Admin: New Posting Schedule

Saturday, December 03, 2016

As you may have guessed from the title and form of yesterday's post, I have decided to change my posting schedule. The reason for doing so is to give myself a couple of deadline-free mornings on weekends for writing and writing-related activities that aren't directly related to the blog. (I'd been juggling these most days with very inconsistent results.) Interestingly, although this involves a lighter posting schedule, it is possible that, once I get used to the routine, I will produce more posts per week than I used to. I'm not committing myself to that, though.

The new minimal schedule will be as follows:

  1. Monday-Thursday: One Post
  2. Friday: One Hodgepodge Post (This will consist of a "Three Things" section, usually of things I like or find interesting; a "Weekend Reading" section of Objectivist commentary from publications aimed at the general public; and sometimes an additional section.)
  3. Saturday: Optional Post
  4. Sunday: No Post
I will also experiment with Friday being entirely devoted to the blog, with activities ranging from the creation of extra posts (on those days when the posts are practically writing themselves), administrative work, or working to better publicize my writing (which I haven't really been able to do for the past few years).

I have been thinking about making a change like this for some time, and a very productive weekend (made possible by writing a Saturday post in advance recently) confirmed for me that this was a good idea.

As always, thank you for reading.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 02, 2016

Three Things

1. Writing for the Federalist, a mother speaks for parents everywhere regarding winter clothing:

Here's my advice, then, if you see a cold-looking child and want to help. Put a sock in it. You don't know anything about this situation. Does it look like the child is in imminent danger of dying of hypothermia? No? Then go about your business.
And yes, her story is "better" than mine, although it may be that I can credit keeping my mouth shut for that fact.

2. On the proper way to preserve historic buildings, from the man who saved Houston from zoning back when I lived there:
When Milkovisch passed away, his property was purchased by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. That group wanted to preserve the Beer Can House from demolition, but rather than follow the typical pattern of trying to get a law passed, they put their money where their mouth is. This is the proper way to preserve historic buildings. And it is the proper way to celebrate and preserve Houston's heritage. [link dropped]
If I haven't said so already, I'll say it now: Despite its name and focus, there is plenty of material of general interest at Objectively Houston.

3. According to Walter Hudson of PJ Media, sometimes you have to say, "Because I said so":
Now that I have some experience, I realize that blind allegiance to parental authority is often precisely what is called for. I don't have time to explain the intricate nuances of every decision to the satisfaction of a three-year-old. More importantly, I shouldn't have to. There may be contexts when his prompt obedience could ensure his safety. More commonly, prompt obedience facilitates a productive routine. It isn't practical to make every moment teachable. Sometimes you just need to get moving.
This is true, although I stay away from that phrase as much as I can. I have found that I can often sneak in something like, "I'll explain why later," or even, "I've already told you why," particularly with my five-year-old.

Weekend Reading

"Whenever 'somebody else' pays for your health care, inevitably 'somebody else' will decide what care you will (or will not) receive." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Patients With Aortic Aneurysms More Likely to Die in the UK Than the US" at Forbes

"[I]n fact, [Castro] is no more than a cigar-smoking, dictator version of the relative who tells you to not be selfish." -- Michael Hurd, in "Fidel Castro's Overdue Demise" at Newsmax

"[T]he emotional effect of even the smallest breach between thought and action can slowly chip away at the peace of mind we try so hard to achieve." -- Michael Hurd, in "How Psychological Disorders Sneak Up on You" at The Delaware Wave

"I view gossip as a compulsion to talk about other people, regardless of the facts, for the express purpose of feeling better about yourself." -- Michael Hurd, in "Gossip vs. Self-Esteem" at The Delaware Coast Press

-- CAV

A Break for Payday Lenders?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Conservative blog Hot Air takes note of some good news, in the form of a "legal snag" in an ongoing lawsuit challenging President Obama's fascistic "Operation Choke Point" program. The program entails government banking agencies pressuring banks to refuse service to industries the government deems undesirable. One such industry is the payday loan industry:

Payday lenders asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for emergency relief to stop what they called a coordinated effort by U.S. regulators to stop banks from doing business with them, threatening their survival.

