Showing posts from July, 2013

Peter Schiff Looking Like a Flat-Earther


5 Types of Human Grad Student

Martin Joos, Head of the Dept. of Germanic L & L, UW, Madison, WI, freaked out his entering graduate students by administering little tests upon meeting them for the first time; he was not so much interested in their smarts as their problem-solving personality type (in his typology). Example: he would write down the first few odd numbers, "1  3  5  7  9  ..." Then he would reckon out loud, "1 plus 3 is 4, plus 5 is 9, plus 7 is 16... What is the sum of the first 60 odd numbers?" His typology, based on the response:

Type I. Defense, anger, refusal.

Type II. Collapse.

Type III. "Oh, yeah, we had a formula for this in school..." (Needless to say, he didn't care if they could remember a formula or come up with an answer.)

Type IV ("Engineers"). They'd think a few seconds and then answer, "3600."

Type V ("Mathematicians"). They'd answer instantly, "360."

Nate Silver Leaves NYT...

Winch on Following a Rule

Paper available here.

Abstract: "Peter Winch famously critiqued Michael Oakeshott's view of human conduct. He argued that Oakeshott had missed the fact that truly human conduct is conduct that 'follows a rule.' This paper argues that, as is sometimes the case with Oakeshott, what seems, on the surface, to be a disagreement with another, somewhat compatible thinker about a matter of detail in some social theory in fact turns out to point to a deeper philosophical divide. In particular, I contend, Winch, as typical of those who only picked up on Oakeshott's work in the 1940s and 1950s, when Oakeshott became known for his critique of rationalism, failed to understand the idealist metaphysics underlying that critique."

This is step two of my study of critics of rationalism, and how their critiques differed.

Reductionist silliness

Quoted at The Imaginative Conservative:

"My old friend Ray Coppinger, a dog evolutionist and breeder (he found the Jack Russell terrier that inhabits the Assistant Dean’s office at St. John’s College in Annapolis), whose expertise figures in this book, thinks otherwise. He once said to me that attributing friendly feelings rather than self-serving instincts to dogs is pure 'anthropomorphizing.'"

As though the two were contradictory! What would be the best way to make dogs' "self-serving instinct" to appear friendly to humans effective? If they actually felt friendly towards humans, of course!

It's as though someone told you, "No, you don't actually feel pleasure during sex: it is just your instinctual drive to reproduce."

Now, That's an Old Movie!

I was just watching a movie from 1998, and the lead actor walked into a bank. A sign on the wall behind him advertised a one-year CD at a 6% interest rate.

Today, to get a locked-in one-year return of 6%, you basically need to go into business as a loanshark.

NYC's new anti-terror strategy

Make the building look like it was already attacked by terrorists:

Just one of NYC's many...

Basketball factories:

Schools of poetry

"Si dice che in Italia non mancano buoni ingegni, e non manca qualche poeta, ma manca una scuola poetica. -- Una scuola! Ci vorrebbe questo. Ce ne liberi il cielo!

"Certo, nei tempi di grande fioritura artistica, quando il gusto e l'amore dell'arte sono universalmente diffusi, non possono mancare scuole poetiche. Ma l'errore sta nel credere che quel fenomeno, che s'accompagna col vivere rigoglioso dell'arte, sia esso la causa di quel rigoglio. Anzi, è il principio della decadenza." --Croce, Pensieri sull'arte (1885), VI

It is said that in Italy there is not a lack of true talent, and not a lack of poets, but a lack of a school of poetry. -- A school! This: heaven forbid!

Certainly, in times of great artistic flourishing, when the taste for and the love of art are universally diffused, there is no lack of poetic schools. But the error is in believing that that phenomena, which accompanies a flourishing art world, is the cause of that flourishing.…

Keen Insight from Noah Millman on Justice

Here: "And it is a viable approach to political language in cases where it may not be viable as an approach to criminal justice. We debate cases like Oscar Grant’s – or Trayvon Martin’s – largely in terms of culpability and liability, we are avoiding the real reason why there is a cry for justice. The injustice is that a young man died for no good reason. It is our adversarial system of justice that demands we respond either with: it is this one’s fault, and he will be punished, or it is not, and nobody will be punished. But our communal response is not limited to that dichotomy, and we impoverish our response when we limit our language to the kind of language that a court would accept.

This is correct: Trayvon Martin's death can be unjust, and a tragedy, without George Zimmerman having been a murderer.

