Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We rise and fall

“It is only in recent times that human beings have come to see themselves as potentially godlike. Ancient thinkers were more intelligent as well as more honest. They knew that human action can change the world, sometimes for the good. They also knew that civilizations rise and fall; what has been gained will be lost, then regained and then lost again in a cycle as natural as the seasons.” --John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 161

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Measuring Programmer Productivity

Software "metrics" have been a hot topic for decades, chiefly, I think, because it has frustrated managers who were used to managing assembly line workers or salesmen, whose output they could easily gauge, and for whom it was easy to tell if they were working or not, to have to manage programmers. With the latter, "working" very well could consist in staring dreamily off into space for an hour, and it was very hard to guess if the pieces being assembled would ever compose a working product. (As the old joke goes, all software projects rapidly reach 95% completion, and then stay that way forever.)

But the worst proposed way to measure productivity of which I am aware is by lines of code. Reaching for a comparably poor way to measure productivity, I come up with measuring a basketball players productivity by how long they spend holding the ball. Or perhaps even better, measuring a golfer's productivity... by the number of shots they take in a round.

I found a bug in a program last night. I wasn't sure what was causing it, so I went to bed. I woke up in the morning and immediately knew the source of the bug. (This happens to me often: I once popped awake at 3 AM and exclaimed "I have to increment x after the loop, not before it!") But how to fix it was a more delicate matter, reaching into the fundamental design of the system. So I texted my main program design consultant, and he responded "Call me now." We talked for twenty minutes, and I knew just what to do.

I sat down at the computer, deleted one line of code, and copied another into its place. The change literally took about three seconds, and produced zero new lines of code. By the lines-of-code metric, I had been completely unproductive since I had quit for the evening last night. By contrast, a naive programmer who immediately began coding to "fix" the problem might have written dozens of lines of unnecessary code to set things right.

As with golf, the goal should be to get the ball in the whole in the fewest (key)strokes possible, not the most!

Friday, June 26, 2015

SSM is not the problem...

it is the philosophical nonsense being spouted in its defense that gets me.

I would say we should accept SSM on the same basis that Michael Oakeshott gave for giving women the vote: in our current society, we accept gay couples as being on equal footing with heterosexual couples in essentially every other respect, so it is incoherent to treat them differently in this one respect.

But instead, we get nonsense like: "The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity." (From the Supreme Court decision.)

OK, then: henceforth, I "define my identity" as "He whose opinion should be sought by all on all matters of American policy, and, whose opinion, once given, should be regarded as dispositive."

So pay attention, motha-fers.

A Good Libertarian Point

Although I am often critical of libertarians here, that does not mean they don't make plenty of excellent points. In fact, if they didn't make plenty of excellent points, they wouldn't be worth criticizing! (That's why you don't see me spending any time on, say, people who claim the moon landing was faked, or young earth creationists.)

One such point was brought home to me at my son's high school graduation, when people kept thanking the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (our keynote speaker) for all the money she had "given" to LaGuardia High School. It was as though she had dipped into her savings account for the new theater lighting system!

Of course Brewer expended some political capital directing taxpayer dollars in one direction rather than another. But the students ought to be reminded frequently that the taxpayers bought them that new lighting system, and almost everything else at their school as well. (There are private donors.) Failing to make that link breeds, I think, a feeling of entitlement towards one's funding. Eventually, we get students like those I witnessed at one state college: when the U. S. would start bombing some new group of foreigners, the students would become mildly dyspeptic. But, talk about raising their (heavily subsidized) tuition 5%, and they would go ballistic. Not pretty.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I certainly can't explain them

The Dutch mathematician Simon Stevin (1548-1620) included, amongst types of numbers, negative numbers, irrational numbers, and "inexplicable" numbers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Papal Smear II

One of the bits of idiocy in the Border/Bier vomitorium is that Pope Francis has done something completely novel in introducing a reverence for nature into Catholicism. For instance, the mock him for calling the earth "sister." Of course, as ill-educated idolators of the god of "progress," they don't know any history, and are unaware that eight centuries ago, a Catholic saint wrote the following:

Canticle of The Sun

Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor
And all blessing.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy
To pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright
And precious and fair.
All praise be yours, My Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how gay! Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon
For love of you; through those who endure
Sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

The Problem for Progressives with Racial Self-Indentification

If people are allowed to pick their own race, how will policies like affirmative action be maintained? No, progressives depend on race far too much to allow the self-definition they praise in other areas into racial matters.

Papal Smear

In the midst of a childish, distorting, and very poorly written attack on the Pope, Max Borders and Daniel Bier write:

"Pope Francis never bothers to draw the connection between wealth and health because he thinks of both production and consumption as sinful."

