Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Channeling Karl Marx

The globalist elites have a problem they must continually solve: there are a lot more of us then there are of them, and they have to keep us from noticing that.

A tried-and-true strategy for doing this is divide and conquer: if they can convince half of the poor and lower middle-class population that their real problem is the other half of the poor and lower middle-class population, and vice a versa, they are good to go.

And thus we get the twin memes of "white privilege" and "welfare parasites." The function they serve is to help convince poor black families in the South Bronx that their real problem is poor hillbilly families in Kentucky, and vice a versa. To the extent these two memes take hold, they block the possibility of a true populist revolt against the rule of the current elite.*

Of course, many, many people sincerely buy into the ideological superstructures being erected to support elite rule. The fact that they materially benefit from their subsidiary positions in the ruling class helps in this task tremendously: largely, this support army consists of university professors and other educators, government bureaucrats, mid-level corporate managers, and so on: people who are materially very comfortable within the current system. But most of these people are not cynics, and they must be led to believe that they are truly working for a noble cause: this is called false consciousness. Its spread is helped greatly by the knowledge, trickling down from the top level of universities, corporations, and government, that anyone who calls into question this schema risks ostracism, loss of opportunities, and other serious career and social consequences. It is much easier to believe an ideological construct when, in the back of your mind, you anxiously recognize that failing to believe it can cost you your job or your next promotion.

Interestingly, as I understand it, many old-school Marxists recognize this dynamic quite well, and are contemptuous of identity politics as a result. The fact that many of their younger colleagues have embraced this tactic shows that our current elite is clever enough to co-opt even Marxism in its interest.

* I am not a Marxist to the extent that I am not a utopian: I think all societies have some elite class. The problem with the current elite is their lack of any moral compass other than becoming even richer and even more powerful.

John Grisham

Is my bedtime reading tonight.

First off, let me say that as a writer, Grisham is light years ahead of James Patterson. No cocks flopping around like cod in a basket for Mr. Grisham!

That being said, cranking out material at the velocity that people like Patterson and Grisham do has its cost in either case. (Grisham finishes a novel every six months.) So we find in Grisham a sentence like: "He was much too careful about the security system to get careless." Well, yes, since "being careful" means "not being careless," that sentence says nothing more then "He was very careful" or "He was not careless."

But the one I found more puzzling is that several times, in reference to mountaintop removal mining, Grisham has a character say "It is legal because it is not illegal."

Here, it is not so much the fact that we apparently have a tautology like above that bothers me. It is, rather, that Grisham appears to think that this should not be true (the characters that say this are the heroes): he seems to feel that an activity should be illegal, unless it has been specifically approved. When are trained American attorney has this attitude, this suggests are present difficulties may run even deeper than I had imagined.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

First of all, the issue is culture, not race

Open borders fantasists always want to turn any discussion of immigration into a question of race, and of course, label their opponents "racists." This is today's trump card: once you play it, your opponent is just supposed to whimper away with his tail between his legs.

For example, one person in my Facebook feed said that Brexit was all about the dislike of "brown people." He apparently is not aware that after 2004, when England was being flooded with very pale Poles, Latvians, and Lithuanians, many people in England saw that as problematic, even though these immigrants were whiter than the average Englishman.

That is because the real issue is culture, not race. If the families of England were to adopt a million Pakistani newborns this year, in 20 years, they would be a million brown-skinned Englishmen. But if 1 million Pakistani adults were to come to England this year, and settle in nearly 100% Pakistani enclaves, then in 20 years, we will see little pockets of Pakistan scattered throughout English territory.

And a culture can withstand some amount of that sort of thing: Catholic Western Europe always had enclaves of Jews scattered throughout its territory, yet remained a cohesive culture. But if you get enough of it, the incoming culture swamps the existing one, which then disappears, or retreats into enclaves of its own. Just ask the Iroquois or Algonquins how their nations are doing today. Or talk with someone from Tibet about Chinese immigration into their country.

And there are people who love their own culture, and don't want to see it disappear and be replaced by a foreign one, whether that foreign culture is embodied in very pale Estonians or very dark Ghanians. The idea that this is all about "race" is a smear propagated by cosmopolitans who don't love any culture.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Uploading your mind into a computer

The idea, if we should even grace it with such a lofty name, is that we get a complete mapping of all the neural connections in someone's brain. Then we "upload" that mapping into a computer: VoilĂ ! A human mind in a computer.

This is pretty much akin to the idea that if we get a very, very detailed mapping of the wiring and electrical appliances in my house, we can then take that blueprint and read by the light it gives off, and perhaps dry our clothes with it.

How to troll Scott Sumner

The basic idea here is Hilary Putnam's, not mine:

Sumner holds, with Richard Rorty (although Putnam claims that Rorty actually abandoned this view!), that objectivity is simply a matter of consensus: to say that "X is objectively true" is equivalent to saying "X is held to be true by me and my community."

There are a number of problems with this view, and Putnam exposes one in a clever way: What about Rorty's idea that truth is just a matter of consensus? Is that idea true?

Per Rorty, the way to test this is to see if it is the consensus in the relevant community of experts. But, in fact, the overwhelming majority of philosophers reject this view. So if we take Rortian relativism seriously, we must convict it of proving its own falsehood.

Monocausal monomania

Hilary Putnam has an excellent chapter called "Materialism and Relativism" in his book Renewing Philosophy. In that chapter, he analyzes how what we identify as "the" cause of some of it is dependent on what we are interested in at the time.

He gives the example of explaining a man's heart attack. We could say his heart attack was caused by:
1) his shoveling snow
2) his genetics
3) his high blood pressure
4) his failure to follow his doctor's orders

And more. And all of these explanations can be correct, and none of them contradict the others. If we want better screening for potential heart attack victims, we may want to focus on number two. If our interest is in cautioning people to take it easy after the upcoming blizzard, we might focus on number one. Interest is in getting people to pay attention to their doctor, we might focus on number four.

And so explaining a terrorist attack: easy access to guns, radical Islamist ideology, the hatred in a man's heart, insufficient screening of immigrants, and aggressive American foreign-policy can all be explanations for some attack, depending on our interest when we are doing the explaining.

The only truly complete explanation for any event is the entire state of the universe before that event occurred. (E.g., if the sun had gone supernova earlier this year, the Orlando massacre would not have occurred.) When we pick out some particular feature of that entire state, we do so because of some particular motive.

Bearing False Witness

My review of Rodney Stark's book is available here.

A novel way of living

Eneg: Some people have the silly idea that we all might be characters in a novel, and what we think of as the "real world" is actually just the novelist's setting. Of course this is nonsense, since novels are not a place, and so nothing whatsoever can live "in" them.

Salis: But what about a sufficiently rich novel? One with lots and lots of details about rivers and hills and cities and forests?

Eneg: Huh? What difference does the amount of detail make? Where do you think people living in the novel are?

Salis: In the novel!

Eneg: What do you mean? They live inside the paper and ink?

Salis: No, they live in the story!

Eneg: But the story is not a place. The only physical parts of the novel are the paper and ink, and they are a place one can live, if one is a bookworm. But the story only arises in our imagination, as we look at that paper and ink.

Salis: So, you are just like the people who in 1700 said a novel but never capture the inner flow of our mental life: but look at Ulysses! How can you say what the limits of the novel are? Future authors may write novels many times as complex as the novels of today!

Eneg: That they may. But they still will not provide a place in which living creatures may dwell.

Salis: You see, you just have an ideology that denies the possibility of people living in a novel, while not offering any reason whatsoever for rejecting the idea!

