Educators, open source your test material

I've heard from several professors that they don't like to put their course material in publicly accessible places, because then students will merely memorize that material, and be able to pass the course without any real understanding of what is going on.

That's true for a single professor posting her material from the past couple of semesters, which she hopes to re-use again in the next few semesters.

But what if an entire department established an open source repository of all of their test and homework material? Then the faculty would have access to a pool of thousands of possible test questions and homework assignments.

And what about some student who went and memorized all of this material? Well, such a student deserves an A!

In other words, the way to handle the problem of students looking up previous tests and homework assignments so that they can gain an edge in their course is not to try to hide that material (which, as my colleague admitted to me, doesn't work, since students find a way to share it anyway), but instead to overwhelm the students with so much publicly available material that any student who memorizes all of it is good to go.

Building software tools

How much time one should spend building the software the customers want, versus how much time one should spend building tools to better enable one to build the software the customers want, is simply a special case of how "round-about" one should make any production process.

My friend Howard Baetjer noted this many years ago, but it seems it is still not widely recognized in the software industry.

Puzzling blog post puzzle

And just why do so many of my recent posts have "puzzle" in the title?

Another page hit puzzle

I don't really look at these stats too often, so that's why when I occasionally do, I am so puzzled by what I see. For instance, this month, most of the top posts have gotten a thousand or so hits. But this post, from 7 years ago, has 47,000 hits this month! Say what?! It's not even a very interesting post.

What the heck is going on here? Is there some way someone could be routing spam through one of my blog posts? That doesn't seem possible, given what I know about blogs, but I ask because I don't really track how these things work, and I can't understand why one of my old, relatively uninteresting posts could suddenly be generating so much traffic.

A linguistic puzzle

I am watching a Hindi language movie. In the opening scene, a board showing the train schedule at a station is shown.

The headings on the board are all in English: "Track", "Train", "Departure", etc. But all of the entries on the board are in Hindi.

Why would anyone design a train schedule board in this fashion?

A passenger who can only read English can read the headings but not the actual train information. A passenger who can only read Hindi can read the train information, but not the headings. And anyone who can read both could read the board if it was written entirely in one language or the other.

So what could be the motivation for this mixed language board?



Traffic puzzle, part II

It seems I do have a lot of new links to this blog, but they are being recorded as coming through this site.

But what is that site? And why are my hits showing up as coming from it, rather than the actual blogs that are linking here?

Man, this software stuff is confusing!

The falsity of the "they're just reading" response



In response to my post "The Most Rapid Alteration of Human Behavior in History," A couple of readers essentially responded, "They're just reading," and sent me links to items like the photo above.

First of all, before the photo above was taken, reading had been gradually spreading amongst humans for many thousands of years. Nevertheless, the spread of literacy did represent a profound change in people: we remember far less than our preliterate ancestors did, instead relying on external documents for our memory. No less a figure than Socrates worried about this change, and apparently that is why he never wrote anything.

But the photo I used in my post (the one linked to above) was taken, not several thousand, but only a dozen years after the invention of the smartphone.

Furthermore, the behavior of smart phone users is pretty different from that of newspaper readers. True, for some time people have read newspapers while waiting in line, or riding a train. But as far as I recall, newspaper readers did not:

  • Read the newspaper while biking down a busy NYC street.
  • Drop their newspaper under a bus and die while trying to retrieve it.
  • Go on a dinner date and spend most of their time reading the newspaper.
  • Read the newspaper throughout an entire three-hour lecture that they paid many thousands of dollars to attend. (I see about half of all students at university lectures continually using their smart phone throughout the lecture.)
  • Cause 1.6 million accidents a year by reading the newspaper while driving.
  • Walk into walls, pools, and bears because they were reading the newspaper.

Now I don't deny that any of these things might have happened very rarely with newspapers (or books, etc.) in the past. But newspapers did not cause 1 in 4 car accidents, and while every few months I might encounter someone reading the newspaper while walking down the street, today, in NYC, about half the people I see out walking are also on their cell phone.

So, when you convince me that newspaper reading was causing similar problems to the above, then I will believe that nothing new is happening.


Now available for pre-order on Amazon



Our new ebook, The Idea of Science.

Why Are We Discussing the "Probability" of Something That Happened?

This is bizarre -- when illustrating how dominant the Warriors were during the NBA regular-season, Ben Alamar chooses to discuss their "win probability"... rather than, say, their actual number of wins! Statistics have become more real to him than actual events!

Dynamic Programming, the video

Greedy Choice Versus Dynamic Programing

To give a mini lecture on when one can use a greedy algorithm and when one must resort to dynamic programming, I had a little cross disciplinary breakthrough: we can make the greedy choice (and thus use a greedy algorithm) when there is no opportunity cost for doing so. When are choice does come with opportunity costs, the greedy choice won't work.

I hope to post the lecture later.

"Contacting" Amazon

On their Kindle publishing site, Amazon has a "Contact Us" button. (It is at the bottom left on this page.)

Is it just me, or does the "Contact Us" button just lead you around and around more web pages, with no ability to contact anyone at all?

UPDATE: I finally found a link leading to an actual contact page!

Philosophy of Nature



My review of Paul Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature is now published at British Journal for the History of Philosophy.

Blog readership puzzle

Here's the chart of hits per month for La Bocca:


The puzzle is, I have no idea what caused the liftoff in readership a year ago, or why it has climbed with three distinct peaks as it has. And when I look through my referrals, the main source of traffic seems to be, not a link from some big name blogger, but Google.

The Garden in May


The relevance of van Bavel

As you may know, I am currently reviewing Bas van Bavel's The Invisible Hand? for History: Review of New Books. As I am reaching the end of the book, I am ready to write the introduction for my review!

Van Bavel's work might best be characterized as "applied history." (Students of Michael Oakeshott will recognize that this means van Bavel, while doing serious historical research, is primarily dealing with the "practical past," i.e., the past viewed as providing lessons for present choices.) The context in which this work is set is the ongoing debate over optimal economic policy. For a time, from the collapse of the Soviet Union until about a decade ago, it seemed that this debate might be settled: neoliberalism had triumphed, and the best political economy prescription clearly involved a heavy dose of free markets. Certainly, there was debate at the margins: Should healthcare be publicly provisioned? How big a welfare state should one have? What is the proper role for central banks and international economic institutions like the IMF? And there were always heretics like Marxists and Catholic social theorists who demurred from this consensus, but they were like flat earthers or creationists, and could be safely ignored.

But then came the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and all that had seemed settled was at play again. The response to the crisis by free-market advocates most typically ran along these lines: "Yes, the crisis was bad, but it was the result of crony capitalism, not of true free markets. If the central banks and the international economic institutions had not gotten in bed with the big banks, this all could have been avoided." And there is, I think, a good deal of truth in this response.

But van Bavel's work provides a very important counter-response. Van Bavel's main thesis is that open markets work well, for a time, at producing wealth and lifting all boats. But with the rise of factor markets, meaning market dominance over the allocation of land, labor, and capital, there arises an increasingly wealthy financial elite, and that wealth gives them an increasing influence over social conditions in general. In particular, this elite becomes more and more able to bend the legal system of their society to serve their own interests. In short, unfettered free markets produce crony capitalism as their probable (at times van Bavel seems to suggest inevitable) outcome, much as consuming crystal meth, while providing a boost for a time, sooner or later produces a collapse in health.

