Rent, Happiness, Choice, and Progress

Friday, April 28, 2023

A Blog Roundup

1. Boston recently passed rent control, and it is already causing havoc, as Brian Phillips notes:

Rent control hasn't even taken effect in Boston, and already the consequences of rent control are being felt. Banker and Tradesman reports that building permits in Boston declined 94 percent between 2021 and 2022. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and others have claimed that rent control will not lead to less new housing construction, despite what has happened in every city with rent control. This is what happens when principles are absent. [bold added]
Phillips rightly notes that rent control destroys the incentives to build or maintain rental housing. This principle applies not just to any attempt to dictate rental rates, but to dictate prices in general.

Politicians, like Mayor Wu, who fail to grasp such principles -- or choose to ignore them -- will not escape the consequences of doing so.

Nor will the people who keep electing such politicians.

2. At Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney has been discussing the subject of happiness, and argues that we have indirect control over our happiness:
...What do you have direct volitional control over and how can that lead to happiness? The absolute basic choice you have is to turn your attention. If you want to be happy, the most basic choice is to orient to values.

The power of the value orientation

By "orient to values," I mean choose to focus on the values at stake in every moment, not the threats. This involves much more than just looking at a partially-filled glass and calling it half-full rather than half-empty. It involves re-evaluating every threat, feeling, and rule to understand it in terms of values to be gained as opposed to threats to be avoided -- and then acting to gain and/or keep your top value in the situation.

There is a entire category of posts on the topic of the value orientation. I concretize the basic point in my article on the golf-course analogy. Let's see if I can explain the idea briefly...
I recommend reading the whole thing, which links to the very helpful golf course analogy mentioned above.

My wife and I recently got some very bad, but not entirely unexpected news -- several months before we thought we might. When I began thinking about possible ramifications, I recalled that analogy, and its advice on how I should process things. If I had to verbalize my overall emotional state as I did so, so it might be something like Same game, different course.

I credit what I have learned from Moroney's work about focusing on values for helping me wrap my mind around the news more quickly (and much more constructively) than I would have in the past.

I am grateful and highly recommend her work.

3. Many of my fellow travelers wonder why Ayn Rand's ideas aren't much more popular than they are. Harry Binswanger gives a good explanation at Value for Value, which he sums up as follows:
To return to the original issue, the reason I titled this post "Choice is choice" is that you are under-estimating or overlooking the role of free will. People have to have made a lot of the right choices to have the premises to respond to Ayn Rand's themes. And they have to continue to choose to focus in order to follow her logic in what they are reading or hearing from you.

You can lead a man to reason, but you can't make him think.
This alone might be unsatisfying -- until you concretize a few things, like what choices someone has to make, and what he has to think about (understanding unfamiliar ideas and challenging old, familiar ones) for the above to really hit home.

That's what Binswanger does, more effectively than I can, earlier in his post.

Indirectly related to Item 4: I enjoyed this 1970 short celebrating the petroleum industry, which I found via an oddly-titled discussion at Hacker News. Oil rigs are beautiful, but it requires one to forget that man, too, is part of nature to call that beauty dystopian.

4. One of my favorite aspects of Jason Crawford's work at The Roots of Progress is that it snaps us out of our spoiled-by-riches mentality so we can fully appreciate the wonders that surround us.

Today's exciting subject is concrete:
This is cement. We start with rock, crush and burn it to extract its essence in powdered form, and then reconstitute it at a place and time and in a shape of our choosing. Like coffee or pancake mix, it is "instant stone -- just add water!" And with it, we make skyscrapers that reach hundreds of stories high, tunnels that go under the English channel and the Swiss Alps, and bridges that stretch a hundred miles.

If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.
Even better, Crawford seems to be establishing a more mainstream presence, as indicated by the appearance at the popular tech site Hacker News of a link to an interview with him at The Hub, titled, "Make the Future Bright Again: Jason Crawford on Building a New Philosophy of Progress."

-- CAV


A Crook's 'Red line' Is a Lie

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Reflecting on the Murdaugh murder case, criminologist Stanton Samenow considers the common idea that many criminals set limits for themselves regarding what crimes they will commit:

Professed limits by criminals stand only at their convenience and drop the context of their regarding crime as acceptable in the first place. (Image by Bady Abbas, via Unsplash, license.)
Although he confessed to financial crimes, Alex Murdaugh indicated repeatedly that his "red line" was harming the people he loved most. He flatly denied killing his wife and son. The jury did not find him credible. Because he did not want his wife and son to know about particular financial crimes that were about to come to light, he shot both of them. (Evidence revealed that he was on his property at the very time they were murdered.) They would not be around to cause him any trouble.

Criminals do establish their own "red lines" with respect to the crimes they commit. But these lines shift according to circumstances and are not effective deterrents. Any "red lines" that criminals set are temporary. What is off limits is likely to change with the criminal's whims, opportunities, and overall quest for excitement. [bold added]
An important theme of Samenow's work, as I understand it, is that the criminal has free will, just like everyone else, but has not adopted or fostered long-range thinking or productive habits. Instead, he lives by whim, and is well-practiced in evasion, or what Ayn Rand also called, blanking-out.

On this, I quoted Samenow some time ago:
The dictionary defines "rehabilitate" as a process of restoring a person or object to an earlier constructive state or condition. Rehabilitating a 19th century mansion entails returning it to its former grandeur. Rehabilitating a stroke victim involves helping her regain functions she previously had. There is nothing to which to "re-habilitate" a criminal. The scope of "habilitation" is larger. It is to help him abandon thinking errors that give rise to criminal conduct, to learn corrective concepts, and implement those concepts so as to live responsibly. [bold added]
As he notes in his Murdaugh commentary -- and backs with other examples -- any red line you hear from a criminal is part of a deception on his part, be it of others or of himself.

Indeed, one can see this from Murdaugh's own professed red line, given that he was making his own family unknowingly dependent on criminal activity long before he physically harmed them.

