Winter Cross-Training: Week 2

I know I'm a day late on this, but things have been crazy around here, so hopefully you will forgive me.

This week, we build on the foundation we laid last week. The general principles remain the same, but what we are looking for here is to expand on what we've done with new exercises that work out the same muscle groups. The variety will help you focus on the muscle groups you're working out, rather than focusing on a specific technique or motion.

So, without further ado...

A-Day (Sun, Tue, Thu)
Morning Workout: (Do all of the below four times)
  • 50 crunches
  • 10 incline press
  • 10 lateral raises
  • 20 squat-jumps or box jumps
Evening Workout:
  • 30-40 minutes light cardio

B-Day (Mon, Wed, Fri)
Morning Workout: (Do all of the below four times)
  • 20 dead-lifts with hand weights
  • 15 front rows
  • 10 pull-ups
  • 30 lunges (15 per leg)
Evening Workout:
  • 30-40 minutes light cardio
Rest Day (Saturday)

Spooky Halloween Socialism

Happy Halloween, everybody. Not to be outdone by even the spookiest ghoul, Barack Obama has moved to further socialize the pharmaceutical industry, as the New York Times reports.

As we have observed time and time again, every move to command-and-control the pharmaceutical industry results in unintended consequences. As such, this latest move represents a twofold failure in the Administration's cognitive time-horizon.

First, the federales can't seem to foresee the obvious consequences of their own actions. Namely, when they move to further increase the cost of pharmaceutical product production, such production becomes far less attractive to companies and their investors, thereby providing a disincentive to produce medicine. (You may remember that I blogged about this before.) As a result, Obama's latest round of despotism will only further exacerbate the problem.

Second, the government keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, implying that their cognitive time-horizon is so short that they cannot even reflect on the effects of the last time they engaged in similar courses of action.

If medicine in abundance is what we want to see, then we should get out of the way and let medicine producers do what they do best: produce medicine!

UPDATE: The incomparable Paul Gregory published a letter to the Obama Administration this morning from a former Soviet health care planner. It is well worth reading!

Portmanteau of the Day

Arnold Kling coins the phrase "Krulong," which is somewhat like Bennifer or Brangelina:
And then you get what Krulong describe as aggregate demand something which at times sounds to me like newspaper macroeconomics and at other times sounds like intermediate macroeconomics. In any case, they are really certain about it.



Let the Idiocy Unfold

As you can imagine (or simply read and read some more), I am no fan of the various "Occupations" going on around the world.

That being said, it would be a serious mistake for any government thug to start nudging the protesters out of the way. The main reason for that is because the occupying mob has no end game, and the sit-in is therefore certain to disperse uneventfully as soon as the weather starts getting prohibitively cold and the national attention span wanes.

The sit-in is self-defeating. If one were truly interested in destroying the Occupy mob, one would simply opt to let it run its course and expose it for the leftist, syndicalist charade that it is. Just like the hippies of the 1960s, today's hippies will ultimately prove to be wholly unstomachable by the general public because the general public does not believe in hateful, resentful class warfare and cheap syndicalist power-grabs. We resisted this crap in the 60s, and we'll do it again if we have to. "Occupy" speaks for no one. The best indicator you have of that is the fact that their whole modus operandi is to profess to be the voice of the majority.

I mean, how many times can the socialists engage in these kinds of cheap antics before people catch on immediately? But anyway...

The statists evidently have a tragically short cognitive time-horizon. They cannot see the mob for the self-defeating herd of cats that it is. So they have instead opted to call out Johnny Long-Arm and engage in pathetic statist spectacles that only serve to legitimize the mob. Here it is slowly imploding in front of their eyes, and they decide to attack. All this, even after watching the world condemn Middle Eastern governments for doing the same (although, clearly not to the same degree). In doing so, the American statists have legitimized the mob's self-comparison to the Arab Spring. Sometimes it's better to let people hang themselves with their own rope, but I wouldn't expect government bureaucrats to understand that.

So now we, the public, are being asked to choose between the statist mob and the statist thugs.

Luckily, we don't have to choose between competing shades of statism. Resist the urge to pick sides. Have the strength to know that the mob and the governments are both wrong. My more cynical side might suggest that all this statist intervention is little more than a ruse to bring the public over to the side of the mob, and grab up some more of our personal liberties, if we have any left, that is. You know, either we favor shutting down the mob (more police government power) or we favor the mob (more government power in the form of economic controls).

There is only one liberty, and it's not a leftist's liberty, nor a rightist's liberty, nor anything else of the sort.

You might call people like you I "the 100%." 

Is Every Business Now a "Monopoly?"

Lately I have been thinking a lot about business models, profits, and so forth. There seems to be a significant difference between "the way things used to be" and "the way things are now."

As a simple illustration, we can look at the market for large home appliances or furniture. There was a time when durability, reliability, and longevity was the major selling point for such things. People would make their purchases based on what they thought would last the longest and provide the most reliable use. Such products often came with a lifetime warranty, or at least a twenty-year warranty. Companies became successful by producing the most preferred product, by earning good will with their consumers, and being the best. If a product failed early, that failure and how it was handled by the company impacted that company's reputation - for better, or for worse. The absolute best producer with the best warranty and best customer service made the most money.

And life was simple.

As certain means of production became much less expensive than the old way, businesses discovered the opportunity to make a profit in a slightly different manner. By manufacturing products of a lower quality and selling them for a much lower price, companies could expand their clientele to people who previously could not afford such products - or who could only afford them in limited quantities.

What companies discovered was that consumers seemed to prefer this approach. It offered consumers the ability to re-design their homes more often, experience the excitement of "new stuff" more frequently, and so forth. These days, most consumers have really warmed up to this approach. It is easy to decorate homes and have a well put-together house on virtually any budget. Companies have ditched the warranties and whittled prices down as low as they can go, even outsourcing manual labor to China or, as in the case of IKEA, to the consumers themselves.

So life has changed and while we once used to pay a lot for a little bit of really high-quality stuff, we now have inexpensive, good-looking, disposable stuff in abundance. That this is a boon for society, there can be no question. Those of us who still want the really high-quality stuff have to be willing to pay for it. Very high-quality furniture and appliances are out there for a higher price. Everybody wins because everyone has access to the products that are consistent with their needs and budget. Life is great, right?

Well... Some of you may note that I have sort of cherry-picked my example. Virtually everyone loves IKEA, so no one would ever suggest that the market for furniture has deteriorated.

On the other hand, the market for guitars has changed radically. A few decades ago, every instrument was hand-made by an artisan using pretty much the same components. These days, even very expensive guitars are manufactured by laser-guided machines. But the quality of the materials used varies widely between low- and high-end instruments.

And guitarists don't like playing cheap guitars. So, while everyone has a guitar available at their preferred price-point, the only guitars anyone really wants to buy are the ones with high-quality components, and those are all expensive. Buying guitars can be frustrating because no one wants a cheap guitar. We only buy cheap guitars out of necessity, not out of demand.

Withholding Supply
These days, the most common business model seems to be one of withholding supply.

As our guitar example illustrates, the approach is not to offer the best of the best at the lowest price, but rather to use lower-priced items as incentives to spend more. Rather than offering existing levels of craftsmanship at the lowest possible price, guitar manufacturers simply compromise on build quality and offer the resulting compromise at a lower price than the "real" models. In fact, manufacturers are now offering guitar models with special name extensions, like "SE" or "MIM" to differentiate the lower-quality goods from the higher-quality ones.

Another example of how you might observe this phenomenon is in the "modularization" of software products. What used to be an upgrade to an existing product's functionality is now sold as a separate "module." So you might be able to purchase a cell phone that makes calls, but if you want to send pictures using the camera's built-in phone, you'll need to download a separate software module. At its worst, you will often purchase software that promises to do everything you want it to, only to discover that in order to make that happen, it involves purchasing numerous expensive add-ons.