Van Bavel backs his thesis with extensive evidence from three case studies: Iraq between 500 and 1100 CE, Northern Italy from 1000 to 1500, and the Low Countries between 1100 and 1800. He also touches, much more lightly, upon other instances of market societies, such as England, the United States, early modern China, and the Roman Empire.

My next post on this topic will be the conclusion of my review.

The most rapid alteration of human behavior in history

And it seems nobody is paying it much attention. Well, of course not: they are too busy checking twitter!



My enthusiasm for DevOps

It might appear that I am simply latching on to a trendy topic.

But it actually goes a little deeper than that: the previous time I was involved in professional software engineering ended in about 2004. At the time, my friends and I had been pushing ideas like software as infrastructure, why one should prefer open-source software, and the advantages of text-based systems. But we faced a lot of opposition.

Fast-forward a dozen years: I dive back into the professional development world, and discover... we won! And the name of that victory is: DevOps.

Of course, like every other marketing term, "DevOps" will be over-hyped, and claims about its wonderfulness and ability to make babies' poop smell good need to be taken with a grain of salt. And, of course, in 2004 we hadn't yet forseen every aspect of the DevOps revolution: after all, a whole lot of smart people have devoted a whole lot of thought to this topic in the dozen years I was gone. And I am now in the process of enthusiastically absorbing the many great ideas they have added to what we knew in 2004. But these are great ideas built on top of the approach to developing and deploying software that we are ready knew was the best approach out there.

And I am far from alone in having experienced this: I have been listening to the DevOps Cafe podcast, and a number of guests have remarked that when they first encountered "DevOps," their imediate reaction was, "I've been advocating DevOps for years: I just didn't know that's what it was called."

What's more: the DevOps principles don't just apply to software development. You may not have noticed, but I've increasingly been "DevOpsing" my writing projects. For instance, as you know, I have been working on my review of The Invisible Hand? recently. In doing so, I have been creating "continually deployable" parts of my review: the blog posts you have seen here. Furthermore, I have been continually integrating those "gists" into my actual review.

DevOping the MS computer science curriculum

What I am going to say here applies mostly to training software engineers. Training theoretical computer scientists is a different matter, and my guess is that that is already being done pretty well.

The problem I perceive is that software engineers are being trained at universities by using methods more appropriate to training theoretical computer scientists: what's students get when they sign-up for an MS in computer science is the first portion of the curriculum used to train theoretical computer scientists for doing a PhD. Now, that knowledge is not useless to a working software engineer: all of the top working engineers have some understanding of theoretical computer science. Certainly, a good engineer should know what is being said when someone points out, "But your algorithm will run in exponential time," and have knowledge of how to determine the asymptomatic complexity of an algorithm they are considering.

But this is a minor part of most working engineers jobs. When presenting a proof for the runtime complexity of an algorithm in one of my lectures, I pointed out to my students, 99% of whom intend to be working engineers, and not theoreticians, that we engineers certainly should not be frightened of these proofs. But, I noted, they really won't play much of a role in your future jobs: in 20 years of professional software development, I told them, I had never once had my manager come to my office and demand a proof of the runtime complexity of the code I was developing.

To properly train of working engineer, one has to have them develop software, especially real software, that will actually be used by real users, rather than toy software developed simply to pass a class.

This implies that to properly train software engineers, MS programs must be able to offer them real projects to work on. But what kind of software for real-world use can an MS program possibly be involved in developing?

Answer: the program's own courseware! Of course.

So the new paradigm is: make your courseware open source. Make it buildable. Make it testable. Allow continuous integration and setup automated testing. Create monitoring systems that provide rapid feedback as to the success of the courseware. Put your courseware in an open source repository. But most of all:

Realize that, if you are training MS Computer Science students, you are a software company. Treat the entire enterprise as a single software project, developing agile courseware. Maximize the opportunites for sharing code and knowledge amongst all courses, and make the MS students an integral part of this process.


I'm number one!

A reader just wrote to tell me, "Your book Oakeshott on Rome in America has gone to number one at Amazon.com... in the category 'Books on Oakeshott, Rome, and America.'"

Crony Capitalism: The Free Market Cycle, Part II

"Also, in the course of the cycle described here, those groups and organizations in society who would aim for changing the arrangements of the market in order to balance or reduce negative externalities, gradually lost their economic and political power... Their revolts in the later stages of the cycle proved futile. This is also because of the consolidation and entrenchment of the elite in these later stages... Exactly in the last phases of the cycle the elites... closed their ranks...

"In all these cases, the state increasingly came under the influence of those who benefited most from the market system...

"In the first phase of the cycle, in each of these cases, the role of the state was not yet very prominent,  and it figured next to all kinds of other organizations and associations that fulfilled semi-public roles... In the second phase, states... increasingly stimulated the rise of markets in more direct ways, induced to do so because of fiscal reason. These markets, with the associated monetization and commodification of land and labour, enabled them to tap resources and tax transactions and wealth more easily than with other forms of exchange and allocation, such as barter or communal redistribution.

"Each of the cases discussed saw growing state repression, armed violence, and warfare by state and public authorities, in the last stage of the cycle. It is telling that this was done after the militias of ordinary people were replaced by professional soldiers or slaves, hired or bought in the market and being more dependent on their employers or masters than the independent producers in the former militias were."

-- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand?, pp. 268-270

van Bavel on McCloskey

"I do not think the market fosters immorality of individuals... On the single point... I would agree with McCloskey that such a critique would be mistaken. However, this is not because capitalism will improve our ethics, as McCloskey argues, but rather because such a critique misses the crucial mechanism and the essential point. Even if the market itself is not anti-moral, and market behavior at the micro level is not immoral either, the outcome of market dominance at the macro level in the longer run will likely be a negative one, as shown in the cases investigated... This negative outcome is bound to occur particularly within a skewed social context..." -- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand, p. 267

Microservices running on unikernels

That's the future of computing, my friend.

For example, that you were writing the weather prediction application, that needs to rapidly execute matrix operations on very large matrices. Your first thought may be, "Well, I find a good linear algebra library, and compile it into my program."

But there are several problems with this approach:

  1. Every time the producers of the library find a bug and fix it, you will have to recompile your program and redeploy it.
  2. Every time the producers of the library add a feature you want or improve the performance of the features you use, you will have to recompile your program and redeploy it.
  3. If there are security holes in the linear algebra library, they are now in your program also.
  4. Your program is now larger by the size of the linear algebra library.
  5. If there is specialized hardware for running these sorts of computations, you will need to make sure your program runs on it or forego the speed improvements it would provide.

A better solution is for your weather application to rely on a microservice. Some specialists in computational linear algebra will build the service, run it on some highly optimized hardware, and allow people to subscribe to it. When you need a large matrix multiplication, you will passe this service a message across the Internet, and it will do your computation for you, and bill you based upon the size of the computation. Every time the specialists fix a bug, you immediately have their bug fix. Every time they upgrade their hardware, you have upgraded your hardware! Every time they speed up the calculation, you have instant access to the faster version.

And these microservices will increasingly run on unikernels: they will be built by taking a library of operating system components, and compiling in just the minimum set of modules that will enable the service to run. So, for example, the linear algebra microservice does not need a graphical user interface. It does not need mouse drivers, or printer drivers, for display drivers. It does not need code for handling user logins or starting terminal sessions. It does not need process or memory management: it is built to run a single application. It probably does not even need a filesystem: just a way to access disk cache for intermediate results.

Tech-support running out the clock

"Please install the latest updates to your phone, watch, Apple TV, Mac Book, and thermostat before we go any further."

