Monday, May 30, 2016

Don't do anything risky or dangerous!

Imagine you are in the car heading straight for a cliff. Without a change of course, you and all of the other passengers are going to plunge over that cliff to certain death on the rocks below.

Then someone comes along and promises to steer the car in a radically different direction. This disturbs a lot of the other passengers: they are used to the direction the car is going; they have gotten comfortable with its steady speed and with the lack of jolts and bumps they experience. They tell you:

"That guy who wants to be the driver: he's dangerous! His plan is untested, and anyway he keeps changing it. For all we know, he really just wants the car for himself!"

"All that maybe true, but what do you suggest we do instead?"

"The other job applicant is better known. We have to go with her: it is the only responsible thing to do. She drives much more calmly, and stays right in the middle of the road."

"You mean the road heading straight off of that cliff up ahead?"

"Ehhhhh.... I heard it only looks like a cliff. And maybe they'll have it smoothed out by the time we get there!"

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ideological pipe dreams

"Many of those who are called conservatives today seem to be no more immune than others to ideological pipe dreams and wishful thinking. Trusting in free markets and deregulation to set society right is a particularly striking example." -- Claes Ryn, "How Desperate Should We Be?", Humanitas, Vol. XXVIII

Hayek versus Oakeshott on rationalism

I am sketching out here the outline for a paper on which I am starting work:

F. A. Hayek and Michael Oakeshott were two of the most prominent 20th century critics of what they referred to as "rationalism." The two thinkers knew each other personally, and read each other's work. So it would be easy to assume that, when each attacked rationalism, each was aiming his arrows at the same enemy.

But was this really the case? In this paper, I will argue that, in fact, Hayek and Oakeshott understood the problem of rationalist thought quite differently. Furthermore, I contend, this difference is not a mere "brute fact," but can be understood as based in their differing philosophical outlooks.

Hayek's philosophy, while never articulated at great length, appears to have been a variety of "emergent phenomena" materialism. In his view, reason was not an aspect of human activities in general, but only emerged in the process of abstracting from "sensory input" any number of scientific laws, legal rules, heuristics for deciding on practical courses of action, and so on. Working from this base, Hayek criticized "rationalism" as a failure to recognize how limited reason is in its application. The "abuse of reason" consists in trying to use our rationality to direct irrational (or, at best, "ecologically rational") processes it cannot fully grasp, such as the historical development of our customs, norms, conventions and institutions. For Hayek, particular, historical situations cannot be rationally understood, since, for him, reason is identical to "abstract thought." Indeed, in The Sensory Order, he tries to depict how thought itself, which for him means abstractions, can arise from entirely thoughtless processes. But Hayek has left himself here a conundrum that I suggest is impossible to solve: How in the world can any sensible abstraction be drawn from a welter of particulars that are, in and of themselves, not susceptible to being understood?

Hayek's thought runs aground in this regard because he had not recognized the significance of the revolution in philosophy initiated by Hegel: he had not grasped the idea of the "concrete universal." On the other hand, Oakeshott's critique of rationalism is based upon that very concept.

For Oakeshott, the problem is not that our reason is not up to the job of grappling with our practical affairs, including those of our political life. Instead, as he points out in Experience and Its Modes, the world of practice is itself a world of ideas. Concrete reality is, in and of itself, comprehensible.

Thus when Oakeshott attacks rationalism, he is not claiming that it is a case of reason going beyond its limits, as Hayek does. Instead, rationalism for Oakeshott is the attempt to replace practical reason (phronesis) with abstract, theoretical reason (theoria).

In short, for Hayek, the rationalist is one who does not realize that the single tool human reason possesses, that of abstract, theoretical reasoning, is not up to all tasks. To the contrary, Oakeshott argues that the problem itself stems from believing that there is only one tool available to human reason. The rationalist is in the position of someone using a hand saw to cut the lawn.

It's Johhny!

Pelicans' guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was shot to death after he broke into an apartment and then kicked in the bedroom door of the man who lives there. The explanation?

"Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reports that Dejean-Jones mistakenly entered the wrong apartment while trying to visit the mother of his child."

OK, just a tragic mistake then? Well, except for the fact that Dejean-Jones tries to "visit" the mother of his child by breaking into her apartment and kicking down her bedroom door.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The lessons of history

Scott Sumner makes a very good point here:

"This leads to another cautionary observation about the 'lessons of history.' Either of the two policy counterfactuals [of tighter or looser monetary policy] for 1928-1929 might have led to a smaller 'Great Depression,' but in retrospect the undervaluation of gold made some sort of downturn almost inevitable. Had either alternative strategy been followed, and a modest depression resulted, that alternative would have almost certainly received historical censure." -- The Midas Paradox, p. 397

Sumner offers as an analogy the allied policy towards Germany after World War I. He argues, plausibly I think, that Allied policy was just about perfectly bad. If Allied peace terms had been more forgiving, Germany would have recovered better, and the appeal of the Nazis would have been blunted. But if the policy had been even harsher than it was, then, Nazis or no Nazis, Germany would have been to weak to remilitarize the Rhineland, threaten Czechoslovakia, and so on.

