An economics fallacy rears its head in the Net Neutrality debate

2011-10-26 20:14:16 | philosophy, technology | By: Arthur Zey

Today, I attended a debate between Adam Mossoff and Cindy Cohn on Net Neutrality, hosted by the Stanford Law School Federalist Society. It was an interesting discussion, and I was pleased at how precise many of the formulations were of each of the speakers.

Just before the Q&A session, I identified an interesting parallel, and I wanted to get the speakers to comment on it. Unfortunately, my question came out as a rambling mess, and Ms. Cohn even thought I was trying to make some connection to current events. (You’ll see why that’s silly, since the “events” in question have been part of explicit philosophic debate for centuries at least.)

So here’s the parallel that I was trying to draw:

Those on the capitalist side of the argument over wealth and income inequality often well know one of the fallacies committed by the other side: namely, that by focusing on interpersonal comparisons and wealth *gaps*, they completely miss that under (unregulated) capitalism, everyone is better off in *absolute* terms. So while *relatively* speaking, the poor are getting poorer, in *absolute* terms, the poor are getting richer and the rich are getting richer. And as the capitalist side knows, it’s because the rich keep doing what got them rich in the first place (working hard, innovating, being committed to success and prosperity, having perseverance), and the poor keep doing what they’re doing. And of course, it’s only under this kind of system that the poor even have a chance at bettering their station, but that’s a different discussion.

In essence, this problem is just another instance of the well-identified (by Objectivists, anyway) phenomenon of second-handedness: people focus on how they compare to others rather than how well off they are in reality, in absolute terms, compared only to their prior and potential future circumstances. (And economists have known this phenomenon for some time too–they know all too well how futile it is to try to make interpersonal comparisons of valuation in objective terms–they even joke about the fictional unit of utility, the “utol”.)

The resolution, of course, is to change the framing of the discussion to what the political structure must be in order to enable everyone to achieve as much success and prosperity as they choose–as far as their abilities and ambitions will take them. Not coincidentally, this leads to the most absolute wealth creation in a society overall, as well as the greatest amount of wealth created by each individual who chooses to achieve it.

(There is a related point here about how even the poor are better off among people who are fabulously more wealthy than they are than among people who are the same or poorer (assuming in both cases that they themselves are the same)–and this is because they are capable of trading for more valuable goods with the richest producers than with those who are poorer.)

So the analogy to Net Neutrality is as follows:

Advocates of Net Neutrality *regulation*, aside from arrogating themselves to the status of central planners, oftentimes rationalize their positions by “looking out for the little guy”, who is often the consumer–or the starving startup entrepreneur being squeezed out by the Googles, Apples, and Microsofts–or the publisher of a controversial blog–or any other such variant. As the argument goes, if we allow the big players, including the Verizons and Comcasts, to do price discrimination and forge special deals for prioritized traffic with the content providers, it’s going to create terrible barriers to entry for the little guys, since they will have to suffer with slower internet. (Oh, and what’s wrong with people paying for the quality of service they want and get? We do this sort of thing in every industry, from package delivery to dining to air travel.)

Is this starting to sound familiar? It’s not like there’s only so much bandwidth (just like there’s not only so much wealth), and it’s not like the slowest internet connection available–in absolute terms–has been decreasing over time. Like the wealth disparities discussion above, as time goes on, as the Verizons and Comcasts are left free to make fabulous profits and invest in more innovation and greater bandwidth (so that they can make even more profit!), the slowest available internet access continues to become faster and faster.

I’m young, but I remember 9.6 kbps dial-up modems. If my *phone* has only that much bandwidth available today, I consider it to have no internet connection at all.

Today, the slowest typically available internet access is on the order of a few Mbps, while the fastest available (let’s say for residential purposes) is in the hundreds of Mbps in some areas. (And in several Asian countries, it’s in the several Gbps range.) So in ye olde days, the difference may have been between 9.6 kbps and (let’s be generous) 56.6 kbps. So that’s a factor of about 100 (or 1000) today versus about 6 before. So we have huge gaps today, both in absolute terms and in relative terms, and yet today’s slowest few Mbps is tremendously faster than yesteryear’s fastest 56.6 kbps. My point is: Who cares about speed gaps? The fact that some other guy can surf the web or put content out there even a billion times faster than I can does not change what I am able to do with what I am able to pay for–which is almost immeasurably more than what I could do just a decade or two ago no matter how much money I had!

