Bangla Word of the Day

Bhetki - [BHET kee] n. Either this fish:

Or the face it makes when it dies! Hahaha...

Boettke in the Wall Street Journal

A good article in the Wall Street Journal today focuses on Peter Boettke, the man they see behind the recent resurgence of Austrian Economics. I'll freely admit that I have no idea who is behind the resurgence, however, I vividly recall a resurgence in about the year 2000 or 2001. There, a professor of mine routinely posted articles about Josef Schumpeter on her door. She was the odd-one-out in the economics department, but she was a fantastic professor who impacted my economic thinking deeply.

But I digress. The point is that Austrian economics is not experiencing a resurgence or revival - it never went away. Great ideas don't just wither when they fall out of favor among the most popular people. Dweezil Zappa is bringing down arenas all over the world with his Zappa Plays Zappa shows; is Frank's music experiencing a revival, or is it more apt to suggest that great music will always have an audience?

This is popular culture. We always look for a face or a name, someone we can herald as our pop messiah. We love a good comeback story, and we love the triumph of the little guy. That's all that's going on here in the popular press. Among the rest of us, we know that Austrian ideas never went anywhere. They have always been relevant and always will be. The truth never goes out of style.

At the end of the WSJ article, Kelly Evans writes:

But as much as the Austrian diagnosis may resonate now, it doesn't provide a playbook for what to do next, which could limit its current resurgence.
Mr. Hayek rightly warned of the dangers of central planning, Mr. Boettke says, but "he didn't give a prescription for how to move from 'serfdom' back."
 The answer is simple: Laissez faire.


Grand Staircase Escalante and the "Ground Zero Mosque"

With no end in sight, the controversy surrounding the so-called "ground zero mosque" continues to bring out the worst in all of us. As the controversy continues, I'm struck by a parallel between this proposed mosque and another American monument established in 1996.


Almost fifteen years ago, President Bill Clinton designated a large expanse of land in Utah the "Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument." Seen largely as a political ploy to win favor among voting environmentalists, the designation of this national monument immediately halted business development in the area, including a proposed coal mine, and stifled Utah's ability to make use of some of its designated Schools and Institutional Trust Lands to pay for the state's school system (until other SITL lands were designated two years later, thanks in part to the controversy created by the Monument). Creation of the Monument also sparked a conflict between local county officials and the Bureau of Land Management over which authorities have jurisdiction over the dirt roads throughout the Monument. This controversy continues to this day, and is quite emblematic of the frustration felt by many of us in the more rural western United States over BLM practices and fair use of what we see as "our own land."

Make no mistake; these matters are conflicts of law with no easy solutions. The controversy over Grand Staircase Escalante is very much alive in Utah today, with local ranchers and miners still angry about what they see as federal usurpation of important economic resources, and local environmental activists equally as passionate in their support of the Monument. However, we must pause to note that this issue no longer has a place on the national stage.

Our Right to Resolve Local Issues Locally

One root of the issue is the question of why the use of local land that most Americans will never see in their entire lives was elevated to the national stage. At the time, I recall wondering why people from such places as California, Chicago, New York, and Washington had such strong opinions on land about which they knew nothing and in which they had no stake. Fifteen years later, I still don't know. Nevertheless, President Clinton was able to leverage a national appetite for environmental protection toward the resolution of an entirely local land-use issue. Many locals rightly felt that their views were trounced by far-away opinions that were completely distanced from the very real local issues Utahns were living every day. Their question rings as true today as it did in 1996: How much weight does "national opinion" carry with regard to local issues, especially when it comes to land use?

I ask this question now because the fundamental issue is very similar in New York City today. Put to a local vote, it seems virtually guaranteed that the majority of New Yorkers would back the mosque's right to exist. As a result, the controversy today - as it was in Utah fifteen years ago - is being generated and exploited by a national public with no immediate connection to the particular lands in question. Of what relevance, really, are the opinions of Utahns, Arizonans, Californians, Washingtonians, et al in matters of private property in New York City? The obvious answer is, none, of course.

