Friday, March 31, 2006

The Seven Blunders of the World

OK OK so I'm not Atrios, but at least he worked hard for fame. What about this Howard Kaloogian guy ? He is a California state legislature recently in third place in a special election to replace the Dukestir . That doesn't sound very important, but earlier today "Kalogian" was one of the ten most searched for words at (and I didn't even save a screen shot :-((). His site is down because of too much traffic. And his name has become an non proper noun on wikipedia (and not the kind of non proper noun his honor Antonin Scalia uses either) !

What have I accomplished when Howard Kaloogian was becoming world famous ?

He is the creator of one of the Seven Blunders of the World

(notice that the traitor Brad R doesn't even mention the statue of liberty in Baghdad).

Do I at least earn ap credit for stealing from Josh Marshall ?
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia acts as if he has a better command of Italian than he has

This is one of the many things we have in common.

Atrios quotes someone named Smith who claims “The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.

Image hosting by Photobucket

The gesture in question means no such thing. It means "non mi interessa" or, at worst "mi ne frego" or in English "I don't care" or "I couldn't care less" or literally translating the worst interpretation "reflecting on that I scratch myself" without any hint as to exactly where his honor was notionally scratching himself, but hey no hint is needed.

Definitely *not* an obscene gesture. As such a very unusual gesture in Italy. Similarly waving one hand has no hidden obscene meaning. The correct way of miming "va fan culo" is to extend the right arm palm up, place the left hand firmly in the pit across from the right elbow (which is facing down) and then vigorously raise the right forearm. Tragically, due to the influence of US television, young Italians have lost touch with their native body language and use the extended middle finger.

In case the post below causes the reader to doubt my command of Italian, I checked the meaning of the gesture with an actual real live Italian who wishes to remain anonomymous and who was mystified as to how someone could have made such an elementary mistake. After I explained the career of justice Scalia this real live Italian was no longer puzzled and very very glad that he is over there not over here.
Bilingual post Following the Guidance of His Honor Antonin Scalia

Italian in italics

Sto Atrio mi sta rompendo le scatole

This Atrios is breaking my boxes

Ogni giorno provo a scriver qualcosa che egli non ha gia scritto

Every day I try to write something that he hasn't written already

Ma almeno dovrebbe lasciare a me l'elucidazione delle parolacce italiane.

But at least he should leave explanation of Italian obscenities to me.

Se non posso spiegare italiano agli statunitense e gli statunitense agli italiani cosa posso fare ?

If I can't explain Italian to US citizens and US citizens to Italians what can I do ?

"Va Fan Culo" significa Va Farlo nel Culo quindi vai a fotterti.

"Va Fan Culo" means go do it in the ass, that is, go fuck yourself.

Smith è il soggetto del'imperativo "fa" quindi Atrios spaglia quando lo traduce come vai a prenderlo nel culo.

Smith is the subject of the imperative "do" so Atrios errs when he translates it as "go take it in the ass."

Mica Scalia ha detto "vai a farti fottere."

In no way whatsoever did Scalia say "go get fucked."
Smith dovrebbe sia dare sia ricevere (com'è addato al luogo santo del colloquio).

Smith should both give and recieve (as is appropriate giving the holy location of the conversation).

Ma tutto da solo.

But all by himself.

Si parla anche del manico del ombrella.

A similar figure os speach includes the words "like the handle of an umbrella."

Ho le palle piene di sto Atrio.

My balls are full of this Atrios.

The last sentence doesn't make any sense to me either.

I apologise for using dirty words on my blog, but if his honor Antonin Scalia insists on using them in church, I do feel obliged to explain his judicious judgement.

I do have two remaining questions. Why do statunitensi not have a word for statunitensi so we offend people from all other American countries by calling ourselves Americans (actually the only person I ever witnessed getting called on that one was an Italian who was told by a Mexican "America is a continent").

Why doesn't English have a translation for "Mica", "Gia", "Anzi" or "Magari" ?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Brad DeLong Disagrees with Andrew Samwick (or so he claims)

Samwick is enthusiastic about the appointment of Joshua Bolten as White House chief of staff. In fact, Samwick almost seems to hope that Bolten will be a game changer and pull out an amazing second quarter comeback for team Bush (oh god we haven't even reached half time of the second Bush II administration).

Brad writes "I don't understand Andrew's enthusiasm for Bolten" but what did he write about Bolten game changer *before* Bolten was named chief of staff.

Hmm lets ask google to search Brad's old URL for bolten and "game changer" .

One hit

which I edit ruthlessly

What's the Antonym of "White House Aide?" (Things Worse Than I Could Have Imagined Department)

An aide is somebody who works for you who helps you--who does odd jobs, who provides you with information, who advises you about issues on which you need advice. What do you call somebody who provides you with misinformation? What is the antonym of the phrase "White House aide"?

It turns out that, at least as far as economic policymaking is concerned, things inside the Bush White House were worse than I had imagined possible--even though I thought that I had already taken account of the principle that things are generally worse than you imagine.

Let me tell a story:

[snip] if the higher deficit is expected to persist indefinitely into the future, then interest rates are likely to rise between 0.5% and 1.0%."

And then the reporters would call Glenn Hubbard, [snip] And he would answer, "If you increase the government's deficit next year by $200 billion, and then erase that deficit and return spending and taxes to their previous levels the following year, then interest rates are likely to rise by an insignificant amount--0.03%." Except that Glenn would not say the words in italics to anyone except himself [snip].

Got the distinction? Short-term deficits have next to no effect on interest rates. Long-term deficits have substantial effects on interest rates. Got it? Good. The reporters certainly didn't.

The reporters would then write their stories, [snip]

And we would sigh, and curse the ineptitude of the press corps. But we would take comfort from one thing. [snip] at least internal administration decision making was not being fed misinformation. [snip]

But now it turns out that we were wrong. [snip] From the shorthand stenographic transcript of the November 26, 2002 White House meeting of George W. Bush with his economic policy and political staffs contained in Chapter 8 of Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty:

"Glenn [Hubbard] thinks that a deficit of $200 billion pushes up interest rates by just three basis points [or .03 perent]," [Deputy Chief of Staff] Josh Bolten interjected, bringing things back to the key issue of whether the dividend tax cut was affordable.

OK OK Brad is consistent. He thinks that Josh Bolten is an anti-aid from the negaverse and he has proof.

update: I am partly showing off that I knew that bolten would be hammered in a post which contained the phrase "game changer." It was Hubbard claiming that eliminating double taxation of dividends would be a "game changer". However, I was disappointed by the link above, which didn't include the really juicy part about what a hack and tool was head of OMB. Finally I found the post here

It is a quote from "The Price of Loyalty". My memory was faulty however, the total hack and tool director of the OMB at the time was Mitch Daniels. The total hack and tool Josh Bolten was then deputy chief of staff. I apologise to the two total hacks and tools for the error. The quote from the book via Brad is

O'Neill thought as he looked over at [Mitch] Daniels.... He knew Daniels was focused on the perils of rising deficits, but it would take gumption to air those concerns in a room full of tax cut ideologues.

"I think we need to balance concerns," Daniels said.... "You need to be out front on the economy, but I am concerned that this package may not do it. The budget hole is getting deeper... we are projecting deficits all the way to the end of your second term." From across the table came glares from the entire Bush political team. Daniels paused.... "Ummmm. On balance, then, I think we need to do a package... accelerate the rate cuts and the double taxation of dividends..." O'Neill looked with astonishment at Daniels... turn 180 degrees in midsentence.

The quote convinces me that Bush could have done worse when hiring a new chief of staff.
I attack this translation of an article by André Glucksman at some length in the posts below. I got it from Brad DeLong who got it from Pundita.

Separating Truth and Belief by André Glucksmann Le Monde, 2006, 2 pp.

The anti-caricature campaign started by attacking a newspaper. It then focussed on Denmark as a defender of the freedom of the press, and now it has all of Europe in its sights, which it accuses of having a double standard. The European Union allows the Prophet to be denigrated with impunity, but it forbids and condemns other 'opinions' like Nazism and denial of the Holocaust. Why are jokes about Muhammad permitted, but not those about the genocide of the Jews? This was the rallying call of fundamentalists before they initiated a competition for Auschwitz cartoons. Fair's fair: either everything should be allowed in the name of the freedom of expression, or we should censor that which shocks both parties. Many people who defend the right to caricature feel trapped. Will they publish drawings about the gas chambers in the name of freedom of expression?

