Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gene and Wabulon under the San Francisco Civic Center

(While scanning this, the HP photo software offered me the option to "Smoothen Textures." Smoothen? What, did HP contract with the author of Beowulf to write their dialogue boxes?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Kingdoms and the Tastes

How many of you learned in school that the living world is divided into two kingdoms, the plants and animals? Or three, plants, animals, and protists? I did.

Well, you may be suprised to learn that the first scheme was antiquated by 1866, and the second by 1956? Here's the current six-kingdom list, from Wikipedia:
Eubacteria, Archaebacteria, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia.

Or how about basic tastes? Four? (Salty, sour, bitter, sweet.) That's what I was taught in the sixties and seventies. Well the fifth basic taste has been known since 1908.

Why does it take a century or so for these things to get into textbooks?


This is not going to be an angst-filled, exisential post. Rather I'm puzzling over the use of the verb 'to be,' or, more precisely, why it puzzled twentieth-century philosophers so much. I've been re-reading Brand Blanchard's Reason & Analysis, and cannot really understand how analytical philosophers got their knickers so in a twist over this issue.

As Blanshard describes the problem, the worry these analytical philosophers had was that, if someone says, "The Loch Ness monster is a sea serpent," they seem to be granting "existence" to the monster, whereas, as they see it, the monster doesn't exist at all. In their view, this is the results of a linguistic confusion, the cure for which is to say things like, "The realm of real things does not contain a living creature such that that creature is reptlian, very long, aquatic, and lives in Loch Ness."

As I see it, when someone says, "The Loch Ness monster is a sea serpent," what they mean is, "I have the idea of a creature having the nature of a sea serpent living in a lake in Scotland." And, when they say, "But the Loch Ness monster doesn't exist," they're saying, "But that idea has no physical counterpart." The Loch ness monster exists in the world of thought, but not in the world of physical reality. Why is this a problem?

Does "Harry Potter" exist? In the sense that "Harry Potter" is taken to correspond to some real, physical, person, no he does not. But to the extent that he has made J.K. Rowling over a billion dollars (of real, "tangible" money) he certainly does exist. Why is this dichotomy a problem?

If I bear a grudge against my neighbor that is purely imaginary, we would seem to have s salient example of the sort of thing to which some anlytical philosophers wish to deny reality. But if that imagined grievance causes me to kill my neighbor, then isn't it, in fact, quite "real."

Or, let us take an example involving no physical entities at all. Imagine I have the idea of finding "the rational square root of two." This root exists now as an idea in my head. But, if I try to bring it into line with the standard rules of arithmetic, etc., I find it does not exist as a consistent idea within the world of mathematics.

(Post edited to be less "Ryle specific," per Sheldon's comment.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Foreign Policy Debate at Freedom Fest

This clip of Doug Casey is a riot. (If you want to see the whole debate they're compiled here.)

Differentials Again Again

On reflection, I think I prefer this version of the “theorem”:

Theorem: Any twice differentiable function of one variable has a second derivative vanishing everywhere.

Proof: y''/y'2 = (d2y/dx2)/(dy/dx)2 = (d2y/dx2) (dx/dy)2 ... etc.

Issa bottle a wine.

Where's my financial privacy?

I'm getting sick and tired of making billion dollar bets against the European stock market, and then having the *#)!$#$ paparazzi following me at every turn.

Murphy to Speak in NYC

Make your plans, guys and gals, I'm going to be speaking at the mysterious Victor Niederhoffer's "Junto" on Thursday, October 4 in glamorous New York City. Autographed copies of my Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism will be distributed to all attendees (who hand over a $20 bill).

(In all seriousness, those who are going to attend should read the description at the hyperlink above. It's a little unusual. They discuss Junto stuff first, then the speaker talks very briefly, and then the gloves come off.)

Brooklyn News

My street in the Times.

Also, the latest Brookyln fashion is the dog hat:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Criticizing Science

My recent article on IQ and the Wealth of Nations at produced some interesting commentary. I want to note one error that I think all of my harshest critics made, because I think it is a fairly common one. Basically, all of them said either or both of:
1) You did not positively disprove the authors' thesis; and/or
2) You did not offer a better, alternative theory of your own.

