August 31, 2014
Muddy used to say that there were two kinds of players: those who are born to it, and those you can "build with a hammer and nails." I’m sure Muddy was the first kind, and though I may have a little talent and much desire, I’m the second kind. I am indebted to the carpenter.Muddy is, of course, Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield), and the author is his long-time guitarist, Bob Margolin. Margolin picks and writes. He has a degree in Public Relations from Boston University about which he says "now a 41-year-old virgin because it’s never screwed anyone." He wrote regular columns in blues magazines and dabbled in "blues fiction" creating characters and situations around players who died too soon, imagining their being alive today.
In Steady Rollin', he assembles these columns and stories into an eBook with updates where needed and a conversational, bloggy banter to tie them together. "I'm just sharing my thoughts on my musical experiences in a conversational, friendly way."
The in-depth look at Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins is worth the price of admission ($6.99 on Kindle as I type). I've read a bit on Muddy but did not know much about Pinetop. Margolin contrasts the two with Muddy's being the serious, punctual, professional bandleader and Pinetop's taking life as it comes. He shows up to the gig on time, but he doesn't sweat it.
Margolin credits this for Perkins's longevity. Muddy, Pinetop, (and my Dad) were all born in 1913. Pinetop lived to be 97 and Muddy only 70. Muddy really takes Bob Margolin under his wing and teaches him Chicago Blues -- sometimes quite sternly "That note made my dick hurt, don't ever play it like that again."
The band somewhat famously breaks up and Margolin goes on to other things. I don't think he lives like Mick Jagger, but every blues guitarist knows him well. He's on Facebook and is a regular guy. Just a regular guy who has played with all my heroes. A regular guy who was in The Last Waltz that I watched 50 times when I was 17. A guy I saw tour with Muddy when I was 18.
Margolin and I share a love of dogs, and he shares a great story of when Hubert Sumlin came to his house.
But our porch jam was a revelation for my "faithful" dogs. As soon as they heard Hubert play, they knelt at his feet, as attentive to the exquisite nuances in his picking as a gaggle of Blues guitar worshippers, but with sharper hearing. They raised their eyebrows and told me coldly to let Hubert take all the solos. They cocked their heads and asked why I don’t sound as good as Hubert. They looked down their noses at me and told me pointedly that they’d never love me like they love him. Now whenever he sees me, Hubert asks, "How are my dogs?"
The book is full of good stories and deep affection for Muddy, Pinetop, Hubert, BB King. In a grimy, grisly industry, Margolin finds and shares the love of some very good people.
His 97-years-long life was a blessing for his music and his sweet personality as well as a miracle of improbable survival. Pinetop smoked since 1922 and ate at McDonald's every day. He hung out in Blues bars every night. He drank until he was eighty-five. If he sat in with a band at Antone's in Austin on a Monday night, he gave the same show that he might be paid $10,000 for, headlining a festival in Europe the next weekend. He looked great in what he called his "Daniel Boone pimp" sharp clothes, flirted boldly with five generations of women, and was quick to make a silly or clever pun or laugh at himself.
I used the word bloggy because the book is unedited, it is available in eBook only, and the presentation can be a little rough. If that scares you away, so be it. If not, belly up and I think you'll dig it. Four stars.
August 29, 2014
Moral Ambiguity, Meet Moral Certainty
Despite numerous high-level voices in his administration giving clear signals that Islamic State is unambiguously evil and should be dealt with swiftly and forcefully, President Obama said yesterday that, "we don't have a strategy yet." And, really, who is surprised at this development, given that his response to the decapitation murder of James Foley was to say of ISIS: "People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy."
Daily Beast contributor Stuart Stevens writes what essentially occurred to me the moment I heard that:
"But it seems incredibly naïve and American-centric not to grasp that the Islamic fanatics of ISIS are very much about building - building a new world in their vision."
As a post-Cold War figure who matured through "movements," Barack Obama is drawing from a distinct tradition. He is clearly more comfortable talking about "justice" than "evil." The "oppressed" to him are much more likely to be victims of society's prejudice than communism. Some on the right argue that Barack Obama rejects the concept of America as a force for good but I think that's a misjudgment. It's more that he defaults to a fundamentally different test than his predecessors.
This explains the Progressive apology for Islamism wherein their heinous acts are caused, not by an innately barbaric interpretation of a "pure" principle, but by the "injustices" visited upon them by prosperous westerners and their governments. They are supposedly "radicalized" in response to our prosperity. (And "inequality" perhaps?)
But moral ambiguity is not a condition which afflicts the Islamists. Right or wrong, they know what they want and they believe they are justified in doing anything to achieve it. That kind of moral certainty is a very powerful motivator. It can provoke millions of people to vote for you, if you articulate it in a political contest. It can also provoke a convicted mass murderer to seek to join your movement, as former Army Major Nidal Hassan reportedly attempted:
""It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don't compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers."
Would but the President of the United States be so certain as to say, "Anyone on this Earth may believe anything he wants, but there is no justification to initiate force against anyone else. You don't have to get along with us, but you most certainly may not kill or injure us, except in physical self-defense."
The Moral Case for Fixing Economic Inequality
A friend of dagny's has shared the TED article The Four Biggest Reasons Why Inequality is Bad for Society and she disagreed with what the article says. I am told her friend, whom I also know but not as well, would like to discuss it with others at length so dagny asked me to post it here where, hopefully among others, "jk will do Austrian vs. Keynsian economics with him all day long." Personally I think most of the objections are philosophical rather than economic, but not all of them. I'll break with my typical modus operandi and restrict my opinions to the comments section.
The author is T. M. Scanlon, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University. He also references Piketty's 'Capital in the 21st Century' which was discussed here a few times. Most seriously, perhaps, here.
And now, if you please, engage!
August 28, 2014
Private Schools for the Poor
I have worn ThreeSourcers' patience threadbare with constant harangues to read "The Beautiful Tree" by James Tooley [Review Corner].
He has a lengthy column on the same topic in The Independent Review.
The accepted wisdom is that private schools serve the privileged; everyone else, especially the poor, requires public school. The poor, so this logic goes, need government assistance if they are to get a good education, which helps explain why, in the United States, many school choice enthusiasts believe that the only way the poor can get the education they deserve is through vouchers or charter schools, proxies for those better private or independent schools, paid for with public funds.
Send Those Residuals to "JK c/o ThreeSources..."
I'm intrigued by the economics of air travel. Discomfort is in the news thanks to deployment of a "knee defender" and the concomitant contretemps. [You get the editing you pay for at ThreeSources. More correctly "ensuing" and better omitted...]
But. While everyone complains, I do not think efforts to "buy up" comfort have succeeded at all. In short, we all holler about being packed in like sardines, but we all get on expedia.com and pick the flight that costs 124.75 over the one that is 135.50.
I did buy up a prime package on United last time that gave me one checked bag and a near door seat with some extra room. That was really nice even on a short flight and I was disappointed when it was not offered on the return trip. I've speculated on a "2nd class" (still focus-grouping the name) that is 1.5 to 2x the price of coach but gives you a little gorram room. I would go for that, and I would pay for a guaranteed empty middle seat when the lovely bride and I travel together. Five or ten X for business or first class is not "on my color wheel" but I am both big and medically prone to discomfort.
Perhaps that cannibalizes business and first class for carriers that offer. But Southwest? Frontier? A $300 flight with space vs. $179 in the cattle car?
Bright though I consider myself, at the end of day, surely some very smart people who do this for a living have looked at this and found it wanting The minor improvements like I mentioned or that Frontier was pushing don't seen to take hold. I have to accept that the economics are just not there. And it follows that the whiners are a bit hypocritical.
Seth Mandel nails it in Commentary. The IRS Scandal is about media. The Administration trusts that they will not be held accountable. And I suspect they are right.
If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one.
I was 12-13 through the Watergate years, and one thing I remember is the absolute tedium. Every day's news tidbit was placed in 60pt bold type -- erosion and attrition were as important as any actual investigation. Every day was a drip of guilty, guilty, guilty.
We clearly need a return to the partisan, Francis Blair / Nicholas Butler media. We have been ill served by feigned objective outlets. I daydreamed yesterday that if I made a pile of dough on a startup, I'd resuscitate the Rocky Mountain News and hire all these great local bloggers. That would be fun and would advance the cause of liberty.
August 27, 2014
Truth now lacing up second shoe
Temperatures measured at the weather station form part of the ACORN-SAT network, so the information from this station is checked for discontinuities before inclusion into the official record that is used to calculate temperature trends for Victoria, Australia, and also the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Stay with me here, this is a bit tricky. It seems one must be a climate "scientist" in order to comprehend the validity of the, umm, "technique."
Sometimes weather stations are moved, you know, geographically, from one place to another place in the same vicinity. This can produce a "discontinuity" in the recorded temperature. So this "homogenization" algorithm was invented to, you know, correct the "errors" that result when the data is inserted into computer climate models. Well that raw data from Rutherglen was causing a whale of an error. It showed that the observed temperature trend over most of the 20th century was downward, when every climate scientist knows that the globe really warmed during that time, and is still warming today because there aren't enough wind farms. It's a settled consensus it is, dontcha know.
