2014-09-22

One Mystery Solved

Via my Facebook feed, I became aware of this great article on type 1 diabetes, written by an endocrinologist who seems to understand that struggle faced by people with my condition. In it, Dr. Claresa Levetan writes as follows:
During the 1990s, I spent a great deal of my career studying the hormone amylin, which is co-secreted from the beta cell in equal concentrations as insulin. Among patients with Type 1, there is also an absence of amylin. Many patients who have used the amylin hormone replacement therapy pramlintide (Symlin®) have told me how they finally felt full after starting to use the drug; it was a feeling they hadn’t had since their diabetes began. Indeed, amylin works on two receptors in the brain that affect satiety.
People who have known me for a long time have known my persistent, uncontrollable hunger. Since my teenage years, I have seemingly always been hungry, and no amount of food has ever been able to quell my urge to eat. Even when stuffed to the brim, I still felt hungry all the time.

In an effort to better control my blood sugar (as I have previously written), I started limiting my carbohydrate intake to no more than 60 grams per meal, and my fat intake to no more than 30 grams per meal. It improved my control, and so I have stuck with it, but there is no doubt that I am now eating much fewer calories than I used to.

In spite of that fact, however, I have not experienced any weight loss whatsoever. I still work out hard every day, and most other things are essentially equal here. So the fact that a reduction in caloric intake didn't translate into weight loss always seemed to indicate to me that, however hungry I might have been, I was not eating "too little" food. But then why was I hungry?

The mystery is solved: I'm hungry all the time, no matter how much or how little I eat, because my brain is probably not receiving the right signals from the amylin hormone. I'm not really freakishly hungry all the time, I'm just basically a normal diabetic.

Maybe you've been through the same thing.

2014-09-18

Album Review: Big Wreck - "Ghosts"


What many of us liked about Big Wreck's "Albatross" album was that it was a return to musical form for Ian Thornley: More rocking, more grooving, more screaming. It felt like 1997 all over again. 

So think back to 1997's "In Loving Memory Of..." and then the years that followed. Big Wreck followed-up their debut album with something many orders of magnitude more eclectic and experimental with 2001's "The Pleasure and the Greed". Always billed as a reformed band of prog-rockers, Big Wreck finally hinted at that history on that second album, which featured many layers of guitars, contrapuntal instrumentation, odd time signatures, and extended instrumental passages. True, it wasn't a Dream Theater album, but at least the narrative made sense. 

After 2001, though, the musical tides turned against them, and Big Wreck seemed to fade away, replaced by Ian Thornley's apparently more radio-focused solo career. 

Even so, he seemed to leave hints at his uneasiness with radio-rock everywhere. Many of the lyrics on the "Come Again" album can be interpreted as expressing discontent with having to make pop music. Or is it just me? One bit of evidence in my favor are the "Come Again" demos that Thornley uploaded to his MySpace page a few years later. They were only available for a short while, but they demonstrated a far more hard-rock, and yes even a bit more of a progressive, inclination than what "Come Again" ended up sounding like. Again in the liner notes of the still-more-pop album "Tiny Pictures," Thornley thanked a friend for reminding him to rock, even as his music took a ligher turn. Well, the evidence seemed to be there for those of us who wanted to see it.

Then came the return of Big Wreck, with their "Albatross" album. As I mentioned before, it was a return to form. Once again, we heard those old hard-and-bluesy Big Wreck riffs. Ian Thornley was screaming again. He was even shredding, which was something we previously only got to enjoy from his live performances. This was the new Big Wreck, but in many ways it was the same Big Wreck that won our hearts over upon the release of their first album.

What's interesting about "Ghosts" is that it seems to have the same follow-up relationship to "Albatross" that "The Pleasure and the Greed" had to "In Loving Memory Of..." What I mean is, "Ghosts" is the more eclectic and progressive follow-up to "The Albatross." This is great news for me, since I always liked Big Wreck's second album better than their first.

"Ghosts," in particular, fuses together so many important aspects of the Ian Thornley oeuvre: There is the heaviness and the groove, as well as the soft melodic singer-songwriter vibe. We hear both the Zeppelin influence and the Bruce Cockburn influence. We hear the bluesy, slide guitar creativity evident on Thornley's earliest work, as well as the pop-focused hooks that were so pervasive on, for example, the "Tiny Pictures" album.