Folks, neither 1) nor 2) are necessary in a valid critique of a scientific theory. Someone putting forward a new scientific theory is in the position of the prosecution in a criminal case: They must present compelling evidence that the accussed (causative factor) is guilty. Their critics are like the defense: all we have to do is try to find holes in their case. In no way are we responsible for proving the accussed could not have done the crime (although, of course, if we can, that's great), nor suggesting who else might have done the crime. (Although Perry Mason was always able to both get his client off and practically convict someone else in the process.)

Note that this is almost the opposite of the Popperian paradigm, in which any theory is on equal footing with any other until it has been falsified. That suggestion, if taken seriously by scientists on the level of practice (which it never has been), would simply bring science to a grinding halt under the weight of the immensity of not-yet-falsified theories that could be devised.

Differentials Again

Thousands of you have begged me to strip the camouflage from "Differentials for Dummies" to isolate the fallacy. Very well: here is as minimal a version as I could come up with.

Theorem: Any twice differentiable function of one variable is linear.

y''/y'2 = (d2y/dx2)/(dy/dx)2 = (d2y/dx2) (dx/dy)2
= (d2y/dx2) (dx2/dy2) = d2y/dy2 = 0
Therefore y'' = d2y/dx2 = 0.
Therefore y = Mx + N.
Note M cannot = 0, else y''/y'2 is indeterminate; however, constant functions are also linear.

It's a bottle of wine.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Lesson I Learned the Hard Way

If you are going to accidentally dial the 800 number that is for TTY/TDD, don't hold the phone up to your ear.

Critter Rights

Gene Healy discusses animal rights.

My response:
I just think this is a matter of degree. Look, if you're a vegetarian, you're still killing plants, which are pretty active creatures, just at a slower pace of action than we are used to. (Trees fight wars with insects, for instance, actively sending pesticides to places of infestation, and with other trees, at the root level.) And, in fact, you'll have to kill a lot of bugs or you'll get no crops! Placing some absolute divide between plants and animals is just "kingdomism."

The basic principle is, I think, the more conscious something is, the more we should treat it with respect, e.g., don't eat gorillas.

Rothbard argued against any animal rights along the following lines:

"One must also understand how the notion of rights developed. Why is it a common feature of man, and why do rights only exist in the faculty of human reason? This is because rights are grounded in the nature of man, who is a social, rational being. Only man possesses reason, and therefore only men can have rights. No other living being has the ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to use his mind, to pursue values, and to discover physical laws about the world."
(Paraphrased here.)

This seems to me to be another case of Rothbard "figuring out" the empirical evidence based on the conclusion he wants it to support. How does he know no other living being makes conscious choices or can reason? I'd say that the ethological evidence today is overwhelmingly against him. And long ago, a Greek philosopher felt he had proved animals could reason as follows:

'Aenexidemus states that animals certainly possess the latter. The sensitivity, representation and intelligence of animals naturally depend on the body structure of each species. Dogs, according to Aenexidemus, possess the virtues of justice, courage and intelligence, and are even capable of using the fifth indemonstrable syllogism. In fact, upon arriving to a triple fork in the road, after smelling the two paths which the animal it was following did not take, it does not smell the third but immediately plunges in that direction without hesitation. This behaviour can be explained only based on the hypothesis that the dog makes the following syllogistic reasoning: "the animal has taken path A or path B or path C; but as it did not take A or B, it has taken C."'

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Optimism Song

Well, I always wanted to be dead,
Or at least that's what I've said.
I cannot believe there is nothing to perceive
Even if one has no head.

Differentials for Dummies

This is (I think) too good to be hidden as comment #3 under “An Uncomfortable Teacher”.

