Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

de transitv Veneris res

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

002 yr

Failing to Recognize an Inner Life

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

In its issue of 19 January 1924, Collier's published The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Edward Connell jr. This now quite famous story — repeatedly anthologized and adapted for film,[1] for radio, and for television — is of Sanger Rainsford, a big-game hunter.

At the start of the story, Rainsford and company are on a yacht, moving through foggy darkness in the Caribbean. In reference to their planned destination, a companion asserts Great sport, hunting.

The best sport in the world, agreed Rainsford.

For the hunter, amended Whitney. Not for the jaguar.

Don't talk rot, Whitney, said Rainsford. You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?

Perhaps the jaguar does, observed Whitney.

Bah! They've no understanding.

Even so, I rather think they understand one thing — fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.

Rainsford dismisses this. The world is made up of two classes — the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. On this score, his luck does not hold.

Shortly after this conversation, he falls from the yacht as he goes to the railing to listen, having heard shots in the distance. He decides that his best chances for survival are in swimming in the direction of those shots. As he does so, he hears a cry from an animal that he does not recognize, except in-so-far as it is at the extremes of anguish and of terror. Then he hears yet another shot. Continuing to swim in that direction, he finds his way to an island. Thence, he makes his way to the hunter, General Zaroff.

Zaroff recognizes Rainsford by name, and expresses himself as pleased to think that he might now have a hunting companion. But Zaroff hunts men; as game; as the most dangerous game. The resulting argument between Rainsford and Zaroff is rather like the earlier argument between Whitney and Rainsford, with a terrible amplification. And, because Rainsford refuses to become a hunter of men, he is made the game. He is forced into a life-or-death contest that he never sought, against someone whose skills as a hunter are greater, and who additionally has assistance and weapons that Rainsford does not.

Hearing a sound that he has known — the howls and barks of a dog pack when on the hunt — Rainsford learns the fear of which Whitney had spoken; Rainsford comes to know how an animal at bay feels, because he is now an animal at bay.

I don't imagine any of you learning anything from this story about the perspective of the hunted. But there are as well the perspectives of hunters — the perspective of Zaroff, of course; but also the earlier perspective of Rainsford. Those of us who recoil at killing for sport find it easy to imagine Rainsford as a changed man, who has learned an important lesson, in a terrifying way. But Rainsford was capable of such change, because he is not a psychopath, not a sadist, nor too great a fool to learn. He was simply a man who was very mistaken. Perhaps better men would be better creatures of the same time and of the same place, but he was not truly a bad man.

Theunis Botha was guiding hunters who stumbled into a group of elephants. A female grabbed and lifted him by her trunk; she was shot, and fell, crushing him. My reäction to the story wasn't one of regret. But someone about whom I care (rather a lot) has written

I hope he suffered. I hope he felt every crush and the same sense of helpless panic animals feel when being chased, trapped and shot to death by well-armed hunters.

And I think — my God! — why? What good would such suffering do? It is unlikely that Mr Botha rejoiced in the fear and in the pain that he caused; rather, it is far more likely that, as with Rainsford before he met Zaroff, the fear and pain of the hunted did not register with him. If Botha were a man rather like Rainsford, here he had no time to learn from suffering. Can we recognize the inner life of Theunis Botha and still wish terrible punishment upon him for failing to recognize the inner lives of beasts?

[1] See especially the classic movie version of 1932.

The Way that I Roll

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The state of California has introduced a raft of new taxes associated with motor vehicles. These include an increase of the tax on gasoline (which increase alone is expected to cost the typical driver an additional $280 per year), a general increase in vehicle registration fees, and a new tax of $100 per annum on ULEVs. That last tax is advocated on a theory that, since they travel more miles per gallon of gasoline, ULEVs put more wear-and-tear on the roads with each gallon consumed. I very much doubt that, even on average, the difference comes to about $100; and of course drivers with ULEVs who do very little driving will be disproportionately taxed.

I drive a 2012 Honda CR-Z. It is a hybrid whose design alludes to that of the Honda Civic CR-X (aka CRX) much as the modern Volkswagen Beetle, Cooper S Mini, and Fiat 500 allude to models of the past. (Honda was well-advised not to name this successor CRY.)

The first- and second-generations of CR-X came in three basic varieties: the HF, which was designed for fuel economy; the DX, which offered a bit more performance; and the Si, which was a genuine sports car. (The CR-X originated in an effort to design a vehicle with superior fuel economy, but this naturally led to a streamlined body and limited seating, as with a sports car.) The CR-Z combines three analogous varieties into one, by having three operating modes: an Econ mode, a Normal mode, and a Sport mode. (There is also a special hill-climbing mode.)

