I Told You So (Again)

I called it. (Here, too.) It's happening.

Pathological Morality, Part Two

Yesterday, I discussed how our inability to be happy about the achievements of the truly exceptional - because we are too busy feeling inadequate of our own accomplishments - creates a perverse false morality in which we must all pretend that we really are amazing, even when we're not. There is another side to this pathological morality, though, and this other side is truly the uglier of the two.

If exceptional people deserve special credit for doing amazing things, while average people are just average and deserve no special credit, but also no special detraction, then there must also exist additional points on the continuum. That is to say, some people are good enough at basketball to win the community intramural competition, but not good enough to have ever won a basketball scholarship or a career in the NBA. It's certainly fair enough to say that these folks are good basketball players, but it would be utter lunacy to suggest that they are the same kind of good at basketball as NBA players.

Developing Virtue
When it comes a skill like basketball, few would argue with that point. But what about skills like kindness, judiciousness, conscienciousness, etc.? What about those skills that are actually morals?

Being moral, virtuous, ethical, is a skill in a certain sense. It requires a mix of courage - the courage to adhere to principle even in the face of widespread criticism - and a sufficiently long cognitive time-horizon such that one can foresee the long-run benefits of moral behavior over the short-run benefits of ducking one's responsibilities. We might simply call this blend of courage and foresight honor.

Courage and foresight, like so many human attributes, can developed simply through habit. A person who regularly refuses to back down in the face of risk will eventually, upon his or her subsequent successes, grow more confident in doing so. This confidence is surely courage. Likewise, the more often one involves oneself in calculating further and more far-reaching impacts of a given action, the more one develops a habitual sense of strategy. This certainly involves some deductive logic, and the more you engage in deductive logic, the better at it you become. (There is a reason practicing chess makes one better at playing chess.)

Even if you believe that personality traits like courage, foresight, and honor are traits with which we are born, there is no question that the more risks one faces without backing down, the more courageous a person is. (And I have already dealt with foresight in my chess example.) Thus, almost by behaving as though one has positive moral attributes like honor, one meets the very conditions required of an honorable person. It's basically a tautology.

At any rate, both because some people are born with additional levels of moral fortitude, and because some people are better-habituated to moral integrity as described above, it stands to reason that there are various shades of moral character out there.

Here's The Point
What this all means is that, just as some of us are better basketball players, some of us are more courageous. Our egalitarian nature would suggest that being a better basketball player does not make one a better person. But would anyone suggest that being more courageous fails to make one a better person? No one in their right mind would say that brilliant computer programmers are "better people" than just-average computer programmers; but who on Earth would suggest that someone who is exceptionally honest is not a better person than someone who is also honest, but not exceptionally so.

We seem to be aware - at least on the gut level - that exceptional virtue is precisely that which makes the difference between a person and a "better person." The more virtues a person has to exceptional degree, the better a person is. On some level, we understand that if we were stuck on a desert island with a virtuous man and a knave, and there were only enough food for two, the knave would have to be sacrificed. Higher moral worth is more valuable than lesser moral worth, both intangibly and tangibly.

Exceptionally moral people are simply... better people than average people.

Does that statement make you feel funny? It shouldn't. On the one hand, exceptional virtue is something that anyone can achieve. Doing the right thing does not require a special level of genius, it does not require mountains of wealth, it does not require a special set of environmental circumstances. Every moment of your life is a chance to be virtuous. Virtue is exactly the best measure of a human being, the most meritocracy and entirely fair basis by which to size each other up.

One Final Bit Of Controversy
Sam is simply more honest and genuine than Steve, but on every other level, Sam and Steve are roughly equivalent. I assert that Sam is simply a better person than Steve. Steve can become as honest as Sam any time he wants to. Not being as honest as Sam is a choice that Steve makes. The moment he commits to being more honest, and actually lives out that commitment, Steve becomes Sam's moral equal.

Even so, Steve is not a particularly dishonest person. While Sam is a better person than Steve, Steve is not at all a bad person. This point relates back to yesterday's post. It is crucial that we have the ability to commend Sam's honesty without somehow "detracting from Steve."

Our egalitarian culture is averse to saying that "Sam is a better person than Steve," not because we're afraid of commending Sam, but because we are scared to make Steve mad. This is insane.

Why is it insane? Because I can pose the same problem in a different way and no one will object. Think I can't? Here I go:

Steve spent 20 years of his life living more or less as we all do. Then one day, Steve decided to commit to being exceptionally honest, and he did so for the rest of his life. While Steve was never really a bad guy, the new Steve is a much better person than the old Steve.

See what I did there?

This neurotic hyper-sensitivity to moral inequality and its implications on a person's true worth leads to stunningly bad moral conclusions.

One example is drug use: Mary smokes weed and Marion does not. Marion possesses more of the virtue of temperance than Mary does. Suddenly an army of egalitarians descends on Ryan for having the nerve to suggest that - while Mary may be a truly good person - Marion is simply a little better than Mary is. Mary could become just as good as Marion if she but gave up marijuana.

And of course, the alternate way to state this same ethical problem is as follows: Mary smoked weed for a few years when she was younger. Then one day, she decided it wasn't good for her body, because she was inhaling carcinogens; she decided it wasn't good for her mind because of the way it interacted with her brain's dopamine system; she decided it wasn't good for her reputation because it put her in regular contact with people who deal drugs; she decided it wasn't good for her career because if she were ever subjected to a random drug test, she'd fail; and, she decided it wasn't good for her long-run integrity because one day she plans on having children and doesn't want to light-up in front of them, and be forced to have an extremely difficult moral conversation with her kids. Considering all that - which can be summed-up in the virtue of Temperance - Mary decided to stop smoking marijuana. While Mary was never really a bad person, the new Mary is a better person than the old Mary.

The reason it's important to be comfortable saying that more virtuous behavior makes someone a better person is so that we can actually improve our moral character as our lives progress. If you're so neurotically hyper-sensitive to the suggestions like "doing drugs is intemperate," then you'll never be a better person.

This might not mean that you're a bad person, just as Mary and Steve weren't bad people. But it certainly means that you'll never be better. Achieving a state of moral integrity is its own reward. More ethical people are happier people. This much has been known for thousands of years. It need not really be proven, either, since all of us know that the happiest people in our lives are also the ones who have the best moral character.

Let's not be idiotic. Saying all this in no way implies that people who are less happy and less exceptionally moral are bad people who should go to hell or whatever else. That kind of attitude is utter lunacy.

But the fact remains, a moral life is a happy life, and a happy life is a good one. If you want to lead a better life, sooner or later you have to warm-up to the prospect that pursuing greater virtue simply makes you a better person. There's no escaping it.


Pathological Morality

Society has a strange and somewhat disgusting inability to recognize its own shortcomings. It is as though we wish to live in a bubble in which everything we do is right, in which nothing we do is wrong, and in which no one else can ever question anything we think, feel, do, or say.

This is insane.

Part of the problem is that people have become incapable of acknowledging the achievements of others without feeling awkwardly aware of their own "shortcomings." I have to put "shortcomings" in quotation marks because there is no shame in not being an Olympic gold medalist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or an all-star pitcher, or the inventor of something life-changing. There is no shame in not changing the world forever. Realistically, these sorts of talents are extremely rare. That they are scarce is precisely what makes them so amazing, so awe-inspiring, so wonderful.

A man who can run a marathon in two hours and thirty minutes has accomplished something incredible, and he is not even in the uppermost tier of marathon runners. Even so, only a small fraction of men - and almost no women whatsoever - can ever hope to run that fast.

We must face this fact: it is a plain fact. It is the reality of life. Only a few of us can ever hope to be truly exceptional. The rest of us are still good people, still worth something, and can still live important, happy, and wonderful lives. But we will not be Olympic gold medalists or Nobel Laureates. And, I repeat, there is no shame in that.

Strangely - even hideously - modern society has an aversion to greatness because greatness underscores the averageness of the rest of us. The fact that the majority of us are simply average is no strike against us. One need not be amazing in order to be worth something. On the other hand, those who really are amazing deserve to be recognized for their greatness. This is only natural.

When I state it plainly, as a matter of fact, in the abstract, no one can disagree. But when we interact with others on a daily basis, we venomously lash out at those of us who are truly great. We retaliate against coworkers who prove themselves to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the team. We act jealously and cowardly toward successful people that we come across. We feel somehow threatened by them.

But, I reiterate, this is insanity. A society that cannot properly congratulate its highest achievers is a society so jealous that it hates its own greatest achievements. Such perspectives are poisonous. They infect every aspect of life. They make professional life contentious and mean; they make leisure time a competition; they render us incapable of empathizing with anyone.

Discussions of ethics, for example, often become contentious because the one asserting the most ethical path is considered to be "judgmental" of those whose morality fail them. It is far easier, and by the way far more humble, to simply acknowledge that moral excellence is a kind of special achievement that not everyone is capable of. There are those among us for whom morality is essentially The Olympics. Where some of us choose to spend twelve hours a day practicing a talent, the exceedingly moral spend twelve hours a day engaging in moral behavior that is simply leaps and bounds superior to our own.