(I would argue that our Iraq policy has been similarly "perfectly bad": I was against the invasion, and I am sure that Iraq would be better off today if we have not invaded. But if we were going to invade, we ought to have done so with twice the force, and while being prepared to run Iraq as an American colony for 25 or 30 years.)

Bird brains

When I was four or five years old, I had re-occurring dreams that I was a young bird living in a burrow in the ground. Perhaps some Freudian out there can tell me what those dreams meant; I have no real idea, only a vague feeling about them. (They were very disturbing, and I always was afraid that someone walking along the surface was about to crush my burrow.)

But if I had had circa-2016 "progressive" parents and had reported this dream to them, I can imagine they would have found a doctor for me who would amputate my arms and build me wings, and my parents would have demanded that I have full access to the aviary at the zoo.

Growing up is tough, and we certainly should be kind to children as they experience confusion about their identity. But being kind has nothing to do with encouraging children to think that their fantasies are reality, and performing irreversible medical procedures on children far too young to be making such life-altering choices.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Porn show: CSI: Miami

This is the follow up to my post on pornography: it is important to understand Aquinas's definition of pornography to understand what follows. To recap briefly, for Aquinas and Joyce, proper art (art that is filling its own unique function) produces an aesthetic arrest in the audience. Improper art (art being used for ends that are not properly its own) produces movement towards or away from, either by lecturing us (didactic art -- think Ayn Rand or some recent novel instructing us on how to think about race relations), or by producing in us a feeling of longing or disgust. The latter is pornographic art.

Once you have this philosophical definition of pornography in mind, rather than just thinking about explicit sex scenes, it is amazing how much of this one will find in, say, an ordinary TV show. I've watched a few episodes of CSI: Miami recently, and besides the "soft porn" of long shots lingering on women's cleavage*, bikini bottoms, and so on, there are at least two other types of porn that feature constantly in every episode I have seen:

1) Gore porn: Time and again, we get long shots of opened chest cavities, decaying inner organs, burnt faces covered with bubbling flash, pools of blood, deep stab wounds, and so on. These are not just shown briefly, with the goal of giving the viewer an idea of how horrible some crime was. No, the viewer is given long shots of the gore, and often at surprising times, such as in the middle of a conversation, which serves to maximize its impact.

2) Necrophilia porn: The doctor who examines the body handles each of them in a very erotic fashion, stroking them and calling them "sweetie" and other endearments.

I think this introduction of a variety of pornographic elements in a TV series is a deliberate strategy on the part of the producers. Each new pornographic impulse to which they cater garners them another 1 or 2% audience share. For instance, the people doing nature documentaries figured out some time ago that including some scenes of explicit animal sex picks them up a group of "animal porn" viewers, beyond their usual audience.

I note all this only because being aware when one is being manipulated can be valuable.

* It is interesting that while the male detectives all come in to work dressed fairly conservatively, all of the female detectives have their shirts unbuttoned down to their sternum, and look like they are dressed to pick up a guy at a bar.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


In preparation for a forthcoming post, I give you James Joyce explaining Thomas Aquinas's theory of art:
—The tragic emotion, in fact, is a face looking two ways, towards terror and towards pity, both of which are phases of it. You see I use the word ARREST. I mean that the tragic emotion is static. Or rather the dramatic emotion is. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I used the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.

—You say that art must not excite desire, said Lynch. I told you that one day I wrote my name in pencil on the backside of the Venus of Praxiteles in the Museum. Was that not desire?

—I speak of normal natures, said Stephen. You also told me that when you were a boy in that charming carmelite school you ate pieces of dried cowdung.

Lynch broke again into a whinny of laughter and again rubbed both his hands over his groins but without taking them from his pockets.

—O, I did! I did! he cried.

Stephen turned towards his companion and looked at him for a moment boldly in the eyes. Lynch, recovering from his laughter, answered his look from his humbled eyes. The long slender flattened skull beneath the long pointed cap brought before Stephen's mind the image of a hooded reptile. The eyes, too, were reptile-like in glint and gaze. Yet at that instant, humbled and alert in their look, they were lit by one tiny human point, the window of a shrivelled soul, poignant and self-embittered.

—As for that, Stephen said in polite parenthesis, we are all animals. I also am an animal.

—You are, said Lynch.

—But we are just now in a mental world, Stephen continued. The desire and loathing excited by improper esthetic means are really not esthetic emotions not only because they are kinetic in character but also because they are not more than physical. Our flesh shrinks from what it dreads and responds to the stimulus of what it desires by a purely reflex action of the nervous system. Our eyelid closes before we are aware that the fly is about to enter our eye.

—Not always, said Lynch critically.