As you can see, these kinds of business practices are much different than capturing production efficiencies as we described in the furniture examples. This is nothing more than the hallmark behavior of the monopolist: withholding supply in order to raise prices above marginal costs.

Let Me Be Perfectly Clear...
Now, unlike the average weirdo, I do not really have a legal or political problem with companies that choose to engage in business practices of this sort. I don't think "there ought to be a law," nor do I think it represents any major abuse of market power. I'm not saying that.

But as a consumer, I find this kind of behavior annoying to point that it is starting to impact my own market decisions. I no longer want to patronize businesses who engage in cheap tactics to squeeze more money out of me, withholding what they know I want with infuriating teasers to try to dupe me into over-spending for it.

Furthermore, as an economist, I find this behavior preposterous. There are a lot of people out there making far too much money while producing not nearly enough goods and services. A little aprioristic reasoning applied to these situations suggests that their days are numbered.

But perhaps more importantly, it also suggests that the modus operandi of most North American businesses is flawed, and these flaws result in a deadweight loss to society at large. When we stop to consider how far technology has come over the past one hundred years, and compares that to the cheap, brittle phones we carry in our pockets that shatter when dropped, or the fact that we must save up for years just to purchase a guitar that doesn't warp in expected weather conditions, it gets really obvious. We are getting hosed.

The Punchline
The reason I have been thinking about all of this is because I have been mulling over my own entrepreneurial prospects. My ethics are such that I would not feel comfortable engaging in supply games to squeeze my consumers.

What I want is to offer the best services I can at the most attractive price. I want to offer content and quality. I want to offer the best. I will never be able to offer "the best" by playing cheap games that take advantage of my consumers' ignorance or inability to strike a better bargain elsewhere.

Call it professional ethics, if you like. What is sad is that withholding supply seems to be the rule to me, not the exception.


The Cognitive Time-Horizon

Health news agencies are buzzing (example) about a recent study that seems to have discovered a link between certain hormones and weight re-gain after weight loss. The researchers have apparently discovered that after the body loses weight, hormones are secreted that try to get the body to put the weight back on again.

This makes some logical sense, when you think about it. If a healthy person suddenly experiences significant weight loss, it is usually indicative of health problems. The body would want to "compensate for the weight loss" and return the body back to a healthy state. Obese people, on the other hand, find themselves fighting a process that is designed to keep them healthy, but which is triggered at a time that they don't want it triggered.

It is fascinating news that demonstrates an important concept in the Stationary Waves philosophy. I call this concept the cognitive time-horizon. I am unaware of whether or not it exists elsewhere by any other name.

What Is the Cognitive Time-Horizon?
The cognitive time-horizon is the length of time over which a person is capable of conducting some kind of internal cost-benefit analysis.

Let's look at a couple of simple examples:
  1. Your friends invite you to spend all next week in Las Vegas. Whether this is a good idea really depends on what your other obligations are. If you have no conflicting work or family obligations, then why not? But if you plan on running a marathon the following months, then the question becomes whether you can afford to compromise your training regimen so close to the event for which you're training. Therefore, according to a one-week time-horizon, you should go on the trip; on a one-month time-horizon, you should not.
  2. Your grandma asks you if you'd like another slice of pie. You're still hungry and everyone else is having a second piece, too, so why not? But if you are overweight and have been trying to lose a few pounds, then the question becomes whether you would rather enjoy an extra slice of pie, or whether you might enjoy yourself a bit more if you succeeded in losing a few pounds. Therefore, according to an instantaneous time-horizon, you should eat the pie; on a one-year time-horizon, you should not.
Choices present themselves to us throughout the course of any one day. Our decisions will almost always be different depending on the length of the cognitive time-horizon used to assess the situation.

Happiness and Time
Certain time-dependent choices are no-brainers. It is better to throw someone a great surprise party than it is to reveal the surprise early. It is better to save some money and get a good education than it is to live paycheck to paycheck. It is better to put some money away for the future than it is to spend every red cent you have...

Of course, the vast majority of life's choices aren't so easy. Is it better to postpone working for two more years and get a Master's Degree, or is it better to spend those two years on-the-job acquiring hands-on skills and experience? Is it better to enjoy the finer things of life liberally while you're young enough to appreciate them, or is it better to restrict yourself to a regimented diet and exercise plan from a very early age?

The longer the time horizon, the more complex the issues involved. Eating a piece of grandma's pie right now, on an instantaneous time-horizon is always a "yes." Extending the time-horizon a few hours presents the pie as a trade-off between pie now or having a healthy appetite at dinner time. Extending the time-horizon across the course of a month presents a choice between eating treats regularly and having a healthy body and figure. Extending the time-horizon to decades into the future presents as trade-off between grandma's pie and diabetes.

Each different time-horizon presents its own unique version of what yields the greatest happiness. 

Too short a time-horizon results in a life lived purely according to whim. Whatever makes sense or feels good in the moment is what you will choose to do. Whatever good or bad things are happening now is what you believe about the future in perpetuity. The past, future, and present all become the same thing and therefore the relationship between each (and virtually every cause-and-effect relationship for that matter) completely disappears.

Too long a time-horizon may seem silly at times, but is otherwise not really a problem. Those with a very long cognitive time-horizon are perfectly capable of engaging in shorter-term analyses.

Thus, people in general should always seek to develop and extend their cognitive time-horizons.

The Importance of the Cognitive Time-Horizon
More and more, I have come to the belief that people have difficulty assessing longer-range cognitive time-horizons. It is this "psycho-epistemological" shortcoming that prevents many people from being able to understand the Austrian theory of money and the business cycle. It is also this shortcoming that leads people to drug abuse, self-destructive behaviors, poor moral choices, and objectionable politics.

You may not always agree with what I happen to say about morality and politics, but it is extremely crucial that you approach every issue from both a short and a long time-horizon in order to get a better sense of the issues involved.

In the end, it really comes down to being able to conceive of how one event impacts one, ten, fifty, or one-hundred future events. The more foresight you have, the better your understanding of every issue you encounter.

I am adding the phrase "cognitive time-horizon" to the Stationary Waves Lexicon for future reference. I am also creating a new blog post label for this term. In the future, I will make an effort to relate more and more issues to the concept of an extended, long-run horizon of analysis. 


This Deserves to Be Shared

Prof. Paul Gregory writes an invaluably interesting blog. You can find it here.

His most recent post deserves to be read by a wider audience, as the following excerpt demonstrates:  
The Soviet leadership did not publish deliberately falsified statistics. They just dropped statistical reporting when things went bad. Outside observers could get a sense for how well the economy was doing by the number of pages in the annual statistical handbook.

It seems as if Brussels bureaucrats have learned from Soviet practice.
The European Union Commission, in its latest proposed regulations of financial markets, wants to prevent rating agencies from releasing their reports on European Union member countries. According to the Commission spokesperson: “When the Commission comes to the conclusion that a rating is not correct, it can set it aside for a specified period of time.” The temporary ban should prevent rating agencies from pushing debtor countries deeper into crisis, the spokesperson declared.

Bangla Word of the Day

পড়াশোনা (porashona) noun - Studies, reading


Painting Themselves Into a Corner

The CBC reports that the mayor of Vancouver is calling to meet with the "Occupy Vancouver" mob in order to figure out how to end the situation peacefully. Mayor Gregor Robertson hopes to open up a dialogue with the group to figure out a way forward. Meanwhile, the occupiers reportedly have no intention of leaving "until their message is heard."