Indeed, what I like best about the "Ghosts" album is that it draws from all aspects of Ian Thornley's creative work. Any of these songs could have been found on his previous albums without sounding too different, and yet at the same time Big Wreck has managed to move the bar up a few notches: better guitar solos, stronger melodies, better production, nicer guitar tones, and so on. For my money, this is the best Big Wreck album yet. I had wondered how Ian Thornley was going to top "Albatross," because I love that album so much. Well, here's how.

2014-09-16

Bass, And Things About Which To Muse

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that I've recently joined forces with the band Morningside Drive, as a bass player. While I've been playing bass on my own demos and home recordings for a long time now, I haven't always been gigging bassist. Of the time I've spent as a gigging bassist, I haven't always been a very good one.

And yet one fantastic byproduct of my playing with Morningside Drive is the extent to which it has honed my bass chops. I'm still not a very good bass player, but I am slowly crawling toward the point of being a fairly decent one.

One advantage I have here is all the years I have already invested in learning music theory. Thus I generally know which notes to play, and that is half (or much more than half) the battle for most people who take up a musical instrument. That is one reason why I've been able to ramp-up on my bass playing fairly rapidly. I don't have to re-learn scales, modes, and what note goes with what chord; I already learned that stuff when I became a guitarist.

Another advantage I have is that bass guitars are - let's be honest - highly similar to guitar-guitars. It's true that they shouldn't be played the same way, but still... they're tuned identically, save for the difference in octaves. All the notes are in the same place, and I use the same fingers to play them. Moving from guitar to bass is a bit like learning French after you already know Italian: there is a real difference in flavor, but the underlying information is the same, and we use it the same way.

So playing the bass is similar to playing the guitar, but being a bassist is much different from being a guitarist. For one thing, one's role in the band changes from being a lead player to being a supporting player. I had expected that aspect of being a bassist to be less fun, but what I've discovered is that I can often make the same contribution to the band I would normally make, but in such a way that no one really objects.

In part, this is because non-bassists don't tend to be very invested in bass notes. Let's face it, what the bass does seldom catches anyone's attention unless the guitarist is doing it, too. Or unless you're playing a juicy, groovy riff. Barring that, though, people tend to focus on the singer or the guitarist. While as a guitarist I might choose to throw in an augmented chord - alienating many bandmates who may not have the same taste for dissonance I have - as a bassist, it is not usually a problem. People just don't notice it as much.

Non-bassists don't always think their way through the overall harmonic movement of a piece the way a bassist does. So a guitarist may fall in love with a particular riff, play it through the entire verse, then comes the chorus, and the guitarist plays the chorus riff... and so on... By contrast, it is a bassist's job to ensure that the transition is pleasant. First, it has to be rhythmically pleasant. A guitarist can just switch to a new, and sometimes rhythmically different, riff. If a bassist did that, it would be too jarring. Thus, the bassist must help the guitarist and the drummer navigate a rhythmic structure that remains cohesive through the transitions in a piece of music.

Second, the transition has to make harmonic sense, and also tell a harmonic story. The basic mistake most songwriters make is not changing the harmonic structure of a song from part to part. Novice songwriters often write whole songs using only one underlying chord, or a single chord progression, across the verse, bridge, chorus, and so on. Were a bassist to merely mirror the guitarist's work, we'd have a very boring song on our hands. But a bassist can inject pleasant harmonic variation by playing notes that the guitarist doesn't want to play, sometimes even changing the root note of the chord without the guitarist having to do anything at all. More advanced songwriters like to play with chord structures a bit more, and here the transitions become the key. It's all well and good to play a verse and a chorus in totally different key signatures, but without a bassist's help setting up the transition to the new key, it just sounds like a harmonic skeleton with no vertebrae, no backbone.

And all of this is what I've been moved to think about as I play bass for Morningside Drive.

2014-09-12

Album Review: Demi Lovato - Demi



A few days ago I received a promotional email from Google Play, offering me a free download of Demi Lovato's most recent album, Demi. I'm a sucker for free music, so I hastened to avail myself of the offer, even though I wouldn't count myself among Lovato's fan base.

In fact, prior to listening to this album, I can only remember hearing one other Demi Lovato song, although I had certainly heard her name and seen her pictures before. I even knew a thing or two about the celebrity gossip in which she had been ensconced, whenever it was she was ensconced in it. I am also told that she has been on TV. And this, my friends, was the sum total of my Demi Lovato knowledge, prior to listening to her album.

