Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Heard on the News

In an interview with an American officer in Iraq -- I quote from memory, but the one word that really caught my ear I'm sure I recall correctly: "We found a cachet of arms, including chemical weapons, in a house used by the resistance in Fallujah."

It's nice that the resistance is using such distinctive, high quality weapons!

An interview with a "terrorism expert" -- again, from memory: "The likelihood of a nuclear terror attack is more likely than not."

Well, we now know that it is probable that there is some measure of the probability of such an attack. Now, I wish he'd tell us what that probability is.

What Playing Occupier Does to People

Jim Henley details what's happening to US soldiers in Iraq.

What? There's a War?

AP story:

"WASHINGTON - Fueled by fierce fighting in Fallujah and insurgents' counterattacks elsewhere in Iraq (news - web sites), the U.S. military death toll for November is approaching the highest for any month of the war."

There's a war in Iraq? A war? Didn't the US win that war like a year-and-a-half ago? Then how could it still be going on?

Explanations sought.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Shouting Out Greetings...

to the LSE massive, to the Lew Rockwell massive, to the Connecticut massive, and to the Brooklyn posse.

Hear me now: Dis here is Ali Gene, checking out dis blogging business me hear so much about, at the invitation of me main man, Gene Callahan.

Lemme tell you how I meet Gene. One day, me getting on the tube. Dis man, him have his bag on a seat, but when him see no other seats available, him take it off so I can sit. "Respect," I say to him.

"One love," him say back.

"RCBC," me tink, "dis man talks some Rasta language!" So, I begin to reason wit him a bit. "What book you reading dare?" I ask.

Him tell me someting dat sound like "L and M Tree Logic."

"What kind of crap book dat?" I ask him.

"Oh, I'm reading it for my course at LSE."

"Me tink dat big-time college filling your head wit some foolery, man, because trees, dem not have any sort of logic. Dem not tink at all, man. Dem some sort of vegetables."

Me have to chuckle to meself about what me tink of next. "Or like me last woman, Loretta. Except when she doing the jiggy, you could easily mistake her for a vegetable! Sitting, all day long, watching TV on the couch, like a turnip or someting. Me want to smoke some skunk and chill in peace, just level me vibes out, and I gotta to listen to Jerry Springer turned up so loud it like the bass level in me ride. Blouse and skirt!

Den, him and I find out we both have "Gene" in our names, and while him not have "Ali" in his, him does have "Allah." (Check it out, because I didn't see it at first eider -- it flip me right out when him point out to me how it hid in there, probably because dem Catholics and Moslems fighting in Ireland, so his ancestral peoples not want udders to know dey was from the Islam.) In any case, I and I get along so well dat Gene invite me to join dis blog. Respect due.

Well massives, me must go now. Me know all of you, especially you ladies, is gonna miss me, but me soon come back. Until then, increase the peace, and keep it real.

Friday, November 26, 2004

do the Amazon limbo

Moving across the country--as well as being costly--has forced me to acknowledge that hoarding "stuff" is just not going to cut it anymore. My belongings have become a very heavy ball and chain so I've made the once-frightening decision to unload a lot of it because there's no way I'm not moving again and it ain't coming with me. I've started by selling books and CDs off on Amazon.com and will eventually move on to eBay. Amazon despite being a little more expensive than eBay is better for unloading books with one amusing exception. Even if you price your product lower than everybody else, there will be someone who comes along and prices it lower than you, even if it's only by a penny. Fine, I understand that. What has made me cackle is the "battle" I'm having with one "HA Books" company. They priced their copy of a book I have for sale at a penny less than me. When I discovered this, I underpriced them by a dollar because they have a feedback number in the thousands that implies they are trustworthy. They returned the next day and one again underpriced me by a penny. Okay, I understand competition though I have to wonder how a company that sells hundreds of books per month has time to worry about one $5-6 sale. Maybe there is a high comedy quotient at Ha Books? Curious about it, I wondered what would happen if I now raised my price. Sure enough, they did as well--one penny below my new price. I guess this battle of wills will end when a customer finally purchases from one of us. Until then you can keep tabs on our battle at "Amazon".