Here’s where the advocates of Net Neutrality regulation say “But we didn’t need regulation then–the internet was de facto neutral. Now, the greedy telecommunications corporations want to squeeze every penny they can out of everybody involved.” To which I reply–well duh corporations are trying to make a profit. Bandwidth is a huge value to pretty much everybody in the industrialized world, and figuring out pricing schemes for it is not easy, and is a very legitimate form of innovation: the promise of profits are what bring the best, brightest, and most technologically innovative into the field in the first place, and it’s what allows them to make a return on their investment so they can turn around and reinvest that money into further innovation. (Or did you think profits are kept in the form of a pool filled with gold coins to dive into and swim around in, a la Scooge McDuck?)

I’m not a central planner, so I don’t know whether the best policy is to have so-called “neutrality” (whatever that means–which is a different discussion altogether) or to have vigorous discrimination on a variety of bases. What I do know is that (1) from a certain perspective, it’s none of my business–I need to worry about myself and my contract with my ISP and not any contracts down the line, and (2) it’s certainly not for the government to coercively impose that neutrality on the Verizons and Comcasts of the world, since that only creates market distortions and inhibits all the innovation that the Net Neutrality advocates are always clamoring about (oh yeah, and it’s a violation of private property rights!).

(It’s like monopolies–I don’t necessarily know whether it’s good or bad for there to be a monopolist in a particular industry, since that depends on a number of market factors. But I do know that if the government attempts to coercively establish or break up monopolies, it’s a sure recipe for disaster.)

So here’s the parallel, restated:

Just as with the issue of wealth gaps, we should be focused on creating conditions that allow for everybody to increase their absolute level of wealth (instead of trying to ensure that everybody has the same level of wealth, even if it’s small), so too on the issue of Net Neutrality, we should be focused on creating conditions that allow for the innovation of ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth for everyone (instead of trying to ensure that the little guys have as much bandwidth as the big players).

And there’s a name for those conditions: laissez-faire capitalism.

Voluntary Involuntary Non-Consciousness

2011-06-22 10:24:09 | happenings, philosophy, science, tv | By: Arthur Zey

About a month ago, on Thursday, May 19, I was flying to LA because I had a meeting for work in Irvine (and I definitely took the opportunity to visit ARI!).

As usual, I loaded up my PADD (i.e., my Motorola Xoom tablet) with episodes of TV shows that I hadn’t gotten around to watching yet. On this short flight, I planned to watch House.

Let me give you some background first, though:

You wouldn’t know it from how many medical drama TV shows I watch(ed), but I hate, *hate* watching skin being pierced by needles, scalpels, and the like. Strangely, I have no problem with swords and knives violently ripping through flesh, but there’s something about the surgical, sterile precision of a doctor’s tools compromising the structural integrity of the epidermal layer that really makes me uncomfortable. It’s weird. Violence–no problem; life-saving surgeries–extreme discomfort. Go figure. Maybe it’s to do with Xena and Kill Bill being so unreal, so I don’t empathize with the person getting sliced up. And maybe it’s the speed of the violent deaths that doesn’t allow me the time to imagine the physical pain of a scalpel slowly cutting through my flesh. And even stranger, when the top of my foot was sliced open by some falling glass a few years ago, and it was shooting up a geyser of blood, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

So when a scene like that comes up in one of my medical dramas, I usually look away in my typical grimaced discomfort.

So here I am on a plane from San Jose to LA–only a 45-minute flight or so–after a day of barely eating anything, having gone to the gym earlier in the day, and having been thoroughly exhausted from not enough sleep the previous night. And I decided to watch this particular episode of House (Season 7, Episode 22, “After Hours”).

So, in this episode, House has to operate on his own leg in his bathtub to remove some tumors that began to grow there. (I’ll spare you the convoluted reasons that he had to do it himself instead of going to the hospital.) I get to the part where he starts slicing his leg open, ever so carefully, and I begin to look away–to the airplane window. And then I have a brilliant thought. Why am I being so squeamish? I don’t have to *do* anything except look; I’m not suffering any physical harm; the only thing happening is photons entering my eyes; who’s in charge of my mind, then? I am, I decided, and I’m going to will myself to watch.

Big mistake.

Within a few minutes, I was feeling extremely nauseous, and I passed out. I, who had never so much as felt motion sick, who had never thrown up from exercise or too much alcohol, suddenly felt like if I didn’t scramble over the woman sitting next to me to get to the lavatory, I would hurl all over everybody around me. Luckily (!), I passed out.

