Behind the Veil

28 May 2016

Yester-day, I made the unhappy discovery that seven entries to this 'blog that were intended to be publicly accessible have instead been restricted. Apparently the restriction was caused by a bug in a WordPress plugin or in WordPress itself. The bug doesn’t seem to have bitten since 2010, so I believe that it were resolved by some software up-date.

I used a little MySQL to set things straight, then went over a back-up copy of the dB to identify all the affected entries, so that I could list them here.

Three of the affected entries are simply trivial. One is about poor performance by my previous site host 'Blog Bog [16 March 2008] and two are about entries to a contest to create types of jelly beans. and why it should win [16 March 2008]
Full of Beans [19 March 2008]

Two of the entries are on IT A Useful Bit o' PHP Code, Set Right [16 June 2008]
Installing Firefox 3.0 under Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.x [17 June 2008]
and that second IT entry now has very little marginal value except to someone making odd software choices.

The remaining two entries are also the most recent. A Big Ol' Entry on Patents and Copyrights [20 June 2008]
Thoughts on Boolean Laws of Thought [13 February 2010]
I very much regret that the entry on intellectual property has apparently been hidden from most visitors for more almost eight years!

Hard Case

28 May 2016

I have lots of keys. Most of those that are not on the key-ring that I routinely carry with me are tagged, so that I know to what they go. But, as I was going through the drawer in which those keys are kept, I found one that was labelled HARD KEY. I confess that this label was not and is not now very helpful.

There is such a thing as is called a soft key; it’s a passcode of some sort. What would one call a hard key? A key that is not a soft key? That would make every key in that drawer a hard key; there’d be no use in labelling a key of that sort simply as a key of that sort.

My best guess is that this key were a key that were badly cut or worn, so that it were hard to use. But to use where?

Well, I couldn’t and cannot remember; but that’s okay, because I found that it matches another key that I have on a ring labelled Orphans, and nothing goes on that ring unless I know that it’s no longer possible or no longer permissible for me to use the key in its lock. (There is separate ring for keys that are merely probable orphans.) Some of the orphans also have further tags; some, as in the case of the brother of the HARD KEY do not; but when that brother was put on the ring, I knew to what it went, and knew that I couldn’t or shouldn’t access that lock.

I didn’t save the orphans thinking that I might someday match one with an unidentified key. A few of them I saved for their sentimental values. Most I saved simply to have keys with which to do other things; for example, they could be filed into bump keys or given to children or used as props; the intention in identifying them as orphans was that most of these keys be distinguished as expendible. Of course now, in the case of a key with no twin on that ring, I will be a bit more reluctant to alter or part with it, as it might someday be matched with another mysterious key. I am enslaved by my keys.

Looked and Felt

26 May 2016

Some days ago, people who consume this 'blog by an ordinary visit with a graphics-enabled browser were confronted with different graphics within the header. The prior and present graphics look like this but, for a while, the graphics looked like this and then like this

I had been in the mood to try a change. I constructed some new letters of a general form that I like, which used to be popular for the cover titles of pulps and of comic books. I decided to give them a metallic look (which was done by layering gradient fills of blue-grey).

But my big problem with the results was readability, especially of the subtitle. Changing the subtitle fill from a metallic texture to a solid white helped somewhat, but readability still wasn’t what I wanted. The problem was even worse when displayed on my tablet, which resizes images to suit itself and can thereby further blur graphics.

Additionally, though I don’t worry a great deal about the æsthetic opinions of others when it comes to my 'blog, both of the people who expressed a preference expressed it for the prior lettering. (One of them declared the newer graphics to be faux-cool.)

I may not be done with these experiments though. I’ve been thinking of converting the visual theme of this 'blog into a meta-theme, whose graphic components vary, perhaps as a function of time or perhaps randomly or pseudo-randomly.

I have played-around with elements for a distinct presentation to mobile devices, but I note that the screens of typical mobile devices are now fairly large and of high resolution. Meanwhile, the current presentation actually seems pretty good on my agèd cellular phone, which has a screen with a 3.1-inch diagonal, with 480×640 pixels.

On the Concept of Ownership

23 May 2016

I have long and often encountered discussion that implicitly or explicitly involves notions of property or of ownership, which discussion is rendered incoherent from a failure to consider what it means for something to be property, what it means to own something.

Some confusion arises because we have come often to use the word property casually to mean an object (physical or more abstract) to which some sort of ownership may apply, without our considering whether the object is well conceptualized for purposes of considering property rights,[1] and without considering that actual ownership associated with that object might be distributed in some complicated ways amongst multiple parties.

