Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 15, 2017

Four Things

1. Here's some good news in the fight against hemophilia:

The therapy is a genetically engineered virus.

It contains the instructions for factor VIII that Jake was born without.

The virus is used like a postman to deliver the genetic instructions to the liver, which then starts producing factor VIII.

In the first trials, low doses of gene therapy had no effect.

Of the 13 patients given higher doses, all are off their haemophilia medication a year on and 11 are producing near-normal levels of factor VIII.

Prof John Pasi, who led the trials at Barts and Queen Mary University of London, said: "This is huge."
The news story also links to a peer-reviewed study on the impressive results.

2. The following comes from a story about the tentative beginnings and eventual wild success of the ready-made sandwich:
A delicious muffuletta. Image cropped from collage in Wikipedia article about the best kind of sandwich known to man.
Every supermarket jumped on the trend. Up and down the country, chefs and bakers and assorted wheeler-dealers stopped whatever they were doing and started making sandwiches on industrial estates. The sandwich stopped being an afterthought, or a snack bought out of despair, and became the fuel of a dynamic, go-getting existence. "At Amstrad the staff start early and finish late. Nobody takes lunches -- they may get a sandwich slung on their desk," Alan Sugar told an audience at City University in 1987. "There's no small-talk. It's all action." By 1990, the British sandwich industry was worth £1bn.
Now they're so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine not being able to find one.

3. The following is one of a series of answers to a query about amusing software bugs:
[A]n image thumbnailer on a website for a very popular all-girl band ... was "smart" and cropped images to the right aspect ratio based on entropy in the image. In practice, this manifested itself as a foot fetish -- if a photo included feet, it would centre the thumbnail on the feet almost every time. The gallery index pages looked quite odd.
I didn't read much of the rest of the thread, but in case it isn't there, I'll nominate one I stumbled across while trying to solve a software problem: "Dwarf Fortress Starting During apt-get upgrade." (Spoiler/Linux pro tip: Make sure you don't stomp on the name of a major system utility when you install software.)

4. Sitting at my desk and finishing up a report for a client one afternoon, I heard a noise and experienced an odd sensation of movement or vibration. I didn't know what it was, but it got me to look around the house and outside for an explanation. Finding nothing, I concluded that there must have been an explosion somewhere in the vicinity.

A few days later, I learned that, thanks to the most intense earthquake in Delaware's history, I now know what a distant earthquake feels like.

-- CAV


Two Powerful Picks on Choice

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I've been thinking off and on about choice a lot lately, so the title of a recent post on the subject by Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions piqued my interest. I am glad it did, and I think others will find it valuable, too. The post offers advice on re-framing both hard choices and the "no-brainers" that often lead us to say things like, "I had no choice." Here's Moroney's summary:

[I]t matters for your long-term happiness and sense of efficacy that when you think you have "no choice" you consider the option you've rejected out of hand, and make a conscious, considered decision based on all of the values at stake. Because you really do have a choice, and it matters for you that you know it. [bold added]
The earlier part of the post goes a long way towards helping the reader see how to discover these options, or even develop others by considering them, sometimes even if the options are bad. To be clear, this isn't the only respect in which that knowledge matters.

Moroney's post reminded me of a short TED talk on hard choices I've known about for a while, but hadn't gotten around to listening to. In that talk, philosopher Ruth Chang focuses on hard choices. These are the kind, often (but not always) at life's crossroads, for which the options are on a par within one's hierarchy of values, but which are not easily comparable.

Ruth Chang, discussing one of her hard choices. Click image for talk.

Chang, too, offer a better way of looking at these than comes naturally to many people:
Now, people who don't exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. I drifted into being a lawyer. I didn't put my agency behind lawyering. I wasn't for lawyering. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment -- pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option -- to determine what they do. So the lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that's why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend. [bold added]
What great advice!

A good thing about the advice that might not be apparent, since most people who will seek it out are facing a big decision, is that it can even apply to a past decision, such as a good one made that one might have had lingering doubts about for whatever reason. In my case, Chang helped me realize that I didn't fully embrace a hard decision I had to make some years ago. I'd come to terms with parts of it over time, but, if you listen to the talk, I think you will see that there can be a much happier outcome than just "coming to terms" with the decision one has made about a hard choice.