discharging pedal energies

I lucked out and managed to get a last minute free ticket (thanks Jean!) to the Kraftwerk concert happening a few blocks from my Miami Beach home. Without thinking about it, I rode up on my bicycle which is the fastest way to get around my neighborhood. Only later when the band performed Tour De France (one of two versions)did I realize I had selected the most appropriate mode of transportation to the show. I also felt like a big dork. At a little over two hours the show was fairly entertaining and I would've enjoyed a bit more, actually. My only real complaint was that this was at a theater instead of a big dance hall. Then again from the looks of the stiffs in attendance, it would've been pointless.

Falsification Falsified: The Case of Copernicus

An anonymous commentator, whose intials might be JCL, responded to my criticisms of Popper at some length. I am partially responding with this post, although I am also using it to start work on a paper I have to write on the philosophy of science.

Note, this post will not be completed in one swoop, but will probably take several days to finish. On to the argument:


I wish to suggest that the history of the Copernican Revolution falsifies falsificationism. The basic idea of Popper's doctrine is that no amount of positive evidence can confirm a universal theory, but a single negative piece of evidence refutes it.

The main problem with his theory is that this is not how science works. The first point to address is whether that is a valid criticism of a philosophical theory. It could be said that the actual practice of scientists may be flawed, and it is the role of philosophy to mend the error of their ways. But such a view relies on a misunderstanding of what philosophy can and can't do. As noted by Oakeshott in On Human Conduct, a key error of Plato's was to believe that because the philosopher's "platform of understanding" might be superior to the platform of someone who hasn't ascended fully out of the cave – such as the practical man, the historian, or the natural scientist -- that therefore it was a substitute for them. But the philosopher is no more in a position to inform a scientists of how he really should be working, simply because he has examined the scientist's own postulates, than he is to instruct Michael Jordan on how he really should play basketball because he has conducted a philosophical study of the game. As Franco puts it, “The postulates in which a theorist understands the identities of a conditional platform of understanding are not principles from which correct performances may be deduced. To use theoretical knowledge in this way to direct practical activity is the spurious engagement of the ‘theoretician.’”

The philosopher's true role is to make more clear what the scientist is doing -- as Collingwood put it, he does not seek to rationalize human activities, but to find the rationality that is already in them and clarify its presence.

Furthermore, if a philosopher of science puts forward a theory of how science should proceed that would result, if put into practice, in a cessation of progress in science, that's a good sign there is something wrong with his theory. In fact, we might say it has been falsified.

Now, to examine the case of Copernicus at greater length. The first thing that is important to note here is that Ptolemy’s theory did not suffer from nearly the number of problems as did that of Copernicus as soon as it came out. For example, Copernicus “was puzzled by the variations he had observed in the brightness of the planet Mars. [But] Copernicus’s own system was so far from answering to the phenomena in the case of Mars that Galileo in his main work on this subject praises him for clinging to his new theory though it contradicted observation...” (Butterfield, 1949, p. 23).

Copernicanism also was violated many of the principles of the Aristotelian physics of his time. Copernicus could not explain why objects didn’t fly off the rotating earth, why the earth didn’t spin itself apart, or what kept celestial objects going in there orbits if not the motion transmitted from sphere to sphere in the Ptolemaic/Aristotelian view. As Butterfield writes:

“In fact, you had to throw over the very frameboard of existing science, and it was here that Copernicus clearly failed to provide an alternative. He provided a neater geometry of the heavens, but it was one which made nonsense of the reasons and explanations that had previously been given to account for the movements in the sky” (1949, p. 27).

Exploiting Eugen

Here is yet another article in which I contribute nothing of my own, but merely summarize Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk's critique of a particular theory of interest. Even if you are already a true believer in the Austrian theory of interest, I bet you will learn a few things from reading Bohm's critiques.

Some people feel that I lavish too much attention on dear old Eugen. What can I say? He is my favorite economist. (And in any event, my hero is much cooler than Callahan's hero, that Michael HotShot or whatever his name is.) At least be thankful that I'm posting economics articles again, rather than ones on metaphysics.

