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Sunday, July 24, 2016

His true greatest blunder?

Albert Einstein had an interesting life.

No, I do not mean revolutionizing physics and the human knowledge, or to become one of the most recognized faces in history. I mean he had, by any measure, a life full of interesting and rich experiences.

He got to closely witness the two World Wars and the advent of the Nuclear Age brought on his shoulders. He got to personally witness totalitarian - and racial - persecution. He got to witness the onset of communism in Russia and the rise of the Soviet Empire. He got to travel the world and experience many different cultures, in a time when that was a privilege for very few. When he took refuge in America, he had a good knowledge of much of the globe to compare to his new capitalist and rich home.

Before fame, he got to work within the bureaucratic machine in an alleged boring job (patent clerk), and afterwards in a few Universities owned by the State, so he was hardly a strange to Kafkanian government inefficiencies. Heck, he actually worked in Prague for a couple of years and had Kafka as an acquaintance.

And he got to witness all that from the height of a privileged mind, one that allegedly had much interest in society and the human condition, departing from the stereotype of the absent minded scientist.

All the above is to say that, to this blogger - a far lower mind than Einstein and possessing incomparably less world shattering life experiences - it is a complete mystery how Einstein could write this apology for Socialism.

It is a most daring effort for crackpots (and also real physicists) out there, since at least 1905, to try and prove Einstein wrong at his famous theories. I therefore invite the readers of this Great blog to take their shot at, in an once in a lifetime chance, really proving Einstein wrong upon reading his text. Beware though, for he is famed to always be right at the end - even when he was widely believed to be wrong, as the cosmological constant (his self declared greatest blunder) teaches us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This does not sit well

Now this comes to light:

What possible reason would the French government have for covering up the fact that many victims of the terrorist attack in Paris at the Bataclan music hall were apparently savagely tortured?

They not only covered it up, they're still lying about it today.
 The lies and coverup are the result of the government not trusting that the people can handle the truth. Horror of horrors if there's an anti-Muslim backlash or voters demand that the French government do more in the fight against ISIS. It's far easier to suppress the truth than deal with the reality that the terrorists are operating on another moral plane than the rest of us, which gives them a significant advantage. They don't have to worry about whether a bombing attack will kill civilians. It's part of their strategy for civilians to die. They don't care if we blanch when they execute a prisoner in a particularly gruesome way. They want us to be scared of them. And they have no qualms about carrying out the most gruesome torture on helpless victims. They want our horror to paralyze us.

But nations like France, which have done little to assist the U.S. in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, don't want to acknowledge the truth. If they did, they would have to do something about it. So they treat their citizens like little children and try to suppress the knowledge that there are monsters under the bed who want to do them harm.

This is not a strategy for victory against ISIS.
In a free society, people have a right to know these things.

Dennis Prager has his take on the matter:
It appears that no matter how many men, women, and children Islamists slaughter or maim, few in the West take Islamic terror seriously. This may sound odd given how much talk there is about terror, but a compelling case can be made for this assertion.

It is inconceivable that this situation will long endure. Most people in the West do not share its elites’ broken moral compass.
Michael Walsh says, "enough"

...And yet still the West refuses to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against a known, sworn enemy. Why?
Lots of reasons: ennui, cultural Marxism, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. A loss of faith in organized religion (some of it brought on by the faiths themselves, or rather the imperfect men who represent and administer them). The transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, no matter the skin color of the pupil. The marginalization of the very notion of excellence. And a political class that is little more than a collection of criminals, throne-sniffers, pantywaists and bum-kissers, all dedicated to their own enrichment.
 Western civilization has defended us for centuries. Isn't it about time we defended it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Common Phrases

There are certain ideas that are frequently stated. In fact, some ideas are stated numerous times by nearly every parent who ever lived. For example, ideas about the value of hard work and the value of people believing what you say. In English alone, each of those ideas has been expressed countless billions of times by parents, teachers and mentors.

There are only so many ways to express each of those ideas. The simplest way to express the first value above is "work hard for what you want." "Work hard" is simpler but not quite complete. It can be modified and/or embellished, for example, "work hard for what you are passionate about" or "work hard for what you want in life" but there's really not that many different ways to convey that particular idea and keep it simple, short and concise.

So I'm more than a little surprised that Melania Trump is being accused of plagiarizing a speech many years ago by Michele Obama. Here are the two most similar (nearly identical) excerpts (non-matching punctuation removed by me in each since they were delivered verbally):
"...values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say..." Michelle Obama, 2008
"...values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say..." Melania Trump, 2016
That's not that long of a string of words discussing nearly universally held values with not all that many ways to say them in a speech where brevity and conciseness is important. I've certainly personally said or written "work hard for what you want in life" and "you do what you say" many, many times. Much of the rest of the wording is connectors (like "and," "that" and so forth). I personally wouldn't say "your word is your bond" because that's not my style but I'm certain that Michelle Obama is NOT the first person to coin that phrase and I've heard it many, many times as well.

