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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My New Favorite Word


[dith-uh-ram, -ramb]
  1. a Greek choral song or chant of vehement or wild character and of usually irregular form, originally in honor of Dionysus or Bacchus.
  2. any poem or other composition having similar characteristics, as an impassioned or exalted theme or irregular form.
  3. any wildly enthusiastic speech or writing.

I saw it in the following paragraph:

Having produced not one iota of discovery in this criminal case the unlawfully appointed Special Counsel requests a special and unprecedented blanket protective order covering tens of millions of pages of unclassified discovery. Having made this special request based on a secret submission to the Court and a hysterical dithyramb about the future of the American elections, one would think that the Special Counsel would cite to case holdings that support this remarkable request. But no, instead, the Special Counsel seeks to equate this make-believe electioneering case to others involving international terrorism and major drug trafficking, and relies only on irrelevant dicta from inappropriate, primarily out-of-circuit cases. In short, fake law, which is much more dangerous than fake news.

The Great Tragedy of Our Age...

... is that you can't differentiate anymore real life from The Onion.

Sessions̢۪ own church accuses him of child abuse over immigration policy

Seriously, I often open up multiple tabs of my web browser, The Onion being one among many of the other supposedly serious news websites. Lately I do need to check, multiple times, which page I am really in.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Intelligent Dodder Weeder

I've been really busy lately at work building BIG machines. My latest creation is the Intelligent Dodder Weeder shown here ambling down the road between fields:

It's 40 feet wide when the wings are down, weighs about 20,000 pounds including the tractor, finds and kills dodder weed in fields of safflower at the rate of about 20 acres an hour, which replaces a crew of roughly 100 people.

With a network of 54 computers with total computational power of 75,000,000,000,000 operations per second (75 teraflops), it processes 720 images per second coming from 36 cameras and identifies the dodder weed using a traditional machine vision algorithm approach coupled with a deep convolutional neural net recognition system. Wherever the weed is found, it's sprayed with an herbicide to kill it.

At this moment in time, it may well be the most advanced mobile agricultural machine in the world in commercial operation. There are probably experimental machines that are at least as advanced, but our Weeder is operating 12 hours per day, 6 days per week in actual working conditions.

It was fun to design and develop this latest machine, but it was a huge amount of work to get it up and running.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"There’s a hole, and, uh, someone went out"

I sincerely don't know if, upon flying a huge and heavy machine such as a Boeing 737 with 144 passengers, with an exploding engine and a hole, I would have the nerves to behave as she did.

Maybe I could, but I would need a few expletives while profering the phrase she did up above. Right there you see the difference between men and women when driving (or flying?).

Another difference is, I wouldn't have had to hear what she did while trying to be a pilot:

“During my senior year of high school in 1979, I attended a vocational day where I heard a retired colonel give a lecture on aviation,” Shults told author Linda L. Maloney for the book “Military Fly Moms.” “He started the class by asking me, the only girl in attendance, if I was lost.”
“I mustered up the courage to assure him I was not, and that I was interested in flying,” Shults said. “He allowed me to stay, but assured me there were no professional women pilots.”
Out of college, Shults was rejected by the Air Force — who did offer her brother a chance to enlist. After more than a year of trying, Shults caught on with the Navy in 1983. Shults, of Texas, spent 10 years with the Navy, and was among the first women to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet when her squadron transitioned from the A-7.

I wonder, were the technical qualifications to fly in the Navy any different from the Air Force, or the gender was really the point?

Saturday, April 07, 2018

My Brief History of Hawking

I was fourteen years old when I first met Stephen Hawking, in 1995. Not the flesh and bones Hawking, of course, but something more interesting: his brain, in the form of his ‘A Brief History of Time’. 

I wish I could say the book inspired me to pursue Physics further, but the best I can say is that it was funny and insightful at many points. I felt myself a failure at understanding many of the ideas there discussed. Today, I know it was not entirely my fault, but back then I finished the book a bit frustrated. While Hawking was quite an example of life and the power of mind over matter, I can’t say I much admired him as a science writer. My real inspiration to do Physics end up being another brain’s creation, that of Mr. Albert Einstein. I was back then trying to understand Relativity and its many ‘paradoxes’, so thrilled by the whole thing I needed no further inspiration: it was a done deal I could do nothing else but Physics, to try to get to the bottom of it.

