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.


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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.