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Friday, August 31, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is This the New Normal?

Today my son and I went to use the athletic facilities at my college. Near where we were, one of the women's athletic teams -- I'm not going to say which one, as my goal is social commentary and not the humiliation of an individual -- was practicing. This team's forty-something, male coach was addressing them, and was doing so with a stream of obscenities ("you lazy little f#*ks don't give a s;&t") that made me embarrassed I had brought my son there.

Is this now normal, that a forty-year-old man can address late-teen girls in this way with no fear of reprisal?

Fictional Worlds...

Ought to behave like the real world in all ways except those for which the writer declares that they are or explains why they are different.

That is why it is fine for Tolkien to have walking tree men -- he has set his story in an ancient time, before a metaphysical change in the world, when such creatures existed -- but very bad for television programs to show drivers that can look at the person in the passenger seat while conversing for up to five seconds on a busy highway without crashing. (Unless, of course, they have explained at some point that these are X-Men drivers who don't need to look where they are going to avoid accidents, or that it is Neal Cassidy who is driving.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

While I Generally Admire Washington...

This really bothered me:


Here, Washington had a great opportunity to gradually emancipate some of his slaves without much to-do: Just keep them with him in Philadelphia for over six months, and the law would free them for him. He needn't even have lost their labor: would a free black in 1790 have had many better options than working for the president of the United States? And I bet they would have worked pretty cheaply, as well: they surely would have felt much gratitude to Washington for adopting this tack.

Instead, he carefully contrived to keep his personal, household staff (all of whom he must have known well) in bondage by rotating then between Pennsylvania and Virginia. I'm generally inclined to not judge figures from the past by modern standards, but obviously the idea that slavery is wrong was well in the air at that time: witness Pennsylvania's law!

For men like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, I think slavery was akin to opium addiction: they knew what they were doing was wrong, they just couldn't face the withdrawal symptoms.

Lex Luther's Best Friends

We just passed a Mennonite high school. My son said, "Hey, isn't that what Superman is afraid of?"



Your Name May Be a Dangerous Weapon

What Did Jim Cantore Do to His Boss?

Has anyone else noticed that during every weather disaster, it is always Jim Cantore who the Weather Channel places at the absolute worst spot from which to report? This morning there are a handful of reporters standing on damp sidewalks in some strong but reasonable winds and rain, while Jim can barely stay erect, up to his shins in water and leaning over to avoid being knocked down by the wind.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Marco Rubio on the Difference Between the GOP and Dems

On Jon Stewart: "Clearly there is a major difference between our parties on the role of government in the economy." (I quote from memory.)

Rubio certainly nailed that. Given, say, a situation in which Wall Street banks find themselves hurting, Republicans will immediately move to throw them a trillion dollars, while the Democrats would never give them more than $999.98 billion.

And the Answer Is

Clue 1:

"Clue" 2:

Just down the street is the Bureau of Adjudicative Administration. You can't believe the conflicts when those two disagree.

Where Am I?





What If We Measured Intelligence by Adeptness with Languages?

I recall in the days I hung out with drummers from Ghana, the ones I knew variously were native speakers of Twi, Ga, Ewe, and Fante. They each of them could speak to any of the others in that person's native language, as well as being able to speak to me in perfectly comprehensible, "fluent enough" English. (They would say things no native speaker would say, but I never recall them not being able to tell me what they meant or failing to understand what I meant.)

Ninety percent of the population of Nigeria is at least bilingual, and many people speak more languages than that. Former NBA player Dikembe Mutumbo is "able to speak English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and five African languages." Hakeem Olajuwon is "in addition to English... fluent in French, Arabic, and the Nigerian languages of Yoruba and Ekiti."

Speaking more than one language fluently is a great mental accomplishment, involving moving back and forth between different ways of seeing the world. If we gauged "general intelligence" by this criterion, Africans might top the world.

A Column That Can Make You Feel Filthy Just by Reading It

In today's Republican Campaign Support Journal, Bret Stephens writes an "op-ed" column that is so blantantly a GOP campaign ad that it is stunning that even the supine editors of the Journal let it run. (The link will probably point to his next column soon, but I don't see a permalink.) Stephens basically tries to blame Obama for every single thing in the world that didn't go America's way over the last four years. (Perhaps Obama should have launched drone strikes against the International Olympic Committee when they didn't award Chicago the 2016 Olympics, hey Bret?)

What he conveniently never mentions is the great, shining success of the Obama administration: it did not totally, disastrously f*&k up America's position in the world the way the previous administration did.

This column calls out for a good Larisoning.

UPDATE: Daniel found it before I did.

Liveblogging Madison and Jefferson: The Revolution You Planned Is Not the Revolution You'll Get

"Among the middling sorts of people, hope of a new social order died hard. But as the average soldier found out, the ruling gentry had not gone to war to make liberty infectious or democracy possible. The egalitarian ideal proved useful in rallying support for independence among a wider public, but the simple fact was that colonial elites aimed principally to replace the British as America's lawgivers. They went to war for themselves." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 213

And, of course, they elite did not get what they wanted, either. Once you unleash the forces of revolution, you have no idea what the outcome will ultimately be.



What Happens When the State Breaks Down?

Well, what do you know? Gangs take over!

Why, this is an almost unimaginable result. Who in the world could have predicted such a thing?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Liveblogging Madison and Jefferson: The Confederation Congress and the Constitution

As I've noted before, I've found the argument that the U.S. Constitution was illegal as it did not conform to the Articles of Confederation a little curious when put forward by fans of the Articles. After all, the Articles themselves were pretty darned illegal per the previous constitution under which the colonies existed.

But what did the Confederation Congress make of this "illegal" constitution making activity? Let's see:

"A heated debate took place in Congress before it was agreed that no amendments would be added to the text of the Constitution. Congress would remain neutral [as to the value of the 1787 constitution as presented to it]... and send the Constitution on to the states without directly endorsing it... the congressional resolution... expressed unanimous agreement to that procedure." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 165

So, the Confederation Congress, the governing body of the Confederation under the Articles, was absolutely fine letting the states themselves consider whether or not they wanted to adopt a new constitution: they were unanimous in agreeing to pass the document on to the states for consideration, as it had emerged from the convention, which, of course, pretty much committed them to abiding by the decision of the states.

How to Improve Immigration Policy: Well, Make It, Like, Good, Right?

I have been invited to contribute a piece on immigration to a magazine, but I have not written it yet because I'm just not sure what to say. I know things are pretty broken now with our immigration system, but so do most people. I did not want to write my piece until I had some concrete suggestions to make, and, frankly, the problem continues to stump me. Rather than write some piece of empty fluff, I have waited, and thought.

Well, haven't I been the fool! Empty fluff is just what major national news outlets are looking for on the subject: just see this piece from Ali Noorani. It claims it will tell candidates how to "fix immigration." And what is this fix? Well, immigration policy must be "pragmatic." "Poll after poll shows a broad spectrum of Americans want a rational immigration process." The new policy should be "creative." And the author assures us "that Americans of all stripes hunger for a new consensus on immigration."

Of course, we don't have such a consensus, which is why we have the problem we do. The author's solution seems to be, "Well, just go get a stinkin' consensus, and make sure it's pragmatic, rational, and creative!"

On "Standard English," Kind of Lifted from the Comments

Shonk notes this wonderful passage from David Foster Wallace discussing what I think is just the right way to approach to dealing with students who speak, say, Black English or Brooklynese instead of 'Standard Written English': You let them know their is nothing wrong or inferior about their dialect, but that in universities and in the career they probably want after school, a different dialect is used, and they must learn it:
I don't know whether anybody's told you this or not, but when you're in a college English class you're basically studying a foreign dialect. This dialect is called 'Standard Written English. ... From talking with you and reading your essays, I've concluded that your own primary dialect is [one of three variants of [Standard Black English] common to our region]. Now, let me spell something out in my official Teacher-voice: The SBE you're fluent in is different from SWE in all kinds of important ways. Some of these differences are grammatical — for example, double negatives are OK in Standard Black English but not in SWE, and SBE and SWE conjugate certain verbs in totally different ways. Other differences have more to do with style — for instance, Standard Written English tends to use a lot more subordinate clauses in the early parts of sentences, and it sets off most of these early subordinates with commas, and, under SWE rules, writing that doesn't do this is "choppy." There are tons of differences like that. How much of this stuff do you already know?

[STANDARD RESPONSE: some variation on "I know from the grades and comments on my papers that English profs don't think I'm a good writer."]

