2015-07-31

2015-07-30

Quote Of The Day

From someone called "khodge:"
Where did you find a machine that can compose and post an article that doesn't have a calculator buried somewhere in the system files?

Inside And Outside

Hello, Old Friend

A few days back, I came across an old Facebook post from over a year ago, posted by a "Facebook friend" of mine, on which I had commented extensively. There had been some debate, particularly between myself and a mutual Facebook friend. Eventually the debate died down, and we went back to our lives. Then, a few days back, someone managed to dig up the old post with a new comment, and hence I took a trip down memory lane.

The debate itself is unimportant, but what struck me about the conversation was the disconnect between myself and the other commentators. The difference between our perspectives was palpable, and I'm not just talking about our perspective on the issue in question. I mean, there was a wide and insurmountable culture gap between us, and I don't mean that we came from different places. I mean that our personalities were so different, our highest values so different, our objectives in thinking about the issue so different, that we might as well have been speaking two different languages.

I was a little bit aware of it at the time, but I am a lot aware of it now. Eventually, I phased-out my interaction with that particular circle of friends, not out of animosity, but simply due to this "culture gap." I have little interest in pursuing that sort of conversation, not because "it sucks," but just because I'm not interested. And even when I become interested, I'm interested in an aspect of the discussion that is uninteresting to the others.

In short, we just don't mix.

You Know You're A Ruritainian If...

The birth of this blog coincided with my writing a couple of Mises Daily articles for the Ludwig von Mises Institute (find them here). That was a great experience. Not only is it extremely satisfying to write for a large audience, it was also an excellent opportunity for me to learn about what I was writing about. Thankfully and happily, many of you reached out to me via email to discuss what I had written, and I had some great correspondence that way. I'd like to do it again some day.

On the darker side of things, I started following the blogs of various people who seemed to read all the same blogs I did, and while that was initially very interesting, it turned sour. Some people - such as myself - are attracted to liberty because they see it as the best way a society can function; others, however, are attracted to liberty because it provides them with an excuse to think, say, and do things that would otherwise be verboten. While I like free speech because it allows the truth to rise to the top, others like free speech because they have a hate-filled message that they don't want censored.

Let's put it this way: I'm not interested in associating with people in that latter category, and I never have been.

Discovering all these liberty-oriented blogs out there placed me in a virtual community in which there were a few too many of the wrong kind of people. When I discovered blogs like that, I quickly stopped following them.

The reason is because of something I learned a long time ago: If you look around and see nothing but knaves, the likelihood that you yourself are a knave greatly increases. If, for example, I frequently read a blog the readership of which skews racist, jerky, or rude, I have a little evidence that I myself might be a little racist, or a little jerky, or a little rude.

And some of those blogs - RWCG, for example - are written by people that I believe are fundamentally good, but who never take the time to ask themselves, "What does it mean if the blog posts I write tend to attract racists, or jerks, or rude people?"

Maybe it means that the stuff you're writing particularly appeals to one of those categories. Is that what you want?

The Right People

I seem to have developed a good method for identifying when I'm surrounded by the wrong crowd, and quickly making my escape. That sounds good, until I consider a parallel problem I have: failure to identify good groups and stick with them.

I write a lot about individuality on this blog, and for good reason: I think it is vitally important, and what I wrote in the previous section is just one way a robust sense of individuality will serve you well in life. Still, it's also true that humans need to belong to some sort of a community. Even the racists and jerks have the support of their friends, and that's true despite my ability to recognize their jerkiness and head in the opposite direction.

One problem I face as a passionate individualist, then, is that a sense of belonging is hard to come by. If I settle into the wrong kind of group - a group whose values are too different from my (as per Section 1) or one that is too exclusionary (as per Section 2) - then my gut tells me it's time to leave. How do you find a community of people whose core values are similar enough that friction is avoided, and is not so singular of purpose as to create animosity toward outsiders? Is it even possible?

So far, I think it comes down to meeting as many people as possible and sticking close to "the right ones." If you meet someone you admire, learn from that person, and work to befriend him or her. Clearly a person you admire must be doing a few things right, right?