One might, for some reason, associate a plot of land with an object imagined as beginning at the center of the Earth and extending to some sort of limits of the atmosphere (or beyond); from such an association, and then from a presumption that the whole object were property, farmers were once known to shoot at airplanes as trespassing vehicles. Yet other folk would assert that owning a plot of land as such only entitled one to control things to lesser depths and heights, in which case the rights could be associated with a smaller object, representing a subobject as it were. One person might be thought to have the right to farm the aforementioned land, and another to extract its mineral resources so long as he didn’t thereby interfere with the farming. Possibly others would claim peculiar easements, allowing them to travel through some or all of the object without thereby trespassing. There might be purported rights entitling still others to flows of resources such water, air, and electromagnetic radiation travelling through the object. In the case of sunlight (an electromagnetic radiation), the rights would typically be presumed to involve only some space above the soil, and the farmer might both have claims against her neighbors doing things that reduced her sunlight and be constrained by similar claims for her neighbors.

If we are thinking in terms of one object, and then change to thinking of an object within it, previously relevant rights of ownership may become irrelevant. If we instead think in terms of an object of which our original object is but a part, then new claims may become relevant. Two objects, neither of which is completely contained in the other, may share some third object as a part; so that any thorough consideration of ownership involving these two objects containing the third may involve rights that are literally identical and rights that are different. The minimal object relevant to describe some asserted set of property rights might not be sufficient to describe other rights none-the-less associated with that object. The minimal object in each of the previously mentioned cases (of farming, of easement, of mineral extraction, and of unobstructed resource flow) is somewhat different from the minimal object in the other cases.

A farmer who somehow forfeits her right not to have sunlight artificially obstructed may still be imagined to own the plot of land on which she grew her crops, yet she doesn’t own what once she owned. Likewise, a house-holder who somehow surrenders his right to come and go from the plot on which the house sits doesn’t own what once he owned. And, though it would perhaps seem very unsual, one might imagine these rights not transformed into claims for those who have prior rights to surrounding spaces, but instead coming into possession of third parties. For example, perhaps I speculate that I can buy whatever rights I need to build a skyscraper, on the assumption that I can buy a right to block the sunlight to a neighboring farm; I could purchase that latter right first, then discover that I am thwarted as to other purchases. This might work nicely for the farmer, but she no longer has a right that she once had; she no longer owns something that she once owned.

We can still express what things are owned as if they are objects, but we must then select our objects to match our rights of use. And our discourse can become strained and unnatural if we insist on always treating the thing owned as a distinct object rather than as a right of use. For example, if Timo is exclusively entitled to inhabit a cabin in the Winter and james is likewise entitled to inhabit it in the Summer, and we must express them as owning distinct objects, then we must treat the cabin in Winter as one object and the cabin in Summer as another. Indeed, we will surely have to be far more contrived in our construction of objects to account for what the two jointly do not own of the cabin! On the other hand, we can say that each has a right to use the cabin in some way without necessarily specifying how other rights of use are distributed; the concept of the cabin is available without first settling questions of ownership.

I don’t propose that we generally stop using the word property as in the ordinary sense of a piece of property, merely that we understand that this everyday use may be misleading. Nor would I suggest that we should somehow stop thinking in terms of objects when we carefully consider ownership. But we must be alert to the fact that our choice of objects with which to think is largely taxonomic and to some degree arbitrary, and we should not take results that are no more than artefacts of that taxonomy as anything more profound.

In fact, the right of use may be recognized as itself an object of an abstract sort, but the right to use a right of use is not distinct from simply that right of use, and thus cannot be dissociated from it.[1.5]


My laboring of the relationship of ownership to objects and their uses isn’t quibbling nor pirouetting. People who imagine an object as such to be owned tend all too often to imagine it somehow being owned beyond any of its various possible uses. They thus imagine that it can remain the property of one person or group even as another party — most often those in control of the state — appropriate its use, and even as this second party seizes every right of use. It then also becomes absurdly thinkable that one person might retain every right of use that she had, associated with an object, yet transfer ownership to some other party. Ownership would be reduced to absolutely nothing more than something such as a formal title.

When the state regulates property, it is taking rights of use and hence ownership. This transfer is relevant to questions of compensation (as in the case of the guarantees of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution[2]), and of whether state regulation of the means of production is a form of socialism.


