Complete Whimsy, Deficits, Dubiously Free Trade, Trust

The Left Reaches Really, Really Far on Detroit Bankruptcy

So MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perr said the following about Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing (and general state of awfulness):

This is what it looks like when government is small enough to drown in your bathtub, and it is not a pretty picture

See for yourself:

I honestly don’t even know how to respond to someone who can’t see the difference between reducing taxes and having a reduced tax base. I just don’t know.

So I’ll give up and let Reason sum it up:

Detroit has been a “model city” for big-government! All Detroit’s mayors since 1962 were Democrats who were eager to micromanage. And spend. Detroit has the only utility tax in Michigan, and its income tax is the third-highest of any big city in America (only Philadelphia and Louisville take more, and they aren’t doing great, either).

… Home loan subsidies, public housing, stadium subsidies, a $350 million project called “Renaissance Center” (the city ended up selling it for just $50 million), an automated People Mover system that not many people feel moved to use (it moves people in only one direction), endless favors to unions — if a government idea has failed anywhere in America, there’s a good chance it failed in Detroit first.

But yeah, it was probably Ayn Randian libertarianism that brought Detroit down… I mean why not?

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Live and Learn, Trust

Swift Reviews: The Easy Way to Stop Smoking

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking Cover

5 Stars

Allen Carr’s classic book is possibly the most important book I ever read. I hadn’t smoke that long and I would like to think I would have quit eventually anyway. But then again, I had “succeeded” a few times and had gone back every time. So the fact that this book helped me quit (or as Allen Carr describes it, escape) smoking for good says something in and of itself.

Indeed, at the time I bought the book about a year and half ago the book had over 1000 ratings on Amazon.com and still had a five star rating! That is something I have never seen for a book with that many ratings. It has since fallen to 4 1/2 stars with about 1300 ratings, but many of the negative reviews seem to have missed the mark.

For example, this one:

I wish this book were true. Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking. It does not take into account the actual physical symptoms of quitting smoking. It assumes that all physical ills are psychological, which they aren’t. I am so disappointed with both the book and the reviews.

This ignores one of the biggest revelations of the book; that the actual physical withdrawal pangs of nicotine withdrawal are extremely mild. As Allen Carr puts it:

There is no physical pain in the withdrawal from nicotine. It is merely a slightly empty, restless feeling, the feeling that something isn’t quite right, or that something is missing… (pg. 24)

… Most smokers go all night without a cigarette. The withdrawal “pangs” do not even wake them up. Many smokers will leave the bedroom before they light that first cigarette; many will have breakfast first. Increasingly people don’t smoke in their homes and won’t have that first cigarette until they are in the car on the way to work… These smokers have eight or maybe ten hours without a cigarettegoing through withdrawal all the while, but t doesn’t seem to bother them. (pg. 34)

Those really painful withdrawal pangs actually come from your own mind (after all, your mind, by itself, can make you physically ill). Many smokers go for long stretches, while they are distracted with a game or TV show or whatever and don’t smoke. It’s not like every smoker smokes on the hour ever hour. Often tiAllen Carrmes, it’s certain cues, like leaving the house to go to work or lunch time or when the plane you’re on lands that set off the craving.

As The Power of Habit demonstrated, habits can be strong and ingrained in the most primitive parts of the brain. So what’s necessary to stop smoking, since the withdrawal pangs are so slight, is to change our habits. And this involves becoming self aware of them. Specifically, asking the question; why do we smoke?

Everyone says we shouldn’t smoke because it’s unhealthy and gross and blah blah blah, but it has to provides some benefit, right? Well, no. And most of what this book does is prove that. He shows how smokers attribute contradictory benefits to smoking. For example, the excuses will be that cigarettes help with concentration and boredom as well as relaxation and stress. How could the possibly do both?

Obviously, they don’t. All the cigarette does is relieve the slight physical withdrawal pang. And the brainwashing, as Allen Carr refers to it, takes over. We think we need the cigarettes, so our mind makes us need them and induces the really bad pangs people talk about when they try quit with willpower. So Carr demolishes the brainwashing to leave us with only the slight, easily tolerable physical pangs.For example, one excuse for smoking is that we smoke because we’re bored. Well, what’s more boring than smoking a cigarette? Oh yeah, smoking is boring so it probably doesn’t help relieve boredom particularly well. He has a long list of these types of excuses.

So every habit has a cue, a routine and then a reward. By learning that there actually is no reward to smoking cigarettes, the cues become irrelevant very quickly. In essence, Allen Carr’s book doesn’t make it easier to quit smoking, it makes it so you don’t want to. It doesn’t take much willpower to not do something you don’t want to do.

Other forms of quitting don’t work very well (I certainly tried a few of them). For example, it’s correctly claimed that nicotine replacement therapy doubles the chance of success. But then again, it doubles your chances all the way to 7%. A study in the Internal Archives of Occupational Environmental Health showed Allen Carr’s seminars to have a 12 month success rate of 51.4%. And the book’s high rating on Amazon.com lend credibility that the book does similarly well This is especially true given how it seems the message flew over many of its detractors heads. How many of those that failed just didn’t take the book, or seminar, to heart?

So all in all, I highly recommend The Easy Way To Stop Smoking to anyone trying to quit, err, escape smoking.

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Photo Credit: gamepasattic.ca and wikipedia.org

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Liberty, Live and Learn, Trust, Uncategorized

Swift Reviews: The Power of Habit

 

The Power of Habit cover

4 StarsCharles Duhigg certainly bit off a large bite for himself, and did a mostly very good job of chewing it.

The Power of Habit is a fascinating book that looks into how we develop habits and how those habits affect us at individual, organizational and societal level. The most interesting part is the beginning where he tells the story of Eugene Paulie, a man whose brain had been severely damaged by encephalitis and had lost all of his memories, including his ability to remember anything after more than a few minutes.

