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Thursday, February 04, 2016


A couple of days ago, my neighbor brought to my attention that our mail was no longer being delivered. It turns out that it hadn't been delivered for over a week, but I hadn't even noticed - almost nothing of importance ever comes through the mail anymore: bills are paid on line, taxes are filed electronically, notices come via email, etc.

To me the Post Office is just a bit player in the giant circle of junk-mail life. They deliver it, I put it in the recycling, new paper is made from it, new junk mail gets printed, and the Post Office redelivers it to keep the circle going. Other than that, they have little use from what I can tell.

So they just stopped delivering my mail - no notice, no explanation, no nothing.


The ferocious furball pictured below approached and barked at the mailman. There was no contact between them and our dog didn't even get particularly close to the mailman. The dog is well trained and my wife was present and verbally in control of the dog (for example, she told it to stop barking and it did). Nonetheless, the barking is still considered an "attack" and enough of an incident to get mail delivery to stop without notice. The Post Office claims 6,000 dog attacks on mail carriers in a year. However, given that barking is an attack, I'm surprised the number isn't far higher. What dog doesn't bark (other than the one in the Sherlock Holmes story)?

When I first learned the reason for non-delivery, I did a google search. There're a gazillion stories of non-delivery where it was really onerous to get it started again and I started to worry. For example, an 11-pound furball caused an entire condo complex to lose mail delivery forever (or until the owner agreed to put the dog to sleep). So I was wondering what hoops I would have to jump through to get my mail started again. If it was just me, I wouldn't've even bothered since mail isn't useful to me. Unfortunately, my neighbor was unpleased at his lack of delivery so I was worried the whole thing would become a giant nightmare.

But it wasn't bad. The Post Office just made me sign something that said that I agreed to keep the dog under control during mail delivery times and that the mailman would not deliver mail on days when any dogs were visible. Works for me and it was only a little bit annoying.

Don't get me wrong - I am sympathetic to being afraid of dogs. Our 25 pound furball does have a ferocious bark for something so small and fluffy. I do wonder though: if a mailman is so afraid of dogs that merely being barked at is traumatic enough to be considered an attack, perhaps he's chosen the wrong career?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Heart and Head

I'm not sure, but I think that I may have been the cause of another post at Cafe Hayek. As a result, I've written the following letter to the blogger there...

Dear Professor Boudreaux,

I'd like to explain in more detail than is plausible in the facebook commenting section on your blog about what I meant when I asked, "Can you really not see why folks like Jim thinks that a fair amount of your writing shows "contempt" for the common American people?"

But first I want to start with a brief (true) story about your ex-co-blogger Russ Roberts and my eldest daughter. Once upon a time, Russ wrote a book called "The Invisible Heart." I read it to my daughter ten years ago when she was nine years old. It's a wonderful love story where the main character just happens to be a high-school economics teacher and a few economic concepts are introduced in the book by that character. My daughter really liked the book but I had no idea whether or not she really grasped the economics concepts or not or whether she would remember them even if she did get them in the first place. But three months later, after Halloween trick-or-treating, she and a group of friends traded candy with each other - each would trade away what they didn't like for what they did. After the other kids had left, my daughter said to me completely unsolicited, "Daddy, it was just like in the book 'The Invisible Heart' - by trading our candy we all became better off!" So not only did she get at least the concept of the benefit of trade, but she remembered it and was able to apply it to a real world situation in her life many months later.

Russ Roberts reached through the heart of a nine-year-old girl to place some fundamental economic concepts in her head. Talk about the power of the pen!

What I learned (eventually) from this story and other experience is that the only way to nearly everyone's head is through their heart. Before that, I'd often encounter nonsensical arguments and think, "Oh! All I have to do is point out the mistake in their reasoning and/or facts and/or evidence and they'll see things correctly!" Of course, I'd always be disappointed because they weren't putting forward rational arguments of the head. They were putting forth arguments that they believe in their hearts, things that are "true" in their hearts. In my experience, for most people, belief and faith trumps rationality every time; the heart trumps the head every time. The most important things I've learned regarding this is that if I make statements that contradict what's true in their hearts, folks will reject it out-of-hand, the debate is instantly shut down, and I've lost, pretty much every time. And if I'm not very careful, they will feel that I have contempt for what they know in their hearts to be true.

Let's take an example. Consider the following statement that might be similar to one made by a minimum wage advocate:

We must collectively do something about burger flippers making such a low wage and since the Card and Krueger study shows no adverse effect on employment a reasonably high minimum wage is a good way to address this low wage problem.
Since you've addressed similar statements with about a hundred posts in last couple of years, we both know exactly how you would answer it. I could almost write the respnse for you out of a synthesis of other ones.

Someone who writes something like the above statement is probably not trying to write a rational statement. They are writing a statement of the heart. Responding with rational arguments without first reaching for and accessing the heart is counterproductive in my experience. For example, telling them about all the counter studies, meta studies, etc. that show the opposite of Card and Krueger is probably pointless. Telling them that economic theory is at odds with Card and Krueger is meaningless to them. As soon as you write the word "monopsony" they run for the exits. Pointing out the problems of collectivism and waxing eloquent about liberty for liberty's sake is generally going to fall on deaf ears unless you can make it felt by the heart; in other words, being anti-collective or anti-government is not usually a winning argument with most people.

The question is how to respond to such statements. I don't necessarily know, but here is a response I've given to statements like the above that actually does seem to have a positive effect and seems to open the door to rational debate (or at least not close the door): "Well, my concern about a $15/hr minimum wage is that at one point I was thinking about being a musician instead of a computer guy and I would never have been good enough at music to be worth $15/hr. But you've heard my music and it's pretty decent, right? And if I had dedicated myself to music professionally it would've been even better. And if I had chosen that path, I would've been happy enough making $5/hr and that's all I would've been able to get. And if that door was closed I would've ended up being stuck flipping burgers at $15/hr which, as I'm sure you can imagine would've been a far worse option for me even though it paid more. And how about my cousin who worked for that private charity that helps disabled kids. They were only able to pay her $5/hr because that's all the money they could raise from donors and the government. Should they have to fire her and prevent her from helping disabled kids because they didn't have enough money to pay her more?" And so forth. Lots of statements directed at the heart.