A curious fixation (more Croce)

"Curiosa fissazione, quella di Vittorio Alfieri, del linguaggio tragico. Come se il tragico, che è relazione d'avvenimenti e di carrettieri, dovesse necessariamente dimostrarsi nel periodare e nel suono dei discorsi dei personaggi; come se Desdemona, che pure parla così dolcemente, non fosse personaggio tragico per eccellenza!" -- Pensieri sull'arte (1885), IV

A curious fixation, that of Vittorio Alfieri, with tragic language. As though the tragic, which is a relationship of action and of character, must necessarily be manifest in the phrasing and the sound of the characters' discourse; as though Desdemona, who talks so sweetly, was not the tragic character par excellence!

I think this really qualifies as irony

"But, except among Marxists, who remain amongt the most historically literate among political economists, however, the Austrian argument that suppression of market institutions inexorably produces calculation chaos remains unfamiliar to mainstream economists..." -- John Gray, "Contactarian Method"

This is something I've noted often in the past: Marxists understand the importance of Mises and Hayek far more than do most mainstream economists.

The limits of public reason liberalism

Man, I just had the hardest time trying to convince the katydid crawling across my kitchen walls that I was trying to catch it to let it back outside so that it could live, rather than trying to catch it to eat it. I'm not sure how public reason liberalism can deal with such situations. :-)

Laws against interracial marriage

Someone at my local in Brooklyn said, "Can you believe that in the 1960s there were still laws against interracial marriage in some places in the United States?"

I responded, "Hey, you shouldn't dismiss such laws so lightly. Can you imagine all the grief it would've saved my wife if such laws were still on the books?"

Summer ends early in the Poconos

It is July 24, a nice sunny day, and it is currently 72° in Dingman's, where I am at the moment. Two years ago, I brought my daughter to a swim meet in early August, and the temperature when we arrived at the pool was in the 40s. Summer is begins to wind down here in late July!

This is been a problem whenever I've tried to grow the most heat-loving crops out here. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are all just starting to ripen when the August cooldown kicks in, and stops them in their tracks. They sit there on the plant doing nothing for six or seven weeks until the first frost kills them.

Croce on collections of thoughts

"Perché -- consideravo stamane sul leggere una raccolta di Pensieri vari -- perché simili raccolte, anche fatte da persone di non commune ingegno, riescono per lo più, in tutto o in parte, insipide e communi -- Gli è che la novità della situazione che c'ispira i nostri pensieri, troppo spesso c'illude sulla loro intrinseca novità. Tratti fuori di quella particolare nuova situazione, resta di essi agli occhi altrui sola la parte generale e vecchia; benché mantengano agli occhi nostri, pel ricordo appunto del fatto che ce li ha ispirati, un carattere di originalità. -- Pensieri Sull'Arte (1885), I

Because --  this morning I was considering reading a collection of varied thoughts -- because similar collections, also made by people of uncommon intelligence, become, for the most part, insipid and common -- The novelty of the situation that inspires our thoughts too often deludes us about their intrinsic novelty. Outside of the particular situation, these traits in other&#…

The saggy bottom boys

Sagging is apparently now such an important part of an 18-year-old male's identity that all of the male lifeguards at the lake in which I swim put underwear on under their lifeguard swimsuit, So that they can sag their swimsuits and show their underwear. Look, I used to wear one of those lifeguard suits all the time: They have their own built-in underwear. Putting another pair of underwear under them is totally superfluous and awkward. But apparently being seen in public without your underwear showing is just not on. I wonder though: Have they given any thought to the fact that this will certainly slow them down should they ever have to go save someone?

David Hume on the Zimmerman verdict

"A single act of justice is frequently contrary to public interest, and were it to stand alone, without being followed by other acts, may itself be very prejudicial to society... But, however single acts of justice may be contrary either to public or private interest, it is certain that the whole plan or scheme is highly conducive, or indeed absolutely requisite, Both to the support of society and the well-being of every individual." -- A Treatise on Human Nature

Why does Blogger work so badly from an iPhone?

I have sometimes posted before as to how puzzled I am that blogger websites work so, so poorly from an iPhone. (I just wrote three paragraphs of response to a blog post, and had blogger wipe them all out by crashing.) I wondered, "With all Google's resources, why can't they make this software work better with the most popular smartphone?"

