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My new bibliography engine



is still under development, but is online here.

Source code is here. To-do list for enhancements is here.

The idea is that everyone can have there own publications up in searchable form.

Anyone with lots of publications want to try building their own searchable bibliography? (Murphy, ahem, Murphy.)

Music


An interesting piece from Roger Scruton about music. My readers will recognize the themes of the concrete and the abstract in the essay.

Using evidence in an "unthinking" way


"Evidence-Indices [e.g., smoke as a sign of fire] may always have been used in an unthinking way by people going about their daily business; but to elevate them into being a reliable basis for theoretical knowledge..." -- David Wootton, The Invention of Science, p. 427

Here we come to the basis of Wootton's extraordinary claims about the Scientific Revolution replacing a world of abysmal ignorance with one that for the first time contains true knowledge: Wootton does not consider what ordinary people do in their day-to-day activities to be thought at all. But this is wrong: To move from an index to what that index signifies is an act of interpretation. In other words, it is thinking. It may not be great thinking, it may not be theorizing, and the move may have become so habitual that the thinker barely notices the thought involved at all. But nevertheless, it is an act of intelligence, and constitutes a genuine form of knowledge, without which the human species would not have survived a week after it had evolved.

Abstract thought does not have as its foundation "raw sensation" or any other such impossibility: its only possible basis is concrete thought.

Debugging Web apps

It has been a while since I've done any web application development, but this week I have begun trying to master Django. I have hit an interesting situation along the way: I wrote a query that I think ought to return some records, but does not. In order to understand what is going on, I tried to set up Django logging and log some relevant values at that point in the program. But the logging itself is failing, and failing silently: no log file appears, but neither do any error messages in the pre-existing web server error log. So how does one debug one's silently failing debugging tool?

Any ideas?

Stuck in the "Sauces"

I happened to have been reading an essay mentioning Forrest McDonald's insistence that his students keep looking to primary sources in their work, and a young person's PhD thesis, at the same tim and so I was struck by something extraordinary in the latter.

Let us call the newly minted doctor of philosophy Jones. Jones's work was essentially "Examining the Debate Concerning Great Thinker X." I was perusing his bibliography, and what struck me was that it did not contain a single reference to anything written by X! And this is a book-length work, which I believe has actually been published as a book.

Apparently, Forrest McDonald would actually avoid the secondary literature on a topic he wanted to explore and immerse himself in the primary sources. I don't blame Jones for his very different approach, but his elders, and their obsession with "the literature."

I am a fan of actual evolutionary *thinking*



Just to be clear, when I write a post like this one, I am in no way disparaging actual attempts to think about the impact our biological history has had on our present-day state. For instance, Thorstein Veblen speculated that perhaps we find the grounds of an English nanor house, with its scattered trees set in huge swathes of grass, so appealing because it evokes our past as a savanna ape. Now, that was sheer speculation on his part, and a lot of work would need to be done to confirm his guess, but it is at least a serious hypothesis that could be confirmed or not.

Unlike, say, invoking "poor monkey brains" whenever someone has trouble sorting out a sentence.

Our poor monkey brains


Once again, someone at Language Log pulls out the above phrase to explain some logic problem that people have a hard time solving.

I draw your attention to it because it is an important phenomena, a sign that one is in the presence of the ideology of evolutionism*: not a mere belief that Darwin and his successors have a pretty darned good theory in hand (a proposition with which I heartily concur), but the belief that the theory is a talisman, a guide to explaining all of human experience.

Because really, what does invoking "monkey brains" have to do with explaining why humans have a hard time with multiple negations? Do rhesus monkeys and howlers have a similarly hard time, while turtles and sloths handle multiple negations quite nicely? Of course not: the more significant empirical fact** here is that not one of these animals even has the notion of a negation, and that that is pretty darned good evidence that we humans possess something somewhat different than the average monkey brain, whatever that something might be.

So, given the invocation explains absolutely nothing, why do Language Log writers repeatedly use it? It is a signaling mechanism: "Look at me: I am an evolutionist too!"

* Similarly, someone can value traditions without subscribing to traditionalism, which is respect for tradition turned into an ideology.

** I emphasis the empirical fact of the matter because evolutionists like to pretend that they are hard-nosed respecters of the empirical data, when they are, in fact, nothing of the sort, at least when it comes to their ideology.

My home page

After years of not having one, I have once again created a personal web site.

Please have a look, and let me know what you think.

How "White Privilege" Helps Explain the Polls


How is it possible that Donald Trump has surged to his largest lead yet in national GOP polls, just a week before real voting starts? His campaign was supposed to be a joke, and his early decent poll numbers an aberration that would disappear once voters "got serious."

Here, I think, is a good chunk of the explanation: When our elites keep telling single mothers living in a trailer with their unemployed, meth-addicted sons, and working at Walmart for $10 per hour, or guys whose father had a high-paying factory job for 45 years but who were laid off from a similar job four years ago and have found no work since, that they are beneficiaries of "white privilege"... well, what you get is Donald Trump.

When I mention such examples to someone who uses the phrase "white privilege," at least someone intelligent who uses it, e.g., Daniel Kuehn, the response I typically get is, "Of course, 'whiteness' is only one aspect of privilege, and there are many others." And it is true, there are times and circumstances in which it is an advantage to be "white." (I use quotes because making "white" a monolithic category is itself a political choice: I grew up thinking I was "American" and "Irish," and that "Italian" and "Jewish" and "black" and "white protestant" were all similar categories to "Irish." And by the way, growing up in an "ethnic" manufacturing town slowly transitioning to a commuter suburb, by far the most foreign of these to me was "white Protestant.")

But if the only form of privilege ever talked about is "white," and no one ever mentions, say, Obama's "Ivy-League privilege," or Vernon Jordan's "at-the-top-of-the-corporate-hierarchy privilege," the "just-one-of-many-forms-of-privilege" qualification starts to seem a little like, "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" In fact, it starts to seem like a way a bunch of people very much privileged, like tenured professors and wealthy attorneys and corporate managers, of all races, can try to keep the "white" working class from getting too angry about all of the jobs they once had being shipped overseas.