I suspect you're horrified by the above paragraph. But is it really so terrible? Is Russ's Invisible Heart really so terrible? Building a narrative that constantly pulls at heartstrings and then slipping in an occasional rational fact? Is it so bad?

Now let me give examples of why I can imagine people reading your writing might think that you have contempt for them. Note the the "your" and "you" are plural and include not only just you but also Bryan Caplan and others.

First consider the post that "Jim" commented on. Bryan self-quotes, "The median American is no Nazi, but he is a moderate national socialist..." Oh, so only a milque-toast Nazi, not a full blown one. Certainly not a complement for the typical ("median") American and the statement rather reverberates with contempt for anyone who considers themselves a typical American, in my opinion.

Caplan then goes on to say that Americans basically all have ADHD; that is, they are mentally ill or mentally deficient. He basically says thanks heavens for that, otherwise our policies would be even worse, yet at the same time writes, "I look down on the public's ADHD." The phrase "I look down on" is very close to synonymous with "contempt," no?

While you didn't explicitly endorse Caplan's post, the fact that you referred to it might seem to indicate you're at least sympathetic with it and the possible contempt that could be associated with it.

Furthermore, Caplan has written a book "The Myth of the Rational Voter" which you've referenced at least a few times. Many people believe in their hearts in democracy, believe in their hearts in the democratic process, believe in their hearts that they are good citizens, and believe in their hearts that their votes are rationally based and important. To at least some of those people, that very title drips with contempt.

Do you not have contempt for virtually all politicians? For example, you've written:
"As regular readers of this blog know, I’m allergic to almost all politicians – and my allergy is non-partisan. So on those occasions when I single out a politician for ridicule, I must not be interpreted as believing that he or she is uniquely scurrilous and contemptible."
Does this not say you have contempt for all politicians? Can you not see how if someone reading this believes in the democratic process and feels some level of responsibility for electing those politicians that they could possibly feel you have indirect contempt for them as well?

You also wrote, just yesterday:
"It’s true that I do hold in very low regard – in, indeed, contempt – the “economics” expressed by many non-economists and by the politicians and pundits who cater to economic ignorance."
Are they catering to economic ignorance? You clearly think so, but I think not. Man is a political, social, emotional, and moral-believing animal, and I think that the "economics" expressed by these "non-economists" is neither economics nor rational but is catering to the political, social, emotional, moral-believing nature of man; in other words, it's aimed at the heart. And, much to many economists' frustrations (such as yours?), the statements hit their mark.

Then you reply with rational economic analyses that miss the heart by many light years and, as a result, look to me to have little positive effect. Even worse, you do admittedly view these beliefs of the heart with contempt when held by the speaker or the listener or both, no?

So that's why I think the writings of you and others such as Bryan Caplan can be easily interpreted as "illustrating the contempt with which the American elite view the common American people" per Jim's comment.

Have you read Russ's Invisible Heart? You may not much like it, but a nine-year old girl did and it helped her form a rational understanding of economics.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coming Soon to A Road Near You*

Here is the sort of thing for which socialism in general, and single payer health care in particular, is so justifiably famous.

No. Wait. The exact opposite of that.

*Unless you live in the United States, where these lights, thanks to the NHTSA are illegal. Yes, that is the same NHTSA that mandated sealed beam headlights at least a decade past their sell-by date.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Well That Sure was Fun. Now What?

I generally avoid reviewing reviews of things I haven't seen or read; it would be hard to imagine a means of forming opinions more baseless. However, I have a couple reasons for making an exception here.

First, Krugman writes an entire column that isn't guilty of ranting under the influence of naval gazing. More importantly, though, the book he reviewed, Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth raises enough ideas that can be debated without having to have read the book first.

Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don’t measure up to past achievements. Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.

It is hard to argue with this. For someone living in 1880, 1950 would be completely unimaginable. The gulf from 1950 to 2020 (absent something completely unforeseeable) is tiny by comparison.

The Great Inventions — electricity, flush toilets, cars, airplanes, and the like — transformed life in ways that subsequent inventions haven't and can't. Their spread was the cause of the nearly a century's worth of rapid economic growth; that all the Great Inventions have been invented and fully adopted means that the growth we have become used to is already a thing of the past.

I think that conclusion is very difficult to argue against. Even if you add IT to the list of Great Inventions (Gordon apparently does not), computers haven't transformed our lives in the way the Great Inventions have — and won't so long as artificial intelligence, which still makes a cricket look brilliant, perpetually remains five years in the future.

As for the Great Inventions themselves, they have all followed identical horizontal-S performance curves. Slow at first, then a phase of rapid improvement, followed by near stagnation. Indoor plumbing has already improved our lives as much as it ever will. Airplanes will never go faster than they do now. Space flight will always be extraordinarily difficult and limited.

Does that mean everything has been invented? Of course not. Graphene, for just one likely example, is "about 100 times stronger than strongest steel with hypothetical thickness of 3.35Å which is equal to the thickness of graphene sheet. It conducts heat and electricity efficiently and is nearly transparent.[4] Researchers have identified the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges and large quantum oscillations in the material."

Just the first property alone could make featherweight airplanes, trains, cars, and rockets.

All of which would still be subject to the same barriers they do now: the speed of sound, wind resistance, and reaction mass. They would do what exactly what they do now, but more cheaply. The payload fraction of a space launch would go up, but it wouldn't get anywhere significantly more quickly.

In short, we may be reaching an economic and existential "end of history".

Krugman, true to form, bangs the inequality drum, without noticing his own review has taken away the sticks:

So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will be reinforced by a set of “headwinds”: rising inequality, a plateau in education levels, an aging population and more.

It’s a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress. And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.

Even though there are no more Great Inventions* — and this should be glaringly obvious to even the most casual observer of reality — stagnant incomes do not mean stagnant living standards. All the minor inventions surrounding the Great Inventions have flattened consumption. Everyone has smart phones, garbage disposals, flush toilets, air conditioning, ad nearly infinitum. The rich undoubtedly have fancier of all those things, but there is scarcely anything the rich have that the rest of us do not.