I think this must be the stupidest claim I have ever encountered in my life. Of course one can consume sinfully or produce sinfully. But for what these writers say to be true, the Pope would have to think things like eating or building a church are sinful!

UPDATE: In fact, right in the encyclical, Francis says:

'The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.'

So Francis very explicitly says that the Bible itself enjoins us to "work" the earth, i.e., to produce. But I would lay 100-1 odds that these two boobs wrote their entire "critique" of his encyclical without having read more than a handful of excerpts from it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Walled Jews

When people hear about the walled Jewish quarters of the Middle Ages, the ghettos of more recent European history naturally come to mind. But, in fact, the walls were often desired by the Jews themselves. In fact, when a ruler or city government wanted to attract Jews, it was apparently not an unknown promotional technique to build a walled quarter of a city, and then invite Jews by boasting of the feature, "And look, you'll even have a wall!"

Source: Prof. Phillip Daileader, The High Middle Ages

By the way, the Teaching Company's courses on history are much more reliable than most pop history books: they are almost always taught by someone whose specialty is the period on which they are lecturing, and who thus has spent years studying the period, but even more importantly, years having their work on the period peer-reviewed at conferences and for journal submissions. Furthermore, these lecturers spent many years being trained as historical researchers. Now, this doesn't mean they never make mistakes, but it does mean they will rarely make the ridiculous mistakes to which pop history writers are prone. (It also doesn't mean every work of popular history is bad! Good journalists, in particular, largely have the right attitude and training for historical research; in particular, they know to interrogate, rather than to believe, their sources.)

Post-Modern Truth?

Murphy writes: "Second, Scott has said that–consistent with his weird post-modern view of what truth is–the meaning of a writer’s post depends on what the readers thought he meant, not what he intended to mean."

I don't think this notion of a statement's meaning is "post-modern" at all.


Computer code: I intend to square x + y and assign the result to z. But I write "z = x + y^2". The meaning of that is to assign y squared plus x to z. Even though that is not what I intended.

Natural language:

When John Cleese says, "My hovercraft is full of eels," it means something about a futuristic ship being full of snake-like fish. The fact that he meant to ask, "Do you have matches?" does not change that fact.

In fact, it is claiming that the meaning of our utterances depends upon what we intend them to mean that really gets us sunk in the post-modernist soup: I can say anything at all -- "I intend to blow up Bob Murphy's new house" -- and claim that all I really meant by it was that I am happy Bob has a new place.

Internet quiz

“There are just eight states on earth which both existed in 1914 and have not had their form of government changed by violence since then.” -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan

What are the eight? (No googling the quote.)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Artificial life?

“With the rise of artificial forms of life, the next phase of evolution may have already begun.” -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 148

But why should we think “artificial life” is anything but an analogy? We can simulate hurricanes, but these obviously only bear a very abstract resemblance to actual hurricanes, and in no way are about to become “the next phase” of the earth’s weather system. Is “artificial life” any different in this regard?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The sorcery of numbers

“Today those who peer into the future want only relief from anxiety. It is only natural that believers in reason, lacking any deeper faith and too feeble to tolerate doubt, should turn to the sorcery of numbers... the modern scientific scryer deciphers numerical augeries of angels hidden in ourselves." -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 100.

What Does It Matter What They Call Par?

Many golfers seem upset that the 18th hole at Chambers Bay is sometimes being called a par four hole, instead of par five, as it is for today's round. And the TV commentators are giving this very serious consideration.

This makes a difference as to whether one's score is called, say, one under par, or two under par. But it doesn't change your score: if you recorded a 271 for the tournament, you recorded a 271. And if someone else scored 272, you beat them. And if they scored 270, they beat you.

The announcers seem to think what the hole is called will help determine whether or not some possible leader will "play it safe" on their final hole. But, but... no!

If someone is in the clubhouse at 270, and you are at 265 through 17, you'd better score four or less on 18 if you want to win outright. And if you are at 264, you can play it safe and take five strokes. Whether they call the hole par 4 or par 5.

"Par" is a fine way of keeping track of where players are in a round, when everyone is on different holes. But what par value you assign to particular holes makes no difference whatsoever to who is the final champion,  unless some player loses because he got so worked up about a name.

Look at it this way: they could call every hole for player A a par 1, and every hole for player B a par 10, and so long as the players did not let this "unfairness" affect their play, it would not make any difference as to who wins. Player A, at a 200-over-par 272, would beat player B, who scored a 440-under-par 280.