On the one hand, this lack of familiarity makes me ill-equipped to review the album in the context of the rest of her work. On the other hand, this does give me the advantage of being able to assess the music more or less on its own merits, without being bogged down by the prejudices that come with having a great deal of familiarity with a particular artist or genre.

Having thus set up my review of the album, one might expect me to review it quite favorably. Unfortunately, Demi feels to me like a tragic combination of missed opportunities and the general state of the popular music industry as it exists today.

When I say "missed opportunities," what I mean is that a number of the songs on Demi have very real potential for greatness.

The song "Two Pieces," for example, features a strong vocal performance and some interesting, elaborate compositional elements, both of which are masked by what I would call poor production decisions. The vocal harmonies are hidden behind the over-powering sound of a synthesizer that attempts to mimic the sound of distorted guitars and basses playing in unison.

That song is followed by two more - "Nightingale" and "In Case" - that start off almost identically, with soft vocals accompanied only by a "piano." (I use the term "piano" loosely here since, as far as I can tell, nearly every instrument that appears on this album is a synthesizer.) One can't be too critical of that sort of set-up, considering that Demi Lovato is a female vocalist, and piano intros are the bread-and-butter of female-lead power ballads. In this instance, however, what might otherwise be the album's strongest song, "In Case," gets buried at the tail end of a trio of similar-sounding songs, reducing its emotional impact. Once again, it is a missed opportunity.

The consistently weakest elements of the album are the inescapable domination of fake instrument sounds, which leave the music feeling stiff, over-compressed, and artificial, and the over-reliance on four-chord songwriting. (Think of it as Nickelback in a sequin clubbing dress.)

This is all a real shame, considering Lovato's undeniably fantastic voice, which demonstrates some real maturity over my memory of her previous work. (The fake vintage-Motown r&b accent Lovato over-uses on her previous hits is still there, but it's slowly going away, and good riddance!)

The other problem with Demi is not really the album's fault at all, so much as the fault of the forces that have been working to destroy the quality of music for a long time. As Prince once mentioned in a PBS interview some time ago, many modern musicians seem to have failed to properly learn their craft.

I seriously doubt Lovato - or any of her peers, for that matter - could explain any of the music theory behind her own songs. And while that might not be necessary for a song to be good, it still strikes me as odd that one can consider oneself a professional musician while knowing so little about music. Consider a professional data analyst who knew how to program linear regressions, but couldn't explain basic statistical theory. Both imply that there are problems with the hiring process, even if the work itself still has the potential to be acceptable.

But the real problem with failing to learn one's craft is that songs that might sound kind of special when played with a small ensemble of people collaborating on a nice arrangement end up sounding like bits and pieces of samples strung together via GarageBand. The last thing a professional artist should want to sound like is a bedroom musician toiling away in the basement. The production quality is certainly there throughout the Demi album, but the quality of the songwriting is not far above what you might here from any of the local friends on your Facebook feed.

Isn't it a shame that someone with such a lovely singing voice exists in a world that must stomp out all the best qualities of music with a combination of bad production decisions and songwriting that is simply divorced from the experience of making music with a room full of other people?

High points for me were the songs "In Case" and "Shouldn't Come Back," both of which feature instrumentation that is a bit more realistic than the others, and which demonstrate Lovato's genuinely good singing voice. The lowest point on the record is perhaps "Really Don't Care," which feels too much like a Taylor Swift knock-off. (Can you imagine that someone actually wants to sound like Taylor Swift?)

All it in all, it is a decent album if you are a sixteen-year-old female. The rest of you can pass this one by.

2014-09-08

Reminder: I Am Sorry

Due to a recent up-tick in page hits from years-old blog comments I've left throughout the "blogosphere," I feel obligated to link to this more-recent post, in which I articulate some of the many, many mistakes I've made in the past.

Some of those old comments I've left out there have been impolite, sanctimonious, condescending, overweening, and just plain wrong. I've grown a lot over the years. I'd like to say that I can vouch for every opinion I've expressed on the internet, but the truth is that people grow and develop over time. I'm no exception.

