Friday, October 30, 2015

More Office bleg

Well, I could not clear up my problems with Office 2011, so I upgraded to 2016... and at least one of my problems has migrated with me!

When I open a document in one of the Office programs, I somewhat regularly get a message "Could not create work file: check your free disk space." (I type the message from memory, so I may have a word or two wrong.)

Well, there are 350 GB free on my primary disk (and over 1 TB free on my backup), and today, the file I was opening was a Word document of about 100 KB, so unless a Word work file is roughly 3.5 million times the size of the actual document, I don't think the amount of free disk space is really the issue.

But does anyone have any idea what the problem really is? And how to make it stop?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Now everything's a little upside down...

I was watching Clear and Present Danger as my movie to fall asleep to. James Earl Jones is the dying director of the CIA, and he is lecturing Harrison Ford as to why, despite the dangers and difficulties, he had to push ahead and expose the corruption he had found.

Jones says, "When you took this job, you swore an oath. And not to me."

Ford nods.

"And not to my boss, the President."

Ford nods.

"You swore an oath to my boss's boss..."

Wow, I thought, a modern movie is really going to walk up the Great Chain of Being, and note that every ruler is ultimately responsible to...

"...the American people."


And what about the block headers?

Looking over the proofs for my forthcoming response to Walter Block, I saw a problem with one of the block quotes.

And then I realized that, in this case, every one of my block quotes was a Block quote!

This is not my beautiful code!

This is from the movie Clear and Present Danger. The code appears very clearly on screen about an hour and 30 minutes into the movie. What struck me about it was that, at first glance, it almost appears as if they took the trouble to put some real code up there. But once I looked more closely, it appears to me to be nonsense. It is like someone who had seen a lot of code imitated what it looks like, in the same way that one of my sons can imitate Tagalog without being able to speak it. Can anyone recognize this as any actual programming language?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Remarkable history-of-economics fact of the day

J. B. Say's Traité d'économie politique went through 20 editions in the United States between 1821 and 1854!

Phlogiston, O Phlogiston!

Thony does a great job explaining why phlogiston was an excellent, if incorrect, scientific theory: it was a huge help in advancing research.

In science, it is better to make big, important mistakes, than to be correct on minute points. (Although there is nothing wrong with the latter.) Another example: Einstein was wrong about quantum mechanics, but his critiques drove the field forward.

Sometimes, the computer industry is pretty messed up

I was just trying to install Office 2016 on my Mac laptop, and I received the message, "This software cannot be installed, because it is from an unknown developer."

So, Apple Computer has never heard of a developer called "Microsoft"?

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Economic Point of View

Israel Kirzner, in his book after which this post is titled, is noting that to think like an economist is to see things from a certain angle. This is an important point, and I use it in teaching all the time.

For instance, if topics like pornography or addictive drugs arise, I will tell my students, "From the economic point of view, we just look at what people want, and whether they are getting it. We don't examine whether it is good for them to want what they want. We can look at that in ethics class."

So I don't need to assert something silly like "Crack addicts know what is best for themselves" to teach students why the demand curve for crack slopes downward.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Liberal Platitudes with No Evidence Behind Them

* "People know what is best for themselves."

The average life (mine included) is a quagmire of mistakes, lost opportunities now regretted, actions done but now repented, and so on. The idea that people know what is best for themselves is massively falsified by our everyday experience, by statistics on divorce, suicide, addiction, and depression, and by common sense. I think it is only by repeatedly chanting the above mantra that anyone can manage to ignore it manifest falsity.

* "We need the completely unfettered play of ideas so that the truth will triumph."

Once again, I say there is just no evidence whatsoever for this proposition. It was put forward as an article of faith by John Stuart Mill, and simply repeated by liberals ever since, without anyone ever bothering to marshall a scrap of evidence in its behalf. But, but... science!

However, this is not what happens in science, at all! In science, the only ideas that get to circulate are those carefully vetted by multiple experts in the field. So, science does not progress by the "free interplay of ideas": it progresses by carefully suppressing bad ideas before they reach a wide audience.

