Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teaching mathematics bass-ackwards

I have now taught the "master method" for solving recurrences twice. The first time I managed to muddle through and present the gist of the idea without screwing up too much. But when I revisited it this semester, I was able to develop a pretty complete intuition for why it works and what is going on.

And to realize that one of the world's leading algorithm books presents this in a completely backwards fashion. The student is presented with page after page of formalism, and left to work out what the hell is going on on their own.

To present it properly, show how historically the theorem developed out of solving recurrences with recursion trees. Solve a few from each type of case (three) the master method contains. Lead the students to see that the trees keep falling into one of these three categories. Show how which category they fall into depends on the values of a, b, and x in the equation:

T(n) = aT(n / b) + nx

Then suggest, "Hey, perhaps we can state a rule that shows how the closed form solution to the recurrence depends upon a, b, and x. Then we could just solve recurrences using that rule!" Have the students try formulating the rule themselves if you have time.

Then show them the master method.

At this point, most of them will grasp what is going on well enough that the rule will make good sense to them, and they should be able to use the master method fairly easily.

The backwards approach is very typical of mathematical textbooks. It is as though they're teaching students at Hogwarts, who will just have to accept whatever incantation the professor feeds them.

A friend of mine with a PhD in mathematics explains this by saying, "Many mathematicians are sadists."

Every model needs a purpose

"Academics have to make their models complex, in order to get them published." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, lecture at NYU on 2/28/2017

And there we have the telos of a typical academic model: to be published.

It's going to take a long time to get an hotel-fridge gin bottle that way

As I left my office last night, a woman came up to me and asked if I could "Spare a penny?"

Of course progressives are totalitarians deep-down

All ideologues are:
"That is extremely important in practical politics because on this assumption -- that this respective intellectual's creed is representative of all mankind -- rests, of course, the aggressiveness of all ideological, intellectual, [and] totalitarian movements. That is to say, all ideological, intellectual movements are inherently totalitarian because man is made a function of history and [the ideologies] claim to be valid for everyone. If anybody is benighted enough not to know that he belongs to that particular age of mankind represented by the respective intellectuals, that's just too bad for him. If he resists, he must either be killed or put it into a concentration camp or something like that... he has to submit." -- Eric Voegelin, "The Drama of Humanity"

Jets apparently like to snort a bit too

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is this really an appropriate chant?

I want out into the plaza outside my office. There was a group of trainee emergency medical technicians jogging in formation around the plaza.  As they did so, they chanted in unison:

Who are we?
Future EMT
Get out the way
Else you'll D-I-E

Is it consistent with the job of an EMT to threaten people with death for blocking your jogging path?

False Gods

"You no longer have reason in its original form, but have decapitated God, and what is left is the human pole of reason. When only the human pole of reason is left, the content of reason, which is precisely the tension toward the ground, the consciousness of the ground, is destroyed. Since man cannot live, or does not live, without accounting for himself in terms of a ground, God, the transcendent ground, must be replaced by substitute grounds of being. Let me enumerate some of the instances.

"It begins in the eighteenth century with the replacement of a divinely conceived order of man and society by the idea of order in society through the balance of economic forces, and the rationale of an optimum production of goods. The conception of the eighteenth-century economy is that when all men strive for the utmost satisfaction of their desires and work as best they can in competition with one another for an increase in the production of goods, the result will be an order of society balanced by economic competition... economic competition was one of the substitutes for the reason that has disappeared." -- Eric Voegelin, "The Drama of Humanity"

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The terribleness of some big company searches

I just watched "Recursion Tree Method: Part 1" on YouTube.

It is recommending dozens of other videos to me on the basis of their being similar to this one.

Conspicuously absent is "Recursion Tree Method: Part 2." ("Recursion Tree Method: Part 3" is there, however!)

This is very common: YouTube seems to have no concept that an ordered series of videos ought to be presented to the viewer in order.

Netflix often puts on "Recommended for you" something I have already watched, and it "knows" I have watched, because if I choose if the episodes are all checked off as having been viewed. Sometimes, the recommendation is for something I watched just a day or two beforehand.

"I need to cover this material"

I have occasionally run across a professor who is very worried about how much material he will cover in a semester: "I've got to get through chapter 10."