Seeing some of these old comments is utterly humiliating. It's actually a good thing that I can embarrass myself like this from time to time. Nothing teaches you to keep your tongue in check better than a permanent record of all the idiotic things you've ever said.

What I do stand behind is the general direction of the compass. That is, while I haven't always made defensible comments, I have always commented with a defensible point in mind. My core beliefs haven't changed, but I now like to think I have a few measures more of humility, kindness, and the ability to admit when I am wrong. I still have a long way to go, but when I see some of these old comments, I'm reminded of how far I've come.

For inspiration on this journey, I'd like to thank my intellectual role-model, David R. Henderson.

I Don't Mean To Brag, But

Over the weekend, this happened:


See what all the fuss is about this Friday, when we take it to The Grotto with Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs.

2014-09-05

Upcoming Events

Catch me playing bass and singing backup vocals with the incomparable Morningside Drive, ReverbNation.com's #2 most-played band in Fort Worth, yeah!

Be there!

2014-09-04

Libertarianism Qua Ethical Virtue?

Via Facebook, Open Borders fellow-blogger Paul Crider suggests a resolution to my libertarianism conundrum. His simple-yet-elegant solution: Maybe libertarianism isn't a political or moral system so much as it is an ethical virtue.

This suggestion is immediately attractive on intuitive grounds. That a preference for liberty could be thought of in the same way as a preference for honesty, temperance, justice, etc. just "feels right." It also adds some good potential clarity around the phenomenon of libertarian bigots: They're interested in promoting a legal structure that enables them to discriminate however they see fit. That is, it's in their interest to promote a libertarian virtue ethic among others, so long as they themselves don't have to play.

From that perspective, it almost becomes a question of game theory. If we all agree to abide by libertarian virtue, then the first one who "cheats" on the agreement wins big. Other "cheaters" quickly follow-suit, but gather progressively diminishing returns until no one is playing by the rules anymore. But of course, the first "cheater" always wins.

As you can see, Crider's suggestion also offers insight into why I think failing to abide by a true libertarian virtue ethic undermines liberty in society. If he's correct - and my game theory add-on makes any kind of rational sense - then we have at least a rough theory as to why bigotry is incompatible with liberty. Best of all, it follows a pattern consistent with other virtues. "Cheating" in a world of honesty eventually undermines trustworthiness in a community. "Cheating" in a world of justice eventually erodes faith in the justice system itself. "Cheating" in a world of peace results in war. And so on.

Are there weaknesses in this way of looking at it? Certainly.

For one thing, it doesn't seem fair to take any idea that you happen to agree with and tout it as an ethical virtue that everyone should agree with. Surely a basic preference for liberty is common to all human beings regardless of their political stripes; it wouldn't be right to suggest that the non-libertarians are falling short of good ethics just because they disagree with libertarian policy. Why couldn't, say, a religious conservative simply declare faith in god to be an ethical virtue (as many often do) and decry any non-believer as unethical on that grounds. No, that doesn't jive. Sometimes people simply believe different things.

Another weakness is this: Crider's view of the libertarian virtue is that it might otherwise be called "openness, tolerance, liberality, or inclusiveness," which sounds a lot like the psychological concept of "openness to experience." While this seems okay prima facie, associating a virtue with a psychological trait seems prone to excluding those who do not show the trait when measured by psychologists. Think of it this way: Would it be fair to call leftism a type of neuroticism? Of course not. So, how could it be fair to call libertarianism a type of openness to experience?

That said, I doubt Crider intended his suggestion to be air-tight. Like any other paradigm, its value is mostly educational. By looking at things this way, we might gain some insight into what it is we're talking about. Simply thinking about this concept has offered a compelling window into how another person sees libertarianism, which is valuable and interesting in its own right. On top of that, it's helped me get closer to the idea that this whole "freedom thing" is as much a social or ethical concept as it is a political one.

But I suppose I've waxed enough about this for a while.

2014-09-03

Jerk-Excluded Libertarianism

I received some excellent feedback from faithful Stationary Waves reader I'll call FH. (FH did not wish to comment publicly this time around.) FH made many good points. One I thought was particularly good was that he felt in my last post I was trying to define libertarianism in such a way that it excluded jerks. It's a fair point, and a pretty strong one, and so I thought I would respond here.

