Rudolph’s Copyright Error

December 4th, 2020

I bet somone’s face was red! This is the second-craziest copyright story I’ve heard, after the one about the monkey’s self-portrait. An image on Wikipedia from the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV film explains the following “permission details”:

“The copyright year in Roman numerals was mismarked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV (1964). This invalidates the copyright under U.S. law at the time, which required a valid date of copyright to be affixed to the production; this means that still images from the special and all of the characters unique to the special are, as a result, in the public domain. However, because the original story and song are still copyrighted and the soundtrack was validly copyrighted separately, for all practical purposes, permission is still required to air the special.”

It seems crazy to me that intellectual property could be invalidated by an obvious typo. No one actually thinks the film was created in the year 1164. (At the same time, it seems to me that use of the still, say, with an article is fair use.)

Liberty and Faction

December 3rd, 2020

Here is a great line from James Madison: “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

What is a faction? “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Madison also has some very modern-sounding views about biases and motivated reasoning: “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.”

However, I would say that reason is not possible unless it is motivated by some sort of interest, so “self-love” is not automatically a biasing factor, as Madison has it. There is simply no such thing as interest-free reason.

Another remarkable line: “An attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power . . . [has] divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

And: “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

And: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

And: “[A] pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Then comes Madison’s classic defense of republican government.

Notably, Madison warns against “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.”

The Reckless Colorado GOP

November 30th, 2020

This is pretty outrageous. On the same day that the state reported record numbers of people currently hospitalized for Covid-19, several Republican state legislators chose not to wear masks while attending in-person meetings at the capitol. Meanwhile, a GOP staffer who had tested positive for the coronavirus showed up at the capitol for work and was in close proximity to maskless legislators while she herself wore a mask beneath her nose.

That sort of behavior shows a reckless lack of consideration for the Coloradans funding this clown show, not to mention the Colorado health care providers working with Covid-19 patients.

As of this evening (November 30), the state has recorded 3,037 “deaths among cases” and 2,656 “deaths due to Covid-19.”

The main source for the claims above is a Tweet by Denver Post reporter Alex Burness. Burness shows a photo taken by State Rep. Cathy Kipp. It shows a man in a tan suit clowning around with a mask on top of his head, while speaking in close proximity to two other men who are not wearing masks. Behind the man with the mask atop his head sits a woman wearing a mask beneath her nose. Here is Burness’s description: “You know that photo of Rep. Larry Liston that’s been going around? . . . The woman with the brown hair in the background is [Ellen] Moroney, the GOP staffer who posted ‘I have COVID’ on Facebook on Nov. 24.”

House Speaker KC Becker distributed the following notice: “It has come to our attention that a House Minority staffer tested positive for COVID last week and was on the floor this morning. The staffer in question has been told to leave the building and not to return for the remainder of special session and until testing negative. CDPHE will be working on contact tracing for anyone who may have come in contact. We want to remind everyone that all staff are required to wear masks at all times and get tested before entering the building, or they are not allowed in the building.”

In an earlier Tweet, Burness shared another photo with the comment, “About half the Colorado Senate Republicans present for the special session are not wearing masks.” I commented, “Colorado Republicans try to convince voters that they deserve another shot at power by. . . senselessly putting other people’s health and lives in danger. Immoral, and idiotic.”

I added, “I’m shocked that, during the current pandemic, [the Colorado legislature] is even meeting in person. Why not do this all remotely? If I were in the legislature and had to go in person, I’d definitely have on (at least) goggles and an N95 or KN95 mask.”

Burness also wrote up an article on the matter for the Post. He writes, “Incoming House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said Moroney tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 17—not Nov. 24, the day she posted on Facebook” that she had Covid. Burness reports that “Incoming House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland” said in a statement, “That aide [Moroney] sought the advice of their physician and was given permission to return to work in person on the 24th of this month.” Burness also quotes another comment by Becker, “The minority’s dangerous disregard for simple and effective protections and this staffer’s presence on the floor has placed the health of every lawmaker and member of staff at risk.”

