|Daniel Cole's Publications|
Monday, May 30, 2022
I recently learned that my old friend and co-author, John Clark, died in late January from COVID-related complications that he fought for over a year.
John was a super-interesting and smart guy. In 1990, he and his dissertation supervisor, Aaron Wildavsky, co-authored a terrific book, "The Moral Collapse of Communism: Poland as a Cautionary Tale." I read that book several months before I met John, who moved from Berkeley to take up a research position at the Hudson Institute, which was then headquartered in Indy. Somehow, he found out that I was working on a book about the failure of environmental protection under communism in Poland, and he called me one day. I failed to recognize his name, so when he told me about his research interests, I recommended he read his own book. We became fast friends (as did our spouses), and started working on projects together, most notably a conference that led to a jointly edited book, "Environmental Protection in Transition: Economic, Legal and Socio-Political Perspectives on Poland" (Ashgate 1998).
John also introduced me to my dear friend and frequent collaborator, Peter Grossman, shortly after he moved from Wash. U., in St. Louis to Butler U. in Indy. I have very fond memories of the reading group John, Peter and I started, along with a couple other economists then at Ball State Univ., Eric Helland and Alex Tabarrok, both of whom had, like Peter, been students of Doug North. Eric later served as Chief Economist on G.W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors and Director of Research at the RAND Corp, before joining the faculty at Claremont McKenna College. Alex is well-known as co-founder of the Marginal Revolution blog. He's been on the Econ faculty at George Mason Univ. since 1999 and has served as Director of the Independent Institute.
It was a wonderfully contentious reading group, with John mostly on the left, Peter and I more or less surrounding the center, and Alex outflanking Eric on the right. They all had great academic pedigrees; I was a mutt. I learned SO much from those guys, especially about economics and political-economy, which I never studied in school.
Several years later, after the Hudson Institute moved back East from Indy, John started working for other think tanks and policy organizations in Indy. Eventually, we lost touch. I think the last time I talked to John was at a conference I organized at the law school in Indy a couple years before I moved down to Bloomington.
John was a real intellectual. But he was also a very kind, unassuming, and gentle person. It was a real honor for me to be associated with him.
I've been quite content with my Mytek Brooklyn+ Digital-to-Analogue Converter. But I had read so many posts on audiophile websites praising a new DAC by a little-known Chinese company, Musetech (formerly LKS Audio), that I thought I might give it a try. Users referred to it as an "end-game" DAC, i.e., a piece of equipment they never expected to be surpassed in quality. Some even said that they had sold off $15K DACs in favor of Musetech's $3.3K MH-DA005. I'm always a bit suspicious of such glowing reviews, especially in the absence of reviews from well-respected audio journalists. In this case, however, I read so much enthusiasm, from several different quarters, that I decided it was worth the risk.
To be honest, I didn't expect vast improvements over my Mytek Brooklyn +, which is a very, very good DAC, which was only a few hundred dollars less expensive than the Musitech. But, as soon as I plugged the Musetech into my system, even before it had a chance to warm up, I could hear big, positive improvements. Specifically, it is more detailed than the Mytek, but also a bit less bright and forward. The Mustech's soundstage is wider and deeper, but without any hint of the kind of distortion one sometimes hears in tube-based and R-2R-ladder DACs. Mustech uses two ESS Sabre 938Pro chips in its system, which one would expect to be better than the Brooklyn+'s pair of ESS Sabre 928 chips. But that's not the whole story.
Many audiophiles dislike (or at least dis-prefer) Delta-Sigma DACs, like the Mytek and the Musetech, which use are chip-based DACs. They prefer R-2R-ladder DACs, which use a bank of weighted resistors, rather than chips to convert the digital signal to analogue. They claim that R-2R DACs sound more "natural" and "alive" than Sigma-Delta DACs. Those who prefer Delta-Sigma DACs tend to claim that they tend to have less distortion and provide more musical detail than R2R DACs. In truth, both sets of claims are misleading because, while the chips/resistance ladders may be predominantly responsible for the sound reproduction, they are not the only parts in a DAC that affect sound reproduction. As one reviewer on Audio Asylum put it: "Power supplies and quality parts really matter." So does the actual design of the circuit. Unlike most DAC-makers, Musetech actually publishes details about the components they use. Presumably, they do this because they use all top-of-the-line clocks and capacitors.
So far, I have to concede that the Musetech MH-DA005 is everything that I have read about it. It has great presence and atmosphere. Musical instruments sound real and existence in nicely defined spaces. To use an overused cliche, the sound is "holographic," almost as if the musicians are in the room with you. There is no tinniness or hard edge to the sound; to the contrary, the overall tone is ever-so-slightly darker than absolute neutral (to my ears). I can easily imagine that, in a blind test, even veteran audiophiles would conclude that the design is R-2R, rather than chip-based. But it has none of the distortion or smearing that I have heard in less expensive and/or less well-designed ladder DACs (such as the Holo Spring, Level 2, which I found so disappointing, I returned it after a week). In all honesty, the Musetech MH-DA005 sounds to my ears like a best-of-both-worlds kind of DAC, combining the best qualities of chip-based and resistance ladder-based DACs.
I don't believe in the special ingredient called "magic dust," which reviewers sometimes allude to in raves about some new product that seems more than the sum of its parts. The Musetech is that, and then some. But the real magic is the design and implementation work done by the company's audio engineers. I can't say whether or not it is as good or better than other, more expensive DACs because I have not heard them (let alone heard them in my system). But now that I have heard the Musetech, I am a lot less skeptical of claims that it is a giant killer. Whether it is an "end-game" DAC remains to be seen, of course. Especially given the rapid pace of substantial technological improvements in digital-to-analogue conversion, no one knows how even the best of today's DACs will stack up against those built in 10-years' time. But for right now, and at least the next few years, it is a DAC to be reckoned with.
