Some Short Thoughts

  • Those who think or write that the Washington DC football team’s name “Redskins” needs to be changed are the modern equivalent of those in the 13th century buying indulgences. Sporting team names are pretty far down on the actual list of problems in the daily life of indigenous Americans, drug abuse, alcoholism, poverty, suicide and so on. Those are issues much higher. Seems to me if you actual cared one whit about the native American you’d be acting on real issues not pretend ones. (for extra credit, cite last time you heard the term redskin used as a derogatory racial epithet. If you, like me, never have … gosh perhaps it isn’t actually a derogatory racial epithet).
  • Continuing that theme, of modern indulgences. The Redskin thing is a racial/racism indulgence or guilt expiation.  It is interesting to note that those same people who are pretending at concern for Native Americans with the Redskin thing are the same ones punting for SSM … what sin is that indulgence paying for?
  • On the other side of the coin (those against SSM), just remember “Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am first.” Gays can’t destroy marriage as thoroughly as heterosexuals are doing right now.
  • One hard fast rule of Internet punditry to remember, there is always, yes always, someone smarter than you, better informed than you, and better in whatever way you can imagine who disagrees rationally and logically with that strongly held opinion of yours. So the next time you call someone an idiot or stupid because they hold an opinion (especially political or religious) different than you, remember that.
  • American politicians should play more Go than Chess. A paradigm intrinsic to Chess is forking, putting the opposition into a corner where he only has two bad choices. Go’s fundamental paradigm by contrast teaches you how to quickly recognize a losing position and moving elsewhere.

Some Thoughts On Syria

Scattered thoughts. Mr Obama has apparently (I’ve been busy … I haven’t read his transcripts) … so, what is  the basis of his moral/ethical argument for killing bystanders to send a message to Mr Assad?

  1. An analogy for Syria .. consider bullying the moral schoolyard equivalent of gas warfare. You put a red-line in the sand to the school-yard bully. He is seen bullying some people, so … you beat up his sister, who may or may not be able to convince him to stop in ways you cannot. But, is that ethical?
  2. This passage can be said to argue that state violence is in some cases permitted, to as it were, send a message.
  3. Some differences between gas and military vs civilian targets and modes of delivery. But … if the reason you are against gas is that it is a thing killing civilians why aren’t people speaking even more strongly against practices that kill far more civilians. The biggest killer of civilians of all, the tacit acceptance by everyone (but me apparently) who fails to call committing violence for political purposes without wearing a uniform a war crime which should invalidate both your cause and any claims for mercy.
  4. The Volokh link I posted earlier tonight highlights the real-politik position on the matter.
  5. What motive did Mr Obama have in denying “I never said red line” … does he not realize that statements he makes are not in a vacuum and he indeed did say red line?
  6. Speaking of gas, the Germans manufactured several tons of ClF3 intending to use it. Yikes. That stuff seems as dangerous for the caster as the castee. It does on the other hand make light of typical protections like gas masks.
  7. Would a limited token bombing discourage or encourage another totalitarian ruler to use Sarin on his people?

Something Rotten in Denmark — Deficits

A few weeks past, Mr Krugman (and I’m not linking him) noted that contrary to popular beliefs (and cited some polls) deficits have not increased in the last few years. We are also told by similar sources that inflation is not occuring.

Yet. we need to keep raising the debt limits to keep the government solvent. If it was true that the deficits were not still increasing then we would be lowering not raising the debt limit. Somebody is not being honest.

Talk or Not Talk — Beast Feeding

Ms McArdle wrote this a few days ago referring to a class she took in which terrorism was mentioned:

He asked us to think about three facets of terrorism: strategy, goals, and tactics.  The tactics here are obvious.  But what are the strategy and the goals?  What did these two brothers want?  And how did they think that bombing the Boston marathon would achieve it?

Here’s the thing, set aside tactics for a moment and consider their goals. We have three types of these people committing acts of terror to consider, random nutcases (Lanza for example), independent and organized terrorists (and by this second category of terrorist I mean those doing acts of terror for non-personal reasons). In many cases a primary goal of the second two types of terrorist is to get his cause on the front burner of national and international discussions. Look at the Boston event. Most American’s probably didn’t even know about the Russian Federation and its “issues” in the Caucasian mountain regions. For the nuts out there “getting famous” and noticed is likely a primary motivator. So we should make an effort to not give them what they want.

So, on Boston, here’s how not to feed the Beast … much if not most of the press coverage of the Caucasus kerfuffle has been slanted with an anti-Russian Federation slant, US sympathies tend toward the little guy after all. Well in light of bombing marathons, the non-little guy point of view just got a boost. If public discussion and public opinion were to clearly shift away from the sympathies that terrorists hold as a regular response then the incentive to violence would go away. However, so far the beast has been feed. If their goal was to be noticed, to be known, and to have their cause considered they’ve achieved their goal and by y’all talking about it in that way, you’re feeding the beast. You will have more and more frequent acts like this … because they work. They achieve the desired goal.

So to put this in context, ever Palestinian bomb should be seen as yet another reason to realize that their cause is less worthy of consideration. By this time, they should be laughing stock in polite conversation. Why they are not remains a mystery.


That Assault Weapon Ban

Is a straw ban. Everyone (except possibly a few nuts) is fully in favor of an actual assault weapon ban. Assault weapons have always been illegal. The problem is what an assault weapon actually is and what it is not. An assault weapon by definition is a automatic-fire capable carbine with a quickly replaceable magazine. These are illegal. Always have been. A single shot semi-automatic rifle is not a assault rifle. A full length rifle is not an assault rifle.

What the knuckleheads in Congress call an “assault weapons ban” is a “scary looking rifle ban” … which alas has the kindergarten sound that it deserves but want to avoid.

This has been a PSA from your friendly neighborhood blogger.