Eying Egalitarianism

November 30th, 2020

Here’s a note from Jason Brennan’s intro to political philosophy: “[G. A.] Cohen [Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (New York: Cambridge University Press] 1995, pp. 229–44, takes [Robert Nozick’s] bait and wonders about redistributing eyes. Cecile Fabre, Whose Body Is It Anyway? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), argues for the forced redistribution of eyes and other organs.”

Enoch Against Public Reason

November 30th, 2020

When philosopher Jason Brennan posted a “meme” suggesting that David Enoch had knocked out “public reason,” I figured I’d see what’s up. SSRN has the abstract and paper, “Against Public Reason.” The paper is officially published in the first volume of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy. (Eric Mack also has an essay in there about rights, fyi.)

Brennan has his own critique of Rawls in his great intro to political philosophy.

Enoch is concerned particularly with versions of public reasoning that entail “some requirement to justify political principles to each of those subject to them as a necessary condition for legitimacy.” In this view, “all public-reason accounts must involve some idealization”—and that’s the problem. He writes, “I insist that the relevant reason for action is the content of the principle, not that we accept it.” I agree with that, but I think that some people use the term “public reason” to describe other sorts of theories that aren’t subject to Enoch’s critiques.

Adriano Celentano’s Delightful Gibberish

November 30th, 2020

Recently I came across a music video of Adriano Celentano’s 1972 hit song “Prisencolinensinainciusol.” I love the song. What’s peculiar about this song is that Celentano, an Italian, wrote it to sound like American English, but the lyrics don’t actually mean anything. Wikipedia has some background. Language Log has some other versions of the song. There’s also a great dance routine to a more-techno remake of the song. I don’t know whether this is an after-the-fact explanation, but in 2012, Celentano told NPR, “I sang it with an angry tone because the theme was important. It was an anger born out of resignation. I brought to light the fact that people don’t communicate.”

Colorado’s Increased Deaths

October 12th, 2020

The Denver Post has a really interesting review of excess deaths this year in Colorado.

The official numbers say that Colorado currently has 2,113 “deaths among cases” of COVID-19, and 1,998 “deaths due to COVID-19.”

But deaths are actually up around 20% over normal, or “at least 3,788,” says the Post. In terms of raw numbers, “the state recorded on average” 18,935 deaths “for the same period during the three years prior,” and “an estimated 22,723 . . . between March and August.”

A caveat: “There’s a lag in death-certificate data so it’s possible the number of fatalities during the first six months of the pandemic could still rise further.”

Another key detail: “Of the excess deaths, at least 1,627 were Coloradans who died from COVID-19 complications. This number is lower than the state [official] count of such fatalities [because] unlike the death-certificate data, [the official count] includes non-residents who died from the disease while in the state.”

The upshot is that fewer than half of the excess deaths are accounted for by formal findings of COVID-19. What’s responsible for the rest of the deaths?

Uncounted COVID-19 cases are part of the mix, but “it’s unclear how many of the fatalities are from missed COVID-19 diagnoses,” the Post says.

The Post did find that deaths from “cirrhosis, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s also saw significant spikes.” The best explanation for most of these deaths is that people delayed care. What about Alzheimer’s, which saw a 26% spike? Maybe the increased deaths have to do with worse care and more social isolation. Or (I think more likely) maybe more people with Alzheimer’s were dying of COVID-19 but not diagnosed with it.

Here’s a surprising finding: “Suicides dropped 2% over previous years, to 639 deaths.”

However, “between March and August, 597 Coloradans died of overdoses, which is up 40% from the 3-year-average of 424 deaths, according to the state data.”