[1] The word object comes from the Latin ob-iacere, meaning throw-before, and referred originally to that thrown before the mind. What we now call objects are, however, mental organizations of what is thrown before us. Thus, to use a classic example, we can talk about my hand as an object, and my fist as an object; they seem to be the same object, yet only sometimes. (We may still, in good conscience, use the word objective for perceptible external reality. And extending it to include unperceived and imperceptible external reality shouldn’t cause more than mild discomfort; the rightful demands of etymology are not unlimited.)

[1.5] This paragraph was added on 24 May.

[2] That Amendment (with an underscore by me) reads

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Reänimation

18 May 2016

The extended quiescence of this 'blog has largely been an artefact of my limiting of various activities as I bore-down on critiquing Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, a work of heterodox political economy by Piero Sraffa. The task has been thoroughly unpleasant, because there is so very much wrong with his work and because he writes in an obscure manner. At the same time, I have been dealing with depression intensified by personal circumstances. Had I allowed myself to step away from the project more than I did, I might never have finished it.

I have not, indeed, finished it; but, on Wednesday morning, I completed a first draft of the article. That draft is now in the hands of some of the other economists whom I know. (Naturally, I have since found things that I want to change, though none of these represent a major issue.) So I think that I will be back to writing more entries here.


One of the economists who has graciously said that he would take a look at the article (not-withstanding that it is monstrous in size!) asked me what motivated my writing of it.

Over many years, I have repeatedly been annoyed by encounters with those who draw upon PoCbMoC. More recently, I have been concerned by increased popular support for administrating economies (which support happens to be egalitarian or quasi-egalitarian); and this book is part of the infrastructure of the experts who defend such administration.

Further, at the time that I finally began actually working on this article, I felt stalled-out in my paper on the axiomata of qualitative probability. (That paper was and is a rat’s nest, in which the basic propositions are not currently each perfectly orthogonal to all others.) In a sense, then, this article on Sraffa’s book was intended as a break, though I quickly discovered that the task was going to be far more onerous than I had presumed.

Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities is the central text of neo-Ricardian economics, and a core text of post-Keynesian economics; it is also an important source for a variant form of Marxism that would abandon the labor theory of value. If I can get my article published in a reputable journal, that publication will eventually be the death of neo-Ricardianism and of the aforementioned variant of Marxism; I don’t know enough about post-Keynesianism to know how well they might do without PoCbMoC. Some of my criticisms are relatively minor, but some of them strike at the heart of the work.

(It took rather a long time to develop my article, but reading it offers the impression a nearly continuous rain of blows, some dreadful.)

I say eventually because I wouldn’t expect the present admirers to acknowledge how hard they’d been hit, but I’d expect a virtual end to the winning of converts. I don’t know that I can find a journal to publish the article because

  • it is quite long;
  • the mainstream of economists are unfamiliar with PoCbMoC so that
    • editors and reviewers may think it insufficiently significant, and
    • those reviewers most likely to feel sufficiently competent to examine my article are admirers of Sraffa.

I intend never again to pore over a work, even as short as PoCbMoC, when it is discernibly crack-pot. As I told a friend, I have been doing my time on the cross here; let someone else go after other such thinkers. I am capable of original work of significance, and that is how I intend to spend my remaining time qua economist.


This 'blog was begun as I left LiveJournal, appalled by its evolving policies under its second and then third owners. One might reasonably conceptualize this 'blog as a continuation of that which I had at LJ, and some of the entries of this 'blog are recyclings of entries from the earlier 'blog.

None-the-less, this 'blog has become very different from its predecessor. LiveJournal is a social-networking site; part of the reason that it has withered is that its users migrated to more successful social-networking sites. My present 'blog doesn’t work that way. I have recurring readers, but there’s nothing much like the Friends feed of LJ or of Facebook. There is no centralized connector of interests (as on LJ). I have regular readers, but they are likely to use an RSS aggregator (such as Flipboard) and less likely to comment (especially if they are using such an aggregator). I get far more irregular visitors, who are here by way of Google (or of some other search service), grabbing some information, and not so much as visiting any page here other than their entry pages.

So it doesn’t feel appropriate to offer mundanities of the sort that I would relate to a neighbor or to a friend on the telephone. My public entries tend to be things that I imagine strangers would appreciate reading. The restricted entries (basically accessible to friends who followed me as I migrated from LJ) are almost entirely personal; but a reader is required to make a special effort to access them, so they are not about ordinary events; they are usually very personal.