Well, I've got good news and bad news. There are some otherwise smart English profs who aren't very aware that there are real dialects of English other than SWE, so when they're reading your papers they'll put, like, "Incorrect conjugation" or "Comma needed" instead of "SWE conjugates this verb differently" or "SWE calls for a comma here." That's the good news — it's not that you're a bad writer, it's that you haven't learned the special rules of the dialect they want you to write in. Maybe that's not such good news, that they were grading you down for mistakes in a foreign language you didn't even know was a foreign language. That they won't let you write in SBE. Maybe it seems unfair. If it does, you're not going to like this news: I'm not going to let you write in SBE either. In my class, you have to learn and write in SWE. If you want to study your own dialect and its rules and history and how it's different from SWE, fine — there are some great books by scholars of Black English, and I'll help you find some and talk about them with you if you want. But that will be outside class. In class — in my English class — you will have to master and write in Standard Written English, which we might just as well call "Standard White English," because it was developed by white people and is used by white people, especially educated, powerful white people.

[RESPONSES by this point vary too widely to standardize.]

I'm respecting you enough here to give you what I believe is the straight truth. In this country, SWE is perceived as the dialect of education and intelligence and power and prestige, and anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who wants to succeed in American culture has got to be able to use SWE. This is How It Is. You can be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe it's racist and unjust and decide right here and now to spend every waking minute of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you should, but I'll tell you something: If you ever want those arguments to get listened to and taken seriously, you're going to have to communicate them in SWE, because SWE is the dialect our country uses to talk to itself. African Americans who've become successful and important in U.S. culture know this; that's why King's and X's and Jackson's speeches are in SWE, and why Morrison's and Angelou's and Baldwin's and Wideman's and West's books are full of totally ass-kicking SWE, and why black judges and politicians and journalists and doctors and teachers communicate professionally in SWE. Some of these people grew up in homes and communities where SWE was the native dialect, and these black people had it much easier in school, but the ones who didn't grow up with SWE realized at some point that they had to learn it and become able to write in it, and so they did. And [INSERT NAME HERE], you're going to learn to use it, too, because I am going to make you.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Liveblogging Madison and Jefferson: Jefferson Versus Original Intent

"Jefferson believed that one generation could not be trusted to safeguard the interests of the next... the people deriving benefits from the federal Constitution had to be the living users of the text. The Constitution's meaning could not be stagnant; it's understood benefits had to be progressively redefined. 'No society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law'... He meant, too, that there was no original intent: the founding generation could not make the Constitution into a property monopolized by its authors, eternally empowering themselves to control its value and application." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 205

When Have Europeans Ever Appreciated America?

I saw someone asking the above at, I believe, Rod Dreher's blog.  Well:

"The outpouring was perhaps even greater in France, where the good Dr. Franklin was especially revered. The National Assembly recalled his 'sublime mission' during the American Revolution, praised 'the charms of his mind,' and declared a belief that 'great men are the fathers of universal humanity.'

"The National Assembly's message was formally addressed to the U.S. Congress. It went on to proclaim that as the world rejoiced in America's liberty, 'the hour of the French has arrived...'" -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 217

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Descriptivism and Prescriptivism

So, John McWhorter gives the usual linguists' argument against prescriptivism in this lecture course: languages always change, there is no such thing as perfect language, today's standard talk was yesterday's mistakes, no recorded language has ever fallen apart into nonsense, and so on.

By and large, I agree with this case. However, McWhorter seriously overstates it when he claims that correcting a child's grammar is "just like" smacking the kid in the back of the head and ordering her to color within the lines in her coloring book. First of all, unless you physically punish the child for bad grammar the analogy is rather outrageous hyperbole. But more importantly: Just as languages always change and today's mistakes become tomorrow's standard speech, haven't adults always corrected kids' speech? In fact, couldn't this be an important aspect of the very process that keeps language from changing so fast that people only two or three generations apart would be mutually unintelligible? Why does the historical fact of language change justify it, but the historical fact that adults corrects kids' speech not justify that? (That is not to say one cannot go overboard with prescriptivism; for instance, when I child speaks an "uneducated" dialect, clearly it is cruel to mock him for it; the best thing, I think, if one finds oneself as the child's teacher, is to say: "The way you speak is perfectly fine and natural. However, there is a certain way of speaking that in our society is taken as a sign of being well-educated. It will be very helpful for you to know that way of speaking as well as the way you speak now.")

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Raving Mad Becky Akers Wants the Cops Disarmed...

and mad gunmen to keep their weapons.

A man starts shooting random people on the street. The cops show up to stop him, and succeed. In the process, they may have accidentally hit bystanders. The police commissioner is honest enough to admit that this may happened. He never says "And this is OK: Akers simply makes that part up. For her, this whole incidenet is apparently evidence that the cops are "stalking" us.

If Akers had been soiling herself hiding behind a parked car when the cops showed up, I wonder if she would have tried out this attitude with them? I bet she would have been really relieved for 15 or so minutes, before she remembered that it was the cops, not the mad gunman, who are the real enemy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dan Savage Makes an Excellent Point...

about gay adoption.

The house next to me in Pennsylvania is owned by a lesbian couple. (I say "owned" by them because that's how they present the situation: I really have no idea if they own it jointly.) These ladies have made a habit of taking in the neglected products of various heterosexual couplings and raising them. I cannot help but believe that these children they have cared for were greatly benefited by their generous attitude, compared to the actual alternatives they were facing. And that's the point Savage makes that I liked: the issue is not, "Are children better off in a happy, stable, household headed by a heterosexual couple than they are in a similar household headed by a gay couple?" but is instead: "Given the vast excess of children without families compared to the number of heterosexual couples who are seeking to adopt, is gay adoption better than institutional 'care'?"

While I consider myself a "traditionalist," at least in some ways, some of my supposed comrades make me shiver: respecting tradition and believing that, by default, we should follow it does not mean that we should become abject idiots in the face of a situation that clearly calls for a tradition to be changed!

That, in fact, was the main contention of Chapter Three of my book on Oakeshott: the fact that Oakeshott thought that traditions contain wisdom was taken by many of his critics to imply that we must simply, slavishly do whatever was done in the past. But Oakeshott was quite clear that this is not what a respect for tradition is about at all: If we really come to appreciate traditions, we also come to appreciate that they are never fixed, but always evolving and adapting to new circumstances.

And in Chapter Six of the aforementioned book, I show how taking traditions as "sacred practices" that must not be altered is, indeed, an ideological, and not a traditional stance: as I put it, a respect for traditions can be transformed into an ideology I call "traditionalism." And I show, I believe, how ideological traditionalism actually contributes to the decay of traditions, since it presents a slavish bondage to the past as the only alternative to revolutionary change.

OK, Paleo Advocates, Can We Get Real?

Some paleo diet advocates, like this guy, contend that obese and diabetic people have been "deceived" by the government into eating the way they do.

In rural Pennsylvania, I see quite a few obese people. I even see them in the check-out line at the supermarket. ("Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're obese.") When I do, here is the "ideal type" of what I see in their carrello: pork spare ribs, hot dogs, white bread, doughnuts, cheese doodles, fried chicken, marshmallows, quart bottles of Pepsi-Cola, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, Slim Jims, jello, pork skins, gummy bears, pound cake, and a carton of cigarettes.

So, exactly which government agency has been "deceiving" these people into thinking that this is a good diet?

What in the World Is Andrew Sullivan on About?

He is becoming apoplectic over the idea that "statutory rape can be consensual," saying of rape that it is always forced: '"forcible rape", as if there were some other kind.'

Does Sullivan actually not know the definition of "statutory rape," or... or what? I can't imagine. Because in a state where the age of consent is 18, when an 18-year-old woman sleeps with her 17-year-old boyfriend after the senior prom, she has just "raped" him. But that she "forced" him to have sex with her without his consent does not gibe with my knowledge of 17-year-old men.

The argument for statutory rape laws is surely one of informed consent, not of consent, right? The idea is that while a 13-year-old girl may agree to have sex with a 40-year-old man, she is too young to actually know all that this agreement entails. We have statutory rape laws for much the same reason that minors are not allowed to sign a business contract on their own: not to protect them from being forced to sign it, since we don't need special laws concerning minors for that, but because we deem them too inexperienced to make such decisions on their own.

After all, forced sex is already illegal without statutory rape laws, whatever the age of the victim. For what purpose does Sullivan think these laws were written if they are also about forced sex?