-- CAV


Fox Discovers 'Addition by Subtraction'

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

I have little use for cable news and less for Tucker Carlson. I never paid him much attention and am no fan, to say the least: Carlson typifies the loud-mouthed, brain-dead populism that has taken over the right -- and at a time that would otherwise be ripe for a better alternative to the left.

(Lots of people these days seem to think being a jerk and taking a stand mean the same thing. That is one of many symptoms of a general loss of the ability to think in terms of principles in our culture, combined with our society's fading memories of its origins in a group of principled men standing up to a tyrant and defeating him. Yes: America needs leaders with backbones -- but unless those leaders are thinking men, what would be the point?)

News of Carlson's sudden firing from Fox is all over the place, but nobody seems to know exactly why the popular (!) commentator was fired. Sexual harassment and other legally problematic behavior? Too much "prayer-talk" for Rupert Murdoch's tastes? Given that very public displays of religious piety are common covers for moral depravity, I would be far from shocked if both were true, and neither were why he was fired.

Who knows? And, given that the firing wasn't for spinning conspiracy theories or such dross as praising the central planning of Elizabeth Warren as an improved version of Donald Trump's, I don't much care why Fox chose to fire him now.

As Yaron Brook puts it in the clip embedded below, good riddance -- at least for now.


Carlson will return, one way or another, but I hope this proves to be a substantial setback for his career and influence.

So, yes. My tiltle is a joke. If Fox were an institution with any integrity, it wouldn't have needed to fire Tucker Carlson so dramaiically and expensively: He would have been gone long ago.

-- CAV


A Pro-Human Column on 'Green' Policy

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Over at Spiked! is an excellent piece titled "The Inhumanity of the Green Agenda," by Joel Kotkin. Much of this will be familiar to fans of fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein, who curiously goes unmentioned.

But there is a ray of hope that might be new even to us:

Image by David Thielen, via Unsplash, license.
There are clear class implications here. California’s regulators recently admitted that the state’s strict climate laws aid the affluent, but hurt the poor. These laws also have a disproportionate impact on ethnic-minority citizens, creating what attorney Jennifer Hernandez has labelled the ‘green Jim Crow’. As China’s increasingly sophisticated tech and industrial growth is being joyously funded by US venture capitalists and Wall Street, living standards among the Western middle class are in decline. Europe has endured a decade of stagnation, while Americans’ life expectancy has recently fallen for the first time in peacetime. Deutsche Bank’s Eric Heymann suggests that the only way to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 is by squelching all future growth, which could have catastrophic effects on working-class and middle-class living standards. [bold added, links omitted]
I am not, of course, cheering on a new form of Jim Crow or relishing falling living standards: What I am happy to see is that people are beginning to notice these things, even on the left. Even if cracks aren't forming in that seeming monolith, it's beginning to get chipped away as ordinary people realize what a green agenda actually means.

It is unfortunate that "populists" (whatever that means) are the chief beneficiaries so far, but some well-placed persuasive efforts could course-correct the politics to a more pro-freedom agenda. It is good to know that "many ordinary folk are far more worried about the immediate effects of climate policy than the prospect of an overheated planet in the medium or long term."

Read the whole thing.

-- CAV


Thoughts on a Poor Satire

Monday, April 24, 2023

Over the weekend, I ran across a satirical column that I'll pair with the below picture of a pickup truck "rolling coal" to remind myself how not to write.

The author of the piece, like myself, opposes Ron DeSantis's abuse of government power to retaliate against Disney's opposition to "Don't Say Gay" -- which is the smear leftists use against the governor's new limits to when certain curriculum topics related to sexuality get introduced in government schools.

Unlike the author, I think DeSantis's limits on that type of material are still too generous, but should also be a non-issue in the long term:

Schools should be private, full stop. But until they are, the best we can hope for is a government to have a sex education curriculum (if it teaches that at all) that lies far from such travesties as puritanism or what DeSantis has justifiably likened to grooming.
And there are examples out there that I think even the author I am picking on might agree should be off-limits, such as Lawn Boy, a book parents in Texas are upset about:
If a stranger were to read this book to a fourth grader on the street, he might be arrested and prosecuted. Under the Parental Rights in Education bill, a fourth-grade teacher would have to provide a persuasive argument as to why this is age appropriate in order to read it. A third-grade teacher would be simply prohibited from leading a class discussion on 10-year-olds performing fellatio on each other.
Follow the link for quotations if you must. I was unaware of that particular piece of trash before I decided "Don't Say Gay" was reasonable or even on the weak side. I think sex is best left to parents to discuss with their children.

And, now that I know about it? Let me add: It is not necessary to drag children through pornography to teach them benevolence towards others, or to teach them that prejudice is a counterproductive way to deal with others.

And now, let's get a load of this guy's apparent "understanding" of and empathy for the kinds of people who are rightly upset about what their own children might be getting in school. These come in the form of sarcastic suggestions for editing a few Disney films to fit his idea of our tastes, as if we all march in lockstep to the same drummer:
Calling people you disagree with names is about as tempting and counterproductive as "rolling coal." (Image by Salvator Amone, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

We love the title. No need to change that. Snow White is hitting the core demographic. And it's so refreshing to see the word "dwarfs" rather than "little people" or whatever the inclusion mob calls them these days.

But the storyline needs a complete rewrite. The way it exists now, the plot leads to a celebration of Snow White becoming woke. Not on our watch.

Instead of her being asleep, Snow White needs to be rescued by the prince from her job as a union teacher at a traditional government school that makes hardcore, graphic pornography part of the kindergarten curriculum.
Beyond the mildly humorous pun on woke, there's a lot to unpack here. Among other things, this writer (1) all but outright calls the many of the concerned parents white supremacists; (2) marginalizes any concerned parents who aren't white; and (3) treats their concerns as ridiculous without engaging them.

I guess the last is because we just know that only a white bigot -- or, outside shot, a self-hating Person of Color -- could question the infinite wisdom of the bureaucrats -- government and union -- who lead those august educational institutions known, for reasons we will never comprehend, by such phrases as our failing (!) public schools.

