New Domain

Tired of typing out that whole .blogspot.com section of the URL? Boy, are you in luck!

As of today you can surf directly to my blog by simply typing "www.stationarywaves.com" into your browser's location bar. And off you go.

Try it yourself. It really works.


Before I Go

Tomorrow, I take a trip to South Asia. It should be a wonderful experience once the jet lag subsides. I am very excited.

I have loaded my e-Reader (a Kobo) with a hefty dose of scholarly and not-so-scholarly literature from Mises.org. It is astounding how much expertise a person can acquire absolutely free of charge, when one is equipped with the right technology. I should return to Canada with my head full of Austrian visions and praxeological whimsy. Yes, I just used the phrase "praxeological whimsy." With luck, I will be able to churn out a greater number of articles for 2012.

I'll also be taking along my resistance bands and running shoes so that I can stay in shape and keep my blood sugar down throughout my trip. Preparedness is key.

A Look at What's Ahead
Now, will all my various apparatus charging in my laptop's various USB ports, I'd like to pause to reflect on what I hope to accomplish at Stationary Waves over the coming year. Take this list with a grain of salt; I am constrained by my many commitments. I will try to achieve these things. Certainly any of of them is possible, but of course achieving all of them may prove to be too challenging a goal. That said, let's take a look.
  1. Complete the Ottawa Marathon. If I can get myself out into the cold winter air, I should have all the training required to complete the Ottawa Marathon for the second time. The course is different than it was in 2008, and of course the state of my body is very different indeed.
  2. Finish and Publish My Blood Sugar Tracking Model. This one is a big one. There is not much to do, and it could be a great service to my diabetic readership. I am trying.
  3. Post More Music. I have a lot of music "in the bank," still to be recorded, and I always get good feedback on the music I make available. I would like to provide more of this music in the future. Let's see how much I can provide.
  4. Re-Design the Blog. This is a big one, too, but very do-able, and would greatly improve the Stationary Waves experience, bringing it in line with my over-arching vision for what I would like this website to be. 
  5. Publish More Articles. It is not for lack of opportunities that I have not written more formal articles for mass consumption. It has simply been a time-crunch. Applying myself properly, though, would yield good results. For that matter, I have several book ideas I would also like to pursue.
  6. Add a Consulting Feature. Some of you may not know, I am always on the lookout for freelance consulting opportunities. I have a knack for numbers, modelling, and analysis, and I rent out my services at an attractive rate. I would like the blog to also reflect this fact.
Of course, there should be many small gems (ha ha) given out along the way. For now, I will just have to stick to live-blogging the coming travel experience and working toward achieving the above stated goals, and many more.

Best Holiday Wishes to You and Good Luck Achieving Your Own Goals in the New Year!


Government Declares More Things That Didn't Happen

Today might be the first time in history a country has ended the same war twice. As The New York Tiimes reports, Barack Obama has officially declared an end to the war in Iraq, as George W. Bush did over eight years earlier. Not only was "mission" not "accomplished" then, it is also not accomplished now.

Furthermore, as Ron Paul rightly pointed out in the Yahoo/CBS GOP debate (a good link to this eludes me right now - please post one in the comments if you have one), the Iraq War is in no way over just because Obama says so. A true end to the war in Iraq would be withdrawing our troops and going home. Creating a permanent military presence that professes to be "peaceful" is the furthest thing from ending a war. Imagine if Iraqi troops were on patrol of the streets of Manhattan all day long. How would Americans feel about that?

The Iraq War is only the latest (again) example of the government simply proclaiming that something happened/is happening when it certainly did not and will not happen.

Remember when Obama closed the illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay? Didn't happen. Remember when Obama captured and killed Osama bin Laden and then mysteriously dumped his body in the sea and refused to provide any evidence that the event actually happened?

The jig is up. We have to stop believing these things. More to the point, does anyone still believe them?

Oh, well. When this all blows over, we can always end the Iraq War again...


Traveling, Re-"Visited" - Major Voyages

A little while ago, I presented some tips for exercising and diabetes management when you're travelling. On the verge of going on a much bigger and more extended bout of travelling, I thought I would revisit the topic here.

(Get it? Re-Visit? Do you get it?)

