Monday, April 30, 2012

Well, There Is Polarizing and There Is Polarizing...

Every once in a while, I read a post from FoxNews, to remind myself that I should go easier on Today, it was the smirking Michael Goodwin, with this complaint:
President Obama’s team put out an ad praising him for sending in Navy SEALs to kill Usama bin Laden and doubting whether Mitt Romney would have done it. To further exploit the one-year anniversary of Bin Laden's death, he gave an interview to NBC in the Situation Room, from where he observed the raid. And The Wall Street Journal revealed that the Obama campaign has an enemies list, a group of Romney donors it singles out by name on a Web site while declaring some got rich “at the expense of so many Americans.” 
As outrageous as those breaches of decency are, they are merely the latest extension of Obama’s polarizing presidency
You see, no Republican president would ever exploit military adventures for political advantage. No Republican politicians would ever stage a press conference at a site important to the "War on Terror." As far as the "enemies list" goes, as I recall, when a Republican president had such a list, he didn't put those people's names up on a web site; instead, he kept the list secret, and used it "to 'screw' Nixon's political enemies, by means of tax audits from the Internal Revenue Service, and by manipulating 'grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.'"

And let's talk about a polarizing presidency:
1) When Bush's presidency was polarizing, wasn't it because the people who were against him were traitors?
2) Mr. Goodwin, do you think that, to the extent your charge is true, it is true because you and your friends have spent four years calling Obama a Muslim agent, a socialist, anti-American, a disaster, and so on? That could have been any part of it?

OK, I have to go take a shower.

The Tyranny of Measurement

Let us say that you are an anthropologist who has found a people who were obsessed over everything green.  They paid great to anything green they could spot in their vicinity, watering it, feeding it, cleaning it, maintaining it, as appropriate. This is extraordinary to you, as all of the grey buildings, their brown animals, their red flowers, and so on, and completely neglected. When you point this out to them, they tell you, "You are being irrational! Naturally enough, if all of the green things are getting better, we must assume everything else is as well!"

They have a cult of greenness, and the very thing that is making everything that isn't green get worse, their fixation on what is green, they believe to be also the best way to attend to non-green things.

Well, Western Civilization has been increasingly caught up in a cult of measurement for the last 400 years. BUt, I have learned it is irrational to think that being fixated on what can be measured might lead us to neglect what can't be: instead, paying no attention to what can't be measured is the very way to insure it improves!

Contract Theory and the Abandonment of Final Cause

In the classical and Christian epochs, few people would have worried about exactly how a government was constructed from parts or what operating procedures those parts followed when it came to deciding whether a particular government was justified. Instead, it was justified because it brought about a good end: generally speaking, because it was the most concrete expression of and ultimate protector of the civic order that underlay its existence. The details of how the government had been composed -- out of the monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements combined, or only one or two of those -- and how it operated -- by voting and of what sort, according to what sort of constitution, and so on -- were of interest not as ways to justify the existence of the government, but as methods that could be evaluated according to the extent to which they did or didn't help a government achieve its end.

But with the overthrow of Aristotelian philosophy, the baby was tossed out with the bathwater, and final and formal causes became disreputable. I think it is no coincidence that now, with, for instance, Hobbes and Locke, we begin to see governments justified by the mechanisms of how they came about, and we get social contract theories. A possible efficient cause of government, the consent of the governed, came to replace the idea of a government achieving its proper end as its justification. We see this in the extraordinary evaluations typically given to governments like those of, say, Singapore and India. India is constantly praised for being a democracy, even though it was, for a long time, a corrupt mess that kept the nation mired in poverty with wild socialist schemes, while Singapore is condemned for being a dictatorship, although that dictatorship appears to be presiding over a well-governed nation.

There is, I think, more to be said about this, but enough for tonight.

A Neighborhood Tragedy

The police outline of where Vinnie the Nematode finally caught up with Amy the Amoeba and made her pay for splitting, Court and Carroll Streets.

I Wasn't Selling Out!

Him Wolf in Sheep's Cloting

I have on a number of occasions heard someone say, "It's weird to see a white dude with dreadlocks."

What's funny is, having spent my fair share of time with Rastafarians, during the time I played in reggae bands, I never once heard that complaint. If a white dude became a Rasta, the Rastas loved it. What they didn't like at all was anyone, black or white, who wore dreadlocks as a fashion statement. "Him wolf in sheep's cloting, man," was the common description.

Just thought I'd let you know.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Worst Attempt at Selling Out Ever Made?

When I suggested that a probability of zero does not mean an event is impossible, and Bob Wenzel and his fans went into a fury attacking me for my Keynesianism, one of the oddest things said was that I had abandoned anarchism "for money." Well, if that's true, it's not working!I am presently doing three things for pay: teaching at a college where I was hired by... an anarchist, helping to edit a libertarian magazine, and tutoring Java programming. My abandoning anarchism has not, so far as I can tell, brought me in a bloody penny.

I'm going to have to find a more lucrative way to sell out.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Police

On The Wire, characters are always saying things like "I'm just a police," or "He's a police."

I have never heard a single person in real life call someone "a police." The short, gender-neutral term is "a cop." Is this a Baltimore thing, or something new I've missed, or does it only exist in TVLand?

Keynes Versus Hayek

I've been thinking that the fundamental difference is that, in Keynes's story, people make quantity adjustments, whereas in Hayek's they make price adjustments.