For a long time now, academic institutions - especially Tier 1 Research Universities - have acknowledged (or paid lip-service to) the importance of interdisciplinary scholarship. Realizing that the theories, methods, and insights of no single academic discipline can provide more than a partial explanation or solution to any complex social or combined social-ecological problem, they have sought to diminish the hard boundaries that traditionally have prevented scholars from (a) conducting cross-disciplinary scholarship and (b) co-producing such scholarship with scholars from other disciplines. However, as Elinor Ostrom, Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen explained in their 2010 book, Working Together, efforts to support interdisciplinary research have run up against structural impediments that still exist and may be ineradicable.
First and foremost, academics can be tenured in only one discipline. In order to obtain tenure, they must publish articles that can be understood by their intra-disciplinary colleagues in journals that are rated highly within the discipline. Those journals will, generally speaking, restrict them to building on previous work within the home discipline, which will in turn restrict the kinds of questions they can seek to answer using the discipline's approved (by convention or tradition) methods and modes of discourse. And the extent to which their teaching can cross disciplinary boundaries will likewise be restricted. [These restrictions are relatively mild in my own home discipline of law; they are much more pronounced in other social sciences.] While the number of interdisciplinary journals has been rising steadily, the extent to which they are valued in any particular discipline is questionable. In most departments, undue weight is placed on a journal's "Impact Factor " (IF) which is an estimation of a journal's overall quality based on citations to articles appearing in it. Very few (if any) interdisciplinary journals, which tend to be more recently established that intra-disciplinary journals, have IFs that are competitive with the top journals in a particular field. The resulting structure of incentives is for scholars to focus on infra-disciplinary issues, at least until they receive tenure, i.e., six or seven years into their careers. When they finally receive tenure, they might then broaden their research to include interdisciplinary issues, but disincentives remain. For one, at that point, their entire scholarly reputation is based on work they've published within the home discipline, and they might be reluctant to allow that reputation to be eroded by moving outside their home discipline. For another, the reputation of their home department, which matters for US News Rankings, which remain a big deal for departmental and central university administrators, continues to rest on faculty publications within the home discipline's journals.
The increasing use of "joint appointments" for interdisciplinary scholars is helpful to some extent, but by no means is it a panacea. I have held a joint appointment in the IU-Maurer School of Law and the IU-O'Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) for the last 10 years. I am a full faculty member in both departments. But, under university rules (which I believe are consistent with those of other universities), I have just one tenure home, in the law school. Since I already had tenure at the time I moved to IU, Bloomington (from the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis, now the IU-McKinney School of Law), that did not present any kind of problem for me. To some extent, the tenure-home concept actually made things easier for me. Among other things, all of my service requirements, e.g., committee assignments, are within my tenure home. But for that rule, I would have had twice the committee assignments, among other service commitments, of single-disciplinary faculty members. Nevertheless, it does involve a trade-off. Because I have not regularly attended SPEA faculty meetings or served on SPEA committees, I have interacted very little with the vast majority of my SPEA colleagues. In fact, I have not even met a majority of my (more than 100) SPEA colleagues. And even among the colleagues I have gotten to know fairly well there, some remain unaware that I am a member of the SPEA's faculty with full voting rights (other than for tenure and promotion, where voting is restricted to one's tenure-home), rather than a colleague from across campus who teaches in SPEA as a non-voting member of the ever-changing "adjunct" faculty.
Meanwhile, my true intellectual and scholarly home at IU remains the Ostrom Workshop, which is a fully interdisciplinary unit of IU. But, of course, the Workshop is an almost uniquely successful interdisciplinary enterprise, and even that success has been jeopardized in recent years by poor leadership. Happily, the current leadership of the Workshop is fully attuned to its interdisciplinary heritage. It almost goes without saying that, because of the Ostrom Workshop, it is much easier to be an interdisciplinary social scientist at IU than at most other universities. Still, for me to teach in the Workshop, a course must be cross listed in both the law school and in SPEA, and one of those schools must agree to count the course toward fulfilling my departmental teaching obligations. The law school has been more generous about that than SPEA over the years, though SPEA appears willing to allow me to teach in the Workshop for the last course I owe them before retiring.
In addition to the Workshop, I have also benefitted greatly as an interdisciplinary scholar from always having had a law school as my tenure-home. Both in Indianapolis, where I spent my first 20 years, and in Bloomington, where I have spent the last 10, my interdisciplinary bent has always been not only tolerated but actively supported and rewarded my law school administrations. I don't believe that is because of the inherently interdisciplinary nature of law. I do, in fact, believe the law is inherently interdisciplinary, but it's by no means clear that most legal scholars regard it as such, despite the fact that an ever-increasing percentage of newly minted legal scholars these days seems to possess a PhD in a cognate discipline. Many, if not most, legal scholars continue to insist on the "autonomy" of law as an academic discipline. Given that, I remain profoundly grateful to all of the law school deans I have had, who have uniformly supported my interdisciplinary research, including with regular summer-research funding of projects I had no intention of publishing in law journals.
Whether academia can and, if so, will be restructured to facilitate greater interdisciplinarity remains questionable, but I remain cautiously optimistic. I believe the will exists, generally speaking, even if university administrators still have a long way to go in fixing structural problems that create disincentives to interdisciplinary scholarship.
Below are a few paragraphs I recently wrote for a book chapter, explaining why the concept of natural law is both rhetorically attractive and pernicious. They will likely be cut from the chapter because of space limitations. So, I thought I would post them here (for possible use later):
John Locke first argued that individual liberty and property are rights under "natural law." Each person owns herself, and because each person requires sustenance to survive, so her acquisitions must become her inviolable "property" (so long as she doesn't claim too much and leaves "as good and enough" for others to claim). Some liberal thinkers, especially self-described libertarians, continue to embrace Lockean “natural law” on behalf of individuals and their property. But they are not the only theorists that claim the mantle of "natural law" for their preferred political values and policies.
