Showing posts from 2019

Old economic journals...

are often better than new ones. Check out what I found in Review of Economic Studies from 1936:

Modern architecture

"the primary aim of architectural design today is, very simply, not to find the best possible solution for human environments, but rather, to create adventurous new sculptural works of art on a gigantic scale" -- Michael W. Mehaffy, Cities Alive , p. 167

Practicing science is NOT a theoretical activity

One can't "put science on a scientific basis." The knowledge of how to practice science is not itself a form of scientific knowledge.

Arguing for the sake of it

"Philosophers, especially those with an academic position, inherit a long tradition of arguing for the sake of arguing; even if they despair of reaching the truth, they think it a matter of pride to make other philosophers look foolish. A hankering for academic reputation turns them into a kind of dialectical bravoes, who go about picking quarrels with their fellow philosophers and running them through in public, not for the sake of advancing knowledge, but in order to decorate themselves with scalps." -- R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art , p. 106-107

Poincaré on chance

“A very small cause which escapes her notice determines a considerable effect that we cannot fail to see, and then we say the effect is due to chance.” — Henri  Poincaré, Science and Method This is something I have pointed out here repeatedly. When someone says that the cause or explanation for some event is “chance,” they have turned a word which, when properly used, should be understood to mean “we don’t know what caused that event,” into the name of a cause itself.  It is as though our ignorance of the true cause of some event is causing the event!


Science has explained some things very nicely. But scientism attempts to move from that to the claim that “the only good explanation is a scientific explanation.” It is like moving from the fact that a hammer is a good tool for some jobs to the claim that “the only good tool is a hammer.”

Callahan’s principle of claim parsimony

When writing a paper, restrict yourself to one controversial claim: the main one the paper is designed to forward. Don't throw in other controversial claims as offhand remarks! So , if you are trying to convince chemists that they have made a mistake in determining the formula for some compound, don't mention, in passing, "Oh, and obviously the moon landing was faked."

Welcome to Apple password hell

You buy into the Apple "eco-system," and wind up with three Macs, an iPhone, and a couple of Apple TVs. They are all supposed to connect to the same Apple account. And they all automatically store and use your password... until something happens. Like you get an new device, or hookup to a different cable provider... and then you need to re-enter the password you've forgotten, since it was so conveniently stored for you. LOOP: So you get the password wrong three times, so Apple forces you to change it... to something different than any of your last N passwords. Ok, so what? Well, you have to re-enter it on every device... including that one you only pull out in emergencies. But, by the time you use it again, well, you've been using your stored password for months, and so you type it wrong three times, and Apple forces you to re-set it! JUMP LOOP

Nine stories up

Now I can see the light of day  The Verrazano Bridge so far away In the yard the machines play And I think I’m falling down Looking over that old canal Looking for just one true pal Ain’t nothing to see unusual Nine stories up but I’m gonna drown

Not All Rules Can Be Made Explicit

Sometimes libertarians, such as Walter Block, suggest that if something isn't explicitly forbidden in a law (or contract), it is permitted. Why this can't work:

The point is rather obvious, isn’t it?

Black British rapper Zuby, who is “out of touch,” notes on Twitter: “ If big tech companies and media outlets were actually serious about being neutral and non-partisan then they'd hire some conservatives as part of their never ending 'diversity' initiatives. Ain't no diversity if everybody looks different but thinks the same way... ”

Non-historical McWhorter

John McWhorter is an interesting writer and thinker. I have taken three of his audio courses, read a couple of his books, as well as a number of articles he has written. But, like many scientists who have never been trained to think historically, he’s dangerous when he gets on the subject of history. Such stinkers tend to think only in terms of scientific, general laws of causation. Whatever cannot be explained by such a law is mere “accident” or “chance.” History is the attempt to make sense of some past state of affairs in terms of the earlier past states of affairs that brought the latter one about. “Accident” and “chance” play no part in such an understanding, except, perhaps, in a trivial sense like “The Duke had a car accident after playing a game of chance.” A similar error occurs on page 39 of What Language Is , where McWhorter talks about languages suffering “an interruption in their histories.” (He is talking about scenarios such as Persian becoming highly simplified due to t

Being "out of touch"