To Funny For Me

OK. Yesterday a friend pointed out xkcd’s “What if” feature (on the top left links corner). My daughter and I were reading through some them, and found many quite funny. Then. Well. We got to this one, which I couldn’t read out loud by the point of “The mole planet is now a giant sphere of meat …” the tears from laughing so hard were obstructing my view that I couldn’t read, well, to be honest I was having difficulty breathing I was laughing so hard.

Wow. That has to be the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

Which just goes to show there is no accounting for taste, eh?

Up, Down, Left, Right, and All That Nonsense

People speaking of other politically continually speak about left and right, yet these terms are basically meaningless. In the US, Mr Groseclose unlike so many others, bothers to define what he means, which by the time he gets down ends up arrives at a meaning only perhaps might only coincidentally mean the same thing that you think of when these terms are used. His method of determining right/left is political, being derived purely by analysing mathematically voting patterns of the right and left party members in Congress. The proto-typical examples of right and left come from the WWII era, whereas the Hitler-led Nazi party (National Socialists) were called “far right” and the Stalin-led Marxist USSR is identified as “far left”. What distinguishes these groups? Both were autocracies dominated by the personality of one man. Both explicitly used government powers to dominate all sectors of society. Both established massive campaigns of intimidation and slaughter in prison camps immediately on gaining power. The only difference possibly noted is that the Marxist doctrine was “post-national” intending via global domination to eliminate all national identities and Nazi fascism was rooted in German identity and nationalism. Is that the putative metric to measure right/left in common parlance? That the further left one goes the less national and more international in scope is one’s thinking? If so, why is socialism regarded as left leaning and capitalism right? Neither of these notions have much weight on the national/international scales. So. Right/left. What do you think it means? In Chemistry and Physics when you have measurables or metrics that don’t make much sense then your theory, your model is flawed. Right/left seems very flawed as a term of any descriptive value. Does anyone reading this know of any terms which actually are of any valuable use, be it descriptive or otherwise? I would venture that mostly these terms are useless and only used to categorize those with whom your are dealing as “on-my-team” or “horrible other” depending on the particularhandedness you profess to follow.

Olson’s First Rule Applied

Murphy’s law and others give not exactly hard and fast guidelines for prediction of events and interpretations. My (just coined as such) first Rule is the following

Conventional Historical Wisdom is always wrong.

In what follows this will be applied to the third rail of historical discourse … vis a vis to suggest that the Jewish narrative concerning the Holocaust is wrong. This may or may not be a historical third high voltage line as suggested above, but there are blogging/pirate rules that state any you mentions Nazis loses the argument … and Nazis will be noted in this piece.

For a long time references to the Holocaust have bothered me, in that the focus on that particular feature of German/Nazi atrocities has overwhelmed our historical recall of other Nazi (and concomitant Soviet ones). When one recalls mass murders in the mid 20th century …. with rare exceptions only one thing will be recalled and the others minimized or forgotten. This is wrong. Do not misunderstand, the fault for this lies with historians, teachers and educators … not with the Jewish people. Their memory, their remembrance is apt and warranted. What is not is for the rest of us to forget that this was just a small part of a larger horrific picture.

If, in a recent non-mass killing like that at Columbine, if 10 persons had been killed of which 4 Muslims had been killed if conventional wisdom called this an attack on Islam that would be wrong. It would not be wrong for Islamic faith communities to remember this in their own way. It would however be wrong for everyone to do that. Similarly remembering the mass murders of the 20th century in Eastern Europe as being only about the Holocaust would also be wrong.  This is however, the conventional story.

Continue reading →

A Little Home Owner Excitement

Apparently common construction practice is to build the sewage out piping from your house to extend 3-4 feet with heavy cast iron piping and to use two to three foot lengths of clay pipe after that. A consequence of this is local bushes and trees have roots seeking water sources find the joints in those clay pipes, insinuate themselves and eventually block the pipe. Which in turns either backs up in a basement drain or in a basement toilet, whichever is lower. Ours chose the drain … and a wonderful outflow of stuff was discovered late last night in our laundry room.

Synchronicity abounds however in that we were this weekend (and still have not finished) watching In Darknessa WWII film concerning a group of less than a dozen Jewish men, women, and children hiding in the sewers in the then Polish Lwow, now Ukrainian city of Lviv. These people owed their life to an anti-semitic sewer worker and the complex nature of Polish/Ukrainian <=> Jewish Polish/Ukraine is explored in the movie. The book on which this is based Girl in the Green Sweater, by my understanding was authored by one of the young girls who survived that which the movie portrays. The synchronicity of course points to the sewage flowing in our basement and in the film … on the same day.


A Modest Proposal: Campaign Finance Reform

The regrettable Mr Edwards, whom the Democrats just recently discovered, is something of a slime-weasel, is in the news as he is accused of campaign finance “irregularities.” Additionally, the left is up and arms over the high court’s rejection of restrictions on corporate contributions to campaigns. Additionally, we have a problem with our deficit. I have a solution for all three.

Let’s get rid of all campaign finance restrictions. Campaign contributions will be considered, in my proposal, as a contribution directly to the person who is running. He can use those funds however he might see fit, for vacations in the South Pacific, an extension on his house, or for campaign ads, campaign gewgaws and literature, or other campaign related activities. This will have several benefits.

  1. No silly court related cases like the above.
  2. People will think twice about contributing to people of low character.
  3. Contributions will be taxed as income (likely as aggressively as lottery income), and as a result, will have a positive impact on our deficit far greater than the “tax-the-rich” proposals on the table.

So, there you go. Campaign finance irregularities. Solved. Everybody can go home happy now.


Or not.