(Read the rest for some other things the author imputes to parents sympathetic to "Don't Say Gay," if you haven't had enough already.)

Satire has a place. Sometimes, a point of view -- like racism -- is so benighted or wrong that satire can be used, properly, to shame some of its adherents into silence and to help others see how ridiculous it is.

That's not what I'm getting here. As someone from a conservative background, I'm getting a self-congratulatory caricature of the concerned parents as a bunch of bigoted hicks.

It is sloppy at best and unjust at worst to lump together a real sin, racism, with some unrelated view. Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand gave an apt name to the sin: package-dealing:
[Package-dealing employs] the shabby old gimmick of equating opposites by substituting nonessentials for their essential characteristics, obliterating differences.
Racism and wanting some reasonable limit on what topics and when they are introduced to a child's education are not the same.

I got the same general vibe this piece exudes all the time growing up in the South, to the point that I ended up having to fight my own nascent prejudice against northerners as condescending busybodies.

Related, I recall a few decades ago explaining to someone why so many white southerners flew Confederate flags. Among the various reasons, I think at the time, was something like an exasperated go to hell, but from a healthier place than I usually see now. Being called a racist hick when one is neither gets old and will provoke a reaction from some.

Be that as it may, the urge to "melt snowflakes," as some conservatives put it -- which is what flying a confederate flag was to some -- or "rolling coal" is today is understandable, but counterproductive. It is a giving-in to anger at the cost of engaging in another point of view, be it to understand any merits, to uncover any flaws, or to at least to see why some might find it persuasive.

Doing those things is the least one can do if one is seriously interested in being correct and in acting to improve the world -- and that's before one even begins to think about reaching the persuadable or shaming the wicked.

It can be tempting to roll coal -- or to write a satire merely to entertain those who already agree with you -- but why? At best, you get a few laughs and upset a few evil or befuddled people. At worst, you alienate reasonable, persuadable people when you could be striking a blow for real progress.

-- CAV


Four Things I'll Try

Friday, April 21, 2023

A Friday Hodgepodge

It's time to review the web portion of my to-do and someday/maybe lists. I'm also pressed for time today, so I guess I'll blog it.

***

1. Following this link reveals what looks like an app meant to guide the overly deskbound through a nice, short break. It's Stretch15, a "free 15 min daily stretch routine to help desk workers avoid aches and pains," and I found it at Hacker News, where the peanut gallery gave the creator feedback.

I am favorably impressed from that and am inclined to give it a try later on today.

2. I like me a good podcast, but I often find myself wishing I had a transcript. Enter YouTube Transcript. Dump in the URL of a video and ... wow! ... you get an instant transcript, as I just learned with a short, favorite clip of mine.

And this transcript is paired with the video, allowing you to listen through interesting parts or check the transcript.

As with any automatic transcription, there will be errors, but this might save lots of time. In my workflow, I have to save things locally since I don't always have Internet access. I've automated this and a side-product is that I also produce a notes file that already has the URL in it. Now, if there's something I really want to go back to, but I don't have a chance to note when I heard it, I stand a chance of finding whatever it is quickly the next time I'm at a computer.

Chalk up another one for to-do lists and regular review.

3. Moving from to do to someday/maybe, I see a Hacker News thread about little-known accessories people use with their computers. Many deal with keeping hands and feet cool or warm as I recall, and when I first looked through, I found a document camera that might solve a couple of completely unrelated problems for me.

If you want a rabbit-hole to explore that has the prospect of ideas you can use later, I can think of worse places to go.

4. And here's one from the real world and after I'm done for the day. The last time I visited the local beer emporium, I found an intriguing beer from Boulevard Brewing, Rye on Rye.

As the name suggests, it's a rye beer aged with charred rye whiskey casks. The store helpfully included its excellent Beer Advocate rating of 94 next to the price, so I looked it up and bought a four-pack.

Here's the description from the above link:
Image by LSDSL, via Wikimedia Commons, license.
Why Rye? This assertively flavorful grain is more often associated with whiskey than with ales. Even in that arena, it has largely been eclipsed by corn and barley, the sources of bourbon and scotch. But when we procured some seasoned barrels from our friends at Templeton Rye, we asked ourselves, "Why not?" Why not brew a rich, tawny rye ale, then mellow it in the warmth of charred oak rye whiskey casks? Two kinds of malted rye provide spicy sweetness, giving way to notes of caramelized wood and the citrusy tang of Perle, Magnum, and Saphir hops before easing into a dry, lingering finish.
Things are getting better, but the pandemic-era shortages had really put dent on the variety of beers I could find, including wiping out entire shelf categories where I go. (I haven't seen a German Eisbock for a couple of years now.)

It's nice to have something unusual to try again.

-- CAV


Can a Band-Aid Be Weaponized? Yes.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

I am old enough to remember when, back in the early to mid-nineties, the Republicans campaigned for, and eventually got a line item veto for the President of the United States.

The selling point was to rein in so-called "pork barrel spending," that is, government appropriations tacked on to legislation as part of the sausage-making endemic to our welfare state. Since the grand larceny that is the welfare state proper dwarfs such relatively petty theft, the measure by itself is cosmetic absent its use to keep a conversation about backing out of the welfare state going.

(The Supreme Court eventually overturned the Line Item Veto Act.)

I recall favoring a line item veto then, and until recently (read: yesterday) would have no problem with such a measure, so long as it were part of a broader program to return government to its proper scope: Ultimately, economics and the state must be separated in the same fashion as church and state. That achievement would render a line item veto superfluous.

But yesterday, I was curious about how Ron DeSantis got his legislature to ramrod through legislation affecting Disney -- a major political donor -- that it had to turn around and redo because it was so poorly conceived.

And that's how I learned the following:

Bill Clinton, using the line item veto. (Image by Ralph Alswang (White House), via Wikimedia Commons, public domain, per Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105.)
State Sen. Linda Stewart, a Democrat representing a chunk of Orange County where many Disney employees reside, says "my way or the highway" is just DeSantis' "M.O." in his dealings with Republicans in the Legislature.

