Those who support locking-down in response to SARS-CoV-2 are like weird locusts. Instead of eating the crops; these locusts prevent growth and harvest. That is to say that they prevent economic activity, which is an implicit consumption of an especially perverse sort. In any case, they leave despair and literal starvation in their wake.
Archive for the ‘news’ Category
The Constitution of the United States assigns various responsibilities to its Congress. Congress has increasingly slipt into a practice of
While discussion of revival of that legal theory seems to be concerned with regulatory bureaucracy, delegation of another sort has been the subject of a separate discussion. Repeatedly, the Congress has obliquely delegated its power to declare war to the Office of the Presidency. The last time that the Congress itself declared war was in 1941, but the US has engaged in many subsequent wars, without quite formally calling them wars. The most recent such delegation occurred during the Administration of GW Bush, and remains in effect. In the wake of recent actions by the Trump Administration, a majority in each chamber of Congress assert that they want to withdraw some of that delegation; but they do not have the super-majority presumably required to over-ride a veto.
The reason that I wrote
presumably is because, if indeed Congress is empowered to delegate its responsibilities so long as it is able to rescind that delegation, then they cannot have made a delegation that the President can veto; Congress must be able to rescind the delegation with a simple plurality vote. This Congressional power must obtain in the declaration of war, and it must obtain in the empowering of regulatory bodies the rules of which have the force of law.
An exception to the President's power to veto is hardly a trivial matter, and arguing that such an exception is present but only implicit is at least a bit breath-taking. But if that exception does not hold then the old theory that Congress could not delegate its responsibilities seems the only alternative compatible with the Constitution. And, in that case, the aforementioned regulatory bodies must be abolished, and there can be no more waging of war without Congressional declaration.
On 15 October, I posted an entry on the status of my paper that presented a table showing the reported status of my probability paper, along with the date-stamp associated with that status. I declared
I'm not going to post a separate entry for each change, but will just up-date the table above until the status becomesReviews Completed.
Those who checked that entry know that, on the next day, the status of the paper changed from
Reviewers Assigned to
Under review, but that it then languished for more than twleve weeks. In the meantime, I added notes to the entry about the passage of time, about my communication with the editorial office and then with the handling editor, and about a new reviewer having been selected and accepted the assignment on 10 January.
On 14 January, the reported status of the paper became
Typically, most of the time between when a reviewer accepts an assignment and when he or she completes it is spent on concerns without meaningful relationship to the review (except in-so-far as they displace it). If reviewers had to turn immediately to the task of reviewing a paper, then far fewer would accept the responsibility. Setting aside all but truly everyday activities, it is quite possible to review a paper in a matter of a very few days, and certainly in less than five.
None-the-less, a review as speedy as must have been the last review has me especially concerned that the job may suffer from some of the deficiencies associated with a rushed review, or that the reviewer may otherwise not have recognized with significance of what were said in my paper.
In a private communication, a friend writes:
I have, several times, been asked by an editor to read a paper over, without being a formal reviewer, and send her my thoughts. Sometimes, I am then made a formal reviewer (whether I have sent my thoughts or not) when one of the other reviews withdraws or is unable or unwilling to complete a review.
I had not considered a possibility of this sort.
I have previously expressed great concern about journalists confusing the categorization of a people as H. sapiens with their being human.
Bodies Keep Shrinking on this Island, and Scientists Aren't Sure Why, a story in the New York Times, offers yet another illustration of this confusion. Within it, Carl Zimmer writes:
The researchers found that a very small percentage of the villagers' DNA came from Neanderthals or Denisovans. A tiny portion could not be matched to humans, Neanderthals or Denisovans.
But these enigmatic pieces weren’t dramatically different from human DNA, as you’d expect if they had come from Homo floresiensis. Dr. Tucci concluded that the Rampasasa villagers have no Homo floresiensis ancestry.
Note that, once again, Neanderthals and Denisovans are distinguished by a journalist from humans, as are now those of H. floresiensis. No reason is given for classifying any of these people as not human; the journalist has simply inferred that they are not because they have been classified as of a different species; what that classification actually means is utterly unconsidered.