-- CAV


Jones to Spare GOP Blushes

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I was relieved to learn this morning that, Roy Moore lost in Alabama. Moore was an atrocious candidate for reasons I previously gave here, but a recent article in National Review underscored just how bad:

Map via Wikipedia.
Moore believes he's a law unto himself. For those unfamiliar with Moore's history, let's take a quick walk down memory lane. He's been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The first time, in 2003, he defied a federal court order requiring him to remove a granite Ten Commandments monument -- a monument he'd commissioned -- from the Alabama Supreme Court building. The second time, he was suspended without pay after issuing an order to Alabama probate judges declaring that they had a "ministerial duty" not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He issued this order six months after the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Constitution protected a right to same-sex marriage. [formatting and links in original]
Note that the above was written by a Christian, and while I disagree with his contention that harming the "pro-life" cause would be a bad thing, his overall argument, regarding the damage Moore would have inflicted on the GOP, is correct. In addition to Roy Moore setting a dangerous precedent, he would have been a convenient millstone around the necks of Republicans and a distraction in the fight for any of the better causes they might have an opportunity to advance. David French correctly notes the following:
The GOP will enjoy its majority in the short term with or without Moore. It will confirm judges between now and 2018 with or without Moore. It cannot, however, continue to drift toward vile, malicious ignorance and hope to remain the majority party...
The GOP, and the cause of limited government -- they are not the same -- have dodged a bullet, thanks to a combination of principled Republicans and those Democrats who rallied around his opponent.

-- CAV


Licensing vs. Free Speech Update

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The good news? Engineer Mats Järlström of Oregon, aided by the good folks of the Institute for Justice, has won a round of the litigation he has rightly pursued after officials of his state sued him for stating the truth without their permission. As noted here in April:

The state fined the man $500.00 -- while ignoring everything of substance he said about a traffic hazard he was trying to help a local traffic authority correct[.]
The better news is that this fight isn't over. According to the Washington Post:
Image of signal still being sent regarding freedom of speech, via Pixabay.
The state has already cut a check to Järlström for $500, but the traffic-camera saga is not over. Oregon wants the lawsuit thrown out, but Järlström and his attorneys from the Institute for Justice want the law itself declared unconstitutional. They say others have been improperly investigated and fined for protected speech.
My thanks and congratulations to Mr. Järlström and his legal team. May their further efforts successfully aid the cause of liberty.

-- CAV


A Master-Class in How Not to Oppose Subsidies

Monday, December 11, 2017

Jazz Shaw of Hot Air has a complaint about some "renewable" energy subsidies, but it isn't what you might expect from an ally of capitalism:

If you think leftists are the only ones who complain about recycling or renewable energy that makes actual economic sense, read Jazz Shaw. (Image from Wikipedia article on black liquor.)
["Black liquor"] isn't actually a "new" form of energy. Paper mills have been burning it since the 30s and there have been complaints about the burning of black liquor for years now. The Washington Post featured a number of paper mills engaging in this type of scheme back in 2013, finding them in various spots around the nation. And they're all using the corrosive substance as a way to either get around or even profit from government mandates requiring the use of renewable energy.

...

It's not just the pollution angle that has people angry. This scheme is allowing the paper mills to not only comply with, but exceed government mandates for using renewable energy. This means that they're not only saving money on fuel and earning subsidies, but they can sell renewable energy credits to other industries (such as fossil fuel plants) who can't meet their government quotas. This is the same sort of scheme that goes on with the RINs (renewable identification numbers) in the ethanol game.

At any rate, next time somebody wants to talk to you about all the progress we're making on renewable energy, ask them how much of it is coming from black liquor in their state. It's yet another example of government mandate programs running off the rails and being wide open to fraud and abuse. [link in original, bold added, other minor format edits]
Let that last sentence, in bold, sink in for a moment.

Of all the things to complain about with a government subsidy that is fraudulent to begin with, the fact that a company  inadvertently gets extra rewards for an intelligent work-around to a nasty waste problem is about the last thing I'd complain about. Indeed, unlike the "renewables" (read: unreliables) these subsidies are intended for, black liquor actually represents an economical source of energy, as witness the fact that it has been in use for nearly a century. Unfortunately, Shaw comes across like he is an environmentalist himself. This is  because his post amounts to complaining that the subsidies aren't being directed efficiently enough to those who would continue throwing money down the rat-hole of "renewable" energy. Worse, in his last paragraph, he basically dares leftists to fix this problem. His time would be much more productive if he stopped worrying about what they think. Instead, he should focus on reaching an audience receptive to the idea that the use of black liquor, despite its flaws, represents a counterexample to the argument that government meddling is necessary to cause people to find creative ways to extract energy or control pollution.