Office Bleg

Microsoft Office 2011 (Mac) has become completely unstable for me, apparently across all components. I open a PowerPoint file, and all the images are just red x's. I close it, then reopen it, and everything is fine! PowerPoint also crashes roughly once every twenty minutes.

I try to open a Word file, and word tells me that there is not enough disk space to open the work file, even though I have 350 GB free. I try to save an Office component, and I get messages like "Could not write to ". That's correct: where there should be a name of what could not be written, I get a blank.

I've made sure I have the latest Office update, and I've run repair on my hard disk. Any other ideas on what to do?

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Project of Resolving Moral Issues by Liberal Argumentation Has Failed

"For the subsequent history of moral philosophy has been a history of ramifying disagreement in which all of [Henry] Sidgwick's attempted reconciliations of hitherto warring post-Enlightenment points of view into a synthesis -- which was itself intended to foreshadow a coming convergence of an even more complete kind -- I have been dissolved into new and multifarious conflicts. Universalizability theorists, utilitarians, existentialists, contractarians, those who assert the possibility of deriving morality from rational self-interest and those who deny it, those who uphold the overriding character of an interpersonal standpoint and those who insist upon the prerogatives of the self, disagree not only with each other but among themselves, and the certitude of those who maintain each point of view is matched only by their inability to produce rational arguments capable of securing agreement from their adversaries. Thus post-Sidgwickian moral philosophy, judged by the standards of... Sedgwick himself, has turned out to be a dubious type of activity, self-discrediting in just the way that Sedgwick held that the theology of the late nineteenth century was self-discrediting." -- Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, p. 189

The liberal, Enlightenment project was to construct a morality, by "pure reason" alone, without assuming any particular metaphysical stance, to which all rational people could agree. In the late nineteenth century, when Sidgwick wrote the entry on "Ethics" for the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, liberal ethicists were largely convinced that they were "almost there," and all that was left was a mopping up operation. Their conviction has been spectacularly falsified by the century plus since then.

And we can understand why their project had to fail: different metaphysical and theological standpoints imply different bases for ethical reasoning, and thus different conclusions. Any method of proceeding that declares these different bases off limits for "reasonable" discussion is inherently incapable of reconciling those differing conclusions.

I really dislike...

the people trying to kill businesses like Uber and AirBnB. These businesses are giving people with little capital the chance to be independent and run their own business under the larger company's umbrella.

But some people aren't happy unless everyone is a proletarian except them and their friends!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The greatest loss of a manuscript of our age?

It is well known that perhaps only 10% of the significant manuscripts of the Greco-Roman intellectual world are available to us today: the rest were lost over the intervening couple of thousand years. But such losses can still occur today.

I have mentioned this before, but the single manuscript I most miss from the modern epoch is from Michael Oakeshott. Oakeshott's thought does not seem particularly Augustinian on its surface, and yet, he called Augustine the greatest mind who ever lived. But what's more, he had apparently written an entire book on Augustine, which was not published during his life.

And the thing is, no one has any idea what happened to the manuscript! His papers are in the LSE library (I have been through them), but not this manuscript. What became of it?

Will the Cubs Be Swept?

Major league baseball analysts were asked the above question after the Mets had won the first two games against the Cubs.

Several of them respond, "No, the Cubs are too good a team to be swept."

I think they were not being good Bayesian reasoners. They had a prior: "The Cubs are a good team, and the Mets cannot sweep them." In other words, the Mets cannot win four straight games against a team as good as the Cubs.

But they were failing to update this prior given new data. First of all, having won the first two games, the odds of the Mets "winning four straight games" became irrelevant: the only relevant odds were of their now winning two straight games.

Secondly, the Mets' decisive wins in games one and two should have altered their evaluation of the relative strength of the two teams: the Mets were playing particularly well, while the Cubs were not, and thus the odds of the Mets winning two (more) straight games ought to have increased in their minds.

Hot hand?

Daniel Murphy of the Mets, over the course of 162 regular season games, hit 14 home runs.

In nine playoff games, he has now hit seven home runs. This is nine times his regular season pace.