—In the same way, said Stephen, your flesh responded to the stimulus of a naked statue, but it was, I say, simply a reflex action of the nerves. Beauty expressed by the artist cannot awaken in us an emotion which is kinetic or a sensation which is purely physical. It awakens, or ought to awaken, or induces, or ought to induce, an esthetic stasis, an ideal pity or an ideal terror, a stasis called forth, prolonged, and at last dissolved by what I call the rhythm of beauty.

Kids, let's play inevitable winners and helpless victims

When I was young, we would sometimes play "Cowboys and Indians." I don't recall anyone minding getting the Indian side: in fact, it was cooler to do so. The Indians were not some despised vermin to be stamped out: that would not of been a game worth playing. They were a worthy and difficult opponent, brave and cunning. (That, by the way, is why sports teams have been named after them: no one calls a team the "Duluth Worthless Scum" or the "Albuquerque Cowards." And recognizing this is probably why 90% of American Indians do not find the name "Washington Redskins" offensive.)

Wasn't this attitude a lot more respectful towards Native Americans than the view that they were helpless victims, and today they will only manage to get by if ceaselessly worried over by white liberals?

The strange claim that loss aversion is irrational

The claim is common; it appears, for instance, here.

I contend that this claim is itself irrational, and loss aversion makes perfect sense. Whatever I have now, I am getting by with it, and a loss of some of it might endanger my lifestyle, my family, or even my life.

Whatever I don't have now, I am getting by without it. And while getting it might seem attractive, I really don't know: perhaps it would ruin me! (Think of the curse of the lottery winner.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why Trump is our best option

Our foreign policy over the last couple of decades has wrecked the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East. It has reduced country after country to anarchy in the bad sense: starvation, lawlessness, civil war. And surprise: all of this chaos enriches American corporations that sell weapons and "security" to foreign governments.

There are many important issues dividing the American electorate: SSM, gun control, abortion law, etc., etc. I don't wish to downplay the significance of the debates on these topics, except to note that every one of them, on a global scale, pales in significance to the moral necessity that we stop destroying the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East.

And it is clear to me that Hillary Clinton will eagerly continue to pursue the policies that create this destruction: indeed, she was the prime architect of some of the past destruction.

Donald Trump is not my ideal candidate for president: I would like to resurrect Dwight Eisenhower and vote for him, if I could. I agree that Trump is a wildcard, and we don't really know what he will do once in office. But we do know that Clinton is the bought candidate of the merchants of death, and gambling that Trump is not so beholden to them is not really much of a gamble at all.

Let us put aside our differences on who is entitled to poop in what bathroom, and defeat the military-industrial complex's attempt to profit off of creating continual chaos in other countries!

What Caused the Great Depression?

An interesting answer one can glean from Scott Sumner's The Midas Paradox is....

America' oldest enemy, France!

"France was easily the largest gold hoarder during the Great Depression. Her monetary gold stock rose almost continually from $711 million in late 1926 to over $3.2 billion at the end of June 1932 (nearly 30% of the world total)" (p. 138).

I am Napoleon!

If I wish to pretend that is true, it is a little nutty, but so what?

But if I start to insist that I can command my neighbors to take up arms, and gain a legal right to sue them if they fail to play along, then the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Functional Explanations in the Social Sciences

It is a crucial matter in thinking about the social sciences to realize that not every -- perhaps even not most -- functional explanations in the social sciences depend on any actor consciously willing that the end product of the function in question be realized.

For instance, Marx's class-based analysis of social life does not depend on the "capitalists" deliberately conspiring together to further the interests of "capital": it is enough that the capitalists meet at the same parties, vacation in the same resorts, send their kids to the same elite schools, etc.: through this persistent social interaction, they will arrive at the same views on issues affecting the balance of power between capital and labor, and so on, all the while sincerely believing that they are analyzing each individual question from a completely objective point of view.

And so it is with functional explanations of support for the current military-industrial complex: there are many, many pundits who sincerely believe that their opposition to Pat Buchanan, to Howard Dean, to Ron Paul, to Bernie Sanders, to Donald Trump, is based on an objective analysis of the flaws of each of those presidential candidates. And certainly each of those candidates, like any other possible human being who might run for president, certainly had/has flaws! But so have the mainstream candidates the pundits have recommended in their stead.

To recognize a functional explanation for the mainstream pundits' rejection of each and every outsider candidate does not require that we believe that there is a secret "mainstream pundits" society that meets in some crypt and decides which candidates are "responsible" choices and which ones are not. It only depends upon interlocking networks of government agencies, media outlets, major corporations, elite private schools, and top universities, so that any "mainstream pundit" is continually exposed to an economic and social milieu that makes any break with mainstream opinion require an extraordinary degree of courage and altruism, in that such a break will expose the apostate to vicious attacks and serious risks of loss of funding/employment. Imagine the position of someone on the Harvard board of directors who privately believes that Trump is a better candidate than Clinton: such a person risks complete ostracism!