Jonah Goldberg Shows Off His Erudition

I hadn't looked in to see updates of how "well" the war in Iraq is going in some time, so I stopped by a site I used to write for, National Review Online. There, I found Jonah Goldberg writing:

"The scientific method, which has been part of our culture for more than a century, systematically roots out flaws and seeks new insights."

Well, yes, four centuries certainly is more than a century! And four centuries is really a rather conservative estimate. One could plausibly argue that science dates to Aristotle, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, and so on -- making the correct figure over two millenia. Of course, that's more than a century as well, isn't it?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Michael Oakeshott: An Introduction

I'm reading an excellent new book by Paul Franco with the above title. Since I am commissioned to review it, and I can't say too much about it here, but I'd like to share a few choice passages:

In describing Oakeshott's philosophical influences, Franco mentions F.H. Bradley. He says that bradley "lived a fairly reclusive life in Oxford, never teaching, but occasionally coming out at night to shoot cats in the college precincts."

Well I suppose everyone needs a hobby!

A bit later, he quotes Richard Rorty:

"Since the anti-empiricism and the anti-foundationalism on which analytic philosophers now pride themselves was taken for granted by nineteenth-century anglophone philosophers such as T.H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet, one might be tempted to say that analytic philosophy was a century-long waste of time."


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Another Police Tale

After reading my blog post about the
police looking for the Colindale station, my friend Jasmine El-Mulki sent me the following story, which I share with her permission:

"I was reminded of a phonecall I recieved when I was working for a Swiss insurance company this summer. A policeman from the Federal Traffic Office called me one day, giving me a plate number from Bern, wanting me to check the corresponding car for insurance, a routine request. I couldn't find any customer of my company with that plate number, so I apologised to the officer. He then asked me if it was possible for me to check among all Swiss insurance companies.

"'But don't I need to call the Federal Traffic Office to do that? And isn't that where you are calling from?'

"Yes, he said, he was fairly new on the job and had forgotten that point."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Maybe a hockey game will break out...

A couple of "boxing matches" soured the Pacers/Pistons and Clemson/South Carolina games over the weekend, but think of the possibilities: "brawl at Indy ends race early when various drivers beat the lap leader to death with tire irons", "Kentucky Derby horses gang up on jockey" and "synchronized swimmers at Olympics tweak noses in underwater melee".

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I recently rented and watched the above-named movie a few days ago. A great film. I once thought very little of Jim Carrey, but I've come to believe he is an excellent actor when a director keeps him under control. (See The Truman Show for another example.)

Susanne Langer was, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated philosophers of the 20th century and probably the greatest philosopher of aesthetics. She held that each major art form had its own, distinct primary effect, although works could also generate secondary effects characteristic of a different form. The primary effect of literature is to create "virtual memory," that of painting to create "virtual space," and that of music to create "virtual time." Movies, she said, create a virtual dream.

If anyone wants to understand what she meant by that, I can't think of a better movie to watch than Eternal Sunshine.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bad Boy, Eamon!

Never play with Daddy's stash!

How Popper Went Wrong on Confirmation

Karl Popper is famous for declaring that theories can never be confirmed, only falsified. It seems to me he is wrong about this, and his error turns on viewing falsification and confirmation as all or nothing affairs.

But they are not. As pointed out by Duhem, Quine, Lakatos, Feyerabend, and others, no theory is ever so thoroughly falsified that there is no way to rehabilitate it. The Duhem-Quine thesis notes that, given an experimental result that apparently refutes a theory, one can always change an auxilliary hypothesis instead of the central tenet of the theory, and so rescue the theory. For example, Copernicus did not regard the absence of observed parallax in the stars as refuting his heliocentric theory. Instead, he simply moved the sphere of stars ten times as far away as it was previously thought to be. As my history of science lecturer, John Milton, pointed out, in this respect a Popperian has to regard Ptolemy's model as scientific and Copernicus's as unscientific, since Ptolemy's would be falsified by observered parallax, while, if newer, more accurate instruments still failed to detect parallax, Copernicus could simply place the sphere of the stars even farther away!