There are two possibilities. One is that those 23 words are one of the most effective ways to convey those particular values in a speech and, as a result, Obama and Trump happened to use the same words. The other is that Melania Trump and supporting speechwriters pored through Michelle Obama speeches and deliberately copied those 23 words. Perhaps there are other possibilities as well, but I think those are the most likely.

Of those two possibilities, the first seems far, far more likely to me. As I write this, I think "they" are still investigating, so I'm curious as to what the final outcome is.

But if that is considered plagiarism, I'm certain that many of the one to two dozen word strings I've written in this blog (and elsewhere) certainly match something somebody else somewhere sometime has written. In which case you can look down your nose at me as a lowly plagiarist too! Sorry, we can't all be perfectly original all of the time.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An efficient lecture

Knowing very well, by now, the preferences of most readers of this Great blog, I am aware videos (and a long one at that) of discredited sources (Al Jazeera!) would hardly make it past their clicking threshold.

So why would I make my first post here at Great Guys such a flop?

Well, because in three weeks my country will be the source of nearly 4 billion question marks around the globe. And I can answer most of the awkward political questions that may follow with one single 10 minutes video. 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) was our President from 1995 to 2003. He was very cozy with Bill Clinton back then. He is hailed as modernizing and introducing Brazil to then so called (and now forgotten) ’Washington consensus’. He is, to many people out there, the opposite of the ‘socialists’ we’ve got since he left office. Or so they suppose. Because all you need to know about our politics, past, present and future, is condensed in those short 10 minutes. Really.

When I watched it, my first thought was "Hey, in my 20+ years of watching FHC on TV, I never saw an interview where he was treated like that. I mean, not even 10% like that. What a cheap media we have in this Banana Republic!"

But then I tried to remember Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton ever getting such treatment, and disavowed myself of that notion.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Unclear on the Concept

I guess the scientism discussion we had not too long ago was completely futile. According to James Blachowicz, professor emeritus of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, there is no scientific method.

In 1970, I had the chance to attend a lecture by Stephen Spender. He described in some detail the stages through which he would pass in crafting a poem. He jotted on a blackboard some lines of verse from successive drafts of one of his poems, asking whether these lines (a) expressed what he wanted to express and (b) did so in the desired form. He then amended the lines to bring them closer either to the meaning he wanted to communicate or to the poetic form of that communication.

I was immediately struck by the similarities between his editing process and those associated with scientific investigation and began to wonder whether there was such a thing as a scientific method. Maybe the method on which science relies exists wherever we find systematic investigation. In saying there is no scientific method, what I mean, more precisely, is that there is no distinctly scientific method.

There is meaning, which we can grasp and anchor in a short phrase, and then there is the expression of that meaning that accounts for it, whether in a literal explanation or in poetry or in some other way. Our knowledge separates into layers: Experience provides a base for a higher layer of more conceptual understanding. This is as true for poetry as for science.

Wait. What?

Near as I can tell, this is the charge: Since the poetry, or indeed any, editing process is similar to scientific investigation, then there is no method that is distinctly scientific. (That's entirely aside from a perfect example of question begging: asserting as true that which hasn't been demonstrated.)

This, in a sentence, encapsulates the enduring problem with philosophy. Start from an unknown point and head in your preferred direction, and you can end up wherever you want.

The problem here, in case it isn't already obvious, is that the process he is describing is recursion: repeated application of the output of a process to the input of the process. That's it. Nothing more, and nothing inherently scientific about it.

His argument is that the scientific method amounts to nothing more than recursion, but this is exactly where he goes astray, and in more ways than one.

Yes, at some level, the scientific method appears recursive. Acquire data, formulate/modify hypotheses, accept those that best explain the data. Rinse and repeat. He equates "meaning" with hypothesis, without regard to the subjectivity of "meaning" and, I guess, though it isn't clear, words with data.

He further illustrates this process by reaching rigorous definitions for words:

Suppose you and I try to define courage. We would begin with the meaning that is familiar to both of us. This shared meaning will be used to check proposed definitions and provide typical examples of it. Commonly, we may not be able to explain what something is, but we know it when we see it.

So what do we mean by courage? Let’s try, “Courage is the ability to act in the face of great fear.” This is an attempt to articulate (define) what we mean by courage. What we do next is to compare the actual meaning of courage we both possess with the literal meaning of the expression “the ability to act in the face of great fear.”