And yet, as a former resident of Utah, I cannot help but feel that some in New York City are now getting their just desserts from weighing in on extra-local private property issues. Herein lies a lesson to be learned by all of us: One day, you are the one determining what some extra-local group should do with their own land; the next day, they may very well be determining how you use yours!

This is the inherent danger of elevating local matters to the national stage. What right does any New Yorker have to object to a national discourse on this mosque, when they were so quick to weigh-in on analogous controversies elsewhere in the country?

Civic Duty and Personal Responsibility

If it is not already clear, let us take a moment to be unequivocal: The use of one's own private property is determined by the owner, subject to local zoning laws. What this means is that if a religious group purchases land fair and square with the intention of constructing a religious building, they are well within their rights to do so. On this point, all sides agree. Let this be the end of the question "Can they do that?"

There is a question of land value at work here. To wit, if what is now known as "Ground Zero" is hallowed ground for our country, then where are all the patriots willing to put their money where their mouths are? Throughout the Amazon rainforest, environmental groups and green-minded individuals have purchased great expanses of land because they, as private individuals, wish to see that land untouched by developers. Rather than coerce the locals through the machinery of government, they simply (and peacefully) purchase what they value so that the land may continue to exist in a way that they prefer. If it is important to some Americans that "Ground Zero" remains free of monuments to Islam, then one may very well ask how much New York City land they have purchased to ensure that it exists as a patriotic monument consistent with their own preferences.

Ironically, this argument was just as easy to apply to environmentalists in 1996, who decided to use the Federal Government as a tool to determine land use, rather than peacefully purchasing land and using it in accordance with their values. There can be no doubt that some of the same voices who criticize mosque opponents today were those who emphatically backed the creation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

It is easy to see the discrepancy between what people claim to value, and what values they are truly willing to stand behind (e.g.  financially). Those who wish to conserve natural landmarks or patriotic hallowed ground are certainly free to exercise their rights, purchase property, and invest themselves in the values they hold dear. Those who elect not to exercise this right have no place criticizing those who do, no matter to what legal use the land is eventually put.


In an ideal world, we could transcend allegedly "polarizing" issues like this and exist in a harmonious, free society. Rather than rushing to condemn a monument to Islam near the former World Trade Center, concerned Americans could financially contribute to the erection of such a monument with the proviso that the eventual landmark properly reflects donors' values. Those in charge of erecting the landmark, eager to display the open-hearted intentions, would be eager to create such a monument to the peaceful, free, and cooperative society that America has always been.

In the real world, pundits fan the flames of bonfires of vanities. It is tempting to participate in the controversy, lending our own unique take on a multi-faceted issue. When liberals label their opponents bigots and conservatives become enemies of private property, it is important for libertarians to adhere to principle. At issue is more than just freedom to worship and private property, but one of the most attractive and important principles of classical liberalism: civic duty.

Of course all Americans have a right to worship as they please. Of course all Americans have a right to use private property as they see fit. Beyond that cursory glance lie the more important concepts of putting our money where our mouths are if we wish to see land used the way we want it to be, and letting local people sort out their own local issues on the local stage.


Moral Cause-And-Effect

The world you face today is the direct and natural result of the world you faced yesterday. The course of human events is neither random nor predetermined. It is a rational and predictable chain of action and reaction. The key to living a mentally healthy and happy adult life lies in our ability to connect past events with current events, and current events with future events. We are in control of our own lives.

There are two components of this idea: Acknowledgement and responsibility.

Acknowledgement is the first step. Some float through life without ever acknowledging that the situations they face have some relationship to the past. In ignoring the events that lead to their current situation, they surrender all control to "the world out there." It just happened, right? Who knows why, and who wants to do anything about it?

Looking back, it can be difficult to see what the problem is. But the problem is that when we adopt this perspective, then we lack a basic sense empathy with respect to our current actions. If you don't believe that current situations are the direct result of prior actions, then there is no reason to believe that anything you do now will come back to haunt you (or the people you love) in the future. In reality, we know this isn't true. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Acknowledging this fact is the first step toward ensuring that your actions only affect yourself and others in a positive way.

