Stop This Nonsense. It Is Perfectly Ethical To Shop On Holidays

The following is a picture that recently came up on my Facebook feed:
The implication is clear: shopping on Thanksgiving is unethical. If you disagree that this is the implication, then you might be unaware of the broader "Facebook issue" (it turns my stomach to use a phrase like that) that is out there right now. There is a broad sense out there that shopping on Thanksgiving is morally wrong because it "forces" employees to "leave" their families and their holiday celebrations in order to serve us shoppers.

Or, to put it another way, it's wrong to deprive someone of a holiday experience just so that you can get a good deal on some consumer goods.

For all of you who sympathize with this idea, I have a question: How low must a price be before you would be convinced that it's okay to shop on Thanksgiving?

The answer to this question is far from obvious. Take a price of "free" for example: Let's say you could get a free TV if the only way to get it was to pick it up from the store on Thanksgiving Day. Would it be ethical to take the TV? You might say that it is still unethical, but consider the fact that many people are too poor to afford a television. Is it ethical for them to shop for a free TV on Thanksgiving?

I presume that the answer is yes: It is fully ethical for the poor to obtain something for free by shopping on Thanksgiving. This is not just common sense inference (although it is that, too), it is a belief for which I have strong evidence in the fact that every year, thousands of volunteers freely pull themselves away from their families and holiday festivities at home so that they can volunteer at the local soup kitchen. If it is ethical for a homeless person to turn up at a soup kitchen for a free meal on Thanksgiving - and thereby pull innocent people away from their families, etc. - then it is likewise ethical for a poor person to shop for a free TV on Thanksgiving. There is perfect comparability between these two situations.

I have now established that a price of free is low enough to justify the moral case for shopping on Thanksgiving if the customer is sufficiently poor.

I assume raising the price of the TV to $1 (approx. 1% of the price of a reasonably acceptable television) or raising the price of Thanksgiving dinner at a soup kitchen to 1% of the consumer end-price (say 5 cents) would not be a significantly meaningful price increase to affect the morality of the situation.

Thus, I have now established that at significantly low non-zero price and poverty levels, shopping on Thanksgiving is perfectly ethical.

And that, my friends, is all I need in order to establish the ethics of Thanksgiving shopping. Remember that not everyone in the world is as rich as you are. Some people can only afford Christmas presents for their children if those presents are deeply, deeply discounted. The exact value of that discount is irrelevant. That is, it does not matter much how low of a price we're talking about, nor "how poor" a person has to be before we collectively agree that they can shop, even if others can't. The exact price- or poverty-level is irrelevant because it is subjective, and up to every person to determine for himself/herself.

We are not really talking about "rampant consumerism." I agree that people who are well-off enough to be able to skip the shopping and spend that time with friends and family certainly ought to do so. But who are you to say which one of us legitimately meets that criterion? It's subjective.

Please note that I have not even touched the other side of this issue, which is that some people are so poor that they need to work on Thanksgiving Day in order to meet an acceptable living standard. Those people have a right to work that day without having to hear your whiny story about how they'd be better off losing a day's work in exchange for some TV football.

Anyway, the bottom line is that we should keep everyone's moral decisions in mind when we blather about morals on Facebook.

Some Links

I am typically reticent to link to Anti-Gnostic, but you have to admit that he has a point when he says (emphasis mine):
[I]f the judiciary is having to pass constitutional muster on such narrow, arcane items [as mandatory coverage of birth control], then rational public policy debate is not happening, and the people are effectively conceding their incapacity for self-governance.
While I'm not a fan of the racial undertones of this Simon Grey post, I think his overarching point - that people are afraid to defend themselves - is important to note in a time of rampant government overreach.

Not every tragedy is avoidable, of course, but it still seems like somewhat of an injustice when society's brightest minds are extinguished at their own hand. A terrible loss indeed.

You probably already know by now that if you're planning on traveling for the holidays, Gaia may have other plans.

I honestly don't know what to make of this story of a Hollywood producer who has admitted to being a spy for the Israeli government. So many questions: Is he telling the truth? What might his motives be if he is lying? What if he's telling the truth? Why would he do it? Why would he admit to it now? What is the point?

Here's an interesting story of media hypocrisy. Note how even at The L.A. Times this article is buried in the "entertainment" section. Of course, CBS News seems to be wrong more often than it's right, but when have you ever heard of a reporter being forced to take a leave of absence for having expressed a leftist prior to preparing a news story with an obvious leftist bent? Never, right? But if you take the not-leftist stance...
CBS also faulted the 42-year-old Logan for having a conflict of interest in covering the story, since she was already on record as accusing the U.S. government of lying about the attack. In doing so, she had leaped into the political fray along with many conservative critics who had accused the Obama administration of covering up details of the attack and the role of Al Qaeda.
Oh, well. She can always get a job at Fox News, am I right?

I'm calling it right now: We are going to start seeing Plan B over-doses.


A Possible End To Super-Power

I don't have a lot to say about this, so I will keep it short.

Middle East reporter Richard Spencer believes that the recent "deal" or "treaty" or whatever it is between the United States and Iran can be considered an illustration of "a superpower in retreat." Lubos Motl concurs. Both men - along with countless others, of course - take a far more Machiavellian view of international relations than I do. Theirs is the majoritarian view, and it generally holds that, since the United States is said to be "the last world superpower," its government has the unique responsibility of orchestrating global politics in such a way that all freedom-loving people benefit.

There are a few problems with this view.

First, the United States government and the people over which it claims authority have individual interests that may or may not align well with what is in the interest of the entire globe. It would strain credulity to assert that the interests of all good people are best served when the United States government gets what it wants. More realistically, the US government is powerful, and thus it is in the interest of many other governments to play sycophant to the goose that lays many golden eggs throughout the world. It goes without saying that all those who are not allied with the United States government tend to suffer more than the rest. The key point here is that the US government acts in its own interests most of the time; nothing it does should be misconstrued as a deliberate act of global beneficence.

Second, it is unclear to me why any freedom-loving person should be comfortable with the idea that there is any number of "global superpowers." The idea that one nation's government can disproportionately affect global trends is contrary to both the principles of a competitive marketplace and those of federalism. To make this point more locally, consider the following question: How many drone-bombed innocent Pakistanis does it take to convince a president that drone-bombing is a conceivable option for extenuating domestic circumstances? If your answer to that question is any number other than zero, I think you ought to be uncomfortable with the idea that any nation could be deemed a "superpower."

Third, I - like the rest of my fellow US citizens - hold no authority over the citizens of any other country. Ideally, no one in the United States would have any significant authority over anything other than their own private property. (Reasonable people can debate the particulars here, of course.)

Rather than witnessing the "retreat of a global superpower," I think we are witnessing the end of the age of superpowers in general. The idea of an all-powerful government acting for the benefit of its citizens - the idea of "government knows best" - the idea that government is staffed by a small army of geniuses, the nation's best-and-brightest, who are capable of solving all problems should we organize sufficiently many committees - is totally obsolete.

Perhaps such a notion was attractive and true to a limited extent during the middle of the 20th Century. But what we have observed - globally - over the course of the last 75 years is a slow decay of the legitimacy of super-government and a gradual return to power-to-the-people principles. This began with the American civil rights movement and has continued right up to today's internet privacy advocacy.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the old view of government is obsolete. When we see these silly treaties that do not seem to enhance anyone's power or credibility, what we are really seeing is the mask coming down. People are realizing - I think - that their own individual lives are more important than the collective interests of global superpowers. And, personally, I see this as a good thing.


Movie Review: Ram-Leela

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to see Ram-Leela, the latest blockbuster Hindi language film from producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The film stars Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone as the film's title characters, Ram and Leela, respectively.

I am going to avoid engaging in much plot-synopsis for this movie and simply acknowledge that the film is the latest in an endless stream of reboots of the Shakespearean classic, Romeo and Juliet. Most of us are familiar with that story and its many annual reboots. I'm not one to count "lack of originality" as a mark against a film that openly states that it is a re-telling of a work of classic literature. Romeo and Juliet is the starting point for nearly every romantic drama that has ever been told since the 17th Century. The only questions left to consider are: Is the new story's "spin" a worthwhile variation on a theme, and was the new film well done?

