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Saturday, June 30, 2012

For What Should the Word "Right" Be Used?

Several commentators, such as Joe and Jim, have been puzzled about my use of "a right," feeling I am perhaps being overly restrictive. Well, then, let me give some background to explain my thinking here.

Historically, a right was something of which, if denied, the party suffering the denial had means of redress against the denier. The King had the right to all the game in the New Forest, and should his right be denied, the denier could be prosecuted for poaching. Farmer Giles had the right of way through Farmer Maggot's fields to get to market, and should Farmer Maggot block that right of way, Farmer Giles could sue him. The Archbishop of York has the right to ten percent of the proceeds from all sales of ale in his see, and any brewer who fails to pay up may be fined.

The scope of these rights expanded in the Angloworld, in the 17th and 18th century, and things like the right to freedom-from-arrest while sitting in Parliament and the right to freedom of the press were asserted in different times and places. Although these things were often less specific than earlier rights they still follow the same template: X cannot be blocked from doing A or forced to do B by Y, and if Y does not heed this disability, X has means of redress against Y.

But soon, rights language was used to talk about things that do not fit that template at all. In doing so, I believe we have paid the price of our discourse has been muddied without any compensating gain.

Let us imagine that you are very concerned about children in the developing not getting enough education. You can express a vague, general concern about the matter: "It's a real shame these children do not get more education." That's not really an action plan or much of a commitment, but at least it is honest. But you might go further: you might lobby some particular government to make K-12 education free and mandatory, you might endow an educational foundation to build schools in Sri Lanka, or you might become a teacher in Botswana.

Alternately, if you really only have that originally mentioned vague, general concern, but want to appear as if you are a very serious person with great commitment to a cause, you can angrily declare "Every child in the world has the right to a free K-12 education!" You might even hold a sign up to that effect outside the UN for an hour one Saturday.

There is no particular entity that, by this declaration, anyone can sue should they not have a K-12 delivered to them for free. There is no particular entity that, by this declaration, is now legally obligated to provide this benefit. It is, in fact, no more efficacious in actually getting anyone an education than was the original, vague concern.

A declared "right to revolution" is, I suggest, a similarly empty right. Its real core of meaning is an assertion that "There are certain circumstances in which it is not wrong for citizens to rebel": it is a denial of the doctrine of passive obedience. But put into the language of rights, this sound principle has an element of nonsense mixed in: who, exactly, is one going to sue if one's right to revolution is denied?

What I suggest is that rights talk of this latter variety can be replaced, with a gain in clarity and no loss of moral oomph, with expressions that do not strain the original meaning of "a right" beyond the bursting point. If someone declares that "Every adult has the right to a job," they mean one of two things (or perhaps something else concrete resembling these two things that I haven't thought of), or they are merely posturing:

1) They may mean that every adult has the right to seek employment how and where they will, meaning concretely, perhaps, that a state law banning blacks from teaching can be struck down by the court, or that no town may restrict the entry of job seekers from outside the town.

2) They may mean that every adult who cannot find work elsewhere must be hired by the government, and can sue the government should it fail to offer a job.

If either 1) or 2) are meant, I think it is much better to say those things than to simply to declare "a right to a job." And I think that generally, if neither 1) nor 2) are meant, what we are witnessing is just a display of being a very serious, caring person for the sake of the display, with no real idea of how this purported concern is to be turned into action.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who Be Readin' This?

Checking my stat page, it seems that last month, almost 10% of my traffic came from Russia.

How curious! I have no idea why that would be.

"What Is Macroeconomics?" Macroeconomic Theory I: Fall 2012

The goal of our first lecture will be to understand what sort of things we will study in a course called macroeconomics. How does this subject differ from microeconomics?

I will begin with some analogies. Remember that analogies are just analogies: the correspondences are not exact!

First analogy:

Microeconomics resembles the study of the weather at a particular moment and place, or in a limited locale: "Wow, it's pouring here right now!" (This analogy in particular is less than exact, but we are just trying to get a general grasp of things right now, to get us going.) Microeconomic questions are like asking, "How does the wind move in this canyon?" or "Why is the rainfall so much heavier on one side of this mountain than on the other?"


Macroeconomics resembles the study of regional or global weather patterns. Macroeconomic question are analogous to asking "How will El Niño affect weather in the United States this year?" or "How fast has the globe been warming?"


Second analogy:

Microeconomics resembles the study of the behavior of individual members of a species. It asks questions analogous to "How does the raccoon raise its young?" or "What are raccoon hunting patterns like?"


Macroeconomics resembles the study of large populations of raccoons, or of the entire species. It asks questions similar to "How has rabies impacted the raccoon population of the Eastern United States?" or "Is the raccoon evolving in response to the development of the automobile?" or "How have raccoons spread through Germany since their introduction in 1934?"


An important note: Notice that these studies often overlap, and we may need to move back and forth between the micro and the macro perspective to really grasp some issue. For instance, we can only tell if the raccoon species considered as a whole is changing its behavior in response to the presence of the automobile by noting the behavior of many, many individual raccoons and comparing such a study with previous, similar studies done earlier.

A Song of the Past: Thirty-two

Table of Contents

Saturday, 5:00 PM
Deirdre traveled back to headquarters. At her desk she leaned back in the chair with her feet propped up. She closed her eyes and contemplated the impression that Jacob deliberately had been withholding some crucial piece of her puzzle. Did the piece reveal a facet of Alvin she had not yet seen? Or of Harrison, or Evelyn? Or might it even display all three of them from an angle that made obvious how they all were elements of a single picture?

Jacob had seemed most defensive when asked about Evelyn. Was it possible that Jacob had some connection to Evelyn apart from Harrison? If so, how might she discover it?

Well, she thought, why not take the most obvious route first? She slid her feet off her desk, flipped through her address book to the T's, and then dialed Harrison Tyler's number. It seemed, indeed, to be her lucky day, for he answered the phone himself.

"Mr. Tyler?"

"Deirdre! So, have you decided to fly away for a weekend after all? Or is there a new murder that you think I’ve committed?"

Beef Stroganjosh

The basic idea of this dish came to me when considering how well the "sweet" spices typically used in a korma (such as rogan josh) would go with the sour cream, beef, and egg noodle combination of the beef stroganoff I had made previously.

Recipe:
Grind 15 peppercorns, 10 coriander seeds, the insides of 5 cardamon pods, 2 cloves, 5 allspice berries, and a pinch of fenugreek seeds in a spice grinder.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a deep skillet.
Add the spices and stir for one minute.
Add a generous amount of garlic powder and onion powder. Sautee for a few seconds.
Add 2 pounds of cubed chuck meat. Stir until browned on all sides.
Add 8 ounces of beef stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat.
Add 8 ounces sour cream. Simmer on a low temperature for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare one pound of egg noodles per package instructions.
While egg noodles are cooking, add one package of thawed frozen spinach or fresh spinach to the simmering beef.
Stir 2 teaspoons of corn starch into a couple of ounces of water until thoroughly blended. Add to simmering beef.
Pour beef mixture over noodles in pot. Heat on low for a couple of minutes to bind sauce to pasta and cook off excess liquid.