But I think it's highly unlikely that the occupiers have any functional exit plan worth talking about. They have essentially created a situation that they are incapable of putting a stop to. Really, it's a question of methodology. For all intents and purposes, the "Occupy" hippies are essentially staging a large-scale sit-in.

Now, the methodology of a sit-in is to create a massive immovable object that makes life so inconvenient that the other party is forced to relent to the protestors' demands.

However, the occupiers have never produced any set of specific demands, nor do they have any intention of doing so. Some of them are classic hippies, some of them are transients, some of them are anarcho-syndicalists, some of them are uncategorizable leftists. The only thing they really have in common is a self-proclaimed adherence to leftist ideology.

Now, some of them may be more moderate than others. There has been a bit of blowback from those moderate protestors who insist that they are not, in fact, anti-hard-work or self-determination. They simply object to a "corrupt system."

Like all moderate leftists, however, these folks are practical nihilists. They make broad, nebulous claims like "the system is corrupt" or "banksters are corrupt" or "we need regulations" without ever making a particularly clear, specific claim. In part, this is just the classic shortcoming of moderate leftism; the modus operandi of moderate leftism is to try to get "the other side" to concede the broadest possible point and thereby score a few leftist policy points, by degrees. But the other, more important point, is that people who neither believe in ideological leftism nor ideological rightism, nor ideological libertarianism, nor outright authoritarianism are nothing more than people who believe "something," but can't really articulate what it is.

This is what I mean by "practical nihilism." In practice, they believe nothing in particular.

But back to what I was saying about painting themselves into a corner. With no list of demands, the sit-in has no conceivable end-point. The occupiers simply plan on occupying until they cannot possibly sit there any longer.

If I were the city, I would simply wait it out. If you're not sitting on the dirt protesting the system, then you're sitting in the comfort of your own home, going to work, having fun, and enjoying all the conveniences of modern life.

Clearly, those of us who do not support the "Occupy" mob have every strategic advantage. Let them protest. They will go home eventually.

Bangla Word of the Day

নাখুশ (nakhush) adj. - Disappointed

Why Two Workouts Are Easier Than One

At this point, some of you may be thinking, If we're just beginning to build up a fitness base, why does Ryan assume we can work out twice a day? Another way you might be thinking this thought is, Twice a day? Working out twice a day?? What are you, crazy? I'm not that hard-core.

So is working out twice a day "hard-core?" Not at all! In fact, I believe that twice-a-day workouts are actually a little easier on your body than once-a-day workouts. Here's why:

Humans Throughout the Ages
In ancient and prehistoric times, human beings were engaged in a constant, daily struggle to survive. We had to keep moving in order to find food. We had to keep working, keep going, never stopping. The cost of not doing so was starvation and death. Our only thought was to survive, therefore there was really no such thing as "spare time," except an hour or two at night when the exhaustion finally set in, but it was still too early to sleep. These are our physiological roots. The human body was designed to endure such circumstances. It endured then - it can endure today.

Today, only an ever-shrinking subset of us know what it's like to be engaged in physical activity all day long. Only those of us who engage in hands-on farm work, construction, and labor-intensive manufacturing know what it's really like to run around and lift things and pull things and hit things and swing things all day long, six days a week, sometimes for twelve hours at a time.

Even fifty years ago, the number of people who were engaged in physical activity basically all day long was much higher than it is today. That's only really a generation ago.

"Once-A-Day-Only" Makes No Sense
What I'm getting at is that the idea of being sedentary all day long and then getting one good, hard workout in once a day is not merely a modern phenomenon - it is a phenomenon utterly unique to this generation. Prior generations moved around and were active all day long, even your parents and grandparents. So, physiologically speaking, there is no reason to believe that you can't be active all day long.

If you think about it, there is no good reason to believe that a species of organisms that were designed to hunt-and-gather on the Serengeti plains would suddenly become delicate, sedentary creatures that can only endure thirty-to-sixty minutes of organized movement per day without hurting themselves.

No one is "hard-core" for working out twice a day. It's not "extra," and it's not "intense." Indeed, done correctly, working out multiple times per day is nothing more than returning your body to something more closely resembling the human body in a state of nature. It is certainly more difficult than sitting on the couch and eating Doritos, but definitely not beyond the pale. Our bodies were intended to be active like this. The more active, the more we are reflecting our evolutionary development. It's only logical.

Competitive athletes know that if a person neglects to warm-up prior to major competition, he or she stands a good chance of pulling a muscle. Extending that logic to a slightly longer time horizon, it makes some sense that it is potentially much harder on your body to kill yourself during a single, isolated workout once a day than to engage in regular, ongoing physical activity throughout the day.

For these reasons, I think a once-a-day workout regimen may not be the most logical approach to fitness.

You Can Do It!
The point of all of this is that there's nothing "special" about a person who works out more than once a day. Such people don't have anything "extra" in their bodies that allows them to push themselves to limits inaccessible to the rest of us. We can all do it! That's good news!

The key is simply this: While a once-a-day workout regimen focuses on completely exhausting the muscles over the course of a short period of time, a twice-a-day workout regimen is a little more relaxed. This very fact is why I think two-a-day workouts might be even easier for beginners than a once-a-day regimen.

Think of the last time you went to the gym: what did you do? Quite likely, you stretched a bit, maybe got in a light cardio warm-up, and then you hit the weights hard. You likely pushed yourself as far as you were willing to go that day and then slogged your way over to the cardio machine to go for as long as you could before you got too tired, too hungry, and too bored to keep going. Then you went home.

Two-a-day workouts are a lot more fun than this.

Let's take my Week 1 winter training workouts for example. Today, I pulled myself out of bed and went downstairs to work out. Rather than blasting my muscles with the world's most award-winning weight workout, I took things slowly. I started with the deadlifts because it is a calm, almost relaxing motion. I took deep breaths and concentrated on the way my body felt as I did them. I didn't worry too much about how much weight had in my hands, I just concentrated on having good form and enjoying the motion. I approached each one of the exercises this way, and in between each set of four exercises, I checked my email and read the news. Easy.

Tonight, my only obligation at the gym is to put in 30 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. I don't need to worry about blasting my muscles and then killing myself on the treadmill. My only responsibility is to do some relaxing stretches and then get a quick bout of cardio in.

The reason I can relax so much as I do these workouts is because I know that - at any given workout - I have "another workout in the bank" for today. No need to push too hard in the morning, because I have a cardio workout in the afternoon. No need to push too hard in the afternoon, because "I already worked out today."

The mental effect is that it takes the edge off. Less pressure, more fun. Less grunting, more deep breathing. The enjoyment you get from relaxing and spending time with your body will make each individual workout far more effective, even though you are spending less time per workout, at a seemingly lower intensity level.

Before you completely write-off any fitness enthusiast as "too hard core for me" just because they work out twice a day, you should consider changing your paradigm a bit. Two workouts in a day need not necessarily mean two evil, crushing workouts every single day.

Instead, think of it as two short, focused workouts spaced across the day as opposed to one, gargantuan killer workout. This provides the benefits of perhaps saving some time, and certainly relieves some of the mental pressure we all feel when we're working out. It allows for a more relaxed approach to fitness and provides you with a means to getting closer to your physiological roots.

Maybe twice-a-day workouts are right for you, too!


Sunday Morning Motivation

This morning I was scouring YouTube for some good, unheard music. Being the big Frank Zappa fan that I am, I decided to search for Robert (Bobby) Martin, former singer, keyboardist, and horn player with FZ's band throughout the 1980s.

As it turns out, he is a bit of a fitness expert. Check it out:

For the record, I was able to do the "hardest push-up," and also the 5-fingertips version. I tried the finger + thumb version of it, and couldn't quite do it. I'm a bit out of practice, so I didn't try the one-arm version.