UPDATE: Sullivan admits the obvious. But what was he thinking in the first place? He writes, "In context, I see that [statutory rape is often consensual] now." In context? Like, in the context of what statutory rape actually means, I realize what it actually means?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Does Keynes Have a True Cycle Theory?

OK, I'm going to say upfront: I'm am a neophyte in understanding Keynes. I only truly started trying to comprehend what he has to say when I had to teach the history of economic thought and macroeconomics a couple of years ago.* But I am going to offer my understanding of how Keynes has an equally plausible story of how an economy can be driven further and further from equilibrium as do Mises and Hayek. If my understanding of Keynes is primitive, please forgive me!

If we assume, as Keynes does, that the interest rate is moved by liquidity preference, then in response to an increase in liquidity preference, and thus a drop in the price of capital goods, as Jonathan Catalan notes should occur, what will happen? Well, per Keynes, at least as I understand him, this drop in the price of capital goods will further spook the animal spirits of investors, and increase their demand for liquidity yet more. That increased demand for liquidity will drive the price of capital goods yet lower... and you can follow the logic from there yourself.

At some point, in "the long run," this process will drive the price of capital goods so low that investors will again begin to bid up the prices of these assets. What Keynes believes is that this long, painful downward spiral can be reversed if some entity can intervene to boost investment spending. (Typically, Keynesians allot this job to the government, but the theory is compatible with, say, The Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation taking on the same role, so that there is nothing intrinsically "statist" about this Keynesian view.)

The process this Keynesian story describes may or may not occur in reality. But there is nothing "illogical" or "contrary to economic reasoning" about the Keynesian narrative, as some anti-Keynesians sometimes contend. Keynes has put forward a serious theory of how an economy can sink into depression. As Weber would put it, this ideal type has "explanatory adequacy." What we ought to be investigating is its empirical adequacy.

* How dare I teach those courses without already understanding Keynes? Well, having taken similar courses as an undergrad, I understood that my competitors in teaching such courses would tell their students things like, "Inflation is more common than deflation for the same reason refrigerators break down over time: once money is issued, it tends to decay." Yes, a professor at an accredited university once said this in my presence. Thus, I came to understand my stance of "honest and open-minded seeker" was far better than what they were likely to be subjected to if I did not accept these posts.

Brad, If You Want to Kiss and Make Up, I Am Game

Brad Delong links to me as a defender of Niall Ferguson, linking to a post that never mentions Niall Ferguson at all. That has sent me a lot of hits.

That was very sweet of you, Brad, as I take it as kind of a bouquet sent to me to make up for our recent spat. OK, I'll put you back on my sidebar, but: try to be fair in your attacks on your opponents, OK? (And I will try to be fair in my attacks on mine, since I suffer from the same problem you do. We can be kind of AA pals, OK?)

The Passive Voice

The Language Log has done a great job of noting a lot of the nonsense that goes on in "critiques" of use of the passive voice. (The critics often cannot even correctly identify the passive voice!) One of the frequent complaints of critics is that the passive voice is a way of "hiding responsibility" for the action performed in the sentence in question. But John McWhorter, in the course I mentioned in the post below, points out that the passive voice can actually be used to highlight agency. He gives the following example:

"This message was brought to you by the makers of Tide."

The "makers of Tide" did not phrase this in this fashion to hide the fact that they sponsored this show! By placing the agent in this unusual position, they were drawing attention to themselves, not hiding.

The passive voice is a perfectly fine grammatical construct. Just don't overuse it.

Remember Ebonics?

Remember the big debate over teaching "ebonics" in the late 90s? Well, I'm currently watching John McWhorter's lecture course on linguistics, and it has reminded me of something I have known for a while, but thought I'd post since reminded of it: The opponents of the teaching of ebonics had no science on their side. Linguists have consistently found that there are no "inferior" human languages: all of them have a regular grammar, and all of them can express everything every other one of them can express (although some may take more or fewer words to express a particular thought). "Vernacular black American English" is not a "debased" language or a "corrupt" form of standard English: it is its own dialect, with its own rules just as regular as those of standard English. It probably would have been highly beneficial to teach black students (and white students!) that the average American black does not speak "incorrect" English, but a variety of English with its own grammatical logic. Now, I think this should be accompanied by teaching that there is another form of English that you want to learn so that you can use it when you go to apply for a job or give a business presentation: if that was lacking, merely teaching Ebonics might have been harmful. But actually teaching students that they were already speaking grammatically could not have but helped in teaching them to speak in a second grammatical way.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Somebody's Going on the Wagon!

These were placed out on the curb, the Brooklyn signal for "Yours for the taking."

I see evidence of a night of way too many martinis, followed by morning-after disgust:



I Feel Very, Very Disoriented

I have this delusion I just read a sensible post discussing abortion that tries to see the truth in the position of each side of the debate.

Of course, if such a thing had really been written, then Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would reveal that they have secretly been lovers for years, Elvis would come out of hiding, Bob Murphy would begin winning his online debates with me, and Brad DeLong would start acting decently towards those with whom he disagrees. So I know I am hallucinating, but what a moment!

How to Get Empirical?

Daniel Kuehn worries that I don't have a single empirical test in mind to see whether liquidity preference or the market for loanable funds is more important in determining the interest rate.

Well, he is right to worry: I don't. But he was interpreting my call for "empirical" work more narrowly than I meant it. I consider this paper a "test" of Austrian Business Cycle Theory, in that it looks in fair depth at the facts about a particular boom-and-bust cycle, and asks if ABCT can help us understand it. (The answer was "yes," by the way.)

The Keynesian cycle and the Hayekian cycle are ideal types. And having studied Keynes more the last few years, in order to teach him properly, I am convinced they both have explanatory adequacy.* The question then becomes, how much do they fit the facts on the ground, i.e., in Weber's terms, do they have empirical adequacy? Econometric tests are a way to examine the empirical adequacy of an ideal type, but they are not the only one.

________________________________

* To clarify what this means, here is another theory of the business cycle that would have explanatory adequacy: I postulate that, every few years, a large number of the most crucial people in society's productive process fall into a period of hibernation. This causes the economy to crash. When, after a few months or years, they wake back up, they are filled with zest and energy, and the economy experiences a boom.

This is explanatorily adequate because, if people really acted as the ideal type describes them doing, we (probably -- I really haven't thought this "theory" out much!) would get a boom-and-bust cycle. Of course, the theory is empirically nonsense: people just don't hibernate. This is likely a good theory of bear productivity, but it is a lousy one for human productivity. The point here is that it fails not because it doesn't make sense -- a long period of hibernation really would put quite a dent in one's productivity! -- but because it has the facts wrong.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ever Feel Nostalgic...

For the days when you had a 1200 baud modem?

Then you can borrow my iPhone, and use it in the woods in Pennsylvania.

The Revolution You Get Will Not Be the One You Planned

"Their protest [Shay's rebellion] was sparked by high taxes worse than any stamp requirement or duty on tea the British had formerly imposed." -- Madison and Jefferson, p. 146

And it only took four years to get there!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Jonathan Finegold Catalán: A Double Agent?

You'd think he is a Hayekian, but then you read:

"In other words, even if the rate of interest is higher than what it should be given society’s time preference, the prices of the factors of production will reflect total aggregate demand for them. That is, the prices of the means of production would be lower than they would be if the rate of interest were lower."

And what about when the rate of interest is lower than it should be, say... due to central bank policy? Presumably, the prices of the factors of production will rise until they correctly reflect total aggregate demand for them.

So the Mises-Hayek boom will never happen. In what is purportedly an effort to defease Keynes, Jonathan has just declared the Austrian theory of the business cycle out of bounds as a reasonable theory of the cycle. Sneaky!

(Just winding you up a bit, Jonathan!)

What Is General Intelligence?

In response to one of my posts discussing IQ recently, a commenter contended that, for IQ to be truly measuring "general" intelligence, the test must be aimed at gauging abstract reasoning using symbols, otherwise what it measures would not really be general.

I think this is exactly backwards. Abstract reasoning using symbols is a very specialized form of intelligence, highly developed in only one species (as far as we know), and, even then, engaged in as a primary life activity by a very small percentage of the members of that species.

General intelligence is the intelligence that steers one around in day-to-day life, so that one avoids being hit by cars, doesn't eat poisonous things, stops arguing before making someone so angry that they beat or kill you, figures out how to get enough to eat, and so on. Think about it this way: You all know some Cal Tech or Harvard or MIT grad with a 4.0 average, about whom it is said, "He has trouble crossing the street by himself: no common sense whatsoever." This person probably scores 160 or 180 on an IQ test, because it is a test designed by nerds (like you and me!), and tests the sort of specialized intelligence we possess. What our hypothetical braniac lacks is general intelligence.