Eneg: Aargh! [He takes out a virtual gun, and shoots himself in his virtual head with it.]

Not even a simulation of intelligence

"Artificial intelligence as we know it doesn't really try to simulate intelligence at all; simulating intelligence is only its notional activity, while its real activity is just writing clever programs for a variety of tasks." -- Hilary Putnam, Renewing Philosophy

Friday, June 24, 2016

Free riding on the free market

It is very easy to free ride on the existence of markets themselves. I do it all the time when I go shopping.

My wife will ask me, "How much were the strawberries?"

"I have no idea."

"What? You didn't even check?"

"No: I trusted the free market."

In other words, when shopping, I often simply assume that prices are "right." If there were serious mispricing, the people who cut out 25 cent coupons and save them for weeks, and then take ten of them out of their purse at the checkout line, those people will have already spotted it. Thanks to them, I can simply pick up whatever items I want off the shelf and assume that I am paying roughly the "fair" price.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Of Course Most People Think Things Are Just Fine!

If a car full of partying people is heading towards a cliff, there are two possibilities:

1) The majority of the people inside recognize the danger before it is too late. In that case, the car won't go over the cliff! They will change course.

2) The majority of people inside think there is no problem, until it is too late. These are the only cars that actually go over cliffs.

When I note that "our car," i.e., Western Civilization, is heading over a cliff, I get lots of responses telling me, "Everything is just fine!"

That's how I know the car is going to continue on until it plunges off of the cliff.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wealthy White Man Shot at Country Club

Black janitor accused of crime.
IP, Verywhitetown, Connecticut, June 22, 2016
Thaddeus Gotbucks was found dead in the clubhouse of the Verywhitetown Country Club Tuesday evening just after he had finished a round of golf. Jeremiah Poboy, the club's janitor, who had been heard arguing with Gotbucks earlier in the day, has been charged with the murder.
The town said that they intend to appoint a jury of twelve of Gotbucks' fellow club members, all of whom happen to be white. When Poboy complained that this jury would be biased, a spokesperson for the town called Poboy "a racist who thinks whites aren't competent to serve on juries."


Wow, that's a pretty bad distortion of Poboy's actual complaint, isn't it?

It would be as though I complained about a particular judge who I thought was biased against me because of my plan to invade Uzbekistan. I say, "I guess as an Uzbek, he might not like me."

And in response the press claimed, "Callahan1 is a racist who believes Uzbeks are not competent to be judges." (Even though Uzbek is not a race.)

Or if I was going to build a wall between the US and Canada, and I suggested that this judge of of Canadian descent might be biased against me because of my plan.

And in response the press claimed, "Callahan2 is a racist who believes Canadians are not competent to be judges."

If you are ready to buy into anything like the press claims about Poboy, or Callahan1, or Callahan2, or similar claims about someone, say, running for president, then you have been hypnotized in advance to receptive to the idea. It certainly isn't backed by what actually occurred in any of the above three scenarios.

"Big Ideas" = Meaningless Cyber-babble?

It used to be that when people contemplated "big ideas," they asked things like "What is justice?" or "How should people live together in a political community?" But today, apparently "big ideas" means contemplating complete nonsense, like "Are we living in a simulation?"

A simulation is an abstraction. Of course, there is something really going on: it is electricity moving around some circuits. But think about the proposal from that perspective: maybe we are really just living inside some electricity moving around circuits. How could someone "live inside" an electric current?

The rest of the simulation is nothing more than our own interpretation of what that electric current represents. There is no thunderstorm in a weather simulation; we choose to interpret the current's movements as representing a thunderstorm. If we wish, we could instead choose to interpret it as a piece of music, or directions for firing pieces of artillery, or for making stock trades. If someone were "living in a simulation" of a thunderstorm, and the creators suddenly decided to interpret it as a piece of music instead, would the clouds above the "simulated person" suddenly turn into musical notes?

The whole idea is a complete piece of intellectual rubbish, which simply can't be thought through coherently. No, we are not "living in a simulation" because a simulation is an abstraction, and nothing whatsoever lives in an abstraction. The question is like asking if we are "living in a trigonometric function" or "living in an Edgeworth Box model."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The assumptions of liberalism

The Economist offers us an especially ill-defended version -- the author doesn't really find the liberal view of man needs any defense at all, and so simply assumes it as incontrovertible. This serves to make the assumptions stand out. The title itself implies that there exist a sharp line, assumed throughout liberalisms, that there are two sharply distinct spheres: the personal choices, over which no one at all has any say other than the chooser, and public choices, which can be regulated. But has been pointed out before, this line is arbitrary, and can be drawn pretty much wherever the drawer wishes, since all choices have both personal and public aspects. What happens in practice is that for some question where a liberal theorist wants the activity to be legal, he highlights the private aspects, but if he wants it to be illegal, he highlights the public aspects. (Buying a gun is, of course, "a personal choice," but I will lay odds that this writer, looking at that choice, will focus on "the epidemic of gun violence" instead of the personal choice!)

"NIMBYs make common cause with puritans, who think that women selling sex are sinners, and do-gooders, who think they are victims. The reality is more nuanced. Some prostitutes do indeed suffer from trafficking, exploitation or violence; their abusers ought to end up in jail for their crimes. But for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work."

Notice that only a "puritan" could think that taking money so that others can use your body as a sperm repository is a sin! Furthermore, once it is determined that something is "work," it has to be allowed. The fact that contract killing is also "work" doesn't seem to have occurred to the author.

In the Classical-Christian conception of law, the right question to ask when considering legalizing prostitution is not, "Is it a choice?" (since murder, after all, is a choice!) or "Does it violate anyone's rights?", but "Is the common good better served by forbidding or by allowing this activity?"

Thus we find in the Middle Ages a sensible, moderate policy towards prostitution: often it was legal, but only within defined areas (the red light district). A figure as august as Augustine argued that forbidding prostitution "would bring lust into all aspects of the world."

But as with drugs, we have lost all common sense, and can only oscillate between the extremes: if something is wrong, the wrongdoer must suffer prison, and if it is not worthy of legal penalties, then it must be permitted everywhere: it is just a "choice."

I'm loosing my mind!

Has anyone else noticed that people are loosing track of how to spell "losing"? I see "loosing" more and more often these days. Yesterday, I discovered it in a novel I'm reading: "He was loosing his integrity."

What happened? There may be some general decline in educational standards, but why is this particular word loosing its correct spelling so fast? And just how would these people spell it if they were, say, "loosing the animals from their cages"?

The view from nowhere

Unless you didn't get your views from anywhere at all, they are unreliable.

I have a question: who knows if Cowen's parents were/are religious skeptics? If they are, does that make him feel his own views are less reliable? I'd bet not!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Up in the riggings

"'This is absolutely rigged for money or ratings, I’m not sure which,' Ayesha Curry, Stephen's wife, wrote on her Twitter account. 'I won’t be silent.'"

Ayesha later deleted the tweet. Yes, it's probably a bad idea to claim that a game that pays your husband many millions of dollars a year is "absolutely rigged"!

This rumor flies around among the fans of whichever playoff team loses a couple of games after going up: "The NBA just wants to extend the series!"

But we can tell that either it isn't true, or the NBA is really terrible at rigging: in the past 30 years, only five series have gone seven games, just barely more than the number (four) of 4-0 sweeps. Given we are seeing the two best teams in the league meet, we might expect the finals to be pretty even, and so it looks to me like the NBA's rigging, if occurring, is getting it no more seven-game series than we would expect from pure chance! Why, they might as well just let the teams play, and not risk facing the scandal of having rigged all of these series.