Does that seem correct?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Having a Computer in My Pocket

Is the biggest productivity difference in my life in the last ten years. For the first time, computerized calendars and contact lists are actually effective! It is the ability to do data entry anywhere the is the key: in the past, you could always print your computerized calendar or contact database, but you couldn't add your next dental appointment while standing at the reception desk, or capture a phone number while chatting at a conference, and that makes all of the difference in the world.

Hey There, Apple!

Could you:

1) Integrate iCal with the contact list? If I type someone's name in an appointment, it would be nice to be able to click on their name and have that bring me right to their contact info.

2) Create a third wifi mode for the iPhone? I would like to connect to my home network when I am there, but not be assaulted by dozens of wifi networks as I walk down the block!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What De Heck Is Up with Google?

I am in PA, in the woods, and have only iPhone access to the Internet. I'm trying to approve your comments, but it is simply impossible on an iPhone. I see a link called "Publish," but when I touch it, the screen flashes, and then returns to exactly the same state it was in before I "clicked" on the link. When I try to check the comment's "choose" boxes, thinking maybe I can publish your comments in a batch, the screen again flashes, buy the box isn't then checked.

Jeez, this is Google, one of the wealthiest technology companies in the world. Why can't they get their iPhone interface correct?

Pop Quiz

Who opened the first cinema in Ireland?

How Is That Anarchy Working Out For Ya?

My anarchist friends blame violence chiefly on the state. So what is the least peaceful nation on earth?

The anarchist one: Somalia.

We've Got Him Right Where We Want Him!

In yesterday's delegate counts as of this moment, Romney is up 65-3 on Paul. That lead will widen significantly, probably to something like 200 up for Romney. In the popular vote, Romney is beating Paul by four or five to one.

Perhaps Paul is just trying to make him overconfident?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Problem with the State...

is us:

"Not: because Wall Street steals and we have no justice, we begin to admire sociopaths. But: because we admire sociopaths, therefore Wall Street is able to steal. Not: because the social contract has unraveled, therefore we wish to be sociopaths. But: because we are sociopaths, therefore the social contract has unraveled.  I know this is a very unpopular thing to say, but if you find yourself wanting to be bad because everyone else gets away with it, then the problem isn't everyone else, the problem is you."

Taking Care of Popper

"May I ask you [Voegelin] to let me know sometime what you think of Mr. Popper. He gave a lecture here [at the New School for Social Research], on the task of social philosophy, that was beneath contempt: it was the most washed-out, lifeless positivism trying to whistle in the dark, linked to a complete inability to think 'rationally,' although it passed itself off as 'rationalism' -- it was very bad. I cannot imagine that such a man ever wrote something worthwhile reading, and yet it appears to be a professional duty to become familiar with his productions." -- Leo Strauss

"This Popper has been for years, not exactly a stone against which one stumbles, but a troublesome pebble that I must continually nudge from the path, in that he is constantly pushed upon me by people who insist that his work on the 'open society and its enemies' is one of the social science masterpieces of our times. This insistence persuaded me to read the work even though I would otherwise not have touched it. You are quite right to say that it is a vocational duty to make ourselves familiar with the ideas of such a work when they lie in our field; I would hold out against this duty the other vocational duty, not to write and to publish such a work. In that Popper violated this elementary vocational duty and stole several hours of my lifetime, which I devoted in fulfilling my vocational duty, I feel completely justified in saying without reservation that this book is impudent, dilettantish crap." -- Eric Voegelin

Poached Eggs

Monday, April 23, 2012

Odd Ways People Get Here

Now, one of the top search strings by which people find their way here is: "joe montana' children."

OK, someone explain this. I dare ya.

Original Sin

Often, atheists who want to note the "injustice" of Christian doctrine cite the concept of original sin as an example. (They rarely note that they are using a concept of justice that they have borrowed from Christianity in the first place, but never mind that for now.) "How," they ask, "can a just God possibly be punishing people today for something done by two people thousands of years ago? The idea is barbaric!"

As I understand original sin, such questioners have gotten the concept all wrong. And I do not think this understanding is merely mine: I also think it is the correct understanding of the doctrine. But I do realize this will not be held universally.

So what does original sin mean, as I see it? Well, what happened to create this sin? (And in the following, I think it makes little difference whether you take this story literally or metaphorically, so do whichever you wish.)

God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they did. Again, whether you take this as a literal tree or not, the meaning is clear: before this action, their behavior was in some sense "natural," not subject to guilt, regret, conscience, hesitation, and so on. But once they have eaten of that tree, evil enters their world, in that it now enters their consciousness. They now need to "toil" for their food, since they now can view labor as having disutility. (Think about it: do you think a honey badger cruises around thinking, "Man, I can't believe I need to keep digging all of these holes in the ground. Wish I could just go have a beer instead." No way: the honey badger doesn't give a s*&t.) Death enters the world, in that death is now an evil looming in the future. Adam and Eve are, for the first time, capable of sinning regularly. (Prior to that moment, they were only capable of one sin: eating of the tree!) In short, they have fallen out of paradise: the paradise of natural existence, existence without the idea of evil.

Having so fallen, how is it even conceivable that the primal couple would not pass this "original sin" on to all of their descendants? Adam and Eve will be bringing up their children, and every time they shout, "Little Cain, watch out for that serpent!" or "Able, put down those loaded dice this instant!" the parents will be conveying their knowledge of good and evil to their offspring. And so on down the line. it is simply an inevitable consequence of the way human culture works, that once this piece of knowledge entered human consciousness, it could not be dislodged. Which is, of course, why redemption was needed -- but that is another topic.

