## Thursday, December 5, 2013

### A Left-for-the-reader in stability theory

Yes, yes, I know I haven't posted in forever. I've been busy proving shit.

Completely out of left field, my research has indicated relevance to stability theory, an area of model theory that I've never had the urge to learn. Well, now I feel the urge. So much for purity of intention.

Ralph and I had a little fun today thinking through a left-for-the-reader in a paper that I hope to raid for its methods. So much fun that I want to share it with you, O gentle reader.

## Thursday, September 26, 2013

### Today in Catholic education

I haven't been following the ongoing brouhaha at Providence College regarding the administration "uninviting" a speaker brought in by several academic departments, because teh gay is icky of Ex Corde Ecclesiae or something. Both the speaker, John Corvino, and the Faculty Senate at Providence have issued statements, however; I've read Corvino's, and plan to read the faculty's (which is much longer and more detailed).

As far as I can tell, the only place the faculty's letter has been published has been on a Facebook post; I'm reproducing it here for non Facebookers who may be searching for it. None of the following is due to me.

Letter from the President of the Faculty Senate

Dear Colleagues,

On Saturday Sept. 21st we all received a letter from Provost Lena informing us that a talk scheduled to be held on campus this week by Dr. John Corvino had been cancelled. Two main reasons were given for this decision: 1) that a publication by the United Stated Council of Catholic Bishops entitled Catholics in Political Life instructs Catholic institutions not to give platforms for those who act in defiance of fundamental Catholic moral principles, and 2) that the organizer of the event failed to comply with a College policy that “dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum such as this.”

Today, the College published the following statement clarifying their reasons for cancelling this event. Since some of you may have not seen this statement on our webpage, I include it here:

Providence, R.I. - Providence College’s respect for and commitment to academic freedom is articulated in its mission statement. Academic freedom means that our faculty may pursue the truth in accord with the canons of their disciplines and share their findings in research and teaching without interference. The nature of marriage is a matter about which our faculty has academic freedom.

The incident in question is thus not really about academic freedom, but rather goes to the meaning of being a Catholic college. Should a Catholic college invite an outside speaker to campus, pay that person an honorarium, and give that person an unchallenged platform from which to present arguments designed to undermine a central tenet of the Catholic faith? Our reading of Ex corde Ecclesiae is that to do so would be to undermine the very nature of a Catholic college. Our interpretation is in accord with that of the United States Bishops Conference, which has asked Catholic institutions not to provide honors or platforms for speakers who advocate for positions inconsistent with Church teaching.

It is important to note that Providence College had originally agreed to host this speaker in tandem with another well-known philosopher for a two-sided debate of the issue of gay marriage. We believe that this kind of free and fair discussion of both sides of a controversial issue would be beneficial to our community. The event was cancelled only when it became clear that this would not be the case. We would welcome a real debate about this issue on our campus and look forward to hosting an academic event that comports with our mission.

There are several aspects of these two statements that I believe should concern the faculty, and merit discussion among us.

1) Both of these documents claim that the College took this action in compliance with a document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled Catholics in Political Life. After discussion with some members of our Theology Department, however, I am informed that this document is—as the name implies—specifically intended to direct Catholic behavior in political life. As I understand it, therefore, this document was never intended to direct Catholic behavior in academic life, and therefore it is inappropriate to invoke this document to legitimize cancelling an academic event. Dr. Corvino’s lecture was unequivocally an academic event: he is an associate professor of philosophy, he has published extensively on the topic of his presentation, his talk was to be co-sponsored by nine different academic programs and departments including the Feinstein Institute, he was to address an audience of faculty and students, and one of our own Theology professors had agreed to give a response to his presentation. This was an academic event through-and-through, so the document Catholics in Political Life seems to have no bearing on this event, and therefore it certainly should not have been used to silence an academic discussion.

2) That both documents invoke language in the publication Catholics in Political Life to cancel an academic presentation seems very dangerous to academic freedom, because the Administration seems to be declaring certain academic discussion to be ‘political’. Subjecting academic discussion to regulations reserved by the USCCB for politicians and political advocates seems not only wrong, but perhaps even insulting. We academics are bound by standards of intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth and knowledge. We support our statements with evidence that we have scrutinized, we do our best to remove bias from our thinking, we invite the criticism of our peers, and we challenge each other when our logic and reasoning is weak. There is no need to subject our academic discussions to the restraints and limitations reserved for political advocates.

