Monday, January 26, 2009

Crash Landing: Solving Your Coaching Problems

'""We're in a rut. We're in a bad situation right now," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "We have to figure how to get everyone in that locker room out of it."'

Try turning off the heat, John -- they'll leave.

Yeah, and I Gave Unto Them a New Commandment

Though shalt do as Obama has done:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Augustine the Genius

A dozen centuries ahead of his time, he rejects astrology in favour of environment and heredity as explaining human traits. From The City of God:

'Cicero says that the famous physician Hippocrates has left in writing that he had suspected that a certain pair of brothers were twins, from the fact that they both took ill at once, and their disease advanced to its crisis and subsided in the same time in each of them. 3 Posidonius the Stoic, who was much given to astrology, used to explain the fact by supposing that they had been born and conceived under the same constellation. In this question the conjecture of the physician is by far more worthy to be accepted, and approaches much nearer to credibility, since, according as the parents were affected in body at the time of copulation, so might the first elements of the fætuses have been affected, so that all that was necessary for their growth and development up till birth having been supplied from the body of the same mother, they might be born with like constitutions. Thereafter, nourished in the same house, on the same kinds of food, where they would have also the same kinds of air, the same locality, the same quality of water -- which, according to the testimony of medical science, have a very great influence, good or bad, on the condition of bodily health -- and where they would also be accustomed to the same kinds of exercise, they would have bodily constitutions so similar that they would be similarly affected with sickness at the same time and by the same causes. But, to wish to adduce that particular position of the stars which existed at the time when they were born or conceived as the cause of their being simultaneously affected with sickness, manifests the greatest arrogance, when so many beings of most diverse kinds, in the most diverse conditions, and subject to the most diverse events, may have been conceived and born at the same time, and in the same district, lying under the same sky.'

Friday, January 23, 2009

Principal Agent Problems, Oh Boy

Jon Stewart Exercises His Brain

I am really not trying to be a crotchety old man, but this Obamania is really out of hand. I get it, you hated George Bush, and Obama is the opposite of George Bush.

Or is he? (HT2 "KRM")

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Most Appropriate Post on This Blog Ever

GG Goes Off on FISA "Vindication" of Bush

I thought this whole story about the FISA "vindication" of Bush's wiretapping program sounded fishy. The way the WSJ editorialized about it, FISA basically said, "Yep, the president of the US has never needed to clear wiretaps with us, if he thinks national security is at stake." On the face of it, this is odd; why didn't FISA speak up 20 years ago and say it had been given unconstitutional power?

Anyway, Glenn Greenwald has cleared up my confusion:
[T]he court's ruling had nothing whatsoever to do with whether Bush acted legally or properly when he ordered warrantless eavesdropping on Americans from 2001-2006, when warrantless eavesdropping was a felony under FISA. To the contrary...the FISA court was addressing a totally different and much narrower question: namely, whether the warrantless eavesdropping which Congress authorized in the 2007 Protect America Act was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

Ah, doesn't that ring much truer? And with something that subtle, you can see how Bush fans would claim vindication. Greenwald has some strong words on this aspect too:
[The lazy and ignorant media] report what "both sides" are saying, or -- as will be the case here, I predict -- the immediate storyline that "the FISA court vindicated Bush's spying and ruled it legal" immediately settles in (it has the advantages of simplicity and power-worshipping, an irresistable one-two punch for Beltway media stars), and then, no matter how many facts are marshalled or energy is expended to uproot it, it stays entrenched forever, rotting away and further infecting our discourse and distorting our collective actions with regard to our government's chronic lawbreaking. Today's orgy of ignorance is a nice little case study of the last eight years.

In closing, I should note that the WSJ discussion appeals to a different FISA ruling in 2002 that supports their broad interpretation. But I think it's possible GG and the WSJ are both right: The WSJ could still claim that President Bush acted within his constiutional powers (and cite rulings XYZ on the point), while GG is merely saying that the recent FISA ruling has nothing to do with that issue, and so Bush supporters should stop claiming vindication because of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why You Should Check Your Kid's Homework

This is pretty funny. (HT2 Volokh Conspiracy)

Speaking of Historical Ignorance...

Remember this heated thread from November? I was listing some alternative to Jesus being the Messiah or a madman (CS Lewis's two options) when he claimed things like "The Father and I are one."

My first possible option was:

'1) Jesus claimed "to be God," but meant this in the way a Hindu would, where, if the acolyte says "I am God," the sage says, "You've finally figured this out, hey?"'

Some fellow David chided me, saying:

'1) Jesus was a Jew and not a Hindu. This is not a legitimate alternative, because God Almighty/Yahweh does not have alternative meanings to a Jew (at least in the first century AD).'

