Did Trump's Election Aid the Political Discourse?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
Conservative Andrew Klavan makes some astute observations about what he calls the "surreal blessings of Donald Trump." Although I think Klavan errs in seeing conservatism as a viable alternative to leftism, I think he is right to note the following items of cultural good news resulting from the Trump presidency.

First, the rabid hatred of Trump coming from the left is causing many decent people to start questioning the opinions they had been defaulting to thanks to the cultural dominance of the left:
[T]he riots, the seething Facebook posts and, of course, the slavering fake news of the mainstream media -- has revealed the left's true, nasty and oppressive nature to the liberal middle. YouTube suddenly abounds with stories of "red pill" moments in which liberals, experiencing the wickedness of the left, suddenly realized that conservatives are now actually the liberal ones. I think this is the beginning of a groundswell that will have a profound and beneficial effect on the culture... [link in original]
A bit later on (and somewhat contradictory to his next two paragraphs), Klavan notes something even more interesting:
... Trump has so divided conservatives that we are now arguing fervently among ourselves -- that is, we're not just crushing idiot leftists, we're actually engaging with other smart conservatives over essential differences! I have hopes that these arguments will lead to a new, stronger and more modern conservatism. Trump blew every candidate away in the primaries. That alone should tell us that the Republican Party needs reform, and it ought to begin with a reformed conservatism, a conservatism that can win. [bold added]
I don't completely agree with this: I'd say Trump has made fault lines within the conservative movement more evident. I strongly agree that those differences urgently demand not just acknowledgement, but exploration.

Perhaps Donald Trump hasn't merely -- by single-handedly making himself their presidential nominee -- shown the GOP to be pushovers. Perhaps this revelation and others that have come up during his young presidency will also help people see the need for a better alternative to the left than Trump, the GOP, or the conservative movement can offer.

-- CAV


1.5 Times World Output in Your Pocket

Monday, September 18, 2017

Over at his blog, Grasping Reality With Both Hands, Bradford DeLong considers what it would take to emulate the latest iPhone with technology available in 1957. I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who thinks doing so at speed would have been impossible, but I think what DeLong comes up with is well worth considering:

Image courtesy of Unsplash.
The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have:
  • cost 150 trillion of today's dollars, which is:
    • one and a half times today's global annual product,
    • more than seven times today's U.S. annual national product
    • forty times 1957's U.S. national product
    • fourteen times 1957's global annual product
  • taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space
    • that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power -- 30 times the world's current generating capacity
[minor edits]
This reminds me a little of a similar comparison, between the amount of hardware electronic data storage required that I mentioned here a few years ago: In fifty years, the weight of the hardware needed to store 8 GB of data had decreased by a factor of 134 million. (And that figure, I am sure, is giving a pass for how quickly one could access said data.)

Such comparisons can serve two apparently contradictory purposes. On the one hand, no matter how clumsily they do so, they help concretize otherwise very abstract kinds of technological progress. (See also photos at my old post.) And on the other, they help us imagine the full meaning of Frédéric Bastiat's parable of the broken window. I am far from finding fault with that simple example. However, it does fail to convey just how disastrous government "planning" and plunder can be, as when thought, effort, and property that could go towards the next near-miracle of innovation are, instead, squandered on the alleged needs of others today.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 15, 2017

Four Things

1. Now that my daughter is six, I'm starting to see amusing juxtapositions of toddler behavior and "big kid" behavior (for lack of a better term). One morning last week, Pumpkin was in need of a waking-up to make it to school on time. She seemed to resist all efforts to roust her, so I picked her up out of bed, carried her downstairs, and set her down in an easy chair. Apparently dead to the world the whole time, she opened her eyes, grinned, and said, "Psyche!" as soon as I set her down. She got me to carry her, and I got a chuckle out of the deal.

2. Enjoying a song on a local college radio station, I became curious and found the following whimsical video:


French singer "Jain" (Jeanne Galice) sounds quite promising, and has just started her career.

3. If you have fond memories of her books, either from having them read to you when you were young, or from reading them yourself, here's your chance to learn more about Sandra Boynton, the reigning Doctor Seuss:
In person, Sandra Boynton is warm and funny, with a throaty voice and a soft, easy smile. She's not an introvert, but those who know her best say she's somehow been able to hold on to childhood sensibilities that most of us surrender.

So the books, the drawings, the songs -- "They're for me," she says. "They're for me as a child. Things I would respond to."
I knew her books were popular, but it surprised me to learn how much she makes from them.

4. Via GeekPress comes the story of the invention of the tater tot:
He's certainly not alone. "Fuck making them," says Dale Talde, head chef and founder of the casual Asian-American restaurant Talde in South Brooklyn. "I always buy them frozen. There is no benefit from making them unless you are a [masochist]." Talde's former restaurant, the now-closed Pork Slope, served up tots in a dish called "Irish Nachos": a layer of crispy tots, topped with cheese sauce, chili, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños. Talde says he thinks the tot has endured at all levels -- from caviar paired in restaurants like Elske in Chicago to school lunch trays -- because people "have great memories and and love crunchy, salty stuff."
The tater tot forms the third member of a trifecta of trash-to-treasure food innovations in America, the others being baby carrots and Buffalo wings.

