November 29, 2003

Anarchy? Kosmos? Commonwealth?

Posted by shonk at 11:26 AM in Blogging | permalink | comment

Jonathan Wilde at Catallarchy makes a strong case for the blogosphere being a kosmos:

Last week I wrote about how the blogosphere is a free market anarchy - a system without any top-down command authority, where property rights are fully secured, coercion is nowhere to be found, and all relations are voluntary. At first blush, if you did not know I was taking about the blogosphere, a picture of an entropic free-for-all would have likely entired your mind upon reading everything after the hyphen in the previous sentence. No leader? Pandemonium! No design? Chaos! No control? Bedlam!

Yet, the as any denizen of the blogosphere knows, it is not chaotic. Why not?

The answer given by Wilde is that individuals like James Sifry and their inventions, like Technorati, Blogrolling, Trackback, RSS and many others give the blogosphere a structure. As Wilde says,

Each of these implementations [Technorati, Blogrolling, Trackback, etc.] were created by different individuals, such as Sifry, pursuing their own ends. There was no central authority barking out orders or making grand designs. The inception of a solid anatomy to the blogosphere was an entirely peripheral phenomenon.
Now, I like Wilde's analysis, but I think he makes a much stronger case for the blogosphere being a kosmos than a free-market anarchy. After all, no matter how much some people seem to live their whole lives in the blogosphere, nobody really lives there and the potential for causing damages is relatively minimal. You can't shoot someone through their blog.

However, this is by no means an attempt to discredit the importance of the blogosphere (and other online phenomena) as a counter-example to institutional or authoritarian thinking. Again to quote Wilde:

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in convincing authoritarians about the benefits of a free society is their inability to accept the fact that order can can be an emergent property of individual action. For them, all facets of life have to have some sort of grand blueprint implemented by expert soverigns. The cannot conceive of the economy, culture, infrastructure, morality, or society itself as a bottom-up result of billions of autonomous individual actions. Yet, the blogosphere is a vivid example of how wrong they are.
This notion of emergent order is one that is receiving more academic attention of late, hopefully to the detriment of those who think order can only come from dictates from on high or "democratic" legislation.

That all having been said, I think Politburo Diktat's map of the Commonwealth of Blogosphere is excellent.

November 27, 2003

bureaucratic ban on costly capitalization

Posted by shonk at 11:07 PM in What the Fuck? | permalink | comment

I'm in the mountains, looking forward to skiing tomorrow, and unhappy with the dial-up-only internet access around here. So all I have for you is a brief mention of the Swedish bureaucrat who banned uppercase; the perfect plan for making government documents look like AIM chat transcripts.

Check out...

Posted by shonk at 02:07 AM in Ramblings | permalink | 1 comment

-Tuesday Morning Quarterback's debut, because we may look back on this as the column in which TMQ officially jumped the shark.'s definition of "shonk", even though it's not very accurate, if you ask me.

-elgooG, the Google mirror, because, as Flip Phillips says, it is strange and wonderful.

-My playground for the next three days.

November 26, 2003

Handing out cheap coke

Posted by Curt at 08:26 PM in Science | permalink | comment

Has anyone heard about this phenomenon of prescribing Ritalin and other ADD treatments to adults? I can't seem to link to the WSJ article where I read about it, but this article validates my initial reaction: "Oh, so now they're handing out cheap coke." I know not everyone is a great Nietzsche enthusiast like me, but it's getting increasingly difficult to contest his vision in the "Genealogy of Morals" of the whole world becoming a hospital or a madhouse where the sick patients treat each other.

Spam Me? Oh, Spam YOU!

Posted by shonk at 02:09 AM in Geek Talk | permalink | comment

By now, I'm sure most of you have heard of the "spam rage" incident in which a guy threatened to kill and/or torture people working at a company that was sending him spam. Naturally, a lot of people have mixed feelings about this; although the ice pick and anthrax threats were a bit over the top, many identify with the guy's anger (this Samizdata post and associated comments provide a good example).

Those who think the solution to every problem is another law will be gratified to know that Congress just approved an anti-spam bill. One has to imagine, given that such proposals had been languishing for six years, that the "spam rage" incident may have had some impact on the bill's passage.

Of course, I'm highly cynical of anti-spam legislation for several reasons. First, because any time any form is speech is regulated, it makes me nervous. Though I find panhandlers, street-corner preachers and billboards annoying, I don't think they're doing anything fundamentally wrong and I'm not convinced spam is fundamentally different from a billboard or a request for spare change. The only major difference, as I see it, is that spam manifests itself onto my property (my computer), whereas panhandlers and billboards don't come inside my apartment. This is certainly an important difference, but at the same time I don't think inboxes can or should be guarded from intruders in the same way that one's residence is.

That, of course, is a debatable point, but what's not debatable is that this new law, once it's signed into law by GW in December, will not end or even seriously curtail spam. I mean, the DMCA's been around for a while and, last I checked, Kazaa wasn't going anywhere (or, if it is, it's because of competition from iTunes and Napster, not due to the DMCA). Instead, the solution to spam can only come from people changing the way they read e-mail in a way that makes spamming more costly than it is remunerative.

This is a point made recently over at Catallarchy, wherein one proposed method of making spam more expensive (literally) is that of David Friedman: each person would set a (probably small) price that people not on their "white list" would have to pay to send them e-mail. In other words, digital postage. The virtue of this approach is that, if accepted broadly, even very tiny per e-mail "postage" charges would make spamming unprofitable, while not greatly affecting the average e-mailer.

Another solution is that of Bayesian filtering which, despite the awkward name, is basically an algorithm which scans each incoming message and, based on a statistical analysis or its contents, decides whether it is spam or legitimate e-mail. The nice thing about Bayesian filtering is that it's completely personalized; its analysis is entirely based upon each person's identification of what is spam and what isn't. For example, I've never once received a legitimate e-mail containing the word "mortgage", so my Bayesian filter would key on that word in any incoming e-mail and (almost assuredly correctly) identify the e-mail as spam, whereas a realtor's filter would probably be inclined to accept e-mails containing the word "mortgage" (though it would likely still be able to differentiate the wheat from the chaff based on other clues). The disadvantage to this approach is that it requires a bit of time on the front end, but, as pointed out in the above-linked article, it is remarkably effective and can make producing spam that actually gets seen quite difficult.

There are, of course, other spam-killing schemes out there, but these two are the ones most appealing to my sensibilities. The first requires more of a global approach, as it would only be effective if broadly used, whereas the second can be effective for you even if nobody else adopts it. Either, though, has much higher potential, in my view, than legislation of making spam, if not a thing of the past, at least no more annoying than third-class mail.

Of course, the death of spam would dry up the source material of the surprisingly entertaining impromptu art of spam-baiting. Art, as they say, is the sister of misery.

November 25, 2003

Is Blogging Dying?

Posted by shonk at 02:04 AM in Blogging | permalink | comment

John Dvorak thinks so. However, I tend to agree with Steve Gillmor's rebuttal, with the additional comment that blogs like InstaPundit, Doc Searls and Crooked Timber are changing the way we read and think. As are many of the less well-known, more specialized blogs like Samizdata and Football Outsiders.

On an unrelated note, for those that didn't notice back in May, an accountant from Tennessee won the World Series of Poker, worth $2.5 million, after qualifying by winning an online tournament with an entry fee of $40.

And now, you too can get fucked by religion (or, at least, religious icons). Let the Catholic schoolgirl jokes commence.

November 24, 2003

Important Questions

Posted by shonk at 02:35 AM in Politics | permalink | comment

General Franks thinks another major terrorist attack would result in martial law. Are these the honest misgivings of a military realist or a trial-balloon floated with the intent of softening up the public for the next power-grab? And is it a coincidence that the timing coincides pretty precisely with the rise of a new, quasi-"private" TIA? (thanks to Flip Phillips for the assist)

Weird Sex and Marriage.

