Sunday, February 01, 2015

Made by nerds for nerds

So 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 lunch or at the bottom.

And here is the real kicker: I cannot find a clue anywhere about how to get back to the "default config." I have probed the various preference and setting menus: nothing.

After a half hour of trying to figure out how to get a desktop from which I could actually do some work, I finally simply reinstalled Ubuntu.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Searle getting Berkeley backwards

All of the great philosophers of the present era, beginning with Descartes, made the same mistake, and it colored their account of knowledge and indeed their account of pretty much everything. By ‘great philosophers’, I mean Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, and Kant. I am prepared to throw in Hegel and Mill if people think they are great philosophers too. I called this mistake the “Bad Argument”. Here it is: We never directly perceive objects and states of affairs in the world. All we ever perceive are the perceptual contents of our own mind.
This confusion rests on jumping from the fact that Berkeley says we perceive "ideas," to concluding Berkeley believes what we perceive is "all in our heads." But here is George Pappas on Berkeley:
I know of no reason to think that Berkeley is committed to holding that each idea is private in the sense described. After all, any idea immediately perceived by a finite perceiver is also immediately perceived by God. So, Berkeley is committed to the contrary line, viz., that ideas are publicly perceivable entities.
For Berkeley, the furniture of the world is objectively perceivable ideas, not ideas "in our heads."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Liberalism: Patrick Deneen Begins

Again, I highly recommend following this course: Deneen is uniformly worth reading.

He opens with a very important point: "We are to liberalism as fish are to water: we swim in its currents without necessarily ever stopping to consider what water is."

Liberalism is so much a taken-for-granted assumption in our culture that we hardly notice it. So, the right and left in America don't even question the supreme value of "autonomy": they merely disagree on how to best realize it. And when someone who was at one point , say, a libertarian, rejects liberalism as a whole, people tend to be certain he must have just switched to some other form of liberalism. (E.g., "Callahan has become a progressive.")

And almost right away, Deneen gets at the heart of the matter:
Thus, Locke and Paine reject the idea that tradition, custom, inheritance, or generational ties are a constitutive part of our natures. Rather, we can only understand our true nature by stripping the human creature bare of all these conventional and unchosen accumulations, and at least conceptually putting us into an ahistorical situation of 'the state of nature.'

This is what I mean when I say liberalism is based upon a metaphysically flawed understanding of human beings. If Locke and Paine could really strip away tradition, custom, inheritance, or generational ties what was left would not be a free human being capable of making unencumbered choices, but a mental cripple who could not choose anything.

Matthew Bruenig Dismantles the "Taxation Is Theft" Slogan


Note the libertarian in the comments. He never addresses Bruenig's argument, because he can't: it would make nonsense of a view central to his self-image. So what he does do is keep changing the subject: "You haven't put forward a better theory," etc.

Can homeowners save money by moving to a place with lower property taxes?

I heard some people the other day saying they had moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey because the property taxes we're so much lower in Pennsylvania. (And there reason was to "save money," not any ideological opposition to taxes.)

But you can't save money this way: all property taxes known of at the time of the sale are going to already be factored into the market price of the home. So the house in New Jersey with the higher taxes will sell at a reduction in price equivalent to the discounted future value of those higher taxes.

That analysis of course applies to a perfect market with full knowledge on the part of all participants. Real people don't have perfect knowledge and are not rational calculating machines. But, to the extent that many people think like the couple I heard at the hot dog stand, it will tend to make houses in the region with lower taxes over-priced compared to the ones in the high-tax area!

So, save money on your next home purchase, and buy in a high-tax state!

It's all about style

Microsoft Word (at least on my Mac) has three different lists of styles: one is a bunch of boxes above the document, one is a pull-down list in the upper left corner of the window, and one is available from the "Format" menu. Here is the thing: each of the three presents a different list of styles, with some overlap between them.

I have spent over twenty years using (and advocating the use of) MS-Word styles.(If you format your papers "by hand," for instance, by indenting each blockquote one-by-one, you really ought to stop.) And yet, I still have no clue as to why some styles appear on list A, some on list B, and some on list C, or why there should be three different lists at all. Note: I am not saying that there is no explanation: no, I am sure there is. But good software should "explain itself": after working with it for a time, the user should have an intuitive grasp of why the features work the way they do. Word does not do this.

Getting the logic of choice wrong

So here is a perhaps left-of-center economist getting this topic all wrong:

"If I can choose how much I work, and my wage stays the same, and I work more and my income rises, then I must be better off. Because if I was not better off, then I wouldn't have chosen to work more and earn more income."