Friday, June 19, 2015

John Gray Quoting Benjamin Woolley Describing John Dee

"And as the cosmos had spread into infinity, so he had seen his, everyone's position in it correspondingly reduced. For the first time in more than a thousand years, anyone with the learning to see (and there were still very few) beheld a universe that no longer revolved around the world, and a world that no longer revolved around humans." -- Benjamin Woolley, quoted in John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 99

What are we to make of this passage? First of all, why is Gray quoting a pop history writer describing Dee's situation, rather than quoting Dee? Perhaps because there simply is no quote in Dee that actually supports the above narrative?

Secondly, what is this about the cosmos "spreading into infinity"? Heliocentrism does not equal an infinite universe, and the current cosmological consensus is that the universe is not infinite.

Thirdly, what is this, "For the first time in a thousand years" business? As far as I know, there were a mere handful of Greek heliocentrists in the ancient world, and the overwhelming consensus of natural philosophers was that a geocentric model was correct. And medieval scholars such as Oresme and Nicholas of Cusa knew about and contemplated heliocentrism, and even "non-centrism."

As I have mentioned before, John Milton, my history of science lecturer at King's College in London, said that he had searched the original sources from the 1500s and 1600s for anyone whose main worry about Copernican theory was that it displaced the earth from the center of things, and could not find any example. The idea that this aspect of heliocentrism disturbed people at that time seems to be a later invention. (What did disturb them, of course, was that heliocentrism seemed to conflict with Scripture.)

The Aztecs

"There is one activity for which the 'Aztecs' were notorious: the large-scale killing of humans in ritual sacrifices. The killings were not remote, top-of-the pyramid affairs. If only high priests and rulers killed, they carried out most of their butchers' work en plein air, and not only in the main temple precinct, but in the neighborhood temples and on the streets. The people were implicated in the care and preparation of the victims, and then in the elaborate processing of the body: the dismemberment and distribution of heads and limbs, flesh and blood and flayed skins. On high occasions warriors carrying gourds of human blood or wearing the dripping skins of their captives ran through the streets, to be ceremoniously welcomed into the dwellings; the flesh of their victims seethed in domestic cooking pots; human side bones, scraped and dried, were set up in the courtyard of the households..." -- Inga Clendinnen, quoted in John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, pp. 75-76

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Murphy Mocks Libertarians

Showing the complete arbitrariness of libertarian property rights arguments by presenting an ad hoc, desperate attempt to avoid the obvious consequences of the position:
I wanted to push back against Steve Landsburg casually saying that libertarian property rights theory doesn’t work. I thought Rothbard probably handled this type of thing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see just how specific it was. Here’s Rothbard:
Consider the case of radio waves, which is a crossing of other people’s boundaries that is invisible and insensible in every way to the property owner. We are all bombarded by radio waves that cross our properties without our knowledge or consent. Are they invasive and should they therefore be illegal, now that we have scientific devices to detect such waves? Are we then to outlaw all radio transmission? And if not, why not?

The reason why not is that these boundary crossings do not interfere with anyone’s exclusive possession, use or enjoyment of their property. They are invisible, cannot be detected by man’s senses, and do no harm. They are therefore not really invasions of property, for we must refine our concept of invasion to mean not just boundary crossing, but boundary crossings that in some way interfere with the owner’s use or enjoyment of this property. What counts is whether the senses of the property owner are interfered with.

But suppose it is later discovered that radio waves are harmful, that they cause cancer or some other illness? Then they would be interfering with the use of the property in one’s person and should be illegal and enjoined, provided of course that this proof of harm and the causal connection between the specific invaders and specific victims are established beyond a reasonable doubt.
This argument is so bad I doubt Rothbard put it forward thinking it worked: he was merely chucking up whatever he can to rally the troops. First of all, what the hell happened to value subjectivism?! "They are therefore not really invasions of property, for we must refine our concept of invasion to mean not just boundary crossing, but boundary crossings that in some way interfere with the owner’s use or enjoyment of this property." So, I say I can't enjoy my property if it is all full of radio waves: How is Rothbard going to prove that is wrong? Thus he writes:

"What counts is whether the senses of the property owner are interfered with."

The senses?!  Since when are property rights violations about anyone's senses? Does this mean if I can keep sneaking on and off your property without you detecting I did so, everything is A-OK? What if I shoot radiation across your property that you can't sense, but that causes cancer 40 years later? Apparently, I can even steal things from you, as long as you never sense that I have done so!

And check out this gem:

"Consider the case of radio waves, which is a crossing of other people’s boundaries that is invisible and insensible in every way to the property owner."

Psst, Murray, all we have to do to sense these waves is... turn on the radio! And then we get:

"But suppose it is later discovered that radio waves are harmful, that they cause cancer or some other illness? Then they would be interfering with the use of the property in one’s person and should be illegal."

So, I can only stop things from crossing my property lines when it is proved they are harmful?