3) Provost Lena’s letter stated that the event was also being cancelled because the organizer (Dr. Christopher Arroyo of the Philosophy Department) had failed to comply with a College policy that “dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum such as this.” In response to my subsequent inquiries about this policy, Dr. Lena has replied that it is not actually published in any College document, but rather it is a long-standing ‘practice’ of the College, dating back several decades. He does note that College documents require that a "...conference or event must be consistent with the mission of the College." Since this practice of providing both sides of an issue is not published among the College’s official policies for hosting speakers, there are grounds to question the closing remarks in the Provost’s letter: “The organizer of the proposed event was aware of College policy, and discussed a balanced presentation on the issue with members of the College Administration as far back as January of this year. However, the organizer did not dialogue with the Administration as to his plans, the event was not developed along the lines dictated by policy, and the organizer did not secure approval from the Administration for his final event prior to sending the campus-wide email.” Since the practice of providing two speakers was not a published College policy, there are grounds for wondering how Dr. Arroyo was to know of this unwritten expectation, or how he was to know that any changes to the originally proposed format of the presentation had to be approved by the Administration.

4) There are blatant errors of fact in the official College statement on our webpage, which seem a violation of the College motto Veritas. For one, the statement asks whether the College should have given the speaker “an unchallenged platform.” As the publicity for the event made clear, however, our own Dr. Dana Dillon of the Theology Department was scheduled to give a response to Dr. Corvino’s paper. Dr. Dillon holds a Ph.D from Duke University and specializes in moral Theology, so it seems incredible to say that Dr. Corvino’s presentation was to be “unchallenged.”

5) Both communications from the Administration state that the event was being cancelled because there would not be a proper response to Dr. Corvino, which seems highly suspect given that Dr. Dillon was prepared to be the respondent (Dr. Lena’s letter said Dr. Dillon did not have sufficient time to prepare). The Administration did not consult with Dr. Dillon in advance, but rather made its own decision that her response would not sufficiently fulfill the requirement that both sides be fairly represented. Dr. Lena has assured me that the Administration at no time doubted the professional capabilities of Dr. Dillon. Still, what criteria did the Administration use to impose its own assessment that there would not be a proper response to Dr. Corvino, when Dr. Dillon had already determined that she was capable and prepared to give that response? Is the Administration henceforth to rule on whether and when each of us is prepared to speak in our areas of expertise? Should the Administration be substituting its own opinion for our professional assessments?

6) The College practice used to cancel this event—namely that “both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum such as this”—is full of potential concerns for our faculty. Are all addresses on controversial topics henceforth to require two speakers? Will every talk given at the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies henceforth provide a second speaker to give the 'other' side of any important issue? This expectation seems to suggest that we faculty are helpless, passive listeners who have no choice but to accept what any speaker tells us about a controversial topic. Our faculty contains thinkers from the best graduate programs in the world, and includes an excellent Theology Department and a priory of Dominican friars—are we not capable of challenging one speaker if we find biases, inaccuracies, weaknesses, or equivocal statements in his or her presentation? Do we need a second speaker to defend us from controversial ideas, or can we engage speakers ourselves and argue with them?

Dr. Lena has informed me that the Administration is eager to reschedule this event, and to invite Dr. Corvino to the PC campus at a time when a nationally recognized philosopher will be available as a respondent. While I will look forward to this presentation, it does not erase the apparent encroachment on academic freedom at the College.

I will be placing a discussion of this incident on the agenda for the Faculty Senate in our next meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday Oct. 2 from 2:30-4:30 in Moore III. At that time the Senate will discuss what action—if any—to take in response to the Administration’s action. Furthermore, I am informed that the officers of the PC chapter of the American Association of University Professors will also call a meeting of its members to discuss whether the Administration’s action requires some response by the local and/or national AAUP.

In closing, I would like to encourage faculty to attend meetings of the Faculty Senate, especially when particularly important business is being considered. Faculty who are not senators are welcome to speak at Senate meetings as time allows, so feel free to contact me if you would like to raise a concern with the Senate. This year, the Senate is scheduled to meet in Moore III from 2:30-4:30 on Wednesdays Oct. 2 and 23, Nov. 20, Dec. 4, Jan. 22, Feb. 19, March 26, April 9 and 30, and (if needed) on Tuesday, May 6. You will find the meeting agendas, pending and approved legislation, as well as approved minutes of our meetings, at our website: http://providence.libguides.com/faculty_senate_2013-2014. Although I will send general announcements to the entire faculty when appropriate, most discussion of Senate business takes place on the PC-Senate listserv. To join the PC-Senate listserv, send your request to the Senate Secretary, Janice Schuster jschustr@providence.edu.