I'd say he has the "hot hand."

UPDATE: The Mets hitting coach is with me here: "I can't even explain Murphy," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "Murphy is on a different planet right now. He really is."

"Rationally" deciding ethical conflicts

In the comments, Alex asks how one might respond to a liberal who says that argumentation is the only way to rationally adjudicate an ethical conflict. Let me answer by outlining another way of adjudicating such a conflict, one that was actually used in Europe at times. (I am not advocating this method of proceeding, just demonstrating that it is not less rational than argumentation, on liberals' own terms.)

Our premises:

1) The human intellect is the servant of the human will. Unless the will is pure, the intellect will be following the sinful dictates of the will, and therefore will reach false conclusions on moral issues. (This is the position of Augustine, and to some extent of Aquinas.)

2) There is a Supreme Being who is actively involved in the events of humans' lives, and will intervene to see that good triumphs, at least when He is asked to do so. (This roughly describes the way many people in the Middle Ages seemed to understand this sort of thing, although I must caution that I am no Medieval historian!)

Now, it is a foundational principle of the liberal view of rationality (and that of modern formal logic) that premises cannot be judged irrational: the basic appeal of liberalism is that, hey, whatever your premises happen to be, we are going to treat them all as equally respectable, and adjudicate conflicts not based on the parties' premises, but based on some neutral, premise-free concept of justice. Thus, while either 1) or 2) might be factually wrong, by liberalism's own standard of rationality (and by those of modern, formal logic), neither can be declared irrational.

But from 1), we can conclude that argumentation is not a good method of adjudicating ethical conflicts, since it relies on the corrupted intellect of fallen sinners, which, per 1), cannot be relied upon.

Then, by 2), we can conclude that trial by ordeal is, in fact, a more rational method of adjudicating these matters than is argumentation.

Now, I don't ask you to accept that it is a better way of proceeding than is argumentation. I don't believe that myself, because, with Aquinas, I believe that 1) is only somewhat true, and I reject 2) as a hubristic attempt to "read God's mind."

I just am pointing out that there is nothing irrational about trial by ordeal, at least under the liberal conception of rationality.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Fog

A friend of mine who does system administration refers to "the cloud" as "the fog," e..g, "Yes, accounting is moving the payroll system into the fog."

The world of the forms

I have made a breakthrough in thinking about Platonic forms and particulars. This will take a while to work out, but the initial idea:
  • The relationship of a form to its particulars is the same as the relationship of a generic algorithm to its implementations.
  • The form is the "essence" of the particular in the same way that the generic algorithm is the essence of all of its implementations.
  • The form could never exist on its own: no computer can run a generic algorithm. The algorithm must always be embodied in some particular language, and with concrete data structures.

This scheme will ultimately, I intuit, allow the synthesis of Plato, Aristotle, and Berkeley.

Slavishly following Aristotle

Reading Alasdair MacIntyre's Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry brings home what a gargantuan task scholars of the Middle Ages undertook when they integrated Aristotle into their Augustinian curriculum.

The absurdity of the claim that thinkers in the Middle Ages slavishly followed Aristotle can be demonstrated by two simple points:

1) For most of the Middle Ages, Aristotle was essentially unknown in Western Europe. Scholars during that time hardly could have "slavishly followed" him.

2) Once his works became known, they collided, often violently, with the existing schema of the sciences. It took a huge intellectual effort, involving rejecting some parts of Aristotle, reinterpreting others, and amending yet other parts, before Aristotle could be fit into a new structure of knowledge.

Moral Arguments

When analytical philosophers insist that argumentation is the only way to address ethical questions, it is a lot like sumo wrestlers insisting the sumo wrestling is the only way to address ethical questions.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Moral argumentation

The liberal rite for treating moral issues is argumentation. (I say "treating" rather than resolving because what generally characterizes this rite is that the argumentation never ceases, and the issue is never resolved.) Any attempts to justify a position based on, say, intuition or tradition, is roundly mocked by liberals.

But what is not done is to demonstrate why argumentation is the right way to resolve moral issues! And clearly it is not the right way to resolve every issue. Imagine trying to walk by having an argument with everyone around you about where your foot should fall next.