THIS time, I'm sure they are correct!

"Trump will never survive this Comey scandal."
Brought to you by the people who told you:


  • Trump will never survive those remarks about Mexicans.
  • Trump will never survive the first GOP debate.
  • Trump will never survive the first Republican primary.
  • Trump will never survive Big Tuesday.
  • Trump will never survive the GOP field narrowing.
  • Trump will never survive the GOP convention delegates coming to their senses.
  • Trump will never survive the first presidential debate.
  • Trump will never survive the hot mike tapes.
  • Trump will never survive election day.
  • Trump will never survive the revolt of the electors.

Corporatist new-left alliance

McDonald's is now advertising itself as a force for "diversity." This is hilarious: is there a single corporation in the world that does more to wipe out diverse local cuisine's then McDonald's does?




A man after my own heart

I have previously pointed out that the new left's hedonic individualism plays right into the hands of global corporate interests. Here is a nice statement of why this is so:

'Nevertheless, what Korab-Karpowicz rejects is treating the dominant culture as a whipping boy and substituting it with a bland, sterile relativism. As thesis 7.6232 states, the goal of such actions is often “the reduction of human beings to the same kind of individuals, motivated only by primitive lust”. Moreover, modern global business elites, sadly, welcome this process. As Korab-Karpowicz states “such [motivated only by lust] individuals make ideal consumers, whether for commercial goods or for sex, and are at the same time (as persons deprived of higher values, such as virtues), easy to manipulate to instigate to quarrel” (p. 156).'



A curious claim

"Output per worker around 1300 was as high as after 1348, even despite the windfall gains caused by the population decline of the Black Death..." -- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand, p. 107.

The thinking here seems to be that with fewer workers working the same amount of land, employing the same amount of capital, output per worker "should" have gone up. But this seems to ignore some important factors, such as the fact that many people were ill, while those who were not ill were often tending to the ill, or burying the dead, or fleeing to a remote retreat in order to avoid becoming ill. Once we take these countervailing factors into account, it is not at all obvious to me that a plague will present a "windfall gain" in output per worker.



Algorithm textbook complaint

When I took algorithms, we used Robert Sedgwick's book, called, quite imaginatively on his part, Algorithms. Today, the book usually known as CLRS, for the initials of the last names of the authors, dominates the algorithm textbook market.

I am re-reading Sedgwick at the moment, leading me to say: I think this is a shame. Sedgwick's book is much clearer and better written. It also has a much more useful approach for engineering students, with emphasis on how to actually implement the algorithms, rather than pages of mathematical proofs of their run-time complexity.

The Worst Part about Pornography (for males, at least)

Note: here I am not talking just about "Internet porn," or dirty magazines: I am talking also about the constant flow of pornography that arises from our mainstream movie industry and our advertising industry, both of which constantly try to sell males on the idea: "You will be made most happy by a woman if the shape of her body conforms to certain socially admired standards."

This is total and absolute rubbish. Men: your life will be enhanced by a woman to the extent she loves you, supports you, and desires to help you. Whether she has a "big butt" or "small" whatevers will have very little impact on your life with her.

Of course, if a woman's (or a man's) body is grotesquely extreme, that can (quite naturally) preclude a sexual relationship with that person (as it is often a sign of deeper malady). An adult woman who weighs 60 pounds or one who weighs 400 pounds each might be very hard to embrace as a sexual partner. But in the broad range in between anorexia and gross obesity, you really should pay very little attention to the woman's body, and much more to how you and she interact.

The free-market cycle

As a student of social cycles, I am always on the lookout for new instances of social cycle theories. And in writing my current book review, I have come across one: the free-market cycle. Here is the author of The Invisible Hand?, Bas van Bavel, describing this cycle:
The three main cases analyzed in the book, and also the three modern cases that are more tentatively discussed, show a similar pattern in the interaction of society, market institutions, and economy. In this pattern, an originally positive feedback cycle -- between increasing freedom, growing factor markets, and economic growth -- turns into a negative one, with the increasing social polarization, institutional sclerosis, markets that become increasingly skewed towards the interests of market elites, and economic growth stagnating and turning into relative or absolute decline. (251)
The cases being analyzed are ones in which factor markets -- for land, labor, and capital -- come to increasingly dominate the allocation of those resources. At first, the process yields good results: "these markets acquired favorable institution organization which offered security, transparency, and broad accessibility" (252). An important factor in these favorable results was that non-elite actors "had access to alternative mechanisms of exchange outside the market and therefore were free to choose whether to use factor markets or not" (253). (Such mechanisms included guilds, strong family institutions, networks of barter exchange, and production for home consumption from one's own land.)

But as factor markets began to eliminate such alternatives, often through "outright attacks" (254) on them -- e.g., enclosure laws, or anti-guild legislation -- "wealth inequality rose to high, or even unprecedented levels" (255). To preserve their wealth, the new elites "tied it up in family foundations, religious foundation, or fiduciary entails" (258-259). Despite the fact that such events often prompted an artistic florescence, they indicated "a tipping point in the cycle had passed, together with other signals including a highly skewed distribution of property, the increasing volatility of financial markets, big public indebtedness, the increasing application of non-economic coercion, and the freezing of capital" (259).

"For Iraq... in the early tenth century, after three centuries of intense market development, it had become one of the most unequal societies recorded in history" (261). Similar results hold for Italy around 1400, for the Low Countries in the 1500s and 1600s. And the less rigorous studies the author offers for the UK and the US more recently show the same dynamic at work.

Van Bavel offers a number of reasons for this result, e.g., "the wealthy usually have more access to information or legal expertise. With the growing scale and complexity of markets, the advantage this offers them also grows" (263). This factor weighs heavily against the anarcho-capitalist antidote to crony capitalism: there is no reason to believe that a financial elite cannot dominate the anarcho-capitalist "market" for law even more thoroughly than they can dominate the "production" of law in purportedly democratic societies.

Van Bavel asserts there is a predictable feedback mechanism at work here: "in all the cases of market economies discussed [increasing wealth inequality] became translated into inequality and political influence and decision-making power, which in its turn was used to adapt the institutional organization of factor markets to the interests of the wealthy" (264).

In short, "mature market economies as a result of this feedback cycle change from being open and equitable to become unequal and distorted" (265).

This is what we actually see in every single case where "free markets" come to dominate a society. It is all well and good for libertarians to bemoan "crony capitalism": but if this is the predictable outcome of their polices, they bemoan in vain.

The moral principles that market advocates often posit as counter-balances to the rise of crony capitalism are also ruled out in van Bavel's analysis:
Moreover, the elements that reduce or compensate for negative externalities of market exchange they mainly be supplied by nonmarket organizations and by norms and values generated outside the market. In the course of time these norms and values, and the associated organizations, are instead eroded, as this book shows, their roles are usurped or superseded by the market. (266)

Availability bias

I used to never see two G trains in a row at the Carroll Street station, but I would often see two, or even three, F trains coming before the G did. "Why," I wondered, "are there so many more F trains than G trains?"

That was when I was riding the G. Now I take the F... and I never see two Fs in a row. For the same reason that lost things are always in "the last place you look for them"... because once you find them, you stop looking. And once your train comes, you stop waiting. So you only ever see the other guy's train come several times in a row.



You mentioned you were interested in learning about VMware?

Chesterton spinning in his grave

I have watched a bit of the new Father Brown series. It is pretty awful. "Based on" a character from GK Chesterton, a man who wrote Orthodoxy, this version is a woolly-minded progressive Who is constantly telling people not to be "judgemental" and suggesting that suicide is not really a sin.