In Wednesday night filings, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) and payday lender Advance America, Cash Advance Centers Inc said a preliminary injunction was needed to end the "back-room campaign" of coercion by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Advance America said its own situation became dire after five banks decided in the last month to cut ties, including a 14-year relationship with U.S. Bancorp, putting it "on the verge" of being unable even to hold a bank account.
The blogger at Hot Air properly expresses optimism about this news because of the precedent an unchallenged campaign against payday lenders would set for other industries that happen to be out of favor with whoever is in power.

That said, I must express concern about the massive success the left has had in demonizing this industry, which economist Thomas Sowell has written about on at least two occasions. Sowell has noted that the press has both misrepresented the fees charged by such lenders, and completely ignored the fact that they perform a necessary service.

Regarding fees, Sowell wrote:
Let's take this one step at a time. Whatever the merits or demerits of the rest of the argument, $45 is not going to trap anyone in a never-ending cycle of debt, even if they are making only the bare minimum wage. Personal irresponsibility in managing money can trap anyone, but that is regardless of whether or not they take out payday loans.

Now to the 460 percent rate of interest. You don't need higher math to figure out that $45 is 15 percent of $300. How did we get to 460 percent? Very simple: By distorting the actual conditions of most payday loans.


The 460 percent figure comes from imagining that the borrower is not just going to borrow the money for a couple of weeks, but is going to keep on borrowing every couple of weeks all year long.

Using this kind of reasoning -- or lack of reasoning -- you could quote the price of salmon as $15,000 a ton or say a hotel room rents for $36,000 a year, when no consumer buys a ton of salmon and few people stay in a hotel room all year. It is clever propaganda, but do people buy newspapers to be propagandized?
And regarding the service, Sowell writes elsewhere:
The alternative to getting a payday loan may be having the electricity cut off or not having money to buy some medication. It is worse to borrow from illegal loan sharks, who have their own methods of collecting.

While $15 per hundred dollars may sound like a high rate of interest, it is not all interest. The finance company incurs costs just to process a loan, and these costs are a higher proportion of the total cost for a small loan than for a large loan.

When Oregon imposed a limit of 36 percent annual interest on what a finance company could charge, that meant charging less than $1.50 for a hundred dollar loan for a couple of weeks. A dollar and a half would probably not even cover the cost of processing the loan, much less the risks of default.

Not surprisingly, most of the small finance companies making payday loans in Oregon went out of business. But there are no statistics on how many low-income people turned to loan sharks or had their electricity cut off or had to do without their medicine.
Sowell not only shows the payday lenders to be benefiting their customers, but rightly casts doubt on the whole idea of the government being the one to "save" people from them. He ends the first piece by noting the following:
Franklin D. Roosevelt's son extorted a $200,000 loan from a grocery chain that was under federal investigation -- and he never repaid the loan. Moreover, FDR spoke directly to the head of the chain to seal the deal.
And I'll end mine by recalling a government policy that essentially forces people into the leftist stereotype of payday loans:
Perhaps the best example of the [Capital Appreciation Bond] issue is suburban San Diego's Poway Unified School District, which borrowed a little more than $100 million. But "debt service will be almost $1 billion," [California State Treasurer Bill] Lockyer says. "So, over nine times [the] amount of the borrowing. There are worse ones, but that's pretty bad."
I am glad to hear of this lawsuit, but a positive resolution will be but the beginning of what we need to "drain the swamp" in terms of government interference in the economy alone. And, as the Hot Air blogger's repeated protestations that he is no fan of the payday loan industry show, we have similar swamps to drain in the minds of the public, including those sympathetic to capitalism.

-- CAV

Some Dreams Are Nightmares

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Responding to a reader who brings up the self-defeating idea of a "dream job," Allison Green of Ask a Manager notes the following:

I'd even go so far as to say that there's no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor's note every time you have a cold, or you're abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

Dream jobs do exist -- when it's work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable -- but it's dangerous to think something is your dream job before you're really in a position to know. It can lead you to turn a blind eye to warning signs or to make decisions you wouldn't make if you had all the facts. [bold added]
And Green is just touching the iceberg on the things she throws out that could make that dream into a nightmare. Remember that craftsman who had to quit his remodeling job because the work was too similar to his hobby? For all I know, everything else about that job was great, but it just didn't work out for him.

Green's advice is an excellent example of being on guard against wishful thinking in the context of job hunting.