When I awoke, maybe a few minutes later, maybe 30 minutes later, I was completely disoriented. I had no idea who I was, where I was, where I was going, what time it was, etc. It was as though I had suddenly come into being from non-consciousness. Unlike waking from sleep, where one transitions from one state of consciousness to another, it was as though I had no prior existence. It was frightening. It took every scrap of mental energy I could muster to stay calm and figure out what the hell was going on.

In retrospect, I was reminded of Ayn Rand’s essay, “Philosophy: Who Needs It“, where she describes the astronaut who lands on an alien world and has to ask himself basic metaphysical questions. That’s how it felt–I had to infer, manually and explicitly, that it was night because it was dark outside and that I was on a plane because we were up in the air and the appearance of my surroundings (airplane windows, seats, etc.). I had to figure out what had happened, and I remembered when I looked down at my PADD (which had paused in the middle of playback for some reason).

I was still severely nauseous, and I had to convince myself that soon, everything would return to a state of metaphysical normalcy. I even thought of it in those terms–”metaphysical normalcy”.

The whole ordeal must have appeared to my seatmate like I had simply fallen asleep and then woken up, because when she saw that I had awoken, she engaged me in some light conversation, which was exactly the distraction that I needed to feel better.

It was, by far, the most intriguing and interesting experience of my life–at least with respect to phenomena related to consciousness. I *still* haven’t re-warched that episode, but I’m intrigued to see if I can induce the experience again, despite how extremely unpleasant it was.

I think one of the things that made the experience so intriguing and interesting is the speed with which my consciousness shifted from full focus and attention to being completely switched off–and completely against the direction of even my strongest exertions of will.

The only mind-altering drugs I’ve ever used have been caffeine and alcohol (oh yeah, and sleep-deprivation), but my experience sounds like how people describe bad trips on some of the harder drugs–and I have to say that from a scientific curiosity, I’m fascinated.

But I think the best outcome from all this is that I learned that even when I’m gripped by fear and extreme disorientation, I’m able to remain calm, not panic, and bring myself back to reality. It’s also helped me to be more aware of what kind of things are purely mental/psychological, and that I should therefore consider as open to being controlled by my will power.

What an experience!


2011-06-19 14:20:30 | happenings | By: Arthur Zey

It’s Fathers Day 2011, and I’m down in LA because my uncle is getting married today, and my family was going to drive down to San Diego for the wedding.

Yesterday, my grandpa landed in the ER because of a complication with his cancer. As I understand, his tumor (which was in between his organs) was causing some kind of blockage, which required some kind of surgery to correct it. I got to see him yesterday, and he was lucid, even though it was clear that he was weak and battling his cancer. (I hadn’t seen him since he had been diagnosed a few months back and had begun his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which I heard a few weeks ago weren’t really having much effect.)

I found out a few hours ago that he had died–apparently, the toxicity in his system from the blockage was too great, and nothing could be done in time.

This is the first time that a family member has died on me. (Well, there was a great-grandmother I had never met who died some years back in Israel, but because I didn’t really know her, I don’t consider it a family member having “died on me”.) I’ve had five friends / friendly acquaintances around my age die on me, but never a family member–and never even an adult.

It’s kind of weird. I wasn’t extremely close to my grandpa, but we lived in the same city my entire life (up until December 2010) and saw each other now and again. There was a period of time when we didn’t see each other for a while because of a lot of intra-family strife, but I’d begun to see him more regularly over the course of the last several years.

Intellectually, I know that this is very sad, but it just hasn’t really hit me yet. Maybe it won’t hit me. I just don’t know. I feel kind of like a sociopath: I know what emotion is appropriate, but I feel like a fraud when talking about his death–like I’m faking being upset. I barely feel anything at all. Maybe it’s that family *as such* is not very important to me, or maybe I’m just not that affected by death (people permanently leave others’ lives all the time), or maybe I’m just emotionally detached about tragedy, or maybe it will hit me eventually. I don’t know.

And here I am, thinking about things like whether I can get a free flight back to the Bay Area or retroactively get my flight here refunded…and whether I have enough Vitamin D to last me a few more days…and whether I’m going to go to the gym again while I’m here…and what’s going to happen with stuff at work… It seems callous and cynical.

Death is weird.

Net Neutrality vs. Net Freedom

2010-11-08 02:34:14 | philosophy, technology | By: Arthur Zey

Imagine that new legislation were being proposed to regulate package delivery companies like FedEx. This legislation, call it “delivery neutrality”, would forbid FedEx from offering tiered service–that is, their customers would not be able to pay for expedited delivery. All packages would have to be delivered on a first-come-first-served basis. These laws would be justified by the idea that expedited service violates the freedom of customers to have their packages delivered with equal priority, and moreover, the whole issue is couched in terms of preventing companies like FedEx from being able to refuse delivering packages that they happen to not like (or are “paid off” to not deliver).