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of rob's criticism of my post of a month ago for being "out of touch" is what it says about rob's intellectual standards: I wasn't mistaken, or vindictive: my problem was that I wasn't mindlessly buying into whatever are the latest PC standards being announced by the NY Times or Google. I would be every dollar I own that a decade ago it had never crossed rob's mind that being "welcoming to the non-binary" was an important feature of a company, or even that a category of humans called "the non-binary" existed. But once our cultural masters declares that to be a "good" person is to firmly believe that for all of human history there has been a hidden, significant minority "the non-binary", rob immediately declared he firmly believed it! If tomorrow they declare that "bigotry" towards pedophiles (who will be called "the children affectionate") is the sign of the de

More college diversity and tolerance

From Amherst College, as noted by the left-leaning journal Commonweal : ‘Despite the sentiment expressed in its introduction, such a document will not serve to encourage discussion, but to stifle it; the goal is not intellectual diversity, but conformity. A professor friend of mine at another college notes ruefully that colleagues who oppose the ideas and language put forth in the Amherst document don’t dare say so publicly. “They’d be ostracized and shamed,” he told me. “You just can’t disagree with this kind of thing.”’

My review of Kirzner,

Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem , has been published at Review of Political Economy , and is available here , for a limited time.

"Chance" is not an explanation of anything

I'm currently reviewing John McWhorter's The Language Hoax for The University Bookman . Here is my commentary on McWhorter's use of "chance" as an explanation for some language feature: McWhorter commits a serious error in assigning the cause of this multitude of bewildering variety in human language. He writes, "In fact, there is a coherent explanation... That explanation is, quite simply, chance" (43). This is nonsense, albeit common nonsense. "Chance" is not an explanation for anything: chance is the word we use for happenings we can't explain. In cases such as the presence of evidential markers in the Tuyuca language, McWhorter is fighting against the Whorfian view that there is always a macro-level, cultural/environmental explanation for the features of a language. And he makes a strong case, throughout the book, that that is not so. But there is certainly some explanation for how they arose: perhaps a long-lived Tuyuca chief was

Yak shaving squared

It occurs to me that pretty much every time I tell the yak shaving story, it is because I have already begun yak shaving, and so telling the story is actually second order yak shaving. 

Powered by New Math Inc.

“ Kerr [praised] the performance of  Andre Iguodala , who made six 3-pointers and had 17 points...” — ESPN And was apparently -1 for 4 from the free throw line. 


In a  biography of Napoleon I'm listening to, the author describes tensions between France and England in terms of the French being "anglophobic" or the English being "francophobic". The words certainly aren't used to mean that the French people feared the English; and the English people, the French. Rather, I think the author intends to turn his nose up to the idea that people of two countries dislike each other enough to go to war. And that might be an opinion worth considering. But why call that animosity a phobia? It just clouds historical thinking with contemporary newspeak.

Well, So What?

Various readers have at times dismissed the idea that the pervasive and incessant use of smartphones is really something radically new in human history. David Samuels at Wired knows they are wrong: "The machines and systems that the techno-monopolists have built are changing us faster than they or we understand. The scale of this change is so vast and systemic that we simple humans can’t do the math—perhaps in part because of the way that incessant smartphone use has affected our ability to pay attention to anything longer than 140 or 280 characters."

Now THAT’S out of touch!

A female hiring manager at Microsoft has posted, on an internal discussion board: “Does Microsoft have any plans to end the current policy that financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices? To be clear, I am referring to the fact that senior leadership is awarded more money if they discriminate against Asians and white men...”

I've been losing my head when your not around...

Here's the out-of-touch David French at National Review : "If you spend any time in an American university, a major American corporation, or the governments of America’s deep-blue urban regions, you’ll find pervasive animus against religiously orthodox Christians. Christians working in those spaces write to me all the time, telling me that they must tightly regulate their speech and tightly control their social media, lest they endanger their careers." That, rob, is why traditional Christians find progressive tech companies difficult places to work: not because those companies are "fair" to women, but because those companies hate traditional Christians. GitHub publishes the percentage of "non-binary" employees they have, and worry that they are under-represented. Meanwhile, they don't worry at all that Christians are under-represented... because their ideal for Christian representation is 0%.