Government subsidies are immoral no matter who gets them, because, as wealth-redistribution schemes, they necessitate picking someone's pocket, which is exactly the opposite to what the government ought to be doing. Likewise for mandates, in which the government, rather than protecting freedom so that we might live according to our best judgement, issues marching orders. The real problem here is that there are mandates and subsidies in the first place, not that someone has managed to game the system for a tidy profit. Worse, from the standpoint of improving the situation, Shaw has opted to focus on some penny-ante profiteering rather than on the greater problem, and missed an opportunities to (a) name that real problem (misuse of government) and (b) suggest an alternative (such as better enforcement of property rights) that offers us more freedom and a real way to prevent companies or individuals from poisoning land, water, or air.

I'm not thrilled with paper companies getting subsidies, either, but at least what they are doing is in line with how pollution problems would get solved in a capitalist economy. Rather than complaining that they get free money that shouldn't be on the table in the first place, or don't live up to some improper government mandate or other, we should applaud their enterprise and work to put an end, altogether, to "green" command-and-control schemes by our government.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 08, 2017

Four Things

I haven't written about the kids in a while, so here we go...

1. There is a small freezer with popsicles in the waiting area where I take my kids for gymnastics on weekends. Usually, I let them pick one out to take home for a dessert as we leave.

But on the weekend of Halloween, I'd bought a pumpkin pie at my wife's request and I had told the kids about it in the morning. It was home, ready to eat, and eagerly anticipated by the kids, until...

... a little girl pranced by and taunted them with her popsicle : "I have a popsicle."

Suddenly, the dessert markets were in turmoil, with pumpkin pies in free-fall against the mighty popsicle.

Image of status symbol via Unsplash.
My four-year-old son became upset. Both kids demanded a trip to the freezer. Dad's poll numbers were looking pretty grim.

"Not tonight. We're having pumpkin pie. Remember?"

They tried to wheedle a popsicle out of me a little, but I wasn't going to budge. Ultimately, they calmed down, possibly aided by a reminder-bribe of whipped cream on top.

Then the girl came by again, and repeated herself.

"We're having pumpkin pie!" my son replied.

What passes for sanity in the life of a dad with two small kids had returned.

2. My daughter, who looks a lot like my mother did as a child, resembles her in another way, too: She likes stilts.

She quickly picked up that skill while we visited my baby brother's family over Thanksgiving. And she'll have a set of her own on Christmas, thanks to my mother.

3. My daughter, always imaginative, came up with a funny turn of phrase one evening at bedtime. She declared that she was going to be a "bed potato" that night.

4. I can also be imaginative. My wife likes to have little elves sitting around the house during the holidays to keep an eye out for Santa. It was never a tradition in my family, so it slips my mind every year until she brings it up. This year, Mrs. Van Horn got them out while she worked from home one day. Apparently distracted from putting them on station by a call, she forgot about them, and left them lying on the coffee table.

The next morning, my daughter spotted the elves, apparently asleep on the job, and asked about it.

"They're taking a nap because they just got here, and have to stay up for the next few weeks to keep an eye on you. Let them sleep."

-- CAV


Failing Faster in Communication

Thursday, December 07, 2017

I recently ran across an article that might have been much more useful to me about twenty years ago -- It's specifically dating advice -- but which has applications outside dating, as its author briefly acknowledges. Its title, "Fuck Yes or No," plays on a common problem I found particularly annoying about the whole process, namely wishy-washy answers:

You need to "fail faster," and not dwell on this.
Frustration with this grey area also drives many people to unnecessary manipulation, drama and game-playing. This is where you get rules about making men pay for this many dates before you can become intimate. Or how men need to transition from attraction phase to comfort phase by qualifying three times before they're allowed to commence an escalation ladder.

These things may seem clever and exciting to some people who are stuck or frustrated. But this dating advice misses the point. If you're in the grey area to begin with, you've already lost.

Let me ask again: Why would you ever be excited to be with someone who is not excited to be with you? If they're not happy with you now, what makes you think they'll be happy to be with you later? Why do you make an effort to convince someone to date you when they make no effort to convince you? [bold in original]
This advice is brilliant, because it uses the value judgements of both people in a proposed interaction to cut through the fog generated by common practices (like not giving a direct rejection), uncertainty about social mores, uncertainty about one's level of attraction (or attractiveness) to the another, and just plain indecision (about which Mark Manson has interesting things to say later on). The gist, and why this has broader applications than dating, is that one should ideally be genuinely interested in making an offer, and should really only be interested in dealing with others who show an enthusiastic response. Everything else is a waste of time. If two people really are interested in the same thing, they will find a way to at least try to get it.

This isn't to say this advice can be applied to just any interpersonal transaction, but, carefully applied, it can save lots of time and energy.

-- CAV