

3. Scott Holleran makes his case for a movie I had not heard of (in large part because I have kids -- but also because Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make movies). He opens by saying, "The Goldfinch inspires," and continues:
It's the second movie this year that I instantly knew I wanted to feast on for its sumptuousness again as soon as it was over. The movie, based on a novel by Donna Tartt, unwraps, rewraps and unwraps its mysterious gauze. What remains is refined, simple and respectful of an ideal. This alone makes it exemplary.
Head over there if you're intrigued. As a bonus, you will find out his pick for the best movie of the year so far.

4. I am pretty sure I have mentioned here that since moving to Jacksonville -- a v-e-r-y s-p-r-e-a-d - o-u-t c-i-t-y -- I have taken to using errand days to listen to podcasts and presentations. In any event, although this is nominally a blog roundup, I'll link to a video by a former blogger, Kendall Justiniano (The Crucible), who spoke about The Trader Mindset" at a STRIVE conference some years ago.

I listened out of curiosity, and ended up learning quite a bit. I am following up by reading Becoming Steve Jobs, because Justiniano mentioned a problem Jobs faced and overcame.

I am grateful, because I know for a fact that I have the same problem.

-- CAV

The Good News About the Drone Strikes

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The bad news: half of Saudi Arabia's refining capacity was wiped out by a drone strike. (Just how bad the news might be depends in part on details about the drones and I have not looked at, if they are known or available at all.) The good news: Fracking in the US has made what would have once been a major international crisis, requiring a large and immediate military response into a bump in the road:

Oil Shale (Image from the U.S. Department of Energy, via Wikipedia, public domain.)
A bump in oil prices, instead of creating a global fuel crisis that descends into economic depression, is more likely to prompt energy companies to produce more oil in Texas. A sustained rise in oil markets by a few dollars a barrel could mean it's suddenly profitable to drill more wells in certain fields or re-frack wells that are petering out. Most producers have these plans ready -- they hire smart people to do hard math on the best way to make money at various oil price levels. Producers would just need to get the rigs and fracking equipment rolling. (And in some cases, get more investment money flowing.)
Remember this the next time you hear some politician talking about restricting or banning this life-giving and life-saving new technology.

-- CAV

Keeping Pocket Callers at Bay

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

As you probably know, pocket calls (aka butt calls) are accidental calls that occur after someone puts a phone away without engaging a lockscreen: Something touches that part of the screen corresponding to your contact information and, the next thing you (but not the caller) know, you're picking up your phone and telling the caller to try again, because you can't hear much of anything. If you're really polite, you might even text them to that effect afterwards. The occasional pocket call is the price we pay for the astounding convenience afforded by smart phones.

Other than ditching these devices altogether, there is no way to prevent the problem entirely.

For people who make lots of pocket calls, there is all kinds of advice out there about how to prevent yourself from doing so. There are even apps to help with the problem.

Image by dbambic, via Pixabay, license.
But what if you're like me: Your work requires concentration, but you want to be able to take calls in real time. In my case, I need to be able to take the kids if, say, they get sick or hurt at school. I can't simply mute my phone, and a whitelist is out since I don't always know what the originating number might be. Just using a land line during work is out, too: Those are infested with robocallers.

What's worse is that, since it really isn't that hard to engage a lock screen, butt-callers tend to be people who don't do standing orders well or are absent-minded (read: repeat offenders). And, because many software dialers let recently-called numbers float to the top, such calls also tend to occur in clusters, until your number eventually gets bumped off that list. This is a particularly difficult and annoying situation when a repeat offender is someone you can't simply block.

After the same person ruined my flow this way for three days running, I came up with two ways to deal with this situation. Each takes advantage of the fact that the calls come from the same few contacts.
  • If the caller is someone you rarely converse with, use Google Voice or other software to send calls from that contract straight to voice mail during your working hours.
  • If the caller is someone you don't need to be this drastic with (and you're good at standing orders), set the ring tone for their contact to silent. If you're expecting a call from them, you can reset the ring tone -- or set your phone to vibrate ahead of that time.
Since you're dealing with someone you don't want to block, both methods require that you cultivate a habit of checking for messages each day, but that is a small price to pay to regain control of when you're reaching for your phone.