Geoffrey Pullman has done a nice series of posts on what he calls "nerdview," which he defines as:

"a simple problem that afflicts us all: people with any kind of technical knowledge of a domain tend to get hopelessly (and unwittingly) stuck in a frame of reference that relates to their view of the issue, and their trade's technical parlance, not that of the ordinary humans with whom they so signally fail to engage."

This post in the series looks at the "nerdview" phrase "mixed cardboard." Reading it, I realized that this case is similar to something I hear on the train: "Please use all doors to exit."

The instruction is written from the point of view of the "human-train interaction designer," who, from his lofty perch, sees departures from the train working best when the passengers evenly distribute themselves between every possible exit door.

But from the point of view of the individual passenger, the instruction, taken one way, is simply impossible to follow: I can only exit through one door, not all of them!

But even if we interpret it more generously, it is mostly pointless: by myself, I cannot achieve an even distribution of exiting passengers between all doors. The best I can do is to head to the exit from which I can get out the quickest. But that I was likely to do anyway! Or, if I am the sort of person who just stands obliviously in a long line at a crowded door while one is nearby with no line, I am not likely to be stirred by an announcement asking me to exit through "all doors."

UPDATE: Reading on in the nerdview archives, I see Pullman spotted the same problem:

"'USE BOTH LANES' says a road sign; but of course no individual driver can obey this. It takes the perspective of the road system designer, a perspective that an individual driver cannot be expected to have."

In His Own Niche... ah

The old atheists, like Nietzsche, knew what happened when a civilization abandons its spiritual foundation:
"A people that still believes in itself retains its own god. In him it reveres the conditions which let it prevail, its virtues: it projects its pleasure in itself, its feeling of power, into a being to whom one may offer thanks. Whoever is rich wants to give of his riches; a proud people needs a god: it wants to sacrifice. Under such conditions, religion is a form of thankfulness. Being thankful for himself, man needs a god."  (The Antichrist, section 16, Kaufmann translation)

Consequently, a culture that doubts its religion comes to doubt itself and its own legitimacy. And a culture that repudiates that religion is, in effect, committing a kind of cultural suicide. The moral and social order to which the religion gave rise cannot survive its disappearance. The trouble, in Nietzsche’s view, is that too few see what this entails:

"Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event [the death of God] really means -- and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality."  (The Gay Science, p. 279)
As Eric Voegelin said, the classical liberals were people who thought they could destroy a civilization just a bit, and then halt the process of destruction whenever they wanted it to halt. But Nietzsche saw much more clearly than they did: "The moral and social order to which the religion gave rise cannot survive its disappearance."

As we continue our descent into societal chaos, today's progressive liberals will surely be shocked by and completely unprepared to deal with the convulsions that ensue, and will never, ever connect it to their own continued efforts to hack away at our civilization's foundations.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A protective wall around the existing order

"The media establishment formed a protective wall around the existing order. Individuals or movements that raised issues potentially dangerous to the powers-that-be were sooner or later co-opted, discredited, or destroyed out right. Before serious challengers could achieve real political momentum, they were brought low by scandal, innuendo, or fear mongering. Only persons who accepted the reigning moral, political, economic, and cultural order could achieve political influence." -- Claes Ryn, A Desperate Man

Yes. The only way an individual might actually be able to survive the media onslaught that descends on every outsider candidate would be if he:

1) Were very wealthy, so he didn't have to worry about the donor class rejecting him.

2) Didn't care in the least about scandal. His reputation already was scandalous!

3) Was an egomaniac so that the constant attempts at smearing him simply slid off him.

4) Was a master manipulator of the media, so that he could outplay them at their games.

So, the choices are:

1) Elect someone like that, if anyone like that should happen to come along; or

2) Just accept that the status quo will continue on and on and on and on.


From the formless void
Order aries
Thatcher and Reagan approve

Persecuting Scientists

Some people like the idea of "persecuted scientists" so much that they take any scientists who was arrested or punished for anything and call that person "persecuted." Like here:

"Turing was famously chemically-castrated after admitting to homosexual acts in the 1950s. Turing isn’t the only scientist to have been persecuted for his personal or professional beliefs or lifestyle."

First of all, Turing scientific work, as far as I know, had nothing whatsoever to do with his punishment. Furthermore, he plead guilty to what were, at the time, criminal acts in Britain. We might thing it is wrong that these acts were criminal, but if we think marijuana criminalization is wrong, does that mean pot smokers are being persecuted? This is, of course, a matter of definition, but that's not how I would use the word.

Some of the other parts of the article are pretty bad too:

"[Rhazes] was responsible for introducing western teachings, rational thought and the works of Hippocrates and Galen to the Arabic world."

Jeez, talk about racist! Apparently no Arab had a rational thought before it was imported from elsewhere.

"Servetus was a Spanish physician credited with discovering pulmonary circulation. He wrote a book, which outlined his discovery along with his ideas about reforming Christianity — it was deemed to be heretical."

Once again we find out that Servetus's "persecution" had nothing to do with his scientific findings: he was denying the doctrine of the trinity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

William of Ockham

Old William of Ockham
He knew how to sock 'em
And keep the excess at bay
He'd take out the razor
He kept in his blazer
And slice the extra away

Worst sentence ever?

I'm staying over somewhere and, looking for something to read, I found a novel by James Patterson and Andrew Gross. I've never read Patterson, but I know he is kind of a book factory, and I assume the authorship actually means that Gross wrote it with Patterson's supervision. Well, I figured I would give it a try.

On page 56, there is a scene where a man is being seduced, and the authors write: "His 54-year-old cock flopped around in his pants like a cod in a catch basket."

OK, this book was written by two men, and I don't think I am gender stereotyping if I guess that both of them have penises. For all of you out there who also have penises, and even for those of you who may not have one but have ever actually witnessed one in action, have any of you ever seen one behave anything remotely like a cod flopping around in a catch basket?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Persecution nonsense

I will be teaching probability and statistics in the autumn. I've begun reviewing my textbook (Introduction to Probability, Freund), and in the introduction I find this claim:

"everything relating to chance was looked upon as divine intent... Thus, it was considered impious, or even sacrilegious, to try to analyze the 'mechanics' of the supernatural through mathematics; indeed, some of the mathematicians connected with the early study of probability theory were persecuted for this very reason."

The author does not cite a single source to back his claim that studying probability was considered "impious." He does not mention a single actual person who was ever persecuted by anyone for studying probability theory. I studied the history of science at the graduate level for a year at King's College in London, and our lecturer assured us that on any scientific topic that did not seem to directly impact the interpretation of scripture, the Catholic Church was wholly indifferent to what conclusions scientists might reach. (For instance, the Church showed no interest whatsoever in what theory of motion turned out to be most correct.) And in many years of reading in the history of science and mathematics since my graduate studies, I have never encountered a single instance of anyone anywhere ever having been persecuted for a mathematical idea, aside from the legends that the Pythagorean who discovered that the square root of two is not rational was killed for his finding.

But despite my extensive amateur study of this history, I am not a pro, so I thought perhaps I had missed something. Thus, I asked an actual pro in the history of mathematics about this, and he responded, "I've never come across anything remotely like that and I too think it is completely nonsense."

Can any of my readers come up with even a single case of someone having been "persecuted" for studying probability? I sure can't find any.

Nevertheless, a major publishing house (Dover) allowed their author to make this outlandish claim without asking him to supply the least bit of supporting evidence. And thus we find evidence of how strong is the unfounded belief that religion is the enemy of scientific and mathematical reason: a writer making a completely unsubstantiated claim that "religion" opposed some mathematical advance is not asked for the least bit of evidence to back his claim, since the editors at Dover no doubt already "knew" that if something was rational, "religion" would reject it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dad, what are you doing?

