The Reality Of Wealth

Austrian capital theory (at least in the Misesian tradition, which is the one with which I am most familiar) posits - among other things - that more highly advanced technologies are only possible when we invest time in their creation, and that doing so requires savings. To understand this on an elementary level, consider Homer, a man whose only means of survival is subsistence fishing.

Every day, Homer wades out into the waters and attempts to catch fish with his bare hands. This is extremely difficult, of course, so he manages to catch just one fish or two per day; barely enough to survive. Then, one day, he lucks out and manages to catch four fish! Thinking quickly, Homer sets two of his fish out in the sun to dry; he then eats his daily ration of two fish. He wakes up the next morning and finds that he has a savings of fish. Because he does not have to catch any fish today, Homer decides to spend the day building a fishing net. He eats his two saved fish over the course of the day, and on the following day, Homer uses his new fishing net to catch many more fish. His life improves and he lives happily ever after.

Some important features of this story are: (1) Homer required time to build a fishing net, and (2) Homer was only able to acquire that time because he had accumulated some savings.

Unless you inherited all of your wealth, personal wealth works in a similar way for you. Most of us spend some part of our young adulthood seeking education, credentials, trade experience, or apprenticeships while drawing only a modest salary or wage. It is only after we've acquired those credentials that we end up at a higher level of income. 

MBA degrees, CFA and PMI Certifications, etc. are more glorified examples of the same phenomenon. To earn those, we often have to invest a substantial amount of after-hours time pursuing them, or taking time off work, or a sabbatical, etc. In any case the extra time we invest is a form of savings consumption that results in our achieving a larger income stream.

Even artists must invest time and savings into honing their craft. Many artists, as they develop and build their portfolios, work side-jobs (or primary jobs) until they have built up a fan/customer base large enough to sustain their artistic operations on a career basis.

So, the common thread here is that expanding your personal income stream involves spending extra time, or part of your savings, on developing a new quantity of output that can be utilized in the market. If you're the kind of person who likes to put in a solid 40 hours and go home, that's perfectly alright. But it's important to realize that no such person is ever likely to greatly increase his or her income. For that, one has to spend one's off-hours producing something. That might be sometime common, like researching stocks and investments, or putting in overtime for the boss; or it might be something unusual, like developing a product to sell on Ebay, or writing and recording an album of music, or painting, or sculpting, or getting a postgraduate degree...

The Poor Aren't Stupid

While the rest of the blogosphere seems to have picked up on a that baffling Slate article about how sending your children to private school is immoral (huh?), Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution instead published a book review by a couple of economists who believe that the poor are unintelligent because they find monetary decisions more "stressful" than the non-poor do.

This may prove to be the "let them eat cake" moment of Mullainathan's and Shafir's career, that embarrassing gaffe from which they will try to run for the rest of their lives. At least, one can only hope so.

The economists found that rich people and poor people "look equally smart" (Cowen's words) when asked what to do about an unforeseen $300 car expense; but, when they changed "the question" (read: the entire scenario) to $3000 instead of $300, poor people "did much worse" when they attempted to answer the question. Cowen concludes,
Control studies suggest it is not about the number being larger per se, but rather that the poor individuals see this as a more stressful decision, which lowers their measured fluid intelligence.
A comment from Marie at Marginal Revolution succinctly summarizes the gist of my earlier comment, as follows:
The study seems a little detached from reality. 
Three thousand dollars is not just a stressfully large amount for the poor; it’s not just an amount that requires cutting into essentials. It’s an amount they can’t (often) acquire at all. Period. So the question posed to a rich person is “what would you do if you had a $3000 bill and that was hard?” but the same question for a poor person is “what would you do if you had a $3000 bill and you couldn’t pay it?” It’s an entirely different question. The idea that someone might be considered less (even simply momentarily) intelligent because he answers a different question differently seems pretty strange.
Indeed, Marie. To assess one group's response about how to deal with an existential threat against another group's response about how to deal with a substantial-yet-manageable unforeseen expense is thoroughly lousy science. But to declare that one group is less intelligent than the other based on a bad analysis is unfathomably thick.

One can hardly think about it without cringing. Clearly Mullainathan and Shafir - and Tyler Cowen, for that matter - have never been poor. Worse than that, they don't even seem to understand what being poor is and what kind of decisions the poor face. This in and of itself would not be inexcusable, but to profess to study the poor while demonstrating such a complete lack of understanding is not good.

Cowen caps it off by musing that he "would like to have a better sense of how this fits in with other results about the relative rigidity of IQ." You mean that made-up number that Steve Sailer uses to justify his racial supremacy theories? Good question!


8W: Week 8 / Day 5

Today's workout is as follows.

Do the following as many times as you can, to exhaustion:

  • 10 hanging leg raises
  • Maximum-length standard plank
  • 10 pull-ups
  • 10 box jumps


A Long Post On Free Will

After hammering out some details of my position on free will with the excellent contributors to the Google+ Philosophy community, I now want to revisit my thoughts and some of the (friendly) criticism I received there.

First, let's review the three propositions from which I built my belief in free will:
  1. The future is uncertain.
  2. At any point in time, and under any set of circumstances, we have choices about the specific action we will take.
  3. The specific choices we make alter the future in material ways.
Most everyone agreed with points 1 and 3. Those who disagreed did so on point 2 only.

The Cogito Model
After doing some reading and thinking, I discovered that the idea I was trying to work out in my head seems to correspond to something called the Cogito Model, developed by Bob Doyle. On Doyle's website, part of which appears to be an electronic form of his book, Free Will: The Scandal In Philosophy, Doyle describes - but does not conclusively prove - a model of the mind with specific emphasis on how free will might exist in universe that is fully consistent with everything we presently know about quantum mechanics and cognitive science. I find Doyle's reasoning highly persuasive and compelling, but this may simply be due to the fact that it formally confirms a theory I was already attempting to build on my own.

Doyle's Cogito Model maintains some important concepts. The first big one involves accepting scientific knowledge. This means that the universe operates according to the laws of physics, including quantum mechanics. That, in turn, implies that the future is stochastic, i.e. there is some random variation in the way it plays out at the quantum level; but that this random variation nonetheless adheres to the laws of physics, and are hence predictable within reasonable probabilistic parameters.

The second important concept, the one that enables Doyle to accept free will, is somewhat complex, but might be condensed as follows: The ideas that occur to us are an example of random variation, but our ability to choose among an array of ideas when confronted with a decision is a level of "adequate determinism."  Whenever we have an idea, it may have come to us as a result of some prior event or experience (and is in that sense deterministic), but the fact that it occurs to us as a possibility for the future, which we may or may not choose means that our ultimate decision impacts the future stochastically (and is in that sense a matter of chance).

Adding this all up results in a description of free will that is difficult to argue against. The universe is random and stochastic on one level and "adequately deterministic" on another level. As Doyle puts it:
Adequate Determinism is the kind of determinism we have in the world. It is a statistical determinism, where the statistics are near to certainty for large objects. Adequate Determinism also includes indeterminism, an irreducible property of the microscopic quantum world. 
There is actually no strict determinism at any "level" of the physical world. Determinism is an abstract theoretical ideal that simplifies physical systems to allow the use of logical and mathematical methods. The macroscopic "determinism" we see is the consequence of averaging over extremely large numbers of microscopic particles. 
Adequate determinism is the determinism of Newtonian physics, capable of sending men to the moon and back with astonishing accuracy. It is the determinism of those physiologists who think that quantum uncertainty is insignificant in the macromolecular structures of cell biology.
As I Was Saying...
With the Cogito Model in mind, we can return to my three propositions. Point 1 corresponds to Doyle's description of choice, which fully accepts modern quantum mechanics. Point 3 corresponds to Doyle's concept of "adequate determinism." Thus, point 2 corresponds to Doyle's Cogito Model for free will.

