Thanksgiving

Of all the American holidays I like Thanksgiving the best. For starters, it’s a secular holiday. Secular in the true sense of the term — not religious — and not in the way that secular is understood in India where it means “not Hindu.” In India, Islamic or Christian is secular but Hindu is not secular. In India, Diwali is not secular but Christmas is secular. But in the US, Christmas is not secular but Thanksgiving is secular. That is an important distinction.

But the main reason I like Thanksgiving is that it represents something that should be our perrenial attitude — that of gratitude for what we have. Certainly we wish we had more of the goodies of life but let’s also frequently pause and give thanks for all the good things we already have. I pause quite frequently and observe the simple fact that things are pretty good as they are. I ask myself “Isn’t this good?” and answer, “Yes, it’s good.”

That’s what I learned a long time ago. In Hesse’s book Siddhartha, the protagonist says to his friend Govinda, “the world is perfect in every moment.” The same idea is expressed thus in Desiderata: “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Tom Woods on The Covid Cult

Tom Woods is a brilliant speaker. Engaging, funny and entertaining. Besides, he makes sense. Lockdowns are a bad idea, as I wrote in my previous post, A Most Expensive Hoax.

[Addendum: YouTube has taken down that video. You can watch the video at Tom Wood’s site.]

The Chinese virus has done a whole lot of damage and a lot of people — mostly elderly — have died. But the death toll has to be put into perspective. Here’s a graph of monthly deaths per million population from Jan 1851 to July 2020. Note the 1993 Beijing flu killed a whole lot more than the Wuhan flu (Covid-19). (Click on the image to embiggen.)

A Most Expensive Hoax

The Seen and the Unseen

Every action has not one but many effects; of these many effects, only some — perhaps one — are intended, and others are unintended; some of the many effects are beneficial and others are harmful; some are immediate, and others delayed; some are foreseen and others not; some are known and others unknown; some are evident and others not. The world is complicated because things are connected and interrelated, and what happens in one part affects other parts, and all sorts of things are happening all the time and therefore it is hard to fully understand the consequences of any large-scale intervention.

The world in which actions have only intended, beneficial, immediate, foreseen, known and evident effects is not the world we live in. In our world, actions also have effects that are unintended, harmful, delayed, unforeseen, unknown and concealed. What does that imply, though? Should one do nothing in the face of uncertainty and risk? No. It means that one should have the humility to not presume to know what’s best for the world and be very hesitant to command others to do one’s bidding. Continue reading

Wisdom, Genius, Knowledge and Intelligence

I am always struck by the variations in human capacities. We humans are strikingly unequally endowed in physical and mental capabilities. Non-human animals of a particular species are generally very similar. For instance, individual members of the species common pigeon  are quite indistinguishable; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The pigeons from Germany are not that different from the ones in India. Can you tell which one is a German pigeon and which one Indian?

But we humans are different. The range of human physiology is vast even though all humans belong to the same homo sapiens species. People from different regions of the world look different and we easily distinguish between Germans and Indians. Not just across regions, individuals vary within regions too. That is not an earth shattering fact but it is worth noting.

I believe that the range of mental variations is much wider than physical variations among humans. We are seriously unequally endowed when it comes to brains. Most of us are sort of average but among us there are outliers who are a few sigmas above the mean. The outliers also are varied. There are geniuses in chess, and in music, and mathematics, and physics, … the list goes on indefinitely. Continue reading

Diwali Greetings

Today, November 14th in India, is Diwali, or Deepaval. Diwali is a pretty big deal all across India and even outside India. Here’s what the all-knowing wiki says about this Indian festival (edted):

The five-day long festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Diwali is usually celebrated twenty days after the Dashera festival, with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor, such as rangolis. The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi. The third day is the day of Lakshmi Puja and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Lakshmi Puja is marked with the Govardhan Puja and Balipratipada. Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj or the regional equivalent, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their work spaces and offering prayers.

Some other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal Empire prison, while Newar Buddhists, unlike other Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshipping Lakshmi, while the Hindus of Eastern India and Bangladesh generally celebrate Diwali, by worshipping Goddess Kali. The main day of the festival of Diwali (the day of Lakshmi puja) is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia (except Sarawak), Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Greetings on Diwali to you and your loved ones.

(From the last year: Happy Dhanteras.)

Finite System, Infinite Cycles

(Click on image to embiggen)

In a recent email exchange, my correspondent wrote, “they say if everyone consumed like the US, we would need 2.5 earths.” That sort of claim is commonly made and readily accepted as true. A June 2015 BBC magazine article titled “How many Earths do we need?” begins with the claim “that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain them.”[1]

Those types of claims are half-truths, and like most half-truths, they confuse rather than clarify. Fortunately, a little bit of reasoning and checking the facts are sufficient to get closer to the truth.