Further, in the article, modern populations are noted to have differing occurrences of presence of DNA from the supposedly inhuman populations — not dramatically inhuman, but supposedly inhuman none-the-less.
Let me make it very plain: Mr Zimmer and the New York Times are offering pseudo-science with racist implications. He probably doesn't intend those implications, but is simply thoughtless. However, his thoughtlessness and that of his editors are inexcusable. And, if he had any conversations with the scientists who conducted these studies, then I'd like to know why the Hell they failed to impress upon him that the taxonomy did not separate people into humans and non-humans. These scientists did not have the prerogative of unscientifically presuming that Mr Zimmer had more intelligence than has been actually demonstrated by the typical journalist.
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, 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?
 See especially the classic movie version of 1932.
There is a stock formula for political action that says that If the state may X for Y, then the state may X for Z! Usually, the state is euphemistically called
we; sometimes the person using the formula is instead honest enough instead to say
Often, the X refers to spending. (Taxation is then only mentioned when the spending immediately involves continuation of a tax that was supposed to be temporary.) For example, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, after the Paris Peace Treaty of the Viet-Nam War, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the claims were that, since the United States could previously afford to spend as much money as it had on the military, now it could afford to spend that much money on expansion or introduction of welfare programmes of various sorts. However, sometimes there has been a different X. For example, within the movie Scarface (1932), it is declared that if the Governor of Oklahoma could declare military law to cartelize the petroleum industry forcibly, then military law could be used to effect extensive gun control through-out the nation.
There has been rather a lot of talk, since even before he took office, to the effect that Donald Joseph Trump were a dictator. I don't think that it's necessarily unreasonable to assert that he were just that, though he took office with exactly the powers that he'd inheritted from his immediate predecessor, which is to say that if President Trump were a dictator then so were President Obama. The Office of the President has become increasingly powerful over time, with each
strong President picking-up where the last one left-off, and adding to the power of the Office, establishing precedents which the other branches have seldom effectively undone. But, whether the refrain is technically correct or not, it is that President Trump be a dictator. If Trump should leave office before the end of his term, then the refrain will become that President Michael Richard Pence were a dictator, as quite possibly he might be.
And if-and-when the Democrats retake the White House, the formula that I noted above will be used. It will more specifically be of the form If we could have a dictator who did Y, then we can have a dictator who does Z! where Y will correspond to the policies and programmes of the Trump or Pence Administration as refracted through the
progressive lens, and Z will correspond to
progressive policies and programmes, described in terms of their presumed outcomes. This formula will not be used much if at all before the General Election, but it will be used gleefully and self-righteously beginning on the very next day.
(I think it grossly implausible that the Republicans should hold the White House indefinitely; but the public is ever more disgusted with the results of a two-party system, so a Republican loss is not inevitably a Democratic victory.)
84 Lumber bought airtime within the broadcast of the 2017 Superbowl, and presented a video of a Latina mother and daughter travelling through what seems to be Mexico, plainly in hopes of entering America. Inter-spliced with the scenes of their travel are scenes of Americans, clearly constructing something. When the mother and daughter reach the border, they are confronted by a grey and terrible wall. But, as they seek for some hope, they find it — sunlight somehow shining through a section of that wall. Running to it, they find a door. In the awful wall, it was a great door that the Americans in the other scenes were building.
84 Lumber is being attacked for their video, on a theory that its purpose were to defend illegal immigration. Naturally, 84 Lumber denies that their message were any such defense; they now claim that the door were a metaphor for the institutions of legal entry.
I don't encounter a lot of people who will honestly speak in favor of illegal immigration. They ought to do so. There is nothing wrong with illegal immigration. Nothing.
The vast majority of people who oppose illegal immigration or want greater legal restriction on immigration do not do so from racism, and I am very sorry that they have been slandered and libelled; but recognizing the inappropriateness of that accusation doesn't serve to support a case for denying people entry.