Here, it is worth noting that even if the Cogito Model is "technically" incorrect - even if the determinists are correct and free will is nothing more than an illusion of human consciousness - it still provides an accurate description of practical human consciousness. That is, the logic is valid even if it isn't true.

For that reason, I find my brief exposure to Doyle's model incredibly useful, and a compelling argument in favor of free will.

The debate is hardly over, of course. There are compelling arguments against free will and moral responsibility. One important consideration of such arguments, however, is whether they present an attractive view of the world. A world in which consciousness and choice are illusions produced by deterministic events that may have initiated years before even our own birth, in which we are responsible for exactly none of our own actions, is a world with very little purpose.

And when I say "purpose," I don't mean that in a spiritual way. I mean simply that the any belief that leads us to conclude that all our thoughts and feelings are illusory is inherently an example of what I call practical nihilism. The natural end point to nihilism is self-annihilation. So I am not yet ready to surrender on free will just yet.

Baby Moses

I was stunned this morning when I read this news report of a young mother who showed up at a fire station and turned her baby over to local authorities. As the article states,
Under the Baby Moses Law, implemented in September 1999, people can drop off a baby up to 60 days old at a designated place, such as a hospital, a fire station or a police station, with no questions asked and without fear of prosecution.
The idea seems to be that some babies who might otherwise be murdered, neglected, subjected to human trafficking, etc., can be saved if society extends an opportunity to the desperate people who might feel they have no other choice. Basically, the authorities give desperate parents just enough hedonic incentive for the parents' basic moral values to kick in. They (presumably) think, "I won't go to jail and no one has to know about this; So, rather than do something hideous, I will merely do something shameful."

It is impossible to know how successful this program is. The news report states that seventy-five babies have been rescued under the Baby Moses Law since it was enacted in 2004. Fourteen of those cases have occurred this year. To measure the law's success, we would have to know two things: what would otherwise have happened to these abandoned babies, and the exact number of cases in which the at-risk babies suffered an inferior outcome.

I am inclined to believe that this is a good law, but there is an important marginal cost: Some parents who may have turned out to be great parents may have been provided with an incentive to let their fears get the better of them, and abandon their children.

That is a clear and indisputable loss, and the only way to reconcile that loss with the Baby Moses Law is through utilitarian consequentialist means. If the loss in lifetime utility suffered by children who become wards of the state is less than the potential loss of lifetime utility suffered by children whose lives are saved and made better than they otherwise would have been, then the law is "worth it," according to utilitarian moral calculus.

But readers of this blog know that I am not a consequentialist. This law makes me uncomfortable, but also slightly hopeful. It seems to me that this is a service that could easily have been provided by private individuals and organizations. Perhaps it is indeed offered by pro-life organizations and religious institutions, and we don't know about it precisely because the whole deal is that the event is not reported. Of course, putting a child up for adoption without going through the official channels is against the law, and most charities and religious organizations are reluctant to defy laws aimed at child protection.

In a kinder, gentler world, adoption laws and regulations would be more lenient, and the concept of a Baby Moses practice would be more widely appreciated by society at large, rendering this specific law irrelevant. But we do not live in that world, so I am moved to believe that this is a good law, for now. At least until abuse of the law becomes more prevalent.

8W: Week 8 / Day 4

Today's workout is 40 minutes of cardio.


What Success In Music Really Means

For the teenagers who are heavily involved in what kind of music is cool and what is uncool, the current big thing is the coolest and most important thing that will ever be in music. How fascinating it is to see which popular songs actually survive the test of time despite our impressions of those songs when they first appear.

I was reminded of this today when I stepped out to get some lunch. Over the restaurant's sound system, I heard the song "Where It's At" by Beck, released in 1996. I have always liked this song, but if you had asked me back in 1996 whether I thought I'd still hear that song on the radio 17 years later, I probably would have laughed at you. It's not that it's not a great song - again, I've always enjoyed it. It's just that, from the vantage point of 1996, it seems silly to suggest that it's a timeless song.

A quick look at the Billboard Top 100 Songs for the year 1996 is pretty revealing. Here are the top ten songs on that list:
  1. "Maracena" by Los del Rio feat. the Bayside Boys
  2. "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men
  3. "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion
  4. "Nobody Knows" by Tony Rich Project
  5. "Always Be My Baby" by Mariah Carey
  6. "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman
  7. "Tha Crossroads" by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
  8. "I Love You Always Forever" by Donna Lewis
  9. "You're Making Me High" by Toni Braxton
  10. "Twisted" by Keith Sweat
Of those artists, only Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Toni Braxton would have any significant success later. In particular, the number 1 song of the year is a throwaway hit that most people find ridiculous today, if they remember it at all. I might be the only one who still vividly remembers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and the truth is that when I hear their music today, it makes me cringe. I thought Tony Rich Project was a great group, but they did not experience any enduring success.

Tracy Chapman is still reasonably popular on the blues scene, but I seldom hear her music on the radio. It does happen, occasionally, though.

In any event, "Where It's At" does not appear on the list at all. And yet that is the song that has proved to have true longevity. At the end of the day, would you rather be an artist like Beck or an artist like Donna Lewis? Would you rather have Beck's success and fan base, or would you rather have Los del Rio's?

An Introduction To Moral Criticism

I am somewhat value relative, at least insofar as I believe that the particular values a person holds seems to be a personal decision based on personal thoughts and information. Thus, if someone holds any value - from positive values like "all murder is immoral" to negative values like "people of a different race are inferior" - I do not believe that I can question the validity of that value. I might disagree in some cases and agree in others, but I cannot question any value that another person holds, because there is no basis to do so. It's personal.

But that doesn't mean that all morality escapes criticism merely because it's subjective. I will now outline a framework for valid moral criticism.

I say a moral framework is complete if it can be fully articulated to another individual, who can then use that framework to come to similar moral conclusions in a comfortable majority of cases. Completeness means that any agent making a moral decision can fully articulate his or her moral reasoning in about the same way before, during, and after the moment the decision is made.

Suppose Jones argues that violence is wrong, except in cases of home invasion. Suppose I put it to Jones that a man is a block away from his home and intends to invade it, and Jones agrees that it is moral to employ violence against the intended invader. Here, I criticize Jones' moral framework on grounds that it is incomplete. The mere intention to invade was not discussed in Jones' initial moral framework. Jones revised his moral position only when he had to.

It is obviously difficult to devise a fully complete moral framework that anticipates all possible circumstances. That someone hasn't considered all avenues, and has thus left their moral framework incomplete, is certainly no mark against his or her character. But it is a valid criticism of his or her moral position.

I say a moral framework is consistent if it leads to the same or similar moral positions whenever the underlying circumstances are the same or similar*. I am willing to accept a margin of error here, since no human being is perfectly morally consistent. We can say that a moral framework is consistent if it results in the same or similar conclusions in a comfortable majority if instances involving the same or similar circumstances.

Completeness is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for consistency. If Jones appears to come to different conclusions despite similar circumstances, we cannot say for certain whether Jones' moral framework is inconsistent or incomplete; not until we ask him, anyway. If, on the other hand, Jones consistently comes to the same conclusions, but cannot articulate why, then his moral framework is obviously incomplete. We would not know, however, whether his rules themselves are consistent, or whether he is merely guessing, arbitrarily.

Once again, consistently living up to one's moral framework without ever once falling short of moral perfection is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do. That we occasionally fail to act consistently on our morals is not exactly inexcusable. (Although, he or she who is most consistent in his or her morals can certainly be said to have higher moral integrity than he or she who is less consistent!) Nonetheless, inconsistency is a fair and valid moral criticism to be made whenever it is demonstrated.

I say a moral framework is accurate if it is both consistent and complete, and if it also performs as intended.

Suppose Jones subscribes to a utilitarian moral case for socialism, and thus believes that government intervention in the marketplace maximizes social utility more than rational self-interest does. Suppose also that Jones is fully consistent in this belief, and that he can fully articulate it. If it can be shown that a policy of government intervention results in less social utility than would otherwise be the case, then Jones' moral position on socialism is inaccurate and has led him astray.