The FH Counter-Argument
First, I ought to give an example of the kind of thing that creates problems for FH and those who hold similar views. Take, for example, the war on drugs. People like FH and myself believe that, however bad drugs might be, a government-enforced prohibition policy creates more serious problems than simply leaving people free to make their own mistakes. This doesn't mean that we see no problems with drug use, it only means that we think prohibition policy is worse than those problems.

With this example in mind, consider a situation in which I think the racist views of H.L. Mencken are verboten. FH - along many other people, for that matter - believes that if we prevent the Menckens of the world from discriminating on the basis of race, then we run the risk of violating their right to free association. If you can't freely choose your friends (even if they aren't a particularly politically correct distribution of people), then you don't have a freedom of association in any meaningful sense of the term. This is FH's difficulty with the views I expressed earlier.

Morever, FH would go so far as to say that by allowing people to discriminate socially, we ensure that our communities adhere to important, voluntary rules self-governance that do not require state enforcement. That is, if we choose to "discriminate" against good-for-nothing louses, then there will be fewer good-for-nothing louses in our communities, because our intolerance of them either drives them away, or inspires them to behave better.

The Stationary Waves Response

Point #1 - My Argument Is Moral, Not Political
There are a number of points on which I am in total agreement with FH. I agree that creating state laws or imposing state reinforcement of racism and other forms of bigotry probably causes more harm than good, on net. I agree that compulsory integration is a violation of one's freedom of association. And I agree that it is problematic to create a political libertarianism in which all forms of being a bad person are disallowed. In short, if a libertarian were to argue that the state should punish bigots merely because they are bigots, and not because they committed explicit acts of aggression against specific individuals, then that itself would be "un-libertarian," again in the political sense of it.

But I'm not sure I'm interested in a political libertarianism. Stationary Waves has always been more about ethics and doing the right thing than it is about what policies we should/should not enact. In my opinion, the world won't improve by increased political argument. Instead, it will improve by more widespread clarity of moral thinking.

I'll take that point a step further: I believe that virtually any political system would work - including Marxism - if all human beings in that system were perfect moral agents. Many years ago, a much smarter man than I said something similar: If all men were angels, no government would be necessary. Really, any government will do.

So, to push the world in a better direction through improved political systems seems silly. I empathize with those who wish to do it that way (in a way), but fundamentally they are statists. They see people as problems that need to be solved with central solutions.

In short, when I suggest that bigots aren't libertarians, it's not because I think political libertarianism must address bigotry, but because the morality upon which libertarianism is founded is contrary to the (lack of) morality from which racism is propounded. I'm not asking for a state solution; I'm asking for bigots to shape up, morally, within themselves, and otherwise stop calling themselves libertarians, because they're not. This brings me to my second point.

Point #2 - Despite Government, Being Pro-Liberty Matters
To some people like FH, as long as people are voluntarily making decisions together, then liberty hasn't been compromised. I vehemently disagree.

Part of this may relate to the fact that I grew up in a very religiously conservative area, and I currently live in another one. It's not uncommon for bigwigs to meet each other at religious functions and make deals there (sort of like the proverbial "golf course"). It's not uncommon for church-goers to gain employment by "networking" with their fellow church-goers. It's not uncommon for special knowledge to be circulated within, but not outside, the church. The problem here is that these kinds of closed networks foist an ultimatum upon outsiders: join us, or we will shut you out of all the good opportunities.

You can certainly argue that such communities are within their rights, under a libertarian political structure, to engage in this sort of thing. But if you undertook the argument that this sort of network is consistent with the morality of liberty, I think you'd fail miserably.

Why? Because functional liberty in society is premised on the notions of equal competition, equal access to information, and meritocracy. To undermine any of these things with a social network of coercive exclusion is plainly and simply un-libertarian in the moral sense of the term.

A true lover of liberty - my kind of libertarian - is one who welcomes all newcomers with open arms and then judges all by their contribution to society. That means lovers of liberty are people who let others alone to worship however they please (including not at all), without judging or excluding them from anything, and then judges others based on whatever contribution those others wish to make. So, a Muslim fruit farmer in a community of Catholics should be judged by the quality of his fruit, and his friendship, and his ideas, rather than on his Catholic church attendance. To have all the important public debates at church, without the Muslim fruit farmer, is an obvious unequal relationship. This is what I'm calling un-libertarian.