Now, There's an Actor Who Can Do Accents!

I had mentioned on Facebook that Liam Neeson, while a good actor (as far as I can judge actors, which ain't too far!), is bad at accents: when he plays an American, his Irish breaks out about once per line.

Contrast that with Idris Elba: I watched several seasons of him playing Stringer Bell in The Wire, and never had the least suspicion that he wasn't a Yank. Perhaps the fact that he grew up hearing a number of accents every day helped? (His father was from Sierra Leone, his mother from Ghana, and he grew up and was schooled in London.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Most Conservative Rock Song Ever?

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again

Change it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fall that's all
But the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war -- Pete Townshend

How Can Google Possibly Be So Bad at Generating HTML Code?

Look at the previous post on this blog. I pasted in text from MS Word that was all in the exact same font. Blogger switched fonts twice in the first four paragraphs!

Why? The HTML code created is not only wrong, but so complex I really can't be bothered to sort the problem out. Google could create:

1) Simplistic code that didn't try to get everything correct from the original Word document, but was easy to correct; or
2) Complex code that nailed your original formatting, so that you'd have no need to correct it.

Instead, I get complex code that messes up my original formatting in significant ways.

Ugh!

Abstract: Was Berkeley a Skeptic About the External World? A Study in Error


“Descartes, Locke, and Newton, took away the world... Berkeley restored the world. Berkeley has brought us back to the world that only exist because it shines and sounds.” – W.B. Yeats
“The vulgar view of Berkeley, then as now, was of a befooled enthusiast who sought notoriety by his paradoxes.” (Turbayne 1955: 244)
Bishop Berkeley is popularly held to have endorsed scepticism about the existence of an external world. We have the famous incident of Samuel Johnson refuting Berkeley by kicking a rock, proving that the external world is real; similarly, over a century later, G.E. Moore held up his hand during a lecture, and declared it to be real, in order to refute idealism.
But is this common impression correct? This paper will trace the long history of discussion on this question, and demonstrate that there is widespread agreement amongst Berkeley scholars that the answer is “no”: Berkeley did not reject the existence of the external world. Indeed, some prominent Berkeley scholars have even denied that he was an idealist at all; instead, they contend, he was a common-sense realist, and at the same time an immaterialist.
Since the view of Berkeley as someone who rejected the existence of an external world relies heavily on his rejection of the concept of matter, as understood before him by Galileo, Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke, we must be very clear about to what Berkeley denied existence and to what he didn’t deny it. Sometimes it is said that Berkeley denied the existence of “the physical world.” This is true only if we take “the physical world” in a special sense. Berkeley did not deny the real, independent existence of what any ordinary person before the 16th or 17th century would have called “the physical world”: the world that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, the world that has rocks in it that hurt us when we kick them. What he denied existed was, instead, a specialized and recently developed philosophical concept: the “matter” recently posited by a number of thinkers preceding him, such as those mentioned above.
If that consensus amongst serious readers of Berkeley is correct, then it will also be interesting to investigate how the perception that he is one has persisted for so long. Therefore, this paper is, to some extent, an examination of how popular error can persist for centuries in the face of overwhelming expert opinion convicting the vulgar view of falsehood.
How can we explain the persistence of this error? It will be our contention that the explanation is the persistent temptation to interpret thinkers in an ahistorical manner, as if their ideas can be lifted out of the contemporary conversation in which they were engaged and evaluated as if they had appeared in the pages of Philosophy Today. This error was the target of critiques by both R.G. Collingwood and the so-called “Cambridge School” of historians, most notably Quentin Skinner and J.G.A. Pocock. The proposed work will serve as an illustration of the importance of their views.

Well, There Are Different Levels of Nice!

Just because he is a cannibal doesn't mean he's not nice:

'Eugene's mother said last month that her son was "a nice kid" who could have been subdued with a Taser rather than gunfire.'

Mam, your son had chewed off three-quarters of a living man's face. I think shooting is a bit too good for him, frankly. 

A Right to Rebellion?

Ryan Murphy declares: "I think it’s fair to first assert the right to rebellion"

What would such a right mean? Well, let us proceed by analogy: if I claim to have a right to free speech, I mean the government has no right to stop me from speaking my mind. If I have the right to freedom of religion, the government may not stop me from practicing any religion I choose.

These rights are accompanied by methods of redress: If my right to bear arms is violated, I may sue in court to have that right restored and to be compensated, if I sufferred as a result of the violation.

So a right to rebellion would imply that the government has no right to stop me from staging a rebellion, and, if it does so, I can sue it. Every crank in the country can rebel whenever he wants, and the government can't stop him. This would seem to imply a rotation of presidents every few minutes, as whoever has shown up most recently with a gun takes over, and then immediately loses his right to resist the next would-be president.

(Of course, we can only even talk about this right in a state-based legal framework: in anarchy, there cannot be a right to rebel because there is no entity against which to rebel.)

Stateless Societies

Bob Murphy recently posted on the "stateless" society of ancient Israel. ("Stateless" is in scare quotes not because I think Bob is wrong, but because what it means to have or not have a state is a contested issue. Many theorists of the state would say that Israel still didn't have a state even after Saul took the throne, in fact, that states didn't really exist until the 16th or 17th centuries A.D.)

Coincidentally, I have been thinking about such primitive, stateless societies a bit lately, specifically about their implications for anarchist theory. As I see it, there are a couple of important things about such societies that make them inapt examples for modern advocates of statelessness:

1) It is true that Israel under the judges, medieval Iceland, various American Indian tribes, and so on were not governed by a single, united authority. Instead, they were governed by customs and traditions that, in general, were far less libertarian than most central authorities have been. Think of getting stoned for eating shellfish, for instance: that may be a stateless society, but not a society that we moderns would consider particularly free!

2) As examples of "working anarchies" they are useless for the modern anarchist: yes, if we were governed as minutely by customs as had been the people of those examples, then their examples show us we could do without a sovereign. But, of course, we aren't, and there is no prospect we will be -- and would we even want to be? Rothbard recognized this to some extent, I think, and was trying to create such a set of new customs to rule over Rothbardia. But the effort never had a shot at success, and the resulting "society" repeatedly splintered into sub-factions.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Isn't This a Straightforward Prisoner's Dilemma?

How often in movie's have you seen two enemies pointing pistols at each other from about ten feet apart, having a stand-off? Isn't the rational action here simply to shoot immediately? (Of course, there are sometimes complications: one guy is a cop, say, and he's not supposed to be shooting first, or the "enemy" is his brother, and he loves the dude, but can't let him leave with the diamonds. But let's just consider the cases without those complications, of which I have seen plenty.)

You can hardly expect to play Tit for Tat here, right? If your opponent has pulled the trigger from ten feet away, you are dead, correct? It would seem to me that there is no "threat" that if you shoot, I will too. But perhaps a reader more familiar with firearms than am I will set me straight here. Joe? Bob, do you and Woods ever have standoffs where you each threaten the other with your machine-gun-like wits? How do those resolve?