What do you think the IQ of the average NBA player is? Whatever it turns out to be, I doubt it is exceptionally high. Yet, these people have to continually make split second decisions about extremely complex and evolving situations with a multitude of relevant factors. And they are where they are not only because of their physical skills, but also because they are among the very best in the world at making those decisions. These are very intelligent people, whose intelligence just doesn't happen to be captured by an IQ test.

If you are hiring someone to train as a computer programmer, the results of an IQ test might  be a pretty good predictor of success. And in a society that highly values such skills, it might be a pretty good predictor of income. But it ain't general intelligence.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Requests and Offers

In Italian, supply and demand is rendered as "domanda e l'offerta," or "requests and offers." (The Italian word "domanda" does not mean "demand," but instead "question" or "request.") It seems to me that Italian economists have the edge on their English-speaking counterparts in this regard!

How to Go Wrong with Empirical Studies

After just calling for empiricism in business cycle studies, I should sound a cautionary note, lest someone pop up and comment, "Have you forgotten everything you wrote in the early oughts?"

Tyler Cowen links with apparent approval to a study the strikes me, at least in terms of the relevant sport with which I am familiar, as seriously misguided. Here is the quote Tyler extracts:
Theoretical analyses and empirical studies have revealed that conflict escalation is more likely when individuals are more similar in resource-holding potential (RHP). Conflicts can also occur between groups, but it is unknown whether conflicts also escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP. We tested this hypothesis in humans, using data from two professional sports competitions: football (the Bundesliga, the German first division of football) and basketball (the NBA, the North American National Basketball Association). We defined RHP based on the league ranks of the teams involved in the competition (i.e. their competitive ability) and measured conflict escalation by the number of fouls committed. We found that in both sports the number of fouls committed increased when the difference in RHP was smaller. Thus, we provide what is to our best knowledge the first evidence that, as in conflicts between individuals, conflicts escalate more when groups are more similar in RHP.
The problem I see is that the authors have a seriously mistaken notion of the nature of basketball fouls. Most basketball fouls are not "aggressive" in the usual meaning of the term at all: that is why it makes sense for announcers to say, "Wow, that was an aggressive foul." Players only occasionally deliberately foul; instead, they miscalculate in an attempt to block a shot, steal the ball, penetrate into the lane, and so on, and accidentally make contact with their opponent. So fouls occur when players are pushing the edge, or trying harder, and naturally that occurs more often in close games. You are an NBA center, and one of your opponents is driving the lane, going for a layup. If the game is close and this layup could make all the difference in the outcome, you rotate off of your man and try for the block, risking a foul. If you are up 30 or down 30, you save your effort for when it will really matter.

So what the authors' study shows, in regards to basketball, is that players try harder in close games. Whew, good thing we have social science out there, or who would have realized this?

Note: This post is not against empirical studies. It is against naive empirical studies that don't test what they think they are testing. Here is how the authors should have done their study: they ought to have measured flagrant fouls and fights, not fouls simpliciter.

UPDATE: The comment section of Cowen's post has many objections, some similar to mine and some noting other important lacunae in the study. The most significant is from Ryan Miller, who notes that the authors apparently did not try to control for strategic fouling to extend the game by a team losing in the final minute of a close game. Such fouls have no relationship to "aggression" whatsoever.

Hayek Versus Keynes: The Crucial Difference

And in the same post noted just below, Kuehn puts his finger right on the crucial difference between Hayek and Keynes: For Keynes but not for Hayek, "those expectations of future profits are compared to an interest rate that is determined by liquidity preference and not the supply and demand of loanable funds."

Just so!

And they were both partially correct: the interest rate is influenced by both of these factors. So here is where we must get empirical: To the extent that the interest rate is determined by liquidity preference, to that extent Keynes was correct. To the extent the interest rate is determined by the supply and demand for loanable funds, Hayek was correct.

As Olivia Newton-John would have put it:

I've been patient, I've been good
Tried to keep my data off the table
It's gettin' hard this holdin' back
If you know what I mean

I'm sure you'll understand my point of view
We know the scene theoretically
You gotta know that you're bringin' out
The data miner in me

Let's get empirical, empirical
I wanna get empirical
Let's get into empirical
Let me hear your data talk, your data talk
Let me hear your data talk

Bastiat: In Favor of Counter-Cyclical Public Spending

Daniel Kuehn draws our attention to this passage, sorely neglected in modern, popular articles claiming that Keynes is a blithering idiot who didn't get Bastiat:

"As a temporary measure in a time of crisis, during a severe winter, this [spending on public works] on the part of the taxpayer could have good effects. It acts in the same way as insurance. It adds nothing to the number of jobs nor to total wages, but it takes labor and wages from ordinary times and doles them out, at a loss it is true, in difficult times."

Cooking: It's All Subjective!


Imagine a post-apocalyptic world in which knowledge of the purpose of cooking had been lost. Many, many fragments of cookbooks remain in existence, but no one knows exactly what they are for -- people in this world eat all of their food raw -- only that their ancestors deemed them very, very important, and that somehow, these rituals are supposed to do something very positive for one and for one's community. (Seriously, it is interesting that someone who doesn't know what cooking is for might be able to read an entire cookbook and still not find out.) Cookbooks become the sacred scriptures of the time, and people perform the recipes in them in very solemn ceremonies, but no one realizes that what is produced was once intended to be eaten and to taste good.

We would find all sorts of conflicting opinions on cooking. Some people would claim that cooking was all just subjective: one merely had to look at the huge variety of recipes put out by different writers of sacred cookbooks to see the truth in that! Others claim that cooking may have once served some evolutionary purpose, but that now it was just a vestige that could be surgically removed without damage to human life. Some people would say that there had been a caste of charlatans called "chefs" who had just made up a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to keep the masses subjugated, too busy in their "kitchens" to rebel. Yet others would claim that it is just a way of promoting communal togetherness, and that, so long as everyone accepts them, the "recipes" can be whatever the community wants them to be, so that we find "recipes" for meat cooked for an hour at 1000 degrees, or for suet, apple, and cyanide pudding.

In this confusion, "authorities" would arise: they would explain to their followers that all true cooking can be rationally derived from some single premise, say, "FIRE = FIRE," or, "The NAP" ("The Non-Aggregation Principle"). The followers of the "FIRE = FIRE" would hold that the single purpose of cooking, indeed of human life, was to thoroughly burn all non-human organic matter. The followers of the NAP would suggest that all peaceful forms of cooking are perfectly fine, just so long as one does not initiate aggregation against non-aggregated ingredients. And, given the confusion all around them, these gurus' theories would have a certain appeal.

The above is an allegory for what Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book After Virtue, claims is the current state of our moral practice: we have lost the telos of morality -- we no longer know what it is for -- and so of course we are in a state of terrible confusion as to how to behave morally. And there simply is no possible way to regain our bearings without recovering that lost telos. If you haven't read it, you ought to.


Gabe Ruth Swings for the Fences

He posts an fascinating quote from Chesterton in the comments:

"Because I want almost anything that doesn't yet exist; because I want to turn a silent people into a singing people; because I would rejoice if a wineless country could be a wine-growing country; because I would change a world of wage-slaves into a world of freeholders; because I would have healthy employment instead of hideous unemployment; because I wish folk, now ruled by other people's fads, to be ruled by their own laws and liberties; because I hate the established dirt and hate more the established cleanliness; because, in short, I want to alter nearly everything there is, a cursed, haughty, high-souled, well-informed, world-worrying, sky-scraping, hair-spliting, head-splitting, academic animal of a common quill-driving social reformer gets up and calls me a Conservative! Excuse me!" - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Is a Conservative Attitude Towards Sexual Relations?

Ed Feser recently explained that he had always been a conservative when it came to sexual morality. But in the comments I questioned whether he really meant that. Of course, every known society has had acceptable and unacceptable sexual practices: in few (if any) societies have entirely random couplings with whomever happened along, regardless of age, sex, or marital status, been acceptable. But I was thinking that Ed was endorsing Catholic sexual morality, which, while I think it is a quite sensible stance, cannot, I think, be properly described as "conservative."

That is because traditionally, in many cultures, and particularly, even in many Catholic cultures, there has been a tolerance for extra-marital affairs that is incompatible with the sexual morality that (I think) Ed means to endorse. In particular, it has commonly been thought that for married men to have a lady or two on the side was nothing extraordinary, and unmarried women, or women of very high birth, were sometimes granted similar license. One need merely count the number of mistresses and bastard children of various monarchs to see that this was so.

Now, I totally comprehend condemning this traditional way of things as a failure to live up to Christian principle, which holds the marital bond between a man and a woman to be sacred. And I can understand feminist objections to the traditional state of affairs, based on the fact that men were typically allowed significantly more sexual freedom than women. But what I do not understand is calling either of these objections "conservative": they are both reformist, calling for doing away with a traditional arrangement by invoking some higher, non-traditional standard.

Even though I consider myself a "conservative," in that I think traditions should be respected as a default position, barring some strong case against them, I do not think that every traditional way of doing things is immune to criticism or reform. And when I do endorse some reform, I don't try to call it "conservative"!


The Greatest Philosophy and Theology Always Merge with Myth

The greatest philosopher of all Plato, knew this quite well, which is why he gave us so many myths: Atlantis, the ship of state, the cave and the light, the republic itself, the ring of invisibility -- you did know Gollum was right out of Plato, didn't you? -- the spherical beings who split into "soul mates," the myth of the afterlife at the end of Phaedo, and more.

J.R.R. Tolkien, who is not usually recognized as a brilliant theologian, was one, I think, so brilliant that he can only set down his insights as myths... which is just why he is not recognized as a brilliant theologian.

And my "presentism," as some have called my noting that the past and future only exist in a subsidiary fashion to the present, must ultimately be explained mythologically as well, which is why, when pushed about what I am really trying to say, I respond, "Go read the 'Music of the Ainur.'" (And for those of you who have "no time" for that -- it is only one chapter in The Silmarillion! -- well, you can read the Wikipedia summary, I guess.)

America's Last Great Wilderness?

I was perusing A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson, and was rather surprised to see on the back that "he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness."

The Appalachian Trail? What about huge chunks of the western US, or pretty much the entire state of Alaska?

I love wilderness, and I like to see some of it conserved, by making a bad argument discredits a good cause: it makes people wonder, "If they have to use this bad argument, is it because they have no good ones?"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fads as a Paradigm of the Social Cycle

We don't follow fashion
That would be a joke
You know we're going to set them, set them
So everyone can take note, take note -- Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni

In his book Knowledge and Coordination, Daniel Klein distinguishes between mutual coordination and concatenate coordination. Mutual coordination is coordination which people intend: you and I plan to meet for lunch, or several con artists devise a scheme to defraud an elderly widow of her fortune. Concatenate coordination is coordination that is pleasing to an observer: one of Klein's examples is a room designed with a harmonious combination of colors, shapes, and so on. It is important to note that successful mutual coordination does not imply concatenate coordination. If the con artists pull off their scheme to defraud the widow, they will have achieved mutual coordinaiton that is not concatenate coordination. (I really cannot do this schema full justice here; I am just introducing it to make sense of the rest of this post, and you really must read the book to fully grasp it.)

Let us analyze fads using Klein's terms. We will posit a population consisting of two types of people: T, the group of people who are trend-setters, and F, the group of people who are followers. In a fad, first the population of T mutually coordinates around some fashion or other cultural element, φ. What they wish is to identify themselves as members of T by adopting φ while other members of T but only other members of T do so. That situation, to them, represents a pleasing concatenate coordination. (Note: they are not Klein's ideal, impartial observers!)

The next thing that happens is, that as φ becomes widespread amongst T, the members of F begin to notice it doing so. What is a pleasing concatenate coordination to them is that they adopt φ given that everyone else, both members of T and members of F, does so or will soon do so.

But what is a pleasing concatenate coordination to members of F is very displeasing to members of T: if the "rubes" have adopted φ, then it is no longer hip. As φ diffuses through F, the members of T begin to seek for some new "cutting edge" fashion to adopt. When they do so, we are back at the start of the cycle above.

This analysis is, of course, highly simplified: We really have an entire spectrum of people from extreme trend-setters who are happy to, say, wear something no one else at all wears, to followers so sluggardly that they are barely now adopting fashions from a decade ago. But I don't think this simplification harms our analysis much. In any case, we have here a paradigmatic example of a social cycle: The widespread adoption of the fashion generates the actions that will lead to its abandonment. The cyclical movement is endogenous to the phenomenon itself.

And fads tie in to ideas developed earlier about disruptions and adjustments as factors in the social cycle: The members of F adopt φ in an effort to adjust to the disruption the adoption of φ by the members of T created in their plans: the members of F found themselves no longer wearing (or saying, or listening to, etc.) the "in thing." In an effort to adjust to this disruption, they adopted φ. But that adoption was itself a disruption for the members of T, since they now found themselves no longer on the cutting edge. And so they adjust by embracing a new fad.

As to what Klein's hypothetical impartial observer, Joy, would see as concatenate coordination in this situation, well, I imagine she would say, "Can't you all just settle on togas or something else plain and simple, and cut this nonsense out?"

But Joy would certainly approve of this:
 

Did You Know Ayn Rand Was an Austrian Economist from Middle Europe?

Neither did I. And neither did she. Luckily we have Ken Kersch to enlighten us:

"In the oft-repeated list of major intellectual influences on Ryan – Ayn Rand, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek – only Friedman was American-born. Although the others lived in the United States when they were older, all were Mitteleuropeans... In many of its iterations, Austrian economics is the apodictic mirror-image of that which it opposes – a cast utterly self-evident in Ayn Rand..." (I added the link to Mitteleuropa so you can see how it is defined. Rand was born close to Mitteleuropa, but culturally Russia is clearly outside the area.)

In any case, this is all part of a silly screed on how Paul Ryan is probably un-American since he likes a number of thinkers not born in the United States. Well, you know who else liked lots of European thinkers? Thomas Jefferson. John Adams. Alexander Hamilton. James Madison. A pretty suspicious bunch there, huh?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Did You Know...

That until 1949, there were four independent nations in North America (north of Central America)? And that that fourth nation, Newfoundland, was essentially forced by the UK to join Canada due to its debt problems? (Source: This Time Is Different, Reinhart and Rogoff.)

Discretion Ain't the Better Part of Nothin'

A guy just passed me on Court Street, with dozens of other people around, talking loudly to a caller using a Bluetooth mic: "Yeah, I got weed; I got weed! I'll just make you some rollups. Meet me in front of my building in ten minutes."

The substance, the time, the place: all laid out for anyone within a quarter of a block or so.

The Only Two Problems with the Idea of Self-Ownership

'I was dead wrong. There are two main problems with the idea of self-ownership -- the "self" part, and the "ownership" part.' -- Ed Feser

Read the whole thing.

The Past and the Future Are Modes of the Present

The past is the present viewed in a certain way: present memories and objects are viewed not as merely present, but as signs of times that have vanished. A card in my pocket evokes the memory of the person who gave it to me; an itch on my knee casts my mind back to the bee that stung it; the shell of a building reminds me of the good times I once had there.

The future is the present viewed in another way: what is present is looked to as portents of what is to come. A smile on my boss's face means a promotion is likely; gathering clouds signify an imminent storm; an angry speech from the Secretary of State leads me to buy oil stocks in anticipation of war with Iran.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wasn't That Celebration a Bit Much?

When the US beat Spain for the Olympic gold yesterday, the American players were all dancing, jumping up and down, and what not.

Come on now: This was almost every one of the best players in the NBA beating a team that, if it played in the league, probably wouldn't make the playoffs. (Yes, the Gasols are pretty good, but they also aren't Kobe or LeBron or Durant.)

Just imagine if I debated B. Murph on anarchism, and just narrowly defeated him in the debate! You sure as heck wouldn't see me dancing. I'd be looking kind of sheepish, thinking, "Gee, that was kind of embarrassing."

Why Did I Take Down My Recent Post on DeLong?

I decided that him acting like that didn't justify my doing so. Bob, I'm trying.

And Here Comes Another!




Definitely back trouble brewing!

Why Has a Spinal Column...

Suddenly appeared in the sky above me?



Is this a portent? Incipient back troubles?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peirce's Semiotics and IQ Tests

C.S. Peirce famously posited a trinitarian division of the sign into indices, icons, and symbols, where an indexical sign works by proximity, and iconic one by similarity, and a symbolic sign by convention. For our purposes here we will be mainly interested in indices and symbols, so let us give an example of each: smoke seen over a distant ridge is an indexical sign of there being a fire over that ridge as well: the smoke, in a sense, "points to" (indexes) the fire. Each of these words I am writing is a symbolic sign: they mean what they do by the conventions of the English language, and may mean something quite different or nothing at all to non-English speakers.

I bring this up because in Ron Unz's recent series of pieces on race and IQ at The American Conservative, he has noted that urban populations generally have higher IQs than rural populations, and that urbanization has been a major factor in large IQ increases in a number of people: the Irish urbanization from the 1950s through the 1990s apparently raised their IQ from being one of the lowest in Europe to being above average.

What could cause this? Thinking about it led me back to Peirce, and to contemplating what sort of signs are more prevalent in what situations. It seems plausible to me that people who live "close to the land" -- farmers, hunters, gatherers, fishermen, and so on -- are going to be very keenly interested in indexical signs: the snapped twig that signifies the recent passing of a deer, the gulls circling that mean a school of fish is nearby, the withered leaves that indicate a fungus is attacking one's crop.

City dwellers, meanwhile, live in a largely human-constructed world, and deal much more extensively with symbols, or conventional signs: billboards, shop signs, traffic signals, walk lights, newspapers, parking instructions, eviction notices, and the general omnipresence of human conversation. And the work of city dwellers tends to involve processing symbols: accountants, lawyers, advertising designers, computer programmers.

Well, guess which sort of sign IQ tests measure one's skill at dealing with? That's right, IQ tests were designed by urbanites and test for the sort of intelligence urbanites need to succeed. Of course populations that have not lived in the symbol-intensive world of the modern city do not do as well on these tests as we children of the city.

But if they had designed the tests, and we had our "intelligence" measured by seeing how we did at tracking antelope, avoiding lions, finding water in the desert, and quickly detecting insect damage to crops, how do you think we would measure up?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ban the Traffic Light?

Is There No One in the Middle?

Heather MacDonald writes about New York City's "stop and frisk" policing policy as if all cops are angels concerned only with saving black and Hispanic lives. She's responding, of course, to politicians who campaign as if all cops are incipient fascists concerned only with putting their jack boots on the jugular of minorities.

Neither caricature is true, of course. Many cops want to do a good job. Some are thugs. The tougher enforcement policies New York adopted a couple of decades ago have reduced crime; they have also made young, minority males understandably feel hassled and picked out because of their color.

Neither caricature is helpful. What is needed is people who want to sit down and explore, "How can we reduce the burden these policies place on young black and Hispanic males without sliding back to the high crime rates of the 1980s?"

But I don't have much hope that this will occur.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Greats of the Scientific Revolution...

to a man (sorry, in those days they were all men), all thought like this:
The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.… Just as the eye was made to see color and the ear to hear sounds, so the human mind was made to understand quantity. -- Johannes Kepler
The success of science was yet more proof of the reality of God, and was in no way seen to be in conflict with religion. That sense of conflict only arose in the nineteenth century, and the reasons were not scientific, but political: progressive politics was (often) anti-religious, and scientists did not wish to seem backwards in their politics!

(Hat tip to Thomas Treloar.)

Some Days, It's Great to Be a Brutish Beast!

WASPs, we brutish beasts have bested you:
The descendants of the Catholic Irish immigrants, described by 19th century nativists as “low-browed and savage, groveling and bestial, lazy and wild, simian and sensual”... as Unz observes, “within less than a century had become wealthier and better educated than the average white American, including those of ‘Old Stock’ ancestry.” Old Stock means earlier British, German, and Dutch immigrants.
Face it, racists, Unz has shown you are wrong given your own dude's data!

Is God Ever Surprised?

It might seem that the doctrine of divine omniscience means that God knows the future. Many have so interpreted it.

I think that is wrong. God can only know what can be known. But the future is just a name we use for what has not yet happened and it does not, in fact, exist. What does not exist cannot be known.

God is surprised every moment, just like we are.

Hash Browns with That Settee?

The Ikea in my neighborhood offers a free hot breakfast to all comers every Monday morning.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

One Step at a Time

Tonight, for the first time ever, when writing (in English) I thought of an Italian word first, and then got the English word from that. I wanted to say "The cars Xing the intersection," and I thought, "What's the right verb to say what they do?" The word that came to my mind first was "They attraversare it," and then I thought, right, traverse!

Selection Bias

A friend of mine used to bartend. She found out that one of her customers was a call girl. One day, the woman told her, "You know, all men cheat on their wives."

Well, for certain, all of her married, male customers cheat on their wives!

UPDATED per Blackadder's spot-on comment.

Spontaneous Order and Signalling

Joseph Fetz posts an interesting video on a day without a traffic light versus one with the light at a fairly busy intersection. It certainly gives one things to think about.

But if you click through to YouTube, you find people making ludicrous claims about what the video "proves": no regulations are necessary and so on.

Here is the actual question the video raises: when do we need explicit signalling mechanisms to coordinate our actions, and when can we get by without them? It has nothing at all to do with state versus non-state solutions: Plenty of private entities create plenty of explicit signalling mechanisms: factories have bells to start and end work, private parking lots erect stop signs and create one-way lanes, drummers count bands into a song, coaches call out set plays in basketball, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. Sometimes these are a good idea, sometimes not: For instance, I have seen it suggested that basketball coaches are far too anxious to run a set play at the end of a close game, and that they would be better off letting the players freelance.

Whether the intersection is publicly or privately owned does not, as far as I can see, have any bearing on the question of "Is it a good idea to have an explicit signalling mechanism here?"

Let's Say I Wrote a Program...

designed to spawn off multiple varieties of stock-trading programs, which master program would then evaluate which spawned programs performed best in a market test. My master program would allow, say, the top-performing 50% of round-one programs to create slight variations of themselves, and cull out the bottom-performing 50% of round-one programs. Round two would begin with the top-50% programs and their spawned variants, and would repeat the market test. After that, the master program would repeat the spawning-and-culling process. And so on.

After fifty rounds of this, let's say that I have at hand a suite of programs that perform very well at trading stocks. Would it make any sense to say, "Well, obviously no one intended this, since these programs were selected by a blind evolutionary process?"

The point of this example is not to claim that the fact of evolution (which I accept) proves that a designer does exist, but merely to note that surely the fact of evolution can't be used to prove that a designer doesn't exist!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

God the Video Game Programmer

Is a pretty good metaphor for the metaphysics of George Berkeley. (Please remember, it is just a metaphor! So don't ask, "What programming language did God use to create the universe?" or "What platforms does the game run on?")

What Berkeley did, according to Berkeley scholars like A. A. Luce, was to slice through the tangles of existing metaphysics by realizing that only two kinds of entities were necessary to explain all human experience: spirits, which are active and intelligent, and thoughts. Berkeley avoided solipsism because his world was "designed" by a master spiritual being, God, who also created all other spirits. Due to his unique role in reality, God has the power to create thoughts that none of the other spirits can avoid thinking but at their own peril.

As I mentioned before, a decent metaphor for getting a handle on what Berkeley is up to is that God is the creator of a video game universe, while all the other spirits are players. (Again, it is a metaphor: yes, video game designers do not typically create their own users!) God has granted the players certain powers within his universe: they can choose (to an extent) what type of character they will be, they can alter (to an extent) features of the world. They may chop down a forest (given that they acquire the right tools) or build a town (given that they find stone). They may divert the course of a river or tear down a mountain. But the basic framework is God's, and attempting to ignore that framework has consequences. If you pretend that cliff that God put in that spot isn't really there, your character will be smashed up on the rocks below. If you pretend your character can breath water when it can't, your character will drown. If you burn too much coal, your character and those around him will become ill.

Now, God made the "game world" challenging and dramatic (otherwise why would the players remain interested?) but he is a loving designer: he also made it comprehensible; he wants the players to succeed! In designing the behavior of the "objects" in the world, he carefully "programmed" them so that, through the use of experiment and reason, the players could come to understand how the different aspects of the game world worked. Further, he hid layers and layers of further revelations within each "object," so that as the players acquired better and better tools and understanding, new aspects of the world would open to them. And this, for Berkeley, explains the success of science: God wanted us to have a world that would encourage us to explore and exercise our reason, so he built one that is orderly and amenable to such exploration. Berkeley saw no reason to multiply entities and posit "acts" and "potencies" and "substances" and "forms," or even "matter." There is us, and God, and the world God put before us.

So the conversion challenge any metaphysics that posits more entities faces is to convince me that these additional entities do some explanatory work beyond what Berkeley's metaphysics can do. And so far, I have not found any evidence that any of them can do so.