There is a long list of weak arguments trotted out to justify this sort of social exclusion, and trust me, I have heard them all. None of them are very good. So while it may be true that a libertarian political regime may not choose to act against closed communities like the one I just described, that doesn't mean those communities are libertarian or liberty-loving. They are closed, unequal, collusive, and cruel. This kind of behavior simply isn't libertarian.

Conclusion
Libertarianism - as I understand it, anyway - isn't a free-for-all. It involves what the American Founding Fathers often referred to as virtue. I call it a creed. Without a robust and liberty-loving ethics, libertarianism simply isn't worth very much. There is absolutely no value in a political system that relinquishes the role of coercion and tyranny to other sets of conspirators such as religions or corporations. Liberty does not thrive more perfectly when society chooses to coerce each other with special clubs and organizations, merely by virtue of the fact that those organizations are no longer called "governments." (Please see my definition of the word "government" at The Stationary Waves Lexicon to gain more clarity on this point.)

This serves to highlight a major difference between myself and most people who call themselves "anarcho-capitalists." I don't think social coercion is ever okay; an-caps seem to think that as long as the situation is stateless, competition will sort things out. Nonsense.

At any rate, this should highlight some of the major underlying ideas beh

2014-08-27

Do Vile Views Matter?

This morning, Bryan Caplan favorably quotes H. L. Mencken at EconLog. This is hardly the first time an EconLog author has done so, so we shouldn't be too hard on Caplan in this one case. Here's an example of the late Murray Rothbard writing glowing praise of Mencken. Here is Jeffrey Tucker doing the same. Here is Donald Boudreaux calling Mencken "great." Here is Peter Boettke. Here's Thomas DiLorenzo quoting Mencken to make a case against democracy.

This is a who's-who list of notable libertarians. I could cite additional examples, but I think I've made my point. One seemingly hasn't proven one's libertarian bona fides until one has read and quoted H. L. Mencken.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia.org attributes the following H.L. Mencken quote to a work entitled Men Versus the Man: A Correspondence Between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist, and H.L. Mencken, Individualist.
I admit freely enough that, by careful breeding, supervision of environment and education, extending over many generations, it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it. The educated negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a negro. He is, in brief, a low-caste man, to the manner born, and he will remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him.
Have any libertarians out there considered the possibility that no one who is capable of such thoughts ought to be considered a libertarian if the word "libertarian" is to mean anything at all?

In refreshing contrast to the above, this laudable take-down of Stefan Molyneaux at Buzzfeed.com (of all places) uses direct quotes and first-hand accounts to make clear the fact that there are people out there who might be despicable people despite the fact that they nominally share one's policy preferences.

The question is, does it ultimately matter that key libertarian thinkers are ultimately revealed to be racists, sexists, megalomaniacs, etc.? On the one hand, we can take the position that no men are angels, including those who wrote a lot about libertarianism. On the other hand, we can define libertarianism in such a way that it excludes jerks from qualifying.

What I mean is, racism is perhaps the most un-libertarian mode of thinking I can imagine. It's tribalistic, primitive, unscientific, and cruel. It's opportunistic and tyrannical. It is a blight on the human psyche. The way I think about libertarianism is that libertarianism is the opposite of all of that; it's the solution to all of that. So what does it mean to know that many high-profile libertarians are also racist? Does it matter?

On a related note, we are told ad nauseum that Ayn Rand turned her inner circle into a cult. Assuming that claim is true, and applying equivalent reasoning to the the Buzzfeed account of Molyneaux, and observing the cultish fervor that some libertarians apply to Murray Rothbard, we start to run into problems here. Libertarians are traditionally the rebels, the individualists. What does it say about this great collection of individualist free-thinkers that they tend to be so susceptible to cults of personality?

Perhaps this is the dawn of my de-coupling with libertarianism. After all, how comfortable can a person be with an association that puts one in the same camp as a racist like Mencken or a sexist like Molyneaux? I'm tolerant of a wide array of opinions, but at a certain point, don't we have to stop and think about whose side we're on?

Eradicating bigotry would be a huge win for liberty. Writers can serve this goal by finding non-racists and non-sexists to quote when they're making their points. One needn't quote Mencken to make a good point, so why tarnish a good idea by attaching it to a vile racist? If we don't hold ourselves to this standard, no one else will. But more importantly, what is liberty to you if it does not include an unequivocal damnation of bigotry? Hollow rhetoric!