So, the notion that God punishes modern people for something that their remote ancestors did is a symptom of a failure to pay attention to and think about the elements of the story properly. Which points to a common atheist malady, by the way: On the one hand, they often declare religion is all superstition, and refuse to waste any time studying it. On the other hand, they absolutely will not stop spouting off opinions on this topic that they refuse to study!

And What Does This Post Signal?

Ryan Murphy contends that buying local organic "crap" is just a form of signaling. Two things:

1) No one is trailing me as I shop, Ryan. I can buy anything I want to without anyone knowing. I could buy the cheapest, most distantly grown things in the store and tell everyone it's local organic produce, if I want, and get away with it for years. If it is "all about" signaling, then why would I actually buy local produce instead of just talking about how I do so?

2) Isn't what is good for the goose also good for the gander? Shouldn't signaling theorists (and other reductionistic social theorists) apply their theory to themselves? If organic-food shoppers are "really just" signaling how environmentally conscious they are, shouldn't we be asking what Ryan is signaling in putting forward that theory? Perhaps he's not actually doing economics, he's "really just" signaling how tough-minded and cynical he is.

UPDATE: And none of the above means that signaling does not occur! Of course it does. But it is an abstraction, and no human action is ever "just" an abstraction.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trials Are Good for Starting "Useful Conversations"

I heard John McWhorter of The New Republic today talking about the Zimmerman trial, and he said the a conviction could lead to a "useful conversation" about race in the United States. Well, that very nice, but...

Shouldn't the matter of whether Zimmerman is, you know, guilty, enter into the matter of whether it would be good to convict him?

NYC Storage: I Will Never Use Thee

This company runs the most obnoxious ads. Per esempio: "If you store your stuff at your parents house, that means you have to go visit them."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Staten Island

A place where you can pay New York City taxes, but with none of the urban amenities!

I Don't Love the State!

Joe was surprised by my post joking about all Congressional hearings being about wasting taxpayers money. I've seen this before, where anarchists imagine that if one is not an anarchist, one must think the current state we have is great.

I don't. The state is often terrible. I am no longer an anarchist because I have come to believe that, while that is true, not having a state is usually even more terrible: it typically involves a number of rival groups engaged in a violent struggle to become the state. Obviously, anarchists don't advocate this! I just think that is what will usually result from the dissolution of the current state.

The typical comeback is that, well, "We will have a society of individualists who will not tolerate this sort of thing." But even if that can be created, those individualists will have the problem of defending against outsiders who want to impose a state on them. And then they will wind up either being conquered, or creating a "defensive state" to protect against this: Switzerland!

And I think Switzerland is as good as we can hope for, in a fallen world.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Class Injustice Is Still with Us!

It turns out that Queen Elizabeth will live ten times as long as the average British worker. (Plus, she can lay up to 2000 eggs a day.)

Andrew Sullivan Lets His Inner Oakeshott Shine Through


"And when this kind of practice of something becomes effortless, when it becomes second nature, instinctual, it becomes part of you and you of it. You simply cannot describe the great skill of a craftsman, or a cook, or a priest, or an artist except by observing how he or she has become what she creates and does. Julia Childs' cook-book can never replicate an actual Julia Childs meal. It can merely abstract from it, copy it. But the itness is hers and hers alone. At that point, where the idea and the practice and the person simply become one, human activity takes flight. It becomes integral."

That Old Time Caucus Strategy

Let's say Ron Paul's "caucus strategy" plays out perfectly, and he wins overwhelming victories in all of the remaining caucuses. Meanwhile, Romney takes all of the delegates from every remaining primary. How will that work out in delegate count?

Romney: 955
Paul: 98

(Yes, we might expect Paul to pick up a handful of delegates in a few proportional primaries, but, really... this was supposed to be a winning strategy?!)

The British Solution to All Problems

I'm watching an adaptation of a P. D. James novel for the telly. A woman comes over to the apartment of her ex to tell him she is pregnant, and is going to have the baby. But she expects nothing from him. That, he tells her, is exactly what she will get: he can contribute nothing, "writing is more important to me." She gets up to go. But then he makes a move to ameliorate leaving her in the lurch, a single mom caring for a baby with no support from the guy who fostered it:

"But wait! I didn't even offer you a cup of tea! I could make you one..."

It's a Web, OK?

As someone who worked on a hypertext system before the Web was created, I am always amazed by "Web" designers who simply do not get the idea that created the beast at all. I am looking up some travel information, and hit two sentences in quick succession, one saying:

"Please visit our conference website,"

and the next saying:

"Please visit X College website,"

with neither sentence containing a link! If you want me to visit a WEBsite, you could take advantage of the features of the WEB, and put in one of those silken strands that leads me from your site to the one you are instructing me to visit!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Love You, But Jesus Loves You the Best

How to Create a Conspiracy Theory

Walter Block on Absolute Property Rights, Dramatized

UPDATE: As you will see in the comments, even one of Block's admirers not familiar enough with his writings finds this scenario "stupid," and suspects it is some ridiculous caricature of Block's view. But, as you can also see in the comments, all we did was to faithfully film a case Block very explicitly lays out in his own writings!

UPDATE II: Well, now Joseph insists he did know we were merely dramatizing a passage straight out of Block, leaving me with no idea what he objects to.

UPDATE III: I think I may have it. Imagine you know a really nice fellow, a gentleman, bright guy, really polite. He also has a a huge, ugly goiter on the side of his neck. It would be very nice to bring attention to that goiter now, would it?