In the case of Ram-Leela, the answer to the first question is a hesitant yes. Rather than feuding Victorian lordships, Ram-Leela's characters are members of rival Indian mafia families. This is an appropriate modern backdrop to a classic tale. The audience never feels that the setting is hackneyed or that it requires too much suspension of disbelief. So in that sense, the spin is worthwhile; but it's a hesitant yes in that Bollywood is fairly replete with tales of rival crime families. Thus while Ram-Leela's "spin" is acceptable, it's not as satisfying as an even-more-original take might have been.

But is the film well done? The answer to that question depends mostly on what one hopes to take away from a Hindi film. The music is good, but not great. The dancing is excellent, but the choreography is a little more gimmicky than I'd prefer. (Most of the major dance sequences involve some rather impressive slow dance moves, which are certainly a rousing display of virtuosity. But at the same time, it's a technique that is used a bit too much, to the point where it becomes style over substance.)

The acting is mostly solid, but it's not the kind of thing that the "average person" can really appreciate. The film is shot not unlike a stage production. Throughout the film, the actors are acting in the direction of the camera rather than in the direction of the other actors. The result of this cinematographic choice is a reduced interpersonal chemistry between the actors - an odd thing to witness in a film that intends to depict an unbelievably passionate love story.

There is a great deal of whiz-bang in the movie: Yelling, explosions, fire, debauchery, fancy camera angles, CGA peacocks, and a staggering amount of attention to both the visual and the aural details. This makes for great stimulation of the sensory experience. The actors are young, healthy, and placed at the center of every frame as highly insistent eye candy. In regard to all of this, it is a beautifully shot film.

I must also acknowledge that the film was true to the essence of Romeo and Juliet in a way that most reboots are not. Ram-Leela captures the youthful naivete of the protagonists, the hopelessness of their predicament, the behind-the-scenes ploys that ultimately produce the tragedy of a legendary love story. The filmmakers could easily have opted for the classic, Bollywood ending, but instead chose to stay true to Shakespeare. Kudos to them for doing so.

Despite all that, Ram-Leela leaves a lot to be desired. First and foremost, the characters are not as well-developed as they ought to have been. Rather than investing its time in character development, the film spends a disproportionate amount of time at the beginning of the film on song and dance. Again, this makes for a delightful sensory experience, but it reduces some of the overall drama that could have been.

In addition, Romeo and Juliet is not the only story Ram-Leela draws from. I was quite taken aback by the number of plot devices and storytelling elements taken directly from last year's Ishaqzaade, which is another Shakespearean reboot, but one with a great deal more originality. While I can't go into any detail regarding what was taken from Ishaqzaade without giving away important spoilers, fans of the Bollywood oeuvre will certainly notice the obvious - and in my opinion, unfortunate - similarities. In fact, seeing such things re-used in Ram-Leela reminded me of how good a film Ishaqzaade really was.

All in all, Ram-Leela was a bit too much style-over-substance for my tastes. It's a shame, since I'm a big fan of the film's leading actors. But ultimately, I prefer strong character development and storytelling to a visually impressive display of showmanship.

"It Doesn't Make Sense, But It's The Truth"

Robert Murphy posts theistic musings on most Sunday's. It's an interesting feature that you won't find on other economics blogs. As one might expect, I seldom agree with what he writes on Sundays, but I also seldom feel moved to comment on it. Religion is mostly a private matter.

But sometimes I just can't help myself, and yesterday's post at Free Advice is one such time. Here's Murphy:
My pastor at church today said as much (though I don’t know if he’d endorse the way I phrased it above) when he said something like (I’m paraphrasing slightly): 
“It’s not that God made creation, it was good, then there was the Fall, and He had to turn to Plan B. No, He’s God, He never lost control for a moment. God made all of creation, and that was good and illustrated His glory, but only through the Fall, Redemption of Christ, and the coming re-creation when Christ returns, will God fully demonstrate His glory. The re-creation will be more glorious than the initial creation.” 
Then he went on to say (I really like this guy, by the way) that he doesn’t understand how that can be, and it doesn’t make sense, but: “It’s the truth.”
Most of the people leaving comments on Murphy's blog jumped at that last part. Indeed, it's problematic that the pastor accepts something as truth without being able to make sense of it, but he's not the first person to do that, and no one gets into religion due to a passionate commitment to rationality.

Leaving that point aside, though, the pastor's description of god's will makes me chuckle a little. The way he tells it makes it sound like all this colossal suffering in the world is part of a great, cosmic wind-up and god is about to knock it out of the park. Sort of like god is setting himself up for the ultimate comeback. "Ha! Ha! You thought I was cruel and imperfect, but that's just because you haven't seen the Second Coming!" It's God Part II: The Revenge.

Let me put it in as humorous a way as I know how: Remember how Guns 'N Roses had been working on Chinese Democracy for like 20 years? The longer this went on, the more storied the album became, like it was going to be the greatest rock album ever recorded. Those who caught snippets of it went on record insisting that it was every bit as revolutionary as it was purported to be. But then the album eventually came out a couple of years ago, and it was not awful, but nothing like it was made out to be.

Granted, I'd hope the Almighty is capable of a follow-up better than Chinese Democracy, but considering all the human suffering that has occurred over the last two thousand years, god sure does have a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Workout Of The Day

There has been a change of plans.

In light of last week's news about cardiovascular health and how I feel when I do more running, I think I will put my money where my mouth is and start investing more time in the kind of fitness that actually matters, that actually produces better health outcomes: cardio!

At the same time, it's an unseasonably cold day with a risk of freezing rain. Running in this kind of weather will be unpleasant. Yesterday, I managed to have a pretty tough workout on the elliptical machine. Today, I plan on doing something similar: 30-45 minutes of cardio.

In the interest of injury-avoidance, I don't think it's a good idea to have an equally hard workout on the same machine two days in a row. Today, then, I'll most likely be on the exercise bike.


Guitar Synthesis

I have been happily playing around with my new Roland GR-55 guitar synthesizer lately. It's been a wonderful contribution to my arsenal so far, and the entertainment continues.

Here's a quick little something I threw together to demonstrate some of the synthesizer's more obvious potential:
As you can hear, it is difficult to keep the piano notes (for example) to stay on pitch when playing certain kinds of notes on the higher frets. This is because the guitar is not tempered-tuned the same way a piano is, and also because strings bend ever-so-slightly when you fret notes.

Thus, when you hear off-notes, it's not that I'm playing wrong notes, it's that learning to play a guitar synthesizer properly takes time.



Certainty, Duality, And Nonsense

We'll never be able to perceive everything. Nor does every sensory perception constitute an exact indication of what reality is actually like. But perception is the only data we have to make our way through life. Anything else is nonsense.

In Alan Greenspan's memoirs, The Age of Turbulence, he recounts a funny story about logical positivism and his time with Ayn Rand. Unfortunately, I lost my copy of this book in an airport years ago, but I managed to find a citation for the story in question in this LRC post by Roderick Long:
After listening for a few evenings, I showed my logical-positivist colors. I don’t recall the topic being discussed, but something prompted me to postulate that there are no moral absolutes.
Ayn Rand pounced. “How can that be?” 
“Because to be truly rational, you can’t hold a conviction without significant empirical evidence,” 
“How can that be?” she asked again. “Don’t you exist?” 
“I … can’t be sure,” I admitted. 
“Would you be willing to say you don’t exist?” 
“I might….” 
“And by the way, who is making that argument?” 
Maybe you had to be there — or, more to the point, maybe you had to be a twenty-six-year-old math junkie — but this exchange really shook me. I saw she was quite effectively demonstrating the self-contradictory nature of my position. … It dawned on me that a lot of what I’d decided was true was probably just plain wrong. Of course, I was too stubborn and embarrassed to concede immediately; instead, I clammed up.
And the punchline of the story:
Rand came away from that evening with a nickname for me. She dubbed me “the Undertaker,” partly because my manner was so serious and partly because I always wore a dark suit and tie. Over the next few weeks, I later learned, she would ask people, “Well, has the Undertaker decided he exists yet?”
While this exchange seems like so much hoity-toity New York high society mumbo-jumbo to some, nearly everyone is familiar with a simpler version of the same problem, accurately conveyed by this item I found on Quora today:
How can you know for sure that your body is real and not just an avatar?Let's assume that our consciousness has no direct contact to the outer world. And that all what we perceive is "just" a our mental model of the world. 
Is there anything at all what can be said then about our real "us"?
We might otherwise call this "The Matrix Problem," or the "How Do We Know It Isn't All A Dream?" problem, or maybe even The Simon Grey Problem. (I kid! I kid!)