Not only is this okay, it is worthy of our praise and our admiration. But the modern mind is incapable of giving credit where credit is due. Instead, we consider it an accusation against us, an indictment of our own morality. This, again, is absolutely insane. That one man or woman can be of an extremely higher moral character than we are ourselves is not a source of shame for us. It should be a source of inspiration and praise.

But instead of praising society's greatest achievements, we have grown defensive and choose to engage in psychological leveling. I think this is such a terrible, terrible tragedy.


Social Justice

Even if the BHLs are all wrong when it comes to making and subsequently defending their weaker claims, it would be fallacious to conclude that because they can't defend their claims, the claims are thus false. If we temporarily suspend disbelief, can we make hay with any concept of social justice?

Defining The Terms
Justice is a highly contested concept in philosophy, and has been for thousands of years. A vague, but fairly acceptable definition for the term might be "each person getting exactly that which he or she deserves, erring on the side of excess when it comes to good things happening to good people."

That's for "justice," now what about "social?" That one is quite a bit easier: something is social if it involves a group of individuals who share a common attribute. This leaves the door wide open, but it is necessary to do so. After all, I can form a social group around any attribute I want, so long as the rest of the group agrees. Likewise, I can also create a social group for you, so long as I can convince sufficiently many other people that the grouping attribute I've chosen is applicable. It's not important that you agree, it only matters that other people do. This is how stereotypes are made, after all.

Having thus defined "social" and "justice" individually, the definition of the conjoint term "social justice" is obvious: Social justice is when each social group gets exactly what it deserves, erring on the side of excess when it comes to good things happening to good groups.

Applying The Terms - Part One
A key point here is that this definition is fully acceptable and intuitive when applied to groups to which we feel an affinity.

For example, social justice occurs when the poor as a social group gets more of what it deserves. That is, the poor consists of individuals of no less moral worth than any other social group, yet they possess less material wealth. Therefore, social justice occurs when we give more material wealth to worthy people in need, i.e. members of the poor as a social group.

Likewise, social justice occurs when women as a social group gets more of what it deserves. That is, women are individuals of no less moral worth than any other social group, yet they possess a relatively lower level of social credibility relative to men as a social group. Therefore, when we give more social credibility to women than they currently have, we are spreading social justice.

Applying The Terms - Part Two
Another key point is that, just as Plato and Socrates observed eons ago, justice is not merely providing good to those worthy of receiving good, but also bad to those worthy of receiving bad. Justice hasn't been served until a criminal, for example, has received fair punishment for his crimes.

Applied to social justice, however, we begin to sense a need to tread carefully. Which social groups deserve punishment? In some cases, it is easy to define, as in the case of umbrella-concept bogeymen: racists, criminals, the corrupt, the morally depraved, and so on. It is easy enough to conjure up terms that imply the existence of a group of knaves who warrant punishment.

But when called to actually specify social groups who ought to be punished in the real world, with a real legal policy of social justice, we are almost sure to fail. To use the two groups specified in the previous section, how many of us would go on record calling for social justice to be waged against the poor, or against women? Clearly, any such person would be deservedly run out of town. Even calls for social justice against the corresponding opposites - the rich, and men - make most people uncomfortable. Granted, there has been some success over the years demonizing "the rich," or "the one-percent," etc., but it is only the most extreme and vociferous socialists and feminists who would call for social justice against all rich people or all men. For the most part, such calls would make normal people very uncomfortable, and rightly so.

And it is obviously even worse to argue for social justice against other groups based on race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, and so on. Most of us are able to realize fairly quickly that this is unacceptable bigotry.

Therefore, it might be that, while justice is a concept that involves both rewards and punishments, social justice is a concept that only involves rewards.

But if this is so, then shouldn't we instead call it "generosity" or "kindness" or perhaps "egalitarianism?" The reason we do not use these terms is because "justice" as applied to social justice is meant to imply that there are social groups who do not have things to which they are actually entitled. The key implication is that by further depriving these groups of what they do not have, things that the rest of us do indeed possess, we are perpetuating an injustice.

Social justice implies not that we should be kind and generous to all social groups, nor that we should treat them all equally. Social justice in fact goes a step further to suggest that whatever conditions are currently had by the poor, by women, by African-Americans, or whomever, are morally wrong and that failing to correct the problem - or at least to try - constitutes a black mark against our own personal morality.

To that point, I raise two objections:

1. Unless you believe in Original Sin, it is impossible to hold people morally responsible for the present conditions of the world, no matter how ill they are, unless you can draw clear causality between the actions of the accused and the suffering of the victims. Regarding the poor, for example, it is not at all clear that my getting up and going to work and going home and spending time with my family every day, etc., is contributing to the suffering of the poor. So, in what way am I morally responsible for the suffering of the poor? And if the answer is, "You are morally obligated to help the poor," then I ask again: Are you not merely talking about kindness and generosity, rather than justice?

2. As I noted above, I can assemble a social group consisting of any particular attribute I choose. All I require is an applicable attribute and a large enough number of other people who agree with me. Therefore, I can draw the "poverty line" at $15K per year, $50K per year, $150K per year, or any other number. I need not draw my racial groups around skin color alone, I can draw them around national borders. Therefore "Americans" should give more to "Africans" to correct social injustice. Or, perhaps I am more interested in the unique social injustice suffered by those of mixed racial origin versus the luckier members of pure race-based groups. Here I might pit a son against his own father.

Under the social justice framework, any group I can identify can be argued as having unique social justice concerns that ought to be corrected, but there is no framework for identifying which group should be focused on first or most passionately. There is also no discussion about the selfish motives of group insiders who argue for the social justice of their own group. Of course there are selfish individual motives for all of these things, but there is no room for that particular line of analysis in a social justice discussion.

David Friedman has quite adeptly poked holes in our ability to concretely define social justice. Here, I have attempted to define it and discuss it as broadly as possible. Even in as flattering terms as we can give it, the concept involves major problems that cannot be easily overcome.

So, I would argue that social justice is at best problematic, and at worst more of a rhetorical tool used to promote selfish political objectives. At any rate, it is a difficult thing to take seriously.


Altitude Training

For the first time in perhaps three years, I went running "at altitude" today. What this means is that I ran in a location that happens to sit at a critically high level of altitude. In my case, this was Denver, Colorado, which sits at about 5,430 feet above sea level.

I grew up in an area that was about 4,500 feet above sea level, but have lived at much lower altitudes for the better part of the last ten years. Thus, I have not done much in the way of "altitude training" since I was in my early twenties. Being able to have this experience again brought back all kinds of memories: Memories of side aches, of dry-mouth, of burning lungs and burning muscles, and so on. It was a trip down memory lane.

Those who have only ever lived in places of high altitude have little-to-no insight into low altitude training. Those who have only ever lived in places of low altitude have little-to-no insight into high altitude training. It is only a small subset of us who have experienced both kinds of training in significant proportions. Hence, in the interest of sharing some lessons learned, and in hopes that this information will aide those of you who have trained in one set of conditions and suddenly find yourself in another, I would like to discuss how altitude affects running.

First, The Basics
The general idea here is as follows: The higher the altitude, the less dense the atmosphere is. What this means is that those of us who live and train at higher altitudes must attempt to perform the same activities with less oxygen.

To compensate for life at higher altitudes, the human body develops a higher density of hemoglobin in the blood stream. Hemoglobin, roughly speaking, is a protein contained in red blood cells whose job is to transport oxygen to human cells for use in respiration, i.e. for aerobic energy. The more oxygen available in the air, the less hemoglobin is necessary. Oxygen is so plentiful that each breath brings in a large amount of oxygen, which can then be easily transported into the cells and respirated into energy. The less oxygen in the air, the more the body will attempt to transport oxygen as efficiently as possible. Every morsel counts, thus the body produces a great deal of hemoglobin to absorb every morsel of oxygen and transport it into the cells.

The truth is, it's not density of oxygen that matters so much as it is hemoglobin. As a result, many competitive endurance athletes will spend a large part of their training regimen exercising in places of high altitude so that their bodies will produce more hemoglobin. When they finally descend to sea level and compete in a race, their bodies will have an above-average level of hemoglobin and will therefore be capable of producing more cellular energy for the same number of "breaths."

A Brief Word On "Cheating"
Incidentally, this is also what "blood doping" is. Some athletes will train at high altitudes, and then donate blood to themselves. The high-hemoglobin blood is kept on ice until such time as the athlete is ready for sea-level competition. At that point, they receive a blood transfusion consisting of their own, high-hemoglobin blood. They receive all the benefits of their time at high altitude, even if they have not recently trained at altitude. Most sports governing bodies consider this cheating. I would remark, however, that it is only cheating if it involves a blood transfusion. There is nothing "illegal" about training at altitude two weeks before the competition, but the end result is the same as a blood transfusion. Same athlete, same workouts, same competition. The only difference is the time period between the initial descent and the race day.