2014-08-22

Why Are Americans So Filthy?

I.
Rebecca Schuman's review of the new German movie Wetlands contains the following quote:
The film is one that even the sexually laid-back Germans watch with half-covered eyes (“Nothing was spared,” said one of my German friends who’s seen it). So I’ll be interested to see how American audiences—stereotypically both prudish and hygiene-obsessed—receive it.
Reading this, I couldn't help but remember a passage from Jack Kerouac's Big Sur:
But Dave Wain that lean rangy red head Welchman with his penchant for going off in Willie to fish in the Rogue River up in Oregon where he knows an abandoned mining camp, or for blattin around the desert roads, for suddenly reappearing in town to get drunk, and a marvelous poet himself, has that certain something that young hip teenagers probably wanta imitate -- For one thing is one of the world's best talkers, and funny too -- As I'll show -- It was he and George Baso who hit on the fantastically simple truth that everybody in America was walking around with a dirty behind, but everybody, because the ancient ritual of washing with water after the toilet had not occurred in all the modern antisepticism -- Says Dave "People in America have all these racks of dry-cleaned clothes like you say on their trips, they spatter Eau de Cologne all over themselves, they wear Ban and Aid or whatever it is under their armpits, they get aghast to see a spot on a shirt or a dress, they probably change underwear and socks maybe even twice a day, they go around all puffed up and insolent thinking themselves the cleanest people on earth and they're walkin around with dirty azzoles -- Isnt that amazing? 
give me a little nip on that tit" he says reaching for my drink so I order two more, I've been engrossed, Dave can order all the drinks he wants anytime, "The President of the United States, the big ministers of state, the great bishops and shmishops and big shots everywhere, down to the lowest factory worker with all his fierce pride, movie stars, executives and great engineers and presidents of law firms and advertising firms with silk shirts and neckties and great expensive traveling cases in which they place these various expensive English imported hair brushes and shaving gear and pomades and perfumes are all walking around with dirty azzoles! All you gotta do is simply wash yourself with soap and water! it hasnt occurred to anybody in America at all! it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard of! dont you think it's marvelous that we're being called filthy unwashed beatniks but we're the only ones walkin around with clean azzoles? " -- The whole azzole shot in fact had spread swiftly and everybody I knew and Dave knew from coast to coast had embarked on this great crusade which I must say is a good one -- In fact in Big Sur I'd instituted a shelf in Monsanto's outhouse where the soap must be kept and everyone had to bring a can of water there on each trip -- Monsanto hadn't heard about it yet, "Do you realize that until we tell poor Lorenzo Monsanto the famous writer that he is walking around with a dirty azzole he will be doing just that? " -- "Let's go tell him right now! " -- "Why of course if we wait another minute
    ... and besides do you know what it does to people to walk around with a dirty azzole? it leaves a great yawning guilt that they cant understand all day, they go to work all cleaned up in the morning and you can smell all that freshly laundered clothes and Eau de Cologne in the commute train yet there's something gnawing at them, something's wrong, they know something's wrong they don't know just what! "
 II.
Now, I was born and raised here in America, so I can sympathize with my shocked American readers who shift a little bit in their (now filthy) seats at the prospect of washing yourself after using the toilet. But one day while we were dating, my wife - who is from Bangladesh - gently suggested that the next time I use the toilet, I ought to wash myself with the little pot she kept in the bathroom specifically for that purpose.

The suggestion was mildly embarrassing, but it only took one experience to learn that using the pot is much more hygienic than not using it. When I visited Bangladesh, I discovered that there they use a separate hose and spigot. Using the hose and spigot is more hygienic than using the pot

Of course, as my income has risen over time and I've had the opportunity to do even more world travelling, I have been exposed to facilities that included a separate bidet. This is the most hygienic option of all.

A couple of months ago, I installed bidets in every bathroom in my household. If this sounds luxurious to you, you're wrong. The total cost was $60 USD. Each individual bidet unit was about twenty dollars and installed on my existing toilet in minutes, using only a wrench. My bathrooms are now the most hygienic bathrooms in the entire neighborhood.

Once you've come over to the clean side on this issue, if you're anything like me, then you start to get a little squeamish. I have to consciously put the matter out of my mind when I shake hands with people. I know they wash their hands, but their hands still get dirtier than they need to. And all it costs to prevent this from happening is $20-$40 and a little swallowed pride.