This is a strange way of looking at it to me. I am more interested and how much material the students understand. Isn't it better to cover two chapters, and have the students understand both of them, then cover 10 chapters, and have the students understand none of them?

The first time I encountered this was the first time I taught macroeconomics. When I signed up to teach the course, I was told that many of my students would be "woefully unprepared", and that I should be ready to deal with this sad fact. And the warning was spot on: a number of them had trouble graphing an equation like y = x. (This is not hyperbole.)

So, I spent time teaching them the math they ought to have learned in the eighth or ninth grade. The same person who had hired me and had given me that warning then came in to review one of my lectures. Afterwards, she was severely distressed by the fact I was "way behind schedule."

The first problem I had with this review was that she had never given me a schedule. But the bigger problem that struck me was how was I supposed to deal with the "woefully unprepared" students without slowing the pace in order to help them?

I think what she actually wanted was for me to plow through the material at a certain standard rate, leaving many students lost and confused, and then simply pass those students anyway.

It is hard to imagine an approach that could make a student more cynical about the value of education than to leave him, at the end of a course, utterly befuddled, but with a B- grade.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

British analysis

"in the Anglo American area of philosophy the dominant philosophical movement is still, you might say, British analysis; and without being critical in any way of British analysis you have eliminated all the areas of reality symbolized by myth, philosophy, revelation, and mysticism. Practically everything that's important in life is removed if you confine yourself to that type of logical analysis, which is quite solid in itself." -- Eric Voegelin, "The drama of humanity"

Two notes:

1) As Voegelin points out, analytical philosophy department's mostly eliminate philosophy (the love of wisdom) from the curriculum, replacing it with logical analysis.

2) Again as Voegelin notes, there is nothing wrong with what is done in these departments per se. And these people are generally excellent at it: no one does logical analysis of statements as skillfully as a trained analytical philosopher.

The problem comes only when one tries to reduce philosophy to this sort of analysis. It is like trying to restrict the culinary arts to a strict concern with the biochemical digestive process

Big Box Stores

Here is a paper Nathan Conroy and I will be presenting at the Eastern Economic Association conference this week.

What's My Line?

Today's mystery guest was called, by Eric Voegelin, "the greatest philosopher of history of the modern West." Let's give him a warm round of applause:
Voegelin also said that "in the course of the last 200 years no thinker has arisen who" equals me as an analyst of the political myth. Among the people upon whom I have had a profound influence I can count Samuel Coleridge, Karl Marx, James Joyce, Benedetto Croce, and Marshall McLuhan, and yet I am relatively unknown, even among professional philosophers.

Who am I?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Looking like polygamy is next

Rod Dreher notes that the push is now on for polygamy.

I recall mentioning to a libertarian-progressive gay-rights advocate that his arguments worked just as well for polygamous marriages as they did for gay marriages.

Oh boy, did he become outraged! How could I possibly associate his defense of gay marriage with a defense of the ridiculous idea of polygamous marriages?!

I assume that by next year, I will see an op-ed by him endorsing polygamous marriage.

The Bathroom Wars

I want to clarify what I think about the recent conflicts over bathroom access.

If a man wants to dress up like a woman, or a woman wants to dress up like a man, it really does not concern me. And if someone who "presents" as a woman, despite having a penis, goes quietly into a stall in the women's bathroom, goes about his/her business, and leaves, then that person should be left alone.

And that is generally speaking the way things have worked. Until activists began campaigning for the "right" of anyone to use any bathroom they want to, if they just "self-identify" as someone entitled to use that bathroom. This pretty obviously creates a problem: per the recent NYC directive on bathroom and locker room access, it seems entirely permissible for me to stroll into the women's locker room at, say, the Red Hook Pool, in which (I assume) there will be many naked women taking showers, and, if anyone objects, I can simply declare "I am a woman." And that is a lot different than the modus vivendi in which people who present as a woman could quietly go about their business in a women's bathroom.

And it was in response to a law like the NYC directive, passed in Charlotte, that the North Carolina "bathroom bill" was passed. And, by the way, the NC bill permitted people to "re-sex" themselves on their birth certificate, so they could quietly go about their business in the ladies' room if they wished to.

