We've Come A Long Way, Baby

April 2013 was another record-setting blogging month for me. It seems like only yesterday that I was excited about the 200-some hits I received from Mises.org after they published my article on the "Ground-Zero Mosque." (Haha, remember that? Does anyone remember how big a deal that was?) Those hits are depicted in the chart above: they are that first, tiny bump on the far left.

Suffice it to say, things have grown around here. I suspect it's time for another site redesign soon. I like the Blogger template I'm using, but I could use something that is a little more visually attractive. Any suggestions?

But anyway, I'd like to personally thank you for making my blog whatever small-potatoes "success" it might be. I look forward to the day I eventually corner the market on Economics + Music + Fitness + Philosophy (ha, ha, ha...)


An Overdue Post On Running Form

Way back in June 2011, I blogged about running form. At the end of that blog post, I promised subsequent comments and tips on running form. Those subsequent comments and tips never really came, and here I am nearly two years later finding that I have sorely neglected commentary on running form.

True to my general approach to running-related posts, I would like to write this one in the following format: Theory first, then practicality. First, you'll get a dose of "concepts," and then you'll get a dose of actual tips. The reason I do this is because for me, running is like anything else: there is an underlying logic to it that must be understood in order for a successful execution to occur. Bear with me while I highlight the logic in the first section, and you will benefit more from the mechanics of the second section.

Run Fast, No Matter How Fast
As I wrote previously, the key to running safely is running fast. I know what you're thinking: "So if I can't run fast, I shouldn't even bother? I am just learning how to run; how can I expect to become a fast runner if I'm just going to injure myself in the process?"

There are two key points here:
  1. "Fast" is a relative concept. Whatever your running level, you have a "fast mode," a "slow mode," and perhaps even a few "in-between modes." My point is that only "fast mode" is safe. For you, "fast mode" might be 8-minute miles; for someone else, it might be 5-minute miles. Whatever. The point is not the absolute speed you're running, but the speed relative to your overall running ability. 
  2. While you can train, practice, and develop the skill required to be a very fast runner, running itself is an ability that we are all born with. It's instinctual. Even people who are born unable to walk have the neurological mechanisms required to run. All species with legs are born with the running instinct. Human beings forget how to run over the course of their lives.
If you doubt this last point, I invite you to go to any playground or public park in the world. There, you will find dozens of children running around. Pay close attention to their running form. While they are often flailing their arms and otherwise giggling and acting crazy, their core running form is very often superb. If not superb, it is at least much better than the running form of the average adult jogger. Why do you suppose that is?

My explanation for this phenomenon is that when children run, they're just moving as fast as possible from point A to point B, which is the whole purpose of running to begin with. On the other hand, when adults run, they're "engaging in fitness behavior." Getting from points A to B does not carry any implication with it, so kids have excellent running form because they're not thinking about it. They are engaging in as close to the instinctual running motion as they can be without being chased by a man-eating tiger. Meanwhile, when adults run, they're doing something that comes with a whole slew of prior implications: they have to jog, they have to control their pace, they have to lose weight, they have to avoid injury, and so on.

These peripheral thoughts enter the adult mind when we set out to run and interfere with thoughtless, or instinctual running. We stop running altogether. Instead, we jog. Jogging is what causes injury.

So, to recap: It's not about being a star athlete, it's about tapping into the ability that lies dormant in the dark corners of your brain that we humans like to pretend doesn't exist: the instincts. Running by instinct will keep you safe and injury-free. It will also make you a faster runner. Hence, fast = safe.

Some Practical Tips For Improving Running Form
My old post provided some wind-sprint drills that are designed to help runners develop better running form: Long-Strides and Butt-Kicks. I also recommended that you focus on your arms' movement while you run to help understand the connection between arm effort and running speed. Let's take a look at some more ideas for developing form.

Running Downhill
An easy way to force your body into a more instinctual running motion is to run down a long, steep hill. Your first reaction will be to lean backward to slow yourself down and maintain "control." This is the exact opposite of what your body wants to do. Rather than "control" your movements, you should embrace your body's natural reaction to downhill running. 

Try this: lean forward! In doing so, you will force your legs to compensate for the location of your center of gravity. Just as pumping your arms will demand that your legs follow suit, throwing your center of gravity ahead of your hips on a downhill run will force your legs to work harder to keep yourself from falling forward. Your arms will also naturally compensate.

If the hill is sufficiently long (say, a quarter-mile or so), then you will have enough space to develop some familiarity with what your legs are doing as you lean forward. Note that the goal here is not to lean forward every time you run, but rather to gain an understanding of what your legs and arms feel like when slow isn't an option. You want to understand that motion, because that's the instinctual one, i.e. the safe one.

Running down a long hill a few times per week is a great way to gain a better understanding of the natural running motion.

Track Workouts
The great enemy of the casual or beginning runner is track work. Most people erroneously believe that, unless they intend to win a formal running competition, track workouts are irrelevant. This simply isn't true.

First of all, interval workouts on a track are a simple, effective, and typically free way to engage in HIIT. In fact, the second "I" in HIIT is interval, and interval training was first developed by competitive runners. I don't need to tell you that HIIT training is highly in vogue among fitness enthusiasts everywhere. Some studies have even shown that senior citizens and morbidly obese people benefit more from HIIT than from traditional cardiovascular training. If you are interested in HIIT at all - and most people are - then track workouts are one of the best types of HIIT available to you.

Track workouts can also be a great way to get a quick run in. With a five-minute warm-up and another five-minute cool-down, you can get through a strenuous speed workout at the track in just 30 minutes. That is a great option if you don't have a lot of time on your hands. More importantly, even if you do have plenty of time to workout, speed work packs a lot of punch into a shorter period of time, freeing you up for other fitness activities.

Of course, the other major benefit of speed work is what I'm writing about today: improving your running form. When you demand that your body run as fast as it can, then you once again force your body to adopt more efficient, i.e. more natural/instinctual, form and posture. Always going as hard as you can is a little extreme, of course. The idea here is to introduce more natural running postures into your existing running regimen. Setting aside one day of the week to engage in that other running activity, sprinting, is a great way to keep in touch with running fast. As time goes on, you'll find that your body begins to import some of your sprinting habits into your other runs. This is your body in the process of developing better running form. Embrace it!

Distant Objects
Here's an easy one you can try out today: While you run, focus deep into the distance. Don't look down at the ground or at the scenery around you. Instead, focus on a single, distant object and run toward it. Ideally, this would be something on the horizon, or a distant skyscraper ahead of you. Perhaps it's a mountain or a radio tower in the distance.

There is something about focusing in the distance that changes a runner's mindset. I am not exactly sure what it is. All I know is that when a runner focuses on the distance instead of on peripheral objects, she finds herself running faster, smoother, and more efficiently.

I hope you find these tips useful as you get ready for the summer running season. Hopefully I will not put another two years between this post and my next discussion of running form. No promises, though. At any rate, please keep in mind that the key to running safely is by developing good form, and that means embracing the natural running motion that you already have locked in your head from birth.

Give it a try, I'm positive you will enjoy it.

Non-Monetary Goods And Personal Welfare

One of the fun things about following that which is known as "the economics blogosphere" is that you start to notice trends in thought that extend beyond the mere topics at hand.


It is not unlike the world of music, in which certain musical elements ebb and flow in popularity and usage beyond the specific musical genres in which they are present.

For example, in the early 2000s, it was extremely popular for songwriters to write material that made use of the IV-iv-I chord progression. The classic example here would be Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." That song stands out as an example because, not only was it an extremely popular song at the time, it is built almost entirely around that chord progression. I happened to notice around the time it came out that many musicians were making use of that chord progression. At the time, you could find it in pop music, rock music, film scores, TV commercials, and so on. It is not a particularly uncommon chord progression, so we would never expect it to completely disappear from use. Nonetheless, it experienced a peak in popularity between 2003-2006 or so.

Before that, the preferred musical trend was a static melody with a shifting tonic. This was basically the entire output of Nickelback's 604 Records. For the first half of the 90s, it was major-tonality modal music with a dominant 7th. (Think "Hands All Over" by Soundgarden as pretty much the perfect example.)


Anyway, back to trends in economics.