Well, I think the problem the critics of this post are having is that Walter is just like that fellow, except that his goiter are his conclusions about the legality of acts like this, and by making the video, I am drawing attention to the goiter.

Heard on the News

The announcer said, "Congress will be holding two sessions concerned with wasting taxpayers' funds."

But I thought *all* congressional sessions were about wasting taxpayers' funds...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Feast of Yellow

Authority and Rebellion

In English political thought, from Thomas More to the American Revolution

That's the working title of my next book. The theme explored is the historical development of what constitutes legitimate political authority, and when existing authority can be overthrown. Since this is a period that began with a dynasty put on the throne in a coup, and saw a civil war and two revolutions, these questions were often at the forefront of men's minds, and they were given serious attention.

At present, my list of thinkers to address includes (updated to include recommendations from the comments):

Thomas More
William Shakespeare
Richard Hooker
George Buchanan
Charles I
John Milton
Oliver Cromwell
John Lilburne
Thomas Hobbes
Robert Filmer
Algernon Sydney
John Locke
George Berkeley
David Hume
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Paine
Edmund Burke

Who have I left off the list?


I arrived in my office at 12:28, and immediately pushed the on button of my computer.

It took until 12:44 before I could actually use a program.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From My Upcoming Presentation This Weekend

Out on Staten Island, at the New York Political Science Association annual meeting:

UPDATE: Murphy wins: I've have removed the photo from my presentation!

Yes, the picture is very disturbing... but then, so is the text.

And another:

I'm Rational in My Optimism...

because I know, when you see a trend, it must continue forever!

Furthermore, "prosperity and evolution... go hand in hand." So dinosaurs must have been more prosperous than amphibians!

If good ideas "having sex" are more successful than bad ideas "having sex," what explains Ridley still getting attention?

And can't Reason turn up the heat in the studio so "Kennedy" doesn't have to wear a winter hat inside?

"He Says That's Not What He Meant": Not a Knock-down Argument

Many people have claimed that Hayek's The Road to Serfdom states that a single step towards the welfare state will initiate a near-inevitable slide into full-blown socialism. Others have argued that Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions makes the case for total relativism amongst scientific theories. (These are just two examples that happened to pop into my mind this morning; I'm sure you can come up with others.)

In response, people -- and I confess I have been one of those people! -- often trot out what they feel to be a crushing reply: but later, Hayek / Kuhn himself very explicitly declares that that is not what he meant! After all, who should know better than the author himself what a book means?

But this is not the decisive blow people who use it think it is. Why? Well, the text is an historical act, and determining its meaning is an act of historical understanding. In such work, we do not simply take an actor's word for what he/she did or what it meant that he/she did it. That word is a piece of evidence as to what happened and/or what it meant, but no more than that. Specifically, in terms of deciding what a text really means, the author might:

1) Simply be lying in attempt to ward off embarrassment (or a lawsuit, or a trial for crimes against the state, etc.). So, in 1970 an author writes that "Capitalism will lead the world to run out of resources by 1990, resulting in mass starvation and the breakdown of industrial civilization." Now, when 1990 comes around and this hasn't happened, it is hugely tempting for the author to explain why, if you read carefully, "will lead" really meant "might lead, given certain contingencies."

2) Something similar to 1) may occur, but subconsciously, rather than intentionally. We can easily fool ourselves, and revise our own memories to put our past actions in a more flattering light. This can happen as easily with a book as with a gaffe at a party.

3) The author may simply have not written what he meant to write. A simple example: a journalist writes "Barack Obama is clearly guilty of forging his birth certificate." This leads Obama to lose the upcoming election. The journalist is blamed by fellow Democrats, but he protests, "That's not what I meant! It was a simple typo that left out the word 'not'!"

Well, he may be perfectly honest in saying that, but no matter; the proper response is, "That may be what you intended to write, but it is not what you wrote, and we poor non-mind-readers can only interpret what you actually wrote."

The author, like anyone else commenting on a text after it has appeared, if he wants to convince the historically minded of what the text actually meant, must point to historical evidence: first of all, the text itself. His statement about his frame of mind while the text was being composed can certainly be taken into account as a piece of evidence, but only as a piece, not as the final word.

None of this is to say that, in the specific cases of Hayek and Kuhn or any other author, their later interpretations of their earlier work are incorrect, only that they must get in line with other interpreters, and are not entitled to use a chit of authorship to cut to the front of the queue.

UPDATE: As Daniel KuEhn points out, I've been typing his name a lot lately, Thomas Kuhn's not so muc, and what do you know -- I made Thomas Daniel's uncle or something. Corrected.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Persistence of Error

Now matter how many times it is debunked, we still get this:

"It is not that the sun and the raindrops cease to exist if there is no one there to see them. Manzotti is not a Bishop Berkeley."

Hey, Why Impose Speciesism on Our Kids?

Mark Mitchell reports on a couple who are trying to save their children from the tyranny of genderism.

They aren't going far enough! Who are they to impose a human identity on this poor child. Perhaps it would rather be an aardvark, or a slime mold! Just release it in the woods, and let it figure out what species it self-identifies as.

Our Place in Tuscany

We had an apartment on a thousand-acre agriculture estate -- cheaper than a hotel room! Click for a larger view. Oh, and that is Bond down at the end of the driveway.

I'm So Glad We Have a "Progressive" President

In response to a very sensible proposal, our leader blathers:

'In an interview with the Grupo de Diarios America, an association of leading Latin American newspapers, Obama said Washington would not "legalize or decriminalize drugs because doing so would have serious negative consequences in all our countries in terms of public health and safety."'