First, let's recall the tips I shared before:
  • Stay on your own home's time zone, ignore the time zone changes.
  • Avail yourself of the hotel gymnasium, where applicable.
  • Buy your food in advance from a grocery store and keep it in your room for mealtimes.
That's all well and good, but next week I'm going on a much more significant journey, a longer distance over a longer period of time. To further throw a monkey into the works (yes, I do know that I have expressed this metaphor incorrectly), I will not be staying at a hotel, and will not have access to a home gym. In fact, I'll be experiencing a time zone difference of twelve hours and will have no real opportunity to get outside and exercise. This could be a real challenge.

Well, it's nothing I haven't tackled before, so I'd like to take some time to cover advanced travelling (for you experts out there). Rather than providing entirely new tips, I think it's better to simply expand on the rules we've already established.

So, here we go...

Don't Fight the Time Change
Ignoring the time change is important for small changes because it maintains your circadian rhythm with minimal interruption... up to a point. Naturally, there is only so far you can push this. When you find yourself with a twelve-hour time difference, you pretty much have to adapt to local time unless you plan on staying on everyone else's night shift.

Despite all the many pills and products that claim to make the transition easier on the body, the only sure-fire way to pull this off is to do the following:
  1. Sleep for the entire duration of the plane ride;
  2. Immediately behave as though local time is natural for you;
  3. When you get up, immediately turn on the lights and make sure your face and eyes get thoroughly doused in bright light (preferably sunlight).
Of these, #3 is obviously the easiest to control. #1 is something you'll just have to do your best at. #2 is the real challenge, but if you're a faithful Stationary Waves reader, then I'm confident you have the right mindset to pull it off!

Exercise: Just Figure It Out
If you're like me, you may be going somewhere without a readily accessible gym. You might luck out and find yourself in a location where you can walk around all day long, every day, or go for a hike every day. Or, you might find yourself mostly stuck indoors without a gym and in a heavily urbanized place that isn't really set up for a daily run. What to do?

First of all, resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to pack, and provide the perfect alternative to free weights. Zip on over to your local department store and pick them up - they are well worth the investment! You'll be able to do pretty much anything you can do with free weights.

Next, consider taking a jump rope with you for an excellent indoor cardio workout. Failing that, stick to proven things that work. Running in place might be a little silly, but jumping jacks are one of the greatest plyometric/cardio motioons out there! You can do them in virtually any space that has a little elbow room.

Never surrender your workout. You will only ever be limited by your imagination. There are so many great kinds of workouts out there. Choose one that works for your new travel environment and go with it.

Make Simple Food Choices
Going somewhere exotic? You might not have the same kind of control over your diet that you're used to having otherwise. Especially for us diabetics, that can spell major trouble.

No matter where you happen to be going, though, you can always find some variation of cooked meat, cooked vegetables, and fresh bread. These also happen to be the most inexpensive things to eat throughout the world. The simpler, the better. 

Fried fish is a classic. Cooked at high temperatures until it is absolutely crispy, it should provide you with enough protein and monounsaturated fat to keep your muscles healthy with minimal risk of food-borne illness.

Every country has its own favorite vegetables. I recommend going for cooked vegetables. (The fresh ones can be problematic from a sanitary standpoint.) The longer they're cooked, the fewer the nutrients, but also the more you can guarantee that they won't make you sick. For a temporary stay, it is probably best to have them over-cooked. You can always bring along some vitamin supplements if you're worried about micronutrients.

Every country also has its own version of bread, whether it's Indian roti or Salvadorean pupusa. This will give you a bigger blood glucose hit, so make sure you're familiar with the area you plan on visiting, and keep a notebook of carbohydrate counts with you, so that you can plan your insulin boluses correctly.

Well, that's it. Get some sleep, get a good workout in, and stick to simple foods. Oh, yeah, and have some fun while you're at it!

You may notice some reduced blogging while I'm traveling, or I may keep it going. Liveblogging my experiences would be pretty cool, so I'll do my best.


When Thinking About Health, Sometimes Logic Trumps "Science"

According to The Wall Street Journal, a series of studies downplay the risk anti-ADHD drugs pose to patients' developing cardiovascular disease.

Considering optimal therapy regimens, this is probably true. On the other hand, applying some logic is absolutely necessary for situations like these.

Logic and ADHD Treatments
Stated simply, ADHD drugs tend to be variants of amphetamines and other such stimulants. Setting aside their therapeutic benefits, we all know the impact that amphetamines have on human health. Even in an acute state, they increase heart rate and cause constriction of blood vessels. They temporarily increase blood pressure and trigger some neurochemical stimulants that are typically associated with physical activity, stress, excitement, and so forth.