This morning, Tyler Cowen begins a post on unemployment with an excellent analogy (emphasis mine):

Let’s say you are 22, full of energy, don’t feel you need to marry soon, and have lots of cash in your bank account.  Many people in this position feel they can “date around” a lot, without fear of the repercussions.  They can enter into short-term relationships without much agonizing in advance, and simply break up if it doesn’t work out. 
Alternatively, imagine you are 39, run down and vulnerable, wanting kids soon, and in a precarious financial situation.  You probably won’t date casually the same way.  You will treat every romantic relationship as if it is a significant investment.  You will be more careful, because the cost of mistakes is higher, and the cost of serial “running around” is higher too.  Search is tougher and you will apply higher standards to search. 
In good times employers are like the 22-year-old and they will take chances with many different employees.  In 2009-2013, they often have seemed more like the 39-year-old.  They are waiting and watching, rather than trying out lots of dates. 
Of course this analogy points to just one possible factor, it is hardly a comprehensive account of current unemployment, even if you ignore any possible problems in the story. 
Note that the terms “involuntary unemployment” and “voluntary employment” do not make sense here, and usually it is a mistake to insist on one or the other.  There are jobs and for that matter dates in North Dakota, so how high does the cost of moving have to be to distinguish one category from the other?  Is theory going to supply an answer here?  No.  When you see arguments for either the “voluntary” or “involuntary” nature of unemployment, that is a good sign someone is trying to mix moral issues into positive issues.  It is also a move away from the concept of marginal analysis.
Cowen starts strong, but seems to draw the entirely wrong conclusions from his own comparison. In order to see this, all you have to do is ask yourself what it would take to get you to pick up and move to North Dakota.

Cowen is going for the touchy-feely message here. What he's saying is that once costs reach a certain point, their unaffordability renders nominally "voluntary" choices involuntary in the same sense that I cannot afford a Ferrari, even though buying one is a voluntary expenditure. This point is certainly true if moving to North Dakota is extremely expensive. The problem with Cowen's point is that it's not expensive to move to North Dakota.

So, back to my question: Why aren't you moving to North Dakota, if not cost? The answer is: It's cold in North Dakota, it lacks the amenities available in more populous cities, the population is more homogeneous, the art scene is comparatively limited, it is geographically isolated from other major cities, and it is probably somewhat distant from your family members.

Cowen's blog post is all about using a careful eye to properly discern "market imperfections" and "search theory." He heavily invokes the language of non-monetary goods, but somehow fails to build them into his blog post. In fact, they tell the whole story: You're not moving to North Dakota, and the reasons for this have nothing to do with financial compensation or search theory.

You would have to make millions in order to justify living in North Dakota. Similarly, you would probably be willing to take a significant pay cut to live permanently on a Tuscan villa. The reason for this that North Dakota offers a lower standard of living at the same set of purely economic conditions, while life on a Tuscan villa offers an extremely high standard of living.

Meanwhile, David Henderson criticizes what he calls "GDP Fetishism" because it does not properly account for non-monetary goods:
To see why GDP is not the same as wellbeing [I use "welfare" and "wellbeing" interchangeably], consider the definition of GDP. One of the most careful definitions is in The Economic Way of Thinking, 10th edition, by Paul Heyne, Peter Boettke, and David Prychitko. They write: "The gross domestic product is the market value of all the final goods produced in the entire country in the course of a year."1 Most economists would agree with this definition. It turns out, though, as Heyne et al. point out, that even this careful definition does not accurately characterize GDP, let alone wellbeing. It is inaccurate in two ways. First, because there is usually no market for the things that government produces (the U.S. Postal Service being one of the exceptions), government spending on goods and services is valued at cost rather than at market prices. Second, because many goods and services are not bought or sold, even though they would have a market value if they were, these goods and services are not counted in GDP. In early editions of his best-selling textbook, Economics, the late Paul Samuelson gave his favorite example of this pitfall in GDP accounting. Samuelson pointed out that if a man married his maid, then, all else equal, GDP would fall.
That last bit, credited to Samuelson, is the most important. If it's not obvious, once a man marries his maid, he is no longer responsible for paying her, but the housework must still be done. The man saves the money he used to spend on his maid. The woman gives up that amount of income. The two of them divide the housework equally (ha! I'm updating this because Samuelson's example would not fly in today's world), and the work continues to get done. Doing housework is an economic good, but if you're not paying a maid to do it, then it is a non-monetary good.


So the economic trend these days is the consideration of non-monetary explanations. I would conjecture that economists are running out of credible data to explain the sluggish GDP growth permeating the US economy. All the data suggests that we should be recovering, and yet we are not. (Consider Jonathan Finegold Catalan's account of how the economic data is changing the minds of economists.)

In my view, this is largely a good thing. If we are talking about finding a job, the question is seldom "Can I find a job?" and more typically, "Can I find a job that I want?" Following my example above, you would have to make a certain number of millions in North Dakota to justify not being a middle class schmuck in Tuscany.

Similarly, you might prefer working at Starbucks and having lots of leisure time, which you could fill up with going to the gym, playing the guitar, golfing, playing video games, etc. That might be preferable to getting a mid-paying job outside of your industry that neither advances your career nor makes use of your skill set, nor even provides you with a high income. What Cowen would prefer not labeling "voluntary unemployment" is actually "voluntary under-employment." The driver behind this kind of behavior is a person's relative preference for non-monetary goods, compared to the best available alternative.

Note that such a comparison occurs on the margin, so Cowen's criticism of the breakdown of analysis on the marginal does not apply here. Note also that I am not suggesting that everyone who is unemployed in the United States is under-employed and wants to work at Starbucks. I am simply using this as an example to highlight a broader point.


Impromptu Super Set

After having been out of town for work this week, my typical workout regimen has been somewhat disrupted. I don't mean that I haven't worked out, I mean that my workouts have not gone according to textbook. I've had to improvise, develop some impromptu workouts that got the job done at the time, with minimal impact on my tighter-than-usual schedule.

As I previously mentioned, I undertook twice-daily workouts (at least, for the week), and engaged in daily morning super-sets focused on push-ups, crunches, and squats/jumps. I followed an A Day/B Day approach, in which the first day consisted of the super set described in the above-linked post. The second day consisted of a more leg-centered super set: Lunges, squat-jumps, and crunches. This way, I managed to work out both my upper- and lower-body, as well as working out my abdominal core the recommended "twice as much" as the other muscle groups. Not bad.

The evenings consisted of exercise biking: I did a moderate-paced workout on Monday, followed by a "tempo paced" workout on Tuesday, and an "easy day" on Wednesday. Add in a rest day on Thursday, and I was in a pretty good situation as far as working out goes.

But today is Friday, and I needed something to do. Going for a run was a no-brainer, but what about strength training? I had done a good job of working out my upper and lower body during the week, and it seems I have one day "left-over." It's too late in the week to start a whole new "workout week," so I needed something that I could do in a one-off setting that didn't over-emphasize any of the muscle groups I worked out multiple times this week already.

Returning to the principle of the four basic exercise movements (push, pull, crunch, and squat), I realized that I haven't really had much of a "pull" workout this week. In typical exercise terms, that means biceps and back exercises. I also haven't done much in the way of shoulders, so I'd like to add that, too.

I've been enjoying the super set approach to working out lately, so what I needed was a bicep/back/shoulder super set workout. Here's what I came up with:

Five repetitions of the following exercises:
  • Ten pull-ups (biceps, back)
  • Ten seated cable rows (biceps, back)
  • Ten alternating cable curls (biceps)
  • Ten alternating cable shoulder presses (shoulders, triceps)
After which, I'm going for a nice, relaxing run through Trinity Park.

Give this workout a try for yourself, and use the comments section to let me know how it treats you.


Quick Thoughts

One of the major benefits of being out of town on business, for me anyway, is that I spend most of my mental energy missing my wife and wishing I were home. That makes the world of appalling infractions on our civil liberties feel significantly smaller. Hence, not only am I busier while out of town - and thus less-able to provide quality blog content - I am also less capable of focusing on the kinds of things I would typically blog about. I'd rather just be home, but I can't be. My mind goes back-and-forth on this for a while, and then I lose the will to post about anything interesting.

As somewhat of a side-benefit, however, the things that do happen to catch my interest aren't the goings-on in Boston, which everyone else is discussing, but this new internet sales tax that Congress is going to successfully pass (just you wait and see).

And again, what's popping into my head isn't outrage or indignation, but rather this: It occurs to me that now is a good time to buy some Bitcoins. If I am correct in my assumptions, then a new internet sales tax is going to drive more e-commerce into the shadows of the untraceable Bitcoin market. There, people are free to transact however they see fit, free from sales taxes. As this has the potential to save both consumers and producers a lot of transaction costs, we can assume that there will be a modest uptick in Bitcoin values. (Whether that uptick cancels out the tax avoidance benefits, as a free market analysis might suggest is fodder for someone more economically astute than I.) Hence, there looks to be some arbitrage opportunity coming down the pipeline.