There's only one problem: (Okay, there's more than one problem, but this is the biggest problem.) "There are no documented site moves."
The Bureau has tried to justify all of this to Graham Lloyd at The Australian newspaper by stating that there must have been a site move, its flagging the years 1966 and 1974. But the biggest adjustment was made in 1913! In fact as Bill Johnston explains in today’s newspaper, the site never has moved.
Related: Just coming to this story I hadn't realized that Rutherglen is only one site where data has been "remodeled." There is also Amberley and Bourke.
I understand that by way of response to Mr Lloyd, the Bureau has not disputed these calculations.
Urban Dictioonary Word-of-the-Day
Martina was shocked to find out that there was a church in her neighborhood, so she telephoned her network of Proglodytes and they all agreed to burn it down so the church members wouldn't promote hate mongering.
Well this sucks.
Cheap headline, but you get what you pay for.
I read a few good articles on Obama's backdoor, sidestep, pen-and-a-phone treaty to fight global warming. Last time advise and consent was sought, the Senate voted 95-0.
Yet without switching 62 of those nays and driving the other five in for a vote, how will we join the enlightened Europeans?
Consumers are only now noticing Regulation 666/2013, adopted by the European Commission last year and taking effect next month, which bans the manufacture or importing of vacuum motors whose power output exceeds 1,600 watts, with the limit dropping to 900 watts after Sept. 1, 2017. Thank the climate-change lobby for your dirty floor: The measure is intended to help the EU meet its energy savings target for 2020. Consumers are snapping up more powerful vacuums while they still can.
Those plucky ee-you-vians! Bless their grit, spunk, and perseverance!
That Constitution Thingy...
"Obama Unveils New Plan to Work with Foreign Governments to Ignore the Constitution" screams the headline. I do get a lot of wacko emails. But this is from the partisan-yet-measured Jim Geraghty and he notes the difference:
There are a lot of nonsensical or highly exaggerated chain e-mails accusing the president of working with foreigners to subvert the U.S. Constitution. But this time you've got the foreigners and administration officials themselves confirming it on the front page of the New York Times!
And, if you're looking, it's Article II, Section 2:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;
Doesn't sound like a suggestion to me.
UPDATE: All Hail Taranto:
In order to "sidestep" the constitutional requirement that laws be made by lawmakers, the Times continues, "President Obama's climate negotiators are devising what they call a 'politically binding' deal that would 'name and shame' countries into cutting their emissions."
August 26, 2014
Democracy, Capitalism, Limits Therewith
Some time back we considered a variation on the "pick one" voting scheme that was dubbed "approval voting." I mention this as evidence that democracy is broken. It has many flaws as a system of governing free peoples.
Yesterday I asked on Facebook, Why are so many so quick to condemn "unlimited capitalism" while at the same time advocating for unlimited democracy? Obviously neither does, has, or possibly even can exist, so my point was whether one should have more limits at the same time as the other has its limits diminished.
An interlocutor suggested that "everyone puts limits on democracy too" thus indicating, I suppose, he has no quibble with limits on capitalism. So I searched for any organized group that advocates for "unlimited democracy." The highest search engine result was Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (California.) Natch.
The most dangerous threat to democracy is the mistaken belief that the US is a democracy. People and communities need assistance and support to believe we have a right to resist corporate rule and to see that a democratic world is not only possible – but necessary for the survival of life on earth. Our education work provides an historical and analytic framework for understanding the mechanisms ruling elites have used to manipulate our laws, our government and our culture in order to maintain their power.
Replace the word "corporate" with "private" for a clearer understanding. So the United States is not a democracy, but "a democratic world is possible - and necessary - for the survival of life on earth."
These folks certainly don't seem to place any limits on democracy.
Okay, fringe leftists from Cali. I get it. How about the national Democratic Party? How is the tension between Constitutional limits and their namesake principle holding up?
"We're leading the charge to expand the vote, because it's not enough anymore for us to simply protect against voting restrictions."
Q: Not enough, for what?
Genghis Khan wishes he thought of this.
An update on "Look for the Union Label" post, with a hat-tip to WSJ's Notable & Quotable
The picketers lobbed sexist, racist and homophobic slurs at the rest of the cast and crew for most of the day, the website reported, and when production wrapped, the "Top Chef" crew found that tires were slashed on 14 of their cars. Milton police confirmed that the union members were "threatening, heckling and harassing" but said no arrests were made. . . .
Glad to see they have that all cleaned up...
Quote of the Day
As Justice Clarence Thomas correctly pointed out in dissent, "[T]he'logical' assurance that a 'temporary restriction... merely causes a diminution in value,'... is cold comfort to the property owners in this case or any other. After all, 'in the long run we are all dead.'"24 This observation is not hyperbole; writing shortly after [Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc., v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency] was decided, one legal scholar noted, "Of the 700 or so ordinary people who started on this journey, 55 have since died."25
Okay, Now jk is Scared
I've been deferential to the Fed -- incredibly so for a libertarian -- and have quietly acquiesced to loose money policies. I've had underlying concern but the lack of monetary inflation has kept me off the "OMG we're all gonna die" bandwagon.
But this is disturbing. George Melloan asks "How Would the Fed Raise Rates?"
A question mostly unasked at Jackson Hole is a crucial part of today's when-will-it-happen guessing game: Exactly how would the Fed go about draining liquidity if a burst of inflation urgently presented that necessity. The traditional mechanism used by the Fed no longer looks to be serviceable.
The rest of the column speculates about different mechanisms which might be employed; these range from the ineffective to the downright coercive. "Mopping up liquidity" was always a concern, and I accepted that it would be done a little too late -- certainly with Janet Yellen as FOMC Chair. But at first glance, Melloan makes me question not so much how as whether it could be done.
Look at the bright side, we'll have probably nationalized the banks by then.
UPDATE: Fixed Freudian typo "have quietly acquiesced to lose money policies" to "have quietly acquiesced to loose money policies." Even my bad typing cracks me up.
August 25, 2014
Virginia: it's for lovers!
West Virginia: I-79 BACK OPEN: Chickens and ammo to blame for shutdown
David Plouffe, Rehabilitated?
I'm placing this under "internecine" because some of my blog brothers have yet to find enlightenment on the glories and intrinsic liberty of self-driving cars. That said, we'll likely all agree on the wisdom of keeping a watchful philosophical eye on key members of the President's campaign staff.
The WSJ Ed Page saluted David Plouffe for his vocationally inspired epiphany on the evils of overregulation, both in a column last week and on their weekend FOXNews show. Today, Gordon Crovitz adds "[...] who ran Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 and served as a senior presidential adviser. Too bad Mr. Plouffe didn't discover the virtues of deregulation before leaving government."
Crovitz's column is about regulation of self-driving cars. We will pay -- in tens of thousands of needless deaths -- for every year this technology is delayed by a Federal apparatus that defaults to "no."
The Obama administration's standard reaction to technological innovation has been to block change via regulation: The Federal Aviation Administration bans commercial use of drones, the Food and Drug Administration restricts gene-testing suppliers such as 23andMe, and the Federal Communications Commission is considering massive regulation of the Internet in the name of "net neutrality."
In fairness, the bias toward impeding innovation preceded President Obama's election by several decades. I had been concerned that the tort bar and excessive litigation would stop this technology. Perhaps I can rest easy knowing that the government would never allow it anyway.
Crovitz closes with a historical-fiction-counterfactual that Mister Plouffe returns to Washington as an advocate against over-regulation. I think it more likely he will lobby for additional impediments to self-driving cars. Why, they could affect the bottom line of his new employer...
Quote of the Day
The Perfesser is feeling a bit hawkish...
I'm thinking that a useful paradigm for dealing with ISIS is, what would Gen. Curtis LeMay do if he were serving under President Andrew Jackson? But I could be mistaken. -- Glenn Reynolds
August 24, 2014
While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It was to be our form of prayer and ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden from the sun. Pausing in the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture from our foreheads, we were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the far-off soul of truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out quite so well as we anticipated.On a tip from Nick Gillespie, of all folks, I purchased Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. Though a free one was available, I plunked down 99 cents for the Illustrated edition. That's just how I roll. It's rather like a night out on the town with Jay-Z.
Gillespie reviews the 1852 novel for Barron's and blogs about it on Reason:
If you're looking for a summer beach read, this is one worth checking out; it's funny, sexy, and sad. And if you're a progressive or neo-con reformer, put down down your slide rule or whatever instrument you're using to create the parameters of your nouveau Great Society and pick this up immediately.
Our protagonist joins a socialist commune in 19th Century New England, and telegraphs immediately that things are not going to end well. I cannot get past Rupert's phalanx of a pay wall to read the full review, but the exceprts imply that the work is a bit autobiographical and that Hawthorne, like protagonist Miles Coverdale, did sign up for a back to nature community to escape writers' block.