It's possible that such a person already belongs to a strong community, and that you yourself won't mesh with it. But you might meet someone else you admire. And then, you might meet someone else. Eventually, you'll find you know a circle of people who might come from different backgrounds, but who all have you in common. At that point, it's up to you to see what kind of a community you can build from a group of people who you greatly admire.

2015-07-29

On Being Receptive To The Growth Other People Experience

How do you turn over a new leaf? How do you transition from being someone that you simply are to being someone that you aspire to be? How do grow as a person in such a way that there is an external change as well as an internal one?

For all the motivational material out there that is dedicated to weight loss, skills acquisition, goal seeking, and so forth, those things seem relatively easy to me. That is, they seem easy to me compared to the task of identifying personality traits that you wish to have, practicing them diligently, and coming out the other side as a person who recognizably possesses those traits.

Suppose I wanted to be a kinder, friendlier person. Suppose I undertook to express kindness and friendliness to other people - to everyone - in a way I had never done before. Suppose I succeeded in changing my own personal definition of myself. In other words, suppose those kinder, friendlier traits I aspired to have became second nature to me through training, and vigilance, and reassessment, and doubling down, and so forth. Suppose I, a person not usually viewed as kind and friendly, did everything in my power to become a kind, friendly person.

How long do you think it would take for other people to notice? Would it matter whether they did notice? Are profound changes in personal behavior still significant if they go unnoticed by others? To what extent is external validation a requirement of personal change? 

These are inward considerations, by which I mean, these are questions that we as individuals must wrestle with as we endeavor to grow as human beings. (And growth is inevitable. Even if you don't want to grow, you will.) Still, there is only so much a person can do. Beyond that, the rest is up to others.

I think this is why it is so important to, if not forgive, give people a chance to change. 

Not everyone, of course - there are some people out there who may have hurt you so deeply that you no longer have any reason to give them additional chances. 

But for everyone else - those who have not hurt you especially badly - I think it's important to at least be receptive to the possibility that they may have grown, they may have changed, they may have turned over a new leaf. They may have done all the work on their side to improve their character, but what will it matter if you hold a grudge? By the simple act of expressing skepticism at their ability to change you have provided them a marginal incentive to go back to being the person that they were.

Maybe that's why forgiveness has always been considered a virtue. It's important to give people a way out of being villains; if we don't, then they may very well resign themselves to their villainy. I think that's what happens to some people who are criminally mentally ill, but if so, then it certainly must also happen to the rest of us, only to a lesser degree.

You must know someone who wants to turn over a new leaf. Do them a favor and give them a chance. You never know.

More Gallup Fun: This Time On Coffee

Here's a result that surprised me (emphases mine):
With research studies showing that moderate coffee consumption has no adverse health effects, and may even have some health benefits, it may be surprising that the proliferation of coffee shops throughout the country hasn't hooked more people or caused current coffee drinkers to consume more. It may be that people are sensitive to their body's tolerance for caffeine and know when enough is enough, creating a natural barrier to consuming ever-increasing amounts. As a result, corner coffeehouses and advanced home brewing machines may make drinking coffee more convenient -- and even more pleasant -- for people, but they are not stirring Americans to drink more.
As it turns out, coffee is not a particularly lucrative investment from a non-drinker's standpoint. TradingEconomics.com shows the price of coffee as being approximately flat (trend-wise) over a 30-year period:



Can you think of many other commodities that show an essentially flat trendline over the same period of time?

In inflation-adjusted terms, this means that coffee has actually fallen in price since 1980 despite an increase in consumption (although not per capita). As Gallup indicates, this at least in part comes from the increase in coffee suppliers out there. More coffee shops means lower prices, satisfying the law of supply.

Those of you hoping to participate in the so-called "artisan economy" may want to do your homework first. An increasing number of coffee shops chasing a somewhat static number of coffee dollars means progressively less profit for coffee artisans. Nothing an Italian barista couldn't have told you, but how many people know one of those?

2015-07-28

Lifelong Signaling

Gallup reports that post-graduates have an "edge" in lifelong learning, being about 14% more likely (3-in-4 versus 2-in-3 among the general population) to self-report that they "learn or do something interesting every day." This shouldn't really surprise anyone since post-graduates are typically employed in academia and research occupations. Obviously, those who work in professions that require that they learn something will be more likely to report that they actually do so.