And so it is for confirmation. It is true that no theory is ever completely confirmed. But each piece of evidence supporting the theory raises the degree to which it is confirmed. Let's look at a hypothetical example from historiography to see how the Popperian view fails to capture the true state of our knowledge of the world. Imagine that two historians present you with two theories: One of them tells you that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in a deliberate act of defiance of the Roman Senate and constitution. The second says that King Arthur took on a dozen wives in order to cement diplomatic relationships with neighbouring kingdoms.

From a Popperian point of view, we have no cause to consider either theory more or less confirmed than the other. Confirmation is impossible. All we can say is that neither theory has been falsified. But this is clearly absurd: there is abundant, indeed, overwhelming evidence that leads us to believe the first historian's theory, while no one is even sure if King Arthur was a real person. (And, not knowing if he ever existed, we certainly cannot falsify a theory that says he had a dozen wives as of yet.)

One need not be a naïve or even a strict Bayesian to suspect that Bayesians are on the right track in holding that hypotheses are more or less confirmed, and that positive evidence rightly up our degree of belief in them. Scientists may not really formulate numerical estimates of the prior probability of different hypotheses. It is enough, as noted by Paul Horwich, that we can use an idealized model of how they might do so to dispel certain common errors, such as the failure to recognize that different hypotheses are held with different degrees of belief, and that different pieces of evidence do offer varying degrees of confirmation for a theory. Per Horwich, if Bayesianism can help in that process, it simply does not matter if it offers a complete, or even a very realistic, account of how scientists operate. Furthermore, if other models can also help to clear away the fog, there is no reason not to supplement Bayesianism with such models.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Violence Breaks Out in Baghdad

Check out this AP story:

Gee, that's surprising! People seem to object to having their country occupied and piecemeal destroyed by foreign troops.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Let's Move to an Island!

I have given up hope that the US will be reformed through the political process. The deck is stacked against liberty. Only through secession--itself inspired by examples from abroad--will freedom spread in the region currently called the United States of America.

Here is an interesting start on this topic. Yes, right now it's just chit chat, but at some point it will become a reality. If nothing else, once we start colonizing space, there will definitely be libertarian settlements.

But how will these places protect themselves from neighboring governments? Read the book. Oh, you'd rather a nice story? Okay.

Black Writing

In Borders today, I saw a section of books with the heading "Black Writing." And, when I browsed through a few of them, I found that all of the writing in them was, indeed, black.

But, on further inspection, so was all of the writing in the books I examined from other sections. There must have been something particularly black about the writing in that one area, but I can't grasp what it was.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Two Thumps for Bible Thumpers

I managed to offend just about everyone in this article. I got negative mail from both atheists and devout Christians.

Mission Really, Really, Really Accomplished

President George W. Bush announced today that, with the destruction of Fallujah, the "Mercan" mission in Iraq is now "really, really, really accomplished."

"When, on May 1, 2003, I announced "mission accomplished" in reference to our invasion of Iraq, I was speaking truthfully. We had accomplished the mission of getting me a great photo op."

"With the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, 2003, we had really accomplished our mission, meaning, in this case, that I gained a 5% boost in the polls with his capture."

"In June, 2004, when we returned 'sovereignty' to Iraq -- meaning that the new Iraqi government can do whatever it wants that we approve of -- we had really, really accomplished our mission. By saying that, I'm pointing out that my poll numbers went up another 2%."

"With the conquest -- but not the subjugation! -- of Fallujah, we have now really, really, really accomplished our mission. And once we pound the shit out of Masul, I expect that I will be able to announce that we have really, really, really, really accomplished our mission."

"And that's the wonderful thing about our mission in Iraq. It's the mission that keeps on giving, so that we can accomplish it again and again."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Sign of Drugs

I stopped at a pub last night that had two large signs up warning that no drug use would be tolerated on the premises.

I think this is pretty much equivalent to two signs saying, "Looking for drugs? There'll be a lot of them around here."