With entries to this 'blog thus typically requiring more thought, there are generally fewer of them, and the 'blog becomes dormant when I cannot — or believe that I should not — give thought to those entries.

Username Administration[0]

24 March 2016

Those managing 'blogs are frequently told that the administrative account should not have a username of admin nor of administrator.[1] Indeed, 'bots attacking this 'blog try the username admin multiple times every day. None-the-less, I think that concern about easily guessed usernames is quite misplaced.

Ordinary access to an account requires two pieces of identification, the username and a passcode. We can conceptualize these jointly as a single string, the first part of which is practically fixed, the second part of which is changeable. For example, if one had the username admin and the passcode h3Ll0p0p3y3, then the string would be adminh3Ll0p0p3y3 Some might imagine that two strings represent two hoops and therefore more security; but, actually, each character is a hoop. If usernames and passcodes were equally secure, then the username-passcode pairs kelsey5 dO0DL3bug and kelsey 5dO0DL3bug would be perfectly equivalent as far as security were concerned. So we can imagine the two strings concatenated, so long as we remember that one set of its characters are unchangeable, while the others may be changed. In general, the form of the string can be conceptualized as u1u2ump1p2pn where each ui represents an unchangeable username character and each pj represents a changeable passcode character. Now, if we simply know that the administrative account username is admin adminp1p2pn unauthorized access is a matter of guessing the characters of the passcode, without knowing how many they might be. (How passcodes are stored may limit or effectively limit the length of passcodes, but this will typically not have much effect unless those limits are very tight.) On the other hand, if the administrative username is completely unknown, then the string is the apparently more mysterious u1u2ump1p2pn That might seem significantly more secure. However, the number of characters in the passcode is unknown to the opponent, and u1u2umkp1p2pn+k is more secure for all 0 < km,[2] because usernames are unchangeable. (Were usernames as changeable as are passcode, then the two would be equally secure.) And adminp1p2pn+m is more secure than u1u2ump1p2pn

So real security here is to be found in long and strong passcodes, for which secret usernames are poor substitutes, and one can easily compensate for a readily guessed username by having a stronger passcode.


[0 (2016:03/30, 04/09)] I’ve fleshed-out this entry a bit, in an attempt to make in more easily understood.

[1] See, for example, the entry for 23 March at the Wordfence 'blog.

[2] The case k = m represents a zero-length username, which really is to say no username at all. It would be quite possible to create a system with just passcodes and no distinct usernames — or, equivalently, a system with very changeable usernames and no passcodes — though this would present some practical difficulties.

Might as Well Be Me

17 March 2016

Every day, I encounter one or more academic studies arguing that this or that historical figure were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that, should I ever become famous, someone will write an article or monograph or book arguing that I were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I won’t even have to become famous; there are so many academics who want to argue that someone were homosexual that none of us will be ignored. Sooner or later, in the case of each person for whom there is material to be interpretted, one of those academics will get around to arguing that the person were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I might be able to get a publication in a journal of sociology or of gender studies by arguing that I were homosexual. I wonder how that would look on my CV.

My 2½ Votes

27 February 2016

During the 2000 Presidential race, I was told by some Democrats that not voting for Al[bert Arnold] Gore [jr] were the same thing as voting for George W[alker] Bush. And I was told by some Republicans that not voting for Bush were the same thing as voting for Gore. Somehow it seemed that, by not voting for either man, I were casting a vote for each.

On Election Day or on the day after, one of those Republicans who’d claimed that I voted for Gore by not voting for Bush learned that I’d also refused to vote for Harry [Edson] Browne (the Libertarian candidate) and that Republican then declared That’s even worse! For it to be worse would mean that I’d effectively done even more voting for Gore, though perhaps not a whole further vote. I didn’t interact on that day with any Democrats, so I don’t know whether they would have creditted me with still further support of Bush in my refusal to vote for Browne. But it seemed as if, by not voting for anyone, I had voted more than twice.


Well, enough of that nonsense. People who make such claims don’t know much about the mathematics of voting, and either just lack mathematical sense in general, or allow their emotions to overwhelm their intellects.

My refusal to vote in Presidential elections, which predated that race and has continued since, doesn’t stem from resignation, from laziness, from apathy, nor from ignorance.

It comes in part from my extreme reluctance to support one evil in an attempt to stop another. I won’t vote for a candidate unless I think him or her truly fit to be President, and I’ve not seen such a candidate in decades. Browne, for example, represented a watering-down of classical liberalism, when a pure expression was needed (as remains the case).