But this morning, I had a sudden realization: Google has its own smart phone platform, doesn't it? I now strongly suspect that Google does not want its other software ventures to work well with the iPhone. It is not in a position to make them totally incompatible, but it can leave them buggy enough that you'll keep wishing you were using some other phone.

Deer: A lot like people, if you look at things the right way

The Pocono Mountains are filled with "communities." These are organized developments, with their own community rules, community security, and so on. One rule that almost everyone of them has is "no hunting."

Guess who has figured that out and filled up these communities? I picture the deer real estate agent showing the buck and doe around, saying "Your fawns will love it here: very, very low crime neighborhood."

Bob Murphy passes up $200

Croce: Imitation in art

"L'imitazione in arte è lecita solo, quando non è più imitazione: quando è conforme affatto al modo di concepire dell'artista, che si dice che imiti. E, in tal caso, non si può più parlare di mio e il tuo. Si deve dire piuttosto con Montaigne 'Ce n'est plus selon Platon que selon moi, puisque luy et moi nous l'entendons et veoyons de mesme.'"

Imitation in art is licit only when it is not very imitative: when it conforms in fact to the mode of conception of the artist who is said to imitate. And, in that case, one cannot talk of mine and yours. Rather one must say, with Montaigne: "Ce n'est plus selon Platon que selon moi, puisque luy et moi nous l'entendons et veoyons de mesme."

There is little doubt that Judas actually existed

Following along in a series of lectures by Prof. Bart D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina, I've come to his examination of the historical character of Judas.

Now Ehrman is certainly no fundamentalist: He is happy to point out many places in the New Testament where two or more stories are flat out inconsistent and cannot all be true. But he is a good historian, and knows how to use his historical sources to get at the most likely truth, rather than what best serves an axe one has to grind.

He notes that there are differing mutually incompatible accounts of Judas's death both in Matthew, in Acts, and several other early Christian sources. But he also notes that there are multiple attestations of Judas's existence, his discipleship to Jesus, and especially, of his betrayal of Jesus. The last, Ehrman notes, is most emphatically not something that early Christians would be likely to make up: That a rabbi's disciple would betray him is not a very strong recommendatio…

Stupid Interweb tricks

Here is what I occasionally get from a troll in the comments section: "Callahan, you're so obsessed with Rothbard. You must stay up all night searching for things you can pull out of context to make him look bad."

What's funny is I hardly give any thought at all to Murray Rothbard, and usually do so only when he is forced upon my attention by someone else's post. (Such As David Gordon going after Dan McCarthy at The American Conservative.) Don't believe me? I just did a Google search which you can easily duplicate. It appears that in the last year, out of about 1000 posts at this blog, just three of them mention Rothbard. I am so "obsessed" that I mention him in .3% of my writing!

The reality is, dear troller, that it is you who are obsessed with Rothbard, and so you only notice posts in which he is mentioned.

Tra Croce con Veloce

"Il paradosso non mi piace, ma molto mi piace la forma paradossastica. Non mi piace il paradosso, perché è segno, per solito, di superficialità, o, almeno, di poca comprensività mentale. Chi vide un fatto in tutte le sue parti e ne scorge tutte le relazioni, pensa necessariamente con equilibrio e buon senso. Ma mi piace la forma paradossastica, perché è un modo assai artistico di dir le cose. Ritrae con la maggiore evidenza il l'atteggiamento che rendono nel loro sorgere le idee nella mente che la pensa, nell'uditore e nel lettore produce un'impressione vivace e non facilmente cancellabili." Pensieri sull'arte, II

I don't like paradox, but I like greatly the paradoxical form. I don't like paradox, because it is a sign, usually, of superficiality, or, at least, of little comprehension. One who sees a fact in all its parts and views it in all its relations, thinks necessarily with equilibrium and good sense. But I like the paradoxical form, because it …

David Gordon on how to evaluate social theories

In the comments here: "This is not a good model for the society Rothbard had in mind."

I see. We shouldn't ask, for instance, "What are the effects likely to actually be if we abolish private property?" The right question is, "What kind of society did Marx have in mind when he advocated abolishing private property?"

The superiority of Oakeshott over Hayek

Is clearly recognized by Siri: When I say "Oakeshott" she always gets the name right, But when I say "Hayek"she usually puts in "Hyatt."