Well, I think I've figured out what I don't like about these problems: There is no duality between the opposing viewpoints. Allow me to explain.

What Is Duality?
First let me stipulate that when I refer to "duality," I'm referring to the kind of logical duality that pertains to category theory. It's possible to make this concept extremely formal and complicated, but for my purposes here, it should suffice to say simply: Things can be categorized.

This seems like a banality, but it's important. Without intuitively understanding duality, you wouldn't know where your fingertips end and the rest of the world begins. Infants, for example, are said to have to learn that they are a separate and distinct person from their mother. To an infant mind, because mother and child are often inseparable, it is not immediately obvious that the mother is a unique being, not a part of the child's own consciousness.

So another way of describing this kind of duality is simply to say Things that are different are not the same thing. Again, this sounds obvious, but it's important.

Reality As Reality, Vs. Reality As A Dream
Let's return to that Quora question I linked to above. What is the real problem with describing reality as being nothing more than a dream? The problem is that there is no discernible difference between dream-reality and reality-reality.

How would your life change if you found out that your consciousness is nothing more than a dream being had by a turtle riding in the back of a giant, cosmic, pickup truck, and that the turtle will never wake up until long after the dream ends, and your conscious along with it? The answer is: It wouldn't. Your consciousness is unaffected by the hypothetical prospect that its nature is fundamentally different than it seems in a mystical, magical way that you will never be able to detect.

For you, the existence a magic turtle does not fundamentally alter anything about your actual consciousness. Thus, there is no essential, defining, important difference between dream-reality and reality-reality. It's all just reality, regardless of which homunculus is the true entity experiencing it. It's the hand you actually perceive that feels heat when you hold it near a flame; whether that perceived hand is just a turtle's dream is irrelevant to you, and always will be, so long as that dream is defined to be something you will never be able to verify or falsify.

In other words, there is no meaningful duality between the two concepts. In short, the question posed at Quora is nonsense.

How do we know whether we are experiencing X or Y, where X is defined to be everything that we perceive, and Y is defined to be everything we perceive, plus any number of things that will never, ever be perceived by anyone, anywhere? This question cannot be answered be we cannot differentiate between X and Y. X and Y are exactly the same state of affairs. There is no duality between X and Y, only unity.

Faith, Knowledge, And So On
Here's an even less abstract example: Christians believe in the Holy Trinity. In very crude terms, the Trinity consists of god, who can do whatever he wants to do; Jesus, who is god in the physical flesh; and the holy spirit, which is basically all the heebie-jeebies that we get that make us insist that we have proof of the supernatural. So the question is this: What is the difference between a trinity of characters who make up an all-powerful god on the one hand, and just an all-powerful god on the other hand?

The answer is: nothing. There is no difference between an omnipotent god and an omnipotent god that assumes various names and shapes. Part of being omnipotent is having the power to - among other things - assume any name and shape one pleases. Thus the ability to assume names and shapes confers no additional power that omnipotence didn't already afford.

The Holy Trinity is exactly as meaningless as saying, "Kobe Bryant is a major league professional basketball player who is also a member of an NBA team." Any statement that confers no new information is meaningless, at least insofar as duality is concerned.

And, in fact, the existence of god is precisely the same phenomenon. The physical universe is the sum total of all perceptible time, space, matter, and energy. God's universe is the physical universe as I have just described it, plus a bunch of stuff that will never, ever be perceived by anyone, anywhere, at any point within the physical universe.

As such, "god" is a magic, sleeping turtle in the back of a pickup truck. Including "god" in any description of reality conveys exactly as much additional information as stipulating that Kobe Bryant is both a major league professional basketball player and a member of an NBA team. There is no duality between a universe that was created by a god and one that was not created by a god. There is just "the universe." There is no point adding extra, invisible features that can't be perceived. By definition, they are not part of the universe, so what are they doing in a conversation about the universe?

It's interesting to note the parity between those who deny reality, like young Alan Greenspan, and those for whom reality isn't enough, who must add a wide array of imaginary things to reality that cannot be perceived. It is fascinating that while the former category of people seem to think they are being skeptical of something, the latter category think they are asserting a belief. In both cases, though, the claim amounts to absolutely nothing.

It's important to keep this in mind when people assert either that our perceptions are unreliable indicators of reality or that reality consists of a great many imperceptible things. It's not that either of these is an objectively false claim, it is simply that our understanding of reality is completely unaffected by the truth or falsehood of either.

We will never be able to perceive every aspect of reality. Nor is every perception we have an accurate depiction of reality (think about phantom pains, for example). But the key point here is that data matter. Perceptions genuinely inform our understanding of reality; that which can never be perceived, simply does not.

Understanding this concept is the key to keeping things straight when it comes to science, philosophy, and indeed your immortal soul (cue spooky music). 


"The Most Important Type Of Fitness For Good Health Is Cardiovascular Fitness"

The study to which I linked in this morning's "Some Links" post is full of important information and deserves more thorough treatment than a "Some Links" post affords, but I wanted to get the information out there before taking some time to discuss it in greater detail.

The punchline of the whole matter is neatly summed up at Medical News Today:
Around the world, many children do not run as far or as fast as their parents did when they were kids, according to a large study presented at a scientific meeting in the US recently. 
The study concludes that today's kids are about 15% less aerobically fit than their parents were at their age. 
And in the US, kids' cardiovascular endurance has fallen by around 6% per decade between 1970 and 2000. 
The researchers warn that such a decline in fitness may mean worse health in adulthood.
One important piece of information here is contained in the story's first three words. BBC News adds that the study involved forty-six years of data that involved more than twenty-five million children in twenty-eight countries. So this is not just another "people are fat in the US" story. This is a story about a global trend toward lower levels of physical fitness.

How bad is it? Here's how USA Today puts it:
On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.
I readily concede that I was faster than average when I was a kid, especially when it came to running a mile. But for point of reference, I recall running something in the 5:40 range during an 8th grade fitness test. 90 seconds slower than that would be 7 minutes and 10 seconds or so. That would imply that the average "fastest male runner in class" is running at speeds that are much slower than even the fastest girls ran when I was a kid*.

To put this another way, I was in the top-ten of distance runners in my state during my senior-year season of cross-country; today, an equivalent runner would be a national champion.

If you're active across the "man-o-sphere," then you have probably heard the oft-repeated howler that strength training is a more significant boon to health and fitness than cardiovascular training. I hate it when people say this, because there is exactly zero evidence for this. Here's one excerpt from the MNT story (emphasis mine):
Dr. Tomkinson says while there are many ways that young people can be fit, like developing strength by lifting weights, being flexible like a gymnast or being skilled at tennis, this is not the same as having cardiovascular fitness, which is what most relates to health, as he explains:

"The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time, like running multiple laps around an oval track."
 And of course BBC adds:
To stay healthy, children and young people need to do at least an hour of physical activity - such as walking or cycling to school and running in the playground - every day. It can be done in small chunks rather than one session. 
Prof Michael Gwitz of the American Heart Association said: "The type of exercise is really important." 
He says exercise must be something that "makes you sweat" and is "sustained and dynamic" to promote cardiovascular fitness. 
Simply going to the gym or belonging to a school sports team might not be enough, unless you are moving around a lot.
In my "Some Links" post, I made a wry reference to the fact that health studies these days tend to be extremely self-serving. Almost every month, we get news of how coffee and red wine are health foods, how switching to the Italian Restaurant Diet is going to make you a centenarian (no, there's not really any such a thing as the IRD, but maybe I ought to create one and become a millionaire), how "all you need to do" at the gym is lift a few weights and do 20-minutes of HIIT twice a week, and you'll be "healthier" than a marathon runner and whatnot.