And Rothbard didn’t even attempt a harder case, like smoke from a BBQ, which absolutely is harmful and can definitely alter someone’s enjoyment of their property in a real, tangible way.

But none of that is the worst part of this argument. The worst part is that, while supposedly a defense of absolute property rights, it in fact abandons the notion: per this argument, your property rights aren't absolute (of course they aren't, but that is not what Rothbard wants to claim): your property rights are at the whim of... who? a panel of experts? the Mises Institute?... who get to decide when your property rights have and when they have not been violated, whatever you may think about it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why "Late Capitalism" is not an historical term

Anyone using this term assumes we are in the end stage of "capitalism," however they define that word. But history gives us no knowledge of the future, and thus, no knowledge of how far along we are in some process. History is precisely the discipline, as Oakeshott would put it, that views the world sub specie praeteritorum, through the lens of its "pastness." In history, the present world is seen as laden with artifacts that tell us what came before it. Those artifacts, understood as evidence of a past that has vanished, cannot possibly tell us what is to come.

Thus, "late capitalism" is always an ideological construct, not an historical one.

A Confession

I have sometimes engaged in binge bullfighting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Economic thought problem

There is a bakery near my house that specializes in bagels. Almost every day, they run out of sesame bagels before their other flavors. With this happening day after day, why don't they just make more sesame bagels?

Of course, we could explain this simply by saying they keep repeating a mistake. And that is possibly the right explanation. But I wonder if we can explain what is happening within a model where this is a rational, profit maximizing firm? Any ideas?

A Vision of the Future

"The crystallographer J. D. Bernal (1901-71) illustrates how Gnostic ideas infuse modern science. At one time ranked among Britain's most influential scientists… he was convinced that science could effect a shift in evolution in which human beings would cease to be biological organisms… Further in the future, he envisioned 'an erasure of individuality and mortality' in which human beings would cease to be distinct physical entities... 'consciousness itself might end or vanish in a humanity that has become completely etherealised, losing the close-knit organism, becoming masses of atoms in space communicating by radiation, and ultimately perhaps resolving itself entirely into light.'" -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, pp. 14-15

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Incoherence of the Dolezal/Jenner Distinction

I am interested in the sharp distinction being made between these two cases as an example of the incoherence of the progressive worldview, and not because of the cases themselves. And commenters attempts to defend this sharp distinction in response to previous posts leaves me more convinced than ever that I am right about this incoherence.

The two main arguments put forward defending the distiction were:

1) Dolezal lied about her father and/or about being black.

The first lie is not good, but does anyone seriously think that if Dolezal had not done that, then everybody would have said, "Oh, OK then, what she did is cool!"

No, I didn't think so. Therefore, this is a completely peripheral issue to the main question at hand, which is "Is it OK to identify as a different race than one's 'real' one?" Bringing it up is merely an attempt to sidetrack the discussion of this main question.

As far as the second "lie" goes, to declare it is not acceptable for a X person to choose to self-identify as a Y person is the whole question on the table, and calling it a "lie" is just a different way of answering "no": in other words, it is completely question begging.

2) There is a biological basis to transgenderism, while there isn't to transracism.

Of course, this runs contrary to the other progressive point that gender is just a social construct, but in any case, it is again a complete red herring: Does anyone really think that if it was discovered that there is absolutely no biological basis for transgenderism, it would change the minds of people calling Jenner a "hero"?

No, I didn't think so.

What is going on is this: complete sexual freedom, "anything goes so long as it is consensual," and the identification of traditional sexual morality as a barbarous relic are cornerstones of progressive ideology. So anyone who "transgresses" those traditional boundaries is heroic, whether there is any biological basis for those transgressions or not.

On the other hand, racial identity, and in particular the racial identity of oppressed or formerly oppressed people, is an important weapon in the progressive assault on "Eurocentric" civilization. Thus, crossing those boundaries is a very, very bad sort of transgression, and the person who does it is a "fraud" and a "liar."

Matt Bruenig on Transgender and Transrace

Here. A quote:

"To say transgender identity is valid but transracial identity is not, it’s necessary to identify relevant distinctions between the two. And though efforts at distinguishing the two are occasionally made, all the ones I’ve ever seen either begged the question or didn’t actually succeed."

And Bruenig makes the same point I made about people "lying" who "claim" they are a different race:

"The problem here is that this is entirely question-begging. It says that the difference between, say, a transwomen and a transblack person is that the former is a woman while the latter is pretending to be black. But whether one, both, or neither is pretending is precisely what the debate is about. To assume one is truly reflecting who they are and the other isn’t is to simply state your conclusion without ever providing a separate argument for it."