Unlike traditional push-ups, the push-ups in this video rely more on core strength than tricep strength.


Winter Cross Training: Week 1

Tomorrow we begin Week #1 of a special five-week winter training regimen for distance runners. As I mentioned earlier this week, this regimen is in anticipation of the Ottawa Marathon this coming May.

For the purposes of this five week regimen, I will assume that none of us are in particularly great shape. Perhaps we work out three times a week or so, but nothing major.

Build the Fitness Base
The goal of this regimen will be to build up what I like to call a "fitness base." This concept is a bit analogous to what we runners call an "endurance base."

A runner's "endurance base" is a level of cardiovascular fitness built up prior to taking on a serious training regimen. While building up an endurance base, a runner virtually ignores other aspects of fitness, such as speed or resistance training. The purpose of the endurance base is to provide an endurance "foundation" upon which greater speed and longer distances can be built. Serious, competitive athletes often rack up as much as 100 miles per week while building up their endurance base. In anticipation of training for the Ottawa Marathon, I too plan on building an endurance base.

However, before I can do that, I need to ensure that my muscles and joints can handle that kind of exertion. If I jumped straight to the endurance-building, I would risk pulling a muscle, or developing tendinitis or shin splints. Perhaps more importantly, my upper body and core muscle groups would have completely atrophied by the time I was ready for the race, and things wouldn't go well.

So, to prevent injury and ensure total body health, I intend to dedicate this five-week period toward building up, not an endurance base, but a general fitness base.

Week 1
We are just getting back into the swing of things. We may have taken some time off during the Autumn months, and so we are aiming to start off somewhat lightly and work our way up over the course of five weeks.

Week 1, therefore, should be relatively simple. Here's what I am prescribing

A-Day (Sun, Tue, Thu)
Morning Workout: (Do all of the below four times)
  • 50 crunches
  • 30 push-ups
  • 20 rear-deltoid raises (light weight)
  • 30 unweighted squats
Evening Workout:
  • 20-40 minutes light cardio

B-Day (Mon, Wed, Fri)
Morning Workout: (Do all of the below four times)
  • 20 dead-lifts with hand weights
  • 20 bent rows
  • 20 bicep curls
  • 30 lunges (15 per leg)
Evening Workout:
  • 20-40 minutes light cardio
Rest Day (Saturday)

Don't take on too much weight for the resistance exercises. Just do what you can do. The goal here is just to get into the swing of things. If you're finding it hard to get up in the morning, just try to focus on getting used to the routine. Don't kill yourself here. Just take pleasure in moving your body around.

I'll post Week 2 next Saturday.


Ron Thal and a Lost Phenomenon

This morning an old favorite song popped into my head: "Hang Up," by Ron Thal. If I'm not mistaken, the song was released in 1997, and while cellular phones existed back then, they were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. As with most such technologies, they first appeared for rich and fast-paced businesspeople, and then the market for them gradually expanded to more or less every human being on Earth.

This is important, because what I want to discuss today is the fact that the situation described in the song basically no longer exists in human society. It was, however, very common at the time Thal released the song, and probably even more common a decade earlier.

The song describes what used to happen to a lot of shy kids in the dawn of their teens. At that time, kids are still just trying to wrap their heads around love, trying to suss out how to communicate on that level with members of the opposite sex. These days, kids have a lot more exposure to that kind of thing on TV and in music. They also have cellular phones and Facebook with which to text and flirt and figure out relationships by testing the waters using written notes.

Back then, though, we basically had to figure it out at school, in person. Just when we thought we'd figured it out, we'd spend hours working up the courage to pay the object of our desire an unsolicited social telephone call. By that act of admission, we essentially proclaimed our unabashed like for that person.

The phone calls were often pretty funny, too. Imagine two very shy, very awkward teenagers who may get along pretty well at school, but over the telephone, with nothing to talk about other than the fact that they like each other, they get even more shy and even more awkward. Only over many such difficult phone calls did they make it to the point where they would consider going together.

On the other hand, in some cases we'd call someone up only to discover that they didn't (gasp) like us back. What followed was torment and anguish and embarrassment. Perhaps someone would have heard about the phone call and would tease us over it. This deepened the embarrassment.

Given that these were the two possible outcomes of the first telephone call, the very shy among us would often work up the courage to call someone, only to discover that once the phone had been answered, we didn't have that much courage after all. In silent, terrified embarrassment, we would hang up the telephone without uttering a word.

Well, that's a funny situation in child development that will eventually disappear from society altogether, if it hasn't already, thanks to cell phones, texting, social networking, and so on. Those of us who remember it can only look back on it fondly, with a laugh.

Which means that Thal's brilliant ability to encapsulate this situation from the boy's perspective in a rock song will never really get the appreciation that it deserves. But truthfully, it's brilliant.

And of course, the musicianship is out-of-this-world.

Depression Addendum

I realize that the depression issue I discussed yesterday lacked the proper amount of reflection.

I should have pointed out yesterday that a "400% increase in antidepressant use" is a majorly inaccurate claim. The fact of the matter is that over the past 20 years, antidepressant medications have grown from being exclusively used for the treatment of depression to being used for a wide variety of indications.

Fluoxetine, for example (otherwise known as Prozac), is used not only for depression, but also for obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, obesity, and alcohol dependence. Citalopram (otherwise known as Celexa) is known to be used in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy and migraine prevention.

The take-home message here is that antidepressant use is up because the range of health issues they can treat has been expanded as we have learned more about these medications.

This means that depression is probably even more under-treated than I suggested yesterday.


What's the Over/Under on Depression?

The health blog over at Time Magazine's website has a fascinating analysis of the trend in prescription antidepressant use in America. In it, Maia Szalavitz does an excellent job of explaining why, despite a 400% increase in antidepressant prescriptions over the past 23 years, depression continues to be an under-treated medical problem in North America. As Ms. Szalavitz wisely remarks,
The real story here is that depression is depressingly common in America and that depression sufferers aren't getting adequate treatment, especially if they are young, poor or members of a minority group. The study also found that less than a third of those taking the medications had seen a mental health professional within the last year, which means that they probably get their prescriptions as their only treatment from a primary care doctor.
 But our overburdened mental health system isn't a sexy story — at least not compared to tales about heedless, pill-popping hedonists and the antidepressant-makers who supply them.
Now, I should add a caveat here: I don't think under-supply of mental health care is the main culprit in this case. Clearly, prescription rates for antidepressants have been increasing for a long time.

Instead, I think the culprit is under-utilization of mental health care. For decades people have been trying to de-stigmatize mental illness in an effort to reach out to those suffering from it and treat them. But it is an uphill battle. People - even patients currently receiving treatment - tend to convince themselves that suffering from a mental illness like depression equates with being "totally crazy," whatever that really means.

As much as we like to demonize medicine-makers - and as easy as it is to make a target out of anyone who needs psychiatric medication - the truth of the matter is that these medications are a boon to society. We have no good estimates of what the depression rates were, say, 200 years ago. If you believe in clinical depression at all, you have to acknowledge that prior to the invention of antidepressants, no one who suffered from depression received adequate treatment for their condition.

That's relevant because this article, along with many others, repeatedly point out that depression is more common in North America than elsewhere, implying that there is something about the North American way of life that makes us all depressed. In truth, cultures outside of North America are far less tolerant of the concept of depression, to the point that many cultures even refuse to recognize it as a real condition.

Outside of North America, many people suffer violent blowback from their lifestyle choices, women have acid thrown on them or are prevented from educating themselves, poverty and starvation are ever-present threats, bad marriages continue for lifetimes, and so on and so forth.