Heat and Climate: Some Basics

In a recent discussion heat and transport has become a point of contention. The relationship of heat of a thing (the ground, or you in a sleeping bag … or more distantly the temperature of your coffee in that thermos) depends on a few parameters. At equilibrium (not your coffee cup any more) heat transfer in equals heat transfer out. The earth, radiated at the sun, is (basically) at a time averaged equilibrium. The claim of the global climate warming crowd is that additional insulating effects raise the temperature. How does this work if the energy in still equals the energy out? Well, to first order, the energy flowing out depends on two factors, the first being the difference in temperature between the two regions and a factor dependent on the geometry of the interface and the heat conductivity of the interface. If you add insulation (reduce the heat conductivity of the interface) then to have the same amount of energy flowing out the heat differential has to be larger, i.e., in bed when you add blankets you warm up (the heat differential between outside the bed and snug in the covers rises).

It has been claimed recently (and this needs substantiation) that wind farms change the turbulence of the air in the region around them, decreasing the efficient mixing of air between low and high altitudes, i.e., decreasing their effectiveness at heat conductivity. Hence the delta T rises (the ground temp) rises in that region. This change in conductivity is what drives the temperature change at the ground. The suggestion is, that then if wind farming becomes a non-trivial fraction of the earths cover this is just the same problem as adding greenhouse gases, the result is increased global average temperatures. The same people who thing global warming is problematic should be concerned about this possibility for the same reasons. Those who are not concerned of course, should not use this as an objection against wind farming.

Theories of Government and a Plug for Academic Prostitution

Blog neighbor Mr Schraub tosses up on the wall two notions, that there are basically few, if any, useless “medical” studies that one might sponsor and that mocking the historical speciality near and dear to him, notably “Black Studies”, is unwarranted. For the both in part, that opinion depends on your what you think the role of government might be. If you think government is basically limited (see 10th Amendment) to the role of keeping my fist from your nose and vice versa, settling disputes, guarding our borders, and then getting out of the way so we can be about our business pursuing life , liberty and all. Then these measures as instituted by the state makes little sense. If on the other hand, the role of government is to supply happiness, life and liberty to everyone … then government has a tall order to fulfill and has to employ  plethora (see Das Scholss -> The Keep/Castle) of fellows xyz-ocrats making sure everyone is maximally happy-in-ated, all in a very Kafkaseque fashion.

So, you go to school and major in this Black Studies thing, and as Mr Schraub suggests, do some useful writing in the field. What the heck do you do with that? I guess you write papers in academia read by other academics. Or you become a Castle senschal? Is Exxon going to hire you? To do what? Do you become a better barista in Starbucks competing with out-of-work actors? What?

But what in general are we to make of Academic pursuits? For this has begged a serious question, what role do history, literature, and other “soft” studies have in our academic and general pursuits? What is the point of this Academic research. Academics themselves have noted (and I’m not finding the link where this was posted, it was months and months ago) that lots of their papers are read by a select few. We are in an age of hyper-specialization in parts of academia and as this is the result. For academic teaching of those “hard” topics, maths, engineering, medicine, and for that matter, carpentry the pay off is obvious. Kids trained in those subjects have careers outside of academia awaiting them. So here’s some unsolicited advice to “fix” the problem of hyper-specialization in increasing irrelevance of so much of the academic world. Here’s one solution, less considered. Prostitution.

Academics are used to publish or perish driving their existence in their department and as a measure of their worth. It is their carrot and their stick. How about If  instead of having specialized journals be the norm, that those were the exception, That schools began to demand “publish” mean “publish” in a general market and make money at it? That in turn to the general audience and more importantly make a profit selling those works … then they’d be forced to confront and to embrace some level of relevance. In the historical field, a David Hackett Fisher can make a good buck selling good history … well, get the rest of the historians to do the same thing. If you can’t make a return selling your speciality (hence the second part of the title) then … perish.

Three Books

Last night, I noted a book I’d been reading (The Instant Economist). Two more might be noted, From the same place the I/E was mentioned another Econ text was noted. Economics 2.0 is the title (available for ebook in various formats). What is ec 2.0? This book is a lightning overview of current research topics and results from (according to the authors) the forefront of research and developments and analysis in the economics world …. in layman’s terms. Each chapter ends with a short list of 12-15 references to the papers and books that give the non-layman’s version on which the section was based. It is readable and recommended.

Also recommended, although I haven’t read it much, is a book that has a much closer personal connection. The book A Passion for Discovery is a book on backstories and personal anecdotes of the leading men and women in Physics from the last century. This book was authored by Peter Freund … my thesis advisor when I was in grad school in the late 80s.  Professor Freund always had lots of stories to tell, well know he’s telling them to a larger audience. Oddly enough this book was much cheaper by a factor of 3 on the Amazon eBook format than from Google … and the sony store didn’t have it at all. At leastl that was the case last night.

Some Housekeeping

Of a personal nature. OK. Remember the “emergency car” thing, having to replace the MIMA enhanced Honda Insight (typical mileage 70/85 when the temp was above 50). Well, I got used Nissan Versa 6 speed manual. It gets somewhat crappy mileage, i.e., about 30 city and 38 highway (it’s listed as 24/29  but that’s what I get). Our family will be receiving a hand-me-down VW Jetta TDI from my parents later this year … both are likely destined to be passed to my girls who are both in High School. Someday, somewhere regulatory barriers keeping out that 2 seater that gets 150-200 mpg highway will drop and it will be on the market, and then I’ll be able to drive the car I want. And on the car subject, if you drive a car without real-time MPG readout (average and instant) and you think conservation is important … there is a word for people like that, we call that being a hypocrite. You can get a inexpensive gauge like the ScanGauge or EcoGauge for about $150/100 respectively … which means the price of the gadget is not an excuse.

Also, I haven’t been biking so much. I want to get back into it but other time constraints make this difficult. Right now I’ve gotten back into lifting weights as an interim sport for the last 9 months or so … in part because the time constraints are more flexible. My bench-press (one metric … and fun lift) has gone up from 145 or so at the beginning to a one rep max about two weeks ago of 215. Back in college I lifted weights semi-seriously for a few years. My lifetime one rep bench max is 230. I’m getting close … and should be able to eclipse that by the end of the summer.

