Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 08, 2019

Blog Roundup

1. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn makes a good case for full legalization of cannabis (as opposed to the tightly regulated and taxed piecemeal "legalizations" we're seeing today). Along the way, she counters a common objection:

It is also important to recognize that in a social system based on the principle of freedom, no one can be forced to pay for others' treatment, of for their food, housing, or anything else. Individuals are responsible for their own health care, for which there will be competing providers at different price points. (The truly destitute, which would be a tiny fraction of the population in a free market system, will have to depend on private charity. Historical evidence shows that private charity flourishes when government is not involved in social welfare). In a free society, no one is their brother's keeper by force.
Her argument, incidentally, demonstrates just how self-defeating "libertarians" who really just want to smoke marijuana are: The stakes are far higher than that, and any narrow "win" on that very minor issue will be partial and temporary at best if we do not fight for the broader principle of freedom.

2. At the blog of The Harry Binswanger Letter is a post arguing that "All Trade Deals Are Bad Deals." In addition to explaining that such "deals" are fascistic by nature, Binswanger debunks the idea that our "trade war" with China is in any way justified by incidents of intellectual property theft:
[T]oday's approach is the unjust practice of punishing a whole group for the misbehavior of one party. Imagine that Qualcomm were found to be stealing intellectual property from Apple. Would that justify slapping a tax on every American business in order to "play hardball" with Qualcomm? It's even more outrageous to tax all Americans in order to "play hardball" with Huawei. Punish the offending party, not the population at large.
This is only one of several points Binswanger makes by using non-international examples to remove the confusion that the existence of international borders seems to cause for many people.

3. Bookish Babe briefly discusses Hidden Figures and follows up with a book recommendation:
The author wrote a young readers version of Hidden Figures. I mistakenly purchased this version. I believe this is an excellent book that will inspire children to respect intellectual pursuits.
I am grateful for both the reminder of an excellent movie -- which I managed to miss when it was out -- and the young reader's book. I need to see the former, and my daughter perhaps could use the latter down the road. She seems to be good at math, and might do well to see where that could take her.

4. At New Ideal, Ben Bayer briefly elaborates on Ayn Rand's views about religious faith, ending as follows:
If you believe in that, I have a pair of cloth glasses to sell you...(Image by Kirill Balobanov, via Unsplash, license.)
Rand's view that faith is fundamentally a fear of independence helps further distinguish her view from the idea that faith is simply trust we invest in others. Belief from fear is far from being belief that derives from an awareness of others' expertise or reliability. By the same token, it is also very far from some kind of divine light whereby God directly illuminates truths we contemplate in the privacy of our minds.
Within the post are quotes by Rand (a) indicating what faith is (and why it is bad) and (b) regarding the psychological motives behind it. There is also a link to a webinar where the issue of what faith is came up.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, about Hidden Figures, I haven't read the book yet, but I'll point out that the women involved were members of the long-standing profession of "computer." (Now they are called "human computers," because the "electronic computers" that came after them are now called "computers.") Many famous computers (as famous as computers got, anyway) made solid contributions to science; Henrietta Leavitt, for example, who discovered the relationship between the luminosity and period of Cepheid variable stars, was a woman computer at the Harvard Observatory. (These women at least weren't entirely ignored by history; Leavitt was discussed by name in at least two astronomy books I read when I was about 9 or 10.)

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the historical note.

It makes sense that that would have once been a type of job, but I had never heard of it.


Anonymous said...

Hey Gus,

Thank you so much for the mention.

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...

You're welcome!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus, Snedcat,

I'm curious if the people doing the sequential arithmetic during the Manhattan Project and at Bletchley Park in England around the Enigma Cipher would have qualified as 'computers' in this same sense.

IIRC, the sequences of the calculations were set up in accord with an over-riding algorithm, so it seems to be a real-world version of what computer programs do for us now.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


That modern oracle, Wikipedia is fairly informative on this subject. From there:

In the Manhattan Project, human computers working with a variety of mechanical aids assisted numerical studies of the complex formulas related to nuclear fission.

Earlier, the same piece notes:

Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel. Frequently, the same calculations were performed independently by separate teams to check the correctness of the results.

I was a math major in college, but was prone to error in arithmetic, which I found tedious. I couldn't have done this.