This is fundamentally different than the previous two criticisms because it means that Jones' moral framework functions exactly as designed, but produces results that are different than those intended.

We all occasionally get things wrong on moral issues. Sometimes we stand up for what we think is right, only to discover that our moral position actually made matters worse. As the saying goes, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Once again, it is no mark of bad character if we occasionally hold moral positions that, when put into practice, produce different results than those we intended. Nonetheless, whenever this happens, it is a fair moral criticism to make.

It's important to remember that ethics and moral values are a personal decision. I must reiterate that there is a great deal of subjectivity involved in the particular values a person holds. But our mere holding of a value does not enable us to escape moral criticism. If it can be shown that one's moral framework is incomplete, inconsistent, or inaccurate, then an honest person must come to terms with that criticism and revise his or her moral framework accordingly.

Finally, it is worth noting that this is probably not an exhaustive list of fair moral criticisms. But it is a good start, at least, and should serve to provide a useful introduction to the concept.

* If necessary, we can break this down even further. Circumstances can be defined as material if they are pertinent to the rules contained in the moral framework, and immaterial if not. Then, that framework is consistent if it yields the same moral conclusions whenever the material circumstances are the same. (For the sake of brevity, I ignore the possibility confounding rules such as "Whenever three or more immaterial circumstances change, the circumstances can be said to have materially changed.")

A Short Post On Free Will

This debate is always going on in philosophy quarters, but I don't really understand why. From my perspective, the truth is somewhat obvious. But, before I say that, I suppose I ought to describe my perspective and see how obvious it actually is.

What I have noticed about existing "free will debates" is that those who oppose it are talking about a different definition of free will than those who agree with it. Most of the time during these debates people simply talk past each other.

Now, if "free will" means the ability to make choices independent of all outside forces, previous conditions, circumstances, the influence of other people or groups, etc. then of course there is no such thing as this kind of "free will." Every thought we have is a response to a set of circumstances and stimuli. To the extent that all human action is a response to something else when we act, "free will" cannot exist.

But no one that I know of has ever made such a claim.

If, however we accept the following as true, then free will is obvious:
  1. That the future is uncertain;
  2. That for any given set of circumstances and stimuli, we all have choices about the specific action we take; and
  3. That the specific choices we make alter the course of the future in a material way.
Note that this is both a much weaker and a more highly nuanced claim than what opponents of free will argue against. The point is that, despite the fact that we are bound by certain facts of nature (including the way human thought processes work), the future is still subject to more than pure chaos - our choices can have a determining impact on the future conditions that we and others face. We cannot overcome the basic forces of nature, but we can alter the outcome of "forks in the road," subject to certain obvious limitations.

In that sense, free will is a very real and very obvious thing.

Note: An earlier version of this appears in the Google+ Philosophy community.

8W: Week 8 / Day 3

Today's workout is as follows.

First, do each of the following three times:
  • 10 dumbbell front raises / 10 squats with dumbbells held overhead
  • 10 back extensions / 10 bent front dumbbell rows
  • 10 pull-ups / 10 jump-and-tucks
Then do this:
  • 35 minutes of cardio


The Tailspin

At a certain point, it becomes obvious that someone is going into a tailspin.

We have a lot of experience with this by now. We've seen Lindsay Lohan's slow descent from the top of the silver screen to the New York party scene, to the emotional wreckage left in the wake of a dysfunctional family. It was heart-wrenching to see the brightest child star in years become so completely self-destructive. But this was just one recent example. We also watched Chris Brown convert himself from the modern Usher to the modern Mike Tyson with alarming speed. We watched Britney Spears go from being perhaps the world's most famous person to being the subject of a legal conservatorship.

Going back a little further, we've seen this story play out in perhaps even more heart-breaking ways. One really sad example is that of the great Edward Van Halen, one of the most talented and ground-breaking musicians in recent history, whose demons chased him from the top of the 1984 charts all the way down into the rat-hole of crystal meth.

My first significant experience with Miley Cyrus was when my young niece asked me to sing a Hannah Montana song at her birthday part. I believe it was her sixth birthday. Cyrus' fame was entirely thanks to the likes of my little niece, who looked up to Cyrus because she seemed to be a cool, talented, smart teenager who had everything going for her. At least, that's the character she played on TV.

It's hard for everyone to transition from adolescence into adulthood. It's a process that is frequently marred by moral failings, bad mistakes, lapses of judgement, victimhood of circumstance, and emotional upheaval. In hindsight, it's fairly safe to say that growing into one's adulthood is an almost violent process. Fortunately for most of us, that process ends in an outstanding triumph when we ultimately reach a point in our late-20s or 30s at which we realize we are exactly the person we were supposed to become.

But it's easy to get lost along the way. One look at the recent batch of Miley Cyrus pictures from the MTV VMAs reveals telltale signs of extensive drug abuse. The signs of physical wastage and atrophy are readily apparent to those of us who have previously encountered them. Setting that aside, there are certain behaviors that I typically associate with what I'd call "being lost inside one's own mind," the sort of secret, private world that drug abusers enter for a while, when the drugs are easy to come by and their friends still think it's funny.

Who's to say how far Cyrus still has to fall before she realizes she took a wrong step somewhere back there? For her sake, I hope it's not too far. The risk of these chemicals is that their ill effects can be severe and permanent.

For the rest of us, the tailspin serves as an important reminder about the emotional instability of young adulthood, which can sometimes extend well into middle age. It's also further evidence, were any really needed, that no one should ever touch these horrible substances.

Personal Narratives Matter

When was the last time you came around to a new position on a big issue? If you're like most people, then this hasn't happened to you for years. Why is it so unlikely that we ever change our views on anything?

One possibility is that it takes a certain amount of work to integrate a new position with all of our other perspectives. It only makes sense to change your opinion about X if it doesn't also create major conflicts with your beliefs about Y, Z, and so on. If you've already integrated all your beliefs into a single, underlying philosophy, it will prove nearly impossible to change your mind on any given issue. You'll only do it if you manage to also change your underlying philosophy.

Keep this in mind as you read what Steve Horwitz wrote yesterday at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. To sum it up, Horwitz believes that Ron Paul should do a better job of steering clear of avowed racists. Predictably, the Ron Paul contingent is now out in force, responding very defensively to Horwitz's point. In my view, criticism of Horwitz on this issue badly misses the mark, and the reason is because personal narratives matter.

Few people in the Unofficial Steve Sailer Fan Club really understand the severity of racism, and I presume this is because they haven't much experience with it. Once a large majority of people in your community democratically agree that you shouldn't be afforded the same kind of respect and dignity that everyone else gets, your whole life changes. The disrespect to which you're subjected infects every aspect of your life; the only way to solve the problem is to escape somehow.

The United States, in particular, has some deep wounds regarding racism. They're not going away any time soon. Those of us who are close enough to the issue to feel strongly about it seem to be equipped with a good moral understanding of the necessity of routing out racism wherever we find it. It's important for two reasons.

First, because only an equal and opposite measure of social stigma can overcome the socially enacted hatred of racism. That is, you can often win groups of people over to the non-racist side simply by taking a stand against it publicly, when called to do so.

The second reason goes back to personal narratives. In today's political climate, "Progressivism" has lain claim to the racism issue, even to the extent that many people associate with the left merely because they oppose racism. If there is value in winning hearts and minds over to new ways of thinking, new methods for solving problems, the next generation of political concepts, and so forth, then one requirement is that the new ideas change some minds. This means that some people are going to have to integrate new ideas into their preexisting opposition to racism. It takes time to change a person's mind, and it often requires patient persistence and repetition of key concepts. This is how anyone learns anything, really.

Where the "who cares about racism?" libertarians go wrong is that they have no desire to nurse this process. They badly underestimate the severity of the scars of racism in the United States. They want to skim over the issue and get to what they feel are the more important matters: natural rights, economic efficiency, freedom from coercion, and so forth.