Further, when it comes to the two major parties, I am acutely aware that, in most of these elections, one candidate doesn’t win so much as the other loses; the winners aren’t loved by the typical voter; rather, the principal opponent of each is detested. Yet the victor usually claims a mandate; even when he barely squeaks past the other creep and even when voters give the other party a Congressional majority.

We get these detestable candidates because the institutional structure is corrupt at a deep, infrastructural level. But those who vote, even for the loser, are demonstrating some hope, however faint, in the process, and from that demonstration legitimacy is persuasively claimed for that structure.

It is, of course, difficult to sort-out who fails to register to vote from dissatisfaction and who from lack of concern; likewise for those who register but do not go to the polls. But I am registered, and I do go to the polls. I take and submit a ballot. But I do not vote for a Presidential candidate. I vote on the issues that I feel that I properly understand, and I occasionally vote for a local candidate. It would be absurd to dismiss people like me as uninterested. Our numbers are presently tiny, but our message is far more clear than would be votes for whomever we thought the least objectionable candidate.

In the up-coming Presidential election, the major parties are going to offer the very worst candidates that they have in my lifetime. We didn’t get here by virtue of people who didn’t vote for nominees, but by virtue of those who did.

Dietary Restriction

20 February 2016

People who’ve known me for a while know that I don’t eat mammal tissue. I used to say red meat instead of mammal tissue but I got tired of repeatedly dealing with my mother’s thinking that, because the pork industry was calling pork the other white meat, it somehow was no longer red meat.

In fact, I especially don’t want to eat pork, because my more general rule is Never eat anything that could have loved you. and I’m quite sure that a pig could have loved me. Indeed, I think that various non-mammals, such as crows and parrots, are capable of things such as love.

An Internet friend recently mistook my standard for a reciprocity rule, as if I would reward various creatures on the chance that they might love me. But it’s really a capacity rule; I don’t want to eat an animal who has enough psychological sophistication for love.

I am willing to eat other animals. I’m even willing to eat animals whose ancestors could have loved me, but who, as a result of how they have been bred over many generations, now seem to lack such capacities. (However, I am put uncomfortably in mind of Lovecraft’s story, The Rats in the Walls, in which human beings had been bred by cannibals to a much diminished intellectual state.)


As a result of my desire to avoid consuming creatures that are somewhat conscious, and of my special concern for pigs, I find myself thwarted when it comes to foods that contain gelatin, including marshmallows. It is possible to derive gelatin from fish, or to substitute for gelatin various non-animal products (such as agar-agar) in the making of things such as marshmallows. But, for the most part, gelatin is derived from the skin of pigs and substitutes for gelatin are not used.

Kosher gelatin proves to be a trickier matter than one might imagine. Partly that’s because gelatin can be made from bits of cow (still not on my diet). But, also, there’s a Rabbi Dovid Cohen who argues, perhaps with sincerity, that bones and skin are considered inedible under Judaïc Law, and that therefore a manufacturer has a sort of clean slate when beginning with them. OU kosher certification doesn’t entail a promise that pig tissue did not go into any gelatin that might be present.

Common Sense about Names and about Descriptions

1 February 2016

The entry in Sibley’s Birds for Common Raven begins Uncommon.

This case illustrates the important distinction between names and descriptions. Common raven is a name; it was surely intended to be a name that worked as a description, but it presently fails as the latter while continuing to be the former.

A description can be usefully analyzed. It has components, each of which has independent meaning, and considering those meanings allows one better to understand the thing described.

A name as such is not analyzed; sometimes it might usefully be analyzed; sometimes it cannot be analyzed; sometimes analysis is misleading (as in common raven).

Often, what we call description is no more than naming. For example, if someone points to something and asks What is that?, and I say an urn, then all that I have really done is to provide a name, perhaps trusting the other person to know what urn means. On the other hand, if I say an ancient urn or a ceramic urn or an empty urn, then I have described it (though surely not as thoroughly as it might be described).

Notice that all description is constructed of names. The audience might subsequently ask for descriptions corresponding to names used, but eventually one reaches a point at which the names are of things that cannot be described (though alternative names might be offered).

Occasionally, I read something mocking someone for not understanding a description, such that a more perspicacious observer would recognize that the someone being mocked was treating the description as a name. This error may be no more foolish than wondering whether the common raven is a common bird.