More lather-rinse-repeat, stripping away overburden and sloppy contradictions until we reach the essence of the word. But that is yet another example of question begging: there is, in a series of letters, a pure concept that means the same thing to everyone in a given circumstance, never mind all manner of circumstances.

Now comes the part of the essay where the square peg meets round hole:

Early on, Kepler determined that the orbit of Mars was not a circle (the default perfect shape of the planetary spheres, an idea inherited from the Greeks). There is a very simple equation for a circle, but the first noncircular shape Kepler entertained as a replacement was an oval. Despite our use of the word “oval” as sometimes synonymous with ellipse, Kepler understood it as egg-shaped (in the asymmetrical chicken-egg way). Maybe he thought the orbit had to be lopsided (rather than symmetrical) because he knew the Sun was not at the center of the oval. Unfortunately, there is no simple equation for such an oval (although there is one for an ellipse).

When a scientist tests a hypothesis and finds that its predictions do not quite match available observations, there is always the option of forcing the hypothesis to fit the data. One can resort to curve-fitting, in which a hypothesis is patched together from different independent pieces, each piece more or less fitting a different part of the data. A tailor for whom fit is everything and style is nothing can make me a suit that will fit like a glove — but as a patchwork with odd random seams everywhere, it will also not look very much like a suit.

The apparent lesson? It isn't just observed facts driving theorizing, but rather an insistence upon an outside the evidence notion of underlying simplicity. This is crazy talk. Kepler determined the Mars' orbit isn't circular, despite settled opinion on the matter, because observations didn't fit. He didn't force the theory to fit the observations, he chucked the theory. One could resort to curve fitting, but that inevitably entails the same problem of using adjoining maps for wallpaper: very quickly, things don't fit, and there is no smoothing the discontinuities.

Apparently unsatisfied with mere question begging and conceptual confusion, he betrays profound ignorance:

Yet in science, just as in defining a concept like courage, ad hoc exceptions are sometimes exactly what are needed. While Galileo’s law prescribes that the trajectory of a projectile like a cannonball follows a parabolic path, the true path deviates from a parabola, mostly because of air resistance. That is, a second, separate causal element must be accounted for. And so we add the ad hoc exception “except when resisted by air.”

Yes, of course. The mass of air molecules isn't just as much a matter of physics as gravity. It is ad hoc.


Professor Blachowicz ultimately makes a valid point, that the results of science are more reliable than other realms of human inquiry because the data the hard sciences deal with is sufficiently quantifiable to allow some hypotheses, while excluding others. Because of that, the scientific method, properly understood has that name for a very specific reason: it works with concrete subjects, and nowhere else.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Of Course I Don't

Kurt Schlichter proposes the following as an example of following the rule of law:
Think about it. If you are out driving at 3 a.m., do you stop at a stop sign when there’s no one coming? Of course you do.
Of course I DON'T. Oh sure, once upon a time I stopped, but now? Nope, I look around to make sure there aren't any cops, make sure I won't cause an accident, and then I roll right on through.

Image result for metered on rampCalifornia has metered on-ramps. I think they actually work reasonably well so I have no problem with the concept. However, like the one in the picture, sometimes there's nobody there, so to stop and then accelerate to freeway speeds is simply a waste of time and gas (and hey, I should care about those CO2 emissions, right?). So for on-ramps I'm familiar with, if nobody's there, I just make sure no cops are watching and then I blow right on through.

Then, of course, I got to thinking (always dangerous). What's really the difference between running a metered on ramp red light and red lights in general? Or stop signs? Or ignoring any traffic law as long as safety isn't compromised (too much)? And many if not most people exceed the speed limit anyway, right? Therefore, I decided that there's no difference, and I take traffic laws as sort of advisory coupled with some effort to avoid getting caught breaking them.

Schlicter's point is that if people believe in the rule of law and believe in the leaders and rulers, they'll follow the law by custom. But as he notes:
The idea of the rule of law today is a lie. There is no law. There is no justice. There are only lies.
This is Schlicter's Independence Day column. Conservatives are simply giving up. We are no longer part of the nation. Some are working against the system. Most, like me, are just ignoring the system whenever possible (things like traffic laws and bureaucratic ridiculousness) and are keeping our heads down and hoping nobody notices us while we live out the remainder of our lives. Sort of like serfs. And note that freedom is decreasing World Wide:
The world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent….
I think it bodes badly for the country and perhaps the world but that's for the younger generation to worry about. And that's the context within I wrote the TEXIT post the other day. Would conservatives be allowed to migrate to one state and leave or will we and our descendants be forced to live within this nation controlled by progressives until the end of time?

Is there a right to self-determination?