Alasdair MacIntyre on incommensurability in the human sciences

"Each warring position characteristically appears irrefutable to its own adherents; indeed in its own terms and buy its own standards of argument it is in practice irrefutable. But each warning position equally seems to its opponents to be insufficiently warranted by rational argument. It is ironic that the holy secular humanist disciplines of the late twentieth century should thus reproduce that very same condition which lead their 19th century secularizing predecessors to dismiss the claim of theology to be worthy of the status of an academic discipline." -- The Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, p. 7

My mind is collapsing in on itself

The narrator on a nature show just said that the leaves that sloths eat are "The nutritional equivalent of junk food."

And the music at the dentist's office is the musical equivalent of muzac.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hyperlinks Is Big

For the last two days, every time I try to create a hyperlink in Microsoft Word, it tells me the operation failed, and that I should check the available space on my start up disk.

I just checked: I have 385 gigabytes free. Apparently hyperlinks are bigger than I had thought.

Sometimes, not giving a crap comes back to haunt you

I have complained often about TV and movie directors not bothering to get details correct when it would have been simple to do so. So it is with great schadenfreude that I report:

The TV series Homeland hired people to paint pro-Muslim graffiti on some walls, in Arabic, for an episode. Typically, they didn't bother to check what their contractors were painting. Well, it turns out it was things like "Homeland is racist!"

Millions for special effects, but not a couple of hundred bucks for a linguist!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Foolishness of Interpreting Medieval Art as Realistic

The image below shows the Italian hill city of San Gimignano as though it rested on a platter being held by a giant man (who happens to be Gimignano, the town's patron saint):

There are at least two possible ways we could interpret this painting:

1) The painter and the residents of San Gimignano literally thought that there was a giant man holding their town aloft. They failed to notice that when they exited the town in one direction, they did not bump into his flowing white shirt. They failed to notice that when they looked over the town wall in the other direction, there was not a gigantic abyss, broken only by four enormous, white-gloved fingers. Somehow, even though they thought they were held aloft on a platter, they were still able to go work their fields!

2) The painting is only meant to be taken as a metaphor for the idea that San Gimignano is watching over the city.

Pretty obviously the second is the right interpretation.

So when the painters of this time painted God or angels or the devil or hell, we should remember that what they tried to capture on canvas were visual metaphors. When they showed a king four times the size of his courtiers, it is not because they were bad painters: what was of interest to them was to show the importance of the king in the scene, not his "real" size.

They were not artistic realists!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Apologies for the Comment Backlog!

I was on the road for three days, with only my phone for Internet access, and approving comments on Blogger from a phone is a pain in the neck. But everything is posted now.

Vonnegut <=> American Exceptionalism

It struck me, on skimming Vonnegut recently, that the extremely negative view of America expressed by Vonnegut (and many others on the left) is simply the flip side of the coin of the "American exceptionalism" seen most often on the right. The idolatrous attitude that sees America as a "chosen nation," and that makes a religion out of Americanism, is precisely what produces the view of America as demonic when that idol is revealed as having feet of clay.

What neither side can accept is that America is a nation pretty much like any other in history, with its very good and very bad sides, and all sorts of other sides in between.

I love my family. But to love them, I don't have to delude myself into thinking they are "the greatest family on earth." And if I did so delude myself, it could easily produce a backlash, if I became disillusioned, in which I would come to believe that mine is the worst family on earth. No, I love them (in a special way) because they are my family.

Believing your country is the "greatest on earth" demonstrates, in fact, a deficit in patriotism: jingoism is the result of not loving one's country for what it is, instead loving a fantasy image of it that one has created oneself (with the help of other jingoists, of course).