As the first linked article notes, most people reach for their phones scores of times a day: It's no wonder only one end of this problem has gotten much attention. I hope this post helps someone on the other end of this problem.

-- CAV

Man Conned With Help of Own Ideas

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I am way late to this party by Internet standards, but I finally ran across the bizarre story that went viral a couple of months back concerning allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of a Harvard law professor. As a byline in Reason summed it up, a woman and her transexual partner "used sex, activism, and Title IX to scam" him "out of his house, job, and money."

Conservatives have rightly noted, some with a heavy helping of schadenfreude, the role of Bruce Hay's ideological orientation in this bizarre tale: It played a big role in making him a near-perfect mark for these grifters. And its implementation as Title IX is continuing his misery via a complaint lodged against him by his erstwhile trans-activist co-author.

But it seems like just about everyone is not quite getting that part of the story. Ross Douthat of the New York Times gets the closest to seeing the role of ideas in the story when he notices that people of different political orientations react to it differently:

DNA Profiling for Paternity Test (Image by Helixitta, via Wikipedia, license.)
The leftward-leaners were more likely to focus on Hay as a uniquely gullible or lust-addled individual, and to draw strictly personal lessons from his disastrous arc. (For instance, to quote the Atlantic's Adam Serwer, that "men need meaningful and supportive friendships with people they are not married to, especially into middle age.")

The rightward-leaners, on the other hand, read the story politically, as a vivid allegory for the relationship between the old liberalism and the new -- between a well-meaning liberal establishment that's desperate to act enlightened and a woke progressivism that ruthlessly exploits the establishment's ideological subservience. ("Not only did [Hay] trust Shuman," Bolonik writes, but "he felt it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian as to whether she'd had sex with other men.")


By this I mean the heart of polarization is often not a disagreement about the facts of a particular narrative, but about whether that story is somehow representative -- or whether it's just one tale among many in our teeming society, and doesn't stand for anything larger than itself.
It may be true, especially in the early stages of this sordid tale, that Hay was lust-driven, but the fact that others fell for the same ruse (See link at "grifters" above.) tells me that Hay probably isn't especially lust-driven. But is he uniquely gullible? That's a good question. And I similarly question the notion that the duo are, respectively, a typical lesbian and a typical transexual, if there even is such a thing. They're nihilistic criminals.

But ideas do play a role: How on earth would it be insulting to seek a paternity test when a woman one barely knows is claiming to carry your child? Re-read the second parenthetical quote above, and watch altruism -- in the guise of unearned guilt brought on by identity politics -- act as a mental kill-switch. Forget about Title IX and the fact that this man turned out to be dealing with criminals: Isn't the possibility of a pregnancy a big-enough deal to find out what the hell is really going on? And yet here he is, disarmed by the very ideas he is helping propagate through the culture.

The right has a couple of reasons, one bad and one good, to be invested in seeing Maria-Pia Shuman and Mischa Haider as "typical." First, many have mystically-based views of sexual relationships and feel threatened by growing social acceptance of the nontraditional in that realm. Second, identity politics is wrong in many ways, and deserves cultural and political opposition. (It is wrong to confound the two: This story is in no way a vindication of "social conservatism.") Likewise, the left, has a couple of bad reasons to quickly dismiss this story as a one-off. First, there are those who genuinely believe that identity politics (vice individualism) is the path to social and political acceptance. Second, there are the cynical, who wish, say, to oppress heterosexual men or simply want power, and see identity politics as the way to get it. The first see identity politics as above question and the second don't want others questioning it. Both want to see (or have others see) Hay as particularly lusty and gullible, rather than blinded by ideals disconnected from reality or a desire to be seen as morally superior by others.

Whatever the case might be for Hays, ideas played a crucial role in his falling for this long con: He disregarded reality in favor either of those ideas or for the sake of appearing to support them.