"Working on an important programming project. I've been putting this off for weeks, but today I've finally gotten going."

"That's great. How did you do it?"

"I have an even more important book review due. So now the programming project can progress."

"But... how are you going to get the book review done?"

"Easy: I just need to take on an even more important project, so that finishing the review becomes procrastination. The I'll have it done in a jiffy."

If you are an aging rock star...

is having a long-extinct species named after you really an honor?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

1) Bomb Muslim countries, kill residents, wreck their governments, create chaos and refugees.

2) Allow large numbers of immigrants from the countries we are wrecking into the US.

3) Force libertine American culture on them.

4) Watch terrorist acts erupt.

5) Repeat step one.

"This couldn't be anyone's plan!" you say. "It's insane."

Yes, it's insane... unless you have gotten wealthy off of the sales of weapons and security services, can afford pretty good security yourself, and will get even wealthier off of more such sales the more times we go around the loop!

The "Dark" Ages

"To my mind, anyone who believes that the era that witnessed the building of the Chartres Cathedral and the invention of parliament and the university was 'dark' must be mentally retarded..." -- Warren Hollister, quoted in Bearing False Witness, p. 86

Another Stark Problem with Stark's Astronomy

Stark (Bearing False Witness) seems to think that Copernicus had to introduce “loops” (epicycles) into the planets' circular orbits to get the orbital period correct: “it would not do for the earth to circle the sun in only three hundred days” (151). This is silly: one can always change the diameter or speed of a circular orbit in one's model and thus get the orbital period correct. The real problem with positing circular orbits instead of the actual elliptical ones has to do with the relationship of different parts of a planet's orbit, as can be seen with a visual representation:

In the portions of a planet's orbit where the ellipse if flatter than a circle, the planet will appear to move too fast for it to have a circular orbit. And in the portions of its elliptical orbit where the ellipse is more curved than a circle, the planet will appear to move too slowly. So the actual problem with Copernicus's system (and Ptolemy's) is not that circular orbits show planets having years of too short (or long) a duration – that problem could be trivially corrected. Instead, the problem is that if we mistakenly assume circular orbits, we are left with having to introduce “loops” (epicycles) to explain why some portions of a planet’s orbit proceed faster than other portions.

The Catholic Church and Slavery

Stark (Bearing False Witness) notes that while slavery was hardly questioned in antiquity, the Catholic Church gradually eliminated it in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. When Aquinas condemned slavery as "contrary to natural law," this soon became the official Church position.

Nevertheless, some Church officials, even some popes, continued to own slaves. But some popes engaged in fornication and had children out of wedlock, despite official Church opposition to sex outside of marriage. And the Spanish and Portuguese imperialists often continued to enslave people, despite Church opposition. For instance, Spain colonized the Canary Islands in the early 1400s, and started enslaving the islanders.  This prompted Pope Eugene IV to declare that "these people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without exaction or reception of any money" (quoted on 171).

In the 1500s, Pope Paul II asserted that "the same Indians and all other peoples--even though they be outside the faith... should not be deprived of their liberty or their other possessions... and are not to be reduced to slavery..." (quoted on 172).

The Inquisition took up the matter in the 1600s, and asked:

"Whether it is permitted to buy, sell, or make contracts in their respect Blacks and other natives who have harmed no one and have been made captives by force or deceit?"

It declared, "Answer: no."

In fact, the papacy denounced slavery in 1462, 1537, 1639, 1741, 1815, and 1839.

The shoddiness of TV plot writing

CSI: Miami:

A guy is found dead, and his car has some strange scarring on the paint job. The forensics team determines it is from acetone.

Ah! His ex-girlfriend works at a nail salon. The drama unfolds: she saw him out at a nightclub with another woman, so she went to her car... and fetched the gallon or so of acetone she apparently always keeps in the boot... because, you know, she works at a salon!... and dumps it on the hood of his car.

This is quite realistic, in my experience. I work at a college, and therefore I always drive around with hundreds of syllabi in the back seat of my car. And if I spot an ex fooling around, I dump all of them on her car, hoping I can bore her to death by making her read them.

Well they often call me Tony, but my real name is...

A story:

This Hatian guy hangs out at my local. (By "Hatian guy" I mean, "his ancestors are from Haiti," not "he's not really American." That's the way we talk in the outer boroughs, OK?)

I thought he had introduced himself to me as "Sony." But another friend kept calling him "Tony."

So I asked, "Hey, I thought you said your name was 'Sony.' But I keep hearing Wille call you 'Tony.' What is your name?"

"Yeah, it's Sony... and you know why? My dad was an asshole: he named me after his stereo. I think he liked that stereo more than me!"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How the Establishment Is Playing You

When Howard Dean's candidacy was sabotaged by the spread of the "Dean is crazy" meme, I began to recognize that although America ostensibly has two political parties, the goal of our elites is to make sure that each party runs a presidential candidate acceptable to them. Sure, the two parties are not identical, and there is plenty of room for disagreement so long as that disagreement is not on issues important to our elite class:

1) globalism and the gradual destruction of nation-states (so that trans-national corporations gain power);
2) continual low-level warfare around the world (so military contractors make more and more money); and
3) continued macroeconomic turbulence (so top investment banks become richer and richer).

When a candidate who is not "on board" on these issues seems to be a threat, there are certain standard ways to deal with him or her. They involve spreading the memes that:

1) that candidate is a racist;
2) that candidate is crazy; and
3) that candidate is dangerous.

No "conspiracy theory" is necessary to explain how these memes are spread. As Marx and Engels understood long ago, the members of a class do not need to consciously conspire to defend their class interests. Our elites attend the same cocktail parties; their kids go to the same schools; they go to the same gala fund-raisers; they read the same publications; they watch the same TV shows.

People innately want to get along, to be accepted. If they are warned that doing X (e.g., supporting Buchanan, supporting Nader, supporting Dean, supporting Paul, supporting Trump) will make them a pariah, that they will be viewed as an evil person if they do X, they will be cast out from their circle of friends if they do X... well, they will find reasons not to do X. And if there are large financial incentives to not do X as well (e.g., loss of publication outlets, loss of speaking fees, loss of job, loss of grant money), they are even more motivated not to do X. All the establishment has to do is circulate minimally plausible reasons not to do X, and those reasons will be eagerly adopted by people threatened with the loss of both friends and income for doing X. And once people have embraced those reasons, they will interpret subsequent events through a filter that confirms those reasons: they will engage in confirmation bias.

So, if Trump elliptically mentions "my African-American" when he is clearly speaking off-the-cuff and indicating "my African-American supporter, the one I just mentioned," if you have been primed by continuous propaganda to believe Trump is a racist, it is easy to interpret this elliptical phrase as meaning "Trump thinks he owns this person just like African-Americans were owned as slaves."

But, as Scott Adams has pointed out, real racists won't warmly embrace someone from a race they hate. They can't bring themselves to do it. If you see someone essentially holding hands with someone of race X, then you can be sure that person does not hate people of race X.

PS: If you first reaction to the photo at the top of this post is, "But Mike Tyson is a rapist!" you might contemplate just how well you are being played: this post is examining whether "Donald Trump hates black people," not whether "Mike Tyson is an exemplary human being"! But you immediately deflected the actual point into one that supports the establishment narrative, albeit in an illogical way.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Forced conversions to Christianity?