Croce III

"Quale dialogò nelle tragedie del Corneille! Falso da cima a fondo. Pare che i personaggi sappiano che c'è un pubblico che li ascolta. Parlano come si parla quando, pur fingendo di discorrere a quattr'occhi con un interlocutore, si ha tutta la buona intenzione di farsi udire da un terzo. Voce rinforzata, accenti fuori tono, discorso preparato..." -- Pensieri sull'arte, X

What dialog in the tragedies of Corneille! False from top to bottom. It seems that the characters know that there is a public that is listening. They talk how one talks when, while feigning to have a confidential word with another, one has every intention of letting a third person overhear. A strong voice, accent without tone, prepared discourse...


These little guys are swarming over my catmint and lavender, from sun up until sundown. It's like there as busy as... As busy as...

Hmm, the metaphor escapes me. But you get the idea.

PS: Did you ever try taking a picture of a bee before? The thing is, you have to get the camera really close to the bee before the bee even shows up in the photo. It is harrowing work.

Machlup on abstraction

"Every one of us thinks most exclusively in abstractions, only the degree of abstraction varies." -- "A note on models in economics"

Here we are getting to the crux of the issue, and the subject of my forthcoming paper comparing Hayek and Oakshott. The world, as the British idealists recognized, is a world of ideas, and foremost a world of concrete ideas. Hayek and his followers, such as Machlup and Vernon Smith, failing to recognize this, regard thought as primarily abstract. The world itself is a mess of incomprehensible "stuff" that we somehow understand by forming abstractions. But the idea that we can create comprehensible abstractions from a welter of incomprehensible particulars is logical rubbish. And this fundamental philosophical mistake vitiates Hayek's understanding of rationalism, rendering it inferior to Oakeshott's.

Who was an a priorist in economics?

In price theory "deduction from elementary principles... occupies a position of central, though not exclusive, importance." -- John Neville Keynes

Maynard's dad, amongst others.

Schumpeter on prediction in economics

"It is unreasonable to expect the economist to forecast correctly what will actually happen as it would be to expect a doctor to prognosticate when his patient will be the victim of a railroad accident and how this will affect his state of health."

Schumpeter on methodological pluralism

The social sciences suffer: "First, from that almost childish narrow-mindedness which regards its own method of work as the only possible one, wishes to make it the universal one, and considers that one's foremost task is to annihilate all others in holy anger; second, from that complete lack of even elementary knowledge of all branches of learning outside one's own."

Schumpeter might be rolling over in his grave about how much worse the second situation has become, to the extent that I once had a tenured economist ask me, "Who came first, the Greeks or the Romans?"

Science and history

"Empirical reality... becomes nature when we observe it with regard to the general; it becomes history when we observe it with regard to the particular and individual." -- Heinrich Rickert

And, of course, the general is always and everywhere merely an abstraction from the particular and individual. The real world is historical, not theoretical.

Machlup on methodological pluralism

"Good 'scientific method' must not proscribe any technique of inquiry deemed useful by an honest and experienced scholar. The aggressiveness and restrictiveness of the various methodological beliefs which social scientists have developed -- in subconscious attempts to compensate for their feelings of inferiority vis-à-vis the alleged 'true scientist' -- are deplorable. Attempts to establish a monopoly from one method, to use moral suasion and public defamation to exclude others, produce harmful restraints of research and analysis, seriously retarding their progress." -- Methodology of economics and other social sciences, p. 172

Finding the historical Jesus in biblical inconsistencies

In Matthew, Jesus is simply born in Bethlehem, and very soon after his birth, his parents flee to Egypt with him to avoid his being killed by Herod. After Herod's death, they return to Israel, but, to avoid Herod's son, they wind up in a town called Nazareth, a town with which, before that point, they apparently had no connection.

In Luke, he is born in Bethlehem because his parents had to leave Nazareth to register for a census. The family stays in Bethlehem for a time, and then simply heads back to Nazareth. There is no flight to Egypt, and no vast killing of male infants.

Luke's account of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, besides being inconsistent with Matthew's, faces the following difficulties:

"1) nothing is known in history of a general census by Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem, and Mary would not have had to travel at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Judea during the reign of Herod; (4) Josephu…

Series Riddle

1/1·2 + 1/2·4 + 1/3·8 + 1/4·16 + 1/5·32 + ... = ?