And while I’m not a fan of CFLs, as I don’t think they last very long and their mercury content is problematic. LED tech is more promising. However, my family on the other hand, doesn’t like the four Phillips 10W 800 (60W incandescent equiv) lumen dimmable LEDs I just put in the kitchen chandelier. Allegedly they will last 22 years … although judging by the CFL lifetime claims that means 5 … but we shall see. If they do last that long, I’ll be replacing them when I’m somewhat over 70.

Imagination and Failure of Same

Recently, it seems, over and over the same theme keeps repeating. What passes for argument or reasons for believing or thinking a thing depends crucially on a failure of imagination. In rhetoric there is a list of known fallacies, it seems to me that “failure of imagination” is not given as one of those, but looking around seems to be perhaps one of the more important ones especially for it not being noticed so much. The structure of these arguments (as such) go as follows. Something is either A or B. It is not A therefore it is B. This fails (obviously) if possibility set (A or B) does not exhaust the possibility or the two sets A,B are not distinct.  Continue reading →

A Quick Question

Recently jobs numbers came out … two data points are of interest and can be used, perhaps, to judge the bias of the sources. One set, points out that January job numbers are up and by one metric unemployment has dropped to 8.3%, getting firmly below 9. The other set, which is new as well, points out the divergence between two proxies which normally track but recently have diverged. Unemployment, as tracked by those applying for unemployment benefits and jobs, normally tracks well with the number of unemployed. Yet in the last 18 months this tracking has diverged. More and more people have (according to the second unemployment proxy) have given up seeking work. By that second metric, unemployment is above 10.5%.

Honest reporting would, I offer, report both points. There are many, who for political reasons, decide on or the other figure is more significant. Are there good reasons besides the nominally “bad” political partisanship ones for not noting both?

Oh, by the by, I’ve got to run early to get to a job site about an hours drive north. My links post will go out tonight.

Free Will In A Non-Magical Universe

What might free will look like? Suppose you had a intelligent black box and wondered if it had free will, or in the horribly imprecise terms of recent discussion was “deterministic or random?” Again suppose you can copy this black box. You pose an question for your black box(es) and repeat for many iterations, posing the same question/problem each time. What then would you expect if this box had free will.

It seems to me the answer would be that the box had free will, then the box would give a distribution of answers, all of which “make sense” from a logical, creative, or emotionally reactive point of view. It also seems, given our understanding of the human brain and of what the possibilities of our universe regarding setting limitations both from a complexity (and if need be quantum) view point of the “same” initial conditions” this result is exactly what we expect from brains like ours.

What other sort of “Turning-like” tests might you pose to an array of black boxes to determine if they have free will or not that might better determine the question of whether free will might or might not make sense? Sugggestions?

Deterministic, Random and the Other Choice

In a recent conversation on free will and determinism some confusion (disagreement) arose over the contention that the descriptions of systems and their behaviors being “deterministic” and “random” were a complete cover of the possibilities. This is not the case. Emergent behavior is described as one way to conceptualized the set missing possibilities.

Emergent behavior lately has been described in two ways, “strong” and “weak” emergence. The distinction is claimed in that weak emergence behavioral patterns are derivable (or at least highly suggestible) from local interactions. Two examples of that might be Brownian motion and the ideal gas law. Brownian motion describes the motion of large objects in a bath of small particles. These large particles “dance” and move about. Their speed and travel is determined by the temperature and the relative dimensions and densities of the particles in question. Considered as an aggregate the distance traveled in a set time and the distribution of those distances is quite regular (hence determined). However, exact details of the actual position and travel of a given particle is indeterminate. This hierarchy of regimes is a feature of all systems described to have emergent behavior. Similarly the ideal gas law which we all recall from High School, PV = nRT, where P is pressure, V is volume, n is a number of atoms, and T is a temperature (in absolute scale). This can be derived by using equilibrium statistical physics methods. It is deterministic, but the motion of the atoms in the bath which is being described cannot be described deterministically. Here in one hierarchy you have randomness and at another layer, determinism.

Strong emergent behavior:

Laughlin belongs to a). In his book, he explains that for many particle systems, nothing can be calculated exactly from the microscopic equations, and that macroscopic systems are characterised by broken symmetry: the symmetry present in the microscopic equations is not present in the macroscopic system, due to phase transitions. As a result, these macroscopic systems are described in their own terminology, and have properties that do not depend on many microscopic details. This does not mean that the microscopic interactions are irrelevant, but simply that you do not see them anymore – you only see a renormalized effect of them. Laughlin is a pragmatic theoretical physicist: if you cannot, possibly ever, calculate the broken symmetry macroscopic properties from the microscopic equations, then what is the point of talking about reducibility?

Two examples of this might be, from biology, the behavior of termites (drawn from Gazinaga’s book on the brain and free will) in which local rules driving the action of termites when the population and health of a colony passes a certain threshold, the underground colonies suddenly alter their behavior to the large cemented/clay towers seen in southern Africa. Another example might be schooling behavior of fish and flocking by birds. Local simple rules governing speed and direction when a size threshold is reached suddenly change the behavior from individually driven to schools or flocks. And while (like with Brownian motion) some general characteristics of the school/flock might be imagined to be derivable, the direction and course of that flock is not (which akin to not being able to predict the direction and distance that a individual large particle travels in a set time period).

So in general we see a hierarchy of regimes in which a lower random bath can give rise to very regular behavior at a large level. When that emergent behavior is a computational network or like the brain large collections of such networks… then things can get interesting and at that point you are well in this unknown not-derministic/not-random world. 