-- CAV

I Went for Clarity

Monday, September 16, 2019

FDR signing the declaration of war against Germany. (Image by Office of War Information, via Wikipedia, public domain.)
I was a bit surprised -- although, perhaps I shouldn't have been -- when my third-grade daughter mentioned to me last Wednesday that she had learned it was "Patriot's Day." Oddly, I had never heard of this, although Congress did indeed pass a joint resolution declaring it so in December of 2001. (I would have preferred a declaration of war.) This she mentioned apropos of nothing in a crowded waiting room as I was picking her up after gymnastics.

It took me a few questions to be sure she was talking about what I was afraid she was: I had never discussed the atrocities of September 11, 2001 with my children before, and am not sure how appropriate it is beyond a certain point to discuss them at their ages. (Or at least, given the way these things tend to be discussed, I think that is true.)

But since the matter came up and was probably not framed properly, I gave her something close to the below essentialized description. I made sure to include the words evil and murder:
About ten years before you were born, evil men who knew how to fly planes took over several. Then, on purpose, they flew them into buildings while people were at work. They murdered everyone in the planes and many in the buildings.
She agreed, and then mentioned that that is why we have check-in lines at the airports. I decided to let the fairy tale of security theater go unchallenged for now, but I am overall satisfied that they know I regard what happened as a deliberate, evil act by evil men.

Whatever my children end up believing about all this, it will not be because I will fail to challenge the worst (i.e., altruist-collectivist-pragmatist) elements of our culture. They will know that I and others think otherwise, and at least have a lead on why.

The combination of international appeasement and domestic curtailment of freedom since that day are more damaging than anything a barbarian is capable of. And those things anger me. These measures are worse than inaction for their stated purposes, and they will, besides, make establishing and maintaining moral clarity about the war being waged against us into a challenge when it should actually be easy.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 13, 2019

Four Things

1. Looking past the environmentalist spin, the following provides a nice snapshot of our time:

The Wired article has a revealing vignette of someone seeing a Radio Shack (remember them?) ad from 1991 that showed 15 electronic "gadgets" for sale and realizing that he carried 13 of those gadgets in his pocket every day. Actually, smartphones replace far more than 13 other devices. Take a look at your phone's screen and look at all the functions it provides. That's why, among other things, the camera market is collapsing, it's hard to find a standalone GPS unit, and no one buys general purpose calculators anymore. They're all built into our phones. [minor edits]
After our move, I found a few disposable cameras that needed developing as I unpacked my office. After all the waiting, I had about ten decent photos.

Smartphones save money on both ends of just that activity, not to mention time and uncertainty.

2. The South China Morning Post recently came out with a nice feature about the history of reggae music and the associated VP Records label. Here are the opening couple of paragraphs:
Almost five years ago on a local television show in New York, the host was taken aback at the appearance of Jamaican reggae artist Gyptian being introduced by a diminutive, elderly Asian woman.

"He was not expecting to see a Chinese woman talking about reggae," Patricia Chin, now 82, recalls with a laugh, during a telephone interview from New York.
I had heard of Patricia Chin and her late husband, Randy, but did not know their story in any detail. I suspect that fellow fans of Jamaican music will enjoy learning about the role of their entrepreneurship in its early development.

Lizards are insanely common in Florida. My daughter once counted more than fifty as we walked through a parking lot from an airport terminal to our car. (Image by Julie Marsh, v ia Unsplash, license.)
3. I was out of town for much of last week in part due to a hurricane, and am already watching another likely storm. But many people seem to be picking the roulette of natural disaster over the certainty of high taxes these days, by moving to Florida:
The Census Bureau reports that in the last year more than 566,000 new residents have moved into Florida, primarily from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Guess what those states have in common that Florida doesn't: High taxes.
A New Yorker moved in next door to me recently. During our first conversation, he almost immediately volunteered taxes as a big reason for his move in one of our first conversations. No prompting from me: I am circumspect about discussing politics with people before I have any sense of what they are like.

4. I opened with a sign of the times, so I guess I'll close with another. Here, no teaser can beat the headline itself: "First, she had his baby. 12 years later, they met, then fell in love.."