Was Berkeley a Skeptic About the External World? A History of Misinterpretation

An academic press in the UK has asked me to draw up a proposal for turning my paper "Was Berkeley a Subjective Idealist?" into a monograph. Now, ever since I was a kid and read that Sherlock Holmes had written a monograph entitled Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos, I have wanted to write a monograph. And since blogging is the best way to get me writing, I will try out my table of contents here.


Was Berkeley a Skeptic About the External World? A History of Misinterpretation

Introduction
Chapter I: Writing the History of Thought: Lessons from Collingwood and Cambridge
Chapter II: Berkeley's Setting: Galileo, Descartes, and Locke
Chapter III: Berkeley in Context
Chapter IV: Berkeley out of Context
Chapter V: Getting Berkeley Right
Conclusion

UPDATE: I am recasting the basic tension here to make clearer what Berkeley was asserting and what he was denying. Some people identify "subjective idealism" with subjectivism or solipsism, while others don't. Therefore, the change in terminology.

A Song of the Past: Thirty-one

Table of Contents

Saturday, 3:30 PM
Deirdre consulted the local phone book to see if it held Jacob Tyler's current address. She found a listing in Hamden on Elihu Street, just past the New Haven line. She immediately checked out a car and followed Whitney Avenue away from the city center, past East Rock, past Bassett Park, and into Hamden. When she arrived at 23 Elihu Street she saw a well-traveled, maroon Volvo wagon parked in the driveway. Was this a lucky day?

She parked behind the wagon and walked slowly to the front door. The house was a modernistic, seventies era ranch, well built but neither extravagant nor especially distinctive. It was surrounded by an attractive, woodland garden containing rhododendra, azaleas, and a pair of dogwoods, all under-planted with dense mats of sweet woodruff and pachysandra. After Deirdre rang the doorbell, a minute or so passed before the silhouette of a head appeared through the stained-glass window set in the front door. A quick glance at the man who opened the door sufficed to convince Deirdre that she had found the right Jacob Tyler. The man appraising her from the doorway was about the same height as Harrison; he shared his brother’s sky-blue eyes, square jaw, and salt-and-pepper hair, but it was as if their common birthright had been employed to yield two strikingly different effects. Although both siblings were taller than average, Harrison clearly embraced his stature, so that it contributed to a stately and imposing presence, while Jacob looked like someone compelled to wear an ill-fitting and uncomfortable suit that made his movements awkward and left him oddly bent at the neck and shoulders. His blue eyes were as translucent as his brother's, but rather than having Harrison's overly direct gaze, they darted about hither and thither. However, when Jacob's eyes occasionally did meet hers, they seemed to burn with an intensity lacking in Harrison's. The salt-and-pepper hair, instead of being neatly parted like his brother’s, sat atop his head as if it had been arranged by some nesting field mice. The square jaw was not firmly thrust forward like that of his sibling, but rather squirmed from side to side, stirring Jacob's mouth into disconcerting contortions.

"How can I help you?" he asked Deirdre.

"Are you Harrison Tyler's brother?"

"Perhaps I am, and perhaps I’m not. Who are you, and why are my familial ties any of your business?"

Deirdre took out her badge. "New Haven police. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Jacob's jaw accelerated its contortions, and the sky-blue eyes now entirely avoided Deirdre's own.

"Yes, well, then, come in. Always happy to help the police." He opened the front door wider, and gestured for her to enter.

The front hall was like a repository of Christian symbols, especially dark ones: rather grim looking crucifixes and paintings of martyrdoms and the wicked suffering in hell.  Jacob led her to the left into his living room. An Oriental couch and a number of Chinese vases, some African-print wall hangings, a couple of colorful Mexican wooden sculptures, and several screens patterned with Near Eastern motifs, interspersed among a variety of tropical plants in ornamental, clay containers, introduced a new multicultural motif to the decor. Jacob took up a perch on the lone couch while gesturing for his visitor to sit in the armchair facing it, a coffee table between them. Past Jacob's head was a picture window looking onto the rear of the property, and through it Deirdre could see a small, but neat and attractive, garden. Jacob's house had been built near the edge of a steep ridge, and the trees in the back garden framed a view of the browns and grays of downtown New Haven and the rich blue of Long Island Sound, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. It seemed that at least the landscaping gene manifested itself similarly in both brothers.

After she was seated, she returned to her original query. "So, you are Harrison Tyler's brother, then?"

"I am. In fact, I am his twin brother. The younger twin, born twenty minutes too late."

"Were those twenty minutes important?"

"Why do you think Harrison lives in our ancestral mansion while I live here? The eldest son, even by twenty minutes, inherits the estate."

Deirdre detected a note of bitterness in his voice.

"Grates on one a bit, doesn't it?"

"Oh, I reconciled myself to the way things are years ago. My parents didn't leave me destitute. I've had enough that I could pursue my own projects without worrying about starving."

"And what are those projects?"

Jacob stared at his coffee table for an instant. "Well, it hardly seems I’m obligated to satisfy your seemingly whimsical curiosity about my affairs, but, then again, why should I be needlessly secretive? It's not as if I'm an investment banker, or a dealer in black market antiques, or anything else so disreputable." He laughed nervously and glanced up at Deirdre.

She ignored his offer to "get the joke," and simply stared at him.

"I try to bear witness to God’s glory in several ways, such as serving as minister for a small, local church, and helping out at a homeless shelter in the city. But my main project is running an art foundation: Art over Poverty. You probably have heard of it."

"I have to admit that I haven't."

"We bring the arts to inner city kids. Up lift, give them something to focus on other than drugs and gangs. We've been written up in major media outlets on a number of occasions: The New York Times even covered us a few years back. In fact, we co-sponsor several programs with the policemen's benevolent association."

"I'm sorry to say I haven't helped out." Deirdre's eyes begged forgiveness. "But you must be doing fairly well then, hey?"

"We get along. I couldn't afford a house like this" -- his hands made a vague gesture through the air over his head -- "on the salary I draw from the foundation. But, as I said, I don't have to."

"Do you know a young fellow named Alvin Blaine?"

Jacob looked as though he was attempting to wrestle his tics and nervous mannerisms into submission.

"Alvin Blaine… Alvin Blaine…" Suddenly, it seemed, it came back to him. "Yes, I do remember him. I directed him once or twice at Wilbur Cross."

Then why, Deirdre wondered, had it taken Jacob so long to place Alvin's name?

He continued: "A natural-born actor, you know. Alvin might even have had the talent to become a great one. But he completely abandoned the theater—he got heavily into drugs, I think—and I never saw him after that."

"How long ago was your last contact with him?"

"Well, it must have been when we did Hamlet, the winter before last, as I recall."

"And you haven’t been in touch with him at all since then?"

"No. Why would I?"

"Now, I couldn't begin to say why you would or wouldn't. I'm only asking if you have."

Jacob appeared disconcerted. After a few seconds of staring at the ground, he looked up and asked, "How is Alvin connected to my brother?"

"Why do you think he is?"

"First you asked me about my brother, and now you ask me about Alvin. Unless you are pointlessly meandering, it follows that, at least in your eyes, there is some thread joining the two."