Considering all of that, it stands to reason that ADHD drugs are a bit harder on the cardiovascular system than the absence of ADHD drugs. We don't need a study to tell us this; we know it aprioristically. It is true because it must be true. It is true because many of these physiological responses are precisely the therapeutic benefit of the drugs in question.

Therapeutic Benefits and Trade-Offs
As I try to emphasize throughout Stationary Waves, the most important aspect of big decisions is not the particular course of action to take (in this case, should a person with ADHD take anti-ADHD medication?), but the trade-offs associated with each option.

Issues are not simple or binary. Few things in life boil down to a simple yes/no response. We must learn to stop thinking about things in terms of yes or no.

Instead, weigh the benefits according to your own needs and values. Considering not just the risk of anti-ADHD medication, but the physiologically necessary response to ingesting them, is taking the medication worth it?

The answer is: It depends entirely on your own, unique situation. I certainly don't have the answer. Neither does your doctor. You have it! You shouldn't make this decision based on a WSJ headline claiming that "there is nothing to fear." There isn't anything to fear, but that's not the issue.

The issue is how much cardiovascular health are you prepared to sacrifice for the sake of the therapeutic benefits. If you have a severe case of ADHD, medication even in large doses is certainly worth the trade-off. If you have an extremely mild case, you can probably self-treat using other methods. (May I suggest exercise?) If your case falls somewhere in between, you have to balance both aspects of your health, make an informed decision, and then monitor your choice carefully.

You may also have to "pick up the slack" by exercising more. Not because "you read so in a study," but because you know certain medications put you at greater risk for cardiovascular malaise and you simply wish to avoid avoidable consequences.

It's the same with diabetes. There is no "right answer," you have to make informed choices and consider your lifestyle and your own behavior. Furthermore, you have to be objective about who you are and how you actually behave.

I can trust myself to exercise once or twice a day, with very few exceptions, therefore I can get by with less insulin than other type 1 diabetics. Is this approach sensible for everyone? Absolutely not. Most people don't work out as much as I do. Many people who genuinely want to work out as much as I do can't spare the time or energy to do so. Such diabetics should consider using more insulin than I do, and managing their diet more carefully than I.

But in every case, we are talking about trade-offs associated with choices; we are not simply talking about a prescription of X minutes of exercise combined with Y units of insulin and food choices from a single, static menu.

It's Not the Industry, It's the Absence of Reflection
When people suggest that the pharmaceutical industry is "evil" because they "get us hooked on drugs we don't need," I think they are often perceiving therapeutic choices as simple yes/no scenarios. People are inclined to want a simple, definitive answer. It's natural; but it is also very naive.

The industry isn't hell-bent on getting you hooked. Instead, they are in the business of providing options based on what you're willing to trade. That doesn't mean all drugs are perfectly safe, that simply means that some people may wish to take dangerous drugs if the therapeutic benefits are great enough for that particular individual.

So when you make decisions about your health, don't just think about whether a drug is "safe," or "effective," or even "safe and effective." Consider what the product offers you and what you're willing to give up in order to gain that benefit.

Everything in life is a variable that we can control for our own benefit, so long as we understand the trade-offs.


Comparative Advantage and Charity

What is "action," anyway?

I know a man who never, ever gives money to the homeless. He doesn't give money to people on the street, and he doesn't financially contribute to homeless shelters or anti-poverty organizations. Despite all this, he considers homelessness and poverty to be terrible local problems that need to be addressed.

How can these two positions co-exist? How can a man both refuse financial contributions to the homeless and insist that homeless and poverty need our desperate attention and action?

Pretty simply, actually. This man I know spends a lot of his time teaching at-risk youth how to manage money. He sees this as his contribution to the problem.

From time to time, others do ask him why he doesn't give money to homeless people and support organizations. They seem to insinuate that this man is heartless or that he isn't giving enough unless he contributes financially. That this man has many success stories about how he was able to deeply impact the lives of specific youth does not seem to dent his critics. They believe he should pay up.

He believes that he has a unique skill set that makes him particularly well-suited to teaching at-risk youth good financial practices that will enable them to save for their educations, manage their expenses, and pull themselves out of poverty.

I suggest that both approaches are useful and appropriate. There is certainly no "one right way" to fix a social ill. If there were, we would have identified it long ago, and the problem would have been eradicated. Remember, human beings have been around for more than 10,000 years. That's a long time to think through problems and propose solutions. For 10,000 there has been human need. We haven't solved these problems; the best we can do is try according to our unique skill-sets.