Earth is an Open System

The undeniable fact is that the earth is finite, which means nothing on earth — soil, water, minerals, etc. — is infinite. But for all practical purposes what we need is virtually infinite. The reason for virtual infinity in a finite earth is that the earth is not a closed system.

If you have some content in a finite box, that content has to be finite too. If you can neither add anything to the box or take anything out of the box, it is a closed system. Conversely if you can add or remove stuff from the box, it’s an open system.

The earth is an open system because it receives energy from the sun. That makes an enormous difference in that it enables material to be recycled. A simple example of that is water. We never “use up” the water we use. Though the amount of water is finite, the amount of rainfall on earth is unbounded because of the hydrological cycle: the sun’s energy continually evaporates water into the atmosphere and that falls back to earth as rain. This cycle has been going on for billions of years and will continue for the indefinite future. We cannot “use” up the limited water because it gets naturally recycled. Continue reading

An Auction of Stolen Goods

In an essay titled “Sham Battle” published in October 1936 in the Baltimore Evening Sun, H. L. Mencken enunciated a truth that is one of the core axioms of public choice theory. That axiom is the homely truth that politicians are people just like the rest of us. Homely truths, as Mark Twain recognized, are unpalatable. But they are true nonetheless.

People are motivated by their self-interest in their private lives. That is not to say that they are narrowly selfish but rather that they do what they believe to be in their interest, whatever those interests may be — including altruism if that is what interests them.

Homely truths endure. In 1936 Mencken wrote, “The state—or, to make the matter more concrete, the government—consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me.”

James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock developed public choice theory (PCT) in the 1960s. One of the assumptions of PCT is of behavioral symmetry: people behave the same way in their public capacity as they do in their private capacity. The person in the marketplace is the same person in the voting booth. A person is not transformed from a self-interested being with imperfect knowledge, foresight and morality in his private capacity into an other-directed being with perfect knowledge, foresight and goodwil in his public role as a politician, bureaucrat or a voter. By being elected or appointed to a public office, a person does not magically get endowed with the ability to know “the public good” and pursue that diligently. In other words, politicians are just like the rest of us. Don’t expect them to be better than you’d expect people to be. Continue reading

On Servitude

To me it appears to be true that servitude of the masses have to be largely voluntary because the serfs always outnumber the masters. Two quotes on servitude follow but first a bonus quote from Ayn Rand.

“A society that robs an individual of the product of his effort, or enslaves him, or attempts to limit the freedom of his mind, or compels him to act against his own rational judgment … is not, strictly speaking, a society, but a mob held together by institutionalized gang-rule.”

Continue reading

A Sensible anti-Covid Strategy

It feels like forever but it’s been less than nine months since this Covid-19 became a pandemic. And it also seems that it will go on forever. However, the news about the disease is good but the news about the policy response is bad. In an article, Dr Jayanta Bhattacharya writes:

“U.N. has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns.

“In the last 20 years we’ve lifted one billion people worldwide out of poverty. This year we are reversing that progress to the extent—it bears repeating—that an estimated 130 million more people will starve.”

Death through starvation must be terrible. Note that the disease will eventually kill two orders of magnitude fewer people than the lockdown policy that governments imposed. As is always the case, governments are the biggest killers. No natural disaster can compete with the government in wholesale killing. The most astonishing sad fact is that people give their governments the power to kill them. It’s suicidal.

Go read Dr Bhattacharya’s article.

US Presidential Elections

Even though it is just a couple of days to the US elections, it is still uncertain whether Trump will keep his job come January 2021. The opinion polls favor Biden but they can be wrong, since it is a closely contested race. I hope Biden loses, and I hope Trump wins because that would be better for the US and better for the world.

There are a couple of things I find remarkable about US elections. First, the date of practically all elections is fixed and therefore predictable. Every year, all elections at all levels of government — city, county, state and federal — are held on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November. If the first Monday of November falls on the 1st, then election is on Nov 2nd — the earliest possible date; and the lastest possible date will be Nov 8th. That happens every year, and every four years, it is a presidential election year. That too is totally predictable.

The second remarkable fact relates to the election of a US president. The US president is not elected through a popular vote. Voters don’t actually directly vote for a presidential candidate. The voters in each state determine through their popular vote what the state’s “electors” would do when they go to Washington DC in December. These electors form the electoral college. Here’s a bit from the Wiki on the US electoral college: Continue reading