We know these things happen, and yet somehow when we take a look at our own depression rates, we blame ourselves, musing that it is our wealth, our economic systems, and so forth that cause our depression prevalence. But of course we do - those suffering from depression are so sadly inclined to blame themselves for everything.

So I guess the real question is, what is "crazy?" What is "mental health?" Who gets to decide what mental health is? The mental health community is typically pretty good at defining these concepts in terms of "that which obstructs your life and your happiness is mental illness, that which makes you happy and lets you pursue your life relentlessly is mental health." The problem with that is that a truly deranged person who wishes for nothing else in life than to hurt others would have values exactly opposite to that of everyone else, and the standard of mental health for that person would have to be revised.

There are no easy answers here. Depression is a real problem that millions struggle to overcome. In general, though, I would suggest, as Ms. Szalavitz suggests, that depression is under-treated in this culture and elsewhere.

Then Again, What is the MRSA Infection Rate at Private Clinics?

The Ottawa area has been all aflutter with recent news that some local testing clinics cut corners on their safety standards and inadvertently subjected patients to possible hepatitis and HIV infections. No word yet as to whether anyone was actually infected, though. At this point, the news is mostly a scare. The clinics in question became aware of the potential risks and immediately notified the relevant individuals. All else published in the news - at least as far as I can see - is a dialogue on safety shortfalls in health care.

"Safety" is one of those esoteric economic goods of which we can never have enough. More is always better, less is always worse, and the price elasticity appears to be more or less perfectly inelastic for scary things like infections. (Although, many have noted that safety concerns don't always reflect the kind of rationality associated with probabilistic risk ranking.)

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one safety lapse in a single part of the country has prompted a national dialogue and general public hysteria. As the CBC reports, local health economist Douglas Angus puts to words what everyone in the country seems to be thinking. From the story:
"When you get into the private clinics and facilities of that nature, it appears we don't have the same kind of oversight and regulatory environment as hospitals," adds Angus
So people by and large automatically assume that the safety lapse was caused by a lack of oversight. The assumption is that, because the private clinics "don't adhere to the same standards," then they automatically adhere to lower standards, which therefore put everyone at risk.

I don't think this kind of reasoning has a shred of evidence to support it.

By definition, clinics that engage in low standards have low standards, but we have no evidence to suggest that any of these private clinics had lower standards than any public clinic in the city.

We also have plenty of evidence suggesting that public sector clinic standards do not avoid every scary infection, nor do they even decrease the rate of scary infections.

In fact, there is probably no significant correlation between the adoption of public clinic standards and the rate of scary infections at medical clinics.

Sometimes bad things happen. Bad things can happen anywhere, in any building, regardless of who pays the employees there. It pays to keep in mind that not every unfortunate event requires federal government intervention.


Let's Set Some New Goals

In many ways, it is very "easy" for me to make time to exercise because my health deteriorates quickly and noticeably when I stop exercising, even for only a few days.

As a result, it is never a question of whether I will train, only a question of how I would like to focus my efforts. Last year, I kept some very comprehensive documentation of my effort to train for the Montreal Marathon. While I had high hopes for my performance, the combination of a pulled muscle and a disruption to my insulin therapy left me with inadequate preparation. I had to pull out of the race weeks before I had a chance to give it a try.

This year, I'd like to give The Ottawa Marathon another shot. Utilizing my existing 18-month marathon training regimen would mean that I would not have to begin serious training until January 22, 2012. Therefore, I have until then (roughly thirteen weeks) to engage in some Winter cross-training and to build up my endurance base.

I would suggest that it takes about eight weeks to build up a competitive-class endurance base. That leaves me with five weeks of good, solid weight training, flexibility training and plyometrics before it's time to re-focus on the marathon.

I trust you'll be with me every step of the way.

So, coming soon: Winter weight training for distance runners.


Moral Decay

The Toddler
The internet is ablaze with news of a Chinese toddler first being run over by a van, then being passed over by a dozen passers-by before someone finally stopped to help.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that one possible explanation is fear of government prosecution:

[S]ome speculate that fear of being blamed or prosecuted for the girl's injury made so many pass without stopping.
Indeed, the Monitor's own Peter Ford wrote this dispatch from Beijing about a man who gave a sick man a free ride home and got arrested for running an unlicensed taxi.
Fear of government reprisal is certainly one possible explanation for this. Anyone who has read books such as Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng knows that the Chinese has a deep and very recent history of punishing the messengers. As Liang Heng describes at length in his book, this took a variety of different shapes, but the many decades of communism had a sour impact on the morality of the nation.

Of course, one has to realistic when discussing such things. It would be patently absurd to suggest that the entire nation of China lacks good moral character. If, therefore, the Christian Science Monitor has it right, and people passed by the injured toddler out of fear of the state, we can hardly question their morals; these folks may very well have been acting to protect their own families. That would be moral, not immoral or amoral, behavior.

Reading this story, though, I cannot help but remember my own personal experience right here in Ottawa, Canada...

One Winter day I got dressed and set out to walk to work. I was wearing dress slacks, patent leather shoes, a shirt and tie, and a long wool coat: very much the picture of a respectable individual. Outside, on the sidewalk, I slipped on a patch of ice and fell on my back, temporarily knocking the wind out of me and hammering my knee pretty hard against the pavement. I couldn't get up for a few minutes, and couldn't breathe. It was nothing serious, but I nonetheless found myself writhing in pain on a crowded city sidewalk in downtown Ottawa.

The crowd of people around me steered clear, or simply stepped over my body. Not a single human being on that crowded sidewalk of "ordinary" people walking to work stopped to so much as look at me, much less ask if I was okay.

My Friend
An old friend of mine once told me that she had an abusive boyfriend who severely beat her one day. This event took place on a crowded public beach. When she told me this story, I said, "I can't believe no one helped you."

She said to me, "Nobody does anything to help in those situations." I told her that I certainly would have, to which she replied, "You can say what you want, but you wouldn't help, either. No one would. Everyone says they would, but when they actually see it happening, no one does anything to stop it."

Morality is Personal
Society is obviously in a very bad state when people fall down on the sidewalk and no one pauses to even look; when young women can be assaulted and battered in the middle of a crowd, in broad daylight; when toddlers can get run over by vans and no one stops to help.

And yet, what do people get upset about? What cuts? What has an impact? Nebulous umbrella topics like "corporate greed" and "the national debt" and "the economy" and "Hurricane Whoever," and so forth.

Take a solid look and think about it. Why is it that people at large tie themselves in knots over issues over which they have virtually no control, from which they feel only minimal impact, and yet we cannot even look each other in the eye as we walk down the street?

What on Earth is going on?

I would suggest that what is going on is nothing more complicated than laziness. It is far more difficult to help a real person in clear and present danger than it is to yell at the TV for five minutes and then pat yourself on the back for being someone who "cares."

We have completely depersonalized our existence. We text friends instead of talking to them in person. We seek the escapism of movies and television rather than social interaction. We prefer robot music to real human beings playing real musical instruments. We telecommute. We have stripped our lives of as much human contact as possible.

Now we see the result. Nothing is real to us except the surreal, the electronic, the screen, the umbrella issue, the distant, fat cat politicians. Everywhere around us we have every opportunity to stand up and exercise our moral character.

Perhaps we simply don't realize that by doing nothing, we are nonetheless exercising our moral character, but it is not what we believe it to be.

Temperance Strikes Again

In the early part of the 20th Century (1919 to be exact), the government of the United States of America formalized its love-love relationship with the Temperance movement by ratifying the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, otherwise known as Prohibition.

Thus began what is widely regarded by people of all political stripes one of the federal government's worst-ever mistakes. The people didn't stop drinking, of course, and gangsters and mobs moved in to supply the US consumer with all the illegal, smuggled alcohol we could drink. Organized crime in America ballooned to previously unheard-of levels; Al Capone became a veritable celebrity, the cuddly mobster we hated to love. People started brewing their own moonshine, to good and bad results.