The Money Myth
If there is one thing we should have learned by now, though, it's that problems with social causes cannot be solved by simply throwing money at the problem. The reason people are poor or at-risk or etc. is not because there is a lack of funding for anti-poor, anti-at-risk, or anti-etc. activities.

Instead, these problems are complex, come from a variety of causes, and require many different methods of addressing them. We cannot simply spend money or buttress existing organizations if we hope to solve them.

In fact, it might be safe to say that social ills like "poverty" can probably never be solved. There will always be people among us who require special effort and attention. There are as many of these situations as there are potential solutions.

Helping Out
Therefore, I think it's important to keep one's skill-set in mind when wishes to address tough problems.  Some of us are fabulously wealthy and can easily provide money to well-run organizations designed to deal with these problems.

Others (most of us) don't have a lot of money, but might be able to contribute time. And of those of us who choose to contribute time, we have to pick our battles. We cannot possibly give enough time to every conceivable social ill that we wish to address. We choose the most important issues to us, and focus our efforts there.

Out of those of us who contribute time, some of us have the kinds of personalities and backgrounds that enable us to function well as counselors, peers, mentors, etc. Like the man I know who teaches at-risk youth. But what about those of us who are, because of our natures, particularly ill-suited to serve as mentors? Are we just bad people?

No, I don't think so. I think some people can't stand the sight of tears just like some people can't stand the sight of blood. It takes a certain quality to act as peer support, and not all of us have it. Those of us who don't will probably do more harm acting as counselors than if we stayed out of the way.

On the other hand, it doesn't mean we don't have useful skills. Some of us are great at writing, or managing, or providing technical support. Some of us are great at strategizing or fund-raising. The list goes on.

Capitalism and Charity
So that great feature of the market economy - comparative advantage and specialization of trade - is also a boon to the world of not-for-profit activities. Not everyone can donate blood or write huge checks for charities. Not everyone has enough hours in the day to spend serving up hot meals at the shelter.

So we all contribute in our own way, and so long as there is positive impact, we've done a good deed.

Or so it seems to me.


Guitar Exercise of the Week

This week's guitar exercise is by request: faithful Stationary Waves reader ZK asked me to put together a sweep picking exercise, which I have done.

We will call this the first of two sweep-picking exercises. The reason I'm splitting this up is because, in my opinion, the major difficulty with sweep-picking (i.e. playing arpeggios across sequential strings in a single up-stroke or down-stroke) is not the sweep itself, but rather the transition.

So, when I developed this exercise I decided to focus on passages that would emphasize the transitions, rather than the sweeps. Focusing on these transitions should give you better control over the plectrum. You won't simply and wildly be trying to sweep, resulting in a garbled mess. When you get this exercise down right, it should sound pretty good at both slow speeds and high speeds. Sometimes it can actually be more difficult to sweep slowly than quickly, because you have to have a lot of picking control to give each note the proper rhythmic duration. That tight, metronomic accuracy is what makes the difference between a killer sweep-picked arpeggio and a garbled mess.

Exercise #6: "Turning Heads"
The only real oddity in this exercise is that it begins with an upstroke. This may seem illogical to you at first, but when you start cycling through this exercise over and over, you will eventually understand why it's more comfortable to begin with an upstroke.

For those of you unfamiliar with the notation, the "v" in tablature indicates an upstroke. The squared-off "u" indicates a downstroke.

Here it is, without further ado:

Start this one slowly, at something like 70bpm (or maybe even less, depending on your skill level) before you start tackling the high speeds. Remember, the goal here is picking control. You'll have better success if you make each note sound very nice at slow speeds than you will if you try to burn through this one too early. We want a clean, appealing passage, not a garbled mess.

When you're comfortable with this one, I'll post a second sweep-picking exercise that involves more strings and more notes. You'll find that one much easier if you have a good handle on this one.

This exercise also functions as an excellent warm-up.

Good luck!



I only have one rule when it comes to comment moderation: No robots. This means, I delete anything that looks like mindless spam. I don't mind if someone advertises their own blog or website on my blog, but only if a human being does it. If it's a line of code, it most likely gets deleted automatically by Blogger. The few that occasionally filter in get deleted by me most of the time.