I had no desire for the Normal or Sport mode. I'm never in the latter, and only in the former when a mechanic switches modes and I travel a few yards before realizing what has happened. (I've used the hill-climbing mode briefly just a very few times, to deal with especially steep inclines).

In the Econ mode, the CR-Z functions as a ULEV, but the model has not been classified as a ULEV, because there is no politically practical way of ensuring that CR-Z drivers are operating them in that mode. Here-to-fore, the implication for me has been that I cannot legally use car-pool lanes without having a passenger, whereäs those with recognized ULEVs can. But now, unless the state engages in hypocrisy (which is quite plausible), I will dodge that $100 tax.

I don't do a great deal of driving; I've had the car since the start of summer in 2012, but my odometer only recently passed 9000 miles (14484 km). And a significant part of what little driving I do is to visit my family in another state jurisdiction. Most of my recent driving has been primarily to ensure that the twelve-volt battery stays charged and that gaskets don't dry-out. My insurance company has repeatedly demanded to know why I drive so little. On the first few occasions, I explained that driving has become expensive; more recently I've just told them to shut-up and just be happy that I drive far fewer miles than my policy covers.

The Hate Show

Friday, 24 February 2017

In George Orwell's novel 1984, people assembled each day for The Two Minute Hate. For two minutes, those gathered would feel and express their hatred of those whom they had been led to hate, by those whom they regarded as their guides. Orwell did not invent the idea of an interval or gathering for the purpose of hating. Such things are probably ancient, and were certainly called hates earlier in the 20th Century. Orwell hypothesized the formal institutionalization of scheduled rallies whose sole purpose was for hating.

Such gatherings are now routine, normalized. Some take place on a national or international level, on weekly or even daily bases. Others are smaller or less frequent. People collect in theaters or around television sets, and they hate. But few observers or participants see these gatherings for what they are, because the hatred is packaged as comedy. During these gatherings, there is very little in the way of clever violation of expectation, which is essential to intelligent comedy. Instead, there is ventilation — of disdain, of anger, of hatred, sometimes of fury — at those outside that group with whom the performers and audience identify. Treatment of hatred as comedy is not something new, but the acceptance of unacknowledged hatred as comedy has become commonplace. Gatherings for what most of us once would have called comedy have been increasingly displaced; our comedy shows have been replaced by Hates. We have Thirty Minute Hates, Sixty Minute Hates, Ninety Minute Hates.

The institutionalization has largely been private, but it has had something degree of state sponsorship, as when President Obama grinned broadly in response to Wanda Sykes' expressed wish that the kidneys of Rush Limbaugh should fail, during the 2009 White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

When I last visited my parents, who willfully live in an ideological echo chamber, they made a point each week of sitting together and watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. They laughed at nothing; they smiled at nothing; because nothing on it was funny. Nor did it deliver any fresh insights. What it delivered was hatred. But that was apparently what my parents wanted — a Twenty One Minute Hate.

Again Valentine's Day

Tuesday, 14 February 2017


Thursday, 2 February 2017

I returned home on foot this evening, carrying various things. As I got back to the apartment complex and was going to enter by way of the vehicular gate, I saw and smelled what appeared to be a fire outside of the central front pedestrian gate, so I investigated.

Yup, there was a small fire inside of what appeared to be a pylon or one of those tall butt receptacles, which was within an inch or so of the building, if not up against it.

So I first got my phone to call emergency services. The first dispatcher switched me to a fire department dispatcher, who was a fool following a flowchart. I started to tell him There's a small fire outside of 4050— at which point he interrupted me to tell me that he needed my location. So I told him my location exactly as I'd begun doing when he interrupted me — I didn't note to him that I'd been doing just that — and I told him what was on fire. At this point, I wanted to put down what I was carrying, and go get a fire extinguisher, which meant getting off the phone. Of course, the fire was worsening and the burning object was collapsing in a way that could further fuel the flames. But the dispatcher was demanding my phone number in case we get cut off. I shouted at him that I'd told him what he needed to know, and wasn't going to stay on the phone with him. My phone set resisted my attempt to hang-up, so I turned it off. I got-out my keys, got through the gate, was interrupted by someone who told me that there were a fire, put my packages down, went (barking about stupidity) to a case near the elevator, retrieved a fire extinguisher, then returned to put-out the damn'd fire.

I thought that I heard a fire truck, so I waited, and one indeed arrived. They decided that the fire were extinguished, and so went on their way. The complex manager showed-up, so I explained the situation to her. Then a cop showed-up so I explained the situation to him. Satisfied, he too went on his way. The manager stayed to deal with the clean-up. I grabbed my things, went on to my apartment, and grumbled sub-vocally about inhaling things that I didn't want to inhale.