Responsibility is the second step. Dictionary.com's entry for "responsible" provides a number of useful ways of looking at responsibility as it pertains to morality. In particular, definitions (4) and (5), taken together provide a full perspective on being morally responsible: "having a capacity for moral decisions" (4) and being "able to discharge obligations" (5).

Often, our refusal to acknowledge the causality of our actions is our vain attempt to escape responsibility for it. We all know that one little white lie often leads to a complex and pointless web of deceit. No deed goes unrewarded or unpunished. A little bad behavior here causes many bad situations elsewhere. It stands to reason that years of objectionable behavior will have far-reaching negative consequences on many people we know.

So how do we fix it? That's the easy part! Willingly acknowledging our behavior and taking responsibility for it breaks the chain of negative consequences. It is obviously best not to do something wrong at all, but having done something, it is important to make every attempt to take responsibility for it and to fix it. Consequences shoot off of our actions like a ricocheting bullet - Yes, it gets worse over time, but it is always better to tackle such things today than to leave it to another day. A month of consequences is easier to deal with than two months; two monthis is easier than three months, four years is easier than five, and so on... Remember, you are in control of your life! So take control. Own up to the bad things you've done and do what you can to make them right.

Finally, we should also keep in mind that good behavior has positive consequences. It is an amazing thing to behold how lucky good people can be. Those of us who treat others well and always remain true to our morals and honesty often find a clear path around every obstacle we face. That, too, is a direct result of our actions. The fact that we can be so wonderfully rewarded for our good deeds in life is all the incentive we need to acknowledge our actions and take responsibility for them. Before you know it, being a good person is such a second-nature habit that you won't even have to think about it. It's easy to be good!


Zoning: Or As I Like to Call It, Social Engineering

I'm adding a new tag for my blog: Social Engineering. I have so much to say about this. I can't get into it right now, but for now, please read the following - brilliantly written - article from S.M. Oliva over at the Mises Institute blog.

[Update 5/14/2013 - This label never grew into anything significant and has been amalgamated into the "Government" label.]


Children Are Idiots And It's All Our Fault

The Wall Street Journal has published an article showing that fewer than 25% of students who took the ACT college entry examination this year scored high enough to pass core college curricula. The blame game for this involves all the usual suspects: not enough school funding, high school curricula that aren't rigorous enough, bad national education policy, etc. etc.

But none of that is true. The reason our children are getting stupider isn't systemic, it's cultural. We as a culture place a higher level of importance on the high school "experience," replete with sports, social gatherings, extra-curricular activities, dances, "socializing," etc. than we do on the actual point of school: education. When an over-achieving child wants to graduate early, we advise her that it's best to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience that is high school. (Even the phrase "over-achieving" carries a negative connotation, as if one can achieve too much!) The brainy kids are ostracized while the numbskulls are glorified - and for the most part, we're fine with that. We accept it. We see this as "the way it should be."

The WSJ article's interactive graph also reveals that while 66% of students scored adequately in English, less than half of students met the Mathematics benchmark, and less than one third met the Science benchmark. I cannot underscore enough what a terrible omen this is. Culturally, Americans are rejecting math and science (and therefore logic in general). Instead, anyone with an interest in books is considered "smart," whereas those who are actually capable of inventing something are just considered brainiac nerds to be ignored.

Mises pointed out in Human Action and elsewhere that society cannot progress without new technology. Our children are growing up as consumers of inventions but inventors of nothing. When I talk about a new dark ages, this is what I mean. When our society has been stunted by a complete rejection of the very qualities of mankind that lead to human progress, all hope is lost.

Pride and Prejudice may be a great novel, but it feeds no one. Art should be appreciated and preserved, but if we don't start adding logic, reason, science, and mathematics to the list of things that we glorify as a society, then you can kiss it all good-bye. There is no art without intelligence. There is no human race without inventions.