Here’s something I handed my calculus teacher in high school:

Solve: A d2y/dx2 + B dy/dx + C y = 0

Multiplying through by dx2:
A d2y + B dy dx + C y dx2 = 0

This is a quadratic in dx:
dx = (-B dy +/- sqrt(B2 dy2 – 4AC y d2y)) / 2C y

dx/dy = (-B +/- sqrt(B2 – 4AC y d2y/dy2)) / 2C y

But d2y/dy2 = d/dy (dy/dy) = 0

dx/dy = (-B +/- sqrt(B2)) / 2C y = (-B +/- B) / 2C y

dx/dy = 0 OR (-B/C) (1/y)

EITHER x is constant (highly doubtful)
OR x = (-B/C) log y + K
IN WHICH CASE y = exp((-C/B) (x – K)) = K’ exp((-C/B) x)


Needless to say, I did not receive a convincing explanation of why this derivation was invalid.

Cable TV Guide


My favorite: 9:00 pm on Animal Planet: The Crocodile Botherer.

The Vietnamese...

talk sense on Iraq.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I May Take a Hostage...

...if I don't soon figure out Word 2007's spacing. I just highlighted everything in the document and in the Paragraph section chose "Single" for the Line Spacing, but I still could probably fit a pencil in between the 11-pt lines of text. What the heck? And while I'm at it, sometimes when I hit Enter it does some sort of extra line jump.

I used to think it was really cliched to complain about Microsoft, but I get it now.

A Bit Much

Wow... Skim this article posted on the "Family Security Matters" website (before they yanked it). Make sure you read the final paragraphs. Justin Raimondo tipped us off to it.

Why A Free Society Would Kick Butt

Gene and I spend a lot of our free time (and boy do we have lots) thinking about how cool the free society would be. Here's just one little example: In this Money article on how retired people should handle their finances, the "expert answer" is 18 paragraphs. The first 14 are devoted to the nuances of completely arbitrary government tax rules, while the last 4 actually have to do with real financial considerations.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I Report, You Decide

The question of the day: Outraged over the Jose Padilla conviction, did Paul Craig Roberts mislead his readers when he said...

The jury, of course, had no idea of what was at stake. It was a patriotic jury that appeared in court with one row of jurors dressed in red, one in white, and one in blue (Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post, August 17, 2007). It was a jury primed to be psychologically and emotionally manipulated by federal prosecutors desperate for a conviction for which there was little, if any, supporting evidence. For the jury, patriotism required that they strike a blow for America against terrorism. No member of this jury was going to return home to accusations of letting off a person who has been portrayed as a terrorist in the US media for five years.

...if it turns out that the jury did this right before the Fourth of July? From page 2 of the article to which PCR linked:

The jury did seem to be an oddly cohesive group. On the last day of trial before the Fourth of July holiday, jurors arranged to dress in outfits so that each row in the jury box was its own patriotic color -- red, white or blue.

Nut Job Ron Paul Supporters

Oh, Ron Paul came in 3rd place with almost 19% of the vote in the Illinois straw poll. Did you hear about that on your way to work?

I love this article's conclusion:

Paul's libertarian stylings and campaign of strict interpretation of the Constitution has earned him an unorthodox band of sign-carrying supporters. They frequently interrupted TV reports of the event and at one point, Romney's Illinois chairman, state Sen. Dan Rutherford (R-Chenoa), ripped a sign out of one Paul supporter's hands and threw it on the ground.

What weirdos! The nerve of these people. It's bad enough that they vote in online polls even when they know full well that they aren't scientific samples and so will exaggerate the strength of the support for their candidate. And then as if that's not enough, they go to political events carrying signs! Have they no shame?!

Another Straw Poll, Not Widely Reported

It made national headlines when Mitt Romney won the Iowa straw poll. Granted, it's not nearly as significant, but did you even know that there had been an Alabama straw poll? In case you're curious, here is a video of the results.

Gene Shows Off His High IQ this review of a silly book.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

An Uncomfortable Teacher

Part of my difficulty in teaching intro economics classes was that in order to dumb the material down enough for the freshmen business majors to understand, I had to "teach" things that I didn't really believe. I used to think it must be nice to be a math professor, because then everything you taught would be rigorously correct. (You just wouldn't get into, say, Cantor's diagonal argument in a pre-calc class.)