At the time, I noted that there had been Buddhist missionaries through the Near East by that time. But, I neglected a much more prevalent, possible source for such an idea in 20 AD Palestine: Stoicism. The Stoics taught that all souls are just sparks of the divine fire, and actually are parts of God. And Stoicism had tremendous influence in Jewish thought at that time. So, far from it being impossible for a Jew of 20 AD to think that way, it is a near historical certainty that there were many Jews who were thinking thoughts just like that.

How Is the Real Estate Market Like Teletubby Land?

Find out here.

Augustine's Proof of the Existence of God

Sometime ago, over at Unqualified Offerings, I plunged into a thread where some atheists were contending that suggesting there is some link between the existence of genuine moral standards and the existence of God is just absurd. I argued that they were, in fact, confused, because acknowledging the existence of universal moral principles already is acknowledging the existence of God, since, in the Western metaphysical tradition, that is what the word God means. I was greeted with howls of execration (what's that from?) and accused of just making definitions up to suit my purposes. I cited Collingwood in my defense, but this was unconvincing.

I now wish to call another witness to the stand. I've been reading Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will, in which he leads "Evodius" to acknowledge that the fact that we have rational standards by which we judge, say, that "2 + 2 = 4" alone is sufficient to show the existence of God, because the existence of such rational standards is what is meant by the term "God." Yes, of course, in mainstream Christian theology much more than that is meant, but remember that Augustine, even after his conversion, is still very much a Platonist, and he recognizing that in this metaphysical tradition, the name for the "universal light of reason" is God. Once someone has admitted that there are universal standards to which we must submit if we want to reason correctly, speak truthfully, behave justly, etc., the argument about the mere existence of God is over, if not that about God's full nature.

So there you have it, folks -- if you admit that arithmetic is universally true for all rational beings, you are not an atheist. You may call yourself one, but you are mis-using the term in the light of the tradition of Western metaphysics. (Einstein, for instance, recognized this very well, which is why so many atheists keep trying to dismiss all of his statements about God as "really just about the rational order of the universe"... well, precisely!

In the first comment I've pasted in a sample of Augustine's dialogue, just so you can see I'm not making this up. Note carefully the point he is making at the end -- he's not saying that, once you admit there are universal standards of truth, then you must admit there is something else besides and separate from those standards called God -- no, he's saying the proper name (in our philosophical tradition) for such a standard is 'God.'

DO NOT Go to This Guy for First Aid!

Here's why:

'"I told them, 'We've never beaten Boston College, and pretty soon you've got to say: Enough's enough,'" Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said Wednesday night after the Demon Deacons' first-ever victory over Boston College -- a year after they lost to BC by 39. "We rubbed salt in that wound this week."'

Apparently, he thinks rubbing salt in wounds is an anesthetic!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Great Optical Illusion


Call for Papers II

Remember this one?

0) We'll define this binary sequence in stages, punctuated by periods for clarity. (The periods are cosmetic; they are not part of the sequence.)

1) The first stage: 0.

2) The next stage: 1. So far: 0.1.

3) The next stage: a copy of all previous stages except the last: 0. So far: 0.1.0.

4) The next stage: same as for (3): 01. So far:

5) Etc.: ...

6) Stripped of ".": 0100101001001010010100100101001001 ...

Remember my asking for the millionth digit of the "wine tasting sequence" 0110100110010110...?

OK, well, what is the millionth digit of this sequence? The answer is very cute. I'll include it as a comment to this very post, so no fair peeking unless you give up...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

David Frum Has a Low Bar for "Anti-Semitism"

I was reading a Glenn Greenwald column on how much (most?) of the world--outside of the US--is growing increasingly concerned with the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza, whereas the US Senate just issued an incredibly non-neutral proclamation. (Really, I was surprised by unambiguously they said "Israel is right"--I would have expected them to give some weasely "both sides need to settle down" official verdict while giving Israel assurances behind the scenes, but that's not what they did.)

Anyway, GG linked to this David Frum piece, alerting us to the fact that Frum was bringing the claim of anti-Semitism into the debate. Well, I thought surely Frum wasn't going to explicitly say that, so I went to see. When discussing reasons that Democrats tend not to support Israel in this conflict, one (among several) of Frum's reasons is:
Fourth, Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideology can bleed into outright anti-Semitism. The foreign policy page at the Barack Obama transition website,, features many disturbing examples of this trend. There you will find questions and comments like the following:

Now at this point, I was getting ready to see some CRAZY comments. After all, I have had my eyes opened to true anti-Semitism, when certain LRC readers send me emails chastising me for being such a wuss and being unwilling or unable to "tell the truth about the Zionist plans..." etc. (Many of these emails have a lot of words in CAPS.)

But the list of comments Frum reproduces is rather tame, and hardly seems indicative of "outright anti-Semitism." It's true, these people might be mistaken in what they claim are the state of Israel's objectives, but there is hardly anything below that sounds like "outright anti-Semitism":
“How might you propose to hold Israel accountable for their awful record of human rights abuses? My personal sense is that Israeli abuse of non-Jewish residents in Middle East is our #1 problem.”