My next post will further connect this one to the current election.

Friday, May 20, 2016

There's logic gates in me plumbing!

Contemplate this post. Here is a key passage from Shannon's original paper:
The method of attack on these problems may be described briefly as follows: any circuit is represented by a set of equations, the terms of the equations corresponding to the various relays and switches in the circuit. A calculus is developed for manipulating these equations by simple mathematical processes, most of which are similar to ordinary algebraic algorisms. This calculus is shown to be exactly analogous to the calculus of propositions used in the symbolic study of logic.
What I want to highlight here is that Shannon was talking about existing circuitry. Was this existing circuitry really doing symbolic logic all along? Or did Shannon just realize that we could interpret that circuitry as performing logical operations?

And there is no reason the "circuits" in question need be electrical: they can be plumbing, and what flows through them can be water. (Interestingly, the person who built this water computer had the goal of "demystifing the computer." And take a look at the photos of the logic gates in the link above.)

It is important to realize that every single thing the most sophisticated computer can calculate can, in principle, be calculated by a properly designed computer employing these "water gates." (The results will come out very slowly, but that has nothing to do with the logical possibility.) That is because both are theoretically equivalent to a Universal Turing Machine.

So if you watched the water flowing through a water computer, calculating, say, a chess move, would you be willing to say that this combination of water and pipes is "thinking about a chess move"? Or is it more plausible to say that the water is just flowing through the pipes as fluid mechanics dictates it will, and it is the cunning of the person who designed the pipes to realize that we humans can interpret what occurs as "calculating a chess move"?

Let us imagine that we happen upon a complex plumbing arrangement in an existing building, and we realize that, while the design was devised only to regulate water flow out of the building to meet certain municipal requirements, the system of valves also can be understood as implementing logic gates. We study the system, and determine that we can coordinate a series of toilet flushes and hand washing so as to perform arithmetic operations, and "read" the answer to a calculation by monitoring the water temperature and pressure in the outflow pipes. Does this mean that the building had been merrily doing arithmetic all along, unbeknownst to all its occupants and anyone else? Or have we just figured out a clever way of interpreting the building's plumbing system as performing arithmetic?

An analogy: one "deli" in my neighborhood, which is actually a numbers operation, uses the least significant digit of an agreed upon series of figures in the newspaper to "pick" the winning number each week. So, for instance, they can point customers at the AL batting average leaders table in the NY Post, and tell them, "The winning number is the last digit of the top eight hitters' averages, taken in sequence." (This works because the last digit is pretty random: the first digit will almost always be '3', and the second one typically less than '5', but the last will be distributed pretty randomly from '0' through '9'.) So has the NY Post always been picking winning numbers all along, or was it only the cleverness of the people running the game to realize it could be interpreted as doing so?

For a materialist who wants to assert that Big Blue really does think about chess, a way out of this difficulty, which does not involve asserting that thermostats think about their home's temperature, is to argue that in various situations, a certain amassing of quantity actually leads to a change in quality: it takes a large quantity of circuits, working at some minimum speed, to actually constitute thought. (This was Marx and Engels' solution to this sort of problem.*) But whether this is still materialism is doubtful: it actually seems to lead to panpsychism or hylomorphism, since whatever new qualities emerge are not simply "matter and energy in motion," but something non-material, irreducible to the merely material. And thus this route is firmly rejected by hardcore materialists such as Alex Rosenberg, who recognize that such an "emergent properties" materialism is actually a rejection of materialism.

* The more I study Marx and Engels, the more I suspect that what they meant by "materialism" does not closely match what scientistic materialists mean by "materialism" at all. When they rejected Hegel's "idealism," what they were rejecting was his notion that history is directed by the "big ideas" of Geist. What they pointed to instead was the "means of production": hand plows, water mills, steam engines, and so on. But of course all of those things are first and foremost ideas, that are then implemented in matter. So for them, "materialism" meant that ideas that result in concrete material objects are the primary drivers of historical development, and not ideas like monotheism or democracy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What is mathematics?

Mathematics is the study of relationships where the purely prepositional character of the relationship in question is abstracted and isolated from any other qualities any actual objects in such a relationship might have.

For example, an element is in a set or not in it: we are looking at pure "in-ness" itself, and ignoring the various ways one thing can be in another: the Thunder are in the NBA conference finals in a different way than Connecticut is in the Union, and both are different from how the dog is in the doghouse. But in set theory we don't concern ourselves with how the Thunder played to get in the finals, or whether Connecticut has a right to leave the Union, or if the dog enjoys his house. We abstract away from all that, and just consider "in" or "out"... "greater than" or "less than," "isotopic to" or "not isotopic to," "countable" or "not countable," and so on.

As Gauss said, "Mathematics is concerned only with the enumeration and comparison of relations."