Why All Religions Contain Truth

"For the variants, however remote in time, will never sink into a dead past without meaning, once they have arisen from the flow of truth that has 'presence'; they will remain phases in the historical process of living truth of which neither the beginning nor the end is known; and by virtue of this character the truth of each variant is supple­mentary to the truth of the others."-- Eric Voegelin

There were no liberals...

before 1820.

"Students of this and countless similar studies [of "early liberalism"] were never invited to consider the fact, long before known to other sorts of historian, that the political concepts of liberalism and radicalism both came into existence at a particular time, neither earlier or later, and for specific reasons. To attempt to write the history of liberalism before the 1820s is thus, in point of method, akin to attempting to write the history of the eighteenth-century motor car. There work, of course, forms of transport which performed many of the functions which the motor car later performed, the sedan chair among them. Yet to explain the sedan chair as if it were an early version of the motor car, and by implication condemn it for failing so lamentably to evolve into the motor car, is to turn a modern error of scholarly method into a failure of man in a past society." -- Clark, Jonathan Charles Douglas. 1986. Revolution and Rebellion: State and Soc…

Targetting NGDP III

Rob raises an interesting point in the comments to the previous post on this topic:
My thermostat runs a simple algorithm along the lines of "temperature below 78 turn on heater, temperature above 78 turn on a/c" (actually its a bit more complex than that but you get the idea)

If the fed ran a similar algorithm (I'm sure they could pay the manufacturers of my thermostat to build a device to do this) "NGDP growing less than 5% increase money supply, NGDP growing more than 5% decrease money supply" would this still fall foul of Goodheart’s law?  So, let's say a nation's central bank was replaced by a computer running the above algorithm. Would this work as well as a home thermostat? Rob's thermostat is solely Rob's servant. He gets to set the temperature he wants for his house, and the thermometer keeps it there.

But targeting NGDP is not the same thing at all. Some of the "residents" of the central bank's "house" would l…

Dishonoring the Memory of Emmett Till

Emmett Till was killed by vigilantes for talking to a white woman, perhaps a little saucily. Trayvon Martin was shot by a man whose head he was pounding into the pavement.

Whatever Zimmerman may have been guilty of, Trayvon Martin is not a new Emmett Till.

There is a long and terrible history of white vigilantes executing blacks in this country. One arena in which that history had to be irrelevant was in George Zimmerman's trial: Zimmerman could only be tried for what he did, not for a whole history of terrible incidents in which he played no part.

a to the b power IIa

Good thing that I defined E to operate on forms of more than one variable. The obvious thing to look at first is powers of (w + x) where we then substitute 1 for w. (Our notation is formally inadequate, because no order has been given to the variables corresponding to the order of the list of substituents, but we'll content ourselves by saying that "x" comes last.) OK...

Z[E[(w - x)^4](1, x)] = ZE[(1 - x)^4], of course, while

ZE[(w - x)^4](1, x) = 4 ZE[(1 - x)^3]. Huh?

(And there's plenty more where that came from.) As shonk's comment (see earlier "a to the b power II") illustrated, the notion that applying Z has cut the semantic correspondence to binomial powers is untrue. Even the appearance of factorials cast doubt on that. And here, again, the properties of the binomial coefficients shape the result.

Why Targetting NGDP WIll Fail, Redux

I've posted on this before, but I just ran across some quotes on the matter, so I will share them with you. The following is from my review of James C. Scott's Two Cheers for Anarchism:
Scott also takes on the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which predictably resulted in teachers “teaching to the test” and in fact often falsifying results to meet standards imposed from the top downward. Scott explains the perverse results by invoking “Goodheart’s law [which] holds that ‘when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure.’ And Matthew Light clarifies: ‘An authority sets some quantitative standard to measure a particular achievement; those responsible for meeting that standard do so, but not in the way which was intended.’” [Emphasis mine.]  Looking backwards, we might conclude, with Scott Sumner and other monetarists, that stable NGDP is a good measure of whether the monetary authorities have been doing their job. But once it becom…

The Zimmerman Verdict

Was the verdict just?

I have no idea. I do know two things:

1) Six people who spent every day for a month intensely studying the evidence probably have a better chance of getting the right answer to the first question than I do; and

2) Most non-jurors who have a strong opinion as to whether Zimmerman was guilty or not probably formed it after about ten minutes of thought (if that), so I don't see why their opinion matters at all. For most of them, this opinion is simply a form of self-expression -- either, "I am a tough individualist who believes in the right to self-defense" or "I am for racial justice" -- and based on barely any study of the facts themselves.

a to the b power again...