Yet the man could still speak and do all the tasks he had learned throughout his life. In fact, he could even walk around the block and find his way back home. Cues would tell him it was time to eat and if it weren’t for the intervention of his wife he would eat five or six meals a day.

What this helped lead scientists to was that habits are not memories. They are more similar to instincts, but instincts we learn or adopt. Basically, they are automatic processes that takeover when we receive whatever cue, and it culminates in some reward that solidifies the habit. While the processes are complicated, they mostly reside in the basal ganglia, the very center and most primitive part of the brain (the brain effectively evolved on top of itself with the most advanced parts on the outside, such as the prefrontal cortex).

This has all sorts of important implications especially with regards to addiction and how we judge individuals behaviors. How much of what people do is under their control? Unfortunately, Duhigg’s dicsussion of this is the weakest part of the book. He compares the case of a woman named Angie Bachmann who won the lottery and then became a gambling addict and gambled away her entire fortune, and then proceeded to gamble away her entire inheritance., with a man named Brian Thomas who accidentally murdered his wife while having a sleep terror.

Sleep terrors are quite different from sleep walking as sleep walking is usually just going through random habits, while sleep terrors involve going into a highly anxious, primitive neurological state. The night he killed his wife, they had seen some hoodlums causing trouble, so they moved their RV. That night he had a sleep terror and while dreaming that those hoodlums were attacking him, he strangled his wife to death while unconscious.

The woman was held responsible for her debts while the man was acquitted of murder. Duhigg sums up our society’s motives as follows:

… there is one critical distinction between the cases of Thomas and Bachmann: Thomas murdered an innocent person. He committed what has always been the gravest of crimes. Angie Bachmann lost money. The only victims were herself, her family and a $27 billion company [the casino she gambled at] that loaned her $125,000. 

Thomas was set free by society. Bachmann was held accountable for her deeds. (pg. 268-269)

There are a lot of interesting questions with regards to the legal and moral ramifications of neurological science, but this is a horrible comparison. Right off the bat, the difference between criminally punishing someone and civilly holding someone accountable for a debt they incurred is enormous.

Thomas was literally unconscious when he attacked his wife. And while he had had night terrors before, he had never done anything even remotely violent and there was no real reason to think that he would. The question with regards to Thomas is should someone be held liable for what they do while unconscious. Bachmann was conscious while she gambled. So the question for her is should someone be held liable for something they do while habitually addicted.

They’re two very different questions, and if we do drop Bachmann’s culpability because she was a gambling addict, do we thus drop the liability of someone who drives drunk and kills someone in a car crash because they were an alcoholic?

This is especially true since one of the important lessons of this bookwhich is touched on throughout and elaborated upon in a very good appendixis that habits can be changed.  Yes, we do things by habit without thinking about them in what is effectively an instinctual sort of way. And yes, changing them is difficult. But yes, they can be changed. Each habit is three steps: 1) Cue, 2) Routine and 3) Reward. The key is to isolate them. He describes the steps experts agree on taking:

– Isolate the routine

-Experiment with rewards

– Isolate the cue

– Have a plan (pg. 276)

What’s important is to change the reward to something positive (i.e. eating an apple) instead of something negative (i.e. eating a cookie). But of course, one has to figure out exactly what the reward really is. It may be the longing to have a break rather than eat something and the cookie is incidental. Thus, the experimentation.

In the book, Duhigg also goes into the habits of organizations and societies, particularly societal movements. This part is good too, but is more anecdotal than empirical. Still, the story of Starbucks and Alcoa almost obsessively emphasizing respectfulness and safety respectively, and the discipline and success that came from that, is quite compelling.

Despite some minor flaws, The Power of Habit is still a fascinating and well written book on an extremely important topic. Much of what we do is through habit, not conscious thought. The better we understand and thereby learn to control our habits, the better we will all be for it.

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Photo Credit: blog.hpb.com

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Liberty, Live and Learn, Obama Says, Trust

Obama vs Obama on Wiretapping

While it’s nothing new that politicians over promise and lie their way into office only to do a 180 (we all remember George Bush’s “humble foreign policy” right). But it’s always helpful to have it illustrated after the fact. Here’s candidate Barack Obama debating president Barack Obama on all the NSA wiretapping revelations that have come out:

And while these revelations should surprise no one, it does surprise me, at least a little that Democrats still defend this guy. Hey I guess, Republicans defended Bush up until the end. This Pew poll comparison from 2006 and 2013 should say it all.

Pew Survey Wiretapping

 

Sigh…

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Complete Whimsy, Live and Learn, Trust

Jon Stewart on the IRS scandal

While Jon Stewart and The Daily Show certainly lean left, I do appreciate his willingness to make fun of the left when the time calls. With the cornucopia of recent government scandals, this would be the perfect oppurtunity, and he doesn’t disappoint:

 

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Dubiously Free Trade, Taxes, Trust

“Only Government Can Make the Roads” or However that Argument Goes

Here Stefan Molyneux reads a half hilarious, half infuriating article about almost incomprehensible government incompetence regarding those roads only they can pave (just for the record, private roads  exist today and have existed in all sorts of ways in the past). Anyways, enjoy (or get pissed off):

Original source: Here

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Photo Credit: Liberty Pen 

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Deficits, Dubiously Free Trade, Trust

The Sugar Scam

So sugar is horrible for your health. And what does our wonderful government do? Of course, it massively subsidizes sugar which increases the prices of sugar for all of us so much it incentivizes the use of things like corn syrup, which is somehow even worse for your health. John Stossel talks to Sally Pipes about this scam:

 

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Photo Credit: Liberty Pen 

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