I have repeatedly insisted that this information is all an oversimplification that misses the key point. But I'm not just a contrarian who insists that running is the be-all, end-all. It's common sense. There's a reason you would rather spend 30 minutes on a Smith Machine than go running for 30 minutes, and that reason is not "because Smith Machines are a better workout." Quite the opposite.

The general rule of thumb is that if it doesn't kind of suck, then you're probably not getting much of a workout at all. You have to accept and understand this.

Look, being the next Ronnie Coleman is really, really cool thing to do. But it's not going to extend your life or make you a healthier person. It's just going to give you a lot of muscle mass. This might be what you want today, but I submit that the older you get, the more you will want to have been focused on cardiovascular health in your youth. You'll see what I mean when you start taking low-dose aspirin.

* Of course, that's probably not an entirely fair comparison, since the fastest runners are probably about as fast now as they used to be. So, too, are the slowest runners likely to be about as slow as they used to be. I suspect the population mean has shifted 90 seconds to the right (i.e. slower), despite the outliers, of which I was most certainly one at that age. 

Some Links

George Selgin is brilliant, as usual, on monetary policy. (UPDATE: Man, Selgin is absolutely on fire!)

Research reveals that children are less physically fit than their parents were at the same age.

Steven Landsburg demonstrates that virtually every argument for welfare-increases-via-tax-increases relies on a magic genie. (There's no such thing as a free lunch.) Well, Landsburg takes this as an opportunity for a teachable moment; Donald Boudreaux is a bit more caustic (but equally funny).

Mmm... delicious cock ale...

You may have read today's news that eating nuts extends longevity. When has Harvard research ever gotten anything wrong? Before you start equivocating every glass of beer with a bowl of nuts, though, you might want to read what Lubos Motl has to say about it.

Speaking of health "studies" that serve no other purpose than to reaffirm society's unrelated-to-health preferences for foodstuffs, here's yet another claim that coffee is a health food. (For the record: No, it's not. Sure is tasty, though!)


Workout Of The Day

No, it's not too late for a Workout Of The Day. But I don't quite have as much tiger blood pumping through my system as I'd like to. Hence, today's workout will be more Sisyphus than Icarus.

On the bright side, we'll be doing combination movements today!

  • 3 x 12 push-up-burpee-jump-pull-ups (you get the idea)
  • 3 x 15 deadlift-to-barbell-curl
  • 3 x 20 side-lift-to-front-raise (10 per side)
  • 30-45 minutes of cardio

Social Connectivity

I'm surely not the first person to observe it, but there seems to be something happening to human social relationships, and it is not a particularly good thing.

I'll explain what I seem to be observing in society at large, and from there, the reader can determine to what degree you might have also observed it, and to what extent you might agree with me about where it comes from.

Social relationships in today's world seem to be deteriorating rapidly. It's difficult to get people to really connect with what other people are saying. It seems to involve a combination of self-absorbedness and short attention spans (otherwise known as a short cognitive time-horizon). I will illustrate with a few examples.

If you're active on Google+ and interested in music, then you may have joined one of the many musicians' communities. Having done so, you must have almost certainly observed that these communities mostly consist of musicians simply posting links to their music. On a few occasions, I have attempted to participate in the community aspect of these pages. That is, I'll listen to some of the music and provide accolades and constructive criticism. I always say only positive thing when I do this, because my goal is not to really critique the music so much as foster a community spirit. In all cases of my doing this, the musician has responded by thanking me for listening and asking me to share the link with others.

Let me explain why this bothers me. First, my goal in reaching out to the musician is to make some sort of personal connection. It doesn't have to be touchy-feely, but the fact of the matter is that I did them the courtesy of listening to their music and providing a favorable reaction to it. I expect some sort of personal comment. It might be an anecdote about the composition of a song. It might be that the musician seeks out my music and chooses to respond in kind. Basically, I'm looking for any response other than a vapid "thank you, please advertise for me." I did not volunteer to be part of someone's viral ad campaign, I reached out to communicate with someone. So, communicate.

Similarly, I try to respond to all the comments I receive on this blog because I assume that in reaching out to me, you are looking for reciprocal communication. I really appreciate the fact that people take the time to read my blog, and I especially appreciate that some would take time out of their day to provide comments of their own. I don't want that comment to just go into the void. I am not here to just preach my own thoughts and ignore all other human beings. So, I try to comment when I can.

(Note: I have received a few very long comments, and I still owe those comments a response!)

In social situations, I am finding that, more and more, people are interested in speaking only about themselves and their own experiences. We all like to talk about ourselves, but that is not really how conversation is supposed to occur. We only talk about ourselves in order to find a topic that can be shared with others. I might choose to start talking about running, but my goal is not to tell everyone about the last run I went on. My goal is to provide fodder for conversation, and especially to hear what other people have to say. And then, to respond to what new things they bring to the conversation, so that they, too, can respond to what I've said. And so on.

Professional situations are now dominated by a ubiquitous sense of self-advertisement. We all need to have a CV. We all need to have an "elevator pitch." We all seek "face time" with the senior executive. When interacting with clients, we are always putting the company's best face forward. When things go wrong, we put a positive spin on them. When things get worse, we seek to avoid blame rather than address the problem. The undercurrent in all of this is the idea that we are at center stage, massaging the message to make us look as good as possible.

To a certain extent, there is nothing wrong with putting your best face forward, of course. But when doing so supersedes all other aspects of business - when self-promotion becomes the means by which a person decides to achieve professional "success" - then we've lost a real personal connection to our work. Not only does that make the work itself meaningless for us, it also breaks down our ability to engage in effective teamwork. It is a big, all-or-nothing gamble with clients to "fake it until you make it," or to bluff long enough to get through the project timeline. One false move, and it's all over.

In light of all of this, I've decided to make a commitment to reducing my social media presence and instead seek out real and meaningful interpersonal relationships, fostered face-to-face, in flesh and blood, involving eye-contact and facial expressions. All that scary stuff. I'm not a gregarious person, but nonetheless I refuse to exist in a vapid world of self-absorption. I recommend you do the same. 


Workout Of The Day

Today is a HIIT day for me, so I'll be running a ladder. I'm not sure I've ever blogged about this, which is odd considering that ladders are some of my favorite workouts. "Ladder" is used to denote a great many things in fitness.

One type of ladder involves setting up pylons at various distances in front of a starting line, and then sprinting to the nearest pylon and back, then the second-nearest pylon and back, then the third-nearest and back, and so on. This is an excellent workout, commonly used to train football and basketball teams. But this is not the sort of ladder I intend to do today.

Another type of ladder involves running a series of intervals at a track. We would run various distances in ascending and then descending order (i.e. "up the ladder" and then back "down the ladder"). For example, one common ladder would be to run 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1200m, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, all with 60 seconds rest in between. This is an excellent workout, commonly used to train middle-distance runners. But this is not the sort of ladder I intend to do today.

Still another type of ladder involves intervals of time rather than distance. This kind of ladder can be performed through any sort of cardiovascular training activity: running, biking, swimming, rowing, or any sort of cardio machine. The way it works is that we work our way through various periods of high-exertion. So, for example, we might run for 60 seconds at a hard pace, then jog easily for 60 seconds; then run at a hard pace for 2 minutes, then jog easily for 60 seconds, then 2 minutes hard/1 minute easy, then 3 minutes hard/1 minute easy, and so on. We can construct the ladder in any sort of way, you don't have to go up and down by 1-minute increments. Instead, you can go by 2-minute increments. Or you can do 3mins, 5mins, 7mins, 10mins, and back down. The choice is up to you and your training needs.