Similarly, an athlete (Lance Armstrong, for example) may choose to inject himself with EPO, which is a synthetic hormone that enhances hemoglobin production. Its therapeutic use is to facilitate the healing process for those people who have neutropenia, i.e. low white blood cell levels. For the most part, this is chemotherapy patients. An added side-effect is that additional hemoglobin are also produced. The impact on an athlete is no different than spending a couple of weeks at a high altitude, which I reiterate is perfectly "legal." But taking an injection that results in exactly the same physiological response is considered cheating.

I will leave the ethical discussion to my readers.

Running At Different Altitudes
From the above discussion, it should be clear that training at high altitudes results in higher blood-hemoglobin levels. While this is the object "of interest" with respect to high-altitude training, it is far from being the whole story. What's interesting to me is the fact that running at higher and lower altitudes simply feels different and demands a different approach to training.

That is to say, a person's lungs have to do a lot more work at higher altitudes than they do at lower ones. While this may seem relatively straightforward, the physical sensations involved are remarkably different.

A hurried example would be as follows: When I was growing up and running regularly, I got a side-ache perhaps two or three times per week. In contrast, running at sea level for the past ten years, I may have developed a side-ache two or three times across the entire decade. That the lungs must do more work at higher altitudes is a bald fact, but the depth and length of a person's breathing has an enormous impact on the cadence of a person's running stride.

To push oneself into a sprint at high altitudes means to virtually deplete oneself of one's oxygen levels on a cellular basis. As soon as a person reaches the pace of a sprint, every muscle burns to a degree that many low-altitude runners have never experienced. On top of that, there is no use attempting to compensate with heavier breathing. Where one expects a breath to be, there is only an empty croak. It is an extremely odd sensation indeed to gasp for air, but to have nothing there to fill one's lungs. This is what it means to run at a high altitude.

Of course, if this is all you ever know about running, you will hardly notice it. I myself hardly noticed it for the first two decades of my life. There was nothing to which to compare. I had never run at lower altitudes.

Then, one day, I had the opportunity to run at sea level. I had heard many stories about how much easier it is to run at low altitudes. I expected to triumphantly glide at a mind-bogglingly fast pace, seemingly without effort. Imagine my shock when I discovered that my running pace was nearly identical to what I would have run at high altitudes! What went wrong?

This brings me to low-altitude running. As should be clear by now, running at various altitudes simply has a different feel. As aforementioned, high-altitude running feels as though one is constantly gasping for breath, almost as if the wind has been knocked out of you. Running at low altitudes does not magically become easy. One's muscles must still push equally as hard to reach the same pace. We would logically expect this to be the case, but due to the folklore surrounding altitudes, some runners - myself included - expect some sort of disproportionate ease at which sea-level running can take place.

It doesn't work that way. Running a 4:00 mile at sea level requires exactly the same muscular effort as a 4:00 mile at altitude. The difference is that, where a running acclimated to high altitudes would ordinarily expect that pace to result in a particular amount of "gasping for air," this does not occur at sea level. It takes an even higher level of "muscular effort" to result in the same amount of "gasping for air."

Thus, a high-altitude runner who finds himself at sea level can "afford" to push himself to a faster pace without that effort "costing" the accustomed level of "gasping."

I use quotation marks here because what I am describing is a physical sensation ill-suited to verbal description. Another way to look at it is to consider your own "normal running pace." You go out for a run at the usual pace, and you fall into a rhythm. Your breathing matches up with your strides at a given ratio. If you happen to be accustomed to sea-level running, then when you find yourself at a higher altitude, you will go running at the same speed, and your body will feel identical, but for one difference: You'll be gasping for air. Your muscles will not feel any different. Your awareness of your own pace will not feel any different. The difference will be centralized in your lungs.

Similarly, a runner accustomed to high altitude training will often forget how hard he can push himself during a sea-level outing, because his muscles and cadence will feel the same. The only difference is that his lungs will be taking smaller, shallower breaths. To achieve the same kind of workout he is used to, he must push himself toward a faster pace.

I will further add that his leg muscles might not necessarily be up for the challenge. The key point here is that there is no automatic "benefit" to running at sea-level, even if one is acclimatized to higher altitudes. Training at high altitudes will improve the shape your lungs are in. Training at low altitudes will improve the shape your other muscles are in. Ideally, an athlete will build up both sets of muscles, but of course that is easier said than done.

The point I have tried to make here is that both low-altitude and high-altitude training confers certain benefits.

It may surprise those of us who are accustomed to high altitudes how much harder we can push at sea level without feeling the same level of fatigue and muscle-burning; but in order to enjoy that benefit, we must actually push to that degree. Many don't realize that they have to push to see the difference.

Similarly, those of us who have been fully acclimated to lower altitudes will be shocked to discover how badly their lungs and muscles burn during a high-altitude run. Their muscles may be fully ready to undertake severe punishment, but if their lungs are not used to gasping for air the way high-altitude runners can, they will find high-altitude running extremely daunting.

Hopefully this verbal synopsis of the matter proves useful to you the next time you change altitude and go for a run.


Diabetes And Exercise: Part IV

Recently, I have been exploring the some personal hypotheses related to human growth hormone (HGH), cortisol, and insulin and glucose levels in the blood stream. What began as a bit of a crackpot theory quickly grew into a relatively deep dive into some aspects of the endocrine system that are not directly involved in the insulin-glucagon-food-sugar cycle that so preoccupies us diabetics. I am still not fully comfortable discussing the information from any standpoint of expertise, and it should always be remembered that I am not any sort of an endocrinologist, not even an amateur one. Nevertheless, I do feel that I have sufficient knowledge of some of these concepts to merit a new installment of my Diabetes and Exercise series.

Anabolism And Catabolism
Metabolism consists of two separate processes that have fancy names, but which are fully intuitive. Anabolism is that part of metabolism that produces growth and generation. Catabolism is that part of metabolism that results in the breaking down of larger things.

A simplistic view of the process would cause a conceptual error. We would like to believe that anything that builds is good, while anything that deconstructs is bad. This is obviously not the case: fuel must be burned in order to produce energy, timber must be cut in order to build a house, and so on. In all cases, building something new involves breaking something else down to some extent or another. So long as we are not dealing with annihilation, we intuitively understand this concept.

So it is with the human metabolism: Catabolism breaks down larger molecules so that energy can be released into the body, anabolism combines energy, hormones, and proteins to produce muscle and tissue growth.

Recall from my "Hunting for Clues" post that HGH, which is primarily responsible for muscle growth, lipolysis, protein synthesis, etc., is produced as a response to strenuous exercise and/or hypoglycemia. Insulin levels therefore also impact the extent to which HGH production occurs.

The way this at least appears to me to work is that blood sugar levels have a tendency to fall when we fast (of course) and when we engage in activities that make use of the sugar in the bloodstream. Once the insulin/glucose ratio tilts to a certain point, HGH production kicks-in. The most immediate reason for this is to stimulate gluconeogenesis in the liver. That is, to keep us alive, HGH sends a signal to the liver to start cranking out the glucose. In a healthy body, this would continue up to the point where more reasonable blood-insulin and -glucose levels are established, at which time catabolic hormones (mostly glucocorticoids, I believe) would be released to send a signal to halt or slow gluconeogenesis and/or metabolize blood sugar.

It is a two-step process, and neither step is more important than the other. It is akin to taking a step with your right leg, followed by a step with your left leg, and thus, walking.

Diabetic Conditions (I Think)
Diabetic bodies being what they are, we are always warding-off conditions of hyperglycemia. Left without insulin injections, our blood glucose would rise and we would ultimately die because of it. This suggests (again, I must reiterate that I am hypothesizing based on my limited understanding of the situation) that diabetics with under-controlled blood sugar levels will also experience lower HGH production (since we will rarely be in hypoglycemic conditions, or even conditions of high blood-insulin levels regardless of blood glucose levels).

Combine this knowledge with the fact that exercise produces cortisol, a glucocorticoid. This means that a diabetic who exercises regularly will experience increased cortisol levels (as a direct stress response to the exercise itself) and increased hyperglycemia as a result of both being a diabetic in general and the fact that exercise also stimulates gluconeogenesis as the natural result of exercise-induced increased respiration.

What we are left with is a picture of a diabetic body under the conditions of strenuous exercise: heightened levels of blood glucose and glucocorticoids combined with inhibited levels of human growth hormone. The body is catabolizing, but not anabolizing. That is, the diabetic body breaks down, but does not build up. If you are a diabetic who exercises regularly, you have probably experienced the feeling that you are wearing yourself down: your muscles burn and feel fatigue for days on end, you're tired all the time, and so on.

The quirk here is that, as we all know, exercise also reduces blood sugar levels and can result in hypoglycemia if we're not careful. Our balance is therefore thrown out-of-whack. We get the worst of all worlds: increased blood sugar and cortisol, but no corresponding regulatory influx of HGH. Whatever hypoglycemia we experience is a result of our injected insulin. Because the body isn't producing that insulin itself [hypothesis alert], it appears that the normal anabolic signals fail to trigger the right way.

Making Use Of This Knowledge
Over the past few weeks, I have been experimenting with my new-found knowledge. There are a few simple things we diabetics can do improve our anabolic profile. Doing so will reduce our blood sugar, reduce the amount of daily insulin required, and hopefully help us all better-regulate our bodies.

