The impossibility of true utilitarianism

You just can't do it: you save a kid's life, because you think that will increase overall utility, and the kid turns out to be Hitler. You shoot someone beating an innocent victim, and it turns out the person was going to reform, and wind up curing cancer. No one can possibly calculate what actions will "increase overall utility," and what ones won't.

So what utilitarianism as a matter of fact is either:

1) A way to justify doing whatever it was you wanted to do anyway: just put in the right consequences, the right imaginary futures, etc., and you can make any action look good!

2) Or you opt for rule utilitarianism, which just winds up meaning that you should follow the rules of morality that you knew you should follow all along, before you ever started mucking about with utilitarianism.

True multiculturalism

"You see... if one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardized -- some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course, there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that's only the grammar of virtue. It's not there that the sap is. He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two two saints, two nations, two angels." -- C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Thank God I'm an Isolationist!

I innocently went to what I thought would be a sports site, but found one Bryan Curtis foaming at the mouth about Trump.

The most amazing passage was this, where first Curtis quotes Trump:

"We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example … for everyone to follow."

Curtis's response?

"This is isolationism, pure and simple."

Do you understand? If you are not in favor of bombing and invading other countries to force our way of life on them, you are a nasty "isolationist."

Imagine what it is like living near Curtis! I don't know, let's imagine he is a Methodist. On Monday, he rings the doorbell and harangues you about converting to Methodism. On Sunday, if he doesn't see you in church, he torches your house!

And when you ask him what he's up to, he responds, "Well, I don't want to be isolated from my neighbors!"

Have no doubts, this is the real problem with Trump: if he actually follows through on those words, and many people are very afraid he will, the military-industrial complex stands to lose hundreds of billions of dollars. Because of this, the official outlets of this power nexus have been on a non-stop smear campaign against him. If they can convince enough people that this non-ideological real estate developer is really the next Hitler, they can render him ineffective, or even prompt an assassin to remove this obstacle in their path.

So if you were out protesting today, surprise! You were marching in favor of funding American bombs raining death around the world.

"Forcing" women to have a baby

The anti-life position is extremely adept at manipulating language to obscure what is really going on concerning abortion. Tonight, for instance, I saw someone claiming that pro-lifers want to "force" women to have babies.

But, in fact, to use libertarian lingo, the "initiation of force" is all from the other side. If someone is pregnant, force is not necessary for them to have a baby. That is the natural, unforced outcome of pregnancy. Force is necessary to prevent that outcome.

The More Things Change...

"Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a Fierce left and a Fierce right, both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done. Any opposition to the N.I.C.E. is represented as a Left racket in the Right papers and a Right racket in the Left papers. If it's properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support of us -- to refute the enemy slanders. Of course we're non-political. The real power always is." -- C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Learning to Ignore Reality

It's what a lot of academic training, especially in the social sciences, is about:

"All [these observations of concrete facts] did not in the least influence his sociological convictions... his education had had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than things he saw. Statistics about agricultural labourers were the substance; any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer's boy, was the shadow. Though he had never noticed it himself, he had a great reluctance, in his work, ever to use such words as 'man' or 'woman.' He preferred to write about 'vocational groups,' 'elements,' 'classes' and 'populations'..." -- C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

The Supernatural

In Medieval natural philosophy, the supernatural made perfect sense: things had their own natures, that caused them to act as they do. But a force other than their nature could intervene and cause them to act otherwise. So bread naturally (per its nature) nourishes us, but a supernatural act can cause it to become the body of Christ.

However the scientific revolution did away with these "natures." There was brute matter, whose only nature was occupy space, and then there were laws imposed on this brute matter by God: in a sense, all of nature only "worked" because of divine commandment. The fact that these were divine commands to nature was why they were called laws! Attempts to explain natural phenomena by "natures" were mocked; see Moliere's parody of medieval natural philosophy where the doctoral student explains that opium causes sleep because of its "dormitive powers."

But many later scientists, under the sway of 19th-century ideologies, forgot the supernatural nature of their own laws, and came to use "supernatural" as a term of derision. But in our modern context the term is what Rand would have called a "stolen concept": any coherent idea of the supernatural is going to catch the modern "laws of nature" in its nets, and that is definitely not something the people using the term derisively want to do!

Is there a test suite for your test suite?

In one of my coding projects, a young collaborator sent me some code for automated testing, and wrote, "If this looks OK, I'll put it into production."

I looked at the code, and it quite clearly would never pass anything, since one of the tests sought to verify the working of a feature that hadn't yet been implemented. The programmer writing the testing code had never tested it.

We could try to write a meta-test suite to test our test suite, but then what about the meta-suite? How can we be sure it is correct?

The point here is not to pick on our novice programmer, who is quite smart, merely lacking experience, but to point out that while mechanical schemes of program verification can be a great aid to producing good software, but they can never be a substitute for sound engineering judgment.

I'm feeling loopy!

Tonight, Emu86 has grown up to where it can loop:

         mov eax, 10
loop: cmp eax, ebx
         je done
         inc ebx
         jne loop
done: mov ecx, 1

Yes, that jne could have been an unconditional jump... but I wanted to test jne!

Not every conspiracy is a theory

I rented a copy of Money Monster. On the box, it proclaims that "Not every consipracy is a theory."

Well, no, conspiracies aren't theories: they are consipracies. Some people have theories that event X or Y came about due to as conspiracy. Some of those theories are false, but some are true! (There was a conspiracy to kill Hitler, a conspiracy to blow up Parliament, etc.) But somehow "conspiracy theory" has come to mean "false consipracy theory" in many people's minds. I saw this recently with the charges of Russian election interference, where people on Twitter were saying, "It's not a conspiracy theory: the CIA is saying it!"

Oh, and the movie: it's in the running for one of the worst films I have ever seen. Pretty much every single thing in the movie is bogus. The characters have completely unbelievable personality transformations, they unravel a conspiracy based on the most ridiculous "clues," the financial market talk is nonsense, the tech talk is nonsense, the mystery is hardly a mystery at all (surprise: the rich guy did it!), and as "social commentary" it is on the level of a sixth-grade civics paper.

There was no "The Making of Money Monster" extra on the DVD, but if they had interviewed director Jodi Foster and asked how she had made the film, an honest answer would have been, "Well, I just toook a big crap onto some celluloid... and then I released it to theaters!"

Assembler progress

This code now runs "properly":

         mov eax, 2
         mov ebx, 4
         jmp here
         mov eax, 90
         mov ebx, 100
here: add eax, ebx
         dec ecx
         inc edx
         jmp here

Properly is in quotes because I have taken some protective measures. The last four instructions, of course, create an infinite loop. Since this is an educational program, and infinite loops will take up lots of CPU time on my web server, I am limiting runs to 1000 instructions, and then warning of a possible infinite loop.

The idea here is that students can build tiny test problem programs, and not an operating system. So I think 1000 instructions is plenty: what do you think?

Why use strict parsing rules?

In x86 assembly language, you write a move instruction like this:


My emulator accepts that. But right now it also accepts:

MOV EAX,, 13
MOV EAX,,,,,,,,, 13

In other words, I only require that I can separate the tokens in the instruction somehow.

My question to you is: other than trying to be exactly like Intel's assembly language, why be more strict? So long as the interpreter / compiler can figure out what the programmer wants, why fuss over how many commas are used?

In other words, why not parse as leniently as possible, and only complain when a situaiton is ambiguous or otherwise unresolvable?