Cars are a perfect example, perhaps one I have overused. The average new car today could not have been bought for any amount of money 20 years ago. The average four year old car today is so much better than even the best new car of 40 years ago as to make meaningful price comparisons impossible. Yet the time it takes an average worker to earn the money required to buy an average new car today is identical to what it was in the mid-1970s: 23 weeks.**

Stagnant income means stagnant living standards? Wanna trade your Focus for a Pinto? The question answers itself. And cars are by far from the only example.

The point here isn't that growing inequality*** doesn't exist, but rather that it leaves one wondering how important it is. Yes, perhaps, probably, even, there are no game changing innovations left. To me, the more interesting question is what it might be like for civilization itself to have reached the right side of that horizontal-S curve. If that is indeed the case, then humanity is looking at an indefinite future that has the same aspect as the indefinite past before the industrial age: incremental, scarcely noticeable change.

Hard to conceive of, given what we have lived through in my lifetime.

* Genetic engineering notwithstanding

** No, I am not going to track down the source for that one. You will just have to trust me.

*** Clearly inequality is growing, but progressives, for whom this is the latest new religion omit, or confuse, a great many things: free agency, composition vs. characteristic, and correlation of class with divorce, among other things. No matter, the concept fluffs their looting fetish, so we are stuck with it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

John Barleycorn (must die)

The author of the zman blog observes that we are living during a crisis of liberal democracy:
What we are witnessing in the West is the great test of liberal democracy. On the one side, all over the West we see recalcitrant mainstream parties digging in their heels on polices that benefit the global elite at the expense of the local populations. On the other side you have local populations trying to force change on their government through the liberal democratic processes. The theory says the politicians, as a matter of survival, will yield.
So far, that has not been the way to bet. Instead the main parties find new ways to subvert the will of the voters. In Greece the Germans laid siege to the country until they broke the will of the people. Closer to home, the German government is unleashing a wave of Muslim terrorism on their people, presumably as a form of intimidation. In France, the main parties have teamed up to block the third party from winning.

You don’t have to be a seer to see what’s coming. If through the accepted democratic process the will of the people is thwarted, then the people will lose respect for those processes. If the people in charge already look upon these processes with contempt, there’s no one left to support the status quo and the whole things falls to pieces. Perhaps the post-democratic world imagined by the global elite is what emerges, but 100 years ago all the smart people had similar thoughts.

Richard Fernandez has his own take on the coming collision :
There remains the belief that Western leaders can still fix this problem with a little tweaking.  But the time for easy action has passed.  The Golden Hour in which to prevent irreversible damage has lapsed, neglected by a Washington too sure of its own fantasies to act decisively.  Now the storm has broken and  Merkel is downstream of a dam opened by the policy of "leading from behind".  The valve with which Obama had hoped to shut down the Islamic civil war has been turned the wrong way to full open.  Worse, the wheel has broken off in his hand and he is staring at the snapped spindle.

That human tide of misery will combine with the denial which this generation of Western leaders are capable of to produce a separate catastrophe, still in the future, itself foreseeable, which can still be avoided.  If only ... if only... those who missed the chance the first time now wake up to act this second time.

Yet as Friedrich Hegel once observed what history teaches is that humanity learns nothing from history.  Our Tower of Babel is helpless to save itself.  Ironically if Europe survives it will be on account of the ghosts: in the remnants of the culture the left has come close to killing;  the providence of a God they no longer believe in;  the stirrings of memory of a nation they have doomed to oblivion; the struggles of a half-remembered honor we are told to disown.

The fact is, for West to survive, it must become something other than what our PC leaders have tried to make it.  For it is written that "the stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone."  It's poetic justice to be sure but we have to accept the justice if we are to save what's left of the poetry.
A search of this blog for political correctness  shows some interesting posts including discussions of Cultural Marxism.  This attempt to undermine a free society includes ideas such as multiculturalism and political correctness.  The constraining of speech is meant to also control thought and generate conformity with the desires of those in power.  It is an attempt to avoid the competition of ideas in the public arena.

John Fund makes the point that authorities are in denial and continue to take a do nothing approach to the matter:
See something, say something.” We’ve all seen ads from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that ask people not to turn a blind eye to suspicious activity. But all too often the reality, both in the U.S. and even more so in Europe, is that neighbors, politicized police departments, and the mainstream media act as if the slogan should be “See Something, Do Nothing.”
Ostrich-like behavior that puts political correctness ahead of security concerns is even more prevalent in Europe.
For Americans, the more pertinent question is this: Are we allowing political correctness to destroy the very values of individual responsibility and truth-telling that have helped immigrants assimilate successfully throughout our history? Or, under the thumb of PC, are we increasing the risk of terrorist violence? If the answer to both is yes, the unhappy political conditions might be such that Americans would feel tempted to rip up the welcome mat for foreigners.

We used to do a decent job of  assimilating immigrants:

Today, our elites are far too “sophisticated” to promote Americanization. As immigrants, refugees, assylees and others come and settle here, they are actually taught that this is a racist, Islamophobic country and that they are victims. In fact, much about how they live—from social standing to actual tangible benefits—will depend on their status as members of an aggrieved, protected group.
 Discussion of this issue has nearly become taboo, because the Left pounces on anyone who will take it up. One can surmise, of course, that the Left pounces as hard as it does because it realizes that an internally riven society is an essential ingredient of regime change—or “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” as some call it.
 The word “assimilation” itself was used by President Washington and embraced by all the Founders on down to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan. Most importantly, the report calls for presidential candidates of both parties to debate this existential matter.

This is a debate we haven’t really had. Elites in the academy and the arts, the bureaucracy and politics, decided on their own to stop assimilating newcomers and move to the multi-group model.

Undoing the damage of multiculturalism, affirmative action, and the entire culture of victimhood won’t be easy, and working only toward cultural and economic integration will not be enough. After all, 2013 Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev and last year’s San Bernardino’s Syed Farook were “culturally integrated.” Patriotic assimilation is key. But first, we need to be able to talk about it—without being shouted down.

Assimilation can help but it will not be enough to deter the strongest believers in Islamic supremacism.

In order to decide how we should deal with this matter and many other important matters we need to have serious discussion about competing approaches.  The imposition of political correctness makes this nearly impossible.

Some of our  supposed betters are discouraging people from bucking political correctness, power hungry statists that they are.  PC also contributes to warping behavior to the point of people failing the Turing Test.

There are plenty of people looking to get free from this form of control:
GOP candidates in the single digits might take a hint from Trump -- show the American public that you can speak awkward truths in the face of hysterical PC criticism. You are probably going to lose anyhow, but if you are going to sacrifice millions in futile campaign spending and endless rubber chicken banquets, die for a good cause, and, given our current political landscape overflowing with dishonesty, what could be a more noble cause than killing the beast of PC
 Then we have the leftist intellectuals on campus today:
Political correctness – the academic aping of the class struggle — has increasingly generated campus hijinks unintentionally redolent of the cartoonist Al Capp’s 1960s depiction of S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). Recently, referring to the plague of campus hoaxes regarding rape and race, capped off by the ruckus at Oberlin College because of the cultural “disrespect” shown by serving General Tso’s Chicken with steamed instead of fried rice, I was asked by a well-educated friend, “how did academia come to this sorry pass?”
 “The postmodern campus aggrievement industry,” notes Arthur Milikh, writing in City Journal, aims to introduce a new standard of wisdom: judging the highest achievements of human knowledge by the unreasoned, spontaneous feelings of uncultivated minds.

We may finally be approaching the point where the PC chickens  are coming home to roost.
But the big new development in 2015 is that the left’s culture war came back to attack the very institutions that hatched it.
It is on campus that the left has created a quasi-totalitarian system of social conformity — as the base from which they have tried to impose those rules on everyone.
But the universities can’t escape having the same quasi-totalitarian system imposed on themselves, and that’s what came to a head this fall at the University of Missouri, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College — with many other campus activists itching to get in on the revolution. The universities, those utopias of multicultural tolerance, have found themselves accused of being shot through with “systemic racism,” and protesters have demanded the firing of administrators, all the way up to the presidents of universities, for such crimes as daring to question the Halloween Costume Inquisition.
There are two centuries of chickens coming home to roost, because that’s how long ago academic intellectuals began toying with the idea that ideas don’t matter and everything is just a raw power struggle.

But while the new political correctness may seem irresistibly strong — at least when it is employed against soft targets like university administrators — that masks an underlying weakness, what I called the Paradox of Dogma: “If you try to shut down public debate, is this a way of ensuring that you win — or an admission that you have already lost?”
A swing back to the right, I concluded, is not at all inevitable. Rather, the fragility of the left’s dominance presents us with an opportunity. And given the number of people who thought their moderate liberalism made them safe from political correctness but who are now discovering how foolish that was, there is plenty of fuel for a backlash.

Anyone who values a free society should realize that this battle needs to be fought.

John Barleycorn This PC thing must die!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Unclear on the Concept

I reluctantly subscribe to the NYT. The reason I do so is so that I don't confine myself to information sources that flatter my world view.

The reason I am reluctant is that it seems, particularly lately, that the NYT either cannot comprehend constitutional government, or it can and is actively hostile to the entire enterprise.

A case the Supreme Court will hear on Monday morning threatens to undermine a four-decade-old ruling that upheld a key source of funding for public-sector unions, the last major bastion of unionized workers in America.

In the 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the justices ruled that public unions may charge all employees — members and nonmembers alike — for the costs of collective bargaining related to their employment. For nonmembers, these are known as “fair-share fees.” But nonmembers may not be compelled to pay for the union’s political or ideological activities.

There are many problems with that second paragraph, from the concept that the government may compel individuals to support private organizations, to what should be, but aren't in this case, scare quotes around "fair share". According to whom?

That's bad enough, but par for an Op-Ed section so at war with evidence and reason, not surprising.

It gets worse.

The Abood ruling was a sensible compromise between the state’s interest in labor peace and productivity and the individual worker’s interest in his or her freedom of speech and association.

No, NYT. Wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong. Let me help:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …

Just as with Citizens United, which part of "no" do you not get?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Richard Dawkins Shills for Christianity!

Well, "shills" is maybe a little too strong, but still, that's a headline I never thought I'd be able to write. From Breitbart:
In a text that is coursing about on social media, professional God-slayer Richard Dawkins begrudgingly admitted that Christianity may actually be our best defense against aberrant forms of religion that threaten the world. 
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings,” Dawkins said. “I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death.” 
In a rare moment of candor, Dawkins reluctantly accepted that the teachings of Jesus Christ do not lead to a world of terror, whereas followers of radical Islam perpetrate the very atrocities that he laments.
Because of this realization, Dawkins wondered aloud whether Christianity might indeed offer an antidote to protect western civilization against jihad.
 The world's most vociferous and rabid atheist, the man who calls those who don't "believe in" Evolution "ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked ...)," the person who's spent decades railing against religion of any form, suddenly wonders if maybe Christianity might have a use after all? Wow! My jaw dropped open so fast it dislocated - ouch!

Of course his logic is a bit like my tongue-in-cheek Religion is Like the Pox post that I wrote over ten years ago, but I'm glad he finally sees the light.

One for the Ages

Last night, as we were getting ready for our arrival, the Paris-CDG Automated Terminal Information Service produced this:

Aviation communication is very narrowly scripted, which makes this nice touch stand out even more.

In case you care, here is the translation: ACARS Information Bravo, time 2115Z, transmitted to aircraft 915FD on 11 Jan 16 at 21:24Z. Expect Instrument Landing System approaches to runways 27R and 26L (i.e., landing to the west on the outboard runways), departures 27L and 26R (the inboard runways), Standard Instrument Departures 1A, 1B and 1Z. The runway is wet. Transition level (changing from standard to local altimeter on descent) is 6,000 feet on standard. Make sure to hold short of the departure runway after clearing the landing runway. ATC has recently decided to reduce radio congestion by no longer reading the frequencies of Tower and Departure control on handoff.

The weather: winds out of the west at 17 kts, visibility greater than 10 kilometers, scattered cloud at 1600 feet, broken cloud at 2000 feet. Temperature 7C, dewpoint 4C, local altimeter setting 991 hectopascals.

And yes, aviation chaotically mixes metric and English units.

Property Wrongs

The NYT Op-Ed section runs a series called The Stone, "a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless." I have rubbished previous articles in the Stone, for failing to understand the structure of certain problems, and another mistaking self reference for paradox.

The most recent offering deepens the pile.

In This Land Is Your Land. Or Is It? Prof. McBrayer tries to demonstrate that the whole concept of private property is — what's the in term these days? Oh, right — problematic. At some level, of course, private property is problematic. It is, after all a human concept,* and one would be hard pressed to find any human concept that isn't problematic in some regard.

Unfortunately, Prof McBrayer goons up basic concepts so badly as to have hit the rocks long before getting anywhere worthwhile.

Since last weekend, armed men have been in control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Incensed by the sentencing of local ranchers to jail time for burning public lands†, the protesters want the federal government out of the land business. Their stated goal is to return the refuge to the locals so that “people can reclaim their resources.” But this raises an important question: Why does justice demand that the land and resources belong to the locals instead of the commons? What makes property private?

This is not a question germane only to a standoff in Oregon. It’s a question that applies to each and every one of us. If you’re reading this, you probably own a smartphone. You think you justly own your phone and that it’s wrong for the government or anyone else to take it from you. But why is your phone your private property? You might say that you are entitled to it because the law says that you are entitled to it. But that’s a bad answer.

Whereupon the good professor presents the paramount example of legal but unjust private property: slaves. When the 13th Amendment passed, a whole category of private property was eliminated with the stroke of a pen. So, following the easy, hence overused, philosophical chain of reasoning, he poses another example to show how our thinking isn't on firm ground. We all presume to own our cellphones (or any other item we call "our own", like, say, guns), because we paid for them with our own money. Clearly, the government could, just as with slavery, outlaw phones, or, if the NYT, Obama and Harry were to have their way, guns.

So far, so good. However, here is where the train of thought starts to leave the rails.

First, he flattens a straw man: "An idea common among conservatives — and surely an assumption of the protesters in Oregon — is that the past fully explains private property."

I've never heard of anyone thinking that. Now, that could be my ignorance rearing once again its ugly, unshaven head, but tossing the word "fully" in there almost guarantees the impending sacrifice of another straw man. Almost nothing, ever, fully explains anything. Which is why I'll bet that a search for said conservatives would yield a null result.

There's another sure sign of a strawman being put to the torch: the effortless refutation of the presumed assertion:

But is that true? Suppose I steal your car and sell it to my friend Dugald. Is Dugald entitled to the car because he paid for it? You probably want to say “no.” Buying something doesn’t give you entitlement unless the seller was entitled to the thing first. So a transfer of property from one person to another is rendered illegitimate if the seller got the property through unjust means.

Well, duh.

But wait, there's more.

But now think back to your smartphone. What are the chances that the money you used to buy your phone can be traced backward through your employer, your employer’s customers, and so on back through history without passing through the hands of a serious injustice? Slim to none.

Clearly, Prof McBrayer is completely unclear on one of the two concepts fundamental to his argument. Money is not property in the sense that cellphones, guns, or land are. Money is a universal medium of exchange; money is dimensionless and timeless, all its units are identical, and, anymore, is rarely exchanged in its physical manifestation. To be quite blunt, the concept of tracking numbers back through history is so ridiculous as to make quite certain that the requirements to become a philosophy professor (or the editor the NYT Op-Ed page) do not include any particular grounding in reality.

Sure, one can steal a quantity of cash, or, through identity theft, units of money. But it is the means which taints the quantity gained, not the units themselves.

It is with the other fundamental concept that he demonstrates the need for extensive idea safety training, because it is here where he metaphorically blows his other logical foot off at the hip:

And, as the situation in Oregon makes clear, deciphering the boundaries of private property for real estate is even more troubled. Eastern Oregon was once populated by the Northern Paiute tribe. Like the history of your smartphone, the shift of property from the Paiutes to the white settlers is surely marred with various injustices. And if injustices render a transfer of private property illegitimate, then the protesters in Oregon have little to complain about.

If memory serves, this step, or rather, stumble, is an example of reductio ad absurdum: mode of argumentation that seeks to establish a contention by deriving an absurdity from its denial, thus arguing that a thesis must be accepted because its rejection would be untenable.

Unfortunately, Prof MCBrayer is one reductio shy of fully absurd. Yes, the Northern Paiute Tribe once populated Eastern Oregon. But why them, and not another tribe? Indeed, it is as certain as it can be that there was yet another group before them, and the Paiute's themselves obtained, and held, Eastern Oregon by force. Indeed, all ownership of all land is irrevocably tainted. No, wait, he has hurdled that reductio:

And if our property isn’t legitimately private, it’s hard to see how it’s unjust for the government or anyone else to take it from us.

No, professor, that isn't at all hard to see: it makes slaves of us all — remember that unjust property you mentioned above? — and leads directly to parades of horribles so bloody and awful that one would think that any philosophising that ends up here is its own indictment.

Either the ranchers, and all the rest of us, aren't entitled to our titles, or at some point the past is, indeed, past, and ownership is established by a significantly lengthy string of legal transfers.

"… if history explains private property, how does anyone come to be entitled to previously unowned stuff in the first place?"

Really, Scarlett, who gives a damn?

And, I beg to differ, it isn't a hard question to answer. The first person to be able to exert sufficient force to exclude all other claimants was the one entitled to own the stuff in the first place. This is where that asterisk above comes in. Prof McBrayer is missing another clue. Private property is not just a human concept. Almost all animals at some level aim to exert a sole claim to some resource or another, whether it is territory, the female of the species, or a recent kill. And they do it the same way private property is acquired and its ownership maintained: through the threat of force, or if that fails, the real thing.

So, contra Prof McBrayer, we don't need some holy grail of a theory of private property that makes sense. We already have one: reality.

Obviously, such a red in tooth and claw explanation for private property is an exercise in self-justification. It doesn't begin to touch on how in many countries, Brazil, for instance, the initial establishment of ownership led to concentrating so much land in so few hands as to create a situation that should at least disturb the morally sentient, even while causing despair for finding a solution.

In addition to dragging whatever fell to hand in pursuit of pre-conceived conclusion, Prof McBrayer is also extraordinarily economical with the facts.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

An Interesting Tidbit

Religion may have economic benefits. From a recently given paper (hat tip: Marginal Revolution):
Our results suggest that living in a state with a an extra clergy member for each 1,000 habitants increases the earnings of black workers by 1.7 to 3.6 percentage points relative to white workers.. In addition we show that this relationship is robust to different measures of exposure to religious density, and that these estimates increase to 7.6 percentage points when the change on religious density is defined exclusively increasing an extra black religious workers for each 1,000 habitants. Finally, we estimate a series of robustness tests that suggest that these results are not due to spatial sorting across states, nor to secular time trends associated with changes in labor market outcomes for black American workers.
Though it may just be that religion hinders whites more than blacks? Or the paper is totally bogus?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is it really asking too much…?

Blogger Lorenzo has some relevant thoughts about the conflict between moral sensibilities and modernity for some groups of people:

So, religions do not only matter as generators of rituals and doctrines, they also matter in the way they deeply influence moral sensibilities, attitudes to time, ways of looking at the world; and do so even without regular attendance to the rituals or strong adherence to doctrines. The sensibilities, temporal orientations and other framings can remain after belief and participation has departed.

Of the existing civilisations sharing this planet, only one is prominently having an extended temper tantrum about modernity; an extended temper tantrum with a distinctly homicidal edge.

The West essentially invented modernity, Japan has long since embraced it; China et al are very much up for it (the Beijing regime would just like to indigenise a congenial-to-it version); Russia et al ditto; Latin America is trying to get there (despite an unfortunate institutional legacy and outbreaks of really bad policy ideas); sub-Saharan Africa is struggling under bad boundaries and poor institutions but is also trying.

It is only Islam that is producing significant murderous insurgencies against modernity (and especially against the egalitarian cosmopolitanism which is such a strong strain within modernity--there is nothing like attacking schools, universities, cafes, soccer matches, rock concerts, along with beheadings, crucifixions and killing bloggers while re-introducing slavery to say "we hate modernity").

One needs to be aware the Salafism comes in various flavours (quietist, activist, jihadi) which overlap with Saudi Wahhabism but are not identical (pdf). Moreover, its "quietist" tradition is quite hostile (pdf) to Islamism (especially its takfiri tendencies) and its prioritisation of political engagement. While Islamism--political Islam--has Salafist versions. Islamism also comes out of the later C19th but does not reach much in the way of organised form until the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. This confusing welter of responses is itself a sign of the difficulties modernity poses for Islam as religion and as a source of normative framings.
A reasonable estimate for Islamists is about 10-15% of Muslims. There are about 1.6bn Muslims, so that suggests 160m to 240m Islamists (most of whom are Salafis, Wahhabis or Deobandis). Thus, Christian revivalist movements have considerably more adherents than Muslim revivalist movements (revivalism whether as purification or as political activism). But the Christian revivalism goes largely unremarked and un-newsworthy because Christian revivalism does not have remotely the homicidal edge Islamic revivalism does. For what one is attempting to return to, makes a difference.

The jihadis are the most dramatic manifestation of the tension between Islam and modernity, yet they are far from the only manifestation thereof. The grounding of morality so thoroughly in revelation creates a profound gulf between believers and non-believers; between those who accept the revelations which are the only true grounding of moral judgement and those who do not. This is the basis of an Islamic supremacism or triumphalism that has seeped into the moral sensibilities of Muslims over the centuries. It is why, for example, there is so much persecution of religious minorities across the Muslim world; persecution which follows recurring patterns.

Attitudes that do not magically disappear simply by migrating to the West. Particularly when migration to the West cuts people off from the various evolved mechanisms for softening the harsher elements of Islam.

The US and Australia are unlikely to experience similar problems because their Muslim minorities are less than 2% of the population: at that level, it is rational for Muslim communities to cooperate with local security forces. There are still the problem of "lone wolf" attacks, as there is significant jihadi social media activity aimed as recruiting and grooming such. But, as the US in particular already has a home-grown mass shooter problem, that is a comparatively minor law-and-order issue.

Once Muslim minorities start heading towards 10% of the population, then enclave problems are much more likely to develop and cooperation with security forces is likely to be much patchier and resistance to the agents of the state is likely to develop. Accepting a Muslim minority of that sort of size is also, effectively, a decision to export one's Jews.

The notion that there are no issues specific to Muslim migration is nonsense on stilts. Of course there are: it is very different, religiously-defined civilisation with very different presumptions and framings. Yelling "racism" does not change that, although it does close down debate: so is precisely the sort of shouting polarising that is not in any way helpful.

No, it is not merely a matter of Islamic doctrine, though that has plenty of problematic aspects. It is also the effects of centuries (indeed, over a millennium) of Islamic doctrine, ritual and teaching on the moral sensibilities and framings, the cosmological outlook, of Muslims, of people of Muslim heritage: the notion that their religious identity is at once terribly important to people of Muslim heritage yet has no problematic content is nonsense--it is turning people into abstractions for moral points-scoring between Westerners.

As the experiences of Europe in its various difficulties with Muslim migrants and migrant communities demonstrate, you cannot just wish that heritage away and shouting at people because you don't wish it to be so may be satisfyingly childish but does not change anything except to make the development of intelligent, well-grounded responses that much harder and leave far more ground for political entrepreneurs to garner support from frustrated, concerned and angry voters left with nowhere else to go.