Whether it is based on fact or not, Hawthorne makes its outlandish characters extremely real. And -- as Gillespie asserts -- spins a great yarn that is funny and engaging. It is one of those "one more chapter before I put it down" books that will destroy your productivity until complete. It is not very long, so that is a temporary flaw.
Each of the main characters has a good deal of mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the book. The two served straight up from the start are the narrator-protagonist and Mr. Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth, like Mrs. Jellyby from Dickens's Bleak House, is consumed by philanthropy to the ruin of people and things nearer.
But by and by you missed the tenderness of yesterday, and grew drearily conscious that Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be; and this friend was the cold, spectral monster which he had himself conjured up, and on which he was wasting all the warmth of his heart, and of which, at last,--as these men of a mighty purpose so invariably do,—he had grown to be the bond-slave. It was his philanthropic theory.
Hollingsworth is friendly and helpful, but he is involved in the Blithedale commune more to recruit members, raise funds, and scout locations for his planned home to reform criminals.
On this foundation he purposed to devote himself and a few disciples to the reform and mental culture of our criminal brethren. His visionary edifice was Hollingsworth's one castle in the air; it was the material type in which his philanthropic dream strove to embody itself; and he made the scheme more definite, and caught hold of it the more strongly, and kept his clutch the more pertinaciously, by rendering it visible to the bodily eye. I have seen him, a hundred times, with a pencil and sheet of paper, sketching the facade, the side-view, or the rear of the structure, or planning the internal arrangements, as lovingly as another man might plan those of the projected home where he meant to be happy with his wife and children.
In recent persiflage on these hallowed pages, I reflected on the surfeit of fictional works that celebrate philanthropy. Bleak House and The Blithedale Romance stand out for presenting philanthropy non-heroically. Mrs. Jellyby fails to bathe her children or attend a daughter's wedding for her singular devotion to the poor in Africa. She is a minor enough character to be presented comically. Hollingsworth is the second male lead here and is much more complex. But he struggles to connect with love, friendship, and purpose for an idea that is as abstract as Africa is to Mrs. Jellyby.
The sweet joy of labor, the simplicity of returning to the earth and the old ways and the fairness of communal living all take serious blows in Mister Hawthorne's able hands.
The truth was, the hot-house warmth of a town residence, and the luxurious life in which I indulged myself, had taken much of the pith out of my physical system; and the wintry blast of the preceding day, together with the general chill of our airy old farmhouse, had got fairly into my heart and the marrow of my bones. In this predicament, I seriously wished--selfish as it may appear--that the reformation of society had been postponed about half a century, or, at all events, to such a date as should have put my intermeddling with it entirely out of the question.
So there is no spoiler alert required that they did not establish a munificent arcadia and live there happily ever after. But the mysterious Zenobia and young Priscilla delight the reader with Coverdale's quest to discern their backgrounds. Who are they? Will they become entangled with either Coverdale or Hollingsworth? Will Blithedale survive? I'll leave each of these delights to the reader.
Four stars. Even if you buy the expensive Illustrated version, that is less than 0.25/star. Pretty damned good value.
August 22, 2014
Quote of the postwar era
I do not feel that my choice of title is overwrought.
The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing IS throughout the depth of its holdings, and we should do it now, but supported substantially by our traditional allies and partners, especially by those in the region who have the most to give - and the most to lose - if the Islamic State’s march continues.
From a must read article by General John R. Allen, USMC retired. He gives the President great credit for actions taken in the theater thus far, but makes a profound plea for his annihilation of Islamic State immediately.
For its part, the White House has finally unleashed the "t-word."
"When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack," White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters. "That represents a terrorist attack against our country, against an American citizen, and I think all of us have the Foley family in our thoughts and prayers."
Look for the Union Label...
#WarOnWomen Anybody? Bueller?
The Teamsters picketers were already mad. By the time Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi's car pulled up to the Steel & Rye restaurant in the picturesque New England town of Milton just outside Boston, one of them ran up to her car and screamed, "We're gonna bash that pretty face in, you fucking whore!"
It seems the Top Chef (Honestly, I don't get these shows at all but that is not germane to the post) crew allowed ... get this: non union production assistants to drive cars.
I know, you're shocked.
New Cory Gardner Slogan
My darling bride should write campaign ads. This morning, watching a Mark Udall ad she blurts: "If you like your ObamaCare, you can keep your Obamacare -- vote for Mark Udall! I'm Cory Gardner and I approved..."
Erhmigawd, that's inspired!
Meanwhile, back in the Centennial State, it looks like partly cloudy with a 99% chance of more cancellations
The Colorado Division of Insurance has reported that there were about 2,100 health-plan cancellations in the state over the past two months, bringing this year's total to more than 6,150.
"I wanna control my own life, not yours"
HT: Kris Cook's 'Grassroots Radio Colorado' program, 560 KLZ 6:00 hour today, 8/21.
August 21, 2014
A new kind of politics is being born in the discussion over race and militarized policing in Ferguson. -- Nick GillespieWriting about Ferguson, object #1 is to write nothing I'll have to retract or apologize for. Object #2 is to contribute something to the discussion.
Arnold Kling wrote a goober-load of great books. The one that comes to mind in Ferguson is "The Three Languages of Politics" [Review Corner]. The Three Languages were L, C, and P (to fit Libertarians, Conservatives, and Progressives) and building on Jonathan Haidt, he created an axis for each. We cannot see the point of our othered-philosophied friends because they are measuring events on a different axis.
The Libertarian sees the coercive-freedom axis. My sister votes with me 99% of the time but cannot accept that smoking bans are a bad idea. I'm looking L-wise and seeing a property owner coerced, she enjoys (as I do) the ability to go out in Colorado and not choke to death. L person Nick Gillespie sees "The Libertarian Moment" as the world accepts long advanced Libertarian concerns on police militarization.
The C axis is order-barbarianism and I am not L enough to discount it. There is zero social justice element to stealing a flat-screen TV or breaking windows. This community -- with any other problems -- will have to outlive this image and re-attract investment frightened away.
The P axis is harm-care: a lot of residents likely have had terrible experiences with police. I don't want to outrun available facts but stealing cigars is not a capital offense. Without faulting the police, we can all agree that it is too bad it resulted in death.
Putting on these three lenses, looking at these three axes, I think the fundamental truth of Kling (and Haidt) is underscored.
Umm, What's Second Prize?
A Facebook friend compared the Islamic State movement [ISIS] to Nazism in 20th century Germany. Given the wholesale mass murder that both ideologies engaged in, I think the comparison is a good one, and completely leaps over Godwin's Law. I replied with the following comment:
The analogy between "ISIS" (Islamic Statists) and NAZI Germany is apropos, but I think there is a more timely analogy for IS - namely, the Ebola virus. Islamism is an ideological virus comparable to the biological virus. Both viruses kill or make carriers of the majority of people which they contact. Both are merciless, and have no goal but their own propagation. Both pose a threat of spreading to every nation on Earth. They are impervious to reason or "negotiation." - So why does Ebola warrant emergency efforts by our NIH and deployment of our latest experimental "weapon" the ZMAPP drug, while the rapidly spreading Islamic Statist movement is met only with "limited airstrikes?"
Jason Riley points out that the President's poll numbers are not only sagging on big issues, but also on smaller items like his education initiatives.
The Common Core state standards being pushed by Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are especially unpopular. In return for adopting the new standards, the administration promised states more education funding and exemptions from federal accountability provisions in place under No Child Left Behind. Forty-five states eventually signed up for the new standards, but many parents have rejected what they consider a federal intrusion into local schools that would reduce teacher flexibility. Some 81% of respondents in the poll had heard of Common Core--up from 47% last year--and 60% opposed it.
Even with the Internet Segue Machine™ set on "stun" it was easy to relate that to George Will's superb Unified Cupcake Postulate. You'll want to read all of Will's piece (free link), but the short version is that government both feels emboldened and empowered to regulate school bake sales while actual government functions are neglected or handled poorly.
Washington's response to the menace of school bake sales illustrates progressivism's ratchet: The federal government subsidizes school lunches, so it must control the lunches' contents, which validates regulation of what it calls "competitive foods," such as vending machine snacks. Hence the need to close the bake sale loophole, through which sugary cupcakes might sneak: Foods sold at fundraising bake sales must, with some exceptions, conform to federal standards.
Limited government. Limited corruption. Limited incompetence.
Where'd I Put that Neoconservatism Again?`
A stupid Facebook meme touched a nerve today. A brit friend (Britons of all political stripes are united in their hatred of President George W. Bush -- he truly is a uniter) posts a screenshot of the ice bucket challenge: Laura is pouring the bucket on George and the caption reads: "That awkward moment when ... you realize you just reminded everyone of your career waterboarding people."
Queue up the worlds smallest "heh."
Marine Brian Welke (rank not given) has a guest editorial in the WSJ today where he answers a frequent question.
