Disjunctive Jam-Up

26 September 2014

The Eight Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

(Underscore mine.) The constitution of the state of California has a much more complex discussion of bail; but its Article 1, §17 declares

Cruel or unusual punishment may not be inflicted or excessive fines imposed.

(Underscore mine.) Plainly these words are an adaptation from the US Constitution.

The replacement of and with or was apparently to indicate that cruel punishment were not to be deemed acceptable simply by virtue of being usual. Indeed, Article 1, §17 of the constitution of the state of Florida used to declare

Excessive fines, cruel or unusual punishment, attainder, forfeiture of estate, indefinite imprisonment, and unreasonable detention of witnesses are forbidden.

(underscore mine) and the state supreme court made just that interpretation in cases of the death penalty. (The section has since been radically revised.)

However, a hypothetical problem arises from the replacement. Just as cruel punishment is not acceptable regardless of whether it is unusual, unusual punishment is not acceptable regardless of whether it is cruel. And if most or all prevailing punishments were cruel, then any other sort of punishment were unusual; and unusual punishment has been forbidden. Thus, under such circumstance, all punishment were forbidden!

This problem may not be merely hypothetical, in the context of problems such as prison over-crowding. (Of course, when push comes to shove, lawyers and judges tend to shove logic out the door.)

It's All in the Timing

29 August 2014

The Administration has timed its decision on what sort of immigration reform to implement by Executive Decree so that the President can be informed by whatever occurs on 11 September. Any considered reforms that would, in light of 11 September, seem foolish to the voting public will be shelved. If nothing happens domestically, then the President will feel that he has a freer hand.

Third Rejection and Fourth Attempt

29 August 2014

As expected, my brief paper was quickly rejected by the third journal to which I sent it. The rejection came mid-day on 19 July; the editor said that it didn’t fit the general readership of the journal. He suggested sending it to a journal focussed on Bayesian theory, or to a specific journal of the very same association as that of the journal that he edits. I decided to try the latter.

On the one hand, I don’t see my paper as of interest only to those whom I would call Bayesian. The principle in question concerns qualitative probability, whether in the development of a subjectivist theory or of a logicist theory, and issues of Bayes' Theorem only arise if one proceeds to develop a quantitative theory. On the other hand, submitting to that other journal of the same association was something that I could do relatively quickly.

I postponed an up-date here because I thought that I’d report both rejections together if indeed another came quickly. But, so far, my paper remains officially under review at that fourth journal.

The paper is so brief — and really so simple — that someone with an expertise in its area could decide upon it minutes. But reviewing it isn’t just a matter of cleverness; one must be familiar with the literature to feel assured that its point is novel. A reviewer without that familiarity would surely want to check the papers in the bibliography, and possibly to seek other work.

Additionally, a friend discovered that, if he returned papers as quickly as he could properly review them, then editors began seeking to get him to review many more papers. Quite reasonably, he slowed the pace of at which he returned his reviews.

Second Rejection and Third Attempt

13 July 2014

The second journal to which I submitted my brief article quickly rejected it (on 11 July) as being unsuited to their readership, and suggested that it may be that your work would be better directed to a journal specialising on statistical theory, or foundations/philosophy. (The journal to which I submitted arguably is one of statistical theory; but it leans heavily towards review rather than towards innovation.)

As 13 July neared its end, I submitted to yet another journal. This time, I’m pretty sure that I’m playing a long-shot, but a rejection should come very quickly if it comes, the paper would get relative many readers if were published there, and people in and around my field would be impressed; so I think that the gamble is a good one.

Second Attempt

9 July 2014

In the wee hours of 8 July, I rewrote my brief article on one of the proposed axiomata of probability, and sent it to a journal of statistical theory.

The principal reason for doing some rewriting was to add a paragraph reporting an interesting point made by one of my former professors. (I wish that I’d seen that point on my own, but I didn’t, so I’ve duly creditted him.) Additionally, I tightened-up the abstract.