Posted by shonk at 02:25 AM in Sex | permalink | comment

In the wake of Michael Jackson's latest run-in with the law, I'm sure many people have discovered this gallery of horrors which I ran across a couple of years ago. We all know that Mike's appearance has changed drastically for the worse in the last decade or so, but seeing this line-up of pictures really drives the point home that the dude is fucked up in the head.

If you're looking for marginally less disturbing imagery, you might want to check out this calendar, sold by the Kansas Anarchists. Their cover girl doesn't do much for me, but I can appreciate the irony of infoshop-type anarchists selling naked pictures for profit.

Since I'm on the topic of unusual sex (Michael Jackson and naked anarchists), I might as well mention briefly what has to be one of the oddest sexual disorders I've ever heard of. My only question is this: What is it about having 200 orgasms a day that's a bad thing? I'm not being sarcastic, since I can think of several possibilities, but I'm wondering which is the worst. Is it that orgasms become monotonous, so sex isn't exciting? The nervous tension of constantly being on the brink? Or it just too exhausting? I was, of course, amused by this:

American sufferer Jean Lund, 51, told The Sun that when she told her gynaecologist he said: "You're every man's dream."

Speaking of every man's dream, how about teenage girl-on-girl action? No, that's not a porn link, but rather a link to a news story about a high school girl who decided the best way to protest harassment of homosexuals by jumping on a cafeteria table, shouting "End homophobia now!" and kissing a female friend. I mean, talk about putting the cart before the horse. Protesting harassment of a group of people by manifesting one of the most hurtful stereotypes about that group (in this case, the idea that homosexuals are more libidinous than heterosexuals). I understand the value of shock, but you're not helping gays by stereotyping them as the sorts of rude people that interrupt other people's meals with their public displays of affection. And yes, I know it's not fair to pick on naïve, innocent high school girls, but if Maddox can pick on pre-schoolers, I think it's only fair that I point out legitimate flaws in the sort of brain-dead "statement" protests that today pass for progressive activism.

As for gay activism, David Brooks makes an interesting case for why conservatives should support legalized gay marriage:

The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.
This comes on the heels of an argument that marriage is a sort of sacred glue, whereby people can escape from the "path of contingency" to the "path of fidelity". Brooks decries the fact that this opportunity to discard contingency (relativism?) in favor of morality is only open to heterosexuals:
Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a "partner," a word that reeks of contingency.
That's all well and good, but as John T. Kennedy and Lynette Warren point out, it's institutional thinking:
If marriage is truly a sacred bond, as Brooks claims then what power can the state have over it? Why would you go to the state for the sacred? Why not simply marry your beloved and introduce him as your husband, the state be damned? Or else recognize that you are an Institutional Man. (my bolding was italicized in the original)
The lack of legally recognized marriage didn't stop this woman and it shouldn't stop anyone else.

This is actually something that I've given a fair amount of thought to. Traditionally, marriage has been almost entirely considered from institutional paradigms, be they religious or statist, but neither of these paradigms seems particularly relevant to me. I won't discuss the religious angle, but, as for the other, the simple question is this: "What business is it of the state who I marry?" Is there any good reason why I should have to get the state's permission to marry someone? Again, to quote Kennedy and Warren:

The Sovereign Individual argues instead, that one must simply evict the state from one's own marriage. Your marriage is not properly a matter of public debate so don't treat it as one. Take and keep private what ought to be private. And all of your life is your private affair.

Leave the institution of marriage to the Institutional Man.

Now, I recognize the fact that, within the current context, there are practical reasons for obtaining a legally-sanctioned marriage. Two acquaintances of mine who think along the same lines as I do who had been together for years got legally married because doing so improved their college financial aid packages considerably. Similarly, in the case of couples with different nationalities, getting married might help considerably in maneuvering the bureaucratic hellhole of immigration restrictions. So I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for obtaining a legal marriage, but most of the ones I can think of, like the ones listed above, are relevant only to a relatively small number of people. From my perspective, at least, in most cases the costs of making your private life public are greater than the benefits of obtaining that institutional stamp of approval.

There is, of course, one objection that I haven't addressed yet. That is, of course, the contractual nature of marriage. Institutional marriage serves as a sort of standardized default for solving any number of issues that arise from failed marriages. However, even aside from the fact that this default standard is seriously flawed, especially as regards child custody and asset distribution, the fact of the matter is that smart people get pre-nups. The advantage to this (one still available to people not legally married) is that the expectations and ramifications associated with the marriage are explicitly considered ahead of time and personalized to each unique situation, rather than implicitly trusted (should anything go wrong) to a generic, homogeneous, impersonal legal boilerplate. I think the relevant 90's buzzword is "empowering".

November 23, 2003

You lookin' for me?

Posted by shonk at 03:15 PM in Blogging | permalink | comment

For the last 3 weeks, I've been keeping track of search-engine referrals to this site. In keeping with the most clichéd of blog clichés, here's a list of what people have been looking for when they ended up here.


-guinness commercial brilliant

-car novelty kid pissing decal

-gay "larry ellison "

-"Divide and Scamper"

-"francesco maurolico" demorgan

-nba numerical analysis gambling

-critque of austrian economics


-shockey girlfriend cuban model

-rachel boim freedom

-Kafka's worldview

-philadelphia mayorial election results

-"End of the World Animation" x2

-movie waves teacher high school hitler

Google (Bulgarian language version):


Google France:

-paul samahvalov

Google India:

-shonk technologies


-Banal industrial wastes

-"end-of-the-world animation" x2

-glorify black quarterbacks

-anecdote story on Maurice Clarett

-modern people likened to mythology

-Maurolico and induction

-Rachel Boim


-structure selling conversation


-"un chien andalou"

My favorites by far are "movie waves teacher high school hitler" and "Banal industrial wastes". I have no idea what those people were looking for, but I hope they found it.

November 22, 2003

Feeling Stupid

Posted by shonk at 04:18 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

Pearls of wisdom from the professoriat:

In research, 90% of the time you're being stupid, 2% of the time you're being smart, and the other 8% of the time you're wondering how you could be so stupid 90% of the time.
In other words, if you're confused, don't be alarmed. It's normal.

Of course, blogging isn't exactly cutting-edge research, but I've still been feeling stupid a lot lately. Nothing has really caught my writing fancy in the last couple of days and even when I do try to write, I feel like the kid being criticized in the top-right panel. Lots of text deleted from the "New Entry" box this week. Hopefully going home for Thanksgiving (and skiing!) will rejuvenate my spirits.

November 19, 2003

Radio Free Philly

Posted by shonk at 12:28 PM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

Just heard on the radio, a humorous rant on beer commercials:

What's with these beer companies? Trying to convince us that all the people that drink their beer are young and beautiful. They're all 25, the women are hot, the guys are in shape. They're all at some resort in the mountains are in the Caribbean.

Well I know a thing or two about the young people they're trying to portray...they're all drinking water and taking ecstasy. I mean, who are we kidding? It's middle-aged guys like you and me that are drinking beer. The kids are at a warehouse in the middle of somewhere in the middle of the night.

I almost said "Brilliant!" but then remembered that stupid Guinness commercial. Dammit!

If you're taking ecstasy, beware of JTK.

More Geek Talk

Posted by shonk at 02:19 AM in Geek Talk | permalink | comment

Petya says "geeks rock! more geeks!", so I'm obliging (and using the opportunity to dredge my Geek Talk post up from the archives).

First off, I'm somewhat amused by the etymology of the term:

Geek is actually a very old word. It is a variant of geck, a term of Low German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means a fool, simpleton, or dupe.
Later, in 19th century American usage, the connotation of offensive and undesirable is added and then, in 1928, it starts being used to describe "a sideshow performer who bites the heads off chickens or snakes." How "geek" came to mean what it does today, I have no idea (man I miss having free access to the OED).