Of course, the pessimistic view would be that the internet sales tax legislation (which I have not read, and likely never will read) will be crafted in such a way as to make transacting in Bitcoins all the more difficult, thereby discouraging their use and toppling over the digital currency before it has a chance to undermine the inflationary US dollar.

But who wants to be a pessimist?

Some Links

George Selgin conclusively proves why I love George Selgin.

Over the past month or so, Jonathan Finegold Catalan has quietly sneaked back into the blogosphere. This post pitting Mises against Gene Callahan demonstrates that he is new, improved, and now better than ever.

Bryan Caplan walks down an interesting thought-path on how expectations may or may not influence political systems. My question is how this view of "expectations" differs from wishful thinking, but other than that, I concur with Caplan's gist.

The phrase "tar baby" has somehow managed to work its way back into the public lexicon, and Tyler Cowen does not seem to object. Thankfully enough (whatever it's worth), the author appears to have thought twice before using it (scroll down in the comments of the MR post.

I hate to say I told you so... Aw, who am I kidding? I love to say I told you so. No, really: I told you so.


Small Changes

In anticipation of spending a week on the road with my employer, I set a goal on my Nike+ profile to run no less than four times per week, for two weeks straight! This isn't very ambitious for "normal-state Ryan," but for "iron-pumping Ryan," it is just the thing to get me re-focused on improving my cardiovascular ability.

There's only one problem: I left my Nike+ Sportwatch at home, which means even if I run seventeen times this week, my Nike+ page will be unable to give me any credit for the goal I've set. I guess this means I will have to give it another try next week, when I can actually get credit for it. That's the foible.

The success is my renewed commitment to twice-daily workouts. I had actually forgotten how easy it is to get up and work out first thing in the morning. Of course, the workout I do is the lesser/easier of my two workouts in the day. The point is not to destroy yourself with physical activity, but rather to simply increase your overall activity level. To that end, I started out somewhat small this morning:
  • 40 push-ups
  • 50 crunches
  • 10 jump-and-tucks
  • (Complete this super-set five times.)
I chose something do-able so that there wouldn't be any question in my mind that I could finish the workout. This is a bit of a mental trick we sometimes have to play on ourselves to squeeze out a little extra motivation when we need it. Tomorrow, I would like to do a bit more in the morning, but for now this was exactly what I needed, just a few core-strengthening moves to get the blood pumping and the ambition rolling.

The alternative would have been attempting to undertake a very difficult workout, like one of the great workouts from BodyBuilding.com, first thing in the morning. I'm not exactly sure how that would have jived with my blood sugar control, but more importantly, there was a high probability that I could not have made it through such a workout on the first day of two-a-days.

Hence, this morning's lesson: We have to meet ourselves where we are. If you're on a steady diet of cheeseburgers and sorrow, then you are not going to be able to deal well with a sudden, jarring metamorphosis into being a clean-eating, heavy-lifting super-human. Instead, you have to make changes on the margin, which will make you feel marginally better. These marginal changes, rather than discouraging you when you fail or causing you to undergo a complete lifestyle transformation, show you what differences you can make to your life if you simply choose to take things one step at a time. You get a few, good early victories under your belt, which leaves you hungry for the next set of accomplishments. You also avoid injury.

Going forward, my main challenge is going to be keeping the muscle mass I've built up during the first part of the year, while still adding to my exercise regimen. Cardiovascular exercise comes somewhat naturally to me, and is my go-to form of exercise when nothing else is available. That's great for my overall health needs, but not so great for my goal this year of building up my muscle mass. So I am going to have to keep my resistance training needs in mind at all times, or risk losing my progress. 

But it's all in good fun. We health nuts are endless tinkerers when it comes to our bodies and our health. One day we need more muscle, the next we need more core strength, and so on. You can't do all this in one cataclysmic act. You have to meet your body where it is today, and proceed with small changes.

On The Road

I'm on the road this week, and so my regularly scheduled blogging shenanigans will likely be kept to an unfortunate minimum. But I shall try to keep things as lively as I can.

For example, I woke up early today to ensure that I would be able to pull off a two-a-day workout objective today. Nothing major this morning, just some calisthenics and light plyometrics, and I'm aiming for an evening run later today. All this strength training has been causing me to miss having a really nice endurance base. So I think I'm going to get back to the point where I can run briskly without taxing my lungs too much. I am also in need of a little workout variety, so there you have it.

On top of that, I have about a set and a half of material to learn for an upcoming show, details to follow later. I will not be headlining, just helping out some friends.

I'm hoping to record some more random guitalele stuff throughout the week. Cheer me on, and I'll deliver. He who encourages the paper gets to hear the tune.


To Paradise

As faithful Stationary Waves readers know, I don't think truth can be determined from historical analysis. But that need not stop us from entertaining possibilities. What follows is one such possibility.


There are many ways to parse human history. The conventional way to discuss Chinese history, for example, is to parse its historical periods according to the dynasties of the ruling families. This is largely true for histories of the Indian sub-continent.

As we move west to what is known as the "Ancient Near East," the convention changes to something more descriptive: Technology and intellectual achievement. We start with the Chalcolithic, or Copper, Age, followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, respectively. While there is a further breakdown of each of these periods, they are broadly known by the technology that was developed during that time, and how that technology impacted their lives. The advent of both metallurgy and agriculture enabled human society to develop less according to ruling chieftains and more according to prosperity.


That takes us to what is called "Classical Antiquity," otherwise known as the development of human society according to the intellectual achievements of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. While the cultural center of Classical Antiquity migrated from Phoenicia to Egypt, to Greece, and finally Rome over the eons, the essential character - the core, fundamental aspects of Mediterranean culture - remained more or less the same throughout the years.

What I mean is, unlike previous historical periods or contemporary periods elsewhere in the world, the culture of Classical Antiquity was remarkably inquisitive, logical, mathematical, scientific, and generally Socratic.

While every major culture everywhere has offered its fair share of intellectual achievements, Classical Antiquity gave us something altogether more significant: philosophy, and here I use that word in its most literal sense, a love of thought. Cultures all over the world, throughout time, have developed their various contributions to astronomy, mathematics, and technology. Be that as it may, Classical Antiquity gave us not only all of those things, but also taxonomies, nomenclature, methodologies, and so on.

For example, while every culture has given us musical scales of some sort, it was the Greeks who first developed musical modes. For those of you who don't know, a mode in music is what happens when you take any scale - think "do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do" - and shift all the notes over so that you start on a different tone, creating a very different musical "mood." Consider beginning a scale at "re": re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, re. The mood created by the notes you play changes dramatically. And, in point of fact, the minor scale is nothing more than the very same notes, in the very same order, but beginning with "mi" instead of "do." The Greeks were the first we know to have recognized this.

And they didn't merely "recognize" it. They further discovered that what governs these notes are the harmonic overtones contained in literal sound wave of each note. From that insight, all we know about musical theory has been derived.

Place this in perspective. While, for example, Malaysia has a rich history of unique music, the branches of the musical tree end in Malaysia. Ancient Malaysians developed their own rules about rhythm and note choice, but the Greeks provided us with not just rhythm and note choice, but the entire intellectual framework from which to understand it. That's the key difference.

Of course, the inhabitants of Classical Antiquity didn't stop with music. They gave us mathematics, physics, natural biology, the precursors to modern medicine, philosophy, and so on. In a period of about 1,300 years, they developed the majority of what human beings would know for the next 2,000. Every culture that rose up after Classical Antiquity aspired to nothing more than the equal of what the Romans had enjoyed every day of their lives. This is astounding.


But when Rome "fell," (or rather decayed) we find ourselves tracking history again according to rulers and dynasties. The Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Napoleonic France, The Spanish Empire, The Portuguese Empire, the British Empire, and so on, and so forth.

World history experiences another brief reprieve from history-by-rule, back to history-by-intellectual-achievement when we arrive at the Renaissance, and later The Enlightenment. Then we're back to empires and kings. Human progress plodded on, demarcated by the rulers and empires that governed that progress, with society essentially at the whims of those rulers.

But for all the wonders given to us by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, nothing would awe the world with the scope of its magnitude until the mathematical revolution that occurred in the late 19th Century. It's difficult for us to understand this 100 years later, but the advent of Reimannian geometry would have such far-reaching consequences that it enabled the first real advance in Philosophy in two thousand years or more. Likewise, it enabled the advances in physics that would be made by the likes of Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein. It enabled the electrical age and the digital age.

