Showing posts from February, 2015

Let's Make Up History to Suit Our Prejudices!

In a review book for AP European History, I find:

"Supernatural and miraculous forces played no role in Newton's universe."

Um, say what?! This guy saw no role for what today would be called the supernatural and miraculous? (Newton himself would not have recognized a distinction between the natural and the supernatural as meaningful, I suspect.) Even in his "pure" physics, Newton believed that God constantly intervened to keep the planets in their orbit.

It is amusing that the newspaper stories about the online publication of the Newton archives claim that they "reveal" that Newton was a mystic. Of course, people who had studied him seriously, such as Keynes and Westfall, knew this decades ago.

And here is the killer: since the is a review for a standard AP history test, I assume that if you actually know anything about Newton, you will be marked wrong on the test!

Just another ape

Everywhere I gape
People know the part I'm playing

It is curious that someone who keeps telling us that humans are "just another ape" seems to be very concerned that human males and females don't behave in exactly the same way, and tells us that "things are getting better" whenever they come closer to behaving in the same way.

Let's get "naturalistic" and look at sex roles among our close animal relatives. Here are some recent findings on primates... and these are by researchers seeking to "assail stereotypes" about sexual roles:

"Males compete to gain access to ovulating females; females compete to gain access to food resources they need to bear and rear their young. And female competition tends to be expressed in more subtle, less violent ways."

"The stereotype has been that pubescent males wander off, permanently leaving their relatives or the community into which they were born, in search of potential mates or ne…

You code a line at a time

One thing I see my students doing all the time is trying to write an 80-line program in one shot. Then, when it blows up, they are overwhelmed and have no idea where to find the bugs.

After many, many years of programming, I find myself sometimes testing every line of code I write. Other times, there may be four or five lines that make no sense unless they are all written at once, so that they must be tested as a group. If I have to write ten lines without a test, I am extremely uncomfortable!

Whatever it is you want to become...

Taking my son on a college tour, I got to listen to a talk from the dean of the college's music program. He seemed a very nice, sincere man. But he is trapped in the modern cult which sees "self-fulfillment" as the highest aim in life. He told we parents, "We are here to help your child become whatever it is he wants to become."

Hmm, and what if what he wants is to become a genocidal dictator? Well, maybe the college can offer an elective for that!

Rationalism in temperature measurement

Here is a nice post on why Fahrenheit is superior to Celsius for every day use. The triumph of Celsius is another example of rationalism: because it worked well for scientists, it was "rational," and had to be forced on a reluctant populace. (In the UK, a grocer was actually arrested for selling bananas by the pound.)

At least the U.S. has held out!

Thanks for all the fish!

Thanks everyone for your great suggestions on my algorithm bleg.

Here is what I wound up doing (self.empties is set up in the classes __init__()):

    def position_agent(self, agent, x=RANDOM, y=RANDOM):
        Position an agent on the grid.
        If x or y are positive, they are used, but if RANDOM,
        we get a random position.
        Ensure this random position is not occupied (in Grid).
        if x == RANDOM or y == RANDOM:
            if self.exists_empty_cells():
                coords = random.choice(self.empties)
                x = coords[0]
                y = coords[1]
                logging.error("Grid full; "
                              + + " not added.")

        self.grid[y][x] = agent
        agent.pos = [x, y]

Algorithm Bleg

I want to position agents on a grid consisting of X*Y cells. I want to plop them around randomly. But I don't want to put them in a cell containing another agent. Right now, I have the following function:

    def position_agent(self, agent, x=RANDOM, y=RANDOM):
        Position an agent on the grid.
        If x or y are positive, they are used, but if negative,
        we get a random position.
        Ensure this random position is not occupied (in Grid).
        if x == RANDOM or y == RANDOM:
            got_cell = False
            while not got_cell and self.exists_empty_cells():
                x = random.randint(0, self.width - 1)
                y = random.randint(0, self.height - 1)
                if self.is_cell_empty(x, y):
                    got_cell = True

            if not got_cell:
                logging.error("Grid full; "
                              + + " not added.")

Liberalism, Our Culture's Faith

Liberalism (in the broad, politicla theory sense) purports to be religiously neutral. But that is false. It itself is a religion, and to forward its ends acts continually to marginalize, and especially, to push from the public sphere, all other religions. But it is part of the creed liberalism that it is "value neutral," so it is extremely difficult for liberals to admit that they are perfectly willing to "push their (liberal) values on others." So, for instance, I encountered someone online who thought it was ridiculous for a florist to "push her values" on others and refuse to provide flowers for a lesbian couple's wedding. I pointed out that he was perfectly willing to "push his values" (for the acceptance of homosexuality, in this case) on the florist to the extent of driving her out of business. His response was to tell me to fellate him, but in cruder terms. It is rather obvious that he is "pushing his values" on the florist…


Bob Murphy, for one, seemed somewhat shocked by my "presentism." But I find I am in very good company:

"But how does this future, which does not yet exist, diminish or become consumed? Or how does the past, which now has no being, grow, unless there are three processes in the mind which in this is the active agent? For the mind expects and attends and remembers, so that what it expects passes through what has its attention to what it remembers..."-- Augustine, The Confessions

A stunning misinterpreatation of a point I have posted again and again...

In response to post like this one, I have been asked again and again questions like "Why do you deny the possibility that machines might be able to think?"

This is rather stunning to me, as I have posted numerous times, on this very same blog, my affidavit that I do not now, and never have, denied this possibility for even a second! I have posted the example of a thermostat turning up the heat because it "feels cold," not because I deny the possibility that the thermostat feels cold, but because I want to see if my AI enthusiast correspondents are willing to be consistent, and admit that their thermostat might truly feel cold, just as their Turing-test-passing machine might truly be conversing.

I am, in fact, perfectly willing to contemplate the idea that atoms are held together because electrons "feel attracted" to protons: such geniuses as Gottfried Leibniz, Alfred North Whitehead, C.S. Peirce, and, more recently, my friend David Chalmers, have put for…

America's three liberalisms

Re the hub-bub over Giuliani's remark about Obama not "loving America": once one understands the three liberalisms of America, the partial truth behind the remark, who it was designed to appeal to, and whom it offends, I think the true meaning behind what seems to be a trivial gaffe and subsequent controversy becomes clearer.

America's three liberalisms are:

* Liberal nationalism

* Liberal cosmopolitanism

* Liberal economism

If we make a table of the characteristics of each form, I think it will become fairly clear what I am talking about.

LiberalismObject of worshipIntellectualPoliticianSponsorLiberal nationalismAmericaHarry JaffaJohn McCainWoody JohnsonLiberal cosmopolitanismUniversal human rightsJohn RawlsBarrack ObamaGeorge SorosLiberal economismThe free marketMurray RothbardRon PaulThe Koch Brothers
All three are liberalisms since the three objects of worship are intertwined: for instance, the cosmopolitans believe free markets (so long as their outcomes are mod…

The Turing Test and Google Translate

You have to hire a Croatian translator. Two candidates for the job show up to interview, me, who knows not a word of Croatian, and my friend Neil, who is Croatian. You begin to interview us, but I have brought a trump card: I have along my attorney, Elen Touring, who says, "Wait a second, this is not fair to my client: Mr. Ganic here simply looks much more Croatian than Dr. Callahan, and so you must interview them blind. In addition, since Mr. Ganic sounds more Croatian, and you only need to have someone translate written material, it is only fair that you can't hear them either. You must test them both, behind curtains, without knowing which is which.

So we both are concealed in curtained rooms. In Neil's, he translates Croatian text to English "by hand." But in mine, I just type it into Google translate on my phone, and write down the English output. When you judge my output superior, Attorney Touring insights you must hire me.

Someone may wish to point out, …

Philosophy and Ideology: Guest Post from Joe Jordan

My friend Joe Jordan, after reading my post on "Religion and Ideology," sent me the following, which I post with his permission:

I bring this up in my political theory courses to differentiate between philosophy and ideology. I hate it when people talk about having a "philosophy" as if it were a method of fixing a flat tire while pulled over on the side of the road. To keep "philosophy" pure from ideology, I present the following dichotomies:

Involves humble personalities
Begins in wonder
Involves dialogue / hence republican
Ever-differentiating Asks questions
Seeks truth

Involves vainglorious personalities
Begins in assumed certainty
Involves dictation / literally dictatorship
Attempts a one-size-fits-all explanation of reality / reductionistic
Avoids questions / Asserts ready-made "answers"
Seeks power

A very rough sketch, of course. The battle between Socrates and Thrasymachus embodies these dis…

Animals, Friendship, and Animal Friendships

I am watching "Nature: Animal Odd Couples," which documents the cross-species friendships among animals. It is available on Netflix, and is much better than many such documentaries. For one thing, it has the great Temple Grandin in it. Grandin is pretty rough, for instance, on those who would say that animals don't think because they don't think with abstract symbols. She herself thinks perceptually more than with symbols (as often do I): someone who makes this claim is essentially telling her that she doesn't think, something she finds a bit offensive!

In light of our previous post, I also found interesting the scientist in the documentary from Duke who seems to think that until we understand friendship from an evolutionary perspective, we haven't really understood it. (Interestingly, she says that it is only very recently that anyone was even allowed to talk about animal friendships in scientific papers!) I am not even bothering to rewind and catch her nam…

Seeing Things as Theories

"He registered a dizzy 7.6 mmv over Brodmann 32, the area of abstractive activity. Since that time I have learned that her reading over 6 generally means that a person has so abstracted himself from himself and from the world around him, seeing things as theories and himself as a shadow, that he cannot, so to speak, reenter the lovely ordinary world. Instead he orbits the earth and himself. Such a person, and there are millions, is destined to haunt the human condition like the Flying Dutchman." -- Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins, p. 34

Compare with:

“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

Downsides to open borders?

The vapidity of nature show commentary

As I said, these shows are nice eye candy. And no doubt one can learn some truths about nature from them. (So, for instance, when the narrator says, "The monsoon rains arrive in Cambodia in May," I feel about 90% confident that they do so.) But consider the following bit of narration I just heard:

"Cambodia is a land where animals face a daily struggle to survive."

What, as opposed to, say, Laos, where animals can do f*&k-all everyday and still skate by?! What possible location on earth could replace "Cambodia" in the above sentence and thereby render it false?

UPDATE: And the narrator just described Cambodia as "One of the most bio-diverse countries in Southeast Asia"... which is exactly how he has described every single other country in Southeast Asia in the series! Apparently, Southeast Asia is the Lake Wobegon of geographical regions, in that every single location in it is above average for the region.

Religion and Ideology

Here, I consider the difference between a religion and an ideology. Of course, as is always the case, someone may define these items differently, and no one can say their different definition is wrong.  Definitions cannot be right or wrong, they can only be more or less helpful. So please, please, don't post a comment arguing about my definitions as being different than yours! Of course, someone could define these terms so that all religions are "ideologies," if by "ideology" they mean a somehow connected nexus of thoughts, images, and so forth. And someone could define "ideology" in such a way that every single person on earth has an "ideology," if that just means "how they think about things."

I am only trying to say that here is what I have found to be a fruitful differentiation of these terms, and certainly not "the correct" differentiation of them! And further I will note that I am here following in the footsteps of…

A lovely story about two brothers


Myths and Theories

Myths are not ideas, in the sense that a scientific theory or philosophical thesis are ideas. They are images. There telos is not to be analyzed, but to be contemplated.

Take the myth of original sin. This is not natively a proposition of moral philosophy. It is neither a scientific nor historical theory as to how humankind wound up in the shape it is in. A myth is an object for contemplation, not for analysis. If one meditates upon a myth, if it is a "true" myth, after some time, one will find that the myth illuminates a part of human experience in a way that neither scientific nor philosophical ideas can. (That is why Plato, the father of philosophy, still continually created myths: the story of the cave is not a "philosophical doctrine": it is a myth.)

Now, it is absolutely true that myths can be transformed into theories: then they are called dogma. As Eric Voegelin put it, living symbols are then transformed into hieroglyphs, "superficial invocations of …

Libertarian "Non-aggression" and Ostracism

Libertarians often suggest that using ostracism is a "non-aggressive" was of responding to actions or speech one doesn't like. And this is tied in an interesting way to the metaphysical error at the heart of liberalism.

Here is a good (if harrowing) New York Times article about what has happened to the lives of people ostracized by social media thought police for minor missteps in Tweets, etc.
These people's lives were shattered by these "non-aggressive" campaigns: they would have been harmed far less if the government had jailed them for a week for a "hate speech" crime.

Liberalism à la Hobbes and Locke starts with an atomic individual as fundamental. That individual then may (or may not!) enter into a "social contract" and so voluntarily take part in society.

But this is nonsense: no such individuals have or could exist. Humans are inherently social animals, and membership in a society is integral to our very being. Short of killing a …

"Learning" from nature documentaries

They are nice eye candy. And I suppose if they show you a picture of an elephant, you can surmise that, "Yes, such creatures probably exist." But I wouldn't trust them much further.

I happened to watch Wildest India and Wildest Indochina back-to-back. In the Himalayan episode of Wildest India, we are shown footage of what is described as a red panda coming down from a tree to try to attract a female wandering by, but to no avail.

In the Southwest China episode of Wildest Indochina, we are shown footage of what is described as a red panda coming down from a tree to drive off a male that has intruded on its territory.

Very interesting depictions of how red pandas interact, right? The only problem is that (and I just re-watched both scenes to make sure) it is the exact same footage in each instance! So in at least in one case (and perhaps both!), the voice over is total rubbish! Not only that, but in at least in one case (and perhaps both!), they are not actually filming i…

Deconstructing the Turing Test

I say it's all in the 'If'

Nick Rowe attempts to explain OLG models again:

"...if you use debt to finance transfers to the old in generation A [, t]here is no way you can do it without making some future generation have lower lifetime utility."

I spent some time with an OLG model, and after a while I understood the model. At the very least, I could clearly see how wealth was being transferred from the young to the old. And from the moment I grasped the model, it seemed to me the key was the transfer payments, not the debt. So yes, if you transfer wealth from the young to the old, you transfer wealth from the young to the old! And that happens whether you transfer it using debt or taxes.

Deneen again arrives at the essence of things


"At the same time, progressive liberalism shares certain fundamental commitments with classical liberalism. The first of these is a deep distrust of custom, tradition, and unchosen authority."

Yep: and here we see a point I have been trying to make previously: if classical liberalism makes sense, then the liberal anarchists are the logically consistent classical liberals.

But, of course, classical liberalism does not make sense, and so the liberal anarchists are just those who consistently follow the implications of a nonsensical idea!

This is literally...

Stubborn is as stubborn does

Nick Rowe is simply one of my favorite, favorite economists alive today. When he generates a macro-economic model, I spend as long as it takes to grok it, and the time is always well repaid. And sometimes it takes me hours to get what Nick is saying in a model that probably took him minutes to knock off. In other words, in general, I am in awe of Nick's depth of understanding of the macro-economy. But...

On OLG models and government debt, he is simply stuck on one model, and can't see that we can easily model the exact opposite result! Yes, debt can have inter-generational distributional implications: but it can have them in either direction, or it can be completely neutral in this regard!

I can be walking down the street, whistling, and

1) Shooting random people nearby.

Or I can be walking down the street, whistling, and

2) Handing out sandwiches to needy people.

The fact that I can create a model in which 1) occurs no more proves that whistling causes mass shootings than do…

A Brand New Take on Some Earlier Work

"Two-Population Social Cycle Theories," Gene Callahan and Andreas Hoffman

Getting financial advice from financial charlatans

Here we find "financial guru" David Ramsey telling his guru-ees: "T]he 30 year mortgage robs your future. […] It simply enabled borrowers to buy more house than they could afford by spreading the payments out over a longer term. On top of that, those homeowners paid tens—even hundreds of thousands of dollars more in interest."

Sigh. First of all, why is this "more house than they can afford"?! They can afford, it, since they spread the payments out! And if Ramsey's argument works, why doesn't it work equally well against his preferred 15-year mortgage?! Don't all mortgages enable borrowers to buy "more house than they could afford" if they had to pay cash?

And doesn't "financial guru" Ramsey have any idea about discounting cash flows? Doesn't he know that the duration on a 30-year bond paying 5% interest is about 16 years, while that of a 100-year bond is only about 20 years? In other words, extending the bond by 70…

Did you offer to cut your salary?

I frequently hear complaints about, say, the airlines, along the lines of, "Oil prices have dropped, and yet the airlines haven't cut their fares!"

I am curious: Does the person making this complaint commute to work by car? If so, have they gone in to their boss and said, "You know, my commuting costs have dropped, so would you cut my salary a bit?"

Of course, there are other factors at play: perhaps the airlines are making huge profits, and the worker is just barely scraping by. But the general point holds: market participants enter a market looking to get the best deal they can. In general, there is nothing immoral about asking for any price one thinks one might be able to get.

Bob Weir, rock's strangest rhythm guitarist?

I happened to have this on while I was working today. At around 1:10:30 up to 1:11:35, the sound man seems to suddenly decide he would like to hear Bob Weir more clearly, and the rhythm guitar is seriously elevated in the mix. When you can hear Weir clearly, you realize just how odd a lot of what he plays is.

Implementing an efficient random iterator over a multi-level data structure


Ken B. has pointed out that I was thinking like a C programmer in writing this: I was thinking in terms of shuffling arrays of C-like integers versus arrays of larger C data structures. In that situation, my algorithm would be more efficient.

But that is not how Python does things! These are Python lists, not C arrays, and the list is a list of pointers, whether the list is of integers or of agents. So the shuffle has the same cost either way!

In other words, I did a bunch of fancy coding that would be nice in a different language, but that makes no difference in the one I am actually using.

Still, the coding was interesting.


An important lesson I learn yet again -- I guess I am rustier than I thought! -- Don't "optimize" without profiling (timing portions of) your code!

I timed my fancy-pants version of the random iteration, as well as of reverse iteration, against the "naive" versions that just used basic Python operations: in…

An excellent post from Noah Smith on why solar...

is going to beat out nuclear power.

Smith is a blogger who drives me nuts, in that he has really great posts followed by one's that give me severe agita. (I bet I am the same for many of my readers!) This is one of the good ones.

Distributists should certainly welcome this conclusion, but I think libertarians ought to as well: solar puts power (pun intended) in the hands of the individual, as opposed to nuclear, which can only be implemented by huge corporations, the very beasts who lobby the government for special economic favors.

Engineering models and economic models

As I am finishing up my review of Mary Morgan's book, as well as reflecting back on several months of fairly intensive agent-based modeling, I find myself thinking that the use of models in the social sciences is much like its use in engineering: the model allows us to answer questions such as, "If the assumptions that went into building the model are true, then what will happen if we introduce this change?" In either field, the assumptions are always only more-or-less true, and may be wildly off: the engineer, for instance, may be mistaken about how strong the effect of the wind will be on a bridge he is building:

To understand the analogy I am making, consider that the above can also be taken as a visual representation of what happened to Murphy's macroeconomic model following 2007. (We kid because we love, Bob!)

Discounting taxes

Samson is having trouble with this post, about why you can't "save money" by moving to a place with lower property taxes.

Let us picture three homes, identical in every respect. (This is a thought experiment, OK?)

Each is priced at $100,000.

Now the property tax fairy descends on the area, placing a tax of $1000 per year on home B, and $10,000 per year on home C, while ignoring home A. Furthermore, assume that there are no benefits from the higher taxes, such as better schools: the tax fairy just whisks the money off to fairy-land.

The market of potential owners is, on average, planning to occupy their next home for ten years. The present value of the tax payments on home B for a ten-year period, discounting at 5%, is roughly -$7500, and that on home C roughly -$75,000. (Should we discount in perpetuity? Maybe, but that doesn't really change the outcome of our exercise.)

If all three homes (aside from taxes) are identical to me, I will pay $100,000 for home A, $92,5…

Made by nerds for nerds

Yesterday my daughter accidentally wiped out the Ubuntu partition from my ChromeBook. So I had to download it again, and I'm now reinstalling it. Here is the sort of nonsense one encounters while setting up the system: when I finally booted Ubuntu, a dialog box comes up that reads as follows:

"Welcome to the first start of the panel
Choose below which set up you want for the first startup.
Use default config
One empty panel"

So, in my 30th year of being fairly to heavily involved in the computer world, I really only understand "Use default config" from this dialogue. What the heck is "The first start of the panel"? What in the world will happen if I choose "One empty panel"?

Curious, I tried choosing the second. I booted into a screen with some disc icons and... one empty panel on it! It is a little gray rectangle. I can drag it around the screen. What else I can do with it I have no idea. There is no menu bar at the top, and no application…