First, it has been shown that eating a small amount of protein after every workout results in a slight inhibition of the production of cortisol. I have spent almost a year drinking very-low-carbohydrate (~3mg or so) protein shakes after every workout. The low levels of carbohydrate prevent me from going hypoglycemic before I can get to a safe a place with necessary snacks, while the protein serves to reduce the body's post-workout stress response. I feel much better having had a protein shake after a workout than I do otherwise. It does at least appear to work.

Second, it is extremely helpful to use one's workouts to foster the production of HGH. As I have noted, strenuous exercise stimulates HGH production. The operable word is strenuous. If you are like me, then you have grown accustomed to working out a particular way. For example, I spent whole years of my life going for a daily 10-mile run. Before I was diabetic, this worked okay (although it wasn't ideal). When I became diabetic, however, the daily 10-mile run created conditions in my body in which I was producing copious amounts of cortisol due to the stress of the workout, but the workout was never so stressful as to result in much HGH production. My blood sugar would gradually increase, until I would eventually have to take significant time off running.

In contrast, these days I have taken to dedicating about three days per week to a very strenuous strength-and-plyometrics workout that completely exhausts me, after which I will often go for a modest run on top of that. Such workouts are so strenuous that my body cannot help but crank out the HGH. Yet, because I only do this three times per week, my body never gets so worn-down from exercise that I hurt my muscles, bones, or ligaments. The remainder of the days of the week are spent doing a more traditional cardio workout, like a daily run. This seems to produce the right balance of HGH versus cortisol.

Third, it is very important that an exercising diabetic reaches a state of deep sleep on a regular basis, because it is during this deep sleep that the majority of a person's HGH is produced. Every diabetic who has ever had to stay up at night has feel the awful burning sensation of lacking sleep. That burning sensation is cortisol pumping through the human body: losing sleep is stressful. But the foregone HGH production serves up a double-whammy for the exercising diabetic, further worsening our blood sugar profile.

Considering the above discussion, there are a few important take-aways to be had:

  • Diabetics risk diminished anabolism
  • There are proven activities that promote anabolism in the body
  • Hyperglycemia and cortisol production worsen a diabetic's blood sugar profile, but this is a condition that can be alleviated by engaging in activities that promote anabolism
  • Dedicate three days per week to highly strenuous exercise, such as plyometrics
  • Get plenty of sleep
To put it succinctly, if you're not gasping for breath, then you're not engaging in strenuous activity. You should be gasping for breath for a good thirty minutes solid. Doing so will promote HGH production and improve your blood glucose control.

It should be noted that much of what I have just written applies equally to diabetics and non-diabetics. For diabetics, it is uniquely important, but all of the above principles apply to people who simply wish to enjoy the anti-aging, immunity-boosting effects of natural HGH production.


Authenticity, Part II

In my last post, I discussed what I perceive to be a growing thirst in society for authenticity. This thirst is everywhere, and it may be beneficial to consider an example before proceeding further.

Consider, for example, the recent case of an Ecuadorian who kidnapped a New York businessman:
Businessman Pedro Portugal was found this week. 
Police say he'd been held in a warehouse for more than a month. They say he was bound and burned with acid as captors demanded a $3 million ransom from his family in Quito, Ecuador.
That's a pretty authentic crime. The suspect is also alleged to have impersonated a police officer. But what does he have to say for himself?
A man charged in the brazen abduction and brutal captivity of a New York City businessman says he "made a mistake" but he's "not a criminal."
So a kidnapper would have us believe that he simply made an honest mistake. Hey, anyone could accidentally kidnap a rich businessman, burn him with acid, and hold him for ransom. It doesn't make you a criminal...

Set aside the banality of stipulating that the one and only necessary and sufficient condition for "being a criminal" is breaking a law, and instead focus on what the criminal himself is getting at. What he means to suggest is that criminals are bad people, but that he's not a bad person. Criminals are knaves who are engaged in unethical behavior, presumably from dastardly motives. The suspect in this case wants people to understand that he made a bad choice (to kidnap, torture, and ransom a rich businessman for money), but that he doesn't want people to see him as bad.

This criminal has a lot to thirst for. I don't doubt that he is destitute and struggling through dire circumstances, so for one thing he thirsts for a better economic well-being. He is also clearly suffering from a dearth of moral integrity, for - even if it were true that he is not an altogether bad man - kidnapping and burning an innocent man with acid is a fairly hefty mistake, as far as moral shortcomings go. He thirsts for money, he thirsts for a better sense of morals...

...and, puzzlingly, he thirsts for authenticity, i.e. the authenticity of humanity. He doesn't want his true moral character revealed, and now that it is, he wants people to simply understand that something other than his moral character propelled him toward a terrible mistake.

The game he's playing here is a little semantic doozy that relates to what "criminal" means, and what kind of person qualifies for that description. If he's a "criminal," he has to admit to being a bad person. If he's not a fundamentally bad person, then how can he be a "criminal?"

So it goes. We want the authenticity that comes with the meaningfulness of lables; but we don't want the labels to be applied in a way that makes us feel bad. Rather change ourselves, and achieve authenticity, we would rather change the labels, and achieve... something else.

The escape from all of this nonsense is surprisingly simple: To enjoy authenticity, you have to actually be authentic. This is horrendously, terrifyingly foreign to a society that has grown so extremely comfortable with always putting their best foot forward. In the old days, that consisted of putting on nice clothes and walking with your head held high whenever one was in public. In today's world, it consists of choosing deceptive camera angles for your Facebook profile photo.

Every step of the way, we are seemingly lobbying for ourselves. I'm not just the guy paid to do the work; I'm not just the guy who derives personal satisfaction from a job well done. No, I'm the guy you need to give a shot at project manager. I'm the guy who needs an elevator pitch. I'm the guy who was seen having lunch with the SVP, the guy who has a killer photo of himself playing guitar on stage, the guy who has a whole Facebook album devoted to pictures of myself on a sunny, exotic beach. I am pure awesome, pure interesting, 100% cool, all the time. I never pass gas. I never cry. I never feel bad. I never strike out when I make a pass at someone. I'm perfect.

...but not too perfect, because then I'd be vain.

If you want authenticity, you have to be able to sacrifice your public image a little bit. I'm not saying you have to own up to the fact that the only reason your profile picture looks awesome is that there was really good lighting in the club that night. But would it kill you to acknowledge that your life can be pretty messed up sometimes?

Here's a story: Everyone thinks I'm an amazing runner; but I've suffered a lot of humiliation as a result of running. It's not just the cat calls, I've come in dead last in really important races before. Not just last place, but humiliatingly, excruciatingly last place. You know, the kind of last place where even your parents start to get bored and stare off into space, wondering when you'll be finished so that they can go back to doing something less cold and more interesting. I've been stranded in winter weather wearing only a pair of neon shorts and the terrifying realization that I need to find a bathroom, and fast. Even worse, I've used running as a way to escape my real problems.

The thing about an authentically good story is that it typically involves a good, healthy dose of humiliation. You can't triumph without adversity, and let's face it: you're just not that awesome. The number of true geniuses, Olympic gold medalists, Nobel laureates, etc. is excruciatingly small, and even those guys have some serious demons.

We're people. It's not that "nobody's perfect," it's that "perfect" is an intellectual construct we developed to help ourselves remember what to aspire to. It doesn't exist, not because we have failed to achieve it, but because it is unattainable by design.

In our unyielding pursuit of perfection, however, we have all happened up on a horrible mistake: We have discovered that we can pilfer some of the benefits of real achievement if we manage to convince other people that we've achieved a lot more than we really have. It goes alright for a while, but eventually you have to pay the piper. We're borrowing against our authenticity. That kind of debt can be ruinous.

First things first, allow yourself to be imperfect... Not to yourself, although, yes, that would help. Allow other people to know that you're imperfect. Smile about it. Laugh about it. It's funny. It's part of being human.

The irony is that authenticity is easy to achieve.


Authenticity, Part I

Sometimes circumstances align such that concepts that never would have otherwise occurred to us present themselves in stunning clarity.

If someone had asked me last week what I had to say about "authenticity," I would have struggled for an answer. It's not that I don't have a take on authenticity, it's that my take would likely never have been brought into focus, were it not for the events of the past week.

One such event was the minor controversy stirred up at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog involving the if-by-whisky shotgun theories David Friedman calls mush. I'm not tempting fate by mentioning this controversy after already declaring that I wouldn't be discussing it any further. I won't be. I mention it only because it informed what has become a budding interest in the notion of a person's authenticity. In this case, the idea I'm expressing is that Bleeding Heart Libertarianism lacks authenticity as an ideological movement so long as it isn't fully capable of defining itself. It seems to consist of a diverse group of like-minded thinkers, but when that same group is called upon to delineate their differences from out-group libertarians, they routinely fail. As such, it is difficult to consider them much more than a marketing campaign. Insofar as I share the majority of their policy goals, I hope they are a successful one.