And I am glad that I did, because only afterward I could appreciate the greater insights Hawking’s brain had to offer me - not as a science writer, but as a scientist. It is about that Hawking I want to talk about.

Back in the 60’s, very many things we now take for granted weren’t well understood. ‘Black holes’ were not branded yet, and its most distinguishing feature, the event horizon wherefrom nothing can escape, was a source of great confusion. Due to a 1939 work of Openheimer et al (the same one from Manhattan project fame), people initially thought the collapse of a dying star would get ‘frozen’ at the Schwarzschild (or event horizon) radius, which we nowadays identify as the ‘point of no return’ from a black hole. It was a very strange result, because no one could figure out why the attractive gravitational force would somehow ‘stop’ working to make the collapse go all the way down.

It took almost 20 years for Relativists to realize, in a work by David Finkelstein in 1958, that Openheimer’s results were a mirage caused by the coordinate system he used. If you addressed that mistake, you end up concluding that every dying star, above a certain threshold of mass, will end up as a black hole: a most simple solution of Einstein’s Equations, where all matter ends up dying in a central ‘singularity’ surrounded by pure vacuum, all hidden behind that ‘point of no return’ event horizon.

For many people, such a simple universal result sounded too good to be true, or pretty weird. ‘Too good’ because it would render all big stars, which could differ in so many ways, all exactly alike in their deaths (aren’t we all?). And ‘weird’  because that central singularity was, well, singular - a point where Einstein’s equation breaks down and nothing else in the theory can be calculated meaningfully. 

So it is not surprising some physicists, in particular the Russian school represented by Landau & Lifschitz, got second thoughts about those results. The initial calculations were all based in simplifying hypotheses, like perfect spherical symmetry of the collapsing star for example, that could be easily broken in any real life star. They launched themselves into the task of showing that, in any more realistic setting, stars could well end up in other configurations, maybe without a singularity and preserving some of their initial complexity, as opposed to being a mere point of mass ‘M’ in spacetime. At some point in the 60’s, they published their final theorems in prestigious scientific journal, supposedly showing the end state of stars would generically be free of those nagging singularities.

And that’s the point where Mr. Hawking comes again to our narrative. Starting his PhD studies in the begin of the 60’s, his advisor gave him the problem of studying how general would be the presence of singularities in the begin of the Universe, what we call nowadays the ‘big bang’. The Russian school results looked to imply that, maybe, the universe would be born out of a well behaved solution, instead of an initial all-encompassing singularity.

As it happens, geniuses rarely operate in a vacuum. They often are immersed in a battle of great ideas, provoking and being provoked by other great minds. And here comes to our story the great mind of Roger Penrose, the British mathematician who first showed, right in the begin of Hawking studies, that for the case of black holes, their singularity was indeed a universal phenomena: that, no matter how the stars started (spherical or squared, you choose), their end state would indeed be that of the singular black hole. 

Penrose’s mathematical methods were new and alien to much of the community of Physicists, and to the credit of Hawking, he not only learned well and fast that new mathematics, but went on to apply it to what is, in a way, the inverse problem: matter being born out of a singularity, as opposed to it being the graveyard of a star. Adapting many of Penrose’s methods and hypotheses, Hawking was able to show that cosmological singularities are also a generic feature of cosmological spacetimes (actually, there are ways to dodge that theorem too, by changing its initial hypotheses, but let me play fast and loose here). The Russians ought to have made a mistake after all, it was the inexorable conclusion. They did (and they didn’t, it is much about which definition of singularity you take, but let me keep playing fast and loose). 

Such results were of great impact in the initial days of black hole physics, giving the young Hawking a position in Cambridge right after his PhD. To our luck, he was only beginning. His contributions in the following decades were many, but I will fast forward to what is, perhaps, the greatest of all.