Most importantly of all, it enabled the Industrial Revolution, which dragged western society out of mud huts and log cabins, and put us in air-conditioned rooms with mood lighting and soft music played by electrically amplified instruments and digital VSTi's.

How remarkable it must have been to live through those few short decades, a short enough period of time for a single individual to observe society's evolution from candles and dirt floors to fluorescent light bulbs and silicon-stamped, acid-dyed concrete. Think about it.


But even as the genius of our technology amplified itself exponentially, our society began to lose its grip on the most profoundly important contributions of Classical Antiquity.

We all have some difficulty with nuance and ambiguity, but the Greeks seemed to revel in it. They through themselves headfirst into paradoxes, exploring the extent to which something can simultaneously be both true and untrue. They named their paradoxes after the great thinkers who posited them. Their gods were all-powerful, all-mighty, and yet horribly flawed of character and prone to wicked manipulation. They developed the concepts of democracy and freedom within the context of a society that willfully made each other into slaves.

The revolutionary insight of Classical Antiquity was that logic exists on a two-dimensional plane, with true and false on one axis, and validity and non-validity on the other axis. That is, something can be valid but false, or true despite its apparent non-validity, or false despite its validity. Like all of us, the ancient thinkers tried to arrive at the truth with a valid explanation. Unlike us, however, they were far better-equipped to deal with life's apparent contradictions. If they couldn't be solved, they were passed down to subsequent generations as mere possibilities.

Euclidean geometry was one such possibility: the idea that all space and the universe itself was made up entirely of perfectly straight lines. For 2,000 years no one questioned this, and then Bernhard Riemann had the imagination to consider Euclid's other valid possibilities: Maybe all straight lines curve outward; or perhaps they curve inward? Many of us cannot even fathom how a straight line can curve. It takes a high tolerance for entertaining valid falsity or invalid truth to explore that kind of possibility.

Once Riemann proved his case, society was left free to explore the apparent contradictions of all other aspects of life. We became Post-Modernists, we questioned every tenet of both religion and philosophy, we poured ourselves into artistic dadaism and happily colored outside the lines until the lines themselves didn't matter anymore.

This was a wondrous period of intellectual exploration. But it only lasted a generation.


The reason it was fleeting was because, having questioned everything, we no longer had a clear message to deliver to our children. Even concepts as simple as a straight line had grown complicated. Our minds couldn't really handle it.

That great ally of scientific inquiry - the ability to accept that something may not have a definite answer, or that if it does, it may be thousands of years before we know what it is - dissolved. Empowered by our ability to compute probabilities, we devolved into an intellectually primitive mental state not seen since the most primitive societies of our ancient past.

That primitive mental state insisted that every question that could be asked had one of two answers: either we could determine a single, unquestionable, axiomatic, underlying truth, or there can be no truth at all.

With stunning readiness we applied this false dichotomy to everything our lives. Where the Greeks accepted that the classical Virtues we sometimes contradictory rules of conduct that formed the bases of an ethical discussion, post-modern mankind insisted that we cannot derive objective utilitarian virtues from axiomatic reasoning than virtue itself must be entirely subjective. Where Bohr saw the universe as looking differently depending on one's underlying assumptions about the behavior of matter, the philosophers decided that the universe could be anything any individual may perceive it to be.

Ethical standards naturally deteriorated. After all, if virtue is subjective, then yours is little more than a personal taste, a judgement that ought not be levied against me. Time tested practices of temperance and restraint fell by the wayside, one after the other, with each subsequent generation doing their part to topple the whole lot. We made noise about rising above the constraints of religion and conservatism, but the reality is, we were justifying our bad behavior to ourselves. So long as we can work in an intellectual framework that enables us to bend every rule to suit our perception then that perception of ours trumps all else. And who are you to tell me otherwise?

It hasn't become a total free-for-all, of course, since many of us have receded into antiquated ideologies. At first, the more conservative among us stuck to their religions to define their reality for them. They couldn't count on intellectualism to elucidate, so they counted on the one thing that had remained unchanged throughout the eons: gods. But they didn't return to the flawed and nuanced gods of Classical Antiquity. Rather, they returned to the starkest and most unquestionable gods ever developed. The Abrahamic "one god" gave people the concreteness they desired, along with a justifiable rage against the deplorable intellectuals who tried to turn their world into relativistic mush.

Others were free to pursue a patchwork religion, blending the imagery of European paganism or Indian Hinduism with the most primitive and destructive form of anti-intellectualism human beings have ever unleashed upon themselves: guruism. Guruism is that hideous rhetorical muck, the art of spouting Shotgun Theories at weak people in need, for little purpose other than to make the guru feel more insightful and powerful than those he helps.

It is the philosophical equivalent of a wooden nickel, and yet its stench permeates every facet of society, from our business schools to our fitness industries to our marketing consultants to our psychology clinics.


Thus, driven from the fascination of a universe that no individual will ever fully understand or solve, into the dark, anti-intellectual bog of our primordial ancestors, we have managed to grind our society to a near technological standstill. We have increased the number of transistors on the circuit board, but failed to create a replacement for the transistor. We have improved the efficiency of the internal-combustion engine, but failed to provide a method of auto-locomotion other than the piston. We shine lights deep into outer space, but those lights contain only modest improvements on Edison's original design.

And life will continue like this for as long as it takes for us to rediscover that which was taken for granted in Classical Antiquity: Life is hard to understand and many possible explanations exist. If you find one that works for you, it may not work tomorrow; not because explanations are impossible and "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," but because nobody possesses sufficient information to know everything about everything.

The more you explore the truth, the deeper and more multi-faceted it becomes. The apparent contradictions must be made sense of, true. But making sense of something means supplying every conceivable explanation and eliminating only those which cannot possibly be true. Attempting to gain control of our lives by boiling everything down to a single axiom - or worse, by rejecting wholesale the validity of axioms at all - will lead us backwards, back into the depths of the primordial ooze that ruled our brains when we barely had the where-with-all to hammer copper plates into ornaments.

Life is a beautiful, rich complexity. The universe is a place where seeming contradictions can only be boiled down into a set of likely stories. The truth is out there, but it has to be earned. We don't get to venture three feet outside our front door and then proclaim that we have seen Paris.

We stand on the shoulders of those who have previously equipped us with maps and tools and frameworks for thinking, with our eyes focused in the distance, aimed toward Paradise. We shall never arrive, nor is it our purpose to do so. All we can do is add detail to the map, and build additional tools, so that our children can start their journey toward Paradise a few steps ahead of where we started. By god, let's make sure they start ahead of us, not behind.


Links And Comments

Say what you want about the way Simon Grey has phrased his point, his conclusion is spot-on, as usual: The only way to square the fact that the most able, ambitious, and accomplished women in North America are the ones most likely to be homemakers is to realize that being a homemaker is a more attractive option for them than being a working stiff like me. Naturally neither he (presumably) nor I (definitely not, I assure you) believe that any woman who feels otherwise is bad or wrong or needs to be judged. He's not talking about the few exceptions out there who prefer working 80 hours weeks and "making partner" to working at home all day and making pie. The numbers speak for themselves: the more a woman achieves, the more likely she is to become a homemaker.

Speaking of Simon Grey, he also makes a great point about the fact that once you plant the seeds, it's okay to enjoy and discuss the flowers as they bloom.

I cringed when I read this Frank Shostak article on Bitcoin. But then I read this article about how the recent decline in the price of gold may have impacted Ron Paul's personal investment portfolio and it got me thinking a little bit. A lot of people choose to put their money where their mouths are, and this is admirable. Ron Paul walks the talk. Most people I know think that the recent decline in gold prices is only temporary, so folks like Ron Paul will probably be okay in the long run. But even so, it hurts when your portfolio takes a dip, especially if you're only a little wealthy, and you depend greatly on the performance of your investments. In some sense - especially among libertarians - Bitcoin is a substitute for gold and therefore the two markets compete with each other. If you bet on one particular horse, and that horse is falling behind, I can understand why you'd want to make the case against the winning horse in favor of your own. But I am just speculating here. (No pun intended.)

Everyone's talking about the sluggish (read: non-existent) job growth in the United States, but no one seems to want to address the elephant in the room: bad management. Earth to MBAs everywhere: Sorry, folks, but I don't think another re-org or switching from LEAN to Six Sigma or vice-versa is going to save us this time. We may need to think about firing bad managers and replacing them with competent non-managers. 