Deirdre tentatively chose to offer the vaguest explanation that might appear plausible. "You see, Alvin's friend, Ben Moore, was killed last week. And we're just checking into every possible angle."

"But that still doesn't explain why you asked me about Harrison."

"No, I’m afraid it doesn't, but that’s because I want to avoid leading my witness. I was hoping you might enlighten me about why both Alvin and Harrison keep showing up in my investigation."

Jacob looked as though he might wiggle off of the couch and dissipate into a cloud of nervous energy at any moment. "I could enlighten you? I can’t imagine what information you thought I might have to offer. As far as I’m aware, neither Alvin nor Harrison ever has met or even heard of the other. What’s more, I haven't talked to my brother in over a decade."

"So I've been told. What led to your estrangement?"

"It was an argument we had while we were making funeral arrangements concerning our parents—they died together in a car accident, as you may already know. Harrison was adamant that they be buried in an extravagant and ostentatious mausoleum, as if they were Egyptian royalty, who might come back to life after a time, and have the opportunity to appreciate how much we had lavished on their afterlife housing. I suspect he considered it de rigueur for Tylers to have only the best accommodations in death as well as in life. But with all of the poverty around us, here in our own city, I thought that his idea was obscene. We were looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Harrison wanted. Do you realize how much that money could mean to some of the kids who live around here?"

"What was the outcome of the dispute?"

"He was executor of their estate. Therefore, he won. But I haven't spoken to him since. That was the final straw between us."

"And what about Evelyn?"

Jacob again seemed to be struggling to compose the semblance of a unified persona out of a turmoil of forces coursing just beneath his public face. "What do you mean, what about Evelyn?"

"Have you talked to her since your split with her husband?"

"No, of course not. I only knew her through him."

"I see." Deirdre was certain Jacob was hiding something, but since she couldn't yet guess what it was, she also couldn't yet imagine how to ferret it out.

"So, you can't conceive of any possible connection between Alvin Blaine and either Harrison or Evelyn?"

"I'm afraid to say that I can't."

"All right, Mr. Tyler, thanks for your cooperation. Let me give you my card." She made a show of groping through her shirt pocket, quite obviously touching her breast in the process. She saw Jacob's eyes follow her hand around her breast like an owl fixated on a mouse. It seemed that Harrison wasn't the only horny fellow in the family.

Hey, Your Horse Lost Anyway!

Let's say you pay me $100 to go place a $1000 bet for you on your favorite horse. Instead of placing the bet, I have a night of expensive lap dances at the Hustler Club.

When you discover this, you are very angry, accusing me of stealing our money. I respond, "Hey, your horse lost anyway!"

Isn't it pretty clear that this is no defense at all?

Well, not to Will Wilkinson, who defends the Supreme Court against the charges of helping in a coup in Bush vs. Gore by noting that, "Mr Fallows seems to forget that George W. Bush actually won the 2000 presidential election," citing the fact that the recount Gore wanted actually would have confirmed Bush's victory in Florida.

Look, I don't frankly know if the Court's decision in that case was sound or not: I simply know far too little constitutional law to even have an opinion one way or the other. But I do know this: if the decision was bad, it provides no defense for the Court to point out that Bush would have won anyway. If I shoot someone dead who, as it happens, was, unbeknownst to me, dying of a heart attack at that very moment, I am just as morally blameworthy as if he had had ninety years to live, even though my action had no important practical consequences.

Constitutions

PS Huff is upset that our constitution is no longer being employed according to its "original understanding." As noble as his motives are, there never was one single "original understanding," and the idea of "one constitution to rule them all, one constitution to bind them" was always an impossible dream:

"Nor can there be a single ultimate rule of recognition, an unconditional and unquestionable norm from which all others derive their authority: a 'constitution' not subject to interpretation and immune from inquiry." -- Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct, p. 151

Every Creature Is Equally Highly Evolved

Some people are fond of calling humans a "highly evolved ape." But in terms of materialist evolution, this makes no sense:

"Biological evolution has no privileged line of descent and no designated end. Evolution has reached many millions of interim ends (the number of surviving species at the time of observation), and there is no reason other vanity -- human vanity as it happens, since we are doing the talking -- to designate any one as more privileged or climactic than any other." -- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, p. 4

In purely materialist terms, we have on earth today some tens of millions of species that are all equally evolved, since every single one of them has been evolving for four billion years.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A New Crime

According to a public service announcement I heard on the radio today, fidgeting and looking nervously around while on a train are now (potential?) crimes that must be reported to the authorities.

They hate us for our freedom!

Bikes in NYC

Back in Brooklyn I turn the corner to be met head on by a bicyclist about to run a red light going the wrong way on a one-way street. I'm stressed from 45 minutes of fighting city traffic, and I lean on the horn. She is shocked! She has no idea what I am upset with her about!

Bicyclists in New York simply do not think the traffic laws have anything to do with them.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mosquitos in the Face of Citronella

I like to sit on my porch, looking out at the woods, and read and write. On summer evenings, this entails applying a lot of citronella spray. The behavior of mosquitos in the face of these circumstances is fascinating. They float all around me, as though they have detected something yummy, but when they start to zoom closer, they suddenly think, "Oh gross!" and back up again.

I Am Learning to Levitate!

"It's true. I am well on my way. I can show you."

(You come to my house.)

"OK, Gene, let's see."

"There you go!"

"But you didn't rise at all: what are you talking about?"

"Well, I have to start somewhere! The first step is "zero levitation": where else did you expect me to start? But now that I've made the first step, we can see how the process will proceed."

"That's ridiculous! No levitation is not the 'first step' on the way to levitating: it's not a step at all."

"No, my man, it's you who are being ridiculous. I just learned from a famous philosopher that building a machine 'without the least smidgen of understanding' is an important first step in showing how understanding arose. You see, even though that step didn't get anywhere at all towards artificially creating understanding, it was still a very important step! So I admit, my first step to learning to levitate hasn't actually gotten me anywhere at all, but, you see, it is still a vital step. Because, you know, emergence, and, um, evolution."


Nasturtiums

I Didn't Make Mass This Morning

When I turned on my phone after waking up, the screen read "No Service." I figured, if God is sending me messages via my phone, I'd better obey, so I worked in the garden.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Does My Thermostat Know That It Is Cold? (More Dennett)

Daniel Dennett and I are kicking back, watching game seven of the Heat-Thunder series (I am in denial) and I say to him, "My thermostat must be feeling chilly."

"What are you talking about?" he asks.

"Well, it just turned the furnace on: it does that whenever it feels chilly."

"That's ridiculous! It's a totally unfeeling machine. Its turning the furnace on is just a mechanical response to the thermometer moving."

"OK, then, how do you explain how humans feel hot and cold?"

"Ah," he responds, "that is trivial: all you have to do is wire together a whole bunch of mechanisms like your thermostat into a very complex network."

Now, there is a pretty obvious logical difficulty here: If the thermostat has zero feeling, how is putting a whole bunch of them together result in a non-zero amount of feeling? As I recall, even trillions of zeroes added together still amount to zero.