It is this last type of ladder that I have in mind for my workout today. Since my goal for this week is to play around with my workouts, I haven't quite decided how I will design today's ladder.

So that's today's workout: Design a ladder of the third type described in this post, and then perform it!


Contemplating The Nuclear Age

I had the opportunity to watch a documentary called Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie. It was yet another in a long line of movies about the development and subsequent tests of the various kinds of atomic bombs. The "twist" in this movie is that - according to the Netflix description, anyway - it contained "recently declassified footage" of nuclear tests. ("Recently" is a relative term, I suppose, since IMDB indicates that the movie was produced in the year 1995.)

True enough, the film did contain a great deal of footage I had never seen before. I'm no expert in nuclear history, but I do have a long-standing casual interest in the topic, so I was surprised to see some of this film footage. A great deal of it would be familiar to most people with a similar casual interest in the atomic bomb, especially the footage of the actual detonations. But some of the interesting additional footage included safety videos for military personnel from the 1950s, survey pictures from the aftermath of the various explosions, the stripping of the vegetation on the Bikini Atoll, construction, footage of soldiers actually conducting the tests - counting down and pressing buttons and the like - and some archival "news reporting." I put that phrase in scare quotes because it is not clear to me that the footage shown was actually ever broadcast publicly at any point.

Beyond the previously unseen footage, the documentary did not actually provide any new information, or even a fresh take on the existing information. It was very low on facts and narration, and was mostly just a lot of archival footage set to spooky music. Some of the scenes depicted at the beginning of the movie weren't even genuine. The movie begins with a cringe-worthy fake WWII-era newsreel. Overall, the documentary was rather bad. If it weren't for the rare footage, it would be completely worthless.

The history of the atomic bomb is a history of how far human beings are willing to go to destroy their own world. Every time I see archival footage of the Bikini Atoll or the Nevada desert circa 1950, I feel a terrible pang of loss. How could human beings so completely and permanently destroy whole corners of the globe?

I recall reading in Edward Teller's Memoirs that after a certain level of power, atom bombs are no longer efficient weapons because the majority of the detonation explodes into outer space. Take a moment to consider how massive that kind of power must be. The force of a nuclear blast incinerates the part of the Earth's atmosphere that is within the blast zone. That is, once the atmosphere is gone, it's gone. The globe may have a sparser atmosphere in the post-nuclear age than it had before atomic weaponry was created.

The radiation released during and after the nuclear explosions in many cases surprised even the scientists who planned the explosions. Some radiation was always expected, but the level of poison released in some of the first post-WWII nuclear tests exceeded all expectations. And yet the detonations continued.

It's horrible to think that people would devise such weapons. It would be shocking in today's world since modern combat it more often than not a precision operation. We're no longer caught up with the notion of laying as much waste as possible to the enemy. These days, it's more about immobilizing specific targets. The atom bomb may well be obsolete in this day and age - and good riddance!

But for fifty years or more, the civilized world was transfixed by the idea of a super-weapon, a bomb so powerful that its detonation would mean the ruin of a whole nation. The US military even committed that atrocity against Japan. Then the bombs got bigger and bigger. The explanations given by scientists and military personnel sound absurd when heard by modern ears. At one point in the movie, a reporter getting ready for what would be the largest nuclear blast in the history of the world at that time tells us that "we" are "all" hoping, for the sake of science and our country, that the blast is a success.

And the unfathomable stupidity of some of these experiments was staggering. One of the detonations involved a bomb placed on the center of three islands which, once detonated, would be fed with additional plutonium from two adjacent islands to feed the chain reaction, in order to create as massive an explosion as possible. This wasn't even a weapons test - no combat situation could ever be conceived in which a bomb would be set up in a tower and fed plutonium through two tubes from tanks 2 miles away. Who authorized such a blatant act of vandalism? Science is none the richer knowing that massive explosions can be fed in such an impracticable way.

The Bottom Line
The most fascinating aspect of the history of the atomic bomb - in my opinion, anyway - is the idea that the government, the military, and the majority of the general public can become so caught-up in a situation that they can't stop to consider the idiocy of what they're doing.

Clearly, there are parallels between the nuclear age and the war on terror, the nuclear age and the war on drugs, the nuclear age and socialized medicine.

But in the heat of the moment, no one wants to think twice.

Workout Of The Day

I'm thinking about doing another round of 8W. Actually, I'm having a hard time deciding what I'd like to do next. Some days I feel I'd like to train harder as a runner; other days, I feel like I'd rather work out at the gym. They each have their pros and cons.

The main benefit of running is that I really love doing it. It's fun to get to the point where I feel fast and fit and every time I head out the door it's as though I'm gliding across the surface of the Earth. It's poetry in motion. The main drawback is that it takes a lot of work to get to that point.

By contrast, being more of a gym denizen is a lot easier from the get-go. By this, I mean that the gym provides more instant gratification. It's clean and nice, and a lot of fun to be there. I don't have to "build up" to any point in order to enjoy myself there. But the drawback is that, ultimately, it's less of a challenge unless I decide to seriously bulk up. (Note: I don't want to seriously bulk up.)

8W is a bit of the best of both worlds. There is plenty of time spent at the gym, and plenty of time spent running.

I guess the sensible solution is to start with 8W as a basis for my next fitness development. That way, I'm reaping the benefits of 8W, but also challenging myself, and taking my workouts into new territory. I'll also have some day-to-day flexibility around how I choose to exercise.

So then it's settled. Today's workout is as follows:

  • 4 x 30 push-ups (various styles)
  • 3 x 10 cable cross-overs
  • 3 x 10 incline press
  • 30 minutes of cardio/running


"You Don't Understand"

Sometimes we are so convinced in our own position that someone else can come up with a perfectly valid counter-point or counter-argument and we will fail to even notice it.

The most common way for this to happen is when we simply filter out any information that fails to uphold our existing point of view. So, for example, when theists encounter compelling philosophical arguments for atheism, they sometimes say, "You just need faith." However valid an appeal to faith might be in its own right, when it is used as a response to an argument, it amounts to nothing more than ignoring the substance of the argument and replacing it with what the folks at LessWrong.com call a "semantic stopsign." Roughly speaking, it is just a verbal signal to venture no further along that line of reasoning.

Baked into the theistic formulation of faith is the addendum that we don't question faith. So a theist's appeal to faith isn't so much an example of overlooking a counter-argument as it is simply ignoring it. In some sense, we can even forgive a theist for doing this since one cannot adhere to some religions without blind faith. It is a simple choice not to venture into fearsome forest of rationality. We might disagree with that choice, but we can respect a person's having made it.

Suppose, on the other hand, that Jones made an argument in favor of X, and Smith provided a counter-argument. What do we make of a situation in which Jones responds to Smith as follows: "You don't understand." ?

One possibility is that Smith very well doesn't understand. Smith could then ask for clarification, and Jones could provide it. This cycle could repeat itself until Smith either understands Jones' position and has no objections, or until Smith can provide a counter-argument that reflects a true understanding of Jones' argument.

Now, suppose Smith asks for clarification and Jones never provides it, but rather continues to reiterate his original proposition along with the claim that Smith "doesn't understand." What might we make of this?

It's possible in this case that Jones doesn't understand Smith's counter-argument. If so, it would be incumbent upon Smith to clarify it. In order to do that, however, Smith must make Jones understand at least that Smith understands Jones' original argument and that Jones doesn't understand Smith's counter-argument. If Jones never understands Smith's counter-argument then it might best be left alone.

It's also possible that Jones' accusation is a face-saving mechanism. It's possible that Jones does indeed understand Smith's counter-argument and cannot readily address it. Rather than acknowledge that Smith has a good point that Jones will have to think about, Jones can simply engage in a charade, leading Smith on as though Smith is the one who doesn't understand. 