If you're looking to broadcast your geekdom to the world, you definitely need to start adding Geek Code to your e-mail signature. Of course, if you ever e-mail non-geeks, you might want to only use that sig selectively. The first time I saw a geek code block on someone's message board signature, I was mightily confused. And then immediately started trying to decrypt it instead of just googling. Which probably says something about me.

If your decryption skills aren't up to snuff, you can, of course, cheat.

As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much geekier than this: Today, a friend of mine referred to this Strong Bad song as a "canonical techno song". Without planning to.

Right now, I just know you're saying "huh?" You have to understand, "canonical" is a word very near and dear to the mathematician's heart. It is simultaneously very specific and very general and, as one professor said in lecture earlier this year: "There's no good definition for 'canonical'. You can't be taught how to use the term. But does have a very concrete meaning and once you've been around mathematics enough, it's easy to tell what is canonical and what isn't." Somehow, I don't think he was talking about techno songs.

Of course, it gets really scary when you start using terms like "isomorphic" in everyday speech. And yes, I've heard it done.

November 18, 2003

Eros ex Mathematica

Posted by shonk at 01:45 AM in Sex | permalink | comment

Someone (doubtless a grad student with way too much time on his hands) has seen fit to generate these vaguely erotic algorithmic images. And, as if we needed anymore proof of the geekiness of the blogosphere, the link is making the rounds like a transvestite hooker with a crack problem.

What I find amusing is this disclaimer:

The images in this room are created entirely from mathematical algorithms. If you find them offensive in any way, all I can say is that beauty (or obscenity) is in this case most certainly in the eye of the beholder.
First off, who would find this stuff offensive? I mean, sure, it all looks vaguely like stylized genitalia, but no moreso than, say, your average Georgia O'Keefe painting. More seriously, I take issue with the assurance that these images were generated "entirely from mathematical algorithms". Not that I want to argue that they weren't, but rather to ask: what digital images aren't? That is to say, if I had a scrap of artistic ability and decided to make images of breasts, vaginas and penises in Illustrator, I would really, at the fundamental level, be inputting mathematical algorithms and instructing the computer use them to generate the desired images. After all, the algorithms used to generate the linked images didn't pop out of thin air: some person had to think up the algorithms, instruct the computer to use those algorithms to generate an image, manipulate the algorithm to produce flesh tones, etc. The point is, this gallery is different from Illustrator porn not in the underlying concept, but only in the degree of abstraction.

Does that mean art is mathematics? Or that mathematics is art? Well, probably both. But that's another discussion.

November 17, 2003

Success in Iraq?

Posted by shonk at 02:29 AM in War | permalink | comment

In the last few days, there have been rumblings that Bush & Co. want to speed up the process of transferring power in Iraq. Now, cynic that I am, I wonder just how complete such a handover would be, but that lies a bit aside from my main point in this post. What I want to explore is, given U.S. forces are currently occupying Iraq and can't stay there forever, what constitutes success in Iraq? And, once that's decided, what's the best way to go about leaving?

Dwelling on the second question first, I'm quite partial to J.P. Zmirak's Divide and Scamper plan, though it hasn't got a chance in hell of actually happening. Specifically,

If we want to leave behind a peaceful, humane government, the best way to do that would be to parcel out the country’s territory along the rough ethnic lines that make it logically not one nation, but three.
Now, this is something I was discussing back in July (no, not online) and I'm sure smarter people were mentioning it even earlier. As Zmirak points out, the concept of "Iraq" was created by British cartographers after World War I and "[t]here’s no more reason to insist on a single Iraq than there is to fight for a unified Bosnia." The best (well, only) argument I've heard for maintaining a single Iraq rather than splitting it up into three pieces derives from a desire to maintain "Iraq's national sovereignty". Which is pretty ironic given that the need for this discussion is a product of the destruction of that national sovereignty. In fact, one could convincingly argue that the artificial nature of Iraq's nationhood was a contributing factor in the fundamental problems that led to its being invaded in the first place, so what good reason is there to maintain this artificial construct?

Zmirak also addresses the idea that withdrawing from Iraq would mean accepting defeat. As he says:

If the U.S. walks away from Iraq, and kicks the Mesopotamian dust from its boots, some parts of the world will sneer at us for weakness—then forget the whole thing, as they forgot our retreat from Lebanon, Somalia, and Vietnam. They’ll remember that we possess the world’s only first-class military, with enough nuclear weapons to incinerate all life on earth. We might just squeak by without that extra airbase in Basra.

Besides, in a real sense, we will still have won. A nation which we’d proclaimed our enemy would lie divided, helpless, and under new regimes, its former leaders deposed and its weapons scattered. Only American ideologues could make of that result a defeat—and only because they have become what they hate, proponents of an eternal "jihad" against non-Western, non-secular regimes, which can only end when the enemy is not only defeated but converted, incorporated into the "Dar-Al-Disney." They must learn to love Uncle Sam. (emphasis added)

To put this into economic terms, the investment in the Iraq invasion is a sunk cost and sunk costs, as any economist would tell you, should have no impact on your decision-making. Obviously, that's an oversimplification, but the point remains the same: no matter how much time/money/effort you've invested in something, you can't let the sentimentality associated with that investment cloud your judgment.

Given that Zmirak is advocating walking away from Iraq ASAP, we come back to the first question (slightly reformulated). As Diana Moon puts it: "What constitutes an objective standard of success or failure in Iraq?" Jim Henley's answer is, perhaps, the best I've heard. Basically, he argues that we could consider the war as having positive results (as differentiated from being wise), when the PATRIOT Act is sunsetted, executive discretion in naming enemy combatants is limited and other civil liberties stop being threatened.

This seemingly has nothing to do with Iraq, but in fact it has everything to do with Iraq. After all, the primary justification for the war was supposed to be that eliminating Saddam would make America safer from terror. As Henley says:

The neolibertarians, most famously Glenn Reynolds, but others too, justified their support for war by saying that we needed to aggressively pursue the enemy (by whatever definition) abroad to avoid panic-induced repression at home. They have spent far more energy the last two years advocating the administration's wars than fighting the administration's internal-security measures. For the war to be a success on their own terms, we need to see a loosening of the controls already in place. ...

When all of the above changes for the better, the libertarian-minded hawks will have at least prima facie justification to claim success.

Unless someone can give me a good argument why Henley is wrong, I will consider the war a success (and might even stop bad-mouthing it, but no promises) if domestic civil-liberties restrictions are loosened to levels noticeably lower than existed prior to March, 2003. Needless to say, I'm not terribly optimistic, but then, I was raised cynical.

(And yes, this post is mostly a rehash of two different posts from the No War Blog. Sue me)

November 16, 2003

The New Twenty

Posted by shonk at 03:30 AM in Economics | permalink | 1 comment

Today, for the first time, I saw one of the new twenty-dollar bills that have been so heavily advertised. I have to admit, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Though the bluish eagle in the background was a bit of a surprise, the bill still looks remarkably similar to the old ones, despite all the hue-and-cry about the "radical" new design.

As for security features, here are the ones I've noticed:

-The blue background eagle

-The blue "Twenty USA USA Twenty" script behind the Treasury Department Seal

-The Watermark

-The color-shifting ink on the "20" on the bottom right

-The color-shifted silver eagle crest directly to the right of Jackson's shoulder

-The micro-printed "The United States of America 20 USA 20 USA" between the bottom-left "20" and Jackson's shoulder

-Higher relief in the serial number pressings

-The concentric hexagons in the background of the green-shaded areas

-The now-familiar security strip

-The oft-repeated malarial-yellow "20" to the right and left of the White House on the back

-The diamond-shaped lattice pattern in the bottom-right "20" on the back

-The green and red "threads" throughout

-Two textured, grooved patches on the bottom center of the back

I'm not actually sure if this last is an intentional security feature or just an accident, but these grooved patches appear on both of the bills in my possesion, so I'm assuming they are.