Confusing Medium and Message

In a somewhat unlikely Star Trek NG episode the crew encounters a race which speaks, unfortunately, entirely through cipher that is coded references to historical events. Blog, well, neighbor Eli is in a huff because some philosopher of science (Signorelli) offers that the “language of maths” isn’t sufficient for human experience. He offers as counter example not a cipher but a number substitution code and suggests that if you encode ordinary language with numbers you’ve translated text into the domain of maths. Well, sorry. That doesn’t it, the medium is not the message. That you are viewing this short essay which is encoded in ASCII and transmitted via HTTP protocols over 802.1 specified media, i.e., numbers. The message is not maths.

A possible line of argument that Mr Signorelli have more difficulty defending is whether is this possibly apocryphal anecdote whether the speaker at the funeral in his speech was getting off track or whether he was using the language of Maths (in the real sense) to express and work out his grief at a colleagues passing.

On the other hand I might suggest a better avenue to counter Mr Signorelli in somewhat smaller domains. There is an audience and a market for combining ones’ passion for maths with other more basic passions, such as the artist Bathsheba and her wares (which I recommend and am an occasional customer). Consider that “ora” which can be bought as jewelry suitable as a gift for your lover … is two interlinked tetrahedra in its self-dual symmetrical glory … and its pretty. For the right recipient there might be a message of maths (not as transmission technology) but which conveys “I love you.” I’ll also offer that when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, I sent her (in the very early 90s) a love letter written on an HP-48 calculator and transmitted using the same calculator to her via programs written on the calculator (and its serial port) to send the letter via FAX when I was traveling. That is a way in which the medium and the message mix a bit, in that computer geekery was used to transmit, well, passion.

Drop in on departmental lecture in your local university maths building. What you hear there is the language of maths. That is what Mr Signorelli is arguing is in sufficient to transmit the breadth of human experience. Basically, he’s right, except that for those passionate about and fluent in that language it can be used to transmit some of those human messages and experience. It is hard even for the maths monomaniac to begin with “let’s consider a function of one complex variable” to say in that language “Let’s get pizza tonight.”

Attempting to Make It Sensible

Recently, in a links post, the difficulty for the Western individualist to make sense of the Afghan legal ruling, which allowed that a young girl who was incarcerated for the crime of being raped might be released if she married her rapist, was noted. There was a query of how this might be understood which was not undertaken by anyone, and the following attempts to discern this and some discussion follows.

Our Western society, unlike most of the historical past world and we are informed by anthropologists some 80% (by population) of the current world centers itself on the individual and locates status primarily with wealth. By contrast the rest of the world centers itself not on the individual but the family (perhaps extended) and status is primarily located via a shame/challenge calculus. This legal ruling doesn’t “compute” from a I/W society but makes some sense from an H/S perspective.

In an H/S society normative social intercourse (how one moves through society and interacts with people) is structured differently. A well defined list of men whom a women is “not allowed” to have sexual intercourse with is defined, fathers, uncles (?), and brothers for example. Social movement of people is structures so that a women might never isolated (in the absence of other women) with a single male with whom sex is taboo. Putting oneself in a situation where that occurs is the primary law which the young woman noted above broke, the evidence that this occured was the rape. In our society a woman is so frequently alone in the presence of a non-taboo restricted male that the realization that societies exist in which to do so is non-accidental is hard to imagine. Armed robbery is an intentional act and never accidental. In part, because one can’t accidentally or thoughtlessly commit armed robbery this can be deemed a felony transgression. In a society in which being alone with another man (for a women) is just as non-accidental as armed robbery is how blaming the rape on the victim is justified.

That however isn’t the site of the difficulty I have with the crime as given and its rectification. Many, if not most crimes, have a instigator and a victim. We in our I/W society see rape as a crime of violence comitted by a man against a women. Is rape, in an H/S society, a crime of violence or something else? Individuals are not seats of motivation like in the west, so who (or what) in this particular case is the instigator and the victim? If the young woman, considered as an individual, is not the instigator (or victim) then what part does this judgement against her lay, on what basis is it calculated? Do answers to those questions make it clear(er) why marriage to the rapist might allay the crime?

The Ordinary Hero

Last weekend, at the CSO (Chicago Symphony) I was privileged to hear a rendition of Ein Heldenleben (which translates as “A Hero’s Life”), note in the remarks below I’m drawing on the excellent program notes provided for the concert. Richard Strauss (pronounced Rikard with a hard “k” for the ch) wrote this to reflect and remind the listener of Beethoven’s Eroica. The Beethoven “Hero” Symphony itself was initially pointing to the Heroic life of Napoleon (and after general disappointment with Napoleon and his decision to invade Russia. But the hero in Strauss’ work is not Napoleon or Alexandar (neither the Tsar or the Macedonian conqueror) but … himself.

It’s an interesting thing, to witness a grand tone poem to the heroic image of … an urban mild mannered domestic fellow, who granted is a musical genius, but … the “heroic” scenes painted aren’t the normal visions of heroism. The foes vanquished in martial and magnificent phrases are … chattering art critics. The beautiful visions of love and romance, the young neighbor girl whom he was engaged to teach music, whom he subsequently married.

This vision, this recasting of the ordinary is a reversal of the contemporary Arendt inspired “banality of evil” … replaced in this case with a recasting into a frame reminiscent of Odysseus or Achilles … our more ordinary life. So “banality of evil” becomes the heroic banal.

St. Augustine as he begins his autobiography begins with … Creation. Augustine sees himself in cosmic context. Our countries founders saw themselves as a set apart from the common. In fact there was a notion that this sort of pride was a good thing. Perhaps what Ein Heldenleben is suggesting is that we take this notion into the ordinary. Or perhaps  put differently, our ordinary lives should not be seen as anything but extraordinary. That is, the ordinary per se is not heroic but needs to be recast in that mold, that is we all need to strive for excellence, not because “everyone is the best at something” (which is false) but because striving for excellence is required someone how sees himself as heroic.