No, the interesting aspect of the Gallup results are contained in a separate "opinion" piece that appears today on Gallup's website, entitled "No Evidence That Bachelor's Degrees Lead To Lifelong Learning."

Why is that an important finding? As author Brandon Busteed writes,
Nearly every single college and university promotes "lifelong learning" as a core goal for its students and graduates. So much so that it's written into most mission or purpose statements of higher education institutions. And although most Americans -- students and parents especially -- say their No. 1 reason for attending or valuing college is "to get a good job," lifelong learning -- to most academics -- is considered a core mission of higher education. Given how much emphasis is placed on lifelong learning as a goal, it would be reasonable to think that higher education institutions have measured whether this outcome is being achieved.
Setting aside post-graduates, education levels make absolutely no difference in the likelihood that people learn or do something interesting every day.

Meanwhile, college grads do make substantially more money than their less-educated counterparts, but as Busteed observes,
The academic world, however, is quick to dismiss purely economic outcomes as the sole purpose of higher education and for good reason. The common refrain then goes something like, "Yes, but it's not just about a job, it's about creating lifelong learners and engaged citizens." At which point everyone just nods approvingly without ever demanding any evidence. It's time to start digging for that evidence -- and quickly! So far, what Gallup has found doesn't look very good.
Busteed goes on to cite evidence that the reason people might not become lifelong learners is due to poor, or at least unengaging, college instructors. Another possibility, however, is that "purely economic outcomes" really are the sole purpose of higher education. It's possible that people are primarily driven to complete a bachelor's degree so that they can get a good job, or at least that employers are motivated to weed-out college non-graduates in search of the best field of candidates for positions.

This "possibility" has a name: The Signaling Model of Education. You're not there to learn, you're there to jump through hoops so that you can get a job.

Before you object, consider what I wrote last year in a post entitled, "What They Should Have Told You About School:"
College is your opportunity to select your tax bracket. When you take that to heart, the decision becomes much easier. Lower tax brackets involve much less responsibility, and that is a choice that appeals to many people. In fact, there's nothing wrong at all with preferring a life of modest means and modest achievements, if that's what your choice is.
... 
If you really do want to achieve something later in your life, then it is in your best interest to choose a high tax bracket during your college years. That means: Choose a college diploma that gives you very high earnings potential and work your tail off to be at the head of your class. Then, leverage that diploma and those grades toward getting the highest-paying job you can possibly find. It is at that point that all of the pieces finally fit together in your head. 
Ten years later, ten years after graduating college, you will finally know what you want to do for a living. It might not be what you're doing, but you will have the means to pursue it, whatever it is. By "means" I mean both the financial ability to pay for it and the work experience required to earn a place in that position, whatever it might be.

You'll be expertly positioned for a lifetime of success in a field you enjoy. That's what you want, right?

As Usual, Kevin Erdmann Nails It

It's always hard to disagree with Kevin Erdmann, but occasionally it is impossible.
Most production comes from high income countries. Production moves to countries with rising wages - practically as a mathematical axiom, if you think about it. So, on the margin, offshoring tends to move to countries with low but rising wages. A position against liberal trade and against offshoring is an elitist policy whose result is to stultify the incomes of the world's aspirational poor.

2015-07-27

Thinking Twice

In a blog post with which I think I mostly agree, Scott Sumner writes something that I'm not yet ready to agree with. (And hey - for a change it's not about NGDP growth level targeting!) Sumner echoes some claims made elsewhere by Kevin Williamson and Matthew Yglesias, to which Sumner himself links and quotes liberally. In doing so, however, my guess is that he may have overreached.

Here's the offending quote:
Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Sanders's [sic] supporters are mostly white.
In a literal sense, this may be true, but that sense is not very interesting. In a majority-white country like the United States, virtually every popular politician is bound to have a set of followers that skews white. That's about as interesting as discovering that the Government of Uruguay is "run by Latinos." If this is the sense in which Sumner meant that Sanders' "supporters are mostly white," then the statement seems regrettable in that it suggests that this is not true of other politicians.

A more charitable reading of Sumner is that he meant that supporters of Bernie Sanders skew more white than supporters of, say, "the average" politician. In other words, it could be that Sumner is suggesting that Sanders' supporters are comprised of a larger majority of whites than the majority of whites who support the average politician.