Well now I wonder if that's even true. (I should've asked math professors at the time, but I don't think I ever did.) In any event, my 2-year-old was playing today and showing me different blocks. He held up a cylinder and said confidently, "Circle." So I said "That's right it's a circle." Then he held up a block that was a triangle with depth, and I told him it was a triangle. I.e. I didn't put in a caveat, "Actually Clark, it's just the two-dimensional face of it that's a triangle. And in a few years we'll talk about calculating its volume."

Clergy Enlisted to Keep Us Calm During Martial Law

This is a pretty spooky story. Although it's an obvious sore spot between atheist and Christian libertarians, Romans 13 doesn't actually condone all forms of government. But don't take my word for it, read here to see why (on Christian grounds) Romans 13 doesn't mean what statists say it means.

Mr. Market

In honor of this week's market volatility, I search the vaults to bring you: "Mr. Market's Wild Ride".

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Nurturing Fed

I love the way the media reports Fed rate cuts: '"What everyone's waiting for now is to see what the Fed will do at the next meeting," Yared said. "Whether they drop 25 basis points or even 50 to really soothe the markets."'

Think how much more caring and nurturing that sounds than if they said, "What everyone's waiting for now is to see whether the Fed will drop 25 basis points or even 50 to really bail out a bunch of Wall Street fat cats who made bad bets, all at the expense of the little guy."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Murphy Four-Play Monday

This is rare folks, but the stars have aligned such that I have a wall of multimedia propaganda for you today. If I had an agent, he'd probably tell me to tone it down lest I become the Paris Hilton of anarchist writers.

(1) On LRC I discuss YouTube questions for the Republicans.

(2) On I admit I was wrong (I told you it was a special day!), and now think that the trade deficit is a serious issue.

(3) The Hillsdale Daily News ran a story about my book today. I don't remember saying the exact sentences attributed to me, but I was on the phone at my in-laws and may have endorsed socialism, for all I know.

(4) has made my CSPAN appearance available. (Whole .wmv file or streaming link.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Weirdest Job Ever

"It was an hour before midnight, three hours into the night shift with nine more to go. At his workstation in a small, fluorescent-lighted office space in Nanjing, China, Li Qiwen sat shirtless and chain-smoking, gazing purposefully at the online computer game in front of him. The screen showed a lightly wooded mountain terrain, studded with castle ruins and grazing deer, in which warrior monks milled about. Li, or rather his staff-wielding wizard character, had been slaying the enemy monks since 8 p.m., mouse-clicking on one corpse after another, each time gathering a few dozen virtual coins — and maybe a magic weapon or two — into an increasingly laden backpack.

"Twelve hours a night, seven nights a week, with only two or three nights off per month, this is what Li does — for a living."

Read the rest.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Not in Service

Not in Service

To the town of Not in Service
In the state of At This Time
I have gone while I sing this song
On that glorious bus line,
Singing Not in Service At This Time,
Catch it anywhere, they don’t even care
If you pay the fare--it’s a bottle of wine.

In the town of Not in Service
There’s a girl named Do Not Touch.
She lives alone in the Loading Zone,
And I love her very much,
Singing Not in Service At This Time,
Catch it anywhere, they don’t even care
If you pay the fare--issa bottle a wine.

In the town of Not in Service,
In the lovely Park and Ride,
Though she ties my hands, still she understands,
And she takes me deep inside,
Singing Not in Service At This Time,
Catch it anywhere, they don’t even care
If you pay the fare—ssa bol uaighn.

1989. Alexandria, VA.

© 1989, 2007 by Walter Bloch

Question for Today

Is the blepharoplast a centrosome?

Cryptic Events

Why do they keep this crypt in a cage?

Because of what pops out of it as the sun goes down:

Terrifying News about Iran


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Military Breaks Down Prejudices?

We often hear how great the military is at integration. Well maybe. But in this shocking story, we hear that a woman "airman" was allegedly raped by 3 of our nation's finest, and then she backed down from testifying because of intimidation by superiors etc.

Now she is facing a court-martial. You might say, "Oh for false rape charges?" No, for indecent sexual acts with the men. Oh, this is relevant: She could end up as a registered sex offender, and the 3 men won't be because they were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against her. (You know, "We all performed consensual indecent sex acts, and I feel horrible about it.")