I'm out of touch, they're out of time

In showing how little my worry about progressive intolerance is "weird" and "out-of-touch", I cited an episode of Silicon Valley that exaggerated the anti-Christian bias in tech companies for comic effect. At that point, lyin' reader rob accused me of mistaking paraody for reality, as if I were citing the SV episode as a series of events that actually happened . Of course, what I saying was, "See, even the writers of this comedy series see the anti-Christian bias of tech companies." And the thing is, lyin' rob knew this . He was just trying to score rhetorical points. Meanwhile, the other lyin' rob completely shifted his attack on Edward Feser, from "Oooh, he thought he could use a definition to say what is and isn't a computer!" to "No, no, what I meant was he used a bad definition!" So I've shut down comments, because these clowns are not even remotely arguing in good faith, and I don't have the time

Judgment cannot be a computation

Reader rob contends that "surely" when we judge that a computer is running algorithm A correctly, we are using an algorithm ourselves (let's call it B) to make that judgment. But that can't possibly be right. Because, if judgment is just an algorithm, to have any confidence at all that algorithm B judged algorithm A's performance correctly, we would have to run algorithm C to check algorithm B. And then we would have to check algorithm C with algorithm D. And so on, ad infinitum. So, either : 1) Judgment is itself algorithmic, and we really have no idea if any algorithm at all is correct, because we will always eventually wind up at the top of our stack with some completely unchecked algorithm, and so we will have no reason to suspect that any of the other algorithms were correct either. Or : 2) Human judgement is not algorithmic in character. Of course, I am far from the first person to note this. And here is a lengthier discussion of this point.

Conservatism, Old and New

My review of two new books on conservatism for History, Review of New Books , is complete and online at my website . I'll have to take it down once HRNB publishes it, so read it while you can!

Fair's fair!

Reader rob smeared me as "weird and out of touch" for noting how intolerant progressives and progressive institutions are today. No, he complains, they are only being "fair"! So let me share three items of interest. At one large organization where a friend works, two black cafeteria cooks were asked to prepare a special meal in honor of African-American history month. No doubt, they thought back to their own childhood and prepared on meal of ribs, collard greens, and cornbread. A much higher status member of the organization came to the cafeteria and was sorely offended by their "stereotyping." She got them fired . So this highly privileged woman got two much less privileged, minority workers, who were probably supporting families on their low wages, thrown out of work because they had offended her progressive ideology by implying that African-American people ever ate African-American cuisine. Hey, fair's fair! At another large organization where

Algorithms and mathematical functions CANNOT be material

And here's a proof: "Every physical process, no matter how long (even infinite), is indeterminate among incompatible pure functions; (2) so, no such process can be IDENTICAL with any of them, nor can it uniquely determine a function among processes that is IDENTICAL with any pure function. [That follows from the arguments used by Wittgenstein, Goodman, Kripke and many others.] (3) But we know beyond any doubt that WE think in forms that are pure functions (addition, squaring, conjunction, modus ponens) and are not indeterminate among incompatible functions. THEREFORE, our thinking, in so far as it is the realization of a determinate pure function, cannot be any material process or any function among material processes. Thus, human thought, as intelligent, is immaterial." ( In short, an algorithm cannot possibly be a material thing, as any physical process whatsoever could represent infinitely many algorithms, and

Being a "realist"

Most scientific materialists pride themselves on their "realism," their tough-minded rejection of "religious fantasy." These are the same people who continually entertain completely fantastic, utterly ridiculous rubbish like "the universe might be a simulation," "one day we can upload our brains into a computer," or "every time we make a choice, the universe branches into multiple copies." These "ideas" are literally as dumb as thinking "my house is supported by millions of tooth fairies." And as a bonus, here is Ed Feser on this sort of nonsense.

Wild caught salmon

My cats’ food boasted of being the above on its label. I understand the “wild” part: as opposed to farm-raised. By given the fact the salmon is chopped up and in my cats’ dishes, isn’t the “caught” part self-evident? There aren’t salmon who volunteer for that fate, right?

It doesn’t look like such a terrible box to me


The phony multiculturalism of secular liberals

What we get is a constant boasting about "tolerance," combined with a complete intolerance of anyone who is not... a secular liberal. They "respect" other cultures just to the extent those cultures conform to secular liberal principles. But if you are actually culturally different, for instance, they try to ban certain sexual expression in movies (Malaysia), or have arranged marriages (India), or or resist aborting your own children (much of Africa), or even pass a law secular liberals don't like, despite having supported similar laws just a few years before themselves (Indiana, North Carolina) then these "liberals" will hound, harrass, "educate" and boycott you until you think and believe exactly like secular liberals do. This is a rival religion to all traditional religions, and it is completely intolerant of heretics.

