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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Bell the Cat Rule

There is an old story called Belling the Cat in which a nest of mice decide that for their own safety the cat should be made to wear a bell so that they can hear it coming.  Although initially applauded, the plan is later dismissed when the mice realize that none of them is willing to volunteer to do the actual work of affixing the bell to the cat.

Back when I had more free time, I used to take on active roles in voluntary associations in which there were no paid employees.  In organizational meetings, the Belling the Cat scenario came up so frequently that I hit upon a solution which I named the "Bell the Cat Rule":

The one who proposes a task is the one who performs the task.
This works out pretty well because generally a person is motivated to put in the effort to make something succeed when it is their own idea. After a few applications of the rule, it also saves time at future meetings because committee members learn to stop proposing projects that they would not want to work on themselves.

For more of my thoughts on voluntary associations and many other topics, please see my website Papa's Anthology of Paternal Advice.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Pandemic Fertility

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed by Congress to mitigate the harms of the COVID-19 pandemic, my family will receive money from the government for the 2021 Child Tax Credit.  Part of this credit will be paid out in advance so with three children at home we will be receiving $750 per month.  Along with the previous stimulus checks, more formally known as economic impact payments, this is starting to feel a lot like universal basic income.

Under the proposed American Families Plan, these child tax credits would be extended another five years.  There are some legislators who would go even further by making it permanent.  My youngest is seven-years-old so we could be receiving these checks for another decade.

Besides a reduction in childhood poverty, one of the benefits of permanent child tax credits could be a restoration of the national fertility rate to a sustainable level.  As I wrote previously, we need to figure out how emulate those countries that are both happy and fertile.  Some countries are attempting to resolve this issue with monthly payments to parents but this is only partially successful.

I think urbanization is a main cause of the declining birth rate.  We are all moving to the city because that is where the jobs are.  To raise children requires extra bedrooms which is often unaffordable in the city even with both parents working full-time.

The pandemic has reduced the birth rate even further but might have a long-term positive effect by accelerating deurbanizationTelecommuting is permitting some parents to move their families to suburbs and exurbs where they can afford single family homes in good school districts.  Moving farther out to rural areas becomes more feasible with virtual schools.

Just a few generations ago, my ancestors raised their large families on relatively isolated farms and ranches.  The technology and cultural shifts of the current pandemic might help us spread out again.  This in turn might help us survive the next world-wide crisis.



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Pandemic Marathon

Yesterday I walked over fifty-eight thousand (58k) steps on the treadmill while playing Sid Meier's Civilization VI.  This my technique to use addictive entertainment to lose weight.  My next goal is to gradually increase my speed.

I finally got my second COVID-19 vaccination a week ago.  I was very sick the day after I got the shot.  My wife Shannon got her second shot a couple of days ago and, as she had predicted, had no significant side effects.

They say that two weeks after you get the second shot, you are immune to COVID-19.  I feel a sense of relief as I approach my personal finish line of this pandemic marathon that began more than a year ago.  The good news is that I am emerging from this historical calamity even healthier than I was before.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Price Gouging

Texas state law defines price gouging as

taking advantage of a disaster declared by the governor under Chapter 418, Government Code, or by the president of the United States by:

(A)  selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price; or

(B)  demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity

John Stossel has a video in which he argues that price gouging should be legal since the law of supply and demand ensures that supply meets demand through optimal pricing.  The flaw in his argument is in assuming that this economic law works in emergency situations where buyers have little to no choice about purchasing necessities from the seller at any price.  How much is one willing to pay for a bottle of water when dying from thirst?

As an example of this, recently the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) charged an exorbitant price for electricity during a state-wide winter emergency.  Rather than holding prices at the normal rate as the ability to provide electricity fell below minimum demand, they instead let the price rise to the legal maximum despite consumers having no choice about buying the electricity.  How much is one willing to pay for electricity to heat a home during a multi-day freeze?

As sellers profit tremendously when buyers must buy their product at any price, sellers are not financially incentivized to prevent such situations from occurring.  There is a conflict of interest when the seller is both the entity responsible for preventing such disasters and simultaneously the one that profits from them.  This situation is also a moral hazard in that the seller can assume a high level of risk with the buyers being forced to assume the costs of those risks.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

Considerate Behavior

Previously I wrote about the connection between being considerate and being conscientious without defining what I meant by the term considerate.  To be considerate is to refrain from behaving in a way that suggests that you failed to consider the negative impacts upon others before speaking or acting.  Sometimes, however, not speaking or acting might be inconsiderate when it would be of benefit to others for you to do so.  This thoughtlessness can be a result of apathy, selfishness, or mere ignorance.

Avoid being oblivious to the state of others to reduce the risk of being unintentionally inconsiderate.  A simple example would be making loud noises without noticing that someone nearby is on the phone.  Another would be to fail to express an appropriate level of gratitude for a gift or favor because you were unaware of the substantial cost to your benefactor.  A more complicated example might be to criticize someone for their lack of productivity at work while being clueless about their personal crises at home.

You cannot always predict ahead of time whether what you say or do will hurt or inconvenience others.  Attempting to do so might cause you to freeze up completely.  You can, however, respond positively when someone brings an issue to your attention by assuring them that the harm was unintentional and that you will avoid repeating the mistake in the future.

For more thoughts like these plus some quotidian, please see my paternal advice website.  I have been adding everything I can think of to it recently, including the kitchen sink.

Sunday, January 31, 2021


I have been continuing to give or throw away at least one thing per day.  Sometimes I get behind on this but I keep track and catch up later.  It seems to be working.