Now, there is at least one way to form a coherent theory of a "built-up" mind, and that is panpsychism, represented by, amongst others, Alfred North Whitehead. A panpsychist might say, "Gene's thermostat does feel chilly, just in a very primitive fashion. And the human mind does arise from the matter in the brain, and it can do so because that matter is already, in a very low-level way, capable of thought.

But Dennett has very explicitly closed off that route for himself: "Turing realized that this was just not necessary: you could take the tasks they performed and squeeze out the last tiny smidgens of understanding, leaving nothing but brute, mechanical actions."

So Dennett could not be clearer: A basic circuit for saying, adding two numbers, does not have even a "tiny smidgen" of understanding. But somehow, actual human understanding is supposed to arise from wiring together a vast number of such circuits, or something analogous to them. Eventually, all of those zeroes are bound to amount to something!

So why, despite this difficulty, is this strategy pursued? The answer, I think, is clear: if materialism is true, then somehow mind must arise from a whole bunch of non-mental components.

Well, I think that is an excellent reason to suspect that materialism is false. Now, we might resist that conclusion if we had other good reasons to think materialism is true. But there are no other such good reasons. And there a very excellent cases for materialism being clearly false: I recommend Michael Oakeshott's Experience and Its Modes for one, quite readable, instance of the case against materialism.


Humans Beings Can Be Constructed from Sticks, Straw, and Old Clothing!

You don't believe me? Well, I put up a scarecrow in my field, and some birds thought it was a person. We could even say it is "sorta" a person, couldn't we? At the very least, we are well on our way to constructing a person from sticks, straw, and old clothing, aren't we? And we certainly have shown that it is feasible, even if we can't quite do it yet, right?

What is the point of an argument so obviously silly? I'm not sure, but here is what is essentially the same argument, presented by a "philosopher"!

Dennett notes, quite correctly, that "Turing realized that [understanding] was just not necessary: you could take the tasks [human "computers"] performed and squeeze out the last tiny smidgens of understanding, leaving nothing but brute, mechanical actions. In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is."

But Dennett goes on to claim that these machines, without even a tiny smidgen of understanding, are evidence for... "how a mind could... be composed of material mechanisms"

So, constructing a machine that, admittedly, does not have a mind at all, shows us how minds can be constructed mechanically?! Sure, just like my scarecrow lays out the "basics" of how to construct people from things laying around in the yard.

Ed Feser: Plants Have No Qualia

Ed responds to a blog post of mine here.

In a seemingly common move by modern Aristotelians, he first plays the "but he doesn't really understand what we are saying" card. Well, no, Ed, I understood perfectly well that the issue was about qualia, about whether there is something it is like to be a plant.

That being cleared up, let's get down to the empirical issues that we might use to judge whether there is something it is like to be a plant. Here, I believe the key issue is that much of the activity of plants does not look like activity to us, so that only careful scientific investigation reveals how active they actually are. For instance, Ed says:

"Hence, imagine that dry grass could feel the oppressive heat of the sun or experience thirst and the craving for water. What would be the point? It would not be able to do anything about its circumstances and would thus, unlike an animal, suffer without being able even in principle to remedy the circumstances leading to that suffering."

This is simply false. Plants can and do do things about circumstances like these. For instance, the rhododendrons in my yard, in extreme heat, curl up their leaves, lessening water loss. Plants that undergo periodic dry spells develop deeper root systems than those that do not.

Ed contrasts plants with animals as follows:

"An animal is aware of various aspects of its environment for the sake of the motions toward or away from those aspects that that awareness makes possible, and feels drawn toward or repelled by those aspects as a consequence. Thus the absence of locomotive and appetitive powers in plants is evidence that awareness is absent as well, for awareness would be pointless in that case."

But, again, it is simply empirically false that plants do not move towards or away from aspects of their environments. They merely do so at a much slower rate than do animals, so it is not readily apparent that they are doing so. But it has been found that plants "recognize" others of their own species, actively work to drive off plants of other species, and respond to insect attacks with counter-attacks of their own.

The problem is not that I do not understand the Aristotelian argument for the lack of sentience in plants. The problem is that, by Aristotelian criteria, that judgment ought to be revised in the light of a large amount of recent research.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Andrew Sullivan Is Not Thinking This Through

Here.

Sister Gramick, for those unaware of her, is a nun who: "from the beginning, in presenting the Church's teaching on homosexuality, [has]... continually called central elements of that teaching into question.

Sullivan says the Vatican is "trying to silence her."

OK, Andrew, I'm going to speak to you in the only kind of terms you people seem to understand! And by "you people" I mean Oakeshottians, and those kind of terms would be ideal types.

You see, the thing is this: the Catholic Church is not a civil association. A civil association ought not to be compelling its members to refrain from expressing certain opinions. But the Catholic Church is an enterprise association: its members are united not merely in subscription to a body of law, but in pursuit of a substantive purpose. In the case of the Catholic Church, that purpose is intimately tied to certain ethical teachings.

Sister Gramick obviously disagrees with some of those teachings, some which the Church hierarchy feels are very important. They are telling her to stop her public disagreement, or to leave. And an enterprise association is entitled to do that, because by joining it, voluntarily, by the way, you implicitly agreed to help it achieve its stated aims. And if you are acting to thwart those aims (as those in charge see them, mind you!), you either stop or get out. If you work for Apple, you can't write for PC Magazine saying how Macs suck and telling everyone to buy Windows. If you work for the NAACP, you can't publish an op-ed entitled "Bring Back the Grand Days of Jim Crow!" And that is entirely sensible.

I myself disagree with the Catholic Church on some important points. So you know what I did? I became an Episcopalian -- and now my church has no positions of any substance with which to disagree!

Because we had a little thing called the Protestant Reformation, and the Catholic Church no longer mixes features of a civil association with those of an enterprise association, it is no longer capable of "silencing" anybody. Sister Gramick can become a Unitarian, or a Buddhist! She can go find a religion she actually believes in. And you could then stop saying silly things about the Vatican.

Ah, Local Produce!

Ryan Murphy should get a kick out this one: I just past a "local" produce stand in Matamoras selling bananas and oranges. Come to Pennsylvania, and visit the marvelous banana plantations and orange groves of the Pocono Mountains!

Governing

"The authority of these laws derives from the recognition of the procedure in which they are made or announced, and their content (their 'justice') reflects the character of the culture from which they spring. They are designed to express, in a simplified manner, those items of a cultural relationship which, if not generally and consistently observed, threaten its dissolution. Governing is having the care and custody of this rule-ordered manner of association, and the engagement of politics is considering these terms of civil order in respect of their adequacy to perform their function in the circumstances of ever more extensive and complicated human discoveries and adventures." -- Michael Oakeshott, The Vocabulary of a Modern European State, p. 296

Movie Issues

1) People in movies generally have the worst table manners: they hold their silverware in odd, random fashions, stuff their mouths with food, and then talk so that you can hear it mushing around inside their mouths. But they are also forever holding wine glasses by only the stem, i.e., they aren't cradling the cup at all, just grasping the stem with their fingers. Now I guess some people consider this correct etiquette, but it is something I rarely see "real" people do. So why is it movie characters ignore common table manners, but hold wine glasses in this highly refined manner?