In The Wake Of Our Illusions

I confess that I have positively never considered what family life must be like for Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and their children. For one thing, I didn't really enjoy Will Smith's transition from campy one-hit-wonder to actor, so why keep up with his personal life? For another thing, I'm not really into the Whore Culture of American aristocracy.

Still, when a public figure takes to a public forum to make public statements about her private life, I confess, I pay attention if the report happens to catch my eye. This afternoon, one such report indeed did so.

I have no context in which to place these remarks. I know only that rumors may have existed (among whom, I'm not sure) that the Smiths have an "open relationship," which is generally understood to mean that one or more of the spouses carries on extra-marital affairs with the full knowledge and consent of the other spouse. According to the LA Times report linked above, Ms. Smith opted to deny these rumors in a chat hosted by the Huffington Post website. Then, according to the Times, she clarified as follows:

But after floating a couple more queries, Jada brought it home with an answer, referring to the early April statement that she'd "always told Will, you can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK." 
"Here is how I will change my statement...," she wrote Sunday. "Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship ... this means we have a GROWN one."
 Read between the lines, and the truth is right in front of you. Anyone who thinks Ms. Smith left room for any question in the matter is some combination of naive and dense. But determining whether the Smiths have active multiple partners is not fodder for Stationary Waves.

Exploring the illusions used to justify such behavior, on the other hand...


In the wind-up to delivering her unequivocal answer to the Very Important Question On Everyone's Mind, Ms. Smith delivered a litany of rhetorical questions:
Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should "behave"? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of "you better act right or else" keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?
Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE...for us???
The assumption appears to be that any question beginning with "Do" or "Should" is to be answered in the negative. The reason (or so it seems) happens to be however one chooses to answer the remaining questions. That is, the answer to the question "Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should 'behave'?" is "No, because of how I answered the question 'What of TRUST and LOVE?'"

Since Ms. Smith is inviting the public to answer those questions (rhetorically, in their own minds), I will accept the challenge. Trust and love are important concepts.

Regarding trust, I wonder what it means to Jada Pinkett-Smith. To me, "trust" is a characteristic of fidelity. For example, if I trust my groundskeeper, I am confident that he or she will perform the services I have hired him or her to perform without damaging my property or violating our contract. I have faith that the contract will be honored. In many ways, (including the formal legal sense) marriage is a contract, too. I wonder what the nature of the Smiths' marriage contract is.

I wonder what it means to trust someone when you know that they are getting some of their marital obligations met outside the actual marriage. What exactly do people in an open relationship trust each other to do? Or not to do?

Which brings us to love, and this is perhaps the answer to my question. I would conjecture that Ms. Smith trusts Mr. Smith to do as he pleases, so long as he does not fall out of love with her, and in return, she will do the same.

Marriages always occur between best friends. When marriages end, it is the loss of the friendship, not the marriage, that cuts the deepest. This may be because the friendship was the foundation of the marriage in the first place. It may be because the friendship came with its own rules about love and trust.

When long, committed relationships come to an end, they leave in their wake a wasteland of mental confusion, and the former partners find themselves playing events back in their minds, trying to disentangle which aspects of the relationship belonged to the friendship and which belonged to the romantic bond. It is seldom easy to know this in advance.

Simply stated, it is a hard thing to come to terms with the fact that when someone violates the terms of the romantic bond, they are also violating the rules of the friendship that underwrote it. This is why few marriages end on good terms, and when they do, it is typically because one of the parties has incredibly low self-esteem.


So there is an illusion involved here. The illusion is that a romance based on friendship can be supported by that friendship when the romance is violated, abused, or otherwise damaged. Marriage is a special kind of friendship that involves more than love and trust. Marriage involves a level of kindness, compassion, and preferential treatment that goes far beyond what friendship is capable of delivering.

The wife obeys the husband and the husband obeys the wife. This is so, not because marriage demands obedience, but because the heightened sense of empathy and respect we feel for our spouse moves us to comply with her wishes for no other reason than that it makes her a happier person. Period, full stop.

I suppose it is possible to feel such a profound sense of this empathy and respect that one would be moved to endure absolutely any wish a husband had, regardless of how outlandish it might be. In such a case, when the world's eyes turn toward you in pity, your response may be to proclaim that your freedom is equal to that of your spouse.

But if your spouse feels no similar degree of empathy and respect, if your spouse is moved to keep piling on ever-increasingly outlandish demands, you have to come to terms with a startling and ugly truth that will pull your heart out and leave you feeling empty for a very long time.

That truth is this: There has to be two people in a marriage. Any more and any less, and you may call it whatever you please; but it is not a marriage in any logical application of the term.

And I don't mean that coldly, either. I dedicate this blog post - and my heart and compassion goes out - to all those who have been forced to suffer this reality.

There Is No Such Thing As A "Western Diet"

A website called "Science World Report" reports that eating a western diet could make you die early:
The latest study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, states that a western style diet, which includes fried and sweet food, processed and red meat, high fat dairy products and refined grains leads to a greater risk of premature death.

What might be the alternative to a "western diet?" Perhaps an "eastern diet?" Or, maybe a "European diet?" An "African diet?" A "northern diet?"

Note carefully that the diet that has been determined to kill you early is one that "includes" fried and sweet food, processed and red meat, high fat dairy products and refined grains. Therefore, if your diet includes any of these things, you must be consuming a western diet. But is this true?

Could there be a more traditional Italian dinner than spaghetti bolognese served with eggplant Parmesan and perhaps a piece of panettone for dessert? Congratulations, if you eat one of the most classic European dishes conceived, you are eating a "western diet." So perhaps we can cross "European diet" off the list of alternatives. I suppose Italy has been included in the phrase "the western world" for some time now, anyway.

What if you travel to Japan and find yourself eating beef sashimi, tampura vegetables, and red bean ice cream? Sorry, friends. That, too, is a western diet. As is a plateful of vegetable pakora, lamb curry, and golub jamon. Looks like "eastern diets" are also "western diets."

Of course, you could always venture north and dine on caribou and bannock with the Inuit, but in that case you'd be eating a "western diet," even if you did so in Greenland. A rich Congolese goat curry and fufu is also - yep, you guessed it - western.

Thus, it appears that no matter where you are in the world, you are eating a western diet, because you will be including red meat, fried food, sweet food, refined grains, and/or high fat dairy products. It's inevitable. The "western diet" has invaded every culture's cuisine - even that cuisine that is totally traditional, locally developed, and created in complete isolation from western culture.

Strange, isn't it?

Of course, there are real alternatives to what I've described above. You could try having boiled lobster with a baked potato. Or maybe you'd rather eat blackened catfish and butternut squash? Bay scallops or clams with tomatoes and lima beans? Roasted turkey with unsweetened cranberry sauce? How about grilling up a pheasant breast and serving it with sweet potatoes and blueberries?

Maybe then you'll finally be rid of that hateful western diet.


How To Make The World A Better Place

The question arises: With all the carnage, political instability, depravity, and dishonesty out there, how in the world could we ever turn things around? How do we make the world a better place?

Some double-down on their commitment to acting lovingly and charitably, and I suppose that is a good way to start. We always hear that "charity begins at home," or that we should "think globally, act locally." There are dozens of slogans along these lines, designed to make the point that if we all go home tonight and commit to being better people, then the world will be a better place.

This is a comforting statement, and it is literally true. But it is also somewhat of a Shotgun Theory in that such a thing has always been true throughout history, and yet human suffering continues. Naturally, if we all went home tonight and committed to the idea of behaving as angels then nothing bad would ever happen, ever again. I, too, could encourage you to do that, swear that I am going to do that myself, and thump the pulpit for a little while, extolling the virtues of... well, virtue.

But that is vapid commentary. It's not as though there would be no North Korea problem or Boston bombing if people had just previously committed to good behavior. It's not as though would-be trouble makers would stop making trouble if they had simply considered the notion of using their powers for good instead of evil. And it is likewise untrue to suggest that if 50 million of your closest friends commit to making the world a better place, a dozen despots will choose to turn over a new leaf and send their countries on the path toward representative democracy.

So if not that, what are we supposed to do?

First, I think we need to come to terms with the fact that bad things happen. I know that sounds cavalier, but I really don't mean it to be. Bad things do happen in life, horrible things, unpreventable things. It is not fair, but it is nonetheless true. The sooner we realize that suffering is a part of being alive, the sooner we will stop seeking false solutions in gods, governments, and rosy-posy self-delusions. Accepting that human suffering is often a roll of the dice, an unfortunate amalgamation of random circumstances, helps us gain peace without being moved to place blame on people that could not possibly have acted differently.