-- CAV

Escape From Black Friday

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Entering Target early Friday morning, I spotted a row of poles that had been staged in front of the cash registers. These were the kind of poles used to hold up cloth tape for guiding long queues, but it was early enough that it took me a few moments to connect the dots. Fortunately, I did in time to alter part of my plans for the day: I realized that the poles had been staged to corral the expected heavy traffic for Black Friday, a day I blissfully ignore most years, and had entirely forgotten about this year. I'd planned to work for a while after the errand, then go out on a few other errands later. One of those errands would have been a shopping trip. So I expanded the morning run to Target to include most of what I intended to buy later and put off some of the other purchases and all of the other errands.

Later on, I ran across a gem of an editorial by Suzanne Lucas on "Why You Should Work on Black Friday," which nicely parallels my own thinking about that day and similar ones. She ticks off five things, the last of which made me smile in satisfaction at the couple of hours I'd saved by lingering at Target:

Use your vacation for something other than fighting crowds.

While Americans tend to waste vacation days by not taking them at all, taking one to go to the store seems silly. If your company is open on Black Friday, don't waste a vacation day on it -- use those for something fun. If you want to use the vacation day to shop, use it sometime in December when it's not as crowded and there are still plenty of deals out there. [format edits, bold in original]
Regarding the shopping advice, having two young kids in St. Louis taught me an extreme version of the same thing that can be applied year-round. For a time, Little Man's sleeping schedule was off by a few hours from Pumpkin's. He'd wake up around 6:00 (and often even earlier) and she'd sleep in with Mrs. Van Horn. Since I couldn't use this time to write, I would often use part of it for other things, like shopping. Each Sunday, I'd take him with me to a 24-hour Walmart right after he woke up and knock off the week's grocery shopping while the others slept. This didn't just free up some time later: I noticed that the store and the roads leading to it were all much less crowded. The time I needed for the trip itself was about halved.

The saying "Time is money," is only half-true. Time is actually much worse than money: You can replace money, but the best you can do with time is learn to use it much more efficiently. Unless you really love shopping or somehow find crowds invigorating, Black Friday is a crock.

-- CAV

Tierney on Left vs. Science

Monday, November 28, 2016

John Tierney of City Journal has published a lengthy piece titled, "The Real War on Science" (HT: Snedcat). Although I think there is some room for debate about the conclusion stated in his subtitle -- "The Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress." -- the entire piece is worth reading both for specific examples and for the bigger picture of just how inimical the left is to science, despite its scientific pretensions.

Because I had seen this a few times (and not just from leftists) and had always wondered where it came from, I'll quote Tierney on a view of evolution that he rightly likens to Creationism. This view ultimately originates from social "scientists" who hold that, "any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from differences in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences:"

The Blank Slate dogma has perpetuated a liberal version of creationism: the belief that there has been no evolution in modern humans since they left their ancestral homeland in Africa some 50,000 years ago. Except for a few genetic changes in skin color and other superficial qualities, humans everywhere are supposedly alike because there hasn't been enough time for significant differences to evolve in their brains and innate behavior. This belief was plausible when biologists assumed that evolution was a slow process, but the decoding of the human genome has disproved it, as Nicholas Wade (a former colleague of mine at the New York Times) reported in his 2015 book, A Troublesome Inheritance.

"Human evolution has been recent, copious and regional," writes Wade, noting that at least 8 percent of the human genome has changed since the departure from Africa. The new analysis has revealed five distinguishable races that evolved in response to regional conditions: Africans, East Asians, Caucasians, the natives of the Americas, and the peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Yet social scientists go on denying the very existence of races. The American Anthropological Association declares race to be "a human invention" that is "about culture, not biology." The American Sociological Association calls race a "social construct." Even biologists and geneticists are afraid of the R-word. More than 100 of them sent a letter to the New York Times denouncing Wade's book as inaccurate, yet they refused to provide any examples of his mistakes. They apparently hadn't bothered to read the book because they accused Wade of linking racial variations to IQ scores -- a link that his book specifically rejected.

Some genetic differences are politically acceptable on the left, such as the biological basis for homosexuality, which was deemed plausible by 70 percent of sociologists in a recent survey. But that same survey found that only 43 percent accepted a biological explanation for male-female differences in spatial skills and communication. How could the rest of the sociologists deny the role of biology? It was no coincidence that these doubters espoused the most extreme left-wing political views and the strongest commitment to a feminist perspective. To dedicated leftists and feminists, it doesn't matter how much evidence of sexual differences is produced by developmental psychologists, primatologists, neuroscientists, and other researchers. Any disparity between the sexes -- or, at least, any disparity unfavorable to women -- must be blamed on discrimination and other cultural factors. [links in original]
This quote hints at the bigger picture Tierney paints of how a subordination of results to preconceived dogmas among members of an ideologically homogeneous profession has, through positive feedback, led to an ever-widening gap between what the left touts as "science" and reality.