I do not delete any of the following:
  • Comments with which I disagree
  • Comments that lead to tangential discussions
  • Comments by specific people or members of particular groups
  • Jokes, profanities, vulgarisms, etc.
Thinking about it just now, I imagine I would probably delete an embedded picture if it could be deemed offensive by some of my readers. (A link to the same picture would be okay by me, though.)

The point is, I don't delete comments. I don't believe in it. 

I have occasionally had my comments deleted from other blogs. Given that I never post vulgarities or obscenities, this has always been due to a simple disagreement: the owners of the blogs in question disagree with my opinion so profoundly that they do not even want their readers to encounter it as a comment.

I go back and forth on this. It seems to be either dishonesty or fear, or some blend of the two. I commit to avoiding any blog that deletes my comments more than once for no good reason. I don't mind that some blogs have a "no advertising your own blog" rule (like EconLog). I play by those kinds of rules. That's fair.

But when some bloggers repeatedly delete peaceful, calm, but well-reasoned counter-arguments to their posts, I basically stop reading their blogs altogether. I have no reason to try to engage with individuals who refuse to engage with me in an honest way, who will only agree not to delete my thoughts on the condition that they reinforce their own.

One More Thing (Important)
Some of you have experienced having submitted a comment to my blog, but it did not appear. I have received reports of this behavior many times, and frankly I cannot figure out what the problem is. I suspect it is a web browser issue (I use Chrome, which works fine for me, but Blogger and Chrome are both Google products), but I don't know for sure.

If you have experienced this, please accept my apologies and know that I want you to post your comment. In the worst-case scenario, you can always reach out to me via email, Google+, Facebook, etc., and I will attempt to post your comment myself. 


You Don't Have to Stir

Why waste a spoon? If you put the cream in first, and the coffee in second, then no stirring apparatus is necessary. I wish more people understood this.


The Endurance Base, or Endurance Basics

As you know, Stationary Waves is no place for absolute fitness beginners. Just by way of refresher, let me explain that this is not because I am hostile to beginners or dismissive of their efforts - we have all been beginners!

Rather, it is because I feel there is enough advice out there for beginners that it isn't a subject area I feel inclined to explore. I have often been disappointed by the lack of internet distance-running content aimed at the intermediate-to-experienced runner. Therefore, I have decided to fill that niche myself. It's not advice, it's a discussion. If you have a couple of years of running under your belt, join the dialogue!

Let's Talk About The Endurance Base
The unsung secret to having a seamless, injury-free training season is the building up of a good endurance base.

The phrase "endurance base" means exactly what you would expect it to mean. Prior to undertaking a major training regimen (for example, an 18-week marathon training regimen), it is customary for experienced athletes to spend anywhere between one and four months increasing their bodies' cardiovascular endurance.

The goal is rather obvious: The more punishment you can handle, the harder you can train; the harder you can train, the faster you can run.

Building Blocks
Let's think about it this way:

If you've never run a step in your life, your first undertaking is just to get outside and give it a try. That's the first building block.

Once you've tried it out enough times and you've decided you're interested in it, the next step is to learn how to save your energy for the full distance in question. You go from sprinting as fast as you can and then walking the rest of the way, to developing a sense of pacing that takes you from a few hundred meters all the way up to several miles. That's the second building block.

After you get used to controlling your pace for an extended period of time, you discover that alternating the length and speed of your daily run can result in increased speed and increased endurance. Before long, you've exposed yourself to comprehensive training philosophies and you've undertaken to engage in some event-specific training (like a marathon). That's the third building block.

Building an endurance base is simply the next link in the chain (if I may mix metaphors). Once you have some experience with event-specific training, it's time to pre-train (for lack of a better term). In anticipation of the coming training regimen, we start slowly building on our weekly miles run, acquainting (or reacquainting) our muscles with long-distance running and simply getting used to running again. At this point, there is no pressure, and no need to run too fast. Endurance training is a nice, relaxing process of iteratively adding to what your body can handle.

Astute Stationary Waves readers may have noticed that the building blocks I've listed above represent a progressively lengthening cognitive time-horizon.

How to Build an Endurance Base
If you have never built any kind of an endurance base before, then my recommendation is to keep things as simple as possible. Sometimes common sense is the best approach: Start with what you know you can do, and then just get comfortable doing it. When you're finally ready to take on a training regimen, go for it.

That simple approach should get you started. Of course, the more thought and planning you put into it, the better off you'll be.