Computer science

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." -- Attributed to Edsger Dijstrka "[Computer science] is not really about computers -- and it's not about computers in the same sense that physics is not really about particle accelerators, and biology is not about microscopes and Petri dishes...and geometry isn't really about using surveying instruments. Now the reason that we think computer science is about computers is pretty much the same reason that the Egyptians thought geometry was about surveying instruments: when some field is just getting started and you don't really understand it very well, it's very easy to confuse the essence of what you're doing with the tools that you use." -- Hal Abelson

Just a Song of Gomorrah

"I heard a voice telling me to flee
The very same voice I always believe
Said: a lot of trouble coming
But it don't have to come to you
I'm sparing you so you can tell
The rest what you been through"

Why We Are "Punished" for Sinning, Along with Remarks on Jenner and Dolezal

"All the people I used to know
They're an illusion to me now
Some are mathematcians
Some are carpenters' wives
Don't know how it all got started
Don't know what they do with their lives" -- Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up in Blue"

I find always trying to simultaneously understand spiritual matters from a Buddhist and a Christian perspective gives me the clearest view of what is really going on, since I to do so I have to avoid getting caught up in a particular verbal formulation of some spiritual reality.

So I think it is very useful to look at the Christian idea of "sin" through the lens of "samsara," or illusion. (And I don't think I am distorting things by doing so: St. Paul, for instance, used the Greek word sarx for sin, which I understand to be close to the meaning of samsara.)

The illusion in question is that we are fundamentally isolated beings, with "interests" that are fundamentally in opposition to the interests of our fellow humans. In reality, we are part of a universal consciousness, something demonstrated philosophically in the work of, for instance, T. H. Green, but which can also be discovered experientially. This reality is expressed in various ways in various traditions: we must undergo the periagoge, the turning around of the soul, and rise up to the light, or, "The Father and I are one," or, "We all have Buddha mind." And realizing this unity is the only path to spiritual peace.

"Sins" are actions that foster the illusion of ultimate separateness, and block the realization of our ultimate unity with "pure mind." So, for instance, if I steal from my neighbor, I am re-enforcing the illusion that his interests and mine are opposed, and thus blocking my own realization of "our unity in Christ." And this grasping, this clutching at the illusion of the fundamental aloneness of the individual, this indulgence of desire, is precisely the activity that leaves us feeling... fundamentally alone, without "salvation," in a state of suffering.

A metaphor: There is a lake that, if we proceed to its shore and then immerse ourselves in its waters, can heal all of our pains. To "sin" is to deliberately walk away from that lake, and instead climb a nearby mountain, because "that is what I want," "I am expressing myself," and so on. Our "punishment" for these "sins" is simply... we don't get into the lake and get healed. To blame "God" for this "punishment" is like hitting oneself in the head with a hammer and then blaming the hammer manufacturer for the subsequent headache.

And now we can see the real problem with the progressive focus on sexual, racial, and other identities: it is ultimately of no real importance whether our much-discussed Jenner is called Caitlyn or Bruce, or whether he winds up cutting off his penis or not, or whether Rachel Dolezal is called black or white. The problem with all of this hub-bub is that it directs our focus onto the world of illusion (samsara, Babylon, "My Kingdom is not of this world"), and suggests that swapping one samsaric identity for another can possibly solve our fundamental problem.

And this, by the way, explains why St. Paul would advise slaves to "be obedient to those who are your masters": Being a slave is no barrier at all to walking down to the healing lake and being cured by its waters: that is a walk in the realm of spirit, and anyone, whatever their legal status, can take that journey. But a focus on the samsaric condition of who is slave and who is master can block someone from achieving true freedom, instead focusing them on the illusory condition of "political freedom."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Wrongness of It Consists in How Darned *Wrong* It Is!

When it turned out that Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane NAACP, is (or at least was born) white, I  immediately said to a friend of mine, "This is going to require some mental gymnastics on the part of social progressives, in order to explain why what Dolezal has been doing was bad, but what Bruce Jenner did was heroic, because:

1) self-defining your gender is a good, progressive self-defining, while 

2) self-defining your race is a bad, not-at-all progressive self-defining."

So, as if to illustrate the maxim that ideology makes even smart people dumb on the topics affected by their ideology, Nick Gillespie steps into the breach and informs us that there is a vast difference between self-chosen gender and self-chosen race: "what [Dolezal has] been up to is a form of fraud."

But wait: if we get to choose our own identity as an X or a Y, why is choosing a black identity fraud? If our identity is self-chosen, then if Dolezal chooses to be black, she is black. Or, if it is fraud to "pretend" to be black even though one is "really" white, why isn't it fraud to "pretend" to be a "woman" even though one is "really" a man?