-- CAV

P.S. Fidel Castro has finally dropped dead. Morally, Castro's passing deserves less notice than one might give to a cockroach one has stepped on, and wiped off in the grass.

But, out of respect for his many victims and for our own sakes, we should never forget this brutal dictator, or the object lesson he provided us by putting into practice the evil ideas he professed. It is telling that, arguably, even Nikita Khrushchev was not as consistent an altruist as Castro, who even tried to invite a nuclear holocaust on his own people. The following comes from a letter by Khrushchev to Castro after the Cuban Missile Crisis:
It is even difficult to say how things would have ended for the Cuban people. First of all, Cuba would have burned in the fires of war. Without a doubt the Cuban people would have fought courageously but, also without a doubt, the Cuban people would have perished heroically.

We struggle against imperialism, not in order to die, but to draw on all of our potential, to lose as little as possible, and later to win more, so as to be a victor and make communism triumph.
Just to avoid confusion, since there are so many, including our current President, who think Castro's ideals are noble, but that he somehow botched them or failed to live up to them -- or that some passer-by leaves here under the impression that I imagine that Communism has even a shred of decency or practicality: What might have happened to Cuba would have been far from heroic, but needless and obscene. Communism is not noble in theory, but bloody in practice. It is bloody in practice because it is wrong in theory, morally and practically.

P.P.S. Please read the first two comments to this post. I do not wish to appear to agree with the idea of evolutionary psychology.


Today: Added a P.P.S. 

11-26-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Bad News Is the Good News

Peter Andreas of the Washington Post reports that one of Donald Trump's sillier campaign promises is already closer to reality than you might think. This is basically because, as his subheadings note, (1) Whatever is built or is already there, Trump will call it a wall; and (2) Much of the wall has already been built.

In the end, Trump's wall is likely to be the latest addition to the border barrier-building frenzy first launched by President Bill Clinton, greatly expanded by George W. Bush and continued by Obama. But Trump will take full ownership of it as the only president willing to actually call it a wall.
The good news is that Trump probably won't waste as much money building a wall as I thought he might. The bad news is that so much money has already been wasted.

I am not sure what this might mean for the prominence of immigration in our national debate. With no need for Trump to move mountains to finish this, the man with the bully pulpit won't have to say much, or have his surrogates do so. I could see this being either a good or a bad thing.

Weekend Reading

"[I]'s not the number of activities that are important; it's the quality of those activities." -- Michael Hurd, in "Under Pressure: The Frantic Need to Keep Kids Busy" at The Delaware Wave

"If, as Lincoln said, 'The U.S. patent system adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things,' we should, at a minimum, have a sound basis for any reforms." -- Gus Van Horn, in "In Defense of a Strong U.S. Patent System" at RealClear Markets

"The fact that you haven't stopped proves nothing except that you don't yet want to stop badly enough." -- Michael Hurd, in "Partial Goals Don't Work!" at The Delaware Coast Press

A Word of Thanks

I thank my wife and reader Steve D. for their comments on earlier versions of the above column. Also, I thank the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property for helping publicize it.

Not to Nit-Pick, but They Should Thank Capitalism

A combination of evolutionary pressure and chemophobia is causing a resurgence in head lice. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are picking up the slack, so to speak:
Appealing to families wary of chemical pesticides, Licenders, Hair Fairies, and New Jersey-based Fairy Tales Hair Care are hawking treatments with natural ingredients, like marshmallow root, that sound more at home on an herbal tea menu than in an exterminator's arsenal.
I'll skip the ethical question of selling the modern equivalent of snake oil to the gullible for now. Do note how well this segment of the population, many of whom are also hostile to capitalism, are being served by small businessmen. I also wonder how many think there should be licensing laws for such professions. Don't laugh too hard: They already want "insurance" coverage, which would spare them the higher costs of delousing caused by such laws, by forcibly -- note the scare quotes -- passing them on to others.

-- CAV