In the absence of being given a reason why my note was rejected by the previous journal, my conjecture is that it was considered to present what would be viewed as a technicality from the perspective imputed to the readership. So I’m turning to a journal with a different sort of readership.

A Note of Rejection

6 July 2014

The first journal to which I submitted my brief article on the foundations of probability has rejected it, without providing a reason. This sort of rejection is the most common, and I got one of that sort from the first journal to which I submitted my paper on incomplete preferences.

I will find another journal to which to submit the newer paper, but I have little sense of the the rankings of the sorts of journals in which this paper might be published, and I don’t know at the moment to which journal I will next send it.

Stolen Property

30 June 2014

The code for Favicon madness, an entry at the 'blog of Ronny Endrey-Walder, might seem somewhat familiar. That’s because, up to (but not including) the stuff for the Open Graph protocol beyond the site thumbnail graphic tag, that code is lifted from Code and How to Use It, the second part of my three-part entry FavIcons, Apple Touch Icons, Site Thumbnail Images, and WordPress. Mr Endrey-Walder didn’t bother to request permission to display my code, nor did he clearly credit it to me.

When I make code available for use, that doesn’t automatically throw it into the public domain. If someone used this particular code, it wouldn’t be displayed; it would be processed on the server side, and what was presented to a visitor would not be the code; so making it available for use isn’t the same thing as licensing it as content. A sense of ethics ought to have prevented Mr. Endrey-Walder from doing what he did; and certainly he’s violated copyright law. I’ve raised an objection in a comment to his 'blog; so far he’s left that comment hidden in the moderation queue (if indeed he has not deleted it).

As to his support for the Open Graph protocol beyond the site thumbnail image, it’s probably a good idea, but the code supporting use of a site thumbnail image should perhaps then be refactored. Naming the additional function insert_fb_in_head misses the point that the Open Graph protocol is not peculiar to Facebook. Whoever wrote this code has hard-coded the og:type to company, which doesn’t conform to the sort of value that og:type is intended to have. And hard-coding means that the code itself must be edited whenever the type doesn’t fit; a better idea would be to code with a default type or to have the tag be omitted by default, but to have the code look for a configuration file and, when found, use it to determine og:type.

Just a Note

12 June 2014

Years ago, I planned to write a paper on decision-making under uncertainty when possible outcomes were completely ordered neither by desirability nor by plausibility.

On the way to writing that paper, I was impressed by Mark Machina with the need for a paper that would explain how an incompleteness of preferences would operationalize, so I wrote that article before exploring the logic of the dual incompleteness that interested me.

Returning to the previously planned paper, I did not find existing work on qualitative probability that was adequate to my purposes, so I began trying to formulating just that as a part of the paper, and found that the work was growing large and cumbersome. I have enough trouble getting my hyper-modernistic work read without delivering it in large quantities! So I began developing a paper concerned only with qualitative probability as such.

In the course of writing that spin-off paper, I noticed that a rather well-established proposition concerning the axiomata of probability contains an unnecessary restriction; and that, over the course of more than 80 years, the proposition has repeatedly been discussed without the excessiveness of the restriction being noted. Yet it’s one of those points that will be taken as obvious once it has been made. I originally planned to note that dispensibility in the paper on qualitative probability, but I have to be concerned about increasing clutter in that paper. Yester-day, I decided to write a note — a very brief paper — that draws attention to the needlessness of the restriction. The note didn’t take very long to write; I spent more time with the process of submission than with that of writing.

So, yes, a spin-off of a spin-off; but at least it is spun-off, instead of being one more thing pending. Meanwhile, as well as there now being three papers developed or being developed prior to that originally planned, I long ago saw that the original paper ought to have at least two sequels. If I complete the whole project, what was to be one paper will have become at least six.

The note has been submitted to a journal of logic, rather than of economics; likewise, I plan to submit the paper on qualitative probability to such a journal. While economics draws upon theories of probability, work that does not itself go beyond such theories would not typically be seen as economics. The body of the note just submitted is only about a hundred words and three formulæ. On top of the usual reasons for not knowing whether a paper will be accepted, a problem in this case is exactly that the point made by the paper will seem obvious, in spite of being repeatedly overlooked.