But the writers can't even get elementary facts correct when they are trying to show off their intellectual bona fides. In one episode a character quotes Confucius, and says, "you know: Buddhism." (The character is supposed to be an expert who studies these things seriously.) In another episode, a father is criticizing his teenage daughter's reading. He says, "at your age, I was reading Rousseau and Derrida."

The show is supposed to be set in the early 1950s. The father himself looks to be 50-something. And Derrida was born in 1930.

So the father must have been reading Derrida about 10 years before that writer was born. Which is fairly prescient of the dad.

Private property in the means of production...

is aggression.

According to socialists.

This makes the point that libertarians (reasonably) can't just claim aggression and shut down the discussion: other people have other definitions of aggression.

(H/T to Samson Corwell for the link.)

NOTE: I disagree with socialists here. But this shows that one's notion of aggression needs to be argued for, not simply asserted.

Annoying the user

I typed my card number 3 times before I realized that the programmer who wrote the code for the site I was on actually demands spaces in the card number! This is incredibly lazy programming: any format should be OK that contains the correct numbers. It can be converted to any other format with one line of code.

So then I typed the number with spaces... and was told "Maximum authorization attempts exceeded"! Why let me try again, when I was already at the limit?!

There should be a message saying "That was your last attempt" after attempt three, not one that says "Ha ha! We let you try one more time, even though we knew we weren't going to accept it!" after attempt four.

Measuring in Listerines

I keep a bottle of Listerine in my desk drawer. (Hey, you do need something to kill the smell of the whiskey, don't you?)

Sometimes I bring it to the bathroom with me, but tonight, it was late, I just took a mouthful at my desk, and then got up to walk to the bathroom to spit it out.

In doing so, I realize that the bathroom is just about one full Listerine from my office, where "a Listerine" is the maximum distance you can walk with a mouthful of Listerine before it burned so badly that you just spit it out wherever you are. So you could tell someone, "Don't put that Listerine in your mouth here: the bathroom is at least three Listerines away! You're going to wind up spitting that stuff out right outside the CEO's office door."

Lions are not better than tigers

Nor are tigers better than lions.

But they are also not equal, not in the sense of equal as "the same." If you need a pack hunter to bring down very big game, you'd better hire the lions. Need a stealth hunter to sneak up on something alone? Get your self a tiger.

Some people might misread my post on sports performance as implying that men are "better" than women. (In fact, progressive ideologues will want to misread it that way, so they can hurl accusations of "misogyny," because that is how they silence opposition.)

Well, men are better... weight lifters, on average. And "better" serial killers, and genocidal maniacs, and better rapists. None of the last three are at all good things to be better at.

Men and women are equally children of God. But very different children.

Adopting Methodological Individualism...

is like poking out one of your eyes, and then telling everyone that you see no evidence of depth in the world around you.

A methodological individualist mistake

I was just told that because individuals in a nation have diverse interests, the "national interest" does not exist: I was trying to "homogenize" these different groups and treat them as if all of their interests were identical.

As pointed out many times here before, methodological individualism is nonsense, and pernicious nonsense to boot: it leads smart people to say silly things like the above.

Not every cell in my body needs to benefit from a course of action for that course of action to be in my self interest. My foot may need to be amputated for me to survive, but this is very bad for the cells in my foot. (They might have lived another month if left attached, but now they die immediately after the operation.) The interest of cancer cells in my body may run directly against the survival of my body.

Not every player on a sports team needs to benefit from a course of action for that action to be in the team's interest. Benching Callahan might be the best thing for the team, even if it signals that Callahan's career is over.

The people in a corporation may be there for a wide variety of reasons. Some of them may be corporate saboteurs. And many of them may be there just to get a paycheck, and not care at all about the survival of the corporation beyond the last day they are going to work there. Nevertheless, we can still reasonably talk about what is in the interest of the corporation: whatever helps the corporation to survive and become stronger is in its interest.

It is no different with the nation: that which promotes the survival of France as an entity is in France's interest, and that which retards that survival runs against its interest. It makes no difference at all that there may be many residents of France who are indifferent to its survival, or even wish it to disappear. (No difference at all in determining what is in France's interest: of course, if a lot of people inside France want France to disappear, it will have a harder time surviving!)

How to keep your init files on GitHub

I puzzled over this for a little while before figuring out a good approach: create a hard link from your .vimrc, .bashrc, etc. to a repo for all of your inits (mine is InitFiles: https://github.com/gcallah/InitFiles). Then check in these hard-linked files.

You will have to recreate the hard links on every machine you want to update from this repo.

But then, that's it! You edit your init files on the machine you are on, push the changes to the repo, and then pull the changes down to your other machines. Your /home/yourname/.bashrc simply is the same file as InitFiles/.bashrc, and you are good to go!

The marginal efficiency of Russell Westbrook

Today he went 10 for 28 (35.7%), while his team mates shot 32 for 57 (56.1%).

Economic logc would seem to indicate that the Thunder are leaving a huge gain in point output on the table, by failing to shift shot production from an area with lower marginal yield (Westbrook shoots) to one with higher marginal yield, e.g., Steve Adams (80% tonight) shoots. (FYI, these stats, while extreme, are not a one-game anomaly: for the season Westbrook shot 42% while Adams shot 57%.)

Why doesn't this shift occur? Is it that Westbrook is such a valuable player in other ways that the coach does not want to put him into a funk by demanding to shoot less? Other explanations?


You Won't Believe Who Kevin Durant Is Reportedly Dating

I saw this headline today. Well, if you tell me "you won't believe who Kevin Durant is dating"... that might be true. If I found out, for instance, that he was dating Theresa May, I would be very surprised.

But once you add in the word "reportedly," then statements of the class "You won't believe the X is reportedly dating Y" are false for all possible values of X and Y. If you tell me "Donald Trump is dating Beyoncé," I will find that very difficult to believe. But if you tell me that somewhere, someone is reporting that Donald Trump is dating Beyoncé, I will just shrug my shoulders, and say "Of course."

The fable of our time

Is the emperor's new clothes. It can be applied again and again and again.

All over our culture today, we see ideological constructs that are clearly illusory (the emperor is actually naked), but for which the illusion is sustained by the threat of reputational destruction for anyone who states the obvious.

I will give you one example of what I mean, and you can generate many more yourself. Consider the barrage of ads that have been showing this winter and spring, claiming things like "sports knows no gender."

Applying this principle, the US women's soccer team talked about going on strike, because although they were doing "equal work" to the men, they were getting paid less.

Well, that same women's team just lost to a JV high school boys team by a score of 5-2. So the very best women's team in the world just lost to a group of 14-year-old boys from a single high school!

Clearly, far from being equal to the best male players in the world, the very best female players in the world would have great difficulty in making a top-notch boys high school team. I would guess that not a single one of them could make a decent Division One men's university team.

So how could anyone possibly believe all these advertisements? It is like advertisements were claiming that the average American is 20 feet tall, or were selling you dirt, telling you it is a tasty and nutritious food.

Well, they work, because to question the illusion at all is to invite utter social condemnation. Just the way the illusion that the emperor had a grand new suit of clothes on was maintained.

Bad vinegar?

My distilled vinegar says it is only good until January 28, 2021.

What happens after that? Does it turn to wine?

What is the scientific basis for Halal?