...but a much deeper result. I've known this since 1965, but have no idea if it is well known--I've never checked. I know it, gimme that old time religion, that's good enough for me. Nevertheless, if you, dear reader, can cite it elsewhere or have good reason to think it's new, please let me know.

And if it doesn't boggle your mind, either you knew it already or you're not paying attention.

We start by defining the relevant syntactic operator: Z[x^n] = n^x.

Z operates on abstract algebraic polynomials.

Z distributes through terms and ignores coefficients:
Z[a w^m + b x^n] = a m^w + b n^x.

In our new notation, the constraint in "a to the b power I" is:
      (Z - 1)[a^b] = 0.

We'll be applying Z to expansions of powers of 1-x yielded by the binomial theorem. For clarity, everything will be illustrated for the fourth power; the obvious generalizations are all true.

Without carefully crafted syntax rules, we might construe "Z[(1-x)^4] = 4^(1-x)&qu…

Another Croce bites the dust

"Nella forma dei libri francesi c'è la ricerca della conversazione; in quella dei libri tedeschi del sistema. Nella forma dei libri italiani c'è invece, generalmente, la ricerca oratoria. Per diletto, mi rivolgo al libro i francesi; per istudio, a libri tedeschi; quando voglio annoiarmi, a libri italiani." -- Pensieri sull'arte, IX

In the form of French books there is the search for conversation; In that of German books, for system. In the form of Italian books there is, instead, generally the search for oratory. For pleasure, I turn to French books; for study, to German books; when I want to be bored, to Italian books.

Theory: A Barrier to Sound History

"If we are to get further, we need at this present no essays of the causes of the Civil War, but studies of the political behaviour of all sorts of men in all sorts of institutions, unaffected by the historian's foreknowledge of the later event. In that way we may ultimately perhaps arrive at an explanation of the mid-seventeenth century breakdown, but it will be less well-tailored, less readily reduced to a list of preconditions, precipitants and triggers, less satisfactory to theorists of revolution. On the other hand, it might be real." -- Elton, quoted in J.C.D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion: State and society in England in the seventh and eighteenth centuries, p. 35

Religion evolved

Typically, when someone is pointing to "the evolutionary roots of religion," they are doing so to dismiss it. (Note: I said "typically.")

What a curious line of thinking! Our feeling a desire to eat no doubt evolved as well: Does that mean we should dismiss that desire also?

All analysis is an abridgement of narrative

"It may, of course, be the case that all analysis is only an abridgment of narrative, so that inadequacies introduced at the narrative stage are magnified and caricatured by the process of abridgment. If abridgment is a regrettable necessity, only the utmost rigour in its narrative premises can guard against the wildest results: anachronism and teleology can best disguised in the form of a table of statistics, valuable though quantifying techniques potentially are." --J.C.D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion: State and society in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, p. 19

UPDATE: The funny thing here is I finished the book I am reviewing earlier today, and went looking for some light reading tonight. (In this context, "light reading" means "reading that is not directly work-related.") When I picked up this book off of a shelf I had no clue that the first few pages would provide several quotes supporting my recent contentions about the relationship betwe…

The business of the historian

"The elaboration and refinement of definitions is not the business of the historian. We can safely leave it to social scientists to build models of institutions or processes (capitalism, class, party, revolution) and, if they wish, to carry their models back into the past in search for phenomena which might seem to fit them. The historian should prefer to work more closely with his material and to be more responsive to the content of the categories employed in past time." -- J.C.D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion: State and society in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, p. 3

Time to get serious

With Croce. This one:

Not this one:

My intention is to translate Croce's Pensieri, a small chunk at a time, which works well, I hope, because these compositions are formed in small chunks.

Let me begin with Pensieri sull'arte (1885), XI:

"È umorista chi considera la vita non altrimenti di come essa merita d'esser considerata. Non sul serio, perché non è cosa tutta seria. Non sul ridicolo, perché non è cosa ridicola."

It is the humorist who considers life not otherwise than as it merits being considered. Not as serious, because is not a serious thing. Not as ridiculous, because it is not a ridiculous thing.