That statement is certainly more rhetorically defensible, but unfortunately I can't find any empirical facts that support this claim. The piece by Williamson mentions in passing that Vermont, the state Sanders represents, is the "second-whitest" state in the United States. If this is what caused Sumner to suggest that Sanders' supporters are "mostly white," then so be it. However, it simply does not follow that, because a presidential candidate comes from a majority-white state, therefore that candidate's supporters are disproportionately white.

As much as I'd like to agree with Scott Sumner on this one, I don't see any good evidence suggesting that Bernie Sanders' supporters are any whiter than anyone else's supporters. Neither Sumner, Williamson, nor Yglesias write anything that would support such a claim.

UPDATE:
I did some poking around, and according to recent Gallup polling, Sanders' supporters are more white and male at least compared to supporters of Hillary Clinton. So there is at least some evidence in Sumner's favor here, but he does not supply a link to buttress his claim.

Conclusion: Sumner's point stands, at least for now.

2015-07-23

A Peaceful Solution To Knaves (A Response To Scott Alexander)

I hardly ever read the blog Slate Star Codex, but today I happened to do so. I was going to leave the following thought as a comment under his post, but I happened to notice that there are already over three hundred comments under that post. Maybe it's just my vanity talking, but I don't want my thoughts to get lost. So SSC's loss is Stationary Waves' gain.

In his most recent blog post, author "Scott Alexander" (scare-quotes because it is an admitted pseudonym) writes:
...the representation of weirdoes [sic] and [consumers of deviant and borderline-illegal pornography] is no higher [on Reddit] than any other part of the population. But that’s not zero. And a disproportionate number of those people became interested in the new site [Voat]. 
Already, we see why the typical answer “If you don’t like your community, just leave and start a new one” is an oversimplification. A community run on Voat’s rules with Reddit userbase would probably be a pretty nice place. A community run on Voat’s rules with the subsection of Reddit’s userbase who will leave Reddit when you create it is…a very different community.
When very smart people start thinking about very big ideas, they occasionally fall victim to the mouse that roared. In other words, "Scott Alexander" is speaking so enthusiastically about the problems of hardline libertarianism that a practical solution to the Reddit-Voat thing (and consequently also to the libertarian thing) is sitting right under his nose.

In short, "Alexander" suggests that the problem with "go start your own community then" is that it will soon attract knaves. I say that's not a problem, because so long as the knaves are there, then they're not here. 

On a small scale, what if Voat was started by a bunch of Reddit people pretending not to be Reddit people, who wanted to attract all the knaves to a "holding space" where they could be knaves to their hearts' content, without adversely affecting the experiences of non-knaves? And what if it worked?

On a large scale, what if a peaceful society designated a sort of "holding space" to deviants who wanted to be deviants, without adversely affecting the lives of everyone else?

There are illiberal ways to accomplish this, of course. Prison, for example, or nefarious and corrupt zoning policies.

But there are also highly libertarian ways of doing this: night clubs, for example, are often places where risk-seeking people can seek out risks (e.g. drug use, casual sex, etc.) while being essentially isolated from the rest of a city's nightlife (e.g. theaters, restaurants, date spots, and pubs).

The two populations can mingle if they wish to do so, or avoid each other if they wish to do so. Nobody has to outlaw anyone else. Nobody has to ban anyone else. Life goes on.

So, in attempting to argue in favor of necessary rules, "Scott Alexander" has actually missed the simplest solution to his problem.

Minimum Wage Vs. "Minimum Wage"

Reporters often misuse phrases. A charitable interpretation of this is that they are simply unaware of the precise definitions of the words they use - this would be an odd attribute for professional wordsmiths, but it is possible. A less charitable interpretation of this is that reporters deliberately conflate terms and concepts in an effort to shape naive readers' opinions.

Today, I'll let you be the judge.

This morning the Associated Press published two stories about the minimum wage. Or rather, this morning the Associated Press published one story about the minimum wage, and one story about the "minimum wage."