I was looking up the rules for Halal food, because I was cooking for a Muslim student of mine. One of the things I found online was frequent questions, from Muslims, along the lines of the title of this post.

This just goes to show how deeply scientism has infected the entire world culture. Why in the world would some religious dietary restrictions need a "scientific" basis? Isn't the fact "God told us not to eat this" enough?

And if you're eating a certain way because you're convinced of the health effects of eating that way, than you are no longer doing it for a religious purpose!



A Peasant Surprise

"When peasants in developing countries lose their direct access to land and the means of production, and become reliant on markets for food, land, and wage labour, they can actually become more dependent and even more vulnerable than they would have been in a peasant society with limited market influence..." -- Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand?, p. 6

PS -- Apple voice recognition rendered the previous text as "Bas van Bavel and the invisible hand." This suggests a new series of Harry Potter novels, e.g.:

Harry Potter and the tragedy of the commons
Harry Potter and the prisoner's dilemma
Harry Potter and the paradox of thrift
Harry Potter and the fable of the bees

Etc.


COBOL woes

The language won't die, but that doesn't mean the programmers won't!

Funny quote:

'"Just because a language is 50 years old, doesn't mean that it isn't good," said Donna Dillenberger, an IBM Fellow.'

Right Donna: it's the fact that COBOL sucks that means it isn't good, not the fact that it is old.

The Clinton Foundation is old hat

"The Iraqi elites started to immobilize their wealth in waqfs, or religious and charitable foundations, partly in order to shield it from taxation by the state. The waqf, as an unincorporated and inalienable trust, appeared on the stage around the mid-eighth century and grew in importance by the ninth century, especially in Iraq... A major motive for the foundation of a waqf was the wish to serve a religious, charitable, or public purpose... For the founder, some additional advantages of using this instrument was that he could appoint himself as an administrator of the waqf, he could set his own salary to be paid out of the waqf's funds, he could nominate relatives to positions paid for by the waqf, And he could designate his children as his successors. This last advantage help to circumvent the Islamic inheritance laws… What the same time he could shield the family property from taxation by public authorities." Bas van Bavel, The Invisible Hand?, p. 76

It will be an integer, between -1 and 1

Those frustrating times when we think of the perfect comeback, but too late:

Bryan Caplan was presenting at the NYU colloquium on market processes. His paper relied on a notion of "rationality" that certainly could not pass philosophical muster.

In attempting to show the weakness of his notion of rationality, I commented, "Let us say that someone is working on the assumption that the Bible is the revealed word of God. Wouldn't it be rational for that person to act differently than your 'rational actor' would act?" (I was trying to point out that his notion of rationality could not rationally defend its own assumptions, and that given different assumptions, what constituted a rational action might appear quite differently.)

He responded, "What, we should pay attention to some book written thousands of years ago by some desert shepherds?" (I quote from memory.)

Let me note that Professor Israel Kirzner was sitting next to me in the room at the time Bryan said this. Caplan surely knew that Kirzner is an orthodox rabbi, so his response was pretty much a slap in Kirzner's face. I think I was too flummoxed by the degree of disrespect Caplan showed (to a much greater thinker than himself) to respond as I should have:

"Gee, Bryan, 2500 years from now, how many people do you think will be reading your work?"

The answer is in the post title.

More on liberal "tolerance"

Liberal say they are "tolerant of everyone but the intolerant."

By "the intolerant" they mean "non-liberals."

In other words, liberals will tolerate… other liberals!

How accommodating of them.



The Invisible Hand?

My latest review assignment is The Invisible Hand? by Bas van Bavel. Here is the main thesis:

"the rise and dominance of markets for land, labour, and capital are self-undermining, as... feedback mechanisms results in welfare declining again and markets losing their quality in facilitating successful and rapid exchange, with a relative or even absolute downfall of the market economy in question." (pg. 2)

Market-dominated societies have arisen before, and they always self-destruct, and in the same way, and for the same reason: they are fundamentally anti-human.

So let's try it again!

Our line-up for Critics of Rationalism

BSing with phony precision

The problem with the claim that every H1B visa creates 1.83 new American jobs is the absurd precision with which this result is put forward. We are dealing with a topic of vast complexity, where a myriad of causal factors are interacting to produce the observed outcome, and for which we have no control group and no ability to do repeated experiments using a controlled environment.

"But we used the most sophisticated statistical techniques to produce our result!" the researchers might respond. Very amusing: I guarantee that, with the same data set, an anti-H1B visa group could produce a study that "proves" that for each H1B visa issued, .794321 American jobs are lost.

"1.83" is an attempt to snow the reader with precision: "Wow, if they can cite the number to 2 decimal places, they must really know what they are saying!"

Here is a claim I would be willing to believe: "Based on our research, we are pretty sure that each H1B visa issued creates between one and three new American jobs."

Never have so many

packed so much stupidity into such a small amount of video:


Philodoxers versus philosophers

Plato may a very important distinction between philosophers and philodoxers. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom (σοφια). He tries to align his views with what is true. As such, the philosopher is always engaged in a search (ζετεσισ), since he realizes that he has views are never as true as they could be. We will see him continually updating and revising his views as he comes to see the truth more fully.

The philodoxer, on the hand, is a lover of appearances (δοχα). The philodoxer doesn't care about being good; the philodoxer cares about appearing good, in the opinion of others. The philodoxer doesn't care if his opinions are true; he cares about whether others will approve of his opinions. (I recently had a philodoxer, on hearing what I thought about some topics, respond, "I don't see how you can get on in the modern world with those views!" He had no interest in whether what I said was true; it was enough for him to know my views are unpopular, and for him that was a fully sufficient reason to reject them.)

To the philodoxer, the philosopher's search appears senseless: it is easy to tell which set of views will make one popular with this faction or that faction: what one has to do is simply pick one's faction, and then adopt that faction's approved views. The idea that the philosopher is continually making progress towards the truth precisely by continually updating his views is simply beyond the horizon of the philodoxer: in the end, such a procedure is only sure to make the philosopher unpopular with every faction, since to the extent he agrees with some faction on some point, the agreement is provisional and not based on "being a part of the tribe." Since the philodoxer evaluates his views based on how much others approve of those views, the search for truth appears like a senseless flitting about in a search for approval from one group after another.

Why Liberalism Failed

I'll be reviewing Patrick Deneen's book with that title for The American Conservative.

Of course, by "liberalism," Deneen does not mean the term in the way the American press uses it, to describe Democrats. He is using the standard meaning from political theory, in terms of which both major American parties (and most minor parties) are thoroughly liberal.

What I wish to note here is that the title of Deneen's book is correct: liberalism has already failed. We do not need to predict its failure: its collapse is visible all around us, to anyone not blinded by wishful thinking. And it had to fail, since at its core it is based on a false anthropology, making it a fundamentally anti-human view.


"Each H1B Visa...

produces 1.83 new American jobs."

I saw an article asserting the above. There is a huge problem here: what is it?

UPDATE: Most people are philodoxers; their immediate reaction to a study is not to ask whether it is true or not, but to see if the approve of its findings.

But if this is the way you are looking at the above sentence, it is going to completely blind you to the terrible problem sticking out like a randy, drunk man in a convent choir. Because that problem has nothing to do with whether H1B Visas are good for the country or not.

I will post the answer a little later today.


Is this a new app?

I was in the men's room at school. Someone was in one of the stalls. As I was washing my hands, from inside the stall I heard the person's phone say:

"You're all set! Let's go!"

Has someone released a "let me know if the paperwork is done" app?



Is it racist to say this?