Translator's note: Many translators seem tempted to rewrite the thoughts of the translatee as they would like to have seen them expressed. For instance, consider "non altrimenti di come essa merita d'esser considerata." I can easily imagine that being translated as "as it should be considered." That, it would be claimed, is more &q…

More chance of percipitation weirdness

Right now The Weather Channel is saying there is a 30% chance of rain at anytime today. It is also saying that at 5pm there is a 50% chance of rain, and then a 40% chance for every hour for the rest of the evening. So rain is far more likely in the last seven hours of the day than it is for the whole 24!

Hard Jelly Bean Problem

This is somewhat similar to one I posted here years ago, but, I suspect, is much harder. Be warned.

A hat (upside down, of course) contains a black jelly beans and b orange jelly beans. You reach in and randomly remove a jelly bean. If it is black, you return it to the hat with a probability of p, otherwise you eat it. If it is orange, you return it to the hat with a probability of q, otherwise you eat it. What is the probability that the last jelly bean in the hat will be black?/orange?

Note that p and q are independent of each other, and cannot be one.

Good luck.

Nice Sequences

I like sequences that grow fast. Like this: 0, 1!, 2!!, 3!!!, 4!!!!, ...
That's 0, 1, 2, 720!, ... Really jump off the board.

But did you know that there are sequences that grow faster than any computable sequence? They are, of course, incomputable.

Early gun control laws

In New Haven, in the 1600s, one could be fined for coming to prayer service without a gun. (Source: Bernard Bailyn, The Barbarous Years, p. 501)

When do historians use scientific methods?

By "scientific"here I mean something like doing regression analysis on a large collection of data.

Let us say we are studying the great migration out of Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. We have a hypothesis: the "cause" was the potato blight. So we collect data for each county in Ireland inluding the incidence of potato blight in that county and the percentage of population that left Ireland from that county. We run our analysis, and find that there is a stronger correlation between potato blight and emigration then there is for any other variable. We conclude that potato blight was the cause of Irish emmigration at this time.

Notice how different this is than the procedure we follow in determining, say, how the Cuban missile crisis played out. There, we would look at transcripts of meetings, speeches, intelligence reports, memoirs, and so on.

Per Noah Smith (and many others educated in a social science) the first procedure is going to yield a superior sort …

Shouldn't things still be this way?

"Tis a notion of mighty great and high respect to have been a New-English man, tis enough to gain a man very much respect, yea, almost any preferment." -- Nathaniel Mather,1651

A "New-English man" meant someone from New England. Well, duh?! Of course being from New England should automatically confer respect and preferment. Are there really people around who doubt this?

To intervene or not to intervene?

That is the question.

At least it will be the question during my Fall 2013 course, Business, Government and Society. Inspired by the work of Steve Medema, I plan to cover five main reasons for government interventions in the economy. (I have added two to the three that I heard Steve list.) A famous spokesperson for each type of intervention will have their say, followed by a famous spokesperson arguing against the particular intervention, and finally we will look at a contemporary issue demonstrating that the debate is still live. (Here I plan To have students debate each side of the issue, using the arguments previously discussed.) Here, then, are my current ideas for the typology of interventions, the "pro" spokesman, the "anti" spokesperson, and the contemporary issue. (The readings will naturally be relevant excerpts from the entire works listed below, when the work is large.) I seek your advice as to how the below might be improved.

I. The Common Good
Pro: Plato…

Natural Science Is Dependent on History

"But I submit that if nature is a thing that depends for its existence on something else, this dependence is a thing that must be taken into account when we try to understand what nature is; and that if natural science is a form of thought that depends for its existence upon some other form of thought, we cannot adequately reflect upon what natural science tells us without taking into account the form of thought upon which it depends.

"What is this other form of thought? I answer, 'History'. Natural science (I assume for the moment that the positivistic account of it is at least correct so far as it goes) consists of facts and theories. A scientific fact is an event in the world of nature. A scientific theory is an hypothesis about that event, which further events verify or disprove. An event in the world of nature becomes important for the natural scientist only on condition that it is observed. 'The fact that the event has happened' is a phrase in the vo…

The World's Most Mysterious Book?

Promissory notes at the tobacco shop?

An Italian dialogue I am reading notes that one can buy "moduli per cambiali" at a "tabaccai." Not being familiar with the term, I flipped to the translation and found "promissory notes." I thought I knew what that English term meant, but just to make sure, I looked it up. Hmm, it sure seems like a weird thing for a tobacco shop to sell, unless what is meant is something like a $20 savings bond, issued by the Italian government.