Yet, it is precisely their resemblance to a marketing campaign that gets me thinking about authenticity. When it comes to adhering to a set of ideological principles, all authenticity really means is that a person genuinely does believe what he or she says. BHLs are certainly authentic in that regard. Where they fall short is identity. In Stationary Waves language, they're engaging in a social - and therefore moral - fulfillment at the expense of individualist - and therefore existential - concerns. "Bleeding heart" libertarianism is an in-group, and like all other in-groups is it ill-defined.

We leave fuzzy boundaries at the edges of our in-groups precisely so that in-groups can serve their moral function of expelling outsiders. Seen from the standpoint of a self-policing community, what good is it to adhere to principle if it puts you face-to-face with all the people you consider morally reprehensible? A concrete moral structure prevents us from having the flexibility to exclude bad guys on-the-fly. Creeps who specialize in pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior have been wreaking havoc on rule-based communities for ages. A dedication to principle leaves us paralyzed to oust the trouble-makers. If the rules are malleable enough, or sufficiently subject to personal interpretation, "a good argument to be made" for excluding a trouble-maker becomes all the argument needed at all.

This preserves the social order and buttresses our moral sensibilities, but it has a side-effect. In our desire to provide exceptions for our principles to punish the guilty, we lose whatever piece of our identity that required a definition to keep it in place.

Families who remain close despite the fact that one or more family members is a clear outsider know this all-too-well. The adopted child always feels that piece is missing, and so embarks on a long journey to learn about his or her absentee parents. The step-parent loves his or her spouse's children dearly, but always feels funny about words like "mom" and "dad" until he or she conceives a shared child. However willing we all are to bend the rules to redefine the word "family" to include all of our loved ones, the loss of the definite corresponds to absence of something we are supposed to know about ourselves.

Or, as The Last Psychiatrist puts it (all spelling, typographical, and grammatical errors in the original):
[O]n the one hand, they don't want to have to conform to society's impossible standards, but on the other hand they don't want the existential terror of NOT conforming to some kind of standard.  They want an objective bar to be changed to fit them-- they want "some other omnipotent entity" to change it so that it remains both entirely valid yet still true for them, so that others have to accept it, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about look at your GPA: you know, and I know, that if college graded you based on the actual number of correct answers you generated, no curve, then you would have gotten an R.  Somehow that R became an A.  The question is, why bother?  Why not either make grades rigorous and valid so we know exactly what they mean, or else do away with them entirely?  Because in either case society and your head would implode from the existential vacuum.  Instead, everyone has to get As AND the As have to be "valid" so you feel good enough to pay next year's tuition, unfortunately leaving employers with no other choice but to look for other more reliable proxies of learning like race, gender, and physical appearance.  Oh.   Did you assume employers would be more influenced by the fixed grades than their own personal prejudices?   "Wait a second, I graduated 4.0 from State, and the guy you hired had a 3.2 from State-- the only reason you didn't hire me is because I'm a woman!"  Ok, this is going to sound really, really weird:  yeah.  The part that's going to really have you scratching your head is why did either of you need college when the job only requires a 9th grade education?
And later in the same article:
Self esteem is sold to you as an inalienable right, not something to be earned; and if you don't have self-esteem it's because fake society made you feel bad about yourself.  But fake society also made you feel good about yourself, it propped you up.  The reason you got an A and not an R and believed it is because you actually believe you are an A kind of guy, Math, English, History, Science, PE, and Lunch notwithstanding.  A, not R.  But if everyone deserves it, it has no value.  Which is why getting  it is unsatisfying. 
This describes our predicament perfectly: On the one hand, we want things to be exactly the way we wish they were, all the way up to the point where we are willing to redefine the rules so that they validate the reality we wish to see. On the other hand, a part of us walks away knowing that it's not real, that we had to change the rules in order to create a game we could win.

As we continue to make our way through a life riddled by doubts, needs, fears, and unrequited desires, we cook up endlessly many ways to bend the rules. The women discussed in The Last Psychiatrist article want to redefine beauty such that they can qualify for it. The non-nuclear families want to redefine the family unit to include all the important people in their lives. The BHLs want to redefine libertarianism so that their ideas are the ones that receive headline attention.

It should be clear from all of these examples that the motivation for this sort of behavior is seldom bad. A happy family is a good family, however they choose to define it. A woman who feels beautiful is a happy woman regardless of how her physical features stand up to the voters at "Hot Or Not?" A libertarian thinker who manages to advance the cause of essential liberty has done society a good turn regardless of whether more obtuse or quixotic libertarians feel they have compromised the philosophical roots.

When it comes to human happiness, good is good. Sometimes even (although clearly not all the time) the end does justify the means. As this smart guy says, Harvard is more about the brand than it is about the quality of its education. But (as he unfortunately omitted), if your Harvard education results in your drawing a six-figure salary, that's a slice of happiness you can literally take to the bank. It's hard to argue against that kind of illusion, isn't it?

There's a secret to all this, a little magic ingredient that keeps the whole system afloat: Authenticity.

With the non-nuclear family, it's extremely easy to see. If a man provides for a child, teaches that child, nurtures that child's creativity and morality, provides mentorship, resources, love, and support, through thick-and-thin, for his entire life, then that man has authentically demonstrated that he his a father. The biological conception of the child becomes beside the point. The man ears a level of authenticity that not even a zygote can supply.

There are many other obvious cases in which authenticity manages to overcome the challenge of a rule or definition, and I won't bother to inundate you with an exhaustive list.

What I'm really getting at is that lack of authenticity means that, however we choose to bend the rules, we leave in our minds and our hearts the gaping hole that can only be filled with the truth. If you tell yourself that you can overcome a physical imperfection by having an extremely beautiful personality, and you win the heart of a great mate, then you have earned your authenticity. But if you fill a friend or loved one with a lot of false praise and hope by telling her that she is a princess when she is in fact more of a duchess then we all walk away with a pit in our stomach. The pit is the result of a lie. You can borrow against your authenticity for a little while, but it always leaves a scar somewhere in your mind.

In today's world, we are inundated with gurus, marketing campaigns, media lies, and government propaganda. We regurgitate the spin we hear in our private conversations. We buy into the quick-fixes and the grading-on-a-curve and the false demonization of innocent scapegoats. All the while, we leave ourselves hungry for authenticity.

So the next time you're watching The Voice and telling yourself that the best of these contestants is every bit as good a singer as the Dellphonics or whatever, keep in mind that you're borrowing against your own authenticity, and that one day you're going to turn around and discover that you can't buy a Dellphonics record anymore, and that the only thing left on the store shelves is the new Justin Bieber CD.

And as a final note, let me say that those of you who are saying that you like Justin Bieber and who am I to say anything about it are also borrowing against your authenticity. You might win that argument with me, but you will never out-run the hole left in your stomach, put there by the illusions you chose to suffer to make things look a little better.


Long ago, when human knowledge was comparatively sparse and there were no vast armies of academics endlessly pursuing scientific minutiae ultra licitum, smart people could become experts in virtually everything just by reading the key texts. This is one of the reasons there were a disproportionately high number of "renaissance men" during the actual Renaissance than there are today. (Think about it, who was the last genuine renaissance man in human history? Benjamin Franklin, perhaps?) It's not as though human genius is exceedingly rare these days (although, sometimes it's hard to completely discount that possibility when reading the news). The reality is that every course of discipline has expanded to the point where even experts in a particular branch of physics cannot possibly hope to be experts in physics, in general.

This is astounding, when you think about it. The geniuses of yore could be expert mathematicians simply by learning math up to trigonometry or calculus, the equivalent of a senior at a good high school. In the 1700s, if a person understood Newtonian geometry and calculus, one had all the tools required to be a physicist. A couple of additional years spent practicing a musical instrument and acquainting oneself with Aristotle meant that one was a bona fide renaissance man.

Take stock of this. Such men not only had knowledge of important subject matter, but they had deep knowledge of science, literature, art, and philosophy. Today, that knowledge amounts to the totality of what youth learn by about the age of twenty. True, not all of us remember all this information, but most college-educated people must at least demonstrate a temporary understanding of everything that Rene Descartes knew. Many of us must even demonstrate knowledge of even more.

The reason I bring this up is because I have been wondering what I would have to read in order to become a veritable expert in Philosophy. I've been assembling reading lists and trying to identify core concepts that should be understood if one wanted to become, not just a casual reader of philosophical ideas, but an actual philosopher incarnate. The list as it is currently assembled actually appears like a fully reasonable undertaking for anyone with an adult level of reading comprehension and sufficient time on his hands. I leave it to you, the reader, to guess which person might be disposed to such an undertaking.

Naturally, there is more to being a philosopher than reading all the important books and being able to define the important terms from rote memory. A real philosopher must also advance human knowledge of philosophy somehow, or develop new philosophical concepts not previously known.

But one has to start somewhere.

Excellent Commentary

I have no idea who "Handle" is, but here is his/her website.