By the begin of the 70’s, a young graduate student of John Archibald Wheeler in Princeton, one Mr. Jacob Bekenstein  (a jew born in Mexico - apparently and contra D. Trump, the country did send people other than rapists to America), made a most ingenious argument. By gedankenexperimenting what should happen to a box full of an ideal gas approaching a black hole, Bekenstein showed that, were we allow for a black hole to keep being defined as a void labelled only by its mass, we would run into big trouble. You could continually unload the gas of boxes brought into the vicinity of black holes, in such a way to make its entropy to disappear out of our universe.

So what? Well, by doing so you would promptly violate our cherished Second Law of Thermodynamics - which is like opening the Pandora box, for once you violate the 2nd, you can violate them all, virtually engendering any sort of perpetual motor giving you infinite energy out of nothing.

Physicists love free lunches at faculty meetings, but they abhor them in our theories. The solution was simple though, a black hole ought to have entropy, and one proportional to its horizon area, postulated Bekenstein in order to save our well ordered world.

Hawking, who already (sort of unseriously) played with the idea of black holes mimicking our First Law of Thermodynamics (in the way they absorb energy and grow their horizon areas), was not happy at all. As every physicist know,  macroscopic entropy translates to internal degrees of freedom, quantifying how they may all sum up to give us a well defined macroscopic state. But much of Hawking’s career so far was built upon showing that no such internal degrees of freedom exist: stars die into (and universes are born out of) faceless simple singular states!

So, trying to prove Bekenstein wrong -- while coping with his final loss of walking capacity, in the middle of absolute immersion into his calculations -- Hawking ends up proving him right, and incidentally gives us one of the most beautiful results of last half-century Physics: black holes do have entropy, an enormous one, maybe the greatest possible to achieve in Nature. Furthermore, they are not so black at all: they emit wavelight in one of the most precious ways Physicists can think of, the Planck-like (or blackbody-like) one, which is the same kind of radiation a red hot stove often emits, and was also the key through which Max Planck first  discovered quantum physics in 1900.

In other words, a self gravitating collection of bodies like stars and black holes, while being described by Einstein’s Equations of general relativity, end up obeying the very same laws of Thermodynamics we discovered while building steam machines in XVIII to XIX-century Europe. Being the physics of relativistic stars and universes so different from our classical mechanics of old, who ordered that Thermodynamics should transcend it all in such a way? Our Lord is subtle indeed, as Einstein once reminded us.

It is thus easy to understand why Hawking, playing a final joke upon us physicists, wanted for his tomb to display his cherished formula for the black hole entropy, mimicking the famous entropy formula in the grave of Ludwig Boltzmann, the man who created the concept of entropy as we know it. After all, “life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Social Media May Be Really Unhealthy For Civilization

In an article I found fascinating, Jordan Greenhall describes a number of things about social media apps like Facebook that are detrimental to civilization. He groups them into four categories:

  1. Supernormal stimuli;
  2. Replacing strong link community relationships with weak link affinity relationships;
  3. Training people on complicated rather than complex environments; and
  4. The asymmetry of Human / AI relationships

Each category is too involved to describe here with any detail so I urge you to read the whole article. However, here is an excerpt from category (4):
Imagine if your spouse, your therapist and your priest all entered into a conspiracy with a team of world class con men to control and shape your behaviour. Sound a bit unsettling? Well consider what the Facebook algorithms alone know about you. Every conversation you have — even those that you type out but don’t send — are perceived by the Facebook AI, and then analyzed by technology designed by thousands of researchers schooled in the very cutting edge of psychology and cognitive neuroscience. 
Every conversation you have — and every conversation the other 1.4 billion people on the platform have. In one second, the Facebook AI learns more about how people communicate and how they make choices as a result of their communication than an average person will learn in fifty years.
This is somewhat of an exaggeration at this point, but won't be in a decade or two. AI is becoming more capable than humans in many areas and, to the extent that AI is "intelligent" at all, it's a completely alien intelligence. While it sometimes seems almost human, there's nothing human about it. For example, when you're having an oh-so-pleasant conversation with Siri or Google's Assistant or one of the many automated phone systems you regularly encounter, the entity with which you're conversing has nothing in common with a human. Nothing at all. It's not even programmed by a human in any sort of conventional sense. It's just an alien entity trained to do various tasks like set your alarm clock when you ask it to do so.