The greatest mystery writers

Doyle, Sayers, Christie, Marsh, Hammet, Rendell, James... why are so many of them women?

“He has his own moral code“

I just overheard someone saying this in the park. Of course it is a common sentiment today, and of course it is complete nonsense: A set of rules you made up for yourself to follow are just a set of rules, not a “moral code.” Morality is universal, or it is nothing.

Did they put the wrong arms with T Rex?

Cause that’s what it looks like to me: like maybe that was some little chicken dinosaur he just happened to eat, so the bones were always next to him?

Docker advice

Every once in a while, make sure you run `docker system prune`. Cause if you don't run it for a long time, and then you have to run it... well, let's just say I'm blogging because Docker has been busy the last five minutes or so.

The only propositions we should believe in are those scientifically verifiable!

Of course, the titular proposition is not scientifically verifiable. So if we believe it, then we should not believe it.

"Multiculturalism" as Cover for Ethnocentricity

"All cultures are of course ethnocentric and few are genuinely aware of the degree of their own ethnocentricity." -- Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry , p. 28 I suggest that few people today are as blind to their own ethnocentricity as our current liberal, secularist, globalist elite. (And, of course, it is their occupation of the high ground in elite institutions around the world that partially protects them from the consequences of their own blindness.) I contemplate this fact today after having just received a letter, from the leader of a global, elite institution, exhorting "every single member" of the community to support hey highly contentious point of view, one rejected by maybe 90% of the people on earth. And it was mandatory for everyone to support this controversial view in the name of... tolerance and inclusion! The "multiculturalism" of our elites means that they will happily enjoy the "exotic" dress, fo

GitHub is worried about bias against...

fashionable groups only! Their new report on diversity is extremely concerned that they do not have enough "non-binary" employees, but... their population is wildly  "young-skewed"... but who cares! No one is awarding SJW-points for worrying about age discrimination. And GitHub, why not report on the religious distribution of your population, or the political distribution? Aren't you worried that, say, Republicans  or Orthodox Jews might be under-represented? Of course you aren't! You are working damned hard to make sure that conservatives and the religiously orthodox are under-represented!

"Gender Identity"...

is now a research topic in... computer science. And we used to be a serious discipline.

To Make Good Sandwiches, You Gotta Eat Sandwiches

Especially people who work at roadside sandwich stops. I have gotten sandwiches that were only cut partway through, so that when I went to pick up one half, the other half came with it, and fell apart all over the car. I have gotten sandwiches where the mayonnaise was spread over the tomatoes, so it formed a liquid that ran out of the sandwich as soon as it was picked up. If you don’t use a product yourself, it is very hard to know how to make it properly.

People who have nothing of importance to do...

tend to inflate the importance of the unimportant things they do. 

We Are Appointing the Mindless to the Supreme Court

Here : 'Justice Elena Kagan remarked, "Whenever someone expresses moral disapproval in a legal context, the red flag of discrimination goes up for me."' Of course, Kagan is here expressing here moral disapproval of "discrimination," and in a legal context! We she really means is, "As a liberal, I only approve of moral arguments framed in the language of liberalism and relying upon liberal premises."

Transcendent Agnosticism

Look, the meaning of words change over time, and no language is ever permanently stable: I'm down wit all dat. Acknowledging the above does not mean that one cannot judge certain language changes detrimental. So, for instance, the new, apparently required, use of "agnostic" as a substitute for "neutral" or "indifferent" is idiotic: we had those perfectly good words available to describe what people now mean when they say "Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is politics agnostic": they mean it is neutral between political stances. So, we already had a word that precisely says what is meant: why, then, should we pick a word that suggests that MMT advocates aren't sure whether politics exists or not? Writers choose "agnostic" over the more accurate words in such situations only because "agnostic" is now trendy! Something similar has recently gone on with the use of the word "transcendent": sportswriters these days

I Struggled with the Decision

Andrew Sullivan has come out in favor of legalizing late-term abortions. The reason? "For all the women involved, this was unimaginably painful." I've seen this before, and often on this very issue: they struggled with the decision, so therefore it is... well, what exactly? Not immoral? Immoral, but more OK than if they hadn't struggled with it? But... what in the world does struggling have to do with the morality of the decision one reaches? So... JUDGE: Did you rape those ten women? DEFENDANT: Yes, your honor. But the decision to do so was incredibly painful. JUDGE: Oh! Well then, off you go! What complete, mush-brained nonsense Sullivan is spouting!