But if someone is really concerned about racism, you'll never get anywhere by waving away those concerns with a sneering dismissal of the idea. You don't help them see your point of view. All you do is drive them away from people who are now associated with both racism and an aggressive, condescending response to their reticence.

So, Horwitz is exactly right. It's best for advocates of libertarianism to make it easy for potential newcomers to integrate new ideas into their personal narrative. Racism is hugely important in America, it just is. That's not going to magically go away, no matter how many condescending articles Tom Woods writes. Libertarians need to look it in the face and speak to it.

I mean, how hard is it to unequivocally disavow racism, anyway?

8W: Week 8 / Day 2

Today's workout is 50 minutes of cardio.


Skill Development For Non-Beginners

I've written about the idea of the perpetual beginner in the context of running and fitness, but isn't it odd that I haven't managed to apply this very important idea to other aspects of life? No matter what you might be interested in doing, there comes a time when you've picked all the low-hanging fruit, and the only way to experience additional gains is to stop approaching things like a beginner.

Think back to the time when you were a child, learning how to do all the things you now do reasonably well, such as playing a sport or a game, speaking a foreign language, playing a musical instrument, writing, etc.

If you were anything like I was, you invested yourself heavily in practicing, often for hours at a time. It made sense, because you had hours of free time. Even when you got together with friends, you all spent some of that time engaged in the kind of play that facilitates the development of that skill. I used to get together with my friends and play music, or listen to it. My friends and I also used to play basketball together. Now that I am in adulthood, I find that have acquired a certain level of musical ability and basketball ability.

In adulthood, our lives consist of competing priorities. We can no longer play music all evening under the assumption that our parents are going to cook us dinner and wash our laundry and keep track of the time for us. We want to play music, but we have to do all that other stuff, too. (Of course, if you don't play a musical instrument, feel free to insert some other hobby of yours - golfing, writing, working in your wood shop, whatever.)

Just because we're adults doesn't mean we no longer have any desire to improve our abilities, so we do set aside some time to pursue our hobbies. But here's the crux of today's blog post: Our first thought is to pursue those hobbies using the same practice method we used as children, when we developed a great deal of skill in a short period of time. But this is the wrong approach entirely.

On the one hand, our expanding set of competing priorities prevents us from dedicating the kind of care-free, hours-long block of time we need to hone our craft like we once could, as aforementioned.

But more importantly, setting aside hours of practice time may no longer be the correct approach to develop our skills beyond their present state.

Take music for example: As a young guitarist, I could experience major improvements by setting aside an hour or two to work on picking speed and accuracy. After a few weeks, my playing speed and knowledge of scales would have really improved. But today, I already have that picking speed and scale knowledge. It's not that I already play as fast as I want to, it's simply that I'm experiencing diminishing returns: An hour of picking-speed drills results in a much smaller gain today than it did when I was a young man. Of course, the same is true for my training as a distance runner, or my writing, or my cooking, or etc. etc...

As an adult, I require a different approach to practice. For raw guitar technique, I need to capture marginal returns by doing a little bit of technical exercise daily. And I should do likewise for other aspects of music: spend a little time every day writing, a little time working on tone, a little time working on improvisation.

Now that I've picked all the low-hanging fruit in my childhood, what matters now is working steadily and consistently on each skill; not for hours at a time, but for a few well-focused minutes. 

Some Links

Remember when I linked to that article showing that health care expenditures are tied to almost completely to employment? Spootville applies the conclusion, and quite well I might add.

Lubos Motl shows us that the 17-year climate trend is negative, i.e. we experienced global cooling.

In a stunning admission of ignorance, Steve Sailer actually writes, "If gender is instantly and unquestionably malleable, how about race?" Just how concrete does Sailer imagine race is?

Robert Murphy writes,
It’s hard for me to put my finger on, but there was just something about this particular movie that seemed dubious to me, in a way that I never got from, say, Harry Potter (let alone Lord of the Rings).
But I wonder why he never experienced that feeling from those other two works of child fiction.

Bryan Caplan writes about what makes a good student, and that we can all become one if we practice hard enough. Well said, Prof. Caplan.

Here's a comparison to get your brain working. Simon Grey writes:
Your success, then, is probably more contingent on upgrading your wardrobe and getting in shape than on learning useful skills. This truth may not be pretty, but then reality doesn’t really care about your feelings.  So, if you want to be successful, it’s better to choose style over substance, though it’s ideal to choose both if at all possible.
Compare that to The Last Psychiatrist, who wrote:
The con artists at Dove didn't select these women to represent you because you are beautiful or ugly, any more than the street hustler selected you for your nice smile.   They were selected because they represent a psychological type that transcends age/race/class, it is characterized by a kind of psychological laziness: on 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?
There's a lesson in there somewhere. Probably multiple lessons, considering how many times I have studied that Last Psychiatrist article... and studied it again.

8W: Week 8 / Day 1

Our final week begins today! The workout is as follows.

First, do the following as a ladder (1 of each, then 2 of each, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1):
  • Side jump over box/bench/platform
  • Lunge with dumbbells overhead (per leg)
  • Pull-up
  • Hanging torso twist
Then do this:
  • 45 minutes of cardio


Concert Review: The Aristocrats

I get so emotionally involved in the music I like that sometimes I forget that my music preferences lie in a very niche market. In the modern world of algorithmically improved search results and computer-aided user recommendations, I can pull YouTube up on my browser and be inundated with music that is, although wonderful, not the kind of thing the average person listens to. I spend so much time in this world that I completely forget that most people out there are listening to... well, what, exactly? Mumford, Mumford, and Son, Barristers & Solicitors? Imagine Underpants? Alan Thicke?

So you can imagine my surprise when I headed North to Denton, Texas with the intention of watching a concert by one of the nation's best selling contemporary jazz ensembles, only to discover that the venue had room for perhaps five tables. As the crowd assembled - bedecked with Dream Theater t-shirts - I estimated perhaps two hundred fifty people were there in total.

For me, it was stunning. We're talking about three of the finest musicians on the instrumental music scene, and--

Oh, there it is again. The instrumental scene is a niche market.

I ordered drinks and waited an hour for the band to take the stage, while the room continued to fill up with Dream Theater t-shirts. Every now and then, I'd catch a snippet of conversation, and most of it was focused on the splendid guitar technique of The Aristocrats' guitarist, Guthrie Goven, who - ironically enough - rose to fame primarily as a result of his posting videos on YouTube. Indeed, these conversation snippets certainly sounded like they were being spoken by people who had been combing the corners of YouTube in search of guitarists with splendid technique. At one point, a man approached me, saying that Govan is, "arguably the best guitarist in the world," and that drummer Marco Minnemann is "arguably the best drummer in the world."

The comment stung me in surprisingly profound way. Govan's great, no doubt about it, and if there is a finer drummer than Marco Minnemann, I haven't heard one yet. But Bryan Beller played in Z, man! I was obsessing over Beller's harmonically rich bass lines when I was 16, long before any of these Dream-Theater-t-shirt-wearing guys had heard of either of the other two.

Stifling my indignation, I managed to tell my new friend, "Bryan Beller is incredible!" and thus divert attention to a man who had the decency to sign my Music For Pets CD, back in 2000.

It went on like this for an hour, when suddenly the crowd spotted the band as they entered the building and erupted in cheers. Within moments, the show had started.

The promise of guitar virtuosity was immediately fulfilled. Govan played a Charvel and a Suhr; his tone was delicious, his hair flowing in the steamy Texas heat as he shredded his way into the heart that beatin frantically against the inside of every Dream Theater t-shirt in the building. YouTube doesn't lie; the guy was phenomenal...

But by the end of the very first song, it was obvious that this show was to be the Beller/Minnemann extravaganza.