When the trainers train it to do benign and helpful things it will be (mostly) benign and helpful. However, if the trainers, such as those working for social media companies, train it to manipulate social media users via emotional and other human weaknesses in order to increase profits and power, it will do that too - without having any understanding whatsoever of what it's doing. It's not immoral, just amoral. In fact, the trainers themselves may not really know what they're doing. They may just be trying to sell more advertising or whatever.

The problem is that we are changing our behaviors in ways that are simply bad for social cohesion and civilization itself. We'll see how that works out. Even those of us who are a little older we'll get to see how this one works out because I believe much of the impact will be experienced within the next 20 years.

Related: Nvidia DGX-2 is 2 petaflop AI supercomputer for $399,000

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

When you've lost Ann Coulter...

She wrote a book called "In Trump We Trust", yet she nowadays is only one tweet away from asking for his impeachment:
It was four nights after Coulter had aimed a bitter Twitter blast at the 45th president of the United States—who had complained last Friday, after signing the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that contained generous funding for liberal social and cultural programs favored by Democrats, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but zero dollars for his vaunted wall, that he would never do such a thing again.
“Yeah, because you’ll be impeached,” Coulter had tweeted to her 1.94 million followers, one of whom is Trump. (Later during the debate, she repeated a report that the president was seriously considering vetoing the spending legislation, but after White House chief of staff John Kelly explained that such a veto would mean missing his planned weekend at Mar-a-Lago, Trump said “f--- it!” and signed the bill instead.)

Of course, it is not easy to defend Trump and yet be coherent with any system of thought, if we can be kind enough to call her Nativism as such, given Trump is so erratic a thinker (again, I am very kind). It is then no surprise she nowadays hedges like this:

“I knew he was a shallow, lazy ignoramus, and I didn’t care,”

Well, I can't quite agree the man is lazy - he could be spending all of his time in Mar-a-Lago,  like any other good Floridian retiree, yet he is out there making the biggest reality show we've ever seen. No, lazy he is not.

At least Mrs. Coulter, sad as she is because that Wall keeps not coming, can still keep her sense of humor:
So you are in favor of giving the president a spanking?” Long quipped—the night’s only reference, and a veiled one at that, to the Stormy Daniels situation.
At which Coulter laughed and said, “I do not remind him of his daughter!”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Libertarian Suicide Pact

Regarding immigration, libertarians have a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, the free flow of both goods and labor across borders (borders shouldn't exist anyway in their opinion) is a fundamental tenet. On the other hand, at least according to a new paper, this sacred bit of their ideology is self-destructive:
While there has been much discussion of libertarians' (generally although not universally favorable) attitudes toward liberal immigration policies, the attitudes of immigrants to the United States toward libertarian values have not previously been examined. Using data from the 2010 General Social Survey, we asked how American-born and foreign-born residents differed in attitudes toward a variety of topics upon which self-reported libertarians typically hold strong pro-liberty views (as described by Iyer et al., 2012). The results showed a marked pattern of lower support for pro-liberty views among immigrants as compared to US-born residents. These differences were generally statistically significant and sizable, with a few scattered exceptions. With increasing proportions of the US population being foreign-born, low support for libertarian values by foreign-born residents means that the political prospects of libertarian values in the US are likely to diminish over time.
Though to me that seems to be the problem with most "isms" - if followed blindly with no flexibility they're all kinda self-destructive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Precarious Future of Jobs

When someone quotes a dubious statistic in conversation, I often reply by interjecting the somewhat humorous, "Did you know that 47% of all statistics are made up on the spot?" I always use 47% as the made up number - it's a nice prime number and has a good ring to it in my opinion.