"'I want this, you better give it to me,'" she said, riffing on DeSantis' style. "'I want this, do you want your appropriations that's in the budget that I haven't approved yet? OK then, if you want it, you better vote yes. Do you want the bills you championed in the legislative session and I haven't signed them yet? You want them vetoed, then OK, vote against me, and you'll see what happens.'" I was speaking with Stewart on Wednesday, after she'd voted against the bill to dissolve Reedy Creek. She said she was worried about the fate of her own bills now. [bold added]
The part in bold reminded me of the line-item veto, which it turns out, Florida has, and DeSantis brags about using.

At its best, the line item veto can restore a measure of sanity to wheeling and dealing run amok, if the tool is in the right hands. At its worst, it is not just a half-measure, which would be bad enough; it is ripe for abuse.

44 states have some form of the line-item veto. Maybe that's not such a good thing.

-- CAV


A Legal Zombie vs. Mifepristone

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

If you have a daughter and live in a red-enough state, an abortion option she might need, and that is possibly in the back of your mind is in danger.

Today, the same Supreme Court that overturned Roe vs. Wade is set to rule on the legality of a drug that can end a pregnancy up to the tenth week.

I have read an argument to the effect that even this court may rule in favor of the drug, but what if it doesn't?

And why is an issue at all?

For the answers to that, and a hope for a relatively easy fix to this surprising problem, Slate presents a lightly-edited interview transcript on the 150-year-old law that anti-abortionists are working feverishly to revive.

Here they introduce the parties to the interview:

On Slate's legal and courts podcast Amicus, host Dahlia Lithwick discussed the far-reaching implications of the Comstock Act's dubious resurrection and rehabilitation by these conservative judges with Mary Ziegler, an expert on the law, history, and politics of reproductive health care and conservatism in the U.S. from 1945 to the present. Ziegler is a professor at the University of California -- Davis School of Law, and the author of Roe: The History of a National Obsession...
And here is an excerpt:
Image by New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to publication date.
And so, [the 1873 Comstock Act] is simply the only way they see to get to a nationwide abortion ban. And the fact that everyone would hate it and no one would know what it means, and that in any kind of normal world, it would be unconstitutional to revive a law, a criminal law like this that no one has taken seriously in at least half a century -- None of that seems to matter. Which leads to the logical conclusion that sooner or later -- and I think maybe it will be before we get some kind of clarity from the Supreme Court, maybe it will be after -- we're going to have to see a bill demanding repeal of Comstock. Because the one piece of good news here is that Comstock is not, to your point, a constitutional matter where the Supreme Court has the final word. It's a statute that was passed by Congress. So in theory, a future Congress can make it go away. [bold added]
If the Democrats are at all serious about turning the tide on abortion, they will make this happen quickly. I don't see why they can't, even with the bare Republican majority in the House. There are pro-choice Republicans, and as noted elsewhere, many Republicans are averse to banning abortion outright.

-- CAV


DeSantis's Crime-Family 'Values'

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Ron DeSantis is proving to be such a lunatic that I might need to rename my blog, given that hardly a day goes by without his outdoing himself to appeal to the Trump base in the worst possible manner.

And lots of conservatives are lapping it up...

Today, we have Ed Morrissey of Hot Air approvingly reporting that the governor has openly speculated that Florida should perhaps build a prison next to Disney:

Image by Scazon, via Wikimedia Commons, license.
... DeSantis tossed some chin music at Disney by suggesting some novel uses for state lands in the district. How about a competing amusement park, or maybe even some badly needed added capacity for the state penal system?

A prison next to Disney World? That would be a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face if DeSantis took that suggestion seriously. That's more of a nice business ya got there, shame if something happened to it response. [Conservatives used to talk a good game about law and order. Didn't they? --ed]

However, DeSantis is likely a lot more serious about re-assessing the property value of the Reedy Creek district and Disney's land within it. DeSantis noted that the agreement that Disney created to evade the earlier legislative action would have allowed Disney to assess its own property value. That's absurd, DeSantis argued, noting that Disney would be the only corporation or individual property owner in Florida with that ability. [Bye-bye low taxes? --ed]

"The larger issue," DeSantis declared, "is ultimately who governs in a republic. And I think it's we the people under the Constitution," DeSantis concluded. "I think that's the only answer." [How, exectly, is Disney "ruling" us here? --ed]
No. The larger issue, of which DeSantis seem oblivious, is What is a government for?

News Flash: To deliver crime-boss-like threats -- idle or not -- to a private company is not in any way part of the answer.

As an added bonus, DeSantis displays both his contempt for the type of voter he panders to and an alarming myopia when it comes to fighting the left in that another of his threats was to subject such things as the park's monorail system to external inspections.

That's right: He threatened the park with both safety inspections and with something that would make the park much less safe, namely having a prison -- with its potential escapees -- nearby.

First off, the fact that Disney's monorail has a long record of safety shows that such inspections are superfluous to their traditional rationale, safety. On top of that, his threat shows that the governor is so blinded by -- rage? power-lust? -- that he fails to see the irony of grandstanding to "protect" families and children from "woke" while finishing the job of turning our government from our protector against criminals into the most powerful of many criminal enterprises.

Read the whole thing to get a bead on how degenerate the conservatives have gotten lately.

-- CAV

P.S. Some good news: DeSantis has lost the support of a prominent mega-donor over his abortion and book bans.


'Not the Democrats' Presidential Update

Monday, April 17, 2023

Two big stories about Ron DeSantis's expected presidential run broke around the weekend, and together, they make We're not the Democrats look less like a reason to vote for the Republicans and more like a warning label, given that DeSantis has been positioning himself as basically a halfway sane version of Trump.