I'm Not the Only One...

who thinks Tom Woods was being silly in claiming there is an "Anti-Rothbard cult." Perhaps Matt is also a bitter, envious jerk?

Or perhaps yet one more person who knows Tom was being silly is Tom, which is why he is a little sensitive on this point.

Doh!

Google translate renders "Ten thirty in the morning" in Spanish as "1030 en la mañana."

Well, I was pretty sure in knew which digits the Spanish used to write "ten thirty." I was more wondering what words they would use.

Differences in Olympic Performance by Country

India, with a population of 1.2 billion, has won 3 Olympic medals. (I believe this page will update as the games proceed, so the number may be greater when you check!) New Zealand, with a population of 4.4 million, about 250 times smaller, has won 9 medals. Per person, New Zealand is taking roughly 2000 times as many medals as India.

Well, New Zealand is much richer, and so the people have more time for athletics, right? But North Korea, Kenya, and Ethiopia are all poorer than India, with many fewer people, and each has won more medals. China is not a particularly rich country, but is leading the medal count right now. China's ($ of GDP / medal) is $150 billion, while India's is $1 trillion.

I doubt the correct explanation is, "Well, Indians are spazzes." No, they seem innately just about as coordinated and physically capable as any other people on the earth. Aside from the very real help that wealth provides, I think the explanation is almost entirely cultural.

Just like with IQ differences between nations. All humans are so little different genetically that our basic capabilities vary only minutely. ("Yeah, did you watch the Olympic sprints?" someone asks me. Well, thanks for making my point: yes, those of West African descent dominate, but they are only beating out Japanese, Chinese, Polish, Iranian, Lithuanian and other sprinters by a few tenths of a second. It is merely that their slight physiological advantage, in a competition so intense, is enough to ensure that all of the top spots are going to them.) But where a culture directs those capabilities can vary immensely. If one is raised in a culture that focuses the intellect on the ability to track peccaries through a rain forest, an IQ test measuring one's ability to manipulate symbols is not likely to capture one's true intelligence. And if people from the rain forest devised IQ tests, I'm pretty sure the graduating class of Harvard would come out as a bunch of nincompoops.

For the overriding importance of culture and environment on achievement, consider this: Yes, those of West African descent dominated the men's 100 meter sprint. But they were all from the US, Jamaica, Britain, Trinidad, and so on. West Africa, we might note, is chock full of West Africans, far more than live in all of the countries with top sprinters combined. (Nigeria alone contains about 170 million West Africans.) Yet the top place achieved by a sprinter actually from West Africa was 20th.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Eric Voegelin on Ideology and Language

Here:
The restriction of vocabulary and meanings: an ideological language has the purpose of interrupting the contact with reality, and on the other hand to admit as "reality" in quotation marks only the phantasy of the ideology. This restriction now pertains not only to words and meanings, but to whole bodies of propositions in philosophy or to facts of history that could interfere with the ideological "truth" by showing it to be a falsehood...

If one translates the Orwellian issue into more adequate terminology, one would have to speak of the "obsessive language" of ideologues–which has the double purpose of repetitious, mechanical iteration of the phantasy [e.g., "Taxation is theft!"] and of killing off, at the same time, any conflicting reality. ["Statists use violence to force their morality on others."]

I Am Not on a Vendetta Against Rothbardians...

it's tough love. Ed Feser on why harsh rhetoric can be quite appropriate at times:
Sometimes, "breaking the spell" of a powerful rhetorical illusion requires equal and opposite rhetorical force (if I can borrow Dennett’s phrase). When you treat an ignorant bully arguing in bad faith as if he were a serious thinker worthy to be engaged respectfully, you only reinforce his prestige and maintain the illusion that he might be onto something. You thereby make it easier for people to fall into the errors the bully is peddling.

A Very Brief Demonstration That Humans Will Never Have "Time Machines"

We don't see any time machines, or any evidence of the use of time machines, around us now.

Think about it.

Montaigne on Animals

"And so that people will not laugh at this sympathy that I have with [animals], Theology herself orders us to show some favor in their regard; and considering that one and the same master has lodged us in this place for his service, and that they, like ourselves, are of his family, she is right to enjoin upon us some respect and affection toward them."

David Lewis's Convention: Imitation

Lewis discusses a situation where everyone wears a raincoat because they see others wearing raincoats. Say, the first person up and about puts one on as a lark, the second person sees her and says, "Oh, my, rain!" and puts his on, and so on. He makes the following important observation about the rationality of the situation:
It may be that everyone was completely reasonable in inferring and acting as he did -- although no one will think so when he learns what happened. The manifest irrationality of the group may not be due to any irrationality of its members. It is no mistake to expect rain when one sees people in raincoats, despite the bad results of doing so this time. -- p. 120
I think this idea has very important implications for the study my colleague and I have launched into on a general theory of the social cycle: group irrationality may arise in the presence of uniformly rational behavior on the part of individuals. (And it is nice to see it demonstrated in a situation with no ideological overtones: Lewis is clearly not striving to make a case for or against government regulation with this example!)

This Is Not Selling Me on Potencies!

I've begun reading Ed Feser's Aquinas, hoping to fill a lacuna in my philosophical education. Now Ed is a fine writer and a clear thinker, so I figure if anyone can sell me on the superiority of scholastic metaphysics over its rivals, it will be Ed. As is my recent practice, I plan to blog the book as I read it: this helps me to take notes for later, and hopefully will prove useful for somebody else as well!

Now, let me open with a caveat here: it is early days in my contemplating the idea of potencies, and I may decide later I was just confused at present, but so far, despite Ed' protests to the contrary, he has done nothing to convince me that Molière was not correct: these Scholastic categories are explanations empty of any empirical content and also otiose. Consider this: Feser quotes Aquinas as saying "the form of numbness is in the eel which makes the hand numb" (p. 23). OK, this strikes me as:
1) Being exactly like the opium example that Molière mocked; and
2) Misleading to boot.

What the eel contains is not "the form of numbness" but a chemical. In humans, that chemical happens to produce numbness. In other creatures, it might produce quite different effects. If, in another creature, the eel's bite produces a fiery burning, does the eel also contain "the form of fiery burning"? And if, in yet another creature, the bite produces a feeling of intense cold, does that mean it also contains that form? And of what use is positing all of these forms and thrusting them upon the poor eel? How is this anything but a useless multiplication of entities? The eel has a gland containing a certain chemical, and that chemical interacts with the nervous system of different bite victims in different ways. And we understand how it does so not by positing forms and placing them in the eel, but by studying the biochemistry of the victim.

More to come.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Two Small Island Nations

With a population of a few million people have had a seriously outsized impact on world culture. Here is a good profile of one of them.

Unz 3, Lynn 0

Richard Lynn has tried to refute Unz's interpretation of Lynn's work but has signally failed. One way that Lynn rejects his own evidence showing negligible or small genetic effects on IQ has to do with the wide gap in IQ scores that often exist between, say, the Irish in Ireland (very low IQs up through the 1970s) and the Irish in America (much higher scores at the same time). "Well, only the smartest people emigrated," responds many of the racists, and Lynn adopts this approach.

Unz rightly notes "there is no evidence for this," and that even if true, "IQ differences results from such selective migration would have substantially regressed after the first generation."

But, in fact, I would expect just the opposite to have occurred: it would be on average the lower IQ people coming here. Emigration, especially in the 19th-century, was a scary, lonely thing. It meant you would probably never see any family member left behind again, and you would have to try to make it in a culture largely hostile to you. You most likely emigrated because you were desperate. Of course smart people may become desperate, but on the whole, who is more likely to be desperate, the smarter or the less clever people?

I don't have any evidence for this either, but I am just noting that far from being intuitively plausible, Lynn's suggestion seems like a desperate man clutching at straws.

I See the Facts as I Want Them to Be

So, a report comes out and shows that Chicago has the highest murder rate of any alpha city in the world.

Note the conclusion the first two commenters immediately jump to: gun control! However, all of the cities with the lowest murder rates on the list have much stricter gun control than Chicago.

We tend to see what we want to see.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Is Rowdy Gaines...

the most annoying announcer in the entire Olympics or what?

Every time he gets excited (which is way too often) he starts squeaking. There have been thousands of Olympic swimmers: can't NBC find one who sounds better than Gaines?

The Anti-Rothbard Cult

Tom Woods breaks the news: the 99.8% of humans who reject Rothbard's views (or would do so if they were made familiar with them) as impracticable, muddled, and sometimes repugnant are in a "cult." It's the .2% who worship Rothbard, who have built a shrine to him in Alabama, and who adhere to his doctrine like it was scripture who have freed themselves from the anti-Rothbard cult, you see.