Many died.

The United States would never again make such a terrible mistake, right? Prohibition proved once and for all that the Temperance movement was misguided and wrong. We gave it a try and finally realized that it failed. We would never do such a thing ever again.

Or, would we?
"It is striking that over three-quarters of the cost of excessive alcohol consumption is due to binge drinking, which is reported by about 15 percent of U.S. adults," study author Dr. Robert Brewer, the agency's alcohol program leader, said in a written statement. "Fortunately, there are a number of effective public health strategies that communities can use to reduce binge drinking and related harms, such as increasing the price of alcohol and reducing the number of places that sell and serve it."
Let us all hope for our own sake that we do not re-open old and self-inflicted wounds.


Things That Used to Be Legal

As reported by the Associated Press, today, Ohio's ban on two recreational substances - "K2" and "bath salts" - begins. Having never used these substances myself - nor having (knowingly) met anyone else who has - I cannot vouch for the AP's claim that the substance called K2 produces a "marijuana-like high" when smoked and the bath salts produce a "cocaine-like high" when snorted or injected.

On one of the many news websites covering this story, however, I did see a video of a young man allegedly high on bath salts. It was incredibly disturbing.

Some of my readers may expect that I support the ban on these substances; these readers would be wrong, however. I do not support this ban, nor do I support the ban on any other "controlled substance."

This is for many reasons.

1. Black markets cause crime. There is no disputing this fact. It is universally understood. Whenever society attempts to place a ban on something that society wants, shady people come out of the wood-works to supply that which was once supplied by reputable manufacturers. As prices skyrocket in response to diminished supply, criminals flock toward the potential profits. Substances such as K2 and "bath salts," which require nothing more than market-ready chemicals and a rudimentary know-how offer rich profits to those who would rather live outside of the law. This, in turn, feeds the underworld. We all know this is how it works, and yet many of us pretend that creating a strong network of organized crime is a better alternative than allowing various morons and the mentally ill to seek a legal high. Go figure.

2. Chemicals are less harmful when the manufacturing process is tightly controlled. As I mentioned in my previous point, manufacturing these substances is not really rocket science. Nevertheless, when manufactured out in the open, legally, various chemists, engineers, experienced factory supervisors, and quality control experts all coordinate their efforts to produce products that meet consumers' needs effectively. When professional adults are forbidden from engaging in this kind of work, however, they are replaced with the criminals described above. These people, in general, are gang members, drug abusers, the desperate poor, and other such people with absolutely no reliable background in the manufacture of consumer goods. 100% of the goods produced can be sold on the black market, therefore quality control flies out the window. Whether the product is safe or unsafe for consumption is irrelevant - it will sell for the same profit as a safe product, and there will be absolutely no marketplace consequence when users die from the product. Therefore, as counter-intuitive as it may seem at first, we are actually subjecting the users of these products to greater risks by making the products illegal.

3. The demand for competing products has just increased. Whatever we can say about K2 and bath salts, they were legal alternatives to products that have already been determined to be extremely unsafe. There is a long list of illegal stimulants that support the existing black market organized crime syndicate. To the extent that people snorted "bath salts," the demand for these illegal stimulants was reduced. To the extent that people smoked "K2," the demand for illegal marijuana was reduced. By outlawing these two new products, we have only driven our children from the convenience store to the back alley. Will anyone seriously tell me that this was a good idea?

4. The total number of drug abusers remains unchanged. As a corollary to point 3, I point out that those people who would purchase a legal product that produces a "legal high" are precisely the same people who purchase illegal products that produce "illegal highs." For the most part, people who use stimulants aren't really interested in how legal is the product they happen to be abusing. They're not interested in conforming to laws, they're interested in getting high. So it always amazes me that people are so naive as to believe that making a product like this illegal will reduce the total number of drug abusers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Which brings me to point number five...

5. You don't heal sick minds with guns, you heal them with reason. However controversial some will interpret this claim to be, I submit that anyone who abuses any kind of substance at all has some level of mental illness. As I have pointed out before, people only escape from their own minds when they don't want to exist in their own minds. In that sense, they are mentally ill. Anyone who has any kind of experience with mental illness knows that you will never heal someone by pointing a gun at a sick person's head and saying, "STOP BEING ILL!" That kind of reasoning is senseless and stupid. And juvenile. It's wishful thinking. You can't just outlaw mental illness and expect it to go away.

No, instead what you have to do is talk to people out in the open. You have to reason with them. You have to persuade them. You have to discuss their problems compassionately and work with them toward a viable solution.

To the extent that this ban is a gun pointed at the head - rather than a dialogue - it does nothing to solve the underlying problem of drug abuse.

6. Are we not masters of our own bodies? If the pro-choice refrain is "My body, my decision," then what on Earth are we doing with these bans? The most fundamental right any human being has is the ability to act on choices that pertain to our own bodies. Bans on product ingestion are horrendous transgressions against the human right to private property (our bodies) and an assault against the most fundamental form of personal freedom.

I may disagree with drug abuse; and when I do, I make that disagreement known. I engage in dialogue. I post something on my blog. I invite comments. I argue, I debate. People walk away with the belief that I am a big jerk for saying the things I say about drug abuse...

But you will never see me arguing for a legal ban of these substances. Because we are masters of our own bodies, because it is dialogue - not guns - that will change minds, and because these kinds of bans are destructive and counter-productive.

Of course, in the end no one will remember what life was like prior to the ban on "K2" and "bath salts." All of this will be a distant memory, and these products will assimilate themselves into the nebulous fog of "drugs, in general."

Except, of course, that I will remember, and will have made note of it on my blog.


Just when I start to get discouraged about my prospects for ever successfully completing a marathon as a diabetic, the Edmonton Journal reports that a centenarian completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon yesterday.

Congratulations are also due to BF, brother to faithful Stationary Waves reader and guest blogger EF.

Well done!



The title of today's blog post comes from a comment from today's CBC.ca news story about the so-called Occupy Wall Street "movement." Someone who calls himself/herself "Phobos06" opines:
The people UNITED
WILL NEVER be defeated!!
Well, the "occupation" has been going on for a long time. From what I can tell, it largely consists of leftists repeating leftist slogans. It is not appreciably different from any other leftist protest, at least as far as I can see.

Protest and the Rejection of Reason
Protest culture is a little odd to begin with. A protest pretty much boils down to showing up and "demanding" what you want, then going home. What is absent from such a thing?

Well, for one thing, there is no dialogue. Protest culture (in North America) has a tendency to throw around words like "dialogue" and "education" and "awareness," but they never really exercise it. What they do instead is show up in a big group and start making demands. This isn't a dialogue, it's throwing your weight around.

A dialogue is when two or more parties meet and openly discuss an issue, arguing in favor of their own individual points of view, with the intention of persuading those who disagree.

Protests, though, involve no attempt at persuasion. Persuasion is beside the point. These "Occupy Wall Street" folks, for example, don't really care whether they win "banksters" over to their cause. That isn't the point, that isn't the objective. The objective is to demonize banks and attempt to get some leftist redistribution policies implemented.

So it's not an argument, it's a display of force. They can call it "peaceful," of course, because they haven't (yet) attacked anyone. But if force isn't the objective, then why are they using intimidation tactics? What is more intimidating than an uncontrollable mob? If force isn't the objective, why is there no dialogue?

Who is attempting to win me over to their side? Thus far, the only person who kind of empathizes with this movement, who has made any attempt at engaging me in persuasive, rational dialogue, is faithful Stationary Waves reader CH, who only partially sympathizes with the OWS mob.