The Faculty Senate will also host two General Faculty Assemblies this year, which all faculty members are strongly encouraged to attend. The assemblies will be in the Great Hall in the Ruane Building from 3:30-5:30pm on November 6 and April 2. These meetings belong to the faculty as a whole and therefore we will discuss those topics of interest or concern to the faculty, so please save the date on your schedule and try to attend.

Sincerely,

Fred K. Drogula
President of the Faculty Senate

## Thursday, August 22, 2013

### Debugging C/API python extensions

I feel really fracking dumb right about now. But at least I now know how to use GDB (the Gnu DeBugger) on this kind of project. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

## Tuesday, August 20, 2013

### Today in burying the lead

Headline (of an op-ed-style blog post by a Guardian editor involved in the story): "David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face".

WTF-worthy story down at the end of the post:
During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian's reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?
The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
I, for one, feel much safer knowing that this is how Britain's antiterror squad thinks.

## Saturday, August 17, 2013

### An open letter to Norma Jean frontman Cory Brandan Putman

Dear Mr. Putman:

Thanks at least partially to Randy Blythe's prosecution (and, thankfully, ultimate acquittal) for the death of a fan in concert, metal musicians and fans have started having a conversation about everyone's responsibilities at shows. Randy himself wrote an eloquent and moving blog post about this idea:
Perhaps one day I will be able to express what I felt when I finally learned I was to remain free, but right now I am still trying to understand it. Relief, certainly, but there was a greater part welling up in me, something like disbelief saturated with a deep sadness. A fan of my band was dead, and a family had been shattered...
If you are in a band... make sure that security is adequate and that barricades are properly placed. A dead fan of my band would still be alive today if those two things had been in place in Prague that night in 2010. I never saw that stage before I set foot on it, and I wish I could go back in time, inspect that nightmare set up, let the people in charge know...
This is our community, and we should take care of each other. A show is a place we are supposed to be together, having a good time, supporting one another. The real world will beat you down enough -- we don’t need to get stomped on at a show.
I encourage you to go read the whole thing; but before you click away from here, I want to talk about your reckless and irresponsible set last night.

A bit of background for readers not present: Norma Jean and nine other bands played an installment of the Summer Slaughter tour last night at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. NJ were seventh on the bill -- they have been putting in the hard work of writing, recording, and touring for years, have built up a base among the fans and respect among their peers in the business.[1]

I'd never been to a show at the Ogden before last night, so I have no idea whether the floor layout was unusual for that venue. (Even if it was, what I have to say doesn't change; see Randy above on the responsibility for the band to inspect the setup.) It was certainly unlike any other venue where I've seen shows before: instead of one flat GA section, the main floor was divided into three or four flat levels about 15 feet deep, at elevations staggered by maybe a foot, with steel barrier between each section (navel-high to those behind, shoulder-high to those in front). On the face of it, this is kind of a cool idea: many more of the fans on the floor will have a good line of sight to the show, a place to hold on to, etc.

But if you've ever been to a metal show, a moment's thought suffices to paint a picture of how strange the audience dynamics on this floor will be. On a floor without these barriers and level changes, some fans will press forward to the front rail; the main pit will form behind them, ringed by a wall of people enforcing the boundary of the mosh. This is for everyone's safety: I'm frequently in this boundary, taking the impact of guys (and girls) propelled by themselves or others at velocities they can't control, because I'm there expecting and prepared for it.

But at the Ogden, that was damn near impossible. People who didn't want to mosh stood on the second level; the back of the pit was not metalheads with crossed arms, but sections of steel barrier.

The second unusual consequence of this layout was that there was no place on the floor with really high density of people. On an open floor, the human density increases steadily towards the front rail (with the exception of the hurricane that is the mosh pit). But at the Ogden last night, the press forward was broken up by the section barriers.

And this is important for you, Mr. Putman, because of the invitation/instruction you issued to the crowd last night: you threw down a challenge to go crowd-surfing.

That was a really, really, bad idea. A fucking irresponsible idea.

Why? What is the first rule of being in a crowd where crowd-surfing is going on?

PRESS TOWARD THE SURFER.