So I almost always chuckle when someone puts forth 47 percent as an actual statistic. In this case:
...a now-famous Oxford University analysis forecasted that 47 percent of all jobs are threatened in the United States [by robots and automation].
Yup, that definitely elicited a chuckle. Yet while the exact percentage of jobs that are threatened is of course completely unknown and the statistic is meaningless in any case without a timeframe associated with it (threatened by next week? Next year? A million years?), the concept is serious and perhaps deadly serious.

As a roboticist, I do see automation based on AI and increasingly intelligent and flexible computing accelerating. For example, autonomous vehicles alone could replace several million workers within ten years (maybe more, maybe less, who knows?).

I predict my company of 4 people will eliminate thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of jobs in agriculture over the next 5 years. And the problem is that as workers move to new jobs, we'll end up automating those too, making it difficult for them to ever get back to a stable job situation. That's potentially different than in the past. Sure, buggy whip workers lost their jobs once upon a time but then went on to work in the automobile industry which was stable for the rest of their careers. Maybe new industries and opportunities will develop as old jobs are automated away, but it looks to me like the destruction of jobs in Schumpeter's Creative Destruction process will far outpace the creation, especially the creation of lower to middle skilled occupations.

While automation could promise ever more plentiful availability of goods, it's possible that we'll face widespread poverty as more and more workers find it impossible to land stable and reasonably well-paying jobs. One straightforward way of mitigating that is the Universal Basic Income where all citizens get a fixed monthly stipend, no strings attached. That would at least keep people from starving in the streets. And if so much is automated and there's so much wealth being produced, the UBI would be easily affordable.

But what about work itself? Can humans live without working? Or is work part of what humans need to be fulfilled? Are idle hands the devil's workshop? Will opioid and other drug addiction become even more widespread? Will all these things lead to the collapse of civilization?

Or will we all become barbershop quartet singers (I'm the guy on the right) and live happily ever after?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wanna bet?

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.

Yet, I will risk making a few here, so we can check back later what I got right.

I predict that:

- D. Trump will keep firing people from twitter.

- Russians will keep turning up dead for mysterious reasons (yep, today another one).

- To the delight of Italians, the Azurri will make it to the 2018 World Cup even after not qualifying. I bet they will be the ones selected after England withdraws their team over its Russian friends turning up dead. Italians are looking for an entrance anyway possible! Maybe they are the ones poisoning Russians in order to incriminate Putin, it is a devious plan: and Trump knows Putin is innocent, and that's why he fired Rex - or that's my own conspiracy theory after reading this Atlantic piece.

- Brazil will lose the worldcup again, though I hope in less shame than before. (OK, this one is easy, but I had to hedge in case I get all the other ones above wrong.)

If you have predictions too, try it at the comments section!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

But why the perjury trap works?

One interesting aspect of Russiagate is how it was propelled by the very large access to information a powerful government like the USA, and its five-eyed friends, nowadays have.

If the Intelligence apparatus doesn't look particularly efficient at thwarting terrorist plots, it at least showed itself very good at snooping on Americans engaging in apparently legal behavior. We now know that, contrary to some overexcited initial reports, Obama's FBI did not rely exclusively on the Steele dossier, nor it had to withhold, from the FISA court, its connection to opposition research funded by opponents. That's because it had material of its own to start what looks like a very wide snooping of Trump's campaign, with far consequences to Mueller's probe today:

Pervasive surveillance has shown its power perhaps most significantly in creating perjury traps to manufacture indictments to pressure people to testify against others.

Mr. Van Buren finishes the piece above with an exhortatory remark:

Don’t be lured into thinking the ends justify the means, that whatever it takes to purge Trump is acceptable. Say what you want about Flynn, Kushner, et al, what matters most is the dark process being used. The arrival of pervasive surveillance as a political weapon is a harbinger that should chill Americans to their cores.

As a matter of principle, I tend to agree with Mr. Van Buren. Yet, for all the weaknesses associated to cases manufactured over perjury traps, I keep asking myself why the people involved were so eager to perjury themselves.

What was their mindset? Why would they all lie about things they could refuse to answer anyway?