Second, I think we all need to explore and articulate our most deeply held beliefs. It is not sufficient to merely believe something; one must be able to articulate exactly why one believes X rather than Y. Why will this make the world a better place? Because there are a great many people out there who live their entire lives in a self-imposed, deluded micro-bubble, content to believe things that simply aren't true, and never being forced to confront the extent to which they are deluded. A very small subset of those individuals go on to commit heinous acts that cause the rest of us to suffer. At least some of that subset could never get away with that nonsense if they were encouraged from an early age to own up to their beliefs, to answer for them, and to revise them when necessary.

Note that this second thing implies that one's views must be called into judgement from time to time. Yes, that rubs many people the wrong way. No, I don't care. We do no one favors by allowing them to live out mindless fantasies. In fact, we may be doing them and others harm in the long run. This judgement need not take an ugly form. But the fact of the matter is that you cannot live your whole life just in your own head. Your thoughts must be extracted from time to time and submitted to public opinion. Those who refuse to do this are always the ones most guilty of suffering from self-delusion. We must call them out, not to make them feel badly but to force them to participate in society, for the sake of their mental health.

Finally - and this is a tall order - I think philosophy, even academic philosophy, needs to come back into favor again. Philosophy needs to be hip, cool, trendy in the same sense that climate science and marine biology and women's studies are hip, cool and trendy. There is no one thing that any person can do to make that happen, except perhaps exploring the topic on Wikipedia for a while until you find something that speaks to you. Once you find it, make sure your children know about it, and think about it, and most importantly talk about it.

None of these things are particularly easy. You won't finish reading this blog post and then form an action plan. That's not the, nor is it my intention to leave you with yet another feel-good delusion. These problems are hard. Humans have been struggling with them for 10,000 years or more. Perhaps in some crude sense our evolutionary predecessors also struggled with them. But across the eons we have managed to solve several important problems. If we keep chipping away at them for another 10,000 then someone in some far-away age may actually be able to live a better life.

It is the only way.

Shotgun Theory

Tyler Cowen has an interesting explanation for why people who have been unemployed for a long time can't find jobs: They're worthless. Okay, he didn't call them worthless, he called them worthless on the margin:
I think of this as further illustration of what I have called ZMP workers, a once maligned concept which now is rather obviously relevant and which has plenty of evidence on its side.  It’s fine if you wish to label them “perceived by employers as ZMP workers but not really ZMP,” or “unjustly oppressed and only thus ZMP workers.”  The basic idea remains and of course “stimulus” will reemploy them only by boosting the real economy, such as by raising output and productivity and reeducating, and not by recalibrating nominal variables per se.  For these workers it is not about wage stickiness.  Most by the way would not be ZMP if the U.S. economy were growing regularly at four percent in real terms, but of course that is not easy to achieve, not from where we stand today.
Luckily for us, Bryan Caplan sets the record straight:
The mere fact that you throw an application in the trash doesn't mean you think the applicant has MVP=0.  After all, even if the applicant had a high MVP, you'd still want to throw his application in the trash if his MVPwage wouldn't justify additional search effort on your part. 
Not convinced?  Remember that employers often get hundreds of applications per position.  80%+ quickly end up in the trash can.  Does this mean that employers think that 80%+ of applicants are ZMP?  Of course not.
I concede that Caplan is using a microeconomic argument against a macroeconomic one. That is, the weakness of Caplan's argument is that it relies on the implausibility of ZMP in a specific case to state that it cannot be true in general that large segments of the population are unable to contribute meaningfully to economic development. If we restrict ourselves to a world in which macroeconomics is the only type of economics that exists, then Cowen's theory is a lot more plausible.

This highlights an important concept that often applies to economic theories, but also applies to many different kinds of theories, arguments, and ideas expressed by people in general. The concept is something I call "Shotgun Theory." A Shotgun Theory is an idea that only seems true when it is expressed vaguely.

Do note that a Shotgun Theory can be used to buttress a true claim. In that case, it is merely someone making a bad argument for something that is nonetheless true. Not every "Shotgun Theory" implies a false explanation; rather, Shotgun Theories paint with a brush so broad that they do not actually explain anything. The language is too fuzzy to assert anything in particular.

Shotgun theories pop up everywhere. In epistemology, for example, the claim is often made that perception is reality. This seems true, because all we really know about reality is what we perceive. Therefore, whatever   we take to be true seems like whatever we take for granted. We know the ground is solid because we perceive ourselves walking on it. We can play many interesting thought-games like this. What if the ground is truly liquid, but our perception of reality is such that we don't understand it? What if everything you perceive to be purple is actually blue, but our brains perceive it as purple to help us differentiate between hues? What if there is no such thing as purple? What if we live in The Matrix, and all life is but a dream?

It's fun to think about such vagaries, but they are vagaries, and they disappear the minute we consider specific cases. For example, when we compare patches of ground to patches of liquid, then we know for certain that, at least relative to all liquids worth considering, the ground is solid. Whether purple is truly purple or just universally understood to be purple, it has a different electromagnetic wavelength than blue, so it is different in that regard. And so on.

Academics and theoreticians can often slip into Shotgun Theories, and we should all be very glad that they do. After all, it is only by entertaining the outlandish that we can uncover new ideas and new theories. But of course, once the theory has been established, it is no longer sufficient to refer to it repeatedly and promote it as truth. At that stage, the theorizer must provide evidence to buttress his/her claim. Otherwise, it's just a Shotgun Theory.

No Boston Post

I have no plans to write a post about the bombing of the Boston Marathon. For one thing, too little is known about the crime. All we know is that it was horrific. For another thing, the entire world is speculating about who did this and why, and the answer to those questions is simpler than the speculation merits. The perpetrator was a deeply disturbed individual who did it because he wanted to hurt innocent people. Whether that kind of perversion has a professed political objective is irrelevant. We will not better-understand these atrocities by dividing them up into criminal acts vs. terrorist acts. Sick people slaughter innocent victims. The story ends there.

I, for one, refuse to stare into the void.


Uncle Zeus

I wanted to write a song that told a story. I considered various topics, but ultimately found the prospect of tying Greek mythology to the modern dysfunctional family proved too attractive an idea to pass up.

As a sidenote, I particularly liked my guitar solo in this song. About half the notes you hear were composed deliberately, and the other half were improvised. I like having a direction, while still maintaining sufficient freedom to explore the song "in the moment."


It's Hard To See Myself Buying Another Amplifier

I've been mulling over the idea of building my own guitar amplifier. There are a multitude of amp-building kits out there, and a rich library of schematics. I don't completely suck at soldering, and I have a decent head on my shoulders. I also have several engineer friends and acquaintances who have successfully built their own amplifiers in the past, so I believe I would have the moral and technical support I'd need to pull it off.

This would, of course, be a labor of love, just something to do for my own personal entertainment. In the year 2013, it is not particularly cost effective to build your own amplifier from scratch. Of course, the skills developed in such a process could certainly save me amplifier maintenance money in the future. But that is more of a bonus, rather than a core feature.

Anyway, while looking around for schematics for an appropriate first build, I surfed over to the Carvin Service website and discovered that they have posted the schematic for the original (and now discontinued) Steve Vai Legacy amplifier, otherwise known to fans as the "Legacy 1." (There have since been Legacy 2 and Legacy 3 updates to the original design.)

One idea I was considering was to build a single-channel amp based on the Lead channel of the original Carvin Legacy 1. (My general dislike for clean-toned electric guitars is destined to become fodder for a future blog post. It's not that I dislike clean tones, it's that I greatly prefer the sound of acoustic guitars over the "twinkle twinkle" tones of a clean electric guitar.) Because I have no use for a clean channel, a guitar amp that is basically an awesome overdrive tone with gain sensitivity appeals to me greatly.

But last night, after listening to some great sound samples of the Legacy 1, (see this awesome clip, for example) I fired up my Egnater Rebel 20 amplifier, tweaked the gain and tube selection settings a bit, and promptly spent an hour making gorgeous, gorgeous love to the beautiful tones emanating from my speaker.

Every tone I am even remotely interested in can be had from my Rebel 20. The amplifier is almost perfect. I can't think of a single thing I dislike about it. It could be that this amplifier has ruined me in the same way that my Carvin guitars have ruined me. In fact, when I think about how pleased I am by my amplifier, it makes me reluctant to bother with building my own amplifier at all.