Here is an excerpt from a comment Handle posted on David Friedman's blog:
The response I get then is basically sentimental or a kind of sympathetic simulation of what they would want or think "fair" in similar circumstances. The moral instinct of many bleeding hearts is to imagine that they'd fallen on hard times are somehow couldn't escape the circumstances that led them to become poor, or a prisoner (they never imagine themselves as Soldiers, revealingly), and to imagine how nice they'd have to be treated to not feel awfully deprived given the affluent lifestyle to which they've become accustomed. 
The extra (unaddressed) paradox for Rawlsian thinking is that the disagreeableness of prison, or poverty, provides the incentive for work and deterrence of crime. The nicer you make it, the more the incentive is undermined. Pure "involuntariness" is required to avoid this problem, and that is highly unrealistic. With any degree of voluntary control over one's circumstances, Maximin delivers a society of corroded incentives. In the short-term transition depleting a large stock-pile of social capital built up over previous eras, one is not likely to notice much change. But over time you'd see the emergence of a vast underclass with endemic and multi-generationally transmitted crime and dependency. That's just crazy speculation though. 
At any rate, what is the point of all this? The point is that I (we?) suspect that what Bleeding Hearts really want is something like a social tithe - society pays a reasonable fraction - 10-20% of GDP perhaps (but certainly no less than 10%!), to accomplish various redistributions from the relatively more productive to the relatively less productive. That's what "minimally nice" means - bread and roses and certain fuzzy psychological "ego" and "dignity" effects too. 
Dr. Friedman's inquiries are met with evasions precisely for this reason. Because it's embarrassing for someone purporting to be purely rational to admit that, at bottom, they're policy preferences are based in subjective sentiment or opinion or taste or something quasi-religious in character. Worse than that, sentiments with no clear limiting principles or constraints, and which lead, and which actually led historically, to hard left conclusions.


Cat Calls

Some women have occasionally and indignantly told me that I will never know how it feels to experience cat calls while walking down the street. Au contraire. I have been subjected to cat calls for almost as long as I have been running.

Cat Calls As A Young Runner
I started running at about the age of seven or eight. There is some ambiguity here, because some of the memories I have of considering myself a runner pre-date the memory I have of committing myself to the idea of becoming a runner. I suppose I was running informally, and developing an interest in running, for a short while before finally accepting it as a personal challenge to myself. Whatever the case may be, on the day I really embraced the idea of being a runner I was eight years old and a classmate of mine had just finished a race with a highly impressive time and place in the competition. Inspired by that, I decided that when that same competition was held the next year, I would try to achieve similar success. And I did.

What that required of me was practice, so I would run approximately one mile to school every day, with a book bag thrown over my shoulder, and another mile back home again after school. You can imagine what sort of impact this had on my classmates. Not only were they not impressed, they were incredibly bemused. On at least one occasion, I was chased down the street, being kicked. I wasn't afraid; I calmly out-ran them. Such experiences set the stage for what would become an ongoing inside-joke I had with myself: Bullies would chase me, and I would enjoy out-running them. This made me look ridiculous, but who cares? It's not as if any victim of bullying can ever come out looking good.

As a part of these early experiences, I received my first cat calls. Generally, they were made by bullies who would voice threats to chase me and kick me. It is what it is. Kids bully each other. Such life experiences don't last forever, and I certainly didn't spend the majority of my life as a nerd. We all out-grew this stuff, and many of the bullies would later become friends of mine. (There's a lesson here for you anti-bullying advocates.)

The bullying eventually stopped, but the cat calls didn't. Most of the cat calls I received later on consisted of a loud, derisive "Woooo!" I guess the idea here is that the cat callers wanted to let me know that they were not impressed by the fact that I was running. I wasn't trying to impress them, but maybe they thought I was. Or maybe a young boy barreling down the street in neon running clothes just makes for an easy target.

For The Record, No, You Were Not The First To Say It
In 1994, Paramount Pictures released an Oscar-winning blockbuster that would forever change the course of the cat calls I received: Forrest Gump.

I have never seen this movie. I presume from whatever I can recall about the movie's trailers that it is about a simple man who experiences the most life has to offer by somehow being true to himself and his own simple nature. I honestly have no idea how correct I am about that, however, because - I reiterate - I have never seen the movie, nor have I ever wanted to. It's just not my bag.

I am aware of the fact that the movie contains a scene in which a young girl urges a young Forrest Gump to "Run, Forrest! Run!" I have been hearing those three words several times a week, every week, since about July 6th, 1994.

Today, "Run, Forrest! Run!" makes up about half of the cat calls I receive during the course of any given run.

Charged Cat Calls
Far be it from me to equate an annoying movie quote to the offensive cat calls that some women have to endure when they walk down the street. Again, about half of the cat calls I get while running are not anywhere near the kinds of things that women tell me they have to hear from men.

The other half of the cat calls I get, however, are overt examples of overtly sexualized outcries. These come in various forms, but all refer specifically to their appraisal of my physical appearance. Some examples:

Yesterday, a twenty-something man poked his head out the window of his car as he drove past me in the parking lot of a public park and shouted, "Looking hot, gorgeous!" This strikes me as being along the same lines as the "Wooo!" I used to get in the pre-Forrest Gump days. The idea seems to be that, by running, I am supposedly calling attention to my body, which the young man would like to inform me is not as attractive as he assumes I believe it to be.

Another typical one is for a car full of youth slow down long enough to make a lengthy series of "Ow!!" noises. Sometimes this is accompanied by honking, but not always. In nearly every case I can remember, the car accelerates quickly away from me once the noises have been made to the passengers' satisfaction. A lot of this is just teenage horseplay, but they also seem to be riffing on the idea that, because I am running down the street, I am attempting to display my body in a flirtatious manner.

Many times I have encountered fellow pedestrians on residential streets who, upon laying eyes on the horrors of a fit human being outfitted in normal running, take the opportunity to call out, "Eww! Gross!!" This is a near-identical cat call concept to the previous two, with the added variation being that the caller chooses a presumably honest appraisal rather than a sarcastic one.

Of course, all of the above cat calls have also been delivered with favorable ratings, too. I've received some genuinely impressed "Wooo!"s. I've had cars full of young girls stop to give me high-fives or even to chat with me. I've had admiring cat callers make a wide variety of noises that can only be described as the exact opposite of "Gross!"

Like cat calls and advances outside the running world, those I have received while running have evoked a wide variety of emotional responses.

No one feels anything less that outrage when some kind of slimy creep takes one's workout as an opportunity to make loud, derogatory, and offensive statements about one's physical appearance. There is something extremely uncomfortable about engaging in an innocuous activity like exercise and having some jerk call attention to you in a sexual way.

The perpetrators of this sort of behavior can be - and are - male or female. Anyone who would suggest that men like these sorts of cat calls from women in any circumstance is sadly mistaken. If there is one thing I would like to convey to women who believe "men don't know what it's like," it's this: some of your fellow females are as big or bigger creeps than the most offensive males.

On the other end of the spectrum, few people can help but feel flattered after receiving the however improbable respectful cat call, especially during a moment when we might feel we are performing at our best. This sort of thing does occur with a given regularity, and while it isn't nearly as potent as it was when I was single, it's still an encouraging thing to hear.

Finally, as my last paragraph implies, all of these cat calls occur on a spectrum across which a mix of good and bad emotions bubble up. Like the bullying experiences I underwent in my early years of running, enduring cat callers is part-and-parcel to being a runner. Feeding the bullies and cat callers has the effect of making things worse for the victim; ignoring them is frustratingly unsatisfying; learning how to handle the compliments without feeling ridiculous is a challenge of its own.

In the end, the best course of action is to grow comfortable within your own skin and embrace the world's imperfections however they may be.

As In Running, So In Life
There is no doubt that learning to run in spite of the bullying, derision, and ridicule shaped my perspective on all other issues.

I had the good fortune to receive a sizable athletic scholarship for running during my university years, which is something that had become a driving force for the running I had done earlier. Somehow I had developed the belief that getting a heavily discounted college education while "everyone else" was stuck flipping burgers to afford their degrees would make all the ridicule worthwhile. There was some truth to that. It was satisfying to be able to channel my energies into something that put me at a distinct advantage to the very peers who had teased me for simply being who I am.

Of course, that scholarship came with its own share of burdens, ones that ultimately proved to detract from the achievement itself. Having my emotional release owned and paid for by a public institution, redeemed at their discretion, robbed me of the kind of internal triumph I often experienced when I had previously left the world behind to challenge myself to an excruciating run through the mountains. These kinds of runs were off-limits. I was being paid to work out in the gym and on the track, not to go for pleasure-hikes in nearby national parks.

This loss of freedom has been known to toy with the mental fortitude of many runners who may not have had to hone their sense of individualism along with their running ability. For me, though, I was able to quickly identify the problem, find the solution, and continue my life-long love affair with the sport of running. Ultimately, this is running's primary benefit.

Yes, we all look ridiculous in our spandex and/or neon clothing. We hear all the time about how "crazy" it is, and how anyone else "would never do that, unless chased, haw haw haw." It's not a fraction as glamorous as a major team sport, and it makes many people feel like hapless clowns.