Them Four Elements

An odd thought occurred to me the other day. The Greeks famously regarded that there were four elements, fire, water, air, and earth. The modern man, with the all the advantages of a public school system, knows this to be incorrect that instead there are 92 (naturally occuring) elements with about a dozen artificially produced ones added to this.

However, what occurred to me is that the dismissal of those four elements is an error hermeneutic. We know the definitions of words change. What they mean by “element” is what we call “states of matter.” In point of fact, there are four phases of matter which oddly enough very closely align with those Greek four. Solid, liquid, gas, and plasma match quite well with earth, water, air and fire don’t they?

So when reading those accounts of those four ‘Elements’ just replace the word ‘Elements’ with ‘States’ and see what that does for you.

The Rational Liberal

Liberal (progressives?) as compared to conservatives have some social features which are readily evident. As compared to conservatives they much less willing pull together to work for a common goal, less respectful of law and order and those officers who enforce that, as well as a smaller connection to traditional family structures. Additionally they have weaker or more abstracted ties to traditional religious beliefs. Contrast behavior of the two anti-government movements (Tea Party/Occupy X Street) and their respective treatments of law enforcement and property.

In the recent political discourse regarding government spending over healthcare and more generically what roles government should take and to what extent in civic life, liberal tend to favor more centralized and stronger government institutions. Taking the above differences into account, one might argue that the desire for these structures to be taken by government is a rational choice (except the dislike/distrust of police perhaps). If you don’t have family to lean on as you get older, you’ll want the government to be ready to step in to that role for example. My point is that having made the decision that those behaviors are requried, it is rational to want a more socialized government with stronger social support.

What is not as rational is the initial step, i.e., that the failure to pull together for communal efforts as an example is laudable or a virtue. Specifically, it seems that while having made the decision to be liberal the requirements noted above follow. What doesn’t follow is that being liberal in this sense is in any way shape or form a good idea, i.e., rational.

In fact, none of those difference highlighted above are very good. Taken together they make the case that Mr Habermas tries to make in his debate with Cardinal Ratzinger very difficult. Their debate centered around the question of whether liberal secular democratic society contain the institutional and societal cohesion to sustain itself. Without the ability to organize, without strong family and so on, …  can it survive. Police forces are primarily staffed by conservatives, for reasons noted above. Can a society which is almost all secular liberals … staff a police force? Who within that society would make the personal sacrifices to take on those sorts of jobs? Why? What motivates the person to put life and limb on the line on a daily basis for mediocre renumeration within the context of the liberal worldview? Review the individuals taking part in the various “Sitting” protests today. What percentage of these young people will be future policemen and women? How close is that percentage to zero? How about joining the Armed services to defend his/her country?

Just askin.

Aliens and the Atheist

Commenter JA continues to hold the notion that “low atheists” don’t exist in his continued (no true Scottsman) argument as a basis for the higher intelligence/education feature of the set of atheists compared to those who do believe in God. There is a problem with this position.

Consider an alien coming from a place/planet which has never considered the notion of divinity, spirit, gods or God. This notion, for our alien, is an (pardon) alien concept with which he struggles and only incompletely understands having now encountered earthlings. During his life prior to that meeting he had never ever spent an iota of mental activity thinking about or considing God (or the gods). He is, more than our earthly atheists, I contend a complete atheist. In the spectrum of belief between the Saint and the modern atheist he is even further away from the Saint than the 20th century self-professed atheist.

By contrast to the high atheist, who has a panoply of reasons why he has decided God doesn’t exist the low atheist is more akin to our alien. Just like our alien the low atheists actions, values and decisions are made in a universe in which God (or gods) do not consider. He spends just as little time thinking about the divine (much less praying) as our alien does. He is an atheist of the same mold as our alien.

By first approximation, one might view religious belief in a population as existing on some sort of bell curve. A population with low religious beliefs and attendance shifts the bell curve toward “nonbelief” and a population that is highly religious shifts it the other way. Atheists practically exist at a point on the non-belief side of the curve and a less religious population will (to first order) just be expected to have more atheists than one that is highly religious. Demographic studies that our JA note point out that many highly educated populations are often (in our culture) ones with low religous beliefs and therefore also have a higher percentage of atheists. However what he hasn’t noted is that populations which are very poorly educated also are characterized as having low religious beliefs …. and it would follow that these too have (functionally like our alien) a higher percentage of atheists.

The percentage of atheists in a population is not correlated directly with intelligence. It is however, a symptom of the spread in religious beliefs found in people and that the mean/mode (peak) of that population is not a universal human invariant but a culturally dependent variable.

Why Do People Do This?

This (feels?) like a theme/meme I’ve run into many times. Quoting from here:

There is much to be said about shame, but I struggle with the search for antidotes.  Those who make us feel shame are also most likely to chide us for suffering from it.  Part of Shelley’s point is that at the least, misrecognition of shame is to be avoided.  And some of the sources she identifies in her comment are the product of the wrong ideals; for example, receiving government assistance is a source of shame in a culture in which people with lucky and uneventful lives hold up extreme individualism and self-sufficiency as an ideal for everyone, while fancying they live up to this ideal.

Focus on the italicized (italics mine) sentence. Surely those who feel themselves not in the group of those “making us feel shame” are the ones who will be empathetically trying to assist those feeling said shame to get past, get over, and not feel that shame. Which in turn concentrates attention on that shame … making it felt. It might be just as likely that those who notice, empathise and try to rid us of our shame just plain make it worse … and possibly are even more prevalent than those who would “chide us” for it.

And who “makes anyone” feel shame? Shame, it seems to me, comes from a shared recognition of a failure to hold to a communal standard? No individual can make a shared understanding occur or create a communal standard. Only an extreme individualist might hold this as the fault of an individual. Right?