Stark (Bearing False Witness) documents the fact that the notion that there were massive "forced conversions" to Christianity in Late Antiquity is false. His own work (The Rise of Christianity and The Triumph of Christianity) has shown that the main factors prompting conversions were social and doctrinal: "socially, Christianity generated an intense congregational life" and "doctrinally, in contrast to paganism''s belief in limited, unreliable, and often immoral Gods, Christianity presented an image of God as moral, concerned, dependable, and omnipotent" (56). He demonstrates that the Christian emperors continued to employ large numbers of pagans as consuls and prefects. He quotes the Code of Justinian, from as late as the sixth century, declaring: "We especially command those persons who are truly Christians, or who are said to be so, that they should not abuse the authority of religion and dare to lay violent hands on Jews and pagans, who are living quietly and attempting nothing disorderly or contrary to law" (55).

Another strange claim from Stark

Stark (Bearing False Witness) writes of Copernicus:

"To make his system work, Copernicus had to postulate that there were loops in the orbits of the heavenly bodies... However, these loops lacked any observational support; had they existed, a heavenly body should have been observed looping." (151)

What are we to make of this? Copernicus introduced epicycles into his system (Stark's "loops") precisely to get his system to fit with the observational data! The "observational support" was that, with the loops, Copernicus could predict where planets would be reasonably well, but without them he could not. When Stark writes "a heavenly body should have been observed looping," doesn't he realize that, for Copernicus, that is exactly what we are observing?

Of course, today, thanks to Kepler, we have a simpler system for explaining these apparent loops. Nevertheless, Copernicus introduced epicycles because they were the only way he could envision to explain the actual observations.

UPDATE: Changed "introduced" text to clarify my meaning.

The persistence of error

My paper "Was Berkeley a Subjective Idealist?" documents some of the many claims that he was one, and also some of the many times the claim has been refuted. I hope to write a book exploring this topic in more depth one day. (I actually have a contract to write it, but I don't know if I can manage the time.)

Thony here documents a similar history of the notion that Johannes Kepler murdered Tycho Brahe, and notes this is far from the only "zombie error" like this in the history of science.

It seems that once errors like this begin to circulate, it is almost impossible to put them to rest once and for all.

Any ideas on how these "zombies" might be put to their final rest?

Late night fun

Just a story:

I finished playing with my mates at a reggae club in Bridgeport, CT, at about 1:30 in the morning. The place we were playing is on a street that is kind of busy at 6 PM, but very deserted at 1:30 AM. I packed up some of my gear and walked out of the club to put it in my car.

There was only one person anywhere to be seen: an Hispanic guy, standing in front of the club, looking a little "off." He hadn't been inside for the show, and there was nothing else left open in the area at that hour, so I have no idea why he was there. No cars were passing by, the club's patrons had gone home, and the rest of the band was still inside packing up.

In his hands was a canvas bag maybe three feet long but only a few inches in width.  He held it up as I got close to him, and said, "Hey, do you want to see my machete?"

I stopped walking and looked at him for a few seconds, my head tilted and my lips pursed to express my state of serious contemplation.

Finally, I said, "Thanks, but I think I'm OK."

"You sure?"

"Yes, but thanks very much anyway." I nodded to express my sincere appreciation for the offer.

I walked on to my car and put my bag of noisy things in the trunk. He walked on down the deserted street.

That's all.

Universities bizarre focus on reference styles

Universities seem to spend a lot of time teaching MLA, APA, and Chicago reference styles, even at the undergraduate level.

What is this all about?

1) Most undergraduate students are not going on to academic careers, and will never need to bother with this stuff again once they graduate.

2) Even if they are going on to academic careers, this is far from the most important thing they will need to know!

I have published about thirty papers in academic journals over fourteen years. In all that time, I have first submitted every single one in "my" format:

Maurer, Armand, ed. The Philosophy of William of Ockham: In the Light of Its Principles. Toronto Ont.: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1999.

I've probably submitted those 30 papers to about 60 journals. (I've received very few rejections, mostly because I target a journal I think likely to accept the paper, rather than one likely to reject it: I can't stand spending years shepherding a paper into print!) Out of those 60 submissions, only once I got the paper back because "it doesn't meet our formatting standards." That one I just sent to another journal!

For the most part, editors are happy to send out a paper to referees, and then, only if it is accepted, ask for it to be re-formatted. At that point, I find an issue of the journal, see how its references are done, and copy that style.

In other words, I've published 30 papers over more than a decade without bothering to learn a bloody thing about APA, MLA, or Chicago styles. Frankly, I can't even tell you which of those styles the above example reference is, or if it even conforms to any of them! So why are we tormenting undergraduate students with mastering this stuff?

What to watch "on TV"?

My list isn't complete, but let me describe what I like.

The best:
The Sopranos
The Wire

Very good:
Il Commissario Montalbano

Inspector Morse
Miss Marple
Nebbie e Delitti

Lie to Me
White Collar
Don Matteo

Unwatchable but I watch them sometimes anyway:
CSI: Miami
Criminal Minds

Just Plain Unwatchable:
Murder She Wrote

Any suggestions for what I've missed that I would like?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

"Blaming the victim"

I say, "France really should have paid more attention to Hitler's military buildup during the 1930s, and responded more energetically."

I am told, "Ooh, you are blaming the victim of Hitler's aggression!"

No: the French leaders, in failing to adequately defend their nation against German aggression, committed a sin of omission. German leaders, in attacking France, committed a sin of commission. Someone who commits a sin of omission fails to adequately attend to the good. Someone who commits a sin of commission willfully embraces evil. The latter is far more culpable than the former.

Admitting that there are sins of omission in no way shifts the focus of culpability from the aggressor to the victim!

Let's just "teach" people not to murder!

As Claes Ryn has demonstrated, moral sentimentality increasingly has displaced moral realism in Western culture. We have always had moral education, and it has always taught people not to do bad things. But moral realism recognizes that evil is real, and that, whatever they are taught, some people embrace evil anyway, and so will do bad, indeed very, very bad, things. Furthermore, recognizing this, it is sensible to take steps to guard against such evil people.

Moral sentimentality, on the other hand, believes that evil can somehow be wished away if we all just adopt the right sentiments. Murder must exist only because we have somehow promoted a "murder culture." And anyone who advises unarmed people not to wander around in dark alleys in dangerous neighborhoods late at night must be "blaming the victim" of murder for their own death!

We have been teaching people not to murder since at least the code of Hammurabi, and probably even way before that. Hitler, who sang in a church choir while growing up, was certainly "taught not to murder." But according to the sentimentalists, anyone who, in 1936, was warning the French or the Poles to strengthen their defenses a bit must have been "blaming the victims"! And all Hitler really needed was a bit more education in "not committing genocide."

Or again, according to the moral sentimentalists, the problem with Jeffrey Dahmer must simply have been that he had not been taught not to engage in serial killing, cannibalism, and necrophilia. If only we did not have a "culture of serial killing, necrophilia and cannibalism," Jeffrey would have been a fine member of society!

Moral sentimentality, by refusing to accept the reality of evil, and thus rejecting the need for potential victims of evil to defend themselves against it, thereby ensures that there will continue to be more victims of evil than there would be if we were moral realists.

Faith and Reason

Stark (Bearing False Witness) has some interesting quotes on faith and reason:

"For, as Quintus Tertullian instructed in the second century: 'Reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason -- nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason'" (138).

Or, from Clement of Alexandria:

"Do not think we say these things [Christian doctrines] are only to be received by faith, but also that they are to be asserted by reason. For indeed it is not safe to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly truth cannot be without reason." (138)

The idea that faith is the opposite of reason is a fairly recent idea, and would have stunned most Christians from the time of Christ through the Middle Ages. It is based on a (willful?) misunderstanding of what was meant by "faith." So, for instance, when Bertrand Russell writes, "We may define 'faith' as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence," we should recognize this as a piece of propaganda, and not a reasoned philosophical position.