But this idolatry is ingrained deeply in our national psyche: can you imagine what would happen to a political candidate who ever dared to whisper: "America is really just one more national actor in the broad sweep of history"? He would be branded a heretic, and could never again be elected even as dogcatcher.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Idea in the Mind of God

"The goal of physics, we believe, is to find an equation perhaps no more than one inch long which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God. And what is the key to that one-inch equation? Super symmetry, a symmetry that comes out of physics, not mathematics, and has shocked the world of mathematics. But you see, all this is pure mathematics and so the final resolution could be that God is a mathematician." -- Michio Kaku

Monday, October 12, 2015

What it means to be fatuous

National Geographic has a cover story on a new fossil find in South Africa. The table of contents claims that the find raises questions about "what it means to be human."

Well, no. If reductionist materialism (a.k.a. consistent materialism) is true, then it doesn't "mean" anything at all to be human: in fact, the whole category of "meaning" is nonexistent.

On the other hand, if it is false, and there is something intrinsically mental or spiritual about what it means to be human, then the discovery of the fossil of some creature that had a body somewhat like ours is obviously irrelevant to the question.

Siri bleg

Siri has stopped reading directions to me. She is not turned off: she still says "getting directions to main street" and so forth. She simply fails to say the directions aloud once she has fetched them. And this is dangerous, since I need to keep picking up my phone and looking at the little map.

I have Googled this, and the only thing I find is directions for turning Siri on. (You stroke her subroutines.) Any ideas?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Breakfast of Champions

By chance, I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's novel today and glanced through it: Juvenile crap.

It's not that everything he says is wrong, although he has a very one-sided presentation.

It's that he doesn't even present it as a novelist. He presents it as an angry thirteen-year-old trashing his bedroom.

Friday, October 09, 2015

You Can't Make Money Trading on the Well-Known Advantages of an Asset!

I've had people tell me things like, "You can't lose buying real estate in New York: there are so many jobs here!"

Well, everyone knows there are many jobs in New York, so that is already factored into the New York real estate prices. Peter Keating commits this error in regard to buying an NBA team: "But if you were to buy into a league today based on growth potential, the NBA is the game to join."

To back this assertion, he then cites facts that anyone who might buy an NBA team already knows, like: "NBA teams bought since 2010 have increased in value by an annual average of 20.3 percent, versus 17.8 percent for NFL teams."

Enlightenment Faith

"Reason, as used by Voltaire, is a complex of sentiments and ideas. The fundamental sentiment is the intraworldly faith in a society which finds its coherence through compassion and humanity. Humanity is a general disposition in man arising out of his biological structure. Negatively, the reasonable attitude is characterized by the absence of immediate spiritual experiences. As a consequence of this deficiency, the symbolic expressions of spiritual experiences become opaque and are misunderstood as depending for their validity on their resistance to rational critique." -- Eric Voegelin, From Enlightenment to Revolution, p. 29

The declaration that spiritual experiences as "irrational" is based on no more than:

1) Their absence in the person declaring them so; and
2) His reluctance to admit that this might be a deficiency; no, those who claim to have had such experiences must be deluded!

Why Can I Enjoy Hot Coffee, and Iced Coffee...

but not tepid coffee?

Hypothesis: in temperate climates, water that is OK to drink is either:

1) Cold, drawn from a clear running stream that flows from a cold lake; or
2) Hot, because it was boiled.

Tepid water is stagnant and unsafe to drink.

Mild support for hypothesis: I have noticed that people who grew up in the tropics do not have the same aversion to tepid drinks that I do.

Ban mass-murder publicity

Of course I'm not really recommending banning it, but I would recommend that consumers stop purchasing it: turn off the TV news and don't buy tabloid newspapers!

In any case, it is interesting that Pat Buchanan has pointed out the same root cause of our mass killings as I have.

How Capitalism Triumphed

Some facts:

"one-tenth of the English population in 1800 was slowly starving to death" (p. 120)

"A few eggs, a cow for milk, a potato ground, all mattered. But over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries self-provisioning came under serious attack. A padlock was placed on nature's larder. First, the Waltham Black Act of 1723 was pivotal: traditional wage supplements such as gleaning and sweeping, and the collection of firewood from the forests, became criminal offenses; items of a 'base nature' -- rabbits, hares, fish -- were redefined as private property, and their capture became a felony; finally, the game laws were strengthened... Second, enclosure contributed to a class of 'landless labourers' without farming strips for growing household provisions, and they likewise suffered from a contraction of common lands upon which a cow might be kept or firewood harvested..." (p. 121)

Finally, relatives height rankings in the British Isles around 1815:
1) Rural Scots
2) Urban Scots
3) Irish (overwhelmingly rural)
4) English urban
5) English rural
6) Londoners

These rankings reflect the degree of nutritional provision in each area.