2) Movie tech talk: I just watched Event Horizon -- a pretty bad movie, by the way -- and when the scientist / engineer tries to explain his new engine to a bunch of astronauts, in fairly simple, non-mathematical terms, they all become dumbfounded and ask him to speak English. These people are supposed to be technical experts of various types. How, for instance, did the engineer get his job if a simple explanation like the one the scientist offered does not even sound like English to him?

The worst ever of this type of incident has to be this -- watch at about 40 seconds in, for about 15 seconds or so:



How do you like that: Jeff Goldblum gives a junior-in-high-school-level explanation of chaos theory, and Laura Dern, playing a PhD scientist, makes a cute little, "but I'm only a freshman and that went right over my head" gesture!

A Song of the Past: Thirty

Table of Contents

Saturday, 12:30 PM
Deirdre slept for a couple of hours after returning to her apartment. She woke up for the second time that day at half past noon. Once again, she found herself spending an instant searching for Ariel before she remembered. Immediately she knew that she must get up, must keep moving, or she would grind to a halt from which she might not move again. But what movement would offer respite? How could she persuade herself that anything she could possibly do made sense in a world where an innocent creature’s life might be taken merely because doing so was a handy way to send a threatening message?

But that way lay madness; instead, she had to think about the case, about catching the bastards who had killed Ariel. With that end in mind, she fixed upon the plausibly achievable subsidiary goal of making it to headquarters that day.

She tugged her clothes off and marched to the shower, turning the temperature control to near-scalding on the chance that the heat of the water could burn away unwanted memories. After a long time she shut off the water, toweled herself dry with deliberate severity, and went to her bedroom to dress. Finally, she grabbed a light jacket from her hall closet and pounded down the stairs from her apartment to the front door of the house.

There she found an envelope sitting on the porch, with the single word "O'Reilly" typed on the front. She knew it had not been there when she had arrived home earlier that morning. She put on the gloves that had rested in her jacket pocket, stooped to pick the envelope up, and then removed the note it harbored.

On the single sheet of paper that emerged was printed a brief message: “We’re willing to give you Harrison Tyler in return for your abandoning this meddling in our affairs. Show your good faith: arrest him now. Then we will produce the evidence you need to convict him.”

What was she to make of this? On the one hand, if this cabal was ruthless enough to kill Ariel to make a point, it was not inconceivable that they also might be willing to betray one of their own members, if doing so served their interests, interests that they obviously held to trump all conventional moral injunctions. On the other hand, wouldn't they run a great risk of Tyler exposing their schemes if they made him their scapegoat? Why, if he thought he was going to be convicted of murder, would he feel obliged to maintain his silence about his “brothers”? Did their hold over members run so deep that he still would keep their secrets? It struck her that there was something contrived about the scenario that was being assembled before her, as if a skillful dramatist was laboring to achieve in her the proverbial suspension of disbelief. She could not dismiss the suspicion that she was unwittingly playing a part in one of those audience participation mystery adventures. If that were true, then, no doubt, she had been cast as the clichéd flatfoot who finds each of the plot twists utterly incomprehensible, a character included for comic relief while the real detective untangles the knot of intertwined clues and fingers the true culprit.

She had to admit that attempting to pierce through the veiled code behind which her clues hid their significance was, right at that moment, too daunting a task for her to face. So she tucked the note and envelope in the breast pocket of her jacket, planning to hand them over to forensics once she reached the station. However, given the apparent care that Ariel's killer had exercised at her apartment two days earlier, she had little hope that anything would come of examining the items.

A half-an-hour later she had delivered the envelope and note to the scientific detection boys and was at her desk, searching the Internet for more stories relating to the cast of her mystery. She was beginning to get the hang of Internet searches, and was increasingly able to figure out the combination of words and phrases that would yield what she sought for without hundreds of irrelevant links being included in the results.

She wondered if in cyberspace she could find any connection between Harrison Tyler and Alvin Blaine that she had missed in "realspace." She typed into the search site, the one which Srinivas had shown her, the words 'Tyler,' 'Blaine,' and '"New Haven."' The first several results seemed entirely irrelevant. But the eighth one, from the New Haven Register, looked interesting. It was recent enough -- January 1996 -- that it might actually connect her Tyler and her Blaine. She clicked on the link to view the article.

It turned out to be a local theater review, of a production of Hamlet at Wilbur Cross High School. Her first surprise was that the director was named Jacob Tyler, who apparently worked part-time as an acting coach and play director at Wilbur Cross. Could the fact that he had the same last name as her chief suspect possibly be mere coincidence? She recalled from the case files that Tyler had a brother in the area. He had been interviewed, but the investigators had concluded that he was an irrelevant figure, since he had been estranged from Tyler and had been out of town on the day of the murder.
Her next surprise, even more startling than the first one, was learning that Alvin Blaine had played the lead role in the production. What's more, he had received the highest accolades given to any aspect of the evening’s performance.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," she thought, "Alvin played Hamlet?" Gazing out from a tower that beetles o'er its base, setting springes to catch woodcocks?

When Justin had told her that Alvin could act, she had assumed he meant in contemporary, inner-city dramas, with plots and characters that Alvin knew firsthand. But perhaps she was dealing with a mind that could grapple with one of the most complex figures in the history of the stage.

She flipped through the files on Evelyn's murder, to see if Jacob Tyler was indeed Harrison's brother. He was, and he had lived in Hamden at the time of the investigation. Harrison's brother -- now where did that put her?

She sat back in her chair, her feet on her desk, intending to do some serious thinking. But contrary to that intention, she found herself drifting into idle daydreams. She rose from her seat to go put a CD on the player shared by the whole floor. Until the inklings of having been under the spell of a weaver of tales had arisen just a few minutes ago, she innocently had assumed that she was dealing with a series of un-staged performances and accidentally theatrical props that created the effect they had on her by their unscripted, perhaps even random, intrusion into her investigation, like walk-ons who just happened over to the right stage at the right moment and so were given a bit part. Now she wondered if she might be witnessing an authored play that happened to incorporate a real murder victim and an irretrievably dead cat. Perhaps the concealed dramatist deliberately was leading the audience, especially the member who would conduct the murder investigation, to interpret the action on his stage according to his own, fictional schemata. And she had a hunch as to whom this demur director might be. Deirdre intended to meet Jacob Tyler as soon as she could locate him.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

There Ain't No Paninis!

Dear restaurants, panini is the plural of panino. So please don't put "paninis" on your menu.

A Song of the Past: Twenty-nine

Table of Contents

VI
Thrust and Parry

In the shelter in the middle of the roundabout
The pretty nurse is selling poppies for the trade
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway

-- John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Penny Lane”


Saturday, 8:30 AM
Hours later, Deirdre woke with a start. The sharp pain of returning awareness stabbed through her head like a knife, and her forehead was beaded with sweat. A gray light seeped in through the beat-up, tan shades. Where was she? She looked around and saw Juanita sleeping next to her. Christ, what had she done?
She wanted to just slip away, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She had to wake Juanita up. She gently shook her shoulder.
Juanita stirred. Her eyes, bleary and bloodshot, peered at her from under heavy lids. “Good morning!”
“Juanita, I have to go. I have a lot of work to do today.”
“Hmmm. Give me a proper good-bye.” Juanita stretched out her arms toward Deirdre.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What De Hell Is Dat, Mon?

