Author Archive: Erich Vieth

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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Optimism: A secret weapon for You.

September 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

I am enjoying many of the blog posts of Mr. Money Mustache. Today I read his paean to optimism, titled: “The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism.” He describes optimism as a “secret weapon” that you can and should employ every day. He is not channelling Pollyanna, but making his argument based on solid science.

But what good is fictional asset like an Optimism Gun when we’re trying to accomplish things here in the real world? The answer is a Hell of a lot of good, because in this world full of humans, almost all of our “reality” is created in our own heads . . . There are several psychological principles at work that make all this work on a practical level. What follows are excerpts of the reasons you need to be optimistic, but I would optimistically recommend that you would enjoy his entire post.

  • Humans are automatically drawn to Leaders: . . . If you dare to express optimism about anything, you’re stepping onto a little soapbox, and it gets attention.
    People want it to be true: If you’ve become a small-time leader and you deliver the Good Word, people will naturally want to keep listening, because you help them feel good about things too. 
  • Optimism tricks you into trying more things. . . .
  • You are forced not to focus on things you can’t control: One of the most useful lessons of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is that you never worry about stuff you cannot control. You just work on the things you can. . . .
  • Acknowledge and Bow Down to the Placebo Effect: When it comes to health and well-being, the mind controls the body way more than rational people like to admit. . . .
  • I enjoy hacking this fact to control my own health. I have a permanent belief that I am unusually healthy, and that this condition will persist forever. [O]ptimism is limiting the release of the human stress hormone Cortisol, which tends to destroy health. The less you worry about health, the healthier you become.
  • Optimism is rare, and deadly when combined with competence: If you’re a smart guy or gal at your workplace, the other smart people are expecting you to be pessimistic, just like them. . . . You can slip in [optimistic] ideas . . .Your coworkers will be fooled into thinking that they really can do those things, which they wouldn’t have otherwise tried.
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Sam Harris comments on Black Lives Matters

September 16, 2017 | By | Reply More

I’m am largely in agreement with Sam Harris on these issues.

There are more than a few bad cops out there, and lots of good cops. There are some totally innocent people who are being victimized by the bad cops.  There are also some people who are unwisely pushing back at cops on the street, in situations where emotions are peaking and there is a gun “on the table.”  And there are many people out there over-generalizing and sanitizing (one way or the other) an ever growing disparate collection of street encounters between cops and African-American, where the African Americans end up getting shot by cops.

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New Harvard Business School Study: U.S. Federal Government Is Increasingly Good at Being Bad

September 15, 2017 | By | Reply More
New Harvard Business School Study: U.S. Federal Government Is Increasingly Good at Being Bad

Here’s how a new Harvard Business School study sums up our Federal Government:

America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. . . In areas such as public education, health and wellness, personal safety, water and sanitation, environmental quality, and tolerance and inclusion, among others, U.S. progress has stalled or gone in reverse. In these areas, where America was often a pioneer and leader, the U.S. has fallen well down the list compared to other advanced countries.

The study concluded that the political system is not actually failing. It is working, but its function is different than the one taught in high school textbooks:

Most people think of politics as its own unique public institution governed by impartial laws dating back to the founders. Not so. Politics is, in fact, an industry—most of whose key players are private, gain-seeking organizations. The industry competes, just like other industries, to grow and accumulate resources and
influence for itself. The key players work to advance their self-interests, not necessarily the public interest. It’s important to recognize that much of what constitutes today’s political system has no basis in the Constitution.
As our system evolved, the parties—and a larger political industrial complex that surrounds them—established and optimized a set of rules and practices that enhanced their power and diminished our democracy.

The title to the study is: “WHY COMPETITION IN THE POLITICS INDUSTRY IS FAILING AMERICA Here is the full study.