From these facts, we can see a likely conclusion: the new class of English capitalists, in need of cheap labor, passed laws to starve the English peasantry off of their land and force them into factories as the peasants' only means of survival.

Yes, libertarians, I know that these were not libertarian measures! But I am not analyzing some ideal but non-existent capitalism; I am looking at how the actually existing capitalism we live under came about.

And here is what's weird: although many libertarians, if pushed to analyze what actually went on in the past, will acknowledge that, what... 99%?... of all current property ownership came about unjustly, in that it depends somewhere in the past on some unjust seizure of wealth, when someone like Pope Francis condemns this fact, many libertarians freak out, and claim that he thinks markets are "evil" and that he is a Marxist! (Libertarians like Kevin Carson are excepted here.)


All facts from "Nutrition and health, 1700-1870," David Meredith and Deborah Oxley, in The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Volume I: 1700-1870.

Thinking about data

The TV shows that a certain pitcher has a higher ERA in the playoffs than in the regular season. The announcers cite this as evidence that this pitcher is not a "clutch player."

But there is a more parsimonious interpretation for this fact: what is it?

Citation overkill

I've commented before on the tendency I see in academic papers to pile up citations by mentioning something rather trite and then throwing in an authority who has mentioned it previously.

Tonight, in reviewing the Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, I ran across this gem:

"Good nutrition is essential for human growth and maintenance (Scott 1986)."

I guess Dr. Scott, in 1986, was the very first person to ever have noted this! I would not be surprised, later in this paper, to find a citation like:

"Days on the earth are characterized by periods of light, occurring when the sun is in the sky, and subsequent periods of darkness, when it is not (Hesiod 700 BCE)."

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Ruining the animals

One of the weird things going around among animal biologists, naturalists, and so forth, is the idea that no humans should ever interact in any way with any wild animal. (Well, except for themselves, of course, who get to tag 'em, bag 'em, raise 'em... whatever they want!)

This is strange because wild animals interact with each other all the time, and in many different ways. And often those who are telling the rest of us that we should never interact with a wild animal are the very same people who keep insisting that humans are "just another animal."

But apparently we are one very special "just another animal," the only one that is never allowed to interact with our animal brethren!

Thony on Galileo

As I have noted many times before, among historians of science, there just is no controversy about the fact that Galileo had certainly not "proven" heliocentrism, or that the Church considered the theory seriously, and found Galileo's scientific claims for it unconvincing. Here is Thony on the topic:

"One of the most persistent and pernicious myths in the history of astronomy is that Galileo, with his telescopic observations, proved the validity of the Copernican heliocentric hypothesis and thus all opposition to it from that point on was purely based on ignorance and blind religious prejudice. Strangely, this version of the story is particularly popular amongst gnu atheists. I say strangely because these are just the people who pride themselves on only believing the facts and basing all their judgements on the evidence."

Except, of course, when they don't like the facts!

Monday, October 05, 2015

What Business Is It of Yours?

I recall being asked the above after commenting on Bruce Jenner's recent "transformation."

The fact is, if some guy wants to go around dressing up as a woman, or even have his penis removed, well... if he were my mate*, I would try to have a chat with him. But if not, I really am not going to worry about this at all, since there is so much more important in the larger scheme of things, like, say, avoiding nuclear war with Russia, and so on.

But when a someone decides to do something like this, and his image is then slapped on the cover of national magazines, he is praised by our president for his "courage," and he is held up as a role model for our nation's youth... well, it really is a little rich, isn't it, to ask someone who demurs from this nationally promoted narrative, "What business is it of yours?"

After all, it wasn't me who made Jenner's personal identity issues a topic of national interest!