First and worst, Ron DeSantis signed into law a six week abortion ban, something he didn't seem too excited to do:

DeSantis, who often places himself on the front lines of culture war issues, had said he backs the six-week ban but had appeared uncharacteristically tepid on the bill. He has often said, "We welcome pro-life legislation," when asked about the policy.
Whether he was tepid because he knows that this ban will alienate many or most independent voters, or because he does not personally favor such a ban is immaterial: He signed it into law.

Whether it is because he lacks a spine or has no problem forcing women to bear children, we now know all we need to know about where DeSantis stands on this issue.

A separate report, about recent advertising efforts by Never Back Down -- a PAC that is backing a potential presidential run by Florida's governor -- further informs us that DeSantis, like Trump, is unlikely to deal with the rapidly-approaching Social Security crisis.
The pro-DeSantis ad shows the governor saying in March: "We're not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans."
This is disappointing.

Image by John Tenniel, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
First, I never imagined I'd see the day when Dubya's weak "privatization" proposal for Social Security would be made to look bold in comparison by members of his own party, but here we are -- and by a group that calls itself "Never Back Down" no less.

Second, while the mudslinging involves Republicans slamming each other for adopting campaign tactics from Democrats, voters will notice that Republicans are adopting Democrat policies -- except when those policies (like keeping abortion legal) favor more freedom.

-- CAV


Four Things

Friday, April 14, 2023

A Friday Hodgepodge

Screen grab from Absolutely MAD. The author believes this image to be protected as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law.
1. Al Jaffee, RIP. As a kid, I got laughs from my dad's collection of old Mad magazines, for which Jaffee was an artist, retiring a few years ago only at the age of 99.

Jaffee, who died this week at 102, is perhaps best known as the creator of the Mad fold-in, a type of illustration that appeared on the inside back cover of most issues. These could be folded to reveal a new image as shown in the demo here.

By coincidence, I'd found my Absolutely MAD collection of back issues a few days before. (On Linux, mount the DVD and point a PDF reader at the file Start.pdf. Okular worked well for me.)

Among the bonus materials were short video interviews of the self-described Usual Gang of Idiots, including of Jaffee himself (pictured) discussing how he created his fold-ins. As you might expect, he'd start with the answer, and then toil away at getting something to work in the middle.

2. This problem may have been solved for some time, but I only learned how to play DVDs on Linux by chance yesterday. This includes encrypted DVDs, and I look forward to very easily enjoying things like my old Seinfeld collection again.

I am not completely sure why this has been an issue for so long, but it wasn't a dealbreaker for me, and I figured it would get worked out sooner or later.

3. While I'm geeking out on Linux, I'll bask in smugness for a moment. After a recent upgrade, I noticed that my task bar was taking forever to hide itself. A quick search led me to a solution.

In the meantime, I hear that Microsoft is rolling out Start Menu ads. (The article explains how to turn this off -- at least until whatever setting that is suddenly gets changed.)

I have to use Windows now and then, and I was already getting peppered with lots of unwanted notifications, many of them basically ads. I am glad I don't have to encounter such distractions on a daily basis, and especially when I need to get something done.

4. Ask a Manager took me down memory lane this morning, by advising readers not to do something I recall doing in exasperation a couple of times myself. tl;dr: Don't write 'See resume' in a job application field.

-- CAV


DeSantis Wants You ... to Guard 'Our Borders'

Thursday, April 13, 2023

"Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes. -- "Ellsworth Toohey" in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

***

Another day, another anti-freedom proposal from Florida's Republican supermajority...

This one would, to put it somewhat charitably, conscript many otherwise productive Floridians for border patrol duty.
There is a fundamental difference between actual freedom and a petty dictator attempting or appearing to "run things" better than a Trump or a Biden. (Image by Tim Mossholder, via Unsplash, license.)
[H]ospitals ... would be required to collect data on the immigration status of patients and to submit it to the state...

The legislation calls for new state penalties to be imposed on employers who hire immigrants without work authorization, and it is drawing opposition from the business community in a state struggling with a labor shortage and where the unemployment rate was 2.6 percent in February.

More than one in five Florida residents are immigrants, an estimated 800,000 of them undocumented, and 722,000 American citizens in the state live in households with one or more undocumented immigrants.

The state is home to a large senior population that relies on care often provided by immigrants, many of them undocumented; its agricultural sector employs many undocumented immigrants; and its tourism industry draws millions of visitors from around the world to Florida beaches, restaurants and theme parks, where service workers are often immigrants. [bold added]
It is notable how little progress conservative thought has made about the subject of immigration in the years since a similar proposal -- mentioned by the report -- in Arizona: In a nutshell, the GOP is using the excuse of the welfare state it is too cowardly to roll back, let alone challenge, to visit even more tyranny on Americans.

As I said back then:
SB 1070 is wrong because it targets illegal immigration when the real problem is the existence of the welfare state. Immigrants did not start socialized education. Immigrants did not force law-abiding emergency care personnel to accept non-paying customers. Immigrants did not make it illegal for some of us to ingest chemicals that others disapprove of. Americans, forgetting that their government was established to protect the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, passed (and support) these laws. Americans chose to plunder each other's pockets and run each other's lives.

America has long benefited from freedom and immigration. She should re-embrace the former, not discourage the latter. Hard-working immigrants will appreciate this, while the lazy and shiftless will stay home.
Governor DeSantis is one of the rare Republicans to still use the word "freedom" to attract votes. Yet he reportedly backs this proposal, which tells me he thinks pandering to the worst elements of his own party is more important than doing his job, which is to protect the individual rights of Floridians.

-- CAV


'Independents' and Reembracing American Values

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Robert Reich gleefully tell us what anyone but a die-hard Trump supporter already knows or admits: Trump's recent indictment will, ceteris paribus, consolidate his position within the Republican field for President, but he will probably lose the general election in 2024 if he is the GOP nominee.

Ho-hum.

What I did find interesting were his remarks about "the independents," among whom I count myself, and have since about 2015, when I moved to Maryland:

I'm talking about independents.

Those who describe themselves as independent compose over 40% of American voters -- a larger percentage than either self-described Republicans or Democrats.

This independent share of the voting population is on the rise, as young people decline to identify with either party.