I recall Ali G encountering one of those weird Scottish cows and asking the farmer the titular question of this post. But now I ask you the same about:



As I mentioned in an earlier post, I find living in the woods to be an amazing thing, particularly when it comes to insects: almost every night throughout the summer, I encounter some creature I have never before laid eyes on.

Who's Been Walking on My Porch?

I'm having trouble identifying these tracks:



Does anyone recognize them? (The boards are 2-by-8s, and the prints are about 10 inches apart.)

And That's Why We Don't Hang on to People in the Water!

I was swimming in "my" lake about an hour ago. Given the heat, there were a fair number of other people in the lake, at least for a week day in June. Near me was a father surrounded by three kids. As I slowly inched my way deeper into the frigid water, he began yelling at them:

"Don't hang on to people in the water! That's how people drown!"

I was sorely puzzled. Having been a lifeguard for five or six years, I know that it is true that drowning people can easily drown others by desperately clinging to them. But these were just kids horsing around. That's how people drown? If it's a big problem, I had never heard about it -- and like I said, I used to be a pro.

As those thoughts were running through my head, the father yelled again, this time in panic, and shot past me. I spun around. Not ten feet from where he had been delivering his lecture to these three older children, his younger daughter (whom no one had been holding on to) was, in fact, drowning. The dad and a lifeguard reached her at the same moment and pulled her head up out of the water. She was fine, if quite scared.

The man turned to his other kids and said, "See! That's why you don't hold on to people in the water!"

Hmm. The lesson I would have taken from the incident was, "See! That's why you don't stop paying attention to your kid who can't swim to give fallacious lectures about mythical problems to the ones who can!" But maybe that's just me.

Mediocre Song, Lousy Cause

When I wrote about "The Slavers," what was bugging me was the "cheap thrill" of feeling morally superior by being anti-Confederate. How about condemning a war fought, at least in part, for slavery when it's actually unpopular to do so? For instance, what people were roused to war by their enemy "plying up the Rivers... using every Art to seduce the Negroes [to throw off their bonds]"? What people were moved to fight because their enemy had raised an army that wore the words "Liberty to Slaves" on their chests?

"In the famous case of Somerset vs. Stuart (1772), British jurist Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery could not be sanctioned by the common law. It was... incompatible with the 'natural rights of mankind" and the "mild and humane precepts of Christianity." Once a slave stood on British soil, the very air he breathed gave him legal protection and made him free. A writer in the New-York Journal assumed this would produce 'greater ferment' than had the Stamp Act..." -- Burstein and Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, p. 24

The damned oppresive English were trying to interfere with our right to own slaves! And not only that:

"Pendleton's eagerness to declare Virginia independent in May 1776, and to instruct its delegates in the Continental Congress to vote for national independence, was related to the landed gentry's urge for western land... These tensions existed because the Proclamation of 1763, issued by the British Parliament, expressly prohibited western migration." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 28

So those tyrannical Brits were trying to stop us from robbing and killing the Injuns as well!

OK, sure, there were greedy "slavers" who were anxious to steal yet more land from the Indians. But at least we had noble leaders like Jefferson around, who chastised them as follows:

"Nothing will reduce the [Indian] wretches so soon as pushing war into the heart of their country. But I would not stop there. I would never cease pursuing them while one of them remained on this side of the Mississippi." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 29

Ooh, that wasn't chastisement at all, was it? That's downright enthusiasm for genocide and ethnic cleansing on the scale of half a continent!

So, Professor DeLong, are you with me here? "The Star Spangled Banner": Mediocre song, lousy cause.

A Song of the Past: Twenty-eight

Table of Contents

Friday, 10:30 PM
The Cape Codder was crowded and smoky when Deirdre arrived. Justin’s band was apparently on break, as the jukebox was on, playing Dire Straights. She spotted several of the band members at a table in the corner.
As she walked over, the lead guitarist, whom she knew as “Legburt Struck,” glanced up and saw her first. “Deirdre, m’sistren, what happenin’?”
“Yes, Legburt you ragamuffin. Not too much.”
He chuckled at her response. She shook his hand, and said hello to everyone else at the table. Legburt Struck, One Drop, the Archbishop, Culture—she was sure these weren’t the names their mother had given them, but these were the ones she knew them by.
“Give Deirdre a Guinness,” the Archbishop instructed. Culture handed her one from an ice-filled bucket sitting on the table.
“Where’s Justin?”
“M’think him up at the bar, chattin’ up some woman.”

Cinderella

Did you ever realize that the "cinder" part of her name was meant to invoke cinders? Well, I never did, until I saw her name in Italian: Cenerentola. Which is basically "Ash-tola."

Next I'm going to discover that the Ashmolean was at first a museum devoted to ashes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hey Language Book Producers

I realize you can't afford to stick an entire dictionary for the language you are trying to teach in the back of your book of, say, short stories in Urdu. But how about this: if you're going to include a dictionary at all, perhaps you could see that it has all the words in your book? Just use software to extract a list of unique words from the stories, and, bing-batta-bing, you've got your dictionary. And if that is still too long for your budget? Then strip out the most *common* words, and leave in the rarer ones. Anyone trying to read stories in a foreign language already knows the words for 'man,' 'woman,' 'dog,' 'food,' and 'night.' It's when the author mentions the equivalents of 'scree' or 'spate' that we're likely to be stumped.

So Don't Try Telling Them You Only Put Four Beers in the Cooler!

A Song of the Past: Twenty-seven

Table of Contents

Friday, 8:00 PM
Deirdre traveled downtown to look for a place to eat. When she got off the bus at the Green, the sky had turned tumultuous and rain looked imminent. She wandered into the Yale campus. At Wall Street, a side street a couple of blocks east of the Sterling Library, a blue neon sign caught her eye. When she went to investigate it she found Naples Pizza. The restaurant was buried in the middle of a block of Georgian buildings owned by Yale. The restaurant’s dark, rich wood interior, multi-paned casement windows, exposed beams, and soft lighting was like her idea of some pub near Oxford or Cambridge, or at least a pizza joint near Yale. The rain already had begun to fall, so she hurried inside.
Deirdre determined that she needed to order at the counter, as there was no waitress service. While she waited for help, she watched a group of three Asian girls chatting at a table nearby. Next to them sat a teenage couple: a black boy with beaded cornrows and a white girl with hair dyed a light raspberry: two young lovers hypnotically contemplating an image of the self dimly perceived in the other. She ordered a beer and a small cheese pizza from a thirtyish, heavy-set Italian man, and received an order number. Deirdre moved to the front of the restaurant and took a table next to a rain-streaked window. The only person near her was a man a couple of tables away, also sitting by the windows. He wore a tweed jacket and a sweater-vest. His thin white hair swirled around his head like wisps of cirrus clouds. He rapidly flipped through a thick book. Beyond him and out the windows, flashes of lightening highlighted the outline of cars.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Sensible Advocate of a Sensible "Paleo" Approach to Dieting

Reader August kindly sent me this link. This guy (Mat LaLonde) does not strike me as cranky at all. Just to be clear: I think NeoDarwinian theory is a pretty good description of how life has evolved, and I think that there are undoubtedly implications for our diet springing from that fact. What bothers me about some of the paleo advocates (e.g. DeCoster) is they seem to ignore plain facts about evolution, such as the rapid adaptation to dairy on the part of herding peoples.