Was it worth it? That's a question I've been asked no fewer than five times since large portions of Iraq have fallen to the murderous Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. As a Marine veteran who served a tour of duty in Ramadi in 2005-06, I understand that people are genuinely interested in how I now feel about my military service in Iraq.
I'll let the Randians the last sentence, but Welke stirs a little latent Sharanskyism, with a reminder of a majority's choosing self-direction.
It was in the sands of Ramadi that I learned most people want to be masters of their own fate. When we were providing area security for a week-long recruitment drive to re-establish the Ramadi police force, the turnout was overwhelming. More than 1,000 applicants stood in line when death approached in the form of a suicide bomber. The blast killed more than 60 and wounded at least 50. On that day, as on many days before and after, Americans and Iraqis were killed by the same enemy. They fell in pursuit of freedom. One for the other's; one for his own. No matter how things turn out, there was a time when Americans and Iraqis stood united against hate and evil.
You want fries with that big bowl of conflicted, jk?
What I do know is that if the "guy who made a career out of waterboarding" were President, we would not be seeing ISIS's territorial gains. You folks who want to celebrate that on Facebook, go right ahead.
Quote of the Day
MoDo -- that's got to be a first. But she is disenchanted.
His circle keeps getting more inner. He golfs with aides and jocks, and he spent his one evening back in Washington from Martha's Vineyard at a nearly five-hour dinner at the home of a nutritional adviser and former White House assistant chef, Sam Kass . . .
Hat-tip: Jim Geraghty
August 20, 2014
Still a piece of health care outside government control?
"A big part of our concern is not just Sovaldi, but all the other specialty drugs," said Mario Molina, the CEO of Molina Healthcare that runs Medicaid and ObamaCare plans in nine states, on a July earnings call. He added: "I think that the government needs to step in here and make sure that the market is rational. If we as a health plan want a rate increase, we have to go to our regulators and get it approved. There's no such thing going on in the pharmaceutical market. Right now, pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever they want, and I think there needs to be a rational basis for all of this."
Oh, dearie me.
For those who have not been watching closely, Sovaldi pretty much cures Hep-C. Not manages its symptoms, not prolongs life, cures.
The WSJ Ed Page points out that the typical complaints of "copycat" and incremental pharmaceuticals do not apply. Sovaldi is a breakthrough. At $89,000 it is pretty pricey. But the alternatives include liver transplants, and constant, intensive, expensive treatments to maintain and mange symptoms. If you'll pardon my "playing the Medical Card," were there an $89K cure for MS I would be both applying for loans and throwing a party.
I guess I can see why Mr. Molina's life sucks. The government sets his prices, offerings, profits and fat content in the cafeteria. How sad it must be to look out the dirty window at freedom. But let us not forget what brought us here.
To the extent drug prices are rising, one reason is because researchers are asking more challenging clinical and biological questions. Only two of every 10 drugs on the market ever earn back enough money to match the cost of R&D and FDA approval before patents expire. Successful drugs thus underwrite the uncertain, failure-prone, time-consuming and often wasteful and even random process of scientific invention.
Yes, Mr. Molina, we could spread dirigisme to the Pharma sector. Might I suggest we try freedom?
Renewable Energy Idea
IVANPAH DRY LAKE, Calif. (AP) -- Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant's concentrated sun rays -- "streamers," for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.
I put on my engineer's hat and have come up with some improvements. (Granted, it is a software guy's hat, so I'll ask my hardware brothers to chime in.)
Solar plants torch birds and wind plants julienne them. Wouldn't it be better to cut out the middleman and just build large incinerators which burn birds for fuel? You could put bird seed and carrion around the edge, then have a fan that sucks them in: finches, hawks, eagles, condors, herons -- a clean and renewable fuel source.
First, I'm gonna need a government grant...
August 19, 2014
This is not a "classic" Libertario Delenda Est post. Those refer to the pragmatic politics and tactics that I feel will better promote the ideas Libertarians and I share. This is a darker disagreement.
You're not going to like or agree with fellow travelers all the time. But there is an underreported strain of crabbiness in the libertarian community. For all the libertine feelgoodism of a Penn Jillette, there is an equal and opposite amount of ill humor. The ideas hurt to find their "happy warriors."
Being Classically Liberal is an outstanding FB page. I do not agree at all times with posters Frank and M, but the retort to the obnoxious "Being Liberal" page starts them with 40 points, and they tend to rise from there.
Today though, some classic curmudgeonliness slipped out.
I despise the ice bucket challenge and I seriously wish people could find a less obnoxious way to raise awareness for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease. I mean seriously, why the hell would you want to accept a challenge anyone can complete IN ORDER TO AVOID DONATING TO CHARITY?
I voiced my disagreements in the comments. The short version is that this is non-coercive, good clean Toquevillian fun. I mentioned that the MS Society emails me frequently to demand more government $$$; getting $100 from Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Peyton Manning and Jimmy Fallon seemed okay.
It's a fair disagreement, but the comments went better than 2:1 against me. I can even stand to lose, but the smug tone brought me down.
I could join a Progressive group if I wanted to be around killjoy scolds all day -- and they'd probably have better buffets.
UPDATE: Maybe we need a "Grouchy Libertarians" category...
Remember "Fuzzy Math?"
President Bush accused VP Gore of using "fuzzy math" in the 2000 debates, causing great numbers of Floridians to vote for Pat Buchanan. Or something like that.
But the phrase popped into my head reading Megan McArdle's latest PPACAHSoTD. It seems IBD has reported high attrition rates in ObamaCare Exchanges.
But on net, they expect enrollment to shrink from their March numbers by a substantial amount -- as much as 30 percent at Aetna Inc., for example.
McArdle says this might be a big deal.
How much does this matter? As Charles Gaba notes, this was not unexpected: Back in January, industry expert Bob Laszewski predicted an attrition rate of 10 to 20 percent, which seems roughly in line with what IBD is reporting. However, Gaba seems to imply that this makes the IBD report old news, barely worth talking about, and I think that's wrong, for multiple reasons.
I'll leave the main point in McArdle's capable hands. But only in the halls of government is a 30% attrition rate "roughly in line with" an expected 10-20% When I went to school, 30% was three times 10% -- or roughly analogous to Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg's being three times over the legal limit when she was caught for DWI.
So it is somewhere between three times above and half-again. I'm a charitable and big hearted person -- let's just say it is double the expected attrition rate. I'm not charitable or big hearted enough to call that "roughly in line." As if we ever got the actual starting numbers. I suspect we got inflated values for the start and now double the expected attrition.
Nope. Everything's fine.
Removing an option entirely does not help teach good decision-making skills, it’s just temporarily taking something out of the equation for 6 or 7 hours a day.
Yet another argument against prohibition, but this one is not in support of legalizing recreational drugs, or alcohol, or pharmaceuticals. This lunatic nut job is very seriously suggesting the radical idea of unfettered access to ... groceries.
The recent passing of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act was done with the best of intentions. The act, established as a way to promote healthy eating among kids and decrease childhood obesity, which is rising at alarming rates, sets nutritional standards for school lunches and snacks available to school-age children. That means the end of the elusive vending machine and the high-calorie snacks it contains.
That's "recently passed" as of 2011, but of interest today as it is back-to-school time. This is when it is most noticeable, with flyers coming home in packets of forms to complete. We've never been called into the office for sending our kids to school with Frito Lay products in their backpacks, but one does rehearse speeches in preparation for that possibility.
"We ask you to teach our children how to think for themselves but when it comes to the foods they may eat, you teach them that thinking is forbidden."
August 18, 2014
Everything is improved by competition. I cannot expect that the entire Internet is mine just to provide Review Corner. It was inevitable, really, that someone else would step in.
I was just not prepared for this discussion of Robert Heinlein's "Friday."
Whether it is SFW depends on where you work.
And, is that how you pronounce "Heinlein?"
America's First Woman President!
Why wait? NYPost:
The former first lady is already insisting on staying in the "presidential suite" of the world's finest hotels, typically traveling to them on nothing less than a $39 million private Gulfstream G450 jet before collecting a $250,000-plus speaking fee, a new report says.
Quote of the Day
I think this pairs nicely with RAH's "bad luck" quote. It introduced a Chapter in Matt Ridley's "Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters"
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune -- often the surfeit of our own behaviour, -- we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion ... an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star. -- William Shakespeare, King Lear
August 17, 2014
This is an idea that goes right back to Aristode, who said that the 'concept' of a chicken is implicit in an egg, or that an acorn was literally 'informed' by the plan of an oak tree. When Aristode's dim perception of information theory, buried under generations of chemistry and physics, re-emerged amid the discoveries of modern genetics, Max Delbruck joked that the Greek sage should be given a posthumous Nobel prize for the discovery of DNA.Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" received five stars and among the first Editor's Choice Award. [Review Corner]. When a friend of a friend on Facebook listed his Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters as being a formative book, I rushed to pick it up on Kindle.