I have let my magazine subscriptions lapse.  Just recently I have also been unsubscribing from all of the mailing lists that have been clogging my email inbox, including the ones that I would really like to read someday should I ever get the time.  I might re-subscribe to a few when I start seeing my email backlog shrinking rather than growing on a daily basis.

Today I finished watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and The Minimalists: Less is Now on Netflix.  The word "minimalism" is tricky as its new meaning has little to do with its previous historical definitions.  The other issue for me is that it does not capture the idea of de-cluttering your inbox in addition to de-cluttering your house.

I went digging around on the Web and discovered the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  This seems to cover the flip side that I was seeking.  Like the word "minimalism", the word "essentialism" also has a historical definition that differs from its modern meaning.

Other people have noted the connection between minimalism and essentialism.  One person illustrates this with a Venn diagram showing how they parallel and intersect.  I like to think of minimalism as freeing up your space and essentialism as freeing up your time.

I am inventing the term "minessentialism" to mean a practice that combines both minimalism and essentialism.  This word has no historical alternative definition to confuse the meaning as confirmed by a search engine.  It has the advantage of emphasizing the shared themes and goals.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Optihumanist Principles 2020

For my annual revision of my Optihumanist Principles, I rearranged the order of the sections to improve the flow.  I also updated the content of the Democracy and the Optimism sections.  Here is the revised document in its entirety:

  • Reality is real. We choose to live our lives free from fear of the supernatural. We uphold reason and science as paths to the truth. We build heavens for ourselves and our beloved in the here and now.

  • Religion is natural. We answer the call for a new religion compatible with the scientific spirit. We gather as a community to educate and to celebrate. We find meaning in ourselves, our descendants, and each other.

  • Democracy is respect. We adapt to change by adopting change. We demonstrate our faith in our fellowship by voting as equals. We defend the rights of others as our own.

  • Life is limitless. We create and share knowledge to expand our possibilities. We invent and innovate to overcome infirmity and mortality. We welcome the propagation of life throughout the Universe.

  • Optimism is opportunity. We hope for the best and prepare for the best. We pursue our goals tenaciously despite repeated setbacks. We recognize long-term incremental progress.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hoarding or Prepping

Compulsive hoarding runs in my family and until recently I myself had an issue with bibliomania that would occasionally result in a storage problem.  I have come to accept that it is not possible for me to read all of the books that I have collected over the years so I have given myself permission to unburden myself of them.  My new minimalist living rule of throwing away at least one possession every day is gradually freeing up space on my shelves at the rate of 365 books per year.

Many years ago a relative told me that when he was trying to throw away an old metal wash basin, my maternal grandmother protested that they might need it to bathe a baby at the river someday.  I was not sure what kind of scenario she might have been imagining where a city resident such as herself would have to go to the river many miles from where she lived for water.  I understood, however, that people who lived through the Great Depression and World War II thought twice about throwing anything out.

The panic buying and hoarding of food and hygiene supplies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year made me think about the legal penalties for hoarding food during World War II.  How would that apply to people who had already accumulated an emergency cache prior to the start of a national rationing program?  I imagine that those preppers and Mormons that already had deep pantries were probably not standing in the long lines of shopping carts piled high with hand soap and toilet paper.

When a crisis hits, a prepper will already have a cache containing enough consumables to last the duration plus two of every tool required just in case one breaks.  In contrast, a hoarder will end up acquiring multiple instances of an item because the disorganized storage of his hoard prevents him from easily identifying what he already has, knowing where it is within the hoard, and easily accessing it without having to shuffle other items around it like a sliding tile puzzle.  Based on these differences, here are guidelines you can use to ensure that you are prepping and not just hoarding:

  • Know what you have
  • Know where it is
  • Keep it accessible


Thursday, October 29, 2020


Upload is a science fiction romantic comedy television series available on Amazon Prime video.  It describes a near future in which those facing imminent death can opt to have their brains scanned so that their personalities can live on in a virtual world.  I enjoyed watching the first season and was happy to learn that it was renewed for a second.



Saturday, September 26, 2020


I recently finished listening to an audiobook recommended to me by a friend titled Man's Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl.  The author pointed out that those who had something to look forward to after the war were more likely to survive Nazi concentration camps.  The author treated his psychiatric patients using logotherapy in which patients are led to find their own reasons to live.

I like the idea that optimism helps you survive.  I agree with the author that people need to have some reason to get out of bed in the morning beyond the primitive drives of hunger, thirst, and caffeine addiction.  I also agree that it can help in cases of functional paralysis due to crippling fears of personal mortality.

To one patient who was depressed because he could not have children, the author pointed out that life on its own must have meaning beyond mere propagation.  When I think of one of my favorite movies Children of Men, I wonder if that is true.  I think a better suggestion for the patient might have been to adopt.

Another point on which I disagree with the author is his promotion of any reason for living when a patient is suicidal, whether it is true or not, so long as the patient will accept it.  For example, he lied to one patient by telling him that his current suffering would be rewarded in the afterlife.  I think finding some meaning based in reality is important and to do otherwise is likely to have negative long-term consequences.

The author pointed out that staying alive long enough to find a meaning of life in the future can become a sufficient meaning itself.  I think this works on the level of our species as a whole.  While spreading conscious life throughout the Universe seems worthwhile for what we are now, the descendants of Humanity at some future level of intelligence might determine deeper truths such as why the Universe exists and what that means with regard to our purpose within it.