The options here are virtually limitless, but there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  1. The primary goal is to avoid injury. The whole benefit of an endurance base is in being able to subject your body to more strenuous training down the road. If you injure yourself, that is clearly the opposite of the intended effect. To avoid injury, take on only moderate mileage to begin with, and increase your weekly miles by no more than about 10% per week. So if you start with 30 miles per week, add three miles per week on Week #2...
  2. Forget about speed for now. There will be time to wow yourself and others with record-breaking speed. Now is not that time. This goes right along with number 1 above. If you go too fast, too soon, you can risk injury. You'll also fatigue your muscles too early in the game, which will make it a challenge to steadily increase your endurance. Remember, we are extending our cognitive time-horizons here, so don't take on future speed training before you've built your base. Always run at a relaxed pace; resist the urge to hold yourself to a specific pace. For now, I'd even suggest you leave your watch at home.
  3. Give yourself enough time to reach your goal. If your first week of serious marathon training involves some 50 miles of running, then your endurance base should build up to at least that much mileage. Building up even more mileage in the pre-season will be even better, of course. But if you want to get to 50 miles per week and you're starting from zero, this will take you some time. Be realistic about the amount of time it takes to build up the endurance base you're aiming for. If you're increasing your mileage by 10% per week and starting out at 20 miles per week, do the math. This will take some time. Start early, and don't be afraid to hold yourself to it. 
  4. If your body tells you, "This hurts!" then back off. You may still end up with sore joints, tendons, and muscles. You may get some shin splints or a little tendonitis. Don't worry! This is the pre-season! You're not training yet. If your body hurts, back off a little. Take a few days off and try again later. Your training has not yet begun. Don't take on too much too soon.
  5. Get in the habit of stretching. If you don't stretch regularly, I would not suggest you even attempt a marathon. Stretch every day. Learn to love it. Stretching improves your body's capacity for muscle-building and elongates your muscle fibers, helping to prevent injury. This is incredibly important!
I might add that this fifth point is vitally important. The reason I pulled a muscle last season and had to bail on the Montreal Marathon is because I wasn't stretching enough. Take that seriously.

What Will I Do?
If you still need a bit more of a real-world example, I'll give you an idea of what I'll be doing to build my endurance base, starting today.

For the past few weeks, I've been running about 30 minutes a day. This week, I plan on doing at least that. Perhaps I will go for 35 minutes if I'm feeling a little ambitious. Nothing more than that, however.

From there, I will add about five minutes of running per week. Now, bear in mind that I'll be travelling out of the country for two weeks in December, and during that time, I'll be lucky to get out for a run at all. So I may lose two weeks there.

Regardless, I should be up to about 50 minutes of running per day by mid-January. More, if I'm lucky. I'll be taking it easy, enjoying the sights of the city, keeping my head up, and trying to stay warm in the cold Ottawa winter.

The Appalling Hypocrisy of US Drug Policy

Some of you may remember that I chronicled the killing of energy drinks in one of my "Things That Used To Be Legal" featurettes. You may also remember the relatively recent scandal involving highly caffeinated beverages that were mixed with alcoholic beverages at bars throughout the United States.

Surprise, surprise: Today a product called Blowfish hits store shelves. Blowfish is an effervescent beverages that combines aspirin and caffeine in sufficient quantities to kick hangovers.

Apparently drinking caffeine mixed with alcohol presents major health risks, but taking a caffeine-laced hangover remedy is A-okay!

Is it any wonder that people in the United States and elsewhere complain of "crony capitalism" and the corruption of the FDA? In one breath, the government bans caffeine and in the next they made it available over-the-counter from their pharma friends.

The system is broken. We have abandoned all reason. 

Manliness: Courage

I have blogged about fear before. I have defined it on my Lexicon. I have gone out of my way to promote the idea that fear is perhaps the single most destructive force in human psychology. Of all the truly evil things in the universe, fear is the least dignified and most ubiquitous. Fear slinks into your life through the back door, incapable of attacking you head on; it weasels itself inside any situation it can, because your defenses are down, precisely because you have nothing to fear. Once it finds a way in, it quietly acts to destroy. Think of all the truly reprehensible things in society, and it is likely they can be traced back to fear.

Now, before you start to think that I'm about to have a Donnie Darko moment here, let me assure you that fear's cure is not love (although, heyyy, why not?). At the risk of sounding a little thick, eradicating fear requires simply being fearless.

What I mean is, there is no trick. There is nothing you can fall back on, no mantra you can recite to yourself, no deity to which you can appeal. It's not something you're born with or without. It's not a choice or a way of thinking.