What can I say? I love having great gear.


You're More Of A Libertarian Than You Think

A consistent theme on my blog (and in my interactions with people elsewhere) is my belief that nearly all people are basically libertarians, at least in a nutshell. Politicians do a good job of hiding this fact, of course, by using wedge issues to convince us of a vast ideological divide between American "liberals" and American "conservatives."

In truth, Americans share a common history, a common cultural narrative, and a common sense of individuality. Our feelings of patriotism are all wrapped-up in ideas about liberty and individual rights, no matter what our political affiliation is. Whether we are rightist, leftist, or something else, we all frame our political debates in the language of the "classical liberalism" and Enlightenment-era philosophy of our country's founding.

By international standards, this is an anomaly. It cannot be said that every political discussion in every other country leans so heavily on the language of the John Stuart Mills and Jeremy Benthams and Thomas Paines of those countries. In many cases, there were no such figures. The central liberating figure in Cuba, for example, is Fidel Castro. For better or for worse, communist and formerly communist countries term their political issues in the lexicon of revolution, progress, and equality of result. This is not exactly how it is in the United States. In fact, the more exposure one gets to foreign politics, the more obvious it is that Americans are more politically similar than they are different.

Reading the op-ed pages, though, you'd hardly know it.

This language issue is not small potatoes. Economists frequently use their familiar internal jargon to express free market concepts, and this jargon seems silly - and even downright objectionable - to "ordinary people" out there who hear about it.

A great example of this is F.A. Hayek's "Knowledge Problem." The whole problem might be phrased thusly: No one person or group possesses all the knowledge required to improve upon the inherent conditions of a free market. In other words, free trade creates a superior outcome precisely because small elements of partial knowledge is dispersed across the entire market. Each tiny piece of knowledge marginally impacts market trends and equilibria (assuming the existence of equilibria). To "improve" upon a free market by placing greater control in the hands of the few is to diminish the optimality of the market situation precisely because a smaller group possesses less knowledge.

Now, if you're not an economist, your eyes probably just glazed over and you kind of stopped paying attention.

But if I told you that the best way to find the answer to a question is to take to a social network and crowd-source your question, you wouldn't even blink. You crowd-source for answers every time you ask a question on Facebook, search for something on Wikipedia, or create a new thread on StackOverflow.com. What's more, you thoroughly understand this process and you don't need it explained to you. You completely understand that everyone out there has a slightly different expertise, so if you ask your question "publicly enough" you will soon get your answer.

Now, if I told you that Barack Obama wanted the US government to purchase Wikipedia so that the information it contained could be vetted by experts before it was published, you would cringe. [Note: To my knowledge, no such thing is happening; this is just a hypothetical scenario.] The reason you would cringe is because you know that the whole strength of Wikipedia - the genius of it, in fact - is that all people can publicly alter the information according to what they know, and because everyone is constantly doing this, the quality of the information consistently improves.

Take out that magic ingredient, and what you're left with is a small group of government bureaucrats attempting to write an electronic encyclopedia on everything. And what are the odds that such a group, no matter what their qualifications or methodology might be, will be able to improve upon the already-excellent Wikipedia?

On a gut level, we all accept the plain truth of Hayek's Knowledge Problem. So long as we use modern language to express what we're talking about, everyone is on-board. But the minute we frame it in economic terms, people start to choose ideological "sides" based on preconceived notions of what it means to be "pro-market" or "libertarian."

Hence, I think it's important for free market advocates to make their case using as little jargon as humanly possible.

Does Type 1 Diabetes Need A New Name?

The hat tip goes to the always-excellent Wendy Morgan. It appears that there is a new petition out there to rename type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Whether you should sign the petition or not, is naturally a matter of personal choice and preference. I have no strong opinions on the survey itself.

I will say, however, that I don't see the point of signing the petition. My reasoning is as follows.

Reason #1: Type 1 And Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Is Already Thoroughly Descriptive
The petition's website says the following:
There are other forms of Diabetes with names that more accurately reflect their nature, such as Gestational Diabetes, Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)and Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). What nature does Type 1 and Type 2 indicate? They are the most common forms of Diabetes, yet their names remain the most generic and are easily confused.
I am not sure this is 100% true. My understanding was that the "Type 1" nomenclature referred to pancreatic failure, while the "Type 2" descriptor referred to insulin resistance. Therefore, Gestational Diabetes is a special case of Type 2 diabetes, while LADA and MODY are special cases of Type 1 diabetes. I just perused the website of the American Diabetes Association to verify this and found nothing to contradict my claim.

Perhaps the confusion stems not from the Type 1/Type 2 nomenclature, but rather from the newly recognized, special-case scenarios of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes gets a special name because, even though it is a form of insulin resistance (i.e. Type 2), it is not "forever diabetes" like more traditional cases of Type 2. LADA gets a special name because its more gradual and adult onset makes those of us who have it more susceptible to medical misdiagnosis. MODY is nothing more than traditional Type 1 diabetes diagnosed at a different age.

Yet the language is entirely consistent: Type 1 refers to the death of pancreatic beta cells and the resulting inability to produce insulin; Type 2 refers to situations in which the pancreas and its ability to produce insulin is not the core problem, but rather the body's insulin response is inhibited for non-pancreatic reasons.

No matter how one acquires diabetes mellitus, that person's body will reflect one of two scenarios: the inability to produce insulin, or the inability to absorb insulin. Stunted production is Type 1; stunted absorption is Type 2.

Reason #2: Diabetes Nomenclature Is For Doctors, Not Society At Large
Wendy Morgan makes a great point that I'm sure anyone with Type 1 diabetes understands full well:
I've been annoyed for years. Whenever I'm in public and pull out my pump or CGM, I get, "what's that?" I explain and then, just yesterday and almost every single time, I get, "Oh! So it runs in your family?" Or, " My sister got it from eating too much candy." Or, "So you have to watch your sugar, don't cha?"
Nooo! Type 1 diabetes isn't like that! We all want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them when they say this stuff to us. She continues:
You've seen my posts about my tween. In 7th grade and she does everything possible to avoid letting anyone see her manage her diabetes. Few know and she wants to keep it that way for now. The main reason, other students only know about type 2. It's what grandma has or Uncle Joe. He's real overweight and had his big toe cut off. "It's real gross." 
That is what my daughter wants to avoid. What do you say to that? Communicate with fellow 12 and 13 year olds? "Oh! You have this all wrong. I don't have what your grandma has, I have something that is completely out of my control. It's an autoimmune disorder..." Glare. "Whatever." On goes life. Misconceptions remain. 
This poses a safety hazard, too. If friends don't know, what if there is an emergency. Wi makes the call for help? Maybes teacher who thinks the same thing?
Ms. Morgan's point is spot-on, and her perspective is basically this: Wouldn't it be great if we had something more descriptive to tell people when they see us injecting our insulin or futzing around with our pump or CGM? Wouldn't it be great when we were asked what we're doing to have an answer that doesn't make people think about their fat grandma who can't keep her hands off the tub of ice cream in the freezer?

It's a valid concern, but renaming what doctors call Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes will have no impact on this. It has been years since doctors changed the name of "manic depression" to "bipolar disorder," and yet we still hear the term "manic depression" being thrown around. VD is now called STI, but still people talk about VD.

And suppose I told someone that I have LADA. What do you think would happen next? I actually know the answer to this already, because I have told people that I have LADA. They simply ask, "What's that?" And then I have to describe how it is a type of adult-onset juvenile diabetes, and then they're back to talking about their fat grandmother. So the name does not actually solve the core problem.

But that doesn't mean we can't find something better to tell people. I, for one, have occasionally opted to describe my condition as "pancreatic failure" instead of "diabetes." That usually suffices to indicate that my condition is different from their grandmother's.

Another option is to simply not make an issue of it. When asked "Whatcha doin'?" simply reply, "Taking my insulin," and proceed as usual. If you get the follow-ups, you can simply say, "Well, I have a totally different condition than your grandmother has. I won't bore you with the gory details, but they are two completely different diseases." End of conversation.

Remember, most people are really just curious. They don't want to embarrass or frustrate us, they are genuinely interested. I know that doesn't help a teenager feel "normal," but teenagers do eventually grow up and find their groove in life. This is a life-long challenge. Learning how to talk about it without feeling frustrated or embarrassed is an important part of coming to terms with your condition.