Long as this list is, I'm not sure how much these features (some new, some old) will do to discourage counterfeiting. How closely do store clerks really look at bills, anyway? I've never seen one looking for the watermark or security thread, though they've been on twenties for years, so I don't imagine that is likely to change (though it could be reasonably argued that, were a major counterfeiting scare to hit, people would start looking for these things). As Dennis Forgue says:

Everything they've done before has been superseded by better counterfeiters. With the effectiveness of computer-generated images these days, they can make some pretty nice counterfeits pretty quickly.
And that's likely to be more than good enough in the vast majority of cases.

Another objection is the following: sure the new features look impressive when they're on a brand-new bill, but how noticeable will they be on a faded, year-old bill? It seems to me the true test of effectiveness for stopping counterfeiters comes with age, as smart counterfeiters surely realize that, economies of scale (and withholding) being what they are, their best bet is not in trying to pass inferior new-looking bills, but in passing faded and nondescript-looking phonies. There's some literal truth to the term "laundering money".

Of course, one really has to wonder if the threat of counterfeiting is really significant enough to justify what was presumably a multi-million-dollar development process (and the $32 million price tag on the advertising campaign). Based on the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing's own figures, "the level of counterfeit notes in circulation worldwide [is] between 0.01 and 0.02 percent, or about 1-2 notes in every 10,000 genuine notes."

Balanced as I'm trying to be in all of this, I can't help but laugh at amount of effort being extended in the ironic attempt to prevent the counterfeiting of an already counterfeit currency (that's fiat currency to you economists). But, then, I'm cynical like that.

Conspiracy-theorists will be pleased to note that you can do the same folding trick on the new twenty as on the old to see supposed images of the Pentagon and the WTC going up in flames. Clearly a sign of...something.

Baroque Quantum Mechanics

Posted by shonk at 02:24 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment
If with the eye of Argus I could penetrate the polygons of this coral and the filaments that spread inside it, and inside each filament that which makes up the filament, I could go seeking the atom unto infinity. But an atom divisible to infinity, producing parts ever smaller and every more divisible, would lead me to a moment where matter would be nothing but infinite divisibility, and all its hardness and its fullness would be sustained by this simple balancing among voids. Matter, rather than feeling a horror of the Void, would then worship it, and would be composed of it, would be void-in-itself, absolute vacuity. Absolute vacuity would be at the very heart of the unthinkable geometrical point, and this point would be only the island of Utopia we dream of, in an ocean made always and only of water.

Hypothesizing a material extension made of atoms, then, we arrive at having no atoms. What remains? Vortices. Except that the vortices would not pull the suns and planets, true matter that feels the influence of their wind, because the suns and planets would themselves be vortices, drawing minor vortices into their spiral. Then the maximum vortex, which makes the galaxies spin, would have in its center other vortices, and these would be vortices of vortices, whirlpools made of other whirlpools, and the abyss of the great whirlpool of whirlpools would sink into the infinite, supported by Nothingness.

And we, inhabitants of the great coral of the Cosmos, believe the atom (which still we cannot see) to be full matter, whereas it too, like everything else, is but an embroidery of voids in the Void, and we give the name of being, dense and even eternal, to that dance of inconsistencies, that infinite extension that is identified with absolute Nothingness and that spins from its own non-being the illusion of everything.

(Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, pgs. 472-3)

Words of Wisdom

Posted by shonk at 02:07 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

...from Bill Cholenski at Catallarchy:

In short, you don't pass a law because someone is behaving badly. You raise the price of anti-social behavior. You demand better behaviour from anyone you associate with, and distance yourself from those whose actions you can't condone.

November 14, 2003

The Shape of Debates to Come

Posted by Curt at 03:05 PM in Economics | permalink | comment

In the hawing about the differences between the American and French economies in terms of the cost-benefits of regional living costs and options, individual capital value and otherwise more or less entirely missing the point, those who talk without breathing always fail to decide whether striking constitutes the sexiest form of labor relations.

Music to Lighten Your Step

Posted by shonk at 01:27 AM in Music | permalink | comment

A while back I commented on Apple's position regarding music pirates, which is that competing with them is the only way to beat them. That post coincided with the initial fervor over Apple's iTunes Music Store, which at the time was only available on Macintosh machines. Since its PC release a month or so ago, iTunes seems to have already gained some serious cachet in the pop world. Be it dooce thinking that "I can safely blame iTunes for Windows when my child asks why I can’t help her pay for her college education" or poseurs trying to enhance their image via their playlists, iTunes is making its presence felt. A measure of its success may well be the hype (and rushed arrival) of competitors like the new Napster and the MusicNow/Best Buy collaboration. Even Wal-Mart apparently plans to get into the act. Of course, the real indicator of who's winning is that iTunes has the McDonald's seal of approval.

In the same spirit in which Apple's Peter Lowe said "The way to go after illegal file sharing services is to compete with them...go after their weaknesses", Sony has come out with a new copy-protection scheme for CDs. Assuming all goes well with the German test run, Sony's scheme will allow people to make digital copies of songs from the CD (unlike other, more restrictive schemes, many of which wouldn't even allow the CD to play in a computer CD-ROM drive) while preventing (supposedly) those digital copies from being traded freely on the net. Though Sony's implementation is far from perfect (the digital copies can only be played on Sony portables players and copying requires some extra manipulation), they're at least thinking in the right direction, innovating rather than turning to the State to solve their problems. As Sony's Phil Wiser says:

All copy-protections can be hacked. But if give people what they are asking for in terms of value, they won't go out and steal it. It's called trusting the consumer.
Now, I know trusting the consumer is rather a new and innovative concept, but it's nice to see that it seems to be catching on (though not, obviously, with presidential candidates).

This is not, of course, to say that it's all peaches and cream in intellectual property land. It didn't take long for MyTunes, an iTunes add-on that allows you to capture and convert to MP3 the songs of others on your network, to surface. MyTunes acts enough like Kazaa and the Napster of old (though without a search feature it's less user-friendly) that iTunes, recently lauded by record labels and artists alike, may still have legal trouble in its future. Similar hacks will no doubt surface with iTunes' competitors. Nonetheless, it's rather nice to see that progress away from the hardline reactionaries of the RIAA is being made.

November 13, 2003

The Metaphysics of Evil

Posted by Curt at 11:13 PM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

"The caress of the eye over the skin is so utterly, so extraordinarily gentle, and the sensation is so bizarre that it has something of a rooster's horrible crowing."
--Georges Bataille

November 12, 2003

Occupation and Insurgency

Posted by shonk at 01:45 AM in War | permalink | comment

From former CIA agent Milt Bearden (thanks to the No War Blog for the link):

There were two stark lessons in the history of the 20th century: no nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded.
Not that the trend is guaranteed to continue, but it's something to think about.

November 11, 2003

Incorruptible or Just Naïve?

Posted by shonk at 03:31 AM in Politics | permalink | comment
I am ready to submit my resignation should cases of corruption in Sofia municipality be disclosed.
So says Stefan Sofianski, the newly re-relected mayor of Bulgaria's biggest city. Does this guy have balls, or what? I mean, I don't know much about Bulgarian politics, but that's a pretty hefty proclamation to toss into the ring. I don't imagine there's a city on Earth that's corruption-free, especially one that's the capital of a country known as a major smuggling crossroads.

So, anybody that knows more than I do about the situation, is Sofianski hopelessly naïve or a political genius?

Not that this is a campaign promise, since the guy has already been elected, but it makes me think of those campaign promises of yesteryear that were somehow never followed up on. Remember Bush's pledge to support free trade? Or Clinton's promised middle-class tax cut? Or "Read my lips: no new taxes"?