Trafalgar Square

Admiral Nelson stands atop his pillar in Trafalgar Square.

A fountain in the square catches the morning sunlight.


I took a quick trip up to Cambridge, to visit my friend, Canbridge University economist Paul Lewis, and then attend Tony Lawson's Critical Realist workshop. I arrived in the evening, so Paul gave me a whirlwind tour of the campus and then treated me to a lovely dinner.

The gate to King's College in Cambridge.

The first item on the agenda of the workshop is drinks from 7:30 until 8:00. Just before 8, when the evening's talk is to start, most people fill their wine glass one last time before sitting down. After the lecture, it's... off to the pub! Paul told me that drinking accompanies all activities at Cambridge.

King's College

Some shots of King's College in London, where I'm studying the history of science:

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Picadilly Circus on a Saturday Night

We were passing from the Picadilly Underground Station south toward Leicester Square, down a wide pedestrian thoroughfare. It was packed with people. Suddenly, we heard fireworks going off, in the middle of this throng of pedestrians. People began screaming and sprinting for cover. Several more rounds were launched -- some sort of bottle rockets sending bright arcs just over hundreds of heads.

We picked up our pace, trying to get out of the area. We had to stop at a crosswalk, and as we stood there, from inside the McDonald's across the street, three or four minutes after the first rocket had gone off -- hey, they had to finish their Big Macs! -- about seven or eight cops raced into the street. Well, not so much raced, as kind of strolled, at a very leisurely pace. They seemed to have no interest whatsoever in finding out who was shooting bottle rockets in the crowd. In fact, they came to a stop about fifteen feet from the entrance to McDonald's, and just stood together in a clump.

My friend explained, "Well, no one was attacking them!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

What Did I Say Wrong?

I was in a shopping district near my home, where I thought I had seen a shoe store. However, I could not locate, so I stopped someone to ask where it was.

"Excuse me, is there a shoe store nearby?"

He looked at me in a puzzled manner.

"A shoe store," I repeated.

"You want to buy shoes?"

"Yes." What else would I want the shoe store for?

"I think there's one down that way," he said, pointing.

Not wanting to waste time in case he was wrong -- he didn't seem very sure about whether there was or not -- I asked another passerby.

"Is there a shoe store nearby?"

He was taken back. "You want to buy shoes?"

Now, I'm sure there was something wrong with the way I was asking my question -- I just don't know what. "Shoe shop"? "Footwear store"? Advice welcomed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Every Summer We Could Rent a Cottage in the Isle of Wight...

...if it's not too dear.

Over the weekend, I took a trip to the Isle of Wight, to visit my friend, Paul Birch, and tour the island.

Paul smiles by the seaside.

Now, despite the fact that Paul is my friend, I must warn you, I fear he's a somewhat fishy character -- although he claims to be an astronomer, when I asked him to show me his telescope, it turns out he doesn't have one! I bet he has no astrolabe either.

On the ferry out to the island, the passengers were shown a safety film. As usual, no one paid any attention to it. It occurred to me that such films would draw more attention if they actually showed footage of horrendous accidents, e.g., the ferry sinking, bleeding passengers, people screaming as they sunk into freezing water, and so on. That would get the customers' attention, wouldn't it?

The Isle of Wight itself is not heavily populated, and is full of picturesque rural scenes.

A rural barn on the island.

Another country scene.

It is also geographically quite interesting, as there are a number of quite different strata running through the island. In fact, Alum Bay, where several of them come together, was apparently quite important in forming the thought of the Isle-born English biologist, physicist, geologist, and architect, Robert Hooke.

A view of Alum Bay, showing a few of the different strata visible in the area.

Another shot of the bay, showing "The Needles" just off shore.

Why we see so many colors of rock at Alum Bay.

Civil Liberties Stripped

Beyond the titillating nature of this news story, I draw your attention to the official who claims that 98 percent of the people involved didn't mind. But if you read the article closely, this seems to mean 98 percent of those who volunteered didn't mind!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Causation Treatment

Today, you can go somewhere to receive treatment for alomost any habit you have, e.g., gambling, drinking, drugs, sex, and so on.