I had recently finished Dennis Bray's Wetware [Review Corner], so I was as up on genetics and cell biology as any time in my life (my tastes run towards Physics and Math, but one cannot help being intrigued). Ridley's takes the genome past genetics and actually does limn a history of life by reading changes in genes and comparing them across species and geography.
If the human genome can tell us things about what happened in the primeval soup, how much more can it tell us about what else happened during the succeeding four million millennia . It is a record of our history written in the code for a working machine.
Well, yeah, Matt. Sign me up. To expand the concepts from genetics to other, superseding concepts, Ridley deftly explains evolution, politics, science, and even economics.
The habit acquired through the sexual division of labour had spread to other aspects of life. We had become compulsively good at sharing things, which had the new benefit of allowing each individual to specialise. It was this division of labour among specialists, unique to our species, that was the key to our ecological success, because it allowed the growth of technology. Today we live in societies that express the division of labour in ever more inventive and global ways.
Pardon the British spellings, but it recalls an interesting section where genetic similarity was compared to language which allowed the comparison of human migration with people bringing their language with them against the flow of ideas and languages among people who stayed put. That's as good an example as I can come up with to show how Ridley expands the genome beyond genetics
Not that there is not plenty of genetics. He ridicules books that "blame" genes for disease. He lists several genetic ailments but reiterates IN ALL CAPS AT ONE POINT that genes are not there to cause diseases anymore than the transmission in your car is there just to malfunction and cause an expensive repair. There is a chapter for each chromosome (with a small twist) and an example sequence to launch a discussion on History (Chromosome 3), Self-interest (Chromosome 8), Sex Memory, Death, Politics, Immortality, Eugenics, Free Will...
From The Rational Optimist, one can expect that when the subject matter drifts into the philosophical/political realm, the ThreeSourcer will not be left behind.
Indeed , the definition of the perfect meritocracy, ironically, is a society in which people's achievements depend on their genes because their environments are equal.
It is a wondrous work. He completed it before the Genome Project but was aware that its completion was immanent. In a later revision, he updates this. But nothing in the sequencing alters or contradicts anything Ridley has written, it just underscores the wonder and paves the way for a bright future.
For we, this lucky generation, will be the first to read the book that is the genome. Being able to read the genome will tell us more about our origins, our evolution, our nature and our minds than all the efforts of science to date. It will revolutionise anthropology, psychology, medicine, palaeontology and virtually every other science .
Five stars and a fulsome recommendation.
August 16, 2014
Form your own Headline
You have the words: Udall, Spox, Lie, Whopper, and 30 seconds. Go!
The winner is: DAMAGE CONTROL: Udall’s Top Spox Tells Whopper Of Lie
Is it time for Sen. Mark Udall to add another press person? One would think between the three he already has, they wouldn't commit the kind of mistakes you would expect from a dog catcher's campaign. Today, in a completely epic fail, Udall's spokesman Chris Harris, a Kansas City via Washington D.C. transplant unleashed this blatant lie:
I don't know that this is the worst lie of the campaign, but I will suggest that Sen. Udall's three press persons' time would be better sent fabricating a record for their boss than for his opponent.
The Ithsmus Canal
It's almost enough to make a feller forgive President Theodore Roosevelt: today marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal.
The Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, opened in 1825, greatly shortening the distance between the burgeoning Middle West and the east coast. It quickly made New York City, "that tongue that is licking up the cream of commerce of a continent," and the greatest boom town in world history.
I know my adamantine recommendation of David McCullough's "Brave Companions" is tiresome, but my friends in the NSA mention that a couple of you have yet to order it. Insty asks "if we could do anything like it today" and I daresay no way in freakin' hell.
McCullough details brave adventures, but also bold projects like the canal and the Brooklyn Bridge which could not have been completed without many of the workers' dying. Nobody values human life more than me. But we cannot do a space launch that goes past 34th Street; we could not put guys under the ocean in wooden boxes to dig and pour bridge pylons; and we certainly could not dig the Panama Canal.
We could repeat these achievements safely with current technology but we'd never complete the paperwork. Yet risky pursuits like space travel are cordoned off. The paperwork jab is a joke -- but everyone knows it is not. Somebody would stop a canal, a bridge, a Dam -- yet we have prospered greatly from their completion.
If there was a prize for the most isolated memorial to an America astronaut, the one for Maj. Michael J. Adams would win by a wide margin.
A brave companion, indeed.
August 14, 2014
Bad Ideas from the Past
Right wing scolds. I get it, but I just don't get it.Gov. Huckabee and Senator Santorum have deep religious convictions which make it easier. I think they are wrong to push their way of life on me, but I understand the foundation.
Drug Czar Bill Bennett, by comparison, makes me open my eyes widely and cock my head to one side in confusion. He is a very bright guy who has been exposed to some very good ideas. Yet . . .
On a day tensions hove boiled over in Ferguson, Missouri, Bennett has a guest editorial on legalization madness.
The great irony, or misfortune, of the national debate over marijuana is that while almost all the science and research is going in one direction--pointing out the dangers of marijuana use--public opinion seems to be going in favor of broad legalization.
Bill, Krista: put me down as opposed to regular cannabis use in youth (or middle age. Willie, Nelson, by comparison, seems to be doing fine).
Read Bennett's whole piece and you'll see no reference to liberty or John Stuart Mill. "It's bad, and we've a public to protect." I agree it's bad and even I become exasperated by fellow travelers who will not admit that or who want to laugh it off. I have zero interest in arguing whether it is good or bad but I very much will defend anyone who says that it is not Sec. Bennett's right to tell me.
I don't want to oversimplify what is going on in Ferguson either. But if you were to remove all the adverse police-community interactions that represented enforcement of the War on Drugs, that would significantly lower the frustration -- and likely obviate the paramilitary equipment and tactics that the police have used in pursuit of its goals.
Let's all pay off the national debt, together!
I'm from flyover country, and I'm here to help! Yesterday, President Obama explained to all Americans the basic balance sheet options for making ends meet in the national Leviathan that is the United States federal government.
"We're reviewing all of our options," Obama said. "The lost revenue to Treasury means it has got to be made up somewhere, and that typically is going to be a bunch of hard-working Americans who either pay through higher taxes themselves or through reduced services."
Many of us have selfishly urged, or demanded, that government balance its budget by spending less. Legislators and presidents have come and gone, election after election, never able - for some reason - to bring government spending under control or even, for that matter, reduce it by a single dime. Whatever the causes of this official recalcitrance, I now repent my prior demands and acknowledge the role President Obama reminds me that I play in balancing the federal government budget. I will do my fair share. Nay, I will do my full share. I do firmly pledge and promise, now and forever, to pay every possible penny into the Treasury "through reduced services" from this day forward.
Join me. It'll be easy if we can all stop being so selfish.
Confucius Never Said
LOTR-F for those unfortunate souls who missed it:
Don't Frack My Mother...
In an annual report of the top 10 oil states put together by the financial website 24/7 Wall St., New Mexico supplanted Oklahoma with 965 million barrels of proven oil reserves.
August 13, 2014
Islam on Sex and the "rights" of "slaves"
Heh. Don't get many opportunities to use the "slavery" category these days but such is the gift that is the darkness of [they refer to it as, simply] IS. (Islamic State)
In the first comment to this oft-cited (at least by yours truly) post I riffed on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's claim in a WSJ piece that a central part of what the jihadists are about is the oppression of women.
The central issue here, morally justified by the "pure principles of the Prophet" is a profound illiberalism. One which permits one class - devout Muslim men - to do anything his heart desires to every member of any other group. A "license to rape" is a popular selling point to young men.
This idea was horrific enough in the antiseptic realm of the intellect. Today I find purportedly devout young Muslim men Tweeting about what a believer is permitted to do with his female slaves.
Islam allows "slavery". Women can be captured, men can be killed. The Prophet approved this ...
Don't worry, though, because "slaves" have "rights."
Sex has to be consentual though and it only applies to concubines. Mut'ah [temporary marriage for pleasure] is a big no no
But their intentions are "good" right? As AHA explained, "Boko Haram [and all Islamists, by extension] sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated." Noble even. With benefactors like that, who needs an evil overlord?
WAR FOR OIL!
I can be provocative, too.
Holman Jenkins takes to the WSJ Ed Page for a few swipes at the left::
The "no blood for oil" crowd has piped up with surprising speed and noisiness in the short hours since President Obama recommitted U.S. forces to the fight in Iraq.
Our dear friends, the Kurds, would like to pump oil out of the ground and sell it to anyone who meets their price. This will empower and enrich free people and diminish the power of authoritarians in Russia and hostile Mideastern Countries. By contrast, ISIS/ISIL want to starve people, force conversions, flood whole cities, and bury people alive.
So, yeah, let's defend Northern Iraqi - Kurdish oil production!
August 12, 2014
All Hail Taranto!