You wouldn't know any of this from media coverage of politics, which focuses almost entirely on the deepening, bitter conflict between red and blue America. Hey, conflict sells.

Not that independents are moderates. They simply dislike angry partisanship.

Independents also oppose the Republican party's stances on abortion, transgender rights, gun controls and the climate.


In Wisconsin, where about the same number of voters have registered Democratic as have registered Republican, independents make all the difference. [bold added]
I was unaware that young voters were becoming increasingly independent: You'd think they were all "democratic socialists" if you took traditional leftist outlets seriously, or at least that America was on a fast track to become a one-party state controlled by the Democrats. (That said, I find little to be relieved about since I see both parties as being arrayed against freedom.)

Reich is fine to observe this, and is correct to note that people are put off by partisan rancor, although he would do well to consider why.

Instead, he wanders off into left field when he starts speculating on what "independents" oppose. Reading this is a little like hearing what Dennis Prager and his ilk pontificate about what atheists -- I am an atheist -- are supposed to think. (Feel free to read on, and compare notes with him.)

It is easy to see why: Independent in this context merely means "neither Democrat nor Republican;" and an atheist simply doesn't believe in god. Neither is a reliable guide for what an individual's positive beliefs are.

Consider Reich's short list of what independents supposedly dislike about "the Republican party's stances on abortion, transgender rights, gun controls and the climate" -- as if Republicans are wrong or completely wrong about all of these or the Democrats have all the right answers.

Bernie Sanders and Kyrsten Sinema may be independents, but they are hardly the only ones, and many independents would never vote for either.

Speaking for myself: I am pro-choice; tolerant of whatever any adult wants to do to his own body (but opposed to the various ways the left is trying to ram transexuality down everyone's throats -- not the same thing as fighting for their rights); opposed to gun control; and opposed to the "green" government campaign against fossil fuels.

Indeed, on abortion, I think the Democrats are doing almost as poor a job of defending that right as the Republicans do of fighting for economic freedom -- especially including that of energy production and use.

I am not the only independent, but I think that shows the futility of painting independents with a broad brush and the high potential to further alienate us by assuming one's own partisan positions are incontestable, or at least what any thoughtful person would believe.

But Reich is a partisan, and I am not particularly eager to help him, although he has helped me see that the way towards a freer America will depend on helping a significant number of voters become more aware of and willing to advance pro-freedom political positions even as independents mostly now act as a handbrake on the more obviously destructive proposals of each major party.

"Independents" are hardly all the same, but disenchantment with both parties sounds like a promising initial screen for where to focus one's efforts.


But that is a longer-term goal than winning the next election, and it involves changing the culture one mind at a time. And that goal depends heavily on the very thing that partisan rancor is a symptom of missing: an orientation towards rational values.

On that score, let me commend both fellow travelers and passers-by who are interested in a thoughtful discussion of America's current political developments to the very interesting discussion -- "Left and Right: Codependent Foes" -- embedded in this post, between two of my favorite Objectivist intellectuals, Harry Binswanger and Gregory Salmieri.

-- CAV


Auto Touchscreen Insanity Update

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Over the weekend, I coincidentally had to drive my wife's car a lot -- and ran into another plea for sanity on automotive touchscreens by a kindred spirit.

It did not hurt my appreciation of Igor Ljubuncic's post that -- on top of the mostly useless and annoying touchscreen on the dash -- that I accidentally changed some setting that caused the car to enter some kind of safety ninny mode: It started beeping and flashing about all kinds of things any halfway sentient or competent driver would have already noticed.

It so well captures the myopic modern Zeitgeist of automobile design to be nagged about the obvious by the same people who all but insist that you drive while attending to a poorly-designed smart phone.

With that off my chest, a glimmer of hope and a recommendation:

Looks good to me... (Image by Brock Wegner, via Unsplash, license.)
It's not all gloomy. Various car companies are slowly realizing the error of their ways. After going all the way in on the touch craze (that's called marketing and buzzwords for you), they encountered something that apparently market studies couldn't have predicted. User dissatisfaction.

And so, they are now dialing back on the touch stupidity and going back to a reasonable balance between touch and physical. Essential, often-used things are done via dials and buttons, non-essential and less often-used stuff goes into the touch screen. Frankly, that's how it should be.

If you want to set a navigation destination, a virtual touch keyboard sure makes more sense than doing so by voice or slow alphabet scroll. Or if you want to check your tire pressure. No problem. But radio, climate control, anything you may want to use WHILE driving, those must never be touch. [It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks that some interfaces are good for some things and other interfaces are good for others... --ed]

And that shall be my financing strategy forever on. Here, I have to call out Hyundai, as they never deviated from sanity, and committed to normal interfaces (a combo of essential real buttons and non-essential touch) for as long as we use human-driven cars. I've never pondered a Hyundai as a personal purchase, but here, we might have a first. [bold added]
Good. Ljubuncic never mentioned Mazda, but unless they've lost their minds during the past few years, they might also represent a sane choice.

-- CAV


DeSantis Sez, "L'√Čtat, c'est moi."

Monday, April 10, 2023

In the past year or so, Ron DeSantis has gone from looking like plausibly the best we can expect the Republican Party to produce as a presidential candidate to what we might as well start calling a banana Republican.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether those are now the same thing.

It all started reasonably enough with the measure the left likes to smear as "don't say gay:" The government shouldn't be running schools at all, but since it is, it is not out of bounds for the government to set policy. DeSantis supporting or signing into law a measure to not propagandize far-left academic fads about sex and gender is hardly unreasonable.

Schools should be private, full stop. But until they are, the best we can hope for is a government to have a sex education curriculum (if it teaches that at all) that lies far from such travesties as puritanism or what DeSantis has justifiably likened to grooming.

Disney, which is a private corporation and as such has a right to free speech, vocally opposed the legislation. This should be the end of the story, but it isn't, because the ESG movement has, through state investment made Disney a sock-puppet of the likes of Gavin Newsom.