Perhaps owing to their much more extensive live experience, the Aristocrats' rhythm section was thoroughly captivating. For the full length of the concert, Minnemann's and Beller's eyes were trained on either each other, or an audience member. They sought out eye contact with everyone in the room, playing at least one note for each of us in the room, smiling as they did it, nodding in tribute to each fan once they had played it, then quickly moving on to the next fan.

This kind of dedication to the fan base, to the performance, to the music, is something one only really sees in the very finest musicians. In the context of that kind of performance, the music becomes more than just the music; it takes on a life of its own, it becomes an intimate, shared experience unique to you, the artists, and the few other lucky people in the room.

If you've heard an Aristocrats album, or seen a live performance on YouTube, you know to expect the absolute pinnacle of musical virtuosity. Indeed, that virtuosity was very much on display last Friday night. But what you've surely missed from those albums and videos is the life their music takes on when they're performing. Have you ever seen a musical trio play improvised squeaky-toy solos? Have you ever seen jazz/fusion erupt into improvised cell-phone-app music? I hadn't either... until Friday.

The concert ended far too soon, but the band had played virtually every song in their repertoire. There was nothing left to do but play a grand finale, and call it a night. When it finally ended, my heart was racing (I wasn't even wearing a Dream Theater t-shirt), and my mind was fully of possibilities.

The Aristocrats is a band full of wonderful musicians who play amazing music simply because it's possible. There is no "scene" to which they belong, and to which they must appeal. There is no top-ten hit to which they must aspire. It's music meant for exploring possibilities. Last Friday, in Denton, Texas, that is precisely what happened, to the delight of a small group of passionate fans who hardly knew what hit them.

8W: Week 7 / Day 7

It's another rest day today. Make sure you're fully recovered.


Random Violence

There were at least two random acts of murder this week. The first was the widely reported shooting of a college baseball player who was out for a jog. The second is the series of reports coming in describing how an 88-year-old man was beaten to death - again, seemingly at random - by a couple of teenagers in Spokane, Washington.

Predictably, the pundits are trotting this out as a "racial" issue (I won't bother with links because it's just too depressing). And, yes, the "other side" has already begun responding. (Again, no links, but there is a piece over at Ebony.com that I'm sure you can find if you visit the website.)

Now, regarding race, we have a fairly serious question to ask ourselves: Is it racism any time Person Of Race A shoots Person Of Race B, or is there more to it than that? Obviously, there are many people out there who apparently have a vested interest in keeping white people afraid of inner city non-whites. Equally as obvious is the fact that there are a lot of apologists out there, people who want to suggest that inner city desperation is behind the criminal activity of inner city youth. But, if desperation were sufficient to inspire kids to go on random, murderous rampages, then murder would be far more common than it actually is. We are not merely talking about desperation; we're talking about desperation + [ ______ ].

What goes inside that box is a matter of pure conjecture. Everyone will have their own perspectives on that, but I would like to supply one possibility: Anger.

Anger clouds human judgement and moves us to actions that would otherwise not occur to us. Anger causes us to lash out at people, even those who are completely unrelated to the anger we're feeling. Anger reduces our productivity at home in the workplace. It impedes our ability to solve problems creatively. It makes our physical health suffer, and destroys our relationships. Suffering enough anger over a long enough period of time is sure to drive us to unspeakable acts of violence.

Sometimes, anger will get the better of you; it's inevitable. The reason you haven't yet gone on a murderous rampage, though, is because you have at least some self control.

Anger isn't an intoxicant to which we are powerless. It's a mental weakness to allow anger to get the better of you. The only cure for anger is ethics, rationality, clear-headedness. In the heat of the moment, you have to have the good sense to recognize that anger will get the better of you, and then step out of the situation until you've had a chance to settle down.

If you make it a personal practice to insist on gaining self control, you will gain it. It won't happen the first time you try, but if you work at it, it will happen eventually. Controlling the severity of one's vulgar passions isn't easy the first time you try it, but it is part of growing up - or at least it used to be.

As human society gains more freedom and becomes more internally focused, the role of moral integrity seems to be shrinking, and I think this is the heart of the matter in the case of all this random violence. That's not because freedom or internal focus is inherently bad. It's just that there's a trade-off involved. If everything you do is designed to serve the tribe, then social mores and ethics play a larger role in your life than if you are a young teenager with few responsibilities and few people counting on you to make all the right decisions.

Human life is changing all the time. My belief is that we are by-and-large gaining more freedom as time goes by, and that this freedom needs to be balanced with a strong personal creed. The alternative is random violence.

8W: Week 7 / Day 5

Today's workout is as follows

Do infinite cycles of the following, to exhaustion:

  • 10 hanging leg raises
  • Standard plank
  • 10 pull-ups
  • 10 box jumps


The Limits Of Political Theory

Christopher Morris has an interesting post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians in which he highlights some conceptual problems with anarchy. Near the beginning, he writes:
It’s easy to show that anarchy is possible. We can describe a possible world where there are no states, government, and legal systems (in something like Hart’s sense). And we can also tell a story about how such a world could emerge and maintain itself.... But are we seriously to believe that anarchist communities could emerge and sustain itself in our world?
Morris' analysis - while intellectually valuable - serves to underscore not merely the limitations of the concept of anarchy (or voluntaryism, or anarcho-capitalism, or whatever we happen to be calling it today), but the limitations of using political philosophy to design the concept of a free society.

There are plenty of anarchic or near-anarchic rural communities across the globe, and I am quite certain we can point to many of them as being communities in which there is a high degree of coercion. Morris specifically mentions the Israeli kibbutzim; it's not that these communities are tyrannical or despotic, but there is no denying that they are theocracies backed by the legitimacy of a god's authority. Even Amish communities here in the United States function largely according to their own rules and are in a sense voluntaryist and anarchic; but again, in such communities coercion takes the form of scriptural rather than legal mandate. If we wish to include some African communities, we can further demonstrate the severity of the coercion involved with three horrific words: female genital mutilation.

Such communities are certainly functional. They do work, so of course all criticism that "anarchy wouldn't work" is - at least in my opinion - spurious. But to suggest that these communities improve mankind's essential liberty is a much stronger proposition that is not, in my view, grounded in reality. It might be possible that some hypothetical voluntaryist community is freer than contemporary American public life, but there is certainly no guarantee, and there actually appears to be a great risk of the opposite.

But this is not a post about anarchy.

There are limits to what we can achieve by this kind of theorizing. We can design any number of philosophical thought experiments that either confirm or contradict our priors. We can debate the specifics and maybe even establish a rigorous and intellectually consistent political theory that justifies the kind of political system we'd like to see. But, in the end, large numbers of us will disagree with one another about what the ideal design is; and besides, most of us recognize that utopia is impossible. So, what to do?

It is my belief that the best way to achieve a free society is at the individual level, by simply applying the Golden Rule. If we as individuals simply treat each other with the respect, privacy, and autonomy that we deserve, it hardly matters what our political system looks like.

James Madison said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary" in order to make the point that human imperfection necessitates government. But the flip-side of this idea is that government becomes less necessary the better human beings are at being ethical. Examples are plentiful here: The more private charities serve mankind, the less we need a social safety net; the more we respect each other's private property, the fewer contract disputes will occur; the more honestly we deal with each other in business, the fewer economic disputes we'll have; and so on.

I'm not naive, of course. I understand that despite anyone's best wishes or intentions, mankind will always fall far short of ideal behavior. But it's important to remember that political philosophy hasn't managed to solve that problem yet, and certainly never will. I can implore my fellow man to behave more ethically, and ultimately people will still do me wrong; similarly, political philosophers can design many grandiose ideologies, but ultimately people will still find a way to game the system and/or coerce each other.

The benefit of focusing on promoting ethics-independent-of-political-theory, however, is that we need not wait for drastic political change. After all, it is probably more likely that you'll win someone over to the idea of "honesty is the best policy" (for example) than it is that you'll turn a Republican into a Democrat, or vice-versa, or turn anyone into a libertarian, or whatever else.