-- CAV


Conservatives Distract With "Science," Too

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Image courtesy of Unsplash.
Let's grant for a moment that leftist chant about "climate change:" "The science is settled."

So what?

Even if we knew that the most apocalyptic scenario were going to occur, it hardly follows that we should persecute dissent and impose central planning measures, such as fuel rationing. Oh? I'm exaggerating the political goals of climate "activists" or taking what they say too literally? Thanks for making my point: Arguments about scientific facts are not alone sufficient to discern the answers to questions of political philosophy. Indeed, I find endless scientific debates bizarre and inappropriate when a political program is being put forth as a solution without any serious debate. Whatever you might think of the climate effects of increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content by burning fuel, I don't care how solid a case you make for it: You still haven't explained why the government should violate individual rights in an effort to do something about it.

Conveniently, Michael New of National Review has just about spared me the necessity of proposing a thought experiment to help make my point. (Prius-drivers with pro-life bumper stickers will still have some thinking to do.) New attacks a study on so-called "telemed" abortions. Said study concludes that it is just as safe for a pregnant woman to use abortion-inducing drugs without a physician present as it is to have the procedure administered by a physician. New raises several issues that anyone relying on such a study really should satisfy herself with before agreeing with it. One might conclude that New is concerned that this study offers bad guidance, and maybe, in his own inconsistent way, he really is. But the piece concludes with what sounds to my ear like the punch line to a sickening joke: "The concerns of pro-lifers and other public-health professionals about the safety of telemed abortions are well founded."

Really?

This comes in a piece that starts off by noting that there are fewer and fewer abortion facilities in the United States, no doubt a testimony to the successful efforts of such "concerned" parties, many of whom work overtime to make abortion illegal altogether. This they do not because of any concern whatsoever with the safety of the patient, but due to an arbitrary, mystical assertion that the fetus is a human life. That many women are having to resort to this procedure (which is still doubtless safer than what went on before abortion became legal) puts this concern to the lie: Anti-abortionists are far more concerned with protecting the fetus than they are patient safety, so matter how credibly (or credibly-sounding: I haven't looked at the study) one of them dissects a journal article, the fact is that they still have not offered an earthly reason for their political agenda. Let's assume arguendo that New is correct: The procedure is not as safe when a physician isn't on hand. I say again: So what? The fact that a medical procedure may not be as safe as other alternatives is still not a reason to abuse government power by standing in the way of a woman who may decide it is an acceptable risk.

I thank Mr. New for providing me a real-life example of something many leftists need as a look in the mirror: Someone using "science" to push a political position they rightly find abhorrent.

It is a shame me that some conservatives have chosen to ape this tactic, rather than taking the moral high ground. But that would require offering reasoned, relevant arguments for their positions.

-- CAV


Irma's Inconvenient Impotence Ignored

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, an editorial at Investor's Business Daily half-jokingly asks when "climate change" will get its due credit for the storm delivering less of a punch than had been widely (and wildly) predicted.

Image of cherry-picking, courtesy of Pixabay.
Last week, there was talk of massive destruction across the state, with damage estimates ranging up to $200 billion. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levin called it "a nuclear hurricane." Storm tracks last week showed Irma remaining a Category 4 hurricane for a significant portion of its trek across Florida. When Irma shifted to the west as it approached, it was described as the "worst-case scenario" for the state.

However, when Irma made landfall in the U.S., it's strength quickly diminished and the actual damages to Florida in dollar terms will likely be 75% lower than predicted.

While those dire forecasts were being made, environmentalists and politicians were busy pinning the blame on global warming.

It was the same after Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in Houston. It's the case whenever there is an adverse weather event. If there's a drought, it's because of "climate change." If there's flooding, climate change. Wild fires, climate change. Blizzards? Climate change.

So will environmentalists credit climate change for Irma's unexpected turn for the better?
Needless to say, this reminds me of the work of fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein who, often smeared as a "denier" of climate change, once had this to say about the topic:
A huge source of confusion in our public discussion is the separation of people (including scientists) into 'climate change believers' and 'climate change deniers' -- the latter a not-so-subtle comparison to Holocaust deniers. 'Deniers' are ridiculed for denying the existence of the greenhouse effect, an effect by which certain molecules, including CO2, take infrared light waves that the Earth reflects back toward space and then reflect them back toward the Earth, creating a warming effect. But this is a straw man. Every 'climate change denier' I know of recognizes the existence of the greenhouse effect, and many if not most think man has had some noticeable impact on climate. What they deny is that there is evidence of a catastrophic impact from CO2's warming effect. That is, they are expressing a different opinion about how fossil fuels affect climate -- particularly about the nature and magnitude of their impact.
In a similar vein, the IBD editorial makes the following observation regarding what all this one-sided "evidence" suggests, in light of the political agenda of those who keep spouting it:
This one-sidedness isn't evidence that global warming is real or inherently cataclysmic. It is, instead, evidence that global warming advocates are more interested in pushing a political agenda than actual science.
If advocates of global warming hysteria had any genuine regard for the "planet" (speaking loosely and generously) they say they want to "save", they would consider the idea that we might derive some benefits from a warmer climate, such as those the editorial goes on to mention. But if they did that, they might also have to branch out and consider, as Epstein points out in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, the further benefits of
continued use of same.