So, it was the "trans-gender" activists who disrupted the status quo. The bills passed in North Carolina and contemplated in Texas may be heavy-handed responses to the untenable situation created by the activists' radicalism, but have no doubt, it is the activists who are forcing the situation here. And while these bills might be heavy-handed, they arose when parents realized that what these activists were demanding was that any pervert whatsoever could wander into the locker room in which their teenage daughter was changing after swim practice, and gain the "right" to watch her undress simply by declaring "I feel like I am a woman." And in response to this attempt to protect their daughters, they are being told they are "bigots," and that their state will be economically crushed if they persist in trying to protect those girls.

And, by the way, I hope my focus on biological men in women's private areas is not deemed "sexist," but I think I am on empirically firm footing when I say the risk of a woman being raped by a man are astronomically higher than the reverse, and that there are far more male voyeurs than woman voyeurs. I hope it is not "sexist" to note that, in this regard, women are far better behaved than men!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Wheel Is Turning and You Can't Slow Down

Microsoft is running ads claiming that its cloud services are improving golf by allowing players to analyze every shot taken by every golfer in every tour event in great detail.

This is an example of the "iron cage" of competition that Max Weber talked about. The world is not a better place if the average tour pro now shoots a 69 or 70 instead of a 71. This "service" does not improve the quality of anyone's life. But once one player starts using it, every other player has to use it as well, or they will fall behind.

It is similar to steroids, or weight training, or swim training now lasting 6 hours a day instead of 2. They are all zero-sum games: it is hard for me to see how audiences are any more entertained by football players today, who spend hours a week in the weight room, than they were by players in my father's day, in the early 50s, when he tells me no players at all lifted weights. (And he played Division I ball against people like Jim Brown, and his brother was drafted by the Bears, so this was not low-level football.) But once one person begins spending a lot of time in the weight room, everyone else has to follow.

As the sage said:

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down
You can't let go and you can't hold on
You can't go back and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will

Saturday, February 18, 2017

How Progressive "Morality" Evolves

I have a progressive friend. A couple of years ago, when the bathroom wars were just kicking off, he told me that "they" were now going too far: "It is ridiculous to think that men should be allowed to go in the women's locker room just because they claim they 'really' are a woman."

All I could do was quietly sigh. I knew he would be embracing the 'ridiculous' very soon. And sure enough, he is now completely on board with "gender bending" and bathroom free-for-alls.

Because here is how this "evolution" works: At first, just a few people on the fringe begin to embrace the latest assault, call it X, on traditional morality. They build up a small cadre of committed activists devoted to forcing everyone to accept X. During this stage, the average progressive will assert that X is "going too far," and will insist that he is completely against X.

But then one day, once a critical mass of activists has built up, the mainstream progressive outlets like the NY Times announce that they have "grown," and that they now approve of X. Everyone will then begin a few months' grace period, so that they have time to "think for themselves" long enough to reach the right conclusion: X is perfectly okay after all!

After the grace period is over, anyone who still hasn't "thought for themselves" quite enough will be told that they are now officially a hateful bigot. It is OK to shun them, fire them from their job, boycott their entire state, and so on.

So what's next? Infanticide, group marriage, and pedophilia have to be the top candidates for the next X. Approval for all three is already floating around on the fringes. Which one goes first will probably be a matter of which one builds a critical mass of activists the fastest.

And if you tell my progressive friend today that in three years, he will be in favor of at least one of those three things, he will be outraged. "Never," he would assure you, completely without meaning to lie, "would I embrace X!"

But as soon as the NY Times tells him he is a hateful bigot if he doesn't embrace X, you can be 100% certain he will fall in line.

PS -- By the way, I can tell this series of posts on progressives is really on target by how incoherently angry they are leaving reader rob!

Phony-Baloney Progressive Outrage

The NBA has announced that it might deny the state of Texas the possibility of hosting future All-Star games if the democratically elected legislature of the state passes a bill stating that men should use the men's bathroom, and women should use the women's bathroom. Apparently, this is a "human rights violation."

This is the same NBA that goes out of its way to play several games a year in China, a country that regularly employs slave labor in its factories.