'The US leader added that legalizing or decriminalizing drugs "would not eliminate the danger posed by transnational organized crime."'

Yes, and cutting out binge drinking followed by driving will not eliminate the danger of dying in a traffic accident.

But it sure would lower it.

Tiger Mom Sighting

This happened a year ago, but I just heard the story today:

My (Filipina) wife was touring a high school with our son, after he had been accepted to (but not yet confirmed he was going to) LaGuardia High School, New York's performing arts secondary school. A Chinese mom was standing next to the two of them at one point, and asked if he was likely to attend the school they were in.

My wife responded, "No, he's probably going to LaGuardia."

The Chinese mom asked "What is he going for?"


"Ah! Which instrument: piano or violin?"

When my wife admitted it was... drums, the woman looked aghast, and immediately changed the subject.

And Another Step Bites the Dust!

The index for Oakeshott on Rome and America is done (sorry, indentation did not paste in properly):

Abbott, Frank Frost, 107, 109
Abstraction, 8, 44, 45–46, 71
Ackerman, Bruce, 154, 175–77, 178, 179, 180
Adams, John, 145, 154, 167, 182
Alexander, Christopher, 15
Amendments, to U.S. Constitution, 79, 80, 163, 183, 194
American founders, 35–36, 79, 147–61, 194
    Burke and, 159–61
    civil association and, 42–43
    election crisis of 1800 and, 174–80
    English transit and Locke, 147–51
    as Enlightenment rationalists, 137, 152–53, 155, 159, 160, 193
    federalism and, 77–78
    Federalist Papers and, 151–52, 155
    Machiavelli and, 145–46
    'original intent' of, 98, 183
    political thought and, 152–56
    rationalist politics of, 3–4, 5, 71, 143–61, 180
    Roman model and, 5, 100, 136–37, 138, 144, 154, 196
    slavery, women and, 156–57
    Webster and, 158–59
    See also Jefferson, Thomas
Anabaptists, 147
Ancestor worship, in Rome, 105. See also Mos maiorum (way of the ancestors)
Antiochus IV, Selucid ruler, 109–10

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Main Problem with the Infamous Derbyshire Post

John Derbyshire got himself fired from National Review with a post giving the "non-black" version of "the talk." A lot of things have been written about it, but I haven't seen someone really nail where Derbyshire goes wrong. (Someone may have: I have not read every commentary!) So let me say what I think is seriously wrong with what "Derb" wrote.

His basic point is that white (or Asian, or...) parents have a responsibility to try to keep their kids safe, just as black parents do when they advise their children on how to avoid being viewed as a criminal by the police. The chief problem with what he wrote, as I see it, is that, by focusing on race, he fails badly at that task.

Consider some of his bits of advice, such as:

"Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally."

"Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods."

"Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks."

"If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible."

Now think about how stupid this will make his children act if they follow his advice:

Should they be at the beach, and a busload of Jehovah's witnesses shows up, they will flee. But really, other than being proselytized beyond endurance, could their possibly be a less threatening group of people to encounter?

If there is a convention of sociologists interested in urban issues that invites them to speak, they will decline: too many blacks!

Black middle-class neighborhoods will be off limits to them.

Concerts by Baptist gospel choirs are verboten as well.

If they are excellent sprinters in track, they will not be able to attend the US Olympic training camp for their event.

Suddenly finding themselves in the midst of a group of British soccer hooligans, or Columbian drug gang members, or IRA terrorists, they will feel safe, since "Dad just told us to watch out for groups of blacks."

The point is this: I want my kids to be able to spot and avoid dangerous situations. But the skin color of those around you is not a very accurate gauge of the danger of a situation! What I want my kids to take note of is not skin color, but the demeanor, the attitude, the sense of threat, from the people around them. Certainly, a group of black, inner-city, teenage males, all dressed in gangster clothing and acting rowdy should inspire some caution. But so should a bunch of white kids from my Brooklyn neighborhood, dressed and acting the same way.

It ain't the race, it's the attitudes and the actions!

Well, the poor man has cancer, and is probably feeling a bit ornery. But he really is too smart for what he wrote.

Me, I'm Going to Fight Wetness with a Nice Swim

I saw a little special on the telly the other night about the increasing presence of Asian-Americans in ads, seeing as they are the wealthiest ethnic group in the United States. They interviewed an Asian lady, who said, "I think this is great, because seeing more Asians in the mainstream media will help to combat stereotypes."

It apparently did not occur to her that the mainstream media, and especially mainstream advertising, deals almost exclusively in stereotypes.

Tyler Cowen Praises Karl Polanyi

And quite rightly, too. Polanyi has a lot to offer. Rothbard's review of The Great Transformation is the single worst book review I have read in my life. (I still crack up at Brian Doherty trying to defend Rothbard's contention that Polanyi exhibited a "worship of the primitive," since Brian had to admit that, in a several-hundred-page book, he could not find a single quote that backed the contention, but still, if you read between the lines carefully enough, and use your imagination...)

Utterly Bizarre Pro-Abortion Argument

Over at Rod Dreher's blog, one "celticdragonchick" argues that, since, "close to a quarter of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage," there really can't be anything wrong with abortion.

By the same reasoning, since 100% of human lives end in death, murder must fine as well.

(Oh, and I note this not simply because of this particular case, but because I've run across the same argument a number of times.)

Private Property: The Basis of Social Order?

"Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles‘ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts 4:32–35)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fun Things to Do on Your Next Flight

1) When you are asked if you have any of the forbidden items in your carry-on luggage (knives, explosives, incendiaries, guns, clubs, etc.) answer, "Yes, sir, I brought them all." Then explain that you thought the picture was a checklist of what you were required to bring.

2) When shown the brace position during the safety film, immediately adopt it. Then hold it for the rest of the flight, while making low moaning noises of distress and whimpers of fright. When anyone tries to talk to you, simply become more frightened.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Liveblogging Wood: The Ideological American Revolution

"And certainly ideology, it used to be thought, could not have been involved in that most practical of revolutions -- the American Revolution.

"Few historians of the Revolution believe that anymore. It now seems clear that the Revolution was very much an ideological movement... In fact, I would go so far as to say that the American Revolution was as ideological as any revolution in modern Western history..." -- The Idea of America, p. 321

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Transform Airport Security

I was going through the security line in Belfast when I saw that my backpack had been pulled aside. There was a small sign next to where it sat, reading "Your bag has been selected for additional searching."

When the airport security fellow arrived, to a group of very grumpy looking people awaiting their bags, I said, "Listen, you could be facing a much happier crowd down here. What you do is this: everyone whose bag is selected, put them in a drawing for a new Jaguar. Then, people will be anxious to get the additional screening."

All security procedures could be connected with a similar chance of a prize. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Just Try Lifting Pounds, Laddies!

I was in the gym in Belfast, and I caught the Irish blokes kind of chuckling at the paltry amounts I was lifting.

"Hey," I told them, "I've never lifted kilograms before. You just see how you do the first time you try lifting pounds." 

Easter Lunch in Tuscany

I have not died! I have not posted since I have been recovering from:

Red and white wine
Salami and prosciutto
Chicken liver and vegetable crostini
Conch in tomato sauce
Seafood risotto
Ravioli with meat sauce
Lamb cacciatore with spinach
Fried and breaded calamari rings
King prawns roasted in their shells
Lemon tort

Friday, April 06, 2012

Berkeley: The Evidence Just Keeps Piling Up

"[Berkeley] is no subjective idealist; he does not say or hold that my smelling is the smell or makes it; for him, the smell is the smell and the sound is the sound; but the existence of smell and sound are, he insists, nothing other than the smell smelt and the sound heard." -- A.A. Luce, Berkeley's Immaterialism, p. 65

Still I Remain Tied to the Mast

James Joyce's novel Ulysses faced many difficulties over charges of obscenity. I was just thinking about this, and it occurred to me that he may have hit a huge snag with the obscurity of some of the prose. The censors reading probably didn't find the parts they could understand that objectionable, but I imagine them thinking, "If this is what he's put in the bits we can read, just imagine what's in the bits we can't read!"

Thursday, April 05, 2012

That Arrogant SOB

Over at ThinkMarkets: now he thinks he knows how to do campaign finance reform using some weird stuff called "sortition."

Next thing you know, he'll be lecturing us on probability, or some s&^t like that.

Liveblogging Wood: Those Poor Criminals!

Many conservatives feel that recently -- since Freud? since behaviourism? since the 1960s? -- our society has "gone soft" on criminals, because we tend to treat crime as a disease or social problem, rather than a moral failing. Well, if by recently, they mean the 1790s, they may have a point:
If the characters of people were produced by their environment, as Lockean liberal thinking suggested, perhaps criminals were not entirely responsible for their actions. Maybe impious and cruel parents of the criminal were at fault, or maybe even the whole society was to blame. "We all must plead guilty before the bar of conscience as having had some share in corrupting the morals of the community, and levelling the highway to the gallows,@ declared a New Hampshire minister in 1796... "Let every criminal, then, be considered a person laboring under an infectious disorder," said one writer in 1790. "Mental disease is the cause of all crimes." (The Idea of America, pp. 282-283)

The Destructive Effects of Ideology on Thought

Check out this crazy thread.

So, what I did in this post was to state an absolutely standard, but somewhat surprising, finding in probability theory. I did not think or claim I was making some novel breakthrough: I was just reporting. In fact, even the dart thought experiment was not my own: I got it from my old boss, Randy Nelson, who got his math PhD with a specialization in probability theory, and who writes textbooks on the subject.

But the commenters in Wenzel's thread went crazy. Their reasoning seemed to be, "Although I know nothing about probablity theory, I know that ex-libertarians are the worst sort of idiots... so let me jump in abuot how stupid Callahan's post is." One poster actually declared that my "infinitely fine-pointed dart" would pass through... the real number line! As though thicker darts would stick right in the reals! Several pointed out my "Keynesian reasoning," or how I must be cut out for politics because of my sophistical thought. Another guy wrote, "The reasoning will work well at amazing intellectual wannabes with low mathematical skills, but its rather stupid." (Perhaps he meant, "Flummoxing intellectual wannabes with low mathematical skills.")

Now, imagine that, say, David Friedman, whose politics they like, had posted the same thing. These exact same people would have fallen all over themselves praising how clever and deep Friedman's insight was... still, of course, without comprehending the mathematics involved in the least.

My Knowledge of European Geography Was Sketchy

I'm here in Belfast attending the British Political Studies Association annual conference. At a meeting of our sub-group, my friend James Connelly remarked, "Attendance is low this year: I guess we get a lot more people when the conference is on the mainland."

"James," I asked, "are the Poles and French and Greeks and so on aware that England is the mainland?"