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Mr. Money Mustache: Dirty is the New Clean

September 14, 2017 | By | Reply More

I’m intrigued by the writings of Mr. Money Mustache. There are a lot of benefits to buying only what you really need and reveling in so many things in life that are free or nearly so. In this post, he points out the price many people pay for obsessing about cleanliness:

Dirty is the New Clean – Thus we have our counter-cultural lesson for the day. Rather than seeking to avoid germs and maximize your cleanliness, it is much more profitable to seek out Training for your Immune System, and optimize your life so that things get cleaned the minimum amount that allows you to maintain a functional and prosperous household. The reward is thousands of dollars and countless hours saved, and if you’re lucky, dozens of illnesses prevented.

By all means, keep things happily minimalist, decluttered, and organized – a simplified physical environment is good for the mind. You can also wash your hands with normal soap after a big day out and cook your food properly. But in your own home where no babies are delivered and no surgeries performed, you can safely let yourself off the hook when it comes to wiping, sterilizing, washing, drying, and polishing.

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Worst movie of all time?

September 9, 2017 | By | 2 Replies More

For many years, I was under the impression that the 1959 film, “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” was the worst movie of all time.  It is very good at being bad:

But I was just introduced to “Turkish Star Wars,” a move with Spanish subtitles. I don’t know anything about whether this movie ever hit the big screen anywhere, but it is quite entertaining for its many failures. It’s difficult to think of any aspect of film-making that this movie doesn’t fail at.  From Wikipedia:

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (The Man Who Saved the World) is a 1982 Turkish science fantasy adventure film also known as Turkish Star Warsbecause of its notorious use of unauthorized footage from Star Wars and other movies worked into the film.

Upon its initial release, the film was panned by critics for its incoherent storyline, poor performances, and use of stock footage and music from other films.

Despite this (or possibly due to this), the film has gained a significant cult following over the years. Louis Proyect of Rec Arts Movie Reviews called the film “classic midnight movie fun.”[2] Phil Hall of Film Threat gave the film a perfect 5 stars, calling it “jaw-droppingly insane … a film that makes criticism moot.”

Here is “Turkish Star Wars” in its entirety:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4441&v=arpH88Mx3z4

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Getting upset about the right things.

September 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

Here’s a post by Darrell Lackey, a pastor challenging Christians to get save their energy and frustration for the right kinds of things. He begins the post with this statement that Tony Campolo has been known to use when addressing Christian audiences:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.

There is some good food for thought for all of us in this post, whether or not we are religious (I am not).  For example, many of us often get much more upset about the minor irritations of our own local lives than the enormous suffering and stark injustices over the next hill or the next continent. For instance, our own country has been bombing many countries in the Middle East for many years.  We’ve been bombing Afghanistan since 2001, and according to reliable sources, we have been killing many innocent civilians in a “war” regarding which we are utterly unable to articulate any meaningful objective or metric of success. Therefore, that “war” goes on, largely unchallenged and unnoticed, our news media almost never mentioning that we are even at war.  Out of sight, out of mind for most of us.

If we want to be morally cohesive, we need to use unceasing effort to make certain we are focused on the things that matter.  That is often not easy to do.  Trying to stay focused on important things in a sustained way wears us down.  It’s not easy to be moral.  It’s much easier to complain about that the microwave burned the popcorn.

To live moral lives, we need to stay focused on important things, and focus is another word for attention, a psychological resource that humans have in short supply.  Attention is like a spotlight.  When we look at a thing, we often exclude attending to most other things.  that’s how we are wired; we are almost the opposite of omniscient, even though we want to believe that we are generally aware of most things that are important.

Because attention is so limited, our attentional decisions and habits (maybe we should call this our “attentional hygiene”) gives us great power to define our “world.”  Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we are capable of manipulating what we pay attention to, and whatever we choose to ignore simply doesn’t exist for us; if we are not paying  attention to something, it holds no moral sway over us because our attentional choices turn it into nothing at all. Most of us aren’t at all bothered by world starvation most of the time because  we are not thinking about that horrific problem.  Further, human animals are capable of not paying attention to things that are right in front of us.  This is especially true when we are emotionally motivated to not see.   See no evil and hear no evil functionally means that there is no evil.