Progressively Stupider Regarding Sex

Cop TV show. One cop sleeps with another cop's wife. The chief finds out.

CHIEF: You slept with Harrigan's wife?!

COP: That's none of your business!

Every culture known to history, before the one that arose in the West over the last few decades, has known that sex is very much a public matter: it produces children, families, dynasties, social bonding, social strife, jealousy, and murder.

But progressives are so stupid -- not that they necessarily have low IQs, but ideology makes you stupid! -- that they actually could put in a TV show that it is none of the chief's business if one of his officers is sleeping with the wife of another of his officers.

Progressives' "Multicultural Sensitivity"

What being "multicultural" means to a progressive:

1) A professor who students were all from countries where it is unthinkable to call a professor by their first name, forced them to call him by his first name. He didn't give a crap about their culture: what was important was to force progressive values on them.

2) A progressive, told that a Muslim woman who he would be meeting would not be comfortable shaking hands with a man, shook her hand anyway. He didn't give a crap about her culture: what was important was to force progressive values on her.

3) A progressive to whom I mentioned that my kids had attended Catholic school: "Yuck!" (Sticking out her tongue.) Tolerance only extends to exotic religions in far off places!

4) A progressive who moved into an Italian Catholic neighborhood: "I hate all of those statues of the Virgin Mary in the front yards!" Mind you, she moved into this neighborhood! The Italian Catholics had been there for 100 years.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Tolerant" Progressives Try to Ban Milo, Then Riot When They Can't

Over 100 UCal Berkeley professors -- you remember Berkeley, the center of the free speech movement, right? -- signed a letter saying that Milo Yiannopoulos should not be allowed to speak on campus. When the university failed to cave in to their attempt to squash any non-progressive view, rioters showed up at the talk, "lit fires, overturned police barricades, smashed windows, and threw fireworks."

For progressives, tolerance means you can have sex with anyone or anything you want, just so long as you are a progressive.

The significance of ritual killing

I've been watching Gomorra, I show about the Neapolitan mafia. The head of the crime family at the center of the show is Don Pietro. His only son, Genny, is somewhat of a dweeb. Don Pietro is worried that, if he dies or is imprisoned, Genny won't be ready to take over the family. Therefore, he asks his trusted lieutenant, Ciro, to take Genny to do "that thing," to see if he is ready.

"That thing" turns out to be killing a random person, who has not done anything in particular to deserve killing. It is interesting to contemplate why this shows one "is ready." The effect is twofold:

1) By committing this horrific act, the killer shows that his loyalty to this particular group comes above every aspect of common human decency. The group can trust him to do anything at all it requires him to do.

2) All morally sane people would unequivocally condemn this action. But the group in question praises the action, telling Genny he has now "become a man." So, from that point on, the killer has two choices: if he rejects the group, he will be left alone to face the horror of what he has done. But if he sticks with the group, they will keep telling him that what he did was not just OK, but, in fact, praiseworthy. It is obvious which is psychologically easier.

If you spend a little while contemplating the above facts, then it will be obvious to you why Lena Dunham is sorry she hasn't had an abortion. She hasn't yet done "that thing" that will show she is ready to put aside all common human decency in order to fully commit to her "mob."

Closing in "solidarity" with immigrant workers

I stopped by a local restaurant last night. The place employs many illegal immigrants, pays them sub-standard wages, and offers them no benefits. The owner is so rough with these workers that they call him "the devil."

But... last night they closed in "solidarity" with immigrant workers! On a Thursday night, in February, when they would be making almost no money anyway.

And I would take large bets that all of the illegal immigrants were not paid for the night!

This could be an emblem of progressive "caring": empty, symbolic gestures intended to display one's tremendous moral stature, performed in lieu of actually having to do the hard work of really caring.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Deletion iterators

Often, deleting during iteration is problematic. So, in say Python, if you write:

for e in edges:
    if seen(e.v1) or seen(e.v2):
        delete e

you are in for some trouble.

And this is understandable. The default iterator is meant to get you through a sequence rapidly, and no one wants to drag along the baggage that would allow you to muck about with the sequence as you traverse it.