What is this Thing Called Sin?

And no, this is meant not bo be a definitive answer for y’all. However, recently the Weekend Fisher has written a short post comparing it to losing face

Recently in a Dogmatic theology class a quote from, if I recall, one of the Cappadoccian fathers had offered that your sin “like” a veil being drawn between you and God. People in the class reacted positively, as if this was interesting and insightful way of stating it. However, this was for me problematic, because my understanding was that sin was basically defined pretty much in that way. So the question might be why is that an interesting observation if it is also basically the definition for sin. A week later, our instructor came back with a definition for sin that she managed to find, which was that sin is “taking your attention away from God.” 

So, for y’all what is your working definition for what is this thing called sin? 

Feedback and Micro-Evolution

Almost a year ago, our family got our first pet. I never grew up with a dog, and this was a new experience for my wife and I (not to mention our two daughters). Sophie is a now 1 y/old terrier mix, half Yorkie and half Cairn. She is now fully grown at a year, weighing in at about 11-12 pounds. She is very fast. In a fenced in yard my daughters took more than 20 minutes to catch her when she’d grabbed a small thing they thought she shouldn’t have.

What does this have to do with evolutionary feedback. Well, one of the most amazing things she does is, I suppose, the result of that. When we go for a walk or a fast jog, she often runs alongside me at 8-10 mph for a block or two. While she is doing this her nose is sniffing for scents continually, with her snozzle running along the sidewalk what looks like 1/2 inch from the concrete. What I find hard to imagine is how, over irregular ground an animal weighing in at 11 pounds measuring less than a foot at the shoulder can run that fast with their nose (!) a centimeter above rough concrete. I mean, if you mis-judge that distance and your nose collides with the ground that’s going to hurt (and send you flipping in somersaults). Yet it never has occured.

Animals that can’t hold scan the ground well, don’t find food. Those that misjudge the distance scrape their snozzles and get really embarassed doing flips inadvertently. This isn’t a skill practiced and learned. It is innate. Evolution in action.

Morale and Complex Malfunctions

Commenter Boonton has on a few occaisons mused about complex industrial accidents and the avoidence of the same.

Complex project development, in a book which came out in the 80s (Have Fun At Work, by Mr Livingstone) was an interesting read. The main thesis of the book was that complex projects (those are too large basically to fit in one smart persons brain … and he gave specific concrete ways to recognize those projects) fail. They all fail (or at the best have horrible delays and massive cost overruns). Much of the book devoted itself to orienting tech/engineer personel to recognize if your project was one of those which would fail and how to prevent that from career or psychic injury to self. As a sidelight he noted the only way that complex projects succeed. Complex projects succeed if heirarchical information pathways are removed and replaced with a model in which everyone can talk (and does talk) to everone. The cannonical such project is the Lockheed Skunkworks, which developed the SR-71, the U-2, and stealth combat aircraft. In their working environment, aerodynamicists and systems engineers sat next to draftsmen and machinists. “Can this …?” questions didn’t filter up and down the chain but you would ask the guy who might know the answer directly.

Big systems with complex working parts are put in place all over the world. Refineries, airplans, chemical plants, nuclear power plants and so on are all complex working systems. One way in which one might approach minimizing the occurance of complex accidents is to follow the Kelly Johnson/Skunkworks approach and shift it from project development to ongoing system operations. Why isn’t this done?

One reasons might be tied to morale. The Skunkworks team was a high morale operation. They had an impossible (basically) cutting edge project. They worked rediculous hours because of their excitement and the demands of the project and the basic urge human urge for success and to win, defined in this case as completion of the project, to scale that technical mountain. How can this translate to a multi-decade task of keeping equipment running safely, a far more mundane and routine task? If one identifies a clear difference in the two tasks as one of morale. High morale is essential for the operation of a non-heirarchical task/team project. High morale might also be an essential telling point in the operation of a long term operational facillity if one were to attempt to shift it to a more skunkworks-like approach to management. You can’t do that without high morale.

Ultimately government “regulation” of industrial workplace might be better served not trying to pretend it knows better how to drill offshore, run nuclear plants, and so on. It can on the other hand, have a better shot a spotting any number of ways in which workplaces are poisoned by poor morale and other working conditions conducive to failure (reckless risk taking has its own signature on morale). The point is, inspectors might be better served watching dynamics of workplace (social) chemistry and less on technical questions which they have, likely, less (or captive) expertise (not to speak of other agenda).  

Testing Test

I got a new toy, err, gadget. An Android tablet (the Asus Transformer). The sooper sekret plan is that if I manage to write some apps for use at my workplace, probably porting our supervisory java applet panels to the tablet, I’ll be likely able to expense it. If I don’t have the time to attack that, oh well, I still have the toy.

Anyhow, I’m posting this with a free wordpress Android app.

Lurning To Kownt

Mr Darrell at the Bathtub announces that billions of dollars will be lost to public schools if vouchers get passed. 

Census data tells us that there are 3.1 million students of ages 5-13. Let’s grant that to increase to 5 million to end of high school. Billions? Is he expecting mass exodus? If 20% of those students left for private schools .. there’d be no place for them. Clue in, the private schools can take how many more kids … a tens of thousands at best. The only way that would amount to billions is if the vouchers were worth hundreds of thousands per, which isn’t the case.

I do like this objection too: 

This voucher scheme would send public tax dollars to private and religious schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers.

He much prefers that other school system which is unaccountable to parents.