A crumb over the paywall (Rupert said it was fine):
Rep. Trey Gowdy
Quote of the Day
Now Ron Fournier wonders if Americans would rally behind Obama after another 9/11 the way we rallied behind Bush, and I think the answer is no -- because Obama has spent his entire time in office flicking boogers at half the country. -- Glenn ReynoldsThe Perfesser is commenting on a Megan McArdle piece which says something I thought from January 20, 2009: Sec. Clinton would have made a far better president.
August 11, 2014
The Science is Settled!
Warmin'? Coolin'? It's a conundrum -- but one with a chocolaty certain center.
Or, we have no freaking idea what is going on -- but, the science is settled!
The scientists call this problem the Holocene temperature conundrum. It has important implications for understanding climate change and evaluating climate models, as well as for the benchmarks used to create climate models for the future. It does not, the authors emphasize, change the evidence of human impact on global climate beginning in the 20th century.
Our own Ellsworth Toohey
When I read "The Fountainhead," I found Ellsworth Toohey to be unbelievable. Rand is frequently criticized that her heroic characters are too heroic, but my hang-up was with Toohey; what's in it for him?
Then, Don Luskin cast Paul Krugman as Toohey in his "I Am John Galt" and all of life made sense. What's in it for Krugman? The academic power of being held in high esteem by the pointy-heads that matter to him. The pulpit of the New York Times Ed Page.
Aaaaaand, he's at it. Taranto (and Dan Mitchell) make fun of him for his blanket assertions. From 2009:
In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We've all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.
Why? Paul says. Today's blanket assertion: the welfare state -- like the NHS -- is fine! No worries! Just a bunch of libertarians off the rails.
As Mike [Konczal] says, this notion rests on the belief that the welfare state is a crazily complicated mess of inefficient programs, and that simplification would save enough money to pay for universal grants that are neither means-tested nor conditional on misfortune. But the reality is nothing like that. The great bulk of welfare-state spending comes from a handful of major programs, and these programs are fairly efficient, with low administrative costs.
Like a gifted sommelier, Krugman pairs falsehoods with straw-men. Distortionary pressures and opacity are more central to the minimum income debate than administrative costs.
He thinks Rep. Paul Ryan is "in a fantasy world" for thinking we're living in an Ayn Rand novel. But . . . he's Ellsworth Toohey!
Great Stagnation -- or Not
Northwestern University Professor Joel Mokyr is not buying the great stagnation theory. True, the low-hanging fruit of women's entering the workforce has been plucked as it were. And that Internet-thingy is pretty well baked in to GDP (that is not a mixed metaphor: GDP is a pie containing low-hanging fruit -- keep up with me, people!)
Mokyr suggests a one-word response: "technology." Like me, he sees nanotech and genetics and increased digital access to knowledge and data to be just as exciting as previous advances.
The breakthroughs are not "on the horizon." They are here. The economy may be facing some headwinds, but the technological tailwind is more like a tornado. Fasten your seat belts.
August 10, 2014
What you are doing as an enzyme is analogous to what a transistor in an electronic circuit does (or a vacuum tube in one of Grey Walter's tortoises). The electrical current through the device can be thought of as the pipeline conversion by the enzyme. The controlling voltage, typically applied to the base terminal of the transistor, is like the small molecule that binds to the enzyme and regulates its activity. Small fluctuations in the concentration of B control the rate of A' production. And the quantitative relationship between the two need not be simple. Depending on the details of protein structure, the chemical output of the enzyme may be a highly amplified version of its input, as it often is for a transistor.Dennis Bray has an entire book to provide nuance in Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell. I have bad typing skills and a distracted readership. Please set your "infer" dial on one or two. Bray is careful to ensure that readers are not taking leaps with his suggestions.
But you see what I did there? I made an analogy of the human brain to a computer. Bray is not suggesting amoebic sentience, but his rich portrayal of cell structure and processes shows these tiny life units to be far more complex than we imagine. Even more interestingly, the tasks they need to perform for survival require what is at least analogous to memory and cognition.
Now I can give bacterial memory a molecular explanation. Bacteria store a running record of the attractants they encounter. This tells them whether things are better or worse: whether the quantity of food molecules in their vicinity is higher or lower than it was a few seconds ago. It's a pragmatic strategy: if conditions are improving, continue swimming; if not, tumble and try another direction.
I may have mentioned that biology was not my strong suit in school. Bray describes the chemical processes in detail -- the book seems accessible yet comprehensive. He provides sufficient detail on what is going on, then draws his analogies and asks deeper questions. Bray's mechanical analogies to cells is bold and unexpected -- but when it comes to the inevitable mind-computer comparison he backs off.
A neuronal synapse reveals most clearly the distinction between living and nonliving computers. Since it carries information from one nerve cell to another, you might be tempted to represent it as a single transistor in a printed circuit-as a single bit of information. But this would be to miss the point. Far from performing in a rigid, stereotypical, predictable fashion, synapses are richly, almost infinitely, variable in their input-output relationships.
My start-up was attempting to commercialize cutting-edge AI research -- basically trying to provide a limited-domain "Siri" ten years earlier. Moore's Law or Cole's Law notwithstanding, computers look pretty simplistic compared to biology.
It is impossible, I think, for us to envision the richness and diversity of cell chemistry. The level of detail is atomic in dimensions but astronomical in variety. Every structure inside a cell is covered with a mosaic of chemical groups, positioned and maintained by the mechanisms just mentioned. Every protein molecule is subtly different, carrying not only the imprint of history, shaped by evolution over millennia, but also an echo of recent events.
Wetware is informative and thought-provoking. By sheer accident, I moved from it to Matt Ridley's Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Both are accessible, but I was glad to have the primer in proteins and cell chemistry from Wetware.
August 9, 2014
After I posted my jingoistic screed against the deeply held spiritual thought that I find common in Eastern Religions, I finished Matt Ridley's awesome-on-stilts "Genome." Review Corner on its way but I had to share this quote from the last chapter:
The Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, which came into effect only in 1994, makes premarital check-ups compulsory and gives to doctors , not parents , the decision to abort a child. Nearly ninety per cent of Chinese geneticists approve of this compared with five per cent of American geneticists; by contrast eighty-five per cent of the American geneticists think an abortion decision should be made by the woman, compared with forty-four per cent of the Chinese.
I cannot help but believe that this is not a byproduct of authoritarianism, but that authoritarianism and acceptance of the State's aborting a child have a common ancestor.
August 8, 2014
Russ Roberts Call Your Office!
[For those who miss the arcane illusion, Russ Roberts wrote a fiction book which explains economic principles. The Price of Everything delights the serious economist with humorous allusions, while the main plotline illustrates some of the dismal science's counterintuitive predictions to those who have not encountered or understood them. The primary plot concerns a student protest against price gouging after a hurricane.]
Benjamin Zycher looks at complaints of gouging in the recent Lake Erie scare. The Demagogues are out to ensnare those who used supply and demand pricing to get reliable water supplies to those who best needed it.
Zycher asks the obvious question: how are you going to ration it? Let the first rapacious customer buy 20 pallets at 0.99/six pack and then he gouges the next guy? Or washes his dog while sick children suffer (you don't hate children, do you?) Limit sales to one bottle, so those with more time get more water? He also does a great riff that ThreeSourcers might enjoy, relating it to rights.
The last time I read the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it said something rather sharply unfavorable about involuntary servitude. Are sellers of bottled water now to be forced to sell at prices approved by [Ohio Attorney General Mike] DeWine? Recall that during the natural gas crisis in the winter of 1977 -- caused not by some natural disaster, but instead by federal price controls -- the Ohio state police barged into people's houses to check their thermostats, without warrants, without statutory authority, without any constitutional basis whatever. When a real water crisis arises, will DeWine try to monitor and limit water consumption in people's homes? Someone ought to ask DeWine if that road is likely to yield greater "fairness." This kind of metastasizing government power as always will be characterized by ineptitude, ignorance, and an overriding instinct for political self-preservation. And unlike the entrepreneurs, who have to persuade people to buy their product at a mutually acceptable price, the DeWines of the world have little basis to claim that they "represent consumers."
August 7, 2014
Talkin' Obama Blues
That's the title of Dan Henninger's Wonder Land column this week. The whole piece is excellent, covering the Rorschach test that is our 44th President with a gift to make everyone think he is on their side. Henninger questions the "gift" as more world leaders discover -- at inappropriate times -- that President Obama is not actually in agreement.
But he hits on somethin' that has been drivin' me nutty, and that's how he's talkin'! We've seen g's dropped at NASCAR events or the Dallas Evangelical Prayer Breakfast. But our Haaavaaad educated Chief Executive has not voiced the seventh letter of the alphabet at the end of a word in some time.
It started with all those weird, dropped "g's." A cranial gong goes off when Barack Obama starts droppin' "g's." The American president who is seen discoursing eloquently at the African leaders summit hits the stump and suddenly he sounds like Gabby Hayes. "Folks like you are havin' a hard time makin' it when the wealthiest are grabbin' it all in for themselves."