* In the British sense. This is a useful word Americans don't have. "Friend" doesn't quite capture it: I have lots of friends, but only a few mates. With my (non-mate) friends, I wouldn't consider intervening if they told me they were having a sex change operation. But with my mates, I would definitely have a talk with them. And that kind of explains the distinction between "friend" and "mate" right there.

Teaching Enlightenment Religious Views in Public Schools

When my son told me that his class was studying The Enlightenment in Global History, I immediately thought, "Oh-oh."

So I popped open his textbook, and found that while it was not completely blatant pro-Enlightenment propaganda, it still was biased as I had expected: The Enlightenment was about "Reason," while earlier people had not looked for "rational" explanations of the world, and so on, as though Medieval philosophers had not been the supreme rationalists! The actual change that took place during the Scientific Revolution was an elevation of prediction over understanding, so that Newton is only mildly worried that he has no rational explanation of gravity, so long as his laws fit the movements of the planets and the behavior of falling objects. (Once Newton triumphed over the mechanical philosophers, it is only with Einstein that we actually return to attempts to rationally explain gravity, rather than just accept its workings.)

And then I found this: "During the Middle Ages, most Europeans had accepted without question a society based on divine-right rule..."

But the idea of divine-right rule really only is articulated in the 1500s, well after the Middle Ages had ended, by any common reckoning. And, in fact, it was formulated in response to the breakdown of the Medieval social order, and was an attempted solution to the problem of political legitimacy in the new world of sovereign nation-states free of Church authority.

But so long as some proposition discredits the Middle Ages, who cares about facts!

Dyadic and triadic exchanges

In a post on how current policy favors large-scale development (an important point on which I agree with Washington), Emily Washington cites Patrick and Wagner on the "dyadic" nature of market exchanges, where only the buyer and seller are affected, as opposed to government actions, which affect third parties.

Now, there is nothing wrong with analytically isolating only two parties to an exchange, and treating it as though it effects only them. We couldn't have supply-and-demand diagrams without doing so, and those are a handy tool for thinking through many problems!

But this analytical isolation is an abstraction. In particular, viewing market transactions as involving only two parties ignores how the parties came to "possess" the property they are exchanging in the first place, and act of appropriation which necessarily affected everyone else in society.*

So, if John Malone and Ted Turner each own about 2 million acres of American land (i.e., each own an amount of land roughly equivalent to the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined), we might ask the question, "Well, who says?"

The answer is, of course, "The government says." (And note: it would not make much difference if the answer was, "The network of ancap defense agencies says.") And if our social system allows two individuals to own more land that, say, ten million average suburban homeowners, that has huge impacts on millions of people.

As Pope Francis keeps stressing, everything is interconnected. It is fine to abstract from everything else and analyze market transactions as though they only involved two parties... so long as we don't actually start to believe it is true!

* I am being vague here, because the scope of who is affected is determined by the ecumenical development of the time in question: Marcellus acquiring a new latifundia in Italy in 50 BC did not much affect anyone living in China or the Andes. On the other hand, today, someone acquiring ownership of Antarctica might involve everyone in the world.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Should I study hard worker cooperatives or Russian literature?

Because apparently, I am only allowed to do one or the other, but not both.

For the last three months or so, I have been trying to read Anna Karenina as well as Making Mondragón (examining the famous Basque cooperative). I misplaced Anna Karenina, so I turned my attention to the other book. Then Mondragón went walkabout... and the next day I found Anna Karenina. I read it for a week or two, and then forgot it somewhere during a day's jaunt. Now I had neither… Except that, a couple of days later, Mondragón turned up again. I lost that again several weeks later and… You guessed it: Anna Karenina turned up very soon thereafter. This week, when I misplaced Tolstoy, I joked with my wife that now Mondragón would turn up. What days later, I picked up a bag I had not used in a couple of weeks, and there it was.

I guess if I need my copy of Anna Karenina back, I am going to have to deliberately misplace Mondragon.