Classical economics versus Keynesian economics

I am trying to make a summary table for teaching macroeconomics. This is simplified, of course, but useful still, I hope:

Classical Economics
Keynesian Economics
Say’s Law
Always holds.
Only holds when leakages do not exceed injections.
High unemployment is a structural problem.
High unemployment can come from insufficient aggregate demand.
Markets equilibrate quickly.
Markets may equilibrate slowly.
In response to a supply or demand change…
A price change will produce a stable equilibrium.
The other curve may shift, producing a cascade of changes.
In response to a recession…
Let the market work things out.
The government should engage in stimulus spending.
Market actors' expectations rapidly converge towards a stable equilibrium.
One group of market actors' expectations may affect another group's and that group's then affect the first one's so as to repeatedly destabilize the economy.

What other rows should I have?

Chesterton on state worship

A nice balanced perspective: the state is necessary, but not primary.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Galileo's balls

Isn't there something curious about the thought experiment described here:

"But he did devise a simple thought experiment that told us something profound about gravity. Take two weights, one light, one heavy. If heavier objects fall faster than light ones, as Aristotle said, then the lighter weight will lag behind. That implies that when the two are tied together, they will fall more slowly than the heavy weight alone. But together, they weigh more than the heavy alone, so they should fall faster. Wait, so is it faster or slower?"

This supposedly "demonstrates" that heavier objects can't really fall faster than light ones, because it creates a paradox: tied together, the conglomerate must fall both faster and slower than the heavy object alone.

My problem is this: in a fluid, light objects, especially those with relatively  large surface areas, really do fall faster than heavy ones, especially if the latter have relatively small surface areas. So if I drop a rock and a feather, the rock hits the ground first. Now, if I tie the rock to the feather...

My point is that there really isn't any paradox: if we have tied the objects together, we just have to evaluate the new conglomerate as a single object, and ask what governs its fall. A giant feather tied to a small rock will fall slower than the rock alone, while a small feather tied to a big rock will fall at the speed of the big rock. No paradox!

Atomic "individuals"

A culture of “atomic individualism” produces individuals addicted to atomic individualism!

The funny thing is that all of the “individuals” it produces have the exact same possessive attitude towards their "individuality" ("It's MY body and I can do whatever I want with it!" etc.), almost as if they were not really individuals at all, but mass-produced parts designed to fit into the machinery of state capitalism.

But don't think about that too much: just keep telling yourself, "But I really am a unique individual!" That is working fine for the hundreds of millions of others just like you!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Election Is Over

My local in Brooklyn is about 99.9% Democrat in its voting. In fact, I was mentioning that my PhD is in politics, and my great friend who bartends there said, "But you never talk about politics!"

Well, yes: politics really ought to be a minor part of our lives. The major part ought to be loving our family, taking care of our neighbors, doing our jobs, enjoying our hobbies and vocations... we ought to resort to politics only when those things break down. (That does not mean we can "do away" with politics: there will always be points where those things do break down, and then we need a healthy concept of the political to get us through those break downs.)

In any case, tonight I heard a regular there say, "You know, when you look at the actual policies Trump is proposing, they seem pretty reasonable."

Trump's marketing shift to sell himself to mainstream voters has barely begun, and already, someone at this Democratic stronghold is willing to publicly state that his positions are really not that unreasonable! And Trump has six more months to market himself to swing voters.

Trump landslide, folks.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Homosexuality and Heterosexuality Are Cultural Constructs

R. V. Young makes the point I was making the other day:
For thousands of years, until the late 1800s, our ancestors were completely oblivious to the existence of a fundamentally distinct class of human beings. Indeed, during the long period of Greco-Roman antiquity and more than a millennium and a half of Christian civilization, man did not even have a name for this class. 
Or so asserts an almost universal assumption fixed in the language almost everyone uses: that “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals” are two permanently and innately different kinds of human being, and that “sexual orientation” constitutes a difference comparable to the difference between male and female. Widespread acceptance of “homosexuality” and associated terms thus biases discussion of the subject before an argument is even formulated. 
What might be called the philological evidence calls this notion into question. If it were true, someone would long ago have given this class a name. That no one did until very recently suggests that the notion is not true.
The last point states what I think is a rather obvious point, and I was shocked when someone disputed it in the comments!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What is "statistics"?

I've been thinking about what "statistics" means. I came up with a tentative definition on my own, and then a little googling led me to think I'm not entirely wrong.

My intuition:
We take a manifold. We select a point on the manifold as the origin. We "populate" that point with an infinite set, say, the reals between 0 and 1. Then we choose a function that propagates the set members out from the origin. At whatever stage of propagation we choose, we determine what proportion of our original points are in what regions of the manifold. That is our "probability distribution."
This was just an intuition, and of course it lacks formal rigor. But as soon as I "saw" this, I realized, "Oh! so of course we could have, say, a normal distribution mapped not just on a plane, but also on a torus, or a sphere, or a Klein bottle."