I firmly believe that we diabetics have to make the best choices for ourselves, based on our own personal experiences. So if your experience leads you to believe that this petition will do some good, please do surf over to the website and sign it. One thing is for sure: signing that petition will not adversely impact my life at all. Just because I don't think it will solve the problems it aims to solve doesn't mean I think it's a bad idea. After all, it comes from a good place that every diabetic can easily understand.

Having said that, I do believe that we diabetics individually need to make the difference in our lives. It's not always easy to explain our condition to others. It's not always easy to explain how some of us Type 1 diabetics have figured out how to eat ice cream without experiencing hyperglycemia while others haven't.

But learning how to relate information to others in a way that makes them understand and feel more comfortable with how we individually prefer to manage our condition is part of having diabetes in the first place. There will always be ignorance and confusion out there. It's not as if a name-change will suddenly educate society about something they simply will never understand.

Far better to simply come to terms with how life is, and make the best of it.


Contrapositive Influence

What if you turned on the television tonight to discover that Ann Coulter (if you're a liberal) or Michael Moore (if you're a conservative) was arguing passionately in favor of a policy that you yourself supported? How would you react? Would you cheer? Would you smile in pleasant surprise as one of your most infamous political opposites made a passionate case for your own point of view?

Or, would you second-guess yourself? Is it possible that merely hearing the phrase "Universal health care for all!" from someone like Ann Coulter would be enough to get you to think twice about your own stance on the issue?

My guess is that for wedge issues like abortion and universal socialist health care, you would be perhaps shocked, but not swayed in the opposite direction. Yet, for more plastic issues such as tax policy, I think it would probably be easy for you to switch sides based on the fact that someone you greatly dislike has taken the position you typically favor and argued for it before you had a chance to really consider it. I actually think this happens all the time.

Obvious examples would be Bill Clinton's many free trade initiatives and George W. Bush's many tax and spending increases. In the heat of the moment, leftists hardly batted an eye at Bill Clinton when he lowered taxes and opened borders. (Well, they certainly batted their eyes, but not in that way...) Meanwhile, it was only toward the end of W. Bush's 8-year rein of terror that some Republicans began resisting all that warring-and-spending. But the average person just stuck to their party affiliations, however loose they may even have been.

Positive And Contra-Positive
The reason for this is straight-forward enough. Many of us out-source a lot of our thinking to respectable thought-leaders. This can happen in a positive way (such as when someone we admire says something new, and we decide we agree) or in a contrapositive way (such as when someone who repulses us says something new, and we decide we disagree).

I have the impression that many of us will take a stronger stance on a given issue if someone we admire makes the case for an even stronger version of our own stance than we have previously considered. For example, if we believe in reducing human CO2 emissions, and we respect Bill Nye the Science Guy, then if Bill Nye made the case that CO2 should not only be taxed, but taxed at an increasing rate (the more CO2 you emit, the higher your carbon tax rate), we might find ourselves agreeing with that position vehemently, even if we had never even considered that to be a viable prospect before.

Similarly, if someone who repulses us makes a weaker claim than we expect, we might find ourselves polarizing our views to an even larger extreme. For example, if Michael Moore suggests that we ought to let the Bush tax cuts expire, we might find ourselves more in favor of a steeper tax reduction than we would have wanted if Moore had made the case that taxes should be raised to 98% on all millionaires.

What I'm getting at is that arguments against what we prefer can be just as persuasive for us as arguments in favor of what we prefer. We might call this "Contrapositive Influence."

Understanding Contrapositive Influence
In order for this phenomenon to occur, the person making the opposing argument must be one whose reputation precedes him/her in a decidedly negative way.

To get a handle on this, consider someone who occasionally says something loony, but who for the most part is well-respected. How about Tom Cruise? If Tom Cruise goes on record as saying that the US government should engage in a modest increase in infrastructure spending, hardly anyone would care. The proposition is modest, and Cruise himself is not a repellent person. But if that same argument were made by, say, Adolf Hitler, then most people would find themselves vehemently opposing modest increases in infrastructure spending. This is due to the fact that, to the modern mind, Adolf Hitler is basically the archetypical "guy who is wrong about absolutely everything." (Cf. Godwin's Law)

Thus, it stands to reason that if Hitler says we should call for the overthrow of the Egyptian government, most people are comfortable saying, "Absolutely not! We should content ourselves with sanctions." But if Hitler proposes sanctions at the beginning, then people who would have argued for sanctions in the first place will soon find themselves arguing against taking any actions against Egypt at all.

But note that if we change "Egypt" to "Libya" and "Hitler" to "Barack Obama" suddenly our whole perspective switches around. This is because most people understand that compared to Hitler, Obama is a moderate, and vice-versa.

The key message here is that we must take the utmost care to guard against our own biases, not just when we might be unduly influenced by someone we agree with, but also when we might be polarizing our own beliefs in response to someone we perceive to be "extreme." It is often said that a stopped watch is right twice a day. During those two times a day, you wouldn't want to be the person denying the time of day merely because you know that a particular watch is broken, right?

Similarly, throwing out certain ideas merely because the person giving voice to them is not entirely trustworthy can prove to be a grievous error, not just because you'd be wrong, but also because you may end up taking a stronger position on the topic than wisdom would dictate. You may fall victim to what we here at Stationary Waves term Contrapositive Influence.

At Least I'm Not The Only One

This may just be a thought experiment for Tyler Cowen, and most of it amounts to nothing more than a back-of-the-envelope "likely story." Even so, he does make a point that has been staying with me for a long time now. I haven't written about it (at least I don't think I have) because, like most of my economic ideas, it is something of a specter that haunts me, more than it is an actual theory. So I will hide behind Cowen's description of it and say, "That's what I'm talking about." Here it is:
IT and China, taken together, seem to imply a big whack to median income.  This whack should be higher for the less flexible polities, and furthermore the wealthy and the well-educated in the U.S. get back a big chunk of that money through tech innovation and IP rights.  Plus we’ve had some good luck with fossil fuels and even the composition of our agriculture.  If you had a country without those high earners in the tech sector, and an inflexible labor market, those economies will have to contract and I don’t just mean in a short-term cycle.  Equilibrium implies negative growth for those economies, at least for a while.
The more people talk about "stagnating median incomes" in the context of the so-called "Great Stagnation," the more I am moved to believe that the developed world has had this coming for a long time. And when I say that, I don't mean to suggest that our buffoon politicians have sabotaged our ability to profit by heaping an ever-increasing regulatory and tax burden upon us, although that is also true.

No, what I rather mean is this: Globalization has been going on now for about 40 years. I am in my thirties, and it's still difficult for me to understand that the 1970s are "way back then" in the same way that the 1950s were ancient history for me when I was growing up. 40 years is an awfully long time. It is an especially long time when it is the span of time over which a major economic event has occurred. 40 years of globalization and supply-chain restructuring, out of expensive-labor countries like the US and Europe, and into cheap-labor countries like China and Brazil is bound to have some repercussions eventually.

Up until the mid-00s, we only really perceived those repercussions to be dramatically falling prices (in real terms, of course) for consumer goods. So our prices have been falling for a full 40 years, during which our incomes rose for the first 30, and then declined for the last 10.

Isn't the story obvious? Rising incomes in developing countries, paired with falling prices in developed countries, paired with increasing globalization of the management of business operations implies greater equality of wages across borders. It is textbook, entry-level international economics.

So, obviously we can expect US median incomes to decline and developing-nation median incomes to increase until a new equilibrium is reached. I have no reason to believe we have yet arrived at that new equilibrium, so my belief is that US incomes still have a lot of room to decline.

But, unlike many other bloggers out there, I don't consider this bad news in the slightest. Prices really have decreased for virtually everything over time. We will make less money, but we will also need less money to enjoy the same standard of living. Global wealth is absolutely skyrocketing, and has been for the last 200 years. No amount of doom-saying about "the Great Stagnation" (what a cheap scare tactic that term is!) can change the fact that the cat is out of the bad. Our friends who lived in mud huts 60 years ago are climbing into the suburbs of what we used to derisively call "the Third World." Successful Asian entrepreneurs have managed to accumulate fortunes that put them in competition with the most storied US billionaires. Living abroad - even living in those "spooky" places where the food is spicy and music is in odd meter - is no longer the terrifying lunar expedition our parents assume it is. Perhaps it never was, but the point is that wealth equality is spreading like wildfire.

And the fountainhead of all these plummeting prices and wealth accumulation is economic production. So none of this is actually bad news. Your income may decline in real terms, but your standard of living will not, nor will your wealth. It is a good time to be alive, and for the first time in history, it is a good time to be alive in the Old World, the New World, Asia, and Africa alike.