-- CAV

Discard? File Away? Sometimes, Both.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Over at Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky advocates an eclectic approach to getting organized and staying that way.

Image by STIL, via Unsplash, license.
[M]any people do tend to think of GTD [David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology] as an all-or-nothing system. But when I read this book, or any other book describing an organizing system, I see a collection of ideas from which I will pick the ones that work for me (or for my clients).

The two-minute rule says that if a task can be done in two minutes of less, just do it now rather than putting it on a to-do list. If that concept that works well for you, terrific -- go for it! But you could ignore this rule (or shrug your shoulders because you're already doing this) and still find other parts of GTD that are helpful to you.

Another example is Marie Kondo's KonMari method, as explained in her books. (I've just read the first one, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.) Someone asked me this week if I like her work, and I said I did -- because I found many interesting and helpful ideas in her book. For example, I'm never going to fold my clothes her way or unpack my purse every night, but I think "Does this spark joy?" can be a useful question to ask about items you own while you're uncluttering.
I'd go farther and say that I often see principles for organizing in such works, which can help in deciding what advice to take as is, what to modify, and what to ignore. Allen's advice, for example, is best for people on a manager's schedule. But as someone for whom a maker's schedule better suits much of my main work, his advice can still be helpful for those times I need to function more like a manager -- such as while I am on errands of doing chores at home. I'll use the two-minute rule during those times, but I'm not about to make a "quick call" if something randomly reminds me of one while I am in the zone.

And this (perhaps) slightly different approach leads me to a different conclusion than Dansky's:
So gather as many ideas as you like -- from this site, from organizing books, etc. And then keep the ideas that work for you, combining them into your own personal system, and merrily discard the rest.
I wouldn't go so far as to discard the rest as to file them away for possible later use. I have found at times that either my needs have changed or that being better organized has caused new questions about organization to arise. For example, I am having to re-think periodic reviews right now, and will be dusting off David Allen's book to see if there is something I missed years ago that can help me now.

Changes in circumstance and simple learning can respectively cause one to need new techniques or make one ready for them long after a first encounter.

-- CAV

Numbskull Is Too Kind a Word

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Discussing the recent wailing and gnashing of teeth about the ice melting in Greenland, George Reisman comments in part as follows:

"Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent 'Thank you' to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find." -- Ayn Rand (Image by Devin McGloin, via Unsplash, license.)
To put these numbers in proper perspective, recall that a quarter of an inch is 250 one-thousandths of an inch. So what the fake media were trying to frighten us with is a rise in the sea level of little more than a tenth of a quarter of an inch (i.e., .027/.250).


So, get ready for 250 billion tons of melting ice (wow, that's large) to explain the Atlantic Ocean wiping out New York City and New Jersey. It never occurs to these numbskulls to check just how much water is actually involved and what difference it actually makes.
These are the same people who have predicted "doom in a decade" for decades, who gratuitously mention "climate change" any time something is attributable even to normal weather, and are oddly focused on depriving only Western economies of the fuel they need:
To the extent that mankind has an influence on climate change, the United States is a minor player. The United States has been reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but these reductions are overwhelmed by the increases coming from China, India and some others.
And much of the emission reductions come thanks to natural gas obtained from fracking -- which, of course, the greens oppose, along with (zero-emission) nuclear power.

Even if I were worried about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate (I am not.) and we had viable alternatives to fossil fuels (Aside from nuclear energy, we do not.) and these alternatives could replace fossil fuels tomorrow (They can't.) -- I would question everything these people say and wonder about their actual motives.