Many progressive and conservative scholars also subscribe to theories of “natural law,” which are, more often than not, at odds with libertarian “natural law.” Progressives agree with libertarians that liberty and property natural “human rights,” but deny they are the only human rights. So too, they claim, are rights to social security, equal pay, employment, holidays, child care, and others set out in the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Many of these so-called “positive” rights require state action that would redistribute resources via taxation and social programs that inevitably would violate individual liberty and property rights. Consequently, the progressive “natural law” of human rights violates libertarian “natural law" (though not other liberal theories that either do not rely on "natural law" or have a more relaxed view (as Locke, himself, did) as to what constitutes consent to interference with liberty or property rights.
Theocratic “natural law” theories are no less inconsistent with libertarian “natural law.” The basic purpose of religious doctrine is to propagate moral constraints on individual liberty, under threat of divine punishments that often are meted out by humans. In ancient times, some religions required human sacrifice, among other rituals. Even in modern times, the three major monotheist religions impose various requirements that conflict with individual liberty, including prayers, tithing, dietary restrictions, and prohibitions against certain consensual sexual relations. Such requirements would not trouble libertarians so long as individuals remain free to choose and change religions. If an individual chooses a religion that constrains her liberty, then she consents to the obligations imposed. For most of human history, however, freedom of religion did not exist. In fact, it was religious persecution, more than anything else, that gave rise to liberal philosophy in the eighteenth century.
Religious convictions (or confessions) can be imposed by social norms as well as by law, which makes them no less coercive. Whether sanctioned by the state or imposed by social norms, coercive mandates violate the liberty and property of individuals, especially of non-congregants or non-believers who are persecuted. The arch libertarian Murray Rothbard (1999 ) illustrated the counter-libertarian nature of religious rules by reference to early Puritan Church doctrines in Massachusetts. The Puritan churches had rules against kissing a wife in public on the Sabbath, mandatory church attendance enforced by either local police or other congregants, prohibitions on the playing of shuffleboard and other games in public houses, and punishment of idleness and drunkenness (but not drinking). Rothbard deplored those coercive rules, as well as the Puritans’ treatment of women as “instruments of Satan." He did not bother to mention witch-burning as a problem.
It would be surprising, indeed, if theologians did not invoke “natural law” to support their preferred rules for ordering society. Unsurprisingly, different religious denominations do not agree on a single, consistent set of "natural" laws. They may overlap on certain specific rules, such as the golden rule and the golden mean, but the sets of "natural" rules they provide differ significantly. And none of them is consistent with either the progressives’ “natural law” of human rights or libertarians’ “natural law” of individual liberty and property. So, which is the real “natural law?”
Imagine a good-faith debate between natural law theorists promoting different rules. One claims the "natural" rule is x. The next replies that it is y. A third responds that it is z. Each of them supports her claim by pointing to some (for them) authoritative source, e.g., a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, the Hindu Ordinances of Manu, John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government, the US Declaration of Independence, a Kantian categorical imperative, and the list goes on. How might the dispute be settled? It would not depend on factual evidence, of course, because facts about rules have no bearing on whether a particular rule is "natural."
We also have to consider the possibility that no one’s claims of “natural law” is correct. The founder of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, famously dismissed the "natural law" claims of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (authored in large part by Thomas Jefferson) as as not just nonsense but “nonsense upon stilts.” In the nineteenth century, Sir Henry Maine (1901  at 74) observed that “the importance” of natural law theory “to mankind has been very much greater than its philosophical deficiencies would lead us to expect."
So, does natural law exist and, if so, can we possibly know which version of it is correct? The answer to the first question appears to be that we cannot know because there is no fact of the matter. "Natural law" is an assertion of belief not of fact. It is an inarguable super-normative claim about what rules should be in effect. As such, the compound term "natural law” has great appeal as a strategic rhetorical device. Whether it is anything more than that is unknowable and somewhat beside the point. Claims of "natural law" really are not even "arguments" about which rules should be followed. They are argument-enders. Good reasons may support an ordinary law, but that law is, by definition, inferior to a "natural law," period. For this reason, arguments from "natural law," including libertarian claims of "natural law," might be said to be fundamentally illiberal.
The Thorens turntable on the left was not might, and I don't recognize the other one. The rest of the equipment is my own, including a Yamaha A600 integrated amp, Soundcraftsman equalizer, and a brand new (at the time) Pioneer RT-707 reel-to-reel deck.
I signed up for a subscription for Vance AI, an online photo restoration software app that uses artificial intelligence to edit old pics. Here is the result of the first experiment. The band Rock Service (Kevin Kelly, Rock Joseph, John Osmon, and myself) at a gig on July 4, 1976 (just before I moved to LA for college). The results are, I think, quite good (I wasn't expecting miracles).
"Tweaks" are all the rage among audiophiles, looking to improve a system's performance without replacing pricey components. Ranging from tens of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, tweaks include (among many others): sorbothane isolators and platforms placed beneath components to reduce mechanical vibrations; room treatments; and cable risers designed to reduce static interference from cables resting on carpeted floors (though decent, double-cased speaker should be immune to any static interference in the first place). Based on advice from a column written by eminent audio guru, Herb Reichert, I just replaced the thin, cloth mat that came with my Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable with a soft rubber mat made for the Technics 1200 series of turntables, which are nearly identical to the Pioneer, but twice the price. The cost of the mat was $30 from Amazon. Of all the tweaks I've tried (it's not a long list), it has provided by far the greatest bang for the buck. Herb was absolutely right. Changing the mat tamed the roughness I had been perceiving in the upper frequencies and provided a boost to the low end, which had seemed somewhat skimpy. Before making the change, I had thought I might a different turntable-and-cartridge combination (I currently use an Ortofon Quintet Bronze on the PLX-1000). Very likely the $30 tweak saved me thousands.
My Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 is now paired with the Philharmonic BRM speakers in the bedroom. My old Snell Jii speakers have been moved to the living room, where they are paired with the Pioneer Elite SX-S30 A/V tuner and amplifier. Having the larger speakers in the living room makes sense, but the Lyngdorf/Philharmonic pairing is magical, with special credit to Lyngdorf's RoomPerfect software.
After a three month or so hiatus, while my drum teacher got settled into his new job as an endowed professor and head of the jazz program at UMKC, we got back together this past week, with two lessons in seven days. During the hiatus, my practicing trailed off because, I guess, I really need the pressure of upcoming lessons to keep my nose to the grindstone. Since the first lesson back, I've practiced every day for at least an hour (almost nothing for those with grand ambitions, but it's a good start for me). Meanwhile, group practices have become more regular. I have two groups - a trio that meets weekly and a quartet that meets every other week. Having regular lessons and group practice sessions is a big deal for me. It really helps me to improve at a fairly consistent rate (albeit with plateaus between periods of clear improvement).
I'm glad to have Izabela with me after a month in Poland looking after her mom. Today, I celebrated by buying three used LPs (actually, five since two are double-albums) in really fine condition: CSN&Y, "Four Way Street," Todd Rundgren, "Back to the Bars;" and Tears for Fears, "Songs from the Big Chair." I'm now only buying vinyl that is from analogue recordings (mostly pre-1990s). It took a while, but I finally figured out that buying analogue pressings of digital recordings makes little, if any, sense.
I'm currently in my second year of a three-year phased retirement from IU. After this semester, I will have one more course to teach in the 2022-23 academic year. I don't know whether the inclination is natural or not, but I've already begun reflecting on my career, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens. My reflections are not intentionally structured or organized. This will not be a chronological narrative; and it certainly will not be complete. It is not an exercise in nostalgia - I am not normally a nostalgic person, though I am sentimental. In other words, I care about the people and places currently and formerly in my life, but I have no desire to return to some earlier time in the mistaken belief that life was better then. Finally, I don't presuppose that anyone outside of my family will find any part of this, let alone the whole thing, interesting or valuable either in itself or as a socio-historical reference. For the most part, I'm writing this for myself and my family.
This first installment examines the question of why I am retiring now. I'll be fully retired just after I turn 65, which is a traditional retirement age, but not so common today as it once was, especially in academia. Several older colleagues of mine have no intention of retiring any time soon. So, why am I retiring, when I'm in good physical health? I have several reasons, some of which are more important than others;
(1) I no longer enjoy teaching as I used to do. I increasingly dread it. It has a lot to do with changing course packages, something I knew would be necessary when I moved from Indianapolis to Bloomington. The biggest change was a move to regular teaching of undergraduate courses around 2014. Before then, I had zero experience teaching undergraduates who, pedagogically speaking, are very different from grad students or law students. The special challenges they present I've never been able entirely to overcome. The class preps more onerous and time-consuming, in part, because undergrads require more in-class activities to keep them engaged. And I taught three different undergrad courses over the course of five years. Anyway, SPEA kept me in the undergrad curriculum until I signed the contract for the phased retirement. I suspect I might not yet be retiring, if I was not regularly teaching undergrads.
(2) The increasing stress of teaching aggravated the depression and anxiety disorder I've been dealing with most of my life. It impacted not just my work life but every aspect of my life.
(3) While my love of teaching has diminished, my love of music, especially (but not exclusively) jazz, has reemerged. I want to spend more time learning about, playing and listening to it. [It's very important to have something to retire to because, otherwise, retirement could feel like a death sentence.]
(4) Izabela and I want to travel more, especially to spend more time in the UK and Europe, while we are young and healthy enough to take full advantage.
(5) Sorry to say, but I want more time for reading and writing than the life of a teaching professor, ironically, allows. I'm not nearly eminent enough to get course relief in exchange for more writing time. I have at least two books on my agenda, one on the global history of environmental protection extending back to the earliest human settlements, and one on institutional analysis (as a method). I'll be writing other pieces as well, I imagine.
(6) Very fortunately, according to my financial consultants, I can afford to retire.
(7) I don't think of my retirement as complete. I'm not leaving IU so much as changing my relationship with it. In exchange for not paying me, I will not teach, but I'll keep on producing scholarship, working with PhD students, etc., especially in the Ostrom Workshop. I might even teach the Workshop seminar, as needed or desired, after I'm "emeritus." That's assuming that the Workshop does not start ignoring the Ostroms' legacy again.
Future installments of reflections will focus on: perceived highlights, such as they are, of my career; whether my move from Indy to Bloomington was, on balance, worthwhile; as objective as possible assessment of my scholarly contributions, including one or two writings I consider under-appreciated; opportunities I've screwed up or spurned; the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary scholarship in the university; great scholars, and people, I have known; the silliness of over-seriousness in the cut-throat world of academia.
Joe Biden is not a "moderate" Democrat. He's always been among the more progressive members of that party. These days, however, he is flanked on the left by a growing group of radicals who refer to themselves as "progressives." Representatives Tlaib, Bush, Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez are all members of the Democratic Socialist Party of America. That party's platform calls for central planning of the entire US economy, which, if history is any guide, would make every American a lot poorer, and less free. It is not progressivism as defined by scholars or politicians such as John Dewey, John R. Commons, and Robert LaFollette. Nor is it Joe Biden's progressivism or Barack Obama's progressivism or Hillary Clinton's progressivism. It is equally a mistake to refer to those politicians and scholars as "moderate" Democrats, a term that better describes Bill Clinton and his "New Democrats" (similar to Tony Blair and the "New Labourites" in the UK.
While the precise terms we use to define parts of the political spectrum are not so important, it is very important to use the terms consistently to avoid conflating different parts of the spectrum. These days, it is convenient for politicians on the left to accuse every one to their rights as "conservatives," and for conservative politicians to refer to everyone to their left as "socialists." That kind of labelling always sheds more heat than light. Reality is always more complicated than labels. But if we are going to use labels, let's at least be consistent about their application so as to highlight meaningful differences between political positions.