But why not have a second type of iterator that does allow deletion, which you would pull out just for the special cases where the above code is the sort of thing you need to do? Because I've had to "hand-roll" one of these every few months, it seems, and I bet others have as well.

Java has something like this with "fail-safe" iterators, but they seem to be for protection from another thread modifying the data while you iterate. In fact, the fail-safe iterator is guaranteed not to change while you are iterating.

Leftist violence

Reader Greg Pandatshang offers the following:
I was in a movie theater a couple weeks ago, and in the row behind me were two young women, who I'd guess are maybe undergrad sophomores, not particularly tall or athletic, talking about the Richard Spencer sucker punch brouhaha, pleased as punch. One of them remarked, "If I'd've been there, I would have done more than just punch him!" I'd suggest that this is indicative of the centre-left (and parts of the hard left) reaction to the late unpleasantness: they live in a fantasy world where the possibility that they might not win at violence doesn't even occur to them. What are the chances, really, that Luke Skywalker will lose the final duel with Darth Vader? And what are the chances, really, that a short female college kid will fail to give a grown-ass fascist man the beating he obviously deserves? In light of this fantasy, it becomes merely an issue of whether their side will choose to be nice and refrain from violence. No negative consequences (except for maybe the deplorables if they act up).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TDS updates

1) Here a CNN nincompoop says "Trump's travel ban fundamentally changes American history." Of course, progressive hero FDR grabbed American citizens, based on their ethnicity, and stuffed them in concentration camps for years... but Trump saying that non-citizens from a few troubled countries can't enter the US for 90 days is such a terrible act of discrimination that American history has been "fundamentally changed."

2) Yesterday I heard progressives talking about the "latest" Trump outrage: the NASA scientist who had to unlock his cellphone at the border. But stricter rules on cellphones went into place in 2014, under progressive hero Obama, and Trump's executive order said nothing about cellphones, and the order doesn't apply to American citizens, and Bikkannavar had not been to any of the countries named in Trump's order, and...

Well, it was extremely likely that this was simply the typical bumbling sort of overreach that happens at our borders all the time, especially since 9/11.

Soon I expect to hear, "Did you see in the news about that guy beating his wife? Right after Trump's travel ban!"

Evil Mastermind / Completely Incompetent Moron

Scott Adams has been saying that anti-Trumps will soon be swinging from "Trump is Hitler" to "Trump is incompetent."

He is behind the times. Last week I actually listened to two progressives alternate between saying how terrifying Trump is because he is an evil mastermind who is going to establish an authoritarian dictatorship in the US, and saying how laughable he is is because he is such a stupid, incompetent boob, literally between one sentence and the next. And the two views kept alternating for a good five minutes.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Trump will issue a new immigration-related directive this week. Many people will sigh with relief, and say, "Well, this is more reasonable."

And this will be the directive Trump intended to stand all along.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Tolerance, real and phony

'Conservatives remain in this age almost the only believers in tolerance; in any age I think they will respect the spiritual admonition present in T.S. Eliot’s saying: "One needs the enemy."' -- Richard Weaver

For over a dozen years, I have mingled with the progressives of gentrified Brooklyn on an amicable basis. I listened to their silly political diatribes when we'd meet at a bar or park: I would smile, nod, and ask if they had seen the Knicks game the night before. I tolerated their opinions, and kept mine to myself.

Well, except once in a very rare while. For instance, a progressive I had known for several years, and been on friendly terms with, made a Facebook post asserting that no decent person could possibly vote for Trump after the "pussy" remarks emerged. I merely responded: "Wait, when Clinton was president, Democrats kept saying a politician's sex life was completely irrelevant to their job, and none of our business. So...?"

Instantly, I was called a "troll," unfriended, and soon threatened with physical violence.

This is the left's idea of "tolerance:" they can tolerate progressives of any color and any sexual orientation. But everyone not a progressive is completely intolerable.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Passive-Aggresive-Progressive Hate

I saw this in a deli window near me:

What's wrong here?

1) A policy disagreement (how much immigration should we allow from various countries) is being turned into a way to smear anyone who disagrees with the poster's preferred immigration policy as a "hater" who doesn't "welcome" certain people. And this is the way progressives handle pretty much all disagreement with their policies today: the person who disagrees does so because they are an evil racist bigot, not because they think progressive policies are often harmful.