Offence for offence? Infringement for infringement? Can the negation of Auschwitz be put on a par with the desecration of Muhammad? This is where two philosophies clash. The one says yes, these are equivalent 'beliefs' which have been equally scorned. There is no difference between factual truth and professed faith; the conviction that the genocide took place and the certitude that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are on a par. The others say no, the reality of the death camps is a matter of historical fact, whereas the sacredness of the prophets is a matter of personal belief.

This distinction between fact and belief is at the heart of Western thought. Aristotle distinguished between indicative discourse on the one hand, which could be used to reach an affirmation or a negation, and prayer on the other. Prayers are not a matter for discussion, because they do not state: they implore, promise, vow and declare. They do not relate information, they perform an act. When the Islamist fanatic affirms that Europeans practise the 'religion of the Shoah' while he practises that of Muhammad, he abolishes the distinction between fact and belief. For him there are only beliefs, and so it follows that Europe will favour its own.

Civilised discourse analyses and defines scientific truths, historic truths and matters of fact relating to knowledge, not to faith. And it does this irrespective of race or confession. We may believe these facts are profane or undignified, yet they remain distinct from religious truths. Our planet is not in the grips of a clash of civilisations or cultures. It is the battleground of a decisive struggle between two ways of thinking. There are those who declare that there are no facts, but only interpretations – so many acts of faith. These either tend toward fanaticism ('I am the truth') or they fall into nihilism ('nothing is true, nothing is false'). Opposing them are those who advocate free discussion with a view to distinguishing between true and false, those for whom political and scientific matters – or simple judgement – can be settled on the basis of worldly facts, independently of arbitrary pre-established opinions.

A totalitarian way of thinking loathes to be gainsaid. It affirms dogmatically, and waves the little red, or black, or green book. It is obscurantist, blending politics and religion. Anti-totalitarian thinking, by contrast, takes facts for what they are and acknowledges even the most hideous of them, those one would prefer to keep hidden out of fear or for the sake of utility. Bringing the gulag to light made it possible to criticise and ultimately reject 'actually existing socialism'. Confronting the Nazi abominations and opening the extermination camps converted Europe to democracy after 1945. Refusing to face the cruellest historical facts, on the other hand, heralds the return of cruelty. Whether the Islamists – who are far from representing all Muslims – like it or not, there is no common measure between negating known facts and criticising any one of the beliefs which every European has the right to practice or poke fun at.

For centuries, Jupiter and Christ, Jehovah and Allah have had to put up with many a joke. The Jews are past masters at criticising Yaweh – they've even made it a bit of a speciality. That does not prevent the true believers of any confession from believing, or from respecting those of a different faith. That is the price of religious peace. But joking about gas chambers, raped women and disembowelled babies, sanctifying televised beheadings and human bombs all point to an unbearable future.

It is high time that the democrats regained their spirit, and that the constitutional states remembered their principles. With solemnity and solidarity they must recall that one, two or three religions, four or five ideologies may in no way decide what citizens can do or think. What is at stake here is not only the freedom of the press, but also the permission to call a spade a spade and a gas chamber an abomination, regardless of our beliefs. What is at stake is the basis of all morality: here on earth the respect due to each individual starts with the recognition and rejection of the most flagrant examples of inhumanity."
André Glucksman discusses the fact value distinction

A fuller quote is just above. here I focus on

This is where two philosophies clash. The one says yes, these are equivalent 'beliefs' which have been equally scorned. There is no difference between factual truth and professed faith; the conviction that the genocide took place and the certitude that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are on a par. The others say no, the reality of the death camps is a matter of historical fact, whereas the sacredness of the prophets is a matter of personal belief.

In this passage Glucksman is presenting the standard western view on the fact value distinction, which he calls the truth belief distinction. His view is very conventional in English speaking countries and somewhat more likely to be challenged in France where a slightly larger fraction of academics deny that there are objective facts. Eager to write something eccentric, and sincerely believing what I write, I disagree completely.

I consider five words four of which are decent English "belief", "truth", "fact", "knowledge" and "verifiable." To me a fact is a truth and vice versa. I recognise that the word fact is the English translation of the past partiple of the generic latin transitive verb and therefore once meant "event" something that happened at a specific place and a specific time. I don't care about etymology. Now we can say that the law of conservation of momentum is a fact and be correct if it is a true statement about the world. To me a belief is a state of mind which is true if it corresponds to external reality and is false if it doesn't. So I see no foom for belief which is neither true nor false. Finally knowledge is justified true belief where the key word is "justified". I think beliefs can only be justified within a system of thought so there can not be objective knowledge. I do think that there can be objective truth (sad to say this is to say I believe in ontological objectivity but not in epistemelogical objectivity). Glucksman identifies "truth" with "verifiable truth" asserting that there is no unknowable truth.

This might sound logical, however it is inconsistent with mathematical logic. If one accepts that there is such a thing as mathematical truth (I don't know if Glucksman does) and the it can only be verified by proofs, then there are unknowable truths. This is Goedel's theorem and it has been proven. One kind of unknowable truth is the answer to a question of the form "does this polynomial have a root which is a rational number." Sounds pretty well defined no ?

Now back to Glucksman's example, do I think that "the conviction that the genocide took place and the certitude that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are on a par." I do in the sense that I think that the belief that the genocide took place and the belief that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are roughly similar cognitive entities. I think they differ, because one is a true belief and the other is a false belief, but each are claims about objective reality.

Now no Moslem is going to prefer Glucksman's version to mine. The idea that belief in Allah is just a feeling and not a claim which is true of false is, I think, just as offensive as the idea that it is a false claim. Glucksman will not say that the difference is that his belief is true and moslem's beliefs are false. So he invents a catagory of beliefs which are neither true nor false to dodge the question.

Now it is clear that we both agree that there can be passionately felt beliefs which do not correspond to anything outside the believer. I call them false beliefs. There is no doubt in my mind that Glucksman is personally certain that Gabriel did not illuminate Muhammad (in fact I assume that he is an atheist like me). I think he has learned the dodge of creating a category for religious beliefs which makes it possible to call them "valid" while believing that they do not correspond to reality.

Now I ask Glucksman how he feels about another possible statement. How about "the holocaust was wrong" According to Glucksman this is not a statement of fact. A claim about what is right and what is wrong is clearly a statement of values, hence for Glucksman a matter of belief not truth. Now, given his argument with the moslems, does Glucksman think it would be OK to deny the statement "the holocaust was wrong"?

I am very reluctant to perform the operation even as a hypothetical, but what if someone were to say "the holocaust was the right thing to do. Let's finish the job."

Would Glucksman consider that covered by free speech. It is not a verifiable assertion. No historian or scientist can prove that something was morally wrong. The statement is illegal in France. How about wearing a swastika ? That is not a statement which can be proven false, because it isn't an assertion. Is that covered by free speach ? Not in Germany where it is illegal.

The claim that Europe is determined to tollerate any expression which can not be proven false by looking at the facts is simply false. Glucksman has responded to one specific accusation that Europe is not really committed to freedom of speech but he must know perfectly well that his argument is false and absurd. He manages to respond only by leaving out the inconvenient fact that many laws in Europe which ban speech on matters which are not scientifically verifiable.

OK how about me. What is my possition on "the holocaust was wrong". I think it is a true statement, just plain true. I recognise that neither logic nor evidence can be used to prove that something was morally wrong. I don't consider proof necessary for me to believe something. I think my unprovable belief that the holocaust was wrong is objectively true.
Brad DeLong Quotes Andre Glucksman on the fact value distinction.

Brad approves. I disagree with loquacious vehemence.

Read the posts 2 posts above for the Glucksman quote

I disagree completely with Andre Glucksman.

Second on the policy issue, I think that people in Europe (such as myself) should be allowed to deny the holocaust if they so choose. I note that the USA is not hypocritical in this regard and that it is perfectly legal over there to deny the holocaust and incite racial hatred and even to claim that the President of Italy is responsible for the actions of the cabinet (all illegal for me right here).

What's the problem ? When Irving was arrested for denying the holocaust did anyone in the USA think that a great danger had been averted ?

I agree instead with Jefferson who believed that the truth need not fear falsehood. Actually, I'm only confident I agree with him regarding questions of verifiable fact.

Note that the clear thinker André Glucksman commits a major offence against logic and language when he writes of the "the permission to call ... a gas chamber an abomination" after discussing not giving permission to call a gas chanber anything else. Defending the freedom to prevent people from saying something false is not defending our freedom to tell the truth.

Glucksman has progressed most of the way back to sanity, but the leopard does not lose its spots.The equation of freedom to speak and freedom to punish speach is an abomination. And I will defend to the death André Glucksman's right to utter that abomination.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hell Freezes Over Brad Delong Criticizes Paul Krugman

I agree with Brad who writes “Paul Krugman is conflicted on immigration. In fact, I would say that he is confused--and probably wrong” ?!?!?! yes your read that right.