Workout Of The Day

By the time Friday comes around each week, we're often so ready for the weekend that we race home from work and get the party started immediately. Those of us who are committed to fitness sometimes feel a slight pang if we have to delay the party an hour or two in order to get our workout in. If it's any compensation, one thing I really enjoy about Friday afternoon gym workouts is that the gym tends to be empty. That makes the workout a little bit more pleasant.

On the other hand, if you're in a happy mood and looking forward to your workout, then an empty gym is just icing on the cake.

Today, hit the cardio machines for 30-40 minutes. But before that, try three new strength exercises - something you've either never done before, or haven't done in at least two months.


Poor Gene Callahan

Gene Callahan scoffs at the fact that things that cannot be seen are unlikely to be true.

What I said was:
If something truly is UNSEEN then either we’re not seeing or it doesn’t exist. And the longer it remains unseen, the less likely we should consider its existence. Right?
His retort:
Right: so the Pythagorean theorem, having failed to make itself visible for 2500 years, must be rejected.
I'm sure we all have off-days, but this is pretty serious. How has Gene Callahan gone through so many years of life, and so many years in academia, having never observed the Pythagorean Theorem?  

Workout Of The Day

Drat, I have to work late. But I knew I had to work late, so I decided to come to work prepared. My gym is just two doors down, which means getting there comes at a very small cost to me. I brought my gym bag, I brought my snacks. I should be able to do this without any problem. We'll see how it goes!

Here's what I have planned:
  • 3 x 12 push-up-to-burpee-to-pull-up
  • 3 x 50 ab machine crunches
  • 3 x 50 back extensions
  • 30-40 minutes of cardio-machine cardio

Improv Trance #2

The adventure continues. I put this backing track together for a friend, but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to give it a try, myself. I haven't heard his take yet, but I will post it if he gives me permission.

Until then, mine will have to suffice...


Rob Ford's Impact On Life In Toronto

Readers of Stationary Waves will not find it particularly surprising that I think Rob Ford's having consumed illegal recreational drugs is morally reprehensible. Drug use is a topic upon which I have expounded at length, and so for now I will leave that aside.

What I would hope Torontonians would ask themselves at this point is how Rob Ford's illegal drug use has impacted their lives. Let us concede that every nasty allegation leveled at Ford is true. Let us assume the worst.

The question to ask oneself is, how might we expect these revelations to change our expectations for the future? In other words, knowing that Rob Ford is a crack-head, how should residents of Toronto expect tomorrow to unfold? I'm not talking about how things will/should unfold at city hall, I'm talking about how the average Torontonian's life is impacted.

I think it's safe to say that Toronto residents, by and large, are completely unaffected by their mayor's being or not-being a crack head.

And this is the important truth that I would like people to begin to understand. It's not that being a crack head is insignificant or that Rob Ford hasn't heaped embarrassment upon the city. Let us accept that it is significant and that he has embarrassed the city. Even so, life in Toronto continues to proceed pretty much as usual.

That's important because it highlights how truly irrelevant politicians are. It highlights how little politics really does impact anyone's life.

Granted, there are limits to how far I can take this point, but within those limits, politics is basically unimportant to most people. Think about that the next time you see a political scandal.

Probably No "Origin" Of Twelve-String Guitars

The Wikipedia page on twelve-string guitars provides scant information for those curious about historical details of the instrument.

In particular, I find that the information regarding the twelve-string's origin strains credulity:
The exact origin of the modern twelve-string guitar is not certain;[1] however the most likely ancestor is the Mexican bajo sexto,[2] a six-course bass stringed instrument used in norteƱo music of that region, and traditionally tuned like a conventional guitar doubled at the lower octave (like a modern 8-string bass with two additional strings).
Following the first link provides a slightly more realistic picture (emphasis added):
... [T]he 12-string guitar was developed by Italian luthiers laboring in the guitar workshops of companies like Oscar Schmidt, Harmony, and Regal in New York and Chicago. Italian music has a long history of wire-string, double course instruments like the mandolin and because many of the builders were of Italian descent, it would be a natural experiment to double the strings of a standard six-string guitar. One of the most famous 12-strings in the world has a strong Italian connection. According to family legend, Leadbelly custom-ordered his famous Stella 12-string from Fulvio Pardini, Who worked for the Oscar Schmidt company in New Jersey.

The other theory is that the 12-string arrived in the U. S. from Mexico. Latin America has a long history of double-course variants of the standard six-string guitar. These include instruments like the tiple, the charango, and the cuatro. Mexico has a particularly large number of guitar variations ranging from the diminutive guitarra de golpe to the massive guitarron.
The most likely story (to me) seems to be that the instrument was more inevitable than anything else. Classical instruments of ancient origin, such as the mandolin and the lute, involve strings paired in octaves or courses.

Depending on how you look at it, twelve-string guitars are probably as old as guitars themselves. Lutes, which are a likely precursor to guitars, are traditionally strung in courses. Various guitar-like instruments have probably been invented and used across thousands of years, incorporating various numbers of strings strung in various courses or not. To describe the "origin" of this kind of instrument would be to claim a false starting point. Most likely, people have been experimenting with the infinite variations of strung-and-fretted instruments for 6000 years or more.

If you want to consider how far down the rabbit hole actually goes, spend some time searching YouTube for performances of harp guitars. Here's an interesting sample of what you'll find:

Workout Of The Day

It's got to be cardio today, and hopefully that means running.

I say "hopefully" because it appears that winter has finally hit the metroplex and when it's cold outside, I feel reluctant to run.

I say "cold" beccause, by local standards, it is cold. But, in fact, it's above freezing, there is no snow on the ground, there are few clouds in the sky, the sun is shining, and it generally looks like a beautiful November day out there.

I say "few clouds in the sky" because - although I cannot see a single cloud from my current vantage point - the sky is so large in Texas that if you are able to get an unobstructed, 360-degree view of it, you're always sure to see some kind of cloud, somewhere, even if off in the most-distant distance.

I say "360-degree view" despite the fact that what I am actually describing is a hemispherical view, which requires three-dimensional, not two-dimensional, terminology, but it is sometimes more intuitive to describe things in familiar as opposed to precise language.

So yeah... anyway... go for a run today.


My House Is Better Than The White House

The first link in today's "Some Links" post is a recent blog post from Bryan Caplan, in which he, as I previously mentioned, encourages economists to learn from other disciplines.

Below the post, in one of the comments, respondent "Brad" says, "We need another Milton Friedman to make learning about econ and capitalism 'cool' again."

While I empathize with Brad, I believe this is the wrong idea. I don't really think we need to make capitalism cool again. I don't think we need to make libertarianism cool. I don't think we need to focus our attention on a celebrity or get caught up in the cult of personality or the general team-cheer-leading of partisan politics. The benefits of liberty generally - and market freedom in particular - are simple: less death, starvation, misery, and human need in the world. That is already plenty "cool." Everyone wants that.

Of course, something that also seems to be cool is when celebrities - famous for such fabulous contributions to the human cultural landscape as Get Him To The Greek - utilize their position as celebrities to promote a political ideology. Russell Brand recently made some headlines by expressing some of his political views, for example.

This is the problem. The problem is not that we have too few Milton Friedmans, but rather that we have too many Russell Brands. And Tom Morellos. And Susan Sarandons. And Michael Moores. And, yes, too many Milton Friedmans, also. This is the problem, and the prescription is the exact opposite of what "Brad" suggests.

The problem is that we have somehow created a cultural artifact of the act of declaring what the government should be designed to do. We expect our celebrities to provide us with thoughtful opinions of how the world can be changed. We watch TED talks on Netflix for chrissakes. We watch talking heads on television. And then we go home and we parrot what we've seen. We start talking about if only the government could be designed this way or that, if only we could "educate" people to believe the right things and act the right way. If only!

But, of course, saying it doesn't make it true.

Today, the cultural landscape is one in which everybody, no matter how insignificant their fleeting contribution to human progress might be, is prompted for their views on how the government might be changed. In short, what "Brad" wants to see is more of the same, and I don't think we need that.