I previously had never heard of such distributions, but after "seeing" this concept, I looked them up and, indeed, one can.*

So, Shonk, Nathan, others, I am sure that I have expressed this clumsily, but I also assume that a more rigorous definition that captures my intuition exists. Where is it? What is it called?

Furthermore, a sense I connection here to braid theory. Is that correct?

UPDATE: My friend queried his officemates who actually work on statistics on manifolds. They told him my definition is essentially correct.


* It is very amusing to me that what is discussed in the link above is a type of "von Mises" distribution: in the last trading company I worked at, my boss was a PhD mathematician who had written a book on Richard von Mises theory of probability, and while I was there I published a book on his brother's theory of economics. I told him that I could just about guarantee we were the only IT department in the world in which members had written books about both of the von Mises brothers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Liam Fail felled him in Westmunster

When I took "Liam" as my confirmation name in 1970, it was a very rare name in the US, one which I knew of only because of my inordinate curiosity about things Irish.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was the second most popular boys name in the US last year!

"Racism" now means "not supporting leftist policies"

The Christian Science Monitor highlights a study of racial attitudes that supposedly shows that intelligent people are more racist than one might think. How is this?

After first it might seem it is not so:

"Wodtke... found that the group that scored higher on the [intelligence] test were less likely to hold racist beliefs than their lower-performing counterparts. For example, among those who did well on the verbal test, 29 percent said blacks were lazy and 13 percent said they were unintelligent. By contrast, among those who performed poorly on the intelligence test, 46 percent described blacks as lazy and 23 described them as unintelligent.

"Lower scoring test-takers were also more likely to disapprove of intermarriage, and not want a black family living next door."

But there's a catch:

"But when it came to government policy – affirmative action, or busing, for example – smarter respondents were no different than their less-intelligent peers...

"The conclusion that Wodtke draws is that both the high and low scorers on the tests may have racist attitudes, but the high scorers 'are simply more sophisticated racists.'"

So Wodtke does not even think it is possible, say, people actually think, rightly or wrongly, that these are bad policies? Nevermind conceiving the idea that they might really be bad policies? No one could object to busing because they think that riding a bus for two hours a day is bad for kids, and that they are happiest in school with their neighbors? Nope, the only reason to oppose busing is if you are a "sophisticated racist"!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Who Will Follow George Will Off the Cliff?

Scott Adams on Trump

I had seen one Scott Adams analysis of Trump, but alerted by Andy, I now realize he is doing ongoing analysis. Here is a good point:

"Another Clinton attack ad features Republican foes of Trump saying bad things about him. The unintentional effect is to lump Clinton with the GOP establishment. It makes them look like they are on the same side against Trump. That plays perfectly into his outsider narrative, and it is another huge failure of persuasion."

Misusing Probability

Nate Silver has been getting some flack for his declaration that Donald Trump had a 2% chance of winning the GOP nomination.

One thing to note in Silver's defense: "2% chance" is not "no chance": 2% chance events happen! But the real problem is elsewhere: Silver thinks we can assign "objective" probabilities to one-off events. But to assign a probability to any potential happening in an "objective" way, we have to abstract from the particular circumstances of time and place absolutely everything that cannot be reduced to a number by which we can "objectively" place that potential happening into a class with other, past happenings taken to be "identical" to the potential happening in all relevant features except those differing numbers. (For instance, we will have to turn each presidential candidate into a point in a vector space, where the number of "factors" we choose to include in our analysis are the dimensions of the space, and candidates only differ by being positioned differently in that space.)

This works fine if we are dealing with the spin of a roulette wheel. Of course, if we could precisely measure the exact play of forces at work, we could predict exactly where the ball would come to rest each spin. But given that this is unachievable, we are justified in treating these as "random factors": given that we know of no super roulette-wheel spinner who knows precisely how to twist his wrist to deliver a ball to a particular number, or super wheel designer who knows how to manufacture the minor variations that must exist between different wheels and different balls so as to produce a particular pattern the manufacturer's client desires, we reasonably can say that if there are thirty-six numbers on the wheel, the odds of a bet on any one number paying off are 1-in-36.

But look what happens when we try to apply this method to, say, an election, as Silver does:

"But some candidates with parallels to Trump have done perfectly well in Iowa and New Hampshire. In fact, there’s been about one such Republican, on average, in every contested election cycle. Below, I’ve listed past Republican candidates who (i) had less than 5 percent of the party’s endorsement points as of the date of the Iowa caucuses, meaning they had very little support from the party establishment, but (ii) won at least 20 percent of the vote in Iowa anyway."

If we are really going to have an objective measure of probability for "Trump winning the GOP nomination," we have to assume:

1) The other "such Republicans" being placed in the class of "outsider candidates" with Trump are, for all intents and purposes, as identical to Trump as each gambler betting at the roulette wheel is, for all intents and purposes, identical to every other one. But this assumption is wildly false: presidential aspirants differ from each other vastly more than do different gamblers at a roulette wheel.