(My wife found this story on a feminist blog. They weren't too happy about it.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dennis Prager Deomstrates His Command of Logic

"Of course, there are known conspiracies -- Osama bin Laden and others conspired in the 9/11 plot -- but there are no successful hidden conspiracies. I cannot think of one in my lifetime."

Well, Dennis, if it was successfully hidden... then you wouldn't be able to think of it, now, would you?

Meet the Verifier

This NYT article suffers from all such news pieces, that it's not technical enough for you to really understand what's going on. Even so, this description of a guy who goes around pointing out how entire fields are blind to their assumptions is just awesome. I mean, he's getting paid to do what I do for free.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hugh Hewitt Stands on Principle...

to crush it beneath his feet, as he chastizes Democrats for "exploting the tragedy" of the MN bridge collapse. (Yeah, that's really how it is spelled right now!)

Well, sure, Hugh, the (9/11! ) Republicans (9/11!) would (9/11! ) never (9/11! ) stoop (9/11! ) so (9/11! ) low (9/11! ) as (9/11! ) to (9/11! ) explot (9/11! ) a (9/11! ) tragedy (9/11! ), would (9/11! ) they (9/11! ), Hugh?

On "Carried Interest" by Hedge Funds, On Town Hall

Details here. And ironically, my name on the front page was right below Jonah Goldberg's. He and I can definitely agree on tax cuts.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Well, Who Hasn't...

navigated a revolutionary era sub through New York harbor?

My friend Duke Riley makes a splash with his latest art project.

Update: The NY Times runs a video of Duke on its front web page.

Modern "Enlightened" Murderous Eugenics (MEME)

Responding to Julian Sanchez' comment: perhaps I have misrepresented the thrust of Ross' point, but it is clear to me at least that he is using valid terminology. The eugenics movement was multifaceted and we are certainly not seeing an equivalent repetition in genetically selective abortions, done by individuals for particular reasons. However, considering that the overall aim of the eugenics movement was to create a genetically superior evolution, 1-3 are somewhat secondary to the true spirit of eugenics. It seems Julian and Ezra are expressing aversion to guilt by association, since they don't seem to question the goals of eugenists per se (except perhaps insofar as they believe some of their particular genetic goals were based on irrational or immoral assumptions).

Of course since abortion is the selective mechanism it is egregious regardless of whether the motive is with an eye to eugenic aims. But this should serve as a reason to highlight the additional immorality, not as a reason to ignore it in favor of the larger trangression. To use a religious metaphor, sin has its own gravity. When one's aims are perverted, destructive means more easily tend to follow. The aims of modern, "enlightened" eugenists to create a stronger, healthier and more viable offspring (by democratic mechanism) are perverted, disordered ends. These ends reinforce pro-choice orientation and other trangressive, immoral stances, such as the sterilization of those with Down syndrome, which happens to this day. Gattacca is still science fiction, but if it is possible it will begin with such a trend. We already here people talking about eliminating babies with "gay genes".

Yes, that the mechanism is abortion is the most atrocious aspect of genetically selective abortions, but the fact that abortion is increasingly motivated by modern eugenic aims is insidious in itself.

Addendum: Julian has converted his comment to a post with an addendum. He writes:

"Update: LP in the comments suggests that one can interpret "eugenic" motivation as a factor that might make the already-bad practice of abortion even worse by analogy with hate-crimes legislation, insofar as it may signal to adults with certain genetic conditions that they are widely regarded as undesirable. There's something to this, but I don't think it was Ross' argument.

An additional argument occurs to me, which is that if you're persuaded that abortion is bad, then anything that increases the number of abortions is also bad. And you might imagine that, over time, a "eugenic mindset" will tend to emerge, such that people will come to regard it as normal (and perhaps normative) to routinely abort all but the "best" fetuses.

Here, though, the anti-abortion argument and the independent anti-perfectionist argument may cut in different directions. Because as technology improves, genetic engineering will be a more attractive way of producing desired traits and eliminating disfavored ones than selective abortion, and so the former should to some extent serve as a substitute for the latter."