-- CAV

Yes. There IS a "Recourse" to DRM

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A Wired article about the end of the Microsoft Store's books section laments the fact that many users took notes in their ebooks, and lost those along with their licensed copies of the various works:

Image by Perfecto Capucine, via Unsplash, license.
Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell's 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan... And because of digital rights management -- the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell -- you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort. [bold added, link omitted]
Contrary to the above, I can think of at least three recourses. (1) Hard copies and marginalia, written by hand, (2) notes taken on a pad or device that isn't the ebook reader, and (3) learning, as I did, how to transfer your notes to your own computer. (For Amazon, you need only go here, then copy-and-paste your notes to a file in the format of your choosing.) All of these, of course, require taking the potentially transitory nature of a digital license into account ahead of time. If you want your notes to be "within" the licensed copy and you're considering a digital platform that does not allow you to export your own notes, take your business elsewhere if that's important enough. (Before I decided to go with Amazon, I made sure I'd be able to export any notes.)

The Microsoft Store closing is no indictment of DRM or of ebooks: It is a cautionary tale for those of us who want to take full advantage of a new technology.

-- CAV

Regulating to Zero, to Be Generous

Monday, September 09, 2019

Master communicator Alex Epstein speaks of a practice too many of us fall into in his video, "Fossil Fuels: Arguing to 0 vs. Arguing to 100" (which I recommend). The essential error lies in accepting an opponent's basic premises when combating a bad argument, as Epstein notes in the case of fracking:

Image by FotoRieth, via Pixabay, license.
What happened in the hydraulic fracturing debate is that ... The person who framed the debate was Josh Fox, who came out with the gas GASLAND [inaudible]. What he said is, "To start with, we all agree that fossil fuels are bad. Right? Everybody knows that fossil fuels are bad." This is a really short thing, but I'm going to walk [over] here. Imagine this is negative 100, so this is evil, and this is positive 100, this is good. When he says, "We all know fossil fuels are bad, and then on top of that this is polluting the water and causing earthquakes and cancer clusters." How does the industry react? They say, "You're exaggerating about the cancer clusters, and you're exaggerating about the earthquakes, and you're exaggerating about the water." Under this approach, what's our best case scenario?
Only neutralizing the argument that the process of fracking is bad on top of the "evil" of the more plentiful oil and gas it delivers. That is the best result when the premise that oil and gas are bad goes unchallenged. Challenge the premise, and one can go on the offensive.

A recent article about the Trump Administration's attempts to "make dishwashers great again," reminds me a little of this point. Jay Homnick of the American Spectator notes that the current regulations that make dishwashers clean poorly and slowly contain language prohibiting their roll-back by any later administration. This Administration's response does not seem to include any attempt to challenge that language, much less the whole premise of central planning. Rather than fight for the 100 of liberty, this administration is fighting for the 0 of what we used to have before the shackles got too noticeable:
Here is the solution they came up with to try and outmaneuver the strictures of Bizarro World. First they ascertained that there were none of the old, fast washers in stock at any of the American manufacturers. Since there weren't, they could now be reinvented. So the rule, now being moved through the comment process, says as follows: a new category will be recognized, under the heading "Fast Dishwashers," defined as machines capable of completing a washing cycle in under 60 minutes.

The new category of "Fast Dishwashers" will not be subject to the restrictions extant on the plain vanilla category of "Dishwashers," thus allowing them to use sufficient water to complete the load in an hour or less. After years of retreat from our inventions, we can now behave normally again -- but only if we follow an abnormal yellow brick road... [bold added]
As glad as I am to hear that a decent dishwasher may soon be available again, I am not exactly overjoyed: In the America I remember, it isn't normal to need permission to do things that harm no one, like building things that actually work. So this clever bit of lawyering -- which might be a decent stopgap measure during a larger, principled effort to dismantle the regulatory state -- will ultimately prove futile. Surely, some Republican somewhere can imagine a President Warren happily regulating this new category into oblivion even more quickly than it was created.

There is no such effort, as witness Trump's addiction to executive orders and regulating foreign trade. We can not and will not "make America great again" by accepting the premise that the government should order us around. But Trump would apparently rather get back to the 0 (at best) of (just) a decent dishwasher than the 100 of liberty for all -- and all the progress and prosperity that would unleash.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 06, 2019

Four Somewhat Geeky How-Tos

Here's a picture I took of the quarter I placed on top of a cup of frozen water before we left. We did lose power at some point, but not for long enough that I needed to chuck everything (which I pre-bagged) in our fridge.
Posting Schedule Note: We're back home and firing on all cylinders at the Van Horn Estate. The area got only sub-tropical force wind and rain at Dorian's closest approach, and we never lost power for very long. I was very relieved to get home, and glad to have given my new and previously untested hurricane/evacuation checklist what amounted to a dry run.