In fact, 'faith,' properly understood, is every bit as necessary to science as it is to Christianity. You might see Michael Polanyi on this point, or consider this passage:

"I’ve found that a big difference between new coders and experienced coders is faith: faith that things are going wrong for a logical and discoverable reason, faith that problems are fixable, faith that there is a way to accomplish the goal. The path from 'not working' to 'working' might not be obvious, but with patience you can usually find it." (Emphasis mine.)

Indeed, this is something I continually have to transmit to my computer science students: they must first believe that our whole enterprise is rational, and will make sense given time, before they will be able to commit to making the effort necessary to overcome all the obstacles to understanding they will face along the way.

A Stark Contrast on William of Ockham

In Bearing False Witness, Stark credits William of Ockham with recognizing "that space was a frictionless vacuum."

I had never heard this claim before, so I was prompted to investigate. This book seems to claim the exact opposite: a vacuum would be "a mathematical body of three dimensions that bodies can occupy for a time and then leave for other bodies to occupy. In [Ockham's] view, as in Aristotle's, there is no empty space of this sort" (446).

Well, I need my copy of Atomism and Its Critics. Once I get that, I'm sure I'll have this sorted. But if anyone has any insight on this point, let me know.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

100% of car thefts are caused by car thieves

That doesn't mean you should leave your car unlocked on a dark street with the keys in the ignition.

Stark and the Lost Gospels

Starks's Bearing False Witness is somewhat tendentious when it comes to the "lost gospels." These gospels are, too a great extent, "Gnostic" in character. The trait that characterizes gnosticism, in general, is that it is neither works nor faith that bring salvation, but knowledge. More specifically, it is usually secret knowledge, available only to spiritual adepts, that saves. And even more specifically, that knowledge is often held to be the knowledge that the physical world is a prison, trapping the adept in his or her body, and blocking the adept from realizing the soul's true nature, as a resident of a better, divine realm. Gnostic texts often described an elaborate metaphysics of this imprisonment, involving multiple levels of divine beings. In particular, one divine being, the demiurge, had fallen from the Pleroma, essentially gone mad, and created a prison -- the physical world -- in which he could entrap other spiritual beings and garner their worship. And gnostics often identified this crazed divinity with... Jehovah, the Hebrew god.

This may seem crazy or may seem insightful, but Stark adopts an odd, arguably propagandistic, way of describing those beliefs: "[For gnostics] God is the epitome of evil and the gleeful cause of human suffering" (43). But as far as I have seen, no gnostic would say that about "God" with a capital 'G': they always seemed to hold that the god who created the physical world is a distinctly lesser divine being, and that "God," the ultimate divinity, is good and uniting with Him is the true goal of gnostic practice.

Over the next few pages, Stark demonstrates that he understands this quite well, and yet he continues to call the gnostic demiurge "God" with a capital 'G.' It is as though someone took the fact that orthodox Christians believe that there is a fallen, divine being, namely Satan, who epitomizes evil, and claimed that therefore Christians believe that God is evil!

Gnostic beliefs seem nutty to Stark, and that is understandable: they have so seemed to many others, including the Church fathers. But that is no reason to mischaracterize those beliefs.

Off we go... to the Middle Ages!

I am now reviewing Rodney Stark's Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. (Stark, by the way, is not a Catholic.) So we'll be addressing the Middle Ages often in the next week or two (the book is short).

First, let us take up Jews and the Catholic Church. Stark stresses something I have seen historians specializing in the Middle Ages point out: while Jews sometimes were attacked or killed by Christians between 500 and 1400, the Church hierarchy was always their defenders. For instance, during the First Crusade, some crusaders decided that, that before they went all the way to the Middle East to fight "God's enemies" they should take care of some of them (i.e. Jews) who were living next door in Europe. And so Emich of Leisingen set out to kill Jews in the Rhineland. Their first stop was Speyer, but:
The bishop of Speyer took the local Jews under his protection, and Emich's forces could only lay their hands on a dozen Jews who had somehow failed to heed the bishop's alarm. All twelve were killed. Then Emich led his forces to Worms. Here, too, the bishop took the local Jews into his palace for protection. But this time Emich would have none of that, and his forces broke down the bishop's gate and killed about five hundred Jews. The same pattern was repeated the following week in Mainz. Just as before, the bishop attempted to shield the Jews, but he was attacked and forced to flee for his life. (22)
During the Second Crusade, St. Bernard of Clairvaux rode to the Rhine Valley -- apparently the worst place in Medieval Europe to be a Jew -- and, as told by a Jewish chronicler named Ephraim, said, "Anyone who attacks a Jew and tries to kill him is as though he attacks Jesus himself" (23).

And during the Black Death, popular rumors arose that Jews were poisoning wells and causing the deaths. But "Pope Clement VI, who directed the clergy to protect the Jews, denounced all claims about poisoned wells, and ordered that those who spread the rumor, as well as anyone who harmed Jews, be excommunicated" (24).

Attacks on Jews in the Middle Ages always arose from "the mob," and were always fought by the Church hierarchy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The "Open Society" is the doomed society

Any living society is based on a shared way of life, a "public orthodoxy": once it abandons that and is "open to whatever," it is disintegrating, and will soon cease to exist.

For Berkeley, does the street disappear when no one is on it?

Of course not. That's what cats are for:

What Donald Trump Is... And Isn't

1) He's an egomaniac!

Yup. Probably only an egomaniac could survive the smear gauntlet the establishment will present to any non-establishment candidate. But yes, he is an egomaniac.

But while he is an egomaniac of a dangerous sort, he is not one of a catastrophic sort. It is egomaniacs who have tied their self-worth to an ideology that we really need to worry about: see Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. Trump seems blessedly free of any ideology.

2) He'll say anything to win!

Yup. In his conflict with the Trump U. judge, Trump is looking for any angle that can discredit his "opponent." Trump is obsessed with "winning." If he loses the Trump U. lawsuit, he wants a handy explanation for why: "The Mexican-American judge was against me because I want to build a wall!"

That is probably BS. Trump is the paradigmatic bullshitter. He is not such much a liar as he is someone unconcerned with the truth: he says whatever he thinks he needs to say to advance his agenda.

3) He doesn't care about offending people!

Yup. If something he might say fits in with 1) and 2), he'll say it! And he'll keep saying it again and again, no matter whom it offends.

4) He's a racist!

Nope. We know that he has employed, worked with, and been friends with many non-white people. Many of those people have endorsed him. It is true that he has no hesitation about playing "identity politics," when he thinks that might help him win. But he also has no hesitation about rejecting "identity politics," when he thinks that might help him win.

In fact, we might say that Trump is far too much of an egomaniac to be a racist: racists are people with low self-esteem, who need to identify with something they see as being larger than themselves, e.g. their race, in order to feel important. Donald Trump already sees himself as far too important to need to identify with the "white race" to feel important! He certainly is willing to say things that white racists might identify with, if this will help him win. But he is equally willing to say he "loves Hispanics," if that will help him win.

In fact, a recent remark that supposedly is evidence of his racism, instead illustrates my point: when he pointed out "my African-American" in a rally, that demonstrates that for Trump, it is all about him, and race means nothing to him. He loves African-Americans... who are for him. He loves Hispanics... who are for him. And, unfortunately, although he is not himself a racist -- he is an egomaniac! --, he is willing to pander to white racists... just so long as they are for him.