Here's the first story, about minimum wage:
Fast-food workers in New York state would see a super-sized raise under a plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage — the first time a state has singled out a particular industry for such an increase. 
The hike, approved Thursday by the state Wage Board, would increase gradually over three years in New York City and six years for the rest of the state. It would apply to employees at any fast-food restaurant with 30 or more locations, impacting an estimated 200,000 workers.
And here's the second story, about "minimum wage:"
The movement to raise the minimum wage across the U.S. gained ground Wednesday with the huge University of California system announcing plans to increase base pay for its employees and contract workers to $15 an hour over the next two years. 
The move follows similar steps by local governments to give employees what activists call a "living wage." Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have all approved phased-in increases that eventually will take their minimum wage to $15 an hour, or about $31,200 for a full-time job.
Minimum wage is defined to be "the lowest remuneration that employers may legally pay to workers." (Don't like that link? Try this one instead.)

Given that definition, only the first of these AP stories is a report about the minimum wage.

The latter is a story about an independent organization voluntarily electing to raise its own internal base pay practices. That is, the University of California is legally permitted to pay its employees less than $15 per hour. The minimum wage in the state of California is in fact $9 per hour.

Voluntary remuneration practices within an organization that are not in violation of any wage laws have nothing to do with the minimum wage. If Walmart decided tomorrow to pay all employees no less than $60,000/year, that would not be a "minimum wage," it would simply be a single company's internal base pay decision.

Now that you know that, you tell me: Do you think the Associated Press deserves a charitable or uncharitable interpretation of their story about the University of California?

2015-07-20

Plant Matter: Because Plants Matter

We have a saying in my household: Eat more plant matter; because plants matter.

It's a stupid saying, but it's a friendly way to remind each other to eat some fruits and/or vegetables. It's easy, especially when we're feeling lazy, to skip the vegetables. They often require a separate cooking pan, and usually must go through the time-consuming and annoying process of being washed and chopped. But the alternative to eating these things is to consume a "beige diet," which nearly everyone agrees isn't healthy.

Besides, vegetables are tasty, and they frequently end up being my favorite part of whatever meal I happen to be eating. If we take the time to actually cook and serve our vegetables, we feel much better.

In truth, it is a rare occasion indeed that I neglect to eat vegetables at a meal. Each and every morning for breakfast I have a vegetable omelet and a fresh, sliced apple or pear. My lunches typically include at least two cups of fresh spinach and another piece of fruit, and at dinner I eat between 2 and 5 cups of vegetables. I meet or exceed the CDC's recommended daily intake, and I try to ensure that my family follows suit.

This, as it so happens, puts me in a small minority of human beings within the United States. According to a recent CDC estimate, less than 14% of Americans consume the recommended daily intake of vegetables. Fruit consumption prevalence fares only slightly better at less than 18%. (Interesting sidebar: It took me a bit of creative Googling to find the original source study for these numbers. Apparently, news outlets have forgotten how to cite their sources.)

No one is eating their plant matter. That's a mistake.

A Quick Levemir Tip

I'm putting this out there in case it can help others.

As I recently wrote, I was not too thrilled by the Levemir FlexTouch injector pen (although the insulin itself seems to be working wonderfully well). After a few days of additional use, I seem to have identified the problem.

I'm accustomed to reusing my pen needles because, well, why not? Interestingly enough, the FlexTouch seems to have trouble with needles that I reuse; it either injects slowly and unsteadily, or fails to inject a complete dose. However, this never happens when I use a new needle.

Now, this might be a pure coincidence, but it has been consistent enough that I thought I should report it. If you're having trouble with the FlexTouch injector pen, try using a new needle every time.

2015-07-15

Day 2 Levemir Update

I promise I won't make this a daily or even a monthly feature, but in the interest of good record keeping, and for my own personal future reference, I thought I would type up a few first impressions about my first twenty-four hours on Levemir instead of Lantus.

First, the numbers: My blood glucose appears to be in better control. I know you can't say much after a single day of therapy, but the few firsthand accounts I had read on various diabetes forums lead me to believe that my blood sugar would be higher in general. I say this because many people report that they need a higher dose of Levemir than they needed for Lantus, and that a dose of Levemir lasts a shorter period of time. If I remember correctly, even Dr. Bernstein says as much about Levemir; but, of course, every body is different. I had a hefty day of exercise yesterday, however, and today is my day off from the gym, so I expect that if my blood sugar starts to rise, I'll see it at my before-dinner blood glucose reading in a couple of hours.