On Second Thought, I Do Have Something to Add

Further to the below link, I would like to add a few words about freedom in the Western world.

In my view, it is a categorical misrepresentation to suggest that America has a long and storied tradition of religious and cultural tolerance. We are, after all, a nation with a history of human slavery, foreign aggression, "Kaiser Bill," Japanese internment camps, broken treaties, freedom fries, ghetto racial enclaves, and a progressively swollen anti-immigration sentiment. One is inclined to agree with those leftist cynics who label us all bigots and spend their time apologizing for their "white guilt" and other kinds of guilt.

Make no mistake, we in the United States do not have clean hands when it comes to bigotry.

What makes the USA different, however, has been our commitment to maintain institutionally upheld freedoms in the face of our inherent private biases. A really great example of this would be the often-panned Jehovah's Witnesses, and their ability to win a series of revolutionary Supreme Court cases in the first half of the 20th Century. Despite wave upon wave bigotry thrown their way, the Jehovah's Witnesses prevailed, and laid the foundations for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Simply stated, with out their accomplishments three decades prior, there likely would not have been a civil rights movement in America.

And the really great thing is that these stories are not unique. The Underground Railroad, the plight of Irish and Chinese immigrants in the late 19th Century, the women's suffrage movement, and yes even the marriage movement and the plight of latino immigrants today. All of these movements come from the same place - the desire to simply be left alone, despite living lives that are very different from mainstream, majority life.

I am getting progressively more alarmed by American society's inability to allow people to lead divergent lifestyles. Note that this is not the same thing as accepting those lifestyles. No one need accept anything with which they fundamentally disagree. Of course, that isn't the point. Acceptance is never on the table. The question is neither acceptance nor happiness nor any of the rest of it.

What we are talking about, plainly and simply, is our increasing willingness to use the apparatus of the State to force people into leading the kinds of lives we determine to be correct. That is what makes 2010 different from yesteryear. We no longer accept that some rich people will choose to hoard their wealth rather than donate it. We no longer accept that some immigrants will refuse to learn English. We no longer accept that some people oppose Social Security and universal health care. We no longer accept that some religious people will have the unparalleled audacity to construct an obviously inflammatory building on a controversial site. We are now more intolerant than ever. All must conform to majoritarian lifestyle. All must obey the will of "the people," whoever the hell they happen to be at any given moment.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is scary. If you are willing to utilize the brute force of the federal government to make other people conform to your ideal lifestyle, there is simply nothing you won't do, no line you will not cross in pursuit of your own personal utopian society.

And that, friends, is tyranny.

Ground Zero Is Not Hallowed Ground

I don't have much to add to this wonderful post from Attackerman. We are supposed to do things a little differently here.


Malinvestment Begins With Renewed Vigor

So the Wall Street Journal now reports that junk bonds are being issued at a record pace. For over a year, banks have been holding onto the massive amounts of stimulus money the Federal Reserve has been pumping into the economy. Now it seems that the floodgates are being opened.

These junk bonds are not investment grade. In other words, they're bad debts. Remember what got us into this mess? Bad debts. As this money begins to enter consumers' hands, we will see large-scale inflation. It's impossible to know exactly how much inflation we're talking about here, but chances are, it will be pretty significant.

What will these junk bonds give us, in return? Probably more cheap crap from Asia, more empty Chinese cities, more Vegas casinos that no one goes to, and other stuff you neither need nor want. It is called malinvestment for a reason.


Tribute to Garfield

I recently sent a Garfield comic to a friend of mine, who didn't quite get the joke. After explaining what was funny about it, I subsequently started waxing philosophical about what Garfield really is. The result is the following diatribe.

If you really want to psychoanalyze it, the name “Jon” is not coincidentally very similar to the name “Jim,” as in Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. The comic strip is Jim Davis’ humorous take on his own life through the lens of cat ownership. Garfield’s sarcasm and blasé attitude illustrate exactly what we see when we anthropomorphize cats – we’re involved in the daily excitement and drama of our lives, and cats just look on, barely interested, seeming almost judgemental of us. The more upset we get, the more our cats seem not to care. They famously sleep all day and care about little else, but we love them for it.