How Science Ought to Be Done

This is really good:

Friday, October 02, 2015

Magic Talismans

Eric Voegelin called symbols divorced from the "engendering experience" that gave rise to the symbol "hieroglyphs." But we might also call them "magic talismans."

In the comments section on this article, we see someone claiming:

"Thomas Hobbes makes the argument more pungently, and more brutally. What is advocated here, is a kind of monarchy lite, a sentimental affection. Real monarchs (rulers, tyrants—Hobbes sees these all as basically synonyms) have real power.”

Hobbes is being invoked by this commenter as a kind of magic talisman that can be used to ward off evil monarchists. He does not even know Hobbes well enough to realize that for Hobbes the sovereign could just as well be a legislature, and the same characteristics would apply to it as to a king.

"Galileo" is often invoked as a similar sort of magic talisman in "science versus religion" debates by those who have no clue about the issues actually at play in the Galileo affair.

"The Spanish Inquisition" is a similarly talismanic object. So is "Munich."

Using Office to Document Office

The first unit of my Microsoft Office course dealt with Word. The next unit deals with PowerPoint.

While thinking about what sort of PowerPoint project I could assign to my students, I hit upon what I think is the clever idea of having them make a PowerPoint documenting what they just learned about Microsoft Word. This way, while they are learning PowerPoint, they are also reinforcing what they have just learned about Word.

But the unit after PowerPoint is on Excel, and I am having a little trouble trying to figure out how to assign an Excel spreadsheet that is in any way "about" PowerPoint: perhaps this method has its limits!

The ban that would really reduce the number of mass shootings

Like Rod Dreher, I am not a second amendment absolutist. But I don't think tighter gun control will do much to lower the incidence of these shootings. But you know what would? Contemplate this paragraph and see if you can guess what I am thinking about:
On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.
That's right: if we really want to have fewer incidents like this... ban (or stop engaging in, if you are the press) coverage, especially sensationalist coverage, of them. America is awash in guns, and anyone who really wants one is going to be able to get one, no matter what sort of gun control legislation is passed. But we have a situation where shooter D is inspired by the vast amount of press coverage given to shooter C, who was motivated by the notoriety of shooter B... and so on.

When a spree shooter gets a single paragraph on page 17 of the local paper, spree shooting will essentially vanish. And if we were really serious about "No more Columbines" that's what we would go to work on.

And What About Multiple Virtual Desktops?

I first encountered this feature, I seem to recall, on Sun workstations in the early 90s. I've tried it out many times, and it just never struck me as worth the bother it took to set them up and remember how to access them. Multiple monitors is more expensive, but really works.

Do any of my readers rely on multiple desktops in their daily work? Am I missing something, or am I just lazy?

The Computer You Really Want Costs More Than $3,000

A colleague articulated this principle in about 1990, and it seems to hold true to a remarkable degree across the decades. Today, the computer I really want is a loaded Mac Pro, which would probably run me about $4,000.

And by the way, does anyone out there have an iMac with a retina display? Any evaluation of whether it is worth it?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Limits of Forecasting

This is a graphic of various computer models' forecasts of Joaquin track over the next six days:

At this point,the forecasters are pretty sure the storm is not going to hit Texas, Mexico, or Jamaica, but beyond that, almost anything looks possible.


I saw someone claim, "No one can even define consumerism."

I disagree. Often, examples can show us the outline of a good definition.

There is the case, which I shared before, of the friend who commented that my new apartment had a lot of flights of stairs.

"It's good exercise," I responded.

"I'd rather get my exercise in other ways," he said. Ways, I happened to know, like paying for a gym membership so he could go there and use the gym's Stairmaster.

Or I know people who always buy bottled water for drinking. Even though their tap water is fine. And even though their bottled water turned out, on examination, to be bottled tap water.

We should only enjoy what is packaged and sold to us, never what is free.

The endpoint of consumerism: the self becomes another product. We try to figure out how to "market ourselves." We "create our brand."

Or as Bob Marley put it, in a "pimp's paradise," we can easily become just "stock on the shelf":

Pimper's paradise, don't lose track, don't lose track of yourself,
Pimper's paradise, don't be just a stock, a stock on the shelf

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...