Saturday, April 30, 2022

I just signed the Plant Based Treaty (You should also)

 You can read the treaty here.

"The Plant Based Treaty aims to halt the widespread degradation of critical ecosystems caused by animal agriculture and to promote a shift to healthier, sustainable plant-based diets. We are urging scientists, individuals, groups, businesses and cities to endorse this call to action and put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant Based Treaty."


Friday, April 29, 2022

The Gold Standard?

 It is not hard to find people who think the gold standard is the solution to our economic problems. Here economist K. Kıvanç Karaman looks at the gold standard over several centuries. 

"These patterns make clear that being on gold/silver standard was not a hard commitment to keep the value of money stable. First, because states could and did depreciate on gold/silver standard. Second, because they could get off gold/silver standard altogether and switch to fiat"

"To sum up, monetary standards could not and cannot be used to short-circuit politics and put monetary policy on auto-pilot. Ultimately, politics shapes whether gold standard, fiat standard, or any other standard is adopted, and how it is run."

You can find the abstract here.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Social Problems

 Henry George published his book Social Problems in 1883 with the goal of popularizing his economic ideas. Unfortunately, like George’s other works, it is little known today. In this on-going series, from time to time, I intend to post extracts from this powerful work;

"THERE come moments in our lives that summon all our powers - when we feel that, casting away illusions, we must decide and act with our utmost intelligence and energy. So in the lives of peoples come periods specially calling for earnestness and intelligence.

We seem to have entered one of these periods. Over and again have nations and civilizations been confronted with problems which, like the riddle of the Sphinx, not to answer was to be destroyed; but never before have problems so vast and intricate been presented. This is not strange. That the closing years of this century must bring up momentous social questions follows from the material and intellectual progress that has marked its course."

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Free Esperanto Course!

 Here is a link to a free 10 lesson correspondence course in Esperanto. 

From the introduction:

"Esperanto is a living language, used for everything people use any other language for. But it's much easier to learn than a national language. Even people who can't remember a word of a language they studied for years in high school or college need only months of intensive study to become fluent in Esperanto. It is also more useful than national languages if your goal in learning a language is to get to know people from different places, since virtually everyone who speaks Esperanto has learned it for this reason."

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Journalist Carl Hnatyshyn takes up Esperanto!

 From the Beacon Herald:

"With simple grammar, no irregular past tenses, no irregular plurals, easy pronunciation and a completely phonetic writing system (it looks like it sounds), I may have finally stumbled upon a language that I can master. It’s certainly worth a try …"

Monday, April 25, 2022

"So long as the use of animal foods is undisturbed . . . (#vegan, #veganism)


"So long as the use of animal foods is undisturbed and its lawfulness unquestioned, all our efforts to heal the maladies of society are superficial" - William Alexander Alcott

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Vegetarian America: A History (#vegan, #veganism)

 Karen and Michael Iacobbo’s book Vegetarian America: A History (Barnes & Noble, Amazon) is must reading for every vegan activist. It is important to understand that we stand on the shoulders of generations of advocates who came before us. It will introduce you to the work of people largely forgotten, like Ernest Crosby, whose ideas deserve to be studied today.

Vegans might be turned off by the use of the term Vegetarian, but that was the word used by our predecessor, and the book does cover the origins of the modern vegan movement.

The book reminds us that the struggle for a world without cruelty will not be won in a single generation, but progress can be made and the goal is worth the effort.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A short introduction to Esperanto (in English) #Esperanto

 Alex Miller reads an introductory pamphlet about Esperanto. This is a good short introduction, although as he points out, some of the content is dated. I am old enough to remember the first Telstar satellite, but don't worry if that seems like ancient history. If you are interested here is some background. The Telstar also inspired this hit song.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Why Scott Nearing stopped eating animals (#vegan):

 ". . . I became a vegetarian because I was persuaded that life is as valid for other creatures as it is for humans. I do not need dead animal bodies to keep me alive, strong and healthy. Therefore, I will not kill for food. . . " 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Learn Esperanto by the direct method!

 Here is the first lesson of a free Esperanto video course, posted by Australian Esperantist Evildea. In the direct method no English is used, but it is very easy to follow.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

People with substance abuse problems benefit from work

 A paper in Behaviour Research and Therapy, here are the highlights:

• People with opioid use disorder (OUD) often need help with employment problems.