1. If you use AirBnB a lot and are paranoid about cameras, you might want to bone up on How to Find Hidden Cameras:
Hidden cameras come inside of small objects like pens, motion detectors, Bluetooth speakers, and necklaces. There are also tiny, stand-alone cameras that are 1 inch or smaller, which people can hide in normal decor like lampshades, picture frames, house plants, and blinds. Look for any holes where someone could have placed a tiny camera. Also, turn off all the lights in the space and the shine a flashlight around the area to search for a camera lens. The lens should reflect the light, which should make it easier to spot.
Reading through this again after flagging it a while ago, this is more labor-intensive than I recalled.

Most of us probably aren't that paranoid.

2. Sometimes, I like a little background noise when I work. But I don't want to have sudden volume changes between tracks ruin my flow. (And stopping to manually adjust the volume would only make things worse.) So I use one of the suggestions I found here for How to Normalize Sound Volume on Your PC:
The popular VLC media player includes a built-in volume normalization audio filter. To enable it, click the Tools menu in VLC and select Preferences...
I have a few track collections I can run, including cafe/crowd/office noise, music, and outdoor/nature noise.

3. Security expert Brian Krebs has helped me avert a problem I didn't even realize was possible with his post on How to Prevent Calendar Spam:
The truth is, all that a spammer needs to add an unwelcome appointment to your calendar is the email address tied to your calendar account. That's because the calendar applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are set by default to accept calendar invites from anyone.
Great. (This does explain why the occasional flight or hotel reservation would pop up in my online calendar, but that's not something I really need, so...)

I changed from the default immediately upon learning this.

4. Rounding out my list is something so esoteric I am not sure even I will use it. In "There's a Relational Database in Your Unix CLI," Chris Farber explains How to Use the join command:
By default, the join command behaves as an INNER JOIN does in SQL. That is, each pair of matching lines from both files will be printed, but no additional lines from either file that may have matched.
And, just as I read this, I thought of a way to use it, so chalk one up for reviewing old bookmarks once in a while.

-- CAV

Industry as Victim of Own Success

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A recent All Things Considered story featured the Kraft Heinz "ketchup master," the quality control engineer in charge of ensuring a consistent product. Among other interesting things about what my brother jokingly calls "the magic spice" comes the below epiphany:

Image by Charisse Kenion, via Unsplash, license.
For some people, ketchup is a symbol of the problems with American food. It's highly processed, mass-produced, and full of sugar. Historian Gabriella Petrick certainly saw it that way when she started digging into the archives of the H. J. Heinz Company.

"I'll be honest, I came to my subject as a complete food snob and jerk," she says. "I was going to show how awful Americans eat, and how terrible industrial food was!"


It was a captivating mix of tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar and spices. Above all, it was thick and red. You couldn't make anything like it yourself. In fact, maybe you didn't really want to make it yourself. "Women used to make ketchup at home," Petrick says. "Why make watery ketchup when you can simply buy high-quality, super-thick ketchup?"

Petrick isn't quite so judgy about industrial foods anymore. "A lot of these products, I just learned to understand how important they were for people's lives, and how they made people's lives easier -- women's lives in particular," she says. [bold added, link omitted]
This reminds me of a couple of socialist grad school acquaintances who tried their hands at running a small business and started to see how difficult multitudes of government regulations made it to do anything. (I don't know if this caused them to more broadly question the propriety of the government directing the economy, but it wouldn't have surprised me.) It also reminds me of countless Green New Deal types who don't seem to realize what their proposals would mean on a mundane level, if they were implemented.