III.
My question is the same as that of Jack Kerouac's friend, Dave Wain. The United States of America is the largest economy in the world. We have some of the world's highest incomes, not by a little, but by leaps and bounds. Compared specifically to Bangladesh, we Americans live like kings. So, the question is why are bidets not installed in every bathroom in the entire country?

But if cultural biases prevent you from driving over to Home Depot to spend less on a device that will keep you clean than you likely spend on beer in a week, then I will make the question slightly weaker: Why are bidets not standard-equipment in every hospital in America? How about standard-issue for the staff bathrooms only? Why are our medical professionals walking around in a state of compromised hygienics?

2014-08-14

Time Is Money

One quibble with his piece. Madrigal writes, “No policy solution could have intervened in our situation. The variables were few and personal: two parents, two jobs, one sick kid.” But in fact, there’s one policy solution that would help in the U.S., which is paid sick days for everyone. I assume that Madrigal gets paid sick days, but nearly 40 million Americans don’t. And if you don’t have paid sick days, a sick kid and two working parents doesn’t just mean a few days of stress; it means you might have to choose between caring for your kid and keeping your job.
That is from a Slate.com article entitled "When A Kid Is Sick, Why Is It Mom Who Stays Home?"

I agree that paid sick leave is a wonderful fringe benefit. It's a fringe benefit that carries a real and demonstrable economic price tag for the employer. That is to say, your "compensation package" as an employee of any firm consists of (1) your salary, (2) your bonus, (3) your paid time off, (4) your insurance, and (5) your additional perks. Adding up the monetary value of all of these things arrives at a bottom-line value that you are paid for performing services for the company.

Of course, compelling employers to provide (3) to all their employees would likely mean a decrease in salaries, or bonuses, or the frequency of raises, or etc.

There's a flip side to this. Some people - especially young workers and very poor workers - would rather have the cash than the time off. If they choose to work for companies with cash-heavy compensation packages rather than expansive PTO policies, who could blame them? After all, time is money, and the way one likes to get paid is a personal preference.

In short, I don't think the author of the piece, one Jessica Grose, has ever taken the time to fully understand that time is money.

2014-08-07

Suspicious Activity

Overnight I received some 1000 hits from Venezuela.

I welcome my genuine Venezuelan readers, but this activity is suspicious.

Previously, I have had suspicious activity from China, Russia, Israel, and Indonesia.

When I say the activity is "suspicious," what I mean is that my blog gets a big boost in hits, but not to any post in particular. That is, lots of "people" suddenly "reading" the blog, but they do not appear to be interested in any particular post.

I assume these are either adbot/spam algorithms or some sort of hack-type-thing. But who knows?

2014-08-05

My Fantasy Is More Realistic Than Yours

Matt Zwolinski writes:
Not only does the U.S. welfare state spend a lot; it spends it badly. Poor Americans receiving assistance face a bewildering variety of phase-outs and benefit cliffs that combine to create extremely high effective marginal tax rates on their labor. As a result, poor families often find that working more (or having a second adult work) simply doesn’t pay. And still, despite massive expenditures by the welfare state, some 16% of Americans are left living in poverty
Wouldn’t it be better just to scrap the whole system and write the poor a check?
Later, Zwolinksi outlines an imaginary political deal in which the pro-welfare crowd agreed to scrap existing welfare programs in favor of the "Basic Income Guarantee." Then he askes, "Suppose, to indulge in a bit of speculative fancy, that this deal was actually on the political table. Should libertarians take it?" (emphasis mine)

After outlining the major benefits of "B.I.G." over the status quo, Zwolinski takes pains to say that "utopia is not an option."

I completely agree with that last part. My question for Zwolinski is: What makes him think that the "speculative fancy" he is currently indulging in is any more realistic than a "libertarian utopia?"

No, really - what makes him think so? I don't see a giant, let's-completely-redesign-the-welfare-state plan on the horizon any time soon. Why, then, does Zwolinski fantasize about coming up with an awesome compromise to a situation that will never occur while simultaneously critiquing others for demanding an equally imaginary libertarian utopia?

It's silly. An imaginary situation is exactly that. There's no special reason to be won-over to Zwolinski's position, given that it requires a situation that will never exist in reality.