If you see your friend destroying himself with alcohol, and you tell him to stop, doesn’t that make you an “alcoholicphobe”?

God Is Not Another Program

People who are ignorant of classical theology often picture God as a creature among creatures. Thus, they feel that the possible existence of God would be an affront to their freedom: "How dare some very great creature order me about, and insist that this and that is forbidden to me! He wants that for Himself, I guess!" This is the picture of God as a "tyrant." (This sort of ignorance of elementary theology may be found, for instance, in the works of Phillip Pullman.) That view is all wrong, and here's a metaphor that may help you understand why: Consider your computer. In it, programs vie for memory, disk, and CPU time. The programs are like creatures occupying the physical universe. If one program gets more CPU time, another program has less. In the common misunderstanding of what is meant by "God" I described above, "God" is the name for an especially powerful program, maybe one with root privileges, that can boss the other programs aro

If You're Branching in Your VCS...

you are by definition not doing continuous integration.

Silly StackOverflow Questions

"How do I add a strong onion flavor to my biryani?" Um... add lots of onions?

Ethics and the Game of Chess

Sometimes people say moral action is justified by the outcome. But this is no more sensible than saying that a player's chess blunder is good because he wound up winning the game!

Lazy MFs!

Trying to login with my iPhone ssh app this morning, I get the message "Invalid argument." I would like to wring a neck right now. Since the programmer who generated that message was processing that very "invalid argument" at the moment he generated the message, what about, say: " is not a valid IP address: 282 > 255." Or something like that? So I don't have to guess which of the 20 or so fields I get to fill in is invalid, and guess why?

New Human Right

Today I learned that office workers in interior offices have a “human right” to have sunshine in their rooms. 

My review of

Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World is online at The British Journal for the History of Philosophy .

The problem with homophobia

With the term, that is. The word 'homophobia' originated as a supposedly scientific description of a psychological malady. As such, it belongs in the same category as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, arachnophobia, hemophobia, and so on. But its main usage, today, is as a way of denouncing someone as evil and worthy of being, say, fired from a job, denied the right to give a speech, rejected as a sponsor of a product, and so on. But that's not the way we treat people with other phobias! We don't say, "Oooh, he's an evil claustrophobe: force him out of his job at Mozilla !" No, we offer the person sympathy for the psychological difficulty from which they suffer. We might, regretfully, decide that we can't hire an acrophobe to lead our mountain climbing expeditions, but that would not be because we hated him for his acrophobia, but because his acrophobia would render him unable to perform the job. Still, we'd say, "Great guy in all other re

Callahan and Salter on Distributism

here . Please excuse the mangling of my bio!

Since I apparently banned myself from commenting...

on my own blog, let me respond to this: "Since the idea for merge-sort first materialized in Von Neumann's brain in the 1940's and he wrote an algorithm for it on a piece of paper , the idea has passed from brain to brain via books lectures , bog posts etc, and from brain to various computer and other implementations. At no time has there been any non-material aspect involved in either the way the idea is transmitted , stored expressed or implemented." With a post: Because the statement is blatantly, obviously false: Von Neumann's brain had a certain material configuration, mostly carbon and water and other organic stuff. Then perhaps merge sort was written down on cellulose from trees using graphite. Then perhaps it was programmed into an ENIAC or something like that, which used glass vacuum tubes. Later, it ran in magnetic core memory. A while later, on silicon chips. Each of these material configurations is radically different. They even involve large

Algorithms Are Immmaterial!

I was talking to some who, to my great surprise, objected when I mentioned that algorithms are immaterial things. (And the person has an advanced degree in CS!) I had thought this was so obvious that no one could object to my statement. But maybe not... maybe it is worth demonstrating. Consider: merge sort can be implemented on an Apple II, on a Cray, on an Android phone, on a vacuum-tube computer at the FAA, and in a human brain. (My students and I actually will run it in class using a deck of cards.) The "material composition" of the implementation is going to be wildly different in each case. And yet we can state with confidence (if we understand the algorithm) whether each is indeed an implementation of merge sort. Furthermore, merge sort also can't be just a name for the collection of all of its implementations. First of all, if that were so, how could we tell what belongs in the collection and what doesn't? And we can actually use the concept of merge sort