So why is what Jenner did great, but what Dolezal did fraud? Sigh... Do I have to explain this again?

1) self-defining your gender is a good, progressive self-defining, while 

2) self-defining your race is a bad, not-at-all progressive self-defining.

Gillespie goes on to question Dolezal's sanity: "Thanks to such odd, if not downright pathological, behavior..."

You see, when someone born a man wants to be seen as a woman, that is heroism. But when someone born white wants to be seen as black, that is a mental illness. Why? Well, see 1) and 2) above, you dimwit!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

There's a huge need for plumbers...

So let's train lots of fluid dynamic scientists! Story here:

"A new state law aims to expand computer science education in high schools, something supporters say will help prepare Washington’s graduates to fill high-paying computer science jobs...

"Magendanz said that with new teacher training standards, students will be learning computer science in high school from instructors who genuinely know the field. Opening up scholarship funding for teachers who pursue computer science training should help improve the availability of computer science courses, he said."

If they really wanted to educate students for these jobs, which are almost all software engineering jobs, not "computer science" jobs, they would allow actual software engineers to teach software engineering, regardless of what degree they have. In my experience, the tie between:

1) possessing a computer science degree, and
2) being good at programming

are about as close as the tie between:

1) possessing a biology degree, and
2) being good at sex.

In fact, almost everyone of the very worst programmers I have ever met has had a computer science degree, and often an advanced computer science degree. It is not that these degrees make one a bad programmer but, rather, they sometimes so impress hiring managers that they cover up the fact that one is a bad programmer.

But I am pretty sure that the education establishment will not, in our lifetimes, surrender its focus on degrees, since a focus on degrees is what keeps the education establishment important!

Certain regularities jumped out at me

Jesse Singal, writing in New York Magazine about the recent academic data fraud scandal, says:

"Certain irregularities quickly jumped out at him: The data was, in short, a bit too orderly given that it came from a big survey sample."

I just found it amusing that, in this case, what happened was more like my title, rather than irregularities jumping out at the researcher.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

John Gray on Genesis

"Yet being divided from yourself goes with being self-aware. This is the truth in the Genesis myth: the Fall is not an event at the beginning of history, but the intrinsic condition of self-conscious beings." -- The Soul of the Marionette, p. 167

I recall suggesting to some Nathaniel Branden acolytes that original sin is a mythical statement of a truth about the human condition; ooh, they did not like hearing that at all! But one does not have to be religious to understand this, merely willing to examine without presupposition what the Genesis story is trying to tell us. Albert Camus, like Gray a non-believer, understood this very well.

The "Scientific world-view"

"Nothing carries so much authority today as science, but there is actually no such thing as 'the scientific world-view'. Science is a method of inquiry, not a view of the world. Knowledge is growing at accelerating speed; but no advance in science will tell us whether materialism is true or false, or whether humans possess free will. The belief that the world is composed of matter is metaphysical speculation, not a testable theory." -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 151

Gray is, by the way, an atheist, and a materialist of some sort or another, so this is certainly not a case of religious nostalgia resisting scientific advances, but simply a philosopher who correctly understands what science can and can't tell us about.

All Your Theory Are Ours

Some people suspect that all basic science is over, and henceforth it will take a supercomputer generating incomprehensible "theories" to make new major discoveries. Well...

* An undergraduate student in Australia just discovered that the earth is surrounded by giant tubes of plasma. She did this by using spatially separated radio telescopes as sort of 3-D glasses, a technique she apparently invented as well.

* A whole new system in the mammal body has been discovered. (New to science, of course: it's been there all along.) We've been dissecting corpses for a couple of thousand years, and everyone kept missing this!

Monday, June 08, 2015

PL/I weirdness

Apparently, this was perfectly legal code in the programming language PL/I:


The language just guessed when you wanted a string to be a keyword and when a variable, so that the second 'IF' was assumed to be an entirely different animal than the first one, and so on.

(Source: P. J. Plauger, Programming on Purpose III, p. 28)

Now I've Put My Foot in It

On ideology and "sex change," here. (This is the piece I mentioned was coming.)

A Fixed Chess Match: Class and Case Probability

Keshav and I are going to play a chess match. Let us assume that when we have played in the past, we have been very evenly matched. There has been heavy betting on the match, and the Mob has gotten involved. They have persuaded the two of us to agree to fix the match, so that Keshav wins, 6 games to 4, and it is agreed as to which games he will throw, and which I will throw. There will also be a couple of games we play all out, just to make things look good, and a final fixed game, but for which it is unknown who will throw the game until the result of the two "real" games is known.