Does anyone know what these "moduli per cambiali" are? If they are, indeed, roughly the equivalent of savings bonds, that surely would have been a better translation, at least for American readers. Yet another illustration of the hazards of translation.

How real historians work

"Perceptive historians, immersed in their materials, note gaps in our knowledge that should be filled and anomalies in the data -- inconsistencies and discrepancies -- which impel them or others to find explanations... They have an intellectual -- but not a political or ideological -- stake in the outcome. They don't insist that the explanations come out in a particular way, only that the discrepancies be reconciled, the open questions answered, and the newly perceived worlds explored and explain." -- Bernard Bailyn, On the teaching and writing of history, p. 41

Anne Hutchinson, sola scriptura, and my ride to work

"VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." -- Westminster Confession of Faith

"But how, it was asked, had such knowledge [of spiritual matters] come to her? It came, [Hutchinson] said, just as the word had come to Daniel, that is, "by an immediate revelation"... Dudley challenged [John] Cotton to condemn her talk of miracles and revelations. Cotton equivocated, distinguishing between God's deliverance by the Word (reasonable, scriptural) and outright miracles (delusive and sinful)." -- Bernard Bailyn, The Barbarous Years, p. 454

The above two passages highlight a fundamental problem in the doctrine of sola scriptura: of course, most of the major figures in t…

If historical knowledge were truly inferior to experimental knowledge...

Noah Smith holds that there are "four levels of science," with "history" being the lowest level, giving the least confidence in one's understanding of the world. The ultimate level of confidence would be offered by "lab experiments."

But, of course, a report on an experiment is a piece of historical evidence, and thus knowledge about a series of experiments is historical knowledge. Therefore, if the above were true, the paradoxical result would be this: we would be more certain of what a series of experiments proved, than we would be of what happened in the experiments! Or to put it concretely, we would be very confident that a series of experiments disproved, say, the existence of the aether, but only have a vague understanding of what went on in any individual experiment.

And that, of course, is logical nonsense: abstractions from individual events will always give us a weaker understanding than we had of the concrete events in the first place. One ca…

Mathematical Education

During a college vacation, I strolled around my old grade school. The one teacher from my era who was still there spotted me, and remembered my interest: "Would you like to sit in on a math class?" Of course I would.

The teacher was fine with that, so I sat inconspicuously in a back row seat and paid attention. He was instructing his charges in New Math--the Binary System: how to express all whole numbers using only the digits one and two.

I kept waiting for some little Karl Friedrich Gauss to ask, "Sir (yes, back then we called them "Sir" and "Ma'am"), how to you express zero?"

I held my peace and thanked him when I left. They'd figure it out when they got to M.I.T.

(I may have been careless here, but here is my quickie judgement as to his otherBinary (oB) numeration:

 Base 10:         0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
 Ways, base oB:   0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0  0  1  1

Understanding the Culture of Markrts

By Virgil Storr, reviewed here by me.

Liberal neutrality

"Sure, liberalism claims and even aims to be neutral, but that doesn't entail that it really is or ever could be. To think that the mere existence of one's intention to be neutral guarantees that one really is neutral is not only a fallacy, but an especially dangerous one -- it makes the one beholden to it blind to his own biases." -- Edward Feser

That's a big help, Google

I'm not that good with ordinal numbers in Italian. So when I wanted to tell my barber I would be in Calabria on "the 17th," I looked it up in Google Translate. What did it return?


I already knew what "seventeen" is in Roman numerals.  I'd like to know the Italian word, please. (Don't worry, I found it elsewhere; I am just stunned at these kind of errors from Google.)

Property rights resolve disputes?

Of course, when property rights are agreed upon, there won't be disputes -- but that really says nothing more than where there is agreement, there is no dispute!

But property rights are often the very source of disputes. Reading Bailyn's account of the English settlement of Massachusetts drives that point home with great force. In understanding the human world, history trumps theory!

On to the next target: polygamy!

I recall being mocked for pointing out the obvious: as soon as the goal of same-sex marriage was achieved, "progressives" would move on to group marriage. The logic of this was obvious all along,
and yet I was told I was being absurd when I pointed this out. Well, a major web outlet like Slate is now running pieces arguing:

"While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families....

"The case for polygamy is, in fact, a feminist one and shows women the respect we deserve. Here’s the thing: As women, we really can make our own choices. We just might choose things people don’t like. If a woman wants to marry a man, that’s…