August 6, 2014
JK's Theory of the Source of Rights.
I very much enjoyed Helen Raleigh's talk at Liberty on the Rocks - Flatirons a week ago. She was promoting her book: Confucius Never Said.
The title comes from "Confucius Say.." jokes -- but Raleigh reminds us what he did not say: "All Men are Created Equal." The Eastern thought accepted a much more hierarchical and less individualistic existence. Her -- grisly -- tales of Mao's Great Leap Forward, the privations and famine, and the barbaric treatment of her family in her native China are sobering consequences of this omission.
I've railed against the uncritical acceptance of what I call "Eastern Thought:" an admittedly overbroad collection of different and substantive philosophies and religion. But I considered them connected by a shared acceptance of the mystic and spiritual over the rational and the communal over the individual. (In humility I must point out that I could not get the author to assent to a broad condemnation of Confucianism as a foundation of China's historical struggles.)
With that preface, here is my elevator talk for Western Enlightenment values that I have been mulling. Per the objectivist/source of rights discussion below, I offer my own source of rights.
I don't want to be jingoist to my Hemisphere. There has, I purport, only been one good idea in the history of man. It happened to be Western. Flip of the coin: 50% chance. I also don't claim credit because it happened 200+ years ago to those to whom I am unrelated. But the one good idea is "all men are created equal."
From this, I can derive all the Lockean Values: man has a right to life, liberty and property -- not given by God or enforceable by the world, but vis-à-vis other men. I cannot take your sandwich. A bear can still eat you. But you and I, being equal cannot claim another's life, liberty, or property.
From Lockean values, I can derive the full set of Enlightenment values. Free will is based on equality as my thoughts are as valuable as yours. Reason is based on free will; innovation, science, and Popperian epistemology all follow from reason.
Where "all men are created equal" has been applied, pari-passu with the purity of its application, it has produced innovation, affluence, and empowerment of the individual. America became richer when the domain was expanded, China became richer when it was applied even in a limited fashion.
Quod Erat Demonstratum?
Libertarianism's fatal flaw
I have, of late, been at a loss to explain my philosophical differences with the Libertarian Party. Its siren song of "because: freedom" has a sweet, sweet sound, after all, and the threat of an all-encompassing government constitutes a desperate time, possibly justifying desperate measures like, say, voting Libertarian. But Craig Biddle's 2013 article in The Objective Standard is both thorough and precise in explaining the folly of libertarianism, with a big or small L. Essentially, Biddle explains, libertarianism is a political philosophy without a moral philosophy, thus making it "compatible" with multiple moral philosophies. Or so they claim.
Libertarianism is an effort to establish a big tent under which everyone who advocates "rights" or the "nonaggression axiom" can gather and get along and fight for "liberty" -- regardless of any moral or philosophic differences they may have. As Alexander McCobin, executive director of Students for Liberty, explains, "libertarianism is a political philosophy that prioritizes the principle of liberty":[Y]ou can be a libertarian and be a Hindu, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Deist, an agnostic, an atheist, or a follower of any other religion, so long as you respect the equal rights of others. . . . Libertarianism is not a philosophy of life . . . or metaphysics or religion . . . or value, though it's certainly compatible with an infinite variety of such philosophies.16
I highly encourage reading the entire article here. It is long but, as I said, thorough. (If you're into that kind of thing.)
Quote of the Day
All Hail! David Harsanyi is not too impressed with Jonathan Alter's "Loyalty Oaths" and President Obama's "Economic Patriotism."
Clearly I'm not the rock-ribbed patriot Alter is, because I hope corporations continue to use inversion to avoid taxation until DC is forced to pass reform that completely eliminates corporate taxes that unnecessarily burden consumers. Multinational corporations do not exist to be tax collectors. Now, if a person was going to get into the economic patriotism game, he might point out that rent-seeking companies that subsist on government subsidies and use their political connections in Washington as a cudgel against competition, are engaged in something far more un-American. And you can imagine the unholy cronyism that's likely to erupt once the executive branch begins deciding which companies deserved to be rewarded for their patriotism.
Oh, to own a TV station in the Centennial State, that's the life for me. Rep. Cory Gardner (R - TV Star) is in every commercial. In Sen. Udall's, he is dark and grainy, moving in stroboscopic slow motion to rob the state of its ladyparts. In his, he is enjoying the clean mountain air with his cute daughter -- in Technicolor.
ThreeSourcers are used to my hyperbole. Clearly not every TV commercial in August is about the senate race. Some are about fracking.
The WSJ Ed Page sees capitulation as Colorado Democrats seek to disassociate themselves with the destruction of energy jobs without antagonizing their wealthy environmental base.
How worried are Democrats about the November election? Look no further than Colorado, where this week they leaned on their green supporters to mute their anti-natural gas drilling agenda that is proving to be unpopular even in a liberal-trending state.
As Johnny Cash says "It's gonna be just gorgeous!"
UPDATE: Denver Post: Jared Polis gets an earful at townhall meeting.
Standing in the middle of a dense, frenzied huddle, Polis said he remains steadfast in his opposition to fracking close to homes, but that the timing was off in this instance.
August 5, 2014
Quote of the Day
There’s no reason the nation of Africa cannot and should not join the ranks of the world's most prosperous nations in the near term, in the decades ahead. There is simply no reason. -- VP Joe BidenVideo (and a lot of annoying popups) at the link. Hat-tip: Insty.
ONLY ONE LEFT!
Tempting to get the used one, but I wouldn't want some old thing that would just be a lot of problems.
PPACAo2010 Horror Story of the Day
Hat-tip: Independent Institute
UPDATE: Okay, I had to embed this video referenced in my comment. Not everybody seems to love "Generation Opportunity:"
This from Sept 2013. I think the eevil Koch Brother Spawn have been proven right.
There was a gooberload of great quotes I had highlighted but could not use in Sunday's Review Corner for William Easterly's The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. As threatened:
University of California at Berkeley economist Ross Levine has provided a whole career's worth of evidence for the central role of finance in development. Let me borrow his summary from a recent paper: Finance is powerful. It mobilizes savings , allocates those savings, [and] monitors the use of funds provided to firms and individuals. . . . How well financial institutions and markets perform these functions exert a powerful influence on economic prosperity. When financial systems perform these functions well, they tend to promote growth and expand economic opportunities. For example, when banks screen borrowers effectively and identify firms with the most promising prospects, this is a first step in boosting productivity growth. When financial markets and institutions mobilize savings from disparate households to invest in these promising projects, this represents a second crucial step in fostering growth.
I took an online economic course that highlighted the importance of innovation in finance and financial instruments. The anti-bank Mattdamonomics is particularly appalling because these people have no idea what the objects of their antipathy do, or what benefits they provide. It's easy to ridicule derivatives and options, but they get risk into the hands of those who can best manage it. They all buy life insurance, but allowing a small business to hedge commodity or currency risk is unholy.
August 4, 2014
All Hail Taranto!
Un petit hors d'oeuvres for those on the wrong side of Rupert's brutal paywall:
Official Facebook Science Dude!
You cannot argue with Science!
Bad Day for Liberty
The reality is the price to society is now too high to offer a blank check to anyone. The entire country has a stake in finding the pricing levels that support innovation without threatening the affordability and accessibility of the U.S. health-care system. That's the solution that health plans are working with drug manufacturers and health-care providers every day to deliver.The author is Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade association with 1,300 member companies. The "blank check" is intellectual property protection for a firm that discovers a cure for a gruesome disease and can jump through all the government's gruesome hoops to offer it. Ms. Ignagni sees a different role:
The challenge here is that drug makers are given years of exclusivity for their innovation. With some of these new treatments, there is no competition, only monopolies protected by the government.
If the government is protecting your property rights, surely it can set your prices.
In energy news, Rep. Jared Polis (Bazillionaire, CO-2) has come to agreement with Governor John Hickenlooper. Instead of a statewide plebiscite to decide whether the property rights of mineral holders would be eviscerated, a Congressman and a Governor have agreed to a back room deal to see whether the property rights of mineral holders will be eviscerated. Jon Caldara points out that this is a big step forward for the industry which can manage a compromise but was not comfortable putting all its chips on a single vote.
But for liberty lovers, it's a bad deal.
UPDATE: Denver Post story
I Going to Cry Now
It seems Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were underserving the smug, smarmy, fake news segment. The free market, being ruthlessly efficient, brought in John Oliver. You know he is smart because he delivers fake news in a poncy british accent,
I hate this format more than Socialism and Ebola combined and am disappointed to see a third star rising. Perhaps it is no more damaging to this great republic than bad pop music, but my Facebook feed disagrees. "John Oliver PERFECTLY Destroys <subject>" reads a typical post. Then poncy-man lectures us wee folk for a few minutes on climate change or gun violence or whatever. I was inuring to it.
But today, the Wall St Journal's CMO Today includes a clip (eleven ghastly preening minutes if you've the stomach) in which Mr. Oliver lectures us on the pernicious effects of native advertising. Nasty Corporations ruining saintly journalism.