When I restarted my phone, I found that I had a message waiting. The dispatcher said that they needed me to call back to tell them what were on fire.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

My paper on indecision is part of a much larger project. The next step in that project is to provide a formal theory of probability in which it is not always possible to say of outcomes either that one is more probable than another or that they are equality likely. That theory needs to be sufficient to explain the behavior of rational economic agents.

I began struggling actively with this problem before the paper on indecision was published. What I've had is an evolving set of axiomata that resembles the nest of a rat. I've thought that the set has been sufficient; but the axiomata have made over-lapping assertions, there have been rather a lot of them, and one of them has been complex to a degree that made me uncomfortable. Were I better at mathematics, then things might have been put in good order long ago. (I am more able at mathematics than is the typical economist, but I wish that I were considerably still better.) On the other hand, while there are certainly people better at mathematics than am I, no one seems to have accomplished what I seek to do. Economics is, after all, more than its mathematics.

What has most bothered me has been that complex axiom. There hasn't seemed much hope of resolving the general over-lap and of reducing the number of axiomata without first reducing that particular axiom. On 2 January, I was able to do just that, dissolving that axiom into two axiomata, each of which is acceptably simple. Granted that the number of axiomata increased by one, but now that the parts are each simple, I can begin to see how to reduce their overlap. Eliminating that overlap should either pare or vindicate the number of axiomata.

I don't know whether, upon getting results completed and a paper written around them, I would be able to get my work published in a respectable journal. I don't know whether, upon my work's getting published, it would find a significant readership. But the work is deeply important.

The Present Is Another Country

Saturday, 31 December 2016

To-day in the bistro, an unfamiliar girl perhaps six years old sat near me on the same bench. She was joined after a few minutes by a woman, probably her mother, who sat on the other side of their table. The little girl was interested in me and in my attention. Years ago, the drill for me would have been to engage her in brief conversation, asking her name and so forth, and probably answering questions about what I were doing. To-day, it was to turn briefly to give a friendly smile to her, and then turn quickly back to my business, all without pause.

Our notions of proper behavior have changed because Americans are generally far more concerned and otherwise anxious about threats to children, especially sexual threats from adult men. I share that concern and anxiety. I don't know whether things have become more or less dangerous than once they were, but honestly I think that question is secondary. Even if our world is less dangerous for children than in the past, I want us to be concerned; if it was once less perilous, none-the-less I wish that we'd even then been more vigilant.

(The Economist used to make a practice of mocking Americans for our fear for children. Perhaps they still do. I don't expect that it has occurred to them, in the wake of the various scandals concerning the sexual exploitation of children in the UK, that perhaps they have once again been mistaken in their presumptions of superiority.)

Yes, I'm saddened that I couldn't have had that short conversation. But I don't live in the world that ought to be, and in this case I cannot make ours a better world by acting as I would if it were. Had I interacted with the child in a more inviting way, I would have helped to foster norms and expectations that are exploited by predators. She didn't much need to talk to me. She does need to be spared some of the awful possible outcomes of the world in which we live.

Holiday Wishes

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Buon Natale! Possa il nuovo anno essere meraviglioso per voi.

A Matter of Interest

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk, an important economist of the second generation of the Austrian School, produced a theory of interest rates based upon the interplay of time-preference with the significance of time in production. (Previous theories had either looked towards just the one or towards just the other, or sought explanation in terms of social power.) This theory was adopted by Knut Wicksell and by Irving Fisher. Fisher translated most of the theory into neo-classical, mathematical terms. Hans Mayer provided one important element that Fisher had missed. I was exposed to this neo-classical translation by J[ames] Huston McCulloch in an undergraduate course on money and banking.

Years later, towards creäting a fuller explanation, I played with relaxing some of the assumptions. And some time after that, I wrote a paper for a graduate class in which I extended Fisher's two-period model to handle continuous time (by way of a space of ℵ1 dimensions). I've occasionally thought to write-up that aforementioned fuller explanation, but mostly been put-off by the task of generating the involved graphs to my satisfaction.

Recently, I was sufficiently moved to begin that project. I wasn't imagining doing anything much other than fleshing-out a translation previously effected by others, so I was considering publishing the exposition as a webpage, or as a .pdf.

But, as I've labored it, trying to be clear and correct and reasonably complete, I've seen how to talk about some old disagreements amongst economists that I don't know were ever properly settled — perhaps these quarrels were not even properly understood by any of the major disputants, who each may have been talking past the others. So I may steer towards producing something that I can submit to an academic journal. (The unhappy part of doing that would be identifying and reviewing the literature of the conflict, with which I currently have only second-hand familiarity.)

Perhaps I'll produce both something along the lines that I'd originally intended, and a paper for a journal.