We live in an era of unprecedented prosperity: Many of us grow up used to things being quite easy, but with little appreciation for what it takes to make things that way. It is good that adults generally don't have to spend large amounts of time making ketchup -- but the price of this is that most people end up taking such things for granted at best. In that sense, industry is a victim of its own success, but I don't think that is the whole story.

Even aside from the torrents of left-wing propaganda being fed to children during their "education," it is remarkable how poorly many people understand the benefits of things like processed food, vaccines, and fuel. Some begin to get glimpses as adults, once they join the work force, but most people still do not get the full picture. Familiarity gained through personal experience can help, as the above example shows. But that is no substitute for the kind of solid education that would have prevented such prejudice in the first place, and instead nurtured the sense of curiosity and wonder we all have as children.

-- CAV

Column: California's Politicians Threaten to Suffocate Silicon Valley's Gig Magic

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

One cold, drizzly evening last October, my family and I faced a dilemma. Our planned dinner at a local steakhouse with guests was delayed. Now dinner out would mean screaming, annoyed glances, and a chaotic retreat.

AB-5 will make it illegal for the man in the front seat to work as a contractor for Uber, even if he wants to. (Image by Alex Jumper, via Unsplash, license.)
Fortunately, There's an app for that was no longer just an advertising slogan. It was a reality. The bright icons on our phones, brought to our attention an enterprising army of sitters and food couriers. After a brief discussion and the tap of a finger, the mouth-watering scent of steak wafted through our home as the driver accepted several crisp bills as a tip. After we dined and the kids dozed off in their beds, we enjoyed an evening of pleasant conversation.

The magicians of Silicon Valley bring to life countless such once-impossible, minor fairy tales every day. But California's legislators are about to sound Cinderella's clock by turning these win-win propositions into pumpkins at the stroke of a pen.

Isn't it nice that some third party didn't have the power to arbitrarily grant us these carriages, only to take them away? Every time Joe has somewhere to go and Cindy wants to make a few bucks driving in her spare time, the wizards at Uber grant two wishes at once -- for a pittance. Fairy Godmothers are looking worse every day.

But that doesn't stop people from trying to play that part. Take Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. In her head, Joe has escaped with too much gold in his pockets and Cindy is a helpless maiden. And the ride-share companies? They be dragons lounging on piles of loot.

As if this weren't fantastic enough, consider that her incantation, Assembly Bill 5, is intended to help Cindy ... by making her Uber's employee, perhaps even retroactively...

To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets.

I would like to thank Steve D. and my wife for their comments on earlier versions of this piece.

-- CAV

Back, at Least for Now

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

When I posted Friday, a plausible scenario had Hurricane Dorian crossing southern Florida, reemerging in the Gulf, and headed north to the Emerald Coast, where we were heading for Labor Day. It looked like our short family vacation was going to serve as a double evasion of the storm. That day, the forecast changed to a south Florida hit, followed by a hurricane-strength trip over the Florida peninsula. Still later, it looked like staying put in Jacksonville might be wise.

Then it it didn't.

Someone sent my wife an image like this, but with the time points labeled with upcoming holidays. (Image by National Hurricane Center, public domain.)
I've had to keep an eye on lots of hurricanes in my time, mostly when I lived in Houston, but I've never seen a storm so frequently stymie the good folks at the National Hurricane Center. For all the improvements in forecast accuracy in recent years, I will not dare heave a sigh of relief (if I am so fortunate) until this monster is past us and clearly on the inevitable northward trek to its ultimate and eagerly anticipated demise.

I plan to post tomorrow and Thursday. By then, I should have a better idea of what next week looks like.

In the meantime, I became curious about why this storm has been so difficult to forecast, and found two articles particularly helpful. Both mention forecasting difficulties with hurricanes, as opposed to larger weather systems, but each also discusses why Dorian has been hard, even for a hurricane. The present difficulties seem to boil down to (a) As an Atlantic hurricane, its motion eventually involves interaction with a marine high pressure system that meteorologists do not understand so well, and (b) The compactness of this storm and its (current) slow speed work together to magnify even small forecasting errors.

So, we must wait and watch. I am grateful to my in-laws that we can do so safely and comfortably.

-- CAV