I think it may be a special outside the paywall page, but here is the Oliver Clip just in case.
The people who are destroying Journalism, rising to protect its integrity. Pass the barf bag.
Denying the Right to Healthcare in the Nutmeg State
This misguided physician considers "keeping the lights on" somehow more important than providing health care.
Three insurers offered plans on Connecticut's ACA marketplace in 2014 and Gerard is only accepting one. He won't say which, but he will say it pays the highest rate.
If only somebody had looked a little more critically at the PPACA, some of these things may have been predicted. (Hat-tip Jim Geraghty)
UPDATE: The perfect solution from Reason: The Physician Mandate. (So obvious, why didn't we think of it?)
Abiding by the individual mandate therefore constitutes what President Obama, in another context, recently called "economic patriotism." He was castigating companies that use overseas mergers to avoid U.S. taxes. "You know," he said, "some people are calling these companies corporate deserters."
Right Wing Nutjob Slams President Obama
But frankly, he should never have said as much as he did, that if you like your current health care plan, you can keep it, That wasn't true. And you shouldn't lie to people. And they just lied to people.FOX News? Gov. Sarah Palin? Rep. Barney Frank?
August 3, 2014
We have reached another key moment in this book. Today's emphasis on material development --focusing on "what must we do to end global poverty?" while neglecting the unequal rights for blacks and whites and the unequal rights in the West and the Rest--goes back to this moment and other similar moments in the history of the development idea. Development at moments like this accepted the bargain of the autocrat. The autocrats and their expert advisers asked us to give up our concerns about rights in return for a promise by autocrats to alleviate poverty faster than free societies would.William Easterly's "The White Man's Burden" received a glowing, five star Review Corner a couple weeks ago. To set forward The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, I will need to bestow a well-deserved Editor's Choice award.
Similar to Taleb's Antifragility and Black Swan, the newer book is a more general case that includes the earlier work. White Man's Burden describes the benefits of Hayekian, bottom up ("searchers" to Easterly) development solutions versus top-down ("planners.") Tyranny of Experts continues the Hayek and adds some Adam Smith to suggest that The West grew prosperous by respecting individual property rights, but that its development plans to lift up The Rest never include rights. Easterly asks about "the debate that never happened," citing prominent experts who respected rights, the many who did not, and why -- without debate or examination -- the authoritarian plans were accepted.
This section of the book (Chapters Three through Five) seeks to understand why and how the illiberal version of development had already defeated the liberal version by January 20, 1949. Our journey will take us from the early years in China to crucial years during and immediately after World War II in West Africa to the final triumph of official development in Colombia in 1948 through 1951.
From my fanboy prose and serial allusions to Hayek and Smith, you'd be forgiven for inferring Easterly as a champion of free markets. He saves plenty of criticism for benevolent autocrats who seek to impose markets. These top down planners of bottom-up solutions can be just as insensitive to rights and to the target people's history. It can be just another "blank slate" solution to recreate a society in the air-conditioned offices of a think-tank. At the same time, ThreeSourcers will find little to disagree with; the elevation of rights over markets does not fall harshly on 3src ears.
The entire work is well crafted, tying different times, places, and plans to a common theme of a blank-slate creation of society, and showing that the different motives of racism, national interest, and misplaced benevolence result in the same, rights-depriving, patronizing, authoritarian control. Development plans use the passive voice exclusively. "Standards will be raised," "production will be coordinated" &c. This allows them to omit the state as controller and enforcer.
[Dr. T.D.] Fong's development plan would appeal to the authoritarian Chiang Kai-shek. "Rationalization" of an industry sounds apolitical. Choosing conscious direction over spontaneous solutions does not say who is doing the conscious directing. Yet in practice, there was only one possibility --the national state-- which would need a lot of power to achieve comprehensive economic control. This sounded like a great approach to an aspiring autocrat like Chiang.
Got to break some eggs to make Egg Foo Yung, I suppose...
Authoritarian nationalism contributed to two world wars, which left it discredited in the rich countries. Yet authoritarian nationalism got a new lease on life from development in the poor countries. The rich countries' emphasis on the nation as the sole object of development efforts, born out of their own foreign policy needs as discussed in Part Two, coincided with national authorities' efforts to make national identity trump all other identities.
If White Man's Burden is a great intro to Hayek (and it is), Tyranny of Experts is as good an introduction to Adam Smith, the invisible hand, and the advantages of specialization
Suppose Roger Federer was too busy assembling his own iPad to play tennis, Beyoncé was too busy playing tennis for her own family to sing and dance, while Steve Jobs was too busy singing and dancing for his friends to make iPads. I think we are all grateful these three could instead specialize in their best area, what is usually called their "comparative advantage."
Easterly describes the invisible hand as a huge network of problem solvers which all free people can access. The founder of Hyundai was born on a small Korean farm with poor soil and poor irrigation. He found problem solvers who grew food for his family and he solved others' problems by using his exceptional mechanical skills to repair their automobiles.
Suppose I walked out of a building into a pouring rain and realized I had no umbrella, I then asked a stranger to give me his umbrella, which he quickly agreed to give me. Could this really happen? Surely the stranger would likely not agree: he is more likely to be surprised and offended at my bizarre behavior. Yet this did happen to me in downtown New York, and a stranger did give me his umbrella. The only additional details necessary to make it comprehensible is that I gave the stranger $5, and he was a street merchant. The market enlists a vast array of strangers in solving our individual problems.
Economics, Development and History. Yet, Easterly always returns to the foundation of rights. Deidre McClosky -- call your office:
But the population story is of no help in explaining why the Western edge of Eurasia would pull ahead beginning in the late eighteenth century and leave the Eastern edge far behind. Why did the West invent the steam engine and railroad, and not the East? We need something else. That something else is already on the table: the Western idea of the individual that emerged from the Enlightenment. That miraculous year 1776 is again the key symbol: Jefferson declares all men equal, Adam Smith declares all men free to choose, and James Watt installs his first steam engine. There are two key mechanisms by which the new Western idea of the individual helped innovation: the challenge to authority and the private return to innovation.
There is a virally popular video on Facebook these days which shows an African cocoa farmer tasting chocolate for the first time. This brings to mind a superb story of African farmers' discovering value and comparative advantage in growing cocoa -- not because of, but in spite of top-down autocracy.
Even after local farmers had introduced cocoa into the Gold Coast (Ghana), the British almost succeeded in killing it. The colonial government had an incentive to make the Gold Coast pay off for the colonizers. They thought cocoa should be grown on "modern" plantations on a large scale. They could not believe that primitive local farmers had already found the most efficient farm size. After six different attempts at plantations failed, with large losses for the colonial budget, colonial officials finally gave up. What the Akwapim knew, and the British did not, was that small holders could mix cocoa with food crops, making small plots preferable.
Another great device of the book is its historic look at Greene Street. A single block in what is now the SoHo section of Manhattan is traced from colonial times to the present. Farmland to sweatshops to bordello row to factories to skid row to art district to gentrified urban lofts. All the changes are Hayekian -- it miraculously escapes Robert Moses Development Aid -- I mean Urban renewal -- which would have precluded its modern successes.
Urban planning in the United States marked the last manifestation of the most enthusiastic New Dealers' wish to see experts plan the US economy. It also exemplified faith in technocrats who were appointed public officials, like Robert Moses in New York, with few checks on their power. The US Housing Act of 1949 endorsing "slum clearance" would give a technocrat like Moses the power to tear down whole neighborhoods and replace them with public housing. But the technocrat Moses would face some fierce democrats on Greene Street.
But the lovingly documented changes on Greene and the economic and cultural forces which drove them are fascinating. I'd call it the best real-world example of spontaneous order. [Spoiler Alert:] The factories that escaped Moses' bulldozers were perfect for the art studios of Pollock, Warhol and contemporaries who needed to create and display exceptionally large paintings and sculptures. A loft the size of le condo d"amour on Greene Street sells for ~$2.5 million today.
The problem with technocrats is not only that they make the wrong predictions. Their even bigger problem is their confidence in their own predictions. In a seemingly unrelated event in 1947, the artist Jackson Pollock painted Cathedral. It was one of the first works in what would be a successful New York-based art movement called Abstract Expressionism. For the Greene Street block, what was important about Pollock's painting was not its content but its measurements: six feet by three feet. Large canvasses of this kind were common in the new movement, and both the artists and galleries had trouble displaying them in Manhattan's cramped spaces.
I weep to not share additional quotes (I might dribble them out this week as QOTDs) but we must all get to other things. This is a magnificent book. I happily bequeath five stars and an Editor's Choice Award upon it. Run, do not walk to Amazon to buy it.
August 2, 2014
Waiting for the ECB meeting next week.
A French Euro-critic makes some incredibly interesting points. Todd lumps the "individualistic" French and Anglo-Saxon cultures versus the hierarchical German culture.
Hat-tip: Blog friend tgreer.