No, eradicating fear means simply being aware of its destructive potential and "striking it from your heart."

Manliness and Fear
One of the worst things about fear is that it is a rational emotion. Typically, the things we fear are credible threats in our lives taken so seriously that we start to obsess over them. With things like drugs, it's easy to talk about how irrational bad behavior is; we can't do that with fear. Fear comes from a very logical place in your mind. This is why I say there is no trick to getting rid of it.

Traditionally, it has fallen on the man of the household to stand as a lone protector against the things the women and children fear. The man was responsible for providing safety and security to the others.

If you're a woman, you can certainly be fearless without the risk of being mannish. Similarly, men can demonstrate "traditionally womanly" character traits. No problem. Manliness isn't about gender, nor is it about fulfilling traditional gender roles. At the same time, gender roles are a time-tested aspect of human psychology. They're not going anywhere any time soon. They evolve with the age in which we live - but that is not an argument against gender roles. To a large extent these norms and mores define the boundaries of our behavior, or at least give us some useful guidelines.

I am certainly not a traditionalist, but the fact of the matter is that for us men, fearlessness is a bit of a job requirement. Courage is manly. As a man, you will encounter situations where you must act as the family's calming mechanism. Take this seriously. It is likely that in most families, no one but the man will rise to the occasion, and if someone else does, some will question why it wasn't you. This, too, will feed your fears and insecurities.

So, fear is something men have to face. Get used to it.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
While fear is logical in most cases, the good news is that courage is, too. You never have to fight fear with irrational thoughts, behavior, or actions.

That is pretty important, so let me repeat myself a bit: No matter how bad life gets, we never have to seek solace in irrationality. That will only make our situation worse. Even though fear itself is logical, we still need not run to illogical thoughts or behaviors to get us out of a scary situation. Courage is logical.

Courage isn't about being stupid and putting yourself in danger just to prove that fear has no impact on your sense of self-preservation. Courage is simply knowing that every situation is best served when you think clearly and reasonably about how to solve your problems and then act toward resolution. Courage is action and dignity in the place of paralyzing doubt.

When you act on your courage, you reclaim your dignity. You will not always succeed in solving every problem you face, of course. Courage isn't about being perfect. But courage allows you to know that whatever situation you faced was met head-on with the nobility of a man who accepts his responsibilities to himself.

So what is the worst that could happen? You could fail. You could still be afraid. Everything you think might happen, may actually happen for real. Every threat that you face could come to pass.

But how is that different than if you are afraid of it? It isn't. Remember, there is no trick. Bad and scary things can and will happen in life, most of which we cannot control.

Courage as an aspect of manliness is a choice to claim your dignity and at least try.

You might succeed. That's the one difference.


A Perspective on Environmentalism

My Assertions
As a human being and an economist, I assert the following:
  1. Time is a valuable resource that is worthy of conserving if we want to make the most of it.
  2. Money is a valuable resource that is worthy of conserving if we want to make the most of it.
  3. Making the most of our money and our time allows us to have more of the things we want, including more vital things like food and medicine.
I would be surprised if any environmentalist - or anyone at all, for that matter - objected to the above assertions.

I Accept the Following
The following are a list of beliefs held by environmentalists with which I entirely agree.
  1. Clean is better than dirty; less pollution is better than more pollution.
  2. More bio-diversity is better than less.
I believe almost all reasonable people agree with all of the above assertions. Anyone who feels otherwise is at best irrational and at worst insane. I think we can all agree on that much. Obviously, where self-proclaimed "environmentalists" diverge from those who do not proclaim themselves to be "environmentalists" is in weighing all of these assumptions against each other.

For example, which is preferable: A year of your life or a California Redwood tree? If you had the opportunity to, say, gain a promotion at work at the expense of one acre of tropical rainforest, what would you take? The more favorably you weight the rainforest, the more we can describe you as "an environmentalist." 

If you could permanently feed one starving child for every 5-gallon bucket of radioactive water you poured into Lake Superior, how many buckets would you pour?

Keep in mind, the answers to these questions are entirely subjective. Some people would never chop down an acre of rainforest under any circumstances, and would rather pour zero buckets and let children starve. That is a valid perspective.

Who Gets What
In economics, we routinely state that we live in a world with limited resources and unlimited human need. Based on what we human beings need, we produce things. 