My point has something to do with this "eugenic mindset", but not primarily because it may encourage abortion directly, though that would be a horrific consequence. The more general problem is that eugenic ends, even when pursued by voluntary mechanisms on oneself via genetic engineering, are disordered ends and will naturally engender other disordered ends and means. One example of this is the new trend in genetically selective abortions, most of which would presumably not have occured had the couple not known their child was "not normal". Even with genetic engineering we can already see some of the consequences that may follow, including a new racism, an obsession with youth and virulity with many unhealthy consequences, including partial destruction of the family, genetic warfare, and many consequences impossible to foresee directly.

Terrorists Strike Minneapolis

This was apparently the work of an obscure sect called "the Minnesota DOT."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Voluntary abortion isn't murder, therefore selective abortions can't possibly be eugenics!"

Ross Douthat writes about the supporters of selective abortion of genetically abnormal fetuses:

"[T]he more you accept pro-choice premises, the more likely you are to share the point of view expressed by the other commenter Ezra quotes - namely, that aborting fetuses with genetic abnormalities is no different than two people at risk of passing on a genetic disorder to their offspring choosing not to procreate in the first place."

Julian Sanchez, in a moment of odd blindness writes:

Ross Douthat is defending his application of the term "eugenicist" to people who don't have any quarrel with selective abortion of fetuses with Down Syndrome, in part on the grounds that some people who support reproductive freedom take the position that, in fact, there is nothing wrong with the "eugenic" goal of seeking to ensure that the next generation is genetically healthier or smarter, provided only voluntary means are used. I've argued this myself, but as I also noted, most invocations of the term today are attempts to link benign non-coercive practices with genuinely ugly ones. I may be willing to say "there's nothing wrong with eugenics" here, where I'm able to provide proper context. But because the term is so tightly bound up with compulsion and racism, it would still be confusing at best, and a misleading smear at worst, to describe me as a eugenicist. There's also a sense in which a big fan of the song "Right Here Waiting" could be called a "Marxist," but this would be a signally unhelpful label without a good deal of clarification."

So, if you assume beforehand that abortion is the equivalent of removing a tumor, then it can't be murder and quite obviously destroying an unborn Down Syndrome child with whatever intentions cannot honestly be compared to eugenics. Ok...

But that was Douthat's point. If one begins with pro-choice premises (abortion is not the killing of human life), one is more likely to believe aborting fetuses on a selective basis is no different than a genetically at-risk couple refraining from procreating, or as Julian suggests (in an apparent attempt at a gotchya) selecting your mate with your future child in mind.

This controversy is plainly another front in the ongoing war between pro-life and pro-choice movements. If a living human being is being killed, whatever the reason, murder has been committed. If the motive is to eliminate "defective" babies, even out of a supposed compassion for the baby (because Down kids live terrible lives or because they are so hard to take care of?), it is eugenics by any reasonable definition. The eugenics analogy/charge will keep coming up because it cuts to the heart of the contradiction at the heart of the pro-choice position (that abortion is voluntary), and those with their heads somewhat outside of their asses are able to sense this and become naturally squeamish. That's the real point, sans obfuscation.

Posts in Brief

* Sign on bus from Reading to Heathrow: "Seat belts must be worn."
I didn't have mine on, but if the driver came over, I was going to say, "But seat belts are being worn -- for instance, the fellow across the aisle is wearing one.

* I just encountered "all-in-one" sinks in the UK this trip. You stick hands underneath, and first it sdumps soap on them. Then it puts the water on for about ten seconds, then shuts that off and turns on the dryer. Hover, I noticed the "water phase" had not washed all of the soap off of my hands. And then I realized that. if I wanted more water, I'd have to accept more soap as well -- and the problem would just grow worse!

* I was just looking at submitting a paper to a journal called The Journal of the History of Thought. This made me decide I want to start my own journal, describing my every fleeting notion passing through my head, The Journal of the History of Gene's Thought. Oh, come to think of...

* Apparently escaping the notice of cretins like Dawkins is the fact that every argument against something is ultimately an "argument from incredulity." Why in the world would you argue against something if you found it believable? And why would you accept something you found unbelievable? (Of course, you might have found it unbelievable at first and later have become convinced.)


"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb