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Two Case Studies on the Creepy Side of Our Creeping Libertarianism
Conservative NYT columnist Ross Douthat explores the next stage of creeping—and sometimes creepy—American libertarianism. We Americans are still becoming less Puritanical, if by Puritanical we remain a combination of religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, a combination that leads us to be concerned with the moral well-being of our fellow citizens and fellow creatures.
Now we can’t quite put legalized gambling and legalized marijuana use on the same moral page. In my state of Georgia, I appreciated the evangelical Christians who opposed a state-run lottery, and I wanted to damn the governor who got it passed (barely) by offering the bribe of free tuition at our public colleges (and an equivalent discount at our private colleges). Now this use of the gambling money did improve higher education and education in general in Georgia in a number of ways. Admission to the University of Georgia, not surprisingly, became much more competitive, and the increase the quality of student admitted led to an increase (well, perhaps not quite a corresponding increase) in the quality of education delivered.
Still, we egalitarian Puritans couldn’t help but notice that the lottery was highly regressive. Because there is no “means testing” of the relevant benefit, anyone can see the Georgia Lottery had the effectual truth of taxing poor people to send mainly middle-class kids to college. The Lottery is not a tax, you say! But prosperous people are too smart to play it, or play it only once in a while for fun. It’s the desperate who play it compulsively, hoping for the only “way out” they think is available to them. People who don’t have control over their lives, of course, turn to chance for redemption. Anyone who believes in “nudge economics”—as most sophisticates do these days—would call the lottery an extreme case of “negative nudging.” If the citizens of Georgia want higher education, technical education, and so forth to be free, they should just raise taxes!
Most of our country—although not yet Georgia—is being overrun by casinos. We no longer hide behind the “tribal fig leave” in not only legalizing but aggressively facilitating that easy way to raise public money, and that easy way to satisfy big donors to political campaigns. Almost every American—including me—lives within easy driving distance of casinos. That is a pretty big and quick change in the cultural landscape of our country. And it’s not a change we should believe in. As Ross observes:
[I]n the case of casinos…, [the] consequences for the common good are straightforwardly disastrous. As the Institute for American Values report points out, the alliance of state governments and gambling interests is essentially exploitative, and the tax revenue casinos supply comes at the expense of long-term social welfare. Casinos tend to lower property values and weaken social capital in the places where they’re planted, they’re more likely to extract dollars from distressed communities than to spur economic development, and their presence is a disaster for the reckless and the addiction-prone.
The negative nudging is obviously far more pronounced, of course, than it is in the case of lotteries. Ordinary people are obviously being exploited. Casinos undermine middle-class life, encourage recklessness, and entrap those prone to addition. But, some libertarians respond, people should be free to do what they’re inclined to do and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. And what’s wrong with the government replacing the Mafia in catering to a “preference” that we’re in no position to judge?
I admit that legalizing marijuana is rather different. Nobody can contest all that much the libertarian point that our prisons are overpopulated with those who’ve been given shamefully big sentences for nonviolent drug-related convictions. Marijuana is not addictive in the sense “hard drugs” are, or probably even in the sense gambling can be.
Marijuana can be the source of fairly harmless recreation for sophisticated and prosperous people. But I’ve noticed all my life that its habitual use makes people stupider than they need be. I also notice that Tyler Cowen—in his engagingly honest piece of libertarian futurology Average is Over—says that one reason the Americans who will devolve from being middle class to marginally productive won’t engage in much political agitation is that they’ll have ready access to on-screen entertainment and legal marijuana. Marijuana, Cowen comes close to saying, will be one of the twin pillars of the idiocracy to come.
If a nudge economist wants to use public policy discourage cigarette smoking and drinking giant sodas, you’d think he’d also want to use public policy to discourage the use of marijuana. Marijuana might not affect your health in the narrowest sense of health, but we Puritans notice it does affect the sustainability of civilized life in quite obvious and measurable ways. Who can deny that completely unregulated marijuana use will have, as Ross claims, a negative effect on the economic mobility of Americans? And nobody can deny that economic mobility is already on decline in our country for a variety of reasons, many connected to some of our various new births of freedom.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.