• We “employed” people with OUD in a contingency-management-based study workplace.

• We collected randomly timed ratings of stress, craving, and mood via smartphone.

• Stress, craving, and mood were better at work and, for some endpoints, on workdays.

• These results highlight some particular benefits of employment for people with OUD.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Washington Post profile of a hyper-polyglott

 Here is the link.

"By his count, it is actually 37 more languages, with at least 24 he speaks well enough to carry on lengthy conversations. He can read and write in eight alphabets and scripts. He can tell stories in Italian and Finnish and American Sign Language. He’s teaching himself Indigenous languages, from Mexico’s Nahuatl. to Montana’s Salish. The quality of his accents in Dutch and Catalan dazzle people from the Netherlands and Spain."

Thursday, April 14, 2022

How Norway taxes oil production (and why it matters)

 A very interesting post on Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund.

"Georgist land and resource policy is basically a way of saying: if you wish to take the bounties of nature for your own private use, you must compensate the people for what you take. When it comes to land, your occupation of a plot means the exclusion of everyone else, so you must pay land value tax. When it comes to resources, you taking them out of the ground means they are lost to the next generation, so you must pay severance tax. When it comes to pollution, you have degraded the Earth itself and imposed a cost on everyone, so you must pay pigouvian taxes."

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

People might be open to changing their minds

 I am sure that this study will get a lot of attention. The researches paid a sample of conservative Fox News viewers to watch CNN. Did it affect their attitudes? Here is the abstract:

"Partisan media impacts voting behavior, yet what changes in viewers’ beliefs or attitudes may underlie these impacts is poorly understood. We recruited a sample of regular Fox News viewers using data on actual TV viewership from a media company, and incentivized them to watch CNN instead for a month using real-time viewership quizzes. Despite regular Fox viewers being largely strong partisans, we found manifold effects of changing the slant of their media diets on their factual beliefs, attitudes, perceptions of issues’ importance, and overall political views. We show that these effects stem in part from a bias we call partisan coverage filtering, wherein partisan outlets selectively report information, leading viewers to learn a biased set of facts. Consistent with this, treated participants concluded that Fox concealed negative information about President Trump. Partisan media does not only present its side an electoral advantage—it may present a challenge for democratic accountability."

Here is a good journalistic account

One take away from this is that people's attitudes are not set in stone and people might be open to changing their minds if given additional information.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Gandhi: "any man or woman can achieve what I have"

 "I have not a shadow of a doubt, that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith" - Gandhi (1936)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The idea of Esperanto (#Esperanto)

 In 1887 Polish linguist and ophthalmologist Ludwik Zamenhof published his constructed language Esperanto. Zamenhof had grown up in Bialystok, a multi ethnic city sharply divided along religious, ethnic, and linguistic lines. Polish, Russian, German, and Yiddish speakers lived together in a state of mutual distrust.

It was in this environment that Zamenhof came to the idea of a universal auxiliary language. The purpose of this language would not be to displace any existing language, rather it would be a second, easy to learn, language that everyone could use to make themselves understood. Since it was a constructed language it would not carry the baggage of being the language of a dominant group. It would not be imposed by some conqueror, but would be freely accepted as a convenient second language.

The other advantage of a constructed language is that it could be structured in such a way as to make it easy to learn.  Thus, Esperanto has no irregular verbs, its pronunciation is standard, and it has many other features that simplify the learning process. For example, any word can be made into its opposite by simply adding the prefix “mal.” So the word for big is "granda," and the word for small is "malgranda." This simple principle greatly reduces the amount of vocabulary that has to be learned. 

Esperanto has experienced something of a revival. The Internet has allowed for increased communication between Esperantists and more opportunities to learn the language.

There have been many efforts to create universal auxiliary languages, some of them attempts to improve on Esperanto. However, Esperanto has one virtue over these other efforts, it already has a large number of speakers and has more momentum.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

it is not too difficult to think that our descendants will abandon meat consumption (#vegan)

 Just as the world has started to move away from capital punishment, it is not too difficult to think that our descendants will abandon meat consumption and other forms of animal exploitation. It should also be a priority for us today.