Indeed, immigrants might come to our nation and do a variety of things that are violations of the rights of the people who are here now, or that are otherwise undesirable; but every genuine right that might violated by an immigrant could also be violated by someone born and raised here; more generally, every socially corrosive act that might be perpetrated by an immigrant could also be perpetrated by a native. A man or woman who was born here can violate the property and person of someone else; a man or woman who was born here can demand that his or her religion or language be give a privileged legal status; a man or woman who was born here can live at the expense of the taxpayers. None of these behaviors is made better or worse by virtue of where the person were born, nor by whether he or she were allowed to immigrate by the law. I will grant that groups coming from some foreign cultures have a greater share of members likely to do undesirable things of some sorts; but some groups native to America have a greater share of members likely to do undesirable things of some sorts.
There is a dire confusion of the legal with the moral, both on the part of those who insist that illegal immigrants are already in the wrong by virtue of having broken laws that are ostensibly ours in coming here, and by those who insist that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. Law can be wrong, and when it is wrong then it may be ignored without doing wrong. Those immigrants here in violation of law are neither wrong simply for being illegal, nor legal because they are not wrong to be here.
America is not a club nor a corporation. The persons and properties within the area occupied by America are not ipso facto in any way the property of all Americans. The right to trade, the right to give without condition, and the right to take that which is freely offered are not rights that in any way reflect nationality. Those who would do business with newcomers are within their rights; newcomers who would do business with those Americans are within their rights.
It's offensively absurd to claim an entitlement to exclude people by pointing to state-managed infrastructure and programmes. They weren't brought into existence through some sort of social contract; ultimately, they were effected through threats of violence; and generally they crowded-out alternative institutions that would have been created by free people. Of course, the welfare state cannot survive in a world of such freedom; it could not survive even if the
progressives were allowed to pursue their wildest dreams of taxation, nationally or globally. But so much the worse for the false generosity and false security of the welfare state, which cannot avoid bankruptcy in this century, regardless of whether it keeps all of us trapped on one side or another of its jurisdictional boundaries.
Many people who are going or went through the process of legal immigration may feel that it is unfair for others now to jump the queue; but the queue should never have existed in the first place, and one only compounds the injustice by imposing it upon others.
There should be no queue, no wall, no need for doors.
Years ago, National Lampoon had a monthly column that they entitled
True Facts. The title was a joke, not because the contents weren't true (they were an assembly of extraödinary news reports), but because facts cannot be untrue; something untrue is not a fact. Yet many people in various contexts were using terms such as
real fact, and
true fact, almost as if it were possible for some facts to be false, imaginary, unreal. People still do, perhaps even more often. One can find lots of instances of people using
imaginary fact; sometimes they do so ironically, but more often they are quite serious. By
imaginary fact they mean a proposition that may be untrue, is likely to be untrue, or simply is untrue. In this retasking of the word
fact, they've lost the use of the word to talk about facts, unless they add a word such as
true. But, with that change in meaning, it not only becomes possible to use a term such as
alternative fact to refer to a rival claim, but it becomes harder to see that untrue rival claims don't have equal standing with true rival claims, as they are all supposedly
We aren't at all helped here that a great many people don't understand the words
truth. That's not simply a problem of vocabulary. Truth is a hard concept, because it entails a meta-propositional act of mapping from a proposition back to itself. That is to say that, in most cases when we apply the word
true or equivalent and certainly in the case of
true facts, we are explicitly or implicitly making a proposition about a proposition. When we say
It's true that I went to the store, that actual referent of the grammatic subject is not I, but the proposition that I went to the store, yet the upshot of this sentence is merely what would be conveyed in saying
I went to the store. We perhaps don't need this device of recasting a proposition (
I went to the store) as a meta-proposition (
It is true that I went to the store), but it is useful because we are not omniscient, and must entertain propositions that are uncertain or discovered to be false; the concept of truth complements the conditions of falsehood and of uncertainty. Yet it is very hard to see that function, exactly because we use the concept to discuss itself. Truth is more easily named than described, if indeed a description is possible.