November 10, 2003

Readings from Murakami and Eco

Posted by shonk at 01:52 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

A few nuggets from Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Eco's The Island of the Day Before:

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, pgs. 284-5:

"No, it isn't. There's no time to tautologies. That's the difference between tautologies and dreams. Tautologies are instantaneous, everything is revealed at once. Eternity can actually be experienced. Once you set up a closed circuit, you just keep spinnin' 'round and 'round in there. That's the nature of tautologies. No interruptions like with dreams. It's like the encyclopedia wand."

"The encyclopedia wand?" I was evolving into an echo.

"The encyclopedia wand's a theoretical puzzle, like Zeno's paradox. The idea is t'engrave the entire encyclopedia onto a single toothpick. Know how you do it?"

"You tell me."

"You take your information, your encyclopedia text, and you transpose it into numerics. You assign everything a two-digit number, periods and commas included. 00 is a blank, A is 01, B is 02, and so on. Then after you've lined them all up, you put a decimal point before the whole lot. So now you've got a very long sub-decimal fraction. 0.173000631... Next, you engrave a mark at exactly that point along the toothpick. If 0.50000's your exact middle on the toothpick, then 0.3333's got t'be a third of the way from the tip. You follow?"


"That's how you can fit data of any length in a single point on a toothpick. Only theoretically, of course. No existin' technology can actually engrave so fine a point. But this should give you a perspective on what tautologies are like. Say time's the length of your toothpick. The amount of information you can pack into it doesn't have anything t'do with the length. Make the fraction as long as you want. It'll be finite, but pretty near eternal. Though if you make it a repeatin' decimal, why, then it is eternal. You understand what that means? The problem's the software, no relation to the hardware. It could be a toothpick or a two-hundred-meter timber or the equator - doesn't matter. Your body dies, your consciousness passes away, but your thought is caught in the one tautological point an instant before, subdividin' for an eternity. Think about the koan: An arrow is stopped in flight. Well, the death of the body is the flight of the arrow. It's makin' a straight line for the brain. No dodgin' it, not for anyone. People have t'die, the body has t'fall. Time is hurlin' that arrow forward. And yet, like I was sayin', thought goes on subdividin' that time for ever and ever. The paradox becomes real. The arrow never hits."

"In other words," I said, "immortality."

"There you are. Humans are immortal in their thought. Though strictly speakin', not immortal, but endlessly, asymptotically close to immortal. That's eternal life."

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, pg. 345:

"I can tell Bob Dylan in an instant," she said.

"Because his harmonica's worse than Stevie Wonder?"

She laughed again. Nice to know I could still make someone laugh.

"No, I really like his voice," she said. "It's like a kid standing at the window watching the rain."

The Island of the Day Before, pg. 60:

"Sir," Saint-Savin replied, "the first quality of an honest man is contempt for religion, which would have us afraid of the most natural thing in the world, which is death; and would have us hate the one beautiful thing destiny has given us, which is life. We should rather aspire to heaven where only the planets have eternal bliss, receiving neither rewards nor condemnations, but enjoying merely their own eternal motion in the arms of the void. Be strong like the sages of ancient Greece and look at death with steady eye and no fear. Jesus sweated too much, awaiting it. Why should he have been afraid, for that matter, since he was going to rise again?"

The Island of the Day Before, pgs. 83-4:

"You cannot believe what you are saying."

"Well no. Hardly ever. But the philosopher is like the poet. The latter composes ideal letters for an ideal nymph, only to plumb with his words the depths of passion. The philosopher tests the coldness of his gaze, to see how far he can undermine the fortress of bigotry."

November 09, 2003

Good News/Bad News

Posted by shonk at 04:55 AM in War | permalink | comment

First the bad news: Craige McMillan, WorldNetDaily commentator, is proposing the following (and more) in Iraq:

Saddam loyalists should be rounded up and forced to carry the rubble out of town on their backs and bury it outside the city. ... Begin the roundups and detentions. They can never be set free. ... Destroy any mosque found to contain even a single weapon. Don't close it, completely level it. ... Here at home, we must expand the clandestine war. ... Tens of thousands of people worked for the regime, and their execution can be timed to demonstrate retribution for the death of each American soldier.
...and so on. And this guy is the founder of "an exciting new initiative to reshape the way America looks at and interacts with people of faith." Apparently, if the people of faith he's interacting with are not Christians, he prefers to "interact" as the Crusaders did. Even worse, Bush appears to be taking the message to heart. Now, I'm no apologist for terrorists or fundamentalists, but doesn't the notion of rounding up and executing all former Iraqi government employees seem a bit, well, extremist?

More bad news comes in the form of a high school drug raid in South Carolina (primary assist goes to Dave Masten at Catallarchy). Officers stormed the school with guns drawn because, apparently, the surveillance cameras already installed in the school weren't stopping the drug problem there. Needless to say, this tends to ignore the first rule of gun safety:

Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to destroy.
As Masten rightly points out in an impassioned appeal to the officer in charge:
Sir, contrary to what you say, your (and your officer's) actions indicate that you had no thought of anyone's safety but your own. Your actions scream very loudly that you intended to kill students.
Here's a thought: maybe if teenagers weren't being forcibly locked up in worthless schools, they wouldn't be taking so many drugs. Of course, if drugs weren't illegal, this wouldn't be such a problem in the first place.

Extending the bad-news streak, it appears that the Internet will be taxed, since the Senate can't seem to decide on what the term "Internet access" means. Actually, the real reason the tax ban debate has reached a standstill is buried a bit deeper in the article:

Several states currently collect taxes on Internet access services, and opponents of the ban are worried that the legislation could limit this revenue source.
Of course, Sen. Dorgan's claim that "You could see billions and billions of dollars lost" is patently absurd: untaxed revenue does not disappear. In fact, it tends to do a hell of a lot more good than taxed revenue.

Okay, now for the good news: Changing the World Technologies, a Philadelphia start-up, is pioneering a process that will make carbon wastes of all kinds a viable oil source. That's right, Ehrlich, as usual, was wrong and, as pointed out at Samizdata, that noise you hear is most likely Julian Simon giggling (I'd say "giggling all the way to the bank", but I'm not sure financial institutions are big players in the hereafter). Now, the basic concept of this process is that it can take virtually any kind of waste, from turkey gizzards to steel-belted radials, stuff it in one end of the machine and out the other side will come light crude oil, gas, pure water and solid minerals. With 85% efficiency. Some of the commentary at Samizdata and other places has raised concerns about scalability and have questioned how much oil could realistically be produced using this method (CWT claims 4 billion barrels year), but perhaps even more important than the possibility of independence from oil imports, this procedure has the promise to eliminate, cleanly, wastes of all varieties, from industrial waste to refinery byproducts to sewage. In fact, this procedure is so clean that the EPA is classifying CWT's first industrial implementation as a manufacturing rather than a waste-disposal operation. Eliminating all sorts of nasty wastes and turning virtually all man-made products and wastes into carbon sinks can mean nothing but good news for the environment, even if the oil produced is never enough to significantly reduce dependence on oil imports. So where are the Luddites now?

Speaking of Luddites, why not piss them off by following up my posts on globalization with a link to another Kinsey Institute article? In keeping with Bastiat's observation that "When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will", here's the Institute's conclusion:

Although the detractors of globalization fear that it has already gone too far, we believe that it has barely begun.

On a more-or-less related note, has anyone else noticed that Murakami seems to have borrowed rather heavily from Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly in his Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? Or is it just me?

November 08, 2003

The Revolution that Wasn't

Posted by shonk at 05:53 AM in Movies | permalink | comment

My quick capsule review of "The Matrix: Revolutions": piece of shit. Seriously. Don't bother seeing this movie. If you insist on seeing it, do not pay for it. If you insist on paying for it, don't blame me when you realize you've wasted your money. I was going to rant and rave about how bad it is, but I I'm sure in doing so I'd reveal parts of the plot, pissing off those who haven't seen it yet. Plus, I don't really have the energy to devote to a real critique. All I'll say is that, if they were aiming for accuracy, they would have called it "The Matrix: Temporary Cease Fire".