A conference under that title just finished. A few papers were commissioned focusing on, respectively, the EU, the UK, and the US. My old friend Jurek Jendroska and two authors presented a paper on the EU's "Green New Deal." Richard McCrory (UCL) presented his paper on the UK's new Office of Environmental Protection. And I presented a paper explaining why the nature of US policymaking by Executive Order, which has become the norm in this century, prevents the US from making credible commitments to its international partners on issues such as climate change. Those papers, and others, can be freely accessed here.
I haven't enjoyed teaching as much as I am now for the past several years. I think its party a function of the course and the readings - it's Lin Ostrom's Seminar in Institutional Analysis and Development, which I first taught the semester after Lin passed away, and last taught it in 2015, before the Ostrom Workshop was taken in a new direction (from which it is now recovering). It helps that I know the materials quite well, but that's also true of other courses I teach but no longer enjoy. I think it also has something to do with the fact that I'm more relaxed knowing that I'm halfway into retirement. It's not that I'm working any less hard on class preps; I just feel less pressure. Mainly, though, it's just more fun to teach because of the mix of PhD students, Visiting Scholars and faculty members participating in the seminar. It feels less like teaching and more like discussion.
Izabela left today on her regular fall trip to Poland (a little earlier than usual this year) to visit her mother. She'll be there for a month. I'd like to say that I've gotten used to her being away for a month twice a year. But it would be more accurate to say, paraphrasing Thomas Mann, that I've gotten used to not getting used to it.
Excellent New Book Defending the Liberal/Critical Rationalist Notion of "Truth" Against Attacks from Right and Left
Rauch hones in on the major threats to liberal democracy stemming from political threats to conceptions of fact and truth on which liberal democracy depends, from both the right (commentators, trolls, bots spewing falsehoods that go viral in an instant) and left (political correctness taken too far chills rational discussion). He offers hope that classical liberal notions of fact and truth may yet prevail, pointing to websites like Wikipedia that manage, thanks to an army of editors, fact-based despite the best efforts of trolls. But have we already lost our "herd immunity" to dangerous bullshit?
Rauch makes one very practical suggestion in which I wholeheartedly concur. Next to, or in place of, the "Like" button on FB and Twitter, there should be "True" and "False" buttons.
Granted, it didn't involve any soldering. As noted in an earlier post about a new (used) pair of tweeters I bought on Ebay, the original tweeters on my 1980s Snell Jii speakers had gotten tired-sounding. If I had been smart, I would have done a Google search about that problem before buying the new tweeters, but when they arrived, they were a bit loud compared to the Snell's woofers. I had anticipate that they might, given that their sensitivity is 92dbs, compared to the woofers' 90dbs. So, either I was going to have to add a resistor to each of the new tweeters or try a different fix. That's when it finally occurred to me that there might be some way of repairing the old speakers.
I learned from some online audio discussions that the problem I was having with the original Snell tweeters could be fixed, and I found several recommendations on how to go about doing it. Apparently, the cause of the problem is that the sealant on the old tweeters had become dry and brittle, and that degraded the sound quality. So, the fix is to simply to replace the old sealant. Of course, I had no idea if that would be more easily said than done. What I did know is that it had to be done carefully, in order to avoid damaging the mesh or the electronics behind it.
Instead of following suggestions to take the entire speaker apart, I followed the advice that appealed intuitively to me. Since the mesh sits at the front, sticking through the hole in the speaker cabinet, it should be possible to remove the old sealant from it without disturbing anything else. There was still the question of what to use to remove the old sealant. Various recommendations include mineral spirits, isopropyl alcohol, abrasives Q-tips and a toothbrush. I didn't have an mineral spirits, so I started with some alcohol and Q-tips. No success. So I started thinking about what else I had in the house, and I immediately thought about Goop-Off, which is a great adhesive remover. It worked like a charm, though it took a while until the entire mesh had changed color from brown to silver.
After making sure it was dry, I started in on the next step, which involved applying new sealant to the mesh. Recommendations for what sealant to use ranged from shellac and watered-down wood glue to liquicized plastic. I may have some wood glue somewhere around here, but I had my doubts about how well it would work, assuming I didn't water it down too much or not enough. What I did find was a spray can containing outdoor furniture varnish. The same person who recommended against taking apart the entire speaker noted that he had used marine spar varnish, which is pretty close to what I had to hand. I didn't want to spray the varnish directly onto the mesh because I was worried it might go through the mesh and effect the electronics underneath. So, I got a paint brush and sprayed the varnish onto the brush. Anywhere between three and five coats were recommended. I decided to start with three, and then listen to the speakers before deciding whether or not to add additional coats.
Without any sealant on the mesh, the tweeter is very bright and practically shouts. The sealant serves as a kind of equalizer, rounding off the (too) sharp edges of high-frequency sound. After applying the first three costs of varnish (each of which, fortunately, dries within a couple of hours), I listened to various tracks I know quite well. Immediately, I could tell that the old varnish had, indeed, been the culprit masking the sound form the tweeters. They were much louder and brighter than they had been. In fact, they sounded a bit too bright, so I decided to add another coat of varnish, and then a second, after again determining that the sound was still a bit too edgy. Interestingly, while everyone else had recommended three coats, the person who recommended not to take the speaker apart and to use varnish as new sealant said he had used five coats. It was the right number for me as well.