This may seem like a preposterous suggestion, but it is precisely what’s happening with respect to the internet. Although there are many variants with myriad different justifications, advocates of “net neutrality” agree on one basic principle: internet service providers (ISPs) should not be able to offer access to the internet on terms according to their own judgment. Typically, net neutrality laws are designed to prevent ISPs from being able to offer faster service to content providers that pay for it, while being justified by the threat that ISPs might block access to certain websites altogether.

Proponents of net neutrality, such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Amazon, and Ebay, offer plausible-sounding reasons for their support of such legislation. Google has stated “Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.”

But fundamentally, while purporting to protect freedom, net neutrality actually violates the freedom of ISPs to use their property as they see fit.

Proponents of net neutrality clamor that laws regulating private companies are needed to protect freedom of speech on the internet. But they misunderstand a crucial point: at its root, the “freedom” in “freedom of speech” is freedom from government interference. But they view ISPs as equivalent to the government and conclude that we must be free from their “market power”.

There is a fundamental difference between the government and ISPs. Access to the internet is not like the air we breathe–ISPs have to invest in and develop infrastructure to then sell people access. It’s not as though the internet somehow flows into our homes, and the ISPs then impose some restriction on how it’s to be used. When the government restricts speech, it is coercive–it stops an individual from using his property and voice as he sees fit. When an ISP filters content–on any basis, whether the real case of offering tiered performance or the fictional and fantastical case of blocking content and access to certain ideas or viewpoints–the ISP is offering service on certain terms to prospective customers, which they have the ability to refuse.

Indeed, if internet communication is such important speech, then what of the freedom of speech of the ISPs? Shouldn’t the same principle apply to them? Whether for financial or ideological reasons, shouldn’t they have the right to “speak” by prioritizing the content they judge should be prioritized? Just as a newspaper can control its content or a radio station can hire talk show hosts from only one political perspective, so too ISPs have the right to give priority to some internet traffic over others.

Some proponents focus on the fact that ISPs are just gateways to the internet, and as such, should not be controlling content. Unlike newspapers or radio stations, they argue, their freedom of speech is not at issue. But this perspective is similarly fallacious: it would be wrong to restrict the ability of a newspaper stand to only sell certain newspapers or a radio manufacturer to have their radios only tune to certain stations–regardless of whether these are for ideological reasons or because some content provider pays them a hefty sum. The answer is the same–it’s their property, they can offer you their product on whatever terms they wish, and you are free to purchase from another vendor if you don’t like their terms.

It is also no coincidence that violating the rights of ISPs stifles innovation and progress. Without being able to generate revenue by offering tiered service (to home consumers and corporate content providers), ISPs cannot as effectively recoup their investments and then reinvest in more and better infrastructure. Allowing ISPs to prioritize some content over others will not stop anybody from speaking–quite the contrary, it allows ISPs, without whose “market power” there would be no internet, the ability to grow and expand, and make more content available to more people at greater speeds. After all, that’s how they make money. The alternative is stagnation–where everybody has equal access to the same slow speeds.

Notice how advocates of net neutrality discuss the issue in terms of the freedom of expression. Nobody has ever offered any evidence that ISPs have ever or will ever filter content they find objectionable or are paid to restrict by some corporate content provider. That’s because ISPs make money by offering access to the internet on terms that are sufficiently advantageous to their customers. If they were to suddenly offer worse service, customers would flock to alternative providers who didn’t have such restrictions.

Just as FedEx might offer expedited service to huge retailers who generate a lot of money for the delivery company, so too ISPs might offer prioritized service to content providers who want to pay for it. If one objects to the services or practices of FedEx, they are free to patronize a different carrier. So too, if one objects to the services or practices of some ISP, they can use a different provider. Neither situation justifies creating coercive laws that restrict the free use of a private company’s private property.

Public Acknowledgement of My Respect

2010-07-13 01:02:50 | Uncategorized | By: Arthur Zey

There are a number of people in my life for whom I have tremendous respect, and I wanted to publicly acknowledge that. (Please do not take your absence from this list to indicate the converse–it is simply a few people whom I have recently thought about.)