Incentives Matter, Car Seats Edition

October 1st, 2020

This is quite a finding: “Since 1977, U.S. states have passed laws steadily raising the age for which a child must ride in a car safety seat. These laws significantly raise the cost of having a third child, as many regular-sized cars cannot fit three child seats in the back. Using census data and state-year variation in laws, we estimate that when women have two children of ages requiring mandated car seats, they have a lower annual probability of giving birth by 0.73 percentage points. Consistent with a causal channel, this effect is limited to third child births, is concentrated in households with access to a car, and is larger when a male is present (when both front seats are likely to be occupied). We estimate that these laws prevented only 57 car crash fatalities of children nationwide in 2017. Simultaneously, they led to a permanent reduction of approximately 8,000 births in the same year, and 145,000 fewer births since 1980, with 90% of this decline being since 2000.”

Huemer on the Academy

September 27th, 2020

Michael Huemer is worried about colleges: “The academic world may be undermining its own economic viability, by converting the college degree from a signal of intelligence and self-discipline, into a signal of hypersensitivity and intolerance.”

Starving Marvin

September 26th, 2020

I was just listening to a panel discussion about the book In Defense of Openness featuring the authors, Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan. I notice that the book relies heavily on Michael Huemer’s thought-experiment about “Starving Marvin,” which came out in a 2010 journal article.

In the panel discussion, Anna Stilz has some very smart criticisms. Her basic idea is that we should take seriously the ways that initial distribution and bargaining power affects outcomes, and we should condition open trade and migration with strong protections for workers. My quick reply is a) wealth creation is mostly not contingent on initial ownership (consider all the rags-to-riches stories) and b) a free labor market (as opposed to the labor market we have today) is very good especially for the least-well-off workers, especially as productivity increases.

Kit Wellman argues that unrestricted immigration might disrupt the institutions that allowed for prosperity in the first place.

Brennan replies that the current nation-state system that closes migration thereby commits mass oppression and that people don’t actually own their institutions. Van der Vossen argues that it’s just not the case that immigrants destroy local institutions.

Radiation on the Moon

September 25th, 2020

Astronauts would get 200 to 1,000 times more radiation on the moon than what we experience on Earth.” Unshielded ones would, anyway.

Alkon on Homelessness

September 25th, 2020

My Tweet: “Obviously Denver (and surrounding) has a big problem with homelessness. [Amy Alkon] has the idea of pairing strict enforcement of anti-squatting laws with tax-paid tent camps. I don’t know the right answer, but at least this is a serious proposal.”

Crows Are Smart

September 24th, 2020

Crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds.”

Kilpatrick’s Critique of Montessori

September 23rd, 2020

William Heard Kilpatrick wrote a 1914 critique of the educational methods of Maria Montessori, The Montessori System Examined. Google has the book, available in free ebook versions.

The Montessori Method also is available online at no cost.

Michael Munger on Academic Publishing

September 23rd, 2020

Economist Michael Munger has a video series out on academic publishing.

He also has an essay, “The Future of Academic Publishing.”

See also Jason Brennan’s book, Good Work If You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia.

Currie-Knight on Integration in Schools

September 23rd, 2020

In a podcast, Kevin Currie-Knight argues, “We’ve waited long enough for government to prove to us they can desegregate schools. . . . If we give (families) the option of disconnecting their school from their ZIP code, there’s every reason to think we’ll get more integration in schools.”

Barrett’s Religious Views

September 23rd, 2020

Here is my Tweet thread on the topic:

At a glance I’m not seeing anything in Amy Coney Barrett’s religious views that are especially troublesome. [Obviously Barrett probably would help erode women’s right to get an abortion, and that is deeply concerning. Here I meant that her religious views are not obviously worse than those of any other justice Trump might nominate and not obviously disqualifying.] But let’s not pretend that no religious views should be disqualifying.

Although there is and should be no formal “religious test” for any office, certainly voters and Senators should take someone’s particular religious views into account, where troublesome. Some examples:

Some American Christians have explicitly stated that they think abortion is murder and people who facilitate abortion should be subject to the death penalty. The Senate certainly would not and should not confirm any Supreme Court justice with such views.

People always should vote against candidates who express “Christian Reconstructionist” views as outlined here. And against any Muslim candidate who said, for example, that apostates or homosexuals should be subject to the death penalty.