Writing about the non-aggression principle, Ayn Rand said, "Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins."

An angry mob is a display of brute force that packs all the punch of violent threat. OWS protesters cannot claim to be peaceful unless and until they choose to disperse and engage in voluntary - and persuasuve - dialogue.

Ayn Rand also said, "It is not the advocates of science and reasons using their bodies to block traffic on a public thoroughfare."

Protest and Laziness
I am not one of those people who believes that anyone struggling to make ends meet is just a lazy person who can't find a job.

On the other hand, I do believe that protest is advocacy for the lazy. All they have to do is show up, and they have magically "done their part to affect change." To this day, the 60s protest culture continues to credit themselves for the end of the Vietnam War. This kind of delusion is incomprehensibly juvenile and dismissive of the real political effort it took to overcome a governmentally entrenched military-industrial complex and force them out of an ongoing operation.

Sorry, folks, but it does not just come down to showing up and screaming a little. Real work has to get done in order for anything in the world to happen. You don't get credit just because you asked for other people to do the work you wanted to have happen.

A brilliant example of the inherent laziness is found in a quote from that same CBC article. Upon hearing the news that a scheduled park cleaning had been postponed so that the protesters could continue without disruption, one protester declared: "It shows when people work together, you really can make a difference and make justice happen[.]"

This poor fellow genuinely believes that his sitting in one place made a difference in the world. The fact that the only difference he made was the temporary interruption of janitorial services seems to elude him.

Probably, though, it does not elude him. Instead, he just doesn't want to admit to himself that his protest is directionless and futile. Any evidence that "it's working" is important evidence in favor of his actions. If he ignores this evidence, then he calls his entire belief system into question.

Protesters can never do this. For one thing, it weakens the protest. For another thing, it would mean they have to get up off the ground and do something else. Neither of these things is particularly pleasant.

Protest and Partying
Of course, the real objective of a protest is to have a party. Anyone who has ever spent a lot of time around political protests (such as myself, living in a major world capitol city) understands that for the protesters, it's a lot of fun. Everyone gets together and sits around on the ground and tells jokes, sings songs, shares food, etc. They laugh and have a good time. They scream and chant a little, and then they go back to having a good time.

It's not a movement, it's a party.

And indeed, it's a party in every sense of the word. Drug use is pervasive at these events. Please don't waste my time disagreeing with me on this. I have been there and seen it with my own two eyes. My firsthand evidence is worth more than your principled objection. Perhaps the next time I find myself in such a crowd, I will snap a few photos of the drug use and post them on my blog to prove my point.

Things Left Unsaid
Many media outlets have pointed out that the OWS events have no specific demands. I completely disagree. I think it is unnecessary for OWS to state their demands, since they are well understood. OWS was created and organized by AdBusters. We know this - it's on the AdBusters website.

Furthermore, we all know what AdBusters stands for. They stand for socialism. I don't think I'm being particularly controversial in saying so.

They don't have any specific policy demands, per se, because socialism is a fairly fuzzy idea. There are a lot of different kinds of socialism (scientific communism, Christian socialism, guild socialism, syndicalism, to name a few...), and it is highly unlikely that everyone in the OWS crowd agrees on which one to demand. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to get all socialists to agree on specific policy objectives because their unanimity disappears in details.

Anyone who has ever watched a group of bureaucrats implement a new policy can attest to this. There is a lot of negotiation, a lot of arguing, a lot of winners and losers, and so on. This is the nature of socialism, though. If you try to plan a society's every move, then you will inevitably run into more disagreements than agreements. Love socialism or hate it, this inherent attribute to socialism is unavoidable.

But at any rate, all socialists agree on socialism in general. Whenever there is any war protest, or economic protest, or policy protest, or John Stewart protest, or leftist protest of any kind out there, the specific objective always remains unsaid but universally understood.

What they want is socialism. They want the entire world to adopt their way of life - by force, if necessary. This way of life involves small-scale production with the protesters at the helm and everyone else doing the actual grunt-work. It involves fewer motor vehicles and more recycling. It involves governmental control of more than what government currently controls. It involves wealth redistribution and social welfare policies.

These are the goals. No one has to make any demands. We all know what they're after.


Class Warfare and the Paradox of the Heap

Here's a graphic that's been making the rounds - I don't know its original source, but found it on my Facebook feed:

Is this a realistic question?
There are a couple of problems with this question. The first major problem is this: What person, anywhere, under any set of circumstances, has ever asked a teacher to take a 20% pay cut of any kind? Who are we actually talking about here?

I suspect the 20% statistic comes from some kind of fuzzy math. A quick Google scan reveals this story and this story. Both refer to the same situation, and neither story provides any kind of breakdown of the supposed 20% salary cut.

They do, however, both refer to a "reduction in pay and benefits" (emphasis mine). I suspect that by including "benefits" (which covers things like the pensions of retired teachers, i.e. not salaries) they have over-stated the total value of the cuts.

This sort of tactic is typical of partisan politics. Whenever you see a reference to income that includes some percentage value, your economics siren should start to go off a little. Percentages are a good way to mislead people about the reality of any given situation.

Now, this next statement is important: I see no reference to political parties nor any reference to millionaires in either of these news stories. Do you?

The Paradox of the Heap
I have written previously about the Paradox of the Heap. The general idea is fairly simple: Begin with one grain of sand, and ask yourself whether you are looking at a heap. The answer is no. Add one grain of sand and ask the same question: are two grains of sand a heap? No. Add one more grain of sand - are three grains a heap? No... Repeat again and again...

As you can see, if you begin with one grain of sand and add one at a time, you will never arrive at an exact number of sand grains that constitutes a heap.

This is because "a heap" is purely a matter of perception. If you start with a million sand grains, you will certainly say that you are looking at a heap. But by removing one sand grain at a time, you will never reach a point at which you can say, "By removing this last, final sand grain, I am no longer looking at a heap, but if I add it back, it will be a heap again."

Get it?

The Heap in the Real World
Let us first take a look at teachers' salaries.

What kind of person would suggest that teachers do not deserve to earn $40,000 per year?
If we agree that they deserve $40,000, what kind of person would suggest they do not deserve $42,000?
If we agree that they deserve $42,000, what kind of person would suggest they do not deserve $47,000?
If we agree that they deserve $47,000, what kind of person would suggest they do not deserve $52,000?
If we agree that they deserve $52,000, what kind of person would suggest they do not deserve $60,000?
If we agree that they deserve $60,000, what kind of person would suggest they do not deserve $66,000?

Next, let's have a look at a tax increase on millionaires.

In order to afford essential social services, what kind of person would suggest that millionaires should not accept a 1% tax increase?
If we agree that a 1.0% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 1.2% is unfair?
If we agree that a 1.2% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 1.8% is unfair?
If we agree that a 1.8% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 2.3% is unfair?
If we agree that a 2.3% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 3.0% is unfair?
If we agree that a 3.0% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 3.5% is unfair?
If we agree that a 3.5% tax increase is okay, what kind of person would suggest that 4.1% is unfair?

Good students of Ludwig von Mises will note that the above examples are a retelling of an example from his Human Action. (Don't ask me for the page number - I don't remember it offhand. It's in the last section, covering market intervention.)

Mises wisely noted that if one embarks on a path of giving one group of people a price or wage increase, one must be ready to set the exact price or wage.

You may ask why it is necessary to provide an exact number. The answer is found in the Paradox of the Heap. If we do not define what number constitutes a heap, then we have no reason to believe that one more sand grain, or one less dollar changes the condition of things.

Those who favor higher wages for teachers at the expense of higher taxes on millionaires are guilty of falling into the Paradox of the Heap, not once, but twice. First, they believe that teachers require incrementally more money; second, they believe that millionaires will not be significantly impacted by incrementally higher rates of taxation.