So, maybe we should just focus on promoting virtue and watching to see what happens in the political arena in response to that.

8W: Week 7 / Day 4

Today's workout is 30-40 minutes of light cardio.


Why Do People Read Stationary Waves?

Blogger's back office user interface gives me access to certain statistics. For example, I can see a breakdown of how many hits I receive, by country, or by web browser, etc. I can see what link was followed to arrive at my website, and so on. All the typical stuff. (I assume most people know this about website analytics, but some of you might not, so forgive the pedantic explanation.)

I've blogged about this from time to time. For example, way back in 2011, I noticed an increase in web traffic after I made a casual reference to bombshell movie star Halle Berry. I remember logging into Blogger and noticing this big spike in web traffic on the graph that shows hits per day, and thinking to myself, "What the...?" So I looked at the traffic sources, and noticed a bunch of traffic coming from Google searches for Halle Berry. I hope those folks learned a thing or two when they arrived at Stationary Waves.

So, aside from occasional hilarity such as this, sometimes I see some pretty interesting concepts come up from the top-ten Google searches that direct traffic here. Sometimes those searches actually do pertain to things about which I've written; I often get traffic from people using the search string "Tom Morello hypocrite." But some of the other search strings are even more interesting, revealing concepts I've never considered.

Today, for example, I got some web traffic from someone looking for "stationary waves on a trombone." That sounds fantastic! I should buy a trombone for my next Rhesus piece.

The other day, someone arrived here looking for "is pacifism intellectually dishonest". What a fascinating question. I've never blogged about that, but I very well should have. Perhaps I shall dedicate a future post to answering that question.

Many people come looking for a review of the Windsor Clockwork bicycle. (You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here, respectively.) But isn't it fascinating that these hits are typically coming from China?

I also get a lot of hits from people seeking information on male psychology (i.e. the psychology of men, why do men think the way they think), and also information about people who are very demanding. I've blogged about both of these topics, but the frequency of web traffic I get from these searches suggests that I should probably spend more time looking into both ideas.

My album and concert reviews are always a big hit, and generate a lot of web traffic for months and even years after they're written. I enjoy writing them, and this traffic is a strong incentive for me to continue doing so.

Well, keep the good ideas coming, folks. I'm happy to do a little crowd-pleasing with my blogging, so long as our interests intersect. Look for your next websearch on the pages of Stationary Waves in the near future!

Some Links

The only time Steve Sailer likes Richard Dawkins is when he's making criticisms that uphold Sailer's cultural supremacy theories. Also, guess when Sailer likes federal mandates. If you guessed, "Whenever they satisfy his racial supremacy theories," you're absolutely right!

Robin Hanson discusses the fact that people value visual performance more highly than the actual music. (Any progressive rock fan could have told you this.)

When it first popped up, I did not fully appreciate Stephen Williamson's "Anti-Paul-Krugman" concept. But I was an idiot. It's genius.

Kurt Schuler tells a story about Bretton-Woods, as "compared to what?" Along the way, he manages to convince me that once a change exists for a generation or two, the conditions prior to the change are no longer the relevant comparator. That is, in the wake of WWII, society didn't return to the conditions that existed prior to WWI because those conditions were already long gone.

Speaking of "compared to what?" Steven Landsburg scratches his head over Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson.

XKCD and Jeffrey Tucker are on the same page today.

8W: Week 7 / Day 3

Today's workout is as follows.

Do each of these three times:
  • 10 clean-and-presses / 10 squats
  • 10 deadlifts / 10 bent barbell rows
  • 10 pull-ups / 10 jump-and-tucks
Then do this:
  • 35 minutes of fast cardio (push yourself)


Caplan On "De-Hiring" And Why I Disagree

I suppose this post goes in the "Economics" bin, but it is more about practical advice for the business world.

This morning Bryan Caplan writes about the practice of "de-hiring" employees:
Econ professors' knee-jerk answer is, "Fire him." But people with real jobs often notice a rather different reaction: Instead of firing the mediocre employee, his boss tells him, "You need to find other opportunities." The worker then has 1-3 months to search for another job, free of the stigma of current unemployment. In HR jargon, the firm "dehires" him.
Caplan goes on to point out that "de-hiring" is both "legally safer," meaning the firm escapes the risk of being sued for wrongful termination, and "psychologically easier," meaning employers put their conscience at ease by finding a way to part ways with an employee amicably. Then he writes,
On reflection, though, dehiring is only "win-win" for the firm and the worker. What about the problem worker's next firm? Dehiring is a nefarious plot between the worker and his current firm: "If you help me find another job, I'll become their problem instead of yours." From the standpoint of the next employer, calling dehiring "win-win" is a sick joke. The proper description is "win-win-lose" - the worker wins, the old firm wins, the new firm loses.
Only an academic economist would conceive of a pool of employees in the workforce, some of whom are great everywhere, some of whom are mediocre everywhere, and some of whom are poor workers everywhere. Perhaps this is because the skill set required of academic economists is particularly well-suited to constructing generalized theoretical models in which Resource R has a marginal product of labor corresponding to a particular value L and so forth. This may also be why Tyler Cowen cooked-up that unfortunate idea about "ZMP workers."

Reality is much different. Give a man a job he dislikes, and he will be a poor worker; give a man a job he loves, and he will be highly productive. In other words, a worker's marginal product is not governed solely by exogenous personality traits, but is at least partially impacted by the particular job in question.

We've all observed this in ourselves over the years. When you were flipping burgers at McMeaty King in your teens, you were a bit of a slacker; when you were an intern at Excellent Consulting in your early 20s, you slaved and slaved because you were certain it was the most important thing in the world; when you settled into middle-management at Spiffy Enterprises in your 40s you did your work effectively but made a point to go home to your family at a decent hour; and so on. You worked one job as if your life depended on it, but when you changed to the job down the street, your boss turned out to be a real jerk, and you couldn't motivate yourself to put in much more than a couple of extra hours per week.

What this means is that a seemingly inferior employee has, in many cases, simply yet to find the right fit. Under this scenario, a firm that helps a low-productivity worker find a more satisfying job wins twice: first for the benefits Caplan outlines, and second for the goodwill won by helping the employee rather than hindering him or her. That worker will always remember that, in the final analysis, the old employer helped him or her progress to a better place in life. Meanwhile, the new firm that acquires the new worker doesn't necessarily get a low-productivity worker at all. If the new job is the right fit, then both the employee and the new employer benefit greatly from having a positive working relationship.

This is one of the many situations that highlight that, in the workplace, it is always better to make your colleagues look good than it is to truth-bomb them into submission. Dog-feed-dog makes everyone better off than dog-eat-dog. The next time you want to get a leg-up on your rival professional colleague, consider doing everything in your power to make him or her look awesome. The best-case scenario is that the colleague gets promoted out of the competition and you become the start employee. The worst-case scenario is that you diffuse an antagonistic working situation with kindness.

Empty Rhetoric

Sometimes you wade far into the deep end of the pool of conversation only to discover that the person with whom you're conversing wasn't interested in swimming in the first place. Commonly, we call this "trolling," but it's not always trolling. Sometimes people try to make an argument for points they haven't given long enough or hard enough thought.

I am not sure whether The Anonymous Reach is an immigration troll, or whether he merely believes in immigration restriction, but isn't sure why. In either case, his rhetoric is problematic. Consider the following.

By now it is totally clear that what he really means is that, no matter what open borders advocates say, he just isn't convinced. That would be perfectly fine were he not also tossing around phrases like "intellectually dishonest" and "failed to make a case" and "two-stepping" and "changing the subject" and so forth.

Limits To The Benefit Of The Doubt
I am indebted to Fake Herzog for helping me better understand The Anonymous Reach's use of language. To hear FH tell it, CR isn't really comparing immigrants to rapists and murderers (even though he is); he's just engaging in a reductio ad absurdum. This means that if we give him all the benefit of the doubt, his reasoning is just fallacious, not insulting. I am willing to accept that. The only problem is that this position gets harder and harder to maintain the more times CR makes this comparison.