Instead, I think we ought to devote my time to analyzing what would make our own lives better. Imagine what would happen if all you saw on TV were celebrities carefully analyzing what set of conditions would greatly improve their lives at home. Then, you'd turn on Good Morning America and hear Soledad O'Brien or whoever-the-heck talking about what sorts of recent changes have come about that made her own personal life much better.

In short, imagine what would happen if all the space in life filled up with political blathering were instead filled up with blathering about life at home. Less The Atlantic and more Better Homes and Gardens.

In such a landscape, I think what you might find is that people would devote more time to thinking about and improving their own personal lives. I think what you might find is a culture of people who are interested in making every minute at home count, a nation filled with a desire to improve their marriages, raising their children well, experiencing a little more career success, cooking better meals, playing more games, etc.

Okay, here's the punchline: I believe so completely that freedom, virtue, and personal responsibility are completely intertwined that I can only conclude that people whose primary focus is improving their quality of life will naturally tend toward... freedom, virtue, and personal responsibility. It's easy to buy into socialism when you're thinking about grand designs for a country, for other people, etc. But when the scope of your vision is limited to your own household, socialism becomes much more difficult to justify: You'll get a subsidy of some kind, but you'll have to pay for it somehow. So then it's no longer a subsidy, it's a trade-off. And since it's a trade-off, it's now a question of what gives you the biggest bang for your buck, and that's never socialism.

In other words, we need to spend less time obsessing over how to fix the country and more time obsessing over how to improve life at home. If we do that job correctly, then the country will fix itself.

Some Links

Bryan Caplan encourages economists to learn from other disciplines.

Kurt Schuler admonishes anonymous bloggers and commenters. I fully endorse this position. As much as The Anonymous Reach accuses Bryan Caplan of being "one of the most intellectually-dishonest [sic] people," at least Caplan signs his name to his opinion. How truly dishonest it is to accuse others of being dishonest (calling them liars) or even autistic while refusing to sign your name to your accusations! Shame on Reach and others like him.

Greg Mankiw amusingly tells us how to improve on time estimates made by research assistants.

Via Robert Murphy, Stephan Kinsella highlights an excellent class-action blackmail opportunity that exists now that ObamaCare has gone into effect. Perverse incentives indeed.

Lubos Motl shows (with data) that the recent typhoon you've been reading about - while truly a natural disaster - is not as aberrational as the media would have you believe.

Workout Of The Day

It's getting cold and wintery out there. I actually brought a jacket to work today. Imagine! A jacket!

Anyway, during times like these, it is best to plan for the workout you are willing to do, as opposed to the workout you would like desperately to do. In other words, while I would love to get out there and do some more glorious running, the truth of the matter is that if I rely on my own will-power to run this afternoon, it just won't happen.

My solution: Pack a gym bag and plan for a gym-based workout. Here's what I've lined up for myself:

  • 3 x 35 push-ups
  • 3 x 13 pull-ups
  • 3 x 20 hanging leg-raises
  • 40 minutes on a stationary bike or elliptical machine (whichever is available)


I'm Stunned

Simon Grey makes quite an accusation:
The current open borders movement—a libertarian movement if there ever was one—is basically in the process of getting co-opted by politically connected big businesses that want to use the movement to pressure the government into expanding the labor base to drive down the price of American labor.
I have no idea where Grey is getting this, but I would appreciate if he cited his sources on this.

The Moral Case Is The Weakest Case

Robert Murphy responds to Gene Callahan on legislating morality.

Callahan's position is that no one really means that it's wrong to legislate morality since, after all, murder is illegal precisely because it is immoral to kill others.

Murphy's position, more effectively described in this comment, is that immorality is neither a necessary condition for legislation (since plenty of amoral things can be legislated, such as for example the procedure for electing officials), nor is it a sufficient condition (since plenty of immoral things are entirely legal, such as talking back to your mother).

If we go no further, it is entirely obvious that Murphy has the stronger position. Callahan doesn't even bother to argue his position. Rather, he seems to take it as self-evident that every act of legislation is a codification of morality. As yet, he has not directly responded to Murphy's necessary/sufficient criticism, but that is likely only because he hasn't had time yet.

Morality Is A Weak Case For Law
At any rate, the matter simply comes down to this: If the only reason things are illegal is because we find them immoral then all I have to do in order to deprive you of your rights is make a moral case against them.

Thus, if I can effectively argue that it's immoral for you to drive a Rolls-Royce while there are people in your city who are forced to take public transportation, then I have the one thing I need to take away your Rolls-Royce: A moral case for my actions. (If you think this is a stretch, then ask yourself what modern Progressivism's core arguments against capitalism state.)

Thus, if I can effectively argue that it is immoral for someone with your character flaws to freely roam the streets and endanger others, then I have the one thing I need to justify killing you: A moral case for my actions. (If you think this is a stretch, consider the death penalty.)

In truth, murder wasn't always illegal. A century or so ago, people were still settling their scores through duels. Duels were not free-for-alls, nor did the winners of duels immediately go to jail. Instead, there were accepted standards for dueling. There was a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you cheated, you would go to jail, but if you won a duel "fair and square," then you were well within your rights.

While we now consider duels to be archaic and somewhat savage, at the time, they were far less savage than the alternative: chaos and cold-blooded murder. Duels served to preserve the social order when men came to blows. So, killing wasn't always illegal, but it has always fallen under the purview of the law, and the reason is because legislating these sorts of things enables individuals to settle their scores in a way that prevents a complete breakdown of social institutions.

And while doing so would be out of scope here, I can make a similar argument for private property.

Obviously nothing I've written here will be enough to sway anyone from believing that all legislation is the legislation of morality. Plenty of people believe in socialism and will reject my counter-example. Plenty of people support the death penalty and will reject my other counter-example.

But I do hope that most liberty-minded people hold out resistance to both ideas and that they can recognize that justifying any kind of legislation on purely moral grounds is an incredibly weak case for that legislation. I hope liberty-minded people will be able to see that we enforce rights to life and property not because it is moral to do so (although, I believe it is), but because it best preserves the social order.

P.S. - I wanted to title this post "Why Is Murder Illegal?" but I figured at the last minute that such a title would be far too inflammatory, and would merely distract from the point I'm trying to make.


Trance Improv #1: Midnight Snack

I'm starting a new series of videos on my YouTube channel.

For a long time now, I've been inspired by another YouTube artist who goes by the account name "shatnershairpiece." He has a knack for improvising, and he is really good at doing all kinds of interesting things over a vamp. Many of his improvisations are over the ten-minute mark, and quite a large number of them are over half an hour long. Some are even longer than an hour. It's quite impressive, and incredibly inspiring.

I've now started my own series, which I call Trance Improv, named basically for what it is: improvising for extended periods of time and getting lost in the music. This first one, which I've called "Midnight Snack," gets off to a rough start, but eventually I find my groove. Hopefully the next ones will be much better.

On a personal note, I am essentially using this series to practice improvising, to search out new ways of expressing myself, to get lost in melody, and to play in the moment. It's as much about learning as it is about performing. Perhaps it is more about learning than performing.

I know this kind of music isn't for everyone, so take it for what it is. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. This is the kind of thing that only some people will want to experience. If you're more interested in concise compositions, brief samples, snippets, or ultra-precise shredding where nobody ever plays a bad note, this is probably not for you. For all others, charge forward!

Rhesus 25 - Chunky Cheese

Those of you following me on social media may already be aware of the existence of my latest Rhesus, number twenty-five, "Chunky Cheese."

This piece started out as a simple guitar tone experiment. I was attempting to see what I could do to generate heavy distorted rhythm guitar tones. Once I started working with the music, I realized that I had space to experiment with clean tones as well. Then the piece just continued to grow.

But, with the emphasis being on rhythm guitar parts, you may find the lead work is not my usual caliber. I do like the quieter solo, however.



Why Don't I Play For The NBA?