If American culture is to be revived, the revival will come from our African-American population.

I think this whenever I see a sporting event, and a black athlete is interviewed, and ends the interview by saying, "All honor to God." And I see that quite often.



The Democrats' Immigration Strategy

My democratic friends strongly reject any policy involving expelling or punishing illegal immigrants.

But when I ask them, "So, you are in favor of open borders?" they recoil with horror: "Of course not! That is just a fringe position."

And they also strenuously object to any attempt to check legal voting status when elections are held.

I admire open-border libertarians (although I think they are wrong) much more than these conniving bastards: these people want lots of angry, easily exploitable people in the United States, and then want to make sure no one can block them from voting, because they are certain that such a population will be a continual source of votes for Democrats.

I.e., lots of garment district sweatshops or sex-slave massage parlors = lots of votes for Democrats, so those things are A-OK!


Suicide amongst the "trans-gendered"

The attempted suicide rate is enormous.

The politically correct explanation is that "discrimination" explains this high suicide rate.

Does anyone really think that men who want to be women or vice-versa really face harsher discrimination than, say, did African-Americans in the American South up until the last few decades? And did 40% of African-Americans try to commit suicide as a result of that extremely harsh regime of discrimination they experienced?

No, folks, the explanation for this high suicide rate is quite obvious, and staring us in the face.

No Christian (or Buddhist, etc.) should hate someone who is suffering confusion about who they are. We should help them through their confusion.

The politically correct attitude has nothing to do with helping these people. Progressives are using these troubled people as a battering ram against all traditional religions.

Rich in Irony and B Vitamins!

Somebody (I'll take note next time and report back) is running ads with female atheletes declaring "sports has no gender."

Female atheletes. Who compete in leagues that quite explicitly ban men from competing. Whose entire career depends upon... sports having genders.

Ideologies are attempts to replace reality with a dreamworld.

The Screwdriver Manifesto

We, the Screwdrivers of the world, hereby declare:

1) The tool social world has heretofore been ruled by a hammerarchy  This has created a "hammercentric" worldview that privileges the position of hammers amongst tools, while downplaying the role of screwdrivers.

2) As a result of the dominance of this hammerarchy, hammers have been given a hugely disproportionate amount of the glamorous tasks such as "pounding things," while screwdrivers have largely been relegated to such inferior positions as "making things turn around-and-around." (Note carefully the semiotics of this dialectic: hammers are interpreted as driving things forward, while screwdrivers merely serve to keep them in place.)

3) Reinforcing the superiority of the hammer role, hammers are often paired with nails: long, robust, smooth, penetrating objects. Meanwhile, in hammerarchical ideology, screwdrivers are thought of in connection chiefly with screws: smaller, more delicate, fussier items that need "guide holes" (provided by hammers!) to even function. (This denigration of screwdriver-related items has even leaked out into the world of the "users," where we hear expressions such as "screw this.")

4) Even more tellingly, in tool belts, the position given to hammers put their working side up top and on display. But screwdrivers? They are stored with their working end facing downward, and only their handle fully visible, as if to say, "I am just here for the use of others, and my actual working parts are somewhat of an embarrassment, and must be kept hidden away."

5) THEREFORE, we declare:

6) Henceforth, tool society must be re-structured to give equal status to both hammers and screwdrivers.

7) Social justice requires that we establish "diversity in pounding things" initiatives, and we not rest until fully 50% of all pounding of things is done by screwdrivers.

8) Furthermore, the gross inequality in terms of nails and screws must be corrected: every screwdriver should be encouraged to work more with nails, and less with screws. Early education initiatives must be adopted to teach young screwdrivers that nails are no more a "hammer thing" than are screws, and to encourage young screwdrivers to go into the "pounding things" fields.

9) Lastly, all attempts to assert some "natural" roles for hammers and screwdrivers must deconstructed as screwdriver-hating praxis functioning to reproduce the hammerarchy, and to continue privileging the role of hammers in the tool social world.

Screwdrivers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your spinning around-and-around in place!

A sound banker

"A sound banker, alas! is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him." -- John Maynard Keynes

I've been in or on the edges of Wall Street for many years, and Keynes nailed this one: the typical high-level, million-dollar-plus a year employee of an investment bank does not care at all if he walks straight into a financial disaster: what he cares about is that he not stand out from the rest of the crowd who did so as being especially culpable. So long as he doesn't, even if he is fired, he will be employed again at a high salary quite soon.

Call-and-response

Let's see how they respond:

Dear Cosmo / Wanda,

I'm a little confused about your name and role, since line one of your note (below) seems to state that this note is from Cosmo, who is the editor of REM, but the signature says this note is from Wanda, who is the editor of REM. Was your day a little topsy-turvy, perhaps?

But hey, let's set aside that minor confusion: which parts of my paper did you like best? Was it the endorsement of the collective ownership of the means of production that really struck you? Or was it the strong position I took against female circumcision?

Regards,
Gene Callahan

On Mar 29, 2017, at 10:56 PM, Wanda Petty wrote:

Dear Gene Callahan,
 
I’m Cosmo Johnson, the editor of Research in Economics and Management (REM) ISSN 2470-4407(Print) ISSN 2470-4393(Online). I have had an opportunity to read your paper “Morgan, Mary S. 2012., The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. 2012. xvii + 421 Pages. $44.99” which is published in Austrian Economics, The Review of, and can tell from your work that you are an expert in this field.
 
 
We are calling for submission of papers. Please find the journal’s profile at: http://www.scholink.org/ojs/index.php/rem and submit your manuscripts online, you can also submit your manuscripts to rem@scholink.org. If you have any questions, please contact with the editor at: rem@scholink.org.
 
It is appreciated if you could share this information with your colleagues and associates. Thank you.
 
Best Regards,
 
Wanda Petty 
Editor
Research in Economics and Management 

Debugging: don't just fix the bug!

Fix the design problem that caused the bug in the first place.

Of course, sometimes, it is merely a typo: you wrote "X" when you meant "Y". But more often, the bug is just a symptom: some part of your code is badly designed or too hard to understand, and that is why the bug occurred. Every bug should be looked upon as an opportunity for improving your design.

Rationalist, maxims and rules

A person engaged in practical action who recognizes that what is required for success is practical wisdom (phronesis) will recognize that the "guidelines" for such action are maxims, and not rigid rules. Thus, when in the space of a few lines in Romans, he finds Paul saying both:

"the just shall live by faith";

AND

"But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good..."

He will recognize these as maxims, one stressing the importance of faith, the other of doing good.

But if one is of a rationalist bent, these will look like rules, and for Paul to "make sense" one of them is going to have to essentially blot out the other.

And thus folks, we give you the Protestant Reformation.

"The true maxims of golfing or of poetry increase our insight into golfing or poetry and may even give valuable guidance to golfers and poets; but these maxims would instantly condemn themselves to absurdity if they tried to replace the golfer's skill or the poets art. Maxims cannot be understood, still less applied by anyone not already possessing a good practical knowledge of the art. They derive their interest from our appreciation of the art and cannot themselves either replace or establish that appreciation." -- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 31

The progressive left's multi-culturalism

The government of Malaysia apparently asked Disney to cut a few minutes from Beauty and the Beast, minutes that the government deemed to be promoting homosexuality.

So, of course, Disney, promoters of "multi-culturalism," respected the local culture of Malaysia -- after all, they weren't asking for Disney to insert a segment condemning homosexual behavior! -- and cut those few minutes, right? We have to respect the values of other cultures, and never "imperialistically" assume that our culture is right, and the culture of the other is wrong, hey?