Krugman is concerned that immigration causes increased inequality of income among US born US residents writing "George Borjas and Lawrence Katz... estimate that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration." He discusses politics, then concludes "Realistically, we'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants."

Forget the political considerations for a moment. The idea (not due to Krugman) that egalitarianism requires us to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants is crazy. An egalitarian (like Krugman) cares about the interests of the immigrants too. A policy maker who considered say about ten of them as important as a native born US citizen would oppose stronger efforts to stop the flow of low-skill immigrants. Brad argues convincingly that a policy maker who counts any number of immigrants as like one US citizen can cancel the effects of immigration on the distribution of income US born residents.

Now remember the political considerations. I think it is clear that Krugman is considering what is politically possible and advising the Democrats against political suicide. I think this makes it worse. For one thing, moving towards the Republican position strategy hasn’t worked so great for the Democrats this century. Standing up for immigrants rights is a short term loser but a long term winner (ask Karl Rove). Standing up for something is a short term winner and a long term winner.

Paul Krugman is of the few prominent commentators who has been completely willing to challenge the conventional wisdom has now decided to take it into consideration when discussing what should be done, and I am dismayed. He is not supposed to be a political strategist. I think he should be a free thinking, thought provoking independent thinker.

Now that I think of it, Brad and I disagree with Krugman on one of the issues where Krugman disagrees with The Economist. Pigs fly over the frozen wastes of hell.

update: Sifu Tweety has a firm view on the political considerations

Sunday, March 26, 2006

L'Age D'or

The Washington Post has a very long, very thorough, very devastating article on Tom DeLay, Ed Buckham and corruption. The article was written by R. Jeffry Smith assisted by Research editor Lucy Shackelford, researchers Alice Crites and Madonna Lebling, research database editor Derek Willis, and staff writer James V. Grimaldi. Willis has gotten some grief from the left blogosphere, so I think it best to stress his contribution.

Mainly it describes how a "charity" the US family network was used to launder, well rinse, bribes. True to it's name the US family network involved not only Mr Buckham as an advisor but also Mrs Buckham as an accountant.

Ed Buckham is a minister. One of the signs that he maintaned influence over DeLay after he ceased to be DeLay's chief of staff is that "Buckham, an evangelical minister, also continued to serve as DeLay's spiritual adviser and prayed frequently with him, the former aides said." I am no longer amazed at criminality among the ostentatiously religious. Still I am a bit surprised at the cockiness with which DeLay neglected to delay shifts from preaching to entertainment.

DeLay also reminded Tan and his colleagues of his earlier promise that no wage and immigration legislation would be passed.

"Stand firm," DeLay said in his closing. "Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator." He then departed with Tan to see a cockfight, according to a written account by one of the trip participants.

DeLay must be outraged that suddenly people are making a fuss, when his associates violations of the law have been known for at least five years when "the U.S. Family Network folded in 2001 under pressure from an FEC probe" which included "the eighth-highest fine in FEC history."

But the thing that amazes me most in the articles is the Buckhams' taste in art as in "the $62,375 purchase in January 1999 of a collection of Salvador Dali and Peter Max prints was relabeled "office fixtures."" Now that a Republican evangelical minister would have anything to do with Dali is shocking.

Maybe they didn't know (as I didn't) that he quickly abandoned the production of "L'Age d'Or", while they have dedicated years to gold. And now that I mention him, would Bunuel have noted any "Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie" if he had met the Buckham's.

in a word

This seems to be a decent site for Italian polls. That is

Bottom line seems to be that the fairly narrow lead for the current opposition seems to be holding. Obviously Berlusconi is claiming otherwise. He always thinks he can say it and make it so just like his buddies further west.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Washington Post Discusses Prayer

The headline at does not correspond to the article. The headline is "Prayer's Power Still a Mystery." It implies that prayer has power and that some aspect of that power is mysterious. The article discusses whether there is any evidence of any effect of prayer. Headlines are often to brief to be clear, but, in this case, I think the headline writer chose a deliberately misleading headline.

The results seem to me to be immediately recognisable as typical of cases in which the answer is no. Of course, the two posts below make my prejudice clear and, there are cases in which early results were typical of cases in which the answer is no and the answer is now believed to be yes (I can think of "is Stonehenge an observatory/calender and well no others but I'm sure there are many).

The issue is

"intercessory" or "distant" prayer, which involves people trying to heal others through their intentions, thoughts or prayers, sometimes without the recipients knowing it. The federal government has spent $2.2 million in the past five years on studies of distant healing, which have also drawn support from private foundations.

We have a bit of statistics in the post, which explains data mining

"It's called the sharpshooter's fallacy," said Richard Sloan, a behavioral researcher at Columbia University. "The sharpshooter empties the gun into the side of a barn and then draws the bull's-eye. In science, you have to predict in advance what effect you may have."

Having discussed the enthusiasm for anything that boggles the mind and makes people hope that the reason which threatens their faith can be defeated, I am not surprised to find that the EPR experiment is invoked

Proponents often cite a phenomenon from quantum physics, in which distant particles can affect each other's behavior in mysterious ways.

"When quantum physics was emerging, Einstein wrote about spooky interactions between particles at a distance," Krucoff said. "That's at least one very theoretical model that might support notions of distant prayer or distant healing."

We understand Pascal's wager, but quantum mechanics still surpasses our understanding. This pleases some who want to defeat reason.

As mentioned below, I find myself most in disagreement with those who claim that science and religion are both valid and can't speak to each other as in

"I don't see how you could quantify prayer -- either the results of it or the substance of it," said the Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "God is beyond the reach of science. It's absurd to think you could use it to examine God's play."

This is not a serious criticism of the experimental design. It is an effort to avoid a scientific test of a religious claim. The aim seems to me to make sure that no religious beliefs are contradicted based on the perception that, since some people believe in the effectiveness of prayer and others don't toleration requires a refusal to test.
Atheist Theological Disputation

The aptly named Catch22 comments on Kevin Drum. I can't contain my joy at finding an agnostic theologian to debate. Actually the whole comments thread is brilliant. If anyone is reading this, I advise them to read it.
I have had the same experience as eyelessgame

"For some reason, it's hard to get people even to accept that one is an atheist, even by self-declaring. They try hard to get you to admit you're an agnostic, or argue theology and try to shift the burden of proof to make the very position seem unreasonable.

It's an extremely threatening thing to claim of oneself. It's something people don't like to hear."

But the person who refused to believe that I am an atheist is both a saint and a STATA master so I don't want to name him in an even mildly critical context.

Back to our scheduled Godless Theological Quibbling (think "How many angels can't dance on the head of a pin, because they don't exist")

Catch22 starts by quoting Drum

"What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 25-30% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously."

I guess I dont follow why you want to pretend that atheist has the same meaning as agnostic or someone who doesnt support any particular organized religion.

The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

Now it may be that Americans are just as dismissive of agnostics as they are atheists, but it isnt roughly the same thing.

Agnostics and atheists may be natural allies on a lot of issues, but that doesnt make the terms even remotely equivalent and if you are going to lump them together you should make clear that your definition isnt actually the real definition.

Dear Catch22

You wrote "The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them."

I definitely agree with you that Kevin Drum is lumping agnostics in with atheists. I, for example, am an atheist. I gather that you are an agnostic. Thus we can have a theological debate without religion. Obviously there are many people who do not have a firm opinion on the existence of God. They are clearly agnostics and not atheists.

I am interested in the question of people who have no hope that there is a God, nor any fear that there is a God but do not have (or do not accept that they have) an affirmative belief in the non existence of God. They are like the tolerant religious people who, for example, say "I am a Jew (Christian) and I think that Jesus isn't (is) God, but don't deny the validity of your Christian (Jewish) belief that Jesus is (isn't) God"

Now that, I just don't get. It makes no sense to me. It seems to me to violate logic. I can say that I don't have proof that God doesn't exist, that I don't think that belief in God is the result of an intellectual mistake, that my faith in the non existence of God is similar to other's faith in the existence of God and what all, that I know they might be right and I might be wrong, but I can't claim that I believe that their beliefs do not correspond to reality and are, thus, false.

To me this is not intollerance, it is just logic.

I think a key word in your definition of agnostic and atheist is "valid". Evidently a belief can be "valid" without being true and one can believe a belief is "valid" without sharing it.

I suspect the word is a dodge. So abstract as to be vague. I have written at narcissistic length about my beliefs about others' religious beliefs and I have no clue as to whether I think their beliefs are valid.

I honestly think that the word "valid" is used in this context as a dodge, a way to avoid either offending people or lying by using a word which makes them think that one does not think that their beliefs are false when one does.
Kevin Drum writes and I quote in full because, since he's an Atheist all use is fair.

"JUST DON'T MARRY AN ATHEIST, OK?"....The final frontier:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

....“Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

That 3% number is tricky, though. The real number seems to be in the range of 3-9%, and if you count "nonreligious" as the same thing it's more like 15%. What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

As for trends toward increasing social tolerance, though, I'm not sure atheists really count as a "glaring exception." It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves. I never have, anyway, but maybe I've just been lucky. (And a Californian.)

UPDATE: Of course, it's true that making an obnoxious nuisance of yourself is generally considered a social faux pas no matter what you believe. On the other hand, it's also true that religious people seem to get away with it an awful lot more than us nonbelievers:

Robert Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

George H.W. Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

I don't think he ever apologized for that even after the election was over and the Christian Right had abandoned him.

Now I too am an atheist and I am neither surprised nor alarmed. The result is not new. In the USA, stated prejudice against atheists is vastly stronger than any other prejudice. Well I guess no pollster ever asked anything like "who do you disapprove of more atheists or child molesters," but if any did, I *don't* want to know about the responses.

Yet, like Drum, I never had the sense of any hostility at all. I admit, I had much less contact with red state American than Orange county dwelling Drum. I think the issue is that the rules of polite discussion of religion in the USA is that you only talk about religion with your co-religionists.

Christian activists are controversial because they break this rule, although IIRC leftist Christian activists are criticized for being leftists and accused of hypocrisy. I mean did anyone ever say that naming a political organization the Southern Christian Leadership Council offended against the first amendment ?

The norm that any controversial relgious opinion is kept to oneself is not toleration. To me it is neurosis. However, it does protect atheists by allowing us to stay in the closet. The only time I recall someone wishing to debate my atheism and convince me I was wrong with rational argument, that someone was a Dutch Catholic who lives in Italy. She is the very embodiment of John Stuart Mills' dictum that if you want people to take religious doctrine seriously you should have confessional diversity and open discussion.

Anyway back in the USA no such thing. Only proselytizing lunies who, for one thing, were incapable of rational argument and, for another, were bizarrely over polite (except for the bit about ringing on strangers door bells and stuff).

This means that it is very easy to be an in the closet atheist. In fact it is expected. I'm afraid it also means that it can be considered rude, intollerant and
"making an obnoxious nuisance of yourself" just to say "I am an atheist". I have no doubt that no God exists, that is, no hope that there is a God nor any fear that there is a God nor any such belief or sensation. Still, I suspect that people find it rude for me to say I am an atheist and expect me to be polite and declare, at least, an agnosticism which I do not experience.
I like Harold Meyerson

He notes that Alan Blinder says that many US jobs may be outsourced so long as US wages are higher than Indian wages. Meyerson then proposes

So, here are three immodest suggestions:

· We need to entice industry to invest at home by having the government and our public- and union-controlled pension funds upgrade the infrastructure and invest in energy efficiency and worker training.

· We need to unionize and upgrade the skills of the nearly 50 million private-sector workers in health care, transportation, construction, retail, restaurants and the like whose jobs can't be shipped abroad.

· And, if America is to survive American capitalism in the age of globalization, we need to alter the composition of our corporate boards so that employee and public representatives can limit the offshoring of our econom

I do not like his points 1 and 3 at all. He says that globalization is a great force for equality as jobs and capital will flow towards countries with low wages. He says this is bad and must be stopped. It seems Meyerson's egalitarianism stops at the water's edge.

It may be true that globalization implies increased inequality in the USA (although you know empirical work on increased inequality tends to come to the conclusion that 90 to 95% of the increase would have occured anyway in a closed economy).

To an mid 2oth century style pre new political economy post old political economy public economist, the solution is easy. We can have equality in the USA and word equality and growth in India if we embrace globalization (which means huge profits for US firms and huge compensation for US CEOs) then tax them and make the earned income tax credit larger than income plus payroll taxes for the majority of Americans.

Now we see that can not be, because the US might find a way to defeat both globalization and Euroschlerosis but no way can we take on K street too. More seriously , the effort to soak the rich while leaving them in charge of the private sector has been strongly correlated with unfortunate events In the policy dream world, K street can be defeated. That strange possible America might learn the meaning of one of the key American word Golpo.

Maybe to stop the increase in inequality in the USA we have to fight the programmers of Bangalore, since they can't fight back. I for one say no. Even Meyerson should consider it the least bad option, not his pet plan.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Giovanni Vecchi is a Stata Black Belt Mega Awesome Dude

Recall Brad Delon's defence of new computers with new software here

Yes! But all the wonderful spiffy new things your Toshiba can do! Like surf the web! And surf the web! And run STATA!

I was generally unconvinced here.
However, I was willing to concede that STATA is ok and has improved since 1989.

Then the results window vanished. Now I like stata, but, you know, I like to see results. The great icon "bring results window to front" had no effect. click tab window then results had no effect. Closing and re-opening STATA had no effect.

I flipped out. I remain flipped out. Somehow I had managed to change an STATA option in a way which was written to disk and persisted when I closed STATA. Thus running STATA had changed even though I just clicked on the same icon on the same spot on my desk top. The options that can be persistently changed are not a way that STATA helps scientists. It is anti science. One key to science is reproducibility, and modern spiffy features of modern programs mean they change in ways not obvious to the user preventing reproducibility. The tools which are supposed to help us understanda complex world are too complex for anyone, that is anyone, to understand all of their features, which are, therefore, necessarily bugs.

I asked some people for help. Clearly they couldn't get the results window back.

So I asked Giovanni Vecchi my co author and our local maximum Stata expert. He asked me if I kept up with updates. He soon wished he hadn't asked as I began to shout about how updates means the program changes which makes reproducibility impossible. I said anyone who allowed STATA to update was not a scientist. I demanded he show me where in his published articles he reported exactly which update of STATA generated the results out of the raw data.

Giovanni is not only a STATA expert, he is also a saint. Thus he shut me up the only way possible. He made the results window reappear. It was really simple. He clicked on prefs then manage preferences then load preferences then factory settings. Damn why didn't I do that.

Now this shows he is also smart as, obviously, he had never met anyone who had managed somehow to communicate to STATA "don't bother me with the results."

Giovanni Vecchi my hero.

Down in comments

Computer Bruce who seems to be kind patient and extremely knowledgeable answered my questions in a comment. I am now concerned that, with my ability to find msconfig on an xp system, I will mess up my computer. I am also irritated that a new automatic execution link to msnmsg appears when I tell windows not to execute msnmsg, so I would have to run regedit ... no that is to horrible to even contemplate.
Joe Frank my best friend from junior high school who tracked down my e-mail in the 90s using a $20 computer thinks that, given that amazing triumph, he can get a Virginia Driver's licence. Of course he learns

Everything Has Changed

Two days ago I tried to get a Virginia driver's license, I thought I was
prepared with my birth certificate and deed but the hospital birth
certificate is not valid anymore. I was told that this is because
"Everything has changed since 911". Instead, I had to pay some stupid
company $50.00 for another birth certificate. The next day Bush was on
TV; when asked why he invaded Iraq he said "Everything has changed since
911". I'm sick and tired of all these idiotic paranoid people. They
have the FBI talking to the Pentagon but they can't have the Maryland
MVA talk to the Virginia DMV. I have to go between two agencies to prove
I paid a sales tax on my car so I can get my car registered and then I
will have to prove I was not without insurance when the MVA is notified
that I dropped my Maryland insurance. Until I prove this I will have an
enormous fine for $150 the first day and more for each day after that.
They assume you are guilty. A company is sending my birth certificate
which I ordered over the phone with information that any terrorist could
buy for $35 online.

by Joe Frank
Sargent up in Arms

Greg Sargent is actually very polite about the nonsense Hal Strauss dished. Strauss can't keep his story straight.

WASHINGTON POST RESPONDS. I noted below that I'd asked the Post for its official explanation of the hiring of Domenech.

Now's Opinions editor, Hal Straus, has sent some answers to our questions via a spokesman, Eric Easter. For your ... and enjoyment, here are [Straus's answers] followed by Straus's answers:

Straus: "When launched Opinions we said we wanted this new area to be about a variety of voices across a broad spectrum of political and cultural thought. [snip]

"Ben Domenech brings an original and authentically conservative voice to the site's Opinions area, where we're committed to presenting the most provocative, informed and ideologically diverse policy debate on the web.


Straus: " hires writers for their ability to add something substantive to the national conversation. As best as possible, we look for that ability regardless of political labels."

OK so how does one manage to maintain ideological diversity and a broad spectrum of thought why looking at ability regardless of political labels ?

Strauss could have said that only considers ability and that, since ability is roughly evenly distributed among left and right, automatically obtains ideological diversity. He could also have said that is committed to ideological diversity and that, since ability is roughly evenly distributed among left and right, fortunately has not had to accept a low ability dishonest non journalist in order to achieve diversity.

However he said that they consider only ability and that they aim for diversity making two plainly contradictory claims about their aims and motivations which can not possibly be true even if there is no need to choice between the two aims one of which he claimed was their only aim.

Again we see the holy duality. WAPO the father is singlemindedly focused on ability alone while WAPO the Son/Daughter/Child cares about diversity too. They are two yet They are one. I just hope "Red America" is soon wholly a ghost.
The megashrill Brad DeLong accuses George Bush of proposing a social security reform plan.

Ramesh Ponnuru is off message:


Foolish Ramesh! George W. Bush assured us that he never proposed to cut Social Security benefits! He only proposed to slow the rate of growth of benefits!

And Bush never "balanced the books" on his Social Security reform plan.

How dare you accuse Our President of presenting a social security reform plan !
He never ever did any such thing. He was seeking input and guidance from ordinary* Americans via his town hall meetings.

The claim made by DeLong, Weisberg, and Ponnuru that there was a plan with balanced or unbalanced books is utterly false and slanderous (or libelous I can't keep them straight even if dead trees are involved).

Professor DeLong does admit that Bush never did present a plan whose 70 year shortfall could have been estimated to be zero or any other number, since he never presented a precise plan.

Driven mad by Bush hatred, professor Delong will probably soon claim that George Bush had a plan for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.

* I admit that the patriotic geniuses who participated in the town hall meetings are** somewhat better than ordinary Americans, as, to gain admisssion to such a meeting, one had to demonstrate an ability to accurately evaluate the severity of the social medicare and security crisis, the genius of Bush, and the fact that US future productivity growth is a holy duality with two aspects -- the father who determines payroll growth and the Son who determines equity returns (heeeey maybe the Holy Spirit could have balanced the books of the transendent and not indwelling reform to be).

** those who have since passed away to the fully funded entitlement in the sky were better than ordinary Americans.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dear Mr Brady

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo claims here
that printed an erroneous claim.

I clicked his link and found this "an odd publication when one considers that DKos endorsed candidates are 0-19 in elections"


It is undeniable that the claim is found on the pages of

I think that you should ask representative Stephanie Herseth if she is willing to confirm or contradict's assertion. A second failure to correct a gross undeniable factual error within 24 hours will demonstrate that no one who cares about accuracy can possibly take anything published in seriously until it is vetted and confirmed by the blogosphere.

I understand that you have no reason to take me seriously and that a 24 hours deadline for finding and correcting errors is harsh. Still think of it this way, your successors successor will have to get rid of errors within 24 minutes, so, from that point of view you have plenty of time.
What's Wrong with US Journalism ?

Glad to say no one was listening to me, but I gave them very very bad advice. Long ago, I thought to them "you can't please everyone but, at least, you can displease everyone." This ineveitably leads to the deadly error of thinking that they have gotten the slant about right if they are denounced with equal vigour from right and left.

Sad to say, it also lead to the deadlier error of saying that they used that rule. Journalists are in principle in favor of frankness and openness and think an honest debate leads us towards the truth. For some incomprehensible reason, they thought that there was no need to keep this honest discussion hidden from, Brent Bozell, Richard Mellon Scaife, Sun Myung Moon and Ruper Murdoch. Thus the right has learned that, so long as they shout about alleged liberal bias in the press, all they need is money to pull the debate ever rightward.

Many bloggers have explained this, and I am too smart to claim any originality and too lazy to look up many thousands of links.

I think there is another problem, which may have been noted only a few thousands of times. Editorial boards and op ed writers will not stoop to stealing candy from babies. Part of their aim is to show that they are smart and one can not do so by refuting an obviously false, depraved and/or idiotic argument. Thus they must avoid participating in the many heated debates in which all of the evidence supports one side, while the other can neither present a coherent argument nor hide their unmentionable motives.

No columnist with self respect will argue whether the weight of evidence supports the claim that the rapture is immenent or whether George Bush is Woodrow Wilson or whether we should nuke Teheran.

Unfortunately editorial page editors note that there are heated debates related to these questions, and conclude that their pages should contribute, if not directly, at least periferally. Thus they force their staff to find issues which have something to do with the question of whether George Bush will meet Woodrow Wilson in heaven when the rapture comes the day after he nukes Teheran.

Now I would be a bit nonplussed, but then I am not qualified to write editorials. People with more verbal ability and intellectual flexibility than me realise that they can satisfy the concerned editorial page editor by writing about the question of whether Democrats should get over their hostitility to religion or just communicate bettter their lack of hostility, whether foreign policy realists are attempting to challenge the alleged current Wilsonian consensus in Washington and whether we should just let Teheran build nukes.

The point is that when people on the US right show that they are determined to prove that they are insane idiotic and depraved, editorial page editors change the subject to find some debate between left and right, where people with brains and conciences can see merit on both sides. This makes it possible for people with plenty of intelligence and good intentions, but very little time to spare, to imagine that, if they studies issue more thoroughly, they might, in the end, reasonably decide to vote for a Republican.

Thus journalists mislead not because it is too hard to find the truth on controversial issue and explain it convincingly, but because it is too easy.
It's just too easy so it isn't done.
was reading the n'th article about why there are few women op-ed
columnists here

The article is really about abortion, but I went off on a tangent.

Why are there so few women op ed columnists ? well to present yourself
as an expert on everything you have to be arrogant and overconfident.
It is not possible that a successful columnist is arrogant and
overconfident it is necessary.

Now women have many virtues and abilities, but relatively few women
are over confident. This was proven experimentally in an article
published in the QJE. It is related to perceived excellence.

I think to be considered excellent one has to be arrogant,
overconfident, smart and lucky. Even if women are just as likely to
be smart and lucky as men, they are not going to reach the top as

See also
"My take on Al Gore and the presidency is that the 2000 election drove
him sane and cured him of the basic level of insanity necessary to
actually want to be president."

I agree but I think that insanity is also necessary for one to think
one can actually win and even to think that the chance is high enough
to justify the humiliation of campaigning and fund raising.
Speaking of Waking American Democracy from its Slumbers

The politically correct might denounce me thinking that I had committed the double plus un pc act of using American to refer to the USA forgetting that the Americas are two continents.

If I had done so I would have been particularly unforgivable as I have learned a correct genative form of USA "statunitense" which is a plain decent Italian word which the politically correct can use (in Italy) without being absurd. I aim to be politically correct and I am in Italy.

However, when I wrote of the awakening of Democracy in America, I thought of the awakening of Democracy in the Americas not of the awakening thatlarge American country in which I was born.

Now, in other American countries, Democracy is doing relatively well (relative to typical American history not necessarily compared to history statunitense). Still the extreme moderation of Lula da Silva has silenced and humiliated all of the many quarelling calls "hasta la revolucion sempre" whether the revolution in question is Gueveriana or Hayekian.

In the very homeland of Che, Revolution has recently received an unasked for blessing from Nestor Kirchner. I do not dare predict whether the amazing gift was received by the followers of Ernesto or of Friedrich, but the outrage must unite il pueblo and the rational utility maximizing agents.

Argentina remained Argentina when it is the model of globalization in the 19th century, when it is the only Latin American country determined to pay its debts, when Juan Peron seizes power, when the duly elected Juan Peron is overthrown in a coup, when the worlds most brilliant person (Jorge Luis Borges) mistakes depraved violent torturing murdering idiots for gentleman, when the radical civic union achieves a rate of hyperinflation not dreamed of by Peron, when the Peronist Arab Menem implments the program of Milton Friedman. But now Argentina must rise up or lose itself as the President has asked the people to eat less beef.

My imagination is limited. I have long learned that the fact that I cannot conceive of an eventuality is not strong evidence that it will not occur. I have learned this many times. One was the time that Michael Gorbachev demonstrated that he was both smart enough to become general secretary of the communist party of the Soviet Union and stupid enough to try to get Russians to stop drinking. How can this be ? He could not have reached the top without knowing who he could defeat and with whom he must find a compromise, yet he chose to set himself against Vodka itself. Those who the gods would make accidental architects of the astounding triumph of Democracy, they first drive mad.

Still I never dreamed that I would live to see both the days in which the general secrtary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union challenged Vodka and the day in which the President of Argentina challenged beef.

To quote Borges quoting Leibniz "We have witnessed the dawning of a new era. We should be thankful. History is not usually so generous"
What Are Elections Good For ? Which Elections do the most good ?

Well naturally the shocked reader thinks I have lost faith in Democracy. Most (2 out of 3 this aint the daily Kos) shake their heads (snorting at my pc ossity too) thinking "Democracy is better off without the dubious support of someone who abandons her after Bush's second election. The third (Arwen) understands that I live in Italy and have also endured to victories of the Cassa della Libertà, but is still appalled.

Some might hope to defend me noting that there is a big difference between elections and Democracy and that Saddam Hussein won many elections. Obviously these charitable saints would say (if one of that heavenly host would answer when I call out) he is just saying that fraudulent elections are worse than no elections.

But, oh over charitable angels, my answer to the second question is that the elections which do the most good are blatantly fraudulent elections. I mean it.

Think. For some reason people will suffer under dictatorship for decades but have recently risen again and again when the foolish dictator attempts to steal an election. Thus I think that this is the best news I have read in weeks.

I prefer not to make predictions and so I dare not predict that Belarus will fail to follow the path of the Ukraine of the Orange revolution, Giorgia and the rose revolution*, and Kirgizstan the Tulip revolution. Democracy offended again and again rising up only when the insult of a fake election is added to the injury of dictatorship.

Dare I hope that Putin will claim to have won 90% of the votes in the next election ?

Hell so long as I am dreaming I might as well dream that George Bush decides that, given the unique threat posed by a guy with a beard in a cave who is so evil and powerful that he makes Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin seem like feeble saints, the Commander in Chief Clause outweighs the 22nd amendment and then claims that only Katharine Harris is elegible to vote. Damn for all I know that would wake American Democracy from its slumbers.

* If he lived in Italy Dave Barry might ask if this is a good name for a rock band whose lead singer is a certain Italian pop star who doesn't seem willing to recognise that, while San Remo is San Remo, her career is over.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Long soft night up the spanish stairs
with apologies to Robert Zimmerman

The line in Rome sure means trouble
I can hear their sighs and pleas
almost think that I'm seeing double
That guy from Russia says he Japanese

Someday everything's gonna be different
when I see that masterpiece.

Clergyment in uniform and young girls pulling muscle
Everyone in line before me, when will I step inside

Takes three days if your early
better not ask if you're late
In the Japanese tour group that guy did hide
And he got right inside
after a long soft night up the Spanish stairs

Someday everything's gonna be different
when I see that masterpiece.

I left Rome and and headed for Florence
Bunch of Students on the Train
Omigod their speaking English
What their saying is quite inane

Line number one is somehow double
one for groups and one for me
The line jumpers' are wating for me
Right in front of botticelli's knees

At the Uffizi they are evil
I say uffa cause I hate waiting
Takes me an hour
to get up the stairs

Someday everything's gonna be different
when I see that masterpiece
Does MZM Corruption Kill ?

MZM is the defence contracting firm known to have corrupted a member of congress. MZM's criminal approach to obtaining business is well know by now. The Washington Post reports that MZM also committed fraud in order to obtain high profits. The facts in the article which should have a huge political impact are presented after the jump when the MZM projects are listed. It is clear that getting the tasks assigned to MZM done well was not the main aim of those who had the power to help MZM. So what did they decide was less important than getting bribes.

"Two days after the war in Iraq started, MZM won a $1.2 million contract to provide interpreters for "post conflict" work." So the ability of US soldiers in Iraq to communicate with Iraqis is less important than the Duke Stir (yacht). Also "The Pentagon called on MZM to help seek counters to roadside bombs in Iraq" so the effort to keep US soldiers from being blown up was not considered too important to isolate it from the effort of US officials to profit from their offices.

Gross corruption is political dynamite. An investigation of the quality of the performance of MZM under these contracts has the potential to be political TNT.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Platonic Dialogue

Socrates attempts a first lesson on philosophy with the amateur philosopher (TAP)

Disclaimer: TAP refers to me and has nothing to do with "The American Prospect" which is a wonderful outstanding institution which has no reason at all to sue me for either libel or slander whichever it is.

Socrates: What is philosophy ?

TAP: I don’t know.

Socrates: Well try to reason by elimination. Tell me something which isn’t philosophy.

TAP: my left foot isn’t philosophy.

Socrates: OK let me give you a hint, philosophy is a Scienza (valid form of intellectual inquiry).

TAP: So Philosophy is Scienza (valid intellectual inquiry) ?

Socrates: I told you to reason by elimination. Are Newton’s laws of motion philosophy ?

TAP: no they aren’t because they can be tested by an experiment.

In fact the experiment shows that the third law (f=ma) is false because it asserts that m is a constant which does not vary as we push an object and cause it’s velocity relative to us to change and we push and push and it doesn’t go as fast as light relative to us because as it’s relative velocity increases in magnitude it’s apparent mass to us increases approaching infinity as the magnitude of the relative velocity approaches c.

Socrates: Why are you writing so many words when a simple equation would do ?

TAP: I don’t know. Maybe that’s philosophy. I mean maybe philosophy is writing a bunch of words when a few simple formulas would do.

Socrates: No that is not philosophy. That is blogger. You get what you pay for and you paid zero and don’t get an equation editor.

TAP: So philosophy is scienza. Philosophy is not my left foot, science, or blogger. Am I making progress ?

Socrates: You really want to leave the questions to me. So Newton’s laws of motion are not philosophy because they have been proven false by an experiment. Once you get to a question which can be answered by observation or experiment you have finished doing the philosophy and moved on.

TAP: so getting to a question which you can answer by observation or experiment is philosophy.

Socrates: I told you to leave the questions to me.
Hemlock I can handle. Trying to converse with you is getting to be a challenge.
In a word no. That is not philosophy, that is scientific theory also known as the development of testable hypotheses. I know you have no clue as to how it is done, but I ask you again What is philosophy.

TAP: I’m trying.

Socrates: Very goog, that didn’t get us anywhere, but at least it wasn’t a question. So Newton also wrote things which aren’t false because they aren’t testable. Calculus is not a false hypothesis, because it is not a hypothesis. Is calculus philosophy ?

TAP: well no it is mathematics. I mean in mathematics you have axioms and stuff. In philosophy you don’t have axioms. In math you can prove things once you choose axioms. You can’t use mathematical techniques to answer questions without axioms and mathematical answers are statements about an axiom system and not about anything else.

Socrates: Well you aren’t too bright TAP but at least you understand something which I never managed to explain to that dumb jock Plato who hasn’t accomplished anything since the Olympics.
So philosophy is neither science nor math and is a valid form of inquiry not based on evidence or axioms. So is Jesus Christ your favorite philosopher.

TAP: No he’s a God I mean the one true God one of the three one true Gods.

Socrates thinks: “ after all hemlock actually has a nice taste, like parsnips, but maybe I better just let that stuff about 1=3 pass”

Socrates: OK so a philosopher God can’t exist. Why ?

TAP: Well a God can make things true. He doesn’t have to look for truth.

Socrates: And can God guide a philosopher ?

TAP: Well no. That would be a miracle. Philosophers don’t use evidence or axioms and they don’t have access to revealed truth.

Socrates: What if a belief about God guides you. Are you a philosopher ?

TAP: No that is religion. It is based on faith. Philosophy is not based on faith.

Socrates: So philosophy is valid reasoning not based on facts, axioms, miracles or faith. Now do you know what philosophy is ?

TAP: No now I’m not even sure philosophy is anything at all.

Socrates: Don’t panic. Just give me an example of philosophy. That will prove that it exists.

TAP: There is no such thing as philosophy. There is no valid reasoning which is not based on evidence axioms miracles or faith.

Socrates: Finally You got it.
Yes that statement is philosophy, and, in particular logical positivism.

You still don’t know what it is, but at least you have proven that it must exist. Your last statement is philosophy. If it is true then it is a truth which we have discovered without evidence, axioms, miracles or faith so philosophy exists and it is false. If it is false then philosophy exists. So philosophy exists and it is valid reasoning which is not science mathematics or religion.

Oh and by the way, don’t quit your day job.
A Case for Maximin and A Case for Utilitarianism

Each without veils.

Maximin says that when choosing between options for society we should only look at the lowest level of command over primary goods (think roughly money) that people have. It is like chosing based on what I would choose if I didn't know whose shoes I would fill (veil of ignorance) and I were infinitely risk averse.

One argument for maximin is that one chould choose as if etc.

Case for maximin roughly due to John Roemer.

1. Hobbes, Locke Rousseau etc argue that just institutions are institutions which could be (and maybe were) willingly created by free people who formed a social contract. The idea is that we are born free but choose to live according to societies rules because for each of us the advantages outweigh the costs so we are all free under laws that we freely accept.

2. David Hume says this is like a contract between a man who has been Shanghaied and is now on a boat out at see and the captain of the ship who gives the man his freedom back and asks if he prefers to obey or to try to swim to shore. Dave's got a point there.

3. So we do have to offer people passage home back to the state of nature. If a group of people say we want to opt out and start over, they have to be given that chance. A society is just only if there is no such group.

4. This means that just societies are not societies which would be chosen over all other possible societies by everyone under the veil of ignorance requiring us to understand choice under uncertainty. It means that they must be in the core, that is they can contain no blocking coalition with the passage home principle for blocking.
The jargon term "corps" is not useful for this presentation and is defined in use above.

5. The idea is that a society is just if there is no disgruntled subgroup of any size who would rather start over (just them not the contented ones).

6. So what does "all over again" mean ? Well at the least it means with the ability to make institutions constitutions etc if the group which wants out agrees. It also requires plenty of empty land as humanity had a short million years ago. I also think it requires the group to divide up time as well as land. That is they don't all have to be alive at the same time and they can say "look I don't like nature all that much I want to live in the 22nd century of the new and better society" so long as they can find people who are willing to live in the other 21st century and the new 1 million BCE. Finally and very importantly, I do not think we have a natural right to the fruits of our innate abilities if such abilities differ across people. That means the disgruntled can block a planned society if they want a new IQ so long as they can agree on a new IQ for each of them so that the distribution of IQ is the same as in the original society.

7. For a society with an infinite number of citizens this implies that a just society follows maximin. For a finite number of citizens, teeny tiny groups don't block. Oddly this is Rawls' view which is usually not mentioned in the simple maximin rule.

Case for utilitarianism (almost identical to an argument made by Peter Hammond).

This is horribly boring and definitely incomprehensible. I am trying to do math with plain text. It is definitely not worth the effort to read what follows. Still having typed it I will post it.

Don't read on. It isn't worth it. Don't say in comments that I didn't warn you or you are a double plus ungood spammer.

Here utilitarianims means we should act in order to maximize total happiness. It also means we should make choices as we would if we chose the way Von Neuman and Morgenstern consider rational and we chose under the veil of ignorance, that is we didn't know who we were going to be.

In fact the veil of ignorance is the argument John Harsanyi used when he claimed he had proven that utilitarinism was the be all and end all of ethics.

Peter Hammond made an argument (which does not seem to be downloadable although it seems to be cited here) based on linear algebra.

This is a similar argument.

I'm going to assume that we are choosing under uncertainty. There is a probability distribution of different outcomes. There are N people in the world (N is finite and they don't all have to be alive at the same time N is at least 30 billion and I hope a whole lot more). One aspect of outcomes is a level of happiness for each person.
Each person would make choices in order to maximize his or her expected happiness.
Alternatively, I can assume that if no one else were affected by the choice each person Should make choices in order to maximize his or her expected happiness. a unit of happiness is called a util.

It is just and right for society and every person in it to choose according to a rule such that

1. if everyone is indifferent between two choices they are equally good.
2. If everyone prefers one choice to another it is better.
3. everything is symmetric over people so the rule can be described without using any names. That is the social choice rule is fair, anonymous, a law before which everyone is equal.

Then the right thing to do is to act so as to maximize a positive constant times the sum of utils.

The proof goes like this. Assumptions 1 and 2 implies that the social choice rule is maximize the expected value of a linear function of the N vector of happiness of each of the N people.

Clearly given this result 2 and 3 imply that the function is the sum of utils.

How does it work ?

well all the Von Neuman and Morganstern assumptions apply to the social choice rule by an obvious application of assumptions 1 and 2, because they are all about indifferent or prefer and stuff so the social choice rule consists of maximizing the sum of the expected value of some function of the outcome. Call that outcome social welfare (it is a number).

Call the N vectors of how happy each person is in an outcome a happiness vector. Call the function of outcomes which gives how happy individual i is as a function of the outcome the individual i vector.

Consider all the possible N happiness vectors. Here possible does not mean conceivable. The probability density of reaching each possible N vector must be positive. This is what "possible" means in this post.

Choose one possible outcome. Call it the zero outcome. in the zero outcome person i has happiness happy0_i. subtract happy0_i from the happiness in each possible outcome. Subtract social welfare in the zero outcome from the social welfare function. Without loss of generality we have a society choosing what to do when one possible outcome is that everyone has happiness zero and social welfare is zero.(happiness and social welfare can both be positive or negative so the zero outcome is not necessarily the worst outcome).

There is a subset of M happiness vectors with M less than or equal to N so that every possible happiness vector is a linear combination of those M happiness vectors and the M vectors are linearly independent. That such a subset exists is a well known theorem.

Now consider social choice over outcomes in which only those M outcomes and the zero outcome are possible. The social welfare function is a linear combination of the individual i vectors. This is a well known result and can be proven by induction on M. Recall M is finite.

That is any function of those M outcomes is a linera combination of the individual i vectors because there must be M linearly independent i vectors since there are M linearly independent happiness vectors where only those M outcomes are possible.

Now every other happiness vector is a linear combination of the M happiness vectors. Consider any outcome call it outcome_1. the happiness vector of outcome 1 is a linear combination of the M happiness vectors. If social welfare of outcome 1 is not the same linear combination of social welfare in the M chosen outcomes, I can construct a violation of instruction 1.

Let's say social welfare_1 is greater. Consider probability distribution A over outcomes where each of the M outcomes occurs with probability greater than a positive number epsilon and both the zero outcome and outcome 1 occur with probability greater than epsilon times the absolute value of the sum of the coefficients in the linear combination and less than one minus the absolute value of that sum of coefficients . In probability distribution B each of the M outcomes is epsilon less likely and the probability of outcome 1 is increased by epsilon times the sum of the coefficients in the linear combination and the probability of the zero outcome is changed so that the sum of all probabilities is greater than 1. Given the choice of outcome A, outcome B is an ok probability distributions since there are no negative probabilities or probabilities greater than 1.

Given the definitions of probability distributions A and B, B is better than A even though everyone is indifferent between A and B. This violates assumption 1.

Similarly social welfare in state 1 can not be less than the linear combination of social welfare in the M states.

This is true for any state chosen to be state 1. This means that social welfare is a linar combination of individual happiness. Assumptions 2 and 3 imply that social welfare is a postive constant times the sum of utils.

Assumptions 1, 2 and 3 imply that crude vulgar add it up utilitarianism is the be all and end all of right and wrong.
Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong gang up on John Rawls.

They don't like maximin. John Rawls repudiated maximin in 1982 and Brad was there.
I don't know if John Rawls is a great moral philosopher but I do know that John Bound is a better one. Rawls was, however, much more eager to present his views to an audience as I recall.

Maximin is a principle for the just distribution of primary goods which aren't just like money but that's a helpful approximate translation into normal English.

In his book "A Theory of Justice" Rawls argued that a just society will make choices so as to maximize the amount of primary goods which the poorest people in the socieity have. In a sense it is the most extreme degree of egalitarianism consistent with basic liberal principles (although there may be a utilitarian for even more extreme egalitarianism).

I am not a big fan of maximin either. I do think it is important to note (as you do) that Rawls objected to Musgrave's making too big a deal of choice under the veil of ignorance.

IIRC the rephrased actually brief and clear explanation in his comment was as follows.

1. A just society is a society which could be formed by a social contract among equals (hence in the original position which is indeed under the veil)

2. No one better have crossed their fingers back in the original position. Semi seriously, a true contract must be made in good faith.

3. Good faith implies the intention to abide by the contract. Otherwise it is a fraud not a contract.

4. Intention to abide by the contract means intention to abide by it certainly with probability one always without exceptions. As Rawls put it the contract must be accepted without reservations, that is, each person under the veil must imagine what is expected of him or her under the contract and think "yes I could stand that. I could obey the contract even if it meant that I had to accept poverty." If someone thinks OK I will accept property rights and free markets sure. If I end up with so little income that I would starve ... well then I will steal. No go Rawls would say. People couldn't honestly agree to a contract as proposed by my good friend Robert (Nozick that is). To Rawls it is just as clear that the max the utils contract is no good.

John Bound asked John Rawls.

But wouldn't your condition on just social contracts be consistent with a contract in which there was some minimum amount of primary goods which must be guaranteed to everyone if it can be and that once it has been guaranteed we can distribute what's left in order to maximize the sum of utils.

John Rawls said yes.

He didn't think much of maximin either.

We were both in the room.

Note for people who aren't Brad DeLong.

John Bound had been assigned to lead a 90 minute discussion on Rawls. I have no doubt that he had thought of the argument against maximin which Rawls found convincing. I deduce this from some knowledge of him and his effort to lead the 90 minute discussion which IIRC consisted of the following.

John Bound said

"When I read "A Theory of Justice" in the '60s I thought that Rawls had proven his claims. Re reading it I didn't think he had."

yep that's it. Minor details like the argument about an unacceptable-poverty line and then utilitarianism if no one is in un-acceptable poverty were left out of his discussion, because, back then at least, John Bound didn't know how thoroughly he has to explain things to make them clear.
Some Simple Verbal Formulas

Anglicize squared = Englishify

Paradigm squared = an illustration in a textbook

(Thomas Kuhn translated into plain algebra)

Paradigm cubed = Feynman diagram of two electrons repelling each other by exchanging a photon

no sorry that's a paradigm to the fourth at least.

Priveliggiare anglicized = to priviledge

Priveliggiare englishified = to priviledge agnlicized = to favor

valure anglicized = values or valuables

valore englishified = valuables

values aglizised do not = valuables

Damn doesn't work.

Maybe the paradigm one is OK. That is a whole different discorso.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

It depends on what the definition of dissenters is.

Atrios notes and interesting exchange here.

I had the impression that New York Times journalist Michael Gordon lied blatantly. Re-reading I realise that this view depends on the definition of dissenter. In context it clearly does not refer to anyone who disagrees but rather an expert or official who disagrees. Gordon insists that it can only be interpreted as an expert or official who disagrees and is affiliated with the US government (even though it can't refer only to US public employees).

My interest in this tiny aspect of the interveiw is clearly pathological. The whole post at democracynow is worth reading. Anyway, indulging myself I edit, comment in <> and add emphasis by bolding and with asterisks to show why I am outraged at Gordon (who was clearly being questioned harshly and admirably agreed to be interviewed at a little known harshly critical organisation).

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about some of the mistakes, and I wanted to go now to some of the reporting by the media, which was certainly part and parcel of the whole lead-up to the invasion, and I wanted to go to Michael Gordon and ask you about that September 8 piece that you wrote with Judith Miller, the article that was on the front page of the New York Times, that was cited by Dick Cheney, when he went on "Meet The Press," where you wrote from the beginning -- you said, “More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administrations officials said today. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. [snip]


AMY GOODMAN: Let me just ask something on that. Are you sorry you did the piece? Are you sorry that this piece --

MICHAEL GORDON: No, I'm not. I mean, what – I don't know if you understand how journalism works, but the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can, but then you don't stop reporting.

[a long back and forth which does not get more amicable after Gordon told Goodman that she doesn't know how journalism works removed here].

MICHAEL GORDON: Okay. I'm the person that wrote the IAEA story when they challenged it. I'm the person that suggested the New York Times cover it. I wrote it twice. The second time I wrote it with a reporter named Jim Risen [snip]

Had I had perfect information, and had I had -- many of these experts who have now, after the war, like Joe Wilson, decided to share their reservations with us. Had they shared all of this with *us* at the time, I would have happily put in more caveats and dissenting views, but the dissenters were not dissenting to the New York Times at the time. But as soon as the IAEA went public with its assessment, I covered it, [snip]

AMY GOODMAN: The dissenters themselves disagree, and they say they did contact the New York Times. For example --

MICHAEL GORDON: No, I’m sorry, that’s not true.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me make my point, and then you can answer it.


AMY GOODMAN: For example, David Albright, who is the U.N. weapons inspector, and I am quoting from Michael Massing's letter to the editor, responding to your objection to his piece in the New York Review of Books. Albright writing that the Times’ September 13 story, which you also co-authored with Judith Miller, was heavily slanted to the C.I.A.'s position, and the views of the other side were trivialized. Albright says – and this is the man who contacted the Times. Let me just quote for our audience, this is Albright saying, “An administration official was quoted as saying that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessment. These inaccuracies made their way into the story, despite several discussions that I had with Miller on the day before the story appeared, some well into the night. In the end, nobody was quoted questioning the C.I.A.'s position, as I would have expected. He says.

MICHAEL GORDON: Are you going to let me talk now?

AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to that, please.

MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah. You're not well-informed on this issue, because – I don't have any, you know, criticism of you as an individual, but you're not very well informed on this, because if you were well-informed on this – I'm friends with David Albright. I think David Albright's an upstanding person who is doing very good work. I'm actually not Judy Miller, so I'm not the person he had the conversation with, but David certainly took the view early on, and he deserves a lot of credit for this, that the aluminum tubes were not intended for nuclear purposes. That's absolutely true, and as a person outside government, he did that analysis.

However, and this is a very important point for you and your viewers to keep in mind, David Albright, at the very same time he made this analysis, believed Iraq was probably pursuing nuclear weapons [snip]

AMY GOODMAN: But the tubes were key, [snip]

OK now Gordon is being criticized but he responded by attacking Goodman claiming that her assertions were false and that she is ignorant. the challenged assertion by Goodman assertion is clearly true as stated. She is in no way obliged to accept let alone anticipate the claim that an IAEA inspector is not one of "these experts who have now, after the war, like Joe Wilson." David Albright is more expert than Wilson, like Wilson he is not employed by the US government. The fact that he is outside of government is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Gordon and Miller should have quoted him in an article on Alumininum tubes and Iraq. Finally Gordon objects to interpreting the word "we" to refer to "the two authors of the article including Miller" as opposed to interpriting it correctly as referring to the royal Gordon.

The qualification of experts as experts "who have now, after the war, like Joe Wilson, decided to share their reservations with us." makes the statement a non lie. It could be argued that such experts must have been asked to study the question by the US government or that the claim is tautalogical because "after the war" is to be interpreted as "after but not before the war". The claim could be deliberately misleading.

The fact is that in addition to being very rude Gordon attempted to defend the article using a deliberately deceptive argument or a lie, then when called on the deception blamed his interviewer for discussing the article and its authors and not just his role in it.
"Prodi says Confindustria should be respected more (the association of big firms). He is aiming for the endorsement of confindustria (which would be amazing and is just possible)."

Robert Waldmann March 14th.

"Prodi Convince gli industriali"


"Incassa gli applausi dalla platea dei cinqumilla di Vicenza e la "benedizione" del presidente Montezemolo che, pur predicando indipendenza dai poli si è detto "soddisfatto" del'intervento. In serata la colpa di scena. Berlusconi anulla il suo intervento di oggi al convengo di confindustria. "A causa di una lobmosciatolgia" fa sapere Palazzo Chigi "

La Repubblica 18 march 2006

I copied this from the print edition starting with the banner headline. The version on the web has been toned down.

Word for word translation

Prodi Convinces the Managers of Large Firms

He obtains the applause from the audience of 5000 in Vicenza and the "benediction*" of the President Montezemolo who, while preaching independence from the poles said he was satisfied by the speech. In the evening the plot twist. Berlusconi cancels his speech for today at the convention. "Due to pain in the lombar spine and the sciatic nerve" palazzo Chigi makes known**."

In English with explanations of the obscure synonyms used, because, in La Repubblica Italian, it is absolutely not allowed to use the same word twice to refer to the same thing.

Prodi convinces the audience at the convention of Confindustria (the association of large Italian firms)

Prodi obtained the applause from the audience at the convention of Confindustria and the "blessing"* of Confindustria's president Montezemolo who, while advocating independence from the two main political coalitions said he was satisfied by the public interview. In the evening there was a surprise. Berlusconi cancelled his appearance scheduled for today. His office claimed the issue was a "pain in the ass."

* Italian newspapers use scare quotes in news stories. The quotation marks do not in any way imply that anyone is actually being quoted.

** In Italian it is possible "sapere" (usually misstranslated as to know) something which is not true if one strongly believes it with good reason (so "sapere" means to know or, at least, strongly believe with good reason). Thus it is possible to make something known even if it is not true if the claim is a convincing lie (not this case) or from an official source which La Repubblica loathes and detests like loosing their jobs but about which maintains a feeble pretence of objectivity, because that's what the Washington Post does and they watched "All the President's Men" when they were kids.

An Official endorsement is unlikely, but they are winking with 5,000 eyes and nudging with 10,000 shoulders (actually maybe 10,000 eyes if they wink first with the right one and then with the left one to show that their endorsement of Prodi is not a sign of partisanship).

Actually, I was going to brag about my foresight, but reading what I typed on Tuesday, I realise that I just showed my naivité, since any Italian who paid attention would know that Prodi and Montezemola had already agreed on how much Prodi would praise Confindustria and how much Montezemola would praise Prodi.