Let me illustrate this further: I am confident that if could sit down with Trump today and convince him that his declaring that "The white race is a cancer invading the body of humanity" would guarantee him the presidency, he would be perfectly happy to Tweet that. He really doesn't have any opinions about race: his only opinion that has any importance is that Donald Trump must win.

This is not the profile of my ideal presidential candidate! I've mentioned before how very, very many candidates I would like to have a chance to win this next election besides Trump. I would probably prefer you, whoever you are reading this, to be our next president rather than electing this bullshitting, offensive, egomaniac.

But faced with the prospect that either a bullshitting, offensive, egomaniac might be our next president, or that a candidate totally in the pocket of the military-industrial complex might be our next president... sorry, folks: I want to see fewer Yemenis, and Libyans, and Syrians, and Iraqis, dying or living miserable lives over the next four years. A bullshitting, offensive, egomaniac candidate has no particular reason to keep destroying the lives of those people. A candidate totally in the pocket of the military-industrial complex does.

Thus, I claim, we should vote for the awful candidate since the alternative is the really, really awful candidate.

Monday, June 06, 2016

My review of Sumner

This will be coming out in The Journal of the History of Economic Thought, but probably not for another year or so. In the meantime, you get it first:


Sumner, Scott B. The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression. The Independent Institute, 2015. xviii, 507 pp. Hardcover, $37.95.

The Midas Paradox is the result of Scott Sumner’s many years of contemplating the causes of the Great Depression. Sumner adopts a novel “gold market approach” in this work, holding that the demand side shocks largely responsible for the worldwide economic downturn were increases in state and private actors’ desire to hoard gold. The “paradox” of the title arises from the logical fact that, with a relatively fixed amount of gold available, it is impossible for all market participants to increase their gold holdings simultaneously. When they try to do so, the result is instead a decrease in economic activity.

Mexican-American Support for Trump

My question did not get as many responses as I had hoped, but let us take on that will illustrate my point quite nicely:

"I think he will do quite poorly with Mexican Americans, due to his rapists remark, his remarks about the Trump University judge, and his support for a deportation."

I have seen tons of similar claims by anti-Trump folks. So let's look at claims 1 and 2 below:

1) Now, I do not think for a second that this commenter is prejudiced against Mexican-Americans. But his claim is that, in general, Mexican-Americans will be be anti-Trump, given Trump's past statements concerning Mexicans.

2) What did Trump say about the Trump University judge? His claim is that this particular Mexican-American judge will be anti-Trump, given Trump's past statements concerning Mexicans.

1) and 2) are essentially the same claim, except that Trump's claim is less of a generalization. (He only made the claim about a single person!)

The moral: it is absolutely fine to generalize about Mexican-Americans (or Hispanics, or African-Americans) so long as the point of the generalization is anti-Trump. But if your point is pro-Trump, and you make any generalization about one of these groups, you are a racist!

Notice: when Ron Paul looked like a possible threat to the establishment candidates, stories started appearing that Paul is a racist! When the outcome of Clinton-Sanders appeared in doubt, I started seeing stories claiming that Sanders' supporters are racists.

This is absolutely plumb-line standard establishment response to any non-establishment candidate who looks to be doing well. In 2004, if the establishment had not been able to use Howard Dean being "unhinged" against him, the "racist" meme would have popped up soon enough.

Another Great Post from Nick Rowe

The fuss over "Neoliberalism"

I'm finishing up my review of Scott Sumner's The Midas Paradox, and I see he uses the term "neoliberalism" to describe the intellectual movement represented by Friedman and Hayek, and embraced (at least rhetorically) by Thatcher and Reagan.

Because it was a new intellectual current, hence "neo," and it was a variety of liberalism, hence "liberalism."

This shouldn't be too controversial, but I've seen a fair number of libertarians going nuts over the term. Their main complaint seems to be, "Well, people use it as a term of disapprobation."

Yes, they do. Opponents of intellectual movement X will often use 'X' as a negative word. Think of how, say, libertarians use "socialist" or "statist." Or how almost everyone uses fascist. Do we have to stop calling Mussolini a fascist because the term  is often used disapprovingly?

I note that Sumner describes himself as a neoliberal. And when he uses that term (in a positive way!) I get a quick, general idea of what policies he supports: free trade, liberal immigration, freely set market prices, central bank aggregate demand management, and a simple social safety net. (Of course, not every person described as neoliberal supports every neoliberal policy, but the same is true for most such labels.)

The term is useful, and that is all we should ask from such a label.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Financial-Military-Industrial Complex Won't Need to Assassinate Trump

As Scott Adams notes, the new "official" rhetoric, comparing Trump to Hitler -- have you noticed this popping up a lot lately? -- justifies assassinating him if he is elected. Of course it would be OK to assassinate the new Hitler!

A smart ruling class knows it is risky to conspire to have a presidential candidate they don't like taken out. It is much safer to keep spreading the idea that he deserves assassination, and then just wait for some mentally unbalanced person to do their work for them.

The market decides upon whom a tax falls

Mises made this point long ago, and Stephen Gordon backs it up.

The government can only decide from whom a tax is collected: it has no power to decide upon whom the actual burden of the tax falls.

That is why (given we are going to have taxation at all -- I know you anarchists object!) it is best to have one simple, easily assessed, tax. I recommend taxing land: you can hide your income or fudge your expenses, you can't hide or fudge your land, so the IRS won't need a large enforcement apparatus, and people can stop trying to game the tax system. And everyone relies on land whether or not they own any, so the incidence of the tax won't fall only on landowners.

The broken nature of our political system is illustrated by how little chance any such reform has of passing: such a reform would benefit pretty much everyone except tax attorneys and tax accountants, and yet they would still be able to block its passage.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Think of Our Great, Non-Racist Presidents from the Past!

A Facebook friend posted Trump's stumble on "my African-American." (It's clear from the context Trump was indicating "my African-American supporter, who I was just mentioning.") By way of contrast to "this racist clown," he mentioned past greats, like JFK and... FDR.

FDR, who put 100,000 people in concentration camps because of their ethnicity? That FDR?

Web Traffic Weirdness

Traffic has picked up a bit here. Wondering why, I've been looking at my stats in Blogger. The top five posts for the most recent month are:

What did the Indians know?
Apr 23, 2013

Agrarian Authoritarians
Apr 25, 2013

Avoid Weather Blasphemy!
Apr 25, 2013

What is going on with this plant?
Apr 23, 2013

That's an Ad Hominem Appeal to Authority!
Apr 21, 2013

Isn't this traffic pattern a little weird? All five of the most viewed posts from the past month are from within four days of each other, from over three years ago!
How could this happen? Each of the above posts has many hundreds of views in the past month! (I could get if two or three people shared some links how a few old posts could suddenly become a bit more active... but hundreds of hits?)

The nonaggression principle

The problem with this "principle" is that by itself it is almost completely empty. Of all political persuasions, probably only fascists, who glorified violent conflict as ennobling, would not agree to it: communists, liberals, conservatives, and not just libertarians, all will sign on to the NAP.

Because communists, you see, believe that grabbing property and calling it your own is aggression! And liberals think that not paying your fair share of taxes is aggression. And conservatives (in the old sense) think not deferring to established authority is aggression.

Of course libertarians disagree with all of those positions. But the disagreement is not whether aggressing against the innocent is good! The disagreement is about what constitutes aggression.

Libertarians are not the only political faction against aggression... they are the only political faction who defines aggression the way they do.

Friday, June 03, 2016

How will Trump do with Mexican-American voters?

Given the wall proposal, and all that?