  • Alex Epstein
  • Amy Peikoff
  • Andrew Bernstein
  • Andrew Zey
  • Brett Rosenthal
  • Chad Hansen
  • Cody Wright
  • Cornelia Lockitch
  • Danielle Morrill
  • Diana Hsieh
  • Don Watkins
  • Elan Journo
  • Eric Allison
  • Eric Dennis
  • Harry Binswanger
  • Helen Belogolova
  • Igor Zey
  • Jared Seehafer
  • Jean Moroney
  • Julie Ferguson
  • Kara Devar
  • Kate Watkins
  • Kathleen Holtz
  • Keith Lockitch
  • Keith Schacht
  • Kenneth Hurst
  • Kim Shumway
  • Masha Goldenberg
  • Monica Hughes
  • Pari Schacht
  • Patricia Kaku
  • Paul Hsieh
  • Rachel Knapp
  • Ray Girn
  • Sara Triplett
  • Sarah Jenevein
  • Tom Lamb
  • Yaron Brook

I am privileged and honored to have you in my life.

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2010-07-12 20:59:09 | happenings | By: Arthur Zey

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Exercise-Induced Headaches

2010-01-12 15:32:43 | Uncategorized | By: Arthur Zey

On Wednesday, January 6, 2010, while doing a set of V-squats to failure (ultimately 30 reps at ~225 lbs), I developed a headache worse than any head pain I’ve ever experienced. The onset came at about the 15th rep, but it didn’t seem too terrible, even though even at that point it was reminiscent of a similar headache of the same nature that I’ve had in the past (although this time, it’s intensity and duration was much, much worse). After the 30th rep, I had to sit down and hold my head in pain, and it felt like the back of my head was going to explode (imagine something from an alien movie). After 15-20 minutes of agony, including dizziness and nausea (from the pain), I took 2 Advil (which I’ve never done for pain before). Walking and any other exertion caused the pain to worsen–I had to avoid the bounce in my step, bending over, and even turning my head from side to side. The pain pulsated with my hear beat. I tried to eat within about 30 minutes of my workout, but it wasn’t until about an hour after the onset of the headache that I was finally able to eat and the pain subsided. (Perhaps the Advil kicked in.)

Although I felt better as the evening progressed, when I awoke after about 8 hours of sleep on Thursday morning, my headache returned. I wasn’t dizzy, and I didn’t have any nausea, but the pain was still there–dull and pulsating, becoming more pronounced with any exertion (even standing up out of bed). If I didn’t do anything to exacerbate it, the pain level was at about 40% of Wednesday. I had to take a 4-hour nap after class that afternoon.

I felt substantially better on Friday, and thus decided to try a workout. Unfortunately, after only a handful of reps of the first exercise (floor presses at 185 lbs–floor presses are like bench presses, but on the floor instead of on a bench) (albeit after a few warmup sets on light weight), I felt the more excruciating pain returning, and I immediately stopped my workout. I was in pain that was about 75% of the initial pain I felt on Wednesday for the next hour.

Since then, my headache had subsided tremendously, though I still felt inklings of it when running too fast or jumping too much, but because it felt much more on its way out than Friday, I decided to try going to the gym again.

On Monday, January 11, I felt fine through my warmup set of 8 reps at 25 lbs dumbbell curls (although I did them together instead of alternating), and fine through the first 12 reps of 35-lbs dumbbell curls, and then quite suddenly, a flood gate of pain opened on the 13th rep, and I immediately stopped. As I write this, about 30 minutes after that last rep, I’m still at 75% of the Wednesday pain, with my head pulsating, feeling like it’s going to explode. I’m very slightly dizzy, and I’m having just the slightest trouble focusing my vision when I look from one thing to another. I should note that I tried especially hard to not tense up any part of my head or neck while performing the exercise, in case that contributed to the onset of the pain–obviously, that wasn’t relevant. My layman suspicion is that it’s correlated with blood pressure and/or heart rate.

My dad picked me up, and we went to the UCLA ER. The triage nurse saw me, and my blood pressure was okay (on the higher side of normal), and my heart rate and temperature were fine. I didn’t actually get admitted until about 11pm, during which time I had an opportunity to eat dinner (my appetite was fine), and my headache subsided to about 65% of the Wednesday pain. However, between 10pm and 11pm, it increased to about 85%. Also, the headache spread–first to just above my temples, then to the front of my head, and then just to my temples again.