When we needed furniture, we used to go into the woods, chop down some trees, haul some lumber back home, and build the furniture. That we now face some level of deforestation is a predictable result of our need for lumber. That we exist as human beings means we produce some waste that has to be thrown away in either a garbage dump or a sewer of some sort.

Every aspect of human life requires some combination of time, money, and natural resources. The very best aspects of human life require the minimum amount of time, money and natural resources. But competing technologies and methods cost different amounts of time, money, and resources. So, we all make choices for ourselves about how much of each should be minimized or maximized. 

Environmentalists tend to minimize environmental impacts at the expense of time and money. Nonetheless, they should keep in mind that by neglecting to minimize money or time expenditures, their actions adversely affect others. 

Time and money are resources worth minimizing, too. Technologies that save us time and money at the expense of the environment feed children and make our lives more convenient. Non-environmentalists are "environmentalists of time and money." We believe that the starving children of the world are best served by modern technologies that free up time and money that can be spent on feeding them.

I believe that if more people understood these trade-offs, human society would be very different.


Immigration: Important Concept

Last night's GOP debate was all abuzz with immigration talk. I was glad to hear Romney emphatically laud legal immigration. Even though I don't believe him, it was still somewhat encouraging to hear pro-immigration rhetoric. The other candidates were less enthusiastic, and of course Ron Paul was not given an opportunity to discuss the issue at all.

When we're talking about immigration, we have a tendency to assume our rhetorical outcome in advance. What I mean is, before we ever present our arguments in favor of or in opposition of immigration, we decide who we want in and who we want out, and then present examples consistent with that assumption.

Us Versus Them, Us Versus Us
Take the example of a hypothetical would-be immigrant. Should we allow this person to immigrate? Why or why not?

As you might immediately notice, the question assumes an intrinsic "us versus them" framework. The question seems to be, under what conditions should "us" allow "them" into "our" country. Whoever does the talking seems to own the country. We all seem to want to dictate the migration over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like us from millions of other people who are also nothing like us.

Let's rephrase the question a little. Consider your next-door neighbor. Should we throw him out of the country? Why or why not?

If you think this isn't a fair question, then you're not being ideologically consistent.

If We Can Keep Them Out, We Can Throw You Out
The fact of the matter is that if you think you have a right to determine who moves over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like you from millions of other people who are also nothing like you then you have already assumed that you have the right to determine who's in and who's out. That means, as imaginary dictator, your power to keep people out is also the power to throw people out.

I need not further point, I hope, that if others can be thrown out, so can you.

So, you think I'm making this up? I hate to play the Hitler card here, but isn't this precisely what happened in Germany all those decades ago? One day, "us" decided that "them" was a real burden on "us's" society, so "us" went ahead and threw "them" out. And then tried to exterminate "them."

Germany is a poignant example (probably because Jews are light-skinned and cook food that looks and smells a lot like our own food), but it's not the only example. Japanese internment camps in North America are also a good example of legal immigrants being rounded up and harmed, or expelled, or both.

Most nations have some sordid experience with xenophobia, and it's not always about the people on the other side of the imaginary line. Often it has everything to do with people on our own side of the imaginary line.

A Revolutionary Idea: People Are A Good Thing
I start from a crazy idea: people are good, more people are better, human civilization is a net positive.

From there, I add another crazy idea: All people should be treated equally under the law. I know that one is falling out of favor these days, but I think it still has enough intrinsic value that I need not spend precious blog time "proving" it.

Combine the two elements, and you get my take on immigration: Let people in. That's it. Just let people in. Illegal immigration occurs only because legal immigration is prohibitively difficult. We can solve that problem by making legal immigration easier. We also have the added benefit of denying the state any power or philosophical justification for throwing out its own citizens.

One Last Point
In general, the arguments against illegal immigration boil down to one thing: People don't want illegal immigrants crossing the border and subsequently becoming wards of the welfare state.

I ask: Is this a problem with people crossing borders, or is this a problem with the welfare state?

As we see time and time again, welfare and socialism breed conflict among individuals in our society. Were there no such thing as social welfare, who in their right mind would care who moved over the imaginary line and who didn't? It is only because we have a socialist welfare scheme that we care who has the legal power to request state support.

Thus, once again, we see that socialism is the true source of the ugly kind of nationalism, that socialism is what pits us against each other. The free-flow of individuals across imaginary lines is a free trade issue as well as a peaceable assemble issue. Socialism is antagonistic to both.