DeSantis, were he truly pro-freedom, might have discounted Disney's "stand" as, say, California's stand or Gavin Newsom's stand, and let it go at that, but he has taken things personally or is pro-freedom in name only: Rather than stand for freedom, DeSantis ripped apart a very old development agreement with Disney last year, ultimately replacing the board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District with his own cronies. At the start of this, I said:

The GOP should be talking about everyone getting the low taxes of Disney en route to no taxes -- not using taxes to stifle political speech.
I stand by those words.

This battle has entered a new phase with the revelation that the cronies in charge of what is now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have their hands tied, legally:
Image by Hyacinth Rigaud, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain, as a faithful reproduction of a publc domain work.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday promised a new round of action against Disney in his ongoing dispute with the entertainment giant, including looking at the taxes on Disney's hotels and imposing tolls on roads that serve its theme parks.

...

"They are not superior to the people of Florida," DeSantis said during an evening appearance at Hillsdale College, the conservative liberal arts college in Michigan. "So come hell or high water we're going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day. And so they can keep trying to do things. But ultimately we're going to win on every single issue involving Disney I can tell you that." [bold added]
The way to fight bad ideas is with better ideas, not by abusing government force against people who spout bad ideas. And the rational action to take when it becomes apparent that one has made a mistake is to own that mistake, apologize, and try to do better going forward -- not doubling down.

This battle taken alone might not, in today's political context, disqualify DeSantis as a candidate for President. But taken together with other anti-speech, anti-property rights actions, it looks like an ominous pattern to me.

-- CAV


Four Small Wins

Friday, April 07, 2023

A Friday Hodgepodge

1. I'm driving less, but walking more. Since I use driving time for podcasts and lectures, I decided to get earbuds to make up the difference. I am very happy with the ones my wife bought for me.

2. Suddenly having need for a serviceable laptop that I can afford to get lost, damaged, or stolen, I decided to replace the spent battery of an old laptop we had on hand.

The instructions for the new battery called for several charge-and-drain cycles, which I very easily helped along by unplugging it and pointing a browser to the "nosleep.page."

What an easy way to keep a laptop awake! It was nice not having to dig around to find and change settings just to do this.

Conveniently, the site has a toggle to allow normal behavior while remaining there.

3. Over a period of about a month, my ancient coffee maker began taking longer and longer to brew. Sometimes, it wouldn't make a full cup. Eventually, I noticed that there would always be water left in the reservoir.

A quick search of YouTube turned up the video embedded below, which includes a description of the problem I was having, why it was occurring, and how to fix it for a similar model. The video made sense and the repair was very easy.

Ten minutes later, I tested the repair and very quickly was surprised at how much better my coffee was in addition to being glad I got this working again.


4. We took the kids to Disney for part of spring break, and the delicious La Choza Clasica margarita I enjoyed at Epcot reminded me that I'd had an interesting beer on a previous trip to the Magic Kingdom, Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale. The reviews at the link do a pretty good job among them.

My main complaint about this one is related to the paucity of reviews: There are only a handful. This one is sold exclusively at the theme park.

-- CAV


Coulter Notes Travesty in Passing

Thursday, April 06, 2023

I am no fan of Ann Coulter, but she can produce an entertaining rant from time to time.

One of her more recent pieces, which appears in The Spectator World, qualifies as such. Within, she rightly browbeats her fellow Republicans for circling their wagons around Donald Trump even though it's obvious that (a) while it may be true that he is sleazy and corrupt, he is being prosecuted in New York for political reasons; and (b) they could be rallying around a better (or at least a less easily-attacked) alternative in Ron DeSantis.

There are even some good historical tidbits thrown in, like:

... After voters reject you once, they almost never change their minds. In all of US history, losing presidential candidates have run again about a dozen times. Only three of those renominations were successful -- and only one since 1892. (Nixon was the only one to do it in the past 131 years. Of course, that first election probably was stolen from him, but Nixon graciously conceded, instead of running around making a complete ass of himself.) [links omitted]
I don't agree with everything Coulter says. Sure, maybe part or all of this is deliberately orchestrated by leftists because they realize that running against Trump might well be Biden's best chance at being reelected. But a lot of this is easily attributable to people on both sides acting according to the dumb logic of their irrational premises.

But Coulter is spot-on about how easily "rolled" the Trump base is.

Unfortunately, she was only almost spot-on with the following:
In response to Trump's arraignment on Tuesday, all conservative media swept aside news of out-of-control crime, chaos at the border, fentanyl overdoses and the looming recession. Their No. 1 job became: SAVE TRUMP! A major conservative talk radio host even suggested DeSantis stand down and endorse Trump.
This old satirical work, featuring soldiers squabbling over whose uniform is better, fairly well captures the substance and gravity of current American politics. (Image by the British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
This is a travesty, but Coulter was too busy trying to score rhetorical points to notice -- which is why I say she is almost spot-on...

The great crime of Trump's pathetic -- and dangerous when he was chief executive -- whining about the 2020 election has been that everyone -- including the conservative press (!) -- is prattling on and on about this famous nonentity, instead of having serious discussions about a host of very weighty issues currently plaguing our republic (like the policy-induced energy shortage) or looming on the horizon (like the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare).

That crime is now being compounded by the left, which, as Coulter correctly notes "run off and make wild charges" "[i]nstead of attacking Trump for the things he'd actually done."

At least the left seems to have the goal of winning in 2024 in mind, even if at great cost to our country later. As for the right, I can't understand what most of them are thinking: The right seems to have lost its mind and with it, might also lose the ripe opportunity a serious run against Biden could represent.

-- CAV


Abortion, Electoral Kookiness Lose in Wisconsin

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

The Democrat won in an important race for a seat on Wisconsin's supreme court yesterday, and it would behoove the Republican Party to take a moment to ask itself why:

Image by Gayatri Malhotra, via Unsplash, license.
At the center of the race, however, was abortion rights.

The state Supreme Court is widely expected to decide the fate of the state’s restrictive 1849 abortion law in the near term.