Can you mount a case where most actors perjured themselves, but were still innocent?

Monday, February 26, 2018


Consider the following excerpt from a recent article.
Imagine America had as its president a man manifestly unfit by character and temperament to hold such an important public trust and exercise the important constitutional powers of the office. The president’s conduct in office had demonstrated him to be racist, mercurial, intransigent, personally crude, obsessed with his own public image and perceptions of his authority and success, and prone to intemperate public tirades, heaping abuse upon political enemies, the press, and all who opposed him. 
As president, he expressed sympathy for – at times even seemed to side with – the nation’s avowed enemies: persons and forces that until very recently had been the nation’s overt military adversaries and who still sought to undermine America’s political system. He collaborated openly with such persons. He offered excuses for vicious racists – and uttered some distressingly racist remarks himself – as he failed to protect a large swath of the American population from racial violence, intimidation and oppression at the hands of private parties. He blamed the victims, as much as the perpetrators – for supposedly having pressed too far and thereby provoked the retaliation that fell on their heads.
... He arguably abused the power to fire subordinates, removing or seeking to remove from office those who would not pliantly carry out his wishes to defy or disregard the law. He valued personal loyalty to him above all else and seemed indifferent to competent service to the nation. As shocking as it might sound, many judged the president unfit to issue direct commands to the military – impulsive, capricious, erratic and thus potentially dangerous.
He was an intemperate bully. He was politically artless and witless. But he was a snazzy dresser, or so he fashioned himself.
A couple of days ago was the 150th anniversary of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the above excerpt was describing him (just in case you thought it might have been describing a different president).

The most interesting thing about the article to me is that, according to constitutional scholars, the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" need not be linked to a specific crime but can instead include the president's overall character and conduct. That was the first I had heard that.

The article also served to remind me that bad presidents (and other politicians and bureaucrats) have not been vanishingly rare, but simply do come to power from time-to-time. Yet another reason that checks and balances are so important.

God and the Collective

I've often stated the following analogy:
A neuron is to a brain (network of neurons) as a person is to the collective (network of people).
Here I'm defining "collective" as a "network of people," nothing more (yet), nothing less.

A neuron is a pretty complex and amazing cell, but it's nothing compared to the network of tens of billions of them with many hundreds of trillions of connections between them. A single neuron has some very low level intelligence all on its own (depending on how you define "intelligence") but has absolutely no capacity to understand the large network that it's part of or the capabilities of that network. In fact, it's only in modern times that we can even believe that our intelligence and consciousness are based in that network of neurons. Before that, it was assumed that something external, the "soul" or something similar, was the center of all that.

A human is a pretty complex and amazing animal, but it's nothing compared to the network of almost ten billion humans with tens of trillions of connections between them (yes, I've written this before, but it's worth repeating in my opinion). A single human animal does have intelligence on its own.

But can a single human animal understand the intelligence or agency of the collective?

To me, the answer is no, absolutely not.

Just like the neuron, individuals cannot even begin to comprehend the entity that is the collective. Many don't believe that there is an entity that is the collective that is anything more than simply an aggregation of individuals. Indeed, this is a central tenet of quite a few influential economists such as Mises and Rothbard. For example, here is a quote from Rothbard explaining his view:
Only individuals have ends and can act to attain them. There are no such things as ends of or actions by 'groups,' 'collectives,' or 'States,' which do not take place as actions by various specific individuals.
To me, this is analogous to saying "there are no thoughts within a brain that are not the result of various activity by specific neurons." To me, both this and Rothbard's statement are both true and not at the same time. Yes, a thought can't happen without specific neurons doing specific things, yet it is to ignore the elephant in the room to not recognize that a thought is so much more than just a bunch of neurons firing.

Yet if collective agency and action are so far beyond what we can comprehend, what's the use of even identifying the possibility of it? There may not be any, but I personally wonder if the focus on the individual, especially in libertarian and some conservative circles and even some liberal groups, has been taken too far to the detriment of both the collective and therefore everybody in it. After all, we can't survive individually without the collective.