The old tweeters on my Snell Jiis' sound nearly brand new at this point. I didn't need to buy the other tweeters after all, though I'm sure I'll eventually find some use for them. Whoever mounted them did a great job, and they're in great shape. I just need to keep my eyes out for a couple of solo-mounted woofers that match their impedance and sensitivity. In the meantime, I've reattached the Amphion super-tweeters I had been using because I still like how they extend the frequency range and add a bit more air to the Snells' tweeters. I find them especially valuable when listening at low volumes, when both high and low frequencies tend to be lacking. [I've still got an old NAD preamp with a "Volume Control," which one no longer finds on modern amplifiers, the purpose of which is to boost both low and high end frequencies when listening at low volumes.]
All's well that end's well in the world of hifi audio.
My preference for solid state over tubes is not conclusive. I can imagine buying a tube (or hybrid) amp in the future, but I consider it unlikely for a couple reasons. First, the traditional sound-quality disadvantages of solid state (especially, perceived lack of warmth) have all but disappeared, while its traditional advantages of lower distortion, lower noise, and greater clarity have not. To be fair, tube and hybrid amps, especially those that cost over $3000 or so, have greater transparency, lower noise floors, and less distortion than those of the past. Still, there's no question that they remain noisier and higher in distortion than solid state, at least up to price points beyond my budget constraint. Those who tout the ability of tube amps to cast a wide and taller sound stage, separate and isolate instruments in the mix, etc., may be correct, but many of those advantages are, in fact, consequences of distortion. The tubes are, in effect, creating artifacts out of the original mix. Subjective preferences being what they are, I'm content to trade off those perceived benefits of distortion for less distortion, at least up to the point where a marginal increase in clarity and transparency results in more high-range sibilance and overall edginess, resulting in a more fatiguing listening experience. Based on what I hear, my (fairly new) Parasound JC 2 BP preamp casts an excellent sound stage and allows me to hear each instrument clearly, without being at all difficult to listen to for hours at a time. In fact, compared to other preamps I've had, it softens ever so slightly my more clinical-sounding VTV Purifi (Class D) power amplifier. Playing through my Harbeth C7 ES-3 speakers, the sound I hear from the combination of the two amps is wonderfully transparent, well-defined without being sharp, and altogether beautiful.
Beyond distortion and lack of clarity, my other objection to tube amplifiers is that they give rise, almost inevitably, to the practice of "tube-rolling." As I found to my detriment when I last owned a tube preamp, tube rolling creates a slippery slope to madness. It would be naive to think that, for audiophiles, buying a tube amplifier (pre or power) is the end of a search. Rather, it is only the beginning of a quest. Almost as soon as the amp arrives at the house, even before the tubes are well burnt-in, the new owner begins to wonder (usually thanks to some of the same dangerous social-network commentary he or she relied on when buying the amplifier) whether the tubes that came with the amp are sufficient. After all, tubes affect overall sound quality more than any other elements within a tube amp; and different power and rectifier tubes will alter the sound significantly (for better or worse depending on a combination of received wisdom and personal preference). After all, how do we know that the manufacturer selected the best stock tubes for the amp? Perhaps they selected the tubes to keep the amp at a certain price-point. Even if the manufacturer did believe it was selecting the very best tubes for its equipment, perhaps it was wrong. "Surely," you think to yourself, "it couldn't hurt to see what tubes other owners of the same amp have tried and like." That's the first step on the slippery slope. Pretty soon, you're stuck in a seemingly endless process of "tube-rolling." You might start with reputable audio dealers, but you quickly find yourself searching Ebay and sketchy websites, looking for tubular holy-grails among the thousands of surplus and "NOS" tubes from the 1930s to the present -- tubes built for military equipment or televisions or Hammond organs. Which ones should you try? Some old RCA Hytrons, GE black-labels, German Telefunkens, newer tubes made for the Russian or Chinese military? You think, "Maybe I should try a few different sets," each costing $100 or $200. "Or, maybe I should just go all-in and buy the $1000 set of tubes strongly recommended by three different owners (all complete strangers to me) of my amplifier." [As people with strong opinions, which they often confuse with actual facts, audiophiles hardly ever slightly recommend or contingently pan components.] "If I do follow their advice, from what source should I seek out these tubular holy-grails?" Of course, all the sellers that might have them promise they only sell well-matched tubes in great working or "nearly-new" condition. But how trustworthy are those promises? Some sellers have established better reputations than others among the audiophile community. Not coincidentally, tubes from the most reputable sellers are always the most expensive.
Having spent several months deciding which amplifier to purchase, you now find yourself tweaking your amplifier with various tubes until the day you finally decide to sell the tube amp and replace it with a solid-state amp for which, thankfully, transistor-rolling is not a thing. I don't mean to disparage audiophiles who actually enjoy the never-ending quest to perfect their systems (whatever perfection means to them). Some people love the game of tube-rolling and are willing to invest all the time and money it takes to keep tweaking. Obviously, I am not among them. I operate on a "satisficing" model of audio-system quality. Given my tastes and budget-constraint, my goal is to build a really great-sounding audio system (actually, several such systems) that I can live with for a long time without thinking all the time about how it might be improved. Once I've satisfied that goal, I'd rather spend my time listening to music than listening to my audio system.
Having abandoned FB, I've decided to resuscitate this blog and repository page, in order to have an alternative venue on which to signal my dwindling intellectual capacity and lack of virtue.
Actually, the first class of the Ostrom Seminar was last week, but I was unable to be there. My flight home from a wedding on the East Coast was canceled because of the remnants of Hurricane Henri. Fortunately, I had enough advance notice to get a colleague to substitute. In my view, it was probably an upgrade for the students. In any case, it's my turn today. My first class session of my 34th year of teaching, all but the first four years at IU. By the end of this school year, I will have completed 10 years here in Bloomington, after 20 years at the IU-McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
Today's topic: An Introduction to Different Schools of Public Choice and the Ostroms' Polycentric Turn
For those who don't know, ROON is far and away the best platform for streaming music from a local library as well as from services like TIDAL, Qobuz, and other online providers of hi-res streaming, for a single audio system or multiple systems throughout a home. It's user-friendly and offers lots of handy tools for organizing music and associated information.