There’s a bit of a yin-yang thing going on with Jon and Garfield all the time. Jon can’t seem to do anything right, no matter how hard he tries. Garfield can do things easily, but doesn’t try. Jon wears his heart on his sleeve and can’t attract women. Garfield is smug and selfish, but his girlfriend Arlene loves him dearly. Things go wrong for Jon when he applies his best intentions. Things go wrong for Garfield when he successfully out-wits people who were never against him in the first place. The woman Jon loves most in the whole world also happens to be the woman Garfield hates most – the Veterinarian.

So basically we’re looking at the two sides of human nature: Jon is that part of us that is good through-and-through, but never quite good enough; Garfield is that part of us that is sneaky, snarky, and irresponsible, who knew we couldn’t do it all along and just wanted to stay in bed. These are the two sides of Jim Davis, really, but he successfully encapsulated his life in a way everyone identifies with. There’s a little Jon and Garfield in all of us.

Ayn Rand Quote of the Day

In light of the recent debate on marriage between human beings, with both "sides" of the issue missing the point so completely, I thought I would remind everyone what a right actually is. We have a tendency to forget what rights are and where they come from. Without getting too preachy, this should help:
"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."
-- Ayn Rand

Marriage is defined neither by a majority nor by a government. Marriage pre-dates both.


Official Google Blog: Your Google stories: finding the right words

Official Google Blog: Your Google stories: finding the right words

Bangla Resources

Today I have been featured on the Official Google Blog (lucky me!).  The feature was about how I have used Google's Docs and Transliteration applications to help myself learn Bangla. If you have been reading Stationary Waves, you know that from time to time I will post a Bangla Word of the Day, featuring one or two words that are either incredibly handy when speaking Bangla, or particularly eloquent in use.

Blog reader ahnberg asked me in a recent comment if I had taken the time to publish my Bangla dictionary. The answer is no, but in light of the recent spotlight and question, there is no better time than the present.

So here it is, my friend - The Bangla Dictionary. Obviously, this is not my own personal Google Doc. This is an Excel version, which I have uploaded to Rapidshare for those who are interested.

Now, this dictionary reflects the earliest period in my Bangla education. It started out as one sheet, then as my vocabulary grew, I started sorting the words according to the parts of speech. Some of the words in the dictionary are a little wrong or misleading, so have a native Bangla speaker handy.

Also, for those of you who keep track of such things, this dictionary reflects Bangla as spoken in Bangladesh. The vocabulary is a little simpler and less eloquent than what is used in West Bengal. Bear that in mind.

Ahnberg also asks if I have any tips for learning Bangla. Well, these are a few lessons I have learned along the way:

  • Spend some time getting familiar with the syntax of the language. You have to understand that first in order to start forming sentences with your new vocabulary.
  • Start with simple sentences. Most people don't use long, complicated sentences when speaking Bangla, and you likely won't be able to wrap your head around complex syntax until you start reading Bangla books.
  • As tempting as it might be to speak with an accent or in a dialect, I strongly recommend learning to speak formal Bangla. Resist the urge to say things like "korsilam," and instead use the real word with the correct pronunciation ("korechhi," in this case).
  • Do learn Bengali script. It will help you understand pronunciation, and it allows you to access the online Bangla-English dictionaries. It will also allow you to read classic Bangla poems and stories, which contain a rich cultural backdrop that comes with speaking the language.
  • Don't be afraid to practice with someone who knows the language.
  • Even if you can only speak a word or two, do it. People really appreciate it. :)
  • Try to write down every new word you hear, immediately.
  • Most importantly, don't give up!
The most important Bangla online resource I can point to is this Bangla-English dictionary. In order to read the script, you should check out this website describing the Bengali script. (Don't forget to study the conjunct consonants on that website - they are a little daunting at first, but don't be scared. In general the first consonant appears on top and the second below.)