2) As good progressives, the makers of the poster, in fact, despise believing Muslims: to progressives, believing Muslims are "homohobic," "misogynist," "medieval," and so on. Everything they hate about Christians is there to hate about Muslims, just ten times more.

It is not Muslim individuals that progressives welcome: they welcome the usefulness of the concept of Muslims as a hammer with which to attack traditional Christians.

The irony of it all is that the complete bursting of the progressive bubble (Trump is only a slight deflation compared to what is coming) is likely to come at the hands of Muslims: with enough Muslim immigration, Sharia law will be imposed. The progressives' sacramental abortion clinics will all be shut down, sex acts outside of the marriage between a man and a woman will be illegal, adulterers will be stoned, public modesty will again be a legal requirement, etc.*

It is like watching someone who hates the mice in his house so much that he is filling the house with leopards in order to get rid of them.

* And frankly, given the choice between living in the US as it would be if we had gotten eight years of Clinton, and living as a dhimmi in the US caliphate, I think I would prefer the latter.

The left is starting to embrace political violence to overturn the election results

Living in gentrified Brooklyn is like being a spy in the enemies camp: so long as I don't let on that I am not one of them, I get to pick up on what progressives say when they think no one else is listening.

Well, last night, I got to hear two very ordinary, middle-class progressives talking to each other about how they were only talking and protesting, and that perhaps it was the people taking violent action who really understood what has to be done right now. In the end, they both agreed that probably the rioters are acting appropriately.

Note: they are not about to commit violence themselves. But they are ready to cheer on those who aren't as constrained.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Liberal "tolerance" on display

Two exhibits:

1) Samuel Hammond correctly recognizes that both major US parties have been liberal parties, but is severely distressed that we may now be seeing a non-liberal party competing with a liberal party. Liberals are all for "diversity," by which they mean, "All slightly different liberal voices should be heard!" They most certainly do not mean that it is acceptable to voice non-liberal views!

2) The International Olympic Committee threatens to move the Olympic golf competition if a Japanese golf club won't cave to liberal pressure and admit women as full members. Liberals are all in favor of "multiculturalism"... just so long as every one of the "diverse" cultures moves in complete lockstep with the latest liberal standards, which are subject to routine updating. (E.g., in 2008, both Obama and Clinton opposed gay marriage. That was fine. But once the NY Times et al. declared it not fine, suddenly, any person, group, or nation who opposed gay marriage was a hate-filled bigot.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Bharat, we can add this lovely piece to our collection.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The perverse anti-functionalism of CLRS algorithms

Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest and Stein's Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS) is now the dominate textbook for algorithm courses. As I've been working on implementing their algorithms from their book in Python,  I've been struck by how often they espouse an non-functional anti-pattern.

Functional programming asserts that a program should consist mostly of "pure functions," which have no side effects, and always return the same output given the same input. In particular, if we pass a function f a data structure x as an input, f should leave x alone, and return a new data structure y as its output.

Of course at times, if we are not dogmatic functional programmers, we may indeed want to modify x, for instance, if x is huge in size, and we don't want the memory cost of creating a y that is essentially a new copy of x with a few modifications, and we have no further need of the original x.

But, as I argued long ago, even code in languages that are not primarily functional can be rendered much more concise by adhering to functional programming guidelines, so long as one isn't twisting the language too perversely to adhere to them.

CLRS, on the other hand, seem to have an ingrained bias towards pseudo-code functions that modify their arguments in place, and return nothing, even when it would be trivial to write the function as a pure function. This preference is baffling to me: are none of the authors familiar with the idea of functional programming? Or is there a reason they ignore the idea, despite being familiar with it?

Sunday, February 05, 2017

How to report a crime in France

My bedtime TV watching tonight is To Catch a Thief. I am only a couple of minutes into the movie, but I have already learned something new: apparently, the way you report a crime in France is to simply shout out the window, even if the window is six floors up above a busy avenue, "Police! I've been robbed!"