As to the remainder of the paper on qualitative probability, I’m working to get its axiomata into a presentable state. At present, it has more of them than I’d like.

Sudden Decompression

8 June 2014

I’ve never voted in a General Election for a Republican Presidential nominee; and, the one time that I registered as a Republican, it was to vote against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primary election by voting for a candidate who had withdrawn. One may fairly conclude that I was anti-Reagan; I remain so. But I was-and-am also anti-Carter and anti-Mondale; indeed, I have never voted in a General Election for a Democratic Presidential nominee. And my dog in the fight over Reagan’s legacy is truth as such, not the development or defense of one of the narratives of either of the two major political tribes.

Part of the conventional narrative of progressives and of Democrats is that our problem of homeless people became a crisis as a result of a ruthless expulsion of mentally ill people from hospitals, by the Reagan Administration, simply to save money. One problem with this part of that narrative was that, at the time that people were being deïnstitutionalized, there was very little in the way of protest from the other tribe, nor much from any other part of the political continuum.

The forceable incarceration of the mentally ill simply for being mentally ill was and remains deeply problematic; it operationalizes as the criminalization of victimless behaviors. Further, like almost every other state programme (essential or otherwise), actual practice bore little resemblance to supportive pontifications by educators and by journalists, regardless of which party were in power. The captivity of the mentally ill was a great injustice, which many progressives, classical liberals, and indeed conservatives wanted to see ended. Not a lot of thought was given to what was to happen to the inmates upon release.

Some of these people had been getting-by before they were locked-up. But the problem now was that the structures that they had earlier found or created in order to get-by were largely demolished by their incarceration. They had spent months or years — sometimes many years — in an peculiar society in which all or nearly all of the people around them were ill-adapted to ordinary life. Most of the possessions of those deïnstitutionalized had been dispersed or destroyed during their institutionalization. The victims didn’t have homes. Those released had the stigma of having been locked-up. But, no, few people, regardless of ideological commitments, had much considered what the incarceration itself implied for the ability of the incarcerated to reädapt to the outside world.

We have a very similar problem coming upon us even as I write. It’s not coming at us so fast or so slowly that the speed-of-approach should blind anyone; but none-the-less almost everyone is again blind, regardless of ideological commitment.

Our nation may be moving in the general direction of decriminalization of drug-crimes. Some constituent states are decriminalizing marijuana, and the Federal state seems to be allowing that decriminalization. The Presidential Administration is looking to scale back the penalties for crimes involving crack cocaine. And these changes ought to be happening. Consenting adults ought to be able to buy and ingest whatever they want. (Unfortunately, contrary to the apparent trend of decriminalization, many progressives are looking to outlaw tobacco products and to turn sugars into controlled substances.)

But with decriminalization would come the release of a great many institutionalized people. Once again, those released would have spent months or years or even many years in an environment where most of the people around them were ill-adapted to ordinary society. Most of their possessions would have been dispersed or destroyed. Many wouldn’t have homes. They’ll confront the stigma of having been imprisoned. (If they don’t report their imprisonments on job forms and rental applications, then they’ll have large, unexplained gaps in their histories!)

I don’t offer you a solution to the problems to come. If the progressives wake-up to the problems before any large-scale release, then they’ll devise some scheme of half-way houses that in practice will bear little resemblance to progressive theory, and assuredly victimize tax-payers.

No matter what, narratives will be formulated that obscure the current failure to anticipate a predictable, large-scale problem.

Moral Symmetries

21 May 2014

It is recurringly claimed that omission and commission are morally equivalent, that failing to assist someone is as blameworthy as injuring that person. But, were that really the case then, by the same token, failing to injure someone would be as every bit as laudable as acting to prevent his or her injury by some other agency. The man who did not kill a random stranger upon whom he chanced would be as much the hero as one who rushed in to save one stranger from another.