But certainly, we should look to our pasts for clues as to what might be good for us. My ancestry being Northern European, I am not bothered by wheat or dairy at all. My wife's ancestry being Southeast Asian, she can't tolerate lactose or gluten. That all makes perfect sense to me. And this seems to be what Mat LaLonde -- hey, Mat, who stole that 't' from your first name? -- advocates: pay attention to what you can and can't digest properly. And our evolutionary past certainly can give us hints as to what to expect in this regard.

If Local Agriculture Is Constrained to Work Like Global Agriculture...

then it won't work very well! Steve Sexton estimates the inefficiency of local agriculture by modeling a "pseudo-locavore" economy "in which each state that presently produces a crop commercially must grow a share proportional to its population relative to all producers of the crop."

"My conservative estimates are that under the pseudo-locavore system, corn acreage increases 27 percent or 22 million acres, and soybean acres increase 18 percent or 14 million acres. Fertilizer use would increase at least 35 percent for corn, and 54 percent for soybeans, while fuel use would climb 23 percent and 34 percent, for corn and soybeans, respectively. Chemical demand would grow 23 percent and 20 percent for the two crops, respectively."

So, if you turn to local agriculture but resolutely ignore local growing conditions and demand that everyone still eat just what they do today, it will be wasteful.

Steve, just exactly who is recommending this alternate economy you have modeled?

Unsustainable, That's What You Are


A Song of the Past: Twenty-six

Table of Contents

Friday, 7:00 PM
Deirdre sat at home waiting for Chuck’s call. She needed companionship; she needed to remember hope and happiness. Perhaps they could go to see Justin play, get out in a crowd, dance, forget everything else—for at least a few hours. It was seven at night when the call finally came.
“Hello?”
Deirdre sensed that something was wrong: his voice sounded tense. She said simply, “Yes…” then waited for Chuck to talk.
“Deirdre, my wife called me last night. She just got out of rehab, and she sounds great. She… she wants to get back together.”
She tried to muster as much sarcasm as she could at the moment. “I thought you were done with her periodic ‘improvements.’”
“I don’t know. I can’t just turn her away like she’s a stranger. I have to take some time to meditate on the situation.”
“Oh, meditate, is it? Christ Almighty, I can’t believe that you’re telling me this!”

A Professional Writer Wrote This Sentence

Here: "That would be the fire James showed in chasing rebounds, he had 14 of them, including five offensive, and his defense on Durant in the fourth quarter."

My New Goal

To grow the largest bonsai tree ever:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Authority and Rebellion: Luther on Passive Obedience

Faced with the threat of Lutheranism being wiped out, Luther at first stuck to his guns on passive obedience:

'"It is in no way proper for anyone who wants to be a Christian to stand up against the authority of his government, regardless of whether that government acts rightly or wrongly," for even if "his Imperial Majesty acts unjustlyand operates contrary to his duty and oath, this does not nullify the authority of Imperial government, nor does it nullify the necessity of obedience."' Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 196-197

However, by 1530, Luther, faced with immense pressure to resist the Emperor from fellow Lutherans, and presented with two theories that justified active resistance, capitulated.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Evolution and Design III: I Make a Concession

I think Danny Shahar and I have actually gotten somewhere, which may be a first for a Facebook discussion. I see I should make a concession, and perhaps Kevin Vallier should modify his original hypothesis: If one's design argument for God was a god-of-the-gaps type of argument, then Darwinism significantly weakens that argument. So, here is the Shane Battier analogy: I say, "Battier must be some kind of wizard, who willed that ball into the hoop, because that shot defied the laws of physics!" If you then show me that, no, the shot obeyed those laws in all respects, my case is significantly weakened, if not wiped out. So if someone is forwarding a design argument that runs, "These creatures we see around us are such that only miracles could have created them," then, yes, that design argument is wrecked by Darwinism. I had just never thought of the argument from design in that way myself, although I now see that there surely are people who do. (But any major theistic philosopher? Not that I know of.)

A Song of the Past: Twenty-five

Table of Contents

Friday, 1:00 PM
After checking in at the station, Deirdre decided she would go see Sarah Johnson, hoping to find her at the antique store that she had owned since the death of her former employer. But before doing so, she spent a few minutes on the Internet, searching for any information concerning Johnson. She found an announcement of her nuptials, as well as several mentions of the woman attending charity events, but there was nothing of any apparent significance to Deirdre’s case. Feeling satisfied that she had done enough homework, Deirdre signed out a car, reversed the course she had taken downtown that morning, and headed back to her own neighborhood.
When she arrived at Tyler Antiques, Sarah, whom she recognized from her published engagement photograph, was the only person working the shop. She was wearing a green-plaid skirt, black stockings, black, platform shoes, and a tan, cashmere sweater over which lay a string of iridescent-white pearls. Her dirty-blonde hair was tied back in a neat ponytail. She greeted Deirdre with a cheerful but wary New England reserve—she probably took Deirdre for a relatively impecunious customer, looking for a bargain that she would not be likely to find in this high-end establishment.

St. Paul and I Agree...

Taxation is not theft: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves." -- Romans 13

The key idea implicit here, and the one that turned me on the subject of whether or not taxation is theft, is that "every soul" owes obedience to the "governing authorities." Now, if that is a debt I truly owe, then, when those authorities levy the taxes they need to do the job of governing, I owe them those taxes, and attempts to collect them certainly do not constitute acts of theft. And obviously it doesn't matter at all, from this point of view, whether or not I "signed" any sort of "social contract." (In fact, the history of political thought since the Reformation can be read as an attempt to find a secular replacement for the Christian idea of the source of political authority, the social contract being one such effort.)

Now, I can believe that there are sincere Christians out there who think I have somehow misinterpreted Paul, but I think anyone following my reasoning here can at least concede, "Well, Gene, I certainly can see how you could conclude taxes aren't theft, even though I think you have read Paul incorrectly."

A General Theory of the Social Cycle

Food fads come in cycles as well: 'Even The Wall Street Journal applied its business lingo to the trend's end in 2010, with writer Katy McLaughlin declaring that "we are in the midst of a bacon bubble," and that it was bursting.'

(Hat tip Andrew Sullivan.)

UPDATE: How can Google generate such God-awful HTML code? (You know what I mean if you saw how the first version of this post was formatted.) When I pasted in a single quote from The Atlantic, Blogger put in literally about a dozen "span" tags, tags that wound up making the text look ridiculous. All of that work to achieve a horrific result!