But how do they know? What is the exact salary that teachers "should" be paid? What is the exact tax rate that millionaires "should" owe to the rest of society?

The free market determines wage rates automatically, based on consumer preference. If consumers prefer iPhones to history lessons, they will reward Steve Jobs with more of their money than they will reward an innovative history teacher.

However, if we take these decisions out of the hands of consumers and place them in the hands of governments, we must be prepared to provide an exact number, an exact value for what the appropriate salaries and tax rates "should" be.

Finally, if we are prepared to provide such a number for teachers' salaries and millionaires' tax rates, why are we not also prepared to provide an exact tax rate for teachers' tax rates and millionaires' salaries? And what about automobile mechanics and computer programmers? What are the exact salaries and tax rates for those positions?

We must acknowledge that these endeavors are not just vain, they are completely unfair and arbitrary. Society will never agree on an exact value for any one of these numbers. That is the nature of subjective value judgements in a dynamic economy.


Freedom of Speech in Canada

How does the Canadian public view freedom of speech?

I have been watching the flow of the comments section in this recent CBC story about a man "found guilty" of whatever "hate speech" is. (Go ahead, try to define hate speech yourself....)

Okay, Folks - Here Is The Obligatory Disclaimer
The things the man said about homosexuals are false, morally wrong, hateful, disgusting, abhorrent, and I wish such ideas didn't exist. They are pure bigotry. 

But I don't think the solution to bigotry is to stamp out the freedom of speech. 

That's my opinion. What does the Canadian public (i.e. people who leave comments on CBC.ca news stories) have to say? Here are some selected excerpts - judge for yourself the extent to which Canadians value freedom of speech.
Perhaps the standard for defining libel against an identifiable minority group needs to be as strict as that for defining libel against some large money-grubbing corporation.
Opinion is one thing, but putting it on your tee-shirt and handing out purple-prose leaflets elevates opinion into something worse when your message targets a group of people. 
Whatcott is distributing hundreds of flyers saying homosexual people will molest your children, and people are defending his right to say it. seriously?? 
Bill Whatcott should certainly be made to pay for his actions. And let's hope that even though he doesn't respect other human beings' rights and dignity, that he shows a little more respect for the Supreme Court if by doing nothing more than leaving that T shirt at home. 
most of the the people posting here about free speech seem confused about the difference between being free to speak an opnion, to argue, to dissent - and the demands of supportable accuracy of content as well as personal responsibility for being open to hearing those other points of view. Those are essential parts of free speech - not - not the right to blabber off whatever vileness you feel like spewing regardless of accuracy or intention. And the founders of various 'rights' legislation were talking about speaking truth to power - not about shredding your community with mindless venom. 
I wonder if those who are supporting this guy's "right" to say whatever he pleases would be as supportive if he was targeting a group to which he belonged? Change the word "homosexual" to you name and see if you really are as tolerant of his rants as you claim to be. Change the word "homosexual" to "black," "aboriginal," "Ukrainian," "Polish," "blond," etc. and see how little sense he makes.
Words are sacred and misuse them in a targeted fashion and you get fined. When you actively practice and promote violence and hate, you are not protected. This is Canada. 
I don't have time to keep a running tab on all the crazy people making crazy claims about what they think freedom of speech is, but I encourage you all to follow along with the comments and see for yourself.

Thankfully, there are a few commentors who do seem to value freedom of speech.


That's What Taxes Are For

I dislike being asked to donate money to the local arm of the socialized medical facilities around here. I pay my taxes, and socialized medicine operates under the assumption that we all get superior care and facilities if we operate the entire system as a branch of government than if each doctor were to work for money on a for-profit basis.

Hence, two observations:

1 - Asking me to donate money over and above my tax obligations is tantamount to giving a public announcement that the system has an inherent design flaw.

2 - Because I would greatly prefer living in a community in which private, for-profit health care were the active system, I very much resent having a large portion of my income taxed away before I ever get to see it, only for the agency doing the taxing to turn around and ask me for a voluntary contribution.

A-Creed Or Dis-A-Creed?

Do we unfairly judge others based on their personal creeds?

I refer to two situations from recent personal experience to illustrate:

Occupy Wall Street
In a recent Facebook discussion, I voiced the opinion that I neither side with "Wall Street banks" nor with "the other 99%." What I mean is that there is always marketplace responsibility held by all market agents. That one party is rich or poor should not change the fundamental fact that we must all take responsibility for our own actions. I further provided the opinion that the primary problem in the Wall Street situation is the forever-growing money supply, and that bankers are as much victims of that policy as are the rest of us.

I do not expect everyone to agree with me, however in the context of that discussion my comments were met by the assumption that I am a conservative and that - because I consider government salaries another form of bailout - I am anti-public-school-teachers.

Faithful Stationary Waves readers know that I am not a conservative, and any participant in that discussion could easily note that I have nothing against teachers. In fact, my primary point was that we are all victims of monetary policy.

But to those who are only used to hearing the "liberal" versus the "conservative" views, I must be placed in a specific box. I don't agree with them, therefore I must be placed in whatever box they see as being the "not them" box. In this case, it was the "conservative" box, but it need not have been.

Insulin Pumps
In a separate conversation, in a roomful of type 1 diabetics, I expressed my frustration over my experience with insulin pump therapy. I went out of my way to acknowledge that pump therapy is a boon and a great course of therapy for many diabetics - but that the therapy had not worked for me, and that I expect my health care team to acknowledge this.

For the most part, folks empathized. There were one or two, however, who insisted that the settings were simply wrong on the pump, that the pump takes time to get used to, and that it provides superior blood sugar control.

For those whose experience is not the same as mine, my comments were tantamount to an outright universal rejection of pump therapy for all diabetics, period. Of course, I absolutely do not feel that way, but they thought so.

All Those Who Disagree Are: (A) Stupid, (B) Evil, (C) Political Foes, or (D) All of the Above?
On an intuitive level, we understand that disagreeing with a self-described liberal does not make one a conservative, and that opting out of a particular medical therapy for personal reasons is not the same thing as feeling that the medical therapy itself is garbage.

Somehow, though, society's tolerance for disagreements seems to have reached an all-time low. Any level of disagreement quickly disintegrates into all parties mutually self-affirming the belief that all who disagree are the enemy.

We've locked ourselves into a situation where we see disagreement itself as the problem, i.e. the fact that someone disagrees with us tells us the whole story; why they disagree is completely irrelevant. More to the point, we assume we know everything about why someone disagrees with us as soon as we note that there is a disagreement.

My Old Friend: The Creed
We are quite accustomed to fighting stereotypes when it comes to race, gender, culture, age, and so forth. We desperately need to rid ourselves of bigotry that pertains to creed.

A person's creed can refer to any of their beliefs, really. The word "creed" need not refer solely to political ideology or religious belief. To always tell the truth can be a creed; to always be respectful and kind. Adherence to Occam's razor can be a creed. And yes, one's opinions on financial bailouts or insulin pumps are part of your creed.

In all cases, when exposed to someone else's creed, if we even respect the value of common ground then we must work toward shrugging off our inherent prejudices about the creed in question. If all defenders of profit motive have about the same impact on your personal view of those people, then you should take some time to reevaluate your own prejudices. If anyone who disagrees with your taste in music is "one of those people," then you should probably re-think.

And let me be clear: Many of you who are reading this right now believe yourselves to be among the most open-minded people in the world. What I'd like to suggest is that - while we have all become practiced experts in being open-minded toward visible or tangible traits like race, gender, and so forth - we all have a long way to go before we are capable of being truly open-minded toward ideas.

Let's give it a try, anyway.