"Yes, they are," he responded.

Heavy fog in the Channel, continent isolated.

Liveblogging Wood: Racially Safe Districts, As American as Apple Pie

When re-districting occurs, conservatives are often aghast at this "un-American" practice. But the idea that representatives ought to be "like" the people they represent, in as many ways as possible, is as old as America itself:
Actual representation became the key to the peculiarities of American constitutionalism and government. People wanted elected officials that were like them in every way, not only in ideas but in religion, ethnicit, or social class. The people in Philadelphia in 1775 called fo rso many Presbyterians, so many artisans, and so many Germans on the Revolutionary committees. -- The Idea of America, p. 183

Zero Percent Chance, Part Two

Surprisingly, my post on probability theory has generated quite a discussion thread. (And here I thought I saying Ron Paul won't win the GOP nomination was the key to lengthy threads!) In the course of the discussion, I thought of a way to refine my first example to clarify the issues a bit.

Instead of an infinitely fine-pointed dart, let's take an ordinary one, and instead of the real number line, we'll just throw it at the wall. Now, I ask you, "Does the exact middle of the head of the dart have some exact x, y coordinates on the grid of that wall, despite the fact that, of course, we could never measure that exact x or that exact y?"

If you answer "yes," then I will note that there was a 0% chance that the dart would land at those coordinates, and yet there it is.

If you answer "no," you have adopted a respectable philosophical position, denying the physical reality of the continuum. But you have changed subjects on us: you've dodged the mathematical problem by introducing a philosophical problem concerning the applicability of the mathematics. If this is the way you are inclined, I highly recommend Atomism and Its Critics, by Andrew Pyle.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

How's That Delegate Strategy Looking for You Now?

In yesterday's primary result, Romney beat Paul in delegates won 83-0. All bound delegates.

I wonder why no one has taken my bet yet?

Belfast II

I took a long walk today, and didn't see a single sign that just a couple of decades ago, this city was a battleground. I must research further. Tomorrow, my plan is to do a pub crawl. At each stop, I will alternately sing "Do you want a chicken sandwich Bobby Sands?" and "Ian Paisley Wears Nuns Undergarments."

If I live, we can declare the troubles officially over.

It Must Be Nice to Have Readers Who Pay Attention

In front of me on line at the Primark department store is a sixteen-year-old Irish girl with her infant son in a stroller. The boy is screaming, sobbing, and repeatedly says "Mama, mama." She completely ignores him as she piles a bunch of frilly lingerie onto the counter. Finally, his crying attracting the attention of others, she tries to jam a pacifier into his mouth, which he spits out, to begin sobbing "Mama" again. She pays and wheels him away. I pay a minute later. I can hear the baby's cries the whole time I am at the register, and while riding down the escalator. When I emerge into the street the girl and the still-sobbing infant are ahead of me.

I could swear I heard her lean over to the stroller and say, "I've read fecking Bryan Caplan, and he tells me none of this will make any difference to how you turn out, so shut your fecking gob."


The city is amazingly normal: not too different than Cardiff or Manchester, calm, going about its day-to-day business. I have not yet seen anything that would hint that a few decades ago it was under military occupation, the scene of a slow-motion civil war.

Does Anyone at Google Own an iPhone?

If so, have they ever used Blogger on it? Because it just works stunningly badly. Last night I tried fixing a post title from my phone. First of all, the "Edit" button itself is a very hit or miss affair: from my phone I find that well over half the time it simply does nothing. Well, this time, it kind of loaded my post for editing: the title came up, but the post body window was empty. "Surely just a display problem," I told myself. So I fixed the title and saved.

Nope, not just a display problem: the body of my post was wiped out. Crap like this happens all the time trying to use Blogger from a phone. Oh, and commenting is even worse: once you do anything other than type in the comment box (like, say, scrolling the screen) the comment box stops accepting input: you have to click on "Done" on the phone's interface, then put the cursor back in the comment box to enable typing again.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Liveblogging Wood's The Idea of America: Rothbard Vindicated?

Imagine a situation in which the people, or, we might say, the market, had chosen a particular medium for money. But a central state is established with the purpose of shoving its own preferred money down the people's throats, whether they want it or not. Nevertheless, the people manage to circumvent the central government's attempt to impose its money on them, and use their preferred form anyway.

Who are these Rothbardian heroes? Well, they were the ordinary people of the new United States, who, when the central government attempted to thwart their desire for paper money, by imposing gold and silver money upon them, ran an end run around the Feds:
Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution had prohibited the states from printing bills of credit, but the needs and desires of all the protobusinessmen and domestic traders were too great to be stymied by a paper restriction. So the states, under popular pressure, got around the constitutional prohibition by chartering banks, hundreds upon hundreds of them, which in turn issues the paper money people wanted. -- p. 26

Every Culture Is As Old Every Other One

Aargh! Blogger on an iPhone wiped on my post! Here goes again:

Every culture on earth is 100,000 years old, and East African. The exceptions would be any cultures, should any exist, that have at some point suffered a catastrophic culture wipe-out: losing speech, fire, tools, and so on.

An example: It is often said that American culture is "younger" than British culture. But American culture just is the wing of British culture that split of in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America from the rest of British culture. Picking which one is older is like picking the older amoeba after one splits into two.

Monday, April 02, 2012

An Interesting Bit of Probability Theory

"There's a 0% chance that X will happen."

Most people interpret that to be equivalent to, "X will never happen."