You happen to have gotten a hot tip about the fix, but your tipster only knows the final result, and not which games are which. You can place rational bets on the series or some number of games in the series, using the fact that there is a 60% chance Keshav will win any randomly chosen game in the series. In other words, you will accept any bet on Keshav that offers an expected return of over $0.66 on the dollar, and anything over $1.50 on the dollar for a bet on me.

However, for no game in the series is it objectively true that Keshav has a 60% chance of winning: two games are toss-ups, and in the rest it is 100% certain he will win, or 100% certain I will win. The 60% figure is a piece of knowledge about the whole class of games, and not knowledge about any game in the class. If you had knowledge about the particular games, your betting would be very different: you would take almost any odds and bet on Keshav in the games you knew he would win (almost any, because he might be struck by lightning during the game, etc.), and vice versa in the games you knew I would win.

Conclusion: the fact that we know that, for some class of events, there is probability p that X will occur in a group of such events cannot be automatically interpreted as a statement about some objective property of any particular event that is a member of that class.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ideology as Procustean Trimming


"The mythical Greek Procrustus had a strange obsession about his guest bed: If a guest did not fit the bed precisely, Procrustus would make him fit. If the guest’s feet lapped over he would cut them off; if the guest was too short he would put him on a rack and stretch him until he was the 'right' length. I always tell this myth to my own students as the perfect metaphor for what ideology does: It does violence to reality to make it fit a pre-conceived mold."

Liberalism and the Surveillance State

"When people are locked into local communities they are subject to continuous informal monitoring of their behaviour. Modern individualism tends to condemn these communities because they repress personal autonomy. But societies that pride themselves on their devotion to freedom dread disorder. The informal controls on behavior that exist in a world of many communities are unworkable in a world of highly mobile individuals, so society turns to the technology of surveillance... Near-ubiquitous technological monitoring is a consequence of the decline of cohesive societies that has occurred alongside the rising demand for individual freedom." -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, p. 122

John Gray on Liberal Interventionism

"By intervening in societies of which they know nothing, western elites are advancing a future they believe is prefigured in themselves -- a new world based on freedom, democracy and human rights. The results are clear -- failed states, zones of anarchy and new and worse tyrannies; but in order that they may see themselves as world-changing figures, our leaders have chosen not to see what they have done." -- The Soul of the Marionette, pp. 89-90

An Interesting Review of Oakeshott

Saturday, June 06, 2015

What Are My Chances of Finishing This Blogpost?

See Nate Silver, here:

"The Cleveland Cavaliers led for much of Game 1 of the finals against the Golden State Warriors and had a better than 70 percent shot at winning it when LeBron James put the Cavs up by four with 5:08 left to play."

Having just finished reviewing a book on Shackle, who largely holds the same view as Mises on case probability*, I find it interesting to ask just what Silver means here. Clearly, Silver is drawing upon a database of results that contains information on how often teams up four in a game with 5:08 to play won that game. Perhaps he has 200 records that match that criterion, and the team up four won 140 of those games.

"But so what?" ask Mises and Shackle. The Cavaliers aren't going to play the Warriors 200 times, starting from this identical situation, so they can win 70% of the time. This game won't result in a Schrödinger's cat situation, with the Cavaliers 70% victorious and 30% defeated; no, one team or the other will have 100% won, and the other team will have been 100% defeated.

One plausible interpretation of what Silver is claiming is that it is about what kind of bets we should make in the situation cited. Say we are told "NBA team A is up four with 5:08 left on NBA team B. What odds will persuade you to bet on A or on B?" Then a reasonable answer might be, "If you give me better than 2.333 to 1 payoff on B, I will take B, or better than a .43 to 1 payoff on A, I will take A." (I think I got these calculation right!) Another reasonable answer might be, "Knowing so little, I'm not betting!"

Furthermore, in this game we have a brand new situation: never before, in those 200 games, did this Cavaliers team face this Warriors team. Perhaps we know Steph Curry is great in the clutch. Perhaps we see that Kyrie Irving is hurting, and think his play will fall off. Perhaps we think Steve Kerr is a great end-of-game strategist. And so on. Any of those things might significantly change what bets we will be willing to take on the outcome, and with good reason.

Or imagine that, right after Lebron hit the shot to put the Cavs up four, he punched a Warrior player in the face, and was ejected. Now, we might reasonably think, "The Cavs are done for!"

In short, I think Silver's statement only has the superficial appearance of being an objective statement about the particular game he was discussing, and is actually an example of "probabalism," to coin a term: reflexively applying probability analysis to a situation without really considering what it means in that situation.

* I cite this article because it gives a succinct statement of Mises's views on probability, and not to endorse the author's analysis of the two-envelope problem.