One of the things I've noticed is that when I try to think about this collective entity is that it has a lot in coming with how people describe God (I'm not personally religious, but neither am I anti-religious). The collective entity may not be all knowing, but relative to an individual, it might as well be. The collective entity may not be all powerful, but again, relative to you or me, it's unfathomably powerful. And just like "God's Will," the collective's will is also unknowable and yet is extremely important because it's critically important to our individual destinies as well as the destiny of the future of human kind and perhaps even all of life. And while on the surface it would seem to make no sense whatsoever to pray to the collective, what if individual prayers led to prayers by larger groups which aligned needs and desires by significant fractions of the collective which did then influence the very powerful collective?

And what if, as social animals and then primates evolved, the ancestors of our species and then our own ancestors had this sense of something beyond merely the aggregation of individuals? Could that be the basis of the evolution of most people over the ages believing in God? Could it be that we both understood there was something more than the individual yet that entity was beyond understanding? Wouldn't many of the common conceptions of God fit pretty well with that?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Anagram of the Month

Did you know than an anagram for "The New York Times" is "The Monkeys Write"?

A remarkable coincidence!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

An American Tradition

Apparently, controversies over immigration are as American as apple pie, for both the pie, and the complaints about immigrants, precede America itself:

"Why should the Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and, by herding together, establish their language and manners, to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us?"
-- Benjamin Franklin, circa the 1760's.

When reading about Franklin, what is most interesting is the intersection of his life and the formation of America. I dare say he embodies 1700's America, a one-man version of the entire country: pulling himself up by his bootstraps, toppling old rules and assumptions, showing singular potential and ingenuity, forewarning a new age.

And while much has changed in those nearly three centuries, some things look like just the same. The politics of immigration, with the 'old' migrants worrying about the voting power of the 'new' ones, as this snapshot of Franklin's times in politics show us:

This [the excerpt I quoted above] was reprinted now to injure
him [Franklin] with that people, and succeeded only too well.
Yet, though the Irish and German votes were thus
united against him, - a combination almost unfailingly
successful in America, - and though he was pelted with
pamphlets, broadsides, and caricatures impugning his
every public act and laying bare his private life, his
hold was so great with the masses that he would have
been reelected but for an error of judgment in the party
managers. A graphic account of the struggle was
written by a Pennsylvanian :

"The poll was opened about 9 in the morning, the 1st of
October, and the steps so crowded, till between 11 and 12 at
night, that at no time a person could get up in less than a
quarter of an hour from his entrance at the bottom, for they
could go no faster than the whole column moved. About 3
in the morning, the advocates for the new ticket moved for a
close, but (O ! fatal mistake ! ) the old hands kept it open, as
they had a reserve of the aged and lame, which could not
come in the crowd, and were called up and brought out in
chairs and litters, &c., and some who needed no help, between

 3 and 6 o'clock, about 200 voters. As both sides took
care to have spies all night, the alarm was given to the new
ticket men ; horsemen and footmen were immediately dis-
patched to Germantown, &c., and by 9 or 10 o'clock they
began to pour in, so that after the move for a close, 7
or 800 votes were procured ; about 500 or near it of
which were for the new ticket, and they did not close till

3 in the afternoon, and it took them till 1 next day to count
them off."

The incident is one of peculiar interest, because it is
the only time Franklin ever failed of an election, and,
indeed, his political success was so uniform that a
Quaker demanded of a mutual acquaintance, "Friend
Joseph, didst thee ever know Dr. Franklin to be in a
minority?". Yet, though defeat is hardest to the most
successful, he seems to have taken it well. "Mr.
Franklin," continued the above narrator, "died like a
philosopher" ; and writing of his opposition to the
Paxton rioters, and of the resulting political effect, the
defeated assemblyman said: "I had, by this transaction,

made myself many enemies among the populace ;
and the governor (with whose family our public dis-
putes had long placed me in an unfriendly light, and
the services I had lately rendered him not being of the
kind that make a man acceptable), thinking it a favorable

opportunity, joined the whole weight of the proprietary
interest to get me out of the Assembly ; which
was accordingly effected at the last election, by a majority of
about twenty-five in four thousand voters."