What it offers in exchange, though, is an opportunity to embrace individualism despite criticism, self-respect despite pervasive mockery, grace under pressure, pride under attack, and an unwavering appreciation for the introspection that develops in response to a kind of solitude that can only be experienced by people who have the courage to put themselves asunder of society by wearing gawky clothing and entering the public domain as a vulnerable object of veneration.

In short, running builds character. 


What Is Wrong-Doing?

The Miami Herald's report on Lois Lerner's testimony to Congress contains this rather insightful excerpt.

"I have done nothing wrong," said a stern-looking Lerner, sitting next to three other witnesses and reading from a written statement. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee."
Lerner reasons that, because she has not broken any laws, violated IRS rules or regulations, or provided false information to "this or any other committee," then she has therefore done nothing wrong.

I do not know what extent Lerner committed any actual wrongdoing, but I will remark that ethical determinations do not end at the question of whether or not one has broken any governmental rules or regulations. It is not at all illegal for me to tease a young child, for example, to the point of tears, but no one would argue that I would "have done nothing wrong," were I to do so.

Such faulty reasoning is one of the core features of statism. If right and wrong is determined by what the rules are, then whoever makes the rules gets to determine what is right and what is wrong. There is no room for personal virtue in this equation. There are no separate concepts of "personal responsibility" versus "social responsibility."

Conflating laws with ethics has been central to the statist ethos since the time of Marx. I don't expect it to change any time soon. However, sometimes we get such a clear window into the minds of our regulators that it merits emphasizing.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/05/21/3409314/irs-official-to-take-the-5th-at.html#storylink=cpy

My Last Post On Bleeding Heart Libertarians

One of the reasons this issue is of such interest to me is the fact that it is so emblematic of many of the things I frequently discuss here. I have already indicated that much of the problem with so-called "Bleeding Heart Libertarianism" is that it is only accessible at the vaguest level, and is thus a shotgun theory.

To that end, David Friedman's many prescient critiques of BHLism are exactly on the money. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Friedman as a thinker is his ability to accept nuance as nuance, and to accept the shortcomings of an otherwise good theory as shortcomings, acknowledge them, and attempt to solve them as best you can. That, too, with the understanding that perhaps we cannot ever satisfactorily solve them within our lifetimes.

Epistemological Problems Of Bleeding Heart Libertarianism
Attentive readers will note that I am praising Friedman for displaying one of the great characteristics I have attributed to Classical Antiquity. The reason it is important to mention here relates to a couple of comments I made recently at the BHL blog. As I said there:
It is quite clear in The Republic that the participants of the discussion are attempting to arrive at a satisfactory definition of the word justice by exploring various conceptions of it. They do not succeed in defining it, but it is nonetheless the goal of the discussion. The very reason I brought it up here is that [Jason Brennan's] objective seems to be the exact opposite: to avoid giving definitions and specifics in hopes of facilitating a discussion about the conceptions of social justice, moral knowledge, etc.
That is, it seems to me that, when confronted with difficult questions about what exactly they stand for, BHLers would rather put the cart before the horse: The appear to want to skip the difficult part of defining what they are talking about so that they can instead focus on the implications of their beliefs.

This is not at all uncommon. In fact, my experience has been that, during political conversations of any kind, it is most often the case that people prefer to simply state their opinions and discuss the ratification of their chosen policies than to spend their time establishing the philosophical validity of their positions. The principle difference here being that it is not typically academic thinkers who do this sort of thing. Academics do not usually avoid the responsibility of justifying their particulars before moving on to exploring the implications. So, at the risk of offending some, I have to say that BHLism occasionally feels amateurish to me. (That observation, too, coming from an amateur. Yes, I fully recognize this.)

Getting back to Classical Antiquity, Plato's The Republic is an excellent example of how philosophical issues were explored back then. The usual course of action was to agree on a set of logical assumptions, and trace their implications if those assumptions hold true. As in The Republic, sometimes the assumptions must be readdressed, modified, and so on. But for any given set of assumptions, the discourse reveals a set of valid logical conditions. We may agree or disagree with the underlying assumptions, but the logic must remain valid at all times. (Note that valid logic need not necessarily be true.)

This is the way philosophical discourse typically proceeds, and this is the way it should proceed, in my opinion. BHLers, on the other hand, appear to prefer skipping the task of (clearly) defining their assumptions entirely, favoring instead to let their logic proceed however it may.

The problem here is that the audience must then take on the responsibility of defining the assumptions (whether or not they are conscious of this step) in order to make sense of their claims. Some do so automatically, and either write the BHLers off as "statists" or vehemently agree with their rationale under the belief that the BHLers and their audience do in fact share the same assumptions. (Note that until those assumptions are articulated, this is not a foregone conclusion.)

But others, like David Friedman, choose to clarify the assumptions before deciding whether or not they will agree with the BHLers. Confronted by requests for greater specificity, the BHLers have proven highly evasive. Brennan has even gone so far as to claim that knowledge need not be articulable in order to be knowledge!

Thus, the BHLers have exposed a highly problematic epistemological shortcoming: They have started with their conclusions, and have sought to articulate a logical system that justifies it. The result of this is that, when their beliefs are questioned, they either re-define their beliefs, or they re-define their assumptions. Their core conclusions are the only things that never seem to change.

Or, Do Their Conclusions Change?
David Friedman notes that Jason Brennan and Matt Zwolinski, both of whom are Bleeding Heart Libertarians, have extremely different definitions for the term "social justice." Today, fellow BHLer Kevin Vallier offers yet other definition for that term, one that appears to be at odds with the previous two.

It borders on being comical. What all Bleeding Heart Libertarians share in common is a special concern for social justice. What they do not share in common is a unanimous understanding of what the term "social justice" even means. The more of them that attempt to define it, the more unique definitions that appear.

It is worth remembering at this point that the current discussion of what BHLers actually think "social justice" is originated with Jason Brennan's criticism of those he deemed "cartoon libertarians." As I wrote right off the bat, Brennan's attack on other libertarians was little more than conceited dismissal of those who disagree with him. The great irony is that Brennan likely does not even share the beliefs of his fellow BHLers on many of the issues he dealt with in that initial post. But while he may call non-BHLers "cartoons," those who profess to be BHLers are apparently not.

Excepting, of course, the fact that the complete inability of Bleeding Heart Libertarians to agree on the definition of one of their core, unifying beliefs is itself reaching the point of being cartoonish.

I leave it to the BHLers to address anything I have said here. While I was initially interested in figuring out exactly what the BHLers think and stand for, as the days, weeks, and months press on I am left only with the impression that they don't know. It is not really my place or my interest to help others determine what it is that they think. I have a hard enough time figuring out what I myself think! Stationary Waves is my forum for doing so. I now leave the BHLers their forum for figuring out their own beliefs.

As for me, I'm on to other topics for the next little while.

Quote Of The Day

I don't really do "quotes of the day," so I guess this is technically just "Quote." But at any rate, today's quote comes from the great David Friedman:
One consequence of using a term with very unclear meaning is that you can attribute it to practically anything you want to. I don't think that's a virtue.
See also: shotgun theory.


A Matter Of Perspective

Here's a chart that Robert Murphy posted on his blog:
What kills me about this is the third recession from the right, the recession that began in 1991 or '92. I remember this recession vividly. In fact, it is the first recession I was ever really conscious of a person who thinks about the economy. I remember the news reports and the way people were so jaded and disgusted by "Reaganomics" and the GWH Bush administration. I remember the stories about the many unemployed people, and the many people living hand-to-mouth.

But just look at the size of it. It was tiny. By modern standards, it was hardly a blip.



Who Said That?

Here's a blast from the past:

"That is the true genius of America, a faith... a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm; that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution; and that our votes will be counted -- or at least, most of the time."

Weirdly apropos. Read the whole thing.

Some Links

I love economics news like this, because it is economic and yet completely unrelated to policy. What a fascinating discovery!

Hat tip to my mother, of all people: In what could be astounding news, researchers claim to have discovered an immune protein that could cure type 1 diabetes. Over the years, I have learned to be highly skeptical of the many annual claims that a cure has been found; but this one seems promising.

Daniel Kuehn proves that agreeing with me makes you a good economist... unless you actually are me, in which case it makes you "weak." Sigh.

For the record, I do not actually know whether the Mises Institute guys have this one wrong. Thomas Sowell might be criticizing the persistence of false ideas, or he might simply be criticizing the so-called intellectual elite. All I know is that the first thing that popped into my mind was the name Billy Ray Valentine. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

It is always kind of sad when the music industry starts to discard its puppet, and the puppet does not yet understand that it is happening.

I didn't actually need another reason to drink coffee, but here you go.

In Defense Of Cartoons

The following started out as a comment on David Friedman's blog post, but the further along I got, the more I realized that (a) posting my thoughts there would detract from the otherwise civil discourse Friedman manages to attract, and (b) it's grown so lengthy that it is effectively a blog post of its own. So here it goes:

I think the most astounding aspect of this whole "cartoon libertarians" fiasco is that the BHLers are willing to defend what is obviously character malignment.