November 07, 2003

Friday Ranting

Posted by Curt at 02:47 PM in Politics | permalink | comment

Very interesting article today in a publication of which until today I did not know the existence, the Mises Review (connected, naturally enough, with the Ludwig von Mises Institute). I don't know how much the article shares in common with the political beliefs of von Mises himself, but it seems to be pretty consistent with the outlook of most of the people that read this blog and at least one of the authors. I think it might do to examine a couple of the assertions that the reviewer claims to attribute to Gordan Graham, the author of the book in question (I have not read the book, so I haven't an opinion about how well these views are actually represented). One that strikes me is the claim that because the police or the various security apparati of the state cannot actually physically impose compliance with the law on the majority of the citizens of a state, law-abiding citizens must obey the law out of a personal moral conviction about the rightness of the law. I don't by any means think that this follows. Citizens might obey the law out of any number of reasons: fear of the law and prosecution even if the police are not actually present, deference to parents, family, community church, etc., or simply a lack of imagination or initiative, which I think may be the most fundamental explanation.

In any case, author and/or reviewer seem to implicitly state through this contention that the material interests of the citizen lie so clearly in outside the law that only strong moral impulse could restrain them from breaking it at will. But this is also by no means certain. There has always been a strand in political philosophy at least from the time of Rousseau that has seen the state, if genuinely representative of its citizens' interests, as beneficial not through enforcement of morality but purely for the material advantages it confers on its citizens. Security and comfort is the usual justification, though I think that freedom from anxiety might be a more accurate description. This is an advantage not to be underestimated; the recent pioneering psychological work in economics has more or less confirmed that most people fear the loss of current possessions more than they desire the gain of new possessions.

But one not need accept the value of the state for material reasons to understand that people often self-regulate themselves in regards to the law out of extra-moral considerations. Self-censorship is one example; traffic laws are another. Traffic laws are a particular favorite of libertarians everywhere because they seem in general not to have a plausible moral justification for their existence. But nonetheless people generally hold themselves close enough to the speed limit, for example, so as to not to have much to fear if they pass by a highway patrol car, despite the statistical improbability of being stopped during any given drive. In general I don't imagine this to be because the average driver considers speeding to be immoral, because many people speed slightly. However, the negative reprecussions of getting a ticket seem to outweigh the marginal benefit of arriving a few seconds faster at one's destination and, even more directly, most people do not want to put up with the constant anxiety of looking out for the highway patrol. This example is somewhat complicated by the fact that there is a moral argument to be made for speeding laws: the danger one poses to others when driving too fast to remain in control of one's vehicle. Then again, most people do not imagine that they will get in an accident, and if they did that would probably regulate their behavior much more dramatically than considerations of the well-being of other drivers. From this I conclude that most people simply do not have the stomach for crime and that this is the real banal secret of obedience to the law. At the same time, this effect cannot well be separated from the law's continued existence.

Point two relates to a criticism of democracy in particular in both book and review which has been echoed in many places, here included: that voting is essentially meaningless. But in this case a legitimate criticism sweeps reviewer and author along to a fearful bit of nonsense. Because each individual vote in an election of any size (almost) never has a decisive effect on the outcome, this leads them to conclude that no one's vote has any effect. Now, I am perfectly willing to sanction the contention that elections serve as no more than window-dressing which conceal the activity of the career bureaucrats who actually control everything (which, actually, according to the Platonic criticism of democracy cited approvingly in the article, is not necessarily entirely a bad thing--after all, art for the artisan class, agriculture for the farming class and government for the governing class). Yet the idea that no one's vote has any significance in an election is manifestly an absurdity. Even if one particular vote does not have a decisive signficance, the totality of the votes most certainly determines the victor. Here modern egotism certainly introduces a distortion, for there is a distinction between significance and decisive significance. One individual vote certainly does have significance, but not decisive significance. Decisive significance in this context is defined as precisely the number of votes separating the winner and the second-highest vote-getter. But I do not personally understand why this by itself sends so many political thinkers into an exasperated silence. If the candidate for whome one voted wins, what does it matter whether one's vote by itself swung the election? If that candidate loses, one has even less reason to complain, as that vote actually had a greater impact on the chosen candidates' total than had one voted for the winner.

Is all of this simply an arrogant demand for decisive personal power in elections? But if one person always decided an election, the situation would be even less representative. Just ask the Supreme Court--they tend to split 4-4 on all the important issues and with Justice O'Conner go the spoils. Do you think that anyone but Justice O'Conner prefers that situation? Due to the singular significance of her vote, she has become virtually the caudillo of the court. This is the same kind of hubris that surrounds the cult of art today--the idea that any artistic production is entirely the product of the sui generis God-like act of creation of a single artist, which is also an idiocy--Shakespeare, who pinched all of his plots from other works, being only the most obvious counter-example.

In art, as in voting, we are simply deceiving ourselves in extolling or demanding the total sovereignty of a single individual over the artistic or political process, which by the way seems about as anti-democratic in spirit as possible. True populists ought rather to be lauding the relative insignificance of their own votes as proof that power has successfully evaded concentration in the hands of the few. In any case, if the lack of political influence one exerts as a private citizen proves so troubling, the natural solution, aside from joining the political class itself, which involves its own compromises and helplessnesses, would be simply to cease concerning oneself with politics. Oh, the agonies that politicians and citizens put themselves through to pass a single tax bill which will put $10 back in each of their pockets, a sum which they could have earned in an hour working at McDonald's! Does anyone think that they will improve their lot in life through the trickle-down effect of some piece of legislation which doles out some pathetically insignificant financial or social benefit to all of our 250 million citizens? Don't concern yourselves with this, for the decisions you make in the next 10 minutes regarding your personal life, your friends and your family will have more of an effect on your future than all those piles of legislative paper will until the end of history! The only thing that keeps this worthless discipline so smirkingly called political philosophy or, even more amusingly, political science as a topic of earnest discussion are the fevered egoes and intellectual pretentions of its practitioners. Philosophy ought to be either personal or intellectual; political philosophy, which claims to be both, is actually neither.


Posted by shonk at 02:57 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

I've been spending most of my free time the last couple days reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum and I thought I'd share an interesting passage on symbols. To give some context, the main character has been spending a lot of time reading occultist manuscripts and is discussing some of the themes with his girlfriend, Lia, as they lie in bed. Lia's analysis seems to me to be very perceptive, though it is probably more that of Eco the professor of semiotics than of Lia the character.

"Pow, archetypes don't exist; the body exists. The belly inside is beautiful, because the baby grows there, because your sweet cock, all bright and jolly, thrusts there, and good, tasty food descends there, and for this reason the cavern, the grotto, the tunnel are beautiful and important, it has to come from there, because you also came from there the day you were born, because fertility always comes from inside a cavity, where first something rots and then, lo and behold, there's a little man, a date, a baobab.

"And high is better than low, because if you have your head down, the blood goes to your brain, because feet stink and hair doesn't stink as much, because it's better to climb a tree and pick fruit than end up underground, food for worms, and because you rarely hurt yourself hitting something above - you really have to be in an attic - while you often hurt yourself falling. That's why up is angelic and down devilish.

"But because what I said before, about my belly, is also true, both things are true, down and inside are beautiful, and up and outside are beautiful, and the spirit of Mercury and Manicheanism have nothing to do with it. Fire keeps you warm and cold gives you bronchial pneumonia, especially if you're a scholar four thousand years ago, and therefore fire has mysterious virtues besides its ability to cook your chicken. But cold preserves that same chicken, and fire, if you touch it, gives you a blister this big; therefore, if you think of something preserved for millennia, like wisdom, you have to think of it on a mountain, up, high (and high is good), but also in a cavern (which is good, too) and in the eternal cold of the Tibetan snows (best of all). And if you then want to know why wisdom comes from the Orient and not from the Swiss Alps, it's because the body of your ancestors in the morning, when it woke and there was still darkness, looked to the east hoping the sun would rise and there wouldn't be rain."

"Yes, Mama."

"Yes indeed, my child. The sun is good because it does the body good, and because it has the sense to reappear every day; therefore, whatever returns is good, not what passes and is done with. The easiest way to return from where you've been without retracing your steps is to walk in a circle. The animal that coils in a circle is the serpent; that's why so many cults and myths of the serpent exist, because it's hard to represent the return of the sun by the coiling of the hippopotamus. Furthermore, if you have to make a ceremony to invoke the sun, it's best to move in a circle, because if you go in a straight line, you move away from home, which means the ceremony will have to be kept short. The circle is the most convenient arrangement for any rite, even the fire-eaters in the marketplace know this, because in a circle everybody can see the one who's in the center, whereas if a whole tribe formed a straight line, like a squad of soldiers, the people at the ends wouldn't see. And that's why the circle and rotary motion and cyclic return are fundamental to every cult and every rite."

"Yes, Mama."

"We move on to the magic numbers your authors are so fond of. You are one and not two, your cock is one and my cunt is one, and we have one nose and one heart; so you see how many important things come in ones. But we have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, my breasts, your balls, legs, arms, buttocks. Three is the most magical of all, because our body doesn't know that number; we don't have three of anything, and it should be a very mysterious number that we attribute to God, wherever we live. But if you think about it, I have one cunt and you have one cock - shut up and don't joke - and if we put these two together, a new thing is made, and we become three. So you don't have to be a university professor or use a computer to discover that all cultures on earth have ternary structures, trinities.

"But two arms and two legs make four, and four is a beautiful number when you consider that animals have four legs and little children go on all fours, as the Sphinx knew. We hardly have to discuss five, the fingers of the hand, and then with both hands you get that other sacred number, ten. There have to be ten commandments because, if there were twelve, when the priest counts one, two, three, holding up his fingers, and comes to the last two, he'd have to borrow a hand from the sacristan.

"Now, if you take the body and count all the things that grow from the trunk, arms, legs, head, and cock, you get six; but for women it's seven. For this reason, it seems to me that among your authors six is never taken seriously, except as the double of three, because it's familiar to the males, who don't have any seven. So when the males rule, they prefer to see seven as the mysterious sacred number, forgetting about women's tits, but what the hell.

"Eight ... Eight ... give me a minute. ... If arms and legs don't count as one apiece but two, because of elbows and knees, you have eight parts that move; add the torso and you have nine, add the head and you have ten. Just sticking with the body, you can get all the numbers you want. The orifices, for example."

"The orifices?"

"Yes. How many holes does the body have?"

I counted: "Eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth, ass: eight."

"You see? Another reason eight is a beautiful number. But I have nine! And with that ninth I bring you into the world, therefore nine is holier than eight! Or, if you like, take the anatomy of your menhir, which your authors are always talking about. Standing up during the day, lying down at night - your thing, too. No, don't tell me what it does at night. The fact is that erect it works and prone it rests. So the vertical position is life, pointing sunward, and obelisks stand as trees stand, while the horizontal position and night are sleep, death. Al cultures worship menhirs, monoliths, pyramids, columns, but nobody bows down to balconies and railings. Did you ever hear of an archaic cult of the sacred bannister? You see? And another point: if you worship a vertical stone, even if there are a lot of you, you can all see it; but if you worship, instead, a horizontal stone, only those in the front row can see it, and the others start pushing, me too, me too, which is not a fitting sight for a magical ceremony. ..."

"But rivers..."

"Rivers are worshipped not because they're horizontal, but because there's water in them, and you don't need me to explain to you the relation between water and the body. ... Anyway, that's how we're put together, all of us, and that's why we work out the same symbols millions of kilometers apart, and naturally they all resemble eachother. Thus you see that people with a brain in their head, if they're shown an alchemist's oven, all shut up and warm inside, think of the belly of the mama making a baby, and only your Diabolicals think that the Madonna about to have the Child is a reference to the alchemist's oven. They spent thousands of years looking for a message, and it was there all the time: they just had to look at themselves in the mirror."

"You always tell me the truth. You are my Mirrored Me, my Self seen by You. I want to discover all the secret archetypes of the body." That evening we inaugurated the expression "discovering archetypes" to indicate our moments of greatest intimacy.

I was half-asleep when Lia touched my shoulder. "I almost forgot," she said. "I'm pregnant."

(Foucault's Pendulum, pp. 362-5)

November 06, 2003

Libertarians Inside the Onion?

Posted by Curt at 08:46 PM in Politics | permalink | comment

This, I think, is indeed the psychology of the law. As a wise man once said, only in fiction do we find it impossible to lie...


Posted by shonk at 01:00 AM in Politics | permalink | comment

I was on my way to the bookstore yesterday when I walked by a group of college-aged campaigners for the Republican mayorial hopeful, Sam Katz. They were on a corner next to one of the downtown polling places, holding signs, wearing t-shirts and generally trying to make an impression on everybody that walked or drove by. Anyway, as I'm walking through this group, one of the girls asked the lady in front of me if she's voted yet; the lady says "yes" and keeps walking. Expecting some sort of similar treatment, I mentally prepare to tell the girl that I hope both candidates lose, which is why I won't be voting, but she takes one look at me and quickly turns away, scanning for someone else to harass.

I admit I was pleased not to be bothered, I was a bit curious what it was about me that made the girl decide I wasn't worth the effort. Did my rather long and unkempt hair make her assume I was a Democrat? Did my face impart a "Do Not Disturb" message as a result of the mere 3 hours of sleep I'd gotten the night before? Was I unconsciously glaring at her simpleminded partisanship? Was this girl, probably younger than I, falling into the trap of assuming that young people don't care about politics? Who knows? I wasn't disturbed when I walked back by the group 20 minutes later, though I did notice that a few supporters of the Democratic incumbent and eventual victor, John Street, had set up shop across the street.

I was surprised to learn that a Penn professor was punched in the face by a Steet supporter yesterday directly in front of the building where I work. Apparently, the prof had objected to this guy covering Katz posters with Street signs and the guy objected to his objection. Needless to say, since this happened before 7:30 AM, I was nowhere in the vicinity.

November 04, 2003

The Beating Hearts of Policy Wonks

Posted by Curt at 06:58 PM in Sex | permalink | comment

First the Bolshevik babes, now this. In sooth, ideology hath never been so lightly worn nor so well...

November 03, 2003

I Proved all Odds are Prime - with Inductive Reasoning

Posted by shonk at 04:33 AM in Geek Talk | permalink | 1 comment

Just so nobody forgets what a geek I really am, let's talk about induction. Now, what I want to do is to try to explain the differences between "mathematical induction" and "philosophical induction", otherwise known as inductive reasoning. Just allow me to apologize in advance for the irregularities in my explanation.

Just to start things out concretely, here are the relevant dictionary definitions of the two terms:

3. Logic.

a. The process of deriving general principles from particular facts or instances.

b. A conclusion reached by this process.

4. Mathematics. A two-part method of proving a theorem involving an integral parameter. First the theorem is verified for the smallest admissible value of the integer. Then it is proven that if the theorem is true for any value of the integer, it is true for the next greater value. The final proof contains the two parts.

Now, the concept of inductive reasoning is pretty straightforward, as it is basically a natural extension of how we view the world. Basically, when you're reasoning inductively, you're observing that a lot of things in a certain class of things have a particular characteristic and then concluding that all things in that class must have that characteristic. For example, if I notice that every swan I've ever seen is white and, based on that information, conclude that all swans are white, I'm reasoning inductively. This is, in large measure, the way in which the natural sciences work. The natural scientist observes that everything he drops falls at the same rate and then concludes that all objects fall at that rate, even the ones he's never dropped himself. This sort of reasoning seems to derive from Aristotle, who arrived at First Principles by generalizing from experience.