Of course they didn't cut that segment! They flat out refused. The "multi-culturalism" of the progressive left is entirely a weapon to wield against traditional Western culture. Whenever some other culture's values differ from progressive ideology, that other culture must be chastised, boycotted, re-educated, or even, if they won't submit, bombed.

Genghis Khan was way more "multi-cultural" than leftist progressives.

Getting your pseudo-code straight

Having just graded 109 two-page pseudo-code answers, I am keenly aware that students have real problems keeping straight what variables hold what type of data. The problem was to augment a red-black tree keyed on date with an energy total, and then to walk the tree to determine an energy usage between two dates. I saw lots of code doing things like:

node.left += energy
node.key = energy
T.root = total

All three of those lines of code would destroy the red-black tree by wiping out one of its structural components with auxilliary data.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to have students begin their work by listing each variable they will be dealing with, and what sort of thing it will hold. Then, whenever they are about to assign to it, they can check back to the "pseudo-declarations."

But I haven't seen this taught. Is anyone familiar with a place where this is recommended?

More AWKwardness

For Emu86, we had documentation in two places: the source code, and a help file. We needed to get this DRY, and fast!

So, we needed a documentation extraction and web page generating system. First I added tags to the source code documentation, like this. See lines 23-36.

Then I wrote this program to pull out the tags and everything in between. A single line of code!

Then we read the "tagged-text-only" files and turn those into HTML with this program. The last two items could have been a single program, but why clutter up that elegant first program with HTML tagging specific to this project? The program to extract tagged text could be useful in many, many projects: Best to make it standalone, and combine it in a pipeline with other programs.

Finally, we use our existing include facility to pull the HTML descriptions of the instructions into our help file.

How "We" Gain from Free Trade

Don Boudreaux recently wrote, about our persistent trade deficits::

"And being a net recipient of capital is not only not necessarily a bad thing for Americans, but is likely a good thing."

What Don means is that for every 100 factory workers who lose their $50,000 / year jobs, one CEO will get a $10 million bonus: net gain!

And when was the last time stinkin’ factory workers funded an all-expenses-paid trip to a libertarian convention at a tropical resort?!

Warning of the dangers of K2

There are now ads up all around NYC proclaiming:

K2: 0% marijuana, 100% dangerous.

Certainly, the dangers of K2 should not be underestimated! See, for instance:

"K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent. It has the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders. With around 300 successful summits and 77 fatalities, about one person dies on the mountain for every four who summit."



That for sure counts as 100% dangerous! But was there really anyone out there who thought that it was made of marijuana?! Does that thing look like it is made of marijuana?

Moronic scammers

I received an email rom some Internet scammers today telling me, "You Apple account has been de-activated."

Of course, they wanted me to "login" to their fake Apple website to re-activate the account.

BUT... they sent the email telling me my Apple account has been de-activated...

To my Apple account!

Thank God so many of these fraudsters are so stupid, or even more people would be victimized by them.



Nature documentaries can't be trusted

I have been watching "India: natures wonderland."

In today's segment, some annoying mountain dude has been banging on about the Himalayas. Well, at least the mountain scenery has been pleasant.

But then he brought me to a halt: the Himalayas are growing, he noted. (True.) "It's only a few inches a year, but it has been going on for millions of years."

This made my inner engineer get out my calculator. How many is "a few"? Let's say three. And how many "millions of years"? He had mentioned that the Himalayas or 40 million years old a bit earlier… Let's say half that time, just to see where we get.

3 * 20,000,000 = 60,000,000 inches of growth

60,000,000 / 12 inches per foot = 5,000,000 feet of growth

So, the average mountain in the Himalayas is around 5 million feet tall. No wonder people need to carry oxygen when going up Everest!

Apparently the Himalayas are currently growing at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per year. But obviously, that rate hasn't been kept up for even 1 million years, let alone "millions."

Down with the (male) hornbills!


I was watching a show on Indian wildlife, and they went into a segment on the hornbill, which is a pretty trippy looking bird, as you can see above. Imagine my shock and horror when I learned that the female hornbill is sealed inside the nest to incubate and care for her chicks!*

What, the female isn't just as good as any male at going out to get food? She doesn't want opportunities out in the world, just like the male has? He's probably out becoming CEO of some big hornbill corporation, while she's stuck at home with a bunch of cawing brats. How dare they!

I'd say this species needs a good old American bombing campaign, starting today, until these lady hornbills are liberated from their prisons!

* Yes, I realize that she seals herself inside the nest. But certainly, that is just because she has adopted the patriarchical mindset of her oppressors.

Impeach Trump?

I'm all in favor: the charge is treason against the crown, and the result of the trial will be to place my rightful ruler, Elizabeth II, on the throne.


Not understanding the pigeonhole principle

The basketball announcer on CBS just said:

"Gonzaga had seven different players lead the team in scoring in different games this season. They went 28 games before the same person led them in scoring for a second time."



And the top post for the month is...

British analysis?

This is what you people have been waiting for me to write about... the limits of analytical philosophy?!

Well, let me get busy!

(At least this has beaten out Bob's dumbass post about inconvenience, which had been the top post for a decade. And it's not really Bob's post that is dumb, but the fact that it sat atop the most-viewed-post list for a decade.)

Ideologues like to help their opponents "become extinct"

Vladimir Lenin promised to purge "the Russian land of all kinds of harmful insects."

Ideologies survive by demonizing and de-humanizing their opponents: the world would be, should be paradise, and if it is not, then it must be the fault of monstrously evil people standing in the way of the ideologue's vision.

Here is a nice modern example, from just down the street:


This is from the window of a neighborhood real estate agent who is so insanely anti-Trump that he devotes 80% of his window space to denouncing Trump and 20% to selling real estate. The crowd of people the photo depicts don't look like a pleasant bunch, but it is clear from the context that they are supposed to represent typical Trump voters. This lovely humanitarian is anxiously awaiting the day when 40% of his fellow countrymen "become extinct," since they are, not people, but "trolls" and "afflictions."

Having turned his opponents into sub-humans, you can bet that this great progressive, were he given complete power, would happily hasten their extinction, just as his buddies in ideological demonization, like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, did when they were given the chance.

Ideology: The Great Enemy


I am far from alone in this analysis:

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble—and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s villains stopped short at a dozen corpses.

Because they had no ideology.

Ideology—that is what gives villainy its long-sought justification and gives the villain the necessary steadfastness and determination…

Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience villainy on a scale calculated in the millions. -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
*****
In ideologies there is not Jesus: in this tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always... And when the Christian becomes a disciple of an ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. -- Pope Francis

Well, glad that's settled!

I received an email today, inviting me to join a Blockchain meetup group, because:

"By properly leveraging blockchain technology we can solve the world's most pressing problems."

These clowns are like Charlie Brown, and the latest tech fad promising utopia is like Lucy with her football.


Stupid video tics

I call these "tics" because they are most often used with no apparent artistic purpose, but merely because everyone else is doing them:

1) Spinning the camera around and around the scene. (This one actually makes me physically ill.)

2) Jump cuts when obviously there was no actual jump in what the person was saying.

3) Juxtaposing the beginning of the sound from the coming scene with the visuals of the ending scene. (Curiousity: I have never seen this done the other way around!)