The various superficial neurological test that the doctor performed were fine–I had no difficulty with balance, following her finger, exercising excellent motor control over everything. My blood sugar and hemoglobin was normal. They gave me about 1000mg Tylenol, which is probably the first time in my life that I took it. After about 20-30 minutes, it helped the headache (down to about 30% pain), but I started getting severely dehydrated. I drank well over a liter of water in about 15 minutes, and my mouth was extremely dry. My urine sample revealed that I was slightly ketonic, but my layman guess is that has to do with the fact that I was so dehydrated, although it’s quite possible that it’s related to my extremely low-carb diet (although I do eat a fruit a day and there’s the lactose in milk). The doctor tried to give me crackers and juice, but I refused. (After reading several accounts of people whose lives were saved by steadfast allegiance to their diet under medical emergency circumstances, I figure eating the types of foods closer to what humans evolved to eat and avoiding other stuff is probably a good idea–or at least safe.)

I also don’t think that my avoiding carbs is related, since I’ve been doing that for almost 6 months without incident (and instead, realized quite a few benefits, including a visible drop in body fat, the complete disappearance of my allergies, the disappearance of any lactose-sensitivity I had, better sleep, etc.). Also, I’ve had head pain like this before (see below).

The doctor occasionally mentioned the word “migraine”, but I don’t know enough about it to know whether that was actually my problem. On the plus side, I’m not particularly photo-sensitive. The doctor ordered an MRI, which I will be pursuing, as well as a prescription for Motrin, which I think I’ll avoid unless the pain gets unbearable again. Around 12 midnight, as they were getting ready to discharge me, my stomach started hurting, but I figured it was just due to lack of sleep. (Especially in the last several weeks, I’ve been getting excellent sleep (probably 8-10 hours nightly), typically going to bed at 7pm and waking up at 4am.) I drove home, and got into bed, and suddenly I had extreme stomach pain and became extremely nauseous. I barely made it to the bathroom in time, and I vomited a huge volume of fluid, including much of my dinner. I also tried sitting on the toilet periodically through the night, and that helped a little. After getting a few hours of sleep, I woke up again around 4, and managed to get to the bathroom in time to voimit, and it was even more than the first time I had vomited that night. I remember being astounded that my stomach could hold such a volume of liquid. I drank some water, but I was extremely dehydrated throughout the night, even until I woke up at 10am. I tried to get up, but I was so exhausted that I went back to bed, and woke up at about noon. (This is Tuesday, January 12, now.) I tried to get some reading done, but I just passed out again. It seems that no matter how much water I drink, I’m still terribly dehydrated. I’ve been urinating a normal amount, but slightly less than I would have expected for the close-to-2-liters of water I had had by about 1pm.

That brings us to the time of this writing: I’ve been awake and lucid since about 1pm, although I do feel a little foggy. I’m able to be somewhat functional, but I suspect that if I were to lay down again, I would fall asleep. My head pain is at about 20-30%, and my stomach pain is at about 30-40% of the worst stomach pain that I can imagine (which actually occurred in July 2000: the gastritis I was diagnosed with was my stomach feeling like it was being cut up by knives, thanks to chronic sleep deprivation and stress.) Although I’m a little hungry, I feel like if I were to eat anything, it would hurt my stomach. At this point, I will be contacting a general physician to get a regular checkup and scheduling an MRI with a specialist.

As for some background information:

Throughout this entire ordeal, and in general, I’ve been extremely well hydrated, and I get plenty of salt in my diet (sometimes I worry it’s too much!), and I make sure to eat a banana before my workouts (since I am prone to cramps).

I don’t typically do any cardio exercise, aside from just being generally active. From September to December, I went to the gym about 4-5 times per week to lift weights. My new routine consists of only 3 days of lifting per week. Last academic year, I was on the UCLA Triathlon team.

The most notable previous occurrence of a headache of this nature was after doing “jumpies” in Fall 2005 as part of a warmup for rowing. Jumpies are like a squat, but without added weight, and one jumps in the air. After a set of about 20, I had this type of headache, but the pain was much less, and after laying down for about an hour, it subsided completely and didn’t return, even with subsequent ordinary exertion. This is typical of all the other past occurrences.

UC Regents Meeting Protest at UCLA

2009-12-12 14:43:50 | happenings, philosophy | By: Arthur Zey

So I realize that this is a bit late, but the thread about my status update got a bit out of hand, partially due to attributing positions to me based on the fact that other Objectivists made certain (unclear) comments. (Thank you, Sara, for helping to clarify some of that.) My purpose here is to further clarify my position…now that I’ve cooled down a bit. Also, I should mention that because I hate arguing about politics (and political-type issues), I don’t intend to respond to any further comments–unless there is some great value to me making further clarifications.