The difficulty in understanding the nature of truth makes it psychologically easier to embrace such notions as that all aspects of of past, present, and future are simply artefacts of individual belief or of group belief (expressed with formulæ such as
truth is a social construct) or that what one wants or ought to want is to be treated a true. The word
fact may then be used for components of narratives; embracing one narrative is seen as licensing one to accept propositions as fact that are alternative to components of rival narratives, and to reject propositions for no better reason than that they participate in rival narratives. Evolution of narratives is seen as licensing one to change the status of a proposition from
falsehood, or vice versa, even when discussing history. And we may even observe those socially identified as
fact-checkers testing claims against narratives which are themselves never fact-checked, because the checkers implictly treat their favored narratives as the ultimate determinant of
When Pilate asked
What is truth?, perhaps he was truly curious as to the nature of truth, but he may merely have been asking why he should give a damn about it. Our political leaders have become ever more disdainful of truth. They have long offered us
alternative facts, and their followers in each of our major political tribes and in most of the smaller groups as well have decided that, for them, these are the facts. Now we have an Administration that does so more baldly and less artfully. One might hope that this practice will explode on them; but, even if that explosion should happen, their opponents are likely to see an expansion of the envelope within which they may disregard the facts.
A few years ago, in the title of an entry discussing the implications for the world of the failing health of Hugo Chávez, I alluded to a motto that ends
leave a beautiful corpse. That entry considered an observed practice:
When a charismatic leader dies aburptly while still in power, his or her supporters quickly begin building a mythology of what would have been accomplished had he or she lived.
I drew attention to how this mythologizing bears upon social policy:
The mythological episode of such leadership is treated as having the same standing for purposes of comparison as does historical fact. When an opponent tries to construct an argument founded on logic and general fact against policies associated with that leader, supporters treat the mythology as if it is a disproof by counter-example. What’s really happening then is that Faith is being mistaken for empirical data.
While death significantly amplifies the power of the mythologizing of a leader who was not given full opportunity to effect the programmes that he or she chose, death isn't essential for there to be some mythologizing; I noted that there was a developing narrative of what President Obama would have done had his party retained a majority in both chambers of Congress for the whole of his terms.
As it happens, charisma is also inessential, though it very much helps. And an odd substitute for direct charisma has been demonstrated. Barack Obama inflamed so much inverted narcissism on the part of his followers that a great many of them chose to treat his successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as if she were magnificent though she is signally lacking in charisma.
At the same time, her health is failing her, and had she been elected to the Presidency, she would not likely have served through a full term. There would have been an odd sort of race between how rapidly she did things that repelled those who had been her supporters, and when she left office. Depending upon the outcome of that race, she might have left a beautiful corpse.
But Ms Clinton has lost the race for Presidential Electors. Although a few of her supporters cling to an implausible hope that the Electoral College will not merely turn its back on the detestable Donald John Trump but will elect Clinton (as opposed to some Republican other than Trump), she will not be President. And the mythologizing is already under-way, even to the level of having Ms Clinton imagined as rather prettier than she is.
One does not have to regard Mr Trump as even tolerable to resist the mythologizing and to see Ms Clinton for what she has been. She has repeatedly been one of the people causing the United States military to engage in the slaughter of innocent people, for stated goals that haven't been obtained because they haven't been obtainable. She has engaged in calculated support of domestic policies such as the War of Drugs and aggressive incarceration policies that have literally led to many thousands of deaths and to the ruin of many thousands of other lives. She and her husband have got rich exactly as brokers of political influence. She has privately spoken against some policies as corrosive while publicly supporting them — or vice versa — depending upon the expected flow of dollars and of votes. She has casually disregarded laws, in the expectation (thus far vindicated) that her connections will insulate her from being charged, let alone convicted.
If Ms Clinton is to be made into a beautiful corpse, it is rather fitting that this transformation be effected while she is undead.
 In full, the motto is
Live fast; die young; leave a beautiful corpse. It is an elaboration of an earlier motto of
live fast and die young. A popular variant is
Live fast; die young; leave a good-looking corpse.
Sometimes, I don't know how to write about important matters. Please bear with me, because this subject is far more important than it might initially seem.