Well, the Scottish philosopher David Hume said that the idea we have that certain events "cause" others arises merely from habit. So I'm considering opening a "Causation Rehab Center." Clients will come in and we will ask them things like, "How many times do you posit a cause-and-effect relationship per day?" and "How long have you been using induction?"

Then we will do things like roll one billiard ball toward another, but first crazy glue the stationary one to the table, or fill it with explosives, and so on. We'll get 'em off the stuff soon enough.

My Hatchet Job on Reagan

True story: When I was in high school, my aunt showed me the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was amazed to see that federal revenues really did go up under Ronald Reagan. But then I started crunching the numbers, and my intellectual honesty forced me to conclude that the '80s were not a true test of supply-side principles. I drew on this experience for this article.

What Should Have Happened in the US Election

The above is the work of Roderick Long. Visit his excellent blog to see his original post.

Apartheid... and Iraq

I watched a very moving film last night called Amandla: A Struggle in Four-Part Harmony. It was about the role music played in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. (And the music was great as well.)

During the course of the movie I reflected on the parallels between what I was watching and the US invasion of Iraq. One dissident mentioned that the South African prison wardens would strip political prisoners naked to humiliate them. Sound familiar?

The filmaker interviewed former members of the "riot police," one of whom said that they "had" to use heavy weapons during protests, or some of the police might have been hurt. Just like how the US and Britain have "had" to employ aerial bombing and heavy artillery in populated areas, to minimize their own casualties. Because of such tactics, Iraqi civilian deaths are running about 100 to 1 ahead of US military deaths. The soldiers all volunteered for a job that they knew entailed the possibility of going to war. The civilians dying had no such option. But simply because Bush knows Americans will be far more upset by one American soldier dying than 100 Iraqis, the military is using an approach that they know will kill many, many innocent bystanders.

The soldiers who fired on peaceful protesters were just doing their "duty" for their "country." They probably saw themselves as good, South African patriots.

That doesn't excuse their actions, nor does the same excuse wash for anyone participating in the immoral fiasco now occurring in Iraq.

Hayek Society

I, Jan Lester, and Pete Boettke listen to Larissa Price discussing property rights at a meeting of the LSE Hayek Society:

(Photo courtesy of Peter Jaworski.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


My friend Jim Henley cites the perfect quote to sum up the US election results: "Democracy is the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it - good and hard." -- H.L. Mencken

Settled In

Well, I'm finally looking the right way when crossing the street.

That means that I probably will be hit by a car within a day or two of arriving back in the States.

Oriental City

My soul captured by a wild spirit of adventure, I walked several blocks further down the main road through my town (Colindale) then I have during the first month I've been here. There I found... Oriental City!

Oriental City is a giant mall devoted to things from eastern Asia. There is a store with a huge supply of Chinese ceramics, several shops selling Oriental bric-a-brac, a Japanese beauty parlor, and a Sega center that is a confusing jumble of lights from giant game screens and the sounds of cars, shots, kicks, and dying.

A little farther in I found an Asian supermarket as large as a Walmart in the US. I wandered the aisles for a few minutes, surveying the unfamiliar items. Some of the prices were astronomical: whelks were selling for 65 pounds a kilo, while "surf clams" went for 68. I saw little fruits from Thailand called "rambutan" that looked like they were covered with tentacles. My favorite item was "dried salted witch." So that's what they do with them these days!

Next I went to the food court. It contains about a dozen Asian restaurants -- Malyasian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese. One shop sold sixty different, non-alcoholic drinks, including lychee in syrup, iced horlick, Lo Hon Guo Longan tea, ice sago in coconut milk, and jelly grass in syrup. Another place displayed whole ducks, including the heads, roasted and skewered, as well as whole, bright-red cuttlefish. In one of the Chinese stalls I could have ordered preserved vegetables with pig intestine. I wound up getting a wonderful Vietnamese beef-noodle soup, flavored with fresh basil and cilantro, scallions, freshly squeezed lime juice, and plenty of bright red chillies.

Yum, yum.

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...