The rise of the three

This was interesting to read:

"The Knicks honored five members of their 1988-89 Atlantic Division championship team that set a then-NBA record with 386 3-pointers."

That years Knicks made so many threes they were called "the bomb squad."

Last year Steph Curry made 402 threes.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Another anti-Trumper being pushed to defend Trump

Father Dwight Longenecker:

"Those who have taken any interest in my political opinions will know that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I am one of those conservatives who happened to think that a thrice-married playboy who runs casinos and strip joints was not exactly the best choice for the highest office in the land."

And Longenecker recognizes the process I described a couple of posts back:

"If the mainstream media continue to be deceitful about the travel ban and other presidential orders, Americans who heretofore have sat on the fence in regard to President Trump will start to slip down from that fence and sidle over to him in sympathy..."

Friday, February 03, 2017

A programming language breakthrough!

In honor of our team member Nandu, I have invented a new control structure: NON DO.

Like many looping constructs like DO and DO… WHILE, it takes an argument saying how many times the loop should execute. But in this instance, the parameter tells NON DO how many times NOT to perform the code inside the loop body. So:

NON DO (1)
    print(”Hello world!”)

Will not print “Hello world!” one time, while:

NON DO(1000)
    print(”Hello world!”)

Won’t print “Hello world!” 1000 times.

My original run-time analysis rigorously proved that this construct was of order Θ(1) run-time complexity (the proof is too long for the margin of this web site to hold!), but I incorporated a system call inside the loop conditional to sleep 1 / n milliseconds before not executing the loop body n times, and now it runs in O(1 / n), gifting computer scientists an example of an algorithm that executes in n-1 time.

Judging a book by its first letter

Several commenters have chastised me for "ignoring" the fact that Trump authorized a drone strike that apparently has killed at least one child.

If that happened, I am truly sorry. That's not a good thing.

However... let's go back to 2001. I will explain how I understand the just way to undertake military operations.

Let us assume that the attribution of the 9/11 attacks to Osama bin Laden was correct. If so, I believe the US had to "go after" him militarily. What I would have done, had I been in charge, would have been to notify the Taliban, then the ruling power in Afghanistan, "We are sorry you've been occupied with civil war etc., and haven't been able to rid yourselves of bin Laden. But as such, we are going to have to violate your sovereignty in order to take him out ourselves. As long as you stay out of our way, we will leave you alone."

This would be consistent with eliminating threats to Americans' safety, while not attempting "to impose our way of life on other countries." This would have been a much more limited engagement than Bush undertook, at least if the Taliban were sensible and did stay our of our way.

Nevertheless, some innocent people would have died in executing my program. Military action is a terrible thing, and should only be undertaken when necessary, precisely because the effects of it are not subject to fine control. The innocent deaths would be very unfortunate, but so long as the use of military force was called for, and done in a way to minimize such deaths, while still succeeding in the military goal, I believe they would not have been morally blameworthy.

Fast forward to 2017. Trump ordered a drone strike that may have killed innocent people. Was it morally blameworthy?

Given the secrecy that does, and to some extent must, accompany such operations, neither you nor I know. Was there good reason to think the strike would be likely to take out only actors known to be planning terrorist strikes agains the US? Did the military do everything they could to see that as few innocents as possible would die in taking out these terrorists? Trying to answer these questions by looking at a single action is completely impossible, unless you happen to have a position at the highest levels of the US national security apparatus.

I say we can only pass judgment on Trump's policy in this regard, given our unavoidable ignorance of the secret intelligence behind planning such strikes, by looking at, over months and even years, the effects of his decisions. To jump to a conclusion based on a single event is very closely analogous to judging a book by the fact that it starts with a letter you don't like.

I am hoping Trump kills fewer innocent Muslim non-combatants than his predecessors. I am sure the number he kills will continue to be greater than zero, throughout his presidency. But if that number is less than Bush and less than Obama, it represents an improvement, right? And if it is significantly less, well, that would be a significant improvement.

But if turns out that there is no improvement... well, anti-Trumpers, then I am fully ready to join you in opposition to his foreign policy.

UPDATE: Apparently, this strike had been planned for months by Obama. So Trump was allowing it to go forward, but had not actually created the plan.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...