Long distance communication in the ancient world

was better than one might think: they really did use the "Lord of the Rings" method of having signal towers at regular intervals. For instance, the Romans had them along the "Saxon Shore," which was a defense system along the shore of east and southeast England. So you could signal that, say, "The Picts are coming" from Hadrian's Wall to Kent at the speed of light, plus the time it would take for the human at each signal station to relay the signal.

A practical problem

We want to share a gate locked with a chain. But we each want to have our own lock to lock the chain. Can we do this? If so, how?

Aristotle on which racial group lacks intellect

Have you ever heard someone assert that "Of course northern Europeans are intelligent: they had to be to deal with that cold climate!"

Here is what Aristotle thought about this (and note: he does not include Greeks among Europeans here):

"The nations that live in cold regions and those of Europe are full of spirit, but somewhat lacking in skill and intellect..." -- The Politics, Book VII

Lachmann on Keynes

'If we look at it simply as a theoretical model, the Keynesian system is sound enough. It is consistent in the sense that, if we grant the premises, the conclusions will follow: the "level of incomes and employment" will be determined by the well-known determinants. The real issue is precisely whether the premises can be granted: to what extent they reflect reality. In Schumpeter's words, The realism of Keynes's "vision," not the logical consistency of his system is at issue.' -- Capital, Expectations, and the Market Process, p. 135

This, of course, is completely contra the people who claim that Keynes's system is illogical, self-contradictory, etc. The very first time I had to teach Keynes, and actually had to study him, I realized that not only was he consistent, there is also a beauty and elegance to his model. Of course, that says nothing about how closely it corresponds to reality.

The people who claim that Keynes's system is illogical actually mean one of two things, I suspect:

1) It went over my head, so the system must not make sense.
2) I don't like the policy conclusions he reaches, so the system must not make sense.

Why do news stories look so much more interesting...

when you are about to get rid of them?

"Why should major league baseball have a draft?" no doubt held no interest for me the day it was published. But now that I am about to feed the story into the wood stove, suddenly I desperately want to know, "Well, why should it?"

Stories such as "Is charcoal-gray the new black?" become similarly fascinating, once they are about to go in the fire.

Who Cares What Philosophers of Science Say About Science?

Chris House tries to set out "the scientific method":
The scientific method goes something like this:

Formation of hypotheses

If you can follow these steps then anything (even economics! even macroeconomics!) can be studied scientifically. When economics is at its best it truly is a science.

A purely empirical study is a necessary step in the scientific method (it’s step 1).
Here is the funny thing about this sort of view, which is way too common among economists: philosophers of science abandoned this simple model beginning 50 or 60 years ago, and today you would be hard pressed to find any philosopher of science who would take it seriously. In particular, the idea that a "purely empirical study" is step one of this method came to be understood as fantastical: no one could possibly do an empirical study without a theoretical apparatus and an hypothesis to test already in mind. (To see the absurdity of this idea of step one, we should imagine someone wandering around with a notebook and writing down, "Grape: purple. Chipmunk: 3 inches long. Dow Jones Industrial Average: 16,436. Venus: brighter than Jupiter. Salt: dissolves in water," and so on. Then, after this period of "purely empirical study," the person begins to try to think of an hypothesis that explains all of the facts they have collected.)

This revolution in the philosophy of science was achieved largely by paying more attention to what scientists actually do and less attention to how science ought to work if it is to fit some logical schema. And here is the funny thing for those who would dismiss this by saying, "Well, who cares what some philosophers of science think?": think about a list of those most influential in leading to the rejection of the "sixth-grade-life-science-textbook" version of the scientific method: Alfred North Whitehead was a physicist and mathematician; Michael Polanyi was a world-class physical chemist; R.G. Collingwood was a professional archaeologist; Paul Feyerabend trained as a physicist; Thomas Kuhn earned his PhD in physics and then did serious work as an historian of science; Karl Popper had a PhD in psychology; Ludwig Wittgenstein had trained as an aeronautic engineer; and F.A. Hayek was an economist of some note. It was precisely those philosophers of science who were trained in (and often highly accomplished in) a scientific discipline themselves who did the most to debunk the "scientistic" worldview and the simple model of "the scientific method" that helped to support it. 

Pareto on the circulation of the elites

"Except during short intervals of time, people are always governed by an elite. I use the word elite (It. aristocrazia) in its etymological sense, meaning the strongest, the most energetic, and most capable--for good as well as evil. However, due to an important physiological law, elites do not last. Hence--the history of man is the history of the continuous replacement of certain elites: as one ascends, another declines...

"The new elite which six to supersede the old one, or merely to share its power and honors, does not admit to such an intention frankly and openly. Instead it assumes the leadership of all the oppressed, declares that it will pursue not its own good but the good of the many; and it goes to battle, not for the rights of restricted class, but for the rights of almost the entire citizenry. Of course, once victory is won, it subjugates the erstwhile allies..." -- The rise and fall of the elites, p. 36

Pareto's cycle theory

"there is a rhythm of sentiment which we can observe in ethics, in religion, and in politics as waves resembling the business cycle." -- The Rise and Fall of the Elites, p. 31

Auburn libertarians smeared by NY Times?

I read the article, and I don't see what the source of the supposed problem is.

Or rather, I think I do see: Rockwell and others have said some things in the past that they now regret having said. And they are mad that anyone brings these things up.

Can anyone who wishes to call this article a "hit job" point to any factual errors in it?

I Review Happy City

Here, for The University Bookman.

OK, *many* NBA players do play defense...

but some don't.

That must be the most pathetic faux defense I have ever seen. When Harden's man blows by him, the best effort he can muster is something like a little shoulder shrug!

Yes, Unconscious Racism Is a Real Thing

"In August 1635, Connecticut consisted of a tiny settlement in Wethersfield and a crude fort in Old Saybrook. This was probably a good thing. It limited the devastation when the Great Colonial Hurricane arrived."

So, that was it, huh? Those were the only people in Connecticut who might of been devastated by this hurricane? There weren't, perhaps, any non-European people around?

Nah, probably not.

Pareto on the Asset Market Cycle

"It is well known at the Stock Exchange the public at large buys only in a rising market and sells in a declining one. The financiers who, because of their greater practice in this business, use their reason to a greater extent, although they too sometimes allow themselves to be swayed by sentiment, do the opposite, and this is the main source of their gains." -- The Rise and Fall of Elites, p. 94

What Is This Rothbardian Fetish About Consistency?

On display, for instance, here.

Milton Friedman, for instance, knew that he was not "consistently anti-interventionist." That is because he thought being anti-interventionist in all cases was a bad thing. When he thought interventions were bad, he was against them, and when he thought interventions were good, he was for them.

Imagine boasting that you are "the only consistently anti-rest" ideology, or "the only consistently anti-medicine" ideology.

Being consistently against something is only going to be impressive to people who think that something is always bad. Since Rothbardians are trying to convert people who do not think intervention is always bad, boldly stating that they are uniformly against it only makes them appear fanatical.

A dangerous approach

Dosa Royale, a great new South Indian restaurant on Court Street, has chosen a dangerous course with their signage:

If it just said "Out of order," I could easily leave it alone. But "Please do not use"! It must do something. Perhaps something spectacular: Catch on fire? Shoot out sparks? Make a noise like a monkey being strangled?

I can barely stop myself from using it.

Decode this message

A grandmother is passing away from brain cancer. She can no longer speak, but she mysteriously begins filling index cards with sequences of letters, such as:


Gibberish? No, it turns out it is not.

With some crowd-sourcing, twenty years after the woman's death, the above has just been deciphered. Can you figure it out? Of course, if you Google it, you will get the answer immediately... I'm pretty sure there are no other sources of this string on the Internet!... but see if you can get it on your own.

Immigration: An Ancap Red Herring

The family has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The sports team has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The chess club has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The university has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The firm has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The ancap-defense agency has the right to choose to admit outsiders, or not.

The nation-state has the...


Ancap head explosion. Accusations of immorality, "exiling the poor," xenophobia, racism, etc. all spew forth. (Of course, some of those things could be the reason someone wants immigration controlled. But the same is true of any other organization: I may want to keep certain people out of my chess club because I hate Sri Lankans.)

Ancaps are fine with people being excluded from all sorts of organizations. Just not the nation-state. Why is that? Clearly, the issue cannot be exclusion. The actual issue is that ancaps do not think the nation-state is a legitimate institution.

So, never bother arguing with an anarcho-capitalist about immigration: they will actually be arguing about something else. Of course, if someone thinks the nation-state is illegitimate, then will also think its attempts to maintain its identity are illegitimate. But there really is no separate ancap immigration case.

The justification of civil authority

Is really rather straightforward. Unless something is done about them, a society will be plagued by coordination problems.

Therefore, something should be done about them.

In a hunter-gatherer society, what is done about them is tradition. There is a certain way that the ancestors have always done things, that way is preserved first and foremost by the elders of the tribe, and everyone should continue doing things that way. (So, for instance, if hunter-gatherers had roads and traffic problems, they would settle the question of which side of the street to drive on by asking which side of the street their ancestors had driven on.)

But as a society begins to innovate, for instance, by settling down and starting to farm, tradition loses some of its effectiveness in solving these problems: new problems are arising (who is allowed to plant in this field?) that tradition cannot hold the answer to, because they are new.

Therefore, new institutions evolve to solve coordination problems in more advanced societies. One such institution is, for instance, private property, and it is an excellent one at that. But far from being a universal solution to all coordination problems, private property depends upon the existence all civil authorities who can adjudicate just who owns just which piece of property.

The proposed network of ancap defense agencies will be faced with the task of solving just such coordination problems. If they are able to resolve them in most cases, they will be the civil authorities, i.e., "The State" (play scary sound track). If they are not able to resolve most such problems, they will fail, and be replaced by something that can resolve them.

The Great Libertarian Illusion, OR, Mike Huemer Spouts Nonsense

Huemer has apparently penned this twaddle:
What divides libertarians from everybody else is not a belief about rights or what rights people have, because the judgements libertarians make about the state are the same as the judgements almost everyone makes about private agents. So it's not that we believe in rights that other people don't believe in, or that other people believe in rights that we don't believe in. It's that other people think the state is exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-government agents.
Well, how was self-congratulatory of you, Professor Huemer! Only you and you friends have a coherent position! But consider:

* A parent is allowed to take his or her screaming and kicking child, forced them into a car, and strap them down in a car seat, and then drive away with them. "We are going on a family vacation, and I cannot leave my two-year-old behind to die at home in our absence."

But if a perfect stranger does this to a child, it is called kidnapping. Does this mean that people think parents are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-parent agents?

* A homeowner is allowed to paint, on the side of their house, "Gene Callahan is Lord of all that is good and beautiful."

But for some reason, when I go do this, I get arrested for vandalism. Does this mean that people think homeowners are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-home-owning agents?

* A school teacher is allowed to change a student's grade.

But when I break into the school's computer system to change my kid's grade, I am accused of breaking-and-entering. Does this mean that people think teachers are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-teaching agents?

* An NBA referee may eject a player from a game.

But when I try to usher a player off the court, I am kicked out of the arena. Does that mean people think referees are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-referee agents?

And it is really silly for the libertarian to try to invoke "consent" here to save this ridiculous position: "But, I never consented to the government's authority!"

The kidnapper never consented to give the parents special privileges vis-a-vis their child.

I never consented to give the homeowner special privileges vis-a-vis their home.

I never consented to the situation that only NBA referees can eject players from games.

And so on.

There is one morality that applies to everyone. But it may apply differently depending on the social role of a person. A parent or guardian may compel their child to come with them. A stranger may not.

A property owner may re-decorate his property. A non-owner may not.

A referee may control players in an NBA game. A fan may not.

And we "statists" think that properly constituted civil authorities may, for instance, compel those under their jurisdiction to contribute to projects forwarding the common good. These authorities, as we understand things, exist to solve collective action problems, and the way they solve them is by forbidding defection and free-riding. In doing so, they are not "stealing," they are fulfilling their proper function as civil authorities. (And, as a flawed human institution, of course they can and will go beyond this proper role, and attempt to line their own pockets or favor their friends, etc.)

Of course, we "statists" may be wrong about this: perhaps all of these problems can be solved without civil authorities, and their role is unnecessary. (And note: this is not actually the position of ancaps. What ancaps suggest is that they see a better form of civil authority: a network of ancap defense agencies, based exclusively on property rights. And maybe it would be better, but it is an alternate form of civil authority, and not a rejection of the concept.) Good God, libertarians, can't you cut out the moral preening, and recognize that this is the real issue at stake?!

Ras Ford

I and I tink him talk pure fuckery:

Leopold Bloom ate with relish...

the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards,

Copyright 1922 James Joyce
Random House publication date 1933

a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.


Annoying, huh? Well, television producers, imagine how I feel when you start the action, then announce the directors name, then run a little more action, then put up the screenwriters name, then a little more action, etc.

Yes, this bookkeeping sort of business must be done, but get it all out of the way at once: don't intersperse it with the work of art!

Manent on Polybius

"Sketched in rather broad strokes, the mechanism goes roughly as follows: the simple good regime degenerates into its vicious form, because the new generations, the king's children, for example, take their advantages for granted and give into their appetites, and thus they provoke the revolt that brings about the new simple regime that will in its turn undergo the same alteration and the same fate." -- Metamorphoses of the City, p. 180


Does anyone know where to find the ethnic composition of Democratic and Republican voters in the 1932 and/or 1936 elections?

Image of the day

A Kayapo tribe member from the Amazon shops in a town near his village to supplement his hunting and gathering. Article here.

Russ Roberts Knotes Krugman Kontradiction?

No, I don't buy it. Roberts quotes Krugman as saying:
People respond to incentives. If unemployment becomes more attractive because of the unemployment benefit, some unemployed workers may no longer try to find a job, or may not try to find one as quickly as they would without the benefit. Ways to get around this problem are to provide unemployment benefits only for a limited time or to require recipients to prove they are actively looking for a new job.
This is supposed to contradict his statement that "enhanced UI actually creates jobs when the economy is depressed."

Well, sorry, no it doesn't. In the first paragraph he says that extended unemployment benefits may reduce the incentive to look for a job. In the second statement he says that in the special case of a depression, the increase in aggregate demand can more than outweigh any disincentive effects for jobseekers.

Krugman may be wrong on the latter point. But it does not contradict the first point, and, in fact, it is rather obvious that it does not contradict the first point. In the first quote he is talking about incentives for individual jobseekers, and in the second he's talking about an aggregate demand effect. Is not at all noteworthy that in a textbook he would simply present the general case, and leave discussion of the more advanced special case for more advanced classes.

Again, he may be wrong, but how in the world can Roberts think there is a contradiction here? I can understand someone liking Roberts as a fellow partisan. But how do you respect him as an economist when he sees contradictions where there are none? (Here I kid, but hey Prof. Roberts, turnaround is fair play, right?*)

* You will note I am just parodying Roberts' here.

And the parting on the left is now the parting on the right

I appreciate Marx and Engels more and more over time (although I assure you I am not on the verge of becoming a Marxist!): while they weren't happy with the then current social system, they were scathing about utopians who had not even bothered to understand classical economics and yet were proposing fairy-tale fixes for what ailed the world.

I would like to resurrect Engels in particular to unleash his sarcasm on Matthew Hutson of Slate, who seems to think market prices should be arrived at by measuring some objective fact about two things offered on the market, and then making sure their price ratio reflects that measured ratio:

"But a quick look at the data shows the limitations of raw smarts and stick-to-itiveness as an explanation for inequality. The income distribution in the United States provides a good example. In 2012 the top 0.01 percent of households earned an average of $10.25 million, while the mean household income for the country overall was $51,000. Are top earners 200 times as smart as the rest of the field? Doubtful. Do they have the capacity to work 200 times more hours in the week? Even more doubtful."

Oy! If you are .00001% smarter than me, but that additional .00001% allows you to improve a production process in a way that saves millions of dollars, you very well may be worth 200 times more on the market than me. Michael Jordan's shooting was not "200 times" as good as mine, but I was worth nothing to a professional basketball team, while Jordan was worth millions.

Even in the "imaginary construction of the pure market economy," even if we add to it the imaginary construction of the "evenly rotating economy," factors of production are not paid based on how many "times" more of something they have than some other factor: they are paid according to their marginal value product. On the margin, someone a wee bit smarter than me might be worth a heck of a lot more than me.

Certainly, we are in a less-than-ideal world: the point is, even a "perfect" market would not function anything like Hutson thinks it should. Can't someone get Krugman or DeLong to write Slate and tell them to get economic columnists who know something about economics?

Caplan on immigration

Bryan Caplan, taking his usual absolutist position on immigration, writes, "Third World exile is not a morally permissible response."

Let us set aside the fact that referring to someone who is simply staying put where they are as being "exiled" is rather bizarre. Besides that, what Caplan has done, in common with all ideologues, is to take a one-sided and partial truth, and treat it as if it is an absolute and unconditional truth. Of course it is a good thing to help people out of Third World poverty.

Here is the crucial question: does Caplan think the United States can absorb the entire population of the world tomorrow, with no severe harm done to US political, economic or environmental conditions? If he does, he is mad, and there is no sense further conversing with him.

But if he does not, and will not acquiesce in the destruction of American culture and the American economy, then he is in favor of some restriction on immigration. He just believes the limit is far above the present limit.

I Think Coors Has a Distribution Chain Problem

I don't think this is very efficient, do you?

Nikita dialogue

WOMAN: Why should I believe you?

NIKITA: Because I've been through it.

Does this really advance the conversation at all? Shouldn't WOMAN's next question be, "Why should I believe you've been through it?"

Stupidest urban legend ever?

I heard this one when I was in kindergarten, from other kids in my class: dragonflies could sow your fingers together.

So, there were supposed to be people who would just sit there while a 2-inch-long insect sowed their fingers together?

They won't even judge your spelling!

I go to the planet fitness in Port Jervis. There I noticed, on every weight machine and a number of walls, there is a corporate logo and a slogan reading:

"Planet Fitness: The judgement free zone."

Can you imagine? Across the country, they must've printed this on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, and no one bothered to check the spelling of the word "judgment"?!

Sick like a dog

What an odd exression! Are dogs somehow particularly sick?

Capitalism and big government

"History shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the growth of capitalism and the growth of government go hand in hand. Capitalism and big government are not, as in the popular imagination and the economic treatises, things opposed; rather, the one grows on the back of the other, and the more you get of one, the more you will need of the other.” -- John Médaille

Polybius's political cycle

"Now the first of these [political forms] to come into being is monarchy, it's growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series. The truth of what I have just said will be quite clear to anyone who pays due attention to such beginnings, origins, and changes as are in each case natural. For he alone who has seen how each form naturally arises and develops, will be able to see when, how, and where the growth, perfection, change, and end of each are likely to occur again. And it is to the Roman constitution above all that this method, I think, may be successfully applied, since from the outset its formation and growth have been due to natural causes." -- Histories, Book VI

What is up with orzo?

If you are pasta, why are you disguising yourself as rice? This seems a little fishy to me.

Rebecca Schuman: Most Gullible Journalist Ever?

"For although Adler told me that during the controversy she received upward of 400 supportive emails per day—all of which she answered..."

Has Rebecca ever considered simply checking the number of minutes in a day? It is 1440. So let's say it takes two minutes to read each email, and one minute to respond. That is 1200. So, supposedly, Adler was sleeping four hours per day, and handling email the other 20.

I see.

How Does Jimmy Fallon Manage to Sound...

more like Bruce Springsteen than Bruce Sprinsteen does?

What Have the Roman Ever Done for Us?

Theinterventionistparadox, in the comment section of this post, assures me that "Murphy and Powell" can explain (away) the fact that stateless German barbarians were struggling to get into a state. Well, for sure it can be explained:

I'm not getting senile...

just more knowledgable every day.

Does every basketball fan who does not watch the NBA...

Repeat the same two reasons why? It certainly seems so, since everyone who explains to me why they don't watch the NBA says:

"I watch college basketball, but I don't watch the pros because:
"1) They don't play defense; and
"2) Only the last couple of minutes of a game are exciting."

As for number one, it is true that with an 82-game schedule, the players have to pick the spots in which to go all out. When you are a 19-year-old college player, you can impress your coach by futilely racing down the court after a player going in for a breakaway layup. But in the pros, you know the guy is going to make it, and you need to save your legs. But do the pros not play defense? Absurd.

Or, in most games the charge is absurd. When is it accurate? During the All-Star game. And then you get scores such as 152 to 149, or 154 to 149.

Meanwhile, the scores of NBA games last night were 98-96, 116-94, 104-92, 102-88, 101-95, 107-88, and 118-103. Not a single team came within 30 points of the number put up by the loser in those two All-Star games. I only had to scan back to last Friday to find a game in which an NBA team scored only 66 points, about 44% of the points scored by those two losers.

What could cause these skilled professional players to score so few points? Hmm, I wonder... Could it be other skilled professional players defending them?

As for number two, the person in question has just told me that they don't watch NBA games. So how the hell would they know if only the last two minutes are exciting?

Fighting to join a state

Here is something to wrap your head around: German barbarians beyond the edge of the Roman Empire, who were living in what were essentially stateless societies, used stealth, pleading, and even warfare in their efforts to try to move across the border and settle inside the Empire.

Now, if the benefits of living under a state where that clear to illiterate barbarians in 200 A.D., why are there very smart people in 2014 who can't see them?

Well, as I was once one of them, I can answer that: ideology. It takes a whole lot of training in an ideological mode of looking before you can render yourself unable to see what those ancient barbarians saw clearly.

Kelly Thomas

I was not aware of this case until today, when it flooded my Facebook feed.

At first glance, it looks to me like a bad verdict. But that is without much study.

One thing that is interesting, though: "The State" tried to prosecute here. It was your fellow citizens who let these cops off.

Burke on Authority and Rebellion

Analyzed here:

"[Burke] believed [that] the fact that a government has provided for their needs—insofar as a government can do that—to the reasonable satisfaction of its subjects over a long period of time is a far better proof of their consent and a more solid title to authority over them than the express consent of individuals told by the head would be. A government endowed with such a 'prescriptive' title, according to Burke, is a legitimate government. It may lawfully he overthrown only if it commits those grave and continued abuses that have traditionally been considered to justify revolution. For the duty to obey constituted governments is an obligation under natural law that springs from men’s nature as social and political beings, and not from the sovereign wills of naturally, isolated individuals."

Do workers get paid (something near) their marginal value product?

In the comments section of my previous post on this topic, Theinterventionistparadox asks if the competitive market process won't create at least a tendency for workers getting paid their MVP to be true. Well, understood in one way, it clearly will. But let us take a look at the sense in which that proposition is true.

In our locale, gravity creates a tendency for anything with mass to move towards the center of the earth. But other factors create other tendencies. Consider a balloon which we slowly fill with helium. At first, if the balloon is, say, sitting on a table, it will remain there. But gradually it will begin to levitate. Finally, it will float upwards until it reaches the ceiling. And if we take it outside, it will float away. The tendency for a gas lighter than the atmospheric average to rise will have overwhelmed the tendency of massive objects to fall towards the center of the earth.

And so it is with the tendency of the market process to drive wages towards the worker's MVP: other factors are at play. In particular, all the data upon which the firm's initial wage offer was based are continually changing. The demand for its products is shifting, its competitors plans have changed, the cost of other inputs has altered, and the worker himself is a different man today that he was yesterday.

So if the question is, "Will we see a tendency towards wages approaching the workers' MVPs?" then the answer has to be, "Is the market process pulling wages towards the 'ground' of equilibrium faster than changes in these other factors are tending to make them drift off into the clouds?"

I see no reason to suspect that the answer is generally "yes."

No, No Native Dialect Is "Bad English"


"The modern study of language has shown that all native speakers are experts in their language. Almost all judgments about someone's language – the laziness of a glottal stop, the slowness of rural speech, the supposed ugliness of a particular urban accent – have no linguistic justification and reflect only the prejudice of the judger."

This is a nearly incontrovertible finding of modern linguistics: no speaker is "grammatically challenged" at speaking their native language. Their grammar may be different than yours, but there is no objective criterion by which it can be judged worse.

Two Kinds of Claims in the World

1) The first kind of claim needs to be rigorously backed by extensive empirical research and hard numbers, and any perceived insufficiency in this area should lead to its immediate dismissal. As a shorthand, we can refer to claims of this kind as "Your claims."

2) The second kind of claim is largely self-evident, and any reasonable person will accept it without troubling the claimant for tedious and pointless proof of the obvious. A good label for these sorts of claim is "My claims."

Well, I've Never Actually Stepped into the Private Sector, No...

But I can tell you exactly how it works!

It is always amazing to me to hear people who have never worked in the private sector (except perhaps part-time in high school, or something of the sort) declare with certainty things like "Each input supplier tends to receive a payment equal to the value of what his input contributes to the value of the final product."

I recall hiring programming consultants, and thinking, "Okay, I will start at $30 per hour to hire this guy services, but I can go as high as $60." Often, I would get the person at the low end of the range. And, of course, the top end of the range was pretty much sheer guesswork: I had no real idea if the person's marginal value product was equivalent to $60 per hour.

The liberal attack on religion

"The overtaking by history of the antireligious attitude of liberal­ism is so well known that a brief indication will be sufficient. The liberal attack was directed against dogmatism and the authority of revelation. If only these influences on thinking and public life could be removed, then the free human being would order society rationally with his autonomous reason.

"However, if in practice Christianity is successfully driven out of men, they become not rational liberals but ideologues. The undesirable spiritual order is replaced not by liberalism but rather by one or the other of the emotionally as-intensive ideologies." -- Eric Voegelin, Collected Works

Why liberalism cannot rest

"Therefore it is no accident that the Communist revolutionary took up again the liberal’s revolution permanente. For in liberalism also there is the irrational element of an eschatological final state, of a society that will produce through its rational methods, without violent disturbances, a condition of everlasting peace.

"Liberalism too is a part of the revolutionary movement that lives to the extent that it moves. From Charles Comte to Trotsky there runs a line of growing insight that the reform movement, to which liberalism also belongs, is a unique state of affairs insofar as its final goal cannot be actualized." -- Eric Voegelin, Collected Works

How Do These Knuckles Taste, Son?

I was out for lunch with my wife when a five-year-old boy knocked on the window of the restaurant and waved to me. Hannah's mom then came into the restaurant to eat. Since he had "initiated contact," I thought I would chat with him a bit.

I had mentioned his curly hair, so he told me, "My hair is getting long. I have to cut it."

"Don't you think my hair is getting long, too?" I asked.

"Your hair's not getting long: it's getting gone!"

There are times when hitting a five-year-old isn't just not wrong, it is positively required, don't you agree?

Just give me that old-time eggnog

I find two things puzzling here:

1) Do any of you happen to know the exact year in which one of your three-generation-old family recipes was formulated? Great-grandma Leonard must have kept quite a diary.

2) Great-grandma Leonard also had a very well-stocked kitchen, especially in terms of industrial food ingredients, for her recipe includes guar gum, monoglycerides, diglycerides, cargeenan, dipotassium phosphate, and sodium citrate.

You see! There are changes to the brain!

There is a very odd way of "dismissing" experiences that points to neurological evidence, and says, "See, it is really just a change in brain state!"

We see this in "scientific" accounts that attempt to explain away, say, love: "We have detected that people in love are really just experiencing altered neurological states!"

But how about the neurologist who made this finding? Wouldn't we detect that his brain state had altered upon seeing this evidence? So why aren't his findings dismissed in the exact same way? "He thought he had just performed an important experiment, but really he was just experiencing an altered brain state." Oh, you respond, others can duplicate his experiment? Well, altered brain states for them, too.

I ran across an amusing example of this recently, where the author states:
It is now believed that instead of the brain becoming more inactive during the final moments of life, brain activity actually surges, causing a hyper-aware mental state. This heightened state of consciousness can cause unexpected things to happen, whether that be "life flashing before your eyes" or a "light at the end of a tunnel"...
Somehow, this is supposed to dismiss the idea that these experiences mean anything.

But there are two big problems with that contention:

1) On a purely materialistic basis, it is very hard to explain why the heck an organism just about to die should have a "hyper-aware mental state": what purpose could that possibly serve, in Darwinian terms? You might quickly spot a mate in the last minutes of your life, and reproduce?! But your willie stopped working a decade ago, and anyway, you can no longer move!

2) On the other hand, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the "spiritual" accounts of what is happening here are at least in the right ballpark: the "gates of heaven" or the "great white light of the void" is suddenly being revealed to someone still (barely) alive. Well, mighn't that kind of thing produce a wee "surge" in brain activity?

I don't contend that the above two considerations prove anything about this phenomenon. But they certainly show the silliness of the usual scientistic interpretation of them.

Cross-cultural surveys

I've noted this before, but, when faced with results like this, my first question is always: how the heck do we know people in different countries are even interpreting the questions in remotely the same way? For instance, how much smiling is "a lot"? Isn't that evaluation going to vary wildly between cultures?

But, at least if we have a number for it, we can feed it into other studies, and then average it! And, as I've noted, if we have five numbers, and we don't know what they mean, if we take their average, now we only have one number whose meaning is unknown. And that is surely a big improvement!

Whitehead on the nature of cycles

"In the Way of Rhythm a round of experiences, forming a determinate sequence of contrasts attainable within a definite method, are codified so that the end of one such cycle is the proper antecedent stage for the beginning of another such cycle. The cycle is such that its own completion provides the conditions for its own mere repetition." -- The Function of Reason, p. 21

Moral disputes...

Are witness to the objective nature of morality:

"The discordance over moral codes witnesses to the fact of moral experience. You cannot quarrel about unknown elements. The basis of every discord is some common experience, discordantly realized." -- Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason, p. 86

This is very reminiscent of Wittgenstein's point that we can only disagree on a matter upon which we largely agree. For instance, one of the readers of this blog can refer to me as a "retard" on property rights only because we largely agree as to what property rights are. If I thought property rights were flying purple snakes that lived in my dreams, we would simply be talking about completely different things, and not disagreeing about the same thing.

Why can't the NFL...

The Persistence of Cultural Patterns

Rod Dreher, writing about the persistence of the cultural patterns stamped on our country by the region of Britain from which various regions of North America were settled, led me to recall a story from a couple of decades ago.

I was at a party in Milford, CT. Almost everyone at the party was Jamaican. I was standing in the living room, and looked over at a black guy, the only other person standing in the room. He laughed and said, "You're a Yankee too, huh?"

"How do you know?" I asked.

"We don't sit down at parties."

So, yes, the descendant of 19th-century Irish immigrants and the descendant of 19th-century Southern slaves had both, after a few generations, become "Yankees."

Yes, the recent cold snap was yet more evidence for global warming

Of course, it is ridiculous, as someone like Rush Limbaugh often does, to point to a couple of cold days and ask "What about global warming, hey?"

But since we have been keeping weather records, the United States has, on average, had a cold spell like the recent one every four years. Until recently: we have had only three in the last 24 years, and this was the first one in the last 17.

That is a lot longer between cold spells, folks.

That will make for an interesting schoolday

The announcer on CBS news radio just said that parents in Bergen County are upset by one school district's plan to implement a "random drug program."

Can you imagine? "Well, son, you drew the DMT today: good luck, and remember you're a living organism on this planet, and you're safe."

Dear US government

I pledge to stop being so paranoid about your activities, on the conditions that:

1) You reduce the number of microscopic drones following me everywhere;
2) You stop trying to pin that whole Bobby Kennedy thing on me; and
3) You keep your trans-dimensional quantum agents out of my dreams.


Paleo Say "Oops!"

It turns out human have been eating flour for at least 30,000 years.

I once pointed out that it is rather obvious humans at grains before agriculture: does any think we started growing them just in case they turned out to be edible?!

Evolve this, buddy!

Noah Millman, who typically seems to be an intelligent fellow, forwards two surprisingly fatuous contentions in this post.

1) "we can’t rely naively on an Aristotelean teleology which we now know has no empirical basis"

Ah, someone must've had their final-cause-detection meter set on high, and still have failed to find any teleology!

Because what else can Millman mean here? Four hundred years ago, the founders of modern science made a methodological choice: they would only look for efficient causes, and they would only consider efficient causation in their explanations. Final causation was excluded not because of any evidence that it does not exist, but because explanations in terms of final causes were thought to be unenlightening.

That an enterprise which has deliberately excluded teleology from its explanations does not reveal to us any final causes is hardly surprising.

2) Millman next suggests that the hole created in Aristotelian ethics by removing teleology (which, on its face, would seem to be about the equivalent to the hole created in the United Kingdom by removing England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) can be patched with the theory of evolution.

This is absurd. The theory of evolution might help to explain why we act the way we do. But morality is about what we ought to do, not what we happen to actually do. Consider this: for the Romans, it was absolutely standard practice, after defeating an opponent in war, to grab all of the women of their foe and turn them into sex slaves. Quite obviously, there are a lot more people in the world with Roman genes because of this practice than there would've been otherwise. Or contemplate Genghis Khan*: I have read that something like a quarter of the population of Central Asia carries his genes.

Clearly, forcing women into sex with one "pays off" in evolutionary terms. And if we stick to a purely Darwinian perspective, there is nothing more to be said.

In fact, a major role morality has played in history has been to get people to stop doing things that they evolved to do, even if those things offered an evolutionary advantage.

Thinking in terms of evolution can provide interesting insights into why we do the things we do. But quite obviously, it has nothing to say whatsoever about what we ought to do.

* Siri does not seem to use context at all in deciding what has been said: when I dictated "Genghis Khan," Siri rendered it as "Genghis con"!

An invitation from Schelling

"I take this opportunity to recommend to everyone as a splendid exercise... come to Germany in order to see the beginning of the Thirty Years War" -- On the History of Modern Philosophy

I think I will take him up on it; anyone else want to come along?

The crisis of Western civilization

Having just spent a day with a good friend from Europe, the historical material I have been reading came home to me in a very personal way: Europeans today do not know who they are. To be German, Dutch, French, Spanish, and so on is an embarrassment: adherence to those identities resulted in two horrific world wars. The EU has been an attempt to substitute "European" for those national identities. But that attempt founders on the presence of so many Arabs, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, and other non-Europeans in European polities. To declare a unique European identity would be to exclude vast numbers of people from civil society.

So what is left? My perception is that, for most Europeans, it is being "liberal." The problem here is that liberalism is not an identity: instead, it is a way of balancing the claims of competing identities. As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, in liberalism, "there is no there there."

Two important notes about this post:

1) Americans should not take comfort in the above observations: we are merely trailing Europe by a few decades in fully feeling this crisis of identity.

2) European "nativist" movements are not a solution to this problem: instead, they are a symptom of the problem. If I am secure about my identity, the presence of others with a different identity might be a matter of curiosity or indifference for me, but the need to attack others with a different identity is a sure sign of insecurity about my own identity.

Why I was an anarchist; why I am no longer an anarchist

Why I was an anarchist: Because I envisioned a beautiful, just society, in which the use of force was absolutely minimized.

Why I am no longer an anarchist: Because I realized that, in The City of Man, there is no possible avenue open for realizing that beautiful fantasy.

So, anarchists, it is no use telling me how lovely things are in your vision. That was my vision, too, and things looked just as lovely to me there as they do to you. And, in fact, those things still look just as lovely to me now as they did then. But now I see that I was looking at The City of God, which is, indeed, lovely, but that I was fantasizing that what I saw there could possibly be imposed upon The City of Man.

Immigration and the fall of the Western Roman Empire

Many people learned that the fall of the Western Roman Empire came about due to invading barbarians. There is an element of truth in this, but it would be closer to reality to say that these were immigrating barbarians.

For these groups were not setting out to conquer the Roman empire. For the most part what they wanted was to become a part of the Roman empire: to settle in it and to reap the advantages of its law and order and economic prosperity.* Alaric, who famously sacked Rome in 410 A.D., had held high positions in the Roman military, and was not invading so much as protesting maltreatment.

If Rome had adopted open borders, would this have fixed the problem? It seems doubtful: my tentative judgment is that the Western Empire simply would've been overwhelmed earlier: while the Romans were great assimilators, it took several generations for the process to work. If too many people came in too fast, Roman institutions would be overwhelmed before assimilation took place, as eventually transpired.

* One can tell a pre-Roman town in Gaul from a Roman-era town by looking at how and where it was built: The pre-Roman towns (oppidum) would be built on the top of hills, and would be heavily fortified. Once Gaul became a part of the Empire, the hill-towns were abandoned, and unfortified settlements taken up in the valleys. Consider the cost, prior to mechanized transport, of having one's town on the top of a hill: The rich farmland and river transportation were down in the valley. An enormous amount of time must have been spent going down from where it was safe to live to where the economic action was, and then back up again. The benefits of being inside the Empire would have been tremendous.

The "science" of nature documentaries

I'm watching David Attenborough describe how birds fly. He claims that by creating high pressure under their wings they get pushed upward (fair enough) but also that the low pressure over their wings "suctions" them upward.

The idea that low pressure exerts any force on things in its vicinity was disproven over 300 years ago. High pressure pushes things. Low pressure does nothing.

Nice job setting physics back 350 years, David.

Augustine on Property Rights

"The biblical account of Cain and Abel is surely of great interest for us. Cain represents the ambivalence of human civilization. He is the first to ascend to a cultivated the soil, the first who is said to have become the builder of a city. He was, in short, what we would call a benefactor of humanity and to that extent the first man susceptible of being praised by men. It is he who, properly speaking, begins human history, at least the history of civilization. It is he who puts to best use, in any case to the most active use, the resources he had in hand upon leaving the garden of Eden. At the same time, of course, he represents the violence and murder that come with human civilization.

"As for Abel, he was not concerned either to plant or to build. He was a shepherd who pastured small livestock. Where is Cain, farmer and builder, sought to dwell on the earth and settle it, Abel was, Augustine says... like a stranger -- a stranger to the earth, or on the earth.

"So Cain killed his brother Abel... Augustine explains things roughly in the following way. The character of the good, it's natural tendency so to speak, is to be shared. It becomes greater, it becomes better, by being shared. The goodness of Abel would not have been diminished if his brother had rejoiced and shared in the divine favor of Abel... The logic of the good, one could say, is as follows: the more it is shared, the more it is possessed. It is the contrary of the logic of appropriation, even though what we desire to appropriate are of course the same good things. Concerning the truly good things, 'anyone who refuses to enjoy this position in partnership will not enjoy it at all.'" -- Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, pp. 277-278

Of course, Augustine is not a Marxist: while private property is a symptom of our fallen state, one cannot cure the disease by getting rid of the symptom. While the desire to appropriate is sinful, in fact, in the City of Man, the best way to handle that desire is to define clear property rights. Otherwise, the desire will lead to violence. But private property is a "non-natural, remedial institution." Natural property rights grant the entire earth to the righteous, not to "first appropriators" or "the most productive." In the City of Man, instead, property rights are allocated by "the King" (the civil authorities). In general, secure private property rights are justified by the fact that they help secure civil order. But when they do not, it is clearly within the domain of the civil authorities to modify those rights: for instance, should a capitalist elite have arisen that has garnered a huge share of a polity's property through manipulating the legal system, it can be quite just to redistribute goods from them to the poor. Such a maneuver is certainly not "theft," per Augustine, since the ownership of all those goods on the part of the rich was, in the first place, simply a "remdial" step taken by the civil authorities to reduce conflict over goods in our post-lapsarian world.

Imma have to raise my writing to the quantum level

I just saw an ad for Verizon FIOS, which claimed that getting their service would "Raise your game to the quantum level."

That level of... really, really tiny things?

St. Augustine's model of original sin

The doctrine of original sin is obviously one of the more difficult aspects of Christianity for many people: how could it possibly be just to punish someone born today for a sin committed thousands of years ago?

Augustine's attempt to explain this is interesting, if I grasp it correctly. (Of course, it may be interesting even if I don't grasp it correctly, but then it would be interesting in a different way.)

If I have him right, Augustine views original sin as essentially "cracking the mold" from which human beings are created. Once this mold has this crack in it, naturally every human being produced by using the mold will contain the same crack.

Of course, this leaves open the question of why God doesn't simply patch up the crack. Nevertheless, this is a bold attempt on Augustine's part to address the question of justice here. And perhaps as I get deeper into his ideas, I will find that he does indeed address my question.

The Greek Discovery of the Soul

"The inflection or rupture between paganism and Christianity is... not in the rigorous distinction between the body and the soul -- the already ancient achievement of Greek philosophy..." -- Pierre Manent, The Metamorphoses of the City, p. 240

This historical fact, although it certainly is not a refutation of materialism, is somewhat of an embarrassment for the usual materialist etiology of ideas. The very idea of a "soul," per that materialist narrative, is some fanciful religious notion cooked up by primitive people to comfort themselves in the face of death. Once people begin to think "rationally," the obvious nonsensicalness of this concept becomes apparent.

Except, historically speaking, at least in the West*, that was not how things went at all: from Persia westward to Britain, there was no indigenous religion with the idea of a soul as something sharply distinguished from the body.** Instead, this idea was developed by a lineage of thinkers who put rational thought above their indigenous tradition, and sought to follow it where it lead them. One of the most famous of them, in fact, was executed for his "impiety."

It was only after the concept of the soul was developed by "irreligious," reason-worshipping Greek philosophers that it later was incorporated into Christianity, Islam, and post-Hellenistic Judaism.

Actually understanding the history of the idea of the soul certainly does not prove that those Greek philosophers were right! But it does utterly discredit the idea that this concept is some ancient, atavistic notion that is completely opposed to "reason."

* It would be a fascinating and worthwhile study to compare in detail the western development of the idea of the soul and the Indian evolution of an idea like "Atman," also created primarily by philosophers, as I understand it: but this blog post is not the place to write such a study!

** Someone might contend that Egypt was an exception here, but if that person can sort out how the categories of ib, sheut, ren, ba, ka, and akh relate to Greek philosophy, s/he is a better historian of ideas than me!

The individual as an historical creation

"Modern republicanism makes a vigorous distinction between private or 'selfish' motives and public or 'selfless' motives of action, that is, between the motives of the individual and those of the citizen, and of course accords priority to the latter. Ancient republicanism largely ignores this distinction. If we believe the Latin historians in particular, we see that the motives we would call 'private' invade the space we call 'public.' There is a very compelling reason for this: the domain of the individual and the private has not yet been identified as a separate domain. All the human motives are at work in the city because the city is the sole locus of action -- there is no 'civil society' where individuals would 'assert their independence as they please...'" -- Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, p. 252

St. Augustine's (apparent) criterion for when rebellion is acceptable

"what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts?" (Quoted in Manent, p. 257)

This would seem to offer us a criterion for when rebelling against a government is acceptable: is the government forcing you into service as a prostitute, asking you to round up a minority group for execution, or forcing you to take part in cattle raids on the neighbors in the next country? Then one may rebel. Is your complaint that the government won't let you chew khat, or won't allow publication of your political tract, or asks everyone to wear blue clothing on Tuesdays? Well then, no one may not rebel.

Note: I am not here interested in debating whether Augustine's criterion is a good one. All I am saying here is, "This seems to be what Augustine thought." I am interested in studying the history of notions of proper authority and just rebellion: maybe once my study is done I will have something to say on the matter myself. So please don't write comments trying to debate this idea, because I won't post them.

Understanding Julius Caesar

There is a common view of Cesar as a tyrant, and those who opposed him, such as Cato, Cicero, and Brutus, as republican heroes.

One thing is often overlooked in such a viewpoint: Cato, Cicero, and Brutus wanted "liberty" for the senatorial elite. This liberty included the ability of the elite to dispossess the small farmer and exploit the provinces for personal gain. Caesar was a member of that elite, but had broken with them by making direct appeals to "the people."

The fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the empire was a bad deal for the senatorial families. The average resident of the empire was better off after the change, however.

Nevertheless, we don't see anyone starting the "Caesar Institute."

Apocryphal, Probably...

but I like it anyway:

'Bertrand Russell claimed that he once received a letter from someone who wrote: “Personally, I’m a solipsist, and I can’t understand why there aren’t more of us”!'

Post-religious, post-civic humanity: the consumer and the factor of production

"the division remains, but each of the souls two commitments being hampered in its manifestation and soon drained of its vitality, is hardly recognizable and observers can think that the division introduced by religion belongs to the past. Is important to note that the modern State represses almost equally the two divergent movements of the soul: not only does it severely circumscribe the public expression of religious convictions and affects -- religion is henceforth essentially a private thing -- but it makes in his organized to make the 'ancient freedom,' that is, the direct expression of civic commitments, impossible: citizens can act only through their representatives. The modern state bus rests on the repression, in any case the frustration, of the two most powerful human affects: on the one hand the passionate interest in this world is expressed in active participation in the common thing, and on the other the passionate interest in eternal and infinite as expressed in the postulation of another world and participation in a community of faith." -- Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, p. 217

The two things that have made human life most worth living throughout most of our history have been participation in the civic and spiritual life of one's community. A community where these things are absent is a mutilated community, and its members mutilated human beings. The social functions remaining to the human being are those of the consumer and the factor of production: he is an input/output pipe in a flow of material goods and money.

This explains why despite the "evidence" that everything is getting better, there is a widespread sense of malaise, and why this idea of continual improvement is being sold so hard: we need to keep a population of people alienated from themselves, their communities, their government, and the realm of the spirit working hard to produce "growth": thus, we tell them "Ignore those gaping holes in your soul, because, look, you can buy an 85-inch plasma-screen TV, infant mortality rates are dropping, and you now have a life expectancy of 80 empty, purposeless years to look forward to."

Holiday murder tragedy

The lifeless corpse of frosty was discovered early on the morning of January 2 along Clinton Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn.

Although police are claiming that they do not have any definite suspects for the crime, rumors have been circulating that police are seeking for questioning someone resembling the following police sketch:

There must be fifty ways to dump your stew out...

but I haven't found a single one with which I am fully satisfied.

Throw it in the garbage can? No, because if there is even a small tear in your garbage bag, you will have a mess on your hands.

Dump it in the sink? Then you're going to have chunks of meat and vegetables to cleanup from your sink.

I am about to dump mine into a strainer sitting in the sink. This works okay, except afterwards I will have a pot and a strainer to clean, not just a pot.

Manent on Machiavellai and Motion

"Machiavelli's boldness is such that he endeavors by every means to make motion itself appears the norm, in any case is what should be taken into account above all else. The very radical character of this thinking will prevent his being taken seriously as a philosopher: where are his 'ideas'?...

"One cannot help noticing a connection between this transformation [of focusing on motion in politics] and the one that took place a century later in physics, which abandoned the notions of final cause and proper place, and took as its task the discovery of the laws of motion... It must be knowledged them that it was a political author -- Machiavelli -- who was the first place at the center of attention a motion does not tend toward any rest, a pure motion." -- Metamorphoses of the City, p. 206

How can the order in which votes are counted matter?

I have encountered several scholars saying things like "since in Rome voting takes place beginning with the wealthiest classes and centuries, a voting majority of the people to achieve before the hunger citizens are consulted." Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, p. 198

How can this possibly matter? If one needs, say, five centuries out of nine to carry the day, how can the order of the vote matter, assuming one century's vote is not influenced by seeing the existing results? Sure, if in a vote where there are five yes's and four no's, if all four no's go first, no will have a four to nothing edge. Then the next five votes will be yes. How does voting order make a difference?

Perhaps I have missed some detail of Roman holding, however, since Manent is far from the only one who I've seen make this contention.