Even if a majority of Muslims are not supremacists there are still good reasons to take the matter seriously.  The search for identity and meaning are very powerful human motivations:
It's a commonplace to anyone who's studied the rise of fascism, of which Islamofascism is the most recent variety.  The main problem with democratic capitalism is that it's so successful, and therefore very boring.  A generation or two of European intellectuals bemoaned the great triumph of science and industry, which they portrayed as relentlessly stifling the human soul, burying us under a hill of material things.
 The 20th-century fascists were largely secular, substituting their own rituals for traditional religious ones;  Islamofascism turns it around, substituting religious rituals and beliefs for the largely secular ones that defined the "modern world."
This problem is likely to be with us for a long time.  Military action may be appropriate at some points, aiding others such as the Kurds may also help.  Our screening process needs meaningful improvement:
Our screening system is badly broken, and we have an administration that is more concerned with enforcing political correctness than protecting the American people. We know that terrorists use social media to spread propaganda, recruit operatives and plan attacks. Yet MSNBC reports that in 2011, officials in the Department of Homeland Security proposed a policy of scouring social media of visa applicants to look for terrorist ties. The proposal went through a year-long review and was about to be issued as official policy — when it was quashed by senior officials. 

 According to a retired DHS  employee, efforts to possibly prevent attacks were thwarted:

During my 13 years at the Department of Homeland Security, I worked tirelessly to identify and prevent terrorism in the United States. As a recognized “founding member” of DHS, it was among my responsibilities to raise concern, not only about the individuals primed for imminent attack, but about the networks and ideological support that makes those terrorist attacks possible.

I investigated numerous groups such as the Deobandi Movement, Tablighi Jamaat, and al Huda as their members traveled into and out of the United States in the course of my work. Many were traveling on the visa waiver program, which minimizes the checks and balances due to agreements with the countries involved. But the scrutiny we were authorized to apply was having results. This investigation could possibly have prevented the San Bernardino jihadist attack by identifying its perpetrators, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, based on their associations with these groups.

Almost a year into this investigation, it was halted by the State Department and the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. They not only stopped us from connecting more dots, the records of our targets were deleted from the shared DHS database. The combination of Farook’s involvement with the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah Mosque and Malik’s attendance at al Huda would have indicated, at minimum, an urgent need for comprehensive screening. Instead, Malik was able to avoid serious vetting upon entering the United States on a fiancé visa and more than a dozen Americans are dead as a result.

The investigation was not stopped because it was ineffective, it was stopped because the Administration told us the civil rights of the foreign nationals we were investigating could be violated. When did foreign nationals gain civil rights in the United States, especially when they are associated with groups we already know are involved in terrorist activity? Based on what I have seen in the Department of Homeland Security, I no longer have the confidence this administration can adequately vet or screen refugees or immigrants from Islamic countries.

That same retired employee, Philip Haney, provided a very good interview at The Daily Caller:
With nowhere else to turn, he went to Congress to see if they would listen. He became a “whistleblower” facing further consequences and investigations. Consequences he promises to tell later. He is optimistic that investigations in the House and Senate appear poised to be launched, and he stands ready to help in any way he can to protect this nation, and take the handcuffs off law enforcement.

Asked whether the motivation to stop his work was political correctness or something more nefarious, Haney said, “I think the players are pretty obvious at this point. Islamic-based influence groups definitely play a role in controlling the narrative. The administration side definitely plays a role in submitting to that narrative. And combined together they create a potent force that has shattered our ability to do our job.”

The administration and their supporters have complained about the irrational fear of terrorism voiced by some people in this country.  I would suggest that if they really wanted to quell those fears that they should take their national security responsibilities seriously.  Is that really asking too much?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Near perfect communication

Communication is a tricky thing.  Sometimes the connection is derailed because people use the same words to mean different things or common usage changes for some people but not others.  Even when word confusion is not a problem, differences in life experiences and intellectual background can lead to different perspectives.  Differences in temperament, individual personality and worldview can also present communication problems.  But there are rare instances when you can express an idea in terms that are so clear that the other person exhibits unmistakable and immediate recognition of your point.

I have now had several chances to tell the following story.  Every time the response has been a look of total recognition of the point accompanied by an affirming nod of the head:

Earlier this year I was reading about an instance where the president was clearly not acting in the broad interest of the public.  I blurted out a comment along those lines.  Let me mention that my wife is one of the least political people that you will ever meet.  She is all about family and friends.  Of course, if you step on her toes by telling her what she can and cannot do you might get some pushback.  Because she does not have a strong interest in politics I generally make political comments on rare occasion only.  When she started to respond to my comment I was expecting a question asking for further clarification of what I had said.  Instead, she really surprised me by asking, “do you think the president loves the country?”  I didn’t want to give a knee-jerk response.  But after a long pause and thought I simply replied, “no.”  She shrugged and that was that.  A few months ago, the same thing happened, I commented and she questioned.  This time my response was a little different.  I said, “honey, I love you, now I want to fundamentally transform you.”  Then she shot me a look of totally knowing that I was right, that the president doesn’t love the country.  No further questions needed.

As I said earlier, everyone seems to get this instantly.  The exceptions will be few.

Disclaimer:  Not responsible for any person who gets clobbered while reproducing this communication experiment.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Parents and Education

I've never once censored what my two daughters watched or read. That I never had to was based on my attitude and one single gamble. At the age of three, my older daughter wanted to watch a movie (I can't even remember which one it was now) that was definitely inappropriate for her age but that I decided probably wouldn't cause any long term emotional damage. I said, "well, you can watch it if you want, but I think you'll find it very scary, so I strongly suggest that you don't watch it until you're older." She ignored me and chose to watch it. Sure enough, she found it very scary and disturbing. After that, if I simply suggested that something was going to be well beyond her comfort zone, she would not watch or read it. She also let her younger sister know that listening to Dad on such matters was a really good idea. They're both grown now, so my days of potentially restricting content are definitely over.

On the other hand, I'm not claiming for even a nanosecond that such an approach will work for every parent, every child, or every parent/child combination. I stumbled into it and it happened to work for my family. Other parents may find it critically important to heavily restrict what their children are exposed to and they absolutely need to have the right to do that.