Many hardware manufacturers (including ROON) make servers that can run ROON. But most of them are stupidly expensive, running into the thousands of dollars. However, ROON also offers downloads for running ROON on any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. So, you don't need a dedicated server. That said, many people prefer to have ROON on a dedicated server, where it's not competing for RAM with lots of other programs. I'm in that camp. Fortunately, ROON offers a special version of its software, called "ROCK," which runs without any other underlying operating system. So, you can buy a mini pc to use with ROCK, which ends up being less than half the cost of buying a ready-made ROON server. And it does not require a degree in computer engineering.
For the past few years, I'd been running ROCK on an Intel NUC (7th generation i3) computer. But I've had some reliability issues with that unit, which also is a bit noisy because it has a small fan. For that reason, I've always kept it in a separate from from my listening room.
To solve those problems, I just purchased a new ZOTAC Z Box, C Series, with a 10th generation i3 chip (the same as ROON uses in its own Nucleus server). The new computer also uses the same SODIMM RAM boards as the NUC, so I just swapped them from the old computer. I installed a fresh download of ROON ROCK onto an internal 240gb SSD, a process that is a bit more complicated than swapping out hardware. First. you need to download ROCK software onto separate Windows/Mac/Linux computer, then flash the image from that software onto a USB drive. You boot up the new server from that USB drive, which sets up the internal SSD for running the software. The most complicated part is getting the BIOS settings in the new computer right. ROON's instructions don't accurately apply to the BIOS on every brand and type of computer/server, so you sometimes have to make some educated guesses on the settings. That process can take a bit of time.
Once I had ROON ROCK up and running on the ZOTAC, I plugged in an external SSD that contained my digital music library, and a LAN cable to access the home network I had previously set up. That network allows ROON to access all of the ROON-ready endpoints throughout the house, including various stereo components, TVs with Chromecast or Airplay, phones and tablets.
The ZOTAC has a reputation for running hot under heavy loads, but I anticipated no problems because ROON ROCK is not a heavy load, and it's the only OS on the computer. So, no multitasking and no game playing. Indeed, the small computer gets only a bit warm to the touch, less so than my Parasound JC2BP preamplifier (which doesn't get all that hot either). Because the ZOTAC does not have an internal slot for an M2 SSD, I don't have the option of putting both the operating system and the music library (which cannot be on the same drive) under the hood. But I've found it advantageous to keep the library on an external drive. It's easier to maintain, when necessary, by plugging it into another PC or MAC, as opposed to attaching a keyboard and screen to the Zotac, which doesn't require them for ordinary operation.
A ROON subscription is $120/year or $700 for a lifetime subscription. When I bought my lifetime subscription a few years ago, it was only $500. There is no extra charge for the software. The total cost of the hardware (computer, SSDs, and cables) was less than $700. Compare that price to the $1500 ROON Nucleus server, which runs the same Intel chipset, same amount of RAM, and the same software, plus a 1tb HDD (rather than an SSD).
Today, the new Texas anti-abortion law went into effect. The law bans all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy (at time at which women might not yet know they are pregnant), without exception for cases of rape or incest. The law creates liability on the part of anyone involved in any way with facilitating the abortion, except the woman herself. This conceivably could include an Uber driver, who transports the woman to the clinic, regardless of whether or not the driver has any knowledge of the woman's purpose for going to the clinic. The law is not criminally or civilly enforceable by state officials; but any private person, within or outside the jurisdiction of Texas, can bring suit against clinic staff, transporters and others who deemed to be involved in the abortion (but, again, not the woman seeking the abortion) for up to $10,000 in damages.
Here are a few interesting legal/constitutional aspects of the new Texas anti-abortion statute:
1. Apparently, the Texas legislature believed that the courts, under existing precedent, would be less likely to overturn its statute, if it could be enforced only through private, civil actions. I have no idea whether or not that is true. But it is undeniable that the courts, both state and federal, including the US Supreme Court, refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the law's taking effect, as they always had done before in earlier cases of state abortion laws that appeared to clearly violated Roe v. Wade.
2. The Supreme Court appears to be playing bald politics with far less inhibition than it used to show when deciding whether or not to enjoin statutes and regulations. Compare the Court's unprecedented decision in this case not to grant a preliminary injunction against a statute in direct opposition to Supreme Court precedent, and therefore likely to fail on the merits, with its 2016 equally unprecedented decision to stay (i.e., enjoin) an environmental regulation that had not yet been through an initial round of judicial review on the merits, without any finding that that the statue was unlikely to survive review. Between the two cases, the Court is muddying its own jurisprudence on when preliminary injunctions are warranted. Perhaps the Court no longer cares whether or not it is seen to be following certain procedures and rules with consistency, while it becomes a more plainly partisan actor. Less menacingly, perhaps the Court is simply engaged in a piecemeal reconfiguration of its own rules for issuing preliminary injunctions without being clear about some coherent end that has yet to be made clear. Worst case, the Court's muddying of the waters on rules for granting preliminary injunctions may be a signal that it already considers Roe v. Wade to be obsolete. I don't refer to that as "worst case" because I support a woman's right to choose (though I do support a woman's right to choose) but it would indicate a judicial abdication of the Rule of Law, under which Supreme Court precedents remain the law of the land until formally overruled.
3. While it might appear, at first blush, that the new Texas anti-abortion law might fall afoul of standing requirements, which could prevent the private enforcement the statute envisions, Texas has far more lax standing rules than the federal constitution imposes on federal courts. While Texas courts do generally require plaintiffs to demonstrate particularized injury from the actions of defendants, which would conceivably derail many of not all private enforcement actions, the Texas legislature has the power to grant standing via legislation that obviates the need for showing injury-in-fact. See Texas Highway Comm'n v. Texas Ass'n of Steel Importers, 372 S.W.2d 525, 530-31 (Tex. 1963) ("the Legislature may grant a right to a citizen.., to bring an action ... without proof of particular or pecuniary damage peculiar to the person bringing the suit").