Similarly, FH claims that Steve Sailer's obvious (to me) racism is also a sort of rhetorical flair used to get to the heart of the matter in a snarky sort of way. And, again, I will concede this possibility but note that it becomes progressively more and more difficult a position to hold the more Sailer engages in overt racism.

There are limitations to giving someone the benefit of the doubt. If a certain kind of rhetoric becomes a regular, annotated feature of a person's argument, then it ceases to become a manner of speaking and instead turns into an actual position.

Think of it this way: Suppose you accidentally got something wrong, and your friend said to you, "Good going, Einstein." You'd laugh it off, because it's just a joke. But, suppose your friend made a habit of saying, "Good going, Einstein," each and every time he disagreed with you about something. Suppose he also took pains to showcase the weaknesses of your point, all the while referring to you as "Einstein" in a heavily sarcastic way. Now, in the first case, we'd all agree that your friend was making a joke. But in the second case there are only so many times your friend can do this before you have to admit that what he's really doing is calling you stupid.

So it might not be that Steve Sailer is a racist, if we only consider his blog posts from the past week. But instead what we have is years and years' worth of Sailer blog posts and articles promoting the idea that whites have higher IQs - and are thus more intelligent - than non-whites; articles suggesting that non-white immigrants are physically unattractive, destructive to communities, violent, lazy, and so forth. After years of this treatment, what we understand about Sailer is not that he likes to use colorful rhetoric, but rather that his position is that non-whites are inferior to whites on many levels and ought to be prevented from entering the country.

Of course, if I'm wrong about Sailer - which I truthfully could be - then he could easily write a blog post renouncing his rhetoric (or clarifying it) and making a case against immigration that doesn't assume any of that stuff. The more time passes without his making this case, the more untenable it is to suggest that Sailer isn't just a racist.

And yes, similarly, The Anonymous Reach may just be a snarky blogger. But the more continuously he calls open borders advocates intellectually dishonest people who have failed to make a case for their position without constantly changing the subject, moving the goalposts, and refusing to address his position, the more unreasonable it is to say that he's just being "snarky."

How many times must he hit you before you realize he doesn't love you, right?

Of course, on some level I am secretly cheering against the benefit of the doubt, because a world in which Steve Sailer is a racist and The Anonymous Reach is a stubborn fellow who refuses to acknowledge when other people make good points is a world in which the job of an open borders advocate is incredibly easy.

If the most intellectually persuasive immigration restrictionists are racists and disingenuous debaters, then the case for open borders has already been made. No one wants to be a racist, because we all agree that racism is untenable and evil; no one wants to be a bad arguer, because bad arguers have bad arguments. If immigration's opponents are more or less like Steve Sailer and The Anonymous Reach, then we have already won the debate, and the only thing left to do is sit and wait while those people in the general public who haven't been keeping up with the debate gradually become aware of what happened in the debate and come on-board.

So here's hoping.

8W: Week 7 / Day 2

Today's workout is 45 minutes of cardio.


Open Question To ObamaCare Fans

This is from the lead in item in today's Best of the Web Today column, but James Taranto:
Further, a central feature of ObamaCare ensures that the individual cost of defection will be minimal. Let's say you're 28 and you decline to buy unaffordable insurance. A quarter-century goes by, and you're a 53-year-old with a heart condition. If ObamaCare is still in place and working according to plan, you'll be able to buy an "affordable" policy despite your "pre-existing condition." If ObamaCare has collapsed because too many in your generation defected, you'll be out of luck. In neither case will you be better off by virtue of having bought unaffordable insurance now. 
If you're young and healthy and farsighted enough to be thinking about middle and old age, your most prudent course of action would be to pass up ObamaCare insurance and save or invest your money instead. That way you will have a cushion against the personal or political vicissitudes of the next few decades.
Taranto is highlighting an apparent Prisoners' Dilemma in the execution of ObamaCare, and his argument is sound as far as it goes. But his story has me wondering something: Who in the world thinks the ObamaCare legislation will last in its present state for anything close to twenty-five years?

Set aside the your political opinions as you think through that question. Does any supporter of ObamaCare honestly believe that the legislation is robust enough to guarantee delivery of health insurance and health care services to the American people for a quarter-century? Speaking as a critic of the ACA, I can say that my view is far more pessimistic, but of course we can simply assume my criticism is merely the worst-case scenario. How about the best case?

Keep in mind that key provisions of the legislation are not actually being in forced at the present date because they have proven to be too thorny and impracticable to function. So what this really means is that ObamaCare doesn't work, and that's the current state of things. Assuming the regulators find some way to carry out the legislation, what is the likelihood that the patchwork solution they come up with will be built to sustain twenty-five years of American life?

There is, of course, the cynic's possibility. It has been said by some that the ACA was a deliberate disaster, a piece of legislation flagrantly designed to fail, to collapse the US health care system and precipitate a complete takeover of the industry by the federal government. That would be a piece of Machiavellianism so heinous as to be incredible.

So, I put it to fans of ObamaCare: Will this legislation last another twenty-five years, and why do you think so?

Movie Review: Chennai Express

The premise of the movie Chennai Express is so good that the imagination starts to run as soon as you hear about it. What happens when Bollywood's hottest starlet, fleeing from a kidnapping commissioned by her mafioso father, winds up on the same wrong train as the Bollywood's biggest leading man, who is only there because he lied about spreading his grandfather's ashes in South India?

Chennai Express has the plot, the stars, the music, and the cinematography. It is a tour de force of Bollywood glam and folksy Indian comedy. In a way, this is a mixed blessing for what should have been the best movie of the year.

The movie casts what are perhaps the two brightest-burning stars in the Hindi film industry. Shah Rukh Khan, for his part, may very well be the most famous man in the world, as odd as that claim may sound to people in the mid-western United States. His merely appearing in a movie guarantees that it will gross enormous, multi-million-dollar revenues. Deepika Padukone, meanwhile, has risen to the top of Bollywood royalty from humble beginnings by making remarkably savvy role choices. One day, she's the haughty love-interest in a Hindi comedy, the next she's the sultry temptress in a Hindi love drama, and still the next she's the bright-and-bubbly girl next door. Casting these two stars promises great entertainment; both are such fine actors that they would really have to try to make a bad film. Indeed, Chennai Express delivers on the acting.

Perhaps the real star of the film, however, is South India itself. With the help of some lens-filtered technicolor and some wide-angled landscape shots, the movie's setting looks so stunning that I often wondered if I were looking at a real place. (Honestly, I have no idea - I've never been to India.) The area is a major departure from the northern, foreign, or urban locations typically featured prominently in Hindi films, and this has the effect of making things feel enchanting and exotic. Fusing these landscapes into the plot via some important religious scenes sweetens the deal even further.

Having said all this, I must now make it clear that Chennai Express is a film that can only be enjoyed by hardcore fans of Bollywood, or residents of India. The reason I say this is because the movie is plays like a "regional film," a movie tailored to a regional audience. Most of the bit players in the movie speak Tamil, rather than Hindi, which serves to underscore the idea that this is an Indian commoner's movie. Khan's catch-phrase throughout the film is, "Never underestimate the power of a common man!" and this is perfectly demonstrative of the film's intended purpose. While most Bollywood block-busters - especially the ones made these days - can easily appeal to an international audience, Chennai Express dispenses with the cosmopolitanism and sets its sites straight at the heart of ordinary South Indians.

The result, for those of you unfamiliar with the oeuvre, is a colorful send-up of hammy jokes, slapstick routines, and cartoonish violence. North Americans tend to find this sort of movie distasteful, but Bollywood churns out hundreds of movies like this per year for Indian audiences, and Chennai Express can only be appreciated from that angle.