Several of Protasiewicz’s television advertisements emphasized her support for abortion rights and slammed “extremists” on the other side. Kelly, who refrained from saying how he would rule in such a case, was endorsed by three groups that oppose abortion rights, and he provided counsel to another Wisconsin group that opposes abortion rights. [bold added]
Another story notes:
The Wisconsin Supreme Court may also be asked once again to rule on a challenge to a presidential election. In 2020, the court threw out a challenge brought by former President Donald Trump with conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the liberal members of the court.

While a majority of the justices refused to hear Trump's challenge to the election, three justices on the seven-member court wanted to take up the case.
Both stories discussed elections, but with different slants, with the leftist NBC News focusing on the court's role in how Wisconsin draws its electoral maps and the right-wing Newsweek noting the court's reaction to one of Donald Trump's loony 2020 electoral challenges.

But both outlets note that this election could end up costing the GOP House seats if questions arise about how congressional districts are drawn up.

The GOP, which these days runs as "not the Democrats" while only actually getting excited by banning abortion or being Donald Trump's lapdog has only itself to blame for losing a majority in that court for the first time in 15 years.

-- CAV


Right-Wing Media Wary of Florida Proposal

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Ron DeSantis recently distanced himself from a proposal in Florida to make bloggers who discuss certain officials register with the state and make regular reports on what they are writing about.

That distancing sounds far less plausible today, as even right-wing outlets are pushing back against another anti-free speech proposal:

The ad that led to the Sullivan case. (Image by Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to publication date and lack of copyright notice.)
The legislation, drafted at Mr. DeSantis’s urging as he inches toward a presidential bid, takes aim at several protections in state and federal law, including the decades-old Supreme Court precedent that makes it difficult for public figures to win libel lawsuits. The proposals are packaged in two bills moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

While public opposition has largely come from left-leaning and nonpartisan free-speech groups, forces traditionally aligned with Mr. DeSantis have in recent weeks begun raising alarm. They are warning that the governor and his G.O.P. allies did not take into account how the bills would affect right-wing reporters and commentators, not just the mainstream outlets that have become punching bags for Republican politicians.

“The sword cuts both ways,” Trey Radel, a radio talk show host and former Republican congressman, said late last month as he railed against the legislation on his evening drive-time show.
Good on them for seeing the danger. In issuing this warning, conservative media show at least the modicum of sense I wondered about DeSantis and his supporters lacking:
There is no thought like, If we pass a law like that, it might come back to bite us, which would have at least crossed the minds of even the worst politicians from a generation ago.

That's what I find most worrisome of all, for whether or not Brodeur and his ilk in the Republican party are actively working to establish a dictatorship, what they are doing now will certainly help those who have no intention of honoring the results of the next election -- that prospect which, however poorly, has kept American politicians somewhat in line for a long time.
That said, while it might be premature to fear for a dictatorship, the real danger is that -- as these very public discussions show -- intimidating the media will make it harder to discuss the bad policies or mistakes of our government officials.

I don't see how a politician who would deprive himself of such important feedback can be trusted to know or care about his country.

-- CAV


Ingrassia Channels His Inner Campus Snowflake

Monday, April 03, 2023

In a post I titled "Will MAGA Sink DeSantis?" back when Donald Trump first began raising cane about his hush money troubles, I opined:

... DeSantis ... has managed to pander to Trumpists so far, but now faces the choice of losing the support of this contingent of voters (at least some of whom he'll need to win the Republican nomination) by signing [extradition] papers -- or losing the support of non-Trumpist Republicans and independents (whose support any candidate would need against a Democrat) by refusing to sign.
The whole issue of extradition was premature then, but it has already come up and we have about as close to an answer as our slick governor is going to give until and unless he actually has to deliver:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made clear he would not allow his state to be party to extraditing Trump -- if it somehow came to that, seeing as Trump resides in Palm Beach -- and said, "The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head." [link to March 30 DeSantis tweet added]
It is interesting to see how much this is worth to the Trumpist base, who crashed a stop on DeSantis's book tour Saturday, where he doubled down on that announcement:
After a long parade of cars with Trump flags streamed into the parking lot -- at a local aviation museum -- ahead of the DeSantis book event, the two sides reportedly clashed face to face.

"Go home, DeSantis!" one protester yelled at DeSantis backers, a scene captured by local WABC Channel 7 investigative reporter Kristin Thorne.

...

During DeSantis' evening address inside the venue, the governor was heckled by at least one very vocal Trump supporter.

Trump White House alum and Claremont Institute fellow Paul Ingrassia interrupted the governor's speech, urging him to "support" and "endorse Donald Trump for president."

In a subsequent interview with The Daily Beast, Ingrassia accused DeSantis of being "in bed with the globalists."
That's a poor return on basically setting oneself up for a choice between a standoff with the federal government -- or having to start reneging on campaign promises before even throwing one's hat into the ring.

That last quote -- in bed with 'the globalists' -- says a lot, both about the hard-core Trump-or-nothing mentality and the kind of politician who wants to appeal to it. (I see this as different from wanting to appeal to people who, say, supported Trump with reservations or merely voted against the Democrats.)

The kind of mentality that buys into conspiracy theories doesn't judge ideas -- or people -- rationally. Regarding the latter, I think there's more of a kind of low-cunning emotionalistic weighing going on that tells someone like this, he is/is not one of us.

I am beginning to think that DeSantis, in pandering to the hard-core Trump base, risks coming off as someone who wants to be one of them -- and I am pretty sure that can only backfire with that kind of voter.

Also worth noting is this: Consider what you would do on the occasion of a likely political candidate for an election a year away showing up for a book tour in your neck of the woods. Protest, perhaps, but interrupt a speech and heckle -- like the snowflakes on today's college campuses?


No. The rational thing to do with someone espousing views you don't agree with is to let him do so, to inform others and give yourself something to argue against. Consider this another datum RE: hard-core Trumpists, and maybe today's conservative movement as a whole.

-- CAV