Here is the correct version of this statement:

"If I can choose how much I work, and my wage stays the same, and I work more and my income rises, then I must have thought, at the time of choosing, that I would be be better off working more. Because if I had not thought I would be better off, then I wouldn't have chosen to work more and earn more income."

This distinction is not a matter of quibbling over words! The context in which our choices are made can be essential in determining what we choose. For instance, if the culture praises work over family life, many people might choose to work more even though they would be happier spending more time with their family. And I say this taking into account the disutility of social censure: akrasia is real!

People make mistakes. A lot of mistakes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Common Good

“[t]he common good, and not the person and liberty, [is] the very principle of all law, of all rights, of all justice and of all liberty[.]” -- Charles De Koninck (quoted here)

The idea of the common good is really not that hard to grasp. Consider the Detroit Pistons, a group of fourteen basketball players, a few coaches, trainers, many office personnel, and so on. And let's imagine the Pistons are having an off-year, and, as a result, every single person in the organization decides to spend their time hunting for a new job instead of doing their current one. (So each of the players, for instance, just looks to pad their stats, and stops worrying about winning games.) As a result, the organization falls apart. Although every individual in the group attended to (what he thought of as) his own good, none of them paid heed to the common good of the organization.

Now, given the idea is so simple, why do so many people so strenuously deny any such thing exists? Well, if it exists, I might be properly compelled, either by my conscience or, failing that, the civil authorities, to restrain my will in its interests. So, like a stubborn teenager who yells at his parents, "You can't make me!", I may decide it is more convenient to ridicule anyone who even suggests that there might be a social good to which to pay heed.

This denial makes the proper end of government invisible to anyone who engages in it. And since it is blind to this telos, the entire liberal project is misguided, since it is mistaken about the most fundamental political issue of all: What is government for? This mistake is, for instance, why we find liberals taking destructive positions, such as asserting an absolute right to free speech, even if the speech in question is, say, about to launch a civil war.

And how the mistake arose is not hard to grasp, if we pay attention to history. The alternate, false end of government usually put in place of the true one, that "rights" exist prior to civil society and that "Governments are instituted among Men" "to secure these rights" was formulated by men who wanted to place their wills above the common good, and engage in a series of civil wars in which they repeatedly overthrew their legitimate government.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ok, just consider how much the line on the curb...

looks like a typical chart of business cycles.

Just food for thought.

Against All Odds

Anyone who says something is "statistically impossible" because there are long odds against it has no clue what "odds" means!

That's Not English!

Last night, I was saying some sentence involving "Imma" for some reason. (E.g., "Imma have to hit you if you keep on doing that!") A woman sitting near me remarked "That's not English!"

I bit my tongue and smiled. But her remark is nonsense: English is what English speakers say. Languages are created and transformed by their users, not by a committee declaring what is and isn't "English." And varieties of English, like Black-American English (BAE), are "inferior" only in the sense that many people look down their nose at those who speak that variety of English.

I was making this point online once, and someone objected: no, the person claimed, a "simple" dialect like BAE cannot express "great thoughts" such as contained in Hamlet or the Declaration of Independence. But this is just piling rubbish on the garbage heap: modern English is a very, very simplified language! Here is John McWhorter describing what the ancestor of our language was like:

"Vikings, for example, invaded England starting in the eighth century and married into the society. Children in England, hearing their fathers’ 'broken' Old English in a time when schooling was limited to elites and there was no media, grew up speaking that kind of English, and the result was what I am writing now. Old English bristled with three genders, five cases and the same sort of complex grammar that makes modern German so difficult for us, but after the Vikings, it morphed into modern English, one of the few languages in Europe that doesn’t assign gender to inanimate objects."

 That's right: if this "complexity = ability to express profound thoughts" theory were true, the great works of English philosophy and literature ought to have been produced before 1000 A. D. Modern English should be way too simple to do anything but write grocery lists and corporate memos.

News from the inferno of open-source installs

I am now in the fourth circle of installation hell. I went to install the program I wanted, and the installation failed. When I researched that, the problems seem to be that I need a newer version of another program, so I tried to install that, and that install failed. That led me to yet another program I needed to update.

In any case, it is now 90 minutes after I started trying to do my work, and I am four layers deep in installing things to fix bugs in installing things. Upon hearing of my troubles, Eamon told me, "Dad, it's bugs all the way down."