I have long been fascinated by this confluence of attention and morality and, in fact wrote a detailed paper on it, drawing from many domains of cognitive science:  Decision Making, the Failure of Principles, and the Seduction of Attention.”  Feel free to take a look, if you find this general topic compelling.

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What the Bible actually says about abortion.

September 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

Here’s a fascinating post from a quirky and thoughtful website called “Bible Funmentionables.”

In this particular post, Michael Morris puts on his news reporter hat and simply asks what “God” had to say about abortion.

But many of the same people who give God a pass for allowing so many embryos to die, would like us to believe that God is punishing us for not making all abortions stop. Setting aside the fact that making abortions illegal does not cause them to stop, let’s examine what the Bible says DIRECTLY about abortion.

Spoiler alert: “It’s clear that if pro-lifers want to bring the Bible into the debate, the Bible is NOT on their side.” The evidence presented at Bible Funmentionables includes passages like this:

If his soul is not filled with good, and he does not receive proper burial, I say that an aborted birth is better than he. —Ecclesiastes 6:3

I’d encourage a visit to this post to prepare you for the next time a Bible thumper tells you that the Bible prohibits abortion.  You will be prepared to intelligently discuss the issue by citing chapter and verse.

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Moore’s Law: Alive and Well.

August 27, 2017 | By | Reply More

Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. It’s still going strong 52 years later, ever since 1965, when Gordon Moore made his prediction. That this law has has held for more than 50 years is amazing, almost miraculous-seeming. It reminds me of the wheat and chessboard problem (sometimes expressed in terms of rice grains), a mathematical problem expressed this way:

If a chessboard were to have wheat placed upon each square such that one grain were placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and so on (doubling the number of grains on each subsequent square), how many grains of wheat would be on the chessboard at the finish?

In the chessboard example the final number is a whopping 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 (the 64th Mersenne number). Wikipedia reports this commentary:

In April 2016, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich stated that “In my 34 years in the semiconductor industry, I have witnessed the advertised death of Moore’s Law no less than four times. As we progress from 14 nanometer technology to 10 nanometer and plan for 7 nanometer and 5 nanometer and even beyond, our plans are proof that Moore’s Law is alive and well”.[25] In January 2017, he declared that “I’ve heard the death of Moore’s law more times than anything else in my career … And I’m here today to really show you and tell you that Moore’s Law is alive and well and flourishing.

 

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Time to take down the Confederate Statues.

August 19, 2017 | By | Reply More
Time to take down the Confederate Statues.

At National Review, Arthur Herman gives his best reasons why the public Confederate statues should remain in publicly owned spaces.   I do believe that Herman put the best foot forward of the “Keep the Statues” crowd.

I disagree with him. These statues belong, if anywhere, in the Jim Crow wing of a history museum.  Herman received strong pushback in the comments to his article, many of these comments echoing my beliefs. Here are some samples of the comments critical of Herman’s defense of the statues:

“The timeless virtues of slavery. Symbols of Southern history of slavery.”
“Most of those statues were NOT erected in the days after the Civil War. Nor were they erected in the days since the 1970s, when Jim Crow was over.”

“They were put up as part of the wave of “Lost Cause” historical revisionism that swept the South in the first half of the 20th century. The purpose was to try to redeem *the cause for which the South had fought*.”

File-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA.jpg

“I don’t have a problem honoring the ordinary enlisted men–the privates and sergeants–who fought bravely on both sides of the Civil War. But the Confederate leadership–and this includes Lee–should not be honored because the cause they fought for was *to break up the United States*.” Most of those statues were NOT erected in the days after the Civil War. Nor were they erected in the days since the 1970s, when Jim Crow was over. They were put up as part of the wave of “Lost Cause” historical revisionism that swept the South in the first half of the 20th century. The purpose was to try to redeem *the cause for which the South had fought*.”

“Thomas Jefferson is NOT honored because he had slaves. He is honored because he wrote the Declaration of Independence, which asserted the equality of all humanity before God. Tear down his memorial and you would be tearing down the Declaration of Independence too.”

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