4. On the merits, the Texas anti-abortion law might be overruled, at least in part, because of the vast net of liability it creates, including for transporters of women to clinics where abortions are performed, regardless of whether or not the transporter has any reason to know a woman's condition or why she might be going to the clinic. This must raise due process concerns under the federal constitution.
5. The statute might yet be overturned on the merits, after some doctor or other party is private sued for an abortion provided after the sixth week of pregnancy. But the uncertainty created in the meantime is highly problematic and substantially raises the costs for women, their doctors, clinic staff, and even Uber drivers about the exercise of what remains, as of Sept. 1, 2021, a right protected under the federal constitution and Supreme Court precedent that is directly at odds with the Texas statute.
6. The Supreme Court has on its current docket a challenge to a new Mississippi statute that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks, which, like Texas's six week limit, directly conflicts with Roe v. Wade. If the Court rules against Mississippi in that case, the Texas law will be swept away with it. But if the Court upholds the Mississippi case, that does not mean the Texas law automatically will stand. The Court could decide that a 15-week limit is fine, but a 6-week limit is not. The reality, however, is that the term-based limitations are only sidebars to the main issue with which the Court will be presented. The State of Mississippi will ask the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade. According to the Court's own prudential rules, it should avoid overruling existing precedent, if it is possible to rule in such a way that avoids that outcome. If the Court wants to sustain the term-limits as set out in Roe, it would, of course, invalidate the Mississippi statute. But even if the Court decides that the Mississippi statute is constitutional, it need not overturn Roe. The Court would merely have to amend Roe's term-limits in accordance with its decision to uphold Mississippi's restrictions. So, if the Court does use the Mississippi case as an opportunity to outright overrule Roe, it would be another example of an extra-judicial assertion of political power by the Court (though that certainly would not be unprecedented).
Perhaps there are additional constitutional and legal issues I've neglected. I'd be happy to learn of any in the comments, with the caveat that commentators (as always) must refrain from ad hominem attacks, purely emotional utterances, and patent misinformation. For example, an argument such as, "Legalized abortion violates natural law," is legitimate argument (though perhaps not directly responsive to anything in this post). By contrast, the statement, "You're going to hell for supporting a "woman's right to choose," is not a legitimate argument, but a conclusory statement of belief as well as an ad hominem attack. Of course, blog commentators have every right to their own beliefs, but no right to require anyone else to publicize them.
In Chapter 5 of his book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017), Yuval N. Harari treats all modern -isms (Communism, Conservatism, as types of religions, defined as: "anything that confers super-human legitimacy on human social structures. It legitimizes human norms and values by arguing that they reflect super-human laws. Religion asserts that we humans are subject to a system of moral laws that we did not invent and that we cannot change.... Other religions, from Buddhism and Taoism to Nazism, Communism and Liberalism, argue that the super-human laws are natural laws and not the creation of this or that god. Of course, each believes in a different set of natural laws discovered by different seers and prophets, from Buddha and Lao Tze to Hitler and Lenin."
He might (or might not) be right about the others, but what he writes is decidedly untrue of small-l liberalism. Liberalism emerged, with science, from the Enlightenment, as a challenge to the cruelties of imposed dogmas, both earthly and sacred. Only a few schools of thought (e.g., libertarianism) within the large tent known as liberalism, have sought to replace the old dogmas with new ones designed to promote some teleology (in the case of libertarianism, maximal individual liberty). Libertarians believe in natural law; many other liberals do not. Thus, natural law cannot be taken as a necessary tenet of liberalism, as Harari casually surmises. Liberalism has no teleology - no goal, purpose or end for which humans should strive. It has no unique story of the "good life." Indeed, liberalism is defined in large measure by its refusal to tell people how they should live. To promote a unique story of the "good life" would be counter-liberal or illiberal.
Liberals strongly disagree among themselves about the respective roles of public- and private-ordering in society. Progressive Liberals, such as John Dewey and John Rawls, believe the government should play a large role in countering the inequities of private markets. Conservative Liberals, such as David Hume and F.A. Hayek, believe that governments should play as little a role in society as possible to minimize coercion of individuals. Still other Conservative Liberalism, like Edmund Burke, allowed a broader scope for government action, in accordance with a polity's history and culture. Moderate Liberals, like J.S. Mill and Karl Popper, tend to agree with Conservative Liberals that government failures are costly and that government coercion should be limited, but also agree with Progressive Liberals that government has an important role to play, for example in preventing majoritarian biases from disadvantaging minorities. As I wrote a couple of years back in an article in AEON with my friend and colleague Aurelian Craiutu, a society in which liberal rights are guaranteed only for some members cannot truly be said to be a liberal society. Moderate Liberals acknowledge the propensity for both market- and government-failures, and view public policies as experiments from which we might learn, over time, what works better (not necessarily best) for an "open" society. They can only ever be experiments because the humans who devise them, like the rest of us, are fallible. While a Conservative Liberal might conclude from this that we should not conduct such experiments, Moderate Liberals (let alone Progressives) are not so squeamish, on grounds that the status quo ante is not necessarily better, and failed policies can be replaced by better policies (as well as by no policy at all).
It is worth noting that in his list of "seers and prophets," Harari does mention any liberal thinker. Was it just an oversight? Or did Harari realize that it would have highly misleading to use those terms to describe Adam Smith or the other liberal thinkers I have named. None of these scholars purported to establish a socially-imposed moral dogma. All of them favored an "open" system of social order that did not impose on individuals one and only one acceptable way to live. Aside from a canonical form of the golden rule (e.g., "do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you"), which exists in Mill's "no harm" principle, they were ecumenical about individual life choices.
Far from a religion, Liberalism stands for the absence of any form of super-human legitimacy for social order.
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