Between those two websites and a native Bangla speaker, you should be on your way. However, if you're like me and you prefer to take a more academic approach to things, spend an afternoon reading the Wikipedia articles on the Bengali Language and the Bengali script. It is pretty dry reading, but it is worth reading at least once. It will give you a full picture of what you're dealing with.

Bangla seems like a challenge at first, but with a little perseverance, you'll be well on your way in a year or two. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


Wading Into the Concept of Opinion

One of my more controversial ideas is the notion that there are varying degrees of "validity" or "truth" when it comes to someone's opinion. A really obvious example of this would be the opinion of an expert medical witness in a court case vs. the opinion of a layman faced with the same facts. Obviously, on questions of medical prognoses and diagnoses, a trained doctor will generally have a more valid opinion than a lay-person.

Some may right point out that these questions aren't truly "a matter of opinion," but rather the doctor knows more about what the facts mean than someone with no medical training.

However, I believe that even matters of opinion are not quite as "purely subjective" as most are inclined to believe. I submit that even while judging music or art, it is possible to come to a "wrong" conclusion. Many of you will stop reading here, but for those who are at least partially interested in seeing where I'm going with this, read on.

The artist in the interview below alludes this idea that knowing what you’re talking about is a personal responsibility we all have, and maybe that responsibility appears progressively less important in modern times when there is a little bit of information bombarding us at all times. The trickle vs. the deluge. Because we all read a Wikipedia article from time to time, some of us think we know enough about art to gauge something on the same level that a true art critic would.

I certainly think it’s possible to become an expert in multiple fields just by reading information online. But that assumes some commitment, some studying, etc.

Like, to me it is a bit of a shame that some people misconstrue the fact that “information is available to everyone” as being the same thing as “everyone actually knows.” The first statement is true and wonderful – the second statement is bogus and absurd.

Similarly, “everyone has a preference” is much different from “everyone’s opinion carries equal weight.” And this is where the controversy comes in. “Everyone has a preference” is an axiom of praxeology – it is an indisputable apodictic fact, and this is good. But the statement “everyone’s opinion carries equal weight” is preposterous and not something that should be promoted. Even though it satisfies our egalitarian values, it is simply not true. Having a valuable opinion is something you have to work hard for. It is not a given.


Don't Think About It

If you're anything like me, then from time to time you will face some kind of difficult interpersonal problem. Your friends won't understand you, your parents will give you a hard time, or your coworkers will make going to work unpleasant. This is natural. This is normal. This is life. Don't sweat it.

But deal with it.

Recently, in talking about one such of my own problems, I received the following piece of advice: "Don't think about it. Just don't think about it, because you can't change it, so why worry about it? It'll just make you sad." Readers will be happy (or at least not surprised) to know that I rejected this advice immediately (in a nice way). Why?

Stripped down to it's core element, this advice is as follows: Don't think about it because you can't change it.

It seems to be that those who practice this concept have the statement backwards: They can't change their problem because they don't think about it.

Only through thinking, rationalizing, planning, concluding can we ever hope to deal with our problems. No matter how big or how small, the one and only hope anyone ever has in being able to deal with their problems is thinking about them, reaching a conclusion and/or developing a plan, and then acting accordingly.

This is so obvious that I need not prove it. You can also provide your own examples from you own life, rather than listening to mine. Think of any tough problem that you have actually solved, and then re-trace your steps. Did you solve the problem by simply not thinking about it, or did you solve it by figuring it out somehow?

Granted, some problems are difficult to the point that we may not have the time or energy to solve them. In that case, our solution may be changing something about our lives that enables us to at least avoid placing ourselves in situations where we may regularly face a problem we can't solve. But that, too, is an action reached by consideration. There is no escaping it; thought is our only way to approach problems.

The person who does not think about their problems is the person who drinks them away (or worse), the person who regularly ignores others' bad behavior and lets themselves be taken advantage of, or the blind and hapless fool.

All problems require some thought, so please think about it.