Next up from Woods: The Anti-L-Ron-Hubbard Cult.

UPDATE: My little joke about Woods' silly suggestion of an "anti-Rothbard cult" leads him to call me "Most Humorless, Envious, Bitter Jerk in the Blogosphere."Wow, that's pretty good evidence of a direct hit, hey?

Dear Ancap

1) You think that in a just social order legality is a matter of absolute respect for property rights. No other consideration may enter into questions of legality.
2) You are willing to use coercion against those who do not agree with 1 and act against it, for instance, those who feel they have a right to roam across private land.
3) But you feel this is just coercion, because of 1.

1) I think that in a just social order legality is a matter of more than just property rights, and that the legal system in a just society should protect the weak, safeguard the environment, insure that everyone contributes to our society's defense, etc.
2) I am willing to use coercion against those who do not agree with 1 and act to violate it, for instance, those who try to shirk making their contributions to our mutual defense.
3) But I feel this is just coercion, because of 1.

You see, our positions are exactly parallel: the only questions is who is right (if either of us!) about our point 1. There is no difference at all in our opinion on coercion: we both think that those who violate just laws are rightly subject to coercion, and that those who don't should be left alone. What we disagree about is the scope of just laws.

So, when we meet in a comment thread, will you please, please stop telling me that I am willing to use violence to force my views on others, while you are not. We have different views of what constitutes a just society. Each of us, if our view prevails, is willing to coerce those who threaten that social order.

Friday, August 03, 2012

More Thoughts on David Lewis: Conventions and Semi-Conventions

Following Lewis, we can say that in the US there is a convention to drive on the right, and in the UK on the left. But what should we call the situation that exists when walking in crowds? For I have noticed in each country that there is a tendency, albeit fairly weak, for pedestrians to follow the convention for automobiles: in the UK, pedestrians tend to shift leftward to avoid collisions, while in the US they tend to shift right.

What is the right way to characterize the above? Is it a convention at all -- a weak convention? -- or just the shadow cast by a genuine convention?

I Stand Corrected

I posted how it was silly to call the 400 IM the "marathon" of swimming when there is a longer event in the Olympics. Well, unbeknownst to me, in 2008 they actually added a 10K event called a "marathon."

So, we should probably call the 10K marathon the marathon of swimming!

The Concrete and the Abstract

Great post from Ed Feser.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Huff on Methodological Individualism

There seems to me to be a lot of defense of this doctrine for two reasons:

1) It can be used as a trump card by libertarians who wish to shut down a debate.
2) The early Austrians all defended it, so there is sentimental attachment to it. (I've said before that this was understandable: given the only alternative was methodological holism, I'd sure opt for methodological individualism as well!)

Huff takes on the subject here; his points are sound, I think.

And again, just to be clear where I stand: the right approach is methodological pluralism. Analyze at whatever level of analysis enables you to make progress, whether it be the gene, the neuron, the individual, the firm, the social class, the nation, the culture, the civilization, etc.

"Can They Hold Off the Candians?"

I'm watching the 2000 meter women's rowing event. With about one boat length to go, the Americans led the Canadians by half a boat length. Try to "add excitement," the announcers shouts, "Can they hold off the Canadians?"

Well, yes, even if they tried as hard as they could to brake, they were probably still going to cross the finish line first.

Daniel Kuehn Sides with Socrates and Plato; Unfortunately, Aristotle Was Right

Here:
Nobody who genuinely understands the time inconsistency problem is ever going to be in a position where in the short-run they want something that is inconsistent in the long-run, because anybody who genuinely understands the time inconsistency problem (or really any number of other “unintended consequences” type problems like it) is going to knowingly cut off their nose to spite their face like that.
This was the position adopted Socrates and Plato: "No one goes willingly toward the bad." But it is wrong. It fails to account for akrasia: weakness of the will. I can testify with certainty that, for an entire month, while perfectly aware that I was engaging in hyperbolic discounting, I still night after night failed to unfold the sofa bed upon which I was to sleep because it seemed like to much trouble that night.

Why Are Racists So Hepped Up About Racism?

Ron Unz furthers destroys the racists on IQ.

What is curious is how they are so anxious that their evidence of racial intelligence differences be maintained that they show up here, out of the blue, to chastise me for these posts.

What would make them so anxious about this? I think the reason is pretty clear: they are failed individuals themselves, so they cling to "racial superiority" as a slim link to maintain some self-respect.

UPDATE: Mises on the same point: 'From the pluralis logicus (and from the merely ceremonial pluralis majestaticus) we must distinguish the pluralis gloriosus. If a Canadian who never tried skating says, "We are the world's foremost ice hockey players," or if an Italian boor proudly contends, "We are the world's most eminent painters," nobody is fooled.'

Michael Oakeshott on Anarchy and Order

"But the practical anarchists had a certain intellectual superiority over their more theoretical successors: at least they knew whom they were against, although their chosen victims were often innocent enough. All that the 'philosophers' can find for an enemy is something they 'the State'. This leads to a diminution of bomb-throwing, but in other respects it is not an improvement...

"For it comes easily to the anarchist to forget that [the modern] 'individual' is not a metaphysical entity but an historic achievement, and to forget also how decisive a part 'government' has played in this achievement...

"But perhaps it is here that the real character of 'anarchy' reveals itself. It is a plausible doctrine in a certain context. We can entertain the notion of 'no government' with equanimity, even with enthusiasm, when government has established habits of orderliness that have some momentum of their own, and when disorder seems to be a remote contingency. This condition is, at best, fragile, and it is good to be reminded that it is so: Sextus Empiricus tells us that when a king died the Persians used to be left without laws for five hair-raising days in order to impress upon them the need for government. Nevertheless, if this condition seems at any time to be firmly established, the doctrine of anarchy will seem plausible. Further, when government has not only established habits of orderliness, but has itself come to display a propensity for over-activity which can be opposed, even in a somewhat exaggerated manner, because the margin of safety is great, the doctrine of anarchy will be particularly attractive. In these circumstances the philosophical anarchist may be welcomed as a friend whose head may be a little light but whose affections are to be trusted. He is on the right side in this game of tip-and-run we play with our masters, even if he is inclined to end the fun by swiping the ball out of the field." -- "Anarchy and Order," The Vocabulary of a Modern European State, pp. 72-74

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Yes, We Should Not Translate Too Literally, But...

Translating "Si, è una città meravigliossa" as "Yes, I agree" is going a bit too far, certamente?

Yes, the speaker was agreeing with the previous speaker's evaluation of Florence, but what he said to agree was "Yes, it's a marvelous city," and not "Yes, I agree."

How can anyone forward such a crappy translation and still pretend to themselves that they are helping their readers to understand their new language?



Learning a New Language Is Hard, Part X

In a course I am now taking, I find the following sentence:

"Marco sta facendo fare a John e Lisa il giro della città."

Translating this literally, I get: "Marco is making to make to John and Lisa the turn of the city."

Of course, it is a mistake to translate in this way (and that is one reason computer-translation is so fraught with difficulties). But if one really wishes to become fluent, one must not only learn lots of words, one must try to enter into the world of one's new language, to the extent that expressing one's thoughts in this alien fashion becomes natural.

Where Custom Is King

"But politics also assumes some degree of diversity, for where (as in a tribal society) diversity is minimal, custom is king and there is not much scope for collective discussion of the terms of association." -- Terry Nardin, "Rhetoric and political language," The Cambridge Companion to Oakeshott

A Paradox?

My neighborhood in Brooklyn has far more small business owners than any place I have lived before. And it is also about the most Democrat-leaning place I have lived. In 2008, I think one of my kids classes voted 22-1 for Obama in their mock election.
On the other hand, Staten Island is solidly Republican. And who lives there? Cops and firemen.

Sandy Plugged in The Wall Street Journal

Unlimited Semiosis and the Self

In learning a foreign language, there comes a weird point where you find that you haven't been translating your new language into your old one, and you may find yourself thinking, "How, then, do I understand what is being said?"

Good question, and one that applies just as much to your first language. It is very strange that anyone ever seriously forwarded the idea that all thinking is in words, because it is obvious that the words themselves must be understood, and one can only do that with other words to a limit, without entering into Peirce's "unlimited semiosis." At some point what one needs is not another word but Frege's Sinn, or the idea behind the word.

And at that point we get a little glimpse at the mystery of what we really are.