It's the same with the phrase "internet Austrians." It's a term cooked up to denigrate people who agree with Austrian-School economists, but who lack sufficient academic background to do so with full academic rigor. Likewise, what are "cartoon libertarians," if not people who share the BHLers' policy objectives but lack sufficient scholastic achievement to argue the BHLers' case flawlessly?

My question is, Why on Earth would BHLers want to do this? Is obliterating libertarianism actually what they have in mind? Because I'm not sure there is any other benefit to taking aim at the people who are attempting to learn from the Brennans of the world, but who also have things like day jobs and family responsibilities that keep us from engaging in academic research to the point of having an airtight argument.

It's hard not to take offense, frankly, and I'm not even sure I qualify as a "cartoon libertarian." But what Brennan wrote makes me want to qualify, just so that I can disagree with him.

Let me accept the label "cartoon libertarian." Heck, I'll be the Speedy Gonzales of libertarianism!

(For those of you a bit slow on the uptake, I'm choosing Speedy Gonzales in order to deliberately offend the sensibilities of people like Brennan, who I can only assume recognize the racist undertones of Speedy but fail to recognize that his many positive character traits actually imply something positive, not negative, about Mexican culture. In other words, Speedy Gonzales is exactly the kind of character that would offend the BHLers for being insufficiently touchy-feely while remaining adequately heroic to the rest of us.... Okay, having said that, I can now proceed to: Get it? Get it? Speedy Gonzales? Get it?)

Having accepted by assumption the fact that I am probably one of those horrible internet Austrians or bleeding heart austerians or crew-members of Battlestar Catallaxica or cartoon libertarian or whatever, I will now proceed in silence as Jason Brennan and all the real libertarians go ahead and engage in civil debate without me. I'll let them decide what I'm supposed to think. Go ahead, guys. The mic's all yours...


Music As Art

For most people, the name Jennifer Batten doesn't ring any bells. That's unfortunate.

For most of the balance of us, the name Jennifer Batten is associated with the spiked hair and gawdy outfits of a "no-name" female guitarist seen on stage with Michael Jackson, a gig she maintained for about ten years, between 1987 and 1997. We may have seen her play the "Beat It" solo on various live Michael Jackson, but other than that, let's face it: Michael Jackson was never known for writing great guitar music.

Still, he was an artist with the kind of stature that can demand only the best in terms of side musicians, and Batten's on-stage persona was so captivating that curious guitarists growing up at the time, like me, couldn't help but look her up on a then-budding internet. The information we found was sparse, but with the help of some well-placed print ads in the back of guitar magazines, I was able to gather that Jennifer Batten had an interesting solo album out called Momentum, which was only available via mail order, and that she had appeared on a few of those "great guitar player" compilation CDs.

When I finally did hear the recording that made her reputation among guitar players - not the Momentum album, but rather a rock-guitar version of "Flight of the Bumblebee" - I was less than impressed. For one thing, did anyone really need to hear another rock guitar version of "Flight of the Bumblebee?" (I found out later that Batten's version was among the first.) For another thing, I was already knee-deep in the flat-picked stylings of Steve Vai and John Petrucci. Some chick playing gimmicky two-hand tapping stuff just didn't do it for a young musical idiot like myself. So, for years, I figured she was just some woman who managed to get the Michael Jackson gig because female rock guitar players were rare.

Looking back on all this today, I feel stupid, ignorant, and immature.

My favorite guitar player at that time was another 80s rock icon, one who had also recorded a "Bumblebee" song: Nuno Bettencourt. I was fairly obsessed with him, to the point that I dreamed of one day owning his signature guitar: a Washburn N4. Boy, did I ever want one of those.

One day, I went to the local music store and saw that they were selling a rare padauk N4 for a little more than $700. The salesman made a great pitch, and I almost bought it. (To this day, I kick myself for not having done so.) But I was extremely budget conscious and decided to go with something more in my price range. Looking around the showroom, my eyes honed in on another Washburn guitar, the BT-10 Maverick. It had a carved, flamed maple cap on an alder body with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard. It had dot inlays, but they were off-centered on the fretboard, making them look extra cool. The guitar also featured a Floyd Rose whammy bar and cream binding. What a beauty! And at $400, it was exactly what I was looking for. I bought it in a cherry finish.

The BT-10 would serve as my next exposure to the world of Jennifer Batten. When I got home, I discovered that it was her signature axe. My chauvinistic pride took a hit (I bought a girl's guitar!), but after a while it didn't matter. The guitar was eye-catching and played really well. I took to it quickly, and it served me faithfully as my main guitar for the next five years. I still own it today, and it serves its purpose as my only tremolo-equipped instrument.

So, how could a mere girl, one whose only claims to fame were a gig with Michael Jackson and a two-hand-tapping version of "Flight of the Bumblebee", have her own signature guitar? Worse, how could she have one that I really liked? It didn't make sense to me. From time to time, I'd scan the internet for more information, only to once again discover little more than a link to her Momentum album.

One day, I came across a video of a live performance by guitar legend Jeff Beck playing a cover of "A Day in the Life." In the background was a woman with long blonde hair playing a guitar that looked familiar. Hey, I thought, she's playing a Washburn BT! That's my guitar! Then I realized that I was looking at Jennifer Batten. How did the Michael Jackson guitarist land a gig with one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century?

I quickly opened up a new browser window and searched for all the information I could find about Jennifer Batten: two-hand-tapping wizard, acclaimed guitarist for the Michael Jackson band, with a successful solo career, currently touring with Jeff Beck. It was right about then that I got over my stupid "girls can't play the guitar" mentality and started letting my ears be the final arbiter.

What I soon discovered was a musician with such a stunning level of expressiveness on the instrument, such remarkable virtuosity, but more. Her notes sang, laughed, cried, while each song undulated with a funky mix of jazz, rock, world beat, and clever experimentation. Jennifer Batten's musical world proved to be one marked with an artistry that, frankly, few of even the best players can match.

Suddenly it no longer seemed surprising that this was the artist who had been hand-picked by Jeff Beck for his touring band. Suddenly it was no longer surprising that this was the guitar player who supported the most successful recording artist of all time. Suddenly, it was all obvious. Not to mention the fact that my guitar was suddenly one hundred times cooler than it was mere moments ago.

Batten's music features the kind of maturity to which we all aspire. What I mean by that is that her note choice is impeccable: it's surprising, provocative, powerful, and emotional. Like Jeff Beck, Batten prefers injecting each and every note with an overdose of emotional power to flooding the eardrums with a flurry of shredding. Also like Beck, Batten can produce a flurry of shredding that will blow your head off. If you're looking for an artist who is equally at ease playing fast and slow, one for whom every note is meaningful and important, one who can make every bend and every arpeggio tell a story of its own, look no further than Jennifer Batten.

Stylistically, Batten brings a lot to the table. Casual listeners will immediately notice the heavy dose of modern rock/fusion that serves as the backbone to her material. Comparisons to Greg Howe or Brett Garsed could easily be made. But where those artists tend to draw neatly (and brilliantly) inside the lines, Batten likes to slip and slide along the fretboard, bending and yanking the whammy bar. Because of this, a more attentive listener may draw parallels to Steve Vai, and that influence is certainly palpable on her first record, Above & Beyond. But the truth is that there is more Jeff Beck there than Steve Vai, and this was obvious long before she landed the Beck touring gig. Her subsequent albums are replete with that crying, diving, whammy bar emotion that Beck first made popular. Batten takes it to a whole new level.

For most artists, this would be more than enough ingredients to build a strong body of musical art. Jennifer Batten pushes things further still. Here, the comparisons depart from the masters of instrumental music to the more cutting edge and avante garde guitarists that so seldom make the top of the "best guitarists" lists. Throughout her solo albums, Jennifer Batten peppers her material with sound samples from movies, world music, sample libraries, hip hop beats, and so on. The millennial generation will be inclined to compare that aspect of her music to Buckethead, but the influence actually works in the reverse. Batten's use of samples and guitar special effects draws closer comparisons to Reeves Gabrels, Vernon Reid, Adrian Belew, and Warren Cuccurullo.

As strong as that list of innovators is, the thing that sets Jennifer Batten apart from them is her emphasis on the pure beauty of music. She stops short of cramming too many samples or foreign sounds into her work, favoring masterful clean-toned rhythm guitar tracks that can at times sound like keyboards or organs. Where the others might hover too long on a foreign sound (I once saw Adrian Belew play a guitar synthesizer configured to produce piano sounds, improvising for a good 20 minutes), Batten hints at strangeness just long enough to make the listener fall in love with sound before it gently fades away, only to be replaced by her signature tone and a flurry of virtuosic lead guitar.

The electric guitar was invented in 1931. Since then, it has become the primary musical instrument of the modern world. For better or for worse, the instrument has been so thoroughly explored that it is nearly impossible for anyone in this day and age to sound unique. Despite the odds, a few players have managed to do it through the strength of their imagination, creativity, and virtuosity. There is absolutely no question that Jennifer Batten is one of those players.

Kindly do yourselves the favor of familiarizing yourself with her music. I have selected a YouTube video at random to get you started.