-- CAV


Career Advice From Computer Science

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A computer scientist considers an example of a common scenario among young professionals:

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
I know a brilliant young kid who graduated from college a year ago and now works at a large investment bank. He has decided he hates Wall Street and wants to work at a tech startup... He recently gave notice to his bosses, who responded by putting on a dog and pony show to convince him to stay. If he stays at the bank, the bosses tell him, he'll get a raise and greater responsibility. Joining the technology industry, he'd be starting from scratch. He is now thinking that he'll stay, despite his convincing declaration that he has no long term ambitions in finance. [bold added]
Chris Dixon likens this situation to "hill climbing," a common computational technique. The analogy between the two problems is a good one, encompassing both the trap-like type of incorrect solutions and the means for avoiding them.

In many respects, Dixon's post reminds me of the excellent job-and-career exploration advice Barbara Sher provides in Chapter 9 of I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was, and Jean Moroney very briefly summarizes in the middle of this review. (Search for "wrong job" if in a hurry.) Indeed, were Dixon's unhappy investment banker to read Sher's book, he might even salvage his situation by thinking of it as having already taken the wrong job as a step towards finding the right career.

-- CAV


Contempt From the Contemptible

Monday, September 11, 2017

In his discussion about why Houston didn't evacuate, J.P. Miller notes in passing an increasingly common attitude that I find curious and disturbing:

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
I've watched a lot of coverage of Hurricane Harvey on both the local and the national level. I am struck by the incredulity of the national newscasters that the people of Houston didn't just leave. They almost sound like we are deserving of criminal punishment for endangering our lives.

First and foremost, each individual has the right and a responsibility to himself if he wishes to survive to make the best decision he can regarding evacuation.
This contemptuous attitude towards people making their own decisions reminds me of many experiences as a parent of young children, a stage of life of which I once observed, offers more than ample "'opportunities' to receive unwanted (and often presumptuous) advice from complete strangers."

It is interesting to contemplate where this attitude might be coming from in light of an example of when Those Who Imagine They Know Better Than You did get their wishes: the massive air flight ban years ago, after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. I noted of that at the time:
Given the life-sustaining necessity of production and trade, this is at once unnecessary hyperbole and a gross understatement of the damage. Millions of lives are in fact being harmed by this barring-by-government-fiat of individuals from evaluating risks for themselves and then deciding whether to board -- or fly -- airplanes. Even if the body count is zero after this fiasco ends, it has cost millions of people irreplaceable fractions of their lives in the forms of time and money.
Likewise with the consequences of evacuating on essentially zero notice Miller describes. The proponents of precautionary thinking are quite happy to pronounce from afar what others should do in the name of "safety," as if knowledge of what is safest (or of anything) can exist in a vacuum or be applied in a vacuum. They clearly didn't consider the many things Miller lays out about evacuating Houston (or banning flights), the possibility that their prescribed action might be wrong, or the costs of carrying it out. How much mental effort did they put into this? And if they didn't put any real effort into formulating or evaluating their pronouncements, how dare they sit in judgement of others whose decisions had major consequences for their own lives?

My best general guess about those who feel the need to alternately hector others with questionable advice "for their own good" and sneer at them when they don't obey it without question is this: Both are defensive reactions to a deep level of a fear of independence. Crises confront us with how little we really know. How does one react? By considering all the available alternatives and choosing the most feasible -- or by sitting around and waiting to be told what to do (or be rescued, as some did after Katrina)? The answer to that will often be similar to how one approaches everything else in life, and the reaction to how others respond to crises will reflect that. The former group will take solace in the fact that those in danger have minds of their own, and will be highly motivated to learn and evaluate relevant facts quickly. The latter, being mentally lazy, will let fear of the unknown (which is a lot of territory for them) override what really ought to be considered and dealt with: They will react badly to those who question the wisdom received from their usual media and government oracles, thereby causing them to question, for a brief, terrifying moment, their choice to "live" without Thinking Too Much. They just gave stupid advice to people in the crosshairs of catastrophe: Their basic choice is to backtrack and apologize -- or find a way to double down. A form of the latter is to project self-contempt onto the victims.

That's about as far as I care to speculate about the legions of sneering busybodies out there. Whatever my level of understanding of this phenomenon, my curiosity is far overmatched by how disturbed about it I am: Many of these same people put a great degree of effort into making sure the government can force others to do as they imagine best.

-- CAV