But that isn't so. An example: If one were to toss an infinitely fine-pointed dart at the real number line and hit a spot between 0 and 1, for any particular number in that range, there is a 0% chance you will hit it. But you *will* have hit *some* number, so even though there was a zero percent probability that number would be hit, it was hit.

Why Are Opportunity Costs So Hard to See?

A new hamburger joint opened up near my house: roughly the fifth "gourmet" hamburger place within half-a-mile of me. They were right at the exact end of the upward market in high-end burgers, so that by the time they opened, the market was saturated and the place has sat basically empty since it opened: I rarely have seen more customers than employees inside. And they are on a high-rent street.

I commented to my friend that they were sure to go out of business soon, but he replied, "No, two brothers run the place, and their parents own the building, so it basically costs them nothing to stay open."

Well, it costs the brothers nothing, but it sure costs the parents a lot! Imagine a scenario where the parents had the storefront rented for $8,000 per month (what I guess the place would fetch), and the brothers tell them they want to rent another storefront, and ask to be funded $8,000 per month. The net effect on the parents wealth would be exactly the same: they lose the $8,000 of rent money every month either way. But most people would be appalled by the second situation: "How can those kids take advantage of their parents like that?" The first one, where the kids get the storefront rent-free, they accept without batting an eye.

Why do people have such a hard time recognizing opportunity costs?

The Delegate Strategy

In Virginia, the state where Ron Paul did his very best in the popular vote, Romney won the delegate race 43 to 3. These are pledged delegates.

Only a handful of states permit the kind of manipulation at the district level that is allowing Paul to greatly exceed his popular vote totals in some places. The Paul campaign itself has said it hopes to pick up six states this way, none of them very large.

So that leaves him getting whomped in delegate count in 44 other states, by totals similar to the above. (For instance, in California, a winner-take-all state, he will lose 172-0.)

I will bet anyone who wants even money that Paul will lose to Romney by at least 500 delegates. Any takers? Say, for a thousand?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Liveblogging Wood's The Idea of America: Interests and Disinterestedness in the Making of the Constitution

This is the most interesting essay of this collection so far. Wood states a bold thesis to begin:
We have repeatedly pictured the Founders, as we call them, as men of vision -- bold, original, open-minded, enlightened men who deliberately created what William Gladstone once called "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the hand and purpose of man." We have described them as men who knew where the future lay and went for it...

In contrast, we have usually viewed the opponents of the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists, as very tame and timid, narrow-minded and parochial men of no imagination and little faith, caught up in the ideological rigidities of the past  -- inflexible, suspicious men unable to look ahead and see where the United States was going. The Anti-Federalists seen forever doomed to be losers, bypassed by history and eternally disgraced by their opposition to the greatest Constitutional achievement in our nation's history.

But maybe we have got it all wrong. Maybe the Federalist were not men of the future after all. Maybe it was the Anti-Federalists who really saw best and farthest. Is it possible that all those original, bold, and far-sighted Federalists not on what was coming but on what was passing?...

Is it possible the [the Founders] Constitution failed, and failed miserably, in what they wanted it to do?
Wood, with a lead-in like this, of course concludes "yes" to the last question. This killed me, because this is part of the thesis of my forthcoming book, and I missed, in doing my research, Wood's essay and the evidence it would have provided to bolster my case. (The book came out after I was done writing, but the essay had appeared in a 1987 volume of conference proceedings.) Discovery cannot be equated to search costs!

And this is interesting: someone who has read Rothbard's work on this period may be inclined to say, "Well, duh! Rothbard already pointed out that the Anti-Federalists were the good guys!"

However, two points:

1) "Wave of the future" is not necessarily equal to "good guys"; and
2) Wood thinks the Anti-Federalists were the more modern of the rivals because of, among other things, their advocacy of paper money, credit expansion, and democratic, interest group politics in which factions compete for public backing for their preferred projects.


In any case, we will be looking at this essay in a couple more posts.

But Let's Say We Pretend That Your Mother Wasn't a Whore

I know a guy who is kind of troubled. His mother was the town whore where he grew up. His father could have been any of hundreds of guys. He really feels uncomfortable about these facts, so I decided the other day to comfort him.

"I know the solution to your problems!" He looked hopeful. "Here's what we do: We pretend your mother was a virgin! And we pretend your were conceived when Zeus visited her in the form of a swan. There: don't you feel better now?"

"What?! Are you nuts? I know that wasn't the way it happened. So how does that fairy tale help me?"

Well, I guess it doesn't, does it?

My tale is a lot like the stories some libertarians tell themselves about property. A story where someone finds a little plot of land that is entirely unused, fences it with his own labor, and begins to farm it, is a lovely tale. But it has nothing to do with our world, where every property title is sullied by centuries of theft, murder, conquest, expropriation, fraud, extortion, and so on.

When this is noted, these absolute property rights libertarians sometimes respond, "Well, in X, Rothbard handled this: if someone can assert a clear title, the property reverts to them." That's a bit like me assuring my friend, "Well, I just have this feeling your real dad will step forward, and it will turn out he's a swell guy, and was in love with your mom all these years!"

We know that all of our real property titles are dirty as the town whore, but there is about doughnuts' chance at Chris Christie's house that the real dad will show up.

So what right do we have to this property? Well, private property plays an important role in a functioning society, and our society has at present decided that it's best, in general, to let present titles stand. In other words, we own what we own by social convention.

And thus, it is perfectly just for social convention to make alterations in property arrangements as well, and not a matter of "theft," as some people enjoy ludicrously claiming.

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...