Second, I am not a huge fan of the "FlexTouch" injector. I have experience with the old Huma-Pen, the Humalog KwikPen, and the Lantus SoloStar. All three of these are slightly different, but so far, my favorites of the above have been the Huma-Pen and the SoloStar, because when you push the button to inject the insulin, you can feel the injector's plunger move. The KwikPen, the worst of the bunch, doesn't even click. It has a squishy feeling as you push the injection button and it isn't at all obvious whether the plunger has stopped moving. It's hard to know whether you've received the full dose.

Well, the FlexTouch injector is an improvement over the KwikPen. The FlexTouch clicks as the plunger moves forward for each unit of insulin you've dialed-in - that's good. The problem is that you push the button in and hold it... and wait... and wait... as the injector slowly clicks through each unit of insulin one-by-one (rather than all-at-once with the SoloStar and the Huma-Pen). As a result, I feel like I'm putting a lot of trust in a plastic auto-injector unnecessarily. A simpler mechanism would make me feel a lot better about whether I'm getting my full dose. But, for all I know, the FlexTouch may have mechanical advantages of which I am unaware.

Third, I am experiencing no adverse reactions so far. I am clearly not allergic to Levemir, and I'm suffering from none of the side effects listed in the documentation or elsewhere. So, thankfully, I have avoided the statistically anomalystic "worst-case scenario."

Fourth, there is no burning sensation during the injection. As previously reported, part of the reason Lantus burns when injected is because it's acidic; the neutralization of that acid is what forms the crystals that delay insulin uptake. Since Levemir utilizes a different mechanism of delay, there is no burning sensation related to acid neutralization. So that's a good, albeit minor, plus-point for Levemir.

Now the real test is to see how things develop over a longer period of time - weeks and months. Only then will I know whether Levemir is an improvement over Lantus for me, personally.

2015-07-14

Levemir

I suppose this blog post will function mainly as a note to my future self.

Today, I changed from Lantus (long-acting insulin) to Levemir (long-acting insulin). As per Levemir's documentation and the recommendation of my endocrinologist, I did an exact, one-to-one switch. That is, I replaced my twelve-unit injection of Lantus with a twelve-unit injection of Levemir. I'm anxious to see what happens next.

Why the switch? 

First of all, there is a weak correlation between Lantus and cancer, which you can read about here. That's not enough for me to go running away from Lantus. In fact, I imagine the risk is no greater than the risk of any number of every-day carcinogens we happen to encounter over the course of our lives. On the other hand, if a viable replacement exists, for which there is no known cancer correlation, why not use it?

Second, my hA1c levels have not been as low as I want them to be, and truth be told, I'm struggling to get them down any further than they are now. After having taken Lantus for a good five years now, I thought it might be time to try something new and see if it helps or hinders. I have no reason to expect wildly different results with Levemir compared to Lantus, but it certainly can't hurt to try.

Third, I've heard nothing but good things about Levemir. A close friend of mine uses it, and when I asked him how it was, he said (and I quote), "It's fantastic." That's a ringing endorsement from someone I trust, so the "word on the street" for Levemir is mostly favorable.

Finally, the mechanism of action made a lot of sense to me. Lantus delays action because it is acidic; upon injection, it neutralizes in the body, forming crystals; these crystals then slowly dissolve over the course of a 12-20 hour period, delivering a basal supply of insulin throughout.

Levemir, by contrast, binds to serum albumin, which slows insulin uptake. Albumin is a protein in the bloodstream to which many important chemicals - including hormones - bind in order to be delivered later. In other words, Levemir utilizes a normal biochemical process to deliver synthetic insulin to the body. This more natural process subjectively "seems" better to me, compared to having crystallized insulin floating around and dissolving in my bloodstream. There is no scientific basis to this feeling I have, just an underlying sense that, if I can deliver insulin to my body through a more "natural" process, then that might be "better" somehow.

I'm open to being wrong about that. At least I'm being honest.

Anyway, time will tell how the switch ends up working for me. For now, I am about four hours into the switch and things are going quite normally. I think that means that, at the very least, I am not severely allergic to insulin detemir. First hurdle cleared.