Please as many people as can spare the time for even a one-word answer, make a comment.

(I've opened up comments to non-registered users for this post alone.)

UPDATE: You know, here in the US, "Irish" is often used as a shorthand for "Irish-American." When someone asks me, "Are you Irish?" I say, "Yes." I don't go all pedantic on the and say, "No, I am Irish-American."

Similarly, "Mexican" can be used as a shorthand for "Mexican-American," without implying Mexican-Americans are not "real" Americans!

But I've updated the title for those who can't fill in an elliptical expression.

Government Is So Corrupt!

Even private government, it turns out.

Clinton in Wall Street's pocket

I ranked all the candidates standing a few months back on two criteria:

1) Less likely to start wars; and
2) Less in Wall Street's pocket.

Bernie Sanders came out on top in both rankings.

Donald Trump was second in both.

Hillary Clinton was at the bottom, along with Marco Rubio, in both rankings.

My ranking Trump ahead of Clinton on peace was confirmed by Bill Kristol trying to get a third-party candidate to throw the election to Clinton.

Now my ranking Trump ahead of Clinton on independence from Wall Street has been confirmed as well:

"Some of them also have very reasoned arguments for Trump. Hillary is a known evil. Trump is unknown. They'd rather bet on the unknown, since it will also send a big message to Team Dem that they can no longer abuse progressives. I personally know women in the demographic that is viewed as being solidly behind Hillary—older, professional women who live in major cities—who regard Trump as an acceptable cost of getting rid of the Clintons."

Do cranes try to lift things?

A long, long time ago, I ran into my friend Salis while I was prying a rock from the ground.

"Boy, that lever sure is making an effort to get that rock out of the ground!" Salis remarked.

"No, I don't think so... I think it's just a tool. I'm the one making the effort," I replied.

A few centuries later, he came across me using a polyspastos to place large stones high atop a building.

"Whoa, now there's no way you can deny that thing is making an effort to lift those stones!" he commented.

"Well, certainly is is a better lifting machine, but why does that make any difference as to whether or not it is 'making an effort'?"

"Ha, back in the day, you never thought machines could lift this much. And you know they'll be even better tomorrow."

"Yes, but how is that..."

"People like you are stuck in the past!"

Finally, several centuries later, he came across me using a TAISUN and lifting 20,000 tons.

"Well, Gene, I guess you'll have to admit now that these machines really do try to lift things! Boy, look at all it is lifting!"

Of course, the technical capabilities of the machine have no bearing at all on whether it is "trying" or not. There is no more or less reason to believe that a simple lever tries to lift things than there is that the most sophisticated crane does.

Does Watson think about chess strategy? I don't think so, but if it does, then there is no reason to deny that the most primitive computer in 1950 was thinking about adding numbers, or, indeed, that a thermometer thinks about the temperature of "its" house.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Great Minds Think Alike...

and so do Scott Adams and I:

"Have you wondered why Republican Bill Kristol and others are looking for a third-party candidate who will guarantee a Clinton win over Trump? That’s probably because they know Clinton is in the pockets of the defense industry, and perhaps so are they.

"The defense industry needs America to fight wars. History suggests Clinton will be a normal president who starts wars when the defense industry tells her to do so. Trump is less likely to play that game because he doesn’t need their money. That makes Trump the lower risk of starting a war. He has no profit motive."

Why Trump Is Our Best Option, Part II

As I've said elsewhere, Donald Trump is hardly my first choice for president of the United States. Here are the choices I listed there that I would have preferred to the choice I'm actually faced with:

1) Bring Dwight Eisenhower back to life and allow him to serve for a third term.
2) Don't even bother with resurrection: just put Dwight Eisenhower's corpse in the oval office.
3) Suspend the constitution, and allow Barack Obama to serve for a third term.
4) Maybe you friggin Democrats could've voted for Jim Webb when you had the chance, hey?
5) Maybe you friggin Republicans could've voted for Rand Paul when you had the chance, hey?
6) I've been available this whole time, and I'm waiting for the call to step in and stop the madness.

So it's not like I'm a yuuuge Trump fan! But none of 1-6 is going to happen. Nor is Gary Johnson conceivably going to win the presidency. So our options are that either Clinton or Trump will be our next president.

Furthermore, let me say that, if I thought a Trump presidency and a Clinton presidency were going to be equally bad, I could certainly see voting for a protest candidate, such as Johnson, as a way of registering disapproval of our two real choices.

But I have strong evidence that their presidencies would not be equally bad, at least in terms of the main criterion I'm am looking at, namely, foreign policy:

Bill Kristol is backing a third-party effort in order to deny Trump the presidency.

There you have it folks: Bill Kristol cares about more war, and only more war. If he is willing to break with the GOP to try to get Clinton elected, that means Kristol, a Trump opponent, is convinced that Trump won't give him the amount of belligerence he wants.

Having already come out for Trump as our best option, I realize I might have a cognitive bias, and I might be trying to interpret Trump's myriad of positions in the most non-interventionist light. But when Kristol, a die-hard Trump opponent, also sees Trump as a "non-intervensionist" threat, that tells me I am correct in my judgment.*

* Of course, both Kristol and I could be wrong: life is uncertain. When I supported Bush in 2000, it was mostly because he promised us a more humble foreign policy. Boy, was I mistaken! But we have to place our bets despite that uncertainty.

Stop fetishizing the latest technology

The brain was not a mechanical device in 1750, just because such devices were the cutting edge of technology then. And brains are not computers today, just because computers are the latest whiz-bang technology.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

John Stuart Mill got it backwards

Why should we believe that unrestricted free speech results in the triumph of the... best? most truthful?... opinions?

Science, thank goodness, never adopted Mill's speculative view: science ruthlessly winnows out bad papers, bad experiments, and bad theories, giving them the least exposure possible -- perhaps just an editor, perhaps an editor and two referees -- so that only better science gets published. (Of course, mistakes are made! But the system largely works.)

So in morals, why should we expect free speech to produce good results? In fact, I claim that in morals have excellent reason to think it will produce degeneracy: after all, who doesn't like to be told that those vices they want to indulge in really are virtues? Does someone think "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" won out because it was the best advice, or because it panders to what we are inclined to do anyway?

The Economic Way of Thinking

  • Economizing is a mode of experiencing the world.
  • It is the world seen in terms of scarce means that may be employed to achieve one's chosen ends.
  • Every one of us economizes; the subject of economics is us, and to an extent we know the subject already!
  • The scientific study of economics is the attempt to make our implicit knowledge of economizing explicit and conceptually precise.
  • To achieve the above, economists have developed concepts such as scarcity, opportunity cost, exchange, demand, supply, profit and loss.

Life as a consumption good

On a TV show, I saw an ill woman ask for help in killing herself: "I want to leave on my own terms."

She views her life as a consumption good, to be discarded once it is not "providing utility."

Making a Hero Out of the Neurotic...

Baby I'm Doing You Wrong

Slippery slopes, you say? They don't exist!

A year or so ago, I told a defender of legal abortion that his arguments, if accepted, imply the young babies could be killed by their parents for the exact same reason he argued fetuses could. "Outrageous!" I was told. "A smear tactic! No one would ever advocate that!"

But, of course, he, being a decent human being, just didn't want to go there: his arguments certainly did imply that newborns can be killed, and the "researchers" who wrote the paper discussed in the link above at least have the honesty to admit that.

But here is the really "humorous" bit from the article:

"The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were 'fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.'"

Look, I am not in favor of threatening the authors of this revolting paper with death. But it is really something to see an advocate of infanticide call others "fanatics"!

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in th...