Like all social movements veganism is complex and contains many currents. But it is unique in the sense that membership in the movement involves a consequential change in personal behavior. So many so-called “movements” ask nothing more of us than to send in a donation. In those cases we are asked to stand on the sidelines, the important actions are taken by professionals and we are only a source of funding. But veganism is different. To participate you must actually act to eliminate your participation in the cruelty industrial complex. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Thoughts about nonviolence (#nonviolence)

A useful unifying principle for action is that we should always favor the minimal amount of violence.

Pacifism is the belief that one should never use violence and pacifism is open to a number of criticisms. First it is possible to set up thought experiments that clearly challenge the ethical basis of pacifism; would you not use violence to prevent a person from causing harm to a child? Or to hundreds of children? More than just theoretical, there are historical examples, such as using force to overthrow slavery in the American south, that have strong justification. So I will start with the assumption that absolute pacifism is untenable.

However, a more modest proposal seems in order, we should always strive to use violence only as a last resort and when force is necessary we must always try to apply the minimum amount. Many people would assent to this proposition, but we often stray from it in application. We have a tendency to adjust downward the point at which violence might be necessary. After the September 11th attacks many of us were ready to endorse all kinds of ill conceived mobilizations of violence. In retrospect we can see how poorly conceived our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were. These examples make it clear that we need to adjust upward the point at which we think violence is justified.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Learn Esperanto with Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo

 Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo is a much loved introductory Esperanto course, now available for free on YouTube. The lessons tell the story of the Bonvolu family and their many misadventures. Here is a link to the first few videos.  There is also an accompanying text that you can download for free here.

The videos have consistently low production values, which simply adds to their charm and good fun. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Why paying people to stay off drugs is a good idea

 Here is a piece from the Washington Post about a program that pays people to stay off drugs. 

"Buswell, 21, was enrolled in a program with a radically simple premise: Get paid to abstain from drugs. The approach, known as “contingency management,” or CM, has racked up a slew of successes. It has been shown to dramatically reduce people’s smoking during pregnancy and to help decrease binge drinking. It is also highly promising for combating methamphetamine addictions."

Contingency management refers to a set of behavioral change techniques that use positive reinforcement. These techniques derived from behavioral psychology and have a much higher success rate than most other approaches. Unfortunately these techniques are not widely used, largely because people either don't know about them or misunderstand them. In the future, I intend to write more about how we can make better use of positive reinforcement to effect better social outcomes. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

We should spend more on education


This paper looks at the effects of improving public school quality on crime:

 "we find that students exposed to additional funding during elementary school were substantially less likely to be arrested in adulthood. We show that the Marginal Value of Public Funds of improving school quality (via increases in funding) is greater than one, even when considering only the crime-reducing benefits."

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Esperato: Nova Latino (Esperanto with English subtitles)


A few weeks ago, I had to the pleasure to speak to  Miroslav Vančo via the Ekparolu program. Here is an interesting video about how he became an Esperanto broadcaster for the Vatican.

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Larger Socialism

 The phrase the larger socialism is associated with a group of social reformers who lived in the early part of the twentieth century, most notably Edward Carpenter and Henry Salt. These names are unlikely to be familiar to you, yet both had influence beyond their time and place.

Edward Carpenter, if he is remembered at all, is as an early advocate for gay and lesbian rights. Herny Salt’s influence was indirect but substantial. He had written a book in defense of vegetarianism that found its way into the hands of a young Mohandis Gandhi. Gandhi had come to England to study law. Before leaving India he had promised his mother that he would not eat meat. Being a vegetarian in London posed not only practical problems, but ideological ones as well. Many apologists for British imperialism argued that meat eating, which was claimed as a source of vigor, helped explain why the vegetarian Hindus were now a subject people.

But Gandhi, quite by accident, discovered a vegetarian restaurant and on his first visit purchased a copy of Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism and other essays. The arguments in the book, persuaded Gandhi to keep to his vegetarianism, and provided an intellectual and moral rationale for the practice.

Salt’s influence on Gandhi did not end there, he wrote a biography of Thoreau, also read by Gandhi. The book introduced Gandhi to the notion of civil disobedience. 

The larger socialism tried to unify many currents of reform, including anti-militarism, feminism, anti-imperialism, socialism, animal rights, and socialism. Salt organized the Humanitarian League to give voice to these sentiments.