If someone is up on the crowd's shoulders, if there is any space at all between those bodies, they will find a way to fall into that space. Then the crowd will have to desperately try to catch them and lift them back up. That, or the surfer can fall onto their head.

In case we're not clear: a fall from six feet onto a hard floor, leading with your head, is a good way to end up dead.

This is why a surfer never, ever launches themself toward an active mosh pit. There is a huge active hole surrounded by people whose attention is directed entirely inwards, or towards the stage. A surfer who gets propelled into the pit is ending up on the ground, and probably hurt.

Anywhere else on the floor, the key to keeping a surfer in the air is for everyone to throw their weight towards them. Everyone, within a five-foot radius. There is a natural inclination to stand back, to let those who are holding the surfer up proceed unmolested. THIS IS A FATAL MISTAKE. You must press towards the surfer, to close up any space between those holding him or her up; the surfer must continue to move toward the front rail, toward higher human density, until they can be caught and safely returned to their feet by the trained security guys between the rail and the stage.

And at the Ogden, this was impossible. There was, nowhere on the floor, sufficient density of bodies to hold up a crowd-surfer. And if a surfer did cast himself on the mercy of the crowd's shoulders from the second level or above, what would happen when they reached the front barrier rail of that section? There are no burly security guys to catch them -- just a pit full of frenzied moshers looking out for themselves, or fans facing forward, totally unprepared to catch a body coming in from a foot or more too high.

Through the first six bands, Mr. Putman, the crowd understood this. The pit in the front level mostly took care of itself -- when it reached critical mass, people took it upon themselves to line the back barrier and prevent out-of-control human/steel impact -- and the rest of the crowd banged head and rocked out with their feet firmly on the floor.

And then you challenged the crowd to do otherwise.

And more than a few did.

And that broke the "take ye fucking care of one another" ethos that makes metal such a community.

And we're lucky that no one got seriously hurt or killed last night. A couple of times it was a very near thing indeed.

So please, metal fans: protect each other when there's crowd-surfing going on. Throw yourself at the surfer, plug the hole that their body will try to fall into.

And please, bands in general and Norma Jean in particular: be more carefully.

[1] Full disclosure: I'm not much for metalcore, so NJ's set wasn't going to be one of the high points of my night regardless; but I freely acknowledge the skill and hard work the band has put in, and don't want to shit on them gratuitously.

## Friday, August 16, 2013

### Summer Slaughter

Summer Slaughter tour
Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO (16 August 2013)

Thy Art Is Murder:

Rings of Saturn:

Aeon

Revocation

The Ocean

Cattle Decapitation

Norma Jean

Periphery

The Dillenger Escape Plan

## Monday, August 12, 2013

### First day of Mile High

Today was the first day of the Third Mile High Conference on Nonassociative Mathematics at University of Denver. Looks like a good group of people, only a few of whom I know. Yay for making connections.

Had lunch with Aleš Drápal today; I don't believe that we'd ever actually met before, though he immediately knew who I was, as I expected. The world is still small.

Neither he nor I are actively working on LD-related research at the moment, though finite LDs form nice test examples for computational packages; he mentioned that he has some unpublished theorems relating to the "levels" of homomorphisms between Laver tables. He also mentioned a direction of possible research that he had mostly abandoned, but where there might be results of manageable difficulty for a person or collaboration with the right crossover knowledge:

Let $$\mathbf{A} = \langle A; *$$ be a LD-groupoid (probably finite and monogenerated). It is known that in some cases, such as when $$\mathbf{A}$$ is a Laver Table, we can define an associative composition $$\circ$$ on $$A$$ satisfying
• $$( a \circ b ) * c = a * (b * c)$$
• $$a \circ b = (a * b) \circ a$$
• $$a * (b \circ c) = ( a * b ) \circ (a * c)$$
and that this operation is provably unique in the case of Laver Tables. (If $$\mathbf{A}$$ is a Laver Table, then $$(a \circ b)^+ = a * (b^+)$$.) Aleš thinks that the semigroups obtainable in this way may be interesting from a semigroup theory perspective, but couldn't find any collaborators in the 90s whom he could interest in looking at the problem in any level of detail. (He thinks there's less there in terms of the universal algebraic properties of these semigroups -- what kind of varieties or quasivarieties they generate, blah blah blah...)

To future me, who wants to play around with this problem: start with Aleš' paper in Semigroup Forum 51, "On the semigroup structure of cyclic left distributive algebras".