So after complaining of the newer arrivals, Mr Franklin was voted out of office - a bit like the GOP establishment of today fearing the new immigrants may be a Dem's trojan horse, and the resistance among many to giving Dreamers a path to citizenship (and vote).

The analogy is so good, it holds for the backlash to the above incident too:

The triumph to the proprietary party was more apparent than real: though they had succeeded in defeating Franklin, they had not been able to beat his party,
for " the other Counties returned nearly the same
members who had served them before, so that the old
faction " had "still a considerable majority in the
House." The Assembly, therefore, when met, chose
Franklin its agent to go to Great Britain with a petition to the king that he end the proprietary government;
so all his opponents had accomplished was to place him
in a position to do them infinitely more injury than would
have been possible had he been reelected to the Assembly.


Which is a bit like ignoring anti-immigrant voters for a while, only to have them doing infinitely more damage by electing Trump.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Still Heading Towards Civil War

Instapundit linked to "Schumer's shutdown reveals: Democrats will destroy America just to spite Trump." While hyperbolic, it's not enough of an exaggeration for comfort. While probably not willing to "destroy" America, I think many Democrats would be willing to cause damage to all of America if it inflicted severe pain on Red America.

And I'm virtually certain many republicans would happily damage America if it inflicted sufficient pain on Democrats. Indeed, that's at least part of what the election of Trump was. Perhaps Trump hasn't actually damaged all of America as much as might've been expected, but prior to his election, I definitely got the feeling that a lot of Trump voters supported him believing that it was quite likely he was going to be like Samson and pull the entire temple that is America down, but it was worth it because it would damage Democrats and the elite.

So there are a substantial number of people on both sides who are willing to sustain damage and pain if only it hurts the other side more. That's really not a good situation, especially if it festers for decades. Someday, the Left and the Right of the United States will be just like the Palestinians and the Jews, forever at each others' throats and forever killing each other with no possible solution.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ho Hum - Another San Diego Sunset

This one was from a couple of weeks ago when the sun was especially far south (visiting Clovis and his neighbors). Fortunately, the sun is coming back now and summer will be here in no time! Not that winters here are so terrible. :-)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Martyr 2018, s**thole version

What would you do if, in your view, your country was taken by a pseudo-communist dictatorship, rewriting the Constitution as it pleased and turning the courts, including the Supreme one, into a tool of the Executive, while expelling or jailing the opposition?

Well, if you happen to live in a s**thole country, you could try to emigrate to one with better bathrooms, as well as better rule of law.

Or, since such emigration is getting harder and harder by the day, you can just as well make a revolution!

Or die trying to make one. That's what Oscar Perez, a former cop in Venezuela (and a former actor too, with a keen sense for marketing) tried to do when, in last June, he robbed a helicopter and used it to launch explosives against the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Since then, he and his group has been hunted down by the Venezuelan security forces. After a few humiliating months, where their merry band made a fool of Maduro's forces like this...

Then in December, a video posted on Perez's YouTube account shows armed, masked men taking control of military barracks under cover of night.
They smash photos of Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, handcuff around a dozen soldiers and berate them for supporting 'dictatorship' in Venezuela. Perez says his team stole around 26 AK-103's and over 3,000 munitions for the rifles, as well as pistols.

... the security forces finally got hold of the rebels (very short video):

If you have patience, and the stomach for it, you can watch a series of short videos Mr. Perez himself sent, in his last minutes, through Instagram (the link opens up the first of 18 of those videos, you can follow the rest in that same Youtube sequence).

To which I must grudgingly concede the point, often presented in favor of the 2nd Amendment, that an armed society is indeed a drag to any autocratic ruler.

Monday, January 08, 2018

One For Erp

Teachers unions may not be the root of all evil, but they may well be counterproductive for society in aggregate. Here's an excerpt from a recent paper from Cornell University:
We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: living in a state that has a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 grade-school years reduces male earnings by $1,493 (or 2.75%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.52 hours per week.