To be sure, this is not just a regional film, but a rather good one. The jokes are witty, the cinematography is gorgeous, the music is excellent, and the acting is superb. Nonetheless, despite its already record-breaking ticket sales, Chennai Express is a movie best left to aficionados of the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed it; most North Americans, however, may find it a bit too idiosyncratic. 

Some Links (Heavy-On-The-Economics Edition)

As it turns out, Steve Sailer is a trade protectionist in addition to a race supremacist.

By way of explanation for those readers who wonder why I have a recent hate-on for Steve Sailer, it is because his vile, pernicious racial supremacist theories are sparking a new and alarming return to the evil, hateful ideas that prompted the wars of the 20th Century. I read blogs by many of Sailer's readers, and they are all starting to reflect this sickening trend. Here, in a particularly nasty example, a blogger simultaneously promotes the formation of a Kurd state by rekindling the German motherland idea as written about in Omnipotent Government, while sounding the alarm about immigration into France and the UK. This is scary stuff, folks, and people like Steve Sailer are basically fanning the flames of genocide. We do not want to see where this road takes us.

David Henderson observes Cass Sunstein's tendency toward coercion.

Additional problems with how Rothbard defined inflation, from Finegold-Catalan.

Uwe Reinhardt shows that macroeconomic trends predict health care spending. (Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.) I will note that my former colleague Richard Lavoie of RL Analytics scooped him on this by several years. I cannot supply the link to Lavoie's report, unfortunately, because it's proprietary. But I can say that I helped...

Pop Quiz: What happens to you when your theories are so complex that you stump Nobel laureates? The answer, apparently, is you get dismissed and scolded. Apparently being smarter than Paul Krugman makes you a worse economist than Paul Krugman. (Surprise, surprise, I know...)

The Ludwig von Mises Institute is crying "Bubble" again

8W: Week 7 / Day 1

Today's workout is as follows.

Do this as a ladder (1 of each, then 2 of each, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1:
  • Box jump
  • Push-up
  • Pull-up
  • Hanging leg raise
Then do this:
  • 40 minutes of cardio
This is our 7th of 8 weeks. PUSH!



Here's a rather odd number I wrote this weekend. In many ways it is one half "Insipid Pop Weekend" and one half "Rhesus." I am sure you'll see what I mean.

No fancy video this time. I was layering a lot of different tracks on top of each other; it would have been too much trouble to capture all of that on video.

But I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

8W: Week 6, Day 7

Take a rest day today. Relax and enjoy your Sunday.


Some Links

The only time Steve Sailer likes the police state is when it supports his white supremacy theories.

Kevin Erdmann draws fascinating demographic parallels between the 1970s and today.

XKCD tells a story about risk. You may apply this lesson to a wide variety of my posts from the past week.

I don't have a huge stake in this recent Krugman-slams-Hayek controversy, but I will make the following observations: When folks like Robert Murphy use Krugman's own words against him, they give Paul Krugman too much credit. Krugman is a great economist who now writes incendiary political op-eds. His goal is to get a rise out of people, not to be correct all the time. I feel like people who respond to him are giving him exactly what he wants.

I cannot help but feel that Tyler Cowen is being a little silly when he says things like, "I have long felt a kinship with [Javanese] culture." Get real.

Quote of the day:
Did you know that "French" is culinary shorthand for "slosh wine all over your breakfast"? With that trick up your sleeve, you'll be mastering the art of French cooking in no time.
Here's my prediction: Snowden eventually winds up in jail, while Obama and his cronies publicly declare that they "take responsibility" for the breaches of policy, thereby getting themselves off the hook forever. Here's a tip for anyone interested in a career in politics: (1) Do whatever you want to. (2) If things go south, just stage a press conference and say that you take responsibility. (3) Hit the public speaking circuit. (4) Profit.

Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day may kill you. Or not. It's almost as if running regressions on perfectly innocuous activities in an attempt to explain universal facts like human mortality results in inconclusive studies.

Speaking of reasons to eschew marijuana, Russell Simmons has done the stupidest thing I can possibly imagine.

Album Review: The Winery Dogs

It's half-way through August, and The Winery Dogs' self-titled debut album has been out now for nearly a month. I delayed purchasing this album, because I was sure I knew what I was going to get. I was so sure because all three members of the band have carved out niches for themselves across the musical landscape. I've heard all three of these musicians before in their "main bands," as solo artists, and as contributors to previous super-groups. Basically, the reason I hadn't purchased the album is because I was expecting what most people surely were also expecting: sort of a Mr. Big-meets-David-Lee-Roth band with extra-bombastic drums.

I should not have been so smug. This is a genuinely surprising album.

I say "surprising" because the rule of thumb in most super-groups is for each member to play to his strengths, and that is simply not what The Winery Dogs is about.

That's not to say that the album plays to anyone's weaknesses. For that matter, it would be tough to come up with a list of weaknesses for Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan, or Mike Portnoy. The fabulous reputation of all three musicians precedes them, and there is not much I could add to their storied histories. Still, with any musician who has been as prolific and influential as any one of these guys has been, a listener will inevitably approach a new album with their reputations as a back-drop, and this is precisely why I waited so long to buy this album. I was reticent about ending up with yet another boring send-up of classic hard rock in my collection, and also reticent about hearing yet another solo-y super-group power trio.

Fortunately, The Winery Dogs is not a more bluesy, solo-y version of Mr. Big with overwhelming drums. Where a lesser super-group (especially one featuring perhaps the most famous prog-metal drummer in the world) might have opted for over-blown instrumental noodling, The Winery Dogs invoke the fusion influences that Kotzen only really previously displayed in his collaborative work with Greg Howe. Where a lesser super-group (especially one featuring a vocalist with as much power, range, and screaming gravel as Chris Cornell) might have released a hard rock frenzy of shouting and bashing, The Winery Dogs instead slide easily into the clever and elegant chord progressions that we've come to identify with Sheehan's work with David Lee Roth and Mr. Big. And, where a lesser super-group (especially one featuring a legendary veteran of Steve Vai's band) might have filled an album full of melodic guitar-and-bass instrumentals, The Winery Dogs instead content themselves to reach far beyond the standard of vocal-oriented rock music.

In short, each member of the band seems to balance out the "risks" of every other band member by leaning on what is perhaps their least-lauded artistic traits. The result is an album full of stunning surprises, unique twists, and unexpected turns that nonetheless feel completely natural and totally at home with each band member's respective careers.

At times, it almost feels as though the band wanted to defy their reputations and draw thick circles around the more forgotten aspects of their careers: Kotzen's vocals and jazz influences, Sheehan's undeniably strong songwriting, and Portnoy's ability to use rhythm to create emotional underpinnings to a song's climax beyond his technical virtuosity.

That is certainly not to say that the album doesn't deliver what longtime fans want to hear. There is plenty of soloing, plenty of technical displays. But in the context of the songs, which are the true strength of this album, the more adventurous playing feels natural, off-the-cuff, and playful. Where previous performances from any of these musicians may have felt too deliberately technical to some listeners, these performances reflect a trio of mature musicians who are totally comfortable being who they are. The guitar-bass-drums interplay unfolds as though we are sitting there in the studio with them, watching and listening as they jam out their ideas and take only the absolute best of what each jam offers.

Of course, I'm telling my own story here, but this is because The Winery Dogs is an album that captivates the imagination. At last we've heard from a super-group that wants to do more than capitalize on their storied careers by recording a two-week solo-fest. At last we've heard from three musicians who decided that the year 2013 was a good year to come to the market with something to prove... and proved it.

Comparisons to other artists in the music world, then, are both irrelevant and unfair. Irrelevant because The Winery Dogs is a collection of great songs and stunning performances by musicians who expect nothing less from themselves, and who have managed to prove it again and again for as long as I can remember. Unfair because few young artists could ever hope to compete with a power-trio of legends at the top of their game.

Long story short: Buy the album.