When most people encounter the word
species, it is either in the context of a biological discussion, or the word is used as a metaphorical borrowing from discussion of that sort. It actually has more general meanings, the broadest simply being class of things of shared characteristics. But what concerns me here is indeed its biological sense.
Most people who have any notion at all of the word derive their understanding of the biological signification from a combination of observed use and whatever was told to them by middle- and high-school texts of alleged science. Many of them know that organisms are categorized hierarchically, and that species is a finer category than genus. But, if asked to describe the classification of animals as different, say, as are cats and dogs, far more people would descibe them as of
different species than as of
different family or as of
different genus. There is an inferred sense that difference in species is rather fundamental.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the biological sense thus:
A taxonomic grouping ranking next below genus and subgenus, which contains organisms that are uniquely distinguished from others by certain shared characteristics and usu. by an inability to interbreed with members of other such groupings; such a grouping as denoted by a Latin binomial, and freq. subdivided into subspecies, races, varieties, etc.; the organisms of such a grouping.
That bit about
inability to interbreed is a bit loose; for example, most biologists would classify horses and donkeys as of different species, though they can produce offspring. However, a striking characteristic of those offspring is that they cannot themselves produce further offspring. The infertility of those offspring is usually cited towards explaining the speciation.
In any case, The SOED hedged with that
usu. because some biologists categorize animals as of different species though they can interbreed down through indefinitely many generations, as in the case of coyotes (C. latrans) with wolves (C. lupus).
Over some decades, anthropologists disagreed over whether to classify Neanderthalers as a distinct species, H. neanderthalensis, or as a sub-species of H. sapiens. As there was no way to observe potential interbreeding, early disagreement turned on issues of overt morphology — the shapes of skulls, dentition, &c. But then interbreeding became, in a sense, potentially observable as it became possible to extract and analyze DNA from remains of Neanderthalers. Initial results (quite surprising to me) suggested no interbreeding, and it became more commonly accepted that they should be considered a distinct species. However, when later genetic evidence began to show the presence of Neanderthaler genes in some modern populations of H. sapiens, the practice of treating them as a distinct species was not universally abandoned. It is still common to classify Neanderthalers as a distinct species, though this implicitly means that
species is not being used with the usu. signification. And when, far more recently, a similar archaïc population, the Denisovans, were distinguished, it became fairly common also to categorize them as a distinct species, though their genes are likewise found in some modern populations of H. sapiens.
But, again, when most lay-people hear or read the word
species, they are imagining a quite significant distinction. And when they hear and read of Neanderthalers or of Denisovans as distinct
species, they infer that these people were not human. Here are three example articles that I quickly found of journalists doing just that in the case of Neanderthalers or in that of Denisovans:
Neanderthals: Facts About Our Extinct Human Relativesby Jessie Szalay on 19 March 2013 at LiveScience (The title refers to the Neanderthalers as
human relatives, but the body of the article treats them as distinct from human.)
Study confirms that Neanderthals and humans got it onby Arielle Duhaime-Ross on 8 April 2014 at the Verge
Early man's love triangle with neighbors helped us surviveby Traci Watson on 10 November 2016 at USA Today (This article describes the Neanderthalers and Denisovans as
As these archaïc populations are extinct, there may not seem to be any more of a social issue here than there typically is with misunderstood science. But a problem is coming right at us. And it's associated with the point that the genes of archaïc populations are found in modern populations — in different distributions. Take, for example, this article:
Aboriginal Australians, Pacific Islanders carry DNA of unknown human species, research analysis suggestson 26 October 2016 from ABC
The author or authors blithely refer to the Neanderthalers, to the Denisovans, and to an additional, hypothesized archaïc population as distinct
species without explaining whatever is there meant by the term. A large share of readers will regard the archaïc populations as not fully human, and infer that different ethnic groups have more or less genetic material that is not fully human. It will be inappropriately inferred that some ethnic groups are thus less human or more human than are others.
Anthropologists and biologists who talk with lay-persons, and especially with journalists and with other informal educators, need to emphasize the arbitrariness in use of the word
species, and these scientists need to impress upon their audiences that the word should be avoided or explained in all popular-science journalism that touches upon our relationships with archaïc populations.