Now, this sort of reasoning has its merits, but it is also limited. The problem is that the inductively reasoned generalization may be true, but it is not necessarily true. There's always the possibility that there is some example that would falsify it, if only one had observed it. For example, if I am the first one at a meeting and notice that each of the next eight people to come into the room are men, it would be tempting to conclude, by inductive reasoning, that the next person to enter the room will also be male. However, this does not mean that the ninth person will necessarily be male; it may be that the chair of the meeting is a woman. Similarly, although a child in Utah may only have Mormon friends, it would be folly for him to conclude that all people are Mormons. It is because most of its conclusions are based on this sort of inductive reasoning that physics is constantly being revised; as better methods of observation are made possible by technological advances, physicists are able to observe phenomena that were inaccessible to their predecessors and therefore are not covered in the old theories.

This uncertainty would prove fatal to mathematics, were it to attempt to use an un-modified form of inductive reasoning. In fact, mathematicians are known to rather derisively refer to this sort of argument as "proof by example", which is really no proof at all. However, by it's nature, the principle of induction can make problems easier to solve, so mathematics has developed a modified form of inductive reasoning called mathematical induction. There is some dispute over who first invented the technique: some argue that the first proof to use it was Francesco Maurolico's proof that the sum of the first n odd integers is n2 from 1575; others that DeMorgan invented the term and made it precise in 1838; still others that Dedekind was the first to formalize the principle in the modern sense. Probably all of these are right in large measure, since use differs from definition differs from formalization; one could argue that the idea stretches all the way back to Euclid.

So, aside from all this history, what the hell is mathematical induction anyway? Basically, the notion is that if you're dealing with the natural numbers (0, 1, 2 and so on; the non-negative integers), then if you have some proposition that holds for 0 (usually denoted by P(0)) and if, for every non-negative integer n, it is true that if you assume the proposition holds for n - P(n) - then it holds for n+1, then the proposition holds for every non-negative integer.

That's a bit technical, so let's see if I can make it a little clearer. Basically, the idea is this: I want to show that some property holds for all non-negative integers (in practice, the argument could be for all positive integers, or all integers greater than 50, or whatever, but let's stick to the simplest case). First, I demonstrate that it holds for the smallest non-negative integer, 0. The natural inclination might be to then show it holds for the next smallest integer (1), and then for the next-smallest (2), and so on. But it's clear that if I attack the problem in this way, I'll spend a very long time not getting very far, because no matter how big I get, there will always be bigger integers where my property might fail. Even if I am really dedicated and spend many years carefully showing, one-by-one, that my property holds for each integer up to 5,000,000, there is no guarantee that it will hold for 5,000,001, just as there was no guarantee that the next person to walk in the door of my meeting was a man. So, instead of going one-by-one, I say to myself "What if my property holds for some integer? Does that imply that it holds for the next biggest integer?" If I think of the integers as lying on the number line in the usual way, this question basically asks "What if I randomly put my finger on some number on the line and assume the property holds for that number? Is there some way to show that this assumption implies that the property must necessarily hold for the number directly to the right of my finger?" If I could show this, then I will have a proof for the following reason: I already know the property holds for 0, so (since I could have randomly picked 0 when I stuck my finger on the line) I know the property must hold for 1. Then, since I know the property holds for 1, it must hold for 2, since I proved that if it holds for any integer then it holds for the next-smallest interger.

It is precisely in this way that we can think of our "induction engine" running along all the numbers and proving our proposition. The Wikipedia makes a nice analogy with dominoes:

if you have a long row of dominos standing on end and you can be sure that

1. The first domino will fall.

2. Whenever a domino falls, its next neighbor will also fall.

then you can conclude that all dominos will fall.

The reason is this: you know that if a domino falls, it will knock over its next door neighbor, and you know the first domino will fall, so you know the first domino will knock over the second domino, which will knock over the third, which will knock over the fourth, and so on, until all the dominoes have fallen down. It doesn't matter how many dominos we have, they're all going to fall down. We could even have infinitely many dominoes and still be sure that they all will fall.

This isn't the most obvious concept in the world, but it is an extremely elegant one. The beauty of mathematical induction is that it allows you to prove that a number has some property even if you really don't know anything about the number itself. No matter how nasty the number, if you know that it's predecessor will "knock it over" if struck in just the right way, then you can be sure that the number will be "knocked over" simply by pushing the some really small number, like 0 or 1, and then letting the chain reaction take place.

In point of fact, though this is beyond what I want to try to explain, the principle of mathematical induction works not just on non-negative integers, but on any set that more-or-less looks like the non-negative integers. So it really is a powerful tool.

Unfortunately, philosophic induction (inductive reasoning) and mathematical induction use the same word to describe similar, but by no means identical, ideas. For this reason, I usually call philosophic induction "extrapolation", since it extrapolates known results into unknown territory. But I'm well aware that philosophers don't like people like me using different terminology, so I imagine we'll be stuck with this discrepancy until we stop listening to philosophers. Not that most of us do, anyway (yeah, taking cheapshots both at Aaron and my brother with that one).

November 01, 2003

Alcohol Makes Me Ramble

Posted by shonk at 03:47 AM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

Random observations after a few Mackesons:

- Will blogs have a big impact on the 2004 presidential election? Probably a little, but, since the majority of people aren't into the blog scene, I don't think it'll be particularly noticeable unless the election is extremely tight. Excellent observation from the article:

A managed community works about as well as a managed economy. So the challenge is to find a way to build community without the community feeling built.
The first sentence is right on, the second a reminder that the author has forgotten his own lesson.

- I walked by what I assume was the Philadelphia Critical Mass Halloween ride on my way home from the office today. They were blocking all three lanes of Walnut over the bridge, riding as slow as possible, most in costume. I have to admit it was pretty funny, especially when I overheard one driver growling that "they oughtta be locked up".

- On that same bridge, I noticed that the crushed and increasingly weather-exposed box of Club crackers I first noticed on Monday was finally gone tonight. That thing survived a major rainstorm and a couple of minor ones, plus the considerable foot-traffic that crosses the bridge in the course of a week. Maybe that says something about Philly's street-cleaners. Or maybe it says something about the hundreds of people that walked around and over that green box without a single one thinking to toss the thing (myself included). Okay, that was only funny to me, I guess.

- Math jokes can be funny. But only the ones on the Simpsons. I've heard more than my share of groaners, but was disappointed to hear from an older grad student the other day that "they only get worse the longer you're here."

- If you're disappointed that I have links to so much literature in Spanish in my "Literature Online" section, you'll be heartened to hear that Spanglish is going to take over. The author of Spanglish, Ilan Stavans, identifies one of my fascinations with language and linguistics:

Language is the most democratic of human endeavours. It is by the people and for the people
As opposed to, say, that other thing that had that label applied to it.

- We've passed over into November, but the sickness to the stomach that millions of kids are surely feeling now as a result of eating their Halloween candy too quickly probably serves as little consolation to Moscow's disappointed trick-or-treaters. Of course, Halloween is an imported holiday in Russia, so that probably makes it easier to ban. I'm just waiting for the protests against the Peace Corps volunteers that introduced it: "They're infiltrating our schools, brainwashing the minds of elementary school kids with their satanic propaganda, rotting their teeth with candy, etc."

- How exactly does a civil union, currently legal in Vermont and being proposed in many other states, vary, other than in terminology, from a marriage? I'm convinced this is newspeak invented by politicians so that they can claim to be against gay marriage (appeasing the religious right), while actually proposing to make gay marriage legal. Needless to say, I'm not surprised it seems to be working. Nor do I applaud this rather gutless tactic; grow a pair, will ya?

- Speaking of politics, how fitting is it that some bit of regulation is a major reason why the Southern California fires got out of control?

- Finally, it seems only appropriate to end this post with a link to an end-of-the-world animation. As usual, I'm blaming the French (and feeling sorry for Hawaii).