In particular, here we would have to assume that the facts that Trump is:
a) a billionaire;
b) with yuuuge name recognition; and
c) almost 40 years of experience manipulating the media...
still leave him as identical to all the other outsider candidates as each gambler is identical to all others placing their chips at the roulette table.

2) That each "contested election cycle" is, for all intents and purposes, identical to every other "contested election cycle."

In particular, here we would have to assume that the 2016 contested election cycle differs from previous ones by no more than a spin of the roulette wheel in 2016 differs from a spin in 1996. The failed Iraq war, the recent struggles of the middle class, the foibles of the surveillance state, the repeated betrayal of the Republican base by their candidates... all of those are no more than minuscule and ignorable bumps on the roulette wheel.

3) That having "less than 5 percent of the party’s endorsement points as of the date of the Iowa caucuses" has the same influence on voters in every election cycle. So we have to abstract away the very sense of betrayal by the party elites that led so many GOP voters to choose Trump and ignore party endorsements.

A statistical analysis of a concrete situation is always an abstraction, abstracting away from anything that prevents us from including the concrete situation in an abstract class of situations about which we can reason probabilistically. In the case of a roulette wheel, such an abstraction does not falsify the concrete situation very much, and thus can be used with a fair amount of confidence. But in the case of a presidential campaign, the distortions needed to fit the actual situation into a probabilistic analysis are tremendous: we must abstract away the actual candidates, and turn them into "typical candidates," abstract away the actual circumstances, and turn them into "typical circumstances," and abstract away the actual electorate, and turn it into a "typical electorate."

And I don't object to anyone who wants to perform all three of the above magical feats: I just don't want anyone to be duped into thinking that such a magician has arrived at some "objective" probability of what the actual outcome will be.

And, of course, my analysis here is not original. For instance, see Ludwig von Mises:

'Case probability is a particular feature of our dealing with problems of human action. Here any reference to frequency is inappropriate, as our statements always deal with unique events which as such--i.e., with regard to the problem in question--are not members of any class. We can form a class "American presidential elections." This class concept may prove useful or even necessary for various kinds of reasoning, as, for instance, for a treatment of the matter from the viewpoint of constitutional law. But if we are dealing with the election of 1944--either, before the election, with its future outcome or, after the election, with an analysis of the factors which determined the outcome--we are grappling with an individual, unique, and nonrepeatable case. The case is characterized by its unique merits, it is a class by itself. All the marks which make it permissible to subsume it under any class are irrelevant for the problem in question.'

PS: And note Silver could have chosen completely different abstractions to focus his probabilistic analysis upon: why not classify candidates by "net worth" and "years of media exposure" instead of "outsider status" and "party endorsements"? I bet the analysis would have come out a bit differently!

Burglary is dangerous

Burglars are often injured because they have to creep into houses in the dark, and sometimes they are even shot by homeowners.

Let's start a campaign for "safe, legal burglary"!

Karl Marx, Demonic Genius

"The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the supreme being for man. It ends, therefore, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all those conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being." -- Marx, quoted in Bertell Ollman, Alienation, p. 48

The above, of course, is pretty much the exact position Satan is depicted as adopting in Paradise Lost: he cannot stand the fact that he himself is not God, and decides it is "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav’n."

Even from a materialist perspective, Marx's position makes little sense: shouldn't we instead recognize that we are "just another animal," "a small bit of a vast universe," and not a "supreme being"? If materialism were true, making a god of man is surely an absurd proposition!

Marx is, indeed, a genius, full of keen insights into social situations and historical developments. And this explains his lasting appeal! It is worth our while to pay attention to and learn from him. But in doing so we needn't be taken in by his central deception: man is not the supreme being, we cannot create the kingdom of heaven on earth by "appropriating the appropriators," and Karl Marx is not the Messiah.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Ehrman's "evidence" against the virgin birth

I found the CD with Bart Ehrman's lecture on the virgin birth. The reason he says that "almost surely" it did not happen?

"There's only one way to conceive a child and that's through sexual intercourse."

There you have it Ken B. Miracles don't happen, because it would be miraculous if they did!

Friday, May 06, 2016

Marx and Engels' odd "materialism"

"The sun is the object of the plant -- an indispensable object to it confirming its life -- just as the plant is an object of the sun, being an expression of the life awakening power of the sun, of the sun's objective essential power." -- Engels, quoted in Bartell Ollman, Alienation, p. 28

It turns out that when Marx and Engels objected to Hegel's "idealism," what they were actually objecting to was his notion that broad, philosophical ideas direct the course of history. They want to "place the blame" on more mundane "materialist" factors. However, their basic conception of those factors is still idealist, in that the factors are composed of internal relations (as we see in the quote above). And Marx even goes so far as to say that one of the "material" factors determining an outcome can be... a theory!

Did Marx believe in historical determinism?

"[When Marx characterizes the capitalist production process] as the negation of the negation… Marx does not dream of attempting to prove by this that the process was historically necessary. On the contrary: after he has proved from history that in fact the process has partially already occurred, and partially must occur in the future, he then also characterizes it as a process which develops in accordance with a definite dialectical law. That is all." -- Engels, quoted in Bertell Ollman, Alienation, p. 60

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

My Nutty Commenters!

You guys are a bunch of kooks! I missed this at the time it was posted, but Lord gleefully parodies a "progressive" take on the Christian-baker case: the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, when they politely declined to bake a cake for a lesbian couple, were "forcing" the couple to "obey" the bakers' religion. But when the lesbian couple used the power of government to impose a $135,000 fine on the bakers, rather than walk down the street to another baker who would have happily taken their business... well, no one was being forced to do anything, no sir!

Good one, Lord!

The Unintended Consequence of Elite GOPers Fleeing to Hillary Clinton

They are, without meaning to, ripping the mask off of our one-party state, run by the military-industrial-legal-financial complex (henceforth MILF).

The MILFs are quite happy to have "two" parties fighting fiercely over abortion, and who gets to go in which bathroom, and legalized pot... because they don't care about these issues one little bit. So long as both candidates are on their side on MILF issues... they win every election.

This realization was starkly thrust upon me in 2004, when 50% of the American people wanted us out of Iraq... and we got two candidates committed to keeping us in Iraq! How could this be? In a two-party system, with an electorate divided 50-50 on a crucial issue, how could we not get one candidate taking each side? Well, because there aren't two parties. There are the two masks of the MILF party, "fighting" furiously over non-MILF issues, to keep the voters distracted, while in almost complete agreement over MILF issues. (Disputes such as: "Should we actually invade Iraq, or just keep bombing it forever?" are allowed.)

And in 2004, when someone threatened to capture one wing of the MILF party who was not a MILF, namely Howard Dean, he was immediately cast as a lunatic by the mainstream (meaning MILF supported) press.

It was probably the case that the only way someone could break the MILF grip on the "two" parties was for that person to be an egomaniac completely impervious to all of the smears he would face from the MILFs if he looked like a threat, in fact, someone who would cackle maniacally at the smearers and give them the finger. Oh well.

And now that the candidate has captured the nomination of one party, the flight of the GOP elite is unintentionally revealing the truth: all their over-blown talk of how "disastrous" and "evil" people like Clinton are was a mise-en-scène meant to camouflage our one-party state. The people they pretended to demonize yesterday they will gladly support today, given the prospect of a non-MILF getting elected.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Scullies Everywhere!

Remember how on the X-Files Scully never seemed to learn from the huge string of "impossible" events that had come before the current episode that perhaps she should stop calling these things "impossible"?

I find it amusing how many of the people who today are saying it is "impossible" that Trump will beat Clinton were once saying it was impossible he would make it past the first debate, then that it was impossible that he would win a primary, then that it was impossible that he would rise above 30% support, then that it was impossible that he would win once the field narrowed, then that it was impossible for him to clinch the nomination before the convention...

Trump's Running Mate Will Be...

Oprah Winfrey. Or the closest he can get to Oprah.

Think about it: every personal fear voters have about Trump will be assuaged by having her (or someone like her) on the ticket:

Too volatile? He'll have Oprah there to calm and counsel him.

Racist? How could he be, if Oprah is running with him?

Anti-woman? See previous answer.

Remember, Trump has approached the whole campaign like a reality TV show. He's not going to ask, "Who would be most qualified if I die?" (not that conventional candidates do, but they pretend to) but "Who can I be paired with that will give me the biggest boost in ratings?"

Yogurt Distributism

At Chobani.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Why Christians Should Not Be Heterosexuals

Explained here.

(By the way, I think the main factual contention of the essay, that "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" are not natural categories, but inventions of the 19th-century, is pretty well established, and often by "queer theorists," and not just traditionalists.)

Reacting to Reaction

Ross Douthat has an interesting essay out on the reactionary mind. Worth reading, but I have an objection: the term "reactionary" is mostly made up Marxist nonsense, dependent upon the artificial scheme Marx imposed upon history. Communism was the inevitable future of society, and the only people who would resist that bright dawn would be morally deficient "reactionaries."

The term might have a genuine use for someone who really does just want to "turn the clock back," and recreate some earlier time. But such people are few, and to them we can only quote the great philosopher Steve Miller: "Time keeps on slipping, slipping, into the future."

But otherwise the use of "reactionary" is like that of "fascist": "Yuck, I don't like you!" Most people, in fact, think we have taken wrong turns here and there, and would like to reverse those courses. Those on the left often want to return to the stronger labor unions of the 1950s, or the greater concern for social justice seen in the 1960s: are they "reactionaries" for wanting to "turn back the clock" in these regards? Of course not: "reactionary" is something progressives get to call others.

Zeno for the computer age

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