Each of these techniques could be used for an artistic purpose. For instance, number one could signify that a situation is spinning out of control, number two might be used to convey a character's sense of discontinuity in his life, and number three could express the idea that somehow the dialogue being spoken led directly into or foreshadowed the new scene.

But nine times out of ten, or probably more, they are instead employed simply because that is what everyone else putting out films and videos is doing.

Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature

My review is now essentially complete, and is online here.

Worst Apple voice recognition mistake yet?

I just tried to dictate the word "notion" on my Mac, and found 'knowshon' put in my document instead.

Apparently there is some football player named 'Knowshon.' Fair enough.

But how in the world is that a more likely interpretation of what I spoke than 'notion'?

The Supernatural

"The second point [Eliade gets wrong] is that the gods are designated as 'supernatural Beings.' That, of course, is impermissible. The term supernatural, as opposed to an natural, is Scholastic terminology very commonly used by Thomas Aquinas. From Scholasticism, as part of dogma, it entered into the dogmatism of the Enlightenment in the 18th-century." -- Eric Voegelin, "The Drama of Humanity"

I swear I had not read this before making a similar point myself a couple of months ago.

Why We Tolerate Murphy Around Here

"Absolutely, the non-brightness of the people who might read you is a fact you have to face." -- Eric Voegelin

Ideologies as dream worlds

I recall, at a progressive college, seeing a poster in the hallway proclaiming: "My only handicap is in your mind."

The image accompanying the slogan showed a man in a wheelchair, with no legs.

I don't know what happened to his legs. He may have lost them in an act of extreme heroism, e.g., saving Iraqi children from a landmine. He might deserve medals, and parades, and cash compensation.

But I know for sure he has a handicap that is not in my mind: he has no legs.

He can't walk. He can't run. He can't go for a hike. To get around, he has to use a wheelchair. That is why, in the photo, he is in a wheelchair.

These handicaps do not make him less of a person, in the important, spiritual sense, than me or you. But they are real, and not just in anyone else's head.

Ideologies are attempts to substitute dreamworlds for reality. In the ideological dreamworld of "anti-ableism," it is invidious "discrimination" to blame "the impairments themselves for the problems experienced by the people who have them." (The ideologue's own language is at war with itself here: if the "impairments" are not causing any problems, then why is he calling them "impairments"?!)

Thus, in this dreamworld, the only difficulty in not having legs is the "marginalization" by "ableists" of the person who does not have legs. All of the problems of the blind stem, not from the fact they can't see, but from the bad attitudes of the "ableists."

Life presents us all with difficulties. ("We all have our crosses to bear.") Ideological dreamworlds convince those they ensnare that difficulty is not inherent in life, but is caused entirely by evil "them" who are oppressing the ensnared. If only "they" can be eliminated, earth will be a paradise.

And if they gain power, ideologues eagerly start eliminating "them," whether "they" are the capitalists, the Kulaks, the Jews, the intellectuals, etc.


Private crimes and public crimes in Athens

In classical Athens, crimes fell into one of two categories. There were private crimes such as theft, assault, and murder. Charges for these crimes could only be brought by the victim, although, in the case of murder, obviously this would have to include the victim's family.

Then there were public crimes, which were considered to harm the state as a whole. Any citizen could prosecute one of these crimes. In this category were included treason, extortion of state funds, and... adultery!

Someone who committed adultery in Athens at this time certainly might have tried to hide the fact, by, say, denying they had done so. But if accused, one thing they never would have done would be to tell the accuser "It's none of your business."

That answer would have made as little sense to a contemporary Athenian as it would today to tell the police, about the shooting victim lying on your living room rug, "It's none of your business."

The mysteries of our devices

For instance, my phone: One day, if it was plugged in in my car, and I turn the car on, it started announcing how many minutes I was from home. This happens every time I turn the car on for several months.

Then one day, it stopped doing that, and has never done it again. I have no idea what started it going like this, and no idea what made it stop.



New paper for distribution, on distribution

My latest, co-authored with Texas Tech economists Alexander Salter.

An ideology is a shelter

"We're sick and tired of your ism-schism game..." -- The Prophet*

I continually try to refine and clarify my thoughts about ideology, since the dominance of ideology in public life is the great problems of our age.

We have two complementary definitions of ideology we can work with:

1) Eric Voegelin characterizes ideologies as attempts to substitute a secondary, "dream reality," for our primary experience of confronting a mysterious universe which we did not ourselves create. (As The Poet* puts it: "Let it be known / there is a fountain / that was not made / by the hands of man.")

2) Michael Oakeshott's characterization of ideology is as a category error, where the ideologue attempts to use a theory to handle an aspect of life that can only be handled by paractical knowledge. I believe that in Oakeshott on Rome and America, I was the first person to note the connection between Oakeshott's essays on rationalism and the Aristotelian distinction between theoria and phronesis, although, as always, I credit Noel O'Sullivan, my editor at Imprint Academic and a brilliant academic in his own right, for cluing me in to this connection.

These two characterizations of ideology are complementary because the secondary reality in Voegelin's defintion can not be anything other than a theory (making Voegelin's definition compatible with Oakeshott's), while at the same time it is clear that an attempt to substitute a theory for practical engagement with the world is an effort to evade confronting primary reality (making Oakehsott's definition compatible with Voegelin's.)

But what do I mean when I say, "An ideology is a shelter"? Voegelin notes that ideologies arise in the wake of the destruction of traditional cultures. Traditional cultures differ from ideologies in that, while they are a way of viewing reality, they are not theories. (Of course, a traditional culture may contain some theories, but it itself isn't one, unlike, say, Marxism.) We eat meat with our fork (or with our hands) because that's the way things are done, not because of some high theory about how meat ought to be eaten. And people living within a traditional culture are comfortable, because that is the way life is.  (As Clifford Gertz points out, for the residents of Java, to be civilized was simply to be Javanese.) A traditional culture provides a shelter, within which one can live one's life in the comfort of knowing it fits into a pattern of birth, life, death, and renewal.

But in the wake of the destruction of traditional cultures, most often by invasion, people are left wihout the shelter  that traditional ways of living provided. And of course, a new tradition cannot be created "on the fly," so the most plausible substitutes for a tradtion that has been destroyed are theories. Thus we see, in the wake of Alexander's destruction of the traditional cultures of Greece, Egypt, and Persia, the rise of Stoicism, Epicureanism, materialism, Manichaeism, the cult of Sol Invictus, and so on.

Similarly, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation's destruction of the cultural unity of Western Christiandom, we get the rise of fundamentalist Christianity, Deism, materialism, idealism, Marxism, feminism, progressivism, libertarianism, and so on.

As Voegelin noted, after Hitler and Stalin, there is really no moral excuse for anyone being an ideologue. Nevertheless, many of our fellow citizens are ideologues, and it behooves us to understand why that is so. And the reason is, as one of our blog commentors kindly pointed out, that an ideology provides the ideologue with a "framework."

The loss of a traditional culture is profoundly unsettling. It leaves people empty, alienated, and confused. An ideology offers a shelter from this storm: people are filled with the mission of the ideology ("Overthrow the capitalists!"), they bond with their fellow ideologues ("Greeting, comrade!"), and are given books filled with easy answers to hard questions. So it is understandable, even if unfortunate, that so many wander into the ideological shelters.


* I follow Aquinas here, who used "The Philosopher" to refer to Aristotle, and "The Interpreter" to designate Averroes. An interesting sidenote here: The Poet was introduced to LSD by the CIA's MKUltra program, the existence of which was, for many years, denigrated as a crazy "conspiracy theory."