“The root cause of the world's problems is the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing war crimes perpetrated by Israel.”

“The massacre of the Palestinian people by the excessive forces of Israeli military should be soundly condemned—why is Obama NOT taking a MORAL stand on this holocaust? Shocking!”

“What will you do to help end the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine, to end the oppression of the Palestinian people by the genocidal government of Israel?

“How will President Obama uncouple the ‘Israeli Lobby’ from the US political process, to prevent its current undue influence over U.S. foreign and domestic policy?”

Now maybe there are really crazy comments at the original site (I'm not bothering to check), and Frum is shielding his viewers from true incivility. But if so, he botched making his point. After all, it is hardly evidence of anti-Semitism for someone to claim that the massacre (and yes, it IS a massacre, regardless of whether you think it is justified) requires condemnation.

Last point: I realize the guy hasn't been sworn in yet, but those of you who thought Obama was going to be a refreshing voice for peace in the world... Is his silence on this troubling you?

Chesterton on Politics

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

After BART Shooting: "We'll Reform Procedures"

You gotta love it. Remember when the Abu Ghraib horror pics came out, and the military said the guards should have undergone better training? ("OK guys, it's a common misconception that civilians have, to think that it's a good idea to put detainees in sexually compromising positions and then taking pictures. But believe it or not, that's not how we do things in the US military.")

Well a similar spectacle unfolded today, when the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) board listened to complaints about the fatal shooting of a passenger on New Year's Eve: "The public asked the BART directors, and they agreed, to set up a committee to review procedures. They also discussed the possibility of creating a civilian review board."

I have to ask: Is there an actual procedure on the books right now, that says when you and other officers have an unarmed guy face down on the floor, that it's acceptable to stand up, draw your weapon, and kill him?

Now I'm a pacifist, so of course I don't condone the riots. Two wrongs don't make a right, and you're not going to convince Whitey to rein in the police by rioting. But if you haven't seen the video of what happened, you should check it out. The policeman is not your friend.

The Plight of the Philosopher

As a philosopher, you're trained to pick apart arguments and spot their logical errors. To point those out, you use various techniques, one of my favorite of which is to construct an argument making the same error but where the error will be more easily spotted. So, when I saw this:

"Tyler Cowen is not an authority on Austrian economics because (hey, guess what!) he's NOT an Austrian economist."

over at The Curious Capitalist, I was tempted to post something like, "So, famed astronomer X cannot be an expert on flat-earth theory because he's not a flat-earth theorist?"

But then I stopped, because I knew I'd get two main reactions:

"Ah, so Callahan says Cowen is an authority an Austrian economics," or

"Ah, so Callahan admits Austrian economics is like flat-earth theories!"

Now, no trained philosopher would ever read my argument that way. She would know that the analogy is between the argument forms, not between Cowen and X or Austrians and flat earthers. But, man oh man, I've had dozens of similar arguments misread by casual blog commentators!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I Used To Be a Semiotician...

until I became a full otician.

But seriously, folks, I've been reading Thomas Sebeok's Signs this week, and am really enjoying dipping my toes in these waters again. Here's Sebeok:
"The phenomenon that distinguishes life forms from inanimate objects is semiosis."

How's that? Well, as I understand it, inanimate objects only display what Peirce called secondness: "It is important to understand what I mean by semiosis. All dynamical action, or action of brute force … either takes place between two subjects … or at any rate is a resultant of such actions between pairs. But by ‘semiosis’ I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a co√∂peration of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs."

And it is characteristic of the living world that this relation of thirdness occurs -- a bacterium swims up a chemical gradient because it interprets the gradient as a sign of the presence of food ahead.

Also, how about this? "The literature on vertebrate communication takes it for granted... that indicators (i.e., their own names) are universally incorporated into all messages of birds and mammals."

Monday, January 05, 2009

Two Men Enter, 1.5 Men Leave

(Incidentally, I use the Mad Max reference a lot, so here it is in case you were up at night trying to figure it out.)

Gene and I were inspired by Steve Jobs to contribute to the economy, er, lose weight. Here is our arrangement as I understand it (subject to correction from Gene):

* The weight-loss period runs from 1/5/09 through 5/31/09. If I'm going to be on national TV promoting my new book, I want to look dead sexy.

* Since I have a large advantage, I am handicapping myself. I will pay Gene $5 for every pound he loses, whereas he will pay me only $4 for every pound I lose.

* As of the wee hours this morning, I tipped the scales at 222 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. (I know, you're wondering where I put it all, but remember that muscle weighs more than fat.)

We will update readers periodically. Obviously we have to rely on the honor system for the weigh-ins.

Friday, January 02, 2009

My Review of Bryan Caplan


A Profound Muddle

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

-- Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

What is so stunning about this quote is that no finding of modern science supports it, or, indeed, could possibly have any bearing on these issues at all, and yet, someone as bright Russell could think these findings imply his conclusion.

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...