To begin with, my status update was not primarily about whether the protest got violent or was a violation of rights (although it did get violent). Nor was it primarily about the fact that I disagree with the opinions of the protestors (although that is relevant). My condemnation of the protesters was fundamentally about the style of the protest. It certainly has nothing to do with students daring to stand up for themselves or expressing an opinion that goes against the status quo. (And Christopher–why would you suggest such a thing when I myself started and run an activist organization that impugns wholesale the last two millennia of philosophy? It’s pretty unjust to accuse me of such hypocrisy.)

My problem is that the protest was utterly anti-intellectual. This is evident from the fact that group looked more like an angry mob than students rationally expressing their discontent: body language, yelling and shouting, defiance of and confrontation with the police (and the fact that the police were desperately necessary because the “mood” of the mob was incredibly threatening), advocating walking out of class and accosting those who went (this actually happened to a friend of mine), no serious intellectual arguments to back up their positions, etc.

Compare this protest to the Tea Parties–still leaving content aside. Police were not required at the Tea Party protests (to my knowledge), except, in some cases, to protect the protesters themselves. (Even if there were a few exceptions, my point is the overall trend and my own experience at a number of these protests.) The Tea Parties offered actual intellectual content–yes, emotions ran high, but they weren’t just rank emotionalism. And although some of the content may have been pretty poor (although I agree with the movement as a whole), at least the effort was to convince using argument and persuasion.

That having been said, I do not think that it is a coincidence that I disagree with the content. These students want education for free. Given the current cultural climate, it’s no surprise that many people think that education, health care, and many other services for free–they think these are rights–but nothing is “free” in the sense that it comes out of thin air. To take the education example: knowledge has to be discovered (which can be expensive, especially in the sciences), and professors, administrators, and staff need to get paid. And who is to pay for these things? These students want American citizens to be forced through taxation.

Now, Ben, you suggested that crimes of physical violence are graver than those against private property. I don’t agree with that as a rule (although I agree in many cases), but the irony of your statement is that when the government coercively taxes its citizens, it is under penalty of force, that is, physical violence (e.g., in an extreme or ultimate situation, the government coming into one’s home with guns and dragging one out to jail). (Let us set aside a discussion of government financing in the type of society I advocate, and also the notion that I somehow agree to some sort of social contract binding me to paying taxes–both are relatively sophisticated issues in political philosophy.)

These students have a severely ingrained sense of entitlement, and their protest amounts to little more than the emotionalism of a child screaming “But I want it now!”, without any regard for the actual requirements of what it takes to create education and how to make it affordable.

Speaking of making education (or health care or any other human value) affordable, why not subject it to the same conditions that made every other human value affordable in our capitalist paradise–freedom (i.e., free markets)? Like all industries subjected to the profit motive and free trade, the quality of education would go up while the price went down. This can be verified inductively by looking at countless examples throughout history or deductively through the science of economics. (And for those of you who will raise the “elasticity” objection, consider how vitally crucial things like transportation, computer access, cell phones, etc. are, and yet somehow they are still incredibly affordable.)

Returning to my criticism of my protest, I also do not think that it is a coincidence that the protest got violent, resulting in the police having to use (retaliatory) force and making arrests. Because the manner of the protest was so anti-intellectual, so emotionalist, so angry, so aggressive, it was no surprise at all that it lead to blows. Somehow, I have difficulty envisioning the Tea Party protesters in LA, amid their speeches, storming the Federal Building. The difference is quite stark.

Jon–of course I am not against boycotting (unless of course, one is in violation of a contract by so doing). One certainly has the right to avoid associating with another. However, that’s not the same as a sit-in. (Sara already indicated that it is a matter of property rights–although, the issue is unfortunately muddled when “public property” is involved.) Thankfully, a sit-in is not at issue here, even though I think that sit-ins share a certain fundamental anti-intellectual similarity with the kind of protest that occurred at UCLA.

Finally, as for name-calling and baseless accusations–a status update is not a treatise. I have only so much room to give an indication as to my status, and at that moment, it was to indicate my extreme displeasure with what happened at UCLA. Believe me, it was mild compared to what I was feeling. And really, it was mild compared to the disrespect and sarcasm that some of the commenters on the original status update showed to other commenters.

Anyway, I hope that this clears up my position. For those of you interested in some of the more philosophic points, I recommend Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. In particular, I recommend the essays “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government”.