Voegelin on Ideology and Jihadism

You're going to see more from me on Voegelin and ideology in the next couple of days, in relation to a contemporary issue, but in the meantime, enjoy this. A sample:

"It seemed characteristic of ideological system-builders to want absolute certainty about the world and to try to achieve that certainty through airtight, simple, and yet supposedly all-explanatory systems of ideas.[2] Voegelin found it helpful to understand these systems in terms of “second realities.” The “Second Reality” (Voegelin borrowed the term from Heimito von Doderer) is the dream world reality created by the ideological system-builder, in which he and those who embrace the system live as if it were the actual world (the First Reality)."

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Shot That Mattered Most?

The emphasis on the last shot in basketball seems irrational to me:

"James missed 20 of his 38 field goal attempts... James, however, didn't make the shot that mattered most."

The score was tied at the end of regulation, and the shot James missed then would have won the game.

But, of course, ceteris paribus, so would his making any of his other misses in regulation have won the game as well, since the Cavs would have been up two or three at the end of the game, and not tied. (Of course, the Warriors might have played differently had they been down!) The focus on the last shot seems to me to be an instance of availability bias.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Elton John versus Dolce and Gabbana

"Where 'media status' has acquired infinitely more importance than the value of anything one might actually be capable of doing, it is normal for this status to be readily transferable..." -- Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

What could better explain this spectacle? Are fashion designers or pop songwriters suddenly experts on child development or the ethics of the family? If not, why is anyone paying any attention to their feud? Well, because they are celebrities with high 'media status,' and that status is 'readily transferable' to any other field whatsoever. If John, Dolce, and Gabbana begin feuding about the possibility of cold fusion, that will make headlines (and their arguments will be taken seriously) as well.

The modern Panopticon

"The situation alters when a Panopticon can be constructed that encloses the entire population. To a large extent, this has already been done. With new technologies of surveillance, economies of scale overcome problems of cost. Since all their electronic communications can be accessed, it is no longer necessary to segregate the inmates from one another. As there is no outside world, escape becomes unimaginable." -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, pp. 126-127

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Adam Smith Against "Markets in Everything"

Following from this, in a particularly insightful portion of the book, Weinstein completely discredits any purely economic reading of Smith. He contends that “life is not a marketplace” for Smith. Instead, “it is often familial, pedagogical, spiritual, and natural; it is only sometimes commercial.” Competition and self-interest were means to an end, not ends in themselves. Rather, Weinstein sees the healthy notion of harmony as the most dominant ideal running through Smith’s philosophy.

Neither Unusual Nor Non-Material Equals Irrational

An annoying modern tic is to confuse "unusual" or "non-material" with "irrational." I was reading a kid's book (with some kids) today, and a character who has died and come back to consciousness in a sort of purgatory thinks to herself, "There must be some rational explanation."

There is absolutely nothing irrational about thinking, "I've just died and this is what happens after death." Socrates, one of the most rational people who ever lived, thought he had excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul. (And neither his arguments nor the idea of the soul itself were parts of his religious tradition: both were inventions and/or discoveries of philosophy.)

Socrates may have been wrong, and perhaps there is just death and that's that. There may be no such things as ghosts, but thinking "Dead Uncle Ned left me that message" is not an irrational idea.

Just remember, the idea of irrationality is itself non-material!

Thinking in Pictures

"I don't think in any language. I think in images. I don't believe that people think in languages. They don't move their lips when they think. It is only a certain type of illiterate person who moves his lips as he reads or ruminates. No, I think in images, and now and then a Russian phrase or an English phrase will form with the foam of the brainwave, but that's about all." -- Vladimir Nabokov

(Hat tip Dave Lull.)

Monday, June 01, 2015

The single time machine

I have pointed out in the past that if time machines are ever going to be invented, we should have already seen them, since presumably people would be traveling back to our time. (But maybe there is some pact on the part of their possessors to keep there existence secret.)

But there is one time machine. It is called the physical universe, and it continually transports us forward in time.

Ubiquitous Tornadoes?

I was having lunch at a pub where the TV is tuned to the Weather Channel all day. I glanced up, and they were showing a graphic about how remarkably quiet this tornado season has been. In fact, "Throughout much of 2015, tornado activity has been near record low..."

Not five minutes later, I overheard two guys talking at the bar. One of them said, "And I can't believe how many tornadoes we're having: it seems like we get one every day!" The other fellow heartily agreed that we have been seeing an extraordinarily high number of tornadoes. (In fact, the U.S. gets far more than one tornado a day at this time of year, even in an especially quiet season.)

On matters that do not concern their immediate work or personal relationships, people will believe whatever they are predisposed to believe. Facts play no role in forming most such beliefs.

That was a great rendition!

I was watching TV with someone the other day. The CIA was transporting a terrorist, and the flight they all were on were brought down. When...