Regulation and Growth

For a government setting the level of how much to regulate is seen, on the right as something of a tighrope, and on the left, mostly as something which is required but which has little if any downside … the only question for them is how much and will it be enough to do what they hope (if not of course, more will be needed). This is unfortunate because, there is a very significant downside to setting to high of a regulatory burden, namely it can slow or in some cases completly stifle growth. First off, a little clarfication is needed. The term regulation can be widely interpreted as any government law or prescription. Some regulations then, might be conducive to growth like the regulations establishing tech corridors, which can by local proximity allow synergies to develop between neighboring firms. The common meaning of regulations when discussed in the context of business and growth are restrictions and rules of conduct and practice and licensing requirements. This latter meaning is the one I will adhere to in the following. I should also make clear that there are other private and government protocols which are similar to regulations, but not the sort of thing I mean to discuss here. Those protocols (sometimes government enforced, but more often (?) just agreed upon by industry groups) also are called standards. Standard voltages, connectors, or other specifications (consider the plethora of Internet RFCs for examples). These are protocols which when enforced by law and the government are (again) by definition regulations but serve a different purpose. They are different in kind from emmision limits, testing requirements, minimum price/wage laws, and so on. Continue reading →

FDA Certification: A Modest Proposal

In the past I’ve made the suggestion that FDA certification should be optional and that said certification should provide certain benefits to the company in the form of certain tort immunities. Below, I’d like this post to be a thread to discuss how that might work (specifically the FDA tort immunity part). 

My notion for how this might work is that a person has no grounds for suit against the pharm manufacturer for defects or side effects if the manufacturer can show that the approved procedures were followed. 

What does this cover? That means, from famous examples, a parent of a thalidomide child has no grounds for suit against the manufacturer because the drug was used for the approved purpose and correctly manufactured. It had unforseen and unintended consequences. Which is, we all agree, unfortunate. But unfortunate occurances a priori do not make for grounds to sue.

What does it not cover? It doesn’t cover uses not claimed. If a drug is produced with specificied (in the FDA approval) uses. If it can be shown that the manufacturer was touting uses beyond the uses mentioned in the approval or for effects not listed … this can provide a ground for suit. Commenter Boonton noted:

One infamous case, for example, was oxycotin which was marketed as impossible to become addicted too.

If the FDA approval documents lack the claim that “it is non-addictive” then claiming the same gives ground for suit. One the other hand, if it did, then there would be no standing. 

FDA approval processes are expensive. This then gives companies the motive to seek that certification. Today the approval is required, but it buys you nothing except the opportunity to sell product in the US. My suggestion would be to make the approval process more or less optional, but give motive for the company to seek approval. The consumer would realize that the FDA label implies a high level of testing and scrutiny, which is something they might value in a drug. 

Nuclear Disasters of the Past

So, Three-Mile Island was the worst nuclear accident on US soil. How many deaths are epidemologically attributed to the accident. Well, one study I was quoted in passing by a co-worker was that 50-100 deaths resulted from the accident. All these deaths alas, were due to the increased coal mining and pollutants from the increase in coal fired electrical production. 

Who wants to guess that the aftermath of the recent earthquake and reactor incedents have similar “fallout?”

Obama and the “Is Really Smart Meme”

The discussion of whether or not Mr Obama is “smart” came up again in a conversation. I thought I’d lay out a few thoughts on that. Before I begin I want to emphasize that I don’t know whether or not he is smart or not. People say he is … and I think they have no real good way of knowing that. The reason I say I don’t know is that I don’t have the background or experience to judge whether or not largely because I really have no instincts or experience of lawyers who are or are not considered, in their field, smart. 

First of, let’s set some groundwork. When people are talking about Mr Obama being smart, what they are not talking about is that he is in the upper 50 percentile of intelligence in the US. Or at the very least that’s certainly not what I understand the term to mean. Some people who offer that Mr Obama is smart, point to academic credentials … attending Columbia, Harvard law, Harvard Law review chair and so on. Yet they also contend without torquing their brains with dissonance that Mr Bush (Yale, Harvard MBA, F-104 fighter pilot) is not. Now, I’ve attended the “Harvard of the Mid-West” (U of Chicago) and in my field there were fellow students who I felt at the time were not, well, very sharp. So mere attendance at a good school does not qualify one automatically as either smart or dumb. Regarding the Law review, I have no idea how one serves on that editorial board or chairs it … but it seems more akin to winning an election to class President than anything writing a brilliant paper or giving a talk like that noted in the next chapter. 

20+ years ago, when I was in graduate school I attended a lecture at the U of Chicago Maths department by Edward Witten. Mr Witten is considered, almost universally, in the Physics (and mathematical Physics community) to be if not the very brightest then on the very short list of the brightest theoretical Physicists alive today. Now, I as a grad student was blown away by his talk … but the interesting thing was that my reading of the reaction by the math department reaction was that they had just witnessed a historic lecture, of the category of Riemann’s famous habilitation (Doctoral defense) lecture in which geometry was completely re-written as a theory of manifolds. This is what I mean by “recognizing” smart. Now Mr Witten is a special (easy) case, for he is on the upper/outer boundary. But the point of this little recollection is to offer that in Maths, Physics, and (as I noted in our conversation) in computer programming I feel qualified to judge “smart.” Now a person who does not know any higher mathematics, when they see a paper or talk by Mr Witten really has no way of judging whether he is smart or just confidently talking nonsensical jargon. In the same manner, I feel no expertise to judge whether a lawyer “doing his thing” is smart or just confidently spouting jargon. But the point is, in the Physics or Maths community there is a sense of who the “smart” people are and people within the field can judge that from their scholarly work. I would expect that much the same is true in the Constitutional law. 

So, when someone opines that Mr Obama is “smart” what that means for me is not that he is in the 60th IQ percentile in the US or some such twaddle (for then the Mr Bush/Ms Palin is dumb argument fails as well),  but that he, who was trained as a Constitutional lawyer, is or was regarded as one of the best and brightest in that field. Was he. I don’t think  that’s the case. Do I think he is smart. I don’t know, but I suspect …. that he is not or that he is now and has always been contending in a field (Politics) where such assessments are really quite meaningless.