150th Anniversary of the Oil Industry

2009-08-27 19:32:19 | philosophy | By: Arthur Zey

Alex Epstein recently sent me this email, and I wanted to share it with whoever reads my blag:

Dear friend or appreciator of petroleum,

Today, August 27, 2009 is the 150th birthday of the oil industry. A century and a half ago, Edwin Drake successfully drilled the first commercial oil well. 150 years later, oil remains the lifeblood of our civilization. It fuels our ultra-mobile, globalized world. It provides the building-blocks for millions of life-enhancing petroleum products.

Yet “Big Oil” receives no appreciation. It is demonized; oil is called an “addiction” and a “pollutant” to get rid of. Thus, it should be little surprise that the anniversary of oil has gotten so little attention; for most Americans, there is little to celebrate.

To educate the public about the true value of oil, the Ayn Rand Center has created a new webpage, “Celebrating Oil’s 150th Birthday.” The quickest address to reach it is: The site features extensive written, audio, and video content on such topics as oil and economics, oil and foreign policy, and oil and the environment.

If you find the website of value, please spread the word to your friends and colleagues. In an era when all our most practical sources of energy are under attack, it is vital that we defend petroleum and the industry that produces it.

As we say on the website: OIL: UNDERSTAND IT. EMBRACE IT. DEFEND IT.

More content coming soon, including “Oil 101″: a multi-part audio course exploring the history of oil and all the major oil controversies we face today.

Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Alex Epstein

Alex Epstein
Analyst, Ayn Rand Center
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Google, I hope you’re listening

2009-08-10 20:48:46 | technology | By: Arthur Zey

With the recent release of Google Voice (at least in private beta), we really get a sense for how Google likes to integrate services and provide centralized management.

I can’t overstate how much I am in favor of this. However, it seems that Google has overlooked a painfully obvious way in which it can offer a huge value to its users–and how it can “steal” a huge part of Microsoft’s market-share of corporate users.

I’m not even asking for new features so much as I am asking for new ways to access existing Google services: (1) a Microsoft Exchange wrapper for Google accounts and (2) single-logon / account linking.

Now, I like web interfaces, and I realize that as a technological “culture”, we’re headed in that direction. But until web applications catch up to the power of Microsoft Outlook, I want the best of both worlds: I want to be able to access the same email/calendar/contact/tasks store whether through Google’s web access or through Outlook. I don’t want to have another program that has to run on my computer that syncs Outlook with Google. I want Outlook to connect to my Google account using the Microsoft Exchange protocol in the same way that it might connect to the Microsoft Exchange server at my office: all changes are instantaneously pushed to and from Outlook and Google, and anything done in Outlook in “offline” mode gets pushed upon re-establishing a connection to Google. (Think about how much more convenient it is for you to have Google calendar and contacts items pushed to and from your iPhone than it is to have to sync with your computer.)

Now here’s where the integration really comes in: If you’re like me, you may have multiple Google accounts. You probably started out with a Gmail account way back when, and as Google expanded their services, you also got the calendar and tasks list. But then Google came out with Google Apps for businesses/organizations, and now you have at least one of those. And as more businesses adopt Google Apps in lieu of Microsoft Exchange, it’s more and more likely that people will have multiple email addresses, contact lists, calendars, and tasks lists. What I want is to have one Google logon account–just a username and password–with which I can associate all my Google-hosted services. So imagine my Google username is LogicalArthur. I’d log in as that, and I would immediately have access to email/contacts/calendar/tasks, my email/contacts/calendar/tasks, and any other Google / Google Apps accounts I might acquire in the future. When I go to my LogicalArthur email inbox, I see the and email inboxes listed on the left (and how about my Google Voice inboxes as well?). When I go to the LogicalArthur calendar, I see all my calendars listed from all my accounts (in a similar fashion to how you can view multiple calendars already, but with full read/write privileges). Etc. Actually, it would be pretty awesome to be able to configure my account such that it merges the various services. So I could tell it that I only maintain one calendar or one tasks list, and it would automatically merge the services, so and would share the same calendaring or tasks service, even though they’re really two different accounts. (I should be able to do the same with email and/or contacts, if that’s my preference.)

And here’s the icing on the cake: I want the option to sign into this single integrated account with Microsoft Outlook using the Exchange protocol. Each of my Google email accounts associated with my logon (whether straight Gmail or part of a Google Apps account) will be presented as separate inbox folders. It will also present multiple contact lists, multiple calendars, and multiple tasks lists–unless I decide to merge any of the services as I described above.

Google, I hope you’re listening. This would make the electronic management of my life so much easier, and I suspect many other people would similarly enjoy these features. From a technological standpoint, they’re extremely easy to implement–I just don’t personally have the skill-set (yet?) to program it.

Please do it!