I think that right also applies to education. Ultimately, I think it should always be up to the parents what schools should and (especially) should not teach.

For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is being banned by a growing list of school districts:
Today, Mark Twain's classic - about a boy who flees his abusive father and travels down the Mississippi River with an escaped slave - is still sometimes challenged in American schools, but for nearly the opposite reason: its liberal use of the N-word and perceived racist portrayals of black characters.
A colleague of mine who's a teacher is displeased because of the book's alleged importance:
Huckleberry Finn is a significant work for several reasons:• It transformed the American novel as a literary form, using the lingua franca rather than The King's English• It documented, in novel form, rather definitively, as did other, later works, the state of American race relations, class issues, slavery, growing up, and the capacity (and incapacity) of America to accept change.• It is an engaging story.
He further thinks that teachers should be "entrusted to choose materials for their classes (perhaps in consultation with department leaders, perhaps not)." Note that parents are nowhere in his equation.

I think that's wrong. While I have a copy of Huck Finn on my bookshelves and I believe that both my daughters have read it, if parents think the book inappropriate for their children (even their high-school age children), then no, teachers shouldn't be able to override that and be able to force it down the students' throats. Especially, if multiple parents think the book should not be part of a class.

Teachers and educators are experts and should certainly provide advice and guidance as to what should be taught. Indeed, what they suggest should be taught by default. But nobody knows an individual child better than his or her parents and they should get to make the final decision on what their child is taught.

Of course, the same applies to other topics as well including things like the Theory of Evolution. If a lot of parents don't want that taught at a given school, it shouldn't be taught. It's not like the other parents can't expose their children to the topics that the school doesn't teach. They can borrow the book from the library or find a free online course.

I think this conclusion sums it up best: "We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book [Huck Finn] in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits." And that's rightfully the decision of the parents comprising the community and should not be completely left to the teachers and educators.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Preserving Humanity

Let's say that we knew for a fact that in 200 years a large meteor or other heavenly object was going to strike Earth and blow it to smithereens and that there was nothing we could do to prevent the impact and that all life on Earth would die, including all humans on the planet.

What action should we, collectively, take if faced with this information?

My answer: we should collectively take no action at all.

I seem to be in a tiny minority who thinks that. Most others, it seems from my observations, would want to deploy a substantial part of humanity's resources to colonizing other planets (via Instapundit) in order to preserve humanity.

Why? I don't get it, being a "Dust in the Wind" kinda guy.

What is so important about the survival of this DNA based creature call homo sapiens? It seems that we're kinda nasty, brutish, and some of us are short. All currently living people will already be dead at the time of impact. Why should they make sacrifices for those unknown in the future? Does it objectively matter if we go extinct in 200 years or 200 million years? If so, why?

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Phony moral posturing is such a mainstay of SJWs.  Dinesh D'Souza schools a student at Amherst College.  Worth the time.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Math of Muslim Mass Murders

A few months after the 9/11 terrorist attack, a group of friends and I went to see a comedian named Ahmed Ahmed (he said he's the only guy on the no-fly-list ... twice!). He noted that in a poll shortly after the 9/11 attack that muslims were the 3rd (or maybe 4th - I can't remember) most hated group in the United States. Given that the carnage on 9/11 didn't do it, he wondered what on earth muslims had to do to be number 1!

Well, it looks like muslims may get a shot at Ahmed-squared's coveted top spot of being hated given the recent suggestion that muslim immigration to the United States be restricted. Yet, to me, the recent attacks seem incredibly lame compared to 9/11.

Here are some numbers: in the United States, around 7,500 people die each day (all causes); approximately 30 of those die from gun based homicides (less than 1/2%); about 1% of murders are from mass shootings; a tiny fraction of mass shootings are bona-fide muslim terrorist attacks.

We never hear about the vast majority of the approximately 30 people who are murdered by guns each day. 30 people is simply not newsworthy in a country of more than 300,000,000 people. We don't really care, nor should we - it's simply too unlikely to happen to you or those you know to be bothered with and it's too small of an impact on the day-to-day lives of Americans to put more energy into worrying about it.

On the other hand, we can probably all name quite a few mass shootings even though 2 orders of magnitude fewer people die in those than in plain-vanilla gun homicides. It seems to be an inherent innumeracy of the human psyche to be oh-so-ho-hum about 30 gun homicides a day but be terrified, terrified I tell you, of the much rarer mass murder like the recent one in San Bernadino. And if that mass murder is of the even rarer type perpetrated by someone of a different tribe (for example a muslim), then it is all the more terrifying.

I would hope that terror doesn't overwhelm all reason though, for example when it comes to reasons for restricting immigration. On the topic of terror, religious freedom, and immigration, in a recent post by Scott Adams (the author of the Dilbert comic strip), he wrote:
But if the risk is more than tiny, can you put a price on your love of religious tolerance? In other words, how many dead Americans are you willing to accept? I’ll go first. 
Personally, I would accept up to 1,000 dead Americans, over a ten-year period, to allow Muslim non-citizens to enter this country. My calculation assumes we are better off accepting some degree of tragedy in the name of freedom.
One-hundred dead Americans a year? When 30 are already murdered using guns each day? A no-brainer, in my opinion, being less than 1% increase.

Unfortunately, I suspect the indirect deaths alone will be far higher. While Obama and others push for gun control after each of these incidents, a large number of people rush to gun stores and buy weapons and ammo. After all, they're terrified and want to defend themselves and I don't blame them. But there are already several hundred accidental firearm deaths annually. More guns may or may not mean less crime but they almost certainly mean more accidents and more accidental deaths. My guess is that each terror attack will cause more Americans to die because of increased gun accidents than die in the incidents themselves. That's not inherently bad. I can understand the argument that it is better to die defending oneself or even just preparing to defend oneself or in the process of preparing to defend oneself than to live in fear. I think the numbers say we shouldn't be living in fear anyway, at least not yet, but that's clearly just my subjective opinion.

Will (muslim) immigration increase the number of terror attacks? Well, it certainly won't decrease them. That's why I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to have a debate about restricting immigration of muslims, even though my vote (at this point) is to not have such restrictions.