The view that some people express today, that someone’s religious views should never be criticized and should not be politically relevant because they are religious, is absurd.

At the same time, we need to recognize the extraordinary religious bigotry so deeply entrenched historically. I spoke with John Coffey about religious toleration and with Robert Alan Goldberg about the Klan’s anti-Catholicism.

* * *

At any rate, here is a friendly, and I think fair, take on Barrett’s “Kingdom of God” remark.

Newsweek ran the sensationalist headline, “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.” But get a load of this correction: “Correction: This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.”

Constance Grady has a nice article discussing the specious link between Amy Coney Barrett and The Handmaid’s Tale. However, I remain deeply creeped out by American religious groups that refer to any women as “handmaids” (as a group that Barrett belongs to once did).

E. J. Dionne Jr. has some on-point remarks about Republicans’ treatment of religion. Many Republicans snap at criticisms of their own religious views even as they criticize the particular religious views of others. Many Republicans, for example, say that Catholic Democrats “aren’t really Catholic” or (or the like) because they think abortion should be legal. The Catholic church really is officially opposed to abortion, but Republicans also sometimes make comparable claims about Protestant Democrats.

Barrett signed ad in 2006 decrying ‘barbaric legacy’ of Roe v. Wade, advocating overturning the law.”

This post was last updated October 2, 2020.

Examples of Natural Parasitism

September 16th, 2020

Nature can be cold. One type of worm invades a snail, takes over the snail’s functions to make it a colorful and easy treat for birds, and then reproduces inside the bird.

A type of fungus takes over an ant and compels the ant to climb a branch so the fungus can reproduce.

Colorado Payroll Tax Proposed

September 16th, 2020

This Fall Colorado voters will decide (and probably pass) a 0.9% payroll tax initially (and a 1.2% tax later), payed 50–50 by employers and employees, to fund “medical leave.” This is Prop. 118; see also the BallotPedia review.

Here’s what I Tweeted: “Generally I think “we” should repeal all payroll taxes, not add more. If you want to run a welfare program, just do that through general funds. Payroll taxes hurt esp. lower-income workers.”

The Homicide Rate in the Context of Medical Advances

September 13th, 2020

Here is an obviously important point that I have nevertheless not contemplated before: The homicide rate is a function not only of attempted homicides but of health technology. When doctors get better at fixing people, the homicide rate goes down simply because fewer people die of attempted homicide (other things equal). So the homicide rate can go down even if the rate of violence remains constant. “Murder rates would be up to five times higher than they are but for medical developments over the past 40 years,” claims one 2002 paper.

Reading List about Police Reform

September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers an extensive reading list about police reform.

Reading List about the Welfare State

September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers a libertarian-friendly reading list “on poverty and the welfare state.”

The Political Threat to the Supply Chain

September 11th, 2020

“The biggest risk to medical supply chains is not free markets, a global pandemic, or a natural disaster, but politicians themselves.”

Speaking of supply-chain issues, inputs for N95 masks remain scarce. The AP blames the government’s lack of contracts and “letting” people sell materials overseas; I think the real problem probably is U.S. price controls that disrupt the market.

The GOP Internet Censors

September 11th, 2020

“Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a new bill Tuesday that would change the terms of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from legal responsibility for user content they host, or expunge, from their platforms. The bill, called the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, would narrow the kind of user content tech companies can remove from their platforms, and restrict their ability to make ‘editorial’ choices about what content to host and where it appears,” writes Mark Sullivan (with his original links embedded).

I realize it seems like an asymmetry that social media companies can remove content they don’t like without getting sued for content they leave up, but that’s a perfectly justifiable system. Government controls on what social media companies may and may not leave up constitutes censorship, pure and simple.

Colorado Learning Pod Regulations

September 11th, 2020

“Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order . . . temporarily suspending statutes that require certain licenses for adults wishing to supervise children.” This pertains to “learning pods.” Why not make this change permanent? It’s really hard to organize something like this, and the arbitrary expiration date will discourage people.