There I was, watching an NBA game on TV, when suddenly one of the players did something that I thought was really stupid. I yelled at the television, hoping that the player would hear me and act differently, but of course there was no use. Sure enough, he took a really bad shot, and it was totally blocked by an opposing player, who then managed to retrieve the ball and charge to the other side of the court for an easy dunk.

The whole thing was obvious to me. I could see it coming a mile away. So why don't I play for the NBA?

Note carefully: I do not mean to ask, "Why don't I practice for years and get good enough at basketball that I can be drafted by the NBA and play better than the player who blew it?" Nor do I mean to ask why the NBA hasn't already drafted me.

No, I'm asking a much simpler/dumber question: Why don't I go right this very minute to the Mavericks' head office, submit my resume this afternoon, and start work Monday as the newest member of the team? Why don't I play for the NBA? Stop snickering.

What Happened? Why Didn't It Work?
Part of a recent Time article reads as follows:
Just a few weeks earlier, Obama had appeared in the Rose Garden to announce a similarly stunning reversal in messaging, this time about the state of the website designed to allow people to sign up for the plan. “No one is more frustrated than I am,” he said on October 21 of the technical problems that had rendered the website for the Affordable Care Act inoperable. For the three weeks prior, Obama had dismissed the plague of technical issues as mere “glitches,” and complained that Republicans were “rooting for failure” when they were discussed.
In principle, health care reform is easy. The insurance companies are rich, so we'll just force them to cover people. This will create a moral hazard among the uninsured, so we'll just force them to buy insurance, and if anyone slips through the cracks, we'll just fill in the cracks with federal subsidies. You know, spread the wealth around.

So it can be frustrating when it doesn't work, you know? No one is more frustrated than the president. I mean, think about how frustrating it must be to tell people exactly what needs to be done, and have them basically not do it at all, or to screw it up completely.

It would be a lot like watching an NBA game on TV, knowing exactly what the player needs to do, and watching him screw it up anyway.

The Theory Is The Hole In The Theory
Let's say the NBA hired me, and I started playing professional basketball tomorrow.

Okay, full disclosure: I am not any good at basketball. Try as I might, I will never be able to play basketball at the same level as even the worst NBA players. But here's the important part: This is true, even if the NBA hires me. Get that? Just because someone at the NBA suddenly declares that I am an NBA basketball player does not actually mean that I will be able to do the job. I'll be a basketball player in name only. Even if I have the uniform, and the salary, and the entourage of gold-diggers, and even if I get to be part of the starting line-up, even then I won't be able to do the job. They would have hired me to fail, and fail is exactly what I would do.

No matter how much I might know what to do when I see an NBA game on television, and no matter who declares that I am the next starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks, and no matter how much everyone really and truly wants me to be the greatest NBA player in the world, it's not going to happen.

Now back to Barack Obama. He knows what to do to reform health care. I summarized it above. (See? Even I know what to do!) Not only does he know what to do, he's the boss, so he can say what to do, he can proclaim it, he can declare that this is how it is going to be done from now on.

And despite everyone knowing what to do, and despite the giant proclamation the declares, once and for all, that this is what we are going to do, it still fails.

Why? Do you think about that? Do you wonder why someone might fail despite the fact that we all know what needs to be done and someone important has declared that it will be done? Why would we turn around and discover that we have failed?

Average Joes Can't Win NBA Games; Governments Can't Reform Health Care
The answer is obvious. We can dress it up in the stupid, over-wrought language of Hayek or Buchanan if we want to, but the fundamental principle is obvious.

No matter how hard I try, no matter who declares what, I'm not going to win any NBA games, not ever. I won't, period. Even if I know what to do with my hands and with the ball and all of that, even if everyone gets it, I'm not going to win.

This is not a "knowledge problem." This is not a "political problem." This is not a "governance problem." This is a Ryan-Isn't-A-Friggin'-Basketball-Player problem. Get it? I don't magically turn into an awesome basketball player just because somebody tells me what to do and gives me the authority to do it.

I'm not just belly-aching about government here, either. I'm not saying that the government should just do things my way instead of Barack Obama's way. Really, I'm not. What I'm saying is that you can't just say that the government should do something and then suddenly watch perfection unfold in front of you.

If you could do that - if all it took was knowing what to do and having the opportunity to do it - then we'd all be friggin' NBA basketball players. The reason we're not NBA players is not lack of knowledge and opportunity, it's our lack of literal years of expertise doing something better than even all the other people who do it better than anyone else.

I mean, how many times are we going to watch this train wreck happen? How many times are we going to convince ourselves that all we need to do to fix any problem is figure out what to do and the declare that the government will do it?

Let us concede that whatever stupid thing we think will solve the problem actually will solve it. That is, let's ignore the major challenges of the health care sector as assume that the only problem is that dastardly insurance companies won't offer cheap coverage to people who need it. Let us concede that the only thing that needs to be done is that we pass a law that spells out how to expand insurance coverage to the whole entire universe, and then nominate some sort of Health Insurance Czar.

What the flying-frog makes us think that this is all it takes???

Who do you think you are? Oprah?

Workout Of The Day

On the one hand, it's Friday. On the other hand, I could really use a run today. So that's what's happening today - I'm going for a run. 30-40 minutes. You should do the same.


Two Approaches To Modern Music

There seem to be two philosophies regarding guitar tone, and I alluded to them the other day. In that post, I suggested that the landscape of guitar and amplifier modeling technology seems to be focused on (1) outboard modelers that connect to a traditional electric guitar, and (2) "modeling guitar" technology such as the Line 6 Variax or the Fender/Roland G-5 VG Stratocaster.

How (2) differs from (1) is that these modeling guitars utilize a different kind of pickup which produces a different kind of electronic response, positioning the signal to be better-suited for sonic synthesis. The technologies of the Variax and the Roland synth guitars or synthesizers themselves are similar, even if the specifics of the software and audio processing are different.

Anyway, as I was saying, there appear to be two philosophies here.

Some people seem to approach all this fancy technology from the standpoint that it enables them to recreate any classic tone or classic instrument they may have in mind. That is to say, they want to replicate a set of existing sounds: a Les Paul through a Marshall stack, a Jerry Jones electric sitar, a Resonator guitar, and so forth. Any pickup combination, any great amp, any great tone they may have heard before is at their fingertips for instant replication. By far, this represents the most common view.

A few people out there - not many, as far as I can see - embrace the more revolutionary aspect of all this technology. That is to say, they're not interested in merely replicating a cornucopia of classic tones. They want to create new tones. Have you ever heard a resonator guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo playing sweep-arpeggios in unison with a xylophone? Only if you've been listening to 80s-era Zappa, right? How about a nylon string guitar through digital distortion? What other unlikely combination can you think up?

These two philosophies about guitar tone seem to extend to philosophies about music in general. The vast majority of people who are interested in making music want to make music that sounds like something. They want to use a palette of classic sounds to recreate the musical tones and feelings associated with their favorite records. They want to repeat what has previously been written. They write a lot of great songs, but they break no new ground.

Then there are those who are interested in exploring what other sorts of musical ideas exist out there. Writing a thrash metal song to rival the material on Master of Puppets holds absolutely no appeal for them. Following a modern music verse/chorus framework is similarly unappealing. What they're looking for is something new, something unheard. While much of their experimental music meets with critical objection, they are the only ones pushing art forward into new directions.

There is a relationship between these groups, and it's not often a good one. I think the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of people want to hear time-tested sounds indicates that the innovators have an uphill climb. It's easy for an innovator to look down his nose at artists who are unoriginal or audiences who are interested in unoriginal art; but it is far easier for an unoriginal, majoritarian, paint-by-numbers society to look down their collective nose at anything different.

But this kind of antagonism is part of human society. As a collective, we want to protect traditional institutions and push away ideas that are too revolutionary for comfort. Naturally, the difficulty is knowing in advance which new ideas contain hidden treasure, and embracing them early and enthusiastically, while protecting the time-tested ideas that ought not be reversed.